Mario Kart 7 arrived in Japan yesterday and hits stateside on Sunday. With it marks the beginning of a new era for the Nintendo 3DS. In a literal sense, it signals the end of this calendar year for the system, as the next big games for the 3DS won’t start to arrive until roughly a month from now in January.
And 2012 is very much a make or break year for Nintendo’s latest handheld, after a debut that rarely lived up to the hype. There’s the impending debut of Vita to consider, as Sony seems to have more AAA releases coming out at launch than the 3DS can lay claim to after nearly a year.
Fortunately, things are looking up for Nintendo’s portable, with a fairly promising 2012 release calendar just over the horizon. Here are ten games the Big N will be counting on to reverse the fortunes of the 3DS and retain their stranglehold on the handheld gaming market.
10. Luigi’s Mansion 2
GameCube launch title Luigi’s Mansion was a surprise hit for the overlooked brother of Nintendo’s famous mascot, and so for a company with a well known penchant for milking cash cows it’s a little surprising that it’s taken over a decade for a sequel to come along.
More or less continuing where the first game left off- thematically at least- LM 2 can probably be most easily described as “Luigi’s Mansion but bigger”. Which means a bigger, more richly detailed environment, more ghosts, additional tools to Luigi’s arsenal, and overall longer game than the originals relatively brief length. Perhaps most importantly though, with Shigeru Miyamoto overseeing production it’s the first time Nintendo have stepped out of their Mario/Zelda/Wii Sports comfort zone since Kirby’s Epic Yarn.
9. Kid Icarus: Uprising
Not seen since the Clinton administration, Kid Icarus was a surprise announcement for the Nintendo 3DS, one that immediately brought to mind the revitalization of the Metroid series on the GameCube. Whether the new adventures of Pit live up to those now oldish adventures of Samus remains to be seen, but Kid Icarus: Uprising is easily the most anticipated entry in Nintendo’s stable of forthcoming 3DS titles.
Originally intended to launch with the system, Uprising was pushed back indefinitely before being re-revealed at this year’s E3. Uprising is a considerable departure from the Icarus games of yesteryear, and although it doesn’t fit neatly into the genre, it’s fairly accurate to call Uprising a third person shooter. Mixing ground-based combat with on-rails flight sections, most of what we’ve seen of the game so far indicates that this will be an action-heavy title.
8. Theatrhythm Final Fantasy
OK, so admittedly Theatrhythm Final Fantasy doesn’t make an especially good first impression, indeed the mixture of cutesy visuals and seemingly simplistic gameplay brings to mind a word that haunts the modern gamer: “casual”. But drawing from across the lore of Final Fantasy – from 1 to 15 – TFF is meant as heartfelt love letter to the series and the fans that have made it such a success. Beyond that, it simply looks like a really fun game.
Contrary to what many people expected when the game was first announced, Theatrhythm FF is pretty close in step with the other games in the series, with the classic over-world map and smattering of dungeons. The big change occurs once the battle theme kicks in and traditional turn based combat is replaced with rhythm based challenges set to classic music of previous Final Fantasy games.
7. Monster Hunter 3G
When Capcom announced that the immensely popular Monster Hunter series would be coming to the 3DS, many in the Japanese gaming press saw the move as a saving grace for Nintendo’s beleaguered console. Rightly so, considering that in just seven years, a total of 14 Monster Hunter games have been released across various platforms, firmly planting the franchise on the same plateau as Japan’s other major RPGs.
Success overseas, however, does not always translate well, and with the possible exception of the titles released for the PSP, the Monster Hunter series has never enjoyed much in the way of popularity in this country. There is a small but passionate and dedicated fanbase for the MH series outside of Japan, but sales numbers are a pretty clear indication that Capcom’s unique RPG has failed to capture the American zeitgeist.
However, this is precisely the reason that 3G even finds itself on this list today, as one of the biggest upcoming releases on a system that’s begging for standout titles. There’s never been a better chance for the series to earn itself some new fans. Everybody already knows that committing to the 3DS means a solid core of quality Nintendo titles: Mario, Zelda, etc. Think then of Monster Hunter as the cherry that reminds you there’s more to a cake than just the icing.
6. Resident Evil: Revelations
Promising a return the to the roots of the Resident Evil – minus the crappy “classic” gameplay in favor of the series modern innovations – RE: Revelations has been marketed as a serious entry to the series as big as any console installment. That alone should guarantee healthy sales amongst the legion of Capcom and survival horror fans.
Revelations also makes it onto this list as one of the key titles to utilize the new Circle Pad Pro, meaning that success for the game should also bolster the chances of more titles adopting the two joystick control scheme. Considering that one of the biggest flaws to have arisen on the 3DS concerns the conflicting relationship between stereoscopic 3D gaming and gyro-based controls, this would spell good news for everyone.
5. Paper Mario
Mario and friends have a long track record of success in the role playing genre, stretching back to SNES classic Mario and the Seven Stars all the way to the under appreciated Mario and Luigi series of RPGs on the DS. The Paper Mario franchise began on the N64 as the spiritual successor to Seven Stars and has been quietly praised ever since as one of the most consistently innovative game series around.
The latest in the series returns to its roots by re-introducing turn based combat, but also seeks to expand the game in other ways with a greater emphasis on platforming than before. There’s also expected to be a heavy use of the 3D capabilities of the hand held, as all Paper Mario games before it have featured 2D sprites existing in a 3D world developer Intelligent Designs has the chance to represent this in a visually intuitive way. Characters can move into and away from the screen as before, but now they can also pop out at you in one of the better realizations of the 3DS’s unique screen.
4. Metal Gear Solid 3D: Snake Eater
If you question the ability of the 3DS to compete with the PlayStation Vita’s superior hardware, then you need look no further then the 3D remake of this classic PS2 title to assuage those fears. Nintendo’s latest hand held may not be capable of beating Sony’s effort in a battle of sheer power, but the technical achievements of translating Snake Eater to a device roughly the size of a second generation iPod prove that 3DS is more than capable of holding its own.
Regarded by some as the crown jewel of the modern MGS series, Snake Eater was easily amongst the finest games available on the PlayStation 2. It’s mixture of tight gameplay, an engrossing tale, and a rarely seen cinematic approach to the narrative endeared the title to millions of gamers. If you’ve never played Snake Eater, then now is the perfect time to do so, and even if you have, the novelty of 3D makes the game’s nostalgia value all the sweeter.
3. Time Travelers
Press materials for Time Travelers loftily describe the title as a game “with no genre”, evidence either of a truly epic experience or the sort of non-committal attitude that breeds seven year development cycles.
Thankfully, everything we’ve seen of TT so far points towards the former, and developers Level-5 seem to have a pretty good handle on the game. Still, that aforementioned “no genre” statement might need amending, as the game generally looks like a cross between point and click adventure game The Longest Journey, and the wonderful anime movie The Place Promised in Our Early Days.
2. Rhythm Thief
Borrowing elements from the action rhythm genre popularized by Elite Beat Agents and classic point and click adventure games, Rhythm Thief seeks to continue the success the DS had in exploiting niche genres and game styles. If this is even half the success that the likes of Elite Beat Agents – or another game it’s been compared to, Professor Layton – then Sega will have a likely winner on their hands.
You are Raphael, an infamous Parisian thief known for nabbing classic works of art only to return them a few days later (presumably after having made dozens of replica’s to fund your lavish lifestyle) on the search for your missing father. Somewhere in all of this dancing fits in, but then as we saw with EBA you don’t need much in the way of cohesion to make a game like this work.
1. Animal Crossing 3DS
The basic premise of Animal Crossing seems awkwardly wedged between Harvest Moon without the RPG elements and The Sims with nowhere near the same level of customization. Yet few other games have had the same cultural impact as Animal Crossing has in the last ten years. The game proved a true crossover hit for Nintendo that delighted young and old, boys and girls alike.
For the 3DS, Animal Crossing mixes things up by placing you in the role of the Mayor, presumably releasing your from the bondage that previous protagonists were forced to suffer under. Whether this means we can now finally realize our dreams of recreating the plot of Animal Farm has yet to be confirmed by Nintendo, but then, they haven’t denied it either.