June 11, 2013 at 4:27 PM ET
In stark contrast to the pomp and superlatives of Monday's Microsoft and Sony events, Nintendo's presence at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles is modest. But though the new games from the company's oldest and dearest franchises come as no surprise, that doesn't mean they aren't worth playing.
"Super Mario 3D World," which brings the acclaimed 3-D Mario series to the Wii U, is what fans of the previous game would likely expect: More fun levels to play, with a few new twists such as cat and frog costumes, and transparent pipes that act like little highways.
Long in development, "Pikmin 3" was revealed by Nintendo back before the Wii U was even available. We played the newest installment in the garden-based battle strategy franchise for a few minutes and found it easy to grasp and generally delightful, in the "Pikmin" spirit. Directing your tiny army with the Wii remote still feels a bit last-gen (as do the graphics), but the Wii U controller adds a map and extra features that should make up for that.
The increasingly absurd "Mario Kart" series hits its eighth installment this year, with the addition of anti-gravity, Moebius-strip courses and intentional chaos. We found it hard to keep track of what was going on, but weird new features like this have generally been warmly embraced by "Mario Kart" fans and it won't be any different with this one.
Unfortunately, "Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Breeze" didn't fare so well in its Wii U rebirth. While colorful and creative in its design, the snappy controls that have defined the series (and allowed players to overcome its uncompromising difficulty curve) have been made soft and kludgy. Moving, jumping, rolling and everything else all feel inexact and laggy, and a focus on little gimmicks instead of rollicking levels means you're constantly stopping to figure out what button to hit rather than letting skill and momentum carry you forward.
For the 3DS, "A Link Between Worlds," the long-awaited spiritual successor to the legendary Super Nintendo "Zelda" turns out to be quite playable. With a world based on the original, but with brand-new graphics, enemies and abilities, it feels like a good balance of the old and the new. We're big fans of the original and knew our way around the world, navigating straight to a dungeon and using Link's new ability to "merge" flat against a wall and traverse across chasms and collect items. It's definitely one to look forward to.
Nintendo also highlighted a number of smaller titles, as well as Wii U exclusive "Bayonetta 2," a sex-charged, over-the-top action game that feels out of place on the Wii U but nevertheless looks like a blast.
Overall it's a mixed showing that brings little that's truly new to the table — but that's always been the Nintendo way. And while gamers may salivate over the possibilities in the hacker-themed "Watch_dogs" or the graphics in "Titanfall," they'll actually be able to play and buy "Super Mario 3D World" this year. And a good game in the hand is worth two in the bush.
If you want to see the games in action, head over to Nintendo's YouTube page, where gameplay videos of every game mentioned here are live right now.
Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. His personal website is coldewey.cc.