It’s been more than 18 months since Nintendo released the Wii U to a mostly bemused world. Heralded by them at least as ‘Next Gen starts here!’ A catalog of problems that have included almost non existent third party support, a paucity of their own premier league, system selling games, a game pad that is often under-utilised and just a general perceived inability to actually demonstrate what makes it unique. On top of all that, not many people seem to want one.
But never underestimate the company that really made console gaming properly popular. Much has been spoken of in the past about their adoption of a Blue Ocean strategy, a disruptive technique that saw them seek and find a whole new audience for the original Wii, and got millions of wobbly arsed housewives Zumba’ing around the living room. Unfortunately that audience have consigned the balance board to the loft, and are now sat back on the sofa playing Candy Crush or any number of Facebook games. And no, please don’t send me an invite.
Nintendo didn’t have a press conference at E3 this year, choosing again instead to release one of their ‘video directs’. With hindsight, this appears to have been a canny move. Whilst Sony’s Shaun Layton was throwing shapes on stage and killing his press conference and audience with a particularly torturous death by PowerPoint, Nintendo had Iwata and Reggie literally kicking the shit out of each other in a genuinely funny Super Smash Brothers parody. And then they showed games. A lot of games. And some of them were genuinely exciting. Hell, there was even a really interesting looking multiplayer shooter! And suddenly many people wanted to get the Console.
I put a shout out to the MLG community on Twitter recently asking what our Wii U owners thought about the machine. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive, many raved about how great Mario Kart 8 is, how they are looking forward to the new games and just how refreshingly different it is.
So what of these new games? We got a chance to find out last month when in the searing London lunchtime heat and already full of lager and tequila, your intrepid reporters Damien ‘Dashboxer’ Ashley and Jayce ‘JayceStokes’ Stokes set off the wrong way down Piccadilly to spend the day with Nintendo. Part of their Post E3 world tour, it was an opportunity for the gaming press to get their hands on the very games that they had showed off in that video a few weeks earlier. And we were not disappointed, well apart from that new Sonic game…
We were ushered in by the smiling, enthusiastic and helpful Nintendo staff and were first taken over to a Super Smash Brothers. It’s safe to say that if you’re already a fan of the series, you’ll want to pick this up when it’s out at the end of the year. Playing using Classic GameCube controllers, Me, (Bowser) against Jayce (Wii fit trainer yoga lady) smacked each other about the screen for a bit before a couple of Nintendo guys joined in and wiped the floor with us. We also tried the 3DS version. I can’t say I was completely sold on this version but will keep an eye out for it in a few months time.
The Miyamoto design concepts Project Guard and Project Giant Robot were also present and playable. To be honest, at this very early stage there is little to play or enjoy and quite frankly Project Guard may as well be CCTV Operator Simulator 2014. You monitor a bank of screens. When you see an enemy on one of the screens, you select that screen and then shoot. We them made some stupid Giant robots and then attempted to walk them very clumsily along whilst holding up the Gamepad. Again, at this stage, very little to recommend but definitely interesting to see where these two games end up in the future.
Joining the world of game making games comes Mario Maker. What else can I say? It’s a 2D Mario level editor and creator and at the click of a button you can switch between the classic NES look and the newer HD versions of the character. It’s not Little Big Planet, it’s not remotely Project Spark; but with Nintendo happy to churn out new levels in the form of a new 2D Mario title every couple of years, do we even need a level editor? The answer to that is ‘Why ever not?’ Not sure it could be a full price game though to be honest, unless they threw in a Mario Kart level editor. now there’s an idea…
Yoshi’s Wooly World lifts it’s colourful string and woolly graphics from the recent Kirby game. It plays like a Yoshi game. The only difference appears to be the graphical choice. That said its a Yoshi game and therefore automatically quite brilliant. Despite its visual appearance, it remains at heart a 2D side scrolling Mario game.
My personal favourite of the whole day was up next. Captain Toad Treasure Tracker is an isometric puzzle game with a rotatable viewpoint. The elevator pitch would have been Head over Heels/ Knight Lore meets Fez. Very simply, Toad needs to reach the exit on the screen, whilst ideally picking the jewels and secret collectibles. Once a wall obscures your view, turn the viewpoint round and proceed. Does that make sense? Absolute highlight of the whole show for me and the game most likely to get me to buy a Wii U.
A round up of the rest that were there; We had a crack at Hyrule Warriors, the Zelda themed Dynasty Warriors game, Bayonetta and Bayonetta 2 were there but I didn’t go near them as my ears have never really recovered from what I consider to be worst music I’ve ever heard in a game. Quite what Frank Sinatra thinks of her version of ‘Fly me to the Moon’ I guess we’ll never know.
Sonic Boom was perhaps the biggest disappointment. From what we played it was a generic third person action game with a few ‘pull lever’ type puzzles. Poor Sonic. Nobody seems to know how to make a decent game for you anymore.
And finally we come to Splatoon. Quirky hardcore multiplayer shooter comes to Nintendo. Viewed in third person, two teams of four spray paint their teams colour all over the walls and floors of the map. Team that has the most of their colour over the map wins and of course you shoot the opposing team as well. In typical Nintendo oddness, you can instantly change your character into an Octopus, at which point you can swim very fast through your own teams paint on the floor beneath you. This allows you to cover ground much quicker and come to think of it, it’s not unlike the orange paint in Portal 2, sprayed out in an equally liberal way.
I’m afraid to say we fared badly in our matches. Our team consisted of four people who had never played it before, against a team of Nintendo staff who were not going to let anyone beat them, and who had at least been playing it all day. It was a ton of fun, and different.
Nintendo’s main problem remains. There is nothing here to win over the casual consoler, the guy who only buys COD and FIFA every year. There is nothing here to win over the hardcore FPS’er. But there is plenty to recommend for people who love playing games. Whilst folk complain that there are too many sequels today, Nintendo have built their legacy on precisely that. Though their latest games are iterations rather than solid reinventions, there is much to look forward to beyond what has already been revealed with a proper new Mario and an apparently open world Zelda on their way.
So with all this to come, and with a slew of decent titles now available, is it time to pick up a Wii U? It seems to have a undergone a price cut as the console currently sells for around £239 for the premium version with Wind Waker or Mario Kart or Super Mario Bros U/ Luigi U. The white basic version without a game can be yours for around £185. It’s on my Christmas list. What about yours?