Justin Weinblatt

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    So, you’ve upgraded from your now obsolete model 3DS, and you’ve noticed that 3D is actually pretty cool when moving the system a centimeter doesn’t ruin it.  Or, maybe you’re just happy to have a second […]

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    If the internet isn’t happy about something, they’ll let you know about.  Nintendo has been on the receiving end of a virtual tongue lashing for two recent decisions regarding their New 3DS line.  One criticism, […]

  • Super Smash Bros 3DS Demo: Gameplay and Character Impressions

    I was lucky enough to snag a code for the demo of Super Smash Bros. for 3DS.  Needless to say, all unessential activities have been put temporarily on hold.  If you weren’t fortunate enough to snag a code, here are some impressions to hold you over till the 19th.

    Visuals

    After its humble blocky N64 origins, Smash has become a graphical showcase for Nintendo.  In this regard, Smash 3D (what I’ll be calling the game from now on) holds up well.  Sora and Namco have done a great job of playing to the 3DS’s strengths and minimizing weaknesses.

    Smash 3D’s graphical style has been changed from Brawl.  It has a softer cel shaded style that complements the game well.  On a technical level, the visuals are a noticeable step down from Brawl.  The textures are simpler and the backgrounds are less detailed.  This is expected considering the horsepower of the 3DS.

    With all of that being said, Smash 3DS is a great looking title.  While textures have been downgraded, animations seem more fluid.  The color palette has been altered to focus more on bright primary colors that help characters pop on the screen’s limited real estate.  Whether playing in 2D or 3D the game runs at a seemingly rock solid 60 FPS.  Even with 4 players on stage, a Pokemon, an assist trophy, and several items bouncing around, the framerate held up admirably.

    All in all, this is one of the best looking titles on the 3DS.  The most important elements for a fighting game are quality of the models, framerate, and fluid animation, and Smash 3D excels in all of these regards.

    As for the 3D effects, they’re what you’d expect.  If you enjoy the 3D feature on the 3DS, you’ll enjoy it here.  The game makes modest use of 3D elements, as you’d expect from a fighter, but there are some nice touches.  For instance, when the cuckoo item becomes enraged, cuckoos will flutter off-screen towards you.  The beam sword’s swing will extend ever so slightly beyond the boundaries of the screen.  Unlike some other 3DS games, the 3D is clean without much ghosting.  If you don’t like 3D in your games, Smash won’t change your opinion.

    Controls

    After playing Smash for over a decade on a Gamecube controller, players will need to adjust to the 3DS control scheme.  While the lack of a second stick will irk longtime smashers, the 3DS is more than serviceable as a Smash controller.  The circle pad is surprisingly comfortable.  Short hops and fast falls posed no challenge after a few “getting to know you” rounds.  Any button you need will be readily accessible and responsive.  The simplistic control scheme of the Smash series allows the game to translate to a portable with relatively few compromises.  The demo version doesn’t have the option to customize controls so you’ll have to deal with the default scheme for now.

    Gameplay

    Here, I’ll discuss the overall changes to the gameplay.  As many have stated, Smash 3D feels like a compromise between Melee and Brawl, albeit one that leans distinctly more towards the latter.  Characters have more weight to them than they did in Brawl, but won’t fall like they have stones in their pockets as in Melee.  Helping to balance out the game’s floatiness is increased hitstun across the board.  Brawl had such little hitstun that even some jab combos were not guaranteed.  The combo potential is still incredibly limited (which is a good thing in my humble opinion), but it is far easier to keep the pressure on after a hit compared to brawl.

    Landing lag has been adjusted on a move by move basis, but generally seems to be reduced.  In laymans term, this means that after landing during a jump attack, you can begin another action more quickly.  On a similar note, dash attacks have generally been improved across the board.  In Brawl, using a dash attack to do anything but punish a whiffed move was saying “please grab me”.  This time around, dash attacks either end quicker, or go further.  Most characters can space their dash attacks well enough that even if shielded, they can’t easily be punished.  With more viable dash attacks and more viable aerial moves, characters have more options to approach a defensive opponent.

    Ledge mechanics have been changed, and I’m still trying to get a handle on them.  If you’re holding onto the ledge, another character can grab it away from you.  This means that the timing on edgeguarding is very strict.  It was hard to test this element with a computer opponent, but it seems that there is a very small window after grabbing the ledge where an opponent can’t take it from you.  To me, this was a disappointment, but it is necessary to prevent people from abusing ledge invincibility as they did in Brawl.

    The combination of these and other factors mean that Smash 3D is a fair bit faster than its predecessor.  We’re not talking about Marvel vs Capcom or Melee speed here, but the game seems to strike a nice balance.  It is neither too fast to be accessible nor slow enough to bore veterans.

    With that out of the way, we can talk about the important thing, the characters.  The demo has five characters available, Mario, Villager, Link, Pikachu, and Mega Man.  I’ll give each their own section.

    Mario

    Mario hasn’t changed all that much from his days in Brawl where he was a mediocre character at best.  However, Mario benefits from the overall changes in gameplay.  Increased hitstun makes Mario’s juggling game stronger, and the decreased lag on a few of his aerials really helps him safely apply pressure.

    Mario’s gameplay (or at least my Mario’s gameplay) still revolves heavily around his back air, and up air attacks.  Both of these have seen subtle improvements.  Back air has less lag on landing while up air seems to be just a hair faster when coming out.  As with most moves, both have increased hitstun enabling Mario to chase air opponents more aggressively than before.

    Mario’s biggest change is also one of the simplest.  Mario’s down throw has nearly no knock back.  This may sound like a disadvantage to newer players, but it is actually a great thing.  Down throw can easily be followed up, most likely by a series of up tilts, leading to big damage at low percentages, especially to heavier fighters.  Even at middle or high percentages, Mario’s throw can usually be followed up by his up air.  I haven’t been able to chain multiple down throws, but even without a true chain grab this one change will help Mario immensely.  Mario now has an effective way to deal a big chunk of damage each stock, and is a more threatening character up close.

    In terms of special moves, nothing major has changed.  Fludd is still nearly useless as far as I could tell.  Fireballs are the same as you’d expect.  Mario’s cape is slightly faster which is nice.  Jump punch has higher knock back, but it’s still not all that powerful, and its risk outweighs its benefits of using it offensively.  As a recovery move, it works the same as ever.

    Mario’s smashes and tilts are also about the same.  The only change is his down tilt which has less lag and more hitstun.  This makes the move change from completely worthless to mostly worthless.  The move isn’t as terrible of an option as it was, but there are few situations where it is Mario’s best option.

    As a player who likes Mario, I’m cautiously optimistic.  Mario’s slight changes combined with the overall changes to the game’s engine have the potential to make him a solid character.  There is nothing to indicate Mario will be truly exceptional, but it seems like he could at least make it to average, which is a lot better than he was in Brawl.

    Link

    Link was one of the worst characters in Brawl.  You might expect that he would see some major improvements this time around, but that is not the case.  Link has certainly seen some improvements, but I’m not sure if all of those little changes will add up to big things.

    Links projectile game is largely unchanged.  His bow may be slightly more powerful, but it’s hard to say.  One change that is very noticeable is the utility of Link’s shield.  Like in Brawl, Link’s shield can nullify projectiles, but this time around it does so more reliably.  The effect activates quicker once Link is done with a move.  This may give Link an edge against rival projectile users.

    Link’s multi-hit forward and up smashes are both easier to hit fully.  His down smash remains unchanged.  In the air, link is similar to his Brawl counterpart.  His up air has an awkward looking animation, but this does extent the sword further leaving Link less exposed.  His down air is less powerful but doesn’t leave you as vulnerable as it whiffs.  Link’s forward, back, and neutral air attacks have not changed in any immediately noticeable way.

    As I mentioned earlier, dash attacks have been improved.  In Link’s case, this means a new attack based on his jump attack animation from Ocarina of Time and subsequent games.  This attack packs a wallop and can KO opponents around 110%.  The lunging element of the move makes it easier to punish whiffed attacks.  The move is not 100% safe, but it is much safer than the move it replaced.

    Aside from these differences, Link’s spin attack comes out quicker.  More importantly, with the changes to edgeguarding, Link’s spin attack is a much better recovery option.  He can also grab the ledge with his chain even if someone is holding it.

    The new ledge mechanics help mitigate one of Link’s biggest flaws, and a few moves have seen minor or major improvements.  Link is still pretty sluggish though, and his projectile game doesn’t seem effective against more agile foes.  Link does feel better, and very fun to use, but I don’t see him being that much better than he was in the first game.  Of course, I’m hardly an expert Link player, and there may be more subtle changes (particularly to his projectiles) that I’m not seeing.

    Pikachu

    I never played Pikachu much in Brawl, and I didn’t like him too much here.  On the plus side, his various multihit moves (back air, forward air, down Smash) are harder to wiggle (smash DI) out of.  His aerials have less lag if you land in the middle of one, particularly his forward air.  Pika’s dash attack lunges further making it easier to space the move appropriately and hits way harder than it did in Brawl.  Pikachu’s dash attack won’t KO until high percentages (150+%) but it’s a good option when an enemy just won’t die.

    On the negative side, thunder is a lot weaker.  It is quicker, but the thunderbolt doesn’t linger on the stage as long or do as much damage.  It’s upwards range is no longer infinite, but it does spawn a cloud that could spike enemies in a glorious fashion.

    Pikachu’s down throw has higher knock back (the opposite of Mario) which seemingly takes away Pikachu’s chain grab.  This leaves Pikachu without one of his most valuable tools.  It is unclear whether his forward through can still chain grab, but it could not against any characters in the demo.

    Aside from those changes, I didn’t notice much of not about Pikachu.  He feels a little more awkward to play as, but this is just one man’s opinion.  His quick attack could still do damage, although it has a bit more knock back, so maybe experienced Pika players will get more mileage out of him than I did.  It makes sense that Pikachu is a little less powerful here as he was one of the better characters in Brawl.  Hopefully, other top characters were also weakened to balance things out.

    Villager

    I didn’t expect to enjoy playing Villager as much as I did.  He/she is a very weird character, but not in a bad way.  I can’t decide yet if Villager will actually be good, but I’m sure he will be fun to play as.

    Villager looks like a spacing character with interesting spacing options.  Lloid rocked will be a big part of her game.  These projectiles are slow and take time to set up, but they take up a lot of space, and limit your opponent’s options.  The rocket does decent damage, and you can ride it which boosts its power.

    Villager’s down B will plant a sapling the first time it is used.  Once the sapling is planted, you can use down B to use your watering can.  This is primarily for watering the tree, but it also functions as a much weaker version of Mario’s FLUDD.  Once the tree is planted (which hurts the enemy when it spawns), your down B becomes an axe.  The axe can chop the tree down, which will do major damage to anyone standing beneath it.

    Villager’s down B is notable for two reasons.  Firstly, the tree becomes an effective shield that will stop projectiles.  For the time the tree is active (10 seconds or so) Villager has a safe place to camp.  This move also gives Villager access to the axe which can be used on opponents.  The axe is fairly quick and powerful, but has a lot of lag.  Sometimes, when the tree is chopped down, it spawns a piece of wood that can be thrown like Zero Suit Samus’ armor from Brawl.

    Villager can use his slingshot with forward and back air.  The pellets do more damage up close than afar.  They have low damage and knock back.  These moves may be useful against characters like Marth who rely heavily on aerials for spacing, but are hard to use against grounded opponents.  In particular, Pikachu was very difficult to target on the ground due to his size.  Up and down air attack with one, two, or three turnips.  The three turnip variety of the move sports good power, but the random nature of the move makes it an iffy KO move.

    When playing as Villager I struggled with KOs.  His bowling ball forward Smash was the strongest smash in the demo by far, but is sluggish.  It can be dropped off of edges which is fun if not always practical.  Villager’s fireworks up smash is nifty, but not very powerful.  His down smash buries opponents like a pitfall, but I was able to button mash my way to freedom quickly even at high damage.

    Aside from his forward Smash, Villager’s best KO move was hit up tilt which pokes opponents with a stick.  More often, I relied on chasing foes offstage and slingshoting them off the edge.

    My favorite attack for Villager is his dash attack which chucks a pot forward.  On the ground, the pot doesn’t go very far, but it will go further if thrown off of an edge.  This may not be practical in battle, but it is fun.  His grab uses a net which is also fun, but slower than other grabs.

    Villager’s recovery is a mixed bag.  His balloon trip Up B has incredible range, but he cannot attack out of it.  Any attempt to attack will put him in helpless state.  Villager users will have to be crafty if they want to make it back to the stage unmolested.  Lloyd rocket is another option that is well suited for horizontal recovery, but also leaves Villager vulnerable.

    Villager’s pocket move stores enemy projectiles for later use.  Villager can pocket pretty much any projectile and then some.  He could pocket Mega Man’s air shooter, he can pocket items like barrels and stop watches, and so on.  In item matches, this move is especially interesting, allowing Villager to store items for more opportune times.

    Due to his uniqueness it may be some time before Villager is figured out.  I didn’t have much success with him, but I had a hell of a lot of fun.

    Mega Man

    Mega Man is easily my favorite character so far.  Like Villager, the Blue Bomber has a playstyle that differs vastly from what we’ve seen in Smash history.  He may not wind up as one of the best, but I feel like Mega Man will be very annoying to fight against.

    Mega Man’s most notable feature is his Mega Buster.  The Mega Buster serves as Mega Man’s jab, neutral air, and forward tilt attacks.  Mega Man can fire three shots in a row, which don’t deal much damage.  The bullets have a tiny bit of hitstun, a little bit less than Falco’s lasers, and travel about 1/4 of the way across final destinations.  Firing the Mega Buster was able to negate most incoming projectiles.  Mario’s fireballs and Link’s boomerang could be taken out by one shot each.  Sturdier projectiles like Villager’s Lloyd rockets went down after 3 shots.

    Mega Man’s pea shooter is quite the hinderance that can constantly and infuriatingly interrupt your opponent.  The shots will stop moves in their tracks and stop momentum in the air.  This allows Mega Man to apply pressure consistently.  His Mega Buster is supplemented by a more standard projectile, the Metal Blades.  Metal Blades are nothing to write home about.  They’re a fairly basic projectile that deal low damage (6-7%) and knock back.  They can be fired at different angles, and if they hit the ground, they can be picked up as an item.  They can also be grabbed out of the air.  Mega Man can only have one on stage at a time.

    The Crash Bomber is a unique attack that functions as a less powerful sticky bomb.  The bomb isn’t all that powerful, but it serves as a distraction that allows Mega Man to keep up his projectile pressure while disrupting enemy offense. The Leaf shield is another projectile option, but I don’t see its usefulness.  It doesn’t protect Mega Man all that well, it does a pitiful amount of damage, and it prevents him from using his A moves.  It kills all of his aerial momentum like Game and Watch’s bucket, so it may be useful for that aspect, but as an attack I found it useless.

    To complement his projectile game, Mega Man has a decent set of aerials.  His flame sword is like a slower version of Marth’s forward air.  It’s not amazing, but it’s serviceable.  His back air is better.  The Slash Claw is a two hit combo with solid knockback that comes out quickly.  It’s great for attacking foes who are offstage and is an all around strong KO move.  Mega Man’s up air is air shooter.  He fires a tornado upwards.  Its range allows Mega Man to attack without getting too close, and it can carry opponents off stage at high percentages.

    Mega Man’s down B is the Hard Knuckle.  The Hard Knuckle has good range, and it can spike.  The range of the attack makes it a safe way to try to spike your opponent, and also a safe poke on stage. When used, the move has an odd hover effect for a moment which may prove useful.  Interestingly, the hard knuckle can be reflected by Mario’s cape.

    Using forward Smash will charge your Mega Buster.  The charged attack can travel about halfway across final destination at full charge.  It is a bit slower than average for a smash, but its range gives it some useful applications.  It can be used for shield pressure, punishing, and tech chasing in a way that other forward smashes can.  Conversely, it’s not as useful up close as other smashes may be, and it isn’t very powerful until it’s charged.  This move can be reflected and pocketed by Villager.

    Mega Man’s down smash and up smash are standard issue.  His up smash attacks above him.  It’s similar to Zelda’s up smash, but with narrower range and lower knock back.  His down smash shoots out fire on both sides, similarly to Squirtle’s up Smash from Brawl.  Down Smash is powerful, but only if you hit it as it starts.

    Mega Man can slide using his down tilt.  The slide is an interesting mobility option, and one of his quicker attacks.  If spaced correctly it is somewhat safe.  His dash attack is a good one.  Top spin covers a good distance making it good for punishing, and it can whittle away shields.  It’s not completely safe, but it doesn’t leave Mega Man too vulnerable.

    The Mega Upper is one of Mega Man’s best KO moves.  It functions a bit like Luigi’s up B.  If you hit the opponent right up close, it is very powerful, and can knock out lighter opponents at around 80%.  If you don’t hit it dead on, it does significantly less knock back.  While the move comes out quickly (relatively quickly considering its power), it is easily punishable on block.

    That’s Mega Man in a nutshell.  Mega Man has a lot of attacks that don’t do much damage, but hinder your opponent from doing what they’d like.  He can likely shut down characters who like to approach with short hopped air attacks, and his various projectiles spell trouble for bulky characters like Donkey Kong or Bowser.  Mega Man has an incredibly unique moveset, and it’s difficult to see how it will all come together.  I feel that once better Smash players get a hold of Mega Man, he’s going to pose problems to many fighters.  However, agile characters like Wario, or characters with reflecting moves may be hard to overcome.

    Overall Impressions

    All signs indicate that Smash 3D will be an excellent sequel.  The two new characters on display are each incredibly unique.  If the other newcomers (aside from clones) are as well-developed, then the diversity of playstyles on display will be incredible.  The game makes the most of the 3DS hardware and is very attractive, even if it does have to make some sacrifices compared to its console cousins.  Most importantly, the changes made to the core mechanics are for the better.  It will take some time to render a final verdict, but the game is faster, more fluid, and strikes a better balance between offense and defense than its predecessor.

    The bottom line is that even with five characters, one stage, and no multiplayer, I’ve managed to squeeze hours of enjoyment out of this demo, and I can’t wait to be done writing about it so I could play some more.  There is a good reason the hype for this game is through the roof, and all signs point to Smash Bros for 3DS delivering.

  • After what may be the rockiest console launch in history, the Wii U is finally starting to gain some traction.  Mario Kart 8’s effect on the console has been nothing short of remarkable, and has shown that there might be light yet at the end of the tunnel.  While I love my Wii U, there is still a ton of work that must be done for the system.   Here are seven changes that I think can help the Wii U become a turnaround story. As a brief note, I’m not going to mention true unified account systems.  Nintendo should definitely do that, and they are working towards it, but so much has been said on the topic that I have nothing to add.

    1.  Coins: Like Achievements But Actually Useful

    As humans, we like rewards.  Even meaningless rewards like gold stars and virtual trophies are enough to make people jump through hoops.  Achievements have been a part of the success of Microsoft and Sony.  While I don’t think Nintendo should simply copy their rivals, I would love Nintendo to create a unique take on the achievement system. In my mind, such a system would be an extension of what Nintendo does with Club Nintendo.  Achievements in games would be rewarded with coins.  Each game would have up to 100 unlockable coins, simlar to XBox Live’s 1000 Gamer Points.  The key difference here is that coins would be able to be redeemed for digital content, including Virtual Console games, DLC, or even speacial Amiibos for the truly devoted.  I wouldn’t expect the payoff to be much, but offering 2 or 3 bucks worth of DLC for 100% completion of a game would hardly break the bank for Nintendo and would encourage customer loyalty.

    2.  Let Me Use My 3DS As A Controller

    Nintendo can often be a bizarre company at times.  Back in the Gamecube days, they introduced a GBA to Gamecube connection cable.  This was an amazing idea that was too cumbersome to work in practice.  Naturally, with the DS and the Wii each selling like hotcakes and each sporting wireless capabilities, Nintendo would revive the idea.  Right?  Wrong. Nintendo should frankly be embarrassed that Sony is so far ahead of them in terms of connectivity between their handhelds and their consoles. Nintendo promised us from the beginning that we would be able to use multiple Gamepads for certain games.  At this point, convincing Wii U owners to drop 75-100 bucks on a second Gamepad seems like a longshot at best.  Allowing gamers to substitute the 3DS for a second Gamepad would open up new possibilities.  Four Swords-style games on the Wii U?  Yes please.

    3.  More Touch And Motion Based Games

    Here’s a suggestion that will surely irk many self proclaimed “hardcore” gamers. They love their controllers and hate change, but touch controls can offer new and interesting ways to play games.  When you think of touch controlled games, you’re probably thinking of Angry Birds or Where’s My Water.  When I think of touch controlled games, I’m thinking of The World Ends With You, Kirby Canvas Curse, Kid Icarus Uprising, Bowser’s Inside Story, and GTA Chinatown Wars.  The DS showed that touch controls can make even “hardcore” experiences better, so why not utilize that functionality on the Wii U? Perhaps more importantly, touch controls would eliminate some of the barriers that prevent newer gamers from playing the Wii U.  The Wii and DS succeeded because they allowed new players to enjoy gaming without needing to manage two joysticks and 8 buttons.  With the Wii U and its focus on more traditional gameplay, Nintendo has taken a big step back in this regard. Between the Gamepad’s touch screen, its traditional button layout, and Wiimote compatibility, the Wii U could offer new control schemes for hardcore and casual games.  Hopefully, Nintendo can take more advantage of these capabilities in the future.

    4.  Gamecube Games On Virtual Console With Online Multiplayer

    Nintendo certainly hasn’t been shy about using their past catalog to their advantage.  This makes it surprising that, aside from Wind Waker HD, Nintendo has been reluctant to exploit their Gamecube catalog. I’m not advocating more full priced HD remakes, but some more Gamecube games on virtual console would be nice.  And, since many Gamecube games featured exceptional multiplayer modes, I would be absolutely ecstatic if Nintendo added a way to enjoy these modes online.  I’m sure people would drop 20 bucks for an online enabled version of Smash Bros. Melee or Mario Kart Double Dash.  No reason to stop there either.  Nintendo could also offer online enabled versions of other classic games like Goldeneye on the N64.

    5. Revamp Miiverse

    Miiverse is a unique spin on the community features offered by Nintendo’s rivals.  The strictly moderated nature of the network makes for a more friendly, if slightly Orwellian, environment than that found on XBox Live, and hand-drawn messages allow you to add more personality.  Nintendo needs to take more advantage of this network. Ideally, Miiverse should be more like a message board, and less like a giant Facebook wall.  Gamers need to be easily able to precisely locate topic they’re interested in without sifting through hundreds of posts of drivel.  It needs to be easier to find posts about a part of a game you’re stuck on, or to find a place to discuss an awesome boss battle.  You should also be able to use Miiverse to challenge the guy who just beat you to grudge match in Smash, or send a picture of your first place finish to the girl you just powerslid past in Mario Kart 8. Nintendo was on the right track when they thought to create their own social network specifically for Nintendo gamers.  If used right, this network can create a uniquely Nintendo multiplayer community while making even solitary experiences seem social.  Miiverse still has a long way to go to deliver on its promise.

    6.  More DLC

    DLC doesn’t have to be a dirty word.  There has been plenty of worthless DLC used to separate fools and their money, but there has also been DLC that genuinely adds to an experience.  One example is Nintendo’s Super Luigi U DLC, which added 80 something levels of gameplay to New Super Mario Bros U for a very reasonable 20 dollars.  Compared to other companies, Nintendo has been pretty reluctant to dip their toes in the DLC pool.

    Nintendo’s key franchises tend to release once each console generation, so releasing DLC would make the wait between games more bearable.  You can only race on the same tracks of Mario Kart 8 so many times.  You can only do the same routine in Wii Fit U so many times.  You can only battle with the same characters in Smash so many times.  As long as it is reasonably priced, DLC would be a great way to extend the life of Nintendo’s games while also making some bank.

    zelda_wind_waker_wii_u_bundle

    7.  More and Better Bundles

    Nintendo debuted a Wind Waker Bundle for the Wii U, and hardware sales rose. Nintendo released a Mario Kart 8 bundle and hardware sales surged.  These limited edition bundles have allowed Nintendo to capitalize on big releases.  It’s puzzling that Nintendo hasn’t done more of them. Wii Fit U seemed like a prime candidate for a hardware bundle.  A $380 bundle with a Wii U, Wii Fit, Balance Board and a Wii Remote could have been attractive to lapsed Wii fans (assuming Nintendo decided to market the damn game).  The fact that Nintendo chose not to capitalize on nostalgia with a Wii Sports Club Bundle is bizarre.  Such bundles would help identify the Wii U as a clear successor to the Wii. On the flip side, Nintendo could also add some bundles geared towards the hardcore.  A Bayonetta 2 bundle with a pro contoller could be tempting to fans of the franchise.  A Smash Bros U Bundle seems like a no brainer.  Nintendo needs to be far more aggressive with their marketing, and new bundles every few months would be a way to ensure a steady stream of hype.   So those are some changes I’d like to see Nintendo for the Wii U.  I’m sure you have your own suggestions, so feel free to leave comments.

  • I originally thought the ending of ME2 would have had large scale ramifications, but turns out saving the reaper base doesn’t do much. Cerberus hates you either way, and it just makes the control ending a little easier.

    I get your examples of how the choices could be used to impact the ending, but I don’t think the technology is there yet. The…[Read more]

  • Mass Effect 3 was released nearly two years ago and was one of the finest games ever crafted…….. right up until the last 5 minutes.  For many gamers, a thoroughly amazing trilogy was decimated in 5 minutes […]

    • I originally thought the ending of ME2 would have had large scale ramifications, but turns out saving the reaper base doesn’t do much. Cerberus hates you either way, and it just makes the control ending a little easier.

      I get your examples of how the choices could be used to impact the ending, but I don’t think the technology is there yet. The amount of data involved in making even the smallest decisions, like letting Garrus win the contest, impact the ending would be enormous. Even with the example you just gave, that would involve at least four different endings. One for Miranda being alive, one for Miranda being dead or non-loyal, one for Miranda living and a confident Garrus, and one for Miranda living with a non-confident Garrus. There may be more possibilities.

      While Bioware could have certainly done a lot more with the endings, I don’t think it would be possible yet to create the kind of truly variant endings you described. And that’s the problem really. Bioware wanted to make a truly interactive universe, but in the end they didn’t have the technology or manpower to truly do so. Because they came so much closer than other developers, their failure is all the more noticeable.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • There are very few games that get moral choices right. The one game I could think of that did a good job in this regard is Catherine.

  • 3DS-It-Prints-Money
    Soon after the 3DS launch, I glanced disappointingly towards the dust covered 3DS sitting on my desk.  I wanted desperately to enjoy the system that I paid 250 dollars for, but the games weren’t there.  How many times could I play the same missions in Pilot Wings?  How many rounds of Street Fighter IV could I play?

    Fast forward to about 3 years later and the 3DS has taken up about 90% of my gaming time.  The combination of portability, an awesome library, limited free time, and a long commute has made the 3DS my gaming system of choice.  The 3DS will be turning 3 in a few short weeks, so now seems like a good time to list my 10 favorite games for the little portable that could.

    As with any top ten list, this simply reflects the view of the author (me) and is not meant to be a universally accepted list.  I have yet to play every 3DS game. Most notably I haven’t played A Link Between Worlds.  Remakes and eShop only titles are not included in this list.

     
    10.  Phoenix Wright Dual Destinies

    The gaming industry is still clinging tightly to the idea that games have to be about beating waves of enemies and traversing obstacles.  With few exceptions, few large developers are willing to develop games that stray too far out of the established norms.  Phoenix Wright is one of the few series that bucks this trend and offers something completely unique; a lawyer simulation.

    Phoenix Wright has charmed gamers for years with clever dialogue and bizarre but ultimately compelling stories.  Perhaps most importantly, Phoenix Wright features rounded characters with complex motivations who grow and change throughout the story.  Phoenix Wright has more dynamic characters in its latest entry than most franchises will produce over their total lifespan.  Phoenix Wright: Dual Destinies is a wonderful evolution of the point and click adventure genre and a worthy entry to the 3DS library.  While the title was an eShop title in the US, it was a retail release in Japan.
    9.  Resident Evil Revelations

    Resident Evil Revelations is a testament to how efficient developers have become at porting their graphics engine.  Resident Evil Revelations runs on a modified version of Capcom’s MT framework, and the game looks far better than it has any right to on the somewhat limited 3DS hardware.  Revelations also happens to be the best Resident Evil game in recent memory.  Capcom wisely struck a balance between the slow paced exploration of early Resident Evil games and the action heavy Resident Evils of modern times.  The game focuses mostly on exploring the Queen Zenobia, finding items, and fighting zombies in limited encounters, but it throws in enough high octane action scenes to spice things up.  The result is a game that pleases long term fans without alienating those of us with itchy trigger fingers.

    8.  Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance

    Square seems intent on producing as many spin offs as possible for the Kingdom Hearts franchise before launching Kingdom Hearts 3.  Thankfully, the awkwardly named Dream Drop Distance offered fans a fun diversion while they waited for Sora’s saga to continue in earnest.

    Unlike other spin offs which retread old ground or explored the saga’s backstory, Dream Drop Distance serves as a bridge between Kingdom Hearts 2 and Kingdom Hearts 3.  The game effectively progresses the Kingdom Hearts story for the first time in a decade, and it features an engaging battle system based off of the PSP title Birth By Sleep.  As with all titles in the franchise, production values are top notch.  If you weren’t a fan of the previous entries of the Kingdom Hearts franchise, triple D won’t change your mind, but it’s a strong entry in the series that sacrifices nothing for portability.
    7.  Animal Crossing

    However hard I try, I can’t describe why I love Animal Crossing.  By all laws of logic, the cutesy style, repetitive nature, and aimlessness should combine for a boring game.  For reasons I still can’t fathom, I spent months obsessively collecting bells, trying to improve my HHA score, sending letters to animals, and trying to collect Nintendo memorabilia.  I still have no idea why, but the desire for a larger imaginary house still gnaws at my soul.
    6.  Pokemon X/Y

     

    Remember when we thought Pokemon was a fad?  Fifteen years and four handhelds later, the franchise Pikachu built is still going strong.  Pokemon X and Y follow the same basic formula the franchise has been built on, but introduces changes both minor and major to balance gameplay and make online play more accessible.  The new fairy type helps to balance the power of dragon Pokemon, weather has been rebalanced, and moves have been altered.  Mega Evolutions add a new twist to gameplay while new Pokemon shake things up.

    More important than the changes to the Pokemon forumula is what has stayed the same.  Pokemon still offers one of the deepest and most replayable RPG experiences you can find.  If you want to dive into the world of Pokemon, you can easily spend dozens of hours building a stable of Pokemon, and dozens more testing their mettle against your fellow trainers.  If you’ve somehow made the mistake of dismissing Pokemon as child’s play for all of these years, you owe it to yourself to dive into one of the richest metagames you can find.
    5.  Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon

    The original Luigi’s Mansion was a bit like Pilotwings Resort.  Like the troubled 3DS launch title, Luigi’s Mansion was a brilliant idea that was held back by a rather obvious time crunch.  Luigi’s mansion was a creative, charming, and beautiful looking adventure that just didn’t have enough meat on it.  Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon would fix that by combining the original’s winning formula with enough content to create a satisfying experience.

    Dark Moon is one of those wonderful games that can’t be mashed put neatly into any single genre.  The only game remotely similar to Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon is the original Luigi’s Mansion, but even that can’t claim to offer the same experience.  Dark Moon offers compelling and fleshed out puzzles, highly refined combat, continually creative uses the game’s core mechanics, gameplay tailored to a portable experience, and surprisingly awesome boss battles.  On top of that, it offers a ton of replay value which includes a surprisingly robust multiplayer mode.  Dark Moon fulfills the potential of its predecessor and them some.  This is one of the most unique experiences to be had on the 3DS or anywhere else.
    4.  Bravely Default

    The 3DS is certainly not at a loss for great RPGs, but few evoke the kind of nostalgia that Bravely Default does.  Bravely Default is unapologetic in its old school sensibilities.  Random battles with unseen foes?  Check.  Turn based battle system?  Check.  A high fantasy setting?  Check.  Destroyed village?  Check.  All of the proper RPG boxes are ticked.

    In lesser hands, Bravely Default could have been a reminder of why traditional RPGs have died out.  Instead, it serves as a reminder of why we loved these games in the first place.  Bravely Default shows that there is still plenty of innovation to be had within the confines of turn based battle systems by introducing an innovative battle mechanic that lets you store turns for later use.  This system combines with a charming story that embraces JRPG cliches, takes a few very interesting risks, and makes incredibly creative use of Street and Spot Pass.  If you’re one of those people who have lamented the changes in modern Final Fantasy games, then you owe it to yourself to look past the silly name and play Bravely Default.
    3.  Fire Emblem Awakening

    Trying to decide the placement of three excellent RPGs on this list was a tough task.  Pokemon X, Bravely Default, and Fire Emblem Awakening, represent the best of monster collecting, classical, and strategy RPGs.  In the end, Fire Emblem wins the battle of the RPGs.  Fire Emblem Awakening took the long established Fire Emblem franchise and polished it until it sparkled.  The production values of Fire Emblem are off the charts for a 3DS game, its gameplay is addictive and brutally challenging, and it features a wonderful cast of lovable characters.  The game’s varying difficulty levels add accessibility to the franchise, and the child bearing mechanics combine with Street Pass to add a level of replayability not found in previous Fire Emblem games.  Fire Emblem Awakening provides a great experience for fans of the franchise while also offering a great starting points for those yet to try the previously niche series.
    2.  Super Mario 3D Land

    The Super Mario formula has evolved in two different directions over the years.  The 2D “New” Super Mario formula is simplistic pick up and play fun can be rarely demanding anything more than a straight shot to a flagpole.  Super Mario 64, Sunshine, and Galaxy have provided more innovation while focusing allowing for more exploration and focusing on the simple joy or Mario’s acrobatics.  Super Mario 3D Land successfully bridges the gaps between those two experiences.

    Super Mario 3D Land takes the simple format and structure of Mario’s 2D adventures and extrapolates them into the third dimension.  Mario’s options are scaled back, and his objective is never more complicated than finding the end of level flag.  In this way, Mario 3D Land is more similar to New Super Mario Bros than it is to Super Mario 64.  However, Super Mario 3D Land uses the 3D level design to inject a heaping dose of originality and innovation that has been sorely lacking in Mario’s 2D adventures.  With extra space and an extra dimension to work with, 3D Land creates an experience with enough simplicity to engage newcomers and enough innovation and brilliant level design to surprise and delight long time fans.  3D Land is one of Mario’s best adventures to date, and just one notch short of my favorite 3DS game.
    1.  Kid Icarus Uprising

    It’s strange that the industry will constantly complain about the lack of originality in gaming, and then spurn anything that dares to deviate from the norm.  Kid Icarus Uprising is a game that refused to settle for the conventional in any aspect.  It’s almost impossible to adequately describe what Kid Icarus Uprising is like to the uninitiated because there is no game quite like Uprising.

    Kid Icarus Uprising bucks tradition at every turn.  While most developers would have settled for a God of War style heavy/light attack affair, Kid Icarus Uprising has its own set of twitch based touchscreen mechanics unlike anything in the industry.  Instead of the standard Easy/Normal/Hard mode, Kid Icarus introduces a gambling based difficulty selection where you risk currency to increase the difficulty in hopes of better rewards.  Instead of unlocking a few different weapons throughout the game, Uprising offers dozens of weapons and an RPG style fusion system.  Instead of the typical simplistic Nintendo story, Uprising goes for a comedic approach while deftly bending the fourth wall with often hilarious pun filled running commentary.  Instead of distinct single player and multiplayer modes, Uprising links the two experiences and allows them to feed into one another.

    At every step of the way, Kid Icarus Uprising forges its own identity.  This naturally comes with a learning curve that ironically has scared off many people who complain about the homogenization of gaming.  Those willing to try something new will find what, in my opinion, is the best game on the 3DS and one of the best games made in the past several years.

    Well, after three years on the market, those are my favorite games on the 3DS.  Of course, I haven’t gotten to play each and every 3DS game, and my opinions are only the opinion of one man.  What have you enjoyed the most on your 3DS so far?  Let me know in the comments section.

  • Ugh. Microsoft’s conferences have been tear inducingly boring for the past 3 years now. They usually show off some good stuff, but they need to learn that less is more. They need to…

    a) Cut out multiplat […]

  • Well, sorry you didn’t enjoy it.

  • I’m not sure how you got that from the article. The article was talking about how the media has proclaimed doom for just about every system that has come out at even the slightest hint of trouble.*shrugs* Maybe […]

  • @dirkster’s first comment. Hmmm… There is a delicate balance between creating a title that is interesting enough to get people’s attention without having it be too sensationalist. I had a few titles before I […]

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    It wasn’t too long ago that the frontpage of N4G was flooded with articles about the Wii U and its inevitable downfall.  The gaming media and its followers loved to watch the Wii U flounder, but the Wii U has […]

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    Recently I’ve had a chance to play Rayman Legends on the PS4 and XBox One, and let’s just say that there were some clear visual differences.  The PS4 version featured far better resolution.  The XBox One […]

  • So, yeah… I wrote this in April of 2013… Preemptive I Told You So: WIi U To Outsell PS4 And XBox 720 This Holiday Season

    Ugh.  So… you know how analysts like Michael Pachter will make a bold and very wrong prediction, and then just whistle and look to the side when they’re called on it?  Well, I get that feeling.  I’d be pretty happy to let the article I wrote earlier this year fade into oblivion.  However, seeing as how I would have been a huge jack*** about it if I had actually been correct, it’s time to face the music.  I was wrong.  Really wrong.  Unbelievably wrong really.  How much of this is because I’m simply bad at predicting and how much of it is because of unforeseen circumstance?

    My Predictions For The Xbox One

    While my bold Wii U predictions might have you believing otherwise, I’m not a complete and total idiot.  Here is what I had to say about the XBox One’s sales potential.

    Prediction: I think the 720 should do a bit better than the 360 did. Xbox is a more established brand, gaming is a bigger market, and gaming companies have become a lot more efficient at building hype and a pre-order culture. I’m going to be incredibly optimistic and predict sales of 3.3 million units between the 720 launch (presumably in mid November) and the end of the year. This would be about 2 million more than the 360 sold at launch, about a million more than the Wii U, and about 1 million more than the PS3.”

    I was pretty bullish on the XBox 720’s potential, and I was pretty bang on with my prediction.  I expected 3.3 million sales between launch and the end of the year, and the XBox 720 ended the year with 3.1 million units according to VGChartz estimates.  I overshot the figure a tiny bit, but I was within 200K units.  Considering the range of error for VGChartz’s figures, that’s about as close as one could reasonably be.  So, that makes me feel slightly better.

    My reasons for thinking the 720 would do well had little to do with optimism for the console itself or its software and more to do with the effectiveness with which companies build hype these days.  In other words, I thought Microsoft could build hype for whatever product they wound up launching.  In this regard, I was pretty correct.  Despite numerous faux pas and a disastrous public debut, the XBox One was still able to sell a ton of units when it launched.

    My Predictions For The PS4

    DOING IT WRONG.

    I was correct in my prediction that the PS4 would be more successful than the XBox One by a reasonable amount, but most people seemed to share in that belief.  At the time, I said;

    “Barring some disaster, the PS4 should perform far better than the PS3 did. Again, I’m going to be incredibly optimistic and predict sales of 3.8 million. This would be nearly quadruple what the 720 launched with, about 1.6 million more units than the PS3 sold at launch, and 1.4 million more than what the Wii U launched with.”

    I wasn’t as close with the PS4 as I was with the XBox One.  I thought my prediction of 3.8 million was pretty lofty, but Sony actually sold about 4.2 million.  Overally, I was pretty close on my guesses, but I misjudged the ratio between the XBox One and the PS4.

    So, my expectations for both new systems were pretty reasonable.  Then, my sin was not being a deluded troll, but an overoptimistic fanboy.  Why did the Wii U fall so short of my (and Nintendo’s for that matter) expectations?

    What Went Wrong For The Wii U?

    I predicted the Wii U would sell over 4 million units this holiday season.  The Wii U sold about 1.5 million units.  So, where did I err in my predictions?  Basically, I thought Nintendo would have far more titles ready for the Wii U this year than it wound up having.  To pull a few quotes.

    “Nintendo looks like it is planning to use the one two punch of Mario Kart and 3D Mario that they used to resuscitate the 3DS. Mario Kart is one of the biggest franchises in gaming.”

    “While it hasn’t been officially announced, Bayonetta 2 should arrive by the year’s end, and it will drag a good amount of kicking and screaming devoted fans with it.”

    “It’s unclear whether or not Monolith’s new RPG will be released this year, but there is a reasonable chance it will. It has been about three years since the last game released in Japan.”

    I had erroneously believed that the titles Nintendo had shown off in January of last year would mostly be coming to the Wii U in 2013.  In particular, I was pretty sure that Mario Kart 8 would be on the Wii U in 2013 based on the success Mario Kart 7 and Super Mario 3D Land had in turning the 3DS’s fortunes around.  Wii Fit U was confirmed for 2013 at the time, and while the digital version did release in time for the holidays, the physical version did not.   Nintendo also made the baffling decision of not marketing the game very much.

    Bayonetta and X both missed out on 2013, but that may have been for the best.  Bayonetta 2 and X probably would have gotten drowned out by the next generation hype.  Nintendo was probably better off waiting on those two titles and releasing them while the XBone and PS4 have software lulls of their own.

    I also overestimated some of the software Nintendo did release.  I thought that Wonderful 101 and Game and Wario would be “modest successes”. Even with the loosest definition of the term “modest success” neither of these games qualify.  Moreover, I thought Wii Party U would be a bigger success story.  Even bundled with a controller, Wii Party hasn’t quite taken off as I expected largely due to the lack of other titles like Wii Fit U to support it.  Wii Party was a title people bought to supplement their existing catalog but not necessarily a system seller.

    Sorry Mario, But Your Games Are In Another Castle

    Wrong, Wrong, Wrong, Wrong

    That’s really the story of the Wii U so far.  Nintendo really doesn’t have a whole lot of compelling software for the Wii U.  Super Mario 3D World is one of the best games this year, but that’s the only real system selling software for the Wii U.  Games like Pikmin 3 and Wonderful 101 are great quirky little titles, but hardly the games you’d count on to move hardware.  As pretty as Wind Waker is, a remake of a ten year old game, no matter how pretty, is not going to turn things around.  The Wii U at this point is selling mainly on the strength of its two Mario titles.  The fact that the Wii U is even selling at its current rate is a testament to Mario’s enduring popularity.

    Would things have changed if the titles I expected had been released?  Maybe.  The Wii U would still likely have fallen short of the PS4’s figures, but it could have slipped ahead of the XBox One.  Wii Fit U could have been a system seller with a holiday bundle and a good advertising campaign while Mario Kart typically has been significantly more popular than Mario’s 3D adventures.

    Titles like Bayonetta 2, Yarn Yoshi, or X wouldn’t have necessarily been huge sellers during the holiday, but if Nintendo could have pushed these titles out during the summer and early fall, they could have gotten the Wii U some much needed positive buzz.  As it is, the Wii U limped into the holidays fighting off a wave of negative momentum.

    With all that said, the Wii U still was have been nearly 2 million shy of passing the XBox One, and about 2.8 million away from the PS4, so it’s unlikely I would have been right even if the titles I mentioned made it home in time for Christmas.  Back in April I thought the Wii U sales would simply pick up when software was released.  While this is still true to an extent, it’s clear that Nintendo needs more than that to stay relevant in the upcoming generation.  The Wii U needs a complete marketing reboot centered around novel titles that make good use of the Wii U Gamepad.  Without this, the Wii U will remain a B player at best.

    But the bottom line in all of this is that my prediction was wildly and hilariously wrong.  I predicted the Wii U would outsell its rivals between November and December and it wound up not even outselling them with a 10 and a half month head start.  So, feel free to mock me as you see fit.  If you wish to mock me directly, I’ll only respond to comments directly on this page.  I’m sure that there are still a lot of bad predictions to be made in my future (and hopefully some good ones as well), but at least I’ve learned to be a bit less of an ass when delivering them.

  • Despite the staggering sales of games like Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty Ghosts, the gaming industry still looks towards Hollywood with envious green eyes.  Movies are everything gaming wants to be.  Movies are the dominant art form of pop culture.  Practically every man, woman, and child in the Western world watches movies.  Being a movie buff is perfectly acceptable, but being an avid gamer is frowned upon.  You can strike up a conversation about the Avengers with almost complete certainty that the person you’re conversing with has seen it.  Movies have transcended pop culture to become high culture.  The Oscars are treated with the reverence and awe that was once afforded to royalty while the VGX awards are treated with scorn even by their very hosts.  Gaming wants desperately to be Hollywood.  Publishers strive to weave gaming as deeply into our culture as cinema.  In the process, gaming is losing everything that made it a separate and worthwhile art form to begin with.

    Why Is Gaming Different?

    Shouldn’t you be able to tell when something is interactive? Or maybe Sony just thinks girls are dumb.

    Gaming wants to be as mainstream as film, but there is one thing separating gaming from film and every other art form.  Gaming is a skill.  Any normally function human being can watch Citizen Kane.  Some may appreciate the film more than others, but nobody can really fail at watching it.  Any literate person can read War and Peace if they really want to.  As long as you don’t give up, you’ll read word after word until the end. You won’t need to learn a new skill halfway through the book, and you’ll never wonder how to progress.   No normally functioning person can fail to view a painting or hear a song.

    Despite efforts at rebranding video games as interactive entertainment or some other PR term, video games are just that; games.  As games, failure is possible nearly all of the time.  In some cases failure means loss of a life by falling down a pit, and in other cases failure could mean simply getting lost and dragging the story to a stand still.  There are only a handful of games where failure is not possible, but even in those, the player must be an active participant in the action and must be able to manipulate a character through an input device, which is not a skill as common as being able to comprehend language.  Even a game like Animal Crossing requires skills that are not immediately available to the general population to progress and gain any sort of enjoyment.

    In their effort to make gaming more Hollywoodesque and thereby more accessible, certain rules have been established, and the big franchises generally play by these rules to the detriment of gamers.

    Rule 1: Never Slow Down and Never Go Back

    Where we’re going, we need roads.  Lots of them.

    Once upon a time, games required you to wander around, to discover, and to complete puzzles to move on.  Even in an ostensibly straightforward game like Banjo Kazooie, there were barriers to hold players back.  It wasn’t enough to simply plow ahead to your destination.  At some points, you would find yourself at a loss for Jiggies or Notes and you would have no choice but to turn back and search with no glowing arrow to aid you.  Where you had to go wasn’t always clear as it tends to be in modern games.  Franchises like Metroid and Castlevania were built on the concept of frustrating and confusing gamers.  The game would present an insurmountable obstacle, and you would search blindly to find the new ability you would need to pass it.

    Now, things are different.  Puzzles have been dumbed down as not to keep the player from action set pieces and cut scenes.  In the Uncharted series, taking too long to complete a puzzle will prompt the game to offer a hint.  In Tomb Raider, the game’s only challenging puzzles are kept hidden away in purely optional tombs so as not to hold Lara back from her next shoot out.  The first Bioshock game involved backtracking, hunting down Big Daddies, and lots of searching.  Bioshock Infinite features almost none of this, and a shiny arrow to guide you is never less than a button away.  Call of Duty is a straight shot from shoot out to shoot out with careful guidance to prevent players from ever getting lost.  Even franchises once built on exploration have surrendered to the need for simplicity.  After the grand and almost intimidating world map of Final Fantasy 12, Final Fantasy 13 sets the player down straight corridor after straight corridor.

    The key is to keep gamers from ever asking “how?”.  Gamers should never wonder what to do next.  They should either know that they simply have to move forward, or they should be presented with a glowing objective marker.  If a puzzle is to be included, it has to be obvious, and help must be a click of a button away.  Bosses must be able to be overcome with basic skills, and gamers shouldn’t have to work out a new strategy to defeat them.  Preferably, QTEs will pop up in a cutscene so that the player can “beat” the boss with as little true interaction as possible.  Keep it simple, keep the action rolling, and keep the CGI flowing.  Don’t risk the gamer putting down the controller.

    Rule 2:  Never Punish

    When playing Tomb Raider, I would often take foolish leaps to ledges too far away for Lara to reach just to see if I could make it or charge blindly into a hostile situation with no forethought about where my enemies were or how I should best take them down.  Death was a non-issue.  At most, dying meant I would be set back of about 30 seconds so why be careful?  This is par for the course with modern games.  Games like Call of Duty or Battlefield will send you to your last checkpoint which was in all likelihood within your last two minutes of gameplay.  Bioshock Infinite takes a small amount of money out of your bank account before allowing you back into the fray.  Even platformers like Rayman Legends will allow you to start over with almost no penalty.  Modern gamers might never know what it was like to be staring down a Robot Master with one pixel of health and 0 lives in reserve.  They’ll never have to deal with the tension of knowing that one wrong move will mean starting over and having to redo challenges that they had only overcome by the skin of their teeth.

    Games have to prevent newer gamers from getting too frustrated.  For those with a passion for gaming, frustration, and the corresponding relief and triumph, is an intrinsic part of gaming.  For newer gamers, frustration means they stop playing.  Frustration means that they’re less likely to buy your next game or DLC for the current game.  Anything more than a slap on the risk to punish failure is simply not acceptable.

    Rule 3: Cracker Barrel It Up (Keep The Learning Curve Simple)

    What do I mean by Cracker Barrel it up?  Well, Cracker Barrel is a restaurant chain that mainly caters to the southern United States.  Crack Barrel’s restaurants are all carefully designed to look the same so that, as comedian Chris Hardwick put it, customers don’t get lost on their way to chicken fried steak.  Making every restaurant the same promotes a feeling of comfort and familiarity.  Game developers are using the same tactics to ensure gamers get a familiar experience in their games.

    In this vein, shooters have become the dominant genre of gaming, both in the third person and first person varieties.  Regenerating health has become a standard in nearly all action games, with franchises such as Bioshock, Batman: Arkham ___, Grand Theft Auto, and Tomb Raider embracing the trend.  Nearly all action heroes have their melee attacks, melee finishers, stealth kills, and planned stealth segments have made their way into all games.  Odds are you’ll play through at least one turret section in whatever game you’re enjoying.   If you were blindfolded and taken into a random Cracker Barrel, you would find your way to your meal with no problem.  Similarly, if I handed you the controller to any shooting game, you’d probably instantly know how to control it.  Developers and publishers want to keep the learning curve as low as possible.  The average gamer nowadays is pretty dead set on a small range of experiences.  New mechanics and controls scare and intimidate them.  Games that deviate from standard control schemes, Kid Icarus: Uprising and Wonderful 101 for instance, are criticized for having poor controls even if the controls function perfectly.  New means more difficult and more difficult means bad.

    Rule 4:  Make It Expensive

    Oh… you thought GTA V sold well just because it was good?  That’s freaking adorable.

    Most movies don’t make a profit.  A whopping 80% of movies lose money for their companies.  Hollywood is an all of nothing industry.  Most films will lose money, but a success like The Dark Knight will make up for all of the losses.  Gaming is taking note of this strategy and blowing up budgets to enormous sizes.

    Crystal Dynamics revealed that Tomb Raider has just now begun turning a profit (I don’t mean to pick on poor Lara so much, but it’s the most recent game I’ve played).  Keep in mind that Tomb Raider is a game that sold 3.4 million copies within a single month.  This wasn’t enough for Square Enix who needed the game to sell 5 million copies in its first month.

    If you want your game to be noticed in a marketplace where games like GTA V, Call of Duty: Ghosts, Skyrim, and Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag enjoy astronomical marketing and production budgets, you’d better dig deep into your pockets.  If you try to make a modest game on a modest budget, you’re probably going to be lost in the shuffle.  There are of course, exceptions to this rule, but gaming is continually moving towards becoming an industry of indies and blockbusters.  You can either spend huge money in development and marketing, or you can use a shoestring budget and hope word of mouth carries your game.  If you’re a publisher, you swing for the fences or you bunt.

    And if you want to sell 5 million copies, you’d better be damn sure that your game is as accessible as can be.  You’d better make it in a popular genre, you’d better use the popular mechanics, and you better make sure it follows all of the trends.  The most logical way to ensure success is to follow the market leaders.  When a massive budget is necessary to success, you can’t afford to take too many chances.

    The Golden Rule: Baby The Player

    When you were a kid learning any new action your mother or father would “help” you.  By “help” they would guide your arms or legs and essentially perform the action for you.  After they completed the action for you, they’d congratulate you on your achievement.  The rules described above help the gamer in the way that the parent helps the child.  They make sure you have no new skills to learn, they guide you with bright glowing arrows, they make sure there are few obstacles to your success, and should you fall down, they pick you up gently and place you back on course.  If you keep playing, you’ll win without much struggle, and you’ll be given a shiny achievement or trophy.

    Interactivity is only to be a minor part of the experience.  If you demand too much of the players, you risk them giving up and not seeing the massive set pieces you blew your budget on.  The key is to trick the player into thinking he or she is an important part of the proceedings when he or she actually is not.  When you narrowly escape from a crumbling building in Uncharted you feel amazing even if all you had to do was hold forward and jump, and falling would have been a minor inconvenience at worst.

    In short, games should be like movies.  They should be accessible, they should be easy, and they should be passively consumed with the minimal amount of player control.  The idea is to make it so that anyone from a 10 year gaming veteran to a new gamer who has just heard about this Call of Duty stuff should be able to complete the adventure.  Don’t frustrate them.  Just make them feel good.

    Movies are not a challenge.  Movies are entertainment.  Gaming wants to be movies, so challenge must fall away.

    Can Gaming Smarten Up?

    With all that being said, the influx of casual gamers is not a bad thing for the industry.  The old saying goes that a rising tide raises all ships, and the success of games like Call of Duty can trickle own to games like Bayonetta or Dark Souls.  Furthermore, games can make efforts to maintain difficulty and challenge while maintaining accessibility.  Whether or not this will happen will depend on how forward thinking developers can be.  Smarter developers will learn to challenge the status quo and find that following the leader is rarely the key to success.  Courageous developers will try and forge a new path.  If not, we can look forward to a future of mildly interactive entertainment and lots of explosions and excellent production values.

  • Fair enough. I’m not really an expert on Japanese corporate culture. I thought it was a situation similar to the US where a CEO almost always “steps down” but was in actuality pressured by shareholders. Thanks […]

  • Nintendo has announced some pretty drastic cuts to their Wii U forecasts,  and now it is time for everyone on the internet to play April 1st CEO.  Everybody wants to talk about what they would change if they were in charge of Nintendo and how they would make the Wii U a rousing success.

    One of the most popular ideas for turning things around is a change of management.  In particular, many pundits and shareholders are calling for CEO Satoru Iwata to be fired.  While it makes sense to have the buck stop with the CEO, firing Iwata will not do anything positive for the Wii U.  Unless Nintendo wants to completely give up on the Wii U, they have little choice but to continue on their current path.  There isn’t a lot of room for change with the Wii U.

    Ticking Clock

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    Nintendo essentially has until January 1st of next year to pull the Wii U out of its funk.  In today’s market, hype is everything.  Companies, not just gaming companies, have been bludgeoning consumers with one idea.  You need the newest thing.  You need to get the newest phone the moment it is released, you need to see the hot new movie the day it comes out, you need to watch the newest TV series before you’re ostracized in the office, and you need to buy the newest game the moment it comes out.  In fact, buying games when they release is not good enough.  You actually have to buy the games BEFORE they come out.  Preorders for games now start as much as a year before a game comes out which is freaking insane.

    In this type of environment, changing public opinion is damn hard.  The media is going to be talking about the next thing soon and your window of opportunity is small.  Nintendo squandered a year’s headstart, but they still have some hope.  Software droughts after new hardware is released is inevitable, and the PS4 and XBox One will suffer from it.  Nintendo has one last chance to dazzle before the XBox One and PS4 can really settle into a groove.  If Nintendo can’t sell at least 8 million units this calender year, the system is going to cater exclusively to devoted Nintendo fans.

    What will make the Wii U sell?  There are three factors that effect games sales.  Hardware, software, and marketing.  Seems simple enough, right?  So, how much control does Nintendo have over these factors?

    Hardware

    The Wii U hardware is what the Wii U hardware is.  It’s a system whose power is a bit above last generation (which Nintendo’s software has shown) and far below current generation.  While people will continually argue about power until the end of time (there are still people debating the merits of the Genesis vs the SNES), the important thing is the games.  Any gamer with eyes can easily see where the Wii U stands in this regard.

    Controllers are also hardware, and I still genuinely believe that the Gamepad is a great idea.  Bringing touch based interfaces popularized on smart phones to high quality software seems to be a recipe for success.  Furthermore, any gamer who has played Meteos, Kid Icarus Uprising, Kirby Canvas Curse, Nintendo Land, The World Ends With You, or Ghost Trick can tell you that motion controls can bring a lot to more traditional games.

    Anyone suggesting that Nintendo drop the Gamepad to lower costs is simply an idiot.  The last thing Nintendo needs to do is fragment their fanbase further.  Games like Zombi U, Super Mario 3D World, Wii Fit U, and Rayman Legends would need some pretty massive patching to work on the Wii U, the entire OS would need to be redone, Miiverse wouldn’t work, and games like Nintendo Land or Game and Wario would be entirely unplayable.  Having some games that work with the Gamepad and some without is a recipe for confusion on a console that already has enough confusion regarding its controls.

    Even if the Gamepad was dropped, what would motivate one to buy a Wii U?  It would be an XBox 360 with Nintendo games.  That may sound like an attractive prospect to Nintendo’s most loyal fans, but it will ensure that the Wii U remains a niche product.  The Wii U is what the Wii U is.  It’s not going to become more powerful, and it’s not going to change controllers.  Any changes will be minor.  Nintendo has to ride with what they have.

    Software

    Software would be the first area most people would look to for improvement.  Having great hardware doesn’t matter without software to back it up.  The Vita is an incredible piece of hardware, but its software is lacking, so its sales are lacking.

    Like I said, I believe the Gamepad is a great idea.  If used correctly, it could be a tool that truly enhances online communication, eases new players into a new world, and puts a spin on traditional gaming genres.  I believe, and others will disagree, that input is more important to an experience than visuals, and this is the best gaming input device on the market right now.

    The problem with Nintendo reacting to their situation with software is their time predicament.  Good software takes time and great software takes even more time.  Nintendo can certainly shift around their resources or hire more staff, but no amount of effort, no matter how intense, is going to create system selling software in time for next Christmas.  The Wii U has some great titles in development, but nothing that shows off why the Gamepad is a revolutionary new controller worth buying a console for.

    The point is that if the Wii U has a savior in development, it is already being developed.  An idea that starts now is not going to be playable in time to save the Wii U.  Software sells hardware, and this is why Nintendo is locked into its current path.  Any software that will truly change things is already in the pipeline and can only be modified so much by this Christmas.  Hopefully, the games that we know to be in development (Bayonetta 2, X, Hyrule Warriors, Smash Bros, Mario Kart 8) will be launching in the first half of the year and Nintendo has some truly innovative stuff for the second half.

    Marketing

    The only thing that Nintendo can really change now is their marketing which admittedly needs a massive overhaul.  Nintendo needs to show off that the Wii U offers a new and unique experience that can’t be replicated on a Wii, a PS3, an XBox One, or an iPad.  So far, Nintendo has done a poor job of this.  The cornerstone of the Wii U’s holiday marketing was Super Mario 3D World.  Super Mario 3D World is an absolutely amazing game but a poor showcase for what makes the Wii U unique.  Super Mario 3D World and other games like it will draw Nintendo’s faithful gamers into the Wii U fold, but will not sell customers who don’t already have a soft spot for Nintendo.  If Nintendo wants a truly successful console, they need to show the Wii U’s capabilities.

    Nintendo’s marketing team is in an odd place.  They need to show off the Wii U’s unique capabilities, but to do that, they need software that shows off the Wii U’s capabilities.  Sadly, that software is lacking.  The best showcases for the Wii U are Wii Party U, Wii Fit U (off TV play is a huge boon for this franchise), Game and Wario, and Nintendo Land.  Nintendo Land is undoubtedly the best showcase of the Wii U’s capabilities, but it’s a tricky game from a marketing perspective.  When you hear a title like “Wii Sports” and see the Wii Remote, you know exactly what to expect.  When you hear a title like Nintendo Land and see the Gamepad, you’re confused.

    Nintendo needs to market these older games, which may seem counter-intuitive in a market obsessed with newness.  Unfortunately, the marketing department has to work with what they’re given.  These are the games that best show off the Wii U’s capabilities, so that’s what they need to focus on.  If new software comes along that better demonstrates the Wii U’s capabilities, they need to advertise that hard.  Nintendo has little flexibility on their price, but they can offer new bundles.  A bundle that includes a Wii Mote is a must at some point, as such a bundle will enable non-Wii owners to experience multiplayer out of the box.  A Wii U Basic bundle with a Wii Remote and Nunchuck would be a good start for Nintendo.

    Ultimately, marketing is tied down by hardware and, more importantly, software.  A new ad campaign that draws inspiration from Nintendo’s Wii advertisements will help the Wii U, but only if those advertisements have the correct software to back them up.

    Firing Iwata Only Makes Sense If Nintendo Gives Up On The Wii U

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    There’s not much to be done about the Wii U in the short term, and if things don’t turn around in the short term, there is no long term.  Bringing in someone other than Iwata won’t enable Nintendo to change their course in a matter of months.  Furthermore, the Wii U is Iwata’s product.  Iwata’s reputation is intertwined with the Wii U’s fate, and to a lesser extent, an improvement in Wii U sales.  A new CEO might not feel as responsible for the future or either system.  He’ll have a built in excuse for several poor years of performance and will be able to focus on the coming generation.

    Even in the best case scenario where Iwata’s successor is committed to the Wii U, a management shakeup during the Wii U’s last 12 months of opportunity offers little aside from an additional disruption.  Nintendo needs to change things fast, and a management change at this time is going to do little positive for the Wii U.

    The only scenario where firing Iwata makes sense is if Nintendo is willing to give up on the Wii U entirely.  A new CEO wouldn’t have much power to change the Wii U’s trajectory, but they be able to influence Nintendo’s next consoles.  Introducing a new console in the near future would be a poor decision, but the 3DS is nearly 3 years old now.  The 3DS is unlikely to last as long as the original DS, so its successor will be most likely launch in about 2 years.  Now is the time for preparations to kick into high gear.  If Nintendo has lost confidence in Satoru Iwata to launch a new console, they’ll need to put someone new in place to handle their next handheld launch.  In doing so, Nintendo may have to mortgage the Wii U’s future for the sake of their next handheld.

    Firing Iwata is akin to giving up on the Wii U.  Conversely, keeping Iwata in place shows commitment to the Wii U’s future.  In my opinion, the best course of action is to keep Iwata in place for one more year.  If the Wii U hasn’t rebounded by then, it is already too late, and Nintendo will need to make changes for the future.  In this case, as much as I like Satoru Iwata, his time will have come.  Please understand.

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