Nintendo: Why Switch Now?

Watch this. You don’t even really have to watch the entire video but at least the first minute or so. Besides, “Cool!” what is the other first thought you had? I know what mine was, “Ugh, more gimmicks.”

Along with revolutionary and innovative a lot of Nintendo’s attempts to expand how we play games have also been called, in some cases rightly, gimmicky. I think it’s short-sighted to automatically view them as failures though, they may not be commercially successful but I don’t think we can argue against the validity of the attempt. Thinking back the only true innovation flop I could pin to Nintendo was the Virtua Boy. The whole turning your vision red after playing it for extended periods aside the only true problem with the system was that it arrived too early when the industry and its technology weren’t quite ready for it. As lame as you may have felt the motion controls were on the Wii they’re clearly not going away and in fact the current generation VR systems use more advanced versions of them as their main control scheme. Nintendo are also the undisputed rulers of portable gaming in spite of Sony’s best attempts to horn in on the market with the Vita. More impressively they’ve maintained a solid market presence in the face of the ever growing popularity of mobile and tablet gaming.  

Over the years Nintendo has certainly not made things easy on themselves as they have often made business and design decisions that were unpopular with their competition, distributors and game makers worldwide. Their pride in their own history of success has seen them eschew industry standards in order to follow their own path. They don’t release consoles alongside their major competitors or adhere to a similar cycle. They hold conferences and announce their game lineups at their own pace and on their own time. Moves that many have derided as arrogant and indicative of a Nintendo who still thinks that the game industry still operates in its shadow. To even casual observers this has clearly not been the case since even the Wii which most people recall as one of the greatest successes ever for the gaming giant.

Was it though?   

Like most things in life the answer is complicated. It certainly topped sales charts for much of it’s life and reportedly reached a far wider audience than their competition. Fueled by a price that instantly undercut the Xbox 360 by $50-100 and the Playstation 3 by a painful $250-350 at launch. To me the statistic that is most indicative of the complication surrounding the Wii’s supposed dominance is the fact that Wii Sports is considered one of the best selling games of all time. Sounds weird, doesn’t it? Wii Sports was fine, it was fun and something you could play with the whole family but among the best selling games of all time? This record is because the game itself was bundled with every Wii system that was sold. A similar tactic that was once used against them when Sonic the Hedgehog was bundled with the American Sega Genesis consoles. Not only was the Wii cheaper than the other consoles, carried the Nintendo branding but it also came included with a game so you could play the system right out of the box. This was especially potent around the holiday season when the whole family could open presents and then spend hours playing around with this weird new device. Wii Sports stands now with around 83 million copies sold worldwide which is an utterly staggering figure. For the Wii system itself unfortunately Nintendo doesn’t disclose its production costs or profit margins but I feel confident in saying that while I’m sure they made a profit they also cut into it in order to make the impact they did with its release. Their unique control scheme for the system, inviting message of making gaming for everyone and extremely affordable price tag with the added value of a bundled game meant they were instantly part of the conversation again. Let us also not forget Nintendo affection for manually limiting availability to drive up hype and demand by making them seem hard to find as a result of popularity. These combined factors to me mean that an argument could be made for how its success, in part, was in a sense artificially manufactured. I’m sure that statement will be seen as controversial or flagrantly wrong and even I will admit you could call it hyperbolic without being off-base. The reality is that Nintendo made every concession they conceivably could in order to make their system the easiest purchase while not necessarily being the best. The one thing we can all agree on is what a masterclass in business savvy the Wii was, it may not have had the same quippy mic-drop quality as this did all those years ago but all the same, it worked.

Prior to this current console cycle let’s have a quick look at where everyone stood:

Playstation 2 – >155 Million units sold

Xbox – 24.1 Million units sold.

Gamecube – 21.74 Million units sold.

Fast forward to the next cycle and here is what the landscape looked like:

Wii – 101.63 Million units sold.

Playstation 3 – 83.8 Million units sold.

Xbox 360 – 84 Million units sold.

Not a bad turn around for Nintendo, wouldn’t you say? In spite of the system not outdoing it’s competition on any technical aspect Nintendo managed to utterly dominate the conversation which forced Microsoft and Sony to scramble to put out their own motion control systems out with games that supported it. Nintendo proved that the game industry had room for more than platforms bloated with application integration like social media and graphics that edged ever closer to photorealism. It makes sense that there would be but for a company that was on the verge of struggling to be relevant it was a bit of a leap of faith to take and seeing where they are today I am more grateful than ever that Nintendo didn’t abandon their identity to follow along with the market.

I’m not going to delve into the Wii-U as there are numerous post-mortems on the system itself and it’s a well known misstep for Nintendo as a whole after the successes of the Wii. Ultimately based on their aspirations for the Switch I think Nintendo viewed it as a middle ground to carry them until it was ready. With the result we see today from that gamble I think we can safely say it panned out but it also meant that possibly everything was riding on the success of the Switch and that is a risky position for even Nintendo. The other aspect I’m not going to touch on further is Nintendo’s well known affection for artificial scarcity as a way of building media buzz for it’s products. Annoying as it may be it’s an effective sales tactic and one they’ll probably not stop employing for the foreseeable future. Perhaps a topic for another post.
Throughout all of this Nintendo has had incredible success outside of it’s home console ventures with their line of portable systems DS/3DS to the tune of combined worldwide sales in the ~235 million range. Part of the reason I see for that level of success is that Nintendo is uniquely placed among all game and hardware publishers to leverage all of their best first party content on literally any system format they choose to. While Microsoft, Sony and PC game makers have continued to push towards mind-bogglingly realistic graphics Nintendo has staunchly kept to their timeless stylized aesthetic. That isn’t to say that the style itself hasn’t evolved over the years, it definitely has, but the strain that it places on a given system is only a fraction of what it takes to run something like Horizon Zero Dawn, Assassins Creed: Origins and at one point, Crysis. The stigma that this would eventually spell disaster for companies who didn’t keep up is something Nintendo has valiantly fought against for years.

I think the Switch is the perfect expression of what Nintendo has been evolving into since it first introduced the Game Boy alongside its home consoles.

nintendo-switch-banner-790x399-1

When I watched the announcement video for Switch I was instantly filled with a childlike wonder at the possibilities and a very adult sense of dread at what looked like a collection of maybe poorly executed gimmicks. You know the expression, “Throw things at a wall until something sticks.”? That’s what this looked like to me. It was doing too much and as a result would do nothing well. The game quality in portable mode would never look as good as it did in that trailer. If it did then the battery life would be worse than the notoriously bad Game Gear or Sega Nomad. Even if all that could be worked out it wouldn’t be powerful enough to make those games look good on your living room TV and god only knows what kind of performance issues you’d see with games that were even remotely recent. Tiny detachable controllers that look awkward to use, motion controls (again), cheesy party games and yet again promises of third party support that Nintendo had been repeating for years. Almost every pitfall they’d been trying to stay out of for at least two console cycles if not more all wrapped into one single platform.

Could it really be anything other than a disaster?

I am proud to say that through my dread I was actually hopeful about it’s chances and I argued fervently with naysayers who couldn’t see the potential. I’ll fully admit that my excitement came in no small part because after not owning a Nintendo system since a Gamecube, that was purchased late in its life, I was so amped up to see even a small spark of life from Nintendo. After some thought about the reveal video and the company itself I settled on feeling optimistic because it seemed to me that the Switch was Nintendo finally embracing its place in the gaming industry. It had relinquished the battle on cutting edge visuals and withdrawn from the rest of the console industries attempts to claw closer to rivaling PC hardware. They had already cornered the market on portable gaming and had a first party lineup that no other company in the industry could possibly compete with combined with the mission statement they announced with the Wii.

Introducing … Wii. As in “we.” While the code-name “Revolution” expressed our direction, Wii represents the answer. Wii will break down that wall that separates video game players from everybody else. Wii will put people more in touch with their games …”

Accessibility, portability, timeless aesthetics and some of the most legendary IPs in video game history meant that their real challenge was figuring out a platform that could truly speak to their strengths. Like their previous offerings the Switch won’t put your 4k TV to the test or run Crysis but true to their tradition that has not stopped Nintendo from delivering some absolutely stunning visuals any video game fan can appreciate.

 

Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

BoTWSShot More gifs here courtesy of @mangosango on imgur.

Super Mario Odyssey

smo_07

Xenoblade Chronicles 2

Xenoblade

This isn’t even scratching the surface of the total games on offer including a very impressive set of indie titles. This also doesn’t include The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, DOOM 2016, Bayonetta 1&2 which have also released on the Switch. The software support for the Switch has been more than adequate and the future is also looking bright with a new Metroid title, Super Smash Bros, Dark Souls Remastered, Kirby Star Allies, Lost Sphear, Mario Tennis (Don’t laugh, it looks awesome.),Mega Man 11 and one of my personal most anticipated, Octopath Traveler.

The software support is real so what about the hardware gimmicks? Of all the things that excited me about the Switch I do have to confess that the ability to use it as a portable was not at the top of my list realistically. If I’m going places then chances are I’m going to be doing things that require my full attention so playing a game outside of something quick on my phone isn’t in the cards. The first few weeks of playing Breath of the Wild the system never left its dock as I was perfectly content to sit on my couch to enjoy it. One night I wasn’t quite to a point where I was ready to quit but my girlfriend had gotten up to go read in bed before falling asleep because she had to be up in the morning. Cheesy as it sounds we’re both busy adults and there are some weeks where we really don’t spend much time together and sometimes it’s nice to just be near one another even if you aren’t really interacting. I didn’t really want to sit and play alone so I saved my game and was about to turn off the system when I thought, “Just a sec, I can just take this thing with me!”. I had yet to see what BoTW looked like with the system in portable mode so now seemed like the perfect time to find out the truth. I undid the JoyCons from the controller frame and slid them onto the tablet, somewhere deep down expecting to be disappointed in what happened next. However like I was standing in for one of the people from the announcement video I slid the screen out of the dock and snappy as could be my TV went black and my game appeared immediately on the handheld. So far so good. I walked to the bedroom and settled in next to my girlfriend who was reading her book, she stopped for a moment when she saw I had the Switch and checked to see what it looked like. We were both pretty blown away by what we saw, it was the exact same game. It didn’t look squished or blurry, in fact it was perfectly crisp and played as smooth as you could want. I spent the next hour finishing a couple of shrines and two Korok puzzles we had stumbled across and could have easily played until the battery died on me. I turned the system off, reluctantly put it on my nightstand and went to sleep still buzzing a little from the excitement that it had worked exactly as advertised.

Since then I’ve had to actively remind myself that I can play it wherever, someone wants to watch something on the TV? Cool, let me just undock my game quick and we’ll chill on the couch together doing our separate activities, together. It’s gotten to the point where I find excuses to use it portably whether I need to or not. It’s just such a pleasure to use that you want to take advantage of the systems features. It’s like when I realized many years ago now that I could stop watching Netflix on my TV, get up and resume where I left off on my phone app while I worked on chores around the house. Every extra “gimmick” on the Switch is just… useful, it feels and operates in a way that is fun and unobtrusive, you just want to see what it can do. Even the motion controls I think have been handled perfectly as they are largely optional for any game they are included in. I was initially worried when I learned that Super Mario Odyssey included some motion controls but after playing it they were just a fun addition that I think enhanced the experience instead of detracted from it.

I want to take a moment here and mention that not everything with the Switch is perfect, there was a controversy at release over the very limited system memory which could clash rather significantly with the size of modern titles and the prevalence of non-physical releases. It was basically recommended from the get-go that you purchase extra SD memory to fix the problem regardless of if you thought it would be a problem for you. There were also some quality issues with the screen and build of the systems at launch but Nintendo did an incredible job with warranty replacements and making sure customers were taken care of. Since the initial problems it seems Nintendo got them ironed out and I’ve heard little or nothing since. Overall though besides some supply shortages those were the worst problems the system has faced thus far.

I think for me this is where Nintendo is destined to exist but not because of any failure on their part or because they just can’t hack it against Sony or Microsoft. From the dock to it’s JoyCons the Switch is the distilled vision of everything that has made Nintendo a household name in the video game industry for the past forty years. The Switch reminds us that framerate, pixel count or 4k capability is not the ultimate endpoint of game design. Time and again we are shown that all the money, resources and, hype won’t make a bad game good or a good game great. Eventually the truth of it will be known even if its slightly obscured at the start. There are still a lot of unknowns about the Switch and its future given that even now its barely more than a year old as a fully released console. In that time though the impact it has had is undeniable and its place in the conversation is not up for debate.  

To date the Switch is selling exactly as fast as the runaway success that is the Playstation 4.

Welcome back, Nintendo.

  • Non-Washable

Ni No Kuni 2: An All You Can Eat JRPG

Minor Spoiler Warning: Below are screenshots that contain very minor spoilers regarding characters you recruit in the game, locations you will visit and, game systems/menus.

Author Note: The Imgur links below the images are because I have yet to figure out why WordPress doesn’t offer a native zoom function on images in posts. I’d probably be better served using the HTML formatting for these articles but that’ll have to come down the line. For now if you want an up close look at the images click the imgur.com link, it’s a safe image hosting service used by millions, I promise. It also works decently well on mobile. Apologies for the inconvenience, I’ll try to figure out a better way.

I’ve been doing my best to put some time into the newest offering from Level 5 Studios and if I’m honest it’s pretty hard to put down once I’ve started playing. As I said on Twitter the game gets off to a fast start where the first entry had a slightly more meandering beginning where you got a chance to familiarize yourself with the setting. Both approaches definitely have their advantages and the first I think definitely benefited as most people were excited to get an interactive Studio Ghibli world. Level 5 even without Studio Ghibli have maintained a similar level of animation quality and style which is very admirable, unfortunately the story itself is largely uninteresting and wouldn’t be out of place in a childrens Golden Book. Again I can’t really say that this is strictly a negative as most RPGs are built on the same painfully similar scaffolding, at the end of the day what sets them apart are their moving parts and window dressing. In those aspects Revenant Kingdom soars above many of its contemporaries with a fabulously whimsical art style, unapologetically cheesy setting complete with mouse-stache twirling villains. The genuinely fun aesthetics aside what I really wanted to talk about here are the surprisingly robust set of game systems you have to learn in just the first handful of hours.

Lets get started!

Early on you’ll be introduced to the basics like movement and camera control before being thrust directly into combat for the first time. The active combat in the game is fairly easy to get the hang of much like the first you have a restricted area you are allowed to move around in however instead of selecting an action you are free to hack away with your chosen weapon and unleash special moves via quick keys. Overall it’s a much more fluid and frantic battle system with little or no downtime that I’ve experienced thus far. More on that later.

One of the first comparisons I began to draw after a few hours in was to the nearly interminable tutorial that was Final Fantasy 13 which was famous for not taking the training wheels off until around hour 30. Revenant Kingdom hasn’t, at least not yet, even come close to that but six or more hours in I’m still being introduced to new menus and aspects of the game that I need to actively manage as I go. I won’t go so far as to say that any of them so far seem overall bad or poorly thought out but I do question how much they will evolve over the totality of the game without it being completely overwhelming. I’ll be the first to say that complexity isn’t a bad thing but that doesn’t mean burdensome systems won’t drag down an otherwise great experience.

 

Menus, Menus and More Menus

First here is a screenshot of the keybind list, almost this entire page is just keys to access the various menus for the game.  

PCControlshttps://imgur.com/O4tFknt

Am I crazy or does eleven seem like a lot? Looking back for some comparisons to even some of the more complicated RPGs like FF7 that party menu topped out at eight and you really only ever used three or four of them regularly. So what are all of these menus and do you actually use them all that often? Full disclosure there is a general menu you can access that looks like this so the hotkeys aren’t the only option otherwise playing this with a controller would be interesting to say the least.

One of the earliest screens you’re introduced to is the Equipment & Skills page which is where you can change out your characters weapons, armor and special combat skills.

EquipmentSkillshttps://imgur.com/he2VDS3

You’ll be visiting this fairly regularly as new gear is always dropping in combat and with each character able to wield up to three of the weapons they are proficient in at a given time there is a lot of juggling that happens. They can only wield a single ranged weapon which simplifies that a little bit. This is pretty standard equipment juggling that comes with these types of games so if you’re familiar with the genre this will be second nature.

Another early menu will be the Library which is your codex of sorts which will keep track of monsters you’ve encountered, gameplay statistics, help files and a few other things.

Libraryhttps://imgur.com/zut8RMY

I can’t say that so far this particular menu page has been one I’ve visited often or at all really but it’s mentioned several times in the games tutorial as a place to go if you need a refresher on how some system works. If there happens to be a day or two in between my play sessions I can see myself skimming the help files for a few reminders.

Your item page will be mixed in here as a place you’ll need to go to browse through the nine tabs of different types of pickups in the game.

Itemshttps://imgur.com/o652KYj

Inventory management should be no surprise to any fan of RPGs but never before have I given vocal thanks to whatever designer decided to not impose any sort of inventory limit on players. Not that I’ve found yet, anyway. One of the things that surprised me early on is the sheer amount of chaff that you accumulate in your first several hours of the game. They do eventually serve a purpose but there is stuff littered literally everywhere that you feel compelled to pick up. You have no idea why you need this stuff and by the time it becomes relevant you will have pages and pages of unusable items that you’re hauling around. I was approaching hour six of my game when I started to get worried about what the crafting system would look like based on the sheer amount of hoarding I’d done thus far. Items that appear on the ground also reappear almost instantly if you move even a small distance away so if you’re the least bit neurotic about cleaning out an area as you go don’t expect to leave an empty map behind you. The other part about the tidal wave of debris you pick up after each fight is that none of it seems especially important or indigenous to a particular area. After my first six hours I couldn’t honestly tell you where I would go back to in order to find more of a particular item. For context after six hours I have 80 distinct crafting materials in my inventory and not really any idea where any of them came from. I can only imagine that list is going to continue to grow as I keep exploring or at least I hope it does as the world map seems fairly large and picking up just them items for the rest of the game would make all the detail put into this system seem more like pointless fluff. Ultimately I don’t think all of this will effect my enjoyment but I always hate to see hard work like this get wasted as filler.

Next up an old standby with the Quests page, a handy place to keep track of everything you have going on currently as well as what you’ve already completed.

Questshttps://imgur.com/lmco8Zy

For games like this your maps for navigation are important so you know where you haven’t been yet and naturally whatever fast travel options you have open to you.

This area map shows you your immediate location with some fog of war to indicate where you have yet to explore.

AreaMaphttps://imgur.com/jdg2tbp

The world map shows you a very nicely designed map of the entire world with markers indicating “Trip Door” locations that serve as your fast travel options. Each pin on the map can be clicked on and you can see a selection of more specific locations in that area that you can travel to if you’ve unlocked them.

WorldMaphttps://imgur.com/u2eqpCF

Unsurprisingly this game also includes a party window which we’re introduced to as soon as you encounter your first Higgledy which are… sort of hard to explain. Imagine this but slightly less creepy, more magically powerful and your allies in combat!

Partyhttps://imgur.com/UVo4rUV

Each Higgledy has different stats, effects and personality which you have to balance against the other Higgledy’s you bring with you. I’ve only accumulated five of them so far so I haven’t had much chance to try out different combinations but at their base level they are cool to use in combat and offer some additional variety.

Sometime around here we’re also introduced to Leafbook which on top of everything else you have to keep up on is Revenant Kingdom’s take on a fantasy social media platform. You’ll find pictures added to Leafbook complete with comments from unknown and known people. I’m still not entirely sure what “liking” a picture on Leafbook does but it seems that some of the pictures posted there are hints to treasures and optional quests if you need a diversion from the main story.

LeafBookhttps://imgur.com/AIcQrwJ

The game will regularly let you know about new posts that are available to be looked at on Leafbook, if you didn’t already hate the unwanted messages you get from Facebook in real life just wait until you also get them in-game! It’s not actually that annoying to deal with but I can’t help but feel that maybe there was a slightly more clever way to do this that wasn’t, “Here’s a tablet! Use it to check your fantasy social media! Bye!”. At some point in the design phase for a game you have to make cuts for systems that aren’t important enough to dedicate the time to fully integrate. This probably should have been left in the idea pile for next time.

 

One of the original nuggets of information we were given about Revenant Kingdom prior to it’s release was that you would spend your time with a robust nation building system which had certainly piqued my curiosity. As a long time RTS fan any game that promises me the ability to play a pseudo-RTS inside of one of my other favorite genres I am on board. You may notice that we have yet to talk about that and it’s because after five hours I still haven’t seen or heard anything about it besides the odd reference in story dialogue. Believe it or not we still have two more game systems to talk about before we even get to that part.

 

Whats building a kingdom without a little large scale warfare? That’s right we have warfare mini-game reminiscent of a super slimmed down Total War featuring chibi versions of your army. I won’t lie it’s disgustingly adorable and one of the first generals you get is named Chingis which while being a bit on the nose is kind of awesome. Warfare deviates from the normal RPG game-loop and gives you an additional activity to take advantage of on the world map as you travel around. I’m not sure if these battles you fight will play a larger role in expanding your kingdom but I’m definitely curious to see where it goes.

Armyhttps://imgur.com/NRiofFa

This menu is where you go to manage the four companies that you take into a given battle with you, so far I only have two but so far this is one of the things I’m really looking forward playing with as I gather more allies and resources. The couple battles I have fought so far were entertaining as a mini-game so I hope they have some tricks up their sleeves otherwise it may wear thin pretty quick especially if it becomes a more core system later on.

Finally before we get to the kingdom builder we arrive at the somewhat bizarrely named Tactic Tweaker which to me sounds like an adviser with a noticeable drug habit. So, Bubbles, I guess?

TacticTweakerhttps://imgur.com/RnpJYN0

I haven’t done anything with this system yet but basically you invest points into different sections of this table to boost different aspects of your overall parties proficiency in battle. This is completely separate and doesn’t affect the units that you use in the Warfare system we discussed above. This is specifically about the group of three you travel and fight with during the rest of the game.

Finally that brings us to the Kingdom Builder for Ni No Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom. Once you’ve progressed far enough in the story which for me was roughly six hours with what I thought was minimal off the path exploration you get access to the first stages of establishing your new nation.

KingdomBuildinghttps://imgur.com/ZXNqpQt

Here you’ll start to deploy some of the resources you’ve gathered to place some basic buildings like an Armorer, Weaponsmith and, Spellworks. From there you’ll assign your citizens who have appropriate skills to these businesses and you can have them begin researching new things they can make and sell.

KingdomBuilding2https://imgur.com/tVqezQx

You’ll have to occasionally stop back in order to keep things moving and growing in your fledgling kingdom as well as collect the money deposited in your coffers by your hardworking citizenry. While you’re out in the world you’ll find quests to acquire new citizens with vital skills that you need to run businesses in your town. So far for me the quests have largely been of the go-and-fetch variety but I’m hoping for some more variety as I progress. Within the kingdom builder system so far there are a wide variety of things to do just outside of building structures, assigning work and seeing what your merchants have to sell. There is also an extensive system of research for what seems like each and every business you set up as well as a gear upgrade and crafting system which takes advantage of all the materials you gather out in the world. You can also purchase buildings whose purpose is specifically centered around gathering various materials from out in the world. It remains to be seen how much actual hands on time you’ll need to dedicate to the running of your nation that will take you away from going out and adventuring across the world. The fast travel system seems to be designed much like it was in the first game with the purpose of cutting down significantly on the need to make your way by foot or vehicle to the various locations you may need to visit.

Overall my time spent with Revenant Kingdom so far has been exceedingly fun and I think I’ve now hit a point where I’ll be free to hop off the railroad to make my own path through the world, at least I hope. While there is a lot to keep track of and do at a given moment I don’t think that it has quite crossed the line into becoming incoherent or unfocused. Everything you are given to do serves the core purpose of the game and assuming the various systems continue to be woven cleanly and tightly together with the overall narrative it makes me hopeful for what the entire tapestry will look like when completed.

I definitely look forward to playing more and if you were a fan of the first or regret not playing it then I recommend you give this one some consideration, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed with what Level 5 has accomplished!

Happy gaming!

  • Non-Washable