Blok Drop U and Color Zen

Today, I played a couple minimalist Wii U puzzlers that are sort of tough to review. There’s just not a whole lot to them. In Blok Drop U, you must eliminate blocks until you can drop the red target block onto a stable, not-deletable platform. Unlike most puzzlers, Blok Drop U makes no attempt to ease you into the mechanics. There’s no tutorial stages that the recently lobotomized would be embarrassed to play. The very first puzzle is an actual puzzle, and you’re left on your own to get the hang of the physics and objectives. In a way, it’s kind of refreshing. But, once you get a feel for the physics, the game loses its teeth quickly. After a few stages, Blok introduces things like saw blades and bouncy blocks. The curve to get the hang of these was relatively small and I finished all 30 puzzles offered here in about 90 minutes. More puzzles will arrive via free DLC, but for now, the pickings are Calista Flockhart slim.

The developers really should have come up with some kind of theme, ANY THEME, for Blok Drop U. Further proof that Portal, for all the good it did, was a destructive force for gaming.

The developers really should have come up with some kind of theme, ANY THEME, for Blok Drop U. Guide a toe fungus onto a nail. Drop the Pope into the Popemobile. Land Hitler’s brain into a Jar. Anything would have been better than nothing. Sadly, everyone wants a sweet, sweet taste of that Portal-style minimalism pie. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Portal has creatively bankrupted an entire generation.

I guess I enjoyed Blok Drop U, but I have a few nits to pick. At Indie Gamer Chick, I almost never talk about graphics. I’m very much a “gameplay is King” type of chick. But, I kind of have to talk about it here. Blok Drop U’s visuals are so dull that it becomes almost tiring. I certainly wasn’t bored by it, but I’m wired to enjoy puzzle games. I think the developers failed themselves as commercial artists here. These visuals almost feel like they’re giving up on attracting non-puzzle fans. Maybe that wasn’t their actual intent, but it feels that way. I know that minimalism is an established style, especially on the indie scene, but games are a visual medium and gamers are looking for stimuli. With the possible exception of the saw levels, Blok Drop U is about as stimulating as a warehouse full of straw.

Blok Drop U was developed by RCMADIAX ($1.99 said the developer is paying for the word "Block" in monthly installments and will finally pay off the letter "C" sometime in 2015 in the making of this review)

Blok Drop U was developed by RCMADIAX ($1.99 said the developer is paying for the word “Block” in monthly installments in the making of this review)

My only other complaint is sometimes the physics seem to screw you over. Like having the target block fall straight down, without sloping, landing flush on a platform, and then rolling. I don’t know how it built the inertia to roll, but that screwed me over once or twice. But again, those are just pickled nits. Besides the short length and the lack of curve, Blok Drop U is a perfectly fine game. It’s also the cheapest game in the entire Wii U eShop at $1.99, and I do recommend it.

Oh, and to address the elephant in the room, YES, it’s on the wrong platform. It should be on 3DS. It just makes more sense as a portable game.

Speaking of which, Color Zen released this week on Wii U. It is coming to 3DS as well in June, which is really the only Nintendo platform it should be on. But hey, they don’t want to let all 47 Wii U owners down, and props to the guys at Cypronia for their consideration.

Like Blok Drop U, you’ve probably played games like this. There’s a colored frame around the playfield, and various colored shapes. Pushing matching shapes causes the entire screen (except whatever shapes are different colors) to become just that color. Keep doing this until there’s no more shapes left to match, at which point you win the round if the whole screen matches the color of the frame. Along the way, they throw in colors like white (which acts as a sort of wildcard) and black (which will eliminate an object instead of painting the screen with it). It’s a fairly simple game, and again, stuff like it has been done before. By the way, I hate it when I struggle to explain a relatively easy concept. Here, just look at the gameplay trailer.

Get it? Okay. You certainly get a lot of content for $4. There’s over 450 puzzles here, and there are different variations, like levels where some objects are mirrored and you move two at once. Overall, it’s a good package and worth the money.

But..

First off, and I know I say this almost every time I bring up the fucking thing, but the Wii U is the completely wrong platform for this game. Levels in Color Zen can be knocked out in a minute or two, making it perfect for portable gaming. In fact, there’s no point in having the television on at all since all the gameplay and action is done with the touch screen.

Side note: I've seen abstract art like this fetch thousands in the Bay Area. Perhaps the developers wasted their time with this silly indie game crap.

Side note: I’ve seen abstract art like this fetch thousands in the Bay Area. Perhaps the developers wasted their time with this silly indie game crap.

As far as the puzzles go, maybe it was just me, but I kind of found them to be easy. It’s simple process of elimination. Since the game tells you the final color you must activate, you just have to identify which object will get you that color and work backwards from there. It’s usually self-evident, and thus I bulldozed the majority of the puzzles, with only a small handful giving me pause. Then again, the game is called “Color Zen” so I’m not sure it was meant to be all that challenging. It’s also worth noting that a friend questioned how I could plow through it so easily when many stages left him positively stumped. As demonstrated by Gateways, Spy Leaks, Aesop’s Garden, and several other titles where I was the only critic that actually finished them, I’m just wired to be good at this genre. Your mileage may vary.

Color Zen was developed by Large Animal Games ($3.99 noted the game is free on iOS and Android but getting all the puzzles found in the Wii U version will still run you $3.99 in the making of this review)

Color Zen was developed by Large Animal Games ($3.99 noted the game is free on iOS and Android but getting all the puzzles found in the Wii U version will still run you $3.99 in the making of this review)

I guess it’s nice that the Wii U is finally getting a decent assortment of games of different genres and prices. However, I’m still waiting for that defining game that can only be done using the Wii U’s unique hardware and controller. We were told that the Wii U was a unique experience that would contain all kinds of games that couldn’t be done anywhere else and it just plain hasn’t happened. I’m issuing a challenge to all indie developers with eyes on Wii U: you do it. Nintendo isn’t. Major third parties aren’t. Someone out there has to have an idea of how to justify this machine’s existence as something other than a cautionary tale for would be console manufactures.

“You better be a good game maker, or else your next console will be a Wii U!”

“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!”

IGC_ApprovedBlok Drop U and Color Zen are Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

 

 

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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 own, 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.

Toki Tori and Toki Tori 2+

A few weeks ago, I got a request to review Toki Tori on the PlayStation 3.  “Wait, that game I got way back in 2008 on the Wii?  That’s just now coming to PS3?  Did it get stuck in an elevator?”  But then, it turns out it was the Wii version that was stuck in a time warp, because it was actually a remake of a 2001 Game Boy Color game.  I’m not sure how I missed it.  I played a LOT of Game Boy back then and.. oh.. September of 2001.  You mean right after the Game Boy Advance came out, and right before the Xbox and GameCube released?  Not to mention, you know, 9-11 and shit.  You know, that ranks up there in the shitty timing hall-of-fame with that company that planned to put out Anderson Silva endorsed shin guards next week.

The thing with Toki Tori on the Wii was, I bought it, and I distinctly remember playing it, but I don’t really remember playing a lot of it.  I didn’t hate it or anything.  I just put it down and never got back to it.  I don’t even have my original Wii anymore, so what the hell?  I bought Toki Tori again, this time on the Wii U.  Yea, they requested the PS3 version, but this one was cheaper and I intended to play the sequel while I was at it.  And you know what?  It’s good game.  It really is.  There are some really clever puzzles on display here.  Playing as a newly hatched chick (the bird, not the me) that can’t fly or even jump, you have to collect all the eggs in a stage.  Toki Tori is one of those “plot the correct course” type of puzzlers, where the order in which you collect the eggs is what you most have to solve.

Toki Tori

Toki Tori

Toki Tori isn’t exciting by any means, and you’ll be doing yourself no favors by playing through it all at once.  I probably would have been better off picking up the Game Boy Color original on 3DS, since these types of puzzlers lend themselves to portable gaming better.  But, it plays fine on the Wii U.  The added hook is that you get special items that can bridge gaps, teleport you through walls, or stuff that you can use to fight enemies in a way that clears a path for you to get to the next egg.  Well, that’s actually not much of a hook.  Items?  In a video game?  Fucking hell, next you’ll tell me they’ll add scores to them.

Sorry if this all doesn’t sound enthusiastic enough.  I really liked Toki Tori.  It’s a fairly straight mind-bender.  Probably too difficult for the younger-set that the graphics and theme seem directly aimed at, and there’s minor control issues, like movement being slightly too loose.  But these games don’t lend themselves well to the type of reviews I do here.  It’s borderline baffling that I would attempt to write this up.  It was even more baffling that I intended to make this a 2 in 1 review that discusses the sequel as well.  But, I figured I would have two nearly identical games and thus it would be a slam dunk.

Wrong.

Toki Tori 2+ (I have no idea what the plus is about) has similar movement mechanics, in that you can’t jump and can only climb up small hills, but that’s where the similarities end.  This is more of a traditional platformer mixed with a puzzler.  There’s a world map (one that is largely confusing to navigate) that connects all the stages together in an almost Metroidvania like way.  There’s no special powers to accumulate and use.  Here, the chick can either do a butt stomp or a chirp.  Puzzles are solved by interacting with various animals, chirping to attract them and butt-stomping to repel them.  It’s a radical departure from the original and it took some massive balls to take the franchise this direction.  I appreciate that.  You get a lengthy quest and some pretty ingenious puzzles.

Toki Tori 2+

Toki Tori 2+

But, I do have a few bones to pick.  Some of the puzzles take too long to set up, like maneuvering a grub past a series of obstacles so that it can be eaten by a frog and regurgitated into a bubble.  However, if the frog eats the grub too soon, or if you fuck up and make the frog spit it the wrong way, you have to restart and go through it again.  The rewind function of the original Toki Tori would have been greatly welcomed here, but it’s nowhere to be found.  Also, restarting isn’t done the way anyone sane would have implemented it: by pausing the game and pressing “go back to last checkpoint.”  Oh no, you have to play a series of notes in a specific order, like Zelda or something.  Here’s the problem with that: sometimes while trying to chirp to call attention of something, I would accidentally play the notes that send you back to the last checkpoint.  I don’t know if it that’s on my incredible stupidity, or on the game’s design, but I talked with other people that had this same problem.  It’s a totally unnecessary, artsy play-mechanic that seems to function only to cause problems.

I also have to be perfectly honest about something: I couldn’t finish Toki Tori 2 due to my epilepsy, when one of the final stages took place in a strobey rave-type atmosphere.  However, I did put around six hours into it, and I was satisfied with those six hours.  I’m disappointment that I couldn’t complete it, sure, and I really wish developers would get on the ball with making those flashy special effects optional.  But what I did get to play will go down as one of the biggest surprises of the year for me.  A major departure from the play-style the game had set up in the previous installment, and one for the better.  I kind of wish they had shit-canned the map thing altogether and just had it play out in one linear path, but otherwise, I’m really happy with Toki Tori 2+.  I expected nothing besides more of the same puzzles and generic levels and instead found something that felt, gasp, like a sequel.  Maybe I enjoyed it more because I just came off Peggle 2, which does that thing modern sequels do.  Which is, you know, being the same game as before, only with half the content of the original.  Two Tribes could have totally phoned it in too, but they didn’t.  Sadly, their reward will probably be selling 2% of what Peggle 2 does.  There is no justice.

Toki Tori logoToki Tori and Toki Tori 2+ were developed by Two Tribes

Seal of Approval Large$1.99 (Toki Tori, normally $3.99 I think) and $7.49 (Toki Tori 2+ normally $14.99) are just happy this series wasn’t sent off to be culled in the making of this review.

Toki Tori 2 logoToki Tori and Toki Tori 2 are Chick-Approved (fittingly enough) and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard

NES Remix

No, it’s not an indie.  But, I’m not exactly known as someone with a particular fondness for NES “classics” that grew stale before I was even born.  When Nintendo surprised everyone Wednesday by debuting NES Remix and announcing it was out right now, it was bizarre.  Almost as if they had no confidence in it.  But, it looked vaguely like the 9-Volt stages in Wario Ware, which is pretty much my favorite game ever.  And my Wii U was starting to get dusty again after I finished Super Mario 3D World.  So, $15 later, I was going to see what this game Nintendo was so nervous about hyping for more than a few minutes was all about.

NES Remix is made up of micro-sections of sixteen early first-party NES games, most of which are no fucking good today and probably wouldn’t have been all that fun even back in the day.  Look, I appreciate the historical significance of the original Donkey Kong, Super Mario, and Legend of Zelda.  But the same franchises have been done better so many times since the 80s.  To pretend otherwise seems kind of crazy.  Meanwhile, the majority of the games in NES Remix really just aren’t any good at all.  Baseball, Pinball, Tennis, Urban Champion, and Golf should be locked in a box and thrown in the middle of the ocean.  And Ice Climber?  I swear to God, I think it might legitimately be the worst game Nintendo ever made.  Not only does it control like it was designed by someone who hates video games, but it also has a tendency to have players fall through the platforms because you’re “too close to the edge.”  Even though you’re more than a full character-length on the platform.  If there’s a worst first-party game Nintendo has ever put out, I haven’t played it.

Funny enough, it's actually easier to do the bouncy-turtles shell-lives trick in Super Mario 3D World.

Funny enough, it’s actually easier to do the bouncy-turtles shell-lives trick in Super Mario 3D World.

So, a collection of sixteen games that I either hate or am totally indifferent too?  Games which have not been blessed with the gift of graceful aging?  Games which I would never pay the price for off Nintendo’s Virtual Console if they were sold alone?  Obviously, we’re talking a real game of the year contender, right?

Well, actually.. yeah.

NES Remix utterly owned me.  I got it Wednesday morning, and I played it so much that I ran out the battery on my Wii U pad three times in a single day.  Never mind how pitiful it is that a console could have the battery run out that much in a single day.  I also will try not to focus too much on how there is absolutely no reason why NES Remix has to be exclusive to the Wii U, or that Nintendo unquestionably lost out in millions in revenue this week alone by not having a 3DS version launch alongside it.  Okay, so that’s a lie.  It’s kind of the elephant in the room and it requires scrutiny.  Nintendo fanboys are saying it’s because Wii U needs exclusive software to justify owning it.  That’s a fucking cop-out excuse if I’ve ever heard one.  NES Remix is the perfect portable game.  Pick-up-and-play mechanics, small goals, a large variety of gameplay styles, and no consequences if you think you have time to kill, turn on your device, then suddenly become busy and have to turn it off.  Tethering this diamond to the Wii U would be like hiring Michael Jordan to be on your golf team.  I’m sure he’s a damn fine golfer, probably better than your average schmo, but wouldn’t he better suited on your basketball team?  And NES Remix would be better suited on the 3DS.  It just would be.

But, the decision was made, and NES Remix is slumming it on the wrong console.  Fine.  It doesn’t change the quality of the game at all.  NES Remix is, as of this moment, the best digital-exclusive Nintendo has ever produced.  Like Wario Ware, Nintendo has taken gameplay, stripped out most of the bullshit, then weaponized what was left into the most potently addictive micro-gaming chunks seen since, well, the original Wario Ware.  This is gaming in its purest form.  Scoring and/or speed based, no frills, white-knuckle gaming.  And I love it.

Sorry to disappoint white supremacists , but the game is called "Clu-Clu Land". With a "C". Just go back to playing Uncharted.

Sorry to disappoint white supremacists , but the game is called “Clu-Clu Land”. With a “C”. Just go back to playing Uncharted.

The NES games are divided into sections by game, which have anywhere between seven to over twenty levels per game, though I don’t believe every game has its own unique stage selection.  Baseball, Tennis, Urban Champion, and Donkey Kong 3 seem to have drawn the short straw and don’t have their own sections, and that’s just fine with me.  There’s also fifty “remix” stages that do something wacky with the gameplay or graphics, plus twenty-five “bonus stages” that seem more like deleted scenes, cut from the game for a reason.  Each stage is scored on a scale from one-star to three-stars, plus if you do really good, a meaningless rainbow star thing appears that doesn’t seem to unlock anything.

The remix stages are treated like the meat of the game, but really, I enjoyed all the non-psychedelic challenges presented here.  Stuff like trying to catch 1-up mushrooms in Super Mario, or fighting bosses in Legend of Zelda, one ten-second stage at a time, was hugely satisfying.  It even managed to make games like Golf and Balloon Fight more than enjoyable, something I never imagined was possible.  I knocked out most of those before I ever started on the Remix stages, which were often pretty cool too.  You might have to play a full stage in Super Mario where the game auto-runs for you.  As it turns out, Super Mario makes a great auto-runner.  Who would have thunk it?  Other challenges might be related to the presentation, like having the camera pull back, showing multiple, progressively smaller screens.  When I played these stages, I would then look away from the Wii U pad, where my room now seemed to be pulling back and shrinking.  It was trippy.  And awesome.

Not all the remix stages were well conceived.  A couple of them involve you playing Donkey Kong using Link.  No, you can’t use your sword for some fucking stupid reason.  Also, you can’t jump.  Ever tried to beat the first stage in Donkey Kong without jumping?  It’s way tougher than it sounds.  You’re basically left up to the whims of fate, hoping against hope that the barrels don’t go down the ladders you’re about to cross, since you have no way of defending yourself or otherwise avoiding them.  My gut instinct tells me they originally planned to let you use the sword for these sections (since it makes no fucking sense to have Link in Donkey Kong and not be able to swing your sword) but they couldn’t do it right (it’s really just a ROM hack, with Link painted over Mario), so they just left it the way it was.  Of course, the whole ROM hack theory doesn’t explain why you can’t jump.  Other ill-thought-out stages include Pinball (a crap game on its own, like most of the games in this collection) where the flippers are invisible, an Ice Climber stage where the only hook is the graphics become Game Boy-like (and this one screws up sometimes by having the mono-Gameboy sound be present during the NES part, and vice versa), or fighting “imposters” in Balloon fight that are the exact same enemies you already take on, re-skinned to look like you.  Really, some of them are just plain lazy.  But this is the same company that has put out roughly fifty-billion ports of the 75% complete NES version of Donkey Kong.  I’m almost convinced that Nintendo is the Japanese word for half-assed.

The biggest problem with NES Remix is these are the exact same games that they’ve always been, only broken down into microscopic chunks.  Although this makes some of the games more palatable, all their original control flaws are still present.  I mentioned Ice Climber above, which is probably Nintendo’s most broken controlling game.  But actually, the original Mario Bros. is nearly as crippled.  The jumping physics are horrible, requiring you to build up momentum to make a jump.  Only sometimes this doesn’t seem to work.  Plus, landing on a platform above you requires you to land perfectly flush on it.  If a micro-pixel isn’t on, you fall through the platform.  In games scored entirely around timing, shit like this is fucking maddening.  Additionally, Baseball, Tennis, and especially Clu Clu Land (my buddy Cyril’s choice for Nintendo’s worst first-party game) control the same as they always have: like shit.

One of the Zelda stages (not the one pictured) required me to use the candle to burn a tree down and reveal a hidden staircase. As God as my witness, I burned every God damned tree on the screen at least three times each and the staircase never appeared. I restarted the stage and the next time the very first tree I torched revealed the staircase. I'm not sure if it was a glitch or not. I never bothered to replay it after that. I had already ripped out enough of my hair by that point that my scalp was bleeding.

One of the Zelda stages (not the one pictured) required me to use the candle to burn a tree down and reveal a hidden staircase. As God as my witness, I burned every God damned tree on the screen at least three times each and the staircase never appeared. I restarted the stage and the next time the very first tree I torched revealed the staircase. I’m not sure if it was a glitch or not. I never bothered to replay it after that. I had already ripped out enough of my hair by that point that my scalp was bleeding.

Another issue, which is kind of minor, is that the difficulty of each challenge, in terms of what will give you a three-star rating and what won’t, varies wildly.  In one of the Super Mario levels that is divided into three sub-stages, the object is to enter a warp pipe.  The target time for three stars was 30 seconds.  Getting this required near-perfect runs.  I twice finished at 30.1 seconds because I had trouble lining up in the under-water pipe or something.  Eventually, I did get the three-star rating I had coveted, clocking in at 29.6.  No rainbow stars though, and I’ll be damned if I can guess where I could possibly make up the time for it.  Edit: Oh my God, I am such a fucking idiot.  I thought I had attempted to enter all the pipes in the second stage. It turns out there was a much, much closer pipe I could have entered than the one I was going into.  I just finished in 24 seconds and rainbowed.  I suck But then I would play multiple other stages where I could die three or four times and still score three-stars with rainbows even though my performance could best be summed up as “pitiful.”  There was no consistency from one stage to the next, and it takes the oomph out of the sense of accomplishment I sometimes felt.

Despite those issues, NES Remix is honest-to-God my new favorite Wii U game.  Certainly Nintendo’s best digital-exclusive in their history.  I was utterly hooked for three solid days on it.  It even did the impossible and made Urban Champion fun for like five seconds, which by my count, is three seconds longer than Wario Ware accomplished.  Although I have no fucking clu-clu why this is exclusive to Wii U, this is a must own.  At least, I think it is.  Opinions are hugely divided here.  One trend I’ve noticed: older gamers that played the originals to death in the 80s seem to like this a lot less than myself and younger gamers have.  I’m guessing if you’ve played the original Super Mario Bros. once a week for the last thirty years, you probably would be bored by some of the “challenges” here, like playing level 3-3 with all the platforms invisible.  See though, I don’t have every nuisance of these games committed to memory, and probably for that reason, this could very well end up being my Game of the Year.  So a word of advice to the younger Nintendo fanboys out there: don’t schedule a monthly play-through of New Super Mario Bros. or Pikmin 3, or else when Wii U Remix comes out in 2043 for the Nintendo Wii UeuPrince logo.svgmI3, you’ll be sorry.

NES Remix LogoNES Remix was developed by Nintendo

Seal of Approval Large$14.99 said “the game just fucking came out, so stop talking about sequels already you annoying fucking fanboys” in the making of this review.

NES Remix is Chick-Approved, but not remotely Leaderboard eligible (non-Indie)

What an Age We Live In

So a birthday editorial is now officially a thing with me.  I did it last year to talk about the age thing.  It’s one of the things that tickles me pink about being Indie Gamer Chick: my average reader is over ten years older than me.  In terms of what that means from a generational perspective, it means someone who is, say, 34 would have grown up firmly in the era of Atari 2600, Colecovision, and NES just as it was launching.  Whereas I got my first console in 1996 at the age of seven.  And it was the original PlayStation.  That’s a pretty big gap.  I spent my teen years with PlayStation 2, Xbox, and GameCube.  You spent yours doing Sega Screams at each-other and talking about Super FX chips.

This gives me a different perspective.  It also leads people to write off my opinion on gaming history as irrelevant.  After all, how could I, a person who more or less grew up in the modern gaming era, understand what games meant to you.  Games were totally different back then.  The industry was too.  The culture.

Ha.

Remember how at E3 this year, everyone was hating on Microsoft and doing the dance of joy for Sony, who were coming off like the plucky underdogs?  Yea, that’s already happened.  Only it was Sony who were the assholes and Sega who were the guys everyone was cheering for.  Back in 1999, Sega announced the American release of Dreamcast, with a very modest $199 price point.  Just days later, Sony announced the specs for PlayStation 2, which rendered Dreamcast obsolete before it even released.  Sony also positioned PS2 as more than just a game machine, thanks to its DVD playback capabilities.  They touted their consoles as the future of entertainment, where being just a video game device was passé.  Sega’s American CEO Peter Moore responded by saying “(Sony) said they are not the future of video games.  They are the future of entertainment, and God bless them.  We’re the future of video games.”

Sound familiar?

Sony

Well, at least Peter didn’t tattoo that on his arm.

Sony had a ton of swagger for years at this point.  In 1996, Sony purposed a Gentleman’s Agreement that neither they, Nintendo, or Sega would make price change announcements at that year’s E3.  Sega and Nintendo accepted.  Sony then broke the agreement and said that they were dropping the price of PlayStation by $100.

It’s worth noting that Nintendo had to announce the price of Nintendo 64 at the show, and Sega had planned on reneging anyway by having signage touting Saturn’s $100 price drop printed up.  Still, Sony offered an olive branch and then immediately set fire to it once Sega had grabbed it.  It’s not that they broke the agreement though.  It’s that they were such dicks about it.  On the third day of the show, Sega’s spokeswoman Angela Edwards was carrying heavy signs that said “Saturn: Now only $199” (an extra $100 price drop that they were forced into despite corporate’s wishes) into the building, only to be harassed by Sony employees who mocked her and called her pathetic.  The jerks involved were never named but rumored to have been fired.

Let’s see: arrogant console manufacturer with antagonistic employees opening their big yap and getting fired for it.  Sound familiar?

Gaming is no different today than it was when you were young.  Technology is better.  Roles might be different.  But the overall picture is basically the same as it’s always been.  This generation, we have three main consoles and a couple of upstarts who would walk on rusty nails just to capture a 1% market share.  For the main consoles, one is more consumer friendly and has better licensing deals with third-party partners.  One is facing all kinds of criticism for draconian policies despite having major technical advantages on its platform.  And finally, one is struggling to keep its head above the water due to lack of third-party support, poor marketing, and inferior hardware.  In this context, I’m talking about PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Wii U in that order.

But if I replace “this generation” with “the 16-bit generation”, then I’m talking about, in order, Genesis, Super Nintendo, and TurboGrafx-16.  The parallels between that particular console war and the current one are striking.  But gaming history is full of that.  For that reason, the age thing really isn’t that big a deal.  Times change, but nothing really changes.  In the 80s and 90s, Nintendo fought tooth and nail against game rentals.  Right up until it became clear that the courts, not to mention the court of public opinion, would never side with them.  This year, Microsoft was absolutely crucified by the journalists and the game community for their DRM policies on Xbox One.  Make no mistake though.  If a console manufacturer can succeed in creating an environment where used games don’t exist, they would absolutely do it in a heartbeat.  We’re not quite there yet, but it’s coming.  It’s inevitable.  Not only that, but when the time comes, nobody will care.  It will be expected.  It will be the norm.

I tried my best to somehow compare 3DO to Ouya.  Gave up when I realized it wasn't possible.  The 3DO was $700, hard to develop for, and would have been lucky to capture 1% of the market.  Well, I guess Ouya has that.

I tried my best to somehow compare 3DO to Ouya. Gave up when I realized it wasn’t possible. The 3DO was $700, hard to develop for, and would have been lucky to capture 1% of the market. Well, I guess Ouya has that.

Sure, the game industry of today isn’t exactly the same as it was for you.  Indies for example.  They couldn’t exist back then without getting dragged to court, and even the act of selling third-party development kits would likely get you sued.  Being indie on consoles meant acquiring a development kit (typically through the black market), getting distribution, a publisher, or the capital to make a production run.  Today, thanks to digital distribution, pretty much anyone can make a game and see it published on a console.  Anyone can make a game for Xbox 360 and publish it to XBLIG.  For the next generation, there might be a few more barriers, but someone with the desire to create a game can see their title published to a console’s marketplace.

But otherwise, it’s still the same game industry.  Nintendo still relies on the same handful of IPs.  Sega still relies on Sonic.  Gamers complain that games are overpriced or that there’s not enough variety.  Fanboys pick sides and get in shouting matches over which console is superior, only it’s done on the internet during their lunch break instead of at the playground during recess.  One company is positioned to be the gaming press’ darling.  Lawsuits are flying left and right.  I live in the same environment you did.  I’m a gamer of the new school variety.  You might be a gamer of the old school variety.  It’s actually the same school.  I was born twenty-four years ago today.  On the day I was born, old school gamers were drooling over pending release of Duck Tales.  Today, those same gamers are all grown up.. and drooling over the pending release of Duck Tales.  How times have changed.

PlayStation 4 is The One

“What are you going to do when XBLIG is gone?”  I’ve been getting this since the start of the year.  It’s something I’ve thought about myself.  I figured the obvious answer was “I’ll be doing everything!”  I’ve always owned the full slate of consoles and handhelds, and indies are hot right now.  Not just hot, but courting indies makes sound economic sense.  They assume all the costs of development.  They put in all the R&D.  The console manufactures just take a royalty off the top and that’s it.  Easy money.  Indies also serve other important functions.  They prepare a new generation of super-star game developers.  Today’s indies will create tomorrow’s triple-A titles.  Indies provide content during off-peak months, which is the very thing that got Indie Gamer Chick started in the first place.  They also provide much-needed content that is not on-trend, assuring that a platform has something for everybody.  They take the risks that major studios can’t (even if they want to), because they have to be fiscally responsible to employees and shareholders.  Indies have no such limitations.

In short, indies are now necessary to a platform’s health.

Whether anyone believes it or not, representatives from all three major console developers have a fondness for indies and a desire to shine the spotlight on them.  They understand the drive to create and the need for creative freedom.  They also know that it just makes sound business sense.

Xbox One, named as such because it weighs one stone.

Xbox One, named as such because it weighs one stone.

Some out there will probably argue against this.  “No, Microsoft couldn’t possibly care less about indies.  Nintendo too.”  Um, no.  You’re just wrong.  Maybe their corporate policies don’t always reflect it, but people who love indies do hold key positions at these companies.  If you can’t grasp that, you should probably just stop reading now.

Indies will factor into the Xbox One.  More than just Minecraft too.  Whether Microsoft has said anything yet or not, that’s irrelevant to whether indies will exist on the platform, or whether it ever allows for self publishing.  They know the economics of it.  Trust me, I’ve spent my entire adult life in business.  When Microsoft had to cut million-dollar checks to a couple of XBLIG developers, it made ripples in Redmond.  I can’t fathom it being otherwise.  If it’s not true, then they have problems beyond my scope of comprehension.

Nintendo is on board too.  I know they’re taking indies seriously.  They’ve eased off of some pretty silly policies.  Stuff like only allowing for development on their platforms if you make the games in a dedicated office that has a lock.  Yes, because industrial espionage is what’s going to bring about the downfall of Nintendo.  Not the fact that, you know, they haven’t released a first-party game since launch.  But Nintendo has thrown that rule in the trash.  Not only that, but they’re openly courting indies.  They’re opening up their platforms for self-publishing.  They’re attempting to give indie developers a platform to not only exist on, but profit on.  I’ve been hard on Nintendo here, but they’ve earned my respect in this regard.  Nintendo’s tent has room for indies.

Can't believe I'm saying this, but the Wii U's console is actually the nicest looking one of this generation.  The Gamepad?  Not so much.

Can’t believe I’m saying this, but the Wii U’s console is actually the nicest looking one of this generation. The Gamepad? Not so much.

I’ve never understood the whole “this console is my team” mentality of gamers.  I get it when it’s done among children.  Mommy and daddy only buy Junior one console, and that console becomes his team.  He cheers his team on and boos his team’s opponents.  But for adults who can choose their own consoles, and presumably own more than one, it just baffles me.  Now while I’ve certainly made it clear what console I think is posed to be the most successful, that shouldn’t be mistaken for them being “my team.”  I don’t have a team.  I have three consoles that will each provide me with a vastly different experience.  I’m excited for my future as a gamer, because gaming just keeps getting better and better.  Today, Microsoft and Sony both showed me games that will dominate my free time and drain my wallet, and I expect more of the same tomorrow from Nintendo.  I’m only Indie Gamer Chick on here.  I’m Cathy at all other times, and Cathy has three shiny new consoles to make her imagination run wild.

But, for Indie Gamer Chick, the choice is clear.

PlayStation 4 is the one.

It’s Sony who has told indies “we want you.”  They’ve said it publicly.  They’ve said it clearly.  They’ve given the sentimentality that you’re part of our family, not a party crasher.  For Nintendo, they were too slow to woo.  Before that?  They treated indies like a house guest that you welcome into your home but then follow around like you’re afraid they’re going to steal something.

And Microsoft?  They deserve a tip of the hat for creating the first self-publishing platform on a major console.  But XBLIGs were the black sheep from day one and Microsoft did nothing to alleviate that.  They were something that just sort of was allowed to be there, like a child whose parents force him to invite the freckled kid with the bad body odor to his birthday party.  I’m not saying the games should have been promoted to the determent of titles from major third parties.  Anyone who believes that is delusional.  I’m saying that Microsoft showed total disregard for the platform they created for indies, and they’ve given no reason to believe they’ll be any better this next generation.  And hell, that’s not including their treatment of those lucky developers who got a game published on Xbox Live Arcade.  Just ask the guys behind Fez.  I do fundamentally understand Microsoft’s want for glitch-free games on their platform, but modern game development is a complex thing.  The best, most-well funded developers on the planet struggle with debugging.  Patching of games is now simply part of game production.  Doing so shouldn’t put smaller producers in fiscal danger.  Spin it any way you like.  It’s just plain morally wrong.

Comment of the day from Twitter: "It looks like an italicized Xbox One." It really does.

Comment of the day from Twitter: “It looks like an italicized Xbox One.” It really does.

Indies will always be more dominant on the PC scene, and newcomers like Ouya (which yes, will be covered soon at Indie Gamer Chick) are arriving and openly courting the development community.  They’ll all have a place at Indie Gamer Chick.  I’ve already had a little coverage of Wii U games, and trust me, more is on the way.  Xbox One’s indie scene, no matter what form it takes, will be a part of this site.  My new writers Jerry and Kalle will cover those platforms I don’t.  And, until someone turns the lights out, Xbox Live Indie Games will be featured here, and prominently at that.

But for the next generation, PlayStation 4 is it.  It will be the primary focus of my site, the same way XBLIGs have been for the last two years.  Why?  Well, it has nothing to do with the focus on non-gaming applications.  Hey, I use those too!  It has nothing to do with the used game stuff.  I’ve planned on taking a no-plastic, all-digital pledge for this generation anyway.  It has nothing to do with Kinect because.. well actually I hate Kinect, but it still doesn’t factor in.  It’s because this is the platform I feel indies are most positioned to thrive on.  Where their creativity will be nurtured, their passion will be unchained, and most importantly, where they have the best chance of making something of themselves.  For two years, the indie game development community has been incredible to me.  You guys have changed my life like you can’t believe.  I might be harsh on your games sometimes, but I’m always hopeful of your success and proud of you when you’re triumphant.  I want what’s best for you.  I’m going with PlayStation 4, because that’s where your best chances are.  But, no matter what platform you develop for, the Golden Age of indies is about to dawn, and I’ve never been more excited.

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.

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