Category Archives: General

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.

Tagged , , , , ,

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.

Tagged , , , ,

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?

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Jose Otero, IGN: ‘Attaching and detaching [Joy-Con] from the [Switch] is satisfying to the point that it’s almost addictive’

Jose Otero, IGN, timestamp 3:11:

Outside of the tiny face buttons, the analog sticks, digital triggers, and shoulder buttons feel solid and well made.

The Joy-Con are surprisingly comfortable and versatile in the hand too. And attaching and detaching them from the console is satisfying to the point that it’s almost addictive.

I remember feeling satisfaction attaching and detaching Controller and Rumble Paks from the Nintendo 64 controller’s expansion port.

I can’t wait to get my hands on this thing.

Tagged , , , , , ,

Just (Quietly) Dance

Xavier Poix, Managing Director of Ubisoft’s French studios, in a corporate update interview on UbiBlog:

Is the Switch going to revolutionise the market like the Wii did?

XP: The Wii attracted a very large audience – including kids and families – because it offered, on one hand, the motion controls, allowing for intuitive interactions with the console and on the other hand games with a strong social component. These aspects gave us the opportunity to develop Rabbids and Just Dance, for example. The Switch will probably have a similar impact, thanks to the mobility offered by the console. You don’t have to have a home console and a mobile console anymore; there’s one console, which is mobile, that you can bring anywhere.

Nice to see these comments, but that line-up doesn’t strike me as all to weighty. I see the value in the audience Ubisoft is targeting, especially after their experiences on the Wii and Wii U, but what of Ubisoft’s AAA games like Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry, and Watch Dogs? How will those hold up on the Switch?

And has anyone reported on the Switch’s speakers? I can’t imagine Just Dance being a thrill in handheld mode.

Tagged , , , ,

Nintendo: Amusement Provider

Takashi Mochizuki, The Wall Street Journal:

Rivals were pursuing high-end games with ever-greater technical sophistication. “We looked back at what Nintendo has done, and when you think about it, it’s really been an amusement provider,” Mr. Koizumi said. The Switch’s concept of playing games anywhere with anyone was born.

“When the concept was set, most of the Switch’s basics came together quickly,” he said. “Things like, you have to be able to take the controller outside, and you’ll need two of them.”

The 48-year-old Mr. Koizumi, who has participated in making titles in popular Nintendo series such as “The Legend of Zelda” and Mario, said one of the first decisions was to attach the two controllers to the console, making a self-contained unit that can be taken anywhere for two-person play.

“You could go out with a hand-held game device, but you can’t play with others if they don’t have the same device,” he said. “We wanted to provide people with more options to play games.”

Mochizuki has done a nice job extracting a top-level perspective of the Switch from his interview with Yoshiaki Koizumi.

Between Fils-Aimé’s comment about consuming Nintendo IP and Koizumi’s amusement provider bit, Nintendo has circled the identity wagons.

Tagged , ,

The Switch is a home console. The Switch is a “home” console. The Switch is a “home” console?

Chaim Gartenberg reporting for The Verge:

Storage-wise, the Switch includes 32GB of onboard memory, which feels dramatically low in today’s age of 500GB and 1TB Xbox Ones and PS4s, especially with the modern focus on downloadable titles. However, storage can be expanded through the use of microSD cards. Games for the Switch will come on physical GameCards, which may help alleviate the console’s onboard storage space by offloading most of the storage requirements for each game to the individual GameCards.

Lastly, the Switch can connect to the internet through an 802.11ac Wi-Fi connection, with the ability to connect to up to eight Switch consoles at once for local multiplayer. Additionally, the Switch will be able to connect using Ethernet using a USB LAN adaptor with the dock.

I keep needing to remind myself that the Switch is a “home” console you can take with you. That is the dream.

But the fact that the dock does little outside of charging and video output, not to mention the need for a USB LAN adaptor for an Ethernet connection, begs the question, “can Nintendo keep up with this ‘home’ console marketing push?”

The Switch is a powerful tablet with novel input devices. Curious to see how many players use it while docked. Also curious to see if developers cater to battery life over fidelity and performance.

UPDATE: Nintendo’s UK website now lists the Switch’s technical specifications, confirming separate wired LAN adapter:

Communication features

Wireless LAN (IEEE 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac compliant) / Bluetooth 4.1 (TV mode only. A wired LAN connection is possible through the use of a commercially available wired LAN adapter.)

Tagged , ,

Nintendo Switch’s ‘dedicated smart device app’ to allow consumers ‘to play those connected experiences… while they’re on the go’

Nintendo.com:

Online lobby and voice chat

Our new dedicated smart device app will connect to Nintendo Switch and let you invite friends to play online, set play appointments, and chat with friends during online matches in compatible games─all from your smart device.

Reggie Fils-Aimé offered WIRED’s Chris Kohler soke additional color:

The reason for that is, it continues to reinforce our commitment to online, and do so in a way that will enable the consumer to enjoy their Nintendo Switch and to still be able to play those connected experiences—like Splatoon, like Kart, like fill in the blank—while they’re on the go. Instead of having some sort of bulky gamer headset, you’ll be able to do it right off your smartphone, put in your earbuds that you use for your standard mobile device. We think that’s a pretty sweet solution. That’s part of the overall opportunity that we see in a subscription service.

This is another novel idea. Perhaps it unburdens the Switch by offloading online communications and interactions to the smartphone, possibly conserving battery life and performance. Moreover, it seems to suggest that the Switch can continue online interactions when away from Wi-Fi.

It might also make for a nice Switch + AirPods experience.

Tagged , ,

Reggie Fils-Aimé: ‘I don’t mind how you interact with our IP as long as you’re interacting with it every day’

Reggie Fils-Aimé, in an interview with TIME’s Matt Peckham:

TIME: Mr. Iwata once said of the Wii that he wanted it to be “something that you turn on right after turning on the TV.” Do you still think like that?

Reggie Fils-Aimé: I would say that our thinking has evolved, in that we envision the consumer having a direct experience with our intellectual property (IP) as the core foundation of the company. Meaning, I want you to love what you’re doing with Zelda, with Animal Crossing, with Smash Bros. Nurturing that love for the IP is the overarching objective.

How we will do that will now be executed in a variety of different ways. It’ll still be executed with a dedicated gaming system or systems. It’ll be executed through mobile. It’ll be executed through licensed merchandise. It’ll be executed in other ways, like what we are doing with Universal Studios. So it’s not so much changing the way you interact with your TV. It really is all about how you interact with our IP.

And part of the reason why this has evolved is, you talk to a lot of millennials, and they don’t really have the same type of engagement with their TV that I grew up with. They’re interacting with other screens now, and they’re just as happy interacting with those other screens. And so that has caused us to really continue refining our proposition. In the end, I don’t mind how you interact with our IP as long as you’re interacting with it every day.

Tagged , , ,

Nintendo Switch Presentation 2017 Impressions

On Friday, January 13 at 1 PM Japan Standard Time, Nintendo unveiled new details about their Switch “home” console. While hard tech specs didn’t make an appearance — I thought for sure Nvidia would have been showcased — deeper insight to the Joy-Con, play styles, and 2017 library were provided. Above all, what the keynote will be remembered for is an awkward Squid Researcher.

Nintendo Switch will launch in “Japan, US, Canada, major European countries, Hong Kong, and other territories” on March 3rd. It will retail in Japan for ¥29,980, the US for $299.99, and varying prices in the European territories. Software will not be region locked, which is an incredibly big move for Nintendo.

Pre-orders for the Switch went up after the event and appear too have quickly depleted.

Presentation

As a whole, the presentation felt backwards and tonally awkward. Without building any hype, Nintendo opened with launch dates and pricing. The Joy-Con demonstration as well as the trailers for first-party titles 1-2-Switch and Arms felt long-in-the-tooth. At least two of the presenters garnered “WTF” moments that also seemed to throw off one of the translators. And then there was Hisashi Nogami’s Splatoon 2 appearance as a “Squid Researcher”.

Nintendo makes cute games and they’ve done cute things during presentations, but they’ve never struck me as outlandishly awkward. The Splatoon 2 portion sapped the presentation of its professionalism, which feels odd to say as it’s a game about squid children shooting paint at one another. At it’s core, Switch is a toy. But it’s audience doesn’t treat it that way. Nintendo is a global company. It has been since the Wii, and certainly before that to its core, 30-somethings audience.

Even for the crazy toymaker, there has been something professional about their presentations, marketing, and — since the Wii — industrial design. The latter of which is present in the Switch. The system’s design is as plain as ever and comes in stark contrast to a squirt-gun wielding executive taking the stage.

Switch

Note the quotes around “home” in my intro. Early in the presentation, Nintendo stated that the Switch is a “home” console:

7:45: “Nintendo Switch is a video game system for the home.”

8:14: “Nintendo Switch has been designed to be a home console gaming system that gives you the freedom to change your play style.”

Within 30 seconds, Nintendo hammered on the idea that Switch is built for the home. It felted pointed and explicit. It’s an important point. The Switch is intended to be the dream: a home console you can take with you.

Modes of play include:

  • TV Mode: “Typical video game style.”
  • Tabletop Mode: “Play video games in front of a screen with others, wherever you like, even away from the TV.”
  • Handheld Mode: “Take it with you and play indoors, outdoors, or anywhere you like.”

On the point of battery life, Nintendo claims that the Switch will have two-and-a-half to six hours of battery life when in a portable mode. Nintendo.com gives the example “The Legend of Zelda™: Breath of the Wild can be played for roughly three hours on a single charge.” After October’s initial announcement and industry chatter after, I crossed my fingers that the Switch’s portable play would average three hours. At it’s minimum, two-and-a-half hours is a sweet spot. It may not get you through a flight from San Francisco to New York, but it shouldn’t need to. Studies show that 3 or more hours of gaming can being to have negative psychosocial effects.

The Switch will also offer  8-person local multiplayer in portable mode. Depending on adoption, this could be a killer feature. The capability alone screams that Nintendo is gunning for a new generation of portable gaming.

Last but not least, it was great to see Nintendo adopting USB-C. Color me shocked that Nintendo, the company that passed up HDMI on the 2006 Wii and was still using resistive touchscreens on the 2011 3DS and 2012 Wii U, would ship a device with the latest standard in USB technology.1

Joy-Con

These are impressive little gizmos with a funny name. From what I could count, they include:

  • 7 gameplay inputs (buttons) on each controller
  • Analog stick
  • NFC (shown on right, but presumably both)
  • Home button (right)
  • Camera button (left)
  • Accelerometer and gyro sensors
  • “-” (left) and “+” (right) buttons
  • Motion IR camera (right only)
  • HD rumble

The HD Rumble demonstration claimed that the sensation of a glass with one, two, or three ice cubes rattling as well as the glass filling up with water could be felt in a single Joy-Con. The best I could figure was that HD rumble include three independent rumble motors, allowing for altered effects.

It’s worth noting that when the Joy-Con are separated from the Switch itself, the right Joy-Con features a joystick in its center. I can’t imagine this feels great. I guess I’ll leave it up to a company that shipped a controller with an analog joystick in its center to make that call.

Games

We’ve known about The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild since 2013. And the October 2016 announcement of Nintendo Switch teased a new 3D Mario game. Two staples we, without a doubt, knew we were getting. Even Skyrim was a fairly sure certainty for the platform.

1-2-Switch

The equivalent of Wii Sports for Wii and and Nintendo Land for Wii U, 1-2-Switch is Switch’s tutorial game. It looks extremely awkward, but I’ll blame that on the all to lengthy Mexican standoff demonstration. For better or worse, it was a solid reminder that Nintendo is a toy company.

Arms

Interestingly, Nintendo introduced a first-party fighter. But not just any fighter. In true Nintendo fashion, Arms is also a shooter of sorts. A fighter-shooter hybrid labeled as a “Fighting sports game.” It looks like it might even be fun without motion controls. Like other Nintendo franchises before it, it appears to feature a cast of (possibly) memorable characters such as Spring Man and Ribbon Girl. Will Arms be the next Wii boxing or Splatoon? What do you think of the name?

Splatoon 2

While Wii Remotes (how did they not go with “Wiimotes”?!) were available for Wii U, Switch seems like a much more natural fit for Splatoon. As far as motion control shooters go, I loved the feel of Metroid Prime 3 on Wii. It’s also nice to see Nintendo doubling-down on this new franchise.

Super Mario Odyssey

Mario is out of the Mushroom Kingdom, and seeming into the real-world. At least for some portion of the game. Super Mario Odyssey is meant to evoke “the excitement when visiting unknown countries for the very first time.” The visuals look incredible, relying heavily on shadows and environmental physics. This is in contrast to another visually impressive Mario game — Super Mario Galaxy, which used an opposite lighting effect on Mario, providing a white shine around his model. While the visuals and openness of Super Mario Odyssey look sunning, there is something discomforting about seeing the cartoonish Mario next to Sim-ish humanoids. I’m most looking forward to this game.

Xenoblade Chronicles 2

I’ve always wanted to dive into the Xenoblade series, and this might be the title that does it. The art design is imaginative and the scale looks impressive. The blue armor and prominence of a helmet on one of the characters kept screaming “Mega Man” and had me scraping credits in search of any possible crossover. The one thing I couldn’t shake from this trailer was the scene of a character riding a lion-like creature. The frame-rate seemed very low and jittery. A similar jarring moment occurred during the Xenoblade Chronicles trailer in the Nintendo Direct 1.14.2015. (See my note mid-way down the page.)

Project Octopath Traveler

Boy, oh boy, does this game look great! Next-level Paper Mario meets Retro Final Fantasy? It’s titles like this that make me excited for the portability of the Switch. Something about retro stylings screams “personal” and “portable” to me.

Skyrim

I’ve been itching for a portable version of Skyrim since I tried playing on Xbox 360. Skyrim is a game to get lost in; to spend hours with. But to spend hours taking over the TV in our house would be unconscionable. Needless to say, I never got more than three hours into this game on Xbox 360. I’m very much looking forward finally working through this game on my own portable screen.

Ultra Street Fighter II: The Final Challengers

There was a brief clip of a Street Fighter game during the final Switch video. Like others, I immediately thought we’d seen a glimpse of the Virtual Console on Switch. Alas, it appears to be a standalone version of Ultra Street Fighter II: The Final Challengers.

Mario Kart 8: Deluxe

I kept wondering if the glimpses of Mario Kart throughout the presentation were a new Mario Kart game. But they appeared too similar to Mario Kart 8.

Low and behold, Nintendo will be re-releasing Mario Kart 8 for the Nintendo Switch as Mario Kart 8: Deluxe with some extra bells and whistles:

  • Pop some balloons in the revamped Battle mode, complete with Balloon Battle and Bob-omb Blast.
  • Inkling Girl & Inkling Boy from Splatoon, King Boo, Dry Bones, and Bowser Jr. join the roster!
  • Players can choose a new Smart Steering feature which makes driving and staying on the track easy for novice players and kids even at 200cc
  • Returning items include Boo, the item stealing ghost, and the Feather, which gives you a high jump in battle mode.

Mario Kart 8 is one of the greats. Some of my fondest video game memories are of playing that game. (Not to mention, my fondest Zero Counts moment!) I wholeheartedly agree with Stratechery’s Ben Thompson:

Super Bomberman R

I don’t have much to say about Super Bomberman R. I was never a huge fan of the Bomberman series. I do recall playing a ton of Blaster Master Jr. on Game Boy. I mainly wanted call out my nostalgia and affection for Bomberman 64.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Breath of the Wild is a Switch launch title. Nintendo presented this as huge news, but it comes off more as a confirmation to quell fan fears. Beyond that, not too many additional details were given. The new, extended trailer showed off the breadth of the open Hyrule as well as new and familiar characters. And while cartoony, the tone of the narrative seemed fairly adult.

My favorite part was the Vanilla Sky ending to the entire presentation. Open your eyes…

Bringing It Together

At the very beginning of the keynote, Shinya Takahashi gave a quick run-through of Nintendo’s past consoles. It had a nice Apple-y touch, focusing on the innovation and lessons of the past to brought Nintendo to the Switch:

  • Famicom (NES): Shipped with two controllers
  • Game Boy: Pioneered portable video games as we know them today
  • Super Famicom (SNES): Added X & Y and L & R shoulder buttons
  • Nintendo 64: Introduced the first analog joystick and rumble (Rumble Pak) to a controller
  • GameCube: Included a handle with the intention to be a home console could move from location to location
  • Nintendo DS: Touchscreen portable gaming
  • Wii: Brought motion controls to the mass market
  • Wii U: Enabled console gaming off the TV

Without question, Switch is another unique and possibly industry changing device. Like Apple, Nintendo often skates to where the puck is headed, defining industry trends. And without question, the biggest dream of all is being able to take your home console on the go.


1I am so thrilled that USB-C seems to be taking off like it is. Within months of Apple going whole hog on their MacBook and MacBook Pro lines, I’ve purchased a Drobo 5C and ROLI Lightpad Block that are also equipped with USB-C. Now I’ll be able to add Nintendo Switch to the mix.

Tagged , , , ,