Population Growing: The Wonderful Legacy of Animal Crossing

One of Nintendo’s biggest and most popular franchises is also one of the hardest to explain why it is so beloved.  When people find out that I love video games and ask me what my favorite one is, my reply is “Animal Crossing” – and the response is usually one of bemusement and bewilderment.  People on the outside looking in don’t see what the big deal is.  Why do I love Animal Crossing so much?  What is it about this game that sets millions of people into a frenzy when a new installment is announced?  Well, get your bells ready and let’s take a closer look…

Humble Beginnings

Animal Crossing debuted in North America on the Nintendo GameCube console in the fall of 2002.  Nintendo has always had a reputation of being a “family friendly” (many read as “kiddie”) company – beginning with the controversial censorship of Mortal Kombat on the Super Nintendo, even though the subsequent installments had all the violence and blood that the game came with.  The GameCube itself was small like a lunch box and had a handle for crying out loud with little tiny mini-discs.  Kiddie? You couldn’t exactly argue against it.

A game like Animal Crossing is hard to market for, and when I saw the game in my local Electronics Boutique, I asked the cashier what it even was.  Her reply was “It’s hard to describe.  I’d say it’s like a Sims game but with animals.”

I love Sim games, and I love animals, so this sales pitch sounded just a home run.  The game came with a bonus memory card with a “gift” on it that you could use in-game.  After years of over-reliance on Mario and Zelda games, I was all excited to dive into a new Nintendo IP.  I was ready to be entertained – but at first, it was just the opposite.

Booting up the game started what felt like an inane game of Twenty Questions, as you are asked stuff like your name, if you were a boy or a girl, etc.  I wanted to play a game, not go through the most basic of game setups.  After this unwanted pop quiz, the first major character you run into when starting the game and getting the setup screens out of the way was a raccoon named Tom Nook.  Many longtime fans dislike poor old Tom, and with good reason – he is an unfriendly jerk and didn’t even really do a good job of explaining the game to players which was his entire function.  I did a lot of planting flowers, planting fruit and other mundane tasks, and about 20 minutes into the game, I was wondering where the fun was hiding.

But once you are freed from Tom Nook’s “tutorial”, the world of Animal Crossing begins to open up. The comparisons to the Sims became more evident as you are encouraged to expand and decorate your own house, meet neighbors and become social with them… your interactions with them will have a definite outcome on their lives, too.

Throwback Any Day

Every budding franchise debut needs a hook, and Animal Crossing’s hook was a doozy.  The player had the ability to find and play original NES games within your character’s house – games like Pinball, Donkey Kong, Excitebike, and hidden gems The Legend of Zelda and Super Mario Bros (both of which were never officially made available and need a cheat device to unlock).  This predated the Virtual Console on the Wii and Wii U (and hopefully the Nintendo Switch), it represented the first time in a major mainstream fashion that old classic games could be played, full-screen, on a then-current console was mind-blowing while collecting the games became a game within the game. NES games would not turn up in subsequent entries in the series, however.

Friendship Is Love

Beyond the retro hook, the one thing that kept me coming back to the game was the emphasis on community and building friendships.  Talking with your animal neighbors daily and doing small favors for them allow the player to establish relationships in the game that really feel like friendships.  Like in real life, you tend to open up to someone new at a bit-by-bit basis, and that is how it works in Animal Crossing.  Using the GameCube’s internal clock, the game is advertised that it “keeps playing even when you aren’t”, and that’s true.  Skip a couple days of playing and the game knows it – villagers will say the missed you, dreaded weeds will grow that you’ll need to pluck.  It is taken for granted now, but this really was pretty groundbreaking at the time, and the game would also change with the seasons and celebrate major holidays.  It pushed me to check in every day and I would actually feel guilty if I didn’t.

The game wasn’t quite like the Sims, but I knew at this point that I was experiencing something special.

World Traveler

The game’s sequels – Wild World for the Nintendo DS and City Folk for the Nintendo Wii – introduced online play to the franchise to great results.  Wild World also stripped out the NES games you could find and play, as well as the holiday celebrations, which was a very odd and saddening choice.  I initially thought having Animal Crossing on a tiny portable system was a really dumb idea – but this is one area I was happy to be wrong in… having a game that is tied to the internal clock makes perfect sense to be on a portable system.  I could check in on my town anywhere and not just at home during a dedicated gaming session on the couch.

Hopping online, you could visit a friend’s town, see their house, and talk to their villagers.   It may not seem like much, but this addition opened up (pun alert) a whole world of fun, and made me want my house to at its best for guests.  The villagers would even talk to you about people who have visited after they leave.

It’s the little things that make a difference.

The Wii game, City Folk, was very similar to Wild World, all the way down to the hourly music used… but added a small city area you could travel to and shop in.

Saturday Night Fever

Speaking of music, one of the best aspects of the franchise is its use of original music.  Each hour has a different theme, as do many holidays and special events.   I have an entire playlist of nothing but Animal Crossing music from the various games and it always brings a smile to my face.  Of course, I can’t talk about music without mentioning AC’s resident musician, K.K. Slider.  He appears every Saturday night in various places depending on the game, and he always delivers the hippest music to the people…or, rather, the animals.

Hail to the Chief

Arguably, the most recent mainline game in the franchise – Animal Crossing: New Leaf – on the Nintendo 3DS in 2013 (2012 in Japan) ushered in an era when it truly became a big time franchise for Nintendo.  It is proven to have boosted sales of the handheld and has gone on to sell over 9 million copies worldwide, and counting – which is not too shabby for a game that still confuses a lot of people.  New Leaf introduced a few new wrinkles that many fans have embraced: the ability to be Mayor and construct unique designs and extras in your town, thus taking overall customization to a whole new level.   But best of all was the introduction of Isabelle – your trusty and loyal secretary who is your town’s biggest cheerleader.

As much as I love the other games, I would have to pick New Leaf as being the best Animal Crossing to date.  In fact, it is not only my favorite Animal Crossing game but also my favorite game of all time overall.  Yes, I love it that much.

Nintendo seems to realize the popularity of the series as well.  2015 brought an immense amount of marketing to the franchise. amiibo cards (used with the 3DS spin-off Happy Home Designer) that invoke memories of Game Boy Advance eReader cards that were incorporated with Wild World, made its debut… and its own amiibo figure line began to roll out as well.   Mario Kart 8 (and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe) has a beautifully designed race track based in the Animal Crossing universe.

Not everything has been a hit, however.  The aforementioned spin-offs, Happy Home Designer and (especially) amiibo Festival, were poorly received and had low sales.  And speaking of low sales, the amiibo cards had brisk sales at the beginning, but the actual amiibo figure line struggled – partially due to being associated with such a bad game – and many can be had for as low as $2 new on clearance.  Animal Crossing ran the risk of overexposure because Nintendo, rather than give us a new game, decided to make the curious move and develop a couple of spin-offs that no one wanted.  In an effort to possibly make it up to angry fans, an update to New Leaf was issued in 2016 that added amiibo support and a number of new features.

And even with all of that, I’m still anxiously anticipating the next full entry on the Nintendo Switch with baited breath.

Population: Growing 

Animal Crossing (along with Pikmin) was, up until Splatoon in 2015, the last big original Nintendo IP that took off and became a huge success.  I think it is more than worthy to sit alongside legendary franchises like Mario, Zelda and Pokémon.   Its fan base continues to grow with each new game.  It is often one of the most requested titles for any new Nintendo console launch – as evidenced by the number of disappointed people when an Animal Crossing announcement for the Nintendo Switch was not realized at E3 2017.   I have spent more time than I care to admit playing various games the series and I still can’t fully explain what it is to friends when they ask.  But I am okay with that… all of its charm, quirks, and addictiveness – it’s part of what makes Animal Crossing so warmly unique.

Are you an Animal Crossing fan?  What is it about the series that has made you a fan?

 

Eric “Flapjack” Ashley has been a Nintendo fan for almost his entire life!  While he also has a special place in his heart for Sega, it is Nintendo that gets him worked up and the franchises that capture his imagination and wonder.   Eric is hopelessly in love with Animal Crossing.  When he is not playing video games, he is a social media guru, assisting numerous organizations with their outreach and promotions, and he is also a big horror movie buff.   Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @flapjackashley.

The Nintendo Experience: Pantendo Fighting Masterpieces

Though it’s E3 weekend, and so much is happening, I would like to turn focus to just one of Nintendo’s events: The ARMS Open Invitational. The Big N is getting into the spirit of the season by throwing a tournament for their upcoming title ARMS. Summer fighting game tournaments are nothing new, and since we’re about a month away from EVO 2017 (the biggest, grandest fighting game tournament of the year), I found it appropriate to celebrate all of the riot time festivities by inducting some of the best Pantendo (appearing on Nintendo consoles, including first, second, and third party) fighting games into the Nintendo Experience.

We’ll kick off with an old classic: Soul Calibur II for GameCube. Soul Calibur is a series of 3D fighting games that center around weapons-based combat as opposed to hand-to-hand. If you are familiar with the franchise, you know that they’re usually multi-platform and each platform has its own exclusive character(s). For the second offering, the Playstation 2 version contained Heihachi from the Tekken series, and the Xbox version had the Spawn comic book character. Fortunately, Nintendo fans got the best deal, and Link from the Legend of Zelda series was playable. For that appearance alone this game is worth playing.

The game was a solid fighter and was an arcade classic; perfect for both friendly and serious play. With the exception of Soul Calibur Legends for Wii (of which I had not heard until researching this blog, and is not even a fighting game), this was the only one of the series that made it to a Nintendo console. I suggest you hunt down this old gem and give it a shot.

Next up is a game that should not be foreign to anyone reading this blog: Super Smash Bros. Melee. Whether you prefer this specific version or not (it is not my personal favorite), you cannot deny its impact on Nintendo and Fighting Game Community (FGC) culture.

Official box art

Melee was released in 2001, and has remained relevant since, having what is possibly the longest, most-permeating tournament longevity of any fighting game ever. People continue to play competitively to this day, and it has found its way into the EVO tournament lineup six times (counting this year’s upcoming tournament) and has churned out record-breaking turnouts. Melee is the fighting powerhouse you cannot ignore.

Lastly, I would like to discuss a pushed-aside Wii gem known as Tatsunoko Vs. Capcom: Ultimate All-Stars.

The saga of TvC is an interesting, but sad tale. The original version of the game, Tatsunoko Vs. Capcom: Cross Generation of Heroes, saw some of Capcom’s best-known brawlers facing off against characters from popular Japanese anime studio Tatsunoko (probably best-known in the states for Karas and Samurai Pizza Cats). Since many of Tatsunoko’s characters were unfamiliar to the rest of the world, the game was only released in Japan and the Wii featured region lock, the rest of the world was missing out on a fighting game produced by the community’s best developer. The outcry was so great that Capcom not only decided to relent and release world-wide a year later, but to polish the game up and add new characters. Fighters who owned a Wii were overjoyed, but therein lie the crux. Many people who were serious about fighting games (especially Capcom fighters) had already found satisfaction in one of the other consoles (PS3 or Xbox 360) with Street Fighter IV, and with the announcement of Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 (for which TvC seemed a test run) for those consoles, there was little incentive to invest in this game. It soon faded into obscurity after reaching the EVO stage once in 2010.

All of this is a shame, because the game is not only technically challenging, but also one of the most balanced fighters ever made. If you scour the internet for TvC tier lists, you will find a few opinions. Almost all of them will rank the giants (Gold Lightan and PTX-40A) as dead last, or at least bottom tier. They’re a huge target, slow, and you do not get a partner to help you out. But if you look at the top eight finishers in the EVO tournament, you will see three of them used giants in their run to the top. In fact, you will see a lot of variety, which is not common in a lot of fighting games. You usually see a few characters over and over again because those characters have a natural advantage over the rest of the cast. TvC was one balanced mamma-jamma, and I love returning to it whenever I can.

… Can I get a chant? (Sequel! Sequel! Sequel! Sequel…)

That is all for this special fighting game edition of the Nintendo Experience. Pick these classics up and go the distance.

Red Steel 2 | That Was a Thing

Howdy, crew! Welcome back to That Was a Thing, where I take a look at strange and obscure pantendo games and paraphernalia!

The Wii: when it’s key feature, motion control, was first revealed, the first two uses that went through everyone’s mind were sword and gun. Not missing a beat for once, game developers were quick to cater to the public’s sociopathic expectations. Many of the Wii’s early titles utilized the Wiimote’s pointer to aim projectile weapons and its motion detection to swing melee weapons, and the results were undeniably mixed. One such game was Ubisoft’s Red Steel.

The game was fairly standard fair: girlfriend kidnapped by yakuza, go to Japan and shoot them, yada, yada, yada. What separated it from other first-person shooters was its motion-controlled swordplay. At various points in the game, the hero would have to fight in one-on-one katana duels. Long story short, it just didn’t work. Unfortunately, the Wiimote’s I.R. sensor and accelerometer simply weren’t enough to emulate the one-to-one precision players expected.

Which is why Nintendo invented the Wii MotionPlus! And this is where Red Steel 2 comes in. When Ubisoft saw the gyroscope add-on, they knew they had everything they needed to set things right. I seem to recall a lot of hype surrounding this game before it came out; retailers even offered preorder bonuses. I first heard about the game from the now defunct Nintendo Power magazine, and was immediately intrigued. This game was dripping with style and—just as important—it didn’t have anything to do with the first game, so I could jump in without missing anything. However, I wouldn’t get around to playing it until I got an extended trial of the late Blockbuster Video’s online rental service, and decided it was time I a gave it a shot.

Nu-Western Post-Cyberpunk Japanimé

Let’s start at the beginning. The game opens with our hero waking up on the outskirts of town. As he slowly comes to, he notices his hands are tied. Tracing the rope, he quickly realizes he’s not just tied up, he’s tied to the back of one of his assailant’s motorcycles. Just woke up, and this day’s already turning out to be a drag.

And this is how we’re introduced to the game: a gloriously over-the-top, first-person cutscene in which the hero is dragged into town, crashes the bike, and dusts himself off like he does this every day. While it admittedly takes a few minutes to get to gameplay, this intro nails the tone of the game and what players can expect right off the bat! You’re the toughest, badest son of a gun on the planet and you can bet your stetson every pinhead fool-enough to take a shot at you is going to make you prove it!

The intro nails the tone of the game and what players can expect right off the bat!

In fact, I’d say this game runs on distilled, unadulterated cool, and not in a “trying too hard” kind of way either. Even when parts of it seem hokey—or downright silly—the game presents its set-pieces with such confidence and commitment that the player really has no choice but to just go with it. While other games try to convince you they’re awesome, Red Steel 2 just leans in close, stares you right in the eye, and in a low, gravelly voice tells you it’s awesome.

On that note, let’s take a moment to talk about this game’s aesthetics. This game is a chocolate-and-peanutbutter-esque mashup of the wild west and samurai flicks, with the occasional dusting of cyberpunk. The game takes place some unspecified amount of time in the future in a dystopian Nevada. The environments you explore are a strange blend of old-west, feudal Japan, and run-down, futuristic towns. It’s not at all uncommon to see Cracker Barrel-esque country stores with tanukis on their signs right next to radio towers and hovering attack drones. Moreover, the plethora of destructible crates, trash bags, boxes, and barrels gives the environments a cluttered, grungy feel that reinforces the gritty tone of the game.

This is what all men aspire to.
Just look at this guy! He’s Clint Eastwood mixed with Miyamoto Musashi left to marinade in anime overnight!

The game makes use of a heavily stylized visual design. While the Japanese influences on the plot and setting may lead some to call it anime-inspired at first glance, it really has more in common with comic books: bold lines, fairly realistic body proportions, and a deliberate visual roughness that complements the game’s visceral combat and tale of ambition and revenge. As to be expected with a western, the color palette includes a lot of earthy tones: browns, oranges, and sandy yellows. Fortunately, Red Steel 2 manages to avoid the pitfall of making all of its environments dingy brown, with several areas including—if not primarily consisting of—cool blues, grays, and greens. Clearly, the art team put a lot thought into making each area visually distinct from one another, as every stage either has a unique theme or makes use of color to distinguish itself. That said, all the themes are variations of cowboy, samurai, or industrial, so while each level is aesthetically distinct from one another, the constraints of the game’s themes do start to wear thin toward its conclusion.

Clearly, the art team put a lot thought into making each area visually distinct from one another.

While we’re on the topic of environments, one of my biggest complaints with the game’s visuals is that some of them don’t age very well. Between the murky textures and low-res models, a lot of the environments in this game don’t look very good close up. Fortunately, you’ll probably be too busy hacking-up dudes (who themselves look fine) or searching for loot to pay too much attention to such things.

Cutscenes are another weak point. To be fair, most cutscenes in this game are okay, but the ones that trigger when talking to one of the hero’s allies are just painful. These usually consist of a stationary camera shot with one lone character pacing back and forth while talking. And it is so boring. In the end, while I love the visual design, I suspect the artists weren’t given enough time or resources to fully realize it.

So what exactly is the story? You play as the last surviving member of the Kusagari clan, an outcast banished by the elders for…well, the game never actually says. There was a short “animated comic” online that serves as a prequel to the events of the game. You can still find it, but I wouldn’t bother, it’ll just leave you even more confused. The only revelation I got from it is that the hero is wearing a blue shirt under his signature duster.

Confusing backstories aside, the story really isn’t that complicated. First, you get your sword back from a gang leader, then you find out the real villain wants to make more swords like yours because it has special qualities. Along the way, you compile a cadre of companions. Truth be told, they’re exactly who you’d expect to find in this sort of game: the sword smith/kenjutsu sensei; the old, stubborn sheriff; the hacker girl; and the guy who’s going to double-cross you. The plot’s pretty cookie-cutter when you look at it separate from the game’s unique setting, but I’d argue that’s not really the point; this is an action game. So how is the action?

Hack and Shoot

Red Steel 2 is a first-person action game. I say “action game” instead of shooter because, well, this isn’t really a first-person shooter. Sure, you play from a first-person perspective and you shoot things, but once you get a sword, the guns take a backseat. No, at its core Red Steel 2 is a brawler with some F.P.S. trappings.

At it’s core Red Steel 2 is a brawler with some F.P.S. trappings.

During combat, players can freely switch between swinging a sword and shooting thugs with one of four guns. As to be expected, swinging the sword is accomplished by swinging the Wiimote and guns are fire using the B-trigger. Sword slashes are individual attacks in a specific direction instead of 100% one-to-one movements, making each swing a discrete action, much like a button press. While it may sound like a cop-out, this system actually works really well: this system discourages flailing and instead encourages you to make deliberate, decisive strikes, which ultimately gives each hit you land more impact.

Answer: None. Rush the kneeling man with your sword.
This game is full of tough choices, like, “who do I shoot first?”

This game also showers you special abilities. Each one has its purpose, and figuring out how to combine them seamlessly is immensely satisfying. It also helps that most of them are very easy to perform. All special abilities are simply one swing direction and button combination, and because of the aforementioned motion registering method, the game has very little difficulty figuring out what it is you want to do.

Gun fighting isn’t nearly as intricate. Simply point and pull the trigger. That’s not to say it isn’t fun; getting to smoothly switch between the two fighting styles is a blast. It gets even better once you start unlocking special attacks for your firearms and—of course—more guns. You start with just a revolver, but eventually get a sawed-off shotgun, a Tommy-gun, and finally a rifle. Of all the guns, the only one I don’t really like is the rifle: by the time you get it, it just doesn’t feel necessary. That’s not to say I never found a use for it, just that it doesn’t really stand-out.

Not pictured: the prorder weapons. Fun fact: you can find the codes to unlock them online.
Say hello to your new best friends.

Fighting is the most fun when you manage to get into a rhythm. Most fights aren’t terribly difficult, so the fun comes from trying to establish a sense of flow. Fights just look awesome in this game, with animations carrying a great sense of impact and frequent visual effects, like slow-motion, punctuating dodges, parries, and finishing blows. This means that once you get that flow, the fights almost look choreographed, especially if you make a conscious effort to make use of your diverse moveset. All of this is enhanced by the game’s first-person view. Because you experience gameplay entirely through the hero’s heterochromatic eyes, you never get to see what exactly it is the hero’s doing, letting your imagination run wild filling in the blanks.

But visceral acts of violence are only what you’ll be doing about half of the time. A good deal of the game is quietly exploring the levels looking for fights, money, or optional objectives. And I have to say, these quiet moments are what give this game its phenomenal pacing. Much like in Metroid Prime, F.E.A.R., or Half-Life, these exploration segments help to break up the action and give the player some breathing room, not to mention a chance to wind down between battles. These brief interludes never feel out of place, however.  Walking the abandoned streets creates a rising sense of tension which makes you anticipate the next fight all the more, especially since your opponents tend to come out of nowhere.

Walking the abandoned streets creates a rising sense of tension which makes you anticipate the next fight all the more.

An odd quirk of these exploration segments is the occasional motion-based prompt. Every now and then, you’ll come across a combination safe or a dial that you’ll have to turn with the Wii remote. It’s never very challenging as you either need to tilt the remote at the appropriate angle and hold it there, in the case of dials, or press the A button to activate the tumblers, in the case of the safe. While it seemed perfectly natural when the Wii and the MotionPlus were still fairly recent, nowadays I can’t help but think it dates the game. Not necessarily in a bad way, mind you, but it certainly screams “Wii.”

Then there’s the upgrades, and—oh golly—are there a lot of them! You can upgrade your sword, your special abilities, your guns, the ammo for your guns, your coat, and even your hat! This is where money comes into play. You’ll come across a lot of cash, be it from completing missions, using special attacks to finish foes, finding secret collectibles, or just plain lying around. I can only assume part of what makes dystopian Nevada dystopian is inflation, ’cause you’ll find money flipping everywhere. And even then you’ll still have to go out of your way to get all of the upgrades available to you. Honestly, while I appreciate the effort, I can’t help but think the dev-team went a little overboard. While not being able to get everything in one run does encourage thinking about how you upgrade the Last Kusagari, it can be frustrating to obsessive types like myself, as this game doesn’t feature a “new game plus” option. Then again, maybe it’s for the best. Since enemies aren’t that strong to begin with, upgrading your weapons means they go down even quicker, thus revealing the tragic irony of this game: one-shotting an opponent is the ultimate buzzkill.

Riding into the Sunset

Red Steel 2 is a rip-roaring good time. From it’s sense of style to its fluid gameplay, the game knows what it wants to be. I think it succeeds partially because it’s so focused on nailing the core concept. That said, it is a bit of a one-trick pony. If you don’t like old-school, run-and-gun shooters or hack-and-slash games, then there is absolutely nothing here for you. It’s a great trick, and it doesn’t outstay its welcome, but the whole game is the same basic exploration and combat loop all throughout. It’s also not without some flaws. Aside from the ones I’ve already mentioned, the ending is pretty weak, the “challenge mode” is just a mission select with a tacked on scoring system, and there’s no post-game content or completion bonuses to add replay value. But I guess that—aside from the ending—all of those complaints just reinforce the notion that this game is about doing one thing and doing it well. This is—in my opinion—one of the best action games on the Wii and an excellent exhibition of what the system’s motion controls could do to enhance gameplay.

Here’s hoping there’ll be a Red Steel 3 on the Switch!

Breath of the Wild Nostalgia

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a special game. Is it perfect? Not quite. But in my humble opinion, it’s pretty close. Throughout the 100+ hours I have dedicated to Breath of the Wild, I slowly felt more empowered, more confident, and more ambitious. Finally feeling strong enough to storm the castle gate pumped up the adrenaline inside of me. Not to mention, most of the game I felt as though I was running and gliding through a Bob Ross painting. However, rather than writing a full review on this game, I thought I’d highlight something that just stood out to me. That is, all of the intricate references to past Zelda games.

Beauty is Everywhere

Wherever, you look, whether you know it or not, you are probably seeing an homage to a past Zelda game. Every other landmark is named after a past character or location, although a letter might be missing or displaced in the name. I felt an unusual sense of happiness when I discovered Tingle Island, even though Tingle was nowhere to be found. I find it crazy that just a name can invoke such a feeling of nostalgia even if the landmark itself does not. There are also specific regions in the map that primarily focus on one game. I found a Phantom Hourglass Area, Twilight Princess themed area, even a Wand of Gamelon area.
Kidding on that last one.

There were many times when I encountered a landmark that tugged on the nostalgia strings. For instance, I was riding on my horse, Lacey (named after my real-life cat), and while I heard the subtle melody of the main Legend of Zelda theme, I stumbled upon Ranch Ruins. I couldn’t believe the condition of this place, and then it hit me that it was a dystopian Lon Lon Ranch. After I disposed of the Guardian that called it home, I took Lacey for a spin around the track and actually started getting emotional as I recalled memories of playing Ocarina of Time and pictured Malon Singing Epona’s Song in the center of the ranch. Another time this hit me was when I discovered Eventide Island (by far my favorite area in the game) and felt as helpless as getting washed ashore in Link’s Awakening. Yet another favorite of mine was discovering the Master Sword. This took me back to a Link to the Past thanks to three blue nightshades in the background.

This game doesn’t forget about its roots, either. It was really nice to see the old man at the very beginning of the game, the only difference being instead of going into the cave to visit him, you go out of the cave. Maybe there is a deep meaning behind that? I’m not entirely sure, but when Link does leave the cave for the first time and overlooks the Dueling Peaks, I was instantly reminded of the artwork from the original game. The Master Sword shooting projectiles when Link has full health is also a nice touch.

Though these references may be a nightmare for people who are keen on placing this game somewhere in the franchise timeline, I view it as essentially a conglomerate of pinnacle moments in the series. For me, this aspect of the game is delicious icing on an already incredibly built cake. This is a special game not only because of its top-notch design, but because it doesn’t forget about how it came to be in the first place.

Nintendo’s New Approach to New IPs

Over the years, Nintendo’s franchises have continued to grow, but many old games (F-Zero, Ice Climbers) may not see a new entry, and a few games (Code Name: S.T.E.A.M., Captain Rainbow) will likely never get a single sequel. There are a couple new strategies they’ve started using that are really elevating the new IPs right out of the gate.

Free Content

They don’t even call it DLC because it’s not optional. Updating new games instead of asking people to spend extra money on something new and unknown is such a smart move. You can purchase a game at launch knowing you’re getting the full experience… over time. There were a few things that should have been in Splatoon at launch (TEAMS!), but the map and weapon additions every Friday after the game came out that continued for months kept me going back. There’s no way I would have bought all the content in that game (as I tend to like certain weapon types), but giving them to me for free convinces me to try them out and dig deeper into the game. They’ve already confirmed that new fighters, stages, and arms will be available in ARMS following launch, so I know I’ll be throwing punches for a while.

Free content = Ongoing happiness

Tournaments

Splatoon was featured as part of the Nintendo World Championship and now both ARMS and Splatoon 2 have tournaments at E3 2017. This builds so much hype around their games and shows off the competitive side as well. Looking from the outside, ARMS and Splatoon appear to be casual games, and can totally be played as such, but for the gamers that want a deep and challenging experience, there’s no better way to show it off than on a big flashy stage.

Nintendo Directs

Having a Nintendo Direct specifically dedicated to a game has done WONDERS for Nintendo. For the day(s) from announcing the direct until the actual stream, I see Nintendo fans going wild with rumors and speculation of what the Big N has up their sleeve. Showing off new stages and modes plus announcing new characters in ARMS has reignited a spark for that game in a lot of people (myself included). There have been a ton of posts on social media about which fighter is someone’s favorite and planning which arm combos they’ll use with said character.

The possibility of more Reggie is never a bad thing.

Global Tests

Both Splatoons have had a Global Testfire and with ARMS set to have a Global Testpunch this weekend and the following weekend, it’s bound to get even more people interested and talking about the game. While it would be nice to have longer increments to check the game out, I think it’s smart to give people a taste with set times to play. It whets your appetite for the game just enough to sell it to you and makes you want to play the title right at launch to get back into it.

Here’s hoping to the success of ARMS and Splatoon 2. With all the hype that continues to build around them, I don’t see them going anywhere in the near future… but only time will tell.

Thoughts after Making 500 Daily YouTube Videos

Tuesday, May 2nd was the day that Two Button Crew uploaded its 500th episode.

This monumental milestone dwarfs everything that has come and gone before! It’s hard to believe that we’ve made a show every weekday for the last 500 weekdays. Just amazing.

Simeon and I (Scott) are almost two years older than when we started, and we’ve grown from a team of 2 to a team of 7 (don’t worry if you can’t name everybody – we’ll introduce them properly soon).

The show has stayed largely the same, although the set has changed, we’ve witnessed the launch of a new Nintendo console, and we’ve changed day jobs.

Oh, and YouTube has changed a dozen times or so.

Here, I’m going to take a few moments and share the things I’ve learned over the last 500 episodes:

You Can Attract the Right Viewers and Build A Community

TBC doesn’t have a huge following, but the quality of our viewers is astounding. There are all kind of stigmas about YouTube comment sections, but none of them apply to our viewers. By avoiding growth shortcuts, follow-for-follow techniques, and by engaging with Nintendo fans, we’ve collected a tight-knit group of like-minded Nintendo fans. Our patience has paid off! We wouldn’t change the connections we’ve made for a big number of mysterious subscribers.

You Can Help People By Providing Entertainment

Our daily show is a mixture of information, entertainment, gameplay, competitions, and the like. But the source material is consistently one thing: video games. Sometimes it’s tempting to feel like all the time we pour into this effort is frivolous compared to more altruistic endeavors, but we’ve found something surprising along the way: we have helped people. Our viewers have chaotic and sometimes difficult lives, and our channel has proved to be a safe-haven of positivity for them. We love making consistent, top-quality content that you can count on, no matter what’s going on in real life.

You Have to Serve Others to Succeed

There are no benefits for creators to reap without helping others. At first, becoming a YouTuber seems like a pretty grand gig. Make content, people will watch, numbers will go up, and you’ll gain credibility and perks in the industry. Right?

No.

Those motives aren’t sustainable. Attach your motivation to helping your audience, and then you can wake up every day, put others before yourself, and make something truly great while improving others’ lives.

You Have to Be Ready to Adapt

YouTube changes the rules constantly, tinkering with their algorithms to keep viewers engaged and to increase their own revenue. Sometimes these changes are in the favor of creators, and other times they’re not. It’s important that we don’t rely on YouTube too much, but that we diversify our sources of support.

Persistence Pays Off

Things that we have invested in for years are just now starting to pay off. It’s all about the long game. I’ll look back on this post another 500 episodes from now and smile at how things have changed.

Here’s to 500 more!

1-2-Switch: Why It’s #1… and #2!

1-2-Switch, to say it gently, had mixed reactions after its release. We’re going to start this article by analyzing why there seems to be people giving it positive reviews, and many critics bashing it. Once we’re finished looking at that, this article will rank the 1-2-Switch games from best to worst, and sort them into three categories!

To me the issue is simple. It all comes down to audience. League of Legends is a wildly popular strategy game that has taken the world of gaming captive. I’ve tried it, and it’s not my cup of tea. 1-2-Switch is judged harshly because it is being judged by gamers. If you were expecting 1-2-Switch to be a gamer’s game, or even on the level of Mario Party, you are sadly mistaken. From its reveal its intention was clear; don’t look at the screen. With a goal like that, you immediately understand that it’s not aiming to be a video gamer’s game.

This game is PERFECT for any sort of gathering. It is more accessible to everyone than Wii Sports was. It is instantly “get-able”, and most mini-games can be jumped into without any explanation. I have yet to find a non-gamer that did not find it to be a blast.

All these things about audience being said, that does not mean that this game is completely without flaw. There is enough here to keep the crowd entertained for some time, but some experiences were clearly missteps. I believe that all of the 1-2-Switch mini games fall into one of 3 categories: 1) enjoyable games, 2) games, at least, 3) unplayable messes. We’ll start with the best and work our way down to the worst.

Good Mini-Games:

  • 1. Fake Draw: This is the genius of the Switch all in one mini-game. It’s a super simple premise with a little extra strategy added. You need a quick wrist and a trained ear, and it’s perfect to test reaction times.
  • 2. Quick Draw: Surprised to see this next? Don’t be! It’s just a simpler version of Fake Draw that’s 100% about speed. This is the game that everyone should start out with. It’s exciting, and it’s the one to which everyone wants to have a go.
  • 3. Ball Counting: This game by itself made me believe in HD rumble. It may not be the most exciting game, but it requires patience and a gentle hand. Seriously, it makes me believe there are marbles in the Joy-Con.
  • 4. Sword Fight: Sword fighting on Wii Sports Resort was fun, but usually turned into a waggle-fest. The motion sensors in the Joy-Cons are much more accurate, and this combat game is the best of them.
  • 5. Plate Spin: It doesn’t sound like a very exciting game, but your goal is to keep your plate spinning while you knock off your opponent’s. Very entertaining. I only wish I could find more people to play with me…
  • 6. Safe Crack: Another game that does the HD rumble really well, Safe Crack requires precision. The right rumbles become more difficult to detect as the game goes on, making it quite the challenge.
  • 7. Wizard: Is this one cheesy? Yes, yes it is. But it is fun, and requires strategy.
  • 8. Gorilla: I like this mini-game, but few others are in my camp, so I rarely get to show off my apely prowess.
  • 9. Treasure Chest: Once again, a simple premise, but shows off the motion controls of the Joy-Con well.
  • 10. Shave: This one is fun to play and entertaining to watch especially if they throw you the buzz cut challenge!
  • 11. Copy Dance: Give the Joy-Cons to the goofiest and most flexible people in the room for this one. Trust me, it’s hilarious.
  • 12. Air Guitar: This one definitely had to be made, and it is fun to play. Most of the times I’ve played this game the Joy-Con seemed to track the beat well and not reward waggling, but in more recent play sessions, it seemed like the biggest waggler won… Try it a few times for yourself.

Well, They’re Games…:

Now we take a step down from the good into the… meh.

  • 13. Milk: Yes, it looks ridiculous, but people enjoy laughing at each other. It’s inevitable that this mini-game will continue to be a staple and will be immediately associated with 1-2-Switch till the end of time.

  • 14. Boxing Gym: Requires quick reflexes, but I’m not really certain how well it reads the different punches.

  • 15. Baseball: The presentation on this one is nice. It’s like Wii Sports Baseball, but without looking silly, and you use your ears as opposed to your eyes. It’s all about reading your opponent.

  • 16. Zen: Not moving as a game… I think the premise works, but it’s not exactly a rip-roaring time.

  • 17. Eating Contest: It’s fun to watch people play, but can be really frustrating if you are playing and it does not read your movements. On Nintendo’s behalf I did try putting the camera in front of my hand and puppeting mouth movements and it didn’t work at all, so the camera CAN tell the difference between my mouth and my fingers.

  • 18. Dance Off: It’s a good premise, but copy dance is more entertaining.

  • 19. Samurai Training: Maybe it is just because I am a sore loser, but I do not really care for this game.

  • 20. Beach Flag:  Beach Flag is kind of a waggle-fest that wears you out. I enjoy it, but I haven’t found one other person who does.

  • 21. Runway: Once again, humorous to watch, and it requires technique! I brought 1-2-Switch to school for my students to play one day. One of the boys won EVERY time because he had the hip sway portion absolutely pinpoint perfect.

  • 22. Signal Flag: JUST making the cut as an actual game, this one is about concentration and not plunging a pencil into your ear at how annoying the voices are.

Broken Head-Shakers:

The Switch acting as a mirror of the person playing this mini-game.

None of these are playable. Turn back now.

  • 23. Telephone: Pick up the controller when you hear a certain sound. That’s it. Also, be careful when you do. It is easy to drop the Joy-Cons.

  • 24. Soda Shake: I understand the premise of this game, but apparently, the developers didn’t. The demonstrational video doesn’t explain it at all! When the last guy loses, they all rejoice, including him! I guess they’re just excited to have whatever’s in that bottle… and to be done with this non-game.

  • 25. Table Tennis: Good idea, poor execution. You’re always going to be missing the timing. The Wii Play version was better. And yes, I meant that.

  • 26. Sneaky Dice: This game is so complicated that I had to explain it to anyone I played with after the instructional video, and they still didn’t understand. Flip a coin. You’ll have more fun that way.

  • 27. Joy-Con Rotation: THE most frustrating thing. You play on a table, someone will bump it. You play on the floor, it had better be hardwood and no one should be moving. Like, at all. Even after that, it will give you hypertension, then make you question your life decisions. My recommendation is to dupe two friends into playing it, then standing behind them saying, “Careful, Spongebob. CAREFUL, SPONGEBOB!” and laugh hysterically after they impale your eye with the Joy-Con because it was worth it.

  • 28. Baby: Why? Why did they think this was a good idea. Better yet, what audience were they going for? For people who don’t have kids, is it supposed to be a method of birth control? For people who have had kids, why would they want to relive the most annoying part about having a baby? It’s baffling that anyone thought this would be enjoyable for any audience. Why? WHY!?!?

All in all, there are more good games than bad in this collection, and I think it is the new must-have for any party or large get-together. It showcases what the Joy-Cons can do so well, and for that reason, it is the next necessity in the Nintendo Experience as well.

A Wii and a Van

The Wii was an awesome console. I admit that I was skeptical at first, but as with the DS, I eventually grew to love it and its amazing library. What made it even better, however, was the inclusion of the Virtual Console service, which let me revisit old favorites and experience classics I had missed out on the first time around. There was just one problem: it required a broadband internet connection.

I received my Wii shortly after moving to rural Oklahoma. Just so some of you don’t get the wrong idea about the OK great state of Oklahoma, high-speed internet is fairly common in towns, even back in 2006. That said, my family decided to move into a house about ten to twelve miles outside of town, which was out of the range of service of every broadband I.S.P. in the region. Heck, until just a couple of years ago, my folks were still on dial-up!

This made purchasing Virtual Console games an absolute pain. I would have to disconnect my Wii, place it in a bag, and (assuming my destination didn’t already have a TV I could use) lug a television with me, then haul everything somewhere I was allowed to use the WiFi or hook up a L.A.N. adapter, make my purchase, and then reverse the whole process when it was time to leave. Bear in mind this was back in 2006-2007 when flat-screen TVs weren’t ubiquitous, which is to say all I had access to was a bulky C.R.T. TV.

And yes, I actually did do this.

I didn’t like doing it this way: it was exhausting and tedious. Fortunately, I come from a long line of engineers, so coming up with creative solutions to difficult problems comes naturally for me. When my family got a new Dodge Caravan with a built-in DVD player and screen, I saw an opportunity to optimize.

The mini-van had standard component cable ports, so getting the Wii to interface with the screen wasn’t a problem. What was a problem, however, was powering the Wii. Most automobiles don’t have standard two-pronged AC power-outlets, which meant I had to find an apparatus to let me plug my Wii into the car’s 12-volt socket. After a little trouble finding the right keywords to get Amazon’s search algorithm to cooperate, I managed to get one for a decent price.

Now that I had all of the hardware, all I needed was a WiFi connection. Fortunately, E.C.U., the local university, has free campus-wide WiFi; even better, it isn’t password protected. All I had to do was drive the family van into town—usually late in the afternoon or evening once all of the parking spaces had opened up—boot up the Wii, connect it to the university’s WiFi, and download the game I wanted.

Sadly, by the time I formulated this plan and had everything I needed, the Wii’s life cycle was about halfway through, and I had bought most of games I really wanted. Come to think of it, the only games I bought this way were Super Street Fighter II and Secret of Mana.

Regardless, my adventures in wardriving make for a good story and fond memories.

The Nintendo Strategy – Does it Work?

Every single year I find myself wondering, speculating, and analyzing what Nintendo is going to release next. I’m about 0 for 300 in predictions. Two Button Crew recently posted something on Facebook that made me laugh, but also made me wonder why Nintendo operates the way they do. What I mean by that is they never do what anyone is expecting. They are probably the most unpredictable company I have ever known. Yet, they are probably the company I have given the most money to. What is the driving force (from a business perspective) behind Nintendo’s decisions and how they market them?

 

 

The biggest thing I can think of is innovation. To be innovative, a company has to be different. Nintendo cannot reform the gaming industry by following the same old formula. Unfortunately, this also means that some fans are going to be let down because Nintendo tends to take what they love and either leave it in the dust, or change it just enough so it doesn’t feel old. An example of this for me is Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door. I loved that game. I would love nothing more than a true sequel. Since that game came out, we’ve gotten Super Paper Mario, Paper Mario: Sticker Star, and Paper Mario: Color Splash. Each subsequent game I just mentioned gets closer and closer to the formula that makes The Thousand Year Door, but none of those games kept my interest because of changes made by developers to keep the games “fresh”. Not all changes are bad though (I’m looking at you, Breath of the Wild). When Nintendo takes change and gets it right, that is when nothing else in the industry can come close. And it’s not just about software, the same applies to hardware. The Wii essentially revolutionized gaming, and the Switch so far is a success story as well. Nintendo is basically the cleanup hitter in the lineup. They hit more home runs than anyone, and they can hit them farther. Unfortunately, that also means they are likely going to strike out more than anyone.

The other thing that Nintendo doesn’t really seem to care about is competition. They are 100% independent when it comes to the decisions their competitors make. This is a very ambitious move, but not one that comes without risk. A company as large and with as big of a fan base as Nintendo can get away with this. They don’t have to keep making the same old games and systems because they don’t care about disrupting the status quo in the industry. People expect a new Gears of War game that does not stray far from the formula, because that is what Microsoft is good at making (I’m not saying it’s a bad series). There is very little risk for Microsoft here, because they can look at past sales, and without straying from the formula within the game, they can predict and model how profitable the game will be. My intent is not to start a console war, but in my opinion, no other competitor innovates like Nintendo. This is simply because other companies do not want to partake in the risk Nintendo takes on when they test the waters of the market.

 

 

I’ll always love Nintendo, and there are times when I’ll hate them. It’s just the way Nintendo works, and it will not change anytime soon because it’s how they operate. Innovation is what all companies should strive for, but Nintendo takes it to a whole different level.  It’s a business model that would drive most companies into bankruptcy sooner than you can say “Mario Kart”. Innovation is something that does come with a cost, but one thing I can be confident in is that Nintendo will be innovating the industry and making my favorite games and consoles for years to come.

How Should Nintendo Follow Up Breath of the Wild?

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has been out for a month and a half now and I still haven’t beaten it. That’s because after 70 hours I’m intentionally not finishing it quite yet as I don’t want this amazing experience to end. Even now, before experiencing the end-game, I have to wonder: how in the world will Nintendo follow up this masterpiece?

Dungeons

The few main dungeons BotW does have are really good and unique, but their lack of themes that we’re used to combined with overall length of dungeons is something that could be improved upon. Majora’s Mask and Wind Waker both had fewer dungeons than your average Zelda, but thy had more character and intricacy. This is a common thing I’ve heard from fans, and I expect Nintendo to step up the dungeon game in Link’s next open-air outing.

Weapons

I love the wide variety of weapons available, but they don’t last quite long enough. I appreciate the fact that it forces you to use different weapons and switch up your playstyle, but if I find a really great weapon it’s always so hard for me to use it as I don’t want it to break. I hope weapons continue to break in future games as well, but once you leave the beginning area of the game the weapons should last much longer.

Items/Abilities

You get all of your key ways of traversing and puzzle solving before you leave the tutorial area this time around. Once again, Nintendo did the right thing for this game by giving all control over to the player. Next time traditional items such as the Grappling Hook, Mole Mits and Ball & Chain make could a return while still giving the player freedom. The way they could do this is color code the key items, and the entrance to certain dungeons and mini-dungeons that require certain items will be color coded (think colored doors in Metroid). The players can still explore how they want, but will have to leave areas for later once they collect the right items.

Nintendo has already said that Link will continue his adventures in an open-air Hyrule, so here’s hoping they can change up a few little things that will make a huge difference in the future. Until then I’ll have to finish Breath of the Wild… someday.

The Nintendo Experience: Powerful Portables

Nintendo not only revolutionized the home console market, but time and time again, they’ve proven to be the best in the portable sector of gaming. We’ve already talked about several landmark portable titles for the Nintendo Experience: Pokemon Red and Blue and Pokemon GO. These games shaped the way we game on the go (pun intended), and reached far beyond the game to rock the shape of pop culture. These two games were not an isolated incident, and I would like to showcase two more games that are near and dear to my heart.

The first is one of the first games I ever owned personally: Game Boy Camera. To many, even those who loved it in its time, the Game Boy Camera is a joke. Compared to what we have at our disposal nowadays, it is. The resolution was bad, everything was in grayscale, the editor was primitive, the memory was limited to 30 photos, and, if you were looking for it to be a game, you would be sorely disappointed.

Something I will never forget, however, is reading my brother’s copy of “The Guinness Book of Records 1999” and seeing that this odd-looking Game Boy cart was currently the smallest digital camera in the world! I felt like a spy as a kid! It was a novelty, and there were enough menus in the game to navigate and not use (because I was never able to get my hands on a Game Boy Printer) to keep me occupied for a long time. Also, Miyamoto dancing!

If that’s not revolutionary enough to make it a must-play for Nintendo fans, I don’t know what is.

I think it’s time we talk about the real game-changer: Tetris. Tetris was a system seller, plain and simple. It got everyone who touched it into mobile gaming. It was accessible to people of all walks of life… unless you shun technology… I suppose. It’s simple, easy to pick up, and tough to put down. It is one of the best games ever. That is, until, Nintendo outdid themselves.

Here’s that 8-bit-“ish” art style that worked so well.

Tetris DS is the best game ever. I mean, Tetris was already the best, but they found a way to improve it. It had all of the puzzling proficiency of its previous iterations, but they made it streamlined. The multiplayer was great, the art style was perfect… What more could you ask for? I consider it the best version of the best game hands down, and I urge you: if you haven’t played it, pick it up. Like, right now. Why are you still reading? Oh, you already have it? Good.

Link’s Log: A Narrative Breath of The Wild Let’s Play

So today was…interesting

It all started with a bright light and a girl’s voice calling my name; beckoning me to open my eyes. The voice sounded like that of a noble woman, with that soft, breathy accent that the inbred stratum of Hyrulian society thinks sounds sophisticated for whatever reason. Questions regarding what kind of person the voice belonged to quickly evaporated once I opened my eyes, however. Upon awakening, I found myself alone in a dark, empty room.

…in my underwear.

Yeah, one of those days…

Still quite groggy, I attempted to take in my surroundings. As stated before, the room was dark, lit only by faintly glowing decorations on the walls and furnishings. Speaking of furnishings, the only objects were the trough in which I was laying and a glowing orange pedestal. It didn’t take me long to realize where I was. A dark room with a trough for people to float in? Clearly some sort of sensory deprivation tank, which would mean this is probably some sort of new-age spa. That would also explain the voice and weird visions; I was in the tank for too long and started hallucinating.

Confident in my deductions, I placed my bare feet on rough stone floor. Trying not to think about when the last time the floor was cleaned, I staggered over to the pedestal for a closer look. The top of the object was comprised of two concentric dials adorned with glowing, interconnected patterns. On my arrival, the center dial began to spin and shortly afterward produced some sort of rectangular device. Before I could even question why any sane person would create such a needlessly elaborate charging dock for their Hy-Pad™, the voice from before spoke up, this time explaining that the device was a “Sheikah-Slate” and imploring me to take it.

Sheikah-Slate…now where have I heard that before? Oh yeah, I pretty sure it’s that open-source alternative to the Hy-Pad™ everyone was talking about awhile back.

Anyway, after taking the tablet, a nearby door opened up. Peering through the opening, I saw crates, barrels, and two ornate stone chests. I stumbled through the door and up to one of the chests. Inside were a pair of well-worn pants and boots. Glad to finally have some clothes, I put them on only to find they weren’t my size. The other chest contained a shirt, also too small for me. I don’t know which bothered me more, the fact that someone misplaced my clothes or that they thought the shirt needed its own chest despite there clearly being enough space left in the other one.

I debated whether being clothed really out-weighed looking like a hipster, but I eventually rationalized that it was only until I could explain the mix-up to the spa’s receptionist.

At the end of the hall was another pedestal. Again, the feminine voice began dictating instructions. I really don’t like it when the voices in my head start getting bossy. Lacking any other options, however, I did as I was told and held the tablet up to the pedestal, thus opening yet another door. As I shielded my eyes from the light pouring in, the voice in my head told me I was “the light that must shine on Hyrule.”

I briefly contemplated whether the voice was trying to persuade me to start a cult before realizing that despite being out of the sensory deprivation tank for a while now, I was still hearing voices in my head. Yeah…definitely one of those days…

Despite the broken stairs, I managed to clamber my way towards the light at the end of the tunnel. Instead of finding myself in a reception area—like I expected—I was outside overlooking a forest. A quick scan of the area revealed three things: 1) I didn’t know where I was, 2) there was a creepy old hobo staring at me off to my right, and 3) I still had no clue where my clothes where. While I had reservations about approaching the hobo (or any hobo for that matter), there was no one else to ask for directions. I made my way downhill, making sure to pick up a tree branch along the way—just in case.

What has that hobo been eating? He's HUGE!

After a brief trek, I reached the vagrant’s camp. Ignoring the unpleasant aromatic mix of wood smoke and hobo, I politely asked the bum who he was and where we were. He deflected the first question, simply saying he was just “an old fool” (no arguments there). He was much more forthcoming when answering the second, stating that we were on the Great Plateau, that this was the birthplace of Hyrule, and something about an abandoned temple. My eyes rolled so hard I started getting dizzy: if this place was so important, why have I never heard of it? Regardless, I figured that the temple, abandoned or not, must have something that could tell me where I was.

Along the way, I was once again accosted by sound of a girl’s voice, this time goading me to find a place marked on my Sheikah-Slate. Despite my better judgment, I checked the map app to find that the previous user had indeed marked a nearby position. The sensory deprivation theory was starting to lose credibility…

I did my best to ignore the encroaching existential crisis that comes with frequent hallucinations as I made my way over to the temple. The surrounding ruins were littered with strange statues that looked a little like octoroks. Some sort of modern art installation? Whatever they were supposed to represent, it just looked tacky…which—knowing artists these days—may have been the point.

Around then is when I started to notice figures in the distance. They didn’t look like Hylians, or even round-eared folk (I forget the polite term for them). I really didn’t care to find out what it was, deciding it best to not draw too much attention to myself. Despite my best efforts, however, I came face-to-face with one of the creatures at the top of a stairway leading up to the temple. A bokoblin…I couldn’t help but chuckle at my own paranoia as I brought an axe down on it’s head. You know you’re on-edge when even bokoblins spook you. Still, as pathetic as they are, the place being overrun with the little blighters wasn’t very reassuring.

Not much remained of the temple on ground-level. No doubt those filthy bokoblins looted this place until there was nothing of worth left. I quickly formulated a new plan: climb to the roof and look for any towns, settlements, or even familiar landmarks. After a perilous climb, I managed to reach the temple’s steeple. I quickly surveyed the surrounding countryside. That’s when I saw it on the other side of a field: a cabin!

I hastily scrambled down the temple ruins and booked it across the field. A short time later, I arrived at the cabin, peered in, and found it…completely empty. Upon further investigation I realized this must be where Old Fool was squatting (why would I expect anything else?). Running out of ideas, I decided to just pick a direction and hope I found a town or something.

It wasn’t long before I nearly walked off a cliff. Turns out Old Fool wasn’t kidding about this being a “great plateau”. There’s no way I’ll be able to climb my way off this goddess forsaken rock.

As per tradition, I took the opportunity to spit over the edge. Stupid bokoblins at the bottom kept looking for rain clouds. It was pretty funny.

Disheartened, I decided to investigate the point on the map. Hallucination Girl did seem to know how to open those doors, and it’s not like I had anything else to do, plus the Slate’s previous user wouldn’t have marked that spot no for reason, right? I followed the map until I reached an alcove with yet another garish glowing pedestal. I knew the drill.

Apparently not, because instead of opening a door, I somehow got a tower to spring from under my feet. No, you read that right, a whole tower. After I managed to peel myself off the floor and calm myself down by reciting a mantra of disjointed curses, I noticed my Sheikah-Slate had downloaded map data for the plateau. That’s handy, I guess.

That’s when I heard her—I mean it—again. Honestly, I don’t know what it tried to convince me to do this time, as I was a little distracted by the image of the shadowy form of a pig engulfing a distant castle. I think the parts of my brain responsible for auditory hallucinations and visual ones are competing for my attention.

Climbing down was difficult. Who ever the idiot that designed the tower was, he apparently didn’t believe in ladders or stairs. I had to jump between platforms jutting from the sides of the tower. Also, I was distracted by that whole “I’m probably crazy” thing. I really wanted to write-off what I just saw as the result of a head injury, but given the frequency, persistence, and increasing vividness of my delusions—not to mention the fact I woke up in a spa and/or psychiatric ward with no memory of how I got there—I couldn’t rule out the possibility of some sort of long term psychological condition. Either way, I should probably find a doctor when I get out of here.

Once at the bottom, Old Fool arrived via some sort of miniature hang-glider. He asked me if anything happened while I was up there. Still mad about earlier, I refused to speak. He then asked if I heard a voice, which he insisted he could tell happened from the way I acted at the top of the tower. Yeah right, like his blurry, semi-sober hobo eyes could make out anything from where he was sitting. I refused to acknowledge his lucky guess or answer any of his other questions.

After he realized his prodding wasn’t going to get me to open up about my psychosis, he decided to change the subject. “I assume you caught sight of that atrocity enshrouding the castle,” he said turning his gaze to the castle and gesturing with his walking-stick. I felt like I had been kicked in the chest. How did he know about that? Could that thing be real? I quickly came to my senses; surely there was a simpler answer. Maybe he was just another hallucination, perhaps he’s somehow been gaslighting me this whole time, or he could just have gotten a hold of my medical records and decided to mess with me. I tried my best not to let on and humored him.

After some talk about a great calamity—y’know, typical doomsday-cult stuff—he offered me his glider in exchange for whatever treasure I found in a nearby shrine. Eager for an easy way off the plateau, I agreed. The outside of the shrine looked much like the tower and spa, with weird coral-like carvings on its walls. I cautiously used my tablet to unlock the front door and proceeded down the elevator.

Don't really appreciate them hijacking Hylia's name and iconography to sell mobile apps, to be honest.

Once inside, I was greeted by a prerecorded message welcoming me to some sort of trial. Seeing yet another glowing pedestal, I reflexively walked up to it and placed my Slate on it. My Pavlovian conditioning was rewarded with a free app for my Sheikah-Slate. While I don’t care for how they invasively installed software on my device without so much as asking, I have to admit it’s a cool app. It lets me pick up metal objects from a distance. I wonder why they’d just give this away; maybe it’s still in beta? Either way, I shouldn’t overuse it: probably drains the battery like nothing else.

After that, I explored the testing area they provided looking for anything else of value. There isn’t much else worth mentioning except whoever was here last forgot to turn off one of the security robots. Regardless, I effortlessly made my way to the end of the obstacle course and listened as a hologram offered me a congratulatory message and something called a “spirit-orb”. No clue what that was about.

Shortly after I exited the shrine, Old Fool swooped in on his glider to check-in on me. Despite our agreement, and my frequent, tactful reminders, he decided to hold onto the glider. Now he says I need to loot all of the shrines on the Great Plateau. I’m really starting to hate that guy…

So it looks like I’m going to be stuck here for awhile. It’s getting late: I’ll continue in the morning. In the meantime, I’ve decided to keep this journal as a record of my time stranded on the Great Plateau. I can probably adapt it into a best selling book once I get out of here. And if I don’t make it, at least whoever finds this will know:

Don’t trust the old man.

~ Link


About the Author: Glen is a lifelong Nintendo fan whose love of video games has inspired him to pursue a career in computer programming. He’s currently studying to get his master’s degree in computer science from Oklahoma State University. He’s too busy playing Breath of the Wild to come up with a witty, self-deprecating fact about himself.

Switch Opening Weekend Experience

Needless to say, the weekend the Nintendo Switch debuted, I didn’t get much done. After the setup of the surprisingly small console, I immediately started playing Breath of the Wild. In my opinion, the introduction is the best in the series. I was instantly hooked and ended up playing until around 2 A.M. I have an embarrassing number of hours logged into the game already, and I only have about 1/3 of the map uncovered, and only one dungeon complete. Though I have a ways to go, I can already tell this game is special. A game like this doesn’t come around often, so I plan to cherish it. I could go on and on about my feelings so far for Breath of the Wild, but alas, this is about the Switch.

 

Looking out into the horizon for the first time is a magical experience

 

The next day wasn’t very different, with the exception that friends were planning on coming over to try out the system. Of course, I played Zelda all day leading up to that. When people started arriving, it was time to try 1-2-Switch. Let me say that this is probably the most fun I’ve had with a multiplayer game in a long time. The concept is a little strange at first, especially since it encourages you to look your opponent in the eyes (something us introverts can struggle with). This creates a somewhat awkward (yet hilarious) interaction. As we went through the games we realized we were not only having fun with the game, but having fun with one another. It’s clear this is what Nintendo was going for, and once you ease in and feel more comfortable with how the games work, it’s truly a blast.

 

This game is not only fun, but a great showcase of the Switch technology

 

After 1-2-Switch, we transitioned over to Snipperclips. Another multiplayer game where two players work cooperatively to solve different puzzles and accomplish different tasks. It’s a lot of fun. I also downloaded Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove, and haven’t even gotten to it because I’ve been so enveloped in the other games.

This console has some magic that the Wii U just didn’t have. I truly believe this is what Nintendo needed in terms of their position in the industry. That is, to not worry about competition, but rely on the best development in the industry and innovation. I’m also looking forward to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Splatoon 2 releasing in the coming months.  Yes, I may be caught up in the whirlwind of hype and still in the “honeymoon phase” with Zelda, but my hope is fulfilled back in Nintendo. Now excuse me, I need to go play Zelda; it hurts to not be playing it.

What You Get from Being TBC’s Patron!

We launched our very own Patreon page!

For almost two years, we’ve been making Nintendo discussion and gameplay videos every single weekday. It’s hard to believe we’ve been going for this long!

Well, it’s time to kick things up a notch and we need your help to make it happen. With a bit more support on our page, we’ll be starting the Two Button Crew podcast! And that’s only the beginning.

Giveaway

USA Residents: Back our page at the $5 tier (or higher) by March 31st to be entered to win one of these three prizes!

1. Breath of the Wild Soundtrack 2. Sheikah Coin 3. Apple Store Exclusive Super Mario Run Pin

Credits

Get your name in the credits of all of our videos for only $1 a month!

Votes

For $3 a month, you become involved in the planning of our show’s content by voting on upcoming videos.

Exclusive Videos

Behind-the-Scenes, bloopers, and bonus videos that won’t be available to the public. $5 per month lands you all these extras!

Tees

You can get your hands (and torsos) on TBC’s exclusive tee shirts, designed and distributed only to our highest tier of Patreon backers. Every 3 months that you support us with $15, you’ll receive an exclusive tee in the mail.
Want to see the first design?

“Warped Pipe” – Celebration of Prop Drops and all things Crew. Exclusively available to Patreon backers.

Did I mention that our rewards use stacking tiers? Each reward tier includes the perks of the previous tier!

So hop on over to our Patreon page and join the Crew with your support.

Good luck in the giveaway!

The Nintendo Experience: Remembering the Wii U’s Best

The Wii U was a unique offering. Nintendo rolled the dice, and, to most onlookers, it seems as though they lost. As with most things in life, most people’s trash is one eccentric fan’s treasure. What the Wii U lacked in quantity, it made up for in some unrepeatable experiences.

Now, while it’s difficult to say that a game that has come out less than 10 years ago is a classic, these games are definitely worthy of being inducted into the Nintendo Experience. I already highlighted Nintendo Land. It was the perfect tech demo to show what Wii U was all about: the capabilities of the Game Pad and asymmetrical gameplay. These other inductees were selected not for their individuality, but because of their stand-out excellence in already established franchises.

Super Smash Bros. for Wii U had a lot to prove. There were tons of fans of Melee and were let down by Brawl, and needed be to won back. Some, such as myself, loved Brawl, and doubted that the next entry would top such an amazing game (however flawed). It utterly destroyed any expectations put on it.

I applaud the team that worked on this game, not just for a well-put-together art piece, nor a Nintendo fighting game FINALLY ready for online competition, but also for striving for balance. Balance has been lacking in previous series entries, and while there still seem to be tiers of viability, the array of characters from such a large cast that are seen on the top of leader boards is diverse. The use of patches has been good for the most part (though, why they nerfed Luigi’s throw combos I will never know). For such a huge roster balance is hard to maintain, but this team seems to have kept it.

Lastly, I would like to showcase the greatness of Super Mario 3D World. Since Super Mario 64, the 2D and 3D Mario games have been pretty distinct entities. The 3D entries have been more focused on exploring the rich environments while the 2D entries have focused on the classic platforming and fun power-ups. It was fun having the two separate, but now we know, with the right amount of each, they work beautifully together.

That’s it for this month’s Nintendo Experience. If you find yourself without a Switch for awhile, like I do, it’s nice to recognize the amazing experiences we still have at our fingertips.

Kirby and Well Rounded Powers

This last June, Kirby: Planet Robobot was released state-side, quickly receiving praise from critics and fans alike. Needless to say—being the avid Kirby fan that I am—I jumped on it six months after the fact because I wanted to complete Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam first. What? Grad school doesn’t leave me with much time to spend on getting through my backlog, okay? Regardless, I’d say, without hesitation, that this is the best of the “modern-style” Kirby games that started with Return to Dreamland. Great music, enough of a plot to keep things interesting, lots of fan-service, and a gimmick that actually meshes with the core gameplay instead of being an intrusive pace-killer. And as with any Kirby game, it features new powers! And they…kind of suck, to be honest.

And as with any Kirby game, Planet Robobot features new powers! And they kind of suck, to be honest.

Okay, now that I’ve gotten the requisite suck pun out of the way, let’s talk powers. Kirby’s copy abilities were first introduced in Kirby’s Adventure, released in 1993 for the Famicom and NES. These abilities gave Kirby a single attack that imitated the ability of an enemy character. The concept remained much the same until Kirby Super Star in 1996 when most—but not all—copy abilities were given a variety of techniques the pink protagonist could perform based on what button combination the player inputted. Some abilities have traditionally had very few individual attacks, while others let the player revel in a vast array of possibilities. For the most part, entries in the franchise have followed one of the two aforementioned schemes, with the Super Star style being more prevalent as well as what the recent titles use.

So, let’s examine how the evolution of this system effects powers individually and each game’s gameplay as a whole.

Number of Attacks

As stated before, the number of available moves in each ability’s repertoire has increased from the copy mechanic’s introduction. In Kirby’s Adventure, each power only had one attack (though one could argue backdrop and U.F.O. are exceptions). This allowed players to easily pick their favorites and avoid those they didn’t like. This also, unfortunately, meant that powers easily got stale and that few, if any, abilities stood out as particularly fun. Strangely, I’d argue that the game made it work; since no one power (or at the least, commonly available one) stood out as “the fun one” the player wasn’t inclined to become attached to what he currently had, meaning he would be more willing to part with it, making for more dynamic gameplay.

And an adorable picture of Kirby being a narcissist.
Kirby’s Adventure only provided one page for it’s copy ability descriptions, most of it flavor text.

Kirby Super Star changed this by assigning multiple attacks to most copy abilities. This drastically changed the dynamic as now each power became far less situational. Copy abilities on average had somewhere between four and seven attacks and a list of them was conveniently provided on the pause screen. I must commend the designers, as most of the abilities are fun to use with only a handful of duds. That said, the expanded move set does mean players are going to find some abilities more fun than others, meaning they’ll be less willing to part with them which ultimately discourages the varied gameplay Kirby’s Adventure had.

Then there’s the current generation of Kirby games. For brevity’s sake, I’m only going discuss the current gen powers featured in Kirby: Planet Robobot (and probably totally not because I’m too lazy to switch cartridges on my 3DS or boot up my Wii). The number of moves for this new set of powers typically weighs in around eight to eleven, with a few of the attacks being variations of or similar in function to others. This produces a state of decision paralysis when trying to learn the new abilities, especially when two attacks are similar. For the majority of new abilities, I would look at the move list and think to myself, “surely there’s a proper time or context for this attack.” Unfortunately, there often isn’t, at least not that I can see. Notably, most of the older abilities are similar to their previous iterations, if not completely untouched. In my opinion, this makes the classics more approachable gameplay-wise as most of them are easier to learn with attacks that have a clear and easily understood purpose. The one new copy ability in the game I genuinely liked, ESP, happened to be the one with the simplest move set.

...which probably means yo-yo will never make another appearance...
Coincidentally, this ability’s costume also resembles one of my favorite powers from Kirby Super Star.

Copy Ability Versatility and Variety

So what does having a wide array of moves do for Kirby’s copy abilities? In short, more moves theoretically increases the versatility of the ability. If one move allows Kirby to easily dispatch a foe in front of him and another move defeats opponents above him, the player is equipped to handle two different scenarios. There are two main factors in determining a copy ability’s versatility: range and what I like to call “angle of attack”, with the presence of a defensive ability making for a third factor of nominal importance.

There are two main factors in determining a copy ability’s versatility: range and what I like to call “angle of attack”.

Range is self-explanatory; it’s simply how far the attack reaches. Short range attacks require Kirby to be near his target to be effective; long range allows Kirby to rain cute death upon his foes from a safe distance. Simple. Angle of attack isn’t much more complicated. Heck, I’ve already given an example of it in the previous paragraph. It simply determines where the opponent has to be for the attack to hit him. In the context of Kirby, there four basic angles of attack: upwards, sideways, downwards, and radius attacks—the last of which refers to attacks that strike in all directions (they’re common enough to warrant their own classification). Of the two, angle of attack has the most influence over an abilities versatility.

As I’m sure you’ve already figured out, the copy abilities in Kirby’s Adventure provide only one angle of attack of set range. High-jump attacks opponents above Kirby at close-range (though Kirby covers a long distance in the process), while spark attacks enemies within a short radius of Kirby. Kirby Super Star expands the role of most copy powers, allowing Kirby to make use of multiple angles of attack with a single ability. That said, most powers are still limited in range or angle of attack, requiring the player to plan around his ability’s limitations or find one more suited for the situation at hand. For the ones that do provide good coverage of all angles, they are usually rare or have some sort of drawback, like yo-yo’s long attack animations.

Here’s where my second issue with more recent copy abilities comes into play: they’re too well rounded. Most of the new abilities include attacks for every angle and often times multiple ranges too. Lacking weaknesses actually makes them less fun, not necessarily because it makes the game too easy (it’s Kirby; it’s always easy) but because they all feel very samey. Even some of the older powers have received similar revisions, like the unnecessary addition of an upward attack to the stone ability’s move list. Admittedly, this is a rather technical complaint and probably doesn’t apply to everyone.

Lacking weaknesses actually makes copy abilities less fun.

Refinement is a Subtractive Process

Despite most of its new powers not being particularly interesting, Planet Robobot actually does adhere to the limited copy ability design that I’m advocating, specifically the robobot powers. Each robobot copy ability has a very limited moveset, and as a result, each one feels unique. And just so it’s clear that I’m not being a nostalgia-blind curmudgeon, I like most the ideas for each ability (leaf and archer were long overdue), and I think if Hal streamlined the abilities so that they fulfilled a unique niche, instead of every niche, they would have some real winners.

I just love the armor's tiny feet! I don't even know why; I just think the suit's proportions are cool.
The robobot armor’s sword ability only has three attacks. Three incredibly satisfying, easy-to-use attacks.

For those familiar with my previous work, these points probably sound quite similar to my second article, The Streamlined Turnabout. While feature-rich games and mechanics are great (especially from a marketing perspective), continually adding ideas runs the risk of producing bloat. Much like cutting and polishing a diamond to make it shine, video games can greatly benefit from the occasional trim.


About the Author: Glen is a lifelong Nintendo fan whose love of video games has inspired him to pursue a career in computer programming. He is currently studying for his masters in Computer Science at Oklahoma State University. His first Kirby game was Kirby 64, which led to a lot of confusion when trying to figure out how to make combo abilities in Kirby Super Star.

The Switch Doesn’t Have Hidden Fees

The Switch is not as expensive as most outlets are making it out to be. Far too many sites are claiming that the Switch has a ton of hidden fees and will end up costing you over $700 which is totally ludicrous and completely untrue.

The Switch is $299.99 (in the US). Period.

Just because the system is launching with a ton of add-ons and accessories does not mean the price of the system is increased. All of the extras are completely optional. Do you want a pro controller? Cool! Buy one! Don’t need an extra dock? Okay, don’t get it. It’s not a tacked on price that’s required by Nintendo that you purchase every available accessory at launch. Not to mention you can play 2-player games right out of the box at no additional cost thanks to the versatility of the Joy-Con.

An argument could be made that the system is actually $359.98, because what is the system without any games? That’s an expected cost though, not a hidden cost. I’m sick of gaming journalists trying to get clicks to their content by making up shocking headlines or articles. While all of this info may be painfully obvious to some, I wanted to educate the few that may not know to help save your wallets.

The cost of all your Switch launch day goodies can add up extremely fast, so make sure you need certain accessories before pulling the trigger and getting a bunch of things you’ll never need.

 

This has been your dose of financial advice from someone who has no business telling you how to manage your finances.

Switch VR Prediction – For The Record

No, the Switch isn’t even on the market yet. (So close!)

Yes, I’m already looking ahead to what’s next.

I want to put a prediction down, timestamped and dated, so that I can say “I told you so!” when it turns out to be true.

Let’s start with the facts before we get into prediction territory (plus I want to keep you in suspense a little while longer.
Many aspects of the Switch were “leaked” by patent sleuths who were keeping an eye on what Nintendo was filing.
At the end of one particular and very long series of patents, we find this:

Ladies and gentleman, that there is a Nintendo Switch Virtual Reality (VR) patent filing!

Were this patent to become a product, its usage would be fairly simple: strap on the headset, slide the Switch tablet into the slot, and play! Individual Joy-Con would be perfect controllers for a VR experience, with motion control, analog sticks, and a handful of face and shoulder buttons.

Really, this filing is quite ingenious. But, Nintendo can’t be credited for this implementation of VR – plenty of Samsung and Google devices have been doing this for years. So, why is Nintendo trying to patent it?
I’m not sure about the answer to that question, but it could be that they are filing for protection of the idea of using a home console itself in a VR headset. Or perhaps, only making a headset for the Switch console would infringe this particular patent. I don’t speak the legalese to give a firm answer, but I can certainly deduce the gaming implications of this document.

After this leak occurred, many fans hoped they would see a Virtual Reality segment during the January Switch Presentation. I knew we wouldn’t.

There’s one big problem with making the above patent a real product: the resolution of the screen. For those that own a PS4 already, PlayStation VR is on the lower end of the cost barrier, and that solution provides a 1920×1080 (full HD) display, which could be considered the bare minimum for virtual reality.

With VR, the screen is mounted very close to your eyes. That’s why Oculus Rift and other VR-equipped smartphones have such high pixel density – you don’t want to be distracted by pixels in the screen a few inches away from your face.

This is what would happen if it was done with the current Switch model.

For this reason, I don’t believe we’ll see Nintendo step into the VR market with this iteration of their console… which brings us to my prediction:

I predict: Nintendo will release an upgraded Switch model midway through the console’s lifecycle.

Name: Switch Vision
Release Date: Holiday 2020
Resolution: 4k (allowing for 2k to be used on each eye)
Headset: Can charge separately, lends extra battery to the tablet
Backward Compatibility: Works with all existing games and accessories
Exclusive Software: Special VR-enabled games will be produced, 3 main titles from Nintendo (Mario spinoff, Metroid, New IP)
SKUs: Purchase the tablet-only for previous Switch owners, or a bundle option for new customers

Can you picture the marketing? Switch Vision – 2020.

The industry is well adjusted to mid-console cycle upgrades. Is this so far-fetched? I don’t believe so, especially with an official patent document showing that Nintendo is at the very least interested in this technology. Of course, many of their patents never see the light of day as finalized products that make it to the market… but…

Should it happen, remember that you heard it here first!

How to Pick a Main: Weighing the Factors of Fighting Game Character Selection

“Who do I pick?”

This is the eternal question when it comes to fighting games. You’ve finished unlocking and now it’s time to make the tough decision: Who will I main? There are so many factors that affect the character or team that you choose in a fighting game. Main selection is very important to competitive play. If you are new to fighting games and don’t quite know where to start, or are just having trouble finding a comfortable match, I hope that this guide will help you. I’m sure it’s not comprehensive, but, as a guy who’s been there, thinking through these elements has helped me find better satisfaction in character selection.

For the sake of contrast I will be using two main examples to help illustrate the process: Super Smash Bros. and Tatsunoko Vs. Capcom. These two games have many differences (one has a single-character selection, the other is a team fighter, etc.) which I hope will give this guide a wider application.

The Producer

Fortunately (and unfortunately), many of the decisions that go into what character you play are made for you before you have any input. What characters actually make it into the game are decided by the producer of the game: his or her ambitions and limitations. The maker(s) of the game have a plethora of deciding factors when it comes to their game’s cast. Some of these are as follows:

  • Availability: “What characters do I have available to me? Do I have to make them from scratch, or can I use characters from the company I work for? Do I have the rights to use guest characters from a number of companies?”
  • Cast size: “How many fighters should my game have? Will having more fighters mean serious balance issues?” In looking at our examples, Smash has a character roster of about fifty-five, while TvC has a maximum count of 26, which is half the amount. Complete balance is impossible (more on tier lists later), but a smaller cast may mean a more well-rounded field.
  • Personal preference: “Do I put certain characters in because I like them more than others? I really like character ‘X’, therefore I will make him pretty good.” Take Metaknight in Smash Bros. Brawl, for instance. Sakurai (the game’s point man) created the character, and seems overly powerful when compared with the rest of the cast. I’m not bitter.
  • Making fans happy: “Fans really seem to like this character, so I might include her. This character wasn’t popular in the last installment, so maybe I’ll remove him.” For the most recent Smash Bros. game, fans got a special treat when Nintendo set up a poll for fans to pick the last character in the roster. Still not bitter.
  • $$$$$: “What character can I put in this game as a selling point? If I use a character from another recent/upcoming release, maybe they’ll buy that game, too. If I add characters as paid DLC, will people buy it?” Sadly, money is what makes the video game world go ’round.

Once the game is released, and as long as you have the money to buy the game and all the DLC, it’s finally your turn! How do you even begin to pick? Note that the following doesn’t necessarily go in order, and that they don’t have to happen separately. You may find yourself sliding naturally from one into another or going back and forth between two multiple times. Give the process time and don’t rush it.

The Cool Factor

After watching trailers for a fighting game, there’s usually one character that I want to try out first. I see their fighting style or know them from another game and I naturally gravitate toward that character. Needless to say, I rarely end up sticking with that character. There are some players that stick to a character simply because they like the character and make it work with lots of practice. If you really want to go this way, I wish you luck, but don’t quit a game because a character you love doesn’t gel with you.

Trial and Error

Were you expecting some soul mate, love-at-first-sight mumbo jumbo? Finding the right one is hard work! You should always try out each member of the cast at least once. If you’re playing against someone or see someone playing a character that looks really good or like a lot of fun to play, try that character out next. Don’t expect a character to magically make you good, but once you’ve had a taste of what the whole cast can do, you’ll have a better idea of what you’re looking for. Hopefully you’ll be able to make a list of characters that you enjoy and would like to play. Don’t worry about narrowing down at this stage.

Know Thyself

If you’ve played fighting games before, you may have a “style” of character that you play. You may be a more reserved person who likes to slowly chip away at your opponent from a distance, or you might like to play more rushdown where you stay in your opponent’s face, never giving them a chance to breathe. Know your character archetypes and if you seem to fall into one category or another.  If you are the kind of person that practices combos all day and relies on muscle memory then you might opt for a combo-heavy character. If you are good at reading a situation and baiting your opponent into a trap, then you might spring for a slow but hard-hitting grappler. If you’re new to the scene or can’t seem to find a pattern, you’re not alone; my mains are very much dependent on the game. But it is very helpful to know what kind of character you might gravitate toward.

Superheroes

A practical tip for any video game that you want to be good at is this: Watch the game! Watch people playing whatever game you want to play, whether you frequent the local tournament hotspot or binge online streams. It won’t be long until you pick out your favorite players. Maybe you like their personality or their play style. Watching people having fun playing a game will make you want to play like them and use the characters they use. I love watching Vermanubis play Smash Bros., and since I started watching him I picked up Gannondorf. Scott watches the Smasher Izaw, and whenever he releases a new video, I know I have a new character to learn to play against, because Scott will try him out.

Let Someone Else Pick

By this, I don’t mean that you should hand your controller to someone else and have them pick for you, but rather that you should keep an eye on the competitive scene. The metagame (factors outside of a game that affect the outcome) is always updating for any given game. Tier lists (though always having a subjective element) are a good indication on a character’s relative “goodness” in the current metagame. Some characters are considered “better” than others because of certain attributes that they have, certain combos they can pull off, or just the number of matches they can win against the majority of the cast. Picking a character with better tools may give you an advantage. There are, however, advantages to picking a lower-tier (“worse”) character. For instance, by picking an unpopular character, it is likely that the people you play against will be less familiar with what your character can do, whereas if you were to play as a top-tier character,  your opponent might be familiar with a lot of the character’s tricks and counterpick you. It also helps to know popular characters in your “scene”. Where I live, there are some really good Ganondorf Smash players, so, even though he is low tier, many players are familiar with Ganon’s tools, which put me at another disadvantage. Once again, not bitter.

Gelling

Ultimately, the deciding factor for me whilst picking a main is whether or not a character gels with me. I might see a character that can do something really cool and try it out, only to find that my character doesn’t move the way I expect him to. There is always a learning curve when it comes to getting good with any character, but there is no doubt that you’ll find some characters that just don’t flow with you and others that do. This is something that’s unavoidable. As with finding a “cool” or “good” character, you can always choose to tough it out and make it work, but, personally, I don’t find that abandoning that natural connection that’s present from the start is an advantage. In my eyes, it puts you one step ahead at the beginning. That could have consequences down the line in developing a main, but keep this factor in mind especially when looking for a counterpick, as you won’t be able to put as much time into them.

Team Synergy

In games like Tatsunoko Vs Capcom, you not only have to pick one good character, you have to pick a compliment to your character. This might mean picking two good characters, but that doesn’t always work in your favor. You have to take into account what one character on your team might contribute where the other one is lacking. For instance, if my team consists of Zero (a rushdown character) and Jun (another rushdown character), they might be really good individually, but if I’m up against a team of Alex and Frank West I’m going to have a bad time, as both of those characters are grapplers who want me close to them. You also have to keep in mind assists and DHC’s. Zero and Tekkaman Blade are probably two of the best characters by themselves, but their assists are pretty terrible and won’t extend any combos, whereas Ryu’s assist goes well with just about any character needing a combo extension.

Counterpicks and Secondaries

Unless you are the best (at which point you are probably not reading this), or your game has an unimaginably broken character that you play (and maybe even in those situations), you’re probably eventually going to need a counterpick on your side. A counterpick is a character (or sometimes a stage) that is chosen to specifically combat an opponent’s character choice. These are handy to have practiced up so that you can buff up your main’s weak areas (kind of like team synergy, only not). Many characters have a fighting chance against most other characters, but there are a few matchups for each character that make playing him or her a pain. In these cases, it’s nice to have an option toward which to turn to avoid said detrimental matchup. Picking a secondary character can be pretty difficult, because often the characters that you gravitate toward have similar weaknesses to your main. Try to change it up and learn a different character style or archetype. You’ll learn more about your main by playing a new character, too.

Switching Mains and Stagnancy

There may be some conditions that make you want to switch your main. You may settle into a character, then realize he has an outstanding number of bad matchups. A patch might come along and nerf your character into the ground. You may feel like, though you once really liked a character, you’re bored or falling into a rut that you can’t seem to escape. Before you switch mains, I suggest watching some footage of the character being played by a number of different players. Go back into practice mode and try to find some new options for your character. Sometimes it is a good idea to switch mains, but don’t give up on all the hard work you’ve already put into the character. Knowing how to play more than one character, even if it isn’t your main, will give you more matchup knowledge and even more counterpick options.

However you choose to land on your main, I hope you play hard and never give up. Fight on, fellow brawlers, fight on.

Battalion Wars | That Was a Thing

Welcome to That Was a Thing! A new series in which I discuss my favorite weird, obscure, or simply underrated pantendo games and media. Think of it as the evil twin to Simeon’s Nintendo Experience series. In this inaugural installment, I’m going to look at one of my favorite—not to mention one of the only—real-time strategy Nintendo series out there: Battalion Wars.

The Battalion Wars duology was a spin-off of the Nintendo Wars franchise and originally had the working title of Advanced Wars: Under Fire. Unlike the other Nintendo Wars games, however, Battalion Wars wasn’t developed by Nintendo or Intelligent Systems, but a British company: Kuju Entertainment. The first game was released for the GameCube on September 19, 2005 and its sequel debuted on the Wii on October 29, two years later.

Overview

The Battalion Wars games are a combination real-time strategy and third-person shooter. Like most R.T.S. games, players are tasked with completing objectives with the units provided for the mission—riflemen, tanks, bombers, etc. Needless to say, each unit type had its own strengths, weaknesses, and abilities and the majority of the strategy revolves around knowing where and when to deploy each unit. The unique selling point of this game is that the player directly controls one of the units the whole time, with the ability to freely switch between units as needed. Think of it as being sort of like Pikmin but with guns…and tanks.

Both games are set in a fictional world filled with global super-powers just itching to find a use for their massive armies. Seeing as the series was developed in England, each of the games’ fictional nations are comically stereotypical counterparts to real-life countries. The United States is represented by the gung-ho Western Frontier, the Tundran Territories are an odd combination of Tsarist/Soviet Russia, likewise Xylvania combines Imperial Germany with Nazi Germany, the Solar Empire is a futuristic tropical Japan, and the Anglo Isles—first introduced in the second game—mirrors the Anglo Isles…I mean the United Kingdom…seriously, they weren’t even trying to be subtle with that one.

As to be expected, each of these nations employ an eccentric and colorful cadre of commanders. Each mission has the player receiving orders from one of their faction’s commanding officers while the enemy commander emotes and responds according to the events of the game. While they don’t offer any special gameplay bonuses like the commanders of the Advance Wars series, the commanders’ typically blasé attitude toward warfare and nonchalant dialogue helps keep the tone light. I would say the only commander that I personally didn’t care for was Empress Lei Qo of the Solar Empire—who left so little of an impression on me, I had to look up her name just to write the previous sentence.

The third-person perspective really is what makes gameplay stand out. Giving orders from the perspective of one of your men while returning fire yourself really makes you feel like you’re an actual part of the conflict, instead of some ghostly observer calling the shots. When your battalion’s under fire, you’re under fire, and having to make tactical decisions in the midst of the chaos of the battlefield can create some really tense moments. Then there are the times when you spot some enemies in the distance or look at the map and have to plan your next move. I’m not sure I can properly express the feeling I would get as my men crowded around me, expectantly waiting for me to formulate a plan of attack.

Take that ya tsarist turnip!
Being an entity on the battlefield requires the player to look after both himself and and his units.

If quality gameplay wasn’t enough, these games are also overflowing with personality. The games’ humor and cartoonish visuals give the series a lighthearted tone; these aren’t games out to deliver a ham-fisted “war is bad” message but instead revel in the innocent—and perhaps naive—feeling of playing with toy army men. Despite having the depth of a Saturday morning cartoon, almost every character is likable in some way—with my personal favorites being Tsar Gorgi, Kaiser Vlad, and Col. Austin—and I genuinely wanted to know what happened to them next. Each faction’s units are instantly recognizable, and their designs convey a lot of personality, not just for the unit itself, but for the faction it belongs to.

Giving orders from the perspective of one of your men while returning fire yourself really makes you feel like you’re an actual part of the conflict.

Now that we’ve covered the basics, take a closer look at the first game.

Battalion Wars

Clearly, this is a real man's adorable war game.
The cute proportions and solemn color choice of the cover art sums up the game’s unique atmosphere quite well.

I first heard of Battalion Wars from the now defunct Nintendo Power Magazine. That’s not to say I immediately took an interest in it, however. I wouldn’t pay it much mind until my younger brother returned from the now defunct Hasting’s Entertainment with a used copy of the game. Shortly after he inevitably lost interest in it, I took a crack at it and fell for it harder than Tsar Gorgi off a bridge (too soon?).

The game places the player in command of the forces of the Western Frontier—with some exceptions in the form of unlockable bonus missions. The story begins during an uneasy truce between the Western Frontier and their longstanding enemies, the Tundran Territories. War breaks out when Western Frontier troops find a Tundran spy on the Frontier side of the border. As the plot continues, the Tundrans ally themselves with the Xylvanians, the Xylvanians betray the Tundrans, an old man is thrown off a bridge, I think there was a zombie-ghost legion at some point…you get the picture.

While it won’t win any awards, the story has a great sense of progression to it. Plot-wise, mission objectives often tie into something you did in a previous stage. If you saved a spy, you can bet his intel is what will point you toward your next target. The fort you defend in one mission is essential to launching a counter attack in the next and so forth. It’s a small detail, but having your actions contextualized like that goes a long way toward making your input feel meaningful.

While it won’t win any awards, the story has a great sense of progression to it.

While we’re talking about writing, I need to discuss the most important character: the grunts. Throughout the game, the troops under your command are constantly responding to your orders, quipping at the enemy, talking among themselves, or commenting on the situation at hand…and it is freaking adorable! Okay, I know that sounds like it’d get annoying after awhile, but the troops have so many lines that I would sometimes still be discovering new ones on my fourth or fifth play-through of particular missions.

“I’m beat…let’s make camp and whip up some cocoa!”

On to the atmosphere: the visual style is a strange blend of cute, chibi soldiers and vehicles and a muted color palette that gives the environments an oddly grim and gritty feel. This, in conjunction with a great soundtrack that wouldn’t sound out of place in an old WW2 movie, produces a unique atmosphere in which the tone is never too heavy or oppressive but the player is still fully aware that—no matter how cute the enemy’s tanks are—this is still war.

The game isn’t without faults, however. The A.I. for units under the player’s control is a little slow on the uptake, to the point of seemingly lacking a self preservation instinct at times. I found any mission where I had to fight enemy aircraft especially aggravating, as anti-air vets tend to not take initiative, resulting in massive losses from even brief lapses in focus. I didn’t care much for missions where the game expects me to command planes and ground forces at the some time, either. For whatever reason, when given the wait command, planes continuously fly in a straight line instead of staying in proximity to where they were when the order was given. This required me to constantly check back on them to make sure they weren’t about to fly over enemy anti-air embankments.

Battalion Wars 2

"Sir, the last game didn't sell well." "Then put an explosion of the cover of the next one!"
More playable factions, more unit types, more color! KA-BOOM!

Battalion Wars 2 starts its story off 200 years in the past by showing the player the final conflict between the Solar Empire and Old Xylvania at the end of the “Lightning Wars”. Bottom line is that the S.E. nukes O.X.’s H.Q. with an orbital death ray and then—fearing that the weapon is too much power for anyone to wield—chucks the controller (a staff) into a glacial ravine…what could possibly go wrong?

Back in present day, it’s been 2 years since the events of B.W. 1 and the nations of the world are at peace…until the Anglo Isles preemptively attack the Solar Empire based on rumors that they are harboring some sort of super weapon. The plot jumps between flashbacks and modern day from there with each campaign focusing on a different faction: a conflict between the Western Frontier and Tundra, the Anglo Islands staving off the Solar Empire’s retaliation, one where the player controls Old Xylvania’s forces, and finally Tundra’s attempts to prevent Xylvania from finding the staff.

The plot sounds a lot more complicated, but it really isn’t. I assume the 200-year-old-artifact-of-doom plot was meant to make the story feel bigger than the last game’s. Unfortunately, I’m not very fond of epics; I much prefer down-to-earth plots as I think they tend to have better focus and require the author to actually make me care about something specific like people or places. Fortunately, most of the characters are still quite likable, including most of the new ones.

Sadly, the narrative’s constantly changing point of view leaves the story unfocused and absolutely kills that sense of progression the first game had. You only play as any one faction for at most five missions (usually less). Between less emphasis being placed on the player’s actions between missions and the fact the player constantly switches sides, that feeling from the first game of being a single commander fighting in a series of much larger conflicts is completely gone.

Did I mention the volume on the player’s soldiers has also been dramatically reduced? They still speak, and I’m sure it’s still adorable, but I for the life of me can’t hear what they’re saying.

The narrative’s constantly changing point of view leaves the story unfocused and absolutely kills that sense of progression the first game had.

Moving on to the visual design of this game: many of the units received redesigns, especially the Tundran Territories’ infantry, most of which I think are improvements. The same can’t be said for Brigadier Betty: her look, not to mention her distinctive voice and a good deal of her peppy can-do attitude, are gone, making this iteration rather bland and forgettable. Speaking of bland, the game’s color palette is much more colorful which, while fitting well with the cartoonish style, demolishes the unique atmosphere of the B.W. 1 and stands out less by comparison.

What's that orange bit above her shorts? Her underwear? C'mon guys, this is a Nintendo game...
On the left, a plucky, upbeat, and memorable character; on the right, the uncanny valley.

Okay, so maybe the aesthetics and narrative aren’t on par with the original, but this game fixes many of its predecessor’s failings when it comes to gameplay. The A.I. is much more proactive: there were many times I would be ordering my units to attack a tank or some entrenched enemy infantry and would be surprised by the wreckage of an enemy gunship I didn’t notice suddenly crashing nearby. Oh, and planes finally fly in circles when put on standby!

The motion controls also make targeting enemies and issuing commands a snap. The only place where they really feel out of place is when controlling aircraft, as pointing the Wii remote up or down controls altitude. This feels awkward, especially if the player is trying to target a ground based unit, partially due to the game not making the change in altitude immediately obvious.

The game’s missions do feel a bit more repetitive than before. BWii’s missions follow a pretty predictable formula: defend a location then go on the assault or go on the assault and then defend the capture point. That said, BWii doesn’t have any missions that drag on too long or feel unfair—which the first game was occasionally guilty of, so I guess it more or less balances out.

The game’s missions do feel a bit more repetitive than before. That said, BWii doesn’t have any missions that drag on too long or feel unfair—which the first game was occasionally guilty of.

Of course, Battalion Wars 2 also brought new gameplay elements to the table: naval units and buildings. Naval units basically feel like tanks and artillery, but much more sluggish. That said, the game does a great job of conveying their weight and scale, and their long range means naval missions don’t feel too drawn out. Unfortunately, missions in which the player has to command both land and sea units tend to feel disjointed and tedious, due the two unit types’ inability to travel together and the player not being able to use the “All Units” button to regroup their units without messing up their positioning.

Buildings are a solid addition. Players can’t select their position, instead having to secure predetermined locations. Once under the player’s control, buildings will periodically replace fallen units corresponding to the type of building (e.g. aircraft for airfields). These help take the edge off, as the player doesn’t have to worry about losing essential personnel. That said, the fact that units have to run all the way to the players position, which can be on the other side of the map, means the player can’t rely on reinforcements too much.

Debriefing

Despite all of the flak I just gave Battalion Wars 2, I do think it’s the better game. While I think Battalion Wars has more personality, it can also be much more tiring—and sometimes frustrating—to play. Of course, neither is particularly hard to come by, and they’re both worth your time.

Sadly, Nintendo never commissioned Kuju to make a Battalion Wars 3. I think it’s blend of action and strategy would’ve been a great fit for the Wii U, and the Wii U gamepad would’ve been a great help in micromanaging units, something that neither game made easy. Nintendo still seems to have a fondness for cartoony wars games if the recent 3DS game Tank Heroes is anything to go by, so I haven’t completely given up hope. If the rumors of GameCube games coming to the Switch’s Virtual Console are true, I’d happily double dip on Battalion Wars…and not just because of how utterly unreliable old GameCube memory cards are.


About the Author

Glen Straughn is a lifelong Nintendo fan whose love of video games has inspired him to pursue a career in computer programming. He is currently studying to receive his masters in computer science from Oklahoma State University. He has gotten an S rank on every mission in BWii, and even managed to get an S on the final mission on his first successful play-through…completely by accident.