London Game Week 2003: Nintendo

 


One thing that became clear while walking around ECTS was that the ‘Big 3’ companies don’t really like it.

Sony chose to have their own consumer show.

Microsoft were there with a stand that had absolutely nothing on it, I believe it was a reception and some meeting rooms.

Nintendo, well, Nintendo are Nintendo.

They chose to hold their own show outside Earls Court with the ‘Nintendo Truck’ and a Mario Kart: Double Dash!! Challenge set up with 4 Gamecube LAN equipped go-karts.

I think the idea was to be ‘scene stealing’ – here are Sony holding a gigantic consumer show and Nintendo are outside with a truck showing their wares in more intimate, less bombastic surroundings.

I think it maybe would have worked if they’d placed the damn truck outside the front of Earls Court, instead of hidden away round the back. Last year Sony had a ‘hip’ and ‘radical’ half pipe on which a skateboarders looped endlessly. This year they had a ‘gnarly’ and ‘bodacious’ square of tarmac on which nothing happened.

Not that, in the end, it would have made so much of a difference. So many people were trying to get into the PS Experience, that even if they were allowed into the Nintendo truck (they weren’t, it turned out to be trade only) people would have died in the crush. Even when it was raining outside, the truck was so small that it full of people, and often with a queue of people waiting to get inside.

Mario Kart: Double Dash!! (GC)

First things first - What the hell is up with the two exclamation marks? It really makes the press releases look messy. Excess punctuation is not cool, Nintendo.

I only managed to play this on the go-karts in multiplayer. It maybe says something about the quality of my opponents in that it took me 20 seconds or so to work out that the right trigger was not ‘accelerate’ and I still managed to win the race.

It maybe says something about the quality of the game that the right trigger is not ‘accelerate’.

I don’t think the game is bad, actually. It’s faster than it was, and particularly in one player, it looks nice. But multiplayer didn’t exactly grab me. The 8 player 2 GC LAN mode has 2 players per go-kart – there wasn’t much in the way of details, but the secondary player must ‘lean’ into turns to add extra drift, considering the animation is made so much of.

Thing is, though – it’s just Mario Kart. All the small evolutions can’t take that fact away.

I do kind of feel like playing it more, though. While we wandered about the truck, I spotted the Planet Gamecube European Correspondent, Karlie Yeung. Actually, I didn’t – Alex did.

“Hey look, it’s one of Tim’s arch enemies.”

I could have played her at Mario Kart, but I didn’t. It could have been a kind of Insert Credit/Planet Gamecube grudge match – who would have won and defended the honour of their site? But I didn’t bother.

Alex: “If you fall in love with her, it could be just like Romeo and Juliet!”

I didn’t bother to do that, either.

Zelda: Four Swords (GC)

This game I was not excited by it at all, what with how… Average it looked at E3.

I mean, who cares about this connectivity shit, right? If we have to have a GBA and a GC to play this, and 3 mates with a GBA, to play a ho-hum version of Link to the Past, who cares?

From the example set by this game, connectivity is actually a great idea.

Bear with me, here. One thing I’ve always loved about gaming is the social aspect. And I know that Microsoft, Sony, and anyone with a vested interest in networked gaming is selling the idea that ‘social’ gaming is playing a game with someone hundreds of miles away.

Don’t get me wrong – it can be. I loved PSO when it came out, but I’ve played it more hours offline than on. It’s hard to go online and find someone trustworthy to go adventuring with. My best adventures have been in these final dying days of the DC servers, which go offline at the end of September. If you have it, give it a shot for old times sake.

But connectivity – who better to go adventuring with than people who are already your friends, right?

In my memory, playing WCWvsNWO Revenge with my friends back in my university halls was a hundred times better than any game of Counter Strike. I mean – that game sucked, but the social atmosphere made it.

This game does not suck. But it does require 3 friends with 3 GBAs to be fully utilised. And that’s kind of a sticking point.

But the atmosphere.

Firstly, the graphics have now been overhauled considerably, into fantastic looking hi-res version of the GBA Four Swords ‘Wind Waker’ style. Out of the press shots, this one best represents what you’re looking at on screen. It actually manages to utilise the GC’s power, with hundreds of bad guys on screen at any time, the ground warping…

It’s a small graphical upgrade, but it works perfectly.

As for the gameplay – it’s perfect too. Literally. In PSO, the co-operation between networked players was secondary to dungeon hacking.

In Zelda: Four Swords, the players MUST work together. But… To win, you have to make as much money as possible at the expense of other players. How do you balance it?

This doesn't feel like it could work online, even with a voice communicator. It really requires sitting on a couch beside 3 mates to work – or even standing under a canopy, outside a truck, crowded around a demo with strangers, while it pisses with rain.

No screen in the levels we tested (a mountain level and a dungeon level, forgive me for forgetting their names) could be passed without some form of co-operation. You even have to all leave the screen at the same time. And use of the GBA - It feels right.

Not necessary – but right.

To give an example of the dilemmas faced by the players, take the boss of the mountain level In the ECTS demo – the Helmaroc King from ‘Wind Waker’. The players must attack him with projectiles to cause him to crash into a hill. One player must be inside the hill (on the GBA) waiting for this, in order to attack the bird’s facemask. Once that is destroyed, that player is rewarded with 100 rupees – which none of the other players will know about. But if he’s not quick enough outside, the other players will get the lion’s share of the loot from killing the bird outright.

It makes you want to fight and yell with the people you’re with, even if you don’t know them. It feels great.

In another change from the version seen at E3, there are two versions of ‘Four Swords’ – one a single player with the four Links in formation. It looks cool, but it wasn’t playable. You can see a video of both games here.

The video alluded to something else, also, which I managed to not capture. The video showed ‘Hyrulean Adventure’ (the version of Four Swords I just discussed), Battle Game (a simple fighting game between the 4 players) and Tetra’s Trackers in a tri-force formation.

It’s nothing more than rumour, simply because I can’t get anyone from Nintendo to confirm it, but the Four Swords disc will continue all 3 games. Value for money? Remains to be seen exactly how much content is included. The two levels on show were quite short (less than 10 minutes long) and had no story connection.

The single player mode, however, just won’t be as entertaining as the multiplayer. There is literally no point in buying this game without having 3 willing (and able) friends - At least with PSO you could take the chance of playing with someone you’d never met, from hundreds of miles away. This… You’re stuck if you don’t have any friends. But that’s the choice Nintendo made. I don’t know if it was the correct one.

Pacman (GC)

Oh man! After all the glowing praise I have for Four Swords – this is just a 20-minute parlour game. It’ll amuse kids and possibly your gran for a little longer, but… There’s nothing to it. Were it released a low price, considering it only requires one GBA, I’d still pick it up, because it is fun. But it’s not going to hold anyone’s attention for long.

1080: Avalanche (GC)

Everyone was saying how massively improved this is over the E3 version. I can take their word for it, because it is smooth. And insanely enjoyable.

I dug 1080 back in the day, and this is exactly the way I imagine a next generation version of 1080 would feel like. Tricks use the same system as before, but it’s not all roses. While it’s a cool idea that you can recover from a bad landing by rotating the stick, it doesn’t feel intuitive. Maybe tapping the stick? I’m not sure what I’d do to keep the feature, as it does make the game less frustrating than it would be without it.

The graphics are fine, but it’s the small touches that make it. The fact that your character gets covered in powder if he takes a tumble. The way the snow piles up on his board. You almost feel cold.

The only test now is how good the soundtrack will be. I, personally, would take a different tack and fill it with sparse, atmospheric indie rock and dance. The images of 1080 that stick out in my mind all exist within the world I created playing my own CDs - going through thick powder on Dragon Cave while listening to Arab Strap’s ‘Piglet’ or roaring down Crystal Lake to the sound of Boards of Canada.

Ape its competitors with another cut and paste bloody rap-rock soundtrack? I’d rather not.

(Well, as long as they offer the ability to turn the music off.)

Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes (GC)

From what I played, this is EXACTLY Metal Gear Solid, except it looks nicer. It’s almost a shock to see in close up that Snake actually is Japanese (it’s easy to forget.)

The direction of Ryuhei Kitamura really stands out in the opening sequence on the Heilpad – The link between Solid Snake and Liquid Snake is really brought to the fore. The worst thing?

The damn codec screens are still the same. Doesn’t anyone at Silicon Knights read this site?

Mario and Luigi (GBA)

I almost get the feeling that I’ve been too positive in this article. Most of the games, even if they’ve disappointed me in some way, are still just so fun, in some basic, fundamental way.

I’m going to continue to be positive and say, Mario and Luigi is great.

It’s taken the bright cartoony graphical style of Paper Mario but tied it to the more ‘3D’ feel of Super Mario RPG, pairing this into a gloriously cute little RPG. Mario and Luigi do a little dance on the battle screen! It’s almost too cute. And it ties into the rhythm action feel of the battles, which keep the subtle but entertaining aspect of timing button presses to increase damage. Once again, it just feels right.

Sadly, I didn’t get to see any of the story elements of the game. If it retains the wonderful character dynamic of Paper Mario (Mario – the strong, silent type, Luigi – an incredibly fruity, bitter second string player) and this will be one of the best RPGs available on the GBA.

EVEN if they translate Mother 1+2.

Super Mario Bros. 3 (GBA)

Whoo! It’s Super Mario Bros. 3… Uh, again. It would take a hard, cold heart to complain about that. And some incredibly creative writing to say anything about it other than it’s the same game, on the GBA, with some extras that don’t really add anything to the game, which was already perfect to begin with.

It’s all up to you, man. If you’ve got a copy of it already, and can live without playing it on the go, don’t bother. If you have 2 GBAs and an E-reader and want to utilise them, get it, I guess, and have fun.

Conclusion

To tell the truth, there’s actually a fair amount I didn’t get the chance to play at the truck. Rogue Squadron 3, Billy Hatcher, Pikmin 2, Top Gear Rally (GBA) (fully polygonal. Ooh.) Among others. But…

Zelda: Four Swords is still the one that sticks out in my mind. It’s an interesting strategy Nintendo have to put so much effort into something which the press, by and large, aren’t impressed with. It made me think of what Miyamoto had to say at the EIGF –

“Maybe when we run out of ideas, we’ll turn to online gaming.”

I think those are the words of a man who considers connectivity an idea, not an attempt to increase market share through hardware sales. Zelda: Four Swords I can verify is a game in which the sum is far greater than its parts, and which could not succeed without connectivity.

But Nintendo are stupid, and they’re not maximising on the fact that once you play their games, you forget about how closed-minded you were on the basis of what you’d heard.

Nintendo needed to be more inclusive. While it sounded like a great idea to have a truck outside, I didn’t like it. If they’d had a stand inside ECTS they’d have got 20 times the traffic. On the truck, they had one demo station for Zelda: Four Swords. Just the one.

Nintendo need to start marketing. They’re not at TGS this year? They’re not holding a Spaceworld?

Nintendo are a company who, surprisingly, are sticking to their guns and quietly creating innIpation and, above all, fun products that make me feel like a kid again.

More people should have that feeling.

And unless Nintendo start letting people know they can, things aren’t going to go any better for them.

Mathew Kumar, Exeunt


 


Zelda:Four Swords

(58secs - 7.6 MB)