Time to Leave Physical Behind

img_7340Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone.
If your time to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’

I’ve long been a staunch supporter of physical media, because when I make a purchase I want it to be accessible for the rest of time. So when games became prominently available through digital means, I planted my feet firmly on the ground, shook my head and said, “Nope. I’m not giving in!”

Why was I so stubborn? Because I’ve always seen digital purchases as a gamble. If a distributor goes belly-up, you’d lose access to your library unless a third party took over and honored your purchases (which isn’t impossible, but certainly not guaranteed). Even if a distributor merely decided to stop supporting a legacy platform, your purchases would essentially be forfeit the moment your device’s hard drive failed.

The latter scenario is actually happening with the Nintendo Wii just this month, by the way. Pretty wild considering how much money they’re making these days, isn’t it?

Anyway, it’s worth pointing out that I’ve only felt this way with consoles. I’ve been buying digital games on PC for eons now, but that’s because I trust that companies like Steam aren’t going anywhere. There’s also GOG, who allow you to download DRM free copies of all the games they sell (which I admittedly don’t take advantage of as much as I should). But Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo haven’t instilled the same sort of confidence. Sony would rather sell you streamable games than honor legacy generation purchases, and until just recently, Nintendo tied games to consoles instead of accounts… meaning if your console died and you bought another one, your purchases would be gone.

That said, the landscape of console marketplaces are changing and I feel it’s time to embrace the dark side.

I know. I can’t believe I’m saying it either.

img_7343-1Still, I’m at a point where I feel one-hundred percent comfortable buying digital games from Microsoft. They’ve shown a considerable amount of dedication to ensuring titles across all their platforms are compatible with the latest hardware. If you have old game discs, simply load them into the Xbox One and you’ll be able to play. If you don’t feel like tracking down a copy of an old game, they’ve available to buy digitally.

Nintendo have also begun to correct the mistakes of generations past (while introducing some new ones, of course). With the release of the Nintendo Switch, games are now tied to accounts, so if your console dies you can download them on a new machine.

Sony… well, they’re still the same old arrogant Sony. They’d rather sell you digital copies of PS1 and PS2 games you already own. As a result, I buy all third party titles for the Xbox One.

Regardless of who we’re talking about in the ‘your old purchases matter’ race, it’s clear that we’re moving towards a future where consoles stop being brackets of segregated time blocks and merge into one. It’s the way it always should have been.

Microsoft have earned a lot of good will over the course of this generation, so it’d be wise for Sony to follow suit with backwards compatibility on the PS5. I think it’d be unrealistic to expect the PS5 to play PS1, PS2 or even PS3 games, but at the very least it needs to be fully backwards compatible with the PS4. I still own all the old consoles, but I no longer have any tolerance for keeping multiple generations hooked up to my home theater at once. I believe they have little choice but to incorporate at least the current console’s library, and while that’s not everything I’d want from a PS5, it’s a step in the right direction.

Still, there’s a part of my brain that still shouts, “If you want to be able to play these games in thirty years, you better pick up physical copies!” I don’t know if that comes from a lifetime of buying physical games or if it’s because there’s still trepidation over the longevity of digital libraries though. Maybe it’s a combination of both. Either way, it’s what’s kept me buying physical copies throughout the entirety of this generation… until now, at least.

img_7342-1I’ve also known this for a long time but would never allow myself to admit it: Physical copies are worthless.

Don’t get me wrong, because I’ll hold on to my NES, SNES, N64, Game Boy and DS cartridges until I die. But as far as this generation is concerned, discs are worthless. Sure, they’ll be around in thirty years, but the games that are stored on them are largely riddled with bugs or missing content. The Spyro remastered trilogy doesn’t have all the games on disc. Wolfenstein: The New Order isn’t nearly as fun without its day one patch. Bethesda games have always required updates for the best stability. Assassin’s Creed: Unity was, at times, a slideshow without subsequent patches. At launch, Battlefield 4’s single player campaign saves often corrupted and forced players to start over.

And these are only the examples that immediately come to mind. They’re the most extreme, yes, but every game has patches that roll out on day one and beyond. That means that virtually none of the games you’ve played, even at launch, are the same product as what’s on the disc. The pieces of plastic they’re pressed on are pretty much drink coasters.

It hurts my heart to say that, but it’s true: All a disc is good for in 2018 is verifying that you have a license to play a game.

A lot of people complain that they don’t want to get off the couch to switch discs, but that’s never bothered me. What does bother me is switching discs when I know I’m not even playing the content that’s on it in them first place. With that being the sad reality, why even bother? Why not just make the switch to all-digital and save myself from having to switch those coasters out?

Last but certainly not least, I have been burned by an old PS3 that went belly up after just two years. Not the internal GPU or CPU or anything, but the disc drive. A disc drive has moving parts, so it’s the most likely piece of a console to fail. Going digital means I won’t have to worry about that. That’s not to say a cooling fan won’t go or that a console won’t overheat to death, but it’s one less thing to worry about.

Digital distribution still has a way to go, but I believe it’s a viable solution moving forward as long as we, consumers, don’t allow the companies holding the digital keys to get sloppy.


This Is Why People Revolt Against A Digital Future

More and more these days, people are ditching physical copies for digital, and it isn’t hard to see why. You can pre-load a game and play it right at midnight without having to wait in any launch lines. No more clutter on your shelves. You don’t have to worry about losing a disc, or having someone steal it from you. There’s cons, of course, such as the inability to sell or trade digital products, but there’s an even bigger reason which most people shrug off with indifference: You may not own said product for as long as you’d like.

No, really. Tell people that their purchase is only good for as long as the service provider allows, and they’ll laugh, saying, “Come on, bro. It’s 2017. It costs companies next to nothing to share this stuff on their servers. If you ever need to download your games again, it won’t be a problem.”

Nintendo Wii owners probably have something to say about that.

At the end of September, Nintendo made a statement:

 “Dear Nintendo fans,

 On January 30, 2019, we plan to close the Wii Shop Channel, which has been available on Wii systems since December 2006. We sincerely thank our loyal customers for their support. You can still ad Wii Points until March 26, 2018, and purchase content on the Wii Shop Channel until January 30, 2019. In the future, we will be closing all services related to the Wii Shop Channel, including redownloading purchased WiiWare, Virtual Console titles, and Wii Channel, as well as Wii System Transfer Tool, which transfers data from Wii to the Wii U system.

 If you have Wii Points to spend, content you want to re-download, or content you’d like to transfer from a Wii system to a Wii-U system, we recommend you do so while the services are still available.

 Thank you for supporting the Wii Shop Channel and for being such great fans of Nintendo.”

 This presents a multitude of problems.

 Nintendo may be giving people adequate notice, but that’s the only kudos they get in regards to this announcement. Problems ahoy!

 The Wii may be 11 years old at this point, but people can still access content on the Wii Shop Channel on their Wii-U. This may seem like a non-point, but the Wii had over 200 classic games that never made their way to the Wii-U shop. We’re talking Bonk’s Adventure, Bubble Bobble, Castlevania: Rondo of Blood, Chrono Trigger, Commando, Double Dribble, Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, Mega Turrican, Super Turrican, and many, many more. So if you have no interest in the retro game market or emulating old-school games, a lot of these will be disappearing.

 So, why not buy what you’d like in the next year and be done with it?

 Well, hard drives don’t last forever. Nintendo makes products which last for a long time, but if you’ve got a Wii that’s already pushing a decade, it’d be risky to buy stuff now just so it could go belly up in a couple of years. And, that’s really the bottom line here: You could have invested hundreds, or even thousands of dollars through the Wii Shop Channel, and it won’t matter. If that little storage disc inside the system breaks down, it’s all gone.

 We could just say, “Well, that’s just a very Nintendo-like thing to do. We’re not surprised. But Sony and Microsoft will never…”

 But we don’t know that for certain, do we?

 With the PS4 offering zilch in the way of backwards compatibility, I think it’d be great if they kept the PS3 servers alive indefinitely… or, at least, enough to satisfy whatever the demand is. I doubt that’ll be the case, though. One day they’ll want to reallocate those resources. Microsoft, on the other hand, are doing that whole backwards compatible thing, so they’ll probably keep the Xbox 360 economy kicking for some time. But make no mistake about it, folks. The very moment these companies realize they’re spending more money to host these servers than they’d prefer, they’re going to do something about it. I’m not saying this because ‘evil companies are evil’, but because that’s business. When the numbers don’t line up, adjustments will be made.

 So, will access to these servers be available 20 years from now?

 “Who cares about what happens in 20 years!”

 Well, I’m 35, and 20 years ago I was probably playing Super Mario 64… and I still play that game whenever I get the chance. If you’re in your teens or even your 20’s, trust me: Time sneaks up on you faster than you think it will.

 Ask yourself this: Is the convenience that a digital library brings worth an inherently shorter lifespan?

 For some, the answer may be yes. There’s a lot of people who trade up and never look back. Still, I find it hard to believe that people are fine with spending $60 for a game they won’t have access to indefinitely.

 This is something people need to talk about. It needs to become one of the big conversations online. Again, I know it’s easy to wave this off as ‘Nintendo being Nintendo’, but if they’re able to do this without much backlash, it sends a message to Sony and Microsoft that they should have no problem doing the same. If you’re vying for a digital future, do whatever you can to ensure that your library doesn’t eventually disappear!

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.


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


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:


-Resident Evil 4

-Sonic Colors

-Zelda – Twilight Princess

-Zelda – Skyward Sword

-Super Mario Galaxy 2

-New Super Mario Bros Wii

-Super Paper Mario


-Mario Kart Wii



-Pikmin 3


-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.


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).

Opinion-Bytes: Backlog Collecting – Why It Makes Sense

Backlog Pain

You know what I’ve been hearing a lot as of late? “Why do you need so many games?” How do you respond to that, especially when the question comes from your wife/significant other? Sorry, that’s a trick question – There’s NOTHING you can say to justify adding more titles to an already ginormous backlog. If that question is being asked, the game’s already over. That person simply can’t fathom a reality where someone ‘needs’ more games, despite having several months of backlog awaiting their time to shine. You can explain the situation to your heart’s content, but don’t fool yourself – The party already scratching their head will never ‘get it’, and nothing you ever say or do will change that. All you can do is share your point of view, and move on. Anything beyond is little more than a fool’s errand.

Now, I’m not trying to paint those who don’t understand this means of collecting in a negative light. Everyone has different tastes, and I both understand and respect that. From a certain viewpoint, I know that stockpiling games can sound a little silly, if not the sign of an unhealthy mind. The first thing that comes to their minds, surely, is that we MUST have an addiction. Yes, there are plenty of people who are genuinely plagued with game addiction, but snatching up games faster than you can play them isn’t a telltale sign that you’re going mad. That’s really the only point I wish to make in general, and I’ll do so by explaining the very rational thought process that goes into my video game buying ‘habit’.

Here’s something most of us can probably relate to – You’ve been following the development of a game for at least a year… perhaps longer. The release date is upon you, aaaaand… you just can’t afford the damn thing. You might have a vacation you’re saving up for, bills to pay, or whatever. So the game comes and goes, and because there’s always another great AAA title being released, that other title just slips into obscurity… but only temporarily. One day that very game will drop in price, and when it does, it will go back on your radar faster than you can say BLIP. You might not have time to play it right away, but a $20 price tag is low enough for you to bite. You’ll get to it eventually, right? CHA-CHING! Out comes the wallet and down goes the cash. Transaction complete.

Price is an important factor in collecting games. Obviously, it’s difficult to run out and buy every title you want the moment they’re released, so price drops are always attractive. This is especially true for someone like me, because I buy new games (almost) exclusively. When a game hits the bargain bin at Wal-Mart or gets a reduction via the ‘Greatest Hits’ treatment, I’m hard pressed to think of a better time to buy. Also, there’s something to be said about picking up three games for $60 total, as opposed to buying a new one for the same price.

Only willing to buy new copies of games becomes a problem in and of itself, though. Once those bargain prices start to appear, it’s the equivalent of being flagged with “Buy it now, or forever hold your peace.” There are a TON of games that get released, and most of those copies get sold around the time of launch. Retailers have limited space, so they couldn’t care less about stocking a decent collection of old and now obscure titles. They want their fancy glass showcases or shelf space reserved for the games that will sell, and I certainly don’t blame them. However, this means that the more time you let slip by, the less chance you’ll have to find and buy the game. Instead of just walking into a store, pointing at the game and telling the clerk “That one”, you’re going to have to hunt. You’ll have to spend time looking at the in-store inventory via retail websites, calling the stores just to make sure they have it in stock, or you may even find yourself running around town while wasting precious time and gas. Eventually, you may have to resort to buying the game from a third party seller on Amazon, and although I’ve tried to avoid such a thing, I’ve resorted to doing so on a few occasions. Again, I may not have time to play the games I’m buying, but I will eventually, and if I don’t pick ‘em up while they’re right in front of me, I may later come to regret my indecisiveness. That may be one of the most important lessons I’ve learned – Great pricing often goes hand in hand with limited availability.

Also, there are times we all go out and do a little window shopping. We just want to splurge a little bit without spending a fortune, and for a gamer, coming across a great game at an unexpected price makes for an ideal impulse buy.

These are all the practical reasons to keep buying games even if you have a backlog awaiting you at home, but there’s also some personal ones that are merely a matter of preference. For me, there’s nothing better than finishing a game, looking at my library and having to ponder what I’m going to play next. Depending on what I’ve snagged in my travels, I can pick and choose merely based on how I feel that particular day. I’m not always in the mood to play certain genres, so it’s nice to be able to have options between FPS games, RPG’s, HD remakes of classic games, survival-horror or third person action platformers. Playing the kind of game I want WHEN I want means I’m going to milk the most enjoyment out of every title.

Having multiple games on hand even allows me a bit of flexibility in the respect of keeping things fresh. For example, I just recently dumped about 20 hours into my first playthrough of Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, and I’ve enjoyed my time with the game immensely… but from what I understand, I’m also only about 25% through the main quest. I don’t mind a lengthy game in the least, but all the leveling and grinding has taken a temporary toll on me… but no matter. Having multiple unopened games at my disposal is the perfect way to break the monotony. At first, I took a break with the first Metal Gear Solid game. I played Ni No Kuni a bit more, and now I’ve started Far Cry 3. Once I beat it, I’ll go back to Ni No Kuni a bit. This offers a far more enjoyable gaming experience in the long run, as opposed to the ‘buy one title until I beat it, and then buy another’ method. If you’re only stuck with a single game to play, you might end up getting bored or frustrated when all you really needed was a break. I’m more than willing to invest 50+ hours in a game (Dark Souls, Final Fantasy and Skyrim, I’m looking at you), but that’s a sizeable investment. I probably did over 70 hours in Skyrim, but that was over the course of a year.

If you buy games on a regular basis, you’re probably aware of the dreaded dry spell that plagues us every summer, as well as part of the winter. The most significant release windows range from September to December, and then again from Feb/March until late Spring. The summer and just after the holidays are veritable dead zones, and gamers are often awaiting the rush of AAA titles that are sure to come in the final quarter of the year. Know when these dead zones become a non-issue? That’s right – When you have a backlog to whittle down.

Also, some people collect just to collect. That’s not how I roll, as I only buy the games I’m absolutely sure I want to play, but to each their own.

Anyway, I think that’s pretty much all the reasons I can come up with to explain the rationale behind actively collecting a backlog…

…but what about you?

Do you buy a new game only when you’ve finished the last one? Do you collect games whenever it’s convenient, backlog or no backlog? Or, do you go out of your way, buying a bunch of games you’ll probably never get around to playing anyway (those special Steam sales make it easy to end up in the latter categorization)? Feel free to comment and share your thoughts and opinions on the matter, regardless of where you stand on the issue.

It’s a ‘Control’ Issue

Debating consoles over the years has been equal parts intriguing and frustrating.  I mean, there are so many aspects of gaming to dissect and so many different opinions to take into consideration, that you’re guaranteed to never have the same discussion twice.  There’s the hardware comparisons, the evolution of gameplay from platforming to the third dimension, which games are the best of all time, the importance of story versus gameplay, if video games can actually be considered art… and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  That being said, there’s one aspect of these conversations that have been very cyclical for me, and I’d like to address it – Controllers.

Controllers have changed a lot since the beginning, haven’t they?  I mean, the Atari only had a joystick and a single button, yet we managed to make it out alive.  NES introduced a groundbreaking control scheme with its directional pad, as well as ‘B’ and ‘A’ buttons which were entirely separate from ‘select’ and ‘start’.  All of a sudden, it was possible to do pretty much anything.  The SNES controller further refined our gameplay experience by adding more buttons for our right thumb to access, and placed some bumper buttons up top for our index fingers… after all, our fingers weren’t doing anything up there before, so let’s put them summabitches to work, amiright?  AMIRIGHT?!  Today, we have more buttons, triggers and bumpers, and more.  Still, there’s one thing that can’t be denied – The influence of the SNES controller is evident in almost every design we’ve seen since.  There are some exceptions of course, but gaming might not have been the same without the SNES pad around for inspiration.

But much like every other aspect of gaming, I’ve come across a varying degree of opinions in regards to which control scheme is best.  Everyone has different preferences, but those who seem to prefer the ‘unique’ controls of the Wii-mote or the Gamecube controller always have the same thing to say… and this is the only aspect of ‘game talk’ that I seem to relive over and over again – “Well at least they’re trying to do something different, instead of copying the SNES/PS1 controller”, and they say that like it’s a bad thing.  Correct me if I’m wrong, but since when was the SNES or PS1 controller considered an abomination to mankind?  Who EVER had a negative thing to say about their experience with such hardware?  Nobody… and you know why?  Because they just worked, that’s why.  They were mostly comfortable AND intuitive, and allowed us to make the most out of the games that were coming out at the time, if not ever since.

I get the angle that some gamers just want new and inventive ways to play their games, instead of feeling like they’re doing the same thing over and over again, but I feel like those people are just trying a little too hard to distance themselves from a trend.  You know the old saying – If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  Well, Sony and Microsoft both apparently understand this in regards to their controllers.  The PS controller added more buttons up top and eventually a couple of joysticks.  They’ve had little need to change it since.  Microsoft originally released a massive controller for the original Xbox, but eventually scaled it back and then perfected their design with the Xbox 360.  In fact, I’d probably rate the Xbox 360 controller the best of all time, even though it’s D-pad sucks and isn’t really built for those quick, button-mashing fighter games, like Street Fighter IV and Mortal Kombat.

So, how is it that Sony and Microsoft apparently get what works with their gaming controllers, yet the original trend setting Nintendo, does not?

N64 – Let’s be honest, this wasn’t a great controller.  It worked, yes, and there isn’t a single N64 game that feels comfortable unless you’re specifically using this controller… but come on.  You had three handles on the damn thing, one of which was absolutely useless (hint: it was the left one).  Your left hand always had to use the center grip, because that’s where the essential joystick and Z-trigger had been located.  The A/B buttons in combination with the C buttons were just sort of awkward, and those pesky yellow dots weren’t comfortable to press.

Gamecube – I rank this one as the worst of all time.  I’ve had someone tell me that it felt so comfortable it practically melted in their hands… and you know what?  I’ll agree with them on that – When I was holding this thing, it was heaven.  Those triggers up top were magnificent and really helped to seal the deal.  That being said, using the buttons on this damn thing was an entirely different experience.  You had a usable stick on the left, but on the right was this short, nubby little ‘C Stick’, which was mostly awkward.  Next, the A button was transformed into a ginormous red panic button, and the X and Y buttons were made into almost rectangular shaped buttons that formed around it, so they weren’t comfortable to use either.  Nintendo wanted this controller to look fun, but actually using this piece of hardware was anything but.

Wii – Yayyy!  Motion controls!  Grand in theory, but a failure in practice.  I’ll give you one simple reason why – The nunchuk.  You could use motion controls, but you had to have a small handheld joystick for the other hand… which wasn’t wireless, but leached power from the Wii-mote itself via a cord, hence ‘nunchuk’.  It worked well enough together, but if they were going to go through all that trouble, they should have made the joystick wireless, or even go back to making traditional controllers.  But, oh, the fun doesn’t stop here, does it?  You can use a ‘classic controller’… but not unless it was plugged into the Wii-mote, which you wouldn’t be using anyway since both hands would have been on the classic controller!  GAHHH!

Wii-U – OK, this is actually kind of cool, but still rather silly.  Tablets are all the rage now, so OF COURSE Nintendo had to make their latest and greatest controller a freakin’ tablet.  There are some really cool ideas in its implementation, a major draw for me being the fact that you can have your kid play on the tablet while you can watch your regularly schedule programming.  Still… the thing is a TABLET.  It’s BIG.  It doesn’t really feel all that comfortable to hold, in my opinion.  Again, it just feels like another gimmick, and Nintendo… you need to stop taking advantage of stupid people by selling them a gimmick every time they get a paycheck.

My intention isn’t to pick on Nintendo, exactly, but it just so happens to be their controllers to have pissed me off over the years.  Anyway, my point is this – Just because something hasn’t changed much over the years (such as the controller designs used by Sony and Microsoft), doesn’t mean a decline in quality or performance.  If anything, these companies have found something that has worked VERY well, and instead of trying to change the way we control our games every other minute, they have instead focused their resources on refining what already works.

Controllers shouldn’t be the constant game changer from generation to generation… it should be the gameplay itself (amiright, AMIRIGHT?!).  How do you change the FPS game?  Look at the open world mechanics of Far Cry 3 or the upcoming Killzone Shadow Fall for inspiration there.  How do you change third person sandbox games?  Look at Watchdogs, which allows you to hack into pretty much anything with a small electronic device (in-game, of course).  I think there are plenty of people who think that gaming has gone as far as it can in the gameplay department, but that’s just bullcrap.  A devs imagination is the limit, is it not?  They are literally creating something out of nothing, right?  So why do people say, “This is it!  All we have our Grand Theft Auto, Call of Duty and Halo games!”  No, you’re just not looking hard enough.  Try something outside of the mainstream, folks, you may just realize that it isn’t the controllers that are providing you with better experiences after all….