skylanders: imaginators

Opinion: We’re Witnessing the Death of the Toys-to-Life Genre

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Last year Disney abruptly announced they were ending Disney Infinity after three years. Earlier this year Activision gave the foreboding announcement that they would not release a new Skylanders game this year – for the first time in six years. This week Warner Bros. confirmed that they’re ceasing development on LEGO Dimensions (though online support will remain).

At this point there are more discontinued (or on hiatus) toys-to-life games than ongoing. In the span of a year we went from most major game publishers wanting a piece of the surging toys-to-life pie, to suddenly being left with a grim outlook for the future of the genre.

The concept of “toys-to-life,” that is, physical figures with built-in Near Field Communication (NFC), began with a little known toy series called U.B. Funkeys in 2007. U.B. Funkeys was a PC game with cutesy figures designed by Mattel.

I’d never even heard of it, and it looks more like a toy with a gimmicky toys-to-life mode rather than a full-blown video game. Being PC-only appeared to cause lots of technical headaches and vastly limited sales, and it was discontinued in 2010.

The House That Spyro Built

Meanwhile Activision took a chance with developer Toys for Bob (who ironically originally pitched their toys-to-life concept to Nintendo). They used a similar concept as U.B. Funkeys, using well-made physical action figures armed with NFC readers along with a “Portal of Power” that digitally transported the figures into a vibrant game world. The entire concept was still commercially uncertain, so Activision slapped a semi-recognizable brand and character on top of it. Skylanders: Spyo’s Adventure was born.

Skylanders’ immediate success was at least partially due to the exciting novelty of the toys-to-life technology. But its staying power is owed to the quality of the figures as well as the solid, kid-friendly, cooperative gameplay. Skylanders included funny characters, simple puzzles, fast-paced action, and a light-hearted Saturday Morning Cartoon story.

toys-to-life

Every year begat a pricey new Skylanders starter pack along with several waves of figures and bonus levels. Each game introduced new types of figures or concepts (you couldn’t even jump in the first two games).

The third game, Skylanders: Swap Force, was particularly noteworthy by adding swappable figures with interchangeable top and bottom halves. In many ways Swap Force represents the peak of both physical innovation and brilliant game design. Trap Team added Pokémon-style monster catching, while the most recent game, Imaginators, let you create your own digital custom Skylanders with multiple unlockable body parts and weapons.

Activision was able to leverage the series into a full-on kid franchise, saturating the Skylanders brand from everything to paper plates to an animated series on Netflix. Skylanders became the World of Warcraft of the genre, the one game that dominated its space and dared anyone else to compete with it.

To Infinity…

Disney answered the call in 2013 with Disney Infinity, an unabashed Skylanders-like game that also used NFC figures along with a portal and 3D platformer-like gameplay. Anticipation was huge; this was basically a Skylanders game but coupled with the immense backing and popularity of Disney characters and series.

Avalanche Software produced three games in three years, each modeled after a major Disney property: Disney movies, Marvel, and Star Wars. Figures ranged from superheroes to princesses to obscure Tron characters, though there was some criticism for conforming such a wide variety of characters into a uniform art style.

toys-to-life

Unlike Skylanders, Disney Infinity’s gameplay pushed more toward a Minecraft model. Players could build their own levels and content and share them online. The community that sprang up was impressive and some of the content and level designs were amazing and creative. Unfortunately official gameplay was limited almost exclusively to the playsets. Disney made the odd decision that only characters from that franchise can play in their own playset.

Between the two game series I vastly preferred Skylanders. Skylanders’ gameplay was much more RPG-like and the combat more fun and interesting. The level designs also felt more like an actual game.

Disney Infinity’s figures all controlled too similarly and simplistically, with only major differences coming with figures like Tinkerbell who could fly, or Star Wars characters with Force powers. The user-generated content was a really neat idea, but Activision wasn’t making money off of it, they needed to sell playsets and figures. If Minecraft + Disney couldn’t end up successful, what chance does anyone have?

Enter Nintendo

We may joke that Nintendo is always a step behind the times, but when they enter a new market it’s almost always hugely successful (see mobile development, and Wii sales). Nintendo introduced amiibo figures in 2014 to immediate success. Unlike all other toys-to-life games, there wasn’t an actual game to go with the figures. Instead Nintendo uses its figures to unlock goodies in other games, such as costumes or extra levels or power ups in games like Mario Kart, Smash Bros., and Super Mario Maker.

This simple concept proved so effective that a New Nintendo 3DS was built with an NFC reader to accommodate amiibo scanning. Both the Wii U and Switch came with built-in NFC readers.

While not having a centralized game is bizarre, it’s proven effective in lowering the cost of buy-in. There’s no pricey $70 starter pack required; all you need is the appropriate Nintendo console. Nintendo’s recognizable roster of characters have proven extremely popular for collectors, despite their limited gameplay use.

toys-to-life

Yet even Nintendo’s toys-to-life beacon is beginning to dim. Nearly 25 million figures were sold in the 2015-16 fiscal year, taking full advantage of then-popular game Super Smash Bros. for the Wii U. Super Smash Bros. used amiibo figures as RPG-like fighters you could level up.

But the first three quarters of the next fiscal year (ending March 2017) saw only 6.5 million amiibo units sold. No game since Super Smash Bros. has been able to effectively use amiibo figures beyond simply unlocking a costume or perk.

Many complaints have surrounded amiibo as little more than physical DLC you can buy for Nintendo games. There’s also the sadly typical Nintendo frustrations regarding limited supply. Amiibo figures are still popular (millions of units sold is nothing to scoff at), but without better game tie-ins like Smash Bros., the future doesn’t look good.

Everything Isn’t Awesome

LEGO Dimensions’ cancellation is equally upsetting, though probably the least surprising. Warner Bros. and Traveler’s Tales (TT Games) have been successful making fun, cooperative, family-friendly LEGO video games for over a decade. Creating a toys-to-life version, with actual LEGO toys, feels like a natural evolution.

LEGO Dimensions was released in 2015. It launched with a starter pack that took advantage of the popular LEGO Movie along with Warner Bros’ access to various movie franchises, everything from Lord of the Rings to The Goonies. They planned on a three-year cycle of expansion pack content. That’s a long time for an increasingly aging game that still supported last-gen hardware.

They would make it to the end of year two before the announcement hit this week. Figures and sets weren’t selling as well as they’d hoped, and any parent is all too familiar with how expensive LEGO sets run.

toys-to-life

They banked heavily on blockbuster movie tie-ins, which didn’t quite pan out with big sets like Ghostbusters. I also question the target audience for LEGO Dimensions. Their tie-in franchises ran the gamut from The Simpsons to 80s stuff (The A-Team, really?) to modern kiddie cartoons. I can see kids being interested in Batman and Harry Potter, but Knight Rider and Gremlins?

LEGO Dimensions’ wide-net approach has proven unsustainable, and TT Games will return to making regular LEGO games, such as the upcoming LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 2.

Toys-to-Death

The future of the genre looks bleak. The only new AAA toys-to-life game on the horizon is Starlink: Battle for Atlas, which was announced during Ubisoft’s E3 press conference. It will feature buildable spaceships that will spring to digital life by attaching directly to the controller. It has a tentative Fall 2018 release date, but Ubisoft is very aware of the current market of toys-to-life games, and there’s a chance this game won’t even see the light of day.

Not all is lost. For a more indie option you have Lightseekers, which was successfully Kickstarted last year and launched earlier this year on iOS and Android.

Lightseekers uses bluetooth technology instead of requiring a portal. It has a very Skylanders aesthetic but with fully articulated figures and AR cards that can be scanned in game or played physically. Both cards and figures are actually optional, and the mobile game is completely free to play. Only the two initial launch figures are available, however, and there’s no telling whether Lightseekers can ever reach the sales numbers of the once titans of the genre.

Amiibo figures are still being produced and selling millions, and Skylanders technically hasn’t been canceled yet. It’s entirely possible Skylanders will pull an Assassin’s Creed and shift way from an annual release schedule. Meanwhile season two of Skylanders Academy just hit Netflix, and a third season is in development for next year.

Toys-to-life games are an intriguing blend of toy and game and can be a lot of fun, particularly for families. I’ve enjoyed playing both Skylanders and Disney Infinity with my young daughter (she’s only recently discovering LEGOs). I particularly enjoy the progression of leveling up Skylanders figures over years of games.

The toys-to-life genre offers the rare kind of game that both of us can enjoy equally and excel at, despite our vastly different gameplay levels and experiences.

I’m very saddened and worried to see all these death notices pile up. It reminds me of another genre that was mined, exploited, and died all too quickly just a few years ago – rhythm games with physical instruments. Like that genre, toys-to-life requires pricey initial buy-ins and upkeep, and physical goods are not exactly cheap for companies to produce. I was hoping game publishers learned their lesson about over saturating a lucrative, but expensive market. Time will whether toys-to-life games will meet a similar wistful end, or find the right balance to remain a welcoming avenue for family-friendly gaming.

GTA 3

How GTA 5 Became a Top-Selling Game

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There’s a good chance you’ve heard about a little game called Grand Theft Auto 5.  After all, the game has sold more than 80 million copies worldwide, not accounting for digital sales. Either your kid plays it, a friend plays it, or you yourself hop into the virtual world of Los Santos for an hour or two after work once in a while. GTA 5 is the best selling non-bundled game of all time.

How does a game become so popular? Read More

We Have Reached a Golden Age of Space Strategy Games

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Not long ago the strategy genre was struggling when it came to the final frontier. Fans of endlessly replayable strategy games and galactic empires frequently cite 1996’s Master of Orion II as the pinnacle of the sub-genre. Nearly two decades have gone by without much competition.

Fast-forward to 2017 and suddenly we have a myriad of excellent space games all vying for your star-faring gaze. If you want to smash spaceships together, you’ve got Homeworld Remastered. Fancy jumping into the cockpit and playing Choose Your Own Adventure in Space? Try Elite: Dangerous or Rebel Galaxy. Want to learn the actual real-world science behind the space program? Hello Kerbal Space Program! And I haven’t even mentioned Eve Online, which remains one of the most popular and successful Massively Multiplayer Online games without the word Warcraft in its title.

But what if you want to take a few steps back and guide an entire galactic empire to victory? The time has finally come for my beloved strategy genre, or “4X” (Explore, Expand, Exploit, Exterminate) to take its place among the stars.

Between 2015’s Galactic Civilizations III, last year’s Stellaris, and the recently released Endless Space 2, I’m officially declaring it the Golden Age of Space Strategy Games. But which one is right for you, O Conquistador of the Cosmos?

Galactic Civilizations III

The Galactic Civilizations series, published and developed by Stardock Entertainment, was one of the few games proudly carrying the torch of 4X space games through the dark ages of the 2000s. Galactic Civilizations III had a rocky launch two years ago but has since received some quality updates and well-received DLC.

Galactic Civilizations III is the most board game-like of the space strategy games in its visual style. Planetary maps and even space itself are represented by hex grids. You can dive into micromanaging adjacency bonuses on each planet, or let a governor run things and turn your attention to those pesky space orcs next door.

A short story-based campaign is included, which features humanity facing off against the Drengin Empire. The visuals boast some fairly high production values, with fully animated leaders and voice acting. It adds a rich amount of personality to each playthrough, whether in the campaign or through scenarios with dozens of potential players.

GalCiv 3’s best component is the ship builder. It features one of the most comprehensive spaceship creators since Spore, letting you resize pieces and slide them around to create unique designs. It’s easy to lose hours designing your dream vessels with the LEGO-like builder. Unfortunately the actual space combat is little more than watching ships pew-pew each other (a problem every space 4X game seems to suffer from).

Play Galactic Civilizations III If: You’re a galactic warlord who loves customizing and tinkering with spaceships.

Stellaris

If you’re coming from a Civilization background, Stellaris will feel completely alien, and not just because you can play as a fungus hive-mind if you want to. Stellaris is developed by Paradox, who carved out a successful niche with their Grand Strategy titles. Their games eschew standard turn-based gameplay for a real-time experience that demands constant attention as you fly through epochs of technological advancement, explore anomalies, and colonize distant star systems.

Stellaris has the weakest visual presentation but comes with a large amount of customization for building your own galactic race, from totalitarian lizards to honorable space-birds. Diplomacy comes down to your chosen ethics and technology choices, and combat largely relies on who can muster a bigger fleet to throw more spaceships at their opponent.

What makes Stellaris compelling is the emergent narratives that crop up, such as uplifting a young race on a promising planet only to have them rebel against you. Or catching a scientist being worshiped as a god in another planet, complete with pyramids.

If you haven’t played any of Paradox’s Grand Strategy games, Stellaris can be an intimidating game to get into, with a steep learning curve. But it’s a rewarding experience that is absolutely worth discovering for fans of space strategy games.

Play Stellaris If: Taking turns is for suckers and you want to shape the entire history of your galactic empire.

Endless Space 2

endless space 2

Hopefully you’ve already read my review and know that Endless Space 2 is a great game. It brings everything that made Amplitude Studios’ Endless Legend a breath of fresh air back where it belongs – in space!

Endless Space 2 may be the easiest game of the bunch to get into, even if you haven’t played Amplitude’s previous Endless games. It’s the most Civ-like of the bunch as each unit in your diverse population produces food, industry, science, and dust to empower your military, build structures, research new technology, and grease the right palms.

Unlike Civ choosing your empire doesn’t just provide a few bonuses, it completely changes the way you play, from space vampires who drain planets to a race of genetic clones and tree-people. Each faction has dramatically different play-styles, political affiliations, and narrative arcs. RPG-like quests demand you make choices that affect your entire empire, letting you customize your game both mechanically and narratively.

I’ve never played a game that let me enjoy politics as much as Endless Space 2. The political system is built into every area of the game, making politics an integral and compelling feature.

Play Endless Space 2 If: You want to run your galaxy with a hefty dose of resource management and RPG elements.

 

SNES classic edition

Which 30 Games Should Be On the SNES Classic Edition?

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While we patiently wait for Nintendo to confirm and announce the SNES Classic Edition retro console we can have a bit of fun speculating on which games it should include.

The Super Nintendo was blessed with arguably the greatest gaming library of any console. While Mario, Zelda, and Metroid didn’t start with the SNES, it was where they became titans of the industry. Super Metroid helped create an entirely new genre. Mario began to dip his toes into numerous succesful spin-off series like Mario Kart, which became a series all its own. And The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is the poster child for 16-bit gaming nirvana.

The NES Classic Edition came bundled with 30 games, most of which were published by Nintendo. Let’s decide which 30 SNES games should grace the upcoming SNES Classic.

 

1) Super Mario World

Super Mario World

The obvious choice. Super Mario World was the fourth main Super Mario game, and the first on SNES. It took the same excellent platforming gameplay of the Mario series from NES and expanded it in exciting new ways, from hidden switch blocks to ghost houses to ridable Yoshis. Everyone played it and everyone loved it. It’s a guaranteed lock.

 

2) Super Mario Kart

Super Mario Kart

Arcade-like, top-down racers had existed before Super Mario Kart, but none had so perfectly combined tight controls, hazard-filled maps, and that classic Nintendo art into such a beautiful package. It’s funny to revisit the flat tracks after decades of excellent 3D Mario Kart racers, but Super Mario Kart remains a solid racer. The arena battle mode is just as fun as ever.

 

3) The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

Zelda A Link to the Past

Nearly every modern game developer will cite A Link to the Past as an inspiration. It was the quintessential action-adventure game, and the prototype for the modern open-world RPG. Link hacked and slashed his way around Hyrule and through dungeons. Dozens of Zelda titles later, A Link to the Past remains a fan-favorite.

 

4) Chrono Trigger

Chrono trigger

You can’t make an SNES retro console without one of the greatest RPGs ever made. Chrono Trigger was the resulting collaboration of a dream-team of Japanese artists and developers, and featured a unique time-spanning storyline with a memorable cast of characters. Arguably includes the best original soundtrack in gaming.

 

5) Super Metroid

Super Metroid

Super Metroid was already the third title in the Metroid series, but the first break-out hit. With a huge planet to explore, secrets to uncover, and bosses to fight Super Metroid was a dauntless but rewarding undertaking. Out of all the first-party franchises on this list, Metroid has been the most ill-served by the big N, leading to many excellent indie developers to pick up the slack.

 

6) Donkey Kong Country

Donkey Kong Country

Easily the most graphically impressive game of its time, Donkey Kong Country was the go-to title to show off what the SNES could do. Utilizing full CGI instead of pixels, the levels were gorgeous and fun, and the cheery, head-bobbing music was super groovy. The game was so successful it spawned two sequels and introduced the world to the extended Kong family.

 

7) Street Fighter II Turbo

street figher ii

Fighting games were all the rage at the arcades. When popular fighting game Street Fighter came to consoles, people came in droves. The roster of fighters featured a fun international cast with a variety of powersets, from Blanka and Chun-Li to Dhalsim and Ryu. I was more of a Mortal Kombat man myself, but Street Fighter’s presentation was unmatched.

 

8) Final Fantasy III

Final Fantasy VI

One of the first RPGs I ever played is still one of my all-time favorite games. Final Fantasy VI was released in the US as Final Fantasy III. Confusing name change aside, it delivered a stirring, epic fantasy story by focusing on the large cast of characters. It also includes one of gaming’s best villains in Kefka, the Joker-esque clown.

 

9) Earthbound

earthbound

People weren’t sure what to make of this odd modern-day RPG that later became a cult classic thanks to lead character Ness’ inclusion in Super Smash Bros. Earthbound is actually known as Mother 2 in Japan, with the first game arriving on the Wii U virtual console for the first time in 2015. For a localized title Earthbound is shocking well-written and satirical, and holds up incredibly well.

 

10) Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island

Yoshi's Island

As a sequel to Super Mario World, Yoshi’s Island was a jarring change of pace. This time you controlled Yoshi as you escorted baby Mario through hazardous levels that featured as many puzzles as platforms. It was a divisive sequel at the time, but taken on its own is a fun game that spawned its own Yoshi-centric series.

 

11) Star Fox

Star Fox

Star Fox looks pretty rough by today’s (or even yesterday’s) standards, and its modern legacy isn’t that great. But the original Star Fox game gave us some solid 3D flight simulation that was previously regulated to high-powered PCs. It also featured that classic Nintendo charm, with a cast of memorable furry companions. Do a barrel roll!

 

12) Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars

super mario rpg

Before Sony mucked things up, Square Enix (then Squaresoft) and Nintendo were so chummy back in the 80s and 90s that they produced this magical JRPG starring gaming’s biggest icon. The Mario world was fully represented in a massive turn-based RPG, featuring Bowser, Peach and some new characters as companions. One of my favorite games on the Super Nintendo.

 

13) Secret of Mana

Secret of Mana

Secret of Mana looked like any other JPRG but with one major difference: battles played out in real-time. The action-RPG hybrid emphasized the hacking and slashing aspects of RPG within a colorful fantasy world. It also uniquely featured local co-op, allowing up to two friends to control the other two AI party members.

 

14) Mega Man X

Mega Man X

The Mega Man series exploded on the NES, and the series continued with the new ‘X’ moniker on the SNES. Mega Man X continued the same brutal difficulty and boss fights but added fun new abilities, like wall-climbing, making each level a rewarding adventure.

 

15) NBA Jam

NBA Jam

These days sports games are all about hyper-realism, with accurate team rosters and real-world physics. Back in my day, we had President Bill Clinton as a secret unlockable character in our basketball games! NBA Jam featured only 2-on-2 matches, but did have the NBA license. Most importantly it was fast-paced and fun as hell. Bonus points for the amazing arcade-like announcer, who gave us the infamous phrase: “He’s on fire!”

 

16) Super Mario All-Stars

Super Mario all-stars

Nintendo was milking its older games as early as the SNES era. Super Mario All-Stars included the first three Super Mario games on the NES, as well as The Lost Levels, which could be considered the real Super Mario Bros. 2. Considering how difficult acquiring an NES Classic Edition is, I wouldn’t be remiss if this 4-in-1 pack were one of the 30 included titles.

 

17) Final Fantasy II

final fantasy iv

Also known as Final Fantasy IV, yes JRPGs names were very confusing in the 90s. Compared to the first Final Fantasy on the NES, this sequel was light-years beyond, offering a compelling story starring an ex-bad guy and his new allies. Final Fantasy IV would set the stage for Squaresoft’s seminal series for decades to come.

 

18) Super Castlevania IV

super castlevania iv

Castlevania was already a well-known franchise on the NES before this 16-bit title launched. Super Castlevania IV is a psuedo-remake of the original game, featuring whip-cracking vampire hunter Simon Belmont battling demons and gothic monsters en route to Dracula. Advanced whip controls and new levels outside the castle helped make this the best Castlveania title until the PlayStation era.

 

19) Mortal Kombat II

Mortal Kombat II

Mortal Kombat on a Nintendo console? Yes indeed! Mortal Kombat is sadly known more for its bloody controversy that sparked the violent video game discussions of the 90s. But MKII is a remarkable fighting game, with a fluid range of motion and satisfying move set for each fighter. Finish Him!

 

20) F-Zero

F-zero

Without F-Zero, there is no Super Mario Kart. F-Zero was one of the first games to use the simulated 3D graphics of the SNES, called “Mode 7.” It featured arcade racing action in a cool sci-fi setting with equally awesome music.

 

21) The Lost Vikings

The Lost vikings

Blizzard Entertainment is more synonymous with Warcraft and Overwatch, but in 1993 they developed a unique side-scrolling puzzle-adventure game called The Lost Vikings. You had to use all three viking’s unique abilities to defeat enemies and overcome traps. I prefer the excellent 1997 sequel, but the original is more iconic. Fun Fact: The viking trio are represented in Blizzard’s MOBA, Heroes of the Storm.

 

22) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time

Turtles in Time

Beat ’em ups were a dime a dozen during the 16-bit era, and most were mediocre. Turtles in Time continued the excellent legacy from Turtles II and Manhattan Project on the NES and Arcades. Local co-op beat’ em up reached its shell-shocked zenith as you traveled throughout iconic time periods battling the Foot clan.

 

23) Demon’s Crest

Demon's Crest

A criminally underrated game and one of my personal favorites, Demon’s Crest let you play as  one of the demons from Ghosts ‘N Goblins in a dark world of skeletons and death. It was an awesome mix of Metroid and Castlevania, featuring Mode 7 travel between locations, tons of hidden secrets and demon forms, and multiple endings.

 

24) Rock ‘N Roll Racing

Rock 'n roll racing

Another great classic Blizzard title introduced nine-year old me to Black Sabbath. Rock ‘N Roll Racing featured midi-quality classic rock songs, a hilariously over-the-top hard rock announcer, and top-down racing with lasers and spikes. In short: it was an instant classic.

 

25) Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals

Lufia II

JRPGs flourished in the 16-bit age, so I’ll understand if you missed the relative late arrival of Lufia II. This turn-based RPG featured a unique dungeon system where enemies moved only when you did, and a memorable generation-spanning story that still haunts me. And don’t worry about seeking out the original inferior game, Lufia 2 is a prequel anyway.

 

26) NHL ’94

NHL '94

NHL ’94 is still considered one of the best sports video games ever made, which is both very sad and a testament to how excellent this game is. The controls were intuitive and fun, and up to four players could join in for fast-paced skating action. If you play only one hockey game, make it this one.

 

27) Sunset Riders

Sunset Riders

How do you make a better Beat ‘Em Up? Give everyone guns! The co-op arcade action was vibrant and exciting as you traversed through classic Wild West scenarios with either pistol or shotgun.

 

28) Harvest Moon

Harvest Moon

The original farm sim arrived late in the SNES life span. It provided a uniquely peaceful gameplay experience compared to the extreme explosions that permeated 90s gaming. With the popularity of Stardew Valley, it seems like a no-brainer to include this classic farming game on the SNES Classic.

 

29) Super Punch-Out!!

super punch-out

Super Punch-Out followed the Nintendo path of “take a solid game from the NES and put Super in front of it.” Super Punch-Out had the same great fighting rhythm of its predecessor but with a fun new cartoon art style and goofy fighters.

 

30) Jungle Strike

Jungle Strike

Part strategy game, part shoot ’em up, the Strike series let you pilot a helicopter as a special forces hero. It was basically a 90s action movie with large top-down maps and fun tasks to accomplish. The first and third games, Desert Strike and Urban Strike are all pretty solid.

 

Nintendo Switch

Opinion: Why Should You Get a Switch If You Own a Wii U?

Posted by | Opinion, Switch, Wii U | One Comment

The dust has begun to settle from the big Nintendo Switch Presentation. We now know the big main talking points. The price ($299), the date (March 3), and the launch titles (not much). There wasn’t anything very shocking, and the conference did a good job focusing on new games. But right now I’m not seeing a very good incentive to purchase a Nintendo Switch at launch, especially if you already own a Wii U.

At launch the Nintendo Switch will have five titles: 1-2 Switch, Skylanders, Just Dance, Zelda, and Bomberman. Skylanders released last year. 1-2 Switch and Just Dance are motion-control mini-games. Bomberman is a top-down party game. Only Zelda represents what we would call a core game – a true system seller.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild looks absolutely incredible. Nintendo has already shown quite a bit, and claimed it’s the most complete Zelda game they’ve ever produced. It’s been in development for several years, and been pushed back from being a Wii U exclusive into a Nintendo Switch launch title.

Now it represents an awkward transition between the Wii U and Switch, just as Twilight Princess did in the Gamecube/Wii transition. As impressive as it looks, it was developed for the Wii U, and doesn’t necessarily properly show off the Nintendo Switch’s capabilities (though to be fair, no version differences if any have been revealed).

The problem is, if you can already purchase Zelda on Wii U, why should you get a Switch? Ultimately Nintendo will sell more copies of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, but they would’ve sold far more Switch consoles if Zelda had been exclusive to the Switch. Sure people would complain about buying a $300 device just to play Zelda, but they still would have done it. These are Nintendo fans, arguably the most feverish fan in all of geekdom.

Launch titles aren’t everything. If we were to judge a console purely on the games that launched on the same day, history would treat most of them unkindly. Many smaller developers don’t even have proper dev kits yet. And to Nintendo’s credit, they did introduce and tease many exciting titles coming later in the year and beyond. Most notably, a grand new 3D Mario title called Super Mario Odyssey, which launches this holiday.

By the time Mario launches, the Nintendo Switch will have a Zelda, a Mario Kart, Splatoon 2, and a few older but popular titles you may have heard of, like Skyrim and Minecraft. Assuming no delays, we may even see a few of the teased JRPGs, such as Xenoblade Chronicles 2. The Switch will have a healthy, robust library of games that proves Nintendo still knows how to make incredibly solid, family-friendly gaming experiences.

But jaded Nintendo fans that lived through the Wii and Wii U eras are justifiably skeptical. The Wii was marketed and treated more like a motion control kid’s toy than a gaming console. The problem is that the Wii made a lot of money. It sold over 100 million units over a relatively brief lifespan, so Nintendo doubled down.

But their follow-up, the Wii U, was never able to take off, despite some really incredible games. Nintendo had all but lost 3rd party support, relying on a few loyal Japanese 2nd party developers and their own stellar lineup of classic franchises. The Wii U was a complete flop, and Nintendo needs to re-earn that trust with its gaming audience.

nintendo switch

I’ve had a Nintendo console in my home since 1991. Like many folks of my generation, I have been playing Nintendo games since grade school. I remember when the word “Nintendo” was synonymous with “video games” or “gaming.” That is no longer the case for Western audiences. Everyone knows about Nintendo and their properties, but they’re increasingly alienating the core gaming demographic that grew up with them. Instead they continue to chase the gimmicky console and the motion control crowd.

It’s okay that Nintendo doesn’t want to fully compete with Microsoft and Sony when it comes to pure console power and 3rd party support. It’s less okay that a large chunk of the Nintendo Switch Presentation was showing off a silly motion control punching game called ARMS that everyone will play for two seconds and forget about. Mainstream audiences already went through the Wii and see the motion control concept as a faded toy fad. Core gamers and Nintendo geeks are the ones purchasing the console at launch, and all they really have to play is the new Zelda. And they don’t even need a Switch to play it.

toca boca toca life

The Toca Life Series Is the Absolute Best Set of Kids Apps

Posted by | Feature, Mobile, Opinion | No Comments

Read the headline. There I said it. I rarely call anything the “absolute best.” Even less so in a world that’s populated by thousands of choices. But the Toca Life series of apps are the best. Though they’re not overtly educational, they give kids the largest amount of creativity and freedom to create their own worlds and characters. The sheer options in these games are enormous and they’re made by a dedicated team who loves to see kids play. Read More