Tag Archives: Nintendo

Best of 2017

It’s been a while since I played enough games to populate a top ten, so let’s follow last year and stick with the top three.

2017 was arguably the best year for games in a while, with a number of early contenders that would likely have made the list, had I played them. Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Mario Odyssey have ensured me a good time whenever I buy a Switch, getting me more excited about Nintendo games than I’ve been since the N64. Surprise critical successes like Nioh and Nier Automata intrigued. Resident Evil VII proved the series’ versatility with another complete overhaul that went over well. Games like Horizon: Zero Dawn and Assassin’s Creed Origins confounded my expectations by doing the over-designed open-world thing well. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is also likely to grab me just as firmly as its predecessor.

The above would almost be enough to populate an impressive top ten on their own, but alas, I didn’t play them. Oh well.

There are, though, a couple of honourable mentions for games that I did play but didn’t make the top three. First is the 3DS Dragon Quest VIII remake, which did a good job of transferring a rather immense PS2 game to the handheld with surprisingly few compromises, and saw me through a couple of long flights. Then there’s Monument Valley 2, an excellent sequel to one of my favourite phone-based Escher-like mind-benders. Both are firm recommendations for anyone with time to kill and a handheld gaming system on their person.

3) Sonic Mania

A remarkable revival for a series that I don’t think has been worth writing about since the Dreamcast, and arguably not truly great since Sonic 3. Sonic Mania reminds me of something like Shovel Knight, in that it echoes a familiar classic gaming staple without being completely beholden to it – it’s how you remember the Mega Drive games looking, even if it’s technically far beyond what that hardware was capable of. I had a wonderful time playing it, feeling transported back to those early 90s stolen moments on my brother’s Mega Drive.

It’s easy to make fun of Sonic’s true believers, but maybe, after seeing how completely Christian Whitehead blew away expectations, the fans were right all along.

And maybe, if Sega had done something like this on the Saturn, things would be different now…

2) Metroid: Samus Returns

I’m slightly baffled by the fact that, after such a long, notable absence for Metroid in the N64 era – there were eight years between Super Metroid and Metroid Prime – it’s now been even longer since the last proper one. How many best game ever contenders does Samus have to star in to guarantee herself a regular appearance outside Smash Bros?

An enhanced remake of the second game, coming a mere 13 years after the enhanced remake of the first game (the pattern continues!) will have to do. MercurySteam – a strange choice of developer for this one, it must be said – put out a beautiful game, with understated stereoscopic effects adding much-needed visual flair to the most neglected game in the series, left to languish for too long in monochrome. While I’ll admit that the melee counterattack system hurts the pacing, discouraging fast traversal and otherwise turning many enemies into annoying bullet sponges, that Metroid magic was there, reminding me why Super Metroid remains my favourite game ever made.

I’d dearly love an entirely new instalment in this style, but if that’s not on the cards, the obvious next step is a similar remake of Super Metroid, which would make me fucking ecstatic. See you in 2030, then!

1) Persona 5

It was a safe bet to make the list after the last two games clicked so solidly with me, and here it is. I loved this game. The slick presentation and the music deserve mention, of course. The juxtaposition of carefree leisure time with really quite dark undercurrents was brave and amused me, too. But my most heartfelt praise goes to Atlus for demoting the random dungeon-crawling to a side quest in favour of properly designed, non-random dungeons, fixing my single biggest criticism of Personas 3 and 4.

Part of me misses the small town Japan feeling of Persona 4, which itself evoked the small town Japan feeling of Shenmue, but at the same time, this game’s setting in the middle of Tokyo has earned it a special place in my heart. My time with it bookended last year’s trip to Japan, meaning I visited many of the places I’d been spending time at in the game, lending a special weight of nostalgia to the memories of Persona 5. As the J-pop beats of Ouendan defined my holiday in 2005, then, so this will do for one of the best times of my life.

Thoughts on E3 2015

Gone may be the days when I’d spend the entirety of E3 week online, downloading 640×480 videos to burn to CD-R and watching press conferences regardless of the hour, but this year’s left me feeling more positive than most recent ones. Even when the last couple carried the sweet nectar of new hardware to freshen up some tired console lineups, it all seemed strangely uninspired.

Sure, Nintendo stayed true to form and disappointed. But that doesn’t get me down since I got fed up with ploughing that tract long ago now. It’s the regular disappointments, to varying extents, that I’ve suffered from being variously in the Sony and Microsoft camps over the last three years that have got me down. I’m struggling to remember a year when one or the other didn’t stumble since the immortal E3 2006, and having both on top form? You’re back into a time when even Nintendo was worth watching there. Circa 2004, maybe.

Microsoft thankfully grew out of the Kinect years and realised that you can only headline so many press conferences with Assassin’s Creed and Call of Duty. It has the feeling of a platform holder that knows what it’s doing again, like it did when people like Peter Moore and Ed Fries were in charge. Great games and, it must be said, a much more impressive 2015 line-up than Sony. That means the Xbox One actually has a 2015 line-up.

Sony, though. The Last Guardian, the Final Fantasy VII remake and, seriously, Shenmue III? All they needed was a surprise Half-Life 3 announcement and we’d be out of long-running development sagas to make fun of. Sony dazzled, and it certainly made for better theatre, but it felt like a distraction from the mediocre PS4 release calendar for the rest of the year.

I guess that makes Microsoft’s conference the cute girl next door to Sony’s international supermodel. The better option, albeit with less razzmatazz, but man, that girl has Shenmue III…

Console Wars

Console WarsAs much as I love my well-thumbed copy of Game Over, it’s over 20 years old. Its account of Nintendo’s rise lacks two decades of changing perspective, context, new information that has emerged as people retire, move on and, separated from events by years and expired NDAs, give increasingly candid interviews. It’s from a world where the Atari ET landfill story is apocryphal.

Console Wars’ chosen subject is different, coming in when Nintendo has already risen to its zenith and concentrating on the competition with Sega in the early 90s. There’s none of the smart, nimble Nintendo that came out of David Sheff’s book; this is the empire whose monopolistic tendencies alienated enough third-parties to create the way in that Sega and ultimately Sony exploited.

There’s a major movie in development (at Sony Pictures, amusingly) based on this book, hence the foreword by Seth Rogen, which is extraordinary to me. There’s the kernel of a film here – indeed, everyone knows the snappy line to win an argument in a way that no one does in real life – but while The Social Network proved that the rise of a major tech company can make a fascinating cinematic experience, Blake Harris and the team behind Superbad aren’t David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin. Time will have to tell on that one.

The book itself is solid but unspectacular. The aforementioned tendency for everyone to speak like polished movie scripts can grate, as can the Hollywood stereotypes that uniformly present the Americans as hard-working creatives and the Japanese as stoic, conservative and petty. It may be true that Sega of Japan was the architect of Sega’s post-16-bit downfall, and the book makes a convincing argument for this viewpoint, but a bit more nuance would have been nice.

But I still learnt a lot, even as someone who grew up consuming everything I could about gaming in this period. Did you know, for instance…

  • …that Nintendo was once so big that it accounted for 10% of Walmart’s total profits?
  • …that Sonic 2 was both the first global launch and the first set-in-stone release date in gaming history?
  • …that Sega passed up the opportunities to release the hardware that would become the PlayStation and the Nintendo 64?
  • …that Sega’s Tom Kalinske was responsible for the Nintendo-Silicon Graphics relationship that gave us Donkey Kong Country and the N64?
  • …that Sonic’s iconic silhouette was achieved by combining Felix the Cat and Mickey Mouse? And his middle name is actually ‘The’?
  • …that the born-again Christianity of Konami’s president turned Dracula Satanic Castle into the more enduring and Jesus-friendly Castlevania?
  • …that the US government’s antitrust lawsuit against Nintendo was completely by accident filed on the 40th anniversary of Pearl Harbor?

Those little snippets are the kind of things that I lapped up. There are enough of them sprinkled liberally throughout that I was willing to overlook the liberties taken by the author. Well worth a look for anyone who honed their debating skills on the school playground in the early 90s.

Game Over’s still the daddy, though.

E3 2014 Conference Review

The second E3 is usually when the big guns come out, the developers working on the second wave of games for the new consoles show off their labours, giving us the first proper taste of the games and franchises that will define this generation.

What we got if that was your expectation was a disappointingly conservative showing. Sequels, sequels, sequels, and a stubborn refusal to move on from the 360 and PS3, which is undoubtedly holding things back. Very few surprises and certainly none of the shocks that leave fond memories of fanboy meltdowns. Third-party exclusives haven’t been common for a while, of course, but my god do I ever miss those announcements that one was jumping ship or getting into bed with the enemy. There’s no excitement in platform holders’ conferences when you know that everything shown will be on the rival systems too.

This E3 may have been low on flash, then, but it was up there in terms of substance. It was full of impressive demonstrations of quality games, even if none of them were particularly memorable announcements.

As always, in order of appearance…

Microsoft

As the first to go and arguably the one with the most to prove, Microsoft felt like the one with the most potential for surprises. What it absolutely got right – and it really had to – was the focus on games. MS’s scramble to reposition the Xbox One has been done with admirable speed, and with the bombs like the Kinect-free version out of the way, all it had to talk about was the reason why people liked the first two Xbox systems.

Starting off with Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare felt like a misstep, as that’s a franchise in decline, with nothing to surprise and a disappointing lack of impact. It looked utterly uninteresting even for COD. I’m done with this series, I think it’s safe to say. When the next game was a cross-platform Forza, my will to live was quickly being sapped.

Once through the safe bets, though, there was some great exclusive stuff. Sunset Overdrive is unusual in a number of ways – it’s colourful, a new property, an exclusive, and a game from Insomniac that looks worth playing. Ori and the Blind Forest and Inside look beautiful, though I kind of feel like arty indie platform games are like modern military shooters at this point. The Master Chief Collection is astonishing value – four campaigns and over 100 multiplayer maps – when we’re being charged £55 for versions of The Last of Us and GTA V on the new consoles. I wonder if Crackdown was of its time and should be left alone, but I did adore the first one and will certainly give the new one a chance.

The lack of big surprises and the one more thing that would have topped off Phil Spencer’s turnaround of the Xbox division left me underwhelmed, but since that’s a problem for all three platform holders, I’m not going to hold it against Microsoft. When looking at what was there rather than what wasn’t, it was solid and safe. Nothing more.

B

Sony

Microsoft had patched many of its weaknesses in the weeks leading up to E3, leaving no easy wins like last year’s price and DRM announcements. In the absence of such freebies, Sony was much like Microsoft: lots of solid games, no surprises, little to really get giddy about.

Destiny was the opener – both conferences starting off with an Activision shooter, interestingly – and I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that Bungie’s game hasn’t set the world alight in its recent public showings. The alpha has convinced me that it’s a lot of fun, however, but to watch it on stage, it’s hard to see it coming close to making its supposed $500 million budget back. That white PS4, though. Wow.

The Order: 1866 was the headlining exclusive and hasn’t so far enamoured me – stunning-looking but it’s going to take something spectacular for an over-the-shoulder cover shooter to get me excited. LittleBigPlanet 3 is as uninteresting as the series has been since the disappointing first game. Uncharted 4 looks amazing if that is indeed, as has been stated, a real-time trailer. Bloodborne deserves hype simply for being a new action RPG from Hidetaka Miyazaki, the man behind Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls and whose touch was missing from Dark Souls II.

The return of Grim Fandango was a pleasant surprise, and as ScummVM was a fixture of my modded PSP, so will this be on my Vita. What it represents is also exciting: a sign that LucasArts under Disney hasn’t abandoned its point-and-click legacy in the way that the independent LucasArts seemingly had. Here’s hoping the excellent Monkey Island special editions will soon be getting some company.

Sony’s focus on indies still strikes me as a convenient and politically trendy way to plug the gaps in a thin release schedule. Nonetheless, I’ll take Hotline Miami 2, and assuming it has the gameplay to back up the concepts, No Man’s Sky deserves its accolades. Proof that a game can skimp on budget and development team size without giving up scope and ambition.

B+

Nintendo

Removed from physical E3 conferences as it’s removed from the hardware horsepower race, Nintendo brought its successful Direct format to the show. It worked well, I thought. All the games with none of the annoying, hooting, American crowds.

I’ll discount Smash Bros immediately, since I can’t stand it and find the astronomical hype around it baffling. I’ve bought the last three and still haven’t liked the series since the novelty of a Nintendo fighting game in the N64 one wore off. Following it with a Skylanders equivalent in Amiibo and Nintendo had a poor start in my opinion.

With the kids’ stuff and pretend fighting games out the way, though, Nintendo’s range of new announcements impressed me. Yoshi’s Wooly World gets some more mileage out of those shaders built for Kirby’s Epic Yarn and looks gorgeous, as Yoshi games have tended to through Yoshi’s Island and Yoshi’s Story. I love Nintendo when it gets creative like that a lot more than I do over another Mario Kart or Mario game that isn’t in the style of Mario 64, even if the experiments are not always successful.

The new Zelda is an exciting foray into open-world games – Nintendo being late to the party there again – with a nice art style that straddles cartoony and realistic. I’ll only temper the Zelda love with the caveat that it wasn’t Majora’s Mask 3D, which must surely be coming with the mask sightings increasing in frequency. Nintendo must be doing it deliberately, and I expect that to show up in a Nintendo Direct before too long.

Xenoblade Chronicles X (formerly X), Bayonetta 2, a follow-up to the excellent and underrated Kirby’s Canvas Curse, and Mario Maker, which is infinitely more appealing than another LittleBigPlanet, rounded up a strong line-up of exclusive releases. Hyrule Warriors was there, too, though Dynasty Warriors isn’t usually to my taste, so we’ll see on that one.

The biggest compliment I can give Nintendo is that if I was sitting on the fence and didn’t yet have a current console, the E3 showings would have had me leaning towards a Wii U, even despite the power deficit. Nintendo in HD is as beautiful and varied as we’d all hoped, with a commitment to smooth gameplay and flawless image quality that many third-parties could do with imitating – too bad it’s a generation late. Drop the price a bit more and I’ll happily be buying a Nintendo console for the first time in the better part of a decade.

A-

Perhaps my biggest complaint about E3 2014 is that so many trailers ended with the words “coming 2015”. It seems to me that this year’s biggest releases are GTA V, The Last of Us and Halo 1-4, suggesting that the games industry has finally outdone Hollywood in one respect: while Hollywood milks the 80s and 90s for remakes, gaming does it to last year. That’s a depressing state of affairs.

That’s a lie, actually. My biggest complaint was that Shenmue III wasn’t there. Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo: you’re missing out on an easy win!

Best of 2013 #1: Fire Emblem Awakening

Fire Emblem AwakeningHandheld games have an unfortunate tendency to be overlooked in the copious GOTY awards at this time of year, but the lack of this in the popular lists – not this one, then – is a tragedy. Good for Animal Crossing and Zelda, which are great, but here we have a B-tier Nintendo franchise upping its game on a spectacular scale.

The 3DS has had a spectacular year, by all accounts, and its earliest hit was my favourite. Its presentation is lovely, from the personality-filled 3D models to the animated cut-scenes that almost justify the stereoscopic effects on their own. It’s the perfect standard bearer for the features of the 3DS, introducing me to StreetPass, SpotPass and the rest through well thought out integration. Plenty of free DLC as well. Sad that that seems like an aberration today.

Credit, too, for 8-4‘s brilliant translation. True to the setting and humorous without being obnoxious, even while including Internet memes in its dialogue – something I still find hard to believe is possible.

Awakening is a great starting point for Fire Emblem neophytes, with little baggage from the previous instalments and even – cover your ears, purists – the ability to disable what was once the series’ USP: permadeath. This nod to accessibility should be praised rather than reviled, for this game’s unexpectedly strong sales performance – who knew that a good game on a system that was starved of great software would result in sales? – look to have kept it alive.

If the standards are this high, here’s to many more.

Best of 2013 #3: The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between WorldsA Zelda sequel just seems weird. Sure, Majora’s Mask technically takes place directly after Ocarina of Time and the Links in the first two games are the same incarnation, but to use the same map, the same world, even the same visual style? What’s next? A new one every year?

But it works. A Link to the Past is long enough ago that my memory of this map is far from perfect, and it hardly seems like we’re on a slippery slope to talking about Zelda 2015 next year – although I wouldn’t complain if there was Majora’s Mask 3D in time for next year’s list. A Link Between Worlds looks hideous in screenshots but lovely in motion, the rock solid 60fps, even in 3D, ensuring the same level of responsiveness as the SNES game.

My only complaint would be that a couple of the noble experiments with the tried-and-tested Zelda structure don’t really work. The rental system, for example, takes away the fun of revisiting past areas with new items and, as far as I can tell, adds only unnecessary frustration when dying. Rupees are so abundant that it’s no great hardship to buy your items outright, and from that point the rental system has no reason to exist. The game’s also very easy, without much of a difficulty curve that is clearly a symptom of its lost structure.

Still, it’s Zelda, and it’s the best in a while. Should this turn out to be the first in a Mario-esque cranking out of a familiar Nintendo series, and the quality stays this high, I won’t complain.