E3 2004: Nintendo Booth:
Donkey Konga (GameCube)
I could say that Donkey Konga beat all of the other games at the expo in terms of innovation, but that'd be a shameless pun, and I'm above that. So, Donkey Konga was simply Nintendo's killer ape at the convention. The DK Bongos allowed gamers to tap right into the game without much hesitation and despite the fact that is was clear that some couldn't feel the beat, they were always back for more of the incredibly fun four-player mode. There are more than 30 songs from The Mighty Mighty Bosstones to Monkey Rap and while none are from the original artists, it's all about achieving the higher end of the Good-OK-Bad-Miss spectrum, not fully licensed tracks. Once you do become good, you may look like an ass playing these two drums and clapping in midair. However, much like the Dance Dance Revolution games, you're so addicted that it just doesn't matter any more. Donkey Konga comes to play starting in September and there's already a sequel planned, so you may want to borrow a pair of bongos from your local beatnik to brush up.
Donkey Kong Jungle Beat (GameCube)
Just because Donkey Konga comes with a unique peripheral, that doesn't mean there'll be only one game to utilize it. Instead, Nintendo is taking its bongo controller back to Donkey Kong's roots with a 2D platform game, Donkey Kong Jungle Beat. The title comes across as a simplified version of Donkey Kong Country with novel gameplay controls that make it anything but simple. However, it's not frustrating; it's innovative fun. Hitting the left bongo causes DK to move to the left, the right bongo to move to the right, and both at the same time to leap in the air. Clapping above the two bongos causes DK to unleash an attack or perform a scenario related action thanks to a microphone built into the drums. Although these new controls take a minute or two to become familiar with, I found the game is smooth and expect it to be a hit in more ways than one when it releases in 2005.
The Legend of Zelda (GameCube)
The unveiling of DS may have been one of Nintendo's big E3 announcements, but it wasn't the only one. The company's confirmation and footage of a new Legend of Zelda game currently in development for GameCube stunned its press conference audience more than anything else at the expo. While Nintendo hasn't offered up any details to supplement its quick gameplay clip, the moving images just make you imagine the possibilities of a 3D Zelda title on a 128-bit system. This may cause our minds to hype the game even more, but I remember doing the same thing when seeing countless stills of Ocarina of Time and it remains one of the best N64 titles of all time. So, continue to imagine adult Link along with huge swords, shield, and horse as they gallop into the sunset, sure to release one year in the near future.
The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures (GameCube)
Amidst all of the confusion that comes with E3, I seriously thought that I was playing a Game Boy Advance game when picking up Four Swords Adventures. However, I quickly came realize that this was the one Zelda game playable for GameCube. I wasn't completely wrong because it does incorporate the use of the GBA through the GameCube/GBA Connectivity Cable and allows up to four players to connect, hence the name Four Swords Adventures. The concept can be complex to complete since you'll need three GBA-owning friends each with their own GBA Connectivity Cable. But at least there's no call for all four players to own GBA cartridges; it's just one GameCube copy of Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures, just like Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles. On the single-player side, you'll control a quartet of Links who walk and slash in unison. Once you're setup with multiplayer capabilities though, its Link times four with each player taking control of a Link in a multiplayer game of cooperation and competition. Entering into houses and dungeons takes the view to the Game Boy screen for an inside perspective. Exiting into the open world returns the game to the television. It's just another neat effect that Nintendo brings to both the GameCube and Game Boy Advance through the connectivity process. Next month, you'll be able to connect with your own copy along with a connectivity cable when Four Swords Adventures arrives in stores.
Resident Evil 4 (GameCube)
If any game at the show took a radical departure from its roots, RE4 would be it.? Capcom dumped almost all of the series' staples, including zombies, stiff controls, and pre-rendered environments, and made a completely different experience.? RE4 follows the exploits of Leon, a character that the RE faithful will be familiar with.? Leon is apparently investigating the going-ons in a small, strange village filled with creatures that aren't zombies, but don't quite act like humans either.? For one thing, they're intent on killing the unsuspecting Leon by any means necessary.? And they're much smarter and faster than the lumbering zombies that Leon's used to.? RE4 also implements a number of new features to change its feel for the better, including context specific buttons that allow him to dive out of windows, kick foes that get too close, and rescue a dog from a bear trap, and even kick over ladders that the enemy uses to reach Leon.? Leon has the ability to aim, which allows him to target specific limbs or even blast hurled weapons out of the air.? RE4 also has a new over the shoulder perspective that, coupled with the new, cinematic wide-screen look and stunningly beautiful graphics, gives an entirely different view to the survival horror genre definer.? Although gamers can still expect the creepy atmosphere and scariness that RE originally brought to gaming to be intact, gamers can expect a completely new experience from this version of Resident Evil.
Metriod Prime: Echoes (GameCube)
There were many people that doubted Metroid Prime during its development cycle at Retro Studious, but no one dares second guess its sequel, Echoes, which will appear on GameCube at the end of the year. For me, it's not just a gut instinct now that I've gotten a chance to try the first-person adventure title at this year's E3. Samus finds herself on Aether, a planet that consists of light and dark worlds. These two distinct settings add to the first game's already fine lighting effects as players explore both areas and encounter a much darker enemy on the loose. For these battles, Echoes includes new weapons such as the Dark and Light Beams, but it does keep original favorites from past Metroid titles as well. While a good portion of the sequel revolves around aspect of the light and dark worlds, there's also the highly anticipated multiplayer deathmatch mode, a first for the Metroid series. So, whether you're battling enemies in the dark/light worlds or being the bounty hunter/hunted in the multiplayer mode, it's going to be prime time for more Metroid this holiday season.
Metriod Prime: Hunters (DS)
Upcoming handheld entries DS and PSP were the talk of E3, but only one company had playable demos and that was Nintendo. Metroid Prime: Hunters was the best DS game the company made available because it demonstrated the touch screen ability, wireless capability and GameCube-like graphics. Alright, no one's going to mistake this DS adaptation for the GameCube version, but its close enough and is still the best first-person shooter I've seen on a portable. The E3 demo of Hunters was a game of deathmatch in which four players battled it out as a different color Samus. The top screen displayed a map and character locations while the bottom LCD showed the intense action that occurred in the first-person perspective and allowed players to use a stylus to pinpoint their firepower. This touch screen technology is something to get used to, but it definitely makes for a different handheld experience. Hopefully we'll see more of Metroid Prime: Hunters whenever DS does in fact launch.
Super Mario 64X4 (DS)
Nintendo knows that it needs Mario to launch a new system properly, so the company also showed a Super Mario demo at E3. Since the game is cleverly dubbed Super Mario 64X4, it may lead one to suspect that it's simply a rehash of the N64 launch title. And, while that's not a bad thing, 64X4 includes a couple of DS twists as well. In this version, four players can participate thanks to the system's wireless technology and the bottom screen incorporates an interactive map thanks to touch screen technology. Because the main objective of the demo was to simply collect stars that appeared throughout the game's arena, I suspect that this won't be the final product and that it's just a test subject for something else to come. With two very cool DS innovations already in working condition and N64's graphics gracing the handheld, here's to hoping that Nintendo sets up a Super Mario 64-like launch title and keeps this classy name.
The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap (GBA)
Minish Cap involves an odd, yet innovative concept in which Link discovers a magical cap that causes him to shrink in size. With this new power comes an all-new quest to aid the Minish people. So, Link sets out to save them by retrieving fragments of the relics called Kinstones and he must pass through both Hyrule and the Minish world to do so. While the micro-size adventure is something new, expect the same foundation from this Zelda game as we've seen in the entire 2D series. Link still explores a vast map, carries his trademark weapons and wanders into dungeon after dungeon. The Minish Cap concept could give the series some new height even though it's never needed it.
DK: King of Swing (GBA)
The Kong family is out to determine exactly who the king of the jungle is by swinging from vine to vine and branch to branch in DK: King of Swing. But when King K. Krool crashes the party to steal the winner's medallion and members of the DK clan, it becomes more than just a family affair. Donkey Kong and crew take to the jungle in Bionic Commando fashion and swing using the L and R shoulder buttons for each hand. Along with these innovative controls the game includes puzzles to conquer, enemies to avoid and, oh yes, bananas to collect. King of Swing won't come out until 2005, but Nintendo and PAON have us pounding our chest already.
Donkey Kong Country 2 (GBA)
It's been quite some time since I've played Donkey Kong Country 2, so Nintendo's decision to port this SNES classic to GBA has me going ape. For now, Diddy's Kong Quest isn't part of the game's name, but the rest still remains the same: Donkey Kong has been kidnapped and it's up to Diddy and Dixie to rescue him. Players again utilize Diddy's cartwheel agility along with Dixie's helicopter-spinning pony-tail ability to defeat enemies, reach the end of stages, and eventually battle Kaptain K. Krool. While omissions include the scenic backgrounds and Candy's Dance Studio, DKC2 softens that blow with a couple of extra bonus stages: Expresso Racing, Funk Flights, and Bag a Bug. So, with four-player support and two-player co-op, Donkey Kong Country 2 could be king of the GBA jungle for the holidays.
Paper Mario 2 (GameCube)
Following the cult success of the well-received N64 RPG, Paper Mario 2 once again places gamers in the role of a 2-dimensional Mario in a semi 3-dimensional world. Graphically, the game is superb, and the two-dimensional gimmick is innovative and well-implemented. Also, the game utilizes an interactively turn-based combat system that will be familiar to anyone who has played Paper Mario, Super Mario RPG, or the more recent Game Boy iteration, Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga. Players choose their command, and as the game implements the player's choices, the timing of button presses or controller movement increases (or decreases) the effectiveness of the action. For example, if Mario presses the A button the instant before an enemy attack, he will curl up and block, effectively reducing the damage done to him by the enemy. Also of interest is the fact that Mario can still team up with allies to complete his mission. Some early observable partners include a goomba, a koopa trooper, and a ghostlike female monster.
Star Fox (GameCube)
Star Fox Adventures didn't sit well with every fan of the first-party spaceshooter series, so Nintendo has brought Fox McCloud back to the GameCube along with its experienced co-pilot, Namco. Their GameCube debut at E3 2003 was so early that it hardly made a positive impression. E3 2004, however, offered a better experience in the Arwing, in the tank, and on foot. The intense multiplayer mode works a lot like the Vs. Mode from Star Fox's N64 sequel, but allows players to move between these different modes much like a Mech game. Although Namco is staying more true to the series than Rareware did with Star Fox Adventures, this Star Fox title won't include the old but wise rabbit Peppy. He'll be replaced by younger female character named Krystal. I guess the virtual video game business works a lot like others in reality. While it's unclear how this will affect the storyline, the game shall remain the same: full of dogfights and fierce battles for one to four players.
Geist is one of the more interesting first-person shooters I've seen for GameCube in which players take on the role of Jon Raimi whose spirit has been separated from his body. Thus, it's your goal to get back into your body. But, it's not so simple or boring since you'll need to take control of other people, animals and objects to access new areas. Puzzles such as bypassing security through possession of a guard or even a dog seems to add a twist to the entire genre and the fact that the idea is being implemented into a multiplayer mode makes it worth checking out if not haunting your own copy sometime in November.
TimeSplitters: Future Perfect
FPS lovers sit up and take notice whenever a new Timesplitters is announced.? Although the release date is still quite a ways off, there was a playable demo on the floor.? This latest version of the popular series still has the realistic cartoon models that the Timesplitters games are known for, along with some vastly improved A.I. as well as actual drivable vehicles.? Multiplayer is back, of course, as well as over 20 weapons and the ability to unlock things through gameplay.? If Timesplitters: Future Perfect follows the example set by its predecessors, then this is definitely a title to watch.
F-Zero GP Legend (GBA)
Even though I didn't get hands-on time with F-Zero GP Legend, I can still explain everything about the game. This is mainly because the mechanics haven't changed from Maximum Velocity, but the storyline has been improved and skill tests have been added. The reason that there's a lot more dialogue between characters both new and old is because of Captain Falcon's anime television show currently airing in Japan. Although a fresh storyline isn't an incentive most speed-seeking players in the U.S. are going to ask for, the new tracks in the game are a good enough reason for any F-Zero fan to zero in on GP Legend in September.
Nintendo sure knows how to change the way we think about videogames. Innovation after innovation has graced their systems while their games are constantly setting new standards in fun. So, what do they do now? They mix things up. We're not talking everyday types of mixtures like vodka and orange juice. No, they had to go and blend pinball with military strategy. Yes, you read that right; Pinball and military strategy. Let's cut to the chase, even at this early stage Odama is more fun than it has any right to be. In the sample level we played at E3, you take command of an army of little soldiers. These soldiers are pretty much autonomous but you do get to give them some general advance/retreat orders. As you might guess, your soldiers square off against those of another army. So, what makes this unique? The pinball element. You directly control two giant flippers that you use to knock around a giant cannonball to squash the little men on the battlefield. I tell you, I never saw this one coming.