Shortly before Christmas I bought myself a Wii U. The system became a good buy to me about as soon as three must-have titles showed up on it. Those titles are Pikmin 3, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD, and most recently Super Mario 3D World. Spending a good deal of time with all three of these titles eventually made something clear to me. It was something I nearly forgot about over the course of the previous generation. These games reminded me about that special “Nintendo magic” sometimes cited, a deliberate sounding analogue to the famed “Disney magic” used to describe their films. As the previous generation continued past the second or third year, I had already largely moved on from Nintendo’s platform. The Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and eventually my PC (which replaced an old laptop) would become the platforms I spent most of my gaming time on. So, what did these titles, among others, show me that got me back in love with Nintendo? And what was no longer there that was keeping me away? I always knew the answers to these questions, but I never really put them into words.
To answer the second, and perhaps most obvious, question first, I need only look at motion controls. I must be a bigger detractor of motion controls than I had previously realized because, now that I think on it, every time a major title would release for the Wii the very thought of motion controls would sour the idea of the game for me. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, a game I really like some parts of and overall found to be a good Zelda game, felt like it had a black cloud hanging over it from its very announcement. Motion controls are simply not fun or interesting enough for me to want. Opinions on the control scheme’s failures are well documented, and I wont add to them here except to state that I fall in line with most of them. In the place of motion controls, of course, are button controls and, in the case of the Wii U, some touchscreen controls using the gamepad. There are no games, that I own or am aware of, that use only touchscreen controls and indeed all of the ones I own use them sparingly or not at all. This might call the gamepad’s necessity into some question, especially when it is a large part of the retail price of the console, but I wont wedge my musing on that into this week’s article. Necessary or not, the gamepad, and the WiiU Pro Controller, is a comfortable controller that gets the job done well. A simple thing that makes all the difference.
Going back to the first question, what did my Wii U games show me that got me liking Nintendo again? Something they all provided that truly engaged me was their sense of difficulty. Either optionally, like in Wind Waker HD‘s Hero Mode, or just throughout the game, like in Pikmin 3, my experience with first party Wii U games shows me that Nintendo is no longer so afraid to offer a good challenge. There were some games on the original Wii that offered some challenge, like both of the Mario Galaxy titles. But even those games only got hard during their slightly less compelling endgame content. An increased offering of challenge, if only optionally, throughout the gameplay experience is something I did not even realized I missed about Nintendo games. The old line “easy to learn, difficult to master” seemed, for a time, to be forgotten by Nintendo, too. Moves away from game depth, like with Super Smash Bro. Brawl, looked to showcase a Nintendo that wanted to cater to less dedicated players at the expense of more dedicated ones.
Many of Nintendo’s more “hardcore” titles, the ones that offered that “difficult to master” aspect, seemed missing throughout the Wii’s lifetime. A Mario Tennis title only appeared as a lazy port of a GameCube version, Pikmin got the same treatment, the only shining outlier in the Wii’s first party library was Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn which proved to be one of the more difficult titles in that series. However, I fully expect all of the games I mentioned above and more to make appearances on the Wii U. And I highly doubt we will see any “New Play Control!” Wii games ported up to the Wii U, because the Wii U is not only centered around its control scheme. And to center a whole console around a weird control scheme, though enough to scare Sony and Microsoft into copying them, proved ultimately to be a very shallow and short term way to differentiate from the competition.
Speaking specifically to Nintendo’s console affairs, Super Mario 3D World is finally a return to a more classic form for Mario. I loved the Galaxy games and thought they showed how motion controls can be used sparingly, but I have since begun to think that they should not be used at all. 3D World, however, puts my mind at ease that a proper console Mario title might be a thing of the past. Having nearly completed the game I feel comfortable saying that 3D World excels at offering a steadily increasing challenge in its compelling platforming gameplay. A platform game, in itself, was something I had yet to be very drawn to on a console in many years and 3D World goes a long way to fill that need as well. Despite the new cat suit power-up maybe taking too much of the spotlight (this game comes close at times to being better called Super Mario Cat World) the game does a good job of encouraging the player to use different powers for different levels. Even different characters are subtly given an advantage in some stages that are designed around their unique strengths. It is a game I initially worried was designed around multiplayer, but this is thankfully untrue. With no online co-op available it is pretty unlikely I will ever play this game with anyone, but Mario games were always solo experiences for me. They have ideally been games that set the bar for unique locales and precision platforming gameplay. And Super Mario 3D World brings me back to that ideal Mario game, and that ideal Nintendo.
If you own or wish to own a Wii U in the future, what are your thoughts on Nintendo’s move from motion controls? Most of us got sold on the idea of the Wii, then got burnt out on it later, so how has the Wii U changed your view of Nintendo? Do you feel the same way, as if Nintendo is showing signs of returning to its roots? Let me know in this first Mel article of the new (non-Luigi) year!