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.

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When Nintendo Goes Into Panic Mode, We All Win

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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.

A Christmas Tale

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So it’s Christmas, and like every year, I got some games. I challenged my sisters to come up with a game that they would like to watch me play (very rarely do they want to play co-op games; they much prefer having me play through the story mode while they take in the ride passively). I gave them no criteria whatsoever and they came back with Alan Wake, of all things, which I was secretly very proud of them for buying. Of course, they love psychological thrillers, but I have no doubt that this game is going to scare me shitless because I’m a huge pussy when it comes to anything even remotely connected with horror. We’ll be playing this one at two in the afternoon with all the lights on.

The first time I got any games for Christmas was back in 2000. I had received my first console, a Nintendo 64, earlier that summer, and I was more than happy to keep playing Pokemon Snap ad infinitum. I didn’t even ask for any games, so I have no idea how my parents picked these out, but I ended up with Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards and The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask that Christmas. I got to beating those games a lot over the next year (and playing a lot of the Kirby minigames with my sisters), and I can honestly say that The Crystal Shards remains my favourite Kirby game to this day, while Majora’s Mask is arguably my favourite game of all time. I beat the latter again only a few months back, and it holds up even better than I remembered. Smart, understated dialogue that does as much within the confines of an imperfect, late ’90s translation as humanly possible, a story that is beyond fucked up, a tried-and-true combat system, an emphasis on sidequests over story missions…it was a weird game, and that’s what made it special. Of course, I didn’t fully appreciate it when I first played it on Christmas 2000, and I certainly wouldn’t have even understood as much as I did without the fancy Player’s Guide my parents also got me. Regardless, I don’t think I could’ve asked for a better first gaming present than Majora’s Mask.

I’m not sure when I’ll stop asking for games for Christmas. Probably when they stop making good ones, which is like never. Anyway, time to pop in Alan Wake and scream loudly because I’m a huge wuss and possibly still afraid of the dark. I still can’t even watch The Shining, for Chrissakes.

Co-Op Gaming Part I: Gaming With My Sisters

You could walk up to me with the shittiest game in the world in your hand, and I’d still play it with you if it had co-op. I could only be considered a brogamer in the vaguest of senses (I think Halo‘s all right, but Gears of War and Call of Duty aren’t really my cup of tea), but I get this irrepressible urge to bump fist and five the highs whenever I see a new game that allows me to team up and kick some ass. More and more games are including it these days (which is good), although we’ve seen a shift from local to online co-op since the advent of Xbox Live (which is…well, both good and bad, depending on your preference). Despite this, most of my co-op experiences these days continue to be local splitscreen affairs.

My younger sisters were the earliest people I can remember playing games with. I broke into gaming pretty late compared to my friends (who all had Super Nintendos and Game Boys), with my parents buying me an N64 in fall 1999. My sisters were strictly passive observers of my burgeoning gaming explorations; they loved watching me play Majora’s Mask and Kirby 64, but they shied away from trying it themselves. We did play a few of the minigames in Kirby 64 and Pokémon Stadium together, but beyond that, I didn’t really get to enjoy the real meat of a game with my sisters until fall 2002.

In the months preceding the release of Animal Crossing, my sisters and I followed the pre-release coverage in Nintendo Power. They ran a great story where a few of their editors played it in separate towns and recorded journals while they visited each others’ homes. My sisters took to the game quite readily, and we spent about a full year taking turns playing Animal Crossing (I had a town for me and my friends, and they had a separate town for themselves). We loved visiting each other and leaving presents. If it had simultaneous multiplayer, it would’ve been the perfect game for us.

I don’t even know how we started playing Tales of Symphonia together, but it was arguably the first “hardcore” game we played together from start to finish. Unlike other games, which they usually only enjoyed for the story or the minigames, they loved Symphonia for the same reasons I did: the character interplay, the setting, and above all, the combat. I’d take the lead as Lloyd, and we had one sister in the back casting spells as Genis, with the other helping me out up front as Colette (and occasionally hanging back to cast). They were really good at it; they understood the sometimes-complicated battle strategy of certain bosses, and they knew which sequence of attacks would lead to the best combos. We’ve played it about three times now, and each time, we start off pretty rusty, but we always manage to utterly destroy Abyssion by the end of it.

Since then, their gaming tastes have been erratic and unpredictable. We played a lot of Pikmin 2 multiplayer (interestingly, the versus mode, not the co-op mode) and Mario Kart: Double Dash!! We toyed with Jedi Outcast and even Halo 2 for a while, although we had a unique way of playing it: I would roleplay a “commander” figure and give them “missions” to carry out within the Jedi Temple or Coagulation, with the winner receiving a point toward promotion, and the loser usually receiving a shotgun blast to the face (but also a point toward promotion…I didn’t really have it in me to favour one sister over the other). I bought them two Harvest Moon games which they played entirely without me (A Wonderful Life and Magical Melody); to date, they remain the only games in our library that they’ve played and I haven’t.

We haven’t been able to play together as much in recent years, mostly because we’re attending three different universities. Still, we try to game together whenever we can. They watched me finish Skyward Sword this summer and Portal 2 a year earlier, and they’re currently watching me play Majora’s Mask for old times’ sake. Four years after I first bought it, I’ve finally managed to get them to sit down and play Tales of Vesperia with me, and we’re about 2/3rds of the way through it (they love it!). Sure, we’re all pretty busy now, but that just means we’re even more grateful for what little time we can spend on playing a few games together.