Author: meandnintendo

Mercurial Tastes

Things move in trends, right? Stocks, movies, music… they all follow popular trends. A “trend” should not be an indicator of “quality”. Popularity doesn’t equal artistic achievement. It CAN, but not by nature.

I’m trending in certain ways these days in regards to my tastes in games. There’s gaming elements I’m not feeling at the moment that will turn me off to games that I KNOW are objectively great… I’m just not in the mood for what they have to offer.

So how am I trending right now? For example, things I have no patience for at the moment include…

  • Inventory Management: It first hit me when I attempted to dive back into Skyrim after a long time away. As I guided my Red Mage character (half warrior, half sorceress) back into her home in Solitude, I realized that I had ten or so barrels scattered around the place full of groupings of potions and foodstuffs and armor and weapons. Skyrim is so full of collectibles that famously one of the running gags perpetrated by longtime players is the keeping of a room full of all the cheese they’ve found in the world. Right now, cheese hoarding seems way more appealing to me than trying to figure out which potions to carry with me and which to store in my basement. This is one of the reasons why I don’t see myself going back to Minecraft anytime soon, and I think this is where I should point out: I believe Skyrim and Minecraft to be two of the greatest games ever made. I just can’t bear the thought of organizing one more chest full of items at any point in my near future. (This is also what’s kept me away from Pokemon my whole life: Pokemon is a franchise that is designed almost completely around the concept of inventory management.)
  • Button-Mashing: Hyrule Warriors was one of my absolute favorite games on the Wii U, so I happily plunked down another $60 for Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition on the Switch. I have played it only in fits and spurts. While my Wii U play-through of HW was a cathartic romp against the forces of darkness, annihilating enemies by the thousands while playing through a fan-fic story based on the entire Legend of Zelda franchise, my time with the Switch version of the game has been defined by one constant mantra marching through my head as I play: “What am I doing with my life?” There’s no finesse or strategy involved in Hyrule Warriors. It’s just balls-to-the-wall stylish and cinematic obliteration of your enemies. That’s what I loved about it during the Wii U era. That’s what I hate about it now. (Bonus grievances: Hyrule Warriors also contains a surprising amount of inventory management, and the Adventure Maps through which you unlock most of the game’s bonus content are tedious time-sucks.) BTW: “button-mashing” is not simply relegated to rapid-fire combat games. The mindless button-mashing and inventory management of most JRPG combat is what’s keeping me on the fence about finally sinking time into Octopath Traveler and Xenoblade Chronicles 2, two games I should historically love but which I’m viewing right now as the gaming equivalent of plates full of Brussels sprouts.
  • Stiff Controls, Jerky Combat, Object Clipping: Yeah, that seems like three things, I know, but they’re all part of the same problem to me. They all speak to gaming mechanics that lack fluidity. I tried out the Dark Souls demo; it was my first time playing Dark Souls, ever. The difficulty of the game doesn’t scare me, but when in the course of the demo a skeleton killed me when his sword passed right through the stone column I had placed between it and my character, I knew I had played Dark Souls for the last time. This is one of the reasons I’m not feeling Skyrim at the moment. Like Breath of the Wild, Skyrim takes place in a captivating and beautiful (if less colorful and more foreboding) open world. That, though, is the end of the comparisons between the two games. Breath of the Wild is firmly an action-adventure game, and Skyrim is firmly an RPG. For the former, timing and skill take precedence over all else; it is legitimately possible to make your way to Hyrule Castle with three hearts and a pot lid for a shield if you’ve perfected the timing needed to deflect Guardian lasers. Skyrim is an RPG grinder with flailing combat that depends far more on your pre-fight preparations than your in-the-moment combat skills. Again: THIS IS NOT A COMMENTARY ON THE QUALITY OF THIS GAME. Look at older posts on this blog; I LOVE Skyrim. I just don’t want to play it right now. (Well, maybe as a sneaky archer, which is the build everyone keeps telling me I should be playing as, anyway.)

Let’s keep it positive for a second: conversely, here’s some gameplay styles I’m VERY into at the moment.

  • Platforming Finesse: I mean, this is a constant for me. I will go to my grave insisting that the SNES Aladdin is superior to the Genesis Aladdin because, even though the latter is gorgeously animated in the style of the film, the former is a parkour adventure through Agrabah and I’m all about that in my games. This is why my favorite Super Mario brand is the New Super Mario series; the non-powered up platforming of that series gives you the widest traversal toolset of the entire franchise . It is ALSO what puts Breath of the Wild and the later 2D Metroids at the top of those franchise heaps for me: I want traversal that is smooth and reflexive, always. Along these lines, I can’t recommend Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment enough. I also can’t recommend every game in the Shovel Knight franchise enough, though.
  • Stealth Mechanics: Mark of the Ninja is one of those games on the short list of titles that, as a Nintendo-exclusive gamer, I had always regretted missing out on. Well, like everything else ever apparently, it is now on Switch. I’m slowly dipping my toe in, and trying to savor it like a fine wine, but between its fantastic stealth mechanics (always give me options to get through levels beyond hacking-and-slashing everything, devs!) and its like-butter traversal mechanics, I am in heaven.
  • Strategy: I’m in the mood for different variations on video game chess. Perhaps, given my current aversion to mindless button mashing and irritating list management, I’m just at a point in my gaming life where I’d prefer to use my brain than my thumbs. Maybe NOW is when I’ll finally manage to get into Fire Emblem?
  • PvP: I’ve long been an offline gamer, but over recent years my time has been devoted more and more to online gaming, mostly in the form of Splatoon and Fortnite. Given my current predilection towards character fluidity and player-v-player? This is the perfect time, for me, for a new Smash Bros. to come into my life.

So what are my takeaways here? I dunno. Mostly that tastes change, and then change back, and that there’s a lot of games out there, man. Don’t force yourself to play anything you’re not in the mood to play just cuz you think you should. Games should be fun. Play what you like, and play what you like right now. Excelsior! #RIPStanTheMan

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How Nintendo Tells Their Stories (and Sometimes Doesn’t.)

I’m realizing that I spend a lot of time talking about stories in games and how games tell stories. I’m a writer with an MFA in Creative Writing, so I suppose it stands to reason that this is the sort of thing I’d spend too much time thinking about. Part of the universal appeal of Nintendo and their games, I’d argue, is the LACK of narrative in the stories their games tell. Gameplay is universal, after all. I’ll perhaps get some angry disagreement from people reading this, but the truth is that the amount of story Nintendo puts into their games is minimal compared to what other developers, specifically Western developers, put into their games. Not only that, but the style of storytelling in Nintendo IPs tends to differ from franchise to franchise. Here’s a brief analysis of the various styles of storytelling adopted by some of Nintendo’s major franchises. (Note: I specifically say “analysis” as opposed to “overview” because there are some questions regarding the narrative nature of a few of these franchises, questions Nintendo doesn’t seem in a great hurry to clarify.)

Super Mario – Either Princess Peach gets kidnapped, like, once a week, or the scenario suggested by Super Mario Bros. 3 is true: the Mario games are performances, and the characters are all actors putting on a show for the player. Super Mario Bros. 3 is framed as a play, with a curtain rising on the title screen and falling after the game’s credits roll, not to mention platforms through the whole game being bolted in place and the various background structures casting flat shadows like two dimensional set pieces. Each level ends with Mario (or Luigi) running offstage into the darkened wings, for goodness sake. So the Mario cast is simply play-acting these adventures for us, and in their time off they like to get together and race go-karts, or play baseball, or maybe pile in a car and play a board game.

The Legend of Zelda – Around the time of Skyward Sword, Nintendo released a bat-poop crazy official Legend of Zelda timeline, seemingly to please the fans who had desperately been trying to figure it out on their own. In order to force contradictory games together, Nintendo split the Zelda timeline in three places, leading to three alternate realities where the events of different games could take place (and apparently, very quietly, they reunited the timelines last month by officially inserting Breath of the Wild at the very end of all three.) While certain games do seem to refer to past or future games, there’s an argument that people need to pay more attention to the word “legend” in the franchise’s title. Legends are passed down from generation to generation, changing and evolving over time. The base story of the Zelda franchise is almost always the same: a struggle for balance between three triangular shards of an all-powerful artifact, each with a designated bearer in the form of a boy dressed in green named Link, a princess of the royal family of Hyrule named Zelda, and a thief/sorcerer/pig-monster named either Ganon or Ganondorf. These elements remain fairly constant, but it’s the DETAILS in the telling that change over time. The games in the Legend of Zelda series are telling the same story over and over, more or less. They are representative of the multi-generational retelling of the prevailing legend of the Kingdom of Hyrule.

Metroid – Of the “big three” Nintendo IPs, the Metroid franchise has the most traditionally linear storyline. (It also has far fewer games to juggle than the Mario and Zelda franchises, to be fair.) Though not released in chronological order, each title in the main Metroid series fits neatly into a place, with the first two games in the franchise, Metroid and Metroid 2: Return of Samus each receiving remakes later in life that massaged their stories to better fit into the now-established franchise lore. Not only that, but the two volume Metroid manga that establishes the origin of series protagonist Samus Aran is largely seen as canonical, and slots right in at the front of the chronological list. (You can see the Metroid timeline order here.)

Pokemon – Again: this is not my area of expertise, but the mainline Pokemon games all seem to take place on one world map inspired by the Japanese islands, with each game taking place in a particular region; the nation of Japan is, of course, similarly divided into regions. Every game tells a similar story, more or less: that of a young Pokemon trainer trying to collect every type of Pokemon in their region. The ultimate Pokemon dream game is the game that will unite that world’s regions into one massive Pokemon adventure… or at least that’s what I’ve heard. This just isn’t my jam, yo.

Animal Crossing – All Animal Crossing games tell the same story: the tale of a town’s struggle to get out from under the oppressive thumb of their miserly raccoon landlord.

Fire EmblemFire Emblem games follow a similarly sort of weird rule of connection as, say, the Final Fantasy games: they all carry thematic and mechanical similarities, they all seem to take place in different unrelated worlds and kingdoms, but heroes from the different games seem to cross over from time to time into the worlds of other games. This is really a reminder not to take this stuff to seriously, y’all. They’re just games. (Note: some franchise fans will argue for a connected timeline that branches off into various epochs and eras, but honestly, what’s the point? See also: Xenoblade Chronicles.)

Donkey Kong Country – The chapters-long epic poem recounting the adventures of a bunch of monkeys as they try to reclaim their bananas.

Kirby – Who gives a <expletive deleted>?

Star Fox – The ongoing storyline of the Star Fox franchise seems to be: how many times can we reboot the storyline of the Star Fox franchise? And one time, with dinosaurs.

Splatoon – Yo, the Splatoon backstory is actually pretty messed up. I’m not getting too deep into it; it’s like some creepy-pasta Slenderman stuff. It involves human extinction, unchecked evolution, and a race war. Kotaku has more to say on it here.

Smash Bros. – It’s either the tale of children’s Nintendo toys coming to life to do battle (Smash 64), a multi-universe character hopping crossover (Smash Bros. Brawl: The Subspace Emissary), or the never-ending mission of a small group of gamers to keep the Gamecube controller relevant.

Dr. Mario – What am I even doing with my life?

Tetris – Let’s just wait for the three film trilogy to really shore up the story arc here.

Pikmin – Tiny plant monsters and… uh… astronauts collecting giant fruit… you know what? It turns out the lesson of this entire article is to just shut up and enjoy your games. Not everything needs to be connected, you know? Cripes. (The Pixar Theory is a bunch of malarkey, too.)

How a Giant Purple Cube Revolutionized Interactive Storytelling

Last December, I wrote a post on this blog about the little-used literary device of “second person POV”. The second person is a form of writing in which the main character is referred to as “you,” effectively making you, the reader, the main character of the story. In a medium with minimal interactivity, like books, you can see how this is a device of limited use. However, in an interactive medium, like games… it struck me while playing Portal 2 and Breath of the Wild that second person POV is the ideal form in which to construct a video game narrative: create an intriguing world, and then step back and allow the player to react to it as they will.

While I was having this amazing revelation, Epic Games had already figured it out and was well into the process of busting the mold wide open with Fortnite Battle Royale.

In my original post, I wrote the following: “… environmental storytelling, storytelling that presents you, the player, with a world and then steps back to allow you to react to it… (developers) are asking you to react to the game… with your OWN thoughts, feelings, and responses, not with pre-scripted ones voice-acted for you in cut scenes.”

I’m pretty unfamiliar with the culture and in-depth mechanics of online gaming, but I’m fairly keyed into gaming news in general. Fortnite Battle Royale‘s presentation is something that’s new to me, though perhaps not so much to longtime online gamers. FBR is divided up into “Seasons”, which implies segments of full narrative continuity, as consumers of media have long since been trained to expect from television. I picked up Fortnite right as Season 4 was ending, so I was only sort of aware of the event that took place near the end of that season: the timed rocket launch viewable to anyone who happened to be playing the game at that moment, the one that ripped open the rifts in the world that have become such a big part of both the game’s mechanics and of its narrative.

Fortnite Battle Royale, though, is not delivering a narrative in any sort of cinematic way… except, perhaps, to the ironic nod to the sort of storytelling the game’s developers are NOT using, in the way of a short film depicting the events of Season 4 that’s playing on the drive-in movie screen of map location Risky Reels. What FBR IS doing, though, is revolutionizing the concept of storytelling in interactive online gaming.

The player avatars of FBR are purely cosmetic in nature, chock-full of personality, and complete blank slates. Everyone on the roster, from Tomato-Head to superhero to biker chick to pink furry, is equal in both ability and character. In the tradition of many of gaming’s greatest protagonists (Link from Zelda, Steve from Minecraft, Chell from Portal, and Gordon Freeman from Half-Life) the FBR avatars are silent mannequins upon which the player can project their own personalities through style of dress, back bling, and by choosing which emotive expressions to include on the in-game executable wheel o’ emotions. The developer has provided the player with sick duds, true… but it’s the PLAYER who provides the character.

What the developer HAS done, though, is create a gaming narrative that’s second-to-none in a world of characters that are beyond its control, and it has done so in Season 5 simply by inserting onto the map a giant purple cube.

As of this writing (September 1st, 2018) the Giant Purple Cube has been on the Fortnite map for nine days… or so, I’m bad at math, shut up. It appeared not long after explosive lightning blasts had begun striking the map at regular intervals. The strikes came to a head in the game’s new desert region (created in the aftermath of Season 4) as a massive bolt struck a plateau and left in its wake the now-infamous Giant Purple Cube. (The appearance of the Cube was fittingly documented on the live-stream of Ninja, the world’s most famous Fortnite streamer, in a bit of coincidence that one assumes was helped along by Epic PR suggesting to Ninja the time and place he should be hanging out if he wanted to see something cool. If they didn’t? They should have.)

Since it’s appearance, the Cube has been poked at, jumped on, and shot at by probably thousands, if not millions, of Fortnite players, many of whom quickly discovered the Cube does not LIKE to be poked at, jumped on, and shot at. Gamers have screen-capped the Cube, sent the game’s camera inside the Cube (it appears to be a four-dimensional cube, in actuality, which is messed up and also awesome), made reddit threads about the runes that are glowing on and inside the Cube, and followed the Cube across the map as it began to tumble and slide and move, leaving in some places behind it an anti-gravity energy field and more mysterious runes burnt into the ground.

In other words? Epic Games have turned Fortnite Season 5 into a LOST-level mystery event, with theories about what the Cube is, where it’s going, what the runes mean, and what’s going to happen next flooding the Internet. In fact, LOST is probably exactly the model Epic was going for. I assume nobody missed the none-too-subtle inclusion on the Season 5 map of a sealed hatch in the ground of Wailing Woods? Will the hatch ever open? Who knows? Does it have to? Not really. Epic Games was presumably just telling us in advance that Season 5 was going to be LOST-like in its level of mystery and speculation. Just look at what googling “Fortnite purple cube” brings up:

And that’s just a tiny sampling of the online ink being spilled about Fortnite Battle Royale‘s newest mystery.

Whether or not Epic Games realizes it (and I’m going to bet they realize it; they couldn’t be this good at what they’re doing without knowing what they’re doing) they are revolutionizing storytelling in gaming. There are no scripted-dialogue events in the lives of FBR‘s silent online avatars. No, all of the intrigue going on right now in Fortnite Battle Royale is derived entirely from what is going on AROUND the players, what’s going on in the world in which the game happens to be taking place. None of this would be possible, of course, if the base video game at the core of FBR wasn’t so good and if Fortnite hadn’t caught on with seemingly every gamer in the world. If you’re playing FBR, and literally millions of us are, you can completely ignore the Cube and just play Battle Royale… just as you can completely ignore the battle royale and poke and prod at the Cube. In the grand tradition of the greatest works of second person literature of all time, Choose Your Own Adventure books, Epic Games has simply built an intriguing, mysterious world. It is entirely up to each player to decide what they’re going to do in it.

So, as stated: all Epic has done here is completely revolutionize how storytelling in online games will best be presented from here on out. That old gag. No big deal.

Playing With (Marginal) Power

I’ve accrued many, many hours playing Fortnite Battle Royale over the last few weeks, so much so that I decided to indulge in the $10 Battle Pass rather than continuing to play it as a free-to-play experience. It IS an addictive game, I have to admit it. I’ve grown to enjoy the building aspect (even though it’s still sort of ridiculous that as soon as you take a shot at anyone they immediately begin building a house), but I’m STILL annoyed that, like Splatoon and Splatoon 2, too many close-range fights devolve into a hop-and-shoot-out.

I’m starting to cool off on the game, though, and it’s not the game’s fault. As you’ve no doubt presumed, I’m playing Fortnite on a Nintendo Switch, and sadly enough, if you’re playing Fortnite on a Nintendo Switch you are playing Fortnite at a competitive disadvantage.

It’s impossible to deny: since the days of the N64, Nintendo’s home console hardware has been underpowered when compared to the same-gen contemporaries offered by Sony and Microsoft. There’ve been but a handful of times when this reality has, as a longtime Nintendo enthusiast, bothered me. One of those times was the N64’s inability to run of-the-day RPGs (I will forever wonder what might have been had Final Fantasy VII been an N64 title instead of a PlayStation title), and another was when I foolishly purchased the Wii installment of an annual MLB franchise (holy hell, was that a mistake.)

And now, we have Fortnite. There are no two ways around it: Fornite underperforms on the Nintendo Switch. Nintendo, as a game developer, gets incredible performances out of its own platforms. Likewise, Bethesda has managed to fit Skyrim and Doom into entirely presentable and functional packages on the Switch. Rocket League runs with stripped-down graphics in handheld mode, but the gameplay itself does not suffer. Fortnite for the Switch, though, is a frame-skipping, blurry-edged half-Victory Royale. It’s easily the best mobile version of the game, but it is absolutely the mobile version of the game, and a mobile version of the game that chugs significantly when action gets heavy. As I play I can’t help but be reminded that I’m playing against Xbox and PC gamers who are enjoying a gorgeous, smooth 60 FPS experience, especially when I run into Tilted Towers or one of the game’s other busier areas. I’d have perhaps won that last shotgun duel, I realize, if only my game hadn’t at a key moment dropped down to 15 or 20 FPS, or frozen completely for a full second. Unlike earlier Nintendo home consoles, the Switch’s hybrid nature forgives a lot of sins: does it matter if Doom on the Switch isn’t as pretty as its PS4 cousin when you can play it anywhere? Performance matters, though, especially in online gaming. I play Fortnite with the Switch in the dock and connected online via broadband, and my system still vastly underperforms as compared to Xbox and PC players.

Now, I don’t want to overstate it: Fortnite remains entirely playable on the Switch. The many, many hours I’ve already put into it are a testament to that. Also, in the interest of full disclosure? It doesn’t help that my favorite game mode is 50 v 50, where the entire field of 100 or so players quickly congregate into the center of the storm circle, increasing the likelihood of system performance issues. The fact remains, though, that I avoid landing at Tilted Towers because I know the framerate drop will likely lead to my death, and I have to remind myself not to traverse the landscape too quickly; if through a combination of seamless ramp building and launchpadding I end up Fortnite-parkouring my way across the island, there’s a good chance I’ll start moving faster than the game can fill in its draw distance. And look: I understand that part of my problem might be that I just need to “git gud” at the game. Still, believe me when I tell you that the performance issues of Fortnite on Switch are notable and real.

I will continue to play Fortnite. I will continue to try and “git gud” at it. And the situation is actually improving noticeably as time goes on, thanks to the wonders of always-online consoles and developers constantly patching out bugs and patching in better performance. But here’s something to think about: twice in my life have I been tempted to make a non-Nintendo system my primary home hardware. The first was with PS1, on the strength of FF7 and Metal Gear Solid. The other was in the age of the Wii, when I was saddled with a gimmicky system with a lineup of shovelware and sub-par ports. The Switch is not the N64, and it is not the Wii. It is a tremendous system with a tremendous line-up, and all of Nintendo’s own online offerings work flawlessly. (As does Minecraft and Paladins and other online third-party games, FWIW.)

For the first time this gen, though, I’m wondering if it’s time to invest in a secondary home console. The Switch will always remain my primary; Smash and Metroid Prime are both on their way, after all. But serious or even semi-serious Fortnite Battle Royale play just isn’t possible on Switch. At what point does a powerful portable console become an underpowered home console? If Fortnite on Switch is a significantly less-than experience (and it is), at what hour of gameplay does it become justifiable to invest in a whole other console primarily to play that one game?

Because I’d really like to be able to land at Tilted without feeling like I’m watching a flip book, you know?

A Rabbid Fan

On my mission to go back and close out some of my half-completed backlog of Switch games, I decided this weekend to put down Splatoon 2 and Fortnite and return to the surprise hit of 2017, Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle.

(My quick Fortnite review: I’m torn. I love the art style and weapon system, and playing it is what you imagined playing “manhunt” would feel like as a kid but never did… but I could do without every player rocking an 8-foot vertical leap and building a house at the first sign of incoming fire.)

It took me a moment to get back up to speed on Kingdom Battle. I was early on in the game’s fourth and final world, the Lava Pit, and over the course of two or three days I dove back in and remembered what made the game unexpectedly fun when it debuted at the end of last summer.

If you own a Switch and you’ve not yet partaken in Kingdom Battle, and you have any fondness for X-Com, Fire Emblem, Advance Wars, Codename S.T.E.A.M., Final Fantasy Tactics, or really any game in the tactical role playing genre, you really should indulge yourself. The key combat elements of the genre are all here and well-executed, but aside from that Kingdom Battle is a vibrant and colorful game with a tremendous soundtrack, a genuinely amusing story… and if you find the Rabbids annoying, fear not: the presence of the Mushroom Kingdom’s bravest and boldest takes the edge off their Minion-esque antics.

For a game featuring Mario and Luigi and a bunch of cartoon rabbits, Kingdom Battle is surprisingly stylish. Though combat animations occur only after you’ve inputed instructions to the members of your three-man squad, once your team is up and running you’re treated to Matrix-style slow motion camera pans and trick shots, with Mario, his Rabbid doppelgänger, and everyone else flipping and flying through the air, tossing grenades over their shoulder, or dabbing as they send off an explosive trolley through a white rabbit pipe. Developer Ubisoft deserves credit: they’ve blended Nintendo’s house style and their own Assassin’s Creed-flavored approach to game design perfectly.

One of the best things about Kingdom Battle, aside from its impeccable balance (did I mention the balance?) is that after its final boss battle, a boss battle that took me four tries but never felt cheap, the game almost aggressively throws more content at you. There’s a hidden world within one of the game’s worlds that’s only accessible post-game, and the game’s extra challenge maps are all waiting for your now almost fully souped-up squad to tackle. On top of that, there’s a local co-op mode, a local versus mode was added last December, and Kingdom Battle also has DLC for sale, the newly released Donkey Kong Adventure, a whole extra world to play through with a set squad that includes DK himself. I’ve not made a big secret of my love for Splatoon 2 on these pages, but truth told? I’m going to dip into Donkey Kong Adventure before I try out Octo Expansion. I don’t play Splatoon for the single player campaign, but I can’t wait to try out new characters and maps with Kingdom Battle‘s fantastic combat system.

So yeah… here it is, almost one year too late, my ringing endorsement for Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle. We’ve only had the Switch in our lives for sixteen months, but it already has a very impressive set of titles, representative of most of gaming’s important genres. Check tactical role playing off the list, cuz Kingdom Battle has that covered.

Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle is the game that nobody wanted, but now I’ve got my fingers crossed for a sequel.

Making the Grade: E3 2018 Edition

This is the fifth installation of my “Making the Grade” series, a temperature-check all of Nintendo’s major franchises and where they stand in the current scheme of things. The idea was always that I’d go back and update this list whenever there was some sort of major shift or big event. This time around, video game Christmas has just passed: E3 has come and gone, and with it the big gaming news dump of the summer.

As always, 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.

If anything, a few of the Grade A franchises have had their places re-affirmed. Fire Emblem continues to get treated as a top franchise, with Three Houses being unveiled at E3, and Pokemon, Splatoon, and Smash Bros. have all enjoyed strong expressions of support from the Big N over the past few weeks. Even Metroid got some love in the form of fan-favorite series antagonist Ridley finally being inserted into Smash as a playable character. Nintendo’s core franchises remain healthy and robust.

Grade B: Animal CrossingDonkey KongKirbyMario spin-offs, (+) Star FoxXenobladeYoshi

Animal Crossing sits anxiously in Grade B, awaiting the Switch release announcement that will surely boost it into Grade A. The largely positive reception received by Mario Tennis Aces and the newly announced Super Mario Party have reaffirmed the place of the Mario spin-off titles as a B franchise, Donkey Kong, Kirby, Xenoblade, and Yoshi sit comfortably where they always do, and in perhaps the most miraculous comeback in recent gaming memory, the Star Fox team has recovered almost completely from the disastrous Star Fox Zero; their Switch-exclusive playable appearance in Ubisoft’s upcoming toys-to-life space shooter Starlink was among E3’s most exciting surprise reveals.

Grade C: (-) Luigi’s Mansion, (-) Mario & Luigi, (-) Paper MarioPikmin, Pokemon spin-offs, Wario games

I’ve downgraded Luigi’s Mansion, the Mario & Luigi games, and the Paper Mario franchises as much as a reaction to the reaffirmed strength of the other Grade B franchises as it is a criticism of the franchises themselves. It’s hard to argue that those three brands belong on the same level as Donkey Kong, Kirby, the Mario spin-offs, Xenoblade, etc., etc. Also, there’s no E3 bump for the Pokemon spin-off games as I’m characterizing Pokemon Let’s Go! Pikachu and Eevee as “core” games and not spin-offs, a controversial opinion as these things go… but as these two games are remakes of the core Pokemon Yellow game, I think the “core” characterization fits them.

Grade D: (-) ARMSBoxBoy, Kid Icarus, (+) Mii Games, (+) Punch-Out!!

Not landing a spot on the Smash roster (yet) has really hurt the perception of ARMS as a long-term franchise. If ARMS never returns it will always be a question: did Nintendo accidentally push the franchise off of a cliff by releasing Splatoon 2 just a month after ARMS debuted? Conversely, the reveal that Smash Ultimate would include every fighter in franchise history helped keep Kid Icarus (Pit, Dark Pit, and Paluntena) in Grade D, while bumping up Punch-Out!! (Little Mac) and the Mii Games (Mii Fighters) from Grade E.

Grade E: Advance Wars, DillonF-ZeroMotherPushmo, Puzzle League, Rhythm HeavenNintenDogs, Pilotwings

Is Nintendo growing too reliant on its most successful IPs? Are they expecting the Grade A and Grade B games to carry the load? On the one hand, diehards would froth at the mouth over an announcement for a new F-Zero or Mother game, but neither franchise is a tentpole; releases from this Grade of games would have to be supplemented by a Grade A or B game, anyway… and even the B games are no promise. Nintendo tried to build a holiday season not too long ago around Star Fox Zero, and that was a disaster, to put it lightly. You can argue that coming off of the Wii U they HAD to bring out their big guns (and did; between Switch and 3DS we’ve seen new releases in each of the Grade A franchises over the past year and a half)… but when is it time to come back to the lesser known, less popular franchises? If people are upset over an upcoming holiday season centered around Pokemon and Smash, how would they react to the summer of Pilotwings?

Grade F: Brain AgeCodename S.T.E.A.M.Chibi-RoboCustom RoboExciteGolden SunThe Legendary Starfy, Remix series, Sin & PunishmentStarTropicsWave Race.

It’s just a wing and a prayer for these guys.