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Baltic Bicycling – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania

08 October 2017

In May of this year, I took a trip to the former Soviet countries of Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. The three Baltic countries of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia have all moved on from their past to forge themselves as distinctive, unique and modern independent countries, with all three in the European Union, using the Euro as currency and very friendly for tourists. Parts of Ukraine have aspirations of that, notably the region around the capital of Kyiv. In the south-west, as we’ve seen with the situation in Crimea, the large Russian populations in those areas are highly resistant to it. Even without that, Ukraine still has a long journey to EU status – particularly with its visa requirements and lower standard of living. Belarus is much more proudly Russian – at least culturally – while beginning to make moves for better integration into Europe. Visa requirements are tougher than Ukraine in the sense they need to be obtained before travel whereas Ukraine allows visa-on-arrival for short term visits for certain countries like Australia. Very few people speak English in Belarus, and they don’t want to learn, while the young in Ukraine are generally proficient. Neither are friendly for tourists in terms of basic city maps and tourist offices, and the Cyrillic alphabet in use doesn’t make things easier either. Eventually, as with any foreign city, you quickly learn to get by and get around, and many of these traits become one of their charms.

TALLINN – Estonia

Viru Gate - Tallinn Estonia

Viru Gate – Tallinn, Estonia

I’ve been to Estonia 7 times on 5 different trips and I can’t stop going back. There’s truly something magical about this “modern day fairytale” that is the capital Tallinn, and the adorable little country as a whole. I was lured there for the first time in 2008 primarily to see a band called Vanilla Ninja, and never could I believe that Tallinn would leave almost an equally indelible memory as the band did – especially since this was my first ever trip to Europe and I expected the real highlights to be cities like Paris and Berlin. It’s Tallinn’s medieval charm, technologically advanced society, ease to get around and beautiful Estonian people that makes it such a winning combination. Obviously it’s my favourite European city with the Old Town the perpetual highlight. I never tire of walking the winding cobbled streets, and now, after so many visits, I can proudly say I can do so without getting lost.

Culture

With its compact size, small population of 450,000 people, and abundance of buses, trolley-buses and trams, it’s a city not in great need of cycling. There are two exceptions: 1) Estonians are an active people so there’s a good deal of recreational cycling, particularly along Pirita Beach and nearby national parks, and typically riders are in full cycling garb of lycra and helmets; 2) Going through the Old Town is the quickest way from one side of the city to the other, and the bicycle is the best and most convenient method for that. Overall, most cycling is general utility type, and mostly on footpaths in the city centre. The roads that circumnavigate the city lack space for bicycles and are quite busy so Estonians will hop onto the footpath in these cases. Footpaths are good and are often wide enough to be marked with a bike lane. Motorists, while seemingly always in a hurry, are considerate to both cyclists and pedestrians. Numbers of riders are good, at easily 5 times as many as you see in Australia, and gender split was even, if not slightly in favour of women.

Cycling in Tallinn Estonia

Bike Share

Only a small network with stations accommodating about 10 bikes. Most locals use their own bikes, while tourists can easily walk, or take a bus to the more distant sites, notably the Tallinn TV Tower and the adjacent Soviet Era Museum. Bike touring is popular, and there you’d use a specialised rental service.

Cycling in Tallinn Estonia

Helmet Use

For general utility cycling, barely any. On sports bikes for exercising, mostly helmets. Helmets are compulsory for children under 16. When I hired a bike, I made it known I didn’t want a helmet. They said they could lend me one if I wanted one. I recoiled in horror and said no way. When I explained I was from Australia wanting to escape helmet tyranny, again I was asked whether I wanted a helmet.

Rating

4/5

PÄRNU – Estonia

Old Town - Parnu

Old Town – Pärnu, Estonia

A small seaside town of 40,000 people in southern Estonia, the only reason for a stop there was to see Lenna Kuurmaa, the former lead singer of Vanilla Ninja, in concert. “Concert” might be an exaggeration because it was actually an intimate setting in a 100 year old barn 20km out of town. That actually made it all the more special! This concert was scheduled after plans for this trip were done so it was great fortune I could be there at the right time. Pärnu’s main claim to fame is its huge beaches, resorts and spas. Estonians (and Finns) flock there during the summer.

Culture

Typical for most small towns, cycling is so easy and convenient to get around, and that’s no different here. Numbers are about double than Tallinn and the gender split is even.

Cycling in Parnu Estonia

Bike Share

None

Helmet Use

None

Rating

4/5

RIGA – Latvia

Freedom Monument - Riga, Latvia

Freedom Monument – Riga, Latvia

Situated on the Daugava River, Riga is another pearl of the Baltic, and this was my third visit. While not as picturesque or alluring as Tallinn, it’s not without its charms, especially the huge market housed in former zeppelin hangars, the quaint canal running through the city, and its Old Town. Although, unlike Tallinn’s mostly original Old Town, much of Riga’s was rebuilt after being flattened in World War 2. There’s more of a Russian feel to the city, with a greater percentage of Russians (45% compared to 30%), a hint of a Russian sound to the language and dilapidated sections. Estonia is more a Nordic nation, with better roads and more modern buildings, while the Estonian language is closely related to Finnish. Population is about 50% more than Tallinn at 650,000 and you can definitely feel Riga is a much busier city than its Baltic neighbours.

Culture

There seems as many buses and trolley-buses as there are cars at times, so again, like Tallinn, not much need for bicycles in the city centre. Also similar to Tallinn, mostly you’ll see riders cruising through the Old Town, and the banks of the river take the place of Tallinn’s Pirita Beach. Latvians are really into extreme sports, so you’re more likely to see BMX bikes than the sporty road and mountain bikes of the Estonians. While the gender split was even, numbers riding seemed a bit less than Tallinn. Age-wise, it favours the young, just as it did in Tallinn. Older people stick with public transport.

Cycling in Riga Latvia

Bike Share

Probably a bit bigger than Tallinn’s, and has a bit more use, particularly by tourists.

Helmets

Barely any. According to wikipedia, only those under 12 are required to wear them.

Rating

3/5

VILNIUS – Lithuania

Neris River - Vilnius, Lithuania

Neris River – Vilnius, Lithuania

The third of the Baltic countries, this was my first visit and a really pleasant surprise. Despite being in the region so often before, I never came across anyone to recommend Vilnius, and I knew little about Lithuania either. The one exception was that with Lithuania being in the European Union, I expected it to be quite tourist friendly. So it proved! My best description of Vilnius is the “Paris of the North”. There’s so many cafes around, so much variety of restaurants, quaint side streets everywhere, and the supermarkets were overflowing with options. I’d just been in Belarus and Ukraine prior, so seeing the variety – and a familiar alphabet to help identify stuff – it was like heaven. In fact, the supermarkets in all three countries were superb. They have so many fresh options. Australia is only now catching up. To top it off, Vilnius is a wonderfully functional city and has the best bicycling scene in the region. It was the inspiration for this blog post and the point I began to take photos of cyclists. The city’s population is about 550,000.

Culture

Cycling seems ingrained in the people, as there’s all sorts of people getting around on bikes. The city, with its small streets and low speed limits, obvious facilitates as much bike use as possible. Mostly, the citizens of Vilnius want to cycle. They seem so happy on their bikes, and proud too. Vilnius even has the most courteous behaviour I’ve ever witnessed towards cyclists. A car decided to double-park on Gedimimas Avenue and did so about about 2 metres from the curb so not to block the bike lane. Yep, his attitude was, “If I’m to inconvenience someone, it will be a motorist”. The second astonishing act was a woman riding along the footpath to a bus, get off the bike, and then carry the bike into the bus. No bother! The only thing you could nitpick in Vilnius – as in all these countries – is it does lack separated bike lanes. Mostly they are painted lines. With the streets quite small and without the sheer population volume like in Copenhagen, it’s not really practical for anything more anyway. Considering the bike lanes are all quite wide and connected, and with speed limits low and with a full deference to cyclists on display, and with footpath cycling allowed, it also proves quite sufficient.

Cycling in Vilnius Lithuania

Bike Share

Flourishing. Plenty of bikes and plenty of stations. There’s also good rental opportunities for cycling along the river, which is also well used by locals for transport purposes.

Bike-share cycling in Vilnius Lithuania

Helmet Use

Barely any. There could be a law for those under 18. If it does exist, it’s obviously not enforced because I saw plenty of younger people going without.

Cycling in Vilnius Lithuania

Top right: this woman took her bike into a bus. Bottom right: this car is double-parked wide enough so not to block the bike lane.

Rating

Cycling in Vilnius Lithuania

5/5

Elsewhere…

MINSK – Belarus

Independence Square - Minsk, Belarus

Independence Square – Minsk, Belarus

Minsk is a very interesting city. Flattened during World War 2, it was rebuilt in a communist utopian style. It’s very clean and tidy and, despite a population of 2 million people, uncrowded. Unlike the countries to the north, Belarusians aren’t intent on purging their Soviet history so there’s plenty of remnants, particularly symbols, throughout the city and in subway stations. Roads and footpaths are wide, and there’s plenty of walking spaces in general. Consequently it’s easy and safe to get around by bicycle. Intersections on main roads have underpasses for pedestrians, which helps keep traffic flowing and pedestrians don’t need to wait at lights. That means riders must dismount and wheel their bikes underneath to get across. That’s a not a great concern as there are ramps along one side of the stairwell for wheeling bikes, prams or shopping carts.

Culture

For general bicycle use, there’s two distinct types of riders. Belarusians are a sports-minded people, and consequently many ride around on flashy mountain or road bikes, and typically with full cycling garb and helmets. Possibly they’ve come on longer commutes or are riding recreationally along the Svislach River and it’s only the sections closer to the city centre they are on the footpaths. Most of these are men. Given the vast boulevards in the city, most cycling in the city centre is on footpaths. The other class, which would be about 70% of all riders, are in normal clothes on basic bikes and no helmets, with gender favouring women slightly. Minsk is well served with a metro system and buses, so cycling numbers are at the lower end compared to other European nations.

Helmets

On expensive bikes, yes. On basic bikes, no. Legal requirements: none. Curiously, I saw this sign in Gorky Park warning cyclists not to ride down stairs.

Cycling in Minsk, Belarus

Rating

4/5

KYIV – Ukraine

Kyiv, Ukraine during the Eurovision Song Contest of 2017

Kyiv, Ukraine, during the Eurovision Song Contest

Kyiv was the start of the trip before moving north. It’s a tired city, with bumpy roads, crumbling footpaths and many, many old and ugly buildings. Clearly it’s a legacy of the Soviet era, and being a large city of 3 million people, it will take time and considerable money to transform things. That’s not to say the city doesn’t function well. It’s easy to get around on the metro and the many bus and trolley-bus options, and most of the city’s key attractions are within walking distance or a few stops away on the metro. Key retail centres are within walking distance too. Everything is so cheap, at about 20% the cost of something in Australia. A subway ride is 20c, a fast-food meal is $2 and a 600ml coke between 50c and 80c. In US dollars that would be about 15c, $1.50 and between 40c and 60c. As you go north, prices rice. Minsk is about double while Estonia and Lithuania are double again. Latvia is a bit cheaper than its two neighbours. Overall, all three Baltic countries are still quite cheaper than other European destinations, especially if you compare across the Baltic Sea to the Nordic countries.

Culture

In the busy city centre, there’s not much. Parts of the city are quite hilly so that makes it more difficult. Once you get a few kilometres out and into the residential areas, while not in prolific quantities, there are plenty of old bikes and people of all types cruising about doing their stuff. Even though there’s almost zero infrastructure or bike lanes to speak of, these local urban roads are quiet and safe. Occasionally, particularly along the Dnipro River, you’ll see more sporty types.

Helmets

Other than a few sporty type of cyclists around, none. No legal requirement for anyone either.

Bike Share

A small one and only moderately used. There’s simply better transport options about for most people.

Rating

2/5

Conclusion…

The lesson from all these countries is that if you want more people cycling, you need to remove all barriers to cycling, change your attitude to cycling, and be accommodating to cycling. You don’t need to go crazy with Copenhagen-style separate bike-lanes to get people cycling. Cheap and simple things like lower speed limits in urban areas, bike lanes where possible and allow people to ride on footpaths is enough to send the right message. Most of all it’s to treat cycling as a distinct class of transport and creating the right image so that the instinct for people to go somewhere is to get on a bike. It should be second nature, not an exercise of helmets, special clothes, special bikes and wrestling with traffic.

Cycling in Tallinn Estonia

Yours truly after experiencing a day of cycling in Tallinn, Estonia, free of helmet tyranny.

For the curious, Lenna Kuurmaa, ironically with a band called Traffic, with her most recent song, Varjud:

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Bicycle Network’s utter hypocrisy about cycling safety

01 August 2017

Bicycle Network, one of the leading bicycle lobby groups in Australia, has released a report of crash data among its members and revealed what all rational bicycle advocates already knew: cycling is very safe.

Bicycle Network Crash Report 2012-2016

Their key findings:

* Most crashes happen when the weather is fine (81.4%) and the road is flat (70.7%)

* October and January are the two most common months for crashes, with the fewest recorded during winter months

* Crashes are most common during peak hour, with the number of crashes in the morning peak almost double those of the afternoon peak

* Intersections are the highest risk area, where 42.8% of crashes occur

* Only 20.9% of crashes occur in environments where there are no motor vehicles

* 13.8% of crashes occur when the rider is travelling at less than 11km/h, and 46.1% when the rider is travelling at less than 21km/h

* The chance of a bike rider crashing are just 0.003% on any day, and 0.99% in a year. The chance of having a crash that requires hospitalisation on any day is just 0.001%

It’s important to note the percentages are of crashes reported to BN by their 50,000 members over 5 years (2012 to 2016), and include a total of 2480 crashes (or 496 per year), of which 1162 (or 232 per year) required hospital treatment. It seems to presume every one of those 50,0000 members uses a bicycle once per day. If you consider commuters would ride at least twice per day and BN members would be quite active anyway, it’s probably about right, and a fair illustration about the safety of cycling.

That most crashes happen on flat roads in fine conditions should not be a surprise since most riding is done on flat roads in fine conditions. That 80% of crashes involve a motor vehicle is, again, no surprise since Australians are forced to ride among motor vehicles and that most crashes involving motorists are caused by motorists. It’s not even a surprise that many crashes happen at low speed, with 4% even stationary, given that a cyclist’s speed is irrelevant if the motorist doesn’t see them or take proper care when passing. Of the 54% of crashes that occurred at speeds over 20kph, it would be interesting to know how many of these fit into the fast-riding sports cycling group. It’s curious that speeds are even known since most cyclists don’t carry a speedometer. Most would be estimates.

The most stunning revelation from the report was from Bicycle Network’s introduction to section 7 about the crash percentages: “Sensationalised media reporting have led many to believe that riding a bike is a dangerous activity, where the risk of injury is high.” BN then reveal in section 8 that one in four people had a negative experience with police when reporting a crash.

Wait! Bicycle Network is the organisation actually most responsible for the sensationalism. They’re responsible for the hysterical campaign to wear helmets and the legislation to punish riders with massive fines that go without a helmet. In 2010, they encouraged the Victorian state government to triple helmet fines and raise ALL other fines to the same level of motorists, saying cyclists must be “prepared to cop equivalent fines to other road users if it means we are accorded the full rights we are entitled to under the law”. This has fed the narrative that the media, police and general population have picked up. There were no excuses or exemptions with their helmet campaigns, not even exemptions for separate paths where statistics already showed it was incredibly safe, while the harsh penalties empowered police to enact an extreme enforcement policy against cyclists. It wasn’t long before New South Wales followed Victoria’s lead with even higher penalties and tougher enforcement.

The fact cycling is perceived as so dangerous to most Australians is due to Bicycle Network’s own actions, and yet here they are trying to undo the damage with a few statistics and a stylish report. Unimaginable hypocrites! You can’t blame the police either after the way BN have “promoted” cycling. The police, like most Australians, perceive cyclists as a menace to themselves and others, and believe they are probably responsible for all their crashes, and causing an enormous cost on the health system. If you think reporting a crash to the police is an unpleasant experience, try being chased down with sirens blazing and persecuted over the lack of a helmet, or a bell!

If Bicycle Network passionately believe cycling is safe (which it is) then it’s time for real action. While separation from traffic is critical, that will take years to facilitate throughout the cities. In the meantime cycling must be shown to be easy, fun and safe if it’s to have any chance to grow from its stagnant and oppressed status in this country. The first step is to make helmet optional riding legal again – just like it is in 99% of the world.

https://www.bicyclenetwork.com.au/general/media/4983/

Living under a mandatory bicycle helmet law regime

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Review – Pros & Cons

30 April 2017

Is Mario Kart 8 Deluxe for Nintendo Switch the definitive version of Mario Kart yet? The simple answer is yes. Forty eight tracks, four speed classes, oodles of characters and kart options, four-player split screen gaming, online gaming for up to two players split screen, time trials, and a fully fledged Battle Mode. Yes, it’s the most definitive version yet. So the real question here is whether there’s room for improvement, especially for seasoned players.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe - Review - Pros & Cons

I never owned a Wii U, upon which Mario Kart 8 was originally released, along with its DLC that now comprises the Deluxe version on the Switch. The Wii U was a disaster in the pantheon of Nintendo systems by being its worst seller and possessing the weakest game library. Nintendo loyalists consequently deserted it in droves – including myself – while it couldn’t redeem itself by gaining new fans. The big problem was the gimmick controls of the game-pad in a market that had grown long tired of such novelties on previous systems, notably the Wii (which I also boycotted). While the game-pad was far more conventional than the Wii’s Wii Remote, it was perception that Nintendo were still messing around with gimmicks instead of getting back to basics of quality games on interesting systems. In the Switch, and by extension games like The Legend of Zelda: Breadth of the Wild and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Nintendo has done exactly that, and rewarded those once disenfranchised fans with immediate releases of pinnacle versions of games from those series.

While I never owned a Wii U, I certainly played plenty of Mario Kart 8, thanks to several associates owning it on the Wii U. So that usual expectation of learning and mastering brand new tracks you get from a new Mario Kart does not apply to me. In that sense, I’m an experienced Mario Kart 8 player, and an experienced Mario Kart player in general, and with Deluxe now the fourth iteration of the same driving model – of holding the shoulder button to build up boost when power-sliding – I don’t even have a new technique to learn. I’d say most Mario Kart players would fall into that latter category, so potentially will find much of in Deluxe to be familiar – possibly too familiar.

PROS

Battle Mode: After the Wii U only offered a superficial experience on regular courses, Deluxe has a fully implemented version with specific courses and with 5 battle types.

Boosting: There’s a third stage when drifting now – purple. Known as an “Ultra Mini-Turbo”, it’s rare to activate it on normal corners because of the long duration of sliding required. Mostly I’ve activated it in anti-gravity mode after a speed boost from bumping into objects and other racers puts you into a stage 2 boost range, so it’s only one step up to purple.

Slipstreaming: It seems far more easier to attain, and the speed reward seems really large. I can’t know for sure because I can’t compare directly to the Wii U. Suffice to say, it is a fast activation and a really juicy speed boost!

Speed Classes: All four are open from the start, including the super fast novelty 200cc mode as first seen in the Mario Kart 8 DLC on the Wii U.

Time Trials: One of the most under-valued modes in the game, and again it’s complete with online leaderboards and ghost racing options, and is extremely addictive.

Ghost Item: Gone since Mario Kart 7 on 3DS, it should never have been removed from the game. Stealing items from other players and then using them against them is one of the most satisfying parts of Mario Kart. Generally speaking about items, the allocation is quite balanced too. You need to be near the back of the field to get the really powerful items like Bullets, Stars, Lightnings, and Lucky 8s.

Online Mode: While it’s basic in its standard form, that’s designed to constantly keep you in the action. Players are offered a choice of three tracks or a random choice, and then the computer picks randomly one of those options. Battle Mode is similar with the addition the battle type is random too. In my four tries I played Balloon Battle, Renegade Roundup, Coin Runner and Balloon Battle. If you want more control, there are plenty of custom races and Cups set up by others players, or can be set up yourself and invite friends. Compare to that to Mario Kart DS, the first online Mario Kart, that was fixed at a four race Cup and people would often quit before the championship ended. As a rule, online gamers are morons so the basic options will satisfy most players.

Fire Hopping: The exploit in the Wii U version that allowed you to extend the duration of boosts by hopping left to right, is gone. Good!

The Switch: Nintendo have nailed this device. Nothing beats whipping it out on the couch and playing a few online races while you can still monitor the TV or ignore someone wanting to talk to you. Oh, and the graphics are gorgeous and fast, both on TV and in handheld mode. More here

CONS

Single Player Mode: There’s none! While the 48 courses are divided into 12 Cups and therefore 12 mini championships to win, for seasoned players, they’re a joke. There’s no challenge! This is a perennial problem for Mario Kart, especially on home systems. Even hitting a new game of unfamiliar tracks, most experienced players rarely have any trouble breezing through “the game”. It’s only in split-screen or online multi-player modes that you can truly experience Mario Kart at its exhilarating best. Of course, new players to the series will have a challenge. Hand the controls to a novice or a child, and they will struggle through even 50cc. Still, we’re in a era now where some people have been playing videogames for 30 years, so even if they lack specific skills, they will adapt fast. I raced a few Cups on bikes – which was a new skill to learn – and still adapted quickly to win easily. At best, the CPU opponents may bombard you near the finish line or you fall off the track in error, which will cost you several places and potentially a championship. Otherwise it’s on your merry way. There is simply zero challenge in the game. I repeat: zero challenge!

I even raced the first Cup on 200cc, which is an unnatural speed for the game, and won it with three wins and a second. While the option of trying to earn a 3-star rank on each Cup is somewhat a challenge, all you’re doing is trying to annihilate the field as much as possible. Hardly ideal and, again, like the rare losses in a 150cc Cup, missing the 3-star rank mostly comes down to bad luck or your own silly errors. Chasing coins to unlock all the kart options is really the game’s only aim, and that’s only achieved through tedious persistence, not reward for supreme effort. It’s farcical.

There’s absolutely no excuse for Nintendo not to include some sort of serious single player mode in the game – whether that be an insane difficulty mode where CPU opponents race super fast lines or are super fiendish with items. It can be done simply too. Note that Diddy Kong Racing on the N64 had an Adventure Mode, where you gradually unlocked courses and even had boss races. Even on Nintendo’s own Mario Kart DS, it had had a mission. This could be returned, and expanded, where you might race a fiendish team Donkey Kongs constantly attacking you with bananas. Most basic of all, Nintendo only needs to do is ramp up the AI – possibly via “Master Cup”, and offer it as a Super Championship over all 48 courses. Fix it for Mario Kart 9, damn it!

Kart Selection: There should be an option to randomly assign a driver and a kart configuration, or at least the latter. Why? As with any Mario Kart, certain combinations prove the fastest so everyone gravitates to those. It makes for the same old racing styles, less inclination to experiment, less fun and less longevity. On Mario Kart Double Dash on N64, there was a random option, and we always used it. It really livened up the racing, and would offer true bragging rights for the most versatile racer out there. For something so simple to add, it’s staggering it’s only been seen in one version of the game. To think, playing online could have a fully fledged random option, where instead of seeing half the field of Metal Marios, you could be racing anyone and anything. The single player mode would also benefit from such options, where you must beat the Cups with a light, medium and heavy type of configuration. Or there’s a Random Cup that will switch everyone to another configuration after each race.

Mirror Mode: A perennial inclusion since the N64 and a perennial waste of time. Who cares if left corners are now right? A far better idea would be Reverse Mode. Yes, you race the tracks in the opposite direction, as is common in many car racing games, and would therefore give you 96 courses all up. For those people that will immediately whinge “what about those sections of courses that you can’t reach if going in reverse”, you simply place a cannon on the course to shoot racers back up. It’s not rocket science! Or, at least, it shouldn’t be.

Balloon Battle: The main Battle Mode, it would be nice if it had an elimination option. Lose your five balloons means you are out of the game. Currently you are restored with three balloons and a few wins removed from your tally. It would be nice if there was a mode of last kart standing.

Twelve Racers: That’s the default number in the game and with so many it can get chaotic. I’ve found 8 to be optimum, which was the standard until the Wii, and is still the standard on dedicated handhelds like the 3DS. At present your only options in split screen modes are CPU opponents on or off. Even in single player, it would be nice if it could be changed too so the focus bends more to racing and less on chaos. Here’s an idea. Why not make a championship mode of only four racers where you would race 3 fiendishly difficult CPU opponents? Come on! It really shouldn’t be so difficult.

Holding Items: A “feature” that’s been around for a few iterations, both humans and CPU races love holding shells or bananas behind their kart for protection. While I don’t mind it in principle, there should be a downside to it, like losing speed or unable to slide and boost around corners. After all, you have one hand off the wheel and holding something out the back, so that must compromise your driving ability somehow! Otherwise, a good racer that gets to the lead is basically invulnerable to everything other than a blue shell. The other solution is the item drops automatically after 5 seconds.

Custom Mii: This representation of yourself that hangs out in the online lobbys cannot be updated once created. Mine is slightly too tall and I can’t make the adjustment.

SUMMARY

Yes, while Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is the best Mario Kart ever, it’s not the best possible Mario Kart. Not by a long shot. For that we must wait for Mario Kart 9. Off to unlock the Blue Falcon…

 

Nintendo Switch – Hardware Review

06 March 2017

It wasn’t meant to be, buying a Nintendo Switch on day 1. After all, I was critical of its high cost and, especially, its lack of games on launch, with only The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild the only premium title. While I’m a fan of the Zelda series, I’m not a rabid fan, and have only owned three games, they being Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask (both on N64), and A Link Between Worlds on 3DS. So it was wait for other games to make the Switch a more compelling purchase, which I estimated would be by the end of 2017.

Nintendo Switch Box - Hardware Review

Then something mysterious happened. In the lead up to the launch on 3 March, Fast RMX – a racing game in the mould of F-Zero and Wipeout – was announced as a release title, and Blaster Master Zero – a remake of the classic NES game Blaster Master – was announced as second week release. I was more interested, without being committed. The next piece of titillation was seeing Big W offering a bundle of the system and Zelda for $519, which was $40 off RRP, or $30 off the cheapest price elsewhere. They also had the Pro Controller at $15 cheaper than anywhere else I saw. Not that any of that prompted a change of mind.

Late on Thursday night, the day before its release, I’m on youtube, and I figured reviews should be out for Zelda. They were all 10/10 at the three most reputable sites I checked. I thought then and there, stuff it, I’ll buy one. I could wait 6 months and maybe save another $20 or so, or enjoy the thing now. The price was roughly only $80 more than a PS4 when you consider respective discounts, so it was off to Big W’s website to see if I could reserve or pre-order online. Nope. So I figured I’d sleep on the decision. I awoke without any change of mind, so drove to Southland to make a purchase, and suddenly I’m an owner of a Nintendo Switch, the first Nintendo home console I’ve bought since the GameCube in 2002. Banzai!

WHAT’S IT LIKE?

Impressive. Most impressive. Initially feeling quite small, the screen and joy-cons materialise into an impressive beast once all integrated as a single unit. Going through the set-up phase, instructions were to remove the joy-cons, and I found myself for the next 30 minutes or so using them in separate hands to complete the process, log into the eshop, buy Fast RMX, and then play the game. They really work nicely holding them separately. Then I attached them to the device, and that proved really comfortable too. It would be remiss not to say at this point that the screen is stunning! It’s one glorious device as a handheld and I’ll probably find myself using it this way most often, particularly since my main gaming these is on the 3DS.

Next step was to attach the joy-cons to the grip and try that with the device placed into the TV dock. There’s no compromises in the design here; it’s a quality controller, and as good as anything out there. While the buttons and control sticks are smaller than standard controllers, adjusting to them is fast, and if you can handle the setup on the 3DS handheld, then the grip and joy-con combination won’t be a problem. The buttons and control sticks are the same size, and combined with the grip the whole thing is more comfortable.

Nintendo Switch - Box contents - Hardware Review

Graphically, the biggest difference was that the large TV screen made Fast RMX seem even faster. That’s a function of the much closer perspective, not that it was actually faster. Everything remained crisp and super smooth too, with the only flaw I saw was lack of, or no, anti-aliasing or other technique to reduce jagged edges. Whether that’s Fast RMX itself or a limitation of the system, we won’t know until we see more games. Reviews of Zelda cited occasional slowdown as the only concern. Not that this affects gameplay for either title and, besides, the Switch is not supposed to be a system to satiate graphics whores. That’s the domain of PC gaming where continually pumping thousands of dollars into hardware is necessary to support their insecure geekwank tendencies and pretend they’re getting a better gaming experience.

Note that there’s no conventional d-pad with the standard Switch controller, only a four-button replacement on the left joy-con. While I quickly adjusted to that when flicking through the Switch menus and inputting information, how they would work in something like a fighting game remains to be seen. I’d have preferred a d-pad as I said in the preview, especially as I believe the 2-player tabletop mode will be the least utilised of the playing modes, and the points of a d-pad could have easily doubled for a button when using a single joy-con as a controller. They also need the supplied wrist strap attachment to make the alternate shoulder buttons bigger and the controller more comfortable in general, and it’s doubtful people will be carrying those around for the odd chance of 2-player tabletop gaming.

Finally, the Pro Controller, a separate, though not a necessary, purchase. Believe the hype, it’s probably the best controller ever designed. It feels so huge after coming from the joy-cons, with bigger buttons, a bigger spread between buttons, a bigger throw of the control sticks, and a beautiful feel. Again, with Fast RMX, there was a 5-minute adjustment period to it. Ergonomically, all the control options that the Switch offers are superb. That Nintendo could nail the design and quality while retaining this flexibility is astounding. They are back to their best days of the GameCube and SNES with their controllers. They were the best ever, until now.

Nintendo Switch Pro Controller - Review

STORAGE

Internal storage has actually been the biggest gripe about the system, with only 32gb on board. I don’t see the fuss. People are again in the PC or the latest console mindset of needing large drives to download games or support massive day one patches. Nintendo operates entirely differently by releasing only complete and fully tested games, and they expect you to buy hard copies for major releases. Those hard copies are also cheaper, where you can find Zelda for $80 easily in stores compared to $90 in the eshop. The only advantage of digital downloads is they remove the need to carry around game cards. In regard to game sizes, Zelda is 13.4gb, whereas Fast RMX is less than 1gb. Snipperclips is 1.6gb, while retro titles will be 100mb or less. Unless your plan is buying from the eshop only, then the most you’ll ever need to do is add a 64gb SD card for about $30.

HOME CONSOLE OR HANDHELD?

Nintendo have made a big deal that the Switch is a home console first, a portable one second. Technical specifications, using a mobile computing chip and limited storage capacity, suggests portable first, home console second. It doesn’t really matter. It will depend on the user. Personally, my favourite mode is a pseudo home/tabletop hybrid. I plonk it on the table next to me, lie back on the couch, and use either the grip or Pro Controller to play, while monitoring something on TV. The beauty of it is that everything synchronises so seamlessly. All controllers are immediately recognised and it’s just a matter of activating your preferred mode once turning the system on. Nintendo have done a stellar job with it that sense. The next test is the games. That is something that will require waiting until the end of the year before a proper evaluation.

Nintendo Switch Presentation – Hits and Misses

Warrior’s Video Games of 2016 & Nintendo Switch Preview

Star Wars: The Last Jedi – who is the last Jedi?

24 January 2017

The Last Jedi, that’s the title of Episode 8, the next movie in the Star Wars saga, so let the speculation begin. The title has such a finality to it that I couldn’t immediately rationalise it as relating to the latest trilogy, so thoughts were of a new stand-alone movie or TV series. No, it will follow from 2015’s Episode 7: The Force Awakens.

Star Wars: Episode 8: The Last Jedi

If it’s about the last Jedi, who could that last Jedi be? Given the events of The Force Awakens, that would be Rey, which means Luke Skywalker dies. Hooray! Wait, forgive me for lapsing into the moment of “the first transport is away” during Empire Strikes Back when the Rebels evacuated Hoth and I yelled “hooray” at the cinema during the re-release of the original trilogy. Anyway, Luke dying is all too easy, so we must explore further. Time to harness the force.

Rey is not a Jedi yet, and if she becomes one, why would she be the last? Even if she couldn’t discover anyone else powerful with the Force, she could easily spit out some quadruplets with the help of the midi-chlorians. The last Jedi is Luke! He needs a dignified ending, so Episode 8 will mostly be about him. After Luke trains and mentors Rey, he will retire to his remote mountain as Rey goes to save the galaxy. While the force will be with her, she’ll start her own movement. The Jedi become extinct.

To support this theory, note that the Sith are already extinct. In place now is the First Order, and the threat to them is a new force – a force that will become more powerful than you could possibly imagine. Second, The Force Awakens was much a retelling of the very first Star Wars movie, A New Hope, so expect The Last Jedi to fill a similar role in the current trilogy as Empire Strikes Back did back in the original. The First Order will rebound, Luke is the new Yoda, and Rey becomes the sole hope of the Resistance.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – The Complete Review

Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Review (No Spoilers)

Ranking the Star Wars Movies – Episodes 1 to 6

Obama’s Legacy – The Reality Check; Trump’s Inauguration

22 January 2017

Democracy. Don’t you just love it? Donald Trump is officially the 45th President of the United States and it’s still quite difficult to believe – and that’s as a neutral observer. Imagine the situation for supporters and opponents. Supporters have certainly revelled in the victory and enjoyed seeing elites and the media squirm, while opponents have been a full denial mode, still obsessed with the irrelevant popular vote, Russian interference and generally throwing massive tantrums. The anti-Democratic party even saw fit for about one third of their house representatives to boycott the ceremony. Not that anyone noticed, or cared. These democracy deniers have set a nasty precedent for behaviour, showing themselves as total hypocrites and burying their phony ideals of “when they go low, we go high”. In true Trump style, he gave no concessions during his address, ripping into past administrations and the Washington establishment for their greed and self-aggrandisement, and directly belting the Obama administration when speaking about the “American carnage” that must stop right here, right now. It was a populist speech in that sense, promising to put America first on all key issues and hand power back to the people.

Donald Trump inaugurated as 45th President of the United States

Donald Trump inaugurated as President. Image: Politico

Personally, I found the tone of Trump’s voice a bit harsh, with the substance of the speech quite good. The best lines came towards the end – one about black, brown or white all bleeding the same red blood of patriots, and when opening your heart to patriotism, there’s no room for prejudice. That’s Trump. He does it all his own way. Again he defied predictions of delivering a mellower, more unifying speech, by repeating key campaign points heard over the last 18 months. The now former president Barack Obama looked disgusted, with Michelle Obama ashen at times. The next four years will be fascinating to say the least. Trump has affirmed his commitment to Twitter and one can only imagine his first address in front of the United Nations general assembly.

Most remarkable about the Inauguration Day is the inauguration itself. It’s set for noon on 20 January every four years, and Americans really know how to put on a show. It’s the third one I watched live after Obama’s two, and it’s hard not to feel that American pride during that monumental and peaceful transfer of power. It’s all staged so perfectly, with so such precision, and it was eerie seeing the Obamas enter the helicopter and fly out of the Capitol, just as George W Bush did eight years ago. Then comes the trek along Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House by the new president, the parade in front of the White House and the inauguration balls.

Always the most impressive moment is the rendition of the national anthem at the inauguration ceremony, this time performed by Jackie Evancho (who?). She’s a 16 year old opera singer and comes from that great nursery of major talent these days, reality TV. It was a classy and dignified rendition, and really honoured the occasion itself.

BARACK OBAMA’S LEGACY

Since the election, Barack Obama has been on a “victory lap” promoting all his achievements. Apparently he’s now the best president he’s ever been, which is probably the same sentiment most of them share. There’s no real preparation for such a job, so it’s all learnt day by day, and it’s probably not until the final year or two that a president feels fully attuned to their role. Nostalgia then kicks in, as the president reflects on all these years in the job, and the sadness of suddenly being evicted. That’s more so when another party takes over and there’s a feeling of unfinished business, as Obama seemed to have. No president wants to see his work undone either. CNN did a good job recently of compiling Obama’s presidential legacy in a 2-hour special. Although it was hosted by Fareed Zakaria, a known Obama supporter, it raised many good points, exaggerated some, debunked a few, and totally missed others. The reality check.

THE AFFORDABLE CARE ACT (OBAMACARE)

The biggie, as it’s the only major reform or legislation Obama produced in his 8 years in office. First, for those outside the USA, Obamacare is not the universal healthcare that most of the developed world experiences, where you can walk into any public hospital, get treated, and walk out without incurring any costs. Obamacare is a plan to subsidise insurance companies to make insurance more affordable. While there’s dispute about actual figures, the general consensus is about 40 million Americans were uninsured and Obamacare took care of 20m of those. Mostly that was achieved by heavy subsidies and expanding Medicaid (government funded healthcare for the poor).

Reality Check: The US population is about 330m, which means nearly 90% of people were covered, typically by their employers, while veterans and the elderly were covered by the government. Those with plans were mostly were happy with them. To target that 10% uninsured, Obamacare disrupted the entire insurance system, throwing people off their plans, forcing businesses to stop offering insurance, raising premiums and raising deductibles (you could pay $5000 out of pocket before the insurance kicks in). Worse than that, these were all broken promises. A family’s premium was meant to reduce by $2500 per year, existing plans could be kept, as too existing doctors. It’s these broken promises that has infuriated much of America. They weren’t one-time spontaneous promises either. Obama pounded and pounded, particularly about keeping existing plans, to reassure most Americans they would not only be untouched, they’d be better off. Obamacare is in a death spiral anyway, as costs increase, people drop out, and insurers can’t compete. Much of the initial price rise stems from the vast array of essential services plans must offer to be eligible for the exchanges, and therefore eligible for Obamacare subsidies. Because people with pre-existing conditions can’t be denied insurance anymore, they’ve signed up in huge numbers, as have the poor. Meanwhile younger people in good health haven’t bothered, and those earning just a little too much to get subsidies to offset the higher premiums have bailed. Instead of a gateway to universal healthcare as most of the world knows it (Obamacare was always meant to fail so government would take over), the only real legacy is if key mandates, like pre-existing conditions and children on parents plan until age 26, are preserved when Republicans repeal and replace it. In politics, policy is often debate in itself, shifting sentiment and setting foundations, so on that measure, Obama has succeeded to help ensure no American should be denied health insurance. Grade: C

THE ECONOMY

After inheriting a financial crisis, the unemployment rate is now less than 5%, and there’s been continued economic growth over much of Obama’s presidency. He also brought it some good reforms to stabilise the financial sector and he “saved” the automotive industry. What’s not to love?

Reality Check: The real problems lie behind the figures, with job participation low, under-employment high and wages stagnant. The under-employment, or high level of part-time workers, is partially due to Obamacare regulations that don’t mandate employer-based insurance for workers on 30hrs or less per week or companies with fewer than 50 workers. The one policy Obama did institute for the economy, the massive fiscal stimulus of almost 1 trillion dollars (that’s $1,000,000,000,000,000,000), failed by his own measure. Unemployment wasn’t meant to rise above 8% (it went beyond 10%), the economy took 2 years longer to begin its recovery and there’s still way too many people on food stamps and other welfare. Even now, guess what the number one issue was at the last election? The economy! Let’s not forget the USA is also lumbered with a $20 trillion debt, almost half of which is Obama’s. Grade: D

FOREIGN POLICY

ISIS, Syria, Libya, Crimea and Russia – the world’s never been as dangerous and American power never looked so weak. In fact, Russia seems to have taken over as the world’s “policeman” by intervening in Syria to remove Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons and creating mischief in the presidential campaign. It’s a debacle. The Middle East is still a mess, and made even worse when the USA was complicit in the UN Security Council declaring Israel’s settlements illegal, and the Iran Nuclear Deal has its critics.

Reality Check: Obama ran on being the anti-war President. The USA was meant to retreat, or even “lead from behind” as cynics say, and encourage other nations to do their bit in the world’s crisis areas. Americans don’t want to be involved in any more wars, so it was easy – and honouring a promise – not to send any American armed forces into combat. His main mistake was his rhetoric did not match his actions. Talks of “red lines” in Syria made him look weak, and almost ridiculous once Russia intervened. Closing Guantanomo Bay on day 1 was never a reality (it’s still open), and it being a supposed recruitment tool for terrorists is laughable compared to Obama’s own drone program that’s killed thousands of people. Still, Obama kept the homeland safe from major attack (the key role of a president), killed Osama bin Laden and even won a Nobel Peace Prize for not being George W Bush. Grade: A

ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION

One of the big promises that failed. Under the much vaunted slogan of “comprehensive immigration reform”, Obama didn’t even try, preferring to eventually use executive orders in his second term to enact DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), which ensured so-called “Dreamers” (children brought illegally into the USA by their parents) would not be targeted for deportation. Not that they ever were anyway. Authorities struggle enough as is with recent arrivals and criminal aliens, so it was all symbolic to energise his party as the pro-immigration one. Sanctuary cities – cities that disobey requests by federal immigration authorities for illegal immigrants, even violent ones, to be held in detention – were allowed to flourish too. That particularly infuriated Republicans, as these cities are seen as deliberate acts to encourage illegal immigration. To counter that, Obama supporters touted the record millions of people that have been deported. These are mostly caught at the border and immediately deported. Sometimes it’s the same people over and over again, so it’s not indicative of any real commitment to border control.

Reality Check: There’s a basic, almost primal, policy difference between the two sides. Democrats want open borders, Republicans want secure borders. Republicans won’t act on any amnesty or legal status for current illegals until the border is secure, while Democrats want it all done at once. That’s why “comprehensive immigration reform” from Democrats is a code-phrase for do nothing. When you consider both sides like to use the issue politically, there’s even less appetite for reform. All of Obama’s “work” will be annulled by new executive orders, and the politicisation of the issue backfired spectacularly with the manifestation of Donald Trump as a presidential candidate. Grade: F

GUN CONTROL

Even with such tragedies like Sandy Hook Elementary School and the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Obama made no incursions into curtailing the numbers and capabilities of firearms. In the face of the constitutional right to bear arms, America’s deep gun culture and strong resistance across the country, Obama flapped around the edges with extra background checks and closing a few loopholes on gun registration. Others in his party began talking vague and suspicious slogans like “comprehensive gun safety legislation”, and even had ideas of holding gun stores and sellers accountable if the buyer commits a crime. Eventually, Obama got nothing, and the appetite for restrictions is even lower than before. The bemused rest of the world must realise that most Americans are so skeptical of federation government intrusion, and they see gun rights as the cornerstone in the protection of their individual rights and freedoms. If their guns go, what’s next?

Reality Check: Obama needed to use the constitutional right as a weapon. At the time the constitution was written, the founding fathers had no idea about the strength of weapons in the future. It was all single-shot muscats back then, even for the federal government. They couldn’t foresee semi-automatic weapons or even nuclear missiles. These days, no militia could stop the feds taking over if they wanted, and there’s gun restrictions already. Americans cannot own machine guns or bazookas, for example, so begin to extend that. Even though it’s doubtful such talk would have changed much, in a democracy, it’s all about shifting sentiment. It might take years, or even decades for something tangible to happen. It needs to start somewhere, and Obama missed the opportunity. Grade: F

GAY RIGHTS

This shows you the importance supreme court justices, which was an issue pivotal in Trump winning the presidency. Relax! No justice that Trump nominates will overturn the two key social issues the gay marriage and abortion. Even Obama’s two selections only kept the left-leaning numbers on the court preserved, with the pivotal decision coming from Justice Anthony Kennedy, an appointee under the Ronald Reagan administration. Essentially his opinion was that under the constitutional right to equal protection, there could no longer be discrimination against same-sex marriages.

Reality Check: Obama also removed the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy about gays in the military. Of course, to show you the power of rhetoric, he was the first president to talk about gay marriage, which no doubt shifted enough sentiment for those supreme court justices to act in its favour. The country is way past this issue now. Grade: A

CLIMATE CHANGE

Tougher regulations and the Paris Climate Change Agreement, that’s about it.

Reality Check: Just like any regulation, it can be easily reversed. The PCCA is a compromise, as it’s not binding, and rather than the familar deal of restricting emissions by a certain percentage, the PCCA’s spurious “deal” is to keep warming under 2C degrees for the rest of this century. How nations will manage that, or measure it, is mystifying. It almost confers a god-like stature on governments that their action will directly cause changes in the temperature, when, conceivably, warming could halt without any “action”. After all, no one predicted the recent 18-year plateau in warming. Strangely, no one, despite all the “action” taken around the world, took credit for it either. The PCCA was designed like this solely to get the likes of China on board. They remain free to increase CO2 until 2030, when they only promise it will plateau. The good news is that, under Obama, the USA is now a major consumer of much cleaner natural gas. Fracking has taken off under Obama, meaning USA’s emmissions are way, way down, and ahead of any previous target. While that might not sit well with climate hysterics that wanted a socialist style redistribution of cash from big business and power-intensive industries to poor people unable to pay exhorbidant power costs, in terms of reducing emmissions, Obama has been a major success. Grade: A

RACE RELATIONS & UNITY

Despite Obama’s proclamations that they’ve never been better, they’ve gone backwards, and much of that is Obama’s fault. The soaring rhetoric of unity 8 years ago quickly fell for hyper partisanship, identity politics and acquiescence to real race problems in America, notably the obscene murder rate and gang violence in his home city of Chicago. Politically, the country has never been as divided before, nor the politics so corrosive. His party’s boycott of Trump’s inauguration was a disgrace, and Obama’s reluctance to speak about it, even when directly asked, epitomised his tenure to snub obvious moments of providing influence and much required leadership if it didn’t suit him politically.

Reality Check: Obama was elected twice, entered office with approval ratings nudging 80% (Trump is mid-40s), and leaves office with them almost 60%. For such a supposedly racist and bigoted country, that’s a decent achievement, even if much of it is more about his personal likeability than anything he actually did. Grade: C

THE FINAL LEGACY

During Obama’s two terms, the Democrats lost both houses of congress, lost the presidency, and lost around 1000 seats across federal and state houses and senates throughout the country. 34 of the 50 state governors are now Republican. It’s a damning indictment on his policies, and he’s left his party in tatters.

A part of the blame for Obama’s under-achievement is the system itself, that presidential candidates are selected so far in advance, and issues can change substantially. Obama was meant to get the USA out of Iraq and then institute his sweeping social reforms on a seemingly sound economy. He even hammered the Bush administration over the ever increasing national debt. Instead he faced a financial crisis, and was unable, or unwilling, to cope with new crises in the world. His cruise-control approach to leadership didn’t suit at the time, and once the Republicans swept into the house following the 2010 mid-terms, his reluctance to compromise effectively made him a lame duck for the next 6 years. From there it was about consolidating his own base and ensuring a Democrat followed him in 2016. He failed there too. Hillary Clinton, who he defeated in the primaries on his way to the White House, would have been far more suitable in 2008, with Obama coming in now.

Barack Obama leaves the Capitol in Executive One helicopter after Donald Trump inaugurated as 45th President of the United States

Bye Obama. Image: People

Mostly Obama will be remembered as a nice guy. There hasn’t been any president as cool or affable as this one, and he’s been a good ambassador and figurehead for his country. In some ways he’s lucky Trump is the incoming president rather than a strict conservative, as his populist mindset will ensure key aspects laid by Obamacare, like no denial of coverage, will stay. How it stays, that’s the big unknown. At least for Obama, he’ll be the one remembered for laying that key foundation, even if others are responsible for building the structure. Final Grade: C

Donald Trump is President – What the heck just happened?

Nintendo Switch Presentation – Hits and Misses

14 January 2017

After the failed Wii U, and the Wii for those alienated by motion controls, Nintendo presented its new system, the Nintendo Switch, in Tokyo yesterday. The system was already revealed in late October of 2016, albeit without crucial details like price, games and its full capabilities. As a presentation it had hits and misses of its own, with price and release date immediately revealed, followed by a muddling session showcasing various games, before finishing with the long-awaited Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and its confirmed released date.

Nintendo Switch Presentation - Hits and Misses

HITS

1) The release date of March 3 is much sooner than anyone expected. It’s only 7 weeks away. Nearly all predictions were for late March. Banzai!

2) The system itself is impressive, and the idea of being able to switch between home and portable and retain the same experience is fascinating. This portability is not so much about travelling either, as I suspect many people will play at home in this mode instead of taking over the family TV. Personally, I find myself playing the 3DS so often because I don’t need the TV. Often I play while watching TV, particularly watching things like sport or news that don’t require full attention.

3) The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a launch title. This game was originally intended for the Wii U before delays struck and poor sales of that system saw the advancement of its successor and games postponed or cancelled in anticipation of it. Not only is Zelda a launch title, it looked stunning. Any Zelda fan will be salivating to get a hold of it.

4) Mario Kart 8 and Super Mario Odyssey. While the latter is the Wii U version with all DLC, a proper Battle Mode and other updates, the latter is brand new and looked superb, especially seeing Mario bouncing around “New Donk City”. Classic! Let’s note that the Wii U was so poor that not only were many games abandoned, many players abandoned it too. With MK8 the best of its series on home console, it’s spectacular that Switch players will get it so soon – on April 28. SMO is coming later in the year. Also coming, mid year, is Splatoon 2 – a successor to the popular and well received shooter/painter turf war game on Wii U.

5) The joy con controllers are full of technology, including motion controls and realistic dynamic feedback. Apparently you can shake it as though it’s a glass of ice and count the ice cubes in it. Whether this evolves to anything meaningful game-wise, it’s wait and see. The Wii was met with similar skepticism and it ended up a raging success. Because of the switch capability of the Switch, it means you get two individual motion controllers in the box too. The Wii shipped with only one.

6) Third party support. Over 80 games in development, with particular emphasis on games from major Japanese developers, like Xenoblade 2 and Fire Emblem Warriors. While the presentation confirmed the likes of Skyrim and FIFA, they are flotsam in the Nintendo market and exist more to show there’s broad third party support. Serious players of games like that are glued to other systems. The real issue is to ensure that support lasts. Developers were abandoning the Wii U even before it was launched.

7) Region free. Yes, you can buy games anywhere in the world to play on the Switch. Good idea considering if people travel with the damn thing overseas they might want to buy a local game in that country they are visiting.

MISSES

1) To keep it simple, I’ll stick to USA prices and round up to the whole dollar. Price of $300 is $50 higher than the sweet spot, especially considering PS4 and Xbox One are competitors at that level. In the pack you get the tablet, a pair of joy con controllers, a grip, a TV dock and all necessary cables. When you see the price of individual accessories, you soon realise why the Switch is $300. A separate joy con is $50, a pair is $80 and the TV dock is $90. Separately there’s a pro controller at $70. Japan’s prices line up roughly the same as the USA. In Australia, the system’s RRP is $470 despite 300 USD converting to 400 AUD. The extra $70 is because Australians are prepared to pay higher. Converting the accessories to AUD and adding our special premium, you’re looking at $70 for a joy con, $120 for a pair, $130 for the TV dock and $100 for the pro controller.

2) Technical specifications, where were they? We got the battery’s life ranges between 2.5 and 6 hours, with Zelda lasting for 3 hours. That’s quite adequate in this day of USB charging and generic battery packs, and note that some mobile games will deplete your phone’s battery in 2 hours. As for the system’s processing power, there was nothing, not even a hint of its capability. As mentioned in the Nintendo Switch Preview, it needs to be at least PS4 level or close enough to it. Otherwise it’s kiss those third party developers goodbye if the system is not a raging success in its first two years.

3) As much as the joy cons have this fancy technology, it will all mean nothing if games designed specifically for it don’t sell. Two games were shown:  1-2-Switch looked like a collection of standard motion control gimmick games, while Arms had potential. Then consider those players, like myself, not interesting in such games anyway. Potentially all this technology has done is jack up the price of the system for no reason. If the joy cons were basic button and stick controllers, you easily launch the system at $250 in the USA and $400 in Australia.

4) Launch games. Other than Zelda, that’s it! 1-2-Switch is confirmed; whether that means much, no one knows. It’s untried. If you were juiced for a Switch day 1 with plenty of great games, you’re disappointed.

5) Nothing about the Virtual Console or whether games you already own on Wii U or 3DS can be transferred free to the Switch. This simply better happen! I’d love to play Shovel Knight on the big screen, while Wii U players would love to travel with their potentially already voluminous library of Virtual Console and eShop games.

6) Online play is only free for a few months. If this period starts from March 3, rather than when you activate the system, that’s even more disappointing, bordering on woeful. Note that Sony and Microsoft charge a subscription to play online so Nintendo’s version is only a miss because it was previously free. One bonus from the Nintendo subscription is you get to play a free NES or SNES each month. To keep it permanently you must pay for it. While that sounds a bit stingy, if it’s a choice of any game, you can re-download it in the next month if you never finished it.

CONCLUSION

Many of us haven’t learnt from history. Despite wanting several compelling games and the Virtual Console brimming with Nintendo classics on launch, Nintendo don’t operate this way. Even the notion of a “system selling launch title” is bogus. There’s probably never been such a thing for any system, non-Nintendo included. You get system selling games over time, like Street Fighter 2 on the SNES, not day 1 monsters. This time is actually a slight exception given that Zelda – yes, a brand new Zelda game – is available on launch. That will sweep up those fans.

For the less fanatical players and the broader audience, Nintendo’s strategy is get the system out with a strong statement about its capabilities and a grand plan of future games to get you salivating, and then build momentum over the year releasing those games. Then comes the inevitable price drop and a pack-in game to begin reeling in all those that nibbled on the original bait. Selling crazy amounts of systems on day 1, it’s no chance, nor is it their goal. It’s doubtful they can produce enough units for such a demand anyway. Look at the disaster with the NES Classic.

Personally, I’m waiting. The price is too high, and I have plenty of other games to complete, and even start, than to donate more money to gaming companies. Because I bypassed the Wii U, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is of huge interest. With Super Mario Odyssey later in the year and Zelda long out, that’s three compelling games already, and there could be other surprises. Metroid? F-Zero? Star Fox? I’m in.

The broader market will be much tougher to crack. Competition from Sony, Microsoft and mobile these days is so fierce, and the market has changed. Christmas 2017 will be the pivotal time. The market for PS4 and Xbox One should be well filled by this point, leaving a void for Nintendo to exploit with their marquee titles, discount pricing and, possibly, new found hype as a result of games taking full advantage of the joy cons. Otherwise, it’s life again as a niche player, and a long-term future as a games developer only.