In a back alley of the Sheraton Denver West yesterday, I was invited into a trailer decorated with pictures of famous Nintendo characters. Inside this trailer was my 12-year old self's dream life: video games, video games, a tiny kitchen and more video games. I had a chance to play new titles in the Donkey Kong and Kirby series' as well as a new game starring everyone's favorite mouse and a few others. Find my thoughts and a little insight into what your children are going to clamoring for this holiday season after the break.
The Nintendo Wii is a magic-money-making device -- but that doesn't mean Nintendo is willing to let its quality slide because of it. The holiday lineup this year looks to be one of the best they've had in a while, with titles for both the DS and Wii that appeal to the young and the old. The best way to handle this is to probably just go straight through the list of what I saw and played, so let's start with the one I'd give "best in show."
Epic Mickey: It might sound a little strange for a grown-ass adult to be informing you that Epic Mickey is the greatest holiday game on the Wii -- but it is. The reasoning behind this statement is the just sheer broadness of its appeal. Similar to recent Pixar films, it can be loved and enjoyed by children and adults alike, and from what I've played, it's also the type of game that teaches basic problem-solving as you move along. The mechanic is simple: you're Mickey, you need to save a world that you helped destroy and at your fingertips are paintbrushes. That doesn't really do the story or the mechanics justice though -- it's not just painting things, it's solving puzzles by using paint thinner to remove objects from the environment and using your paintbrush to make new areas accessible. There is also a morality system in place, meaning that Mickey can be the epic hero he is often seen as today, or he can be a bit more mischievous, like he was when he was first invented. From my early impressions, it's a hard game not to fall in love with immediately and one that you should not hesitate to buy for your kids -- if not for yourself. Release Date: November 30, 2010
Kirby's Epic Yarn: If there is a more adorable and distinctive looking game in existence, I haven't seen it. Kirby's Epic Yarn brings the much loved Kirby character back to a console with an art style that resembles something out of Hobby Lobby more than a video game. As is the Nintendo tradition, this is a pretty straightforward, two-player platformer, but with a few twists and turns along the way. Kirby can still transform into different objects, but he can also manipulate the environment more by pulling back felt sections of the screen, swinging on buttons and even jumping into the backdrop. It might look like a cutesy title, but as far as I could tell, it had the potential to be challenging in later sections. Release Date: October 17, 2010
Donkey Kong Country Returns: Donkey Kong has a long and storied past, and Nintendo's revival of the series is clearly not without due process -- this isn't your grandparents Donkey Kong (sorry, it just occurred to me that some people's grandparents might have actually played Donkey Kong), but it's still a familiar take on it. If you played Donkey Kong Country on the Super Nintendo, you'll know exactly what to expect here -- run to the right, jump over stuff, pick up a banana. It's two players, with the second player picking up the newly jetpack-enabled Diddy Kong as they quest ever rightward to find out who stole their bananas. It's the same formula we've seen before, and very similar to how Nintendo decided to handle New Super Mario Bros. Wii, but it's clear they're sticking with the "if it ain't broke don't fix it" mentality, which works perfectly fine in this instance. Release Date: November 21, 2010
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I also had the opportunity to check out a few upcoming titles for the Nintendo DS (although sadly not the recently announced 3DS). I didn't spend nearly as much time with these titles as I did the Wii ones, but I was able to get a feel for a few of their holiday games
Professor Layton and the Unwound Future: If you've played any of the games in the Professor Layton series you'll know what to expect here -- puzzles, puzzles and more puzzles. Oh, and a weird story to go along with it, this time involving a time machine. It's actually nice to have a narrative framing around puzzle solving, and The Unwound Future seems to stick with what has made the series work so far -- strangeness and (ahem) puzzles. Release Date: September 14, 2010
Golden Sun: Dark Dawn: Not that I need to provide any more insight into my complete dorkdom, but I played the hell out of the first Golden Sun game on the Gameboy Advance. It provided me with countless hours of entertainment on a few ludicrously long car rides. So when I had the chance to play the sequel, I kind of turned into a little kid. Unfortunately I wasn't afforded much insight into the actual story-mode of the game -- but the combat system seems interesting and well implemented, and this is certainly going to be one to watch for RPG fans. Release Date: November 29, 2010
Rock Band 3: I've never been good at the Rock Band or Guitar Hero series of games, and the DS version doesn't appear to be any different for me. Obviously, you won't be rocking out on a guitar or drums on the DS, instead hitting buttons assigned to the different scrolling colors. The kicker is that you'll be handling all the instruments in the band, jumping back and forth across drums, bass, keyboards, vocals and guitar -- it's a bit confusing at first, but rest assured that anyone with oodles of time to waste on the bus won't have any difficulty mastering even the hardest songs. Release Date: October 26, 2010