PokeMagnifique: Returning to Kalos Six Years On

So the Pokemon series is set to resume regular programming in a matter of days with Pokemon Sword and Pokemon Shield. At long last, we will be treated to a region based on the United Kingdom, with all the rich historical and cultural inspirations that implies. This has poured petrol on the never-quite-dead embers of the theory that someday Game Freak will let us return to the Kalos region, based largely on the south of France and made famous by 2013’s Pokemon X and Y. After all, England and France have a long and, ahem, storied history together, and to this day Kalos is the only region to star in just a single main series Pokemon game release…

Now I don’t actually believe for a second that Sword and Shield will be the first games in a almost two decades to give us a full prior region to explore on top of the fresh one. But I do believe there might be some significant Kalos references in there. Of more importance, lately it seems that something inside me will break if I don’t play a Pokemon game every half-dozen months or so. In fact, since the dreaded 2015 – the only year without a new main series Pokemon game in the last decade – I have done at least two full Pokemon playthroughs per year (Yellow and Sun in 2016, then Red, Silver and Ultra Sun in 2017, followed by Crystal and Let’s Go Eevee last year). And I still don’t feel like I’m ready to say goodbye to my 3DS, even if Nintendo definitely is.

mmmm, 240p

Long story short, I decided to pick up Pokemon Y all the way back in April of this year and give Kalos the second go-around that I’ve given every other Pokemon region by default thanks to customary re-releases over the years. It’s been long enough and my Pokemon-playing habits have changed a great deal since October 12th, 2013, when I picked up Pokemon X for the first time. This could be a bit of fun, I thought. Cue a few months of on-and-off playing, a few more months of on-and-off writing, and a whole lot of fresh perspective. Here are my unsolicited thoughts.
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The Best Nintendo Switch Accessory? The mClassic and You

Notice any difference between these two Banjos? Maybe around his backpack strap, necklace and jawline?

The image on the left is a shot taken with my phone camera pointed at a monitor running Super Smash Bros Ultimate in 1080p on the Nintendo Switch as usual. The image on the left is the same setup, but with an attached mClassic dongle switched to the ON position – also in 1080p.

What’s this, you ask?

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The Nintendo Switch “Halfway” Report Card

*Ahem* It’s nice to have Nintendo back.

Yes, they’ve been “back” now for a good couple years, and it’s getting easier by the day to forget the wildly uncertain videogame landscape in which the Nintendo Switch made its debut on March 3rd, 2017. And yet, it somehow also feels like only yesterday that this thing hit the market – at least to me. If you find yourself in the same boat, I hope you’re ready for the rest of the Switch’s life to blink past in a heartbeat. After all, time flies when you have far too many games to play.

I feel if I don’t somehow mark this point in time right now, at the exact halfway mark* in Nintendo’s traditional five-year console life cycle, I won’t be able to truly appreciate the Switch before Nintendo messes up a new console again. And thus, if you’re so inclined, please join me on yet another (very) deep dive into a minor electronic miracle.
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*Oh, did I say halfway mark? Well, I was going to post this on September 3rd to be all neat and tidy, but then Nintendo had to announce two new versions of the Switch for imminent release, then a 40 minute Nintendo Direct presentation packed to the gills with new game announcements, meaning this post was about to be all kinds of outdated in record time. But more on all that shortly. Please read on…

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Ten More 2019 Movies Summarised in Ten Words Each

More for you.

This is by far the quickest I’ve got to 20 new-release movies in a year, as we’re still only in August. Sadly it’s a lower-quality batch than the first ten of 2019, but I still enjoyed myself with most of these, and there’s still plenty of time to bring the year home strong.
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Aladdin

Surprisingly strong visuals, Will Smith is back, Naomi Scott DESTROYS.”

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X-Men: Dark Phoenix

One amazing train sequence can’t save this disappointing saga finale.”

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The Seven Stages of Videogame Remakes

It’s been a topic at the forefront of gaming for the entirety of the last generation and a significant part of the one before. The videogame industry these days is old enough to look back and draw from its past, and in an age where some games of yore are ridiculously difficult to experience with anything approaching legality, re-releases and remakes are as commonplace as they are guaranteed to attract online discontent. In many cases, they also represent a near-guaranteed source of revenue for publishers keen on mining nostalgia, so whether you love them, hate them, or pay them no mind until one of your favourites arrives in the spotlight, they aren’t going anywhere.

I’m not here to defend the practice of re-releasing games in various stages, however. Some of that may happen accidentally as I write, but the topic has been covered to death, including on this very blog years ago. KingK also made a pretty good YouTube video on the subject earlier this year that is worth a watch. No, more interesting to me at this very moment is this idea that the quality and validity of some of these re-releases oftentimes seems to hinge on what labels people are willing to attach to each one. As with most things in life, enjoyment is regularly determined by expectation. So I feel like it’s worthwhile to break down and categorise those labels as I see them defined. Because seven is a poetic number that looks great in post headers, that is how I will attempt to divide them. This is all based on my feelings on the topic – and I can definitely see people disagreeing on the order of the categories – but I’ll try to articulate with examples as best I can.
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Port

Your basic “Take Game A from Platform B and get it to run on Platform C” situation. Nothing more, nothing less. This is regularly seen when a period of platform exclusivity breaks and a title shows up on a competing platform within the same generation, whether that period was motivated by a publishing deal or the game in question was simply developed with one target platform in mind and the ensuing gremlins from the porting process take time to smooth over. Because timed exclusivity within the console space is a rarity nowadays, the platform that is usually either early or late to the party is the PC, but you see more variety of circumstance the lower down you go on the production budget scale. For every big-budget early access title on the Steam/Epic Games storefront, every surprising eleventh-hour Yakuza/Square RPG arrival, there’s a “Nindie” debuting on Switch first, a small ID@Xbox game flying the Microsoft flag straight out of the gate. When these games inevitably cross over to find new homes – grabbing a handy second wave of buzz in the process – they invariably do so without significant gameplay changes or extra content that hasn’t already been added to their initial versions.

The overwhelming majority of PC ports do offer more flexible graphical options due to the open nature of the PC environment (usually related to resolution, frame rate caps/unlocks, and previously unavailable visual effect toggles), just as a huge amount of Switch ports require technical downgrades by very imaginative and talented people in order to run at all (The folks at Bluepoint and Panic Button come to mind). But if that’s all she wrote, you’re looking at a bread-and-butter port between platforms. There are many who hold the untouched port as the most ideal form of game preservation, and many more who don’t see the point of a fresh release of an older game if the developers don’t update anything, but the simple fact remains that basic ports allow more people to play more videogames and they’re an unavoidable part of the landscape.
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Enhanced Port

These next two categories are where things get muddiest for me, but I’m fairly sure I’ve got my head around them. A game qualifies as an enhanced port in my mind if there has been little to no discernible graphical work done under a game’s hood since it’s original release, thereby qualifying it as a straight port if not for one or two clear and significant gameplay changes that have been implemented. Weirdly enough, this opens the door for re-releases to occur on the same platform as their source material, a practice for which the Kingdom Hearts franchise used to be infamous and something the Pokemon main series continues to do to this day. This is definitely a curious semantic pocket of the industry, because while you can theoretically port a game to the platform it’s already on, without any noteworthy enhancements such an endeavour would be literally pointless.

Of course, most of the qualifiers for this category actually do cross over to new platforms, and as you might expect if you’ve invested in any of their recent consoles, Nintendo features heavily among them. Of late the notoriously port-happy current crop of Big N executives have greenlit a veritable catalogue of exports from the tragic Wii U to the hit-making Switch, packing little more than a resolution bump in the visuals department but almost always carrying a smattering of bullet points to set the new version apart. Hyrule Warriors packs new character skins and integrates content from multiple previous versions of the game, New Super Mario Bros U Deluxe and DK Country Tropical Freeze add new characters and abilities, and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe fundamentally changes the flow of gameplay with more granular kart stats and an extra item slot per player (in addition to new characters). Older examples of this include the Gamecube release of Sonic Adventure 2 with an entire multiplayer mode in tow, the transformed controls and gameplay balance of Resident Evil 4‘s Wii edition and the enabling of the mythical “Stop n’ Swap” functionality in the Xbox 360 version of Banjo-Kazooie.

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The Meaningless Vagrant Rant E3 2019 Awards

It was a year without the mighty Sony in attendance. The expected quiet before a new console generation storm. Another step in the ongoing march towards a world where patches, expansions and alternate monetisation strategies are more commonplace than new game announcements – A world that certainly has its advantages, but not one that lends itself to an exciting E3 trade show. Like transitional years gone by, expectations for the show were muted – well, mostly. I hope.

And yet the Electronic Entertainment Expo of 2019 still delivered the headlines, the hype, the moments for which the event is so renowned. Certainly fewer in number than during the golden years of this past console generation, but a damp squib this was not. It had something for just about everyone.

I’ve written something about each E3 that has graced our computer screens since I started this blog, though the format has changed a few times. I’ve broken the show down conference by conference, I’ve counted down my favourite announcements, and in recent years I’ve tried to isolate noticeable trends in each iteration of the event. So this year I thought it was time to shake things up once again, this time by giving out some arbitrary awards. Let’s give this a go.

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Best Conference

Nintendo

Let’s get one thing straight. Until that final presentation day finished I really, really wanted to give this to Square Enix. That company has had many press conferences over the years, both onstage and more curated Nintendo Direct-style, but not a single one of them has ever come close to nailing the potential of what this proud, gigantic gaming company can offer. At least not in my opinion. For some baffling reason they usually either use it as a vehicle for their western studios, or their lesser-know output. But in 2019 they returned to the stage with one magnificent (literal) curtain raiser and a unifying picture-frame aesthetic to present, for once, a coherent and proud face to the gaming public. Highlighting exciting new projects like People Can Fly’s Outriders and Crystal Dynamics’ Avengers while dropping juicy details on the likes of Oninaki and Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, they also weren’t afraid to put their major numbered Final Fantasy projects front and centre, ensuring that in an otherwise low-key year they stood on the top of the E3 pile at long last.

But, yes, Nintendo just had to to roll up at the last minute and blow everyone else away, adding to their (always arguable) 2014 and 2017 E3 “victories” this decade with a Direct that was packed with so much new information they had to bury the likes of Spyro, Ni No Kuni and Alien in a sizzle reel. You might say it wasn’t much better than their February Direct this year, but that was a very, very strong presentation. With not one but two new Smash Bros character reveals, the debut of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, an expression of intent to take over September with a cataclysmic release date pile-up, the confirmation of No More Heroes III and that incredible ending reveal… Well, it’s the most begrudging I’ve ever been to admit Nintendo nailed it, but they well and truly did. And there’s still plenty in the tank for their next big Direct to boot.

RUNNER-UP: Square Enix

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Most Disappointing Conference

Bethesda

A tough one to pick, mostly because disappointment requires expectations and I didn’t have a whole heap of those this year. But Bethesda made some strange decisions in the way they chose to structure and present their 2019 conference. Despite bringing two genuinely exciting new projects to the table in the form of Ghostwire Tokyo and Deathloop, somehow elevating my hype for Wolfenstein Youngblood even higher and blowing out the scale of Doom Eternal in a very satisfying way, their opening Todd Howard salvo lacked any sort of apology for the state of Fallout 76 last year (Whether this was the forum for such a thing is another discussion, but it still left a sour taste), the constant appearances of employees without anything truly new to talk about dragged on, and that segment where they essentially pitched streaming middleware to a customer base that wasn’t in the room was super weird. Though not as weird as the roof-tearing cheering and wooing that seemed to happen at full intensity after almost every game showing. Either everyone in that room was a Bethesda super-fan, or there was something a bit disingenuous going on.

RUNNER-UP: Ubisoft (purely by process of elimination)

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Ten 2019 Movies Summarised in Ten Words Each

Let’s do this again, hopefully not for the only time in 2019. Ten movies, ten words each. In general I’ve really enjoyed the movies I’ve seen this year, from the family-targeted fare to the unusually gigantic superhero action, with a Netflix debut thrown in. There’s much more to come but the year has already made quite an impression.

And get ready for some really colourful movie posters. Man, Hollywood has stepped up their saturation game recently.

Very mild spoilers may follow.
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How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

Doesn’t beat Number 2 but the closing scenes are devastating.”

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Mary Poppins Returns

Somehow gets away with being both a sequel and remake.”

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