Which console will win Fall 2009?

We examine the best Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft have to offer

New Super Mario Bros. Wii (Fall window)

Heading into E3 2009, we honestly expected New Super Mario Bros. 2 would be announced for DS. Imagine our disbelief when Nintendo revealed that very game would be coming out for Wii… and this year, no less. It went from unknown to tentpole holiday release in the span of one minute. Based on their demo, our hands-on and this trailer, it’s essentially a four-player 2D Mario game that lets you bop other people around:

This has understandably created a rift in the Nintendo base. One side’s happy to see a new Mario platformer this year, and thinks it’ll end up being every bit as good as the DS predecessor that’s gone on to sell 18 million (!) copies. The other side thinks the level design and overall gameplay are too simplistic for fans raised on difficult platfomers, and that New SMBW is meant for Wii’s casual crowd instead.

Above: Mario, Luigi and two Toads having a right goofabout

Will it make a difference? A Mario platformer released in the fall with Nintendo’s full marketing muscle will be unstoppable. Like we said, the previous game is nearing 20 million units sold, and Wii fever is still strong. Even if the strict values of hardcore gamers keep them away, the masses, who don’t really care if the stages are challenging, will devour this and ask for more.

The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks (Fall window)

From a distance it’s hard to discern Spirit Tracks from 2007’s Phantom Hourglass – both use the cel-shaded Wind Waker style, both involve tracing paths for your items to follow and both star a young Link hoofing around labyrinths. Supposedly the big changes are guiding the knightly Phantoms around with your stylus and traversing Hyrule in a train instead of a boat. Well, toss in a few new items and that sounds like a new Zelda, alright.

Above: Take the train away and we can’t tell this isn’t Phantom Hourglass

Will it make a difference? As with Mario, anything “Zelda” tends to fair well at retail. As critics we have to acknowledge that even if Spirit Tracks feels overly familiar and referential, it’ll be so finely polished that we’ll end up beating the whole damn thing as fast as our free time will allow. That’s just the way these things work. Let’s just hope this whole thing about Spirit Tracks appealing to a “wider age group” doesn’t interfere with the gameplay we love. Also, the four million people who bought Phantom Hourglass isn’t wide enough?

Wii Fit Plus (Fall window)

Hm, another top-tier entry that doesn’t have a locked release date? Could one of these three slip to 2010? In the case of Wii Fit Plus, it wouldn’t really matter, as the original released in May ’08 and has since been in the top sellers of every month. The new version, which adds 15 exercises and a streamlined interface, could land at any point in the future and still cause a stir.

Above: At least we got Punch-Out!!, right?

Will it make a difference? We have to wonder if the public really cares enough to drop another $50 on a slightly different set of yoga routines. Maybe they’ll be eager for more, maybe they’ll decide they’ve spent enough on these damn videogames. The best way to gauge Wii Fit Plus is by looking at Wii Sports Resort’s sales when it launches in July. If the casual market is willing to pay for more sports minigames (when the first game was free), there’s a staggeringly high chance they’ll pay for more faux fitness.

Wii MotionPlus will have another chance to shine with Red Steel 2. Think anyone will harbor a grudge over being lied to about the first game? The other two notable releases are indeed important for Wii, but make this list with huge asterisks next to their name. Tatsunoko vs Capcom may or may not make the end of the year, and Silent Hill: Shattered Memories is also coming to PS2 and PSP, so the odds of someone buying a Wii just to play it are microscopic.

And finally, on the next page, we’ll decide which of the big three have assembled the best bet for success this holiday season.

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