Remaster Armageddon?

RemasterDollar

You’re sitting at your PC, playing the latest game… and that’s when you feel it. The earth shaking beneath your feet. You tell yourself it didn’t really happen, because you live in a part of the world that rarely experiences seismic activity… but you feel it again. More than that, you hear a faint thud, as if in the distance. Tilting your head, you realize things have become uncomfortably quiet. The birds have stopped chirping, and the bugs have stopped buzzing. There’s just… nothing. All you hear now is your breath as you gently allow it to exhale. BOOM. It’s closer now, and a box of cereal left lazily on the edge of the counter falls to the floor. The icy fingers of paralysis – undoubtedly induced by fear – grab hold of your spine, but curiosity compels you to shake its grip and head for the door. Before you know it, you’re standing on your front lawn, looking in the same direction as the rest of your neighbors. You finally see what’s been shaking the earth, and it scares you enough to one again succumb to the grip of fear. It’s… it’s…

ATTACK OF THE REMASTERS!

Read any message board, and this is the scenario people are painting. Why? Because many believe the increasing number of remasters are destroying the industry. People want new exclusive IP’s, they want fresh ideas from third parties… basically, they want everything to be as pure as unicorn shit. They want it all, and they want it now, and there’s absolutely zero room in their plans for games they’ve already played.

Or, you know. Something like that.

Hyperbolic ramblings. That’s what it amounts to. And they’re unfair ramblings, at that.

Don’t get me wrong. I have loads of empathy for those who feel the pangs of remaster/rerelease fatigue, because I feel them myself. I mean, when it comes to the current generation of gaming, take a look at how many titles have been released, or have been confirmed for release in the near future:

Tomb Raider, The Last of Us, Diablo III, Saint’s Row IV, Grand Theft Auto V, Rayman: Legends, Borderlands: The Handsome Collection, God of War III, Halo: MCC, Final Fantasy X/X2, Batman Arkham Asylum/Arkham City, The Walking Dead Seasons 1 and 2, The Wolf Among Us Season 1, Resident Evil, Grim Fandango, Metro: Redux, Dark Souls II, DMC, Ultra Street Fighter IV, Limbo, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, and more.

Of course, mere speculation ends up clogging the headlines, too: Beyond-Two Souls, Kingdom Hearts 1.5 and 2.5, the Mass Effect Trilogy, Alan Wake, collections for Uncharted and Gears of War, and hell, Call of Duty fans have even petitioned for a port of Modern Warfare 2.

So yeah, I get it when people say this is the ‘generation of remasters’… but again, is that fair? Should that mindset really determine which video games are allowed to transcend their original platform?

Of course not.

People are certainly entitled to their opinions, but more and more, they’re being presented as demands. Many who say they’re sick and tired of remasters are really saying there’s no place for them in the industry, which simply isn’t true.

The most common assumption is that remasters are hindering the progression of new games. Eh, not really. In reality, a number of these projects are handed off to smaller studios, which is a solid win for everyone involved. The parent company gets to plug away at a new game without distraction, and the studio handling the port gets more experience and exposure.

And speaking of experience…

At the beginning of any given console generation, developers need time to acclimate. Simply put, they’re not going to learn how to fully utilize a new machine on their first go. They’ll do the best they can, but there’s little doubt that certain games weren’t as impressive as they could have been, all because they were subject to that period of transition. That’s one reason why porting an older game to the current generation makes so much sense. It allows developers to sharpen and upgrade their toolset, which in turn helps the next new project become what it should be.

Despite such reasoning, the kneejerk response from many has been, “Pfft. Yeah right. It’s a simple cash grab and you know it!”

Who’s arguing that? Of COURSE it’s a cash grab. Unless the gaming industry has collectively become a chain of charitable organizations overnight, I’m pretty sure that’s the intent behind everything they do. To make money. If spending the time and money to port an old game to a new platform makes sense for them financially, why wouldn’t they?

More importantly, why shouldn’t they?

There are tons of people who never played these games upon their initial release. Maybe they didn’t feel like adding to their backlog, or perhaps they never owned the console they originated from. Either way, they’re more likely to jump into a franchise if they can play from the foundation, up. After all, devs/publishers can’t expect every newcomer to feel comfortable jumping into the middle of a story. Remasters will bring the uninitiated up to speed, and potentially groom them into future customers, at that.

Likewise, returning players can use them as refreshers. Sure, they can play the OG version if they have it, but if there’s a newer, shiner version out there, it’s a viable, if not attractive option (depending on the person).

So… what’s the big stink?

People often overlook the fact that remasters/rereleases aren’t exclusive to the video game industry. Film, for example, has not only asked enthusiasts to double-dip with each successive format, but multiple times throughout each format’s lifespan (you’d never believe how many times I’ve dipped on Evil Dead II). The music industry has also made a point of remastering/rereleasing things at every opportunity. So, when it comes to video games, people need to accept that regardless of their personal preference, there IS a market for this sort of thing.

And those are the key words: Personal preference.

Like everything else, nobody is forcing us to buy remasters. I’ve seen people argue that this somehow punishes the early adopters, but nobody forced them to buy the original release, either. Even casual gamers understand that prices drop quickly, and special editions with more content will be released in time.

Simply put, it’s up to us to weigh our options and decide how to spend our money.

If you don’t feel like double-dipping, then don’t. If you’re sick of remasters, don’t buy them. It’s that simple.

If, however, the prospect of remasters tickle your loins, it’s worth noting that every rerelease is not created equally. Some are rushed out the door with little more than a higher output of resolution and framerate. Others are given a smidgen of polish. A select few are given major overhauls. What’s worth your time and money? That’s up to you.

The simplest advice I can offer is this: Weigh your love of a game against how extensive the porting process was. If a title didn’t manage to swoon you the first time around, a masterful, technical boost isn’t going to make it any better. On the opposite end of the spectrum, if there’s a game you’re absolutely nuts about, then even the most minute changes in detail will probably be worth the price of admission…

Or not.

That’s the thing with most console remasters/rereleases: They’re just not appropriately priced. Last generation, we’d routinely get 2, 3, or even 4 games at a discounted price… but now? With 4 games under its hood, I feel the Halo: Master Chief Collection justifies its $60 asking price, but that’s an exception to what’s otherwise become the rule. It can be argued that porting these games takes valuable time and resources, but that doesn’t explain why a single year old title should cost $60 (Grand Theft Auto V), or why a five year one should cost $40 (God of War III). Money is the reason, of course, but I’d imagine lower prices would help ease hostility towards remasters, increase units sold, produce longer term interest for any given franchise, and possibly inflate sales for whatever sequels follow in the coming years.

But again, the choice is yours. You can buy these games, or not… but keep in mind that just because YOU’RE not interested in remasters, doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for them in the market. Trust me: If remasters/rereleases prove to be a financial bust, they’ll go away. If they do well, they’ll thrive. That said, our job as consumers is to decide for ourselves, and NOT for everyone else.

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Nintendo Are Closing The Gap… And Not In A Good Way

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In the last 12 months, I’ve taken issue with Nintendo on multiple occasions. Historically speaking, no one is more important to the industry than they are, but investors and consumers alike won’t support a company off of fond memories alone. So, due to grim financial numbers and a lack of good will among fans, Nintendo were compelled to ‘fall on the sword’, meaning they both apologized and promised major changes were coming.

And boy, did they.

Many would argue Nintendo’s largest fault was their lack of marketing, a fact which has blown my mind for a number of years. In the 80’s and 90’s, their brands were plastered everywhere, from cereal boxes to shoelaces. When I turned the television on, I was treated to various Mario shows and Captain-N: The Game Master, the latter of which starred the likes of Kid Icarus, Simon Belmont, Megaman, and even the iconic Zapper and Power-Glove peripherals. Needless to say, these guys were the masters of brand recognition… and then POOF, the marketing machine came to a grinding halt.

To Nintendo’s credit, they’ve finally stopped being so stingy with licensing. As soon as their ‘change’ speech was over, the floodgates were opened.

Zelda, for example, has received the board game treatment… twice. If you love to laugh in the faces of friends and family as they go bankrupt, there’s a Monopoly board with Link’s mug on it. If, however, you’d rather pick up a small treasure chest loaded with everything you’d need for a game that’s equal parts luck and strategy, Yahtzee! is on the horizon. If board games aren’t your thing and you’d rather veg out on the couch, keep an eye on Netflix, as a live action Zelda series is allegedly in the works. Hopefully, this is only the beginning of operation ‘Recapture Brand Mastery’.

But that’s where my excitement of Nintendo’s shakeup ends.

One thing that differentiated Nintendo from the competition was that their games had no DLC. When a game hit retail, it was complete… but that all changed in 2014. When I complain about this on Reddit or the like, people stick up for Nintendo and say their DLC is fairly priced and doesn’t change the core game, but as Gabriel Galliani pointed out in our most recent podcast, those folks are missing the point.

Without question, DLC affects game design. Once upon a time, developers had to prove their worth by putting all their best ideas and designs forward at once… but not anymore.

Nowadays, people like to argue whether DLC was hidden on-disc, or if that content was produced after the core game was finished, etc. But really, those conversations amount to little more than smoke which shrouds the core complaint: Content is being intentionally withheld from gamers. As soon as the prospect of DLC enters the equation, a developer has to consider what stuff they’ll put in the game, or what they’ll sell and/or develop after the fact, and I’m extremely disappointed in Nintendo for resorting to this business model.

Worse than that, Nintendo have also adopted the microtransaction model, as evidenced by Pokémon Shuffle. Again, Nintendo loyalists have pointed out that you don’t HAVE to spend money on this title, but again, these people are missing the point: These games are not designed merely for the sake of providing ‘free’ games. It’s not a good will service.  No, freemium titles are designed to take advantage of consumers with weak minds and dangerous compulsory habits. You might laugh as I liken this to drug addiction, but the analogy fits, and that makes Nintendo the pusher. If you ARE laughing, I urge you to research how the freemium model has cultivated serious gaming addiction in Eastern countries. And coupling freemium with Pokémon? That’s like bringing Walter White and Vic Mackey together.

But after all was said and done, there was one thing I could still count on from Nintendo: That their games would continue to release in perfect working order on day 1. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to play some Majora’s Mask 3D on my New 3DS.

Majora ugh

Crap. Well, so much for that.

One game hardly establishes a pattern, but it’s uncharacteristic for ANY Nintendo game to have bugs, let alone such a major release. An extreme minority have reported an ‘Error! Error!’ pop up during gameplay, while others complained of the C-Stick failing to work at random, and there’s even been a few reports of lost saves. The software update allegedly fixes most of the reported bugs, but that’s beside the point.

I’ve come to expect this sort of thing from various third party publishers, but from a first party Nintendo offering? A port of an N64 title, at that? I sincerely hope this was a one-off situation, and that future Nintendo titles don’t come to rely on patches to function properly. And, if you’ll allow me to go all ‘slippery slope’ for a minute: Keep in mind that if this becomes a regular occurrence for the big N, they haven’t been too generous with internal storage. Take the Wii-U, for example. Even for those of us with 32GB of storage, a 1GB update is going to hurt. Again, I realize this is speculative and may amount to nothing, but we’ve already seen how this sort of thing has snowballed on competing platforms.

You might say, “Yeah, but Nintendo is different than the competition.”

But… are they? Really?

With DLC and microtransactions in full swing, and software updates finally creeping into the mix, we should all reevaluate how true that statement can be in 2015. I think Nintendo will continue to differentiate themselves with ‘innovative’ hardware, but everything else? They seem to emulate their competition more and more, albeit with a much higher emphasis on limited stock, which is yet another model that’s not consumer friendly.

Nintendon’t Supply… Why?

Nintendon't Supply

When it comes to video game hardware, there probably isn’t a more divisive name in the industry than Nintendo. On one side of the fence, there’s a number of gamers who would say this company has lost touch with reality, likely citing the lack of third party support, as well as their inability to effectively market the Wii-U as a standalone device. Some would go as far to say that they produce little more than kiddie games, and who wants to control a cutesy pink marshmallow when you can hollow cranial cavities in the latest installment of CoD? On the other side of the fence are the fans, of course. They’re happy, proud, and loyal – some to a fault – mainly because they respect the big N for staying true to their vision. These fine folk understand that while the nearly photorealistic graphics on competing machines are impressive, it all amounts to spit if the gameplay isn’t fun. Me? I guess I’m fated to straddle, because I love video games of all sorts. It doesn’t matter where they come from or what form they come in; as long as there’s fun to be had, I’m a happy guy.

But my position atop that fence – where plenty of others reside, by the way – comes with its own set of frustrations. While I’m free from the squabbles of ‘mine is better than yours’, that freedom also allows me to easily see things that are unfair, or flat-out bad for most consumers. , I was disappointed to see Nintendo resort to selling trinkets and DLC. The latter especially, considering Mr. Iwata and Reggie Fil-Aime are both on record stating they didn’t want to take that route.

Unsurprisingly, my opinion wasn’t viewed in the most favorable light. Believe me, this wasn’t a surprise. I expected people to roll their eyes and say, “Oh great, here’s yet another Nintendo hater that just doesn’t get it.” And yet, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Objectively speaking, yes, I think Nintendo are a terrible company… but I don’t dislike them. I know that probably makes me sound like I’m chasing my own tail here, but overall, I think they’ve done some wonderful things in this generation of gaming.

Over the last year or so, a majority of my time has been spent bouncing back and forth between my PS4 and Xbox One. The games were fun, problematic as they were, but the machines themselves were a constant headache.

My PS4 would only save game clips on occasion, and it’s still missing at least one core feature that was promised months before launch (suspend and resume, which the Xbox One does exquisitely well). The rubber on my DS4 sticks were showing signs of wear after mere months, certain ‘stability updates’ have caused my disc eject button to be unresponsive (it’s since been fixed), and let’s not forget that PSN has been nothing short of a joke.

My Xbox One WANTS to be my ease of access terminal, but… oh, wait. Why isn’t this thing working right? Damn it. I guess I’m going to have to do a hard reset. Just give me a second, alright? Actually, better make it five, because I have to hold the power button down. 1… 2… 3… 4… Ah, there it goes! Alright, time to turn it back on. Pressed the power button, it’s lit, and… aaaaaaand… Guh. This thing takes a while to boot! Once the console is actually fired up, what do I have to look forward to? A user-interface that has trouble handling all that it’s supposed to. One of the only things I actually snap is Twitch, and every time I do it’s a blasted nightmare.

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But oh, my Wii-U. It just works. I’ve never had a problem with the gamepad, the user-interface has never been sluggish, and games run like a dream. And speaking of games, I purchase them with unparalleled peace of mind. When it comes to Nintendo, I KNOW my games are going to work as intended. No day 1 multiplayer struggles, no patches or updates, nothing. Oh, and it’s backwards compatible, too. Regardless of their faults, this company STILL provides the quintessential ‘pop in and play’ experience. It’s sad that I can’t say the same for Sony and Microsoft.

At the end of the day, the most important gauge for enjoyment should ultimately be how much fun we’re having, and in my humble opinion, Nintendo is the undisputed MVP of the industry.

Which is precisely why my love/hate relationship with them is so frustrating.

From a consumer standpoint, I’m constantly rolling my eyes. Take, for example, the Wii-U’s gamepad. It’s a great piece of hardware, but the battery it’s saddled with lasts a paltry three hours. That’s two gaming sessions for me, tops. Fortunately, Nintendo sells a higher capacity battery… but not in stores. You have to get it from them directly, which is fine, but it sold out shortly after release and wasn’t restocked for months. Want to know the real kicker? If you unscrew the gamepad’s rear compartment, a large, empty slot’s been carved out specifically for this battery. All signs point to them shoving a weak battery down our throats, only to shake us down for the better one later… so, why has stock been so sparse?

There’s also a situation with the Amiibos. These bits of DLC posing as figurines only saw the light of day two months ago, yet diehards are practically drooling over the fourth wave and beyond. In the meantime, average consumers have been discouraged from getting involved with the collection whatsoever. March from Fire Emblem, Villager from Animal Crossing, Wii Fit Trainer from Wii Fit, Pit from Kid Icarus, Captain Falcon from F-Zero, Fox McCloud from Star Fox, and Little Mac from Punch-Out!! are rarities now… but why? I mean, if these things are meant to accentuate your experience in various 3DS and Wii-U games, why should ANY of them be collector’s items so soon after launch?

Super Smash Bros. for the Wii-U kicked off on the same day as the Amiibos, and with it, a Gamecube controller adapter. That’s right, if you’ve been used to the Gamecube controls for over a decade, Nintendo has encouraged you to stick with what works. Unfortunately, a short while after launch, the $20 adapter was nowhere to be found. Well, you COULD get it through Gamestop’s website, but they required you purchase no less than FOUR Gamecube controllers with it (for a grand total of $140). Fortunately, a third party has stepped up with their own adapter.

The Legend of Zelda has also been a pawn in the game of ‘too bad, so sad’. On January 6th, without any prior notification, pre-orders for the Limited Edition of Majora’s Mask 3D – which includes a Skull Kid figurine – went live at about 8AM EST… and sold out in a matter of hours. Yes, HOURS. There wasn’t even a release date yet, and the Limited Edition was GONE. That means a good number of people on the West Coast were still nestled in their beds when this went down. They didn’t even have a CHANCE to pre-order before the well went dry.

Additional stock appeared in drips and drabs after the fact, but they’d disappear in a matter of minutes.

and its gone

On January 14th, the same thing happened with the Majora’s Mask themed New 3DS XL. It was announced during a Nintendo Direct, which began at 9AM EST, and had sold out less than an hour later. Best Buy had some on their website in the evening, but all were spoken for within half an hour.

And that New 3DS is a source of controversy in-and-of itself. People were genuinely excited to get their hands on Nintendo’s latest handheld, especially the smaller model, as it features swappable faceplates. So, naturally, Nintendo confirmed only the LARGER handheld would be available in North America. They still haven’t reversed their policy on region locked hardware, so importing isn’t much of an option.

Understandably, North American consumers are upset. Some didn’t like the original 3DS XL because extended periods of use would cramp their hands. Some argue the XL wasn’t as portable, which defeats the purpose of a handheld. Regardless, the real kick in the teeth comes from the fact that every other region WILL have both versions of the New 3DS, while for some reason, North America is to be left in the cold. I’m not affected by this personally, as I prefer the XL for my massive gorilla hands, but that doesn’t make it any less a slap in the face to Nintendo’s fans.

That aside, I think the biggest problem – one the rest of the world has been familiar with for some time – is that the New 3DS doesn’t come with a charger.

No need to do a double take. You read that right: No. Charger. Their reason? It costs them money. How much? Less than two bucks.

How have they been allowed to get away with this? That’d be like Microsoft selling the Xbox One without a power brick.

I guess the answer is, unfortunately, consumer complacency. That’s why I said some Nintendo fans are loyal to a fault: It’s because no matter what this company does, all is forgiven. Wii-U gamepad has a shit battery? “It’s no big deal. Charge while you play!” Amiibos hard to find? “I pre-ordered mine. If people wanted them bad enough, that’s what THEY should have done!” Gamecube adapter missing-in-action? “The hottest game of the Wii-U JUST launched, and it’s the holidays!” Limited editions sell out in a matter of hours? “Well, it’s not limited if EVERYONE gets it!” Nintendo stops providing charges? “Doesn’t everyone have one of these by now? If you don’t, they’re only $10!”

It boggles the mind.

I mean, what’s the first thing a company like Nintendo should do? Get their products in consumers’ hands, right? Right. They’ve clearly dropped the ball in this respect, and HARD… but people are so consumed with ‘want, want, want’, they’ve not stopped to ask, “Why?”

Some have accused Nintendo of intentionally limiting stock to increase demand, and I agree. When people are forced to scramble to get this, that, or the other thing, a panic induced awareness will spread like wildfire. It’s an effective way to sell product, sure, but it also neglects the core Nintendo fan. Now, people who wouldn’t have paid the Amiibos any mind are snagging them left and right, hoping to turn a profit. That means escaping your 9-to-5 in search of that rare item is probably going to be a fruitless endeavor.

I’ll go as far as to say Nintendo couldn’t care less. Don’t get me wrong, though. I don’t think they’re playing the ‘evil corporation is evil’ card. This company has hemorrhaged money for a long, long time. As a result, I think they’re simultaneously pinching their pennies AND capitalizing on the collector’s mentality.

While a higher concentration of product would benefit consumers, it would probably hurt Nintendo. The ultimate goal for ANY business is to sell their merchandise, and sell it quick. If the amount of product exceeds demand, the excess won’t sell. If the excess doesn’t sell, then it’s a waste of money for the company that produced it. After having ‘fell on the sword’ this time last year, I can see why the minimalistic approach is so attractive to them.

Still, there’s such thing as playing it TOO safe. When it comes to business, you have to consider a certain amount of calculated risk, but Nintendo want nothing to do with that.

Simply put, they’re no longer above nickel-and-diming us.

Think about it. Where are the ‘best’ consumers in the world? North America. Is it a coincidence that this is the only region that HAS to buy the larger, more expensive model? Probably not. As far as the ‘we’re not including a charger’ move… Nintendo owns the handheld market, and they know it. This has given them the confidence to say, “If you need one, you can fork over an extra ten bucks. But, don’t forget to play our new freemium Pokemon game after you do! That’s right, we’re in the microtransaction game now! Give us your money!”

Despite not willing to make calculated financial risks, I hope they understand they’re testing a far more dangerous one: The loyalty of their fans. Again, Nintendo were respected for sticking to their guns, and not conforming to the bullshit we’ve come to expect from Microsoft and Sony. Unfortunately, that dividing line is getting blurrier by the week, and the longer their fans feel neglected, the easier it’ll be for them to walk away.

Gaming shouldn’t feel like joining a club. It should be all inclusive, and NOT a designation for the scalpers who couldn’t care less.

PSA: DS and Wii Wi-Fi Goes Bye-Bye

As of May 20th, the Nintendo DS/DSi and the Nintendo Wii will no longer have the wi-fi connection service. That means games such as Mario Kart Wii will have no online multiplayer functionality. The 3DS and Wii-U are unaffected, and you’ll still be able to access the Shop on your DS and Wii.

Most games on the above mentioned consoles were single player or had poor multiplayer functionality, but Mario Kart fans seem to hang in there for a long, long time. It will be sad to lose access to such a great game… But Mario Kart 8 is just around the corner, so there’s that to consider.

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Cluster-Bits: PS4 Launch Title Impressions, Why the Wii-U Completes Our Next-Gen Console Selection

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I seem to have a habit of making a lot of posts and then dropping off the face of the Earth for a few weeks, and for that I apologize.  It’s obviously been a little difficult with the holidays, not to mention a three year old that catches colds like it’s his job… and then, of course, mommy and daddy get the distinct privilege of catching said colds.  I also write Blu-ray reviews for a fairly well known DVD/Blu-ray review site, so that occasionally takes precedence over my blog… because, you know… free stuff.  So with that said, let’s get to it, shall we?

Despite how much I loathe Nintendo for the company they’ve become, our household has finally decided that the Wii-U shall be our second and final console in the next-gen war.  Xbox One has really failed to grab my attention, but the Wii-U?  They may not end up with as many great games, but Nintendo’s first party titles are generally amazing – That said, don’t confuse great first party devs with Nintendo being a great company, because those are two entirely different ideas.

I really didn’t have much reason to own a Wii, because most of the games were created for a single reason – to exploit motion controls.  A good amount of Wii titles were mini-games with a party vibe and lost their playability in a matter of weeks, if not days.  WarioWare, Cooking Mama, Trauma Center… all good fun for a little while, but certainly weren’t games that were designed to appeal for years to come.  I enjoyed the Mario and Zelda offerings, but outside of that, the Wii didn’t have much I appreciated.  The Wii-U had a slow start during its initial year, but more titles are coming… and with the catalog of BOTH consoles now at my disposal, I’ve finally found enough reason to bring Nintendo back into the house.  Besides, my wife and son actually enjoy Nintendo games and we can all play together as a family.  That’s a primary reason to buy-in right there.

So far, I’ve only been able to play through the first six worlds in the New Super Mario Bros. U, as I’m taking my time and attempting to grab every star coin along the way, but it won’t be long before I’ll be able to talk about Zelda: Wind Waker HD, Super Mario 3D World, and Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate.  I’m also working on getting a Wii backlog going, and have already picked up Donkey Kong Country Returns, Super Mario Galaxy, and a copy of A Boy and His Blob that I HOPE will work (can’t complain if it doesn’t though, as it was only $5).  Anyway, here are the titles I hope to pick up in the upcoming year:

Wii:

-Resident Evil 4

-Sonic Colors

-Zelda – Twilight Princess

-Zelda – Skyward Sword

-Super Mario Galaxy 2

-New Super Mario Bros Wii

-Super Paper Mario

-Muramasa

-Mario Kart Wii

-Okami

Wii-U:

-Pikmin 3

-ZombiU

-The Wonderful 101

I’m sure there’s more for both consoles I’d be happy to own, but that’s pretty much my tops.

Shifting gears, I promised reviews on some PS4 launch titles a while back… but since it’s been a while and I’ve played and completed much of what I picked up on day 1, I figured I’d provide my thoughts in a single blog post.  So, here goes:

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag: 

The Assassin’s Creed franchise is one that managed to escape me.  I don’t know how, and I don’t know why – Perhaps it had been the mixed reactions to the initial title?  Whatever the reason, I didn’t start collecting the AC games for my PS3 until mid-2013.  Up until the release of the Playstation 4, the only game I had a chance to play was the original with Altair and Desmond, and I loved it.  It was a little tedious as I got in the latter hours of the game, but it was still good fun.  Because I was interested in proceeding with the franchise, I decided to hold off on AC IV: Black Flag until I had a chance to catch up.  Once the reviews were released and began to call it a good starting point for new players however, I decided it would be worth picking up… and holy hell, I’m glad I did.  Black Flag is easily up there as one of the best games of 2013.  That’s my humble opinion, but many would tell you the same, with their only caveat possibly being The Last of Us.

I’m not going to insult your intelligence and give you an entire recap on what the gameplay entails.  There’s been 5 Assassin’s Creed titles before this… or 6, if you want to include the Vita’s installment.  What I will say is that as far as this game being n00b friendly is concerned, the reviews were spot on – A story arc has apparently closed in the previous game, and Black Flag does a pretty good job of filling you in on the events.  It doesn’t give everything away, mind you, but definitely gives you a vague gist of what happened.  The overall story used to be told strictly through modern day events, and while that still holds true in AC IV, you spend very little time in the present (near future?).  95% of the game takes place within the Animus, meaning you’re left to pillage and plunder as a pirate without much interruption.

And that’s the beauty of Black Flag – You really get to feel like a pirate.  The open world was actually pretty massive, and there was no shortage of things to do.  I could stop playing the main campaign whenever I wanted, and simply explore the seas and the land that I stumbled upon as an adventurer looking to line his pockets.  Throughout the entirety of the game, I was able to engage in TONS of naval combat and use my spoils to upgrade my ship and weaponry (not to mention my own like pirate town), and they got the naval combat right.  I was even able to attack seaside forts with the cannons on my ship, all while avoiding/attacking enemy ships and avoiding mortar fire from land.  Things got pretty intense, let me tell you.  Oh, and you can go out on a rowboat with harpoons and a hunt massive sea creatures.

Once I pulled up to land – be a it a small, uninhabited island or a town on the verge of becoming something more – I was able to look for animus fragments, treasure chests left in the open or even those of the buried variety, treasure maps, more sea shanties for my crew to sing aboard the ship, and hunt so you could craft better items.  The fact that you could do any of this at will without being forced to tackle the main story missions really helped to make my time in the Animus as immersive as possible, and I’d liken it being Batman in the Arkham-verse games – No matter what you do, you just FEEL the part the devs wanted you to be a part of.  A lot of people are claiming this to be the best title of 2013, and some even call it the best Creed game of all time (or, at the very least outside of AC II)… and although I haven’t had a chance to play the other games just yet, I can see why.  It’s not often I stumble upon a game where I could play the 15-20 hour campaign and then want to continue for another 20+, but that’s precisely what happened with AC IV.  So yes, it’s worth the money and then some – It’s worth it if you like a lengthy campaign, it’s worthy if you like a gameplay experience that can last for tens and tens of hours (the devs said there’s about 80 hours of content total), and it’s worthy if you’re a fan of the series, regardless of how you felt about the prior installment.  Pull the trigger on this one… or, at the very least, unsheathe your sword and ask for this game nicely.

Knack:

This game was met with polarizing reviews, and for the record, I can understand why.  Knack is not a title that everyone will enjoy, although it’s a title that everyone SHOULD enjoy.

Why all the hate, though?  Well, the gameplay mechanics aren’t exactly complicated.  You most run through each stage and collect block so Knack can get bigger and bigger, and at any given time you’re not given many enemies to deal with.  That said, there’s still a bit of difficulty because Knack dies quicker than you’d expect for a game that looks to be geared towards children.  So people complained that there wasn’t enough to do, the range of attacks wasn’t enough to contend with, and the growth and inevitable shrinking of Knack during each stage feels forced and takes away from the excitement of becoming a big, hulking beast of a fighter made out of relics.  I guess all I can say to those complaints would be, “Fair enough.”

But for me, I felt Knack was a hell of a lot of fun.  The story and graphical presentation were Pixar-esque, and exuded a certain amount of charm through and through.  That said, I feel one of the main characters were kind of irritating if not downright stupid at times, but it didn’t ruin the overall experience for me.  Anyway, Knack is, simply put, a beat ‘em up platformer that requires you to study enemy patterns in order to succeed.  Yeah, you might only face three enemies at any given moment (sometimes more, this is just an example), but it isn’t always easy to determine the most effective way to take them out.  Do you move in and attempt to get the ranged weapon user out of the way first, or should you clobber the guys up front because they’re quick and will destroy you before you even make it that far?  Or, do you play it safe and use the crystal energy you’ve accumulated and user a special power to obliterate them all?  As Knack, you have options, and it’s up to you to determine the best strategy.  This keeps the game challenging, especially in the latter parts of the game… but if you want some REAL fun, then you have to play on one of the harder difficulties.  ‘Normal’ may be too easy for seasoned gamers, so choose your difficulty wisely.

There are some interesting gameplay mechanics, and I enjoyed their utilization well enough, although there was a bit of hand-holding that will turn some people off.  Knack can turn into a pure crystal form for a short amount of time, and he can also accumulate ice and wood to bulk up, although they will break upon impact and melt or burn accordingly.  The problem with this idea is that you weren’t exactly free to gather materials at will… they were there, or they weren’t, and you sort of force fed everything you were supposed to do.  Same thing goes for Knack’s growth – Every level starts you out as tiny Knack, and you collect pieces throughout the level only to lose them once again by the end.  Rinse and repeat.  Would have been amazing if the ability to grow or shrink was dynamic and you could figure it out on your own, but once again, it’s all sort of built into the design of any given stage.

All this said, flaws and all, Knack is still a lot of fun.  It’s not ‘amazing’ or anything, but it definitely takes me back to the days where platforming was fun despite its simplicity.  I think if Knack ended up on a Nintendo console, people would have been raving about it and perhaps even calling Knack the next great mascot.

Battlefield 4:

I’ll have to update you all later on this one.  As you’re all aware, there’s been a slew of issues with this game on the PS4… well, and on every other platform for that matter.  I had started the single player campaign and experienced some crashes, and thankfully because I stayed away from the multiplayer mode, I hadn’t run into file save corruptions.  Not wanting to test fate any further, I decided to set the game aside play whatever else was at my disposal until Dice resolved a majority of their issues.  Needless to say, I was kind of upset that a game got released in this state, because it’s a hell of a promising title.  I’ll say that the controls look great, the campaign is average, and the graphics are incredible.

Need for Speed Rivals:

This franchise has been largely hit or miss for me.  There’s simply no consistency as far as the controls are concerned, and that’s troublesome.  Sometimes they’re very ‘arcade-racer’ like, and other times they’re a bit too realistic to have the amount of fun you SHOULD be having.  Fortunately, Need for Speed: Rivals seems to nudge itself between both styles of gameplay quite comfortably.  The car you start with is an impressive little machine, for sure, but you’ll have to be careful going around turns or when making last second decisions to go this way instead of that way.  As you race however, you accumulate points which allow you to purchase upgrades and make your vehicle stronger, faster and more responsive.  Although you’re faster and can handle turns with a bit of drifting (by tapping the brakes), you never feel unstoppable.  The ‘heat level’ from the cops keeps ramping up and soon there are choppers keeping tabs on you, and the police with even use electromagnetic gadgets to slow you down so they can hit you and damage your vehicle to the point of no return.  It’s a lot of fun trying to escape from the cops, and there are occasional checkpoints – posing as gas station/garages on the side of the road – that you’ll drive through to make your vehicle as good as new and keep the chase on.

But before I get ahead of myself, there’s something worth noting – The single player and multiplayer is rolled into a single package.  You’ll join a server with multiple other racers – although I typically get the feeling that they should allow more people per server – and you can challenge anyone you pass just by tapping a button.  You can even do certain objectives together as long as you’re both close enough to start around the same time.  Because you can begin any given challenge – be it from another racer or from an actual objective listed on the map – at any time, that means you can ramp up the fun by racing others while the heat is already on at the start… and this is where things really get interesting.

You have your own set of gadgets at your disposal.  You can use a small shockwave to make someone nudging your door to lose control of their car, blast the back of a car with an electromagnetic pulse (much like the cops), drop land mines that also deliver a temporary debilitating blast, and more.  Do I even need to explain how much fun this amounts to?  These tactics will slow your opponents down, thus making the cops thirstier for their capture.  Hell, performing a move at the right time could actually crash your opponents car, getting them busted since their car won’t be able to move.

Anyway, there are essentially two ‘campaigns’ you can play through – One as a racer, and the other as a cop.  You’re able to choose between which shortlist of objectives you’d like to complete next, and once you do, you’ll earn the right to buy a new car as well as additional upgrades.  This adds longevity to the gameplay while also providing you with two very different experiences.

That said, as fun as Need For Speed: Rivals is, I’m not sure how long it’s worth playing.  After a while, you get the sense that all you’re doing is the same old thing time and time again, and there just aren’t enough racers from the ‘real world’ at any given moment to add a sense of meaningful population.  I guess that’s just the nature of any open-world racing game, but regardless, I’m pretty sure this won’t be able to withstand the test of time.  If you’re an arcade racer fan however, by all means, this is a solid title.

Honorable Mentions:

Resogun:  Mix the gameplay of Gradius with the insane graphical style of Geometry Wars, and that’s Resogun in a nutshell… and yes, it’s as awesome as it sounds.  I put a lot of time into this game near launch – mainly when I didn’t have enough time to sit down and actually invest in another game’s single player campaign – and it was some of the most fun I’ve had with a free indie title in quite some time.  That said, I haven’t touched it in a while, because the experience is largely the same from one level to the next… just with a semi-modified layout as well as an increase in difficulty.  Each level doesn’t make itself feel diverse enough from the last, which is a shame.  I guess the ‘turntable’ game design makes this an inherent flaw as opposed to one made by laziness, but it’s still worth noting.  Also, it may be difficult to figure out what is going on at first, as the game doesn’t explain some of its subtle, yet oh so important gameplay elements.  Make sure you grab this for free before it goes away for good, because it’s still one of the best ways to kill time there is.

Escape Plan:  This was an unexpected surprise.  It wasn’t free, but if you’re into puzzle solving, it’s worth the coin.  You take control over two nearly-faceless ‘things’ in a world of black and white, and essentially have to get them from point A, to point B without succumbing to the dangers that await them.  I wasn’t sure how well it would hold up, but man, it’s addicting.

One is a skinny little dude while the other is something of a blob, and you have to use their strengths and weaknesses when planning a strategy.  The big guy is often used for turning big wheels or standing on pressure plate switches, while the little guy can fill himself up with air and then be controlled by tilting the DS4 in any given direction… although my favorite is when he drinks a gallon of coffee and tweaks across the screen at high speed.

The controls are hard to get used to at first, but it all seems to make perfect sense after a while.  Draw circles with your finger on the DS4’s touchpad, and fans will rotate to clear the room of a deadly gas or even to lift/lower platforms.  You can tap on a wall to lure enemies into a trap, or scare sheep into running where you need them to be.  You’re also able to push things in and out of the environment, and many of these objects will only stay that way for a certain amount of time… so whatever you plan on doing after you’ve moved them, you better do it quick.

I haven’t completed the game just yet, but every stage adds new complexities and subtly bumps the difficulty.  If you’re looking for something that’s challenging in a puzzle-solving sort of way, give this a go.

Trine 2:  Another one I didn’t have the chance to finish just yet… or, actually play that much, but that’s because I’ve spent most of my time dealing with all the other games that came out since launch.  It’s a stunner in almost every way from what I can tell though… the gameplay mechanics are intelligent and require platform puzzle-solving, and wow, everything is beautifully rendered.  This game made its debut on the PC, PS3 and Xbox 360, but Trine 2 looks better than ever on the PS4.

I’d like to give mention to some other titles, like Warframe or Contrast, but I just haven’t gotten around to playing them yet.  As you can see, I’ve been busy in the last month, month-and-a-half.  J

But then there’s the Wii-U… and once I’m able to delve into some games other than the New Super Mario Bros. U / Super Luigi U, I’ll discuss them.

Oh, and since I started writing this blog post… we’ve acquired a Nintendo 3DS XL… so expect some updates in regards to my experience with that (which thus far, is generally positive).