Nintendo of Canada held an event in a downtown Toronto office building Tuesday that gave game journalists who didn't attend E3 this year (like me) a chance to try a handful of Wii and DS games that were playable at this year's show.
The highlight for me was New Super Mario Bros. Wii. I spent about half an hour working through a quartet of levels with several other reporters, and it felt very much like we were playing an old NES or SNES SMB platformer-except that we were playing simultaneously, which afforded the more impish among us to jump on each other's heads and steal some coins.
This one welcome innovation aside, the rest of the game is old school Mario through and through. I was jumping on goombas, kicking turtle shells, avoiding the Hammer Bros.' hammers, and leaping onto flagsticks. There are plenty of new elements-like the ability to hop on Yoshi and use his elongated tongue to swallow enemies, and a propeller hat power-up that lets players soar high into the air for a few seconds by shaking the Wii remote-but they feel like natural progressions within 2-D Mario platforming rather than game-changing leaps forward in the series' design. Great stuff-especially for thirty-something gamers like me who grew up with the original Super Mario Bros. and its many successors.
Next was Wii Sports Resort, the second game (following the recently released Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10) to make use of Nintendo's MotionPlus peripheral, which enhances the Wii remote's motion-based control. As I've already reported, MotionPlus ought to silence folks who have long complained about the Wii remote's tendency toward imprecision, and the time I spent with Wii Sports Resort only cemented my opinion.
I swung the remote to control a sword, and it was true one-to-one control. I tilted it ever so subtly to direct the flight of a plane and my aircraft moved exactly as I intended. I watched my fellow journalists use it in similar ways to kayak, play ping pong, and shoot hoops, and they all seemed suitably impressed by the MotionPlus' capabilities.
Simply put, it's the sort of motion control everyone expected at the Wii's launch. And while I've experienced enough of this sort of interface to know it's not my preferred way to interact with games, I've got a feeling there are about 10 to 20 million Wii owners who will leap at the opportunity to experience motion-sensitive bowling the way they've always dreamed.
They'll finally have their chance when Wii Sports Resort launches in late July.
The third Wii game available to try was Wii Fit Plus, the sequel to last year's phenomenally successful Wii Fit, an exercise game that has sold more than 20 million copies worldwide-one of only a handful of games to reach that milestone.
I let my four-year-old daughter have the honour of trying this one. She flapped her wings like a bird to make an avatar in a chicken suit fly to platforms in the middle of the sea, marched in place and swung the Wii remote and nunchuk to lead a marching band, and stamped her feet and steered with the remote to pedal a bike around a large park.
I don't know how many calories she burned, but when we got home she had a healthy nap-something she hasn't done in months-so I suspect it was pretty good exercise. It ought to prove a nice change of pace for folks growing bored with the original Wii Fit's 40 or so activities and yoga poses.
Turning to the DS games, my favourite was a mystery/puzzler called Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box. I named its predecessor, Professor Layton and the Curious Village, the best DS game of 2008. And, based on the few conundrums I tried-including a tricky riddle and a puzzle composed of map tiles-and the high quality cut scenes and dialogue I witnessed, this sequel looks to be just as fun. It comes out in late August, so if you haven't tried the original-and most of you haven't, judging by its woeful North American sales numbers (shame on you!)-you still have plenty of time to track it down and get up to speed on the good professor's previous adventure.
Another DS draw was The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks, which looks to be very similar to The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass. It features a similarly cartoonish Link who sports a host of new and innovative touch-screen-enabled abilities, such as a fierce wind capable of clearing away obstructions like smoke. This one is guaranteed to eat up a couple dozen hours of my life when it's released this fall.
The last DS game I experimented with was Flipnote Studio-though it's not a game so much as it is rudimentary animation software. The concept is simple: Use the stylus to draw pictures, then place them in a film strip to create a little movie. Whether you're manipulating your drawings or adding a soundtrack, all tasks can be mastered in seconds-no instruction manual required. From what I saw, you don't even need to know how to read to make a Flipnote movie. And once you finish your creation you can share it with others online-in a safe, Nintendo-controlled environment, of course.
What I didn't see at Nintendo's little soirée were playable demos of Super Mario Galaxy 2 or Team Ninja's Metroid: Other M; two of the most talked about Wii games from this year's E3. It was a disappointment. That said, Nintendo had me at New Super Mario Bros. Wii.