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Mario, Zelda, and Bayonetta: Hands-on with the Wii U’s E3 lineup

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LOS ANGELES — Nintendo’s lineup of Wii U games at its Electronic Entertainment Expo trade show booth looks familiar. Mario, Zelda, and Donkey Kong are exactly what we’ve come to expect from the company.

In a media briefing, famed Nintendo designer Shigeru Miyamoto acknowledged that it didn’t have new games, but he promised that titles like Mario Kart 8, Super Mario 3D World, and the others still feature numerous innovations.

Well, this morning, we played those games (and others) inside Nintendo’s booth to see if this is true.

Mario World

Super Mario 3D World
by Jeffrey Grubb

It says “World” in the title, but Super Mario 3D World has very little in common with 1990’s Super Mario World for the Super Nintendo. This three-dimensional platformer is instead looking to blaze a new path for the storied Nintendo franchise while recalling some features from older games.

For the first time since Super Mario Bros. 2 on NES, players can play as Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, or Toad. Each character has their own abilities. Luigi can jump higher, Peach can float, Toad is quick, and Mario is decent at everything.

Nintendo is combining those characters with a couple of new, interesting features. This includes a powerup that turns characters into cats and transparent tubes that players must navigate.

It’s incredibly bizarre to see Toad and Mario dressed up as cats, but it’s also something different for the series, which is well past the point of franchise fatigue thanks to the numerous New Super Mario Bros. games.

Nintendo, and many of its fans, aren’t going to abandon the Mario series any time soon, so it’s nice to see that it is still willing to experiment with it. I don’t know if Super Mario 3D World is as big of a leap as Nintendo made between Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World, but it’s definitely better than the New Super Mario Bros. games.

Zelda bloom

The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD
by Jeff Grubb

Wind Waker is one of the best looking Zelda games ever, and now it’s even better looking.

The thing about this HD update of the classic action-adventure game is that Wind Waker is already in HD in our memories. It’ll take a side-by-side comparison or a very good memory to notice the improvements … well, except for the bloom effect. Nintendo’s developers have really turned up that particular visual trick, which causes light to bleed out in a really distinctive manner.

The changes to the lighting add some extra style to the game, but this is a game that probably didn’t need any help with style.

Outside of the overused lighting filter, it’s just amazing to be back in this Zelda world. The colorful cartoon is still just as inviting as ever, and I can’t wait to give this one another full playthrough once Nintendo officially releases it later this year.

Mario Kart 8

Mario Kart 8
by Dean Takahashi

Mario Kart 8 has some amusing new features. You can drive off the track on a shortcut using anti-gravity. That means you can zoom up a wall and then rejoin the track later. Competitive players are going to love this.

It supports several different control schemes simultaneously. That means one player can use the GamePad while another uses a Pro controller or a Wii Remote and Nunchuk.

The player with the tablet doesn’t have an advantage, but they get to tap a big red button in the center of the touchscreen. This honks the horn.

I guess that’s sorta optimizing Mario Kart 8 for the Wii U’s unique features.

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
by Dan “Shoe” Hsu

The latest edition of this platformer series is headed in two directions. Tropical Freeze moves forward with greatly improved graphics. Lush jungles come to life, not only because of the Wii U’s high-definition visuals, but because players don’t simply sidescroll through them all the time. Much like modern Sonic games, you can now fly into and twist around levels from new angles, giving everything a pseudo three-dimensional feel (even though you’re still playing on a 2D plane). The creatures you encounter have detailed expressions and animations, giving them a Pixar-like quality. And speaking of the famous movie studio, Donkey Kong’s fur is now full and seemingly alive, much like Sully’s in the film Monsters, Inc.

At the same time, Tropical Freeze is going back to its roots with a return to underwater stages from earlier games. Even David Wise, one of the creators of the original Donkey Kong Country, has returned to work on this version to make sure old-school fans of the series are content.

This plays as well as expected, and the updated look helps freshen things up a bit — but just a bit. It’s still very much Donkey Kong Country, and we haven’t (yet) seen anything particularly surprising or innovative here.

Bayonetta 2

Bayonetta 2
by Eduardo Moutinho

At the start of Platinum Games’ Bayonetta 2 demo, you eviscerate golden centaur creatures — who happen to have classical-statue faces for chest armor — while flying atop a speeding jet fighter meandering between skyscrapers in a city.

That’s just one example of how Bayonetta 2 builds on the frenetic, oversexualized mayhem of its predecessor. The titular star, now with a stylish short haircut, continues to destroy with flair. She has more moves up her skin-tight sleeves as players can now execute Umbran Climax attacks that summon interdimensional support attacks. Basically, the barrages look like huge, shadowy arms punching through portals. These bits of offense were crucial in the multiple boss fights I encountered during my time with it.

The Wii U exclusive also introduces a touch mode that trades button presses for stylus taps and swipes on the GamePad. I chose to go with the classic mode, so I didn’t have to focus on the smaller screen for combat. I needed more real estate to contain all the provocative pandemonium. Bayonetta 2 doesn’t seem to use the Wii U hardware in any other intriguing way, however, which is unfortunate. I expect more creativity from a forward-thinking developer like Platinum.

Bayonetta 2’s demo didn’t show me anything particularly new. But it did provide me with some crazy, borderline-stupid fun.

The Wonderful 101_1

The Wonderful 101
by Eduardo Moutinho

Most people looking at Platinum Games’ The Wonderful 101 would immediately think of Nintendo’s strategy hybrid Pikmin, but the superhero-themed Wii U action title is actually pretty different. The demo I experienced centered on combat … and chaos. I controlled a ragtag group of comic book-inspired avengers running around a cartoony and colorful metropolis.

My Wonderful 101 could team up to form human überweapons, including a revolver, whip, fist, and sword — all great for vanquishing evildoers. Lining up to create these living, moving instruments highlighted the title’s quirky controls. These sequences required me to draw shapes with the GamePad’s touchscreen or with the right stick. The mechanic is far from intuitive, unfortunately, and it took me a while to get comfortable — especially with so much happening onscreen.

Levels tasked me with recruiting people to strengthen my mob, fighting enemies, and solving simple puzzles. Specific weapons worked better against specific bad guys. For example, I defeated an armored robot by ripping its plates off with my Wonderful whip. Successful enemy strikes diminished the size of my team, requiring me to recover my unconscious friends around the map.

The demo also included co-op, with multiple players to lead their own 101s. Interestingly enough, teams could recover downed heroes from fellow allies. I could already imagine the shouting matches and stink eyes that could ensue from such acts.

I enjoyed my time with The Wonderful 101, but I felt it wasn’t built for an expo environment. In short, I wanted to have more time with it.

Look for The Wonderful 101 to save us on Sept. 15.

Wii Party U

Wii Party U
by Dan “Shoe” Hsu

Nintendo hasn’t said exactly why this is a more generic Wii Party U and not the latest in the Mario Party series. But one representative we talked to theorized that this was because this game emphasizes our Mii avatars, so Princess Peach, Luigi, Boo, and other friends and enemies of Mario wouldn’t make as much sense to represent the players here.

For example, in one of Wii Party U’s many minigames, one player takes the GamePad tablet controller and follows its screen’s prompts to make a certain type of face — say, “chewing through rope.” Then the GamePad will take a picture of that face and send it to the TV for other players to multiple-choice guess what it’s representing.

It’s not the most thrilling of events, but this disc is packed full of other options. Some use the GamePad and TV, some TV and Wiimotes, some with all three, and some minigames even use the GamePad by itself. One such game is “Tabletop Baseball,” where two players face off with the GamePad sitting in between them. Each takes one analog stick — one for pitching, one for batting — and tries to outplay the other. Wii Party U comes packed with a small stand to set the GamePad on, leveling it out and providing a flat playing surface for these types of tabletop GamePad games.

Wii Party U still has a boardgame mode, similar to Mario Party, to wrap all the individual minigames around. But the big attraction here is the overwhelming variety of different events for different numbers of players, played in different formats. Without the Mario sugary sweetness, this may end up getting more playtime in my household for casual game nights.


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