Archive for November, 2013

Launch

The Xbox One launched earlier today, completing the new console launches for this generation. Also, earlier this week, a very close friend mentioned that he’d always wanted a Game Gear just to be able to play Mortal Kombat. Granted, Mortal Kombat wasn’t a launch title, but these two things did make me think about a trend in recent console launches.

None of these consoles launched with a title that is considered a “must have” game for that console. Part of this is the fact that so many games are now cross-platform, meaning that no matter how good a game is, you can probably pick it up for the other console as well. But I’ve also noticed that in recent years, it seems that consoles have begun to take the limelight away from the games. At one point in time, the push was all about the games. Now, it seems that the console itself is the focus and the games, while there and well made, are almost secondary. This was never more evident than in Microsoft’s unveiling of the Xbox One.

In my mind, a must have launch game is a console exclusive. It’s a game that sells a console. It can be boxed with the console or sold separately. We’re just not seeing that anymore. For the Xbox One, what is that main title? Ryse: Son of Rome? I’ve heard quite a bit about it, but I wouldn’t call it must have and I’m not picking tons of hype around. The same is true for Dead Rising 3. Regarding the PS4, maybe it’s Knack. Again, it’s a tough call, made tougher by the fact that if we accept my definition of a the launch game needing to be console exclusive, there just aren’t that many exclusives. Taking the WiiU into account, the game is a bit easier to identify as they launched New Super Mario Brothers U with the console, but it was hardly an evolution of the series, as we’ve come to expect, and based on sales, certainly wasn’t a must have game that pushed the console.

Well, it is pretty.

Well, it is pretty.

So little grit. I didn't expect that.

Colors other than Brown and Sepia? This obviously isn’t an “adult” game.

Beyond the cross platform availability of games, I believe that this lack of the must have launch game can be traced directly to the shrinking technological gaps between consoles. From the NES to the Super NES to the Nintendo 64, there were major leaps in what the consoles could do, and the Mario launch games with each of those consoles reflected those advancements. The games were a showcase of what the console could do. Now, granted, these were usually packed in games, but even had they not been, the hype around them would have been enormous (maybe not so much the original Super Mario Brothers for obvious reasons) and they still would have moved consoles. Also, since packed in games are a dying tradition, I think it’s perfectly fair to make this comparison, even if we just look at the hype and excitement surrounding the packed in games. Apart from Nintendo, I can point to the Sonic titles for Sega (Sonic Adventure definitely comes to mind), and Halo for the original Xbox.

The best recent example of this is probably Wii Sports. When Nintendo launched the Wii, they were banking on overcoming an underpowered console (compared to its contemporaries) with an entirely new kind of input. Wii Sports, which was packed with the Wii, brilliantly showcased what the Wii controls were capable of and how they differed from how we were used to playing games. Including it with the consoles was a shrewd move by Nintendo for that reason, but I do wonder how it would have sold had it not been included with the console. A budget price of $20 to $30 probably would have moved it well. Still, even with my Nintendo fanboy glasses on, I can’t even say that Wii Sports equals those past must have titles.

Almost a tech demo, yet one of the best selling games of all time.

Almost a tech demo, yet one of the best selling games of all time.

We haven’t had that new input or technological gap that created that must have or must play game this generation. These consoles seem to just be turbo charged versions of their previous incarnations. Even the WiiU gamepad and Microst’s Kinect 2.0 have failed to create a buzz about new ways to input you controls. While I may have showcased Wii Sports above, I think the last truly must have game that launched with a console was Halo for the Xbox. Based on the current trajectory of gaming consoles, I also think it may be the last must have launch game we’ll see.

Xbox 360

In honor of the Xbox One launching later this week, I felt this would be the perfect time to do a list for the Top 8 games from the Xbox 360.

Note: I realize that I’m skipping the original Xbox, but I never owned one and have only ever played a handful of games for the system. Were I to make one though, I’m sure that Fable would be the top game as of right now.

Also rans: Bioshock 2, Batman: Arkham City, Resident Evil 5, Dante’s Inferno, Darksiders, Burnout Paradise, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, Dead Space 2

RB38. Rock Band 3
The Rock Band series is a hard one to rank. I’ve spent more time with this game than any other on my list, and probably any other game I’ve played in the past few years, but at the same time, I can’t rank it over the other games on this list because it doesn’t bring a traditional gaming experience. That said, I find it wonderfully entertaining, and with a library of over 3,000 downloadable songs, it is almost a guarantee that it will get old or repetitive. I realize that music/rhythm games have fallen on hard times (thanks Guitar Hero), but what Harmonix achieved with Rock Band 3 in terms of incorporating actual instruments versus simplified replicas must be admired. It also helps, in my case, that I love a variety of music and this game feeds that love. Just as a bit of trivia, my favorite “instrument” to play is Pro Drums. They just feel good.

de Blob 27. de Blob 2
It’s hard to explain the appeal of de Blob. If someone were to tell me that it’s a game in which you control a color changing blob that is painting a city, I would completely dismiss it. Instead, I bought the original for the Wii and loved it. Everything I love about the original was improved upon in the sequel. On it’s surface, it does seem like an odd premise, but somehow it works. Of all the games on my list, I think this one game gave me the most pure joy as I played through it. The story, told through comic panels and movie clips, is extremely comical, the music is top notch, but gameplay is where this odd little platformer truly shines. I can’t say how painting buildings doesn’t get old, but it doesn’t, which is a true testament to the developers of this hidden gem.

Ghostbusters6. Ghostbusters: The Video Game
This might has well of been called Ghostbusters 3. Written by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis and featuring nearly the entire cast of the original two movies, this game is worth playing for the story alone. That said, the gameplay is extremely well done and a ton of fun. The game uses a traditional third person shooter set-up, except you are attempting to wrangle ghosts instead of killing human enemies. Surprisingly, this game also has some scary moments. You’ll find yourself alone, separated from the other members of the team, facing some spooky stuff and it can be a bit intimidating. It would have been easy to slap Ghostbusters on the box and attempt to sell something shoddy off of the name, but it is nice to see that the developers made a game they can be very proud to stand behind and one that more than lives up to its namesake.

Fable 2 Xbox 360 video game image5. Fable 2
No game could possibly live up to the hype that Molyneux created for the Fable games but, if you can look past that hype, Fable 2 is truly a great game. While the moral choices are fairly black and white, the story and gameplay are extremely well done and well implemented, allowing you to play through the game in a way that you are most comfortable with. The ability to purchase houses and buildings returns from the original Fable, as does the ability to take multiple wives and set them up in different villages. Few games have caused me to linger around in the game world, doing odd jobs and tasks, just to avoid finishing the game and being done with the experience. This is one of the games that did so.

Arkham Asylum4. Batman: Arkham Asylum
Superhero games had fallen on hard times when Rocksteady’s Batman: Arkham Asylum hit the scene. The game was released to great acclaim, with very good reason. Not only did Rocksteady craft a near perfect Batman game, they crafted a near perfect videogame. First of all, the gameplay is extremely well balanced, featuring a combat system that simply feels good when you get comfortable with it. Taking on a large group of foes is as satisfying as scratching an itch. Secondly, the game is chock full of characters from Batman’s rogue gallery, including the Joker as the ringleader, voiced brilliantly by Mark Hamill. Few foes missed the cut, and those that did were referenced in various easter eggs littered throughout the game. Finally, the graphics in the game are simply top notch. In all respects, Arkham Asylum is easily a game that will be standing the test of time years from now, when the current generation of consoles is just a memory.

NIER3. NIER
If you’ve been following this blog or my Twitter account, you already know of my love for this quirky title. While NIER may not excel at everything it attempts to do, it somehow comes together brilliantly. No other game I’ve played uses the variety of play styles that NIER does, ranging from straight forward combat to sequences that are reminiscent of bullet hell games to a full-on text adventure. Accompanying the gameplay is a story that grabs your heartstrings and refuses to let go, long after you’ve finished the game and seen all four of the available endings. No mention of this game would be complete without referencing a soundtrack that is easily among the best ever included in a video game (and my personal favorite). Rarely will I praise and recommend a game this heavily, but NIER is a game that needs to be played to be fully appreciated. What it has can’t be adequately appreciated by reading a review or watching a few YouTube videos.

Dead Space2. Dead Space
Take Metroid’s sci-fi setting, add Resident Evil’s survival horror, and you have Dead Space. Whereas Resident Evil has never actually scared me, Dead Space kept me on edge my entire playthrough. Simply put, I never felt safe or secure in this game. I approached each new turn or room with a sense of dread, yet I had to continue on because the game was that absorbing. The heavy atmosphere is made easier to deal with through tight controls and excellently designed levels. Also included are an impressive array of weapons, each with upgradeable elements, an ability to stasis enemies to slow them down and better take them apart, and upgradeable suits to better protect yourself. Topping this off is the unique way you take on the Necromorph enemies. Instead of just pumping them with bullets, you must dismember them (then stomp on them, lest they later come back). Steering Isaac through the Necromorph infested ship could have been a nightmare for all the wrong reasons, but ultimately is scary for all of the right ones.

Bioshock1. Bioshock
This is one of those games that is much more than a game. It’s a narrative and experience that we just happen to be able to play. When the argument of whether or not video games are art comes up, this is the game I immediately think of using as an example that they very much are art. Set in the beautifully designed underwater city of Rapture, Bioshock introduces you to a society bent on self improvement and self worship, at any cost. Once an orderly paradise (supposedly), Rapture is in ruins once you arrive. As you explore the city, you uncover clues about the demise of the once vibrant metropolis via scribblings on the walls, overheard conversations, as well as recorded messages. Bioshock also pushes the boundaries of the assumptions we make in video games, right down to being fully in control of what our character does. If you’ve somehow never played this game, would you kindly pick up a copy? I’m certain you’ll more than enjoy it.

Star Fox

The Star Fox series was riding high as we moved from the Nintendo 64 era to the Gamecube. Star Fox 64 was widely considered to be one of the best games on the Nintendo 64 and most fans were anxiously waiting to see where Fox McCloud journeyed next. Suffice it to say that Star Fox hasn’t matched it’s former glory on the Nintendo 64, though it did have some very fun and well received games. Still, Fox was last heard from in a remake on the 3DS, with the last new entry being Star Fox Command on the DS. When will we next hear from this series in a new entry and what direction will that entry go?

Where are we now:
The timeline for the Star Fox series:

– Star Fox
– Star Fox 64 (Star Fox 64 3D)
– Star Fox Adventures
– Star Fox: Assault
– Star Fox Command

While Star Fox may not be as heavy on the plot narrative as many games, if you are willing to read up on the plot of each game, there is indeed a story to be followed. One that is very character focused. Star Fox Command offered nine separate endings that varied wildly, so it’s difficult to say where the series currently stands in that regard though. All the more reason to hope for a new entry, to determine which of Command’s endings was the canon ending.

The Story:
As stated above, we’re not quite sure where we sit in terms of story continuity. Did Krystal actually leave the Star Fox team and join Star Wolf? Or did she indeed join back up with Fox? We do know that any new entry will most likely concentrate on a new threat to the Lylat system. Andross has been destroyed, appearing only in a spirit form in Command. The Aparoid threat from Assault was also vanquished as was the Anglar race from the planet Venom in Command.

In regards to the Star Fox team, they seem to be a splintered bunch at the start of Command, having broken up. I would suspect that any new game would have them reforming to take on a new threat, but what team would that be. Peppy Hare now pilots the Great Fox, which essentially takes him out of action. Falco Lombardi has left the team in the past, only to rejoin in times of need. Peppy and Fox are the only two that seem content to stay with the team. My guess on this would be that we would have a team consisting of Fox, Falco, and Slippy. Krystal could potentially be there given her membership in Assualt, but this is hardly a guarantee as Fox removed her (due to his worry over her being harmed) in Command. Whomever is on the team, I’m certain we’ll see appearances by past characters in the series such as the Star Wolf team and allies of Fox such as Bill Grey and Katt. Like most story elements, this hinges on knowing what events in Command were canon.

Star Fox has quite a list of supporting characters at this point.

Star Fox has quite a list of supporting characters at this point.

The Gameplay:
Few game series have touched on as many different play styles as that of Star Fox. The original game focused on straight-forward Arwing missions, in which you advanced forwards on rails. Star Fox 64 introduced the Land Master and Aqua Marine vehicles. 64 also introduced All-Range Mode, which allowed the Arwing to be taken in any direction in what was essentially an arena setting. This mode was utilized for both boss battles as well as a few normal levels. Adventures was closer to a Zelda-esque quest than a typical Star Fox game, taking place almost entirely on foot, excepting a few Arwing missions that seemed to be added in solely as a callback to past games (actually added in later because this game didn’t start life as a Star Fox title). Assault married all of these, giving us All-Range Mode levels, on foot sections, and use of the Landmaster, sometimes all three in the same level. Command is a bit different to past entries in that it was entirely in All-Range Mode (much like the unreleased Star Fox 2 for the Super NES), but also had elements of real time strategy as you would move ships on a overhead map in an effort to keep enemies away from Great Fox.

Based on the success of Star Fox 64 and its 3DS re-release, I believe that any future entry would return to that play style. The bulk of the game would probably be Arwing centric, in both on-rails and All Range Mode sections, with a few uses of the Landmaster thrown in. The on foot missions in Assault have received negative feedback from most people, though I personally thought they were well done. That said, I can understand why Star Fox fans would see that as taking away from more action using the Arwing.

I found this fun, but it doesn't seem that many others did.

I found this fun, but it doesn’t seem that many others did.

I also strongly suspect that a future entry would land on the 3DS. This is for a couple of reasons. First, the 3DS re-release of 64 worked extremely well and took great advantage of the 3D screen on the system. That said, it would also work fine on the 2DS as well meaning that not having 3D would not be a detriment to the game. Secondly, Star Fox, while popular, isn’t a game to move systems. Given the ongoing struggles of the WiiU, I suspect that Nintendo would want to place this game on their most popular system in order to boost sales of the game, as opposed to using the game to boost sales of the system.

Fox and company keep popping up in rumors and in Smash Brothers, and the 3DS re-release of Star Fox 64 shows that Nintendo hasn’t forgotten this franchise, but at the moment, it seems that it’s going to be at least a few years before we get to revisit this series with a new game. There’s also the comment by an art designer on Command when questioned about the game’s multiple endings, he stated that “the story ends here.” I’m not sure how to take this, but refuse to believe that Nintendo would abandon a franchise that, while having a few misfires, has generally been strong for them. How can we get through the future without being asked, just one more time, to do a Barrel Roll?

Star Fox (end)

Console History

The launch of a new console is an extremely exciting time for gamers. There is new promise, great expectations, and wild dreams of the games to come, all wrapped up in those new systems. At that moment, there are no poor sales, bad launch games, or malfunctioning consoles. There is only optimism for what the future holds. Being the nostalgist I am (I think I made that word up just now), I can’t help but remember the most exciting console purchases I’ve made. When I was wrapped up in the excitement of a new console.

NES AdNES
It had to be about 1989 or 1990, meaning I was around 9 or 10 years old. My cousins both had a Nintendo system, but we (my younger brother and I) didn’t. It was a luxury we simply couldn’t afford as money was extremely tight. I didn’t know that explicitly as a kid, but I knew better than to expect something as expensive as an NES to be bought for us. We did have an Atari, but as much fun as that could be, it couldn’t compare to the NES in our eyes.

I was aware of the system and had played a few games when visiting my cousins. Super Mario Brothers and The Legend of Zelda both come to mind here. The day we finally got one was during the summer I recall that on that particular day we were helping our parents in the garden when our mom said that we’d be getting  a surprise later that day, for helping out, I believe. Neither of us expected too much and we thought that was confirmed when our mom told us a few minutes later that it was going to be a Happy Meal from McDonald’s. And, honestly, that would have been enough to make us happy. As we headed into town, we had to stop at a department store to pick up some stuff. Somehow, I never even noticed that we were navigating towards the electronics section, but I did notice when my dad picked up the NES Action Set and asked if that was the one we had wanted. So began my long love affair with video games and Nintendo.

In hindsight, I can’t believe my parents found the $200 or so it took to buy that system for us. When I say money was tight, that isn’t even close to an exaggeration. How they found the funds on top of the normal expenses still eludes me.

Super NES AdSuper NES
At this point in time, I was getting an allowance of $5 per week. I dutifully saved up about $50 and went to Wal-Mart to put a Super NES on layaway. It had been out for a while and I’d studied the pictures of the games in the Macy’s Christmas catalog long past Christmas. Once again, I’m pretty sure that this was during the summer as I don’t recall going to school. I’ve no clue what the year was, but the set I put on layaway (with little help from my brother, who enjoyed my spoils…butthead) had both Super Mario World and Super Mario Kart.

To pay it down more quickly, I did odd jobs for family, tasks such as stacking fire wood and mowing lawns, for $10 or so. Not a lot today, but huge to me then. On this particular day, we went to Wal-Mart where I paid the balance down to about $45 or so. That figure is sticking in my mind, so I trust it. After making my weekly payment (how annoyed did the Wal-Mart employee have to be with me paying $5 per week?), my brother and I went to the toy section to look around. After getting back with my parents, we checked out and went to the truck…where my Super NES system was waiting on the seat. My mom had gone back and paid it off after I made my payment. To say I was ecstatic would be an understatement.

Two more things happened that day that need to be shared. The first thing is that we kept the plan of going fishing after leaving Wal-Mart. Everyone else fished. I sat in the truck reading and re-reading the Super Mario World instruction booklet. The second thing that happened is that we watched the movie Fire in the Sky that evening and I had disturbing dreams of Yoshi eating the aliens from the movie. It must be strange in my head.

Nintendo 64Nintendo 64
This is a bit of a rinse and repeat of the Super NES. Put it on layaway, paid it down, etc… But this time, when I went to pay on it, it had gone on sale so I cancelled my layaway and practically begged my parents to make up the difference. They did and I had my Nintendo 64 (with Super Mario 64).

My main recollection from this is that I had trouble hooking it up properly. It took me about twenty minutes to figure out that I needed to switch the input on the television (this was in era of antennae and coax cables). During that twenty minutes, I was sure that I needed an RF Adapter and hadn’t gotten one and was freaking out because I had a new system I couldn’t play. Then, I hit the magic button and there was Mario in a glorious 3-D world.

This was the last system that held any real magic for me for a while. I would get a Sega Genesis off of Ebay and buy a PS and, later on, a PS2 off of a friend, but I was getting older and losing that sense of wonder at video games, sadly. We did get a Gamecube for Christmas, but I practically stopped playing games at all for about a year. Leave it to Metroid Prime to pull me back in. I would have one last flash of wonder at a news system though, when Nintendo unveiled the Wii.

Wii adNintendo Wii
This was the last system I purchased that filled me with excitement and is the only system to date that I bought on launch day. I actually arrived at Gamestop two hours before they opened to secure a pre-order for the Wii. Initially, I thought I was being foolish, but even being there two hours early, I was still fifth in line at a store that only had eighteen pre-orders to issue. I think there was a midnight launch, but I went on Sunday morning to get mine because my wife had given birth only a few weeks before and I really couldn’t justify leaving her at home alone like that.

Once I got home with it, her parents had come over and we spent about two or three hours just making Miis (a few that some family members never need to see) and testing out Wii Sports. I realize that many people don’t think the Wii met its potential (I disagree with this), but that first time using the Wii remote was nothing short of amazing. The inclusion of the Mii Maker was also a blast early on, though the interest didn’t last as long for that aspect of the console. Still, they were enough fun that I didn’t even try Twilight Princess until much later that evening.

And here we are today. I’m not getting a PS4 or Xbox One for a good while. I’m not impressed by what they have to offer over the current generation and will support current consoles so long as new games are available for them. I do have a WiiU which I purchased with a tax refund, a purchase that I still question the wisdom of. Still, can you blame me for getting it? I’ll always have a soft spot for Nintendo. Somewhere inside, I’m that same little boy working in the garden, dreaming about an NES and all of the wonder and magic it contained. As an adult, I think I’ve mostly lost that ability to see magic in a new console, but when we surprised our son (six years old) with the WiiU, I saw in his eyes the same wonder I’m sure my parents saw in mine when they pulled the NES down off the shelf. That will always be worth it.

Pong

Hey, did anyone else realize that two new consoles are about to launch? Who knew!?

In honor of the launch of the XBox One and PS4, I’ve compiled a list of the 8 Best Console Launch Games. This isn’t a list based entirely on which games are the best, but is more about how important the games were to their consoles and the era they were released in, as well as the legacy the games have developed.

This was the hardest list I’ve compiled because of the different factors I was taking into account. I’m sure I have some questionable entries here and three of the top 4 could easily have been rearranged (though #1 was a lock). One anomaly I noticed was the lack of entries for the most popular systems (and none for a Sony system), but based solely on launch titles, nothing seemed to jump out at me, which I believe is a sign that their best games came out after the system launch, which isn’t unusual. Also, only one system scored two entries, which I questioned, but ultimately felt was warranted.

I’ve taken all regions into consideration, but believe that virtually all of my picks were launch titles for all regions. Also, these were true launch games, none of that “launch window” nonsense.

Altered Beast8. Altered Beast (Sega Genesis)
Porting an Arcade title to their new 16-bit console was a great move by Sega with the launch of the Genesis. It gave them a proven title to sell and allowed them to showcase the graphical difference between this system and the NES, as it would be a while before Nintendo would counter with their own 16-bit system. I still hear people gaming today that refer to this port as one of their favorite games on the Sega Genesis. That alone shows how impactful this game was.

Red Steel7. Red Steel (Nintendo Wii)
Ultimately, this game has not stood the test of time and never lived up to what most of us hoped it would be, but for the launch of the Wii, it was both an example of how the new Wii Remote pointer and motion control functions would work and a “hardcore” title for Nintendo to market, as the stigma of Nintendo making “kiddy” games was pretty popular. For all of its faults, Red Steel did give gamers an entirely new experience at the launch of the Wii, which is exactly what Nintendo was after.

Perfect Dark Zero6. Perfect Dark Zero (Xbox 360)
Microsoft were coming off a fairly successful Xbox system and were launching their next system a year ahead of competitors. This title allowed them to showcase the power of the 360 and utilize their newest in-house studio: Rare. Purchased from Nintendo (essentially), Rare was put to work on a sequel to a much loved Nintendo 64 classic. Much like Red Steel, this game did not meet expectations (due to being rushed, I’ve read, among other things), but hype counts for something, and Perfect Dark Zero had the hype and helped drive buyers to the stores upon the launch of the Xbox 360.

Sonic Adventure5. Sonic Adventure (Sega Dreamcast)
Poor Sonic. He hasn’t had a good few years, and while the downfall started here, the promise of Sonic in a 3D environment generated massive excitement. It also helped that the Dreamcast delivered graphics unlike anything seen on the current systems (N64, PS) over a year before it’s competition would launch. While this would be Sega’s last console, for a while, it seemed like the Dreamcast would be a major seller, and quite a bit of that success can be attributed to Sonic’s first 3D outing.

Wii Sports4. Wii Sports (Nintendo Wii)
If Red Steel showed how a traditional game could work with new controls, Wii Sports is the game that showed off the versatility of what the Wii Remote could do. On the surface, it may appear to be little more than a tech demo, but Wii Sports was a brilliant pack-in by Nintendo. It allowed them to immediately show the consumer how much differently the Wii operated and controlled compared to previous systems and allowed them to completely differentiate the Wii from the Xbox 360 and the PS3, which is something they needed to do in order to give consumers a reason to choose them instead of, or in addition to another console.

Halo3. Halo: Combat Evolved (Xbox)
You’re the new kid in town. You’re taking on two established giants in Nintendo and Sony. How do you set yourself apart? Easy. You launch one of the most popular FPS games ever created. Halo allowed Microsoft to show everyone they were serious with their new console, the Xbox, and gave them immediate credibility in console game development. Full disclosure: I don’t actually like Halo, but to demean this game or what it meant for the launch of the Xbox would simply be foolish and dishonest.

Mario 642. Super Mario 64 (Nintendo 64)
Super Mario 64 wasn’t the first game to do a 3-D world, but it was the game that set the standard. This game makes the list at #2 not necessarily because of what it did for the Nintendo 64, but more for what it did to move games from side-scrolling to 3-D movement. Super Mario 64 truly showed how controls could work in such an environment as well as making great strides with how to operate a camera in this setting. Remembering how little they had to draw from, it is quite amazing how well Nintendo developed this game and how playable it remains today.

Super Mario Brothers1. Super Mario Brothers/Duck Hunt (NES)
Has any game ever had more riding on its shoulders than this game? When this launched with the NES (along with the NES Zapper and Duck Hunt), the video game market had crashed only a few short years before. Consumers were very wary of buying into a new system so soon, much less one from a company that to that point had only developed a few Game & Watch handhelds. It can never be overstated how important this game was in giving the consumers trust in the gaming industry once again. In addition to accomplishing that, this game, much like Super Mario 64, set a standard for gaming. Once again, with very little to draw on, Nintendo managed to design a game that, despite it’s limitations, is still playable and enjoyable today, nearly 30 years later.

Console Wars

Let me begin by saying that this entire post is being pulled completely from my nether regions. Sure, I’m going to give my pros and cons and it may sound like I really, really know what I’m talking about, but this is still based mostly on some general reading I’ve done, my general knowledge of the gaming market, and the vibe I’m getting from fellow gamers on Twitter and other social media sites. I’m probably less reliable than the Magic 8 Ball, but figured why not? So, with that in mind, here we go…

WiiUWiiU

– The Pros –

  • The Wii Brand. Sure, a new market of gamers made the Wii the amazing financial success it was and Nintendo can’t count on that same audience being a repeat buyer, but it can’t hurt too much to have your new console carry a similar name as your last console that sold over 100 million units. Or, can it…
  • Fanboys. Yeah, guilty to some extent. Few fan groups will defend their console the way the most dedicated Nintendo fans will. These are the gamers that could give you ten reasons why Nintendo losing out on Final Fantasy VII was actually a good thing. These exist for all three consoles, but, perhaps because of Nintendo’s longer history in the gaming market, they seem to be the most loyal in Nintendo’s camp.
  • IPs. At the end of the day, Nintendo owns the most famous stable of IPs of any console developer. Starting with Mario and running through Link, Samus Aran, Pokemon, Starfox, Pikmin, F-Zero, Kid Icarus, and you get the point. Nintendo can, at anytime, excite the gaming market by announcing a new game in one of these series. Are they always good? No. Metroid: Other M was a low point for the series and Starfox has been missing in action ever since having a couple of lukewarm entries, but even a mediocre or less than stellar release will create news for the console and move a few units at the very least.
  • The Gamepad. Of the three developers, Nintendo is the only one that is including a different input method that hasn’t been seen in any form since the Dreamcast controller had a screen. This is at least a minor pro because it is included whereas Smartglass and a Playstation Vita will have to be purchased separately from the console to utilize.

– The Cons –

  • The Wii Brand. Yes, this is double edged sword. For the positives I listed above, there are some negatives to this. Primarily, it has managed to confuse some consumers. My own wife asked me after the WiiU was released if it was a new system or just a new controller for the Wii. This person lives with me. Me, a Nintendo fan and avid game player. If she didn’t know, how many people out there that pay even less attention are thrown off by the similar names?
  • Power. I’ll be the first to say graphics aren’t everything, but this is still important, especially with third party offerings. Nintendo runs the risk of being shut out of third party offerings that will appear on the PS4 and XBox One simply because the games would have to be downscaled. This won’t be a problem for a while as it appears that development for the 360 and PS3 will continue for at least a couple of more years, but it could quickly become one once that production ceases. Speaking of…
  • Third Party Games. The WiiU hasn’t exactly sold the way Nintendo expected, which has lead many third party developers to simply stop developing for it. Nintendo can only do so much on their own and need to find a way to lure those developers back if they hope to compete with the WiiU. When you’ve lost EA development, it becomes a bit of a concern.
  • Timing. The WiiU has been out for around a year and is modestly more powerful than what has been on the market. As with the 3DS, the launch went poorly thanks to a drought of quality games for the system. Now that a few are starting to come out, they will have to compete for headlines with the launch of the XBox One and PS4. No easy task. The 3DS didn’t have this kind of competition to contend with once the games started flowing.

Xbox One

Xbox One

– The Pros –

  • Exclusives. This is a close one, but with Titanfall, Ryse, and Dead Rising 3, I feel the edge in this department has to go to Microsoft. I’m thinking solely in terms of third party support here, but having Halo in your stable can’t hurt. It’s very telling that I named these three without any research, yet can’t recall a single PS4 exclusive at or near launch.
  • Online Structure. It may have a subscription cost, but Microsoft has excelled in this department, being the first console developer to really harness the power and popularity of online gaming. Sony is doing itself great justice in this department, but I still think of Microsoft as being the leader in this area, even if that lead has narrowed.

– The Cons –

  • Microsoft. Watching Microsoft attempt to market the XBox One has truly been a lesson in how to destroy your own popularity. Be it price, online requirements, reversing said requirements, or dismissing your potential customers, Microsoft has put on a clinic of how to defeat yourself. Sony suffered through this with the PS3 and it took them some time to put it all behind them. I fear the same will be true of Microsoft.
  • Price. I’m hesitant to include this as it is a fluid number that can change at anytime, but at the very least, at it’s launch, Microsoft will have the priciest console by $100 over the Playstation 4. In an era where there are so few exclusives to sway consumers, that kind of difference can certainly influence a potential buyer.
  • Lack of Trust. Even though they have reversed the policies that gained them so much ill-will, I get the sense that many gamers still believe that Microsoft could re-implement those policies at some point down the road, making them hesitant to be an early adopter. In the end, this may not make a noticeable difference, but I believe it does set in the back of quite a few people’s minds and could steer them to Sony’s PS4.

PS4

Playstation 4

– The Pros –

  • Microsoft. All of the negatives I listed above about Microsoft’s actions have driven more than a few people to Sony’s camp. Sony have played this perfectly, calling out each of Microsoft’s maligned policies at their E3 conference, and denouncing each one. It resulted in some of the loudest cheers I’ve ever heard at an E3 conference and may have been the final nail in forcing Microsoft to reverse said policies.
  • Price. If it’s a negative for Microsoft, it’s a positive for Sony. Again, they are under Microsoft by $100 which could be enough to sway undecided buyers. A fluid number, but looking just at the launch, it is a nice advantage to have.
  • Buzz. Starting with the aforementioned E3 conference, Sony has steadily increased their positive buzz. It has almost become a situation where one company seems to be the Good Guy (Sony) whereas the other is the Bad Guy (Microsoft). I’m guessing that in this scenario, Nintendo would be bartender that just doesn’t want his place shot up?

– The Cons –

  • The Vita. Sony is really pushing off screen play, but to utilize that, gamers must purchase their handheld ($199) in addition to the $400 system. Quite a chunk of change to get a “full” experience. It’s not a game breaker to not have the Vita with the PS4, but it is an aspect Sony is marketing heavily.

Conclusion

As much of a Nintendo fan as I am, I just don’t see them recovering in time to dominate this generation. I think their games will ultimately sell the system, though sales will be nowhere close to the numbers the Wii moved. I feel that Microsoft is going to be fighting an image problem for a least the first year. This combined with their price point, assuming they don’t lower it, could hurt their sales after the initial launch period. Ultimately, I think this generation is there for Sony to take. They’ve been able to capitalize on the mistakes of their competitors and may have hit on a price point that will move consoles for the holidays. So long as they avoid the drought of games that Nintendo experienced with the WiiU (and are still experiencing to some extent), I believe they’ll move more consoles monthly on a regular basis and will vindicate themselves from the horrific PS3 launch.

Still, what do I know. I did predict the success of the Wii, but have also never been able to figure out why the Gamecube moved so few systems or why the TG-16 never caught on. Listen to me at your own risk.

Bioshock Infinite

Recently, I finally got around to playing through Bioshock Infinite, finishing it about a week ago. I thought it might be fun to throw out some of my thoughts on the game regarding how it played and my enjoyment of it. I’ll avoid major story spoilers since this is still a new-ish game and there are some amazing twists to be had in the plot.

The Set-up:
You are Booker Dewitt and have been tasked with traveling to the flying city of Columbia to retrieve a girl named Elizabeth. Presumably, this rescue/retrieval mission will clear you of a debt you owe those that have requested you undergo this mission.

“Bring us the girl, and wipe away the debt.”

The Story:
This was definitely my favorite aspect of the game. Just as in previous Bioshock games, you will witness a living, breathing world full of dynamic situations. Small details about the history of the city are presented through silent movies, posters, overheard conversations, etc… All of this is meant to inform you of what is going on in Columbia, it’s history and current state. Once you rescue Elizabeth though, the true plot and narrative kick in.

The story is a bit complicated to follow and demands that you pay attention to minor details and find as many Voxophones (recordings) as possible. The game designers don’t pander to you in this respect. To understand the plot, you must commit yourself to the game, otherwise you will simply be traveling from one scenario to the next with no insight on why you are doing so. Doing so will also make your connection to Elizabeth that much richer, as her relationship with Booker, told via narrative and cut-scenes, is very deep and intriguing to watch unfold throughout the game. Essentially, to ignore the plot devices of this game is to miss out on the richest portion of the entire experience.

Though this game couldn’t match its namesake, I was impressed that it still managed to surprise me right up through the ending, when a final revelation will twist all you previously knew about the game. It is very admirable that the writers were able to spin a narrative around quantum mechanics and alternate realities without making you feel cheated as the player, or using those as plot devices to more easily resolve story threads.

Believe it or not, but this does eventually make sense.

Believe it or not, this does eventually make sense.

The Gameplay:
As high as I was on the story of Bioshock Infinite, I was less impressed with the actual gameplay. Bioshock and Bioshock 2 felt as if they belonged in the same family as a game series such as Metroid Prime. First Person Adventures, if you will. They bucked the conventions of First Person Shooters to form their own rules with great success. Infinite, on the other hand, seemed to want to belong to both groups. Instead of a weapon wheel, you are limited to the traditional two gun rule of standard FPS games. In my case, this meant that I spent most of the game with the same two guns: a machine gun for a high clip count and crowd control and a shotgun for brute force. Not knowing what lay ahead, I was unwilling to go with a weapon that could potentially handicap me. The limitation on weapon usage resulted in me missing out on what could have been a richer experience.

It also seemed as if the combat was much more of the shooter variety. You have a shield that absorbs a certain amount of damage and will recharge if you find a place to hide, and hiding and cover are necessities. If you go in full steam in a fire fight, you’ll be torn to shreds. I may be remembering incorrectly, but I don’t recall having this mechanic in the previous two games and, again, it struck me as very mundane. In Bioshock, I could tackle enemies in a variety of ways. In Infinite, I felt as if there was a proper way to approach combat and I was penalized if I didn’t engage in that manner. Also, the Handyman. Geez!

I mean, seriously?

I mean, seriously?

All of that said, the world of Infinite really is beautifully designed and, when you aren’t involved in a firefight, is an extreme joy to explore. In this area, I feel it stands right alongside Bioshock. Just walking into a store and looking at the items on the shelves is interesting. Reading the posters and overhearing conversations, even when not plot related, is quite fun. As I said earlier, you really feel that this world is going on when you aren’t there. That is really the greatest compliment I can give the design of of Columbia. I truly found it to be a city that was alive outside of my own involvement.

The inclusion of Elizabeth as a partner is also worthy of much praise. This game could have easily turned into a terrible “take care of your ward” type of game, but avoids that by smartly making Elizabeth invulnerable to attack (outside of story related elements). You may be accompanying her, but she is easily able to take care of herself and often will toss you supplies or point out supplies you can pick up. She also breaks up the shooting element of the game by bringing in helpful elements via her tears in reality. These range from automated gunners and cover to supplies and guns you can pick up to better handle present enemies. Other developers should take note of how the developers handled this aspect because it is the perfect way to include a character that will be tagging along with you, the player.

Conclusions:
I really wanted to like Bioshock Infinite more than I ultimately did. I just couldn’t get past thinking that it would have been better with a few of the conventions from the previous games included. That said, it is still a very good game and the story is truly top notch. I would definitely recommend it to anyone that played the first two games, I just don’t feel that it lived up to the bar they set. It was a case for me of fighting through the gameplay to get closure on the story and plot, which truly is the bread and butter of Bioshock Infinite.

Bioshock

N64Good, but not good enough: Mario Kart 64, Goldeneye, Pilotwings 64, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness, Pokemon Stadium, Banjo Tooie

Castlevania8. Castlevania
I know, I know. No one likes this game, 3-D Castlevania doesn’t work, etc… I’ve heard all of these arguments, but never agreed with them. For its time (the N64 and it’s peer systems have aged worse than any other generation, in my opinion), I found this game to be designed extremely well. The levels are varied as you progress from forest to a mansion and through caverns, finally arriving at Castlevania where Dracula awaits. Along with the varied levels, multiple enemy types befitting their location attack at every opportunity. The Garden Maze chase is easily one of the most tense sections of any game I’ve played, but is actually outdone by the the trek through part of the castle carrying a chemical that will explode if you are hit by an enemy or if you jump.  It is a nerve-wracking experience with interesting characters and levels that gets much more hate than I think it deserves.

Jet Force Gemini7. Jet Force Gemini
Of the games Rare made for Nintendo, this is the one that seems the least well known, even though it was well reviewed. It’s a shame that many people missed out on a true gem, and probably the best sci-fi game on the N64. You take on the roles of Vela and Juno, twins (hence the Gemini title) and their dog Lupus through varying missions over an array of planets on a quest to defeat the evil Mizar. Each character has their own levels, but play very similarly, except for Lupus who can hover…and is a dog. You can also revisit worlds with each of the characters (a requirement to actually finish the game). Partway through the game, you receive a floating gun turret robot that can be controlled by a second player or by the AI to assist you in tracking down and defeating Mizar. Of all the games on this list, this is the one I would most like to see a remake of, or a sequel to as I feel it would benefit greatly from improved hardware. The ambition was there, but I think that Rare’s ultimate vision couldn’t be achieved on the hardware available when this was released.

Banjo6. Banjo Kazooie
This is simply one of the best platforming games you’ll ever play. I actually believe it to be on par with Super Mario 64, which begs the question of why it is only 6. The one big handicap I give it is that you must collect all of the notes in a world before exiting to get the Puzzle Piece. This annoyed me quite a bit because they were extremely well hidden, the worlds were fairly big, and there were times I needed to cut the game off but hadn’t accomplished this goal. Aside from that, this is an amazing game which, in addition to great platforming, features some of the funniest writing in any game I’ve played.

DK645. Donkey Kong 64
Most would put this game below Banjo Kazooie, but I enjoyed it more. I thought the inclusion of multiple characters, each with their own unique talents and collectables was very inspired. I realize that this game is often ridiculed as being an overbearing collectathon, but that aspect appealed to me. Throw in some very good platforming, creative boss fights, including an hysterical final throwdown with King K. Rool, and tons of exploration and you have a pretty amazing game for the Nintendo 64.

Mario 644. Super Mario 64
The Nintendo’s flagship game, and the game that truly set the standard for 3-D platforming. Moving Mario in a 3-D world was simply amazing the first time you experience it. The world felt huge and seemed gorgeous for it’s time. The level design was awe inspiring and it seemed like you had new experiences waiting for you around each corner. My favorite moment from this game was unlocking the wing cap and taking to the sky. It represented total freedom and I would often play the game just to do fly for a bit. Back during the Nintendo 64 era, it really was that impressive. Actually, to this day, that is still an experience that stays with me and fills me with joy when I revisit it.

F-Zero X3. F-Zero X
Following up F-Zero for the Super NES, F-Zero X made its predecessor look as if it were standing still. F-Zero X brought 30 total cars to race with and 24 new tracks to race on, as well as a cup that randomly generated new tracks, guaranteeing that you’d always find something new in the game. Aside from that, this game simply feels fast and, on higher difficulty levels, will laugh at you if you aren’t prepared. There are no blue shells to help you in this game. Your success is completely on you and how well you learn the game and master the controls. Once you do though, few things are as satisfying as earning the first place trophy.

Starfox 642. Starfox 64
I was never a fan of Starfox on the Super NES. I thought it was dull and ugly. I didn’t have high hopes for the 64 release until the day I played it in-store at a Wal-Mart. Five minutes in and I knew I had to have this game. Whereas I feel many games of this generation haven’t aged well, this one still holds up today. You spend most of your time in the Arwing, but both the Landmaster and Aquamarine are fun to use, but are smartly limited in their use, being confined to three total levels. Like the original, this game features branching paths you can take and also tracks your enemies killed, both of which create excellent replay value. Also included was a four player versus mode that was incredibly fun when you had four friends together. Bonus points for bringing us the rumble pack, which would become standard in virtually every controller that followed.

Ocarina of Time1. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
If Super Mario 64 felt big, then Ocarina of Time was an entirely new world. Shifting Zelda into 3-D was a bit risky, but Nintendo pulled it off and created what many consider to be the definitive Zelda experience, and one of the best games ever made. The game design is very nearly perfect with varied temples, creative puzzles, and entertaining boss battles. The combat also seemed very revolutionary thanks to a targeting system that ensured you were always facing your foe, solving many of the issues with cameras in 3-D games (a problem that still plagues some games today). It must also be pointed out that, for it’s time, this was a very graphically striking game. Like most 64 games, age hasn’t been kind to its visuals, but when looked at in the context of its release date, few games could rival it. Regardless of visuals, this game still plays just as well today as it did when it was launched, very much surviving the test of time where it counts, with its gameplay.

Battletoads

Whenever a discussion on difficult games comes up, a few names are always thrown out. Contra, Ninja Gaiden, and Mega Man immediately come to mind and are almost universally cited as some of the most difficult games ever developed. Yes, they are brutally difficult, maddening almost, but each time you fail, you feel as if you made the mistake, which is the key in identifying a game that is difficult through clever design versus one that is simply difficult due to poor quality or poor design choices. When you feel that the game is working against you instead of challenging you, that is a problem.

It’s a very fine line that developers have to toe in this area. If a game player ever feels that the game has cheated them in some way, then the line has been crossed. It’s extremely important for the player to feel that they made a mistake. Had they only jumped sooner, or thrown a particular weapon, or avoided an attack, then they wouldn’t have died. This is crucial as it is a learning experience and inspires the player to attempt that section again, this time armed with the knowledge they need to avoid the hazard they just succumbed to. When you feel you’ve done everything correctly and failed anyway, that inspiration to try again begins to wane, eventually causing you to just give up or move away from the game. The hoverbike level in Battletoads was my breaking point in that game. I haven’t played a Battletoads game since.

To best give an example of what happens when game design moves from difficult or challenging to annoying or unfair or even tedious, I’ve taken three similar games from the same franchise, a franchise highly regarded for having excellent level design along with challenging levels. That’s right, I’m calling out Nintendo’s mascot.

Super Mario Galaxy 1 & 2
The Super Mario Galaxy games will never be held up as two of the more challenging games of this, or of any, generation, but quite a few later levels in each do feature designs that will challenge even the most seasoned game player. In my experience with both games, collecting the stars in these levels presented a worthy challenge and I enjoyed every moment (excepting the horrible motion controlled ball levels) of exploration.

A perfect example of a challenging level that didn’t leave me exasperated is a level from Super Mario Galaxy 2 titled A Stroll Down Rolling Lane.

As you can see, this level tasks you with controlling Mario, in the form of a rolling boulder, along a course filled with holes, jumps, and subtle directional shifts to obtain a star. I spent quite a bit of time on this level as I seemed to always over or under adjust at some point or just miss a jump. The important point here is that I never felt frustrated with the game for my mistakes. I always felt that it was my input that was off, not the game design. I could identify my every error and was certain I could correct it in my next run through. I enjoyed the challenge I was receiving from the game. I could see my ultimate goal, it was just perfecting my own handling of the game to reach said goal. Again, there was no annoyance or frustration with the game, just with my failure to respond to the game properly. I always felt that the fault was on me, not the game.

Super Mario Sunshine
Let me be clear, I don’t feel that Super Mario Sunshine is necessarily a bad game. It does have redeeming qualities and I have completed it. That said, it’s the only 3-D Mario game that I haven’t completed 100%. As I played through it, I experienced something unfamiliar for me while playing a Mario game: frustration. All to often, while attempting to obtain a Shine Sprite, I felt that the game was actively working against me. I understood what I needed to do, but the execution simply seemed unfair, be it because the actions seemed overly complex or something such as the camera was working against me. In the end, it resulted in the same feeling. Ultimately, I would give up on certain Shine Sprites because instead of finding a challenge, I was finding something closer to work or tedium.

I can cite a few examples, but the Shine Sprite in the above video is the one most ingrained in my memory. Let’s go through the steps needed to get this Shine Sprite:

1. Obtain a Yoshi. No biggie here, you can usually find him on a roof top.

2. Make your way to an island via a boat or through the sewer system. Made a bit more difficult as Yoshi disintegrates if he touches water because….well, I have no clue. Best just to use the sewer system.

3. Once you’re on the island, eat some fruit and wait on another boat. You must eat fruit as Yoshi’s gauge will constantly decrease and he will disappear if it empties because why not?

4. Ride said boat to small wooden stand holding a piece of fruit. Wait there for another boat. Keep in mind that this is actually a trickier jump than it should be due to Yoshi’s flutter jump and an awkward camera angle.

5. Continue to wait. No, seriously.

6. Hop on another boat and ride it to yet another island. Again, a trickier jump than necessary due to a moving boat, fluttering, and, again, an awkward camera angle.

7. Once dismounting onto the next island, spray Yoshi’s fruit juice on some honey looking substance that’s covering a pipe you need to go down. It will dissolve the yellow stuff and give you access to the pipe (only Yoshi’s fruit spray will dissolve this). You may now proceed down the pipe.

Now, these steps aren’t what get you a Shine Sprite, they are just the steps to get to a pipe taking you to a level that contains a shine sprite. In that level, you are on a raft in some kind of clear acid. You must use FLUDD to manuever yourself through the current picking up 8 red coins. Again, the camera makes this rather tricky at times. Oh, and if you miss one, there is no going back against the current of the water. You must die to reset except, if you die, you find yourself back outside the pipe, complete with the yellow covering that only Yoshi can remove. I did this one time. When I jumped in the clear liquid to get a coin I missed and died, I realized it was poison. There is no way of knowing this would happen, so I was a bit irritated. That irritation was elevated when I found that you don’t restart inside the level, but outside the pipe with the yellow barrier once again in place. I’ve never attempted to get that Shine Sprite again.

See, none of the above was fun…at all. Yoshi’s controls are a bit funky, the camera is not your friend many times, and collecting the 8 red coins is just icing on the frustration cake given that you have no room for error. And this is only one example. I recall a level where you must spray fish with Yoshi’s fruit juice to turn them into platforms. This wouldn’t be so bad except that, again, there is no room for error and the camera gives you no depth perception for your jumps. It is beyond easy to miss jumping to the next platform. Sunshine is also filled with platforming levels featuring rotating portions you must traverse (some of these reappeared in Galaxy). These aren’t so bad until you have to collect, again, 8 red coins, this time while racing against a timer. Just collecting the coins is difficult enough, putting a timer on this level just makes it sadistic.

How could a timer and coins not be enjoyable?

How could a timer for collecting red coins not be enjoyable?

To me, Super Mario Sunshine forgot to be an enjoyable game in many instances. All too often, gathering Shine Sprites became an ordeal, something more akin to work than a joyful experience. As I stated above, this was surprising for me as I had very rarely become frustrated in a Mario game before, but found it happening again and again in Sunshine. Super Mario Sunshine did manage to bring the challenge of previous Mario titles, it just forgot to bring along the fun as well.

NIER

NIER is a game that was developed by Cavia (Drakengard) and published by Square a few years ago for the PS3 and Xbox 360. Upon it’s release, it received mixed reactions from both reviewers and gamers alike. Criticisms included repetitive fetch quests, sub-par graphics, and mundane, if varied, gameplay. NIER also happens to be one of my favorite games of the current generation, or of any generation. NIER, I believe, is a wonderful example of how the narrative of a game can actually transcend gameplay and elevate said game to be more than the sum of it’s parts. It is also an element that is hard to quantify in a review or review score and can be too easily passed over in an attempt to complete the game for the sake of completing a review.

The Fishing Mechanic Debacle
Before I touch on the power of NIER’s narrative, this has to be addressed as I made a point about reviews above. A few hours into the game, as part of a required fetch-quest, you must go fishing on a beach. The area is marked with a circle on the map and is easily found. The fishing mechanic is very simplistic, similar in a way to the fishing mechanic found in Twilight Princess, except you are given a gauge showing the stress on your line and the goal is to keep the stress level low lest your line break. When I played through NIER, I got this quest, went to the area, and caught the needed fish in less than a minute (the needed fish is the only one you will catch at this point). It took me two casts to accomplish this.

Understand that I bought NIER right after launch and before many reviews were published. I played it right away and had fallen in love with the game, so I was hoping for high reviews. When they came in a bit middling, I was disappointed but not terribly surprised as the game does have some faults, even though I was able to look past them. My shock came when I saw that at least one reviewer had been completely unable to get past the fishing fetch-quest. Meaning that they hadn’t even completed the game before publishing the review. Granted, they did disclose this, but there are potential buyers of this game that will read that review and believe that the game is broken, as opposed to the reviewer just not getting how the mechanic worked. I want to reiterate once again that I finished this quest and didn’t give it a second thought. I simply can’t understand how anyone, especially a reviewer of games (this is what they do) would fail to complete this part. But they did, and the review suffered as a result.

The hardest part of any game ever.

The hardest part of any game ever.

The Story
So I laid out some of the complaints about this game above. Even though I don’t fully agree with those complaints, they are valid as we all have preferences that differ. NIER does employ a variety of play styles, ranging from standard third person adventure to SHMUPs and text adventures. While I enjoyed this variety, I can see how it would be irritating or jarring for someone that wanted or expected only one or two types of play, and while NIER does touch on these varieties, it can then abandon them just as quickly. It’s also true that there are many fetch-quests, so if you aren’t fully immersed in the play style of the game, you may find these tedious, though only a handful are actually required. I refuse to address the complaint about graphics as I feel that was a design choice, one that I thought was actually well done, especially the bosses and shades.

Graphical style is hardly objective, and I personally have no qualms with NIER's.

Graphical style is hardly objective, but I personally have no qualms with NIER’s.

So why do I still love this game? To me, it has something that you can’t properly judge in a quick playthrough. The story behind NIER is one of the most touching and emotional of any game I’ve ever experienced. None of the actions I completed in the game ever felt tedious because I felt the burden the main character, NIER, was carrying on his shoulders as he completed them.

In NIER, you play the title character. Your daughter, Yonah, has caught the Black Scrawl, an incurable disease that will kill her. You, understandably, are determined to find a cure, even though no one has in the past. This motivation is your entire driving force through the first half of the game and is driven home in your regular interactions with Yonah, as well as the townspeople where NIER lives. The developers seemed to go out of there way to make the connection as close as possible in order to establish an emotional connection not just between NIER and Yonah, but with the player as well.  After you travel to another city, for instance, you receive a letter there from Yonah about how she misses you.  At one point, you come home to find she has fixed you dinner. The internal dialogue lets you know that it tastes awful, but your character eats it anyway to keep her happy. You can also sometimes bring her gifts.

Halfway through the game, there is an event that makes your quest more urgent, and then five years pass by before you regain control. I was so involved in the story at this point that I felt a personal urgency to start getting things done so I could resolve the aforementioned event. Once you reach the end of the game, NIER somehow outdoes itself in the story department as you get a few new revelations about what has happened to the world that completely changes the way you’ll view your actions in the game. This is driven home in a subsequent playthrough, where additional scenes are added that  completely alter your perception of the Shades and what you are doing to cure Yonah. It is another testament to the game’s story that I fully completed it twice, and finished the second half yet another time in order to gain all four endings. I generally don’t care to replay a game so quickly after completing it a first time, but I simply had to see all the conclusions to the story before I would be happy. No, reading them on Wikipedia wouldn’t count.

This is where I think the reviews missed on NIER. Even if you agree with the criticisms of the game, and I’m sure many did, the story element of this game is extremely powerful, and an aspect that is hard to be fully appreciated in a quick playthrough for a review. Also, I’m not knocking reviews or reviewers in this post (well, except the one that didn’t know how to fish). You can’t dwell on a particular game when you have more waiting to be completed, and that’s completely understandable. I just feel that in some cases, such as with NIER, there’s an experience that’s missed in doing a review playthrough and will then be missed in the review itself. It’s unavoidable, sadly, but again, it’s also an element that’s difficult to fully explain or evaluate to another person. Even in my attempt here, I’m sure that I’ve come up short in some way. Unfortunately, it is simply the nature of the beast that some aspects of a game may be beyond fully informing someone on, and have to be simply played to be appreciated.

NIER - Story