The Calm before E³ 2014 – Crazy Prediction Time

April 8, 2014

An unprecedented calm even? This year´s E3 will either be one devoid of many news or one full of surprises, seeing how we hardly hear about any rumors for the upcoming gaming-mega event in Los Angeles. Especially as a big time Nintendo-fan, the wait for news is excruciating. A Smash Bros.-related Nintendo Direct later this day promises to soothe things a bit, but even the inevitable reveal of a playable Ridley, Shulk and Krystal cannot mask the dire situation of the Wii U. What´s going to happen? Let´s try to predict some – and fail badly at it!

Fanboy´s Favorite: Nintendo

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My past predictions of Nintendo´s E3-offerings used to be high in numbers and overly positive. Ever since the company´s treatment of its own new home console, the Wii U, it is clear that such optimism is unfit the situation. I´d love to go into this segment of ths article full-steam and write “Metroid 5 will be shown, as well as a 1080p60fps F-Zero”, but I cannot. This is a year where I have to take into account the circumstances and reflect Nintendo´s best and most realistic chances at delivering a high impact-E3-showing. Thus, I will focus on a few selected titles instead of listing dozens of wish games. Here I go:

The Legend of Zelda U will be revealed as promised by Eiji Aonuma. There will be some major changes to the typical formula, lon-needed changes as Aonuma himself admitted. Firstly, the focus of the game is on exploration to a never before realized degree. Aonuma already hinted at more non-linearity and this entry in the series will finally be the one that takes the original Zelda 1 for NES and makes it into a stunning 3D-game. The player is thrown into the middle of nowhere, surrounded by a beautiful, open, living game-world. You´re free to go anywhere. This where the next major change is revealed: Environmental interactivity is taken to the next level. Link can climb any surface that´s not entirely flat. No “gamey” specially marked surfaces where you can climb, but truly everywhere. Think of Shadow of the Colossus´ climbing mechanic, but with less restrictions. The movement of Link will be central to the experience, with additional items expanding your options of locomotion. Within a world that wants to b explored, climbing, jumping and more are integral to the gameplay. Of course, the jump-button will return to 3D-Zelda for the first time ever. A big change in its visual design is the renunciation of the blocky, almost grid-based layout of the world that existed to allow for an easier implementation of puzzles. Instead, the world will look believable, no more blocky, perfectly flat walls of mud. The environment wants to be experimented with, thanks to the non-scripted movement options. One change might cause a huge uproar to some conservative fans: Link will be able to be customized. At the very least will we be able to buy and change his clothing, and not just limited to 2-3 status-effecting armors, but real custom clothing. Get rid of the ridiculous hat, thank you! As for the visual artstyle, I´m expecting something close to the E3-demo, but not exactly the same. They can´t stray away from that too much, or we´ll have Spaceworld vs. TWW 2.0. Nobody wants that. Whatever it is, this is a Zelda-game that needs to prove that Nintendo is still capable of producing ambitious games, and not just minimum effort-cash ins like Super Mario 3D World or Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Something.

Monolith Soft´s X will be shown. For the first time, we will see a lengthy, story-centric trailer that gives an elaborate glimpse into the world, its characters and its circumstances. Personally, I expect a lot of people to be shocked by the true scale of the game, that might even exceed what we´ve seen so far. Xenoblade was all about exploring a gigantic world – with a flying mecha, you have to up the ante a lot to keep this sort of exploration, so even a huge continent might be too small to keep it up. Think bigger. Think … stars! Anyway, the game will be set for an early 2015 release in the west and a holidy 2014 release in Japan. Worst wait ever. Oh, and a short bonus-teaser will reveal that it is indeed Shulk who we saw at the end of the first teaser in 2012.

Super Smash Bros. 4 will have a big show-casing at this year´s E3. I expect more character reveals and and in-depth presentation of the games modes, especially the online-ones. Even in worst times, Smash Bros. managed to keep Nintendo relevant, as proven by Super Smash Bros. Melee, the only million-seller on GameCube in Japan. The game builds on its great foundations, no big surprises incoming (other than any newcomer being a surprise in itself, or course).

Two major new announcements will be made: One of them is Pokkén, the long rumored Pokémon-fighting game. The fantastic graphics and the exciting choices of playable Pokémon will make this appealing to the entire fanbase. Developed by Bandai Namco and the Tekken-team, it´ll have more than solid gameplay as well as a flawless online-component. The other new title will be from RetroStudios, and it´ll be in the tone that most of us whished for a long time: Some “mature”, non-cartoony looking, open-world 3D-game. Three possibilities: 1.) StarTropics, 2.) A Metroid-game where you play a Federal Space Trooper, not Samus Aran, or 3.) a new franchise. Whatever it is, it´ll look great, moody and be released sometime 2015 or even later.

The rest of the Wii U´s E3 will consist of known titles like Hyrule Warriors, Bayonetta 2 and Yoshi Yarn.

The Nintendo 3DS is hard to predict. Last year has been fantastic, this year is a lot quieter in terms of software. Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate might be shown. Lots of smaller titles. Hopefully, Fire Emblem: Awakening sees a sequel; afterall, the game hints that the story is not over yet AND it´d make sense saleswise, since this turned out to be one of the best-selling games in franchise-history.

The big wild card for Nintendo´s 2014 E3 will definitely be the QoL-device. It´s either going to be the laughing stock of the industry or something truly awesome, a must-have gadget. Not much in-between, really. Since I refuse to believe that Nintendo´s putting so much effort into a generic me too-fitness device, I think that their QoL-device will be something really cool. My personal speculation revolves around improved AR-capabilities and/or some highly evolved, endearing A.I./algorithm-“companion” that manage your daily virtual ventures and becomes more individual the more you keep using the device, thus bein able to automatically set or deactive the alarm, notify you of someone´s birthday or, as that´s part of the concept, tell you about your health. The AR-part could be seen as a reasonable counter to the current VR-hype. VR is all about a solitary experience at home, whereas AR is all about experience virtual content in the real world, so it´s automatically a more social experience, thus befitting Nintendo´s philosophy. We haven´t really seen what´s possible with AR at this point, both the 3DS´ and PSVita´s AR-capabilities are a glitchy, jittery mess. Think along the lines of that supercool Google-April fools-video, where you could see Pokémon interacting with the real world by looking through your smartphone. That sort of AR. As for the virtual companion idea, that´d be super-popular in Japan (think of all the anime that had A.I. partners for the hero) and is already touched upon by both Apple and Microsoft. Apple had Siri, and MS just recently published their Cortana-update for Windows Phones. Both are a nice start, but so much more would be possible, if you made it the focal point of a device. Maybe the QoL?

Microsoft´s effort-machine:

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Sony´s PS4 is currently beating the Xbox One´s ass, so Microsoft needs to show more than all those third-party multiplatform titles. While I have no interest in buying another system next to my Wii U and gaming PC, Microsoft managed to create some truly interesting first-party titles in the past. I´m looking forward to what they have in story.

The Third Place: Sony

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I´m (not) sorry, but i just don´t care.

Conclusion:

Games development gets more and more expensive as the industry turns more and more risk-averse. It is this year´s E3´s challenge to prove that creativity is not dead. All three big publishers and home console-manufacturers have to prove that you do not need a VR-headset for a fresh, fantastic experience. If they fail to do so, Facebook´s Oculus Rift might have them in for a bad awakening. It´s entirely up to each of Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony to prevent that from happening, though. An exciting E3, even without a plethora of new announcements.


The Calm before E³ 2013 – Crazy Prediction Time

April 4, 2013

This is just creepy how year after year I keep thinking to myself “Hm, E3 is approaching, should I write my predictions article already?”. And then I look up when I wrote the last one it´s been almost exactly a year since. Guess what, time for this year´s crazy E3 predictions. Though, will it really be that crazy? Sure, one could make the claim that predicting anything positive regarding the Wii U should be considered crazy, but … we´ll see. Anyway, this going to be a once-in-five-years big E3, with two new systems being fully unveiled and Nintendo being pressured into showing what they´ve got for Wii U to the public. I´d like to say that I´m not hyped, but truth to be told, I am. Because, let me be blunt about this, if Nintendo doesn´t deliver their A (AAAAA …) – game here, they´re better off just ending their current home console right now. So here they are, the FlyingFisch´s 2013 Crazy E3 Predictions!

Fanboy´s Favorite: Nintendo

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So here we are, Nintendo. Do or Die – your motto for this year´s E3. Yes, maybe a bit melo-dramatic, but even as a big time fan, I´m annoyed by their silence when meanwhile negative news after negative news arrives. Super low hardware sales for the Wii U and developers and journalists openly laughing about your new console. The Wii U is, at this moment, a Monster Hunter-machine. And there´s nothing on the system´s release lists that will change that anytime soon. Still, all hope is not lost. And while I might underestimate people´s lust for graphics alone: IF Nintendo can show a ton of high quality AAA-titles, they could win E3, even with their competitors showing brand-new consoles. What those games might be? Here´s my take:

The corner stone for the Wii U´s inofficial revival will consist of a three-hit-combo for 2013. One of them is Mario Kart U. After the letdown that was MK7, I hope Nintendo puts more effort into the next entry of the franchise. Miiverse should help the online-experience, though. Just put more focus on the actual racing instead of items; ya know, more Mario Kart 64, less Double Dash. The second important 2013-title will be Super Mario U. And for the love of god, this better not be another Galaxy-like Mario-game. Have this be the true “Mario 64 2”. Big, open worlds, maybe one gigantic world? And, of course, it´ll be called “Super Mario Universe“. No need to be creative here. And then there´s number three: RetroStudio´s Wii U-title. Let me say this: If they´ve been working on another Donkey Kong Country-game, I wish Nintendo death and doom. No, RetroStudios is Nintendo´s only first-party studio capable of producing visually mature games, so that´s what they should be working on. And it´s not just about having them make some run-of-the-mill first person shooter. Whatever they´ve been developing, it needs to be the Wii U´s showcase title, the “game to go”. I can´t even really imagine what kind of game I want from Retro, all I know is that it needs to be big. Beautiful. Overflowing of ambition. First- or third-person perspective – it doesn´t matter. Just be … GRAND. And don´t be a Metroid-title. I´d rather have them work on Eternal Darkness, Startropic or, even better, their own IP (yes, I´m a fool who still yearns after Raven Blade …). Mario Kart in summer, RetroStudio-title in October/November and Mario for christmas. Left, right, punch! Add to that smaller titles like the HD-remaster of The Wind Waker and you´ve got a nice first year.
Now, part of me wants Nintendo to release “X” this year, too, but I doubt it. If it´s anywhere near as big as Xenoblade Chronicles, development will take time, and two to three years might have not been enough. If anything, “X” would make for a great spring 2014-title.

Speaking of 2014: The most important part of their Wii U-showing has to be a vision for the future, beyond the current year. Part of that is offering a transparent, dependable release liste for at least the first half of 2014. The other part is to fill that release list with sales-igniting games. Since Nintendo´s forced to go all out, here´s what needs to be shown at E3: Super Smash Bros. 4. We know we´ll get “so-me-thing”, but whatever, it needs to be a trailer, followed by a “coming summer 2014!”. Dear Sakurai, stop turning Smash Bros.-games into Nintendo-encylopaedias. It was neat in Melee, it was nice in Brawl, but it´s unnecessary at this point. I mean, most of the data could simply be copy&pasted from previous games anyway. Focus on the fighting side of the game, make it as fun as 64/Melee and give us 40-50 great, unique characters. Definitely let us play as Ridley, Krystal and Shulk! Crom from Fire Emblem, too, while you´re at it (sorry, Ike, you´re out).
What then? It´s damn hard to come up with actual big titles that could turn the Wii U´s misery to success. Bayonetta 2 will be there. And that´s it, for all we know. Anything else is pure guesswork, speculation and fantasizing/dreaming. Have Capcom develop a Wii U-exclusive Monster Hunter MMORPG. Same gameplay as MH3U/MH4, but you´re playing in a big, seamless world, meeting hundreds of other hunters in lovely towns, oozing detail. Climb up everywhere, gather in bigger-than-four-men groups to hunt down the most dangerous monsters. Have there be lots of ingame-story bits, like monsters attacking a certain town, or non-action-events like a king visiting or a party going on. Have it be like “Sword Art Online” (anime) in terms of atmosphere. Convince Square-Enix to remake Vagrant Story for Wii U. Maybe make them release Versus 13 for Wii U, too, and FF15, while you´re at it. Similarily, pay Sega to finally give us Skies of Arcadia 2! Show Konami the middle finger and don´t bother with Sony-fanboy Kojima. Motivate Marvelous Entertainment to develop another game in the style of Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the moon. Ensure that Ubisoft makes Watchdogs for Wii U a worthy version of the game next to their PS4/720-versions. The big one: Get GTA5 on board! Make it happeneing, even if only as a later port.
Then there´s your promise to work together with 3rd-party studios on known franchises. Let Team Ninja make another Metroid-game. Screw the feminist-idiots, the game was fantastic and turned Samus Aran into my most liked video game character ever, showing her as a human being and not as your typical “super cool badass” persona. Give StarFox to Capcom, so they can develop StarFox Adventures 2. Hey, they were capable of making a Zelda-game afterall.
Returning to first party stuff, Nintendo, if you want to positively shock your entire fan community, announce F-Zero U. Featuring 30 player-online multiplayer, 60fps Full HD-graphics (of 720p, but go for dat 60fps). Announce that RetroStudios has been working on two titles and their other game is due for a 2014-release. Give us Chibi Robo U. And Endless Ocean 3/Forever Blue 3. And if you want me to orgasm during your E3-live stream, show Cosmic Walker as basically a space-version of the former mentioned Endless Ocean.
I´d hope for even a lot of more stuff, but I honestly can´t come up with anything else. Or at least anything that´s significant both in terms of sales and mainstream/press hype. Surprise us, Nintendo.

A system that isn´t in need of surprise that much is the Nintendo 3DS. What a freaking great handheld, and easily shaping up to be my favorite handheld ever. Fire Emblem: Awakening is merely two weeks away from its European release. Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is awesome, and I´m definitely planning on playing Luigi´s Mansion 2 some time in the future, too. Unlike the Wii U, I don´t need a release list for 2014, as I´m sure this thing will keep offering fantastic titles. My main prediction for E3 is about Zelda 3DS. Here´s what I hope will be happening: Majora´s Mask 3D is announced for a 2013-release. At the same time, a trailer for a brand-new 3DS-Zelda is shown, graphically similar to Ocarina of Time/Majora´s Mask. It is revealed in said trailer that this will be the third Hero of Time-title, showing us what happened to Link after the events of Majora´s Mask. Showing us his life´s journey. Showing us how he ended up as an eternal skeleton, a Stalfos. I´m not expecting any Zelda U-details at E3, and honestly, I´d rather have Zelda 3DS to be focused on first, using it as a statement of proof that Nintendo´s still capable of making games that rival their timeless masterpieces for the Nintendo 64. Have th is bee the highest quality trilogy in video game history.
Leaving aside first-party stuff like Pokemon and Mario & Luigi, there´s lots of Third-party games I wanna see. Bravely Default being localized (and don´t you dare cut out the AR-app! She´s mai waifu afterall! 😐 ), Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney 5 being released this or early next year. Add Dragon Quest 7 and a new Resident Evil to that list and it´s ready to go. Oh, wait, a 3D-port of Skies of Arcadia Legends mustn´t be missing! How beautiful this game would look in 3D …
Non-gaming related, finally add Miiverse to the 3DS.

And if all else fails, just scrap the Wii U and announce your hybrid-system that functions as both handheld and home console. We all want it. We all expect it. No need for secrecy.

Microsoft´s effort machine: 

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Rumors about always-online and no-used-games are growing in intensity with each and every day. Dear Microsoft, while I don´t intend to get another console next to my Wii U and gaming PC, I sincerely hope these rumors turn out to be fud and nothing more. Should they, however, be revealed to be true, I will forthon call everybody an idiot that buys your next generation system. And that won´t be an insult. It will be fact.

The Third Place: Sony

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I´m (not) sorry, but i just don´t care.

Conclusion:

A hard to make predictions for E3. The 3DS is set to go, meanwhile it´s difficult to guess what even Nintendo themselves are about to announce for the Wii U, let alone third party-developers. All I can say is that it´s not really in the number of games, but in what the announced games bring to the table, both in visual appeal and gameplay ambition. This is not the time to play it savely, Nintendo. Show us your hand or fold and quit it.
While unimportant to my personal buying plans, I´m looking forward to see Microsoft and Sony show us their nextgen systems and what they´ve got in store for them. Is it all about shinier graphics or can they provided not-yet-possible gameplay experiences? Oh, and is any of them crazy enough to call for a 499$ or above price tag?
To conclude the FlyingFisch´s 2013 crazy E3-predictions: Have a nice E3 and don´t forget to play some more Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate!


The Zelda-formula has not gotten stale

June 19, 2011

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D was released on June 17th here in Europe, three days ago. It is the first big blockbuster title for the Nintendo 3DS-handheld, even though it is just a remake of the Nintendo 64-classic. But the Nintendo 3DS shall not be the topic today. It has become kind of a never-ending debate between Zelda-fans: Drastic change needed or not? You will always find large groups of fans arguing for either. The most prominent argument of the pro-change party probably is that the “Zelda-formula” has gotten stale. Up till now, I myself counted me a member of that group of fans. However, Oot 3D changed that view: The formula is not stale, not in anyway.

Let me start by saying that, despite basically admitting that I put myself in the wrong camp, I still think that changes are necessary. But when I say “changes”, what I really mean is evolution, progression, new-stuff-anything-really. Which is what we´ll get anyways, I´m pretty sure about it. What is not needed are above mentioned “drastic changes” (unless the hardware allows for it, virtual reality and such, haha). We don´t need a Zelda that throws away this or that, copies a different genre or changes from third- to first-person camera. I would never be opposed to such changes, however, since seeing what has become of Skyward Sword, I´m confident that the Zelda-team at Nintendo knows exactly what can and what can´t be done with this maybe most important franchise.

The argument still stands, though: “The Zelda-formula has gotten stale“. Since I already stated this to be false, I guess I should proceed with an explanation. Typically, those Zelda-fans (of which I was part, too) argue that ever since the original OoT, maybe even since Alttp, all Zelda-games offered more of the same, failing to evolve into something better. Without the “better”, the series remained to be “good”, but that´s about it. Majora´s Mask-fans would argue that their favorite series-entry didn´t follow that formula, but I would disagree. It had a slightly different focus, but the overall game featured all the “stale” elements that other installments are criticized for. Personally, I like all home console-Zeldas, not a single one is even close to being a bad game, far from it actually. But to this very day, I keep waiting for *that* Zelda-game that tops OoT, that succeeds in becoming just as mind-blowing, breath-taking, industry-changing. This game hasn´t been released, yet. But is changing the formula the only way to bring this unimaginable Leviathan into existence? Of course, not, otherwise I wouldn´t be typing this article!

The reason for why hardcore Zelda-fans think the series has gotten stale is that in reality, the series has been dumbed down. That is drastically different from the apparent reason. If you think about it, the “Zelda-formula” has always been there. Always to a different degree. Zelda NES had the overworld and dungeons, the small keys, the classic items, the heart containers, Ganon, and so on. A link to the Past had it, Link´s Awakening had it, Ocarina of Time had it, and then the following Zelda-games as well. Sure, TWW and TP may have followed OoT´s basic structure a little too closely, but that wasn´t the reason why these entries felt lacking. What those modern Zelda-games are lacking is symptomatic for the whole of our today´s gaming industry: True tension, challenge, mercilessness, real exploration, a sense of wonder.

All of these are characteristics of a lot of older video games and I realize that it would be easy to tap into the nostalgia-trap. But luckily, I´ve got evidence, and so do all of you. Ocarina of Time 3D, the remake of the, for a lot of gamers, “best game ever”, was released last week in Europe and THIS is it. This is evidence for why I think I´m right and for why I was wrong. OoT always had a strong following, but gamers that weren´t much of a Zelda-fan would smile at the notions of praise and state that OoT might have been great back then, but wouldn´t be today. Not only are impressions all over the internet proving these doubters wrong. I am, as well, since I´ve already played the remake up to the forest temple and can confirm how absolutely great this game still is, how it holds up effortlessly. If you disagree and think that there are a lot of games with more clever puzzles, a better, richer atmosphere and a more engaging combat-system, then please make a list. Because I must have missed all these games. More importantly, though, the fact that OoT is so much fun even now proves that the Zelda-formula hasn´t gotten stale. Hell, I don´t think I had this much fun with a video game in a long, long time. If the formula had really gotten stale, shouldn´t I, previously a supporter of drastic changes, find it boring to play this game? I admit that there´s a lot of nostalgia involved when it comes to Oot, but when I bought it for Wii´s Virtual Console, I played it for a few minutes and didn´t touch it again. But graphics surely weren´t the problem. Just a few days ago, I finished Baten Kaitos Origins for GameCube, and believe me, it doesn´t look nice on a HDTV. But it was a great game, nonetheless. So why am I having such a great time with OoT 3D? Because it isn´t a dumbed down casual experience.

In modern Zelda-games, dying or proceeding the main story aren´t problems anymore. Firstly, you have to actively screw up to die. Secondly, the games guide you from event-scene to event-scene. You will never feel lost, never find yourself thinking about where to go next. While Zelda-games still aren´t as dumbed down as the majority of nowadays blockbuster-titles on all systems, they certainly grew a lot closer to the “fast food style” that games like Call of Duty perfected. The game will tell you where to go, how to tackle a problem and reward you with plenty of cutscenes. For a lack of a better expression, Zelda-games became casual experiences. Now, if you think OoT is piss easy, stop reading here because you won´t agree with me. But where OoT and older Zelda-titles differ from the newer ones, is how they don´t hold the players hand. They don´t spell out the solution of puzzles before you, they throw you into tough battles. If you talk to every NPC in OoT, you will get a lot of hints, but first of all, you will only get “hints”, and secondly, you will really have to talk to these people. There won´t be ingame-messages, informing you of what to do. There won´t be cutscenes doing that either. The game really forces you to explore your environment, both the living and non-living part of it. Also, it manages to raise your interest for side stuff. One great and well-known example? The Lon Lon-farm. Some Zelda-fans didn´t even know that, but Epona, the famous horse-friend, is 100% optional in OoT. Moreover, the Lon Lon-farm as a whole is totally optional. I´m sorry if I´m wrong, but as far as I know, there is no inherent reason to enter the farm ever at all to finish the main story of the game. But here´s the catch: The game introduces Malon and Talon, residents of the Lon Lon-farm, prior to meeting princess Zelda for the first time, and thus imperatively introduces them to the player, thus raising interest. But that´s only one more obvious example, really. The whole world of Hyrule in OoT invites the player to explore its various areas. Modern Zelda-games fail at this, because the player will quickly realize that it is best to wait until the end of the game before exploring the world, because you´ll always find yourself in situations where you need a very specific item to proceed. Such scenes happen in OoT as well, but at the same time, the game makes sure to reward you with some kind of interaction no matter at what point in the story you are.  The game acknowledges the player´s wish for exploration and is designed accordingly.

To summarize, modern Zelda-games are still fun, but they´re just fun games, without a deeper connection to the player. Adding a tiny bit of hyperbole, TWW and TP are hardly more than a Tetris-games that you start playing when you feel like wasting a bit of your time. You always know that it is no problem to stop playing, that it is also no problem to start the game at any point. Just hop in and fool around. That IS fun, definitely, but it is also not memorable in any way. Older Zelda-games, instead, succeeded in creating a true adventure-experience. They were challenging, involving, immersive. They let the player figure out stuff by himself. They rewarded straying off the main path in many, various ways. And most importantly, they separated themselves from the “rest”. Take this as elitism if you have to, but a Zelda NES, AlttP, LA, OoT and MM are all experiences that were so far ahead of the competition at their time that it is brain-breaking to even think about it. One may say that it is simply not possible to invent the wheel anew all the time, but as a matter of fact, the Zelda-series managed to do exactly THAT with every series-entry till Majora´s Mask. It is after that one that the Zelda-series became a “game amongst games“.  How I can say this with such unshakeable confidence? Because I´m playing The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D right now, a game that was originally released in 1998, thirteen years ago. And in terms of gameplay, it is still more than up to par to ANY game out there. As for the franchise´s future, Skyward Sword seems to feature a lot of ideas that could replicate all the factors that made past Zelda-games outstanding. What I can say for sure, though, is that the inclusion of dungeons, small keys and such will not make or break this game. Because the Zelda-formula has not gotten stale. 


Five Things (and two more) the next Smash Bros. needs to do

May 24, 2011

All the rumor-talk about a next Smash Bros.-game gets my E3-hype only up all the more, so I took the time to think about what features, what kind of content I´d like to see in the next Smash Bros.-title for Café or 3DS. Below I listed five things that Nintendo needs to include to make me happy.

 

1.) Changeable Moves

A huge difference to the past three games, but the more I think about it, the less of a problem I see. Changing the moves of a character isn´t unprecedent, even fairly typical in a lot of anime-based fighting-games, such as Narutimate Hero for PS2 or the Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi-series. These games let you decide what move is executed by what button-press. As big in content Brawl was, the freshness in terms of controlling all these characters was lost. Smash Bros. 64 was a great first entry, Melee improved vastly on that by adding the directional-B-moves as well as the ability to defend yourself in midair. Brawl added … tripping. Lol, no, of course, Brawl added a bunch of new gameplay as well, but it was more about environmental improvement. The characters had pretty much the same variety of moves as before.

I could see this being the big new feature of Smash Bros Café/3DS. All characters start out with a standard set of moves, but as you play the game, you unlock new moves, represented by some sort of trophy-like collectible. There would be unlockable moves of different categories, one category for each button-combination. At the end of unlocking all the content, there would be character-specific moves, moves that can only be used on a certain character. Maybe have three such moves for each category of each character. And then there´d be general moves that can be chosen for all characters. This wouldn´t only allow for a f***ton of classic, recognizable moves to be included (imagine choosing between Samus´ normal Beam, Plasma Beam, Ice Beam and Wave Beam for the B-button, or choosing between Link´s boomering, hammer or  bombchus for the B+right/left-move), it´d also solve the problem of giving all fans what they want. For example, many fans want Ganondorf to have moves that he actually used in the games. Like using a sword, proper magic and stuff. But then there are long-time Smash Bros.-fans that want Ganondorf to stay exactly the way the grew to love fighting as him. Peace, baby!

2. New Characters

That is obvious, yeah. The two number one missing characters that I fully expect to see in the next Smash Bros.-game are Ridley (Metroid-series) and Krystal (Star Fox-series). Metroid really got shafted so far, with Samus Aran being the only playable character from the franchise. Yeah, we got Zero Suit Samus, but that´s hardly a new character per se. I mean, give us at least one enemy from each franchise so we have someone to fight, Nintendo. And Krystal would add both one more female character, not much of those, as well as introduce the first staff-fighter to the game. Speaking of staff-fighters, Nintendo could also add some Fire Emblem-character with a spear or such, and hopefully a series-villain, too. Other than those, the sky is the limit. There´s so many video game characters out there that would be tons of fun to have in Smash Bros.. I guess the most popular third-party-wish would be Megaman. But really, more important than adding new characters, Nintendo should concentrate on make the ones they already have as unique as possible.

3.) Trim down the Fat

Brawl has often been called “the ultimate Nintendo collection” or similar names, and it is true: The Wii-entry featured an encyclopedia´s richness of information, both in text and graphics and music. It also featured a singleplayer-adventure that by itself took around eight hours to beat a single time. And then we had a million of other game-modes. To be honest, I didn´t need all that. Especially the adventure-mode. The cutscenes were truly fantastic, but the mode itself was rather annoying and bland. And really, any true Smash Bros.-fan buys the game because of the fighting, not because of some sucky platforming.

Get rid of this hour-long adventure-mode and if it has to be there in some form, get it back to Melee-proportions. And while I hope to see a big soundtrack and wealth of information about characters again, do we really need all these small modes? I admit that I sucked at it, but stuff like the boss-run-mode or cruel Melee (whatever it was called in Brawl) didn´t really capture my heart. Same goes for repeating the All-Star-mode with all of the characters. And event-mode was fun in Melee, but really sucked in Brawl. I finished it because I´m addicted to finishing my games, but it was more of an annoyance than a “yay, I´m so happy to play this right now!”. And guess what, there´s two modes that Brawl was even missing. I want the “Finish the platforms” from the N64-game and the “Reach the Goal” from Melee back. Those modes offered a truly different experience. Oh, and either get rid of Target-mode or give every character his own level. Target-Test in Brawl sucked hard. Anyways, sometimes, less is better. More focus on the fighting and the truly fun bonus-modes, less “it´s there because it was easy to implement”.

4.) Against the CPU-cooperative modes and 4 vs. 4-battles

The former would feature a few different missions where up to four players are fighting against CPU-enemies, but not in the usual arenas, but specially designed mission-levels. And the goal here wouldn´t be to simply kill other characters, but to pursue real taks, like protecting a ship that is sailing on an ocean, trying to conquer a castle, trying to build a tower by using certain items to reach a high up point while simultaneously defending against attacking enemies. There could even be boss battles, like when you´re sailing mentioned ship, a giant sea monster appears that you have to fend off by using the ship´s own cannon.

The latter would introduce a whole new level of multiplayer-action to the franchise, while at the same time not overdoing it. Four players during battle should remain the standard battle-mode, but for adding a lot of new potential, I´d love to see a raised player-count. I don´t know, if that was possible offline, but at least online, it should be doable.

5.) Return to a mix of 64/Melee-gameplay

This is a hardcore-fan´s wish, so I kept it for last. The main reason why Super Smash Bros. Brawl didn´t captivate myself for not even close to as long as Melee, was not only the lack of available offline-friends. It was also because of the floaty, party-game-like gameplay. Yeah, yeah, some ignorant gamers laugh about the Smash Bros.-series, “fighting game, lulz”, but for all those of us that put a lot of time and effort into the franchise, the depth was obvious and extremely motivating. What I loved about 64´s gameplay was how impactful each and every move felt. Hitting another character with Link´s sword really made you feel the contact between sword and character, even without rumble pak. This got worse in Melee, but then again, Melee introduced a speed and dynamic to all the fighting that made it just as engaging. Combine the two styles and I´m sure we would experience the best Smash Bros.-game of all times.

And a small 6.), because I´m too lazy to edit this article´s title: Different costumes for every character, not just color swaps. Seriously, that´s not demanded too much, is it.

And small 7.), lol, because I just searched for a nice image for the top of this text: Maybe change the artstyle from the realistic one we have right now to a more cartoony style, resembling the original game´s boxart. As can be seen above.


Time for Pokémon – The Next Generation

February 5, 2011

In the advent of the soon-to-be-launching Nintendo 3DS and the fact that I plan to wait for its first revision (thx for infecting me with that idea, sigh), I turned around a gave the existing Nintendo DS-library a closer look. And I figured that there´s enough stuff to keep me well entertained for another 1-2 years. Right now, I´m playing Pheonix Wright: Justice for All and it´s fantastic. Then I´ll start the Professor Layton-series, to prepare myself for the 3DS-crossover. And aside from these older titles, Pokemon Black Edition should bear a near infinite amount of entertainment. Having said that, I thought how great it´d be if the Pokemon-series would see a rather drastic make-over with it´s inevitable 3DS-sequel.

Yeah, new clothing doesn´t equal growing up!

I´ve been one of the biggest complainers about GameFreak´s lazy efforts with past installments of the Pokemon-series, and yet I bought every new generation on day 1. And it seems this weird behavior will continue. But that´s the last Pokemon-game for the NDS, the next one´s going to be a 3DS-game, and Satoru Iwata, boss of Nintendo, himself recently mentioned that a Pokemon-title for the new handheld is underway. Whether that´s a main entry or some spinoff doesn´t really matter. What matters is that 2D-sprites won´t get all the little monsters very far in terms of a 3D-effect, so some kind of more drastic change in terms of visual is to be expected.

However, this could also make for the starting point of new generation of Pokemon-trainers in the franchise´s timeline. Specifically speaking: Have Ash Ketchum grow up! It always felt like a missed opportunity, seeing how the original Pokemon Blue/Red-players have grown up long time ago, yet Ash Ketchum is still the young star of the anime-series. How much more enjoyable would it have been, if that brat actually grew up in a similar time frame as the series´ fans? Anyway, that obviously didn´t happen. But it´d be fine to make it happen at any point in the future just as well. Have Ash Ketchum become a legendary master-trainer that´s told to be traveling the most dangerous, unknown parts of the world. And have there be a new main character, a new boy around the age of 14, who´s the new center of the anime, and will then meet the adult Ash in some of the episodes. “Epic” would be the correct word here.

Why I care? Because whenever I decide to sink into a franchise, I´d like that franchise to evolve, to keep on grasping my fascination. Besides the fact that I´d love the RPG-games feature more of the anime-show´s characters and plots, a “Next Generation” for both games and anime seems like a highly enjoyable event, that´s all. When the RPGs have to change into 3D-games finally, use that to introduce other changes, too. And when that happens, change up the anime, as well. It´s a matter of keeping it fresh, and let´s be real: Both games and anime have lost most of their freshness for a long time now.


Event Releases – A business model for Nintendo

January 28, 2011

It´s really hard to decide what to write about these days. Just today, Sony announced its PSP2-handheld, which looks as hot and shiny as its predecessor did back in 2004. Then, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Swords keeps on feeling farther and farther away from its release-date. And lastly, the way Nintendo handles the Wii becomes odder with every day. And I guess that´s something I´ll write about, though I´ll focus on a specific part of the recurring dilemma: Nintendo´s third-party relations.

No matter what happens, Nintendo seemingly can´t win when it comes to third-party games. The GameCube was a powerful system, only bested by Xbox, and only got what was left over on the multiplatform table. The Wii is tracking on par with PlayStation 2 at the same time in its life, and release lists are empty. They´re simply empty, third parties refuse to deliver anything that goes beyond a cheap party-game. Even on the Nintendo DS, the de facto most successful videogame system of all times, western developers completely ignore the portable. Now, the 3DS is about to launch, but somehow I´ve got a bad feeling about the support of Capcom and Square Enix, especially when it comes to Sony´s PSP2, which will see their support, too, and likely an even better one. So, with all those examples of how Nintendo failed at gaining third-party support, what´s left to do? Is there no solution?

Well, there is. At least, that´s what I´d like to claim. And there´s even a bit of an early proof of what I´m going to detail when you take a look at the Nintendo 3DS´ launch-lineup. The big first-party titles for launch are some bizarre submarine-game and the cutey-cute Nintendogs-sequel. That´s it. Pilotwings Resort´s going to be released rather sooner than later, but the two biggest inhouse-developments, Kid Icarus: Uprising and Ocarina of Time 3D are delayed till after E3, as Reginald “Reggie” Fils-Aime announced just days ago. In other words: Nintendo is granting third-party developers/publishers at least half a year to fight software-sales out by themselves. And even afterwards, what is it that Nintendo has to offer? Remakes and an arcadey flight-shooter? We saw how well Sin and Punishment 2 sold …

But that is exactly the way Nintendo has to pan out its first party-releases! If they want to acquire third-party support, that is. The one old, big (,and stupid) argument that these developers always made is that Nintendo-fans only buy Nintendo-games. Be it because Nintendo-fans are such fanboys or because Nintendo-games are so much better in quality, you choose, he! Anyway, if there weren´t that many Nintendo-games to begin with, even the most rabbid fanboys will be forced to take a look at third party-offerings, if they want something to play. And if that were the case, no third party-developer would have the right to complain about some kind of unfair competition – there wouldn´t be anymore direct competition with Nintendo!

But wait! That leaves us with a question: How is Nintendo supposed to make money with software? You know, since they´re a gaming company first and foremost! That´s the tricky part, and it is a concept that could only ever work with Nintendo. Both complaint and necessity, Nintendo heavily relies on its famous IPs. Some are sick of them, others can´t get enough of them. And surely, the latter mark the majority.  But that is not a problem. Instead of handling its first party-titles like normal video game releases, just putting them out like any other developer does, Nintendo has to change their games´ public image away from the status of “just another game“, and towards something more similar to an event altogether. The best example to give you a better image of that concept would be to take a look at Dragon Quest. The mainline Dragon Quest-series is not just some game, it´s an event. We all know the photos of waiting lines in Japan. I don´t know if that´s still the case, but I believe to remember something about Japanese children getting one day off school whenever a DQ-game is released. That´s how much of an event that “game” is. Of course, it´s not necessary to take it that far, but it´s the same principle: Make your franchises into something special. Something gamers will look forward to, no matter the specifics.

Putting a bit more detail into that plan, think of it like that: Nintendo has several popular franchises. Those would be Mario, Zelda, Metroid, Smash Bros., Donkey Kong, Kirby, Mario Kart, Animal Crossing, Starfox, F-Zero, Pikmin, Pokemon. And many others. Now, if we remember the past few Nintendo-systems, there has almost never been more than one installment of each series, two at maximum. What to do is the following: Screw all possible spilled details about these games until shortly prior to their release dates. But do announce them a long time before the actual release happens. Also, pan their releases out evenly and scarce over the year. I would have to count all franchises to create a precise time table, but how about three games a year for each platform? That would mean that every four months, a new Nintendo-title is released, giving third parties a lot of time for their games. Meanwhile, Nintendo-fans have a release-list that looks like the following:

  • January #1: Kirby
  • July #1: Animal Crossing
  • November #1: Zelda
  • January #2: F-Zero
  • July #2: Pokemon
  • November #2: Mario

That would be Nintendo´s release-list for two years. And we would know of this list at least a year before the first game´s release. All we´d know would be “Kirby” releases next year´s January. We wouldn´t know what it looks like, what its subtitle is, or gameplay-ideas it incorporates. It´d simply be the “Kirby-day”. And all the details wouldn´t matter, because damn, it´s freaking Kirby! But maybe you´d have an easier time seeing the idea behind that concept if I used Zelda or Mario, but I think you get it. Let´s be honest: We weren´t interested or hyped for Twilight Princess because of “yay, transforming into a wolf!” or “hm, I´m really excited who this princess is going to be!“. We were hyped because, you already know it, IT´S ZELDA! The same goes for Mario, Metroid and most of Nintendo´s franchises. We´re interested because we know how great these franchises have always been, how they rarely disappointed. Details are unnecessary, and to get these games to the general public, a short marketing campaign shortly prior to release should be well enough. So, not only would it spare fans from spoiling themselves (thanks, Gametrailers, for spoiling me the Zoras in TP! Yeah, still bitter about that …), it´d also change how not only we, the gamers, view those Nintendo-games, it also would create an opportunity for both Nintendo AND third party-developers.

Seeing how Nintendo runs into problems sooner or later with every new console generation, how they cannot continuously support a system by themselves (not while satisfying enthusiasts) and how such planned out release dates would only help each IP´s installment to get all the polish it really need, that would be a concept to solve these problems. Just in case you think that would be too little releases, please take into account how Nintendo-games tend to be evergreens. A status that would only be strengthened by treating these titles as events. And if after all that Capcom, Square Enix, Electronic Arts, Activision or Konami are then still arguing about Nintendo´s software being too dominant, they can go **** themselves. Feel free to agree.


Give the Hero of Time an epic end

October 27, 2010

Just yesterday, some videos from Nintendo´s fall conference in Japan were released on Youtube. Besides Resident Evil: Revelations, which looks absolutely stunning, there´s also a video showing The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D, the Nintendo 3DS-remake of the famous N64-title and, according to general perception, best video game of all times. For what is worth, I´m of that opinion, too.

It is simply awesome to see this grand adventure running on a handheld, featuring vastly improved visuals and super-smooth animations. The environment´s objects are still N64-level, but that´s definitely due to Nintendo having chosen to leave it at that, not a shortcoming of the 3DS´ power. If you forget about the simple structured buildings for a moment, it looks really close to Twilight Princess and makes one wonder, if we´ll actually see a ground-up for 3DS-Zelda game. I sure hope so.

There´s even a possibility that Nintendo had more reason to do this remake rather than simply rushing out a big 3DS-game. Said possibility is that Nintendo plans to do another Zelda-game starring the Hero of Time. It´d certainly have less impact on new Zelda-fans if they didn´t even know who that Hero of Time was and why he´s so famous and important. What better way to introduce new fans to this part of the legend than by having them play the hero´s game itself?

On top of hoping that Majora´s Mask will see the same treatment, I really hope that Nintendo considers a third Hero of Time-game. For what we know, that Link simply vanished after saving Termina. But did he really vanish or did Nintendo just leave him be and proceeded to create The Wind Waker? As a matter of fact, the Hero of Time IS the center core of all 3D-Zelda games. Starring in two games, having a statue in Hyrule Castle in TWW, and being referenced in Twilight Princess, where we see what happened to Ganondorf after young Link went back in time and warned princess Zelda. The only 3D-Zelda game that might not be related to that one hero could be the upcoming Skyward Sword, but even then, weird, crazy stuff could happen. All I know is that I´d love to play one final game as the Hero of Time and see how he ends up. Besides the needed conclusion to his person, it could end up revealing further connections to other Zelda-games. I don´t want to start writing about fan-theories in this blog-entry, but …