Tag: Nintendo

Staying the Course on the Switch

nintendo-switch

I remember a time, years ago, when I looked down on my Wii and its three enjoyable games in disgust. And I said, “If the next system doesn’t have any games, I’ll just stick with whatever Playstation we’re up to by then.”

I remember a time shortly thereafter, when the Wii U was first announced. And even before it failed to attract third-party developers in the exact same way as its predecessor, I looked at the gimmicky concept and said, “I’ve seen April Fool’s announcements that would make better systems than this.”

I remember a time after its launch, when I seemed to be quite correct, when a friend finally convinced me to try playing it. “How can you judge something you’ve never even played before?” I played it. It was even worse than I thought.

I then argued that he should eat a handful of dry leaves from the ground. He said he didn’t want to. I asked how he knew he wouldn’t like them if he’d never tried them.

I remember a time before the “Nintendo NX” was even a thing, when I said that if the next system was gimmicky or had no games or both, it would fail. I remember when the rumors started coming in and most of them sounded terrible. The worst ones, I thought, were the ones that described it as a system that could swap in and out of multiple modes to be played on the television or on the go or with friends.

Then I saw the announcement trailer for the newly-dubbed “Nintendo Switch.” And in that moment, I realized that it takes a big man to admit when he’s wrong.

And rest assured, if I happen to see someone who’s been wrong, I’ll be sure to tell him.

The Switch seems like a novel concept, but nothing in the commercial really swayed me. To me, it’s just another example of how willfully out of touch Nintendo has become with people who actually play video games. I mean, sure, we have sweet rooftop parties and bring our portable gaming systems and are all millennial. All the time. But everything else in that commercial was way off the mark.

I’m particularly surprised at how easily the “no more gimmicks” crowd was swayed. After the trailer I saw a number of people who’d been spewing the most venomous anti-Nintendo comments for months do an immediate about-face. I’m not sure why, mind you, since a portable/not portable hybrid with detachable controllers seems like the very definition of a gimmick. But, well, here we are.

Obviously, people are allowed to change their mind. What confuses me, though, is that the conversation effectively went thusly. “I refuse to buy another gimmicky Nintendo console. I just want a regular game system,” the fans said.

“Well, good news,” Nintendo replied. “This one is also gimmicky.”

“Is it a gimmick that changes the way we play games, like virtual reality?” the fans asked.

“No. But it does change the places you play. Like, at home. Or next to a basketball court. Or maybe at a rooftop party or something,” Nintendo said. “You know, like the Wii U’s portable second screen. Only instead of that, exactly that.”

“Okay. I’ll take ten.”

This sort of short-sighted changing of opinions reminds me a lot of how people thought of M. Night Shyamalan movies. “The Sixth Sense” was pretty good, so they went to see the follow-up, “Signs.” And when that was pretty terrible, they decided his first movie was just a fluke. Then, his next movie started getting attention and next thing you know, they had to go see that one, too. Years later, we’re stuck at one good movie followed by nine or ten awful ones. Yet, more likely than not, whenever his next movie is announced, people are going to forget all about his failures and focus on the one good thing he ever did.

In the end, I may be wrong. After all, there do seem to be a lot of companies pledging third-party support for the system. And when it really gets down to it, the games are going to be what matters – not gimmicks or transforming consoles or a bunch of hipsters on a rooftop somewhere, drinking non-GMO wine and playing “Mario Kart Switch.”

millennials
“Damn. This is as awesome as it is realistic. Oh, and nice short-sleeve turtleneck.”

But frankly, pledges aren’t software contracts, so I’ll believe it when I see it. Or not, as the situation may be.

The truth is, I got burned with the Wii and I never really got over it. And since nothing has really changed I haven’t seen point in changing my mind. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on Wii U.

Advertisements

The Proof is in the Preview

Expectation Reality.jpg
(Left) Preview screenshot. (Right) Release day screenshot.

As news of Nintendo’s new NX console continues to not pour in, I’ve decided to focus my efforts elsewhere for a while.

Okay. That’s a lie meant entirely as a segue. I’ve honestly given up on the NX already, because that was my policy with the Wii U about three minutes after I heard it described. It was also my policy during the last year of the Wii’s life cycle, where they’d clearly given up on it but kept saying, “Well, maybe we’ll do another Zelda game or something for it? So, you know, one game released per year is pretty good for a system, right?”

Actually, that’s got a weird sort of symmetry with the Wii U now. “Don’t give up on the Wii U. There’s a Zelda game coming out for it eventually. Maybe? So, you know, one game released every two years is pretty good for a system, right?”

But I digress, which I should probably stop doing while I segue.

I recently watched a video that was basically just thirty upcoming game trailers cobbled together. In hindsight, it’s not a good way to digest the information. Because at the end all you’re left with is a vague sense of confusion and you’ve actually forgotten the name of the game six minutes in that looked sort of interesting. You know the one. It was right after the “Metal Gear” spin-off with zombies. Or maybe any trailer would’ve looked good after that one.

Alas, I’m not here to point out the highlights. Even before I watched this trailer ball I’ve been burned by so many good-looking games in the past that turned out to be garbage that I’m incredibly wary nowadays. And my historical average of deciding which games were worth recommending based on trailers alone is low enough that I don’t think my readers deserve more of my horrible guesses.

No, this is more about game marketing itself.

Game preview articles tend to be a bit better, if only by virtue of not being a series of flashing images of explosions meant to dazzle you without any real substance. But they’re far from perfect. In fact, the thing that prompted this article in the first place was reading several previews and realizing that once I’d scrolled down far enough that the title was no longer visible, it may as well have been a preview of any game coming out in 2017.

But it’s more than just having the information run together after reading so much of it. Even games in wildly different genres (say, first-person shooter versus action RPG) are more or less pulling from the same shared script. And the worst thing is that, in addition to being just copied and pasted, I’m starting to realize that none of the words actually have any meaning to begin with.

Here are a few things I keep seeing in game previews that tell me literally nothing.

“Story-driven” games or games “with a narrative focus.” The more I hear this, the less I’m sure what exactly it’s supposed to mean. After hearing a reviewer say this about “Overwatch,” a game that literally lacks a story mode, I can’t even say that it’s code for “our game has a plot.”

Granted, they have released a number of animations for it that look amazing. But those aren’t part of the game. It’s like the stories in the manuals of NES games. You can make the manual a 160-page comic but if I can’t squint at your pixels and roughly tell what’s going on, it’s not a story.

But even when games have a story, I’m a bit skeptical of developers who tout their games with these words. I’ve never seen a restaurant describe its clam chowder as “so-so.” Yet, I’ve eaten bad clam chowder before. Those experiences have taught me that even if taste didn’t vary from person to person, the last person I’d trust to tell me about food would be the people whose profits hedge on whether or not you eat there. In short, leave the previews to players and game reviewers.

At least when those reviewers acknowledge that to be “story-driven” the minimum price of admission is, you know, having a story.

“1080p,” “4k” or “60 frames per second.” Graphical resolution is a lot like a garnish next to a high-priced meal. I expect it to be there, but it’s probably the least important thing on the plate.

So what’s wrong with having games with fluid animation and graphics so clear they make reality look like I just rubbed sand in my eyes? Well, nothing – at least not inherently. The bigger issue is that frames per second has become a bit of a lightning rod for gamer angst that more or less boils down to one number being bigger than another. That’s when you start to see angry forum denizens post things like, “Oh, sure. The demo clocked at 60fps but the benchmark tests looked closer to 56. And unless you play it on a native 900p, it looks like garbage.”

And I’m just sort of nodding along before asking, “But you still shoot at bad guys and they drop power-ups, right? Or…no?”

In short, I sort of gravitate between not really understanding the Sudoku-like jumble of numbers and not really caring. Because numbers.

And when it comes to 4k, it’s even worse. My TV doesn’t do that. Yet, it’s still too nice a TV for me to put on the curb and drop two grand just to make that set of numbers go higher. And unless I get the new, more special PS4, my games still won’t look better anyway. So when someone says a game plays at 60 frames per second in 4k resolution, I briefly consider the seventeen different things I’d need to upgrade to even notice (one of which being my own eyes) and then go home and admire the pile of $3200 I’m saving.

Oh, right. I had a kid. So…not so much.

“There are lots of collectibles to find!” I’m not sure when adding tedious work to games became acceptable. I’m even less sure of when it became a selling point.

Don’t get me wrong. I like finding secrets. In an excellent game, it can give you a few extra hours of enjoyment on something you’ve beaten in practically every way imaginable otherwise. And when it’s done organically and/or offers fun rewards, it can push those 40 hour games into 60+ hour territory while still leaving you wanting more.

But more often, it’s done in the most slapdash method available. They give you a list with a bunch of greyed-out words that you want to be white. No special character conversations when you find an object. No reward for completing the list. You’d essentially achieve the same sense of victory by turning up the brightness settings on your television.

“An expansive open world to explore.” Okay. Now I’ll preface this one by saying that it’s only a bad thing about half the time. But when it’s bad, it can transform your epic fantasy adventure into little more than a walking simulator.

skyrim-map
And I actually had to cut off one side of the map to make it fit.

“The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim” is an above average example of open world success. While it didn’t necessarily manage to make the people living there look like real people who actually exist in between your visits, the world map is insane. Sure. You can beat the main game in something like a few hours if you put on your blinders and go straight ahead. But if you feel like turning over every rock and investigating every run-down shack you come across, well, let’s just say that I never finished doing it. And I’m the obsessive type.

The trick to wide open spaces is putting lots of things in it – especially things totally unrelated to the main quest. Side quests, crafting nodes and teeny tiny Easter eggs can be found almost everywhere. It’s just a matter of picking a random direction and heading that way. Or even just pointing yourself at a random bookshelf, since all the books are actually readable.

Will it be your cup of skooma? Not necessarily. Some people don’t like to read. And once you’re outfitted in top-tier gear and there’s little chance of actually finding something worthwhile in a hidden chest, I realize it loses a bit of its allure. But that still leaves treasure hunts, finding the aftermaths of interesting events and entire villages tucked away just out of sight.

Blackreach, for example, was an entire subterranean country that I just happened upon that had nothing to do with the main story.

As far as bad examples, I won’t throw any games under the bus. But there are more than a few open world games with literally nothing of interest between towns. And while the scenery is sometimes pretty to look at for a while, even that gets boring when you realize there’s no reason to wander off the main roads to go in for a closer look.

Cough. “Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning.” Cough.

Okay. So I will throw one game under the bus here, which I hate doing, because I actually really enjoyed the game otherwise. It was fun to play and had very visually distinct and interesting places to walk through. But it didn’t take me long to realize that was largely the extent of it – walking through them. I mean, sure, you got attacked by random enemies. Though, saying that’s actually fun is a little like saying it was fun to move around in Pokemon caves because you ran out of repel and a Zubat is attacking you every three steps.

So…maybe I have a couple games to throw under the bus there.

I’m once again trending toward a column with no solid point at the end, but it is what it is. The gist is this, though. If your game is great, you’ll have more than enough honesty available to sell it. And if it’s lousy, I admittedly understand wanting to talk it up and, you know, actually make some money off the thing you’ve been working on for the past sixteen months.

If I had anything like a point to make here, though, I think it would be a warning to not stray too far from the truth – even when it’s not pretty. Unless it happens to be the last game you plan to make, keep in mind that gamers remember. And they aren’t often kind to liars who bilked them out of $60 when the sequels come out.

Which sort of makes me wonder how or if they’d try marketing “No Man’s Sky 2.”

An Excess of NX (Rumors)

Nintendo-NX

Assuming you’ve been online for at least the past fifteen minutes, you’ve probably seen the latest seven or eight leaks for the NX – Nintendo’s upcoming home console.

Okay. That’s an exaggeration. But only just.

Since the NX was first announced, there hasn’t been much official information available. And as almost anyone knows, in the absence of official word, a vacuum is filled by those willing to risk legal action by posting leaked pictures and product specs. Unfortunately, if all of these are to be taken as simultaneously true, then the NX is a seventeen-foot-tall cyborg Tyrannosaurus Rex with a built-in Blu-Ray player that plays flash cartridges by plugging them into its time-traveling water filter.

Of course, it’s just as likely that most (or all) of these supposed leaks aren’t real leaks at all. But (gasp) that would mean people are outright lying online just for the attention. And I’m simply not willing to accept such a bleak worldview.

Whatever the case, there’s no denying that with all these leaks and rumors, it’s gotten hard to keep track of everything. So I’ve done the legwork for you and gathered them all here. You’re welcome.

1) The NX will have the graphical power of a late-model Ford F-150.

2) The NX will wear band shirts for bands it’s never seen in concert. And it didn’t even buy the CDs. It just went on Pirate Bay. Ugh.

3) The NX’s favorite John Hughes movies will be “Maid in Manhattan.” Yeah. I looked it up when I heard the rumor. He seriously wrote that one.

4) The NX will prefer “going Dutch” on dates.

5) The NX will be vegan, but won’t be all in your face about it.

6) The NX will play so-called “video games” using “storage media” via some form of “controller peripheral.” Or so the rumors go. (Seeing Nintendo’s track record, this might be the rumor I’m least sure about.)

7) The NX will be filled with rich, creamy caramel.

8) The NX will be innovative while maintaining a classic feel. Whatever makes people buy it. Or maybe Nintendo will just print “We Made the Wii, Remember?” on all the boxes.

9) The NX’s grandfather is sort of racist. But it’s, like, that folksy racism. And you’re like, “Well, it’s not cool, but as long as he’s only around family it’s sort of funny. I mean, he grew up in a different time, right?”

10) However it pans out, the NX almost certainly won’t be the worst system Nintendo ever made. As long as it’s not the Wii 2 or X or some garbage like that. If that’s the case, God help us.

I realize that list sounds a bit negative and…it is. Look, I’m not what you’d call a fanboy of any system. So I’d be more than happy for Nintendo to make another smash hit like the Wii. But when I say “like the Wii” I don’t mean “literally, the Wii again but with a weird tablet.” Nor do I mean, “like the Wii, in that it relies entirely on some half-assed gimmick no one was asking for.”

So, rather than concluding with some grim assessment of the system’s future failure (like I did for the Wii U half a year before its release), I’ll just say, good luck. And I hope only the good rumors I’ve heard are true.

Basically, not the one where it’s portable and can be taken apart like a pizza so two people can play.