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Wii U Experience 2012: Los Angeles

Nintendo has been hosting a Wii U Experience tour around the country and when it came to Los Angeles, I decided to check it out.  I am far more intrigued by the Wii U than I am excited for it.  I have a little cognitive dissonance with Nintendo games at the present.  On one side, I get excited for games that provide an interesting narrative and get excited about the consoles that I believe can provide that experience (I am absolutely stir crazy for games like Bioshock Infinite).  On the other side, I’ve really been surprised and impressed at how much fun I have playing the Wii U games, though the games are usually much simpler in their themes.

I feel like I’ve grown out of “save the princess” as the sufficient mental incentive to play a game, but as I am playing New Super Mario Bros 2 on the 3DS, I find myself having a really fantastic time in that simple quest and having more fun on a handheld game than I have in a long while.  Nintendo is also clearly pushing out of its “family targeted” demographic by publishing titles like Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge and Bayonetta 2, a Wii U exclusive and the successor to my Game of the Year for 2010.  I am skeptical however, and for no good reason, about how Nintendo will do in the mature demographic.  I hope they do well, but I assume the majority of the content they produce will be sequels to the same games we see every generation.  I can’t ignore though that every time I’ve gotten a chance to play on the Wii U, it has been a lot of fun, so why should it matter if it’s causal time-passing fun?

By the end of the day I got my hands on Rayman Legends, The Wonderful 101, New Super Mario Bros. U, Game & Wario, and Nintendo Land:  Donkey Kong Crash Course.  I also watched some ZombiU multiplayer, though didn’t play it having already played the single player at E3.

Rayman Legends (Ubisoft)

Rayman Legends is a beautiful sidescroller that has a lot of humor and a charming dark unique style.  The level they showed felt a bit like an old Sonic the Hedgehog level in which the player is running at high speeds, jumping between spring boards and dodging spikes.  I did not play as Rayman however.  I decided to take the role of his sidekick on the Wii U controller’s screen where a separate, though simultaneous game was taking place.  Though the player controlling Rayman could not see this, there were a number of eyes throughout the environment that only the player using the Wii U controller could see.  As Rayman ran through the level, these eyes would open up.  If the sidekick touches the eyes at the right time, more collectibles appeared on the running course for Rayman to pick up.  Any collectibles already in the course, the sidekick could touch, change their color, and assumingly increase their point value.

Though it was just a support role, I still had fun tapping the eyes and helping out Rayman run through the course.  It’s this type of ancillary gameplay that would be good in homes with multiple people, so that more than just player 1 can participate at a given time.  I had to be very careful when I timed the tap on each eye because they only remained open for a short period of time.

There were other sections I saw played where the second player needed to lower bridges and rotate obstacles to help the main player get around.  At the same time, a vengeful sidekick could also end up killing Rayman outright by moving a bridge away at the right time, so it’s easy to mess around with the main player.  All that adds up for a some good laughs though depending on how much you like the person holding onto the Wii U controller.

Rayman overall is looking amazing.  They have done an amazing job in making a very stylized, funny, and clever platformer.  Were I to get a Wii U, this would certainly be on my list of games to get.

The Wonderful 101 (Nintendo)

Many maybe familiar with this game’s working title P-100.  The basis is that you are controlling a class of superheroes, a whole crowd of them, and use their combined strength to perform powerful attacks and move around the environment.  Aside from its unique visual style which is somewhere between Pixar’s The Incredibles and Viewtiful Joe, it’s very easy to assume this game plays exactly like Pikimin.  While movement might feel a bit similar to Pikmin, The Wonderful 101 plays vastly different which was refreshing to me.  You control the crowd of characters by a single leader who you can change out whenever you want.  Certain leaders are able to perform the individual group moves better than others.  The group’s “morph” moves consist of drawing a simple pattern, like a line for a sword, a right-angle for a gun, or a circle for a fist.  By having more members in the group, the larger each of these weapons can be.

The player can easily draw these on the touch pad with their finger or use the right stick.  I found that it was easier and faster the draw on the screen since there was a limit to how fast the pattern would draw with the right stick.  I was uncertain how it would be trying to draw on the screen, but since the drawing always starts anchored to the leader character, it didn’t matter where on the screen I drew.  The most difficult part was just returning my hand to the attack button quickly because a wrong button press cancels the draw (which happened a couple of times playing the demo).  Overall the game felt more like a brawler than which I had not expected.  The player can perform quick jabs with the posse of characters, or use battery energy to do the larger moves.  The battery recharges with quick jabs, and the posse grows as you draw circles around pedestrians you save throughout the city.

There are pivotal moments that occur that the player needs to have a large posse to successfully get across.  There was one area where the player needed to vault from one building to another and over a billboard.  They did so by collecting the group up into a sword and pole-vaulting over the sign.  If the player doesn’t have enough people, they will soar through the air and pancake on the sign.

One thing that particularly impressed me was how dynamic the sequences were.  At one moment, the crowd was predictably moving through the streets fighting robots when suddenly a hazard comes crashing down, destroys the street and forces the heroes to run in the opposite direction, running from a chain reaction that is causing the street to collapse beneath them.  It was rather exciting if not a little over the top how the street was moving so much in its precarious instability.

Another sequence presented the player with a small puzzle.  The player needed to enter the combination to a door by going inside a building.  The player moves around the indoors by looking at the controller’s screen.  The main TV always remains in the same view.  While inside, the player can see the combination written above the door and can turn the dials to match it.

Then there was the battle on top of a robot who was actively trashing the city.  The players were perched on the robot’s arm who would take turns between blowing up building and attempting to shoot the players without blowing off his own arm.  The players would attack and if they had enough of a crowd, could build a bridge between both arms to attack the other side.

Each of these sequences were vastly different, very interesting and a lot of fun to play.  I had not been particularly interested in this game before I got a chance to play it, but I can say I might even be more excited for this than I am for Pikmin 3.  This is a game to look for when the console comes out.

 New Super Mario Bros. U (Nintendo)

There’s probably not much to say in regards to Mario gameplay.  This is a very solid side-scroller with all the charm you’d expect from Mario games.  The HD presentation looks great and the same chaos that comes from bouncing off the other players is there in full stride.  One element the game added was a support role for a fifth player on the Wii U controller.  The player can place blocks on the screen to either help or annoy the players on the screen.  If a player is about to fall off a cliff, the friendly player can drop a block so the player has a chance to escape.  Likewise I had a few jumps I missed because the player put a block in my face as I was mid air.  It added the chaos but wasn’t unwelcome.  It definitely added an element of an outside force that we all talked about as we played which was oddly uniting.

There’s a new suit in this game, the flying squirrel.  This is basically a racoon/tanooki type suit that cannot fly.  It can glide really well though allowing the players to move between platforms with ease.  It was amusing watching a sequence where all but one player had the suit and while we all drifted gracefully down a long decent collecting coins, the other player desperately tried to jump on our heads before bricking it off camera to the depths below.

Another addition is the baby Yoshi that each player can pick up.  Depending on the color of the Yoshi, shaking the controller would do different things.  The level they showed had Yoshi turn into a balloon that the players could use to hover across gaps.

As I said earlier, I’ve been having more fun that I expected to have with New Super Mario Bros. 2 on the 3DS, and this game falls in line being a great presentation for the New Super Mario franchise.  If you’re getting a Wii U, this is a very easy choice to make.  The game is especially fun with friends.  I passed over New Super Mario Bros. Wii because I assumed the game wasn’t going to be as much fun playing it alone, but I was proven wrong by the 3DS counterpart.  That isn’t to say I don’t have friends, I’m just not around a lot, working long hours…  Don’t judge me.

Game & Wario (Nintendo)

Wario likes his mini-games.  This falls into the category of Wii Sports to me where it will be a lot of fun to sit down with a group of people and pass the controller around playing these games.  I got to play two of the four mini-games titled Fruit, and Shutter.  Arrow and Ski were the other two which I will talk about briefly.

Arrow is a shooting gallery played with a bow and arrow on the touch screen.  The player draws back with their finger, points at the screen and lets go to fire.  The player can power up the arrow’s nose, which actually looks like a nose, with pepper and do a larger area of damage to the enemies.  If any of the enemies who are approaching the screen reach the player, the player needs to squash them on the touch screen.  The game looks like takes  a lot of precision, and the player has a good amount of control when it comes to aiming the arrow.  Moving the controller changes the pitch, location, and drawing back further helps to get straighter shots.  I can’t comment on how fun it was to play, but it looked a little slow and simple, though I could be wrong.

Ski is what it sounds like.  The player tilts the controller and moves the skiier left and right.  The player can shake the controller to do special moves and the objective is to get down the course.  Since I didn’t play this I don’t have a lot to say.

Fruit.  I enjoyed this one the most, partly because it both surprised me the most and made me want to play it more with family and friends who I don’t play games with often.  Fruit is a multiplayer game unlike I have ever seen before because the majority of players do not have a controller, they are not inputting anything, they just watch and observe.  The player with the Wii U controller chooses a character from a few dozen.  The player is then tasked with stealing 3 apples.  The observers have to watch an overview of the game board and figure out which character in the crowd of AI characters is the player.  If they guess correctly they win, if they don’t you win.  There are a bunch of environmental things that occur, like chimney smoke, trucks passing by, and quick movement sewers that the player can try to utilize to hide their actions.  After the apples are stolen, the observers in turn take the main controller and pick which character they think was being controlled by the player.  For me, they unanimously chose the same wrong player allowing me to win.  It was really fun and oddly satisfying having a role in a game which isn’t actively opposing the other players, but rather trying to outsmart them.

Shutter was a little less interesting to me.  It has a feeling of Rear Window where the player in the role of a photographer is trying to take pictures of specific criminals who have all decided to hang out in a 50 meter proximity to each other.  They are standing in building or driving around the street.  When the player sees one, they lift the controller up to the screen, zoom in and snap a picture.  The better the player frames the picture, the more points they get.  It was a small and simple game that I probably wouldn’t play for very long, but it showed a good use of the controller.

Nintendo Land:  Donkey Kong Crash Course (Nintendo)

And boy, did I crash.  You play as a couple of balls connected by springs trying not to die as you roll around a classic Donkey Kong themed board.  The player tilts the controller to move the spring trolley along, but if the player gets caught on something or crashes into something too quickly and puts tension on the springs, the trolley will explode and the player will lose a life.  It’s somewhat satisfying to see the character die however because the board is backed by what looks like a chalk board and the player’s death location becomes this rainbow explosion drawn on the board which remains for the rest of the play session.

This game provided genuine simple fun.  The player can use the shoulder buttons to move ramps or elevators up and down, and the analogue stick to turn gears.  I was doing really well navigating the ramps, but usually got killed trying to transition to the next platform too quickly and dropping the elevator or gears too early, snapping my trolley in two.  It seems like the Nintendo Land collection is going to be a lot of fun for families and gatherings, again fitting a role that Wii Sports did when the Wii first came out.  Every game I’ve seen on Nintendo Land looks vastly different from each other and the all look like fun.

ZombiU (Ubisoft)

I didn’t get a chance to play this myself, but I was impressed with the game mode they were demonstrating and felt the need to share.  The game mode being shown was a capture the flag, except it was zombies versus player.  The player was being controlled on the main TV with the gamepad controller while the zombies were being placed by the player with the touch screen controller.  The player with the touch screen controller has acccess to a map of the area and a selection of zombies.  Some of the zombies can capture flags, some are smaller, weaker obstacles and some are large and formidable foes.  The player can drop up to ten zombies at a time and has a regenerating currency with which they get to spawn new zombies.

At the same time the player on the screen is trying to fight off the zombie hoard one player is creating while trying to capture flags as well.  It’s this type of asymmetrical gameplay that does make me excited for the Wii U’s potential.  I think this mode would be a lot of fun to play as either role.  Having the option to have RTS strategy that coincides with a first person shooter seems to work well, one player providing resistance for the other player to fight through.  I like the elements that ZombiU has to offer.  It will be interesting to see when it comes out whether all these elements come together cohesively or if they end up making the game feel awkward.

This event got me thinking about what I really look for in gaming, fun or complexity.  I don’t think anything I saw had great complexity either in its story, narratives, or gameplay strategy, but I did have a lot of fun performing simple tasks in each of these games.  The thing that always distances me from a console like the Wii U is that it feels like it’s missing something when I’m playing it by myself, that the experience is greatest when I have people to play with.  If I were still in college or had roommates this would be a no-brainer, I would buy this console immediately.  What I’m most skeptical about is whether this console could hold my interest over the long run playing primarily on my own, or with my wife in the support role (as she doesn’t play a lot of games, not that I wouldn’t let her play the main role if she wanted to.  I’m not a total jerk).

With Nintendo branching out and putting up more adult titles there’s definitely the future hope of getting more of these great single player experiences that I look for to balance out the simple casual fun games.  For the time being, until more of these types of titles come out, I imagine that I’ll just go to a friend’s house when I want to get in a couple games in Nintendo Land and have a old fashioned good time on the couch playing some video games.

The Wii U Experience felt like a small wedge sliced off of the E3 booth, with a lot of people crowding around the games in a relatively small space, but the wait times were significantly less.  The whole event was two hours and included contests, prizes, free ice cream, photo booths with props, and parting chocolate mustaches.  Overall I think Nintendo is being smart trying to get the Wii U into the hands of gamers across the country before its launch.  There’s no good way to gauge how much fun this console is without playing the games yourself.  If you get the opportunity, I highly recommend checking out what Nintendo is putting out there.  It’s not amazing hardware tech, but it is at its base a lot of fun, and isn’t that the point?

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