Xenoblade Chronicles comes to Europe!

March 31, 2011

Sorry for the long break, but anyways, great news: Today, Nintendo of Europe announced that Xenoblade will be released in Europe this year under the new full title “Xenoblade Chronicles“. The Monolith Software-rpg for Wii has been permanently praised for its vast, open game world and has been voted number one-rpg of this current generation of consoles by a certain Japanese hardcore-rpg-fans´ website. A release date isn´t known, neither if the game will see a US-release. But it certainly would be stupid to release both this and Zelda: Skyward Sword at the end of the year, so maybe we´re in for another pleasant surprise soon?

The Man of the Industry – and Skyward Sword

March 2, 2011

In this video game industry, honesty and fairness is something not often displayed. It´s been a rough competition ever since the days of Nintendo versus Sega. It seems hard to imagine that one of these competing companies could talk in a manner that transcends typical boundaries between each competitor. Today, Satoru Iwata, head of Nintendo, managed to do exactly that. His GDC keynote speech about the event´s 25th anniversary made the Nintendo-boss look not so much like a Nintendo-guy, but someone who can speak out for the whole industry that he´s part of, too.

It was great to see Iwata take such a clear stance regarding Apple´s business model of cheap games. High-value games need to be sold at a certain price point, otherwise the gaming industry can´t keep creating these great experiences. Iwata talked about how all of them, be it Nintendo, MS, Sony or all the attending developers, have to make sure to innovate and to value their own work. And not to give in to a new business model of a company that has no own view about video games.

Now, obviously, GDC is not E3, but Nintendo indeed DID deliver E3-like announcements. The completely new Mario 3D is going to be a 3D-Mario platformer for the Nintendo 3DS-handheld and seems to follow the footsteps of both Super Mario Galaxy-titles, yet offering new features, like the hinted tanooki-suit and the revival of the traditional health-system, where Mario shrinks when hit by an enemy. Iwata said that the game would be fully revealed at E3.

Most interesting, though, is Zelda. And indeed was a new trailer for The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword shown. Admittedly, on my first time watching it, I felt underwhelmed. After several times now, I feel like there is a great game in the coming. But I´m still trying to figure out as to why it felt underwhelming. For one, they color saturation looks extremely washed out. Maybe that´s due to the video quality, but it really doesn´t help. Then there´s the occasionally bad enemy-design, like that fat guy with the wooden shield that pushes Link to the left. Then again, the Stalfos knight seems to be incredibly improved compared to the goofy model in the E3-demo. Personally, it´s these static, un-dynamic gameplay instances that get my hype down. For example, take a look at the tightrope scene. This looks as if it was very slow, very time-consuming and thus annoying. I remember smoothly running over tightropes in Assassin´s Creed 2 and … yeah. Then there´s those very blocky environments. The big room where Link fights the small spider is made of wide, bland walls and objects. There´s no detail to be seen and I almost get the feeling of it being the parody of a Zelda-dungeon. For last, the HUD looks awful. Some people claim that it´d be optional and can be deactivated, but I´ll believe that once I see it. The wiimote-overlay, the constant notice at the bottom middle that tells you how to use an item … that has to go away.

Now, on the positive side, the new main villain is gorgeous. I love crazy, arrogant menaces, and this guy looks like a mixture of Skullkid and Zant. Also, sword combat seems to be really complex. Notice how all the more aggressive enemies are blocking every sword-attack in that short trailer. Doesn´t make the impression as if hitting foes was as mindlessly easy as in Twilight Princess. I absolutely love the look of the desert-area, though I hope it isn´t too enclosed, too small in sheer size. But it´s hard to make out if the white wall is supposed to be an area limiter or just an object inmidst a bigger desert. The rolling enemy looks like a small Barroth btw., fellow Monster Hunter 3-fans. In general, as underwhelming as parts of Skyward Sword look, the overall feeling I get from both its E3-showing and now this trailer is that something new is on its way … something unknown.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword GDC-Trailer

We literally don´t know much about this Zelda-title, but with all previous series-entries, each game gave gamers a pretty distinctive impression early on. The Wind Waker was announced as a light-hearted adventure, Twilight Princess was always presented as the big, epic Lord of the Rings-entry. Skyward Sword is … Skyward Sword – whatever that´s supposed to mean. One might call it a lack of identity, but I feel like that could mean just the opposite: That this is going to be a different kind of Zelda-game, exactly the kind of big change that fans have wanted for a long time. Because let´s be honest: The clear focus of past 3D-Zeldas gave each series-entry its very own flavor, but it also limited them as a whole. Up until Ocarina of Time, Zelda-games didn´t have a perfectly defined flavor. Zelda-games were just mysterious adventures, sending the player on a big, unknown journey full of exploration. So far, Skyward Sword feels like it´s turning out be exactly that.

Home Console-Handheld Connectivity

March 1, 2011

After exploring the possibilities of a tablet-console as the Wii´s successor, I know reach another conclusion: Why not introduce this right now? The idea is as simple as effective: Use a NDS or 3DS to connect to the Wii while playing a game, thus storing all gauges, all on-screen data, to the handheld-screen, resulting in a pure, aesthetic picture on your tv-screen.

It´s not like Nintendo never explored such technology. The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords comes to mind, or the optional connectivity-feature in The Wind Waker. Even Square Enix´ Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles made great use of it. These games didn´t do it for visual purposes, but it shows that this kind of feature isn´t something far-fetched, something unknown. It´s just something that currently noone makes use of.

But it would go beyond just cleaning up the big screen. As Ocarina of Time 3D shows, even a typical console-game can be made much more comfortable by having instant-access to an item-menu all the time, without having to either pause the game or clumsily switch through items with, for example, the d-pad.  As I went into detail in another article, such selectivity could completely change the way we experience video games. No, it probably wouldn´t be a necessary feature for multiplayer-games (though even then, constantly keeping track of your kill score and rank seems nice), but as for more complex singleplayer-titles, I feel like having a small device that´s exclusively used for all the stuff that otherwise reminds you of playing a game would greatly enhance the overall-experience. And it wouldn´t only free up the tv-screen, it´d even feel like a more logical part of the game. Simple, but important example: The map. Imagine playing a Grand Theft Auto-game. Normally , you have a small circle-map floating atop the screen or you have to pause and watch it in the menu. If, instead, you had a 3DS connected to the console, the map would be displayed on the handheld´s screen. And you´d grab and watch the map just like you would in reality when using your smartphone´s GPS-function. Or think of stuff like in-game phone calls.

The GameCube-GBA-connectivity seems to have burned into people´s heads as something negative, and admittedly, it sucked. It sucked, because it relied on games that required all your friends to possess that handheld, which just didn´t work if not all of your buddies were gamers. But that´s not a problem anymore with both online-play having become a normal part of gaming and the missed out idea of using connectivity for singleplayer-experiences. It´s not like I expect Nintendo to pop out that feature out of the blue, since it´s just something I though of today. But if the Wii-successor takes a step towards the tablet-idea, then it´d be a great way to market the new home console by introducing part of its feature long before through handheld-connectivity. Death to gauges and awkward item-switching!