Warrior’s Video Games of 2016 & Nintendo Switch Preview
5 January 2016
Pokemon! Finally I understand this phenomenon despite being surrounded by it for 20 years. No, it’s nothing to do with that dopey non-game Pokemon Go either. It’s Pokemon Shuffle, and by extension Pokemon Sun/Moon, Pokemon soft toys and even a Pokemon book. Pokemon Shuffle is a puzzle game, free on 3DS or mobile device, with the purpose of matching 3 or more Pokemon symbols to defeat the stage Pokemon. After defeating the stage Pokemon, you then try to capture it. The beauty of the game is each Pokemon have different abilities, so the trick is gathering the right team to fight the stage Pokemon. This optimisation of your support team becomes particularly critical on stages with very powerful Pokemon.
After logging 199 hours in 2015, I logged another 275 hours in 2016. Not bad value for a free game. You can “cheat” to a degree and buy gems, which buys you coins, which buys you abilities like 5 extra moves (800 coins) or double attack power (3000 coins). I’ve not done that because the other tactic works just as effectively: patience. 500 coins are awarded each day, and with coins added for completing stages (100 for normal stages, 200 for special stages and up to 5000 on the weekly coin bonus stage), it doesn’t take long to buy an ability to get past the really difficult stages and catch the Pokemon just beaten. Catching those Pokemon, as with all Pokemon games, is the game’s great lure, and it becomes an obsession to catch them all. Tougher ones to catch might require a great ball at 2500 coins.
The real beauty of Pokemon Shuffle is you quickly learn about Pokemon, their abilities and their strengths and weakness against each other. Yes, some become your favourites like Mewtwo and Garchomp, which is quite ridiculous since they are merely face symbols in this game. It was when I saw a Mega Garchomp soft toy in all his full-body glory at EB Games that I became fascinated. Wow, these are really crazy looking creatures! Eventually I’d buy it, along with a Mewtwo amiibo and several others, and then a Pokemon book detailing all 700+ Pokemon. Understanding this craze means I can revisit Pokemon X/Y from two years ago, and then get cracking with Sun/Moon that I got for Christmas.
Now for the mind zap! Those 275 hours this year are not the full story because I’ve logged another 153 hours on my old 3DS. Yes, I have two games running. I’m not as fastidious about collecting everything on the old 3DS, and it’s about 70 main and 10 expert stages behind the New 3DS. Also, having cleared stages in advance on the New 3DS I know which Pokemon are worth catching on the old one, so that’s speeding up my run through that game. I’m at stage 525 on my New 3DS of, I presume, 530 available. Nintendo add stages over time and when waiting for more or stuck on a stage and low on coins, I usually go back to try catch older Pokemon or clear expert stages.
Is Pokemon Shuffle the Game Of The Year? No! First, it was released in 2015. Second, the hours logged typifies the current frenetic society we live in, the increasing lack of interesting games and, most of all, its system of allocating play time. You get 1 play ever 30 minutes and can only store 5 plays at a time, so I find myself whipping it out every few hours for a dose before returning to other things. Or, even play it while doing other things, like watching TV. Do that a few times a day for about a 45 minutes all up and that’s your 275 hours in a year.
3DS Activity Log – 2016
01 Pokemon Shuffle 275:33, 199:35
02 Mii Plaza 22:32, 127:10, 33:31
03 Yoshi’s New Island 6:24
04 Mario Golf World Tour 5:45, 1:06
05 Mini Mario & Friends Amiibo Challenge 3:20
06 Super Smash Bros 2:03, 13:09, 10:40
07 Castlevania III Dracula’s Curse NES 1:56
08 Pocket Card Jockey (Demo) 1:42
09 Aqua Moto Racing 3D 1:15, 5:02
10 Mario Tennis Open 0:52, 5:02, 12:30
Subsequent figures represent play time of previous years. The big drop was Mii Plaza from 127 hours to 22. That’s largely a result of completing most mini games and becoming less interested overall in them. Mii Plaza is the game integrated into the system, so it’s a sad state of affairs when a bunch of mini games and a free game are the most played games of the year. Amiibo Challenge is also free, as is Pocket Card Jockey, a demo. Strangely, Shovel Knight didn’t appear in the Activity Log, and I know I definitely played that once, and for a few hours. The only new games (“new” as in newly acquired, as both were released in 2014) of significance in the list are Yoshi’s New Island and Mario Golf World Tour. Both are excellent. If not for that damn Pokemon Shuffle, I’d have played them more.
I only walked 221,271 steps with the 3DS this year, down from over 500,000 last year and 1.1 million the year before. In 2014 I was obsessed to get a million steps so carried the 3DS everywhere, while figures for 2015 were bumped by two overseas trips and therefore plenty of walking. Losing incentive to play the Mii Plaza mini games means I’m more likely to leave it at home these days. Note: walking at least 1000 steps per day awards you 10 coins and the chance to hit other players, meaning access to the mini games.
3DS Activity Log – Overall
01 Pokemon Shuffle 479:33 (plus 254:19 on old 3DS)
02 Mii Plaza 206:19
03 Mario Kart 7 181:53
04 Star Fox 64 3D 56:02
05 Super Smash Bros 25:52
06 Double Dragon NES 18:45
07 Mario Tennis Open 18:25
08 Pilotwings Resort 13:34
09 Tetris Ultimate 11:03
10 Fire Emblem Awakening 9:40
11 Mario Golf World Tour 6:51
12 Ninja Gaiden 3 NES 6:50
13 Yoshi’s New Island 6:24
14 Nintendogs + Cats 5:58
15 Pokemon X 5:35
16 Ultimate NEX Remix 4:59
17 Steel Diver 3:20
18 Aqua Moto Racing 3D 2:33
19 Super Mario 3D Land 2:30
20 Shovel Knight 2:12
The surprise entry missing from the 2016 list is Mario Kart 7. For the rare gatherings with gaming acquaintances this year, we would play Mario 8 on someone’s Wii U. Even so, I’m surprised the great game of MK7 stayed out of the system all year. Wow.
The real shocker with this list is over 700 hours with Pokemon Shuffle. That’s lunacy! The only game I know categorically I’ve played more in my life is Audiosurf on PC. That’s at over 800 hours last check, so I might need to revisit it to keep it in front. Or play less Pokemon Shuffle? Nup. I’m addicted.
Even though I’ve rubbished gaming in general, I did buy a PlayStation 4 leading up to Christmas. Prices were so discounted that it was an insult not to buy one. Being a Star Wars nut, Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Star Wars Battlefront were two of 3 games bought, with the third being No Man’s Sky. All are old releases so were cheap, which was part of the attraction in buying the PS4 to begin with. Notice a trend here? For most of my purchases for the last 5 or 6 years I’ve waited for them to be discounted. Or they are requests for birthdays or Christmas. Mostly it’s because I’ve a backlog of other games to play. If something truly exceptional arrives, I’ll buy it day one. The last purchase of that type was the New 3DS and Super Smash Bros two years ago. Even then, Target had the system at $20 and the game at $15 below RRP. Target always have the best prices.
All three of the PS4 games are good without hardly being ground-breaking. Star Wars Battlefront I only play the skirmish modes anyway since I don’t play online, TFA is a Lego game as we all know it with a few extra novelty bits, and NMS is… Well, I never knew of the hype about this game as I don’t avidly follow gaming news, so I hit it without any uber crazy expectations. In fact, the publicity as a result of failing to meet all the hype actually meant my expectations were low. So far it’s ok, and I’ve visited a couple of planets already.
My only real question with No Man’s Sky is: what is the point of it? There’s not an obvious objective like with most games. You’re plonked onto a planet and start doing stuff. Maybe it’s a Seinfeld game – a game about nothing. It could work!
With the hysteria about the Nintendo Classic NES Mini, I pulled out my actual NES and revisited the past. Castlevania, Ghosts n Goblins, Journey to Silius, Air Fortress and Elite – all as good as remembered, and the battery in the Elite cartridge hadn’t died either! I thought they had a life of only 5 years, so it was good to see all my game saves still there. Naturally once I got into the game from the last save point I was ambushed and quickly destroyed. I also have a Raspberry Pi with NES and SNES emulators and all the classic games so it does make you wonder why the hysteria about the NES Mini was so high. No doubt it’s the nostalgia, owning something official and the fact so few were shipped. I estimate about a 5 to 1 shortage, and how Nintendo never realised this in advance is stunning. Suffice to say I’ll probably get one eventually. Even though I can play the games any time now, it is such a great little package, very well made and so convenient.
GAME OF THE YEAR FOR 2016
Yoshi’s New Island!
It’s simple. It’s the “new” game I bought this year that not only provided me with the most hours of play time, it was the most fun.
For games released in 2016, it’s either Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakes or No Man’s Sky. I’ll go for TFA.
NINTENDO SWITCH PREVIEW
Can Nintendo make a comeback? The Switch represents the first “normal” system since the Gamecube was released in 2002. I never got into the gesture and gimmick controls of the Wii and Wii U, so proudly sat out those systems. The Switch seems to be the anti-Wii and Wii-U in every sense, with conventional controls, conventional games and aimed at a conventional gaming audience – dare I say, “gamers”. The only thing I don’t like is the lack of a d-pad on the left side of the device. A Nintendo controller without a d-pad, it’s wrong, so wrong. While it’s to facilitate mobile 2-player gaming when sliding the two controllers from the device, that’s such a low-priority inclusion that losing a conventional d-pad is not worth the sacrifice. Besides, you could mimic conventional button use in this mode by using the various points on the d-pad anyway. Also, how can a game go from requiring both controllers in single-player mode to only one controller in 2-player mode? Seems weird. I bet anyone serious on 2-player mobile gaming would buy a second controller.
As with any system, games will be the key to success, and that’s even more crucial for the Switch. To recover that more serious side of the gaming market, Nintendo will need to undo two generations of damage caused by appealing to casuals with the Wii and losing the plot with the Wii U. Not only is a strong software line-up on launch and for the rest of 2017 required, the system needs to be powerful enough to get third-party support over its life. It needs to be close enough to PS4 in power to achieve this, and easy to develop for. Arriving two years after the PS4, it should be near enough as powerful, otherwise Nintendo may as well give up now. Battery life will also be important. With USB charging ubiquitous these days, 2.5 hours is wearable, 3 hours is preferable, anything more a bonus. Less than 2.5 hours will be bad publicity, and bad publicity is the one thing Nintendo can ill afford to receive. Everything must be positive.
Keys to Success
1) Near enough powerful as the PS4 and priced to match
2) Battery life about 3 hours
3) A system selling launch title
4) The best Wii U games like Mario Kart 8 on launch
5) A succession of strong follow-up titles, both new and Wii U ports
6) A comprehensive virtual console of all current popular titles and add Gamecube games
7) Region free to buy games anywhere in the world
What will you get for the price? My guess is for $250 USD, you get the basic device with the side controllers. For an extra $50 you get the dock and the controller grip. In Australia that’s $330 and $70. Full details will be known on January 12 or 13, depending on your part of the world. As a long-time and usually loyal Nintendo fan, I’m not only hoping for the best, this time I’m expecting it.