What I’d Like to See From Nintendo at E3 2013

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By now, it’s well-known that Nintendo has decided to forgo a traditional E3 presser this year in favour of a Nintendo Direct livestream. I had initially wanted to write a few words on that particular decision (basically, I think it’s a dumb one; the Nintendo Direct should’ve been used to support the E3 presser, just like last year), but time flew by and now that we’re on the eve of E3, it’s kind of a moot point.

I probably won’t write articles like this for Sony and Microsoft. I’ve always been a Nintendo fanboy, although as I’ve grown older, I’ve gotten better at recognizing how alienating and puzzling the company’s business practices can be at times. I desperately want the company to turn around its recent slump because I know that at some point I must buy a Wii U, but the pragmatic person in me knows that buying one now, when the price is high, the memory is low, and the game library is meager, wouldn’t be in my best interests. Nintendo’s games have always been my favourite of any developer, so I really don’t care if the Wii U remains devoid of third-party support; I fully intend to buy it as nothing more than a box that will allow me to play Mario and Zelda games.

Here are a few things that I’d like to see Nintendo do at E3 2013:

1. Adjust Wii U price/SKU – The white 8GB Basic model is Basically useless (ha). A tiny little bit of memory (much of which is taken up by the OS) and no pack-in game. Apparently it’s not selling so hot (and despite Nintendo’s claims that the Basic stock is only being “rebalanced,” rumours continue to fly that it’ll stop being sold at retailers after E3), so what Nintendo should do is pull the plug on the Basic model and cut the Premium model’s price by $50 (so it’s the same price as the $300 Basic set). This seems like a likely scenario, but in my fantasy land, the Premium slips to $250 and the new Premium (with 100GB+ memory) retails for $300.  I doubt this will ever happen, but then again, I didn’t see the 3DS receiving a $70 price cut after 6 months either. In the increasingly digital world we live in, 32GB is still next to nothing in terms of memory, and really, screw USB sticks and SD cards. HDD Memory is cheap; add some more!

2. Phase out DS and Wii games – I know this one is probably a given, but we got new Pokemon DS games a year and a half into the 3DS’ lifespan, so who knows. Still, everything’s gotta be 3DS and Wii focused at this point. Let the old, inferior systems wither away and die. The 3DS is a bonafide success now, and with enough attention, the Wii U can be, too.

3. All the games – In light of Microsoft’s and Sony’s current DRM/online debacle, this is Nintendo’s big chance to regain some lost ground. Right now, there is little reason to be excited for any of the three next gen consoles. However, Nintendo’s console has a head start, supports used games, and isn’t always online, so if they give gamers a reason to want to buy their console for its software selection (rather than just to circumvent ridiculous DRM), they’ll really have a chance to begin driving the nail deep here. Everyone thought Wii U was dead in the water after a tumultuous first 3 months at retail, but it’s received a second chance with the increasingly messy reveals of the PS4 and Xbox One. So crank out Wind Waker HD as fast as you can, but get either the new 3D Mario or Super Smash Bros. out by Christmas, too. If it’s 2014 before the Wii U has a killer app (sorry, but Pikmin 3, Wind Waker HD, and Mario Kart don’t count), then the battle will be all but lost at that point. A year and a half of no killer apps will be too long of a drought for most fans to endure.

4. Pipe dream games – I’m just gonna lay out my personal wishlist here, as unlikely as some of these games may seem. Firstly, I hope they don’t fuck up the new Smash Bros. somehow by either a) turning it into a traditional 2D fighter or b) introducing a new gimmick, like tag-team a la Mario Kart: Double Dash. Just give me new characters and I’ll be fine. Secondly, I’d like to see more of the Shin Megami Tensei X Fire Emblem crossover from Atlus, as well as Monolithsoft’s new X game. Finally, I’d like to see the Golden Sun series concluded with a fourth installment. The third game had a weird (and quite frankly, bad) story which started off being about a certain plot point only to completely abandon it two hours in, then picked up said plot point again in the dying seconds of the game. That ain’t no way to end a series. Still, Camelot’s working on Mario Golf right now, and I think Golden Sun: Dark Dawn ended up receiving middling reviews and sales, so it’s entirely likely the series is dead. Sad face.

With Nintendo’s E3 Direct scheduled to be only an hour long, I have a feeling the focus is going to be on the games rather than the hardware. And really, this is the way it should be. Pack the Nintendo Direct full of crazy game announcements, then relegate the price changes to a press release. Hopefully this is what will happen, but of course, their track record indicates that Tuesday’s stream will potentially be a mishmash of Wii U features we already know about, a series of “classic” games coming to the eShop that most people pirated years ago, and a showcase of recently-released 3DS games, all sandwiched between shots of Satoru Iwata staring at fruit.

Mother’s Day Special

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My mother reads my blog. I’m sure your mother does too, even if you think she doesn’t. You probably mentioned it to her once offhand, she laughed and told you what a clever name you picked, she secretly Googled the name after you left, she proceeded to read every article in your archive, she blushed at the language, and now she’s eagerly awaiting your next post. Despite your paranoia, she’s probably not doing it to keep tabs on your cyber-life; more likely, she has always thought you were a great writer, and she just wants to read some more of her beloved child’s creative output.

My mom would probably read my blog regardless of what I wrote about. It could be a blog dedicated to my favourite serial killers and she’d still come back for each new top ten list. However, because I write about video games, there’s a personal connection there for her. In addition to dabbling with Pac-Man and Pong during her university years, she’s been playing video games with and without me fairly regularly over the past few years. It’s given us a neat hobby that we can enjoy together, one that a lot of mothers and sons probably don’t share simply because there’s a generation gap there: we grew up in a time when games were incredibly popular and complex and they didn’t.

I think the very first time I watched her play a game was when I let her play the fishing minigame in Twilight Princess. It was calm, inoffensive, satisfying, and fairly easy to control, making it a good introduction to gaming for a non-gamer like herself. When she expressed desire for a deeper fishing experience, I went out and bought Hudson’s Fishing Master, which had the advantage of being a dedicated fishing game with more advanced controls and a wider variety of fish to catch (over 100 fish compared to Twilight Princess‘s 6 or so). If I remember correctly, it had a multiplayer fishing derby mode too. We played the crap out of it for a good while.

I think the first game that we played actual co-op together was Super Smash Bros. Brawl, of all things. We played through the entire story mode a few summers ago, which was pretty fun. I would take the lead while she provided support, running along behind me and beating the crap out of anything that crept up on me. Even without enemies, just making it through the treacherous platforming sections of the labyrinthine Subspace Emissary levels was a challenge in itself, and the game provided a helpful “cheater button” that would instantly warp her back to my side if she found herself stuck in a wall or falling into a bottomless pit. Although she liked Meta Knight and Pit because their multiple jumps reduced the chances that she’d land in one of said bottomless pits, Captain Falcon was her all-time favourite mainly because of his raw power.

Since she likes to exercise, I bought her Wii Fit as a Mother’s Day gift a few years back. Although we do the yoga and the strength exercises and enjoy them enough, she likes the balance board minigames a lot too. While I was at university one winter, she spent a good amount of time practicing the snowball fight minigame to the point where she owned the entire board of high scores, and even though I tried my hardest, I could not crack any of her scores. She is actually the best Wii Fit snowball fighter I have ever seen. To see her play this game is to suddenly feel great shame re: your own sluggish reflexes.

When I first started using Steam regularly, one of the first games I bought was Plants vs. Zombies. I showed it to my mom because I thought she’d find the character designs cute, and I forget exactly what happened next, but it ultimately ended up with her playing the heck out of the thing while I twiddled my thumbs and waited patiently for her to return my computer. I bought her a copy for herself, then another copy for the DS she would eventually inherit from me, then a third copy for the iPhone she would buy the next year. She still plays the game regularly, but I mean, the thing isn’t even a challenge for her anymore. She never loses. Her in-game wallet has long since stopped counting her money (it maxes out at $999,900, in case you were wondering). When I told her Plants vs. Zombies 2: It’s About Time was finally coming out in July, she was overjoyed, and she jokingly inquired about midnight launches in our area. At least, I’m assuming it was a joke.

It was in early 2011 that she began to show interest in Animal Crossing, so I gave her my DS Lite and treated myself to a 3DS preorder. I bought two copies of Wild World and told her that she could live in one town, I’d live in the other, and we could visit each other whenever we liked. Well, she got pretty good at making money pretty fast, and by the time she finally became debt-free, I was still paying off my second expansion. The thing is, she actually knows stuff about interior design, so her mansion actually looks like a coherent, smartly furnished work of art, whereas my shit shack is a glutted mess of indoor barbecues, lava lamps, and electric guitars. I’m finally on my last mortgage payment right now thanks in no small part to the fact that she likes dropping bags of money around my town, but boy, has she made me work for those Bells (she likes hiding them behind buildings, which, thanks to the game’s lone camera angle, means they’re virtually impossible to see). She once dug a ring of holes around a bag of Bells and then planted pitfall seeds in each one, creating an effective booby trap. I once visited her town only to find nearly every square inch of the place covered in Bells, almost as if she had paved the streets with her wealth in an egregious display of opulence.

Right now, we’ve got a few games on the go. She still plays Plants vs. Zombies often enough, but we also started Telltale’s The Walking Dead a few weeks back. She’s a big fan of the show and she already understands the lore, so this one was a no-brainer. Being an adventure game, the emphasis on story and dialogue means that we have fewer pointless action sequences to trudge through. We’ve also been playing Kirby’s Return to Dreamland, which I told her had the same basic gameplay as Brawl‘s Subspace Emissary. She’s become something of a boss-killer as Meta Knight; whenever a difficult fight comes up, I unchain her and she becomes a whirling dervish of barely contained fury while I just kind of whistle in the corner.

I’m glad that my mom has taken an interest in something that I’m deeply invested in. She sometimes worries that she’s a bad co-op partner or that she’s holding me back by dying too much, but of course that’s not what I care about. The important thing to me is that we’re spending time together, and although we have many other hobbies that we frequently enjoy together (gardening, for example), gaming always felt like one of the few things I could teach her about, rather than the other way around. I’m very grateful that she’s had the patience to play with me for these last few years, because games these days often have a high barrier of entry if you’re not already familiar with the medium. Even if, some day, we stop playing some of these games together, I can always go back and look at the perceptible marks she’s left on many of them: her high scores in Wii Fit Plus, her nametag in Smash Bros., her profile in Fishing Master (complete with dog custom-named “Hercules”). And if I want to look at something she personally did for me in a video game, I can read any of the dozens of loving, thoughtful letters she’s mailed to me in Animal Crossing, the kind that only a mother can write. I’ve saved every single one.

Super Smash Bros.: Fanservice Over Balance, Please

At this point, we know practically nothing about the next Smash Bros. game for Wii U and 3DS, other than the fact that Namco’s making it in collaboration with series creator Masahiro Sakurai. The years leading up to the 2008 release of Super Smash Bros. Brawl were a study in speculation, with much of the discussion centering around which characters would appear in the game’s star-studded roster. So it’s unsurprising that overzealous fans would take a Sakurai quote about how the size of the Smash Bros. roster has “already probably reached the limits of what’s feasible” and immediately conclude that no new characters will be added in the series’ next iteration. Adding no new characters to a series that is the living embodiment of Nintendo fanservice? I very much doubt this is the case. All he’s saying is that Brawl‘s roster of thirty-five characters is a good size; there’s plenty of room in there to cut some characters and replace them with new ones. Making the new roster be the exact same as the Brawl roster would be monumentally disappointing, and whether Sakurai intends to replace existing characters while capping the roster size at thirty-five or whether he intends to expand beyond thirty-five, you can bet that we’ll see a few new faces.

That being said, I’d prefer to see the new roster include as much of Brawl‘s roster as possible, while expanding in excess of forty characters. Would this bring some balance issues? Most likely, which is probably why Sakurai hired an actual fighting game studio (the internal Namco team responsible for the Tekken series) to make it. However, it’s not like the Smash Bros. series hasn’t had a few balance issues in the past.

In the same interview, Sakurai notes that while some fighting games with large, fifty-character rosters can be fun, it’s difficult to make all the characters both balanced and unique. We’ve seen this happen already with Melee, which was criticized for introducing many clones but was praised for having relatively well-balanced upper tiers, thus birthing a strong competitive scene. By contrast, Brawl gained praise for cutting some of the clones and differentiating the remaining ones from their original counterparts somewhat, but it drew criticism for adding new clones and generally being an unbalanced mess with regard to high-level competitive play. Nearly every new gameplay tweak, from the removal of the wavedashing exploit to the introduction of the tripping mechanism, moved Brawl further away from being a competitive game and closer to its original, unbalanced, party-game status. Whether this was Sakurai’s intention or just a corollary of the development process, we’ll never know.

But now he’s worried about balance issues? While the debate continues over whether Smash Bros. is a true fighting game or a party game, the game is, at its core, fanservice to the highest degree. Some of the worst characters (Mewtwo in Melee, Captain Falcon in Brawl) are an absolute blast to play, and the roster is strengthened by their inclusion. Make that roster the priority; let the balancing come after. If the Wii U has the robust online capabilities that Nintendo claims, it should allow for post-release patches, which could do wonders for Smash Bros.’ balance issues. Because there will be balance issues at launch, just like any other fighting game, and it’s reasonable to devote time and energy into fixing them; but for a game like Smash Bros., with its unique crossover appeal, intuitive gameplay style, and relatively tenuous position in the world of competitive fighting games, I don’t think it should take precedence over stacking that roster with plenty of new characters.