Last week we were invited to a Nintendo 3DS showcase to get first-hand impressions of some of the upcoming releases in the next few months for Nintendo’s handheld, as well as a demo of the recently announced 3DS Zelda game. We've already previewed a number of these titles in detail from a similar event in San Francisco, but here are more of our thoughts on this exciting line up, courtesy of the UK event.
Donkey and Diddy Kong are back to familiar ground in this remake of their best-selling 2010 Wii title, with the port of Retro Studio's game being handled by Monster Games, of Pilotwings Resort fame. The shift to the small screen is a smooth one, with nothing but a slightly lower resolution lost in the transition, and the added oomph of the 3D effect sparkling procedures. The frantic 2D gameplay of the Country franchise is especially suited to the handheld device, freed from the Wii curse of waggle tacked-on controls. The classic DK ground pound and roll moves are now assigned to the upper face buttons of the 3DS, while the shoulder buttons make the chimps grab barrels, vines and other surfaces.
While arguably this control scheme does not quite match the fluidity of the Super NES original trilogy, where grabbing was much more streamlined, the improvement from the vague shake trigger of the Wii version is noticeable, particularly in Time Attack mode where every button press counts. Criticism concerning the difficulty spikes in some of the later levels has also been addressed with the addition of the ‘New Mode’, featuring a larger life bar and new shop items like a green balloon that prevents from falling once on a level, an extra DK barrel to use at will via the touchscreen or the Crash Guard potion which will protect players when riding a mine cart or rocket barrel. Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D is out in Europe and North America on May 24th.
The fourth instalment of the portable RPG series Mario & Luigi, subtitled Dream Team in North America and Dream Team Bros. in Europe, is also AlphaDream’s first Nintendo 3DS outing. Although the series has had a glossy makeover and the Mario brothers have had a beautiful polygonal overhaul, the game does not stray too far from the trusted formula of slightly bonkers storyline meets turn-based, timed button-pressing battles, which admittedly is quite a niche genre in itself. On this occasion, the siblings travel to Pi’illios Island to assist Royal family member Dreambert in liberating all the Pi’illios (and Princess Peach) imprisoned inside nightmare chunks in the dream world, accessible via a portal opened up by sending Luigi to sleep in special pillows scattered around the world.
Still with us? While in these dream sections, Luigi’s powers increase tenfold and the brothers are able to perform special Luiginary attacks, making beautiful use of the 3D effect and gyroscope, as well as the so-called Luiginary Works, abilities performed by (or rather on) the asleep Luigi that have an effect in the dream world. In the demo that we played, tinkering with Luigi’s moustache in the real world resulted in Mario being catapulted around the screen by giant green springy moustaches. The result is not entirely dissimilar to the cause-effect scenarios in Bowser’s Inside Story, when the brothers’ actions inside Bowser’s body would trigger a reaction from him and viceversa, but the innate silliness and surrealist style of the series seems to have stepped up a notch with the pretext of the fantasy sequences. Dream Team is out in the generally software-starved summer months: July 12th in Europe and August 11th in America.
The latest entry of this unlikeliest of Nintendo series is subtitled New Leaf, even though on first impressions you’d be forgiven for thinking this is more of a trusty old book with a new cover. It’s fair to say that not a lot has changed since Animal Crossing: Wild World on the Nintendo DS: you arrive to your new town (by train this time) and are greeted by the mayoral office clerk who in turn refers you to merciless capitalist raccoon Tom Nook to arrange a house for you. Recession has reached Animal Crossing shores too, meaning players will have to slum it in a tent until they can afford their own brick and mortar house by earning a wage trading captured animals, fossils and harvested crop for bells, the in-game currency.
As in previous games, mingling with the rest of the town folk enlivens the daily grind thanks to a charming and witty script that is not particularly flashy, but rewards constant players with subtle surprises. If you’re a fan of other versions of Animal Crossing you will delight in meeting old acquaintances like Pete the postduck, Blathers the night owl, the hard-working Able sisters or grumpy mole Resetti who still admonishes you for turning off the game without saving (a personal favourite). But dig a little deeper into the game and you will also start bumping into new villagers, new shops (including a footwear store and a gardening shop), a new meeting point (Club 101) where songwriter dog K.K. Slider and emotions professor Dr. Shrunk hang around, new crops (bananas!) and a plethora of new options utilising the inherent features of the 3DS such as play coins, QR codes and SpotPass.
In many ways, New Leaf feels like a generational update to current hardware of software from 2005 that still plays like no other game in Nintendo’s catalogue. Japanese audiences clearly feel this way, as the game has already shifted more than three million copies in the region, and is now heading to the West, arriving on June 14th. Start saving those bells.
The fifth instalment in the Mario VS Donkey Kong series, and the first one to drop the VS in the title in favour of a less belligerent (and more accurate) conjunction, is a compilation of four different puzzle games built around the same mechanic of placing tiles across a board to create a path for the marching Minis to reach their goal within the time limit. Depending on the game, players will have to find different combinations to reach the exit (Mario’s Main Event), shift and rotate tiles (Many Mini Mayhem), collect stars before finishing a level (Giant Jungle) or use a limited number of tiles in a precise order (Puzzle Palace).
Each of these puzzles offers a slightly different challenge, with Many Mini Mayhem being the most frantic (and the most fun), as it also involves several Minis walking around the board at the same time in a manner that recalls the Mini-Mario levels of the original Mario VS Donkey Kong, and the juggling exercises of March of the Minis and Mini-Land Mayhem. There are over 170 stages altogether, plus 4 extra mini-games that unlock as players progress through the main mode, a Toy Collection mode where players can admire their Mini collection (and, only in Japan, play a dusting minigame) and the Create & Share mode first seen in March of the Minis - certainly great value for money for an eShop title. Mario & Donkey Kong: Minis on the move is out on May 9th on both the European and North American eShop.
The crown jewel of the Nintendo 3DS showcase was a playable demo of the new Legend of Zelda title unveiled at last week’s Nintendo Direct. While the game is still in development (it does not even have a title yet) and the demo was a very early build, it offered a full play-through of a dungeon heavily reminiscent of the Tower of Hera in A Link to the Past, right down to the boss battle against returning baddie Moldorm, who was killed in exactly the same fashion as in the Super NES game. But even though the setting, the enemies and even the music are borrowed from the 16-bit heydays, there is a hint of liberated playfulness with the formula that goes beyond exploiting one particular gimmick, as it was often the case with touchscreen controls in the previous Zelda games for Nintendo DS.
The new Zelda opts for a top-down view, old-school controls and focuses on the upper screen, but at the same time doesn’t feel constrained to one level of action, constantly shifting between floors seamlessly to solve puzzles. This is reinforced by the addition of the Merge ability that enables Link to flatten himself, Paper Mario-style, against a wall and traverse across joint surfaces and in and out of windows, with many of the dungeon’s puzzles involving sticking to walls to reach areas otherwise inaccessible in standard view. Another novel tweak to the Zelda canon is magic consumption, which in the demo was triggered by any item Link was carrying beyond his sword and shield, including his trusty bow and (now infinite) arrows. Conveniently, the magic bar is also refilled automatically, which far from a nod to casual gamers actually streamlines the exploration to concentrate on puzzle-solving and fighting rather than burdening players with item management and backtracking.
The Nintendo staff at the showcase would not confirm at this stage whether the demo level was the game’s first dungeon, but considering the amount of fine lateral thinking necessary to finish it, particularly around the merge mechanic, if this was the case it is safe to say Zelda fans clamouring for more challenging dungeons could be in for a treat. The game has a release date of 2013, so if everything goes well we will be visiting Hyrule once again before the end of the year.