Tag 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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Trailer Roundup: Mortal Kombat X, Assassin’s Creed Rogue, and More

Trailer Roundup: Mortal Kombat X, Assassin's Creed Rogue, and More

Well Gamescom is starting tomorrow. There’s probably going to be at least a few big announcements, some cool previews, and cool Instagrams from everyone in Germany. I won’t be there this year, but rest assured that it almost entirely wouldn’t matter. I’m beginning to question the need of physically attending shows beyond broing out with some fellow writers and dev friends.

Actually, that’s a notion that has been rolling around my head for a few years now, one that’s been shared with other likeminded journalists, which is to say those that don’t go just to collect freebies and take pictures of themselves with celebrities. Anyways, that’s for another time. Let’s watch some trailers!

Mortal Kombat X

I wonder if Ed Boon even wants to make other types of games. Outside of Mortal Kombat, his credits run rather thin, even though his adventures outside of the brutal brawler have often proven successful. Hell, he programmed goddamn Black Knight 2000. But it is a bit weird that he was creative director on the Batman: Arkham Origins mobile game. Hmm.

Anyways, Mortal Kombat X comes out sometime in 2015 for PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and PC.

Assassin’s Creed Rogue

That Assassin’s Creed team sure knows how to make the shit out of a trailer. The original Assassin’s Creed trailer is one of my all-time favorites, though it might just be the Unkle track that does it. But Assassin’s Creed Rogue seems to have promise either way, despite being relegated to last gen systems. Developers Ubisoft Sofia managed to inject some interesting ideas into Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation, so it’ll be fun to see what they can get up to with the foundation of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag.

I’m super curious, though, as to how this Assassin-turned-Templar fits into a modern day Animus scheme. More Abstergo cubicles? Comes out November 11 for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. (Also, notice that Ubisoft is doing away with colons in front of their subtitles? Weird.)

Mario Kart 8

Boy, talk about weird. I would love to know how this business deal came about. How in the world did Mercedes-Benz (yes, the Germany luxury car manufacturer) shack up with Nintendo (once again, yes, the Japanese video game company) to make this wholly odd Mario Kart 8 DLC? It’s free, either way, and includes a four-week long online competition called the Mercedes Cup. Comes out August 27.

Crawl

From what I’ve played, Crawl is a pretty cool game. I haven’t put enough time in to get much more of an opinion than that since getting people together to play it is crucial, but I think it’s worth at least more than a cursory glance. It’s a multiplayer dungeon crawler, except your friends play the enemies. When the hero dies, the killer gets to become the hero, attempting to best both the dungeon and their friends. Currently out via Early Access for PC, Mac, and Linux.

Dying Light

My time with Dying Light from last year’s PAX Prime reminds me that every bit of this trailer’s braggadocio has at least some shred of veracity. The parkour elements genuinely added significant wrinkles to the zombie experience, as did the traps and general need to run. Comes out February 2015 for PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and PC.

Toy Soldiers: War Chest

Hey, I liked Toy Soldiers as much as the next guy, but Toy Soldiers: War Chest seems like an odd revival, especially since this trailer doesn’t paint much in the way of substantial mechanical changes. I’m open to it, but it doesn’t make me any less puzzled over its existence. I will say that the snappy writing and perfect tone is still intact, so there’s still that. Release early 2015 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare

It still looks like Call of Duty multiplayer to me. That’s not a bad thing, mind you, but it certainly has gotten a bit tired outside of the growing eSports arena. Perhaps the emphasis on mobility and adaptive environments will make Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare feel different and—dare I say—interesting, but it looks an awful lot like more of the same even with the jetpacks and future tech based on my time with it. Releases November 4 for PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and PC.

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Trailer Roundup: Tekken 7, Battleborn, and More

Trailer Roundup: Tekken 7, Battleborn, and More

Okay, we can all admit it: I’m terrible at keeping a schedule. I mean, you don’t have to admit it, but it really makes me feel better not doing it alone. I missed a week and now I’m doing this on a Tuesday. I know you all normally set your clocks to when a Trailer Roundup goes up, but let’s just go with it this week, huh? Can’t we all just get along?

Besides, there are some, like, big announcements that happened. Let’s get to it!

Tekken 7

Here’s another confession: I lost the thread to the Tekken story so god damn long ago. I only have the faintest idea of what is going on in this trailer, but I do know that based on the reaction from when it was announced at Evo 2014, people are excited for Tekken 7. Also, major props for sticking with the straight numerical naming scheme for all these years. No timeframe specified, but it will be coming to next-gen consoles.

Battleborn

I am, like, 90% sure that Mikey Neumann had 100% to do with the song in this trailer for Battleborn, the upcoming game from Gearbox Software. While you can’t really tell from the video, Battleborn is an FPS with co-op, loot, and RPG-style growth mechanics. It sounds an awful lot like Borderlands, especially when Gearbox President Randy Pitchford describes it.

However, it really sounds more like a MOBA that happens to be from a first-person perspective, but don’t tell them that. Creative director Randy Varnell sounded weirdly defensive about being called a MOBA in this Polygon piece. Doesn’t matter, though. Gearbox seems to have a pretty good handle on the co-op shooter thing. It will launch on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC in 2015.

The Wolf Among Us

If you haven’t been keeping up with this first season of The Wolf Among Us, you’ve been missing out. It’s not quite the groundbreaking or genre-redefining experience as The Walking Dead, but it’s still quite the harrowing collection of episodic content. The last episode came out last week, and seems appropriately titled as Cry Wolf. Hopefully I’ll blow through it tomorrow and then we can talk about it!

Back to Bed

Here’s what I know about Back to Bed by Bedtime Digital Games: it looks…unnerving. I mean, just look at that weird cat thing. Would you trust it to exist? I’m just kidding, though; I know a bit more about the game. It started as a student project in 2011 and then went to Kickstarter last March and is now about to see the light of day this August as a 3D surrealist puzzle game. But seriously, fuck that cat thing.

Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair

I feel like I need to apologize. But I won’t. I never got around to playing this when it came out back in 2012 for the PSP, but now it’ll be making its way to the PS Vita on September 2, and I actually know where I put my Vita, so chances are good I’ll finally be able to play this weird visual novel murder mystery thing.

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

I really don’t know why Troy Baker isn’t a movie star yet. Perhaps he doesn’t really want to be one, but he’s got both the chops and the looks, and he’s good at giving PR-fueled answers in interviews. Either way, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is really quite the interesting game from what I’ve played, and I really can’t wait for the full release on October 7.

VizionEck

I mean, it’s possible that VizionEck is a competitive first-person shooter. Hell, it might even be a game, but just don’t tell this inscrutable trailer that. The website does a slightly better job of describing what the hell it is you’re seeing, but it doesn’t really matter. I’m already intrigued. It’s headed to the PlayStation 4 sometime this year.

Assassin’s Creed Unity

Gosh does Ubisoft know how to make gorgeous cutscenes. And now that technology is catching up with their visual aspirations, their games are becoming equally beautiful. If only they could make a mechanically fun game, too. At this point, I feel like any sufficiently large production will garner a bevy of E3 awards, which of course isn’t anyone’s fault in particular. More money means a more polished and idealized vertical slice, and that’s how you win those awards. Find out if Assassin’s Creed Unity deserved them on October 28.

Hyrule Warriors

I’m still not wholly convinced about the idea of Hyrule Warriors, but I will say that with each trailer that comes out, my interested is piqued just a little more. I appreciate the layers that the fantastical seems to add the Dynasty Warriors formula, but I don’t know if it’ll carry my interest for longer than an hour or two, and it doesn’t seem like Nintendo is very much invested in it (the website is a freaking product page, and Nintendo’s official channel is super behind on its trailers). Releases September 26 for Wii U.

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High(er) Fidelity

High(er) Fidelity

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When the word “fidelity” is laid bare, it has a strange connotation. When you speak of fidelity, it almost always refers to the singular concept of a love, whether a marriage or fresh relationship, and the marred face of it when a physical connection breaks the emotional one. It’s no wonder we hold it in lofty realms of implied meaning and consequences.

The word really refers to nothing more than the faithfulness to a thing, or a loyalty to an ideal. Speaking of high fidelity and the contrasted low fidelity—or hi-fi and lo-fi, respectively—is actually speaking about the faithfulness of a reproduction of sound through a stereo system. (It could also be talking about the Nick Hornby novel/John Cusack film of the same name, but we won’t go there for now.) Is it a fuzzy approximation of the once live performance of a song or is it as close to being there without building a time traveling DeLorean?

What generally concerns us as gamers in this area, though, is the idea of fidelity in graphics. For so long, we chased the rabbit’s tail of photorealism, the belief that when games are impossible to discern from our everyday lives that we’ll have reached the endgame of the art form. We fantasized about the seeing the drool drip out of Donkey Kong’s mouth as he hauled a frightened Pauline from the individual hairs of Mario’s mustachioed upper lip. We wanted to see the mug glisten and shimmer as it slid in Tapper.

Luigi Death Stare

Surely you’ve all seen this GIF by now. You’ve at least seen the Ridin’ video, right? (Side note: consider that at over 5.6 million views with ads turned on, YouTuber CZbwoi has earned enough scratch to buy a new car.) If you haven’t, here’s the quick summary in case Know Your Meme isn’t sufficient: Luigi, when he overtakes you with an offensive move in Mario Kart 8, gives you a glaring death stare, highlighted by the fact that the game has a cinematic replay mode.

It is perhaps one of the best, most nonsensical, and organic things to emerge from the already absurd world of video games. Kotaku, the best cataloguer of industry pop culture, even has a roundup of the fad’s superlative output. However, once the glitz and glam of making a silly game sillier wears off, it does bring to light a startling realization.

The chase—the hunt of high fidelity—has led us here. When Luigi first started hurling shells out of the side of a go-kart in hops of clambering to the top of a podium, we didn’t get much beyond an aural blip of recognition and the self-satisfaction of a job well done. Even if Super Mario Kart had the theatrical presentation of a replay mode, the system itself hardly had the capabilities to show the emerald brother’s sinister pleasure of sadism.

Super Mario Kart

It all largely occurred in our minds, or if someone was playing with and against us, face to face. For the moment, Luigi’s giant eyes and bulbous nose were our decidedly more human eyes and nose. We cackled as we snatched a win away from our once closest friend. But this increase of graphical fidelity in Mario Kart 8 has moved us beyond the empathetic projection to a reproduction of it.

A reproduction of our emotions, thrown onto the digital face of a character we’ve actually only recently gotten used to seeing in so many polygons amidst karts and shells. Every character, as it turns out, has his or her own reaction to making the same racing takeover. It just happens to be that Luigi’s is the funniest of them all, fiery yet dead in an otherwise lighthearted game.

This contrast of imagining and mimicking this reaction—or rather its intent, since you hopefully are not as grave—to seeing it performed for you on the screen brings to the forefront an intriguing question of when is enough actually enough. Especially as Nintendo’s reputation for having art design overcome its hardware’s processing shortcomings, where does fidelity go when its necessity runs dry?

Pong

I truly and honestly have no idea. Granted, some games benefit from an increase in fidelity to reality and are even designed around it mechanically and graphically, but it does invite the consideration that for any game, there exists a point on the spectrum between Pong and a hologram impossible to distinguish from reality where gains in the fidelity are worthless. Once all the returns are diminished, there is nothing left.

As these new consoles mature and developers figure out to optimize and cheat its discrete systems, the answer will hopefully become clearer. We will collectively inch along said spectrum, marching diligently towards the end, and we will discover together if that point exists, or if the endgame is merely the start to another.

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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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Trailer Roundup: Nintendo, Call of Duty, H1Z1, and More

Trailer Roundup: Nintendo, Call of Duty, H1Z1, and More

Yeah, I moved Trailer Roundup from Fridays to Mondays. It just seemed to make sense considering Fridays are actually quite the popular day for new trailers to come out. Also, I’d much rather waste away the beginning of a week watching videos on the Internet than the end. (But honestly I like to spend both and everything in between doing just that.) Anyways, here we go!

Fearless Fantasy

Umm…so I guess there’s, uh. Well, if you look at it this way, it could be—oh who am I kidding. This trailer is a solid 60 seconds of nonsense.

Self-described as “the weirdest RPG you’ll play this year” by the same guys that made the fantastic SpeedRunners, Fearless Fantasy is a turn-based game where combat is determined by gestures with the mouse. From its press kit, the game’s features include “a full-on story” and “RPG stuff.” Count me in. I think.

Nintendo’s E3 Plans

Sometimes I wonder just how much free time Reggie Fils-Aime has. It seems like either he’s got a lot of that or he’s just super self-aware how much people like watching him do things. It’s a toss-up, really. Produced by Mega64, this video actually coincides with one of the bigger pieces of news from last week, albeit not one of the bigger surprises.

Just like last year, Nintendo will not be hosting a traditional E3 press conference like Sony and Nintendo. Instead, they’ll be holding a tournament in the Nokia Theater for Super Smash Bros. for Wii U. But they will be bringing back the ability for those not at E3 to play their unreleased games at Best Buys all around America. Also, no new console?

H1Z1

It makes sense. People like playing online with their friends and they like playing around in giant open worlds but they don’t like lots of emptiness in between. So what is relatively easy to implement that can fill those large gaps?

Zombies! Simply directed AI and vast expanses of terrifying openness. Hence State of Decay, DayZ, and now H1Z1. It’s free-to-play and there are zombies and, well, you get it, right?

Watch Dogs Season Pass

The trailer itself isn’t doing much for me, but its contents are, like, really weird. It’s boasting an additional single-player campaign with a character named T-Bone, a character we’re not at all familiar with, let alone the game he resides in. And you can dress Aiden like Eliot Ness and also fight techno zombies? This is some super strange stuff, guys.

Outlast Whistleblower DLC

Nooooope. Nope nope nope nope nope.

Nidhogg

If you haven’t played Nidhogg yet on PC, fear not because now it’s coming to the PlayStation 4. It looks simple, but it’s actually quite an impressively deep game of one-on-one sword dueling that, honestly, I can’t get enough of. If I had more friends with commensurate time to waste, I’d be playing it basically nonstop.

Axiom Verge

Looks essentially like a class 2D Metroid game but with entirely modern sensibilities. I don’t just mean that very obviously has side-scrolling trappings that you would see from today in its gameplay, but that its atmosphere feels very present. Axiom Verge‘s trailer’s ability to create a foreboding sense of narrative impetus and its purposefully electronic tunes makes me want to believe that this game is going to be the real deal.

And come on, Sony. “Announce” trailer? I thought we were done with that. Not just as an industry but as a people.

Apotheon

I’m so in love with the art style of this game, not to mention its combat system is all up in my wheelhouse of fighting mechanics: brutal, swift, and deliberate. Not that I’m always particularly good at those types of games, but I appreciate it when their systems are made to be quick and decisive, like it appears to be in Apotheon.

Wolfenstein: The New Order

Listen, I’ve played a lot of demos of Wolfenstein: The New Order. I can tell you that the tactile route is totally viable. It’s also totally boring. And when you go in guns blazing, a lot of your time is actually spent trying to find enough ammo to keep the bloodbath raining. Of course, things could have and probably have changed, but that’s just what I know. There’s a reason why it cuts between the “cool” parts.

Call of Duty and VICE

I like a lot of what VICE does. They make some good videos of investigative journalism. This one, no doubt, could be also quite good if it wasn’t a three-minute prologue to another Call of Duty game. But the weird thing about this one is that it’s trying to play that we’ve never gone through this before.

True, Americans and the world at large don’t know much about the actual operations and risks and legality of private military corporations, or PMCs, but gamers are quite familiar with the philosophical intricacies of it all via Metal Gear Solid. And every other modern military FPS, really. A little late to the part, COD.

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare

Granted, I’m pretty much over anything modern military shooters have to offer (I mean, how many times can you be impressed with blowing up a national landmark?), but that doesn’t mean that genre as a whole doesn’t make some damn good trailers. This one especially is worthwhile due to Kevin Spacey being Kevin Spacey and talking politics, filling a void in my life since I finished season 2 of House of Cards.

Super Time Force

In total, I’ve spent about 15 to 20 minutes with Super Time Force, and I love it already. This trailer exemplifies every reason why.

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Mario Golf: World Tour Review: Teed Up

Mario Golf: World Tour

It’s so strange that a franchise, after ten years of radio silence, would still have so much history to fall back on. Stranger yet is that it’s still so relevant. Mario Golf: World Tour mixes up a lot of what you recall from both its handheld and console brethren, but it also tries a few new things. Both end up with results that fall on either end of the spectrum, ranging from good to weird to just plain bad.

World Tour brings back the plumber to the green via Camelot Software Planning, the developer behind basically every other Mario Golf game (and Mario Tennis, too). And very much like those of yore and their contemporaries, the mechanics haven’t changed much. You still play the game of golf by aiming and then pressing a button to set up a power and an accuracy meter as they throb in and out of desirable ranges.

There’s a reason why they haven’t shaken that part of the game up, though, and that’s because it still feels good. It feels like the way to play a digitized, handheld version of golf. It’s nice, though, that they changed from the traditional bar meter to one ascribed to a ball on the bottom screen. You press to initiate, press again when the ball fills with color for power, and once more when it drains for accuracy. It is much easier to gauge timing with this visual.

With the additional post-swing presses of A and B, you can apply topspin and backspin so as to affect both the trajectory and landing of your ball. Since the mechanic’s inception nearly two decades ago, it has become a vital part of maintaining player interest in those moments when you know you’ve almost botched a shot. It does, however, have a strange side effect.

It renders the game’s camera basically useless. Which really is another byproduct of how laughably inaccurate the game’s trajectory markers can be. You see, the line that appears that shows the arc and eventual resting point of your ball is based on an ideal, flat plain, free of obstacles and terrain types. So once you get out of the bunny slopes, so to speak, it’s nigh unreliable past showing where your dreams lie.

But don’t get me wrong; it’s nice to have a challenge. I don’t think it’ll be very friendly to the younger crowd that either can’t handle or won’t stand for such mental calculations, but I like that Nintendo has somewhat eschewed its handholding rep in this game. It forces you to learn to feel how spin affects the ball, and to rely on a pleasurable combination of instinct and roughly hewn physics simulations in your brain.

Mario Golf: World Tour

It just comes back to the camera. It either focuses on the shown trajectory’s resting point (which is decidedly unfortunate) or it can’t figure out the elevation at which to show the ball, forcing you to fiddle with it manually just to see how you fared, or it has your character blocking much of the green and fairway or it tracks the hole instead of your ball so that you have no idea where you landed.

This is in combination with the fact that simply controlling the camera is a chore. You move along the horizontal plain with the analog stick but then use the touchscreen to move along the vertical. I can see where the metaphor of splitting the movement in the way you split between two analog sticks exists, but it seems that they forgot you’re holding a huge 3DS in your hands instead of a relatively tiny and ergonomic controller.

The courses themselves, though, are incredibly fun. More so than past Mario Golf games that I can remember, they feel an awful lot like the actual platforming levels of the main series than simple golf courses, arcade-style or otherwise. I don’t mean that you are jumping from place to place, bopping enemies on the head. I mean they have captured the essence of what makes certain Mario level types staples of the franchise.

Mario Golf: World Tour

Bowser’s castle, for example, is laden with traps and obstacles, just like the castle levels you remember. Others will be loaded with coins to prepare you for shopping and some with power-ups just because they want to throw you a curveball. It’s impressive how much of the indescribable Mario essence is captured in the courses.

Indeed, there are power-ups in the game. They’re called Item Shots, and they work just like you would expect. You hit them with your ball and then you get a power-up. A Fire Flower shot, for instance, will let you burn through any trees in your ball’s way as it flies through the air. Others will shoot it straight through walls and hills without a moment’s pause. They’re kind of weird considering you usually have to go out of your way to get them, but they can really spice things up nicely.

This is separate from the character progression, which there isn’t really much to speak of. Instead, you’ll simply be progressing your equipment, which you unlock by playing courses and then buying with your coins. You’ll get new clubs and clothes and balls, all of which have different stats. It makes up for the lost RPG elements of leveling characters by having meaningful equipment upgrades.

Mario Golf: World Tour

It loses some of its luster, however, considering how the unlocks are very much randomized. You could get four new items in the shop after four rounds of golf and each one is just another hat with the roughly the same stats. It begins to take its toll on you after a bit and you start to wonder what’s the point. Luckily, the robust Quick Play and Challenge Mode options also give up the goods as you play minigames and solve puzzles, so it’s not all bad.

The online connectivity is also quite substantial. You can play against other ghosts in the same way you would race against ghosts in Mario Kart, vying for the best score asynchronously. There’s even a ticker on the main screen that shows your friends’ scores in challenges, your upcoming unlocks, and more. It feeds deep into your competitive side.

There’s a lot to like about Mario Golf: World Tour. It plays and feels great, it looks nice, and it offers up some interesting challenges and minigames. But it also suffers from a super short and impressively stunted story mode, a mainstay of previous handheld iterations of the franchise. And that’s not to mention how mind-numbingly frustrating the camera can be. As it stands, though, Mario Golf: World Tour is very much a worthwhile game. Just keep connected and keep your expectations in check.

Mario Golf: World Tour

+ Getting a shot setup and out feels snappy and intuitive
+ Doesn’t hold your hand on harder courses
+ Some courses have an impeccable feel for the Mario oeuvre
– Incredibly frustrating camera
– Disappointing lack of RPG and story elements

Final Score: 7 out of 10

Game Review: Mario Golf: World Tour
Release: May 2, 2014
Genre: Golf
Developer: Camelot Software Planning
Available Platforms: Nintendo 3DS
Players: Single-player
MSRP: $39.99
Website: http://mariogolf.nintendo.com/

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SXSW Gaming 2014: A Change in the Wind

SXSW Gaming Expo 2014

Not much has changed since last year. There’s still the massive GEEK stage near the entrance, tented for an unintended air of mystique. There’s still an inexplicable collection of people congregating around the corner where an inscrutable collection of Lego bricks exists. There’s still a bar where of-age adults buy overpriced beers and forget their 12-year-old burdens.

Well, I guess the giant Mario Kart racing track outside is new.

It’s a largely inconsequential addition, though. Texas’ fickle weather patterns saw fit to drench Austin with a mild downpour half of the SXSW Interactive weekend, ruining the Nintendo-Penzoil dream collaboration(?). It’s also incredibly boring. Walking by the track, it dawned on me that the racers I was passing weren’t warming up but already in the midst of a heated competition.

Mario Kart racing at SXSW Gaming 2014

At least it looked cool. And the idea is quite interesting, translating the items of Mario Kart to patches on the track that actually affect a kart’s speed. But given that you had to also pass a breathalyzer to suit up, I’m sure insurance was a huge factor in making sure nothing too exotic happened. Unfortunately, that also meant nothing fun happened.

For as bombastic as putting a real life analog to your video game product in front of an expo hall is, it still wasn’t the most noteworthy change, though it did make shuttle access kind of a chore. Surprisingly more remarkable, actually, was that the second floor was reserved for LAN-centric activities.

There was still the gaudy display of hubris and yelling at the tournament stage in the main exhibit hall, but the consequences of this move is interesting. Many of the Gaming panels were held upstairs before, but this year they’ve been upgraded to the main and surrounding halls in the Long Center, which is an incredibly classy performance hall for the arts.

Dumping the Alien panel at SXSW Gaming 2014

Though I’m sure it’s likely because the organizers didn’t think it would be kosher to have a bunch of rowdy gamers in the gorgeous Dell Hall, but it does send a subliminal message: the industry has grown up. We’re no longer gaggles crowding around glowing, blinking screens and subsisting entirely on pizza and Bawls but instead hold intellectual discussions about digital literacy and advancements in artificial intelligence.

There was a talk about accessibility for disabled gamers from the founder of The AbleGamers Foundation; HopeLab and Games for Good discussed a game aimed at fighting cancer within the realm of brain science; and panels regarding racial and gender diversity in the industry were hits of the weekend. We are growing up, and it shows.

Of course, this sentiment was here last year, just dormant. Local indies like White Whale Games and Minicore Studios and Stoic Studios were among the heavy hitters then with Nintendo and Xi3 dominating the expo floor. But joining them this year were what can only be referred to as major out-of-towners.

Tales From The Borderlands panel at SXSW Gaming 2014

That and major indie developers. Brendon Chung of Blendo Games was there with Quadrilateral Cowboy, which, if you haven’t heard, is exceptional. Josh Larson and Ryan Green were there to show That Dragon, Cancer and give a talk about what makes its interactive cutscenes so compelling and engage the audience in existential discourse.

(Son Joel Green, the inspiration for the game, passed away last Thursday, and if you’ve played any amount of That Dragon, Cancer, well, you know. I can tell you in that moment of discovery and this one of writing, my eyes are far from dry and my heart far from empty.)

And they go alongside Gearbox Software and Telltale Games breaking new tidbits about their previously announced Tales From The Borderlands. And Palmer Luckey discussing the future of virtual reality with his trademark confusingly grounded yet hyperbolic zeal. Marvel put on display its upcoming slate, Geoff Keighley talked with Microsoft Studios’ Phil Spencer, and Noah Robischon interviewed EA CEO Andrew Wilson.

SXSW Gaming Awards 2014

So it may not just be that gaming is growing up but it’s also just simply growing. SXSW Gaming last year was littered with apathetic crowds, unsure of what to make of the incredibly tiny local developers and their booths. This year, I rarely found myself not at the end of a four or five-person line just to see what was being shown, let alone play it.

It’s weird saying I loved waiting. But it told me that more and more people were starting to care. And more than that, people were starting to care about the right things. Emblematic of both of those were the first SXSW Gaming Awards, hosted by Justine Ezarik of iJustine and Ian Hecox and Anthony Padilla of Smosh. Pretty big gets, sure, but check out the winners.

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons beat out The Last of Us and Super Mario 3D World for Excellence in Gameplay. Tearaway overcame BioShock Infinite and Grand Theft Auto V in Excellence in Design and Direction. And Papers, Please won for Cultural Innovation while the nominees included Gone Home, Guacamelee, and Year Walk, more than a smattering of niche awareness.

Naughty Dog's awards at SXSW Gaming 2014

While we still have our problems as an industry, failing to diversify and include rather than exclude, this marks progress that other, much older mediums have enjoyed and endured long before. It is a sign that we’ve grown to a critical mass and vital core that we are capable of nuance and no longer only make headlines for games about hidden sex and overt violence and psychotic lawyers on Fox News.

For as little changed from last year, the things that matter have shift course. We’re headed for somewhere good, and I’m glad it’s SXSW that gave me that feeling. Of course, it might also just be that I’m still full of Franklin Barbecue and Shiner.

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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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