Nintendo 3DS Game Blowout: Mario And Luigi, Zelda, Animal Crossing Hands-On
Nintendo's 2013 3DS lineup is somewhat predictable, with very few surprises to speak of, which is perfectly fine, since the big N understands its fan base perhaps more than any video game publisher. With this in mind, players can expect sequels to some of the best franchises, along with a portable version of Donkey Kong Country Returns, which originally appeared on the Wii; it's more than a port, thankfully.
The majority of these titles are months away from release, but that didn't prevent Mario and Co. from putting these potential million-sellers in our hands to give us an idea how they're shaping up. The short answer? Quite well.
Here's what we played.
The Legend of Zelda
Message boards and Nintendo fan sites were correct in guessing that the publisher planned to bring a new Zelda to the platform, though instead of a Majora's Mask port (still waiting, Nintendo), it's something even better, a brand-new entry that takes a page from the 1992 SNES classic, A Link to the Past. Known as The Legend of Zelda for now, this impressive-looking adventure borrows elements from its 16-bit predecessor, primarily the verticality of its levels. With this in mind, players guide hero Link onwards and, most importantly, upwards through dungeons. The design gives Nintendo the perfect opportunity to maximize the system's underrated 3D effects, providing players with different layers of depth previously unseen in a Zelda game.
Of course, as with all Zeldas, the latest entry packs in a unique hook to help separate it from the rest. This comes in the form of a merging ability that (with a press of the A button) automatically transforms 3D Link into a flat 2D version, allowing him to slide along otherwise unreachable walls. It's a neat effect that not only looks cool, but also factors heavily into puzzle solving. It appears to work on a timer, automatically ratcheting the intensity as players frantically slide around corners to make it onto moving platforms.
Beyond that, the game relies on the proven Zelda formula of hitting switches, battling enemies, collecting rupees and squaring off against large bosses; the demo featured a segmented green creature with an obvious weakness, its red tail. There's also a hammer and bow and arrow, each of which Nintendo linked to an energy meter that recharges over time.
The demo only provided a small slice of what this Legend of Zelda could become, but if anything, it left us wanting a lot more. Now it's a matter of seeing how it evolves throughout the year.
Mario & Luigi: Dream Team
The future of this charming RPG series was in doubt following the well-received third DS installment, the colorful Bowser's Inside Story. That said, we're happy to report that Mario & Luigi: Dream Team retains the user-friendly timed battles, cartoon-like appearance and all-out shenanigans that have long defined the series. Unfortunately, we were unable to gauge the quality of the dialogue, given the time needed to complete the rather lengthy demo. For the record, though, Nintendo promises the game will carry the same light-hearted and at times humorous writing people have come to expect.
This time around, and keeping with the year of Luigi theme, Mario's green-clad bro takes center stage as the two explore the detailed Pi'illo Island in the hope of tracking down the always vulnerable Princess Peach and rescuing the friendly Pi'illo People. What's especially neat is Luigi's ability to fall asleep at key moments, allowing the brothers to enter the World of Luigi's Dreams. The game transitions from 3D to 2D side scrolling, and Luigi's face takes up a big chunk of space. From there, players manipulate a sleeping Luigi on the bottom screen to solve puzzles. Yanking on his mustache via the touch screen transforms it into a slingshot in the dream world, propelling Mario to different platforms. Meanwhile, tickling his nose causes Luigi to sneeze, the force of the blast propelling question blocks into the foreground.
Combat, of course, relies on timed button presses, whether this involves whacking enemies with hammers or stomping on their heads. A new and very welcome maneuver, falling into the category of Luiginary Attacks, sees Mario balancing atop an ever-growing ball of Luigis, with players tilting their 3DS systems to control it as said ball charges towards bad guys. Completely over the top? Absolutely, and that's the point, because in this Dream World, the otherwise cowardly Luigi is kind of a big deal.
In all, an already fun RPG and one of the most anticipated 3DS games of 2013.
Donkey Kong Country Returns
Quite frankly, this game didn't seem all that interesting at first. Sure, we love the Wii original, but questioned the point of bringing it to 3DS. Now we can't wait to play through the final version, thanks to the inclusion of a Cloud World that adds eight additional levels. Of course, the entire Wii title is in there, and Nintendo added d-pad and Circle Pad controls. There's also a new mode that lets players have three hearts instead of two, while new items, like the Crash Guard (where it takes two hits to die) change things the slightest bit. Now all Nintendo needs to do is re-release the original Donkey Kong Country games - both SNES and Game Boy - and we'll be set.
Lego City Undercover: The Chase Begins
We were admittedly hesitant to play this one, as open world games don't necessarily translate well to handhelds. Being in the shadow of the more feature-packed Wii U version didn't help, but 3DS Lego City is enjoyable. Granted, the demo only contained one mission (delivering donuts to the police station), but this small sample gave us the chance to mess around in this fictitious city.
The verdict? Easily the most ambitious Lego game we've played for a portable. Instead of shoehorning a humongous game onto the 3DS, the developers wisely broke this bustling metropolis into sections that best maximize performance, and like the Wii U effort, this is basically a friendly version of Grand Theft Auto, with Chase McCain commandeering vehicles, pummeling bad guys and running errands.
Being an origin story, this gives fans a chance to see things from a somewhat different perspective. Example: Gleeson, mayor in Wii U Lego City, is the police chief. There's also more combat, if fighting's your thing. Long story short, don't fall asleep on this game when it debuts next week, but wait for reviews before making a purchase.
Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move
We admit to losing interesting in the Mario and Donkey Kong series, but Nintendo managed to pull us back in with Minis on the Move, which is slightly different from the games that have come before it. The core concept of ferrying mechanical Marios from point A to point B remains intact, except here, the developers divide the puzzles into different mini games. Mario's Main Event, for instance, tasks you with placing directional tiles on the board to create a safe path for the mini to travel upon, while Giant Juggle throws bombs into the equation, along with significantly bigger puzzle boards. The explosions aren't all bad, though. Keeping bombs amongst the stack of tiles for too long proves disastrous, but you can also use them to blow up misplaced tiles.
On a side note, the game also includes a handful of games that deal with firing projectiles via slingshot to destroy and grab things. Minor distractions, really, but you may waste more time playing these than originally expected. Our favorite, Cube Crash, challenged us to destroy a seemingly endless array of blocks before time expired, paying close attention to hitting bombs that guaranteed instant explosions.
Not the best game in the round-up by any means, but considering it's an eShop only title, Minis on the Move will no doubt find an audience, especially with the option of creating puzzles to share with the world.
Animal Crossing: New Leaf
Previous Animal Crossing games reminded us of Seinfeld in that they're about nothing in particular. New Leaf changes that by making you the mayor of a city populated by cute anthropomorphic animals. Tom Nook, meanwhile, has apparently become both contractor and real estate agent, while his sons took over the family business of selling valuable items, shovel included.
Need a house? Nook is more than happy to hook you up, but first you'll need to take refuge inside a tent before your new home is built. No worries, since there's a slew of things to accomplish, like applying for residency, chatting with the neighbors and finding ways to earn bells, the game's currency.
Similar to the mega popular Animal Crossing: Wild World, the environment moves as if it were attached to a rolling pin, but the increased power of the 3DS makes everything flow smoother than before, while at the same time eliminating jagged polygons.
Quite frankly, New Leaf is so massive it was hard to get a feel for the new additions, though one thing's for sure: if you love this series, rest assured that everything that defines the franchise, from fishing to catching bugs and mailing letters, is present and very well accounted for. We plan to sink an untold number of hours into it this summer. As for the special edition Animal Crossing 3DS, to buy or not the buy? Very tempting.