Saturday, October 22, 2016

A few more thoughts on the Nintendo Switch now that I've had a couple of days to think about it

If you read my most recent post, you know I was pretty excited by the unveiling of Nintendo's next games console, Switch. I wouldn't say the reveal blew me away, but it definitely interested and intrigued me.

Although I'm still interested and intrigued a few days later, I'm also a bit ... confused? I'm not sure that's the right word, but whatever. Basically, a number of questions have been bouncing around in my brain since Nintendo introduced Switch. Here they are, in case you're curious.

Is Switch really supposed to replace both the Wii U and the 3DS?--That Switch is supposed to replace the DOA Wii U is a given. Hell, Nintendo even chose to promote Switch using bulked-up ports of some of its best Wii U games, like Mario Kart 8 and Splatoon. I'm not entirely sure Switch is supposed to replace the 3DS, though. I assumed that would be the case before the system's reveal on Wednesday morning, but now I've got my doubts. That's mainly because Switch doesn't look like a $200 or even a $250 system at the moment--and, in my opinion, that's the price point Switch is going to need if it's going to take over where the 3DS and even the company's DS and GameBoy lines left off.

Maybe the Switch Nintendo unveiled this week is just the first in a planned line of systems?--What I mean here is, what if what Nintendo showed off in Wednesday's three-minute promo video is the "pro" version of Switch? And what if Nintendo later (six months down the road, maybe a year) releases a "standard" or "lite" version of the system that dumps the dock? In other words, what if Nintendo offers up a package that consists of just the tablet and two Joy-Cons? I'm guessing that would allow the company to sell Switch for a lot less than it's going to sell the docked version it introduced us to a couple of days ago. It also would allow the company to attract more of the mainstream (or maybe I should say family-friendly) audience that has supported its other portable systems over the years. And who knows? Nintendo may also produce a "plus" version down the line that beefs up the abilities of the standard Switch and costs $50 or $100 more.

If Switch isn't supposed to replace the 3DS, why is Nintendo replacing the Wii U first?--There's no question the Wii U bombed--right out of the gate, in fact. If Nintendo intends to stay in the home console space, it needs to be replaced. Most people (including me) would argue, though, that replacing the rapidly aging (and dying) 3DS line is far more important at this time. Nintendo and a few third-party game developers and publishers may continue to support the 3DS with software into 2018, but that isn't going to keep the handheld's sales from falling off a cliff at the end of this year or sometime early in 2017. Given that, why would Nintendo decide to replace the Wii U first? This makes me think either Switch will be cheaper than I'm imagining ($250 or less), or Nintendo is prepping a stripped-down Switch--à la the comment above--that the company hopes will be more appealing to the 3DS audience.

Will Nintendo finally offer up a real account system with Switch?--It's going to be really interesting to see what happens if Switch hits store shelves and doesn't include a modern account system that ties digital game purchases to the buyer rather than a specific piece of hardware. In such a situation, I'd actually expect a sizable portion of the Nintendo faithful to pass on the system. A lot of people are tired of being asked to buy the same games many times over--whether we're talking about retro Virtual Console titles or digital versions of current-gen or last-gen releases. I'm one of them, unsurprisingly. Does that mean I'll pass on Switch if it treats eShop purchases like the 3DS, Wii and Wii U did? I'm not sure. What I can tell you right now, though, is that if such a scenario were to come true, there's no way in hell I'd re-buy any game I already bought via my Wii or 3DS. I'd also continue to do what I've done for some time now, which is buy physical or retail games (rather than digital ones) whenever possible.

How is Nintendo going to handle backward compatibility this time around (if at all)?--Of all the console-makers, Nintendo is at the top of the heap when it comes to consistently producing backward-compatible systems. One of the few times the company didn't produce such a system was when it transitioned from the cartridge-based Nintendo 64 to the disc-based GameCube. With Switch, Nintendo's going the other direction--from a disc-based console (Wii U) to a cart-based one. Given that, it'll be hard to fault the company if Switch doesn't magically allow owners of physical Wii or Wii U discs to play those games on their shiny new systems. But what if it doesn't allow them to play previously purchased digital Wii or Wii U games? That could be as problematic as the possible lack of a real account system, if you ask me. Here's hoping Nintendo comes up with a solution that makes everyone happy.

Do you have any thoughts on the questions above? Share them in the comments section below.

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 overlooked PC Engine games you need to play as soon as possible

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.