Nintendo has received enormous and largely just praise for its announcements at this year's E3 conference. Its line-up of games coming to the Wii U home console and the handheld 3DS is unexpected, inventive, playful and genuinely aimed at getting families and friends playing together, in a room.
And it's not just a question of intent, it's also one of execution. By comparison with every other major video games company, Nintendo's ability to weave together the use of colour, humour and simple gameplay mechanics into games which instantly feel classic is extraordinary. At its best it really is the Disney of video games - or, rather, the bit of Disney that used to be Pixar. It doesn't get everything right, and it makes too many sequels, but no one can match it when it's at the top of its game.
The thing is, having now played those same upcoming games in preview form, I now have a little bit of doubt that Nintendo really is at the height of its powers. Or perhaps I'm just not sure that these games are quite as exciting as I'd hoped...
READ ON for our full post-E3 preview of Nintendo's upcoming titles.
Of the big hitters, Splatoon is the most surprising and instantly fun. The game is a sort of third-person deathmatch with paint guns, in which you have to drench an arena in your team's ink while either running around as an armed human, or swimming through the ink as a fast-moving squid. It's beautiful to look at, has some original ideas and is clearly entertaining and simple to play. It's lovely to see a genre like this reimagined in a family friendly way, and it's clearly shaping up to be a winner.
That said, at this stage it also has its flaws. The camera isn't great, occasionally making your path hard to see. Aiming with the gamepad as a motion controller is inexact, and the arena we played was small and the games a little too hectic.
Compared to Super Smash Bros, however, the upcoming Nintendo All-Stars brawler for Wii U and 3DS, Splatoon looks like an afternoon at the Paint Drying Championships. There are few games with as hardcore and devoted a fanbase as Smash Bros, and it is obvious they will be well-served by this new instalment. There are a boatload of characters, arenas, moves and new gameplay modes, and the action is (apparently) as sharp and precise as ever.
Trouble is if you're a rookie in the Smash Bros arena-- as I am -- it's also incredibly confusing.
In the first three-person brawl we played (one Nintendo rep, one 'enthusiast' journalist) we lasted less than two minutes fighting Mario and Donkey Kong before (apparently) falling off a cliff, never to return. It was stupidly fast and brutal. No one seemed that bothered about telling us how to improve or get a handle on the controls, or even that able to tell us. As such it really wasn't very fun. It didn't get much better in subsequent battles.
Perhaps, as with Mario Kart 8, Nintendo's aim here is to make Super Smash Bros immediately challenging for established players and introduce new gamers to the concept slowly in the full release. We hope so, because right now it looks spectacular, but unapproachable.
Elsewhere some games impressed us with their core mechanics, but felt a little rough. That was the case with Mario Maker, a Mario level editor, which has promise but not the apparent depth needed to justify a full-price release. Hyrule Warriors is a fun one-against-hundreds brawler set in the world of Zelda, but the controls seems too twitchy and the graphics were a little fuzzy. Bayonetta 2 looks great, but again perhaps a little 'insider-y' for rookies. Similarly, Sonic Boom combines the classic speed of Sonic games past with character-swapping puzzle mechanics, but only time will tell if it resonates as a whole experience to become more than the sum of its parts - unlike Sonic Lost World.
Two other Nintendo early-look games (Project Giant Robot and Project Shield) used the Gamepad in new and inventive ways, but they're clearly too 'alpha' to really judge as upcoming games at all. And needless to say there was no sign of the new Zelda.
In fact the best - or at least most 'complete' feeling - game on show was Yoshi's Woolly World. Ostensibly a straightforward platformer, the game has a beautiful aesthetic, clearly benefits from thoughtful and playful level design and should be a great addition to the series.
But overall, it was hard to be as excited by this year's preview as it was last year, when Mario Kart 8, the re-released Wind Waker HD and the (then-excellent-looking) Sonic Lost World were still to come. True, many of these games will still turn out to be excellent titles, probably. Most aren't out for at least another 12 months. We don't consider this a definitive preview at all.
But where - from afar - this year's E3 offerings from Nintendo seemed like a home-run, in person they fell a little bit short of the fence. Obviously we can't wait to play them in full anyway -- and we'll be sure to let you know what we think of each of the titles in full when we do.