Month: June 2017

Making the Grade: E3 2017 Edition

This is the third installation of my “Making the Grade” series, a temperature-check all of Nintendo’s major franchises and where they stand in the overall scheme of existence. The idea was always that I’d go back and update this list whenever there was some sort of major shift or big event… and as E3 2017 has just wrapped up, that certainly qualifies.

A couple of things have moved around the list as a result of Nintendo’s E3 showing… with one big mover you can probably already predict. As I did last time, I’ve highlighted the franchises that have switched tiers, with a (+) for those that have been upgraded, and a (-) for the downgrades. As always, feel free to disagree.

Grade A: Fire EmblemThe Legend of Zelda, Mario Kart, (+) Metroid, Pokemon,  Splatoon, Super MarioSuper Smash Bros.

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages… she’s back. Samus Aran, first lady of gaming, returned to the spotlight this E3 in a big way. The logo-reveal for Metroid Prime 4 alone would have bumped Samus and her franchise up to grade “B”, but then, almost as an afterthought, Nintendo revealed a remastered version of Metroid II entitled Metroid: Samus Returns, coming this September for the 3DS. Samus and Metroid have retaken their rightful place amongst Nintendo’s elite franchises. No other movers into or out of the “A” grade, but some notes: if Super Mario and Pokemon could get higher than “A”, I’d put them there, and though there was still no mention of Smash Bros. for Switch, that’s a franchise that’s not going anywhere.

Grade B: Animal CrossingDonkey KongKirbyMario & LuigiPaper Mario, XenobladeYoshi, (+) Pikmin

I can’t recall if Hey, Pikmin! was announced pre or post Switch event, but as I look at the list today and note that in addition to Hey, Pikmin! Shigeru Miyamoto offhandedly mentioned that Pikmin 4 is in the works for Switch, the Pikmin bump to grade “B” seems appropriate. Reliable standbys Kirby and Yoshi both received new game announcements at E3, as did the 3DS Mario & Luigi series, which will get a remake/spin-off hybrid in Superstar Saga & Bowser’s Minions. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is still (Nintendo claims) going to make a Holiday 2017 debut, and Donkey Kong showed up in spirit in both the bizarrely fascinating Mario + Rabbids game being developed by Ubisoft and in Super Mario Odyssey as the namesake for the urban playground New Donk City.

Grade C: (+) ARMS(+) BoxBoy!(+) Mario spin-offs, Mii games, Pokemon spin-offs.

First off, I’m an idiot. I’ve never included BoxBoy! on this list. Developed by HAL Labs, the little Box-fellow even has his own amiibo. Granted, the BoxBoy! trilogy just ended, but since when did that stop Nintendo from milking a profitable franchise? Moving on: while Super Mario, Mario & Luigi, and Paper Mario are uniquely deep franchises of their own, the multitude of other Mario branded games Nintendo releases are harder to classify. I have, for the time being, combined Mario Party, Mario Sports (including Mario & Sonic at the Olympics), Mario v. Donkey Kong/Mini Mario, and Dr. Mario. For now, the newly minted (and buzzed about) Mario + Rabbids helps bump the Mario spin-offs up a tier. Pokken Tournament DX is ALMOST enough to push Pokemon spin-offs up to grade “B”, but the weight of all of those Mystery Dungeons still drags it down. I’m cheating a little with ARMS; one game does not a franchise make, but this one game is being received well enough to suggest ARMS is on its way to becoming a brand. Finally, I’ve re-branded Tomadachi Life and its ilk as Mii games; Mii’s themselves are in short supply these days, as Nintendo seems determined to move away from the Wii era. Still, Miitopia was recently revealed to be making its way west, so there’s still some life (and a lot of brand recognition) left in Nintendo’s cartoon avatars.

Grade D: Luigi’s MansionKid IcarusWario brand games, (+) Star Fox

Time heals all wounds. There’s been no game announced for Fox McCloud and crew, but to be fair, Star Fox is a franchise with a really solid cast of characters and enough of a fanbase to let it recover from the horribly received Star Fox Zero. Don’t expect Team Arwing to climb any higher than tier “D” without a new game, though. It’s that sort of name recognition that draws the line of demarcation between tiers “D” and “E”; the franchises in “D” haven’t received any more love than those in “E”, necessarily, but they star beloved characters that aren’t soon going to be forgotten.

Grade E: Advance Wars, (-) F-ZeroMother, (-) Punch-Out!!, (-) Pushmo, (-) Puzzle League, (-) Rhythm HeavenRemix series, NintenDogs, Pilotwings

I was bullish on F-Zero making an appearance at E3. I was wrong, and I’ve had to knock it down a tier as a result. Additionally, Puzzle League and Rhythm Heaven are on the fast train to nowhere; another six months to a year without a whisper and they’re both due to bottom out in tier “F”. Though a reliable space filler for awhile, it’s been 2 years, and if there’s never another Pushmo game will anybody even notice? Mother remains in grade “E” on the strength of its cult following alone; as a franchise that seems largely dead it should probably drop out to tier “F”. Most notably, Punch-Out!! receives a huge body blow in the growing popularity of ARMS, which could end up as a franchise replacement for the Punch-Out!! brand. If we see a new Punch-Out!! soon, expect it to be on 3DS, and as something other than the behind-the-boxer POV game we’re used to. That’s another hunch.

Grade F: Brain AgeCodename S.T.E.A.M.Chibi-RoboCustom RoboDillon’s Rolling WesternExciteGolden SunThe Legendary StarfySin & PunishmentStarTropicsWave Race.

You could argue that I shouldn’t even bother publishing grade “F”. These franchises are the definition of dead in the water. Pun intended, Wave Race.

 

 

(Featured Image Source: http://shubwubtub.deviantart.com/art/Minimalist-Metroid-Screwattack-Wallpaper-542023002)

Actively Retro

It’s been semi-scandalous ’round some parts that Nintendo has yet to reveal or talk about the future of its Virtual Console service for the Switch. Virtual Console, as anyone reading this blog probably knows, is the fancy brand name Nintendo came up with ten years ago for the downloadable emulated versions of classic games from their vast library, spanning 30+ years. Every Nintendo console aside from the Virtual Boy, the GameCube, the Wii U, and the 3DS has been represented in some form on the Virtual Console, which over time grew to include games from the early SEGA consoles and the NEC TurboGrafx 16. Virtual Console was a huge selling point in the history of the Wii, and slightly less of a selling point on the 3DS, and petered out on the Wii U by the end.. though, frankly, what didn’t?

The general assumption is that Virtual Console is going to eventually show up on the Switch, and that may be the case… but it may not. Nintendo just recently announced more details about their online service, launching in 2018, and as part of that service select Nintendo classics will be made available to subscribers, all with added online functionality. These “Classic” games are not technically part of Virtual Console; VC has always been straight emulations of game code, with some very few exceptions (the Virtual Console version of Duck Hunt, for example, needed to be reworked; the game as programmed worked only on old CRT televisions.)

The longer we go without hearing about the Virtual Console, the more dubious I am that it’s ever going to show up. I don’t believe Nintendo will every stop trying to make money off of its enormous library of past hits, but I wonder if they feel they’ve carried the a’la carte method of charging $5 for Super Mario Bros. 2, again, as far as it can go.

Irregardless of what happens with the VC, one of the fascinating early trends of the Switch is just how anachronistic this brand new style of gaming platform is. In a time where gaming is a global, online experience, and companies like SONY are running towards isolated VR experiences, Nintendo’s Switch doubles-down on the one thing nobody else offers: console-quality local multiplayer on-the-go. Nintendo is betting that people still like playing games together on the same screen in the same room, and so far that bet appears to be paying off. It’s a new-idea system offering a throwback experience, and it works.

An inadvertent (or maybe conscious) side effect of this is that the Switch lends itself to a throwback experience, and the indie developers who are fleshing out the early days of the Switch library between major Nintendo releases have cooked up some decidedly throwback pieces of software to go with it. The result: even with the Virtual Console nowhere to be found, the Switch feels like a paean to the golden era of gaming.

Consider some of the early Switch titles: right on launch day, if you managed to look past Breath of the Wild for a few minutes, you’d see Fast RMX, an ode to F-Zero if every there’d been one, I Am Setsuna, a Secret of Mana-esque RPG from Square/Enix’s Tokyo RPG Factory, the Shovel Knight trilogy of games AKA the best NES games never made, and Bomberman, of all things. The old-skool hits went right on rolling thanks to Hamster Corporation, who have been drip-feeding us ports of classic Neo-Geo games since week 2 of Switch’s lifespan; Metal Slug and King of Fighters are just two of the all-time greats that have found new life on Switch.

Further on we saw the release of Graceful Explosion Machine, which plays a lot like an R-Type/Stinger homage, a Wonder Boy Master System remake, freaking Tetris, the NBA Jam/NBA Street reminiscent NBA Playgrounds, and, of course, Street Fighter 2. Mix in with that all-time classic franchises Mario Kart and Minecraft, and then glance down the road and see a new 16-bit style Sonic game, a cover version of 2D Castlevania games going by the name of Bloodstained, the Nintendo-hard 8-bit-ish platform 1,001 Spikes, and the critically acclaimed love song to Metroid, Axiom Verge.

The list grows, and will continue to grow. Retro gaming is not a new trend, of course, and the Switch is far from the only place where you can get your retro fix. There is a perfect storm going on with the Switch, though: a brand-new console pushed out the door arguably two or three quarters too soon (Wii U was dead and Nintendo wasn’t about to put Breath of the Wild on a kaput system) from a company still trying to rebuild trust with AAA 3rd party developers has led to Nintendo adopting a strategy of finding quality indie developers who came of age on the NES and SNES and are making cheaper games reminiscent of the ones they loved when they started gaming.

E3 is next week. Front and center will be Nintendo’s own retro showcase, the Mario 64-inspired Super Mario Odyssey. It remains to be seen, however, if the Virtual Console will finally make its Switch debut on the E3 stage. Even if it doesn’t, and you find yourself hankering for a retro gaming fix? Don’t worry; the Switch has got you covered.

It would also be nice to hear what Retro is up to.

Something About Mario

For a blog that’s entirely about Nintendo, I’ve written shockingly few things about Mario.

I’ve written posts exclusively on Metroid, Splatoon, Smash Bros., about a million about The Legend of Zelda… but I’ve not yet written a post that’s exclusively about Nintendo’s flagship franchise, or its universe of characters and spin-offs, and I’m not entirely sure why.

I like Mario games fine, and the original Super Mario Bros. was the siren song that taunted me from afar before I could finally call the NES my own. I’ve written in this space more than once about how Super Mario Bros. 2 (U.S.) is probably my favorite game in the franchise, not to mention one of my favorite NES games of all-time. Things get a little bit cloudier after that. Super Mario Bros. 3 is an all-time great game, but I don’t have the same fond memories of it that I have of SMB 2… and honestly, I think SMB 2 might be a better-looking game; it certainly has a more consistent color palette. Same with Super Mario World and Mario 64: great games, but they both take a backseat in my memory to contemporaries of their respective eras. A Link to the Past, Super Metroid, Mega Man X, Super Mario Kart, and Final Fantasy 3 (yes, I’m using the SNES numbering) were my most-beloved games of the Super Nintendo era, and Ocarina of Time was my one true love on the Nintendo 64. Sure, I GOT all of the stars in Mario 64, but it felt more like a grind and less like an adventure.

It’s hard to keep up with all of Mario’s adventures. I’ve never even played Super Mario Sunshine, I didn’t touch New Super Mario Bros. until I got a 3DS (for A Link Between Worlds, of course), and the series’ Super Mario Land installments on the Game Boy are forgettable (and eventually started starring Wario, Mario Land 2‘s antagonist). There’s Mario Party, Mario and Luigi, Paper Mario, Mario Galaxy, Mario 3D… and coming soon, Super Mario Odyssey, a spiritual successor to Super Mario 64 as much as it seems to be anything else.

In the interest of giving Nintendo’s mascot some face time, here’s a rundown of some of my favorite games starring the mustachioed plumber. Be mindful: this is by no means a comprehensive list. I’ve played the snot out of the Legend of Zelda and Metroid series, but my history with Mario is a little more hit-and-miss. Here’s some of the hits, in absolutely no particular order:

  • Super Mario Bros. 2 (U.S.)Doki Doki Panic. That’s the name SMB2 had in Japan. It was a licensed game based on a game show or cartoon or something. I don’t know; I don’t feel like looking it up right now. I also preferred playing as Luigi over Mario. This might have been a bad place to start this list. I really liked throwing vegetables into the giant dream-frog’s mouth.
  • Super Mario Bros. – It was unlike anything I’d ever seen on a home video game console, and it was an absolute industry changer. This is the last time the Mario game on any Nintendo console would be a better game than the Zelda game on the same console; that’s right, I’m going to call Super Mario Bros. a better game than either Zelda 1 or Zelda 2. Ditto in regards to the previous entry.
  • Donkey Kong. Jr. – I know Mario was the bad guy. But there was something addictive about scurrying up and down vines to rescue the big ape from the evil Jumpman’s clutches. He might have graduated to the Mario moniker by then…
  • Donkey Kong ’94 – The Game Boy sequel to Donkey Kong is easily one of the top 2 or 3 games on that system. This is where Mario first learned techniques that would carry him through the later years of his mainline franchise games: head stands, back flips, triple jumps, etc.
  • New Super Mario Bros. 2 – The New Super Mario series gets a bad rap for being generic, but I really dig it. It polished up and standardized traditional Super Mario gameplay, and there ain’t nothin’ wrong with that. NSMB2 is one of the ones that’s really frowned upon, but the return of the raccoon leaf and the emphasis on coin rushing won me over. Also: that golden fire flower is the best power-up in any Mario game ever. Full stop.
  • Super Mario Kart – The first wasn’t the best, but it was my favorite. Mario Kart 8 is clearly the best. Still: look at that Mode 7!
  • Super Mario 3D World – Bright, colorful, inventive, and featuring the playable cast of Super Mario Bros. 2 in a 2.5D game world based on traditional Super Mario mechanics. For awhile there I professed that this was the BEST of the 3D Mario games, but it isn’t. That honor goes to…
  • Super Mario Galaxy – Yeah, this game is mind-bendingly fantastic. Three-hundred and sixty degree platforming through space that, somehow, isn’t hard to control. Proof that the Wii wasn’t ENTIRELY a repository of mini-games and shovelware. (See also: Mario Galaxy 2, Skyward Sword, Xenoblade Chronicles.)
  • Paper Mario – I dismissed this franchise until weeks before I got rid of my Wii U. I didn’t get to finish this N64 titles before trading Wii U away for Switch, but now I’ve got my fingers crossed for an HD re-release of The Thousand Year Door.
  • Super Mario Run – Legit might be my favorite 2D Mario game. Parkour Mario FTW!
  • Luigi’s Mansion 2: Dark Moon – Well, Mario’s in the END of the game.

Now here’s a few Super Mario games I DON’T really care for!

  • Super Mario ’64 – Revolutionary. Overrated. Almost unplayable in 2017.
  • Super Mario Land 2 – Slow and boring. No feather in Mario’s cap. (That’s a pun because Mario wears a feather in his cap when he gets a fire flower because you couldn’t see him change colors on the Game Boy screen. Also: rabbit ears.)
  • Super Mario Land – Well, it gets points for weirdness. In the Mario franchise, that’s saying something.
  • Super Mario 3D Land – Its level design almost requires you to turn up the 3D slider on the 3DS, a feature that Nintendo started running away from a year after the 3DS first launched.
  • Super Mario Sunshine – I’ve never actually played this for more than 10 minutes, so I really should have left it off this list.
  • Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island – That crying… it still wakes me up at night sometimes, drenched in a cold sweat.
  • Mario Kart: Super Circuit – The one major misfire in the stellar Mario Kart brand.
  • Super Mario Maker – It’s great. It really is. It’s easily the best game creation suite ever released for any platform. But it needs a better sharing system, a better method through which to find levels others have uploaded, and creators need to be given the ability to make their own full worlds. For me, playing individual levels got old, fast.

E3 2017 is just days away, and the one thing we know for sure is that Mario’s going to be front and center. This year is the coming-out party for his big holiday release, Super Mario Odyssey, just as last year’s E3 was all about Link, Zelda, and Breath of the Wild. SMO might not be the same seismic revolution Breath of the Wild was (it would be almost impossible) but here’s hoping it’s a hit, and not a miss.

I’m pretty confident… but then again, I was once pretty confident that I really liked Super Mario Land 2, and I ended up being pretty wrong about that.