PAX PRIME 2013: The Nintendo Crescendo

egardless of how critical my position on Nintendo may be as of recent, my travels on the floor led me to the familiar brand. I tasked myself with getting the best out of what the Big N had to offer. So after a couple of games later, I can safely say that while my faith is still shaken, it is far from lost—Nintendo is dropping some real winners after all this Holiday.

The New Super Mario Bros. managed to scratch some of that plumber itch for everyone who adopted a Wii U. The most recent visit to the Mushroom Kingdom didn’t exactly fulfill the potential pedigree still latent within the Wii U—Super Mario 3D World on the other hand is primed to clear that rash real soon. The appeal of choosing between the plumber family is genuinely refreshing, especially when each character has their own quirks and play style that change the entire dynamic on how you play through the stages. 

The particular stage we ran through for example, used this collection of clear pipes structured like a hamster maze with a constant flow of force that jettisons anyone who enters it, propelling you through the course of its layout. These pipe hazards are littered with obstacles and pitfalls that would be easier for Peach or Toad to attempt over the super brothers because of their unique talents, such as Toad’s speed, and Peach’s fashionable floaty jump of defiance against gravity. The concept was especially refreshing in a multiplayer environment, where my fellow co-op players that were struggling with the aforementioned hazards were able to quickly switch their character roles with me after we all got a feel for what we were up against.

Although the idea of multiplayer 3D World initially caused some duress considering the frenetic nonsense of NSMB’s multiplayer, the mechanic in action is more forgiving then its two dimensional counterpart, in fact it’s the definitive way hop and bop with your buddies through a bunch of stages. The real estate makes for solid ground for everyone to step on, meaning you won’t get knocked around for simply being in the way of one of your teammates, and certain sequence demand an actual cooperative effort when collecting pieces in a certain manner for example; the act of player grieving was no longer frequent or accidental for that matter.

The addition of the Cat suit might be a bit strange (I’ve talked about this before), but it’s totally a welcomed one. Furthermore, the stage it was demoed in made brilliant use of the suit. Running up and along walls, with ninja drop kicks and graceful speed give the same kind of fun nuance that frog suit did back in Super Mario Bros 3. 3D World drops in November, it’s a Wii U game that you don’t want to miss.

3D World may have been a retread of an old idea, but the new features refined the entry into a completely different kind of game. Regrettably, however, Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze didn’t feature that kind attention to revamp its gameplay. Instead, Retro Studios took delivering a gorgeous “If it ain’t broke, then don’t fix it” approach, and the results played out to be a bit tepid.

The fresh, brilliant visuals will slap you in the face. Retro Game Studios spared no expense to finally deliver that rendered fur on the Gorilla that was always promoted in marketing materials from DK’s Rare days. Aside from the gorgeous graphics, few quirks have replaced some of the flaws of DKCR that added to the monkey stomping, but nothing too exciting to necessarily write home about. The Microphone blowing technique is now completely gone, and in its place is a grabbing maneuver for anything suspiciously coming out of the ground that you just pluck out in the sunshine. This much welcomed change didn’t break my sense of agency with the act of spitting air on to my controller, and I was constantly moving.

The other big feature we were treated to was swimming…that’s right, it’s a bullet point Nintendo is highlighting—The swimming portions handled like they did during the SNES era, with the exception being that you can do a corkscrew spin and attack enemies underwater, and you now need air to stay underwater, whether it’s from the surface or a big bubble (The primates didn’t make an “OH-AH” sound in case you were wondering either). The sense of scale and levels do span out much bigger than it’s Wii predecessor, and David Wise’s incredible work with the soundtrack immediately stuck out. However, there’s nothing else here—no particular Gamepad features of note, Dixie Kong plays like a slightly varied Diddy, and the pace of play is fairly similar, all be, if not slightly longer. Tropical Freeze is fun but it’s unfortunately more of the same.

Nintendo dropped the bomb earlier this year on of their Nintendo Direct shows that they were developing a direct sequel to Link To The Past; we’ve been so excited, we had a Games Club to on LTTP in anticipation, and now I that I’m reflecting my time with Link Between Worlds—I can safely say that I haven’t been this impressed with a Zelda game in such a long time.

Going the Dungeon route; I was already equipped with a Bow and hammer from LTTP, which I quickly surmised were in my arsenal to respond against the familiar hazards of Moles and Crystal switches. The rules, however, have expanded, and Link now becomes completely flat against walls as if he were some sort of a mural painting, shifting the camera to a profile view where you side-scroll from the left or right on the wall, traveling alongside them to reach areas he wouldn’t be able to without the new ability. The mechanic introduced this almost Portal-like approach where I had to start viewing rooms with their perimeter in mind, and any other interior walls, this mindset gradually ingrained itself into dictating the priority of my actions in every room I walked into, but the technique uses up magic that slowly regenerates, so I had to tread lightly with my trials. Even though the ability is very cerebral in use, the exercise of it was organic and addictive.

The familiar elements returning from Link to The Past operate with some different quirks as well: Moles now launch back up after being hammered down, meaning if you stand on top of them, they will propel you higher, reaching an alcove or vantage point you wouldn’t be able to reach otherwise—The blocks that that respond to the crystal switches also allow you to stand on them, also working to give you extra height. With these dynamics working in conjunction with reaching high points on walls if against them (the moment you become a part of the wall, you’re on a single plane of path to the left or right, regardless of what’s not under you) I found myself relearning mechanics I retained all over again and the game was refreshing for it. The visuals outstanding, taking on the physical art style of LTTP to heart, the design of characters and the stages themselves are all emulated with the style and represent the 3D effect on the 3DS pristinely, especially within the dungeon I was conquering, as I was able to use the hole on my current floor to see down deeper than just the direct story below me. Easily the best of the bunch, Link Between Worlds is set for November 22nd, ready to spread that epic magic that it’s famous for.

The latest entry coming to the Pokémon series has gotten a lot of hype and push from the Big N, considering it’s the first time within the series that next version will be launching worldwide on the same date. Though the newest Pocket Monsters have a lot of ground to pick up considering the regurgitated state of affairs of churning out titles on older hardware (which is an issue when we’re two years into the 3DS lifespan), X and Y reinvents everything you would come to expect from the franchise and expands on it in all of the right ways.

The graphic design takes some cues from the altered perspectives found in Black and White, but tones it down and delivers a more traditional perspective that doesn’t shift too far from an over-head perspective. Battle sequences feature animations for every change: From elemental advantage to weather, it’s akin to the console presentation of the Stadium/Coliseum presentation, only featured with more character and personality in the movements of each individual critter. Borrowing from Nintendogs, Gamefreak has finally implemented a feature that allows players to free their creatures for a break instead of a battle, so that you can take your time playing, feeding, and petting any of the six monsters on your persons.

Experimenting with the feature will appeal to everyone when they’re loving on their favorite Pokémon, and the little quirks that range from tracking your head movements from the face camera to verbal response to whatever you shout into the Mic, it’s a subtle attribute to the formula that adds character to the fun factor. Mounts were also showcased, which didn’t really defer all that much from act of Surfing on Water Pokémon, other than getting a fleshed out model of the particular monster you’re riding and working with the different terrain that will demand different monsters tread the special field. This was nothing special, but it might have the potential to flesh itself more later with stage puzzles in the final release.

The last feature and quite possibly the most important one is the new Mega Evolution mechanic that was debuted in a Press release prior to PAX. We were able to experiment with the new element of transforming specific Pokémon into superior versions of themselves when they hold a specific stone. The specific Pokémon to try it out was Mewtwo. I was able to select it from the moves screen, and the process radically changed Mewtwo’s appearance and made it practically invincible in battle. Other than a new look, Mega Evolved Pokémon have the advantage of having a completely different ability from their Pre-Evolution as well as a different or additional type, and then there’s the Stat boost in all of the respective traits. Gold and Silver have always been known for radically expanding Pokémon in all of the right ways, and Gamefreak hasn’t been able to produce the same kind of lightening to strike twice in the subsequent sequels since, X and Y is poised to be that game changer. And in October, the little guys will take the world by storm all over again.

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