Talk of the Town: Wii U Impressions

Yesterday, I focused on the general experience and going eyes on with certain titles. Today will focus on the games I really got to spend some time with!

Now for the games, I actually did get to check out. Starting with the game I first tested out… Just Dance 4. I’ve said it on the podcast before, but I’m a huge fan of the Just Dance series. I think its a bunch of silly fun with friends, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Just Dance 4 doesn’t really re-invent the wheel. It is still the same dancing craziness that fans have come to expect. There are two additions now thanks to the Wii U GamePad. The first, is the ability to play the game off the controller. Granted, I don’t know how it makes sense or is a needed feature. Like who wants to see the dance moves on a smaller screen? The other thought was… if someone wants to use the TV… how is 4 people dancing in the living room not a distraction? The other addition seems a lot more cool, called the “Puppet Mode” this allows the person using the controller to pick the dance moves that the players will have to do. Also when Strike a Pose pops up, the player with the controller gets to vote on which dancer performed it best or most over the top or whatever. Minor additions, but cool nonetheless.

Next up was new Super Mario Bros U. This is new Super Mario Bros in HD. That’s not a bad thing, not a bad thing at all. The new Super Mario Bros games are really great 2D platformers. Perhaps some of the best of this gen. Yes, the art style is some of the laziest in the entire series, and this will be the 4th game using it in like 6 years or so. But that doesn’t take away the fact that it is a really solid experience. The only additions on display were the new suit, a baby Yoshi and the 5th player helper mode. The 5th player mode is cool, but really doesn’t seem like it would be the most engaging thing for the 5th player unless wants to be a total dick to people. The Squirrel suit was fun to see in motion, and kind of controls like the Propeller Suit in new Super Mario Bros U. in which you have to shake the controller to take off, and then you kind of glide down gently. Finally, the purple baby Yoshi acts pretty much like the Propeller Suit in the last game, in that it gives Mario and company a minor boost in the air and spins down slowly. I guess, it acts more like the propeller block in the last game. No matter what I say, I would have picked up this game anyhow, but good to see it keeps the tradition of awesome 2D  Mario games alive.

On the other end of the spectrum is Rayman Legends, a sequel to the Rayman Origins, showed a lot more inventive uses of the Wii U GamePad in a traditional 2D platformer. The person on the TV (or I imagine persons as well) play a game very much in the vein of Rayman Origins with all the platforming goodness that it brings. The person on the tablet controller though has a slightly different experience. The demo starts you off slow enough with just tapping random things or pulling up objects to help out Rayman. Then you learn, you can also stun enemies which comes in handy. Then it starts to open up a lot, allowing you to interact with the world by raising/lowering platforms, and even giving you enemies that Rayman can’t defeat but the person on the controller can. Finally the coolest part of the entire experience is the musical segment that allows one player to play a rhythm  -based game while Rayman is playing a stage very reminiscent of the treasure chest chases from the original. All in all came away very impressed from the game, if not a bit humble from dying countless times!

Finally up was NintendoLand, a game that had quite the reputation coming out of Nintendo’s E3 Press Conference. I think ending the show with the game after a VERY long explanation did this game no favor, but have no doubts this game is a blast to play and easily my favorite game on display. Much like at e3, the demo has 5 of the 12 attractions available. One modeled after the original Donkey Kong game, one inspired by Animal Crossing, another a Mii-fied version of The Legend of Zelda, a revival in Takamaru’s Ninja Castle and a haunting in Luigi’s Ghost Mansion. I got to test out 4 of the 5 games with the Legend of Zelda-based mini being the only one I didn’t get a go at.

Takamaru’s Ninja Castle was the least interesting and most frustrating of the games on display. The device staled on me twice, and the person working the booth wasn’t aware of how to re-calibrate it so I got to roughly the same spot twice before it all going to heck on me. I did observe other folks playing it, and they seemed to have a much better time with the game. It should also be noted that many of the hosts informed us that this wasn’t final hardware, even going as far as to say the games weren’t actually running off the Wii U so that’s to be expected.

Next up was Donkey Kong’s Crash Course. A game that takes it look from the original Donkey Kong arcade title even with a Pauline in the background somewhere. Not sure what element of the game inspired this mini-game though, but it was a joy to play. You control like a little yarn car on this obstacle course, and you use the GamePad’s built in gyros to navigate through the course. You want to make sure you aren’t going too fast or too slow as you can overturn your vehicle and lose a life. Though, you are free to crash into walls without dealing much damage to yourself. You must also clear entire platforms before moving forward, as it is possible, as I learned several times, to get part of your vehicle stuck on multiple levels which usually results in losing a life. After a while, you enter into more elaborate set-ups which you must navigate using the buttons on the controller. For the most part it was the triggers and eventually the analog stick. The game was nice enough to give you a head’s up each time though. If this is fleshed out with a LOT more puzzles, and hopefully online leaderboards this could be a huge selling point of the package.

Luigi’s Ghost Mansion is perhaps the game from NintendoLand, which most people know about since Nintendo spent 20 minutes explaining it at the end of the E3 Press Conference. The game really didn’t need the extended presentation, and probably would have benefited from being demoed on stage rather than explained to death. The concept of the game is fairly simple, it is a haunted house where 4 Miis are being pursued by a ghost. The ghost is of course the player on the Wii U GamePad, who is able to see where everyone is and follow them accordingly.

The players on the TV can see the entire map as well, but they can’t see the ghost except for some rare occasions. Instead, the players on the Wii-motes have to use the rumble on their controller to locate the ghost. The closer the ghost is, the stronger the rumble in the controller. This is where the real fun kicks in as players must communicate with each other in order to try and trap the ghost before he is able to take down all players. To me the constant shouting between players and the ghost playing tricks was one of the best experiences of the entire show.

The game also has a lot of ways to balance out the experience for both the ghosts and the Miis. Like mentioned above, the ghost is only visible at select times. The first is when lightning randomly flashes in the background. This lights up certain portions of the board, and if the ghost is in the zone will be visible to all players on the screen. The ghost also has the ability to spirit with the press of the A button, but it makes him visible while doing so. On the human side, their flashlights are used to attack the ghost, but runs on batteries. So the more you power it on, the more your power drains. There are batteries that randomly pop up on stage, and the humans can go and get it, but also must be wary of the ghost laying traps for them. The flashlights can also be used to revive downed Miis, of course leaving the Mii using it vulnerable for a sneak attack. When there is a single Mii left, a super flashlight attachment appears, which allows you to revive friends faster and do more damage to the ghost. Sadly, I wasn’t able to see it in action any time during my playthroughs.

Luig’s Ghost Mansion was a fantastic experience, and could be a real show-stealer in the package. Much like the other games though, it needs to be a much more meatier package. Either the game needs to house like 3-4 additional maps or some variations on the core concept or just randomly generate the stage layout. With one of these additions, it is a fun time with friends.

Finally there was Animal Crossing: Sweet Day. Much like Luigi’s Ghost Mansion, this was a 5 player affair with 4 Miis on the Wii-mote and a 5th player using the Wii U GamePad. Unlike Luigi’s Ghost Mansion, the Miis have an objective to complete while trying to avoid the character on the GamePad. The four Miis are tasked with collecting pieces of candy (50 in the demo). The candies are hidden in various trees and you need a select number of characters to shake them free (Ranged from 1 to 3). The trees that needed more people yielded more candy as well.

The character on the Wii U GamePad controls two guards trying to stop them. What’s cool about this is that the person actually controls both guards independently with one guard being mapped to the right analog stick and ZR and the other the left analog stick and ZL. As the guards move further apart, the view on the controller expands so that you can keep a focus on both characters. This offers up an interesting strategy, you can either keep both characters together for a limited view, but a better chance to trap players or you can go for a larger view and covering more grounds. Its a minor thing, but cool.

As for the folks on the big-screen, they actually have the same limitation as the player with the tablet controller in that they don’t get the entire picture as well. Instead, the game becomes a shouting match of players trying to communicate their location and the amount of people they need to shake down a tree. And yes, this also allows the guard to know just where to look.

Now to balance out the game, the Miis are given a 10 second headstart, but can’t do anything but make some space between themselves and the guards. Once the game gets started, a character is able to carry as many candies as they want, but the more you consume the slower you become. You can jettison some candies by pressing the 1 button if you are being pursued. The guard on the other hand, only has to catch the players 3 times, it doesn’t need to be the same player either, and once hit the Mii loses some of its candy.

It may sound simple, but Animal Crossing: Sweet Day was easily the best game I played at the show. It was charming and fresh, encouraged communication with the other players, and offered up an unique use of both the screen controller and dual analog. I could even see a potential where perhaps its a 6 player game where folks share guard duty on the Wii U GamePad (if anyone has played Mario Party 7 on the Gamecube have a rough idea of how this works). Like any other game in this package, I do think it would need extra levels or something to keep it fresh and entertaining. Maybe allow you to set up different amount of candies or time limit as well. But barring it isn’t completely barebones, this is a fantastic experience.

As a whole, I have to say NintendoLand surprised the hell out of me. Nintendo didn’t do the best job of representing the game on stage, but once you get your hands on it, you can understand why they were so keen on trying to get people excited about it. That doesn’t mean the game doesn’t have a ton of lingering questions over it. How will single player work for a lot of these games? Hell, how will a lot of these games scale for 2-3 players? Is there more meat to this package or is what you see, what you get? Will it have some type of online functionality? Nintendo has time to answer these questions, but really need to get the information out there!

The Wii U Experience turned out to be a great time. Getting hands on with a lot of the launch window titles kind of alleviated a lot of fears with the device, but Nintendo still has a long way to go with convincing the general audience. I think they will need to find a clever way to convey their message behind the device and its set-up. That said, if the chance arises, I recommend checking out the Wii U Experience in your area.

 

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