I first got into gaming through a NES I'd begged by mum to buy me for my birthday after playing Mario & Chip Dale Rescue Rangers at a friends house. I remember how bright the colours were, the crispness of the sound, and the sheer unputdownable nature of those games. It taught me how to rescue princesses, save worlds and shoot ducks. It also started my love affair with games.
What I'm playing now:
Red Dead Redemption
Mass Effect 2
Super Street Fighter 3D
Zelda: Phantom Hourglass
Ocarina of Time
Black & White
Thereís a lot of things I donít like about Metroid: Other M, and I covered a lot of my pet peeves about the game in one of my previous cblogs, http://www.destructoid.com/blogs/Noir+Trilby/2010-sucked-any-objections-lady--192378.phtml so in keeping with the theme of this months cblog Iíll try my best not to retread old ground, and for each problem I address try to come up with a solution so I donít look like a negative nancy.
In film one of the laziest and most staid storytelling devices is to have a character constantly narrating or monologing. In books itís fairly acceptable as a book requires you to tell the reader how something is happening, but in a visual medium itís something a lot of people find nonsensical to see something happening and then have a voice over saying ďthis is whatís happening.Ē Whenever Samus says ďconfession timeĒ and decides to talk to us ďthe audienceĒ about her feelings, the feeling that is evoked in me isnít empathy or sympathy, itís that this is bad writing and it destroys the atmosphere of the story for me. When Samus addresses us with her innermost thoughts, all I can think is ďwhen can I skip this elaborate and overwrought cut scene?Ē
Another sore point for me is the game has a schizophrenic identity in terms of what it wants to be and how Sakamoto wanted to deliver its story. In this respect it reminds me of Deep Silverís ill fated Wii exclusive survival horror, Cursed Mountain, which although it had some great ideas (set in Tibet, having to exorcise ghost monks) also suffered from an identity crisis. To put it bluntly, Cursed Mountain couldnít decide whether it wanted to be Resident Evil 1 or Resident Evil 4 Ė some sections had an over the shoulder cam, bringing you close to the action, but it switched quite a lot to the Hitchcockian camera angles of Resident Evil 1, making the whole affair a very mixed bag. Metroid: Other M is similar in this respect, being part side scroller, part 2.5D shooter, part over-the-shoulder cam, part first person spot the object game. Itís a game that suffers from the weight of its predecessors and the expectation of other games, the first person pixel hunting and missile shooting is like a bastardised version of the scanning visor and first person nature of the Prime games, and bizarrely the over the shoulder cam is a strange nod to RE4. You mightnít think a camera in a game would be such a big deal in the telling of a story, but again in a visual medium like video games the way in which something is presented is vital in conveying atmosphere and telling a story.
ďBut this is a video game,Ē I hear you say, ďvideo games donít need a story to be compelling.Ē Youíd be partly right, some of the best games have a bare bone story or no story at all, like Galaga, any of the 2D Mario games, etc. Super Metroid had minimal supposition before it began, leaving you to escape a space station about to explode, and then youíre standing on SR388 in the pouring rain. Super Metroid had the perfect balance of exploration and narrative - it told you enough information for you to know what was going on without impinging on your freedom, and used the scenery of the gloomy caverns and ghost ships and brilliant music to evoke an atmosphere that told you the story implicitly and let you experience the story rather than having it told to you whilst youíre desperately pressing ďAĒ trying to skip the cut scene. Metroid Prime is another brilliant example of storytelling done right. Handled primarily through the scanner visor, Samus reads the accounts of the dead Chozo race talking about a prophesised saviour, or read some of the Space Pirate accounts about trying to harness the power of phazon to use as a WMD.
So hereís what I propose, ditch the unnecessary exposition of Samus and make Metroid an open world game. Iíd love to see Samus actually BE a bounty hunter rather than just taking down the Space Pirate threat out of the good of her heart. Planet hopping in Samusís ship, taking on contracts, shaking down shady informants in cyber punk alleys, all the while keeping the theme of exploration and having a rich main quest line. My Metroid game would probably look a lot like Prey 2 or Mass Effect, but with evoking the horror of the early Alien films . Adam Malkovich would be relegated to the role of comms - think Oracle in Arkham Asylum or Pritchard in Deus EX: Human Revolution: nothing too obtrusive, just the occasional bit of quest advice or checking in on you. Story would be told by finding logs, audio accounts and in short interactive cut scenes, rather than from any voice over by Samus. Our heroine would only speak when others are speaking to her or if she initiated a conversation with an NPC, and would be given dialogue choices to decide which course of action to take. Nintendo have already taken minor steps towards this with Link in Skyward Sword, so why not go all the way with Metroid? I would also have Samus voiced by Jennifer Hale who based on her stellar voice work as Femshep, and her VO of Samusís grunts of pain in Metroid Prime is more identifiable as Samus than the monotone voice stylings of Jessica Martin, but this is more of a personal preference, as I know Martinís flat performance is probably more Sakamotoís fault than hers. I think what Iíd want to focus on the most with Samusís dialogue, whoever it is that voices her, is for her to have the succinct brevity that she had in her written dialogue in Metroid Fusion rather than the long, introspective monologues of Other M.
I would also give the option for the player to be able to play Metroid in either 1st person or 3rd person view. The Wii U could make this POV switch even easier with the use of the Wii-Uís controller screen as the first person view, and the TV showing Samus moving in 3rd person, giving both fans of old school Metroid and fans of the Prime series the best of both worlds without seeming like some sort of compromise measure. Iíd also give the option of switching the 1st person view to the top screen and the 3rd person to the controller screen on the fly depending on the preference of the player. This would solve the problem of identity I discussed earlier without sacrificing the freedom of the user.
Another thing Iíd love to see in Metroid is RPG elements to be worked into the game. Metroid is already a game about attaining different powers and obtaining upgrades such as energy modules and missile packs, so why not extend the options to different varia suits and powers than weíre used to? Let us mix and match and make our own Samus and make ďplay style matter.Ē Imagine 4 DNA branches Ė chozo, metroid , X-parasite and Phazon Ė these would be your 4 skill trees. The chozo skill tree would focus on different types of varia armour and the more traditional abilities like morph ball, screw attack, etc. The Metroid skill tree would allow Samus to have life draining abilities and maybe have the power of summoning baby metroids to her aid using metroid mother pheromones, or maybe even allowing her to fire metroid hatchlings from her arm cannon to drain the life from enemies to give her an energy boost.
The X parasite tree would focus on stealth and mimicry abilities such as cloaking and the ability to infect people with the X Parasite which would allow you to possess an enemy and turn them against their allies . It would but also allow her to mimic the person/Space Pirate she killed. This would also give her the ability to absorb the hostís memories, such as secret item cache locations which would be added to the map or in the form of information logs that helped flesh out the back story. The Phazon tree would be focused on making Samus a tank, and would basically imbue her with all of the abilities of Dark Samus, the shrapnel beam, the laser beam, limited cloaking and teleportation abilities.
I don't think the Metroid I've suggested will be for everyone, in fact some people would probably be horrified with the changes I'd make to the game, and I can't guarantee that some of these wouldn't be game breakers or change Metroid into another type of game completely, maybe even risking it being Un-Metroid. However, I'd argue that the Prime series took the best elements of the Metroid series and evolved it into a fully realised 3D world, adding the scanning visor, log books, and a truly great first person adventure through Samus Aran's eyes. What I'm proposing here could evolve the Metroid series without sacrificing the core gameplay, but would in fact add to it and enrich it, giving the series the shot in the arm it has so sorely needed since Other M. Here's hoping Nintendo has similar ideas for the franchise.
To a lot of people The Legend of Zelda has been super ceded many times over by its numerous sequels. Itís a game that is so open it borders on directionless, the story laid out is basic and simple Ė Ganon captures Zelda, Impa runs for help, gets surrounded by hired goons, and then is saved by a wandering young man by the name of Link. Itís not explained where Link comes from, why heís been wandering the land like Bruce Banner hitchhiking down a long and lonesome road, or how he single-handedly defeated a group of Ganonís henchmen when he hasnít even got a sword.
But to me these faults are to a large extent The Legend of Zeldaís faults are also the source of its greatest strengths. The game refuses to hold your hand Ė you go into a cave and get a wooden sword from an old man in a cave who says the famous line ďItís dangerous to go alone Ė take thisĒ. However, itís perfectly possible to not go into the cave in the first place and wander around Hyrule completely defenceless against the horde of moblins, octorocs and peahats who desire only your imminent doom. What I also loved about the openness of Zelda is it was possible to take on a lot of levels in a non-linear order, as youíre not told where the next temple is, you have to find them by exploring a huge open world. Iíll always remember wandering like an idiot into the 8th dungeon and getting completely creamed by the enemies within, after only finishing the 3rd dungeon. That was something I loved about the original game that I miss in the later iterations Ė the risk/reward of exploration. Sometimes you got lucky and you could get an item from a dungeon you werenít meant to advance to, and then go back to an earlier dungeon and massacre the boss.
The fact that the story being barely explained is both something decided by the limitation of the technology of the time and because the sophisticated storytelling tools we take for granted now simply didnít exist then, or were in their infancy. A basic rule of storytelling is show, donít tell, and Zelda does exactly that, with no in game exposition apart from old crones and old men giving you the occasional obtuse hint about navigating a maze (north, west, south, west) to get to a temple or to walk up a waterfall to get the white sword. Link is our avatar, heíll always look the way he does but we can change his name to whatever we want, as long as itís only 4 spaces long. We know the basic story by an introduction in the manual but weíre left to piece together the rest on our own and use our imagination. Where did Link come from? Who is he? What is Ganonís motivation? Who was it that built all of these temples full of death traps and helpful items to help you navigate them? These were questions I never asked myself as a kid, because I was Link. I defeated Ganon, I saved Zelda and I reclaimed the Triforce. You donít ask those questions when youíre immersed in the world, because youíre playing the role of the hero. It was only later when I asked these questions and realised they probably had no answers, they were just there Ė mysteries of a lost civilisation who built these temples for an unknown purpose. One thing that is explained in the manual is that it is Zelda who splits the triforce into fragments and hides them throughout the kingdom to keep them from Ganon. Does this mean that the bosses in the eight dungeons are guardians that Zelda left behind to guard the triforce from Ganon? Quite possibly, but itís also possible that the bosses are left by Ganon to impede Linkís progress. Thatís the beauty of such a sparse storyline; there are no absolutes, only interpretation.
The Legend of Zelda is one of the first experiences I had of feeling like a hero, of embarking on a great adventure and feeling like I could achieve something beyond my own limitations. At the same time, it started a lifelong fascination with the fantasy genre, which put me on the path of wanting to become a writer. Iím still writing, still unpublished, and rather than feeling like a hero of my own life I feel like an uncredited extra in someone elseís story. But the original Legend of Zelda and its sequels gave me a chance to escape into a role I could never fulfil, and it also gave me a great appreciation of the subtleties of storytelling.
Both No More Heroes and its sequel Desperate Struggle have some of the most compelling villains Iíve ever encountered within games, villains who elicit sympathy, amusement, ire and confusion. And sometimes villains who just arenít villains. But today Iím not going to write about Shinobu, Margaret Moonlight (my favourite) or that kick ass cosmonaught who constantly cries out to a Mission Control that never answers. Today I want to talk to you about Jeane.
Jeaneís presence is very much in the background or the majority of the game. Thereís a picture of her on Travisí desk, and thereís the fact heís named his cat after her too. Itís only when she kill-steals your final opponent, Dark Star that you actually get to see her in person. Moments before Jeane puts her fist through Dark Starís testicles, Travis has flashes back to a memory of finding both his parents dead, and standing in between them, covered in blood is Jeane, his childhood sweetheart, his first love.
Jeane explains to Travis that she is the whole reason he has embarked on the road of the assassin, so he could kill her and at last have revenge. Cue a flashback of Travis sprawled out on the bar, complaining to Sylvia Christel how heíd lost everything that heíd cared about and how ďthat bitch took everything.Ē
Jeane then explains why she had to kill Travisí father, but not before breaking the fourth wall and telling Travis she would have to fast forward through the explanation, otherwise the age rating of the game would be jacked up to an R, causing it to languish in development hell . Jeaneís explanation of what drove her to kill his father is horrifying. Jeane is actually Travisí half sister who resents Travis and his family, as her father abandoned her causing her mother to commit suicide. Her father takes her back in, only to sexually molest her. Having no money to pay for training, Jeane has to resort to prostitution to train to kill her father.
Travis himself probably says it best when he says ďmaybe it had to be done, but vengeance begets vengeanceĒ, which sums up his entire journey towards this point. The siblings fight it out, but after a long drawn-out fight, Jeane puts her hand through Travisí chest, her literal action mirroring the metaphorical heartache she has caused him. If not for Shinobuís timely intervention, Travis would surely be dead at his sisterís hand. At first Jeane pleads Travis not to kill her, calling him ďbrotherĒ. But Travis is unrepentant and tells her itís time to rest, before cutting her down.
Jeane's vengeance is threefold - first she killed Travis' parents in front of his very eyes, which causes him to go through the grief she had in losing a parent and makes him into what she is - a remorseless killer. If not for Shinobu, Jeane would have had her full revenge upon Travis and she would've ripped his heart right out of his chest. As it is, her revenge is still partly successful, and the reverberations of the revelations she tells Travis can be felt in Desperate Struggle, as he walks away from the ranking fights as the number 1 killer. He has killed his parent's murderer, but he has also killed his half sister and his first love. He discovers he has a twin brother in Henry, only to find they are both locked in the same interminable cycle of violence in which neither can win. Both of the No More Heroes games reflects a truth often found in the best Western movies, in which a cowboy hangs up his guns only to find that the violence in his past he has tried to escape has caught up with him. Travis has managed to escape his fate so far, but one day Jeane's vengeance may become truly realised when Travis is killed by walking the path of a killer.
So, whatís brought about this latest run of ďNintendo is doomedĒ articles that have become more and more prevalent recently? For the most part itís 3DS problems. Iím not talking about nubageddon, the lacklustre e-shop, or the 3D health warnings here; Iím talking about the games and lack thereof. When it was first shown at E3 we saw a big billboard full of games and devs committed to bringing quality titles and known franchises to the 3DS Ė finally, Nintendo has good solid 3rd party support. Right now the only 3DS game I own is Street Fighter IV, which is a great port, but itís still just a port from the console versions. As are Ocarina of Time and Star Fox 64, enhanced as they may be, theyíre still ports of old games given a new lick of paint. Everybody knows Nintendo rushed this launch due to pressure from their stockholders, and this has resulted in a pretty sizable games drought, and due to this a lot of the original E3 hype has died down to a death rattle moan. This also comes on the back of the whole Operation Rainfall fiasco and the resulting bad PR Nintendo garnered from it. I mean, Christ, even the retailers wanted Nintendo to bring those games to America, but it seems like Nintendoís ears were closed to the pleas of their fans.
But Iím not here to kick Nintendo whilst theyíre down Ė for a start itís far too easy, and for another thing itís lazy thinking to say ďNintendoís doomedĒ. Or maybe for you itís wishful thinking. ďI already own a 360/PS3, but I want to have my cake and eat it, I want Nintendo games on my system of choiceĒ. Fair enough, youíre a frugal person and you donít want to miss out on Mario/Zelda/Metroid, etc. But hereís the thing: back in the halcyon days of Sega vs. Nintendo you just bought one console or the other, and you dealt with the hand you chose. Got a SNES but want to play Sonic? Tough shit, stop bitching and enjoy the games you already have. The 360 and PS3 both have excellent and compelling libraries without Nintendoís games, but people still feel the need to rage at Nintendo for not collapsing in on itself like a black hole star and go completely 3rd party so they can reap the benefits of feeding on Nintendoís maggoty corpse.
Weíve been in this trifecta position before with Sega/Nintendo/Sony, and Sega after having made many poor business decisions decided to turn into a software only company, abandoning their console ambitions entirely. From a monetary stand point it was a great move and saved their arses. But from a creativity point of view, not so much. Sega have seemed content for a long time now to just tread out a constant stream of mediocre Sonic games with only the odd great game like Valkyria Chronicles to tide them over. Sega's mostly a publisher now, and not the house of bright ideas it used to be back when they were console makers as well as software developers. That's exactly what would happen with Nintendo - you'd get Mario and Zelda games ad infinitum, but forget about getting Metroid, Pikmin, and Kirby as they're too niche. What happened to the Sega that did Streets of Rage, Jet Set Radio, Skies of Arcadia, etc? Yes, Nintendo going 3rd party would mean you wouldn't have to buy another console, but you'd also see less Nintendo games as a consequence, and less creativity. Of course this is just my opinion, itís not fact, and just because this happened to Sega doesnít mean the same thing would happen to Nintendo.
I want all of you to answer a few questions for me: Why do you really want Nintendo to stop being a hardware company? Is it that you feel betrayed by the casual focus of the Wii? Is it Operation Rainfall or the 3DS problems? Is it the games droughts? Maybe itís all of the above. What I also want to ask you is are these reasons enough to want a company to stop making consoles and just focus on making games for the highest bidder that they may not have editorial control over?
Some of my fondest gaming memories are centred around playing couch co-op with my brother on the NES . I still have to pay the bastard back for pressing Pause and unpause on the 2nd controller on Mario 3 every time I jumped over a pit, and we both have a Battletoads rivalry that will never be settled. But today Iím not focusing on the NES, Iím going to fast forward to my highschool years and talk about when I first started gaming with friends.
The year was 1994. It was the year of the Playstation and the N64, and I was lucky enough to have friends who had both systems. Having stupidly sold my NES for a mere £20 with my collection of 12 games Iíd pretty much left myself little to no outlet for gaming other than a few PC games, so having friends who I could hang out and play games helped keep me sane through my generic teenage angst.
I remember getting my arse handed to me repeatedly on Tekken 2 & 3 playing 8 man team battles, because my mate had a PS1 and I didnít, so when I didnít see him, he was practicing and I was at the same level of noob amateur. I relish the memories of the bizarre mech game LAPD Future Cop which I could never beat him at, because he was insanely good at it. Oh, and Crash Team Racing! Chaos, bowling balls, the ugabuga invincibility mask, and my other friend who used to dominate people on battle mode because he was looking where you were on split screen as well as concentrating on what he was doing. The PS1 was the SNES of my spotty adolescent years.
One of my other friends had an N64. Although itíd only be years later when I would play a got of these games properly, due to me just not having the money to buy consoles at the time, due to me and my brotherís mutual obsession with comics. But Iíll always remember him asking me, ďDo you want to play the new Zelda?Ē I didnít play as much of the N64 as I did the PS1, mainly because there just wasnít as many games as the mammoth PS1 library. But Iíll always fondly recall corridor crawling and shooting friends in Goldeneye and avoiding red shells Mario Kart 64
It was one of the first times I realised it was acceptable to be geeky and how cool it could be to just hang out with friends. Iíve never liked sports, Iím pretty unfit and I find playing sports to be pretty boring with little reward. But games was something I could be competitive at with friends and rivals and have a sense of accomplishment and winning that I never cold get with playing sports. Years later we would grow apart due to everyone getting jobs and girlfriends but me, and due to a fission driven between us by a girl. But despite all of that I really miss couch co-op and the instant reaction of swearing friends who try to sabotage you by unplugging your controller or pausing and unpausing at critical moments to kill you.
Iíve never really took to online gaming. Thereís probably a lot of arguments to be made in favour of it, but Iíve always been intimidated by all of the stories of sweary, racist, homophobic 12 year olds who like nothing better than to shoot you dead and teabag you. I know that not everyone who plays online is like that, but I canít really shake that fear. Maybe I just need to find the right game to start with and the right people to play with.
Right now there's a drought in the blue ocean strategy. Nintendo is like the childhood sweetheart you used to hang out and play with and you have so many great memories of, then you see her years later and she's changed into some one you don't even know. My retro rose-tinted nostalgia glasses look back fondly at the times I used to share with the NES and SNES and the varied and massive libraries of games both systems used to afford. Somewhere along the way Nintendo, my childhood sweetheart stopped caring about me, and you and everyone else. Right now as we speak Nintendo is pulling cheap tricks for casual customers on a street corner somewhere for a quick hit of dirty cash. Sure there were some great games on N64, Gamecube and Wii Ė but steadily they became less and less, and people's love for The Big N began to wane.
So, come E3 2011 they show us the Wii U, which is supposed to seduce us back to Nintendo's side. Not just the Nintendo loyal fans, but all of the people that have left them over the years due to feeling burned by a company they have bitter sweet memories of. They plan on winning back ďthe coreĒ by bringing out a HD console with very little in the way of specs, confirmed games, price and a ridiculous name. So you'd think in the Wii's last year they'd have planned some sort of last hurrah for the system, such as localising games that America/Europe have never had (*ahem* Mother 3). That'd be logical, right? Wrong. This is what Nintendo had to say:
"Thank you for your enthusiasm. We promised an update, so here it is. We never say "never," but we can confirm that there are no plans to bring these three games to the Americas at this time. Thanks so much for your passion, and for being such great fans!"
It's like Nintendo's saying to us ďThanks for caring. I promise I'll clean myself up and try and be a better person.Ē But you know Nintendo can never be the company they were. There's a great article on IGN by Rich George ( http://uk.wii.ign.com/articles/118/1180293p2.html ) saying that Nintendo has lost touch with it's fans both literally and figuratively, and that there is no real Nintendo community like Sony and Microsoft has Ė no real forum in which to communicate with the Big N other than a meagre Twitter and Facebook page.
But you're European, I hear you say, you're going to get Xenoblade and possibly The Last Story and Pandora's Tower, if rumours are to be believed. Be that as it may, Nintendo's shoddy localisation and business practices affect us all. Plus treating your most loyal fans and customers this way is disgraceful. Would you ever see Valve pulling this shit with it's customers? Christ, even Microsoft and Sony wouldn't do this, and that's saying something.
But I'm not just going to be a "Negative Nancy", as I believe if you criticise the way something's done the least you should do is have some suggestions on how to make things better to back up your argument. So, what's the solution to all this bad PR heat Nintendo has brought upon themselves?
1. Take a loss to make a gain. Nintendo seem for the most part incredibly risk averse, especially when it comes to new franchises. Localise more titles and part with some of that Scrooge McDuck money you've got in your vault made out of gold plated Wii's and DS's and buy a bunch of 3rd party exclusives. This also includes taking more risks with their consoles. Give us great online, cutting edge graphics, a well implemented digital store with a bigger back catalogue and a decent hardrive at least. Or, if they really want to impress people offer cloud saving and cross game cha into the bargain as well and keep the online gaming aspect free, and I guarantee you people would jump on board.
2. Advertise your games heavily, not just the first party ones, but the second party and third party also. Show the people that are making games with you some support and they will flock to you. Show them no support and they will spurn you.
I'll end on a point Jim Sterling made on one of the Podtoids recently where he said (and I paraphrase "Nintendo's used to be the Mick Jagger and David Bowie of the video game world, but now they're just old farts"). I think it's a point that deserves thinking about, salacious as the comment is, I think he's made an excellent point. Nintendo still make great games, but when was the last time they truly made something completely out there? (And no, Steel Diver doesn't count). I'd go as far to say Pikmin was the last time Nintendo took a crazy chance and made a new franchise. I would love nothing more than for Nintendo to be the crazy company they began as - a company hungry to experiment, to innovate to make something vibrant and new. It's ironic that to become something new Nintendo must return to the roots that made them the company they are today. I can only hope one day they will realise this.