Friday, October 24, 2014


Game & Watch Dreaming

Between maining Mr. Game & Watch in the new Smash Brothers and a recent spate of classic desktop arcade reviews on Rerez, I've had Game & Watch on the brain lately.  And of course, my favorite way to play these games is in Nintendo's Game & Watch Galleries.

In the past, I've described the Game & Watch Gallery series as an entire arcade that fits in your pocket.  And that means more than just "a large number of games in one place" -- the Gallery series also delivers on variety, with games that offer a wide range of situations and play styles.  Maybe it speaks to how simple the arcade games of the early 80s were to begin with, but it still amazes me when a company uses the format to create an experience that can give the coin-ops a run for their money.

I've droned on and on about my favorite Game & Watch classics in the past, but of course, the really great thing about the Gallery series is the Modern modes -- the original gameplay jazzed up with bright, colorful characters and new twists.  Not only does it make some of my favorites even better -- Fire, Rainshower, Mario Brothers -- but it brings some of the duller games in the set to life.  Chef is kind of a ho-hum "catch the falling things" style game, but managing falling food with hungry Yoshis in Modern mode is a blast.  Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr. are pale shadows of their arcade inspiration, but Modern versions bring them back a little closer to their roots.

I've been spending time lately with the Galleries on 3DS Virtual Console, and I've even dug out my GBA to play Gallery 4 (so good!)... but I want more.


If I had it my way, my 3DS would be my one-stop Game & Watch fix.  I have no idea if there's any financial point to making new Game & Watch products.  I would imagine not.  But a man can dream.  And this is my wish list.

Game & Watch Gallery 3

Gallery 3 wasn't really my favorite in the series.  Despite boasting fully 10 games, only a couple of them really "speak" to me.  Still, this is the one most likely to come true, and the completionist in me certainly wouldn't argue with having Mario Brothers and Donkey Kong II available on my 3DS.  Hopefully Nintendo will decide that they might as well throw it up there one of these days.

Game & Watch Gallery 4

Sketchy territory to be sure, but not beyond the realm of possibility.  Maybe it'll show up one day as some sort of Club Nintendo giveaway or a bonus freebie for the fans, like that Zelda: Four Swords download from a while back.  Or maybe this new 3DS will have the hardware to do a proper full-featured GBA Virtual Console and Nintendo will start selling games in the eShop.  (And speaking as a man who overpaid for an original model 3DS just to get those ten GBA games that Nintendo had no plans of selling normally?  Everyone should have the same opportunity I did to put Wario Ware on their 3DS.  Please make it happen.)  If both of these Galleries were on my 3DS, I'd be sitting pretty with a whopping 32 games.  What else could I want?

Game & Watch Gallery 5

Another Gallery, of course.  I mean, okay, this is probably never going to happen.  It's been well over a decade since the last Gallery.  Nintendo's learned that they can do just as well by re-releasing no-frills ports of their classics.  The closest I'm going to get to a new Gallery is those DSiWare re-releases they put out a couple years back.

But dammit, this is my fantasy.  Here's what I want.

Make this the definitive collection.  All of 'em.  I'm not even asking for new Modern versions, or even for the licensed Snoopy and Popeye and Disney games -- just put all the classics you can in there.  Bring back all of the Modern modes you already have.  Don't bother putting 3D graphics in them or anything; they can look like the Gallery 4 games.  And for all of our sakes, give us the dual screen games on dual screens. This is the thing Game & Watch fans have been screaming for ever since the DS came out.  Even when the DSiWare remakes came out, all of the games were single-screen.

And please, please give us the option whether or not we want to see the little LCD "shadows" on the screen.  Yes, you could see the unlit stencils on the original units whenever the light hit them just right, but this was a bug, not a feature.  I want the option to play these games the way they were intended, rather than the somewhat inadequate way that they were.  If I could change only one thing about Gallery 4, that would be it.

Ah well.  Only time will tell if Nintendo revisits their oldest portables.  Till then, at least I have Gallery 4.


Tuesday, October 14, 2014


Tomodachi Life

You know what really peels my turnips?  The dismissive "not really a game" complaint.  I've seen it put on all sorts of things in the past.  The Sims, Nintendogs, Animal Crossing... hell, even Wii Sports.  Wii Sports!  You know, SPORTS.  Which are GAMES.  It's even worse when their reasoning basically boils down to, "Well, you don't get to shoot anyone."

That said, Tomodachi Life is not really a game.

But!  I think I have a really good reason to say that.  And that reason is Player Agency.

Player Agency

Tomodachi Life doesn't really give the player a lot of opportunity to have an impact on the game world.  There are extensive options for character creation -- custom voices, personality sliders, even the complete Mii Maker functionality so that you don't have to drop back to the home screen to make a new character.  But then you just let them loose.  And watch them.

The meat of the game is in solving your Miis' "problems".  These are brief little interactions where you... I dunno.  In most of them, they want you to buy something.  Sometimes they just want to tell you something?  Or you have to look in their stomach?  So you give them whatever they ask for, and their happiness meter goes up.  When they get enough happiness, they level up, and you can choose a bonus item to give them.

The thing is, these problems aren't really needs.  Unlike in, say, The Sims, these characters don't actually need your care.  There's no failure state that arises from neglect.  You don't even need to feed them, although you can.  If you leave a problem sit long enough, your Mii eventually just forgets about it.  So these aren't really challenges for the player to resolve so much as a limited opportunity for the player to make a number go up.

In fact, the whole experience reminds me a bit of a virtual pet.  The characters on the screen just sort of wander around and do their own thing and occasionally ask you for things.  But unlike in, say, Nintendogs, the player doesn't have the power to instigate any actions.  You can't tell your Miis to go to the park or to play with the Wii U you gave them; you just have to wait around and see if you can catch them doing it on their own.

My sessions with Tomodachi Life tend to be short because it feels like I've exhausted everything that I can accomplish about a minute or so in.  There are cosmetic additions that you can buy with in-game money -- clothes and apartment themes for your virtual dolls -- but there's only a couple new ones every day; you flip through them, and you either like what you see or you don't.  Unlike in, say, Animal Crossing, there's really nothing you can do to grind for game currency once you've picked up the daily donation from your islanders.  Yeah, you get a little money for solving problems, but considering how many of them expect you to buy something, I don't really look at it as a reliable source of income.

So what's the point of all of this?  Is it just a $40 tap-and-wait game?  Is there anything that I'm supposed to be trying to achieve?  Anything that can give me a sense of narrative, a goal to achieve, anything at all that I'm trying to build towards?  Well, yes.


Now, I'm not going to beat that dead horse.  Maybe I'd find it more fulfilling if I could see my in-game avatar moving in with the hunk of my dreams, but somehow I doubt it.  Relationships in the game -- romantic and otherwise -- are, once again, beyond the player's control.  Sure, your Miis will ask for your approval -- no doubt to prevent the stupid computer from shipping you with your cousin -- but for the most part, you're just sitting back and watching.  Sometimes you have to resolve fights and breakups.  Sometimes a couple will have a baby, and a few days later it's an adult.

Building relationships -- especially romantic ones -- is sort of positioned as the objective of the game.  When you start a new island, you're given a teaser to make you contemplate what sort of child your Mii might have, and when a child grows up (any child, yours or someone else's), you get the end credits.  The hell of it is, it still doesn't feel all that important.  There's nothing you can do to nurture or end a relationship beyond your initial decision of approval or refusal.  I don't basically feel anything about the decisions these characters make because I don't really have any sense of context.  Why do they like each other?  Why do they hate each other?  The only thing I think about a breakup is, well, now I have to buy them a plane ticket to make them feel better.

I think the basic issue -- and it's an unavoidable one -- is that these characters aren't really the people you know, even if you designed them to be like your friends and family.  Nintendo wrote the script, and since they don't know the people involved, they had to write that script to be broad enough to handle all kinds of random circumstances.  So even if you're invested in a game relationship because it's two of your friends and it's cute to see them together, there's an inevitable disconnect because they aren't saying and doing the things that you know your friends would say and do.

A Box of People

So is Tomodachi Life entirely without merit?

Well no.

Thing is, way back when I first got my Wii, it amused me to make just dozens of cartoon Miis.  And when the Check Mii Out channel debuted, I downloaded all sorts of characters to populate Wuhu Island and accompany me on my daily Wii Fit jogs.  But when I saw them all mingling around in my Mii Channel, it made me feel like something was missing.  Here were all of these creatures walking around on my screen, almost alive.  Wouldn't it be cool if they had their own little world?  What if you could just open up your Mii plaza and take a peek in on their lives?  Wouldn't that be cute?

And that's basically Tomodachi Life.

Just because this isn't really a "game" doesn't mean it's unenjoyable.  Nintendo's scripted some pretty funny conversations and events, and they're worth watching, especially when they suddenly involve some celebrity in an unexpected situation.  Even moreso than Animal Crossing, this is a game where a lot of the fun seems to be in sharing your screengrabs on Miiverse.  If nothing else, it's a simple and effective way to showcase and share your Miis online.

And there's at least one really cool toy in this box: the Music Hall.

One of the bonus items you can give a Mii for leveling up is a song.  You can either have a Mii sing a song solo (with or without backup dancers) or put several Miis who know the same song together into a band.  You write your own custom lyrics, and bam, instant music video.  There's really no gamey "point" to it, you don't "get" anything for it, but it's really cute.

I've described this game to people as "a box of people that do things".  And that's all it is.  You just download this software (I can't imagine anyone wanting to commit to filling the card slot with this game), turn it on, and it shows you what your Miis do when they think you're not watching.

In the end, I would rather this game exist than not exist.  I spent a lot of time in the 90s feeling rather bitter about all of the cool experimental games that were never released outside of Japan, and I would rather encourage companies to keep trying out new stuff like this.  It's not something I can wholeheartedly recommend -- it's pretty expensive for a screensaver -- but I'm okay with it.


Sunday, October 12, 2014


Super Smash Brothers for Nintendo 3DS Characters

Well, I've had the game since launch, I've played it for just hours upon hours, and I'm ready to offer up some in-depth opinions about some of the characters, new and old, that have made it into this new Smash Brothers.

Spoilers, because you totally haven't been spending the last three months scouring the internet for all of that juicy leaked info on the roster, right?

Dr. Mario -- Hell.  FUCKING.  YES.  Dr. Mario is the character I most wanted and least expected to see make a return.  Sure, he's just a Mario clone -- but he's a Mario clone without FLUDD.  Add that goofy megavitamin attack, and you've got my new main.

Luigi -- Hey, they fixed his Final Smash!  Neat.

Villager -- I was one of the folks rooting for some form of Animal Crossing representation in Brawl, so it was a pleasant surprise to see Villager join the roster.  I'm intrigued, in particular, by the down special, "Timber".  The first time you do it, you plant a tree.  The second time, you water it, smashing anyone who gets in the way of its growth spurt.  The third time, it becomes an axe.  You can either cut down the tree -- with a satisfying smash to anyone it lands on -- or use it on your opponents.  Very elaborate move, but it works well.

Duck Hunt -- It seems like every Smash Brothers has that one character that I never expected to see that makes me squeal like the immature little fanboy I still am, and this time it's Duck Hunt.  Not "the Duck Hunt dog", mind you, just Duck Hunt.  You play as the embodiment of Duck Hunt, and indeed most of the NES Zapper games.  Sure, you move the dog around the level, but there's clearly someone with a Zapper shooting at the screen on your behalf.  Really interesting implementation for what many considered a "joke" character.

Wii Fit Trainer -- I was on-board with the Wii Fit Trainers ever since their first announcement.  I love Wii Fit, and seeing the trainers kicking butt while offering up fitness advice sounded like a hoot.  What I didn't count on was how unsettling it would be to hear them crying out in pain as they're smashed around.  Maybe it's just the fact they come from such a calm and peaceful place; it's weird seeing them blasted by robots and chewed on by dragons.

Olimar -- Technical limitations, eh?  Something that made Olimar who he is got lost when he went down to three Pikmin.  Sad.

Ice Climbers -- :(

Rosalina -- So I guess Rosalina is the two-in-one fighter in the roster since the Ice Climbers are absent. I'd like to get better with her, but... I have a hard time seeing her as a combatant in a sense that's different from, say, Peach.  Rosalina is... well, she's the all-mother of the Mario universe.  She's gentle.  Serene.  It would be like putting Mother Teresa in a fighting game.

Bowser Jr. -- In a fighting game series known for its odd combatants, Bowser Jr. is the one that actually breaks my brain a little.  So... he's riding around in a flying machine... but he doesn't fly it... and also he's all of the koopalings... but they never ride the clown car... or turn into Shadow Mario... but they... how they... I mean...  I can't tell if this is an ingenious way to fit a whole pile of minor characters into the roster or just a huge clusterfuck.

Little Mac -- Hey, only took them four tries to get their actual tournament fighting character into their tournament fighting game.  Everyone on Miiverse is complaining about how overpowered he is.  Maybe I'll figure out why someday.

Pac-Man -- Pac-Man was the character I didn't realize I needed to see in a Smash Brothers game.  I mean, come on.  He is video games.  You simply cannot call your classic video game party complete if he's not there.  Only thing that sticks out?  Considering all of the gender-switching, alt-skinning options in this game, Ms. Pac-Man is conspicuous in her absence.  All well.

Flying Man -- Look, I love Earthbound.  And Magicant was one of my favorite parts of that game.  But I really could have done without the Flying Men.  They're like a Pokemon or an Assist Trophy, except that, instead of delivering an attack or two and vanishing, they persist as an ally to the first person who touches them until they're knocked out.  They're way too strong and way too difficult to defeat.  Fighting on Magicant is reduced to hanging out on the platform where the Flying Men spawn and then sitting back to watch.  Hmmph.

Waluigi -- I was disappointed when Sakurai announced that Waluigi would only be an assist trophy, but look!  There he is!

Wow!  His moves are mostly a parody of Luigi's -- a shot put instead of a fireball, a flaming kick instead of the Luigi tornado, and a hyper multi-striking uppercut instead of Luigi's one-coin punch -- but just like Mario, he has a unique down special where he slams head-first into the ground!  And his Final Smash lets him throw an opponent into the center of the screen, where he's pummeled repeatedly before being smashed away!  I hardly need to tell you he's my new favorite character ever.  My only complaint would be that his model is a little off, but you can hardly tell in the thick of the fight.

Lucas -- Nintendo still hasn't given us Mother 3.  So no, I actually still don't care.

Mega Man -- Snake was an odd choice for Smash Brothers.  Sonic was better, even if he's not that cool anymore.  But Mega Man?  Holy crap, you can't get any more NES than that.  I don't think I could go back to a Smash Brothers without Mega Man.

Zero Suit Samus -- Much as I miss my Pokemon Trainer, the decision to nix mid-battle character transformations did one bit of good.  I never truly got to know Zero Suit Samus because the usual way to get her was to do Samus's Final Smash.  Yeah, there was a button to start in Zero Suit, but I could never remember it.  Point is, she's just a regular roster pick now, just the way she should be.

Mii Fighters -- When I wanted Miis for Brawl, I was expecting, oh, I dunno, moves based on Wii Sports or Wii Play or something.  Just a single character type, and you could switch the heads around.  What we got was just amazing.  I've got fifteen Mii Fighters in my roster, from people I know to popular characters to characters of my own invention.  Unlocking the costumes and hats has been my top priority, and selecting the perfect combination of stat adjustments and special moves to represent my characters' personalities has been my favorite pasttime.  Not to mention snapping pictures of my creations.

The Rest of 'Em -- Meh.


Tuesday, October 07, 2014


Super Smash Brothers for Nintendo 3DS

At first, I was inclined to be a little grumpy about this new Smash Brothers.  Of the 34 levels, fully 11 are from previous installments -- two are holdovers from Melee! -- there's only two songs per stage, there's no huge Adventure mode like there was in Brawl, and doesn't it just burn my toast that the Ice Climbers had to be cut due to "technical limitations".  Technical limitations?!  C'mon, even the Gamecube could run a game with eight Ice Climbers!  You can't multitask to go on the web and look up how to unlock things or to post screengrabs on Miiverse -- c'mon, that was going to be half the fun of this game!  There isn't even an opening cutscene or anything!  And don't get me STARTED on the controls.

But you know what?  It's Smash Brothers.  In my pocket.  That's worth something.

Considering that a new Super Smash Brothers game is a once-in-a-generation proposition, it's kind of phenomenal that they would even make the attempt to create two versions simultaneously and to try and deliver the same experience on two vastly different pieces of hardware.  I mean, would Nintendo happily disable the online community experience they're trying to get people involved in if this game wasn't pushing hard at the very limits of what the machine was capable of doing?  Despite advances in portable technology, we're still not going to get a full console experience.  You've got to be willing to cut it a little slack.

And as far as digital toy boxes go?  This is a pretty great one.

Overall, the game reminds me of Melee.  It's a big game, but it's no bigger than it has to be.  The selection of characters represents a wider range of Nintendo classics than ever before, and many series have better representation, particularly Fire Emblem.  The stages feel... good.  There's certainly a sense that the 3DS favors smaller stages, but that's no bad thing.  Keeping the combatants closer together, coupled with interesting platform placement and environmental hazards, makes for some really enjoyable matches.

Classic and All-Star mode return for your single-player pleasure.  Classic might be a shorter run than in the past, but that's fine for a portable.  You still get the fun of a tiered fighting game and a battle with Master Hand.

But the best part -- the one that I keep tinkering around with -- is character creation.

I mean, obviously there's the Mii fighters.  It's a feature I've wanted since Brawl, and it's more than I ever could have hoped for.  I've added Dave Strider, Peter Griffin, Captain N, Professor Layton, and a D&D character I've played since high school into the mix.  And although the feature set is limited, you can really make a diverse set of characters to play with.  And as soon as I unlock the Waluigi hat, well, you know what I'm doing.

But then you can also edit the Nintendo characters.

See, in the past games (and, indeed, in this game), they've beefed up the roster a bit with "clones".  You know; the Fox/Falco, Captain Falcon/Ganondorf, Mario/Dr. Mario/Luigi things.  Characters with very similar movesets, but maybe they have slightly different stats and maybe their special moves work slightly differently.

This time around, it seems like the developers have favored alternate skins rather than taking up space in the roster with multiple very similar characters.  So you can turn Olimar into Alph, the Wii Fit Trainer into her male counterpart, Bowser Junior into all seven(!) of the Koopalings, and so on.

And if you really like, you can make your own custom clone characters out of these different skins.

It's brilliant.  You open up character editor, select Bowser Junior, change him to the Roy skin, give him a couple customizations, and bam.  You've got a Roy who hits harder and moves slower, with a bigger cannonball special attack.  You can give each Animal Crossing Villager their own unique feel.  Make Dark Link different.  Make Dark Samus different.  Anything you want.

At its heart, Smash Brothers is a sandbox filled with Nintendo toys, and the 3DS game captures that spirit and puts it in your favorite plastic rectangle.  For that, I'm willing to overlook an awful lot.


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