Compliance should be resisted

This week we had a Nintendo Direct. I watched it to keep some of my friends company and report whatever interesting stuff came up on the Japanese stream. The Direct was as expected, filled with video footage rather than gameplay, Iwata talking and acting like a stuck-up wind doll and… that’s pretty much it.

I found the Direct bothersome for some reason. Nothing wowed me. All footage shown from Fire Emblem If to the upcoming Rhythm Heaven looked like something we’ve seen many times before. There was the usual Amiibo advertising with new upcoming Super Mario Bros. branded ones with more neutral posing and something about an Amiibo adapter for older 3DS models that lack support for Near Field Communication.

Then there was news about Wii titles coming to Wii U eShop. This is something that we should be vary of, as this leads to a huge possibility of Nintendo dropping backwards compatibility support, substituting it with selling previous console titles on their next iteration of eShop. Whether or not this come to fruition is an open question, one which I hope to see a negative reply. The lack of backwards compatibility for PS3 games on PS4 was met with an outcry, yet for some reason that outcry died out far too fast.

A new console doesn’t automatically make your old one obsolete. The Super Nintendo didn’t make the NES obsolete because the library is ultimately very different, especially if you take into notice the differences between Western and Japanese libraries. When a game makes the previous one obsolete, it has done its deed. Thus, to make the previous console obsolete you either need to give the consumer the option to directly move their older library to that new console, or produce games that would obsolete the older library. Of course, it’s easier to allow the consumer to move over rather than simply make good games.

That sounds pretty bad, actually.

The length a console lives nowadays is regulated by bullshit. The GameBoy lived long damn time because it saw support. The recent consoles, and by recent I mean post-SNES ones, could’ve lived a tad longer if there had been continued support. The Wii saw a dive in quality, and sales, when Nintendo moved their support to then-upcoming 3DS and Wii U. The same happened with GameCube, N64 and to some extent, SNES. The NES saw support from Nintendo even after the SNES was released with titles like Joy Mecha Fight being released in 1993. Granted, Joy Mecha Fight never saw release in the West, but the US saw Wario’s Woods in 1994 and Europe as late as 1995. Similarly, Zoda’s Revenge; Star Tropics II saw a release in 1994, and while opinions are split whether or not it is better than its predecessor, the game itself is guaranteed Nintendo quality and manages to how the NES shouldn’t be underestimated.

The cross-pollination between consoles and PC side has given a risen to a thought that hardware has overt significance over the quality of the games played on consoles. The comparison can be made with cars; the one with the better engine is not always the better ones. With food, the eternal comparison point with everything ever, would have that a dish with higher grade ingredients may be worse than dish with mediocre ingredients. It’s how they’re used in order to deliver the end-product matters more. Making a system like the Sega Saturn or N64 is pretty damn stupid; you always want the people working with the machines to have easy time to make the best use of them. This applies to other fields of design just as well; a service system needs to have easy usage for the service provider in order to guarantee smooth experience for the consumer.

The evolution of technology can’t be ignored. The more complex consoles grow, the more it will require from the developers. Game design becomes highly important at this point and… here’s where the crux is; nothing in the Nintendo Direct was actually interesting. All the footage shown looked much like various other games before that. To say nothing had a proper wow factor seems applicable. Even when games are relatively new medium compared to others, have we already exhausted everything the medium has to offer? During the Atari and NES era we had saw game that made the previous year’s games look like archaic pieces. It wasn’t just the visuals, but the game design and gameplay. The difference between games released in 1985 and 1986 is rather remarkable. The same can be said of movies of that era to some extent with 1983 being a high year in science fiction movies.

I question if game design has improved during the last decade or so. While there has been tweaks to tried and tested formals with every new sequel, there has been no chances made, not boundaries broken or new frontiers found. While some would argue that Oculus Rift is one of the new devices opening new regions, yet thus far we’ve seen the same game design repeated with new interface.

Evolution is regarded as a gradual process, and that it is. However, when it comes to breaking new boundaries there are moments where there is no gradual changes, simply steps. Similarly we should regard the evolution of gameplay, and games in general, taking steps rather than gradual change. It should not be enough to want same game with slightly different package and a new lick of paint, like a new G1 Optimus Prime toy, but something far more greater.

There is no denial that brand loyalty allowed my friends to hype the hell out of the games seen in the Direct. One almost creamed his pants after hearing about the Rhythm Heaven, despite it being a repackage with new minigames. Of course, what sells, sells. I can’t argue against numbers, and whatever my personal view may be are irrelevant. Nevertheless, there is also the point that games could sell more, like during on the NES, DS and Wii.

Are video game consumers far too comfortable with the current situation in their hobby? We should not be too compliant and demand better service.

Monthly Music; Under the Southern Cross

Once upon a time immemorial, when the Wii was still young, Nintendo hinted that they’d revive some of their franchises that we haven’t seen for some time. Naturally, we all began to wonder what games we’d see and how they would use the Wii controller. What we got was Donkey Kong Country Returns and the new Kirby games. DKCR was nice, but goddamn the Kirby games were below mediocre. Epic Yarn was just a new low, and offered very little. Kirby games in general are easy, but this game was just laughable.

All game companies have an extremely large amount of game franchises that are left in Japan. Few western developer do this vice versa, and it’s good. Nintendo had a rare gem that was meant for the Western market; StarTropics.

StarTropics is one of those games I spent a lot of time with. My grandmother bought it to me at a time when PlayStation was taking over. It’s one of the best games Japanese people have made for the Western market solely, thou the game overall had a lacklustre reception. So yeah, the game never saw release in Japan, which most likely is one reason why Nintendo forgets that it exists.

StaTropics is a Zelda clone with a dash of Goonies and other good 80’s adventure films. Your sword is a Yo-Yo and bananas are your ear-muffins. It’s a great game overall, even if it is derivative. The sequel expanded a lot on the first one, but otherwise it was a disappointment. For every step forward we got something that didn’t really work. Oh well. However, unlike The Legend of Zelda, the StarTropics games are completely linear in their nature. Then again, so is every Zelda game starting with A Link to the Past.

StarTropics has one of the best NES musics out there. Not perhaps based on what kind of samples were used (that goes for Sunsoft), and the second game is slightly better, but all the songs in there are a complete hit-or-miss deal. Some of them are awesome, while others are just another way to torture your fiancé.

StarTropics managed to gain a steady cult following, which seems to be in bed with the Earthbound fans to an extent. The possible return of Mike and other series overall is practically zero. While I’d enjoy a new entry in the series, we can all bet that it would be just like any other 3D Zelda game and would concentrate on the puzzles. Actually, the StarTropics decreases point amount for every defeated enemy, so the game kind of recommends leaving these enraged island animals and alien machines alone and concentrate on the bosses alone. Still, the fighting mechanics are just as good, if not even better, than what The Legend of Zelda had, and those were flawless. In the worst case scenario Nintendo would place it on the 3DS. If we were ever to get StarTropics III, I’d really love it to be set on the Southern Islands again. It’s an oddly exotic setting for a guy who is used to living amidst dark winter.