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 Nintendo SWiitch (That’s Not a Typo)

It was hailed as the end of an era. The reveal of Nintendo’s top-secret next console, codenamed NX, a hybrid system that was one of the worst-kept secrets in video games, was going to end the age of the Wii, the one that began in a blaze of glory as the Wii became a “must have” item, and ended as smoldering ash as the Wii U became a “what’s that” item.

Into this world came the Switch, with the promise of a new Legend of Zelda and Splatoon and 3D Super Mario, and Skyrim and NBA 2K and Minecraft, all in year one, all great news for Nintendo platform loyalists starved for new (or at least remastered) content, all now playable on the go. Oh, along with these no-brainers came a few choice reminders that, you know, Nintendo will always Nintendo. For example: at the Switch reveal conference, live-streamed around the world from Japan, an event that many expected to be a fresh new start and a clean slate… but which Nintendo used to announce not one, but TWO games that seemed as though they were designed for the motion controlled Wii: the ice cube simulator 1-2-Switch and the Plastic-Man fighter ARMS. 1-2-Switch was indulged and largely ignored, and while I still think there’s a place for it on college campuses this fall (drunken wizard fights, anyone?) it certainly isn’t something anyone would point to as a hit, and it just as certainly should have been a system pack-in, not a full-priced separate launch title.

A few months later, ARMS came along, a motion control weirdo springy-armed boxing game in which the motion controls are optional. That previous sentence describes both an evolution of and a reaction to the similarly motion-controlled games for the Wii. From the Wii era Nintendo seems to have learned that people like to decide for themselves whether or not they want to use motion controls in any particular game. Just as it is in ARMS, the motion controls in Splatoon 2 and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe are completely optional. The evolution lies in the technology: the original Wiimote tracked motion through a combination of accelerometer (which detects velocity) and infrared technology (which detects location). The Joy-Con, aside from containing technology eleven years newer than that which inhabited the Wiimote, is equipped with an accelerometer and a gyroscope (which accurately measures location). Fair point: the Wii MotionPlus add-on accessory for the Wiimote contained a gyroscope as well, but nothing beats having the tools baked into the console from the world “go”.

The difference, then, between ARMS and a lot of the Wii-era games? The motion controls in ARMS are remarkably precise, and the game is not prisoner of the “waggle controls” that plagued so many Wii titles, that feeling that you’re flailing about blindly and have only rudimentary control over your on-screen avatar’s movements. On the Wii itself it was Skyward Sword that came closest to fulfilling the initial promise of what that system would be, but it’s ARMS, a game for a console meant to move Nintendo past their Wii/Wii U days, that feels like the near-perfect execution of what Nintendo had hoped Wii games would be all along.

The comparison between the Wii U and the Switch is obvious, of course; both consoles come with a tablet-like touchscreen. Unlike the Wii U, though, the Switch is not a second-screen device. But, as many of the Wii U’s critics noted during that console’s “heyday” (a term I use with the utmost looseness), the best use of the Wii U’s Gamepad was not as a second screen (with a few select exceptions). It was best used for off-TV play, and with the benefit of hindsight, the Wii U ends up looking an awful lot like a prototype version of the Nintendo Switch. The off-TV experience on Switch is better in every way, of course, with a true HD screen and a capacitive touchscreen in place of the Wii U’s resistive touchscreen… not to mention the Switch’s take-anywhere-ableness, as opposed to the Wii U Gamepad’s reluctance to function at distances greater than ten feet from the base unit.

I put this comparison together just the other night while playing Splatoon 2. I do a lot of my gaming at night; I’m a night owl and my wife is a morning person, so after she and the kids go to bed is when I get a lot of my Switch on. This means I’m less likely to play the Switch in TV mode (she’s also a light sleeper), so about 95% of my Breath of the Wild play-through was in handheld mode. Handheld mode, though, is not ideal for Splatoon 2, especially since I absolutely can not play Splatoon without motion controls. So after a few hours of uncomfortable handheld gaming, I decided to put the Switch in tabletop mode and grab my pro controller… except the pro controller was all the way across the room, so I instead went with split Joy-Con play.

It was a revelation.

I’ll try to describe the experience, but if you’re playing Splatoon 2 (and why wouldn’t you be?) you should really try this out for yourself. The left Joy-Con is primarily for directional input and morphing into squid form, and the right Joy-Con, which is the Joy-Con from which Splatoon 2 reads gyroscopic input, is used for aiming and firing your weapon. The precision aiming I was able to pull of with the right Joy-Con was a substantial improvement over anything I was able to pull off with the Wii U Gamepad over the course of the 300+ hours I put into Splatoon, and a gazillion times better than trying to aim while waving the Switch around in handheld mode. I was fighting off entire teams of Inklings by myself, and then I switched over to the Splat Charger and started popping squids like nobody’s business.

That’s when I realized that the Switch does not mark the end of the Wii era. Rather, it is the culmination of what the Wii and the Wii U promised but didn’t deliver: HD off-screen, truly portable play with pinpoint motion controls. The Switch’s success will rely on Nintendo’s ability to keep their new flagship awash in a steady stream of games more than it will anything else, but one other thing worth noting is that they have been preparing this console for a very long time. Ten years of in-the-wild market research, probably closer to fifteen years of development, have come together to bring us the natural offspring of both the Wii and the Wii U: the Nintendo Switch. For Nintendo’s sake, given the explosive success of the Wii and the implosive failure of the Wii U, let’s hope the Switch (or the SWiitch) takes after mom, and not dad.

Yes, of COURSE the Wii is the mom. Geez.

Gotta Have “It”

The Nintendo Switch is cool.

Wait. I suppose I should provide an update to my last post: yes, my Switch arrived earlier this week. Crisis averted. I have emerged from the depths of the Amazon. Onwards and upwards.

So: the Switch.

The Switch is cool. I don’t choose words randomly, and in the case of the Switch, “cool” is a very carefully cultivated selection. The Switch has a “je ne sais quoi” that only the best tech products have, the thing that makes you want to reach out and touch it, to hold it in your hand and fiddle with it. Those are the products that have “It”, capital “I”. What is It? I don’t know for sure, but people know It when they see It.

The Walkman had It, the Camcorder had It, and the holy trinity of “i” products (Pod, Pad, and Phone) all had It. Nintendo, like Apple, has a history of products that have It: the NES and the Game Boy started that phase of the company’s existence. And now, they have the Switch.

“It” is cool, “It” is in demand, “It” is addictive, “It” gets you thinking about it when you’re not playing around with it. The Switch’s It-factor is evident from the first time you pick one up and play with it, and if you’ve not yet had a chance to hold a Switch in your hands I highly recommend you do so at the earliest possible convenience. The super-flat tablet in handheld mode melts into your grip, you’ll want to slide the JoyCons off and on the main console over and over again just to hear them snap back in place, the HD display is gorgeous and crystal clear, and resting the unit in the dock and watching the game you were just playing on the bus magically appear on your TV is more satisfying than it ought to be. Heck, just fiddling with buttons and cycling through menus to variations of the now-infamous Switch “click” is addictive and pleasurable in ways only offered by products that have It.

When looking at the Nintendo Switch as a gizmo, I can’t help but think of the Wii. When the Wii debuted with its funky remote control controller, upright white design, and arm-swinging sports pack-in title, it was the sort of “what’s THAT?” level of weird that grabbed people’s curiosity and wouldn’t let go until they got the device in their hands. The Wii was a dorky little underpowered box of cartoon avatars going head-to-head with two console gaming powerhouses, PlayStation 3 and XBox 360… and Wii outsold both of those platforms by 15 million units almost entirely on the strength of “It”. XBox 360 in particular offered an objectively better console gaming experience than was offered by the Wii, and the 85 million XB360 units sold is certainly nothing to be ashamed of… but it’s not the Wii’s 101 million units sold. XBox 360 was a black box with a standard controller. Certainly nothing wrong with that, but as just a regular old fiddle-dee-dee gadget it just didn’t have It like the Wii did.

And now, here’s the Switch. It was evident just from the time I spent playing with the Switch during Nintendo’s worldwide rollout tour last month that the hybrid console was going to follow in the Wii’s footsteps as a thing people are going to be itching to pick up and toy around with. It was also clear that once people had their first taste of It they weren’t going to be able to shake It. As was the Wii before it, the Switch is a “must try” console, and most everyone who’s aware the Switch exists is at the very least curious to try It. In hindsight, “let’s tour the world and let people experience It” was one of the best marketing decisions Nintendo has made in over a decade, and is certainly a better marketing decision than, “let’s give this new console the same name as the old console and confuse everyone completely,” *koff koff looking at you Wii U koff koff*.

Look: “It” doesn’t mean everything. It gets old, sooner rather than later, and that’s when the It product proves whether or not it has staying power. That’s right, having It doesn’t guarantee success; just ask Google Glass about that. Even the Wii fell off at the end of its life cycle. Too many millions of those of early adopters had trouble sorting through the console’s desert of shovelware, and the Wii’s promise of revolutionary motion controls only really panned out in the titles that bookended its existence: Wii Sports and The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword.

So the Switch is going to have to produce what it has promised beyond giddy charm and fascination, and ultimately prove its own worth as a gaming machine. It’s off to a good start; Breath of the Wild justifies the Switch’s $300 price tag all on its own, and even in the limited 9 game launch line-up there are a number of high quality experiences. (See also: Fast RMX, Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove, and SnipperClips.) Also on deck: Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Splatoon 2, Super Mario Odyssey, Skyrim, etc., etc. So an investment in the Switch looks, for the moment, to be an investment not just in form, but in substance… which would give it a leg up on the Wii, a console where the substance never lived up to the promise of the form.

Because “It” is fleeting, and cool dies young… but great games are forever. We know the Switch has the former, in spades. Now we need to know that it will also have the latter.

Lost in the Amazon

I was hoping I’d be able to wax a little poetic today about the Nintendo Switch and Breath of the Wild… buuuut that’s not going to happen, and I don’t know when in the future it’s going to take place. If social media is any indicator (it isn’t always but seems legit this time) than it would appear that large swaths of Nintendo fans have had their Switch launch day fun ruined by online mega-retailer and “didn’t you guys used to just sell books?” superstore Amazon.com. As much as it pains me to report this… I am one of those fans.

*GASP!*

So what’s happening?

According to numerous news outlets, including Kotaku and Forbes, a large and growing number of people who pre-ordered their Switch on Amazon, many in early to mid January, have seen their shipment trackers progress to “preparing to ship,” and then just stop there. As 6pm approaches on the East Coast, Amazon’s promise to deliver the Switch to these customers by 8pm seems more or less a pipe dream, and to add insult to injury, over the course of March 3rd (a.k.a. Switch launch day) Amazon has sporadically released more consoles for sale, and Amazon Prime Now participants who ordered a Switch on launch day and got it later on launch day are receiving units over those who’ve had the Switch pre-ordered since the instant those went live…including moi. Calls to customer service have not solved the dilemma, and in many cases credits are being offered as a balm of sorts, but that’s hardly the point. The point is that day one Switch delivery was “guaranteed” for customers, and that “guarantee” is worth the paper it wasn’t printed on because Amazon’s entirely digital.

But what went wrong?

This is the biggest part of the problem; Amazon’s not saying what happened and their customer service reps have been more or less left on their own to try and appease throngs of angry Nintendo fans.

(Okay, no, that is NOT a very threatening thought. I admit that.)

The rumor that seems to be taking hold is that many, not all but many, of Amazon’s U.S. distribution centers are STILL waiting for their own copies of the Switch to arrive, and can’t very well ship product they don’t have themselves out to pre-ordering costumes. Is that the actual reason? Hard to say; Amazon’s not saying a word, and it’s a silence that only grows more and more deafening with every new customer inquiry.

Yes, yes, of course; in the grand scheme of things this is but a pittance. It is, perhaps, the very definition of the term “First World Problems”. I’ve chatted with customer service, they’ve assured me my Switch will be arriving on Monday (we’ll see), and given me a credit for my trouble. My situation is a little unique, too; even though Amazon doesn’t require it, I prepaid the entire value of the Switch with online exchange credit for old games, consoles and accessories. That being the case, I can only cancel my order for store credit… which I would only use to buy a Switch, anyway, so what’s the point of cancelling? Also, just to rub salt in the wound, I’ve actually received the two BotW amiibo that weren’t supposed to be here until next Tuesday, as well as a Switch carrying case and my BotW game itself.

But not my Switch.

Nintendo needed to hold up their end of the bargain this time around, making sure that plenty of Switch consoles would be available at launch, and anecdotal evidence would suggest that no other major retailers suffered an upward tick in their missed deliveries over the course of the Switch launch day. Nintendo, it appears, did their job this time; they ordered enough Switch units from their manufacturer so that anyone who wanted to get it Day 1 shouldn’t have had a problem, particularly if they had had the foresight to place a pre-order.

Amazon has taken that logic, ripped it up, and tossed it to the wind. We don’t know what happened to our Switch orders, we don’t know what’s going to happen or when it’s going to happen…all we know is that we had hoped to spend March 3rd exploring Hyrule. Instead, we’ve been left exploring the Amazonian depths (particularly the customer service page) hoping to find a clue of what it was, exactly, that went wrong.

This is the Nintendo Switch. You can play video games on it. You can hook it up to your TV, or you can take it with you anywhere you go. Did we mention you can play video games on it? Also, it has Zelda and cow milking.

I don’t know if you’re aware, but the Nintendo Switch is about a week away from hitting the stores. It is a very exciting time, but to be honest, it’s also a somewhat confusing one. How, you ask? For starters, I’d like you to look at the ridiculously long title of this column. I’ll repeat it for you: “This is the Nintendo Switch. You can play video games on it. You can hook it up to your TV, or you can take it with you anywhere you go. Did we mention you can play video games on it? Also, it has Zelda and cow milking.”

Here we are, a week out from the launch of the Switch, and the above statement is all we really, truly know about it. We don’t know about how the Switch’s online ecosystem is going to be set up, we don’t really know how the Switch is going to interact with the new Nintendo Account system, we haven’t heard anything at all about the Virtual Console… let’s face it, we don’t know anything about this console outside of, “This is the Nintendo Switch. You can play video games on it. You can hook it up to your TV, or you can take it with you anywhere you go. Did we mention you can play video games on it? Also, it has Zelda and cow milking.”

By now, of course, it should be obvious: that was the entire point.

Let’s take, for example, the Nintendo Switch promotional tour, the one that launched in New York City (you remember; I was there and wrote stuff real good about it.) That tour was one hundred percent about the games that are coming out for the Nintendo Switch, and how great they are and how much fun they are. During the three hour showcase there were no speeches, no presentations, no information booths… just station after station of Switches playing demos of games, and Nintendo Brand Ambassadors reinforcing to the attendees that, “This is the Nintendo Switch. You can play video games on it. You can hook it up to your TV, or you can take it with you anywhere you go. Did we mention you can play video games on it? Also, it has Zelda and cow milking.” Not a single thing was whispered about any of the other stuff that, admittedly, people expect to hear about modern gaming consoles: online spaces, integrated media experiences, etc., etc. Truthfully, it was only a slip of the tongue that led a Brand Ambassador to reveal to me that Splatoon 2 would feature a spectator mode, a detail that is only relevant in the world of competitive online gaming.

(Thought and prayers to that ambassador’s family. I’m assuming Nintendo had him “taken care of.” He’ll be missed.)

Part of the reason Wii U failed is because Nintendo muddied up the console’s launch message, first of all by naming it after their previous console (to this day people think the GamePad is just an accessory for the Wii) and then by talking about how the Wii U was going to “revolutionize” your relationship with the TV… at a time when people were beginning to abandon their TVs, en masse. Nobody cared, nor should they have. That was not Nintendo at their best, something that was clear from the word “go”, and the Wii U never recovered from it.

The early Switch talk from Nintendo has been: “This is the Nintendo Switch. You can play video games on it. You can hook it up to your TV, or you can take it with you anywhere you go. Did we mention you can play video games on it? Also, it has Zelda and cow milking,” and that’s it. Nothing else. And you know what? It’s working. They’ve sold out of preorders and the mainstream buzz is all good; hell, even Jimmy Fallon freaked out about Zelda on national TV. (To be fair, Jimmy Fallon freaks out about everything.) They’ve done this by telling us nothing but, “This is the Nintendo Switch. You can play video games on it. You can hook it up to your TV, or you can take it with you anywhere you go. Did we mention you can play video games on it? Also, it has Zelda and cow milking.”

Face it: the last market Nintendo is going to win over is the hardcore PS4/XBox market, i.e. the people who really care about the deep functionality of their consoles. The majority of the people Nintendo is going to try and sell a Switch to look at gaming consoles as things on which you play video games. So when the marketing is nothing but, “This is the Nintendo Switch. You can play video games on it. You can hook it up to your TV, or you can take it with you anywhere you go. Did we mention you can play video games on it? Also, it has Zelda and cow milking,” those people are all right with that. Those who follow the gaming industry on a day-to-day may complain about not knowing all the other details about the Switch, even just seven short days out from launch, but by now it should be clear: not telling us the other details was Nintendo’s ENTIRE launch strategy. They wanted nothing to get in the way of, “This is the Nintendo Switch. You can play video games on it. You can hook it up to your TV, or you can take it with you anywhere you go. Did we mention you can play video games on it? Also, it has Zelda and cow milking.”

Nintendo has always been at their best when they are focusing on making great games first and putting all the other stuff second. With the Switch, the other stuff isn’t even second. The other stuff is buried under the mantra coming non-stop out of Kyoto and being broadcast across the world, say it with me: “This is the Nintendo Switch. You can play video games on it. You can hook it up to your TV, or you can take it with you anywhere you go. Did we mention you can play video games on it? Also, it has Zelda and cow milking.”

You had me at Zelda, Nintendo. You had me at Zelda.

Featured image by Wolf-64, posted on DeviantArt.net.

Before U Go…

The Wii U has one foot out the door (or one foot in the grave, for the more macabre among you.) Its central conceit, the second screen of the GamePad, turned out to be a one-trick pony; second-screen home console gaming certainly didn’t catch on as Nintendo hoped it would, which may be the understatement of forever. With the GamePad and also the Wiimote both soon to go the way of the dodo, there are some hardware-reliant gaming experiences that will very likely die with Wii U, never to be emulated elsewhere ever again… unless Nintendo someday releases a Wii U Classic Mini, which I will be all over and which I can confidently say wouldn’t be greeted with a fraction of the demand that greeted the NES Classic Mini.

Now: if you’re like me, you don’t hoard consoles. If I’m not going to use a console anymore, I prefer it not to collect dust on a shelf. I sold my Atari 2600 to my sister’s friend for a slice of pizza, and I left my PS1 in my college rec room; finders-keepers. So in my household, the Wii U is going, going, soon-to-be-gone, and as the Wii era draws to a close, I find myself indulging in games that, due in many instances to a reliance on Wii/Wii U hardware features, are likely not going to be playable anywhere else anytime soon. These are the games that, if it all possible, you should try and play before moving on to the Switch.

1.) The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword – Not exactly a low-profile title, Skyward Sword came at the end of the Wii’s life cycle and sold far fewer copies than one would expect of a Zelda game. There have been calls of late for Nintendo to deliver an HD port of Skyward Sword to the Switch, sans motion controls. I’m playing through Skyward Sword now and I’m here to tell you: that’s impossible. The entire game is designed around the Wii Motion Plus’s 1-to-1 motion controls, from interaction with keys, to swimming and flying around Hyrule, to combat with both dungeon masters and bokoblins alike. Remastering the game without motion controls would be like remastering Twilight Princess without the wolf sections: Nintendo may as well make a whole new game instead. The Switch’s Joy-Cons have motion control baked in, but are they capable of Wii Motion Plus-levels of movement mimicry? The Switch has no sensor bar; does that mean Wii-style gaming is impossible, or can the Joy-Con’s IR camera replicate the Wiimote/sensor bar relationship? Well, I’ll tell you: I don’t know. What I DO know is that Skyward Sword is the one 3D Zelda that may not be able to follow Nintendo consoles through iteration after iteration. If you haven’t played it, play it now, before you can’t.

2.) Star Fox GuardStar Fox Zero‘s awkward controls were the result of Nintendo tasking Shigeru Miyamoto with designing games to justify the GamePad’s existence, and that is a terrible place to begin designing art from. Zero‘s biggest problem was simple: you don’t take an arcade-style shooter and make controlling it MORE complicated, which is exactly what controlling your Arwing’s targeting reticle through the GamePad’s second screen did. Star Fox Zero, though, was just one of the games Miyamoto-san came up with for the GamePad. One of the others eventually became Star Fox Guard, a security-camera simulator that tasks the player with protecting a mining facility from attacking robots. On the TV are the feeds from the complex’s twelve security cameras: the large primary feed ringed by the other smaller feeds. On the GamePad screen is an overhead radar map of the facility, and the player uses this to control which camera’s feed is primary and to keep an eye on which class of robots are heading into the facility from which direction, as well as to reposition and refocus the cameras. It’s a multi-tasking action game that keeps the player swiveling their head from the camera feed to the radar map, but unlike many of Wii U’s split-focus games, it actually works. Star Fox Guard is well worth your time; it’s like Five Nights at Freddy’s, but with no cheap jump scares and with actual gameplay. If that doesn’t sell you on it, nothing will.

3.) Affordable Space Adventures – Along with ZombiU (now available on PS4 and XB1) and Super Mario Maker (now on 3DS), KnapNok’s blackly comic space exploration title, where the player steps into the shoes of an unseen tourist whose vacation has gone horribly awry, boasts some of the best usage of the Wii U’s GamePad to be implemented over the course of the console’s short life. Affordable Space Adventures sets the player off to explore a not-so-friendly (and not-as-advertised) alien landscape in a small, unarmed spacecraft that has, just before the start of the game, survived a crash landing. The GamePad plays the role of the craft’s engineering console, and as systems self-repair and come online, the player (or players; ASA supports up to three-player co-op) must manage engines and sensor arrays and other systems, powering them up and down as necessary to avoid confrontation for the alien inhabitants and weaponry that will destroy your craft in an instant should they detect its presence. It’s reminiscent of the old Rare designed NES game Solar Jetman (except ASA isn’t completely impossible) with the borrowed atmosphere of an HD side-scrolling Metroid… a beast that still inexplicably doesn’t exist. Affordable Space Adventures simply would not work on any other currently existing console, and it can be played over the course of two or three sessions. If you haven’t indulged yet, do so now or forever hold your peace.

4.) Splatoon‘s Single Player CampaignSplatoon‘s bread and butter is Turf War and its other multi-player arenas, and that’s an experience that’s going to transfer over to the Switch’s Splatoon 2. Splatoon 2 will also feature a single player campaign, but… if you’ve not played Splatoon‘s single player campaign, you should stop everything and do so now. Look: the campaign itself is a lot of fun. As others have said, it feels a little like a hybrid between Super Marios Galaxy and Sunshine. The reason that you simply must play through Splatoon‘s single player campaign before saying sayonara to Wii U is this: the final boss battle against the leader of the game’s enemy Octarians, DJ Octavio, is one of the best boss battles ever designed. It is lengthy and challenging but never feels impossible. It was one of the more satisfying boss-fighting experiences I’ve had in a very long time, and while a Switch port of Splatoon is more than possible (Splatoon 2‘s existence proves the franchise isn’t second-screen reliant), it’s not worth the risk. Go fight this fight before Wii U says goodbye for good.

So if you haven’t already, these are four of the Wii/Wii U titles you should play before you make the switch to Switch. Also: I’m already tired of Switch puns.

Spoilers of the Wild

So there’s a thing you learn when you study narrative writing, and particularly screenwriting and modern playwriting, and that thing is that you should always begin a scene one line after it starts, and always finish a scene one line before it ends. It’s a way of saying it’s in everyone’s best interest for the storyteller to skip to the good stuff and cut back on exposition as much as possible. Get the audience right into the story, don’t weigh them down with details and character histories and such.

Recently IGN.com posted a video interview with Nintendo legend Shigeru Miyamoto and The Legend of Zelda series producer Eiji Aonuma. Over the course of the interview, the two men tip-toed around some of the elements and structure that make up the plot of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, simultaneously trying to give the audience a sense of what they were doing with the story while remaining cryptic and not giving anything away.

Unfortunately… leaks happen, and now I’ve got a theory. Okay, well, more than a theory… I think I’ve figured out… pretty much the entire plot of Breath of the Wild, and how that plot is going to unfold. It wasn’t difficult, and I’m sure if you poke around you’ll see others on the Internet forming the same conclusions I have. So if you consider theories to be spoilers…

… well. Consider yourself warned.

Before I get back to Miyamoto-san and Aonuma-san, I want to share the screenshot that got out. Avert your eyes if you don’t want to see something key to the presentation of Breath of the Wild (although if you didn’t, why on Earth are you reading an article with “Spoilers” as the first word of its title?) Here we go:

zelda-breath-wild-recovered-memories

This is a screenshot from GameReactor.eu of part of the Breath of the Wild in-game Adventure Log. You’ll notice that this portion of the log is reserved for “Memories”. You’ll also remember that a big deal has been made in the trailers and footage for Breath of the Wild that the game opens with Link waking up one hundred years after the Calamity Ganon did something… er… super calamitous to Hyrule. Specifically what, we don’t know; Link has no memory of events that occurred before waking up in the Shrine of Resurrection on the Great Plateau.

So the screen above would indicate that, over the course of Link’s journey, he’ll begin to remember the events of the past and then be able to… uh… watch them on the Sheikah Slate he’s carrying with him? Apparently his slate gets Netflix, which is more than we can say for the Switch. Anyhoo, who cares, I don’t need it, by this time next year I’ll probably be able to watch Netflix on my toaster.

Now I want to turn to the Miyamoto/Aonuma video, from which I’m going to string together a series of screen shots. The two men, naturally, conducted the interview in Japanese that was then translated into English subtitles, which is of course the best way to watch foreign films. So here’s the portions of the interview that are relevant to today’s topic, laid out in sequential panels with only some minor re-organization:

screen-shot-2017-02-01-at-10-59-52-pmscreen-shot-2017-02-01-at-11-00-18-pmscreen-shot-2017-02-01-at-11-00-45-pmscreen-shot-2017-02-02-at-12-54-00-amscreen-shot-2017-02-01-at-11-02-08-pm

So Aonuma-san has some secret plot device, some story organization chart, that he has always wanted to use in a video game. Combined with the leaked Adventure Log image, it seems clear that the Breath of the Wild back story is going to be told in flashback, and Miyamoto-san then uses an example from a prior Zelda game to explain why:

screen-shot-2017-02-01-at-11-02-43-pmscreen-shot-2017-02-01-at-11-07-22-pmscreen-shot-2017-02-01-at-11-03-01-pmscreen-shot-2017-02-01-at-11-03-26-pmscreen-shot-2017-02-01-at-11-07-37-pmscreen-shot-2017-02-01-at-11-03-50-pmscreen-shot-2017-02-01-at-11-08-17-pm

If nothing else, it’s good to see they acknowledge that Skyward Sword, though a great game with probably the best story in the franchise, opens up as slow as molasses (see also: Twilight Princess). This is where the writing rule from up top comes into play. Remember what it was? Always drop your audience into the middle of the action and let them suss out the exposition as they go. It looks like Nintendo is following that rule with Breath of the Wild. They’re going to let you run right out into the wilderness and play survival guy, piecing the story together bit by bit the rest of the way.

There’s more:

screen-shot-2017-02-01-at-11-05-17-pmscreen-shot-2017-02-01-at-11-05-38-pmscreen-shot-2017-02-01-at-11-05-56-pm

I always allow for something to be lost in Japanese to English translations. It’s only fair. Assume this is an accurate translation, though, or at least accurate enough. Why in the world would it be “mysterious” to meet Gorons and Zoras in a Zelda game? We’ve been doing that since Ocarina of Time, at least. What makes that different now?

Well, what if the Gorons and Zoras we’re meeting are already dead?

BOOM MIND BLOWN!

No, I’m not talking about ghosts (but if you’d like to, I’m all ears; ghost stories are the bomb.) Obviously I’m referring, again, to flashbacks. Look: one thing has been clear since E3, and that is that Breath of the Wild takes place in a Hyrule that is in ruins. We know we’re going to see Link’s memories in this game, we know we’re going to learn about the calamitous calamity caused by Calamity Ganon one hundred years before Link wakes up, and we know that this version of Hyrule is a big world with more monsters in it than civilized beings. Is it too much of a stretch to say that the “mysterious” circumstances surrounding your meetings with Gorons and Zoras and the like are that those meetings took place one hundred years in the past?

Also: it’s safe to say, I think, that in the memories Link will collect and tuck into his Adventure Log, we’re going to see the following sequence take place…screen-shot-2017-02-02-at-1-15-38-amscreen-shot-2017-02-02-at-12-15-42-amscreen-shot-2017-02-02-at-12-17-13-amscreen-shot-2017-02-02-at-12-17-29-am… which is, of course, Hyrule Castle and Castle Town getting all good and blowed up. Something we know happened BEFORE Link awakes at the start of the game, because when he wakes up…

nbj3n8s

… Hyrule Castle looks like its already been through the ringer pretty good.

I also feel pretty safe in predicting that shortly after the castle and town go kablooie, we’re going to get a flashback sequence that goes a little something like this:

screen-shot-2017-02-02-at-1-17-43-amscreen-shot-2017-02-02-at-1-18-40-amscreen-shot-2017-02-02-at-1-41-11-amscreen-shot-2017-02-02-at-1-41-50-amscreen-shot-2017-02-02-at-12-16-55-amscreen-shot-2017-02-02-at-1-17-30-amscreen-shot-2017-02-02-at-1-22-30-amscreen-shot-2017-02-02-at-12-19-10-am

Yeah, in my theory this would be where Link and a distraught Zelda try to escape after the destruction of Hyrule Castle, only to get tracked down by Guardians, who kill Zelda and knock Link into a hundred year coma.

(By the way, that battered Master Sword that Link is holding in that last shot… it looks an awful lot like the sleeping Master Sword we saw in the first trailer, don’t you think? Maybe it’s all busted up because Link got himself all busted up.)

screen-shot-2017-02-02-at-1-23-13-am

I have one last screenshot I’d like to share, and this is the glue that holds everything together. If you go back and look at that picture of the Memories screen in the Adventure Log, you can see little pieces of film strip that denote each individual clip; presumably you can watch the memories whenever you want to review the tragic story of the fallen kingdom of Hyrule. This is Nintendo, though. Since when has Nintendo ever had us watch something that we could play? With that in mind, take a look at this:

screen-shot-2017-02-02-at-1-21-34-am

That shot, quite clearly, is gameplay. It’s not cinematic, it’s a behind-the-back camera angle with Link running with his back to the player, just as he has run in five 3D Zelda games before. I know Breath of the Wild is supposed to feature dynamic weather and such, but I’ll be damned if the setting and lighting and overall atmosphere from that gameplay screen capture look a whole lot like the lighting and setting and atmosphere from the “Link and Zelda gettin’ Guardianed” cinema sequence from above.

Begin your story after it has already begun. Fill in the gaps of exposition as you go. It’s a rule of dramatic structure as old as the art of drama itself. Nintendo, though, isn’t into making movies with a little bit of gameplay. Nintendo makes games with a little bit of story. When you take all of the presented evidence into account, it is my belief that Breath of the Wild unfolds like a mystery in the present day, and at the moments when Link is beginning to remember an event from one hundred years earlier…

… gameplay switches to the past and the player is forced to play out the downfall of Hyrule and the death of Zelda.

I can’t wait for this game.

UPDATE: And then, what if while exploring the ruins of present-day Hyrule, you come across the entrance to what used to be dungeons but are now just collapsed half-shells of what they once were, overrun by nature. And when finding that dungeon, Link is plunged into a memory of what that dungeon once was… and you therefore end up playing through all the dungeons in flashbacks… which would make it far easier to design the game so that the player could tackle the dungeons in any order they choose, as the flashback of each dungeon could begin with Link automatically equipped with whatever series of items he’d need to conquer that dungeon.

OTHER UPDATE: And then what if, once you play through the memory of the dungeon, a path becomes highlighted through the present day, ruined version of the dungeon (because Link now REMEMBERS how he got through the dungeon initially) and you can then follow the highlighted path to whatever other item or secret that the present day version of the dungeon has in store for you.

ANOTHER UPDATE: This would mean that the 100 or so Shrines that have been revealed to be in the game would be the only sort of mini-dungeons in the present day version of Hyrule, and the huge Zelda-style dungeons proper are in the one hundred years past version of Hyrule. (Also, those mini-Shrines act as fast-travel points.)

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: This all would fit in with the thing that Aonuma-san told us way back at E3 that seems to have been forgotten: it is entirely possible to run from the beginning of the game straight to the final battle without doing much of anything in-between. If there are no true item games in the present-day portions of the game (because the item gates, as they were, existed one hundred years in the past, and have since fallen to ruin and can simply be climbed over or walked around) then it stands to reason that you could walk right into Hyrule Castle and confront the Calamity Ganon… although one would assume that would be a near-impossible battle. Given the difficulty level we’ve seen in clips of the game (this looks like it’s going to be a hard and unforgiving game, if the amount of times the Nintendo Treehouse staff have gotten themselves killed in demos is any indication) I see no reason why the Calamity Ganon shouldn’t flat-out pwn torn-shirt Link.

JUST ONE MORE UPDATE: I still can’t wait for this game.

A Parent’s Guide to the Nintendo Switch: A Dramatization

An important segment of the games-purchasing population is inhabited by the parental units whose children desperately want the latest in vid’ya games tech-naw-lawgee. This was the segment that common wisdom likes to tell us Nintendo reached with the Wii (“Oooo! Tennis!”) and whiffed on with the Wii U (“Didn’t I already buy this?”).

In the interest of enlightening those parents out there who may not be as hopelessly dopey as myself, I present, in the form of a dramatic dialogue, A Parent’s Guide to the Nintendo Switch.

Please hold all applause until the end.

*

PARENT: So I was on Facebook and my friend Dolores shared a video from Jimmy Fallon. I don’t usually click on Dolores’ Facebook posts because she is just so political and I just can’t, you know? But I think this one was about a new Nintendo, and my kids are going to want this for at least a few weeks until they get distracted by something else, so I figured I’d better find out what it is I may be tricked into buying this time.

ME: Yes, well, the video Dolores posted was about the new video game system being made by Nintendo, called the Switch.

PARENT: The Switch?

ME: The Nintendo Switch.

PARENT: And what is a Nintendo Switch?

ME: The Nintendo Switch is a multi-form video game console.

PARENT: … um…

ME: Don’t worry, I’ll explain. The Nintendo Switch system, itself, is a tablet, not unlike an iPad or Kindle Fire.

PARENT: Oh. I already have three of those.

ME: There’s more. The Switch tablet comes with two controllers attached to either side, so it can be played on-the-go like a handheld system.

PARENT: Like an iPhone?

ME: Like a GameBoy.

PARENT: Ooohhh…

ME: But the two controllers, which are called JoyCons —

PARENT: JoyCons?

ME: It’s a portmanteau of “joystick” and “controller”.

PARENT: Oh. Clever.

ME: Right? Anyway, the JoyCons can be detached from the side of the Switch and now TWO people can play a game, together, anywhere.

PARENT: Wait. One tablet, two controllers, two players?

ME: That’s right.

PARENT: I have two kids.

ME: How convenient. The Switch can also be placed into a box that you attach to your television, and suddenly the portable system becomes an at-home system.

PARENT: So is it a portable game or a TV game?

ME: It’s both.

PARENT: Huh. Well, what games are there for it? Mario and Zelda?

ME: Like, the originals?

PARENT: Right. From when we were kids.

ME: … yes, probably.

PARENT: For free?

ME: … I very much doubt that.

PARENT: Seems like they should be free.

ME: I get that, but —

PARENT: They’re so OLD.

ME: You and I are old! Should we be free? Are you and I worth nothing?!

PARENT: That’s a little different.

ME: IS IT?!

PARENT: Are you okay? You’re getting all red and blotchy.

ME: Yes. Yes, I’m sorry. I… I have ‘episodes’.

PARENT: Uh… sure. Does this Switch thing have Minecraft? My kids are gonna want Minecraft. I don’t get it, but they love it.

ME: Minecraft is coming for the Switch later this year.

PARENT: Okay. How about Skylanders?

ME: Skylanders will be there on day one.

PARENT: And Disney Infinity?

ME: Disney actually stopped making Infinity.

PARENT: Are you kidding me? You know how much money I spent on all those stupid little toys? Now I’ve got Queen Elsa underfoot all day and nobody ever plays the damn game anymore!

ME: Just FYI, Nintendo has its own brand of interactive toys called amiibo.

PARENT: A-what-o?

ME: Amiibo.

PARENT: And what do they do?

ME: Let’s move on. So the Switch is an all-in-one video game console, at-home and portable, that allows for one player, two players, and up to eight players in any configuration.

PARENT: Eight players? Wow. But I thought there were only two of those Joy-thingees?

ME: Yes, but you can buy extras.

PARENT: For how much?

ME: For some amount of money. The Switch itself comes out on March 3rd, for $299.99.

PARENT: Oof. Three hundred.

ME: It’ll be a great Christmas present.

PARENT: Oh, so you just assume I’m Christian? That I celebrate the Christian holidays? You don’t know me.

ME: I made you up.

PARENT:

ME:

PARENT:

ME:

PARENT: How about sports games?

ME: Two of the big ones are coming this year for the Switch. NBA2K and FIFA.

PARENT: Oh, good, FIFA. My kid is crazy about soccer. Soccer and Minecraft. I don’t know what happened.

ME: What’s his favorite soccer team?

PARENT: Her. HER favorite soccer team. You know, I’d think you’d be better informed about the made-up backstory of your own fictional creation.

ME: Sorry. What’s HER favorite soccer team?

PARENT: She doesn’t have one. Nobody actually WATCHES soccer. They just play it as a kid and forget it exists once they hit puberty.

ME: I should warn you: FIFA for the Switch is rumored to be based more on the XBox 360 version than it is on the forthcoming XBox One or PlayStation  4 versions.

PARENT: What does that mean?

ME: It might not be quite as powerful as those two versions.

PARENT: My kid plays FIFA on my Kindle and on an old BlackBerry I found on the sidewalk. I’m sure your Switch FIFA will be fine.

ME: So what have you learned so far?

PARENT: Well… the Nintendo Switch is an at-home and on-the-go video game that both my kids can play together in the car.

ME: Yes! Yes!

PARENT: It’ll cost me three-hundred… does that come with a game?

ME: … uh…

PARENT: No game. So with a game it’ll cost closer to four-hundred. Not great, but not awful. What are the biggest games? Grand Theft Auto and Call of Battle?

ME: Actually, to be honest, a lot of those big games don’t come to many Nintendo consoles. We’ll see, but I’m not going to bet on it. The biggest games will be a new Zelda, a new Mario, and a new Splatoon.

PARENT: What’s Splatoon?

ME: It’s a game. It’s not important. I’m partial to it, but… no, it’s not important. A new Mario and a new Zelda.

PARENT: So the big violent games my thirty-four year old brother loves might not be on the Switch.

ME: No.

PARENT: Is he going to snort derisively when I mention the Switch to him?

ME: And then he’ll come over to play Mario Kart, yes.

PARENT: I do like Mario Kart… but I don’t know…

ME: Look: the Switch is a TV system you can take in the car. Both of your kids can play it together, even in portable mode, and you won’t have to buy them separate DS machines or new tablets, and you won’t have to give them your phone to play on, and there’s no way they can make ‘accidental’ in-app purchases because there won’t be any, and the big games on it are Super Mario and The Legend of Zelda and Sonic the Hedgehog instead of Grand Theft Auto and Gears of War, and it still has Minecraft and FIFA and NBA2K. It’s a family-friendly at-home console, portable console, and mobile gaming device, all in one.

PARENT: Mobile? Does it make — ?

ME: No it does not make phone calls! But at some point it’ll probably play Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja.

PARENT: I love Fruit Ninja! Sold!

ME: I can’t believe Fruit Ninja is what tipped this.

PARENT: I likes what I likes.

*

Aaaaaand… scene! I hope you, gentle parent, now have a better idea as to what, exactly, the Nintendo Switch is. And if you still don’t? Just watch this. Oh, just watch it. It’s only, like, three minutes long. And you’ll get to see what Splatoon is!

I’m partial.

P.S. – Once you’ve watched that, watch this adorable video about Switch’s parental control options. It’ll warm your soul.

Nintendo Takes Manhattan

On a chilly Saturday morning in New York City, my nine year-old daughter Gabby and I hopped onto an uptown D train, got off at Macy’s/Herald’s Square, doubled back two blocks down the Avenue of the Americas, and lined up to await entry into a *secret location* in Midtown Manhattan. Once we were inside we slipped off of the line and checked in at an impromptu front desk. We were greeted warmly, as if meeting old friends, and were handed our press pass and ushered directly into a life size pinball machine built from childlike wonder and balled-up happiness: the Nintendo Switch NYC coming-out party.

Yeah, that’s right. I’m gonna overwrite the crap out of this thing. You’ve been warned.

This is where I’d normally say something like, “Where to begin?” but for this one I know where I want to begin: with people. More specifically, I want to begin with the numerous Nintendo Brand Ambassadors who were on hand to guide the morning’s attendees through the Switch experience. These red-shirted Doctors of Switchology (I warned you) were energetic, enthusiastic, and knowledgable about the product, and they were all eager to talk Nintendo and compare war stories. “When I was a kid my mom used to unplug the controller and tell me I was playing,” and, “I just started Wind Waker with my son,” and, “Sonic Mania took me back to my teenage years,” and, “I’ve put, like, 400 hours into the first Splatoon“… these are all things that various Brand Ambassadors shared with my daughter and I that went well beyond how to hold a JoyCon. “Remember, Tails can’t die, and he can fly,” one Brand Ambassador reminded my daughter as she struggled to keep up with my Sonic in Sonic Mania. (I could have maybe slowed down a little.) The positivity of the Ambassadors spilled over to the  already excited attendees, and soon every demo booth and line for Zelda was filled with strangers enjoying the company of other strangers in a way that simply doesn’t happen in New York City.

The event was spread out over two huge reception rooms within the bowels (see: second floor) of the aforementioned *secret location* and they were decked out in full-on Nintendo regalia, a giant Nintendo video arcade stretched from wall to wall and twice over. There was a DJ spinning records, an interactive stage show with an emcee, a photo booth (take your picture with Mario and his new googly-eyed hat!), free prizes for the kids at every turn (my daughter’s swag haul is the stuff of legend), food on an outside balcony that nobody was bothering with because we only had three hours to be in attendance and… well, there were games. Oh… the games.

It’s my understanding, and it’s late so I don’t feel like looking it up to make sure so let’s just go with this, but it’s my understanding that this Switch Reveal Event is going to tour cities across North America. If so, and if you plan to attend when it hits your neck of the woods, let me give you a heads up: don’t go expecting to learn more about the Switch’s online interactivity, or the the Switch’s user interface, or the Switch’s account system, or anything beyond, “Here is how you play this game that will appear on the Nintendo Switch.” Because “here is how you play this game that will appear on the Nintendo Switch” is pretty much what this tour is entirely about. The games, mostly all demo builds, are booted up and ready to go, waiting alongside a friendly Brand Ambassador or two or three or four or… there were a lot of Brand Ambassadors, okay? Anyway, a friendly Brand Ambassador will walk you through getting ready to play, telling you which way to hold the JoyCon or give you a brief tutorial on controls… and then, you play. That’s what this event is. It’s not about tech specs or business models or branding. It is three solid hours of play.

In the spirt of that, I’m going to skip past all of my impressions of the Switch console itself and spend the rest of this post talking about the games. I’m going to assume, gentle reader, that you already have some working knowledge of the Nintendo Switch. If not, here you go: the Nintendo Switch is a tablet gaming console that docks into a cradle and allows you to play games on the go or at home on your TV. It has two controllers, called JoyCons, that slide and lock onto the side of the tablet but can also be removed and used in a number of different configurations to interact with the game software. The JoyCons are small, but mighty.

There. Now you know about the Switch. If you’re still confused about what it is, don’t worry: that’ll be covered in my next post. On to the games!

Just Dance – I’m going to do this chronologically, and the first game we played was Just Dance. Well, I didn’t play Just Dance. My daughter played Just Dance. She said it was fun. It looked just like every other Just Dance to me. The song she danced to was a popular one that I don’t know the name to because I’m a 38 year old dad. That’s a lie; the reason I don’t know the name to the popular Just Dance song is because the first three CDs I ever bought as a teenager were the soundtrack to The Nightmare Before Christmas, the soundtrack to Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and a score compilation of the original Star Wars trilogy. Also, two Brand Ambassadors dressed to dance danced along with Gabby so she wouldn’t feel like she was dancing alone and everyone was staring at her, which was a nice touch.

Sonic Mania – We were strolling over to Splatoon 2 when a Brand Ambassador at the nearby Sonic Mania station called out to us and asked if we wanted to play. So we sat down, mostly because I thought she was doomed to spend the entire day watching people blow past her to get to Splatoon and I felt bad for her, but as it turns out Sonic Mania is pretty fun. It’s every inch a shiny new version of a 16 bit Genesis era Sonic game, with a new drop dash mechanic that lets Sonic drop straight to the ground out of a jump and immediately speed off. I remembered as I played that the Sonic franchise has never really been better than it was during the Mega Drive/Genesis age, and the Green Hill Zone level of Mania we ran through showed a course that was tight and well designed (better designed than many in the original Sonic the Hedgehog, for sure). We ran, we jumped, we grabbed rings, we fought a boss… it controls like an evolved version of 16 bit Sonic, thanks largely in part to the momentum-generating mechanics of the drop dash. Sonic Mania isn’t an immediate buy for me, but it’s something I’ll pick up when the price drops in the coming months.

Splatoon 2Splatoon is the game Gabby and I both love, and Splatoon 2 is the one game we played that brought us back to the booth for a second go later in the day. And look: it’s Splatoon. The core mechanic of Turf War remains unchanged, which has led some of the snarkier corners of the Internet to snipe, “Well, it’s REALLY just Splatoon 1.5.” Is that so, Twitter? Is Super Mario Bros. 3 really just Super Mario Bros. Redux? Because the core gameplay of SMB3 is exactly the gameplay of SMB1, improved upon and refined and added to. So it is with Splatoon and Splatoon 2. In the single-map Turf War preview we played, it was clear that Splatoon 2 has a bunch of tweaks that heavily impact the strategy and combat, not mention a fresh coat of paint (pun intended.) The new Charger and the new Roller both carry game-changing alterations (chargers can now hold their charge while you swim and rollers fling out a vertical line of ink when you swing them while leaping), and new weapons like the Splat Dualies introduce all new mechanics, like a forward roll. And the new specials are banana-pants bonkers. There are homing missiles that lock on to your enemies and blow them to splatareens, a F.L.U.D.D.-like jet pack attack, a fire-hose style spray of ink, and a Superman punch that sends your inkling flying high into the air before landing and smashing their fist into the ground, sending an ink-wave out to splat flat the surrounding opponents. Plus: a new one player campaign, a new spectator mode, and who knows what else. It DOES feel better with the Pro Controller than with the JoyCons, so when Splatoon 2 hits is probably when players should invest in the Pro, as well. Splatoon 2, though, is my own personal killer app for the Switch.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe – We were late adopters of MK8. We just got it this past October and maybe now we should have waited, but what can you do? We played MK8 while seated on a mock up of an airplane (Gabby grabbed the window seat) with the Switch in tabletop mode and using the JoyCons. I’ll write more about the JoyCons in a later post, but here’s the rundown: though small, they are comfortable, by and large… though MK8 was the one game where I felt a little cramped with them. We didn’t play MK8 with the JoyCons in their sleeves, though, and when we did use the sleeves there was definitely a little more size to grip onto. As for MK8 itself, we played a Grand Prix race and a Battle Mode match. Grand Prix felt great, and it was the best Gabby had ever played on 100cc, which impressed me until the MK8 Brand Ambassador told me that MK8 Deluxe comes with an optional “assisted driving” mode that was active on all the demos, a mode for younger gamers (and lazy older ones, I suppose) that would help keep them on the road. The JoyCons simultaneously enabled motion and button control, which I thought would be annoying but turned out, like in Splatoon, to be really useful: I steered with buttons and used the motion control for smaller tweaks. This was also our first experience playing on the Switch screen itself, and it is a super-sharp, bright image. I’m not going to throw numbers and schematics at you because I’m bad with numbers and schematics, but I’ll put it like this: the Switch screen is HD enough to satisfy all but the most grumpy of grumpasauruses. Also: Battle Mode is back, folks, and it is as glorious as you remember.

1, 2, Switch – Along with Arms and SnipperClips, this is the game I most wanted to play. I love Zelda, Mario Kart, and Splatoon, but I know what they are. 1, 2, Switch is something entirely different: a video game where you are encouraged to NOT look at the screen. You begin to understand 1, 2, Switch after you play it; this is Nintendo’s answer to Cards Against Humanity. It’s WarioWare, but in real life. It’s a party game that you can see turning raucous and boozy, and it could be huge at parties after the kids go to bed, or in college dorms. Nintendo presented the experience smartly, placing each game station in individual glass booths with groups of four players and two Brand Ambassadors. It simulated the group environment that the game works best in, and really illustrated 1, 2, Switch‘s particular appeal. It was also the best demonstration of the JoyCon’s HD rumble feature on the show floor. We played three games: the Old West shootout (not bad), the cow milking game (a little weird, but fun), and a game that asked you to count the number of little metal balls rolling around in your JoyCon, and I’ll be damned if it didn’t actually feel like there were a bunch of little metal balls rolling around inside the JoyCon. I don’t think 1, 2, Switch should have been a pack-in (it’s a more complete experience than Wii Sports) but pricing it at $50 is going to be prohibitive to turning it into the buzz worthy party hit that it should be. $30 is the sweet spot, IMO, and hopefully we see a drop in the MSRP before launch day, because even after all my talk about this really being great as a grown-up party game, here’s where I tell you: this was my nine year old’s favorite game of the day. So yeah… I’m going to be buying 1, 2, Switch.

Arms Arms is Othello. No, not the play; the board game. Like the old tagline for Othello, Arms is easy to learn but difficult to master, and by the way? It was my favorite experience of the day. This spiritual successor to Punch-Out!! is the Wii game of Nintendo’s dreams, two generations later. The JoyCons improve upon the motion control of the Wii Motion Plus controllers, and fit far more comfortably in your balled-up fist than the Wiimote ever did. Plus, there’s two of them. The on-screen instructions for Arms are fantastic; I can get behind any game that tells me: “PUNCH to punch!” Your punches really react to the direction in which you swing your fist, and you quickly see that advanced play is going to involve severely curling and twisting your punches as you throw them. It is simple to get your character to walk, dash, block, grab, and throw, and each character I played with had different jump mechanics: Ribbon Girl has a triple jump, and the girl in the yellow mech can hover off the ground for short periods. You can swap out your boxing gloves between every round, not just between every match, and you get access to such variations as propeller fists, boomerang fists, shotgun fists, and I’m sure many, many more. We played on two arenas: the first was a boxing ring surrounded by trampolines, and the second was a large, wide outdoor staircase that forces you to fight upwards or downwards relative to your position. Arms also has options for traditional controls but I can’t imagine anyone wanting to use them, so one of the downsides to the game is that local multiplayer will basically require a second expensive set of JoyCons, which is a sadly prohibitive approach. Much like 1, 2, Switch, lots of opinion-minded folks have suggested Arms should be a pack-in. I can actually agree with that, and here’s why: there would be no better way for Nintendo to sell extra JoyCons to people than to drop Arms in their arms.

Splatoon 2 (Again) – We went from Arms to a second round of Splatoon 2, this time using the tablet. The tablet was just as pretty for Splatoon as we had found it to be for Mario Kart, but oddly enough I had a problem with the tablet that I hadn’t had with the Pro Controller: as you may be aware, the right analog stick on the Switch is below the face buttons, as opposed to the Wii U GamePad, where the stick is above the face buttons. While playing on the tablet I keep reaching up to nudge the camera, only to find nothing there. NBD; I’ll get used to it. It’s still Splatoon, which means it’s still the best thing ever EVER I SAID.

SnipperClips – Holy hell, this game is adorable and awesome, and at $20 it’s going to be a STUPID huge value. In SnipperClips, you and up to four players control anthropomorphized pieces of construction paper, and you must work together to solve puzzles. Sometimes you have to cut snips of paper off of each other in order to fit yourselves into the dotted outlines of various shapes, sometimes you have to get a basketball up and over into a hoop, and sometimes you have to carry a giant pencil across the screen and turn it onto its side to get it into a giant pencil sharpener. It’s such a Nintendo game in that, even as I describe it I KNOW you’re not going to really understand it until you get your hands on it, and then it’ll seem as obvious and instinctual as any game you’ve ever played. SnipperClips is clearly designed to be played with the Switch tablet in tabletop mode and the JoyCons in hand. If you’ve ever been to a leadership or group building conference and done one of those group activities where you and your team had to, like, build the tallest free standing structure in the room with nothing but newspapers and Scotch tape, you know what it feels like to play SnipperClips… except nobody’s going to expect you to exhibit personal growth and share your feelings with the room after you’re done. So SnipperClips is better than those conferences.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild – Playing Zelda was the most boring experience of the day. SOUND THE ALARM! SOUND THE ALARM! SOUND THE — no, no, calm down. Look back on the rest of the listed games. Most of them offer experiences that can be played from beginning to end in a five or ten minute gaming session. Splatoon, MK8, Arms, etc… even the Sonic Mania demo gave players two whole levels to complete. Zelda, on the other hand, is a hundred hour game. Hundred hour games don’t exactly demo well over twenty minutes. Plus, the Switch Zelda demo build was the same as the Wii U Zelda demo build from E3. Players were only given twenty minutes to play, and you started in the Shrine of Blue Goo That Link Wakes Up In. So, you know, I got to run around on the Great Plateau, cut down some trees, hunt a boar, fight some Bokoblins… and that was pretty much it. Look: my rabid excitement for Breath of the Wild hasn’t diminished, and neither should yours. It feels like you’re playing a painting, the controls are sharp, and the menus are intuitive and clean. But I’ve seen enough of the Great Plateau. I need a quest. Twenty minutes of the same Zelda area I’ve been watching since June is just not enough to satisfy at this point. Thankfully, we only have a month and a half left to wait. Shut off the alarm and do a happy dance.

Puyo Puyo Tetris – With our time at Switchland NYC coming to a close, I asked Gabby if there was anything else she wanted to play, hoping I’d be able to sneak in a round of Bomberman or Ultra Street Fighter 2. Instead, Gabby said she wanted to play Tetris.

Tetris.

TETRIS.

So we sat down and played some Tetris, and I remembered: hey, Tetris was a worldwide phenomenon because it’s a pretty great game, and Puyo Puyo Tetris, which mashes up Tetris with the “match three” puzzle game Puyo Puyo, only reaffirms that. Two player battle mode is still a blast after all these years and the JoyCons go great with the game. It’s a bright, candy-colored, old-school good time with a new-school sheen, and HD displays were born to hold multiple Tetris boards at one time. There’s not much more I can say about it because, you know… it’s Tetris. It’s great for what it is, but it’s not like you can turn it into some long sci-fi adventure with a super compelling story. (Tetris: The Movie, coming soon to a multiplex near you. This is not a joke. It’s supposed to be a trilogy. Still not joking.)

That, then, drew the day to a close. So along with the rest of the super satisfied public, my daughter and I headed towards the exits, endured the super-friendly gauntlet of Brand Ambassadors offering us cookies and pins as we left, got our coats, said our thank-yous to our host, and headed back out into the NYC chill. As we walked, the sun seemed just a little bit brighter and the air a little bit warmer, and it was all because Gabby and I both knew: the crazy-fun Nintendo Switch experience we had just had was only a month and a half away from being introduced into our own home.

Either that, or because it was three hours later into the day. That could also be the reason why it was brighter and warmer on the streets of New York.

Making the Grade: Switch Event Edition

Just a few months back I did a breakdown of where I thought all of Nintendo’s major franchises currently stood in terms of their overall strength, appeal, value, what-you-will… grouping like-valued franchises under common letter grades. The idea was always that I’d go back and update that list whenever there was some sort of major shift or big event, such as an E3 Digital Showcase… or last night’s Switch reveal presentation.

There’s a few strong takeaways coming out of last night. 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.

Edit: Miiverse is officially dead. This changes some things.

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

There have been mixed reactions to the reveal of the Switch launch line-up, but consider this: Nintendo is representing four of their Grade A franchises on the Switch in the console’s first year of existence, and that’s big news. 2017 will see Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Splatoon 2, and Super Mario Odyssey. My placement of Splatoon in the Grade A tier last time around feels validated now; the franchise is not just getting a simple remaster of the original game, but instead a full-blow sequel is coming only two years after the first game launched. Not only that, but the Inklings are set to arrive in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe with their own karts and battle arena. Also easily overlooked: this was another major conference where Nintendo made sure that Fire Emblem had a presence, this time in the form of a teaser for Fire Emblem Warriors. Some told me earlier that Fire Emblem belonged in the top tier of Nintendo franchises. After last night, I agree.

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

Fire Emblem graduates up one tier, and taking its place is Xenoblade, jumping up two grade levels from D to B. Xenoblade Chronicles X was generally well-received but didn’t exactly blow anyone’s doors off. Still, Nintendo gave its purest RPG franchise a full-throated endorsement with last night’s unveiling of a gorgeous trailer for Xenoblade Chronicles 2. The art style looks stronger, IMO, than either of the past Xenoblade Chronicles games, and while the first two never really piqued my interest this one looks at first glance like it will be something special. A move to Grade B is a no-brainer.

Grade C: PikminTomodachi Life, Pokemon spin-offs.

The truth is, a lot of Nintendo franchises went unmentioned last night, the result being that there’s a lot of placed on my scale that didn’t see much movement at all. No franchises graduated into Grade C (although Xenoblade skipped right over C on its way to DB. I’m expecting to see more mobility in Grade C after this year’s E3. Stay tuned.

Grade D: (+) F-ZeroKid Icarus, (-) Luigi’s MansionMario PartyMario SportsMario vs. Donkey Kong/Mini MarioPunch-Out!!PicrossPushmoPuzzle LeagueRhythm HeavenWario brand games

What Nintendo DIDN’T want, though, was downward movement of any of its brands post-event, but that’s what they got. Again, most of Grade D is the same as before, but I’ve downgraded Luigi’s Mansion. The truth is that, as much as I loved Dark Moon, I may have been a little overly bullish on the series when I first made my grades. Combine that with the rumored Switch game failing to materialize and you have a series that lost a little juice last night, IMO. On the plus side, though, earlier in the day N64’s F-Zero X was released on the Wii U Virtual Console. I’m playing a hunch here, but I think the F-Zero brand is going to see a revival on the Switch. Time will tell.

Grade E: Advance Wars, (-) MetroidMotherRemix series, Nintendogs, PilotwingsStar Fox

Again last night, Metroid was nowhere to be seen at a major Nintendo event. I don’t expect the franchise to drop any lower than Grade E no matter HOW much longer we have to wait for a new game, but at this point it’s clear: Nintendo has very little faith in Metroid as a brand, and while I understand that when I look at the overall franchise sales figures, it still makes me very, very sad.

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

Nowhere to go but up for these guys. Instead of relaunching any of these franchises, Nintendo is pushing Arms and 1, 2, Switch, two new IPs designed to show off the Switch console hardware. Sorry, Wave Race. Maybe at E3.