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


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.


When Nintendo Goes Into Panic Mode, We All Win


After a lackluster 3DS launch in 2011, Nintendo took drastic measures in order to make the handheld more palatable for the holiday season. Just six months after its March launch, the 3DS’ inflated $250 price tag suffered a huge $70 price cut, with Nintendo promising free game downloads to early adopters. I was one of said fools, and though I enjoyed the smattering of Game Boy Advance and NES games that Nintendo delivered free of charge, I would’ve just rather had my $70 back. Not long after, the 3DS XL made my launch 3DS obsolete. I vowed never again to buy a console on day one.

The 3DS price cut is notable because of how swiftly it arrived and how deep of a discount it was. Had Nintendo simply sold the handheld for $200 from day one, I imagine they would’ve met with far more success even despite the drought of decent games (which would eventually last for over a year). Instead, they were forced to dip below $200 far too early in the console’s life cycle. Let’s be clear: in this case, the customers were the winners, because $180 is more than a fair price for the handheld. The only people who got screwed were the handful of early adopters, like myself.

So when Nintendo announced that the Wii U would be sold at the exorbitant price of $350 for the full package (the less said about that bastard child of a $300 Basic package, the better), I sighed because I felt they had learned nothing. When their full launch window release schedule was published recently, I shook my head. Once again, they were launching an overpriced console with no killer apps for at least six months. And sure enough, the Wii U didn’t sell amazingly well over the 2012 holiday season. So Nintendo, a company that’s actually been doing a much better job lately of listening to their fans and generally feeling less like a bunch of out-of-touch Japanese suits, went into full-blown damage control mode today, advertising that new Wii U titles would be announced via a special Nintendo Direct stream.

Well, I got up early for said stream, which was extremely hit or miss. The first twenty minutes of the thirty-five minute stream were dedicated to Miiverse, with the adorable Satoru Iwata re-explaining the online service for the millionth time like it was a brand-new program. It’s easy to see why they might’ve thought this was a good idea; nearly every major gaming site has agreed that the Miiverse is as engaging a distraction as they come, and Nintendo has latched onto this praise like a drowning man clutching a piece of flotsam. But this kind of information would only be of interest to the casuals who honestly don’t have the Wii U anywhere on their radar, and they won’t be sitting at their computers with the hardcore gamers watching a Nintendo Direct stream. I think a lot of people could’ve done without the Miiverse crap, but when it finally ended, Nintendo went into full-on “we’re sorry” mode.

After addressing two of the Wii U’s biggest criticisms in its menu/download performance speeds and the lack of Virtual Console, Nintendo began dropping the names, one by one. They glossed over the fact that new 3D Mario and Mario Kart games were on the way, which was wise of them, since everyone expects those anyway and having those be the big game announcements would’ve been truly depressing. They gave up some tantalizing tidbits about the next major Zelda game, and although Aonuma was as vague as can be, it seemed he was hinting that the next Zelda could be non-linear, open-world, and multiplayer. Well, the community wants at least two of those three things in the next Zelda anyway, so this seems to be another occasion of Nintendo bowing to fan demand as regards the future of Zelda (recall how everyone went apeshit when they revealed the realistic, dark art style of Twilight Princess, since that’s what the fanboys had been wanting for years). Could be all right, but I’m a fan of linearity in my games. Oh and by the way, they’ve got an HD Wind Waker remake to tide you over until then, no biggie.

These were all games that I expected to be released for Wii U at some point in the near future, so Nintendo gets checkmarks for reassuring us that they’re indeed in development (a far cry from the days when they’d pretend like every new Mario or Zelda was a privilege and after each game was released, there was no telling if or when we’d ever get another one). I was a little disappointed that they’ve still got nothing to show for Smash Bros. (although they reconfirmed that two titles were in development for 3DS and Wii U, respectively), but at least it’ll be at E3 this year. It’s likely too much to ask for it to come out this holiday, so it’ll probably be late 2014 before we have the damn thing given how slow Sakurai works. A shame, because that game is absolutely a system-seller, and the series is historically evergreen to boot; the longer it’s on store shelves, the more profit for Nintendo, so why not get that shit out on day one? Perhaps Sakurai should’ve been working on this instead of fucking around with a Kid Icarus reboot that no one really needed. Ah well, I can wait. It’s not like my friends and I are going to get tired of Brawl any time soon.

And then there’s those beautiful niche games that cater to the 1% of the total gaming population, the freaks like me who love bizarre Japanese crossovers, punishingly difficult strategy-RPGs, and post-cyberpocalyptic pseudo-MMOs. Shin Megami Tensei X Fire Emblem might be one of the most bizarre game announcements of all time, but even weirder is the fact that, being announced on the North American Nintendo Direct, one can reasonably expect this game to arrive on our shores at some point. Possibly without even having to resort to Operation Rainfall II. I lost my collective shit when this game was announced, and sadly, I must admit that Nintendo has me; if this game comes out before Smash Bros., I will buy a Wii U for it. Monolith Soft’s X (which looks to be a spiritual successor to Xenoblade Chronicles, or possibly even an actual sequel if the “X” ends up just being a codename) is just icing on the JRPG cake, really.

Nintendo starts feeling the heat, and all of a sudden they’re forced into revealing pretty much every major title they’re working on for at least the next year, just to prove to fans that, yes, we do indeed have games in the pipeline for our poor, forgotten Wii U. They may not have wanted to show their hand this early (with some footage or screenshots, this would’ve been a damn impressive E3 presentation), but I feel like the fans have benefited from Nintendo’s frantic scramble to showcase the Wii U as a console with a deep lineup of first- and third-party content. Finally, I’m excited about being able to play some Wii U games, despite the fact that I might not see any of these titles until this Christmas. Until now, the prospect of owning a Wii U, ever, seemed up in the air as long as Pikmin 3 was their big 2013 title. But now, things are different, see. Now I need a Wii U because it’s the machine that will allow me to play a Shin Megami Tensei/Fire Emblem crossover and a new Monolith Soft RPG. When those games drop, I will buy a Wii U whether Nintendo’s hacked $70 off the price by then or not.

Too Late For Pandora’s Tower?


Like most hardcore gamers who own a Wii and like JRPGs, I was beyond incensed when Nintendo shot down Operation Rainfall, stating they had no plans to bring Xenoblade Chronicles, The Last Story, or Pandora’s Tower stateside. I hadn’t really looked into any of the games beyond Xenoblade, but I had been starved for good JRPGs for a long time, and for some bizarre reason I had just assumed these titles would be summarily localized. But no, it took almost two long years (compounded by the agony of watching Europe get all three games much earlier than us) for Nintendo to finally cave in and squeeze out a few copies of Xenoblade. Xseed Games stepped up to the plate and published The Last Story, and they did right by their fans by printing a second run and dropping the price a few months after launch (Nintendo did no such thing with Xenoblade, which currently goes for like $100 on Ebay). Finally, I had the two games I wanted; I was never much interested in the strange action-RPG gameplay of Pandora’s Tower.

And yet, today Xseed announced it picked up Pandora’s Tower for a North American release. And I’m scratching my head as to why.

Pandora’s Tower was always the black sheep of Operation Rainfall, the one that most people (including myself) could live without as long as they got the other two games. While Xenoblade Chronicles and The Last Story constantly make appearances in conversation about the Wii’s best RPG (with the former even being considered by some to be the best JRPG of the generation), no one’s talking about Pandora’s Tower, which IGN has admitted is “no classic.” It’s possible the game is too repetitive, too strange, too shallow for its own  good. Pandora’s Tower will be forever linked to Xenoblade and The Last Story because of Operation Rainfall, and sadly, they cast a large shadow of critical acclaim that the slightly-above-average Pandora’s Tower may never be able to escape from.

Even if we’re going to ignore the quality of the game itself, I feel it’s going to be an enormously tough sell in today’s market. Unlike the well-pedigreed Xenoblade and Last Story, Pandora’s Tower was made by Ganbarion, a studio I had never heard of before, and certainly not a trusted name in the JRPG world. It’s easy to generate buzz by marketing a game as “from the creators of Xenosaga” or “from the creator of Final Fucking Fantasy“; “from the creators of One Piece: Unlimited Adventure” doesn’t have the same ring to it.

The timing is also of concern. The industry is currently in flux as everyone waits for the next gen PlayStation and Xbox to drop. Meanwhile, new consoles like the Vita and Wii U struggle to break new ground and attract customers, while the 3DS seems to be finally settling in and establishing itself as the new dominant handheld, while outdated consoles like the DSi continue to chew up additional market share. So where’s the Wii in all of this? Well, it outsold its own successor last holiday season, but it’s definitely on its way out. Xseed admitted that the odds were stacked against The Last Story, and many in the company didn’t want to spend money localizing a $50 Wii game in an unpopular genre (for the American market, anyway) for release at the end of the console’s life cycle. Its August 2012 release gave it a few months of leeway before the Wii U bit into Wii sales, and against all odds, it became Xseed’s bestselling title to date. But can they pull the same thing twice with Pandora’s Tower, which lacks the critical acclaim, developer pedigree, community buzz, and advantageous timing of The Last Story? If the Wii had one foot in the grave in August 2012, I shudder to think of what console sales will be like by the time Pandora’s Tower gets released in Spring 2013. The Last Story also suffered numerous delays before finally being released in August, so it remains to be seen whether Xseed can actually get the thing out the door by March-April. Sooner would be better than later.

I think this thing’s gonna tank, personally. It’s too late in the Wii’s life cycle, there’s no buzz, most Operation Rainfall protestors have already been mollified by the releases of Xenoblade and The Last Story (for Americans, both in the last year), and Xseed’s own Last Story localization is currently filling the Wii JRPG market through its second print run. I’m hoping Xseed found some way to release this cheaply, because since the company has like six employees, one expensive bomb could mean the end of this tiny localization studio

LostWinds: An iOS Port Done Right

As I’ve intimated previously, I’m not a huge fan of non-traditional video game controllers. After over five years on the mainstream market, both touch and motion controls still feel gimmicky as all hell, and in 99% of all cases, using a traditional gamepad instead would vastly improve the controls. Despite the seeming popularity of motion and touch controls, Nintendo and Apple have fractured the development industry, forcing developers to either learn how to create games featuring these controllers on the fly (often with poor results) or forgo releasing games on these consoles at all.

Occasionally, we do get an exceptional original game designed for the ground up for these alternative control schemes (World of Goo comes to mind), but it’s rare that we see a game that is improved by porting it to one of said schemes. LostWinds began life on WiiWare in 2008, where it got pretty decent review scores (though it could be argued that those scores were facilitated by low expectations, given that LostWinds was one of the only games on Nintendo’s downloadable service at that time). In my opinion, the game suffered because of its motion controls; the Wii Remote is a surprisingly unintuitive controller for “painting” lines on the screen, which is the game’s main gimmick (you “draw” wind currents to move Toku around or blow fire onto wooden doors).

I recently picked up the iOS app for free, so I figured I’d give the game another shot. Believe me when I say that this game is vastly improved by touch controls, to the point where it feels like it was meant to be on this system.. A virtual D-pad allows you to make Toku run, and unlike other onscreen D-pads (I’m looking at you, Zenonia), LostWinds‘ D-pad feels great. It’ll feel very intuitive to anyone who has experience with the 3DS’ Circle Pad. Furthermore, a swipe of the finger sends out a wind gust quickly and accurately, making triple jumps much easier than they were in the WiiWare version. I’ve been playing with my left thumb on the D-pad and my right index finger controlling the wind, which I’ve found is a pretty good setup, but a number of different control options are offered, including a “tap and hold to walk” scheme reminiscent of adventure games.

The actual game itself is pretty short and laughably easy, but it’s also pretty relaxing. Actual enemies are few and far between and are easily dispatched when encountered, and the environments are bright, colourful, and breathtaking. Like most iOS games, it’s a game that can provide a distraction for someone who’d just prefer to chill for a little bit, but it offers a fair bit more substance than the high-score chasing of Angry Birds or Super Crate Box. Had iOS been the lead platform rather than WiiWare, there’s no doubt in my mind that LostWinds would’ve been considered one of the platform’s AAA titles.

Many people seem to think that a AAA iOS title equates to squeezing a touchscreen version of Gears of War onto a cell phone, but that’s generally not what the audience wants or needs (Ryan Payton and Camouflaj had this problem when trying to drum up support for Republique earlier this year). AAA iOS titles take advantage of the demographic’s casual mindset and the device’s unique capabilities, all while crafting a user experience deeper than Angry Birds, but less involved than Metal Gear Solid. We need more games like LostWinds on iOS.