Preview: Nintendo Dominated E3 2019 With Luigi, Link, And Giant Pokémon

Pokémon Sword And Shield

I’ve just returned to my Airbnb after three days of smiles, chuckles, gasps, and joy(cons) at E3 2019. My last day was certainly the most exciting. Not only did I have my best meetings, but I played the best games at the show, and no, none of them were Fallout 76 – sorry hopefuls. After such a busy, busy day, I believe it’s only fair to share the ecstasy I felt during my hands-on time with Nintendo’s fresh offerings. These are games from a company operating at the top of its, uh, game: Luigi’s Mansion 3, Pokemon Sword & Shield, and the reimagining of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening.

Let us start with that “reimagining.” That word’s a key one that Andrew – my Nintendo rep who guided me through my time exploring and playing – would use consistently. People absolutely love the original Link’s Awakening, which debuted on the Game Boy all the way back in 1993. 26 years later, fans shall clamor no longer, as tiny lil’ Link is back, baby. Much of the tedium of the original title has been erased, too, thanks to a controller with more than two buttons, stronger graphical capabilities and modern quality of life improvements.

On the handheld original, half of the game was spent in menus, managing inventory and manually equipping secondary weapons. That headache is a thing of the past, with quick and easy inventory options that make changing weapons a snap. The art style is plasticine, but almost in a semi-realistic in a way, like you’re playing with cartoonish toys. Heck, Nintendo set up actual miniature models of the game around their E3 booth, including the scene where you wash up on the beach at the start.

“Everyone tells me they want to take those displays home, and I have to tell them, ‘No, those are staying here,'” Andrew recounted with a laugh.

The game plays as you would expect a classical overhead Zelda game to handle, just with more finesse and minutia than was capable on the Game Boy.

“Enemies have more personality now,” Andrew said on the improved enemy actions. “You can’t just run past them all of the time now; they will pursue you and change tactics,” he says just as a spear-pig speared me, removing a chunk of one of my hearts.

There’s the charged spin move that everyone uses to cut as much grass as possible. There are secrets pointed that I completely missed, multiple pathways, and hidden shortcuts which are only vaguely alluded to. Needless to say, this remake is shaping up to be everything the original game was, only, you know, better.

Quick! Name that Pokémon! It’s…Pokémon: Sword & Shield! Yep, that’s right! Nintendo had their own Pokémon Stadium set up at E3, right next to their spooky mansion for a certain green plumber (more on that in a bit). I got to work my way through the game’s water gym, turn a sheep into a giant behemoth, and solve a few light puzzles.

The biggest takeaway from my time in the new Galar region was certainly the boss battle with gym leader Nessa, a spunky, confident young woman wielding a Goldeen and Drednaw, a new water-rock type monster. The audio and music really put you in the shoes of your young trainer; bass thumped with the crowd, the masses cheered or jeered on successful hits, and, oh boy, when those Pokémon get huge, so does the intensity.

The new mechanic, called Dynamaxing, turns your fighters into massive, massive units, taking up half of the stadium behind you. Their attacks are limited, but devastating. You only have three turns (per battle) to use the mechanic, which adds a much-needed extra layer of strategy on top of the standard formula.

The Goldeen was no problem, drilling into this cute electric pupper Pokémon I had pulled out to counter the water type. Yamper, the corgi everyone’s been clamoring for, has a heart on his lil’ butt. What else do you need? Unfortunately, the dog was smacked into oblivion by Drednaw, which looks like a four-legged, tankier Blastoise. My Corviknight fell quickly as well, with his drill beak unable to penetrate Dred’s thick exterior.

Wooloo, an adorable sheep, was my choice for Dynamax. A giant sheep may not be terribly intimating, but the attacks were devastating. The battle was hard-fought – I was down to my last two Pokémon, but the battle felt like the best of Pokémon Stadium, albeit with a fresh twist.

Lastly, my personal favorite of the three was Luigi’s Mansion 3, easily. I’m biased, as I’m a huge Luigi fan. He’s my go-to while Mario karting, partying, tennis-ing, or even Super Smashing – he’s da best! His threequel, coming six years after 2013’s handheld-only Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon, dives deep into the vacuum mechanics, adding new ways to thwart those spectres stopping you from, uh, enjoying your mansion? How does a plumber afford such a piece of property? Must have been cheap.

Holy moley though, did anyone else see Gooigi? Yes, Gooigi, Luigi’s goo-twin? To avoid certain pitfalls, or to aid in puzzle solving, Luigi can snap out of his own body into a gel-filled mold of himself that can phase through spikes, metal bars, and 12-year-old John Connor. Kidding about that last one, but you can have Gooigi hold switches for you while Luigi finishes the puzzle for safe passage. Every room is a puzzle or battle that must be solved or conquered. It’s Nintendo’s trademark level design at its peak.

Catching ghosts is even more refined in this one as well. Unarmored ghosts are stunned, sucked in, weakened, then, with all the brutality of a Mortal Kombat game, Luigi smacks the otherworldly mist to and fro, with the A button bringin’ the pain to these goofy specters. It’s so viscerally satisfying, and best of all, you can even smack ghosts into other ghosts! But what about those enemies with shields? Well, that’s where your dart comes in handy. You can shoot a dart with a string into a shield, where it will stick, ready to be sucked into the vacuum. Yep, you (literally) yank their defenses out of their hands to clear the way for the inevitable smackdown.

I made it to the boss fight – a king ghost equipped with his own metal horse and jousting rod. Luigi, running with his back bent at an almost 90 degree angle out of fear, dodges joust attempts and arrows shot from the back of the stage. Using all the skills learned in the rooms before, I was able to dodge attacks, stun him, take his shield, and bring the royal boss to its knees. With precise controls (that I initially struggled with, due to the sheer enormity of things you can do with your multi-faceted Hoover), adorable aesthetics, and the best Mario brother – yeah, I said it – Luigi’s Mansion 3 is sure to be a smash hit.

Simply put, my time with Nintendo was a blast. It really did make me feel like a kid again, enjoying the – and I don’t mean this in any derogatory sort of way – simpler pleasures that video games can provide. There’s no photorealistic violence, a cyberpunk Keanu, or the lootin’ and shootin’ of desert borderlands here. But the house of Mario does have plenty up its sleeve. Secret chests, giant Pokémon, ghosts, spooks, specters, sillies, slime, smiles – simply put, I’m getting a Nintendo Switch, and I recommend you do too.