E3 2016: Nintendo Treehouse Wrap-up and Thoughts

Heading into Tuesday I had some trepidation about how well Nintendo would be able to stand toe-to-toe with Sony and Microsoft’s generally stellar press conferences. Nintendo’s own Digital Event and Direct formats have been shelved this year leaving the very hands-on approach of their Treehouse Live streams as the only avenue with which to give us a taste of what they have in store for us. Just a couple months ago we were told that the new Legend of Zelda game would be their main focus, even though they also stated it would not be released until March 2017. So anticipation and emotions were high when Reggie Fils-Aime introduced their show with a game trailer for what we now know as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. The burning question of whether or not “Zelda U” was any good was immediately answered with a resounding “YES!”, and with a pretty damned classy name as well.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild does, indeed, seem to be breathing new life into the Zelda series by heading in an entirely new and creative direction. Many of today’s biggest franchises have decided to eschew more linear progression in favor of open world themes. So, too, does Breath of the Wild by literally giving players complete freedom over their environment letting them go anywhere they desire without boundaries. This includes climbing jagged cliffs, sliding down snowy mountainsides on Link’s shield, and gliding across massive chasms on a hang glider. Link is also susceptible to the environmental conditions that surround him, requiring players to adorn their favorite protagonist in climate-specific apparel for cold, rainy, hot, or dangerous conditions. Link’s health also plays a big role in Breath of the Wild as no hearts are randomly discovered in this game, instead requiring Link to forage for food from his surroundings and hunt for meat, and then having to cook his meals to sustain his health and energy. Enemies also are quite a bit more intelligent when reacting to Link’s presence and in their fighting styles, making the player adapt more regularly to overcome them. The visual style of this Zelda game is quite breathtaking seeming to combine Skyward Sword’s “watercolor” visual palette with a bit of Twilight Princess’s more traditional themes. But Breath of the Wild remains its own unique vision of the world of Hyrule, even though not everything is as perfectly executed as I would have hoped given the length of time it has been in production.

Though Breath of the Wild can be “breathtaking” to look at, it is not without it’s visual detractors. The biggest offender by far is the chosen resolution displayed on the Wii U version, running the game at 1280 x 720 at roughly 30 frames per second most of the time. This is in stark contrast to such titles already shown to us such as Horizon Zero Dawn running at 1080p on the PS4 as well as Scalebound running at 1080p on the Xbox One. It’s not a deal breaker by any measure but because of the demands this impressive graphics engine is clearly placing on the aging Wii U architecture, we unfortunately can clearly see aliasing throughout each and every aspect of Breath of the Wild’s visual presentation. Shimmering induced by this problem is apparent in shadows and when gliding across expanses we can see both some texture and asset pop-in such as bushes and trees. The other major problem that reared its head during many of the game walkthroughs was frame rate fluctuation seemingly tied to transitions or large amounts of on-screen action such as explosions. These dips may very well be something related to the early nature of the games development, or even because of video being streamed. I cannot say for sure. But I am a bit disappointed that after such a long time in development that these issues as of yet haven’t been ironed out. We are 9 months from release, though, so this all may be addressed by that time. Also since this game is coming for the NX as well, a system we still have nearly zero information on, we can surmise that Nintendo may indeed be tailoring Breath of the Wild to run in higher resolution and higher frame rates on what many have speculated will be a more powerful system. Only time will tell.

I’d have to say that even with these graphical faux pas displayed during Breath of the Wild’s E3 reveal, I still have been blown away with the incredible scope and scale Nintendo has decided to give this most-anticipated game. When you take into account how much Nintendo has altered the genetic code of Link’s controls and the gameplay within Breath of the Wild, one will immediately understand that Nintendo is very serious about breaking away from the past Legend of Zelda’s overall game conventions and are blazing a new and amazing direction for this franchise. All-in-all I must say that Nintendo impressed the hell out of me with this game. I was very concerned that by only really focusing their E3 presentation on essentially one title that they would leave themselves vulnerable to their competitors, Sony and Microsoft. I’m not saying that this approach kept them at bay, but by showcasing Breath of the Wild via live streaming, Nintendo did show the industry that they are very willing to change direction and incorporate mechanics and themes that challenge them to push the envelope of a Zelda game.

As previously insinuated, Nintendo’s focus was primarily directed towards Breath of the Wild, but they did bring other games to the party and the following is my summary of those titles.

Though I haven’t really followed the Pokémon games very closely over the years I will not deny that the creativity of the series and it’s character designs has always intrigued me. Pokémon Sun and Moon follows in those footsteps with two 3DS games that look vibrant and have revamped gameplay allowing more detail for your characters moves and your enemies statistics to be accessible via the touchscreen. Also when Pokémon are captured they are added to your Pokédex, and depending on the type of Pokémon there may be available slots for companion Pokémon collected later that will compliment these new characters and aid them in battle. Another new mode that has been added to Pokémon Sun and Moon is Battle Royale. In this mode your Pokémon is put up against 3 other opponents in a 4-player, 4 way battle which forces you take a more strategic approach to be victorious. But probably the most noticeable change to this 3DS franchise is how amazing these titles looks next to previous handheld iterations of the 3DS series, Pokémon X and Y. Sun and Moon both boast a beautiful graphics engine that renders characters and Pokémon fluidly and makes playing the games a far more enjoyable experience than ever before. Character controls have also finally been given the full analog treatment meaning that your trainers can traverse these beautiful landscapes in all directions as opposed to the 4-direction controls of Pokémon X and Y. I must admit that I may decide to finally delve into the world of Pokémon with Sun and Moon.

A Wii U title that is releasing next week, Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE has really impressed me with it’s striking visual presentation. It is reminiscent of the equally dazzling Bayonetta 2 engulfing the player in a feast of colors and effects. The gameplay is also exceptionally unique and is definitely one I am seriously looking at adding to my collection. Dragon’s Quest VII for the 3DS looks to be a fun revisit of this classic game. Ever Oasis for 3DS is sure to be a very cute little RPG. Mario Party Star Rush looks to be taking aim at those after their multiplayer 3DS party game fix. Monster Hunter Generations looks to follow up their awesome Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate for 3DS with two new systems: hunting styles and hunting arts, both allowing players to individualize their Monster Hunter experiences like never before. Finally, Nintendo gave us a sample of Paper Mario Color Splash for the Wii U. This game, though flat by nature due to the world being made of paper, still manages to incorporate extremely engaging and interesting gameplay with very ingenious animations and looks like a total blast to play.

So did Nintendo just “win” E3 with a Zelda game, you might be asking?

Taking everything E3 had to offer this year into account I feel like Nintendo did a great job of redirecting attention away from the gaping hole that was the lack of any information on one of the most anticipated console releases in recent memory: codename “NX”. Even though Nintendo’s approach was shrewd and Breath of the Wild filled much of the vacuum left by not having the “NX” on hand, compared to Sony and Microsoft’s major announcements both in software and new hardware in Sony’s VR headset and Microsoft’s Windows 10 compatibility, the Xbox One S, and Project Scorpio, Nintendo did come up short by comparison. We have been given a relative handful of titles that will be released this year for both the 3DS and Wii U, unfortunately not including Breath of the Wild which Nintendo drew most of its focus on for this show.

Does this mean that Nintendo have completely lost touch with their core fan base and the gaming community at large for that matter?

In my eyes: not totally. Though the decision to keep The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild out of a holiday 2016 release slot has me questioning Nintendo’s sanity, I do realize that they are deep in transitioning from their beleaguered Wii U console, seeming to have shifted their entire companies focus onto the aforementioned “NX”. Logically, releasing the Wii U version of Breath of the Wild that far in advance of the March 2017 release slot for the “NX” could likely result in negative sales numbers for the “NX” version of the same game. Nintendo leaving so much time between so few releases while Sony and Microsoft are busy flooding the market with games from their own stables as well as their third party developers is an unfortunate circumstance Nintendo has left itself in because of several factors. The Wii U, arguably innovative in its own right never-the-less, has cost Nintendo valuable market share and continued to sully the Nintendo brand by carrying over the Wii moniker and trading off more powerful architecture for the expensive and processor burdening Gamepad. By once again releasing a system that is not technically capable of meeting their competitors on even footing Nintendo has been forced to accelerate the development of the Wii U’s replacement, and in so doing require dedication to software development for the “NX” that would otherwise have been dedicated to developing games for the Wii U. This next year I feel will be a definitive one for the video game industry. A year where we finally will see the rise of VR games at the consumer level. A year where Microsoft blurs the lines between PC and console experiences. A year where Nintendo must decide whether to continue the road less traveled or be willing to step into the fray and compete against their rivals in terms of hardware power. All I know is: I’m on the edge of my seat!

And as always, game on users!

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