Posts Tagged ‘nintendo’

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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Best of 2019: Top 4 Game Consoles

Yeah that’s right, I can’t keep up this PS Vita charade anymore – We’re doing just four this year. That extra listed item will be added onto a list near the end of this whole shebang.

Shades of 2012 flickered throughout this past year in console gaming. As the calm before the inevitable year-long media storm awaiting us with the upcoming next-gen console battle, solid exclusives were still around but the burden of true momentum fell to consoles outside of the typical main two. While in 2012 those alternative consoles were the Vita and the, uh, Wii U, 2019 had an alternative that was more than capable of picking up the slack. And yes, I know that this year was also a fascinating year for PC gaming, but this list has always been console-focused. Sorry.

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VR BEST OF 2019 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. To agree with me 100% is rarer than an EA game without microtransactions. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

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4. Nintendo 3DS

(LAST YEAR: 4th)

It’s a bit weird – The 3DS well and truly stomped the PS Vita throughout its life, enjoying many more years of strong sales. But the PS Vita took years to properly die, kept on life support by a huge discrepancy in market interest between Japan and the west. Meanwhile here we are, a mere six months after the 3DS’ last major release, and the Nintendo handheld feels so definitively finished that the mere sight of one may give Tetsuya Nomura cold sweats. Nintendo has given their classic line that they will continue to support the 3DS, and sure, there are still firmware patches coming out. But the game front has been dead-silent since June.

So this appraisal is pretty much about 2019’s first half, when the Switch Lite was little more than an ill-defined rumour circulating the internet. Since we got Yokai Watch 3 at the end of last year in Australia, that means just four big games – two remakes and two new ones heavy on referential content. Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story got a full remake with extra content and that game remains an absolute gem, so if you didn’t play it initially you were in for a treat. Likewise for the surprising appearance of Kirby’s Extra Epic Yarn. Etrian Odyssey Nexus kept the flag flying for a franchise that has arguably had its golden age on the 3DS, then Atlus did that thing they love to do and released a game on a portable at the last possible moment. The date: June 4th. The game: Persona Q2, an adorable series crossover event with striking art and rewarding dungeon-crawl gameplay. And thusly did the 3DS say goodbye.

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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 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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Best of 2018: Top 15 Games

It’s truly fascinating to me to watch the cooldown period after a universally-acknowledged year of videogame greatness. Sometimes the vaunted 2007 gets the wonderful afterparty that was 2008 – with the likes of GTA IV, Metal Gear Solid 4, Fallout 3 and Bioshock – and sometimes 1998 gets the uneventful ’99 hangover. In the age we live in, packed as it is with more games and more types of games than ever before, it’s difficult to argue that any year can be truly bad for releases. That said, 2018 mixed in the kinds of critical and commercial disappointments that might have sunk an older year but only seemed to add a footnote to an annum of tremendously successful standalone titles – especially if you owned a PS4.

This is, of course, my personal favourites list, so games like Red Dead Redemption 2 are absent (for reasons I’ve already touched on). There are fewer indie games on this list than usual, which doesn’t reflect a poor year for smaller-budget games (not even close) so much as it does that sweet spot near the end of a major console life cycle where a number of ambitious projects in development for years all seem to hit at once. There are iterative sequels that perfect a formula, refreshing surprises and a not-insignificant combination of both. Overall it’s a list defined by games I did not expect to fall in love with – either because they were entirely new or because I had not ever properly been grabbed by their respective series. In fact, I’d say I was only confident I would enjoy four out of these fifteen games before I played them – and trust me, that’s an undeniably low conversion rate for me. Yay for the unexpected.

Eligibility for the countdown is simple. Excluding multiplayer-first titles, I need to have played each game for more than five hours or completed its main path – whichever comes first.

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VR BEST OF 2018 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 odd, but let’s have a beer. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

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15. Unravel Two (XBO)

E3 week was pretty uniquely special this year because for the first time in a long while, I was just as excited to play unexpected games that had just come out as I was about those on the horizon. One of several surprise “out now!” releases during E3 2018 was Unravel Two, a sequel to one of the indie darlings of E3s gone by. While I didn’t hear great things about the first game in terms of mechanics and ended up skipping it entirely, I was extremely happy to find that the sequel picks up the slack in a big way while presenting a world just as visually stunning. The rope physics in this game are the best I’ve ever had the pleasure of finding in a 2D platformer and they are used to great effect for both fluid movement and puzzle solving – the two often going hand in hand – but the kicker is that the entire 5-hour adventure absolutely sings in co-op. I played Unravel Two start to finish with my sister, who rarely plays games, and she was as glued to the screen as I was.

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Best of 2018: Top 5 Game Consoles

Console time.

On our increasingly stretched list of five this year we see two players in the definitive final stages of their lives, two perhaps approaching the dawn of their successors and one still young with a lot to prove. This is a transition period of sorts in the console space but 2018 was also a year for big-budget, high-impact exclusive games. And exclusive games remain the number one most important factor I use to order this list, although other elements will always be important too. How I feel a console has grown via aspects like associated services, system-level improvements and that nebulous “how I feel playing it” quality all come into consideration.

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VR BEST OF 2018 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 odd, but let’s have a beer. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

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5. PlayStation Vita

(LAST YEAR: 5th)

Yep, it’s actually dead now, I know, I know. This year finally saw Sony announce that 2019 would see the end of Japanese production of this wonderfully misunderstood and mishandled portable. As Japan – the Vita’s home, after all – was the only place still manufacturing Vita consoles and accessories, not to mention the only place said consoles and accessories were still selling decently, that’s quite a death knell. There were still worldwide game releases on the platform in 2018, though, and so even though I finally got rid of my lovely lime green Vita for good this year, I can still technically use the thing to hold up the bottom of this list. Because there is literally nothing else to qualify it as a top five. Here’s hoping for new consoles next year…

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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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The Whirlwind That Was E3 2018

E3 week is over for another year! The conferences have come and gone, the show floor has closed, the Youtubers and game journos have pieced together their wrap-ups and are now piecing together their minds with some well-earned rest. So it’s time once again for me to pick out the trends of the show and throw forward my own general thoughts on the delirious highs and confusing lows of the 2018 Electronic Entertainment Expo.

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Samurai Spirit Abounds

Every year at E3 there’s always a videogame feature or aesthetic concept that seems to rear its head suspiciously frequently. Examples from past years that come to mind include the neck-snapping animations of 2013, the dog companion focus of 2015 and of course the piracy outbreak of last year. This year pundits were ready for the deluge of “battle royale” mode additions to both existing major franchises and new projects, but aside from the very first game of E3, Battlefield V, that would-be trend was nowhere to be found. Instead, the feudal Japanese period stepped up into the thematic void with considerable style. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, the much-discussed next game from Dark Souls developer From Software, led the charge and evoked imagery from last year’s runaway success Nioh. It was fitting, then, that Nioh 2 also brought the samurai goodness later on in the week. However the decidedly AAA polish of Sucker Punch’s Ghost of Tsushima probably took the greatest share of the conceptual spotlight, presenting an absolutely jaw-dropping interpretation of a painterly Japanese countryside soaked in blood and fire.

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Live Music, Live Music Everywhere

What do you do when some of your colleagues and competitors are putting forth pristine, pre-curated, glitch-free video presentations? You leverage the unique strengths of the live platform and you leverage them hard. Bethesda, Ubisoft and especially Sony really went in on the idea of live music performances during their 2018 shows. The former even performed an entire song at the top of proceedings courtesy of Andrew W.K. and a live band. Ubisoft’s almost-annual Just Dance series medley was moved to the top of the French giant’s own spectacle, which was odd but arguably a smart move given how previous instances have affected pacing. Sony packed two separate instrumental performances with tonal ties to two of the company’s biggest games, while the entirety of its Dreams footage consisted of adorable/unsettling animated creatures blaring their own musical creations. Your mileage may vary on the value of these interludes but if you ask me they added just the right amount of E3 zaniness. Continue reading