Greatness Delayed Podcast 030 – 2017 Has Been Nuts So Far

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Mike and Gus discuss everything 2017!  Resident Evil 7, Yakuza 0, Ni-Oh, For Honor, Berserk and the Band of the Hawk, Horizon: Zero Dawn, and of course the Nintendo Switch and Zelda: Breath of the Wild!

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Nintendo Switch Early Impressions

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Gus and I have already registered our opinions of the Switch on our podcast, but it’s time to break things down in print.

Now, obviously, Nintendo needed to reveal the Switch in a way that didn’t echo the unveiling of the Wii-U.  I mean, let’s be honest… they didn’t do anything to help that console.  They didn’t convey what it was, nor did they market the damn thing.  But the Switch reveal was quite different.  After all was said and done, we had a great understanding of what the console is, why it has the potential to benefit everyone, and most important of all, how it’s actually supposed to work.  It was the necessary ‘un-Nintendo like move’ they so desperately needed, but unfortunately, the company left their stink all over the rest of their presentation.

At least they started strong.  Right out of the gate, they told us what the Switch’s price point was and what its release date would be.  Everyone was surprised to learn the console would be out on March 3rd, sooner than expected – media outlets a plenty had reported March 17th – but the price point, $299.99, was a little confusing.  Without any context, I think $300 is reasonable, but that’s not the problem.  The problem is that Nintendo probably aren’t selling the Switch at a loss, and they really should be.

You see, Nintendo like to pretend they’re not competing with Sony and Microsoft, but that’s poppycock.  If you’re a gamer that has yet to enter this generation, and someone gives you $300 to spend on a new machine, you’re probably not buying a Switch.  As of right now, Target’s website offers the Uncharted 4 PS4 bundle and the Battlefield 1 Xbox One S bundle for only $299.  All of a sudden, the Switch’s ‘reasonable’ price point doesn’t seem so reasonable, especially since it doesn’t even come with a game.  So yes, Nintendo, you ARE competing with Sony and Microsoft.  To pretend otherwise is… well, pretty much what I expect out of you, you daft, clueless bastards.  And let’s not forget, this holiday, the Switch will also be going head-to-head with the Xbox Scorpio.

So, there’s two things Nintendo should have done for the Switch, and keep in mind these are minimal moves.

First, they really should have included a pack-in game.  2 + 1 Switch seems to be a simple a tech demo; a smattering of mini-games which show off the system’s distance measuring IR sensor as well as the HD rumble feature.  If this title was included with the Switch, people would have something fun to play with their friends right out of the box… which would have been a brilliant strategy if Nintendo had employed it.  People would have been compelled to call their friends over to try 2 +1 Switch on the hybrid machine.  This would have put the console in people’s hands in optimal settings, possibly causing these people to want a Switch of their own… but that’s a future not set to pass.  Instead, Nintendo are charging $50 for their slate of demo experiences… and NOBODY is going to buy it.  No, instead, everyone is going to buy Zelda and play the shit out of it for months… alone.  Now, if anyone wants to get hands on with the Switch, they’ll probably have to try it at a Gamestop, which is probably the LEAST optimal setting I can think of.

OR…

Nintendo could have reduced the Switch’s price to $249.99.  Would that put them at a loss per unit sold?  Maybe, but consoles are often sold at a loss.  Hardware distributors understand that selling at a loss usually leads to a faster growing install base.  One day, their console will be easier and cheaper to produce, and that’s when they’ll be able to turn a healthy profit.  In the meantime, they’ll make a little off software sales and accessories… or in Nintendo’s case, severely overpriced accessories.  Cover the ears on your wallet, because this rundown is going to make it cry:

A Pro controller is $70.  An additional dock – which is basically just a plastic case with HDMI passthrough – costs $80.  A single Joycon controller – that’s just one SIDE – is $50… or, you can get a ‘discount’ if you buy two for $80.  The Joycon straps are $8 a pop.  The controller cradle for the Joycons – that is, a hunk of plastic with a tiny USB charge port – is $30.

Worst of all, Nintendo have finally joined the multiplayer paywall club.  And that… that’s just terrible.  But damn it, if you want to play Splatoon or Mario Kart 8 Deluxe online, they’ve got you by the cajones, don’t they?  Now to be fair, I think everyone expected Nintendo would burrow down this rabbit hole one day… ‘because’, but that doesn’t make it any less of a disappointment.  I mean, this was the only consumer friendly thing Nintendo had left… yet they just cast it into the wind like they couldn’t give less of a shit.  And for those of you thinking there’s some other way they can justify their ‘service’, think again.  They’re going to give you either an NES or SNES rom each month, and some of the latter will have multiplayer enabled.

“A rom?  A bloody ROM?!”, you might ask.

Oh yes, a rom.

That’s what their ‘free game’ offerings will be… and at the end of each month, they’ll take them back… unless you want to buy them, of course.  Know what that means?  Nintendo doesn’t give a squatting shit how many times you’ve purchased games through their Virtual Consoles; they STILL want you to buy them again.  The only positive thing I can say about this, at least for the time being, is that we have no idea how much Nintendo are planning to charge for their ‘service’.  If they were smart, they’d make it way less than what Sony and Microsoft are charging… but nah.  Still, the price of this thing is a big question, and they left it hanging in the air.

There were other questions they neglected to answer too, such as, “What’s the launch line-up going to be?”  It wasn’t until the next day we had confirmation of five titles… and boy, did a lot of people express concern about that.  I’ve lived through numerous console launches that had been worse, so I’m not going to complain.  Besides, can you think of a better launch title than Zelda: Breath of the Wild?

“But it’s going to be on the Wii-U!”

So?  Nintendo have only sold between 13 and 14 million units, so for the many that never bought a Wii-U, they won’t care about Zelda being cross-platform.  The people who own a Wii-U won’t care either… you know, since they’re still getting the game.

Despite everything I’ve just shared, I know this may be hard to believe, but, Nintendo know EXACTLY what they’re doing.  We may not like their approach, but every decision they’ve made has been steeped in money.

While casual consumers may look at this thing now and say, “There’s not enough that interests me,” Nintendo doesn’t care.  They know there’s enough demand from fans to keep this thing selling throughout the entirety of 2017, and why?  Because Zelda, Mario Kart, Splatoon and Super Mario Odyssey.  You can argue nobody will care about a port (Mario Kart 8), nor a sequel that hasn’t differentiated itself enough from the original (Splatoon 2), but again, they have a large ‘didn’t previously own a Wii-U’ market to tap into as well.

But will the Switch sell as well as Nintendo and certain analysts believe?

Well, Nintendo apparently plan to have 10 million of these things produced by the end of 2017.  Considering where the Wii-U is sitting, that’s an ambitious goal.  However, there’s a lot of positivity buzzing around what this console can do, so I do expect this thing to outpace its predecessor every step of way.  Certain analysts have guessed that after all is said and done, the Switch will have sold 40 million units.

To that, I say, “Not so fast.”  I don’t think it’s impossible, but Nintendo need to stop being so wishy-washy.

What’s with all the ‘we’re going to continue to support the 3DS’ bullcrap?  They come up with the brilliant idea to market a console that’s suitable for home AND on-the-go usage, and they want to keep its primary competitor on the shelf?  I get that third parties love this machine because there’s 60 million units out there, but not putting the kibosh on the Nintendo 3DS in early 2017 is a mistake, and Nintendo will have to rectify that by this time next year if they hope to bring over the portable crowd.

And this ties directly into that whole ‘third party support’ thing.

Most Nintendo fans will say, “Nobody buys Nintendo hardware to play anything but Nintendo software!”  But a 3DS fan has to be pretty short-sighted to actually believe such baloney.  That system wouldn’t have moved 60 million units if not for third party support.  If you believe otherwise, think of all the people that would recommend Monster Hunter, Ace Attorney, Dragon Quest, Etrian Odyssey, Shin Megami Tensei, Bravely Default, and so-on and so-forth.  Beyond that, history shows there simply hasn’t been a successful console without a fair amount of third party support.

Thankfully, Nintendo has told us they’d like all third party games to appear on the Switch, but they shouldn’t hold their breath.  They’ll continue to see remasters of popular games, but that’s about it.  However, as long as the Switch keeps its momentum at retail, it shouldn’t be hard for Nintendo to convince third parties already on board with the 3DS to switch to… well, you know.  But again, Nintendo can’t wait years for this transition to happen.  It needs to be a year, tops, and then they have to commit to the Switch 100%.  No ifs, ands or buts.

I’ve let Nintendo have it pretty good in this article, but it’s so you, the consumer, will be aware of what the current value of the system is for the average consumer (not great), how the first year and beyond is likely to pan out (better than the Wii-U… slow at first, perhaps hot afterwards), and what things Nintendo could have done if they were truly ‘in it to win it’.  That said, I think the Switch is a pretty remarkable piece of hardware, and we could see a healthy balance of first party Nintendo games, as well as third party titles once those publishers are convinced to make their 3DS games for the Switch as well, or perhaps even exclusively, leaving the old portable behind.

Of course, success really is in the hands of Nintendo at this point.  They need to deliver on games.  No more of this ‘Metroid Space Ball Horseshit’.  Nintendo always say they listen to their fans, and now is the time for them to deliver.

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?

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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.

Opinion-Bytes: Nintendon’t

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In the early light of 2014, Nintendo reported a net-income loss of 10.2 billion yen.  As a result, the company implemented some drastic pay cuts and offered to buy stock back from anyone who wanted to relinquish their shares.  Basically, this was their way of taking blame, admitting shame and performing seppuku. except instead of a sword, they used pens and documents to commit the act.  Of course, gamers everywhere unleashed their torrent of ire, with virtually every post or article being some iteration of ‘this is what Nintendo must do to survive.’  The most popular suggestion?  That Nintendo should drop hardware and become a third party game developer.  I’m not sure Nintendo needs to be THAT extreme, but I can see where people are coming from.  After all, Nintendo have steadily lost third party support since the N64, once believed that nobody cared about multiplayer, and have (mostly) failed to diversify their library with mature content.

But, their public shaming seems to have lead them to an epiphany.  That is, the once branded ‘savior of video games’ came to the realization that they needed to modernize their business for long-term success.  How did they propose to do this?  Well, to start, they expressed interest in a new operating system that would work on each of their platforms, similar to what Apple has done with iOS.  Couple this with President Iwata’s promise to expand Virtual Console support – partially by bringing Nintendo DS games to the eShop – and fans should have plenty to look forward to.  Other highlights include leveraging smart devices to gain new customers, improving upon lackluster marketing, and game character rights being licensed to new partners.  A promising start, for sure, but the very moment Nintendo seemed to convey they understood their missteps, Iwata said this:

“We haven’t been targeting children enough.”

Wuh-oh.  There’s that ire again.  Forcing the monetization of user generated videos on Youtube wasn’t great for their image, either.

Regardless of the things that can be said about Nintendo, though, I think they’ve always deserved at least SOME respect for staying true to the art of video games.  When they release a game, it works.  There’s no day one patch, no DRM laced into the code, nothing.  No, what you grab off the shelf is a game in its final state, which is almost impossible to come by in this industry nowadays.  I was actually talking to Pete Dodd about this earlier in the year, and we more or less agreed that Nintendo was the last bastion for old-school gaming (business practices, at least).  Irony is a cruel mistress however, so as an answer to our naivety, Mario Golf World Tour was released on the 3DS a couple of weeks later.  Flash forward a few weeks more, and Mario Kart 8 power slides into retailers, also with DLC on the horizon.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I was extremely disenchanted seeing Nintendo dip into digital add-ons.  Nintendo may have gained some good will with their gravity defying kart game, not to mention a unique digital presentation at E3 2014, but certainly not with me.  I wish I could have been amongst the smiling faces that were gleefully showered with hype, but instead, I was painfully reminded of something that Reggie Fil-Aime said in November of 2011:

“I’ve had this conversation with a number of our key developers, and their mentality is, ‘Reggie, when we sell a game, we want the consumer to feel that they’ve had a complete experience,” he said.  “Now, in addition, if we want to make other things available, great, and we’ll look at that.  But we’re unwilling to sell a piece of a game upfront and, if you will, force a consumer to buy more later.  That’s what they don’t want to do, and I completely agree.  I think the consumer wants to get, for their money, a complete experience, and then we have opportunities to provide more on top of that.”

In short, Nintendo was not interested in the prospect of DLC.  There’s nothing ambiguous in his statement that implies otherwise.  To further cement Nintendo’s position on DLC, Mr. Iwata echoed this sentiment a short time later:

“In terms of that priority, we cannot, and should not, ask our consumers to embrace the situation where they are required to make excessive payments.  Doing such things might be good for short-term profit, but it will not server our mid-term and long-term business developments.”

Eventually, I came to grips with my disenchantment.  “Okay, Mike, it’s as you always say.  Video games are a business first and foremost, and Nintendo?  They see no point in denying themselves the fruits their competitors have been enjoying for years.”  The industry is ALWAYS going to evolve in ways that make us ‘better customers’, so I guess I should have expected Nintendo to buckle at SOME point.  That doesn’t make it right, mind you, but I should have seen it coming.

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Another thing I didn’t see coming?  The astonishing display of consumer complacency.  I mean, just a year before, the Xbox One was rebranded the Xbox One-Eighty despite a slew of POSITIVE changes, so I expected everyone to take Nintendo to task over this.  Consumers are an unpredictable bunch, though, so what did they have to say when Nintendo did an about-face and tossed their most consumer friendly policy in the garbage?  Bupkiss.  In fact, some folks were all too happy to give Nintendo more cash.

Here’s a few random comments I found on Reddit in regards to Mario Kart 8 DLC:

“Fine by me.  The current game as is is great.  Adding more to it would just be awesome.  I mean, if Mario Golf got DLC, why couldn’t this?”

“Any DLC would be awesome!  Let’s have more tracks, more battle arenas, karts/bikes, and customizations.”

Bringing additional content to the table is fine, but was I the only one who felt that Mario Kart was a little… light?  Wasn’t the roster something of a letdown?  Does half the game really have to be remakes of old tracks?  And where did the old school battle arenas go?  To me, Mario Kart doesn’t feel like a ‘complete experience’ without them.  If they make a return in the form of DLC, are people going to praise Nintendo once again, or feel cheated and revolt?

“I’ve already tried shoving money and cards into the Wii U.  Yes, I absolutely want DLC.  Damn the cost.  It’s an investment.”

That… that doesn’t even make sense.  Forgetting the absurd ‘investment’ part, doesn’t this mentality set a dangerous precedent?  Nintendo are just beginning to test DLC modeling and pricing, so why give them the impression that you’re willing to fork over a blank check?

Anyway, Nintendo’s willingness to embrace DLC comes with a ‘good news, bad news’ scenario.  The good news, is that some of their DLC will be free, while the rest seems to be reasonably priced.  The bad news?  Let’s just say it brings us back to Iwata’s comment about not targeting children enough.

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The Amiibos, also unveiled during digi-E3, are coming to retail by the end of the year.  Similar to Skylanders and Disney Infinity, the idea is to buy your favorite Nintendo character figurines (Amiibos), and import them into various games by placing them on an NFC (near field communication) platform.  The Wii-U gamepad has one built in – it’s the rectangle on the left side just below the joystick – so as far as compatibility is concerned, there’s nothing else for stationary console fans to buy.  Of course, Nintendo has only shipped 6.68 million Wii-U’s (as of June), and while that’s a decent number, is it really enough to justify launching an ambitious toy line?

It can be if you grab the attention of 3DS fans.  Nintendo have shipped over 44 million of those units worldwide.  Unfortunately, the 3DS doesn’t have the luxury of having its own NFC device, so what’s to be done?

Come on, this is Nintendo we’re talking about.  Their software may have treated us right over the years, but they’ve had a nasty habit of selling people ‘hardware 1.5’ whenever an opportunity presents itself, and if this isn’t an opportunity, then I don’t know what is.

So, without delay, Nintendo announced the New Nintendo 3DS on August 29th.  That’s not a placeholder name, either.  They actually decided to call this thing the New Nintendo 3DS.  Not the Super Nintendo 3DS or 3DS Turbo… just ‘New Nintendo 3DS’.  Has this company learned nothing from the Wii-U?

Not that it matters, the New 3DS is going to sell like hotcakes.  It has a new analog stick on the right hand side and features additional ZL and ZR shoulder buttons, making this the perfect companion for all your Smash Bros. needs.  Furthermore, it boasts an improved 3D viewing angle, and a powerful CPU which allows for improved graphics and faster download speeds.  If that wasn’t enough to get you frothing at the mouth, there’s going to be a playable port of Xenoblade Chronicles.

The rub – because there’s always a rub – is that future titles, such as Xenoblade, will only be playable on the new handheld.  If you own a 3DS, 3DS XL or the more recent 2DS, you’re out of luck.  And hey, that’s not even the best part:

The New 3DS is equipped with an Amiibo sensor.  Because, you know, the first thing gamers think of when they play is, “I want some trinkets to complete this experience.”

When Nintendo told us they’d be taking measures to adapt and revamp, who thought it would boil down to rolling out a new piece of exclusionary hardware and selling toys?

I’ll give the company one thing, though:  It’s a brilliant strategy.  Consumer friendly or not, they’ll be rolling in dough.  3DS owners will find their urge to upgrade hard to resist.  Hell, I imagine the better 3D viewing angle alone will have people reaching for their wallets.  Serious Smash Bros. competitors will accept nothing less than the New 3DS control scheme, as a flick of the right analog will make pulling off smash and aerial attacks a breeze (this is otherwise done by holding a button and flicking the left stick).  Certain others will likely buy this JUST for the port of Xenoblade.  And of course, children are susceptible to advertising, so as long as Mario, Yoshi and Kirby dance in their commercials, kids will beg for the New 3DS.  Before you know it, the system will be everywhere, children and collectors will buy a bajillion Amiibos, and Nintendo’s cash-flow will be endless.

You could argue they’ll lose business by alienating fans, but financially speaking, I think the only place they’ll go is ‘up’.  Nintendo wants to pry kiddies away from mom’s cell phone – that is, away from the likes of Angry Birds and Plants vs. Zombies – and back onto a proper handheld, and I think the Amiibo + New 3DS strategy will go a long way to that end.

That said, I’m a consumer advocate first and foremost, and while I understand and can even appreciate what Nintendo are doing from a business perspective, I’m still not on board with what they’re doing.  I hate to say it because I adore their first party offerings (I own a 3DS and Wii-U), but they’re a terrible company.  They’ve never listened to their customers, and it doesn’t look like they’re about to start.  I mean, it isn’t rocket science, is it?  Entice third parties to come back by making hardware that isn’t a chore for them to work with (ditch the gimmicky controllers, Ninty), make multiplayer an integral part of the experience (because Super Mario 3D World would have been amazing with online co-op), and stop confusing consumers with vague marketing and recycled names.  Gamers have shouted this from the mountaintops for years, and all Nintendo have said is, “Whoops, I guess we misread the market.”  I don’t buy that for a second.  Question is, are fun games enough to retain our support, or is it time to take a bow and say, “Sayonara?”

Bit-History: The Legend of Zelda – Ocarina of Time

Alright, this game is a no-brainer.  Ask anyone to put together a serious list together of what the best games of all time are, and this masterpiece will make the cut each and every time.  This game left quite an impression on me, and I’ll remember it fondly for the rest of my life… it’s THAT good.  I’ve even contemplated buying an N64 again, until I realized I could make a control scheme with a PS3 controller that works quite well for the game, meaning I can emulate it on my PC and play it whenever I want, and it will look much better with the program’s upscaling capabilities.

Before the N64 came along and introduced Nintendo fans to the reality of gaming in a world with three dimensions, Zelda was primarily a top-down adventure/RPG series, with the exception of Zelda II, which was more of a side-scrolling RPG.  Because of the original Legend of Zelda, Link was up there as one of Nintendo’s most recognizable icons/mascots, and he’s been a part of Nintendo’s important heritage ever since… even after the company began to show incompetence and failed to realize what the hell games actually wanted anymore.  So, you can only imagine how exciting it was to get our hands on Ocarina of Time, an adventure that would put us in control on the ground, and in third-person… but of course, there were some initial concerns how well the franchise would make the transition.

The answer was ‘incredibly well’.  Mario 64 was the first ‘three dimension’ game that most people had the opportunity to play, and it was absolutely mind-blowing.  That being said, there felt like a significant confinement in each world, even the castle ‘hub world’ which served as the portal to every stage.  Zelda was always more about exploring a vast and epic world however, and I wasn’t sure that Nintendo would actually be able to provide the series justice.  But, they’ve done just that – They made Ocarina of Time one hell of an experience.

For starters, there’s the story.  My oh my, there’s the story.  Usually, you’re just dropped in Hyrule, told you have to go to a bunch of different dungeons until you work your way up to the final boss.  The premise was simple, but the draw was always the ability to roam freely and figure out a bunch of different side stuff that would net you some handy items that would undoubtedly become useful throughout your quest.  Ocarina of Time actually managed to introduce a story that made this in-game world not only seem fully realized, but seemingly bursting at the seams with history that’s as ancient as time itself.  You were made to feel as if you were truly playing a role in an important time in the history of Link’s world, and with each ‘dungeon’ you visited, it was clear that your quest was serious business.  There was plenty of atmosphere, tones throughout that were incredibly fun and light, yet contrasted with intimidating set-pieces which were dark and even scary at times.  An incredible job was paid to every aspect of the game… the outer world and dungeons were all a pleasure to explore.

The game starts off light enough, as you find Link part of a funny little forest village, but things become a bit more serious as he tackles his first dungeon within the impressively large ‘Great Deku Tree’.  As a young Link, you visit some other dungeons along the way, and they quickly becoming increasingly difficult.  You come to a point where you think you just may have reached the end of the game, pulling the Master Sword from its resting place… but you actually flash forward through time, and that’s when the game really begins… after easily spending a dozen hours playing already.  Turns out as adult Link, you have MANY more dungeons to explore, and NOW they REALLY mean business.  They were much larger, didn’t feel  as ‘childish’ so they were definitely more ominous, and they were far more challenging.  Puzzles were cleverly thrown in each of them, and they were always difficult enough that you’d feel some grand satisfaction after you figured things out… but the water temple was something else.  Again I would say to ask gamers what one of the most difficult things they ever did in a game was, and they’ll probably say the Water Temple in Ocarina made them want to slit their wrists… you know, so they could take the easy way out.  But, this game was so fantastic, quitting wasn’t even an option.

One of the coolest things about Ocarina of Time though, was the fact that the entire world was interactive.  Everyone you came into contact with needed help with something, and Link could provide that help and gain cool little things… like jugs to hold potions, or hearts to gain additional health, and more.  This added HOURS upon HOURS of additional gameplay, and it made the ‘roam anywhere and do anything’ feel of the franchise fully realized for the first time.  True to form, Zelda didn’t feel linear at all… a trend which was broken with Twilight Princess.  Don’t get me wrong, Twilight Princess was amazing, but it just didn’t have the same ‘open world and do anything you want at any time’ feel to it.

It’s for these reasons and many more that this game deserves to remain one of the best of all time.  I could go on for days, but I really just wanted to give you the broad strokes as to why this game is a masterpiece classic, which I’d even say helped to define ‘modern’ open world gaming for the rest of all time.  Why Nintendo is putting such an expansive effort into giving Wind Waker the HD treatment is beyond me… it’s Ocarina of Time that I think most fans would give their left hand to see!