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3:34 PM on 03.19.2015

What's NX for Nintendo?

Nintendo TNG

I’m sure you’ve all seen the news by now that Nintendo have announced they are working on a new console codenamed the NX. Although Iwata didn’t impart much information regarding the new console, merely acknowledging it’s a thing they’re working on, there are things we can infer from the other announcements made – and by infer I of course mean wildly speculate, but that’s half the fun.

First let’s take a look at the code name NX – looks an awful lot like the word next, I think it’s more likely an acronym for the word nexus.

 

nexus

[ ˈnɛksəs ]

NOUN.

1. A connection or series of connections linking two or more things.
2. A central or focal point

 

This makes a lot of sense if we connect the dots with the constant rumours of the fusion console that have been flying around, and also fits in with the concept of Nintendo finally committing to a form of unified account system as indicated by Iwata’s statement.

I think unified accounts are all but confirmed by Iwata, linking 3DS, Wii U, NX, mobile and PC into one account. The implications of this means that we’ll hopefully get cross buy, taking into account our digital purchases across Wii U and 3DS and linking any future purchases across the systems where compatible. There’s an obvious elephant in the room here which is the PC, but I think all the PC is going to be is a storefront where you can buy digital games for your various Nintendo compatible devices – think a gimped Steam where you can buy but not play.

 Now you're playing with power!

Graphics/horsepower I think is going to either be on par with or slightly below XB1 & PS4, as both Microsoft and Sony ready their next generational leap machines behind the scenes.

This may be the gen they go all digital. If NX is the 3rd pillar to Wii U and 3DS then I wouldn’t expect backwards compatibility this time around. Think of how the PS4 and XB1 aren’t backwards compatible with previous gens – different game architechture.

For the power of love, like a source from aboooooove

NX will likely embrace social and sharing a lot more if the mobile company is behind their online infrastructure and their store. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect features like streaming – they’ve dipped their toe in the water with MK8 with the uploading of You Tube clips, but I can imagine Nintendo would make you agree to a EULA like the current deal they have with you tubers where they get all or shared ad revenue. A dedicated screenshot tool could also be a distinct possibility given that they’ve toyed with in games like Animal Crossing.

Expect achievements – again, they’ve dabbled with stamps in Mario Kart and the Nintendo mini game things.

FUSION!

Either the console will be the rumoured fusion they’ve talked about, meaning an on the go console that can stream to TV in HD but be on par with vita power wise on the go, or rather that the fusion refers to the digital bringing together of the digital store and linking together your purchases.


So, what does this mean for you if you own a Wii U? Whilst it’s not impossible for Nintendo to Dreamcast the Wii U, I’d imagine it’s highly improbable. They are still going to try to make as much profit from the console as possible before mothballing it, so don’t panic, it’s not the Virtual Boy. What I predict is Nintendo will support it with software until 2017, which is when I speculate they’ll release this nebulous new console to the masses.

As I said I’ve inferred a lot from way too little information, so all of this could be complete and utter bollocks, but like I said that’s half the fun. Feel free to tell me why I’m wrong, or a hopelessly naive fanboy in the comments.

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10:42 AM on 03.07.2015

Bloggers Wanted: Majora's March - how I learned to love Majora's Mask

I’ve got a confession to make: I’ve never liked Majora’s Mask. The first time I played it was on a shoddy emulator which kept glitching the hell out, which probably didn’t help matters much. I tried playing it properly when my brother bought me the Gamecube Zelda collection, but found the puzzles too obtuse, the side quests non-intuitive and the whole 3 days to save the world thing left me feeling like I had no time to explore the world. So I did some walkthrough stuff with it, but I just didn’t have the patience, so I just replayed the original Legend of Zelda and Ocarina of Time again because I’m lazy like that. I even tried Zelda II, which I still to this day can’t get into due to the fact it feels like a much inferior game to Faxanadu.

Ya wot mate?

So, play the Song of Double Time to 2015, I get the Majora’s Mask New 3DS XL complete with digital copy of the game and the better than expected Skull Kid statue. Grezzo did such a good job with this game – especially of note being The Bombers Notebook. It feels like a proper quest log now that takes notes of the time of event, but also of where the character in the particular side quest is during that time and lets you set alarms to remind yourself to get back to the quest giver. I love how the Bombers run towards you when they have a hint to tell you too! It feels like I’m Sherlock Holmes getting information from the Baker Street Irregulars. Another real time saver (literally) is they’ve improved the Song of Double Time to allow you to pick how far ahead of time you want to skip rather than just skipping to dawn or the end of the day, so you’re not having to wait around forever to get to a particular part of the day you need to fulfil a quest requirement. I also love how the interface has been designed so if you hit the START button you bring up the Bomber’s Notebook, and the easier to manage inventory management via touch screen that allows you assign items/masks to either buttons or touch screen buttons, and also brings up the ocarina screen so you can play the ocarina without having to pause the game. These may seem like small changes but they have a massive impact on the game and make it a lot less frustrating than it was when I first played it.

I think that time has also played an impact on how I view Majora’s Mask. Playing the game fresh after Ocarina of Time really made it hard for me to like the game at the time because Ocarina did so many things right, and crucially because it done them first. Ocarina was the first 3D Zelda, it was the first one that made Link a time traveller and it had a lot of the traditional elements of the 2D Zelda games that ticked all of my NEStalgia buttons. Majora’s Mask was originally made to be a gaiden – a side story, so straight away you’re divorced from what is familiar. The titular Zelda is in the game for one flashback scene, you’re in a completely new place called Termina rather than Hyrule, there is no Gannon or Master Sword and there’s only four dungeons. These are all familiar complaints that are levelled at Majora’s Mask, but I feel like I’m starting to appreciate the game a lot more.

 What I did there, you see it...

NPCs are people in the Majora’s Mask with problems and lives of their own rather than the static NPCs of Ocarina of Time who for the most part stay in one place until night time when the shops close and the drawbriddge on Castle Town is pulled up. What Majora did right was made fetch quests not feel like fetch quests and made them something you feel genuinely invested in, especially the Anju and Kafei quest which I’m still going through as I type this. I’ve even grown to like the dreaded “3 days to save the world” mechanic I hated at the time. Partly because I was playing the game wrong the first time round, not playing the Song of Inverted Time, and partly because the panicked feeling of impending doom is something I’ve never had in a Zelda game. The closest equivalent I can think of is the escape from the self destructing space station in the beginning of Super Metroid, in which you have to run past marauding space pirates and beat the clock to get out alive. You just didn’t have that sense of urgency with Ocarina – you were either in Child Link’s time period or Adult Link’s time period – the world before Gannon turned it to shit, or the world after that. With Majora’s Mask, the moon is constantly hanging over Termina like a Damocles Sword waiting malevolently to crush Termina and all of its hapless inhabitants.

It’s above all else a game of self transformation and Link putting himself both literally and figuratively in other people’s shoes. He wears the masks of the recently deceased by playing the Song of Healing, helping them pass on to the next world and wears their form to help them achieve in death what they couldn’t in life. He, and by extension we the player are transformed from an epic hero to an everyday one, the micro stories of the villagers of Termina feel as important and as vital as saving the world in a macro scale. But one of the most beautifully tragic things is that every time you go back to the first day everything is reset like Groundhog Day. Although you stopped the old lady in the bomb shop from getting robbed in one timeline, there will always be another where she got robbed, or Anju and Kafei aren’t reunited. I haven’t felt that way about a game since the end of Ocarina of Time in which Zelda returns him to his own time, a time where no-one remembers that Link saved the world, where he is just a boy without a fairy in a town that will never grow up.

Thematically I feel Majora’s Mask is more akin to Alice Through the Looking Glass than Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Sure, you’ve got the similarities that you’ve fallen into this strange world peopled with strange people and their problems, but Through the Looking Glass was just weirder and filled with logic and language puzzles. It also shares with Majora’s Mask the feeling of being that difficult second album like Weezer’s Pinkerton, but being deeper, darker and more interesting as a result of it. I’m not sure I could go back to the original game, but I’m glad I bought the 3DS version and gave it the second chance it truly deserved.

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4:09 PM on 12.12.2014

The Gift of Gaming: Competition

Dark Knight Returns

I sometimes wonder about parallel universes and how the minutiae of our everyday existence branches off into parallel worlds based on different decisions we did or didn’t make. One of the more minor parallel universes I think about is what would life have been like if the Nintendo Playstation had existed? I’d venture that being the conservative company that they are we wouldn’t have as diverse a catalogue of games that we have now on console. You see, as much as I love Nintendo, I also love it when a new company comes along to upset the applecart and give us genuinely new experiences. I think that competition stops complacency and inspires innovation through necessity of having to beat the other guy. It’s kind of like The Eternal Champion but less epic and about consoles.

Johnny 5

 The first major schism that occurs that changed the videogame industry in a myriad of ways is the Atari game crash. It happened for a number of reasons, principally saturation of the games market, but one of the most commonly cited reasons is that Atari printed too many copies of the game ET, a game that was made in 3 months, and it was met with lacklustre sales a lot of returned copies and a sullied reputation for Atari. This resulted in the North American video game crash of 1983 that almost killed the industry stone dead. It was competition that would save the games industry a few years later when Nintendo, a hanafuda card making company decided they would make their own console. However, seeing as stores were now weary of selling consoles after this console recession they initially weren’t interested in taking on the risk of anything associated with videogames. Nintendo’s solution was to sell it to retailers as a toy, bundling the NES with R.O.B to reinforce this image.

What happened next is pretty common knowledge so I won’t belabour the point – Nintendo saved the videogame industry. Their ruse of masquerading the NES as a toy worked wonders for them, and games like Super Mario Bros and The Legend of Zelda proved big hits. But a large part of their success came from limiting the amount of games third party companies could release to prevent the over saturation of games of questionable quality like what had previously happened with Atari. This led to them creating the Nintendo Seal of Quality, which was a reassurance that the game worked and also as a PR move to build trust with consumers. That’s not to say there weren’t bad NES games with the seal of quality, but that’s a tangent for another time.

 hedgehog bro

The third parties weren’t thrilled at the idea of only being able to release a limited set amount of games in a year. It’s also worth keeping in mind that when third parties signed the dotted line to put their games on the NES they were locked in on a two year exclusivity contract that didn’t allow them a lot of freedom of movement. Enter Sega with the Megadrive which offered better terms to third party publishers which would prove to break Nintendo’s monopoly of the games industry and started the next gen with its powerful 16 bit beast and Sega’s 90’s mascot with an attitude, Sonic the Hedgehog. Sega was everything that Nintendo wasn’t – they were arcadey, edgy, full of attitude (Sega does what Nintendon’t! ) They had Mortal Kombat, Altered Beast, Gunstar Heroes, and a slew of great games that made them worthy rivals to Nintendo. And most importantly, they had their own identity. They forced Nintendo into stepping up their game, and Nintendo’s response was the SNES a fantastic machine in its own right with such classics as Super Mario World, Street Fighter II, Super Metroid, A Link to the Past and many more. Sega spurred Nintendo on to compete in terms of power, scope and creativity.

 Now you're playing with, er...

In 1988 Nintendo signed a deal with Sony to make a CD based add on for the SNES that would play CD ROM games. This fell through mainly due to a conflict over licensing – Sony wanted to develop and control the SNES CD format which would mean a large amount of the licensing money would go to Sony rather than Nintendo. Not being happy with these terms, Nintendo decided to license their games instead to Philips who made the disastrous Philips CDI. A lot of people see this as a huge mistake, and maybe it was for Nintendo, but Nintendo’s loss in this case was the consumer’s gain.

 

The Playstation was released in December 1994 in Japan and 1995 in America and Europe. Sony took a huge risk on actually releasing the console, but after Nintendo reneging on their deal Ken Kutaragi was determined to not let his hard work be squandered. Sony essentially did what Sega did – they found their niche in the games that Nintendo weren’t making and they weren’t afraid of taking risks. As much as I love Nintendo, they do have a habit of being risk averse and conservative at times, which is why I can’t imagine the Nintendo Playstation ever being as prolific a machine as the Sony Playstation. I certainly don’t think that they would have licensed mature games such as Resident Evil, Silent Hill or Grand Theft Auto. I never owned the PS1, but I had great memories of playing couch co-op with my friends, whether it be Crash Team Racing, Twisted Metal, Tekken 3 or LAPD Future Cop whilst drinking piss weak beer and listening to Offspring or whatever Nu Metal my best friend had gotten into that day.

 

Competition makes the games industry better. It stops the console makers from getting complacent and lazy and spurs them on to greater efforts and benefits us all in terms of diversity of games and wealth of experiences. The Xbox 360 popularised online gaming to the console masses, the PS3 came up with a great games rental service for monthly subscription with PS+ that I will never catch up to the backlog of. The Wii and DS opened the doors to a wider market with user friendly motion and touch controls, and Steam pretty much saved the PC gaming scene. So it makes me a little sad when someone says, “I wish (insert company here) would fail” just out of some petty fanboyism. I mourn the loss of Sega as a console maker and I often wonder what their take on a current gen system would be now – that would have interested the hell out of me. I’m not saying let’s all join our hands and sing kumbaya together, what I am saying is that even though we may decry our rivals and take part in the system wars we can still respect them for what they bring to the table, especially if what they bring is a boot up the arse to their competitor and drive them to greater heights. Thanks for the gift of competition, games industry – we wouuldn’t be the same without you.

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2:53 PM on 09.30.2014

Is this the real world, is this just Fantasy Life?

Disclaimer: I’ve only been playing Fantasy Life for about a total of 6 hours, so this is a review in progress that I’ll update as I go along, so don’t expect a score yet, just some general impressions of the game.

 

Do you like escapism? Do you dream of being a part of a feudal society with a stable job economy, able to switch jobs at the drop of a hat with no consequences? Well, look no further, friend! Have I got a game for you! Fantasy Life gives you the strength of a thousand men (or women), makes you fart fire, and piss good European beer! Disclaimer: Product does none of these things, but you might find it quite enjoyable. You begin the game with a create a character screen (are you a boy, or girl?) that lets you determine your sex, body type, hair style, moustache colour, and your starting job class. Once you’ve determined these factors you’re golden and can get on with the game.

If you’re familiar with the works of Level-5 then this isn’t a tough sell. Fantasy Life combines the cute visuals and charm of games like Professor Layton and Ni No Kuni, whilst retaining all of the great puns and humour from their tenure on Dragon Quest 9 (One of the first puns is a butterfly that masquerades as your bowtie so you can get into the castle to see the king. The butterfly calls herself, you guessed it, a “buttertie.”) I knew from this point on, me and Fantasy Life were going to get along just fine.

Here's a handsome fellow I made earlier.

 One of the things I liked about Fantasy Life was that you could change the job system without any fuss by going to the Guild Office. This is reminiscent of the All Trades Abby in Dragon Quest 9, but thankfully with the job system being the main selling point of Fantasy Life, you’re given the ability to change jobs at a whim at any time simply by going to the Guild Office. I chose Hunter, because it makes your character look delightfully like Snufkin from the Moomins books complete with silly hat, plus I like running away from enemies, like the coward I am, whilst peppering them with arrows, just like how I play Skyrim. I’m yet to experiment with the other jobs, but Level 5 have done a great job of making each job have plenty of quests as I’m wandering round getting quests of NPCs about half of them I can’t do yet because they’re to do with mining, or being a lumberjack or an fisherman. The world is replete with trees to cut down and lumber, ores to mine, and fish to...well, fish. The world feels really balanced, and it seems like there’s always something to do no matter what job your pick.

 

The game also has an Animal Crossing feel to it in the fact that you’re helping people in Reveria, but you’re also earning enough money to move out of the Inn you occupy and buy your own house. You can also buy multiple pets that you can bring into battle with you (I have a white cat called Samus) which is pretty adorable, and rent or buy a horse which makes getting around the world a lot faster than running or walking. Talking of which, you earn XP for your running skill the more you run, and for your sneaking skill the more you sneak, which reminded me of spending hours sneaking around Oblivion and Skyrim to become a silent treading ninja, and was a nice touch. Also, you can shake trees like in Animal Crossing and apples and beehives will fall down, if that’s your thing. The world is full of things to do, but there’s never really any great sense of urgency to anything you do in the world which strikes me as possibly the game’s greatest weakness and strength – weakness as there are times where you fall into lulls (why am I doing this?), but strength in the fact it’s ideal for portable bite-sized plays. Yet saying this, I can’t seem to stop compulsively flipping open my 3DS and continuing where I left off.

 Choose Life

The quests range from the simple (give an NPC 5 bottles of milk when he’s standing right next to a field with a cow in it), to preventing the fragments of a dark comet from turning formerly peaceful creatures into mad purple rage monsters which seems to be the thrust of the main quest, but I’ll say no more about that because I’d hate to spoil it for you, and I honestly haven’t progressed far enough into the main story quest to tell you all that much about it. What I will say is that the characters are quirky, the pace is leisurely but fun and there’s a little something for everyone here, whether you want to be magician, a chef, a paladin, or any of the rest of the 12 “lifes” on offer. So far I have no reservation about saying pick this game up and get a “life,” then decide that life’s not for you and become a tailor, because being a tailor is frikkin FABULOUS.

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2:46 PM on 09.04.2014

Whatever happened to gamers?



Hunter S. Thompson wrote a book in 1966 called Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs. Thompson lived amongst them, drank with them, rode with them, and wrote about them. “But, Noir, what’s that got to do with video games?” I’ll get to that shortly, just let me Columbo for a bit and I’ll go on to solve the case. (And, sadly, much like an episode of Coumbo, we know the perpetrator all too well before the show even starts…)

Thompson spent a year living the Hell’s Angels lifestyle until one day he spoke out to an Angel called Junkie George by saying “only a punk beats his wife.” For this, he was rewarded him a brutal beating at the hands of several of the Angels.

The point is Thompson not only wrote his story but he lived it to get to the truth of the story from a ground level. For his trouble he got the living shit beaten out of him by the very people he was covering. Sound familiar yet? We’re not Hell’s Angels, we’re not even the outlaws we imagine ourselves to be, but some of our number have sure as shit thrown some of our more interesting journalists under the bus. The mob drowned out their voices and left them with no choice but to leave.

Also, let us be clear here, there has been a lot of talk about how this is all about ethics, but what in the name of blistering fuck is ethical about harassing women out of the games industry? Fed up of gruff, brown-haired white guys as protagonists? Fed up of an FPS crowded genre with waist high barriers, a grey colour palette, and meathead space marines? These people are trying to make it so that we have a greater variety of games; they’re not taking games away from you. Stop your own “white knighting” for a status quo comprised of the same homogenous shite, the kind you were once only too pleased to commonly critique in the comment sections of numerous games blogs and forums all over the net. For what good that did you; I bet your stale observations about Call of Duty really popped the monocles of triple-A publishers around the world.

We live in a young medium, but that doesn’t mean our responses to criticism within this medium have to resort to being those of adolescents. Everything that is created is appraised critically – whether that be a game, a book, a movie, music or even a goddamn chair. You don’t have to like or even agree with the criticism, but by silencing the critics/game journalists/game devs you’re guilty of exactly the same behaviour that make up your own accusations: you’re censoring them. Also, to be quite frank, if you believe in free speech and you are one of the people doing this then you are a damnable hypocrite. All Anita Sarkeesian is doing is actually talking critically about video games. That. Is. It. This is the exact same thing that critics the world over have been doing with books, movies, and music (not sure about chairs) for the best part of a century. Agree with her or disagree with her, fine, but denying a critical discourse of any kind in the name of protecting video games will just lead to stagnation. These abnegation of mature and responsible discourse can only result in both audience and creators walking away from the industry in search of one that will foster creativity and imaginative thinking.   read


3:29 PM on 02.05.2012

Improvement: Making a better Metroid



There’s a lot of things I don’t 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 I’ll try my best not to retread old ground, and for each problem I address try to come up with a solution so I don’t 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 it’s fairly acceptable as a book requires you to tell the reader how something is happening, but in a visual medium it’s something a lot of people find nonsensical to see something happening and then have a voice over saying “this is what’s happening.” Whenever Samus says “confession time” and decides to talk to us “the audience” about her feelings, the feeling that is evoked in me isn’t empathy or sympathy, it’s 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 “when can I skip this elaborate and overwrought cut scene?”

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 Silver’s 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 couldn’t decide whether it wanted to be Resident Evil 1 or Resident Evil 4 – 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. It’s 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 mightn’t 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.



“But this is a video game,” I hear you say, “video games don’t need a story to be compelling.” You’d 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 you’re 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 you’re desperately pressing “A” 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 here’s what I propose, ditch the unnecessary exposition of Samus and make Metroid an open world game. I’d 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 Samus’s 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 Samus’s 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 Martin’s flat performance is probably more Sakamoto’s fault than hers. I think what I’d want to focus on the most with Samus’s 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-U’s 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. I’d 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 I’d 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 we’re used to? Let us mix and match and make our own Samus and make “play style matter.” Imagine 4 DNA branches – chozo, metroid , X-parasite and Phazon – 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 host’s 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.

See you next mission.


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5:53 AM on 11.15.2011

Zelda Week: Greatness from small beginnings.



To a lot of people The Legend of Zelda has been super ceded many times over by its numerous sequels. It’s a game that is so open it borders on directionless, the story laid out is basic and simple – 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. It’s not explained where Link comes from, why he’s been wandering the land like Bruce Banner hitchhiking down a long and lonesome road, or how he single-handedly defeated a group of Ganon’s henchmen when he hasn’t even got a sword.



But to me these faults are to a large extent The Legend of Zelda’s faults are also the source of its greatest strengths. The game refuses to hold your hand – you go into a cave and get a wooden sword from an old man in a cave who says the famous line “It’s dangerous to go alone – take this”. However, it’s 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 you’re not told where the next temple is, you have to find them by exploring a huge open world. I’ll 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 – the risk/reward of exploration. Sometimes you got lucky and you could get an item from a dungeon you weren’t 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 didn’t exist then, or were in their infancy. A basic rule of storytelling is show, don’t 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, he’ll always look the way he does but we can change his name to whatever we want, as long as it’s only 4 spaces long. We know the basic story by an introduction in the manual but we’re left to piece together the rest on our own and use our imagination. Where did Link come from? Who is he? What is Ganon’s 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 don’t ask those questions when you’re immersed in the world, because you’re 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 – 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 it’s also possible that the bosses are left by Ganon to impede Link’s progress. That’s 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. I’m still writing, still unpublished, and rather than feeling like a hero of my own life I feel like an uncredited extra in someone else’s 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.   read


6:09 PM on 10.09.2011

Villains: Vengeance is relative



Both No More Heroes and its sequel Desperate Struggle have some of the most compelling villains I’ve ever encountered within games, villains who elicit sympathy, amusement, ire and confusion. And sometimes villains who just aren’t villains. But today I’m 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.

Jeane’s presence is very much in the background or the majority of the game. There’s a picture of her on Travis’ desk, and there’s the fact he’s named his cat after her too. It’s 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 Star’s 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 he’d lost everything that he’d cared about and how “that bitch took everything.”

Jeane then explains why she had to kill Travis’ 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 . Jeane’s explanation of what drove her to kill his father is horrifying. Jeane is actually Travis’ 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 “maybe it had to be done, but vengeance begets vengeance”, 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 Travis’ chest, her literal action mirroring the metaphorical heartache she has caused him. If not for Shinobu’s timely intervention, Travis would surely be dead at his sister’s hand. At first Jeane pleads Travis not to kill her, calling him “brother”. But Travis is unrepentant and tells her it’s 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.   read


10:32 AM on 09.21.2011

Why Nintendo shouldn't go the way of Sega



So, what’s brought about this latest run of “Nintendo is doomed” articles that have become more and more prevalent recently? For the most part it’s 3DS problems. I’m not talking about nubageddon, the lacklustre e-shop, or the 3D health warnings here; I’m 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 – 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 it’s still just a port from the console versions. As are Ocarina of Time and Star Fox 64, enhanced as they may be, they’re 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 Nintendo’s ears were closed to the pleas of their fans.



But I’m not here to kick Nintendo whilst they’re down – for a start it’s far too easy, and for another thing it’s lazy thinking to say “Nintendo’s doomed”. Or maybe for you it’s wishful thinking. “I already own a 360/PS3, but I want to have my cake and eat it, I want Nintendo games on my system of choice”. Fair enough, you’re a frugal person and you don’t want to miss out on Mario/Zelda/Metroid, etc. But here’s 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 Nintendo’s 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 Nintendo’s maggoty corpse.



We’ve 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, it’s not fact, and just because this happened to Sega doesn’t 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 it’s 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?   read


7:59 AM on 08.23.2011

Being Social: Couch Co-Op



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 I’m not focusing on the NES, I’m 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 I’d 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 didn’t, so when I didn’t 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 it’d 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 brother’s mutual obsession with comics. But I’ll always remember him asking me, “Do you want to play the new Zelda?” I didn’t play as much of the N64 as I did the PS1, mainly because there just wasn’t as many games as the mammoth PS1 library. But I’ll 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. I’ve never liked sports, I’m 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.



I’ve never really took to online gaming. There’s probably a lot of arguments to be made in favour of it, but I’ve 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 can’t really shake that fear. Maybe I just need to find the right game to start with and the right people to play with.   read


7:48 AM on 07.16.2011

Nintendo's drop in the blue ocean



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 – 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 “the core” 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 “Thanks for caring. I promise I'll clean myself up and try and be a better person.” 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 – 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.   read


10:48 AM on 05.28.2011

How to save Zelda from itself.



I thought I'd write this opinion piece as a reply to Jim Sterling's article "The Question: Does The Legend of Zelda need an overhaul?"

There are a lot of things I personally want from a Zelda game: fully orchestrated music and full voice acting (apart from Link who should forever be mute) being the tip of a titanic iceberg. It's not that I don't love Zelda, every time a new Zelda game is announced I'm more excited than Stewie from Family Guy going to Disney Land. It's just that I feel Zelda could be so much more than what it is, and there's a lot of story elements that aren't explored as well as game mechanics that could really change things up for the franchise whilst still keeping the core mechanics and ideas of what makes a Zelda game.



I've already mentioned fully orchestrated music and full voice acting (Link excepted), but there's still a lot that can be done with the Zelda series. One idea I had was co-op. Now, before you all go up in arms of the idea of “co-op in mai Zeldas?!” just hear me out. Player 1 is Link: his skill-set is largely unchanged from previous games – master sword, shield, boomerang and various cool items. Player 2 is Zelda whose principle weapons are the bow, kunai and smoke bombs, but is also very focused on using magic and various disguises. Zelda would play completely different to Link and would focus on stealth and keeping your distance from the enemy for more effective attacks. What also appeals to me is the concept that each town you go to Zelda is in a completely different disguise, whether that be pirate, ninja (Tetra and Sheik costumes!) or whatever and that the disguises get progressively more absurd as the game goes on, which prompts eye rolling from Link that he's the only one that finds these disguises completely unconvincing and obvious.



I know what you're thinking: what if I don't want to play Zelda in co-op and I want to play single player? I don't want some dumb AI companion gumming up the works and messing up my enjoyment of the game! Well, there's a few solutions to this as I see it. One of which is you have a similar mechanic to Enslaved which allows you to give Trip a set amount of simple instructions, which means you aren't constantly having to save your companions arse whilst you get completely massacred. Another of which is just make it possible for co-op to just be disabled and that there is more than one way to solve a dungeon/kill an enemy depending on what character you play as. Personally I'd prefer the first option, as I feel it works more organically for the story and doesn't get n the way of single-player fun. Plus I like the idea of drop-in/drop out co-op online and couch co-op for a Zelda game.



There are other ideas I've been playing around with that would streamline the game a lot more, such as a map that you can mark things on, DS style, like item locations/treasure chests, even write on the map – which if the Café controller does have a touch screen you could maybe type letters or just draw an item on the map or even trace a route with your finger – all of which would be cool. Whilst I'm talking about maps, please, for the love of god get rid of the compass, it's completely unnecessary – if I see a big locked door with a skull on it, I know it's going to be the boss room, OK? Good.



Another bugbear of mine is the items in Zelda – I just think a lot of items are used for one dungeon then become an afterthought and you never use the damn things again outside of that particular dungeon (spinning wheel from Twilight Princess I'm looking sternly at you). We need more items like the dual hook shot and boomerang that are useful everywhere, or just have items that are upgradable and be able to use them for multiple things, ala Arkham Asylum.



I also think that in a lot of ways Zelda has strayed a lot from it's open world roots of the first Legend of Zelda, and I'd welcome an option to wander into the seventh dungeon after the first and get my arse completely kicked. Although I did love the challenge dungeon in Twilight Princess – that was a master-stroke of masochism wherein the greater reward was in the fact you cleared it rather than he measly item it gave you. Whilst we're back onto the subject of items, I would love to see some of the cool optional items from A Link to the Past Return, such as the Pegasus Boots and Cloak of Invisibility – stuff that's not necessary but is nonetheless cool and makes traversing the game a lot more fun. I also think the Master quest should be a reward when you clear the game and no a separate game you have to buy – the first Zelda game had it, hell, even the first Mario had a new game + which changed all the koopas into buzzie beetles and changed things up. This should be standard with Zelda.




Another big thing for me is the story. Nintendo deliberately hints at things that have happened in the Zelda universe but never expands upon them, justifying this by saying they want the player's imagination to fill in the gaps. This is all well and good until you understand the only reason they're doing this is so they can keep the story as loose as possible so they can insert Zelda games at any stage of the time line without restrictions. There's so many unanswered questions: why did the Hyrule royal family betray the Sheikinah? What was the war that made Link's mother flee from Hyrule to leave Link in the care of the Kokiri? Why is the eternal champion always mute?How did Majora and the Fierce Deity Mask come to be created? Who is Dark Link – is he simply a magic clone made by Ganondorf to stop Link? Is he Link's darker nature stripped from him by the Triforce of Courage when he becomes the Hero? Or is he the representative of the fourth piece of the Triforce that is only personified as a blank spot, a shape in absence? Whilst we're on that subject, why the hell is there a gap in the Triforce? Look, I know tri means three, but isn't it strange to have a gaping triangle shaped hole in the thing? These questions and more bear closer examination by Nintendo, but without making the story elements the equivalent of midicholrians and ruining the mystery of the Zelda universe. In conclusion, I still think you can keep in a lot of familiar aspects of Zelda but that the series needs evolution and not revolution. Nintendo have a lot of great ideas that if they expand upon and explore could make a great series a true Epic.   read


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