Thursday, April 10, 2014

Nintendo Going Third-Party Would Be A Great Idea... Said No One That Cares About the Company.

Nintendo going third-party... For some, the thought of that is an insane concept. Then again, so was Sega leaving the hardware space. At the same time, we've seen what Sega has become in recent days, too. Regardless, this seems like a topic that is broached about on message boards, comment sections, and other places ad nauseum. When will gamers get to the point where talking about Nintendo going third-party becomes boring? Each discussion (well, let's face it, they're more like uncivilized arguments than anything) goes over the same talking points on both sides. It's like listening to modern day Democrats and Republicans here in the States. I'm just happy no one's trying to push the agenda that Nintendo was born in Kenya. (That concludes the political portion of this opinion piece.)

The fact of the matter is that Nintendo going third-party would not benefit the company, nor would it benefit gamers. Really, the only folks who honestly believe this are folks who own Sony and Microsoft systems, would never purchase a Nintendo console because... reasons, and perform all kinds of mental gymnastics in order to attempt to justify their fantasies. Such an elaborate fantasy includes the idea that even though Sony and Microsoft have not bothered at all to cultivate an audience that would play Nintendo-styled titles (in fact, one could really argue both first-party console creators have done exactly the opposite), somehow Nintendo games would sell amazingly to a user base that is known to far more enjoy shooters, cinematic games, simulation racers, and sports games. I think not.

It's my strong belief that the direction Nintendo's games generally go do not go in the same direction that Microsoft and Sony's franchises go. We've seen attempts at Sony and Microsoft trying to emulate Nintendo's style with titles like Tearaway, Puppeteer, LittleBigPlanet, ModNation Racers, Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts, Viva Pinata, and so forth. However, either these titles have been shown not to sell well at all, or they are released with about as much half-hearted seriousness as Stephen Colbert's persona on The Colbert Report. Games like those listed just don't appeal to the majority of Sony and Microsoft's separate user bases. While they're both split up on two different platforms, the direction both are going is relatively the same.

Apparently games like Puppeteer
just don't appeal to the PlayStation market.
The short term of Nintendo going third-party would result in massive layoffs. After all, Nitnendo would no longer have any need to produce hardware, thus resulting in a lot of jobs being cut. It should also be mentioned that a substantial part of Nintendo's income comes from their hardware, and the royalty fees from third-parties it receives. As a third-party, Nintendo would be forced to pay licensing and royalty fees to Sony and/or Microsoft, cutting the company's profit significantly.

Speaking of cutting hardware, Nintendo would then have a whole slew of designers and developers who aren't up to date and knowledgeable on the hardware that Sony and Microsoft are making. Now, do you teach all of these designers and developers how to make games for much less familiar hardware, or do I simply hire a bunch of new talent? The former requires time, while the latter requires money. Don't forget, now, that Nintendo is still on the clock here. If it's not making games, it's not making money. It's just losing it. Nintendo also posts its financial results quarterly, so unless these veteran Nintendo employees can learn how to work on alien hardware quickly to create games in a fast pace, Nintendo isn't going to make any money. In fact, it will lose money. I'm sure regardless of the situation, Nintendo's stockholders will be none too pleased with the outcome.

Nintendo only makes Mario and Zelda...
if you ignore everything else it publishes.
What is also alarming to me regarding Nintendo turning third-party is the idea that current day Nintendo only churns out Mario and Zelda. This is a common and incorrect argument from those who don't pay attention to the company, but it's one that should be touched upon. If one thinks Nintendo only makes Mario and Zelda now, its most popular franchises, what makes them think that somehow becoming third-party will grant them the ability to take more risks? I mean, let's ignore the Wii and all of the series like Battalion Wars, Excite Truck/Bots, Sin & Punishment, Metroid, Animal Crossing, WarioWare, Wario Land, Kirby, Punch-Out!!, FlingSmash, Endless Ocean, Donkey Kong, Fire Emblem, etc. that graced the system. Obviously Nintendo only does Mario and Zelda. But if you think Nintendo doesn't do enough risk-taking with its IPs, the situation would be much worse if it becomes a third-party.

We're in an industry where no one is really financially safe. We're in an industry where a series of games that fail to light up the charts goes on to kill a developer/publisher. We're also at a point where death can come much more swiftly, just one bomb of a game, for instance, can close up a developer or publisher. We most likely would not see more creative Nintendo games like Pikmin, Rhythm Heaven, Kid Icarus, and more if Nintendo went third-party. It's much too dangerous! These aforementioned franchises simply don't sell as well as certain other series. In fact, they are all lesser selling series. Thus, Nintendo would stick with its tried and true franchises, yep, Mario and Zelda, in order to just survive.

I think if Nintendo went third-party, we wouldn't
see as many risky titles from the company.
(Screenshot of Rhythm Heaven Fever - Wii)
The thing that gets my proverbial goat particularly about the cries and wishes of Nintendo to go third-party is that every time Nintendo posts a loss or has any sign of trouble, no matter how major or minor, we have zealots and industry insiders (who really don't have any better clue about the industry than a lot of gamers) calling for Nintendo to exit the hardware business and make games for other platforms. Why is it that when Microsoft and Sony post their problems (and somehow a one billion dollar loss across an entire company seems more significant than Nintendo's current woes) we don't get the same "Sony/Microsoft should go third-party" articles? Their financial woes comes across as much worse than Nintendo, a company that has plenty still in the bank for multiple failures of hardware. Let's fact it-- the PS4 is selling wonderfully, yet Sony as a company is still in trouble. Where are the articles entertaining the notion of Uncharted and God of War hitting the Xbox One?

It's this double standard that is truly the most intriguing part of this whole Nintendo/third-party debate. The people who suggest Nintendo should exit the hardware arena are also the same people who don't understand or simply don't care what Nintendo's removal from console manufacture would do to the industry and how it would change significantly. As long as they get their games and Nintendo finally makes content for their favorite consoles, who cares what happens to the company, right? Who cares how many people lose their jobs, or how much Nintendo as a company would change? We'll get our Nintendo games on Xbox, a brand where the majority of the types of games Nintendo creates wouldn't sell to most users! Sweet!

In actuality, this fantasy that folks who never cared enough about Nintendo's games that they would ignore them for multiple years without buying a Nintendo system for the games they supposedly care so much about, simply waiting for the company to finally go third-party is asinine to me. It comes across more as a fanboy wet dream than something based in fact or something that would actually be a benefit to Nintendo and gamers instead of being what it really would be, a detriment.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Top Five Announcements from Today's Super Smash Bros. Direct

This evening, Super Smash Bros. director, Kirby creator, and Kid Icarus: Uprising director Masahiro Sakurai hosted a global Nintendo Direct regarding both upcoming additions to the Super Smash Bros. line, one for the Nintendo 3DS, releasing this Summer, and one for the Wii U, releasing this Winter. This 39 minute Direct was packed with information, truly showing up past efforts. We watched the Direct live, like many of you, and we've checked out the footage again to assess the coolest announcements made from the Direct. After we've listed our faves, let us know what moments and announcements that came from today's showing excite you most!

5) Release periods revealed

To kick things off, Sakurai mentioned something that was confirmed to be touched upon before the Direct even started, the release periods. Thankfully, both games are not releasing on the same day, or even the same season. No, the 3DS version will be releasing first, this Summer, with the Wii U game releasing in Winter 2014.

Almost immediately when this information was revealed, the typical Nintendo Chicken Littles ran around as if their heads had been chopped off, decrying how the Wii U was even more doomed than it already was. Comments such as Nintendo basically admitting and finding solace with the Wii U being a failure, how the 3DS version makes the Wii U version undesirable and pointless, and how Nintendo just shot themselves in the foot run rampant.

However, if one takes a logical approach, which is very difficult to do in this knee-jerk reaction obsessed industry of ours, they can find that this makes sense. For one, the 3DS version most likely has taken the least amount of time to develop. Now, this is just an assumption, but go with us here (even if we're mistaken, we have other reasons why it makes sense anyway). Why delay a game that is finished just to release after a Wii U version that isn't quite ready yet? Shouldn't we be pleased that we're getting one of the versions this summer?

Also, both games are considered Super Smash Bros. 4 and 5, their own entries. While they share the same roster of all-stars, the content in the games are completely different. We're talking about different trophies to collect, different music in the game, different graphical styles, and probably the most important, different stages! Even the one stage the two games share, Battlefield, has a different background for both the Wii U and 3DS games. Outside of characters, stages are the most interesting part of Smash, so us getting totally unique stages for each game is absolutely awesome to us.

We also believe the development team will be looking closely at how the 3DS installment is received by players, thus resulting in some gameplay changes and refinements for the Wii U version. It's win-win to us, yet so many gamers and so-called Nintendo fans can't help but always see the bad side in any Nintendo-related situation.

4) Nintendo 3DS-exclusive mode Smash Run

It was made clear last year that both Smash Bros. titles would not be receiving anything similar to Super Smash Bros. Brawl's Subspace Emissary story mode, which admittedly was pretty "meh" of a mode. It was confirmed in this evening's Direct that the Nintendo 3DS version would be receiving an exclusive mode, entitled Smash Run.

Smash Run is a battle game of sorts, playable with up to four players. It has some similarities to and was inspired by Kirby Air Ride's City Trial mode. Smash Run has you racing against the five minute clock to venture through various segments of a dungeon. You battle enemies like Goombas, Tiki Buzzes, Kihunters, Stalfos, Reapers, Bulborbs, and more, as you explore, trying to find all-important power-ups. Once the five minutes have come to an end, you move on to a battle between all players, being buffed with the power-ups you collected in the dungeon segment of the mode. These power-ups grant you better offensive, defensive, throwing, and jumping benefits in battle.

Now, some Gloomy Guses might find this as yet another disadvantage for the Wii U version. (We swear, some Nintendo fans are so negative when it comes to the company that they'd make a Goth look like an uplifting type of person in comparison.) However, we're of the mind that the Wii U is most likely going to get its own exclusive mode, too, so we don't see a problem here, either.

3) Better online focus

Both the Wii U and Nintendo 3DS Smash Bros. releases will come with online multiplayer. If you've encountered the disappointment that was Super Smash Bros. Brawl's online netcode, you are probably justified in having some trepidation towards getting hyped for playing these new Smash titles online. That said, the bare bones lineup of features that Brawl possessed greatly pale in comparison to what Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and Super Smash Bros. for 3DS contain online feature-wise.

There's two modes players can enter matches into against randoms, For Fun and For Glory. More on those later. What it amounts to, though, is an experience that gives each type of player exactly what they want, and now that Nintendo Network IDs are linked to profiles, you can most likely meet better competition more easily.

Finally, a welcome feature is both games having a code of conduct. These are to make the online experience much more pleasurable than what Brawl had. In these new Smash Bros. games, you can send reports to game administrators regarding players who repeatedly self-destruct in a match, quit from games because they're losing, cheat, or enter the match and don't play. Repeated reports, that have some form of credit to them, as baseless reports are also a no-no, will result in that reported player being banned from online play for a set amount of time. The greater the grievance, the greater the off online penalty.

2) New and returning characters

Sakurai certainly knows how to push some people's buttons, doesn't he. Making watchers of the Direct believe, if just for a few seconds, that Zero Suit Samus would not be returning to these two new versions of Smash due to characters no longer being able to change form, Sakurai pulled a "troll", as the forum-savvy folks say, on all of us. Turns out Zero Suit Samus is in the games, just as a separate character this time. The same goes for Sheik, who was once an alternate character of Zelda created with a downward special attack. Not only do these two have updated move sets, but they look absolutely incredible in both versions and welcome additions to the ever-expanding roster.

More characters were revealed as well, though not as many as our greedy selves wanted. Two returning favorites were unveiled for their Smash for Wii U and 3DS debuts, Yoshi and Pokemon's Charizard. Like Bowser, Yoshi stands more upright this time rather than his Jurassic Park raptor-like stance in past games. Charizard breaks free from the shackles of just being one of three creatures summoned by Brawl's Pokemon Trainer. He's also become more agile, and even has a Final Smash that brings his Mega Evolution from Pokemon X and Y into the Smash Bros. battlefield.

Lastly, in something that disappointed us by not being Mewtwo, Greninja was revealed as a newcomer. This fully evolved form of starter Pokemon Froakie is a water-based ninja who is very nimble and light on its feet, can toss throwing stars at foes from far away, and uses its lengthy tongue as a scarf. (...We can hardly use our tongues to eat with!) Anyway, while we weren't really familiar with Greninja, we think this Pokemon is an interesting addition to the Super Smash Bros. series all the same.

1) Made for relaxed and competitive play

Final Destination, no items, Fox only. If you're heard of Super Smash Bros. before and have visited a message board related to those games in some manner, you're probably familiar with that running joke. It's a gag that uses highly competitive players of Smash Bros. as the butt of the joke.

The Super Smash Bros. series is sort of notoriously known for not being very hospitable to tournament players, due to unbalanced characters as well as dynamic stages (i.e. stages with gimmicks in them like moving platforms and otherwise unpredictable features). This is a main reason why Super Smash Bros. Brawl is not fit for competitive play while Super Smash Bros. Melee is, albeit with a limited amount of characters and stages that can be used.

Sakurai and the rest of the development team considered this when creating For Fun and For Glory modes online. The first allows players into traditional-style Smash Bros. bouts with items, dynamic stages, and typical rules. Meanwhile, For Glory is merely the Final Destination stage with no items and strictly one-on-one confrontations. When this was announced by Sakurai, we legitimately started cracking up at the irony of it all.

Not only that but our favorite announcement of all was that most stages had Final Destination versions to them. This means stages that ordinarily have unpredictable elements would be devised in such a way that they are totally vanilla in flavor. What we mean is that the stages will be perfect for tournament play. This allows both sides of the Smash Bros. spectrum, those who like the silliness and party-like gameplay of traditional Smash, and those who enjoy high level, no-nonsense competitive play, and those in between the two, to fully get the most out of these new iterations of Super Smash Bros. While we don't care for the competitive scene, we love that this is now a distinct option for those countless players who do.

Bad Levels in Gaming History - Volume Four

Level design has always been a feature of games that we've marveled at. There's a big difference between a level that is frustrating due to challenge and a level that is frustrating due to design. Now, we aren't going to pretend that we are masters of creating excellent levels. No, we're very much not. However, we believe we've had enough experience playing games that we can weed out the good levels from those that are bad. This series of articles talks about the latter, where we focus on those levels that are either poorly designed, frustrating for all of the wrong reasons, or just boring in general. (We have a series of articles dedicated to great levels anyway.) After we've exhausted our picks for this newest edition of Bad Levels in Gaming History, help us come up with some more levels for future installments and your reasoning as to why your chosen levels are so bad.

Miss out on Volume One, Volume Two, and Volume Three? Click those links, then!

One Shot, One Kill - Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (Multi)

We don't feature the Call of Duty franchise a lot on SuperPhillip Central. It's not really our type of series, and we wouldn't want to review something we don't have an interest in. It wouldn't really be fair of us to bother. Anyway, we did enjoy Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, and that was the title that truly cemented Call of Duty is a blockbuster multi-million selling franchise.

Modern Warfare features plenty of awesome scenarios, but it also comes with some immensely obnoxious moments, some of which simply aren't that fun to play due to the sensational amount of aggravation involved.

The level One Shot, One Kill has an example of this at its conclusion. It has you and an injured superior pinned down near a Ferris wheel, anxiously awaiting the arrival of a helicopter to take you boys home. The aggravation here comes from the multitude of enemy soldiers, each equipped with fully automatic rifles that can tear you a new one in a matter moments, that you have to contend with. Did we neglect to mention that you and your superior must survive for a bit over five minutes? You have a limited amount of Claymore mines to work with, used for protecting your AI superior. If he somehow bites the dust (and it's very likely that he will), you fail the mission. Not only is that scenario easy to have happen, having yourself perish mid-confrontation is also quite easy to see occur.

One might think that hiding behind the Ferris wheel itself for cover is a good strategy. Why, it may seem that way, but then you get the privilege of being assaulted by attack dogs, each ready to rip into your red, white, and blue flesh with an instant kill move that can only be avoided with extremely narrow timing. If you wish to persevere elsewhere in this skirmish, you'll be greeted with a barrage of grenades. This is a scenario where even the Terminator would have issues with, much less a regular U.S. army soldiers, regardless of what the commercials on TV tell you. One Shot, One Kill ends with an insanely hard and not very fair encounter with a seemingly endless amount of enemies to take down and survive against. That's why it kicks off our list of Bad Levels in Gaming History for this fourth volume.

Air's Rock - Golden Sun: The Lost Age (GBA)

If you're a fan of lengthy levels and areas that take hours of time to complete, then you will likely find Golden Sun: The Lost Age's Air's Rock to be a pleasure cruise. For the rest of us, we probably would have enough when we discovered that the dungeon takes as long as the original Golden Sun's final dungeon. This wouldn't be so bad if this was a late place in the game to visit, but it's actually near the start of The Lost Age! Your party is at a relatively low level, your hit points and Psynergy points are in the low amount spectrum, your equipment is mediocre at best, and the enemies aren't pushovers, unlike those that you've encountered already. Sound fun? Great! Here's some more stuff!

Trial and error gameplay is what you receive with several opening maze and platforming puzzles. This requires your party to be using its low amounts of PP to use a certain skill repeatedly, meaning you run out of Psynergy points rather quickly. As you make your way to the top of Air's Rock, believing the hardest parts are behind you, you encounter the realization that you're actually not even halfway done with this dungeon. Still sound fun? Well, let's continue!

You must then enter inside the stone and move downward, as you progress closer and closer into the mountain's core. This is all the while facing off against even stronger enemies and more time-consuming and repetitive puzzles. Once you've reached the center of the mountain, you must make your way to the top of the mountain again. This time, however, you are able to use various activated tornado devices to shoot your way up to areas that couldn't be reached before. The end of this part of this dungeon is the end of your journey through the insanely long Air's Rock. It's not just a feat of endurance to conquer this dungeon; it's a test of one's insanity. Oh, and the game doesn't even bother to mention that you need to come to Air's Rock for a Psynergy magic that is required to advance the story in the first place. How nice of the developers! Not. If somehow this all sounds like no big deal and a lot of fun, may we introduce you to a game called Superman 64? You'll probably find pleasure in that torture (albeit much, much worse torture) as well.

Babel Tower - Xenogears (PS1, PSN)

Based on the Tower of Babel, a tower from the Bible that was humanity's way of essentially saying to God, "Hey, you. We're defying you. Take your now-useless Great Flood and get lost!", Xenogears' Babel Tower hasn't been entered for over five centuries due to the ancient Ethos Society sealing it shut with powerful magic. That is, until Fei's party manages to enter Babel Tower themselves. If you ask us what Xenogears' take on the tower was built for, our answer would be pure frustration. Unlike the Bible's version of the tower, Xenogears' Babel Tower actually served its purpose quite well... unfortunately.

It wouldn't be so bad if it was just a straight up climb. However, the developers had a different idea in jazzing up the player's process in ascending the tower. What happens when you have an RPG and you introduce platforming, a mechanic that has no place in the game, in order to cross chasms? Well, you get a recipe for disaster, and that's exactly what Babel Tower is.

You see, Xenogears came out before the PlayStation's implementation of the analog stick. This meant you were stuck using the d-pad for movement. While this setup was less than ideal, what really makes this trek through Babel Tower frustrating is that you can enter into a random battle mid-jump. That wouldn't be so bad if after the battle you didn't fall downward like a two ton safe. That's not even taking into account the very awkward leaps Fei and friends must make at the beginning of the tower that are hard enough without any battles to impede your progress. That alone takes a good chunk of time to perfect the first time! All this adds up to being forced to retry segments of the tower because you keep falling after battles that begin in mid-jump. It's incredibly frustrating and tedious, and it's one of those points in the game that make us disinterested in playing through Xenogears again.

Desert of Death - Breath of Fire III (PS1, PSP, PSN)

As if the name didn't come across as unfriendly enough, Breath of Fire III's Desert of Death is a slog of a place to travel through. It's an area that can get severely boring and tedious, even when you know what you're doing. If you don't, you'll curse the heavens, the stars, and the developers for even coming up with this hellish spot in the game.

The kicker here is that in the English version of Breath of Fire III, the translation was fouled up. This results in the trek through this sand-filled nightmare being much more difficult than it needs to be. You need to have an incredibly precise directional sense to get through the desert. You are required to use the stars in the nighttime sky as your markers to know where to go and how to find the exit here. Since there's a star that is placed in the sky merely to trip you up and trick you, this makes for a pretty rough and obnoxious part to an otherwise enjoyable RPG to overcome.

In addition to these problematic issues, wandering around in the desert for an extended period of time causes you to become thirsty, needing to drink water. Run out of water, and your maximum amount of hit points will continually lower with each step until Ryu and party rest at an inn. After all of your work through this tedious part of the game, you arrive at the end of the Desert of Death, only to be greeted by a boss battle.

 ...Now don't that just beat all?

Mario's Castle - Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins (GB, 3DS VC)

The final level of Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins has Mario returning to his overtaken by Wario castle after collecting all six of the eponymous golden coins. What is a generally fairly easy game ramps up in difficulty to roller coaster levels in an instant.

Mario's Castle is a three floor nightmare of a level that requires really tight and precise platforming, great reaction time, and steady thumbs. The obstacles include moving platforms, giant Piranha Plant statues that shoot out fireballs at intermittent times, and large pits of lava that will cook Mario's hind parts instantly.

Not only is this level more than double the length of every other level that Mario has previously conquered within the game, but it also features nothing in the way of checkpoints. This means that wherever you die, even in the three stage fight with Wario, the final boss of the game, you must restart the level at the very beginning. That's just poor and unfair design in what would otherwise be a giant jump in difficulty for players of Super Mario Land 2.

Monday, April 7, 2014

SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs - 600: March to Glory Edition

It's been over two years now since we rebooted SuperPhillip Central's Favorite VGMs. Through that time we've listened to many songs, across many games, across many systems, across many generations. If you'd like to keep up to date (if you have the time, that is) with the past video game music selections we've chosen, take a look at our VGM Database. As for everyone else, please enjoy our historic 600th VGM edition.

v596. Xenogears (PS1) - My Village is Number One! (Orchestrated)

Coming from a relatively recent arranged album of some of Xenogears's memorable music, this orchestrated version of My Village is Number One! starts out serene, and then turns into a jaunty little number, evoking a warm sense of nostalgia, perfect for the opening town of the game.

v597. NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams (Wii) - Electrical Entertainment

While NiGHTS' return to gaming was less than spectacular, one common thread of Sonic Team titles is that the soundtracks are beyond sensational. This tradition remains true with NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams, a soundtrack full of bewitching, charming, and delightful tunes. Electrical Entertainment plays in the third level of Journey of Dreams

v598. LEGO City Undercover (Wii U) - Vehicle Robbery

One of our favorite Wii U games is LEGO City Undercover. Not only is a a really fun and content-packed game, but it's also what we deem the best LEGO game yet. It has still yet to be surpassed. This bass-heavy theme plays every time protagonist Chase McCain participates in a vehicle robbery. The goal of these missions is to safely take a stolen vehicle from its garage to the impound point, all the while dodging the advances of policemen on your trail.

v599. Diddy Kong Racing (N64) - Wizpig Challenge

Diddy Kong Racing is a kart racer that innovated greatly in its genre, introducing a story mode to make the entire experience much more satisfyingly lengthy. This boss theme plays in both encounters against Wizpig, the first is played in a kart, while the second is played in a plane. David Wise delivers yet another fantastic track to yet another fantastic soundtrack of his.

v600. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (PS3, 360, PC) - Dragonborn

We're not that big of fans of Western RPGs. The genre is just fine, but we just don't find them entertaining for the most part. However, we'd be fools to exclude this theme, the main theme of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, to our list of VGM favorites. Epic is a word that is thrown around loosely these days, especially around the Internet, but it's probably the most apt word to describe this chorus-heavy track.