Thursday, October 20, 2016

Eight thoughts on the Nintendo Switch

Early this morning (in my neck of the woods, at least), Nintendo unveiled--via a three-minute video that can be viewed below--its "new home gaming console," called Switch.

Previously referred to as the NX, the Switch offers up a whole lot of gaming options in a surprisingly small package. The gist: it's a small tablet with detachable controllers that also can be connected to (and played on) a TV.

As with all things Nintendo, the Switch's reveal provoked reactions that ranged from amazed to aghast. How did I react to it? The rest of this write-up should give you a good idea.

The name is miles better than the Wii U--To be honest, when I first saw it appear in this morning's Nintendo Switch debut trailer, I wasn't all that impressed. As I continued to watch, though, it sunk in that the name's pretty darn fitting given what the system allows people to do. Plus, it ditches both the DS and Wii naming schemes Nintendo has relied on for the last two generations, which was a must. (Connecting this system to the Wii brand, especially, would've been suicide, in my opinion.) Plus, I really like the animated logo that was used throughout today's teaser and I think Nintendo can get a lot of mileage out of it if it plays its cards right.

I'm going to miss the clamshell design of the DS and 3DS--Now that I've seen what Nintendo wanted to accomplish with Switch, I understand why it had to leave the iconic clamshell design of its last two portable game systems in the dust. Still, I can't help but mourn the loss at least a bit, especially since that design helped protect DS and 3DS screens and buttons from scratches and other damage. Oh, well, that's nothing a soft pouch can't help with (in the case of Switch), right?

I'm also going to miss the DS' and 3DS' two screens--I'm having an easier time with this design decision than I am with the one above, as Nintendo effectively killed the most interesting aspects of two-screen gaming when it added 3D to the 3DS' top screen and also made it larger than the bottom one.

Do I have to mourn touch-screen gaming, too?--No part of this first Nintendo Switch video suggested the console's portable component features a touch screen. Still, I have a feeling we'll find out it does, in fact, sport one between now and then it finally hits store shelves next March. It only makes sense given the Switch's form factor and the rumors of Nintendo courting mobile-game developers to bring their wares to the system.

Its hybrid capabilities are even more interesting than I imagined--That the Switch was going to be a system you could play on the go or at home (while connected to a TV) has been a given for eons now. Even the detachable controller parts have been a known quantity for some time. Still, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't shocked by some of what was shown off in this morning's teaser. In particular, I loved seeing that you can detach the above-mentioned parts and hold one in each hand, or you can stick them into an accessory that makes them look and act like a more traditional controller. And then there's the most controversial use of these "Joy-Con" peripherals (I love that name, by the way), which involves turning them sideways and holding them like they're tiny NES or SNES controllers. I can't see myself ever employing that method of play, but I like that it's an option all the same.

It's hard to tell how powerful the Switch is in a three-minute piece of PR fluff, but it looks capable enough to me--Of course, "capable enough to me" means on par with or a smidgen better than the Wii U. I sincerely doubt Nintendo's aiming for this system to be no more powerful than that failed console, though, so the final product should at least equal two Wii Us duct-taped together. (Please tell me you get the joke.) That would be beyond fine with me, especially since I passed on the Wii U and have yet to experience any of Nintendo's wonderful gaming franchises in honest-to-goodness high definition.

I love that Switch uses cartridges rather than discs--Some people find this baffling, I'm sure, but I'm not one of them. I mean, can you imagine a portable device like this having a disc slot? I can't. Plus, I simply prefer carts to CDs or DVDs when it comes to gaming. No disc drive means less noise, fewer loading screens and a smaller console--with the latter being especially important for an on-the-go system like Switch.

The list of third-party partners Nintendo has shown off is promising, but doesn't mean much at the moment--If you've followed Nintendo and its systems for any length of time, you know its relationships with third-party developers and publishers have been strained--to put it mildly--since the Nintendo 64 era. Has everyone kissed and made up thanks to Switch? I'll believe it when I see it. Hopefully, though, Switch will attract at least as much third-party software as the 3DS has, and far more than the Wii U ever did.

So, those are my initial thoughts and opinions on today's Nintendo Switch unveiling. What are yours?

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Five PC Engine games you've overlooked and need to play ASAP

Of all the old systems I still spend time playing (and still spend money on), the PC Engine probably is the one with the most picked-over game catalog.

What I mean by that is there aren't many "hidden gems" in its library. Very few of the lesser-known or oft-ignored HuCards and CDs released for the console are must-buy or must-try titles, in my opinion.

Still, I'd say the handful below fit that bill. So if you're looking for a new PC Engine game or two (or five) to pick up and play, you could do worse than try the following. (And if you're looking for five Japanese PlayStation games you've overlooked and need to play ASAP, erm, click the embedded link to the left.)

Gekisha Boy--OK, so this Irem-made side-scroller isn't exactly an unknown quantity. I'd definitely say it doesn't get as much love as it deserves, though. I mean, a game that looks and sounds as interesting as this one does really should have a higher profile. (Listen to an example of its soundtrack in this recent post.) Plus, Gekisha Boy's gameplay is unlike almost any other title--PC Engine or otherwise--I've experienced. For that reason alone, I'd highly recommend trying it if you have the means and the time.

Hany on the Road--This Arc-made and Face-published HuCard is far more overlooked than the one discussed above. Don't expect it to be quite the treasure Gekisha Boy is, however. In all honesty, Hany on the Road is an imperfect game. Although its gameplay (which recalls Capcom's SonSon) is unique, it could be argued that it's not exactly compelling. I don't agree with those critics, mind you, but even if I did I'd still suggest giving it a chance--especially if you've already experienced better-known PC Engine platformers like Mizubaku Daibouken, Parasol Stars and the PC Genjin titles--because it tries something different.

Obocchama-Kun--Namco released a whole lot of games (some arcade ports, some original efforts) for the PC Engine back in the day, and many of them are now fondly remembered classics. A few examples: Dragon Spirit, Galaga '88, Marchen Maze, Pac-Land, Pro Tennis World Court, Splatterhouse, The Tower of Druaga and Valkyrie no Densetsu. Obocchama-Kun isn't one of them. That surprises me, as I've always found it to be a nice (and silly) change of pace from the console's many other platformers. So, if you've played more than your fair share of Adventure Island and Bikkuriman World, check out Obocchama-Kun. (Bonus: a complete-in-box copy shouldn't cost you more than about $20 these days.)

Pop'n Magic--Everybody likes a good Bubble Bobble clone, right? That's what I've always thought, at least, but you wouldn't know it based on this game's shockingly low profile. Most who are aware of Pop'n Magic, though, love it. In fact, one swears it's better than the mighty Parasol Stars. I wouldn't go that far, but I agree that Pop'n Magic is a stellar experience in its own right. Its protagonists are every bit as cute as you would expect from the genre and its backing tunes are honest-to-goodness bops. Most importantly, though, Pop'n Magic's gameplay differs just enough from its competitors to seem like a breath of fresh air--even if you've worn out your Don Doko Don HuCard and Rainbow Islands CD.

Tricky--I've got to be honest here: I long ignored this Alfa System-developed and IGS-published puzzler because of its Japanese cover art, which I considered to be sub-par. (Still, it's miles better than the North American counterpart.) I also wasn't much of a fan of Tricky's in-game graphics. For whatever reason, though, I eventually shoved those negative opinions aside and put a few minutes into the game. That's all I needed to change my tune. Hell, after playing Tricky for a bit, I've even come to like its spritework, which is no doubt rough but also displays plenty of charm. If only I could finish a few more of its levels. (Seriously, most of them stump me to the point that I wonder if my brain has stopped functioning.)

Note: all of the screenshots included in this post were taken from the wonderful Video Game Den

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

No joke: this 48-second video of The Alliance Alive's protagonists racing across its overworld has sold me on the game

OK, so I actually was sold on this upcoming Japanese 3DS game as soon as folks started suggesting it could be a sequel or spiritual successor to 2015's The Legend of Legacy.

After all, I really enjoyed the 40 or so hours I spent with The Legend of Legacy last year--despite the fact that it has its share of flaws.

Another reason I'm feeling pretty excited about The Alliance Alive is it seems to maintain The Legend of Legacy's tiny-footed character models.

Now, no one who knows me would call me a foot fetishist (not that there's anything wrong with being one), but I've been a fan of this art-style choice since Square Enix unveiled it alongside the Final Fantasy III DS remake it released in 2006. (The company and its designers then perfected it with Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light and Bravely Default, of course.)

Also, it's pretty thrilling to see that The Alliance Alive replaces The Legend of Legacy's two-dimensional (well, except for the pop-up elements) backdrops with fully polygonal ones.

Now we just need to find out how The Alliance Alive's battles will play out. I'd obviously prefer turn-based fights à la The Legend of Legacy or its main source of inspiration, Square's SaGa series, but I'm open to anything as long as the alternative doesn't look boring.

Speaking of SaGa, publisher FuRyu will send me over the moon if it announces that, like The Legend of Legacy, some of people responsible for that long-running and much-loved series are working on The Alliance Alive. Even if that's not the case, though, I'll still likely buy a copy of this title, which is set to hit physical and digital store shelves in Japan sometime next spring.

Update: FuRyu uploaded a second trailer for The Alliance Alive this morning, and it features actual gameplay footage. Nearly four minutes of it, in fact. Anyway, I'm even more excited for its release than I was when this post was first published.


Friday, October 14, 2016

Surprise! The Year of the GameBoy Continues: Burning Paper

This latest "Year of the GameBoy" post focuses on a title that's long given me a lot of joy--and has long caused me to wrinkle my nose in disgust due to the fact that almost everyone overlooks it.

What's so great about Burning Paper, which was developed by Pixel and published by LOZC G. Amusements in 1993? Its name is a good starting point, I think--even if you know nothing about its gameplay.

Speaking of which, Burning Paper reminds me a lot of one of my favorite PSP titles, Patchwork Heroes (aka Hyakumanton no Bara Bara), when it comes to how it plays.

In that game, you control a brave citizen who volunteers to save his comrades from approaching warships by hacking them to pieces.

In Burning Paper, on the other hand, you're plopped into the boots of a guy who bears a shocking resemblance to the iconic Bomberman. For whatever reason, he's been tasked with protecting a series of buildings from an advancing horde of nasty-looking beings. (OK, so most of them are kind of cute. Still, it's clear they're up to no good.)

I'm sure all of this is explained in the game's instruction manual, but at the moment my grasp of the Japanese language isn't advanced enough for me to make sense of its "story" page.

(Regarding Burning Paper's manual, by the way, it's actually pretty impressive. I especially like all of the little illustrations that are sprinkled throughout--scroll down a couple of inches to see a few of them. And keep your eyes peeled for a "Manual Stimulation" post devoted to this booklet)

Going back a bit, Burning Paper's gameplay is at least somewhat explained in the game's opening cinematic. In a series of four static images, a scientist who could pass as a close relative of Mega Man's Dr. Light creates a concoction that appears to cause an adverse reaction (to put it mildly) to some nearby creepy-crawlies.

Thankfully, mister Bomberman wannabe is on hand and comes to the rescue. Or something like that.

Regardless, each and every stage in Burning Paper begins with the above-mentioned and familiarly besuited protagonist stuck atop a high-rise. These high-rises are covered in posters. Don't ask me why--again, I don't have a clue.

As a variety of vermin--including bugs, mice, moles and a bunch of other creatures I can't properly categorize--amble their way toward your lofty position, you use some sort of laser (provided by the faux Dr. Light, naturally) to cut pieces out of the placards below. Get the timing right, and the falling scraps crash into the oncoming baddies and send them into the Great Beyond.

It's a lot of fun, and more than a bit frantic. Plus, it looks rather nice and sounds lovely.

Actually, I'd say it sounds more than lovely. In fact, its soundtrack is pretty amazing considering I'd never heard of Pixel or LOZC G. Amusements before I became acquainted with Burning Paper.

Combine all of the above with the fact that, as I've hopefully made clear with the photos you see here, this title's outer box, cartridge and instruction manual are beautifully designed, and it should be easy to understand why the lack of Burning Paper love from the GameBoy-loving masses (if such a thing can be said to exist in 2016) confounds and confuses me.

Who knows, though, maybe posts like this will help bring it to the attention of more people who still get a kick out of old-school oddities.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

A few more Dragon Quest VII 3DS impressions now that I've put about 20 hours into it

When I last commented on the recently released (outside of Japan) Dragon Quest VII 3DS remake on this blog, it was to share my impressions of the first seven or so hours of the game.

Those impressions were decidedly positive, with the only real negative I could muster was that it takes a while for the adventure to get going. (Specifically, you don't encounter your first battle until you've crossed the hour-and-a-half or even two-hour mark.)

Other than that, my first seven hours with Dragon Quest VII 3DS were thoroughly enjoyable. Is that how I'd describe the 13-plus hours I've since spent with the game? For the most part, it is, though I probably wouldn't use the word thoroughly this time around. Here's why:

Boy, you sure spend a lot of time running around in Dragon Quest VII, don't you?--Was the same true of Dragon Quest IX, my previous experience with this ages-old series? If so, I certainly don't remember it. Or at least I don't remember it impacting my enjoyment of that game as much as it is this one. Regardless, I've got to admit I've already become a bit annoyed by the game's many fetch quests that force you to return to locations you've already visited a number of times before.

I know I'm "directionally challenged," but I think I'd regularly get lost in this game even if that weren't the case--Combine this piece of criticism with the last one and it should be clear that a Dragon Quest VII playthrough can really test your patience. Granted, some of this likely is my own fault. I can be more than a bit dense when it comes to keeping track of all the details that are thrown at me while playing an RPG. Although in my brain's defense, pretty much every locale here has two versions--one set in the past, and one set in the present--and as such I can't help but think most folks who decide to tackle this game also have a hard time keeping them straight, especially as the adventure progresses and the world opens up.

What's the point of making monsters visible on the overworld (or in dungeons) if you can't escape them?--OK, so this actually isn't an issue while traversing Dragon Quest VII's overworld--or at least it's only rarely an issue in that context. It's very much an issue, though, once you dive into one of the game's many dungeons. Almost without exception, these dungeons are made up of claustrophobic hallways that make it nearly, if not completely, impossible to avoid oncoming baddies. In some cases, that means getting into a battle every couple of steps. Thankfully, the battles on offer here are snappy affairs, but that doesn't mean much when you're forced into 100 of them within a single, small dungeon.

Is it just me, or does everyone here look the same?--Considering how much content developer Arte Piazza was able to squeeze into this diminutive 3DS cartridge, I can understand why they decided to cut a couple of corners along the way. Still, would it have killed that company's designers and programmers to have created a few more NPC models? It often seems like they made a small handful and then called it a day, as you encounter the same ones over and over and over again during your travels. That would bother me a lot less than it does, by the way, if it didn't regularly fool me into thinking I'm talking to a character I'd previously met when in fact it's just someone who looks like a character I'd previously met.

Given all of the above, you might think I'm no longer thrilled to be playing Dragon Quest VII. That couldn't be further from the truth. Yes, I'm mildly annoyed by some aspects of the game, but I'm loving the rest of it (especially the "party chat" option that's accessed with a push of the 3DS' B button), so don't expect me to walk away from it anytime soon.

Now that I've said my piece, what do all of you who also are making your way through this 3DS remake think of it?