Xbox Mini?

Nostalgia for past consoles appear to be at an all time high with Nintendo’s licence to print money: the SNES Classic. Coming a year after the NES Classic, the recently released 16 bit bundle of goodness has flown off shelves. A like minded Gameboy Classic or PlayStation Classic should be expected over the next few years; but what about Xbox?

Entering the console space near the start of the millennium, Microsoft doesn’t quite have the rich history its competitors do. What they do have though is the roadmap for what the next generation of consoles will look like. The iterative Xbox One X will either be the true beginning of the end of distinctive console generations akin to mobile phone updates or it will be the Xbox One 32X: repeating SEGA’s expensive mistake it the 90s. What Microsoft do offer – to a greater extent than Sony or Nintendo – is choice: the vanilla Xbox One, Xbox One S and the X. With production of the original console ending, a new third pillar should be expected. Could this be Microsoft’s answer to a ‘classic’ or ‘mini’ console? Let me explain…

Since the 360 days, there have been rumblings of a discless Xbox. This may finally be a reality. Imagine if you will, a smaller, streamlined Xbox One: HD – no 4k, 500gb hard drive and packaged with some classic games. The Xbox One will soon be compatible with the full lineage of Xbox games from the original Xbox 1 to the modern Xbox One. This would enable the One family to be its own retro machine – if you want it to be. One of the biggest criticisms of the Nintendo classics has been the lack of expansion: further downloadable titles would have been another money maker for Nintendo. 

Xbox One C? Xbox One Mini? Xbox One TV? Whatever it would be called, a cheaper (£150?) Xbox One might just be the best of both worlds. For now, Sony and Microsoft are ignoring the home/handheld hybrid market (don’t quite believe that…) but the mini market may just be about to explode. We can expect at least one more retro console from Nintendo; time will tell if Microsoft can exploit their unique position and marry the past, present and future together. 

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Console Stories: Super Nintendo

Retrospective on the SNES

Welcome to a new feature on pennilessdads where we reminisce about consoles previously or currently owned. What memories are connected to this hardware and why is – or isn’t – it a significant chapter in the world of games? We start in the early-to-mid-nineties with the Super Nintendo.

Up until 1994, it had all been about SEGA and Sonic. That changed when I watched someone playing Super Mario World and Super Mario Kart. Those two games introduced me to the Mushroom Kingdom and from then on a lifetime of saving princesses from turtles. I actually have two previous memories of Nintendo. The first was watching (did a lot of watching back then it seems – if only streaming was a thing) some kid play Super Mario Bros and Duck Hunt on a busted NES. Then at the SNES launch demoing Pilotwings. Neither of those experiences hooked me like this. So very early on I put a SNES on my birthday wishlist. Then something cool happened.

While retailers are careful in this day and age to cover their backs in the fine print, there was a bit more exploitation to be had back then. My mum had found a deal at a shop which had a great deal on a SNES bundled with Super Mario Allstars. She told me she planned to get the deal on the last day it was on to give her chance to save up. When this magical day arrived, a retail miracle occurred. Another deal on the console activated – stacking with the previous one. This meant we got the Super Scope and the six game pack in bundled in. My eight year old self did not note the price but I remember it was a bargain. Looking back it was later in the console’s life and should be expected. Little me thought all his Christmases had come at once. 

So, the age of Nintendo had begun for our family. The Mario Allstars compilation saw many, many hours of play whilst – after an initial flurry of excitement – the scope collected dust. Two more games over the next year or so would capture my imagination. 

After dragging me towards Nintendo initially, I finally got my hands on Super Mario World. I remember seeing it for about £14 at the second hand market in our town centre. It was unboxed but this was nuts. All games were £40 and preowned games hadn’t reached us yet. I gambled and unpacked every inch of that game. Nintendo was now a company I would keep tabs on and follow. This led me to find out about a game called Donkey Kong Country.

On television there was a show about games called Bad Influence. It was very 90s but was the primary way I could find out about new games. The PlayStation and Saturn were shown off, blowing away the likes of me. This was my first experience of ‘next gen’ and I almost lost focus onto them. However, the beauty of Donkey Kong Country kept me hooked on my SNES for a while longer. The game looked amazing and brimmed with authority and confidence from the moment you clicked the power switch on. Opening with a majestic fanfare before literally blasting OG Donkey Kong (and its theme song) out of the window. That was my Christmas present that year and I can’t remember turning it off. 

A few other memories stick out, I used to have a friend with a SNES and we would play games like Power Rangers and Star Fox. It was towards the end of the 16 bit generation though and the CD-based consoles were looming. Towards the SNES’ twilight a late flurry of great games bookended its lifetime. Yoshi’s Island, Diddy Kong’s Quest and Killer Instinct all entertained before Nintendo had to adjust its role in the console hierarchy as a certain Sony console entered the market. 

It was a console I kept hold of though. Many of the next generation’s would be bought and sold but the SNES found a way of staying around. After the launch of Nintendo 64, I for some reason picked up the SNES Mario Kart and gave the console a renaissance. Friday nights became competitive marathons of the game which are still referenced in my friendship circle today. With the new consoles out I found myself picking up more and more of the SNES back catalogue: Street Racer (which includes a proto-Rocket League mode), Mortal Kombat, Mario Paint and Sparkster. The SNES eventually gave up the ghost. We tried to switch it on somewhere towards the end of the 20th Century but it had packed in. Every game we had on it was amazing to play – something subsequent Nintendo consoles haven’t consistently achieved. 

The Top 10 Games 2017

Back in the N64 era, I noticed my games collection was slightly imbalanced. The vast majority of games on my shelf were football titles. My teenage self set the target of addressing the balance and making sure I had – in loose terms – one of each genre. What resulted was a mini-golden age of gaming. I could only have one shooter (obviously Goldeneye), one football game etc etc and through trading in and careful curation I made sure I only had the cream of the crop. I have 188 games on my PlayStation 4 through carried over purchases from PlayStation 3 and Vita, PlayStation Plus and hoarding in flash sales. In the download era it would be impossible to purge these games from my account but it got me thinking; what are the best games to play today? Top ten/hundred lists usually start getting predictable near the top, dominated by the likes of Mario 64. So, we are aiming to do something different. What are the best games to play in 2017? Nostalgic feelings and historical impact (we’ve got another list for that) on the industry are not applicable. Yes, San Andreas was important in 2004 but we’ve come a long way since then. Genres are defined by pennilessdads and we’ve also ignored sports titles as we felt that was too broad a heading. We aim to update this list at least 3 times a year. Some genres are unrepresented – sorry in advance!

2D era inspired game – Shovel Knight

The last ten years has seen a resurgence of 2D games and the tip of the spear is Shovel Knight. Riffing on sooo many games of yesteryear, this polished platform – which now has 3 campaigns – is great value. We await to see if August’s Sonic Mania can challenge Shovel Knight’s title. 

First person shooter – Destiny

Since 2014, the question I have asked when playing every game with a hand and a gun is: does it feel like Destiny? This is testament to the quality of Bungie’s epic online playground. As the journey of the original Destiny comes to an end, there’s one last chance to experience this great, genre defining experience. Will Destiny 2 overthrow it?

Racing – Mario Kart 8

Once upon a time, racing games like SEGA Rally, Daytona, Gran Turismo and Ridge Racer were tentpoles of console line ups. These days ‘serious’ racers are no longer at the forefront. The Forza series is arguably the best of these but the Switch’s recent deluxe version of Mario Kart 8 conquers all.

Story based action game – The Last of Us Remastered

There are so many games which could feature here. However, The Last of Us is a standout title and perhaps the game which elevated Naughty Dog to the highest tier of games designers – keeping company with the creme de la creme of games developers.  

3D collectathon platformer – Super Mario Galaxy 2

Following last gen’s trend of semi-sequels, an uncharacteristic Nintendo sequel to the fantastic Super Mario Galaxy is a varied collection of creative challenges which will change the way you think of a Mario game. Yes, Super Mario Odyssey will probably knock Galaxy 2 off its perch but we’ll have to wait until October for that. 

Crafting game – Fallout 4

Controversy! Minecraft inspired this element in many, many games but Fallout 4 has a – much maligned- base crafting feature which gives a nice change of pace with the rest of the game. Every settlement in Fallout 4 I come across now has a much refined plan to create an armoured, impervious foretress (concrete block the perimeter, guns intermittently around, robot protectors). A great aside to a great game which has unfair criticism in my humble opinion. 

High fantasy adventure – The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

It was a three horse race between this, Skyrim and Witcher 3. BotW changes everything. This is as close to a perfect game as there has ever been. The end. 

Puzzle – Puyo Puyo Tetris

Harking back to the Gameboy game which catapulted tetrominoes into popular culture, this quirky crossover has a great array of modes and a manic story mode. Multiplayer puzzling has never been as much fun. An honourable mention would be The Witness. 

Turn based role playing – Persona 5

Final Fantasy 13 ushered in a lapse in quality of Square Enix’s epic series. Persona saw the gap at the top and grasped the opportunity. The latest Persona has caught public opinion dominating conversations in and around various games podcasts. Style and substance combined make this the current pinnacle of JRPGs. 

Horror – Until Dawn

The 32bit era sewed the seeds of survival horror with Resident Evil, refining it the point of (then) perfection in the fourth iteration in the next generation. Between 2005 and 2015 though, the genre suffered as the balance between action and scares became more one than the other (clue: it’s not horror). 

Enter Until Dawn. Recently available on PS Plus as one of the free games on PS4, this seemingly by the numbers teen horror movie matters so much more when you’re calling the shots. Within five minutes of starting, you’re already wishing one of the douchebags dead. A great twist on the Telltale style experience and great for couch co-op. 

Mike drop…

If you disagree, correct us in the comments on the site or on Twitter @pennilessdads

Top 5 Ways Nintendo Should Use Amiibo

We shouldn’t be surprised really that Nintendo would stand to be the (likely) survivor of the toys to life boom. The vanishing act of more sophisticated NFC toys/games like Disney Infinity disappointed many including us here at pennilessdads. Despite their endurance, Nintendo’s amiibo have been integrated quite passively. Their initial features linked to Smash Bros – training a character and saving to the figure – seem to be a high point. Subsequent games have not gone beyond cosmetic features. One criticism of Nintendo has been the rumours surrounding the Metroid 2 remake on 3DS; pay-walling a hard mode behind amiibo. 

On one hand, amiibo are great figures with fun yet forgettable in-game features whereas on the other, they are lumps of plastic bumping the price of downloadable expansions up. How could Nintendo moving forward integrate amiibo more effectively and make them more attractive to consumers? 

1. Super Mario 64 DS HD Remake

Anyone remember what set this apart from the N64 original? You start the game as Yoshi but you eventually unlock Wario, Luigi and – of course Mario – to explore the castle. Each character had slight variations in power, speed and abilities etc. Your Mario series amiibo could drop the character into the game and give you a fresh perspective on a game which has been explored to the nth degree. Perhaps new challenges could be added for each of the compatible amiibo.

2. Pokemon Stadium Switch Edition

There are already specific Pokemon amiibo but a figure for all however-many-hundred there are is unrealistic to purchase (“challenge accepted!”). Cards could be an option but what we’re interested in is a simple Pokeball or Pokemon trainer amiibo. Train your squad up in the base game, write to the amiibo from it or Pokemon Bank then load up to Stadium on Switch. High pitched “I choose you!” battle cries are optional.

3. Hyrule Warriors 2

Breath of the Wild has changed everything. The next Zelda game is going to have a lot of weight to carry. Why not sidestep the main series and release a follow up to the (excellent) Wii U and (fairly stuttery) 3DS game? Simple concept; when your chosen hero falls in battle, tap an amiibo to replace them. The original game already features multiple Links and a wide supporting cast. The RPG and weapon customisation elements could also be saved to the toy. 

4. Amiitopia

During the 3DS’ unexpected stay of execution, a flurry of games have turned the event into a party instead of a funeral. Miitopia, Metroid and new Pokemon sequels should keep Nintendo’s highly successful console alive for a bit longer. Miitopia – demo available on eshop btw – casts your long forgotten Miis in traditional RPG character types. Simply swap out the eclectic cast of Miis to amiibo. Need a Mage character? <taps Yarn Yoshi amiibo> There we go! Need an evil Overlord? <taps Luigi amiibo> You get the picture! 

5. Nintendoland 2

Instead of a Mario or Toad imitating Mii, tap your amiibo and Chase Mii (Chase Amiibo?) becomes a bit more interesting. Yes, the asymmetrical gameplay of the Wii U version would be compromised but I’m sure Nintendo could find a workaround – like the ‘essential’ second screen in Splatoon. Let every character tap a different amiibo character and off they go. Imagine how much life could be in this game if Bayonetta, Cloud Strife and a Bokoblin were chasing Shovel Knight…Add in new worlds based on the likes of Splatoon and Pokemon etc and a forgotten celebration of Nintendo could return to life.

Honourable mention:

Any multiplayer game needs to have F-Zero GX/AX style functionality. In 2003 – 14 years ago – you could unlock customisable parts for your ship, save your amazing, bespoke creation to a GCN memory card then upload it to an arcade cabinet. Arms, Splatoon and Mario Kart all need this feature as standard.

To conclude, Nintendo has sold nearly 5 million Switch consoles. Amiibo sales in the same time are less than 2 million. Availability has been an issue but the useful-ness of these figures is perhaps are more pressing one. Will amiibo evolve or will they follow LEGO Dimensions and Disney Infinity to the bargain bin? 

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Mario Allstars 2017

How awesome would a Mario collection be? In lieu of Virtual Console, how about sticking everything on one cart? Or as AllStar-style collections?

Super Mario Allstars Vol 1

  1. Mario Bros
  2. Super Mario Bros
  3. Super Mario Bros. Lost Levels
  4. Super Mario Bros 2
  5. Super Mario Bros 3 
  6. Super Mario World
  7. Yoshi’s Island: Super Mario World 2
  8. Super Mario Land
  9. Super Mario Land 2
  10. Super Mario RPG

Super Mario Allstars Vol 2

  1. New Super Mario Bros
  2. New Super Mario Bros 2
  3. New Super Mario Bros Wii
  4. New Super Mario Bros U
  5. Mario and Luigi Superstar Saga
  6. Mario and Luigi Partners in Time
  7. Mario and Luigi Bowser’s Inside Story
  8. Mario and Luigi Dream Team

Super Mario Allstars Vol 3

  1. Paper Mario
  2. Paper Mario the Thousand Year Door
  3. Super Paper Mario
  4. Paper Mario Sticker Star
  5. Paper Mario Colour Splash

Super Mario Allstars Vol 4

  1. Super Mario 64
  2. Super Mario Sunshine
  3. Super Mario Galaxy
  4. Super Mario Galaxy 2
  5. Super Mario 3D Land
  6. Super Mario 3D World

Each game in HD with leaderboard, online multiplayer (when applicable) please! 

N64 Classic?

Wow! A flurry of trademarks this week has resulted in soft-to-firm evidence of Nintendo’s follow up to the as-yet unreleased SNES Classic; the N64 Classic. Despite popular opinion the next venture would be a Gameboy Classic, the sole, mainstream 64-bit console (Jaguar 64 ignored) looks like it is next to appear in reduced numbers and inflated prices on eBay. But what will we get in the box?

Launching last holiday season, the NES Classic launched with 30 preloaded games and the imminent SNES Classic will have 30% less. Let’s apply that formula to the potential N64 Classic. 30% less games would – when rounded up – give us 15 N64 games. Here we go:

  1. Super Mario 64
  2. Mario Kart 64
  3. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
  4. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
  5. 1080 Snowboarding
  6. Wave Race 64
  7. F-Zero X
  8. Mario Party
  9. Mario Tennis
  10. Mario Golf
  11. Pokemon Snap
  12. Star Fox/Layla’s Wars 64
  13. Smash Bros
  14. Donkey Kong 64
  15. Paper Mario

Honourable mentions:

  • Doom 64
  • Beetle Adventure Racing
  • Turok 1&2
  • Pokemon Stadium
  • Pokemon Puzzle League
  • Pilotwings 64
  • Yoshi’s Story

A huge issue with this console is a large chunk of its AAA quality back-catalogue was made by Rare – now owned by Microsoft. Banjo-Kazooie, Perfect Dark and Blast Corps have already been retro-bundled in Rare Replay on Xbox One. So all those games are out. There are also a number of games in limbo like Goldeneye or Diddy Kong Racing. DKR was ported – by Nintendo to DS but ripped out Rare’s characters. Surely they wouldn’t do the same to the original? 

Wishful thinking:

  • Banjo-Kazooie 
  • Banjo-Tooie
  • DKR
  • Goldeneye
  • Perfect Dark
  • Jet Force Gemini
  • Blast Corps
  • Killer Instinct Gold

Outside bets:

  • Quake 2
  • Star Wars Episode 1: Racer
  • Star Wars: Rogue Squadron
  • Body Harvest
  • Earthworm Jim 64
  • Mortal Kombat 4
  • Snowboard Kids
  • Top Gear Overdrive
  • Superman 64…

The one nugget of hope here is Star Fox 2 on the SNES Classic. If that game can see the light of day then Goldeneye etc may have a chance.