Interview with Dan Adelman – Nintendo’s Former Indie Guy

Dan Adelman. It’s a name you might have heard of recently. He just resigned from Nintendo, where he previously was, for better or worse, the man in charge of getting indies onto their platforms. I’ve been dying to interview Dan for a while. I attempted to while he worked for Nintendo, but that was a non-starter. Now that he’s out on his own, and starting his own indie consulting company (I’ll have full details on that sometime in the near future), he’s got a lot more time to talk. I had a few questions for him. He had some answers.

Indie Gamer Chick: Nintendo seems to be stuck on where gaming was five or more years ago versus where it’s going in the future. It doesn’t seem like an attitude that’s compatible with the emerging indie gaming scene. How much of your time was spent trying to convince them that gaming was going this direction?

Dan Adelman: Very little actually. During the WiiWare and DSiWare years, I don’t think many people really knew what I was working on. I was kind of left alone to do my thing, while everyone else was busy printing money with the Wii and DS business. Unfortunately, it was hard to get the changes I needed made because no one could hear me over the ringing of all the cash registers.

IGC: One of Nintendo’s more, ahem, infamous policies was that they would only look at indie developers who had a dedicated office away from home, and some kind of security system. Yes, because I’m sure Microsoft and Sony are sweating bullets over the Wii U. I guess my question is, did Nintendo as a company, a conglomeration, have any awareness at all of the realities of the indie scene? In other words, games by people who don’t have an office, or money for an office, let alone a Get Smart like security system?

Dan's virtual self, or possibly the dad from American Pie.

Dan’s virtual self, or possibly the dad from American Pie.

Dan: You’d be surprised how long it actually took to get that policy changed, since so many different groups were involved. It was like brokering peace in the Middle East. For the first 6 or 7 years I just tried to work around it as best I could. At one point, the group responsible for vetting the applications was giving a pretty well-known developer (one whose name your readers would instantly recognize) a hard time about his office in a detached garage. So I decided enough was enough and just tried to kill that policy. It still took another year. One of the compromises is that the home office has to be a dedicated workspace with a lock on the door, so the people who used to look up addresses in Google Maps are now asking for photos of locks.

IGC: We’re only just now starting to see indies release in large quantities on Nintendo platforms, but around a year ago, indies were super excited over Nintendo’s indie policies, especially compared to Microsoft’s. Now the buzz and chatter over Nintendo’s policies has all but disappeared. Why do you think that is?

Dan: Well, it’s not really news anymore. For a long time, Nintendo was the only platform where you could self-publish without going through a concept review process. Now I think all the platforms operate this way. Nintendo was the first to do a deal with Unity to pay for all developers’ licenses, but now Xbox has a similar deal in place. I think it’s great that the competition among the platforms is forcing everyone to be a lot more indie-friendly. I’ve heard Microsoft was a nightmare to deal with when XBLA was doing really well and everyone wanted to be on it. Now that it’s lost that edge, they’ve been forced to soften their approach. Chris Charla has done an amazing job making ID@Xbox so friendly. Adam Boyes and his team at PlayStation as well.

IGC: Be honest, when Nintendo first handed you the Wii U, you stared at it for an hour and then had to be talked out of throwing yourself off the roof. Go ahead, you can say it. I’ve got sources.

Dan: The Wii U itself is not a bad system at all. I wish it had a bit more horsepower, but that’s never been Nintendo’s focus. The GamePad is only as good as the games that make use of it, and I think the first party games will show the world what it’s really supposed to be used for.

IGC: Despite all the bullshit, being able to help indies on the level you have must be so incredibly rewarding. Was there any one moment where you paused to reflect and tell yourself “you know what? This is worth doing”?

Dan: When I first started working with Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes on Super Meat Boy, I took Ed and his wife, Danielle, out to a diner. I can’t even remember what we talked about – mostly just excited about how awesome Super Meat Boy was going to be, I think. After dinner, Ed went to the bathroom or something, and Danielle asked me hopefully, “Do you think if Super Meat Boy does well, we’ll be able to afford health insurance?” That just broke my heart! I was already hoping to help make Super Meat Boy successful, but that conversation really hit home for me. Now Ed and Tommy are rich and famous, and I couldn’t be happier for them.

IGC: You obviously had friction with Nintendo regarding their policies. If you could change any one thing, ONE THING, about Nintendo in relation to how they handle indies, what would it be?

Dan: Everyone should have just given me the ball and gotten the fuck out of my way. I got this.

Attention any journalists planning on writing an article based on this interview – please don’t make this answer into a headline!

Dan helped bring incredible games like Steamworld Dig to 3DS. Now, he works for the whole community.

Dan helped bring incredible games like Steamworld Dig to 3DS. Now, he works for the whole community.

IGC: That actually was going to be my headline for this, but whatever. Despite the jokes hardcore gamers make about Nintendo (myself included), no gaming company is held in as much reverence as them. I’ve met hundreds of indie developers and many of them, the largest percentage of them, dreamed about making games specifically for Nintendo. Does Nintendo remotely realize the significance of that? That for many, seeing their game published on a Nintendo platform is a dream come true?

Dan: They absolutely do. And in some ways, I think it can limit what they do. They’re being held to such a high standard that they don’t want to mess it up. They’ve got everyone’s childhood memories at stake.

IGC: Seriously, you don’t work there anymore. Be honest, the Wii U kinda sucks, huh?

Dan: No, it actually doesn’t! And I’d tell you if I really hated it. It’s actually gotten better with time. I wish some of the firmware updates that we’re seeing now had been there from the beginning. The software lineup is finally just now starting to hit its stride. Could you imagine if the Wii U launched with Super Mario 3D World?

IGC: Despite Nintendo’s reputation, they did allow games like Retro City Rampage (which is liberally peppered with adult situations and jokes at Nintendo’s expense) onto their platforms. Were there any games you fought for that Nintendo simply put their foot down and said “No!”?

Dan: Actually, no. There was – and is – no concept approval process, so unless something specifically conflicted with a guideline, it was allowed. I actually had the opposite problem. There was a ton of shovelware on WiiWare that was cluttering up the shop. I wanted to get rid of some of the garbage to make it easier to find the good games. Unfortunately WiiWare didn’t have any ability to merchandise and showcase the best games, so clutter just made it impossible to find anything. You were either a top seller, a new release, or buried in a mass grave.

IGC: You’re dumping Nintendo for the indie scene. So I guess my first question is, how do you like the taste of Ramen Noodles? You’ll be eating a lot of them.

Dan: I’m keeping a lookout for fresh roadkill. It’s a good source of protein. Actually, I’m going into this with the full expectation that I won’t have any income for at least 6 months and that it’ll be about a year before my household income exceeds my expenses.

IGC: I’ve been a part of the indie scene for over three years now, and few non-developers are held in as high a regard as you are. You just left the security of one of the planet’s biggest game developers to work with and help support the indie scene. Why did you choose indies?

Dan: Three years? Noob.

I’ve been a gamer all my life. My first console – which I barely remember – was a Magnavox Odyssey. I moved on to an Atari 2600, ColecoVision, and then started making my own games on my father’s IBM PC and eventually got my own Commodore 64. I’ve mentioned in a few interviews that it really bothered me how boring games were becoming. Every game I looked at was so predictable. I chose to work with indies because they’re the only ones who can save gaming. I can’t do what they do, so I do the next best thing – give them whatever support I can.

IGC: If you had to give indies only one piece of advice, what would it be?

Dan: Help me help you. You can get in touch with me on Twitter or find my contact information on my website: www.dan-adelman.com. (Shameless plug!)

Note from Cathy: From what I’ve read about Dan’s business plan, I absolutely endorse it. His intention is to become a virtual member of the development team throughout the entire development cycle, as a sort of business manager for your group. Not all of you are ready to take a step forward towards having to both make games and be responsible business people. But, for those that are, Dan is absolutely qualified and capable of helping you get the business side of your new studio in order. Give him a chance.

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Wii Don’t Get U

Something disturbing happened to me recently: I started liking my Wii U.  Maybe it has something to do with it finally getting a couple of games I actually wanted to own.  No, Nintendo, I’m not really keen on paying $50 for a remake of Wind Waker that you vomited bloom on and called “HD.”  I don’t have anything against it, besides the fact that I already played it enough to get a 100% completion when I was thirteen-years-old and thus I had nothing left to get out of it.  Hey, if you’re a youngin’ and you’ve never played it, it’s totally worth $50.  It’s my favorite Zelda ever.  I just can’t understand why people who still own the GameCube original and have beaten it multiple times were drooling at the thought of ponying up $50 to buy it again.  The already-spectacular graphics are slightly better, but not another $50 better.  The biggest improvement in the game involved REMOVING content.  I don’t get it.

Not to mention that if your best game in your first year is a barely-upgraded port of a game ten years old, you're in big trouble.

Not to mention that if your best game in your first year is a barely upgraded port of a title ten years old, you’re in big trouble.

In fact, “I Don’t Get It” is a running theme with me and my ability to comprehend the Wii U.  I’m even more baffled (and somewhat terrified) by how their fans just absolutely will not give you an inch in regards to any flaw in the machine, or accept how damn gloomy the future of the system appears to be.  I’m certainly not relishing the idea of my Wii U dying an early death.  I look at a video game system as an investment, and with the Wii U, I’ve barely started to get my returns on it.  We’re just over a year into its life.  Consoles typically don’t hit their stride until year three, year four.  I still weep when I think about how the Dreamcast, as good as it was, never really had a “prime” during its existence.  In comparison, the Wii U has barely cleared the starting gate, in terms of realizing its potential.

With news that Nintendo slashed the console’s sales forecast by 69%, I’m sure there are people there who are asking “how could this happen?”  Even though, before it even launched, pretty much everyone that wasn’t a diehard Nintendo fanboy saw this coming.  There are so many factors on why it’s not taking off.  I have a few theories on this.

1. The Wii U is just plain not cool.  Mock all you want, but the original Wii was, for a time, very cool.  Stores could not keep it in stock.  Everyone wanted to play it.  It was hip and trendy, but simple enough so as not to intimidate anyone.  Coolness sells.  The iPad is not remotely the best tablet on the market, but it is very cool.  So if you have an iPad, you must be cool.  When the Wii came out, if you owned one, you were cool.  That’s not the case with the Wii U.  I’ve seen it myself.  We had some teenagers at our Christmas party this year.  When they saw I had an iPad, they thought I was cool.  When they saw I had both a PlayStation 4 and an Xbox One, they thought I was very cool.  When they saw I had a Wii U, they suddenly thought I was a dork with too much disposable income.

Tablets are a big deal now, but tablets are getting increasingly more thin and sleek.  Think of the iPad or the Samsung Galaxy.  In comparison, the Wii U looks like a Etch-a-Sketch that someone jammed buttons and analog sticks on.  A children’s toy, not something high-tech.  Then you get to the screen.  It’s not a bad screen by any means, but it simply is not as cool as your average tablet.  It looks older and outdated, like an early tablet.  I mean, it still uses a stylus for God’s sake.  Again, the Wii’s controllers, whether you liked them or not, stood out as sleek and novel.  The Wii U pad looks like a monstrosity.  Nintendo also dropped the ball by not redesigning secondary controllers, instead allowing you to carry over your old Wii remotes.  Economically, that made sense.  But it reenforced the perception that the Wii U was old and outdated before it even launched.

Then years ago, this would have been the single coolest thing in gaming history.  Now it's something that people shrug off and say "well, at least it's not Virtual Boy."

Ten years ago, this would have been the single coolest thing in gaming history. Now it’s something that people shrug off and say “well, at least it’s not Virtual Boy.”

2. The majority of the utterly insane, never-say-die, ignore all logic and defend Nintendo to the bitter end fanboys are around age 30 and over.  I get into it with them all the time on Twitter.  Although there are some my age, they’re nowhere near as loud, nor do they work as hard to twist logic and spin facts on the increasing amount of bad news related to the Wii U.  Do you wonder why that is?  Well, I have an answer.  My generation, which some call Millennials, have less brand loyalty than any generation that came before.  That is bad news for Nintendo.

Nintendo makes Nintendo-style games.  They control the most iconic franchises in gaming.  There’s no question that their quality of games are typically pretty high.  In the past, they could rely on their franchises and talent to create life-long loyal fans.  The fanboys that sometimes annoy me and sometimes amuse me probably got their start in gaming with an NES or an SNES.  Those fans stuck with Nintendo every step of the way, through good times and bad.  The Virtual Boy sold 140,000 units in the United States.  Who do you think bought those?  It’s the same way sports fans typically cheer for the local team.  It’s what they grew up with, and no matter where they go in life, they always stand by the home team.  If you had only an NES as a kid, Nintendo was your local team.

My generation doesn’t do that.  That probably has a lot of do with how the delivery of entertainment has evolved over the last thirty years.  If you only owned an NES, it didn’t have a lot of competition for your attention.  Maybe a handful of cable stations, Saturday morning cartoons, a comic or two once a month, head down to the video store to rent a VHS tape, or play with some He-Man action figures.  Today, game consoles compete with the internet, 500+ channel cable and satellite systems with DVR, Netflix, YouTube, smart phones, and tablets.  We’re a generation of instant-gratification, where nearly any form of entertainment we want can be accessed instantaneously.  So, because we grew up with so many sources of entertainment, we never formed loyalties to any one brand.

Now mind you, the brand loyalty effect is not exclusive to gaming.  It’s having a profound effect across the entire entertainment spectrum.  But it’s especially bad news for Nintendo.  They’ve sustained themselves for over twenty years on the loyal fanbase they created during the NES era.  NES children became N64 and GameCube adults, who continue to support the company to this day.  The same is not true of those reared on the Nintendo 64 or the GameCube.  Companies across the globe are scrambling to adjust their business models around this phenomena.  Nintendo is a company notoriously slow to adapt with the times.  They were the last company to jump into disc-based storage.  The last to embrace online gaming.  The last to include high-definition visuals.  Just going off their track record, I’m not betting they’ll be fast enough to adjust their marketing strategy to deal with this.

This is a prime example of what I mean.  Children of the NES era were so overcome with joy that they nearly died of a cerebral hemorrhage when Dr. Luigi was announced. People my age said "it's......... seriously, it's the same fucking game, only you throw two pills into the jar instead of one."  Then the fanboys were like "I KNOW, AWESOME RIGHT!  I HOPE IT COMES OUT ON 3DS SO I CAN PAY FOR IT TWICE!"

This is a prime example of what I mean. Children of the NES era were so overcome with joy that they nearly died of a cerebral hemorrhage when Dr. Luigi was announced. People my age said “it’s……… seriously, it’s the same fucking game, only you throw two pills into the jar instead of one.” Then the fanboys were like “I KNOW, AWESOME RIGHT! I HOPE IT COMES OUT ON 3DS SO I CAN PAY FOR IT TWICE!”

3. The Wii U is a confusing machine for the general populace.  I’ve seen it myself.  Let’s go back to that Christmas party earlier.  I was showing off all my game consoles to my colleagues and friends, most of whom are much, much older than me.  My Wii U game pad’s charging cradle is not situated by the console itself.  Nintendo has done well enough marketing it that my partners could identify the pad.  “That’s the Wii U, right?”  Then they looked at my various new consoles.  Xbox One.  PlayStation 4.  Even the Ouya.  Situated somewhere between them was a small, black disc drive that looked like it might be an external component of a PC.

“What’s that?”

“That’s the Wii U.”

“I thought that (pointing at the game pad) was the Wii U.”

“That’s the controller for it.  This is the console itself.”

“Oh, it’s one of those.

Presumably he meant a console.  And there in lies the problem: the people who primarily supported the Wii, your casual fanbase looking for a quick-fix good time with friends and family don’t understand what it is.  They think it’s a portable device.  Or possibly a very expensive accessory for the original Wii.  After all, it uses the same controls as the original.  And it mostly features the same franchises as seen on the original Wii.  If you don’t pay much attention, you might not realize what exactly the Wii U is.  I’ve seen it in person.

4. I hate to be one of those people who rags on a machine being underpowered, but the Wii U is too damn underpowered for third-parties to get behind.  There’s a myth that having less power makes a console less expensive to develop for.  That might be true, if you’re making an exclusive game for the platform.  But for blanket multi-platform releases, it’s a huge handicap that might make development for a console cost-prohibitive.  Don’t take my word for it.  Ask any third-party developer, and they’ll tell you that optimization for less powerful machines takes time and manpower, both of which are expensive.  If a developer targets a game for all the current generation systems, making a game play similar on the PS4 and Xbox One will be negligible.  Getting that same game to look and play as good on the Wii U will be difficult.  I’m not saying it can’t be done.  I’m saying it will eat up more company resources to get it done.  When a system is already floundering, they might just decide it’s not worth the risk.

Talk about the lack of third-party support of Wii U and, without fail, fanboys will wave Bayonetta 2 in your face like a prized bull.  Bayonetta was alright, maybe even good, but it didn't exactly light the world (or the sales charts) on fire. Going exclusive for Wii U, even if they're getting paid to do it, seems like suicide.  Platinum Games also did Mad World on the Wii, which only sold a little over 100,000 units.  They must be gluttons for punishment.

Talk about the lack of third-party support of Wii U and, without fail, fanboys will wave Bayonetta 2 in your face like a prized bull. Bayonetta was alright, maybe even good, but it didn’t exactly light the world (or the sales charts) on fire. Going exclusive for Wii U, even if they’re getting paid to do it, seems like suicide. Platinum Games also did Mad World on the Wii, which only sold a little over 100,000 units. They must be gluttons for punishment.

5. Nintendo bungled the launch badly.  Having two SKUs for the Wii U, the premium model and the basic model, was simply a bad idea.  The basic model, with a pitiful 8 GB of storage and no-game, seemed like a crummy value.  However, besides a pack-in game and a charging cradle, the Deluxe model wasn’t that much better.  Consumers are number oriented.  The basic model was $300 and the Deluxe model was $350.  Their competition at the time had packages available for the same price or less that offered 500 GB of storage space.  The best version of the Wii U offered a miserable 32 GB.  It gave the appearance that the Wii U offered little bang for your buck.

And then you get to the pack-in title for the Deluxe model: Nintendo Land.  I’m not knocking the quality of the game.  With four friends around, Nintendo Land is a very fun game.  But, it sucks to play by yourself.  In comparison, Wii Sports was also most potently entertaining with a group of people, but you could have nearly as much fun Wii golfing or Wii bowling by yourself.  Nintendo Land’s best games also require you to have the extra controls to play.  Wii Sports could be played hot-seat-style.  Out of the box, with only one controller, you could play Bowling and Golf.  You couldn’t play the other games, but they sucked anyway.

Really, the best option would have been to forgo the basic model, sell the Deluxe version only at a $300 cost, beef up the HDD to at least 100 GB to compete with Sony’s more base models that typically were around 120 GB, and put New Super Mario Bros. U as the pack-in.  It was Nintendo’s best-bet as a system-mover.  I’m confident that Nintendo Land by itself would have sold very good.  In fact, it probably would have sold more copies, because I think the Wii U with Super Mario U as the pack-in would have sold a lot more at launch.  Sure, they later did make a bundle that included Mario U and Luigi U, but by that point, the Wii U’s reputation was sealed.  The PS4 and XB1 were not too far off, and because there had been a drought of high-quality games in the months following launch, they lost any advantage they might have gotten by being first-to-market.  You only get one chance to make a first impression, and Nintendo showed up to the party wearing last season’s clothing and in need of a shower.

6. Why didn’t Nintendo design the system to be compatible with the 3DS?  The Wii U itself is basically just a giant DS.  They could have made it so the 3DS could act as extra controllers, which could have made for some very novel game concepts.  The type of wild, experimental stuff you saw on the GameCube with Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, Zelda Four Swords, and Pac-Man Vs.

Hey Nintendo, remember this?  How come, now that technology can do all these things wireless and seamlessly, do you not remember it?

Hey Nintendo, remember this? How come, now that technology can do all these things wireless and seamlessly, do you not remember it?

7. Nintendo really needs to handle the Virtual Console differently.  For many games on PlayStation Network, a single purchase nets you a copy of the game on all Sony platforms that support it.  When I cracked open my PS4 on launch day (in the 90 minutes I had before my system bricked and I had to send away for a new one), I immediately owned games like Flower or Sound Shapes for it.  I didn’t have to pay one extra cent for them.  I bought them on my PS3, and thus I had them on my PS4.  When I bought Doki Doki Universe for it, I owned it immediately on my PS3 and Vita as well.

Nintendo’s solution for those that spent oodles of money on Virtual Console stuff?  You can have the old versions of them on your Wii U through a convoluted transfer method, but they don’t work with the Wii U Game Pad.  If you want that, you have to pay extra.  Virtual Console purchases on Wii or Wii U also don’t carry over at all to the 3DS.  It makes them seem kind of like cheapskates and makes Sony look like they’re cooler people than Nintendo.  In the past, they got away with this, because their fans eagerly repurchased games even if they already owned every single version already out there.  Once again, it comes down to the new generation not having that same level of attachment to the company.  It’s yet another aspect of the Wii U that makes it appear to not be a good value for your investment.

The sad thing is, this isn’t Monday-morning quarterbacking here.  These points were stuff that everybody realized.  Everyone, it seems, except Nintendo.  I certainly don’t mean to imply that you won’t have fun with a Wii U.  After a slow start (Mario U not withstanding, I really did enjoy that game), there are a lot of really good games on the Wii U.  I had planned a PlayStation 4 versus Xbox One launch editorial, where the end would have me declare that if I was forced to choose one console to own right now, based on the library of games right now, with no consideration of future potential, I would have chosen the Wii U.  And I meant it.  As of this writing, it’s still true.  The best games available now for the current generation are mostly on it.  Nintendo even pulled a rabbit out of their hat late in the year with the surprise release of NES Remix, a game I absolutely adored.

NES Remix is something special. Marry me.

NES Remix is something special. Marry me.

But the future of the system looks pretty bleak, and I don’t know what can be done to turn the tide.  At one point, I figured Nintendo would hit the panic button, like they did with the 3DS.  A huge price slash, plus an apology-program like the 3DS Ambassador thing for those suckers that bought-in too early.  Now, I don’t even think that would help.  Nintendo’s loyal fans are in denial about it, but the numbers don’t lie.  Nintendo’s own forecast (which, like most companies, will always skew higher than realistic) called for nine-million units sold by 2014’s fiscal year, and instead they revised it to 2.8 million.  The PS4 and Xbox One are already primed to pass it, and already have in many regions.  It took the PS4 only 48 hours to pass the Wii U in the UK.

Going back to the Dreamcast, I want you to think about where it was at this point in its life-cycle.  The shadow of the PlayStation 2 hung over it like a terminal illness.  Yet, the Dreamcast was probably in a better position than the Wii U is today.  It had a more robust first-party library, and high-quality third-party support.  A year later, it was dead, and Sega was releasing games on other platforms.  I don’t think Nintendo will go out that way.  But the Wii U is not going to suddenly explode.  Even if they redesign the pad itself, to make it more in line with sleek and sexy tablets that they seemed to have had in mind in the first place, the system still has too many handicaps.  As a Wii U owner, I don’t want my system to go to the grave this early.  But all the best games are still somewhere off in the distance, and top-quality third-party games seem practically non-existent.  Right now, their big third-party exclusive is Bayonetta 2.  A sequel to a game that was decent at best, for a demographic that doesn’t seem in line with the Wii U at all.  Really, the fact that Bayonetta 2 is the biggest asset in their bullpen, doesn’t that really tell you everything you need to know?  Of course, their fans will disagree with me.  They’ll also disagree with the technology.  And the sales figures.  I just don’t get it.

Chick Speaks

Thank you everyone for your patience since the start of this month.  I’ve got about another month before I learn what my long-term medical situation will be.  I’m doing my best to keep gaming and trying to focus on working on Indie Gamer Chick, but it’s really tough.  My mind is wandering quite a bit.  I appreciate all the well-wishes and support.  I’ve had such an outpouring of it that I’m touched on a level I didn’t realize I could be.  I do love you all.  I don’t plan on going anywhere.

Wii U Panorama View and Wii U Virtual Console

Okay, so this is about as far removed from indies as I am from a Grammy, but considering how much I’ve “attacked” the Wii U here (reviewed two games for it, awarded both my seal of quality.  God, what bitch I am) I figured I owed this to Nintendo fanboys.  Yes, the Wii U finally isn’t totally embarrassing from a technical standpoint.  By that, I mean load times no longer rival death row in terms of agonizing waits.  Only took five months too!  I would sarcastically say Christmas came early this year, but considering that the Wii U launched too early, I think that joke would be hateful and inappropriate and I won’t go there.  You probably shouldn’t either.

With this new system update (that I began when I started playing Magnetic By Nature, and which was still going by time I finished that game) comes two new features that were anticipated, one of which is shockingly cool and the other of which is unsurprisingly horrid.  The cool one is Wii U Panorama View, which is the closest I’ve seen a gaming console come towards offering an amusement park ride experience at home.  It’s an on-the-rails interactive movie experience thing where the Wii U Gamepad acts a view-master.  There’s no real game here.  Really, the Panorama View is a glorified tech demo, albeit it a pretty cool one.  Myself (and my boyfriend especially) were skeptical about how good it would look.  In fact, when watching the movies, you can barely see the “seams” where the video was patched together.  Video quality is decent.  Not HD by any means, but not grainy or choppy either!  Although sometimes it does have a strange, unnatural “rounded” look that slightly takes you out of the experience, these moments are brief.

Not only should this have launched with the console, but Nintendo probably should have used this as the showcase technology at Wii U kiosks.  It has an undeniable "cool factor" that the console was sorely lacking.

Not only should this have launched with the console, but Nintendo probably should have used this as the showcase technology at Wii U kiosks. It has an undeniable “cool factor” that the console was sorely lacking.

Cool as these can be, they should have been bundled with the hardware, free of charge.  Why?  Because the subject matter of the films is really boring.  The tour of Kyoto takes place on a rickshaw and is a bare-bones gander of the back streets of the city.  Anything interesting to look at is glimpsed only from a distance.  The “Bird’s Eye View” video follows a gyro-copter around some random countryside.  This segment was clearly trying to ape the sound and feel of the Disney’s California Adventure signature ride Soarin’ Over California.   But whereas that video captured the majestic beauty of my home state with such flare and grace that it brings any proud Californian to tears, Bird’s Eye View is just fucking dull as hell.  But hey, it’s never been cooler to look at a parking lot using a game console!

There’s a double-decker bus tour of London that works better than the Kyoto tour on the grounds that you can see more of the sights of the city.  Although, having visited there once before, I can tell you that the experience isn’t as cool as the real thing.  Of course, this method of touring has the benefit of not having to eat food so greasy that any visiting American has to legally opt out of medicare.  Finally, there’s a Carnival parade from Rio de Janeiro that is probably the highlight of the video packages.  If you buy just one of these as a tech demo to show off your Wii U to friends, get this one.  It will still ultimately leave users saying “wait, that’s it?” when it ends, but I found that every person I showed these to, no matter what video, was grinning the entire time.  The older people, especially.  My parents (aged 63 and 44) were dazzled by these videos, and even my crotchety godfather A.J., who said “I don’t want to play no Nintendo game” was awed by the Carnival parade.

The real question is, when is this awesome feature going to be put to better use?  I would love to see a real filmmaker (someone with IMAX experience, or as a long shot, someone like James Cameron) take a crack at making a movie using this.  The obvious money-maker would be a tour of Disneyland.  Imagine being able to ride Pirates of the Caribbean and taking in all the sights of the attraction from the comfort of your own couch.  If they put out a video of that with a cost of, say, $9.99 attached to it, I would think they would have a major hit on their hands.  For now, the four videos they made do a better job of showing off the technology than showing the potential for this as a cool home video medium.  But seriously, Wii owners should buy at least one of these.  Trust me, it will become the go-to “check out what my Wii U can do” software, like bowling was for the original Wii.

And then there’s the debut of the Wii U’s Virtual Console.  A joyless, insulting debut with not a highlight to be found.  Of the eight titles selected to christen this farce, all of them can already be found on the original Wii, and half of them were part of the Game Boy Advance e-Reader lineup.  I can’t believe that even the most drooling shit-for-brains Nintendo fanboy isn’t starting to lose patience with them at this point.  What can anyone get excited about with these eight games?  Balloon Fight was mediocre at best.  Ice Climber can’t even say that.  Donkey Kong Jr. has been ported so many times to so many platforms that I strongly doubt there’s anyone left who actually wants it that doesn’t already own it.  The same could be said about Super Mario World.  This was a launch game for the SNES back in 1991.  I first played it on Game Boy Advance in 2002.  That’s really the theme here, isn’t it?  These eight titles have nearly 100 existing ports between them already out on the market.  There are fewer versions of Star Wars in existence.  When you’re making George Lucas look good, you probably should rethink things.

PETA's favorite game.

PETA’s favorite game.

I know what you’re thinking: “there she goes again on her stupid, hateful, anti-retro, anti-Nintendo tirades.  Snore.”  Of course, anyone paying attention would note that Nintendo is just as responsible for my love of games as any console manufacturer.  Probably more so than Sony or Microsoft.  I even enjoyed the original Wii for what it was.  I also got mileage out of the Virtual Console.  On average, my typical reader is ten years older than me.  That doesn’t sound too big, but in reality, that represents a titanic gap in gaming history.  Someone 33 years of age probably got their start with Atari, Coleco, or the NES.  I’m 23, which means I got my start with the original PlayStation and Nintendo 64.  So, for me, Virtual Console represented a chance to play many iconic games without having to find a dusty old console and cartridges to blow in.

But, for whatever reason, the Wii’s Virtual Console didn’t have a whole lot of games that appealed to me.  Don’t get me wrong, there were some absolutely amazing titles.  In particular, I loved Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars.  It was so radically different from the types of Mario RPGs I grew up with, like Paper Mario or the Mario & Luigi titles.  However, Nintendo seemed overall apathetic about the Virtual Console, and they’ve done nothing over the last three years to make me feel otherwise.  Look at the 3DS lineup.  They haven’t ported a new Game Boy game since January.  The only Game Boy Advance games they put out were exclusive to those suckers that bought a 3DS before there was any reason to actually own one.  There has been only one Game Boy Color game released this year, and it’s one of those River King fishing RPGs.  Mostly, Nintendo is just regurgitating the same tired NES releases.  Can’t really blame them.  One quivering Nintendo fan on my Twitter feed proudly boasted about how this became the sixth time he has bought Super Mario World.  I don’t get this mentality at all.  It’s not the same as going to the show to see a movie more than once.  When you own a game, you presumably should own it indefinitely.  Why would you need six versions of the same fucking game?  Another dude also rebought Super Mario World, complaining that he should have gotten it for free.  You’re supposed to throw rotten fruit at people, not money.

Quite frankly, the Game Boy Advance version is better.

Quite frankly, the Game Boy Advance version is better.

I own a Wii U and a pair of 3DSs.  These are not the traits of someone who hates a company.  But Nintendo isn’t exactly inspiring confidence that these purchases will be good long-term investments.  Nintendo’s decision to bail on their E3 presser is a bit startling.  The Wii U is off to a slow start.  The biggest release since launch was Lego City, which after all the hype, turned out to be pretty much the exact same game as every other Lego title, only it took place in a sandbox and didn’t have a license attached to it.  eShop titles have been scarce.  There’s no “new” titles coming in the near future to Virtual Console, with only a vague “it’s coming” in relation to Earthbound.  The next big Nintendo release is Game & Wario, which is getting a decent response.  That hits June 23.  After that, the next Nintendo release (and the only reason to own a Nintendo console is for Nintendo releases) is Pikmin 3, due to hit August 4.  Those two games are the only Nintendo-developed disc releases since launch.  When Pikmin 3 releases, it will have been 246 days since the Wii U launched.  So am I a Nintendo hater?  No.  I’m just disappointed that the best software Nintendo has given us since launch is a video of Carnival.

Wii Y?

Chick SpeaksThe Wii U.  I was not interested in it.  Then I was.  Then Target accidentally sold the one I had pre-ordered.   Then it came back in stock.  But one of my secretaries wanted one for her kid for Christmas, so I let her buy it instead, figuring that it would be impossible to find over the holidays.  I then went shopping and saw no less than five of the deluxe models at each store I went to.  The little impulse-buy voice in my head taunted me with chants of “come on Cathy, you know you want it.”  Even though I’m not sure I wanted it.  But that’s the funny thing about the impulse-buy voice.  It’s loud, annoying, and won’t shut up until you do what it tells you to.  It then goes away, only to be replaced by the buyer’s remorse voice, which will serve as my co-writer for this feature.

Unpacking a new console is always a treat.  Some websites generate tens of thousands of views doing just that.  For me, I like the smell, but a video of me sniffing my new console would be, well, weird.  But seriously, that “new console” smell.  It’s way different from new car smell.  It fades the moment you plug-in your first game.  Or, in the case of the Wii U, the moment you realize you’re about to wait two hours for a system update for features I don’t even want, like MiiVerse.  While I waited for this, something hit me about the Wii U Pad: it’s enormous.  “No shit, Sherlock” you’re thinking.  But really, the fucking thing is huge.  As in, I can’t believe this is a new electronic device made in the year 2012 huge.  Then again, this is Nintendo we’re talking about here.  When it comes to trends, they always seem at least ten years behind the times, at least in terms of actual technology.  They probably still picture the world as being full of rear-projection TVs and Humvees and Rosie O’Donnell talk shows.  Bigger is better, so let’s give people a portable television set that can be used as a second screen.

Dig those HD visuals.

Dig those HD visuals.

And that’s what the Wii U Pad feels like: a bulky portable TV straight out of 1999, essentially turning their newest console into a giant Nintendo DS.  The thing is, I always kind of pictured Nintendo consoles as being aimed at children.  Sure, most of their hardcore fans are actually thirty-year-olds who have the stunted brain development of a child, but from a marketing perspective, stuff like Nintendo Land seems made to appeal to the kiddie set.  Or, since my parents and their elderly friends (hi AJ!) had fun with it, the young at heart.  Well, hopefully those children can palm basketballs, because otherwise I’m not sure the Wii U Pad will ever feel truly comfortable.  Me?  I have teeny, tiny hands.  Assuming I never use the touch screen, I would still have a tough time adjusting to the Wii U Pad, the way it’s meant to be held.  Once you ask me to start using the touch screen, especially with the stylus, I simply couldn’t figure out a way to hold it without my hands cramping up.  I can’t imagine how children are going to ever enjoy this cumbersome thing.

But, the real problem with the Wii U pad is it just doesn’t add any play value.  The Nintendo DS and the 3DS work because the two screens are right next to each other.  The Wii U involves moving your eyes up and down a lot.  Or alternatively, not using the TV screen at all.  Take Scribblenauts.  Yea, I took a chance on it, despite the fact that the series has lived up to expectations about as well as Challenger did for NASA.  And actually, I still probably enjoyed it more than any other game in the series.  But the thing is, you never actually need to look at the TV when playing Scribblenauts Unlimited.  Everything can be done on the Wii U Pad.  So why make it a $60 console release when a $40 3DS release makes more sense?  The answer is because, um, schooba dooba schimander incoherent under-the-breath mumble.

I try not to be a doom-sayer when it comes to new console launches, and I always look for a silver lining.  I just don’t see one with the Wii U.  Granted, I didn’t really put the console through the type of wringer that I should have.  But that’s because all the games that are getting huge critical acclaim are just “special editions” of shit I just played this last year.  Mass Effect 3.  Arkham City.  Trine 2.  Critical marks for the Wii versions of these titles are great, but I already played them when they first came out, on account of them getting great critical marks back then on other machines.  And, let’s face it, I’ve already played the other “must have” titles that I did pick up.  Scribblenauts Unlimited does add some new ideas, but it’s still basically the same Scribblenauts that I own on my DS, or that I recently paid a whopping $1 for on my iPhone.

That just leaves New Super Mario Bros. U.  First off, I only played it single-player.  The reason being that nobody I know was actually interested in playing it.  What did I think?  Well, it’s easily better than New Super Mario Bros. or New Super Mario Bros. Wii, or New Super Mario Bros 2.  In fact, it’s the first game in the series that feels like a true continuation of the 80s and 90s Mario series, instead of a tribute to those games.  And that’s great, but shouldn’t that have been made, oh, twenty fucking years ago?  How come it took twenty years to get a proper 2D follow-up to Super Mario World?  Maybe they could have existed on the Game Boy Advance, but no, Nintendo decided to cheaply port existing games to the platform instead of attempting anything original.  So while I did have fun with Brand New Mario You, it feels more like playing a mid-90s game with remade 2005 visuals.  In 2012.

Like I said in my piece on the end of the Wii, I don’t buy Nintendo consoles to play third-party games.  I buy them for Nintendo properties.  That’s why I don’t give a shit if the Wii U is already being mocked for its lack of horsepower.  You don’t buy hybrids to win drag races, and you don’t buy Nintendo machines expecting the visuals to knock your socks off.  You buy them expecting the type of entertainment that only Nintendo seems to provide.  In that sense, I guess the Wii U is a winner by default.  I did have fun with Mario U and Nintendo Land, in the same way that I had fun with the original Wii right out of the box on launch day with Wii Sports and Twilight Princess.  But, and here’s  the difference between it and every other Nintendo launch: I don’t see why I needed a new console to have that fun.  With the exception of Nintendo Land, nothing I’ve played on my Wii U over the last couple weeks couldn’t have been done at least equally as fun on the 3DS.

Silly as this sounds, the Animal Crossing minigame in Nintendo Land was the honeypot for entertainment for me.

Silly as this sounds, the Animal Crossing minigame in Nintendo Land was the honeypot for entertainment for me.

I think that’s why I’m still a cynic when it comes to the Wii U.  With the exception of its potential for party games, I don’t see how this bulky ass controller is going to revolutionize gaming.  Maybe it’s not meant to.  Maybe this is just the latest in a long line of machines designed to showcase the best Nintendo’s first parties can come up with.  I guess launch isn’t the best time to talk about a system’s potential.  I would say that if you’re skeptical of the Wii U, nothing at launch will change your opinion about it.  If you’re a raving Nintendo fanboy, you probably stopped reading when I complained about the controller.

As always, the worst thing about any Nintendo launch is dealing with Nintendo fans.  Even Peter Pan would look at Nintendo fanboys and be like “damn, you guys really ought to grow up!”  Yea I know, Nintendo did more to raise you than your parents did.  You ate Nintendo cereal, carried a Nintendo lunch-box, read Nintendo comics, watched Nintendo cartoons, wore Nintendo pajamas, slept in Nintendo bed sheets, and if time allowed, played Nintendo games.  But this whole brand-loyalty thing is just absurd.  Nintendo wasn’t your best friend growing up.  It was a company that targeted you because it could make money off you.  Yea, I know people fall in love with specific brands, but Nintendo fans have kept this childhood obsession going.  As kids, they picked fights with the Genesis crowd.  As young adults, they tried to claim with a straight face that the GameCube was every bit as cool as the PlayStation 2.  And now, as adults, they say anyone who has even the slightest negative opinion of the Wii U is a hater.  STOP IT!  Mature people don’t do this!  Brand loyalty is one thing, but you don’t see Marlboro smokers hacking up phlegm on Camel enthusiasts.

Wiitirement

The Wii U is out.  This means all that’s left for the original Wii is the typical third-party shovelware that a dead system gets once its successor hits.  In the Wii’s case, this is known as the status quo.  I’m kidding.  Mostly.  But this really does mark the end of the Wii’s life cycle, as no major first or third-party titles are left for the system.  That makes this a fitting time to look back on a console that alienated hardcore gamers (even slobbering Nintendo fanboys) and ultimately collected more dust than your average Egyptian tomb.  And yet, even as sales of the system slowed, it retires having outsold its rivals by nearly thirty-million consoles each, and will go down as one of the most profitable video game consoles in history.  Take a bow, Wii.  Don’t worry, I won’t wedgie you.

Wii was controversial from the moment its controller was unveiled.  It looked silly, gimmicky, and went against everything thirty years worth of convention said gaming controllers should be.  People thought Nintendo had lost their fucking minds.  I did too, but in retrospect I’m not sure why.  Nintendo popularized the D-pad, shoulder-buttons, the analog stick, and rumbling controllers.  There have been missteps (Virtual Boy) but otherwise Nintendo tends to get these things right.  Then the name came out.  Wii.  We’ve all heard the jokes and bad puns, which I’m obviously not above doing as indicated by the title of this piece.  This irrational hatred all stems from the codename being Revolution, which people got attached to, with no consideration that the word “revolution” is practically taboo in large parts of the world.

And, of course, the Wii was vastly underpowered compared to other consoles of the generation.  People moaned that they had only made slight adjustments to the Gamecube and nothing more.  As if this is a new practice.  The NES was, more or less, a re-purposed Atari 2600.  Both consoles had very similar processors, but the NES had access to components and features that were price-prohibitive in 1976 when the Atari was being speced out.  I’m not excusing Nintendo for excluding HD though.  Then again, I’m not really admonishing them either.  This is Nintendo we’re talking about, a company that had an irrational phobia of disc based things and internet connectivity.  Do you know what Nintendo is?  Nintendo is my father.  Impressed, or possibly obsessed, with “high-tech” inputs, but terrified of actual technological progress.

Punisher makers take note: your game can be difficult AND fun. Donkey Kong Returns proves that.

I’ll be honest: I’m not a fan of the system.  It would rank a distant third for me among seventh-generation consoles.  Fifth if you include the sublime Nintendo DS and the unsung workhorse that was the Sony PSP.  But saying the Wii was the straggler of this generation is like making fun of a bench player on a Super Bowl Champion.  This last generation was, and still is as long as the PS3 and Xbox 360 keep chugging along, the greatest generation in gaming history.  So I don’t really care if the Wii was the dumping ground of shovelware and half-baked ideas.  I wouldn’t really want to play third-party stuff on Wii anyway.  I would rather play them on one of the other consoles, with all the bells and whistles those systems provided, instead of on the Wii with gimmicky controls.

Wii gave me what I wanted: high-quality first-party Nintendo games.  That’s all I ever want out of a Nintendo console.  Anyone who expected otherwise obviously has problems with pattern recognition.  The Gamecube wasn’t exactly overflowing with third-party stuff that had a leg up on their PS2 or Xbox counterparts.  The Nintendo 64 certainly didn’t.  There might be a handful of exceptions, but the only reason any rational gamer would buy a Nintendo system is to play Nintendo games.  And the Wii had more quality first-party stuff than previous consoles did.  It’s not even close, in fact.  So why the hate?

I got into an argument with a friend of mine over this.  He felt Nintendo had abandoned “hardcore” fans.  This is a very common argument among Nintendo fanboys.  My short response: you’re wrong.  My long response: you’re all stupid, entitled, butthurt idiots.  And I can prove you’re wrong about Nintendo abandoning you.  Again, the only reason to own a Nintendo console in this day and age is for the first-party exclusives.  I know many of you cling to the era of the NES and SNES where Nintendo was king of the hill and had incredible third-party support.  Sorry, but those days are long gone.  They ceased to be in 1996 when Nintendo pissed off third-parties by keeping the cart format for the N64.  There were almost 800 SNES games released in North America, versus around 250 Nintendo 64 games, and around 400 Gamecube games.

Then the Wii became an unprecedented hit.  Nobody saw it coming.  It also was cheap to produce games for and Nintendo was much more modest with licensing fees than they had been in previous generations.  Suddenly, Wii is being flooded with hastily produced, low-quality shovelware.  This created a fogging effect that made the overall picture appear deluded.  Then Nintendo decided to really experiment with things like Wii Fit and Link’s Crossbow Trainer, and suddenly Nintendo fans felt like they were being ignored in favor of gimmicky, mass-market oriented stuff.

Huh?

Quick question to Nintendo fans: how many original Zelda games were on Nintendo 64?  Two, right?  How many on Gamecube?  Two again (three if you count Twilight Princess as a Gamecube game).  And how many were on Wii?  Um, two?

How many proper Mario games were on Nintendo 64?  You had Super Mario 64 and.. um.. that’s it.  On Gamecube, you had Mario Sunshine and that’s it.  On Wii, you had Super Mario Galaxy, Super Mario Galaxy 2, and New Super Mario Bros.

Not all first-party games were worthwhile. Mario Kart 7, Mario Party 8, and Animal Crossing were pretty big steps backwards in my opinion.

How many Metroid games were there on Nintendo 64?  Oh that’s right: NONE.  How many were on Gamecube?  Two.  How many were on Wii?  Two.

How many Punch-Out games were on Nintendo 64?  Zero.  How many were on Gamecube?  Zilch.  How many were on Wii?  One.  One really good one.

And talking about over-using gimmicks: how many Donkey Kong Country games were on Gamecube?  One, if you count Donkey Kong Jungle Beat, a 2D platformer where the controller was replaced by banging on a fucking BONGO to maneuver Donkey Kong.  On the gimmicky Wii, you used standard controls.

There was a very good Paper Mario title, a decent 2D Wario Land title, two pretty good Kirby games, and a pretty good Fire Emblem title.  And that’s just the franchised stuff.  My friend also complained about the lack of original properties.  I guess he missed Wii Sports (fuck all the haters, that game was fun), Endless Ocean, Fortune Street (making its North American debut), Big Brain Academy, the Art Style series on WiiWare, Sin & Punishment (and its Nintendo 64 predecessor that never made it stateside), and the way overlooked Fluidity on WiiWare.

And for you fans of paying for the same shit you’ve already paid for once and played a million times, you had the Virtual Console, plus “Wii-makes” of previous generation stuff like Pikmin, Metroid Prime, Resident Evil 4, etc.

This is abandonment?

Look, I’m not going to deny that the Wii was a disappointment, but didn’t most of that stem from ambitious but ultimately shitty third-party games?  Madworld, Conduit, Force Unleashed, and Epic Mickey spring to mind.  But that ignores some really neat smaller titles, like Elebits or Boom Blox that were a lot of fun.  While its true that my mind was never blown by anything third-party on the system, to say it was a wasteland of mediocrity is absurd.

I was quite fond of Zack & Wiki. It’s too bad nobody bought it.

Here’s one last thought on the Wii: if you were ten-years old, how much do you think you would like it?  I’m guessing the answer is “a lot more than you would have at age 30.”  Is it possible that your expectations were based on what Nintendo meant to you as a child?  Because here’s a newsflash: your beloved NES and SNES were overflowing with garbage that you would absolutely detest if you had never played it and it was released today.   I certainly would have liked Sonic and the Secret Rings a lot more if I was seven and the Wii had been my first machine, even though the game is not really that good.  Just like how I loved Crash Bandicoot at that same age, a game I would loath if I played it today.

No, Nintendo didn’t abandon you, the hardcore gamer.  They bent over backwards trying to appease you and keep you interested with the Wii.  But Nintendo has competition that can’t be beaten: your own memories.  The older you get, the more rosy those memories become, and the more insurmountable they become.  So instead of bitching about gimmicks, power, or shovelware that you wouldn’t buy anyway, look at what Nintendo did for you with the Wii and tip your hat to them.  Yea, my Wii sat unused for over a year before Skyward Sword showed up to disappoint me.  Yea, I probably played it a small fraction as much as my other consoles.  Yea, I would rather dive split-eagle on an electric fence than play 95% of the games on it.  But despite being a strange, often clunky, underpowered piece of shit, it provided me with many hours of fun.  I’ll miss it.  You should too.

My Favorite Games Ever – Part 6: WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Microgame$!

This is it.  This is the finale.  And call me crazy, but I believe the greatest video game I’ve ever played is..

WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Microgame$!

Age I was: 14

Last attempt at playing it: Today

Would I ever play it again: Yes

I thought the idea behind WarioWare sounded dumb.  A bunch of one-button “micro-games” that last between 1 to 3 seconds?  Utter hogwash.  So credit due to Nintendo for one of the most genius uses of “gotcha” marketing in history.  You see, back in 2003 Nintendo was struggling to convince gamers to buy third-party titles on its platform instead of just their own first party stuff.  My oh my, how times have changed!  To try to combat this, Nintendo created their first (and I think only real) demo disc, which was distributed at major retailers.  It contained demos of such third-party fare Sonic Adventure DX, Splinter Cell, Viewtiful Joe, Billy Hatcher, and Soul Caliber 2.  Good choices, mostly.  Sonic Adventure could officially go fuck itself (and the Gamecube port was somehow technically worse than the Dreamcast version), but I ended up getting all the other games.

But, that’s not why I remember that disc.  I’ll remember it because if you hooked your Game Boy Advance to the Gamecube while this disc was going, you could snag a full copy of Dr. Mario (which disappeared as soon as you turned off your machine) or a demo of WarioWare.  By this point, it had been released already.  I had heard EGM call it “digital crack” and saw it get 9s from IGN and Gamespot.  I also heard it described as “weird”, and at age 14, weird wasn’t on my radar.  But hey, free is free!  And besides, this would give me a chance to see just how much I would hate it.

An hour later, I was on my way to Best Buy to buy it.

WarioWare is the best game ever made.  It strips gaming to its most pure mechanics (one button, directional pad, and high scores) and then weaponizes the addictive potential of what little gameplay is left.  It tests a player’s reflexes, concentration, and likelihood of one day landing a stay in the Betty Ford Clinic.  Each one of the 200 “microgames” are designed to ruin your life, and they are well designed indeed.  Games have “owned” me to a heavier degree, but I never actually liked any of those games as much as this.  I’ll take the month I couldn’t put WarioWare down over the almost year I completely threw away on World of Warcraft.

I still haven’t heard a satisfactory explanation for why the boss of 9-Volt’s stage (themed around classic Nintendo games) is a fucking batting cage. Yes, I know Nintendo once did an electromagnetic baseball game. That’s a shitty explanation. It still doesn’t fit the theme or the mood. Jesus Christ, Nintendo! You guys could fuck up a cup of coffee.

Sometimes it’s okay for a game to challenge just yourself.  I dread to think how damn addictive WarioWare could have been if I was challenging online leaderboards.  When I dusted off my old GBA copy (eschewing the digital copy I got for free because I pissed away money on a launch-window 3DS), I went to check my old scores against the world records.  Couldn’t do it, because Twin Galaxies is off to check for gummy substances and their site is on hiatus.  It’s just as well, because otherwise I would probably end up clearing my schedule for the month.  Who has time for work and eating and boyfriends and shit when you have immortality in the form of a moderately obscure gaming record?

You’ll notice that WarioWare is the one and only game I listed in my all-time gaming top 10 that I say is still worth playing today.  There’s more than one reason for that.  In all honesty, I would probably have a tough time arguing against stuff like Portal, Red Dead Redemption, or Super Mario Galaxy as the greatest game ever, especially against something as bizarre as WarioWare.  But what’s the difference between those games and this one?  No actual end, for one thing.  A lot of people have chastised me for saying I don’t want to give Banjo or GoldenEye or Shadow of the Colossus another chance, even after I’ve said that I’ve gotten everything possible out of them.  It’s like someone saying you waste the cow you just butchered if you don’t eat the eyeballs and suck the marrow out of the bone.  But not all games carry the burden of being something that can be finished.  Not all games require the type of time investment the nine epics that preceded WarioWare in this feature need.  That’s why I’m cool with playing Bejeweled over Final Fantasy VII today.  One game requires five minutes of my time while I wait for Jack in the Box to finish my Sourdough Jack.  The other requires 70 hours spent at home in front of my TV, time that I could use to play something brand new that still has a chance at surprising me.  For those of you who can’t understand why I choose not to play it again, I don’t know how else to articulate it.

That’s what I love about WarioWare.  It’s something I can play for 15 minutes, potentially beat a high score in that time frame, put down for a month, and get back to without missing a beat.  Let’s put this in perspective: while researching this feature, I went through all the WarioWare games again.  For the original game, I shattered my record for Dribble’s stage that had stood for 8 years, going from an 84 to a 90.  It’s probably not even that good of a score (though a quick check of this thread at GameFAQs shows I fucking own most of the scores on here and am quite possibly the best WarioWare player ever.  Who needs to know how to throw a Dragon Punch when you can play WarioWare?) but I’m proud.

I don’t care to hear where the inspiration for some of the games came from. I can leave it up to my imagination.

Nearly ten years later and WarioWare can still wreck my day.  I went to play it for a few minutes, just to see how it feels today.  Hours later, with my eyes hurting and my fingers starting to cramp, I did the only sensible thing someone who is highly capable of physically overdosing on a game could do: waited for the battery on my old GBA to die, switched the game to the Game Boy Player on my TV, and kept going.  Five-and-a-half hours spent busting scores and zoning out while listening to the catchy tunes and enjoying the trippy visuals.  I will never play another game like WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Microgame$!  Prove me wrong, developers.

But let’s not kid ourselves: even Nintendo can’t prove me wrong.  They’ve put out a half-dozen spin-offs and sequels and they range from meh-able to absolutely fucking horrid.  Since I just went through them, I really want to talk about them.

Mega Party Games: Can’t really comment too much on this one because I didn’t have the required three friends.  However, I’ll say that it’s pretty lazy of Nintendo to do straight-ports of all 200 games, even cropping the screen to accommodate them.  Why you lazy fucks!

Touched: The Nintendo DS game was the first sequel to hit stateside (Twisted came out first in Japan) and it started the trend of Nintendo using the franchise as a glorified tech-demo for whatever new system their shilling.  The problem here is the games were created to emphasize the touch screen capabilities instead of being fun.  Plus, not all the games are suited for a series that’s hook is accelerating gameplay.  Some of the games (especially Ashley’s) are fucking impossible once the game gets whipping.  I’m not being a smart ass there.  I mean they literally cannot be beaten.  You neither have enough time nor can the system keep up with it.  Touched isn’t totally abysmal, but it’s nowhere near the original’s league.  And it only got worse from there.

Mike’s stage was just stpuid. One stage requires you to make no noise at all. I find any game that can be mastered by leaving it alone in another room is not a very well made game.

Twisted: Ugh.  For some reason, Twisted is held in esteem for being quirky.  Well, do you know what else was quirky?  The first WarioWare.  All future quirkiness from the series is thus redundant.  Instead, Twisted relies on a gyroscopic sensor.  So did another rightfully forgotten piece of shit, Yoshi Topsy-Turvy.  The game has mucho problems with centering, accuracy, and playability.  Ultimately, I don’t want to play a game that doesn’t want me to look at the screen.  Maybe it’s just me.  MetaCritic would have me believe that, because not one person came out and said “this really isn’t very fun.”  I obviously didn’t spend a lot of time with it.  I beat Super Wario’s stage just once, and my latest shitty score of a 6 on Crygor’s stage was good enough to make my leaderboard.  Well, I just did play through it again and I didn’t miss anything.

Smooth Moves: One of the biggest disappointments of my gaming lifetime, yet another game that was inexplicably showered with critical praise.  I read a lot of it and I wondered if they played the same game as me.  The game they played seemed to do what they wanted it to do.  The game I played was broken.  As in, it didn’t work.  I’ll give you some examples: in Ashley’s stage, one of the games requires you to drop the controller and let it sway from the wrist strap.  About half the time I played that stage, I lost because the game didn’t recognize the motion.  Even though the only thing the game required you to do was LET GO OF THE CONTROLLER!  What the hell, Wiimote?  Are you in a fucking coma?

The biggest problem, besides the fact that the famous lightning-speed of the franchise is crippled by the constant shifting of handling positions, is how the motions the game needs don’t match up with the motions it would seem you should use.  The motions you would use to swing a bat or operate a crank in Wii Land differ greatly from reality.  Part of the problem is the Wiimote wasn’t ready to handle this kind of gameplay at this point of in its lifetime.  If they had waited for the Wii Motion Plus, it might have worked.  But Nintendo had to get out their latest tech demo and further stomp out the legacy of the original and there is no time like the present.  Fuck this game rotten.

Most of the games that required you to “push” something at the screen leaned towards the broken side.

Snapped: Yea!  Another shitty, obvious rush-job tech demo!  One that uses some of the shittiest hardware Nintendo has done in the last ten years, and that’s really saying something.  The DSi camera is so low-resolution that time travelers from the 1960s would laugh at it, but Nintendo decided to go with that instead of charging players an extra $10 and include a camera that you wouldn’t be ashamed to use.  But even if they were using space-age technology, WarioWare Snapped is just plain shitty.  Let’s start with the total games: 20.  That’s 10% of the total games found on the Game Boy Advance.  Not that I was expecting a lot from a $5 digital download, but really you’re paying for a glorified expansion for Touched that strips as much core gameplay out of the franchise as possible.  You have to sit the DSi on a table to play, stay perfectly still between rounds so that the game doesn’t have a sulk, and the camera can’t recognize you more than half the time anyway!  No speed-ups either, or high scores, or boss stages, or fun.  The worse game in the series?  Nah, that would be Smooth Moves on account of it costing $50, not working, and sucking.  Snapped only costs $5, doesn’t work, and sucks.  By my math, that makes it suck only 10% as much as Smooth Moves.

DIY: I can’t really say this one sucks, but it certainly wasn’t for me.  User-created content and level-editing tools have never been among my favorite features.  I loved Little Big Planet, but I am not interested at all in making my own stages, nor am I all that interested in playing the shitty user-made content that is boring and unfinished 90% of the time.  I wasn’t really impressed with any of the user content for WarioWare DIY, which mostly looked like stuff drawn in MS Paint.  Yea, it’s better than I could do, but that doesn’t make it worth playing.  The professional Microgames done by Nintendo are also among the worst the series has, which makes me think this started as a normal game before Nintendo fired the whole staff and decided to let gamers finish it themselves.

Everyone has tried to make their own WarioWare.  Sony just put out one on the Vita, the putridly awful Frobisher Says.  There’s also been Work Time Fun, the most artificially quirky pile of shit ever.  Ha, it’s called “WTF” get it?  Hilarious!  Funny enough, the best WarioWare Wannabe is on XBLIG:  Minigame Marathon.  It’s not perfect, but it actually plays well and more or less “gets it” when it comes to what made WarioWare work.  It’s actually better than any of the official Nintendo sequels, and for only $1.

You know what?  I don’t expect anything further from this series.  Assuming they make any more.  The next title, Game & Wario, is dumping microgames in favor of being a mascot-driven version of Wii Play.  And it looks fucking horrible.  But it doesn’t matter.  I have the perfect version of WarioWare already, and it’s still fun to play today.  I doubt anyone else in the whole wide world will agree with me, but I think the best game ever made is WarioWare Inc.: Mega Microgame$.  Do you know what else?  I can’t wait for a game to come along and dethrone it.

My Ten Favorite Games Ever – Part 4

Continuing from Part 3, these are my personal ten favorite games ever.  Not the best games ever made, or even games I want to play again.  But the ten games I had the most fun playing the first time I played them.

Banjo-Kazooie

Age I was: 9

Last attempt at playing it: ten years later at age 19, when it was released on XBLA.

Would I ever play it again: No

Crash Bandicoot and Crash Bandicoot 2. Those were pretty much the definitive games of my formative years as a gamer.  Sure, there were lots of oddball games between those.   The original Rayman I enjoyed.  Bubsy 3D I did not.  At age 7, it was my first clue that not all games are created equal.  But while my experience playing a PlayStation kiosk lured me into asking Santa Claus for one for Christmas, I wasn’t quite to the point of tracking down every new release and having actual anticipation for upcoming titles.  And then I played Banjo-Kazooie at Toys R Us, and everything changed.

July 11, 1998.  My 9th birthday.  A brand new Nintendo 64, a controller that looked like a tumorous raptor-claw, and Banjo-Kazooie.  All mine.  How much did I love Banjo-Kazooie?  I didn’t even open the other game I got that day, Mario Kart 64, until a month later.  Banjo owned the rest of my summer.  I spent hours hunting down every music note, honeycomb, nook, cranny, and just being in awe of how much bigger this was than anything I had played before it.  This wasn’t a roped-off parade route, like Crash.  This was a full-fledged world that was alive and breathing, and it was mine to explore.

Banjo wasn’t the last game to wow me like that.  I had similar feelings the first time I explored Hyrule in Zelda: Ocarina of Time, or raced a Killer Whale in Sonic Adventure.  None of which I feel hold up today, but that first time through each will always hold a special place in my heart.  Platformers didn’t become special again for me until long after that.  Super Mario 64, which I played for the first time immediately after finishing Banjo-Kazooie, was hugely disappointing for me.  The world seemed less alive, less vibrant, and duller.  But that made sense.  It came out years before Banjo, and even Shigeru Miyamoto wasn’t totally satisfied with it.  He wanted to keep refining it, until Nintendo president Hiroshi Yamauchi outright told him “it’s good enough, we need to get this into manufacturing!”

Nuts & Bolts was just alright for me. Some of my readers are shocked that I didn’t like it more on account of my childhood love for Banjo. I don’t get the logic of that at all. It’s like saying I like peanuts, and therefore I’ll like peanuts even if they’re fifteen years past the expiration date.

Mario 64 not “doing it for me” was perfectly logical.  So how come Donkey Kong 64 or Banjo-Tooie didn’t “do it for me” either?  Or for that matter, Super Mario Sunshine or Sly Cooper or countless other very good platformers?  Even after experiencing a couple “holy shit, this is amazing!” moments in Sonic Adventure (a game I concede is an atrocious piece of shit, but I was blinded at the time by the shiny new hardware) or my first time playing the Game Boy Advance ports of stuff I missed like Super Mario Bros. 3 or Yoshi’s Island, nothing ever quite approached that month spent playing Banjo-Kazooie.

But let’s not kid ourselves: Isn’t that how it should be?  Those moments of pure gaming nirvana, where you know you’re playing something uniquely special that makes you feel different than all other games do, shouldn’t those be rare?  For you it might have been Mario 3 or Chrono Trigger or Link to the Past.  For me, it was Banjo-Kazooie, and that’s just because of the generation gap.  If I had felt the same way after Tooie, or Mario 64, or Donkey Kong 64, or Blinx, or Vexx, or Billy Hatcher, then that original moment isn’t as special.  I enjoyed all the games I just listed, some very much so.   But only Banjo-Kazooie made me feel awesome in ways that defy description.  And I can’t get that feeling back from playing it again.  I tried not too long after I finished Banjo the first time.  I tried again when Banjo got a nifty HD port to Xbox Live Arcade.  It’s just not the same game for me anymore.  Like Shadow of the Colossus, I have nothing left to get from it.  At one point, I chalked it up to platformers not meaning as much to me as they did when I was a kid.  I still enjoyed them, but my gaming palate had grown and I liked other genres now.  I figured nothing would ever make me feel like Banjo-Kazooie did.  And then I played this..

Super Mario Galaxy

Age I was: 18

Last attempt at playing it: I never went back and played the original again, but the sequel was a glorified expansion pack and it hit when I was 21, so there you go.

Would I ever play it again: No

Mario doesn’t mean the same to me as he does to you.  That doesn’t mean I think Mario games are somehow inferior to your perception of them.  In general, they’re pretty fucking awesome.  But my childhood wasn’t spent counting down the days until the next game with Mario would hit the shelves.  That’s why I can’t get even remotely nostalgic about Super Mario 3, nor can I stand hearing people try to justify The Wizard.  Super Mario World wasn’t a benchmark title for me.  It was just the second game in the series to be ported to Game Boy Advance, and it was really fun.  Mario 64 was that game that let me down after Banzo-Kazooie, but I didn’t hate it or anything.  I just don’t think it’s a game that transcends time.  New Super Mario Bros. was that weird title that felt like the gaming equivalent of a bunch of frat boys trying to recreate their glory days and coming across as sadly quaint and pathetic.  I guess I’m really weird, because my favorite Mario up to this point had been Super Mario Advance.  You know, the remake of Super Mario 2.  The strange one that only became a Mario game because Shigeru Miyamoto went on the rag and decided he wanted humanity to suffer, making the real Mario 2 so brutally difficult that nobody could possibly like it.  Yea, I’m talking about the vegetable pulling one where NOBODY actually used Mario.  They either used Luigi or the Princess, and they probably warped past the ice world because that shit was fucking horrid.

I didn’t have low expectations for Super Mario Galaxy.  I thought it would be fun, just like Mario Sunshine had been, and that I would enjoy it for a couple of days, finish it, and think nothing of it.  So imagine my surprise when I totally melted as I played it.  It was awesome.  And it did what no game had done for me since Banjo: it turned me into a nine-year-old again, and kept me that way the whole play-through.  It was magical.  It really was.

The amazing levels, crazy gravity, fun objectives, and that sense that everything you were experiencing was something new and unique.  You’ve seen stuff like Mario Galaxy before.  It borrowed elements from previous games in the series liberally.  But they had never felt quite like this did.  It was utterly amazing.  The goals were always short and focused, so that they never grew tiresome, and worlds had just enough objectives to feel like they knew exactly how long it would all take to get boring and stopped just short of it.  There were plenty of surprises, legitimate challenges, and moments where you had to sit back and admit that this is as close to perfect as a game can get.  I don’t put Nintendo on a pedestal.  Quite frankly, I think they’re pretty overrated.  That’s mostly because they weren’t single-handedly responsible for my entire catalog of childhood memories like they were for so many gamers.  And while I don’t think the Wii is the abomination that so many hold it to be, it certainly won’t go down as one of my favorite systems ever.

But Mario Galaxy?  It will be special to me forever.

I’m really not a big fan of Yoshi. I don’t see what it adds to a game besides unneeded complexity and annoyance. It doesn’t help that my first encounter with him was Yoshi’s Story for the Nintendo 64. Even at 9 years old, the game was so pitifully easy that I actually spent hours staring at the box trying to figure out where the fine print that says “For Ages 2 – 4” was at.

But let’s not kid ourselves: When Mario Galaxy 2 hit, it was a very good game that simply couldn’t recreate the magic of the original.  The uniqueness had worn off, and the sense of wonder was gone.  It was more of the same.  Which is fine, because the original was so good.  But once the magic is gone, it’s gone.  That happens so much with me.  Even if a sequel is clearly the better game, the originals always stick with me more.  I really enjoyed Arkham City, but my memories of Arkham Asylum are much stronger.  I’ll reminisce about God of War before I think back to that great time I had with God of War III.  And these aren’t even the games that I hold to be the best.  It’s rare when I say a sequel actually is better enough that I’m certain to remember it first.  After discussing it with friends, only two games stuck out: Uncharted 2 and Pikmin 2 (though Assassin’s Creed III might win a spot).  Being 23 years old contributes to that somewhat, because I didn’t play most of the great franchises in chronological order.

I think why Mario Galaxy means so much to me is because it ended the cynic in me who felt that gaming would never get as good as it was when I was 9.  Obviously if playing Banjo-Kazooie on XBLA at age 19 couldn’t make me feel the same way that playing Banjo-Kazooie on Nintendo 64 at age 9 did, nothing would.  That was wrong, and I should have known better.  Of course I could feel that way again.  It just wouldn’t come from the same source.  It came from Mario Galaxy.  And you know what?  Some day I’ll feel that way again.  A game will come along that reverts me back to a smiling, giggling nine-year-old.  Do you know what else I know?  It won’t be Mario Galaxy.

Final part coming next with my two favorite games ever!

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