I remember being drawn to the first Paper Mario like a magnet.
It was in a video rental store, and I saw the N64 cartridge sitting on the bottom shelf. I didn’t know why Mario was paper, or why it was turn-based, but I immediately brought it home.
Of course, an RPG like Paper Mario can’t really be explored and beaten during a rental period, so I ended up buying it. I had to! The story, the characters, and the gameplay were so compelling that I had to see the adventure through to the end.
The Thousand Year Door was a beautiful follow-up on GameCube, which I first laid eyes upon at a WalMart. It was one of those demo kiosks where you had to stare up at the ceiling and snap your head backward to see. It continued the wonderful characterizations, thickened the plot, and introduced exciting new transformations for Mario that shook up the gameplay.
Super Paper Mario was memorable. Although stripping out the beloved traditional RPG elements, the game introduced a compelling tale of love and tragedy, alongside an interesting 2D-to-3D mechanic.
And then it all went downhill.
Unique, lovable, captivating characters were replaced with gimmicks of stickers and paint.
The modern entries have their own merit, and bring some amount of charm. But along the way, the franchise lost focus. Paper Mario became more about churning out a quick win for sales and marketing than it was about world-building.
It might have been when the father of Mario gave the Sticker Star team these directions: There were two main things that Miyamoto-san said from the start of the project—”It’s fine without a story, so do we really need one?” and “As much as possible, complete it with only characters from the Super Mario world.” –Iwata Asks
I grew up with three parents: Mom, Dad, and Nintendo.
My mother and father were great—kept me out of trouble, let me earn trust, and gave me some slack on the leash.
Nintendo, on the other hand, has always been the stereotypical helicopter parent.
And still is.
When I moved out of my Mom and Dad’s house, I took my Nintendo games with me. Along with them, I brought some overbearing restrictions along for the ride.
I got my own place to live, my own car to ride, and my own job to cover my bills. That’s what we call “adulting.” Unfortunately, I still feel like a kid when I try to play online and use the limited internet services built into Nintendo systems.
This company from Japan thinks it’s their job to raise me. It’s not, and it never was.
If Nintendo wants to provide a parental control app—great. The one for Switch has some neat features. That needs to be the end of their responsibilities, so parents can do the rest.
It would sure be nice to talk to my friends… or even my competitors if I want to!
Innovation: to revolutionize, change, transform, or evolve.
Iteration: to repeat, improve, patch, or expand.
Historically, Nintendo is a very iterative company. Most of their characters and concepts came from the mid-80s, when the company created its first batch of games for NES.
For many subsequent generations, they’ve followed the formulae, making a Mario game. A Zelda game. A Metroid game. Sequels got marginally better, improving upon past issues.
They’ve been honing their craft. Perfecting.
The only problem with this tradition is that it’s not very exciting. People start saying things like “if you’ve played one, you’ve played them all,” and “they keep recycling the same story over and over again.”
Nintendo Wii was the company’s first major hardware innovation in a long time—and they knew it, naming it codename “Revolution.” We were starting to see a brand that was ready to transform the gaming industry. Funny enough, the console’s success caused the console-maker to follow up with a safe “half-step” successor, but the masses weren’t listening anymore.
The good news is: innovative Nintendo is back, and that culture is seeping into their most beloved franchises. Breath of the Wild and Odyssey took a big leap in evolving the gameplay front. Next, we’ll see bigger shifts in story and presentation.
Buckle up! Your responsibility is being open to the change.
For a few years now, Nintendo execs have been talking about passing the torch. Younger developers are starting to take the reigns on new intellectual property like Splatoon and ARMS, as well as helping more seasoned devs shake up existing franchises that have stagnated.
These youthful employees are of a new generation, cut from a different cloth than Nintendo management has typically been made up of.
They’re Nintendo fans.
Kids who grew up a couple decades ago have been playing the company’s games their whole life, learned how to design and code, then landed a job at the Big N itself.
There’s a lot of respect for Nintendo’s stable of franchises, yet, the new employees aren’t as emotionally attached. That distinction allows for more change, experimentation, and advancement than we have previously seen.
When Nintendo fans run the company, you start seeing decisions that make more sense (to us fellow Nintendo fans). Things that we would actually come up with! Like naming a two-dimensional 3DS the 2DS. Like bringing back Star Fox 2 on a Classic Edition. Like reproducing the excellent GameCube controller for Super Smash Bros. 4.
Nintendo fans know the drill by now; their products are innovative and fun, but always underpowered.
Competitors are releasing impressive systems that end in “Pro” and “X,” which process teraflops like nobody’s business…
Will the Big N ever enter the computing arms race?
It would certainly make it easier for third-parties to bring their multiplatform software over. Of course, the trade-off is always price, and it seems that Nintendo is unwilling to be the most expensive option on the market.
Historically, that kind of price tag didn’t serve the PS3 well, or the Xbox One in the following generation.
Nintendo has picked their battles wisely, because they know their audience and how to reach them.
2DS and 3DS are the current entry-level offerings, while Switch is their only product on the high-end. What if another tier existed at the top (a third-pillar, so to speak) that appealed to the more spec-savvy crowd?
I’d like to have the option. Nintendo will likely sit back this generation and watch how Microsoft and Sony’s top-of-the-line hardware performs before considering an equivalent.
Christmas is nearly upon us! I’m not sure where you live, but the Two Button Crew homebase is covered in snow and ice. It’s a good thing we have the Holidays to look forward to: quality time spent with family and friends, along with the exchanging of gifts.
Before you dash out the door to go Christmas shopping for your friend, make sure you’ve got the right game-plan in place!
1. Get something you can enjoy together. You can give something more valuable than your money or another possession this Christmas; an experience. Your time is worth more than anything you could put in wrapping paper. Try to find a game that can instantly be started up and played together – especially cooperatively! This is how memories are made that can last a lifetime.
2. Go in as a group. There is power in numbers. Sometimes, the best way to get your bestie something special is to gather a bunch of friends and pool your money. Instead of 4 separate games, maybe you give 1 console and make it a Christmas to remember! Or with your combined resources, maybe you can plan a PAX or Comic-Con trip for your lucky friend and cover everything. Together, you can expand your creativity and buy something more substantial.
3. Consider an accessory. Your friend might be the kind of person who buys all the games they want. It can be difficult to shop for that person. But don’t forget about accessories! These “nice-to-have” upgrades like a carrying case, extra battery pack, console skin, or even an extra controller can help your friend get a lot more mileage out of the games and hardware they already have. Accessories don’t seen essential, so they can be hard to buy for yourself. But as a gift, they suddenly feel invaluable!
4. Ask them what they want. Enough guess-work! Everyone has a Christmas wish-list, whether it’s on paper or simply unspoken. Ditch the risk of spending money on something that they don’t truly want by hearing it straight from the horse’s mouth… what would they like to receive? It isn’t lame to order something right off of your pal’s list; how happy would you be to get just what you want?
1. Don’t find the cheapest deal available. I’ve been guilty of swooping down upon a deal. Retailers are all trying to offload their product as soon as Thanksgiving Day rolls around, so you’re going to see some pretty cheap games, guides, and gaming goodies galore. Don’t fall for it! It’s a trap. It’s the easy way out. Besides, it’s on sale. If your friend really wants it, they’ll pick it up.
2. Don’t buy them a game you already have. Yeah yeah, you have awesome taste in games. You buy the most exciting, most fun titles. That doesn’t mean you should look at your collection and get your friend one step closer to matching it. The reason is simple: you can lend that stuff out. Instead of allowing things collect dust on your shelf, let a friend borrow some games and get them something unique.
3. Don’t get them to finally try something. You’ve been telling your buddy to try this new game; just to try it! But they’re not easy to convince. Christmas seems like the perfect opportunity to push them over the ledge and provide them with that sweet new experience. I wouldn’t do this. Speaking from experience, there’s probably a good reason that friend has been reluctant to take your advice. They haven’t sprung for the new game because it just looks like it’s not for them. Oh well—you tried! Instead, give a gift that they’re more interested in.
4. Don’t give them store credit. Sure, everybody likes money… but it’s not exciting to open. It’s definitely not personal, and might suggest that you don’t know the recipient well enough. That’s not what you want to communicate on Christmas. Besides, the value on the eShop card is obvious and apparent, placing a pricetag on your friendship.
Got the Four ‘Do’s and Four ‘Don’t’s of the Game Giving Gift Guide? Good! Go and give some great games.
As both a Nintendo fan, and an Apple fan, seeing Miyamoto walk onstage during an iPhone keynote was pretty incredible. I was on board with the Big N’s foray into mobile gaming from the outset.
Now, three games and a weird social sim later, the partnership with DeNA has proved to be an interesting one. Development on these iPhone and Android games is sure taking longer than anyone expected, with the set of 5 games from the DeNA partnership still incomplete after multiple delays.
Miitomo turned out as a fun take on social media and online interaction, but was nowhere near snappy enough to have staying power. Social apps are all about long feeds and quick interactions. When tapping Like (or “Yeah” – whatever Nintendo is calling it) takes 15 seconds, it discourages users from coming back.
They’re mobile efforts are bogged down by long loading times, and assets that live on servers rather than the user’s device. This is not how mobile gaming is supposed to be, and it’s certainly not how social media is supposed to be.
Instant startup followed by a few quick wins. That’s all we usually have time for on our phones. If there is more time, I’m likely to turn on my Switch instead.
You can sell a kid a movie ticket for $10, a DVD for $20, and plush of their favorite character for $15. But a video game tie-in to your movie franchise? That’ll run ‘em $60.
You see why businessmen mandate development projects like this. It’s lucrative. Kids get home from the theater singing songs from the animated film, pretending to be the heroes, and talking to all their friends about how awesome it was. All manner of merchandise make their way onto Christmas lists, but none so expensive as _________ The Movie The Game.
These titles are purchased based on their cover, not their contents. These are not developer passion projects, instead, they’re corporate cash-ins. That’s why they are utter shovelware.
Speaking generally, you’ll find this to be true. For the rare developer who actually puts effort into making a compelling product, unfortunately, the industry doesn’t always pay attention because wolf has been cried too many times.
There is a way to create a movie tie-in that isn’t complete garbage, and it’s simple: Build off one aspect of the franchise’s world.
The most common mistake is recreating the movie beat-by-beat and trying to make the same story playable. That’s wrong, boring, and not fun. Movies are made to be watched, not played. The film is always better than the game that tries to recreate it with lower-paid writers, worse graphic engines, junior voice actors, all directed by people who don’t love video games.
Rather than churning out a sub-par interpretation of the movie, get into that world. Grab ahold of one fascinating thing. Make a game about it.
These ones did it right: Quidditch Podracer Battlefront
Quidditch is a sport from the world of Harry Potter. The movie-to-game adaptations are trash, but Quidditch stands on its own as a unique and compelling experience. It’s perfect for a video game; competitive, full of fantastical elements, and featured heavily in the movies.
What kid coming home from the movies wouldn’t want to race on a broom or in a podracer? The best way to do that is through video games. And let’s be honest, this isn’t just about children. Star Wars: The Force awakens debuted in winter of 2015, and a huge portion of the Earth’s population were in the mood for some wars of the star variety. Look no further than Battlefront.
The movie-game is a trap. Instead, look to people who are passionate about the source material and want to bring the world to life in a tangible way through gaming. Put them in charge.
If you’ve ever bought a Nintendo handheld, this has happened to you: you saved up, bought your system, and seemingly the next day Nintendo releases the hardware in a different color.
This is becoming a problem for Switch owners as well. Early adopters had the choice between grey or Neon Joy-Con, but little did we know that Nintendo would release not one but two console bundles with exclusive controller colors… in just over 6 months!
It’s just common practice for the Big N. They revitalize sales by injecting new collectible colors into the market.
People say that the install-base for 3DS is 60-70 million. It’s not. That’s how many systems have sold, period, not unique users.
The question becomes, when do you buy the system? When do you wait for a different color or edition? Galaxy, Samus, creamsicle, you name it… it could be on the way; right around the corner, three years from now. Or never.
Lucky for you, I have the perfect answer! Oh wait—no, I don’t. It’s entirely subjective, but here’s what I personally like to do: as an early adopter, purchase one of the first editions. Skip all the other bundles and plastic dyes until the actual internal hardware is improved. For example, I bought the original blue 3DS (the one that looked like a tiered cake). I didn’t upgrade until the New 3DS XL was released (and no, they haven’t convinced me to downgrade to any model of 2DS).
In a perfect world, Nintendo would handle this a lot differently. See, releasing the best stuff midway into a platform’s lifecycle is bad for your early adopters. It teaches fans the lesson “always wait to buy—the best is yet to come.”
To combat that: release all the best editions at the start. Make them “limited,” invite the masses onto the platform and let them choose from many different configurations. Once early adopters have been satisfied, narrow down the offering. Make it simple and easy for latecomers to choose a SKU.
The objection here is that console launches are hard, and releasing multiple colors complicates the production and fulfillment side of things. I acknowledge that, but Nintendo already has production issues, so why not work on those and kill two birds with one stone? They need to start sitting on inventory until they have enough to appease day-one buyers anyway. A conversation for another day.
I propose a method that will reward Nintendo’s loyal customers, not punish them and teach them to wait and buy.
Along with many Super Smash Bros. enthusiasts, I assumed that a port was on its way to Nintendo Switch.
Super Smash Bros. for Wii U felt fresh, recent, and was one of the main reasons to hang onto that console when considering an upgrade.
Now, as the launch of the portable-console hybrid grows more distant, I’m starting to reconsider my stance. Maybe Sakurai, Namco Bandai and co. are not tinkering away at a port, but instead are hard at work on the proper sequel.
It seems unthinkable; in many ways, Super Smash Bros. for 3DS and Wii U felt like the definitive edition of the series, with a wildly huge cast and surprisingly well-balanced gameplay.
But not so fast… those are 2014 titles. In 2018, a remaster might feel less appropriate than a straight-up sequel. Enough time has passed that a true follow-up is definitely on the table for discussion.
I’m honestly happy either way, but I feel like a port would have been released by now, with the launch of the system or especially with the final amiibo of the set.
We might actually be looking at a brand new title soon!
Pokemon Snap was an unexpected hit on Nintendo 64. Not only did it gather a cult following, but it went beyond that and achieved mainstream popularity.
It was a really simple game; basically an on-rails shooter with a camera instead of guns. Your “head-shots” were awarded based on how centered the pictures were, and you had items to help lure certain monsters out of hiding and into the frame. A truly excellent spin-off.
Nintendo fans haven’t stopped clamoring for a follow-up since it was released. Between then and now we’ve successfully argued our way into getting Earthbound localizations, Operation Rainfall RPGs, a 2D Metroid sequel, and more. But no sign of Pokemon Snap 2.
The Pokemon Company knows that it’s popular. They have heard their fans. Sun & Moon featured a bare-bones mode that nodded to Snap gameplay, but nowhere near enough to satiate the fanbase.
Look, I want a proper Pokemon Snap 2 as much as the next guy, but if we don’t get it on Switch, you can safely let go of that hope.
This is the generation that Nintendo is listening. They’re hungry and scrappy after the financial failure of Wii U, and they’re putting their best foot forward with Switch to provide gamers the experiences they’ve been asking for.
If Nintendo and The Pokemon Company don’t team up to make this happen in the next few years… I’m sorry, it’s just going to live on as a fond memory.
Nintendo is older than your Grandpa, and they’ve stored a lot of money in the bank over the years…
They could afford a couple Wii U disasters in a row—even another Virtual Boy or two—and still be in business.
But hypothetically, let’s say they chose to shut down tomorrow. Upper management wants to take their money, lay everyone off, and close their doors.
I think I would actually be completely fine with this.
Sure, it’d be sad on multiple levels. Many hardworking developers, designers, marketers, production facility workers, and more would lost their jobs.
Loose ends would be left dangling off our favorite franchises, and we’d never know if Mario and Peach finally got married.
We’d always wonder what the next console would look like.
On the bright side, however, I would still get to be a Nintendo fan for life. See, the company has already produced thousands of products in the form of games that span generations of hardware. Realistically, I’ve only played a fraction of these experiences.
My collector sensibilities would kick into high-gear, knowing that there was now a cap on the quest.
I could try to play, beat, and 100% every Nintendo game ever made, and I could make videos and podcasts about the journey for years to come.
They’ve supplied me with a lifetime of entertainment.
Some of you, the Crew, may have noticed that I am usually a little behind the times when it comes to my hardware library. If you were to ask me what I have been playing recently, you will probably catch me talking about Smash Bros. or about an older handheld title. It is an interesting dynamic, keeping up on current Nintendo news and zeitgeist, while not updating my Nintendo library alongside other Nintendo fans.
But I know it is not just me that has a hard time keeping up with Nintendo’s ever-expanding hardware and software library. I would like to start a discussion here on being a Nintendo fan on a budget. I want to keep it practical and easy, and I will kick it off with a few of my own tips and tricks.
Manage your Expectations
Before we get to practical application, we have to begin with the proper mindset. As I said before, Nintendo never stops making great consoles and games. It is not possible for pretty much any Nintendo fan to acquire everything they put out, much less spend quality time with each game. Not only can the quantity be overwhelming, but, just like it would be with any other hobby, playing video games is expensive. It may be true that gaming now is more affordable than ever, but that does not change the fact that even (most) gamers have bills to pay.
Also, refuse to get caught up in “must-play” mentality. It is fine to set goals of games you want to eventually play, but, as I have gone on record saying, do not let other people dictate the games you play. Just because a game is “10/10” or a “classic” does not mean you have to play it to be a Nintendo fan. Do not feel pressured into playing a game. It is likely you will not enjoy your experience, and the anxiety to acquire and complete that title is not worth it.
Bum Off your Friends
This is one I do a lot. There are some titles that are worth owning, and you and a friend each have your own copies. Often times with fighting games and other competitive games, you will want a copy for yourself to be able to play and improve at your own pace. Many other single-player ventures, however, can be experienced once through to satisfy your need. In these instances, it is handy to have a friend that can lend you the game and/or system. It is how friendships should work.
(Okay, maybe “bum off your friends” is a little over the top, but it gets my point across.)
Scott has lent me games on numerous occasions, and I have lent him some of my own things as well. Reciprocation is a healthy way to build a friendship. Often Scott will be too busy to play for a month, so he will allow me to borrow a game for that period. Currently, my wife and I are enjoying the SNES Classic. Later on, he just might have a problem that I’d understand. We all need somebody to lean on.
Check Pawn Shops
Now, no matter where you go, new equipment and games will probably cost you a few coins. But, if you have managed to manage your expectations properly (see what I did there?), you will not be driven by your need for the new stuff. This is where you have a decision to make: do you save up some money and/or wait for the new stuff to come down in price, or do you go for the bargain old junk at the pawn shop or eBay? Nintendo has so many classics to explore for the systems that you already own, and they can be more than reasonable in price.
Also, with pawn shops, you never know what you will find. Maybe you will run across a rare gem that would be exorbitantly priced elsewhere, or you might find a game that looks cheesy and bad for twenty-five cents, take it home, and make a new memory of the terrible piece of trash you found. You could even find a reasonably-priced old Nintendo console, allowing you to retread the glory days of your childhood, or see what gaming was like when your parents were kids.
Of course, if you want to get really edgy…
Foray into Non-Nintendo Fare
*Gasp!* Say it isn’t so! Am I suggesting you play something on a non-Nintendo console? Of course! If you have never owned a Sega console, pick one up at a local thrift store or pawn shop. I can recommend several titles, if you need any assistance digging for gold. All sorts of retro consoles wind up in second-hand stores, or in your uncle’s closet; grab one and try it out! Games can be cheap, and it exponentially broadens the field of games you can play. If anyone knows the value of playing retro games (even on non-Nintendo consoles), it is the staff here at Two Button Crew.
I hope this article has been an encouragement to you, especially if you are on a tight budget. You are not alone, and you can enjoy new experiences no matter your financial plan.
Even with everything going for it, I just can’t get behind the idea of watching someone else play a video game.
Part of my hesitation is generational; I’m a little bit older than the average LP viewer.
Otherwise, it’s just not how I want to spend my small slice of free time. After work is done, the house is taken care of, and my responsibilities are attended to, I want the controller to be in my hand. That firsthand experience just can’t be replaced.
Ironically, I help run two weekly Let’s Play series, one for Switch and one for Classics. Make sure to tune in live on the weekends!
Have you ever been on the outside, looking in on a pop-culture phenomenon?
While the Pokemon games are some of the most popular titles in Nintendo’s stable, I’ve never played a full mainline entry.
I’ve had a weird history with this franchise, and beaten just about everything except the main RPGs: Stadium 1&2, Snap, Colosseum, XD Gale of Darkness, Pokken, a little GO, even Hey You! Pikachu for goodness sake.
I grew up a little bit after the huge wave of Red/Blue/Yellow hype, and have always felt that I missed the bandwagon.
People who have been with the series since its inception are still trading their pocket monsters from game to game, amassing a huge army!
It definitely feels like I would have a hard time just jumping in, although I know they create these games for a younger demographic and take into account franchise newcomers to some extent.
You know what still scares me? It’s all the nuance that’s built up over generations. Developer GameFreak still builds on mechanics that have existed for decades, resulting in an imposing collection of the unknown.
A crossroads approaches. When the Pokemon series debuts on Nintendo Switch, I feel like I’ll have my best shot yet of hopping aboard the speeding train. If I let it pass me by again, I may never catch up.
Have you ever stopped and added up your recent gaming purchases, just to see how much your hobby is really costing you?
The Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) is an abbreviation that get’s thrown around a lot oil the gaming industry, indicating what most stores charge for new hardware and software as recommended by the publishers.
However, the amount on a price tag isn’t the true cost associated with gaming.
Price ≠ Cost.
Time: You spend much more time equity on a game compared to what’s come out of your wallet. Even if your job pays minimum wage, your time has a high value on it that is quickly surpassed when sinking hours into the latest open world adventure or competitive shooter. (Related: “Making Your Gaming Time Matter”)
Mood: It takes some maturity and self-awareness to think about how you’re thinking. Oftentimes, video games are liable to alter our moods. We usually like our titles to be somewhat challenging (as opposed to a cake-walk), and there’s a fine line between difficulty that enhances your accomplishment and difficulty that causes frustration. It’s okay to walk away from a game that’s interfering with real life, in any way, shape or form.
Opportunity: Related to time management, opportunity cost is a real thing to consider. Sometimes, it’s good to think about what else you could be doing with your time. In other words, what are games causing you to potentially miss out on? Who could you meet, what could you make, or where could you go?
Health: I’d love to believe that there are no health risks with partaking in Nintendo fandom, but my hands tell me otherwise. Carpal tunnel can set in without proper ergonomics, especially if you spend a considerable amount of time on computers on top of your gaming hobby. Additionally, omitting a short stint in the Wii era, time spent gaming is time spent sitting on your God-given cushions. It’s important to balance digital entertainment with some amount of physical activity (don’t ask my advice on this—I’ll get back to you later).
Don’t feel guilty for spending money, time, and other assets on video games. Like you, it’s my favorite way to have fun! Just try to consider the true cost, and avoid debt… monetary, health, or otherwise.
I’m younger than you might guess. I was only 12 years old as I was saving up for the launch of Nintendo Wii.
I had never been more excited for a video game console, and I was literally counting down the days. On my wall calendar, I flipped forward to November 19th, 2006 and wrote “WII DAY” in big marker. I then proceeded to work backward and mark a countdown on each preceding day, up into the 60s!
Many families lucky enough to locate a Wii on store shelves would get to open their shiny new system for Christmas that year, but that wouldn’t do for me. As a 12 year old, I performed every extra chore I could find until a stack of $500 ensured I could buy the console and whatever games and accessories I wanted, on launch day.
Ever since then, I’ve been hooked on getting my games the day they come out.
Release date announcements go straight into my Google Calendar (sadly, I no longer hang a physical one on my wall) and I receive reminders as the launch comes nearer.
Whenever Nintendo launches a new title, you can find me at the store either at a midnight launch, or right when I get off work.
It’s an event. Every time.
But why—why is it so important to me that I experience new games on the first day? Wouldn’t it be smarter to wait and read some reviews? Delaying my purchase even longer could land me a discount.
The game industry moves fast. Conversations online quickly turn to the latest and greatest, so participating in gaming communities is easier when you’re up to speed.
There’s also a heavy dose of excitement that comes with being an early adopter. You get to go into a brand new, creative piece of art before it’s talked about like common knowledge on podcasts or had its surprises spoiled in YouTube thumbnails (our channel doesn’t do that, by the way).
It’s fun to be on the cutting edge. Sure, you get cut every once in awhile, but the thrill is worth it.
Full disclosure: I have a Picross addiction. If Pavlov is Nintendo and Picross is a bell, I’m the salivating dog.
They release a new game in the series, I buy it, and the next 20 hours of my life are a blur as I perfect every puzzle.
Having said that, my excitement for the sudden release of Picross S on Switch was huge!
An important new feature was touted: multiplayer. New to the series, two players would be able to “play cooperatively, or compete to see who can place the most tiles!”
This was a game-changer! I have a friend from Picrossers Anonymous who would love to relapse with me and go head-to-head!
Well, Nintendo wasn’t fully honest with their description of this functionality. Technologically, it’s all there: two players can control cursors on the same screen, and it works. It’s fun to help each other out and solve puzzles together.
Competitively, the structure is non-existent. There’s no separate “Vs. Mode” or anything of that nature, it simply tallies up the number of tiles filled in by each player. The game doesn’t keep score over multiple rounds or celebrate a victor. The players are left to point out that their score was higher and rub it in their “opponent’s” face.
That’s not the extent of the issue, either. This game is impossible—I repeat—impossible to be treated competitively. It leaves the door wide open for cheating and unfair play.
I mentioned my fellow addict above. We got to playing a few rounds of Picross S together and it wasn’t long before he had outsmarted the game. Whenever I placed a tile, he would follow behind my cursor and overwrite it with a tile of his own color, taking my points for himself.
Picross S lets competitors get away with whatever they’d like, and also creates another problem by not awarding any points for blocking off tiles. Placing an X on a space that won’t contain a colored title is a critical part of Picross gameplay, but gamers are punished in multiplayer mode by not receiving any points, leaving their opponent to score off their work.
My advice to Switch owners: Purchase this title and enjoy it as a single player or cooperative affair.
Words to Nintendo: Be careful how you advertise your games; it’s important to be honest about what’s included in the package.
Update: Nintendo has adjusted the wording on their Picross S online listing to read ‘Unique to the Switch version, 2 players can now play simultaneously! Enjoy with friends and family!’
1. If I earn something, just give it to me. Don’t tell me I earned it, then explain how I have to tap through menus to retrieve my reward. Just give it to me.
2. Crafting is not the best thing since sliced bread. Just because Minecraft was super popular doesn’t mean everything needs to be crafted from now on.
3. Simplify the exchange rates. I don’t want to pay real money for leaf tickets to buy a mining pass to collect gold in order to exchange that for bells so that I can use the bells to purchase digital furniture. The expression is “cut out the middleman,” not “let’s create an army of middlemen.”
Note: The following article contains spoilers for Sonic Mania. For those interested in Sonic Mania, I highly recommend waiting until you complete zone 2, act 2 before reading further.
Sonic Mania is amazing. But you probably already know that, either from experiencing it first-hand or from the mounds of praise heaped upon it by the general public. It quickly became my favorite entry into the franchise when I picked it up for myself a few months ago. It’s the “back to basics” game Sega has been promising—but ultimately failing—to deliver for nearly a decade now. Heck, this game is so good, it can even include one of the most egregiously wrong design choices I’ve ever seen and make it one of the most charming set-pieces of the entire game.
And no, that’s not hyperbole, one of the game’s most memorable moments is flat out stupid by conventional game design standards. What moment am I referring to? The Chemical Plant Zone Robotnik fight.
Why It Should be Horrible
The boss of Zone 2 isn’t a boss in the traditional sense; instead, it’s a game of Puyo-Puyo Pop. That’s right, instead of fighting some wacky contraption, Sonic, Tails, or Knuckles faces Dr. Robotnik in a lethal game of Puyo-Puyo. No instructions, no fore-shadowing, just dropped into a game and expected to win.
From a design standpoint, this looks like a bad idea on paper. As mentioned before, the player is given no instructions. Puyo Pop isn’t exactly the hardest game to understand, but the game assumes the player already knows how to play. There’s no pop-up for controls, no instructions on how to clear Puyos from the screen, nothing. If the player is familiar with drop-puzzles like Tetris or Dr. Mario, they may be able to intuit some objectives from the conventions of the format: namely matching colors.
That leads into the more pressing issue: genre shift. While switching between gameplay styles isn’t uncommon in video games, especially more recent Sonic titles, typically levels that dip into different gameplay formats only switch to genres of a similar nature. For instance, many side-scrolling platformer games include one or two levels that switch over to being a side-scrolling shoot-em-up. This is typically considered acceptable because the two gameplay styles have many similarities. Most notably, both are action games, meaning the skills needed to master them are almost identical. These skills include things like quick-reflexes, spacial awareness to assess threats and their proximity to the player, and prioritization of risks and rewards (such as power-ups).
Where switching gameplay styles gets frustrating is when the new style has little or nothing to do with the concepts of the core gameplay style. A pertinent example of such a gameplay switch is the fishing segments of Sonic Adventure. While many people speak fondly of the game those segments’ mechanics were based off of, Sega Bass Fishing, most people object to the inclusion of such mechanics in an action platformer. That’s not to say juxtaposed gameplay styles can’t be paired successfully, but that contrast typically has to be one of the game’s core principles with everything else designed around it (e.g. DS cult classic Henry Hatsworth).
Where switching gameplay styles gets frustrating is when the new style has little or nothing to do with the concepts of the core gameplay style.
Now compare that to Puyo-Puyo Pop. Being good at Puyo-Puyo requires players to plan on the fly. The player has to decide how to stack and group puyos in real-time to set up combos and react to his opponent’s attempts to interfere. I don’t have the background in Puyo-Puyo to know what exactly goes into high level play, but I can tell you it’s a very different game than Sonic the Hedgehog. This means that the player is expected to use an entirely different skill-set from what the game has been training him to use up until this point. Moreover, this is the only place in the game—outside of an unlockable bonus Puyo-Puyo mode, that is—that the player is asked to exercise these skills.
Why It’s Awesome
So why does this moment work? There’s several factors at play here. First is the design of Puyo-Puyo Pop itself. First of all, Puyo Pop is a fairly easy game to learn: the computer is playing it along-side the player. If the player doesn’t understand how color matching works, he can just observe the computer match groups of four or more puyos of a single color.
Secondly, this battle is pretty easy. So long as the player keeps the board mostly clear, Dr. Robotnik’s incompetence will do the rest of the work sooner or later. Putting the battle so early in the game was actually a smart move: the encounter’s low difficulty allows the player to get used to the new gameplay style while still fitting the game’s expected difficulty curve.
Third, Puyo Pop is good. Many times when a game dips into a different style, the auxiliary gameplay style is under-developed. The majority of the developers’ time and effort (hopefully) goes toward the core gameplay, meaning mini-games don’t get the time and polish needed to fully flesh-out the concept. The Puyo-Puyo battle gets around this by implementing an already established idea. This way the Mania team didn’t have to haphazardly slap together a new gameplay concept, instead they just had to copy something they knew works.
Many times when a game dips into a different style, the peripheral gameplay style is under-developed.
Now that I’ve gotten the minor stuff out of the way, let’s talk about the two biggest reasons this works. I’m sure many of you are grinding your teeth by now with how I keep referring to this moment as “Puyo Pop”. Chemical Plant Zone’s Robotnik fight is actually a callback to the Sega Geneisis/Mega Drive classic Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine (which was technically just a reskin of a Puyo-Pop game, but whatever). This attention to detail and acknowledgment of the Sonic series’ history is a huge part of what makes this bizarre set-piece work. Who in their right mind would anticipate such an obscure reference?
Companies like Sega and Nintendo often reference their past works, but they tend to stick to callbacks that are easy for fans to recognize. Even when a reference is to something more obscure, it’s out of the way and can be easily ignored. Most designers would stick some puyos/beans in the background and call it good. The Mania team, however, decided to put that callback front and center by making it a part of gameplay. If the reference is half of the reason this moment works, the sheer audacity that the designers would even attempt it is the other half. The element of surprise and the obscene amount of creative whimsy this moment embodies is more than enough to make up for any of its “bad” game design.
If the reference is half of the reason this moment works, the sheer audacity that the designers would even attempt it is the other half.
The combination of good implementation, recognizability, and surprise factor all come together to make this one of my favorite game set-pieces in recent memory. While I love analyzing what works and what doesn’t work in games, it’s important not to get too entrenched in sticking to “good” game design. There’s a delight in encountering the unexpected that is all too often ignored in favor of “safe” design practices. Formula is good, but too much results in a game being formulaic.