Tag Archives: wii u

Consoles, Handhelds, and Switch Puns by Nintendo

nintendo-switchIf you consider yourself an avid gamer then you are probably by now aware that Nintendo has unveiled its latest console/handheld:  The Nintendo Switch. Previously known by the code name NX, the Switch was officially revealed in a short promotional video on October 20th. Prior to this promotional video, the Switch had only been seen via patent applications by Nintendo containing early drawings that gave some indication of what the console was going to look like. It’s design resembled the Wii U tablet, but with some notable distinctions such as a slot for cartridge based games not unlike Nintendo’s current handheld, the 3DS.

It’s no secret that the Wii U, Nintendo’s most recent entry into the console market, has been a commercial failure. If it weren’t for the abomination known as the Virtual Boy, the Wii U would represent Nintendo’s greatest failure. I was an early adopter of the Wii U mostly out of obligation. I’ve owned every Nintendo console and handheld at some point in my life, and I had the means to get a Wii U at launch, so I did. At worst, I expected to be able to play new entries in classic Nintendo franchises that would provide many hours of entertainment. The gimmick, in this case a tablet with a second screen, was essentially Nintendo’s way of bringing the DS experience to the home console, with a couple of twists. Being on a console meant being able to do different things with the second screen, like hiding information from those who could only view the television or playing the console strictly via the tablet with no TV required. Turns out, that last little feature ends up being the Wii U’s legacy as the Switch is essentially taking that concept of not needing the TV to play and running with it.


What I assume comes in the box (minus the TV, of course).

Nintendo was never able to prove that the Wii U’s setup was conducive to innovative game design, so naturally neither were third parties. The Switch’s attempt at innovation is far more obvious as Nintendo wants to turn every console game into a portable experience as well. The Switch is fundamentally a tablet that just so happens to have a dock to make play on a TV seamless. Its design is quite similar to the Wii U tablet but noticeably smaller. It appears to be somewhere in size between a Vita and Wii U Gamepad, which is to say for a portable a bit on the large side. The Vita is already sizable for a portable and not exactly pocket friendly, so it goes without saying that the Switch is more of a backpack accessory than a pocket one. The edges of the Switch, which feature the button inputs, are detachable so you can play the Switch like a Vita or use the included kick stand and set it up on a surface and detach the controllers. Some games appear to only require one of these tiny controllers to play, meaning the Switch can natively support two players for certain games. For home use, it looks the Switch will come bundled with a controller “dock” that turns the two pads into something resembling a more traditional controller. The video also shows off a version of Nintendo’s Pro controller that likely will be an extra accessory. The dock also contains USB ports so existing controllers for the Wii U that utilize those ports may be compatible as well.

Nvidia is providing the architecture for the Switch. Some of the preliminary specs have been shared with the public, but just how powerful the Switch is remains a mystery. Given Nintendo’s track record, its likely the Switch will be competitive with the current consoles on the market from Sony and Microsoft, but will likely fall behind in raw power when their advanced models hit shelves over the next year. As long as the Switch is capable of handling ports from those machines, and given that neither Sony or Microsoft is going to ignore the original PS4/Xbox One, the power of the system should be satisfactory. It’s also unknown what the screen’s resolution and makeup is. LED? OLED? Can it support 4k? Is it a touch screen? The display of the Wii U Gamepad is nothing special, and if the promo video is showing actuall gameplay on the device then it at least looks like the Switch is superior to the Gamepad as far as resolution is concerned. If it’s on par with the original Vita then that would be fantastic.


If you thought using the Wii remote was uncomfortable…

The system’s concept is an appealing one for me. These days I spend more time with my handhelds than I do my consoles because it’s hard for me to make time to actually play with my consoles when I’m home. A machine that functions as both offers a lot of potential. I had hoped to utilize the Wii U in a similar fashion when I first got it around the house, but its range is severely limited so I never took advantage of using the Gamepad as a dedicated console as much as I had envisioned. Sony has offered remote play for several years now through its handhelds, but it’s something I’ve never taken full advantage of. With the PSP, it just plain didn’t work very well. With the Vita, it seems to work fine, but the Vita has fewer buttons than a PS4 controller making some games pretty awkward as those features end up being mapped to the rear touchpad. The Switch is basically just a straight portable that’s convenient to play on a television, and it’s a bit surprising that no one has really done this before. The only thing similar is the NeoGeo X which was released a few years ago. The X is a handheld that has a console dock which resembles the original NeoGeo AES system and more or less functions the same, right down to the wired controllers. The X is actually pretty cool, but the quality is a little suspect. With Nintendo, I have few fears about quality so the Switch should provide for a better experience.


A brief look at a game cartridge and headphone jack (take that, Apple).

Naturally, there are concerns with any new console, especially a Nintendo one. Third Party support has been a major issue for Nintendo ever since the days of the Nintendo 64. The Wii initially had a fair amount of support because it sold so well that publishers couldn’t ignore it, but there always seems to be the perception that Nintendo owners are fiercely loyal to Nintendo’s games and not as interested in others. So far, numerous developers are pledging support though none are confirming games (likely because of a non-disclouse agreement with Nintendo). Based on the video, it looks like the NBA 2K franchise is heading to Switch, and perhaps most exciting of all, Skyrim was shown as well. The video is likely a mock and what we saw of these games may not even be running on the Switch hardware, but it’s at least encouraging. I do wonder how a game as massive as Skyrim will fit on an SD card and what the costs will be. It’s possible the card in the video is a blank, and to play games on the go you have to transfer from an internal HDD in the dock to a flash style card,but that seems cumbersome. It also sounds like the type of thing that would make piracy easier and publishers hate that. Most likely games are going to come on these cards and I’m over-thinking it, but it will be interesting to see how this all works out. My fear is that the storage medium will compromise a title like Skyrim, and if I can’t have the full Skyrim experience on the Switch, then what’s the point?


The “joy-cons” slide onto the side of the Switch. In order to preseve a traditional four button layout on each one, it looks like we have to endure possibly the world’s shittiest D-Pad.

The main concern I have, and probably most gamers have after viewing the video, is with battery life. A tablet plus two mini controllers seems like the type of thing that will drain batteries quickly. The Wii U’s Gamepad has horrible battery life, but how much of that is because the Gamepad has to constantly communicate with the actual console? Modern handhelds aren’t much better though, with 4-6 hours being the new standard. After owning both a launch 3DS and a launch Vita for a few years, I can say both of my handhelds are closer to that 4 hour lifespan than the 6 at this stage and it gets discouraging. How well the Switch handles that part will determine just how portable it truly is. Aside from that, the standard concerns apply such as how much will it cost and how does it feel to actually play it? I’ll admit, those little controllers (I think Nintendo is referring to them as joy-cons or joy-pads) don’t look optimal. My guess is they work in a pinch, but I suspect most will be buying a pro controller. The fact that they slide into the side of the tablet is a minor concern as well. Will they slide out during some intense gaming sessions? Probably not, but we’ll see.

I did find it interesting that the promotional video’s target audience clearly seems to be adults. There are no children at all in the video which is in stark contrast to Nintendo’s family audience we’re used to seeing. This probably all factors into the name, Switch, as the console represents a very different approach by the company to remain relevant. At this moment in time, I can’t commit to buying it without seeing more. The Wii U’s tech was never very interesting to me, but I purchased it largely on faith that Nintendo would deliver with excellent software. The Wii U never did, and even the first party titles from Nintendo have really started to suffer. This even goes back to the days of the Wii. Triple A franchises like Star Fox, Metroid, and Mario have really taken a hit lately and Nintendo needs to win me back in that respect. The company really hasn’t shown off any games yet. The video mostly appears to show off enhanced versions of Wii U games like Splatoon and Mario Kart 8 which leads me to believe the unveiling of the big titles is still to come. There is a glimpse of a new Mario game in there that appears to be very much in the style of Super Mario 64, and of course we know that the new Zelda game is likely to be a launch title with a simultaneous or delayed Wii U release (similar to what Nintendo did with Twilight Princess). A new Zelda game, even if it was largely developed with the Wii U in mind, might be all the Switch needs for a successful launch. After that, it will fall to Nintendo to provide reason for gamers to keep coming back. No one is really talking about it right now, but if the Switch is a failure it could mark the end of Nintendo as a console developer, and there’s no way to spin that as a good thing for gamers.

Ranking the Zelda Games – The Top 4

5caa2739-c222-443c-8d6a-dff6048064c4We’re down to the top four in our rankings for the best games in The Legend of Zelda franchise. As far as climaxes go, this one is probably fairly anti-climactic as there’s a pretty clear top two in this series that the majority of gamers agree on. Though, as these games collectively get older there is undoubtedly more affection for the more recent games as suddenly a title like The Wind Waker is a normal gateway for players in their teens and twenties. Nostalgia always plays a role in a subjective exercise such as this one, though I sincerely feel these four games are the most dense and most fun Zelda experiences that Nintendo has put out. And I’m also not beholden to them. I really hope the next game in the series dethrones our champ, or at least forces its way into the conversation. Time will tell.


Link’s Awakening is the rare Gameboy game to utilize cut scenes.

4. Link’s Awakening (Gameboy 1993) – Of the four titles I’m going to highlight in this post, Link’s Awakening is probably the one with the least tenable hold on its spot and the most fluid of the titles. I mentioned it in part two, but games six through three are really interchangeable. The order isn’t that important, but I chose to put Link’s Awakening in the four spot because it’s a very unique entry in the series, an important one, and it’s also a damn good game. Link’s Awakening is a direct sequel to A Link to the Past, which is probably why the cover art is almost indistinguishable from that of A Link to the Past. When it first came out, I actually thought it was just a Gameboy port, but I of course found out I was mistaken. It’s the first portable entry in the series and is quite easily the best game released for the Gameboy, and it’s color edition is the best on the Gameboy Color, which is a pretty impressive accomplishment. It laid the groundwork for all of the portable Zelda titles to follow establishing certain trends like the ability for Link to jump and equip any combination of any two items he wishes. Want to walk around with bombs and the bow? Go for it! You don’t need to just carry sword and shield everywhere. It also features a totally offbeat approach to world-building. This game is pretty wacky, and of particular delight are the numerous cameos from characters common in the Super Mario universe, in particular the US edition of Super Mario Bros. 2. There’s a lot of genuinely funny dialogue and the plot is very care-free and loose. The Gameboy hardware has some obvious limitations when it comes to handling a Zelda title, but it’s surprisingly capable here. The only aspect of the game where the hardware limitations persist is really in the two-button control setup. It does become rather tedious switching between items constantly. There’s no shortcut to do so forcing the player to pause the action and access the items from the game’s menu. It’s an inconvenience, but a necessary evil. That’s really the game’s only negative for me. It’s challenging, provides a lot of replay, and is pretty unique among the other games in the series. If you never played it, it’s available on the Virtual Console. Go for the DX version as it’s in color and has a bonus dungeon. It’s truly one of the best Zelda titles around.

BreathoftheWildFinalCover3. Breath of the Wild (Wii U/Switch 2017)

The newest entry in the series has forced me to update these rankings. What was once a post about the top three, is now about the top four, and Breath of the Wild has forced itself into the top three, nearly top two. What made me rank it behind Ocarina of Time? Well, I think start to finish Ocarina is just a little more fun. It’s the perfect Zelda experience, but in 3D. – finding dungeons, collecting new gear, defeating Ganon. Breath of the Wild ditches that old formula in favor of a more relaxed approach that leans heavily on its vast map. It’s a phenomenal game and that approach may lead to a newer, and better, standard for the Zelda franchise, but right now it feels like it’s just scratched the surface of what makes an open world game so special. If you want more thoughts from me on Breath of the Wild, I made a nearly 4,000 word post on the subject right here.


Hyrule may not look as good now as it did then, but many games from this era have aged worse.

2. Ocarina of Time (Nintendo 64 1998)  – Ocarina of Time has become perhaps the defining, and most popular, game in The Legend of Zelda series. Its use of three-dimensional polygons makes it modern, and since the game is almost twenty years old it’s become a popular introduction for many gamers to the franchise. It’s also a well-crafted, expertly paced, and visually impressive title for its era which has since been improved upon with a 3DS re-release.

Let’s go back to the mid 90’s for a minute and reminisce about the era defined by the Playstation and Nintendo 64. There was a battle for supremacy between those two consoles, and poor old Sega was left behind in the dust thanks to the Saturn. When Sega created the Saturn, they foolishly decided not to make the system natively capable of 3D graphics (it had no geometric processor and achieved 3D with the use of 2D sprites). It was a puzzling move since Sega had been at the forefront with such technology with titles like Virtua Fighter and Virtua Racing. The Saturn was built to be a 2D powerhouse, and it was as it was the only title that could probably handle the Marvel VS series. Since it couldn’t do great 3D, consumers and game developers largely ignored it leaving Sony and Nintendo to duke it out for console supremacy. And when it came to 3D titles, Nintendo had an advantage with its more powerful hardware and analog control stick which Sony had to add years later. In this era, many popular 2D titles tried to make the move to 3D and fell hard. Eight and sixteen bit legends like Castlevania and Mega Man just couldn’t cut it in 3D, but Nintendo had great success with its properties. It started with Super Mario 64, one of the most well-received games in history, and it continued with Zelda.


These guys were freaking terrifying in 1998.

Nintendo’s solution to making Zelda work in this new environment was to move the camera behind Link. The toughest challenge with any 3D game is the camera and getting it to be in the most optimal position, especially when negotiating jumps. Nintendo, realizing Zelda was never about platforming, decided to institute an auto-jump feature for Link. To attack enemies, the Z-trigger was used as a lock on mechanism where pressing the button would cause Link to lock onto an enemy. This was called Z-targeting, and once Link engaged an enemy no other enemies would pester him. As such, the combat was essentially a series of one on one affairs. While locked on, Link’s controls changed slightly allowing him to dodge left and right and hop away and towards enemies. This approach was called context sensitive actions, and it applied mostly to the A button on the N64 controller which was used for almost every action in the game. This all sounds elementary to anyone who grew up with the game, but at the time this was the kind of thing that stumped developers, but Nintendo figured it out.


Another one of Ocarina of Time’s popular additions:  fishing.

Ocarina of Time’s defining trait, aside from the whole 3D thing, was the ability of Link to move back and forth through time. In the present he was just a kid, but in the alternate, dystopian future (does any other type of future exist in games?) he was an adult. The game didn’t require too much back and forth which helped keep it from getting stale. It also featured one of the better plots for a Zelda game that even saw the titular princess get her hands dirty. It introduced Ganondorf, the humanoid version of main villain Ganon, and even gave him a pretty interesting backstory. Gorons and Zoras also became more fleshed-out in Ocarina of Time and have largely remained unchanged since. The game has been so popular and so successful that every console edition of Zelda has basically played the same. That’s somewhat a weakness for newer games, but for Ocarina of Time I hardly consider it a weakness. Like the original Legend of Zelda, the game’s only real weakness is that it was limited by the technology of the time. The open fields of Hyrule are sparsely populated and pretty boring by today’s standards and it’s a damn shame the game was on a cartridge and not a CD as the score is too good for such compression. That’s all fairly trivial though. I’d tell you to go out and play the game if you haven’t already, but you probably already have numerous times.


This world still looks beautiful to me.

1.A Link to the Past (Super Nintendo Japan 1991/North America 1992) – In retrospect, it’s kind of surprising A Link to the Past wasn’t titled Super Legend of Zelda, following basically every other naming convention of the time. It may not have received such a lazy title, but in many ways A Link to the Past is simply Super Zelda, because it feels like the game the original Legend of Zelda was trying to be. Not only does it look and sound much better, but it’s huge, boasting more items, more dungeons, and two whole maps! The Legend of Zelda felt like a beast of a game when it came out, and it’s crazy that in a relative short amount of time it could be bested and improved upon so completely. It makes me miss the days of old when a new console was clearly a new, and more powerful, entity.

A Link to the Past basically added everything that has become standard to the Zelda franchise. Running, tossing items, changing worlds, ocarinas, you name it – A Link to the Past has got it. The game also features a tighter narrative so gone are those cryptic messages and random puzzle switches. It might not be as hard, as a result, but it also isn’t an easy game. Be prepared to die and hear that horrid beeping sound when low on health as you try to make your way to the next dungeon. The path isn’t always clear, making the game feel like a true puzzle at times. Remember the shock of going to The Dark World for the first time and finding Link transformed into a rabbit? Or pulling the Master Sword out of the stone for the first time? A Link to the Past is full of classic moments and classic sounds. The score is legendary now and is probably still the best of the series, even if it’s not as grand in scope as the more recent entries due to limitations of the time. It’s also no less fun to play. I challenge anyone to play this game for an hour and not have a good time.


One of the game’s many boss encounters.

A Link to the Past arrived early in the life cycle of the Super Nintendo. It wasn’t a launch title, but gamers only had to wait about a year for it. And since the console launched with Super Mario World they had plenty of time to kill before Zelda dropped. It was a must have title when it did, and my friends that got the game first became very popular overnight. Playing through it and completing it felt like a serious accomplishment, because games just weren’t routinely this big at the time. The same phenomenon would repeat itself with Final Fantasy II and III. It wasn’t that games like this were overly difficult, they just felt like serious tests of endurance. In truth, they just highlighted how much time average gamers spent playing video games. We probably spent as much time on Super Mario Bros. 3, we just weren’t as aware of it.


Atta boy, Link!

A Link to the Past is the best Zelda game because almost everything in it has been carried over into the games that have followed it, even more than twenty years later. It also holds up in every respect. It may not be in 3D, but it’s still easy on the eyes and possesses a lot of visual charm. I already mentioned the fantastic soundtrack, and it’s suitably challenging and a bunch of fun to play. If I had to find a fault with it then I’d say its storyline isn’t very compelling, but that can be said of just about every Nintendo first-party title. They’re not storytellers at Nintendo, just game makers, and with A Link to the Past they may have created the greatest game ever made.

Demon’s Crest

Demon's Crest (1994)

Demon’s Crest (1994)

There is something about the 16bit era of gaming that I just find inherently charming. This is the era where games started to grow up, tell complex stories, but without losing site of what makes games fun. The visuals, music, sound effects, pacing – it was like gaming nirvana. That’s not to say it’s been all downhill since; far from it, actually, but I always enjoy going back to these games. And when I can find a good, quality game from that era that I’ve never played? Well, that’s just divine.

Demon’s Crest is one such game. Released by Capcom late in the Super Nintendo’s life-cycle, Demon’s Crest has garnered a reputation as a cult classic. Because of its late arrival, few people actually picked up a copy and experienced it in 1994. The Gargoyle franchise also has never been one of great importance for Capcom. For those unaware, Demon’s Crest is the third game in the Gargoyle trilogy which started on the GameBoy. The main character of these games, Firebrand, is that annoying red, flying enemy from the Ghosts ‘N Goblins games thrust into a starring role. The storyline for these games isn’t all that interesting or important, but credit Capcom for spinning off a seemingly random enemy into its own franchise. Since the end of the 16bit era and the dawn of the retro era, Demon’s Crest has become one of those handful of SNES carts that fetches over 100 bucks routinely on the secondary market. Thankfully, the Virtual Console exists so these games can be experienced by anyone with a Wii/Wii U console and a game like Demon’s Crest can get the recognition it deserves.

Cap com apparently saw something in this little, red, demon to warrant giving him his own game.

Cap com apparently saw something in this little, red, demon to warrant giving him his own game.

Demon’s Crest is essentially a side-scrolling platform game, but it’s a hybrid title in that it incorporates elements from the run and gun genre and the RPG. As Firebrand, the player explores various stages from the ground, in the air, and underwater. At the start, Firebrand can shoot a fireball as his lone attack, cling to walls, and fly through the air. The flying mechanic is neat and doesn’t feel cheap, as it often does in many games like Super Mario Bros. 3. By pressing the jump button while in air, Firebrand deploys his wings and can hover indefinitely. He can move side-to-side but cannot gain altitude (a power-up later in the game allows him to ascend in the air from a flying position). He can still attack, and pressing the jump button again causes him to drop and re-pressing the button at anytime while falling will initiate the process all over again.

After the first level is completed, the player gains access to a world map not unlike what is seen in the Final Fantasy titles from that era. Firebrand can fly to any stage from here and the game can essentially be completed at any point, though playing thru every stage multiple times is encouraged to collect power-ups and explore every nook and cranny. Firebrand is on a quest to recover various crests, each one grants him a new power. The earth crest, the only one that basically can’t be missed, removes Firebrands wings but gives him access to a dash move and a ground-hugging projectile. The water crest lets Firebrand breath underwater, the air crest lets him fly freely, and the best crests are basically a jack-of-all trades kind of power. Additional projectile attacks for Firebrand’s normal form can also be found, along with other power-ups, bottles for storing potions, and vellum for spells. The goal is to conquer the enemy Phalanx, but the secondary goal is to collect everything and get the best ending plus additional content in the form of power-ups and additional boss battles.

Some of the game's bosses dominate the screen.

Some of the game’s bosses dominate the screen.

At first, the game seems like it’s going to be massive, but it can be completed in an afternoon, especially if you’re not after the best, ultimate, ending. There’s an element of trial and error at play, as the game intends for the player to acquire new powers to advance past certain spots. The game is forgiving in this regard as it grants unlimited continues and you can always quit to the map if a scenario seems too difficult. The levels are not simply “go right” kind of levels. They encourage exploration in all directions, and additional gargoyle powers will open up new sections so re-playing levels is practically essential to completing the game. Uncovering new powers is addicting and fulfilling and I was always eager to try out each new one I found.

Acquiring these new special abilities make the game easier, which is welcomed since the game is fairly challenging. No, Demon’s Crest is not among the most difficult of games to grace the SNES (like the title it’s spun-off from) but it isn’t a breeze. Most of the early challenge involves getting used to Firebrand’s controls. He handles easy enough, but the mind needs to be trained in order to best utilize the hover/flying ability. There are usually numerous enemies at ground level and in the air to contend with, and learning to dodge is the best way to succeed. The game is also fairly cryptic in that it doesn’t explicitly tell you what your new powers are capable of. As a result, the player has to experiment a little which may lead to some deaths here and there, but it’s not too bad. The game is fairly generous with restorative items and the in-game currency allows the player to stockpile health potions and the like. There are also some mini games to spend time on, though nothing exciting. The boss fights are usually a test to figure out what the best approach/power to use is. Some boss fights will seem impossible without the right ability, but once found, they’re a piece of cake. The hardest bosses are a challenge no matter what. They’re not controller-tossing hard, but will offer a nice test for the player.

Acquiring new crests opens up new forms and powers for Firebrand.

Acquiring new crests opens up new forms and powers for Firebrand.

The music in the game is heavily reminiscent of other gothic-inspired titles, most notably Castlevania. It’s tempo is slower and Demon’s Crest finds it’s own sound. It’s not on Castlevania’s level, but it’s very enjoyable. As a later era SNES title, the game is pretty nice to look at. Firebrand is nice and big without dominating the screen. Many of the boss characters have a lot of personality or take up the entire height of the screen. The regular enemies, the canon fodder, are a little boring though and the game gets bogged down at times when a lot is going on. Sometimes the slowdown is actually helpful, but it is a weak point of the game. The controls are quite good, but there’s some missed opportunities to be found here. The shoulder buttons are not utilized when they could have at least been devoted to cycling thru Firebrand’s gargoyle forms. It gets tiresome having to constantly pause the game to switch relics, and many boss encounters require this very thing. The spells available to Firebrand are also fairly useless, and the only potion worth spending money on is the best one which restores all of Firebrand’s health.

When it comes to old games, I always prefer to experience them as they were intended: on their original console. When that is not possible (or in this case, too expensive), the Virtual Console is more than adequate. I played the game exclusively on the Wii U Gamepad utilizing the Gamepad’s screen instead of a television. The game plays just fine, and the ability to save is definitely welcomed. The original cart only provides a password save functionality, and while the game isn’t terribly long, it’s one I chose to experience in one or two hour at most sessions. It probably took me around six hours to finish the game, with some additional time spent after the fact going back and finding the items I missed to tackle the secret boss. This strikes me as being a pretty average game for the era in terms of length making it comparable to Super Metroid and Super Mario World.

Demon’s Crest is an excellent example of a forgotten classic. It’s probably not a top 10 game on the SNES, but that’s only because the SNES has arguably the greatest library of games of any console. Demon’s Crest is a unique blend of several genres, and its setting and style help set it apart from many of its contemporaries. If it sounds like something you would enjoy, I can’t recommend it enough as it’s worth the 8 bucks Nintendo is charging. And if you’re on the fence, I still say give it a shot because it’s a game that’s just inherently fun. Hopefully, this re-release on the Virtual Console makes Capcom some money and inspires them to revisit the Gargoyle series. A modern take on the franchise would be a most welcomed thing, indeed.

Mario Kart 8

Mario Kart 8 (2014)

Mario Kart 8 (2014)

Over the years, Nintendo has acquired the reputation of pushing innovation over technical marvel when it comes to video game development. As has been the case with the past two generations of hardware, Nintendo’s machine has lagged behind its competitors in the raw power department in favor of pushing a new method of gameplay. When taking a glance at the comments section of any gaming website, it’s hard to determine which party is more responsible for pushing this image: Nintendo or its fan base. And in 2014, is the reputation earned?

The notion that Nintendo is advancing gaming through innovation is as much a business strategy as it is a marketing one. When your console can’t do what the competition can, it becomes necessary to sell it on different terms. I do believe the brains behind Nintendo’s games buy into this direction, but it would be naive of me to suggest those sitting in the board room are removed from the process. Nintendo, even after some lackluster years recently, sits on piles of money thanks in large part to a strategy that is rather risk-averse. Unlike most companies who are content to sell hardware at a loss and profit off of software, Nintendo chooses to keep costs down so that it can make money on everything it sells. Nintendo did buck tradition with the Wii U and sold the console at a small loss, but the company also expected to erase such pretty quickly, though reportedly it has yet to.

Things have not gone well for Nintendo when it comes to the Wii U. Nintendo was hugely successful in convincing consumers that the Wii was something new and exciting and soared to new heights behind the console. With the Wii U, Nintendo has failed to do so and the responsibility lies with Nintendo. The company has failed to demonstrate to consumers that the new GamePad is the innovation people have been unknowingly looking for. With Nintendo’s poor leadership creatively, third party developers have been unable to see the worth in developing titles for the GamePad and third party support has been ghostly for the Wii U. Head on over to those comments sections though, and you can expect to find Nintendo fans content to trumpet the company motto of innovation vs shiny visuals and point to the future releases of Super Smash Bros. U and Mario Kart 8.

Well, here we are on June 1st and Mario Kart 8 has arrived in stores across America ready to be gobbled up by hungry gamers seeking validation for their Wii U hardware. In Mario Kart 8, Nintendo has delivered a fun and clever slice of kart racing that rivals the best the series has done. Those captivated by nostalgia may still cite Mario Kart 64 as their favorite, while the popular pick in recent years often falls to the Gamecube’s Double Dash installment, but Mario Kart 8 does nothing to tarnish the legacy of the franchise and should give fans of the series something to chew on.

Expect to find yourself in odd places thanks to the anti-gravity portions.

Expect to find yourself in odd places thanks to the anti-gravity portions.

One aspect of Mario Kart 8 that no one can deny improves upon all of its predecessors resides in the game’s visuals. For the first time ever, Mario Kart is running in high definition and the tracks have never before held as much personality as they do now. The game is very sharp looking even when the action is cruising at a neat 60 frames-per-second and this level of detail is even more apparent when accessing the slow-motion replays. Each tire has individual treads, spectators jump and wave flags, and characters proudly display that red turtle shell high above their head before chucking it at an unsuspecting foe. Not only is Mario Kart 8 the best looking Mario Kart game, it may be the best looking Wii U game thus far. It does push the Wii U with its visuals, though I have yet to encounter any slowdown, but have noticed some pop-in with objects in the distance. When playing with other gamers in your living room via split-screen, the game does drop to 30 fps but with the action confined to a smaller area for each person it’s not very noticeable. The only other critique I can levy at the game’s visuals are with the character faces. They all look fine and how one would expect Bowser or Daisy to look at this point, but their expressions don’t change much at all while driving. There’s no teeth-gritting when entering into a tight turn or other subtle changes, but I admit that’s nit-picking. I also would have liked to see a little more personality in the actual kart designs as most of them are pretty much carbon copies of what has come in a previous game.

Mario Kart 8 may look great but the game lives and dies with its unique brand of kart racing, which has been often imitated but never surpassed by other franchises. Mario Kart 8 should feel familiar to those who have been playing since Mario Kart Wii. The controls are basically the same and drifting remains a timing-based game instead of the left-right-left-right method of Mario Kart games preceding the Wii edition (this change was allegedly made to remove the “snaking” technique from older titles). Most of the items from Mario Kart 7 return, and as usual, there are a couple of new ones. The boomerang flower gives racers a weapon to toss at foes that comes back, just as it does in the Super Mario series. The super horn is the long-awaited answer to the spiny blue shell that is universally despised by all Mario Kart gamers. The blue shell is easily the worst item Nintendo introduced to the series. First used in Mario Kart 64, the blue shell heads straight for the lead racer and is an unavoidable obstacle. I’m not against an item that can help someone lagging in the rear make a move in the final lap, but the blue shell does not do this. All it does is grant a racer from the back of the pack some influence over the outcome, which is unjust and ridiculous. If it took out most of the racers in its path it would make more sense. Anyways, the super horn can deflect any weapon, including the spiny blue shell, but it’s pretty rare to come across one when leading a race.

Mount Wario is my pick for best new track.

Mount Wario is my pick for best new track.

The new courses present in Mario Kart 8 should be met with open arms by most Mario Kart vets. The new emphasis this time around is anti-gravity racing. This allows tracks to have impossible slopes and the game really seems to enjoy bending the course that will make many crane their neck to follow the action. Anti-gravity racing is more than just a visual trick, as when racers are on this portion of a track colliding with one another creates exaggerated bumps that can be used as a speed burst. Certain obstacles on the track can do the same and while anti-gravity portions have been added into some of the old tracks, the new ones designed for Mario Kart 8 make the best use of it. Of the new tracks, I particularly enjoyed Sunshine Airport and Mount Wario, both of which reside in the Star Cup. Sunshine Airport is just a really visually entertaining course with a lot that can distract one from the race while Mount Wario takes on the form of a downhill ski race that starts off in the belly of a massive airplane. It’s a great high-speed run with plenty of challenge and few “cheap” moments. Just about every new course contains some kind of shortcut that can be exploited. Usually they require a mushroom item or star item to pull off so lead cars are often unable to use these to extend their lead leaving those hanging around in the middle the ones best equipped to make use of them.

I love the addition of the Koopa Kids, but could do without the baby characters.

I love the addition of the Koopa Kids, but could do without the baby characters.

As with every Mario Kart game, the love it or hate it rubber-band AI exists. What this means is expect to receive little more than coins and banana peels when leading the race while those cars further back get all of the fun and chaotic items. The Mario Kart games practically discourage getting to the front of the race early on but I’ve yet to meet a person with the discipline to play these games any other way. On the slowest setting, 50cc, expect to dominate the AI if you’re at all familiar with the franchise while the fastest setting, 150cc, should make for some pretty hectic finishes to your races. The game contains quite a few unlock able items and characters. Completing a grand prix event on any difficulty setting unlocks new characters (random order, it would seem) and courses while collecting coins during races unlocks new kart parts. There are some special gold parts that can be unlocked as well through special means but if you want info on all of that stuff it’s readily available on the internet. Even semi-dedicated gamers who picked the game up on Friday will have just about everything unlocked by the time Game of Thrones starts Sunday.

This setup is beyond stupid.

This setup is beyond stupid.

Mario Kart 8 is a fun experience and is likely what Nintendo fans have been waiting for. For its bluster about being an innovative developer of games, Nintendo continues to disappoint with the Wii U and Mario Kart 8 is no stranger. It may be fun, but it’s hardly unique and that’s no more apparent than with its use of the GamePad. The GamePad is practically an after-thought with this game. In some ways its a hindrance, as normally a course map and leaderboard is part of the onscreen HUD but has been relegated to the GamePad’s screen. You can opt to use the GamePad in lieu of a television display, but it’s strangely missing-in-action when it comes to two-player. When playing with one other person locally, the game opts for a vertical split-screen which gets the job done but is hardly ideal. What I don’t understand is why Nintendo did not include an option to have one player’s screen be the GamePad and the other the television. Instead, the GamePad just mirrors the TV, split-screen and all, or can function as a giant horn button (I’m sure that’s exactly what gamers had in mind for the GamePad when it was announced). Sonic All-Star Racing got this right, which is just embarrassing for Nintendo that it couldn’t. Nintendo has also chosen to follow the path set by other publishers of not including an instruction booklet and would rather have a digital one. The digital one is clunky, and I had to just hit buttons until I found the right one that displayed the stats of the karts on the character select screen. Battle Mode has also been redone. Before Battle Mode had its own arenas to select from based off of tracks in the game, now it just uses the actual tracks leading to many moments of just driving around with no one to shoot at. It’s not even worth playing.

This is all to say the Mario Kart 8 is more of the same, like New Super Mario Bros. U and Pikmin 3. If you’re looking for a new Mario Kart title to play on your Wii U, it certainly gets the job done as it has been over six years since the release of the Wii edition. Which means expect the same, fun, frenetic gameplay the series is known for along with the not-so-good things the series is known for such as a clunky online interface and annoying rubber-band logic. I suspect Mario Kart 8 will quickly become the best selling title for the Wii U making the game a success, but the elephant in the room is still that Nintendo has yet to do much of anything worthwhile with its now not-so-new controller. I doubt very much that the next big title, Super Smash Bros. U, will do anything to change that.

New Super Mario Bros. 2

New Super Mario Bros. 2 (2012)

For awhile it seemed like Nintendo had adopted a one Mario title per console policy.  Back on the original Nintendo when Mario was first making a name for himself we were treated to several wonderful titles that lead into the launch of the Super Nintendo which gave us Super Mario World.  After that though, Mario stopped showing up as frequently in his own adventures.  Sure he’d pop up here and there to play some sports and race some go-karts, but he was held to one lone outing on the Super Nintendo, Nintendo 64, and the Gamecube.  And it wasn’t like he was taking his talents to the handhelds, after Super Mario Land 2 he pretty much stopped showing up there as well.  The Gameboy Color and the Gameboy Advance didn’t even have a Super Mario Bros. game of their own, just ports of the old ones.

The Nintendo DS looked to be heading in the same direction when it launched alongside a port of Super Mario 64.  It was around that time that Nintendo had really fallen back in terms of market share, losing considerable ground to Sony in its native Japan and lagging behind both Sony and Microsoft in other parts of the world.  Nintendo needed a boost, so they turned to their old reliable mascot.  They decided to appeal to their older gamers through nostalgia and crafted a game that was as much about entertaining the gamer as it was about being a tribute to the original Super Mario Bros.  That game ended up being New Super Mario Bros. and when it arrived on the scene in 2006 for the DS gamers and critics alike were taken back to the good old days where Mario hopped and bopped his way through a level and found a flag pole at the end.  New Super Mario Bros. quickly became the best-selling title on the DS as the handheld took off.  The Nintendo Wii arrived later that year and really helped boost Nintendo’s popularity.  For that console, three traditional Mario games have been released to date which is quite a change in direction.  The Wii was given the Galaxy series as well as its own entry in the New Super Mario Bros. franchise.  The successor to the Wii, the Wii U, is expected to launch this fall with its own New Super Mario Bros. game and the Nintendo 3DS just received New Super Mario Bros. 2 this past Sunday.

For the Nintendo 3DS, New Super Mario Bros. 2 is the second dedicated Mario title following last fall’s Super Mario 3D Land.  3D Land was tasked with bringing Mario into stereoscopic 3D.  It retained a lot of the 2D Mario gameplay mechanics, but instead of Mario only being able to fall off 2 sides of a platform, he can fall off all 4!  Keeping the basic gameplay to something akin to the 2D titles kept gamer’s in their comfort zone while positioning the camera to acknowledge that this was indeed a fully realized world that Mario inhabited allowed for Nintendo to make better use of the 3D effect.  It worked quite well and 3D Land ended up being well-received.  It’s probably already the best game on the 3DS and it hasn’t been challenged all that seriously since its release.

Mario’s new power-up: Pimp Mario.

New Super Mario Bros. 2 has no such gimmicks to sell.  It exists as simply the next game in the franchise.  It doesn’t seem to care about the system’s 3D capabilities and the game actually looks awful with 3D enabled.  And if we needed a reminder that this game represented a piece of the Nintendo cash-cow there’s a new emphasis on coin-collecting this time around with the ultimate goal, or rather the challenge put forth by Nintendo, being to collect one million coins.  In previous titles, the act of coin-collecting was just an impulse and a way to “buy” additional lives for Mario.  It’s no secret that recent games have sort of made a mockery of this.  Even without making every effort to obtain every coin on-screen most gamers have had no trouble racking up hundreds of extra lives for Mario as the games have become progressively easier.

To better emphasize this approach Nintendo has given Mario a new power-up:  the gold flower.  This power-up functions like the regular fire flower power up only now Mario is gold and his fireballs turn enemies and brick blocks into coins.  The fireballs have more density to them as well and pass right through enemies to take out whatever is in their path.  It’s the lone new power-up and it doesn’t show up a whole lot in the regular game unless one seeks it out via the various Toad Houses.  It is featured prominently in the new Coin Rush mode that gives the player a randomized trio of levels to rush through and collect as many coins as possible.  This mode is the one that works in conjunction with Nintendo’s street pass feature and gamers can challenge one another to beat their high score just by walking passed each other with a street pass enabled 3DS in pocket.  The mode is okay, and one million coins is quite a challenge (most will have roughly 40,000 after beating the game, so you have your work cut out for you should you attempt the million mark), but it adds nothing to the gameplay.

The original NSMB was not a very ambitious title.  In fact, it seemed intentionally basic as it tried to harken back to the original SMB.  The levels were straight-forward and Mario’s only plentiful power-ups were the fire flower and star.  There were a couple of new ones, but they appeared sparingly and almost seemed like they were included just for fun.  As a kid, I can remember discussing with other kids how cool it be if Mario could get even bigger by consuming more mushrooms.  Nintendo must have heard those conversations as it introduced the mega mushroom which made Mario the size of the screen and blessed him with destructive powers on par with Godzilla.  To pair with this, Nintendo introduced the mini mushroom which shrunk Mario down to miniscule size and allowed him to walk on water and enter pipes too small for normal Mario.  There was also a turtle shell power-up that appeared in some stages though it was mostly a dud.  It gave Mario some protection in a ducking position and allowed him to slide into enemies.  It certainly wasn’t as imaginative as the super leaf.  The mini mushroom ended up being the best of the three as it opened up new gameplay possibilities the others really didn’t.  Some critics seemed to really love NSMB, and while I definitely had a ton of fun with it, I never once thought of it as being superior to Mario’s best.  I actually thought it might end up being a one and done kind of thing, but it made so much money for Nintendo that proved impossible.

I was hoping the sequels would be more ambitious, but the first sequel really didn’t add much.  NSMBWii added co-op play and a couple of new power-ups like the unwieldy penguin suit and the propeller suit.  It was a big game, and a fun one, but it seems Nintendo is only really interested in imitating the old games and not really pushing things.  Which brings me back to New Super Mario Bros. 2.

The Koopalings, or Koopa Kids, are back and they’ve even brought with them an old toy!

NSMB2 borrows a page from Super Mario 3D Land and resurrects an old favorite, this time the super leaf.  The leaf was present in 3D Land but in that game it bestowed Mario with a tanooki suit.  This time it’s returned to its old function which is to give Mario raccoon ears and a tail and allows him to fly, just as it did in Super Mario Bros. 3.  The mega mushroom and mini mushroom are here as well, but their presence is more like a cameo than anything as they show up quite sparingly.  Gameplay wise, it’s the same old thing as Mario goes from world to world, level to level, combating Bowser and trying to save the princess.  The Koopalings return and Mario will have to topple one at the end of each of the game’s five levels before taking on Bowser at the end of world six.  That’s not a typo.  There are only six worlds this time around when traditionally there’s always been eight.  There are secret worlds but having only six main ones is kind of a letdown.  The secret worlds are the Mushroom, Flower, and Star worlds.  The Mushroom and Flower worlds can be accessed by finding secret exits in one of the levels which lead to warp canons.  Instead of the canons firing Mario (or Luigi, don’t want to forget about him!) to the world it fires him through a special stage.  These stages are brief but remind me of Sonic the Hedgehog as Mario is forced to run full speed.  Mario has to time his jumps perfectly and bounce off of enemies to clear gaps.  Or he can use a super leaf and mostly fly over the whole thing.

These canon levels end up being some of the game’s most challenging, because the rest is a cake-walk.  Super Mario 3D Land was pretty easy and I had over a hundred extra lives when I beat it, but in this one I had over 400.  It’s just not a hard game.  At all.  The boss encounters are particularly pathetic.  There’s a castle and a fortress in each world.  In the fortress, Super Mario World’s Reznor returns as the boss there.  If you forgot, Reznor is actually a group of fire-breathing dinosaurs on a big wheel contraption.  In SMW, Mario would have to bop all four off their place on the wheel while the ground he stood on was destroyed.  Reznor gets a bit more inventive in this one as some fortresses feature dual wheels, but the floor is much slower to deteriorate making the encounters even easier than they were in SMW.  The boss fights with the Koopalings are at least more imaginative than they were in SMW, but again, they’re probably easier too.  None of them are particularly memorable and I certainly never died while taking them on.  The final encounter with Bowser can be counted on to up the difficulty though, right?  Ehh, not really.  It’s two parts, and the first part is just a new take on the original Bowser boss fight and exists merely as a nod to SMB.  The second part is where it’s supposed to get hard, but without spoiling anything, it’s not.  After beating the six words plus two secret ones, the Star World is opened.  I thought maybe the Star World would be like the Special World from SMB and feature the game’s biggest challenges but it really doesn’t.  The levels are shockingly basic though the final castle is noticeably more challenging than any other level.  At the end of that castle gamers will encounter Dry Bowser, a skeletal version of the terrible turtle, but the mechanics of the fight are exactly the same as they were before.

Remember these guys? They’re back too.

It’s been established that the game is exceptionally easy and not particularly long, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t any fun.  I’ve had a pretty good time steering Mario along his course to rescue the princess.  One thing the NSMB series may have over the likes of SMB3 is in its controls.  Mario handles like a dream which may be one reason why these games seem so much easier than the old ones.  It’s much easier to stop Mario from sliding off a platform or to time his jumps precisely.  He has the perfect amount of weight and very rarely did I die and found myself blaming the controls.  The star coins scattered through-out the levels present a fun challenge.  They’re often not cleverly hidden but they’re also not always in plain sight.  They’re definitely easier to obtain in this game than some of the past ones.  In other games there’s usually a handful that would kill me over and over as I tried to snag it but there wasn’t a single one in this game that I had trouble with.

At the end of the day, I’m left to ponder the question at what point do I expect something more?  I’ve always had fun playing these games in the New Super Mario Bros. franchise but I don’t get the sense that Nintendo takes them entirely serious.  It’s been six years and three titles, but at no point have any of these games approached the heights of Super Mario Bros. 3 or Super Mario World.  And it’s not that I expect them to, as those are two of the greatest games ever made, but it’s just I don’t feel like Nintendo is even trying to top them.  I bought NSMB2 last Sunday and have since invested 12 hours into it and have accomplished everything.  I beat every level and acquired every star coin.  I could just play it over and over until I get a million coins, but I think I’ll hate the game if I play it that much.  There’s supposedly going to be some downloadable content in the future, but I don’t know how I feel about that.  I feel Nintendo already short-changed us on the levels in the game, so paying for more doesn’t sit well with me.  I’ll reserve judgement though for a later date.  Ultimately, anyone who buys this game knows what they’re buying.  This franchise is if anything consistent and it will entertain you, just don’t expect it to do so for very long or to offer much challenge.

What to Make of E3 2012?

If you’re even remotely into video games then you know that every June the Electronic Entertainment Expo (better known as E3) takes place in LA and all of the major players in the video game world unveil to the public what they have in store for the masses.  Often times E3 is the first chance for gamers to get a look at the next big “thing” from the major developers, be that thing a new console or the return of a beloved franchise.  This year’s E3 promised to reveal more about Nintendo’s next machine, the Wii U, and the public figured to get its first look at the latest in long-running franchises like Halo and Super Mario Bros.  As for surprises, well it was entirely possible, though not likely, we’d get some info on the successors to the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 and maybe a new 3DS.  Now that E3 2012 is in the books, what did I think of it?  I’m glad you asked!


I’m lumping these two together for reasons that will be obvious once I’m done.  Both console publishers weren’t expected to unveil new hardware at E3 and instead would aim to boost their current market share.  Microsoft, predictably, threw a bunch of Kinect stuff at the attendees since that’s presently making them a boatload of money even if the “hardcore” gaming community couldn’t care less about it.  There was Halo 4 though, which was the game most Xbox fans were interested in.  As the first Halo not developed by Bungie, there is some uncertainty surrounding it but it seems like most were satisfied.  Beyond that it was mostly third party games that were spotlighted and some kind of fancy touch-screen junk.  Ho-hum.

Sony was expected to tout the Vita to PS3 connectivity in hopes of boosting the Vita’s severely lacking sales.  Sony’s presentation ended up looking like a business meeting at times and was a total snooze-fest.  They did talk up the connectivity of the Vita and PS3, but really didn’t get behind the Vita like I thought they would.  Like Microsoft, the emphasis was on third-party releases but Sony did flash some new exclusives such as The Last of Us and the latest from Heavy Rain developer, Quantic Dream; a new title similar to Heavy Rain called Beyond:  Two Souls.  I was surprised at how shitty 2012 looks for the Vita as the best titles coming to the handheld are PS3 ports like Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time and Guacamelee, making me feel less secure in my purchase.

Studio Ghibli is being used to help develop a game? You bet I want in on that!

If you can’t tell, I was pretty unimpressed with the offerings Sony and Microsoft made.  The game that excited me most on their machines was probably Ni No Kuni, the Level 5 and Studio Ghibli collaboration for the PS3 that’s already out in Japan.  I already knew enough about that title though, so it wasn’t like E3 was some big unveiling for it.  Plus it’s a JRPG which doesn’t attract much attention these days.  There was really nothing from Square-Enix, which surprised me, other than their produced revival of Tomb Raider which got a lot of people talking (IGN gave it the title of best game of E3), but I just can’t get excited about a Tomb Raider game.  Microsoft and Sony essentially punted on E3, and with next year’s E3 expected to showcase their new machines, I suppose it’s understandable.


Nintendo had the most to gain with E3 2012 so I expected the Big N to pull out the big guns.  After all, E3 marked the best opportunity for the company to sell the public on its latest console the Wii U, while also pumping up the money-printer known as the 3DS.

Before I get to the Wii U, let’s look at the 3DS.  Interestingly, around this time last year the handheld was floundering and Nintendo was already contemplating a price cut which it would eventually implement.  That price reduction, along with some better software, propelled the 3DS to the top of the sales charts.  Nintendo may be losing money on each unit sold right now, but it’s better than having them sit on the store shelves.  It was thought that Nintendo would show off a 3DS Lite, or as media reports before the show appeared to leak, a 3DS XL which would basically combine the existing hardware with the Circle Pad Pro attachment.  These reports proved erroneous, for now anyways, as Nintendo did not have a new 3DS to show off.  This probably has a lot to do with the current model both selling well and at a loss.  Why sink more R&D into it now?  Nintendo will likely wait for sales to slow down before unveiling a new SKU.

Ghost-busting, Luigi style.

As for the games, well the 3DS didn’t show off much new, and instead finally gave the public a glimpse into games it had already announced but had yet to really show off.  These games included both a new entry in the Paper Mario franchise and a sequel to the decade-old Luigi’s Mansion.  Both were on display at E3 this year and both pretty much delivered what I think most gamers were expecting.  Neither one appears to break the mold much, and Paper Mario:  Sticker Star has some weird sticker gimmick that I’m not sure I like, but gameplay-wise both titles appear solid.  Luigi’s Mansion:  Dark Moon is perhaps slightly more interesting just because it’s a franchise Nintendo has yet to exploit.  The first game, released as a Gamecube launch title, was a solid enough title but one that felt like it needed a sequel to fully realize its potential.  It’s surprising a sequel has taken this long and hopefully it’s a more complete game this time out.

I hope you like coins…

The big, new, title for the 3DS announced just before E3 is New Super Mario Bros. 2.  New Super Mario Bros. is one of the DS’s all-time best sellers, while New Super Mario Bros. Wii is one of the all-time best sellers period, so it’s no surprise the game is returning in 2012.  NSMB2 looks to be more of the same.  Nintendo is bringing back the leaf power-up, much as it did with Super Mario 3D Land, though this time it’s function is identical to it’s original powers in Super Mario Bros. 3, complete with P Meter and all.  It’s also incorporating the Wii version’s simultaneous play, as two players can play as Mario and Luigi at the same time, which sounds like more fun than it looks.  This edition also places emphasis on coin collecting (one of the new power-ups, a gold fire flower, lets Mario turn pretty much everything into coins) with the goal being to collect a million over the course of the game.  It’s unclear if that’s some sort of requirement or just a challenge, but it’s not something that has me excited at all.  Coin collecting, and collecting things in general in platformers, is mundane.  I don’t mind a few hidden items, like the star coins, which are usually some-what challenging to get, but just grabbing coins is often an after-thought.  The games are so easy that the player doesn’t really have to go out of their way to get coins and yet will still end up with over 100 lives.  I’ve recently been playing a lot of the Super Nintendo classic Super Mario World and I wish Nintendo would look to that title for inspiration.  The challenge in that game was finding numerous secret exits and extra levels which was far more gratifying than coin collecting.  NSMB2 does at least return the Koopalings, something I wish had been included in Super Mario 3D Land, so that’s a plus.

It also wasn’t enough to have just one new entry in the New Super Mario Bros. franchise as Nintendo also showed off New Super Mario Bros. U, the lead title for the new Wii U console.  It’s basically what you would expect, though Nintendo hopes to high-light the Wii U’s new controller.  By doing so, the Wii U game uses the Wii remotes for general play, but one person can use the new controller to add items to the levels, kind of like a Dungeon Master or something.  The game will have co-op play and will have a different set of levels than the 3DS game plus Yoshi and a new suit; the flying squirrel.

Mario’s new suit: The Flying Squirrel. At least it makes more sense than the raccoon tail.

That little segue brings me to the Wii U and why I really couldn’t care less at this point.  If you weren’t aware, the Wii U’s main selling point is this new controller.  It’s basically like a DS only with one screen and two analog sticks.  The touchscreen on it will be used differently for each game.  In ZombiU, it’s used to display little puzzles like key-code readers for doors and it’s designed to get the player to look away from the screen while hoards of zombies are descending upon the player to enhance the excitement.  In Batman: Arkham City, it just displays Batman’s gadgets and instead of selecting them with a touch of a button you use the touchscreen.  It’s also used to steer his remote bat-a-rang and control his de-encoder device.  A new title called Nintendo Land figures to show off other uses for the controller (the game is basically the Wii U’s version of Wii Sports, though marketed better by using Nintendo characters) but Nintendo hasn’t committed to it as a pack-in title, which would be a huge mistake, in my opinion.

If the uses for the controller do not wet your appetite, then I’m afraid there isn’t much going for the Wii U.  For me, it just doesn’t sound all that interesting.  It’s basically taking the DS experience to the home console.  And it’s being reported a single charge will only get you about 2 and a half hours of gameplay out of the controller which will make owning two a necessity for anyone looking to game for that length of time.  Also hurting it is the fact that some titles, like Arkham City and Mass Effect 3, will have been available for quite some time on other consoles by the time they’re released.  Do the additions to Arkham City make you want to buy it again?  I think for most the answer will be “no.”  And it’s also being reported that the Wii U may not even be as powerful as the 360 and PS3.  All of this tells me that Nintendo needs to get its big franchises onto this thing fast if it expects to move a bunch of units, because I don’t see any system sellers for it right now.

Wreck-It Ralph

I love this concept, hopefully it’s utilized well.

Have you heard about this one?  E3 isn’t known for movie reveals, but there’s also never been a movie like Wreck-It Ralph.  Best described as video game’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Wreck-It Ralph is an animated feature from Disney that’s like a love letter to gaming.  The main character (voiced by John C. Reilly), is the antagonist in a Donkey Kong-like game who is sick of being the bad guy.  The trailer features a visually amusing gag of Ralph sitting in a therapy session with some of gaming’s biggest villains including Bowser and M. Bison.  The CG-animated film is directed by Rich Moore who was the lead director on the first several seasons of Futurama which certainly bodes well for the film.  I love the concept, but honestly found the trailer underwhelming.  The jokes just weren’t very funny, but I’ll refrain from passing judgement until I actually see it.  The film is currently set for a November release.

All in all, I think E3 2012 was one of the least interesting E3’s in recent memory.  Perhaps if Nintendo had yet to unveil the Wii U it would have been more exciting, but we already saw this thing in action a year ago and this year it was all about the launch-window software, which really didn’t impress.  Nintendo also didn’t unveil any pricing, which has me concerned, as I’m sure the company doesn’t want to sell this thing at a loss like it currently is doing for the 3DS.  I’m expecting a bare-bones release, as in one controller and no pack-in games, for around $300.  Any higher and Nintendo is crazy.

And if Nintendo failed to seize the moment, Microsoft and Sony weren’t willing to steal the spotlight.  Neither company really unveiled anything new and preferred to rest on its laurels.  Sure this year’s E3 was the public’s first look at Halo 4 and The Last of Us, but I think we all have a reasonable expectation of what they’ll play like.  There were no new games shown that have me excited, and the most interesting for me was Beyond:  Two Souls but that one is still a long way off.  2012 started off with a bang, but the fall looks to be easier on the wallet, I’ll leave you to decide if that’s a good thing or not.

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