Nintendo’s showing at E3 2015 was notable not because of the games that were shown, but due to the strong negative reactions from fans the presentation triggered. The company approached this year’s virtual conference with a theme of transformation; taking notable franchises out of their comfort zones and into new grounds. While some of the shape-shifting yielded results whose outlooks are promising, others fell poorly flat. Like pretty much everything in our mundane world, the overall output was neither as dark nor as brilliant as it is being currently painted, it landed somewhere in between on a intriguingly gray area. It is time to tell the good from the bad.
Happy Home Designer is powered by a brilliant concept. It takes one of Animal Crossing’s most beloved features – collecting ridiculous amounts of furniture to decorate spacious rooms as one sees fit – and smartly expands it. Players become interior decorators that must appease the needs of the various villagers, which are unlocked through the purchasing of Amiibo cards, based on statements that hint at what kind of style they seem to be looking for. The more homes are designed, the more items become available so that gamers can let their imagination run wild within the themes desired by the lovely animals.
However, any Animal Crossing fan looking at Happy Home Designer is bound to wonder why in the world the game exists individually instead of being an added feature on the next installment of the franchise. It is highly questionable such concept, as fleshed out as it might end up being, can offer enough value on its own. The option to offer decorating services to villagers may wind up on the next Animal Crossing game and work as a new fantastic gameplay tweak, but as a standalone title Happy Home Designer feels like a cheap, quick, unambitious, and easy way Nintendo found to cash in on the gigantic Amiibo fad by making a game that heavily relies on extra cards.
To top off a bad day for the followers of Nintendo’s charming life-simulation saga, the Animal Crossing franchise fell victim to not one, but two shameful cash-ins. Aside from serving as a vehicle to the selling of Amiibos, which will seemingly be used to unlock characters in the game, Amiibo Festival is a total transfiguration of the series we all know and love. Transforming a game to great lengths is by no means inherently bad – the Mario franchise has had uncountable successful spin-offs, but when said transformation is the turning of a pleasant community simulation into a party board-based title – an area Nintendo has got more than covered with Mario Party, it is a disaster.
The Nintendo Wii U, though a great system, is lacking in many genres, but the party niche is certainly not one of them, which makes the introduction of Amiibo Festival feel like an even greater slap on the face of those who wanted a real Animal Crossing game to follow and improve upon the mesmerizing New Leaf. The existence of Amiibo Festival does not kill the chances of the system ever getting a true Animal Crossing experience, but the fact a talented team at Nintendo is hard at work on yet another party game – worse yet, one that is made to sell action figures – shows the company’s focus is pointing towards the wrong target.
Easily, Fire Emblem Fates was one of the obvious highlights of Nintendo’s E3 Direct. However, the fact the game was already well-known beforehand (its release date in Japan is coming within a few days), diluted the good effects it could have had on the overall perception of the show. Positive reactions and attention are merely accessories, though, and the title will get plenty of both as its American launch approaches. The bottom line is Fates already looks like it is destined to be one of the finest titles on the Nintendo 3DS’ library.
The storyline’s division into two kingdoms, one where players must defend the place from violent invaders and another on which a revolution will be started, will offer slightly different gameplay scenarios for gamers to tackle. Nintendo’s trailers for the game have been heavily focusing on its cinematics, which is no wonder: Fates flaunts an art style that is a sight for sore eyes.
Although not a universal critical success due to its repetitive gameplay, Hyrule Warriors was quietly beloved by most fans of the Zelda universe; the endless bashing of brainless and weak enemies was surprisingly addictive and the game proved to have more than enough content to sustain those cravings for more action through hundreds of hours. Now, almost one year after its original release, and as a statement on how its sales were satisfactory, the hack and slash is getting a remake on the Nintendo 3DS with some intriguing extras and – possibly – punctual improvements.
The decision to – after such a short period – remake a game is certainly questionable. More importantly, much like it happened with the unexpected 3DS version of Super Smash Bros., it is partially shocking to see Nintendo strip the Wii U – a struggling platform, especially when compared to the 3DS – of one of its signature exclusives. Yet, it is a release that will certainly please many and one that might end up convincing some dedicated aficionados to splurge on both versions.
Following a disappointing 3DS outing that was panned for lacking in content, the Mario Tennis franchise is looking for rehabilitation with Ultra Smash. While the Nintendo 64 version of the game was grounded in a relatively realistic gameplay, with little in the ways of gimmicks; the Gamecube sequel, Mario Power Tennis, had a considerable focus on super shots and other special tricks that could turn any point around in a flash. Ultra Smash seems to clearly lean towards the latter, as its trailer constantly displayed characters becoming gigantic via Mega Mushrooms and unleashing stronger shots.
Fortunately, the nature of those, however, seems to be far simpler than that of those from Power Tennis, which featured overly elaborate special moves that removed the focus from the actual match by displaying short cutscenes whenever one of those moves was activated. The greatest expectations regarding Ultra Smash will certainly lie on its online gameplay. In Mario Golf: World Tour, Camelot failed on the single-player offline experience but delivered a downright spectacular online mode. If the company is able to replicate that magic here, while listening to the fair criticisms World Tour received due to its very thin offline segment, Ultra Smash could end up being one of the finest Mario spin-offs in years.
Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam lies on the opposite spectrum of the two Animal Crossing disappointments. That pair is, at first sight, a double example of how to transform a franchise the wrong way; Paper Jam, on the other hand, looks like a brilliant, smart, and completely unexpected way to bridge the gap between two excellent RPG series: Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi. From a plot perspective, the collision of both worlds is perfectly fertilized terrain for hilarity to ensue: the interactions between the sprites of the Mario & Luigi universe with their paperized versions is a comedy gold mine.
At the same time, on the gameplay front, Paper Mario’s addition to the team of Mario & Luigi opens up many gateways to new mechanics. The highly interactive battles of the Mario & Luigi saga, which feature cleverly contrived and extremely creative moves that require players to timely press buttons, gain an extra member that is bound to make attacking even more engaging and complex, and defending more demanding on the reflexes and attention. Out in the field, it allows the Mario & Luigi exploration to meet the Paper Mario puzzle solving. Paper Jam is an incredibly creative move by Nintendo that shows that, at its best moments, the Big N knows better than its fans how to move their franchises to new places where inventive ideas will be abundant.