Hands-on with Nintendo’s forthcoming Wii U games
We went hands-on with some of the Wii U's forthcoming releases, including Splatoon, Yoshi, Smash Bros and more...
For the past few months, Nintendo-related news stories have most commonly been about the Wii U’s slow sales. But June's E3 event changed all that: fighting against a media blitz from rival companies, Nintendo managed to come up with a presentation that celebrated the inherent quirkiness of its videogame characters and history - this is, after all, a company capable of making captivating platform games, fantasy action adventures and violent brawlers.
The Wii U's been out for almost two years now, and it still feels as though Nintendo has yet to give the wider public a convincing reason to go and buy one. The general response to what it unveiled at E3 may have changed that, however, and while we still have some time to wait for its most exciting games (Zelda's not due out until the end of 2015), the games it has in store could finally turn the Wii U into something approaching a success.
At a post-E3 event in London, we got a chance to go hands-on with some of Nintendo's forthcoming first-party games. Although we only got 10 minutes or so with most of them, they hint at some great things to come for the Wii U.
One of the few original major titles in Nintendo’s pipeline, Splatoon is a third-person shooter created by younger members of the company’s research and development team. That youthfulness was on full display in the colourful gameplay trailer a few weeks ago - something that effectively got across the zaniness of its concept, if not the fluidity of its action.
No, to fully appreciate how superbly Splatoon handles, you have to play it for yourself - only then does it become apparent just how different it is from the dozens of other multiplayer shooters already packed onto shelves.
The concept is simple: armed with paint guns, two teams of four players apiece attempt to take control of the map by splattering it with their own side’s colour. The focus of the game is therefore taken away from gunning down your opponents (though you are awarded points for doing so), and applied more to the process of spraying paint all over the play area.
This might sound like a meaningless wrinkle on a tried-and-trusted formula in theory, but in practice it changes things considerably: for one thing, it means that even less adept players can contribute meaningfully to your team’s victory, as their inaccurate spraying of paint pellets will have a direct bearing on how much of the map is covered in your side’s colour.
The paint system also adds an element of strategy. A press of the left trigger turns your oddly-proportioned character into a squid, which can swim at rapid speed through ink of your side’s colour. This means that, if players work together, they can use the paint and squid mechanic to cunning effect - spray a stripe of paint up a wall, for example, and a team mate can turn into a squid, zoom up said wall, and emerge at the top of a handy vantage point to take out marauding enemies.
Throw in such additional weapons as bazookas and grenades, and you have a hectic and satisfying shooter; the sense of anticipation when the time’s up, and the overall victor is worked out (based on the percentage of the map covered in their colour paint) is palpable.
We do wonder, however, whether the game will have quite the same atmosphere when played at home. At the event we attended, having eight consoles linked together meant we could alternately shout encouragement at our team mates or words of derision at our opponents. Will the game seem quite so exciting when played in the seclusion of our living rooms?
Then there’s the question of what else Splatoon has in store; we didn't get a chance to sample the single player mode, so can it offer enough to provide true long lasting appeal? If the finished game can provide variety and depth alongside its pleasingly fast-flowing gameplay, then Splatoon could be a real departure for the house of Mario: a third-person shooter with Nintendo's eye for colourful, broad appeal.
Release date: first half of 2015
Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker
By giving smaller characters an adventure of their own, Nintendo can take risks that it simply couldn’t afford to attempt with its core heroes like Mario and Zelda. Captain Toad is a case in point: a relatively minor yet adorable face in the Mario universe, he’s been given his first solo outing here, and Treasure Tracker promises to give us a major change of pace from such frantic games as Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Brothers.
A 3D platform puzzler, Captain Toad’s levels are small yet perfectly formed. Each one is viewed isometrically, and your view can be rotated with either a flick of the right stick or by moving the gamepad around you. The aim is to collect all the coins on each level and find the exit, with bonus points awarded for locating the crystals secreted away behind walls and around corners.
Captain Toad may remind some players of a certain age of 8-bit-era classics such as Knightlore or the original Batman from 1986 - or, further forward in time, a less mind-boggling version of the Xbox 360 indie game Ilo Milo. As you’d expect from a Nintendo game, Captain Toad’s appeal lies in its accessibility, charm - the graphics are just as colourful as last year's Super Mario 3D World - and also the creativity in its level design.
On the stage we previewed, rotating your view around each cuboid level was vital to finding the correct path, while little windows through blocks hint at hidden objects. And because Toad doesn’t usually have any means of attacking (though he can fall on enemies and kill them in one moment we experienced), avoiding the various Goombas, Shy Guys and other enemies is the best policy; by touching and holding them on the gamepad display, you can also freeze them in place, giving Toad a few vital seconds to make his escape.
The few minutes we spent in Captain Toad’s company hinted at even more creative genius to come: there are platforms and chunks of the stage which can be moved around (again, by tapping them on the touch screen display), and just to break up the platform-and-puzzle stages a bit, there are also some other nifty levels, too: we tried out a first-person rail shooter segment, where Toad races along a track in a mine cart, flinging turnips at enemies and coins, and a boss battle, where you have to avoid a giant dragon’s flames and climb to the top of the level in order to defeat him.
Like so many of Nintendo’s games, Captain Toad looks to the past for inspiration. There are clear echoes of Super Mario 2 here, both in the turnips you throw in the level above and the plants you can pull up to find bonus items. At the same time, this first outing for the diminutive hero has a real freshness and care-free sense of fun. It might not have quite the same franchise heft as Nintendo’s big hitters yet, but Captain Toad could spell the start of a captivating new run of spin-off games.
Release date: Winter 2014
Level editors aren’t a new concept in gaming, but Mario Maker’s an effective showcase for the Wii U’s gamepad. The title’s fairly self-explanatory: Mario Maker gives you the tools you need to create and share your own Super Mario levels, with platforms, enemies, pipes and other familiar trappings from the series available to select and dot around the screen.
The user interface is clear and uncluttered, and getting the bare bones of even a complex level is surprisingly quick and easy to achieve - a decent approximation of a typical Super Mario Bros stage can be thrown together within a minute or two.
With a press of the button, you can test your new creation and iron out the flaws in its level design. You can also toggle between the classic sprite-based look of Super Mario circa 1985 and the smoother textures and polygons of Super Mario 3D World, and the whole package feels solid and intuitive.
We’re just hoping, however, that the finished Mario Maker will have a wider range of level options to choose from - we’d love to be able to create our own haunted house-style stages, for example - but even as it stands, Mario Maker’s both entertaining to play around with and a timely demonstration of how the gamepad can distinguish the Wii U from other consoles.
Release date: 2015
Yoshi’s Woolly World
Back in 2010, developer Good-Feel briefly took on the Kirby franchise and gave us Kirby’s Epic Yarn, an adorable side-scrolling platformer positively bursting with ideas. Short on hardcore challenge though it was, Epic Yarn nevertheless entertained from beginning to end, partly because it constantly threw in something surprising and new (shooter levels, tanks, quirky boss battles) but mainly because simply finding and collecting everything was so absorbing.
Good-Feel look as though they’re about to repeat the trick with Yoshi’s Woolly World, which is a kind of hybrid of Epic Yarn and the classic Yoshi’s Island on the Super Nintendo. Players of the latter will immediately recognise the control system: you can collect eggs or lay eggs (woollen this time) which can be flung in any direction by aiming a moving crosshair and pressing fire.
Yoshi can also gobble up enemies and spit them out, either to collect items in hard-to-reach places or to nobble enemies. All of this feels as smooth and responsive as it ever did, and like Epic Yarn, there’s a great two-player mode (one player can swallow the other, which is either tactically useful or chaotic depending on how cooperative you’re both feeling), and that general sense of carefree entertainment.
We only got the briefest flavour of what Good-Feel have thrown into Woolly World (there are sure to be plenty of genre-bending surprises to discover later on), but it looks wonderful: unlike the standard-def Epic Yarn, Woollen Adventure is in crisp, beautiful HD, and you can see every thread and stitch in the game’s seemingly hand-knitted world.
Those who found Kirby’s Epic Yarn a little too twee for comfort will almost certainly give Yoshi’s Woolly World a wide berth. For everyone else, it looks like beautifully-tailored outing for Nintendo’s greediest dinosaur.
Release date: first half of 2015
Kirby And The Rainbow Curse
Where Epic Yarn turned Dreamland into fabric and string, Kirby’s latest outing recreates the pink hero’s colourful world from modelling clay. An obvious throwback to the mechanics of Canvas Curse on the DS, Rainbow Curse is a hybrid of platformer and pinball, with prods and strokes of the gamepad’s screen sending a spherical Kirby rolling and bouncing through each stage.
The control system’s fiddly at first but soon becomes second nature: tapping Kirby sends him bouncing along the screen, while drawing a line creates a temporary, impenetrable barrier which you can use to guide him past hazards and towards the nearest exit.
Although the game handles similarly to Canvas Curse, the HD graphics really set it apart; each stage has a deliciously tactile feel, and familiar characters (like the wide-eyed Waddle Dees) look even cuddlier when they’re fashioned from modelling clay.
The only curious thing about Rainbow Curse is that it requires you to constantly scrutinise the gamepad - the exact same image appears on the TV screen, but it’s more for the benefit of anyone else sitting in the same room rather than the player. This effectively makes Rainbow Curse a handheld game, and makes us wonder whether the 3DS wouldn’t have been a better venue for it. Nevertheless, Rainbow Curse is a charming little game, and continues Kirby’s almost unbroken run of engaging, surprisingly varied adventures.
Release date: 2015
Here’s one of the most interesting spin-offs from the Zelda series yet seen: it’s essentially Dynasty Warriors with Hyrule as its setting. What’s surprising, though, is just what a great fit the Zelda franchise is with Dynasty Warriors’ fast-paced hack-and-slash action.
Although we only played a brief chunk of one stage, complete with colossal area boss, Hyrule Warriors is a handsome, high-def Zelda entry, albeit with lots of combos and dozens of enemies crowding their way onto the screen.
Franchise staples such as bombs and hearts hidden in clay pots make an appearance, and the whole thing looks crisp and polished - in fact, it’s surprising just how much movement the Wii U can handle, particularly given its much-publicised technical deficiencies. With the next proper Zelda game still a long way off, Hyrule Warriors could provide a thrilling stopgap.
Release date: 19 September 2014
Super Smash Bros
It’s often said that Nintendo has been at its most creative when its consoles are less successful. It was during the N64 and Gamecube era, for example, when its most interesting games were produced, from The Ocarina Of Time to Animal Crossing.
Super Smash Bros was another great game to emerge from the Gamecube era, with its ferocious, button-mashing combat meshing surprisingly well with Nintendo’s gallery of pastel-coloured characters. The Wii's Super Smash Bros Brawl, released in 2008, expanded the range of characters and modes but didn’t mess with the central mechanics (A to attack, B for special attack, and so on), and the Wii U edition follows suit; even more so than Nintendo’s other first-party Wii U games, Super Smash Bros looks superb in HD, with frame-perfect character animations, a silky-smooth 60fps frame rate, and refreshingly brash, confident primary colours.
In many ways, Super Smash Bros feels like a remake rather than a sequel, and this is reflected in its title and its support for a new range of Wii U-compatible Gamecube controllers. For Smash Bros’ legion players, this won’t be a bad thing, however - and using Samus’ Arm Cannon to shoot, say, Kirby into oblivion still feels as fun and anarchic as it did six years ago - and although we didn't get a chance to test them out, the addition of new characters, such as Pac-Man, the doe-eyed villagers from Animal Crossing and, bizarrely, the trainers from Wii Fit, should add a touch more variety as well as anarchy.
The one thing we didn't get to take a look at was how Nintendo's forthcoming range of Amiibo figurines will interact with some of the games it had on display. We know they'll be compatible with Super Smash Bros, Yoshi's Woolly World, Captain Toad, Mario Party 10 as well as Mario Kart 8.
Whether the Amiibo range proves to be a success or not, Super Smash Bros Brawl could, along with the other games at Nintendo's preview, finally provide would-be buyers with enough of a reason to rush out and buy a Wii U.
Release date: 3 October 2014
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