Hoskins hated it.
And so did the public. Ouch.
Nothing super here.
Hoskins hated it.
Hoskins hated it.
And so did the public. Ouch.
Nothing super here.
Nintendo have launched the first trailer for their upcoming console Switch. Previously known as the NX, on Thursday afternoon they announced the official name, provided a release date of March 2017 and gave a glimpse of several new games.
Here’s the console in action.
What games will be available?
The games we saw were as follows.
There were be precise confirmations on the dates of release of these, so I’m not assuming that they will be release day titles.
The inclusion of Skyrim is an interesting point. Whilst it’s a relatively ancient game – it will be over five years old by the time the Switch hits the shelves – there is a clear statement here that the console can handle much more advanced graphics than anything Nintendo has on the market right now.
When will it be released?
March 2017 is as much information as we are given at the moment.
Is it worth getting excited about?
Certainly for owners of the Wii U, it’s worth starting to get interested in now. It’s more powerful, it blends both the DS range and the home console market, and it basically realises the potential of the Wii U.
Unfortunately, the backdrop of the industry is based on powerful technology as Sony and Microsoft release updated versions of their consoles before Christmas. There is also the VR factor, with Sony putting out their PlayStation VR shortly and Facebook’s Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive already on the market.
There’s a risk that the Switch will get caught between mobile gaming – which around 100% of its potential userbase already own a platform for – and a hardcore gaming console. There is also an assumption that the Wii U owners will come back for more potential punishment after four years of negligence. This will only be solved with a decent list of launch titles and keeping to promises on releases, something that Nintendo has sought to combat by releasing a list of partnering developers, and it looks very positive indeed.
It clearly won’t be a cheap piece of kit either, but probably needs to drop in lower than both the Xbox One S (currently £239.99 for a basic model) and the PS4 (£249.99 for the basic model). The Switch needs to be in line with that.
At 3pm today (BST), Nintendo will launch a trailer for the new console, currently going under the name of NX.
There is scant information on how much will be revealed, but I’d guess they’d need at least a console name and a final release date.
If we’re lucky, we might even get a few launch games and a glimpse at the console and controller, though to be honest it’s unlikely given their recent form.
The worst case scenario will be that we are just told there has been a delay to the release and they then give a non-specific new release of Q3 FY2018.
I guess we’ll find out at 3pm.
No new Nintendo console system would complete without the release of updates of several mainstays of their library. We’ve had excellent and perhaps definitive versions of Mario Kart and Smash Bros., and a fantastic 3D platformer in the form of Super Mario 3D World. So, what’s next? Mario Party, that’s what. The Mario Party games have been a regular since it debuted on the N64 console in 1998. It was no surprise when Mario Party 10 was announced for the Wii U.
It’s a series that seems to fill everyone with indifference. The releases always get middling sales, probably due to the average reviews each receives. Indeed, the MetaCritic score received by each title had been getting progressively worse since its debut, though Mario Party 9 reclaimed some ground with some innovative gameplay and presentation techniques. The graph below ignores handheld games Advance, DS and Island Tour, but you can see it resembles something of a ski slope.
The following graph shows the sales for the same console games as a percentage of the total console sales. The results are again quite interesting – with the exception of Mario Party 7 the sales of the games on each console peak with the debut release then decrease in popularity with each release (source: Video Games Sales Wiki).
So as we can see, there’s a market for the games, but it’s not particularly massive in comparison to the big hitters like Mario Kart. So what reason has Nintendo given us to invest our hard-earned money in the latest release, given almost everyone who has a Wii U has one of the earlier releases, or did at one point? Well, as it turns out, quite a lot.
One of the big angles is the use of asymmetrical gaming (remember that?) through Bowser Mode, which actually provides a lot of fun, especially if you’re using the gamepad. The fun comes from the fact that you have a real person screwing you over instead of the computer, and it makes it even better when you can hear them laughing away at your misfortune. To play out in this mode you have one person using the gamepad, whilst up to four others control play via remotes and work as a team to try to escape Bowser. Each regular player rolls a die on their go and gets to move a cart forwards and individually reaps the benefit from whatever space they land on. Then Bowser rolls four dice in one and more often than not catches them up, leading to a mini-game.
The mini-games are a lot of fun, and usually leads to a lot of swearing from four people in the room and a lot of laughing from the other one. One drawback to this is the waiting time between mini-games. I think Nintendo got too involved with the animation and activities between the mini-games and didn’t take step back and realise that all it is doing is delaying the time before we get to play more mini-games. You know, the fun bit.
The downside of this is that using the Amiibo with the game is a complete pain. The Amiibo Mode involves using your model to unlock a specific character-related board game. Then you and up to three other players battle out around the board to play mini-games to earn coins to buy stars. The winner is the one with the most stars. When playing in this mode, everyone else in the room was able to roll the dice with a quick flick of the remote, whilst I was sat in the corner switching between the gamepad (which had to be plugged in due to the unimpressive battery life), the remote and the Toad Amiibo I was using. The action to get it to register also wasn’t too great and I was the one slowing the game down drastically by using the Amiibo. A quick update would remove the need to use the Amiibo to roll the dice and would severely speed up this process.
The other modes are pretty cool. The standard Mario Party was what you’d expect and a lot of fun, and the Coin Challenge mode simplifies the gameplay a little too by removing the chance aspect and rewarding the one with the most coins at the end of seven mini-games. The mini-games themselves really weren’t repetitive (the box claims there are more than 70 new ones). I think it took about three hours before we encountered a game we’d already played.
I have enjoyed my time with Mario Party 10 so far and I’m sure it will be used many times in a party situation soon. However, I think some critically slow loading times and too much between-mini-game faffing will cause the game to be a bit of a drain on the excitement at a party rather than a catalyst for more enjoyment. Couple that with a lack of online multiplayer and you have a game that has potential but falls short. Though I’m sure that will be sorted out when Mario Party 11 is release in 18 months.
Release date: 21st December 2014
Platform: Nintendo Wii U
I’m not much of a gamer any more. I probably play about two or three games a year. Last year it was Mario Kart 8, Bayonetta 2 and South Park: The Stick of Truth. I also bought Earthbound and never got ’round to playing it. This year is looking about as quiet on the gaming front – I’m interested in a couple of the new Wii U releases and I’ve still got The Walking Dead games to play, but nothing set in stone. I moved in with my fiancé in May last year, we got married in June and then both moved jobs within two months. Between DIY and redecorating, and working to pay for everything in the house, we don’t have the time or money to invest in games. When we do, we try to get co-operative titles we can enjoy together.
So when Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker was announced, we immediately decided it wasn’t for us. Captain Toad’s levels were our least favourite part of Super Mario 3D World game, and these were clearly just more of the same, set in the same universe and using the same visuals and engine to power it. It was only when I realised I had a significant amount of points on a supermarket card that I decided to take the plunge, and I have to say that we were pleasantly surprised.
Each of the 70 levels takes the 3D jumpless platforming and puts a unique twist on the action, be it moving blocks with a press on the controller screen, getting through a pitch-black haunted house or traversing platforms that disappear on a timer. Completing each level requires a decent amount of brain power that is achievable by all but not so easy to make it feel condescending.
Special mention has to go to composer Mahito Yokota, whose score is just brilliant. He’s a regular fixture now with Nintendo, and it’s easy to hear why. You could easily listen to it in isolation from the game and thoroughly enjoy it. To be fair, almost all of the songs are recycled from its parent game Super Mario 3D World, but if you’ve heard that then you know how special it is.
There is one huge disappointment though, and that is the total playing time. You get several different tasks in each level: collecting the star concludes the level, collecting three diamonds helps unlock further levels, completing a unique one-off challenge (such as taker no damage, find a hidden gold mushroom, kill all enemies or collect a certain amount of coins) gives you 100% completion. Even so, some of the levels are extremely short and are done in a matter of minutes. I felt like I had to put the controller down after five completed levels just to drag it out a little.
Does it work as a co-op game? Well, obviously only one person is controlling at any given time. However, a little like Braid and Limbo, the puzzle elements led to a lot of excited shouting and guided discussions as we worked out the solutions together. Perfect for a couple of engineers.
The reduced price point will help with sales (without the points I used it would have been £28, but it can be found for £25), so the length of the game isn’t such a terrible thing. If you enjoyed the Captain Toad sections of Super Mario 3D World, or you’re in desperate need for a Mario fix ahead of Mario Party 10 next month (or Yoshi’s Woolly World or The Legend of Zelda later in the year) then you’ve got a perfect stop-gap solution in this game.
Something weird is happening in the world of video games. That thing is called Amiibo.
If you’ve missed these, they can be summarised quite quickly thus: Skylanders for Nintendo. But what do they really mean? Well, frankly, a huge hole in people’s wallets. Amiibos are simply small physical 2″ tall models of in-game characters that can either sit on your shelf looking cool or interact with certain titles on the console and save the development progress of your character, opening up RPG elements to games and also special features and DLC in other games.
Eighteen months ago, Nintendo was in serious trouble. Whilst their handheld console the DS (and the 3DS and 2DS and the XL versions and everything else) was still going strong, their latest home console – the Wii U – was sinking fast. On the shelves for a year, the console was still lacking a really strong title they could legitimately use as a selling point. Probably their best game was either New Super Mario Bros U, which is an 8/10 at best and only on a par with its predecessor on the Wii, or Nintendoland, a 12-mini-game compilation whose main purpose was to show off the functionality of the console’s new controller.
So they came up with a mini-masterplan:
– December 2013: release Super Mario 3D World, the best all-round multiplayer platformer ever released.
– May 2014: release Mario Kart 8, the best ever iteration of their über-successful racing franchise, along with an extremely tempting free game offer where people got a code for registering their game online, which could be used to download any of ten titles already released on the console.
– October 2014: release Super Smash Bros simultaneously on the Wii U and 3DS platforms, along with the first wave of Amiibos, just in time for Christmas and designed to milk dry the pennies of anyone willing to start collecting them.
It was a fantastic plan and this triple-whammy of excellent must-have games has pulled the Wii U back on track and places it as the only current-gen console with several games worth investing the time and money in. There’s only one thing that sells video games consoles and that’s video games, no matter how much the “entertainment system” side of things is sold to us.
Not content with three games flying off the shelves and a first set of twelve characters (including Mario, Pikachu, Donkey Kong, Link, Fox McCloud, Kirby and other huge franchise favourites) Nintendo decided to release more and more waves of Amiibos, seeing the desire of the completionist in both the children with rich parents and the 20- and 30-something gamer with more money than sense. What happened next was probably way beyond their expectations.
What we are seeing now is that whilst the first wave was in plentiful supply, the subsequent waves have been less available. A mixture of poor predictions of popularity from Nintendo, a frenzy of excitement about new waves and, strangely, an issue with a port strike in North America has led to a serious under-supply of many of the more recent models. Bearing in mind the RRP for the models is £10.99, a quick look at Amazon has returned the following:
– Rosalina £49.99
– Captain Falcon £29.95
– Shulk £84.99
– Meta Knight £57.97
– King Dedede £57.97
– Little Mac £44.99
The fun doesn’t stop there. Plenty more are simply out of stock and unavailable, including those up for pre-order in Wave 4 at the end of March. Ridiculously, one man has bought $10000-worth of Amiibos out of spite because he doesn’t like certain characters. People are going on wild-goose hunts when a rumour surfaces online that a particular Toys “R” Us has got a stock of Toon Link (I made this one up but it probably happened). It has all got quite out of hand.
The terrible thing is that having read stories online about them, I don’t think it’s kids that are after them. The people buying Amiibos are fully-grown adults, usually men, trying to complete a set. Think about it… even if you’ve managed to get them all at face value, you’re still going to need to spend over £400 before you’ve thought about a game. I’ve got friends who bought Super Smash Bros. and picked up a couple of Amiibos to try them and have decided it isn’t for them… because they don’t really do much. They’re just nice to haves. I thought we were in a recession!?
The worst story I heard was about a man going in to buy all of a particular store’s stock on release, then walking out past a child and refusing to part with any of them, even as the child begged him for just one of the toys. So not only are you buying up toys (they’re not models really, they’re toys), you’re also now breaking the hearts of children. Way to go.
I don’t own Super Smash Bros., so I don’t see much point in investing in any. If I had one of the games that they are useful for, I might consider buying one or two, but only if they’re cheap. By the sounds of things, Nintendo won’t miss my business!
Mario Kart 8 (Nintendo, 2014)
A fairly easy decision for my favourite game of the year this year, Mario Kart 8 is responsible for completely rejuvenating public interest in the Nintendo Wii U. Before it was released, the writing was on the wall – purchases had slowed, there were no good games on the horizon and all the good games had been played to death and had limited replayability value (apart from maybe Super Mario 3D World).
When Mario Kart 8 was released, it came with an offer of a free downloaded game from the Nintendo store, allowing everyone to access one of 10 games on top of the physical release of Mario Kart 8. This included New Super Mario Bros, The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD, Nintendoland, Pikmin 3 and The Wonderful 101, all of which are amongst the best on the platform. For £40 it was a no-brainer. I know quite a few people who took Nintendo up on this offer, and are now some of the most avid Wii U players I know. For those already on board, it was a nice thank for for sticking with them whilst they got the first must-have game ready.
Quite simply, the game itself is excellent. Nintendo have taken everything that was great about the series so far (fast paced action, brilliant courses, screwing over your friends), got rid of all the things we don’t like (two drivers in a kart, difficult controls on the Wii), added in one critically much-wanted new feature (online support) and pulled it together perfectly to make one of the best games of the last five years.
Coming out just as we approached summer, it was the perfect game to play when you had loads of friends over and wanted a way to take the fun into the evening. People were digging out their old Wii remotes and hooking them up. What people were seeing was sublimely animated and mind-bending course designs, excellent control responses, some highly detailed replays and fast paced action focused on fun.
Moreover, there has been an additional DLC pack with three extra playable characters (Link, Tanooki Mario and Cat Peach) and eight additional courses (including the as-annoying-as-you-remember SNES Rainbow Road). This has further extended the replayability and given everyone a few more options to prevent getting bored. There will be a similar DLC pack in May, centred on the perhaps less popular Animal Crossing game, but I’ve already pre-ordered it so I’ll be enjoying it either way!
It’s a pick-up-and-play classic and it so far hasn’t grown old, and with online support the popularity promises to carry on for years to come.
Runner up: Bayonetta 2 (Sega, 2014)
This game really annoyed me. Set for release in the “launch window”, the delays kept coming and we’ve eventually received it two years after originally planned. Having expected to be playing this and Rayman Origins (which was also delayed for over a year) on my new launch day Wii U, I was a little underwhelmed with how much use I was getting from my console for the first year or so.
Two years have gone by since the expected release. Was it worth the wait? Well, just about. The package was great and we got the first game included (though most of us already had it), and it wasn’t as expensive as I expected.
Crucially, the game – which I’m yet to finish – plays like a dream. It’s much easier than the first, probably to help new people into what was quite a tricky series, especially for the average Wii U gamer (which I think we’re supposed to assume is a casual gamer who, in this case, has bought Bayonetta 2 by mistake instead of Nintendogs). Much like the first, the graphics are stunning. They’ve really gone to town on the intricate designs, especially with the main protagonists and end-of-level bosses. My 360 Bayonetta looks decidedly plain in comparison.
As expected, it’s a game on an epic scale and it genuinely is a lot of fun to get stuck into. Couple this with Mario Kart 8 (and Super Smash Bros.) and you have three fantastic reasons to go for the Wii U over Xbox One or the PS4, which are still struggling to find their feet.
Aside from being a massive fan of all kinds of cinema, I’m also an occasional keen gamer. I usually pick up games a while after they have been released so they are cheap, and that was true this year with games such as Catherine, FFXIII-2 and Rayman Legends taking up a lot of my time despite being over a year old. I even played Dragon’s Lair!!
I have managed to play a small amount of games that were actually released this year, so I thought I’d write a few words about some of my favourites.
As a twelve year old boy, the release of Tomb Raider II on the PlayStation came at a key moment of my life. The game was one of the biggest sellers, had rave reviews and was a fantastic showcase for the new console I’d just received for Christmas. No longer was I controlling a minuscule blocky man-character, but a fully-formed female equivalent of Indiana Jones.
The curvaceous way she was designed, of course, was fully aimed at me, and I can’t say this didn’t raise its appeal to me. Living in Britain in the mid-90s, even at a young age, I was aware of lad culture. The likes of Loaded and FHM were everywhere, and it wasn’t long before Lara Croft was featured in these magazines and being considered as a sex symbol. At the time there was definitely a split opinion on whether Lara Croft was an empowerment to women or she was objectifying them. The unrealistic figure by which she was designed juxtaposed with her physical power and mental strength. Perhaps this debate helped raise the franchise’s relevance in the wider gaming market and helped it shift enough copies to become one of the biggest sellers of the 90s.
It was refreshing, then, when I started on my copy of this franchise reboot. Gone are the unrealistically top-heavy curves seen fifteen years ago, replaced with a much more relatable – and frankly way more practical – figure.
The storyline picks up with a young Lara going on one of her first archaeological journeys. The action is set on an ancient island near Japan, with her team shipwrecked and seemingly incapacitated. A gang is also on the island, trying to resurrect an ancient Japanese ritual using Lara’s friend Alex as the new Sun Queen. The script is extremely well written and the voice acting is surprisingly good for a video game.
It plays as part-action, part-RPG, with players required to level up their weapons as the game progresses. There are a variety of tools with which to kill your enemies and hunt animals, and the bow is especially fun to use.
It is perhaps a slight victim of the time in which it is released, with an overwhelming amount of collectibles to be had and some pretty frustrating achievements (the one I missed – Chatterbox – still narks me now).
The other flaw is the tendency to flick to Quick Time Events in key moments. I personally hate this style of gameplay. Unfortunately Square Enix love it, and tried to use it to ruin last year’s otherwise excellent Final Fantasy XIII-2. Sometimes it’s quite difficult to work out when you’re supposed to be watching and when you’re supposed to be inanely pressing a button when it appears on the screen.
Overall though the game is a fantastic reminder of what I loved about the original games. The action keeps on coming, the characters are fully realised and the storyline keeps you gripped as much as plenty of big blockbuster films released this year. The gap between movies and gaming as a means of storytelling is getting smaller every year, and it is great when a game like Tomb Raider comes along to remind us how much more engaging a video game can be.
What can I say? It’s like Temple Run but a minion times better. I’m still playing it daily six months later. Not something I’m proud of, but it’s damn addictive.
Okay, I’m aware the selection of a FIFA game in a best of the year list is a far cry from controversial, but the game is excellent.
I pick up new FIFA games once every two or three year. As such, I always appreciate the improvements that have been made and allow myself time to start to miss the game.
It’s extremely vast, with heaps of game modes to select. You can play an exhibition match, which would be the mode of choice when you’re at a mate’s house and want a quick game. You can do the usual suspects of creating a custom league or cup, or playing through the 2013-14 season with you favourite team in one of the many licensed leagues they have acquired. You can take control of a single player and play through a career, either as a real life player or a created player. You can take it online and play against friends competitively or with unknowns (who inevitably select the ridiculously good Real Madrid).
There’s Ultimate Team, where you build a squad of players by opening digital packs of cards and selecting your best team from what you find inside. There’s a robust skill games section that is still challenging me now. There’s also a mode where you can relive key moments from recent matches, and either recreate what has happened or “put right what once went wrong” (oh boy). You can take control of a single player online in 5v5 and try to complete challenges along the way. Finally, there’s also the promise of a World Cup 2014 expansion pack, which will breathe further life into its playability.
What I’m trying to say is that whilst it’s only a slight improvement on last year’s installment, you have to stand back and admire the value-for-money package that is now on offer. I could never bring myself to buy it every year (or indeed twice in one year as early adopters of the next-gen consoles have done), but coming back to the franchise after a break really makes you appreciate what is on offer here.
New Super Luigi U was actually an add-on pack for New Super Mario Bros U, released in 2012. It’s essentially a rehash of the game and most of the levels are very similar in design and layout, with a few tweaks to increase the difficulty.
It is a much more difficult game than it’s immediate predecessor, perhaps because that was perceived as far too easy for most gamers.
One of the key differences is the reduces time allowance. This time you only get 100 seconds to get through the level and pick up all the star coins. Many times the pace is frantic and you have to repeat levels to pick up one or more star coins. I was in panic mode every time until I had the genius idea of turning the music off.
It’s not a groundbreaking game but it was a welcome challenge to fill the space between the first instalment and the excellent and in every way far superior Super Mario 3D World (see below).
From the moment you start playing the first level, you know where the heart of the game lies: fun. It’s pulls out all the stops to give the player variety and it’s filled with imaginative ideas to breathe life into a familiar franchise. The cat suit is a stroke of genius, and new power-ups keep appearing as the game progresses.
The game is best played in multiplayer mode, which quickly comes sneakily competitive due to a winner being announced after each level based on points.
By the third world, you realise that the ideas haven’t been loaded top-heavy. They keep on arriving thick and fast, sometimes incorporating ideas from previous franchises – the Mario Kart-inspired Mount Must Dash is hilarious.
There are Captain Toad mini levels that test not your reaction skills but rather flex your logic, reasoning and spatial awareness.
The collection of the green stars really ups the replayability, functioning like the star coins of the New Super Mario series but significantly more challenging.
The end of world bosses are a great example of how to add variety to a game’s gameplay, shying away from the now well-overused jumping on the head three times style of most Mario games (it’s now over 30 years old!!).
Once you’ve finished the obligatory eight worlds, expect plenty more with the somewhat expected post-game play in the form of a bonus world. After that, you’ll be treated to another two! It will keep you going for months.
The style of the game, the immense detail on everything from the characters to the background of the world maps, the exquisite and highly varied music. All of the components add up to a highly immersive and extremely enjoyable gaming experience, a real return to form for the franchise. Whether it is enough to save the now seriously flagging Wii U remains to be seen, but if there’s ever a man to save a console it will be that tiny plumber.