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The only hardcore audience that matters to Nintendo

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Rumors of the Wii's successor have sparked some discussion about Nintendo's relationship to "hardcore gamers," which I guess would be defined by most people in these discussions as dedicated gamers who want traditional, non-watered down games.

The only hardcore audience that matters to Nintendo is their own dedicated fanbase - the hardcore Nintendo fans. And before you stereotype, I'm not just talking about Nintendo fanboys on the internet who defend Nintendo to the death and hate every other console maker with a passion (though they are part of the hardcore Nintendo audience). Anyone who loves Nintendo's brand of games, whether it's their cIassic franchises like Mario or Zelda, or their new stuff, like the Wii series or Nintendogs, is part of Nintendo's most important audience.

In this sense, Nintendo has never changed. Their strategy with the Wii and DS brought in more fans (outside of the existing hardcore fanbase) than any other generation, but they've still managed to make a greater-than-average number of cIassic Nintendo games this gen. They've been going after their own hardcore fanbase all along, so to say that "now Nintendo is really going after the hardcore gamer" doesn't really make sense to me.

Nintendo is going to stick with what they do best, maybe innovate a little, who knows, but they've said for years that "faster and flashier" is a dead end, and they don't want to contribute to the rising costs of game development. Making a high-end spectacle of hardware innovation with expensive controllers to attract "hardcore" gamers doesn't seem to fit with what they've been doing.

Try getting more out of your games

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I came across this article about Pilotwings Resort, which was what I was going to blog about, but he said it better (well... as good as) I would have, so I'll just link to that and go from there.

Pilotwings Resort isn't 2-3 hours long, it's 23 hours long. Stop playing it wrong.

Now I've only put 10 hours into Pilotwings and experienced about 98% of it (only four more missions to perfect... free flight is already finished), so that'll probably put me at about 10:30-11:00 total, but that's still four or five times longer than many people are citing for the length of the game.

There's more to experience in most games than just the critical path. I called this "vertical gaming" in a previous blog, but I'll make it even simpler now and just call it mastering a game. It feels good. That's pretty much all there is to it.

I know that I've almost mastered Pilotwings at this point because the early missions are extremely easy now and I feel totally comfortable with the controls.

It was the same with Super Meat Boy. I did everything possible in that game, which took a lot of perseverance and dedication, and the result was extremely rewarding. And it's not just like one big rush of accomplishment when you see that final level beaten.... Every little victory along the way feels just as great.

How often do you really sit down with a game you enjoy and try to squeeze everything possible about of it? I still have Donkey Kong Country Returns to finish (Mirror Mode only... already did everything else), Epic Mickey (it'd be great to find all the collectibles and try using thinner instead of paint more often), Trauma Team (a few more missions to S rank), Goldeneye (still a few more difficulties to go through), Mario vs DK: Miniland Mayhem (almost through Plus Mode), Super Scribblenauts (working on gold crowns) and probably more that I may or may not get to.

It's literally impossible to get to everything in every game, but do you find yourself even trying? For some reason, it really bugs me to see that someone has just worked through a game to get to the credits and move on to the next one, even when they enjoyed the game. If you really liked it, then why wouldn't you want to spend more time with it?

IAPTGN: Trauma Team, Mario vs DK, Infinity Blade

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I'm almost to the end of Trauma Team now, and it has seriously gotten better and better the whole way. Once you play each character's own story progression, you unlock a single progression that has a chapter or two from each character and builds from seemingly minor points of each character's previous story. I'm really impressed by it. And again, the game was only $10. I've put about 35 hours into it. I think that might be the best deal ever.

I've had Mario vs DK: Miniland Mayhem since Christmas but just started it up in the last few weeks, just finished the main game last night and holy crap is there a lot of content in that game. On top of the 81 regular levels are 20 unlockable special levels and 20 unlockable expert levels, and you can play through the entire game again in "plus mode," which I haven't tried yet but it looks like it adds more characters to each level rather than just Marios.

It's challenging, but in the new Nintendo kind of challenging, which I've found to be pretty easy but somehow still rewarding. It makes you feel like you just did something that most people couldn't do, even though they probably can. I beat most levels with a trophy (by getting past a set number of points), the Mario coin (one per level, accumulate to unlock extra levels), and the letter card (which unlocks a bonus minigame level if you collect all of them in a world) on the first try, but like I said, it still feels like I accomplish something each time I do that. Now that I've started the special levels, I'm finding it much more difficult to get everything on the first try, so it feels like the game is really coming into its own in the unlockable levels.

Also, Infinity Blade for iOS is more than just eye candy. I got it on sale a few weeks ago for like $3 thinking I wouldn't like it much, but I love it. I figured it would try to be too "hardcore" and end up being a terrible mobile game, but they really nailed what makes for a good pick-up-and-play, addictive mobile game. You can play in spurts of just a minute or two, or you can sit and play for an hour or two if you want. It DOES look amazing visually, but that just adds to the total package, which really shines because of its intuitive swipe and icon-touch controls.

I also finished Wind Waker last week and started up Twilight Princess to continue on my Skyward Sword Anticipation Spree. Beyond Good and Evil HD is still waiting to be finished.... I think I stopped at the same point that I did when I originally played it on the GC. It's not that I lost interest or anything... I guess there's just something about that point in the game that doesn't compel me to continue. I WILL finish it this time, though.... maybe after I beat Trauma Team.

TGTIHBPOTLSD: PoP:FS, Trauma Team

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I picked up Prince of Persia: Forgotten Sands for the Wii and Trauma Team for a grand total of $30 last week, and they're both surprisingly good.

I wanted Forgotten Sands because it was cheap and the Wii-specific mechanics looked intriguing. It turns out that the Wii-specific stuff is AWESOME. For those who don't know, the Wii version of Forgotten Sands is completely different from the 360/PS3 version in every way - story, level design, mechanics, bonus content, etc..

The most unique part is that you gain abilities over the course of the game that let you use the pointer to create wall hooks, wind columns that let you hover above the ground, and spheres that catch you in midair. At first, you can only create these things in specificed places, but as you progress, you get to place them anywhere you want (except on certain leafy sections, but those are pretty scarce). This is REALLY fun and surprisingly well designed. Most areas are laid out cleverly enough that you can't "cheat" your way through, even with the extra abilities. Once you have all the abilities, the game doesn't really hold your hand at all and really forces you to think about your path.

I finished it yesterday and really enjoyed the whole game. It ended at a perfect point, not too long or short, and it encourages more playthroughs with achievements that unlock extra content, but I'll take a break before I pick it up again.

I haven't played Trauma Team as much but it's also really fun (especially for ten freaking dollars). I've only played as the endoscopist and ... the guy who diagnoses patients.. not sure what his official title is. Physician maybe? I don't know, but it works better than it seems like it would. Trauma Center games usually take place inside a body, but the diagnosis part plays more like a Phoenix Wright or something. You have to talk to the patients and click on any dialogue that hints at symptoms, then order tests and find more abnormalities, then match everything you've found to the most likely disease. Maybe that doesn't sound very fun, but the few characters I've diagnosed so far have been great (one was a reluctant politician who just wanted to get out of the hospital so he could help his country... so he said).

Now that I've finished PoP, I'll dedicate all my attention to Trauma Team. For some reason, the story has really captivated me in Trauma Team, while the story in PoP was decent at best but nowhere near as awesome as the story of the original trilogy.

I also finished A Boy and His Blob. The ending was great, both in gameplay and "story." Although there wasn't much narrative, it was still kind of emotional. That game has such a great charming feel to it.

It's official - I like 2D better than 3D

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...and by 2D I mean side-scrolling as opposed to being able to move freely in a 3D space. We really need some better terms to describe this stuff with the newfound popularity of stereoscopic 3D games. :evil:

So yeah, I like 2D gameplay better than 3D gameplay. Most of the time, at least. I realized this recently after playing several games that feature both 2D and 3D formats, and I prefer the 2D gameplay in every case. Super Mario Galaxy 2, Other M, Mirror's Edge and Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands are the first ones to come to mind, and de Blob 2 also features new side-scrolling sections that look fun, but I haven't played it yet.

There isn't much to say about SMG2. It has side-scrolling sections and they're awesome. They allow for more deliberate design decisions, I think, since the player isn't distracted by trying to look around the environment or getting the camera to cooperate.

Other M is the only weird game in my list since it isn't exactly all 2D and it definitely isn't better than the 3D games overall. I still prefer its gameplay, though, because it at least has the POTENTIAL of being much better than a fully 3D Metroid game. The combat is definitely more fast-paced and easier to handle since you don't need to worry about aiming at everything, and the old 2D games proved that you can hide a lot of stuff in a 2D plane.

The original Mirror's Edge is a really fun but flawed game, but I got the iOS Mirror's Edge on my iPod recently and its gameplay is much more fun to me. It's a pure sidescroller, but it totally maintains the essence of the gameplay from the original. The goal is to keep running without slowing down while sliding under or jumping over obstacles, wall running, taking enemies down (which is less of a hassle in the iOS game), etc. Each level has some hidden bags, so I use the first runthrough to find the bags, then I go into the speed run mode and try to make a perfect run. It's a short game, but the concept is good enough to warrant something similar in the future... Maybe an XBLA sequel or something.

Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands (Wii version) surprised me with its 2D sections. I'm only a couple of hours into the game, so I don't know how prevalent they are, but I've hit one 2D section in the main game, and there are several unlockable challenge levels that all take place on a 2D plane. The 2D sections focus more on speed and precision rather than figuring out how to get from point A to point B, so while they use the same mechanics as the 3D parts, they feel different and offer different challenges.

I'm glad that 2D gameplay has made such a comeback in recent years. There's something about its simplicity that allows for a more concentrated brand of fun than most 3D experiences offer. Of course some games can only work in a 3D environment, but I love to see what devs can do by setting their games (or at least parts of their games) in a 2D space.

TGTIHBPITLSD: A Boy and His Blob

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I'm pretty sure A Boy and His Blob sold like crap, and that's sad. It's a really fun and creative puzzle/platformer with good personality and great art styIe with a ton of content. And it's only $20 now, so you should get it if you like this kind of game.

I'm almost done with it after playing off and on for months. The difficulty has ramped up nicely.... I was worried at first that the whole game would be too easy, but of the four worlds, the only REALLY easy one was the first. And the difficulty varies by level... some of the later ones are also pretty easy, but they're balanced by the occasional extra hard level.

The game structure is awesome because each regular level has an accompanying challenge level that unlocks if you find three treasure chests in the regular level, so some of the levels have taken a couple of tries to find all the chests. The challenge levels have all been pretty awesome. They usually focus on only one or maybe two of Blob's abilities that you just used to get through the regular level but will often put a twist on how they're used. One challenge level makes you use the parachute for the whole level, just falling and dodging obstacles.

New Blob abilities keep showing up until the very end, as well. I just started the last world, and I know there's at least one more ability I haven't seen in the game yet (though I accidentally spoiled it while watching a glitch video on YouTube...). I'm also excited to see what the last boss is. The bosses so far have been pretty good, putting a slight twist on the regular gameplay.

I should be done with it by next week, so I'll give an update then.

Oh, and anyone who guesses what the acronym in the title stands for gets a thumbs up. :)

Has game music gone kind of downhill?

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Now that orchestral soundtracks can be the norm thanks to adequate disc space and bigger budgets, I would've thought we'd be seeing some amazing music from all kinds of games. But good music seems to be even rarer than it used to be.

I was listening to the Super Mario Galaxy 2 soundtrack the other day and realized that although some of the new songs are good, the best songs are still the orchestral versions of songs from the NES and SNES games.

And I just finished Darksiders and noticed that the one thing it DOESN'T take from Zelda is a driving theme or any memorable music whatsoever.

AND I've been listening to the FFVI soundtrack because it's amazing, and Chrono Trigger is next on my list to get, and I remember a few songs clearly from FFVII even though I only played through it once years ago, but.... I put over 100 hours into FFX and not a single song comes to mind, yet it has the same composer as all the other Final Fantasy games and Chrono Trigger.

Maybe it's just nostalgia talking and deep down I really just miss the bleeps and bloops... but I think that's only part of it. The technological limitations of 8- and 16-bit hardware forced composers to create a certain kind of music with short repeating phrases and that chiptuny bounce that was necessary to create a melody that could stick out.

And another thing may be that the old composers just aren't good with orchestral compositions even if they were awesome at putting together chiptune stuff, I don't know.

I'm sure there are some newer games with great soundtracks, but again, I would've expected a higher percentage of greatness since composers have such better tech (and real instruments) to work with.

So am I just being nostalgic or have you noticed the same thing?

Bit.Trip Beat: Downloadable console games should have more substance

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I made a prediction in some thread awhile ago that Nintendo's next big profitbag would be in the realm of simple downloadable games like Angry Birds on their next home console. And now I realize....

I was totally wrong. If Nintendo goes that route, they're screwed.

That should've been obvious to me, and it probably is to you, but I figured that Nintendo would tap into the trend that allows a game like Angry Birds to be downloaded 50 million times (somehow I forgot that Nintendo SET a trend with the Wii... they didn't tap into a trend).

The main problem with that theory is that I didn't consider the mood in which games like Angry Birds are played. You're generally not bored in front of your TV looking for something to do.... You're bored on the go, looking for something to help pass the time wherever you are. It doesn't make much sense to fire up an entertainment center and console just to play a game for a couple minutes.

That's why the WiiWare demo of Bit.Trip Beat got deleted after about ten minutes of being on my Wii, while the iOS demo lasted about the same amount of time but ended with an upgrade to the full version for $2. It's a PERFECT on-the-go game, as are all of the Bit.Trip games.

As much as I love downloadable console games, I'd like to see them go in a more specific direction. Leave the simple, addictive games to the mobile market and make us some more substantive downloadable games for consoles. If we're going to pay $5-15 for a console game, it should be the type of game that can't be experienced (or simply wouldn't work very well) elsewhere.

Retro games like the new Megaman games and Super Meat Boy are perfect downloadable console games, as are more adventure oriented games like Lost Winds or even an RPG like Costume Quest. Angry Birds, although it IS coming to consoles soon, is much better off as a mobile game.

Hopefully this trend begins to solidify as the mobile market grows. Maybe the next console generation will have a more distinct downloadable market.

Horizontal vs vertical gaming

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During a recent HotSpot, Ricardo Torres showed how frustrated he was with the length of Golden Sun: Dark Dawn. The reason? He wanted to get the review done by a certain day, but the game wasn't cooperating.

I don't mean to rag on Ricardo here as I've heard the same type of thing from other members of the gaming press. And it's not just that they need to REVIEW a lot of games.... There are a ton of good games out there, and it's hard for them to get to them all on top of their scheduled games for review.

We all know how that feels, even without any review responsibilities. Some of us have huge backlogs that we promise we'll get to eventually, and some of us just don't buy that many games because we know we won't get to them all.

So what's the effect of this?

Stick with me for a minute here. The writing/reading/literary academic community uses the terms horizontal and vertical when talking about reading. Horizontal reading describes the act of reading a wide range of material without digging much below the surface of any one piece, while vertical reading focuses on covering a narrow range of material but gaining a much deeper understanding of each one. Thanks to the vast amount of information available on the internet, we tend to engage in more horizontal than vertical reading, and this can potentially lead to issues of not fully understanding the nuances and important details of a piece of writing, whether it be a book or a news story or whatever, before moving on to the next one.

You can see where I'm going with this.

Since we have a limited amount of time, we can't fully engage in BOTH horizontal and vertical gaming. One of the problems with game reviews is that we want reviewers to do both. We want them to cover a huge range of games while digging as deeply as they can into each one. I think understanding this concept helps us to understand how some reviewers can get it so WRONG sometimes. In their quest to see as much of a game as quickly as possible, it's almost inevitable that they'll miss some things, especially when some games lend themselves to a slower, more deliberate experience.

As for us regular non-press gamers, we also have to make a choice. Do we slow it down and try to experience everything in a game before moving on? Or do we try to experience as much as we can of what the industry as a whole has to offer?

I'm a vertical gamer, myself. That means that there are a lot of good games that I'll never play, but I'm okay with that. Investing serious time into a good game can totally change the experience from what I might have had by just skimming over it.

So what type of gamer are you? Would you rather NOT be that type of gamer or are you okay with it?

DKCR: Don't underestimate simplicity

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The best levels in DKCR are the silhouette levels.

This is brilliance.

I think it's because the simplicity of this design forces more attention to be paid to the platforming. Or maybe it forces the designers to think outside the box and create different types of obstacles and gameplay elements than they would in a fully colored level.

I don't really want to focus only on silhouette design (though I'd love to talk about Limbo as well), because it's not this specific design that interests me here, but rather the fact that something so simple can outshine the more complicated stuff. As much as I liked Super Mario 64 back in the day, the platforming in that game is TERRIBLE compared to the platforming of more recent (and more retro) platformers like DKCR and SMG.

And beyond platformers, a game like No More Heroes was vastly improved with a sequel that does away with the overworld and 3D minigames in favor of a much simpler menu system and retro 2D minigames.

I'm just really happy that many devs have realized that bigger and badder and more complex does not always equal more fun. It's great to see some games that keep it simple and awesome.