Nintendo UK has returned with its annual Summer Tour to show off its current library of best-sellers and upcoming heavy-hitters by giving the public a hands-on preview. Highlighting the event are forthcoming Wii U titles Super Mario Maker and Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash, along with the lesser-known 3DS eShop application, Photos with Animal Crossing. After a quick glance at the software line-up, seeing talk of free goodies for attendees and spotting a location close to home, I knew it’d be a crime not to make an appearance. So up to the Derby venue I went in order to finally get my grubby mitts on the new Mario, obtain some stylish Nintendo swag and, more importantly, share my experience with you all.
It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon. I suggested to my boyfriend that we make the most of the nice weather by heading out – and immediately back inside – so we could play some video games. What better way is there to enjoy a hot summer’s day than to spend the majority of the time hiding from it? As we share the same sentiment, it didn’t take any convincing before agreeing to head out. We quickly walked the dog around the neighbourhood then jumped into the car and sped off, eagerly anticipating the Nintendo goodness that awaited.
After an uneventful 45 minutes in the car and a small struggle locating parking, we arrived at our destination and soon headed toward the shops. We then realised we were pretty hungry, having excitedly skipped lunch earlier. There was no way I could muster the energy to game without chowing down first. Luckily, we were surrounded by food establishments. A swift stop at the nearby Greggs saved us. One Mexican Chicken Oval Bite and an apple juice down, my body was ready. I slowly made my way through crowds of eager shoppers, having to endure everything I can’t stand about busy places – all for my love of video games. After a few minutes of searching, I saw the Animal Crossing logo and immediately lit up. We had found it. Smack-bang in the middle of the shopping centre stood the Nintendo booth.
It was actually quite impressive. Huge colourful displays featuring familiar characters and various game series brightened up the entire hall. The majority of the exhibition was taken up by an area dedicated to celebrating Mario’s 30th anniversary, dubbed “Mario’s World,” which is fitting to say the least. The whole set was presented beautifully, and made you feel as though you were stepping inside the Mushroom Kingdom itself. Or, well, it’s as close as it gets in a real world shopping centre. The kids seemed to adore it anyway, making me feel both nostalgic and slightly envious that I never got this kind of opportunity as a child. Away from Mario’s World were smaller stands showing off miscellaneous Wii U and 3DS titles. These were a lot less luxurious, but the games were surprisingly much more popular among adults and children.
Demo units lined each of these sections, featuring various playable titles. Mario’s World had, well, Mario – Super Mario Maker, Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash, and Mario Kart 8. Elsewhere the Wii U offerings included Super Mario 3D World, Yoshi’s Woolly World, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, and Splatoon. The 3DS also had a smaller presence, with the handheld occupying only a corner of the exhibit. Playable games however were in no small supply, and included Puzzle & Dragons Z + Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, Super Smash Bros. for 3DS, Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate, Pokémon Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire, Tomodachi Life and, finally, the only somewhat new piece of software called Photos with Animal Crossing.
First up, a spot of Mario Tennis against the other half was in order. Soon after approaching the deserted stand, a Nintendo rep swung by to hand me a Pro Controller and explain how to play, as the control inputs appeared on-screen. Like I’d never played a tennis game before. Politely, we listened to his explanation while the match loaded. The demo itself was very basic, as you might expect from a build shown off a few months ahead of the game’s release. We were able to choose either a Singles or Doubles match, while playable characters included Mario, Peach, Toad, and Bowser. The game started and the first thing that came to mind was “It’s gorgeous.” Despite being limited to the standard grassy court shown off during the game’s reveal, I couldn’t help but look in awe as I witnessed yet another cherished Mario spin-off receive the HD treatment. What can I say? Nintendo’s step into the current-generation still hasn’t quite dawned on me, and I’m impressed by the visual efforts each and every time after being so used to standard definition.
As we played both game modes, back and forth went the ball – as did the insults – as we both spectacularly missed shots on numerous occasions. Okay, maybe I shouldn’t have been so hasty in dismissing the advice kindly given to me at the start. Either way, it was good fun. The Mega Mushroom didn’t seem to quite add the high level of chaos I was expecting, but there is something humorous about a super-sized Toad holding a racket. There’s not really a whole lot else to be said here. If you enjoy Mario Tennis, it’s likely you’ll get a kick out of this one. I could see a lot of fun to be had out of competing with friends online. I look forward to seeing how the final game shapes up.
After warming up with a humiliating defeat, it was finally time to see the star of the show in action. I spotted a free machine running Super Mario Maker, and excitedly hurried over. From the menu, you were able to head straight into “Create” to play around with the level editor, or “Play” to bring up a selection of pre-existing courses to choose from. Being the unimaginative sort, I decided to have a go on what was already available. Immediately I was delighted to see that the five playable levels were the very same creations that featured in the Nintendo World Championship’s finals, designed by the twisted minds of Nintendo’s Treehouse employees.
Having already watched the competition through in June, I knew the levels well enough to not get caught off guard. From giant enemies popping from Question Blocks to unpredictable projectiles, to maddening doorways, and a hint of intense platforming precision, I was prepared. Well, mostly. I nailed the first course after a few failed jumps from enemy onto another enemy, but got there eventually after stupidly falling for a few of the creator’s tricks toward the end (damn that last Warp Pipe). The kind lady supervising the machine was so impressed by my platforming prowess, she abruptly left and came back to award me with a limited edition Super Mario Bros. 30th Anniversary pin and a Mario moustache. Apparently she hadn’t seen a single attendee ever reach a level’s end. I felt just like John Numbers. Or at least, I would when I finally beat every single level.
It took a fair bit of time and persistence, but I vowed not to leave until I completed all the challenges myself (apologies to anyone else waiting for a go). Eventually, I pulled through all five and was met with such an accomplished feeling. It was a shame the surprise had already been ruined for me, but I had a great time. The levels are just as brutally difficult – and insanely fun – as they appeared when the finalists attempted them during the NWC. I haven’t felt so exhilarated playing a Mario platformer since The Lost Levels, and I absolutely cannot wait to see what hellish creations talented fans come up with when the game releases next month.
After having my own fill of games and seeing the glowing faces of countless other players and general buzz around Nintendo, I felt incredibly content. After taking a few snaps of my own around Mario’s World, I also noticed various attendees dressing up as Mario characters and sitting next to a giant Piranha Plant to get their photo taken. Staff would then kindly print off the photo, handing a copy to each participant and adding another copy to their wall display. I just had to drag my boyfriend along for the opportunity to dress as the dynamic duo (Yes, I was Luigi. No, I’ll save myself the embarrassment of sharing it here). A similar get-up was present at the Photos with Animal Crossing stand, as a staff member would demonstrate the functionality of the 3DS’s latest camera app by taking your picture with an animal character of your choice. Finally, I decided to have a go and ended up snagging myself a few event-exclusive AR cards which each came with a voucher code so I could download the app on my own 3DS. After some final fun times and a few embarrassing photos later, it was time to head home.
All in all, I had a fantastic time. If you live in the UK, fancy a taste of the upcoming Mario games and want to snag yourself some nice freebies, I’d highly recommend getting down to one of the events. Nintendo UK’s Summer Tour will be making its way to Westfield London during the 27th – 31st August, then Intu Metrocentre, Tyne and Wear for a couple days on the 5th and 6th of September before making its final stop at Intu Braehead, Glasgow on the 12th and 13th of the month.