Ratio: Wii Sports Resort

December 28, 2009

Only three days to go and the year will be over. Little time to get a review out there, but one game, at least, has to be granted that honor. This is the first review, or what we call it here, ratio on Flying Fisch. Wii Sports Resort was released in the first half of 2009. Its most noteworthy feature was the reliance on MotionPlus, which didn´t debut in this game, though. Grand Slam Tennis and Tiger Woods PGA for Wii were released prior to the Nintendo-developed sports-game, and both came bundled with a MotionPlus-device. What is maybe the biggest advantage of Wii Sports Resort over these third-party games is its sheer variety. And sword-fighting.

The moment you start Wii Sports Resort…you want to punch the TV. An introduction video of how to put the MotionPlus-attachement onto the Wiimote that cannot be interrupted is shown. About three to five minutes later, you can finally proceed in the game. And for anyone that wants to rewatch that video, there´s an option in the menu. For whatever twisted reason one should want to do that. You´re on an airplane. The screen is shaking. It´s your turn to jump out. And off you go. You´re free-falling down the sky. You can feel the air while passing through it. You can feel the speed. And you can freely move your Mii-character. The Wiimote perfectly matches your ingame-avatar. Turn the Wiimote upside down to make your Mii fall faster, get it into a horizontal position to slow down. Move it in ways to make your Mii fly forwards, backwards, whatever way you want. It is only seconds later, at least that´s what it feels at that time, that you´re reaching the planet´s surface. Your paraglider opens up and your fall comes to an abrupt stop. The camera moves upwards, showing the scenery from above, as many other Mii´s join you. When all is ready, the paraglider reads “Wii Sports Resort” and thus, the game welcomes you.

One great thing about Wii Sports Resort is that you never feel obligated to do anything. You are free to choose from all the different kinds of sports. Within these sports, you can also decide what to do and most importantly, how to do so. That is rooted into the title´s genre, of course. Wii Sports Resort is a game-compilation. You have various disciplines to choose from the very beginning. There is, however, an unexpected depth to each of these games. Mainly because of the MotionPlus-controls, but that´s not all there is to it. Let´s take cycling for an example. When I played that my first time, I thought of how annoying it would be to have to shake both Wiimote and nunchuck in rhythm to drive my way through the race. Reality is, you only have to shake the controller so much as you have three hearts that will deplete if you keep shaking. If only one heart is remaining you´re better off stop shaking, unless you want to exhaust your Mii for a short amount of time, making him lose all speed. Instead, you can look for one of thirty opponents and drive inside his slipstream. That will not only give you additional speed, but also replenish your empty hearts. If the chance arrives, start shaking and passing the opponent. There´s also a lot of environmental structures to look out for. Steering is a bit clunky, which seems weird due to MotionPlus enhancing motion controls, but it´s nowhere near broken. Just more rough. In the end, you´ll find yourself driving upwards, downwards, around sharp corners and other interesting areas, only to reach for the top of the group. It´s fun as it is, but that´s just where the fun starts. After finishing a race as explained above, you get more modes to choose from. That is, leg races. Now it´s not just a single round around the course, it´s a multi course-race. There´s about fifty opponents now and it´s rather impossible to come in first after just the first round. You give it your best and maybe make it into the top 30 after the first course. Some stats and on to the next course of the race. You make another ten ranks, and it´s the last course of the race. That´s it then. If you chose a three leg-race, that is. You can choose an even longer lasting race. It is that kind of depth that no one expected from Wii Sports Resort and, unfortunately, still doesn´t expect, which is why the game earned itself a weird niche-position around self-proclaimed core-gamers, while still selling millions of units to the rest of the gamer population. Let´s just say that the above makes only a single sports from overall twelve. And every single one shows a certain kind of depth if only you´re willing to give it the time to show that depth.

The sports that the whole world waited for, though, is the sword fighting. Not that sword fighting is something rare among videogames, but Wii Sport Resort has what certain Wii-game´s developers claimed to have at launch, and other console manufacturers make their fan population believe only they are going to do it right. Wii Sports Resort does it right, now, ever since it was released: 1:1 sword controls. One to one means that however way you move the Wiimote, your ingame-sword resembles that movement. There is a certain aspect that remains to be seen if it can be solved for future games (the sword has a fixed neutral point and is moved only from there. You cannot move the hilt by will.), but it isn´t a problem in this title at all. The moment you start your first round of sword fighting is a magical moment. Remember when the Wii launched and you realized how great the Wiimote-pointer worked? It´s that same feeling. It just…works.  You´re lifting the Wiimote and thus you lift your sword. You lower the Wiimote and your sword is lowered. You turn it right, it turns right. Turn it left, turns left. It´s a moment of sheer joy. They even included a forward thrust, though that move feels more like a typical triggered movement instead of 1:1 movement. Aside from that, you can do whatever move you want with your sword. That´s when you enter the fighting stage and find yourself in front of your first enemy. You hit him from with a slash from the upper right to the lower left. You follow up with a horizontal slash and finish him off with a thrust, that makes him fall of the platform down into the water. While still in awe of the natural feeling controls, you want to try out the next sword discipline, where objects are thrown at your and you have to slice them from a certain direction, being faster than your opponent. I swear to god, give me a game where I can run around freely and cut things like that and I´d love to pay a lot of money for that. That slicing-mini game is a masterful combination of three components: 1:1 controls, that let you slice all the different objects (bread, water melon, diamond, wood, etc.) exactly the way you want to. An unexpected level of detail to all these objects that, if you cut them, show their proper innards. And last but not least, the perfectly subtle rumble effect for each of these objects. Destroying stuff has never been as fun before. And that´s when you discover the third and final sword fighting-mode: The Zelda-mode. Okay, that´s not its name, but if they´d just let you control your Mii yourself with the nunchuck´s analog stick, it´d be exactly that. Here, your Mii is running on-rail, on a set path, while a plethora of sword-wielding enemies comes running towards you. Your task is to make beat every last enemy, and you have only three hearts, so you cannot let yourself get hit more than two times. Easy in the beginning, this becomes a real effort after a few of the surprisingly many levels. If you didn´t play the duel-mode more, you´ll finally find yourself to use the B-button to use the defense stance. Here your Mii will hold the sword in front of his body. It´s not automatic, though, so you still have to closely watch how an enemy is about to strike you. If he´s hitting from above, you´ll have to hold the sword horizontal. A crucial mechanic once you encounter enemies with more than just one heart of life power. And that is sword fighting in Wii Sports Resort.

I guess you noticed, but I am honestly enthusiastic about this game. Which is why I chose to write this ratio. There are ten more sports, and I could write texts like the above about each of them. Of course, you won´t like all of them. That´s why it´s that great to have that many. Canoing is kind of clunky, and Wakeboarding seems too random. But that´s just two out of twelve I didn´t grew to like. Other people might love these. Aside from all the gameplay-depth all these sports feature, you have your scoring-system from the first Wii Sports, that kind of rewards you all the time. It´s a strange motivation, but every time that little graph grows a little higher, you feel like you have accomplished something. And don´t think that there´s no stuff to unlock. Regarding that matter, my second, no, third, no…forget it, I cannot decide how to rank them. Regarding that matter, the airplane discipline is a shining example. Look forward to unlock the stuff in just that sports, really rewarding. Not to speak of how great controlling the airplane feels. The Wiimote literally becomes the airplane. Remember how you played with little airplane-models as a kid? Yeah, it´s exactly like that, only that now you´ll have a little bit more response from moving an object in your hand.

Wii Sports Resort is a Wii-game, and a great-looking one. Visuals are sharp, but stylized enough to keep the game from looking too bare. One nice decision the game made was to let every sports take place on one island. Wuhu Island is the place where every discipline is set up, and if you keep an eye on it, you´ll find all the tournament places while flying the airplane. I´ve never been someone that judges a game´s quality by its resolution, so maybe there´s something my eyes just cannot see. But the game looks really good, at a fluid, constant framerate. Games with such a refined visual look are a rarity, and sometimes, when you´re flying at night, the moon in front of you, you forget that you´re playing a sports collection. Then you´re out there for adventure and nothing else. And that is where Wii Sports Resort´s limit is reached. There is no adventure. Wii Sports Resort is a great compilation, an even greater tech demo for upcoming, more complex MotionPlus-games…and thus the first glimpse at The Legend of Zelda Wii. But let´s not brand this game with any sort of “it´s just a demo“. Wii Sports Resort is the real deal, it´s 1:1 controls right there, done right. It´s what all future videogames will be based off. In other words, it is the Super Mario 64 of the successor to the third dimension. And to finish this text, let´s just say: I didn´t even mention that there´s also local multiplayer. Thanks for reading. Your feedback is appreciated.

The Future is 3D (again)

December 25, 2009

Last week I saw Avatar, James Cameron´s latest movie. After all the overhyped movies a bunch of fanatics hyped up (The Dark Knight, Inglorious Basterds, etc.) I was pleasantly surprised of how this one film actually held up to all the expectations. Of course, the story presented in Avatar is run-of-the-mill, evil human corporations attack peaceful aliens to make more money and so on, but not only was that story well presented, the imagery of the whole film was great. So great that I constantly thought of how my favorite videogame-franchise should borrow parts of this film. A small, or big, I cannot decided, role played the fact that I saw the film in 3D, using rather cheap 3D-glasses. The resulting effect complemented the movie very well, though it didn´t stand out too much. Where the 3D-effect really shone was in a trailer for some upcoming Disney-animation movie (that I am SO going to to watch). Long story short, I think 3D images is the next big thing in video gaming.

The future I imagine consists of three major pillars: Controls, A.I and Interactive Visuals.

I talked about A.I. in an earlier blog-post, so let me go on about the other two. In terms of controls, we´re getting “there“, thanks to Nintendo starting the whole thing with its Wiimote. MotionPlus was another big step forwards, and I think, sooner or later, though hopefully sooner, we´ll get some kind of data gloves, or combination of MotionPlus and Microsoft´s natal (see Minority Report). The controls are there. A.I. will be there as well, or can, at least, be presented well enough so that people will think it is “there”. That leaves Interactive Visuals. No matter how expensive your TV is, it is always limited to a flat picture. Current HDTVs aren´t capable of any 3D-output, and though Sony is working on 3DTVs, they´ll have a hard time to catch on, considering how most of userbase just upgraded to “mere” HDTVs. 3DTVs aren´t the future in terms of gaming. I don´t know of any efforts coming from Microsoft, so maybe they have something or have not. But there is another console manufacturer that might work just on what I envision. Here´s a quote from Shigeru Miyamoto, from November 2005:

It’s convenient to make games that are played on TVs. But I always wanted to have a custom-sized screen that wasn’t the typical four-cornered cathode ray tube TV. I always thought that games would eventually break free of the confines of a TV screen to fill an entire room. But I would rather not say anything more about that.

For those saying that maybe Miyamoto just talked out of his ***, in an interview in one of the last issues of German magazine “VideoGames“, he said that in his vision thanks to lower costs of discs (instead of cartridges), they (Nintendo) would be able to include special hardware with games. Guess what we saw happening with Mario Kart Wii, Link´s Crossbow Training or Grand Slam Tennis!

It is also reason I believe Nintendo to give the deciding push towards 3D-gaming, because they´ll follow a different approach in terms of setting the whole thing up. With Sony, they clearly want you to buy a 3DTV. They´re a hifi-entertainment company, selling not only videogame systems, but also TVs and a lot of other stuff. It is in Sony´s interest to bet on these new TVs. Not so Nintendo. Prior to the Wiimote´s unveiling at Tokyo Game Show 2005, there were a lot of rumors about a built-in projector. As in, a projector being within the videogame system. No need for a TV, AT ALL. That would certainly fit in line with Nintendo´s philosophy, as head of Nintendo, Satoru Iwata, told in a recent interview that there won´t be mobile phone-functionality included in a Nintendo handheld as long as it´s not free to use. So what would be more fitting than the independence of the gamer´s personal budget and build a home console where everyone experiences the same? No more “I have more money, I can have a better experience from the same game.” And that´s only speaking of costs and equality.

A 3D-effect works best with a big, a really big picture. When I turned my head while watching and saw the borders of the big cinema-screen, the effect lost a lot of its strong impression. So I believe that it is necessary to have an as big as possible screen. Something certainly not possible for most people. Not even the biggest HDTVs would work for that. But imagine the whole wall of your room being a screen! Whoah! Together with Motion Controls, virtual reality would finally come true. If these controls and the 3D-image were tightly woven one into the other, a real sense of touching virtual object could be the result. Incredible.

(An old picture I created in full hype beforehand Nintendo´s Wiimote-unveiling in 2005)

Now, projectors, even if not that expensive to buy, are expensive to keep running. The bulb of such a projector is expensive. It could work as an overall business, with Nintendo offering new bulbs at a reasonable price point, but there´s an even more advanced, more awesome solution for Shigeru Miyamoto´s vision: 3D-video-glasses, or shorter, visors. These visors were also heavily rumored within the whole “Nintendo Revolution”-turmoil, but they could resurface. Visors would make TVs obsolete as well, yet wouldn´t have running costs for the consumer. The old saying “visors make your eyes hurt” is long overdue, technology made several steps forward since then. Best part, though, is that these visors wouldn´t be exclusive to videogames. It could mark Nintendo´s step into a bigger business, being the one company that pushes that technology, instead of keeping on relying on TVs.

Whatever it is, I believe that 3D will make its way into video gaming. And if Nintendo doesn´t stop to innovate, it´ll be their next big thing as well as gamers´. After having experienced Avatar, it´s all I can hope for.

Gaming now and Gaming then – A Story of Despair

December 21, 2009

Never before did I feel as disconnected from the industry I love as I do right now.

When I take a look at what kind of games people choose as their “game of the year“, I can only think of how ridiculous that choice is. Don´t get that wrong, different people have different opinions and that is okay. But it is the whole combination, the whole package that makes it that unbearable for someone like me. Be it goty-votes, hype for certain games or reactions of the media press…it makes me feel disconnected.

When I was in the prime of my gaming life, gaming was about colorful, varied gaming experiences. There were great games from every kind of genre in every kind of visual style. The gaming industry I remember featured a combination of Turok, James Bond, Pokemon, Zelda, V-Rally, Secret of Mana, Resident Evil and so on. When I take a look at the kind of games that were hyped this year and are about to receive their goty-awards, all I see are “cool”, so-called mature, super-linear, cinematic games. You have different settings, but all you do in these games is shoot enemies, all happening in realistic looking visuals. Basically, the emphasis seems to stray away from gameplay farther and farther. Gameplay doesn´t matter anymore. A game has to look great, have a “cool” story and characters that give off snarky comments all the time. But it totally doesn´t matter if the gameplay is on the level of some kind of mini game. I just finished Modern Warfare 2 on its highest difficulty setting, and the game is a joke. Google “Moorhuhnjagd” and you know what Modern Warfare 2 felt like.

A lot of modern, self-proclaimed hardcore-gamers praise games like Modern Warfare 2 for their cinematic approach. They don´t, however, realize that they´re not even playing a game anymore, or at least veer away from what originally was a game at full speed.

If you followed this blog you´d know that I have this vision of a complex, big open-world adventure-game. In my vision that game is and will be a Zelda-title. But tonight I thought about which titles on the HD-systems actually offer such kind of games. You know, these HD-systems for the so hardcore gamers, these mature people. And when I finished thinking I got my answer: None. Neither Bioshock, Assasins Creed, Uncharted 2, Killzone, Halo, Gears of War, Metal Gear Solid, Resident Evil 5 or GTA4 are such games. They´re all super linear games, some offering more, some less optional stuff that, in the end, doesn´t matter anyway. To make this clear: THERE IS NO BIG ACTION-ADVENTURE GAME ON THE HD-SYSTEMS!

It may be just me, but there was a time when action-adventures, my favorite genre for many obvious reasons, was the most popular and saw a lot of entries. It wasn´t just Zelda, but games like Eternal Darkness, Starfox Adventures, Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy, Beyond Good and Evil, and many others. None of these games lived through its visuals or its story. These games were great because of their atmosphere and the highly interactive gameplay. How great it felt in Eternal Darkness being able to cut aim at whatever part of the enemy´s body. How great it was to fly to whatever planet you liked to in Starfox Adventures. Not to mention all the possibilities in past Zelda-games. This kind of video game has vanished. The death of  interactive video games is accompanied by the jubilation of blinded gamers.

And that may be the reason why I feel so lost in this time of the history of video games. It is no longer the game that counts, it´s the wrapping that decides over success. And unlike many other times, it´s not just some magazine, professional´s website or publisher that´s at fault. It´s the so-called gamer himself that welcomes this new age of video gaming. In a world where a game like Bayonetta is hyped and gets perfect scores, I just don´t know what to think anymore. If you disagree with me about all that, then it´s maybe for the best if you never read any of my reviews for FlyingFisch. In the world of video games, it is the gamers´ biggest sin that they ignored WiiSports Resort. And while the masses rejoice over linear, movie-like experiences, I wait for Zelda Wii, and only Zelda Wii. Because no other game even tries to go for the golden nugget called “interactivity” anymore.

A Battle of Music: Game vs Franchise

December 18, 2009

Video game music knows various degrees of enjoyment. We all know the many great pieces of beloved franchises like the Legend of Zelda, Super Mario or even Pokemon. These games feature pieces of music that you can always hum along and certain pieces won´t be forgotten forever. The Super Mario Bros.-theme is such a piece of music, the Zelda-theme and many of Ocarina of Time´s soundtrack are, as well. But all these pieces of music share a certain similarity, and there is a reason why i refrained from using the word “song”. They are not.

Let me say that you won´t find a guy that loves the soundtrack of all the mentioned Nintendo-games more than me. I have a lot of them in my daily playlists, I whistle the Song of Storm or Gerudo Valley-song all the time. But these aren´t songs. They´re part of a video game soundtrack, created to set up a certain mood in certain parts of the game. You could say, in a way, they´re “atmospheric songs“, there to enhance the gaming experience. That´s why I suppose that Nintendo is so shy of using orchestrated soundtracks for their games, as it takes away from the interactive atmosphere of the game. With Nintendo´s current music-philosophy, the music always matches what´s going on on-screen, changing on the spot if something happens.

But that is also the reason why every Nintendo game lacks it: A theme song.

There is the famous Zelda-theme, but it is not a song. It is a game-opening welcomer, like a voice in your head that tells you “yeah, my friend, you´re about to start a whole new adventure, have fun!” and you know you will.

Legend of Zelda – theme

This kind of music transcends beyond single games, though. It´s the signature-theme of a whole franchise. Whenever you here this theme you know it´s the Legend of Zelda. But it doesn´t tell you anything about a specific game within the series. That is what Nintendo´s games in general are lacking. The ONE identifying song, the ONE song that makes you remember the game you´re playing that moment. That song doesn´t exist. But it should.

Maybe, to clear things up a bit, I should give a simple example of what I mean. We all know James Bond, agent 007. This is the James Bond-theme that everyone around the worlds associates with the famous action-movie series:

James Bond – theme

It´s a great theme, but it doesn´t relate to a specific movie within the James Bond-franchise. That is where we proceed to James Bond: Casino Royale, with Daniel Craig as the lead actor. Listen to the following:

You know my Name (Casino Royale opening)

That, ladies and gentlemen, is a theme song. It is perfect. It is a fresh piece of music. It gives you chills. It creates dramatic pictures inside your head. It makes you want to get more of that experience. And it is a piece of music, a song, exclusively made for that one movie. Whenever you hear this song, you think of Casino Royale, instead of just generalizing “oh, it´s James Bond”. It´s that kind of songs that Nintendo´s games don´t have. And to give an example of a video game series that does what Nintendo does not, here is the Metal Gear Solid 3-theme:

Snake Eater (Metal Gear solid 3 – theme)

I´m definitely no big fan of the Metal Gear Solid-games, but in terms of creating a great theme song for the third game in the series, Konami did a damn good job.

In the end, what I´m saying is: Using all the old, famous tunes is nice, and I´ll be in full hype should Nintendo reveal Zelda Wii with the traditional Zelda-theme. But what I´d hope for is that upcoming Zelda-, Mario-, Pokemon-, you name it-, games got a little more recognition as specific games, more so than “just” games that are part of a bigger franchise. Or in other words: When Nintendo reveals the “Legend of Zelda: Sky Diver” for Wii, I want a theme-song that makes me think of “Sky Diver” instead of “Legend of Zelda“.

A message to third party-developers on Wii

December 8, 2009

I often browse the NeoGAF-boards, killing time and having good laughs about people claiming Ocarina of Time being the best game ever is nostalgia´s fault and so on. Now, i read something that I think should be noted by every third party-developer out there that´s developing for the Wii. The following was posted by user Effect in the context of Konami announcing the Silent Hill: Shattered Memories won´t be getting any kind of advertisement. I´ll let it uncommented, just take a moment and think about it:

If the publishers/developers don’t feel the game is worth trying to push themselves, because it’s on the Wii, why should I or anyone else actually spend money on it in the end?

Complaints about regenerating health – Nonsense!

December 8, 2009

They´re not regenerating, they´re happy having dodged that bullet

These days a lot of shooter-fans a complaining about the “fact” that your health meter is regenerating if you just wait for a bit. They say it´s unrealistic. Totally, compared to a health pack that heals you the moment you touch it.

Maybe it´s the fault of developers for not making this clear, but in games like Call of Duty YOUR HEALTH IS NOT REGENERATING.

You have to look at it like that: You´re running around a battle field. Bullets everywhere. Just that one moment, a bullet got to close to you. Call it “near death-moment”. THAT is when the borders of your screen start flickering red and you´re supposed to take cover behind some object. It is not that you have been hit, but you got close to being hit. Resting for a bit takes away the stress that came up when you experienced that near death-moment. Just like a real soldier would react. When you realize you avoided death by sheer coincidence, you´ll feel unnerved, but after taking a short break, you regain your confidence and go on. It´s like that in all those games.

Of course, if someone made a video of those shooters, it would show your ingame-model being hit. But that´s a matter of practicality.

If someone is to blame for the whole discussion about “is it good, is it bad”, it´s developers who failed to explain it in their game´s manual. But some self-proclaimed hardcore gamers could also just take a moment and think about it. It´s really not that difficult of a matter. And anything is better than one hundred percent unrealistic, abstract health packs. Really.

Something that could help 3D-Mario

December 7, 2009

Famitsu-numbers for the first week of New Super Mario Bros. Wii are out. It sold spectacular 936,734 units. That´s basically the whole of Super Mario Galaxy in just one week. And it´s rather safe to assume that the new 2D-Mario game for Nintendo´s Wii will keep on selling, reaching two million and beyond. Why is that that there is such a huge difference in sales between 3D- and 2D-Mario games?

Maybe the biggest reason is in the nature of 3D and 2D, but when I gave it a thought I realized something.

No 3D-Mario game has ever been set in the Mushroom Kingdom. They never featured Mario´s home world. We all know the typical level-designs of 2D-Marios and what the Mushroom Kingdom looks like. Now take a look at 3D-Marios. Super Mario 64 took us into paintings. Super Mario Sunshine made up a holiday place. And Super Mario Galaxy put us into space. None of these games feature the coherent Mushroom Kingdom that most 2D-Mario games do.

Do I think that this is the single solution to sales? No. But it´d be nice to see a 3D-Mario game finally explore the Mushroom Kingdom´s potential.