After 45 solid minutes I was totally saturated with information and all sorts of flashing images. My trip to Nintendo Canadaâ€™s headquarters was an early morning highlight to be sure, but only now am I sorting out what happened.
I arrived early for my meeting with Lesley Short (PR rep extraordinaire) and spent 20 minutes playing Super Smash Brothers Melee on a console setup in the high-ceiling lobby. My brain was a frenzy of activity and I needed to calm my nerves â€“ and beating up Pikachu was just the ticket. Lesley came down the wide half-circle stairway from the second floor and I was finally able to put a face to the name. We headed up the stairs to a conference room.
â€śAre you a big gamer?â€ť Lesley asked.
Always on the look out for PR baffle-gab, I answered with a simple, â€śYes.â€ť
The landing at the top of the stairs is slathered with Nintendo images â€“ past and present â€“ and before I could grab one off the wall and hide it in my jacket we reached the conference room.
Ever have those moments when a streak of light comes through a window and highlights an object? Maybe thereâ€™s music or heavenly voices to accompany some kind of epiphany? In one corner there was a TV and sitting next to it was the Holy Grail of Nintendo fanatics â€“ a debug Gamecube. (For those of you that donâ€™t know, a debug unit allows you to play import GC games and betas of games in development.) I had a brief flash of myself grabbing the unit and making a break for it. The huge padlocked metal casing changed my mind â€“ that, and I couldnâ€™t remember if the conference room door opened â€śinâ€ť our â€śoutâ€ť.
I took a seat and waited for the preview video to start and got an answer to one of my burning questions: How many Nintendo employees does it take to work a VCR? The answer is 3. Lesley couldnâ€™t get it working, then Ron Bertram (President of Nintedo Canada) came in and offered some advice, and it wasnâ€™t until an unnamed hero came in and saved the day that the video started. (The problem seemed to be a loose cable under the wooden console the TV sat on.)
Each preview clip lasted all of about 90 seconds, so some of what I say might be total conjecture or wildly inaccurate, but here are my impressions of what I saw. (This batch of clips will be shown at E3.)
First up on the video: Mario Sunshine
In a phrase: classic Mario action. Those familiar with Marioâ€™s jaunt on the N64 should feel right at home. Mario looks to have the same roster of various jumps and wide-open levels to explore. The first thing I noticed though was the backpack Mario was wearing. (He must have modified Luigiâ€™s vacuum last seen in Luigiâ€™s Mansion.) It looks to be a multi-tool. In one scene it looks like heâ€™s cleaning up oil with it and in another it blasts him off like a rocket â€“ obviously it will have a fundamental effect on gameplay. The environments are bright and colorful in the Mario tradition and many familiar faces return. Also noteworthy, the environments look huge so we can expect lots of mini-games of varying challenge. Animation was as smooth as ever. Mario Sunshine is sure to please fans and be accessible to new players.
Next up: Metroid Prime
Woah-boy! Lesley described it as a â€śfirst-person adventure with immersive visor effects and an ingenious transition from first-person to third-person perspective that will change the way players think about the first-person perspective." I was too absorbed by the blistering visuals to ponder the statement. Most of the clip showed indoor areas and lots of things exploding. The animation was very, very smooth even with all that was happening on-screen. Most of the action looks to take place in the first-person shooter mode but the clip also showed Samus (the main character) rolling around in her spherical form. Itâ€™s hard to make observations on small touches in such a short clip, but I really liked the way she switched weapons. Instead of having different gun types, Samus has one gun that changes modes. I also saw something that looked like a neon green grappling hook that Samus can use to reach higher levels and leap across chasms.
Thirdly: Starfox â€“ Dinosaur Planet
It was a little disconcerting to see Starfox engaged in 3rd Person hand-to-hand combat, but this mode looks to be only one of many perspectives. Space fights are back and looking better than ever. There was also something that looked a little like a bobsled mode, but it went passed so fast, I might be mistaken. The visuals are very good and many of Starfoxâ€™s old wingmen return. The soundtrack got my attention and was even humming it when I got into my car. This one is being developed by Rare and with their track record Iâ€™m willing to go out on a limb and say Starfox will be a great game.
Fourthly and lastly: Eternal Darkness â€“ Insanityâ€™s Requiem
This title started out being developed for the N64 (like Starfox) but the powers that be wisely decided it should go the Gamecube route. Made by Canadian developer Silicon Knights, this is aimed at the older audience (itâ€™s got an M-rating) and I was impressed with what I saw. (I also got to have a brief hands-on â€“ those impressions later.) Lots of blood across several different time periods and scenes that promise to mess with your head are Eternal Darknessâ€™s main draws. It will be compared with Resident Evil survival horror-type games and rightly so, but it differs in at least one key area: a lack of difficult camera angles.
The TV went black and I started breathing again.
Behind me Ron Bertram said, â€śWow!â€ť and made for the exit. (I noted the door opened inward.)
We moved to the table and the various gadgets. The first thing Lesley handed me was the Wavebird controller. Itâ€™s the same size and general shape of the standard GC controller, however itâ€™s cordless and a little heavier due to the two AA batteries powering it (but still lighter than the XBox controller). At the bottom of the face of the control is a dial with 16 notches on it â€“ each number being a different channel. While each GC can only support four controls the 16 frequencies mean you can have up to 16 people in a room (playing on 4 different GCs) all using a Wavebird. (I must admit that when Lesley first explained it, I thought Nintendo was planning 16-player games.) The receiver plugs into the controller socket and must match the channel number you're using. I forgot to ask what would happen if multiple players tried to use the same frequencies so youâ€™ll have to use your imagination. As for battery life, there werenâ€™t any solid numbers to go by, but you can play from 30â€™ away. (It seems reasonable to assume that battery life will be on par with the GBA.)
I asked about The Legend of Zelda because it was noticeably absent. Apparently, Mr. Miyamoto is keeping Linkâ€™s latest foray a closely guarded secret and more will be revealed at E3. (However, Lesley commented it has a release date of â€śaround Christmasâ€ť 2002.)
Lesley next showed me the new GBA Platinum (or Titanium â€“ I always get those two confused) that will be released on the First Anniversary of the GBA in June. The only thing different about the Platinum is the cover. Instead of the opaque rainbow of colors, itâ€™s solid silver but itâ€™s still made of plastic.
We chatted briefly about the connectivity of the GBA and GC. â€śMore games are coming that will take advantage of the feature,â€ť Lesley said. You can bet theyâ€™ll have more to announce at E3.
Nintendo will be releasing a larger memory card for the GC in the not too distant future. Total space is 251K or four times more than the current card. At retail it will have a suggested price of $29.95 (CAN). This can only be seen as a good thing as games get bigger and more storage space for stats is needed.
I took a moment to ask about Nintendoâ€™s main competition and I was a little surprised with the answer. Nintendo considers Sony itâ€™s main competition â€“ they donâ€™t even count Xbox and considering the Xboxâ€™s performance in Japan itâ€™s no wonder.
â€śWhen the Xbox was released everyone went on and on about the hardware, but besides Halo there werenâ€™t any games to get really excited about,â€ť Lesley said. â€śPeople were skeptical of [Gamecube] with itâ€™s shape and processing power [in comparison to the Xbox]â€¦ we realized it was all about games, and weâ€™ve seen that strategy work with more 3rd Party developers signing on [compared to the N64].â€ť And what will be sure to irk PC gamers and broaden the schism between the console and PC worlds, Nintendo doesnâ€™t consider the PC competition as they did five years ago.
Because the clock rules the life of the PR Person, Lesley directed me to Eternal Darkness (ED) for a little hands-on play before my time was up.
The game begins with a long introduction scene with a quote from Edgar Allan Poe and a line that struck me as particularly funny: â€śI am a clinical psychologist. I am also dead.â€ť Donâ€™t know why this hit my funny bone, but remembering it now, Iâ€™m chuckling again. Even though the opening frames show a brutal amount of blood and one or two maggots, the game certainly seems to have a sense of humor. For example, the above-mentioned clinical psychologist has been murdered â€“ his head taken clean off â€“ and the investigating detective brings the 20-something daughter in to identify the body.
â€śOh my, God! Thatâ€™s my father!â€ť
â€śHow do you know?â€ť the cop says.
â€śBy the family ring heâ€™s wearing,â€ť she says with much anguish. â€śWhy are you showing me this? Couldnâ€™t you just use dental records, or something?â€ť
The detective is stone-faced and takes a swig of his coffee, â€śWe havenâ€™t found his head.â€ť
Laugh-out-loud funny! And apparently, the game will be filled with cutscenes â€“ hopefully with a tinge of humor to take the edge off the slaughter and tension. And there will be plenty of both. I got as far as taking control of a Roman Centurion and facing off against some zombie creatures but even in that brief time, ED conveyed a mood of imminent danger.
The targeting system is fairly intuitive and the controls are fairly trim. (Remember, this is all based on about 10 minutes of play.) When an enemy is in your sights their torso lights up, clearly indicating what youâ€™re about to blast to smithereens. Characters (you control) can interact with the world around them and theyâ€™ll have to if they hope to advance. Doing so is simple â€“ when something can be interacted with it clearly shows with the â€śAâ€ť button appearing in the top right of the screen (and your on-screen character turns their head to look at points of interest). Thereâ€™s an emphasis on puzzle solving in the grand tradition of the Alone in the Dark series. One big advantage ED has over Resident Evil and Alone in the Dark is the camera.
Say â€śGood-byeâ€ť to awkward camera angles. Instead of changing camera angles every few steps, ED centers on your character (for the most part) and the camera moves around the character. This allows an area to be explored without getting confused by poorly chosen camera angles.
Audio was impressive, even after my short exposure. The Roman Centurionâ€™s armor clinks realistically as you walk around.
Load times, as one would expect with the GC, are barely noticeable.
What I didnâ€™t get into was any kind of inventory management, so I canâ€™t comment on how it handles. But I can comment on weapons. Obviously they will vary from time period to time period, but there are ranged (such as the shotgun) and melee weapons.
I asked Lesley about playtime from beginning to end. While she could only give a rough estimate (about 40 hours) but she says it will depend on what path players choose. There are three different endings and multiple paths to take, so really, playtime could be 120 hours if you want to see all the endings and explore every nook and cranny across the many different time periods you travel through.
Just as I started to get into things, Lesley announced my time was up. 45 minutes went just like that. <Insert sound of snapping>
As I left the building, Lesley commented I was the first â€śjournalistâ€ť in Canada to see what sheâ€™d just shown me. (That explains why Ron Bertram hung around for the demo â€“ he hadnâ€™t even seen it!)
Although I always try to remain objective, from my brief exposure to what Nintendo has in store over the next 8 months or so theyâ€™ll have a strong showing at E3 and even more information and images to digest.
Currently Enjoying: Nintendo Wii, Xbox 360 and PC Games...
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