Top five Asia-only Wii U games Nintendo should release in the PAL region

The Wii U is drying up now. We all know that. Any games in development won’t ever see the light of day on this system, more likely just receiving an enhancement and being put out on the Nintendo Switch next year.

There’s Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which will launch in a shadow form of the Switch version next March. This is only really being put out to appease people who bought into the Wii U on release date and have been waiting for its full release ever since. There isn’t anything else left to shout about.

However, the following five games are available in Asia now and have never been released outside that area. If Nintendo could pull themselves together they could find themselves cashing in on some still-hungry Wii U gamers that have a good console and nothing to play on it.

ぷよぷよテトリス / Puyo Puyo Tetris

It may be the case that this game is unavailable in PAL and NTSU regions due to rights issues, but many have been able to import the Xbox One and PS4 versions of the game and thoroughly enjoyed them. These games are universally appealing. Everyone loves Tetris, Puyo Puyo gives the game life and it’s a huge shame that the game can’t simply be imported due to region locking of Wii Us.

太鼓の達人 特盛り! /  Taiko No Tatsujin: Tokumori!

If you’ve ever played any of the games in the Taiko No Tatsujin series will know how much fun can be had. It’s a simple musical rhythm game, and is possibly one of the most Japanese things you’ll ever see. It’s a wonderful thing to get involved with. Sadly, only Japan has been able to enjoy this or the other Wii U-exclusive release. It seems a no brainer to issue it on the Virtual Console. All it would need is some menu screen tranlations and an adaptation so we could use existing controllers to play it.

ドラゴンクエストX オールインワンパッケージ / Dragon Quest X

Okay, this is a pipe dream. The effort required to translate this for such a small audience would really not stand up to scrutiny under a business case. It’s a truly beautiful game that I just really want to play and will never be able to. Add to this the fact it would need serious take-up to justify releasing a MMORPG in a new region, and you begin to realise why it probably won’t ever happen. Here’s hoping though.

ARC STYLE: 野球!!SP / Arc Style: Baseball

Releasing this would be comparitavely easy. It’s already on the Japanese Wii U virtual console and would be easy to translate. It looks familiar to the old Wii Sports baseball game. Okay, it looks a bit terrible and didn’t get great reviews, but would still garner interest as a new title that is yet to be localised.

三國志12 / Romance of the Three Kingdoms 12

It’s a historical strategy game that would go down massively well with anyone with an interest in the Han Dynasty and Japanese and Chinese history. All it would need is a translation of the menus and some subtitles.

Game review – Star Fox Zero (Nintendo, 2016)

Star Fox Zero may seem like it has the potential to be a great game, but it certainly doesn’t deliver. Unfortunately for Nintendo, a disappointing release does nothing but expose the cracks on a project that has been doomed for many months.

As previously discussed in my post “Where is the Nintendo’s Wii U console right now?”, the struggling console is caught somewhere between a failed experiment and a disaster threatening the gaming behemoth’s position and reputation. There are so few games left on the horizon for Wii U owners, owners are left wondering how many more hours we’ll get to spend on it. I suspect that figure has now dropped into double figures, with the next console – provisionally titled NX – slated for a Spring 2017 release.

One thing that Nintendo had left up its sleeve to appease Wii U owners – and the word appease is spot on given they’ve semi-abandoned the previously exclusive Zelda game by announcing it will launch on the current and next-gen console simultaneously – is release an updated version of one of their biggest franchises to date, Star Fox.


This was met with excitement by the many fans of the series. It meant there was a reason to hang onto the console for a few more months and get a great exclusive title that an increasingly smaller but dedicated community would be able to enjoy.

Unfortunately for fans of the series, this isn’t really a revolutionary HD reboot to the franchise, but rather a remake of Star Fox 64 (despite supervising director Shigeru Miyamoto’s protestations to the contrary). Indeed, it is a hugely disappointing remake, plagued with controller issues and a criminally short total game time.

I decided to hold back from posting this for a few months and hope that giving it a chance to grow on me would change my mind. Unfortunately, the dreadful controls are something that simply can’t be ignored. Yes, they are very much integral throughout (who’d have thought?). The crafts are slow, their turning circles are the size of a small moon and the agility required to complete levels is far beyond their abilities. The worst thing is the inability to lock on to enemy crafts, made infuriatingly difficult by the gyro controls that can’t be fully turned off. It’s what happens when you try to shoehorn a controller that doesn’t work onto a game that doesn’t need it.

Additionally, the graphics are stuck in a rut somewhere between faithful reproduction of N64 graphics and a full HD realisation. What we’re left with is some clunky polygons with neatly drawn skins. This is a combination that has never looked good.

The one saving grace is that the familiar story mode is done and dusted in about ten hours of gameplay. Sure, they added in some frivolous reasons to replay the levels but the game is such a huge letdown I can’t bring myself to do it. So whilst it’s frustrating, disappointing and repetitive, at least you won’t have to suffer for very long.

Star Fox Zero was an instant failure and giving it time to grow on me just didn’t help at all. 

Funnily enough, I recommend buying a new copy of this and keeping it sealed. So few copies will ship that they will be collectors’ items in years to come.

Where is Nintendo’s Wii U console right now?

Last week, Nintendo excitedly announced plans of their next console. Temporarily named Nintendo NX, the console is due to hit the shelves in March 2017.

The news is a bittersweet result for owners of the Wii U, a group to which I am a member. On the one hand, Nintendo’s innovative consoles are always something that reinvigorates the gaming industry, in a time where Sony and Microsoft are happy to simply enhance the power of their machines and add different numbers to the console names and their biggest franchise. Not that there’s anything wrong with that – clearly the popularity of the PS4 shows they are doing something right, with some 40 millions units sold so far.

The Wii U, on the other hand, is generally considered to have been a failure. With only 12.8 millions units sold, it is clear it has performed far below expectations. Whilst this is more than the Xbox One, unfortunately the sales have all but stopped, sharply declining in Q4 of 2015-16.

It isn’t like Nintendo gave up on it years ago, despite it clearly being a losing battle. There have been some of the genuinely impressive Nintendo games released, including the unexpectedly user-friendly Mario Maker, arguably the best Mario Kart game of all time, arguably the best game on the console in Super Smash Bros., the most enjoyable multiplayer platformer I’ve ever played in Super Mario 3D World. 

How do you solve a problem like Zelda?

Unfortunately, there are some massive holes in the release cycle too. The biggest failure is the lack of 3rd party support. Other than Bayonetta 2, a console exclusive, there hasn’t been much to shout home about. Rayman Legends, originally announced as an exclusive, was delayed and then released as a multi-console game. 

This wasn’t the biggest let down of the promises made before release. One of the reasons it was able to stir up a lot of interest prior to its release was a tech demo of a new HD Legend of Zelda game, which first appeared at E3 in 2011. The console was release with no Zelda launch title, but two months later a release date was unveiled, positioning the game for a 2015 release. 

The year came and went with no game, leaving Wii U owners hanging on for more information. More recently, it was announced that the game would release simultaneously on both the Wii U and NX. Essentially, if a Wii U owner wants the best Zelda experience going, they will have to invest in the next console.

So where does that leave Wii U?

Unfortunately for Wii U owners, the situation is looking largely precarious. The console has had some brilliant games, but more recently the releases have slowed down and don’t really feel like new releases at all. Only surprise hit Xenoblade Chronicles X has shown itself to be a success with fans and critics as a new release. All the other big releases have either been terribly received (Amiibo Crossing and Mini Mario and Friends: amiibo Challenge) or simple re-hashes of older games (two Zelda HD remasters and a Star Fox remaster that was packaged as a brand new game). 


These are simple sticky plasters for a console that is beginning to show cracks, but looking ahead the future looks even more bleak. The multi-platform Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens might ignite some interest for owners with only a Wii U at their disposal. The Mario and Sonic at the Olympics series has never really been popular. 

Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE was popular in Japan when it was released last year, and the Western release is likely an experiment from Nintendo to test the water with Asia-specific releases. If it’s popular then the floodgates might open to allow more games that are currently Asia-exclusives to see releases in the Western markets.

It is likely that another Mario Party will be announced at E3, as they appear to be very easy to create and utilise the still-popular amiibo toys. Given the lethargy about the last release, it will be a simple cost analysis to see if they’ll make a profit on it. If so, it will be green-lit.


The one glimmer of hope comes in the form of Paper Mario: Colour Splash, set for a 2016 release. The exact details of this release are yet to be announced, but this one standalone release has an air of “I’ve started so I’ll finish” about it.

Why should Nintendo bother?

Unfortunately for Wii U owners, that’s not an easy question to answer. Realistically, the console cannot be revived and the small ownership isn’t worth targeting with a massive new game that might as well be delayed and released as a launch title for the NX. 

The only purpose of announcing a new and exciting game on the Wii U at this stage would be to thank the fans for their patience and keep them happy ahead of the release in a year’s time.

Whether this will happen remains to be seen.

The current Humble Bundle is a real treat for Nintendo fans

I don’t usually post about this kind of thing, but this week’s Humble Bundle is fantastic if you own either a Wii U or 3DS.

Humble Bundle allows you to decide how much you pay for a bundle of download codes for games. The minimum payment is $1, paying more than the average gets you the next tier of games, whilst anything over $13 allows you to secure the whole lot.

The games included this week are as follows.

$1 or more
Retro City Rampage (3DS)
Affordable Space Adventure (Wii U)
Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse (3DS or Wii U)

Above the average amount 
Freedom Planet (Wii U)
Rhythm Thief and the Emperor’s Treasure (3DS)
Citizens of Earth (3DS or Wii U)

Pay $13 or more
Super Street Fighter IV: 3DS Edition (3DS)
Darksider II (Wii U)

This is an excellent offer and one that should be taken up if you have these consoles. Shantae on Wii U is certainly worth 70p or whatever it works out at!

I have some spare codes for the 3DS games that are valid in Europe. If you want them just leave a comment below and I’ll forward them on to you.

スーパーマリオメーカ / Super Mario Maker (Nintendo, 2015)

The latest excellent game on the Wii U for the majority of the gaming community to ignore is Super Mario Maker, a game that puts the gamer in the driving seat to control the content of Mario levels in one of four skins: Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World and New Super Mario Bros.

As the trailer above shows, the content is quick and easy to activate, meaning a basic level can be created in no time at all. It may be fiddly at first but once the tools are used a couple of times it becomes remarkably intuitive. You simply control the content on the gamepad using the stylus (did you forget you had that?) and a giant hand replicates it on the screen. After a fairly basic tutorial you are ready to go!

Then comes a huge hurdle. One major issue you encounter at this point is the requirement to keep playing on consecutive days in order to unlock the more advanced level features. This means that perseverance is the key – the only key – to unlocking the tools to make the most innovative levels for friends to enjoy. The thinking behind it is clearly to make sure players don’t make a couple of exceptionally tough levels then disappear forever, though for the more dedicated amongst us it is frustrating. For anyone getting the game on day one and trying to put together a cool new course, get ready to be disappointed – all you get are four types of blocks, three enemies, mushroom power ups and pipes.

 

There wasnt mushroom for anything else in this level. Geddit? Mush room? Oh never mind.

 
As expected, Amiibo functionality is a key feature. When scanned, one of several things might occur, depending on which figuring has been scanned. For the most part a new playable character will be unlocked. This is fun but there is a flaw – the character is allocated at random so you can’t design the level around who you’ve placed in the box. It is quite fun to play as Link or Yoshi progressing through the stages he’s active in, though doesn’t add too much to the game. It’s disappointing that this is only available for the Super Mario Bros. themes and does nothing for the remaining three.

Where the game comes into its own is the ability to access other people’s levels. There is a leader board based on popularity and spending an hour in there was a joy. One level I played was called “Don’t Touch The Shrooms”, a tough level that can only be completed if you can avoid mushrooms due to a carefully placed spring board. When mushrooms are being fired at you from all angles it gets quite stressful!

Feel free to add me on your Wii U account and try out some of my Super Mario Maker creations. My username is Hutchie and I’ll be slowly unleashing increasingly complex levels throughout the weekend.

This game has legs. It might not feel impressive on first look but get the hang of it now and it will reward as more features are unlocked.

Super Mario Maker is available as a Wii U exclusive worldwide now.

Yoshi’s Woolly World / Yosshī Ūru Wārudo ヨッシーウールワールド (Nintendo, 2015)

The latest entry into the Yoshi game series, Yoshi’s Woolly World, has been released in Europe and Japan as a Wii U exclusive. Due to a delay in the release of the Wii U Legend of Zelda game it is also getting a little more focus as one of two big games released by Nintendo this summer, the other being the unexpectedly popular Splatoon, released in May of this year.

The game is set in a thoroughly gorgeous knitted world made entirely of wool. The aim of the game is to take control of Yoshi and rescue your friends following an attack by the evil wizard Kamek, who has turned the rest of the Yoshi species into balls of yarn.

If you're looking for a challenge, you're in the wrong place.

If you’re looking for a challenge, you’re in the wrong place.

Gameplay

If you’re picking this up as a fan of any of the Wii U Mario games and hoping for a new challenge, you may well be bitterly disappointed. The core gameplay is very slow in pace. The lack of time-limit gives players the opportunity to appreciate the environment around them, which sets it apart from, say, New Luigi Bros U, which gives a 100 second time-limit to each level and ensures you have no time to look around at any point. There is no way to significantly speed up a playthrough, at least not until all the collectables have been discovered.

Another factor that means players have an easy ride is the fact there is no way to die. If Yoshi meets his demise, he simply respawns at a convenient position earlier in the level. This respawning has been commonplace in the increasingly forgiving world of video games – especially those considered to be for hardcore gamers – for the last few years but has been conspicuous in its absence in the Mario franchise. It’s a disappointment to see it here and with no lives to manage it is lacking in any concern for success at all.

Remarkably, there is also an additional Mellow Mode, which allows players to fly through the stages. Literally. Yoshi grows wings and takes flight to find all the collectables and avoid all of the obstacles in half the time. Fantastic.

The only thing keeping this from being a very easy interpretation of a Mario-esque 2D platformer is the inclusion of four different collectables. To fully complete each stage you must collect five balls of yarn, five flower heads, finish the stage with full health (you start each stage with half-health) and collect twenty stamp tokens. It’s quite a lazy way to make a game challenging but it does ensure that there’s a degree of replayability.

With its handmade feel it looks very similar to the Wii game Kirby’s Epic Yarn / 毛糸のカービィ, probably because it is from the same development house, Good-Feel. Indeed, they also share a producer in Etsunobu Ebisu and the same composer in Tomoya Tomita. That game itself was inspired at least in part by Yoshi’s Story on the Nintendo 64, so it’s nice the design has come full circle. If there is one redeeming factor it is the wonderfully realised world it inhabits.

Amiibo Support

The amiibo support is minimal at best. All that can be accessed is a reskinning of the controlled character with unusual character colours. It’s a nice touch but doesn’t really add much after the initial chuckle (which lasts around two seconds).

The amiibo support is minimal at best.

The amiibo support is minimal at best.

The amiibo functionality isn’t clearly explained in-game. It is activated by tapping an amiibo on the gamepad (the one with the screen) during the playing of a stage. In single player, this causes an additional second Yoshi to appear to assist Player 1. In Co-op mode, Player 1 Yoshi will simply be reskinned. The amiibo can also be activated in the amiibo hut on the main map.

Summary

It’s difficult to determine how popular this game will be. It definitely has a market out there. It is perfect for younger players and will undoubtedly be enjoyed by parents wanting some entertainment for them to enjoy with their children. For those players who enjoyed the likes of Champions Road in the excellent Super Mario 3D World, there’s not much to be found here.

Yoshi’s Woolly World is available to purchase in Japan and Europe now. It will be released in USA in October 2015.

Mario Party 10 / マリオパーティ10 (Nintendo, 2015)

marioparty10banner

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.

MetaCritic results for Mario Party franchise (console only)

MetaCritic results for Mario Party franchise (console only)

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).

Mario Party sales as a percentage of total console sales

Mario Party sales as a percentage of total console sales

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. 

Six Mario Party 10 Amiibo have been released as a tie-in.

Six Mario Party 10 Amiibo have been released as a tie-in.


Another angle Nintendo are employing is the use of Amiibo. This isn’t a unique selling point as much as a way to get people that have already invested heavily in the Amiibos to buy the game. There are six launch Amiibii – Mario, Luigi, Yoshi, Bowser, Peach and Toad, in his Amiibo debut – that interact with the game, though I understand that the Smash Bros. versions of the Amiibo also function in the same way. As I’ve previously discussed, Amiibo are incredibly, almost unfathomably, popular and linking in this game they will be able to increase games sales. Additionally, the Toad Amiibo will function with Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker (which I have previously reviewed) and Yoshi will function with Yoshi’s Woolly World.

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.

Watch out for Bowser - he's a total asshole

Watch out for Bowser – he’s a total asshole


Another big downside is the inability to make a custom playlist where you can select a series of mini-games from the total list with no breaks in gameplay between, which would mean you could select just the ones you enjoy based on difficulty and personal preference. Instead we are in the hands of the console and often have to play through games that are too easy before getting a real challenge.

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.

Mario Party 10 is available now, along with all six Amiibo (which as usual are rapidly increasing in price due to lack of availability).

Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker / Susume! Kinopio-taichō 進め! キノピオ隊長 (Nintendo, 2014)

Release date: 21st December 2014
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Nintendo Wii U
Players: 1

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.

Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is out now on the Nintendo Wii U.

Will you be my Amiibro?

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!

Best Games 2013

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.

Tomb Raider (XBOX 360 / PS3)

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.

Minion Rush (iOS)

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.

FIFA 14 (XBOX One / PS4 / XBOX 360 / PS3)

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 (Wii U)

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).

Super Mario 3D World (Wii U)

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.

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