Happy Fifth Birthday Wii U- Oh, OK Then

Wow, what a nifty device!

Ranking my favourite games on a Nintendo console right around some major multiple-of-five anniversary has been one of the most consistent things I’ve been able to do on this blog, not to mention one of my favourite kinds of post to write. But never before have I been able to so comprehensively make one such list on the first possible milestone. The Wii U is well and truly done and has been for months, but here we are on its five-year anniversary of release in Australia on November 30th, 2012, and I’m already able to count down my ten favourite games on the thing.

I believe it is Animal Crossing: New Leaf that features a reference within Nintendo’s own studio system to the Wii U’s failure. If you obtain a Wii U console in-game and approach it while it’s on display, you get the pithy message “Great artists aren’t always appreciated in their own time.” It’s a chuckle-worthy bit of self-deprecating humour, but it does contain a grain of truth. Due to its terrible opening 18 months, where a combination of hubris, awful all-around marketing and general industry panic resulted in a more-or-less sealed fate, the Wii U’s “time” was short and unimpressive to the masses. Luckily for the few people who did own one, however, not only did the Wii U boast the widest range of first party Virtual Console titles in the retro gaming service’s history and a pretty wonderful social media environment in the form of Miiverse, but when Nintendo’s back was to the wall, the company sure produced some amazing games. These are my absolute favourites.

Just a quick warning: I cheat on this list. Three times. Without regrets. It’s technically a top 13…

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10. NES Remix (1&2)

Right off the bat we start with two games in one entry, but here’s a sobering thought: NES Remix is the only Wii U-exclusive game to see a sequel on the same console. That’s not why they share a position on this list though – That’d be because they are essentially two halves of one package that come with a combined price tag a fraction of what a full retail release costs. The NES Remix twins represent some of the most fun you can have with a group of friends on the Wii U – and without a strict player number cap to boot. Despite an ostensibly single-player presentation, you can lose lives so quickly in these games that they almost beg to be played in a pass-the-controller group setup. That’s almost exclusively how I played it, at least. Chopping up absolute classics with nonetheless dated mechanics and throwing them into a blender with other, perhaps less stellar 1980s games is a surprisingly effective recipe for uproarious chaos, and I really hope we haven’t seen the end of this mini-franchise.
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9. Nintendo Land / Game & Wario

At first glance, this is a devious rule break, but there’s method to the madness. For as long as these two games have been out in the marketplace (so most of the Wii U’s lifespan), I have maintained that if you splice half of Nintendo Land and half of Game & Wario together to make one five-player party game, you get one of the very best and most unique experiences on the Wii U. Though Nintendo Land gets no shortage of hate for its poorly-received launch game status – and Game & Wario tends to get forgotten entirely – there are some genuine gems to be found across these two wacky titles. The Luigi’s Mansion-inspired ghost game in Nintendo Land was played more times in my house than most other entire games, such is its unironically ingenius 4-vs-1 multiplayer slant, and you can say something similar about Game & Wario‘s Fruit – which pits a room of watchful bystanders against one nervous player trying to blend in amongst a screen full of AI characters. Taking into account the Mario and Animal Crossing themed attractions from the former game and the Pictionary-lite mode / insane ring-toss variation from the latter, it really baffles me why Nintendo never officially paired the two collections in some capacity. No first-party release after these two showcased the one-of-a-kind potential that the Wii U’s control setup could offer.  
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8. Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE

Persona. It’s a word that will make almost any JPRG fan sit up and take notice, and it absolutely should have been found somewhere in the rather confusing title of Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE. Despite a premature announcement trailer that hyped up a bona fide Fire Emblem crossover with Atlus’ Shin Megami Tensei series, the gameplay loop and visual style of this buried gem has much more in common with the storied SMT sub-series Persona, which has only recently broken into the wider gaming consciousness this year. Though it was spoken of within gaming circles as the game to play if you just couldn’t wait for Persona 5 on the PS4, it turns out that Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE is no mere entree, and despite sharing much of the same structural Persona DNA it has plenty of worthwhile appeal all its own. In fact it is just as effective when played after Persona 5 is over, because its manically optimistic energy seems like the perfect antidote to the melancholy that the 100-hour PS4 epic can exhibit at times. Though Tokyo Mirage Sessions leans into its J-pop industry aesthetic so emphatically that it is bound to put some people off, it has plenty of critical things to say and just as importantly, the battle system, upgrade paths and character arcs are extremely satisfying. And the in-game menus are laced with neon lime green, which is a hearty bonus.

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I Went to Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses at the Sydney Opera House

Oh look, a post that isn’t ludicrously lengthy.

At the end of last month I put to bed a small regret of mine – Half a decade ago I was presented with the opportunity to attend the Sydney debut of Symphony of the Goddesses, a worldwide concert tour immediately following on from the special Legend of Zelda 25th Anniversary concerts in Japan and the USA. For reasons I can no longer remember clearly (probably funds), I did not take this opportunity. Naturally I regretted my decision pretty soon after the performance dates arrived and several of my friends raved about how good the show was. I told myself the next time I had such a chance I would not let it pass. But for years, no such chance appeared.

So when, after years of sporadic worldwide tours with varying set lists, the announcement was made that Symphony of the Goddesses would be returning to Sydney harbour this year, no price would have been too high for me to snatch up a ticket. Two years after entering the opera house for the first time to attend the Pokemon Symphonic Evolutions showcase, I was back in the venue’s main concert hall to take in the fully-realised music of one of my absolute favourite media franchises. And what an evening it was.

There are three main reasons I’d go to see an orchestral performance of a videogame music selection – The atmosphere, the craft and the arrangement. Hardly groundbreaking reasons of course, and I’m sure the majority of the people in attendance on the night had similar motivations. Atmosphere is created mostly by said people, whose collective energy and passion tend to elevate an event that otherwise gets by on a uniquely strange blend of nerdiness and class. This department provided the largest point of difference between the Pokemon concert and the Zelda one for me. At the Pokemon event, there seemed to be more themed and/or casual dress in and around the hall, while during the concert the audience reacted loudly to each track and arrangement – especially the more widely recognised ones. While the Zelda show was hardly black tie – and cosplay was there if you looked for it – I definitely noticed more of a conservative attitude to dress code in general. What’s more, during the concert you could tell a crowd favourite by a groundswell of hushed whispers and gasps rather than whoops and shouts. I can’t quite put my finger on the reason for this (perhaps Zelda’s slightly older fanbase, or the fact the concert landed on the exact weekend of PAX Australia in Melbourne) but it certainly lent the atmosphere a more reverential tone and allowed quieter pieces – of which Zelda boasts several – to shine.

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A Week With Pokemon Silver Version in 2017

I was a few paragraphs into writing this when the SNES Classic came out and ruined everything. I came back to the post afterwards and, naturally, it then turned into several thousand words.

2017 has been an insane year for new release videogames, a fact that has become even more true over the last few months. And yet my most anticipated release date of September 2017 was the 22nd, when Nintendo and the Pokemon Company would – at long last – release Pokemon Gold and Silver on the 3DS Virtual Console (Incidentally just about the only acknowledgement by the big N this year that such a service even still exists – sorry Switch owners). Patched up with wireless trading/battling functionality and wrapped in that gorgeous 3D-compatible faux-Game Boy Color shell, just like Pokemon Red/Blue/Yellow last year, they presented a mouth-watering nostalgic proposition for me on paper. In fact as a testament to the sheer value that “comfort food” media can have, I even purchased and finished the VC version of Pokemon Red a couple of weeks earlier when it went on sale in anticipation of the newer re-releases, even though I had already given my full attention to Yellow in a similar manner in 2016.

Unlike Yellow, I no longer have access to my original Pokemon Silver cartridge, so I haven’t touched the original version in any form for almost fifteen years. In light of all the Pokemon generations that have come and gone in the years since, not to mention the glut of YouTube videos, podcasts and articles on the internet praising the second generation for all its once-groundbreaking qualities, I was more than ready to give Silver another go. And then write something about it, so i could feel less guilty about all the hours spent not doing anything else. This post will probably be a little scattershot in tone, and the “screenshots” will be poor and DIY in nature, but I’ll at least try to keep my thoughts aligned with the order of the game’s events.

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The SNES Mini Fills a Nostalgia Gap

OK, wow.

When the Super Nintendo Entertainment System Classic Edition (a mouthful known as the SNES Mini overseas) launched on the last day of September this year, its tiny unassuming shell represented more of a curiosity for me than anything else. Or so I thought. After all, I had owned an NES mini for a brief moment last year, almost purely because it was extremely rare and enveloped in Nintendo hype. I did not, however, play it for very long. The SNES counterpart’s announcement provided a more appealing range of prospective games, to be sure, but even as I placed my preorder there was that nagging voice in the back of my head – “There are so many other new games out. You will barely touch this thing.”

Since its release a week ago, almost every second of my limited home gaming time has been done on the candy-coloured Super Nintendo controller.

My history with the SNES and its games has been more scrapbook than portfolio. I’ll tell anyone who’ll listen that I’m old enough to have grown up with the SNES, but due to spending the first decade of my life in South Africa (living, it must be said, a very fortunate childhood), my introduction to home console games came with the Nintendo 64 in 1999, a year after moving to Australia. When I started this blog almost six years ago the entirety of my Super Nintendo gaming history could be summed up with three portable conversions – the Game Boy Color version of Donkey Kong Country, the Game Boy Advance treatment of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, and fleetingly the GBA port of Yoshi’s Island. Countless nostalgia-tinted SNES tales told by friends over the years painted the picture in my mind’s eye of a true gaming juggernaut, as did similar recounts from gaming personalities all over the internet, but the means and motivation to play Super Nintendo games just didn’t exist for me until the release of the Wii U Virtual Console in 2013.

I can almost pinpoint the exact week my perspective changed, because as luck would have it I posted something on this very site about my first-up thoughts on Super Mario World and Super Metroid upon the launch of the Virtual Console service. Later that year I put several hours into the first-ever official release of Earthbound in Australia – thanks to that same Virtual Console – and over the ensuing years purchased a copy of Chrono Trigger on DS, flirted with a buggy ROM of the GBA version of Final Fantasy VI, discovered the joy of five-player local Super Bomberman shenanigans, played the DS remake of Kirby Super Star and, just last year, delved into Mega Man X. Each new-old experience increased my opinion of the SNES’ remarkable library and so even though I never actually held one of the console’s official controllers until last year’s EB Expo (yes, for real), I was unknowingly priming myself to be utterly ambushed by a product like the SNES Classic Edition.

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Ten More 2017 Movies Summarised in Ten Words Each

So apparently the last one of these that I wrote did rather well. Go figure – people like quick summaries of things.

Thanks to some brutal old-fashioned competition between the cinemas in my area and the general enthusiasm of my friends, I have already seen 20 of the movies released this year, either in cinemas or via on-demand video services. That puts me well within range of doubling the paltry thirteen I managed last year and puts me in good stead for a nice, meaty top ten list at the end of the year. But it also means I can do that thing again. You know, the one where I unfairly reduce ten movies I’ve seen this year to just ten words each.

Mild spoilers may follow. Read my earlier oversimplified 2017 list here.
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1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

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Wonder Woman

That’s two good 2017 DC movies. Gal Gadot is incredible.”

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Colossal

Part kaiju movie, part uncomfortable human drama. Insanely wellacted.”

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State of the Switch, Six Months In

Well that went by quickly.

As the Nintendo Switch was gearing up for its March 3rd 2017 launch, the consensus among jaded followers of the videogame industry was that however much hype the system seemed to be gathering, and indeed however many units Nintendo managed to move in that opening weekend, we wouldn’t really have a decent idea of the Switch’s success until it had passed the three-months-on-the-market milestone – which, pertinently, was roughly the time warning bells started to sound for its predecessor, the Wii U. Despite strong, admittedly holiday-boosted late 2012 sales, the Wii U’s momentum fell off big-time in 2013 amidst a notable first-party software drought and an ongoing lack of understanding of how to market the rather odd strengths of the console. Despite some scattered sales spikes over the ensuing few years, the console never truly recovered and can now only be seen as a financial flop for Nintendo.

Three months have come and gone since March 2017 – As a matter of fact the Switch has now been on the market for half a year, and pound for pound it is thoroughly outpacing the Wii U on the sales charts. At well over five million units sold worldwide, it’s even giving the PS4 a run for its money in terms of momentum. This is certainly not some single-handed saviour of Nintendo as a company – It’s way too early to even entertain that notion – but the Switch has already marked a clear change in the Big N’s public perception for the time being. Given the ongoing interest online in how this inventive little console has been tracking, and indeed the hundreds of hours (and dollars) I myself have invested in it, let’s have a look at what the Nintendo Switch has got right and wrong so far, shall we?

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7 Things We Learned At E3 2017

Somehow another whirlwind year at the Electronic Entertainment Expo is over, and with our collective wallets looking nervously over their shoulders once more, it’s always fun to work out the trends that define the year’s most bombastic videogame event. Doing so is one of the clearest ways we have of determining where the larger industry is at during a given year, so here are my takes for 2017:

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We’ve Been Spoilt in Recent Years

Judging by the prevailing consensus on the suite of 2017 E3 press conferences, you’d swear almost nothing good was announced – Never mind the complete and utter deluge of news. Looking at all the new games, new footage and new details we have been inundated with over the last week is an exercise in pure exhaustion – with future-minded budgeting an exercise in futility – and yet the lack of so-called “hype moments” has left many feeling slightly empty. Of course this was inevitable, especially regarding Sony, as after two consecutive years of bombshell-laden shows lacking release details and/or real footage, the company’s proverbial chickens have come home to roost. Hype moments did arrive (see below) but when they don’t come from the current industry leader, the impact ain’t quite the same. Nonetheless, I genuinely believe that all things considered, 2017 was a pretty great E3 to watch, mostly because…

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(Almost) Every Publisher is Improving Their Stage Game

There’s no guarantee that this trend won’t reverse immediately next year, but when compared to 2016, the majority of the E3 conferences have largely improved in leaps and bounds when it comes to window dressing and pacing. EA didn’t seem to get the memo, but Microsoft and Ubisoft seemed to take direct notes from Sony’s remarkably snappy game-after-game 2016 structure, while Bethesda seemed to look more to a Nintendo Direct-style format by wrapping their titles in a charmingly consistent theme park aesthetic. Sony, meanwhile, took what they did last year and cranked it up by matching each major game showcase to a specific mix of lighting tricks, props and even live actors, as Nintendo squeezed a few megaton announcements into the company’s shortest show ever. It’s easy to forget that 2017 brought us fewer awkward stage interactions and irrelevant media distractions than we’ve had in recent memory, which is surely worth acknowledging.

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