Thursday, September 26, 2013


Walk It Out! Final Impressions

I'm afraid it's time for me to leave Rhythm Island.  But not due to a lack of interest!  I've actually become quite fond of the place.  I love the music, the rolling hills, the beaches, the woods, the fields, the little circular lake just behind the stadium...  But the sad fact is, my time is short, and I need to manage it carefully.  When it's time to exercise, I need to maximize my calories per minute ratio, and walking in place just isn't doing it for me.  So it's back to DDR for me and my aerobic workouts.

I'm sure I'll be back though.  When it's the dead of winter and I'm hurting for a country walk, as I so often do, I'll pop it in and take a stroll.  It's earned its place alongside Wuhu and Kawawii for top virtual vacation spots.

See you again, sometime.


Sunday, September 22, 2013


Animal Crossing: New Leaf Continuing Impressions

When Animal Crossing first came out on the Gamecube, it was sold as a game where you could do whatever you wanted.  You move into this little village full of animals, and you make your life what you want it to be.  But there was a catch.  You start the game in debt.  When you pay off the debt, you get a bigger debt.  Whatever else you wanted to do with your little virtual life, your debt was always hanging over you.  No one likes to be in debt.  And since this was the only major long-term goal the game presented you with, people pretty naturally came to think of Animal Crossing as the game that's about paying off your mortgage.

When New Leaf was being developed, the word from Nintendo was that, after doing the same idea for three games, they didn't really think it would be sufficient to make yet another game that's about paying off your house.  And I was like, eyeroll, I'll believe it when I see it.

And they've done it.

The change is so subtle that you may not even notice it, especially if you're used to the earlier games in the series.  After all, it starts out exactly the same way -- Nook hooks you up with your first house and sticks you with a bill.  You do some foraging, get some bells, dump them into a machine in the post office.  The surprise comes when you go into Nook's place after paying off your bill and, instead of starting you on your next loan, he tells you to come see him when you're ready to expand.  Well, being used to Animal Crossing games, of course I agreed to the next upgrade.  And the next.  And the next.

And then it occurred to me -- this is optional.

I was so used to the trap that I didn't notice that the door was hanging open the whole time.

I never liked the huge houses in Animal Crossing.  I don't collect a lot of furniture, and I don't really like decorating.  I thought that maybe getting the biggest house would give you some measure of "game progress" or something, but no -- a quick flip through GameFAQs suggests that there's nothing you really "get" for it.

So I've stopped.  I'm pursuing more interesting goals, like public works projects and upgrading the shops on Main Street.  Or hell, just screwing around and playing.  Taking trips to the island for mini-games.  I don't feel like I have this anchor dragging me down anymore.  Animal Crossing is finally the game it always wanted to be.  It's the little life sim where you can do things if they interest you and skip them if they don't.

Just another reason this is my favorite version yet.


Friday, September 20, 2013


Pokemon Rumble U

I'm of two minds about Disney Infinity.

On the one hand, it's an awesome idea.  If, when I was a kid, someone had told me that there was a video game where I could play as my favorite toy by putting it on this little magic disc, I would have been on board.  That is so unbelievably cool.  Add that to a game where all of the Disney and Pixar worlds combine and mix and interact, and you've got an event.  And let's be clear, I'm a big enough manchild that my teeth grind with jealousy just looking at this thing.

On the other hand, IT'S ALL ON THE FUCKING DISC.


It would be one thing if this was an expandable game.  Sure, why not, you buy a disc which is sort of a basic set, then down the line they develop new levels and characters and objects and everything, and you buy them in expansion packs.


They want you to purchase all of these fucking little toys in order to access data that is already there.  There's no function that these toys serve that is necessary to the operation of this software.  They're just a little thing you scan to prove that, yep, you paid the $13 for the Mater figure.

Maybe I'm approaching this from the wrong direction.  I've had it pointed out to me that this is basically something for people who collect the figures.  And I guess I can understand that point of view.  If you already covet little collectible character figures, then it's super cool to be able to do something with them besides line them up in a little display case or whatever.  I think the correct way to approach this is not like a video gamer, who wants to unlock everything, but like a child playing with toys.  I, at least, never really got the complete playsets that you'd see in TV commercials -- I'd get the couple of toys that really mattered to me, then I'd go to my friends' houses and we'd all play with our toys together.

The problem is I don't want the toys.  I don't want physical things that I have to store somewhere.  I'm not a collector.  Anymore.  As much.  Ahem.

I can't help comparing this to something like Super Smash Brothers.  I remember when the second game came out, it occurred to me that the appeal of the game really reminded me of when I was a kid and we'd all get together to smash action figures around and stuff.  Having a Super Smash Brothers game makes you feel like you're a kid who won the lottery and cleared off the shelves at the toy store.  You have all the figures and all the accessories and all the cool castle playsets and everything.  It makes you feel filthy with sheer acquisition.

Disney Infinity seems more like it was designed to remind me of what it was really like as a kid, to see all of these amazing toys and things on TV and store shelves, but to know that it wasn't for you.  You can look, but you can't touch.  That costs money.  They've taken this medium where you can create toys from thought and then they created scarcity.

Anyway.  Pokemon Rumble U.

The Pokemon Rumble U Review Starts Here

Pokemon Rumble U seems to take the polar opposite approach to the NFC figure idea.  Start with the fact that the toys are completely optional.  You pay the $18 to download the game, you can play the complete game.  Well THANK YOU.  It's almost like it's 1985 again and I'm buying a video game.

The basic gameplay involves collecting Pokemon toys and using them to battle other Pokemon toys in these little arenas.  A toy has two kinds of attack and stats and everything, but there's no "leveling up" -- you'll need to find more powerful toys as you go in order to beat the more difficult levels that you'll come across.  Which is fair enough, because you'll be collecting hundreds of the things without even really realizing it.

But if you bring an NFC figure to the fight, it's a little different.  You can spend points that you earn playing the game to customize your figure -- give it different attacks, raise its power level, and give it an attribute that gives a bonus to it and its friends.  The changes you make are saved to the figure itself, and you can then scan that figure into any Pokemon Rumble U game.

This is awesome.  When you scan your figure into the game, you're not just proving that you've paid extra for a premium character -- you're adding the character that you made.  You determined its attributes and you put in the time to power it up, and now it's yours.  My Torchic is one of a kind in all the world.  I've made it what it is.  That's a really powerful idea.  And while there are other ways that you could save and transport that kind of character data, there's something really awesome about putting it in a piece of plastic that's shaped like the character.  It's like I've brought the character I made into the physical world and I can carry it around and bring it places.  It's pretty appropriate for the Pokemon series.

And I love how well the NFC figures are suited to the theme of the game.  It's about little Pokemon figures that come in toy capsules -- you know, the kind that you'd get in those vending machines at the grocery store.  So the toys that you use to play the game come in toy capsules shaped like Pokeballs.  And, just like vending machine capsules, they're a blind purchase -- you don't know what you'll get until you open one up.  And if they cost 16 times as much as a vending machine toy, they're also larger, sturdier, and less likely to get thrown out.

The whole scheme is really so interesting to me that I'm almost willing to overlook the fact that the game itself isn't all that great.

You just run around in this tiny hexagon.  Enemy toys spawn, and you mash an attack button at them.  If there's any strategy, I haven't been able to fathom it.  It's repetitive and chaotic and sometimes slightly frustrating, because suddenly I'll be knocked out and I won't understand where the attack came from or what I was supposed to do about it.

Also, for some reason, the NFC figures are only sold at Gamestop?  I don't know if Gamestop cut a deal for exclusivity or if they were just the only retailers who had any confidence in selling Wii U accessories, but it's kind of lame.  I don't... I don't want to enter a Gamestop.  They are terrible places.

I doubt that this idea is going to go any further.  I mean, this is Nintendo we're talking about.  Even when they have an awesome idea that sells a billion copies, they only ever do one or two things with it, and then they drop it.  So maybe this is the one time we'll see the idea of using NFC figures as character data totems.  I wish that maybe it was attached to a more interesting game, but at least when we look back, we can say that one NFC game had the right idea.

(Note: I didn't bring Skylanders into this discussion because I don't know how it works and I don't really have much interest in it.  Maybe it lets you level up your characters the same way Rumble U does?  I'd hope so, that'd be cool.  I'd like to think that idea is the rule rather than the exception.)


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