My Reaction To The Nintendo E3 Presentation

Nintendo’s E3 presentations have gotten mixed reviews in recent years, but this year’s seemed to have a lot of promise and momentum behind it. The Switch has been selling like hotcakes, the pre-E3 2017 game lineup was already stocked with anticipated titles, and the 3DS had already seen its support guaranteed through the end of the year, so it seemed like the company was assured of a solid presentation just by giving us more information about the games we knew were coming.

Instead, Nintendo decided to shoot for the moon in 2017 and drop a few new surprises on us in addition to extended looks at the already-announced games. The decision paid immediate dividends, and the presentation is already being hailed as one of Nintendo’s strongest E3s in recent memory. I’ll gladly echo that general praise, but I wanted to dive a bit more into the details of the specific games:

  • Remember when I was talking about Mario’s Teflon shield a while ago? Its presence was never more apparent than in this year’s Nintendo’s presentation. Not only did Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle look incredible and produce a lot of “oh snap, this game actually looks really good” reaction from early doubters, but Super Mario Odyssey introduced unexpected new twists like costumes, the dumping of the extra-life mechanic, and even possessing enemies, and stuck the landing on every last one. (The dense sandboxes of Super Mario Odyssey also struck a nice contrast to the vast open world of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild.) I’m super excited for both games at this point, and don’t have to wait too long for either one (Kingdom Battle drops August 29th, while Odyssey got a surprisingly-early release date of October 27th).
  • The success of the Switch means Nintendo has no reason to hold back on using its IPs, and its presentation was a clear indication that the company is ready to empty the warrens in 2018 for the new console. Yoshi is getting a papercraft/Paper Mario makeover for his upcoming 2D platformer, Kirby is getting his first mainline console game in three years, and most importantly of all, after years of waiting, Metroid fans are finally getting a bone thrown their way in the form of Metroid Prime 4 and Metroid: Samus Returns. The Switch’s Year-2 strategy is starting to become clear, and it looks to be nearly as strong as Year 1. (My suggestion: Toss in one more tentpole franchise like Animal Crossing or Mario Maker, slap a Holiday ’18 release on whatever Smash Bros. Switch turns out to be, and kick back and watch the money roll in.)
  • The Switch’s increasingly-crowded 2017 game lineup was stoking fears that Xenoblade Chronicles 2 would get bumped in 2018, but Nintendo put these fears to rest with a new trailer and a Holiday ’17 release date. While I’ve never played an XC game before, I’m a fan of RPGs in general and this one looks interesting enough to give a second look.
  • While third-party support for the Switch will probably never reach the level that people want, the console is getting at least a few key players on board, with a Zelda-flavored SkyrimRocket League, FIFA 18, and an Ubisoft collaboration with Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle. The Switch may not have the pure horsepower to run some of the AAA behemoths on the PC, PS4, and Xbox One X, but it has enough to run the less-intensive titles, and the console’s portability is becoming a bigger selling point than I predicted (a lot of people are saying, “Hey, I want game XYZ on the go now!”).
  • The “y u no Switch?” backlash to Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon was apparently concerning enough to Nintendo for them to include a brief statement confirming that a mainline Pokémon RPG is in development for the console. Based on their statement that “it may not release for more than a year,” my guess is that it will signal the beginning of the eighth Pokémon generation, and will be released sometime in 2019 (which leaves an intriguing hole for a potential Pokémon Diamond and Pearl remake to fill in 2018…).
  • The 3DS didn’t get a whole lot of attention this time around, with only a pair of remakes (Metroid: Samus Returns and Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions) getting much of a mention. The 3DS’s 2017 lineup was fleshed out a while ago, however, and with those games plus Pokémon on the horizon, there’s still a lot to like about Nintendo’s older handheld console.
  • I’m not a fan of fighting games, so Fire Emblem Warriors falls into the same “meh” category as ARMS and Pokkén Tournament DX for me. I’m sure fans of both the Fire Emblem and Warriors series will find something to like here, but I’ll likely pass on all three games.
  • On the flip side, my hype level for Splatoon 2 is maxed out at this point,  so the available demos and the tournament didn’t affect my opinion of the game. Nintendo tended to focus on the medium- and long-term lineup, as ARMS and Splatoon 2 are mostly known quantities that will be in our hands fairly soon (in a few days, in ARMS‘s case).
  • Who said the toys-to-life market was dying? Nintendo announced a few fresh sets of amiibo for Super Mario OdysseyMetroid, Fire Emblem Warriors, and Zelda: Breath Of The Wild (and why those Mario + Rabbids figurines are not amiibo is beyond me), and they all look pretty cool. I just wish these were integrated into more games in unique manners, instead of the generic “oh, here’s an helpful item/power-up” manner we’ve seen in a few prior games.
  • While not a Nintendo announcement, we got to see a bit more of Sonic Mania and Sonic Forces from Sega, and both look like interesting games that I want to play (although I wouldn’t say the demos increased my hype level much). My only concern is on the Forces side, where you could just feel the awkwardness of the custom avatar’s jumping mechanic coming through GameXplain’s gameplay video.

On the whole, I agree with the consensus that this was a strong presentation. Nintendo showed off the great games that were imminent, pulled out some surprises for their fall/holiday lineup, and assured gamers that their favorite franchises were not being neglected via their long-term reveals. They did everything I expected and a whole lot more, and clearly outshined their rivals at Sony and Microsoft.

Brace yourselves folks, because I’ve got a feeling this Nintendo hype train will be running at full speed for a long time.

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Super Mario Run: Is It Worth Buying?

Given Nintendo’s long history in the portable gaming market, you would think they would realize that the point of a portable single-player game is that you can play it anywhere, not just anywhere with an Internet connection. Unfortunately, you would think wrong.

At its core, Super Mario Run is a trimmed-down, auto-running version of New Super Mario Bros., with simplified controls that allow you to play with one hand. You can build up your own personal Mushroom Kingdoms and challenge other players’ best runs in Toad Rally, but for the most part, you’ll be putting your platforming skills to the test against a wide assortment of levels just like any other Mario game.

Unfortunately, by “wide assortment of levels,” I apparently mean just 24, as the game only features six four-course worlds in total. That’s not a lot of levels when compared to traditional Mario games, and leads me to question a) how long will it take to beat these levels, and b) how much replay value Super Mario Run will have after you beat them. Andre at GameXplain hypothesized that completing all the levels would take an hour or two at most, which seems like an absurdly low amount of gameplay for a $10 mobile game. There are two potential mitigating factors here, however:

  • All we’ve seen so far is the first world, so other worlds might ramp up the difficulty and take longer to complete. (Given that Super Mario Run seems to be an entry-level Mario game aimed at casual players, however, I can’t see Nintendo kicking up the difficulty all that much.)
  • Coin collectibles are a major point of emphasis in the game, and gathering all of one set of coins will unlock other sets that are harder to collect. Dedicated players, therefore, will end up replaying each level a few times to 100% the game.

Replay value, however, is a minor gripe compared to the game’s major issue: Super Mario Run “will require a constant internet connection and will not feature any support for offline play.” I’ll be frank: This is the absolute dumbest decision that Nintendo could make.

Single-player mobile games should be like green eggs and ham: You can play them on a boat, on a train, in a box, with a fox, everywhere. Reliable Wi-Fi, on the other hand, is not everywhere, and can be spotty or nonexistent on subways, planes, buses, and many rural communities. If commuters and travelers figure to be a large part of your user base, this is a huge problem.

According to game producer and Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto, the decision to require online connectivity was made to combat software piracy, which is a reasonable goal. By implementing this online requirement, however, Nintendo is compromising the outreach potential of Super Mario Run, and will either a) reduce the number of players who will purchase this game, or b) irritate consumers who purchase the game assuming they can play it whenever they want. Neither outcome is good for Nintendo’s long term goals.

Super Mario Run should be thought of as a gateway drug of sorts: It should strive to be played by as many people as possible (regardless of how much money it makes in the process), and give non-Nintendo fans enough of a taste to convince them to play (and buy) real Mario games on actual Nintendo hardware. With the game’s premium price point and strict online requirements, however, Nintendo is treating Super Mario Run as a standalone AAA title that is a core element in its Mario series, a designation the game does not have the depth to merit.

Additionally, Super Mario Run does not give existing Mario fans a compelling reason to pick up the game. I already have several full-fledged Mario games for my 3DS that I can play whenever and wherever I want—why would I fork over ten bucks for a watered-down version that’s not as flexible? If Nintendo is serious about protecting its IP for the purposes of making money, then why didn’t they do more to tap into their existing fanbase?

I won’t be picking up Super Mario Run, and unless you’re desperate to play a Mario game and are sure you’ll always have a good Wi-Fi connection handy, you shouldn’t either.

Where Should Mario Switch Take Us?

One of the major complaints about recent entries in the Super Mario series is that the environments have become generic and uninspiring, and players find themselves traversing the same grass, desert, ice, etc. levels in game after game. (Of course, the people who complain about such things forget that the early Mario games dragged them through the exact same areas too, so it’s not exactly a new problem. Methinks gamers were just spoiled by the interplanetary hijinks of Super Mario Galaxy.) All of the commotion, however, has gotten me thinking: With the inclusion of a scene from a new Mario game in the Nintendo Switch announcement trailer, where should such a game take us?

In thinking about this topic, it’s admittedly been pretty hard to come up with completely new locales for Mario to visit. Instead, I think the way forward is to focus on the details on these worlds, and tweak these smaller features to make the worlds feel unique. Instead of a generic forest level, for example, what kind of forest should it be? Maybe it could be a rainforest filled with tropical flora and ancient temple ruins. Maybe it could be a maple grove in autumn, full of brilliantly-covered leaves. Maybe it could be a redwood forest full of vertical tree-climbing levels.  This focus on detail could extend to enemy design as well: For example, tropical forests feature Piranha plants and Koopa Troopas wearing safari helmets. (Even better: Introduce entirely new enemy designs!)

Nintendo has already shown us that it’s been thinking along these same lines, as shown by the Mario level seen in the Switch trailer. Instead of being just another desert level, the developers decorated it with a ‘Day of the Dead’ theme, and added buildings reminiscent of the old Southwest. (I’d love to see them take this a step further, like a boss battle involving an Old-West style shootout with Bullet Bills.) This is exactly the kind of thinking the Mario series needs.

Of course, there are a few new locations I’d like to see Mario venture to:

  • The urban jungle. No, I’m not talking about Neo Bowser City; I’m talking about something like Rhythm Route from Kirby: Planet Robot, with big buildings and Goombas driving around in cars (hey, if they can play baseball without hands, they can probably drive a stick shift). With the exception of Super Mario 3D World, Bowser usually opts for gothic castles and flying wooden ships, so why not have him upgrade and join the modern era for a change?
  • Cyberspace. It’s time for Mario to join the rest of the world online. Imagine a world with a background of green characters dripping down the sky Matrix-style, a blocky Minecraft-esque world that can change its look at will (with platforms that materialize and disappear in a flurry of code), and mechanical version of classic enemies standing in Mario’s path. I think there’s some potential here.

On the whole, though, I think Nintendo doesn’t need to make grand, sweeping changes to make Super Mario Switch (or whatever they end up calling it) a success. It’s the little things that matter, and if Nintendo can tweak their level designs to bit more noticeable, it will help make the game more memorable and put the criticism about uninspired level design to rest.