...but can it sustain a full game?
Nintendo are desperate for that GamePad to seem relevant. Far from giving up on the Wii U, the Big N are doubling down on their console, having delivered one of the finest E3 showings in their recent history (albeit with a few too many instances of "coming 2015" for our liking), and a number of works in progress. In a move that seemed entirely un-Nintendo-esque, the Nintendo Treehouse channel unveiled two very early game prototypes in the form of Project Big Robot and Project Guard.
Project Giant Robot is what five-year-old me might have envisaged back when cereal packets could be used to transform oneself from a human boy into an Autobot. The demo began with robo-construction. You get to pick the base units for your robot's head, arms, torso, and legs from a plethora of increasingly weird items. I decided to make a robot made up entirely of Megazord heads. You can stretch and squish each module too, so if you want to create a robot with guns bigger than The Incredible Hulk's you can.
You can make your robot thinner than a rake or fatter than than Jabba, you can give it supersized shoulders or a pea-sized head. But whatever the physical appearance, players need to be aware that it'll affect how the robot in question handles. Make it too top-heavy, and your robot will be susceptible to toppling over. Bigger mechanoids will make for heavier hitters, but they'll also be slow and lumbering. Tall robots will suffer balance issues as the tradeoff for power, but while smaller robots might stand their ground better, they'll sacrifice something in terms of punching weight.
What followed was a series of battles against robots of increasing size in amongst a blocky urban landscape that proved ripe for destruction.
The control system is weird to say the least. You move forwards with one trigger, backwards with the other. On the TV screen you can see your creation resplendent in third-person glory. But on the GamePad you have a first-person view, essential for keeping your robot's gaze level, using the motion controls to keep your robot's head up and in the game. One of the face buttons allows you to further use the GamePad to pepper your opponent with laser fire, but throughout the demo, it seemed as though this was a distraction rather than an attack that did any notable damage.
Punches are thrown ever so slowly by moving your robot's limbs with the two sticks. Rolling the analogs gives you an enormous range of movements -- you can pepper your adversary with lethargic jabs, rain down overhead hammer blows from on high, or even attempt to sandwich your foe in between your arms and wrestle them to the floor. Imagine getting dressed up in a bunch of hefty boxes, transforming yourself into a robot, and then slugging it out with a friend in hilariously clunky, incredibly childish fashion.
That's basically what Project Giant Robot is.
What's impressive even in this early stage is the robust nature of the game's physics engine. My towering behemoth of heads was able to essentially hold lesser foes at arm's length with one outstretched limb, all the while trying to smash down larger foes with the other. An overextension almost brought the round to a premature end, but thankfully I was able to quickly right my robot and get back into the fray. My final match, however, was less successful. Going toe-to-toe with a shorter, stockier robot, I smacked my opponent's head clean off relatively early on. But it kept coming, now lighter, with a lower centre of gravity. Instead of counter-punching, I decided to take the initiative and go on the offensive. But with my opponent lacking a head, I had to stoop too much to get a hit in, and my enemy employed a classic move and swept the leg. Game over.
It's early days, of course. The demo I played was little more than a wacky canapé in between the sumptuous courses of the likes of Smash Bros and Splatoon, but it was enormously enjoyable and highly memorable. It remains to be seen what sort of game Nintendo might fashion out of this bizarre, but wholly entertaining, proof of concept, but it would be a shame to see it wind up on the scrap heap somewhere. Even if it only gets released down the line as a freebie curiosity piece for the eShop, or as a little loyalty gift for buying a first-party title, it'd be good to see it made available to the masses aching for more Miyamoto magic.