Mario Kart 8, we finally had a closer look at you (and what a gorgeous look) as Nintendo closed out the year with a spring 2014 Wii U and 3DS sneak peek. The “spring 2014″ part, which we knew about in advance, should have been our hint that we wouldn’t be seeing the next Zelda, or a new Metroid, though that didn’t stop watchers from flooding the chat sidebar with callouts for sequels to those franchises and others.
We did get to see something unexpected: a new Zelda game for Wii U — the first, technically speaking, and overseen by longtime Zelda director/producer Eiji Aonuma, though Nintendo president Satoru Iwata was quick to point out that it’s not the next mainline Zelda action-adventure. Instead, Nintendo partnered with Tecmo Koei, publisher of the Dynasty Warriors beat-em-ups, to produce something tentatively dubbed “Hyrule Warriors” (that’s a shot from it up top). The demo involved a grown-up Link dashing around a grassy field outside Hyrule castle laying waste to throngs of enemies, launching special moves and flourishes. Zelda May Cry? Color me intrigued.
The rest we pretty much knew, with a few exceptions: Rosalina from the Super Mario Galaxy games was revealed as a playable character in both Super Smash Bros. (3DS, Wii U) and Mario Kart 8 (Wii U); Nintendo’s launching something called NES Remix on the Wii U eShop today, a $15 Miiverse-compatible collection of 16 NES titles that’ve been creatively tweaked to “reimagine” aspects of the gameplay; Nintendo unveiled Dr. Luigi (Wii U), an eShop vamp on the Tetris-like Dr. Mario games, only here you attack viruses with L-shaped pills (that, and it seems targeted at beginners, since Iwata said it’s “hard to get a game over”) — this one’s available on December 31 for $15.
Wii Sports Club, which Nintendo’s been quietly pushing to Wii Us with sufficient space, is getting a “Golf” module today — you can demo it or the other Wii Sports games for 24 hours free, after which the golf module costs $10 for unlimited access; last up, Sonic Lost World (Wii U) now has a Yoshi-themed level, available free from the eShop, dubbed “Yoshi’s Island Zone.”
Let’s talk Wii U release dates: Super Smash Bros. and Mario Kart 8 are vaguely “spring 2014,” which means anytime between March 20 and June 21, 2014. But Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze has a firm February 21, 2014 release date (both in stores and the eShop).
On the 3DS side, roleplaying game Bravely Default is out February 7, though Nintendo’s offering a demo-slash-micro-adventure (it’s content not found in the game, in other words) on January 2 via the eShop — that, and there’ll be a $50 collector’s version of the game with the usual art-related extras; sidescroller Kirby: Triple Deluxe is a vague “2014,” but Nintendo’s other upcoming 3DS sidescroller Yoshi’s New Island should arrive next spring.
All told, a solid first-party showing. At this point, you’re either invested in Nintendo’s approach to gaming or you’re not — either onboard with the idea of perennially rejiggered Mario, Luigi, Zelda, Mario Kart, Super Smash Bros., Kirby, Pokemon and Donkey Kong games, or on to other things. Absent versions of bestselling third-party titles to lure a broader spectrum of gamers, Nintendo’s doubling down on its strengths, which is exactly where it’ll have to hit home run after home run to stay relevant through 2014 and beyond.