The latest jaunt-New Super Mario Bros. U-largely cleaves to the same title and idea as the other entries in the "New" series, but serves up a revamped take on the world map that begs to be explored (and offers up challenges and obstacles along the way), a new take on cooperative play care of the GamePad, masterful level design, and social embellishments that let you share in the joy but mostly pain and frustration that other gamers around the world feel after being stuck at one of those blasted Ghost Houses for the last 15 lives.
And that's just Nintendo's chief platforming series. Mario Kart, Zelda, Donkey Kong, Metroid, and even Pokémon (arguably, though I'm admittedly wading into dangerous territory there) have consistently evolved to address changing gaming landscapes and blend expertly onto the platform they're being developed for.
The coming year should prove no different. The new Zelda game is being billed as a successor to A Link to the Past, but will incorporate the 3DS' 3D-magic into puzzles that rely on depth and perspective, much like Super Mario 3D Land. Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D is a remake of the Wii release, but offers new items, new levels to explore, and rebalanced the entire game's levels and difficulty curve to fit the limited time constraints of the average portable gamer. Game & Wario looks to be another entry in the mini-game centric WarioWare lineup, utilizing the Wii U GamePad in concert with your TV in a host of interesting (though potentially gimmicky ways).
In one example, you're playing video games (on the GamePad) but it's well past your bed time and your mother is lurking about the house trying to catch you in the act (triggering a game over). Pressing the GamePad's triggers will pull your blankets over your head so you can avoid being caught, but remain under the covers for too long and you'll actually fall asleep (also a game over). It's a simple conceit and I generally avoid mini-game collections, but... come on, that's pretty cool.
Could Nintendo win over new hearts and minds with entirely new franchises? Sure-consider Animal Crossing or Pikmin, whose latest incarnations I await with bated breath. They're both a bit long in the tooth now, but Nintendo has proven that it can publish and develop titles that don't feature apes or princess-rescuing plumbers and capture our imaginations with fun, innovative experiences.
But they don't really need new franchises to pull that off, either. It's fine to be sick of mustachioed plumbers and warp pipes, but no Mario or Kirby or Star Fox game is ever quite the same as the one that preceded it-compare that to the litany of mainstream shooters with largely interchangeable narratives and gameplay spiced up with (admittedly compelling) visual flair. I'm as keen as the next gamer to sink four to six forgettable hours blasting through a manshoot and admiring impressive graphics, but a decade from now I'll wager we'll still be talking about the adventures we once had in the Mushroom Kingdom-and wondering what's next.
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