Animal Crossing: New Leaf

The 3DS is having a great year. Between hardcore strategy role-playing games and the return of beloved franchises, Nintendo has been cookin’ up a diverse library for its 3D-enabled handheld.

During yesterday’s Nintendo Direct video announcement, it revealed a ton of information on upcoming 3DS games for the spring and summer — and just a few hours later, it was ready to show some of them off during a press event in San Francisco. While we played everything there, we’ve narrowed down the list to the four games you should pay attention to, breaking down just how similar or different they are from other entries in their respective series.

As an extra bonus, we wrangled up a few Nintendo representatives to tell us some little known facts behind each game.

Harness the power of the ‘stache

Title: Mario & Luigi: Dream Team
Release date: August 11


The newest role-playing adventure for the world’s most famous plumbers (which is different from that other Mario RPG series) has the Mario brothers running back and forth between dreams and reality to save Princess Peach. It’s like Inception except with less music by Edith Piaf and more vaguely Italian-sounding dialogue.

What’s old or new about it?

Besides earning experience points and levels, Dream Team is totally different from earlier games in the series. Mario crosses into the dream world whenever Luigi volunteers to sleep on magical pillows. This is where he teams up with the magnanimous Dreamy Luigi (they’re Luigi’s dreams, after all), a much more powerful version of his brother. Dreamy Luigi can merge with sparkling auras called Luiginary Works, where he becomes a giant, disembodied face that can help Mario around the 2D platforming levels.

The first Luiginary Work uses Luigi’s thick mustache as a stretchy tree branch — you pull his real mustache with the stylus on the bottom screen and let go once Mario is on it — that propels Mario to greater heights. Luigi’s second power brings objects in the background to the foreground with a powerful sneeze; you trigger it by rubbing his nose with the stylus.

Did you know?

“The game’s writing in English is handled by Nate Bihldorff, from the Nintendo of America localization team,” said a Nintendo representative. “Nate has been the lead writer for every game in the series to date.”

Where we’re going, we don’t need roads

Title: A sequel to The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (no official name yet)
Release date: Holiday 2013

A sequel to WHAT!?

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System is like the Bible of video games — and you just can’t write a sequel to the Bible. Yet that’s exactly what Nintendo is doing with this upcoming Zelda title (which we’ll just call A Link to the Past 2 for now). While it’s set in the same world many gamers know and love, A Link to the Past 2 tells an original story with all-new dungeons to explore.

What’s old or new about it?

It’s been a long time since the last time we even touched A Link to the Past, but it’s a classic for a reason: the music and the animations are just timeless. Small touches, like the sound of powering up Link’s sword for his whirlwind strike or the rousing melody heard when opening up a treasure chest, are kept intact. Familiar enemies and color-coded puzzle switches from the original also make an appearance.

Where A Link to the Past 2 deviates the most from its predecessor is its perspective. In this demo, you play from a top-down view as Link launches himself higher and higher into the tower by smashing smiling red blocks with his hammer. Link also has a new tool in his arsenal: he can flatten himself into walls to cross previously unseen areas or bypass obstacles.

Did you know?

“In this new game, Link can become a chalk drawing and move within walls,” said a Nintendo representative. “Even if players remain still in this form, the drawing of Link will continue to animate, reminiscent of a popular 1980s music video!”

The dungeon featured in the demo (and in the screens here) is actually a souped-up version of the Tower of Hera from the original Link to the Past. It features the return of a familiar boss, the worm-like Moldorm. Nintendo wouldn’t say either way if what we played is in the final game.

The real ‘King of Kong’

Title: Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D
Release date: May 24


Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D is the handheld redux of Donkey Kong Country Returns for the Wii, which came out in 2010. You play as both Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong as they fight to get back their stolen bananas by traveling through distinct environments — like volcanoes, jungles, and beaches — on their island. Completing the 2D platformer unlocks eight new stages that weren’t in the first game.

What’s old or new about it?

In addition to the new stages, the 3DS version also has something called New Mode that makes the difficulty a little easier. Each character starts with three hearts instead of two. You can also use new items like a portable DK barrel, which is useful for summoning Diddy again if he dies, or Crash Guard, which shields you from two additional hits in the mine cart and rocket barrel levels (see gallery) before you have to start over. And you can still play cooperatively with a friend — but only by using local wireless play.

Did you know?

“The game features eight new stages that were not in the original Wii version of the game,” said a Nintendo representative. “However, the design of these new stages may be familiar to players that accessed the unlockable artwork from the first game.”

Give us the mayor and wipe away the debt

Title: Animal Crossing: New Leaf
Release date: June 9


Either I’ve been playing too much BioShock Infinite, or both Nintendo and Irrational Games are in cahoots: Infinite protagonist Booker DeWitt begins his voyage to Columbia in a boat with two strangers, and Animal Crossing starts with you traveling to an unknown town (you can call it whatever you want) by train while talking to a strange cat. You explore an idyllic area where the animals think you’re the mayor; DeWitt arrives in a beautiful floating city where people think he’s a bad dude. DeWitt pillages trash cans and dead bodies for loot; you can grab fruit, seashells, and roses and sell them back for cold hard cash.

Coincidence? I think not.

What’s old or new about it?

Animal Crossing: New Leaf is the first game in the simulation series that appoints you as mayor, giving you more options for customizing the town. This comes with a few perks, like starting the game debt-free when you’re given a new home to live in (beginning with a tent) rather than having to pay for it over time. Only the first day (New Leaf runs in real-time to depict night and day activities) was available to play, but one example Nintendo gave was that you can pass new town ordinances, like making the in-game shops open at night if that’s the only time you can play.

Otherwise, it’s business as usual as you socialize with the anthropomorphic creatures living next to you. You can still customize your clothing and home furniture to your heart’s content. For multiplayer, up to three friends can visit your town at the same time, and if you use the 3DS’s StreetPass feature, which passively collects data from nearby systems, you can take a look at other players’ houses to see how they designed it.

Did you know?

“Fans of previous games in the series will be familiar with Mr. Resetti, who chides players for quitting their game without saving,” said a Nintendo representative. “While he appears at the beginning of Animal Crossing: New Leaf, players will only see him again in the game if they build the Surveillance Center structure.”