Wii Sports Resort, Wii Fit Plus, and New Super Mario Bros. Wii took pride of place at the event, all displayed on multiple big-screen HDTVs dotted around a swimming pool (yes, a swimming pool….I don't know why either). A little less prominent, but no less welcome, was the presence of Endless Ocean 2 and Sin & Punishment 2, along with a number of high profile DS games. Fortunately, circumstances allowed me to get significant playtime with all of these games, and I came away with plenty of food for thought about the year to come in Nintendo gaming.
One-on-one with one-to-one
Wii Sports Resort presented my first chance to use the Wii MotionPlus, and for all its promises of unprecedented one-to-one control, it didn't disappoint. I started with some Swordplay, slowly tilting the Wii Remote at first to see how my movements were being translated on screen. Satisfied with the smooth precision of the tracking, I proceeded to revel in pummelling my timid Mii opponents into submission (a watery grave, actually), and felt sure that duelling with friends is going to be enormous fun.
The surprise hit of the many Wii Sports Resort activities I tried was Table Tennis. While rather more understated than the grand gesturing involved in Swordplay, Table Tennis was another great showcase for MotionPlus, as it provided total control over paddle positioning, and nuanced application of spin on shots. In stark contrast to its Wii Play predecessor, Sports Resort Table Tennis has an immediate, tactile appeal reminiscent of Bowling in the original Wii Sports, and could prove to be a similar favourite with all sections of the Wii audience.
With friends like these…
After taking the time to realise that the balance games in Wii Fit Plus had been purposefully designed to make me look like a buffoon—it may have been less embarrassing to actually wear a chicken suit, so long as I didn't have to flap around so much—I moved on to the other big holiday title, New Super Mario Bros. Wii. Despite having already watched a number of videos of the game from the real E3, I couldn't help but be taken aback at just how exactly it resembled the DS game, from the various level themes right down to which particular enemies were represented by polygonal models or pre-rendered sprites. Having said that, the return of Yoshi and the spin jump were welcome throwbacks to Super Mario World, and the new Propeller and Penguin suits were a joy to experiment with.
Of course, multiplayer is the big draw for New Super Mario Bros. Wii, and my time with it was simultaneously very entertaining and uniquely awkward; regrettably, my inept attempts to assist fellow players were easily misconstrued as malicious, or in one particularly unfortunate case involving Yoshi and a Piranha Plant, just plain murderous (sorry, random person!). One detail I found especially interesting was that everybody has five lives, but if all players should die near-simultaneously (leaving no-one left to free players from the bubble they reappear in after dying), then it's game over for everyone, regardless of how many lives they have left in reserve. As evidenced by the way an ill-advised attempt to nab a precariously placed Star Coin away from my "colleague" led to our instant destruction, this system makes maintaining some level of co-ordination amid the inevitable chaos and antagonism of it all even more important than it might seem initially. I know it's been noted many times over at this point, but it really is this constant tension between co-operation and mischief that makes New Super Mario Bros. Wii such an enjoyable multiplayer experience.
Tucked away on lesser TV screens were sequels to two diametrically opposed games: the tranquil Endless Ocean, and the frenzied Sin & Punishment. Unfortunately, the low-quality composite display could hardly do justice to the serene beauty of Endless Ocean 2, but a number of refinements on the original game were still apparent. Familiar species displayed greater detail and more intricate animation, new kinds of aquatic environments were open to explore, and the previously risible on-land graphics showed vast improvement. The partial localisation of the demo (it remained laden with Japanese text) made it difficult to see all that I would have liked, but I came away from it very encouraged nonetheless.
As someone who holds Sin & Punishment in the very highest regard, it was tremendously exciting to get my hands on its sequel nearly ten years after I first played the original on the first Christmas morning of the new millennium. The demo was quite gentle in terms of difficulty, but the slick pointer controls combined with an abundance of enemies and exquisitely outlandish boss encounters made it an absolute blast to play. The most intriguing new element is the ability to float indefinitely, which was undoubtedly satisfying and fun to use in the demo, but questions remain as to how it will complement blasting with your feet on the ground over the course of the game. In any case, Sin & Punishment 2's 2010 release simply cannot come quickly enough.
There were also a number of handheld titles available to try, and they affirmed that the end of the fifth year on the market for DS will be among its best yet. My time guiding Link and his Phantom companion in The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks demonstrated the potential for clever dungeon designs based around solo team-working, and left me significantly more enthused for Link's second outing on DS. However, I couldn't help but rue the need to blow into the microphone while playing next to the generously stocked bar that kept everyone hydrated following their frantic chicken-flapping sessions, but beggars can't be choosers I guess. Even more impressive than Spirit Tracks though was Mario and Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story, thanks to the strikingly vibrant visuals that now complement the witty charm and solid gameplay of its predecessors—in stark contrast to the next Pokémon Mystery Dungeon title, which seemed stiff and (still) distinctly GBA-like by comparison.
All in all, it may not have been all that much like going to E3, but it was truly fascinating to go hands-on with so many unreleased Nintendo games in such a short space of time, and a whole lot of fun to boot. Now there is just one more thing to settle before I'm finally even with my North American comrades: when the heck are we getting Excitebots?