Archive for the ‘Console’ Category

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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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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Six Tiny Things I Learned Playing the Nintendo Switch

Yes, I get it, I’m hardly unique among the denizens of the internet in talking about hands-on experience with the Nintendo Switch. Thus far Nintendo has been reasonably good at getting the system out into people’s hands and plenty of those people have been forthright in sharing their opinions through podcasts, forums and YouTube videos the world over. I have consumed far too many of these impressions myself.

Those are my hands and that's a Switch. Yep.

Those are my hands and that’s a Switch. Yep.

But last weekend I was indeed fortunate enough to play the thing myself – Thanks RTX Sydney – and I have several thousand words worth of thoughts to share. But rather than regurgitate the recurring thoughts I’ve heard plenty enough about already – the surprising build and screen quality, the comfortable designs of the joy-cons, the appeal of ARMS etc – I’m going to focus on some smaller things I’ve heard almost no-one talk about so far.
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1. The Joy-Cons’ Buttons Are Miniscule

A lot has been made of just how small the frame of the joy-cons themselves are, but I haven’t seen much talk about the buttons themselves. These things are tiny. Anyone who has owned a PlayStation Vita will be familiar (and likely comfortable) with such a size bracket for face buttons, even if these are slightly bigger. Of course there aren’t all that many people who fit into that category, so it’s worth a mention. Even more notable are the joy-cons’ L and R buttons, which are literally wafer-thin, no exaggeration. They don’t exactly feel flimsy, and they’re well-placed enough to ensure you won’t miss pressing them, but I’ve never seen anything quite so narrow on a controller or portable console before. That’s unless you count the “+” and “-” buttons, which are indeed actual buttons (to my surprise), though they didn’t seem to do anything in any of the demo builds I played.

It's hard to illustrate scale but yeah, those shoulder buttons are thin.

It’s hard to illustrate scale but yeah, those shoulder buttons are thin.

Speaking of clicking, every button on these things is digital and “clicky”, a la the Game Boy Advance SP, original DS, or DSi buttons. The control sticks also click in, and their movement range is necessarily constrained by their portability. But as a clear step up from the Vita nubs in this department, the joy-con control sticks take the crown as the best commercially available portable ones yet by default. While not part of the initial one-piece joy-con setup, the included wrist strap rail transforms the joy-cons’ SL and SR shoulder buttons into the only non-clicky inputs of the whole shebang. They instead feel almost springy, like they’re resisting slightly when you press them down. They sit nicely under the index fingers, though.

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What I Think of the Nintendo Switch

Well Nintendo, you’ve done it again. You’ve successfully, shall we say, been Nintendo.

It’s been an insane weekend for the Japanese videogame giant. The curtain is now (mostly) up on the tremendously exciting Nintendo Switch, the home console that can also be played as a portable (Not the other way around, as Nintendo seems very keen to emphasise). And the general complexion of the reveal event was very, very different to what the seemingly endless supply of corroborating rumours and prediction videos would have us believe. For all the credible leaks from credible sources about specific games and features that may very well still ring true, the big Tokyo event still managed to be an almost complete surprise both in its general content and where it decided to put its focus. If “Switchmas” had been right about what we were expecting, it wouldn’t have quite felt like a Nintendo show. We Nintendo fans as a general group have a habit of forgetting that, but for better or worse, the Big N was more than happy to throw us a few reminders. This is a company that does not like being predicted, but as it turns out, even the collective power of the internet’s most well-connected sleuths couldn’t quite spoil everything. And in true Nintendo fashion, said surprises have divided the internet right down the middle.

I could go through the whole presentation bit by bit and talk about my thoughts on each individual revelation (I’ve watched the whole thing twice now, plus the entire five-hour Treehouse stream that followed half a day later and countless YouTube hands-on reactions), but there’s a better way to do this.

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– Nintendo’s Modern Console –

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The raw processing specs of the Nintendo Switch remain elusive in any sort of official capacity, though I have every reason to believe that Eurogamer’s December leak will turn out to be a fairly decent approximation. That leaves us with a console that’s more capable when sitting in its dock/outputting through the TV than when played on the go, but only as long as we’re talking about display resolution and theoretically (though hopefully not) frame rate. In it’s weakest configuration, we can expect it to be more powerful than the Wii U – that much is supported by the impressions coming out of the public-facing events of the last two days – but even at it’s strongest, it’s almost certainly going to come off weaker when compared to the standard Xbox One and PS4 models. That means the biggest triple-A third party releases will probably be skipping the Switch, unless it really takes off sales-wise and it becomes worth the extra financial investment to port down. It also means Nintendo’s first party games will continue to look amazing, and just about every big indie hit you can think of should be able to make it over to the Switch, uncompromised and fully portable. Ditto for the vast majority of Japanese RPGs and such. Swings and roundabouts, time will tell etc.
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What’s much more concrete – and refreshing, it must be said – is just about every other Switch hardware detail that has come to light over the last few days. The system will not be region locked (there are no words for how happy this makes me), it has a 6.2 inch, 720p capacitive touch screen (i.e. multi-touch, like the PS Vita or a smartphone), supports the current standard 802.11ac Wi-Fi spec, allows up to 8-player local wireless interaction, charges via super-fast USB-C – which is only just now becoming widespread on Android phones – and supports expanded memory via the reasonably cheap and easy-to-find Micro SDHC/Micro SDXC cards (At least up to 256gb according to one moment during the Treehouse stream, which would have been more than enough to fit everything I’ve ever bought on the Wii U). Its battery life is quoted as being between 2.5 and 6 hours depending on the game you’re playing, which is about what we could have expected; certainly not enough to last an international flight, but coupled with that USB-C charging port, it should easily be juiced enough to cover your daily work commute no matter what you’re playing. This is all very good news if you ask me, especially when combined with the generally premium look and – based on what I’ve read so far online – the feel of the system. This is a sleek, modern device.

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Best of 2016: Top 15 Games

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Now for the home stretch.

2016 was ultimately a much better year for videogames than it might currently feel like it was. No really, I mean it. Some of the latter-year triple-A releases may have failed to hit the mark with large enough audiences, and the pacing of the videogame release schedule in general was super weird (What on earth happened to the trend set over the last couple of years that June/July/August can be a smart period to release games? Why was Ubisoft the only company releasing anything big in the first three months of the year?). Yet when you look at a list of all the titles that hit over this bizarre 12-month period, there’s a hell of a lot of quality there. The indie and JRPG scenes in particular had phenomenonal 2016s, multiple games with years upon years of hype delivered on at least some of it, and there were plenty of surprising hits that came seemingly out of nowhere. Welcome to this countdown of my favourite 15 videogames of 2016.

The letters in parentheses after each title indicates where I played that game.

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VR BEST OF 2016 DISCLAIMER
This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. If you actually agree with me 100%, that’s strange. Fun, but strange. Respectful disagreement is very welcome.
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15. ReCore (XBO)

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At the start of the year I might have expected I’d soon play a 2016 game with 3D platformer collect-a-thon roots, but never would I have thought I’d find it inside that Xbox-exclusive Keiji Inafune/Armature game announced at last year’s E3. It turns out that ReCore is more of a platformer at heart than any retail 3D action game released this decade, and its airborne control mechanics feel wonderful. It also packs a massive world that encourages exploration and plenty of colour-coded shooting boss battles that aren’t afraid to get difficult, with customisable robots thrown in for good measure. Some confusingly restrictive systems and a lack of environmental variety may weigh it down as it plods through its latter stages, but ReCore is still one of the year’s most pleasant surprises for me.

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Best of 2016: Top 10 Gaming Moments

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Not every game worth playing brings a single standout moment worth talking about separately – Oftentimes it’s the consistent elegance of the mechanics, presentation and/or story flow that makes a game worthwhile. But many will have standalone gameplay sequences, story twists or bits of content that stand out from everything around them, either because the rest of the game is not quite as memorable, because everything just seems to come together in that moment, or even because when you played them you were in exactly the right mood to be affected by them. As a result, everyone’s lists will likely be pretty different, but these are my picks for the most memorable videogame moments of 2016. Spoilers are everywhere here.

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VR BEST OF 2016 DISCLAIMER
This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. If you actually agree with me 100%, that’s strange. Fun, but strange. Respectful disagreement is very welcome.

Big videogame spoilers follow!
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10. Getting Schooled – Pokemon Sun

Opinion seems to vary wildly on the difficulty of Pokemon Sun & Moon relative to the last few games in the series – and in truth a lot of that always depends on team composition – but at least for me and the five people I played alongside on launch day, it presented a challenge for which we weren’t quite ready. You can pretty much nail down the start of that difficulty spike to the first trial of the second island, where the player comes face-to-face with a School Form Wishiwashi – a gargantuan fish with boosted stats roughly equivalent to the most powerful legendaries in the game. Its raining when you fight it and it will summon allies to use Helping Hand – all of which combines to ensure that even its Water Gun is strong enough to one-hit-KO every Pokemon in your party that doesn’t resist water moves. I was lucky enough to have it summon an Alomomola, too – a Pokemon capable of healing the son of a bitch for half its health whenever it felt like it. The whole thing was a tense struggle that felt tremendously refreshing.

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Best of 2016: Top 5 Game Consoles

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2016 was a year of transitions for console gaming. With at least one – possibly two – machines on their way out and another pair going through significant physical changes, there was a lot on offer for owners and prospective owners of the five main dedicated gaming consoles alike this year. Because it’s fun to do so, I will now rank them once again. Exclusive games on each were plentiful, helping to draw lines in the sand between the consoles, but I’m also counting versions of non-exclusive games that I feel are different enough from their siblings to warrant a mention. Needless to say, new versions of existing hardware weigh heavily as well.

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VR BEST OF 2016 DISCLAIMER
This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. If you actually agree with me 100%, that’s strange. Fun, but strange. Respectful disagreement is very welcome.

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5. Wii U

(LAST YEAR: 3rd)

 

At the start of 2016 there was a pervasive feeling that the Wii U was on its last legs, but we had no way of knowing just how barren the year would be for the ailing console. Its relatively bare schedule of major releases throughout the year only kicked off in March, and though Pokken Tournament turned out surprisingly well, a slightly-tuned HD remaster of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess wasn’t exactly the kind of release to attract new buyers (even if that remaster was pretty damn good). Then April marked the death knell for the console, as that brought with it the combined disappointment of Star Foz Zero and the announcement that the Wii U’s successor – then codenamed NX – would release in March 2017.  From then on, only three first-party games came out on the platform at all. Admittedly, Paper Mario: Color Splash and Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE were fantastic, but that simply isn’t enough to make a year worth celebrating, sadly. Onward to the Switch, then?

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