3DS Showcase: how Nintendo won me back

Friday, 10 May 2013 06:30 GMT By Stace Harman

Stace Harman’s on-off love affair with Nintendo is well and truly back on. He takes a trip down memory lane and looks at a handful of upcoming 3DS titles that offer some good old-fashioned fun.

Evidently, I’ve been won over by at least some of Nintendo’s current and future output for the 3DS. IOver the last few weeks it’s been nice to play games for the simple fun of playing games and to be reminded that not every title from a major publisher has to involve shooting people in the face.

In the heated playground debates of my childhood, I always sided with Nintendo over Sega. To me, there was something about the boxy little NES with its flip-top cartridge slot and spring-loaded tray that shouted “fun” much louder than Sega’s sleeker Master System. Come 1990, I had a paper-round that paid me the princely sum of £10 a week and so I saved like crazy for a Super Nintendo; to this day it remains the console from which I take some of my very fondest gaming memories.

By the time the N64 arrived I was a fully paid-up member of the Nintendo fan club, which resulted in me dropping £310 on a launch day console and Mario 64 from Dixons. When I took up that esoteric three-pronged controller and stepped into Mario’s 3D world it felt as though the future had arrived. But as the months passed my attitude started to change. I remember sneering at the console’s plastic, toy-like casing and growing disdainful of the brightly coloured additional controllers that were strewn about my bedroom floor.

Shortly after, my lifelong gaming-friend and I swapped consoles for a couple of weeks: my N64 for his hipster new-kid-on-the-block Sony PlayStation. Thanks to Resident Evil, Tomb Raider and wipEout 2097, it wasn’t long before I’d shelved my N64 and bought a PlayStation of my own. When the PS2 was released I bought one with nary a thought for the purple oddity that was the GameCube. At that point in time I felt like I was outgrowing Nintendo’s reliance on child-like wonder; I was, after all, a serious twenty-year-old with all together cooler gaming tastes.

Fast-forward six years and my interested enough in the concept of the Wii to pick one up shortly after launch. Today, half a dozen Wii games sit untouched in a drawer while the console’s in-built messaging system says it’s been two years since I last wielded a Wiimote in anger. I haven’t even contemplated buying a Wii U. Up until three years ago I had kept faith with Nintendo’s handhelds but at some point after buying an iOS device I sold my DSi, convinced that it would suffice for my portable gaming needs. To all intents and purposes I was done with Nintendo, from a personal standpoint if not a professional one.

Fire Emblem: Awakening.

Then, just recently, something unexpected happened. I borrowed a 3DS and Nintendo sent me a copy of the aptly titled Fire Emblem: Awakening. Some two weeks and 53 gameplay hours later I am both fascinated and worryingly obsessed with stats and class choices and, most curiously of all, the relationships that are blossoming between my cast of characters. Fire Emblem Awakening has revealed itself to be the brilliantly simple strategy game I remember from nine years ago wrapped around a comprehensive relationship simulator. I find that I spend as much time planning optimal battlefield position in order to enhance the relationships between my characters as I do concentrating on winning any given skirmish and I haven’t cared this much for a cast of characters since the whimsically joyful bunch found in Sega’s Valkyria Chronicles.

Interest renewed, I went along to a 3DS showcase. I spent some 30 minutes playing through a demo-build of the tentatively titled Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past 2, diligently taking notes with my work-head on. Then I immediately played through it again for the sheer fun of it. 30 minutes is not enough time to critically assess a game, of course, but the gamer in me is already excited for the sequel to one of my most beloved of Link’s outings. It feels like the kind of game where the enjoyment is derived simply from playing it, not wrestled from it by achieving its goals, besting its bosses or being showered with achievement points or trophies.

On the one hand, some of this fun comes from the reliance on familiar tropes: the bow and arrow, the sight of a bouffant Link breaking into his little half-jog and, of course, that classic treasure chest jingle that tells you that all is right with the world and you’re winning at life. However, it’s also apparent that this is more than a desperate attempt to tap the rich vein of nostalgia surrounding the 22-year-old A Link to the Past. The “merging”, as Nintendo is currently calling it, involves Link turning into a chalk drawing on the wall to slip through barred windows, negotiate gaps and walk around the angles of a wall to reveal hidden paths, much as the opening 30 seconds of this 10-minute game play video reveal:

In the all-too-brief 30 minute demo I that I played there was the potential for experimental and explorative use of merging, which coaxed many an “a-ha” from my smiling lips. The potential for such moments of dawning realisation in the finished game is huge and serves only to add to the warm, fuzzy feelings in my belly from seeing Link from that top-down view.

While A Link to the Past 2 was, for me, the standout game at Nintendo’s 3DS showcase it was far from the only one that I returned to over the course of the afternoon. Both Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D and Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move deserve honourable mentions for providing a satisfying blend of familiar gameplay from their respective series with new twists and tricks. In some respects, what all three of these titles offer is a degree of nostalgia-fuelled retro gaming without the risk of digging out an old classic only to find that it hasn’t aged well at all (GoldenEye, I’m looking at you).

Evidently, I’ve been won over by at least some of Nintendo’s current and future output for the 3DS. I remain unconvinced by Wii U but over the last few weeks it’s been nice to play games for the simple fun of playing games and to be reminded that not every title from a major publisher has to involve shooting people in the face. True, the first-party titles that I’ve highlighted here are all iterative evolutions rather than out and out innovations but they’re also a whole lot of fun. When it comes to this most precious of commodities I, for one, am happy that Nintendo does make them like it used to.