Mario is a bad warm-up comic.
Nintendo replaced their usual E3 press conference with a more informal gathering where members of the press were encouraged to “play the game” (as Nintendo spokespeople said over and over.) They brought us into their booth before the E3 show floor officially opened and gave us about 45 minutes to play their biggest upcoming Wii U games, along with limited Q&A opportunities with developers. Before it got going, though, there was an increasingly awkward bit with Mario addressing us directly from a video screen, cycling through his catch-phrases multiple times and calling out specific members of the press by name (and apparently filing every female journalist under the nameless title of “beautiful princess”). It felt like the guy who voices Mario was handed a mic and told to stall for time without a script.
Super Mario World 3D
After a few words from Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime and the developers of six Wii U games, Nintendo powered up the kiosks and let us play. The just-announced Super Mario 3D World is the console big brother to 2011’s fantastic 3DS game Super Mario 3D Land. It feels a lot like that handheld game, so basically like a fairly standard post-Mario 64 3D platformer, but with the multiplayer of the New Super Mario Bros. side-scroller series wrapped in. There are also some Wii U-specific tricks and a new power-up that turns Mario into a cat. Cat Mario runs around on all fours, swiping at enemies with his claws and climbing up walls. You can also climb to the top of the final pole of each level when you’re Cat Mario, guaranteeing a 1 Up. You can play on the TV or on the GamePad, and you can tap the GamePad screen to find invisible blocks and other secrets on each level. Mario, Luigi and Toad return as playable characters, and you can also play as Princess Peach, which hasn’t been possible in a Mario platformer in like twenty-five years. And yeah, she still floats.
I squeezed in a couple of laps on Mario Kart 8 next. It’s the Super Mario Galaxy of Mario Kart games. Gravity’s the hook here, with tracks that twist and fold around themselves like Möbius strips. There’s a track that runs through a mansion haunted by Boos where much of the action takes place on the roof and alongside the walls. Only two tracks were playable, and other than the gravity aspect and the improved Wii U graphics nothing looked or felt all that new about this latest Kart.
After forty minutes we took a brief break from play to watch a video announcing the Wii Fit Trainer as a combatant in the next Super Smash Bros. game. (Which, incidentally, was not playable at E3.) Due to long lines I wasn’t able to play the just announced Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, the second Kong game from the designers behind the Metroid Prime series. I also missed out on Bayonetta 2, Pikmin 3 and the Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD remake (which looks more gorgeous than ever). I watched a colleague play a new demo for The Wonderful 101, which made my list of the best games of E3 2012 under its old name Project P-100 (spoiler: It still looks great.) With little time and long waits I had to settle for observation over direct experience.
Scram Kitty and His Buddy on Rails
I did play one other game, though, an odd little downloadable called Scram Kitty and His Buddy On Rails. Part overhead shooter, part platformer, Scram Kitty put me in control of a tiny creature that could only move alongside the walls of a space station. In addition to shooting I could jump from wall to wall in order to avoid enemies or get a better shot at them. The distance between walls complicated jumps, adding a puzzling veneer to the genre mash-up. Think of the adjectives most commonly used to describe indie-style downloadables—cute, charming, stylish, nostalgic—-and feel free to toss any of them Scram Kitty’s way, as they all fit. It might not be a reason to buy a Wii U, but the eShop exclusive will light up many a welcome GamePad when it’s released at some undetermined moment in the future.
I doubt any message boards buckled under the weight of Nintendo’s not particularly shocking announcements (although a lot of people are really jived about Mega Man in a Smash Bros. game), but that’s never really been the company’s style. They did what they do: announce new variations of classic franchises, built with the new hardware or new peripherals in mind. It might not be enough to sell the Wii U to the masses, but Nintendo fans can rest easy knowing that more Nintendo games are on their way.
Garrett Martin is Paste’s videogames editor and the games critic for the Boston Herald.