Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Pikmin ~Seed 1~ Introducing the Gamecube, Miyamoto's Habits, and Reveries


My college work schedule is finally winding down..time to get this thing started!

It is 2001.

The next generation of video games had begun to seep in. Sega's Dreamcast, the first combatant, was announced to be discontinued. Famously known to the gaming masses as Nintendo's ultimate rival, Sega was doomed thanks to its practices of pouring money into ill-fated console peripherals and failed hardware launches, and the once mighty company was relegated into a third-party developer. Sony had launched its Playstation 2 the year before, and the system wasted no time in breaking sales records. Microsoft, new to the gaming world, was preparing its entry into the sixth video game generation with its Xbox, stated to be the most powerful system the world had ever seen.
On the Nintendo side, things were looking up. The Nintendo 64 was breathing its last, but not before releasing its swan songs in the form of the innovative, lively Paper Mario, and the shocking Conker's Bad Fur Day. The Game Boy Color was still selling steadily thanks to the explosive success of Pokemon Gold and Silver, and was set to enjoy one more year of popularity. The Game Boy Advance, its successor, was slated for a summer release complete with remastered ports of classics Super Mario Bros. 2 and Rayman.

And then you had, of course, the Gamecube console. Nintendo's main combatant.

This writer recalls very little of what Sony and Microsoft had presented the E3 Expo during that year, as he was quite occupied with what Nintendo had to show off. Luigi's Mansion had been designated as the launch title for the Gamecube, symbolizing Luigi's big break in a starring role. Metroid Prime was to revive the legendary Metroid franchise with a first-person perspective, a decision that had mixed, yet passionate reactions from the fanbase. Star Fox Adventures was to ground the Star Fox team for land-based combat on Dinosaur Planet, and at the time was a graphical marvel. Third party content such as Star Wars: Rogue Squadron 2 impressed the media, but the biggest surprise came with the announcement of Sega developing for the Gamecube platform with a new title in the form of Super Monkey Ball and a port of the Dreamcast's Sonic Adventure 2.

A favorite memory, and what will always be the main star of the expo in many ways for yours truly, was the announcement of Super Smash Bros. Melee. Trailers and screenshots depicted Nintendo's all-star cast, characters who I had grown to know and love for the past three years, in 128-bit glory and ready to throw down with each other. My fanboy senses were stroked with each piece of news, rumors, and screenshot. I was flipping out as my mind went wild with possibilities of new characters, modes, and levels. Who would be in? When would it come out? Whatever the case, I was sure I had found the equivalent of the Messiah in my life.

Man, I just had a total nostalgia bomb.

Then we had this.

My thoughts were synonymous with the rest of the gaming populace: What in the world was this?


Shigeru Miyamoto, the man responsible for Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda, is acclaimed and hailed as a genius by gamers everywhere for not just his vital contributions to the video game industry, but for his signature ability to think outside the box (a technique that some might suspect is second nature for him). Who would have, for instance, deduced that the most successful video game character would be a plumber who wields superhuman strength and fire magic, yet possesses an affable, friendly outlook on life? Innovation and creativity are without a doubt Mr. Miyamoto's most enduring attributes, and is the exact reason as to why Nintendo games don't just appeal thanks to their strong gameplay, but for their abundant artistry which fuels the imagination.

Perhaps his greatest strength, however, stems from his desire is to always make sure his games are comfortable and accessible to every facet of the gaming culture. The entire structure of Super Mario Bros., for example, was tailor-made to the budding game market. While the game was still incredibly hard, the mechanics found in the first set of levels made sure the player could easily figure out what was going on and always made sure they could spring right back after a Game Over. Thanks to these two elements, the man can seemingly get away with any game he wants.

It should not come as a surprise, then, that many of his creations were born from his hobbies.

During his transition to the expanded market, Nintendo fans have picked up an amusing pattern of our whimsical developer. His famed explorations into forests and mountains as a child served as the inspiration for The Legend of Zelda. After welcoming a dog into his family and taking the Sheepland to training classes, he pondered the idea of an interactive puppy simulator. The end result was 2005's Nintendogs on the DS. While taking part in his family's effort to get healthier, he came up with the concept of the smash-hit Wii Fit while standing on his scale, curious about how he could include health control into a video game. Even his familiarity with the guitar led to the controversial release of Wii Music.

While gardening, he came up with the concept of Pikmin.
Without a doubt the big oddity of E3 2001, the outlandish concept of Pikmin befuddled journalists and gamers alike. The game's scenario involved an astronaut who, upon crash landing on a distant planet, enlists the help of mysterious plant creatures he dubs Pikmin to help him repair his rocket ship. The game was set to be in the Real-Time Strategy genre, a type of video game in which you control your troops all at once to utilize them immediately; as opposed to your normal strategy game, in which you intricately plan out each and every one of your moves, unit by unit. It was something people never expected from the Big N, but journalists who played the game's demos at E3 were delighted to find that the game oozed with Miyamoto's creative style, and while some didn't find it to be their cup of tea, many still gushed about his latest masterpiece.

Gamers watching the events unfold at home, however, weren't sure how to percept this new title. Bizarre concept aside, it was surreal to learn this title had originated from the noggin of Mr. Miyamoto himself. While he had supervised franchises such as Kirby, Star Fox, and F-Zero, gamers had long since associated him with Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, and Donkey Kong. The game that had made him famous. Games that were permanently ingrained into Nintendo fans' minds as being on the top of the gaming pyramid. The games that were Nintendo.

And now you had a new game to contend with.

Many were split on this new title. Convinced that Miyamoto's killer app for the Gamecube was a cutesy flower game, embittered Nintendo fans foresaw Pikmin as further distinguishing Nintendo's then-unfortunate status as being a "kiddie" company. Others were more open to the title, delighted that Nintendo was branching out to new ideas instead of relying on their usual brand of tricks. Then you had those who simply shrugged the title off, looking forward to the shiny sequels for Smash Bros., Star Fox, and Metroid.

Being an exuberant nine year old boy, I was, of course, the last one.

But then came a trailer contained with Luigi's Mansion.


This is the Gamecube.

I remember many, many things about this console. A lot of these things are negative. I remember gaming sites criticizing the "gaming drought" (or lack of games) between the port of Sonic Adventure 2 and Nintendo's release of Super Mario Sunshine between the months of February and August 2002. I remember even the most loyal of Nintendo's fans bashing every one of Nintendo's releases, including said Super Mario Sunshine, Zelda: The Wind Waker, and Donkey Kong: Jungle Beat. I vividly recall Xbox fanboys labeling the system as for kids and I got pissed off over that label a lot. People loved to hate on the console, and they were right about one thing: Nintendo's business strategies for the console didn't work, and it ended taking third place in the sixth video game generation.

But I didn't care.

I possess so many more precious memories of the Gamecube than I do of ill ones. I remember waking up to find my mom had already purchased it from Target. I remember my brother watching me play Luigi's Mansion with interest, asking me if it was better than Goldeneye. I remember worshiping Super Smash Bros. Melee for two years straight and the same was true for the entire population of the internet. I remember me and my friend Josh being obsessed over Sonic Adventure 2, especially with the game's Chao Garden. I remember diving into the euphoria of Pikmin's detailed environments, bringing a warm, nostalgic fuzz in my heart that I shared with only Nintendo games. I remember playing Super Mario Sunshine in New York City a week before the game launched. I remember hosting three towns at once in Animal Crossing, a feat that only served to showcase my absolute adoration for the game. I remember my mom playing Animal Crossing and Super Monkey Ball 2. I remember grasping the feeling of being a legendary explorer, exploring the ancient crevasses of Zelda: The Wind Waker and finally managing to fall in love with the fabled franchise. I remember trying to complete all of the missions in Kirby Air Ride, screwing over my friends in multiplayer mode as I did so. I remember laughing my head off playing Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door, marveling at just how much the game touched me on an emotional level.

I remember the Gamecube itself. I remember worrying about how I was going to play with that funky controller, but was instead astounded at how comfortable it felt. I remember waking up every morning and the system was the very first thing I saw every day. The thing of the future was sitting on my bureau, a fact I thought I would never be able to get over. I would make my way over to the purple cube and caress it, staring in wonder at its compact size. I would press a button and the lid would pop open. To this day, it is the only system I know that has a smell.

In terms of sales and numbers, the Gamecube was the loser of the sixth console generation. It was anything but, however, in terms of innovation. The Playstation 2 and the Xbox made their point with guns, vulgarity, your typical RPGs, and football; all which had immense appeal to the American market. The Gamecube didn't follow with conformity. It brought Mario a water jetpack, it turned the world of Legend of Zelda into a breathing cartoon, it made us see through the visor of Samus Aran, and it grounded the Star Fox team. We rolled eggs, explored Wario's plunge into insanity, stared with awe as Sonic the Hedgehog became a common staple on Nintendo consoles, leaped into the movie screen and became a superhero, made plant creatures perform our every bidding, placed two racers on a go-kart, migrated into the forest with talking animals, and yes, even played with monkeys in balls.

Nintendo made a lot of mistakes with the Gamecube, and this was obvious even when I was a preteen. But it didn't matter. I loved the Gamecube not just because it was manufactured in the name of my favorite brand, but because everything on it was just so different than everything else. The system may have lacked DVD playback and a genuine online structure, but being enveloped into the beautiful, creative realm of Nintendo's outpour of innovation made those complaints essentially worthless. My huge respect for Nintendo hails from the fact they're not afraid to deviate from the norm, for better or for worse, and that's why I stand by them no matter how many mistakes they make.

There are an abundance of things I associate with the Gamecube. I could tell you what my favorite cartoons were. My favorite school memories. What I did with my friends. What I read in both books and on the internet. The stories I had created. The websites I had visited. My vacations. Even my favorite internet memes. The Gamecube represents so much to me that I could probably write an essay on it, but I only have room for one thing.

With the Gamecube, I remember childhood. And that is why it is my second favorite Nintendo console.


I wasn't too interested in Pikmin.

My exposure to the content from E3 2001 was thanks to a webpage known as Nintendojo, and I was focused on initiating a salivating assault upon the screenshots and trailers for Super Smash Bros. Melee. I was too accustomed to taking in monthly news of video games thanks to magazines such as Nintendo Power and Electronic Gaming Monthly, but I suddenly had the latest news of Nintendo at my fingertips. It was during the midst of my Melee frenzy that I came across the title Pikmin. I thought the site editors had misspelled "Pokemon," but nope, it was a new game.

I took a brief stroll through the plethora of screenshots provided and thought the game looked mildly interesting, but the captivating allure of Melee and Star Fox Adventures made me forget about the quirky title, and traveled back to the frustration of making those Melee images load.

It is November 2001. The Gamecube had just launched and I was making my way through Luigi's Mansion. The game held me captive without a moment's rest and I took in the essence of the Gamecube, exploring every square inch of the game and the console's features. It was about when I was arriving at the game's end when I took a troll through the option menu that I found a trailer for Pikmin.

I was spellbound.

In print, the concept of amassing an army of aliens while fighting for survival against carnivorous creatures wasn't too engaging in print, but seeing Pikmin in action was a different story. The vibrancy and animation of the creatures and characters showcased were unlike anything I had ever seen before. And the setting...never before had I been blown over by how beautiful a video game had looked, and proved to be a powerful moment as just how far video games had come in terms of graphical prowess. And that music...

I watched that trailer over and over without pause, falling deeper and deeper in love with this mysterious oddball.

It was so new.

What had originally been born as a mild curiosity was transformed into a passionate craving. I needed this. On Christmas, my wish was fulfilled.

Pikmin has become one of the defining staples in my experiences with the Gamecube. In terms of creativity and the innovation I had long since associated with the console, nothing ever matched the eccentric, artistic levels experienced in this one game and its 2004 sequel, Pikmin 2. When considering Miyamoto's goals, it's clear the game's strategic gameplay is not nearly as accessible as a simple game of Donkey Kong and Wii Fit. But it doesn't matter. Much like Super Mario Bros., Pikmin is special in that it's flexible enough to be played however you want to . The game's structure, time limit, attributes, and goals all mesh into one game that, with practice, anyone can play by their own rules.

But Pikmin granted me a gift even more special that that.

When I first received the game, it was around that time that two special elements were born within me that eventually grew into my defining backbones for playing video games. One, as I've already introduced in my Kirby's Adventure Dreams, was nostalgia.

"As I began to explore more of Nintendo's history, whether it was indulging myself in Earthbound or visiting websites such as Nintendo Land, something strange was happening. The more I read about these famous games that I hadn't played, their impact and legacy became known to me. Whenever people would lovingly recall what they loved most about Super Mario Bros. 3 or Kirby Super Star, I could feel as if I right there in the early 1990s, sitting down and playing Super Nintendo, watching Doug, and reading comic books. I was feeling nostalgia from other people's perspectives...feeling nostalgia for games I had never played. For times I never experienced or lived in."

Its counterpart was just as special, and central to my experience with Pikmin.

"While to this day I still have not been able to find a name for it yet, on a retrospective scale it's virtually synonymous with nostalgia. When taken into consideration the wild imagination of a growing child, it wasn't long before I began absorbing the very world of the games I was indulging myself in. The wide, open worlds of Super Mario, Zelda, and Kirby enveloped me immediately with their combination of lively characters, engaging musical scores, and beautiful backgrounds that only gave a hint of the supposed paradise my idols lived in.

When I remember my childhood, I tend to relive in the feelings I had felt while experiencing my hobbies. I still recall the soaring reverie of playing a Kirby game, soaking in the beautiful atmosphere, whether it was rolling fields filled with flowers or beautiful carnival atmospheres with auroras hanging in the sky. When exploring the cave levels in Super Mario 64 or the aquatic preservation of Hyrule Castle in Zelda: The Wind Waker, I felt as if I was a solitary archaeologist, discovering the world's greatest long-lost treasures and somehow living to tell the tale. When I played Earthbound, I was reminded of an earlier urban culture long lost, complete with the eccentric townspeople, hidden treehouses, and quaint houses found only in books and cartoons. I took the atmosphere of every Nintendo game I had played and created mental simulations of them in my mind, reveling in the beauty of the worlds I had visited."

It was a form of special daydream that I cherished so much. I would stare into the open forests and oceans of Pikmin, feeling as if I was exploring a whole new world separate from mine. I still feel it. It's not as strong from when I was a child, but I still feel it. It was around the very same time that Melee and the Super Nintendo's Earthbound and Kirby Super Star also contributed their own versions of these reveries. But for Pikmin, it was the core experience. It's something I can't really imagine the game without, and to me will always be central component of the game itself.

This is something I've wanted to discuss ever since I've started the blog.

For my Pikmin Seeds, these will be my goals.

-Going over how well Pikmin works with its creative gameplay structure, despite being short.

-Explaining just WHAT those aforementioned reveries are, how they were essential to my experience with the game and how they still make an impact on me today.

-how friggin adorable those Pikmin are.

-To be finished by either the end of May or (very) early June. Expect seven or eight posts.

Man, do I want Pikmin 3 already.


So, a couple of announcements.

-You won't be seeing Pikmin again for a week or two. I'd like to get all school-related work out of the way (college ends on May 9th) so I can concentrate entirely on this. To make up for it, though, the next post will be a new "Games I've Been Playing" involving Pilotwings Resort and Street Fighter VI!

-I did mention a new feature would be arriving this month, but unfortunately it'll have to be put on hold. Unfortunately, the tsunami of work that swamped me last month left me unable to get it off the ground and of the future posts I had in mind, it was the only one I could halt. It's not quite dead, however, and I do have some plans for it in mind. I'll give you a shout when it happens!

Seeya in week or two.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Pokemon White: Impressions

It's funny. As pivotal as Pokemon was in my youth, it's the one franchise I now share a strained relationship with. The endless, pointless parade of spin-offs after Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire still haunt my memory, and I'm of the opinion that Diamond and Pearl were rather dull. As you can guess, my thoughts aren't too popular with the contemporary Pokemon crowd. But hey, at least I'm not one of the posers who ditched the franchise after the original fad ended, mirite?

In any case, when info began trickling in for Pokemon Black and White, I found myself becoming gradually mixed. On one hand, the graphical enhancements and the exciting additions to the gameplay (three against three battles? Yowza!) had me pumped for a refreshed Pokemon experience. On the other hand, however, there was the most intimidating deterrent: The new Pokemon designs. While I initially approved of Zoroark and the new starter trio, the immediate flood that followed almost had me vomit in disbelief. What was up with the gears? Can I really take that giant garbage bag seriously? Sweet Jesus Christ, did they seriously just take a ball of lint and add wings to it?

Needless to say, I crossed off the new games as a lost cause. Could I simply ignore the designs and just have fun playing the game? Perhaps a true gem lies under the bland look of Zelda: Skyward Sword, but a different story lies in the essence of Pokemon. The creatures are the game. The silent bonds you forge with the creatures you capture and train, whether they're small or frightening or cool or adorably squishy, are what makes Pokemon, well, Pokemon. How on earth could I forge a bond with that?

Still, my dormant, yet terminal diagnosis of Pokefever once again nipped at me from within, and in the end I succumbed to the hype. While it would add on to the stress of managing several games (I recently obtained a Playstation 3) and schoolwork, what sort of Nintendo fanboy would I be to deny my childhood love another chance? It was fate. Plus, hey, who can say no to Amazon.com credit on future purchases?

I've been playing Pokemon White over the past month. Thanks to my mountain of school work, I'm only just training to defeat the Elite Four (for those not in the know: the customary end bosses at the end of every Pokemon game). But playing it I have been, and...I'm...

...I'm enjoying it.

No, I love it!

It's truly something magically finally enjoying a new Pokemon game. Yes, I adored last year's Soul Silver, but that was only a remake. This is a completely new Pokemon title, and I'm loving it!!! It feels so good to say out loud and express it in writing! I love a new Pokemon game!!! And the game feels...fresh! Invigorating! Absorbing! All Pokemon-related emotions I thought had been tossed away long ago.

Where should I start?

One of the things I felt Diamond and Pearl took a big step back in was the world map. To this day, the number one reason why I feel Ruby and Sapphire were the pinnacle of the series was because of the sheer amount of variety that Hoenn provided. You didn't just have towns, fields, caves, forests, and an ocean. You had rainforests! And volcanoes! And a desert! And underwater fields! And a sunken ship! And ancient ruins! It was as if I was exploring the African wilderness, which gave Pokemon a brand new, more realistic feel. Hardly of this was present in Diamond/Pearl, and it only reverted back into the town/field/dungeon pattern of the first two Pokemon generations. The environment just didn't suck you in.

Is Black and White absorbing in the same sense? Not quite as much, but it beats out Diamond/Pearl in more ways than one. The folks at Game Freak have clearly taken full advantage of the DS's graphical prowess, as the aesthetic presentations you'll experience are impressive. Many of the towns feel much larger and not quite as compact as in previous titles, so it no longer feels like you're exploring a ghetto town. Perhaps most awe-inducing is the dynamic camera, which is the big key to the three-dimensional focus of Castelia City (pictured above). It's a big step forward for the franchise in terms of both upgrading to the next generation and distilling my pesky suspension of belief (I've always wondered why the residents never have anything in their houses).

Pokemon White also introduces a nifty seasonal system, in which the game changes seasons once a month. Since there hasn't been much of a change in the routes/strips of wilderness you'll be exploring, it serves as a way to shake things up not just aesthetically, but it can also effect the terrain as well (as in, say, sliding on now-frozen lakes). Many familiar elements also return, such as the deserts and water currents found in the Hoenn region of Ruby and Sapphire. Just like those titles, all of these areas have their own niches that I can't wait to explore once I'm finished with the main quest (Hellloooo surfing!). Of course, the biggest new feature to your road trip are the abundance of bridges you'll be cross, most notably of which is the Sky Arrow Bridge. The camera works its magic once again in treating the player to an awe-inducing view (it'll blow your mind the first time you cross it).

Much ado has been made regarding the storyline found in Black and White, which take a more mature, personal approach in handling the world of Pokemon. This time, the games tackle the big question we've always been asking: Are we treating our Pokemon the right way? Some believe we simply catch them, taking them away from their homes and train them just so we can use them as our tools and not as our friends. Team Plasma, the game's antagonist, preaches to the denizens of Unova of the plight regarding their Pokemon, and causes numerous sensations thanks to their ground-breaking schemes.

Pokemon White doesn't make an overt attempt to let the player decide who's right or wrong in the debate (despite their sympathy towards the critters, Team Plasma has no qualms stealing other people's Pokemon for their ideals). Not that this is a knock against this particular plot, but I've never been able to take the storyline of Pokemon as seriously as, say, your typical Legend of Zelda or Fire Emblem. On the other hand, though, I'm glad that Game Freak not only took the initiative to talk about such a controversial subject, but didn't try to dumb it down for a younger audience or get preachy. This is also aided by the presence of Bianca and Cheren, two childhood friends of the player who's individual goals and bonds of friendship add a warmth I've never quite felt from a Pokemon game before. I'm interested in seeing how this story ends.

And then you have deal breaker: The Pokemon themselves. It goes without saying that, for the most part, I take back what I initially believed about the designs. It really is strange how most of the ones that weirded me out somehow grew on me after a while, and upon reviewing the Pokedex lists online, you actually have some really awesome designs here. A double-bladed dragon with a long neck? Check. A huge robotic sentinel made of stone? Check. An oversized killer centipede? Check. A badger with steel claws? Check. I've come to realize that you can categorize Pokemon in three types: Cute, Silly, and Cool. And for this generation, Pokemon White provides a very healthy selection of "cool" Pokemon that I can't wait to check out once I beat the main game (I do all the extra stuff afterwards).

However, it falters with the silly category. While it goes without saying that we've always had goofy Pokemon (Mr. Mime, Spoink, Smeargle, Jynx, Nosepass, and Loudred being the most prominent examples), the problem here is that the goofy Pokemon present in White are a little..too goofy. I think the underlying factor here is previous goofy Pokemon worked because while they may have had the attitude of a jester, their charm was undoubtedly infectious and grew on you immediately. The same can't be said for most of the doofs here (most notably the Ice Cream guys, several of the legendaries, and Crustle), and while it's obvious that the designers had fun making them, they don't really exude a Pokemon vibe and as a result I cannot take them seriously. As for the ones I had specifically mentioned early in the review...I've made my peace with Woobat and Garbodor, but sweet Jesus Christ those gears are painful to look out. It doesn't help that not only did I have to traverse a cave with them as the MAIN POPULATION, but its evolutions are so lazy and nonsensical that it's a wonder they got past the drawing board process (a potential factor to discuss in my review? Hmm..).

Can't be helped, I guess.

...so who's on my team? The De Facto leader of my team. Originally the Snivy I had chosen at the beginning of the game, this beautiful Serperior was born with the abnormal defect of forever holding a smug look on its scaly face. However, he began to take note of his delight in defeating his opponents while sending them off with the said smug look, and began to treasure it as a natural element of his gorgeous body. A trickster, he delights in using Leech Seed to slowly suck away the opponent's HP while using Coil to boost his Attack and Defense, shielding himself as he hacks away at their health with Leaf Blade and Giga Drain. All the while, his smug demeanor succeeds in pissing off his opponents. ...which is how I gave him the name of Smugbob. It's my first time picking a Grass starter. It's pretty difficult. The badass of my team. Gurdurr (Of who I have given the name of Ryu) smashes his foes with his giant STEEL BEAM, which in my imagination happens when he uses Cross Chop. His nature specializes in Defense, so he's pretty sturdy. If I trade him to another friend's game, he can evolve into Conkeldurr. WAITING ON YOU KENNETH This giant puppy just so happens to be one of the reasons why I was initially apprehensive about purchasing this game. I mean, I love goofy designs as much as the next guy, but his giant mustache rendered him rather out of place when juxtaposed with older Pokemon. Then again, I suppose one could make the same argument with Lickitung and Nosepass. Still, his goofy facial features grew on me and Stoutland (who I have named Tugger after my friend's dog) is now a valuable member of my team. I'd like to improve his moveset though...something tells me Earthquake would come in handy. When I was eleven, I probably would have flipped out if I found out a future Pokemon entry was going to have elemental monkeys, so I guess that's why I've inducted Simipour into my team. Despite his horrid defense, he sweeps the competition away with his Water attacks (feel dat Surf!).

I've named him Calvin after the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes. I suppose Simisear would've been a better choice given his fiery nature, but that's just the way the cookie crumbles. Ah, now here's an example of a new awesome Pokemon I initially overlooked! Upon discovering Sandile, I was interested in the prospect of a ground crocodile, so I checked out his future evolutions and liked what I saw immediately. Now he's a big, scary Krookodile...and he's half Dark type! He's especially intimidating with the Moxie ability, which raises his Attack power every time he defeats an opponent. ...he seems to go down easily though. Ever since Ruby, I've found it necessary to induct a tiny mascot member of my team. For Ruby, it was the bouncy Spoink. For Diamond, it was Pachirisu, an electric squirrel. For White, it's Emolga, the electric FLYING SQURRIEL. Believe me, this little scamp wasn't easy to find, but it's totally worth it. He's surprisingly effective if he can dodge his attacks, and his Acrobactics move, which doubles its power if he isn't holding an item, is fun stuff.

Pretty neat, huh?

There's much more I'd like to go over, but I'm afraid I'd end up wasting material I could be using in my review. Plus, not every feature of the game is avaliable until the online update tomorrow. So yeah, while I diiiiiiid say I'd write a review the month after a game comes out, I think I'll need a bit more time to fully digest everything in this little game card before I can write my inevitably humongous review. Expect it by mid-May!

Seeya then.


In other news, I've been listening to this nonstop for the last three days.

It's so weird. I never even played Super Mario Kart all that much and here I am drowning myself into this haunting, euphoric remix of the Rainbow Road song. I just feel like..this one remix defines everything I've ever been through when it comes to Nintendo, and it just takes me back to the days of Super Mario World and Mario Kart 64.

I'll never abandon this hobby. For as long as I live.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Nintendo 3DS: Impressions

Not an April Fool's joke...I'm finally back!

I came.

I saw.

And I...am partway to conquering.

What did I arrive at? A new chapter of video gaming. What did I see? I've witnessed an entirely new form of playing games. What have I only begun to conquer? Comprehension.

Setting the pretentious fluff aside, it's obvious as to what has occurred. The Nintendo 3DS has arrived.

It's strange how my anticipation for video games work now. When I was a child, I would bounce off the walls without pause, eager to ravage my latest game. Now? I simply wait in silent patience, secretly daydreaming of the games of the future. Despite being an exuberant person, my enthusiasm has dulled as my youth came to end, as I now percept games at a blunt value. My love for video games, however, has never dwindled.

And that was how I woke up on Sunday morning, realizing I could not wait any longer. These days, it always seems to be the day before (or in this case, the day on) that I get excited for a new video game experience. I suppose this was born after having a dream on Friday, in which I was playing a port of Zelda: The Wind Waker on the 3DS. I didn't care what the bitter crowd on the internet thought of the console. I needed this new system, and I needed it now.

It's now been about five days. I suppose it's time for some impressions.

I'll just come out and say it: The 3DS is amazing. While I wasn't skeptical regarding its promised achievements, I'm sure most of the more cynical Nintendo fans out there (i.e. what makes up 99.8% of the current fanbase) weren't convinced. I mean, seeing a three-dimensional effect popping out of the system without the contemporary method of glasses? A load of baloney, some would say. But yet, it works! And best of all, it sucks you in the moment it begins a countdown to its first display of 3D.
How does it work, though? Well, after playing it all week, I've found that there's numerous versions of the 3D effect that span throughout the console's games and built-in system modes. Let's explore our first example with one of the system's launch titles: Pilotwings Resort. It's difficult to describe my experience with the game, as the serene nature of the title clashes with its eye-grabbing detail. Pilotwings Resort is a title that takes place on Wuhu Island (a location previously explored in Wii Sports Resort and Wii Fit) and has the player, who is in control of their customized Mii avatar, fly around the island via planes, jetpacks, and hand gliders.

The game is fun by itself, but what amplifies its potential is the 3D effect. While most of game's content doesn't pop out at you, you'll notice that your character and his/her vehicles of choice are much more vibrant and expressive than they would be with the effect turned off, and it's as if they're slowly coming out of the screen! It's amazing how I'll slowly cruise around the island with a handglider, and yet my eyes my focus on the character's legs, which dangle just about an inch off the screen. Call it a gimmick all you want, but I believe it's an engaging method of absorbing you further into the game. I even tried to touch the characters to make sure they weren't alive!

Many online critics have said that launch games for the system aren't the best example of the 3D effect, and they're probably right. While we'll no doubt see some amazing displays from upcoming titles such as Kid Icarus: Uprising and the Metal Gear Solid 3 port, you would be surprised to learn that the best 3D effects come from the wealth of options offered in the 3DS hub, which leads us to example two: The Augmented Reality Cards (or AR cards, for short). These cards, which come with the system, are embedded with a special code that reacts to the 3DS' camera. Once activated, the cards spring to life through the camera!

Lemme tell you, it's surreal to see some of my favorite characters on top of my furniture. What makes this so engaging is that not only can you change their sizes, but each character has several sets of poses, such as Mario assuming his Mario Galaxy flight pose and the Pikmin carrying a number pellet. Despite some limitations, there's an endless amount of possibilities to set up the characters, and I'm having an awesome time making them take group photos and interacting with my Nintendo stuffed animals. I sense a Facebook album coming...!

Also, I get the nostalgic fuzzies whenever I hear the Kirby's Adventure sound effect when Kirby pops out of his card.

So how does the 3D work here? While there are a couple of cool effects (Watch out for Samus' beam cannon), the Archery mode is where it's at. The camera succeeds in tricking the player that the archery playground has more depth then it really has, as it forces you to angle the system around to succeed. Impressive stuff! The only downside? There's not a lot of variety after the first time. Here's to hoping for DLC, Nintendo!

Speaking of game modes, I'm surprised at how much there is to do with the system itself. Frustrated that the online store isn't avaliable yet? You'll forget about that instantly the moment the system opens up with a hub of various modes that exploit the system's 3D capabilities. The camera, music player, AR Mode, Mii Plaza, and Street Pass are all avaliable out of the box, and several have garnered extensive playtime from me.

I'm impressed by the music player in particular. Believe it or not, the 3DS comes with its own SD card, so you can install your favorite songs on it right away. The music player has a ton of options to fool around with, such as several sets of percussion buttons, which include a guy yelling and animal noises. You can also alter the music currently playing with effects such as echoing (great for orchestras) and radio (complete with crackling!)

And the visualizers! I've only really been exposed to the usual set from Windows Media Player, but these are just outstanding! They range from a retro space shooting simulator to a Game and Watch styled soccer game, and what truly makes them stand out is their interactivity. For example, in the space shooting sim, pressing the percussion button will make it shoot at floating tiles! Some of them even react to the music playing, such as a homage to Excitebike, where the ramps and bumps form depending on the intensity of the track played. And yes, the 3D effect is there the whole time (check out the Space Shooter/Stair Climbing ones!) While the sound quality doesn't quite nab the caliber as, say, an iPod, the features included make it well worth a listen.

Just like the original DS' Pictochat, the 3DS contains a built-in minigame by the name of Face Raiders. It works like this: You take a picture of someone's face, and suddenly that face equips a diabolical flying helmet and attacks you with multiple versions of itself...in 3D! How do you fight back? By shooting balls smack dab in their face. It's a simple concept, but the absurdity of the execution makes it far more amusing than it should be.

What enhances the experience is the 3DS' camera, which records where you are and imprints that location for the game. For example, if you're playing the game in your house, it will be the real-time background for the assault! It's awesome pretending your home is under attack by an evil version of your psychologist, which is aided by constant explosions ripping holes into the space-time continuum. Dad, if you're reading this...you're next!

An interesting feature is promised in the form of Street Pass, which is entwined with both the system and several of its games. Let's say you're at the mall and you have the mode turned on in your 3DS. Even if your system is closed, if you walk pass another user's 3DS, you'll receive some of their data. For example, you can acquire a Mii, a puzzle piece, or even a challenge in Street Fighter! Unfortunately, I haven't encountered anyone yet, so I'm planning on making a trip to the mall soon!

So...I guess I should mention the backwards capability on the system. That is, playing your old DS games on the new system. Complaints regarding blurriness of the screen and long load times have popped up, but it doesn't seem to be a big deal. I tested out Pokemon White on the system and while the character sprites are indeed blurred, I actually enjoy it more thanks to the wider screen and broader sound! And..my god! Mario Kart DS! Fans of the game have to try it out on here, as the game looks way more crisp and runs at an incredible fluidity on the 3DS! I'm planning on trying out some other DS titles to see how they've handled the transition.

While I would like to do a full review of the 3DS, the absence of certain modes would leave it a little bare-boned. As such, I'll make up for this by penning a dual-review of Pilotwings Resort and Super Street Fighter IV at the end of this month. Look forward to it!!



A little shorter than I planned it to be, but I hope the dual review will make up for it! Expect Pokemon White in a few days.