LOS ANGELES — Nintendo has set out to prove it still has some tricks up its sleeve.
When Super Smash Bros. Wii U arrives this holiday season, the game maker will also bring to market "toys-to-life" figurines of longtime Nintendo fan favorites, including Mario, Link from Legend of Zelda and Donkey Kong. The toys, like those sold with Disney Infinity and Skylanders games, become virtual fighters in the Wii U game.
A new twist is that these "amiibo" toys use near-field communication technology built into the Wii U gamepad. Skylanders and Disney Infinity require the toys be placed on a special device. And eventually the figurines can used in other Nintendo games. "That cross-game play we think is going to be a really innovative improvement to this category," says Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime.
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Also planned: an adapter to use the toys with Nintendo 3DS games.
Nintendo has a stream of games coming that re-imagine the company's popular franchises. A Super Smash Bros. 3DS game arrives in October and a Mario Party 10 game is in the works for 2015. Hyrule Warriors, a mashup starring characters from Legend of Zelda and Dynasty Warriors, is due out this fall, and a long-awaited high-definition Zelda game is in the works for 2015.
In addition to an improved look, the new Zelda game will offer players more choice in how they move through the game. Overall, Fils-Aime says, "We've got great new takes on the franchises you love."
But an original Wii U game called Splatoon, due in the first half of 2015, may steal the thunder. A colorful, family-oriented first person-shooter online multiplayer game, Splatoon pits players against each other in paint-ball inspired combat. The twist here — you see a trend developing — is that your paint-shooting character can morph into a manta ray-like form and swim quickly through the paint.
"What Mario Kart did to racing games we hope Splatoon does to the first-person shooter genre," Fils-Aime says. "The game play is similar (to traditional shooters), but it's different. It is much more fun, and it's more approachable."
In addition to the amiibo figurines, the Super Smash Bros. game will let players insert themselves into the game as "Mii warriors" that can battle storied Nintendo characters such as Donkey Kong and Mario.
Nintendo unveiled its lineup in an online event Tuesday before the doors opened at the Electronic Entertainment Expo. The video stream began with a funny skit showing Fils-Aime kung fu fighting against Nintendo President Satoru Iwata.
Their Mii warriors were then transported into the Super Smash Bros. game. "It was an internal idea of, 'Hey, we have this fighting game. What if we had some of our executives bringing it to life?' and it went from there," Fils-Aime said. "It's a really fun game."
While Nintendo's Wii U business has been challenged, its 3DS has sold more than 40 million units worldwide and more than 12 million in the U.S., Fils-Aime noted. "We have fantastic games coming to the 3DS."
As for the Wii U, he said that "many of the games that launched late last year we had been targeting earlier in the launch. So the development cycle took a little bit longer. We believe we now have this pace of game launches that are going to help drive the installed base."
With its online presentation, Nintendo offered "a refreshing change of pace," says GamesBeat editor-in-chief Dan Hsu. "Nintendo's playing it a little safe in the Western market, where violent games sell well, but that's OK. It can't compete with Microsoft and Sony on that level, so it will just stick with what it knows best."