NYCC 2011: Nintendo Booth Tour

I felt a sense of hesitation toward Nintendo's New York Comic Con booth as I approached it Sunday afternoon. Perhaps it was the relative obsolescence of the Wii, or the poor start for the 3DS. Perhaps it was just the crowd—it was an odd mix of grubby-handed children begging for tchotchkes, sweaty Sonic fanboys with enormous backpacks, and Nintendo girls in short skirts and impossibly tight shirts. I'm still not sure why Nintendo remains one of the last bastions for the booth babe, especially when their slender figures and sexy foreign accents are literally the last things a majority of Nintendo fans are interested in. Combine that atmosphere with sheer volume—humans of all shapes, sizes, and smells shoved forcefully into a suffocating sardine can of a booth—and I wasn't exactly excited to dive in headfirst.

That said, the job had to be done. I worked my way into the mob, at last getting my hands on one of the few free 3DS setups. Yet the pushing and shoving never ceased, the smells lingered, and the booth girls continued to put on a convincing happy face. I tried what I could, sampling the mostly ignored Shinobi game and the much sought-after Sonic Generations on 3DS (I'll talk more about those in my overall NYCC wrap-up). It wasn't until I got my hands on Super Mario 3D Land and Mario Kart 7 that all the distractions finally started to creep away. There it was! That rare Nintendo magic sneaked its way into Comic Con, and the reason for the horrendous amalgam of people became clear.
One at a time, let's talk about the big Nintendo games at New York Comic Con.

Super Mario 3D Land

The last thing I ever thought I'd say was that a Mario game reminded me of Crash Bandicoot, but that was exactly the thought going through my mind as I explored the four levels of Super Mario 3D Land available at NYCC. The reason for the comparison is all in the level design. It's almost as if Nintendo has reinterpreted history, taking the concept of the traditionally 2D Mario games, and adapting them to 3D in a much more literal manner than Super Mario 64 ever did.
3D Land doesn't offer vast worlds ripe for adventuring. Instead, it imagines the world of say, New Super Mario Bros., if it were stretched out into three dimensions. The Crash Bandicoot comparison comes from the strict adherence to levels that only ever move left to right or directly towards the background. The game also plays with an isometric viewpoint, but it always maintains a sort of linear progression, not unlike the 2D classics of yore.
What makes that such an important part of the game is that the controls are anything but reminiscent of 2D Mario. The gameplay and controls are purely in the style of Mario 64, Sunshine, and Galaxy. You can do backflips and buttstomps, and Mario still waddles around with that sort of meandering looseness.
The controls and level design mix together for something that feels fresh, fun, and perfect for the 3DS portable. The level design lets the 3D pop, and the simple environments allow 3D Land to look as sharp as any Mario game on the Wii.
The touch that put it over the edge came as I approached the end of a level. The typical 2D Mario staircase, leading up to the castle flagpole, sits as flat and two-dimensional as ever, a monument to Mario at his best, just as this game seems to be. 

Mario Kart 7

We can officially call the 3DS a Nintendo platform now that it has a Mario Kart title on it. That it's called Mario Kart 7, and that Nintendo couldn't be bothered to come up with some clever subtitle for it, is all the more telling of what Mario Kart 7 is—more Mario Kart. What I ask is, is that a bad thing?
For those who've been up to their neck in Mario Kart, playing every entry in the series, it might be one Mario Kart too many. For those like myself, who've skipped many of the more recent Karts and have a 3DS gathering its third and fourth layers of dust, this is exactly the tent pole Nintendo release we're looking for.
From a gameplay standpoint, Mario Kart 7 seems to offer all of the bells and whistles you expect from these games. The roster of racers appeared unchanged, and the gameplay and powerups aren't taking any gambles either. There are a couple of new powerups, as well as the ability to customize your kart.  Otherwise, this is Mario Kart for people that love Mario Kart.
That said, there is one very important bit of freshness on display here, and that's in the track design. There was so much wonderful variety in the three tracks I played that I fell in love with the game almost immediately. The tracks are filled with surprising shortcuts, split paths, and more challenging routes that reward you for sticking to them. On top of that, large ramps in the environment will send you flying around with a hang glider attachment or diving into the ocean for some sub-sea level exploration.
Like Super Mario 3D Land, Mario Kart 7 is exactly the kind of thing 3DS fans are starved for—a new, fresh Nintendo title that doesn't reinvent the wheel but offers the quality other developers so rarely match.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

Surprisingly, Skyward Sword didn't incite as much joy in me as Nintendo's 3DS offerings. The game seemed fine and all, but the demo Nintendo offered wasn't a lot to go on. It offered three brief sections of the game–a flight section where Link mounts a giant bird, a single dungeon room, and a boss fight. The dungeon room was sort of like jumping into the middle of someone else's save file. The tools required to advance weren't explained at all, except by the Nintendo rep by my side.
Link's tool for this dungeon is a flying beetle gadget. It can be remotely controlled by the player for a short time by tilting the Wii remote and avoiding obstacles. Smashing the beetle into gems around the room unlocked doors and moved things along.
The biggest takeaway from the Skyward Sword demo is what the motion-controlled sword strikes allow for. Combat felt more natural, more like a back and forth sword fight than a search for weaknesses and rote pattern memorization. It also freed buttons on the controller for other functions, making things like inventory access mid-fight a quick and painless action.
I don't know if anyone is expecting reinvention with Skyward Sword. I also don't know if this demo is a good representation of what the game has to offer. All I know is that, so far, I'm not all that excited.
Still, two out of three ain't bad. Now I need a shower.