Do I NEED This?: A Gamer’s Guide to De-Cluttering

Recently I have been looking to downsize my video game collection. I am giving away and selling some old consoles, games, and accessories (blasphemy, I know). The fact is, I am a pack rat, but there are just some games that I do not play anymore, and I need to do some de-cluttering. I have had to think long and hard before I made the really difficult decision to toss some of the games in my closet, but the experience has been a freeing one. Not only do I have less “junk” lying around the house, but I no longer feel bound to my possessions, which is extremely freeing. So, if the thought of getting rid of a single game in your collection has you mumbling incoherently in the fetal position, let a fellow gamer lend you a hand.

These are the questions I ask myself of each game/piece of equipment I come across in my sorting adventures.

Do I even like this game?

I have a hard time getting rid of any game. I see that, as a thing, it has to have some sort of monetary value. I purchased it (or it was a gift to me), and, therefore, somebody spent good money on this! I cannot just throw it out, can I?

Well, it turns out I can. I do not really care for sports games, though my older brother did. I have cut a good portion of my clutter size down by being honest with myself, saying, “He might have liked this, and I might have had a good time or two, but I would rather be playing something else if I had the choice.” Remember the good times, but do not be afraid that your memories will fall out of your head if you get rid of something.

I almost wish I had kept this game it was so bad.

Does it work?

This is a similar question to the one above but is usually in reference to hardware. We either think, “I put money/time into this, even though it is broken.” Sometimes we try to rationalize, “I am going to get this fixed, someday!” even though you have no intention (much less the time or money) to actually fix it. I am not saying that broken equipment never has enough sentimental value to keep it solely “for old times’ sake”, but, like with bad games, if the memory is that important to you, it will not go away because your busted GameCube is in the dumpster.

How long has it been vs. how long have I had it?

This one is extremely practical. I have Wii games that I have had for years but never play anymore. They are going out with my next batch of games to be pawned at a small, but reasonable price.

Some games I have, though, just have not been given the chance to outstay their welcome. On one hand, I have hardly played Super Smash Bros. for 3DS since the release of the Wii U version. On the other hand, the game is only a few years old, and I have not had the chance, necessarily, to go “back” to it yet. Maybe I will want Smash Bros. on the go sometime soon. If I am asking myself that in ten years, however, I might have to take a second look.

There is another side to this, of course. Scott has been in the mood to sell his games soon after purchase because he does not see himself returning to the title. He gets the biggest bang for his buck by reselling right away, as opposed to seeing the game collect dust, and trying to get rid of it after the game is out of date.

Do I have this game in a more convenient form (Virtual Console, collections/anthologies, etc.)?

“But this is the original NES cartridge! Playing it on a modern console, even though it has been perfectly faithfully been ported, is just not the same!” This is one that, as a pack rat, I have had to wrestle with constantly. I am getting rid of many of my NES cartridges because I have them on collection elsewhere. Yes, this even includes some of my original series Mega Man games (but not my world record Mega Man 6 cart. That thing is getting framed or something). Collections are not only a great way to make accessing your games more convenient, but they also pave the way to downsizing, which is a good thing.

Is this an outdated version?

This question does not apply to most genres, as, usually, each version of a game brings something completely unique to the table. Fighting games, on the other hand, are often outdated by the next version. Is Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 REALLY worth keeping when you have the Ultimate version? Sure, there is a UI difference, but balancing patches and new characters have just made the update a better game. Let it go.

Do I have alternative console methods?

Because I have a Retron 3 I will probably be getting rid of my NES and SNES. The only downside to saying goodbye to them would be my inability to use my wireless NES multitap (though, if I got a wired one, my problem would be no more).

Retrons and similar consoles allow for ease of access and space saving. Retrons even allow you to use the original console’s controllers.

Also, you might have access to an emulator, like a Raspberry Pi. Not that I am advocating illegal emulation. Or admitting that I use my Raspberry Pi for emulation. I am not.

… Admitting it, that is.

These are some of the considerations that I used in sorting through my video game collection. Take it from someone who has been there: the process may be difficult, but the rewards are well worth it. Tune in next time as we discuss proper console dusting techniques!

Will Odyssey Deliver on the Mario Formula?

It’s hard to believe, but this month marks another monumental game release from Nintendo! Joining the ranks of games discussed for decades like Super Mario Bros., Super Mario World, and Super Mario 64 is the newest game we won’t stop talking about for generations: Super Mario Odyssey. Link did a fantastic job carrying Nintendo’s new console through its infancy, but the torch is being passed to the plumber himself. Buckle up folks, this is gonna be big.

There’s no doubt Odyssey will sell millions, even a few tens of millions, or that it will be a hot topic for the entire Switch lifespan and beyond. But that’s not to say it’s a guaranteed hit. What we don’t know yet is: will it be good? Will it be truly great?

The potential is there. The track-record is evident in the series’ preceding entries. All Mario needs to do is avoid a few pitfalls, stick to what has worked, and wow us from time to time. A combination of tried-and-true best practices and fresh experiences will create a masterpiece.

Half of the puzzle has already been completed. The fresh ingredients: totally accounted for. We won’t be left wanting for any wow-factor, as already evidenced by numerous surprising trailer moments: Mario jumping out of a realistic city street’s manhole, Mario’s hat being alive, the game has T-Rexes… just to name a few.

Today, what I’m concerned with is this: Did the developers keep what worked from previous entries in the series? From the short time I’ve played Mario’s new adventure, and from what I’ve seen of others’ gameplay, I’m not so sure. I keep looking for those non-negotiable Super Mario elements, and unfortunately, some of them aren’t evident. Take a look for yourself.

Tight Controls

If we choose to ignore the Arcade Mario Bros. title, we can safely say that the Mario series has always featured tight controls. Whether you were making pixel-perfect adjustments with a D-Pad, or performing aerial cartwheels with an analog stick, the player always had complete and finite control over the mustachioed hero’s movements. However, Nintendo is pushing a control scheme on this game that will prove to be unideal. They say that disconnected Joy-Con with motion controls is the best way to experience Odyssey. However, that leaves us with the Switch’s signature small sticks (or S.S.S.S. for short). The analogue sticks on Switch aren’t very tall, and thus have a reduced range of motion. That’s fine for games like Breath of the Wild, where your character is often traversing in the same direction for long periods. But for intricate platforming, more range is needed.

I would recommend the Pro Controller as an alternative, but we run into further complications with that scheme, just like we do in Handheld mode: motion controls disappear (good), and are replaced with complicated combinations (bad). You would think with all the face- and shoulder-buttons at the Switch’s disposal, simple assignments would suffice, but unfortunately, performing the spinning-Cappy-throw (for example) requires you to physically spin Mario in a circle before hitting the Cappy button.

Another area you will notice the absence of tight controls is in 2D segments—you know—the really cool-looking 8-bit graffiti art portions? As attractive as those look in trailers, it’s really weird and off-putting to play with a modern controller. Imagine trying to navigate the original Super Mario Bros. with an analogue stick, and you’ll get an idea of the sensation. Furthermore, 3D “rules” of Mario still apply during these retro levels, which means running into a Goomba doesn’t make you shrink down, but you lose part of your life meter instead, resulting in a feeling of disconnect.

Level Design

If there’s one thing Super Mario Maker proved, it’s that we all have a long way to go in becoming level designers. The community generated courses simply caused me to appreciate Nintendo’s internal team more, who have proved time and time again that they can carefully craft experiences that will pull newcomers and veterans through to the end. Each level in a Mario game has clear goals, features, and themes. In Super Mario Odyssey, this clear-cut level design might be ditched in favor of an overly-open, sprawling collection of miniature attractions. Places to earn Moons are abundant, which could be a detriment to more meaningful challenges.

Progression Structure

To be perfectly honest, I’m most concerned about this one. We just discussed the plethora of Moons that this game contains, and it doesn’t excite me. 120 Power Stars was a lot to collect in Mario 64, but it was manageable thanks to a cohesive overworld that guides you to specific worlds, and specific tasks within those worlds. The developers of this new Switch title tout the fact that gameplay is returning to a sandbox nature, but that implementation can be taken too far.

In past Mario games, you know if you’re missing something. You know if a world is incomplete, and if a level was too difficult to clear for the time being.

In Odyssey you are provided with a list of Moons collected (with dates), but how will you know where new ones are? How will you know if you got all the Moons in a certain area, except one that you’re missing one in the corner? How much backtracking will be involved, and how many Moons will I pass up simply because I didn’t think to ground-pound a certain summit, or break an inconspicuous box?

You see, I’m a Shrine kind of guy. I love counting down from 120, hearing my Sheikah Slate alert me to a Shrine’s proximity as I enter a new area of the map… but you’ll never catch me trying to collect all the Korok Seeds. And I’m afraid that Moons are more akin to Seeds than Shrines. I hope I’m wrong.

Power-Ups

Gotta love Mario’s power-ups, right? Fire Flowers, Capes, Penguin Suits, Boo Mushrooms, and more! Well, they’re gone, folks. At least, that’s what this quote from the game’s producer heavily implies:
So when we wanted to create Mario games this time around we wanted to focus on the actions Mario can do and in previous Mario games he was able to get power-ups and new abilities. But this time around when we were making many different prototypes and changed our approach that found capturing or “possessing” enemies worked well so we stuck with that. -Mr. Koizumi

It’s unfortunate, to see such a mechanic go. In 2D Mario games, getting a Super Mushroom and earning that feeling of added security and power is iconic. In 3D titles, power-ups haven’t ever been as strongly implemented, but as a result, getting a Fire or Ice Flower felt like a treat. These elements have been discarded in favor of Cappy.

Gimmicks

Speaking of Cappy, he’s the new gimmick! New entries often feature a defining “gimmick,” be it Yoshi, Fludd, or over-the-top new power-ups like the Cat Suit. These open up whole new gameplay opportunities and dictate much of the level design. Odyssey’s most prominent and promising mechanic is Capture, which satisfies this aspect of the Mario formula nicely.
Let’s just hope Cappy doesn’t turn out to be the new Navi, eh?

Music

Mario music typically accomplishes two things. One: it’s catchy, and it gets stuck in your head. Two: it provides strong location associations. You can close your eyes and know exactly when Mario is underwater, in a dessert, or in Bowser’s castle. Did you just hear each of those themes in your head? I haven’t seen enough to know if Odyssey will deliver on this front, but there’s a good chance it will.

Enemies & Bosses

Baddies in the Mushroom Kingdom are always fun to stomp, and they don’t usually get repetitive or bothersome like the creatures in Metroid: Samus Returns. Hopefully, this game’s design will still lend itself to some combat, rather than just Capturing the majority of enemies in sight.

Bosses, while providing a spectacle, are typically an easy three-hit affair. This is an area where the new Switch title could easily improve upon tradition, and make boss encounters more intricate and memorable.

Charm

What would a Mario game be without charm? Character design, animations, music, and polish all create a compound for charm. Mario may be formidable when facing the forces of evil, but he’s equally adorable.

So… what’s this about real tyrannosaurus rexes roaming around? And realistic, proportionate humans walking alongside Mario in New Donk City?

I’m really questioning these design choices, and have been ever since the game was revealed.

Conclusion

Overall, Super Mario Odyssey appears to be a hodge-podge.
That’s the word for it. Just a big stew of locations, art-styles, new and old Mario sensibilities, and certainly a gigantic mix of objectives and tasks.

Will such a recipe, with that many ingredients, actually turn out well? I sure hope so, because I’m a day-one customer and lifetime Mario fan. I do trust Nintendo, but I’m not fully sold on this new direction, and I know I won’t be unless I take the game home and it proves me wrong. If that happens, I’ll update you! Fortunately, I’m entering the experience with low expectations, and that’s the safest posture to take. We’ll find out on October 27th!

What Does “8-Bit” Mean?

Ah, pixel art…Nothing says “video games” quite like a 32×32 pixel sprite. Retro sprites are a fascinating art form: unlike many other mediums, the conventions of pixel art were born of technical limitations, not creative freedom. While the nuances of the medium are often lost on modern developers, who see the limitations as an excuse to churn out overly simplistic animations, classic games would often feature impressively detailed animation frames. To this day, even single frames of these animations are downright iconic and instantly recognizable to fans around the world, something that few other animated works can boast!

Pop quiz! Which of the following are 8-bit images?

Probably should've added some negative space to the top and bottom...
Please excuse the fact that these aren’t in chronological order.

Believe it or not, only the second one from the right is 8-bit. “B-but, but the NES and the Gameboy were both 8-bit systems!” you say. Yes, well, maybe it’s time we actually examine what exactly “8-bit” means.

In Computer Imagery

Let’s start with what bits mean for pictures. There are two basic ways of composing pictures: color channels and indexing. In a picture that uses color channels, each color is represented by a mixture of primary colors with each primary color composing one of the image’s color channels. These colors are red, green, blue, and sometimes an additional “alpha” channel that represents opacity (i.e. how much you can’t see through it). Every pixel in the image is a combination of these channels.

The number of bits dedicated to each pixel is known as the image’s color depth. As you may know, bits are binary digits, hence the name (binary digit). Because of this, every sequence of bits can represent 2n values (where n is the number of bits used). That means an image with a color depth of three—which is to say one bit per channel—can have two shades of red (fully black and fully red), two shades of green, and two shades of blue, which combine for a total of eight (23) colors. In today’s day and age, most images either have a color depth of 24 for plain R.G.B. or 32 for R.G.B.A., dedicating eight bits (one byte) to each color channel. That means R.G.B. images these days can contain up to 16,777,216 colors. Any more than a byte per color channel results in diminishing returns.

The number of bits dedicated to each pixel is known as the image’s color depth.

As you can imagine, three bytes per pixel adds up quickly on a console that only has 2 kilobytes of video R.A.M. While it’s easy to forget in this age where most computers typically have four to sixteen gigabytes of R.A.M. and terabytes of storage, space—both memory and long-term storage—was a valuable commodity back in the 80’s and 90’s. That’s where color indexing comes into play. Instead of storing color values per pixel, indexed images have a set of color values stored in a lookup table (i.e. the palette) with each pixel being represented by a single number that refers back to a position in the lookup table. For instance, if the color in position 5 of the table is red, then every pixel with the value 5 will be displayed as red. While this would limit the number of colors in an 8-bit image to 256, that’s 256 out of any of the thousands or millions of 16-bit or 24-bit colors available.

So, knowing this, where does this leave the NES’s graphics? An NES sprite consists of four colors, three visible and one transparent. That makes NES sprites 2-bit sprites. Don’t look at me like that, it’s the truth!

Now I’m sure some of you are thinking, “well, just because the sprites are only 2-bit doesn’t mean NES graphics aren’t 8-bit. The NES could produce way more than four colors at a time!” Okay, while we’re stretching terms a bit (or more accurately, crumpling them up and chucking them into the fireplace), I’ll be generous. The NES used the YpbPr palette, which consisted of 64 colors. So if we were to hypothetically classify the NES’s graphics in regards to the total number of colors available, that would mean the NES has 6-bit graphics. To add insult to injury, only 54 of the bits are useful, as many of them are identical shades of black. That said, the NES did include an additional three tinting bits (one for each primary color). While this increases the theoretical number of colors to 432, the tint is applied globally, meaning all sprites and tiles on screen were tinted at the same time. So, in actuality, it really just had 8 sets of 54 colors. What are we at now, 9-bits?

Note the conspicuous lack of yellow. No wonder Sakurai wanted Kirby to be pink!
All 64 colors the NES could produce prior to tinting.

What Does 8-Bit Really Mean Then?

So why is it we call sprites from the NES “8-bit” when they’re actually 2/6/9-bit? Simple, they were from games released on an 8-bit console. Of course, that begs the question: “what’s it mean when we say a console is 8-bit?” The number of bits ascribed to a console refers to its central processing unit. The NES used a Ricoh 2A03 processor (or its counterpart the 2A07, used in P.A.L. consoles), which is an 8-bit processor.

Looks kind of like one of those "Hexbugs" I see on TV.
The CPU of the Nintendo Entertainment System.

So what’s makes an 8-bit processor an 8-bit processor? When someone says a processor is “X-bits”, they are referring to the processor’s word size. In computer science, the term word refers to the standard computational unit of a machine. That means an 8-bit processor has a word that’s eight bits long, which in turn means that the C.P.U. processes eight bits in one operation.

My System Has More Bits Than Yours!

Just how important is a system’s word size? These days, manufacturers don’t even mention their consoles’ word size, but back in the 80’s and 90’s, it was a major part of a platform’s marketing. The logic was if a system had a 16-bit C.P.U., it could process twice as much data as a console that only had an 8-bit C.P.U., right? Unfortunately, the reality isn’t that simple.

While technically a 16-bit C.P.U. processes twice as much data bit-wise as an 8-bit C.P.U. per calculation, we need to keep in mind what that data is actually representing. Consider the following binary numbers:

  • 00011001

  • 00000000 00011001

Both the 8-bit value and the 16-bit value equal 25, with each representing the contents of one word for an 8-bit and a 16-bit system, respectively. Notice how they appear identical save for the number of leading zeros? Words can be thought of like boxes: if the number placed inside is smaller than the box, then the excess space is filled with packing peanuts… or, zeros. This way, the processor doesn’t have to worry about how long the number’s binary representation is and instead just performs whatever calculations are needed on the entire word. All of that is to say that unless the calculation in question requires numbers that exceed the maximum value that can be represented with the number of bits in the system’s C.P.U., there isn’t actually any speed boost.

That said, when the largest number you can handle at one time is 255, those extra-bits really do make a difference, so maybe the 8-bit and 16-bit divide isn’t the best example.


In the end, the reason we call sprites from NES games “8-bit” isn’t because the graphics themselves are 8-bit, but because of a sort of linguistic cross-contamination. The systems of the 80’s and 90’s were advertised by exploiting consumer ignorance to turn technical terms into marketing buzzwords, resulting in the systems having much of their identity tied to these terms. Because of that, anything associated with the consoles from that era is going to be collectively referred to by the one unifying descriptor available: 8, 16, 32, or even 64-bit. In the end, it’s ultimately harmless; these terms have an understood meaning and are thus perfectly descriptive in the context in which they’re used. Really, the only real confusion this causes is that I’m somehow okay with it; normally I’m the type go on a long rant whenever anyone says “Ethernet cable” when they really mean “Cat-5”.

Sonic is Back!

Let me begin with a disclaimer: I am a total Sonic the Hedgehog amateur and have very little experience with the games. I grew up with NES and SNES, while my neighbor across the street had Genesis consoles. This allowed us to get the best of both worlds without actually having to own both consoles. I was always a “Mario guy”, but when we wanted to get our Sonic fix, we would go to my neighbor’s house and play it there. That’s about the extent of my history with Sonic – I recall the first game, Sonic 2, and Sonic and Knuckles, but only vaguely. I have no history with the 3D games after I rented one as a kid and instantly felt ripped off. It’s a franchise I have always wanted to get into, but I just never felt the timing was right. Well, until now (I know, I jumped on the bandwagon).

Sonic Mania was everything I was hoping a new Sonic game would be. The developers (a small group of Sonic Fans), did an absolutely wonderful job of making the game appeal to series vets and newcomers alike.

You can tell this game was made with care by people with a passion for the blue hedgehog.

From the intro cinematic to the easter eggs, this game is bursting with fan appeal. With my lack of experience, I know I missed a handful of references, but the level design in this game is what kept it so fresh for me. If you aren’t aware, the level mix has old and new levels. The developers did such a nice job that half the time I couldn’t even tell if a level was new or a classic. Beyond that, it’s fast-paced, but not too fast. It’s tricky, but not too difficult. Everything about this game feels just right. The levels never grow tedious, and all of your skills are tested in the final level for a grand finale.

It’s apparent that everything in the game was handcrafted with care.

Even though it has been over a decade since I touched a Sonic game, after playing Mania for only a few hours, I felt like a veteran. Playing the game is so empowering, and it just makes you want to keep playing. At first, I was tremendously terrible at the ball collecting bonus stages and the race mode, but after a while, I found myself looking forward to these variations. Something about unlocking all of the bonus content and collecting those Chaos Emeralds just feels so good. Considering the many hours I put into this game, the $20 price point makes it a great value. Not to mention some of the music is among the best I’ve heard in recent years.

This game is filled with action-packed fun.

It will be interesting later this year when Sonic Forces releases as it will give Sega insight as to what the fans actually want. Will the developers be eager to create more classic sidescrollers, or will they continue to ride the rails and release 3D games? I believe the success of Sonic Forces will answer that question. One thing I do know is that Mania set a pretty high bar. Who knew that all Sonic needed to be revitalized in the eyes of gamers was a little fan service and a lot of passion. Regardless of the outcome, one thing is for certain; Sonic has a new fan.

The Metroid Conspiracy

Warning: The following blog contains spoilers for both Metroid Fusion and Metroid: Other M.

A while back, I made a cryptic remark along the lines of, “it’s almost as if Other M was an attempt to rewrite Fusion in hopes of removing the latter from the series continuity.” While the announcement of two new Metroid games at E3 back in June was exciting—and certainly bodes well for the franchise—I can’t help but think something’s off about the whole thing. This is just a hypothesis, but I think Nintendo really did try to retcon Metroid Fusion!

Motive

But why would the Big N try to remove Fusion from the series continuity? Well, first let me just point out that the Metroid series is rather unique among Nintendo’s repertoire in that it actually observes continuity. Unlike other series that either only present plots that span a few games before moving on to another setting (such as Fire Emblem) or are designed “gameplay-first” with timelines being a mere afterthought (e.g. Zelda), the events of each Metroid game are closely tied to those of the games previous to it. So unlike other series, plot developments have consequences moving forward.

The events of each Metroid game are closely tied to those of the games previous to it.

This makes Fusion problematic for a company that’s rather fond of maintaining status quo. Metroid Fusion shakes up the series in a couple ways. Firstly, it ditches the heroine’s iconic appearance, potentially disrupting the franchise’s branding. Samus now sports a rubbery, blue suit instead of her iconic orange, metal suit and pilots a spindly, purple spacecraft instead of her more rounded, orange ship. Moreover, Fusion ends with her still using this equipment. Even when she regains her powers from SA-X, Samus is still wearing the fusion suit, now just with an orange color palette.

I can't tell you how happy I was to find two pictures of Samus in striking the same pose in different suits.
Years of branding makes one of these more marketable than the other.

Of course, this isn’t that big of a deal, as redesigns are reversible or even welcome at times (I’m looking at you Breath of the Wild). No, the biggest problem is what the game does to the continuing Metroid storyline. Metroid Fusion ends with Samus directly defying the Galactic Federation. She not only destroys their metroid breeding program, but foils their attempts to weaponize the X-parasites. By the end of the game, she’s most likely angered some very powerful people. I think it’s safe to say that after Fusion, Samus is a wanted criminal.

Metroid Fusion has far reaching consequences for the series, fundamentally changing the relationships between the Metroid universe’s various factions and thus the types of stories that can be told. This presents an intimidating challenge, as these new stories would require the writers to accept that they can’t rely on the plot conventions of previous games. Furthermore, shifting the focus to combating a corrupt industrial-military complex instead of the unilaterally evil space pirates may radically alter the tone of the series, potentially alienating fans.

Method

I’ve already gone on at length about how Other M is essentially a retelling of Fusion, but let’s look at one of the ways the two are different: the ending. As mentioned, Fusion ends with Sammy triumphantly thwarting the federation’s misguided efforts to weaponize the lifeforms of SR-388. Other M ends on a much more somber note; after Ms. Aran and co. manage to defeat the malevolent (and possibly “just misunderstood”) A.I. controlling the bottle ship, the federation arrives and starts sweeping up. Samus is allowed to go freely, but knows that the federation will take whatever data it can find and continue to research bio-weapons. It has a very different “you can’t beat the system” kind of feel to it.

Other M‘s ending has a very different “you can’t beat the system” kind of feel to it.

Other M‘s ending is much more open ended: Samus isn’t implied to be an enemy of the state, thus allowing her to take more jobs from the federation. This means that if Other M replaced Fusion, Nintendo could easily continue with the typical Metroid plot structure of taking assignments from the federation, which in turn means future games need not revolve around governmental conspiracies.

Supporting Evidence

This brings us to the present day. Nintendo has just released a remake of Metroid II: Return of Samus and Metroid Prime 4 is on the horizon…somewhere. Notice anything strange about that? One’s a remake and the other is a continuation of the Prime series. For those of you who don’t know, the Metroid Prime games take place between the events of Metroid and Metroid II. That means they’re technically prequels and don’t continue the story. Fusion is the last entry on the Metroid timeline; there hasn’t been an actual continuation of the overarching narrative in fifteen years! I think it’s safe to say Nintendo either isn’t interested in continuing the story, or just doesn’t know how.

There hasn’t been a continuation of the overarching narrative in fifteen years!

See You Next Mission?

In a weird way, I’m actually glad Other M received so much criticism. If it had been a resounding success, Fusion may have been quietly removed from the series’s continuity. While I’m positive that Nintendo feels like they’ve painted themselves into a corner, I think Fusion sets up a fascinating and fresh new direction for the franchise’s story. Yeah, it’d have a different tone from the games before, but I think the acclaim Fusion got for incorporating horror elements proves that the series is capable of tonal evolution. Unfortunately, with things as they are, I’m losing hope we’ll ever see a proper Metroid 5

Why Smash Bros. Is Awesome

Two months ago I wrote about why Smash Bros. is stupid. While I stand by what I said, I think it is time to balance out the conversation. There are so many problems with the Smash Bros. series, but there are so many things to love as well. These are just a few reasons to love these games.

  • The Characters. While there are a few characters on everyone’s wishlist that have not made it to a game yet (I’m looking at you, real Geno), Nintendo has done a pretty awesome job bringing out the best fighters from their own games as well as characters from other companies. When they confirmed Sonic in Brawl, I completely lost my mind. The same thing happened again when they showed Mega Man in Smash 4. They even polled the players to ask what characters they wanted to see as DLC, and they listened! Even if you were not familiar with a character when they introduced them (like the Fire Emblem characters), it would be nearly impossible to think of playing these games without them.
  • The uniqueness of each game. Many people complain about Melee being too fast-paced, or Brawl being too janky, but, honestly, I do not think the series would be complete without every single (official) iteration. The original demonstrated that fighting games did not have to be put in a box. Melee showed just how serious a Nintendo fighter could be. Brawl showed how a fighting game’s story mode could be fun and interesting, and gave us the ability to customize it to no end. The 3DS version allowed us to take it on the go (also, one of the top players in our region used his 3DS as a controller on the Wii U version because he was more comfortable with it at the time). The Wii U offering gave us everything we want in a modern fighting game, including online play, balancing patches, and worthwhile DLC.
  • Custom combos. Any fighting game worth its salt has some sort of combo system; one attack leads into another to create a devastating string of hits. Smash Bros is like that, but there isn’t a set system. Any combo has to be “discovered”, and not only that, but almost all of them are situational and can be performed at certain damage percentages. This means that you have to be creative as time progresses; you cannot just use the same combo over and over without any chance of dropping it. Smash Bros. is exciting, dynamic, and will never be formulaic because of this custom combo system.
  • Killing people with Luigi’s down taunt. Hahahaha… Hahaha… HAHAHA! That is great.
  • Low tier heroes. Now, I know that this is nothing new to the fighting game scene, but there is always something exciting about seeing a player do well who plays a character you do not see played often, or a character often considered “bad”. Watching someone tear through the bracket with Ganondorf or seeing Nairo switch to Bowser for certain matchups gets everyone hype! One of my all time favorite memories was a thrown-together tournament in the Brawl days at my college. I made it to grand finals with Ike, and I was up against one of the top players in the region, playing Peach. I ended up winning the match, using my low-tier character. Years later, Scott had the chance to talk with him, and he still recalled the event, mentioning I had a great Ike. That victory meant so much to me, not just for who my opponent was, but for the obstacle I overcame as someone who played a “bad” character.
  • Jank. Yes, I know this was on my list of things that made Smash Bros. stupid, but who does not love to see a nice jank compilation? Things happen in Smash Bros. that would never happen in other fighting games, simply because of the variables involved. A hitbox that extends far past what it should? OK. Characters that randomly start glowing? Sure! Samus’s Up-B killing at 15% or less? Why not?! Part of the fun of Smash Bros. is wondering what unpredictable thing you’re going to see next…. and then raging about it.
  • The Subspace Emissary. I already mentioned this, but, did you know that Brawl had a story mode? It was even pretty good! In fact, probably the most common complaint I hear about Smash 4’s transition from Brawl is that it did not carry over a story mode. It felt like they put time and effort into the stages and the bosses, and might have made a complete game by itself (maybe at a discounted price). I have not played it in a long time, but I can still remember specific parts of the story and how epic the scale of it was.
  • D1. Who does not like D1? No one, that’s who. (He’s the guy that we get the DEEEESSSSSTTTRRRRRRUCTION meme from. If you’ve never heard of it, well, I can’t help you!)
  • A million ways to play. When I play Smash Bros. I typically play it one of two ways: tournament rules singles and tournament rules doubles. I enjoy that. But even if I did not, I would never run out of ways to play Smash Bros.! Break the targets, arcade mode, all items on, custom stages, events, eight players, amiibo, weird token-pushy-offy game, story, board the platforms, Crazy Orders (or whatever it is called), coins, All-Star, multi-man, handicaps, three-on-one, metal+stamina… the list goes on! You could play the different Smash modes forever and never see it all. There are things to collect, secrets to unlock, and styles to invent. Whatever way you play games, the Smash Bros. series has something to offer you.

There are so many things to love about the Smash Bros. series that I could never list them in a readable blog. Share in the comments below what you love about Smash Bros.

Streaming Nintendo Games – Needlessly Complex

So, you want to stream Nintendo games, huh? I don’t blame you! They make the best first party games. An incredible amount of polish and attention to detail goes into every title that the Japanese game developer publishes.

The origin of these games does bring up an interesting point to consider, however: there’s quite a big culture difference between Nintendo and many of their competitors in the market. They make weird decisions that don’t always make sense to their fans here in America, Europe, or elsewhere around the globe. Sometimes the ways that Nintendo interacts with their fans can only be described as “backward.”

Let me put it bluntly: they don’t make it easy for you to stream their content. You’re in for a bit of an uphill battle, but don’t let me discourage you! It’s totally possible to get a stream up and running for your Nintendo console.

Well – as long as we’re talking about a home console and not a portable.

For 3DS games, you’re out of luck. You basically have to have a development kit to get any kind of capture device rigged up to your handheld.

So let’s keep the discussion focused on their home consoles. And away we go!

Streaming As A Nintendo Fan

I’m about as big a fan of Nintendo as you can get. I buy everything they release and I make videos about their stuff on a daily basis. My free time is devoted to this company, which is why I hope you’ll understand when I say I’ve never even touched an Xbox One or PlayStation 4 controller. I don’t think I’ve even been in the same room as one (I need to diversify my friends).

But I hear that Microsoft and Sony fans have it a bit easier with streaming. PS4 has a share button that you just press to start your broadcast? Those guys are spoiled!

Nintendo has never catered to streaming culture. They’ve never made it easy to stream their games – it’s not built into the hardware in any way. That is… until now (hopefully!). You see, there is a Share button on their newest product, the Nintendo Switch. It’s still not equipped with built-in streaming capabilities; it only takes screenshots until a future update expands its use.

They say that some form of video sharing is on its way, so let’s keep our fingers crossed.

That’s not to say that Nintendo’s hardware prevents you from streaming – you can still arrange a setup that works. For me, I have a Live Gamer Portable device that accepts HDMI (for Wii U, Switch) and AV (Wii). It works very well, and I was able to purchase it for around $100. Not bad to get started with streaming Nintendo games!

Nintendo Creators Program

But not so fast. You see, Nintendo doesn’t like you uploading footage of their games to YouTube and making a profit on it.

There’s nothing they can really do about the ad revenue you receive as you are live on YouTube Gaming or Twitch, but they will seize the AdSense you would normally get off replays.

Your videos with Nintendo content will get flagged instantaneously – you won’t even have time to adjust your video titles, descriptions, or make them go live before they’re claimed by the Big N.

This is one of the main frustrations that Nintendo fans experience as they get into streaming. Why? Because many other companies just aren’t like this. And that’s because they view streamers as “free advertising,” which makes sense. YouTubers and streamers are what game developers call “influencers,” because they/we get the word out about video games. We play the ones we like (usually) and the audience sees us having a great time! Many publishers thank streamers for showing off their product so much.

Nintendo doesn’t see it that way. They see videos featuring their IP and decide that they should control who gets the ad money.

Thankfully, they don’t take it all. The company offers the Nintendo Creators Program which ultimately allows you to receive a portion of the profits from your YouTube videos, whether they are replays from a live stream or original content featuring gameplay property they own.

You sign up for the NCP with your Google account, and you’re faced with two options.

The Limited Options

You can either register your entire channel under the NCP banner, or you can choose to submit flagged videos individually and request part of your revenue back.

Option 1 allows you to receive 60%, and option 2 qualifies you for 50%. Keep in mind, these cuts are taken from the portion not already kept by YouTube itself.

The problem is, option 1 is basically fit for no one but Nintendo’s own YouTube channel. If you register your entire channel, you’re not allowed to feature gameplay from any other company other Nintendo.

Yep – you’re locked into Nintendo gameplay videos if you want to earn the greater portion of your revenue back.

So, inevitably, you’ll choose option 2 and submit each video flagged by Nintendo, and hope they agree to split the profit with you.

The Abysmal List

The reason I say “hope” is because not even every Nintendo game qualifies for this rev-share model. Buried within the NCP program is what they call a whitelist (link for your convenience). Games that are on this list qualify for submission!

Why Nintendo limits this list, I have no idea.

The entire Super Smash Bros. series is notably absent, which drives me nuts because it has a thriving eSports scene and Nintendo should be throwing those fans a bone. Smash players are Nintendo’s most dedicated, hardcore, loyal customers. How do I know? Because they still haul around their Gamecubes and 50 pound CRT televisions to play Super Smash Bros. Melee!

NES Remix for Wii U is whitelisted.
NES Remix 2 is not.

…What?

I’m sorry, I can’t make sense of it for you. I wish I could.

The Principal

After you jump through a few hoops, you’ll be set. Once you get past the NCP registration and the hardware setup, a lot of this nonsense kind of fades into the back of your mind as you start enjoying the games on their own merit and connect with your audience.

Should Nintendo be more understanding to streamers? Yes, they should. But they could also just seize all profits and choose not to offer the NCP, so I won’t complain too much.

The slice of advertising revenue isn’t really worth it to Two Button Crew, so we turned advertising off in favor of receiving support through Patreon. Ads aren’t the only way to make money playing games!

I don’t want to worry about the ad revenue – I just want to have fun playing Nintendo games and making friends with my viewers. Like I said, I’m a dedicated Nintendo fan. I run a YouTube channel that puts out daily content – discussions, reviews, streams – you name it. Check us out at Two Button Crew – we cover the latest developments in the Nintendo sector every single day, and we have literally hundreds of videos for you to browse in the backlog! We’d love to see you around and welcome you to the Crew.

DLC – Is it Actually Doing the Industry a Favor?

I finally got around to playing Breath of the Wild’s First DLC pack and I had a lot of fun with it. When I finished it though, I started thinking whether or not DLC is really essential to enhance the experience of the game, or is it something that company’s feel obligated to do now, because it may look bad if they don’t. Obviously, there are different types of DLC out there, including but not limited to: enhancements (BoTW DLC Pack 1), additional story elements (BoTW DLC Pack 2), new modes, etc. I get that the advantage of DLC is that companies can release their games without further delay if they want to make an addition to the game but it is too late to fit it in the release schedule, and DLC can make a game last longer. But is that also opening the door for companies to release “unfinished” games? Nintendo themselves have even expressed disinterest in DLC in the past, saying that they want the consumer to have the full experience up front, but the tide has apparently turned.

A while back, I recall a company releasing DLC that was actually already loaded on to the original disc. Long story short, this created a huge controversy, and ever since, DLC has had sort of a negative tone to it, for me at least. The fact that you could buy the disc and not truly own all of its content seemed, well, cheap. I know that this is a rare case, but I consider it a turning point for this type of additional content. Just the idea of adding something after the fact makes me question the motive and ethics in general.

But from a positive viewpoint, DLC can drastically increase the life of a game if done right. I’m hoping the second DLC pack for Breath of the Wild, The Champion’s Ballad, will add a lot more to the game and justify the $20 price I paid for both DLC packs. Considering $20 is 1/3 of the price of the entire game, I’m expecting a lot of content. I do think it’s smart for Nintendo to “sell” the DLC a little more by releasing amiibo with it, hence the four Champion amiibo, which do look amazing. In my opinion, the more DLC can stand alone, the better it is. Yes, add-ons and enhancements are nice, but I think it’s tougher to pay for those compared with actual, fresh content. I do want to disclaim that this is in no way a review of The Master Trials DLC.

Mario Kart 8 is another game that comes to mind. I loved the bonus tracks included in the DLC, but I still can’t help but think they should have been included in the actual game. My fear, and point of this blog is that DLC in general, if not done right, can only decrease the value of the consumer dollar. Nintendo has surely jumped on the DLC bandwagon, and I think they are still in the experimentation phase. It seems like when it comes to releasing content after the fact, more developers have been getting away with charging more for less. At least that’s how things seem to be trending. The Master Trials was a fun motivator for me to get back in the game, but I really felt like it should have been included in the first place. Hopefully, the Champion’s Ballad proves to be a breath of fresh air (that pun was intended).

The Champion’s Ballad is scheduled to release this Holiday Season

It seems like the DLC trend Nintendo has been riding is here to stay. It will be interesting to see how it evolves.

The Golden Age of Gaming

Remember the good old days?

Longtime fans of Nintendo will often reference the past fondly, maybe even going so far as to say that the company has since lost its way.
Look, I get it. We named this brand “Two Button Crew” out of our nostalgia for Nintendo’s first game console and its simple controls.
But before we continue focusing our infatuation with what has been, I’d like to pose a question: What if the Golden Age is actually now? Have you stopped to wonder if we could be experiencing Nintendo’s best efforts currently?
I think so. Allow me to prove it by examining each era individually, and by the end, you might just agree!

NES

A strong case can be made for Nintendo’s debut home console. It made arcade-worthy experiences accessible in the home; revolutionary at the time. The hardware and controllers were simple and intuitive, and developers used the limitations of the day in creative ways. The resulting game library was expansive, full of memorable games that were easy to pick up, but difficult to conquer. We owe the NES generation for nearly all of the franchises we continue to enjoy.

SNES

The Super Nintendo period was one of refinement and perfection. Just as the console received a “Super” upgrade, so did each of Nintendo’s tentpole series. The Holy Trinity of Super Mario World, Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, and Super Metroid is a trifecta of “Best Game Ever” contenders. Titles like these succeeded by taking the formulae of previous games and maturing and enhancing them.

Nintendo 64

How we played video games was forever changed. Dimensionality increased by 50% with the introduction of polygonal 3D, and with the help of the analog stick, we were invited into Nintendo’s imaginative worlds with an all-new plane of immersion.
Another innovation must be credited to the 64: Group gaming. Yes, multiplayer modes existed previously, but this console fully realized the idea by including four controller ports and bringing people together with games like Mario Kart 64, Super Smash Bros., and the Mario Party series.

GameCube

This era was all about modernization. Nintendo’s competitors were beginning to steal the spotlight with their specs, and the Big N didn’t want to fall behind. However, they still wanted to provide the affordable alternative, so the resulting console suffered a bit of a hardware identity crisis. The upgrade from N64 was similar to the one seen between NES and SNES, where the approach remained largely the same but games improved alongside technology.
Nintendo was not afraid to experiment with software on GameCube, bringing us fresh experiences like Luigi’s Mansion, Pikmin, and Animal Crossing. Many classics from this era like Super Smash Bros. Melee, Metroid Prime, and Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door are viewed as best-in-series games, and are begging to be played to this day.

Wii

Nintendo’s brand awareness exploded. A video game console with two letter i’s became a household name overnight, and Nintendo wasn’t ready. Production of the motion-controlled units couldn’t keep up with demand, and the company had to reevaluate their target audience on the fly. Development and marketing efforts were split between catering to core Nintendo fans and the newly-tapped blue ocean markets. It was great to see Nintendo topping the charts, but some of the decisions came across as tone-deaf to longtime Nintendo fans, like their focus on casual experiences during gaming press conferences.
Certainly, some strong titles were released during this era like Super Mario Galaxy, Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, and Excite Truck (don’t look at me like that!), but the console was crippled by its outdated, low-res graphics and weak online support.

Wii U

The misbegotten console. In a clear attempt to capitalize on Wii’s success, the branding stayed along with attempts to appeal to the casual crowd. What Nintendo did not anticipate was how sharply those users would pivot to mobile gaming. By the time Nintendo shifted their focus back to their faithful followers to deliver core titles like Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, Super Mario 3D World, and Star Fox Zero, it was too late. Slow sales lead to a lack of 3rd Party and Indie games, leaving fans to wait for 1st Party releases while Nintendo delievered the best games on its more successful 3DS handheld.
Wii U’s GamePad controller was useful for (spatially-limited) off-TV gaming, but its other implementations often got in the way of fun by splitting players’ attention across two screens. Solid software attempts weren’t enough to save Nintendo from the lack of buzz around their system. This console generation firmly knocked Nintendo off their pedestal and left them hungry.

Switch

At present day, Nintendo has launched their new console/handheld hybrid and are following it up with a stream of top-notch software. Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild paired with the sleek hardware made an enticing match. Splatoon 2 and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe brought the best experiences from Wii U to where more gamers could enjoy them. A level of hype surrounds Switch that hasn’t been seen since the Wii days over a decade ago, only this time… Nintendo fans are the ones generating the noise. Nintendo appears to be pulling out all the stops to support Switch with mainline entries in their top IP, from Super Mario Odyssey this holiday to Metroid Prime 4 and a Pokemon RPG in the future. If this is how the first few years look, imagine what we’ll be talking about in half a decade.
Indies love the platform… 3rd Parties are coming into the fold… Nintendo hit a real home run with this one, having crafted a console this a joy to play, feel, dock, and reconfigure.

I declare the Golden Age of Gaming… NOW!
We’re living it today, The momentum that Nintendo has entered into this console generation with is insane.
Many people “got it” the instant they watched the reveal trailer. Some critics doubted it at launch, but in the time since, the console has earned its way into the hearts of many unsuspecting fans.

And I believe it’s here to stay. We will likely see more iterative updates for Switch hardware, in line with what Nintendo has always fone with their handhelds. Joy-Con XL, anyone? Switch VR Headset?

Grab yourself some games and enjoy them with friends! Nintendo’s going all in on Switch, so do the same.
Enjoy the Golden Age of Gaming.

Embrace the good new days.

Why “The Crew” is the Best

TBC’s regular viewers (the Crew) are truly the people who make Two Button Crew work. If you are reading this, you are probably one of them. If you are not, we welcome all with open arms (more on that later)! With such a growing community, I thought it would be helpful to remind myself what makes our community unique.

  • Faithfulness:

With the exception of a few, TBC’s videos have had consistent views, which means that the same viewers come back day after day to watch our videos. Recently, Scott and I have gone back and looked at the low points of our daily show. But I realized that, even when our videos were not our best efforts, our fans were always there, watching faithfully… Except for the Mystery Block. No one watched the Mystery Block.

Highway run…

Our overall channel views (which just recently crossed the 100,000 mark. Yay!) and comments section corroborate this fact; many of our regulars comment on all of our videos. Speaking of YouTube comments…

  • Kindness:

Something that is so common in many communities, no matter what type, is toxicity. People tend to tear each other down and apart much more than they like to build each other up. The Crew has been nothing short of amazing in this aspect. Comments on our videos are nearly always positive, whether it is a compliment or a criticism; all of it is done with grace. It was recently suggested to me that we add a “rules” section to our Discord. My first reaction was, “Yeah, that’s a really good idea. Why haven’t we done that already?” Then I realized that it was because we have not had to worry about such problems before. Just this last week seven of you recommended Scott for a gaming journalism position on Twitter to IGN. Seven! Kindness like this is a unique characteristic for a gaming community. As the Crew grows, I hope this is something we never lose.

  • Progression

The last element I want to focus on is something I like to call progression. Everyone starts out watching a single video (I wonder how many of you can remember which one it was!); this is the “peruser” phase. A peruser is shopping around to see what channel is worth investing in. After a few views, a peruser might become a subscriber and enter the Crew. From here, subscribers become faithful watchers and commenters. Some of the Crew, after spending some time in the family, might even take the next step into patronage; this means that they not only believe that the Crew is worth investing their time but also their resources. This is crazy to me, and I am so grateful that there are so many who have taken that step. Beyond this, some (*cough* Glen *cough) have even become content creators for TBC. Not every member of the Crew finds his way into the inner circle, but it amazes me to see fans make their progression further into the Crew.

The Crew should go down in the history books as the greatest internet-based community ever. Thank you so much for supporting TBC.

Manual Transition

If you’re old enough to remember printed game manuals, you’ve probably heard gamers joke about how superfluous they were. Ever since the mid 90’s, games have featured in-game tutorials and, even then, most people are smart enough to figure out the basics just by fiddling with the controller for a few seconds. They were utterly redundant. And yet, just about everyone admits that the first thing they did when they bought a new game as a kid was read those blasted booklets cover to cover. I know I did.

Nowadays, print manuals have been phased out in favor of in-game tutorials and digital guides accessible with a few, quick button presses. But just because something’s extinct doesn’t mean it’s not worth studying. Let’s take a look at how game manuals evolved over the years.

Kids love extinct things!
These have been gone for eons, and yet every natural history museum has to have at least one.

I’ll be limiting this examination to one mainline Mario title per console generation: Super Mario Bros., Super Mario World, Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine, and Super Mario Galaxy 2. Why? Because contrary to popular belief I actually have a life, and to do this properly is way more work than even I’m willing to put out.

Printing

The most noticeable difference between manuals at first glance is their physical construction. The original Super Mario Bros.‘s manual is approximately 5.2×4 inches, which is considerably smaller the manuals of later generations, which all average to roughly 4.6×7 inches. Of course, size differences pale in comparison to the actual printing. With the exception of the cover and the gold Nintendo Seal of Approval on the first page, Super Mario Bros.‘s manual is entirely in black and white. Later generations would feature full color print for their manuals. Moreover, much more thought was given to how the pages were laid out, with sentences no longer being split between pages and more organic placement of text and illustrations. The last item of note is Super Mario Galaxy 2‘s manual is written in three languages: English, French, and Spanish. As to be expected, this tripled the booklet’s thickness.

Story

Back in the day, the only way to know a game’s plot often times was reading it in the game’s manual. Even after games started to become self-contained by providing opening cinematics, manuals continued to provide brief summaries of the game’s premise.

As to be expected, the plot summary of the first Super Mario Bros. is short and to the point. It describes what happens, without going into much detail as to how or why. Moreover, we don’t get to see things from any character’s point of view. Because of this, the narration has a sense of detachment from the plight of the hero, giving the plot summary a matter-of-fact tone. In short, it’s not so much a story as it is a plot.

In short, it’s not so much a story as it is a plot.

By contrast, Super Mario World‘s story uses a limited third-person narrative, presenting the story from Mario and Luigi’s perspective. The characters are presented as, well, characters: they’re given motives, emotions, and even dialog. Moreover, the story is actually presented as a narrative, with events playing out in sequence. Interestingly, the story (in the North American manual, at least), makes reference to the events of Super Mario Bros. 3, indicating that SMB3 is canonical despite Miyamoto stating it was all a stage-play…

Super Mario 64 continues the increased focus on narrative, notably by spending two whole pages on story! The story starts with a dose of self-awareness by asking, “Is there no end to the constant feuding between Mario and Bowser?” Afterward, the plot is told entirely from Mario’s perspective, with frequent interjections from the man himself. These quips from Mario are actually a bit jarring for anyone used to Mario’s modern portrayal, as they actually communicate some personality. It seems at this point Nintendo wasn’t afraid to let Mario be his own character instead of a stand-in for the player. Other than that, the story unfolds much like Super Mario World’s, which is to say a narrative instead of a plot. Interestingly, Mario 64 and Super Mario World‘s stories both include some overlap with what the player would see during gameplay.

It seems at this point Nintendo wasn’t afraid to let Mario be his own character instead of a stand-in for the player.

Super Mario Sunshine‘s story section is somewhere between the style of Super Mario Bros. and its super Nintendo and N64 predecessors, mostly leaning toward the former. While it attempts to convey the story with the sense of drama of Super Mario World and Mario 64, it only describes things in broad strokes. Like Super Mario Bros., there’s no focus on characters, instead favoring a description of events from an outside perspective. I assume this is in part due to the inclusion of cutscenes in the game itself. Since this was the first Mario game to be almost entirely self-contained when it came to plot, Nintendo probably thought it would be redundant to put information in the manual that the player would receive in-game.

Lastly, Super Mario Galaxy 2 somehow manages to beat even Super Mario Bros. in brevity. It doesn’t even set up the story’s conflict. All we learn from it is that Mario’s been invited to the castle and meets a Luma along the way. That’s it. The Prologue page actually devotes more space to character bios than story, which—given the game’s focus on gameplay over any semblance of plot—is probably appropriate.

Controls and Gameplay

The most important part of a game, and thereby the most important part of a game manual, is the gameplay. Gameplay and controls vary from game to game, even within the same franchise. As such, these sections are going to differ quite a bit on the granular level. Seeing as this is an examination of the evolution of game manuals and not the Mario series, I’m going to look at the big picture: what’s emphasized and how those instructions are written.

So right off the bat, I noticed something peculiar about the way pre-2000’s manuals were written. Often times when explaining controls or specific actions, the manuals often phrase actions in terms of Mario and not the player. For example, when listing the uses for the A-button, the Super Mario World manual says it “Makes Mario jump,” instead of, say, “Makes you jump.” Sunshine and Galaxy 2‘s manuals instead phrase controls and player actions in terms of the player, using terms like “when you touch an enemy” and so on.

This is interesting as conveys the idea that—despite the player controlling him—Mario is his own separate entity, with the player simply giving him instructions rather than Mario being an extension of the player. That said, I would be remiss to not mention that the pre-2000’s manuals were inconsistent in this trend, often alternating between describing actions as being performed in third-person (i.e. Mario) and second-person (i.e. the player). Also interesting is that while Mario Galaxy 2‘s manual exclusively describes the actions Mario can perform in second-person, actions that Yoshi can perform are exclusively third-person, indicating that the player isn’t the character he’s controlling, he is Mario.

This conveys the idea that—despite the player controlling him—Mario is his own separate entity.

Older games take a very different approach to describing gameplay. Both Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario World go into great detail about everything: defeating enemies, items, kicking shells, using the weird pink ramps in Mario World, everything. Super Mario 64‘s manual spends most of its pages explaining analog movement, items, and how to progress through the game, with basic concepts like stomping on enemies being mostly glossed over. Sunshine‘s gameplay section is almost exclusively about all of the different moves and actions Mario can perform, only briefly touching on game progression or items. Lastly, while the Galaxy 2 manual mostly lists moves, it does go into more detail when explaining the mechanics of recurrent items and stage features like checkpoint flags than the previous 3D games.

I don't know why, though; it all makes perfect sense. Hitting something from below knocks it over, stomping on something hurts it, and kicking turtle shells turns them into balistic missiles capable of defeating entire armies.
Early manuals explained every facet of the game.

Personally, seeing how ideas and perspectives have changed over the last 30+ years is fascinating. We’ve seen Nintendo promote Mario as a character, only to make a 180 and make him a simple stand-in for the player. Then there’s getting to see what they thought was important for each game: back when Mario was first introduced, stomping on enemies, kicking shells, and so forth were new ideas, and the manuals tried to explain everything they could. Later games trusted that the player was familiar enough with the series—or video games in general—to figure out how to use their abilities and instead focused on the basic controls and the game’s new ideas, such as Mario 64‘s analog movement.

Unfortunately, this is where the story ends; Nintendo phased out print manuals during the Wii U era in favor of digital manuals, and now with the Switch, we don’t even have those. It’s a shame really, because, as I’ve just shown, even if you don’t need a manual to play a game or understand its plot, you can still learn from it.

My Favorite 3D Mario Title

With Super Mario Odyssey looming in the horizon, I thought it would be appropriate to write about my favorite 3D Mario Game. Yes, it’s Super Mario Sunshine, and probably the 3D Mario game with the most divided opinions. The game is by no means perfect (looking at you, Pachinko Machine), but I’m going to outline some key points that for me, make this game better than Super Mario 64, Super Mario Galaxy 1 and 2, and the most recent “3D” installments that I have a tough time even grouping into this category. Let us begin.

The Locale

I’ll get this one out of the way first. I’m an absolute sucker for the tropics. Maybe it’s something about the water lapping up against the shore or the gorgeous sunsets, but I just find myself being really relaxed whenever I play this game. It’s as if you aren’t only playing a stellar Mario game, but having a day at the beach. All of the levels are artfully designed, and even though they are all based around the tropical theme, they each have their unique personality. Whether you’re in the peaceful country life of Bianco Hills, the island theme park known as Pinna Park, or enjoying a world class sunset at Sirena Beach (my favorite), you feel like you are on a vacation. I also really enjoy the fact that you can see different levels in the distance within each area. It’s a simple addition, but a nice touch nonetheless since the world seems connected.

The last thing I’ll mention in this category are the local inhabitants. It’s not your traditional toads, koopas, and goombas. Here, we have Piantas, Nokis, and a whole new variety of enemies. It’s different and refreshing. Nintendo crafted a world here that really does feel genuine. The further you get in a level, the more involved you become in its story, and it’s really nice to feel involved in an environment, rather than just running around for the sake of collecting things.

There are so many good things happening here…

The Gameplay

I have a really tough time describing this one because I’m not sure how to define what makes it better. To me, it’s just more fun to control Mario in this game. It could in part be to the addition of the FLUDD and that you have more moves in your arsenal, but somewhere in the development of Galaxy 1, they tweaked it, and it hasn’t felt as good since then. It seems like Mario controlled tighter and was more responsive in Sunshine. Not to say that later Mario games don’t control well, but I don’t feel like I have the same level of precision control over Mario. I have a feeling that Odyssey will conform to the more recent “loose” style, but we’ll have to wait and see.

The Challenge

This game is hard. This is the aspect of the game that I believe deters some gamers from liking Sunshine. This title does house some of the toughest levels in the entire Mario Franchise, even going back to the original. I’ve beaten it countless times, and each playthrough there are a number of levels that still give me pause (even a Game Over screen or two – something which I never really see in newer Mario titles). On top of some challenging levels, each world features a number of platforming stages where shadow Mario removes your FLUDD. In these levels, the only thing separating you from the Shine Sprite is a gauntlet of platforms. It’s deceivingly simple, and there are some stages that are absolutely brutal, especially later in the game. Not to mention the classic Mario music is playing here, which for some reason makes it even more intense for me.

The last thing in this category I want to include are the blue coins. I’m a completionist, and I must collect every blue coin. The game doesn’t do a fantastic job of tracking these for you, other than giving you a count for each level. I do sometimes get annoyed when I’m missing the last few and I admittedly have to go online to hunt them down. No shame if you do the same.

So here is where the divide occurs. The above points may seem like negatives that take away from the overall experience, and for some, they are. But personally, they enhance my experience by doing something that Mario games rarely do today, and that is make me want to beat it. When I see that Game Over screen, the adrenaline kicks in and I focus. This makes victory that much sweeter. I have to be fair and say that later Mario games do bring in this level of difficulty, but usually at the very end of the game, after you collect everything else. I had fun in the Champion’s Road and Grandmaster Galaxy’s “The Perfect Run”. I can certainly see why Nintendo would put the ultimate challenge of the game at the very end, but it would be nice to have this flavor be added  more throughout the game, albeit as optional.

Plan your next move carefully…

The Graphics and Music

 I grouped these categories together because they complement each other so nicely. The music does a fantastic job of speeding up or slowing down depending on what you are doing, and it always sticks to the tropical theme. For an early GameCube title, the graphics are incredible. These visuals have aged really well, and I always look forward to replaying the game just to see the eye candy that it still offers to this day. I still hope that Nintendo makes an HD remake, because that would be… well… tear inducing.

Conclusion

So that is my defense of Super Mario Sunshine. If you want to play a really fun Summer game and need a break from inking squids, pick up Sunshine and do yourself a favor. It’s such an incredible and unique entry in the series that this blog can’t do it justice. If you disagree (which I anticipate as somewhat likely), please let me know, and why. What is your favorite 3D Mario game?

Here’s hoping in just a few months we’ll all have a new favorite!

Why I Love Nintendo

Contrary to popular opinion from the outside, being a Nintendo fan is not always mushrooms and sunshine. It can be unforgiving, inviting ridicule from fellow gamers, the gaming community, message board commenters, and even friends and family. But being a Nintendo fan is always worth it for me, which leads to the question I get a lot: Why Do You Like Nintendo?

From Sega to Nintendo

My gaming history stretches back to the glorious 16-bit Console Wars between the Nintendo and Sega. I owned both, but I got more use out of my Sega Genesis because kids at school would make fun of me if they knew I liked Nintendo. Sega was cool. Sega was hip. Sonic was fast with attitude and Mario was slow and boring. Secretly, I liked Nintendo as well, but my heart was with Sega. I also owned a Nintendo 64, but I had a Sega Saturn as well and that was my priority. This lasted all the way until the Dreamcast was discontinued, and my gaming tastes defaulted back to Big N.

The current console at that time was the GameCube, which ended up being Nintendo’s second lowest selling home console in history. Sony’s PlayStation brand and Microsoft’s Xbox were the new hip kids on the block, and Nintendo was accused of being a kiddie machine. Outside of a few games that were geared towards a mature gamer – like the then-GCN exclusive Resident Evil 4, Geist and a few others… the GameCube got most of its milage out of family friendly games. If you didn’t like twenty Mario Party games, the GameCube was not for you.

But it was during this era something was rekindled inside me. While Sony and Microsoft began to push online gaming, Nintendo doubled down and continued to focus on the fun of couch multiplayer – games you can play with friends in person and have a blast.

During the very successful Wii era, Nintendo’s dedication to multiplayer games was at its peak. Wii Sports, perhaps the best pack-in game ever, was a prime example of the kind of fun video games could represent. Despite how much it can be ridiculed now, I defy anyone to say that their first few times playing Wii Sports was not fun. It was a lot of fun. That’s what propelled the Wii to sales of over 100 million worldwide.

The Wii U somewhat faltered in this aspect, but the new Switch console has put a heavy emphasis on it again, with games like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, ARMS and Splatoon 2 all out within the first few months of the system’s debut. Gaming is fun again.

Soooo, Why Do I Love Nintendo?

All that being said, I love Nintendo because, to me, it just represents a good time. When I think of the PlayStation 4 or the Xbox One, I think of shooters like Call of Duty or games like Grand Theft Auto. I’m not saying those games have no worth, or that they aren’t entertaining or even visually astounding… but when I want to just have a fun time with friends, or a game I can just pick up and play at any given moment without an investment of 40 hours a week I choose Nintendo. Gaming shouldn’t always feel like a chore where I am punching a time clock to advance.

Certainly, Nintendo does have games that fall into that category. The recent and highly-reviewed The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild does for sure as it is an adventure game much in the style of Skyrim, but where I feel Nintendo separates itself from its competitors is how that genre of games isn’t all they have. There are more than just adventure and sports games on the Switch this year. There is also fun.

Take a very simple game like Snipperclips, a co-op puzzle game in which you play as pieces of paper and you have to snip each other in order to match certain shapes or get objects from one side of the screen to the other. It sounds simple enough, but its magic is in the gameplay. I haven’t had so much fun in a co-op game in a long time… it was fun, funny, and charming – and challenging as well, as the game progressed. It’s a game that you and your significant other can play, or your younger sibling or cousin. It is the epitome of what beloved Nintendo President Satoru Iwata always believed video games should be – It’s fun for everyone.

Nintendo’s roster of happy characters and cute enemies just bring a smile to my face. I’ve used this word before, but looking at the E3 trailer for the upcoming Super Mario Odyssey is just pure magic. It is what I call “Nintendo Magic.” Playing their games can make anyone forget their troubles for an amount of time and make everyone feel like a kid again. Personally speaking, I struggle with depression and anxiety, so my choice to play games of this nature is not only a preference but a very meaningful choice as well. Nintendo makes me smile.

Their first-party games are consistently of very high quality. Sometimes their franchises don’t progress enough, but then they hit you with a Breath of the Wild or a Super Mario Odyssey, which completely changes your expectations and takes you by surprise. And I will never get tired of them.

Standing Strong

It isn’t easy being a Nintendo fan. When the two other major consoles are blowing the doors off the building with the latest Call of Duty, Metro or Assassin’s Creed games, Nintendo creates buzz with Mario or cartoonish characters like in ARMS. This comes with a price, because Nintendo and their fans are easy targets. Buying some Nintendo content can result in a mocking comment from a cashier – a friend recently told of a McDonald’s cashier laughing when he went to order a Mario Happy Meal toy to complete his collection. Playing Nintendo games can mean ridicule from people who like to point out that Nintendo’s consoles dating back to the Wii have not been in the same league as competing systems as far as power and graphics.

All of this, though, can make fans even more dedicated. There is a reason that small groups popped up around the world in major cities for 3DS gamers to swap streetpasses and puzzle pieces and play Mario Kart 7 with each other. There is a reason why holding a meet-up for the newest Animal Crossing game attracted more than dozens of people at every stop during a Nintendo Mall Tour. There is a reason why VANS made a very successful line of Nintendo themed shoes last summer. There is a reason why people love their franchises so much that just a simple title card for Metroid Prime 4 at E3 made the internet meltdown in a frenzy of wild, screaming excitement. There is a reason why people love the company so much that even PR reps (like Bill Trinen or Kit and Krysta from Nintendo Minute) are elevated to near-celebrity status. There is a reason that Nintendo can get away with having one single retail store in New York City and fans will travel from all over to visit it as if they were going to Disney World. The ridicule and snubbing we tend to get from other gamers and game publishers who skip developing games for Nintendo systems just makes me feel like connecting with other Nintendo fans is a major event. We are a community of fans who feel slighted in one way or another, and it makes us feel like we are all in this together. It is so much fun to get in a group of fellow fans and just talk about anything and everything. Attending a Nintendo Switch Preview Event in Chicago this past February was fun in part because of trying out the then-yet-to-be-released system, but largely because of being surrounded by fans, talking about games, seeing people dressed up in Nintendo cosplay, and just being one with the excited community. It was not unlike the feeling you get going to a Comic-Con – it just felt right.

Nintendon’t Sometimes, and That’s Okay

This is not to say that competing systems don’t have dedicated communities or “fun” games, nor does it mean that Nintendo is perfect and doesn’t have any faults. But Nintendo doesn’t play by anyone’s rules but their own. Sometimes that can be a bad thing, but I feel it is mostly a positive. They focus on fun, they focus on being together, and they focus on gaming together. There is a level of fun that online playing just can’t compete in comparison to couch multiplayer. Hitting someone with a red shell in Mario Kart, or stealing all of their stars in Mario Party may be the source of “ruined friendship” memes, but the competition of playing right next to a friend is just a level of satisfaction that can’t be matched. Even though I enjoy a fair share of “mature” games, I will almost always choose the fun of Super Mario Odyssey over the carnage of a Grand Theft Auto. And I will definitely choose a company that will always continue to offer those games to me even when they offer the M-rated stuff.

The Nintendo Magic is why I fell in love with Nintendo. It’s why I put up with some of their occasionally questionable decisions. Their games, characters, and universe just never cease to make me smile and it makes me happy… and isn’t that what gaming is supposed to be about?


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. Flapjack 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.

SNES Classic: Big Unanswered Questions

The SNES Classic Edition has been unveiled, but not in enough detail!

On June 26th, Nintendo announced that it will be following up the popular NES Classic Edition with an SNES successor. At an MSRP of $80 and containing 21 games, this bundle of 16-bit nostalgia is liable to fly off shelves as quickly as Nintendo can stock them. However, there is still some information about this mini console that is shrouded in mystery and could affect gamers’ buying decisions.

Controller Cords and Ports (Answered!)
Immediately following Nintendo’s announcement of the SNES Classic Edition, questions of the controllers’ cord length and connectivity method surfaced. Thankfully, so did some answers! Nintendo confirmed that the controller cables will be about 5 feet long, an extra 2 ft. compared to the previous Classic console.

It also became clear that the SNES controller ports on the front of the unit are simply for aesthetic accuracy. Due to Wii Classic Controller and Classic Controller Pro compatibility noted on the SNES website, it is confirmed the controllers will plug in with the same type of ports utilized by NES Classic Edition and Wii. So questions of the controllers can be put to rest!

Just How Limited is this Edition?
The NES Classic Edition was notoriously hard to find last Holiday season and through the remainder of its short production run. Nintendo cites a misjudgment of demand as the reason for that inconvenience, but it also came to light that the system was meant to be sold as a limited run (and actually got extended as its popularity became evident).

How many Super Nintendo units are going to be manufactured is unknown, but Nintendo insists that more units will be made available than its NES counterpart. Though they won’t commit to any production past the 2017 calendar year, they are making an effort to avoid shortages. Understandably so: with sales data on the NES Classic, Nintendo will try to leave less money on the table now that the market has now been proven for these throwback consoles. Additionally, the new system is going on sale several weeks earlier than the NES did, so Nintendo appears to be gearing up for more availability going into Q4.

Will Nintendo Allow Proper Preorders?
A missing piece of this puzzle is preorders. Fans of retro gaming were disappointed when preorders never opened up for the NES Classic Edition, and quantity was too limited on launch day and during the restocks that followed. Taking preorders would certainly alleviate much of this frustration, as Nintendo can gauge interest and adjust production accordingly. Allowing gamers to pre-purchase the console would also help avoid common issues with scalpers, and get the 16-bit console into the hands of true Nintendo fans.

Amazon may offer their own form of preorders (like Amazon UK did, and quickly sold out, for this very product), but whether they have actual shipment quantities to allocate remains to be seen. Unfortunately, Amazon has been known to cancel orders when they do not receive as many units from Nintendo as they hoped. Nintendo needs to have strong communication and systems in place with retailers for this product to be a true success, and avoid the frustration that their product distribution has become known for.

How Will the User Interface be Improved?
The NES Classic shipped with a perfectly serviceable user interface, allowing players to quickly scroll through the catalog of games, change visual filters, and create restore points while playing. It didn’t leave much to be desired, except one thing: the main menu was only accessible via the console’s Reset button. That is markedly less convenient than the Home buttons Nintendo fans have grown accustomed to since the Wii era. The Super Nintendo’s Reset button will probably retain this functionality as well, but a controller button-combination (like Select + Start) for quick access to the menu would be a welcome addition.

Will Nintendo Have a Different Stocking Stuffer?
Many fans expected Nintendo to follow up the NES Classic Edition with another entry in the Classics brand, but it came as a surprise when Nintendo announced its release date to be considerably earlier in the calendar year. The Mini NES was clearly intended to be a Holiday impulse-buy (which would have worked if the inventory was there), but now that the SNES will launch on September 29th, it raises the question of Nintendo’s Black Friday strategy. Will there be an alternate “stocking stuffer” to occupy Christmas lists around the globe, or will Nintendo opt to increase their marketing efforts for the system as Thanksgiving gets closer?

Do the Regional Versions Feature Different Games? (Partially Answered!)
The NES Classic Edition featured 30 games, and the list of titles differed from region to region. It was unclear if that would be the same case again until Nintendo of Japan officially announced the Super Famicom Mini. We learned that, yes, 4 different games made the cut (and 4 will remain exclusive to North America and Europe).

In PAL territories, SNES titles were originally made with a slightly lower frame-rate to match the local television sets of the time. On modern HDTVs, this difference is noticeable and can be bothersome. We don’t know which software versions Nintendo of Europe will implement in this new collection, and these are the types of technical specification questions Nintendo tends to leave unanswered.

Will There Be an N64 Classic Edition? What About Handhelds?
Rather than just a one-off run of NES systems, the Classics label is now a brand of products for Nintendo. And with two consoles being remade in as many years, it begs the question: “What’s next?” Nintendo 64 follows, but introduces more controller ports, polygonal 3D graphics, and more complicated control schemes that vary from game to game. Nintendo won’t be able to release a Classics console annually for much longer before they catch up to the Nintendo Switch, or the scope outgrows what is reasonable for an impulse-buy product.

An alternate course of action would be to release Handheld Classic Editions, starting with the GameBoy! Grab some Pokemon games, Tetris, Metroid, Kid Icarus (maybe throw in a backlit screen and wireless multiplayer if we’re getting really crazy) and you’ve got yourself an affordable chart-buster.


Clearly, there is a lot that we don’t know! As we wait for answers, let’s take a step back and anticipate all the great things that have been confirmed: Dual controllers in the box? Check! Unreleased Star Fox 2? Check! September release date? Check!

What information are you desperate to know about the SNES Classic Edition? Sound off in the comments below!

Why Smash Bros. Is Stupid

If you ever have the chance to talk to Scott, ask him how I feel about Smash Bros. If he happens to recall all of the many times I’ve almost thrown my controller while playing it, he will remember to tell you that I hate those stinking piles of trash, and then probably begin laughing hysterically with memories of my salty tears.

Today, I am going to list reasons I despise the Smash Bros. series. I will not be focusing on one entry, but rather looking at the series as a whole. The list is also not exhaustive. The internet does not contain enough space to list all of this garbage. You may have found some of these same things frustrating, or you may not have. Let me enlighten you to the truth of these monstrosities:

  • The Crotch. I hate the crotch. For those of you who do not know what this means, it is a term I coined some years back referring to the point on the side of a stage (especially noticeable on Brawl’s Final Destination) at which one gets stuck while trying to recover. This was a major problem for Marth before they fixed things in Smash 4, as he would get stuck due to his forward momentum bringing his upward momentum into the crotch. FYI, you can also use crotch as a verb (“Oh, man, I just got crotched!“).
  • The invisible Ceiling, or Y-Cancelling. I’ve seen videos that say that Melee’s invisible ceiling is only noticeable when Luigi is being hit. That is so false. It is also extremely noticeable on Roy’s (and Marth’s) counter moves. That crap was extremely annoying.
  • Teching the sides of walls when you are going straight downward. What is this garbage?
  • Brawl had online. Hahaha! That was a thing! Hahaha! Oh, boy. Remember that funny joke? It was funny.
  • Nerfed Ike in Sm4sh. My favorite character to play in Brawl was Ike. It took a few patches, but Ike is finally at least semi-playable in Sm4sh. They did, however take out the best thing about him, which was that he had no landing lag on N-air, which allowed him to go straight into jab. That moment of landing lag is a killer.
  • Jank. No other competitive fighting game has this much jank, people, especially nowadays. That crap gets patched out. Why Samus’s standing up-B can kill at 0% I will never be able to explain to you.
  • Samus’ Matchups in Sm4sh. Speaking of Samus, she has some ridiculous matchups in the fourth Smash game. Samus may not be the best in the game, but Samus vs. Dorf or Samus vs. Ike is super dumb for the person who is not playing Samus.
  • Sm4sh’s “Voice Acting”. One of the first things I noticed about Sm4sh on release night was that a lot of the characters’ voice clips for the game were the same as Brawl. Now, that in itself is kind of lazy, but I get it. What I do not get is when ONE character has, like, THREE different voices! It’s especially noticeable in Dorf and Fox. You might be trying to recover and hear the sound of a chipmunk squeaking “Fire!”, Then the next moment, after your opponent has two-framed you, you hear the deep guttural bellows of 1,000 manly warriors entering the gates of Hades. What?
  • Playing Brawl on Wii U. It just drops inputs? WHY!? I have never had this problem with ANY other Wii game! Is there a reason? No. It’s just stupid.
  • B-Reversing. The reason I hate B-reversing is probably just a personal thing. I almost never try to do it intentionally, but it always seems to happen at the worst times when I use a grounded up-B. Why?
  • Melee Cultists. The rest of these are more “community” complaints, and for the sake of my own precious time, we all know what this one means. Oh, and if you miss meteor cancelling, just don’t get meteored. Git gud, scrub.
  • EVO making custom moves legal. *Sigh* Why did they have to complicate things so? If you’re not familiar with this fiasco, it goes like this: EVO is the biggest fighting game tournament of the year. All of the important games are there, all of the best fighters are in attendance, so when the EVO people make a rule set, everyone pays attention. In 2015, EVO set the Sm4sh rules to allow for custom moves. We even did one of our first episodes on it. This meant that, until EVO, all of the local tournaments used the new rule set, which meant that each player that was going to bring a set up had to play the stupid extra modes for hours on end trying to unlock all of the custom moves (which, by the way, you could collect multiple of, meaning each time you worked hard for one did not guarantee you would find one you didn’t have) AND set each character’s ten EVO-approved set-ups, which translates to days of work! After all of this local scenes stopped using custom moves after EVO 2015 passed, and the EVO people themselves discontinued this practice.
  • Project M Scene. I understand, if you enjoy a game, have fun with it. But if you want to play a Smash Bros. game that’s more like Melee… play Melee. I see Project M as an abomination. It’s not Melee, and it’s definitely not Brawl any more. Oh, and the fact that the scene pretty much died after it stopped getting updates? I laughed. #sorrynotsorry
  • Project M caught on instead of Balanced Brawl. Balanced Brawl was an attempt to fix the MANY problems that Brawl had, and, do you know what? It was pretty stinking good! It embraced what was good about the game instead of mutating it into an unrecognizable mess.
  • Because, um… uh… Fine. I do not hate Smash Bros. But it does have a bunch of stupid things that make me want to rip my hair out sometimes. Some of those are the same things that make me laugh at how ridiculously zany these games are. So, as much fun as it is to whine about smash Bros., I have to admit, it’s a heck of a lot of fun to rage about.

P.S.: Notice that I was able to write this article without even mentioning tripping. … Darn.

Flat Peaks (Zelda: Breath of the Wild)

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is huge. Not just in terms of the scale and scope of the world it presents to players, but also in terms of its reception in the gaming industry. It’s received numerous perfect scores from critics and the Switch version of the game has reportedly sold more copies than the Switch itself. It’s a big flipping deal, and yet…I couldn’t throw myself into it. In the first episode of The TBCast, I stated that—while I thoroughly enjoyed this game—it didn’t even rank in my top three Zelda games. While I aired several of my grievances with the game’s design in that discussion (some of which will be making an encore appearance here), I never got around to going into detail on my biggest complaint about how the game was structured. But before I can explain what that hang-up is, we need to discuss a concept important to game design and narrative media in general.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the interest curve! An interest curve is a graphical representation of the excitement and engagement the audience of a work experiences throughout the duration of said work. The peaks of the curve represent moments of high excitement and intrigue, while the lows represent the story’s slower, quieter moments. While lows sound like they should be avoided, an optimal curve actually alternates between highs and lows, never staying in one or the other too long. The reason for this is that human beings (who are most game developers’ primary demographic) tend to get acclimated to things pretty quickly. Even action can get boring or even tiresome if there’s too much of it.

I got nothing...Seriously, I can't be expected to come up with a joke no one's even going to read for everything!
A depiction of an idealized interest curve. Note how it starts with a bang, alternates/rises in the middle, and includes falling action at the end to provide closure.

That’s not to say that interest shouldn’t slowly increase over time. The base level of interest—that is to say, how far down the graph dips—should increase as a game progresses. If the graph dips down further at the end than it did at the beginning, then the game feels like it screeches to a halt, thus killing the player’s sense of progression (*cough* Triforce pieces *cough*). Finally, the story shouldn’t end on the climax, but instead include a gentle falling action to give the player a sense of closure—commonly known as the denouement (pronounced day-noo-Maw…it’s French). Without a denouement, a story’s ending feels abrupt and rushed.

If you’ve ever heard a reviewer talk about a game having a good “gameplay cycle”, he or she is referring to this concept—most likely without even realizing it!

So what’s all this have to do with Breath of the Wild? Well, my primary issue is its interest curve looks something like this:

It's amazing how useful graphs are for describing fun!
NOTE: The time between dungeons has been greatly compressed for the sake of legibility. Just increase them by a factor of five or six and you should be good.

Oh gosh, this is a mess…After a great introduction, everything just sort of flatlines. Now to be fair, this is based on my personal experience with the game, but even when the order of events are swapped around, I think this pattern basically holds true. The game’s overall arc seems to just maintain a complacent constant; there’s very little escalation, evolution, or extrapolation of the ideas the game presents. This ultimately leads to the game feeling repetitive.

The game’s overall arc seems to just maintain a complacent constant…

So what happened? What are some ways that Breath of the Wild hamstrings its overarching interest curve? What could they have done better? Let’s take a look, shall we?

The Main Quests

The easiest way to create a good cycle of engagement is to carefully craft a brilliant narrative and guide the player through it in a thoughtfully paced linear sequence…the whole point of Breath of the Wild is to not do that. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, however. My favorite Zelda game, The Legend of Zelda: a Link Between Worlds, was at the time of its release notable for being very open-ended. And that game had me hooked the whole time! So clearly, a carefully guided plot isn’t necessary.

That said, there are some notable differences between the the overarching structure of BotW and ALBW. For starters, A Link Between Worlds keeps the series’s usual two-part structure: in this particular instance the first half taking place in the light world, then after a plot twist the second half takes place in the dark world. This means that while the story doesn’t advance much throughout the halves of A Link Between Worlds individually, the events that link both halves of the game still give it the opportunity to raise the stakes of the game’s narrative thus raising the interest curve’s baseline mid-game. This compromise allows the player to pick how he wants to complete his adventure, while simultaneously ensuring the narrative escalates in a natural fashion.

Breath of the Wild, on the other hand, doesn’t follow this two-act structure. Instead, it features a main quest primarily consisting of two parts: awakening the Divine Beasts and the search for Link’s lost memories. Let’s start with the Divine Beasts. The Divine Beast quest is fairly modular, what with each part technically being optional. This means each segment aims to have a similar level of challenge and importance to the overall plot, consequently flattening the interest curve. While A Link Between Worlds dungeons faced a similar issue, as stated before, having a discernible half-way point lets the game escalate the challenge and perceived stakes between the first half and the second making for a more engaging narrative, something Breath of the Wild‘s structure doesn’t.

Another trick A Link Between Worlds used to keep players from noticing the fairly steady baseline engagement throughout each act was the number of dungeons to complete. The concept of an interest curve is scalable, meaning it can apply to a level or chapter as well as a complete work. To this end, dungeons act as climaxes for the (for lack of a better term) chapters of the game they appear in. With several dungeons, the player is constantly experiencing the rising and falling action of finding a dungeon, completing the requirements to gain entry, and then clearing the dungeon and slaying its boss. So long as this cycle isn’t repeated too many times, this cycle sustains the player’s interest until he completes all of the dungeons and moves on to the next plot arc of the game. The problem is that the dungeons in Breath of the Wild are both short and very few and far between. This means that this part of the game is either over too quickly, or these local engagement highs are very spread out (as they were when I played the game).

The concept of an interest curve is scalable. To this end, dungeons act as climaxes for the chapters of the game they appear in.

Compounding with these issues are how the memory quest is presented. If the player follows the early quests in the manner the game suggests, he’ll quickly wind up with both the Divine Beast quest and the lost memory quest at the same time. They’re both very lengthy and the benefit of the latter is never really made clear (Spoiler: it changes the game’s ending and little else). This makes it hard for the player to prioritize which one to attempt first. I think the developers wanted players to search for memories intermittently (which is how I completed it), but this makes both quests feel very disjointed, unfocused, and the memory quest far less consequential to the overall experience. Honestly, I think the memory quest should’ve been saved until after the player completed all of the Divine Beast quests: by that point, the player would already be very familiar with Hyrule’s landmarks, making for a shorter quest that required the player to apply their knowledge, instead of one where they wander around looking for the N.P.C. that tells them where to look. It also would provide a makeshift second act, which would give the player a better sense of progression, pace, and momentum.

Anticlimax

Okay, on a macro scale, the game only manages to provide a complacent sense of pace, but the interest curve is a scalable model, right? So, how does it fair on a more granular level. Well…it is admittedly better moment to moment, but even then there are times where it outright shoots itself in the foot. Some of the moments of the game that should be exciting, epic, or climatic were memorable precisely because of how underwhelming they were when they play out.

Case in point, the Master Sword: in all prior Zelda games in which the “blade of evil’s bane” appears, getting the darn thing was a major plot point and consequently required some effort on the player’s part. As a result, it’s a big moment. In Breath of the Wild, the only real challenge is figuring out how to get to it. The game does provide some cutscenes upon discovering it and after obtaining it to try to hype it up, which is a good start, but the method in which the player does obtain it feels tacked on, like the quest was an afterthought.

For the record, I wasn't able to pull it when I first found it.
Cutscenes are no substitute for a good quest. If I didn’t have to work for it, I don’t feel like I’ve earned it.

Previously, the player had to collect some items that represented the three virtues of the Triforce—power, wisdom, and courage—to prove their worth, but in this game all they have to do get enough hearts to pull the sword out of its pedestal without dying (it drains hearts to attempt). For any player that is actively looking for shrines, that’s something that’s going to happen in normal gameplay regardless. This means the quest for the Master Sword could be over as soon as the player finds where it’s hidden. This makes the quest’s pacing lopsided and its conclusion anticlimactic, especially for players used to the way previous games devote large portions of their respective stories to acquiring the Master Sword. Instead of an epic moment of triumph that’s built up to, it’s something on the player’s laundry list to be checked back on periodically. “Am I strong enough? No? ‘Kay, see ya after another four shrines!”

To make matters worse, there are three shrines dedicated to said virtues hidden throughout Hyrule. Why didn’t the game include those in the quest to get the Master Sword? I’d guess it probably had something to do with time constraints, but it still feels like a missed opportunity to provide a memorable and unique quest to the player. How much cooler would it be to have to scour the land to find the shrines and overcome a unique trial for each shrine related to the its respective attribute? Now I know some of you are probably saying, “but it’s a callback to the first Zelda,” to which I say, “so?” If the callback is really that important, they simply could’ve just done both methods.

Speaking of weapons, weapon durability also brings with it problems. While I admit finding new types of weapons is exciting, finding weapons themselves gets boring, especially in the game’s second half. One of the exciting aspects of finding a new weapon or item in previous Zelda titles was the understanding that Link was now innately more powerful. He had a new ability that made him more capable in combat or exploration that opened up new possibilities for the rest of the game. Not so in Breath of the Wild. That excitement quickly fades as the player realizes that the shiny new weapon he found will eventually break. In essence, weapons are just temporary power-ups like mushrooms or fire-flowers in Mario. Consequentially, players ultimately have less attachment to—and thereby less investment in—weapons than they would if weapons didn’t degrade.

In essence, weapons are just temporary power-ups like mushrooms or fire-flowers in Mario.

As a point of comparison, let’s examine clothing. Unlike weapons, clothing doesn’t break. This immediately makes clothing a more interesting item as it stays with the player as long a he wishes to keep it in his inventory. More over, it can be upgraded. This adds an element of mystery and intrigue to clothing as certain items gain additional bonuses when upgraded to a certain point. As a result, receiving clothing is exciting and immediately gets the player invested.

Now, I understand why the developers made weapons break. As several critics and apologists have already pointed out, having weapons be fragile forces the player to experiment with different weapon types and thus learn to be versatile in his fighting style. Again, I think a compromise would be fairly easy. Simply let the player find (after much effort) weapons that don’t break. Unlike other weapons, however, they would start off weak and need to be upgraded to be viable against the game’s stronger opponents. Even then these unbreakable weapons would only be upgradable to the point of straddling medium and upper tier, meaning if the player wanted to deal serious damage or utilize special effects (like elemental damage) he would have to stick to breakable weapons. See, that would at least make some of the weapons worth a darn!

I’d like to end this section with the ending. Don’t worry, I’m not going into specifics…because I don’t have to! If you’ve ever beaten a Zelda game before, I don’t think I can spoil this ending. It hits all of the beats, except—unlike other Zelda titles—it adds almost nothing of its own to the mix, making it feel more like the skeletal framework of a standard Zelda ending. It’s lackluster, boring, and predictable. It’s a real shame too, because pacing issues aside, this is otherwise one of the best written Zelda titles to date.

If you’ve ever beaten a Zelda game before, I don’t think I can spoil this ending.

Variety

Yet another way to keep the player engaged is to provide variety. As stated before, humans get acclimated to stimulus very quickly, so anything monotonous quickly loses people’s interest. To this end, Breath of the Wild features a huge world full of varied environments and unique landmarks…but then completely gives up when it comes enemies and shrines.

Three of the game’s main enemy types—bokoblins, moblins, and lizalfos—are basically all just variations of the same template. Moreover, each region just reuses variations from the same small pool of enemy types. While combat isn’t the main draw of the game, the fact that a hoard of monsters on one corner of the map looks and acts almost identical to a hoard of monsters on the complete opposite side of the world-space makes engagements incredibly boring and repetitive. Heck, even all of the dungeon bosses are basically palette swaps of each other! What makes this especially strange is that there is a lot of variety from region to region when it comes to flora and fauna. What gives, Nintendo? You clearly were able to populate each region with unique creatures. Why not extend that creativity to the enemy design?

Then there’s the shrines: they all look and SOUND THE SAME! *Ahem* Excuse me. If you’re an O.C.P.D. completion-nut like yours truly, you will get sick of the foggy blue corridors and slow, ponderous music of the shrines. If you complete all the shrines, you will have heard that stupid shrine theme at least 120 times! That’s not to say there isn’t variety in the puzzles; oh no, the shrine puzzles are great. But would it kill them to come up with more than one shrine aesthetic? Maybe have puzzle shrines and combat shrines differentiated by their visual and audio design. Or perhaps have the shrines’ interiors vary from region to region, showing that even though they were all built by the Sheikah, each regions’ sense of aesthetics subtly influenced the shrines’ construction (that’s just good world building).

Okay, you caught me. I just reused this screenshot from my last Breath of the Wild article.
Despite an excellent variety of puzzles, every shrine looks exactly the same.

The Consequences of Heroism

Now that I’ve ticked off all of the Zelda fanboys, undoubtedly invoking the wrath of their Yiga assassins, let me talk about something Breath of the Wild did right—at least part of the time. Something that I love seeing, especially in open-world games, is the game’s world responding to my actions. A while back, I praised the first Battalion Wars for making me feel like my actions had a direct impact on the game’s progression. This is a concept I like to call “letting the player happen to the world.”

In most games, the player is an entity that reacts to the game’s environments (i.e. “the world happening to the player”). This is fine for level-based action games, but in narrative-heavy adventures or open-world games, this tends to make the player’s actions feel inconsequential—like everything is basically just meaningless busy-work. While I still think Breath of the Wild has room for improvement in this regard, it does at least actively contextualize many of the player’s actions.

I want to happen to the world, not let the world happen to me.

First, there’s the Divine Beasts themselves. After clearing an area’s dungeon, not only does the disaster afflicting the area cease in typical Zelda fashion, but the Divine Beast become visible for miles around. Next is the fact that the items and enemies scale in proportion to how far the player is in the game. These both give the game a much needed sense of progression. That said, I wouldn’t say either is anything mind blowing. Because the effects of the Divine Beasts are almost entirely localized, finishing a dungeon only really effects the region it’s found in. It would be far more interesting to see characters start to wander around more and more as Link made Hyrule safer to travel. For instance, wouldn’t it be cool if a Rito merchant showed up in Hateno Village after finishing the Rito dungeon? If they threw in a line about him feeling more at ease traveling now that the Divine Beast was no longer rampaging, it would go a long way toward giving the player a sense that his actions actually matter.

A great example of what I’m talking about would be the Yiga Assassins. At one point in the Divine Beast quests, the player has to infiltrate the Yiga H.Q. Not only is this section a great set-piece on its own merits, but it triggers a change in the Yiga’s behavior. After defeating their master, Kohga (one of the best characters and certainly the best boss in the game), the Yiga assassins go from passively waiting for Link to stumble into ambushes to actively hunting him down in an attempt to get revenge. While I’m sure many players found the constant random ninja attacks annoying, the fact that a specific action I took had a logical effect on the way a certain class of foe behaved absolutely delighted me!

I miss him too... :'(
No wonder the Yiga want to avenge him: this guy was awesome.

A Game of Little Moments

To Breath of the Wild‘s credit, it does a much better job of creating and maintaining a healthy interest curve on a more granular level. Individual quests, shrines, and subplots are well structured when viewed on their own, leading me to my conclusion that Breath of the Wild is a game of little moments. Despite the grandeur advertised, the game’s best moments come in small packages: the little references, the ways it rewards out of the box thinking, the clever quest design, surprisingly mature writing, etc.

That said, it still fails to feel like it grows or evolves. From my experience, this is actually a pretty common issue with open-world games. While the individual components work well, they don’t come together in a cohesive fashion. That said, compared to the other (admittedly few) open-world games I’ve played, Breath of the Wild really is a cut above the rest. I don’t mean to convince anyone that this game isn’t good. Heck, I’ll say it just to be clear: go play it if you haven’t already. It’s worth your time. But I fear all of the critical praise and 10/10’s may gloss over the obvious (to me, at least) issues that need to be addressed in future games. As I see it, the series is standing on a precipice: from here it can either take off soaring or tumble into another rut.

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 was a home run. The game came with a bonus memory card that included a “gift” on it for use in-game. After years of over-exposure to Mario and Zelda games, I was all excited to dive into a new Nintendo IP. I was ready to be entertained – but at first, the result was just the opposite.

Booting up the game started what felt like an inane game of Twenty Questions, as you were 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 setups. After this unwanted pop quiz, the first major character you run into after the setup screens are finished was a raccoon named Tom Nook. Many longtime fans dislike poor old Tom, and with good reason – he is an unfriendly jerk and doesn’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. Collecting the NES titles became a game within the game. Retro games would not turn up in subsequent entries in the series, unfortunately.

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 on 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. The game would also change with the seasons and celebrate major holidays. It is taken for granted now, but this mechanic really was pretty groundbreaking at the time. It pushed me to check in every day and I would actually feel guilty if I didn’t.

I knew at this point that I was experiencing something special, and I became a fan of the subsequent entries in the series.

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 be 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

The most recent mainline game in the franchise, Animal Crossing: New Leaf launched on the Nintendo 3DS in 2013 (2012 in Japan) and truly became a major 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. 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 were popular 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.