Nintendo Indirect

Evaluating the hidden clues in the recent Nintendo Direct

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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.

10 PlayStation Predictions for 2018

Football rules here: 3 points for a win, 1 for a draw (half-happens) and diddly-squat for a loss.

1. Spyro Trilogy – just look at Crash…

2. PlayStation 4 Pro Price Cut – £279 or less

3. Final Fantasy 7, Shenmue 3 and Dreams miss 2018 – see you next year guys!

4. PlayStation Now discontinued – a promising service slowly winds down

5. Rocksteady’s Arkham 4 – whatever this is it’s at E3 and has a BIG presence on the PlayStation stage

6. Horizon 2 – announced; not released

7. Death Stranding – we get a release date

8. 4k Streaming Push – Sony leans in heavily to this service, ignoring 4k UHD Blu-Rays

9. Metal Gear Solid HD – Konami agrees if Sony pays for, develops and markets it plus buy the company a nice dinner

10. PS4 Mini Announced – PSTV-esque but basically an OG PS4 but tinier and no Blu-Ray drive

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…

Game of the Year 2017

What is 2017’s best game?

It’s been a bit quiet at pennilessdads as real-job commitments have dominated October and November. Hopefully I’ll be a bit more active in December – starting with my picks for game of the year 2017. This article will be updated every day this week until number one is revealed.

5. Sonic Mania

The success of this game can be quantified by two pieces of evidence:

I) how poor Sonic Forces is in comparison

II) how long it has been in the Switch eshop charts

Sonic Mania is all things: nostalgia-evoking; stylish and modern yet retro at the same time. The cutscene at the opening positions the game in exactly the right place – the continuation of Sonic and Knuckles. It is also the genesis of one of the best Sonic fan theories ever regarding a certain upside down boss fight!

4. Horizon: Zero Dawn

A truly amazing game which firmly holds the title of ‘best looking game’ of this generation. The DNA of Horizon can easily be sourced from the likes of Tomb Raider, Phantom Pain and even Skyrim – plus many more. What it does exceedingly well is mix the mechanics it iterates on into a beautiful odyssey for protagonist Aloy to embark on. Everything about this game screams AAA. Even on my launch PS4 and 1080p tv the game is head and shoulders above any other current-gen game visually.

3. Destiny 2

After sinking hundreds of hours into the original, Destiny 2’s challenge was making millions of lapsed guardians care again. Destiny 2 has an epic campaign, clear, uncomplicated progression and great – great – multiplayer. The game is polished and is the definitive video game fps. Nothing feels as slick as Destiny and – despite a few minor controversies – everything it does is with the type of confident swagger Bungie can deservedly show.

2. Super Mario Odyssey

This makes number one obvious! Super Mario Odyssey has been a rollercoaster for me. It started with a gradual climb, followed by a dip before a thrilling second-half campaign kicked off with New Donk City. SMO, which scales to all abilities, is another game perfect for the Switch. The sense of wonder and “I bet there’s something cool around that corner” feeling oozes from every corner of this game. The cherry on the cake is the endgame grind which is perfect for dipping back into – comfort food – after a hard day in the Real World Kingdom.

1. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

When you start Ocarina of Time on N64, a subdued background cutscene plays before going to the traditional Zelda file select screen. Wind Waker and Twilight Princess unspectacularly imitate this and by Skyward Sword the opening formula to Zelda felt tired. Breath of the Wild does something bold, confident and new: a blank, white screen – quiet yet striking – then it simply says in crisp black letters ‘The Legend of Zelda’. You quickly embark on Link’s most epic of adventures – there’s no knight school politics or fishing tutorials this time. Just like the introductory screen, everything this game does can be described as bold, confident and new. There’s plenty of nostalgia for those who want to seek it but what this game does so well is evoke the spirit of adventure in the player. It’s Frodo leaving the Shire where a daunting, unknown world awaits. BotW’s stylised graphics, true open world progression and creative use of physics enhance it above most games. Although stunning, the underpowered Wii U and Switch game doesn’t quite pop and impress visually as much as Aloy’s amazing PS4 masterpiece. However, what sets BotW apart from all other games this year, this generation and all time is the feeling created by it. The weekend this game came out was 48 hours lost in the ruins of Hyrule’s wilds. Away from playing the game, I dreamed of climbing those mountains and what wonders lay ahead. God help the next Zelda game as it has a lot to live up to. For me the new benchmark has been set; it’s a great time to be playing video games!

Firewatch Review

Version reviewed: PS4

Blowing a lot of smoke on release, story-focused digital darling Firewatch was recently picked up on sale on the PlayStation Store for around £5. The embers of conversation around this game have long died out so is it worth spending a Summer out in the wild, watching fires?

Like many of its peers, Firewatch is in the difficult to classify genre often described as ‘walking simulator’ or ‘interactive adventure’. Regardless of the classification, Firewatch can be described as a first person game which mixes exploration of a vast outdoor environment with dialogue tree decisions. The vast majority of conversation is between you – a newly appointed firewatch tower…erm watcher called Henry – and your boss Delilah. All interaction between the pair is via radio and it is this area – conversation between the two – where Firewatch becomes something special.

Whilst exploring the wilderness of 1980s Shoshone National Forest, Henry is encouraged to contact Delilah to report in curios he finds. The chemistry and banter between the two strangers is well written, generating investment in the characters from the start of the game. Through clever environment design and storytelling, the player is ushered in the right direction to further the story, which has various threads to follow. Going into further detail would spoil the experience but it had us hooked like a good book.

Firewatch is a game with stylised graphics which are used to great effect to create various atmospheres which benefit the story. On PlayStation 4, we did experience some slow down but is certainly not game breaking. The story lasts around 5 hours which is exactly the right length. Even right now though the back of my mind is mulling over the choices which may be made differently on a second run through. Although ‘I’ played the game, my wife became hooked on Firewatch’s mysteries too. Going from pretending to read her book – peeking out at the witty interactions between Henry and D – to being sat on the edge of the sofa is a notable milestone in games (for us!). Rarely does she play games but this one got her. 

Overall, this is an essential experience which is worth the asking price – never mind the bargain price on sail. I have a feeling the five hours spent on Firewatch will be replayed again and that’s before we get started on the extras. A game everyone should play! 

Until Dawn Review

Version Reviewed: PlayStation 4

Recently available to all PlayStation Plus subscribers as a free monthly game, Until Dawn is a standout, unique title in Sony’s console’s library. So if – like me – you waited to jump into this survival horror classic, here’s what you can expect. Point of note, this is a great social game. I played it with my wife over the course of about two weeks; through the ten episodic chapters. 

Like all good horror movies, the game begins with a group of teenagers and an isolated cabin setting. Throughout the game you control the teens at different times playing out parts of the story from their perspectives. If you are familiar with Telltale-style games the control method will feel familiar; including tropes such as quick time events and context sensitive button prompts. At various points in the story, you are given (seemingly) 50/50 choices which impact the story and – in some cases – the health and safety of the characters. 

Throughout the eight hours or so the story takes to run its course, we found ourselves switching which characters we were rooting for and which we found ourselves saying “hope this idiot dies soon”. Tip-toeing around spoilers, Emily, who is a whiny, egocentric brat near the start of the story, has a sequence later on where she shows her resourcefulness and resilience in the face of adversity – becoming much more likeable. The characters are flawed individuals which is refreshing to see in a video game. Until Dawn is a well written game and the plot, dialogue and direction are all major positives for it to take home. 

Among the game’s minor negatives are the overall length. By the credits, it felt like we’d spent years on this mountain listening to Emily. Also, the first 75% of the game switches between a bingo card collection of horror ghosts and ghouls – like if someone pressed ‘open all’ on the contents of the film Cabin in the Woods. Once the primary threat is revealed, the closing chapters play out a satisfying conclusion but come with reduced scares as you know what is hunting you. These by no means spoil the game experience though.

A great option in the game is the ability to replay chapters to re-try sections and re-make choices. This encourages replayability  as you (hopefully!) strive to keep all the ill-fated teens alive. It emphasises how much of a polished package this is. 

Until Dawn is near the, if not at, the pinnacle of modern survival horror and is great played with a companion with the lights off.