The Devolution of Paper Mario Scott's Thoughts

I remember being drawn to the first Paper Mario like a magnet.

It was in a video rental store, and I saw the N64 cartridge sitting on the bottom shelf. I didn’t know why Mario was paper, or why it was turn-based, but I immediately brought it home.

Of course, an RPG like Paper Mario can’t really be explored and beaten during a rental period, so I ended up buying it. I had to! The story, the characters, and the gameplay were so compelling that I had to see the adventure through to the end.

The Thousand Year Door was a beautiful follow-up on GameCube, which I first laid eyes upon at a WalMart. It was one of those demo kiosks where you had to stare up at the ceiling and snap your head backward to see. It continued the wonderful characterizations, thickened the plot, and introduced exciting new transformations for Mario that shook up the gameplay.

Super Paper Mario was memorable. Although stripping out the beloved traditional RPG elements, the game introduced a compelling tale of love and tragedy, alongside an interesting 2D-to-3D mechanic.

And then it all went downhill.

Unique, lovable, captivating characters were replaced with gimmicks of stickers and paint.

This image sums it up well.

The modern entries have their own merit, and bring some amount of charm. But along the way, the franchise lost focus. Paper Mario became more about churning out a quick win for sales and marketing than it was about world-building.

It might have been when the father of Mario gave the Sticker Star team these directions:
There were two main things that Miyamoto-san said from the start of the project—”It’s fine without a story, so do we really need one?” and “As much as possible, complete it with only characters from the Super Mario world.”Iwata Asks

Miyamoto was wrong.

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.

What’s Gotta Happen with Mario Party?

Maybe Mario party 15 will finally be good at this pace!


#591 – Mario Party is a floundering series. Numerous sequels hit store shelves in regular intervals, and Nintendo has been experimenting lately with its formula, hoping that the next game would be the one to solve the series’ declining popularity. Unfortunately, Nintendo has yet to strike gold since basically Mario Party 3 on the Nintendo 64. Simeon and Scott are here to diagnose the problems and figure out what Mario needs to do in order to get back to partying in earnest!

Footage credit: NintendoMovies | TheRunawayGuys | SullyPwnz | WiiLikeToPlay

“Escape the Premises” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

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.

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!

Which Button Am I Pressing? (Blindfolded!)

You’re really pressing my buttons.


Are you so familiar with Nintendo controllers that you could recognize individual buttons without looking?! That’s exactly what Simeon and Scott are attempting today, while blindfoldedly shoving fingers into gaming input devices. Who will win?

“Escape the Premises” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

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.

Video Game Pricing Through the Ages

No wonder Nintendo has so much money!


#537 – Video games… kind of an expensive hobby, no? Ever wondered if gaming used to cost more back in the day, or if the prices have only gone up? When you take inflation of the US dollar into account, the information is quite interesting!

“Escape the Premises” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

The Best Nintendo Buttons Of All Time

Maybe one day, buttons will slide in and out of controllers just like Joy-Con on a Switch, and everyone can be happy.


Buttons. Do you like click? Sponge? Analog, or digital? Diamond layout, or some shaped like beans? For every button Nintendo makes, there are a plethora of preferences. Which controllers or handhelds have the buttons that you like most? Do you agree with Scott or Simeon’s picks – or neither?! Let us know in the comment section!

“Escape the Premises” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

Why We Are Nintendo Fans

Because Nintendo does what everywon’t.


When is the last time you stopped and asked yourself the question: Why AM I a Nintendo fan? That’s exactly what we’re doing on the NF YouTube channel today – join in the comments!

“Escape the Premises” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

How Switch Combines Past Systems

No idea why they didn’t mention the Virtual Boy at all…


The Nintendo Switch is the product of over 30 years of hardware manufacturing. Its designers learned a lot along the way, and have kept the best features of each console that proceeded it. The result is a Nintendo system that has a little bit of everything!

“Escape the Premises” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

Battalion Wars | That Was a Thing

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

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

Overview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Battalion Wars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Battalion Wars 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Debriefing

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

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


About the Author

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

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Which Metroid Prime Game is Best?

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The Metroid Prime trilogy of games that started on Gamecube and ended up Wii are just a phenomenal set of games. It’s hard to pick which one is the best, but that’s exactly what we set out to do in this episode. Whether you remember one particularly fondly or you have a hard time making up your mind, Simeon and Scott introduce some strong arguments for each game and any of them are viable to win! Watch first and then let us know if you agree or disagree in the comments – we want to hear from YOU!

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“Escape the Premises” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
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Beat it Blind: Super Monkey Ball 2

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If Super Monkey Ball 2 on the Nintendo Gamecube isn’t a big enough challenge for you, try to Beat It Blind! That’s the exact challenge that Scott and Simeon have before them today, using only the guidance of each other’s voice to complete the level. It’s no easy task, but they’ve proven in previous installments that teamwork can carry them across the finish line.

Shot by Alex Campbell

“Escape the Premises” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
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Vintage Home Video “Mad Katastrophe”

Ah yes, the “nasty month-old Coke,” a staple at Scott’s household.


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Shot by Alex Campbell

“Escape the Premises” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
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All Nintendo Console’s Final Games

Depper. Large. These are the words you must put in the title of your game if you want it to be a success in Japan.


Some games get the honor of singing the sweet swan song for their console as it passes into history. We’ve found each game that Nintendo and 3rd parties published last for every console – enjoy!

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“Escape the Premises” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
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He is the easiest person to interview, as in, most easy-going!


Subscribe to the amazing show – Boundary Break at www.youtube.com/c/shesez – where you get to see parts of your favorite games that you’ve never seen before!

Shot by Alex Campbell

“Escape the Premises” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
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October’s Nintendo Experience

Welcome back to the Nintendo Experience! I’m once again expanding the list of necessary games for every Nintendo fan. We’ve since added Photo Dojo to the list as the essential DSi game, and we’re moving on.

For the past few weeks I’ve really been enjoying the indie title Axiom Verge, and while it won’t be making its appearance on the Nintendo Experience, it is a great game. While trudging through the depths of cyberspace… or the subconscious… or another dimension… whatever that setting is, it got me thinking of the game that inspired it.

Super Metroid for the SNES is a Nintendo classic through and through. Originally marketed as Nintendo’s biggest game yet (see our Watching Old Nintendo Commercials episode), it sure does show. The game’s environments and inhabitants are varied and give an awesome sense of exploration and conquest as you traverse the world of Zebes. from your initial encounter with Ridley to the final showdown with Mother Brain, it is an unforgettable thrill-ride.

One of the clear inspirations that Axiom Verge took from Super Metroid is its use of traversal items. Though the two games’ items differ in specific application, they both serve the purpose of making you feel like you have the freedom to go anywhere and everywhere. You may start out feeling like you don’t have much in the way of mobility, but soon enough you’re getting from point A to point B using methods of which you’d never dreamed. The sense of control you have over your character and freedom to explore the environment is truly a great feeling.

It was also nice to recently revisit Donkey Kong Jungle Beat in a recent episode (man, I’m killing it with these shameless self-promotions!). There is something to be said about the Donkey Konga Bongos. While Donkey Konga and its sequel were alright for rhythm games, Nintendo didn’t leave the peripheral to be used for one game only. They decided to do what no one else had thought of: use a rhythm game controller for another kind of game. That’s genius! Have you seen “Guitar Hero Platformer” or “DDR Fighter”? No! Of course, you haven’t because Nintendo has harvested all of the geniuses in the world to come up with those ideas for them.

As far as how the game actually plays, it’s pretty good (nothing ultra groundbreaking besides the control method). But it’s the fact that one day, someone sat down and said “let’s use a set of drums to control a character,” then made it work that lands it a “must play” sticker for me.

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nintendo-experience

Beat it Blind: Donkey Kong Jungle Beat

PUNCHPUNCHPUNCHPUNCHpunchpunchpnchpnchpnchpchpchpchpch!


What’s harder than playing a Donkey Kong game with a bongo controller? Probably nothing… No, wait – doing it while blindfolded!

Shot by Alex Campbell

“Escape the Premises” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
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