E3 2014: Nintendo tips new ‘Zelda’ and wacky squid-shooter ‘Splatoon’

June 10, 2014 | 11:19 a.m.

Nintendo, amid the news Tuesday of new games coming to its Wii U console for its beloved “Zelda” and “Star Fox” franchises, took a bold step away from tradition. Princess Peach, the oft-kidnapped damsel in distress at the core of its “Super Mario Bros.” series, received an apology.

“Hey, look, I’m sorry about kidnapping you 80+ times, but my bad,” said a cartoonish, clay-like rendition of Nintendo’s main villain Bowser.

Peach said nothing, offering the sullen bad guy little more than a cold shoulder as she swiped his last doughnut. Bowser’s response to such non-regal behavior? “I deserved that.”

Who can blame her? One of Nintendo’s most formidable characters, with a jumping and gliding ability most of her non-dinosaur male pals could never muster, Peach has often been relegated to the role of the hostage.

Yet time and time again over the course of a nearly hourlong digital news conference, Nintendo presented female characters such as Princess Zelda and Lady Palutena from the “Kid Icarus” series kicking butt in new games such as the hack-and-slash “Hyrule Warriors” or fighting franchise “Super Smash. Bros.,” all while Mario was shown in animated clips asking for a ballet game.

It wasn’t the only indication that Nintendo is attempting to shake things up.

While Nintendo unveiled a Wii U game in which fans can construct their own “Super Mario” levels, there was no new game starring Nintendo’s popular Italian plumber himself. What’s more, the company took a page from its competitors, emphasizing a new title that will boast multiplayer capabilities and shooting mechanics, albeit with a lighthearted twist. The weapon is a paint gun and the stars of “Splatoon” are fast-transforming human-squid hybrids.

And then there were the amiibo (lower-case “a,” multiple Nintendo PR reps emphasized over the weekend).

The amiibo are character figurines, not unlike those seen in the “Skylanders” franchise or “Disney Infinity,” that can be placed on the Wii U’s touchscreen controller, the GamePad, to then spring into action in the game. The amiibo will work across numerous games, including the long-awaited “Super Smash Bros.,” due this fall, and already-released games such as “Mario Kart 8″ down the road.

Nintendo's amiibo figures will interact with multiple titles. (Nintendo)

Nintendo’s amiibo figures will interact with multiple titles. (Nintendo)

The figurines, of which about 10 will be available this fall at launch, can transfer and receive data, meaning the toys will have the ability to accrue and maintain skills and abilities and then bring them to numerous Nintendo franchises. Prices were not released.

Initial amiibo unveiled include Mario, Link from “The Legend of Zelda,” Princess Peach and Samus from “Metroid.”

Nintendo came to this year’s video game trade show Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) with perhaps the most to prove to consumers and the industry. While its latest console, the Wii U, has a hit in the joyful “Mario Kart 8,” the Wii U has — by Nintendo’s own admission — fallen drastically short of expectations. Third-party developer Ubisoft went so far as to reveal to journalists at an event Sunday night that the company has a finished Wii U game it is waiting to release until more Nintendo consoles are in the marketplace.

Beyond “Super Smash Bros.,” for which Nintendo will be releasing a fan-favorite GameCube-style vintage controller, Nintendo will bring some heavy hitters in 2015 in the hopes of spurring a long-term Wii U rebound. Those include an expansive new entry in “The Legend of Zelda” franchise and multiple works from game design legend Shigeru Miyamoto, the Nintendo mastermind who shaped modern gaming with such creations as “Donkey Kong” and “Super Mario Bros.”

In showing a glimpse of its upcoming Wii U “Zelda” entry, designer Eiji Aonuma revealed a lush, mountainous landscape. It appeared at first to be a static image,  but it gradually became apparent that small details were fluttering throughout — the grass swayed, smoke dissolved into the horizon and Link’s horse moved just a tad off in the distance. Aonuma said the game represented his vision to bring a large, open-world field to the “Zelda” series, as players can go anywhere in any order.

“As soon as those boundaries are removed it means you can enter any area from any direction,” Aonuma said. “So the puzzle-solving in this game begins the moment the player starts to think about where they want to go, how they will get there and what they will do when they arrive. This is a clean break from the conventions of past games in the ‘Zelda’ series, where you had to follow a set path and play the scenario in a right order.”

Soon, players were watching Link galloping along a waterfront, doing battle with an octopuslike creature. Cameras whooshed in and panned up to see Link fire an arrow into the monster. The early footage indicated Nintendo was striving for a sense of free-form movement, both in the universe and in battle.

"Splatoon" is a new Nintendo game that will emphasize multiplayer shooting. (Nintendo)

“Splatoon” is a new Nintendo game that will emphasize multiplayer shooting. (Nintendo)

In contrast to years past, however, Nintendo isn’t relying almost exclusively on its known brands. “Splatoon” sees Nintendo attempting to make a colorful splash in the multiplayer space. At E3, Nintendo unveiled the game’s four-on-four battle, in which characters, dressed humorously as backyard baseball players, can shape-shift into squids and swim through paint. The goal is to blast the world with as much of your team’s paint as possible, and the squidlike abilities present a twist on traditional stealth mechanics.

“Splatoon” will take advantage of the Wii’s motion controls, as players will tilt the GamePad up or down and left or right to view the surroundings. The GamePad will also display a map of the screen, allowing players to tap a teammate and instantly soar to his or her location. By turning into a squid and swimming through paint, characters can traverse walls and move under gates.

Nintendo is staying mum on whether there is a single-player, offline aspect to “Splatoon,” which is due in the first half of 2015.

“What we’re doing with ‘Splatoon’ and this action-RPG area, is very analogous to what ‘Mario Kart’ did to the racing genre 20 years ago, meaning the racing genre used to be about the prettiest car and simply who went the fastest,” said Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime in an interview on Sunday. “We introduced a whole different game mechanic, with items and fighting, if you will, that happens in a racing game. That’s what we’re doing with ‘Splatoon.’”

Fils-Aime said a team being overseen by Miyamoto is working on “Splatoon.” Miyamoto for his part has numerous projects in the works, including a new entry in the spacecraft action game series “Star Fox.” While not due until 2015, players will use the Wii U GamePad to view the cockpit of the spacecraft and the television will display a broader perspective of the airspace.

Among Miyamoto’s other titles in development are “Mario Maker,” which allows players to construct their own world in the “Super Mario Bros.” universe, and some more experimental uses of the GamePad currently titled “Project Giant Robot” and “Project Guard.” “Mario Maker” is due in the first half of 2015 and will give players the ability to switch between old 8-bit-style universes and more modern Wii U-like landscapes.

"Yoshi's Woolly World" is due in 2015 for the Wii U. (Nintendo)

“Yoshi’s Woolly World” is due in 2015 for the Wii U. (Nintendo)

This holiday season expect Nintendo to push hard on amiibo figurines. Long term, the toys will support such games as “Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker,” “Mario Party 10″ and “Yoshi’s Woolly World,” among others. Additionally, amiibo will eventually be adaptable to Nintendo’s handheld 3DS device.

Fils-Aime is confident the figures are the right move for Nintendo, as he points out that “Skylanders” and “Disney Infinity” sell heavily on Nintendo platforms. He’s adamant that amiibo is not just for kids.

“We do believe that the footprint for amiibo will be wider than the footprint that exists today for ‘Skylanders’ or ‘Infinity.’ We think we’re going to do a much better job with girls, given our female characters. We also think we’re going to do better from an age standpoint, essentially aging-up,” Fils-Aime said.

“I think absolutely the traditional male gamer audience is going to be buying this,” he continued. “They’re going to gravitate toward some of those characters that play especially well in ‘Smash Bros.,’ like Marth. Marth in the ‘Fire Emblem’/Nintendo universe is a fairly modest character, but for ‘Smash Bros.’ fans, he’s a fantastic playable character.”

– Todd Martens| @toddmartens | @LATHeroComplex

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