Three SNES Style controllers reviewed

Third party retro controllers are a dime in a dozen, and the current market is full of retro-styled USB controllers. Some range from decent to excellent, while others are just absolutely abysmal from the get go, not worth the plastic they’re built from. While this started a straight up review of a really, really terrible SNES-styled USB controller, I decided to make it a comparative review instead.

I’m going for a limb and assume most of my readers have used both SNES and GameCube controllers. The SNES controller is often claimed to be one of Nintendo’s best, if not the best. It certainly does great many things right, but it’s not the Saturn controller. It does so many things just right, like the placement of the shoulder buttons and the height the buttons sit in. D-Pad, while a bit loose, is nevertheless an excellent all around D-Pad, if not slightly inaccurate when it comes to the diagonals. It should also be said that the shoulder buttons are rather mushy and have no tactile feel to them. It’s not terrible by any means, but that’s perhaps something that can be extended to the whole controller; it feels slightly mushy. It’s not age either, this controller is pretty great condition, and my old-stock one bought few years back feels the exact same.

It must be mentioned that the mushy nature is by design. It allows some leeway movements and inaccuracies here and there, but also make the controller sturdier and able to take more physical trauma. It’s the same idea as with why you want laptops and some screens to flex rather than be rigid; it absorbs impact better. A rigid controller has higher chances to break down faster as well as last shorter amount of time. That’s why you can still rock original NES controllers, like the HORI Mini Commander, without much troubles.

The slight concave nature of the back also makes your fingers sit nicely and add slight grip to it. I feel a need to mention that the four-colour buttons are also a very nice sight, something the US version and the pictures USB controller didn’t do and it still looks terrible.

It’s no real wonder that SNES controller gets remade by other companies now and then, and one of the most sought after GameCube controllers is HORI’s SNES-styled controller for good reasons.

Perhaps the biggest pro and con at the same for HORI’s controller is that it opted to use the GC controller layout, but that’s hardly something that should be held against it. After all, it is a controller meant for GameCube. That said, if it had opted for the standard layout used in the original SNES controller (and thereafter in almost every other controller) it would have made a great all-around controller, starting from emulation to using adapters to different consoles like the Switch.

There really isn’t much to be said about it, outside that it’s probably one of the most faithful replication HORI does done of an official controller. Outside the layout, most of the mushy feeling you have in the official original is there. Even the slight mushiness of the GC original is in the buttons, but they’re no less responsive. Of course, the D-Pad crowns the controller, as standard GC controller had tiny ass D-Pad that was almost useless. This was the time when Nintendo’s D-Pads begun going downhill anyway and everybody moved their emphasize towards the controller sticks.

Despite all that speal about faithfulness, HORI did change the back of the controller. It still has that slight concave nature to it, but it also has raised sides for better grip. Coming straight from the original SNES controller this might feel weird, but once you begin playing with it, your hands find their natural spots and holding the controller becomes natural. However, it is an unorthodox solution to a degree, and you’ll be aware of them every time you pick it up. It’s a solid controller that I would recommend any GC owner to have for their D-Pad gaming, despite going for stupidly high prices.

So, if the HORI controller is a good example how to take and adapt SNES controller, how does Tomee’s USB SNES controller compare against it?

First impressions; it’s shit. While it weighs about the same as the real deal, there’s something you can deduce by just looking at it. Mostly that it is extremely cheap.

The cheapness really shows itself everywhere, but the sides are the worst. You can see that the mould has been re-used so many times that it has become faulty. It’s just not this one bit, but all around the controller. None of the plastic is really all that good, and corners have been cut wherever possible. Start and Select are now hard plastic instead of soft rubber too. Even the cord is the cheapest USB lead you can find, the kinds that just snap in two if you look at them long enough.

While the overall form fits the hand just like the SNES original, nothing else really matches the level of quality. All buttons have twice as much travel and require extra effort to press the contacts down. It’s like first pressing the buttons down, and doing a second level press to make them activate. It’s extremely easy just to press a button and have nothing happening.

There’s nothing good to say about this controller, but what do you expect from a cheap Chinese piece of shit? This controller cost around five to ten bucks, depending on where you buy it, but it’s not worth even for a project controller because none of the parts of any worth and the PCB is terrible. I didn’t take any pictures in my hurry, but there was corrosion there. This is a terrible waste of natural resources, but seeing there are tons of Tomee products out there, these things still sell. Thank God this one was donated for review.

This entry doesn’t really have a rhyme or reason to it, does it? Mainly to showcase two extremes of third party controllers, where build quality is directly tied to the price range. However, if you consider my other controller reviews, especially the HORIPAD3 Mini for PS3, there is a sweet spot in the mid-budget range where you get high quality enough controllers. it would seem that any controller under twenty dollars in the current market will always be trash, waste f everybody’s time.

Music of the Month; Knights Errant


We’re getting there lads

At this point, I should just give up on planning what to do, when or how. While not intentional, ever since my career shift my plans have been thrown out of the window. Just this week I was thinking how I should do whatever I had planned, but then noticed how the month was at its end. Might as well stop planning.

However, I do have two things I want to do this month, despite my current track record; typing out a comparison between Muv-Luv Alternative Integral Works and the Codex. This wouldn’t be a review, not exactly, but rather a somewhat throughout view how the two books are different from each other and why. There are large differences, but I’ll cover those when we get to the post itself.

The second planned stuff is Switch related, Hori’s portable USB hub stand. The standard Switch dock is one of the worst designs Nintendo had done to date. Not only it seems to scratch the screen of the main unit, but it’s also absolute waste of plastic. It’s an interesting brick that looks like a two-minute hack job. Nintendo fucked this one up badly, but again, we’re get back to it in the review. I’ll most likely ditch the original shell and purchase one of those DIY kits that require you to salvage the original PCB from the official dock.

There’s been a lot of post materials in the recent weeks that I never got around. These would’ve made good posts unto themselves, but might as well discuss about them here in short.

The first is Langrisser I&II getting remade once again. While I intended to cover a lot of materials about Langrisser in past few recent years, Re:Incarnation did me in. The game’s trash and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. There is also the mobage, which both looks and plays better than the 3DS bastardisation. Whether or not Extreme was right to go back to basics and remake the first two games once more is up the question, but at least they’re not fucking up from the get-go like they did with Re:Incarnation. The first two games in the series are the most revered, and after Dramatic Edition, bundling them together seems to be par-for the course. While the new designs by Ryo Nagi aren’t bad, they’re terribly generic. Extreme probably realised that Satoshi Urushihara’s artwork is part of Langrissers charm and will include DLC code for his illustrations to replace the modern ones. It’s a great touch for the longtime fans and an option for newcomers. I admit that I have a bias for Urushihara in general, but what’d you expect from me? Of course, modernisation brings out changed UI and such, but that’s again expected. You’re remaking the games, after all, might as well improve all little things that were little cumbersome the best you can.

I’m just hoping the music will keep its synth-rock roots more or less intact. We’ll just have to sit back, wait and see.

Of course, when talking about Langrisser, somebody will mention boobs. This is a nice way to discuss the new physics engine in Dead or Alive 6 and how PR can function. Whether or not Yohei Shimbori, the director of the game, just sucks at PR or intentionally wanted to cause an uproar by discontinuing the Soft Engine only to come out much later to say that they’re going for more realistic physics engine is up in the air. It reeks of being planned so DoA6 wouldn’t fall off the discussion chart against Soul Calibur 6 and the like. While he states that he thought there’d be misunderstandings, nobody really should believe this. Either they had the new physics engine in mind from the get go and never stated this to cause controversy, or they had to go back and plan how to mend the situation for their favour. DoA used to have characters the flowed nicely, but with this new engine, everyone and everything looks extremely rigid and unnatural. Hopefully they’ll be able to achieve the natural flowing effect Soft Engine had to it down the line. Fat chance, I know.

Whether or not Shimbori stating that reducing the bust size was to make the characters appear more human was calculated shot or not doesn’t really matter, as all this ends up being him trying to cover his bases. Furthermore, it’s ignoring that bug busted woman exist in abundant numbers and flatties should stop being jealous of them. Dead or Alive Extreme 3 raised some hell and was never released in the West, but ended up being Play-Asia’s most selling title because of this. It’s pathetic that a game series that had fan service as its most prominent selling feature for years now suddenly tries to become visually more serious. Will they make the fighting more realistic and cooler to go with the graphics? Of course not, even when they should have put the effort into the gameplay and remove it from being a weaker version of Virtua Fighter. They’re lowering the standards for the game’s play with retarding the countering and adding Fatal Rush, which is essentially one-button super alá Soul Calibur V‘s Critical Edge.

We’ll see how all this translates into sales.

 

 

Subscription service as the future of video games?

Screw the blog personality for this post. We’re doing this in-person. Shigsy had an interview with Bloomberg, where he warns other video game developers about greed. This is rich, coming from a dev who can do whatever the hell he wants rather than doing titles that the market has yearned for some time. It’s no secret 2D Mario titles sell more than 3D ones, but they’re too much work and bothersome to design. He’d rather have games developed like a school project.

Shigsy doesn’t really say anything especially worthwhile. His criticism on F2P and lootboxes echoes so many others, and you can read between the lines how there is irritation about mobile games with gacha are making tons of money. Fate Grand Order or whatever it was is making millions per day, supposedly. Shigsy saying the fixed-cost model hasn’t been a success is bullshit though. Something that has worked for pretty much everything thus far doesn’t suddenly become unsuccessful just it seems to be under fire now. Sure, Shigsy talks mostly in context of mobile gaming. Nintendo tackling mobile games has been criticised for good reasons, as the market is widely different from console game market. It’s like entering a market selling pizzas with hamburgers. There is a reason why Nintendo’s IPs on computers has always been handled by other companies, like Hudson with Super Mario Bros. Special.

Shigsy clearly likes the idea of subscription based gaming, like how Netflix is for movies and TV shows. To him, how games have been sold thus far seems to have failed despite gaming has become larger than Hollywood through it. F2P games with in-game purchases is greedy way to make profit to him, but this is business. You make money the best way you can. Subbing services on the other hand would still have the consumer pay a front fee to access titles to begin with, but just as with Netflix and other of its competitors, the question about what games would be available. Nintendo’s upcoming service for the Switch is abysmal in this, as the game variety they’re offering is extremely limited. A subbing service requires to have extremely wide variety of titles, and having something else than the same NES titles over and over.

It’s trite for Shigsy to argue for Nintendo wanting to bring their games to widest possible audience via mobile games. If Nintendo truly wanted to do this, they’re start doing third party games for Microsoft and Sony. That’s not going to happen, so what they’re really about with mobile games is cross-platform advertising. Show people who play games on mobile phones how great titles Nintendo has with selected IPs, and maybe some of them will be interested enough to jump the bandwagon with Switch.

This has been Nintendo’s strategy with across media platforms and consumables before as well. All the cartoons, toys, cereals, comics and so on were only to promote Nintendo’s games and consoles. Mobile phone games are the exact same thing, as their primary value is to advertise the brands and IPs instead of raking money on themselves.

I’m almost baffled how Shigsy thinks there isn’t already a culture of paying for valued software. Your normal everyday person doesn’t have thousands or millions to blow money on games. Hell, most people don’t even put hundreds into games. Outside some stupidly obsessed people, consumers have a very strong tendency on purchasing products they deem worthy. Nobody simply blows their cash on whatever kind of products if they can help.

Considering Nintendo of Japan seems to has jack shit understanding about global market, I wouldn’t be surprised if this wasn’t one of Shigsy’s and Nintendo’s brain farts how consumers act. The main reason why Fire Emblem and Famicom Wars never hit the West before GBA was because Nintendo’s staff thought Americans didn’t like strategy games, despite PCs being filled with them. Then again, this probably is partially true due to how most successful strategy games have been on PC, and we’ve seen, Nintendo didn’t deal in the PC market. Nevertheless, Advance Wars became more popular in the West than in Japan. Then you had Nintendo’s official, can’t remember who, proudly mentioning how Japanese children loved to craft and play with cardboard. Honestly, Nintendo’s corporate culture in this sense has their heads deep in their asses. This line really should be read that Shigsy wants a culture where games he values would be purchased. I bet he is still salty about Donkey Kong Country being the breakthrough title for the Super Nintendo.

Consumers already have a habit of paying money for applications and software  they deem worth the money. Trying to act like this is not the case goes against reality. If this is some sort of jab at piracy and how Nintendo has been fighting against ROMs and the like as of late, it further shows how out of loop he and the rest of the company is. Virtual Console was a massive success to the point of titles outselling new games Nintendo was putting out. There is a market for these older titles, hence why people are willing to pirate and play ROMs. This the same reason why the Classic Mini systems are selling like hotcakes. By not offering a way for consumers to purchase and access them is effectively shooting yourself to the leg and not offering software people are willing to pay for. This isn’t any goddamn rocket science. The habit Shigsy wants consumers to have is already there, but they’re not willing to provide the software. On the contrary, they’ve killed all avenues to obtain these titles. Furthermore, piracy has promoted products far more than any other field; it is not an outright negative impact in itself. A pirated title is not a lost sale, as the case often is that there was no intention to purchase that title in the first place. Comparison with music streaming is false equivalency but its the best Shigsy can muster. You can’t play games Youtube either, so into the trash with it.

Does changing things into Netflix-like subbing service change anything in this? Of course not. If the library of games is lacklustre compared to other similar services, or even outright stores, you won’t see customers subbing. The price has to be low enough to warrant subbing to it as well, and lose all rights to the games. Never underestimate customers’ will to have ownership over what they’ve paid.

Review; Switch Joycons

Two reviews, in the same month? That’s what I call Lack of proper topics but mainly because the Joycons themselves are rather interesting piece of hardware once you get around how they’re spun around.

 

Why grey? Because I intend to change the shells on the controllers and the grey one cost me twenty eurobucks less

The JoyCons are essentially Wiimote 2.0. When attached to the main unit/screen, it becomes the second most unwieldiest portable console after the Lynx. It’s general shapes follows Sony’s handhelds and the Wii U pad quote closely, but at this points its more a necessity of ergonomics than lack of ideas. After all, pretty much all controllers follow the same core design nowadays rather than having widely different takes.

Of course, the main gimmick the JoyCons have is the ability to detached them and use them in tandem or individually. This is very neat, but at the same time these controllers are small by necessity. While slightly wider than the Hori Commander Mini I reviewed on the Famicom, everything else is in smaller scale. When used as single controller, you have access to the stick, four face buttons, two “shoulder” buttons L and LZ, and “top” buttons SL and SR. You can see these on the railing. Depending on the controller, you have Home or Capture button, and Plus and Minus (essentially glorified Start buttons.) The button that exist as shoulder buttons when JoyCons are attached to the main unit or grip rest awkwardly near your palm. The ergonomics are also lacking, but that comes with the size.

The most important part with the shoulder button there is that there is no sharp corners or danger for you finger to be pressed between the shell and the button. This is done by giving the button very short travel. Also, notice how the release button is tucked away into a corner

The sticks aren’t exactly the best, and it could use some some of the clickiness NeoGeo Pocket has. They lack any sort of tactile feel, despite the cutouts on the rubber. You simply don’t feel it. It has very short travel distance, which means control with tension becomes a must with certain games that require extensive stick control.

As the controllers have to work both as single entities and in tandem, the placement for the action buttons are sacrificed. They’re very much in the middle of the controller, which works when in tandem, but in single mode they’re just too far from the left edge, though larger hands could probably find this comfortable distance. This is also the reason why there’s no D-Pad on the Switch; everything has to do dual task, and these facebuttons, that use N64 controller’s C-Stick directions, work as D-Pad when used in tandem. It’s awkward and lacks the same smooth use as with normal D-Pad, and sadly its serviceable by a hair. Their dimensions and placement has been worked to its optimum. The buttons themselves are of better Nintendo standard, where the travel is pretty spot on, perfectly raised above the level and have nice tactile feedback.

It must be said that accessing the SL and SR buttons are surprisingly accessible, as index fingers seem to naturally hit their place. On themselves, they’re a bit too flat to use properly, but that’s why Nintendo gave us the wrist attachment people seem to put the wrong way constantly.

Plus and Minus are tucked away in the corner nicely so you don’t hit them, but whatever mode of control you use, they’re awkward to use. Think of Xbox’s Duke’s black and white buttons and you get somewhat similar idea.

 The wrist attachment slide the opposite way you slide the controller into the main unit, corner symbol meeting corner symbol. This adds some heft to a JoyCon and makes it somewhat nicer to hold in your hands, but its main use really is to make the SR and SL buttons more accessible with the larger pass-through buttons.

While you can use JoyCons in tandem separately like with the WiiMote and its nunchuck, Nintendo shipped the console with the grip attachment. It’s not exactly the best however. It’s like they wanted everything to stay straight and have the JoyCons sit like they sit on the main unit. This means whenever you use this, accessing the left face buttons for D-Pad use and the right stick requires either over-extending your thumb downwards or move the whole whole on the handles. Supposedly, the prototype was in an angle to give it more ergonomic shape, but for whatever reason this was dropped. There are many custom attachments on eBay that fix this and make this the most viable option to use the JoyCons in tandem. It would seem that the JoyCons will see rather large amount of optional accessories and attachments down the line. Here’s hoping Hori will do some good ones in the future, like the upcoming D-Padded JoyCon.

So, bottom line? The JoyCons are not the best controllers out there. The whole thing of them working as a single unit or in tandem forces just enough compromises to make all of them feel somewhat awkward. As usual, once you get used to them, muscle memory handles moving your hand up and down as needed. If there had been some concessions for functionality over visual design, these would have been winners as first hybrid console controllers. As they are now, JoyCons do their job, but the alternatives are probably better.

I must admit that the JoyCons have one thing over all other controllers; Switch has the most satisfying feel of clicks and clacks whenever you are attaching them to anything.

On electronic games’ history and culture

This post is a collection of related subject, combined into easier access

A game is an interaction between at least two individuals under certain rules to achieve some sort of goal or achievement. These rules can be shared between the parties and can contradict one side. This idea has not changed with electronic games, and they are not the first ones to have a non-living party. Just like card games have a card deck as the opposing party alongside other human players, electronic games use their device as the party to oppose the human player. In the end, modern video and computer games use the same rules and point calculation methods used past games and plays, be it sports or card games. After all, Super Mario Bros. is just a continuation of our play culture.

Steve Russel’s famous By gosh, it’s a Pinball! is a good contrast how not even the first computer game was, in the end, nothing new. After the Second World War, game parlors had become the cradle of youth culture, and pinball game parlors (or game arcades) became the place where young men and their girlfriends could escape to from the world, essentially becoming their own little separate worlds from the oppressing reality. This world was from the reach of mainstream culture and its moral guardsmen, allowing the youths to let their suppressed side to blow out.

Originally released 1969, this song is iconic representation of the time

Pinball Wizard is an anti-hero, an abused young man who is shunned by the larger world. However, in the game parlors he is able to convey himself to his peers, becoming one with the machine.

As such, it should be no surprise that parents would be worried about these parlors. After all, penny arcades before had been seen as place of vagabonds and men with beaten past. A place where people with less fortune could come together and entertain themselves with cheap coin operated machines, while possibly making connections to the criminal world. Different leagues and mafias controlled these penny arcades at during the 1930’s America, and as such it’s understandable to see people shunning arcades well up to the 1980’s. That shadow never left these places where men could get together and play games. It could be argued that even the games we have nowadays are suffering from similar complains, where moral guardians blame games for ruining whatever they deem valuable. In this light it is interesting to note that it is more than probable that many parents bought computers and game consoles to keep their children out of the arcades later down the line to keep them away from entering the wayside paths of life.

While my text is largely based on American culture, it’s not to say that the rest of the world saw these parlors in any better light. In France, Jean-Claude Baudot banned all coin operated machines in 1937 to prevent the disease penny arcades were seen as. According to Baudot, this law was still in effect up to the early 1980’s, though the law had been eased and circumvented in all ways and manners. In 1981 Ferdinand Marcos, the president of Philippines,  banned all arcade video games. To enforce his rule he smashed arcade machines in public. This is the same man who banned Voltes V  and other similarly themed cartoons just before the series’ final episode. Both of these men echo events that had taken place during world history time and time again, and events like these would be repeated after them, like how Pokémon was seen as the tool of the Devil by some religious forces. In Colorado Springs, 1999, pastor Mark Juvera took a 30-inch sword to a Pikachu toy in front of 85 children and calling Pokémon poison, not to mention the claims of video and computer games causing players to be more violent. Neither of these points are anything special, they’re just continuing  the same backlash games and other media forms have experienced throughout the ages.

It is somewhat ironic to note that television was seen as one of the remedies to keep these rebelling young people at home, as the 1950’s saw it entering mass markets despite not many having the money to buy one. Television didn’t give solution to the problems parents saw game parlors to be, as the problem was social and parlors were not the originator. Turned out that these young people watched television and took themselves to play pinball with their mates. Basically everything that was seen a solution to a problem would later be deemed a problem in itself as well, as seen with books, movies, amateur radio and maybe some day with games too. The problems were real to an extent, they are always more about the stereotypical view the mass culture takes at them. Books, amateur radio, television and games share the same blame that they keep people, children and adults alike, inside rather than “allowing” them to go outside and play, or do something more worthwhile.

Arcades, as we now remember them, didn’t come from nowhere during the 1970’s. They are just those game parlors with a new name and new machines, just like penny arcades before them. We can trace these places back to the game events held before mechanical games existed. In Herrad von Landsberg’s manuscript from the 1100’s we can see a pair of knights fighting each other through controlled marionettes. While it would be easy to compare this to modern era Vs. fighting  game, that would be far too direct. We do not know whether this was a common event or not, nor whether or not this is a real depiction as intended.

Artikel_45890_bilder_value_1_augsburger_puppenkiste1[1]Street Fighter with dolls?

Nevertheless, the core idea of contest and games are still present, even in the physical games. In the same extension, cock-fighting has been compared to Pokémon and other similar games. This is not rare in any way, as all games have their roots in some form of other plays and games. Majority of first person shooters are based on war games, strategy games are war board games, platformers are adventures children have in forest and elsewhere and imitates jumping form rock to rock, fighting games are rooted in physical combat and so on. Plays and games the adults play do stem from the childhood games, and to certain extent adulthood work and politics are just grander, more serious form of these games. It should be noted that video games especially have stemmed from boy’s play culture (and still reside there due to the competitive nature of it), thou arcade games like Pac-Man and Breakout are more or less neutral in their approach.

But what are the original electronic or mechanic games that can be called as the firs physical grandfathers of modern computer and video games? Perhaps the first ancestral machines are the automata, with machines offering entertainment and awe to the audience. However, games require interactivity, and one of the first proto-interactive machines that allowed the user to dictate some elements of the entertainment was the mutoscope from the late 1800’s. It was deemed to cause moral decay and was blamed to corrupt the youths for the pennies they cost. Pornography was a thing, and mutoscope is most remembered for those kinds of movies. We shouldn’t forget shooting galleries and the like as one of the proto-interactive game machines, as Nintendo’s Zapper and the games it used are pretty much a straight continuation.

Perhaps the mutoscope’s history is closer to films overall. However, it’s slightly more interactive nature does make it a relative of playing

1900’s saw all these machines to become everyday objects, and despite the bad rap they got, they spread like wildfire throughout the world. UK created their own machines alongside Americans (a lot of mutoscope’s UK had were either destroyed or exported to the Denmark during coin change in 1971), France and Germany had their own similar history with coin operated machines and Japan had adult-only pachinko parlors in 1930’s Nagoya. It’s not a large step from these mechanical devices towards electronic games, and through that, into computer and video games.


While many of the fears from the late 1800’s and early-to-mid 1900’s still persist when it comes to electronic games, those who play games and are most enthralled by them has not changed too much since then. Things changed with the advent of Golden Era of games, especially with Pac-Man, a game that attracted both men and women to play. Pac-Man as a character was largely a non-descriptive blob despite the game’s and character’s name.

I’ve talked about Industrial revolution being the main dividing point between arts, crafts and design, but when it comes to games it also created a cultural point with boys’ and girls’ cultures. According to E. Anthony Rotundo (1994), the industrial revolution separated boys from their father’s work environment, leaving them for their mothers’ to take care of. Boys moved outside from there, as motherly care usually emphasised good morals, pampering and kindness. Boys’ games and plays often were almost the opposite of this with physical contact with surprising aggressive attitudes. Going against mother’s command was a way to show that you weren’t a momma’s boy, and building from that onwards is a sort of step towards independent manhood. Regardless of how wild these games were, boys would return home to their mothers. One could say that unlike the Freudian Oedipus complex, boys’ fight against their mothers’ culture.

Rotundo contrasts this against girls’ culture, which is tied to their mothers, which have lived in a sort of symbiosis with each other. While he boys’ “adventure island” had a confrontational setting, girls’ had their own place within the “secret gardens.” While girls tend to favour for more socially interactive game with less or not emphasize on competition and physical contact, the concept of secret garden, a secret place reserved only for them and their fantasies. It should be noted that a lot of books for girls are the opposite of this thinking, where their normal lives are broken by a fantastic individual of sorts and their lives see a change, often at the cost of that secluded place. The differences between classic boys’ and girls’ literature is that boys had the heroes travel far away, while the girls’ literature tended to emphasize on staying home. Through that the stakes were different; for boys the adventures were physical like their games, whereas girls’ adventures were more about the psychology and emotions.

It’s not hard to see why electronic games would end up seen as a boys’ hobby. It is far easier to create a game that’s based on competition and rules rather than a game that requires methodical interaction between characters. A game is easy to program to offer a direct challenge the player needs to achieve, like destroying alien invaders than it is to program to reply to inquiries in a naturalistic and sophisticated way to counter the player’s emotional state.

The question whether or not there is a difference between boys’ and girls’ is cultural at its core. American game developer Purple Moon was known for developing games aimed at girls of age 8-14, and their Secret Paths series could be used as an archetypical example of what is generally seen as a girls’ game.

Secret Path games showcases some traditional symbols and images associated with girls. The cursor in the example above is a heart or a ladybug, there is no physical conflict in itself, and whatever action there is leans on metaphysical than physical. Interestingly, despite Purple Moon’s games tend to be simplified in how things are presented, they still manage to make better use of progressive values than most games we have nowadays.

While Purple Moon’s games were designed to be more about places of relaxation, where girls could pour out their stress and observe things with their hearts, so to speak. Each character has their own secret, and it is up to the player to find the secret paths that are laden with gemstones and other artefacts that give social, emotional and psychological strength. These visuals and pathways are representative of the characters’ plight, and the stories these physical environments contain encourage the player to try things out in their own social life. It’s not hard to see why the founder Brenda Laurel called their games as friendship adventures.

Similarly, Theresa Duncan’s Zero Zero is another example of a game that ties to girls’ culture.

While Secret Paths can be regarded as a continuation to the secret garden idea, Louise Fitzhugh’s 1964 novel Harriet the Spy, is about another sort of play space for girls; the city. Within the book, Harriet observes her city’s, her microworld’s she creates, citizens and their complex interactions and how she changed them as she sees fit. This idea of creating a world and having total control over it is similar to SimCity. The difference between the two is how SimCity is more about playing god and micro-manage everything. To Harriet, creating this world is just the first step, and moves towards spying on the individuals to the point of breaking in real world buildings to understand adult interactions. The same contrast repeats here; there is no physical confrontation like there would be in boys’ novel, all the challenge comes from the human interactions and gaining information on the interactions.

It wouldn’t be too hard to see Harriet the Spy as a stealth game that has no combat. Zero Zero is essentially a computer adventure game version of the novel, where the player goes through the city and similarly seeks people’s’ stories. Despite this innocent sounding setting, Zero Zero and other games from Theresa Duncan do not try to be sleek and pat down the reality. On the contrary, Zero Zero‘s French are bored and tend to insult the player in a stereotypical fashion, as do the flowers. Women with strong make-up smoke freely and tend to flash themselves, promising an event in the Red Lights district.  The Sims has a considerable female fanbase, and in a way can be seen as a modern example of a game that allows the player not only play dollhouse, but also play god and decide the interactions.

Secret Path games and Zero Zero are good examples of two strong sides of traditional girls’ games. Secret Path games are very balanced and encourages the player to feel, so to speak. Zero Zero is an example of a game that shows the misshapen world in a very caricature fashion and encourages the player to seek knowledge and information that is hidden from them. Both are about exploring a physical space, but in the end both are about the players’ inner worlds.

Games like Pac-Man and Nights into Dreams are in neither space as such. Pac-Man‘s design as a character and game had no points to either direction, and as such I personally consider Ms. Pac-Man a needles exercise in hindsight despite it becoming extremely popular. Nights into Dreams on the other hand was designed to be androgynous from the get go, both in gameplay and character designs. It even has a boy and a girl character, Elliot and Claris, who have very different dreams for their life.

As games have evolved, contact between the two cultures have become more frequent. One could argue that open world games that contain as much non-physical social confrontation as they do physical are mixing these cultures. MMORPG’s and other games that offer larger interaction with real life people also supports the idea of supportive interaction between girls while offering brotherly confrontation and rivalry boys’ culture has. This sort of neutral space in gaming requires both sides giving something in, and in real life this can cause some argumentation and fighting between children.

Stereotypical girls’ games tend not to be remembered. Purple Moon folded in 1999 and merged with Mattel, and their games were not without criticism. Their games were called to be called sexist, stereotyping the characters and themes, a thing that can be extended to a lot of other girls’ games, especially Barbie games. The space where these games were set in was another major factor.

Space is a keyword here. The pinball culture if the mid-1900’s was very masculine and based on long-standing tradition of penny arcades. When these games began to appear outside their initially designated areas, e.g. pinballs in restaurants and shopping centres, it was seen as a positive progress as anyone, women included, could now access these machines. As games moved away from spaces that were largely seen as dominated by men like universities’ IT-departments and penny arcades, the view on them changed. Pinball is not associated with violent rebels any more, but as a classic game everybody can play. Similarly, the advent of Japanese games in arcades and the renaissance of electronic gaming after the second Video game Crash introduced further colourful and fantastic creatures to the electronic game culture. Pac-Man, Mario Bros., and their like, despite being competitive, offered visuals that weren’t all about blowing shit up, but also attractive colours and challenges that weren’t just about the abstract.

It should be noted that games like Super Mario Bros., Sonic the Hedgehog and Abe’s Odyssey garnered players from both sexes, and both games shows that in the end, the player character doesn’t really matter as people don’t tend to see themselves in the character. If there is a character creation, sometimes people make themselves, but often it’s an admired, a fantasy version of themselves. They create a fantasy persona, and similarly each player character out there is a fantasy persona that the player doesn’t exactly identify with. After all, the player character is largely unimportant, the game world is what matters.

Perhaps the only truly neutral game between the spaces and cultures is Tetris. Tetris wasn’t just a game that can be described a perfect game and neutral, but a game that was everywhere. It was on home computer where anyone could play it and it was on the Game Boy where everyone could carry it with them. There is no true confrontation in the game, and despite the having a competitive goal in form of scoring, the gameplay is from neither side particularly.

Playing with cardboard

There are times when a company shows how out of touch they are with their global audience. It is understandable, keeping in touch what world-wide audience is like or wants can be a difficult task, but knowing some of the basics should be doable for every corporation working outside their own borders. Nintendo’s recent Investor Q&A summary shows that while they may be seen a worldwide brand, their concern is still in Japan first and foremost, just like with every other Japanese company.

There is a quote in this Q&A that really shows this;

I’m sure we surprised everyone with the use of cardboard, but it is not so far-fetched if you consider how familiar the material is at least to Japanese people who from a young age use it for play and as a material for creating things such as fancy crafts.
This is not something specific only to Japanese. Crafting your own toy out of anything is part of children’s play culture. What that crafted toy is made of and what it is depends on the culture. My parents played with conifer cone animals, as I did and as I have seen numerous other children do. Cardboard is just another material to be used in these plays, making good material for a knight armour, sword and shield. Saying that cardboard is important at least to Japanese people is extremely self-masturbatory and tells how global view is being ignored. Well, that comes with the name of the product too. Labo is short for laboratory, which in English would be Lab. Because how Japanese works, lab becomes labo, ラボ.
The tone underneath this really puts only one side of the global market on a high pedestal, business as usual. It’s no wonder why certain titles fail in the West, when even a simple thing like this is being ignored. The only people Nintendo can blame on their lack of success in European markets over the years is themselves, as clearly they’ve not gotten over how they simply can’t manage the markets properly. America’s a different deal, of course, with their solid footholding. Europe’s like a black hole to them, and they still can’t get over how NES didn’t succeed here, and it was Donkey Kong Country that finally made SNES a household name.
Miyamoto’s assurance that Labo is a product that seems like very Nintendo rings another bell. Nintendo, above all other game companies, especially form the Big Three console manufacturers, is all about toys and children. Nintendo may want to steer away from this image with the constant support of Bayonetta, but when you have your Walt Disney of the company telling investors that their company wants to make cardbaoard toys and hires people who want to make cardboard toys, something’s extremely off.
Nintendo Labo has its potential and we all get it. It’s like with LEGO, where it supposedly should encourage kids to try building stuff and see how things work mechanically. What makes the world tick, if you will. They get to build it and see its function first hand, all the while enjoying the game these crafts were made to function through.
However, Nintendo’s history of success has not been in toys or crafts items, love hotels or vacuums. Nintendo’s history has been success of games, from hanafuda cards to video games. With Nintendo Labo, the game part comes second to the toy. While trying something new is always a positive, putting this sort of emphasize on it as one of your main things probably will bite you back. Virtual Reality didn’t catch on like wild-fire, as it was expected to (as it is always expected to, mind you) and Nintendo Labo is just Nintendo’s version of VR. It’s all about how people interact with their games and through what means, not about games themselves. New Form of Play, as the slogan puts it, matters jack shit if the game played isn’t any good on itself.

Maybe this is just one of those 3D things Nintendo always goes on about.

On a more positive side, a PDF released around the same time properly presented Nintendo’s plans to continue the Nintendo Classic Editions. Which actually throws a monkey wrench to Miyamoto’s point in the Q&A about Switch going to have a longer life span. With these Classic editions, Nintendo has effectively extended both NES and SNES’ lifespan, the same way they did with Virtual Console. These consoles selling out and being put back into manufacturing puts an emphasize how stupid limited console cycle really is. A console has as long cycle as the parent company wants it to, whereas consumers really just want t good games. Fanboys of course disagree about on what platform, but that’s another topic. The main dish of this meal is how prowess and hardware barely matters when the games are just that damn good. The selection on these Classics editions of course could use some revamping, though I’ll grant this to Nintendo; they make one helluva first entry to video gaming.

Nintendo’s classics don’t sell because they’re some sort of revered holy objects, though to some that may be a reason. They sell because the consumers have a certain want these classic titles fulfill and what modern Nintendo does not have and have not beaten. In Nintendo’s Earning Releases, specifically their Supplementary Information about Earning Releases, you can see a trend appearing when you backwards; 2D Mario titles in the Million-Seller list. New Super Mario Bros. 2 was released in 2012 and it’s still making on the list and keeps appearing there since 2012, with New Super Mario Bros. still appearing there as well.

The New SMB line of games are not (or should I put that were not?) high-budget titles. They were games made on the cheap, and they sold like gold in most cases. If Nintendo would put the same level of care and intention on titles like New SMB games that they put on Super Mario Odyssey, they probably would see even further increase in sales. New SMB line was a nice throwback, but 2D Mario never got the glorious return it and the consumers have been demanding and wanting. Instead, it gets wah wah music with cheap 3D and we get cardboard.

The measure of Switch’s success

A week ago Nintendo Soup put out an article on how the Switch is selling three times faster than the PlayStation 4 in Japan. It’s a pretty straightforward chart. However, Just looking at the data isn’t really all that useful outside bragging rights, as it’s just Japan. Going back some three months ago, Gamespot had a bit more robust write-up on Switch sales topping two million, outselling more than its two competitors.

Long story short, the Switch is seemingly selling a lot more than its competitors. However, that’s not exactly the measure I’d make the Switch stand against. What the Switch should be compared against is Nintendo’s past consoles, and I don’t mean just one single of them. The Switch is a hybrid console, meant to encompass both the home and hand held console markets. As such, the plural doesn’t mean whole slew of the consoles at a time, but e.g. the Wii U and the 3DS as a whole. Granted, that’s not the best hardest challenge to beat.

However, something like comparing the Switch’s sales to Wii’s and DS’s sales would be more apt. Not only because both Wii and DS were runaway successes, but also because they also hit the similar sweet spot as the Switch does in overall terms. It’s all a bit relative in this terms, but the Switch seems to meet the wants and demands the public has now, which more or less moves gaming away from the living room and the usual stuff. The library of course is the main attention grabber, with Nintendo’s own IP’s currently making the most sales.

That said, I can’t say it’s enough to outsell the Wii/DS combo. The macro-economics we have now are very different than what it was a decade ago, with prosperity in the spending countries being higher and people having more money to throw at trivialities. Like games and consoles. I can’t say everything sells, but the situation is much better now. The Wii was a low-cost console for the public that could use the occasional, almost arcade-like breather with a controller that didn’t require too much effort to put in and that was good. The Switch, while not exactly Shakespearean console, does have a level more finesse to its, from the classical console perspective, where a solid, classical controller is a must.

Another thing that raises the bar for console sales overall is the increase in population. A population usually grows some in a decade, and new generation enters into work and gains more income than what they had previously. Spending on games generally has increased from what I can tell, and this is mostly because gaming has managed to have a somewhat steady market expansion despite the developers and publishers wanting to cater to the Red Ocean market, overall.

This is something most of these people comparing console sales tend to forget, that thirty years ago we had a smaller population and consumer base for video and computer games overall. A direct comparison of sales and revenues generated from them need to be adjusted to changes in inflation and population growth. It’d be easy to proclaim sales of some console to a direction or another just based on its sales figures alone. For this reason, Wii U’s sales are overall worse than they might appear at first. With the increase in overall consumer population, rising trends in macro-economics and the possible transfer from Wii’s userbase, the Wii U bombed worse than any of Nintendo’s other consoles. The only true contender against it is the Virtual Boy, though I would almost say Wii U gets the edge in this comparison as it was Nintendo’s mainline console and had more development and production put into it.

There’s no doubt that the Switch has a lot of success under its belt already. The media shouldn’t half-ass their criticism on it, however, and remember its hybrid nature. Nintendo is not going to put out a full-fledged home or handheld console in the foreseeable future until. Whether or not Microsoft or Sony are going to release a full-fledged Ninth Generation console at some point is somewhat a moot point, as Nintendo reacts mostly on themselves, sometimes on what Sony does. After all, Microsoft holds jack shit in terms of gaming market in Japan, making second-hand Xboxes pretty damn cheap overall, with some of the rarer software titles stupidly expensive.

That’s another ingredient to throw into the mix; regions. One region can religiously support one console over another, while another region does the opposite. There was an interesting split in the past few generations, where it seemed that the US preferred the Xbox, Japan preferred Nintendo’s consoles and Europe was a whole lot of mixed, changing from nation to nation.

Maybe the concept of a console “winning” is moot to a large extent, as it would seem most of the Red Ocean consumers would like to disregard cold sales statistics and concentrate on more personal views, emotional values or whatever point of comparison they would have for quality. Of course, we could use an academic view for high quality games, but I’ve yet to see a peer reviewed research paper that would establish the guidelines for such thing. Naturally, a high quality game for one differs from another, we all have a different taste after all and none is really any better than the other.

So, what is the measure of the Switch’s success in the end?  For normal everyday conversation its sales numbers compared to the 8th generation competitors is probably what you’ll see the most, whereas a more in-depth discussion should concern comparison to other more successful consoles all the while taking the whole population and consumer base expansion into notion with the positive macro-economic trend we have going on. That is probably what it should be contrasted against, though somehow I see discussion always moving towards the discussion of personal favourites and what sort of quality we value as individuals. Taste is the only thing we can properly contest over, after all, as you can’t really argue against cold data.