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5 Things We Learned from the February 2014 Nintendo Direct

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Direct to our hearts.

Nintendo certainly wasn't shy this afternoon. As if it heard people muttering that there aren't enough 3DS and Wii U games, Nintendo unleashed a torrent of information on its upcoming plans. Was any of it mind-blowing? No, not even close. But there were still a few nuggets that caught my attention.

Nintendo has lots of characters

Yeah, but can the Koopa Kids go upside down? They can? Oh, nevermind.
Yeah, but can the Koopa Kids go upside down? They can? Oh, nevermind.

Never doubt Nintendo's ability to embrace its history. Little Mac comes swinging into the Super Smash Bros. ring and is bringing the motivational styling of Doc Louis with him. When the mighty bounty hunter Samus Aran dared to scoff at Mac's diminutive size, I could only laugh. Mac has felled bigger opponents than you, Samus, and apparently isn't scared to hit a girl.

Of course, Smash Bros. isn't the only franchise where Nintendo's beloved congregate. CEO Satoru Iwata teased the trailer for Mario Kart 8 by saying we wouldn't expect who was stepping behind the wheel now. My mind shot toward the likes of Link, opening the door for characters beyond the Mario universe, or maybe the long-forgotten Wart, who would show that dreams really do come true. Well, I was wrong. It's the Koopa Kids! All seven of them.

Finally, a question: Which Nintendo franchise has the most characters? If you said Clu Clu Land, you're wrong. It's Pokemon! And now every pocket monster is being crammed into one game, Pokemon Battle Trozei. Can you distinguish between the likes of Charizard and Charmeleon during a heated puzzle-matching competition? Now's your chance to put your encyclopedic knowledge to use.

Nintendo digs free-to-play

Paying for a video game is so yesterday. If you want hours of entertainment but don't want to pay a red cent, you're in luck, because Nintendo has jumped on the free-to-play train. And don't expect microtransactions to haunt your every waking hour, either. Nintendo has taken its own direction, and it might just be crazy enough to work.

Soon, you too can man a submarine.
Soon, you too can man a submarine.

No one quite knew what to expect from a free Steel Diver, considering the first entry sunk like a stone. Well, now (as in, right this second) you can download a hefty demo for the first-person sequel for free. If you want more than two subs and a couple of single-player missions, then you can shell out $20 for the whole game. If not, you can still sink your buddies in multiplayer torpedo wars.

Rusty's Real Deal Baseball is the experiment that has me particularly intrigued. It's a minigame collection that supposedly feels as much like the real sport as a handheld game possibly could. The catch is how you accumulate new activities. Rusty sells new modes for real money. You can pay face value or bargain for a lower price. It's a fascinating concept, and one that could cause a ripple in the free-to-play scene.

Nintendo has a sense of style

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is pretty nice looking, too.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is pretty nice looking, too.

I think we can all agree that Miis could use a serious wardrobe overhaul. Who wears monochromatic shirts anyway? Chefs and prisoners, that's who. Well, Mario Golf: World Tour's hook isn't putting greens or sand traps; it's the behind-the-scenes fashion show that every golfer secretly longs for. Chipping in birdies earns you mad cash that can go toward a new pair of pants, which gives you plenty of incentive to improve your short game.

If only that style editor could be used in Bayonetta 2. Sure, the sharpshooting heroine doesn't need any help in the looks department, but the unnamed teenager who made his debut in the latest trailer sure does. That's a nice yellow hoodie there, kid, but why don't you show us your lovely locks? Oh, it's because you have silver-blue cornrows? Yeah, better just keep that hood on.

Need some eyewash after gazing upon Bayonetta's companion? Steer your peepers toward Yoshi's New Island. Now here's a game with style. That coloring book aesthetic that looked so pretty a couple of decades ago still looks so darn enticing. And it will be even prettier to behold if you can mute the shrill wails of Baby Mario.

Nintendo loves minigames

"By jove, I think he's got it!" That's something Layton would say, right?

Who has time for maxigames? Even the term is kind of gross. Well, stop thinking about that genre I just invented and instead focus on the small joy of playing in short bursts. If you've ever wanted to exist in a role-playing world but don't have the hours to grind, Weapon Shop de Omasse should tickle your fancy. Here, you man a weapon shop that world-saving adventurers frequent. Forge a strong sword so you can stay in your cozy home and let everyone else battle the monsters.

Want more variety? Five months after NES Remix condensed Nintendo's history into miniscule bites of fun comes a sequel with slightly more recent games. And if you have a particular fondness for Mario, you've downloaded the right game. Not only are both the American and Japanese versions of Super Mario Bros. 2 included, but there's a vertigo-inducing remastering of Super Mario Bros. in which you control Luigi and run to the left. Good luck keeping your lunch down.

And then there's Professor Layton. Sure, Azran Legacy isn't a traditional minigame collection, but that's only because we're so stringent about using that terminology. The puzzles can be solved in the blink of a cat's eye, after all, so the sharpest tacks know full well how mini these games truly are.

Nintendo is going digital

When a mommy sunbeam and a daddy sunbeam love each other very much...
When a mommy sunbeam and a daddy sunbeam love each other very much...

You're not pedantic, are you? Because sticklers for definitions would cough and squirm as they argued that every game is downloadable in today's connected world. But we all know there's a difference between the likes of Shovel Knights and Super Mario 3D World, and Nintendo has shown it has fully embraced the downloadable revolution.

Granted, I did chuckle when a gaggle of indie developers happily stated that their upcoming games have an 8-bit aesthetic, but I can't argue with fun. 1001 Spikes looks particularly interesting. Nothing gets me more excited than punishing difficulty, so you can be sure that I'll be smiling happily as I become impaled on each and every spike.

Do you wish the major studios would emulate their independent counterparts? Look no further than Ubisoft's downloadable journey in Child of Light. Gorgeous, enchanting, and oh so cheap, this role-playing game should enthrall every Wii U owner until the next big release hits.

It's the 3DS that should see the most diverse offerings, though. From the role-playing soccer of Inazuma Eleven to the first-person shooting of Moon Chronicles, the smaller games have the biggest variety. If you're not excited for Treasurenauts, you better get your greed examined, because hunting for gold is the foundation of every capitalist society.

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