It’s fair to say that Nintendo’s offering this E3 didn’t exactly blow the world away.
Sony cleverly stole the show with three “ah but” games – Shenmue III (“ah but it’s crowd-funded”), the Final Fantasy VII remake (“ah but it isn’t exclusive”) and The Last Guardian (“ah but we’ve known about this for years”) – while Microsoft went down the “well, we’ve got loads of stuff actually coming out this year” route.
Nintendo, however, had what felt like one of its trademark ‘stop-gap E3s’, where it presented a bunch of seemingly less impressive games to tide fans over until next year’s big reveals of Zelda Wii U and the new NX console.
That said, some ‘gamers’ went a little overboard in terms of criticising Nintendo’s E3 wares. From some saying it was a disgrace to others outright petitioning to cancel the development of one announced game, I’m struggling to think of a time I’ve felt so ashamed to be associated with other so-called gamers.
I’ve been gaming long enough to remember when people were up in arms about Nintendo turning Metroid into a first-person shooter, or turning Zelda cel-shaded. Fast forward more than a decade and, surprise surprise, Metroid Prime and Zelda: The Wind Waker are heralded by Nintendo fans – many of whom whined at the time – as classics.
To be clear, my point is not that Metroid Prime Federation Force will be considered a classic a decade from now. All I’m saying is you should never judge a game until you actually get the chance to play it. Which is why I headed over to Nintendo’s top-secret post-E3 event in London yesterday to go hands-on with ten of the Wii U and 3DS games shown off in LA a couple of weeks ago.
Here are my full, honest impressions of everything I played, in the order I played them.
Star Fox Zero
I’ve been so curious about this game since it was announced, given that a number of reports from E3 criticised its controls and said it was a little too confusing to get your head round. Certainly for the first minute or so you feel a bit like you’re patting your head and rubbing your belly at the same time.
You move the Arwing with the left stick, control its boost and braking with the right stick, and use the GamePad’s gyro to aim your reticule when shooting. By looking at the screen on the GamePad you’ll get a first-person cockpit view, letting you line up your shots much more accurately.
It’s worth bearing in mind, however, that contrary to some reports you can still aim on the screen without having to look at the GamePad. There is still a reticule on the TV and while your shots aren’t quite as accurate if you aim that way I wouldn’t say they were any wilder than, say, Lylat Wars / Star Fox 64.
After a bit of on-rails stuff you enter a free-roaming section and it’s here where Star Fox Zero really comes into its own. By this point (about five minutes into the stage) I had the hang of the controls and had enormous fun taking out the air and ground enemies in this area.
Then came the boss, which could be tackled in a number of ways. Most E3 hands-on videos you’ll find on YouTube show you the boss being defeated in a standard way, with players blowing the shit out of its weak spots until it explodes.
Instead, I destroyed a different section of the boss which exposed a entrance, letting me fly inside it and reach the central core. Here I could transform my Arwing into a little walker and strafe around inside the core, taking out the weaponised weak spots here and ultimately blowing it up from the inside, Death Star style.
I’m so much more excited for Star Fox Zero now I’ve played it and put to rest any fears I had about how it controls. That’s not to say the people who criticised its controls were wrong: one of the issues with events like this is that if a game’s control system doesn’t ‘click’ with you immediately you don’t have much time to adapt to it. When I was at last year’s post-E3 event I came away from it deciding (wrongly) that I hated Splatoon for the same reason.
In short, I’m confident that the reviews for Star Fox Zero will be far more positive than the E3 reports. Once reviewers get enough time to get properly stuck into the controls I think the overriding sentiment will be that it’s a massively satisfying game.
Metroid Prime Blast Ball
After Star Fox I decided it was time to tackle the other ‘big’ one, the source of all that controversy, the game some Nintendo ‘fans’ have petitioned to have cancelled.
This puts two teams of three players (any missing ones are replaced by AI) head-to-head in a sort of weapons-based version of football.
Players have to guide the massive Blast Ball into their opponent’s goal by shooting it, either slowly nudging it around with standard shots or thumping it forward with powerful charged shots.
The controls in this one will take a fair bit of getting used to, at least in the configuration available to me in the demo. The Circle Pad moves your character but, unlike in most FPS games, moving left and right turns you instead of strafing you. You then aim by holding the R trigger and moving the gyro around.
This is initially a little tricky to get used to though it’s made significantly easier with the ability to lock your focus onto the Blast Ball by holding the L trigger. This makes approaching the ball far more straightforward.
There’s a second layer of skill in Blast Ball that I didn’t really have time to get used to: while locked onto the ball, you can hold R and move the gyro to move your crosshair and choose exactly where you want to hit the ball: for example, hit its underside with a charged shot and you’ll pop it into the air.
I struggled to get into Blast Ball and when my demo ended I felt no real reason to go back to it. As I’ve said above, this may be a controls issue that I’ll adapt to in time when the finished game is out, but my first impressions were merely so-so.
That said, Blast Ball is only a mini-game. The jury is still out on whether the main Federation Force game – which will undoubtedly contain tutorials to help you get to grips with its unique control system – will satisfy players.
One thing’s for sure, however: this is certainly not a game that people should be petitioning to cancel. It may not be my cup of tea (at least at this stage) but it’ll be someone’s, so it has the right to exist.
Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash
If you’ve played Mario Tennis Open on 3DS you should have a pretty good idea of what to expect here because the demo I played essentially looks and feels like an HD version of that.
The demo only let you play as Mario against Bowser, in a short match with the winner being the first to win two games. Straightforward stuff.
It controls as well as you’d hope from a Mario Tennis game: it’s easy enough to place straight and sliced shots, and you can play lobs and drops by hitting B, A or A, B.
The only new gameplay mechanic was the Mega Mushroom, which appears randomly on the court and lets you grow to a massive size when you reach it, making shots more powerful. Reaching it can potentially send you out of position though, so collecting it is a bit of a risk/reward situation.
In all, there’s nothing revolutionary here, but for most (myself included) that’s enough. The gameplay’s definitely solid, then: all that remains to be seen is whether there’ll be a meaty single-player mode to support it, or whether it’ll once again focus on online play like the 3DS version.
If you aren’t familiar with it, Yo-Kai Watch is massive in Japan. Created by Professor Layton studio Level-5, the second game in the series sold a ridiculous 5 million copies in Japan alone.
Nintendo is clearly hopeful it will catch on in the west too, and from what I played of it I have the feeling it might, even though I don’t see myself playing it.
You play as a young lad called Nate (or, should you prefer, a young lass called Katie), who’s been given a special watch that can detect Yo-Kai.
In Japanese culture, Yo-Kai are mischievous ghosts that can take on various forms and wind up humans. In the game they tend to possess humans and give them negative feelings: laziness, boredom, depression or what have you.
Nate/Katie has to use their Yo-Kai Watch to make friendly Yo-Kai fight for them and defeat the nastier Yo-Kai, thereby helping out the people they’re tormenting. By doing so they may encourage said Yo-Kai to turn good and join their squad. You guessed it, it’s a bit like Pokémon.
Battles are different though. You have six Yo-Kai assigned to your watch but only three are active at any time, and you scroll through them by rotating the watch’s dial. The Yo-Kai automatically attack the enemy, which in turn builds up a special meter bar that can be used to trigger massive moves.
It’d take too long to get into the nitty-gritty but essentially you’re more actively involved in even simple battles than you would be in a Pokemon game, with loads of dial spinning and brief mini-game actions (tracing lines, prodding moving shapes etc) the order of the day.
Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash
Other than Star Fox Zero, this was my big surprise of the day. I’m a big Chibi-Robo fan and a massive fan of 2D platformers, but for some reason Zip Lash didn’t excite me too much when I first saw it.
Either way, now that I’ve played through four stages of Zip Lash, I’m sold on it. This is a bloody adorable platformer and I’m well up for playing more.
The main gimmick here is Chibi-Robo’s ability to use his plug as part-weapon, part grappling hook. He has a standard quick attack with the X button which can be fired either straight ahead or at a 45-degree angle, and not too long into the game he earns a special attack with Y which has to be charged, but can be fired at any angle.
Before long there are some nifty wee puzzles involving firing the plug off walls at an angle and rebounding them into grapple points and the like, as well as special power-up sockets that you can plug into to, for example, turn him red hot and make him melt metal blocks.
The only thing that disappointed me about this one was the amiibo support. The Chibi-Robo amibo (or Chibi-amiibo, if you will) is bloody lovely and I’ll be buying the shit out of it for decorative purposes (it’s nearly life-size, after all) but from what I’ve seen so far it doesn’t do a hell of a lot in the game.
Scan the amiibo at any time and you’ll turn the hero into Super Chibi-Robo, a shinier version who’s more powerful and essentially makes the game a little easier. You can level this character up and unlock collectible in-game figures by using it, but you’re also making the game easier in the process. Maybe there’s something about it I’m missing at this stage.
That aside though, I’m definitely up for this one.
Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam
As a big fan of both the Mario & Luigi series and the Paper Mario series, it should go without saying that I expect quality from Paper Jam. What I played suggested said quality is indeed present.
The demo was split into three sections: a number of missions, a boss battle and a papercraft battle. First up I tried out a mission, in which I had to find seven Paper Toads scattered throughout a stage.
Two of the Paper Toads were being carried around by enemies, so I had to get stuck in and have a traditional Mario & Luigi style turn-based fight.
The combat here is similar to other Mario & Luigi games in that the A button controls Mario’s actions and the B button controls Luigi’s, but this time the Y button is also used to control Paper Mario, who’s also fighting alongside the pair.
The two-man Bros Attacks from Dream Team Bros make a return: the demo had the 3D Red Shell attack that should be familiar to anyone who played that. However there are also new Trio Attacks which involve all three characters and work in a similar reaction-based manner.
The boss fight was against a massive Petey Piranha and took a hefty time to beat. Needless to say, it was very satisfying to bump that sod off.
And then there was the Papercraft battle, a bizarre mode that has Mario, Luigi and Paper Mario atop a massive papercraft version of Mario which has to fight against papercraft Goombas (manned by Paper Goombas). It’s basically a mech battle, only with paper models.
These fights had a different pace and took a while to get into but once I got used to the clunkier controls I had a ball charging into enemies, flinging my papercraft mech at them then dashing over to recover it.
If you’re a fan of the Mario & Luigi games, get hyped: it looks like you’re getting more of the same quality here.
Just Dance 2016
Super Mario Maker
Any game that has world or level creation as its central focus – Minecraft, LittleBigPlanet, Project Spark and the like – completely loses me within half an hour as I sit there like an idiot thinking “ummmmm”, trying to conjure up ideas and ultimately coming up empty.
After playing a 30-minute demo of Super Mario Maker I can confidently say it isn’t going to change my situation: I’m still going to be utterly useless at making stages and so that element of the game isn’t something I can see myself using too much.
Don’t let my lack of imagination put you off, though: for those who actually do want to have a crack at creating Mario stages the interface here is jaw-droppingly intuitive. Within five minutes I had a proper stage with platforms, power-ups and complex enemies (I spawned a Lakitu, dragged a Super Mushroom over it to make it large, and commanded it to throw Goombas instead of Spinies).
I was even able to set up a pipe and activate it, create the bonus area it leads to, then create the subsequent exit pipe. It’s so detailed and yet so straightforward. If I was creatively-minded this would be paradise. It’s easily the best use of the GamePad yet, even though I’m not creative enough to make the most of it.
Instead, it’s the community stuff that’s going to have me hooked. As you’d expect, people can upload stages they’ve created and players can upvote them so the cream rises to the top, but there’s so much more to it than that.
If you like a stage you can save it to your console to play whenever you like, and subscribe to its creator so you’re informed any time they make a new level. Each stage also has stats: you can see how many people have attempted it and the completion ratio, so if a level’s only been beaten 7% of the time you know you’re in for a real bastard.
Probably my favourite feature though is the in-stage community integration. You can stop wherever you like in a level and leave a Miiverse message, which other players will find when they reach the same spot: a bit like Dark Souls, in a way. When you die in a stage, you’ll also see little ‘X’ marks nearby showing you where other players died too so you feel a sense of solidarity.
All this combined with the fact there are already 100 levels provided on the disc means this is probably going to be a permanent fixture on my Wii U.
I did get to have a look at the Turbo Charge Donkey Kong and Hammer Slam Bowser figures that are available for the Wii U version and, while they’re detailed enough (and double as amiibos too, usefully), I just can’t get excited about them.
In fairness, both characters are represented well in the game. Bowser can swipe with his claws and spawn Koopa Troopas to fight alongside him, while Donkey Kong can drop bongos from the sky and hit them to create lethal energy waves.
The addition of vehicles also mixes things up a little: Bowser has a flying machine while Donkey Kong has a motorbike. Any character can use them but when you use the actual character they belong to they evolve slightly: put DK on his bike, for example, and Diddy Kong appears on a sidecar.
Even in this short demo though I could see elements of what I hate about Skylanders. For example, one section of the stage I was playing was locked off because I didn’t have a water vehicle (sold separately, naturally).
It’s also going to need a lot of work to fix its frame rate. I’ll admit, I’m not a massive Skylanders expert, so for all I know it could always be choppy as hell. Compared to everything else I played yesterday though, this felt the most sluggish by far.
The Legend Of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes
However, from what I played of Tri Force Heroes, it’s already clear that this is going to be something pretty special: at least, as long as you’re playing it with two other friends.
This three-player co-op games puts you in control of green, red and blue Links. You choose your Link’s outfit before the stage starts, and each offers different powers: the Kokiri Tunic, for example, lets you fire three arrows at once when you have a bow.
All of the puzzles in the game are designed with three players in mind: switches have three pressure points, and the like. There’s also a ‘totem’ move where Links stack on top of each other: useful when firing arrows at high-up switches and targets.
In order to make sure everyone works together, everyone in Tri Force Heroes shares an energy bar. That means there’s no temptation to chuck friends in lava, and there’s no mad rush for hearts whenever they appear.
Without giving too much away, the three short demo stages I played were already packed with enough clever puzzles that I’m confident this will be one of the best local co-op multiplayer games on a Nintendo system.
What remains to be seen is how much the entertainment factor is diminished when playing alone (which it’s been confirmed you can do) and how difficult it’s going to be playing online. I’m curious to see if Nintendo decides to allow voice chat this time, even if just among registered friends: it really needs it for this one.
So there you have it. Overall, I left the event far happier about Nintendo’s 2015 line-up than I was after its E3 presentation.
As is often the case with Nintendo stuff, the proof is really in the playing: games that weren’t right at the top of my must-have list (Chibi-Robo etc) shot a lot higher up it after I’d tried them out, and gimmicks that concerned me (Star Fox Zero’s gyro controls) had convinced me after five minutes.
Nintendo’s E3 may not have satisfied all its fans then, but rest assured most of the games released between now and the end of the year will.
If you have any more questions about the games I played above, feel free to ask in the comments below and I’ll answer where possible. Stuff like release dates can be easily found elsewhere, so it might be worth Googling that sort of thing instead of waiting for me to get back to you.
Editors: I put this entire article together in 24 hours. Get in touch using the email links to the right if you want to make use of my services. In terms of writing, obviously.