Monthly Archives: March 2016

Roy has arrived!

My Roy amiibo finally arrived this morning – and only three days late. Ooooh, GAME UK whyIoughta… [shakes fist]. To be fair, they sent it out on Thursday morning, so it’s probably more Royal Mail to blame. But everyone loves to take a pop at GAME sometimes, don’t they? *mumble mumble preowned prices mumble mumble extortionate mumble mumble*

Roy amiibo in box

Anyway, as ever I’m impressed by the level of detail on the amiibo figurines, they really are great little things. Roy’s mega flares are the standout this time around – just look at those glorious bad boys.

roy amiibo

Yes sirree, my Fire Emblem amiibo set is shaping up nicely – just Corrin to go!

fire emblem amiibo collection

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It’s nearly Roy day

Things have been quiet on the amiibo front of late. The last one I bought was R.O.B. back in November, although before that there was a relative flood of them through my front door in summer.

roy-amiibo

And now another one is due to arrive. Tomorrow, Roy will join my other four Fire Emblem amiibo – and eventually Corrin from Fire Emblem Fates will complete the set, whenever she goes on sale. I’m a Fire Emblem fan, in case you can’t tell.

The irony of all this is that even though all of these amiibos come from the Super Smash Bros. Collection, I’ve barely played the actual game they’re meant to work with: I sunk a few hours into Super Smash Bros. for Wii U back when I bought it in December 2014, but I don’t think I’ve played it since then. Except, that is, when I took it to a stag do last year and pretty much everyone hated it, labelling it “too confusing”. They’ve got a point.

Pretty much the same thing happened with Super Smash Bros. Brawl on the Wii – I played and enjoyed it for a few hours, but then never went back. I guess fighting games just don’t really hold the appeal for me that they once did.

Tiny plastic figurines, on the other hand, have me enthralled.

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A few thoughts on the Nintendo NX

In case you haven’t heard, there’s a new Nintendo console on the way. The NX, as it’s codenamed, will probably be available by the end of the year, and we’re likely to see some sort of big reveal at around the time of E3 in June – or even earlier. The word on the street is that it will be some sort of console/handheld hybrid.

And all across the internet, Nintendo fans are wringing their hands with worry.

It’s a peculiar thing, really. You wouldn’t sit there worrying if, say, Samsung released a new TV and it wasn’t as good or sold as well as the company hoped. But games consoles create rabidly loyal followers, and Nintendo fans are more rabid than most – me included.

The NX - it almost definitely won't look anything like this.

The NX – it almost definitely won’t look anything like this.

It seems the fashion these days is to spout your opinion on exactly what Nintendo SHOULD be doing in order to ‘save’ the company, a pastime that I myself have previously partaken in. The thing is though, Nintendo is doing absolutely fine. They have absolutely tons of money, they regularly turn a profit, and they have an extremely loyal fanbase. They’re not about to go belly up, in other words. I mean, look at the queues for the opening of a new Pokemon Center in Japan the other day.

But there’s also the pervasive feeling that Nintendo’s crown has been slipping over the past few years. Whereas once it led the gaming market, now it ploughs its own furrow separately from the ‘big boys’ of Sony and Microsoft. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since Nintendo offers very different gaming experiences that you simply can’t get anywhere else. But for fan boys like me, there’s the nagging worry that the company is being left behind.

There’s that word again: worry. It’s so strange to be worrying about a highly successful international company. But perhaps it’s not so strange in a way. I’ve heavily invested in Nintendo products over the years: I grew up with the NES, SNES and Game Boy, and I’ve owned almost every Nintendo machine along the way. The company is very much part of my identity, and because of that, I want them to succeed, weird as that sounds.

Or this.

Or this.

Which brings me to the NX. And frankly, I’m not quite sure where they’re heading with this one.

If it’s an ‘all-in-one’ console and handheld, then surely Nintendo are cannibalizing their own market. Rather than buy a separate handeld and home console, Nintendo fans will instead just buy the one machine – which must mean that’s a hardware sale Nintendo has missed out on, right? Rather than buying two machines, customers will just buy one. And I don’t see how that’s going to help the company’s bottom line.

There I go worrying about the company again. But from a consumer’s point of view, this is fantastic news – no more annoying separation of console and handheld. And it IS annoying – especially when Nintendo releases Game Boy Advance games solely for the Wii U when they would be a perfect fit for the 3DS. (I have a particular axe to grind about that one – why can’t I play Advance Wars and Minish Cap on my 3DS, huh Nintendo?)

But zooming out to the bigger perspective, it’s easy to think that the NX will tread the same path as the Wii U before it – eagerly purchased by Nintendo fans but largely ignored by the larger gaming community. Nintendo machines have become niche buys – a ‘second console’ to fit alongside a PS4 or Xbox One rather than a primary purchase. Which is OK I suppose. But wouldn’t it be great to have a Nintendo console on which you can play all of the big third-party titles – your Fallouts and Assassin’s Creeds – as well as the unique Nintendo ones? And surely the company could hugely expand their market if they attracted more mainstream gamers?

And I guess in that statement you have the core reason behind the wringing of hands across the internet. At some point, Nintendo went from being mainstream to being niche. And if you’re a fan, you want to see them leading the pack, not picking up the crumbs that other consoles leave behind.

Who knows what this possible NX controller patent is all about...

Who knows what this possible NX controller patent is all about…

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I think I’m done with Pokémon Shuffle

This time last year, I had a bit of a rant about Nintendo jumping onto the free-to-play bandwagon. I suggested that Pokémon Shuffle was an example of “the worst model of free to play, where the user is constantly nagged to spend money”, and I suggested that the upcoming Fable Legends “gives a good example of how f2p should be done”.

pokemon-shuffle-169

Well, what a difference a year makes. Fable Legends has now switched from being “upcoming” to being “never-coming” after Microsoft pulled the plug and shut down Lionhead Studios for good measure (boo!), while I’ve spent a good chunk of the past 12 months sinking a surprisingly huge amount of time into the very game that I singled out as “the worst model of free to play”. I’ve just checked, and in total I’ve been playing Pokémon Shuffle for 39 hours and 12 minutes, making it the fifth most played game on my 3DS.

I suspect I’m not alone in sinking so much time into this fairly slight game. Apparently Pokémon Shuffle has been downloaded more than 4 million times now, and judging by the amount of people I see playing it on Streetpass, it’s a fairly full time hobby for a lot of people. But I wonder how many of them have shelled out actual money for the game’s features? Even if it’s just a tiny percentage, I suppose it will still lead to a tidy profit for Nintendo – you can see why the company wants to pursue f2p.

And to be honest, after all my ranting, Pokémon Shuffle really isn’t all that bad in terms of demanding your money. I’ve managed to play through most of the game without paying anything, and unlike many other free to play games, it doesn’t scream out for your cash every five minutes. Plus I’ve been impressed with the regularly updated content and competitions – the designers have certainly made an effort to keep the Pokémon flowing, as it were.

It’s also a very well-made game – it’s home to the expected level of Nintendo polish, and the central mechanic of collecting Pokémon is as addictive as ever. Without the hook of attempting to capture the beasts after successfully beating their puzzles, it wouldn’t be half as compelling – attempting to fill out the Pokédex is still a major draw. Plus the music is excellent, and I found myself humming along to the accordion-soaked mega-evolution tune quite happily.

Chespin pokemon shuffle

The game also proved perfect after my son was born last year. Suddenly my gaming time dwindled to near zero, but I often found myself with five minutes to spare here and there – often at 3am in the morning – and Pokémon Shuffle was the perfect game to fill the gap. The fact that you are limited to five goes before you have to wait for your hearts to ‘recharge’ didn’t really matter, as by that point there would more than likely be some sort of baby-related business to sort out – or I would have fallen asleep. It also helps that you can play the game one-handed with the stylus, for the times when a baby happens to be asleep in your other arm. And the fact that it’s all pretty simple and requires little brainpower or dexterity is also a bonus, as severely interrupted sleep has tended to rob me of both of those faculties.

However, I think I’m pretty much finished with the game now – by this point I’m up against opponents that seem impossible to defeat without buying items or levelling up my Pokémon to obscene levels, and I just don’t have patience to spend hours grinding, or the willingness to throw money at the game. I suppose its simplicity is both its brilliance and its curse – its lightweight charm was perfect for filling a niche in my life, but this lightweight nature is also the reason that I don’t feel justified in investing any money into it. Perhaps if it just cost a couple of pounds to start with I wouldn’t have had any qualms about buying it – but then again Nintendo probably made far more money by making it free to play.

Either way, I’ve hit a wall – and I don’t feel like paying to climb over it.

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Review: Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam Bros.

Mario-Luigi-Paper-Jam-BrosDoes anyone have idea why they changed the name of this game in Europe and Australia? It was simply called Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam in the United States, which is a great little pun considering it features the characters from the Paper Mario universe causing chaos in the Mario & Luigi world. But Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam Bros.? Does that even make sense?

They did the same thing with the previous game in the Mario & Luigi series, Mario & Luigi: Dream Team, which became Mario & Luigi: Dream Team Bros. when it crossed the pond (and flew down under). Again, a seemingly pointless and nonsensical name change. I can only imagine it was done to avoid some sort of copyright infringement, but I can’t think what that infringement could have been.

Anyway, name gripes aside, I’ve been looking forward to playing through Paper Jam, which is only the second Mario & Luigi title I’ve played after the Game Boy Advance original, and – shock horror – the first game featuring Paper Mario that I’ve ever played. The SNES game Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door has shamefully been on my ‘to do’ list for about a decade now – but enough about gaming backlogs, I feel like I’ve done them to death recently.

My first impressions of Paper Jam were overwhelmingly positive – the humour I remember from GBA Mario & Luigi is very much intact, and the addition of Paper Mario really elevates the gameplay, introducing more mechanics that involve the three characters together, such as trio attacks and various origami-inspired trio moves. It’s utterly charming, and I had a big grin plastered across my face for the first hour or two.

396px-3DS_Mario_LuigiPaperJam_scrn01_E3

But after that initial charm spike, the graph of the gameplay embarks on a long, steady, downward slope as repetition and ultimately boredom set in. Ploughing through the various enemies in the game involves using the same attacks again and again and again, and by the end I was desperate for some more variety or for more interesting twists in the story. And speaking of the story, despite the addition of paper antagonists, everything pretty much unfurls exactly as you’d expect it to, as it has done in countless previous Mario titles. Bowser > Princess kidnap > Castle assault > You know the rest.

The trio attacks and bros. attacks can be a lot of fun, involving various intricate button presses, but they also take ages – and by the end I found myself shying away from using them for normal enemies because I knew they would take so long to execute. You spend most of the game with the same handful of attacks, too, with the last few seemingly becoming available in a flurry towards the end. Unfortunately, some are way easier and more powerful than others, so I found myself sticking with the same old attacks again and again while others barely got used.

By the end, I was actively avoiding enemies because I was just so sick of going through the same old battle animations. Even worse is the fact that each area tends to be filled with the same type of enemy, so you can find yourself fighting something like ten Hammer Bros. in a row and doing the same thing each time. But the bosses are a different matter – they actually tended to be a lot more fun to fight because they could take you down so easily, which meant a degree of tactics was required rather than simply repeating the same old thing. Having fewer regular baddies and more bosses would have been a big improvement, as would increasing the depth and variety of the regular fights.

It’s all a bit too linear as well. You end up going through each area twice as part of the story, but there’s little of that excitement you get from Metroidvania-type games, where exploring previous areas unlocks all sorts of goodies. A few experience-point-adding beans can be dug up in previous levels once you’ve found the drill move, but they’re hardly worth the bother. If only the designers had hidden more substantial things throughout the levels that would make exploration more worthwhile – perhaps they could have added hidden costumes for the main characters, like the fun ones in Zelda: Triforce Heroes, or maybe there could have been many more trio and bros. attacks that were hidden rather than simply handed out as the story progressed.

And then there’s the amiibo support, which actually kind of breaks the game. Tapping a Mario-series amiibo lets you use a unique and often very powerful move in battle, such as completely restoring your HP. What’s more, this doesn’t actually count as a move in the turn-based gameplay, and you can tap as many amiibos as you like during a battle, as long as you don’t tap the same one twice. All this means that an already easy game is made even easier.

Paper Jam is far from being a bad game, but after it’s initial promise it ends up running out of ideas and becoming distinctly average. I loved the start, but by the very end I actually felt relieved it was all over. Never a good sign.

I forgot to mention the papercraft battles. Well, they're, ahem, pretty lightweight (pun intended).

I forgot to mention the papercraft battles. Well, they’re, ahem, pretty lightweight (pun intended).

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