Sunday, September 8, 2019

Even the Big "N" Has Some Big Duds: The Worst Games from Nintendo

Even the greatest of titans in the gaming industry let loose the occasional stinkers. Perhaps there was a more elegant way of putting that, but at any rate, for the next few weeks, SuperPhillip Central is eyeing the big three first parties of gaming and taking a look at their (very much subjectively speaking) "worst" games.

We begin on this Sunday evening by examining a handful of the blemishes on Nintendo's record, whether it be as a developer, co-developer, or publisher. For the longest-running player in the industry that still makes consoles and games, you can bet we'll be revisiting Nintendo someday. However, for now, let's take a glimpse at some less than favorably viewed games from the Big "N" and its partners.

Animal Crossing: Amiibo Festival (Wii U)

Nintendo was in a very bad way with the Wii U. Not only did the system fail to capitalize on its predecessor's massive success, but most of Nintendo's developers realized something that most developers had realized many years prior: HD development is tough! The sluggish, drought-heavy release schedule that the Wii U saw brought back memories of the Nintendo 64, but it was somehow even worse than those days! The holiday season of 2015 was a time of heavy thirst for Wii U owners, and in Nintendo's desperate struggle to have a decent series of releases for the Nintendo faithful, it served this dud as well as the next game on this list to Wii U owners.

Amiibo (technically, amiibo in all lowercase for proper brand marketing) was extremely popular for Nintendo with its launch of these figures that were made of various Nintendo-related characters. For some, the ability to have data on a figure be read by the Wii U, 3DS, and now Switch, made for some clever unlocks and implementations. For others, amiibo is merely a form of physical DLC that locks content behind figures.

Nowhere did the usage of amiibo leave more of a bad taste in people's mouths than with Animal Crossing: Amiibo Festival, which takes the wholesome and highly adorable world of Animal Crossing and turns it into a board game. Incidentally, you could spell the "board" in "board game" B-O-R-E-D, because that's what Amiibo Festival was--an incredibly boring game meant to squeeze more money out of consumers to purchase amiibo figures. The level of interactivity in Amiibo Festival was the complete opposite of something like Mario Party. There's plenty of sitting around, waiting for something interesting to happen. Perhaps the most interesting part of Amiibo Festival is that it is a great cure for insomnia.

Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash (Wii U)

For a while now, the duo of Nintendo and Camelot has struggled to create a stirring and riveting Mario Tennis together. Mario Tennis Open was an enjoyable romp, but its use of Chance Shots (which many argued made matches play out more like games of Simon Says) annoyed a good portion of players. The first HD entry in the Mario Tennis series excited lots of potential players... until information began trickling out about the depth (or lack thereof) regarding the game.

Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash has the mechanics of an excellent tennis game. The oft-criticized Chance Shots were placed in an optional mode, replaced with the standard tennis that fans of the Mario Tennis franchise came to love throughout the years. So, while the gameplay was almost better than ever, what stopped Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash from being a--pardon me for this lazy pun--smashing success?

Quite simply, Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash had the content of a $15-$20 game but was a full priced $60 entry in the franchise. The amount of modes was lackluster at best (and even that is being charitable), and the most prominent example of the lack of content in Ultra Smash was that there was but one stadium total in the game. Every tennis match took place here, and the only changeable option was the court type. A desperate Nintendo is not necessarily a great one, as evidenced by many of the Wii U games on this list.

Mario Party Advance (GBA)

Back in 2005, the Game Boy Advance was a successful portable for Nintendo, bringing with it Super Nintendo-esque visuals (and enough SNES ports to make it a second coming of Nintendo's 16-bit system at the very least). However, aside from the copious amounts of Super Nintendo classics making a repeat appearance but this time in portable form, Nintendo also brought with it new franchises and fresh takes on familiar franchises. Mario Party was one of those.

However, Mario Party Advance was far from the best transposition of Mario Party to a portable. It wouldn't be until the Nintendo DS's Mario Party DS that the familiar formula would be implemented well. Still, with Mario Party Advance, Nintendo and developer Hudson attempted to provide a Mario Party for the solitary player with its single-player campaign. Unfortunately, a party for one is as much fun as it sounds, as Mario Party Advance featured a bland story mode, showcased by one board, NPCs that loved to chit and chat endlessly, non-inventive mini-games, and quick tedium setting in. While points are given for originality, as we've seen with Mario Party 9 and 10, originality only goes so far if the actual Mario Party game isn't really entertaining.

Hey You, Pikachu! (N64)

As we've seen, not even Mario is immune to having some stinkers in his catalog of games. While we move on from the portly plumber, we look towards another behemoth gaming and multimedia franchise--Pokemon! With such a sprawling series of diverse characters and creatures, it's no wonder why The Pokemon Company decided to stretch out from the traditional Pokemon RPGs and try out other genres. Some have been great successes, but as we'll see with these next three entries on this list: plenty are just plain Poke-bombs.

Hey You, Pikachu! was one of the first home console Pokemon spin-offs. While Pokemon Stadium and Pokemon Snap successfully spun off the franchise in stellar directions, Hey You, Pikachu! decidedly did not. While the concept of earning Pikachu's trust, playing with the series mascot, and giving voice commands seemed clever at first, Hey You, Pikachu! isn't the deepest game. Most players found themselves getting bored with the shallowness of the game, including a middle school me.

Pokemon Dash (DS)

Racing games are generally one of the first genres that mascot-driven game franchises spin off towards, so it was a long time coming for Pokemon to get its need for speed. Unfortunately, Pokemon Dash gave less the need for speed and more the need for pain medication for the throbbing hand cramps and eventual arthritis you'd get from playing the game.

An atypical racing game, Pokemon Dash required players to vigorously swipe the DS stylus across the touch screen to speed your Pokemon up as they crossed different relay points on the open race course. Yes, you'd get those aforementioned hand cramps, but you'd also have insult added to injury by seeing that Nintendo DS touch screen of yours scratched to heck and back from merely playing Pokemon Dash as instructed!

Pokemon Rumble U (Wii U)

One last Pokemon entry to skewer over an open flame! Before amiibo, Nintendo and The Pokemon Company put out GameStop-exclusive NFC (near-field communication) figures based off of Pokemon. These were very rudimentary in their designs, and meant to look just like the basic toy models seen in the Pokemon Rumble franchise. While I enjoyed the WiiWare dungeon-crawling and button-mashing real-time battles of Pokemon Rumble, the Wii U entry basically simplified a game that was already simple enough.

The succinctly named Pokemon Rumble U took out the simplistic dungeon-crawling and just had arena-based battles, where your toy Pokemon of choice took on a parade of Pokemon. That was about the extent of the game's depth. The insult to injury was essentially being required to spend money on these physical pre-amiibo prototypes to enjoy--and enjoying the game wasn't a certainty due to how basic the gameplay was--seeing your toy "come to life" in the game. Pokemon Rumble U failed to entice many players, and for the rather crooked money system it incorporated, that's a good thing.

Steel Diver (3DS)

Steel Diver?! More like... Sleep Diver! Ha! ...Okay, I'll stick to analyzing and talking about games and not so much worrying about a stand-up comic career. At any rate, Steel Diver was a brand-new franchise from Nintendo that brought with it slow-paced submarine gameplay where players used the touch screen to spin a knob to guide their piloted submarine around 2D levels. The sluggish pace of Steel Diver combined with the need for precision with not-so-precise controls made for a frustrating at some times, and just plain yawn-inducing other times, experience.

Steel Diver would release in North America as part of Nintendo's anemic launch lineup for the Nintendo 3DS, and the game would reach bargain bins relatively quickly--and that's something first-party Nintendo titles seldom do in the first place--reach bargain bins in the first place. Fortunately, the Steel Diver franchise would get a chance at redemption with the much more enjoyable first-person perspective online multiplayer combat game, Steel Diver: Sub Wars, also for the Nintendo 3DS.

Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir (3DS)

Nintendo is a game company that enjoys trying out new ideas and innovating. Some of these ideas work out well and advance the medium, or at least make for a great deal of fun. Other times, the ideas come off as ones that had the best of intentions, but not quite the tech or the execution to back them up. Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir is one of these games, co-developed by Koei Tecmo.

Using the augmented reality feature of the Nintendo 3DS seemed like a cool enough idea, using it to point the camera at a "book" that came packaged with the game to reveal ghosts to battle in real time. However, this was definitely an instance where that aforementioned notion that the tech and execution weren't quite there rears its ugly head. The Nintendo 3DS's camera was one of low quality, and even in the best of lighting conditions, the experience of tracking down and battling AR ghosts made for a severely frustrating experience with constant interruptions and the loss of tracking. Even as someone who got Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir for free, the time I invested into this failed experiment of a game will never be refunded to me.

Devil's Third (Wii U)

It's always a good sign (see: it's never a good sign) for a game to be in development hell for years before finding a publisher, and then that publisher essentially releasing the game out of obligation with no fanfare whatsoever. At least instead, Nintendo of America pretty much buried the release of Devil's Third by sending out no review copies and shipping out an extremely (heavy emphasis on that word) limited amount of physical copies to store shelves.

Technical issues were abundant in the final Wii U version, as was the amount of absolutely clumsy and clunky gameplay. From a game directed by the creator of Dead or Alive and the man who brought Ninja Gaiden back from the grave, Tomonobu Itagaki, Devil's Third is a story of abject failure in every sense of the word. It's a game that was better off not existing, at least not with the help of Nintendo, and serves as blight on the big N's publishing record.

Urban Champion (NES)

We're going back in time with a blast from the past. Urban Champion is an atypical fighting game where two players duke it out with the goal of hitting the other into a sewer manhole. Really, the only fascinating things about Urban Champion are: 1) Its historic value as Nintendo's first one-on-one competitive fighting game, and 2) How many times Nintendo has found value in re-releasing it, despite how poor and shallow it is. Games on the NES aren't exactly the deepest games around, especially in the genre of fighting games, so when you consider that Urban Champion is considered too shallow for even the NES, then you can get an idea of just how poor the game truly is. There are plenty of NES classics from Nintendo's illustrious history to look back fondly on; Urban Champion is not one of those.

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