With all the hype surrounding the events of the Sony and Microsoft Press Conferences, it was easy to forget that Nintendo had an event of their own. While the internet may have been abuzz with the new game announcements that Nintendo touted, there was little talk about their line-up among media throughout the show. Once I finally wandered into my Nintendo appointment and the general booth, however, it was clear where the most enjoyable place to be at E3 was.
Once again, Nintendo had one of the most accessible booths on the show floor. Instead of having large presentation theaters with hour-long lines, the booth consisted of tons of demo kiosks each staffed with a rep to assist with the game. For press, there was an upstairs level and interview rooms, but the upstairs level was simply a mini version of downstairs with less of a line — at least sometimes. Alas, most games could be played with under a fifteen minute wait no matter if you were press or not. As such, for those looking to simply play unreleased video games, it was the place to be. Nintendo had the vast majority of their upcoming slate on display, including Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, Pikmin 3, Bayonetta 2, Mario Kart 8, Sonic: Lost World, New Super Luigi U, Super Mario 3D World and many more.
Out of all the titles demoed, the most enjoyable was Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. Granted, I’m bias with my undying love of that kong as evidenced by my original arcade cabinet in my bedroom (I’m going to bring that up as frequently as I can), but it’s a barrel of fun. Or monkeys, or some other pun that will make your eyes get stuck in the back of your sockets. While Retro Studios teased us with the possibility of a new Metroid before E3, I’m just as happy to see them remain at the helm of the Donkey Kong series. Donkey Kong Country Returns proved to be a triumphant return to form for the series, and Tropical Freeze looks to continue the tradition with another 3D rendered game on a 2D plane. The debut of the series on Wii U and first to be in high definition, character animations and backgrounds pop from the screen with bright, rich colors, even if it’s not a graphical powerhouse. The game features the return of Dixie Kong, who hasn’t been in the series since Donkey Kong Country 3, as well as colorful characters like giant sea lions and penguins.
We played all four levels available to demo, including the tutorial level, a boss battle, a minecart level and a standard level. A highlight of level design from Returns, the minecart level is as fun as ever, requiring precise timing and memorization to complete with snagging all of the KONG letters. The boss battle against the gigantic sea lion or seal or walrus or whatever it was proved to be surprising challenging, taking about 5-10 minutes to complete. It may have dragged on a bit too long, but the constant curveballs it threw harkened back to the days of pattern-based bosses. The more standard levels played very well, with some great new enemies and the fun, tropical environment being a great setting for such a bright game. Returning from past Country games is the ability to swim, which although has a bit of learning curve, adds a nice dimension. No word yet if Enguarde the swordfish will return.
Even though it’s quasi-DLC that will be released standalone at retail, New Super Luigi U is surprisingly entertaining. Maybe it’s because I’ve always had a passion for the often ignored brother or an unhealthy obsession with John Leguizamo, but playing through platforming stages with the green plumber just feels right. With a reduced time limit of one hundred seconds and difficult obstacles, New Super Luigi U proves to be quite the challenging game. I eventually cleared the bulk of the stages, after taking far too long to do it, and enjoyed the alternate takes on levels. Bowser’s Castle proved the most difficult, with spinning wheels and fire proving the most formidable foe. Luckily, after dying multiple times in an area, Nabbit becomes playable who is immune to damage. It’s unclear if this feature will end up dampening the challenge or just how beefy the experience will be, but at this stage, it’s a fun romp through Mario’s world as his neglected, slightly more attractive brother.
In the coming days, we’ll likely have more fleshed out previews of some of the other aforementioned titles Nintendo had on display, but if there’s a game that can be fully described in a waning paragraph, it’s Mario Kart 8. After a fantastic handheld detour, the series returns to home consoles with its eighth proper entry. Due out next year, Mario Kart 8 features multiple go-karts and motorcycles and characters therein to go race with. Quite frankly, it plays like Mario Kart. But as it’s still one of the most enjoyable racers on the market, that’s not a bad thing. With a focus on anti-gravity, things at least get a little shaken up, with a memorable stretch in Boo’s Castle, for instance, featuring waterways that turn obstacles and enemies on their sides. Running in HD at a blazing 60 fps, however, it’s far and away the most graphically intense Mario Kart and proves that impressive visuals aren’t all about realistic textures and character models.
Nintendo doesn’t have technological showcases like Microsoft does with Titanfall or Sony does with Killzone: Shadow Fall, but what they do have are games that are relaxing and wholly enjoyable to play. Sure, their lineup may simply be rehashes of their most popular franchises, but they remain as endearing as ever. In a world where you’re mentally exhausted from titles like The Last of Us or having to practically train in competitive shooters like Battlefield 4, every game we played was a breath of fresh air that alleviated much of the accumulated stress from the show floor. Nintendo may not be aspiring to revolutionize the medium, but they’re proving to be a crucial haven for our sanity amongst the onslaught of mature, overly-complicated video games.
[Image: NBC News]