Posts Tagged ‘Nintendo’

Where can Paper Mario go from here?

October 27, 2016

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Reviewers are feeling a mite uncharitable about Paper Mario:Color Splash. The papercraft world is gorgeous, the dialogue is hilarious. But that combat system.

Helpless Mario can’t act on his own, instead playing cards for every action. Cards that need to be scrolled through, one by one. Cards that need to be selected, painted, then flicked upwards to start combat. Really, it’s not a terrible system, just a bit overfluffed. If you look at it from the outside, it’s more or less the same as Paper Mario’s combat has always been, excepting Super Paper Mario on Wii.

A large part of the problem, though, is that players don’t feel rewarded. Color Splash does away with almost all the series’ roleplaying game elements. There are no level ups, no badges, no flower points. Your reward for using cards to defeat enemies is that you get new, different cards. They might not even be more powerful than the cards you used during the battle.

This isn’t a problem with Color Splash so much as it’s a problem with every pure roleplaying game ever made. Barring the occasional eccentric oddball (Chrono Cross, I’m looking at you), the point of battling, the enjoyment of battling, is not the battle itself. It’s the reward. That experience meter that ticks up, granting you extra power so you can, I dunno, be more powerful. See those numbers go up. Get excited.

Paper Mario has found itself in a hard place. The Mario and Luigi series has become Nintendo’s flagship Mario roleplaying game, and Paper Mario has become… what? Looking at Color Splash, it’s clear where the series’ strengths now lie: great worldbuilding and dialogue. Paper Mario gives players a chance to explore the hidden, personal side of all of Mario’s friends and enemies. That’s a pretty powerful thing.

Color Splash is a modern adventure game with an RPG battle system thrown into the mix, a holdover from a different game altogether. I don’t want to overstate the case: battles in Color Splash are really not that bad. But I just want to solve puzzles and talk to Toads, dammit! Because that’s where Color Splash shines.

If it can’t be a roleplaying game, please don’t make it play like one. A pure adventure game where Mario colors the world and has ludicrous conversations with piranha plants is good enough for me. Perhaps he could –gasp!– solve altercations by taking advantage of environmental puzzles. Make it a pure adventure game, and double down on its strengths.

But maybe that would be boring. I’ll admit that I’m not an adventure gamer, plus, Mario has always been an action series. So put that hammer to use, Nintendo, and make an action adventure game. Nix the turn-based battles but bring back the badges; let Mario hammer blocks and stomp Goombas in real time. And for god’s sake, let Peach in on the action.

West-washing the world’s games

October 21, 2016

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“I can’t remember the last time I played a Japanese game,” my friend Mike said to me.

Our tastes are largely different. He plays primarily open-world games, racers, and first person shooters, pillar genres of “western” game design. It’s true that I tend more toward Japanese games, and occasionally games that are garishly and loudly Japanese. So his statement should have been unsurprising. We just have different tastes. But it was when he said it that surprised me.

I asked him what game we’d been playing.

“Mario Kart. Ah, yeah. Yeah. I didn’t really think about it, huh? I meant really Japanese games, you know?”

In Mike’s defense, Mario is difficult to pin down as Japanese. He’s an Italian plumber, after all, and basically the Mickey Mouse of videogames. He’s so famous that he can’t be said to belong to one culture at all–he’s globally recognized, and every tuned-in culture likely has “their” version of Mario, the same as they have “their” Mickey Mouse or McDonalds.

But it’s been weird, seeing this trend from Japan’s complete dominance of console gaming to a sort of coup by western game developers. In large part I suppose that’s due to the Xbox brand: gamers can play a largely western catalogue of games on an American-made console. It’s also due to the lopsided categorization: Assassin’s Creed, Battlefield, Forza; these are all considered “our” games, despite being from three different countries. Meanwhile, Japan is just Japan.

Many gamers seem content to let Japan just be dead. After all, where are all the Japanese role-playing games? We have The Witcher (Poland), Elder Scrolls (US), and Dragon Age (Canada). This despite the massive number of Japanese role-playing games that get released on 3DS and Vita to critical acclaim. Well, those are handhelds, they don’t really count. Small in size, they’re assumed to be small in scope.

I suspect that much of the American gaming public is holding their breath for Final Fantasy 15. SquareEnix have been in and out of gamers’ graces for a while. Can the Japanese prove they’ve still got it? The massive success of Dark Souls and Bloodborne should prove that they have, in fact, got it. Nevermind that both series are wrapped in the bleak cloak of western fantasy; us westerners wouldn’t accept anything less.

If Final Fantasy 15 flops, will American gamers write off Japanese role-playing games entirely? That’d be a very sad thing, with Persona 5 just over the horizon.

Tokyo Mirage Impressions #FE

June 26, 2016

tokyologo

This weekend I made a bold decision: passing up on Overwatch in order to pick up Atlus’s new Persona-esque JRPG, Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE. I’m not a massive Persona fan—I prefer more hardline Shin Megami Tensei entries like Nocturne and Devil Summoner 2—but I figured, given the nature of both Atlus’s games and the Wii U, that I’d better pick it up now or I might not have another chance.

I’m only five hours in, but so far there’s a lot to like and dislike. Based on the first and second dungeons, which admittedly is not a lot to go on, they feel a bit hobbled together. Granted, these are the first and second dungeons. They’re simple as a rule. But the first dungeon felt like a tile-based randomized map, and the second dungeon relies on a very simple, very sluggish puzzle format. I’m hoping they open up like some of the more memorable dungeons in Nocturne, with massive spires, moving blocks, and tricky damage tiles. But so far, these dungeons feel even more rigid and simple than Persona’s. I’ll give it time.

I am really happy with the enemy encounters. Enemies roam the dungeons; there are no random encounters. Swiping your sword will stun enemies, and they fade away if you don’t engage. Battles are very much in the standard “press turn” MegaTen style, but the Session system promises to open things up. When a character attacks an enemy’s weakness, other characters with linked “Session Skills” will jump in and attack. A large part of the strategy is synergizing your skills so that characters can interact based on a number of different enemy weaknesses.

The battles are bright, colorful, and I adore the main battle theme. Shin Megami Tensei as a series has always succeeded on its battle systems, and Tokyo Mirage Sessions differentiates itself in small but important ways. One thing I’ve noticed so far is that Tokyo Mirage Sessions really pushes players to never select the basic “attack” command. You’re always using skills in order to set up sessions, and I’m hoping they build up to truly ludicrous levels of comboing. I’m the type of person who hesitates to use magic in just about any RPG, but it’s immediately obvious that mana hoarders won’t survive long.

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There’s significantly less micromanagement compared to a game like Nocturne, where it seemed like players could stick their grubby paws anywhere and tweak anything. Instead of fusing monsters, Tokyo Mirage Sessions has players forge and equip weapons to learn different skills and spells. At this point, there’s no real sense of choice between weapons. You just get a new one, use it, and learn its skills. I don’t think that’s a positive or negative; probably Persona fans will be fine with it, and main series MegaTen fans will want a little more freedom. And once I fill up my available skill slots, I’ll probably complain that I’m forced to make too many tough choices.

There are some irksome load times, including a short load screen at the end of each battle, which is a big annoyance for me. The game is vibrant and beautiful, with great character models, but I don’t feel like it’s pushing the Wii U that hard. I’m playing on the retail disc, so this may not be a problem if you install the game to your Wii U. But it can be a bit of a downer when an emotional scene is followed by a load screen.

Speaking of emotional scenes, so far there’s been a good amount of animated cutscenes. The tone of the game is very happy and fluffy, which I appreciate. I love the atmosphere of heavier MegaTen games, but for me Persona felt like a mishmash of horror themes with a bubbly anime atmosphere. I love true horror games, so that always felt like a tease to me. Tokyo Mirage Sessions is much more comfortable with being an anime-themed JRPG, and I kind of prefer it that way.

So far I’m having a lot of fun with the game, and I’m hoping it makes the connections that I can feel it building up to. I’m a creative type of person, so I really engage with Tokyo Mirage Session’s story of a group of singers and artists trying to find their own voice in Tokyo’s crowded entertainment industry. And the characters have all the heart you’d expect from a Persona game. They’re really sweet, and very fun.

So let me end on my favorite aspect of the game so far: I love, love, love that the Wii U gamepad acts as a text messaging service. Characters will text you while you’re dungeon-crawling to provide hints, shoot the breeze, or send you chibi emoticon stickers. It’s a brilliant way to connect players with the characters, and it really feels like the next level of social simulation in Atlus RPGs. Text messages make the game world feel more alive; they help party members rise above anime archetypes and make them feel like friends. In videogames especially, that’s a really rare and remarkable feeling.

Also, did I mention that the character designs are incredible? I don’t think I did. They are.

tokyoparty

 

G.G Series brings bite-sized indies to 3DS and DSi

July 14, 2015

Simpler is better—give me two buttons plus one good idea and you’ve got yourself a game. That’s the idea behind Genterprise’s G.G. Series, a slew of Japanese indie games that have recently been unleashed on Nintendo’s 3DS/DSi eshop for $2 a pop. The G.G. games are simply designed, often featuring only one song and a single background shared between all stages, but they shine as handheld games thanks to snappy, focused gameplay. I downloaded and played four of them recently. Here are my thoughts:

All Breaker

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Puzzle platformers aren’t really my bag; I’d rather not spend my time sitting stumped instead of making progress. All Breaker is thankfully action-heavy, rather than truly puzzling. The purple-haired main character swings a massive hammer in order to destroy red blocks scattered throughout the level. Her hammer only stuns enemies, however, so she needs to destroy floors or hit certain “attack blocks” to kill them. The level layouts are simple but effective, and smashing blocks is plain fun. This would be a good game for speedrunning score challenges. You’re awarded points for destroying blocks and killing enemies as well as finishing quickly, and the block-based levels mean you can improvise your way through to some extent, finding the quickest path. I’m probably in the minority here, but I greatly prefer this game to Wayforward’s Mighty Switch Force.

Assault Buster

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The central mechanic here is a gem—the main character (another weapons badass, this time with a laser rifle as long as her body) boosts rapidly around the screen, firing in every direction to destroy robotic baddies. Gravity brings her down slowly, allowing her to shoot as she descends, and holding down the shot button lets her fire continuously in one direction. In many ways Assault Buster reminds me of Treasure’s classic Alien Soldier, with hints of Bangai-O or Gunstar Heroes. Each level is a few short waves of enemies, followed by a stage boss. Most bosses are made from a collection of blocks surrounding a core, with each block firing its own weapon. I much prefer these to the occasional “robot master” style bosses, which zip around the screen and generally have too much health. My one gripe with the game is that time bonuses and enemy kills don’t matter much for scoring. The +5000 score bonus for destroying the boss blocks eclipses the rest of the points you’ll earn in a level. Kind of a bummer, but you’d wanna shoot the crap out of those bosses anyhow, right? A very fun game single-screen shooter regardless, and well-suited to quick bursts of play.

Dark Spirits

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I wasn’t taken with Dark Spirits at first. The main vampire dude is a bit slow-moving for a manic shooter, and the gamplay felt a bit basic. But I grew to appreciate the elemental upgrade system as I played more. Vamps has four elemental orbs that change type when they touch different upgrades, allowing you to mix and match elemental types. If you run into the same type upgrade multiple times, that orb will level up, so you need to make sure you’re grabbing the right upgrade with the right orb. There are focused, wide, and backwards-facing shot formations, giving the game depth and making up for the character’s slow movement speed. The visual design in this one is pretty cool as well; the future-horror vibe must have been inspired by Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow. And there are two different backgrounds to this game instead of one, whoa! Dark Spirits’ one problem is that it’s way too easy. The ice elemental shot especially makes the game a breeze, as it deals a ton of short-range damage and cancels enemy bullets. Fortunately the (otherwise pretty short) game loops over and over again as you beat it; I ended up reaching stage 3-2 before biting the bullet. Those who consider the genre far too difficult may see this as a breath of fresh air, but for myself the game lasts a little too long to work great as an on-the-go title.

Great Whip Adventure

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This is the simplest game of the four, but it’s also my favorite. Great Whip Adventure is the pint-sized brother to La Mulana and Spelunky. The Indy-like main character whips enemies and latches onto hanging hooks to traverse jungles and temples. The mechanics are simple yet functional, with a nice stage-to-stage challenge curve and a scoring system based on enemy kills and quick completion. This is a great example of how few objects and enemies are required to make a fun game, and could serve as a textbook case for game designers everywhere. And that music track! It’s used in another game (All Breaker, I think?), but here it magically nails La Mulana’s adventurous soundtrack. Great Whip Adventure’s stripped-down elements all work incredibly well together. At $2, it’s like stolen treasure.

And there you have it! I may do another sweep of the G.G Series in the future, as there are now a ton of them on the eshop. Or I might finally dig into the eshop on the whole, and see what I find. Until next time!

– Tom K, Catstronaut Loves Games

Mario Kart 8’s first DLC brings Hyrule Castle and Mute City to the Mushroom Kingdom

November 16, 2014

An in-depth look at Nintendo’s “Super Smash Kart” DLC

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Mario Kart 8 is a big, bold, beautiful game. The track design is unmatched and the handling is sublime… but it was always lacking something. That something is levels, characters, and karts from other Nintendo properties like The Legend of Zelda, F-Zero, and Excitebike, all added with this new DLC. Cross-over tracks are a long overdue addition, considering how well Nintendo has crossed-over its games in Super Smash Bros. We’ve entered the era of Super Smash Kart—but what all does this DLC add to the already great Mario Kart formula?

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How to draw Mario’s shyest enemy: A bashful Boo!

October 31, 2014

First, draw a circle. It doesn’t have to be perfect!

kingboo1Then, add some nubbinses for the arms and tail, like so (the tail can be tough!)

kingboo2Now erase the part of the circle connected to the tail.

kingboo3Then just add a happy face!

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And BAM! You drew a boo! Happy Halloween everybody!

– Catstronaut Loves Games

 

 

Upcoming Mario Kart 8 DLC brings this universe one step closer to perfection

August 26, 2014

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Link, Villager, and Isabelle are joining the race! Nintendo’s UK store recently listed two new DLC packs — and they feature more than just Mario. According to the listing, each pack will three new characters, two new cups, and four new vehicles, drawing from Nintendo’s Legend of Zelda and Animal Crossing games for track design and characters.

Here’s the listing in full:

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Each Add On Content pack will contain two new cups, each with four courses, which, in total, increases the number of available courses by 50 percent. The Add On Content packs include classics like Wario’s Gold Mine from Mario Kart Wii, as well as new courses, some taking place in the worlds of The Legend of Zelda and Animal Crossing. New vehicles will also arrive with each pack, including the Blue Falcon kart representing the F-Zero franchise in the first AOC pack.

Mario Kart 8 Pack 1 – Released: November 2014

Pack 1 includes:

  • 3 Characters: Tanooki Mario, Cat Peach, Link
  • 4 Vehicles
  • 8 Courses

Mario Kart 8 Pack 2 – Released: May 2015

Pack 2 includes:

  • 3 Characters: Villager, Isabelle, Dry Bowser
  • 4 Vehicles
  • 8 Courses

As a bonus for purchasing both packs – as a bundle or separately – you can get eight different-coloured Yoshis and eight different-coloured Shy Guys that can be used right away.

That’s a lot of awesome news for Nintendo fans. Looking closely, we can see what appears to be an Animal Crossing village stage above Dry Bowser, as well as a probable F-Zero stage on the left under Link’s kart. I don’t recognize the stage on the bottom left, either — with the rough geometry on that hill, could it be based around Excitebike?

Also intriguing is the question mark panel on the bottom right. Maybe it’s a totally unrevealed stage, or maybe it’s a tip-off to the return of the fake item block.

Hopefully we’ll have all the answers in November 2014 and May 2015, when Nintendo’s slated these DLC packs for release. We might even get some battle arenas, too.

Until then, I’ll keep dreaming.

 

Famicons

August 24, 2014

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Diorama design based on the original Super Mario Bros., featuring recolored Japanese Famicom controllers. Conceptualized, painted, and arranged by myself, with help from this sprite sheet courtesy of Zeon and Beam Luinsir Yosho.

Wii U review: Mario Kart 8

May 30, 2014

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All revved up

I’ve played way, way too much Mario Kart this month. It’s easily my favorite videogame series of all time, and I was so amped about Mario Kart 8 that I played every single Mario Kart game multiple times over. I made myself a tiny bit sick of the series, honestly.

But Mario Kart 8’s here, and I really want to talk with you about it. Nintendo’s changed a lot with this most recent entry — there are larger, immediate changes, like the addition of antigravity, but there are also a lot of smaller systems changes and tweaking going on.

Because there’s so much going on, I’d like to make this review of Mario Kart 8 a little more in-depth than usual. Let’s-a get going.

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Mario Kart’s all-time best (and worst!) racetracks

May 29, 2014

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Celebrating 20+ years of go-kart coursework

There ain’t nothin’ like a Mario Kart track. Over the years they’ve gotten wilder and wilder, from Super Mario Kart’s modest “real kart racing with a twist” to Mario Kart 7’s manic, setpiece-laden jaunts through the air and underwater. And now with Mario Kart 8, Nintendo plans to turn those courses upside-down with antigravity sections that’ll see karts racing on the walls and ceiling.

Just before Mario Kart 8’s May 30th release, I’d like to run down my own personal list of the best and worst tracks in the series’ history. I’ve chosen to break things down by game — I want this list to represent the entire series, after all, and not just my own favorite Mario Kart games. I hope you enjoy it, and I hope these are some of your favorites, too. Here we go, starting with the most recent game and working our way back:

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