We got the chance to play Nintendo’s E3 lineup
Nintendo had a very strong presence in the last E3. Their show was full of strong titles for their malnourished console, Wii U, that ( along with the then recent release of Mario Kart 8) really helped to encourage the sales for it. Nintendo did a really strong bet with their E3 lineup, and it looks like it will pay off.
And why are we talking about that now, almost two months since they were shown in Los Angeles E3 showfloor? Well, Nintendo Spain invited me to their HQ in Madrid at a press only event called Nintendo Open Day, where I got the chance to play their E3 lineup of games.
And yes, that includes Sonic Boom. Sadly, I could only play Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal for Nintendo 3DS, as Rise of Lyric was visibly absent even if it was advertised as one of their main attractions in the invitation they sent to me.
Once there, I asked to a Nintendo rep why Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric was not present when it was advertised to be, and the response was pretty surprising. The reason I could not try Wii U’s new Sonic game was that the demo SEGA gave them was so broken, that it crashed almost every minute. And not usual crashes, but ones that freeze the consoles so bad, that the only option to unfreeze it was to pull the plug of the Wii U who was running it. The demo we saw at E3 coverings looked a bit more polished, or at least did not crash in the middle of the playthrough, so I guess it’s something related with the specific build that was given to Nintendo Spain and probably a few more booths, explaining too why there have been so many mixed reviews about this game. Recent San Diego Comic-Con reports clarify that a sightly more polished build of the game was shown there, so I hope the final game has those issues fixed before release. The last thing the Sonic franchise needs is another Sonic 2006-like disaster, as this new Sega of America endeavour is crucial for the future of the franchise.
But, thanks to that, most of my attention went to Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal. The handheld version of the game is shaping up as a pretty interesting game, but one that might shock to the most fervent fans. The gameplay mixes heavy platforming unlike any other Sonic game (not that Sonic games are not heavy on platforming, just…a different kind of platformer. This is slower, more strategic, full of exploration kind of platformer) with more sonic-like elements, like dashpads, loopings, and rings.
Shattered Crystal takes cues one of the more controversial gameplay additions from Sonic Lost World, the “Hold button to run” action. At first when you start to play, it seems like the characters run extremely slow, at a regular platformer pace instead of the hi-speed action we’re used to in the series, but toying with the controls makes you aware of this running button fast. In fact, if you don’t run, controls are a bit funky and confusing, homing attack tends to fail showing the crosshair if you’re not running, making you do a double jump instead of the desired homing attack. Regular attacks fail sometimes too, having to press the attack button a few times until it actually attacked, and control schreme is, in general, a bit confusing until you’ve played for a few minutes as they are somewhat different from what we’re used to, but nothing we have to worry about right now. It will be probably a lot better in the final game, or at least, I hope so.
That was, at least, on the 2D platforming stages, but that’s not the only kind of stages Shattered Crystal demo had. There were also a race stage, and a “ endless run in a tunnel” stage.
The platforming stage present on the demo was called Seaside Jungle, and, as it’s name shows, it’s your typical jungle stage. The map was like a maze full of vines, spike pits ( not endless bottom ones, at least, just regular pits), traps, and small puzzles. Sometimes, the level felt more like a Metroidvania level than your regular platforming level, having multiple roads in maze-like environments full of small puzzles.
We could select what character we want to use and change it on the fly just picking then on the touch screen. Every character had their special moves and attributes who are needed to come through the hazards of the stage. Sonic could run fast and spin dash, along with some kind of air dash that break open some rocks paths on the walls. Tails can throw rings as he did in Sonic 2006, and of course, he can fly. But only on specific pipes that propel him upwards. He can also maneuver on the air when he jumps, making him the best bet for first time players, as he can avoid spike pits better. Knuckles can punch hard, and dig on specific places, similarly to the drill wisp in Sonic Colors. His gliding skills were absent in this demo,but maybe they’re there in later stages as a special move like Tails signature flying skills. This level seemed like one of the first in the game.
Last, but not least, we have Sticks. The new girl in town feels pretty fun to play with, she is agile, fast – felt almost faster than Sonic himself sometimes – and her boomerang attack is pretty strong too. Her skills and abilities felt the most polished of the gang at the current state and when playing with her, the aforementioned control failures disappeared, so they will probably be fixed with the other characters too in later builds, I’m sure.
All of them were able to perform homing attacks, so this time it’s not a Sonic exclusive move.
Sonic Boom is a new branch of the series, aimed to younger fans, new to the series. But there is also some eye-candy for lifelong fans of the blue hedgehog. In the Seaside Jungle stage, we can find a minigame where we can control the Sea Fox, Tails submarine ship from Tails Adventures and Sonic Triple Trouble.
The other stages were totally different to Seaside Jungle. You can select the stage you want to play using a world hub map, similar to the Sonic Lost World one, but with more hidden branches and levels, less lineal.
The racing stage is called Shadow Canyon, In this one, we race against Sticks, in a similar way to Sonic Rivals. But, instead of how it works in the Backbone developed game for PSP, this time your “rival” is in the background plane so it never interferes with you, so we have not to worry about her blocking your path or directly attacking you. In fact, the gameplay felt more similar Sonic Rush than to Sonic Rivals, as Sonic runs faster and more fluid here, in lineal paths with some platforming sections, vine gripping, spring jumping and skilful reflexes based action, almost as it was a rhythm game. It was the stage I enjoyed the most of the ones present at the demo, and the one I felt more Sonic-like, even if its Sonic Rush like.
The third stage is Worm Tunnel, and as it’s name says, it’s the tunnel running stage. In this one, Sonic runs forwards automatically, but you can press the Y button to boost. The movement is rail locked, so you can only tap the circle pad left and right to change the course, who are filled with red laser traps that kill you with one touch, so be careful. You also have to be fast on your reflexes when the screen indicates you to press A or B to latch on the enerbeam, as giant worms come from anywhere and attack you, being the only option to ride on the laser whip through a zip-line. It’s a refreshing change from the heavy platforming stages and the race against rivals.
The experience with Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal was pretty good. It’s different to what we’re used to in Sonic, but it’s a solid platformer who can be a challenge in some points. The control issues tarnish a bit what could be a very good game, but the build present seemed like it was on a early state so I have confidence in Sanzaru Games to polish it before release. And the much controversial characters redesigns really shine with the game, when you see them on their environment you really understand why they changed them so much, it really fits.
But Sonic Boom was not the only game Sonic was present in the event. There also was Super Smash Bros for both Wii U and Nintendo 3DS.
Being a huge Smash Bros nerd as I am, I was eager to play both, and they did not disappoint me at all. Smash Bros Wii U is fast, maybe not as fast as Melee, but is definitely faster than Brawl and feels more strong than any other Smash Bros ever. Used Greninja, Pikachu, and of course, Sonic.
Greninja was fast, but not light, and his attacks were strong enough to be a really good character to fight with. I bet he will rank high on the tier list once the game is released.
Pikachu is more or less the same as he was in Brawl. They changed a bit his thunder attack, but it did not feel like an upgrade not a downgrade, it’s just different.
Sonic, however, felt downgraded. He was a bit slower than in Brawl, making him more controllable, but they also changed some of his smash attacks, making them less effective. His air up smash now makes a sort of crossleg scissors attack, and his ground down smash attack makes him spread his legs in the ground, an attack with much less hitting range than his previous one.
Besides that, the experience with Smash Bros for Wii U was amazing. Game was fluid, new stages were fun, and I got to use their Gamecube controller adapter, so it was very, very good. It feels responsive as always.
Smash Bros for Nintendo 3DS is a different beast, though. It’s the same game, but it feels like a different one. Gameplay felt more similar to Brawl than to its Wii U counterpart. Screen camera is fixed, it only follows the player character sightly but it never goes off near the characters like we’re used to in older Smash Bros games. This might be a bit uncomfortable at first, making it more difficult to localize your rivals when they’re not immediately close to you, but you can get used to it. Controls were also a bit uncomfortable, as they are mapped to the same buttons they are on a Gamecube controller ( A button for A attacks, B button to B attacks…). You may think that’s it’s how it should be, but…Nintendo 3Ds buttons are swapped, so expect lots of “ why am I failing off the screen if I’m making up B..oh, right, I’m stomping up a”.
There was no way to configure the controls on the demo I played, but I expect an option to do so in the final game, not only because of this, but also because of the high number of older Nintendo 3DS who have a problem with their L and R buttons, so they must let you use another buttons for the indispensable block and grab actions.
In Nintendo 3DS I Played as Sonic, Greninja, Pikachu, Megaman and Fox. Sonic, Greninja and Pikachu felt the same as their Wii U counterparts, but it was the first time I used Fox and Megaman here.
Megaman is a hard beast. His A attack shoots his blaster, similary at how Fox uses his laser gun, and the rest of his attacks are based on several robot masters skills. He might be a bit strange to control, but his strengh makes him a good pick, specially for skilled players.
Fox, on the other side, feels much like his brawl version. He is fast, but not as fast as in Melee, and his attacks are strong. I’ve not noticed any big differences with his moveset.
Smash Run was not demoed there, so I can’t say much about it. I could only play local multiplayer battles with other 3 players.
But that is not the only Smash related thing on the show. They had the complete Amiibo figurine set there. I could only look at them, as they were on a crystal casing and unavailable to use with the game, but from I could see, all of them are very good sculpts, of a great quality. I wasn’t planning on buying any of them, but after I saw them I fell in love with almost all of them.
They also had other games on the show, of course. Bayonetta 2 was amazing, a real showoff of exhilarating action and adrenaline. The demo showed a level where Bayonetta fights along with Jeanne on top of an aircraft, full of action. Bayonetta seemed to remain the same as in the first game, with the same moves and humor. There was also a stage where the witch used a sort of giant hair monster as a mecha warrior for herself, fighting another golem-like creature that made you clutch the controller like if your life was in danger. About the controller itself, you might think that using the quite big Wii U tablet gamepad might be a bit uncomfortable, but once you put your hands on it all those fears go away easily: Bayonetta gameplay works like a charm with Wii U’s gamepad.
The port of the first game was also present, but I could not play it. It looked pretty much like the Xbox 360 version, only with sightly more fluid framerate and textures. I could not see any of the special Nintendo costumes, sadly.
But the game that impressed me the most of all, was Splatoon.
They had a huge display for the game. When I arrived, they set up all the consoles to play Splatoon on two 4 vs 4 LAN multiplayer games. The game itself is surprisingly fun and fresh, although the controls are a bit strange at first. You aim with the gyroscope movement controls of the Wii U gamepad, but move, jump, shoot, transform into a squid and all other actions with the buttons, not with the touch screen. In the touchscreen you could see a map of the stage, showing the percentage of the map already covered in paint by your team and by your rival team. The goal was to be the team who got the most area of the arena painted in your color, but only the floor: walls and ceiling could be painted but did not count for the goal. You could use those paint spots to turn into a squid and move faster, at the same time that you replenish your paint meter.
Of course, if you find any member of the rival team, you can shoot them dead, but that is not the main goal of the game, it’s paint the most surface over.
At first it seemed like your entry-level FPS for kids, but it’s nothing like that. Yes, it’s very, very fun, with bright colors, fresh and kid friendly, but the mechanics and gameplay make it more fit to nostalgic melee FPS games like Quake 3 Arena players than to today kids. It’s a great and addictive game for everyone, and I can’t wait until it’s released to play it again.
Yoshi’s Wooly World was also playable, and I got a good time playing it. It feels more complex than the latest Yoshi’s Island games for Nintendo DS and 3DS, with lots of hidden items, and co-op gameplay fits the game like a charm. Yarn environments are beautiful, like something out of a classic tale. It’s really something.
Kirby, on the other side, showed astonishing graphics, it really looked like if it was made of stop-motion animation out of clay. Gameplay wise, it takes cues from Kirby’s Canvas Course for Nintendo DS, so if you liked that one, you’ll love this too
There were many other games that sadly, I could not play, but they were present and playable, like Project Giant Robo, Project Guard, Mario Maker, Hyrule Warriors, Captain Toad Treasure Tracker and Monster Hunter 4. Can’t say much about them since I did not play them, but they all seemed fine. Watching other people play Project Giant Robo was very fun at least.
The experience in general was pretty good, and I’m very grateful to Nintendo Spain for inviting me to their showroom. Splatoon and Smash Bros were a blast to play, Bayonetta 2 is going to be amazing, and Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal looks like will be a solid game, even if it’s not very similar to older Sonic titles. Nintendo lineup for the end of the year and part of 2015 year period is full of good games that hopefully will help to revitalize Wii U’s current state.