The Big Nintendo Preview Part 2
Welcome to Part 2 of our Big Nintendo Preview (part one can be found here) – in today’s post we don the Tanooki suit in Super Mario and get behind the steering wheel of Mario Kart on the 3DS, and unsheathe the Master Sword on The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword on Wii.
Mario Kart 3DS
Though Mario Kart‘s classic status is well earned, it hasn’t necessarily had the smoothest of rides; after the first two primarily racing-focussed instalments, purists gasped as Double-Dash squeezed two drivers into a single kart and sighed as Mario Kart Wii saw the series move even deeper into family-friendly territory. The latter proved particularly irksome, with extremely generous (or, annoying) rubber-banding doing much to diminish the importance of driving skill while raising the prominence of the dreaded blue shell.
It was with a certain degree of trepidation then that we approached Mario Kart 3DS – would this be the game to take the series back to its racing roots, or would it mark further adventures into the realm of gimmickry? Thankfully, from the three tracks played, Mario Kart 3DS looks like it may mark the point that the series manages to bring together all its past successes. Most importantly the racing felt very solid bringing the wonderful Mariokart DS to mind, and track design was also strong, with satisfying cornering, and split-route designs that looked likely to serve up the knock-about multiplayer thrills and obsessive time-trialling that fans know and love.
The gimmicks this time around come in the form of customisable karts, hang-gliders that pop out of the back of your kart at specific points during the game and underwater sections. The gliders worked surprisingly well, and for our money is certainly preferable to the ‘hands-off’ jumps and tunnels of previous games that arguably interrupted the experience. Controlling much like the hang-glider in Pilot Wings, mastering the controls for the airborne sections will no-doubt be vital to grabbing the chequered flag. The underwater sections added an interesting dynamic in that it makes it incredibly difficult – or impossible even – to powerslide.
Overall, Mario Kart 3DS is looking to be making the right moves; Nintendo have taken on past criticisms and honed what works well while further expanding the game’s horizons. With the promise of classic tracks and a range of new locales, Mario Kart 3DS is definitely high on our 3DS wish list.
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
It takes a very cold-hearted gamer to not feel at least a small bit of anticipation at getting their hands on a brand new Legend of Zelda game, but there’s little denying that The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is facing slightly more of an uphill struggle than previous instalments in this much loved series. For starters, it’s coming out in the twilight years of a console that was already comparatively underpowered when it launched over four years ago. Secondly, its use of Wii Motion Plus – a horrifically underused peripheral – does smack slightly of Nintendo scrabbling to justify the device’s existence.
Hands-on time with Skyward Sword didn’t do a huge amount to dispel these two concerns (the graphics, though expectedly polished and almost Disney-esque, are showing the Wii’s age, and the extra accuracy offered by Wii Motion Plus wasn’t entirely convincing), but it still managed to retain that old Zelda magic. The series has always thrived in exploring the tension between the comfortably familiar and the power of the unknown, and so it is with Skyward Sword. Though the disparate nature of the demo we played made it difficult to get a strong contextual perspective of the overarching plot, the game’s sky-based setting is certainly intriguing.
The demo was split into three sections – a dungeon, a boss fight and air-based pursuit/race. The former was fairly standard Zelda-fare with the added twist of a controllable flying beetle that Link could unleash to hunt down rupees and other hidden treasures and spiders that had to be slashed at certain angles in order to force them to reveal their weak-spot. Similarly, the (surprisingly difficult) boss fight required you to slash in certain angles in order to prevent the pallid-skinned foe from clasping your sword between his fingers, kung-fu style. The biggest disappointment in both these sections was that the swordplay didn’t feel like a huge step on from The Twilight Princess, and definitely felt some way off the 1:1 control long promised by Wii Motion Plus.
Where the game really came to life was in the airborne section. In a scene not dissimilar to that featured in James Cameron’s Avatar, Link leaps off the side of sky-city and free-falls for a short spell before landing plumb on the back of a giant bird. What follows can be best described as Pilotwings-meets-Zelda-meets-Quidditch. Tilting the Wii remote to control your airborne-steed, Link’s goal was to hunt down a golden bird and grab hold of it. Visually, the feeling of swooping through the clouds was convincing, and the wings of your bird ruffled pleasingly in the wind. Though very much a mini-game, the possibility of a sky-based Hyrule Field is an intriguing one and we’re interested to see how this mechanic is further explored when the game finally lands towards the end of the year.
As with Mariokart 3DS, with Super Mario on the 3DS it appears that Nintendo has focussed on taking all the best bits from previous Mario’s and wrapping them up in a single package. To this end, the game occupies the middle-ground between the explosion of concepts that was Super Mario Galaxy and the more traditional New Super Mario Bros.
The four levels available in the demo gave a nice taster of what the full game will have to offer and for the most part it worked well; it feels compact – dinky even – with level and visual design that helps emphasise the feeling of peering through the front-pane of the 3DS screen into the world that lies beyond. The effect is somewhat understated, and the pace of play a little more pedestrian than Mario Galaxy, but it merges the play-styles of Mario’s 2D and 3D adventures impressively well, making use of the benefits that three-dimensions bring while retaining the satisfaction that comes with the precision platforming afforded by two-dimensional play.
The much loved Tanooki (or, racoon) suit makes a return and performs much as you remember it from Super Mario Brothers 3 but in three-dimensional space. In fact, the game’s penchant for riffing on past Mario titles while introducing new concepts (such as toying with depth-perception with 2D, cardboard cut-out Goombas!) suggests that by drilling into Mario lore, Nintendo can find a whole new universe just as it did by exploding the series outwards to the stars with Super Mario Galaxy. While those hoping for a portable Super Mario Galaxy may well be a little disappointed with Super Mario, no one knows their way around a Mario platformer like Nintendo, and the steps taken here are looking as assured as ever.
Make sure you come back for our third and final instalment in which we go hands on with Kid Icarus Uprising, Resident Evil Revalations and Sonic Generations on the 3DS.
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