Over the past few months, Nintendo has made showings at various exhibitions across the globe touting their new WiiU console, due out this November. Not to be content with only getting the new controller in the hands of the press and those willing to make the long haul out to E3 and the like, Nintendo set up several WiiU “preview” events across North America. Invites were administered through their Club Nintendo program, and anyone that is a member was eligible to get an invitation. I was fortunate enough to get one, and get my hands on some of the new games early!
The Event Itself
I have mixed feelings about the event. The venue looked good, the staff was really friendly, and there was a wide variety of software available to try. Everything was really stylized, even down to the bright blue Jones Soda and WiiU-branded cookies. But I had major beef with how the actual demos were handled- you know, the part that really matters.
The biggest problem with the demos was that the staff made absolutely no effort to regulate how long an individual got to play a game, to the point where they were even encouraging people that had overstayed their welcome to “try again, try again”. I even witnessed one fellow get close to 30 minutes of play time on ZombiU‘s singleplayer. This caused the lines to move very, very slowly despite the small number of people at the event.
Needless to say, I only got to try five of the thirteen games that were there, which are detailed below. Overall I would say the event was really cool, but the lack of regulation had me standing in lines when I could have been playing games, which was pretty disappointing.
Game and Wario
This was the first game that I played upon entering the room, and it’s a pretty decent showcase for the new controller. The first game I played on it involved firing a bow on the touch screen of the Game Pad to hit targets on the big screen. It took very little time to acclimate myself to the game, despite holding the controller for the first time. The gameplay was very smooth, and it only took me a few tests shots before I started knocking stuff out. There were also some touch screen gimmicks involving power ups and squashing enemies that got too close and “jumped” to the game pad from the big screen. Worth noting is that, while this seems a bit like a WarioWare game, the games included are more fleshed out than the “MicroGames” we have played in the past.
The second mini-game was a group game for two to five people. The player with the Game Pad chooses a character in secret, then tries to blend into the crowd using smokescreens, passing cars, and sewer drains to traverse the map and pick up three apples. At the end of the game, the other players try to guess which character the player was. I survived unscathed, then passed the controller around the line. Short and sweet, and the first showcase of how the Game Pad can be used by one player for one type of gameplay experience while the on-lookers have a different experience on the big screen.
I have never been completely sold on Nintendo Land. Like Wii Sports before it, it looks like it is going to be the game you “have to have” to quickly and effectively showcase the new controller to friends, family, and non-gamers. And from what I played, the gameplay experiences are, again, fairly shallow. It is a pack-in in every sense of the term. However, there is a draw for the core gamer, and that is the fan service. Most of Nintendo’s major franchises have been confirmed for the game, and they definitely sport their own unique look and feel in their respective mini-games.
The Zelda mini-game was my first real try at the “assymetrical” gameplay that Nintendo keeps touting. The game is on-rails, so all the player has to worry about is taking down enemies. All players share a pool of lives, so it is imperative that each person works quickly and accurately. The Game Pad player operates a bow with the touch screen, not unlike the one in Game and Wario, attempting to take out enemies from long range- enemies that are otherwise unreachable by the other players. The other players use Wii Remotes to hack away at close enemies with swords. It felt a lot like the “Swordplay” mini-game in Wii Sports Resort, with attacking, parrying, and angle of slice. In typical Zelda fashion, there are some puzzles to work out, that require the cooperation of Game Pad and WiiMote players.
Next up was Animal Crossing, which I was really excited to play- I’m absolute Animal Crossing nut. Unfortunately, I was not really stoked on the mini-game. Three players use Wii Remotes NES-style to pick up candy around a small map. The Game Pad player controls two players at once, one with each control stick, and attempts to corner and tag the players with candy. If the three players can pick up all of the candy without getting tagged three times collectively, they win. Working together is imperative, and my random partners at the event did not do a good job with this. It is going to take a great deal of strategy to beat the Game Pad player. Honestly, I thought it was a bit of a throwaway game, but it sure was cute.
At the event, there were two demos for ZombiU– one for single player, one for multiplayer. Realizing that I did not have enough time for both, I opted for the multiplayer, which I knew nothing about going in.
The multiplayer was cool. Really cool. I said back at E3 that ZombiU was the best showcase of the Game Pad, and now I’ll say that it is also the best showcase of the asymmetrical gameplay. The demo I played was for two players. Player one plays with the Controller Pro, and it is a pretty typical FPS at first glance. Aiming down the sights, shooting, reloading, meleeing, quick-time events to shake zombies off of you. Very standard fare.
Except for the fact that your opponent is placing the zombies on the map, like it is a real-time strategy game. Yep, the player with the Game Pad is looking at the whole map top-down, purchasing and placing units strategically to trap you and keep you from capturing the flag on the other side of the level. First player to capture a certain number of flags wins. It was absolutely nuts. It was like two completely different games working in tandem. Everything else I played up to this point really was just an old idea with a new control scheme. But ZombiU really convinced me of the possibilities for new game ideas coming to the system. Amazing.
This game is absolutely stunning. Wow. So smooth. The demo I played was for two players, and was asymmetrical. Once again, I picked up the Controller Pro to control Rayman himself, while the other player used the Game Pad to manipulate the environment and lead me through the level. There were also some hidden mini-games that required us to work together to complete a goal. All of this worked really well, and it was a blast to coordinate our work and get through the somewhat difficult levels. It was not clear how the game would function as a single player affair, but I think it is safe to assume that they will be separate modes. Either way, this is gonna be one of the best games to get this year. It is fantastic.
If it is not already obvious, I am definitely sold on Ubisoft’s visions for the controller and asymmetrical gameplay. It is truly innovative stuff, and something to get excited about. But Nintendo’s own efforts are leaving something to be desired. My experiences with their WiiU software just felt way too familiar, despite holding such a strange and new controller in my hands. I am sure that, in time, we will see those great and innovative games from Nintendo somewhere down the line. But at launch, Ubisoft is providing much better reasons to invest than Nintendo themselves.