Friday, January 17, 2014

How Badly Did Satoru Iwata's Nintendo Mess Up? Let Us Count the Ways

Amid the news of Nintendo's severely lowered sales forecasts, many fans and armchair analysts are arguing for the removal of the company's president, Satoru Iwata. That's fine and all, but a lot of people simply use the Wii U's poor sales as an explanation without delving into how the Wii U got to where it is now in the first place. That's what this article is all about. From third-party relations to brand confusion, this is a quick summary of where Satoru Iwata's Nintendo went wrong.

One major factor that happened pre-Wii U was how Satoru Iwata took away the autonomy of Nintendo of America when he took over. This meant the Japanese branch, the headquarters, made all the calls. This was right when the West started gaining a lot of traction as the most important part of the world sales-wise for the industry. Multiple Western third-party relationships with Nintendo quickly soured, many that had worked with Nintendo closely in the past had their bonds broken with the big N, and it still hurts Nintendo to this day. Third-party support in general is much more horrid than when Satoru Iwata originally stepped into the role as president of Nintendo, and it has only been getting progressively worse.

Under Iwata's leadership, Nintendo allowed the Wii to flounder for two years at the end of its life without much software support. This made it so the casual gamers that were attached to the Wii name went elsewhere for their entertainment, and it made it so any momentum Nintendo would have had going into the Wii U was dead.

One would think that not supporting the Wii much near the end meant that Nintendo was heavily working on HD games at the time. I mean, it makes perfect sense since HD development is a big change, yet lo and behold the Wii U launched and many games planned for the launch window were delayed. Nintendo had six years to prepare for HD development, and unless its proverbial head was in the sand, it could have heard how difficult the switch from SD development to HD development was from the myriad of other developers and publishers in the industry saying so. However, Nintendo was somehow still unprepared.

Even if the Wii U's launch window games did release on time, the majority of them don't even use the selling point of the system, the Wii U GamePad, to any worthwhile degree. If Nintendo can't even come up with interesting ideas for the GamePad, what is its use besides making the price of the entire Wii U package skyrocket? I personally love off-TV play as much as any Wii U owner who has experienced it, but I'd love to see more games like Nintendo Land, LEGO City Undercover, Game & Wario, and ZombiU (though this last one is from Ubisoft) use the GamePad in better, more creative ways.

Then there's the Wii U name itself. At E3 2011 and 2012 it was clear that there was a lot of confusion surrounding the name, even from the most dedicated of gamers. Was this a new tablet for the original Wii? Was it a new console? Was it an upgrade to the Wii? This is still a problem with consumers. Not only that, but Nintendo suffered this brand confusion problem before with the Nintendo 3DS. Many thought that handheld was simply another revision of the ultra-popular DS. Apparently Satoru Iwata and Nintendo did not learn from the past and made the absolute mistake again, naming the new console the Wii U instead of something less bewildering.

Moving onto the Nintendo 3DS, that system isn't selling to the pace of its predecessor, Nintendo DS, but it's important to note that the Nintendo DS released at a time where smartphones and tablets had not become popular yet. It allowed a big part of its user base, casual gamers, access to the system with titles like Brain Age, Nintendogs, Crosswords DS, among other titles. A big part of the system's appeal was its cheap price, so what does Satoru Iwata and Nintendo do? They release a successor that was $250, an incredibly expensive amount, and have a list of launch games that were less than exciting. Lower than expected sales meant Nintendo had to do something unprecedented-- cut the price by a good amount and give early 3DS owners free downloadable games as an apology.

Now, all of these factors add up to one colossal screw-up by Nintendo that many argue could have been avoided or at least fixed from the time the system was revealed to the time it was released. Many of these very much could have been, and it's all on Satoru Iwata and his board for these mistakes. Should Mr. Iwata step down? I can't answer that. All I know is I really like the fellow. He's one of the few CEO's in the gaming industry who doesn't nickel and dime gamers, make people buy season passes, lock DLC on the disc, or try to implement DRM into Nintendo's consoles. Satoru Iwata is a man who understands games, coming before as a developer at HAL Laboratory. While some may say that Iwata has earned the right to fail thanks to his great success with the Wii (and no, it was not a fluke) and the DS, others want his head on a stick (metaphorically speaking, of course). Regardless of what happens, 2014 is going to be a really interesting year for Nintendo and the industry in general.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

LEGO Marvel Super Heroes (PS4, X1, Wii U, PS3, 360) Review

This is an interesting review for SuperPhillip Central. It's the first that is for a game that is also available on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Regardless, we will be looking at the PlayStation 3 version, as that is the one that was played. Here's our review of LEGO Marvel Super Heroes.

A Love/Hate Relationship to Marvel At

LEGO City Undercover was one of my biggest surprises from 2013. It exuded with charm, polish, and had a dense open world to explore. Coming off that game, which I deemed the greatest LEGO game yet, I was eager to see how TT Games' next licensed LEGO game would turn out. The end result is LEGO Marvel Super Heroes, and I don't think I have had as many ups and downs with a game in a looooong time.

The simple but original plot of LEGO Marvel Super Heroes has such names as Iron Man, Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk, Wolverine, Thor, and more teaming up to tackle and take down a scheme from Loki and a gathering of other Marvel supervillains who plan on creating a weapon that can destroy the planet. The interactions between characters within the game are rather funny, even if the jokes occasionally fall flat.

LEGO Marvel Super Heroes consists of 15 story missions as well as 11 bonus levels that unlock after the game has been beaten. LEGO game veterans should be up to snuff with what these levels contain, but for those who have yet to try one of the myriad past LEGO games available, this is how it goes down. You pretty much need to smash every breakable object in sight that isn't cemented to the ground. In certain LEGO objects are broken up LEGO parts that need to be reassembled to create something valuable in proceeding through the level. For instance, in the first level you need to break Sandman's makeshift gate by having Iron Man destroy silver scaffolding, reassemble the broken pieces into an anvil, and then have Hulk pick it up and toss it at the gate, allowing progress.

"Hulk not big thinker...
How solve puzzle?"
While it is very much true that there are over 100 playable characters to select from in LEGO Marvel Super Heroes, the majority of merely reskins of other characters. There are multiple types of characters with their own abilities. Such an example includes the Human Torch. Not only can he fly, but he can also shoot out a steady beam of fire to destroy gold LEGO bricks. Meanwhile, Storm can use her lightning powers to charge up switches to turn on certain machines or open specific doors. Then there's the Incredible Hulk archetype who is the only type of character that can pull green handles. That's just some of the many varieties of character archetypes in LEGO Marvel Super Heroes. Many powers and abilities crossover between characters, so there is some variation here and there.

When all else fails, use force!
It's important to use the right power at the right time to progress through the story levels. There's generally just one way to solve a puzzle, and through breaking everything in sight you eventually come across what needs to be done. "Oh, hey. I just broke a dumpster that allows me to use the broken LEGO pieces inside to build a vent that only Mr. Fantastic of the Fantastic Four can enter into. Awesome." While the puzzles themselves are genuinely pretty clever, the LEGO formula is really, really getting old.

Still, you cannot discredit LEGO Marvel Super Heroes for the amount of content it has. As soon as the credits roll and you are put back onto the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier, the game opens up exponentially, especially compared to the start of the game where you couldn't even explore much of the city. You can freely explore Manhattan as any character you want, making it easy to come across hidden gold bricks, citizens that have missions for you, and character/vehicle tokens. All around the island of Manhattan are goodies to be found and puzzles to solve. Of course, getting around could be much easier, but flying (which is the fastest way of getting around, after all) has controls that were obviously devised in the third circle of Hell.

Fly like an eagle... who is seriously drunk.
The genius who said the controls for flight were passable needs to have their head examined. Somehow, someway, flying is even worse than LEGO Batman 2. This wouldn't be so much of a problem if there were not flying races where you have to carefully speed through aerial rings. These races glaringly show the flaws of the control implementation. You raise up with one button, and lower with another. The problem here is that the lower button and the land button are the absolute same thing. It becomes clear this is inexcusable in narrow areas where you have to stay close to the ground, only to accidentally land, screwing up any momentum you possibly had going.

It's fun to explore the many areas of Manhattan.
Then there's free play that unlocks after a given story level is completed. These allow you to take the characters you've already purchased or otherwise unlocked into the level with you, granting you access to previously unavailable areas and to solve previously impossible puzzles. When you originally play a story level, you are very limited in what characters you have to choose from. You just have the ones the game has granted you as it pertains to the LEGO Marvel's overarching story. This means you're lucky to be able to find 1-3 minikits in a given level, of which there are ten in each. Through having any character you have unlocked available to you, you can get all of the minikits in each level.

Say "cheese" everyone!
However, like most things in LEGO Marvel Super Heroes, there's something else that soils this slightly. In past LEGO games when you were in free play mode, you could switch characters with the shoulder buttons. In LEGO City Undercover for the Wii U, this was possible, as well as holding a button brought up a character selection wheel to easily switch between your most used/selected characters. This isn't the case in LEGO Marvel Super Heroes, of course, as in this one you have to hold a specific button for a second, have a menu slide up from the bottom of the screen, select your desired character, and wait for the two or three seconds it takes to load them. This would be fine if you didn't have to change characters so much. You're constantly needing to switch back and forth between numerous types of characters to solve puzzles. That's switching between Iceman to remove the fire in the way, Magneto to interact with the magnetic object, Jean Grey to use her telekinesis to assemble another object, and then Thor to use his lightning to activate a switch. It's tedious to switch so much.

Even gods must keep their beards well groomed.
In total, LEGO Marvel Super Heroes will take upwards of 35-40 hours to see and do everything. There are 250 gold bricks to collect. These are found scattered around New York City, earned through completing levels, collecting enough studs, the currency of LEGO, in a level, finding all minikits in a level, and rescuing Stan Lee in a given level. There's also 100+ characters to unlock and multiple vehicles to unlock through coming across their tokens around the city. This, like getting gold bricks in NYC, requires you to solve an environmental puzzle or help out a citizen with a task in the city. Unfortunately, said tasks pretty much amount to fetch quests and battles with a group of goons. The problem here is that the combat system of LEGO games is so simple and that death has no consequence makes these fights nothing more than a nuisance. I started groaning each time I was met with another bunch of henchmen to throw punches (or beams) at.

Another nuisance is how LEGO Marvel Super Heroes, at least on the PlayStation 3, performs in general. Many times I would arrive at a section of New York City where I knew a citizen was waiting for me only to discover there was nobody around. Instead, I had to wait about five seconds for the citizen to load into the city. Then there's all of the glitches within the game-- characters not showing up, respawns over pits, making a character continuously die in an endless cycle, falling through floors, etc. Let's not forget the long loading times and the many hard freezes I had to endure. Curiously, there's even some cutscenes that aren't able to be skipped while some are. There's no rhyme or reason for this. However, there's an option to skip this one screen... that just happens to be a loading screen. Why would you need a loading screen if I can just skip the darn thing?!

"We want to be in a less glitchy game!"
Overall, LEGO Marvel Super Heroes is an odd beast. Compared to LEGO City Undercover, Marvel Super Heroes is an unpolished mess. However, I really enjoyed a lot of the elements of the game-- playing through the story levels, exploring Manhattan, collecting all there was to collect, and so forth. Nonetheless, for every two parts of the game I enjoyed there seemed to be one baffling design decision or one irritating bug or glitch that turned my smile into a grimace. It's this love/hate relationship with the game that keeps me from wholeheartedly recommending it to everyone. If you plan on going for 100% completion, be ready to be annoyed often. If you're just going to casually go through the story and complete missions, then you'll probably have greater success with this game than I. Nuff said.

[SPC Says: 6.5/10]

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

BLTN Reviews: BioShock Infinite (PS3, 360, PC) Review

BioShock Infinite was our runner-up for Best Multiplatform Game at our SuperPhillip Central Best of 2013 Awards ceremony, so you sort of have a hint on how we feel about this game. If not, read this review and be amazed!

The BioShock Series Takes to the Skies

Meet Booker DeWitt. He's taken to a lighthouse on a secluded island courtesy of a mysterious married couple. His objective is stated short and succinctly: "Bring us the girl and wipe away the debt." However ambiguous this mission is to the player, Booker takes it on, entering the lighthouse, reaching its top, and enters into a chair. The chair propels Booker miles into the sky, upon then the sight of Columbia, a breathtaking city above the clouds is revealed. The goal now is simple-- find a girl named Elizabeth and escape with her from her confines in Columbia.

The story is quite nebulous, with the player seldom really knowing what's going on. However, once the pieces of puzzle fit into place, there's this ah-ha moment where everything suddenly makes sense. It's this realization that makes BioShock Infinite's story so fantastic. There's a continued mystery throughout the game, and when all is resolved during Infinite's twist ending and final conclusion, a great sense of satisfaction will most likely be given to the player. Each act of the game is well done, and there really is no weak link to be found, unlike how the original BioShock sort of fell apart halfway through. It's a story that shows that video game plots and narratives can be as engaging as other media when done right.

Columbia is a gorgeous sight to behold.
As for the gameplay itself, BioShock Infinite plays like what you'd expect a first-person shooter to be like, but the level of polish that the gameplay has and the tightness of the controls make for a really rewarding experience. Rapture in both BioShock and BioShock 2 was rather claustrophobic, obviously because it was underwater and all, but it limited the amount of combat options you had to utilize. In contrast, Infinite's Columbia is far more open, allowing considerably more varied combat scenarios.

This is really how George Washington
looked when he was president.
Seriously. Look it up.
Such a fun scenario comes with Columbia's cargo transit system, the sky rail. There an abundant number of these around Columbia, and with Booker's Sky Hook wrist attachment, you can ride these. Six Flags and Disney World have nothing on these rides. You can speed up, slow down, and switch directions effortlessly. Where this involves combat is that you can use one hand to ride the sky rail while the other picks off foes on the ground. You can even do sky rail executions by targeting an enemy on the ground and pressing a single button to launch into them in glorious, violent fashion.

Coming through!
Booker can carry up to two weapons at a time. There's everything from standard handguns, machine guns, shotguns, rocket launchers, sniper rifles, among many others to tackle whatever challenge is thrown your way. Weapon ammo and weapon upgrades can be purchased with money found all around Columbia at specific vending machines to increase the power of his arsenal.

Booker gets a hold of some serious hardware.
In addition to standard guns, Booker obtains special powers and abilities through coming across Vigors, Infusions, and Gears. Vigors, of which there are eight within the game, give Booker the power to unleash what one could call magic onto foes. These are highly creative, such as being able to possess an enemy, whether it be human or mechanical, the power to shock a foe into submission, and another that calls upon a flock of crows to rip an enemy to shreds. However, you can't just use these Vigor powers all willy-nilly. Each time a Vigor is used, a portion of Booker's Vigor gauge goes down. It can be replenished through coming across Salts, found in food and drinks all over Columbia. From inside bars to inside barrels, food and treasure are plentiful around the city in the sky, and it's fun to scavenge around areas to see what sorts of goodies you can find.

Booker's having a blast in Columbia.
Infusions serve as upgrades for either Booker's health, shield, or Vigors. When one of these is found, usually hidden in an out of the way location, you can decide to upgrade one of the aforementioned three attributes. Health is self-explanatory, while the shield, which is earned early in the game, protects Booker from a small amount of damage before disappearing, leaving him vulnerable to attacks. It will rejuvenate, but it takes a little time. Using an Infusion to upgrade the shield means that it will be able to take more punishment before disappearing. Finally, boosting your Vigors means you can use them more times before needing to refill your supply via Salts.

Meanwhile, Gears can be equipped to Booker and come in four types: Hats, Shirts, Pants, and Boots. Only one of each type can be equipped at the same time. These Gears grant Booker with abilities such as creating a surrounding circle of flames upon landing from a sky hook or increased attack strength when low on health.

Within close to a third of BioShock Infinite, Elizabeth joins your side. While she doesn't get involved with combat, she does prove to be an invaluable asset to Booker. She has the mysterious power of opening tears, gateways that can bring forth useful objects for Booker to use, such as a box of health-restoring medical kits, cover, and defense turrets, for example. She scavenges around areas to throw Booker health, salt for Vigors, ammunition, and money. Lastly, move over Jill Valentine, as Elizabeth is now the new master of unlocking. As long as there are enough lockpicks in your arsenal, Elizabeth can tackle any lock. Inside usually hides some great rewards, like lots of money, Infusions, Gears, or Voxophones, audio recordings that give back story to BioShock Infinite. Thankfully, when all is said and done, Elizabeth never gets in the way of the player, and unlike BioShock, you need not protect Elizabeth, as she can take of herself, so this is definitely no escort mission-type nonsense. It all adds up to Elizabeth being a great addition to Booker's mission.

Elizabeth's reaction to meme humor.
BioShock Infinite will last most players anywhere between 10-15 hours for a first run. However, there's plenty of collectibles to uncover and secrets to be found. When the game is cleared, BioShock Infinite challenges players with its 1999 Mode, where enemies are more ruthless and take more damage, ammo is scarcer, aim assist is gone, and managing your resources is as important as ever. Perhaps because of how few cutscenes that take the player out of the gameplay are and that most of the story is told while Booker is under the player's control, subsequent play-throughs can be a bit tedious. You have to sit through story elements all over again, and while yes, the story is worth sitting through again, it can be annoying for those that just want to get to the gameplay.

Time to bring out the big gun, big boy!
The presentation of BioShock Infinite is top-notch guaranteed. The visuals are bright and you can almost feel the sun as it shines on the city streets of Columbia. Characters are modeled well and show damage wonderfully. Columbia itself is so incredibly well done and superbly realized that it feels like another character in the game. The level of detail is immense, and all of this runs at a silky smooth frame-rate. The voice acting is phenomenal in BioShock Infinite, and the music is marvelous, too. Hearing barbershop quartet versions of songs like "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" and "God Only Knows" brought a large smile to my face. Irrational Games spared little expense to make a truly remarkable setting and presentation for BioShock Infinite.

Take a picture. It'll last longer!
What this all adds down to is a game that must be played-- it must be experienced. While some might just portray BioShock Infinite as "just another first-person shooter", there's more to this book than what the cover reveals. Inside there is a game with a stunning story, well developed characters, engaging gameplay, tight and responsive controls, and an amount of polish that puts other games to shame. BioShock Infinite pushes the envelope of what a game can be with its terrific tale and astounding artistry. It's not quite infinitely rewarding, but it sure does come close.

[SPC Says: 9.5/10]

Monday, January 13, 2014

SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs - Two Dragons and A Ninja Walk Into A Bar... Edition

Boy, have we got an interesting mix of games and music here to share with you this week, gang! That's right. It's time for SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs, a collection of our most loved gaming themes and songs. This week we have music from Dragon's Dogma and Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon-- two games that have yet to see an appearance on our list until now-- Lost Odyssey, Blue Dragon, and No More Heroes. Enough talk! Let's do this!

v541. Dragon's Dogma (PS3, 360) - Imminent Triumph

If you know our Favorite VGMs well enough, then you know we cannot pass up a track that has a full choir and chilling orchestra backing it! That's exactly what we get with Dragon's Dogma's Imminent Triumph, a theme that plays as a boss is nearing defeat. It gets the adrenaline pumping. Just don't choke when you're this close to victory!

v542. Blue Dragon (360) - Main Theme

We were going to insert Eternity into our list of Favorite VGMs, but we didn't want to tarnish our list with something that is so polarizing. For most who like the vocal theme, it's really in so-bad-it's-good territory. Regardless, the Main Theme of Blue Dragon starts off with some nice brass, giving off a very friendly attitude to the listener. And then the boss theme comes in and you go "WTF"?

v543. Lost Odyssey (360) - The Gun Barrel of Battle

Another Mistwalker Xbox 360 exclusive and another Nobuo Uematsu score, Lost Odyssey is the more adult-oriented RPG for Microsoft's second gaming system. The Gun Barrel of Battle is, believe or not, the battle theme of Lost Odyssey. If you can track down a cheap copy (good luck), it's definitely our recommendation to try Lost Odyssey out.

v544. Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon (N64) - Flowery Oedo, the Lost Village

A charming action-adventure game with 3D platforming and even first-person robot battles, Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon was a game from back when Konami had more interesting series than Metal Gear and Castlevania to their name. Excuse us. We were going to talk about the game and the music, but we're now depressed at yet another sad Japanese publisher outcome.

v545. No More Heroes (Wii) - The Virgin Child Makes Her Wish Without Feeling Anything

The theme that Dr. Peace sings before his battle on the baseball field with Travis Touchdown, The Virgin Child, et al. is a marvelously sung song that reaches utterly beautiful levels of poignancy at the end. Goichi Suda, the director of the game, wrote the lyrics of this song himself, perhaps providing a back story to the boss assassin.