Tag Archives: Nintendo

Reactions to 01/13 Nintendo Switch Presentation!

Well, first of all, the Nintendo Switch presentation was amazing.  I was nervous going into it, because it had to lay the foundation for an important console.  The Switch is Nintendo’s future in an uncertain time.  This presentation needed to win over some fans.

Let me start off with some partial cons here.  Not everything about the presentation was perfect.  Nintendo is switching to a paid online multiplayer model.  I don’t think this is a bad thing, mind you, since now that money is flowing into the infrastructure, it’ll likely improve the service.  Although I’m going to miss being able to play games online at no cost.  If it keeps Nintendo competitive, though, I have no objection.

Another issue is that the Switch is going to be $299.00 US.  Again, this is a reasonable price point at launch, and Nintendo isn’t making the Switch at a loss.  But it also means that it’ll have to compete with PS4 and Xbox One price-wise, so it’ll have some work to do to justify 300 bucks.

The Nintendo Switch
The Nintendo Switch! (Photo: BagoGames via Flickr)

The Switch has a seriously low portable battery life, only 2 -6.5 hours depending.  I was hoping for a solid 4-8.  The Switch’s gimmick of home-to-portable console seems like it’s in danger now.  Lastly, it also seems like apart from Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the Switch will have a fairly weak launch lineup.  All this worries me.

Now onto the good stuff.  The Switch is packing some great technology, including HD rumble that delivers extremely detailed vibration.  The new game Arms is planning to capitalize on this technology with a sort of multiplayer Punch-Out!! style.  The Switch has a virtual console, as we saw, with a promising lineup.  Above all, it promises a LOT of great games in just this coming year.

Breath of the Wild gameplay
Gameplay of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the WIld! (Photo: BagoGames via Flickr)

Breath of the Wild is looking more action-packed, compelling, and beautiful than ever.  Personally speaking, this is new-favorite-game material.  Super Mario Odyssey, the new open-world 3D Mario platformer, is exactly what I wanted Nintendo to do with the series.

Skyrim is confirmed as coming to the system, and Nintendo is set to release Splatoon 2 and Xenoblade Chronicles 2.  These are now two of my most highly-anticipated sequels.  Splatoon 2 is offering a wealth of new content and portable play, and the new Xenoblade is stunningly beautiful and looks like it’ll tell a great story.

Koei Tecmo is also making a new Fire Emblem Warriors title as a follow-up to Hyrule Warriors.  I’m extremely excited for this, because I predicted the announcement of Fire Emblem Warriors and I think the two series are a great fit.  More is coming on the 18th in a Fire Emblem Direct, so keep an eye out for that!

Overall,  I have a lot of faith in the Nintendo Switch after Thursday.  Nintendo trades on good games, and the Switch looks like a return to roots.  From here onwards, it’s important that Nintendo keep giving out information on its games, and announcing new, interesting games.   I personally can’t wait to see how the Switch does, and I’ll keep reporting the news as I see it.

Top 10 NES Games

This week has been exciting for retro Nintendo fans with the release of the NES Classic Edition, a bite-size bundle of 30 iconic games from the company’s history.   It’s a great portable NES library, and even comes with recreations of classic NES controllers.  Apart from the fact that the cords on the classic controllers are a little too short, the NES Classic is a great value at 60 dollars, and I recommend you guys go out and pick it up if you can.

Anyway, the NES Classic got me thinking about some of my favorite NES games.   So to celebrate, I wanted to list my favorite games on the system.  This list is going to be based partly on my personal tastes and partly on which games have had the biggest impact.  All of them, though, will be available on the NES Classic Edition.

In addition to my own comments, I’m also gonna throw in videos on each game by one of the best retro game review channels out there, CGRUndertow.  Massive thank you to Derek Buck for his amazing reviews.

10 – Balloon Fight

Oh yeah.  You heard me.  Balloon Fight.  If you recognize this one, chances are you really know your way around the NES library.  The whole game is similar to the arcade game Joust — it’s an arena-style game where you fly around with two balloons and defeat other enemies by popping their balloons from above.  It also has a side-scrolling gauntlet mini-game called Balloon Trip that’s extremely fun and extremely hard.  Although it’s pretty obscure, this game is definitely a Nintendo classic, and one of the most inventive NES games out there.

9 – Donkey Kong

Just about everybody and their mother has heard of Donkey Kong, and for good reason.  This game was a breakthrough in the career of legendary game developer Shigeru Miyamoto, and one of the most iconic arcade games of all time.  It created not one, but two mascots that would go on to impact the industry for decades to come.  Although it hasn’t aged too well in my opinion, it’s still a good game and a good challenge.

8 – Kid Icarus

Another one from the depths of the Nintendo library, the story behind Kid Icarus is amazing.  It was developed initially by novice game designer Toru Osawa, who slaved over its development for several summer months before the team from Metroid came on board to help the game meet its December deadline.  The rest of its development was long and arduous, but it resulted in one of the best yet littleknown platformers of early Nintendo history.  It’s difficult and complex, but also has a unique style that was revamped to great success in the 2000s and even led to a sequel, Kid Icarus: Uprising, in 2012.  If you get a chance to play this game, it’s well worth giving attention to.

7 – Ninja Gaiden

If you ask the average video game expert about hard NES games, Ninja Gaiden will be the first game that comes up.  It’s a merciless, fast-paced, complicated platformer that was the bane of every kid in the 80s.  It requires twitch reflexes, sense memory, and a whole lot of patience, but it backs up its grueling difficulty with character.  It saw the first attempt at cutscenes in the history of gaming, and a surprisingly compelling story.  It’s not a game for the faint of heart, but Ninja Gaiden is nevertheless a great game that’s worth trying out.

6 – Punch-Out!!

Punch-Out!! is a quirky little game, but it’s a great early example of games with personality.  The plot is simple: you’re a short-but-tough American boxer named Little Mac who has to fight a series of opponents from all around the world.  Every character in the game is a blatant stereotype of one culture or another, but it parodies every culture equally in a way that simply makes it a laugh.  This game is also a good underdog story, maybe the first ever in a video game.  It takes a lot of quick reactions and patient repetition to defeat each opponent, and it’s no easy task.  But the game encourages you to keep coming back after defeat and earn victory time and time again.  For that alone, I think this game is one of the greats.

5 – Kirby’s Adventure

Something about Kirby is irresistible, and I think the long list of games in the series is a testament to that.  Kirby’s Adventure was where the legend of everybody’s favorite little pink blob started.  Not only is it adorable, it’s a game that’s both easy and difficult at the same time.  There are some levels where you can just float over all the obstacles, but then again there are others where you have to dodge enemies carefully and avoid hazards to make it through.  This subtly hard gameplay is masked by catchy theme tunes, fun level names like “Butter Building” and “Yogurt Yard,” and an overall fun aesthetic.  If you’re looking for good first NES game, this is the one for you.

4 – Castlevania

If Ninja Gaiden is the pinnacle of NES difficulty, Castlevania is a close second.  In the same way that Ninja Gaiden is an example of extreme raw difficulty, Castlevania is an example of extreme refined difficulty.  Every enemy placement is deliberate, and every control was meant to create clear rules for the player.  Each boss has a strategy that takes trial and error to discover.  It’s one of the most rewarding experiences in all of gaming, and its theme of European monster mythology created a dynasty that carried on for years.  Sadly, the series hasn’t seen a release for a few years, but it generated a ton of great games throughout the 80s and 90s that every gamer should try.

3 – Super Mario Bros. 3

Super Mario is one of the most iconic franchises of all time, and its initial trilogy of NES games is legendary.  I had to put one on the list, and I thought hard about which one I should pick as the best one.  The first broke new ground for the industry, and the second was charming and fun.  Ultimately I decided on the third one, Super Mario Bros. 3.  It was an incredible sequel that improved on its predecessors in nearly every way.  It had an overworld, alternate paths, interesting themes, new items, and even some vertical level design.  Every part of this game oozes personality, and it’s one of the best games in a series of full great games.

2 – The Legend of Zelda

The Legend of Zelda was perhaps the earliest game in history to make exploration in games fun and accessible.  You start this game with no clear goal and a lot of options.  You just grab a sword and start fighting, exploring, and having an adventure.  Soon enough you begin to find direction and take on dungeons, exploring to find secrets and items.  The journey of this game is always as fresh as playing it for the first time.  Each discovery feels new and natural.  As simplistic as it is, this game is actually quite tough, and needs to be mastered in order to be beaten.  This game is wonderful, pure fun, and it gave rise to a series of games that remains my personal favorite to this day.

1 – Mega Man 2

It was a hard decision, but I couldn’t bring myself to put anything above Mega Man 2.  This game is an amazing work of balanced gameplay, experimentation, and skill.  For the whole game, you play as the titular protagonist Mega Man as he journeys to defeat the evil Dr. Wily and his army of “Robot Masters” who are the bosses of each of the eight levels.  Each boss has a themed stage and a weakness to a specific weapon that can only be obtained by beating some other specific boss.

To make it through the game usually requires figuring out the right order in which to beat the bosses.  Beyond that, you have to finish another series of levels to reach Dr. Wily.  Every victory in this game is well-earned, and every level will put you through your paces until you learn to beat each one.  It’s a great challenge, but not an unbeatable one.  I’ve managed to beat this game more than once in a single day, and I’ve never gotten tired of it.  It’s fun, colorful, and has a kick-ass soundtrack to boot.  If you try no other game on this list, give this one a chance if you haven’t already.  You won’t be disappointed!

Nintendo Switch: Our Thoughts and What We Know

Yesterday morning, the video game market underwent a legendary change as gaming giant Nintendo revealed details about its newest console, the Nintendo Switch.  Formerly codenamed the NX, rumors circulated about the platform for over a year, teasing everything from cartridge-based game publishing to a hybrid design combining handheld and home console elements.

WHAT WE KNOW

As it turns out, just about every rumor turned out to be true.  What we saw in the reveal trailer for the Switch is an incredibly ambitious piece of hardware.  The Switch is teasing multiple controller setups, including dual miniature Joy-Con controllers for on-the-go play, custom pro controllers, and a lightweight 6-inch tablet controller that allows you to take a game on the go seamlessly, like a handheld console.  Two NS owners can also sync up their tablets, which are the core components of the console, for team-based multiplayer.

Switch games will be on cartridges, much like they are on the Nintendo 3DS.  At first glance, this may seem like an old-fashioned choice, but according to BidnessEtc, it may be a great decision in the long run.  Cartridges hold up better than discs, make no noise while being read, allow for faster load times, and even have more storage per card.  To demonstrate, a massive Wii U game like Xenoblade Chronicles X only takes up about 3.6 GB, and most 3DS game cards already have 8 GB of space.

Since the Switch is a hybrid console, its use of cartridges will allow for much-needed storage of large AAA games that will have to be portable as part of the console’s design.

Not much is currently known about the console’s specs, although its GPU is a custom build from Nvidia.  Nvidia has released a blog post expressing their happiness with their Switch build.  Apart from this, we’re yet to find out about the resolution on the tablet screen, the consistency of the Switch’s frame-rate, or most importantly, about its maximum battery life.

Unsurprisingly, Nintendo has also confirmed that the Switch will have amiibo support just like its predecessor.

The Nintendo Switch logo!
The Nintendo Switch logo!

WHAT THE SWITCH WILL NEED

Battery life of the Switch’s various portable parts is the most important question in my opinion, because this is what will make or break the console’s extraordinary portable gimmick.  If the Switch is going to be practical, its users will have to feel free to use its many control options without having to constantly buy new batteries or bring the controller back to its charging dock.

I think that it would be in Nintendo’s best interests to make the Switch the ultimate mobile machine.  In a time when mobile gaming is continuing to grow and push gaming further into the mainstream, the Switch should become a must-have for people who want to carry games wherever they go but don’t necessarily want to use their phone.  That’s why I think it should feature some kind of platform for open-source software development.  Basically, an app store where developers can come to present their games and apps to the public through the Switch.  If Nintendo can partner with some of the best developers in the mobile market and encourage people to buy the Switch for the best mobile gaming experience, we could see sales that could give the Wii a run for its money.

Most of all, the Switch needs great games.  It looks like it will be re-releasing Wii U games, but it will need to shoot for the trifecta of a good game library: strong launch titles, great first party IP showings, and third-party support.  From what little we know right now, the NS is looking strong on all three, with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild being shown off and a new Mario title being teased.  TechCrunch has released a long list of third party developers who have also been shown to be partnered with Nintendo Switch, including EA, FromSoftware, and even Bethesda Softworks.  This list is a good sign, but the Switch will have to sport some big new releases, and end the trend of major companies developing games only for Xbox One, PS4, and PC.  Nintendo has always had incredible exclusive IPs, so if it can branch out into third party releases, it might re-take the spotlight.

It may be that the Switch can even compete with the likes of the iPad, depending again on battery life but also on the variety of software and apps it makes available.  If it can combine the console experience and the tablet experience, it could have an even more massive influence on technology than expected.

MAJOR QUESTIONS

The big question that remains in my mind has to do with Nintendo’s plans for game development in the future.  This is really the first true hybrid console to ever exist, combining the handheld market and the home console market.  Until now, these two markets have remained separate, and have built up their own separate IPs.

Now, it may be disappointing to some major Wii U fans, but I can tell that the Switch is about to make the Wii U history.  The big question is, what will be the future of the 3DS line of handhelds?  Now that we have the Switch, which is technically portable, is the 3DS going to become defunct as well?  Nintendo has said that there are many more 3DS games in the pipeline, and this is to be expected, but what about the future beyond the 3DS?  Will we see a merging of the two markets, with games like Dragon Quest and Pokemon becoming part of the home console market?

This could have a huge implication for the way the company makes money in this next console generation.  Will NS games be more expensive because they double as home and console games, or is the transition so seamless that games will cost the same, or even less?  If that’s the case, does that mean that the NS will be crazy expensive for all the tech it’s packing?  This could easily be, since President of Nintendo Tatsumi Kimishima has stated that the console won’t be sold at a loss.

As I said earlier, the trailer showed several Wii U games being played with NS technology, but they aren’t original Wii U releases.  Nintendo has confirmed that the Switch isn’t physically compatible with Wii U or 3DS games.  For example, Mario Kart 8 showed extra characters like King Boo, and Splatoon has different hairstyles and idle animations on its characters.  Since no Wii U disc being used, this could mean that Nintendo will be continuing its tradition of re-releasing its most popular titles on its next generation of consoles.

This would actually be a shrewd decision from Nintendo.  It would help people to remember the best aspects of the unpopular Wii U generation and carry them into the next generation along with everything new that the Switch will bring.  Then again, that brings up the question of which games will be carried over, how much will they cost, and what will be new in the re-releases?  Will Super Smash Bros. 4 be ported to NS with new characters, perhaps?  Only time will tell.

We’ll need to know more about the Nintendo Switch before determining how competitive it will be in the tech and gaming market.  Regardless, it looks like an incredible machine, and I was personally giddy watching the trailer for it.  Nintendo has always been innovative in its development of new consoles, and this machine could set the new standard.  Nintendo has stated that more details on specs and pricing will come sometime next year, and we can’t wait to hear more!

My Thoughts on E3 2016, Part 3: Nintendo

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Nintendo’s E3 presentation was in good hands with Reggie Fils-Aime at the helm!

I had no idea what to expect from Nintendo going into E3 2016.  Although a few interesting titles like Paper Mario: Color Splash or Ever Oasis spiced up Nintendo’s showing, a whole lot was riding on Pokemon Sun and Moon and Zelda for Wii U/NX to make allow the Big N to keep up with the frankly stellar performances of its competitors.  And yet somehow, they managed to deliver despite having only two games, a true example of what JonTron termed the “Nintendo hadoken.”

Let me lead with the one I’m less excited about, and that is Pokemon Sun and Moon.  There are a lot of steps forward being taken in this game that I love.  For one thing, I love the enhanced 3D models and the fact that you can see 3D models of whatever trainers you’re fighting.  The fact that Zygarde is coming back into play with different levels of power has me stoked – finally this guy is getting the attention he deserves.  The Battle Royal mode is also fascinating, and adds an interesting new dimension to a battle system that’s been normally trainer vs. trainer until now.  The new Alola region is also gorgeous, home to some pretty cool looking new Pokemon, and the legendaries are amazing, although I’m most excited about Magearna for its Steel/Fairy typing.

But the big money is coming from the true reveal of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.  I’m going to just say it, this game looks lit.  I genuinely think BotW is going to set the standard for Zelda in the years to come.  I’ve never seen an installment take this many risks since Wind Waker, and in my view, it trumps even that game pretty cleanly in terms of innovation and variety.  We see a level of freedom that hasn’t been seen since the first ever Zelda, tempered by many inspirations in between like Elder Scrolls and Shadow of the Colossus.

This game gives you the bare minimum story context before letting you loose on the overworld, an overworld TWELVE times larger than the one seen in Twilight Princess, one of the largest the series has seen to date.  You can climb, hunt, forage, cook, fight, ride, pick up weapons and armor to suit the environment…this game allows the player to do leagues more than Zelda has ever allowed before.  Top that with improved physics, gorgeous art style, and a dynamic story wherein the player can complete the game without learning much of anything about the world, or get the full experience by exploring.  Throw in some amiibo compatibility, including using the Wolf Link amiibo to make the wolf your temporary companion, and you have a nostalgia arrow that’ll go directly to my heart.

All I’m really left hoping for is that this game has a rich offering of sidequests.  Previous entries like Majora’s Mask had excellent sidequests that were extremely rewarding for how they gave unique, unpredictable items that proved useful in different situations.  Other games, like Twilight Princess especially, had sidequests that were entertaining in large part because of interesting characters and missions that took you all across the overworld.  In an overworld as large as Breath of the Wild’s, I hope to see sidequests taken to a new level – I want to see mysteries and interesting questlines, huge battles and cool gear.  Also, as a last mention, I hope the classic green hat and tunic are at least possible to find somewhere in the game.  But if this game is able to fill its shoes, it will redefine one of the most iconic series of all time, maybe even beating out Twilight Princess as my favorite in the series.  It was unquestionably the game of the show for me, and I can’t wait to get my hands on it!

My Top 10 Favorite Super Smash Bros. Characters

I watched a lot of great top 10 videos during my early days on YouTube.  Since I love ranking things, it wasn’t long before I started making them myself.  I thought it might be fun to start putting some on ScreenLooker.  Why not list my my top 10 favorite characters in my favorite crossover/fighting game ever?  That’s right, it’s Super Smash Bros. for Wii U.

So without further ado, here it is, my top 10 Smash…brothers…I guess?

10 – Mewtwo

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One of Nintendo’s greatest decisions in developing this game was bringing Mewtwo back into Smash Bros., ready for round two.  I remember being super-excited because I’ve always thought Mewtwo was cool, but I never really felt like I got to experience the true extent of his power in the actual Pokemon games.

This was my first taste of Mewtwo in Smash, and it did not disappoint.  Although he’s fairly easy to KO, Mewtwo has some great aerial attacks, amazing mobility, and great mix-up options.  You have to remain firmly in control of the battle to play as Mewtwo, and his play style is unique.  He’s joy to play, and a joy to have back in the game.

9 – Mega Man

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I never grew up with the games, but I still love the Mega Man series – it revolutionized the action platformer and is a massive influence on gaming as a whole, not to mention a super-cool universe in its own right.

Needless to say, I was thrilled when Mega Man was brought into Smash, and was one of my early favorite newcomers.  His projectile game is extremely complex but rewarding, and very faithful to the series.  I’m insanely glad that Mega Man has returned to the spotlight for once, and I hope that he stays there for a while.

8 – Ness

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My attachment to Ness started when I got a Ness amiibo as a gift.  Before that, I mostly ignored Ness.  When I actually started committing to learning the character, though, I discovered that the little guy has a lot of strengths and fun complexities.  His moves are incredibly varied, but come together in a beautifully chaotic harmony.  He may take the title for quirkiest character in Smash for me, keeping his fantastic series, Mother, relevant for years, and I don’t think the game would be the same without him.

7 – Zelda

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I have a tendency to root for underdogs a lot of the time.  I’m well-aware that Zelda is considered the least competitively viable character in this game.  That doesn’t stop me from thinking she’s a good character.  She’s fun to play if you like trapping opponents in complex maneuvers.  Mixing up gameplay between her ranged and close-quarters combat is also a lot of fun.  Zelda is better than ever before, and I prefer her to a lot of high tier characters.

6 – Fox

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Straight-up intense speed in a fighting game really appeals to me. When I was first getting into Super Smash Bros., I liked Fox, but recently, I started getting into the competitive Smash scene.  Like many, I started by watching competitive Melee, in which Fox is considered the best character.

I developed a fascination with the character that I carried into my own experience with the game.  It also helps that, in my opinion, Fox in this most recent version of Smash is the best he’s ever been.  Overall, Fox is one of my favorite characters.  His speed and technicality in high-level play embody what I think the series is all about.

Plus, who wouldn’t love playing as a talking space fox?

5 – Cloud

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I never grew up with Final Fantasy games.  I’ve mostly observed the series from afar, but I always thought Cloud Strife from FF7 was a really cool character, the best representative of the series.  He was also one of my most desired Smash newcomers, but because of the complex licensing deals that would be involved, I never expected him to join the roster.

Needless to say, I was just as jaw-droppingly stunned as the rest of the Smash fanbase when Cloud joined Smash.  I remember seeing his reveal trailer late at night before going to bed.  When I woke up the next day, I wasn’t sure if it was actually real.  But as excited as I was about Cloud, he exceeded expectations.

His unique limit break mechanic not only adds a new layer of strategy to his gameplay, but it adds value to the little pauses in-between attacks during each fight to charge the limit meter.  This unique limit mechanic means that Cloud plays like no other character.  I’m incredibly happy about his inclusion and what it means both for Smash and for gaming as a whole.

4 – Lucina

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Lucina has frequently been written off as a pointless character because she has the same moves as Marth, a three-time Smash Bros. veteran.  Personally, though, I feel like Lucina is actually a better version of Marth.  In fact, despite their identical movesets, I think Lucina is a more accessible character.  She’s less floaty, she’s quicker, and she can do damage more consistently due to her lack of a tipper.  ZeRo (AKA Gonzalo Barrios) has expressed this same opinion.

All of her moves do a consistent amount of damage regardless of where her sword hits the opponent.  This is opposed to Marth, whose attacks do more damage when they make contact near the tip of his blade and less damage when they make contact near the hilt.  On the whole, Lucina is better for players like myself, who like diving into the fray more than being precise.

Above and beyond all this, I have a prior attachment to Lucina.  Her original game, Fire Emblem Awakening, was the first Fire Emblem game I ever owned, and it has since become one of my favorite games.  After playing it, I found Lucina to be an interesting character.  I like that she’s fiercely loyal and kind, but awkward and unsociable because of her lonely upbringing.  A lot of people would have preferred other characters over Lucina,  but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

3 – Sonic

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I’m no longer sure of whether I can still call myself a fan of Sonic games due to its lengthy series of ups and downs, I’m definitely a huge fan of the character himself.  I originally got into Sonic with the release of Sonic Generations in 2011, and since then, I’ve gotten pretty good with Sonic in Smash despite the fact that I used to hate him in the game.

His speedy movements and great recovery make him a serious threat, especially because his moves have gotten stronger since the last game.  Although Sonic as a franchise has gotten a bad reputation recently, I sincerely hope this character doesn’t go anywhere — after all, if anyone deserves to be in Smash Bros., it’s Mario’s greatest rival!

2 – Link

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I have a soft spot for Link because I’ve always been a fan of The Legend of Zelda.  When I first got Super Smash Bros. Brawl, the third game in the series, Link quickly became my favorite character.

Although he’s never been particularly viable in advanced, competitive play, Link has always been one of my go-to characters for his nicely weighted movement, decent capacity to do damage, and variety of powerful projectiles.  He has a lot of potential for technical play, particularly on unusually constructed stages. Watching a skilled Link player in action is an amazing experience.  The amount of planning that goes into an effective Link is staggering.  He’s a character who you can play with easily, but takes extreme skill to truly master, and that makes him one of my favorites.

1 – Shulk

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Before the full roster had been revealed, Shulk was my first choice for a Smash Bros. newcomer.  This was mainly because I owned his original game, Xenoblade Chronicles, and to this day it remains my favorite Japanese RPG, a truly underrated gem.

After I played Xenoblade, I knew Shulk would transition beautifully into Smash Bros.  I was even more right than I thought.  The ingenious designers on Masahiro Sakurai’s team turned him into one of the most complex and interesting characters in the series.

I think Shulk’s greatest strengths are his unique Monado Arts and his incredible range.  His Arts, called Jump, Speed, Shield, Buster, and Smash, are based on his unique abilities from Xenoblade Chronicles.  They allow him to greatly enhance particular attributes for a short time at the expense of giving him temporary weaknesses.  For instance, Buster causes Shulk’s attacks to deal more damage, but while using it, he takes more damage himself.  Arts can be switched out at the drop of a hat as the situation requires, making Shulk a force of nature in the proper hands.

These compliment Shulk’s extreme close quarter range — although most of his moves leave him open when they miss, a clever and patient player can do wonders with him.  To this day, he remains my favorite character to play as in Smash Bros. for Wii U.   It was a tough decision, but Shulk’s great design as a character combined with my love of the Xenoblade series make him my absolute favorite character in Smash to date.

And there we have it!  I hope you all enjoyed my long-considered Smash ramble.  To close, I suppose all I can say is, get the game if you haven’t already.  As far as I’m concerned, it’s one of the best games out there.

New Games Leaked: Pokemon Sun and Pokemon Moon!

Some new rumors have surfaced in anticipation of the Pokemon-themed Nintendo Direct on Friday, February 26th – namely that a 7th generation of games entitled Pokemon Sun and Pokemon Moon is to be announced as part of the broadcast.

Although this hasn’t been confirmed (and won’t be until the Direct at 10:00 AM / 7:00 AM PST), the leak is in the form of seemingly legitimate trademark information discovered by Nerdleaks revealing the titles of the game and even showing off highly polished logos.

A seventh Pokemon generation seems to be coming at the right time as Nintendo releases a new wave of Pokemon titles as a jumping off point into their next console generation.  It should also serve as an excellent promotion for the spinoff title Pokken Tournament, coming to Wii U on March 18th.

As for my thoughts on all this, I like the idea of another generation with elemental and maybe even mystical theming.  Some individual Pokemon like Solrock, Lunatone, and the legendary Cresselia are based on the sun and moon, and I think there’s a lot of potential there, stylistically and otherwise.

I likely won’t be getting myself any of the next generation games, unless some irresistible changes to the formula come with them (I already filled up the whole Gen 6 Pokedex, so don’t be judging me), but I do have a theory from the game alone.  I personally wouldn’t be surprised if Sun and Moon types were added to the already extensive list of types in place.

After all, Fairy type was introduced in Pokemon X and Y, much to the joy and/or frustration of many, so this seems like a prime moment for new type additions, especially if new Pokemon are created specifically to be put in these categories.  Even if the hardcore players are forced to tweak their precious metagame all over again.

No matter what happens, I’ll be fairly stoked if a new Pokemon generation is announced, and especially happy if it plans to bring a lot to the table in terms of enriching an already amazing franchise.  I’ll be keeping right on top of this broadcast on the official Nintendo Direct website, so until then, stay frosty!

Amiibo: Genius, or Gimmicks?

Toys and collectibles were separate from video games for a long time.  But now, since the turn of the century, companies have found ways to overlap these kinds of entertainment.  This is still a relatively niche corner of the industry of course.  But that doesn’t stop adults and kids alike from collecting toys-to-life products.  Specifically, I want to talk about amiibo.

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A collection of amiibo. (Photo: YouTube)

Anybody who knows anything about video game figurines will tell you they hit it big with the advent of Skylanders.  The idea that a plastic figurine in real life could translate to a character in a video game was mind blowing.  And true to form, Activision hasn’t hesitated to capitalize on it (surprise, surprise).  As of today, around 300 million Skylanders figurines have been sold so far.  Disney Infinity, another toys-to-life franchise, has sold millions of figure packs of various Disney properties, from Marvel to Star Wars.  Clearly a market has developed for these things.

Regardless, a lot of people were surprised when Nintendo announced they were getting in on the toys-to-life trend.  Whether their fan base approves or disapproves is still rather undecided.  Amiibo can never seem to win with the public.  Some people love them dearly, some people think they put Nintendo as low down as EA or Activision.  Then again, many are indifferent.  For people who haven’t really followed to amiibo scene, their biggest failing is that Nintendo hilariously underestimated their popularity at launch.

The likely reason is because Nintendo decided to get ambitious in their production goals.  They created figurines for every single one of the over 50 Smash Bros. characters, a line for Mario Party 10, and a few for Splatoon, with more and more coming all the time.  This was a lot to take on, and people were all over these things when they came out, which only made matters worse.

Amiibo ended up with an issue from the very start, stemming from how Nintendo decided to market them.  They started out with a small line of around 10 Smash Bros. characters, but a tier of “rarity” immediately emerged.  Nintendo assumed that more well-known characters like Mario or Link would be in highest demand.  However, people gravitated towards characters who had never gotten any real merchandise before.  As a result, you saw characters like Marth, Villager, and Wii Fit Trainer selling on eBay for hundreds of dollars.  Wii Fit Trainer is still not available in stores anywhere in the U.S., even after more than a year.

For better or worse, a culture has developed around amiibo.  Certain amiibo have become more desirable, and ironically, demand for them has increased because they’re not in stock anywhere.  Twitter accounts like Amiibo Alerts work constantly to put figurines in the hands of fans, gaining almost 40,000 followers in the process.  Now even when figurines are restocked, people think of them as rare. However, logically, no single amiibo should reasonably be harder to get than another.  Tons of videos now exist like this one where people show off extensive collections of amiibo.  Many of them are still impossible to find in stores.

Fans have argued that amiibo are everything from a cash grab, to a waste of time for people who take games seriously.  My argument is that they are something of a cash grab, but that doesn’t make them a bad thing.  Plenty of things in the world are for the sake of making money.  The question of how we receive them comes down to quality.  In the case of something like amiibo, we have to ask what they add to their games.

Functionally speaking, amiibo are a mixed bag.  In my opinion, the two best uses of amiibo so far are the Smash Bros. line and the Shovel Knight amiibo.  Smash amiibo are trainable figurines that serve as sparring partners for players.  The Shovel Knight amiibo unlocks co-op play for the game.  These are because they add to their games without being necessary to enjoy them.

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The worst offender, on the other hand, is Animal Crossing: Amiibo Festival.  It’s built specifically to try to sell amiibo.  It would be more excusable if the game involved some kind of motor skill like Mario Party.  It would be even more excusable if the game itself didn’t sell for a full 60 dollars.  As it stands, though, the game is pretty much just a money pit.

Nintendo is still figuring out how to implement amiibo in a way that makes them worth buying.  Although they’ve had missteps, they’re onto something.  The best figurines don’t act as a paywall.  In fact, a lot of people are concerned about the upcoming release of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD, which is to come with a figurine that unlocks a new dungeon.  The future is uncertain for these things.

After a year of experimentation, many have written off amiibo as a misguided attempt by Nintendo to expand its product lineup.  But to answer my own question, I don’t think they’re a scam.  I personally love the little things.  I think they have value in that they’re not only software compatible, but collectible.  Lots of figurines are characters that don’t otherwise come with merchandise.  Therefore, they’re more interesting than simple collector’s items, without being particularly expensive.  I never thought I’d ever have action figures of characters like Shulk from Xenoblade or Ness from Earthbound, yet here they are.  And the fact that they play a role in actual games is something I think can have lasting appeal if done right.

As long as supply of amiibo in the future can meet the public’s demand for them, I think they have a bright future.  Developers just need to balance them so that they’re important, but not necessary to the experience of a game.  Granted, I don’t plan to buy that many more, but who knows?  I never planned to buy amiibo at first, until the right ones came along.  Now I have, well…a couple…

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OK, maybe more than a couple.

How JRPG and Western RPG Genres Differ

With Christmas less than a week away, I want to talk about one of my favorite genres of video game: the RPG, or Role-Playing Game.  The holiday season always puts me in the mood for RPGs.  The childlike sense of wonder I feel during this time of year makes me crave the kind of exploration and mystery that only a deep fantasy RPG can provide.  But I got to thinking about what ‘RPG’ even means for a video game.  The discussion is everywhere from the forums of GameSpot to YouTube by people like Trailer Drake.  This is a hard question to answer, but I figured I’d give my two cents.

A statue of the man-god Talos from The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. (Photo: Flickr)
A statue of the man-god Talos from The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. (Photo: Flickr)

The way I see it, the main characteristic of an RPG is freedom of choice.  This is where the line is drawn in determining whether a game is an RPG or not.  Think about it, the RPG is one of the oldest genres of video game, but it didn’t start electronically.  It has its roots off the screen and on the tabletop with cultural phenomena like Dungeons and Dragons.  In these games, players would get together, create their own characters, and spell out their own fantastical adventures together.  It was literally a game of playing roles, and this tradition of crafting your own story has made it to the digital age.

As a contrast, look at games like Super Mario, or Sonic the Hedgehog, or even Battlefield.  These games are fun because each time you play is different and unpredictable.  But they essentially consist of lots of little experiences.  In each of the many matches, levels, stages, or what have you in games like these, there’s a set goal in mind.  Success is binary: you either win, or you don’t.  Winning is the end goal.

This isn’t a bad thing, of course.  Linear games are very fun provided they aren’t repetitive.  It’s just easy to look at something and know it’s an RPG.  These games have an entirely different flow.  They tend to take place in larger worlds of some sort, and goals are rarely obvious.  You can follow the “main story” or you can go build something, or fight something.  RPGs are worlds apart from reality.  Player agency is king.

If you try to go deeper than freedom of choice, though, things begin to diverge.  For example, consider two of the most popular RPGs of all time: Final Fantasy VII and Skyrim.   One might guess they’re similar — after all, they’re part of the same genre.  They both last for hundreds of hours.  But these games approach the same genre in two different ways.

These videos by the phenomenal YouTube channel Extra Credits lay it out pretty well.  They point out the same idea of an special divergence in the RPG genre.

Skyrim is experienced from an individual perspective.  It has a single, player-customized protagonist.  It contains many, many quests, with no particular need to complete any of them.  Completing the main story isn’t the end of the game, because there’s lots of other content.

 Final Fantasy VII, on the other hand, is more story-oriented.  It has seven different protagonists, met over the course of this story.  Its overworld is explored differently, and combat has completely different mechanics.  Clearly there must be some reason for the difference, right?

As it so happens, there is a big difference.  The differences seen from one RPG to another almost always come down to region.

This is why we hear terms like “Western RPG” or “JRPG,” (J is for Japanese).  In fact, this is basically the only instance in which a genre of game has been divided by region.  That’s unheard of, but it has good reason.  The difference basically emerged because the west and the east came up with separate schemes for role-playing video games.  We ended up with different interpretations of the same idea.

Western companies like Bethesda Softworks, Mojang, and Blizzard have famously created games like Minecraft, Fallout, The Elder Scrolls, or World of Warcraft.  They have no clearly defined “goals,” but tend to focus more on exploration and questing.  The idea of “role-playing” is more broad, leaving more room for the whims of the player.

Japanese companies like Nintendo, Square Enix, and Monolith Soft, on the other hand, have seen series like Mother, Xenosaga/Xenoblade, or Final Fantasy.  These are more goal driven, and focus more on storytelling, often with many playable characters with certain specializations, and detailed management of stats.

Of course, these definitions are far from concrete.   We see a lot of overlap with MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online) RPGs like WoW or Guild Wars that are largely unrestricted in terms of goals, but have myriad amounts of playstyles, equipment, weaponry, and so on.  There’s also the hit Nintendo Legend of Zelda series (a personal favorite) that blends playstyles.  It focuses on a single main protagonist and has equipment mostly for exploration, but also focuses on the completion of a main quest.

This kind of overlap makes perfect sense, because RPGs all have their roots in the Gygax-esque tabletop format.  Both involve decision making, encounters with enemies, and stat management.  Where they differ is in mechanics and style.

“Western” styles meet with a lot of popularity worldwide because they involve a very broad range of cultures.  They’re also more accessible in a lot of ways.  Combat is natural, leveling isn’t as crucial, and grinding is rarely necessary.  This isn’t to say that one type of RPG is better.  It’s just a testament to the point of this post: RPGs and JRPGs are different beasts.  This is why it’s interesting to see them interact.

The reason I bring up this whole question is that many people point at games like Zelda or Minecraft and say they aren’t “real” RPGs.  My argument is that the question of whether a given game is an RPG or not depends quite a bit on your point of view.  And in fact, I think it’s a good thing that RPGs come in all shapes and sizes.  “RPG” serves as a sort of banner for various different games from all over the world to unite under.  In my opinion, that’s just how it should be.

Final Dedicated Super Smash Bros. 4 Broadcast Scheduled for December 15th

Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and 3DS, released in 2014.
Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and 3DS, released in 2014. (Photo: Flickr)

In an announcement from Nintendo, the final Nintendo Direct Broadcast dedicated specifically to Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and 3DS has been revealed to be taking place on December 15th.  While this likely doesn’t mean the end of all new content and updates to the game, this will represent the last game-changing set of content added to it.

Reportedly, the major highlight of this broadcast will be more details on Cloud Strife, the main protagonist of Final Fantasy VII, who was recently revealed as the newest third-party addition to the game.  If you’ve seen Cloud’s reveal trailer, however, you can see that he appears mostly complete – every one of his moves was showed off, suggesting that development of the character is done, beyond possible debugging to prevent possible issues with downloads and online play.  Given this, I have zero doubt that we’ll be getting a release date for the character, and I’m betting it will be soon – possibly right after the Direct, if we’re lucky.  I do wonder, though, about the fact that Cloud is seemingly touted as one of the highlights of this Direct when there isn’t a whole lot left to talk about anymore –  it seems as though the two main possibilities are that Mr. Sakurai will take the opportunity to discuss Nintendo’s relationship with Square Enix, creators of Final Fantasy, which is apparently much better than we thought, or that there won’t be as much time spent on Cloud as we’re being led to believe.  Personally, I wouldn’t mind the latter possibility, because this will leave more time for the meat of the Direct – especially the new characters.

What we really can’t guess for sure is how many new characters will be revealed, although we can be sure that there won’t be none revealed.  My expectation is two, since detailed examinations of the game’s code by some talented data miners have shown three available unnamed character slots, one of which was presumably taken up by Cloud, leaving two wild cards.  Yet, plenty of rumors and speculations have gone around predicting everything from one new character to five, which goes to show how little is known for certain.

What we do have is a pool of characters who are most likely to be included – chances are that the top three candidates based on unofficial polling are Shovel Knight, the outbreak indie icon and star of his eponymous game that got its start on Nintendo consoles, Shantae, the half-genie hero of Nintendo handheld fame for the past decade, and King K. Rool, the oldest and most well-loved Donkey Kong villain.  Other names have been tossed around recently like Wolf O’Donnell, Super Smash Bros. Brawl veteran and Star Fox villain, Isaac from the Golden Sun series, Rayman from…well, Rayman, and Banjo-Kazooie from…well, you get the idea.  Whether or not a character is more or less likely to be included considering being from a third party is hard to say – third parties are often highly requested, but Nintendo has already said that popularity doesn’t guarantee inclusion – corporate barriers can still stand in the way of our wildest dreams at the end of the day.  Yet, with Cloud’s inclusion, many preconceptions about a certain addition being “possible” have gone out the window.  For me, I hope Shovel Knight and Shantae are our new stars of the show, but anything can happening, and I’ll be happy to see new faces in the mix.

Apart from these, there may be other major changes incoming – some fans have speculated about the possibility about the addition of an equivalent of the Subspace Emissary singleplayer campaign from Brawl, where characters from the game teamed up and/or butted heads through beautiful CGI cutscenes and a lengthy series of story missions.  Given the magnitude of such an undertaking, though, I wouldn’t expect something like this – if anything, I would expect a few more stages, probably brought in along with whatever fighters are revealed.
Whatever happens, the one thing I know is that I am extremely excited for Tuesday, and I’ll be right there with everyone watching at 5PM EST to see how the landscape of gaming changes that much more, compliments of the great Masahiro Sakurai and his merry band of developers.  To quote the great Desmond Amofah, better known as Etika of EWNetwork, let’s get ready to ride this hype train to the sun!

Splatoon is the Cool Older Sibling of Shooters

I saw this post one time that told a weird truth about game demographics.  We think of adults playing Call of Duty while little kids play Pokemon, but it’s usually the other way around.  We think we have it all figured out, but the kinds of people who play certain games are usually different than we think.  These days the silliest, most self-aware games have the most thought put into them.  Let’s talk about Splatoon.

My love for shooters mostly stopped with the Star Wars Battlefront games (not the new EA trash, the old ones).  I think my problem was that the industry fell into a pattern of what shooters “should” be.  Shooters are straightforward, and once you have a formula, they’re relatively easy to crank out.  Why do you suppose there are so many Battlefields and Call of Duty games?  Throw in team or free-for-all deathmatch mode and you have a guaranteed base of happy customers.

Only a few shooters have changed up the formula, and a lot of them are on PC.  Games like Overwatch and its spiritual predecessor Team Fortress 2 were daring.  They shift the entire focus of the gameplay to teamwork and achieving a set objective.  It’s no surprise that these games get the highest praise across the board.  Now, you might wonder why I bring these up when I’m supposed to be talking about Splatoon.  But in order to get what I say about Splatoon you need to understand why these other shooters are popular.

So what is it about Overwatch or TF2 that makes them interesting?  Well on the surface you can say they have lots of personality.  They have great dev teams, and unique casts of characters that all play differently.  But on a deeper level, they also have learning curves and objective-based play.  This has two important implications:

1) Players who want to focus on getting kills and mastering their character have plenty of room to improve.  This is important for appealing to that hardcore, thrill-seeking player base.

2) Players who just want to have a good time can still contribute.  Having robust objective-based play means that you don’t have to have amazing twitch-timing to contribute to your team.

Thanks to these two things, these team shooters offer something for everybody.  I’d say this is why they have so much appeal.

You probably won’t be surprised to hear me say that I love Splatoon and Splatoon 2 because they tick both of these boxes.  You can find your niche and become a monster with any weapon, given enough strategy and practice.  But if you’re new or you just wanna goof around, you can be MVP on your team just by covering enemy ink.  That’s not easy to do by itself.  But Splatoon takes it to a whole new level.

Splatoon 2 has over a dozen stages, and get this: they’re all symmetrical.  I never realized this until I saw LambHoot’s video about it, but in every match of Splatoon, the two teams are placed on a completely even playing field.  Each map has so much uneven terrain, different vantage points, and options for cover that I never even noticed.  If you lose, you can’t use the excuse that you got the worse side of the map.

Surely there must be OP weapons, though, right?  Yeah, some of them are a bit user-friendly, but any team is beatable on paper. There are no “tiers” of weapons, only different types and different loadouts.  For example, two rollers might be the same, but have different sub weapons and special weapons.  This is just meant to encourage experimentation (compare this to EA’s method of randomly giving players equipment they don’t want).  Victory all comes down to adaptation, player skill, and a little bit of luck.

What sets Splatoon apart more than anything else is how the front of battle is created completely by the players.  Moving over ground is really only useful for strafing in combat.  You want to always be swimming through your own color of ink, but so much as touching the other color will hold you up.  Getting splatted can happen so quickly, and Splatoon is such a game of seconds that one player losing a firefight can completely turn the tide of a match.

And so each player always has to make the decision to either hold down their own line, or try to sneak behind enemy lines to create a distraction.  But behind enemy lines, you have to deal with enemy players and being stranded in enemy ink.  If you pull it off, though, you can completely change the battleground.  It’s this push-and-pull of every fight that makes Splatoon so much fun to me.  One player can make the difference in a match, but without teamwork, the odds get steep.  That’s the essence of an awesome team shooter.

And man, let me tell you, this game makes me so angry and so happy.

When I lose in Splatoon, it’s the most angry I ever get at a video game.  But winning feels so ding-dang rewarding.  It’s funny how I can get pummeled by a skilled player in one match, then they end up on my team and suddenly we’re steamrolling the other team together.  That’s the kind of thing that’s rare in other shooters, and it’s something that small teams and skill-based play allow for.

So much effort goes into piling content into shooters nowadays.  Microtransactions, pre-order bonuses, and generally useless nonsense really do look like kid stuff compared to games like Splatoon.  You wanna talk about Call of Duty: WW2 and its advanced weapon tokens as pre-order bonuses?  Splatoon don’t give a damn.  You don’t get to buy gear with money.  You want weapons, you gotta get your hands dirty, level up, and earn your money from matches.  If you suck, you gotta put the work in.

Splatoon oozes quirky personality, hip-hop vibes, and love for its home country of Japan.  I spend half my time playing and the other half buying coordinated clothes and meming with in-game posts.  These are what I always tell people about, but I keep coming back to Splatoon because it’s a fundamentally solid game.  It looks and acts silly as hell, but it won’t treat you that way.  That’s why it’s my favorite shooter.