Play as a cat in "Super Mario 3D World." (Nintendo)Link
A scene from "The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker." (Nintendo)Link
A scene from "Bayonetta 2." (Nintendo)Link
A scene from "The Wonderful 101." (Nintendo)Link
A scene from "Mario Kart 8." (Nintendo)Link
An early look at "Super Mario 3D World." (Nintendo)Link
A scene from "Super Mario 3D World." (Nintendo)Link
A look at the detailed world of "Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze." (Nintendo)Link
A scene from "Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze." (Nintendo)Link
A scene from "Pikmin 3." (Nintendo)Link
To set the stage for the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), Microsoft and Sony on Monday showed off their new hardware and games at large-scale news conferences in basketball arenas near USC. Nintendo, in contrast, is relying on the names of some of its most trusted brands, unveiling details Tuesday morning on a 3D Mario title for the Wii U, an HD Zelda remake and the eighth edition of its venerable “Mario Kart” series.
In lieu of a large-scale press event, Nintendo presented its wares Tuesday with an episode of Nintendo Direct, its online-direct-to fans news conference. The 40-minute live-stream initially seemed unable to meet demand and was fraught with glitches for much of the first half.
But here are the highlights: “Super Mario 3D World” will be released by the end of this year; “Mario Kart 8″ is coming in spring 2014; a previously unannounced “Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze” is due in November, and the Wii U remake of GameCube title “The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker” is due in October.
It’s been relatively quiet on the Wii U front in 2013, as a number of titles teased before the system’s late 2012 launch, including the superhero-themed “The Wonderful 101″ and a return visit to the world of “Pikmin,” have still not hit retail shelves. Anticipation was high that Nintendo would trot out most of its biggest brands at E3 to regain momentum, but Tuesday’s announcement didn’t come without more product delays.
Still on the horizon is “Wii Fit U” and “Wii Party U.” Both were initially targeted for summer and are now postponed at least until the winter to add new features, said Nintendo President Satoru Iwata.
“After the Wii U launch, we couldn’t release games as smoothly as we had planned,” Iwata said, who then apologized to fans with a bow.
But the company offset the news with a number of surprises for its core titles. Chief among them: For the first time in a Mario game, players can gain cat-like abilities. A power-up will give Mario, Luigi, Toad or Princess Peach — all four are playable in “Super Mario 3D World” — a cat-like suit that allows them to climb walls and do spinning, tail-claw attacks on enemies.
Nintendo has a reputation for handling its original properties with great care, subtly adding details that can make games feel fresh. A brief hands-on with “Super Mario 3D World” left a positive impression, as the game incorporates the open-feel of “Super Mario Galaxy” with a look that takes after the more structured, level design of “Super Mario 3D Land.”
In addition to playing as the speedy Toad or the graceful Princess Peach, the game also interjects puzzle-like challenges. Mario games have long made use of flower-pot-like tubes that magically transport characters to other lands. Here, those green pots again are plentiful, but so are clear, valve-like cylinders that send characters soaring around sometimes-convoluted tracks that are navigated with the directional pad. When you are playing with others, a head-first crash of Mario and Toad will send the characters rocketing in the other direction.
Even more important, the game supports four-player local co-op, and it’s implemented in such a way that players are alternately working for and against one another. While completing a level is a team sport, tallying up gold coins is an individual contest. When you are facing enemies, the GamePad can be used to put a touch-like hold on them, or it could be explored to find hidden paths not visible on the screen for one’s selfish quest for lucre.
But even playing the game for just a few minutes left me wanting to further explore. Admittedly, I am a cat person, so watching four Mario characters in cat suits climb walls and scratch their way through the universe transfixed me.
“Mario Kart 8″ and “Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze” were also sampled in hands-on time. “Mario Kart 8″ possessed all the fluidity the series is known for and took advantage of the Wii U’s power by mixing in antigravity vehicles. A seemingly serene race through castle-adorned lands can instantly be turned upside down, challenging players by changing perspective and then forcing them to hang-glide back upright. It can be a shortcut or a dizzying detour.
“Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze,” despite having a name lifted from the local Tiki bar, is a 2D side-scrolling game that feels like it isn’t. Underground paths, trails among the trees and barrel-blasts over sea shift camera angles to give the feel that each area can be explored up, down, backward and forward.
Along for the ride this time are Donkey Kong pals Diddy and Dixie, and they’ll come in handy in single-player mode. With underwater paths, penguin foes and viking ships jammed into one level section, there’s a colorfully complex richness to the worlds. It wasn’t always clear where to look or where to explore.
Missing, however, was news on the original “Zelda” game in development for the Wii U, but Nintendo did confirm that the 3DS “Zelda” title will be called “The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds.” Hero Link can now become a drawing to move along walls. The game is due this holiday season, coming after the release of the more lighthearted RPG “Mario & Luigi: Dream Team,” due Aug. 11 for the 3DS.
In long-term development is a game for the Wii U from Monolith Software, the team behind “The Xenoblade Chronicles.” It is due in 2014.
– Todd Martens
Follow us on Twitter: @LATHeroComplex
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