Stupidly Obvious

Coming off the years of failure and irrelevance that defined the end of the Wii era and the entirety of the Wii U era, it was fair to wonder (and often was, loudly) if Nintendo was in a crisis. Some pundits insisted that it was time for “the Big N” to pull a Sega and abandon the hardware market in favor of publishing for other platforms, playing the role of third party developer. Some had speculated that the announcement of Nintendo mobile games could be a sign that Nintendo would eventually get phased out of the console market completely.

To be clear: these were not crazy takes. The Wii U era was bad. To this day, most of the general public does not know what the Wii U actually was. Coming into 2017, Nintendo had one directive: the NX, or Switch, absolutely had to be at least a moderate success.

As we leave 2017, what has happened instead is, Nintendo hit a grand-freakin’-slam. Lots of virtual ink will be spent asking, “How? How did Nintendo do it? How did they come back from the precipice of irrelevance to craft the comeback story of 2017?” The answer to that question is, if you haven’t already guessed, stupidly obvious. It is a story told in three parts:

1. Form Over Function

The Nintendo Switch made a big bet, and in a way the Wii U is probably to thank for it. When Nintendo first introduced the Wii U they showed off a lot of different ways one might use the tablet-like Wii U Gamepad. At the end, there was only one usage that Wii U owners unanimously loved: playing console games on a small handheld screen. The Gamepad, of course, wasn’t a portable; you couldn’t travel more than 15 feet or so away from the system’s base unit before losing the connection.

So for the Switch, Nintendo put the console in the handheld screen, and made the base unit the empty shell.

In a world of high engine, high power gaming, another popular suggestion by fans and by industry analysts was that the failure of the Wii U had made it necessary for Nintendo to build a PS4-style power box. By instead developing the Switch, still underpowered when compared to its souped-up marketplace brethren (especially when you consider the PS4 Pro and the Xbox One X), Nintendo placed their big bet: they bet that a console that was both a home console and a portable, which also allowed for portable local multiplayer, was going to appeal to gamers as well as the public at large, even if it was “weaker” than its market competition. A console that fits YOUR life, that lets you play however YOU prefer. It’s almost too perfect a system for the millennial age gamers, the ones who grew up on portable Pokemon games, a generation of YouTubers and social media gurus for whom personal branding and individuality is second nature. And the “kids” who grew up on the NES are now, well, bigger kids with children of their own. A console for the backseat of the car that nobody’s going to fight over because everyone can play at once? Yes, please.

2. It’s the Games, Stupid

Of course, hybrid portability and on-the-go local multiplayer doesn’t count for a hill of beans if there aren’t games worth playing on the device. Lots of people looked at the Switch’s launch line-up and scoffed: only TEN games? That’s it? #LOL #SameOldNintendo.

As it turns out, ten games is plenty, when one of those games is The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

And although Zelda was enough to keep early Switch adopters happy for months, what the “only ten games” crowd also believed was that the steady stream of first-year first party games Nintendo was promising would inevitably be delayed. There’s basis for that; the Wii U, for instance, launched in November of 2012. Here’s the list of Nintendo-published first party software that debuted on the Wii U in its first year and a half of existence, November 2012 through the end of 2013:

  1. New Super Mario Bros. U
  2. New Super Luigi U
  3. The Wonderful 101
  4. Pikmin 3
  5. Nintendo Land
  6. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD
  7. Wii Fit U
  8. NES Remix
  9. Game & Wario
  10. Sing Party
  11. Wii Sports Club
  12. Wii Party U
  13. Dr. Luigi
  14. Super Mario 3D World

That is a heinous list. The highlights include a 2D Mario game, a 2D remix of that game starring Luigi, a 3D Mario game, an HD refurbishing of an old Zelda, and Pikmin. Then there’s three Wii-branded games, two collections of microgames, multiple games starring Mii avatars, a re-branded two decade old puzzle game, a very niche superhero action game, and something called Sing Party. Did Nintendo FORGET they were releasing a console?

Compare that to what we’ve gotten, first party, from Nintendo over the Switch’s first nine months:

  1. 1-2 Switch
  2. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
  3. Snipperclips (and Snipperclips Plus)
  4. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
  5. Arms
  6. Splatoon 2
  7. Flip Wars
  8. Fire Emblem Warriors
  9. Super Mario Odyssey
  10. Xenoblade Chronicles 2

Also: although Nintendo didn’t publish it, they sure helped shepherd the surprisingly good Mario + Rabbids to the Switch this year, and they’ve already told us we’re going to be getting Bayonetta, Bayonetta 2, Bayonetta 3, Kirby Star Allies, a new Yoshi, a new Fire Emblem, a core Pokemon, and freaking Metroid Prime 4.

The third party and indie story is much the same. Here’s a sampling off of that plate: Doom, Shovel Knight, Overcooked, Steamworld Dig 2, Skyrim, Rocket League, Stardew Valley, Golf Story, Minecraft, FIFA, NBA2K… I can go on. Not only did Nintendo create in the Switch a versatile piece of gaming hardware that’s cool to the touch, but they have released for it more great software than Wii U arguably saw in its entire lifetime.

3. Marketing & Branding

I’ve said it over and over again, and I’ll say it for the last time right now: there are still people who have no idea what a Wii U is. It was a confusing system (It’s a tablet that I need to keep near my TV? What’s the tablet for, anyway?) with an awful name (So this is just a new Wii? I already have a Wii. Is this just a tablet that connects to the Wii I already have?) I mean, just LOOK at this trailer:

What is this telling us? It’s telling us that there’s a new controller with a screen. Is it for the Wii or for a new system? No idea. You can play Super Mario Bros. on it while your dad watches awful baseball, you can draw on it, you can play Reversi on it, you can wave it in front of Wii Sports, you can see your golf ball on it… in Wii Sports, you can measure your BMI with it, you can snipe Miyamoto’s Mii with it, you can flick throwing stars of off it, you can FaceTime on it, you can do… something with the Internet on it, you can flick a video of a parrot off of it and onto your TV to thrill and amaze your easily amused friends, you can play a Zelda game that will never exist on it…

… what the hell is it?! Who is this even FOR?! Is it a video game system or a… I don’t even know what. Look: the Wii U ended up with a respectable library of great, if off-kilter, Nintendo-developed games. The problem was, its marketing was so poor, its reveal so botched, that the whole thing was essentially DOA.

Compare the Wii U’s reveal to the Switch’s initial reveal:

What is THIS telling us? It’s telling us the Nintendo Switch is a multi-form video game console that can be played at home on your TV, on the go as a handheld, and anywhere else as a multiplayer standing tablet with two detachable controllers on either side of it. Oh, and that we’ll be able to play The Legend of Zelda, Skyrim, Mario Kart, NBA2K, a new Mario game, and Splatoon on it. (As it would turn out, we’d get to play all of the games in that reveal within nine months of the Switch’s release.) One of the best things you can say about the Wii U era is how much it taught Nintendo about what NOT to do when marketing a home console in the 2010’s, a truth that is best exemplified by their system’s chosen names: “Wii U” tells you nothing that you need to know, while the name “Switch” tells you everything you need to know.

In Conclusion…

So to go back to our initial question… how did Nintendo do it? How did they make the Switch into such a winner?

Well, they 1. made a great piece of video game hardware that 2. plays lots of great software, and then they 3. did a great job telling people exactly what that hardware is and what software is available for it.

See? Stupidly obvious.

So stupidly obvious, they probably should have done it sooner.

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The Second Person

As a fiction writer, I spend far too much time thinking and talking about stories and how they’re constructed. A lot of people do this, of course; the Internet has fostered an entire culture, barely even a subculture anymore, of armchair storyboard analysts. I’m old enough to remember when Cracked.com actually published articles aside from “5 Ways I’d Have Written This Movie Better.”

The best education a writer can ever have, bar none, is to teach literature, which I’ve done on the middle school, high school, and collegiate level. When you’re the one up in front of the classroom expected to have all the answers, it really forces you to pay attention to the boring class-assigned book you’re reading (particularly since you’re the boring teacher who assigned it). It really hammers home the foundational layers of what makes storytelling work, and how similar most stories are at their core.

Being a quote-unquote gamer as well as a writer, I’ve used the language of video games more than once to illustrate my point. (FUN FACT: the portal onto the factory floor of Magrathea in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is best explained to a room full of 8th graders as a Warp Pipe from Super Mario Bros.) If you know anything about literary form, you’ll know that one of the most elementary elements discussed in the beginner classroom is “point-of-view”. First person point-of-view is when the narration of a story refers to the main character as “I”, and third person point-of-view is when the narration of a story refers to the main character as “he” or “she”, or some form of such. As I happily and effectively described in both junior high and high school literatures courses, video games are also described in terms of being in either first or third person. A first person game puts you directly into the head of the avatar, and you see the world through their eyes. A third person game puts you outside of the avatar you’re controlling, often directly over their shoulder. It is a model I have used to illustrate point of view on many occasions.

And I’ve recently realized just how terribly inaccurate it is.

Lesser known, and even lesser used in literature, is SECOND person point-of-view. A story told in second person is one where the narration refers to the main character as “you”. Now, you see where that could be confusing or limited in its use. It is the ultimate example of the author turning the mirror on the reader. There really is only so much one can do with the form. The most famous application of second person POV, for my money, is in old school Choose Your Own Adventure stories. You know, the ones that start with a passage like, “You wake up in an abandoned mine shaft. After dusting off dirt, debris, and spiders, you look around. To your left, the shaft heads towards a light. To you right: darkness. Which way will you go?” The text then offers the reader an option: “To go left, turn to page 28. To go right, turn to page 33,” and the rest of the story unfolds in this manner, inviting the reader to go back and re-read the book many times over, experiencing a different story each time. The virtual world in the pages of the books is laid out by the author, and you, the reader, get to decide how you experience that world.

I’m wondering if you’re starting to see the connection.

It is a connection that clicked for me when I was playing a non-Nintendo game that 1.) I’ve been playing recently, 3.) I’m way too late to the party on, and D.) is awesome. The game in question: Portal 2. Valve’s greatest game, IMO (never-minding that the only other Valve game I’ve ever played is Portal), Portal 2 features the greatest video game character every created. No, not the player avatar. The player avatar is a silent protagonist named Chell, about whom very little is actually revealed or known. She’s importantly unimportant, though, so we’ll come back to her in just a bit. I’m speaking, of course, of GLaDOS, the wickedly scripted and voiced AI character who runs the dead lab where Chell is imprisoned. GLaDOS is deliciously insane, and her history and past (and yes, no spoilers, but “her” is an applicable descriptor) are really at the heart of the world of Portal.

Consider, then, the sort of storytelling that GLaDOS and Chell represent. GLaDOS is decidedly NOT the player character. In the first game, she is the clear-cut antagonist; in the second, she could still be called such (although more shades of grey certainly exist in that story as it unfolds.) As you, the player, in the person of Chell, puzzles your way through Aperture Labs, GLaDOS taunts you and leads you astray, all the time referring to you, as “you”.

That alone doesn’t mean, “Hey! Video games are all told in the second person!” Just because the antagonist refers to you as “you” isn’t enough to determine that, but it was enough to turn on a light bulb for me. While Portal games aren’t necessarily Choose Your Own Adventure books, and are actually pretty linear in their progression, they present a story told through the characters in front of you and the world around you. The main character, Chell, is a cipher. Her character appearance is set, but she’s a blank slate for you to write on, a vessel through which you experience the game’s adventure. She is a, and it couldn’t be more obvious in retrospect, a literal shell. That’s right. Chell is a shell. Valve isn’t being subtle here, but we all kind of missed it, didn’t we? Just like Half-Life‘s Gordan Freeman is a free man.

Another great example is this that new game that just came out on Switch. It’s called The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Perhaps you’ve heard of it?

Ha ha, I’m funny, Skyrim is one of the biggest games of all time, though I’m just now beginning it because, as I’ve made clear many times on these pages, I’m a Nintendo-only gamer… more or less. In Skyrim you choose your race, your gender, your facial features, the literal and figurative paths you take, the disciplines you learn, the factions in the in-game world you’re going to team up with, which ones you’ll oppose, and which ones you’ll avoid altogether… everything. And you do it all without your avatar ever saying a word. Everything is a variable, and the world responds to and is shaped by your choices and actions. The game tends to get janky for that very reason (it needs to be a remarkably malleably piece of programming to try and predict for everything the player may choose to do), but that’s the price developer Bethesda Softworks was willing to  pay for developing an open-everything game. Spoiler warning: it totally worked out for them.

I have to get back to Nintendo here because of the nature of my blog (I’ve just started Skyrim but could already talk about it all day; some games obviously deserve their “all-time classic” label right from the word “go”), but environmental storytelling, storytelling that presents you, the player, with a world and then steps back to allow you to react to it… that’s a storytelling style Nintendo has embraced for a long time. Two big examples jump out at me. The first is, of course, The Legend of Zelda and series protagonist Link. Just as Chell is an empty shell that the player is invited to inhabit in order to experience the story, Link is the graphical avatar standing in as the link between the player and the world. Both Chell and Link are silent and seemingly emotionless, and this is so for a very particular reason: both Valve and Nintendo are asking you to react to the game worlds around these avatars with your OWN thoughts, feelings, and responses, not with pre-scripted ones voice-acted for you in cut scenes.

This is where the future of storytelling in video games lies, I think. Fully voiced cinematic cut-scenes are an awfully poor fit for a medium that is built around direct audience interaction, when you think about it. Why would you want to play a video game that takes control AWAY from you when the best stuff in the narrative is happening? It doesn’t make sense.

Consider, then, Portal and Breath of the Wild. Both are games with silent protagonists and incredibly deep and well-designed words. When I’m playing Portal and I stumble across some cryptic graffiti left behind in a cranny warning me not to trust GLaDOS, it’s far more effective for the game to sit back and let me respond emotionally and intellectually to this narrative turn, as opposed to cutting away to a scene that rips me out of Chell’s head and shows me a character I’ve been role-playing as reacting to the scenario in a way I never would. Same goes for Breath of the Wild. There’s two forms of storytelling in Breath of the Wild. There are traditional cut scenes that have been criticized and discussed and which sometimes feel awkward and out-of-character and out of place… and then there’s the atmospheric storytelling that unfolds over the course of hundreds of hours of gameplay. I don’t know about you, but I find exploring a field full of petrified Guardians in front of a rotting barricade to be a far more compelling narrative experience than a cut scene where Falco-lite makes snide comments at me.

(That’s not to say cinematic storytelling NEVER works. The four Divine Champions are given some much-needed fleshing out in Breath of the Wild’s DLC Champion’s Ballad, and all are given good time in new much-needed cinematics that show them interacting in the past with Princess Zelda.)

The best example of this all, though, might be in the Metroid franchise. Super Metroid and Metroid Prime tell amazing stories through atmosphere and environments, without series protagonist Samus Aran (or anyone else) saying a word. Metroid: Other M, though, turns a chatty Samus into a damaged little girl with daddy issues, and that whole game can just go and die in a fire for all I care.

I think, then, that the case is clear. The ideal storytelling in an interactive medium is interactive, not cinematic; in hindsight, this couldn’t be more obvious. So that’s the golden rule of storytelling in a video game, I think: flesh out your world, developers, as richly as you can… but when you drop me into, don’t signpost me to death. Don’t dictate to me how your game should make me think, feel, and react. Just let me run loose and tell me, “You can go left or you can go right. Which way will you go?”

Switch List ’18

As we barrel towards Thanksgiving, we come to the start of what should be an extraordinary holiday season at the close of a remarkable calendar year for Nintendo. Zelda, Mario, Splatoon, Fire Emblem, Pokemon, and Xenoblade all made (or will make) an appearance on the Switch in 2017, as well as Skyrim, Minecraft, Doom, Rocket League, FIFA, NBA2K, and more indie games than you could waggle a Wiimote at.

What’s very interesting, though, is that Nintendo has remained tight-lipped on their plans for what’s coming in 2018 and beyond. This is normal for modern Nintendo; for years now they’ve preferred to focus more on what’s going to be playable in the near future than what’s coming down the pipeline in a year or two or three.

With such a robust 2017 line-up, though, could 2018 end up a bust for the Switch? Well, anything’s possible. In terms of big news, here’s what we know: Nintendo is definitely giving us a new Kirby game and a new Yoshi game, Bethesda is bringing Wolfenstein 2 to the Switch, Project Octopath Traveler (YES THAT’S BIG NEWS) should be here in 2018, and probably a new entry in the Fire Emblem franchise, as Nintendo sort of seems to poop those out like greasy diner food. (Hashtag: #DinerPoops.) Maybe we’ll see that new Pokemon in 2018, maybe we’ll even see Metroid Prime 4… although I’d bet more on the former than I would on the latter.

Still, a boy can dream. What I have here are some of things I have on my wishlist for 2018 for the Nintendo Switch… my Switch List, if you will. (You shouldn’t.) This is my list of pipe dreams and speculative guesses, FYI. Things that have been confirmed to be on their way will not make the list. I am a patient fellow, after all; as long as I know something will be here eventually, I can wait.

Old Super Mario Bros. – After the smash hit success of Super Mario Maker, it was wondered in more than a few places if Nintendo could ever return to their 2D Super Mario Bros. franchise after they had placed the ultimate Mario creation suite in gamer’s hands. Then, of course, Nintendo made us all look silly for asking that question by completely re-inventing the wheel on 8-bit Mario platforming in the brilliant 2D sections of Super Mario Odyssey. Much like Super Mario 3D World spawned a spin-off in the form of Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, I think we’re going to see Nintendo take the idea behind the 2D areas in Mario Odyssey and spin them into their own game. I’m even hedging on Old Super Mario Bros. as being the actual name. Chance of Happening: 85%, in honor of the year the original Super Mario Bros. was released.

The Legend of Zelda: Something of Something – Nintendo has demonstrated over the last decade that they don’t like their three major franchises (Mario, Zelda, and Pokemon) to go a year without some sort of game branded with their name. In the case of Zelda, sometimes we get a Hyrule Warriors, sometimes we get Triforce Heroes… and sometimes we get Link’s Crossbow Training. So while we shouldn’t expect the next all-new 3D Zelda game to launch for at least 5 or 6 years, I think it would be foolhardy to think 2018 is going to go by without Zelda appearing in some new form or another on the Switch. Chance of Happening: 900%, in honor of the total number of Korok Seeds to be found in Breath of the Wild.

Super Smash Bros. Melee DX – I do not think that Smash 4 Wii U is coming to the Switch. In fact, I’d be willing to wager some of the money I don’t have that Switch ports of Nintendo-developed Wii U games are done. I think Nintendo wants to separate themselves from the Wii branding as much as they possibly can. No denying, though: the Switch is massively popular, and people desperately want a Smash Bros. on it. Super Smash Bros. Melee from the GameCube days is still a very popular game on the professional Smash tournament circuit, and arguably the best game in the franchise to date. Updating Melee with current-gen HD graphics, a new fighter or two or three, and adding popular features such as Final Smashes makes almost too much sense for a Smash-starved public… assuming Smash 5 isn’t just around the corner. Chance of Happening: 26%, in honor of the total number of characters on Melee’s roster.

Ubisoft’s South Park games – Nintendo has a reputation, mostly earned, for cultivating poor relationships with 3rd party developers, but their relationship with Ubisoft is the one obvious exception to that rule. Ubisoft was the first company to announce a Switch game, including Nintendo (they announced Just Dance would be coming to NX before Nintendo had revealed the NX to be the Switch), and their Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle was the first major 3rd party new release for Switch. During a recent earnings meeting, Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot confirmed that more Switch games would be coming from the developer in 2018. The South Park games are easily my most-wanted 3rd party titles, so I’m probably more bullish on The Stick of Truth and The Fractured But Whole coming to Switch than I should be. Chance of Happening: 146%, or the same number of f-bombs that were dropped in South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut.

Donkey Kong + Minions: Banana Brawl – Following up on the whole Mario + Rabbids
crossover success, DK’s crew and the Minions finally meet up for an adventure of epic proportions! Tell me this isn’t a perfect pairing. Make it a rhythm game or a strategy game or a platformer or maybe just this GIF on a loop with DK photoshopped in. Chance of Happening: BANANA!

WarioWare: Switched Off – If SnipperClips proved anything, it’s that playing bite-sized co-op micro-games in Tabletop mode with split JoyCons is one of the things that the Switch does best. It’s time for Mario’s creepy-ass clone to make his Switch debut, and his strangest franchise is the platform on which he should take his bow. Chance of Happening: 6%, for Wario’s debut in Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins.

Batman: Arkham Adventures – This is just flat-out, 100% a pipe dream. Wouldn’t you love to play an Arkham style game, but done up in the art style and tone of Batman: The Animated Series? If you are a living, breathing human being with even the barest whisper of a pulse, the answer is: yes. Yes, of course you would. Chance of Happening: -0%, in honor of the temperature at which Mr. Freeze is forced to live his life.

Paper Mario: The 2-Thousand Year Door – The Paper Mario franchise was at its best, most fans would agree, in the original N64 game and its sequel for GCN, the remarkably charming Thousand Year Door. Early returns on the Switch suggest that it’s going to be a great platform for RPGs (and who wouldn’t want to curl up on the sofa with a handheld device to play RPGs in 60 hour chunks? Now THAT’S a weekend.) So a direct sequel to one of the most beloved GameCube games ever would be an out-of-nowhere surprise for the franchise’s long-time fans, and an easy lay-up for Nintendo. Chance of Happening: 2,000%, in honor of… I mean, do I really have to spell it out?

Portal 3 and Portal HD Collection – I MEAN, C’MON! WOULDN’T THAT BE AWESOME?! Chance of Happening: The Stranger Things theme song, as in, it won’t, but stranger things have happened.

Cover Story (1 of 2)

Ah, the music of our youth. Does anything stoke the fires of nostalgia quite like the melodies that charmed and blessed our younger, carefree days? You know, like the theme from Super Mario Bros. and stuff.

If you’re like me, and if you’re reading this you probably are, the music of your youth was as much Zelda as Madonna, as much Star Fox as Starship, as much Earthbound as Nirvana (think about it.) So now, with access to unlimited music thanks to my brand-spanking new Spotify account, I’ve continued on with one of my longest-running musical obsessions: finding dope-ass cover tunes of my favorite Nintendo theme songs.

I’ve recently put together a new Spotify playlist, which is perhaps the single most boring thing anyone could ever tell another human being. I don’t care, though. It’s my blog and I’m going to write about it.

… it’s a playlist of essential Nintendo franchise themes arranged chronologically in the order of each individual series’ debut, each represented by as representative a cover track as I could find in Spotify’s archives.

So boring.

1.) Tina Guo, “Super Mario Bros.”, Game On –

Tina Guo is a Chinese-American cellist. Classically trained, internationally known, and currently signed to the SONY Classical label, she is one of the more traditional recording artists represented on this list… and she’s going to come back a couple of times, as the arrangements on her tracks, by composer and frequent Hans Zimmer arranger Steve Mazzaro, are second-to-none, to say nothing of Ms. Guo’s exquisite artistry with a bow in her hands. Koji Kondo’s legendary tracks for Super Mario Bros. are notoriously difficult to cover: they don’t really lend themselves to rock interpretation, nor to full orchestral accompaniment. While I’ve always felt the SMB music is best covered by jazz quartet, Ms. Guo’s medley finds a happy marriage between classical and rock, not surprising given her proficiency with the electric cello. The medley covers the original game’s “Ground Theme”, “Underground Theme”, and “Game Over” theme, with “Bob-Omb Battlefield” from Mario 64 thrown in for good measure. Many Super Mario medleys leave much to be desired. This one is easily one of the best ones out there.

2.) Tina Guo, “The Legend of Zelda”, Game On

It may seem sacrilege to include a Zelda representative track that ISN’T from Symphony of the Goddesses, but in looking for a single radio-length track that really encompasses the core of the franchise, Ms. Guo’s Zelda medley is, again, my preferred choice. Perfectly blending the classical and rock aesthetic, this track covers the Legend of Zelda “Main Theme”, the first game’s “Underworld Theme”, “Fairy Fountain”, and “Gerudo Desert”. Truthfully, I may have personally chosen “Dragon Roost Island” or “Ballad of the Goddess” instead of “Gerudo Desert” in orchestration, but “Gerudo” is a fantastic track and it’s tough to criticize its inclusion here.

3.) VomitroN, “Metroid: (1 of 2)”, NESessary Evil

This is where we start to tread into more familiar video game cover music territory: hard metal covers. VomitroN is, to quote, “an experimental heavy metal band hailing from Nebulon V, specializing in kicking faces and melting asses.” So, you know… they’re a metal band. Amongst their offerings are two CDs-worth of long-form video game cover tracks, orchestrations that capture each featured game’s entire sonic footprint in one or two fully-realized suites. My choice of “Metroid: (1 of 2)” as my Metroid representative on this playlist is controversial inasmuch as it includes covers of music ONLY from the original Metroid, and NOT anything from the acclaimed Super Metroid or Metroid Prime scores. That original game’s soundtrack, though, with its one action cue of “Brinstar” surrounded by discordant musical desolation, is what best captures the aural essence of the franchise’s identity, IMHO, and the best and most polished medley of tracks from Metroid are present in this first half of VomitroN’s Metroid suite.

4.) Nestalgica, “Punch Out!!: Match Theme”, Feed. Play. Sleep. Repeat.

One of the most prolific artists of the “video game cover tunes” genre, Nestalgica is legit just, like, one dude from Sweden… but he’s been actively covering Nintendo tracks since 2006. He’s a granddaddy of the art form and a must-listen Nintendo rock guitarist (in a world just chock full of Nintendo rock guitarists; was that sarcasm? Not even I can tell.) The Punch Out!! music, sparse though it is, is fantastic, and surprisingly not covered as often as one might think. Nestalgica’s arrangement touches all the essentials required in a cover of the Punch-Out!! fight music: the pre-match fanfare, the match music itself, the knock-down danger music, and the victory flourish. No training music, but hey… nothing’s perfect. (Of course he covered the training music in a separate track. Are you kidding? The man’s a legend.)

5.) Tina Guo, “Tetris”, Game On

Look: Nintendo at least PUBLISHED Tetris. Going through Nintendo’s musical history, I’d feel something was amiss if I omitted the game synonymous with the Game Boy… or at least, the game that WAS synonymous with the Game Boy until another soon-to-be-mentioned franchise began. This is a reimagining of the track referred to as “A-Type” in the game, which itself is actually an adaptation of the 19th century Russian folk song “Korobeiniki“, which tells the story of the love affair between a young peddler and a peasant girl. Ms. Guo’s reinterpretation of “Korobeinki” gives the tune, in its brief four minutes plus of running time, the narrative heft of the original story upon which it was based, turning the soundtrack to the greatest selling video game of all time into a symphonic movement that would feel at home as a cut from the landmark Russian symphony, Sergei Prokofiev’s Peter & the Wolf.

6.) Kirby’s Dream Band, “Fever (From Dr. Mario)”, Singles

Hailing from San Diego, CA, Kirby’s Dream Band’s “About” section on all of their social media pages simply reads, “Pink Rock”. Unsurprisingly, they cover a lot of Kirby tracks. Surprisingly, they cover a lot of other games, too. “Fever” is a neat little bop with a dope bassline and electronic accents, and the Kirby’s Dream Band spin on it carries all that through while throwing a driving percussion and rock guitars into the mix. It is irrepressibly hummable.

7.) Mariachi Gallos de Mexico, “Fire Emblem”, Mi Lindo Son je Jalisco

I was all set to use a version of “Together We Ride” for the Fire Emblem entry, until I stumbled upon this. The Mariachi Serenaders of Mexico (my best translation attempt) have, for some reason, included on their eighth studio album of traditional Mexican mariachi music… this amazing cover of the main Fire Emblem theme, mariachi style, right down to the throaty brass and the delicate plucking of guitar strings. It is bizarre and random; not in that the fine people of Mexico can’t enjoy Fire Emblem as much as anyone else, but inasmuch as this is the ONLY video game track the Mariachi Gallos have covered over 50+ recorded songs, and the ONLY track listing in English on any of their 8 albums. Why is it here? Did someone lose a bet? Who cares? Mariachi music is magnificent, and so is this cover.

(You thought I was kidding?)

8.) Nestalgica, “Mute City”, … and Nostalgia For All

There are a lot of “Mute City” tracks floating around out there on the Internet, so for F-Zero‘s entry we turn to the tried-and-true guitar licks of Netsalgica. There’s nothing fancy going on here; “Mute City” as it appears on the Super Nintendo is a rock track done via midi file, anyway, so Nestalgica’s cover of it has only to bring this wooden boy to life. Mission accomplished.

9.) Rare Candy, “Kirby’s Dreamland – Sand Canyon 2, Green Greens”, Bomber Blue/Gallant Green

What I like best about this Kirby cover from Chicago-based rockers Rare Candy is the combination of whimsy and adrenaline. Whimsy is in no short supply in the Kirby franchise, and what Rare Candy has done here is laid down a no-nonsense rock bedrock for the “Green Greens” melody line, itself hammered out on baby piano, to bounce along to. The resulting concoction is frenetically sweet and as cute as a tornado, as good a musical metaphor for Kirby himself as you’ll ever find.

10.) The OneUps, “Title Screen” (Mario Paint)”, Volume 2

The Beatles of the video game cover genre, the OneUps have been at this for a long time; since 2002, to be precise. Their discography goes 7 studio albums deep, and perusing the group’s musical evolution is well worth the time and effort for any gaming music aficionado. I know that Mario Paint isn’t really a FRANCHISE, per se, but the sparse little ditty from the game’s title screen is one that has stuck with me for years, and it’s no surprise that the one cover of it worth listening to comes from the OneUps, a band with an eclectic repertoire that includes a cover of the Mii Channel music, a sax-centric swing on “Koopa Beach” from Mario Kart, and a Super Mario Bros. 2 gangsta rap. If you’re interested in taking a sharp left turn and veering away from traditional gaming covers, the OneUps are your band.

11.) Joshua Morse, “ROYGBIV”, Arcade Attack!

It’s the music from Rainbow Road (don’t ask me which one; they all blend together to my ear.) Of COURSE it’s done up in electronica! Mr. Morse’s Arcade Attack! is published through GameChops, a publisher of EDM-inspired video game cover albums that seems the natural evolution of genre granddaddy site OCRemix. A composer and coder by day, Mr. Morse takes Mario Kart‘s most iconic track and places it pacifier-and-glow-stick-deep into a rave, right where it belongs. If ever music sounded like a multi-colored strobe light w/laser side FX, it’s this track right here.

And that is part one of our list… divided into two parts because, otherwise, it might be TL;DR for ME, and I wrote it. Tune in next time, when we’ll go on to franchises such as Pokemon, Star Fox, and… SPLATOON!

Yeah, like I was going to do a Nintendo music list and leave off Splatoon. You’re lucky I’m not adding Codename S.T.E.A.M.

(I checked. Nobody’s covered it. Sad face.)

A Hater, Hating

 

I am, at times, “accused” of loving everything Nintendo does. That is untrue. I only love MOST of anything Nintendo does. If you follow Me & Nintendo with any regularity, you’ll start to realize there’s a few franchises that never get any love from me, largely because… well… I can’t stand them.

Of the five franchises I’m going to talk about here: one of them I’ve come around to, two of them I’m on the cusp of either hating or enjoying, and two I absolutely loathe. It just so happens that those last two franchises are among the biggest Nintendo has, which means that my dearth of writing on those topics is going to deprive me of a whole lot of potential readers.

Nobody ever accused me of being a marketing genius.

Animal Crossing

I never understood the appeal of this franchise. Running around with anthropomorphized animals, collecting bugs and going fishing and digging up fossils? What was the POINT? Then something very stressful happened in my life (okay, Trump was elected), and I realized that the point of Animal Crossing was that there WAS no point, and I dumped a bunch of hours into AC: New Leaf. I haven’t gone back to my town in quite some time, so it’s probably falling into disrepair and disarray, but I’m definitely in on whatever version of Animal Crossing eventually ends up on Switch.

Xenoblade Chronicles

I’ve never played a Xenoblade game, so I can’t rightfully say I hate Xenoblade games, nor would I. In fact, they look appealing and lush and beautiful, and I remain very, very interested in Xenoblade Chronicles 2 and the vast world of exploration it promises. Then I watch videos of the combat system, and I end up nursing a massive headache. I’m 38 years old. I don’t got time for that sort of hoo-ha anymore. (I’m still going to get in on that game at some point, even if not right at release. I anticipate headaches.)

Pikmin

Even as I begin to gravitate CLOSER to Xenoblade Chronicles, I begin to spin AWAY from Pikmin. As the life of the Wii U drew to a close, Pikmin 3 was the game I hadn’t played that I needed to play before selling off my system, and I did. And I’m glad I did. And also, I realized something. Here’s how you solve every problem and fight every enemy in a Pikmin game: you run around it in circles while throwing pikmin at it. Unless Pikmin 4: The New Batch features some crazy new gameplay mechanic to go along with its gorgeously rendered world of giant knick-knacks and fruit, I’m going to pass.

Fire Emblem

Or “Nintendo chess”, as I like to call it. I’ve tried to play Fire Emblem, I really have. I’ve dived into Fire Emblem for GBA via the Wii U Virtual Console, Fire Emblem Heroes for mobile, and most notably, Fire Emblem Awakening on the 3DS. Not one of those three games compelled me to keep coming back, not even after several hours of gameplay apiece. Strategy games like X-Com, or Codename S.T.E.A.M., or Mario + Rabbids… I love those games. I think it’s the in-the-heat-of-battle element of them. Fire Emblem feels detached by comparison, a game where I’m shoving little emblems (hey, now I get it!) around a grid, trying to remember the made-up weapons triangle and position anime waifu next to each other so they’ll fall in love and have magical warrior babies.

Honestly, it makes me want to smash my 3DS. How many hours do I have to put into a Fire Emblem game until it stops being banal and repetitive?

Pokemon

Or “Nintendo cock fighting”, as I like to call it. (Don’t google that.) I used to love JRPGs, actually, and like Fire Emblem, Pokemon is a franchise that I have tried to like. I inevitably find it to be a simplified rock/paper/scissors spin on the JRPG formula, a collect-a-thon as much as an actual game… but the real trouble, honestly, is when I listen to Pokemon fans begin to discuss Pokemon games in earnest. I can listen to talk of Koopa Troopas and Hyrule and Peppy Hare and Morph Balls and other such Nintendo nonsense for hours on end, but listening in on in-depth Pokemon conversation when you’re a series neophyte is a whole other form of hell, one to which I would not subject my worst enemy. The gameplay reward is too low and the bar of entry to fandom too high at this point for me to bother.

Although I’m pretty sure the Pokemon franchise won’t be hurting much without my spending cash propping it up.

Making the Grade: 9/13/17 Nintendo Direct Edition

It seems as though E3 just happened, but the next major Nintendo Direct in the Switch era was broadcast two days ago. Lots of the big surprises coming out of this Direct actually involved 3rd party games (I’m looking in your direction, Doom and Wolfenstein); a lot of the coverage dedicated to Nintendo IPs was expanding on information we already knew, and as a lot of this direct focused on 2017 games I think it’s best to wait and pass judgement on what franchises may and may not appear in 2018 and beyond. Still, a few pieces of information came out about Nintendo IPs that could move the needle on our power rankings in one direction or the other, so let’s take a glance.

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.

Tier A: Fire EmblemThe Legend of Zelda, Mario Kart,  Metroid, Pokemon,  Splatoon, Super MarioSuper Smash Bros.

No moves here into or out of Tier A. I write this on the day a new Metroid game debuts, while Super Mario Odyssey featured heavily in this direct and looks poised to actually give Breath of the Wild a run for its Game of the Year money. Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon were featured in the Direct, as well as Fire Emblem Warriors and the upcoming Zelda amiibo. No mention of Mario Kart or Smash; the former wasn’t anticipated and the latter, now matter how badly people are disappointed whenever it’s left out of a Direct, isn’t about to fall out of Tier A anytime soon.

Tier B: Animal CrossingDonkey KongKirbyMario & Luigi(+) Mario spin-offsPaper Mario, XenobladeYoshi, Pikmin

Our first bump of the Direct comes here with the Mario spin-off games moving up to Tier B. Mario Party: The Top 100 for the 3DS was announced, and it sounds like the best idea for a Mario Party they’ve had for a very long time: the top 100 games from all 10 console Mario Party games in one collection. Xenoblade Chronicles 2, featured in the Direct, looks amazing, but it’s too deep of an RPG (and too limited in its overall appeal) to crack Tier A, I think. The Mario & Luigi series also got a mention in the form of the upcoming remake/enhancement, Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions, and Kirby, in true Kirby fashion, has two games coming: Kirby Star Allies on the Switch, and Kirby Battle Royale on 3DS. The rest of Tier B did not appear, yet remain comfortably where they are.

Tier C: ARMS, Mii games, Pokemon spin-offs.

ARMS DLC got a brief mention in the Direct, but I’m overall not sure how I feel about this IP as a franchise moving forward. The conventional wisdom is, and I agree with this, that ARMS‘ early success (and it IS a very fun game) was undercut by Splatoon 2 coming out just weeks afterwards. I agree: I like ARMS, but I LOVE Splatoon, and I haven’t touched ARMS since Splatoon 2 and Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle came out. So ARMS remains in Tier C, for now. Let’s see if Spring Man ends up in Smash 5, or if another ARMS title hits 3DS or something. We’ll see.

Grade D: (-) BoxBoy!Kid Icarus,  Luigi’s Mansion(+) Punch-Out!!Wario brand games, Star Fox

Two movers here. After debuting on the last version of the list (because I forgot to add it earlier, #SheepishGrin) BoxBoy! immediately drops a tier. I take Hal Laboratories seriously when they say the BoxBoy! saga finished with the third game in the trilogy. Punch-Out!! gets a weird bump here; the original arcade version of Punch-Out!! made a cameo in the Direct, as an assumed part of the new Arcade Archives coming to Switch, and as perhaps the most intriguing title to be teased as included in that collection. Punch-Out!! is such a tricky brand to grade. An evergreen IP with only three home console games to its credit, the best of which was the original, released over 30 years ago and starring a real-life boxer as the game’s end boss in a license that no longer exists and an association Nintendo no longer wishes to make. (Mike Tyson, if you are unaware, has been in and out of jail on a rape/sexual assault conviction since he appeared in 8-bit form on the NES.) Punch-Out!!, though, is still a fairly beloved brand, and any mention of it in a Direct is sure to garner even a little bit of buzz.

Grade E: Advance Wars, F-ZeroMotherPushmo, Puzzle League, Rhythm HeavenRemix series, NintenDogs, Pilotwings 

Just as with Metroid at E3, if Mother or F-Zero or Advance Wars ever show up in a Direct, they’ll get an instant tier upgrade to C or B. This was not the Direct where that happened, though, so loyal fans of those franchises will keep waiting.

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

Maybe next time, guys. But probably not.

The Quilling Fields

Right off the bat, I’ll explain that “The Quilling Fields” is a pun. The Killing Fields is an award-winning 1984 film, and a quill is a repurposed goose feather used for centuries as an ink-delivery instrument; the pun is meant to suggest that Splatoon 2, an arena-based shooter in which ink replaces bullets, features a great deal of aggressive confrontation.

I’ll admit: it’s a bit of a reach.

The pun is also not the point. The point is that Splatoon 2 is here and the first Splatfest (Splatoon‘s monthly competition event) has happened, and now that we’ve really had time to dive in we can start figuring out just how different Splatoon 2 is from its predecessor.

On the surface… well, it isn’t any different. The basics of Turf War, Splatoon‘s bread-and-butter, remains the same: two teams of four inklings splat it out over the course of three minutes to try and cover a map with their team’s color of ink. There’s also a solo campaign that plays very much like the solo campaign of the first game, a Ranked Battle that consists of three different modes, all returning from the original game, and then a horde mode, branded as the game-within-a-game of Salmon Run. Aside from Salmon Run, Splatoon 2 seems a whole lot like Splatoon, right down to the recycled weapons and gear you can buy for your inkling. In fact, the only real differences lie in special weapons (all new, no returning) and the maps (two reworked from the first game, and six new.)

So you start playing Splatoon 2‘s Turf War, and it feels like Splatoon. And you play, and you play, and you play some more, until finally, you realize… something’s different. You can’t put your finger on it, maybe, but… this game feels faster, more aggressive, more VIOLENT than Splatoon. Yes… yes, you’re quite sure of it. The problem is, you can’t figure out WHY.

And then you look at the maps.

So let’s do some compare and contrast. From Splatoon:

Urchin Underpass is a series of winding passageways and fences joined in the middle by a ravine filled with trees.

Walleye Warehouse is a long, narrow stage with secret side passages tucked away to the left and the right for flanking.

Arowana Mall is similar to Walleye Warehouse: long and narrow with side-passages and elevated walkways.

Saltspray Rig is a series of narrow walkways and lifts running south of a wide, open area at the top of the map.

Blackbelly Skatepark is a series of peaks and valleys with two large, rounded ends on either side.

Now let’s look at the Splatoon 2 maps:

The Reef is a square.

Starfish MainStage is a square.

Inkblot Art Academy is two squares very slightly overlaid with each other.

Sturgeon Shipyard is a rectangle.

Humpback Pump Track is a rectangle with a slight bubbling in the middle.

Musselforge Fitness sucks. Also, it’s a square with two little outcroppings.

You see the difference? Whereas Splatoon‘s maps were all sorts of crazy shapes and sizes, the initial launch maps of Splatoon 2 are, more and less, big and open square-ish shapes. In most of Splatoon‘s maps you could run and swim and hide in nooks and crannies that were tucked away all over; the common Splatoon mantra of, “You could play a whole game and never see an enemy,” actually applied. Splatoon 2‘s maps, though, are designed to push opposing teams together. On Splatoon 2‘s maps (and this may change as more DLC maps become available) there are very few places to hide, especially as compared to Splatoon.

The result of this? Splatoon 2 is a game that (though the actual movement physics of the player characters may not be any faster than in its predecessor) is played in arenas that encourage conflict and clashes with the enemy. A lot of the “you can run and hide” element of the original Splatoon is gone from Splatoon 2. Smaller, more open maps also means that the tide of battle can change very quickly; just because your team is losing a Turf War battle in Splatoon 2 with 10 seconds left in the match doesn’t mean you’ll still be losing when time runs out.

Another thing the Splatoon 2 map designs avoid are bottlenecks. In the first game, Arowana Mall and Saltspray Rig had natural lock points that got swarmed with inklings, and whichever team threw the most combatants at the bottleneck tended to win the match. Walleye Warehouse was one of my favorite Splatoon maps, and upon reflection I realize it’s because the entire stage was a bottleneck; with the proper load-out and enough ink coverage it was relatively easy to hold the line in Walleye Warehouse all by yourself.

A lack of natural in-stage bottlenecks has resulted in a terrain-based nerf of one of Splatoon‘s most popular weapon classes: the Charger. While I presume the Japanese game is still loaded with deadeye sniping (unlike Splatoon, which ran on international servers; Splatoon 2 runs on regional ones), Charger use has steeply declined, at least in the North American game. And lest you think this is all just coincidental, that I’m reading into these early maps too much, I’d like to direct your attention to the weapon that has skyrocketed in popularity: the Aerospray.

The Aerospray was known in Splatoon as THE go-to painting gun. It featured an incredible rate of fire and ink coverage, but individual shots were weak and the gun’s range was roughly 33% shorter than that of the comparable N-Zap. I used the Aerospray more than 50% of the time in Splatoon, and decided to use a more aggressive weapon when I started up on Splatoon 2. Given my hours and hours and hours and hours of experience with the Aerospray, I was in a unique position to realize that opposing Splatoon 2 players were splatting me with it from well further out than the Aerospray should allow. That, I realized upon retreating to the test range, is because the Aerospray now has a reach equivalent to that of the N-Zap, and the Sploosh-o-Matic, a weapon that had practically zero range in Splatoon, now has range equivalent to that of the first game’s Aerospray, at nearly double the attack power. And while I’m nowhere near as well-versed in the Sloshers and the Ink Brushes as I am the Aerospray, I would swear that the range on those weapons has been boosted as well.

Between the increase in range for these guns and the maps purposely designed to promote team-vs.-team conflict, I think it’s pretty clear that the Splatoon 2 development group decided to push a greater emphasis on combat than was done in Splatoon. Splatoon, though, wasn’t exactly a conflict-free game, so if you bump that up the Splatoon 2 experience becomes that much faster, that much more frenzied, and (although inklings immediately respawn upon being splatted) that much more lethal.

Hence: the Quilling Fields.

Okay, it doesn’t work.

Featured Image source: https://www.imore.com/how-get-started-playing-splatoon-2-handy-tips-and-tricks-beginners