Gamescom: Nintendo Booth Round-up

By Richard Pilot

We continue our Gamescom Booth Roundup with a look at the second of the three main platform producers, Nintendo. Despite the recent launch of the DS XL and the announcement of the 3DS, the booth was clearly focussed on Nintendo's premier platform, the Wii, with most of the DS games being relegated to third-party publisher booths. Nintendo were clearly targeting the hardcore audience this year and it seems like they’re trying to remove some of the "casual" stigma which has been attached to the platform in recent years. Most, if not all, of Nintendo's back catalogue were on display with a range of new titles, such as Kirby Canvas Curse, Donkey Kong Country Returns, and of course, the latest entry in the Zelda franchise, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. Here were our impressions from these titles:

Kirby’s Epic Yarn

Introduced during E3, this is a welcome return to 2D platforming at its finest. The 'hook' with this game is that the entire game is stylised around fabric and string. The game's background and objects make it seem like your playing on one big fabric or quilt, with items appearing to be sewn into the environment. Characters appears as collections of string which can be manipulated. This leads into some interesting interactions, with destroyed enemies being broken down into their collective pieces of string. Boss creatures have specific parts of their fabric which can be pulled on to damage them. A number of other curious gameplay devices are also used. Pulling apart treasure chests involve ripping the chest fabric out of the environment. Other platforming sections allow you to 'go behind' the fabric world, a little bump appearing as you are squashed behind the material.

This wouldn't be classic Kirby if the lead character didn't have the ability to transform. A number of different transformations were available in the demo such as turning into a parachute for a safe landing on the ground or to direct Kirby to a hard to reach platform. Later on, we transformed into a massive Kirby-shaped tank with the ability to fire rockets at oncoming enemies. This may seem a little aggressive for a Kirby game but when its all styled with fabric and string, the game has a certain charm that you just can’t ignore.

Metroid: Other M

Even though it was released recently, it was surprising how little I had played or even seen of this game up until my encounter at Gamescom. This was a nice blend of third-person action adventure and first-person, on-rails shooting. Using a single Wiimote horizontally, the game played much like an other third person adventure game, controlling Samus from a distance. With a single press of the A button, she would shoot in the direction she was facing, much like the twin analogue shooters that we see on XBLA or PSN. Pointing the Wiimote at the screen fixed Samus on the spot and turned the game into a first person shooter, allowing for greater control of where and what you're shooting at. This lead to some interesting fights where you had to quickly move about in third-person before switching to first-person to target specific enemies and charge up your weapon. In my playthrough the game felt a little odd, however, as I’ve been too coddled by modern FPS; I couldn’t help being put out by the lack of movement during the first person sequences. Also, due to the lack of nunchuck, you are forced to use the D-Pad to get around, leaving movement feeling very restrictive to its eight possible directions; an adventure game without an analog stick was very off-putting in the current climate.

Zelda

At last the wait for a Zelda game specifically built for the Wii is finally over (and no, Twilight Princess doesn’t count, that was originally destined solely for the GameCube). It was clear from the get-go that Motion Plus is a defining aspect of the game. Almost all of the enemies I encountered has some sort of mechanic that required precision and finesse to attack; from enemies that used their own sword to block your attack, to plants that could only be attacked from one direction. We didn’t get long to play this in order to give those in the 2-3 hour queue a chance so I didn’t get to explore all of the new gadgets such as a the beetle. I left the game in the middle of a boss fight, its claws rotating at different angles, meaning I had to time my strikes correctly as well as ensuring I hit it in the right direction. This game did leave me wanting more and engaged me in the way a Zelda game should, something that Twilight Princess failed to do for me. If there was only one game I’d get for the Wii next it would be this, but sadly there’s a long wait to go before it’s finally released.

Donkey Kong Country Returns

Another clear sense of nostalgia was apparent here as the second IP this year that’s returning for a side-scrolling adventure. Unlike Kirby’s Epic Yarn, Donkey Kong’s return was a little less over dramatic, focussing on returning to the classic art style we’ve seen from this franchise. All of your favourite Donkey Kong items made a return in one form or another. Bananas are once again the currency of the moment and barrels also made their return, with sections of the level requiring you to blast from one barrel to the next. The letters spelling K-O-N-G were also present, providing an insentive for you to retry a level again if you fail to get them all the first time.

Not to get bogged down with what has returned, we also noticed a number of new gamplay types too. With the shake of a Wiimote, Donkey Kong now has the ability to smash his fists in the the ground. This comes in handy in a few places of the demo, such as to knock a shelled enemy upside-down revealing his vulnerable side or to smash down onto a drum-like service in order to trigger some special event in the level. Diddy Kong also made an appereance and when paired with Donkey Kong, he possessed a jetpack that allowed the duo to cruise over large gaps or to correrct a jump gone arie.

Overall, we had a great time with this game and the improvements, whilst relatively minor, were enough to justify the game's existance without us worrying that Nintendo had tried to cash in on the franchise.

Highlight of the booth:

It was great to see the refocus from the casual to the hardcore. The fact that so many of Nintendo's more popular series were making a reappearance this year was fantastic, with each franchise making a strong return. However, the dating graphics and lack of new hardware left us wondering if nostalgia along was enough to power us (and Nintendo) through to the new year and how long it would be until we were clamouring after HD versions of these games.

Matt's Note:

Notably Absent:

The Nintendo 3DS didn't make an appearance in any form at Gamescom, with Nintendo choosing to focus on its upcoming Wii and DS/DSi titles. With the new handheld due early next year, it's a pity that the European public weren't given a chance to sample the device which was given a full showing at June's E3 event in the US.

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