People buy Nintendo hardware primarily for one reason: Nintendo games. From Pokemon to Mario Kart, the company has built some of gaming's best experiences over the years. But in between those increasingly infrequent tentpole releases, the company also makes a number of smaller, less-heralded games that help make the wait for the next Zelda more tolerable. Today Nintendo is releasing both Mario Golf: World Tour and Kirby Triple Deluxe on its 3DS handheld, two games that show that even when the company is struggling, it still knows how to make amazing games.
The Mario Golf series has always been a bit of an outlier, with console and handheld versions that offer wildly different experiences. If you played Mario Golf on the Nintendo 64 or Gamecube, you got an outlandish arcade-style experience in the vein of Mario Kart, complete with power-ups and insane courses. Meanwhile, the handheld titles almost felt like role playing games, with an actual plot that carried through a single-player campaign. The new World Tour serves as sort of a bridge between these two game types.
Even when Nintendo is struggling, it still knows how to make amazing games
There isn't exactly a story to play through, but World Tour's single-player mode features an expansive castle to explore filled with plenty of Mario characters to chat with and a pro shop where you can buy new gear. You play as your Mii avatar, and as you win tournaments you'll unlock new courses, though there are surprisingly few to play through. But while the story mode might not hold your attention like it did in previous games, there's still plenty to do. World Tour offers surprisingly engaging online and multiplayer modes, including tournaments where you can upload your best score to compete with other players, and online and local play with up to four friends.
Arcade sports games aren't exactly new, but what makes it all work is just how fun the game is to play. The controls are simple but offer a good amount of depth, as you can control not only the power and placement of your shot but also the spin. For the most part it controls the same as in past games, but the big touchscreen buttons make everything a bit easier to manage. As you start to deal with tough terrain and weather, these details become increasingly important. And of course, there are the power-ups: you can use fire flowers to destroy obstacles, or the all-powerful Bullet Bill to barrel directly to the hole. You won't use them often but they give the game a distinctly Mario feel.
Power-ups give the game a distinctly 'Mario' feel
Kirby, meanwhile, has always been one of the lesser known characters in the Nintendo universe. He's cute and cuddly, but he's never really starred in a must-have, system-selling game. Triple Deluxe is quite possibly his best excursion yet. It's a side-scrolling platform game, but unlike Super Mario the appeal isn't the challenge the game provides, but all of the crazy things you can do in it. Kirby's main shtick is that he can swallow enemies and absorb their powers, and Triple Deluxe offers dozens of different variations on this. You can spew fire, become a spear wielding fighter, or even turn into a rock with the press of a button. Some powers are more useful than others, and it's a lot of fun to play around with them to see what they do — and it doesn't hurt that putting Kirby in a cowboy hat or knight's helmet makes him look absolutely adorable. You'll use all of these powers to beat up bad guys, navigate jumps, solve environmental puzzles, and uncover secrets hidden throughout the game's many levels.
New this time around is what seems like a game-breaking power-up: the hypernova skill, which lets Kirby consume almost everything in his path. You can swallow trains and buses and move gigantic boulders around. It's a power that has the potential to make Kirby too strong and remove what little challenge is in the game, but instead of being overpowered, hypernova is turned into a clever puzzle-solving tool. You'll use it to move massive objects around the environment to solve puzzles, while you can swallow up others that are blocking your way. One level has you moving the heads of gigantic snowmen around so that you can place them on the right body, others have you swallowing huge missiles and firing them back at your opponents.
But even though the game isn't particularly hard — a few worlds in and I've only died a few times, and most of those came during one boss fight — the game is so lively and full of fun things to do that this never really bothered me. Whether it's a fun-house mirror that lets you see invisible enemies or auto-firing cannons that let you take out enemies lingering in the background, Triple Deluxe is constantly throwing new and interesting gameplay ideas at you. It never feels like you're doing one thing for very long.
There's no reason for either of these games to be special
Triple Deluxe also offers two surprisingly in-depth mini-games in addition to its main campaign. There's a fighting game that's essentially a dialed-down version of Super Smash Bros., with the key difference being that the only character you can play as is Kirby, but outfitted with any one of his many special powers. Rounding out the package is a music-and-platform-game hybrid that has you bouncing on drums in time to the music, while trying to make it to the end of the stage.
There's no reason for either of these games to be particularly special. There's a seemingly unending supply of quirky, colorful platform games out there, and arcade sports titles are frequently terrible. But when Nintendo lavishes a game with clever ideas and its very particular attention to detail, it turns into something special no matter the kind of game. Neither the new Kirby nor the new Mario Golf will go down among the best titles Nintendo has ever made — especially when put up against the likes of The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds or Super Mario 3D World — but the amazing thing is that Nintendo's B games are still among the best games on the market.
Mario Golf: World Tour and Kirby Triple Deluxe are both available on the Nintendo 3DS today.