I've been writing video game reviews for nearly two decades. I don't remember at which point the medium moved me to formally express its impression on me, but the first time I did so for a print outlet that wasn't self-published was 1995. The Boston Herald was where I got my start, and in that first year, I reviewed several Super Nintendo games — most notably, EarthBound, a Nintendo RPG set in modern times but featuring aliens, psychic powers, and parodies based on Japan's interpretation of American culture. Part two in Nintendo's Mother trilogy of games, EarthBound is the only entry in the series to have come Stateside, despite gamers' efforts to the contrary.
So imagine my surprise when Operation Rainfall, a recent fan campaign to convince Nintendo to localize three Japanese RPGs for the Wii, was successful. Sure, the market is different now — EarthBound predated Final Fantasy VII, which brought JRPGs to the American mainstream — but it's still a genre aimed more at hardcore gamers, a demographic the Nintendo Wii is not exactly known to target. Why these games? Why now?
We got these three games localized; why not EarthBound? Read on.
When PCWorld gave me the opportunity to investigate Operation Rainfall, I chose to put their success into historical context. The result is a feature story published this week to TechHive: "Operation Rainfall: How a fan campaign brought Nintendo to its knees". I didn't come up with the somewhat adversarial headline, but I am pleased with the final product and the communities who contributed to it. Richard Ross of Operation Rainfall, Reid Young of Fangamer, and Clyde Mandelin of Starmen.net were all enthusiastic subjects who took time out of their day jobs to speak with me about their campaigning strategies, giving me insight into the state of the industry across the eras and the influence that fans can have, not only with publishers but with each other.
And so it was that, eighteen years later, I was writing about EarthBound again. How many more years before we get the rest of the Mother series?
I'm the sort of artist who finds every round of Draw Something a challenge. In my mind's eye, I picture detailed, evocative images that Bob Ross led me to believe would be easy to bring to life. In reality, it's rare I can produce art that looks anything like I intended, even given the best of tools.
Which is why the black-and-white sketches that are popping up on the Nintendo Wii U's WaraWara Plaza are so impressive. Using nothing more than a stylus and a GamePad with a resolution of 854×480, the Miiverse's inhabitants are creating some impressive artwork that invokes their favorite Nintendo characters.
In the days before and after the turn of the year, I captured my fifty favorite such drawings from the Nintendo Land community and compiled them into this YouTube video. If you see any particular sketch you like, the corresponding image files are in the gallery found after the jump. Note that the only editing that occurred was to add some whitespace to the 26 images that were not drawn in a particular minigame, to make them the same height as those images that did declare a game's title.
See the video's description on YouTube or click individual photos below for credits.
After unboxing my Nintendo Wii U last month, I was left with a Wii U box and a Wii console. The older system was no longer necessary: if I want to play original Wii games, I can use the backward compatibility feature of the Wii U; if I want to play GameCube games, I can hook up my GameCube, which additionally has a Game Boy Player accessory Thus, by having just three consoles — a Wii U, a GameCube, and an Xbox 360 — I'd have access to six different systems' worth of games.
As the original packaging for my six-year-old Wii is currently in storage, I temporarily put the Wii in the Wii U's box. I then realized the potential this combination held for a great Christmas gag gift:
Last week's unboxing of the Nintendo Wii U was longer than most other videos of the genre because I went beyond inspecting the physical components and into the software setup. I eventually did get the day-one 1GB patch installed and have since played Nintendo Land and New Super Mario Bros. U, which also required their own updates. So far, the Wii U is proving a fun party system, much like its predecessor did, but I've not yet found any compelling content for the single player.
Many gamers still haven't gotten their hands on the Wii U and are curious to know more about it. I've taken the top 20 questions from the 1,000 comments posted on my last YouTube video and have answered them in this week's Q&A.
Thanks to everyone who asked about upgrading the hard drive, Internet connectivity, GamePad support, Wii backward compatibility, and more! I hope I've provided the helpful information you were looking for.
The Nintendo Wii U video game console released today in the USA with its asymmetrical gameplay promising to marry traditional and tablet gaming. I was one of fewer than a dozen gamers who managed to snag a console at the local GameStop, thanks to a personal tweet from the corporation informing me of the commencement of preorders back on September 12, when Reggie Fils-Aime announced the console's launch date and price. Since then, GameStop has presold 1.2 million units — more than double of the original Wii preorders six years ago, which speaks well of both the supply and demand for the system.
Here I present my unboxing of the Nintendo Wii U's deluxe model, reviewing the hardware, peripherals, and initial setup and configuration. I got both Nintendo Land and New Super Mario Bros. U — 2 of the 26 launch day titles but have not yet played either; as I lack a video capture device for HDMI consoles, I'll leave that footage to the pros.
I eventually did get the system update downloaded, upgrading my console from 1.0.1 to 2.0.0, necessary to enable SD and USB storage devices.
Did you preorder up a Nintendo Wii U? If so, share your experiences here! If not, you may need to resort to scalpers and resellers: at this moment, over 4,000 units are available on eBay for anywhere from $4,65 to $2,999.99.
At PAX East, the line to try the Nintendo 3DS handheld wrapped around Nintendo's meager booth. With so much else to see at the convention, waiting hours to try a system that would be commercially available in mere weeks seemed a poor investment.
When I got home, rather than pre-order the 3DS in anticipation of its March 27 release, I dusted off Nintendo's previous 3D system. The Virtual Boy, released in 1995, was Nintendo's only 32-bit system and the supposed successor to the overwhelming success of the Game Boy line. But its lack of portability, weak software library, screenshot-free nature, and antisocial design combined to make it a faster failure than even the Sega Dreamcast: the Virtual Boy was discontinued 15 years ago this month, on March 2, 1996.
But it wasn't until three weeks later, on March 22 — today — that the system's official death knell sounded with the release of its final game, 3D Tetris. It and two other Virtual Boy games, Waterworld and Nester's Funky Bowling, were exclusive to the United States, while eight other games were never ported from Japan. No one country enjoyed all 22 games, but several of those released in the USA were actually quite a bit of fun.
My favorite is Mario Clash, a variation on the original Mario Bros. game that has Mario romping through the sewers, jumping on turtles. Mario Clash's 40 levels challenge players to knock enemies off ledges in multiple dimensions, sometimes requiring throwing shells "into" and "out of" the screen to hit fiends on the Z-axis. It's the first game I played after getting home from PAX, and it lasted me a good hour.
Other interesting applications of the Virtual Boy's 3D technology (which was invented in Massachusetts, not far from PAX East) include Teleroboxer, a boxing game with an intuitive control scheme that uses both D-pads; and Vertical Force, a shmup in which the ship can descend and ascend. Of course, several of the games weren't worth the plastic they were printed on, as the Angry Video Game Nerd can tell you.
The Virtual Boy failed to replace its handheld predecessor, though according to Shigeru Miyamoto, the black-and-red system was misperceived: it was intended as a toy, not a console. In that respect, it's a fun and amusing diversion, well worth the $30 for which rental stores liquidated their rental units, with games at $10 a pop. But as a gaming system, it lives on as an inside joke, the occasional cameo, and a potential portent of the challenges to face Nintendo's next handheld.
Some of the game's limitations have been well-documented, including the bizarre oversight of the nunchuk controller in favor of reorienting the Wiimote toward the screen to fire missiles, which robs Samus of her mobility. What is often forgotten is that using the D-pad for movement is to the exclusion of analog control. Other M may be the first 3D game I've ever played that didn't allow analog movement, which doesn't behoove someone of Samus's abilities.
The worlds through which she moves are also limited, but by the creators' imaginations. For example, in other Metroid games, the Gravity Suit has opened new and expansive areas to explore, ones with unique environmental effects. But the linear progression through Other M takes little advantage of such opportunities. The world is attractive enough, but running headlong through it will miss you only the occasional power-up, not a mission-critical secret, as there is no place for such adventures to await discovery.
There was more to the game than the action, but although I liked the attempt at providing our heroine with more backstory, the execution was fatally flawed. As Yahtzee Croshaw pointed out, the subplot concerning a traitor is abandoned halfway through, providing the player with zero closure. And the parent/daughter parallels among both friend and foe are overwrought and apparent, lacking subtlety.
I can rarely dedicate more than eight hours to a single game, so being able to finish Metroid: Other M in that time span was a relief, as I don't think it could've kept my interest any longer. I hope the next attempt at reinventing the series (or its return to a proven format) is as successful as Metroid Prime was.
After Atari popularized the home video game console, there was a flood of American imitators — far more than the market could support. This glut, along with other factors, led to the video game crash of 1983, which could've signaled the end of the industry in the Western world.
Twenty-five years ago today, Nintendo debuted their 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in North America. It was a tough sell to retailers who had been burned by Atari; Nintendo even listed the product in the Sears catalog under sports instead of toys. Their perseverance and innovation caught on, revitalizing the market with Japanese imports almost exclusively over the next decade.
Today, Nintendo continues to be a creative powerhouse in the video game industry, with a global influence on this international pastime. But Nintendo has ensured more than its own success: it brought a hobby and an economy back from the brink almost singlehandedly, paving the way for designers, programmers, gamers, and families everywhere. Without Nintendo, there'd be no PlayStation, no Child's Play, no E3, and especially no The Wizard.
It could've ended with Atari. Nintendo made sure it didn't.
So thank you, Nintendo, for encouraging a phenomenon that persists to this day. I can't wait to see what the next quarter brings.
April 22 is a date that is forever etched into my memory. Two decades ago today, I stood on the stage in the Worcester Centrum, competing to advance to the next round of the Nintendo World Championships.
The year 1990 was a great one for video gamers. The Wizard, Super Mario Bros. 3, Game Boy, and Tetris had just come out and had whipped the country's nerds into a frenzy. I was in fifth grade and had had my NES for two years; though it had been preceded by various Apple and Atari systems, the NES quickly earned a prime spot in my gaming lineup. Among my classmates, I was unparalleled in my obsession, which at the time seemed a good thing. When Nintendo announced they were going on tour to find the ultimate gamer, I knew I had to compete.
The Nintendo World Championship came to the arena 20 miles south of my hometown on Friday, April 20. It was a dazzling digital display, with rows upon rows of consoles and handhelds for anyone to play. It was like an early version of PAX where Nintendo had reserved every booth for themselves. I got to play games, watch demos, and even meet the famed Nintendo Game Counselors.
But the main attraction was the competition. On Friday and Saturday, anyone could get in line to enter a six-minute contest. Scoring at least 200,000 points would get you a pass to return to that location's semifinals on Sunday. There was no minimum of how many contestants could be eligible for that honor; that's the elimination Sunday was for.
Unlike PAX's Omegathon, the NWC's games were announced in advance. Contestants would have to earn 50 coins in the original Super Mario Bros., complete one lap in Rad Racer, then use the remaining time to play Tetris. Each game was worth more points than the last, so the goal was to rush through them as quickly as possible and then max out your score in Tetris. I already had the first and third games, and I was offered to borrow the second by a classmate, Ryan Smith ("Smittie"). I practiced for weeks beforehand and kept a log charting my progress, though even in my fervor, the frequency of these trials trailed off as the date approached. Still, I think my familiarity with the routine set me apart from the hundreds of kids who went at it cold. Though I could (and did) enter the contest multiple times, I crossed the threshold on my first try.
On Sunday, I returned to enter the semifinals. The games and goal were the same, except this time, only the top seven scores from each age group would advance. Again, I made it into that bracket, as did a former classmate of mine, Nate Marini. I don't think he recognized me, as four years later, when he dialed into my BBS and we got to talking about the NWC, he was astonished that I knew he was one of the Magnificent Seven. To read the local paper's coverage of the event, it's a wonder my own ego permitted me to notice anything about my surroundings: "A lanky, bespectacled blond, Kenneth was dressed in a Nintendo T-shirt, Nintendo sweatpants and Nintendo hat. 'Are we good or what?' the 10-year-old asked rhetorically, as he waved his arms and bounced on his toes in a manner not unlike Rocky Balboa's."
We seven kids were raised from the pits and onto the "Throne" stage, where everyone could watch us turn against each other for the right to sit in the throne; that highest of scorers would be flown to Florida for the national finals. For the third time, we spent six minutes running through three classic Nintendo titles. I and a kid dressed in his Boy Scout uniform, who had spent his time backstage staring at the ceiling in prayer, watched as five defeated players were ushered off the stage.
Now the two of us competed. I played well, but unlike the unauthorized Tengen Tetris, in which two players are issued the same blocks, our consoles were random. Perhaps I used my tetrads unwisely; maybe I wasn't given the pieces I needed when I needed them; maybe the Tetris god was angry at me for my hubris. I hoped my 1.4 million points would be enough. Again, the Telegram & Gazette tells the story: "When the competition ended, Kenneth and David rushed to examine each other's score. Their reactions told the story — Kenneth shook his head and frowned, while David grinned broadly and raised his hands over his head." The emcee asked me if I would try again at the NWC's next destination. I mumbled "yes" and left the stage, though I knew I wouldn't be back.
I didn't go away empty-handed: among other prizes, the top six losers were all given Super Mario Bros. 3 and Cybernoid. I had spent weeks stalking the local mom & pop rental store waiting for the former and was ecstatic to finally have my own copy. Cybernoid was one of the games I'd rented in lieu of SMB3 and knew it to be a stinker, so I brought it to Child World (a now-defunct Toys "R" Us-like store) and exchanged it for Dragon Warrior, an RPG I'd rented for three consecutive weeks and still hadn't beaten. To have two games of such astounding depth and duration was an excellent prize indeed.
The only game that would've been a better prize was the modified game cartridge that decided I was not the best prepubescent gamer in Massachusetts. The cart containing Super Mario Bros., Rad Racer, and Tetris was given as prizes to the finalists, with gold cartridges (like the original Zelda) to the champions of each age bracket. These artifacts exist in the wild, with the rarest model having been sold on eBay just last summer for $17,500. I would give a great deal for a chance to hone my skills at that game and know that, twenty years later, I finally beat that Boy Scout … but not $17K.
Some gamers have never heard of the NWC, which was eventually renamed the PowerFest, but its impact on gaming culture continues to this day. At the inaugural PAX East, Boston hosted the Omegathon, which featured these same three games, plus Konami's Contra. Just twenty years and forty miles away, it was the NWC all over again.
I am happy and proud to have participated in this part of gaming history. Back when video games were kids' toys and were something that set us apart rather than brought us together, the Nintendo World Championships made us feel like stars. It gave us a place to belong, albeit briefly. I just wish I'd gotten a score that could've let that moment last a little bit longer.
At this week's media summit, Nintendo unveiled many screenshots, trailers, and — most important — release dates for upcoming games. The two titles that overshadow all others on their schedule are Super Mario Galaxy 2 and Metroid: Other M, coming May 23 and June 27, respectively. As thrilled as I am with these dates (my copies were reserved shortly after the announcement), I also find them surprising for several reasons.
First, Nintendo tends to hold back its most recognizable franchises until later in the year, when they are more likely to capitalize on holiday sales: Metroid Prime 3 was released on August 27, 2007, with Super Mario Galaxy a few months later, on November 12. With their sequels, Nintendo seems to want to instead give their audience a summer of fun. These two titles being released almost within a month of each other leaves Nintendo with what this Christmas? A new Zelda game, perhaps?
Second, New Super Mario Bros. Wii was released just this past November and sold gangbusters. Although technically a different series from Super Mario Galaxy, it's still unlike Nintendo to release games starring the same character in rapid succession. Is it too much too soon, or are they capturing the NSMBW market before the frenzy dies off?
Finally, both releases are on Sundays, which cruelly relegates the rest of the weekend to "the days when there's nothing to do but wait for Nintendo's new game, which I'll be able to play for only a day before going back to work/school on Monday." So a Sunday release didn't diminish sales of the Wii, but I'd dedicated that day to Nintendo months in advance, whereas the new Mario and Metroid games conflict with my girlfriend's and mother's birthdays. What's a guy to do?
Regardless, I'm excited that these games are coming out sooner rather than later. Super Mario Galaxy was fun, if overrated, and Metroid: Other M looks to be a welcome innovation from the Metroid Prime series (itself a successful deviation from the franchise's roots). Having never played a modern Ninja Gaiden game, though, I dread that Team Ninja's take on Samus Aran may strain my battle skills. We'll know soon enough! In the meantime, here are sometrailers.