LOS ANGELES -- This isn't a normal E3 for Nintendo. For the first time in recent memory, the company has decided to forgo a traditional press conference in lieu of a more intimate experience.
While Microsoft and Sony continue to exchange unpleasantries, Nintendo is using the opportunity to give the media a behind-closed-doors look at some of its upcoming Wii U titles, some of which are completely unannounced.
I got to sit down with these games and get some hands-on time to see what Nintendo has planned for the Wii U, a console that has undoubtedly stumbled out of the gate. The company believes the key to the Wii U's success is exclusive games you can't experience anywhere else. So with that, I took a look at these five titles:
Super Mario 3D World
This is the game the team behind Super Mario Galaxy has been hard at work on. It's a four-player co-op (or single-player) campaign that features Mario, Luigi, Toad, and Peach. If you've ever played Super Mario Bros. 2 on NES, you'll notice each character has a similar special ability.
I played two levels in the game, one from World 1 and one from World 4. World 1 is the classic Mario Bros. environment we've seen over the last few years: lots of green, goombas, and pipes. But what stood out the most was when Luigi found the cat power-up. Cat Luigi (or whichever character you're playing as) lets you run on all fours and swipe your paws at enemies. It also lets you climb up walls for a short time until gravity gets the best of you.
World 4 featured a vertical-climbing level where the four characters traveled along a series of clear pipes with various points to exit. I could control where Luigi left the pipe by holding the GamePad's joystick in the direction I wanted. The levels are smartly designed and filled with surprises and throwbacks -- everything we've come to expect from these games.
Super Mario 3D World will hit the Wii U in December.
Mario Kart 8
The first-ever HD Mario Kart game will race onto the Wii U in the spring of 2014. New in Mario Kart 8 is antigravity, where the track will spin wildly out of control, challenging the rules of nature as we know them. One track I played in a boo castle featured an antigravity section that then went underwater halfway through. Players can perform tricks in the air to earn boosts as well as discover hidden paths along each course.
Motorbikes have returned in Mario Kart 8 and gliders will make their first console appearance as well. The game will allow for 12-player online racing and 4-player local competition. You can also make use of Mario Kart TV, which will allow you to upload a highlight clip of your play to the MiiVerse.
Mario Kart 8 can be controlled either through motion control (including the GamePad) or via conventional controls.
We've all known about Pikmin 3's arrival to the Wii U, but this was the first time I saw gameplay. Unfortunately I didn't get to see anything from the main campaign, but I did get to see another timed mode that actually works as a great way to improve your skills for the regular game.
In the quick demo I watched as the various Pikmin took advantage of some new functionality, like automatic bridge creation, swarm attack, and other improvements that will inevitably save a lot of time during gameplay. Using the Wii remote and nunchuk seemed like a very intuitive way to direct Pikmin, so veteran fans should take comfort in knowing the control scheme has been fine-tuned for quick management and decision making.
Pikmin 3 will be available August 4.
Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze
Hot off the critical success of the 3DS' Donkey Kong Country Returns remake, the team at Retro Studios is at it again with a gorgeous new sequel that brings Donkey Kong platforming into HD.
It's packed with hidden extras and gives players that satisfying and addictive gameplay we all fell in love with all those years ago. I played a sizable level in the game and was impressed with the game's dimensional design that extends beyond the typical 2D scrolling experience. There's plenty of 3D space that the levels will explore, which adds a welcome amount of variation to the game.
Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze can be played using the GamePad or with a Wii remote and nunchuk combination. The barrel-busting fun continues this November.
Arguably the Wii U's biggest third-party console exclusive, the sequel to 2010's violent over-the-top beat-'em-up game certainly stood out among the more-whimsical titles I had seen before it. Bayonetta 2 is aimed at the older core gamer and can also be controlled through touch or conventional means.
If you thought the original was a trip, wait until you get a load of the sequel. Insanity is an understatement. Bayonetta 2 successfully captures the same blistering action as its predecessor by upping the absurdity and introducing more monstrous and bizarre enemies. This is all highlighted by "umbran climax," a crescendo of slaughter that can be performed when maxing out a fighting meter.
Die-hard fans will find plenty to love about Bayonetta 2, but they'll need to wait until 2014 when the game is finally released.
Every game looked great in HD, and most of them ran at a smooth 60 frames per second. Every game will also allow for off-TV play, a feature quickly becoming the console's killer app. Of course I had to mention the absence of a Zelda game, but was quickly told that the remake of The WindWaker will be hitting the Wii U in October and will feature better inventory management and quicker sailing. There's also another new Zelda game being developed for the Wii U, but details on that game right now are scarce.
Finally, I was told The Wonderful 101, the action hero game from Platinum Games, will arrive on the Wii U on September 15.
We'll have more from Nintendo's presence at E3 2013, so stay tuned!