BeiN True to Yourself: How Nintendo Wins

I’ve been meaning to write an article like this for a while now, and with E3 having just happened, I think I can finally get started now.  As my past articles may give some ultra-subtle foreshadowing of, I am quite happy with how the Switch has been received so far.  After at least four years of almost unrelenting negativity towards Nintendo’s console division, someone finally flipped a switch and turned the light back on.  The Switch has recreated the phenomenon of the original Wii’s launch, an even more impressive feat considering it launched in March instead of November.  With Nintendo seeming to have finally fulfilled their longstanding goal of a launch year without droughts and an incredible E3 that featured a healthy mix of 2017, early 2018, and far away but ultra-exciting games, Switch’s future looks very bright.  So with Nintendo’s four most recent consoles alternating between explosive success and market failure (no, you having nostalgia for GameCube doesn’t mean it sold well, it was closer to Wii U in sales than it was to Nintendo 64, and that didn’t even win its generation), is there any way to make sense of this pattern?

Well, let’s look at the goal behind the four consoles in the most general terms.  The GameCube and Wii U had a focus on attaining something that Nintendo’s competition had in the previous generation that they lacked (disc based software and HD graphics, respectively) and bringing Nintendo back to getting the biggest third-party games and controlling the traditional gaming demographic again.  Both systems also suffered from something of an identity crisis, having drawbacks that stopped them from achieving true parity with their competitors (GCN’s smaller disc space and Wii U’s limited power compared to competing systems) and having stylistic features that conflicted with the goal of winning over the competitor’s fanbase (GameCube’s general “kiddy” image, Wii U’s tablet inspired controller).  After showing a lot of promise at launch, both systems quickly fell behind in market share and third-party support, becoming solid but niche systems you bought for Nintendo’s games.

 

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And look how well pandering to EA worked out.

 

Now let’s look at Wii and Switch.  They actually don’t seem to have fixed the problems I mentioned above, you could even argue they got worse.  Was Wii any less “kiddy” than GameCube?  Is Switch a powerhouse that obliterates or at least matches PlayStation 4 and would be giving PS5 a run for its money if the generations hadn’t gotten completely de-synced?  Did/will either one get all the AAA third party multi-plats that PlayStation/Xbox/PC share?  The answer to all those questions is no.  So why did things work out for these systems, but not their predecessors?

Because Nintendo didn’t half-try to be something they weren’t, they embraced what made them different and turned those weaknesses into strengths.  They flipped things around and succeeded at things their competitors weren’t even trying.  The Wii may have been at least as “kiddy” as GameCube, but it appealed to middle aged parents and senior citizens just as easily, it genuinely was for all ages.  The Switch may be only marginally more powerful than Wii U, but take it out of its dock and it’s a technological marvel as a portable system.  Nintendo solved their problems in ways that their competitors never would have attempted, and unlike trying to copy the other systems, this approach has been rewarded.

 

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Mocking its name just made it stronger.

 

Of course, that doesn’t mean GameCube and Wii U didn’t contribute anything to Nintendo’s future.  Remember GameCube’s bizarre controller layout and various gimmick controllers (bongos, the Game Boy Advance)?  I’m sure you remember Wii U’s attempt to get people excited to play games on the controller’s screen.  Neither of these features caught on, but Wii and Switch managed to evolve these ideas into a functional, wildly popular form.  The Wii had a new way of controlling games that got a huge amount of mainstream attention, and it being included with every system allowed it to thrive.  Wii U’s ability to stream games to its controller at a limited range turned into Switch being a true hybrid that allows you to take complete console games anywhere you want.  Instead of giving up on these ideas, Nintendo believed in them and turned them into something hugely successful.

 

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Its heart was in the right place, it just needed a few tweaks.

 

Now this section is a bit of a leftover from one of the earlier incarnations of this article, but since I’ve compared Wii and Switch so much, I think it’s worth addressing.  Some may ask if we really want Switch to turn into another Wii.  Was its success actually good for gamers?

Yes, it absolutely was!

It’s time to get over the delusion that Wii was nothing but Nintendo lazily making mini-game compilations and third parties badly copying the aforementioned mini-game compilations.  Yes, the Wii ___ series and shovelware that all market leaders attract existed, but you could and can ignore them, and there is a diamond mine hidden under them.  Nintendo made some of their best games on the Wii, and I don’t just mean the Super Mario Galaxies and Xenoblade.  Punch-Out, Donkey Kong Country Returns, Kirby’s Epic Yarn, Kirby’s Return to Dreamland, Wario Land Shake-It, Metroid Prime 3, Sin and Punishment 2, Pandora’s Tower, games you should give a genuine chance like New Super Mario Bros. Wii and Zelda: Skyward Sword, Nintendo absolutely did not just focus on gimmicky mini-game compilations during the Wii’s lifespan.

But the lack of attention those games get is nothing compared to the third-party hidden gems on Wii.  Zack and Wiki, Prince of Persia The Forgotten Sands, Muramasa, Madworld, No More Heroes 2, Dead Space Extraction, A Boy and His Blob, Rabbids Go Home, Sonic Colors, Epic Mickey, Lost in Shadow, Red Steel 2, Trauma Team, House of the Dead Overkill, Goldeneye 007, Medal of Honor Heroes 2, Boom Blox Bash Party, Rodea: The Sky Soldier, there are so many third party Wii games that may not have been super hyped AAA budget games but were the type of quality mid-ware that people thought died in the seventh generation.  Switch turning out like Wii would indeed be a good thing, and fortunately, there are already signs of its portable ability bringing back some of those mid-ware style games.

 

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Have you played this game? Do you know what it is? This is Trauma Team, just one of the many underappreciated Wii games.

 

So in conclusion, I think the moral here is pretty obvious.  Nintendo systems with one syllable names do better, end of story.  In seriousness, I think it’s safe to say that Nintendo does a lot better when they focus on their strengths instead of trying to attain the strengths of others.  Directly competing on their competitor’s turf doesn’t work, and with the console generations being out of sync between companies now it is barely measurable (I defy you to find a way to compare Switch and PS4’s success that doesn’t require waiting 5+ years to judge).  While it would be nice for Nintendo to achieve the third-party dominance they had with the NES and SNES, I don’t think it’s practical right now and both Nintendo and their fans will have a better time if they focus on what worked for Wii and Switch instead of trying to bring SNES back with one fell swoop.  Wait a second, if you pronounce them “Ness” and “Sness”, those systems are also one syllable… that IS the key!

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The Reboots are Revolting

This one’s been a long time coming. I’ve been alluding to this article since before this blog was even started. Back when Retronaissance was just starting up, I mentioned having ideas for a reboot treatment for the MegaMan series. I’ve made references to being receptive to a reboot in one of my earlier other MegaRants. Well, wait no longer, because it’s finally here: the reboot article. As if the title didn’t already give that away.

You’re probably asking, “Hey Icepick, why reboot MegaMan at all?” After all, we’ve already got several MegaMan series as it is, adding another one to the mix would be a redundant disaster. The answer’s simple: the fact that we have too many MegaMan franchises is why we NEED a reboot. The fanbase is inconceivably splintered, so starting from scratch may just be the best thing to do with the franchise. Furthermore, the big guns in the franchise are already far too overspent at this point: the Classic series is at a whopping 10 numbered games, while the beloved X series has a whopping 8. If you want a real disc-based title in the franchise, 11 and 9 are not the best numbers to start from. Besides, one could probably make the argument that Mario, Sonic and even Pac-Man have gone through reboots recently, the only underlying issue holding our beloved Blue Bomber back is the fact that he’s got an inkling of a storyline in all of his games.

The funny thing about that is that I’ve got a pretty good way around that: this new MegaMan incarnation would utilize mythology from the existing series in order to create something both familiar and new. Think of the Doctor Who reboot that started back in 2005. Better yet, think of some of the more recent Transformers cartoons: Animated and Prime. For my treatment, we’d be using the Classic universe as a base, picking and choosing various elements from other franchises in order to further expand on that world and then adding original elements to give it an entirely unique spin. Of course, for the purposes of this article, I won’t be adding any specific characters – after all, this article is more of a call to arms for Capcom to put some effort into reinvigorating the brand, not a ham-fisted excuse to post a whole bunch of “ORIGINAL CHARACTERS, DO NOT STEAL”. Still, I guess I could throw in some examples from other media to give examples of characters that would be welcome additions to this new universe.

So, of course, since we’re using Classic as a base, this new franchise would take place in the recognizable year of 20XX. After all, that’s still technically futuristic. Blend the optimistic Astro Boy-esque future aesthetic from the Classic games with the futuristic take on modern society from Battle Network’s 20XX to make something a bit more unique. Avoid the darker tones of MMX’s 21XX, the bleak setting of MMZ and the post-apocalyptic Waterworld shown in Legends. However, do feel free to utilize elements from MMZX’s futuristic utopia and Star Force’s 22XX, if you want to make things look even more futuristic. Ditching “Monsteropolis” would be a good idea regardless of the potential for nostalgia, but fake city names wouldn’t be a bad idea.

This brings us to the characters. Let’s start with the three major characters in the series. Regarding MegaMan (Rock) and Roll, I’d keep them fairly similar to their typical incarnations, except I would probably age them up a bit, from 8-10 years of age to about 13-15. I never really got the point of making them so young in later incarnations, but the Ruby-Spears series may have had something to do with that. Personality-wise, Rock should stay similar to both his Powered Up and Archie Comics incarnations, he should be fairly innocent and maintain his strong sense of justice. All-in-all, just a normal kid who just happens to be a super-fighting robot. As for Roll, I’ve always been a fan of the persona Western media has given her: snarky and upset over not being upgraded, but still loves her family. She’d be a little more “street smart” than her older brother and working as Dr. Light’s assistant. Dr. Light, of course, would also be present in his standard form: kindly old scientist with dreams of peace through technology. All in all, no major deviations from the norm for these characters.

But what’s a good story without villains? First up is an obvious choice, Dr. Albert W. Wily. As with Rock, Roll and Light, Wily wouldn’t be far off from his typical Classic appearance: a hammy cartoonish villain. Of course, one of the Classic series’ shortcomings was the lack of diversity when it comes to villains: even when Wily’s not behind it, well…Wily’s behind it. Meanwhile, the other games have some pretty good villains, so let’s just transplant a few, shall we? Take, Sigma, for example. He’s supposed to be the personification of a computer virus, so why not just make him a sort of sentient virus with aspirations for human genocide? Way better than just being some bald schmo dressed in rags saying “ZELOOOOOO”, right? The Bonne Siblings could be another good transplant, maybe not as major villains, but as comedic relief minor villains. Maybe make them thieves, despite being pirates, burglary was their main crime in the Legends series anyway. Vile might be another good contender, but considering his nature he’d require some modifications. Instead of a Reploid, make him a cyborg mercenary (explaining his absolute free will, while other robots would be bound by the laws of robotics), with a vendetta against robots. Perhaps he originally had an aversion to robots made worse when an accident involving one led him to become the cyborg he is presently. Just a thought.

One must also consider the secondary characters. An obvious choice would be Rock’s big bro, the enigmatic ProtoMan. Use the classic origin story, Dr. Light’s first creation gone missing, repaired by Wily with a brand-new energy supply, etc. The only real question would be what to do for his weaponry. His arm cannon is fairly unique and its fluctuating strength gives evidence of his unstable power core, but on the other hand, other incarnations of the character (MMBN, the cover art for MM10) have given him a sword to go with his shield, which could justify using Zero’s gameplay style without actually putting Zero in. Personally, I think either choice is acceptable. I’d bring back the Cossack family as well, and give them a much more expanded role. I always thought it was kind of lame that they just sort of disappeared after MM5, I thought they had some potential as characters, even if Classic MegaMan’s storyline has always been sparse. Something I’d like to see transplanted from other media would be the revival of the Robot Masters after being defeated. A few games and both the Archie comic and Hitoshi Ariga’s mangas have made use of that plot element. Either way, it’d definitely be cool to see Rock and Roll hang out with their younger siblings or see Wily’s earlier creations putter around Skull Castle. Also, definitely bring back the support units: Rush, Eddie, Beat and Tango.

I’d also want to see Auto brought back. While I never really cared for him that much in the games, his characterization in the aforementioned mangas and comic has changed my opinion of him. I’d definitely want to introduce him earlier in the series though, maybe as a precursor assistant to Dr. Light before Rock and Roll were finished. Bass would be another character to bring back, but I’d probably approach him differently. When he was first introduced in MM7, he fooled MegaMan by pretending to also be after Wily. Unfortunately, that plot point lasted for half a game, at the most. In this reboot, I’d introduce Bass earlier on and exploit that plot point to a much greater extent. Changing his origin could work as well, perhaps make him the creation of Dr. Cossack or another scientist who starts off on the side of good but eventually becomes obsessed with defeating MegaMan. Speaking of which, the Archie comic has led me to the conclusion that we need more scientists in the franchise. Transplanting scientists from other series might work, but this would probably be a good place to start implementing original characters. Robotics shouldn’t be a field limited to just Light, Wily and to a far lesser extent, Cossack. Some kind of a police force or a para-military group might be a good addition as well. Again, populate whichever you decide to use with OCs and transplants from other games.

The game’s tone would be light and episodic, not unlike a Saturday morning cartoon of old. Of course, there could also be some overarching plotlines between “episodes”, but keeping continuity minimal would be in the series’ best interest. As for content per game, at the very least, a full-on disc-based title would probably require the equivalent of at least 3 Classic games, not unlike the Wily Wars. So the first game would more or less retell the first three games in the series, while adding their own twists to the story. That way, iconic characters could be reintroduced more quickly than before and the games themselves could be larger without having to worry about balancing more than 8 weapons per scenario. Better yet, even if Capcom doesn’t decide to go for a full budget release, each scenario could just be released in an episodic format, perhaps including some bonus content if you buy all of the episodes in a given season.

Gameplay itself, on the other hand, is a more difficult issue. Ideally, Capcom would go the route of other 2D platformer revivals, like the New Super Mario Bros. games or the last two Rayman games, but let’s face it, that may not be enough to attract  a large enough audience to make this new MegaMan a success. MegaMan games traditionally underperform. But would reimagining the series in 3D work? After all, we remember the trainwreck that was X7. Still, many 3D reimaginings of 2D franchises from the fifth and sixth generations of video games were far different animals than they are today. Maybe Capcom could recreate the twitchy yet precise MegaMan gameplay of yore in 3D. Then again, I really doubt it. I’d err for sticking to the basics personally, but a new franchise would be the best opportunity to experiment. That’s how we got Legends and Battle Network/Star Force, after all.

A well-made reboot for the MegaMan series would clearly take the best aspects from the games of old, while incorporating entirely new elements and avoiding any missteps from earlier games. Considering Capcom’s track record with reboots, it may seem in their best interest to avoid one. However, catering to the old school crowds alone do our beloved Blue Bomber a disservice. If Capcom can put in as much effort as Nintendo did with the Super Mario Galaxy games or Sega with Sonic Colors and Generations, I’m sure the results would please old fans and spark an interest in a new generation of gamers, leading MegaMan to at least another 25 years of memories. Of course, this is just my take on what an ideal reboot for the series would look like. Stay tuned for SNESMasterKI’s opinion.

Wii Retrospective: All About the Games

As Wii’s life draws to a full close, there is a lot to say about the system.  While you could fill several articles talking about the disbelief when it was revealed, unorthodox system design, massive mainstream success, and bitter hatred from several sectors of the gaming community, that’s not what is really going to matter when we look back on the system in the future.  The only thing that is going to matter from this point on is the game library, and that is what I am going to be looking back on.  While I could wait for the Nintendo cycle to make the entire world love Wii once Wii U’s successor is released, I’m just not that patient.  Wii’s lineup has been severely under appreciated, and I’m going to overview several categories to show just how much there is to the system if you look.  Instead of going genre by genre, I’m going to try something a little different and divide games by first and third party, with three sub-categories for each.  Let’s dive in to the best Wii has to offer.

First Party:

Nintendo Staples:

These are the franchises you expect on every Nintendo system (and God help them if they miss even one) by default.  Two of the big ones, Zelda and Metroid, both had a pair of Wii releases.  I don’t care enough about Metroid: Other M to defend it very much (although the fact that I view it as forgettable instead of an abomination probably counts at this point), but the other three entries in those series all deserve much more love than they’re given.  Zelda: Twilight Princess is what it promised to be, a direct follow-up to Ocarina of Time.  Yes, it’s pretty easy in combat, but everything else is done pretty much perfectly.  Shooting with the IR pointer feels great, screw Wii Sports, that was what impressed me at launch.  Skyward Sword, on the other hand, changed the formula quite a bit more.  While I wish aiming was done with the IR pointer, the sword combat worked perfectly.  One thing it annoys me that no one acknowledges is that SS fixed the combat difficulty problems and is one of the hardest Zeldas in that area, even without the unlockable hard mode.  Both games have incredible level design, focusing on intricate dungeons and dungeon like fields instead of wandering around.  As for Metroid, Metroid Prime 3 is another game that greatly benefits from the Wii controller.  The emphasis on aiming and shooting means that the IR pointer adds a huge amount to the series, and there were some very appreciated changes (FINALLY there are teleport points).  If you can overlook the fact that it doesn’t copy the Super Metroid formula as exactly as the original Metroid Prime did, I think you’ll see just how good MP3 is.

As for other Nintendo staples, one of Wii’s biggest strengths was its platformers.  Wario Land Shake-It, Donkey Kong Country Returns, Kirby’s Epic Yarn, and Kirby’s Return to Dreamland are all great entries in their series and a major part of what made Wii so great for those who missed the console 2D platformer.  Smash Bros. reached a new level of hype with Super Smash Bros. Brawl, although the most vicious fighting involving it is probably from fan wars between it and Melee.  There were also entries in Fire Emblem, Nintendo Wars, Pokemon spin-offs, and Warioware for your Nintendo staples.  I know, I know, there wasn’t any Starfox, Pikmin or F-Zero and that’s the worst atrocity in human history, but as we’ll see in the next section there were things to make up for those.  I’m also aware that I skipped over one really, really obvious series, but again, just keep reading.

New and Revived IPs:

Not every Nintendo IP gets to show up on every system, and Wii had its share of revivals.  The Excite series kept its tradition of skipping every other Nintendo console, but Wii somehow managed to get an astounding three games in it, with Excite Truck, Excite Bots, and Excite Bike World Rally for Wiiware.  Punch-Out came back after a very long absence with a fantastic update.  After the original Sin and Punishment finally got a worldwide release on the Wii’s Virtual Console, it got an even better sequel that will easily fill the gap Starfox left in you.  Rhythm Tengoku got its first console release in Rhythm Heaven Fever.

But of course, everyone wants to know about the new IPs (until Nintendo skips over a major franchise in favor of one, at which point public opinion will immediately reverse).  The most prolific one, obviously, was the Wii (Insert word) series.  Wii Sports was the system seller for the mainstream, while Wii Play, Wii Fit, and Wii Sports Resort all sold very well along with their respective pack-in peripherals.  Wii Music did not have one and was a relative failure (and really hated by the gaming community).  Coincidence?  Probably.  Near the end of the system’s lifespan Nintendo brought in some new IPs in more traditional genres.  The rain fell and the world got to play Xenoblade, The Last Story, and Pandora’s Tower, all of which filled a much needed genre gap for Wii.

Mario:

Yes, Mario gets his own section.  Mario’s presence on Wii was one of the biggest for any Nintendo system, and that presence was well earned.  The first Mario game on Wii was actually Super Paper Mario, an RPG-platformer hybrid that suffered from an identity crisis but had some very creative ideas and great writing.  Mario Kart Wii is not one of the best games in the series for level design, but had probably the best implemented online play of any first party game on the system.  After a disliked Mario Party 8, Nintendo toned the series down quite a bit and released the much better received Mario Party 9 five years later.  Although it taught me I simply can’t get into a soccer game no matter who stars in it, Mario Striker’s Charged was a good effort from Next Level on their rise to prominence with Nintendo franchises.

Mario’s Wii games may not sound all that great so far, but that’s because I’m saving the best and most obvious ones for last.  After the traumatic Mario platformer drought on the Nintendo 64 and GameCube, which only got one Mario platformer each, Wii had three Mario platformers on it, and all were absolute masterpieces.  New Super Mario Bros. Wii may have an army of internet posters who hate it because it has repeated world themes and a cappella, but if you give the game a chance you’ll find a platforming classic up there with Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World.  It also heralded the revival of the home console 2D platformer.  As for the Super Mario Galaxy games, do I need to say anything?  Even people who hate Wii acknowledge them as classics, they will be remembered as some of the best games of all time.

Well, that’s the first party section of Wii, but that’s all the system had to offer, right?  Considering I already said there would be a third party section, you can probably guess that’s wrong.  Let’s look at what third parties had to offer on Wii.

Third Party:

Prominent Exclusives:

This section covers third party games for Wii that had at least some sort of hype around them.  I am including timed exclusives as long as they were not announced for other platforms until the Wii version had already been released.  There were actually more games in this category than many people would expect.  Red Steel was the most hyped third party launch game, and while it didn’t turn out well it did manage to get a much better (and different in every way) sequel.  No More Heroes 1 and 2, Goldeneye 007, and Madworld were some other games that went against the tone often associated with Wii.  Wii also gave the rail shooter genre new life with House of the Dead Overkill, Dead Space Extraction, and the Resident Evil Chronicles games.

Not every prominent Wii third party game was about shooting or slashing.  The brilliant puzzle game Boom Blox, paint based platformer de Blob, and platformer/Katamari hybrid Rabbids Go Home were all unique games that the whole family could play.  Epic Mickey was somewhere in the middle, a dark but not violent take on Mickey Mouse with a surprisingly strong Nintendo 64 feel to the gameplay.  While somewhat stretching the definition of prominent, Muramasa was at least taken notice of in gaming communities and provided a great 2D combat engine to go with its beautiful painted world, while Capcom’s Zack and Wiki got attention for its great use of the Wii controller.  Speaking of Capcom, who can forget the anger caused by Monster Hunter Tri and Tatsunoko vs Capcom were announced as Wii exclusives?  But my favorite moment in this category was when, after a couple of mediocre storybook games, Sonic made his long, LONG overdue comeback in the Wii exclusive Sonic Colors.

There are also some Wiiware exclusives that deserve mention.  World of Goo is a brilliant physics based puzzle game that got a surprising amount of recognition.  Konami’s Rebirth series brought back Contra, Gradius, and classic style Castlevania.  Final Fantasy IV: The After Years may actually be the best received direct sequel to a Final Fantasy game.

Multi-platform Games:

Definitely not Wii’s strong point, and probably where much of the hatred of the system comes from.  Yes, Wii missed out on a huge amount of games that were released on both PS3 and 360, and apparently a system having its own library is a bad thing now.  Despite this, Wii had some multi-plats worth mentioning.  The Wii version of Rayman Raving Rabbids actually completely overshadowed the other versions, being one of the early showcases for the system’s controller.  Rayman didn’t forget this, and Wii got the incredible Rayman Origins at the same time and with the same content as the other systems.  De Blob 2 went multi-platform, but the Wii version didn’t miss out on anything from the others.  Despite being widely considered a disappointment, the Wii version of Epic Mickey 2 is actually the best one with the original developer and best control scheme.  The Call of Duty games didn’t have everything on Wii they did on other systems, but almost all of them did in fact make it to Wii, and Wii’s IR pointer controls could quite possibly make up for the shortcomings.  While sharing games with PS2 or PSP felt demeaning, there were some solid games where the Wii version was the definitive one thanks to the controls, such as Medal of Honor Heroes 2, Silent Hill Shattered Memories, and Ghostbusters (which was a completely different game than the PS360 version).  Wiiware had a better shot at sharing games with other platforms than retail releases, and Wii had some good games in that area like Mega Man 9 and 10, the Bit.Trip series, Cave Story, and Retro City Rampage.  Not a great lineup of multi-platform games, but it’s something.

Overlooked Gems:

Back in the height of the “Wii has hundreds of crappy games, the system therefore sucks!” days, I said that in the future they wouldn’t matter at all, and we’d only remember the gems in that gigantic pile of unnoticed third party games.  That time has come, let’s start with the cream of the crop.

Did you know Boom Blox had a sequel?  Boom Blox Bash Party may sound like a spin-off, but it’s actually a direct sequel that is even better than the first game.  Put assumptions aside, this series is not a party game or a simple arcade puzzler.  Boom Blox Bash Party had hundreds of brilliant and just inherently fun physics based puzzles, and is a must for every Wii U owner.  A Boy and his Blob is a fantastic sequel to the NES game that feels like a puzzle platformer merged with Zelda.  Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands is actually a completely different game on Wii and uses the IR pointer for the best gameplay in any of the Sands games.  Lost in Shadow is another puzzle platformer, a deceptively huge game that doesn’t let the puzzle aspect completely overshadow the platforming.  Trauma Team combines Trauma Center gameplay and a few Phoenix Wright style play modes for a gigantic game that everyone should look into whether they’ve played the previous Trauma Centers or not.

While I don’t recommend them quite as strongly, there are some more obscure games worth checking out if their description catches your attention.  Blastworks is a shmup with a Little Big Planet style level editor.  Deadly Creatures is an aesthetically realistic platformer where you play as a spider and scorpion.  Elebits suffers from some early “is this a good way to use the controller?” issues, but is a creative and fun game almost impossible to describe.  The RPG Opoona, aerial combat game Sky Crawlers, and extreme sports game SSX Blur are some games I haven’t personally played, but their reputation suggests they deserve a mention.

As I hope you can see, Wii actually has a much greater quantity and variety of good games than its reputation would lead you to believe.  As I said, I have complete confidence that people will acknowledge this in time since it will at some point be a Nintendo system benefiting from the nostalgia filter, but you don’t have to wait.  With Wii games still easy to find and cheap, now is the perfect time to dig into the system’s under appreciated library.  Like every system, games will be Wii’s true legacy, and they leave a much better one than many people give them credit for.

When Losing Control is a Good Thing

If you listen to the gaming community, aside from having a burning hatred of humanity, you’d probably think that it was best for a game to give players control over every aspect it possibly can. In a shocking twist, I disagree with the people who lower my opinion of humanity. While there are certainly many areas players absolutely should control (auto-platforming is the worst thing to ever happen to my favorite genre), it is not a universal constant. I’m going to explore some small areas, and a couple big ones, where games really need to stop letting/making the player make every decision.

Let’s start with something that I feel should be one of the ten commandments of game design: linearity is not a flaw! There are several genres that simply work better as linear games. Non-linearity may give the player the feeling that they are on a grander adventure and have more freedom, but do you know what the cost is? Level design. In any game with a focus on combat or environmental obstacles, designing levels in a way that always allows backtracking is going to cripple what can be done. The genre where this is most obvious is the platformer. Making a level in a platformer physically possible to backtrack in and explore areas in different orders requires greatly simplifying the level geography. The non-linear collect-a-thon platformers often had mostly flat, circular levels. Areas with platformer staples like crumbling platforms, auto-scrolling walls, and enemies that double as platforms ironically had to be much more cramped and restricted to accommodate the non-linear, explorable parts.

Platformers aren’t the only genre to benefit from linearity. The core of an action game’s level design is enemy placement, meaning a non-linear one has to either make you re-fight a tough battle several times with respawning enemies or break the pace of the game with treks through empty rooms as you try to figure out where to go next. Even in genres where complete linearity would be a bad idea, there are places where it is needed. In adventure games from the Zelda mold, you need an order for main story areas so that the game knows what items you have and can design areas around them. Good luck doing that if dungeons can be completed in any order.

Speaking of games knowing what items and abilities a player has, that segues nicely into my next area where I feel games often give players too much control: character customization. Now having gotten into the Pokemon meta-game, I’m not going to say there isn’t a place for character customization. But like non-linearity, there are contexts where it suffocates the level design. This mainly applies to real-time games with an emphasis on environmental level design. Let’s say I’m designing a level where the player has a double jump. I can do all kinds of things with it. Almost every aspect of the level design has to take it into account. I have to make the jumps trickier, make enemy projectiles bigger, place hard to get items in areas the player can’t just double jump to.

Now what if the player MIGHT have a double jump? Well, that just messes up everything. Either the level is unfair/impossible to players without it, or it makes the level too easy, or I just never have any situations where it matters. And what if the player may or may not have a double jump, the ability to climb walls, a projectile based weapon, a stealth ability, and the ability to possess enemies? Well screw this, I’m just going to have to make every dungeon as basic as possible. Maybe if I make 100 of them, people won’t mind. And that’s precisely what happens when games give you too many variations in what powers your character has and when you have them: the level design has to be neutered. This doesn’t mean real time games can never give players choices, but there has to be a balance. I’d rather have three distinct character classes with the level modified to suit mine than 30 combinations of abilities that one level has to accommodate all at once.

Another area where some genres should let the game itself do the work is camera angles. This mainly applies to more fast paced genres, games where the player simply doesn’t have time to constantly adjust the camera. Action games are the prime example, nothing is worse than getting hit by an enemy you couldn’t see at the time. Some may think that limiting the player to camera angles the game decided on would make this problem even worse, but what that objection overlooks is that the game will KNOW what area you can’t see. If the player controls the camera, then obviously enemies can’t be programmed to act according to what the player can see. But if the game sets the camera angle, it knows for sure if the player can see an enemy. Enemies can stay in visible areas or not attack when the player can’t see them. Obviously giving the camera over to the game requires a great deal of trust in the competence of the designers and programmers, but when it works it works very well. The Devil May Cry, God of War, and Super Mario Galaxy series give little or no camera control to the player, and it enhances the games, eliminating serious camera problems found in many other games of their genres.

Those are the biggest areas where I think some games can benefit from giving players less control, but there are a few other instances where I think it is a good idea. Many games where you can choose the morality of the protagonist strongly encourage picking an alliance and sticking to it, so why put in 100 choices when there are really just two real ones? A game like Infamous would benefit from just letting you choose to be good or evil at the start, it would mean less disappointment that you’re pressured into sticking with one side and allow for more variations between the two paths. I’m also quite frankly sick of “in gameplay” cinemas. Having to follow a character or pace around a room while a story event happens does not add any more to gameplay than watching a cinema, and reduces the chance of a game letting you skip it. If you don’t want a game to ever take control away from the player, make sure there’s always some sort of gameplay while the player is in control.

A recurring theme of this article was that all of my suggestions were only for certain genres and situations, and I want to reiterate that. There are many areas and genres where the player should always have choices. A linear sandbox game, turn-based RPG with no customization, or puzzle game where you couldn’t control the camera would all be absurd. However, that doesn’t mean giving the player control is a universal good in every single context, and the sooner developers and gamers realize that, the less games will be harmed by it.

Jumping From the Ashes: The Rebirth of Platformers

When we last left platformers at the close of the sixth generation and dawn of the seventh, things were not looking good. The transition to 3D that had seemed so promising with Super Mario 64 had caused initially hidden but quickly expanding problems for the genre, and the gaming market had shifted in a direction that was not very hospitable for platformers. Sonic had become a joke and Mario was for all intents and purposes missing from the genre. Ratchet and Clank could barely be considered a platformer anymore, and no other series from the last generation seemed to be making the leap. Was all hope lost?

It certainly seemed so at the beginning of the generation. While there was some hope with New Super Mario Bros. finally bringing back 2D Mario and its exceptional sales, this didn’t have the same impact as a console game would have, and Mario’s return could be more of a sign of Nintendo’s health than the platforming genre. Besides, a 2D game obviously couldn’t solve how to make platformers work in 3D.

As for what was happening to 3D platformers… it wasn’t pretty. The seventh generation’s large emphasis on cinematics led to what could be called auto-platforming: a jumping system where the player has very limited control over jumps and depends on set pieces to guide their character through acrobatic feats that look cool but take little interaction besides pressing the right direction now and then. This completely removes the point of platforming, platformers are about mastering a game’s jumping system and learning the patterns and layout of the environment so you can navigate it. Auto-platforming removes both of these features, since the jumping tends to be incredibly simplistic and the environments have been reduced to a prop that enables your platforming instead of testing it. There is no freedom in how you navigate the environment, platforming has been reduced to a quick time event. Games like the 3D Prince of Persias, Uncharted, and Assassin’s Creed are examples of games that contain auto-platforming, and for a short but painful time period it seemed that this was the closest we would get to 3D platformers in the seventh generation.

So things were at their darkest for platformers, who could save them? Well, it’s actually pretty obvious. Mario, who had both defined platformers and unknowingly set them on the path to destruction, had another 3D platformer coming out in 2007. I’ve tried my best to stay objective throughout these articles, but I’m going to have to let some emotion into this part. Super Mario Galaxy was miraculous. It was as if the decline of platformers had never happened, we had a game that kept the linear essence of the genre and used 3D to enhance the core gameplay and level design instead of replacing it with exploration. To make things even more miraculous, the gaming media and community seemed to recognize this. While few were brave enough to openly acknowledge that linearity could be a good thing, Super Mario Galaxy was incredibly popular and considered an instant classic in a way no platformer since Super Mario 64 had been. With such an amazing game to lead platformers in the seventh generation, the genre’s troubles were surely over, right?

Well, not exactly. Super Mario Galaxy may have been universally loved, but did that guarantee that other platformers would follow its example and that they would also be popular? In 2008, it didn’t seem that way. Despite Super Mario Galaxy the previous year, 2008 was arguably the darkest looking year for the future of the genre. Wario Land Shake-It was a good game that was completely ignored for being 2D, Sonic Unleashed gave up on platforming to focus on action/racing style gameplay and was still mediocre at best, and Little Big Planet focused on customization to the detriment of its core gameplay. Mario, the exception to the genre’s woes, was nowhere in sight and may have again gone into hibernation for most of a generation. Had all been lost?

It turns out all we needed was a little patience. Games aren’t made overnight, and this was truer than ever before with the seventh generation’s rising development time cycles. Platformers weren’t dead in 2008, they were charging. After more than a decade of turmoil, 2009 was the start of the platformer renaissance. If I had to pinpoint a precise moment where it started, it wouldn’t be with a game release, but with an announcement. At E3 2009, Mario shattered his one platformer (if that) per system curse with the announcements of New Super Mario Bros. Wii and Super Mario Galaxy 2.

These announcements weren’t just good news for the Mario series, both games symbolized a wonderful development in the genre. Super Mario Galaxy 2 showed that the original Super Mario Galaxy was not a one time swan song for the genre, it was the new beginning it deserved to be. This would be demonstrated as games like Ratchet and Clank: A Crack in Time, Sly Cooper Thieves in Time, and Rabbids Go Home returned their series to a platforming focus. Arguably best of all, Sonic Colors systematically broke every step in the dreaded Sonic cycle and finally returned the series to platforming greatness. 3D platformers had changed again, and this time for the better. The damage done at the start of the 3D era had finally been healed.

But that wasn’t the only thing that caused the platformer revival. While the 3D platformer finally reached a good place in its troubled evolution, the 2D platformer made an astonishing comeback on consoles. Despite the dismissal Wario Land Shake-It was met with, New Super Mario Bros. Wii became one of the best selling console games of all time and companies took notice. Donkey Kong Country Returns, Rayman Origins, Kirby’s Epic Yarn/Return to Dreamland, and of course New Super Mario Bros. U continued the multiplayer console 2D platformer revival. If anything, 2D platformers are more prominent than 3D ones now, which no one would have ever predicted in the fifth and sixth gens.

So here we are at the dawn of the eighth generation. How do things look for platformers? While we don’t have the sheer quantity from the third and fourth generation golden age and probably won’t any time soon, 2013 seems to continue at the post-revival pace with Sly Cooper Thieves in Time, Rayman Legends, Yarn Yoshi, and a new 3D Mario all released or scheduled for this year. Mario aside, platformers aren’t the market dominator they used to be, but they’re selling well enough to keep a steady stream of them coming. There’s still a ways to go before platformers fully regain their 16-bit era glory, but things look far brighter for the genre than at any other time since then.