Hibernation

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Another year has come and gone, dear readers, and the great unknown of 2014 awaits us all. 2013 was a mixed bag for me, personally, but I’m incredibly thankful for the strides I’ve made with my writing about this, the greatest form of art and entertainment in the world. Retro(spective), amazingly, is at the half-year point of its life. I don’t think I’ve ever maintained anything in my life with such regularity! Equally as important to me has been becoming a member of the staff at Nintendojo.com.

It’s been a dream come true writing for an honest-to-goodness video game news website. It didn’t hurt that it was one dedicated to my favorite company in the world. Moving forward into the new year, I have quite a few things simmering between it and Retro(spective). On Nintendojo, I’m looking to launch a couple of comics that should be making their way to the masses in February. I’ll give previews of some of my art on here as soon as I can. I’m really stoked to get the chance to spread my wings artistically; comic books are my second favorite thing in the world.

Retro(spective) will continue to be a force to be reckoned with next year, though. I still owe you all a new Retro(spective) (it’s been a while, hasn’t it?), but number 17 is going to be my big Final Fantasy VII piece, so it’s taking a little longer to get done. I’m in a good place here, and hope to keep experimenting with what I present to you all in order to bring the best content I can. Thank you so much to everyone who has been reading and supporting me these past few months. The best, as they say, is yet to come.

Retro(spective) returns January 2014.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone!

Nintendo Direct 12/18/13

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Today’s Nintendo Direct revealed quite a bit of excellent information, especially considering so many people’s low expectations before the broadcast. Here’s a brief rundown of everything you need to know in order to get all caught up.

Hyrule Warriors

Teaming with Tecmo Koei, Nintendo announced this new, action-focused spin on The Legend of Zelda series. Gameplay is based on Tecmo’s Warriors games, so look forward to Link decimating legions of enemies! Loving that scarf, btw.

Yoshi’s New Island

The 3DS installment of the beloved series is coming in 2014, with creator Takashi Tezuka as part of its creative team.

NES Remix

A bunch of NES classics have been broken down and shuffled around, forming very Warioware-esque experiences. Available on Wii U.

Bravely Default Side-Story Demo

Exclusive story content not available in the actual game will serve as the demo for the highly anticipated 3DS title. Available January 2.

Sonic Lost World Nintendo DLC Zones

Yoshi’s Island Zone is available now, pitting Sonic against Shy Guys and Piranha Plants. It looks ridiculously fun, and Iwata strongly suggested that a Zelda-themed stage is coming next.

Dr. Luigi

Well, now we know why Luigi doesn’t star in as many games as his brother; he’s been busy earning his doctorate. Typical Dr. Mario action with a Luigi theme, including a new mode with L-shaped fusions of the colorful capsules from the series.

Rosalina in Smash Bros.

She sure has been busy lately. Following appearances in Mario Kart 7 and Super Mario 3D World, Rosalina (with a Luma friend in tow) will be making her Smash debut on both 3DS and Wii U.

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Kirby Triple Deluxe

This title looks like a great, traditional Kirby experience, with a couple of new game modes shown off today. 3DS needs a Canvas Curse sequel, though; just sayin’.

Wii Sports Club Adds Golf

Available today, and looking mighty fine in HD. Probably the best visual upgrade of the three games available so far.

Luigi’s Mansion Figurine

Club Nintendo members get to plunk down 1500 coins for this amazing little diorama. Paint me jealous, in multiple coats.

Chibi-Robo Photo Finder

January 9 sees the return of the miniature custodian, with an emphasis on taking photos of objects from real life that will fill in mysterious silhouettes in-game. A demo will be arriving shortly.

Celebi For Pokemon Bank Users

Become a Pokemon Bank user and get a free Celebi for use in Pokemon X and Y.

Cranky Kong Re-Confirmed as Playable in Tropical Freeze

Just in case you’ve been avoiding the internet for a minute, Nintendo has reiterated this will be Cranky’s first playable outing and brought some pretty footage to show it off.

And that’s just about it! Be sure to watch the actual video (which are always fun). I’m looking forward to everything that was shown today. If Hyrule Warriors is half as good as Crossbow Training, 2014 is already shaping up to be a memorable year for Nintendo fans.

Backwards Incompatibility

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A PS4 can do almost anything a person wants, except for one, crucial thing; play PS3 discs. It’s not the end of the world, of course, particularly when taking into consideration the streaming functionality that Sony has designed to remedy this lack of true backwards compatibility. Still, it’s an odd omission, considering the system’s own discs remain BluRay based. Before any tech wizards start lambasting me about the inherent limitations that would make playing PS3 discs easily possible, my primary cause for concern goes beyond inconvenience; backwards compatibility is just one way of keeping the history of video games alive.

We’re now into the sixth generation of consoles since NES, and there are a lot of games that remain in the shadows. I’m one of those people who hangs onto his consoles, but there are plenty who don’t, and with each round of systems that hit the market, many classic and obscure games get lost in the transition. Think of how many wonderful PS2 titles are confined to their original discs because the PS3 quickly ditched its backwards compatibility and they never found their way onto PSN. Wii owners experienced a similar disappointment when the Family Edition of the system debuted and GameCube games became unplayable.

It’s not a new problem, as those who made the jump from NES to SNES, Genesis to Saturn, PSP to Vita, and many other platform transitions besides had to make the decision to leave the old for the new. In 2013, however, these sacrifices are both frustratingly archaic and an easy way to lose entire chunks of gaming history. There’s no technical limitations to blame for a lack of backwards compatibility, anymore, just greedy business tactics (and the occasional expired licensing deals, but that’s a story from another day).

Forcing players to buy the same games over and over is a staple of the industry. The first time Pac Man found its way onto a compilation cartridge, players learned very quickly that what was old could be new again (and priced as though it was, too). From a financial standpoint, I can understand the strategy of limiting what can and can’t be played on a given console. There’s plenty of cash to be made from re-releasing classic games or coming up with ways to charge some sort of premium to access an already purchased video game collection from a previous system (I’m looking at you, Wii U Virtual Console). Money is king in this and every other business, but by keeping their eyes affixed to players’ wallets, publishers are failing to recognize the historical importance of all those cartridges and discs floating around the world.

EarthBound is a perfect example of this. Prior to its re-release in Nintendo’s eShop, the game was in an extended state of limbo. The only way for fans to play the game was if they had an old copy (or the deep pockets necessary to buy one on the secondary market) and a functioning SNES. That was it. Nintendo had let a true masterpiece of a video game sit in obscurity for years before they finally succumbed to fan wishes. It was the equivalent of Paramount refusing to put the movie The Godfather on DVD. In no other medium of entertainment or art is there such flagrant disregard for preservation.

That’s really what it boils down to; preservation. Keeping as many great games from the industry’s past capable of being played, remembered, and appreciated. It’s impossible to imagine a world where works like Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood or Henri Matisse’s The Dinner Table were lost and forgotten. Eternal Darkness might not be very highbrow by comparison, but it and thousands of other games remain known to only those who played them on the hardware that they called home. Video games will never be seen as legitimate art or entertainment until more care is taken in memorializing and respecting its past.

It’s a topic I’ve touched on before, but the video game industry simply must start making a more concerted effort to preserve its history. While HD remakes, re-releases, and limited backwards compatibility help, it’s not enough. Players who go as far back as the days of Atari can rattle off many a game that they enjoyed and have never seen again. The world would be a much drearier place if things like The Great Dictator, M.A.S.H., and The Starry Night were never maintained for future generations. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of video games that have been released in the past thirty plus years that remain obscured and forgotten. Companies like Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft need to find a way to make both the hits and obscurities of yesteryear more readily available to modern players. With many developers shuttered over the years, it’s a tall order, but it’s in a situation like this where moving heaven and earth is a necessity, not a choice.

REVIEW-Angry Birds GO!

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One thing that I believe a reviewer should never allow to influence their evaluation is a game’s price. Whether the writer believes the price to be fair or not doesn’t have any measurable influence on the actual quality of the title itself, so it’s an inappropriate gauge of quality. There is, however, one time when price should be considered in reviewing a title, and that’s if it somehow has an impact on the gameplay. Unfortunately, that is the case with Angry Birds GO!,  where pricing is an unforgivably prominent and hindering element of its game design. It’s a shame, as the endless money-grabbing besmirches what is otherwise a very fine kart racer that is perfectly balanced for mobile devices.

The racing genre has proven quite adaptable to touch-only interfaces over the years, and with Angry Birds’ varied and lovable cast of characters, it was only natural to expand the franchise with a karting game. It’s really very ingenious how developer Rovio was able to interject the personality of the series into a kart racer with limited sacrifices. Maintaining the physics-based gameplay that Angry Birds is known for, GO!‘s races are all downhill affairs with soap box karts. Though there are no engines, the kart’s are very nicely designed, with the ramshackle, pieced together ones using items from the Angry Birds games to comprise their bodies. The races are fast and intense, especially as the difficulty ramps up. With several game modes to engage in, including fruit smashing challenges and timed races (where you have to beat the fuse of a bomb to win!), the action is varied, entertaining, and fun. It doesn’t hurt that the game is gorgeous, with an excellent, cartoony aesthetic that perfectly encapsulates the vibe of the Angry Birds series.

Firing up GO! for the first time, players are guided through the basics of the racing types and the controls, which can be set to either motion or touch. While both are fun, I stuck with the touch controls, which were pinpoint precise. There are just two inputs, left and right, that the player can use to steer, and without the need for a gas or break button (remember, it’s a downhill race!), they’re more than enough to guide each bird down the track. GO! has some of the best controls I’ve experienced in a mobile racing game, and it’s clear that Rovio put a lot of thought into making the title as easy to play as any of its other games.

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Every bird has a unique special attack that can be used during races, which are easily activated with the tap of a button on the screen. The different moves are all serviceable, though a dedicated item system might have been more enjoyable. Still, as it stands, the attacks keep things simple and lend more individuality to each bird. Tracks themselves feature coins, which can be collected and used to upgrade karts and pay for a number of different things (more on that in a bit), as well as gems, which are in less abundance and serve as a secondary form of currency. The dual currencies would seem innocuous enough at a glance, but as I progressed, I began to see Rovio’s devious intentions behind them.

Working my way deeper into GO!, I came to find that every aspect of its gameplay revolves around money. Take the birds themselves, for instance; there are multiple Angry Birds to choose from, but each must be unlocked through a series of races in order to be used. That’s fair enough, but after the first additional bird is unlocked, one of the cash-grab tactics rears its ugly head in the form of an energy meter. Each bird is only capable of completing a handful of races before becoming tired, in which case the player can either recharge its energy with gems, or substitute in another racer. Here’s the problem; gems and characters are earned through racing. If the player hasn’t earned enough gems by the time a bird is tired, they can’t play again until that particular character’s energy has been recuperated (which occurs after a set amount of real-world time, much like Candy Crush Saga).

There is a solution, crass as it may be; spend real money to buy coins and gems. While microtransactions are nothing new in the world of mobile games, GO! takes it to a whole new level, as the panhandling isn’t limited to charging the birds back up. Karts are upgradeable with coins, which are in generous enough abundance at the beginning of the game. Once the second cup of races unlocks, though, the cost to upgrade skyrockets into the thousands, making saving up coins in-game through legitimate gameplay an intense, old-school JRPG grind. Rovio has your back here, too, in case you were worried; spend more real money.

Wait, there’s more! Later races can’t be attempted until the player’s kart is up to specs, which forces upgrading. The birds always lose energy after each race, so playing the game to actually earn coins to upgrade is tethered to how many racers are available at a given moment. Karts must be purchased with coins, and the better the kart (and, generally, the cooler it looks), the more expensive it is. If your head is starting to hurt, don’t worry, because mine was, too. It’s a simple enough scheme, but the way that Rovio has tied every aspect of GO! around keeping track of gems and coins is aggravating.

By the way, there is, seriously, the option to spend $99.99 on gems in order to pay for a large sack of coins. I buy COLLECTORS EDITIONS of retail games for less money, Rovio; I sure as heck am not spending a hundred dollars on an iOS kart racer. I can appreciate that the game is running under the freemium pricing model, but this is ridiculous. I’d offer to buy the thing at this point just to play the fun game buried under all this nonsense, but with a $99.99 price tag for gems alone, I’m scared to think what Rovio thinks GO! is actually worth.

As I said, a review should only ever reference a game’s price if it effects gameplay, and GO!‘s shameless money mongering does exactly that. Players have the option of waiting out recharge phases and grinding for coins, but after a thousand years, they’ll probably barely have scratched the surface of what GO! has to offer. Admittedly, there is the option to buy GO! Telepods, which are toys of the racers that can be scanned and transferred into the game itself (which is cool), but with over ten figures at $4.99 each, it’s still a sizable amount of money to spend (and I’m being generous with the pricing for those, as there are different sets to buy and the question of availability).

It’s just a mess and a disappointment. I enjoyed every minute of the gameplay and was ready to lavish GO! with praise, but I honestly can’t justify doing that when Rovio has so shamelessly targeted players’ wallets. Download it and play what you can when you can, but I must compel anyone reading this to refrain from investing real money into GO! Apparently, players across iOS and Android have been slamming the game for its microtransactions, so hopefully it will compel Rovio to do some kind of patch. Whatever happens, I just hope Rovio can atone for this blight in the long run.

Score: 6.0/10

+ Great gameplay and excellent graphics; Design takes queues from the Angry Birds games by revolving around physics-based racing; Transferring Telepod racing figures from real life into the game is a great concept; Game modes are varied and fun.

– Microtransactions are the equivalent of digital aggressive panhandling; Game design essentially forces player to invest real cash in order to proceed in a reasonable manner; Pricing makes the experience prohibitive, ruins the fun of the game-be sure to lock purchases for younger players!

Video Games and the Struggle for Respect

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I was wandering around IGN’s site the other day, when I happened upon the review of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. The Wii/GameCube classic had struck a chord with the reviewer, who awarded the game a 9.5 back in 2006. Re-reading the piece, though, I couldn’t help but notice how, in reference to Super Mario 64, the reviewer described the title as “then-groundbreaking”. Considering a limited number of people are even reading this seven year old review on a regular basis, much less commenting on it, I decided to shout in the wind a bit and wrote the following:

“Lol, this is an old review, but seriously, who refers to Super Mario 64 as ‘then-groundbreaking’? It was, is, and will always be groundbreaking. No one goes around saying that the Model T isn’t groundbreaking anymore because a focus is so much more technologically advanced. Videogame journalists have no clue how to appreciate this medium’s history.”

Innocuous enough, I thought, but surprisingly, I was met with someone who didn’t appreciate my observation (who trolls the comments of a seven year old review?!). Their response to mine was:

“Why are you making such a big deal out of nothing? ‘then-groundbreaking’ is just as big of an impact as “groundbreaking”.

I swear it’s like you people are seeking things to argue about on purpose.”

Anyone who writes on a message board or in a comments section knows well enough that consensus isn’t normally common, so I wasn’t shocked to see dissent. I personally felt that adding the word “then” as the reviewer did suggested a diminished respect for Super Mario 64. As though a caveat was needed to help assert to the reader that the writer acknowledged Mario 64 as important, but that in hindsight it was perhaps not as impressive anymore. Maybe I was being picky, maybe not. What I cared most about in this particular instance was how the other commenter said I was “making such a big deal out of nothing”.

Nothing? I suppose it was, in the grander scheme of things, but as I sat and formulated my response, the words vexed me. Video games are something to me. They’re something to a lot of people, frankly. Who is this person to declare that I should or shouldn’t care about Mario 64 getting dissed, whether it was a month ago or a seven years? I can concede that it wasn’t the most horrible sleight, but I thought it was worth pointing out to people. Mario 64 isn’t going to stop being the landmark it was just because another game has come along and outdone it. That’s not the point.

The point is that video games are both pieces of entertainment and art. Period. I don’t care what the deceased or the vividly alive have to say about it. Video games touch people in as powerful a way as literature, cinema, or television. Anyone playing through The Walking Dead game by Telltale had as much of an emotional response to its events and ending as they would reading the comic book series. When I read comments like those from the IGN reviewer, it bothers me, because he and everyone else calling themselves video games journalists have a responsibility to maintain the legacy of the milestone games that came before.

There’s a reason that when a mass shooting happens, people like Vice President Biden can get in front of a camera and call out our video games as negative influences; the industry’s own developers and reporters don’t even know how to properly respect and defend them. Sure, they’re quick to point out the first amendment when defending video games, but that’s only half the story. Where were the complaints about violent television shows like Criminals Minds when Sandy Hook happened? Where were the protests against Ryan Gosling crushing a man’s head into bloody pieces in Drive after the Aurora shooting? Heck, half the cable shows that people worship these days are tantamount to softcore porn with a plot. Yet, video games are the bad guy. Video games are the root of all evil.

It’s a joke. A farce. I will freely and enthusiastically talk about how the obsession with violence in video games. As poignant as titles like The Last of Us and BioShock: Infinite are, there’s an unhealthy fixation on wielding guns and blowing heads off in this industry. Don’t even get me started on the lack of and, when they’re present, objectification of women. None of that, however, is justification to treat video games as a second-class form of art and entertainment.

So no, faceless IGN commentator, saying Mario 64 was “then-groundbreaking” isn’t “nothing”, it’s insulting. I write here and on Nintendojo because I love video games and the unique experiences they bring to people around the world. I’ve flown across the sky, saved kingdoms, staved off death, cooked, cleaned, and raced my heart out in over twenty years of video game playing. If I want to call for more thought and accountability from the representatives of the video game community, I think I have every right to do so; they’re all there is to defend us, the players. It might seem like I’m taking this pastime a little too seriously, but tell that to television, cinema, and literary historians and critics. Go tell a professor of art history that cave paintings were “then-groundbreaking” and see how they react. Video games are here to stay, and I’m always going to do the best I can to show them the respect that they deserve.

Bomberman Turns 30

Bomberman 30th

With all the fuss over Capcom’s lackluster celebration of Mega Man’s 25th anniversary, another important milestone is being lost in the shuffle; Bomberman has officially hit 30. While never as much of a heavy-hitter as Super Mario or the old Blue Bomber himself, Bomberman was still a force to be reckoned with in his own right. Predating Call of Duty or even Goldeneye by quite a stretch, Bomberman was the king of multiplayer in its heyday. While Bomberman games have run the gamut of genres over the years, the series is best known for its frenzied and fun death matches. With a very respectable and memorable collection of titles under his belt, Bomberman deserves acknowledgment on this, the pink pugilist’s (hey, it’s the best I could come up with) anniversary.

Part of the reason that poor Bomberman is slipping under the radar right now is because his parent company, Hudson Soft, no longer exists. The company went under in March 2012 and had its assets (including the company name) bought up by Konami. Bomberman himself was the brainchild of Hudson designer Shinichi Nakamoto, who created the character and game for the popular MSX computer platform in Japan (ironically, the birthplace of Konami’s own Metal Gear Solid series). When Bomberman came to Nintendo’s Famicom and NES, though, it became a huge hit. It’s rumored that Nakamoto ported the MSX version of Bomberman to NES over a three day period of non-stop programming!

Anyone who has spent a fair amount of time with a game that features a competitive multiplayer mode knows just how fun and addicting it can be to play against real people and not computer controlled bots. It’s exactly that sort of appeal that made Bomberman such a sensation. Friends would get together with the help of a Multitap (remember those?) and slug it out, hurling bombs at one another to try and be the last person standing. While perhaps not a direct inspiration for today’s juggernaut multiplayer series like Halo, there’s no denying that Bomberman helped demonstrate how social an experience video games could be, if handled right.

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I’m a bit of an oddball myself, though, because I got the most fun from playing Bomberman’s single-player adventures! Games like Bomberman 64 and Bomberman Hero were some of my favorites growing up, and made me like Bomberman as a character. Bomberman Hero, in particular, stood out to me because of its excellent soundtrack. He’s certainly been in some suspect titles over the years, but Bomberman games always did their best to be fun. Just be sure to stay away from XBox 360’s horrendous Bomberman Act Zero. Seriously, Bomberman as a mindless space marine is next-level bad.

Anyone wanting to relive Bomberman’s glory days will be happy to know that Wii’s Virtual Console service continues to offer a healthy variety of his games across multiple systems. Konami hasn’t been doing much with the license recently, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have fun with all the great titles still available to us. So celebrate Bomberman with the most fitting tribute of all; lob bombs at your buddies! (No, don’t actually do that, silly, I’m talking about in a game!).

I’ll leave you with a link to the awesome soundtrack from Bomberman Hero; happy anniversary, Bomberman!

Bomberman Hero Soundtrack

Toy Box 11-Street Fighter 25th Anniversary Ryu Statue

Released: 2013 | Maker: Capcom

In celebration of Street Fighter’s 25th Anniversary, Capcom released an amazing box set that included this intricate, high quality statue of series stalwart Ryu! The World Warrior measures about eight inches in height and comes with has a light-up base. Mid-Shoryuken, Ryu looks like he was ripped straight out of a game.

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Just as a side note for you Christmas shoppers, I’m going to add this to my 2013 Holiday Buyer’s Guide, but if you head to Capcom’s website, they’re selling the entire 25th Anniversary set for $50! That is a STEAL. Till next time, readers.