Last month, Nintendo held an event in London to showcase the line-up of near-future releases for its twin downloadable gaming catalogues, WiiWare and DSiWare. The context was exactly as you'd expect: a plush venue with spectacular views of the capital; a marketing presentation with words of reassurance for retail, and an undertone of envy for Apple's success with the App Store; a smattering of news, a few names showing faces (David Braben, Kenji Eno, Dave Grossman) and a star turn from a slick sequel, LostWinds: Winter of the Melodias.
However, a long day of demos later, a picture was formed of a service that's striking out in a very different direction to its competitors. While PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade push sumptuous, big-ticket releases (WipEout HD, Shadow Complex) and tried-and-true arcade gaming (Trials HD, Shatter), touring WiiWare's future felt more like a stroll round IndieCade.
Of all the download marketplaces, WiiWare seems to have its roots deepest in the PC indie scene. There was a lot of lo-fi experimentation on display, and fresh-faced bedroom coders told surprised tales of being approached directly by Nintendo after a showing at IndieCade or the Indepenent Games Festival. Only Telltale Games, promoting the episodic Tales of Monkey Island, and Britsoft old-timers Frontier and Team 17 showed anything that might be called conventional. Even Nintendo itself had caught the mood; in fact, its solitary in-house WiiWare title - You, Me and the Cubes - was probably the weirdest game on display.
For now, we'll draw a discreet veil over the poor showing from DSiWare which, frankly, has already been outclassed by the nascent PSP Minis library. Its only highlights were the already-available and free Flipnote Studio, and an obvious but no less welcome port of Firemint's iPhone essential, Flight Control. Below, you'll find our picks from WiiWare's next few months (or last few weeks, in the case of Cubes). Unfortunately, prices were hard to come by - and release dates were hard to pin down, so don't take any of these as gospel.
LostWinds: Winter of the Melodias
Michael Brookes, producer of LostWinds's sequel, is a jolly man with an easy job. "In fairness, it produces itself," he says, noting that Frontier has concentrated on adding new elements to LostWinds while subtracting or changing almost nothing, since the feeling was that they'd got it exactly right first time (we agreed). The lush platform adventure seems to be working itself out with the clockwork precision and easy charm of a Zelda, starting with all the powers from the first game and then layering on interactivity and intricacy as lightly and attractively as snowfall.
You can switch the seasons between summer and winter at pre-set points, which thaws and freezes water; use the new cyclone ability to move bodies of water around as clouds; conjure snowballs for pressure switches; wind-chill enemies into blocks of ice; melt barriers by carrying fire on the wind; catch cold if you stray too far from heat sources without a protective suit. It's all very satisfyingly logical, linked and thematic, and as highly polished as you would expect. Due at the end of October, this is nothing if not a safe bet.
Worms: Battle Islands
Reasons to pay attention to yet another rehash of Team 17's turn-based warhorse might seem elusive, but how's this: Battle Islands is that rare beast, an online multiplayer game for the Wii with a proper, contemporary feature-set. Alongside the usual Deathmatch, Forts and Racing is the all-new persistent Tactics mode, in which players rank up an island base with extensions that give you special in-game abilities: a satellite dish that lets you see enemy positions, or a runway that gives you a free opening airstrike, for example. These bonuses are also collateral - winners can take one of their opponents' on victory - ensuring no-one gets too far ahead.
There's a single-player campaign following a similar theme, a puzzle mode, cosmetic unlocks from experience points, and extensive customisation including the ability to create custom weapon types. It's not hard to believe this was originally planned as a boxed release, although there's a danger that it might overcomplicate the devastatingly simple formula that has kept Worms running all these years. Expect it in December.
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