Author Archives: zerocounts

Nintendo Switch Sells 10 Million Units in 9 Months

Wow. 10 million units in 282 days.

Note the Wii U had lifetime sales of 13.56 million units. The highly successful PS4 sold 10 million units in 268 days. The Xbox One sold nearly 10 million in 355 days.

What a year it has been for Nintendo and the Switch.

[Correction: I originally posted that the PS4 sold 10 million units in 10 months, out-paced by the Switch. This was incorrect.]

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‘But then Nintendo released The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild’

Victor Luckerson recapping Nintendo’s year as “The Best Tech Story of 2017″for The Ringer:

It all seemed like enough to burn through the last of gamers’ goodwill for the often maddening company. But then Nintendo released The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and a lifetime’s worth of anti-consumer transgressions were suddenly forgiven. In an era filled with cynical IP cash-ins across entertainment, Nintendo used a formulaic, nostalgic franchise to deliver a fresh reinvention of open-world gaming mechanics. The game is an adept mix of old and new, borrowing elements of Skyrim and Minecraft but augmenting them to recreate the whimsy, mystery, and intrepidness that a lot of gamers felt the first time they booted up the original Legend of Zelda or the seminal Ocarina of Time. The gushing praise for the game, the best-reviewed title of the year, proved that endlessly cynical gamers will always have a soft spot for a Nintendo classic done right.

Zelda immediately transformed the Switch from a curiosity to a must-have gadget. Gamers like Yai Torres, a 30-year-old resident of Arlington, Virginia, who had skipped out on the Wii U, got the system the day it launched. “It’s been a while since I’ve had a Nintendo product but I’ve always been a follower in terms of the latest games,” Torres says. “The fact that they had such a cool console with such a cool game clicked for me.”

I’m still pondering whether The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild may be a bigger achievement than the Switch. Would Nintendo have had such a stellar year if the Switch launched with Super Mario Odyssey?

(Aside: Fun to see Victor end his piece where I was originally going to begin mine: the insanity of 2017.)

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Big-N’s Big Year

Since the failure of the Wii U, Nintendo’s future had been in question. Turn to mobile? Sell to Disney? Sell to Apple? Retire Mario?

The question marks and judgement loomed with the 2016 announcement of Nintendo’s new console, the Switch. A console poised to bring the worlds of mobile and set-top gaming together. The dream. But could a company founded on family friendly, under-powered hardware make a dent against the HD twins (PS4 and Xbox One) and a world where seemingly everyone above age 12 carries around a mobile supercomputer?

Questions. Questions. Questions.

In 2017, Nintendo answered.

Switch

The Switch is a literal game changer and its portable/set-top hybrid gimmick is working.

Released world-wide on March 3, 2017, the Switch has sold 7.63 million units as of September 30, 2017, according to Nintendo’s six months financial results briefing for Fiscal Year Ending March 2018. To offer some context, Wii U shipped 3.61 million units in its first 7 months, PS4 sold 7.0 million in its first 5 months; 10 million in 10 months. Microsoft has kept much of the Xbox One’s numbers quiet, but the console sold 3.9 million units in the first 2 months, almost 10 million in 12 months. For the long-game, the PS2 sold 155 million units. The anomalous Wii had lifetime sales of 101.63 million. Xbox 360 sold 84 million units. PS3 sold 80 million.

In the same briefing, Nintendo revealed that over 50% of owners play in both portable and TV modes, 30% play exclusively portable mode, and the remaining 20% play exclusively TV mode.

Compromises notwithstanding, there also seems to be a growing yearning for all games to be brought to the Switch. I’ve unhooked my PS4 and Xbox One. I’ve moved my Switch dock to my nightstand. I’ve gone full handheld. Nintendo has successfully untethered the console gaming experience from the TV, and it’s difficult to go back. The divided worlds of handheld and set-top gaming have coalesced and it’s everything we’d ever dreamed it would be. Without a doubt, this is a future Nintendo has been envisioning since the wildly successful Game Boy.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Launched alongside the Switch in March, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild came out of the gates a scorcher.

To set the stage, the initial teaser for the Wii U (prior to the announcement of the Switch) gave a glimpse of an open-world Hyrule, an art style blending The Wind Waker’s cell-shaded cartoon aesthetic and The Twilight Princess’s realism, and an action-packed cinematic:

But it was still yet to be determined if Nintendo was truly offering the open-world 3D Zelda adventure fans had been dreaming of since the original?

Could Nintendo actually deliver an open-world game on par with the likes of Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto and Bethesda’s Skyrim? If so, how would it innovate? How could it innovative? Would Nintendo’s beloved IP be a fit for an experience of that magnitude? Could Nintendo deliver something of that size and scale?

Nintendo’s 2016 E3 trailer would set imaginations ablaze:

Nintendo seemed to be offering up answers to every question.

Lo and behold, they delivered one of the greatest, most innovative gaming experiences of all time. It not only checked every box and crossed off every worry, it set new standards for open-world games.

From the onset, the player is cast out into the world. There is little in the way of tutorials and much in the way of freedom. Players can roam anywhere and climb anything. The world is a sandbox that encourages invention by utilizing elemental chemistry. Damn near anything is possible. There is no standard way to play the game. Gating is thrown away in lieu of trusting the player to the creation of the designers. Both player and designer are treated with equal importance. In The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, respect is a two-way street.

That’s not to say that I think the game is perfect. I have my gripes. I feel the music is lacking. Aesthetically, it is not a world I’m keen to revisit. The sword delicacy is maligned. Characters — NPCs and enemies — become repetitive. There is a lack of character present in previous Zelda entries — namely A Link Between Worlds. While this list seems like it would break a game, these faults are surprisingly easy to look past. The game is just that good.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is the best selling Switch title to date, now exceeding 4.7 million units. During its launch month, Zelda sold at an unprecedented 100% attach rate for the Swtich. The game maintains a 97 Metacritic score and boasts a 170 hour “completionist” play time on HowLongToBeat.com.

Regardless of your standard of measuring a game, one thing can be said — The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a special experience. Nintendo stripped one of their most beloved franchises down to its core and rebuilt it in a way that sets the standard for open-world games going forward.It is a triumph for a myriad of reasons; but most of all, like the Switch, it was reliving on a dream.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe

Wii U’s abysmal sales are no indication of the quality of games produced for the console. Arguably, it’s home to some of the greatest Nintendo titles ever — Mario Kart 8, New Super Mario Bros. U, Super Mario 3D World, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, Splatoon, Super Mario Maker, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD. The Wii U’s hit to miss ratio is sure to be one of the lowest of any console, yet most potential players missed out on surefire classics. Thankfully, Nintendo bolstered the Switch’s launch year line-up with one of the best.

Mario Kart is a household favorite franchise, and Mario Kart 8 is the best of it’s form. Selling 4.42 million units, porting the greatest Mario Kart game to the Switch so early in its lifecycle was a brilliant move. It allowed Wii U owners to share the experience with the uninitiated and show off the Switch’s built in local multiplayer gimmick. Playing Mario Kart is like riding a bike. With the Switch’s ever-present multiplayer, players can crack off the Joy-Cons and immediately share and experience. Maybe even an office tournament:

On Mario Kart 8 Deluxe‘s release day, I brought my Switch to work. It was the perfect venue to test the Switch’s out-of-the-box local multi-player experience. In fact, it was the first time I’d attempted any multi-player on the device in any of its various forms. As far as I know, I’m the only one in the office with a Switch. Gasps filled the room when I removed the Joy-Con from the display. I handed one over to a colleague, showed him around the tiny controller, and away we went.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe wasn’t much more than Mario Kart 8 + the DLC with a new Battle Mode. Whereit falls short is it’s insistence to unlock everything the original game had to offer. It’s certainly a great value to provide new players with everything there is to offer, but nothing is left for anyone to pursue. I’d have loved to re-race for the cups I’d previously unlocked for the Wii U version. It was truly surprising how demotivating it was to play one of my favorite games when everything had been achieved for me.

However, while I still believe retailing for $60 is a bit high for the title, it can’t be understated how great it is to have the highest-fidelity, local multiplayer ready, greatest Mario Kart game with you at all times.

Splatoon 2

In the vain of Wii U ports, Splatoon 2, the sequel to the Wii U’s Splatoon, sold nearly 75% of the original within 2 months (3.61 compared to 4.87 million units).

Splatoon takes the shooter genre and turns it into a kid-friendly paintball frenzy. Splatoon 2 added tot he experience by offering a single-player campaign. But the addictive core of the game is its short, territory-hording Turf Wars. Two teams do their best to ink as much of a stage’s territory in their color while warding off the opposing team. The bouts are short and weigh-in much like a Mario Kart race. It’s always anybody’s game. Players can feel just as important in supporting roles as they can on offense.

Splatoon 2 was the first game to support Nintendo’s Switch Online iOS and Android app. Though, much ire was drawn by the app’s poor online chat service. (Players are forced to route communications through their smartphone as opposed to the Switch.) I have not had an opportunity to use the app, so I will not comment.

In addition to a problematic smartphone app, my main gripes with Splatoon 2 are the inability to back out of lobbies while waiting for players as well as the near impossible task of playing with folks on your friends list. It’s infuriating.

However, the core game is still a delight and shows off the prowess of the Switch’s online multiplayer — at least once a match is underway. Splatoon 2’s stylistically original and serves as an inviting experience for all next to its gritty wartime counterparts.

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle

In August, Ubisoft delivered the first Mario experience on the Switch. Yes. Ubisoft. Not Nintendo. Ubisoft. Trusted with Nintendo’s icon and core franchise, Ubisoft delivered not only a charming title on par with other Mario entries, but a tight, satisfying, and unique strategy game to boot.

In the vain of XCOM, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle plays like cartoon chess. The player selects a team of three (Mario + two other characters, so long as one is a Rabbid) to battle a slew of Rabbid baddies in a series of turn-based bouts across 4 worlds. As players progress, weapons are upgraded and skills are gained. There are plenty of collectibles to keep completionists active. Difficulty spikes are educational rather than infuriating. And the Mushroom Kingdom is more gorgeous than ever.

VGChartz puts the game at 0.51 million units sold, which doesn’t seem like a huge disappointment, but for a game that I thoroughly enjoyed, I’d like to see it bump up a bit this holiday season. Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is an absolute delight.

Nindies

Say nothing of big third-party titles like Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, Skyrim, or Doom, the growing selection of top-notch indie — or “Nindie” — titles is nothing to scoff at.

One of the biggest concerns of Nintendo is their seeming inability to attract third-parties to their consoles since the SNES. The Switch is no different. It is the “second console”. But, boy has it attracted grade-A titles. The current #Nindie Hits roster looks a little something like this:

  • Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove
  • Rocket League
  • Stardew Valley
  • Overcooked
  • Axiom Verge
  • Retro City Rampage DX
  • Cave Story
  • Severed
  • SteamWold Dig 2
  • Golf Story
  • TumbleSeed
  • Thumper
  • and more!

While Nintendo has been quiet on first-party titles for 2018, the plethora of indies (and major third-parties) porting to the console provides Switch owners a stable of great games for months, nay, years to come.

SNES Classic

Boy howdy, get the nostalgia intoxicated ready. On the heels of Nintendo’s wildly… successful(?) NES Classic came the SNES Classic. With a library of 21 classic — arguably essential — games, the SNES Classic was/is the hot item of 2017.

Launching on September 29, 2017, retail lines and online pre-orders were a mess. I’d imagined Nintendo had learned from the missteps of the NES Classic, but seemingly, no. Initially, it may have been easier to stumble across one, but it has again turned into a frenzy for the little throwback.

Whatever the issue, be it awful channel supply or manufacturing woes, the Classic series is another fortune in Nintendo’s pocket — if not monetarily, for the press coverage.

Super Mario Odyssey

Super Mario. The pinnacle of Nintendo’s franchises.

A new Mario title is something special. The best video game maker does not squander its resources on Mario. Nintendo uses Mario to define console generations, gameplay innovation, artistic direction, and design standards. Mario is as much an icon as he is a vision.

Super Mario Odyssey launched on October 27, 2017 — 7+ months into the Switch’s lifecycle. It is a reimagining of the Mario series, with a series of worlds outside of the Mushroom Kingdom in a play-style similar to arguably the most important Super Mario game of all time — Super Mario 64. (If that last sentence gives you pause, just wait until you beat the game.)

Like Zelda, I have my qualms with Super Mario Odyssey. The world design is too disjointed without a cohesive story. The move-set is over-the-top. The inability to distinguish what Cappy (Mario’s new hat-companion) can and can’t possess is frustrating. The music sides cinematic over thematic. The main storyline is… odd, if not gross. Overall, little outside of New Donk City is memorable.

My misgivings aside, numbers speak for themselves. Like Zelda, Super Mario Odyssey boasts a 97 Metacritic score. “Within three days of its release, the game had sold over two million copies worldwide.” (Wikipedia) Nintendo of Europe claimed that Super Mario “Odyssey is both the fastest-selling Mario game and Switch game ever in the region.”

Super Mario Odyssey is without a doubt a change of pace for the franchise. While I do wish the execution was a bit tighter, I am likely in the minority. Through and through, it is a quintessential Mario game. It is undoubtedly fun and innovative; charming and warm. It is the perfect nightcap to Nintendo’s fantastic year.

Game of the Year

From the launches of the Switch and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild in March, the announcement of a Nintendo theme park, frenzied and flawed retailing of the SNES Classic in September, to the heralded Super Mario Odyssey in October and stable 3DS sales throughout, 2017 was Nintendo’s year.

Nintendo has established that great gaming experiences should not be limited to TVs. It’s hard to imagine the Switch wasn’t always the company’s vision. The Game Boy sold 118.69 million units. The DS: 154.02 million. The 3DS: 68.98 million and remaining stable. The Wii U, while a flop, put the writing on the wall. Porting gameplay to the GamePad was a now obvious sneak peek at the future we’d all been dreaming of.

The company is projecting nearly double operating profit from the previous fiscal year, forecasting 960 billion yen ($8.6 billion), up from 489 billion ($4.39 billion). While it seems obvious that the 3DS line will eventually spin down, they’ve just released the new 2DS XL line as well as decent stream of games. Meanwhile, the Switch is just getting started on what appears to be a very bright future.

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New Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Arcade Game

Arcade Heroes:

From what I have played and watched, it fulfills those expectations. The game is a beat ’em up just like you would want it to be. Yes that does mean more button mashing than stratagem but that’s part of the charm. The turtles will also do different attacks such as throws and there are items to grab and use such as smoke bombs, shurikens, trash cans, one that makes you spin around in a kind of tornado attack, etc. There are plenty of enemies to duke it out with, there is interaction with your environment, multiple attacks including the ability to throw enemies into the screen, special “Turtle Power” attacks which behave as quick cut scenes, big boss battles, combo tracking, items to use and more. Admittedly it is weird to play a TMNT game that doesn’t have the voices for the characters that I grew up with but that’s ‘old man – get off my lawn as I remember it’ syndrome there.

Beat ’em up fans can also take heart that the Raw Thrills development team stated that they played a number of classic beat’ em ups as they designed this to “get the feel right”. Apart from playing the original TMNT Konami titles, they specifically mentioned “Final, Fight, Golden Axe, Streets of Rage, Double Dragon” while also implying that they played through several others.

TMNT beat ’em ups are a hallmark for a generation. Kids of the late ’80s / early ’90s cut their cartoon/video game/comic/action figure teeth with this franchise. I probably spent a small fortune of my parents money on the original TMNT cabinet. The NES, Super NES, and Genesis ports were some of my favorite games. I love any chance they get to make a comeback, especially in such a namesake format.

The execution of this cabinet looks and sounds extremely promising. I like to avoid Dave & Buster’s whenever possible, but this may be hard to resist.

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Good Enough

After listening to Polygon’s Samit Sarkar discuss the Xbox One X on the Achievement Oriented podcast, I was this close to writing a piece simply titled “Good Enough” on the premise that the Nintendo Switch is just that — good enough; that bleeding-edge specs are not compelling enough to warrant the masses to upgrade consoles mid-cycle for already gorgeous experiences.

I’m glad Ben Kuchera at Polygon beat me to the punch :

Nintendo focused on making a system that was easy to use, relatively inexpensive and could be both a portable and a home console. The stats show that players are taking advantage of these factors, and the sales speak for themselves. In a business where it often seems like companies are killing themselves trying to push for the greatest visual fidelity possible, Nintendo has completely shifted the conversation to convenience and fun. The Switch is being richly rewarded for this approach.

Nintendo has also changed the game when it comes to third-party developers. Visual quality is no longer the most important thing, the game just has to run well enough to be playable and enjoyable. A company’s back catalog of older games is now a treasure trove of potential Switch ports. Fans are asking for any number of games from any number of companies to be brought to the console, and publishers would be wise to listen to them.

The Nintendo Switch once again proves the value of changing the game if you can’t win by the existing rules, and there’s not much Microsoft or Sony can do to gain the same momentum with strategies that focus on raw power. Nintendo has this market all to itself, and that’s a great place to be. The game developers just have to learn that looking good enough is a great way to sell a game to an appreciative audience.

In August, I wrote about moving to handheld — shelving my PS4 and Xbox One and exclusively playing Switch and 3DS. I’ve since gone one step further by disconnecting the Switch dock from the TV. It now serves as a holster on my nightstand. There are games I yearn to try, but the thought of anchoring myself to our living room television just to partake in a boisterous chaos for my own pleasure seems irritating, selfish, and wasteful. I much prefer the experience of dipping in and out — sound off — while my wife and I relax together. Conversations aren’t drown out. A quick press of the Switch’s lock button not only pauses the experience, it completely disengages me when necessary. No static menu hogging the television screen. No anxiety about not being able to pause in certain areas.

I won’t go as far as to say that mid-cycle upgrades are outlandish. There are small things I’d love to see enhanced on the Switch: smaller bezel, larger screen; better kickstand; move toward haptics vs. vibrate motors; better speakers. The one thing I haven’t craved is better graphics — a statement I would not make for the 3DS. The Switch has hit a fidelity sweet spot.

This has been a long time coming. I would go as far as to say that the boom of pixel art, retro, and minimal art styles is a statement about bearable visuals as much as it is about style. What was novel has become an expected and even desired norm. This extends beyond mobile and casual games to hearty indies like The Witness and Super Hot.

The fact that new and recent third-party titles are making their way to the “underpowered” system is impressive. While we wait for Nintendo’s online service / Virtual Console to make an appearance on the Switch, there is an abundance of third-party back-catalog that could be used as a testing ground. I cannot comment with any authority about cost to port legacy games vs current-gen, but I do know that there exists a wealth of proven titles that will run current hardware rather than gambling resources to try to port new titles to the Switch. Really, I’m just jonesing for Final Fantasy X and Kingdom Hearts.

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Super Mario Odyssey — A Review

This review covers the core game, which — arguably — may not be considered the “core” game.


Everyone loves a Mario game. Polish, charm, fun. Mario games are a barometer of execution for each of Nintendo’s console generations. Where they don’t push boundaries of graphical fidelity or online community, they shape design language, innovation, and soul within the confines of a familiar world.

For the Switch, the promise of a high-fidelity, 3D, sandbox Mario game akin to Super Mario 64 has whetted the appetite for many a fan since its reveal in January 2017. It’s big. It’s beautiful. It’s Mario. It’s everywhere.

But is it familiar?

I had the opportunity to preview Super Mario Odyssey at E3 — an excerpt from my E3 experience below:

Odyssey feels like the perfect amalgam of all 3D Mario adventures: The playground of Super Mario 64‘s introductory courtyard, Super Mario Sunshine‘s NPCs, Super Mario Galaxy‘s inventiveness, and Super Mario 3D World‘s fidelity. Above all, there is a “weird” factor that has been generating buzz. The various worlds Mario can travel to feature a variety of art styles: the playable New Donk City feels like a Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater / Sims hybrid while the Sand Kingdom felt like a traditional 3D Mario world with a new classic 2D side-scrolling mechanic added to the mix. (Think The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds.) The game played as great as you can imagine, but the real allure is looking forward to the variety and trying to figure out just what the hell is going on!

It’s this last (emphasized) phrase that I’m struggling with. At E3, I thought I was playing a sample of the complete game. I was sure there was something in the game that would tie the experience and aesthetic of the kingdoms together. Unfortunately, the worlds feel as disconnected as my preview experience.

Even for a franchise about an (ex-)plumber in a fantasy land inhabited by mushrooms and turtles, the story is bonkers. A captured Princess Peach is being forcibly wed to Bowser. Bowser is on a quest to find wedding hallmarks (a ring, a cake, etc.) while his wedding-planning henchmen, the Broodals, stave off Mario. The player is thrown into this storyline via an opening cinematic: Mario plunges to his doom from Bowser’s airship, his iconic hat shredded to bits in the blades of the airship’s motor. Wake to find Mario in a strange, noir themed world and introduced to his new sidekick Cappy. Then, the player is off on an adventure to stop Bowser.

From the start, something feels off. It’s disorienting not to kick off in Mushroom Kingdom, solely as a frame of reference. As Mario progresses from kingdom to kingdom, it’s not clear how these aesthetically diverse worlds fit into the once familiar Mario universe. While that’s likely the point, they never quite feel like “Mario”.

To progress from world to world, the player is expected to collect a certain number of Power Moons to power Mario’s airship. While there is a clear target of power moons to collect, it’s never clear if the player should collect as many as possible now or if there will be an opportunity to collect later.

I’m not a completionist. If anything, I’ll blaze through a game as quickly as I can to relate to the zeitgeist. The idea that Super Mario Odyssey rests on the principle of collection is — dare I say — infuriating. Sure, collection is a core tenant of Super Mario 64. However, its hook comes from a limited but achievable set of 120 Power Stars as rewards for solving puzzles and riddles within the game’s 15 stages. However, Super Mario Odyssey falls “short” due to abundance — 999 Power Moons spread across a like 15 stages.

It quickly becomes apparent that collecting is the name of this game. Beyond power moons, there are outfits and airship decor to purchase with two types of coin — gold coins as generic, globally accepted currency; purple coins as world specific currency. Purchasable items match the flavor of coin. Outfits purchasable with gold coins are easier to obtain and can be purchased anywhere in the game, while those only purchasable with purple coins require the player to search each world high and low for every specialty coin. Outfits and decorations provide no value outside of aesthetic, but the idea of collecting them sinks its hooks in nonetheless. As for the airship decor, I was not clear what it was initially. In fact, I hadn’t purchased my first one until New Donk City.

Ah, New Donk City — Mario’s foray into a world populated by actual humans(?) It’s as wild as it sounds, but somehow, it is the most comfortable of the kingdoms the player visits. As mentioned above, the Tony Hawk / Sims vibe makes this concrete jungle surprisingly welcoming. So much so that I found myself trying to complete every little task in the world before moving on — something I hadn’t tried in worlds previous and quickly dropped afterward.

It wasn’t until New Donk City — 8 kingdoms in — that I felt like I understood the game on an objective level. While it’s difficult to put my finger on what felt different, I understood objectively what needed to be done, how to do it, and what to look for. New Donk City feels as welcoming as Super Mario 64‘s courtyard. It provides the opportunity, aesthetic, and space to mess around; to get comfortable. I can’t help but feel New Donk City should have been the first full world in which Mario travels. By wholehearted breaking the art style of Mario games past, it communicates that Mario isn’t in Kansas any more — things are going to get weird. But, it’s a safe space. The platforming opportunities abound go a long way to bridge Mario games of yore into Odyssey and get the player comfortable with the mechanics and core controls. It is the prize of Super Mario Odyssey.

Until New Donk City, I felt like I was tip-toeing throughout the game, afraid to miss something important. Something wasn’t clicking, which is a sour experience for a Mario game. At it’s core, Super Mario Odyssey is awful about communication. It does not communicate what’s necessary, what’s optional, and of the optional, what is what.

After a week away from the game, New Donk City is what I keep coming back to. I only wish New Donk City was larger. It’s a wonderful playground and an iconic area players will remember. My only hope is that Super Mario Odyssey — like Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker — is an expansion of what we know of the Mushroom Kingdom, or at least the universe in which it inhabits. I hope this is a taste of what’s to come for the Mario franchise — the characters and worlds introduced — or else what’s the point?


While playing, I strayed away from many reviews and opinions. Afterward, I needed validation that I wasn’t crazy — that Super Mario Odyssey is very, very good, but not great. That something was off. I found solace from Justin McElroy on Polygon’s Quality Control podcast:

It is hard to find — these days — a game where “progression” is not a large aspect of it. At least in the games that I find myself playing a lot. Almost every game has some sort of in-built role-playing system where you’re getting better, you’re getting more powerful, you’re collecting more items, you’re collecting more Pokémon — you’re building a stable of those — you know. There’s a sense of progression.

For me, I weirdly felt myself not incentivized to play more Mario. Like, I enjoy my time with it, but I don’t find myself… hooked. And I think it is because of that — because you can hunt down a bunch of moons in an individual level. But in the end, I don’t feel stronger or that I’ve accomplished more, necessarily.

Super Mario Odyssey is beautiful, charming, and expertly crafted — possibly the most polished and well designed game I’ve ever played. But the desire to jump back in never took hold. Beyond New Donk City, I wasn’t particularly enchanted by any of the other worlds and found myself rushing through the game. That said, mid-way through, I’d begun hearing whispers of something amazing waiting at the end of the game.

Truth be told, the end delivered. All of the charm and soul I had been waiting for came to a head. A smile spread across my face — the same smile I imbued upon booting up this new Mario adventure for the first time. I only wish that smile had maintained throughout my experience with Super Mario Odyssey.

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Traditional Games

Walt Williams in his book ‘Significant Zero’:

A traditional game is a challenge in which a player’s skill comes up again a rigid set of rules. Turn-based strategy, multiplayer death match, platformers—these are traditional. The modern, high-end, blockbuster AAA game is not a skill challenge. If it were, the player might fail and be disappointed, and then we wouldn’t sell as many copies. The rules are fluid. We change them to create tension, surprise, or excitement. Saying yes to the player only goes so far, and that distance is the exact length required to make you feel in control.

Last week, a colleague of mine asked how far I was into Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle. I told him that I was in the middle of the fourth (and possibly last) stage — Lava Pit. (For what it’s worth, I had recommended the game to him.) I also told him that playing Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle was the most fun I’d had with a video game in a long time. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was great, but the aesthetic doesn’t draw me back. Likewise, Splatoon 2 is lots of fun, but only in casual, Mario Kart-style doses. Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battlle has me not only progressing through the main campaign, but backtracking to achieve better, cleaner results in previous battles and optional challenges.

Right now, it seems the “traditional” game is where I find fulfillment. When life feels like a maze, solving simple, zero-stakes problems — in a world you adore — is unbelievably gratifying.

If platformers fit into this bucket, then boy, oh boy am I looking forward to Super Mario Odyssey.

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Why I love video games

Chris Plante in his first piece since returning to Polygon:

I love video games, but what I might love more is the opportunity I’ve had over the last decade to share the imperfect games with other people, people who might have otherwise passed them on their occasional visit to GameStop in search of Madden or Destiny, Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty. I like finding greatness in the world’s biggest games, too, but I recognize they set an expectation of polish and scope that so many games can’t match. When I criticize a game, I do so to set expectations, to provide context, to interrogate what doesn’t work and to shine a light on what does.

This is exactly how I used to approach music and how I currently approach books. With music, it used to be a mainstream vs. indie thing, but I’ve learned to appreciate the big budget works for what they’re worth as well. With books, it’s less about popularity and more about topics—granularity.

In any case, it’s great to see Plante back at it. A stellar writer and critic. We’re lucky to read his work.

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Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle: “Just looking around is a joy”

Patricia Hernandez in her review of Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle for Kotaku:

The game’s zones are numbered similarly to Super Mario Bros.’ in that there are worlds sectioned by levels—1-1, 1-2, and so on. Each area has its own Pixar-esque landscape, all themed in the most video-gamey way possible. Fire and ice world! Lava world! Obligatory starting-area-basic-forest world! It all seems crafted from clay. I don’t think I saw a sharp edge throughout my adventures; that cartoon aesthetic, combined with the top-down camera, made me feel like a kid mashing together dolls from different sets.

You can poke and prod some stuff around the overworld—there are some light environmental puzzles, and coins to collect—but just looking around is a joy. The haunted world, for example, is dotted with Boos, pipes stuffed with candles, and turbulent waters squeaking with rubber duckies. You move through these worlds controlling a party of three characters. I would run through everything and watch in awe as Mario stuck his arms out at top speed, Rabbids trailing behind him maniacally. The characters’ animations oozed so much personality that, dozens of hours in, I still stopped to appreciate them.

This echoes similar sentiments I published in my E3 recap:

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is the game I’m most looking forward to. It’s gorgeous and surprisingly deep. I can’t recall ever seeing the Mushroom Kingdom in such detail.

I waited two hours to play 16 minutes of Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle at E3. Madness. But as crazy it was, the immaculate detail of the game’s Mushroom Kingdom saved me from feeling it was a complete waste of time. Simply stunning.

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The Cubs Way, Music, and Management

“Is that Tom Waits?”

“Yeah. Do you like Tom Waits?”

“I love Tom Waits.”


I am haunted by a childhood memory. Around age 13, my Little League coach and assistant coach had a falling out. Team practices were put on hold. For a kid unenthused about sports, you’d think this was a blessing. But the team was working well together and… winning!

We had a fantastic cast of characters resembling The Sandlot. There were Bennys, Hams, and Yeah-Yeahs. Maybe a Squints here and there. I myself felt like Smalls. We were a mixed bag, some with little to no skill, but we bonded. We helped each other. The loss of practice was arresting. Devastating.

Mike called me up. He was one of the leaders — very much a Benny type. He was organizing a practice and called me up to summon others. After we got off the phone, I had a thought: we should bring music. I loved doing any activity to music. I called Mike back.

He didn’t call it a stupid idea, but he suggest that we didn’t need it. I hung up and felt silly for the idea. I’ve never forgotten how embarrassed I felt for suggesting the idea.

In his fantastic book “The Cubs Way”, author Tom Verducci notes an immediate tactic new Chicago Cubs coach Joe Maddon took with his team at the opening of the 2015 spring training — his first spring training with the team:

After Maddon’s opening speech as Chicago manager, the Cubs took the field—actually, a wide swath of grass out in back of their training center—looking like a different team. The best way to measure the immediate change in the Cubs under Maddon was in decibels. As the team began its morning stretch, a huge speaker blasted “Voodoo Child” by Jimi Hendrix. What followed were more tunes from among Maddon’s rock-and-roll favorites, including “Brown Sugar” by the Rolling Stones, “Gimme Three Steps” by Lynyrd Skynyrd, and “Tom Sawyer” by Rush.

“I’m a product of the ’60s and ’70s,” he told his new team. “You’ll have to put up with that.”

After reading this passage, I felt vindicated. My 13-year-old self’s idea was not stupid. Joe Maddon plays music. It’s not that big of a deal. Scaling back a bit of focus for a bit of fun encourages free thinking and flow. (A big reminder that my 13-year-old self had shit for brains.)

I’ve recently taken on a new management role. It is challenging beyond belief. With these challenges, I’ve put lots of attention into how my manager runs his team. One of the simplest and subtlest tricks he uses is playing music during one-on-ones and meetings. At times, it can feel distracting, but more often than not, it lightens the mood and opens up conversations outside of work. In a recent case, we hit on our shared love of Tom Waits. (What’s he building in there? A team. I’ll stop.)

I’ve now applied music to my one-on-ones. Nothing too distracting. No early-’00s post-hardcore, ’80s pop, or ’70s prog rock. Mellow electronic, jazz, or my Apple Music Chill Mix do the trick. I think it’s helping. It’s lightened the mood. And — for me at least — makes me feel a bit more connected to my team.

Music can be an equalizer. Embrace it. There shouldn’t be rules to how you manage or run your team meetings. Find energy. Find flow. Find commonality. And while you’re at it, find a copy of “The Cubs Way”.

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