Category Archives: General

‘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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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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Kudos to Nintendo’s E3 Booth Team

Yahoo’s Ben Silverman and host Jeff Cannata on the DLC podcast:

Ben Silverman: I think the problem wasn’t that there were fans there, I just think that no one was prepared for this. The management of the [Los Angeles Convention Center] didn’t route people in ways that made sense. It was just like everyone go and charge through these gigantic halls. The booths weren’t set up to handle that crush of fans.

On the first night — Tuesday night — Nintendo furiously reorganized their booth so that Wednesday and Thursday it would make more sense.

Jeff Cannata: And kudos to them because they did a great job. Tuesday it was literally just a sea of people at the Nintendo booth. It was unmanageable, completely. And kudos to them for staying up late that night and figuring it out. They had structure that really worked for the rest of the show. I mean, it was a six hour line — I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy — but it still at least allowed movement through their booth.

My friend and I took note of Nintendo’s queue management restructure on Wednesday as well. It was very cool to see. However, the lines for Super Mario Odyssey remained completely insane, but at least there were lines.

I mentioned that my friend and I lucked out in playing Super Mario Odyssey. Wednesday morning, after being let into the LACC, we beelined it for Super Mario Odyssey, but were discouraged to find that the line was already three hours long. A Nintendo booth actor/temp — dressed in a New Donk City themed suit and fedora no less — whispered “a secret” that the attendees sitting on a bench behind us with Switches in handheld mode were actually partaking in the demo. To a passerby, they looked like attendees playing on their own consoles. We were none the wiser until the fedora-clad “Donkian” gave us the coat full of contraband treatment. (I don’t think he was in character, but it fit the bill.) We immediately formed a line next to the bench, sparking another lengthy queue.

In all fairness, the actor/temp should have informed those waiting in the longer line that the Switches on the bench were demo units as well, long before my friend and I arrived. On the flip side, the lengthy Super Mario Odyssey line was a for a docked Switch with headphones — the full console experience. The bench Switches were portable mode only and did not feature audio, one of my favorite elements of Mario games.

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E3 2017

E3 debuted in 1995 — 22 years ago. This year, for the first time ever, the Entertainment Software Association welcomed the public to the expo. As a follower of E3 since age 9, I was overjoyed to have nabbed one of the 15,000 publicly released tickets.

The Event

The days leading up to the event were spent streaming presentations from Microsoft, Bethesda, EA, and Sony. Nintendo’s event took place while I was in the air, so I dove headfirst into the tidy 25 minute Nintendo Spotlight upon touchdown. I’d missed Ubisoft‘s presentation, but felt fairly caught up after scanning headlines during the cab ride from LAX to the Los Angeles Convention Center. I was ready for E3.

As expected, the entry lines snaked around the building. I had braced myself for standing in lines for three days straight. In the meantime, I took to booking appointments for the Sony booths via the Experience PlayStation app. I attempted to sign into the app with my PSN credentials only to find myself in an “incorrect password” loop bug, identifying storefronts and cars for CAPTCHA for upwards of 30 minutes. (Mind you, the likely “slammed by tens of thousands of E3 participants” LTE reception was poor. This did not bode well for my battery.) I could have signed in as a guest, but was hoping for a bit of PSN love if signed in. After several failed attempts, my password was finally reset, I successfully signed into the app, and was able to grab one of the remaining theater demo slots for Uncharted: The Lost Legacy. All other demos and theater slots were booked. Try again at 2pm.

Our entry line eventually moved into the Convention Center’s south hall where buzz was abound the cacophony of video game themed booths. Final Fantasy. Capcom vs. Marvel. Middle-earth: Shadow of War. Massive projections. Lighting flurries. Dragons. Cram over-the-top Disneyland aesthetics into an overcrowded casino and you have E3. Entering the gates of the video game holy land seemed everything I’d hoped it’d be.

Then we looked for games to play. And looked. And looked. And looked. The massive crowds had overtaken all available consoles for the next handful of hours. All lines were quickly capped. Luck being our only chance to play anything, it quickly became apparent that a three day pass for a single price was less of a steal as it was a requirement to actually feel like you were able to participate in what E3 had to offer. It would certainly take at least three days of waiting in lines for an attendee to play your top five choices of E3.

Clinging to hope that the crowds would thin out over the next two days, my friends and I took to wandering, stargazing, and stabbing our phones for appointment times at the Sony booth. Splitting up and sharing our experiences proved to be the best strategy. Nintendo’s construction of Super Mario Odyssey‘s New Donk City was the star of the show. IGN’s production crew and round the clock coverage was captivating. A plethora of fighting game competitions littered both halls. (I was transfixed watching Injustice 2 fighter Jen annihilate nearly every competitor that showed up.) Ubisoft made their presence known with multiple massive projections, live demos from development teams, and plenty of Just Dance 2018 performances. (Any tips for getting Hyuna’s Bubble Pop out of one’s head?)

While it was nice to see and play highly anticipated games ahead of release, the real magic of E3 2017 were the extravagant booths, passionate publisher/developer staff, wandering games media personnel, and ecstatic fans. The lines were hellish and I really wish I’d been able to play more. It was an exhaustive, discouraging experience that could have been more conducive to consumers with better line management (Sony’s mediocre app was the best experience and even that was painful), more live demos rather than hands-on areas with larger theaters, co-op or multiplayer experiences when possible, more occupied floor space, and simply less people. One full day may have been enough, but three was required to participate in more than one activity. It was certainly a childhood dream come true and I was expecting no less, but I can’t say I’ll be retuning to E3 without media or industry credentials in the future.

The Games

At the end of day three, I walked away seeing live demos of Uncharted, Spider-Man, Monster Hunter World, Days Gone, and Middle-earth: Shadow of War, and played Super Mario Odyssey and Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle. (My friend and I lucked out by standing next to a nearly unoccupied Super Mario Odyssey demo and I waited two hours for 16 minutes of Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle.) In hindsight, it was not enough to feel fulfilled by the experience.

Of the two games I played, Super Mario Odyssey was the better. 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!

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. And like any great Mario game, it feels like it may be deceptively difficult. I’ve never played an XCOM game, and the demo seemed to only scratch the surface, but the number of methods to approaching and evading battle seemed impressive. There is a certain chess-like quality to the game in that you may need to think twice or thrice before executing a move. Enemies lurk in around cover and, if you’re not careful, environmental elements can throw off your game. I do worry that variety will be a problem; the old “Sonic” syndrome where the first handful of levels feel great but then feel dull or repetitive or both. We shall see.

Uncharted looks like Uncharted. I certainly love the idea of playing as Chole, but the sequence shown did little to suggest that this would be any different from previous iterations. And that may be fine, but unless there is a drastically different element (Uncharted 2‘s sequences > Uncharted 1, Uncharted 3‘s story > Uncharted 2, Uncharted 4‘s fidelity > Uncharted 3), I feel it’s a bit soon to jump back into this world.

The live Spider-Man demo went a little off script from the Sony presentation but was largely the same. I love the Arkham-like feel, but the reliance on quicktime events is a bit off-putting. Still, I’m looking forward to this game. (Now I want Insomniac to make a TMNT game!)

Days Gone was touted for it’s variety of mission approaches and environmental effects on the population, but the post-apocalypse / zombie infestation disenchanted me. How are we not done with zombies yet?

Both Monster Hunter World and Middle-earth: Shadow of War looked incredibly chaotic yet impressive. The highlight of Monster Hunter World came when a giant iguana-like monster crashed out of a nearby forest to feast on another gigantic beast — albeit lower in the food chain — plumping up like a snake after the meal, and sauntering back into the forest. Back at the nest, the iguana-like creature regurgitated part of his meal, summoning it’s offspring to the feast. Later in the demo, the same iguana-like creature would join our battle against a T. Rex-like monster as the T. Rex-like was trespassing on the iguana-like’s territory. Quite the world!

Middle-earth: Shadow of War looks to be focused more on castle raids than the previous entry. Players will recruit orc war chiefs throughout their play and choose which ones they will bring into a castle raid, strategizing their recruits’ strengths vs. the castle’s war chiefs’ weaknesses. Before the demo, director of technical art at Monolith Mike Allen touted enhancements to the nemesis system; however, these did not seem evident to me. I was expecting something more along the lines of the beloved Brûz.

There was lots of buzz about Detroit throughout the show. It plays like Heavy Rain, allowing payers to investigate a scene in attempts to build a successful outcome to a dire situation. While I did not get a chance to play Detroit, I did observe four different endings to the hostage scenario players were given the opportunity to partake in: 1 failure, 3 successes. The failure resulted in the hostage being killed. The successes varied in:

  1. the player sacrificing himself to save the hostage
  2. the player saving the hostage, but being shot during the encounter
  3. convincing the rival android to comply, saving the hostage and himself

There are plenty of games that offer a variety of situations and solutions, but to see these different scenarios play out next to each other simultaneous by different individuals’ actions was rather interesting to see. I can’t say the game is for me, but of those that played it, most felt it was the game for them.

As noted, I wasn’t able to partake in much. Nor were all games showcased during the presentations being showcased — Anthem and God of War most notably. Ultimately, I feel I’d gotten everything I needed from the presentations. A trip to E3 was not warranted.

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Sold on Cross-Network Play

During the Nintendo Spotlight: E3 2017, cult favorite Rocket League was announced for the Switch. The announcement included the bullet point “Cross-Network play”, officially detailed on RocketLeague.com, emphasis my own:

Rocket League will also support all of Nintendo Switch’s play modes, including TV Mode (docked), Tabletop Mode, Handheld Mode, and both Online and Local Multiplayer. Online Multiplayer supports up to eight players, and Cross-Network play will be supported as well, allowing Switch players to hit the field with players on Steam and Xbox One.

The idea that I can play the exact same game with a friend on a different console should not be novel. It is a future I’ve been hoping for, and honestly, a no brainer from a consumer’s perspective.

For non-exclusives, I don’t want to have think about shutting out some of my friends based on a console decision. A handful of my friends prefer playing on Xbox One. Another handful prefer playing on PlayStation 4. I’m caught in the middle and certainly don’t want to purchase the game twice. (Nor should I be expected to own both consoles!)

Without the knowledge of different online communities, buying a game as a gift can be a tremulous experience for family and friends. Confusion exists for the non-gaming community. There are horror stories of purchasing Wii U games for Wii owners. Hell, there was confusion between NES and SNES games back in the ’90s. I would argue that purchasing a game for the correct console, but being locked out of playing with friends simply because they own a different console sounds like lunacy to those without gaming knowledge.

However, as Myke Hurley on the Remaster podcast points out, PlayStation will not be partaking.:

It’s very awesome that [Rocket League] has Cross-Network play. You’ll be able to play against players on other platforms. This is just PC and Xbox right now, which is the same for Minecraft. With the new Minecraft, you will sign in with an Xbox Live account to play on the Switch. So this is something it seems like a bunch of different game companies are getting together with one notable absent platform which is PlayStation.

This is not a technical limitation. It is political.

Jeremy Dunham, VP of publishing at Psyonix, in an interview with Polygon:

“It’s literally something we could do with a push of a button, metaphorically,” Dunham told Polygon. “In reality it’s a web page with a checkbox on it. All we have to do is check that box and it would be up and running in less than an hour all over the world. That’s all we need to do.”

As an owner of all three consoles, the gesture of Cross-Network play between Xbox One and Switch — even between two games, Rocket League and Minecraft — is enough to push me over the edge of purchasing and playing third-party titles available for both Xbox One and PlayStation 4 on Xbox One.

Cross-Network play is the future for third-party titles and I have faith Sony will follow suit. Until then, whenever I’m debating which “HD twin” to play third-party multiplayer experiences on, Xbox One gets my money, simply on the potential that their willingness will bring more shared Cross-Network play experiences. (Come on, Overwatch!)

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Hail Mario 2: Electrodrome Boogaloo

In 2014, I wrote Hail Mario, a post about Nintendo’s aggressive strategy to bolster Wii U sales with the release of Mario Kart 8:

Nintendo gambled for positive reviews two weeks before launch, is now chalking up at least $40 in games to every US and Canadian Mario Kart owning household, and prays that their Trojan horse will be the spark to move units. Since release, the game has received stunning accolades, Club Nintendo has been brought down by what can only be assumed as immense traffic for free games, and at least one Wii U newcomer is being tugged at by curiosity.

When people think of video games, a large majority picture a mustachioed plumber in a red hat, but Master Chief and the Minecraft universe are only 3 points down. There are still many plays to be made but a well-timed, well-calculated marketing play this big could be enough to save the game. Mario Kart 8 may give Nintendo the lead they need to send a message to the HD Twins: Nintendo’s race is not over.

The post was picked up on Daring Fireball and is far and away the most popular Zero Counts post. (Thanks, Mr. Gruber!)

Mario Kart 8‘s early review embargo showed confidence in the game and got media outlets openly singing the game’s praises well ahead of release. In addition to building hype, Mario Kart 8 came bundled with a free download for one of four AAA games.

For the Switch, Nintendo has released Mario Kart 8 Deluxe — a slightly enhanced version with a revived and much beloved battle mode and all cups, courses, characters, and DLC unlocked. To add, what I had already considered the best Mario Kart entry to date, can now be taken on the go and played in a myriad of situations — TV or portable; solo, local split screen, or online; out of the box 2-player with Joy-Cons, 8 paired Switches, or 12 player wired LAN. (Mic has a great breakdown.)

Until this point, the Switch has been a Zelda machine; a single player experience. There were a handful of multiplayer games, but nothing close to a must-have or system seller. With Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Nintendo has released the true test of the Switch’s promise — console-level gaming with anyone anywhere. How would new Switch players react? Would previous Wii U owners (and likely Mario Kart 8 owners) care? How does portable multiplayer hold up?

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.

While the 6.2-inch display is fantastic for a single player experience, split-screen is a bit uncomfortable, but not impossible. The fun had over bouts of office Mario Kart eclipsed the discomfort, but it was never completely put it out of our minds. Likewise, a few gripes and cramps were had from the ergonomics when using a single Joy-Con as a primary controller. The situation is tight, but for an experience like Mario Kart 8, the pain seemed to be worth the pleasure.

At home, as my wife and I settled into bed, we decided to have a go at one race. I tried to place the Switch on the bed between us — an impossible feat due to the unforgiving kickstand. So, a book was used as the foundation. We peeled away the Joy-Con and we’re off to the races. Together we squinted at the tiny screen. I proved to be too uncomfortable for extended periods of play, but we agreed that it would serve well on flights.

The main annoyance came from the placement of the L and R buttons. For her, they felt too close together. To be fair, fitting such a functional controller in the palm a hand is a feat. In fact, there were multiple instances throughout the day when players were shocked to find that the Joy-Con rumbled too.

Breaking out Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on the Switch is all fun and good, but there’s not much for players of the original Mario Kart 8. Mario Kart has always been about the party atmosphere, and this version is the ultimate. And I can see myself jumping into a quick pick up game here and there, but otherwise, I’ve been there done that. There’s nothing to unlock. No new cups, courses, or characters. The portability of the Switch paired with Mario Kart plugs a some gaming holes some may never been the wiser, but nothing more than a quick casual experience romp.

I wish I could speak from the newbie to Mario Kart 8 experience. For that, see Jeremy Parish’s Retronauts review of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. It’s a fantastic game, but even for newcomers, what does Mario Kart feel like without triumphing for new cups or characters? Does the high polish of Mario Kart 8 hold its luster without striving for something other than victory? Does the out-of-the-box portable multiplayer feel as novel when you haven’t played MK8 on a TV for the past few years?

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe shows off all the Switch has to offer, but other than pure competition, there’s no hook. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is a must-have for party moments and quick pick up game, but not a system seller. At least not at $60.

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Phil Collins: Crash Bandicoot man

A fun tidbit from Phil Collins’ memoir “Not Dead Yet”:

Somewhat dazed, I go back to the hotel, the Peninsula Beverly Hills. Lily, now aged nine, is waiting for me, which brightens things up no end. She and I start playing Spyro the Dragon—computer games are one of our new shared passions. I love them, and I love Spyro, although if push comes to shove, I’ll declare myself a Crash Bandicoot man. As if by magic, the hearing in my left ear roars back. It’s like I’ve been underwater, but the blockage is suddenly gone. Thank God for that.

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Eurogamer: ‘Docked Zelda Stutters in Places Where the Mobile Experience Does Not’

Richard Leadbetter, Eurogamer:

In terms of performance, it’s immediately clear to the naked eye that the docked Zelda stutters in places where the mobile experience does not – and to confirm this, we manually counted frames by eye based on our camera shots to ensure accuracy in producing the performance test below. It’s really easy to isolate this issue as it occurs frequently in the open world, right from the beginning of the game. In some places, we see the smooth 30fps update while docked drop down to a momentary 20fps – confirming a basic double-buffer v-sync implementation.

Home console?

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