Nintendo Showcase: Mario Kart 8, Super Mario 3D World, Sonic Lost World (PREVIEW)


"One is always at home in one's past..." -- Vladimir Nabokov

Nintendo isn't necessarily in control of its future.

With ever-softening Wii U sales and the coming two-pronged assault of the big boynext-gen consoles, it's hard to feel too optimistic about its prospects for even getting back into the living room console cagematch -- much less winning it.

Meanwhile, the 3DS handheld is doing better after a slow start, but it too is facing a stern fight to stay relevant in a world of mobile games and app stores.

All that said, Nintendo is in control of one thing: its past.

Virtually all of its big upcoming Wii U titles are grounded in the past - from Mario Kart to Zelda, Sonic the Hedgehog and yet more Mario Bros - not just in characters but in mechanics, graphics and design. Some, like The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD and Duck Tales, are outright remakes - albeit visually stunning ones. Others, like the 3DS Zelda title A Link Between Worlds and the new Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze are so reminiscent of past games they might as well be remakes too.

The good news? Far from just sitting back and daydreaming about nostalgic glories, Nintendo is learning to use its legacy as the goldmine it really is - yes, for inspiring new sales for its consoles, but mainly for making really great all-ages cartoon video games.

In fact, after experiencing the rich depth, warmth and quality of almost every upcoming Nintendo game at its recent post-E3 showcase. it's apparent that the Japanese giant starting to really find its voice.

The only question is whether it can get the results of its labours out in time.

Above: Super Mario 3D World

Mario Kart 8 is perhaps the best example of this conundrum, principally because it's also Nintendo's best upcoming game.... but also because it won't be out for a year.

While at its core this is a very familiar Mario Kart title. With the same basic drift mechanics, characters, worlds and weapons, it's not a surprising game. But it is shaping up to be by far the most beautiful entry in the series - and the most fun in years.

We played three new tracks, including a Mobius strip 3D circuit, a San Francisco-inspired city track and a Luigi's Mansion level, and all were immaculately designed and hypnotically fun to play. It's hard to know why Mario Kart works so much better than other karting games - including the Wii U's perfectly fine Sonic & All Stars Racing: Transformed. But it does. Mario Kart 8 keeps that magical formula intact, and acts exceptionally rich cartoon graphics, 60FPS driving and new twists (literally in the case of the anti-grav tracks).

The problem? It's really needs to be out by October, not eight months later.

Mario Kart 8

Nintendo Direct June 2013

Similarly, Super Mario 3D World is shaping up to be the first truly brilliant multiplayer Mario game in years, by combining exactly the right blend of nostalgia and new mechanics with the Wii U's HD graphics and some fun new ideas. It's not going to break any moulds - and after the recent Mario and Luigi Wii U games it's hard to be too exhilarated by the prospect of yet more coins, three-stage bosses and mushrooms. But it's solid as a rock, and probably a must-buy for Wii U owners in a multiplayer household.

Another top game in Nintendo's line-up is at least based on a different company's nostalgic icon - Sonic Lost World. This was a real surprise for us. After years of diminishing returns and weak iOS games, this 3D, spinning world Sonic game looks like a real renaissance for the franchise. It's the first Sonic game in a long time to feel as fast and frenetic as the original Sega games, and has every chance of defining an important new stronghold for the Wii U.

Perhaps less impressive so far are the aforementioned Zelda games - just because there was so little on show. Likewise, while Yoshi - Mario's protective bipedal reptile - has his fans, the new 3DS side scrolling Yoshi platformer doesn't appear to be the most immediately gripping game on the menu.

Above: Sonic Lost World

Fortunately for Nintendo, its big new IP The Wonderful 101 looks like a winner. This game involves controlling a chaotic mass of superheroes in their collective fight against massive enemies, solving puzzles amid a sort of visual insanity that's hard to describe without the Gamepad in your hands. It's a confusing, fast game - but one which looks like it will find its niche amid the more pedestrian - literally - raft of Nintendo platformers.

Elsewhere in the showcase the new Wii Party U mini-game collection was entertaining - if not yet showing off the 'killer app' that Nintendo admits its new console needs. Pikmin 3 looks very strong - though more on that later next month - and Bayonetta 2 will bolster the machine's faltering attempt to attract 'hardcore' gamers, whoever they are.

Overall, when its games are presented in its sheer weight of numbers - and with such a universally high level of quality - it's very easy to get sucked into the momentum.

The problem, as we've mentioned, is that all of these games need to be out by October. Instead, many of them will still be in development - and some are going to take more than a year to arrive.

That's a real shame - not only because we want to play them now, because they're great, but because by next spring the focus will be firmly back on the big two and their shiny new toys.

The result is that once you step out of the Nintendo bubble, the belief we had on our second time around Mario Kart 8 starts to falter again. Nintendo is definitely in control of its past. And the future - once these games are out - seems brighter than you might think.

It's just the bit in between that's still proving to be the problem.