Hands on: Wii U Third-Party Round-Up
Posted by Thomas Whitehead
Trine 2, Skylanders Giants, Ninja Gaiden 3, Tekken 2, NBA 2K13 and Sonic Racing
During this week we've been giving first impressions and hands on accounts of a number of Wii U launch window titles, both retail and downloadable. Nintendo of Europe provided access to a wide range of games we haven't yet covered, however, including some additional ports or multi-platform releases. Here are some thoughts on six more titles that may or may not be on your Wii U shopping list during the launch window.
We've already provided our first impressions of Trine 2: Director's Cut, where we gave the GamePad touch screen controls a work-out. We tried the button and joystick options this time, for the most part, and the complexity of the game was immediately apparent. The right stick functioned as a replacement for cursor aiming, and a variety of shoulder buttons and inputs were used for swapping characters or using different abilities. This isn't a pick up and play game, by any means, but the various controls will in all likelihood become much easier with practice and familiarity, despite some of our struggles in the demo.
It's possible to play on the GamePad screen for easy touch shortcuts, though it's better suited to using the stylus rather than a fingertip. As is clear to anyone who's seen footage, meanwhile, this title is a visual treat and ample demonstration of the new era of downloadable games that Wii U will usher in, from a graphical standpoint. The representative also reminded us of the exclusive new level and additional content on the way, including three player multiplayer that can be both local and online simultaneously, which is terrific if you want to hook up with friends in the living room and over Wi-Fi at the same time.
This puzzle platformer certainly is promising, particularly for those yet to experience it or its predecessor. It'll take a bit of time and practice to play it well, but you may stop caring once you start solving clever puzzles and fighting dragons.
Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure was a major success, delighting kids and big kids alike while making parents weep at their depleted bank accounts. With its Portal of Power and NFC-enabled toy figurines, it took toy play-time and video game play-time and threw them together, with different toys having their own strengths and weaknesses in the game. It was inevitable that a sequel would arrive with a new range of 'Giant' toys, but we have good news for parents or money-conscious buyers out there: your figurines and Portal of Power that you've used on Wii or 3DS will work on Wii U, with the cross-platform support thankfully continuing.
What about the game? Well, it's Skylanders in HD, and that's about it. In our demo area we swapped figururines multiple times to access new areas or use nature-based attacks on certain enemies, and generally had a fun time bashing bad guys with a few of the Giants on offer. It's simple to play, looks attractive if not technically impressive, and there's the usual scope for buying more figurines than you know what to do with. The GamePad shows statistics on the toy you're using, meanwhile, which is handy for a quick glance as it levels up, while a few taps allow you to switch the main action from the TV to the controller's extra screen.
We were also told, as expected, that the Wii U release will have two versions as standard: one with a figure and a copy of the game, and a pack that'll also include a new Portal of Power, if you're jumping in for the first time.
Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor's Edge is full of blood, dismemberment, and alarmingly busty female characters: so far, so Team Ninja. What's interesting is that Nintendo is publishing this one, clearly in an effort to provide some violent mature fun for prospective Wii U owners, with the promise that this edition will resolve some of the complaints that fans had about the original release on PS3 and Xbox 360.
The demo on display was itself one of the big new features promised, as we ran around Paris as Ayane and attempted to bring the hurt and deprive some villains of their limbs. We say attempted, as despite having some good moments we ran into the other improvement that the developers have promised, that of increased difficulty. The action was fast and flowing, no doubt, but tackling enemies with rocket launchers with nothing but ninja skills was unsurprisingly tricky, no matter what buttons we mashed or how many touch screen special moves we frantically tapped. We did successfully work through some standard open air fights and street brawls, until we got to one area with a rocket launching goon on a roof. We tried to take out the foot soldiers while dodging missiles before we realised that the enemies were simply respawning, and attempts to get a clean shot at Mr. Rocket Launcher with our own projectile was borderline impossible. After around half a dozen deaths, it was time to stop.
The nippy combat is probably possible due to some rather basic graphics; they're high definition, absolutely, but it's a simple engine nonetheless. When you're zipping around a screen and chopping off arms, however, the visuals are perfectly decent, but from our time with it we would suggest that this is a game for dedicated fans only. For those that aren't masterful gaming ninjas, this would could lead to a rather expensive GamePad throwing incident.
Tekken Tag Tournament 2 will be there on launch day, and fans of the series should know exactly what to expect. You have punch and kick attacks, and you can either attempt to be a skilful master or tap buttons and hope for the best. We tried strategic button-mashing in both a standard fight and a Special Mode match and succeeded against what seemed to be a more skilful player — in terms of combo moves and so on — each time, but it was nevertheless a lot of fun. The GamePad's D-pad was ideal, more so than the 3DS equivalent in its fighting games, and the tag mechanic for calling in a team-mate is instinctive and useful for some impressive looking combo sets.
It was, like the majority of the multi-platform games we've played, good looking and with a solid frame-rate, though serious players may feel it could be a little higher. The interesting shake-up was in the Wii U exclusive Special Mode, with a number of Mario-themed power ups there for the taking in the arena. Attempting to brawl while sidestepping towards power-ups, or away from damaging purple mushrooms, is good chaotic fun. Grabbing mushrooms and doubling in size is enjoyable in action, and fighting an enemy half your size has the benefit of extra power, though they're amusingly difficult to hit. It's not a mode to last hours upon hours, but will no doubt get some laughs when played with friends.
NBA 2K13 is produced by Jay Z, so we're sure that it's a lot cooler as a result. That little inconsequential tidbit aside, this seems like a solid and reasonably satisfying basketball title, though we only had a five minute demo to try out. The animation was nice and smooth, and after an initial period of falling behind while learning the controls we started to put together the odd attack and actually score points. This isn't NBA Jam, by any stretch of the imagination, but actually requires you to have a vague idea about tactics and how the sport is played in real life.
There are a couple of neat touches using the GamePad that will probably please gamers with an eye on the coach's seat. One is the ability to make line-up changes on the fly by tapping and dragging on the touch screen; you can do this during play, if you really want to show off. Another new feature is the Gatorade Biometric Scan, which shows a stylish alternative view on the second screen if you hold the GamePad up, showing the energy levels of your players. Although we had no cause to use these functions, we can imagine that both will be useful in a close-fought full match.
Our brief time with this points to a solid launch title, taking the building blocks from the other HD platforms and adding a couple of GamePad-specific features to enhance the package. This one could be worth keeping an eye on, sports fans.
Although it's traditional to save the best for last, in this case we're unfortunately ending on a sour note. Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, based on the demo that we were surprisingly allowed to play, is the epitomy of a lazy, sloppy port.
To get the basics out of the way, controls on the GamePad are intuitively set to the right trigger to accelerate, left trigger to drift around corners for valuable boosts, and the A button for weapons. That all works, but the problem in the track that we played is that Sonic's vehicle handled like a shopping trolley, and there was the small matter of an abysmal frame-rate that dragged the action down and caused confusion, rather than fun. The visuals also looked like a strange filter had been applied, lacking any real crisp detail, and we actually got lost on the track after failing to spot some fuzzy pink arrows in a water section.
It was perhaps all summed up by the GamePad feature that, of all of those we saw last week, was the most pointless and worst to use. The GamePad screen shows an overhead map, similar to that seen in Mario Kart 7, yet if you hold the controller up a small rectangular box appears as a rear-view mirror. The problem is that the picture in this mirror — it only fills a small part of the GamePad's screen — is fuzzy and hard to see, so it serves no real purpose in the game.
This may have not been the final build, of course, but this title left no favourable impressions. It says it all that despite getting lost, hitting a number of walls and battling with the frame rate, we still somehow won our race; by the time we got there, however, we were past caring.