Previews: Hands on with Nintendo’s E3 line up, part 3
Once upon a time, the idea of Sega’s blue wonder – Sonic, himself – ever being on a Nintendo was unthinkable. Times change – and in promising ways…
Mario & Sonic At The Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games (Wii U)
Perhaps some rivalries are too strong to totally die out. While Mario and Sonic are now often appearing on the same systems, and even in the same games, they are still competing with each other. As the fourth consecutive official Olympics-related game to pair the respective franchises, Sochi 2014 offers another collection of events as mini-games to play through.
There were three events available at the preview. The first was the downhill race – four competitors all going head-to-head for the finish line. To complicate matter however are the methods of travel – at several points along the track are random gates, each of which change how you’re racing. For example you may find yourself on ice-skates, barely moving in snow and trying to keep on the icier parts of the track; alternatively you may be on skis, where the snow is a boon but the ice is a hindrance. Occasional jumps further add to the challenge, requiring the Wii U’s controller to be flicked at the right moment to take them in the optimum way.
Snowboarding is exactly what it suggests – another race to the finish, but a purer form without other modes of transport to switch to. Here the Wii U controller serves as a screen as well, allowing two players to compete without needing a splitscreen display – but otherwise the mechanics are extremely straightforward, with you soon able to lean into corners and cut across racing lines with confidence.
The final event demonstrated was the bob sleigh – the team of four initially pushing the sleigh down the slope before jumping in and having the player steer with the controller. However, the controller’s screen shows the route in first person, setting the main player as being in overall control; while the TV screen will show the route in third person, and allows players 2 through to 4 (if present) to help by also ‘leaning’ into corners… but with little other influence than supporting roles. Nevertheless, the view from first person makes the track seem to fly by at breakneck pace, and I was told it had been a favourite among players during the day (though from a personal point of view, the snowboarding felt like the purest fun – the least random, and the most rewarding for getting a feel for the controls).
Sonic Lost World (Wii U)
And Sonic gets a second outing at the preview, this time able to stretch his legs in his own title… Three levels were available to preview here too, with each showing a different play style to the others (yet still using the same core play mechanics). Firstly was a Green Hill-style realm, with Sonic exploring a series of airborne platforms and being sprung or fired ever onwards. By platforms, incidentally, I don’t refer to floating flat surfaces that we’re used to in platform games, but mini-planets made of spheres and spheroids – often allowing Sonic to completely loop them with no concern for gravity to pull him back to the main planet below him. At first, this world seems overwhelming, but before long you realise that the springs are there to direct you the right way… and it is not for no reason that this demo level was tagged as being “easy”.
The second level seems as far removed from the first as you could imagine, instead following a fixed side-view and harking back to the 2D Sonic games of old. Racing along the path to the exit (and sometimes sneaking off for the occasional secret area), the same controls as the 3D stages are still evident – Sonic being able to lock onto enemies feeling the most significant change from the classic Megadrive games.
The final level on display had Sonic racing down the trunk of a giant tree – and by giant, I do mean Yggdrisil-huge… Jumping on or dodging enemies, cutting through hollow branches, and occasionally freefalling from one area to another is all linked as Sonic adjusts his path along the trunk, with the screen rotating to match him.
Quite how the finished game might feel with such different levels we can only wait and see – getting three random levels presented like this is a fairly disjointed experience, although the race down the tree (especially) was both visually impressive and fun to try – even losing as many lives as I managed in the process.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze (Wii U)
Ignoring just how much Tropical Freeze sounds like a decent cocktail, Donkey Kong’s latest outing sees him carrying Diddy (or Dixie) through another paradise of bananas and platforms, jumping onto hostile creatures and hunting for secrets. Except the paradise is being invaded by various Norse-themed enemies, such as longship-riding walruses and viking penguins.
Yes, I know exactly what you’re thinking – vikings were Scandinavian, and penguins are from the southern hemisphere, this clearly doesn’t make sense. Either that, or you were thinking of how this simply sets the scene for various new chaotic set pieces (in which case, the second thought is right as well). In the demo level played, Donkey and Diddy jumped, swum, climbed and were fired from barrels ever onwards through the sunny world they inhabit, only encountering the Nordic-themed foes nearer the end of the level.
Donkey Kong has gained some new tricks since his last appearance. While swimming isn’t new, he can now perform a charge attack underwater when threatened; and as he wandered, he occasionally comes across objects on the ground that can be operated (usually the handles of levers, based on appearances in the demo, where one opened a door in the tutorial, and a later one caused a tree to suddenly burst from the ground).
Shaking the nunchuk causes Donkey Kong to hammer the ground – the most useful reason being to dig or smash objects in the search for secret areas (of which there appear to be many – meta game goals such as finding all the pieces of an image giving you reasons to return to earlier areas and hunt around).
Perhaps in common with all the returning franchises, there are new features but few surprises or major changes for Donkey Kong. However, don’t let that suggest the game isn’t enjoyable – the world is bright, colourful and cartoony, the challenge increases at a comfortable pace to keep you moving ahead, and the temptation to go exploring for secrets is strong. This goes especially when you find random places such as a room filled with pigs who bombard you with bananas…
Plus, there are viking penguins – does a game really need any more to sell itself?