Nintendo recently invited us to its New York City headquarters for another look at the games scheduled for release in 2013. While that meant no Mario Kart 8 or Super Smash Bros, I was looking forward to checking out games like Super Mario 3D World and The Wind Waker HD. Although I haven't been to Nintendo's NYC headquarters, I was looking forward to the visit. Frankly, I always have visions of Willy Wonka's factory when I head to games company offices.
Unfortunately, instead of Mario greeting me at the door, there was a receptionist who asked me to sign in before being ushered into nondescript conference room. No fire flowers, no gold coins, not even Luigi. Just a conference table, some comfortable chairs, and a couple of fellow journalists who were also probably disappointed at the lack of Donkey Kong barrels to hop into.
We were each handed controllers, and told that we could ask to see anything that Nintendo is releasing later this year. Still in shock by the plainness of it all, and at the risk of stepping on each other's toes, the room was a bit silent and filled with some apprehension. A couple of us knew each other from previous events, but the NYC scene isn't the hotbed of gaming activity that San Francisco or Los Angeles is, so I found myself quickly reverting into my original, introvert, gaming self.
It begins with Mario...
Eventually, one of us said "let's check out Mario," and away we went as our Nintendo guide booted up Super Mario 3D World. We started on one of the early stages, which gave us a chance to play with the cat suit. Some of us wanted to run straight through the level while others wanted to take our time, exploring different nooks of the level, always expecting that odd little secret that Mario usually throws at us.
We then tried the sea creature level where the four of us were jointly piloting a monster through some raging rapids, and just like my E3 experience, we failed during our first attempt. Our next try at the level was filled with a bit more discussion.
"Right or left? Right?"
"But the red coin…"
"Left, everyone let's do it!"
"Time the jumps…"
This nondescript conference room was now a little less quiet, buzzing with this piecemeal discussion over strategy. We stopped taking things so seriously, and things started to get more comfortable.
…and continues with Zelda…
Nintendo then loaded The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD, a game I missed at this year's E3. The original is one of my favorite games of all time, and seeing the HD visuals brought another smile to my face. The colors popped and the characters looked beautiful, with the previously-criticized cel-shaded style making it look more like one of gaming's Pixar moments.
I was handed a controller and quickly made my way to the boat, setting sail for the seas. The swell of the music, the call of the islands on the horizon, the smell of the sea air -- it felt great. I was almost offended when the Nintendo rep said "there's an option to sail even faster that the original."
Again, the nondescript conference room started taking a life of its own with stories of how The Wind Waker was under appreciated, or how some of us could never get past a certain seafaring hunt towards the end of the game. Memories of being holed up in my room with the gold disc in my GameCube came flooding back, and I was appreciative of Nintendo's HD attempt to make me reminisce. It succeeded, and I'm really looking forward to spending some quality time with Wind Walker again.
By now, we'd seen two of Nintendo's biggest games of 2013, but things were still a little buttoned up. We started hearing a commotion from the other room with people shouting and hooting, and Nintendo said it's time for us to start making some noise.
Pikmin 3 was next on the docket, but it came with a warning. Sure, we were becoming buddy-buddy, and the room's vibe was softening up right now, but after playing Pikmin's bingo multiplayer mode, it could all change. Visions of thrown controllers started popping into my head, so I entered the mode with some trepidation.
In this Pikmin 3 mode, the screen is split vertically and each player is in control of "an Olimar" with their own set of Pikmins. You each have a bingo card with various items you need to collect in order to mark it, and the first person to make a line across their card wins the match.
This sounds innocent enough, but the warning was definitely needed. What starts off as a match full of exploration and getting your bearings quickly turns into a bit of a cutthroat game as you try to complete your card, but also try to block your opponents from completing theirs.
I haven't mentioned the power-up roulette wheel that occasionally appears that give you items you can use against your opponents. Time them correctly, and you can really gain an advantage -- which I experienced first hand during the match. I was doing pretty well and was close to sending @danackerman to his doom. But Dan, sensing the end, made a bee-line for my side of the playfield and hit his meteor power-up. Before I could look up in the sky, an interstellar rock flattened not only me and my crew of Pikmin, but also Dan and his remaining guys. Assured victory was snatched out of my hands and only global annihilation lay in its wake. Yes, it was fun.
…and finally…Wii Party U?
At this point, I was pretty high on Nintendo's lineup but I had a gut reaction when Nintendo told us it was time for Wii Party U. I remember the Mario Party series back on Nintendo 64; it was a solid party series and led to a lot of blisters thanks to certain mini-games, but my initial thought was the demo day was going to come to a complete halt. I was wrong.
We tried some of the party games that utilized the Wii U GamePad's camera and that kept things moving nicely -- the game asks the person holding the GamePad to make a certain face, and then the other players have to guess from a set of multiple choices what their face is meant to be. It's a simple game but a really clever use of the GamePad, and it led to lots of laughs. You'll be surprised at your "sucking lemons" face, believe me.
Next up, we tried some of the GamePad-only games, and even though we were nearing the end of our demo time, I could have spent hours longer with some of these extremely simple games. We ended the demo with the foosball mini-game that had players facing each other, using the analog sticks to move your players left and right trying to score goals. Again, extremely simple, but a lot of fun and led to some of the more vociferous moments of the day.
I guess my overall takeaway from Nintendo's event was similar to the feelings I've heard expressed around the gaming community -- we have certain expectations of Nintendo due to its consistently strong track record, and at the moment it looks like it's not living up to its past glories. Given the recent Wii U lineup and Nintendo's general struggles with its new system launch, I think that criticism is more than fair.
Looking at the upcoming 2013 Wii U lineup, you could also easily dismiss it as "yay another Mario" and "a redone Zelda," but that's missing the overall point. After this recent trip to New York, Nintendo reminded me that they're still a company that can transform a nondescript conference room into a gamer's paradise in just a few hours. And that's gaming magic that shouldn't be taken lightly this holiday season.