The video game console wars are fast approaching. While Microsoft and Sony are releasing their next generation systems in the next six months, Nintendo is on a whole other timetable – aiming for a piece of the holiday sales pie with a slew of new software titles for gamers of any age. And depending on individual tastes, this may or may not be a good thing.
Nintendo recently allowed The Temple News to get a hands-on play test of their holiday lineup with product tester Michael Chipman.
Super Mario Strikers
Hands down the most enjoyable game of the new lineup is Super Mario Strikers for Nintendo’s latest system, Gamecube. Strikers is five-on-five, no rules soccer featuring Mario characters and Mario Kart style power-ups such as turtle shells and bombs.
The result is an easy to learn, fast paced soccer game that plays much like the old National Hockey League series on the Sega Genesis: unrealistic yet incredibly fun sports action. Players are thrown into electric fences and fall victim to weird items like “freeze shells” that add a few layers of strategy to the game.
The control scheme is rather intuitive. After only a few minutes of playing, gamers will find themselves chaining together intricate passing sequences that make them feel like a pro.
“Strikers is the flagship title on the Gamecube,” Chipman said.
Don’t be fooled by the cutesy Mario characters, there is no better soccer game for the Gamecube than Strikers. Super Mario Strikers retails for $49.99 and is slated for release Dec. 12.
Nintendo is also building their holiday slate around Nintendogs for their handheld gaming system, the Nintendo DS. Nintendogs is a popular virtual pet game where gamers can raise a dog by petting it, teaching it tricks using the built in microphone and entering it in competitions. The game doesn’t sound like much, but an odd emotional attachment can develop with the pet to draw the gamer in. The handheld console’s microphone also adds a whole new dimension to the game play as it enables the dog to learn tricks and respond to voice commands.
“It’s definitely a bad plane ride game,” Chipman said. “I say ‘good boy’ into the mic and then look around to see if anyone is watching.”
Heavily addicting and oddly appealing, Nintendogs is for those who aren’t quite over the Tamagatchi phase, or are tired of playing The Sims. In Japan male gamers use Nintendogs to pick up female gamers by using the game’s “bark” feature, Chipman said.
When a Nintendo DS comes within 100 feet of another DS in the bark mode, the DS will bark and the other person’s dog will become visible on the screen. Gamers can teach their dog to bark a prerecorded message, and many men have taught their dog their phone number. Nintendogs is more than worth the $29.99 price tag and is available now.
Game Boy Micro
On the hardware side, Nintendo is releasing yet another version of its best selling Game Boy handheld gaming devices: The Game Boy Micro. The new Game Boy Micro is to Game Boys what the iPod Nano was to the iPod: an impossibly small and stylish version of its predecessor.
Capitalizing on the fashionable aspect that comes with owning the latest gadget, the Micro comes with three removable faceplates to match an outfit or mood.
The Micro measures two inches long, four inches wide, weighs 2.8 ounces and will be lost among couch cushions worldwide very soon. A long way from the brick sized Game Boy of old, The Micro should be a hip, attention grabbing release.
Aside from aesthetics, playing the Micro doesn’t help the hands. The tight layout eventually becomes bearable, but any game with fast arcade style game play could be a real pain. The cool factor should outweigh carpel tunnel syndrome any day. The Game Boy Micro retails for $99.99 and is available now.
The most disappointing aspect of Nintendo’s holiday lineup is their failure to recognize the “older gamer” demographic that college students fall into, and is the same reason many students have an Xbox or a PlayStation 2 in their room instead of the new Gamecube. Of all the new games offered by Nintendo this holiday season, only Shadow the Hedgehog has mature content.
The opening scene depicts an implied murder of a little girl, and when Shadow losses a life, he mutters “damn.” That’s about as controversial as Nintendo gets this season. The game itself feels like the same Sonic the Hedgehog game seen before on Gamecube. Shadow the Hedgehog is out now, but isn’t worth a second look.
MARIO KART DS
Along with Nintendogs, Nintendo is banking on big things for Mario Kart DS. The best selling racing series does not lose a step on its new home with the Nintendo DS. The fun factor and cartoonish mayhem of its predecessors are fully intact. The game even debuts a new character, Dry Bones.
The most exciting of the new offerings, Mario Kart, is Wi-Fi enabled. Mario Kart DS has maps from both Mario Kart and Mario Kart 64, Chipman said. The game also has a “mission mode” where instead of racing or battling an enemy, the challenge is to perform some task like collecting 16 coins in a single lap.
The touch screen doesn’t add much to the game besides enabling toggling between course maps by tapping the screen. Overall, Mario Kart is an excellent pickup and is true to its predecessors. Mario Kart retails for $34.99, is WiFi enabled, and is out now.
Fire Emblem, a popular role-playing game series makes an appearance on the Nintendo Gamecube for the United States. Seeing that Gamecube fans don’t get too many RPGs their way it would be nice to see an innovative title that would help establish Gamecube as a more RPG friendly system. But Fire Emblem is horribly disappointing.
The most noticeable flaw of Fire Emblem is its lack of voice acting. Most of today’s RPGs feature full voiceovers for their characters.
The game’s fighting system brought to mind a terribly watered down, turn-based Final Fantasy tactics system where all members of the party are scattered on a grid. Soldiers can move a certain number of spaces and once they arrive at their destination gamers can choose whether to attack, defend, shove or use an item. Perhaps as the game progresses more options are available, but as played, the system seemed unsophisticated.
The main strategy component is the rock-paper-scissors relationship of swords, lances and axes. Positioning in the battle is largely useless, as characters receive no bonus for hitting a character in the back. In fact, opponents automatically turn around. One favorable feature however is that once a unit dies in battle, they are lost forever.
The play test did not last long enough to really see the story aspect of game that may very well make it an excellent RPG. But judging by the battle scenes played, Fire Emblem needed a bit more polish both in game play and in graphics. Fire Emblem retails for $49.99 and is out now.
TONY HAWK’S AMERICAN WASTELAND
In the latest installment of the popular skateboarding game, Tony Hawk stays true to its roots. This faithful Nintendo DS adaptation has many of the moves and features of the Tony Hawks of old.
The exception is that this Tony Hawk uses cell-shaded graphics on its skaters and there is a slight cartoon feel to the game, but nothing too distracting.
The one problem with the game wasn’t with the game itself, but with the fact that it is difficult to perform some spins and moves with a directional pad. An analog would better suit the game. Tony Hawk retails for $39.99.
ANIMAL CROSSING: WILD WORLD
The childhood cult classic in which gamers play the simulated life of an animal townsperson is back on the Nintendo DS. The big difference is that Animal Crossing is Wi-Fi compatible so trading and interacting with Animal Crossing players all over the world without a memory card is now possible for the first time. Each town operates on an invite only basis so no rouge gamer can come into town, mess it up and then leave.
The touch pad adds an interesting twist to a few activities. Several of the drag and drop menus are easier to navigate and activities such as fishing can be performed with the stylus. Animal Crossing retails for $34.99, is Wi-Fi enabled and is slated forrelease Dec. 5.
Nintendo is launching a new gaming service: Nintendo Wi-Fi for its Nintendo DS system. The free service will initially be offered for Mario Kart DS, Tony Hawk’s American Sk8land, Animal Crossing: Wild World and Metriod Prime Hunters.
If a gamer already has a wireless network in their house the Nintendo DS will set up the connection with only a few menus to navigate.
Because the DS can save up to three connections, gamers can save a connection for their homes and for when they are in one of the wireless hot spots around campus. If a gamer doesn’t have a wireless network in their home, they can use a USB connector to plug into a PC and act as a wireless router.
Almost 6,000 McDonald’s around the country will be equipped with Nintendo-ready wireless connections. In a five mile radius around Temple, there are over 20 McDonald’s which feature this service, according Nintendo’s Web site. Go to www.NintendoWiFi.com to search for Wi-Fi enabled McDonald’s.
If any gamers out there still have a soft spot for Mario and company and don’t have any reservations of putting innovative game play over mature content, Nintendo’s holiday offerings should appeal to many.
Sean Blanda can be reached at email@example.com.