Nintendo holiday software releases play it safe

In a gaming holiday season that is somewhat overshadowed by the coming Xbox One and the PlayStation 4, Nintendo prepares to release a fall lineup of their own characterized by both innovation and nostalgia. The familiar characters of old, from Sonic to Mario to Zelda, appear in brand new games, but with a modern twist. Aspects such as multiplayer, 3-D, clear graphics and new platforms give these old-school games figuratively, and literally, new dimensions.

Double the fun · The Wii U’s new gamepad allows users to expand on their gaming experience by using two screens. Some games will only use the gamepad’s screen, allowing users to use other Wii functions on the TV. - Photo courtesy of Nintendo of America

Double the fun · The Wii U’s new gamepad allows users to expand on their gaming experience by using two screens. Some games will only use the gamepad’s screen, allowing users to use other Wii functions on the TV. – Photo courtesy of Nintendo of America

While Nintendo might not have a new gaming console coming out this winter, the handheld 2DS will premiere on the market as an alternative to the already popular 3DS. Apart from lacking the no glasses 3-D technology that made the 3DS so revolutionary, the 2DS is a toned-down, simpler portable system with a price tag to match.

Nintendo Senior Product Marketing Specialist J.C. Rodrigo said the company’s approach to mobile gaming is different from competitor Sony’s.

“We wanted to make it cheaper and more accessible,” Rodrigo said. With a suggested retail price of $129.99, the new system is significantly cheaper compared to its 3DS XL counterpart at $199.99. The pared down 2DS will have no hinges with a flat surface and will still be able to play all 3DS games. “It will be sturdier and able to withstand abuse,” Rodrigo said.

The portable DS platform will feature several anticipated game releases this holiday season, most notable of which are Pokémon X, Pokémon Y and The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds.

The latest installment in the The Legend of Zelda series comes as what Rodrigo describes as a “spiritual sequel” to the 1991 Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past that first appeared on the Super Nintendo. The new installment uses the same map as its spiritual predecessor as well as some of the same villains.

The similarities, however, stop there. “It has old-school gameplay and new-school rules,” Rodrigo said. Link gets new powers and the conventional understanding of Zelda characters, game flow and story are all challenged.

The old map gets a 3-D face-lift with stunning graphics that justify the 3-D feature that most other games use only as a gimmick.

Other marquee games will feature on Nintendo’s flagship game console, the Wii U. The Wii U, just under a year old, combines the traditional Wii controller with the new GamePad, a larger controller with a screen of its own.

“This hardware gives us a lot of potential,” Rodrigo said. The many different gameplay styles make for an unconventional gaming experience.

Super Mario 3D World is the first ever multiplayer 3-D Mario game from Nintendo. Up to four players can now play in the latest, and perhaps most visually stunning, Mario world yet.

A key component of the newest installment is “cat mode,” a power-up that transforms the Mario characters into cats. This feature exemplifies the childish and playful nature of the Wii system. Admittedly, it certainly isn’t trying to appeal to the same audience that will enjoy Grand Theft Auto V. The fun, nonviolent direction of the software developed for the Wii system is both a hindrance and one of its strengths. Most of the time it means sacrificing complex gaming for oftentimes more basic yet visually rich game experiences.

No game exemplifies this childlike innocence better than the Sonic series. Sonic: Lost World is the latest installment in the expansive Sonic series and the first on the new Wii U system. This new installment features a slower, easier to control Sonic in a boundless stage structure world; there are more options and more paths, and completing a stage is not a linear process.

The impressive visuals immerse gamers in the 3-D world, but this seems to be the only factor that distinguishes it from its very, very long list of predecessors. Sonic: Lost World will be out on Oct. 29 for the Wii U.

The new lineup of games all share that same characteristic of childish simplicity and nostalgia. Yoshi, Charizard, Mario, Sonic and Link are all key characters in Nintendo’s new wave of gaming and all are over 20 years old. The gameplay is somewhat revamped with the new system and sharper graphics, but ultimately some updates are gimmicky and insubstantive — it’s difficult for a developer to make the 53rd game in a series look strikingly different from the 52nd.

Nintendo’s greatest recent innovation is the gaming potential of the Wii U GamePad. The multiscreen multicontroller experience is unlike any other system, and games such as Wii Party U can use this technology to its fullest potential. For example, in the foosball mini-game included with Wii Party U, the larger screen is ignored. Its versatility is a major component of its appeal; gamers can play a game on the GamePad controller and watch Netflix on the TV through the same Wii U system. “We want it to feel different than conventional gaming,” Rodrigo said.

Wii Fit U is another example of the versatility of the system. The new addition to the Wii Fit series includes new technology, online fitness communities and new workouts. Using an additional piece of equipment called the Wii Fit Meter, players can track their movements all day and upload the results into the system. You can track your progress, share it with your online communities and even virtually walk famous trails around the world.

Some of the features of the GamePad and Wii Fit system are quite clever, but the rest seem gimmicky and such is the case for Nintendo’s holiday season lineup as a whole. What it fails to substantially improve and innovate, just seems tired and overused. Those who enjoy Nintendo’s recognizable character roster and see gaming as a family activity, however, will appreciate the familiarity of its holiday lineup.


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1 reply
  1. Corey
    Corey says:

    Playing it safe? That is by far the stupidest thing I ever heard regarding Nintendo….. thats says alot considering how much crazy is out there at places like NeoGAF and IGN.

    How is releasing their most successful franchises considered playing it safe? The sales of the console need a boost, you will not get a boost in sales from releasing brand new franchises…. Donkey Kong, Mario, Zelda, is called smart business. Smart businesses leverage their most popular/profitable intellectual property first…

    Playing it smart is apparently playing it safe? So what would call releasing a Metroid, F-Zero, and other franchises that completely bombed in their last outings? That would be playing it DUMB.

    But lets compare the xBone/PS4’s lineup. Releasing more of the same AAA games we played for the last 7 years with slightly better visuals…. and thats not playing it safe? Sony has more cinematic movies, more shooters. What do they really have that looks even remotely different from their standard fair?

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