Nintendo of Australia have been unusually helpful of late. Not only have they been giving us solid information and release dates, ahead of time, they’ve also been kind enough to give us closer looks at all their big releases. This week I was invited out to get hands-on with three fairly solid Wii releases we’ll be seeing on store shelves within the next few months, and of them I know a lot of readers will be wanting to know just how it fairs on the Wii circuit.
I am, of course, talking about Mario Kart Wii, but beyond the iconic Nintendo racer, I also went hands-on with final builds of both Battalion Wars and Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn (the latter of which is a sequel to one of my favourite GameCube games).
Although playing on a big-ass plasma, we were unfortunately looking at all of the games through an AV connection, so the visuals weren’t quite up to scratch, but from what I could tell, both Mario Kart Wii and Fire Emblem were looking mighty nice. Battalion Wars on the other hand didn’t fare quite as well in the visuals department and it looked a lot like developer Kuju Entertainment were using the same graphics engine as the GameCube Battalion Wars, but for a game like that, it’s not necessarily about visuals.
Hands-On Battalion Wars
Originally billed as the 3D console version of Advance Wars, Battalion Wars would eventually see a shift in name and style and brought to the GameCube as its own, stand alone outing. Combining RTS and action into an arcade game with its own flare, Battalion Wars 2 seeks to further the series with the use of the Wii Remote for more control over your battalion while maintaining the accessible edge the original offered.
As mentioned above, Battalion Wars 2 is not pushing any boundaries on the Wii (and we know
the console is capable of more), but it is at least a game that doesn’t necessarily need to rely on looks.
Getting hands-on with this latest instalment was a breath of fresh air. It controls incredibly well, and once you get past the cutesy exterior, you’ll find a reasonably deep, mature game beneath. It’s all pretty simple, pointing your reticule at a unit and hitting the A-button will select that unit (or you can just scroll through available units with the D-pad). A is also used to halt or advance your battalion, while the B-button is used to toggle between attack and defend.
The camera system is also pretty cool as you can switch between being up and close to the action or looking at the battle from overhead in a theatre of war-type of look. You can control individual units on-foot or drive any one of the various vehicles available to you, each of which controls differently based on its type and class.
Playing through a few of the game’s missions saw me having to liberate comrades, capture bases and push the enemy back. It’s a bit linear and as mentioned earlier, pretty cutesy, but there’s another draw in that this game is fully online and will have you testing your mettle against other players from around the world. Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to see this in action, but from all accounts it should handle pretty well (it’s not pushing the hardware too hard). If you played the original, or at least are a fan of the Advance Wars series, this is worth checking out. The COs throughout are pretty funny (and alarmingly racially stereotyped), while the ease of control coupled with the reasonably deep play mechanics make for a pretty fun outing. Not to mention Battalion Wars 2 also pits you against human opponents with an online mode as well.
Hands-On Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn
The Fire Emblem series of games have actually been around since the original NES in Japan (called Famicom there), but it took a long time before Nintendo even thought there’d be a viable audience for the series beyond Eastern shores. Thankfully they took a gamble and we now have a turn-based strategy title with all the RPG trimmings, story development and deep, meaningful characters you could ask for.
Aside from the DS offerings, Nintendo also released a GameCube entrant which saw a band of mercenaries lead by the venerable Ike, take down a fascist regime in a fantasy land with half human/half beast creatures, dragon tamers, pirates, black knights and all the black metal lyrical material you could ever hope to muster in videogame form.
Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn (which sounds like a brand of washing detergent) is a direct sequel to the GameCube Fire Emblem, but takes place three years after the events of the original. This time around you begin the game as a rebel force from the previously crushed regime – pooling together under the banner of the Red Dawn, the true prince to the Daein throne now fights against Daein’s liberators to recapture his crown and restore peace to his land.
As with most games of this nature, you’re given an opportunity to see both sides of the cause – after all, who is right and wrong in these instances if history is written by the victors?
Given the first outing could see any seasoned gamer clocking in over 60 hours of gameplay, my very short time with Radiant Dawn didn’t give me much of a chance to get intimate with the overall story, however, I can tell you the stunning cut-scenes from the first game are back and even more incredible this time around. It seems as though the game will use a lot of these, which is a good thing (the animation and art style are very, very cool) and the whole game is running in 16:9 (upgraded from the Japanese version which was a measly 4:3), letting us know Nintendo really does
The real shocker in this though, is Radiant Dawn takes absolutely no
advantage of the Wii Remote's motion-sensing capabilities. Instead, you put your Nunchuk aside, turn the Wii Remote sideways and play it with the D-pad (at least you can lie on the couch for this epic undertaking). That being said, there’s no need for analogue controls in this type of game, and while they certainly could
have jumped on the Wii motion-control bandwagon, I'm glad they haven’t.
If you’ve never played a Fire Emblem title before, it’s a pretty simple exercise. Each unit has a maximum number of squares on the map they can move, select the unit and their move radius will highlight. Move them to any square they can reach and if you move adjacent to an enemy, you can attack. Some units used ranged attacks, and others direct. There are support units as well, such as mages and the like, and it’s all handled by a simple and accessible in-game micro-management menu system – not at all unlike Advance Wars (if you’ve ever played that series). The whole system is very easy to get your head around, but that doesn’t stop the game from being a challenge. Various units – as you would expect in this type of game – are both strong and weak against different unit types. Moreover, terrain equally plays a big part in Fire Emblem, meaning you really do need to “pick your battles”.
The whole thing is best left to trying it out for yourself. If you’re up for an adventure title with deeply involving characters and an equally immersive plot, this game is for you. Taking away the need to swing your arms about might also be a welcome change for Wii owners. Make sure you check back for our full review next month when Radiant Dawn releases.
Hands-On Mario Kart Wii
It’s a no-brainer this and Super Smash Bros Brawl are going to be the year’s biggest Wii titles. The big
question for everyone then is how do these games fare against their respective predecessors? We haven’t had a chance to get hands-on with SSBB yet, but Mario Kart was run through its paces and given the series hasn’t really done anything too amazing since the SNES, DS and N64 releases, my testing of the game's fortitude was extensive, to say the least.
The GameCube Mario Kart (among the latter list) is the culprit then, in terms of keeping things relatively out of whack, but the N64 iteration – despite being the first in 3D – also failed to really
improve upon the mechanics founded in the SNES classic. And with the Wii, the potential for rise or
fall is even greater - by default MK Wii will come under strict scrutiny.
With that said, it was the first game I laid hands upon during my Wii hands-on session, and I was equally thrust into an immediate race with Nintendo PR and a few other journos. Selecting old faithful, Toad and I waited on the track. Instinct told me to hit the accelerator at a particular moment and lo and behold, I gained a boost start - things were looking up for Mario Kart.
In terms of weight, speed and handling, Mario Kart Wii seems to take cues from both the N64 version and the GameCube version. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I’ve always found the handheld versions to project a greater sense of speed. Toad handled well around the track and could take a tight corner, but his top-speed was pretty low and I felt a constant need for boost. As has been with previous titles, power-sliding for a certain amount of time would reward a boost and the same can be said here, however, there are now stunt implementations off certain jumps and gaps – performing these properly also resulted in a boost. It’s not the most fluid way to maintain speed and precision; especially when you need to throw the wheel/remote around a bit to actually pull these off, but with a bit of practice it might be okay.
Beyond the boosts from skillful driving, Mario Kart items and item boxes have returned in full-force. Everything from Green and Red Koopa Shells, to Triple Mushroom Boosts, Lightening and even Bullet-Bill transformations are up for grabs. I felt as though the hunt for these took too much precedence over driving though, but given I wound up winning by avoiding the temptation to use the weapons and chase them down is a point about preferential driving.
In the single-player portion of the game, I decided to really test the versatility (and ease of use) of the steering-wheel housing peripheral for the Wii Remote against stunts and power-sliding. If you’ve played Excite Truck, you can expect the same amount of forgiveness in terms of over-steering and the like; for the most part it feels pretty comfortable. But power-sliding presented a challenge in that I found it pretty easy to jump into a power-slide facing the wrong direction, which of course means karooning off the track. It actually happened a few times and so I’m hoping it’s either a case of the steering-wheel being a bit crap, or needing to get comfortable with it.
Unfortunately I found the stunt stuff overtly annoying and interrupting. It’s nothing more than a gimmick as there seems to be very little skill required, which is frustrating for players who pride themselves on their Kart abilities. It's kind of cool as an added bonus if you're falling behind in a race but whether or not it's viewed as cheating while playing online will remain to be seen. At this stage though, I wasn't
sold on the whole stunt concept.
The rest - as with the other games - will have to wait until the title has sat with us for a while. For the time being it could go either way. It was definitely fun
, I can’t stress that enough; I’m just concerned, like the last Mario Tennis game, they may have overshadowed an already perfect mechanic with aesthetic additions that alter the need for skill and finesse – but I guess only time will tell.
As for Battalion Wars 2 and Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn: Each will no doubt find their market and hopefully reach a broader audience due to the Wii's massive install base. Radiant Dawn is definitely highest on my list, but the online multiplayer promise for Battalion Wars 2 is getting me pretty excited for it as well.
Be sure to check back with us regularly as these games are close to release and we'll make sure we have the definitive reviews up for you guys to make your purchasing decisions.