Was This Month's Nintendo Direct the Best of 2014 So Far?

While Nintendo’s latest Direct followed their tradition of announcing additional information about the titles we already knew about, each and every one of the yet-to-be released games shown exudes the promise of quality on both Nintendo platforms, and that’s not counting the continued support for the already released titles earlier this year. Nintendo’s theme focused on the past, present and future, beginning with the remake of Majora’s Mask…

The Return of the Falling Moon

After The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time remake for the Nintendo 3DS released soon after the system’s launch, there was almost immediate demand for a remake of Majora’s Mask; the yang to what is often hailed as the greatest game of all time.

Now I don’t have many fond memories of Majora’s Mask: It was weird, there was a creepy Ooga-Booga mask, and there was a moon with a very large nose that looks big enough for Tingle to swing on a nostril hair from. The trailer succeed in preserving that deliberate weirdness that directors Eiji Aonuma and Yoshiaki Koizumi were going for, and looks better polished than what was delivered in Ocarina of Time.

I’m actually a fan of remakes. From Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition, to Sleeping Dogs, to Shadow of The Colossus, to even Resident Evil: The Re-re-re-remake, they give gamers such as myself, who may or may not have been in the ideal economic position at the time of the title’s original release, a chance to play a more polished, better packaged version of the game. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask looks no different, and it could the best shot in the arm that the 3DS has needed since Super Smash Bros. back in September.

Steam Punk: Enemy Unknown

XCOM was a stressful, yet intoxicating game. The turn-based combat was superb, factoring in elevation advantages, character special abilities, and its Overwatch system. Intelligent Systems, best known for Nintendo’s excellent turn-based strategy games, including the Fire Emblem series, implements all of those concepts and more in their new turn-based strategy game, Code Name: Steam. Thus far, their character classes seem to fill in strict roles on the battlefield, with Tiger Lilly’s healing abilities and Tom Sawyers’ engineer-like skill sets. The action is a lot more intimate than your typical isometric strategy game, with an over-the shoulder style not unlike Valkyria Chronicles. I didn’t really get into VC, but I sure enjoyed XCOM, and if there’s a game like XCOM without the anxiety-inducing apocalyptic responsibilities, I’m in.

Little Toad’s Big Adventure

Toad is completely unfit to lead his own adventure. He can’t jump with that big ass backpack, he soils his pants at the slightest sight of a Goomba, and he sounds like geriatric smoker. Yet still, I’m clamoring for Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker. If you’re unfamiliar with Captain Toad, it’s the unofficial follow up to Super Mario 3D World’s bonus aerobics cube-like stages, where you navigated the titular Mushroom Kingdom loyalist across platforms, past enemies, and around traps to collect the green stars. It was such a brilliantly novel and self-contained idea that Nintendo fleshed it out into its own game. Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker looks to complete the Wii U’s first party releases for holiday 2014 on December 5; along with Bayonetta 2 and Super Smash Bros. this season, Nintendo’s struggling console will arguably have the best exclusive line-up across all three platforms by the end of the year.

Mario Kart 8’s Second Lap

Set aside the fact that I can hardly forgive Nintendo for teasing F-Zero tracks and karts in Mario Kart 8 without actually showing us a follow up to F-Zero GX (the greatest arcade racer of all time), I’m still astounded by the extensive post-launch support Nintendo is throwing at Mario Kart 8. In addition to the goofy Mercedes-Benz add-on at the end of August (courtesy of Muscle Mario pictured above), Nintendo is adding nearly 50% of the original game’s content – three characters, four karts, and eight tracks in each – broken up into two DLC packs launching this month and in May 2015 for $7.99 USD separately, or as a packaged deal for $11.99 USD. “$11.99 USD!? That’s cheaper than a map pack! Thanks, Call of Duty.”

The Amiibo Invasion

Now, this double dose of DLC isn’t news, as we’ve known about Mario Kart 8’s post-launch content for quite some time. What Nintendo debuted here, however, is the cross title functionality for their new amiibo figurines. Mario Kart 8’s compatibility with amiibo takes the form of skins and outfits for your Miis. With SSB, amiibo carries the data of your trained A.I. fighters. For Hyrule Warriors, amiibo unlocks the Spinner – a top shaped vehicle – along with items and currency. And for Kirby and the Rainbow Curse, well… we just know it’s “compatible”.

Even with Nintendo’s expanded library of amiibo support, the experimental figurines have yet to legitimize their value for me. The ability to activate outfits and random items in my games doesn’t justify dropping $13 USD a pop, and if I wanted to train game characters before pitting them against other players, I’d rather be playing Pokemon. Nintendo is trying to chase that Skylander money; but until there are more games that are less lazy in their relationship with amiibos; these figurines will literally stand as collectable decorative paperweights.

The Indie Message

Nintendo is late to the game when it comes to embracing the indie community in the same way Sony and Microsoft have, so it’s nice to see them taking the time to support indie titles in their Direct. After the departure of Nintendo’s indie head, Dan Adleman, it was uncertain when the company would correct their corporate messaging with indie developers. However as seen in the Direct, they seem to be more instrumental in their involvement with the indie scene. Sponsoring Indie Game Revolution at the EMP Museum and their presence at IndieCade are great places to start. Now if Nintendo would just organize a business model similar to Playstation’s PS Plus and Xbox’s Games with Gold, then their platforms will become part of my indie-box rotation.

Oh, and as an aside, what the hell is this?

Pikmin Short

In Miyamoto’s old age, it’s hard to imagine that he’ll continue working in a strict games capacity forever. We already knew that Miyamoto had been working on Pikmin films, and the footage shown looks safe yet promising for a bunch of little cute disposable sprouts running around. In this day and age, I’m pretty much over waiting for a “Mario Pixar”-styled adaptation, but could we eventually see a film version of Metroid, or perhaps that Zelda short we’ve all wished for?

Little Rascals

Now here’s a serious question: Do you know how long I’ve waited to use the descriptor, “Mario with guns”? Second to the achingly gorgeous Legend of Zelda reveal, Splatoon was my game of show for E3 this year. Nintendo’s new IP is already chalking up to be one of the most significant titles the company has ever worked on, tackling both a genre and a player base that we’ve never seen come out of the house of Mario before. Nintendo has shown quite a bit of its competitive multiplayer, with only a slight mention of the single player component. The company has finally blown the lid off of this mysterious single player in the latest Direct, and it looks fantastic.

Shifting and rotating platforms, staggering stages with multiple moving parts, and frantic gunplay that is designed around the game’s hook, Splatoon takes a lot of the level design from recent 3D Mario titles and infuses them with Splatoon’s unique gameplay. It’s even more impressive that Nintendo’s first foray into the shooter genre seems to understand the importance of using single player to prepare players for the multiplayer, and we can see that with Splatoon’s terrain-painting and squid-swimming mechanics implemented all over the stage’s design. Nintendo ended with a strong showing with one of their best reveals from E3 2014, and it stands next to games like Evolve and The Witcher as my most anticipated games in 2015.

In short, Nintendo delivered one of their best Directs this year, servicing both 3DS and Wii U owners with brilliant looking new titles, and add-on content for some of the year’s earlier games. While Amiibo may have been a bit of a misstep, Nintendo managed to make my shelved games, my 3DS, and my Wii U all relevant in one fell swoop, and that’s something that only this company can accomplish. – JR

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