Friday, January 13, 2017

A few thoughts on 'Nintendo Switch Presentation 2017'

Before last night's "Nintendo Switch Presentation 2017," I was about 75 percent sure I'd buy Nintendo's next console-handheld hybrid upon release.

Although it pains me to say it, that number steadily plummeted as I watched the presentation in question--to the point that I'm now all but certain I'll wait until late in the year--at the earliest--to pick up a Nintendo Switch.

To help explain why that is, here are some thoughts on various aspects of the system and its launch that were touched on during this event:

The release date--Most rumors suggested the Switch would launch in mid or late March, so March 3 (worldwide, at that) sounded pretty darn good to me. Or it did before I decided against a day-one purchase.

The price--In my dreams, Nintendo would sell the Switch for $199. I knew that was highly unlikely, though, so my hope was that the system would initially sell for $249--without a pack-in game. So imagine my disappointment when company president Tatsumi Kimishima revealed early on during last night's presentation that the system alone (well, along with a dock, two Joy-Cons, an AC adapter and some cords) will cost $299.99. For me, that's too much. Not too much for me to afford, mind you; rather, it's just more than I'm willing to pay right now.

The pack-in games--1, 2 Switch and Arms are pack-in games, right? Wrong? What do you mean? Nintendo isn't including either of these newly revealed (and questionably interesting) Switch titles with the system, you say? That's bizarre, I say--especially when 1, 2 Switch looks like a $5 digital offering at best, in my humble opinion. In reality, it appears Nintendo's going to try to sell it for $49.99. Good luck with that. Oh, and I offer up the same comment as a reaction to Arms' $59.99 asking price.

The launch lineup--The most depressing element of "Nintendo Switch Presentation 2017" for me was that it became increasingly obvious as the event wore on that the hybrid system would hit the streets alongside a meager selection of games. The new Mario title, Super Mario Odyssey, which most expected would be available from the get-go? Actually a "Holiday 2017" release. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe? Late April. Splatoon 2? Sometime this summer. Even Arms won't be out on March 3. That leaves 1, 2 Switch, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the latest Just Dance, Square Enix's I Am Setsuna (now there's a head-scratcher--not that I'm complaining) and a couple of other third-party titles. Admittedly, Breath of the Wild looks astounding, and likely will be enough for most folks (especially outside of Japan), but I personally would've liked a few more first-party options on day one.

The first-party titles--I've got to say, I expected Nintendo to show off a lot more of its own in-development Switch games than it did last night. Most of the ones the company did present to the public--The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Splatoon 2, Super Mario Odyssey and Xenoblade Chronicles 2, in particular--looked great, no doubt about it (although I'm not in love with the new Xenoblade's character designs). When you consider that Super Mario Odyssey won't be out until the end of 2017, though, and Xenoblade Chronicles 2 won't be out until who knows when, it's hardly a stunning first-year lineup from the company that's probably going to have to supply the bulk of Switch content.

The third-party presence--This isn't my first time at the Nintendo rodeo, so I went into "Nintendo Switch Presentation 2017" fully aware that third-party developers and publishers once are likely to give the cold shoulder to the company's latest piece of gaming hardware. I saw very little last night that made me think otherwise. That's not to say there weren't pleasant surprises. Square Enix's Project Octopath Traveler (being made by the same team that produced Bravely Default and Bravely Second) looks stunning and could single-handedly push me to buy a Switch if it proves to be an exclusive. Also piquing my interest: a new Shin Megami Tensei, No More Heroes 3 and Dragon Quest Heroes 1 & 2. Sadly, that's pretty much the extent of the third-party efforts that appealed to me aside from the promise of a new Taiko no Tatsujin title and the already announced Dragon Quest XI.

The price of Switch games--This has been one of my biggest worries since it was revealed that the Nintendo Switch would straddle the line between being a handheld and a console. Would its games be priced like 3DS games or Wii U games? At the moment, it seems like they'll lean toward the latter,  given what we know about 1, 2 Switch, ArmsBreath of the Wild and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. (All but the first title will cost $59.99.) That disappoints me. Still, I hold out hope that easier-to-swallow price tags will be attached to smaller Switch games.

The game cases--No joke: one of the highlights of the last two days has been finding out that Switch game cases look a lot like PSP game cases. I've always loved the slender profile and see-through appearance of the latter, after all. Plus, the few examples of Switch cover art I've seen so far (Breath of the WildMario Kart 8 Deluxe and Splatoon 2) look really nice stuck inside of them.

The accessories--I don't know why, but it kind of surprised me when Nintendo revealed it would sell colored Switch Joy-Cons at launch. Even more surprising to me: the cost of extra Joy-Cons. A single Joy-Con will set you back $50; a pair will cost you $80. Want a second dock? I hope you have $90 burning a hole in your pocket. Oh, and the Pro Controller many Switch owners are sure to want? Each one will carry a $70 price tag. In the immortal words of the amazing Madeline Kahn, "woof!"

The operating system--In hindsight, I can understand why the bigwigs at Nintendo decided to gloss over the Switch's OS during last night's presentation, as it's not really the kind of thing that'll sell people on the company's shiny new console. At the time, though, I was sad to only get a glimpse of it. Thankfully, what was shown of the Switch OS looked clean, uncluttered and modern.

The paid online service--One of the stranger portions of the "Nintendo Switch Presentation 2017" for me saw Kimishima revealing that the company eventually will require paid subscriptions for online play. That in and of itself isn't terrible, as both Microsoft and Sony have done the same for years. Of course, Nintendo's track record when it comes to such things is far from great, so telling future Switch owners they'll need to pay to play on line--without explaining why it'll be worth the cost--seems more than a bit weird to me. Who knows, though, maybe the company has something great, or at least competent, in the works for Switch's online service.

The end of region-locking--Nintendo may have disappointed me in many ways with this latest look at the Switch, but one thing it did that brought a huge smile to my face was make it clear the system will be region-free. That's a huge deal for someone like me who likes to import games and, as such, has suffered (relatively speaking, of course) during the 3DS and Wii U eras.

The Switch's battery life--As rumored, the Switch's battery life--of two-and-a-half to six hours, depending on the game--isn't going to blow anyone away. It also shouldn't horribly disappoint anyone, however, considering the original 3DS and even the New 3DS offer up similarly anemic battery-life stats. Would I have preferred the Switch's battery to be more robust? Of course, but I'm also fine with what we're getting here.

The overall presentation--I had a really good feeling about things before the event actually began. The light show and DJ-sourced music that preceded Kimishima's entrance were cooler than what I've come to expect from Nintendo. Unfortunately, all of that faded into the background--literally and figuratively--when the company president started to speak. He's no Iwata, is he? Neither is Yoshiaki Koizumi, it has to be said, though he's definitely far more engaging than his superior. Their lack of stage presence wasn't responsible for the "Nintendo Switch Presentation 2017" being a bit of a snoozefest, though. No, the responsibility falls on the overall structure of the event, which at best made it seem boring and at worst made it seem like a train wreck.

In the end, although I still consider the Nintendo Switch to be a curious piece of gaming hardware, I'm currently not planning to buy one until either the price of admission comes down or a title is released that I can't live without.

How about you? Did you pre-order a Switch as soon as you were able after last night's presentation, or will you do so shortly? Or maybe you're in the same boat as I am, waiting to see how things pan out for the Switch before committing your hard-earned dollars toward one?

Regardless, let me and others know what you think about those questions as well as all of what I touched on above in the comments section below.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Shall We Do It? (Aero Porter, Go! Go! Kokopolo and Ninja Jajamaru-kun 3DS)

Although Dragon Quest VII continues to be the focus of the time I spend with my 3DS systems, that doesn't mean I'm ignoring every other game released for the handheld.

In fact, I put a good number of minutes--and, in some cases, hours--into the trio of 3DS titles named below in the last week. Here are my thoughts on those experiences:

Aero Porter--I've wanted to play this Yoot Saito-made puzzler since it was first revealed to be a part of Level-5's intriguing Guild01 compilation. As is too often the case for yours truly, I failed to buy it upon release and then basically forgot about it until I saw it would be included in a Black Friday sale on the North American 3DS eShop.

That was all I needed to jump in with both feet. (I purchased The Starship Damrey at the same time, though I've yet to even boot up the curious-looking survival-horror title.) With that out of the way, I played Aero Porter throughout my recent three-day move--of sorts--from Seattle to California.

If you've never before heard of Aero Porter, the gist is that you have to manage all of the baggage coming into and going out of an airport. Not the most thrilling of premises, I agree, but it's definitely unique. Also, it produces gameplay that's a lot more compelling than I ever imagined.

Unfortunately, it also produces gameplay that's a bit too frantic for my liking. As such, although I currently love and respect the idea of Aero Porter, I'm not sure that's going to translate to me putting much more time into it, as I'm already feeling stumped.

Don't worry, I haven't completely given up on it, but I may have to do just that if it becomes clear it's not a good fit for my feeble brain. Regardless, I'm glad I finally bought it, and I still think it's worth trying if you tend to like portable puzzle games.

Go! Go! Kokopolo--This indie title was first made available to the gaming masses back in 2011 via Nintendo's DSiWare service. Later, it made the transition to the 3DS eShop--though its developer mysteriously pulled Go! Go! Kokopolo from the European and North American versions of that digital storefront in late 2014.

For whatever reason, Go! Go! Kokopolo can still be found on the Japanese 3DS eShop--which is where I bought my copy after publisher Circle Entertainment reminded me of its existence while promoting the game's upcoming 3DS sequel.

I'm now sad I waited so long to experience this wonderfully weird title, which calls to mind classics like Enix's Door Door and Namco's Pac-Man. Here, you're plopped into the paws of an ever-grinning cat named Kokopolo and then tasked with corralling each stage's creatures into the hungry stomach of what the game's makers describe as a carnivorous plant.

As for how you accomplish that, you do it by waltzing up to one of said creatures, swiping at it with your claws, making it angry and then leading it to the above-mentioned plant when it inevitably gives chase.

It's a lot of fun and doesn't require a huge investment of time or energy. (In other words, it's one of those play-when-you've-got-a-few-spare-minutes games that are so great when you're busy.) Plus, it's a real looker, with pixel-based graphics that remind of Saturday morning cartoons.

Ninja Jajamaru-kun: Sakura-hime to Karyu no Himitsu--I don't have much experience with Jaleco's Ninja Jajamaru-kun series. I've played a bit of the Mario Bros.-esque Famicom game from 1985, but that's it.

Not that Sakura-hime to Karyu no Himitsu plays anything like that antiquated title. This modern sequel is a fairly by-the-numbers platformer--with tossable shurikens, naturally. It attempts to make up for its staid gameplay with colorful backdrops and well-drawn character and enemy sprites, but the latter fall a tad short of the mark due to their annoyingly diminutive size.

Granted, of all the games discussed in this post, I've put the least amount of time into Ninja Jajamaru-kun: Sakura-hime to Karyu no Himitsu. Given that, it's entirely possible its adventure turns a corner at some point down the road and becomes thoroughly thrilling.

Should that prove to be the case, I'll let all of you know in an upcoming write-up (perhaps even in another "Great Gaymathon" review).

**Bonus** Picross 3D: Round 2 (demo)--I also recently downloaded and played through the Picross 3D: Round 2 demo that Nintendo added to the North American 3DS eShop. This despite the fact that I've barely touched the Picross DS cartridge I bought ages ago and have yet to even pick up 2009's much-balyhooed follow-up, Picross 3D.

Still, the original Picross 3D gets so much love on line that I couldn't ignore the chance to experience a bite of its digital-only (in my neck of the woods, at least) sequel. As for my impressions of Round 2's demo: I really, really liked it. It's polished to the hilt, as so many Nintendo-made and -published products are, plus there's plenty of substance below that shiny surface.

That said, I've got to admit I think I prefer the more straightforward rules and gameplay associated with traditional Picross to this three-dimensional offshoot. The former's certainly easier to boot up and zone out to, in my opinion, and that's usually what I want from a puzzle game these days.

Who knows, though, I may change my mind and import a copy of the Japanese version of Picross 3D: Round 2 later this year when it finally dawns on me that the days of the 3DS are nearly over.