Nintendo Enthusiast Summit 2004 - Page 1
N-Sider was recently invited to Nintendos first ever Nintendo Enthusiast Summit. With a chance to play Metroid Prime 2: Echoes and a host of upcoming Nintendo DS games, we put our names on the bill straight away. And while the trip itself and the people in attendance were fantastic, Im sure you would like me to instead divulge some of the juicy (and personally relevant) details. First, allow me to share an interesting little story about the journeys opening.
On the morning of departure, my alarm was set for four Oclock in the AM. Once out of bed, showered, and filled with breakfast, I made my way to the local bus stop to catch my bus to the airport terminal. Arriving at the stop, I had to wait a couple minutes for my bus. Then something really odd happened: my cat Newton jumped down into the transitway (the gigantic trench the busses drive on in Ottawa, Ontario) and frantically ran at me meowing bloody murder. At this point I freaked out, as I was suddenly was pitted with a horrifying conundrum. My cat, who somehow knew I was going to be leaving him, was now scared and trapped down in the transitway where he could be potentially run over and ultimately had little to no chance of finding his way home. However, if I brought him home the chances of me catching my bus were going to be incredibly slim. In the end he was so scared he wouldnt even let me pick him up and I was forced run with him by my side all the way home. I quickly sprinted back to the stop once I was close enough to home that he found the area familiar, where my bus was just pulling up. The choice that I was given at that moment made me think philosophically for the remainder of the day. My life is essentially playing and writing about games. Yet even with this amazing trip dangled in front of me I made the choice to bring my little cat to safety knowing I might not be able to make it. Though the situation was not life changing, it surely made me think long and hard about values and such. And now that my harrowing story of feline rescue is out of the way, lets dive right into the thick of it all the Nintendo Enthusiast Summit itself.
Once at Nintendo of Americas Redmond campus, we were given a small tour of the facilities. Here we found employees assisting customers on their headsets in Nintendos call center, while others met in boardrooms to discuss their holiday strategy. It was quite charming to see the different locations named after games or their respective characters. For instance, one room was named Earthbound, another Donkey Kong Country, and halls for the call center were dubbed such things as Mother Brain Lane. You could almost feel a distinct sense of pride and joy radiating from every hall within. Not in a bad way either, as we discovered on our meeting with some of Nintendos top guns.
Some of the people that took time out of their busy schedules for us were Nate Bihldorff, Rich Amtower, Bill Trinen and Erik Peterson, among others. All of which are members of the distinguished NOA localization team. As I said earlier, people like them really seemed to be filled with a sense of pride for their position and history. Yet all the while these folk were humble about the work they have been doing and some even ended up playing some games with us, smack talk and all.
Nate, Rich, and Erik hanging out with the rest of the gamers.
Another interesting meeting was with Reginald Fils-Aimes, the President of Sales and Marketting for Nintendo of America. I was personally thankful that Reggie could take time out of his busy schedule to have some face time with us. He was reportedly working like a dog on launch campaigns for Nintendos hot products this holiday, such as the DS and Metroid Prime 2. Certain things he said stuck out in my mind. One such point was the seventeen year-old target audience. He said that young people want to be seventeen or eighteen like their older brothers or sisters. Older people, on the other side of the fence, always long for those senior high school years where both work and play were plentiful. Therefore, by position products that aim for that age group you are essentially targeting a host of other ages by association. Something else he pointed out was the relationship between NOA and NCL. He stated on more than one occasion that the needs for the western market have been, and will be, clearly communicated to NCL. For instance, it was absolutely imperative that the DS launch for American Thanksgiving, and as such, we see the first time that Nintendo launches a system in North America first. Things are definitely changing at Nintendo.
During his limited stay with our group Reggie also graciously showed some work in progress commercials for both Metroid Prime 2: Echoes and Nintendo DS. Both commercials will be aired shortly and have an edgy feel that is far more common for Nintendo these days. Both commercials were quite obviously aiming at the older crowd through color, themes and even music. In Metroids thirty-second spot dubbed Iron Woman, a fit woman strutted down a dark street while pieces of metal slowly drifted onto her body. The memorable shots were certainly those where metal grafted to her behind and chest, which obviously got a nice response from the men in our group. For the sixty-second DS cinema spot, the pacing was obviously a lot more natural. It essentially revolved around people writing on different objects in a restaurant to communicate with each-other. The focus of this piece was the ambiguity of the actions on screen to raise the audiences curiosity. Though Im not sure how effective it will be, as the commercial never actually shows a person touching a DS in the end. At the very least, it could get people saying so, I take it you can touch the games then?
If I had to describe my sentiments regarding Nintendo and its people after this trip it would be relieved. For those that know me, that must especially come across as no less than puzzling, to be sure. I love the games that have come from Nintendo not simply because they are from Nintendo. Lets make this distinction clear. I want everyone to be careful not to put the carriage in front of the horse on this matter. The reason I play Nintendo games is because I think they are well made. If they werent made very well I surely wouldnt be playing them. With that being said, there was something oddly comforting about seeing the inner workings at NOA. People like Nate Bihldorff not only write incredibly witty text scripts for some of my favorite games, but he also loves games in his own right as shown by his killer Smash Brothers skills. It was incredible to hear almost mirror stories from every employee I talked to. That is, they grew up with Nintendo and loved the games to death and now here they are, working for the company. Like I was saying earlier, there is something undeniably comforting about a company that is comprised of people who know and love the games. And even if these guys dont make the games themselves, its at least somewhat encouraging to know they either have a hand in the localization or have interests and needs similar to ours. A game company built by people who love to game has an infectious charm about it.
So that brings us right around to the games. Let me be to the point the DS was the belle of the ball. She had all the right curves, the right moves, and fresh takes on old ideas. So let me begin with some thoughts on the demo wares on hand at the show.
Super Mario 64 DS
Ill spare you the typical Mario 64 spiel. We all know Mario 64 kicked our butts on release eight years ago. What you see today is what could be seen as a remake that can also fit in your pocket. Let me be very clear about why Mario 64 DS is my pick of the crop for the initial launch games. Its not the single player game, its not the multiplayer aspect, and its not even the mini-games. Its the full package that makes this title a real winner. Sure, the single player game would be a definite selling point with an extra 30 stars, new levels, four playable characters, and added abilities. The multiplayer is a pretty decent selling point with wireless single-cart multiplayer using all your favorite Mario 64 moves to hunt and steal stars. Even the mini-games are absolutely fantastic as pick-up-and-play games for those busy bees constantly on the go. Take all of these elements and put them in one package, however, and you have some excellent value. By contrast, it would be hard to justify paying full price for a game that is essentially the same complexity as one of Mario 64 DSs mini-games (which there are many of) when you get all that and more with this package.
How does the game play? Thats an important question, and one that is also difficult to answer. There are two main ways to play the adventure and versus portions of the game. One is with the digital pad for movement and one is using a plastic thumb strap nub that is attached to the DS wrist strap (packaged with every DS). You could easily imagine trying to play Mario 64 DS with the digital pad. Yes, its somewhat awkward at first, but certainly playable nonetheless. Even the analog movement is not immediately apparent since you would now press a run button instead to control Marios speed. However, there is an intriguing new control style added to this game that uses the thumb nub and touch screen in replacement of the digital pad. Once you tighten the nub around your thumb, you place it on the touch screen and your initial touch will be the neutral position as if you had an analog stick completely centered. While you move your thumb around, you are essentially controlling the game as if you had a virtual analog stick on the screen. An interesting idea, to be sure, and feels really nice once you get used to it. My only complaint about the nub control was that you could not set the sensitivity. Making Mario go to a run meant moving your thumb a great distance over the screen and often forced you to lift completely and re-position in order go a different direction. Still, it worked really well once you got used to it, and the fact that an option was even there is something to sincerely champion. Mario 64 is my pick for best launch title by a good margin.
Yoshis Touch and Go
When I played the original short demo for this game at E3 (then titled Balloon Trip), I was really impressed by how inherently simple the concept was, yet had the potential for incredibly difficult situations. The demo at E3 was devoid of any challenge though. Luckily Nintendo seems to be ramping up both the challenge and design of the game now that it is in full production.
The idea behind the gameplay is based around a couple of simple rules. First, Baby Mario and Yoshi will be hurt and/or killed by enemies or other hazards. More intriguing though is the next rule, which is that you can draw clouds on the bottom screen that are effectively walls for both you and the baddies. In one portion of the game, Baby Mario floats softly downward while you draw lines of clouds in an attempt to either protect him from enemies or collect coins. Furthermore, the game even recognizes circles, as you can encircle an enemy and have them turn into a bubble with a coin. After you create the coin bubble, you can even grab it and throw it at Mario so he can collect it. On the next portion, Baby Mario rides Yoshi along the ground towards the right hand side of the map. Like the floating portion, if you draw clouds they will be solid and Yoshi will attempt to cross them. The fun doesnt stop there though. If you just tap the screen, Yoshi will fire an egg (assuming you picked some up) to hit enemies and grab coins on both the top and bottom screen.
It would be hard to resist such an interesting idea from many standpoints. From the perspective of a software engineer, the game is really interesting and complex. From the perspective of a regular player, the game was intuitive and challenging enough to be thoroughly engaging. This game is the epitome of software designed to bring everyone back to the starting line and in turn validates the DS entry into the market. Look for this one both for yourself and even any non gamers around you.
Wario Ware Touch
This falls under the same sort of appeal as Yoshis Touch and Go. Give it to a non-gamer and watch how much fun they have. You dont need to be a seasoned Street Fighter combo master to be able to light a virtual match by striking it with the on-screen matchbox. Wario Ware could be considered the DS killer app. Its the type of game that was just begging for a system to facilitate its pick-up-and-play nature.
I wont tell you too about too many of the micro-games, as that is half the fun of playing. Rest assured, though, that if you enjoyed the Game Boy Advance original this game will eat your life away. Both the style and wackiness of the gameplay have been retained and, in my opinion, effectively upgraded. By using the touch screen as an input method you are challenging your real-world accuracy and reflexes. Sign me up for the Wario Revolution. Mario 64 DS, Yoshis Touch and Go, and Wario Ware Touch were my favorite titles of the bunch. Dont write off the other titles though, as some of them are really fantastic.