Nintendo’s new StreetPass games are polished, but come at a cost

3DS owners woke up to a pleasant surprise this morning in their StreetPass Mii Plaza. One system update later, and the app has been transformed, offering access to four new games that are a little deeper and more involving than StreetPass Quest and Puzzle Swap, but delivered with similar levels of polish, charm and beautifully judged writing.

They come at a cost, however – £4.49 each, to be precise, or £13.49 for a bundle containing all four. With little but a brief description to go off – delivered, as is the Nintendo way, by a rabbit holding a tablet – it seems a little steep, particularly given that Japanese players get the same deal for around ten pounds. That said, all four demonstrate plenty of potential, and their value can only really be judged when their content has been exhausted. Perhaps more significantly, the games represent a step forward for Nintendo in terms of premium content: it has already dabbled in microtransactions for the likes of New Super Mario Bros. 2 and Fire Emblem: Awakening, while its first major slice of DLC arrives later this week in the form of New Super Luigi U. But this is an unprecedented expansion to in-built software, and anyone who isn’t prepared to pay will be left with four barren spaces in the app’s Play menu.

Each game uses the arrival of Miis in your plaza to different effect, and happily you can use the same ones across all four titles. StreetPass Squad, from Kirby’s Epic Yarn developer Good-Feel, is perhaps the most immediate of the group, a simple but engaging arcade shooter that sees you attach pods to the front of your ship, the colour of each determining the type of weapon, from a flamethrower (reds) to a stream of bouncing bullets (green). There are three slots at the front, one at the back, and they can be rotated with the shoulder buttons to follow enemy attack patterns. Pods can also be placed behind each weapon slot to power it up, forcing you to choose between more focused power or wider coverage – or both, should you encounter enough passersby on your travels. As in the three other games, achievements afford you a plaza ticket that can be exchanged for a hat. There are 99 in all, with a different selection of four every day, a sensible way to limit the progress of those fortunate enough to get dozens of daily hits.

StreetPass Garden is the offering from Grezzo Inc., the studio responsible for the recent 3D makeover for Ocarina of Time. The objective here is to become a Master Gardener, with Mii guests and previous visitors to your plaza – hired, of course, with Play Coins – visiting your courtyard to water your plants and pollinate them with their own, to help harvest seeds that can be grown into fresh breeds. It appears there are 20 types in all, which seems a fairly meagre tally, though a variety of factors affect their colour and shape. You can then arrange your favourite plants in a garden and use the 3DS camera to take a snap of your green-fingered accomplishments.

StreetPass Battle is a simple case of world domination, asking your Mii warlord to unite a warring kingdom of 20 territories by conquering each one. Here, each arriving Mii brings their own army of plaza residents to fight alongside yours, bolstering an army that fights in battles determined by a rock-paper-scissors mechanic – cavalry beats bowmen beats infantry beats cavalry – though you can split your forces between the three types according to the enemy army’s arrangement to maximise your chances of success. A victorious return offers the opportunity to convert soldiers into craftsmen to upgrade your castle, which offers a number of benefits, like the opportunity to consult monocled advisor Wentworth on troop formations.

The last, and perhaps most inventive of the four, is Prope’s StreetPass Mansion. Guests here offer your Mii detective map pieces that you slot into a grid representing one of the 30 floors of a haunted house. The object is to combine the segments to reach the (invisible) staircase to the next floor: like-coloured pieces that form a square shape become a room holding a chest that contains bonus items, while sections of a different hue reveal corridors that often hide patrolling spirits. This prompts an RPG-style battle system where you blast the ghost with a battery-powered laser pistol, while guarding from incoming attacks by holding the shoulder button, which in turn drains the batteries. Experience points from battle upgrade your weapon, and with twelve individual pieces only just getting us to the second floor, this could well be the longest and deepest of the four games.

There have, however, been teething troubles with the new games for many players. It seems those with busy Mii plazas aren’t able to download games at all, the app freezing and kicking them out as soon as they try to buy the first of the new offerings. We experienced the same issue with a launch unit, but a more recent model with just a handful of visitors and a Japanese unit were both fine. Nintendo of Europe has released a statement saying “we are aware of some reports of technical difficulties which are occurring and are currently investigating the situation.” Hardly the ideal start, but it appears the issue may be resolved soon.

Four different developers and four different ideas to boost the 3DS’s social appeal, then, though they’re unlikely to have the desired viral impact until Nintendo rolls out its plan to boost the number of encounters across Europe with a relay system that utilises 24,000 wifi hotspots. For now they’re just a pleasant little bonus, a way of encouraging existing users to take their portables outside more often. That said, with Animal Crossing’s fortune cookies taking up four of our ten Play Coins per day, we hope Nintendo ups the daily limit soon.

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