Tag Archives: nintendo ds

The Game Boy Micro

img_1501I guess this is a great time for me to dust off some of my less common pieces of video game paraphernalia. Yesterday I talked about Popful Mail which I played on a Sega CDX, and today it’s the Game Boy Micro. My timing is also pretty good as the original Game Boy just turned 31 on April 21, 2020 which is still hard to believe. I consider myself a collector of various things, but one thing I’m not really a collector of is video games. I’m certainly a compiler as after years of regrettable trade-ins at GameStop when I was a poor college student I’ve basically vowed to never part with a game again unless I know I’ll never come to regret it. As a result, I have a lot of games hanging around my house with the vast majority coming from the 2000s. I have some older, classics, but not a ton. And some games I have could be considered rare or hard to find, but I have them because I wanted them at the time. I’ve never really bought a video game for the purpose of collecting. The closest I suppose I came to that was buying the collector’s edition of Arkham Asylum which came in a gigantic bat-shaped box. That thing is so big that I don’t even know what to do with it. It just sits in a closet.

I purchased a Game Boy Micro over ten years ago and at the time I bought it simply because I wanted to play some Game Boy Advance software on-the-go. I had traded in my original Game Boy Advance for a Game Boy Advance SP, which I in turn traded in for a Nintendo DS, that was then traded in for a Nintend DSi. That last trade-in was important because I lost the ability to play GBA software. Years later, I wanted to come back and rediscover the GBA. That handheld mostly existed for me during my college years and I really didn’t devote much of my time to it. I mostly played home consoles instead or busied myself with other distractions. As a working man though I had ample time to play portables during my commute to and from work so the time was right.

The Game Boy Micro is Nintendo’s third take on the Game Boy Advance. The original version had a horizontal layout similar to Sega’s Game Gear, but it ran on double A batteries and lacked any sort of backlight. It was still a great little system, just a flawed one. The SP addressed both issues while also reverting back to the traditional, more vertical, layout of the Game Boy but with the addition of a hinge in the center so the screen could fold down onto the unit. It was great to have a front-light and a rechargeable battery, though the choice to return to the old format was odd as the system was quite cramped. The shoulder buttons were tiny, little, nubs and I could never play my SP for much longer than 45 minutes.

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Nintendo mandates that all reviews of the Micro include a shot of it sitting in the reviewer’s hand.

When Nintendo announced the Nintendo DS in 2005, it was insistent that it was not the end of the Game Boy and as proof it offered up the Game Boy Micro. The Micro, as the name implies, was the smallest Game Boy yet. It’s roughly 2″ x 4″ with a thickness of less than an inch. It featured a backlit screen and rechargeable battery. The horizontal layout also had the added perk of making the system resemble a classic Nintendo Entertainment System/Famicom controller only with a screen in the center. The LCD screen is even tinier at roughly 1.69″ x 1.89″ making this perhaps the first Game Boy that truly could fit comfortably in your pocket. It’s so small that one has to wonder just how much smaller it could have been had it not needed to accommodate the comparably bulky GBA cartridges and instead had something similar to a DS or Switch card.

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Unfortunately, I do not have a Famicom controller for comparison so the classic NES controller will have to do.

When the Micro was first announced I though it looked kind of neat, but I wasn’t feeling compelled to ditch my SP for it. Plus if I was going to upgrade I would have just gone with a DS which was backwards compatible with the GBA. And since the Micro no longer supported legacy Game Boy software, it was placed in an odd spot where it basically only targeted those who had yet to get a GBA or Nintendo enthusiasts that would buy everything. The only other defining feature it had was the ability to swap out the faceplate for other ones. Perhaps Nintendo conceived of a vast third party network of custom faceplates in addition to its own, but from the start the Micro was never positioned very well.

I basically decided to get a Micro over another model of the GBA for the novelty of it. I did like the idea of a truly portable gaming device, but I also thought the system was just plain cute. And when I settled on one to buy, I even spent a little extra to get the special Famicom edition (released in December 2005) which was colored to mimic a Famicom controller. It came in a box emblazoned with classic Super Mario pixel art and the only drawback to going this route (aside from the added cost, which at the time was actually somewhat minimal) was it didn’t come with a tool to remove the faceplate as Nintendo didn’t think anyone would want to remove the Famicom faceplate. In fact, the faceplate on this model is supposedly non-removable, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it’s not that hard to get off for someone who is determined to do so.

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The Micro in front of a 3DS which is in front of a Sony PSP.

When I received my Micro I did play it quite a bit. I picked up Metroid Fusion, a game I had overlooked when first released, and also grabbed the Super Mario Bros. 3 port to go along with the other GBA software I still had. Playing these games on the Micro, I was taken by how quickly I got used to the small screen. It’s a bit shocking when first powered up to see just how small it is, but once absorbed in gameplay it basically goes away. The screen is said to be much better than the previous GBA screens, though it’s still not as vibrant as modern handhelds. Helping it is the mostly sprite-based art of GBA games with the small screen size reducing noticeable pixilation. The light is strong and can be adjusted manually as well, and I found the battery would last around five hours which was basically enough to get me through a week of commuting.

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Here’s the Micro beside big brother, the 3DS.

Obviously, a system this small does have some drawbacks. The Micro is so small that it’s arguably too small. I mentioned earlier I found the SP to be a bit tight and this unit isn’t much better. I find the layout minimizes the cramping issue slightly, but it gets rough when playing games that rely on the shoulder buttons. Metroid Fusion became particularly challenging after a half hour as the shoulder buttons are used in that game to angle Samus’ blaster. It’s not as easy to play as it probably would be if it were on the Super Nintendo or being played via the Gamecube’s GBA Player, but it was still an enjoyable experience. I beat the game, and would go on to play Metroid:  Zero Mission as well so it’s not like the Micro prevented me from enjoying Metroid. The only other game I ever had issue with was Final Fantasy VI, specifically performing some of Sabin’s moves as the small d-pad and hand fatigue might dissuade you from unleashing the dreaded Bum Rush attack! Games like A Link to the Past or Super Mario Bros. are comparatively simple, though some hand fatigue will still set in after lengthy sessions. Super Mario Bros. even alleviates some hand-cramping by allowing the R button to function as a second B button which is nice for running, though it takes getting used to if you’ve been playing Mario since the 80s and are accustomed holding B all of the time.

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It’s tiny, but it plays just fine.

The system itself has a rather nice feel to it. The stereo speakers aren’t going to wow you, as they didn’t on any other version of the GBA, but the overall weight feels good. The system is quite glossy making it actually far more attractive looking than a plastic Famicom controller. The format does mean there’s no way to protect the screen, but the system did come with a simple cloth carrying case which has always done the job for me. I wouldn’t recommend tossing it into a kid’s backpack or something, but slip that thing on and drop it in a pocket and you should manage just fine. It has a standard headphone jack, and since it’s quite old at this point it obviously lacks any sort of wireless hookup, but considering the Switch shunned Blue Tooth it probably wouldn’t feature that even if it were re-released today.

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I bought this “new,” but as you can see the box had a rough time getting to me.

If I were to sum up the Game Boy Micro in one word it would be “cute.” It’s meant to be a physically appealing gaming device even more so than a functional one. It doesn’t punt on functionality though and it’s a totally viable way to experience the Game Boy Advance library.  When I bought mine roughly a decade ago it was comparable in price to the Game Boy Advance SP with maybe 20 dollars or so separating the two. Since then it’s become more expensive and standard versions of the unit in clearly used condition now command more money than I paid for my limited edition version. As a result, I wouldn’t really recommend anyone buy a Micro if they’re simply looking to experience the GBA library of games. The SP is much more reasonable, or even an older DS. If you don’t mind spending the money though and you think the Micro is charming in pictures then you’ll probably be happy with your purchase. It’s a fun little device that will probably start a conversation if you pull it out in public and as the last official Game Boy it certainly holds a special place in the hearts of many Nintendo fans.


Ranking the Nintendo Hardware

nintendointerAs I sit down to write this entry, it is March 1st and we are less than 48 hours away from the launch of the latest piece of Nintendo hardware:  Nintendo Switch. It’s an important release for Nintendo as the last console, the Wii U, was a commercial failure. That being so, the Wii U is a bit of an anomaly as Nintendo has been a respected manufacturer of video game hardware for decades. Nintendo’s journey has been a memorable one, starting with playing cards and low-tech plug and play devices to the Game and Watch series, which set the stage for Nintendo as both a game developer and eventually console juggernaut. As such, Nintendo is synonymous with video games (at one point, the word Nintendo was often used by parents as a catch-all term for gaming system) and it’s hard to imagine they’ll ever leave the industry, but if the Switch is a flop then that could be a real possibility.

Before we take in the new, lets look to the past and try and rank all of the Nintendo hardware to be released to a global audience, starting first with the Nintendo Entertainment System and concluding with the Wii U. Maybe a year from now we’ll have an idea of where the Switch will end up among its peers, hopefully towards the front of the list as opposed to the back, but for now we’ll have to settle for what we have. So let’s get started with the consensus worst piece of hardware ever released by Nintendo…

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It’s like ROB the Robot for your face.

The Virtual Boy

In 1995, Nintendo apparently felt there was a market for a table-top console you stick your face in. The “Boy” tacked onto the end of Virtual Boy’s name makes it seem like it’s a part of the portable Game Boy family, but it’s about as portable as a desktop PC, and about as fun to play as Claris Works. The Virtual Boy was a piece of crap from day one. It attempted to give gamers a Tron-like experience (I guess?) with vector graphics that only displayed in red and black. The console could supposedly inflict permanent damage on one’s vision. The controller was trying to be forward thinking with twin directional inputs, but we soon learned that we did not need two d-pads on a controller and the practice was never duplicated in a memorable way. To top it all off, the machine launched with an MSRP of $180 which is just insane for 1995. Even disasters like the Sega CD have a certain curiosity factor, so much so that I’ve bought one as an adult just for shits and giggles. The Virtual Boy possesses no such charm, and it’s the only Nintendo system I have never owned.

Notable Franchise debuts: Mario Tennis

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At least the white doesn’t show dust.

Wii U

Nintendo’s latest failure, the Wii U, had some promise, but it never delivered on it. Piggy-backing off of the Wii brand’s more recent success, the Wii U was another under-powered Nintendo console with a tablet for a controller. Off TV play is its defining contribution to video games, but with subpar range for the Gamepad it’s still pretty much tethered to your living room. More so than really any Nintendo console (save for the Virtual Boy, which is a huge outlier in every way to the point that I don’t plan on repeating it throughout this post beyond this very sentence), the Wii U failed to deliver the first-party games Nintendo is known for. There were a couple of okay Mario  releases, but no exclusive Zelda or Metroid games (the abomination Freedom Force doesn’t count) or really anything else that was memorable. While it’s true that Zelda:  Breath of the Wild is being released on the Wii U, I would guess more people will experience that game via the Switch. Some of its other more notable releases, like Mario Kart 8 and Splatoon, are essentially being repackaged for the Switch as well. Basically, unless you refuse to repurchase some of your Wii U library, the only reason to hang onto it is for the Virtual Console games. At least it was backwards compatible with the original Wii, in a convoluted fashion, though that obviously isn’t enough to help it avoid this dubious ranking.

Notable Franchise debuts:  Splatoon

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The original Game Boy was hardly form-fitting, but it got the job done.

Game Boy

The Game Boy has the distinction of being one of the best selling pieces of video game hardware of all time. That isn’t really a testament to its quality, but more to its incredible longevity. Released in 1989, the Game Boy was essentially on the market without a true successor until 2001. In that time, the Game Boy destroyed all challengers mostly by virtue of the fact that it did nothing well, but had no flaw that was considered fatal. Sure, it’s monochrome display and absence of backlighting irritated anyone who ever played it, it still managed to find and hang onto an audience because it was often priced well, had good battery life, and was released when the Nintendo brand was at its apex. I know many moms who bought their kid a Game Boy because they viewed it as a cheaper alternative to an NES or SNES, and there was always enough quality software to keep the system afloat. Meanwhile, more superior handhelds were released (Game Gear, Lynx, Wonder Swan, Turbo Express), but they either couldn’t match the Game Boy’s price or software and subsequently died, while the Game Boy lived on. Now, the Game Boy was also chock full of shovel ware, often the worst of the worst in licensed games appeared on the Game Boy and many a kid received some awful games from well-meaning aunts and grandparents for birthdays, but at least there was Zelda, Metroid, and Pokemon to soften the blow. The Game Boy received a slimmed-down redesign in 1996, the Game Boy Pocket. Other than being slimmer and cheaper to power, it also featured a black and white display instead of that hideous yellow/green and black display of the original. Other than that, it was essentially the same and the Game Boy didn’t receive a true redesign until 1998…

Notable Franchise debuts: Pokemon, Wario Land, Kirby, Gargoyle’s Quest

Game Boy Color

Nintendo lumps in the Game Boy and Game Boy Color into the same bucket in terms of reporting sales figures and so on. The Color was modestly more powerful, and obviously possessed a color display, though it was still pretty much a Game Boy. I list it separately only because Game Boy Color games could only be played on a Game Boy Color and not on one of the earlier models of the Game Boy. And since it possessed color, and could play every game in the Game Boy library, it naturally ranks ahead of the original.

Notable Franchise debuts:  Shantae

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The GBA had a lot of revisions in its relatively short life.

Game Boy Advance

The first real successor to the original Game Boy, the Game Boy Advance felt long overdue. And like the Game Boy, it received a few redesigns during its lifecycle. Compared to the Game Boy, the GBA did not have nearly as long a shelf-life. Even though Nintendo claimed the Nintendo DS wasn’t meant to be a successor to the Game Boy line, it essentially was and by 2006 the Game Boy brand was basically dead. Still, for as short a life as it had, the GBA was a pretty great portable, but its held back by some odd design choices and a lack of truly exclusive software. For starters, the GBA featured just four action buttons:  A, B, L, and R. Considering we were a decade removed from the SNES creating the new standard of six buttons, this was a curious omission. It seemed even more odd when the GBA quickly established itself as a dumping ground for SNES ports. The other design miss-step was the lack of a backlight. This would be addressed with the Game Boy Advance SP in 2003, a front-lit clamshell redesign that also resembled a Game Boy Pocket, just with a hinge in the middle. While I preferred the horizontal layout of the original GBA, the lack of a light source really sucked the fun out of it. The SP also had a rechargeable battery, which would become standard for future handhelds. In 2005, two additional redesigns were released, the SPII, which featured a backlit screen with improved brightness over the SP, and the Micro, which was tiny and featured a horizontal layout and no backwards compatibility with older Game Boy games.

Other than the hardware shortcomings, the GBA is also lacking in exclusive software designed specifically for the hardware. There were tons of SNES and NES ports, some of which (like Super Mario Advance) were significantly updated, but they didn’t make up for a lack or original software. There was an original Zelda title, The Minish Cap, which was a solid game but not as good as Link’s Awakening. There was also an exclusive Metroid, Metroid Fusion, which was excellent and lead to the release of a remake of the original game, released as Metroid:  Zero Mission. Mario &Luigi was also great, as was Advance Wars. I have a fondness for the GBA, mostly because of all of the great ports, so I don’t consider it a bad system by any means, but when compared with other Nintendo hardware, it does come up a bit short.

Notable Franchise debuts: Advance Wars, Fire Emblem (for US audiences), Phoenix Wright, Mario & Luigi, Wario Ware

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The original, “chunky,” DS. Like the GBA, the DS would receive a few redesigns including the Lite, DSi, and DSi XL.

Nintendo DS

All right, it feels like I’m picking on the portables, but there’s a reason for that. Portables are often homes to ports and the exclusive software is sometimes hard to find. And Nintendo has also often made its portables backwards compatible, so it would be hard to justify ranking older portables ahead of modern ones. Anyways, most of the criticisms I had for the GBA kind of apply to the DS as well. The DS is sort of the last of the old handhelds, as future ones (and even the final iteration of the DS, the DSi, started the evolution) would be online-equipped opening up the handheld to a host of older, downloadable games. The DS set itself apart from the GBA, and its competitor the Sony PSP, by having two screens. The second screen was hardly an innovation. Design-wise, the DS resembled Nintendo’s old Game & Watch handhelds and the second screen soon became a dumping ground for near useless features like map screens and inventory management. Some games tried, and tried hard, to make use of the touch screen functionality, but often to the game’s detriment (see the Zelda games released for it). Really, the only reason why I rank it ahead of the GBA is because it’s backwards compatible with the GBA software (but not original Game Boy software) and had a better design (finally, six buttons!). It too lacked somewhat in defining software, but the uptick in processing power made new games like Super Mario Kart DS way more playable than the GBA predecessor. The system may have launched with a port of Super Mario 64, but it never became the dumping ground for N64 ports some may have been expecting, probably due to the lack of a a true analog input device, something its successor would rectify.

Notable Franchise debuts:  New Super Mario Bros., Sonic Rush, Trauma Center

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The Wii felt new and exciting when it first debuted, but would not be able to maintain its early momentum.

Nintendo Wii

We’re now arriving at the point in our list where it’s getting hard to separate the consoles from each other. We’ve already blown past the only true Nintendo failures (Virtual Boy and Wii U) and we’re now mostly into the realm of nit-picking, though I feel rather strongly about what is the best Nintendo console of all time, I just feel less so about whats fifth best vs what’s fourth best, and so on. The Wii  is easy to dump on in 2016. It featured waggle controls and tons of horrible “party” games and licensed junk. It was cheap to develop for, and it’s consumer success meant there were tons of Wii’s in the wild so producers had incentive to release games for it, and with minimal effort. As much as I, along with many others, came to resent the waggle controls, I can’t deny what playing the Wii was like in 2006. The Wii is the last console that brought me and my friends together to just play games all night and have a blast doing so. At that point, I was out of college and working a full-time job, so getting together with a group of friends just to play video games didn’t happen much, and hasn’t since. And looking back on it, the launch lineup was pretty barren and yet we still had a blast with it. That was largely because of how much fun Wii Sports was, though I did have fun with Madden and Dragon Ball Z as well. And of course, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, even though the Gamecube version released a few months later was actually better (aside from, maybe, the fishing mini game).

The Wii may have received a ton of horrible games, but it did also receive two of the greatest Mario games ever released:  the Galaxy series. Some people loved Skyward Sword as well, even though I detested it. The Metroid Prime series was also one of the few improved by the Wii’s input device, and the debut of the Virtual Console was a pretty big deal at the time, even if it perhaps never reached the lofty expectations some of us may have had for it.

Notable Franchise debuts:  Super Mario Galaxy, Wii Sports, Xenoblade

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The N64 looks rather regal compared to some of its siblings, though that reputation did not translate to the software.

Nintendo 64

Where do you rank the N64? I would guess this is the console most affected by what age you experienced the N64 at. If this was your first console, then you probably have some extremely fond memories of the N64, so much so that it may even be your favorite. I do not, and for me, the N64 is perhaps the piece of Nintendo hardware that has aged the worst. Visually speaking, most N64 games are ugly by today’s standards. Muddy textures, endless fog, and subpar sound output make for a poor sensory experience. That’s obviously not true of every N64 game. Rare’s Conker’s Bad Fur Day seems to amaze me more and more every time I play it because of how good it turned out from a presentation perspective. The N64 was also the console where third parties started to turn on Nintendo. Most were not happy with the cartridge format, from a technological point of view and financially (you had to pay Nintendo for the actual cartridges), when the industry was moving to CD. The N64 also possessed one of the worst, and most fragile, Nintendo controllers ever done. It’s saved by the analog input and Z-trigger, two additions that are here to stay across all gaming consoles, and it was awesome finally having four controller ports on a console as a standard feature.

After ripping on the N64, I do have to say it gave us one of gaming’s biggest cultural moments in Super Mario 64, which is perhaps the last game that truly felt like a must play when it came out. Ocarina of Time was obviously a huge hit, but it’s success has been dampened some by the superior remake for the 3DS. The same can also be said for Majora’s Mask. Super Mario Kart 64 is also remembered quite fondly, even though it too has been eclipsed by better games in that franchise. The wrestling games are also well-regarded and if you’re a big wrestling fan you’ve probably held onto your N64 for that reason.

Notable Franchise debuts:  Paper Mario, Super Smash Bros., Banjo-Kazooie, Animal Crossing (Japan only)

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A launch 3DS. An XL version has since been released, along with the New 3DS which possesses a little more power under the hood.

Nintendo 3DS

The successor to the DS, the 3DS essentially fixed everything that was wrong with the DS while boosting the power of the handheld as well. The defining feature, stereoscopic 3D without the need for glasses, is a stupid gimmick. I never play my 3DS with it turned on and if the 2DS didn’t for some reason ditch the clamshell design I’d recommend everyone just get that and save a few bucks. That aside, the 3DS is buoyed by just enough original content and remakes to make it a viable system. It’s kind of like a Greatest Hits system, and the Virtual Console support means gamers have access to all of the old classics released by Nintendo, with only a few exceptions.

If you want to argue that the 3DS lacks truly exclusive 3DS games, then I won’t fight you too much. Super Mario 3D Land is pretty darn good, but I’m not sure it’s a system seller. A Link Between Worlds is loads of fun, but is it even better than Link’s Awakening? New Super Mario Bros 2 and Paper Mario Sticker Star were missteps by Nintendo, but they did right by Fire Emblem and Pokemon. It can’t be ignored though how awesome the Zelda remakes are for the 3DS. Both the Ocarina of Time remake and Majora’s Mask remake are so much better than the originals released on the N64, that it will be a crime if they only exist on portable hardware. Both should at least be made available for the Switch with TV play, even if the assets need further enhancement to make them suitable for larger displays. It’s worth it! And while I definitely play my Vita more than my 3DS, it doesn’t mean I dislike the system, the Vita just happens to know my weakness (JRPGs). I do wish Nintendo had put a higher quality screen on the 3DS, and it’s battery life is weak, but it’s still better than most of the hardware put out by Nintendo which is pretty remarkable for a portable device.

Notable Franchise debuts: Bravely Default

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While the N64 had a more grown-up appearance, the Gamecube went back to resembling a toy.

Gamecube

The Gamecube can be retroactively looked upon as an end of an era, the era of when Nintendo tried to compete on the same terms as its competitors. The Gamecube was basically every bit the equal of the Playstation 2 and Xbox in terms of power, and third parties didn’t need to concern themselves much in adapting games for all three machines. Still, after the N64 damaged Nintendo’s relationship with said publishers, it was hard to win them all back with the Gamecube. The N64 firmly established the still held belief that people buy Nintendo consoles for Nintendo games, and not so much third party games. As a result, Nintendo would have to really work hard to win them back.

One developer who came back with arms wide open was Capcom. Capcom, in truth, never left the Nintendo family as they had a presence on the N64 and a big presence on Game Boy. For Gamecube though, they made the Resident Evil Remake an exclusive game, and Resident Evil 4 was exclusive for about ten months. Both games were awesome then, and are awesome now, and were big titles for the Gamecube. Konami also helped out a little by remaking Metal Gear Solid for the Gamecube which also turned out better than the original. None of it was enough, however, to make the Gamecube a retail giant which is why Nintendo changed strategies with the Wii. Still, there’s little issue to take with the Gamecube hardware as the games have aged well and there wasn’t anything holding it back. The controller isn’t my favorite, but it wasn’t a bad one. The Wave Bird would be released later, basically making wireless the new preferred input method for all consoles. And even though the best Japanese franchises didn’t find a home on the Gamecube, there sill was an assortment of quality games. The Gamecube received two Zelda titles, Wind Waker and Twilight Princess, the latter being better than the Wii game. Super Mario Sunshine may not have sparkled as well as most Mario games, but was still a solid experience. Paper Mario 2 is in the running as one of the greatest sequels ever made, and is really the last good entry in that series. If the system had more JRPGs, I’d probably love it more. Hopefully with the Switch, Gamecube games start becoming a possibility on the Virtual Console because there are some games I’d love to take on the go.

Notable Franchise debuts:  Luigi’s Mansion, Animal Crossing (US), Pikmin, Metroid Prime

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The old NES Control Deck. Nintendo apparently felt it needed to resemble a VCR in order to attract American buyers.

The Nintendo Entertainment System/Famicom

My approach to this ranking is pretty simple:  If I had to pick one Nintendo console and had access to all software playable on it, which would I pick? I think some bonus points in the event of a “tie” are merited for impact when the system was released and so on, but for the most part I’m making this an apples to apples comparison through 2016 eyes. And yes, I would pick an NES and its library over a Nintendo 64 or Gamecube, or whatever. It’s not out of deference to the era in which the system operated, it’s just an awesome system with an excellent library of games.

At this point, you do not need me to tell you about the big titles, you should be more than familiar with them. And since the console is a tank and most still work to this day, I don’t think durability would be a concern in a desert island scenario. While the presentation of the games from the 8-bit era are a bit rough around the edges, the simpler technology forced a simple style of gameplay on the consumer and as a result, the games just plain hold up better than some of the games that have followed. Super Mario Bros. 3 is as fun today as it was in 1990, Metroid just as lonely, and Glass Joe’s face just as rubbery. Even the sports games hold up very well, despite modern titles presenting more accurate simulations. In recent years, the console has experienced quite the revival with retro gaming sites and podcasts becoming a thing. The NES Classic was perhaps the hottest item this past Christmas, and people are still begging for Nintendo to flood the market with more. For those who worry about the Switch killing Nintendo should it fail, at least they can rest easy knowing Nintendo just has to look to the past for a quick buck to get back on its feet should that happen.

Notable Franchise debuts: Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Castlevania, Mega Man – need I go on?

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While Nintendo had a reason making the American version of the NES look different, I never heard of an explanation why the SNES and Super Famicom needed to look different. I wish we had received the Super Famicom design, personally.

Super Nintendo/Super Famicom

If consoles can be considered sequels, then the Super Nintendo may be the greatest sequel of all time. Better than Empire, better than Street Figher 2, just the best. Visually speaking, I remember being unimpressed at first glance. A gray, boxy thing with purple accents hardly felt super to me, but then I played it. Super Mario World felt massive. It was bright and colorful and a joy to play. A Link to the Past took everything I loved about the original Zelda title and made it better. A lot better. While many older franchises struggled to move from 2D to 3D during the next console life cycle, virtually every franchise benefitted from the move from 8-bits to 16. Mega Man X, Street Fighter 2, Super Metroid – all games that proved it was only the imagination of game developers that could hold them back. Then Nintendo of America opened the flood gates and we started receiving games like Final Fantasy in greater abundance as new-found confidence allowed for them to finally get released outside of Japan. The SNES is still one of the best consoles for people who love JRPGs, with only Sony’s consoles rivaling it. The few missteps Nintendo had, like forcing Midway to remove blood from Mortal Kombat, were swiftly rectified.

There is no doubt in my mind that the SNES is Nintendo’s greatest achievement in gaming. It’s not as if other machines haven’t come close in the almost 30 years since the console debuted, so Nintendo shouldn’t hang its head in shame that its still trying to top it. The formula is there, Nintendo just needs to put it all together. The SNES is a beautiful example that a console does not need some wacky gimmick or ridiculous horse power to be worthwhile, it just needs to function comfortably, and above all else, have worthwhile software. It seems like each console to follow has alienated a certain subset of gamers and developers where as the SNES appealed to every one. If the Switch can recapture some of that, it will stand a chance.

Notable Franchise debuts:  Yoshi’s Island, Mega Man X, Chrono Trigger, Super Mario RPG


Ranking the Zelda Games – Part 1

link_hyrule_historiaIf Mario is to video games what Budweiser is to beer, then Zelda is like the Alchemist Brewery. If you’re not a beer enthusiast that’s to say that Zelda is like fine wine to Mario’s table offering. And if you’re not a wine person, well I’m just saying that while Nintendo is best known for Mario, it’s Zelda that is their true flagship offering. Ever since The Legend of Zelda debuted in 1986 for the NES, it’s been the franchise that Nintendo is most apt to make sure isn’t over-exposed and benefits from long development cycles to best ensure a quality product is delivered. That’s not a slight against Mario, it’s just he has way more spin-offs and lesser outings than Link tends to (not that he’s immune from the occasional Hyrule Warriors or Crossbow Training).

To celebrate thirty years of Zelda, it seems like a good time to take a look back at the main entries in the series and rank ’em! I did it with Mario, so why not Link? The same criteria applies. I’m only ranking the main entries so Hyrule Warriors is out. I also choose to not acknowledge those horrible and forgettable entries on the CDi console. Portable entries do count, and where a remake exists I’ll acknowledge it, but for the most part, I’m ranking the originals. The era in which the game was released is also factored, though more weight is given to the games that are just plain more entertaining to play. So while some may argue that the original should be considered the best because it laid the foundation for all of the rest, I would argue that’s not enough to guarantee a number one ranking. Many of these games I’ve reviewed before, and where I have I’ll link to my original review so you can pick through what I said and criticize me for contradicting myself in places.

Before I really dive in, I would just like to say that a truly awful Zelda game has not been released in the main series. While some are definitely better than others, even the worst are playable. We’re definitely grading on a curve here. Essentially, what I’m saying is if you don’t like my criticism of your favorite Zelda game just remember I’m not saying it’s actually a bad game. So let’s get this thing going. Between the home consoles and the portables, I count a total of 15 games – 8 on consoles, 7 on portables. That doesn’t count remakes and it doesn’t count the side entries (Four Swords, Tri Force Heroes, etc.) and it obviously doesn’t include the as yet released Breath of the Wild. Now that I’ve established that, let’s see what the number sixteen, and worst Zelda game, happens to be…

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What could be more fun than sailing?

15. Spirit Tracks (Nintendo DS 2009) – Not surprisingly, our first entrant is a portable. Perhaps surprising to some, is that it’s not an infamous sequel on the NES. That’s because Spirit Tracks manages to be annoying, and kind of ugly. For Zelda on the DS, Nintendo thought it would be a great idea to force a stylus-based control scheme on the player. I can’t put into words how awful a decision that was. For the portables especially, Nintendo loves adding gimmicks to Zelda games. For whatever reason, Nintendo associates gimmicks with innovation, which I’d argue is a terrible mindset as a game developer. Regardless, the gimmick fails. The DS also isn’t powerful enough to do justice to the Wind Waker inspired visuals. To top it off, there’s also a really boring train mechanic added to the gameplay that’s topped only by Wind Waker’s sailing as most boring form of transportation featured in a Zelda title. I said before that a truly bad Zelda game has never been released on a Nintendo console, but Spirit Tracks is a game I would not recommend to casual gamers. Only Zelda enthusiasts need apply.

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Maybe Nintendo should just get it out of their system and release Link’s Sailboat Training.

14. Phantom Hourglass (Nintendo DS 2007) – Given what I said about Spirit Tracks, it’s probably no surprise that Phantom Hourglass ranks beside it. Truthfully, there’s little separating the two as the control scheme is my major beef with both entries. Spirit Tracks just happens to have the more annoying train junk, while Phantom Hourglass has a slightly less cumbersome version of the sailing featured in Wind Waker. I’d also like to point out how wrong reviewers were when both games came out. Zelda has such a strong reputation that fans and professional reviewers alike seem to overlook things. As a result, if you look back on the review scores both games received you may be surprised at how high they are. I bet if you had most of those reviewers sit down today and replay these games they’d probably agree they were little over enthusiastic at the time their review was first published.

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I chose this image to illustrate how pathetically small Link’s sword is. As a male, he should be embarrassed to be seen in public with that thing.

13. The Adventure of Link (NES 1987) – Ahh here it is, the black sheep of the Zelda family. The Adventure of Link, like the American Super Mario Bros. 2, was Nintendo attempting to radically change their IP with its first sequel. Wanting to approach Zelda in a whole new manner, The Adventure of Link (often referred to simply as Link) was a side-scrolling action RPG that is unlike anything that has followed in the Zelda canon. As such, it’s hard to rank amongst the other games which all follow a pretty standard formula. Link is not the 13th best Zelda game because it’s different though. In fact, my main criticism with the Zelda franchise is that it needs to take more chances (and stupid gimmicks don’t count) or risk becoming stale. Link is simply ranked here because it has a lot of warts. It’s control scheme is subpar as Link’s range of attack is brutally short. It’s also a very difficult game, but with a surprisingly easy final boss, and it’s unforgiving nature is something no other title in the series shares. With some better tuning and balancing, Link could be a stellar title and it’s the type of game I’d like to see Nintendo take another stab at. It’s also worth mentioning that it’s a rare direct sequel in the Zelda timeline (not that it’s in-game storyline is remotely satisfying, making the sequel bit more of a novelty than anything).

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Nintendo released a legitimately beautiful game and decided to clutter with the screen with a bunch of garbage.

12. Skyward Sword (Wii 2011) – Here it is, our first controversial entry! While the DS games may have their fans, most probably rank them towards the bottom of the pile in terms of Zelda games. And Zelda II is as close to being universally disliked as a Zelda game gets, but Skyward Sword? IGN gave it a perfect rating when it came out! Luckily, this isn’t IGN.com and it’s my list and I say that Skyward Sword is modern Zelda at its worst. Nintendo has been trying to make Zelda “grow up” and be a more epic style of game seemingly ever since the backlash received by Wind Waker when it first debuted at E3. Nintendo’s solution for Skyward Sword was to make the game slower and overly pretentious with its storyline. I don’t think I’ve encountered a game with a more dull opening few hours than Skyward Sword. For all of the things Nintendo does well, crafting a compelling storyline is just not one of them. Skyward Sword is boring, and the motion controls are terrible. I couldn’t stand them. Criticize me if you wish, but I couldn’t even finish this game and yet I’m still rendering a verdict. I won’t call it a terrible game, but I will say it’s a game that I hated. Since I like to be positive when it comes to my reviews of games and art alike, I will say the visual style is wonderful and I’m impressed with what Nintendo achieved with the aging Wii hardware. Here’s hoping Breath of the Wild is better.

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So have we collectively decided that Toon Link doesn’t look stupid?

11. The Wind Waker (Gamecube 2003) – All right, so we’re following up one controversial entry with another, but hear me out on this one. We’ve already reached the part of our list where the games are getting much closer in quality, and few would even be considered average games by traditional measures. Though in some respects, Wind Waker still trends more towards that “OK” range than that “Wow!” one. It’s a game with a funny legacy. When the Gamecube was first unveiled it was accompanied by a tech demo that featured a Link vs Ganondorf battle that largely resembled the visual style of Ocarina of Time. Most gamers took this as an indication of what the next Zelda title would look like. Then Nintendo unveiled Wind Waker with its cel-shaded toon look, and gamers revolted. By the time it was released in early 2003 opinions had softened some and it seemed like there was an over-correction to the initial backlash and the game was largely praised. It seems to be a common favorite for many, but for me, I consider it mostly a doldrum affair. It looks fine, it runs fantastic, and the controls are more precise than the N64 games that preceded it, I just find it boring. The modern Zelda titles, much like the modern Mario ones, are not known for their challenge, but Wind Waker takes things too far by being the easiest Zelda game in existence. The combat is especially trite as the parry system is just far too powerful. And then there’s the sailing…The sailing is painfully boring, but most people already know that and even the game’s adorers acknowledge that low point. The game is flashy though, and I think that’s a big reason why so many people enjoy it, but I just don’t have much fun when I play it. At least there’s no Navi though!

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Link gets to be a fish in this one, which is certainly different.

10. Oracle of Ages (Gameboy Color 2001) – When the Gameboy Color came out, it was announced that Zelda would be coming to the console by way of Capcom, who had a solid working relationship with Nintendo. Three games were to come that would interact with one another. Three games eventually became two, and the delays were severe enough that by the time Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons made it to retail most gamers ended up playing them not on their Gameboy Color, but on their Gameboy Advance. Oracle of Ages was to be the more puzzle-oriented of the two, and it’s main gimmick was a time-traveling one that was also similar to the light and dark worlds found in A Link to the Past. The visuals and play style were very similar to the Gameboy title Link’s Awakening, which had also been re-released for the Gameboy Color. The look and feel of the game though was more rooted in traditional Zelda, but did carry on the tradition of the handheld games not featuring Ganon as the main antagonist. When the games launched, I expected to enjoy Ages more for its supposed puzzle-oriented approach, but I actually found it kind of lacking. The time puzzles felt rather ordinary, especially considering Ocarina of Time had tread similar ground, and the game started to become a bit of a grind towards the end. An enjoyable game, to be sure, but perhaps not as good as it could have been.

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I think I would have liked this game more if Link was shrunk at the beginning and stayed that way so he could hang out with shoe gnomes.

9. The Minish Cap (Gameboy Advance Japan 2004, NA 2005) – The Minish Cap represents Link’s lone, non port, outing for the Gameboy Advance, a relatively underrated console in the grand scheme of things. It borrows heavily from The Wind Waker in terms of looks, a trend that would continue on the DS, while retaining much of the gameplay style of the Gameboy titles that preceded it. And like most of the handheld games, it features a gameplay gimmick that sometimes works and sometimes does not. In this one, Link’s hat is sentient and has the power to shrink him when he stands on specific platforms. As Minish Link, he can reach places he normally cannot. The game itself is tried and true top-down Zelda, and it’s mostly enjoyable. The gimmick overstays its welcome by the time the end arises, and stand-in villain Vaati is no Ganon, but it’s a fun, unremarkable kind of game. As such, it doesn’t really stand out amongst the Zelda library, for good or bad. If it had chosen to do more with itself it probably would have placed higher as the game looks, and handles, quite well. Re-used boss fights from older games and the same basic setup as others is what harms it more than anything. It also strikes to the core of my main point of criticism with the franchise as Nintendo is content to think whatever new gimmick it has added to the series is the basis for which it should be judged as far as originality is concerned, never mind that the same boss fights are recycled over and over.


The 3DS XL: Nintendo’s Imperfect Update

Nintendo has an odd relationship when it comes to portable gaming devices.  The company has experienced immense success and great failure at the same time.  And even though the company rarely is ahead of the technological curve when it comes to its hardware, it still manages to dominate in sales.  The portable section of Nintendo’s portfolio is one the company can rely on to almost always turn a profit.  The only true failure was the Virtual Boy, a complete and total misfire.  The 3DS had a failed launch, but since a dramatic price cut and better software releases, the handheld has surged.  It may not have been profitable in 2011, but it almost certainly will be in 2012.

Nintendo’s approach to its main handheld units has been fairly consistent.  The original Game Boy was launched in 1989 and was Nintendo’s first true portable console.  The company had already made a name for itself in portable stand-alone games under the Game & Watch label, but the Game Boy operated like a home console and could switch out the software whenever the user wished.  The unit was fairly powerful for the time, though not on par with home console devices.  It had the same button layout as Nintendo’s home console, which made adapting games easy once accounting for the reduced tech.  Many companies tried to usurp the Game Boy as the market leader in portable gaming devices and all took the approach of releasing more powerful, color based systems.  Nintendo’s strategy of sacrificing power for better battery consumption proved correct as the Game Boy lasted for the entire duration of the 90’s while more powerful handhelds like the Game Gear and Lynx faded away (though the Game Gear was moderately successful in its own right, but sales for it amounted to about 1/10 of Game Boy’s).

In 1996 Nintendo introduced a new Game Boy to market, the Game Boy Pocket.  It was the same hardware, just shrunk down to a more portable style that required fewer batteries to operate.  This was the first major revision for the Game Boy, and the second would come in 1998 with the introduction of the long-awaited Game Boy Color.  The Game Boy Color did have the distinction of being slightly more powerful than the old hardware, but not by leaps and bounds.  Some games designed for it would not work on older Game Boys, making it arguably its own distinct handheld and not an actual revision.

The first revision to the Game Boy, the Game Boy Pocket, made the device more portable and more economical.

The Game Boy’s first true successor was the Game Boy Advance which was released in 2001.  While all previous Game Boys had a vertical format, the GBA had a horizontal one similar to the Game Gear.  It had a 32-bit processor but a lack of any 3D capabilities made it more comparable to a Super Nintendo than say a Playstation.  Aside from the enhanced tech capabilities, the only other major addition was the inclusion of two shoulder buttons.  Many fans were disappointed that Nintendo didn’t add two additional face buttons which would have made SNES to GBA ports near perfect.  Like the original Game Boy, the GBA would receive multiple revisions.  The first was the GBA SP, which made the GBA resemble an old Game Boy Pocket but with a hinge in the middle so it could be folded and stored away to protect the screen (and make it more portable).  The major addition to the SP though was the inclusion of a front-light, something gamers had been demanding for over a decade.  No additional buttons were added though, and the new design was less comfortable than the original but the inclusion of the light, rechargeable battery, and screen protection made it superior.  A third revision would follow in 2005, the GBA Micro.  The Micro removed the backwards compatibility of the SP with original Game Boy cartridges, but shrunk the whole thing into a tiny size that resembled a Famicom/NES controller.  The unit was also back-lit and provided a slightly better picture, though at a reduced size.   At the same time, a new GBA SP was released that had a back-lit screen instead of a front-lit, which was much more effective.  This was more of a running change than a true revision, but worth noting.

The Nintendo DS followed the GBA in 2005 and has been no stranger to revisions.  The original was bulky and unattractive, and a new model was released in 2006.  Dubbed the DS Lite, it was a more streamlined take on the console.  The DSi would follow the Lite and add better networking capabilities, an SD card slot, camera, and slightly larger screen.  The final revision to the DS came in the form of the DSi XL, just an over-sized DSi.

Which brings me to the 3DS.  When the 3DS was launched last year most gamers assumed a revision was inevitable.  I was a day one purchaser of the unit, and while I’ve enjoyed it quite a bit, there’s no denying there are some obvious short-comings that could be addressed with a future update.  The system is designed just like a DS, but Nintendo made some odd choices with the unit that do cause minor problems.  For one, the bottom screen is smaller than the top.  This isn’t necessarily an issue in and of itself, but there’s a raised border around the bottom screen that causes lines to form on the top screen when the unit is closed.  Mine hasn’t caused any permanent damage, but it is annoying to have to clean the top screen every time I use it.  The circle pad causes a similar issue on the top piece, but not on the screen thankfully.  And ever since the unit’s reveal, gamers have yearned for a second circle pad, which was addressed by Nintendo with the Circle Pad Pro attachment.  The attachment not only adds the desired second circle pad, but also adds two additional shoulder buttons to the unit putting it on par with home console controllers.  The attachment works, but is bulky as Hell and using the face buttons with it is some-what cumbersome.  The overall power of the unit, particularly the screen resolution, is not very impressive either.  Especially when compared with the more recently released Playstation Vita.

Most expected Nintendo to unveil a new 3DS at E3 this year.  Early reports out of China before the show seemed to confirm this, but come show-time nothing was seen.  In a questionable move, Nintendo chose to reveal the 3DS XL after E3 in an online developer conference.  The 3DS XL is the expected update to the 3DS, but is it the update gamers had been looking forward to?  In short:  No.

The 3DS XL is exactly what the name implies.  It’s an over-sized 3DS.  This isn’t a bad thing on its own.  While a larger 3DS is less portable, the original is pretty cramped and a larger one would work better for those who tend to play their 3DS in longer play sessions as opposed to quick bursts.  And even though it presumably requires more power to function when compared with the current model, the XL will reportedly have slightly better battery life (5-8 hours for 3DS games).

Congrats Nintendo! It only took you a few short months to render this attachment useless!

If the biggest issue gamers had with the 3DS were its size and battery life (a legitimate complaint), the XL would be well received.  And when it hits stores it very well may be.  For me, this update is fairly pointless.  The screen size has been enhanced, but the resolution remains the same.  The resolution on the current 3DS is underwhelming at best.  Games that look good on the unit do so in spite of the unit’s resolution.  A game like Resident Evil: Revelations is fairly impressive from a visual standpoint, but the low-res picture washes out the image and adds a blurry texture to everything.  Especially in the darker environments, I felt like I needed to wipe off the screen constantly even though there was nothing on it.  I played the game with the Circle Pad Pro, which as I mentioned, is a cumbersome add-on.  It does improve the gameplay though, but for some reason Nintendo did not incorporate it into the design of the XL.  The unit is bigger, one would think this would allow Nintendo to add the additional shoulder buttons, or at the very least, a second circle pad!  Nintendo chose not to, which not only seems foolish, but renders the Circle Pad Pro unusable with the XL.  A game like RE: Revelations will most likely play worse on the XL because of the controller configuration, and look worse because the low-res image is being blown-up beyond its intended size.  And perhaps just to add one last bit of insult to injury, the bottom screen is still smaller than the top and the raised border still exists so it’s likely the same screen line problem of the current 3DS will be prevalent here.

Obviously, I can’t pass judgement on a piece of hardware that isn’t even available yet.  It’s entirely possible that the 3DS XL is superior to the current 3DS based on the increased size and superior battery life enough to justify a purchase, or even an upgrade.  I’ll be surprised if that’s my opinion come August when the unit hits stores alongside New Super Mario Bros. 2 as it fails to address the real problems I personally have with the 3DS.  Plus if I were to upgrade it would render my Circle Pad Pro useless which is not something I am eager to do (but would have been willing to do if the new 3DS made it obsolete by incorporating its features into the design).  This just seems like a completely unnecessary update to the current hardware.


Requiem for the PSP

The Sony Playstation Portable was first released in the US in 2005.

I was shocked when I realized that Sony’s Playstation Portable (PSP) has been on the market for nearly 7 years.  That’s quite a long time for any hardware to remain relevant, but then again portables have always had a longer shelf life than their console cousins.  The original Gameboy was around for a decade or so before Nintendo finally added color to it, and longer still before a true successor was released.  Handhelds do benefit from redesigns though.  The original bulky Gameboy was originally replaced by the Gameboy Pocket just as the PSP received multiple updates, including one radical re-design in the form of the PSP Go.  This post wouldn’t exist though if it wasn’t for the Playstation Vita, which is set to replace the PSP in less than two weeks.

I have always felt like the PSP was viewed as a failure by the gaming community, or at least only a minor hit.  It was crushed in sales when compared with its nearest competitor, the Nintendo DS.  The two systems have always been intertwined, and even though the DS beat the PSP to market it felt like Nintendo’s retaliation towards Sony.  Nintendo has always dominated the portable landscape.  While systems like Sega’s Game Gear and Atari’s Lynx failed to win over consumers Ninendo’s Gameboy steadily found homes in the back pocket of gamers across the world.  The Gameboy was not a technological marvel by any stretch of the imagination.  Even when it was first released it seemed little better than one of those Tiger handheld games.  When I was a kid, the only people who had Gameboys were those who had parents that weren’t willing to spend a bunch of money on a Nintendo Entertainment System or Super Nintendo once that came out.  It really didn’t become a truly viable system for me until Pokemon in 1998 and the Gameboy Color.  That’s when I jumped on board and I’ve owned every Nintendo portable since.

The PSP has not been a failure, but the redesigned UMD-less PSP Go sure as Hell was.

Sony has been the only real threat to Nintendo’s portable dominance.  Even though it failed to beat out Nintendo’s handheld, it’s actually done fairly well for itself.  Sony has sold approximately 17 million units in North America since 2005, but it’s in Japan where the system really did well as its sold 15 million units there.  It goes without saying, that Japan is much smaller than North America and its rare to see sales figures that are so close when comparing the two territories.  For the sake of comparison, the Nintendo DS has moved nearly 58 million units in North America, and around 33 million in Japan.  It’s those staggerring numbers for the DS that make the PSP seem like a failure.  The PSP has always been the more expensive piece of hardware, debuting at around $100 higher than the cost of the DS in the US, and it has mostly appealed to traditional gamers.  The DS also appealed to gamers, but Nintendo also had great success reaching the non gamers and children as well.  That and the Nintendo brand definitely helped move units.  And for the sake of objectivity, I’ll even go out on a limb and say the DS has the better software as well.  While I actually didn’t get a ton of milage out of either handheld, I did get considerably more out of my DS.

Despite that, I still have great affection for the PSP.  Technologically speaking, it’s the most impressive handheld I’ve ever owned, even more so than the 3DS.  Visually it’s quite the looker, and the weight and feel of the device just give it a aura of high quality.  And I have the original model, now referred to as the PSP-1000.  The subsequent redesigns have slimmed the unit down some and even increased the power of the screen, which to me is borderline shocking as the screen on this thing is beautiful.  Even when I fired it up for the first time in years last week to play Tactics Ogre I was impressed by the clarity of the image.  I never did watch a UMD movie on my PSP, but I imagine they looked just fine.  Sony wisely incorporated analog control for the PSP in the form of the analogy “nub” located under the D-Pad.  If there is one design flaw though, it’s that the nub wasn’t placed in the more prominent position as most games make use of it as the primary means of control.  Nonetheless, it’s textured and grips your thumb as you play and there’s plenty of resistance.  Because of its size and placement, I do consider the circle pad of the 3DS superior but this one gets the job done.

Pretty much the reason why I got a PSP to begin with, Twisted Metal: Head-On, which was basically a remake of the super popular Twisted Metal 2: World Tour.

The medium that the PSP used for games is one not likely to be seen or heard from ever again.  While Nintendo has always stuck with cartridges of some kind for its handhelds, the PSP used an optical disc format that Sony dubbed the Universal Media Disc.  UMD actually worked better than expected.  Yes there are load times, but aside from a handful of early titles, they’re not that bad.  Sony tried to get production companies to put movies out on UMD which mostly failed.  While a UMD disc can hold nearly 2 GB of data, that’s still far short of what a DVD can hold.  This meant most UMD movies came with fewer special features and yet still cost about the same as a DVD version.  Most studios abandoned the UMD format within the first year of the system’s life and never returned.  Utilizing UMD also meant that games lacked a save function and owners were forced to purchase memory sticks for game saves and any other media they wished to put on their PSP.  And since Sony loves going rogue with its devices, it forced gamers to use its own brand of memory sticks called the Memory Stick Pro Duo, instead of allowing gamers to just use any flash card.  Not surprisingly, Sony’s memory sticks were always more expensive than traditional cards which made the entry price of the PSP quite steep.

The UMD format proved adequate for games but never caught on as a film medium.

Short-comings aside, I still love my PSP.  I never acquired much of a gaming library on it, mostly because it just came at a bad time for me.  I really got into portable gaming in the last couple of years, and even though I’ve had a PSP since 2006, I rarely found a reason to play it.  Because the system was so powerful most developers just spent time porting their console games to the device as opposed to making new titles.  There was definitely a lack of truly compelling software to pull me back in.  Square-Enix tried pretty hard though with Crisis Core and the Dissidia franchise.  I have both, but never got into Dissidia’s frantic style.  I did play a lot of MLB The Show on my PSP, and though it wasn’t as good as the PS2 version, it was certainly playable.  I also never took advantage of Sony’s download service that allowed you to download PSOne games and put them on the PSP, though I was tempted to do so with Final Fantasy VII.

The Playstation Vita will arrive on February 15th for those who want the bundle version out there, and a week later for those interested in the stand-alone unit.  Like the PSP, it’s going to cost a lot.  When Sony first unveiled the $250 price point (the same price the PSP debuted at) most were actually pretty happy as that’s the same price the 3DS came out at.  And just like how the PSP far outclassed the DS in terms of raw power, the Vita wipes the floor with the 3DS.  The Vita should be a technological beast and the games we’ll see on it should be comparable in terms of visual quality with what we’re seeing on the PS3 and 360.  The Vita also adds a second analog nub, something gamers were disappointed the 3DS didn’t include, and even has a gimmicky touch pad on the back.  The Vita has also ditched the UMD medium and is opting for flash cards instead.  Prices range from $30 to $50 for games, with most looking like they’ll settle in the middle at $40 a piece.  The memory issue though is the big kick to the crotch that most gamers hate.  Just like how they did with the PSP, Sony has opted to use its own memory card device with the Vita and the prices are outrageous when compared with a standard SD card.  A 4GB card for the Vita will set you back $25.  I have no idea how big a game save figures to be, but 4GB seems awfully tiny considering my PS3 at 60GB is far too small.  A 16GB card will set you back $60 and a 32GB card a whipping $100!  Again, I have no idea what the ideal size will end up being, but if you’re looking to get a Vita with a 16GB card and one game in a couple of weeks that will set you back $350 which is a pretty step entry fee.

The Playstation Vita has obviously adopted the "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" approach in terms of its general design.

And since it’s going to cost so much to be an early adopter, it’s a damn good thing that the launch games actually look pretty awesome.  There’s some first-party favorites like a brand new Uncharted game and the latest Hot Shots Golf game.  The following month Little Big Planet and MLB 12 The Show arrive with a new Resistance game following in May.  On the third party front, ports of Ultimate Marvel Vs Capcom 3 and Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus arrive alongside new titles like Army Corps of Hell and Ridge Racer.  The Vita is basically the opposite of the 3DS when it launched, as the immediate future looks awesome but I don’t see anything truly compelling on the horizon (not that I expect future software to suck, there’s just nothing comparable to Super Mario 3D Land set for the fall) and I expect a lot of the game’s software to consist of ports.  That’s not the worst thing in the world as ports of sports games are worth owning alongside their console counterparts and some games, like Rayman Origins, almost feel better suited for on the go gaming.  The Vita will also (finally!) incorporate more cross platform features allowing players of The Show to take their franchise from the PS3 to the Vita when leaving the house.  For me, this is something I’ve always wanted out of a portable making it basically a new way to interact with my console.  I also want original content too, and hope the Vita can deliver.

Gameplay shot of Army Corps of Hell on the Vita, a Square-Enix strategy-action hybrid that figures to be interesting, if nothing else.

Because of the cost to be an early adopter though, and the fact that I currently have plenty of gaming to do on my 3DS and PSP, I won’t be getting a Vita this month.  I’ll hold off for now and maybe benefit from a future price drop or something as the Vita has failed to gain much traction so far in Japan and may meet a similar reception in the US.  With the economy the way it is I can’t see the Vita getting off to a great start here.  It will move some units, but probably won’t have a better launch than the 3DS which was pretty slow to start off (again, probably because of cost though the lack of games certainly didn’t help).  When I do eventually get a Vita, I’ll be a little sad to say goodbye to my PSP.  Even though it probably has been a commercial success for Sony, I feel like the PSP has been the most under-appreciated gaming device of the last 7 years, maybe even the most under-appreciated ever!  The device, in its original release, still holds up from a technological standpoint when compared with the 3DS and I think it was a great thing that Sony entered the handheld market and forced Nintendo’s hand.  Sony raised the bar and brought console gaming to a portable device, something even Nintendo and other developers have been more willing to adopt recently.  The soon to be released Resident Evil Revelations for the 3DS is basically a console experience on a handheld, and I find that awesome.  For a long time portable gaming did not interest me because it just seemed like a watered down version of what I could experience in my living room.  I didn’t care to do that and wanted a truly rich experience.  Portable gaming has finally caught up with consoles and it’s no surprise I’m playing more portable games now than I ever have before.  I plan to treat Tactics Ogre like a great encore for my PSP, and I’ll enjoy every minute of it.


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