Category Archives: Nintendo

Let’s Talk About That PlayStation Experience

PlayStation Experience

Over the weekend, the industry saw two maiden voyages: Geoff Keighley’s independent The Game Awards and Sony’s for-fans PlayStation Experience. We can get around to the former later, but right now let’s talk about the latter. Coinciding with the 20th anniversary of the PlayStation and announced back in October, this event was a two-day celebration in Las Vegas for the brand and the PlayStation 4’s current and upcoming lineup.

It is the closest to a winter E3 we’ll get, or really any industry event. It’s a little PAX in its timing (i.e. not during the summer) and in its structure (e.g. fully open to fans and organized around panels), but make no mistake that it’s skewing closer to an E3 or Gamescom than the fan convention. Most of the games available for play on the floor were largely just announced and not available for retail.

This strikes me as a prototypical move. Testing the waters, if you will. For the past several years, the utility of E3 has started to fade. It’s fun traveling and attending parties and certainly hanging out with basically everyone else in the industry all at once is pretty cool (and overwhelming), the actual benefits of the show are becoming dubious.

None of it aside from shaking the hands of PR people you’d only ever exchanged emails with and squeezing in unscheduled interviews with industry luminaries could not also be accomplished through Skype calls and Dropboxes of demo builds. Otherwise, it almost certainly is a bust for everyone. That’s a full week of being tired, getting sick, and getting great coverage getting swallowed up by a deluge of other great coverage. It’s numbing for developers, journalists, brand reps, and readers.

Similarly for the past few years, though, Nintendo has taken a slightly different tack. They don’t participate in the traditional keynote madness anymore, instead opting for a couple Nintendo Directs during the week topped off by a press roundtable. And instead of making the games exclusive to the industry folk angrily meandering the halls of the Los Angeles Convention Center, they let fans take part all around the country. Not only that, but those Nintendo Directs? They can happen whenever Nintendo wants, and they happen all during the year, albeit when convenient for Japan.

And guess what: Nintendo won developer of the year at The Game Awards. And do you know how many of the games that won their categories were Nintendo games? One: Mario Kart 8. (Granted it won in two different categories.) Then, when you consider the ratio of nominees as well, Nintendo falls far behind. Their win is…strange.

Mario Kart 8

But that’s if you don’t consider what they do. No, not release games. It’s about what they do differently, and it seems that Sony caught on, hence the PlayStation Experience. They’re testing the waters with this inaugural event. It’s just convenient that it managed to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the original PlayStation. Aside from a few obligatory mentions and the LittleBigPlanet 3 video, the anniversary might as well have not even been a factor.

Instead, we had a keynote packed with announcements—a few of them were genuine surprises, too—and premiere trailers. It felt an awful lot like the efforts and energy you’d usually feel at Day 0 of E3. And the floor definitely carried the teeming joy you’d find in the weeklong LA showcase. Certainly the timing of the event was a huge factor as well. With the holidays right in people’s faces and Amazon shipping deadlines looming, what better than to remind people that PlayStation has great games out right now.

Microsoft’s response was, more or less, Phil Spencer’s Twitter. He absolutely handled it with tact, but it’s very much an impossible world where Redmond execs didn’t see the response to the event (which coincided with the similarly major fan-based The Game Awards) and didn’t feel a pang of panic. Especially when prompted with a question about the X0 shows, it’s hard not to wonder why Microsoft wasn’t already riding this wave.

Xbox X0 Event

The answer, of course, is the fans. They carried Nintendo to the Developer of the Year award and they—straight from the floor in Las Vegas—made Sony the talk of weekend and certainly will make Sony the talk of the pre-holiday sale rush. You take the mix of fans finally taking in hand the journalist privilege of playing unreleased games and interacting with press coverage and YouTubers posting reaction videos and you get a storm of organic hype.

Microsoft has gotten off to a slower start this generation than Sony and now it’s falling behind in its media handling as well. Much like the overt use for E3 has shifted (though the secret E3 still goes strong), Sony and Nintendo have recognized not only the growing influence of fans in fresh coverage but also that they way they consume and interact with news is evolving. While Spencer is not wrong about having an important E3 and Gamescom, he fails to recognize that it’s not just about trade shows.

Nintendo has its Nintendo Directs. They sponsor SXSW Gaming. They showcased their games Best Buy locations all over the country. And Sony came storming out of the gates with the PlayStation Experience, riding the wave of their strong start of the PlayStation 4 to an equally strong holiday buzz. And where’s Microsoft? I don’t know. You’ll have to ask the fans.

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Yoshi’s Woolly World – Hands-on at E3 2014

Yoshi's Woolly World

If you strip away the wholly charming and unique visual flair of Yoshi’s Woolly World, you are left more or less with the core of Yoshi’s Island. Normally, it’s awfully terrible to reduce a game to “if you liked X, then you’ll like Y,” but by golly does Yoshi’s Woolly World dive full into its divisive lineage.

That being said, it plays an awful lot like the best and worst parts of just about any home console Yoshi game and I’m totally okay with it. You still go from left to right, licking up enemies and turning them into eggs, and collecting coins and flowers, and throwing things at other things. It’s a familiar foundation upon which Nintendo has made a lot of money and fans, and it still works.

Oh yeah, but instead of eggs and coins and all that, it’s all replaced with an irrepressibly cute yarn- and craft-based substitute. For instance, eggs are now literal balls of yarn and their dispensers are little baskets (also ostensibly made of yarn). And instead of coins, you collect yellow and red and white gems, probably to fit into the decorator motif.

The entire visual milieu is impressive and comprehensive. When Yoshi walks along the crowd, it sinks ever so slightly, owing to the fact that yarn has that familiar softness and give. When you hit a Piranha Plant with an egg, it becomes tangled with the untangled ball of yarn. Then Yoshi’s flutter jump is actually his bottom half unwinding into a whirling mess of individual strands. It’s impossible not to love how this game looks.

It is, however, possible to not love how the game plays. While I do land in the camp of people who like the Yoshi’s Island-style games (minus that god damn Baby Mario travesty), the stock quibbles of the haters are still present and becoming more apparent as the rose tint washes from our eyes. The egg-aiming mechanic is consistently not fun and the aforementioned flutter jump has somehow become more frustrating, dipping and hovering lower than your peak height for far too long to be useful.

A new addition, however, is cooperative play. Playing with a non-communicative stranger next to me was less than ideal, especially when the demo person was becoming just as frustrated as me with my partner’s inability to not continually swallow my Yoshi. While the couch co-op aspect seems promising, there are brand new co-op annoyances to contend with as well. For example, you lose all of your eggs if you get swallowed.

Yoshi's Woolly World

It doesn’t necessarily even evoke the same sensation of competitive cooperation as in LittleBigPlanet or any of the modern 2D side-scrolling Mario games but rather one of only frustration. However, much of the rest of Yoshi’s Woolly World seems quite good. Or at least what was shown in the demo. It’s aesthetic is winning in every regard, but its mechanical underbelly is likely to still be divisive.

Look for it early next year.

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Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker – Hands-on at E3 2014

Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker

While I’m still not clear on whether Captain Toad and regular ol’ Toad are the same character, I have become increasingly convinced that Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is going to be a good time. Announced and available for play at this year’s E3, it turns that brief respite of Mario-less platforming in Super Mario 3D World into a game in its own right.

You play as the aforementioned Captain Toad, who appears to be Toad but with a dapper kerchief and a ridiculously large headlamp, and you attempt to collect gold stars and coins over the course of many different levels and stages. However, given that he can’t jump all that well, it’s actually a lot more of a puzzle game than a platformer, though you certainly will be engaging in classic Mario encounters, i.e. bopping the top of Goombas to defeat them.

It’s just that instead of jumping, you’ll be falling from up high. The level I played was a haunted mansion of sorts. Each level is supremely isolated from anything else, meaning that here we have a Boo- and Goomba-infested house basically floating in space. The first area serves as a pretty quick-paced introduction to the game because there is, in fact, a lone Goomba patrolling the darkened courtyard.

He chases me and, at my top Toad speed, I barely manage to evade him. When he loses interest in my polka dotted noggin, I use the Wii U’s GamePad’s touchscreen to move one of several white highlighted doors in the level. This one in particular slides back and forth just above this fenced-off garden area, swapping between being just above the one door here on the ground and over to the left and leading to a balcony.

By luring the Goomba into a chase toward the bottom door, I manage to kill him by exiting the moveable door while he’s directly under me and stomping his head. Then I make my way around the balcony and find myself moving more doors to finagle Captain Toad above a large stack of meandering Goombas. By timing my fall, I neatly stomp on one after another in a single move.

All the while, I’m pulling plants to gather gold coins and double pulling others to get diamonds. The level ends with me up on top of the house where two gigantic Boos reside. Luckily, there are also more doors up here that I easily use to teleport behind them and grab the gold star. Simple but satisfying encounter.

Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker

In fact, those two words largely encapsulate the entirety of the Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker demo. A boss level involved timing movements behind cover in a cylindrical arena while a fire-spitting dragon in the lava pit in the middle tried to torch my delicate shroomness. It’s nothing particularly taxing, which is not to say it won’t be in other demos and in the final product, but even as it stands, it’s an interesting and fun game that left me a little more charmed than when I started.

Look for it later this year.

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Nintendo Direct Recap: Mario Kart 8, Haggling, Nonsense

Nintendo Direct for February 13, 2014

I still find these Nintendo Direct events somewhat ridiculous. It’s easy to say, “What, Nintendo, are you too good for a regular press conference at E3 or something?” And then you smoke several cigars at once while riding a giant Fresca can into space. It’s really just that these things tend to highlight on a semi-regular interval the struggles and stigmas the company has battled for the past two console generations.

Mainly, Nintendo just doesn’t know what to give us. Often times, everything looks like more of the same, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing since Nintendo’s bar for a poor release is actually higher than other mediocre-adjacent measuring sticks. And when they do give us something, they don’t know how to show it off. We’re usually left confused or feeling like we’ve seen it all before.

Case in point: there’s been another Nintendo Direct event. If you didn’t see the stream, I’ll catch you up on the major points. If you did, well, I’m not sure what I have to offer you besides a hearty slap on the back, significant eye contact, and then a wistful goodbye. Let’s get to it.

Bayonetta 2 Trailer

Absurd. That’s what this is. Has there ever been a more mismatched voiceover with an over-the-top thing? He sounded like he was reading the game’s instruction manual to a mildly interested four-year-old cousin. But whatever. I really like the first Bayonetta (it was seriously a Game of the Year contender) and this looks to take a big, witchy step in another ridiculous direction.

Look for the game sometime in 2014 in the US and this summer in Japan.

Haggling

Rusty's Real Deal Baseball

Perhaps it’s the immensely large war chest of money backing seemingly reckless decisions that lead to poor outcomes, but it seems like Nintendo is the most open of the big three that is open to experimentation. For instance, besides taking their first step into free-to-play games with Steel Diver: Sub Wars, the upcoming Rusty’s Real Deal Baseball will feature price haggling.

The system is based around you actually playing the game and doing it well. In minigames, if you score high enough, you will earn an ostensibly useless item (for a baseball game, anyways). But if you take it to the shopkeeper and give him just what he needs (be sure to listen to his stories), he could be willing to knock a few pence off the price of downloadable content. Pretty big swing.

Rusty’s Real Deal Baseball comes out this April for the 3DS. Steel Diver: Sub Wars, while just announced, is already out on the eShop.

Mario Kart 8

Everyone loves their first Mario Kart. I’m willing to bet in 90% of all cases, the first Mario Kart you play is your favorite one. I’m also willing to bet that is because that’s the basis of what you judge a kart racer to actually be, and deviations necessarily make games less of a kart racer.

It makes you wonder how many people will make Mario Kart 8 (freaking eight!) their first Mario Kart. Would they even recognize the first iteration of the franchise? It’s kind of a terrifying thought. But, regardless, I will still probably end up playing Mario Kart 8. I don’t know why. It’s just going to happen. Maybe this is the one to bolster poor console sales.

Mario Kart 8 releases May 30th for the Wii U.

Fresh Professor Layton Trailer

You know what? I was never terribly into Professor Layton’s shenanigans. I found him charming, I thought the games were fun, and I would recommend the series all the time, but I just never got behind it the way many other people did. It’s really strange.

Maybe it needs a movie like Phoenix Wright. I’m not sure. This trailer, though, still has me looking forward to Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy. Oh, wait, also Emmy’s Story. Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy: Emmy’s Story. Christ, what a name.

Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy: Emmy’s Story releases Feburary 28th for the 3DS.

New Ace Attorney

New Ace Attorney announced at Nintendo Direct for February 13, 2014

Only bearing an announcement of words, it was still fairly big news because original series creator Shu Takumi will be behind the wheel. And Capcom will be behind another wheel. A 3DS wheel made of money. And law. Or something. Unfortunately, no word on when it will be released or if it will come out in any country not called Japan.

And if you’re curious, the text on this briefly displayed card translates to “Ace Attorney: a New Project Begins” according to Kotaku. I dunno, they seem legit.

Pokémon Battle Trozei

Let’s be honest: we’re all suckers for puzzle games, especially those of the match-three variety. How else did Bejeweled get as big as it did? Either way, there’s a new Pokémon-themed one coming out called Pokémon Battle Trozei. The weird combination of high fidelity video game bit sounds and 90s wailing electric guitar alone makes me want to play.

It’ll be out on March 20th for the 3DS.

GBA Games Coming to Virtual Console

Game Boy Advance

Perhaps it’s just my fading old man memory, but it seems like the GBA came and went fairly fast in terms of handheld lifecycles. Technically it lasted around five years, but its big hits all seemed to fall within two years of each other and then that was it. So it seems befuddling that there was enough call for GBA games to come to the Wii U Virtual Console for this to happen.

I assume every title will just be Golden Sun, Metroid Fusion, or Advance Wars, the only three GBA games worth playing. Just kidding; there were plenty of other good ones. Just get ready to remove those rose-tinted glasses when they come your way this spring.

NES Remix 2 Continues Year of Luigi

NES Remix 2

The Year of Luigi may have come to an end, but that doesn’t mean it has to leave your heart. NES Remix 2 will feature a bunch of old Nintendo classics like Dr. Mario, Kid Icarus, and Metroid challenges along with the entirety of the original Super Mario Bros., but with Luigi as the star and the levels are backwards and also it’s called Super Luigi Bros. Surprise!

NES Remix 2 comes out April 25th.

Everyone Still Wants X

X

It’s been just over a year since X, the followup to Xenoblade Chronicles, was announced. We’ve heard just about nothing about it since then and now we see some new footage and…that’s about it. It’s still slated for release for this year, but come on. That’s probably not going to happen. I mean, we can all hope, but it won’t. Ugh, it just looks so fun.

Kirby Triple Deluxe Trailer, Date

Hey guys. I really liked the last three Kirby games. You should probably pay attention to this trailer. (Those two thoughts are unrelated.). It looks basically just like Kirby’s Return to Dream Land, which also looks a lot like every other major console Kirby release. This little pink puff is the unsung hero of Nintendo. I don’t think it’ll ever change, but his games are little troopers that do what they need to do and then get out. It’s great.

Kirby Triple Deluxe will release May 2nd for the 3DS.

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Nintendo and The Dour Prediction

Nintendo and the Dour Prediction

Sometimes the truth is undeniable. It’s raining. It’s dark out. Nintendo just isn’t the powerhouse it used to be. These are simply facts that we know because they’re observed to be true. I can see rain pouring from the overcast sky so it must be raining. The sun is down and the moon is out so it is nightfall. And Nintendo revised their yearly sales forecast from a 55 billion yen profit to a 25 billion yen loss so, well, you get it.

As it’s been for the past decade or so, though, Nintendo is a much muddier story than that. Look at the 3DS. It was the top selling console for both December and all of 2013 last year with a projected finish for the fiscal calendar at 13.5 million units. It absolutely crushed the PlayStation Vita, which apparently sold somewhere south of 95,000 units in December. (Yikes!)

If you’re keeping score at home, that’s absolutely abysmal for Sony but great news for Nintendo. They’re stomping their direct handheld console competition (mobile phones and tablets, however, are another discussion entirely). The Vita sold that poorly even with Sony aggressive tie-in marketing and development features with the newly launched PlayStation 4.

Nintendo 3DS

The 3DS released in February of 2011. It sold 13.95 million in 2012, and Nintendo revised the 3DS’s projected sales down to 13.5 million from 18 million. If anything, the company’s new sales forecasts do nothing more than take the 3DS down from the “holy cow this is some hot flapjack shit going on” range to “well, this is still doing pretty good” territory.

Unfortunately, Nintendo doesn’t only deal in 3DS sales. There’s also the big, white, dual-screen home console elephant in the room: the Wii U, which even anecdotally isn’t selling very well. How many of your friends do you know own a Wii U? And how many of those play it regularly? Exactly.

In this set of revisions, Nintendo reduced their Wii U projects from 9 million units to 2.8 million. For comparison, the Wii is similarly projected to sell 1.2 million (another downgrade from 2 million). That’s a significant drop, and more importantly, makes it easy to contrast success with treading water.

Wii U

The most telling figure is second year holiday sales. Every console takes a huge bump in the second year. Well, almost every console. Two notable exceptions are the Gamecube in 2002 when it went down 344,000 units (in the same year, the original Xbox went up 96,000) and the Dreamcast in 2000 when it went down 620,000 units.

Now the Wii U isn’t doing as terrible as those two historical train wrecks, but it is doing quite poorly. If you look at the November second year numbers, the Wii U dropped 210,000 units, which puts it in company with the Gamecube, Xbox, and Dreamcast, even though its second year holiday sales look to be about the same as its first year.

Henry Gilbert over at GamesRadar made a good point back in August. The Wii U mirrors the Gamecube in a number of significant ways: low console sales bolstered by handheld sales, handheld sales boosted by a Pokémon title, and a roster of impressive exclusives. But how is this not bad news? Well, think about the Gamecube now. For one, it gave us The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, Metroid Prime, and many more amazing games.

Wii U

And more importantly, it adds evidence to the pile of things that proves that the industry moves in waves. Nintendo used to be the big dog, but then Sony came along with the PS2. Then Microsoft’s Xbox. And then Nintendo struck back with the Wii. And now we have a new generation to discover how it will all shake out.

Someone will always be on the ropes. That’s just how business works. Leisure-based consumerism is largely a zero sum game where one company getting money is just as good as taking it away from another. They are constantly fighting for your money and someone is always losing, just as someone is always losing. This is obviously bad news for Nintendo as they are currently the ones falling behind, but it’s not bad news for their existence. At least not yet anyways. It does all hinge on Nintendo pulling its own weight.

But I mean, jeez, it’s not like they’re Ouya.

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