Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Reactions to Super Smash Bros for WiiU and 3DS

  Today we have witnessed the Nintendo Direct focused on Super Smash Bros.  Well, other people say it directly, I caught up with it Destructoid after the fact.  This series of announcements has left Smash fans with a puzzle.

  Has Nintendo given up on the WiiU?

  Understand my point of view.  I’ve always loved Smash, though feared that its core gameplay may be beginning to wear a little.  Common, you all know it; the core gameplay is essentially unchanged since the N64, which we all played until the frail analog stick broke.  …Or was that Mario Party 2? 

  Anyway, the vitality of the Smash franchise now lies in its wonderfully creative new modes and challenge stages.  Not just Subspace Emissary, though that mode was great.  Also Trouble Kings, and all of the alternate battle challenges, and the boss rush, and the fighting wire frames (though Cruel Melee is just that).  There was a lot to do in the last two games, and having a wide berth of time (the original is launched in 1999, Melee in 2001, and Brawl in 2008) in which to play them made it all the sweeter!

  Nintendo has confirmed launch windows for both its 3DS version of Super Smash Bros, aiming for Summer 2014, and its Wii U version, aiming for Winter 2014 – the latter has already past, so they must mean Holiday 2014, targeting the end of the year.  Consider the pill offered for us to swallow, as the two games are co-developed, and one won’t be substantially “better” than the other, nor will they be very far apart, giving each other the wide berth enjoyed by predecessors.  Nor even will they be close enough together to enjoy a lot of cross-online play together.  Where Monster Hunter 3 U brings enthusiastic Monster Hunters together on the Wii U and sends them out alone on the 3DS all in the same window of time, Super Smash Bros 4 will be actively trying to use the Wii U launch event to drum up activity among the 3DS Smash community, but the reasons for buying Smash on Wii U are still lacking, and everyone with a 3DS has already seen a lot of the new innovations already.

  Which is the question – is the Wii U version sent out to die or to die in the service of the 3DS version?  Is there a point to having both?

  There is hope.  Nintendo and series director Masahiro Sakurai appear sensitive to the criticism, and have advised of a new Multiplayer mode on the 3DS, Smash Run.  Smash Run challenges players to collect power boosts in a timed scramble, pitting them against a wide number of Nintendo enemies from across its favorite franchises.  Those boosts then affect the main battle.  It is claimed to be a quick preamble leading to an exciting showdown.  This mode is exclusive to the 3DS, and will not appear in the Wii U version …


  But could that idea be revisited on the Wii U?  It is tantalizing to know that Wii U version could have its own gameplay mode to shake up the conventions and deliver its faithful fans their own version of the well-worn franchise.  Hang-on, let me change that statement. 

  I think that we expect it, and we would be a hard sell without it.

  I’ve waffled in the past.  I’ve once called Smash Bros one of the most delightfully fun, playable commercials on TV, and it is true: everything in Smash Bros is a celebration, and a marketing message, for Nintendo’s long history of entertainment. 

  If Nintendo wants to have the commercial run long, I hope they can deliver still more fun, playable delights, and I hope not everything will have already been seen on the 3DS.

  I guess this means that I have not been convinced yet about the Wii U version, though it looks quite nice.  The 3DS version looks very nice too, and I expect I will be one of the many pre-orders playing on day 1.  Keep an eye out of me.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Revisiting Splinter Cell: Blacklist

  Well, my options for returning Splinter Cell: Blacklist have complicated as of today, and I still have it.  What are my thoughts a week later? 


  If there is one thing about SC:B that I hate, it is the tone.  Everything is urgent, urgent, urgent.  I liked the original, which came with a certain bit of levity in the face of imminent danger.  Command must be wearing on Sam Fisher, as he is turned hard and spends a lot of time looking serious and pouty for the camera.  I hate that!

  Another thing that I strongly dislike is completing missions for Charlie.  Charlie missions are tests of endurance, challenging Sam (and the player) to survive in a complex arena against waves of the “Engineers,” aka the generic bad guys.  I like the idea in principle, but five waves is too long by half, especially as the waves are loaded with up to 17 bad guys hunting you.  I also got caught mistaking the extraction signal flare for the “let it ride” signal flare, a high risks gamble that brings still more minions, including High Value Targets to battlefield.  This broke it for me; I could simply “let it ride” by not moving to the extraction signal and timing out the window of opportunity, so why would I ever want a signal flare, looking just like the extraction flare, to hurry the advent up?!  I rage quit right there!  That was so poorly designed, I swear the rules of the game were broken and simple commands confused, and this after an hour and a half endurance fest in fierce combat.  I was not impressed, and more or less swore off Charlie missions for life.

  I should probably convey my thoughts on combat next.  Sam Fisher has a good variety of new moves, and new problems to complicate those moves.  Sam can now hide in any open doorway and wait for targets to stroll past for a stealth knockout; trouble is, it doesn’t work on heavily armored enemies.  Sam always needs to have a place to run to, and he needs to watch his back, keeping the game in a constant state of tension.  Players can invest in armor to cut the risks a little, but tools seem to be a better investment, as no armor helps for long when battles get really loud.

  Tools include the returning Sticky Cams, which can be thrown at a wall, click to attract enemies, and spew knockout gas.  They are also superior tools for finding and marking enemies.  Knockout and Tear gas grenades also supplement the arsenal, and I’ve found good things by investing in shock and proximity mines (shock are non-lethal, but weaker against armored foes, while proximity mines are only funny for me).  Investing in guns yields different options, but I’ve gotten mixed into the menus that I thought promised me silencers but didn’t – woops!

  Mark and Execute is revealed, not just to be as game-breakingly automated as advertised, but instantly and desperately needed.  Execute can only be used after marking three targets and taking out another, either by lethal or non-lethal means, while it is critically useless against helmeted enemies, who show up early and often, but are helpfully marked out compared to the normal enemies.

  Even with all this arsenal, battles become desperate fast.  Enemy AI swarm and look for alternate exits or railings from which they can rain death onto you, and are generally immune to darkness.  There is a form of nightvision enemy, wearing googles like Sam’s, but I don’t know why these enemies should be there as enemies are generally incapable of being fooled by shooting out lights anyway.  That doesn’t mean that stealth is right out, though, as they just as often run right past Sam in full light too.  I should point out that this is the WiiU version with a weak internet connection; if there was a patch, I’m unlikely to have it!

  So as I said, winning fights means planning ahead, having places to go that are out of sight (line of sight, typically), or moving in unconventional directions; I am wonderfully pleased to report that falling on enemies from above makes a triumphant come back.  Sam may be getting too old for the split-kick, though L.  They do a good job of keeping up the pressure on the player, and I’ve been able to completely baffle them at times, opening the way for more stealth takedowns.  Levels are built with an eye to providing several ways to cross, and “fighting” means bypassing enemies several times to wear down their numbers.

  Of other modes of play, there are the Grim missions.  Grímsdóttir challenges Sam to plant intel bugs in out-of-the-way places, noting that if ever Sam is found, they would pull up stakes and cut the data.  These stages tend to be much better, allowing Sam to bypass enemies (if he can), while usually hiding laptops and other file systems to interact with.  Also contributing missions is arms dealer Andriy Kobin, who apparently has a history with Fisher that I haven’t had the pleasure.  Kobin’s missions challenge Sam to eliminate a whole source of resistance from an arena, and if Sam can’t do it quietly, he could find his troubles triple in a heartbeat. Both are reasonable challenges, making use of lethal force to advance while pushing the player to do the best possible haunting.

  Main scenario missions run a strange gamut of content.  The second stage, the Insurgent Stronghold in Mirawa, Iraq, seems altogether too much of a Call of Duty clone, as I was definitely not impressed by the Arial Drone camera sniping, as that not only made questionable use of the motion controls (full disclosure, NintendoLand’s controls work fine, I am disputing implementation) in a high stakes difficult scene.  A well planned stealth op gives way to cut scenes and torture in the scene with former MI6 agent Jadid, and just when you think we’ve left that behind for more well implemented stealth scenes, more cut scenes appear with yet more critical plot information, striping control away and leaving Sam (now back under player control) with seconds to run to safety. 

  Stage three, American Consumption, was much better, and carried loud echoes of the franchise which has its name on the box.  Sam navigates twisting corridors of a shopping mall and sewer, leading to a water plant, where the Engineers are busy spreading weaponized viruses (smallpox? I don’t remember!) into the water supply.  If this were the focus, I would be very happy indeed, but there seems to be more and more posturing, more camera work focusing on the face, and more tense scenes of Sam standing around looking pouty before giving the mission the go ahead, with our without player input.

  Now, hold on.  Yes, I knew about this going in, as Ubisoft Toronto’s pride and joy is its motion capture department.  Still, I am not impressed.  The long plot dumps, the angry back and forth pacing during cut scenes, the inclusion of so many cut scenes, the focus on acting and not playing.  I wanted to drop into the triple A game productions and see what I was missing, and well …

  …I just want Splinter Cell 1 back!

  So, yeah, I said it.  Blacklist isn’t bad by any stretch, and its additions in gameplay are for the most part welcome.  But this is a big product, with major motion picture appeal-factors crowding the star of the show, me!  As SC:Blacklist continues to gorge in the ideas of its own story, it fails to address the main actors hesitations about all of this … it assumes that I will go along with it and make a success of its convoluted plot hops.  Which I do, because there isn’t much else to do here, except get rid of it.

  Perhaps this too needs review.  When I saw Splinter Cell: Stealth Action Redefined on the Old Xbox, I was quite impressed.  Here was a franchise that focused on an elaborate, and high stakes, obstacle course.  Darkness mattered.  Skill mattered.  Every stage was greatly replayable.  But the story also mattered, perhaps because of the recent events.  2001 saw hostiles, still presumed Islamists from Afghanistan and the end of the world, take America by surprise and kill thousands of people without a care.  November 19, 2002 saw Splinter Cell released, but the Operation Desert Storm came about just afterwards (March 19, 2003).  While we were getting our heads around fighting a war against non-state actors, Splinter Cell resonated perfectly.

  Today, Splinter Cell’s, and I supposed Tom Clancy’s vision of America against the world conflict feels forced.  “Freedom for whom” is a theme used to cover over the conflicts of rich and poor nations; America is always depicted as indolent and vulnerable, in need of protection, while the wider world is depicted as eager to break America, to shake off her shackles and prevent her interference, her preventing something terrible happening absent her protection.  Nasty business happens in the shadows, and Sam Fisher has to perpetrate the nastiest to save the world.  It isn’t wrong, but it feels … foreign.  Is this my viewpoint changing with the passing of time?

  Am I keeping Blacklist?  Yeah, yeah, the game isn't bad by any stretch, it just feels a little off, but I figure it will be okay.  Once I get used to it.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Initial Impressions: Splinter Cell: Blacklist

  There weren’t many games on the Xbox that I enjoyed greatly, but I’ll count Splinter Cell: Stealth Action Redefined and Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow among them.  The series has gone through a lot of troubles in the intervening games, becoming redefined by cutting edge gritty storytelling and a big focus on acting.  I’ve waxed nostalgic about the rubber polygon puppets of yore before, and I’m returning to Splinter Cell today after a long absence.

  I’ve hated the unveil of Splinter Cell: Blacklist, fearing that the Mark and Execute commands would ruin the stealth game that I remember.  I’ve followed the game long through its development and witnessed it launch on the WiiU alongside other consoles last year, before I had any console to play it.  Well, I’ve got one now, and I’ve been racking my brain trying to determine which of 2013’s WiiU titles to snap up.  Blacklist won out over several other high profile releases.

  Splinter Cell: Blacklist is developed by Ubisoft Toronto, a studio that prides itself on the precision of their acting and voice acting skill and technology.  It launched just after Mr. Tom Clancy, the man whose name is one the box in the position of writer’s credit.  The Internet Movie Database credits him as writing it in 2010.  I guess that I go into this game expecting another project that focuses heavily on acting and writing, but I’ve long held the point of view that such things shouldn’t displace gameplay from the center of the experience.  SC:B is notorious for its torture scene, which screams out to me that there are Quick Time Events, which I loathe!  I’m buying this mainly for its name and a little bit for nostalgia, weary that modern games may quickly be morphing into something very alien to me.

  On playing to prologue chapter:

  I can say that I am pleasantly surprised.  The chapter ramps up the difficulty fast, but retains the beating heart of a stealth game where players find their own way forward.  The Mark and Execute commands, long feared, are fully ignorable.  The ability to mark up to four targets for quick take downs adds a lot of raw combat to the game, but marking has another welcome function: the levels are visually busy, going as they are for realism.  Marking provides a spy’s valuable new addition, to see a potential mercenary, and not lose track of him while trying to a) knock him out b) stealth away.

  I was able to experiment with display options: SC:B supports off-TV gameplay, making it easy to play in front of the news, but can also move the display to the TV, freeing up the Gamepad for inventory slots.  It’s pretty clever overall what Ubisoft has worked out for it.

  On Playing Chapter One:

  The stages are very long!  SC:B has several ideas in play.  Stealth take downs not only recharge the Mark and Execute functions, but they also reward Fisher and the Fourth Echelon team with dollars, presumably to be used in upgrades later.  High profile targets also appear mid stage, and challenge Fisher to move him carefully to the extraction point, which is a high risk prospect considering that it compromises Fisher’s ability to stealth and draw his sidearm.

  Most of the areas of this first level are pretty good at presenting one choice repeatedly: to use brute force or to stealth.  This tension underlines everything about SC:B.  Although I appreciate the available choice, I have to recall the origins of this game: in Splinter Cell: Stealth Action Redefined, the first stage was a long favored obstacle course through the streets of Tblisi, and much the same of level one of Pandora Tomorrow, a learn-the-ropes introduction at the US Embassy in East Timor.  If I can offer fair criticism, I catch myself checking the menu for the action-map repeatedly, because I haven’t ducked, dodged, bobbed, weaved and squirmed through all manner of traps yet.

  As I said above, the stage is long, with a final zone introducing the series most dreaded moral choke point, the guard dog.  Nobody wants to hurt the dog if they can help it, but after being stuck for over an hour, I’m pretty sure I can’t here.  Even being willing to kill the dog (it is a valid target for Mark and Execute) only reveals Fisher’s position to the enemies, so there is certainly no escape from moral crunch here. 

  I have yet to pass the last area of this first stage, and I’m pretty sure I closed it without saving.  The stages buck the trend at upwards of an hour each, so playing two stages is beyond the kind of time I can afford to invest in one sitting.  This remains a hard lesson to learn, but I’ll remember it for next time!  While I can still take the game back for an exchange in a week, I figure that this game deserves more time to make itself likable.  I also can’t speak to upgrades, as I haven’t yet had the full tour of the aircraft base.

Stay tuned for more.  

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

The Un-Wonderful One Double One

  …Ugh! …

  Well, … ugh!  Nobody is going to like what I have to say.  Nobody is going to respect what I have to say, because it is aesthetic rather than scientific.  What I have to say is going to go over like a Valiantium Blade straight through the heart of the struggling, game deprived WiiU.


  … I hate the Wonderful 101.

  At first I pegged the Wonderful 101 as a cute, if over-the-top, superhero game that mysteriously baffled reviewers.  The dialog around Wonder 101 is mixed; how can you say it isn’t good until you tried it?  Of all of the reasons to try it, I think that I was looking for something new and different, something to sit alongside Super Mario 3D World and Pikmin 3 and Wii Fit U, and heck, consider NintendoLand and Ducktales Remastered.  Without the Wonderful 101 my collection is a greatest hits parade of yesteryear. 

  Boy is this one off the mark.

  Bad gaming experiences often tell me a lot about myself.  Wonderful 101’s earliest levels seemed to begin easily enough, aside from some unfortunate do or die kill moments, known elsewhere as Quick-Time Events.  Wonderful 101 demands much more skill during these short video moments, and correspondingly slows the passage of time to a crawl, calls out the move that I’m expected to do, and starts a counter.  Tough but fair, I said then.  I usually hate Q.T.E.s but I’m not so far above them that I can’t sit through new efforts at the beleaguered game mechanic.

  Subtle evidence began to pile up of conflict with my gaming needs.  Muscles tensing dangerously, with nothing to do.  Heightened heart rate.  Broad confusion.  Moving the core Wonderful One (the avatar) moves the whole formation while it is being built, at first not disruptive at all, but suddenly growing far more relevant.  That’s not to say I wasn’t enjoying the witty banter, or the silly characters struggling to hold a tableau.  The game is legitimately charming.  Made in the era before everything had to look like movies, the Q.T.E.s would be cut for something closer to Golden Axe, hardly my favorite but certainly no slouch.  Consider Golden Axe where all of the allied character unite up to beat up an army of chicken/lizard riders; that description is not far off of everything I like about the Wonderful 101.

  I’m still not exactly sure what I’m rebelling against, but it is clear that rebelling is the correct world.  I’ve just defeated stage 4, the GEATHJERK officer 6th class Laambo and his mount, the Diekuu Ohrowchee.  The battle quickly abandoned the flow of stages and accomplishments that I’ve been getting used to for something completely different, indeed, strongly cinematic.  I hate cinema in my games, with such a passion! >:o

  The tension came to a head in this stage, to say nothing of outright despairing confusion.  Probably my own fault: Wonderful 101 is not a game that takes well to being played during the News broadcast!  But dammit … I am not pleased by any stretch!

  … And I told you that this would be emotional and not rational.  I like games that please the emotional core.  I hate movies, chief among them Hollywood, that tweek the emotional core and try to force a reaction.  I have never, in all my years, since Dragon’s Lair nor all through generation 6, never have I suffered cinema in my games gladly, finding something refreshing and pure in the simple joys of mastering an infinitely deep mechanic.  Yeah, one can already see where this leads to deep abiding love for Mario and Zelda, and Tetris, and Donkey Kong (arcade, mainly, though the Gameboy version was better), and Metroid, and Star Fox, and so many others.


  …Well, I wanted something different.  And I was warned about this one (when I cite this Metacritic link, I refer to the number of mixed, and outright bad reviews on offer; dissenting opinion is usually a sign of strong emotional reactions and polarization).

  …but polarization isn’t a bad thing is it?  Nintendo has always been walking that line, and some of their best efforts came out under the most stringent criticism (Metroid Prime, LoZ: The Windwaker, Donkey Kong Country, Yoshi’s Island, all great stuff).

  …sometimes we all need to step outside our comfort zones… I guess that means suffer a little {grumble, grumble}.

  I’m going to leave off from Wonderful 101 for a while, but not trade it in.  It will probably cost me something, like a shot at playing Splinter Cell: Blacklist or Rayman Legends for a while.  But I think I will hold onto it.  In time, think of its collector’s value.  There may never be another game like it, because this one sure didn’t sell

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Super Mario 3D World, 100%

  Well, it has taken me nigh two months, but I’ve made it, I’ve reached, and I don’t feel like doing it again (for a while).

  I’ve mainly been playing in front of the news, using the length of the news broadcast to determine the time invested.

  I mostly sleep-walked through the first 8 or so stages, mainly coming to life and responding to the challenges after the first time up the giant cat tower with Bowser.  Of course, as Mario veterans know, the first few worlds are just there to whet the appetite, and the special worlds definitely delivered challenges to remember.

  I had the bulk of the game wrestled in something like a month ago.  By this time, I have every stage (ugh!) played 5 times over, once with each playable character (oh boy), with every star, stamp, and top-of-the-flagpole (ha ha) including all specials worlds and Champion’s road.  I am officially out of Super Mario 3D World content, and I can’t be bothered to go back anytime soon.

  So, truth time, Player 1.  Is Mario spent?  Is he stagnating?  …Yes.  SM3DW recaps a lot of the Super Mario franchise succinctly and does a great job of communicating what is great about it.  It feels like another trip around the block, maybe through new worlds, displaying new skills and abilities, but it is very much like core Mario.

  Is Mario unfun?  Heck no!  This is certainly a great game, and not many today keep me going for two months at a go, not even Pikmin, Zelda ALBW, or Pokémon Y could.  Challenges were never unfair, though some were intensely demanding, as if … how to scale this…

  I felt like Rayman Origins had more unfair challenges.  I felt like Metroid Prime 2 was the most bland and repetitive.  SM3DW felt like a serious challenge, but it stayed away from both of those extremes, always skirting them though.  I remember that I couldn't quite power through Super Mario 3D Land; my interest faded before the end of the special worlds.  Well, I’ve cleared 3D World now, so it ended just in the nick of time.

  Finishing the game, my final score shows 650 lives spent on the effort.  Now that’s a nice feature; if and when I do attempt this game again, I can aim for a score lower than 650 lives lost.  Oh God, I threw so many Princesses away on the Champion’s Road course.  Do you know that sensation when you just start zoning out, and the button presses are on automatic, there is no emotional response because it is inefficient, you enter the zone and don’t care how many lives are lost, but you just keep going until the job gets done!  I must have zoned out maybe twice, and of course my casualty numbers go way up then!


  What else I have on the WiiU includes The Wonderful 101, which I have not seen for about a week or more, and of course there is yet more to see in Wii Fit U and NintendoLand.  I’ve finished Pikmin 3 a while ago, but I have popped back in once or twice.  And I have finished Ducktales Remastered, but of course, there is yet more to be unlocked in the art gallery.  With February winding to a close, I am getting worried again.  I wish that I could buy more games, but I have real money problems developing in the near future.  The last thing I bought on the 3DS was Attack of the Friday Night Monsters: Tokyo Tale.  There wasn't much meat on that one, though, and it is already long finished.

  Maybe this is a good time to take Nintendo up on their offer of a download through Club Nintendo for Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars

Monday, 17 February 2014

Ducktales Remastered WiiU, Revisiting an old Gem

  So I’m catching up on the WiiU library, which is harder than it looks because there is such a great library there already.  Ducktales Remastered is budget priced title that I’ve found wasting away on the shelf, in new condition of course, so I snapped it up recently and have only just finished a first playthrough.  My reasons for picking it up certainly include nostalgia, as I remember playing the NES original, and watching the Disney cartoon as a kid.  There is certainly a solid and visually impressive game here, but also some details to note in its artisanship. 

  For starters, the introductory song is cut.  An 8-bit remix is audible on the title screen, and the title screen has no story beats at all, merely a quite pretty scene of Duckburg with Launchpad flying foolishly overhead in a red copter.  I want to start here and comment on first impressions; this title screen is distinctly game-like.  While anyone could excuse Wayforward for porting a Quicktime of the original cartoon’s introduction, and that would have been far lazier a fix, Ducktales Remastered remembers its game origins and keeps the intro simple and subdued.  That said, the original 1989 game featured a still image of Scrooge McDuck on a plain blue background, with the usual title screen text.  This version is subtly improved, at the risk of advertising features that won’t appear anywhere in 2013’s Ducktales.

  Ducktales NES title screen.  

  The scene of Duckburg would conjure ideas of adventuring in Duckberg; disappointingly for some perhaps, this is not a Grand Theft Auto clone.  Launchpad’s wild ride might suggest players would take a spin of the whirly bird.  Again, the helicopter is featured only as it was in the NES original.  The most telling attribute is the chiptune, which sounds reminiscent of the NES sound board, even if it is cheating a bit.  In fact, that may be the key, as the title screen menu functions identically to the NES version, even if it looks fuller and more lively.  Player’s expectations for visuals have increased in 24 years, and Ducktales walks a tight line between staying true to the classic and Turnerizing it.

  In 1989, beginning the game would move immediately to a menu, its borders stylized to look like Scrooge McDuck planning a world trip. 

Image Credits to Corona Jumper

  But in 2013, Scrooge has to fight his way to this desk, through the halls of his money bin.  The Beagle Boys have a far improved role this time around, with Big Time serving as a preliminary boss to shake down the player and ensure that the basics are known.  This early level isn’t the only new change, but it is telling: the title screen strayed far from the cartoon, while the pre-level pushes content from the 1987 cartoon front and center, complete with original voice acting by the cast’s Alan Young and Frank Welker, among others.

  The extra run time is used to go effect, at least as according to 21st century games.  The plot is thickened, names are dropped of places that are said to contain treasure.  The productions are certainly top notch, and nostalgic charms abound as Huey, Dewey and Louie call on the “Junior Woodchuck Guidebook,” or exclaim “Quack-a-roonie!”  None of these references made it to the NES version; certainly the technical limits meant that they couldn’t!  But do these additions mean that Wayforward is straying from the mold?  Certainly there is a lot more work involved in just getting to the game than pointing to a destination and going...

  Like the NES original, the player is free to tackle every stage in whatever order they should want.  However, each stage comes loaded with its own special story dialog before each stage.  Remastered remains very faithful to the plot of the original, and only slightly easier.  It still demands control precision, and it punishes mistakes readily.  It is still very easy to miss with only three lives and limited health, and there are no new save points.  Although the cutscenes charm on the first pass, players will soon find themselves skipping every one, for no better reason than because they have seen them all before. The difficulty and the production value are much more in conflict, and I can't hide a bias that story beats are always easier to deliver in a non interactive format, like the cartoon, movie, or comic book line that inspires the game.

  In 1987, the game prioritized gameplay over story.  There was certainly some kind of plot there, but it hung together with only the barest of text and limited set piece moments.  Looking to the level design to tell a story was also a bit of a stretch, as most levels focused on difficult challenges with cameos by the Ducktales cast.  One could fluff a story, certainly, of Scrooge wandering a maze of mirrors in Transylvania, or riding a mine cart, or getting stuck in the snow, or else “Now Gizmo Duck can blast that wall!” before spending an eternity looking for the wall in question.  ’87 had only limited tools available for conveying meaning through its mechanics, and the primary meaning it could was always “fun!”

  Not so in 2013, when gameplay can be interrupted, in the Amazon nine times over, to convey a brief snipit of fully voice-overed flavour text or the lastest blunderings of Launchpad and Fenton Crackshell.  It changes the pacing slightly, pushing fun challenging gameplay aside for something still fun, but now trying to be just as true to the cartoon.  The voice acting is top notch, and the animation, while repetitious, adds greatly to the charm.  There is a lot to like in the new version, and it transparently reaches for many new tools to keep up its storytelling ability.

  Bosses return from the original, bigger and in some cases meaner than before.  Clearly, the designers were hoping to catch old veterans off guard, and I would wager that they have done so very well!  Larger, screen filling sprites, and new hazards fill the boss fights, amping the tension, and keeping interest.  After battle new story beats pull the player back into the Ducktales universe, suitably releasing the tension very cleanly.

  Finally, replay value in Remastered is tied to a short list of unlockables, all of which have to be purchased, and some can’t even be purchased until a certain number of previous artworks are purchased.  There’s a lot of rules here for a simple content dispenser, and no real game to speak of.  I could see myself revisit in time, and then spend the resulting riches on the music files, but I can’t see going back to the game just for that. 

  Ducktales Remastered is a fine original product; it combines the wit of the cartoon series with the fun gameplay of the 1987 original.  Something tells me though, that a good collection should have both, so if you happen to have an old cartridge lying about, keep it handy, maybe set it next to the new version, and give it a run every so often to see the classic artwork and music.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Valentine's Day Love'em and Hate'em Double Whammy

  Happy Valentine’s Day Everybody!  Who’s up for a double whammy of love'em and hate'em articles? 

Chibi Robo III

  Well, the event horizon is crossed.  I’m officially unwillingly to soldier on.  Chibi Robo: Photo Finder ties all of its progression to its camera mechanic, which is outright torture.  Strictly speaking, matching the outline to the object in the lens up to 70% is a pass, while the game teases and challenges players to reach for 100%. 

  The trouble is that it is February; I’m stuck indoors while it is quite cold out.  Bothering with the 3DS during the cold is counterintuitive, and the camera is pretty low quality anyway.  Far too many of the pictures become NostalJunk puzzle pieces, for reasons that elude me (probably camera failure, since Telly conjectures that lighting is the problem).  Replacing the spent frames is painful, and consequently the amount of grinding needed to advance is off-balance and very intimidating.

  But let’s not pretend that all of the problems can be laid at the feet of Old Man Winter.  I confess, I feel kind of fish-out-of-water over here.  Chibi-Robo’s claim to fame, making monumental adventures out of mundane domestic scenery, is strongly compromised by the world inside the game.  Having “unlocked” the next gallery, I’ve found the world expand in frustratingly small ways.  New toys introduce themselves to Chibi, complete with more chores to do, that are truly mundane and boring chores, and no new vistas to explore. 

  I mean to say that Chibi-Robo: Photo Finder is everything that I feared a game about being a domestic robot would be about, boring and cramped.  I say this with a voice filled with dread.  It feels like work, boring, thankless, unpaid work!  The balance in Chibi Robo: Park Patrol was dead on perfect.  Sure that game made you work, but it promised you a chance to rebuild the whole park however you wanted, offered vehicles to drive, enemies to fight off, and friends whose stories you could advance.  There was good stuff in Park Patrol, but I can’t find it in Photo Finder

  Add to this statement that Photo Finder ties what advancement there is to the camera, and well, I’m not sure I can interest myself in going on!

  Eh.  Too bad, they can’t all be brilliant games.  And I’m out $10, but it could easily be worse.  I still remember when I bought that awful Dokupon Kingdom for $40!  Ew!

  Since the following article is pretty summarily finished, and finished short, I thought that I would collect a few rambling thoughts from of late.

  As of the Nintendo Direct recently (Feb 13th), Steel Diver Sub Wars has been available as one of Nintendo’s first experiments with “free to play.”  No sooner did the game go live that comments sections across the Internet lit up with memes, such as “I wish I could purchase the Blue Marine…” or “I wish I could do a barrel roll…”  One may mistake this to mean that Steel Diver is a new Star Fox, and I couldn’t really fault them for the idea.

  Steel Diver inhabits something of its own universe, and welcome cameo appearances aside, seems to have its own cast.  Where the submarine simulator really feels like Star Fox is the, well, feel of it.  It is fully natural to put the Sub into full ahead, and proper voice acting tells you now in Full Ahead, reinforcing the idea that you are actually in a submarine movie rather than a space fighter.  There are no faces, except for a handful, such as the tutorial leader, who leads you through the paces of learning to navigate the sub.  It is tempting to forget that you have other speeds, including dead stop, which is critical to remaining hidden.  Piloting in Steel Diver is its own challenge, with its own needs and skill requirements. 

  Weapons in Steel Diver are much more limited fare.  The A button controls the full ahead torpedo, complete with zoom lens to aside targeting.  The X button fires homing torpedoes, but I haven’t yet figured its function… there is no lock on cursor, so… not like Star Fox I guess.

  Navigation is strongly linked to the stereoscopic 3D; I bet you could figure it out with the slider turned to the off position, but you would miss out on critical information.  Similarly, if players are wondering about their position relative to themselves, they can get a still 3D object view of the submarine by pressing Start.  This pauses the game and allows the player to spin the sub around on the display, revealing critical data like proximity to the water line and sea floor. 

  It is very much like Star Fox, in that collisions are common.  Sub crew voices from unseen sub crewmen report whenever the player blunders into collisions, reinforcing the submarine movie feel strongly, and there are no collisions where players could go through objects like in Star Fox.

  As I said above, the stereoscopy greatly enhances the experience.  Pressing Y will ping the radar, lighting up both on the radar and on the main screen targets, objectives, rings to navigate through, box pickups, and many other Starfox-like objects.  I only found the stereoscopy become a problem once, when I passed through a speed ring.  The periphery of the screen blurred greatly, adding a sense of speed, though naturally enough the center of the forward display was clear, and thus it drew the eye comfortably enough. 

  Steel Diver’s main act is submarine combat, which is slow and plodding.  Subs are expected to slowly advance toward each other, using tools like the periscope or “mask” to hide their approach.  Frequent use of radar is also a necessity, but can give away the player sub’s position in a critical second! 

  Sub combat has enormous nuance, and it is so much the focus that Steel Diver lists multiplayer online above single player!  Nintendo wants you to know that this is meant to be played with friends, and they’ve removed just about every objection one could have.  Chatting with friends has been stylized into its own setting-appropriate work out by the use of Morse code.  Players communicate with friends by means of only one button, and the software is very good at distinguishing dots and dashes.  Well, okay, two buttons if you need to put spaces between words.  Whoneedsdat?  At the time of this writing, the biggest mystery is cryptography, as I haven’t found any options to prevent codes from being intercepted; there is a real potential for such code transmissions to become part of the fun, as players device their own codes to try and communicate with local friends against online enemies.  My one fear then becomes – can modern gamers used to having everything done for us see the value in simple Morse code transmissions specially coded by friends?  Only time can tell that answer.

  The greatest thing missing is the capacity for memes.  Don’t get me wrong, “Dive!”, “Surface!”, and “Up Periscope!” are all memes I remember from times long, long ago myself.  But Nintendo has set its sights on creating a fun game, rather than a string of Internet chatter that recalls a fun game.  Steel Diver reflects this in its slow pacing very well; the game is methodical and pedantic until players reach a moment of elation in victory, or self cursing in the knowledge they’ve been made!

  Also at the time of this writing, Steel Diver: Sub Wars does not have a Miiverse community (nor any means by players to make their own, Nintendo! L)  I expect this to be changed shortly, because the game is great silly fun that can be more fun socially.  If any of you out there are wondering about Steel Diver: SW, give it a look see, as it’s free.  Purchasing the full version requires $10 on the eShop.  I don’t think this qualifies as a “free to play” game, but it certainly is much more respectful of gamers, and much more deserving of being loved in its own right.

  Some final house keeping.  NintendoLife reports that Steel Diver's team includes Giles Goddard, a Briton and one of the first western coders to break into Nintendo's halls.  This includes being involved in development of the Super FX chip, making his involvement with Star Fox pretty solidly fundamental.  As for whether or not Steel Diver is Star Fox, well, I'm out of money after that Chibi-Robo thing.  Sorry, I won't be able to continue digging!  It undeniably feels like Star Fox, and one should "Be careful! It's a trap!"  Yeah, General Ahkbar says it better...

I don't mind calling Steel Diver a "StarFox-like" game, in the same way we already talk about "Rogue-likes" and "Metroidvanias."  Nintendo has its own classification for Steel Driver, calling it a "contemplative FPS." This description is accurate, and is sure to lead to recess bullyings with the cool kids.  But there is something I like in the juxtiposition of such ideas.  Slow paced, reflexive, high tension, high risk-reward, and so on.  I can't hide how thoroughly I'm contemplating this...