In response to the holiday season bundles and new, record-setting game releases for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, Nintendo made several announcements yesterday during their latest Nintendo Direct live-streaming event. The Wii U's upcoming Star Fox Zero finally got a firm release date and Nintendo affirmed their continued dedication to existing titles by releasing Cloud Stryfe DLC for Smash Brothers for Wii U.
But that was just the tip of the iceberg. While there was no Minecraft: Wii U Edition announcement as expected, the day was filled with big announcements, including remakes, updates on existing hits, new Wii U bundles, new upcoming titles, and of course, amiibo figurines to provide synergy between all of the above.
The first game in our lineup, and the one with the most amiibo synergy, is Animal Crossing: amiibo Festival, which is available November 13. This iteration of the community simulator is a party game in which players interact with a virtual board via their amiibos playing minigames. Any Animal Crossing amiibo the player taps will be a playable character on the game board, and the game will launch with two amiibo figurines: Isabelle and Digby. These two will only be available in the launch bundle, and Digby will only be available while supplies last, but more figures available in the future.
Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash
On November 20, 2015 the latest in the Mario Tennis series will introduce a power-up to the Mario universe that we've never seen before: the Mega Mushroom. The Mega Mushroom is like the classic Mario mushroom, but it makes characters even bigger, appearing in "Mega Battle Mode." Other additions to the game include the jump shot (hit the ball before it lands on your side of the court), and the Ultra Smash (knock your opponent off balance, and when a smash mark appears, use the smash button to land an ultra smash).
But fear not, there's also "Simple Mode" for players who want to play a cleaner game of tennis without Mega Mushrooms and the like. Ultra Smash will support online and local multiplayer for up to four players. The game will be compatible with amiibos in select modes, including online matches. In single-player, tapped amiibos will appear as the player's doubles partner, and will retain their stats from game to game.
Xenoblade Chronicles X
The Wii U's shot at the RPG title arrives on December 4, with a suggested retail price of $74.99.. Xenoblade Chronicles X will involve lots of giant transforming and customizable mechs in a game that's "as deep as [the player wants] it to be," and will supposedly combine the immersion of Western RPGs with the colorful action and combat of Japanese RPGs. Players who purchase the physical version of the game will have access to four downloadable speed packs that lessen the game's load times. They aren't required, but Nintendo recommends that players get at least one. Sounds like a pretty big game.
The first of many free Splatoon updates that will be released until at least January is available today. Today's added more than 40 pieces of new gear, but another update tomorrow will add a new stage called the Museum d'Alfonsino—the first of many new stages to be released in the future. But the biggest Splatoon news may be that an official Nintendo Treehouse Splatoon Tournament is taking place in December, to be played entirely by Nintendo Treehouse staff and live-streamed on Nintendo's YouTube channel. The tournament is an attempt to spark fans into setting up their own tournaments to further spread the ever-growing Splatoon community, and will include relevant tips.
There are over user-made 3.3 million Mario Maker courses out there... so to make it easier for players to find the courses they want to play, Nintendo is releasing a new portal site with a robust search engine than the one minimalist one found in the game, and will allow players to filter their searches on a PC browser and find the level they want on a PC browser. Endless Mario action awaits for one of Nintendo's best titles of the year.
And now we're on to titles coming out in 2016. Those who've been praying for a Pokémon-centric fighting game since the late '90s can stop praying to their Mewtwo shrines.
The Pokémon Company is teaming with Bandai-Namco—the creators of the Tekken series—to bring us a sophisticated fighting game featuring a large chunk of the most famous pocket monsters. In related amiibo news, a purchasable amiibo card only available in the first production run will unlock Shadow Mewtwo, though Shadow Mewtwo will be unlockable in the game as well.
The Legend of Zelda
2016 will be the Year of Zelda for the Wii U. The 2006 Gamecube/Wii classic The Legend of Zelda: The Twilight Princess is returning in HD form on the Wii U in early 2016.
Nintendo is striving to make sure it's "more than a prettier version of the same game," and to that end are releasing a new amiibo figure for the game: Wolf Link. The Wolf Link amiibo will be released March 4, 2016, and is available for pre-order now. In an attempt to lure in gamers planning to hold out for 2016's new Zelda title, Nintendo has said that some of the Wolf Link amiibo data will carry over to the new game. Twilight Princess HD is also compatible with five other amiibos from the Smash Brothers series.
New Wii U Bundles
Nintendo is releasing two new Wii U bundles for the holidays: a Smash Bros./console bundle and a Splatoon/console bundle. The prices of the bundles are still unknown but will be announced later this month.
Nintendo is selling more Wii Us in 2015 than 2014, due to their increased library of exclusive titles and the amiibo figurines' highly addictive synergy with so many titles, and they appear to be doubling down on this strategy going forward. The figurines often bring an extra dimension of interaction between games, but they also raise the price of games (Animal Crossing: amiibo Festival, with its two figurines, has a suggested retail price of $79.99) and potentially alienate mature gamers. The longest-lasting criticism of Nintendo is that the beloved publisher has not grown up with its fans.
Those who grew up playing Mario, Zelda, and Star Fox would like to continue playing those classic series, but also want access to more mature gaming experiences through their console of choice; those gamers raised on the NES, SNES, and Nintendo 64 (if they are still gaming) are very often part of the huge audiences for the PS4 and Xbox One. The Nintendo holiday and early 2016 lineup, while impressive, is a perfect example of the design strategy that's lost Nintendo so many lifelong fans.
But maybe Star Fox Zero and The Legend of Zelda on the Wii U will be enough to draw more playrs back in, and the Wii U's enduring dedication to the couch multiplayer experience—a great aspect of gaming that sadly seems to be dying—is something to be admired. Then again, next year we'll learn about the Wii U's successor, the NX, so the Wii U lifecycle is already coming to an end.
Animal Crossing: amiibo Festival arrives November 13. Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash arrives November 20. Xenoblade Chronicles X arrives December 4. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD arrives March 4, 2016. Star Fox Zero arrives April 22, 2016. Pokken Tournament arrives in 2016. Legend of Zelda for the Wii U arrives in 2016.