Archive for the ‘Switch’ Category

Some Really Quick Thoughts on Zelda: Ocarina of Time

I promise.

You don’t disappear down the N64 Zelda nostalgia rabbit hole for 30 hours this late in a game-stacked 2021 without at least writing something about your experience. Well that’s how you justify the time spent. If you’re me.

You see, it turns out it’s been a tick over a decade since I last played through The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time – in the form of its wonderful 2011 3DS remake – and almost two decades since I gave its original blocky Nintendo 64 iteration a go. I have never played the 60Hz version – as I’ve only ever lived in (50Hz) PAL regions and so only remember a version of OoT that runs literally 16.7% slower than the American/Japanese release. I never owned an N64 Rumble Pak either. Despite this blog housing lengthy posts devoted to Majora’s Mask, Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword – even a short reflective post on Spirit Tracks – I have never typed out anything on the legendary time-travelling 3D Zelda standard-bearer lasting longer than two consecutive paragraphs.

The recent addition of N64 games (and a controller to match) to the Nintendo Switch Online service gave me a fine opportunity to address all that.

It’s All Been Said Before

The most imposing barrier to my Ocarina of Time writing motivation has always been its status as “everyone’s favourite Zelda game” during my formative years playing videogames. I didn’t own any gaming platforms when the game first came out, but was properly invested in the medium for every subsequent Zelda game release; every 3D Zelda since OoT was already destined to be measured up directly and exhaustively, but this timing made the game’s shadow feel especially inescapable. For well over a decade I found any opinion other than “Ocarina is the best one” to be unpopular at best.

Discourse always felt dead in the water.

I’ve always enjoyed Ocarina of Time, but attempting to discuss it with people has never been particularly fruitful for me; it seems like every other game in the series has more interesting strengths and weaknesses. Not only that, but Ocarina did a genuinely fantastic job of bringing the stellar Link to the Past Zelda formula into three dimensions; the adulation it receives is not undeserved. The nostalgia haze around the game is strong, make no mistake, but there is no great wool-pull conspiracy going on here. It may have understandably aged in places, but this is a good videogame.

It’s just a boring one to write about. Or it was, until recently.

Now my thoughts can take flig- you know what I just find this picture really funny.

From the beginning I’ve thought of Ocarina of Time as the “vanilla” 3D Zelda game, because it codified so many successful series tropes. The inevitable side implication is that its successors each take a couple of those tropes and implement them with far more razzle-dazzle.

Majora’s Mask does sidequests and minigames better while tap dancing all over the tonally unsettling parts of its predecessor; The Wind Waker does combat and wonder like a champion and looks / sounds sensationally timeless doing it; Twilight Princess outdoes its direct inspiration in scale, heft and dungeon ambition; Skyward Sword nails narrative, pacing, item quality and lore substance; and Breath of the Wild just blows the doors off what was thought possible for nonlinearity in 3D Zelda. It’s been a long time since I genuinely believed Ocarina of Time was the best Zelda game in any particular category; even if it does plenty of things well, it has a real master-of-none vibe in retrospect nowadays.

And speaking of Skyward Sword, I wrote a LOT about it this year.

It wasn’t long into my 2021 test-turned-playthrough of Ocarina of Time before I realised this neat internal summary of the classic might need a tweak or two, because it turns out the game does do something better than its younger counterparts: It’s arguably more rewarding to replay than any of them.

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The Second Age of Uncertainty for the Nintendo Switch

And (probably) the second-last article I’ll write about it. But we can’t be certain…

In late 2016, the questions were made of ‘if’s. Plenty of takes were ready to answer those questions with doom and gloom predictions, sure. But mainly, it was ‘if’s. Nintendo was back in the home console doghouse after a string of Wii U-tinted flops and an ambitious handheld/home hybrid seemed like an uncertainty at the very best. As a period in the Big N’s history, it’s been well-covered – although it still seems a little surreal to think about. If the Switch made a real sales impact, Nintendo would have pulled off yet another unlikely comeback. If it didn’t, the company was in for some real trouble.

Of course 2017 gave us a definite, emphatic answer. The Switch did just about everything right all year, dropping a steady stream of compelling titles without a single delay. But by 2018, the ‘where’s started to creep into the online chat. Any serial Switch YouTuber subscriber will remember the hysteria at the beginning of the year: Where was that Nintendo Direct? Then later, as the wave of ports and DLC expansions gathered momentum, where were all the brand-new games? Where was the launch content in the new Kirby and Mario Tennis games? Though nothing in Nintendo’s history suggested a year like 2017 could ever be properly backed up, their new console’s success made pundits ravenous.

In 2019, we got a nice big serving of ‘why’s in the air. Some of Nintendo’s announcements that year inspired heavy-duty communal head-scratching: A portable-only Switch that couldn’t switch? A poorly-justified ‘dex reduction in the new Pokemon games? A new fitness game with a plastic ring accessory costing north of $100? Why? Of course all of these sold super well – 2019 was ultimately a strong year for exclusive games and big third party support alike – but no one could accuse the Big N of resting on their laurels to get there.

As we all know, 2020 was a very different story. The releases dried up when an already light year collided with a worldwide pandemic, and the ‘how’s came out to play. How would Nintendo stay relevant amid such a climate when new Xbox and Playstation consoles were set to dominate headlines and interest all year? But the Switch had its most successful year of hardware sales ever, with periods of unavailability easily trumping its launch year as Animal Crossing finally smashed into the top tier of Nintendo franchises. Incredulous analysts could only ponder how such serendipity had lined up for Nintendo.

Now here we are, coming up quickly on that magical (usually final for Nintendo) five-year mark in a console life cycle. As hardware sales settle down again in 2021 and restless 4K Switch successor rumours refuse to go away despite an unprecedented global chip shortage, the ‘if’s have returned. There have been valid questions asked of the Switch throughout its life, but the ageing technology within what is functionally a handheld console now compares even less favourably with its beefy direct competition. Will it be able to hold its own or is another Nintendo nosedive coming up? Is the Japanese giant about to abandon support in favour of its next console, as it has done so often before around that half-decade point? Not since that first trailer five years ago has such an air of uncertainty hung around the hybrid gaming platform.

Allow me to present two points suggesting that probably shouldn’t be the case.

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Revisiting The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword – In High Definition & High Detail

Yep, we’re doing this again.

Ten years. Wow.

It has somehow been (almost) ten years since The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword hit the flailing, ailing Nintendo Wii to a chorus of crickets. Essentially the last major release on the console, there was already a mighty stack of factors going against its success before November 24th, 2011 rolled around: The Wii had endured an extremely light year after a banner 2010 that already felt like a celebratory send-off, as Nintendo pivoted first to launching and then to saving the fledgling 3DS; the game required the purchase of the Wii Motion Plus attachment in order to work with its ambitious controls; and perhaps most tellingly, the lightning had left the bottle for the casual Wii audience and everyone else was playing Skyrim.

Yes, Link, it’s true.

This left a smaller audience than Nintendo would’ve liked to pick up its latest 3D Zelda extravaganza, the endcap to a year-long celebration of the series’ 25th anniversary. Skyward Sword sold in the millions, but for a game five years in development and an install base as record-shattering as the Wii’s, it was nothing short of a disappointment. The day I started writing this it still held the record for the worst-selling 3D entry in the Legend of Zelda series (Edit: Switch sales may have changed this by now). And despite an initial wave of critical acclaim customary for a Zelda game, the reputation of Link’s motion-controlled escapade took a sharp downturn before long and stayed down for years. After all, who wants to dust off their horrifically outdated Nintendo Wii and buy an extra controller attachment just to challenge the notoriety of a finicky, linear, repetitive, excessively hand-holding game in *ugh* standard definition?

omg ewwwww

Five years. Oh no.

It has somehow been (just over) five years since I put out what is still the longest singular piece of writing I’ve ever cobbled together in my lifetime: A 10,000 word behemoth on The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD (Edit: Um, about that…). Inspired by a decade of mixed personal feelings, lengthy conversations with friends, and triple-digit hours of watched YouTube content on the strengths and weaknesses of the game; the post ended up perhaps a touch unwieldy and yet oh-so-cathartic. Thanks to a bucket of alternate perspectives and a highly underrated Wii U remaster, I had never felt so assured that – despite its flaws – um, I liked the game, actually.

And I’d be OK never writing another word about it.

The last thing I was thinking as that project slowly came together was “I’m setting a template here and I definitely want to put myself through this again.” And yet you know where this is going, because you read the title: It’s Skyward Sword’s turn. But this time around, dear reader, we’re not investigating if years of Zelda franchise evolution and some neat nips and tucks have improved my sentiments towards an inconsistent videogame; we’re seeing whether my third favourite Zelda game of all-time (behind only Majora’s Mask and Breath of the Wild) can possibly still hold such a lofty position after it has been exposed to a decade of stiff critiques, a lack of clear historical identity and a radical reinvention of the entire franchise in its wake.

Challenge accepted.

But we are going to try our very best to do it in less than 10,000 words this time, probably (Edit: We failed, and we failed hard). Regardless, this one will need a beverage or two to get through; at the time of writing Skyward Sword is the last 3D Zelda game to release on a second console, and rest assured I have no intention of leaving stones unturned. Whatever it will cost.

You guessed it – we’re in for another long one.

(I’m going to go ahead and re-purpose a paragraph from the Twilight Princess post because it fits too well this time, and kinda feels poetic too)

Be aware that this post contains a huge amount of spoilers that get steadily worse the longer you read – worth mentioning if you haven’t played the game before. All you need to know if you’re a Skyward Sword newcomer is that yes, I believe this HD / portable release is definitively the best version of the classic title, and yes, you really should play it. If you really want to read on, continue at your own risk, but you should know that what follows is so exhaustive that you may not even feel like you need to play it by the end. But maybe play it anyway?

HERE WE GO: Click here to regret your choice to click here.

The Great & Perilous Era of Long-Life Nintendo Games

The morning sun peers over the horizon, rays painting the sky and illuminating the dew on the tree leaves. The birds stir and my alarm shakes me from my sleep far too gradually, considering it’s the weekend. I reach bleary-eyed for the glasses next to my bed, stretch slowly and pull my Switch Lite off the charger. I take it out of flight mode and boot up Animal Crossing: New Horizons, with the volume just loud enough to let the gentle grooves of the soundtrack tell my ears it’s a new day. Isabelle greets me with typical cheer and updates me on the status of my town. There’s Nook Shopping to be picked up, rocks to be struck, fossils to dig up, weeds to pull, villagers to talk to, beaches to comb, a fresh catalogue to peruse. I get stuck in.

Half an hour later, when I’ve done all the tasks that can’t wait until tomorrow, I swap out to Pokemon Shield. All the dens in the Wild Area have been refreshed, after all. So have the Watt Traders. Yesterday one of them had the Substitute TR, which I hadn’t ever seen in the game before, so I have to check them all. I’ve checked the Wild Area News and there are some rare spawns to check out. Plus a new online battle season just started and I only need two or three wins to get into the next tier, securing myself enough BP to buy that Choice Band to help my Barraskewda hit like a missile. So I ride around for a bit, scoping out the daily updates, jumping into a few online raids and a quick battle. I try to brush aside the guilt that I still haven’t finished that new Fire Emblem: Three Houses DLC story and briefly entertain the idea of logging into Super Smash Bros Ultimate to clear a Spirit Board or two – I still need to check out that Trials of Mana crossover after all. But I need caffeine, so I get up.

Such is a normal day in this year of 2020. And as a lifelong Nintendo fan, it feels a bit strange.

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Launch is Not the End

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We stand at a familiar junction. Barring any unforeseen delays (or indeed foreseen, given the current worldwide landscape), we stand at the dawn of a new videogame console generation. We now know that on both sides of the blue/green divide the games optimised for this new generation will not just be enhanced by lightning-fast solid state storage drives, but require them in order to run at all. If spending the extra money and effort to “down-port” a new PlayStation/Xbox game to the Nintendo Switch was already a tricky proposition, it’s about to get several times more difficult. Nintendo has an absolutely gigantic head start when it comes to mind-share and third-party allies compared to where they were at the start of the Wii U era, but they’re about to face a similar problem. Until they are ready to phase into whatever piece of hardware comes next, the Big N is going to need to be a whole lot more self-sufficient.

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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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The Games of Not-2018

2018 felt a little different to me in terms of the way I used my free time on videogames. For whatever reason – be it a less intense schedule of new releases that interested me, weariness of the same old drop-everything-to-play-the-new-thing habits, finally acquiring a decent gaming PC, or a combination of all three – I was somehow more OK with the idea of putting time into older games this year. So I feel like it wouldn’t be a full representation of my 2018 in videogames if I didn’t jot down some quick thoughts on them. I also figured I’d include remasters or re-releases on this page too, just to take some heat off the main list.

I’ve listed the games roughly in the order I played them this year. I’ve also listed either the most prominent initial release version of each game or, where relevant, the version I owned or played back in the day instead. Then on the line underneath I’ve noted the version I played in 2018. Stop looking at me like that, I have to catalogue these things properly.

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Pokemon Crystal Version

GBC Release: 2001
3DS Virtual Console Release: 2018
How much I played: Start to finish including Kanto, 25+ hrs

I was super-vulnerable to this release when it hit the 3DS eShop in late Jan. There wasn’t much else to play and I was about to head off on a coastal family holiday. The rest I wrote down in its own separate post which you can read here.

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Final Fantasy XIII

PS3 Release: 2010
Steam Release: 2014
How much I played: The first ten chapters and some messing around in Chapter 11 makes 30+ hrs

Not gonna even try to hide it – seeing this game run in forced 4K on some YouTube video last year was a huge percentage of the reason the dominoes fell and I finally invested in a gaming laptop. After a discussion with a friend about whether FF XIII really did look better than XV in parts or whether that was just our memory of it, I had to jump back in after a decade and it turns out that, despite a truly, ridiculously awful port job, the game’s astonishing art direction sings in higher resolutions. I did play more than half of the game again, hoping to dive into a proper thousands-of-words retrospective, but the gaming calendar moves fast. Near the end of the year Microsoft gave the XIII trilogy a huge Xbox One X-supported backwards compatibility push, so who knows, maybe Square has more plans for a re-release or something. Either way, I will write that post one day. I will.

 

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My 8 Favourite Chapters From Octopath Traveler

So I recently beat the final boss of Octopath Traveller, pretty much bang-on two months after launch and with a 90 hour save file to show for it. The game’s alright, I guess.

Lukewarm jokes aside, my deep appreciation for this itch-scratching JRPG gem lies mainly with the things for which it has been widely praised – Its astonishingly unique visuals, its wonderfully dynamic soundtrack, its deeply strategic combat. If people at large seem to have a bone to pick with Octopath, that bone is firmly lodged in the story department.

The game’s atypical approach to story structure – eight individual stories that stay separated from the wider party narrative outside of a handful of short optional skits – may irritate those who weren’t prepared to find such an approach in an RPG that appears so traditional at first glance. But as someone who has played a hell of a lot of JRPGs, I for one welcome the refreshing ability to tell some of the most focused, character-driven tales you can find in any title of Octopath‘s ilk. Bound by a less plentiful budget than is usually afforded to more known Square Enix RPGs, the game’s writers had to employ a simple combination of rudimentary animations, on-point musical cues and tactfully distributed voice acting to sell eight different four-chapter stories despite repeating a very similar contracted three-act structure 32 times.

Sometimes this works better than others, and though factors like the order in which you see them (the game is very open) and your own personal tastes and background will determine which of Octopath‘s story chapters stand out most for you, these are the eight that I enjoyed the most. Spoilers obviously abound, so read on only if you’ve finished the game or don’t plan on playing it any further / at all.

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8. Cyrus Chapter 2

Ah, Cyrus. As one of the later characters I met on my journey, I initially found his idealistic head-in-the-clouds indifference to the feelings of those around him to be a grating character trait, but by the time his introductory chapter is over that same trait has been turned into a joke at his expense and he is suddenly an endearing, not to mention mechanically essential, part of the octo-squad. His second chapter beats his first one onto this list, however, thanks to the way it uses this endearment to maximise the impact of a shockingly macabre turn. In the mining town of Quarrycrest, you get to see the full range of Cyrus’ strictly-academia reactions to everything from light jabs at his obliviousness to demonic blood rituals. If you haven’t done any third chapters by the time you see this one, the ghastly introduction of supernatural body horror into the world’s lore makes for some decently-paced foreshadowing.

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7. Tressa Chapter 2

The other major chapter taking place in Quarrycrest takes on a rather different tone. It sees the wholesome, naive aspiring merchant Tressa attempt to make her fortune by selling shiny gems in a town ultimately under the control of a despot of sorts who believes that very fortune belongs to him by right. It builds to the confrontation with said megalomaniac by first introducing one of Octopath‘s best supporting characters, Ali. A cocky young merchant with an existing bag of tricks and sales techniques, Ali serves initially as a cheeky antagonist and eventually as an ally against the larger evil at hand, in both cases encouraging tremendous growth from Tressa. Though more of his character is developed in later chapters, in Quarrycrest his relentless-yet-principled attitude to the art of selling solidifies him as an indispensable addition to the game’s considerable secondary cast.

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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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