The Necessary Evil

Creative geniuses won’t strike gold each time. When you’re at the top of your game, you sometimes just mess up. Even Miyamoto recently admitted that, yet his works are still looked at with awe. Gamers don’t hold a grudge against him.

I attended the ScrewAttack Gaming Convention this past weekend and got a chance to ask the guys from Acclaim Entertainment about their past. I didn’t expect to get such a lively response, but I walked up and questioned, “Are there any games that you guys regret making?”

During their explanations, I began to understand a bit more about why publishers will license specific games. Ever wonder why so many sports games exist? Well, over half of Acclaim’s revenue came from its NFL Quarterback Club titles. Without those, we would have never seen Turok.

This just got me thinking about something like Call of Duty. In the hands of a better publisher, we would be seeing more creative titles coming from Activision instead of retreads or iterations of the same ideas. In a better industry, giants like EA and Ubisoft would be producing a more diverse range of titles.

Even so, something like Madden and Call of Duty are a necessary evil in the games industry. Without any money flowing in, how would we continue to play games? PC gaming is an exception, not a rule. For consoles, if we didn’t have cash cows to move hardware and fund publishers, we probably wouldn’t be getting anything.

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Even Nintendo is guilty of this. Mario has slowly become an annual franchise. Just last year, we were graced with two Mario titles, even if they were basically the same game. Nintendo uses the ludicrous sales from Mario to fund its other games and online services.

A Nintendo without Mario or Zelda to fall back on means a games industry without nostalgic games, platformers or local multiplayer. Ever ponder why Rayman: Origins had 4-player co-op? If Nintendo didn’t even attempt it with Mario, Ubisoft would have never thought of including it.

Gamers bemoan iterative and annual franchises, but we really should be thankful for their existence. We never have to purchase them and if there needs to be a change, we can clearly voice an opinion. Still, ridding the world of these titles would only lead to bad things.

I’d definitely like for more creativity in the industry, but we should never be so naïve as to think that Call of Duty is ruining gaming. The only thing that is hurting developers’ creativity is how bloated console game prices have become.

As MatPat from The Game Theorists put it, “Don’t buy a game if you don’t like it. Don’t like the new Call of Duty? Don’t like the new Battlefield? Don’t like the new Mario? Then don’t buy them.” Taking that advice to heart, we shouldn’t be angry about people who do.

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Everyone likes something for some reason or another. We may have grown tired of the repeated tricks and boring tropes of these games, but they serve a purpose. That purpose is to get new ideas and hardware rolling.

With the next-generation looming, I hope Call of Duty has enough steam to keep going. If Microsoft and Sony fail to keep their hardware moving, we really will be looking at another industry crash.

If that happens, we might not have anything new again.

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I WANT YAKUZA 5!!

E3 has come and gone. There were incredible highs and some hilarious, technical lows, but I am just not satisfied. Sega had a presence at E3 and did nothing to announce a localization of Yakuza 5 or the HD remasters of Yakuza 1+2. My question is simple: WHERE IS YAKUZA,SEGA?

This past generation hasn’t seen me latch on to a lot of games. I used to fall in love at almost every turn, but I have become extremely cynical. I really dislike seeing recycled games or iterative franchises and even a few decent ideas from this gen (Assassin’s Creed) have become trash in short measure.

When I played the demo for Yakuza 3 back in 2010, my mind was blown. Sega clearly understood that people liked the idea of Shenmue and wanted more. Develop a robust fighting system that feels like a mix between Streets of Rage and Ninja Gaiden and couple that with a dramatic story filled with amazing characters and there was no way I could resist.

Kazuma Kiryu is a legend to me. His face, stoic demeanor, physical prowess and caring personality make him a man I wish I could be. No one scares him and he can destroy everything in his path. He doesn’t enjoy mutilating people, but will do so to protect the ones he loves. The man even runs an orphanage, because children are our future!

He is just fantastic. His moveset includes some incredible feats of martial arts and I love it. I am an avid fan of Hong Kong cinema and love kung fu and chopsocky films like you wouldn’t believe. Finally getting the chance to actively play in one was a dream come true. Not only that, but the Yakuza games have great, tactile feel, so they don’t even appeal to one specific audience.

I can ramble on forever about individual levels or specific moments from the story, but I mainly want to bring an idea to Sega’s mind. Take a page from XSEED and Capcom and localize Yakuza 5 as a PSN download.

When the newest Ace Attorney game was announced for the 3DS, fans weren’t holding out much hope for a stateside release. Capcom failed to make back any kind of money on the Miles Edgeworth game and didn’t even bother localizing its sequel.

Instead of leaving the US in the cold, Capcom figured that putting the game on the 3DS eShop would be a wiser decision. Not only would it not have to waste funds on finding a publisher, but the revenue gained would justify any kind of cost from Nintendo.

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XSEED also did this for Acquire’s Way of the Samurai 4. The previous game only managed to sell around 170,000 copies in the US and didn’t even break half a million worldwide. People enjoy that series, though, so why not cater to them?

Tecmo Koei has taken this route with their Dynasty Warriors games for PS3 and Wii U. I’m not quite sure why the 360 versions have discs, but PS3 and Wii U owners are able to play these games without having to scour around for them.

Releasing niche, Japanese titles digitally saves a lot of cash for the developer. Not only that, but without having to share shelf space with gigantic releases at retail, these lesser-known games have a better chance of getting sold.

That might sound contradictory, but can you even find a copy of Katamari Damacy anymore? How about Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams? Those games have practically disappeared from any brick and mortar store and it’s all because they never really sold well.

Placing your game on a digital marketplace will ensure that it will be available for a long time. I suppose if Sega or Capcom or whomever didn’t renew its licensing that the game would disappear, but even getting five years at full price can’t be seen as a negative.

So I implore Sega to consider releasing Yakuza 5 as a digital title. I really and truly want to experience the game. The small demo on the Japanese PSN barely whet my appetite, but I need more. I need more Kazuma in my life.

If I never get to play another Yakuza game, I’m not quite sure how I would view Sega. They teased us by releasing the mediocre Yakuza: Dead Souls in the states. Why end the series stateside run with something so unremarkable?

Do right by us, Sega. Regain your lost image and become a beacon of hope for niche titles in the future. Please.

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Nintendo Preview: E3 Comes Home

E3 has increasingly become less relevant to the common gamer. The show was fantastic when the general public was allowed to attend, but now times are different. While gamers appreciate that journalists write back about their experiences, nothing beats getting hands-on time with a game.

Nintendo wanted to be different this year. Not only did it not hold a press conference, but it partnered with Best Buy to give the regular old gamers a taste of the E3 goodness. While my state isn’t exactly a sprawling metropolis, I still had to wait two hours in line to get my hands on these demos.

I can say this Nintendo experience is the closest I’ve been to an E3-like crowd. The people were friendly and genuinely excited to see Super Mario 3D World. We all cheered when someone succeeded and cried when others failed. It was fantastic.

This also gave me an opportunity to shed some of the doubt I saw from the Nintendo Direct stream. While I knew I’d be getting Mario regardless (stupid blind Nintendo fanboyism) when I wasn’t very optimistic from the videos.

Well, since this is a preview, why don’t I explain what I played?

Super Mario 3D World

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While I can’t claim this is the 3D Mario game we were all dreaming of, 3D World is very fun. The co-op is frustrating, but I suppose that is to be expected. The bubble mechanic from the New Super Mario Bros. games makes an appearance and you can now pop it yourself, so I guess co-op could be easier.

I didn’t get to use the Gamepad at the demo booth, but the Wii Remote controls were decent. Running in a 3D space with a D-pad sucks, but everything is smooth. There isn’t any mandatory pointer action, either. Just running and jumping with a flick acting as a spin-attack.

Getting another game with Peach is fantastic to me. It was also adorable to see a five-year-old come up and practically beg for Peach.  All the characters handle like their Super Mario Bros. 2 counterparts. Luigi and Peach are the obvious choices as they can float. 3D World is a lot faster than the 3DS game, so anyone who thought that game was sluggish won’t have the same complaint this time.

The level I got to play (6-3) had the map converge to one point where the four players had to enter a clear tube. This tube sends you straight forward and around some bends, of which you can control by holding up, down, left or right. The players needed to cooperate to get some keys and unlock a box to proceed. This felt almost like a mini Zelda puzzle and it was fun to see the platforming not be solely running and jumping.

The graphics were very solid. The colors popped and the subtle textures on Mario’s and Luigi’s jeans looked nice. Nothing was too realistic, but the colors were so rich that it just appeared glorious. The camera was a bit wonky, though. There are no controls to change it, either.

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

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This was the game I was the most looking forward to. I love Donkey Kong Country Returns and thought it was one of the best platformers ever made. I guess striking lightning twice just wasn’t bound to happen.

I’m not sure if it was the graphics that did it, but nothing seemed entirely different. Obviously using the gamepad to control your characters is much nicer than the Wii Remote and waggle, but this game is eerily similar to the Wii game.

The animations are very smooth, though, and the game feels spot on. It runs smoothly and never drops in framerate. Your actions have immediate response and you can carry a few enemies, which leads to improved barrels to attack. Nothing screams HD, though, and I think this was a missed opportunity to sell the system on power.

You now have six hits until you die (other than in co-op where it is three per player). The Nintendo rep said he believes this to be a deliberate change in the game to make it slightly easier. I know the 3DS version had this as an option, so I think he may be confused.

The Nintendo rep did confirm to me that the game would have Wii U Pro Controller support along with the gamepad and Wii Remote control schemes. He wasn’t able to tell me if online co-op was available, but I wouldn’t hold my breath on that.

Mario Kart 8

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While I’ve enjoyed the Mario Kart series at different points in my life, the last two games did nothing for me. Mario Kart Wii is my second least favorite in the series and Mario Kart 7 is barely any better. I figured Nintendo had no gimmicks or creativity left for this series. It was also surprising when Sega nailed it with the Sonic racing games, making me question what could even come next.

Well, Mario Kart 8 plays very nicely. The gamepad can be tilted for steering or swapped on the fly to classic-style controls. There is also Wii U Pro Controller and Wii Remote schemes, so you never have to settle for any decided style of play.

The level designs are also very eye-catching. The zero-G sections look mindblowing with their bending of reality. The game flips upside down and you can ride on walls, all while tossing your weapons wherever you see fit.

Split-screen is also still an option and it works wonderfully in HD. Nintendo hasn’t packed the screen with a useless HUD or cluttered it with too many particle effects. The boxes are huge and offer plenty of real estate for players to see the action.

The graphics also run at an amazing 60 frames-per-second. This is on top of visual detail that looks like a storybook. I am genuinely surprised at how great-looking the game is and how well that translates to speed.

The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD

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My dream come true. I could honestly write that and that would be enough. Still, I will explain a bit.

In terms of game feel, nothing has changed. This plays pretty much like the GameCube version. The camera is a little weird, Link is very quick and the swordplay looks fantastic. The big draw is how the graphics have morphed and they look stunning.

The textures look even more cartoony than before. Link’s face is epic to behold in full HD. The particle effects mesmerize me now, almost to the point of distraction. The smoke clouds and dirt effects are beyond belief. I have no idea how Nintendo worked this kind of magic.

For some reason, though, I feel like the framerate is slower. I even mentioned this to the Nintendo rep, but he kept saying that it was running at 60 fps. I just don’t believe that. The game doesn’t have any laggy inputs, but it does appear to move slower.

The extra Wii U features didn’t really have time to shine in the demo. I noticed that the gamepad screen acts exactly like Ocarina of Time 3D did, so that is very awesome. Inventory is quick and easy to access and you can keep a constant map on the gamepad at all times.

As far was extra content goes, the Nintendo rep told me that everything is essentially the same. No new dungeons are going to be added and no dialog or music will be changed. You just get faster sailing and Miiverse integration directly in the game.

I couldn’t get the Nintendo Rep to confirm if Wii U Pro controller support was available or not. He just said that the demo only allowed for the gamepad, so I’m not sure what that could mean when the final build arrives.

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I love that Nintendo wasn’t content with just throwing up some videos online and expecting the general public to eat them up. Quite honestly, not getting hands-on time with Super Mario 3D World would have nearly dissuaded me from getting the game. This Best Buy experience was a wise decision for the Big N.

It also gave a poor guy like me a chance to feel like I was at E3. I’m always a bit jealous of the journalists who get to play these games and experience the glitz and glamour of the E3 floor. While Best Buy certainly isn’t as big, the Nintendo Experience was definitely very loud.

I urge anyone who is excited from this to get to Best Buy this Saturday. The store will be hosting the event from 1-5 PM. You can get a Luigi hat and flag for participating, too! Nothing beats free swag and early access.

I Love Nintedo!

I am a cold, angry, cynical man. Gaming has felt my wrath. I have outright refused to buy sequels due to a company’s anti-consumer ways and have bashed some of the most highly-regarded games this generation. Very few things make me remember the fun, happy kid I used to be.

Nintendo somehow manages to dodge a lot of my fury. While I can definitely complain about the company itself, its games still produce charm and bring a smile to my face. I love playing Nintendo games and have actual excitement when a new one is announced (even when it is a sequel).

This past weekend, Nintendo World in New York City hosted an Animal Crossing: New Leaf event. There were little events set up around the store that mimicked the things you could do in the game. Things like fishing, fossil-finding and bug-catching were all on display. My inner child came out.

During the nearly two-hour train ride, I concocted ideas in my head of how the store would look. Would there be small houses with animals around the store? Would the fossil hunt have the funny little star shape on the ground? Would I literally be able to dig?

It was probably inevitable that I would be disappointed when I entered the store, but then something dawned on me. I had become engulfed with a fever I haven’t felt since I was 10 years old. I wanted this to be larger than life and began to use my creativity to make the store explode with passion.

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Isn’t this just silly?!

Nintendo was able to make me feel like a child again and I hadn’t even had my hands on the game yet. So, even though I clearly had unrealistic expectations for what Nintendo World would look like, I was filled with childlike glee.

I can tell you that the three-hour wait in line outside the store drove me mad. I really wanted to get in the store and earn my buttons. Never have free trinkets meant so much to me. I don’t even plan on using them; I just “needed” to have them.

Now I’m filled with an Animal Crossing delirium again. I have been stricken with the bug to collect everything in the game. Best Buy is hosting some events for free items and I’m marking my calendar to grab them all. If I find out that Toys’R’Us is doing the same thing, I’ll enter another one of those stores for the first time in five years just to get some, too.

Nintendo somehow manages to bring joy to my heart all the time. I may have to wait an inordinate amount of time, but I am never disappointed. Even when I let the hype flow through my veins and dissolve into blunder, I still end up genuinely liking everything it does.

So I really do not care if New Super Luigi U is the same garbage or if the next Zelda is the worst of the series; I just love Nintendo. The company makes me believe I can be a happy kid again. It usually makes me behave like one, too.

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He’s a Nintendo manchild, too!

Below I have provide a few extra photos from my trip to Nintendo World. I hope these help show how awesome events like this can be.

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Labyrinth Legends if a Thing

I beat Labyrinth Legends the other day. It was a fun little game with some decent controls and puzzles. I wouldn’t call it a masterpiece, but Sony giving it away for free on PlayStation Plus was nice. I feel bad not giving the developers $10 for the game, since I did enjoy it.

Funny thing about the game: I cannot find much about it. There is no Wikipedia entry. The developer’s website has maybe a paragraph about the title. GameRankings only has seven listed reviews. I can’t find any advertisements for the game. Apparently nobody cares about this.

So what else can you say about a game when even its developer doesn’t care? This is an old problem in the games industry that hasn’t changed with the shifting times. Konami should know firsthand how bad no promotion or attention can be. Destructoid’s own Jim Sterling is the only reason that the game Blades of Time is recognized around the Internet.

When it’s already difficult to get a game made, why would you simply coast along and hope your game does well? Since I actually enjoyed Labyrinth Legends, I would have gladly promoted the hell out of it. I’d make some videos on YouTube, maybe do a Let’s Play. Anything would be better than the situation now.

This just makes me think about the recently released Remember Me. The game is already facing an uphill struggle as it stars a female protagonist, but I have not seen a single promotional teaser for the game. Focus groups and developers claim that games with female leads do not sell, but then fail to promote them properly.

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Even a demo would have been nice. It hurts when the review scores are coming with some negativity and not many people have even heard of the game. What are you supposed to do to rectify your reputation when you don’t care?

I still refuse to believe how terrible Konami is about PR. They constantly delay games without notifying even retail outlets and issue press releases for demos that were released two days prior. If a game from that company doesn’t contain the words “Metal” and “Gear” in the title somewhere, then you’d be hard pressed to actually know it existed.

Even Silent Hill gets shafted. While the HD collection was trash, longtime fans were super pumped to be getting re-releases of beloved gems. Maybe if Konami gave a crap, we’d have HD versions worth owning and more people would recognize that survival horror was still a genre.

Then we come to Nintendo with the Wii U. The adoption rate of the console is beyond miserable. The Wii even managed to outsell its HD brother last month. Not many people understand that the console is actually different. I don’t see any commercials trying to persuade consumers, either.

We have random PR gibberish and made-up phrases like “asynchronous gameplay” that mean nothing to anybody. Nintendo is simply resting on their laurels and hoping the Wii U explodes like its predecessor. Why bother putting more effort in?

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It’s not just the Wii….we promise.

The reason I’m bringing this up is because I genuinely care about gaming. I love these companies for their past successes and want to see them succeed. I’m tired of playing good games and having no one to discuss them with. Why am I the only person that seems to know about something?

Even just having a person recognize the title I’m talking about would be huge. I may not know every movie ever made, but I certainly know enough about the casting or directors to at least have a conversation with another human. When I discuss gaming, though, I get blank stares.

I want more people to appreciate and form opinions about my hobby. I want the developers in the games industry to prosper and get their games recognized. More importantly, I want funny, quirky little games like Labyrinth Legends to do well.

So, I urge everyone to give that game a shot. It plays like a modern version of Gauntlet, except without the 50 floors. The game has bright, cheerful graphics and a very brisk pace. It feels great and is nice.

I just wish more people actually knew about it.