Hi Leo!

US, March 2, 2010 - Sometimes, the so-called 'hardcore' Wii fan might feel like Nintendo's scorned ex-girlfriend. The two shared a very special love for so long, but then the Big N met the slutty casual gamer and now they keep hanging out. And the latter is so easy to please! For example, the hardcore always told the publisher to get off the damned couch and get a job, but the new fling finds Nintendo's carefree demeanor hilarious. The company used to always return the core's phone calls, but now they go directly to voicemail and are promptly deleted.

I can keep going with this ridiculous analogy, but I'll spare you. The point is, Nintendo has, with the launch of Wii, found a brand new audience and it's potentially bigger and more lucrative than the old one. It is precisely why many new Wii games are so casual-friendly, from winners like Wii Fit Plus to losers like Wii Music. Seeing Nintendo's success, third-parties followed suit. As a result, many traditional players have felt dissatisfied by the first and third-party lineup if not altogether abandoned by Nintendo and its partners. I don't think I'm exaggerating the situation, either. Nor is as bleak as it might sound -- the truth is, some fantastic titles have come of this relationship.

But I've just returned from the publisher's recent Media Summit in San Francisco and this love story may have a happy ending yet. That's because the event housed several game release announcements and cemented Nintendo's return to the hardcore, as far as I'm concerned. It's been a long time coming and the wait has on occasion seemed excruciating, but there is definitely love for the traditional audience and the first half lineup proves it. So keep reading while I go over some specific examples from both Nintendo and third-parties in order of release and extending through June.


Max and the Magic Marker
Release date: March 8, WiiWare

It's a WiiWare game from a small European studio and it's a lot of fun. Control cartoony mascot kid Max through equally colorful and whimsical platforming worlds. Max moves tightly with the nunchuk's analog stick and can jump and hang from ledges, but what makes the game so unique is its Wii remote functionality. It is a hardcore game disguised as an accessible run-and-jump effort. You must possess a mastery of the Wii remote in order to control Max's magic marker, which is able to draw in real-world geometry that becomes engulfed in gameplay. For example, when Max encounters an unscalable chasm you can simply draw a line across it to create a bridge. And the challenges only grow more difficult.


Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon
Release Date: March 16, Wii

Thank Xseed Games for picking up this Japanese gem -- a game that original publisher Namco opted out of distributing stateside. In Fragile, you control a young boy named Seto as he searches an apparently desolated dystopian world for answers and ultimately survivors. Unfortunately, he often encounters demons and ghosts in lieu of human companionship. The game's intriguing storyline comes to life with excellent production values that span both compelling cinematics and gorgeous in-game graphics. It looks great and like Silent Hill it features a very controllable, satisfying flashlight component. Fragile is sure to spark the interest of traditionalists for its unique themes as well as its combination of adventure and RPG-light elements.


Cave Story
Release date: March 22, WiiWare

Ladies and gentlemen, a modern miracle: Nicalis is finally releasing Cave Story for WiiWare. If you know what this game is, congratulations -- you're a hardcore player. Originally released as a celebrated PC game some six years ago, Cave Story debuts on WiiWare with graphic and control refinements, not to mention some content additions. The title has won widespread acclaim through the years for a couple of reasons. First, it embodies small-team game development -- in fact, the entire Cave Story experience, from graphics and audio to design and programming, was crafted by a single man. But more importantly to the player, it represents a successful cross of such winning games as Castlevania, Mega Man and Metroid. It's also difficult. Casuals need not apply.


Red Steel 2
Release date: March 23, Wii

I wanted to like the original Red Steel. Ubisoft was right out of the gates with the game and it tried to create something fresh. Unfortunately, it forgot to implement gameplay controls. Thankfully, this is not at all a problem shared by the anticipated sequel, more a full-blown re-imagining of the series than a direct follow-up. This time around you play as a samurai gunslinger -- a man just as agile with a six-shooter as he is a sword. Stylized graphics showcase a Wild West-inspired world full of neo-thugs. And the action comes to life with the assistance of Wii MotionPlus, packed into the box of every copy sold. Red Steel 2 remains a misnomer given there's not much blood in the game, but the experience is nevertheless good fun and destined to fill a gap in the library. Ubi might try to sell the sequel as perfectly accessible for casuals, but when the day is done the title is designed for the hardcore and not the other way around.


Monster Hunter Tri
Release date: April 20, Wii

There's no need to explain Tri's inclusion on the list. The fact is, Monster Hunter breathes, eats and craps hardcore. Casuals fear it like vampires do the sun and this latest installment proves no different. The Wii-exclusive Tri is going to be a really big deal. Not only has Nintendo allowed Capcom the freedom to package the title with a classic controller pro, but demo discs will become available throughout GameStops in the near future. You create, fully customize and then take your favorite warrior into a lush world filled with monsters, team up with friends and then hunt the beasts down, plain and simple. The series has become a phenomenon because the four-player cooperative multiplayer mode and massive amounts of customization and leveling-up are so much fun. Tri arrives stateside with new WiiSpeak functionality, too. Consider this one a hardcore showpiece.


Trauma Team
Release date: April 20, Wii

The Atlus-published 'Trauma' games have been a staple on Wii since the console debuted several years ago. Trauma Team, as the name suggests, adds in more doctors and new emergency room techniques for an end experience much more frenzied. Once again, you take part in ER operations, making fast decisions about surgery techniques and ultimately repairing and then resewing wounds. This time around, though, you play as six different doctors, each possessing unique talents. There's also new forensic and investigative portions to the game. The expanded storyline is naturally complemented by over-the-top characters. One of the docs, for example, is shown half-naked in a cut-scene, her breasts barely covered by a towel as she talks on the phone. If that's not hardcore, I don't know what is.
Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands
Release date: May 18, Wii

One of my favorite third-party offerings for GameCube was Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. Of course, many sequels and variations have extended Ubisoft's franchise since then, but up until now the Wii has gone largely neglected. That all changes this May, though, with the release of The Forgotten Sands. It's a completely original Prince of Persia game developed specifically for Wii. Its roots can be traced back to Sands of Time. It looks similar, with its gritty, stylized design. But it plays very differently. Ubisoft has relied upon a new mechanic that allows you to create your own path as you explore the levels. So, you might come to a chasm with nowhere to go and using the Wii remote you can place clamps on walls so that Prince can hop to them and even encapsulate the character mid-air in a sphere of magic, at which point he can run to another point. It's a crazy technique that seems to work very well. As an added bonuses, Forgotten Sands looks fantastic on Nintendo's console and runs not just at 30, but 60 frames per second. Platformer purists need to keep an eye out and respect this one. It's definitely not a throwaway sequel.


Super Mario Galaxy 2
Release date: May 23, Wii

Shocker: The sequel to the most acclaimed Wii game to date is set for release in... May? Yes, it's true. Galaxy 2 comes in the first half of the year and not this holiday season. That's completely breaking from the Nintendo norm, but I suppose that's another equally optimistic sign. The good news is that Galaxy 2, while familiar in many ways -- it offers more of an already good thing -- also delivers some fresh platforming qualities. Two of the biggest additions so far include the use of a new bit to drill through planets -- used both in and out of boss fights -- and Yoshi, now a fully playable character. I played through a nine-level demo of Galaxy 2 at Nintendo's Media Summit and it was fabulous. Yoshi levels in particular were amazingly fun because you can use the Wii pointer to control the side-kick's tongue -- simply point to an advancing Bullet Bill and Yoshi will suck it into his mouth at the tap of a button; press it again and he'll spit it back toward the reticule. Galaxy 2 looks spectacular. It's one of my most anticipated games of the year. And like the original, it represents the end-all of hardcore platformers.


Sin & Punishment: Star Successor
Release date: June 7, Wii

Just two weeks after the release of Galaxy comes Sin & Punishment: Star Successor, also known as the anticipated sequel to one of the most beloved N64 shooters -- a game that never even came to America yet somehow achieved cultish status anyway. Punishment 2 is flashier and speedier in every regard. Now you use the Wii remote (or any of three other control methods, including the Classic Pro) to very quickly target on-screen enemies and then blow them to smithereens. It's like a Treasure shooter in 3D. In fact, it is a Treasure shooter in 3D complete with the same titillating character deigns and incredible action the developer has come to be known for. When I think of hardcore games for Wii, Sin & Punishment 2 always comes to mind. It's maddeningly difficult and yes, completionists and braggarts can point to the title's online worldwide leaderboards as proof that they are awesome. Boot this game up in a crowded room to repel casuals even as the faithful swarm.


Arc Rise Fantasia
Release date: June 22, Wii

A turn-based roleplaying game from the maker of the Luminous Arc series. Need I write more? It's an RPG with Japanese sensibilities, which means plenty of purple-haired, big-breasted women, huge swords, demonic creatures, castles, and high-tech weaponry and ships. Uh-huh. The title features plenty of story-driven rendered cinematics, atmospheric music and epic in-game battles between the aforementioned pony-tailed heroines and overgrown creatures, not to mention leveling and party systems. Arc Rise Fantasia is already available in Japan and hasn't exactly redefined the boundaries of critical acclaim, but nevertheless it fills a gap that has long gone unnoticed on Nintendo's console, and I'm sure core RPG fans will be all over it.


Metroid: Other M
Release date: June 27, Wii

Yes. June 27. One month after Super Mario Galaxy. Two and a half weeks after Sin & Punishment 2. Did Reggie miss the memo that specifically said never to release big first-party games within three months of each other? I'm certainly not complaining. This kind of lineup is unprecedented. Best of all, Other M delivers. After so many months of speculation and -- let's be honest -- skepticism, I can finally state that, and as a diehard Metroid fan, it's really exciting. I love the fact that for the first time in the history of the series, Other M provides genuine and lengthy backstory on Samus Aran, my favorite Nintendo character. She possesses an intriguing past filled with mystery. She cares for her superior officer. She actually talks! What a concept. And when you're not taking in the sights, you're in control of the famous space bounty hunter, who speeds through levels via quasi-2D and then full 3D viewpoints, all the while blasting enemies and exploring every nook and cranny of a space station, and then beyond. Other M is an ambitious game that's like a drug for diehards. You won't want to stop playing. It looks like the Metroid perma-win steak continues and I can't wait.


And Yet it Moves
Release date: June 30, WiiWare

It seems only fitting to both begin and end today's feature with nods to strong independent WiiWare games. Of course, you're going to be playing Mario, Metroid and the likes, but don't forget about some of these WiiWare titles that are just as compelling for different reasons. And Yet it Moves is an exceptionally unique and fun platformer with a great style and a distinguishing twists. As the nameless main character runs and jumps through a stylistic world seemingly constructed of paper mache, you're able to literally rotate the world in any direction. The ceiling can in a quick turn of the Wii remote (or a drag of the pointer if you prefer) become the floor, and vice versa. But boulders on the ground might also fall into the air and land on you as you attempt to run across the ceiling, too. With tight controls and brilliant level designs, And Yet it Moves is a standout experience on Wii that should appeal to all of your hardcore sensibilities.

What it All Says

Today's piece examines the first half of the year, but just as telling is what the lineup says of the second half. Specifically, a company like Nintendo does not release Mario and Metroid within a month of each other unless it has good reason to do so. In this case, I think the Electronic Entertainment Expo 2010 will be home to some serious second half announcements, whether the unveiling of Pikmin 3 or the final confirmation of Zelda for the holidays. Anything less will be disappointing now because the holiday roster is always headlined by the year's biggest blockbusters -- larger, it would seem, than both Mario and Metroid. The possibilities certainly have me hyped.