Nintendo Airstream Tour stops in Sacramento, shows off holiday games

Get the scoop on the hottest Nintendo titles and our thoughts on which ones are worth trying

2015-11-12--16-36-21I was recently contacted by Nintendo and invited to preview the company’s holiday games lineup as the Nintendo Airstream Holiday Tour made a stop in Sacramento. Of course, I jumped on the opportunity to try out some new games.

As an owner of both a Wii U and a 3DS, I’m a huge fan of Nintendo. Sony and Microsoft do a great job offering popular AAA titles, indie games and more, but Nintendo sets itself apart from the pack by not being afraid to innovate and offer experiences gamers can’t find anywhere else.

Games like Super Mario Maker, Toad’s Treasure Tracker, Animal Crossing and Splatoon are unique experiences that can only be had on Nintendo’s platforms, which is why having Nintendo systems in my home is absolutely essential.

I also love that Nintendo offers game that my wife and I can enjoy together because she’s not a huge gamer. Nintendo’s continued support of family-friendly games and games that support local multiplayer are some of the reasons my wife and I really enjoy sitting down in front of our Nintendo systems.

That said, I’m a busy student and I do own PlayStation and Xbox systems, so it can be tough to find the time to support all the platforms. And I think every gamer can agree that with the plethora of games on offer, especially when you throw games from indie studios into the mix, it can be extremely difficult deciding what games are worth those hard earned dollars.

So to help gamers out, Nintendo travels around to different cities with a pickup truck and an airstream trailer — decked out with Luigi, Yoshi and Peach — and invites gaming journalists and local media to preview some of the best titles it offers.

In 2012, Nintendo’s Airstream Tour stopped in Sacramento to show off the Wii U. The console had just launched a couple weeks earlier. I was working for the Sac City Express college newspaper at the time. A colleague heard about Nintendo’s tour and told me about it. I had done a few game reviews for the Express and was working to get Sac City Gamer off the ground, so he knew I’d be interested.

On November 26, 2012, I met with David Young, a Nintendo representative, and got to check out all the new titles, as well as the console itself. You can read about my experience here.

On Thursday, December 10, 2015, I traveled to the Marriott Courtyard Sacramento Midtown and walked up the steps into the airstream trailer.

It was a familiar scene, but this time, the trailer was overflowing with Amiibo. David Young once again greeted me and as he got everything set up,  I took a look at some of the newest Amiibo, including 8-bit Mario and the Splatoon bundle.

In the course of the hour, I only had time to check out five games. The titles I tried out were Mario Tennis Ultra Smash, Shovel Knight, Runbow, FAST Racing Neo and Typoman.

It was nice to get a feel for a full-range of third-party indie titles, and, of course, one of Nintendo’s first-party heavy hitters. I even got to check out the Amiibo functionality for Mario Tennis.

FAST Racing Neo

The first thing I noticed about FAST Racing Neo is that it’s set up similar to Mario Kart. It has a championship mode consisting of cups made up of four races each, time trials and local (4-player splitscreen) and online multiplayer for up to 8 players.

I saw this game at this year’s E3 via one of the live stream interviews and thought it looked really fun. At the time, I wasn’t convinced the gameplay mechanic where the player is tasked with switching colors between blue or yellow when hitting boost pads of the same color would be intuitive. After playing the game, I can say it’s actually very intuitive and adds a fun element to the gameplay.

As a longtime fan of racing games, arcade racers that don’t have some sort of extra gameplay element (like power ups and weapons in Mario Kart) can be boring after a few plays. The speed boost mechanic in Neo, however, adds a lot to the game. It’s a pretty basic gameplay mechanic (hold A to accelerate and tap  X to switch between yellow and blue), but it actually adds a lot of depth to a race because hitting a boost pad with the wrong color selected can be the difference between keeping your position in the race or dropping back a few spots.

In addition, racers can pick up orbs throughout the track, which fill up the player’s boost meter. A tap of the ZR button gives the player a boost whenever they’d like, assuming they have enough boost built up in their meter. The R and L buttons allow the player vehicle to lean, which can be helpful on corners or when traversing sections of track.

The other noticeable feature of Neo is the graphics. The game is stunning and the tracks are beautifully designed. Each track is completely different, too, in its lighting, color scheme and environment. One race will have you in a desert-like setting and in the next, you’re racing in the snow while dodging icicles.

The tracks are short, but action-packed all the way through. The game has quite the learning curve as I placed 6th in the cup I did, but it’s one of those games where that learning curve is all about learning the tracks and mastering the gameplay mechanics, so it’s fun to keep trying to get better.

I think my favorite part of the racing experience in Neo is that when you jump into the air across sections of tracks, you actually have to control your vehicle. On two separate occasions, I was too close to the side of the track when I jumped and ended up in the ditch next to the track. That was part of the reason I did so poorly in the tournament. This adds a fun and challenging element to the races because you definitely have to be on your toes at all times.

With the combination of the sense of speed, track obstacles, challenging AI, the mechanic of switching colors for boost pads and the overall pace and environment, this is a game that will keep me coming back over and over again.

Typoman

Being a writer and a gamer doesn’t always go hand-in-hand, but after I saw Typoman demoed at E3 this year, I was excited to give it a try. Typoman is a sidescrolling platformer with a twist. The player is made out of letters and is tasked with solving what essentially equate to puzzles, all surrounding wordplay.

When Young asked me if I wanted to give it a try, I realized I had forgotten all about it since E3. I quickly remembered though, and responded, “Yes!” Like many indie platformers, the game doesn’t give the player any instruction. You’re tasked with figuring out what to do on your own, which is where much of the puzzle element comes in.

Most of the puzzles are simple, like one that has the player pulling a lever, which is indicated by the word “lever” in the background and one where the game teaches you how to move letters, indicated by the word “move” and tasking the player with moving the “o” in order to advance in the stage.

Of course, I was just playing the tutorial, so most of the puzzles are there to simply teach the gameplay mechanics to the player, and I’m sure it gets much more challenging later on.

Other puzzles ask players to unscramble a word. The word scrambles can by done by grabbing letters with your character and moving them around or by using the touchscreen on the Wii game pad.

Perhaps, my favorite part of the game’s tutorial/introduction stage, which was the only part of the game I had time to play, was a section where the word “grab” hanged from the ceiling with each letter on a separate rope. I quickly realized it wanted me to jump up and swing from letter to letter to get across the wide gap.

Overall, I thought Typoman was an extremely clever game. It’s definitely one I’ll be checking out at some point in full. My only real complaint with the game was that the controls really aren’t that good. The system that allows you to pick up letters is a bit clunky in that you hold R to grab on and then A to pick it up on your head before pressing B to jump with the letter above your head. This can be a little frustrating because the controls are just not that intuitive.

In fact, the holding of R is also used for pulling the levers and there was a scene in the introduction where I had to run from some enemies and at one point a lever had to be pulled. I ended up dying because the lever pulling is so clunky. To have to grab on and then pull and then let go before moving on while running from an enemy that is a few steps from catching you isn’t exactly a smooth system.

Don’t get me wrong, the controls aren’t necessarily bad, and I did get the hang of it by the end of the tutorial. I just think the controls could have used a little more polish before the game’s release.

Runbow

Runbow is a game that was a complete surprise because I hadn’t heard of it until Young asked if I wanted to play it. The game released in August and my experience with it at the Airstream Tour definitely convinced me to check this game out some more in the near future.

Young and I only played a couple levels, but it was enough to show me the truly unique nature of this game.

The game can be played online or local, but it’s the local multiplayer that is truly impressive. Using the game pad, four Wii remotes and four classic controllers (plugged into the Wii remotes), the game supports up to nine player local multiplayer.

When you consider that players can drop off the screen when other players get too far ahead of them and that players can punch each other, it’s clear that this would be quite the exciting party game.

The gameplay in the Adventure Mode consists of colorful backgrounds, which scroll through a number of colors in the style of a rainbow. As the color changes, platforms of the same color fade into the background, thus making them unreachable.

In other words, if a player is on a yellow platform and the background turns yellow, the player drops to the ground. You can imagine how this dynamic comes into play when the platforming becomes more complicated. Luckily, the intuitive controls don’t really lead to too many frustrating moments.

Later in the game, the colors become more limited. In one section, there were two shades of blue that switched back and forth. This created a situation where we had to wait and jump when the correct color was on the screen.

Young also told me that the game pays homage to other indie games, allowing players to take control of several characters from other popular independent titles.

Shovel Knight

Shovel Knight is one of those indie games I’d heard of before the Nintendo Airstream Tour visit, but never thought it sounded like something I’d like to play. Unfortunately, I’d somehow managed to miss seeing any footage of it and unfairly judged it as something that sounded like it was out of the ballpark of my preference in games.

I was wrong.

Shovel Knight is an indie title that launched back in June of 2014 and was originally available for PC in addition to Wii U and 3DS after a successful Kickstarter campaign. The game is now available on pretty much every platform imaginable.

Players play as a knight, who, as the title suggests, wields a shovel instead of a sword. This adds an interesting gameplay element to this 8-bit style sidescrolling platformer. Players can use the shovel as a weapon, but it also acts as a tool for digging up gems and treasures and for traversing obstacles in the game world.

I only played a couple levels, but I got a good feel for the gameplay, and absolutely fell in love with this game. If you were like me and didn’t think this game seemed like your cup of tea, you should definitely give it a try anyway.

This is especially true if you’ve been a gamer since the 8-bit days because the game is full of old school nostalgia. At one point in the first level, I became stuck at a part where I was supposed to use my downward shovel attack (jump and hold down) on a bubble to project me up to an out-of-reach platform. It took me a few tries to realize how to do this, but it was a great nostalgia trip because games in the 8-bit era were all about forcing the player to figure out what to do rather than holding their hand like a lot of today’s games.

Overall, the gameplay is very smooth and intuitive, and the unique take on the 2D sidescrolling genre is a welcomed breath of fresh air. I especially enjoyed the beautiful 8-bit throwback graphics and the music was also nostalgically in line with those classic games.

Young told me that Yacht Club Games, the developer of Shovel Knight, is also working on an Amiibo for the game.

“Yacht Club Games is actually manufacturing and distributing the Amiibo on their own,” said Young. “We licensed the Amiibo to them, which is a unique arrangement. We haven’t done that with anybody else. So, we’re doing some different things with some of these independent developers. Shovel Knight is probably one of the most successful independent-developed games on the platform.”

Mario Tennis Ultra Smash

I’ve long been a fan of the Mario sports titles like Mario Tennis, Mario Golf and Mario SuperStar Baseball, so when I heard about Ultra Smash at E3 this year, I was pretty excited.

Young mentioned we could try out the game and I told him I definitely wanted to try that one out. He saved it for last and it was well worth the wait.

There are online and local multiplayer modes, plenty of unlockables via an in-game achievement/trophy-like system and tons of different modes.

Young showed me the Amiibo functionality using a blue Yoshi Amiibo and explained to me that using an Amiibo allows players to have a partner that can be leveled up and can continue upgrading its abilities.

This works by scanning in an Amiibo for a match and leveling them up by scanning the same Amiibo after the match. This only works with characters in the game who also have an Amiibo and none of the Amiibo that isn’t in the game work with this functionality, but it adds an interesting dynamic over just using the in-game characters as a partner because with that, players aren’t able to level up the characters after matches.

We also talked about the different camera/screen usage options in the game for local multiplayer.  These include your normal two-player camera where one person is in the back of the tennis court and the other is in the front, but a really cool camera mode (reverse) allows one player to use the TV and the other to use the game pad, giving both players a third person, over-the-shoulder view.

During a match, there are round circles on the court in different colors. Each color is attached to a different face button and performs a trick shot if the player manages to stand inside of one and hit the right button when returning the ball to the opponent. Young, at one point, hit one of these on me and the ball traveled to my left in a curveball  motion, essentially making it impossible for me to return the ball.

Young and I ended the visit with a one-on-one match where I played as Toad and he played as Luigi. I joked that although Toad is my go-to in Mario Kart, I wasn’t sure how he’d do in tennis. I beat Young pretty decidedly, but it definitely showed me how the reverse camera mode could be helpful because it would have helped him better see the positioning of the ball since he played on the upper side of the screen and had to essentially play backwards.

The controls in the game are pretty standard for tennis. You press A to start a serve and tap it again to hit the ball. The face buttons offer different types of shots and the left joystick is used for movement. It’s all very smooth and easy to pick up in a few seconds.

The HD graphics are stunning, the music is excellent and the gameplay is extremely smooth. All of the expected Mushroom Kingdom humor and cuteness is present in Ultra Smash.

There are several modes as well. For those who want to play straight tennis, there is an option for that in addition to the Mega Battle mode where players can grab a Mega Mushroom to grow super large, giving them an advantage in that their shots are a lot more powerful while using this power-up and the player can cover more of the court.

From my limited time with the game, I can definitely say Mario Tennis Ultra Smash is a great game that every Wii U owner should check out. It’s casual enough for the occasional gamer, but also deep enough for the hardcore gamer. I’m definitely looking forward to putting in lots of hours of tennis with this game.


That’s it for my preview of some of Nintendo’s biggest offerings this holiday season. Obviously, I only got to preview a small chunk of what Nintendo has to offer this season, but it was nice to be able to share my thoughts on some of Nintendo’s more recognizable games, as well as some maybe not-so-well-known gems.

I enjoyed hanging out with David Young from Nintendo. The company and its representatives are very welcoming and accommodating to the media. The airstream is an interesting way to promote games. It really makes it easy to get the hands of as many gaming journalists as possible on the hottest games Nintendo is promoting. I look forward to checking out Nintendo’s tour in the future should it come back through the River City.

Advertisements

Comment on this post

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s