It’s no secret that one of the weakest aspects of Nintendo’s Wii was its lack of dedication by third-party developers. Sure, there were plenty that helped support the Wii’s rise to console domination, but many of the biggest developers were hesitant to limit their potential audience and devote themselves to develop games that could not be directly adapted to other systems, and their top titles did not receive ports for the less powerful system. There were a few exceptions though.
One of Nintendo’s strongest third-party partners is, and always has been Ubisoft. Since back in 1993 when it introduced Jimmy Connors Tennis for the NES, Ubisoft has been an advocate of Nintendo, developing both ports and exclusives for the various gaming systems under the Nintendo umbrella. The Wii U is no different.
When it launches on November 18, many of the Wii U launch titles will proudly display the Ubisoft name. Over the next few months during the Wii U’s launch window that will extend into March, the developer will introduce several games for the new system. We recently had the chance to try out some of those games.
ESPN Sports Connection
ESPN Sports Connection will be available on launch day, and it’s a game that will bring people together in order to check out what the new hardware can do. Every new console, especially one with something fundamentally different about it, needs a game like this.
Broken up into six sports, each offering is simple and easy to grasp. They are mini-games in the same way the phenomenally successful Wii Sports games were, each using the Wii U’s distinctive GamePad in an original way. The games are: Football, Baseball, Golf, Tennis, Racing, and Soccer.
The games incorporate the GamePad in unique ways based on the sport, but all the offerings are simplified versions of their real-life counterparts. Baseball, for example, has the player with the GamePad pitching, while a player with Wii nunchucks swings the controller like a bat. The pitcher uses the touchscreen to assign the location and trajectory of the pitch, then if it is hit they become a fielder and have to physically align the GamePad in the correct position to catch the oncoming ball. Football is equally truncated, and has the offense pick one of three plays on the nunchuck then make a throwing motion to release, while the GamePad controls the defense and allows you to design the routes before the play.
Each of the six games offers something that is original to the GamePad. That makes this a great title for families to try out and a good title to get a sense of the potential of the Wii U’s new controller, but the design limits the number of players that can participate.
ESPN Sports Connection is still a party game, just for a smaller or more patient party that can wait for their turn. If that doesn’t dissuade you though, then it might be a great introduction to the Wii U.
Marvel Avengers: Battle for Earth
Although this won’t be available at launch, it will be released in time for Christmas. Originally designed as a Kinect game, those gesture controls are incorporated through the use of the standard nunchucks, but the GamePad offers a slightly different way to play. If you are familiar with the Kinect game PowerUp Heroes you already have a fair understanding of what this game is, but the license alone should push exponentially increase this game’s potential.
The game operates on the concept that you chose one move at a time, either a power move that requires a specific movement, or a button press that begins a more traditional attack. Using the nunchuck, you physically make a gesture – perhaps you draw an imaginary lightning bolt or move the controller in a half circle – which then unleashes that move. The responsiveness is good, but there will always be a brief delay between movement and action. So while on the surface Battle for Earth is a fighting game, there is also a bit of strategy involved as you attempt to guess your opponent’s attacks.
Using the GamePad, you recreate those physical movements by drawing the motion on the GamePad’s touchscreen. This makes you feel a bit less involved, but it also gives you a clear advantage in speed, at least until people can rattle off their character’s move set from memory with the nunchucks.
Each of the characters has multiple outfits and the game has several modes for you to delve into which should keep the game fresh. There is a story based on the Marvel crossover event “Secret Invasion,” but it’s really the two player battles that make this game so intriguing. It might be best to ditch the GamePad for one-on-one fights, but the Wii U’s graphical power alone make this worth the look when it is released on December 4.
PowerUp Heroes wasn’t a particularly deep game, and yet it may be my favorite Kinect title to date. It’s just fun to go through motions that then unleash powerful attacks on enemies. Adding 20 Marvel characters just increases that potential.
This is already near the top of my list as a party game. Originally created as a spin-off of the Rayman franchise, the Rabbids have a long history with Nintendo, especially with the Wii. All but one of the previous six games has appeared on the Wii, so the Wii U is a natural home for them and a Rabbids adventure on launch day is a fitting addition to the Wii U lineup.
The Rabbids are utter ridiculous, in an awesome way, and the graphically enhanced look of them alone can keep you entertained. Rabbids Land is built around the party game concept, and it all ties in to the GamePad. Although there are several ways to play the real highlight is the board game, which places you and your friends on a game board, with each spot offering something new as you “roll the die” and choose where to go on your way to earning trophies. The GamePad is the primary controller, so you will need to switch off, but you will also need a set of nunchucks.
The board game is loaded with mini-games that show off what makes the GamePad original. There are several types of games that popup, and some are cooperative while others are competitive. One game plays out like memory. The GamePad displays the fronts of rabbids wearing dresses or robes that you use the touch screen to reveal a specific design on their underwear, while another player uses the nunchucks to do the same to those rabbids’ rears on the TV. You then need to work together to select which two symbols are both in play. If it sounds silly, that is because it is, but it’s also fun.
You have to be predisposed to a bit of absurdity and the amount of content in the game is still a question, but those looking for a good party game to go along with their shiny new Wii U should give this one a look.
Although this game was pushed back into Q1 of next year and may be in danger of losing the “launch window” moniker, when it’s eventually released it will bring one of the best platformers on the market into the next generation of consoles. And there’s a twist.
Rayman Legends will feature a multiplayer component, which allows up to four people to each take a character through the level. That’s increasingly common, but the person with the GamePad has a second option. With the touch of a button you can switch from one of the main characters into the character of Murfy, a bizarre, flying character with a passing resemblance to a frog. While the others make their way through the level, as Murfy you can help them out by clearing the way of enemies, helping your friends reach bonuses, and collecting items. There are also several parts that require his unique abilities. Some areas may have platforms that are held aloft by ropes that Murfy needs to cut, while other areas require careful coordination, as the player using Murfy on the GamePad may be tasked with moving entire sections of the board to keep the other players safely across.
The game doesn’t reinvent the series for the sake of the Wii U, but it does integrate the new gameplay options in a way that translates the traditional style of Rayman for Nintendo’s new console. It is shame that this game will miss the launch day, as it would otherwise be a must own on day one. But perhaps that isn’t a bad thing. The first quarter of next year is looking to be a monster, with games like BioShock Infinite, Tomb Raider, and God of War: Ascension certain to do huge numbers, but none of them are heading to the Wii U. So far Nintendo’s release slate for next year is still mostly unknown (with a few exceptions), and this game could be one of the best alternatives to those heavyweight titles.
Of all the games Ubisoft has coming for the Wii U, ZombiU is the most intriguing. In fact, it may be the most interesting of all the Wii U launch titles. Not only does it integrate the GamePad in a way that actually increases the sense of tension the game is striving for, the plot and setting are immersive, and the gameplay is entertaining. It is more than just a good Wii U title, it is a good title, period.
For a full briefing on the game, check out our in-depth preview.