Archive for June, 2014

Secret of Evermore

Many moons ago, in the mid 1990’s, my brother and I were looking through the video games at Wal-Mart, as we always did when at Wal-Mart. In that day and age, they weren’t locked away behind glass cases, so we could pick up the cases and look them over. Between us, we had about $25 or so and noticed a game on sale for $19.99. After looking at the back, and talking it over, we decided that this was a game worth taking a chance on. The game in question was Secret of Evermore, and at the risk of ruining the ending of this wrap-up, it may have been the best impulse purchase I’ve ever made. Recently, I played through it again for the first time in quite a while, and can’t pass up the opportunity to proclaim its greatness to anyone that may read this blog.

The Set-up:
You are a young boy from Podunk, USA. Along with your dog, you enjoy outlandish adventure movies and exploring areas you’d probably be better off not exploring. But, that would make for a boring video game, so you, along with your trusty canine pal enter a deserted mansion and stumble upon an odd looking machine. After accidentally activating it, the two of you are transported to a strange space station, and your adventure begins.

Secret of Evermore also has an interesting back story that has nothing to do with the in-game story. Developed by a US studio owned by Squaresoft, Secret of Evermore was delivered to the US just about a month after Japan received Seiken Densetsu 3, the sequel to Secret of Mana. Secret of Mana had/has a massive fan base, and had been very well received upon release. When it became known that the sequel would not be localized outside of Japan, it was mistakenly assumed by many that Secret of Evermore was the reason for this. That Evermore’s development had redirected resources from the possible localization. This rumor lead to Evermore getting a bit of an undeserved backlash. Because of that, Secret of Evermore had a stigma attached to it, and, despite being a very good game, never became that hit it probably deserved to be.

That's a bit harsh.

That’s a bit harsh.

The Story:
After arriving in the space station, you are almost immediately escorted to an escape pod by a someone that appears to be a butler, and jettisoned to the mainland of Evermore. After crash landing, you find that your dog has changed forms (a running theme from region to region), now appearing large and wolf-like, a form much more fitting for the jungle you have crashed in. He locates a bone for you, which becomes your first weapon. After a raptor encounter (which can be either won or lost, with both outcomes advancing the story in the same way), you arrive in a village and are introduced to their leader, a young girl they call Fire Eyes.

Evermore Fire Eyes

Now, many years before the story I laid out above, a cut scene informs you that four other people used the machine you eventually stumble upon. Fire Eyes happens to be one of those people, her real name being Elizabeth. You learn from her that she has been there many years, not aging, and that the land she resides in reflects her personal interests in dinosaurs and such (another running theme). In an effort to get back home, she sends you to recover an alchemist (more on alchemy later) that may be of some help.

This is the general set-up for the entire story in Secret of Evermore. You’ll advance through what is known as Prehistoria, before finding yourself in another land, so on and so forth. Each of the regions has its own theme, giving you some variety as your progress through the story. Even with regions, you may encounter differing styles that further differentiate one area from another. For example, in the second region you visit, you will ultimately explore a desert, a Roman-esque city, an abandoned Greek style hall/temple, a pirate area, and a pyramid. It is important to understand that though there are only four regions, each region is quite large and will take some time to fully explore and complete. Likewise, the enemies you encounter will fit with the regions. No palette swapping here. With each new area you visit, you will encounter another of the residents of Podunk, and learn more of the experiment that sent them to Evermore, while also seeing cut scenes that hint that someone is working against you from behind a curtain. The story isn’t the deepest story in a video game, but it does flow well and gives you a reason to keep progressing through the game. The actual villain of the game is a bit of a surprise, but not exactly groundbreaking. I don’t mean to diminish the story at all, it is a good story, and is boosted quite a bit by some excellently written dialogue. The writing in Secret of Evermore is top notch, and filled with humor. You will not want to skip through the text in this game, because every conversation is filled with wit. The story is good, but the dialogue is excellent.

Dialogue Evermore

The Gameplay:
First of all, understand that you can switch between your main character and your dog at anytime. The dog has one attack (biting) which can be leveled up. Also, when not playing as your dog, you can have him search (via sniffing) by holding down the R shoulder button. He will often sniff out ingredients that can be used for alchemy (see below). This sounds very minor, but fully utilizing this one action can be extremely helpful in boosting your stock. It’s one of those small additions that actually adds quite a bit to the game’s charm and personality. There are a few sections that force you to play solo as the dog, but these only last a few minutes. Otherwise, I’d expect you to spend the majority of your time controlling the main character.

If you’ve played and are familiar with Secret of Mana, then you can skip the rest of this paragraph. Secret of Evermore was either built on the same engine as Mana, or on one that copied it. Like Mana, Evermore is an Action RPG, meaning that it contains traditional RPG elements such as magic and leveling, with battles occurring in real time, much like a Zelda title. Replacing the traditional RPG menu is a ring menu system. Essentially, a ring surrounds your character, and you navigate through options from weapons, magic, and equipment to a status screen and items. Along with leveling up your character (and your dog), weapons can be leveled up twice, allowing you to charge them up by holding the attack button, resulting in a stronger attack. Weapons come in three varieties: swords, axes, and spears (personal favorite), though bazookas do show up very late in the game. In each new region, you’ll receive a new variation of each of these. The same is true of equipment. You’ll be able to obtain armor for your body, arms, and head, along with a collar for your dog, with all being upgraded as you advance through the game.

The perspective of the game is the same as A Link to the Past or Final Fantasy VI. You’ll control your character using a top down view point. There truly is quite a bit of exploration to this game, even though the story itself is linear. You will be limited in where you can progress to (by way of blockages you don’t have the means to clear yet), but within those areas you’re confined to, there is still an openness and aspect of exploration. The areas are generally quite large, and beg to be fully examined. Just progressing from Point A to Point B will cause you to miss helpful items, armor, or spells. One early area, referred to as the Bugmuck, contains two spells and a charm (items that cause permanent status upgrades when obtained), all of which could be very easily missed if you refuse to stray from the beaten path. Virtually every area in the game functions in this same manner. Secret of Evermore may be linear, but in many ways, it’s only as linear as you choose to allow it to be.

Bugmuck

Now, a word about one of my favorite aspects of the game, Alchemy. This is where Evermore drastically differentiates itself from Mana, and many other RPGs, for that matter. In Evermore, magic is referred to as Alchemy. You’ll be taught formulas by the various citizens of Evermore, but you’ll need ingredients to use them. Each formula (or spell) will require two different ingredients, in varying amounts, to use. For example, the Flash formula requires 1 Wax and 2 Oil. Acid Rain is 1 Ash and 3 Water. As I pointed out earlier, ingredients can be bought and found by your dog. It’s a very simple system, but is ingenious at the same time, providing a very unique spin on the more traditional MP magic system. You are allowed to equip a maximum of nine formulas, with plenty of opportunities to swap other spells in and out of that list. There are also some formulas that can be missed, meaning you will need to search to find them all, though any required formulas will always be right within your path. There is no harm in missing one of the non-essential formulas, but the OCD in me always forced me to hunt them all down. Alchemy attacks will level up as you continue to use them, becoming stronger over time. Each one also has a unique animation, and though this could be a trick of my mind, I would swear that as you level some of them up, the resulting attack will appear bigger. I’ve never been able to truly confirm this, but it seems to be the case. The only criticism I have in regards to alchemy is that there are so many formulas available throughout the game that you’ll constantly want to be switching in new ones, often resulting in very few of them being leveled up. This is a very minor complaint though, as the formulas you receive later in the game are naturally stronger anyway.

Alchemy

Supplementing your formulas are items referred to as Call Beads. When used, these allow you to summon one of the four other citizens of Podunk and use one of their alchemy attacks (after you meet them in game, of course). These are some extremely strong attacks, but Call Beads aren’t very readily available, forcing you to pick your moments.

One other very noteworthy element of Evermore is the music. Be it the ambient noises of the jungle in Prehistoria or the dark, classical music of the Hall of Collosia, each piece of music stands out. The highest compliment I can pay Evermore’s soundtrack is that it is one of the very few that I would happily purchase on CD and listen to independent of the game. It truly is that well written and orchestrated.

Conclusions:
As I’ve stated, Secret of Evermore is extremely similar to Secret of Mana in many ways. As popular as Secret of Mana is though, I actually prefer Secret of Evermore. I feel like everything about Mana was sharpened for Evermore. The weapon system is more efficient in the leveling. The hit detection (a personal gripe I have with Mana) is much better in this game as chained hits from enemies are gone. Even the graphics appear sharper and more detailed.

But, this isn’t about Secret of Mana, this is about Secret of Evermore, and what I can say about Evermore is that it is an amazing game. It’s one of the very few games I can hold up as not having any discernible flaws, in my opinion of course. I hold this game in the same regard that I hold A Link to the Past, Super Metroid, and Final Fantasy VI, just concentrating on Super NES games. I don’t believe that it’s an over exaggeration to place it alongside those games. It really is just that good of a game, and I hate that it was hampered by a falsehood regarding it’s development.

This game will always be linked to the Mana series of games, however, and not just because it shares a similar name with the first Super NES entry. They really are sibling games, similar in so many ways. The majority of game players will hold up Secret of Mana as the superior game, and it will always have that legacy, but in my personal opinion, as good of a game as Secret of Mana is, it just seems to me that Mana was used as a template, but all the screws were tightened up, giving us an almost perfect game in Secret of Evermore.

And speaking of Final Fantasy games...

And speaking of Final Fantasy games…

Stereotype

In my last post, I made a point of ridiculing the notion that a lack of female protagonists means that developers are sexists. Essentially, I stated that while there is a lack of female protagonists in video games, it’s due to the fact that developers are simply sticking with the status quo. It’s a decision based on business sense and trends. Calling that sexism only dilutes actual sexism.

Now, if you want to speak of actual sexism, it does exist to some extent in games, but it has little to do with the lack of female protagonists, but more to do with how they are portrayed in many cases.

Here, let’s play a comparison game. See if you can spot the differences between males in video games and females in video games.

Samus AranGabriel Belmont

 

 

 

 

 

Hmmmmm….

Leon KennedyJill Valentine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well….

RikkuTidus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Still guessing? Tell you what, we’ll flip the dynamic and see if you catch on.

Samus Aran (Suit)Nathan Drake

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ha! I’ve been searching for a way to use that Nathan Drake design for some time now.

This is hardly a secret. Game developers may not be sexist, but when it comes to designing women in games, they do seem to revert back into teenagers. Many female protagonists seem to be designed in such a way so as to appeal to young men. Even when women win in video games, it can be argued that they lose. I mean, I was going to post some pictures from Dead or Alive, but that’s just far too easy.

Now, I’m not talking about Lollipop Chainsaw or OneChanbara: Bikini Zombie Slayers here. Those games are like the B-movies of video games. The use of a sexy female lead is completely intentional and is very tongue in cheek. I’m talking about totally serious games that can’t help but accentuate any women that show up in their games. Look, I get that lead women would need to be fit. Lara Croft can’t be out of shape and do the cave exploring she does. Samus Aran is one tough cookie and would probably be wearing something a bit tight inside her suit. Still though, even in those cases, is it completely necessary to make them so well endowed? It just reeks of using sex to sell, and developers still view the market as male dominated, despite the fact that females now make up nearly 50% of the game playing community.

In my last post, I defended using past trends to model a game. Unfortunately, this is where that mindset goes off the rails. Developers are still thinking from the mindset of the early 2000’s when Lara Croft was a major sex symbol. I’m not saying she still isn’t, but the novelty of boobs in a game is, well, no longer a novelty. We’re kind of used to it. Now it’s just a case of sticking to an old mindset when all the data should move you in the exact opposite direction. Sales data pushes them towards male leads and certain genres. Player demographic data should push them away from this design choice because, like I just said, the novelty of this is gone.

OMG! Boobs!

OMG! Boobs!

All of that aside, the continued use of this stereotype is completely unrealistic, even in game. Why do the male leads get layers of armor to protect them, whereas the female characters’ defense seems to be indirectly proportional to the amount of clothes they are wearing? It simply makes no sense. Again, it’s a case of “that’s how it’s always been done.” There is no reason for this to still be the case. I used a picture of Samus Aran earlier, but in the actual Metroid games, Samus is almost always in full power suit gear. Nintendo could have jumped on the Tomb Raider band wagon, but instead kept her covered up, and the Metroid games are consistently highly reviewed and generally very popular (let’s not speak of Other M here).

In this day and age, it’s about the game, not the scantily clad character you’re playing as. Again, that was a major novelty early on. 3-D characters were new, female characters were few and far between, and the gaming public was mostly male. Now, we’ve had 3-D characters for 15 years, female characters are much more plentiful, and the gaming public is almost equally split. I can defend developers using past trends to stick with mostly male leads in games, given the high development costs and risk associated with publishing a game in this market, what I can’t defend is going against all available data to make outdated design choices and marginalize those female protagonists they do give us.

Female Protagonist

Just for kicks and giggles, I decided to Google Search Video Games and Sexist together…I wish I hadn’t done that.

‘Assassin’s Creed’ Has Reached a New Low for Sexism in Video Games

Why does sexism persist in the video games industry?

For the time being, I’m not going to address the “Racist” accusation above. I haven’t played Watch Dogs and haven’t read enough about it to make any kind of an educated statement about that. That leaves the sexist accusations. The general consensus that I’ve seen is that all too often, players aren’t allowed to play as a female protagonist and are instead forced to play as a male, or choose from a selection of males (in multiplayer). I’ve sort of hit on this before in a Top 8 post, but it’s still going strong.

First of all, what I’ve never understood about this is why your avatar in a game matters. Yeah, it’s nice to be able to have a selection, but if you’re forced to pick from only one sex, I don’t see why that’s an issue. When I played through Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance, I selected the female character because her attacks were magic based and that was my preferred method of attack. Despite choosing a female character when I was male, surprisingly, my penis didn’t fall off. I know, I was shocked by this lack of a development myself. I’m also amazed that my many hours with Metroid, my personal favorite franchise, haven’t left me a shell of a man. After all, Samus Aran is…female [shudder]. I feel confident in stating the reverse of this issue is true. If you are a female and you choose to play a game where you control a male, I think I would be correct in saying that you aren’t going to suddenly grow a beard or chest hair or a new appendage.

And she's so obviously a female.

And she’s so obviously a female.

Now, let me be extremely clear before moving on. I’m speaking solely about in game, controllable characters. What I’m not condoning or excusing is player on player harassment via online gaming or in other environment. That’s a serious issue that crosses into both sexism (assuming it’s gender based) and bullying. This has happened recently and I feel it very important to be clear on this. I’m also not speaking about depiction or design (basically, skimpy clothing). That’s another blog post in and of itself.

Aside from my first point above, I’m really having trouble figuring out who is complaining about this. I’ve seen bloggers and journalists writing these stories, but what I haven’t seen is that many actual game playing women complaining. My suspicion is that the people screaming the loudest about this are those people who only view it from a distance. They have no love of games, but see something that they can use to make some noise and get attention. These people exist in all areas, and they tend to always annoy me when they crop up. I believe that the majority of women that play games probably care about this about as much as I do.

To me, all of this distracts from what games are supposed to be and represent. Video games are meant to be fun. Isn’t that why we play? Yeah, the competition of multiplayer is great and spending time honing skills in certain games happens, but ultimately, we go to them for fun. For me personally, they serve as a distraction from the seriousness of my everyday life. For a little while, I can distract myself from work and bills and marital issues (the minor ones, at least). What I hate to see are those issues cropping up in a medium I use to avoid those exact issues.

The kicker is, I don’t totally disagree with the point that video games feature mostly male protagonists. It’s kind of a fact. That said, the same is true of movies. The same is true of sports. Why does it seem that video games are singled out in this arena as having an issue? This is hardly the first time that video games have been held to a higher standard (do I even need to further explain the other instances?). Also, even if this is true, why is it an issue that must be addressed? Why is it immediately sexism? I think it’s much more likely that game developers are simply sticking with a formula that works and makes them money. Right now, that blue print is FPS with a gritty male character leading the way. Those games sell. I kind of with they didn’t as I don’t care for that genre, but they do. If you want this paradigm to change, then you don’t buy these games. Sink your money into a game that lets you play as a female. Many Nintendo games (including MK 8 and the upcoming Smash Brothers) and the Kinect games allow you to play as an Avatar you created yourself. It’s hard to get much closer to representing everyone than that. Select those games. If developers see that happening, the will shift accordingly.

I'd be perfectly fine living in a world where this existed.

I’d be perfectly fine living in a world where this existed.

The bottom line is, there may still be an abundance of male lead characters, but that’s because those are still the games that are selling, not because there’s a mass sexist attitude in the industry. Also, where is the harm being done by playing as a male character. This is where the argument loses me. It’s the same as being upset with Monopoly because there is no token that is an actual human and you feel that playing as a hat (personal favorite piece) robs you of something. This particular aspect of so called sexism in video games is astoundingly inconsequential or relevant. It holds no power or value beyond an onscreen animation. You should never let something such as a video game define your existence to that point. Realize that it’s only a game and exists to have fun with, not to make a statement about males and females. I miss the days of that being all video games were about.
[Note: This remains a touchy subject, and I know I’m coming at it from a certain perspective. Feel free to comment with either agreements or disagreements. I very much encourage that. If you feel I’m oversimplifying this situation or am otherwise misrepresenting it, I greatly encourage you to let me know. Nothing has ever been lost by an educated discussion.]

Mario Kart 8

Nintendo is banking on some big titles to turn the tide for the struggling WiiU. The first of those, Mario Kart 8, finally hit stores just a couple of weeks ago. Since the initial entry on the Super Nintendo, a Mario Kart title has graced each of Nintendo’s systems, becoming one of their best selling franchises. The big question now, is it a strong enough franchise to begin to turn the tide of the WiiU’s fortunes. Initial results are promising (1.2 million units moved since launch), but whether or not that will be a long-term trend remains to be seen. The smaller question I’m looking at though, does this title do its legacy justice.

This will be a bit of a different wrap-up than what I usually do. This is the first game I’ve done one of these for that hasn’t been a story drive game, with an established beginning and ending. All I have to look at is content and gameplay, so that is where my focus will be in this post.

The Set-up:
The principles of Mario Kart are well established, so I’m only going to touch on them briefly. You choose a racer, a kart, and a track or cup, depending on your play mode. You then fight tooth and nail with other competitors to win the race, using slick driving and an array of items. That’s the gist of it. Quickly, speaking of the items, there is a mix of old and new here, with the most prominent of the new items being a horn that, when used, will destroy any items within range, including the much dreaded blue spiked shell. Other newcomers are the piranha plant, boomerang, and crazy eight item (similar to the lucky seven item from Mario Kart 7).

There are a few differences here from the last console entry on the Nintendo Wii. First of all, the karts (as well as bikes and ATV’s) are customizable with different tire and glider options. This is the same mode as found in Mario Kart 7 on the 3DS, but is new to a console entry. As you complete races, you will unlock new kart, tire, and glider options by collecting coins during races, a feature that was absent in the Wii entry, but was, again, present in Mario Kart 7. The differing options do seem to make a difference in handling and speed, and are quite a bit of fun to mix and match in an effort to get the best combination.

Customize Kart

As with all the entries, you will have numerous characters to pick from to pilot your kart. A few have disappeared since the Wii entry (Diddy & Dixie Kong, for example), while the Koopalings have all shown up for this entry. The characters vary in weight class and your pick will affect your acceleration and speed. To unlock new characters, you will need to win Gold in each of the cups. This is essentially an aesthetic choice that won’t affect much, but there is something fun about being able to race as Ludwig Von Koopa or Metal Mario.

Personal favorite.

Personal favorite.

The Gameplay:
This is what it’s all about. Essentially, there isn’t too much to say here, but that is a very big positive. The Mario Kart series, for the most recent entries especially, have excelled in control, and that remains true here. Drifting is integral to advancing and winning any race. As with all new entries, there is a learning curve regarding the drift and how to play with it to take the tightest turns, but after a few races, this will become a non-issue as you adapt to the new physics.

Completely new to the series, adding to the holdovers from Mario Kart 7 (underwater racing and gliding) are sections that will see your car shifting to anti-gravity mode, meaning you will be racing vertically, horizontally, and upside down. There’s no real change to the racing style in these sections, excepting a spin followed by a slight speed boost when you make contact with another racer, but it does allow for some insane track design that would occasionally leave me shaking my head in awe at what Nintendo came up with. One particular section (as called out in a comment in my Top 8 Tracks post) sees you racing up and down waterfalls. What makes these sections so awe inspiring is that you don’t always notice the design right away. This sounds like a negative, but it’s actually a testament to how smoothly the track transitions from one section to the next and, once you do notice it, you will be left wondering how you ever missed it.

Shy Guy Falls

Speaking of track design, including in Mario Kart 8 is the traditional collection of 16 new tracks, along with 16 reworked classic tracks. I did question a few of the included classics, but also had to remember that many tracks have already received the “classic” status in previous entries. Despite my questioning of the tracks, they are still quite fun, and the new elements have been included seamlessly. The new tracks in Mario Kart 8 are some of the best I’ve seen in an entry. Looking over them, there are truly none that I don’t enjoy racing at, which is not a statement I can make about any other entry in this series. The designers for this game definitely deserve a tip of the cap as they were at the top of their game based on the new tracks included in Mario Kart 8.

One thing that I must address before wrapping this up is the dispersion of items. Mario Kart Wii received some well deserved criticism for what seemed like an over abundance of blue spiked shells that would all too often steal a race in what felt like a very unfair manner. My time with Mario Kart 8 saw far fewer blue spiked shells being used, so I do believe that Nintendo addressed this. It will take some more time with the game to truly determine this, but my short term opinion is that they have been cut down on. One thing I have noticed, however, is that green shells seem far more accurate in this game. I’ve been hit with more green shells in this game than in any other entry. It could be a massive coincidence, but I suspect that a larger margin of error has been included in this game. Like the blue spiked shell usage, however, it will take more time with the game to be able to make a true call on this.

The horror...

The horror…

I’ve focused here on the racing, but there is also a local multiplayer mode, a battle mode (on tracks instead of arenas as in past games), and wi-fi racing for both single player and multiplayer. My time with wi-fi was very positive. I was added to a group very quickly and observed the end of their race before joining them in the next match. I saw no lag or anything that I could point to as a negative.

Conclusions:
I don’t know if this game will move units or turn around the fortunes of the WiiU, but is a very solid game and another strong entry in the Mario Kart franchise. Nintendo may be having hardware issues with the WiiU, but when it comes to game making, titles such as Mario Kart 8 remind you of why they have been around so long and will continue to be around for some time to come. This is simply a fun game, and a joy to play, be it by yourself, with a friend(s), or online. I can’t say that you should buy a WiiU to play this game since that is a major investment, but what I can say is that if you already own a WiiU, you owe it to yourself to pick this title up. I can’t imagine anyone regretting a purchase of Mario Kart 8.

With Mario Kart 8 being released for the WiiU recently, I think we all knew that a “My Top 8” based on the series would be coming soon. This was tougher than I thought it would be, and pretty much all tracks prior to Mario Kart 64 were ignored. It’s not that they are bad, it’s that the limitations of the consoles meant that they just couldn’t compare with later tracks in the series. Mario Kart 8 is also missing an entry here, but I haven’t had very much time with the game just yet.

Close, but no points: Bowser’s Castle (MK64), Twisted Mansion (MK8), Mario Circuit 3 (SMK), Music Park (MK7), Maple Treeway (MKWii), Peach Gardens (MKDS)

8. Kalimari Desert (MK64)
I will always love this track for two reasons. The first is the star & train tunnel shortcut you could pull off. The second, and the main reason, is the fact that if you time it just right, you can break the rubber band effect of the other racers at the first railroad crossing. It was very freeing to be able to jet around the track without the other racers artificially catching you. I would regularly catch the last four racers or so and lap them. I owned this track.

7. Wario’s Goldmine (MKWii)
I can’t say exactly why I love this track, but I do. I think it’s the varied portions of the track as well as the side tunnel shortcut that you can take, provided the mine carts aren’t in your way.

6. Baby Park (MK: DD)
This is an amazingly frantic track. And the fact that you go more than three laps and someone is always nearby because of the tight quarters only add to the chaos going on. This is a track I would love to see revisited in a future entry. Online play on this track would be unreal.

5. Delfino Square (MKDS)
I’m one of those racers that love to cut right to the edge and enjoy tracks with many tight curves. Delfino Square is definitely one of those tracks. There’s rarely a moment that I’m not drifting at this track. Along with the numerous tight turns are the small alleys you race through, magnifying the danger of thrown items or banana peels.

4. Yoshi Valley (MK64)
I don’t believe there is any other track in the Mario Kart series that can offer what Yoshi Valley offers. There is truly no correct way to go around this track. I think I’ve found the quickest routes, but I’ll probably never be sure. Revisiting this track in Mario Kart 8 reminded me of just how much fun the structure of it was. I’d love to see another track that approaches races in this manner.

3. Waluigi Stadium (MK: DD)
The stadium tracks are always some of my favorites, but I think this one may be the best. Even with a very large track to cover, it still manages to be chaotic, constantly throwing obstacles in your way. Combine that with the other racers trying to take you out, and you have a great recipe for an amazing race.

2. Airship Fortress (MKDS)
This is another case of not being entirely sure of why I love this track so much. I think it’s the shifting background and track styles. You always feel like you’re in danger simply from your surroundings. I just know that every time I race on this track, I have a blast.

1. Rainbow Road (MK64)
In my mind, this is the granddaddy of all Rainbow Road courses, even if it wasn’t the first. It’s extremely long, full of opportunities to go flying off, and rolling balls to completely throw you off. My goal at this track was always to see how far ahead I could get. I don’t think I broke the rubber band effect here, but it did sometimes seem that way as I could generally get a very nice lead. This track also satisfied my itch to have races longer than just three laps. Yes, this was still a three lap race, but it felt much, much longer.

E3 2014 – Sony

Posted: June 6, 2014 in Current Gaming
Tags: , , , , ,

E3 Sony

Wrapping up my E3 Predictions (which will undoubtedly be 100% accurate) is my take on Sony and their PS4 and PSVita. Feel free to also read my previous entries:

E3 2014 – Nintendo
E3 2014 – Microsoft

PS4
Whereas I thought that both Nintendo and Microsoft had to make a difference, I think that Sony really just needs to keep doing what they’re doing. They have a comfortable lead in the console race, and, outside of Japan, are generally outselling the other two consoles on a monthly basis. The PSVita is also enjoying moderate success. It’s no 3DS, but it’s still selling respectably well. Basically, Sony, don’t f**k things up.

Yeah, don't do anything like this.

Yeah, don’t do anything like this.

Okay, that’s too simplistic. But Sony really doesn’t need to shake the world to come out of this conference looking good. They, much like Microsoft, do need to find a way to add value to purchasing a PS4 over sticking with a PS3 or Xbox 360. Much like Microsoft, I’m not totally sure how they do that outside of bringing new games to the system. Preferably this year. They have to get some next generation exclusives out, and soon. Right now there’s just not much coming out for the PS4 and Xbox One that aren’t also coming to the PS3 and Xbox 360. I hate to continue beating this drum, but I think it’s a major problem that neither Sony or Microsoft has been able to adequately address to date. With so many exclusives (such as Batman: Arkham Knight) being moved to 2015, and new titles (such as Mortal Kombat X) still coming to both generations even into 2015, there is still no huge incentive to upgrade just yet.

PSVita
In addition to the PS4, Sony also has to focus on the PSVita. I’m sure they’ll have some focus on the little handheld that could, but I do wonder how much. In all honestly, the game support for that system has been lacking. Perhaps now that the PS4 has launched, Sony can shine some more light there, but I wouldn’t expect it. Truthfully, I’m not sure that Sony really knows how to approach the handheld market, even with the success the PSP enjoyed. Nintendo still owns that market, and I think that has pushed Sony off their stride.

What Nintendo seems to understand is that when most consumers buy a handheld, they do so wanting to play a different type of game than what they play at home. Not worse games or more simplistic, just different. Games that can be broken down in chunks. Sony seems to think that consumers want to take their console games on the go, and I’m don’t believe that is the case. When you go down that road, you end up competing against yourself because there is no differentiation in the games that you are offering your customers. Maybe this is the year something clicks and they find a sweet spot for the PSVita, but past marketing efforts don’t give me much hope.

Case in point

Case in point.

Predictions

  • The Last Guardian will be mentioned as not cancelled…and that’s it
  • Uncharted 4 will make an appearance, coming in 2015
  • Price cut for either the PSVita or the Memory Cards
  • I’m at a loss here. I really don’t have anything else for Sony.

E3 Microsoft

I touched on Nintendo and E3 for my last blog post. Today, we move on to Microsoft and what I expect from them at this year’s E3 Conference.

Given the dismal sales Nintendo has had with the WiiU, what I’m about to say will seem counter-intuitive, but I feel that of the Big 3, Microsoft has the most at stake at E3. On the console front, Sony’s PS4 is comfortably beating the Xbox One in sales. Yes, there is a large gap in region availability, but that’s a situation Microsoft is allowing to happen. Also, despite the trouble the WiiU seems to be in, Nintendo can also fall back on the 3DS as well as the massive profits they generated with the DS and Wii. Microsoft has one main front in this console battle, and that is the Xbox One. They absolutely have to convince consumers that they need to either upgrade from an Xbox 360 to the Xbox One, or convince new console buyers that the Xbox One is the better choice than the PS4.

A great starting point would be to continue distancing themselves from the….unpleasantness that was created at the Xbox One reveal. This is a dead horse now, but even with a reversal of the most egregious policies, Microsoft has still not shaken all of the ill will that they themselves created and which Sony capitalized on at last year’s E3 Conference. I believe they would do well to once again reaffirm that those policies are dead and that they realize now that they were the result of some poor decisions. Continue to fall on the sword and admit being in the wrong. People are very forgiving of missteps. Don’t necessarily dwell on it, but definitely acknowledge it and make it a point to say that after 6+ months of availability, those policies are absolutely a thing of the past.

I will never get tired of these.

I will never get tired of these.

Bigger than citing and owning past mistakes though, Microsoft has to add value to owning an Xbox One. It isn’t enough that it is a more advanced console, or that you can now get one without Kinect for the same price as a PS4. They must differentiate themselves in some way. One thing that Microsoft doesn’t mind doing is buying either exclusives or timed exclusives, and I suspect they’ll go that route again. It’s not a bad plan. In this age of gaming, exclusives are what can swing the tide in your favor (or away from you, depending). I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Microsoft get an exclusive entry in a popular franchise that has been multi-platform in the past. I have no guesses on what franchise, but it my mind it fits how Microsoft likes to operate. I mentioned it a moment ago, but want to point out that Microsoft also needs to make Kinect important in some way, while not alienating those consumers that buy an Xbox One that doesn’t include Kinect. I have no real thoughts on how to make that happen, and don’t envy those that are tasked with making that happen.

The final issue that I think is hampering Microsoft, and also ties into my last point to some extent, is that many gamers are still quite happy to keep and play their Xbox 360 (or PS3, and I believe that Sony is going to have this same problem). Looking at upcoming game releases, I can’t say I blame them. Try to name three AAA titles that are coming exclusively to the PS4 and/or Xbox One by year end. I’ll wait… The thing is, I can’t, and I follow gaming closely. I’m sure there are some exclusives, but where are those “must have” games that are going to make jumping into the current generation of consoles worth it. Until this past week, I was thinking that Batman: Arkham Knight would be that game, but like so many other games slated for the end of 2014, it has now been delayed to 2015. Meanwhile, games such as Titanfall, Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed, and even the recently announced Mortal Kombat X continue to be developed and published for both the PS4 and Xbox One as well as the PS3 and Xbox 360. I’ve touched on this issue before, and it’s playing out mostly as I expected. Developers are hedging their bets. Microsoft (and Sony) has to find some way to combat this and herd gamers to the Xbox One. They have to make it that much more desirable than the Xbox 360, something they’ve failed to do so far.

On the bright side, 2015 is going to be amazing.

On the bright side, 2015 is going to be amazing.

Thoughts & Predictions

  • More info on Halo 5 and Sunset Boulevard
  • Titanfall sequel in 2015 (Xbox One exclusive)
  • Timed exclusive of popular franchises (Call of Duty, Final Fantasy, EA Sports franchises?)
  • Outright exclusive of at least one well know franchise
  • Kinect feature that ultimately impresses virtually no one
  • Totally off the wall prediction: backwards compatibility with Xbox 360 games

I’m a bit down on Microsoft here, but I don’t think they’re in any major trouble, I just believe that they’ve put themselves in a bad position with some very questionable choices. The Xbox One is selling well, even if it is behind the PS4, and I think it will continue to perform respectably. But this blog is about where they are now and where they need to be. My heart is always with Nintendo, but I think I’m most intrigued to see exactly what Microsoft does in their conference. Like I said at the beginning of this blog, I think they have the most to prove and the most to lose. I’m rooting for them to prove something. Successful game consoles are ultimately a win for all gamers.

E3 Nintendo

We’re a week away from what those of us in the gaming industry wait for each year. E3! This week, I’ll be posting a blog for each of the “Big 3,” detailing what I feel they need to do and what I think they may do. This is all pure speculation and it will be interesting to see just how far off I was once E3 has concluded.

Just like last year, Nintendo is going to skip the traditional press conference in favor of a Nintendo Direct type event. Strategically, I don’t have a problem with this move. These have worked well for Nintendo and it does allow them to have everything prepared before hand, sparing themselves any glitches or embarrassments (if only they could have focus group tested that Wii Music demo…). Personally, however, I dislike this idea. I like seeing and hearing the excitement of the audience as new games are revealed. I still would have loved to see how an E3 audience would have reacted to last years Mega Man in Smash Brothers announcement (hard to believe that was a year ago).

Like Sony, there are two fronts to Nintendo’s digital presentation, and I think they’re approach to each will be drastically different.

3DS
Honestly, I don’t think that Nintendo needs to do too much in regards to the 3DS. Obviously, new games will be announced, but the system is a beast, even if it isn’t matching the DS in sales. I’m certain we’ll see more gameplay from the recently announced Pokemon Sapphire and Ruby remakes, not to mention the 3DS Smash Brothers entry, and we’ll probably be getting a new game from Nintendo’s stable of core franchises. I think that overall though, Nintendo is going to shine more light on 3rd party entries for the 3DS. The system has a strong library and Nintendo has to be focusing quite a bit on the WiiU at the moment. It’s the perfect climate for them to step back on their first party announcements and allow the 3rd parties to take center stage. Not only will this allow Nintendo to showcase the variety of games the 3DS is receiving, but will also build goodwill with 3rd party developers, which is always a positive. I’m not normally a fan of the status quo, but in this case, I think Nintendo can afford to cruise just a bit.

Heaven only knows how huge this title will be on the 3DS.

Heaven only knows how huge this title will be on the 3DS.

WiiU
Yeah…the WiiU. The good news here is that I think Nintendo has finally admitted to themselves that the WiiU just isn’t going to perform as they had once hoped. This is a good thing. Now, what they have to do is give consumers a reason to come back to the WiiU, or consider it at all, in order to make the system a viable 2nd console (I just believe that the chances of it being an alternative to the PS4 or Xbox One are nil). That starts and ends with games, of which Mario Kart 8 is the first of their big pushes. For their digital presentation, they need to pull out all the stops. Throw everything against the wall and hope that something sticks. I’ve written before that Nintendo will not win this generation, but that they can be respectable. This is the time to take that step towards respectability.

We’re going to see Smash Brothers videos, that’s a given. I suspect that we’ll also see some focus on Watch Dogs (even though it’s already out for the Xbox One and PS4) and Bayonetta 2. An announcement of a port of Bayonetta isn’t totally out of the question either, given that the sequel is a WiiU exclusive. There is also the next Sonic title, which I believe will receive some attention. Ultimately though, I think that they need to take the opposite approach with the WiiU than what I suggested they take with the 3DS. 3rd parties have ditched the WiiU, by and large. If this system is going to sell, it’s going to be Nintendo made games that sell it. I believe they need to give a release date for Monolith Soft’s X, preferably for year end. I also feel that they must showcase the next console Zelda title in some capacity. Zelda will move consoles, so the sooner the better for Nintendo. On top of that, we need more info on the mysterious Yarn Yoshi game we were shown some time ago. Is it even still in development? I feel that in addition to those moves, they also need to have something else on hand that we haven’t heard about. Some game or games that will leave us dying to know more. Think the Other M or Twilight Princess reveal.

I so hope the next Zelda is in this art style.

I so hope the next Zelda is in this art style.

Nintendo is well known for keeping their secrets close to the vest, but this is not the time for that. Let people know what’s in development, even if all that’s available for showing is concept art. People need to be reassured that more games are coming to this system, and giving them a rough idea of what’s being worked on would accomplish just that. Imagine seeing some concept art for a new console Metroid title, or Star Fox, or Kid Icarus…or all three. Just knowing that new, big name titles are in development would add value to the WiiU system. At this point, they need to make the WiiU appear as valuable as possible.

Thoughts & Predictions

  • 3rd Party showcase for the 3DS
  • 3DS Smash Brothers video(s)
  • New side-scrolling Metroid title for the 3DS
    • I’d prefer this on the WiiU, but given the side-scrolling revival we’ve seen in recent years, I think this is distinctly possible
  • More systems arriving on the 3DS Virtual Console
  • Strong first party push for the WiiU
  • No less than 3 “big name” first party titles coming to WiiU
    • Going out on a limb, I’m thinking Star Fox will be among those, utilizing gyroscopic GamePad control option
  • New WiiU Zelda video
  • Monolith Soft’s X out by year end
  • Yarn Yoshi out by year end or cancelled
I just can't believe Yarn Yoshi would be cancelled after this DLC for Lost World.

I just can’t believe Yarn Yoshi would be cancelled after this DLC for Lost World.

We’ll revisit these after E3 has concluded to see just how badly I missed the mark. I suspect I will have been way, way off. 😉