Monday, July 18, 2011

Nintendo Today

I've been a fan of Nintendo for about a million years. Aside from the 16 bit generation, I've bought Nintendo consoles first and other consoles second. (If I had my time back I would probably pick the SNES over the Genesis, even.) My first console ever was a Game Boy when I was 6.

I bought a Nintendo 64 and was pretty satisfied. Sure, I had to borrow a friend's PS1 to play games like Final Fantasy, but I had Mario and Zelda and I was happy. The GameCube was a similar thing. Again, I played those PS2 games on friends' consoles but preferred my GameCube exclusives overall. I did eventually buy a PS1 and PS2 of my own, once the price was right, and had a nice back catalog of games to pick from. It worked for me.

The Wii changed things, though. I did buy a Wii first, but it was obvious before it was even released that my days of primarily playing a Nintendo console were over. The Wii was doing its own thing, and that was cool, but there was a lot more going on that I was missing out on by being a Wii owner exclusively, so about a year and a half after launch, I bought a PS3. The two consoles compliment each other well. Each brings things to the table that the other doesn't. I don't have a "primary" console. I have these two and I play them both as games I want are released for them. I don't have to decide which version of a game to get, because there are so few multiplatform games that exist on both the PS3 and Wii, and the ones that do are usually just cheap, inferior ports on Wii.

So, I don't primarily game on either console, and it turns out, that's a good thing, because I am North American. Nintendo of America's localization decisions for a good chunk of this generation have been questionable at best and outright hateful towards gamers at worst. I've played Hotel Dusk. I've loved Hotel Dusk. I've recommended Hotel Dusk to other people and they've bought it. As I understand it, Hotel Dusk sold pretty well in North America. So why do I have to import the sequel, The Last Window? The sequel which already exists in English because it was released in Europe?

At least I have the option to import The Last Window. It's a DS game and DS games are region free. The same can't be said for the good half-dozen Wii games Nintendo could have localized but hasn't. Fatal Frame 4. Another Code R, the sequel to Trace Memory, a DS game North America did get. Disaster: Day of Crisis. Pandora's Tower. The Last Story. Xenoblade Chronicles. Five of these games have something in common. Aside from Fatal Frame 4, all of these games have been translated into English and released in Europe, or will be.

They funded the development of all of these games. They exist in English. So why won't Nintendo release them in North America? Why is the cost of localizing games seemingly too much of a hurdle for Nintendo of America, next to the cost of developing them in the first place, which they already did? I don't know. Nobody knows. Nintendo refuses to say.

For many, many, many people, especially this generation, Nintendo consoles exist to play Nintendo games and not much else. Unfortunately, it seems that Nintendo of America can't even be counted on to release Nintendo games any more, so what's left? At their past few E3 press conferences, Nintendo has insisted that they're trying to reconnect with hardcore gamers, including this most recent one last month. Actions (and inaction, in this case) speak louder than words, and right now Nintendo is saying they're not trying. They currently have a grand total of three announced first party Wii games coming before the Wii U that hardcore gamers might care about. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, Kirby, and Rhythm Heaven Wii. They're keeping games like Xenoblade away and not releasing anything in their place. This is very anti-hardcore.

Speaking of the Wii U, I don't have very high hopes for it. For the first time since the SNES, I'm considering skipping a Nintendo console. I don't feel like I can count on Nintendo to release great first party games any more, outside of Mario and Zelda. The Wii U is comparable in power to the PS3 and 360. It is trying to compete with those consoles. This is a very short sighted strategy. I already have a PS3. I don't need a console that will play the same games. When the PS4 and Xbox 720 are released, they will likely be much more powerful than the Wii U, and Nintendo will see a repeat of the Wii in certain ways. The Wii U will be forced to do its own thing while the PS4 and 720 compete with each other with similar game libraries that the Wii U can't handle.

Nintendo is already abandoning the hardcore by refusing to release the games they want to play, and I believe they will scare off the casual gamers with their new controller. Casual gamers like the Wii Remote because it's simple and unintimidating. The Wii U controller is the most complicated default home console controller ever made. It has as many buttons as a PS3 or 360 controller, but it also has a motion sensor, a giant touch screen, a microphone, speakers, and a camera. That's every input method ever included in a default home console controller or handheld. Try describing that to someone who is afraid of directional pads and see what they think of it.

So, I think Nintendo has made some very bad decisions lately. I think they've alienated hardcore gamers and are about to alienate casual gamers too. All that will be left are Nintendo diehards, and if I'm any indication, maybe not even us.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

What's new

Hey, nobody reads this blog anyway, right? Well I haven't written for Kombo in a while. With moving and then TERRIBLE BETRAYALS I decided there were better ways to spend my energies. I have been writing some reviews for Honest Gamers whenver a half way interesting assignment pops up, so that's nice. Also, next month I'm heading to E3 with The Tanooki! That should be fun. So yeah. That's it. See you in a year.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Oh, by the way

I recently started writing for Kombo, so you can find a bunch of my news posts over there. Meanwhile, I'm still writing for The Tanooki and most of my blog-style posts go to OMGMyGame. Feel free to check 'em out!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Games That Hit The Wall and Shatter

Many moons ago, games were short. Most games could be finished in an hour or two. They were also incredibly difficult. This was to keep you from finishing the game the first time you played it. Essentially, beating a game boiled down to memorizing the difficult parts to avoid enemies and traps. Some games, though, took it too far. Certain games hit a proverbial wall at some point, making them nearly impossible to finish and sucking anything resembling "fun" out of the experience. There are only so many times you can play the same two levels, dying at the third, before the whole experience becomes boring. Often, this happened in levels that were designed around unique gameplay mechanics that weren't used in the main game.  Let's look at a few examples.

Earthworm Jim - Down The Tubes (Tube Race)

Released in 1994, Earthworm Jim became an instant classic with its quirky sense of humour. It even spawned one of the few video game cartoon series' that was actually fun to watch. The platforming was kind of awkward, but it wasn't too bad and was pretty easy to overlook. Unfortunately, there was one level that threatened to ruin the whole experience.

The Tube Race is an underwater level (which tend to be pretty awful anyway) that involves navigating a glass bubble through a maze with a limited amount of air. The bubble itself is incredibly floaty and difficult to control, not to mention fragile. It only takes a few hits to shatter into a million pieces. This would be more manageable if you didn't have the time limit to deal with. Luckily, Earthworm Jim had a level skip code, so if you knew it, you never really had to do the tube race at all.

Battletoads - Wind Tunnel

Battletoads is one of the first games by Rare to make a big splash. Like Earthworm Jim, its sense of humour gave it a strong cult following that has lasted for 17 years. It is also incredibly hard. The standard beat-em-up levels aren't too tough, but relatively early in the game, you're forced to navigate a hoverbike through an obstacle course. The bike is flying through the stage at about a million miles per hour and you have to weave your way around, over, and even under walls of varying sizes. There's even a part where a jump is hovering in the air above your head and you have to leap up to it to avoid a painful death. It looks easy enough starting off, but anyone who has played it will tell you it's actually quite hard. Especially later in the race when a stream of walls appear in rapid succession without warning.

Certain versions of Battletoads had level select codes, but most of them forced the player to either beat the Wind Tunnel level or just give up. (A lot of players chose to give up.)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - Water Dam

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (NES) is a better game than it's given credit for. It's meant for younger children (being a Ninja Turtles game and all) so its simplicity is to be expected. The graphics are nice and colourful and each turtle plays differently enough to keep the game from getting too stale. The reason it has such a bad reputation is the Water Dam level.

In the water dam is an underwater level where you have to diffuse a certain number of bombs within a time limit. There are several problems with this, though. First of all, the stage is a maze. It's not too complicated, but the time limit leaves no room for error. The player in the above video does as good a job with the level as you can really expect, and he finishes with only 11 seconds left. Also, for a team of mutant turtles, none of them are very good swimmers. That's a problem when you have to navigate a narrow tunnel of electrified seaweed. All of these problems ruin the game for the audience it was designed for, and for everyone else for that matter. There's no way to skip the Water Dam level, either, so many, many players never got to see what was beyond it.

These days, games provide replay value and length in more legitmate ways. Games tend to last dozens of hours even if you never die. These types of levels have become less forgivable and harder to overlook. That's definitely for the best. Sure, games may be easier overall, but there are still plenty of games out there that provide a fair challenge, without resorting to game-breaking levels like these.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

My Game Boy History

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the release of the original Game Boy, the machine that defined handheld gaming. The Game Boy was actually the very first video game system I ever owned. I got it for my sixth birthday, and it was a huge surprise. Up to that point, video games were something I'd never be able to have. My parents had simply refused to buy me a NES or Game Boy before that point, so naturally I was surprised (and very, very happy) to get a Game Boy, and I treasured it for years. Since then, I've always had a special place in my heart for handheld gaming. I've decided I'd like to take a look back at the Game Boy games that left the biggest impression on me. So here they are, in no particular order:

Super Mario Land

Super Mario Land was the first game I ever rented, and, if memory serves, the first game I ever finished. It was one of those games that was good in its own right, but really left the impression that handheld gaming was destined to be like console gaming, only not quite as good. (That stigma would stay with handheld consoles until the Nintendo DS.) Looking back, I have no idea how I managed to finish this game on an original Game Boy. The screen was blurry and the sprites were tiny. It's amazing that I could tell what was going on at all.


What Game Boy retrospective would be complete without a mention of Tetris? Tetris was the Game Boy's original pack-in game. It's also the game that showed just how much better puzzle games are when you can play them on the go. They're perfect to pick up and play in small doses. Of course, Tetris is the definitive falling block puzzle game, and the Game Boy version is, in turn, the definitive version of Tetris. This is the game that got my mom into gaming! Today, she still loves to break out the old Game Boy Pocket I gave her and her copy of Tetris.

Amazing Penguin

What? Yes, I know. Amazing Penguin isn't exactly the first game that comes to mind when you remember the Game Boy. It doesn't even have a Wikipedia article. It was never really well known, but it left an impression with me because it was the first Game Boy game I played that I couldn't find a bigger version of on another console. Amazing Penguin didn't really do anything that required the use of a handheld or anything, but it was an original game. The point of the game was to destroy black and white dots strewn about a maze. When you destroy all of the dots surrounding an area, that area would fill in with a pattern or part of a larger picture. The game just oozed charm, which is part of what makes it so memorable to me. I'd love to see a modern day Amazing Penguin on the DS, but it will probably never happen.

Game Boy Camera

Now here's something that could only work on a handheld. The Game Boy Camera was more of a toy than a game. It was a digital camera that plugged into the Game Boy's cartridge slot and could store up to 30 black and white pictures. The pictures could be edited with stamps and brushes (a feature that lives on in the modern DSi) and printed off as stickers using the Game Boy Printer. It was the coolest toy I had ever owned. There were a ton of other nifty features, too, such as slideshows and the ability to place "hot spots", areas that you could "click" with an on-screen cursor to make various things happen. You could create your own point-and-click adventure with that feature. You could even take pictures of your face to use in a small collection of minigames. I love to take mine out now and then and look at my grainy 10-year-old pictures of friends and family members.

Wario Land II

What a fantastic game this was. It was a puzzle platformer where you could never die. The game was chock full of secret treasures and coins to find by bashing through walls and sniffing out hidden doors. There was one main path through the game, but once you finished it, you gained access to a map of every level you had completed so far with a ton of newly-revealed branching paths. It was amazing to get to  the end of the game, only to find that you were only about half done. The game was truly epic, which is something that's difficult to accomplish on a tiny little handheld. This is the game that brought Wario into his own.

Darkwing Duck

Capcom did some pretty great things with the Disney license during the NES/Game Boy generation. Darkwing Duck made his way to both the NES and Game Boy, and it was pretty much the same game. Capcom managed to take the NES version and shrink it down to about as perfect a Game Boy port as you could really hope for. It was a really good game in its own right, but the main reason this one stands out for me is that it was the only game I managed to keep when my Game Boy and games were stolen when I was 8. I woke up on my birthday and this was my gift from my parents. I went to get my Game Boy to play it, only to realize that it was missing. I had brought it to school and it had apparently been stolen there without me even noticing. Worst. Birthday. Ever. I did eventually get a replacement, though, and I immediately popped this game in and played it to completion. So satisfying.

Kirby's Dream Land 2

Kirby's Adventure is the game that invented the modern Kirby. It was the game that introduced Kirby's copy ability, which would end up being his defining characteristic. Kirby's Dream Land 2 was the game that brought Kirby back to his handheld roots, bringing his copy ability with him. More importantly, though, it introduced Kirby's animal pals, which in turn means it introduced a degree of versatility to Kirby's copied abilities. Every animal had its own unique take on every ability. Kirby could shoot sparks with the Spark ability, but if he did so while riding his pal Kine, he ended up with a fish that could shoot exploding light bulbs. And come on, what's cooler than a fish that can shoot exploding light bulbs? This concept was refined in Kirby 64, which introduced the ability to combine abilities, but the charm of Kirby's Dream Land 2 was never really recaptured.

Donkey Kong

There has never really been an arcade-style platformer with quite as much depth as Donkey Kong for Game Boy. It starts off as a basic remake of the original arcade Donkey Kong, but after the original four stages, the world opens up and a whole new slew of obstacles and enemies are introduced. The most interesting new feature, though, is the inclusion of a variety of new moves for Mario, most of which involve different ways to jump. Mario really lives up to the title of Jump Man in this remake. These moves can be used to find interesting ways through the levels, bringing lots of depth to what starts off as a Donkey Kong remake. Like Wario Land II, Donkey Kong is another game that's deceptive in its scope.


It's Pokemon. As in, the game that started one of the biggest video game franchises in gaming history. I won't go into the whole history of Pokemon, but I will say this. Pokemon wouldn't have been nearly as effective if it hadn't been a Game Boy game. Each game is like a Pokemon trainer kit. Each cartridge is meant to be a set of tools for catching and raising Pokemon to play against other Pokemon belonging to other trainers who have their own copies of the game. It's important that the game be A) easy to personalize, and B) easy to interact with another person's save file and copy of the game. What better way to accomplish these goals than by making Pokemon a Game Boy game?

The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening

Here we go. This is the game that got me into what would turn out to be my absolute favourite series of games of all time. One thing that Link's Awakening does well is king of the opposite of what games like Wario Land II and Donkey Kong do. Where those games seemed small but were actually huge, Link's Awakening feels like it takes place in a giant, epic world, but is actually very small. The variety of places crammed into such a small world map help to make Link's Awakening feel incredibly epic. It does one thing that most other Zelda's don't do, and I really wish they would. It allows you to un-equip your sword and replace it with another item. It's great to have a boomerang in one hand and a fire rod in the other. Oh, and did I mention there's a zombie rooster? Yeah, it's just that cool.

Well, there you go. Those are the Game Boy games that had the biggest effect on me. They may not all be the most important Game Boy games ever made, but they're all great and they all fill me with a feeling of nostalgia. I really need to break out my Game Boy Color and give a few of these another play through....

Sunday, November 2, 2008

My Life in Games: Part 1: Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt (1988)

I was 3 years old when I first picked up a NES controller. I was visiting relatives and my 8-year-old cousin's NES was hooked up to the TV in the living room. I watched him play Duck Hunt for a while and apparently he let me give it a try. (My memory is understandably foggy.) I was pretty awful at it. I was only 3 years old, so that was to be expected. I was perfectly happy just blasting away at those ducks. If I managed to hit one, great. If not, I liked the dog and his little laughing noise anyway.

I also gave Super Mario Bros. a try. I was less awful at that. I wasn't great with the bottomless pits, though. I lacked self-confidence. I could make it to level 2 by going into the pipe in the first area and skipping most of level 1, including all of the holes. I'd play until I got to that first mandatory hole, and then I'd just stop. Then I'd start over! I didn't make much progress that way, but I liked it. I don't know what I was afraid of, though. What's the worst thing that could happen if I fell? I'd lose a life, or get a Game Over. So what? My tiny toddler brain didn't understand the consequences and I decided to err on the side of caution.

I'm kind of glad my first two games were such iconic ones. Especially Super Mario Bros.. Super Mario Bros. came out the year I was born. I don't even really need to explain why it's such an iconic game. It was a giant hit. People would buy a NES just for this game. It made Mario into the star he is today. At one point, Mario was more famous among children than Mickey Mouse. Super Mario Bros. marked the beginning of revitalizing the video game industry, as well as the beginning of my life as a gamer.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Mega Man 9 DLC Thoughts

The (presumably) last bit of Mega Man 9 DLC was released this week. Here's everything you should know before making a purchase:

Proto Man ($2): Proto Man can charge his shots, block shots with his shield, and slide. Sounds good, right? Well, maybe. There's a lot more to him than that. For instance, he can't visit the store and he takes double damage. Before spending the points on him, you should definitely consider his pros and cons, because for some gamers, the weaknesses may outweigh the strengths. For the sake of keeping this brief, here's a list of details about Proto Man I wrote for The Tanooki when he was released a few weeks ago.

Endless Attack Mode ($3): In Endless Attack Mode, you basically play until you die. To keep things interesting, the stage you play is brand new and randomized. That means you won't be playing in any of the stages you've already played in the main mode, and every time you play it's a different experience. This mode is definitely worth the money.

Special Stage ($1): The Special Stage is a new level for Time Attack mode, complete with a new boss. The stage is pretty challenging, and it reuses some of the bosses from the main game. It's about as tough as one of the Dr. Wily stages. The new boss is nice, but he's not particularly tough if you know your weapons and figure out his pattern. Still, the level itself is great and it's a steal at one dollar.

Hero Mode ($1): Hero Mode is a new difficulty setting, harder than the standard mode. The difficulty increase comes from new enemy placement and obstacles. This mode is a bit disappointing. If you've finished Mega Man 9 and are looking for more of a challenge, this may not be enough. I still managed to breeze through the Robot Masters stages. Of course, that's not to say it's not challenging. Mega Man 9 is pretty tough on its own, and Hero mode is even tougher. (I "breezed" through it because I've been playing the game since it was released and I had a pretty good idea of what to do.) It's just not much tougher than the standard mode. I guess that's why there's:

Super Hero Mode ($1): Argh. Alright, this isn't really fun any more. See, the challenge of Mega Man 9 is the fun kind of challenge, because as difficult as it is, it's never cheap. Well, Super Hero Mode is cheap. For example, there's one part in Galaxy Man's stage that WILL kill you if you're not insanely lucky or psychic. Right before the boss door there's an enemy that will grab you (because you won't know he's there). Your choices then are to either sit there and let him do his thing, ending up smashed against a wall of spikes, or jump over the wall of spikes and land in a pit. That's it. Those are your options. Death or death. Things like that will likely annoy a whole lot of people, but if you don't mind the frustration (and if you're a fan of Mega Man, you're probably ok with frustration), it might be worth a look. It's too bad there's no middle ground between Hero and Superhero modes, though.

Well, that about covers it. There doesn't seem to be any more DLC planned. All together, the game and DLC costs $18. I bought it all, so you don't have to!