Nintendo and Indies Embrace Each Other, Ready to Challenge Sony

Sony has reigned as the undisputed champion of indie games and developers this generation. Many studios have brought their games to PS4, PS3 and PS Vita, and it doesn’t appear to be slowing down. Soon, however, Sony may have some serious competition, and it isn’t from Microsoft, it’s from Nintendo.

At GDC 2015, Nintendo showed off their upcoming software lineup for the Nintendo eShop, and I was shocked. Not only was Nintendo bringing popular indie games from other platforms to Wii U (Octodad and Don’t Starve), but were also aggressively pursuing developers to create unique experiences exclusive to Wii U.

I was set loose to try out a few of the games after the presentation. I began with Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Tipping Stars, where players must get dolls shaped like their favorite Mario characters to specific doors. To do this, bridges must be¬†strategically constructed and deconstructed, a simple concept that hides a surprising amount of depth. It’s the player creation tools, however, that make Tipping Stars so special. Players can create their own levels and then share them on both the Wii U and 3DS versions. It’s also Cross-Buy, which is a huge boon for anyone who owns both a Wii U and 3DS.

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Nintendo also had Don’t Starve on display. The game’s unique visual style still stands out, and no downgrade from the PS4 version was apparent. Don’t Starve on Wii U is a simple port, and only uses the GamePad to display the world map. It’s nothing innovative, but it’s encouraging to see a high-profile indie title like Don’t Starve come to Wii U.

It was the new games that really command attention. Affordable Space Adventures is a neat little three player co-op game that makes excellent use of the GamePad. Using the GamePad, the first player controls the ship’s different engines and has to alter the combustion and gravity to bypass enemies. The second player drives the ship, and the third shines the flashlight and analyzes enemies. I played quite a few levels, and found myself having a great time. Affordable Space Adventures is one of the few games to actually use the GamePad, and use it well.

Competitive players will want to check out Runbow. This nine-player multiplayer game was originally developed as part of a game jam in Toronto, but Nintendo was so impressed that they approached 13am about bringing the game to Wii U. In Runbow, players choose different colored characters, and then race to a trophy. The catch? The color of the background is constantly changing. If the background color matches the color of a platform, then that platform no longer exists.

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Things get even more hectic in co-op, where it’s the players vs. the GamePad. The player on the GamePad can drop a bomb, shock the enemies with lightning, switch up the controls, and drop their own player into the game. Either the players get to the trophy, or the GamePad kills the players. It’s fun and exhilarating.

None of these games will sell the Wii U, just like how indie games aren’t selling the PS4, PS3 or PS Vita. It’s readily apparent, however, that these additions to the eShop greatly enhance the the console. These games that Nintendo are adding to the eShop represent a strong step forward for the company as they continue to find their place in the digital future.