Impressions: Multiplayer is a Big Deal in Nintendo's Wii U Lineup
Posted by Thomas Whitehead
Get by with a little help from your friends
Earlier this week various Nintendo Life staffers were lucky enough to attend post-E3 preview events, from which we've been covering games that we didn't go hands-on with at the LA extravaganza — more impressions are on the way, too. Various Wii U games were on show, and one theme that shone through was the importance of local multiplayer in these experiences. Whether playing with other NL staff, fellow writers or Nintendo representatives, more often than not we were playing with others when racing, platforming, making goofy faces and more.
With local multiplayer being such an important part of Nintendo's games, particularly since the Wii burst onto the scene, a few of our team members decided to share their thoughts on these shared experiences on the way to Wii U. There's plenty of variety and — most importantly — fun coming our way this year and beyond.
Super Mario 3D World was my favourite title on show, and it looks set to be a hit whether you're playing in single player or with friends. I played through the demo a couple of times in three player co-op and had a blast each time, though admittedly it doesn't work quite as smoothly as co-operative play in a 2D Mario title, mainly due to the camera having to cater to three dimensions. Levels of various heights and depths mean that it's easier for a lagging player to be left behind – though there's no penalty for this, with those that drop off the screen brought back into the action courtesy of a handy bubble. Communication is key.
There was no more obvious an example as in the river stage, wherein every player hopped atop a giant orange dinosaur. The aim was to reach the end of the rapids without falling off. Usually in a co-operative game you'd see one player take sole control of 'vehicle' movement while others did a secondary action, but Super Mario 3D World takes the opposite stance and gives all players all the possible actions. Every player can steer, increase or decrease speed and jump. At first it's a hilarious mess of people doing their own thing, the dinosaur veering about awkwardly and not exactly doing what anybody wants.
Speaking to the other players and devising strategies, however, yields far better results. With two different teams of players, I took part in two entirely different approaches to the stage that were both ultimately successful. In the first group we delegated commands, so one of us steered, another jumped and another adjusted speed. With our own clearly defined roles in hand we beat the stage, also discovering as we went along that if two players pressed the jump button at the same moment then the dinosaur would leap higher. With this information, my second squad opted for everybody to do everything, speaking and sharing commands so that we worked in sync. We discovered that if three people are pushing in a direction, the turns are sharper; if all are jumping or speeding up, the air time and velocity were each higher.
There's also an adjustment to the way that power-ups are handled. It's no longer every player for themselves; if a bunch of, say, cat bells tip out of a block, a single player can pick up all three, taking a cat suit for themselves and sending the other two into a special box at the bottom of the screen. It's a shared power-up store, and any player that needs one can tap the Minus button and instantly grab one – this should be very handy when experts and novices are mixed into one session.
Super Mario 3D World looks to take a really interesting approach to a co-operative game; very Nintendo and extremely fun. If there are more levels like the dinosaur stage and other touches like the power-up box throughout, we could be looking at a big winner. Local multiplayer clearly has an important role to play in Nintendo's strategy to reinvigorate Wii U in the latter half of 2013. Based on what was shown, there's plenty to look forward to.
It was an interesting experience, and one so typically Nintendo, that in various cases wandering up to a demo unit necessitated looking around for a fellow NL staffer or another event attendee or two to play with. A lot of the units were rigged with a combination of a GamePad, Remotes, Nunchuks and Pro Controllers, and the emphasis was clearly on experiencing the games with others — though single player opportunities certainly weren't neglected. From a personal perspective I'm not always keen on local multiplayer games, because I often like or play titles that others in my house find tricky; Nintendo Land is fine, but that's pretty simple (apart from Metroid Blast!) and suitable for almost anyone. So basically I go into "review mode" when going hands-on with multiplayer games; in other words, it doesn't have to be my favourite genre or style, but I try and treat it fairly for what it's trying to achieve.
Mario Kart 8 and Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze do exactly the same as their predecessors, and that's absolutely fine. Co-operation is the key in DK's adventure, but is a huge amount of fun when it works — it's also 60FPS and absolutely gorgeous, so I'm excited about it. Mario Kart 8 was fantastic in every way, and offers up the usual mix of motion or joystick-controlled steering that will suit anyone, and has all of the tools — at least it seems to at this early stage — to be a hugely important game for the system next year; not a single blue shell was thrown, either, so I'm daring to dream! I agree with Mike in terms of Super Mario 3D World, in that it could be a treat that helps some less-experienced gamers have their first real taste of a 3D Mario game. It's far less confusing than a Galaxy title, in terms of controls, and is generous in helping those that are lagging behind while retaining enough challenge to keep the gameplay worthwhile for veterans. Just make sure all non-GamePad players have a Pro Controller or Remote and Nunchuk — running around using the tiny d-pad on a sideways Wii Remote is not ideal.
Wii Party U was a surprise to me. I don't typically buy these mini-game collections, but the three games we played did suggest that this is a compilation that could successfully satisfy gamers of all types and ages. Whether making goofy faces or playing foosball on the GamePad, it was oddly fun in the right company. Nintendo will — rightly — market this with trailers of smiling families in brightly lit rooms, but I think it could be fun in slightly darker rooms with adults full of beer and pizza; it's silly and simple enough that it doesn't seem to matter who's playing. All of that positivity aside, I don't think this is necessarily a game that'll really sell the Wii U concept in a big way commercially, but I've not seen enough to be completely sure.
One final brief point I'd like to make is that The Wonderful 101 could be a surprise co-op gem. I played it in two player with a Nintendo rep, and the ludicrous chaos of it all — you both run around with separate teams on the same screen — meant that we were chatting and laughing like buddies; if a multiplayer game succeeds on that front it's doing its job.
Yet again Nintendo wants its console to bring gamers together in the same room, and it seems on track to deliver on that promise.
Personally, I was more appeased by Nintendo's focus on framerate at the software showcase than its focus on multiplayer. Dat 60fps!
Seriously, though, like the Wii before it, the Wii U has been a fantastic console for local multiplayer ever since it launched. With the advent and rising popularity of Xbox LIVE and the PlayStation Network, local multi is something that's been overlooked for too long by Microsoft and Sony. I'm glad Nintendo still remembers how fun it can be.
From day one with Nintendo Land and Call of Duty: Black Ops II, the Wii U has been the console of choice in my house for gatherings and even the odd drinking game. Don't get me wrong; playing online is great, but nothing quite comes close to an extended gaming session in the physical company of three close friends. Super Smash Bros for Wii U., Mario Kart 8, and even the table foosball game in Wii Party U are all going to get some serious playtime in the Cocker household. Living la vida loca...l multiplayer.
The Nintendo reps clearly saw my reaction coming when they told me it was time to try out Wii Party U - after jumping into a virtual ball pit of Mario and Zelda, the last thing on my mind was a mini-game collection aimed at the dreaded "casual" gamer. Senior Product Marketing Specialist JC Rodrigo smiled and told me to keep an open mind as he explained the surprisingly robust features of the upcoming party game and corralled another reporter (an undeniable non-gamer who had clearly been sent by their magazine to cover the games) to play a few rounds of a competitive tank battle game.
Imagine the shock of everyone in the room when she decimated JC and I within less than thirty seconds. After being felled by a "casual," I kicked my enthusiasm for Wii Party U into high gear, and several rounds later we were tied for most wins. What was most fascinating about this experience - and I have a feeling JC was very happy to see it - was that I shared a gaming experience with someone from a completely different background and didn't think of the "casual/hardcore" dynamic until long after the tank game ended. For those few rounds, the playing field had leveled, thanks to Wii Party U's accessible, fun and surprisingly frantic gameplay. I can honestly say that I am looking forward to the release of a game that previously wasn't even on my radar, all thanks to the rich local multiplayer experience I enjoyed.
...But for the record, I totally won in the GamePad foosball competition. 'Nuff said.
Do you think local multiplayer will be an important part of the upcoming Wii U lineup? Let us know what you think in the comments below.