Guardians of the (Mario) Galaxy?

On the verge of E3 2018, game announcements – and cryptic viral marketing – are flying at us left right and centre. Buried beneath the Pokemon avalanche of the last 24 hours, Fallout 76 and even Team Sonic Racing is the recent rumour that Starfox is being reimagined as a kart racer. Only Mario, Zelda, Smash and Mario Kart can truly be described as being on top form at the moment: Starfox devoid of its star status since the N64; Metroid Prime 3 is a decade old and perhaps worse of all F-Zero is stuck on the GameCube. The space between the high points of these franchises and where they stand now is vast but is also the thing which binds them: space…

These franchises – all set in the black – have struggled for a variety of reasons. Starfox has struggled to push past the reality of it being a plastic – yet furry – Star Wars. Metroid has never had the commercial appeal of its peers; F-Zero also has failed to reach Mario numbers. It is worth noting that Zelda: Breath of the Wild was the first real mega-success in terms of units sold. Although beloved by a hardcore army of fans, many Nintendo’s franchises beyond the aforementioned and Pokemon are in need of radical reform. What if Metroid and F-Zero and Starfox became one?

Banding together the unlikely heroes in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy could be the inspiration for this. Captain Falcon – who many would be hard-pushed to associate with his franchise – needs a reboot/revamp in personality. Think 90s Tomb Raider to the PS3 era series or more recently God/Dad of War on PS4. Give him an edge. Give him a purpose other than winning races. Make him Starlord.

Obviously, the small mammal role goes to Fox McCloud. Star Fox’s plucky captain would make a good fit to the group as well as competition to Falclord (you.are.welcome.Nintendo). It also gives a narrative excuse to cut some of Fox’s anthropomorphic ensemble cast. Contrastingly, Samus Aran of Metroid fame has struggled to hold down a meaningful supporting set of characters. Samus brings an air of mystique, a sense of duty and also prevents this being a fully male team. It would be easy to call her the Gamora of the group but Samus is far too incorruptible as a renowned yet straight- laced bounty hunter. She is the boy-scout (girl guide?)/Superman (erm..Supergirl) of the group.

That uses up the A-list characters from these franchises; there are still two places to fill. Drax and Groot are the two (MCU lineup) guardians remaining. This is where it gets weird.

Groot is a fairly easy character to cast. Petey Piranha from the Mario series is an obvious candidate. That would be a like-for-like switch. Another possibility is a Pikmin. It stands to reason that this group could have stumbled across these creatures at some point. Finally, a Deku Shrub from Zelda could fit the bill if we really wanted to connect the UNESverse (that’s either a TM or a cease and desist…).

In the role of the muscle, there are more limited options. Who is this crew’s Jayne? There’s only one answer: Waluigi! This would add a criminal element to the ensemble whilst giving this cult favourite a chance to shine at last. If not, insert your choice of Pokemon here.

Now that we’ve got a lineup, the genre needs nailing down. What would be the game style of choice? A 3rd person Tomb Raider/Witcher/Uncharted style adventure would possibly fit best. With the unique abilities of the characters co-op or squad mechanics would add variety to each play through. Perhaps there are branching areas and secrets only specific characters can access. It would be a great addition to Nintendo’s online portfolio. If we really want to dream, adding in Strikes and Raids – in addition to a story mode – would give Nintendo their games as a service title. There would definitely need to be racing and Arwing battles to pay homage to previous games.

On a quick note, the antagonist could easily be one of the many previously seen in the individual series. Or a newly created character. Or Earthworm Jim…

Back in 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy, we are introduced to each character in a police lineup as they are processed ready to send to the kyln. Imagine the Nintendo equivalents in that lineup (probably not having Falclord giving the middle finger).

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Nintendo Indirect

Evaluating the hidden clues in the recent Nintendo Direct

Last Thursday’s Nintendo Direct was the one which finally met – and probably exceeded – all expectations. However, there’s a few bits and pieces of subtext to what Nintendo announced:

1. GameCube Virtual Console isn’t happening

Basically any title Nintendo releases in 3D post 2001 is game for a HD/3DS remake. Expect Mario Sunshine and Wind Waker/Twilight Princess to fill in the gaps between the next original incarnations of the series. Why charge £7.99 on virtual console when you can charge £49.99, right? If the games come with modern advancements like wide-screen that’s fine with me.

2. Samus Aran

Smash Bros usually has the most recent iteration of Nintendo characters in its roster so we can expect a few subtle hints to what Nintendo’s underused bounty hunter will be up to in Metroid Prime 4. It would be unthinkable to fathom a Smash game without her; I anticipate more than one tease for her next adventure.

3. Wii U 2019

With Captain Toad, Hyrule Warriors and Donkey Kong hitting Switch this year already – joining Mario Kart 8 – Nintendo seems to be drip feeding the Switch’s predecessor’s back-catalog out over the next few years. Mario 3D World, Mario Maker, Yoshi and New Super Mario Bros will no doubt pop up later in Switch’s lifecycle. OG Wii re-releases are conspicuously by their absence though…

4. E3 is all about Holiday 2018

The Switch has a healthy selection of support going to the end of July. June’s E3 events (whether they be Directs or Treehouse Live) will be all about the holiday season. We know Smash will be there but expect at least three more titles to pick up in time for Christmas. One of those will likely be Labo based and with Metroid Prime 4 and Pokemon looking like 2019 games, we might see HD re-releases or spin offs from these series. Plus we’ll know exactly what Virtual Console/Nintendo Classic/Nintendflix will look like too!

Possibly the most important and exciting piece of information from the Direct was how bullish Nintendo is prepared to be. Q1 was clearly just a chance for everyone to catch their breath before the big guns came out. Crash Bandicoot, Okami, South Park and No More Heroes are the right types of games for Switch: ideally suited to the versatility of the console. Expect even more at E3 to wrestle attention from Spider-Man and (yawn) Crackdown 3. It’s good to see the kind of swagger Nintendo has seldom been willing to share.

Dlc Ruined my Games!

In 2015, I did something I believed would be a no-brainer, low-risk investment: I bought the Fallout 4 Season Pass (or expansion pass or whatever it was called) at launch. When I purchased Fallout 3, I had waited for and loved the Game of the Year edition which included all expansions so this was a logical step to take. 200 hours into Fallout 4 though I’ve only scratched the surface of the added on content. It’s release came long after I was ‘done’ with the game. Bethesda RPGs are like comfort food for me: I’ll always drop back into them on a rainy day but I certainly didn’t get my money’s worth here. Loot boxes have dominated the paid-for expansion conversation this year but this generation’s dlc has possibly been overlooked for scrutiny – overshadowed by the likes of the former. So, I decided to analyse the dlc I’ve purchased this generation.

Batman Arkham Knight

Upon release, the ambiguous dlc plan was much maligned: the season Pass was put out without details of what it would include. I completed most of the on-disc content (Riddler challenges: nope!) but had been stung by the lacklustre Arkham City dlc. I decided to wait until the content went on sale. Over the next couple of years, I picked up the odd character skin pack a la carte plus the Batgirl add-on. However, the season pass came up in a PSN flash sale for £5.99 earlier in the year so decided to finally cough up despite owning some of the content already; it was cheaper to do it this way than buy the remainder individually. I played the Season of Infamy add on for one night and have not touched it since.

Hindsight verdict: stick to the core game. Arkham Knight’s ending – despite missteps along the way – was conclusive. Extending Batman’s final hours felt forced and unnecessary.

Star Wars Battlefront

At the height of Force Awakens mania, Disney Infinity 3.0 and Battlefront were bought. It was the start of the Xmas holidays when the latter was purchased; this resulted in jumping into a game which already full of seasoned experts with the game already having been out a while. After regularly getting kicked about in online shootouts I quickly moved on. When Rogue One released last year – alongside a free dlc weekend – I fell for it again: picking up the discounted season pass (and Star Wars Racer Revenge). It did give a few weeks of gameplay but I never really dived deep enough to warrant £50 (original gam +expansions) being spent on it.

Hindsight verdict: this expansion experience did not go the way I thought it would.

Destiny

First, a disclosure: I currently have no plans to buy Destiny 2’s expansions until further down the line. Having sunk nearly 100 hours into D2, I’m done with it for a while. Anyway, I bought all of Destiny 1’s add-on content and was happy to do so considering the ongoing nature of the game. I know I’m in the minority when I say this but I loved vanilla Destiny. Farming materials, learning those initial strikes off by heart and original Dinkle-bot were all part of this. Destiny’s expansions was more ‘pay to keep up’ content than ‘additional’. None of them hit the same high notes of the core game – in my opinion – despite adding much-needed story and Nathan Fillion. All in all Destiny cost me about £175 which is a fair reflection of the hundreds of hours I sunk into this ground-breaking game.

Hindsight verdict: D1 was one hell of a ride; albeit one which slowed towards the end. Despite the high price of entry to its full experience, it was worth it.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Nintendo’s Switch launch title is our game of the year – along with many other media sites’. However, the end-of-year, final expansion release almost changed this: for me, the additional content nearly ruined the memory of this amazing game. In the core game, all shrines have been conquered and Ganon has long since been defeated (once on Wii U and once on Switch). Unfortunately the tedious fetch quests for armour along with cheap, one hit KO missions in the expansions sully the inventive game design of the on-cart game. After a few evenings of trying to force myself to enjoy them (the second in particular) it’s time to finally move on from Hyrule.

Verdict: after vast expansions on some of Wii U’s games, Breath of the Wild’s expansions leave a lot to be desired. I wish I’d stuck to the original game.

My reflections on these experiences lead to an intriguing question. Currently, I’m knee-deep in Horizon: Zero Dawn. Weeks after picking it up on Black Friday, I’m still hooked delving through the quirky side-quests and errands. With the Frozen Wild’s expansion now out, is it worth picking this up? With more negative experiences than positive with dlc this generation I wonder if it would be better to let this amazing game just be. I don’t want it become another Zelda…

Destiny’s Halo?

Destiny 2: the new benchmark for games-as-service, is here. Now, seems a funny time to discuss this but a convergence of events in the last week have brought me to a simple conclusion about life, light and the preservation of games such as this. The fact of the matter is simple; Destiny 1 will inevitably be shut down soon. 

Back in 2014, always online was a strange new concept for many. Now it is almost mandatory. Destiny for all its faults was amazing (note the past tense). Over the last three years I’ve had an on/off romance with it which is rekindled with Destiny 2. Always online brings with it unavoidable problems. The other night – after a long day at work – I booted up D2 only to be met with a disappointing ‘network down’ message as Bungie delivered (planned) maintenance. No Destiny porn for me then. This began the mind-wander towards a depressing question; how much of D1 will be playable when the plug is pulled? 

Logic dictates the obvious; none of it. Likeminded online focused games have drifted off to that digital farm all of our virtual pets were sent to and Destiny will probably be no different. Except – what if there were a workaround?

Always online enabled all Destiny players to exist within the various worlds alongside others. There really was nothing like jumping into a Strike playlist; finding two random, silent Guardians then carrying out your mission with surgical precision. However, the primary purpose of all our Destiny saves – for both games – is to avoid cheats and exploits. No one can manipulate game saves etc when we don’t physically have them on our hard drives. Should this still apply to D1 though? The hardcore have jumped sparrow to D2, leaving the original Tower et al conspicuously lonely. Having just clocked D2’s great campaign, a return play through of D1 – which I haven’t done since 2014 and the vanilla days – might not be a bad idea. It is currently a vague memory wrapped up in subsequent dlc and never ending grinding. I wouldn’t be doing it for engrams or gear or shards but for something more: enjoyment. This led me to my conclusion.

If Bungie – against all form and precedent – switched D1 to local saves, allowing the player to play solo (offline), a renaissance of D1 could be upon us. The core game would be preserved; you could even patch in bots for the raid. This offers up a tantalising prospect; Destiny could work on Nintendo Switch. Destiny 2, with its complex infrastructure, may be too much but a local based Destiny 1 would surely not. Three Guardians playing in handheld mode locally. It sounds logical doesn’t it? For all the improvements D2 has brought, wouldn’t it be great to take the original with you anywhere? It’s just a thought; a wish upon a star. One day, the original Destiny will be in darkness. Perhaps we can find a way of leaving the light on…

Destiny 2 Review

Version: Xbox One

MILD SPOILERS AHEAD

Update 1: Without blitzing the campaign, I’ve been taking my time to do what many Destiny players forget: enjoy the game. After about ten hours, my battle-hardened Guardian has maxed out to level 20 and the familiar end game is upon him. It feels as though Destiny 1 was one huge Beta test in preparation for the sequel. The journey to level 20 and the subsequent push to raise my ‘Power’ feels much like the original’s in 2014. D1 learnt that endless grinding of materials was a fruitless labour with the vanilla original quickly being updated to a modified progression system. When the focus drifts to raising stats Destiny becomes addictive yet some of the fun is drawn out. Playing the campaign reminded me how much enjoyment I had in 2014 – in the opening weeks of release – before raids and expansions. 

Destiny 2’s campaign is entertaining; giving you more of fan favourite characters like Cayde 6.The Destiny team at Bungie clearly know their sci-fi with the casting of Firefly alums Gina Torres and Nathan Fillion. In a later campaign mission, the developers show their sense of humour with the ensemble cast. I was tasked with destroying a Cabal spaceship, preventing its escape by destroying shield generators a la Empire Strikes Back. Any notion of happy coincidences are swashed when immediately after you seal the deal by sending a missile along the fuel pipes just like a certain rebel pilot did in 1977. Destiny 2 is filled with memorable writing and set pieces which will provide many water cooler conversation opportunities over the coming weeks and years. It truly stands out compared to competent shooters such as Titanfall 2; it excels at amusing in amongst the gunplay.

Above all, Destiny 2 is the pinnacle of shooting mechanics. Everything is perfectly balanced and – at the risk of sounding like Goldilocks – feels just right. D2, which is still less than a week old, is the new benchmark for shooters: the way the enemy heads pop in an explosion of numbers; sliding into a band of alien scum before face-palming them into the void or seamlessly switching between your arsenal of oddly named weaponry. Shooting is better in Destiny than any other game. At £42 delivered, this purchase is recommended and leaves me with a lingering question…

Will D2 tire by October 27th and Super Mario Odyssey? Or is Nintendo’s flagship character destined (shnarff!) to be ignored. At the moment, it is difficult to see how any other game could come close to distracting from Destiny 2 in the months ahead. More than recommend. 

Original: So far, so good. Destiny 2 – as we have known for some time – smacks the reset button before the end of the 1st mission. With your light removed lost along with all hope, it is up to you to salvage the remains of everything which was built in the original. Eyes up guardian! Or perhaps that should be ‘boots on the ground’ as the initial missions remove even the most basic of guardian powers such as double jumping. Either way it’s good to be home.

Whilst keeping the original as a template: social hub; interstellar adventures and loot hunting all present, Destiny 2 expands the final build of its predecessor. Immediately, it feels like Destiny’s Rise of Iron. Menus and gear harp back to the final days of OG Destiny albeit with some significant improvements. 
Firstly, missions take a more open world, fluid structure; no more jumping to orbit to launch into games. Destiny 2’s initial offering of story and new ‘Adventure’ missions offer plenty of early content. Each world has a friendly vendor who act similarly to the likes of factions such as Dead Orbit et al. Obviously the dash to be raid ready is important for some players but we enjoyed the fleshing out of Destiny 2’s campaign, steadily climbing the light ladder. On the note of content – in stark contrast with the previous game – in each world we found ourselves falling over Public Events. They’re everywhere! Added to this, a map system allowing missions/events/vendors to be tagged made traversing the level to find them much, much more intuitive. The usual Bungie epic-ness is present and correct during the campaign along with some witty dialogue between Ghost and the new and existing characters. 
Later on in the campaign, a wider range of game modes are unlocked including Strikes before fully opening up the end-game. Much like the original (again) the first 15 hours or so see you cycling through gear and weapons almost every mission to push your stats up before slowing towards the end. There are so many similarities to the first game but this is no criticism. This should be exactly the game fans of Destiny 1 wanted. 
So far, since launch it has been a daily dip in to forge through the campaign. 2017 will be remembered as a tale of two games: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, in the first half; Destiny 2 in the latter. Whatever comes next for Bungie and Activision’s behemoth shooter – and despite what problems and controversies it will surely face – based on what we’ve seen so far this is an essential game. Considering the value D1 offered pound for pound we’re excited for what the next 500 hours will bring. 

Destiny 2 Review in Progress (Spoiler free)

Version: Xbox One

So far, so good. Destiny 2 – as we have known for some time – smacks the reset button before the end of the 1st mission. With your light removed lost along with all hope, it is up to you to salvage the remains of everything which was built in the original. Eyes up guardian! Or perhaps that should be ‘boots on the ground’ as the initial missions remove even the most basic of guardian powers such as double jumping. Either way it’s good to be home.

Whilst keeping the original as a template: social hub; interstellar adventures and loot hunting all present, Destiny 2 expands the final build of its predecessor. Immediately, it feels like Destiny’s Rise of Iron. Menus and gear harp back to the final days of OG Destiny albeit with some significant improvements. 

Firstly, missions take a more open world, fluid structure; no more jumping to orbit to launch into games. Destiny 2’s initial offering of story and new ‘Adventure’ missions offer plenty of early content. Each world has a friendly vendor who act similarly to the likes of factions such as Dead Orbit et al. Obviously the dash to be raid ready is important for some players but we enjoyed the fleshing out of Destiny 2’s campaign, steadily climbing the light ladder. On the note of content – in stark contrast with the previous game – in each world we found ourselves falling over Public Events. They’re everywhere! Added to this, a map system allowing missions/events/vendors to be tagged made traversing the level to find them much, much more intuitive. The usual Bungie epic-ness is present and correct during the campaign along with some witty dialogue between Ghost and the new and existing characters. 

Later on in the campaign, a wider range of game modes are unlocked including Strikes before fully opening up the end-game. Much like the original (again) the first 15 hours or so see you cycling through gear and weapons almost every mission to push your stats up before slowing towards the end. There are so many similarities to the first game but this is no criticism. This should be exactly the game fans of Destiny 1 wanted. 

So far, since launch it has been a daily dip in to forge through the campaign. 2017 will be remembered as a tale of two games: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, in the first half; Destiny 2 in the latter. Whatever comes next for Bungie and Activision’s behemoth shooter – and despite what problems and controversies it will surely face – based on what we’ve seen so far this is an essential game. Considering the value D1 offered pound for pound we’re excited for what the next 500 hours will bring. 

Destined?

I’m going to buy Destiny 2. There are some games that I always want on my HDD ready to jump into. That’s Destiny. I’m going to buy it digitally – at full price. Not many games can demand that decisiveness of purchase. My modest gaming budget for September into October is going to Bungie. Judging by how many hours I spent on the original, it will be a wise investment. 

Last week, the first Destiny 2 gameplay was revealed. This footage wasn’t for me; this trailer would be to get new players in. My mind was made up already. What could they possibly show me? Then I watched it. The familiar sight of the Tower being decimated – loot and all – wipes the slate clean for new guardians to join the fight whilst at the same time drawing a line under Destiny 1 for existing players. The horrowing sight in the linking corridor to the Speaker’s area got me. This trailer was for me. The attention to detail of the robot I’d passed thousands of times (usually to find Xur, not the speaker) still sweeping diligently amid the chaos yanked on the memories of hundreds of hours of play. That’s Destiny. 

Before Destiny, games had hype and noise around them but I remember something being different about it. I had been very passive towards it in the build up. ‘Online’, ‘co-op’ and ‘shooter’ were not in my vocabulary. Although Halo had grabbed my attention briefly it had been more out of curiosity. September 2014 – I remember watching let’s plays of the game pre-release and something hooked me. It looked fun. I’d played Halo because I felt it was part of the rite of passage as an advocate of the medium but Destiny looked fun. I didn’t have any idea what I was watching until after I’d bought the game a few weeks after release. The footage was of a warlock sliding, shooting and – storming the moon. More and more footage was watched before I finally took the plunge. 

At this point in life, my first born was nearly one and although not as penniless as I am now (it really hits you after child number 2 FYI) time to play games was in decline. No longer could I get away with sneaky PS4 sessions whilst she slept on me. Now she could talk and wanted to do stuff. Destiny’s loop of short jump in, jump out missions, familiar strikes and I’ve-only-got-5-minutes-let’s-do-a-patrol fit my new lifestyle perfectly. It was comfort food. How many times did I – along with 2 other random guardians – take down Sepiks Prime? It was familiar, easy to slot into mid game – comfort food. Put any seasoned Destiny player into those original strikes and I guarantee they will know immediately what’s going on and what they need to do. That’s Destiny.

Destiny 1 and all it’s add ons sucked me back in twice again over the last 3 years. No other game has seen me return to it so often. My recent ‘lost weekend’ (read: month) with Zelda: Breath of the Wild reminded me of each time Destiny pulled me back, thrusting a rocket launcher into my hands. It will be interesting to see if Zelda: BotW has the longevity Destiny had. It never bothered me the complaints about the story or my robotic companion. Destiny is the best gun play in any game. Any FPS which doesn’t follow the control scheme or make that satisfying pop of sparks when you make a Fallen headshot seems wrong.

Hiding behind those boxes on Mars. Pegging it through the Dust palace. Bugging out as the last guardian standing. Geeking out over Firefly alumini voice actors. Sitting down when a mission’s complete. Having your phone next to you to figure out exactly how you get the things to make your things better. As Cade 6 told us in that first trailer, that’s all gone now…

I can’t wait to do it all over again. That’s Destiny.