On the first day of the E3 2014 video-games expo last week, Sony, Microsoft, Ubisoft and Electronic Arts all hosted bombastic press conferences that filled some of downtown Los Angeles' biggest venues. Yet Nintendo's humble, joyful 45-minute online presentation the next morning may have won the show. Here's why Nintendo is back doing what it does best, and why things are only going to get better for the Big N.
A breath of fresh air
Don't get me wrong; the big dogs brought out some exciting software, such as Microsoft's over-the-top "Sunset Overdrive" skater-cum-zombie shooter and Sony's long-awaited action-adventure title "Uncharted 4." However, the big pressers shared common themes: sequels, remakes and gritty trailers full of military "bros" making things go "boom."
Nintendo was the rainbow-soaked punch in the face that broke this mold, providing a lineup of fresh, lighthearted and inventive titles that flooded my Twitter timeline with dozens of "OK, now I need a Wii U" exclamations.
After watching the latest trailers for "Mario Maker," "Yoshi's Wooly World" and "Super Smash Bros. for Wii U," I feel the same way.
Nintendo will never have the raw hardware power or robust third-party support of its big, muscly peers at Sony and Microsoft. However, the company has learned how to give gamers what they want while having some fun in the process.
A fall lineup full of favorites
The Wii U was bolstered by last fall's "Super Mario 3D World" and May's "Mario Kart 8," the latter of which helped quadruple sales of the system, according to gaming website Polygon. The long wait between these big hits created some desolate lulls for Nintendo fans, but that should all change this fall.
"Super Smash Bros." faithful will finally get a Wii U and 3DS installment of the famed fighting game. With newly added characters such as Mega Man, Pac-Man and Nintendo's own Mii avatars, this title is shaping up to be a celebration of all things gaming. Fans of slicing things with swords can look forward to "Hyrule Warriors" and "Bayonetta 2," while Nintendo's mushroom-domed mascot finally steps into the spotlight with "Captain Toad Treasure Tracker."
Nintendo 3DS fans who have worn out their copies of "Pokémon X and Y" will be treated to "Pokémon Omega Ruby" and "Pokémon Alpha Sapphire," a pair of 3D recreations of the beloved Game Boy Advance role-playing games. Sprawling life simulator "Fantasy Life" also makes a good pick for fans of role-playing games.
MORE: Best Nintendo 3DS Games
A bold 2015 for the big N
Nintendo's fall 2014 lineup is one of its most chock full yet, even if it's a bit reliant on existing franchises. However, the Big N is getting bold for 2015, with a handful of games that prove the company is still willing to take some creative risks.
"Mario Maker" flips the script by making players into game designers, allowing you to use the Wii U stylus and gamepad to create the "Mario" levels you've always dreamt about. "Kirby and the Rainbow Curse" mixes touch controls with a unique, clay-based aesthetic, while co-op adventure "Yoshi's Wooly World" re-stitches the adorable green dinosaur in a world made completely of yarn.
Perhaps Nintendo's biggest step forward is "Splatoon," a multiplayer shooter that manages to be action packed without succumbing to violence. Instead of trying to kill each other, two teams of ink-gun–toting creatures battle to coat the arena in their respective colors, resulting in an eye-popping visual feast that shows that the Wii U has plenty of graphical life left.
Even with all of these exciting titles, nothing got people at E3 talking quite like the announcement of a brand new "Legend of Zelda" Wii U game, which is set for 2015. This beautifully animated Zelda experience will take place in a living, breathing open-world for the first time, which is proof Nintendo is willing to take some inspiration from triple-A hits such as "The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim."
No more toying around
Nintendo is not trying to outperform the Xbox One or PS4, but there is one market the company ready to swallow whole: kids' games. Following the meteoric rise of toy-based game platforms such as Activision's "Skylanders" and Disney Interactive's "Disney Infinity," Nintendo is ready to jump into the plastic-figurine fray with Amiibo.
Like "Skylanders" and "Disney Infinity," Amiibo is a platform in which players can summon a specific character in-game by placing its respective physical toy on a dock. But Amiibo has a few key differences that might significantly turn the tide of the toys in Nintendo's favor, even as Marvel superheroes fight their way into "Disney Infinity."
You need a special figure base to use your toys with "Skylanders" and "Disney Infinity," but your Amiibo toys will dock right onto the existing Wii U gamepad. Theoretically, this should make Amiibo less of a financial commitment to enjoy than its competitors, as Mario, Link, Princess Peach, Kirby, Pikachu and the handful of other toys set to release this holiday will be ready to play as long as you have the system's default controller.
Then there are the games. As expansive as they are, the "Disney Infinity" and "Skylanders" sets only work with games in those respective franchises. While Nintendo is touting Amiibo heavily for the upcoming "Super Smash Bros. for Wii U" (you can use your toys to level up fighters and bring them to friends' houses), the company has already announced a diverse game lineup for the platform.
"Mario Kart 8," "Mario Party 10," "Yoshi's Wooly World," and "Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker" are among the first wave of supported titles, so it's safe to assume that any Amiibo toys you purchase will be able to fight, race, party and go on adventures across a variety of Nintendo games.
A return to fun
I remember when the Nintendo 64 launched way back in 1996. Crowds of friends gathered around television sets, in awe of the then-novelty of Mario being able to run around in three dimensions. There was nothing comparably game changing at Nintendo's E3 2014 booth, but I couldn't help but notice those same stares of joy and wonder from people checking out the company's new games. I think that tone is here to stay.
Whether you love zany Japanese action games, have been waiting for a true "Zelda" sequel or have kids, the Wii U is finally shaping up to be a system with something for everyone. That's more than could have been said last year, and it may be a sign that Mario's maker is set for a return to glory.
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