onsdag 24. februar 2010

Will Nintendo’s first-half game line-up satisfy gamers? Our hands-on impressions

The announcement of Nintendo’s DSi XL handheld got a lot of attention today. But the games that the Japanese company talked about today are equally as important for its plan to continue to dominate the video game market in the first half of 2010. Here’s some hands-on impressions of the up-close-and-personal demonstrations I saw today for the upcoming games.
Super Mario Galaxy 2 for the Wii. It’s been a long wait since Super Mario Galaxy debuted on the Wii in the fall of 2007. This game is well worth the wait and is looking very polished. It stars the same goofy Mario character, flying through outer space in a three-dimensional platform game. You visit planets which a super-sized Mario can walk around in 3-D in the course of a few seconds. I tried out a couple of levels today and the cute fun just never stops. One of the bright new additions is a simple drill. You drop it into the ground and it drills a hole through the planet and lets you emerge on the other side. It’s quite useful in scaling tall towers or getting away from enemies.
Another good addition is Yoshi, the dinosaur that you can ride. Mario sits atop Yoshi and gets to zoom through levels after Yoshi eats a hot pepper. That lets Mario zoom up giant walls or loops. You can land on power-ups that turn Yoshi into a big air bag that rises into the air and slowly loses its air, allowing you to fly from one place to another. I don’t know who thinks up this stuff, but it’s so zany. And it will make for hours of fun. This game is sure to be one of Nintendo’s blockbusters for the year. The only disappointment is that it’s a single player game; my family got used to playing four at a time with the debut of the New Super Mario Bros. game last fall. This game comes out on May 23.
Metroid Other M for the Wii. On some levels, this game is a disappointment. It’s a shooting game, but as a standard definition game with somewhat limited 3-D graphics, it can’t hold a candle to a lot of shooting games on the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3. It’s not particularly easy to control, using a Wii remote with a Wii Motion Plus attachment.
On the other hand, the game has a lot of emotion to its story. Cammie Dunaway, executive vice president of sales and marketing at Nintendo of America, said that the emotional hooks built into the introductory videos in the game could bring in a broader audience than the pure hardcore Metroid fans. She thought that more female gamers might be drawn to it. That could be a stretch. But the argument made sense. I watched through the opening videos. There were a lot of plot developments to follow, since the game really starts mid-story with Samus, the hero, asking herself, “Why am I still alive?” She talks about destroying Mother Brain, space pirates and the Planet Zebes — and a baby. Then she wakes up, goes through some basic training, gets in a spaceship and runs into a crew of Galactic Federation soldiers, which evidently includes an old flame of hers.
Then I joined in the game play. Metroid Other M combines several kinds of game play. Some of it is more like a two-dimensional side scrolling shooting game. That mode is the easiest when it comes to shooting. You automatically target the enemies that flood onto the screen and press the 1 button while holding the Wii Remote sideways. Then you can switch to a stationary first-person mode, where you point the Wii Remote at the screen and move it sideways or up and down. You hold the B button to turn your facing. To shoot a missile at an enemy, you hold down the A button and then let go. It takes getting used to, and it’s not as easy to target things. You fight cooperatively with the other soldiers in a boss battle. You fire missiles at a big purple beast while they shoot it with “freeze guns.” It’s fast and furious, but not as fun as other kinds of shooters that you play with traditional shooters. To me, Nintendo still hasn’t quite figured out how to do good first-person shooters with the Nintendo Wii Remote. It takes time getting used to the game play modes, but I suppose it’s fun once you have mastered the different styles. This game comes out on June 27.
That’s why Sin & Punishment Star Successor, a follow-up to a WiiWare game, was a more pleasant surprise. This game was non-stop shooter action, but in the style of the Nintendo Wii. I played it with the Wii Motion Plus. But the shooting it’s the sort where you have to constantly mash a button. Rather, you simply hold down the B trigger button on the Wii remote. Then you spray out a steady stream of fire at your enemies, which come to you by the thousands. You never run out of ammo, so your best bet is to constantly shoot at whatever is ahead of you. I would put this in the category of a casual shooter because it’s much less complicated to play than Metroid Other M. It moves faster. But it might get boring as well. This game is out in the summer.
There were a lot of other games that were featured. I got a look at Capcom’s Monster Hunter Tri, a franchise popular in Japan that has sold more than 11 million copies. But I didn’t care for it. It was hard to control, even with the traditional game controller that is a substitute for the Wii Remote. The dinosaur graphics are quite primitive on the Wii, and the perspective gets messed up quite easily when you’re in close combat with a dinosaur, which you’re trying to kill with a sword. As I looked at it, I kept thinking that it is truly time for Nintendo to launch a new game console for high-definition graphics fans. That game debuts on April 20.
I was actually pleasantly surprised by some of Nintendo’s smaller games. The WiiWare titles, which are downloaded to the Wii via the web, had some stand-outs. The Art Style: light trax and Art Style: Rotozoa games looked like fun. In those games, you use the Wii remote to control artsy images. In light trax, you take charge of a white beam of light as it races against other colorful beams across a dark track. In Rotozoa, you play a tiny organism, as in Spore, where you try to take on other microorganisms.
There are lots of cool DSi games coming, including a couple of Pokemon titles, Picross 3D, and a bunch of other cutesy stuff. Photo Dojo lets yo take a picture of yourself with the DSi camera. Then you incorporate it into the game as your avatar. The game can take as many as 13 pictures in various kinds of poses. You can also record your voice with 10 different sound effects. Then your avatar is inserted into a dojo fighting arena, where you can take on your friend in a two-person match. When you fight, the sound effects play. If you get punched, for instance, your character may utter your own words like, “Don’t hurt me.”
Is this enough to make for a great year for Nintendo? Not quite. It does look like a better line-up than Nintendo had in the first half of 2009. But we’ve come to expect more from Nintendo. The company’s top marketer, Cammie Dunaway, said in an interview that Nintendo will show off more new titles at the E3 trade show in June. Those include the debut of the Nintendo Heart Monitor that Nintendo showed off at E3 a year ago, as well as the next edition of the Zelda franchise. Those efforts are probably the biggest productions under way at Nintendo, and they will make or break the company’s fortunes this year.

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