You had me at 8-player smash.
Nintendo recently released a glowing report for the second quarter of the financial year, with Wii U sales doubling year-over-year to $610,000 thanks largely to the ongoing success of 'Mario Kart 8' and the September release of 'Hyrule Warriors.'
Nintendo hopes to build on this momentum with holiday releases of highly-anticipated titles like the new 'Super Smash Bros.', 'Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker,' 'Sonic Boom,' and through sales of their newly-announced amiibo figurines. The High-Def Digest team was recently invited to Nintendo's PR Agency, Golin, for a hands-on preview of what's in store for Nintendo's future.
Super Smash Bros.
The first title in our queue is the ever-popular 'Super Smash Bros.' Having just seen Nintendo's exciting Super Smash Bros 50-Fact Extravaganza, which was released a few days before our demo, I am particularly interested in seeing some of these new features in action.
Much to my delight, the first order of business is to play a round of the revolutionary 8-Player Smash. It's important to note that all 8 players can play through a single console using any controller Nintendo has released since the GameCube. Since there are only 3 of us, we fill in the 5 vacancies with computers. Bring it on!
We start by choosing our characters from a selection of 40 options – impressive considering no unlockable players were present in the lineup beyond Ness and Ganondorf. When you add the newly announced unlockable characters (Falco, Wario, Lucina, Dark Pit, Dr. Mario, R.O.B., Mr. Game & Watch, Bowser Jr.) and consider the PR team's hints that more could be on the way, the total number of playable characters should easily exceed 50 at launch. I decide to try Wii-Fit Trainer.
Stage selection is next, and while our options are limited to 10 in 8-Player Smash (not including unlockables), the total number of stages is also impressive. We choose Big Battlefield - a blown-up version of the multi-platform staple from earlier Smash games.
The match begins, and combat erupts immediately into epic, chaotic fun. As I play around with Wii Fit Trainer’s moves, it’s clear that her reach and deceptively strong melee attacks are her strong suits. Taking a page from 'Mario Kart 8' and previous Smash games, Nintendo has instilled a great deal of personality into each of the characters as they run, jump, and toss each other into oblivion. Wii Fit Trainer carries herself with incredible grace and balance that one would expect. Bowser is lumbering and feels heavy and extremely powerful when he ground-pounds or slashes with his claws. The boxer, Little Mac, is agile with punches that land hard and fast on the ground, but hit weakly and clumsily while in midair.
Despite Big Battlefield being a hazard-free and static stage, the level of detail and activity happening in the background as our platforms fly through the air is remarkable and makes the otherwise nondescript stage come alive. While the Wii U is sometimes criticized for its lack of graphical processing power, Nintendo has done an admirable job of taking full advantage of the Wii U's HD capabilities in both the stage environment and the character animations. The game looks stunning, and each fireball, explosion, and laser shot is a pleasure to behold.
I cackle with glee as my Wii Fit Trainer twirls through the air and smashes a dumbfounded Bowser off of the map with a balancing stick yoga pose. Items fly, explode, slash, and summon NPC allies throughout the stage as the melee flows between pockets of small skirmishes and gigantic clashes. Smash Balls burst, and Final Smashes lay delightful destruction in quantities that had been impossible in previous Smash games. My Wii Fit Trainer is able to snag one such Smash Ball, and the ensuing onslaught by my enlarged clones as they fly across the screen - kicking, spinning, somersaulting, and ultimately catapulting 3 players into the nether - is deeply satisfying.
The round timer eventually counts down, and I find myself victorious and craving more. The PR team obliges.
We switch back to 4-players, and I decide to try Mega Man as my second character. Yoshi's Island is selected for the stage – let the fireworks begin!
Megaman is smaller, light, and not built for direct melee. His attacks consist of long-ranged projectiles that gradually increase enemy damage meters, and short-medium ranged smashes to finish the job. His up-smash is particularly potent, with sparks of energy that repeatedly shock and then launch players high into the air. His forward-smash unleashes his mega buster in a massive, short-range burst of energy that is able to send even heavy characters like Ganondorf tumbling head-over-heels.
As the second round progresses, I begin to notice how fluid the characters’ movements and attacks appear. The Wii-U Super Smash Bros. game play speed seems to move somewhere between the lightning-fast pace that could sometimes be experienced in Super Smash Bros: Melee and the occasional sluggishness of Super Smash Bros: Brawl. I suspect it is a move to appeal to the competitive Smash eSports scene, and generally, Nintendo may be trying to rekindle the competitive appeal of the franchise by making the pacing of the game faster than Brawl.
To finish off the demo, we are introduced to the game's new Stage Builder. To start, I am prompted to choose a small, medium, or large stage template. I then choose a name, background, and music selection for my stage.
After, I am sent to the stage editor screen. To build the stage, the player uses the Gamepad and stylus to select various surfaces (lava, rock, platforms, etc.) and draw them onto the touchpad. They also have barrel cannons, spikes, and other obstacles and features that you can use to make your stage even more unique.
Depending on the stage’s size, a “Weight” limit is assigned, which determines how much content can exist in the stage. This feature is my only real complaint with the Stage Builder. However, I only tried the “small” stage template, so this may not be a problem on larger stage templates where the weight limit significantly increases.
Once the stage is complete, the player can immediately test it by fighting a computer player. If something doesn't work, it's just a matter of going back into editing mode and making the proper adjustments.
In general the Gamepad makes building stages incredibly easy and fun, and it's possible to share and play custom maps with friends online. It promises to be one of many features that will extend the lifespan of the game.
The PR team astutely notes that the entire demo session could be focused on 'Super Smash Bros.' content. With hundreds of unlockables and thousands of different settings/game mode compositions available, it's hard to dispute them. However, we have a timetable to keep, and a lot more to cover.
'Super Smash Bros.' for the Wii-U will be priced at $59.99, and you can check it out when it hits stores November 21st, 2014.
The PR group continues the demo by bringing out a collection of amiibos – NFC-enabled figurines that Nintendo plans to release following the 'Super Smash Bros.' release. While the 3-inch tall figurines look cool enough in their own right, they can also be scanned into 'Super Smash Bros.' through the Gamepad controller. This adds the amiibo to the game as a non-playable character, which can be named and dressed in any number of costumes, both default and unlockable.
The player can fight it, fight alongside it, or have it fight friends and their amiibos on other Wii-Us. All of these will level up the amiibo over time. As it levels, it gains access to special items that can be used to boost its defense, strength, speed, and other stats. The level cap is currently set at 50, but it can still earn items and costumes beyond this point.
In battle, amiibos will adjust their fighting techniques to all play styles that they encounter. For example, if a player is extremely aggressive, the amiibo will play a safe, defensive strategy and attack more opportunistically. If a player is a heavy item user, it will scramble to grab items more quickly as soon as they drop, so the item can’t be used against them.
In addition to Super Smash Bros., Nintendo plans to have 'Mario Kart 8', 'Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker', 'Mario Party 10', and 'Yoshi’s Woolly World' incorporate the amiibos to some degree. The specifics for these games are still in the planning stages.
Initially, only 12 amiibos will be available on the November 21st launch: Mario, Peach, Yoshi, Donkey Kong, Fox, Samus, Wii Fit Trainer, Villager, Pikachu, Kirby, and Marth. Nintendo has stated that while some of these amiibos will be available for a long length of time, others will likely disappear from shelves, replaced by other characters in a de facto limited edition sate.
December 19th will mark the launch of 7 more amiibos: Zelda, Diddy Kong, Luigi, Little Mac, Pit, and Captain Falcon.
The price for each will be $12.99.
The PR group cedes the floor to two visiting Sega representatives, who excitedly introduce us to their two upcoming Sonic franchise titles – 'Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal' (3DS) and 'Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric' (Wii U).
To start, one of the reps begins to play 'Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric', while discussing its finer points. Up to two people can play cooperatively – one on the Wii-U gamepad, and one using a TV. Together, they explore an open 3D world, where the natural order has come under assault by Dr. Eggman, an ancient robot/worm hybrid creature named Lyric, and their armies of robotic minions.
In this iteration of Sonic, the characters are reworked visually to more accurately convey their strengths. For example, Knuckles the Echidna now appears larger and more imposing to complement his typical strength and physical fighting style. They also introduce a new character named Sticks the Badger, who is armed with a handmade boomerang. And of course, Sonic and Tails are present as well.
The rep demonstrates the Enerbeam, a new weapon and tool added for all playable characters. With the Enerbeam, the rep is able to grab and swing enemies into each other or level hazards, complete puzzles, and swing through platforming obstacles within the test stage.
The two players shift between working cooperatively or separating into different paths to complete puzzles, take down robotic enemies large and small, and complete boss sequences.
The EnerBeam and different character fighting styles add some flavor to the fighting sequences, while the ability to attack a level through multiple paths makes level progression more interesting.
While it appears fun, the somewhat simple story with the underlying “nature vs. industry” theme, the new and more literal interpretations of the characters, and the relative simplicity of the game make it seem like Sega is making an effort to introduce both younger and more casual audiences to the Sonic franchise with this particular title.
'Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystals', on the other hand, harkens back to classic Sonic, where speed and reflexes are the primary tools used to complete the increasingly difficult 2D side-scrolling stages. I pick up the 3DS to play a stage with Sonic.
Like the Wii-U version, I have access to the Enerbeam, and it is a joy to use as I swing through the trees and platforms while running at break-neck speeds. They also include character-specific special abilities to help guide the player through the levels. As Sonic I have the ability to charge up a quick bullet dash, which I can aim directionally to crash through breakable obstacles or to grant me access to higher, otherwise out-of-reach areas of the course. These secret areas are bountiful, and many are only accessible through special moves of certain characters, adding some replayability into the mix.
The early level I play is simple, but exciting nonetheless. Its elements hint at far greater course complexity and difficulty down the road, though this journey must be taken alone – 'Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystals' is only a single player experience.
Both games ship on November 11th, 2014 with 'Rise of Lyric' priced at $49.99 and 'Shattered Crystal' priced at $39.99.
The PR and Sega teams thank us for our time, and the demo concludes.
That was High-Def Digest's experience with Nintendo's 2014 Holiday line-up, though it goes without saying that 'Pokémon Alpha Sapphire' & 'Omega Ruby' will also be massive holiday hits on the 3DS. Perhaps we'll get to try them out sometime before they launch. There is one other game we previewed that we aren't allowed to talk about, yet, so be sure to check back later for additional coverage.
The Wii U, meanwhile, is geared up for huge windfall as millions get into 'Super Smash Bros.' We'd love to know what readers are looking forward to, so please let us know in the comments below.
I'm happy to add that this preview now continues with one more Wii U title. Click here for Part Two of 'High-Def Digest Gets Hands-On with Nintendo's 2014 Holiday Release Preview'