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We hold in our hands the game controller of our lives, and no; there is no turbo function! So what are we to do with it? Play of course :)

Super Mario Beauty King

The Wii U is hardly the leader in terms of graphical or hardware power for the current console generation, and yet games like Super Mario 3D World (above) and Super Mario Kart 8 have an amazing sheen to them that blows all the competition out of the water.  Sure The Witcher 3 looks stunning but it lacks that certain sparkle that makes a Nintendo game stand out.  I first noticed it when playing Super Mario Galaxy, how every surface was smooth and colourful, with an attention paid to its finer details that means however close you peek you’ll struggle to find blemishes.  Flat, otherwise blank surfaces have a character of their own: brickwork is actually raised, clouds are genuinely fluffy and gold actually shines.  And this extends to the animations, where even the simplest interaction will result in a gleefully cartoonish shattering of brick blocks, or a delectably cute bouncing accompanied by friendly sounds.

Take, for instance, the Fizzlit:

Here we see the Fizzlit in it’s neutral form, a tooth-shaped purple blob with jagged mouth and yellow eyes.  Note the smoothness in its contours and the shine on it’s jelly body.  As it sits there, no doubt contemplating the mysteries of the universe, it wobbles and bounces.  Soon though it will vibrate slightly more vibrantly, squashing itself down into this:

At first glance it may appear flat, but again it is not.  There is a slight mound where it’s eyes and mouth exist, sloping down to the edges.  The corners are rounded too.  Nothing about this individual is blunt or ugly.  Then, when it rises back into it’s purple form, it will do a little bounce as it settles again.  Also take note of the bricks it sits on: soft, smooth, rounded.  Super Mario 3D World, despite being populated by electric jelly monsters, vast pools of lava and mechanical spike traps looks and feels more like a children’s play area where all the sharp edges have been rounded off.  It’s a beautiful place to look at.

David

Choice

In a move some might call ‘stupid’ and others ‘wtf dude, seriously?  Are you trying to bore me to death?’ I will today be premiering the first article in a series dedicated to choices in videogames.  There will be three main headings which I will be covering within the smaller articles.  They are: ‘The Inherent Choices of Gameplay’; ‘Morality: The Thin grey Line’; and, ‘Consume and Regurgitate:The Real World’.

Today’s article will be:

Zelda: The Legend of The Legend of Zelda

Having never played a Zelda game properly since the original on the NES until a few years ago when I picked up Phantom Hourglass for the DS I had been wholly out of the loop as far as the series tropes goes.  Having done my own interested research (and also now being in possession of The Windwaker HD) it has struck me how this series has managed to continue to push many boundaries of videogame mechanics, storytelling and visuals (and visual styles) all while essentially repeating the same game over and over again.

But that’s just my opinion.  Zelda splits opinions along similar lines to Nintendo: some people think it’s just for kids, others that its all just the same stuff over and over again.  Well let’s ignore the fact that every FPS after Doom, Halo and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare have been clones with only those three truly innovating the genre, and instead focus on the fact that the Zelda series has retained a huge level of predictability and expectation for a good length of time now.

Remakes are one thing but to have a series that basically only exists to give fans more of what they want and which has been doing it so for almost 30 years is an entirely different beast.  Every game must have a certain number of regular characters, locations, references, items and monsters.  The exceptions come in with direct sequels (Majora’s Mask, Spirit Tracks, etc.) where the tropes are allowed to be thinned out a little.  And yet, every Zelda game ever released manages to, with the same deck of cards, conjure up hugely varying scenarios that never feel too similar to previous installments.  It’s like a ‘paint by numbers’ series that asks you to paint the Mona Lisa in different art styles and with a different expression on her face each time.

And I guess that’s why the series is so successful, because it retains the familiar in order to draw you in while being able to use that nostalgia/expectation/knowingness (call it what you will) to give you exciting new and completely bizarre ways to play.  The spinning top from Twilight Princess?  The entire sailing mechanic from Windwaker?  Even the jump from top-down to side-scroller between the original and the original sequel, all of these crazy ideas were only possible thanks to the fans knowing that, whatever wacky ideas they might come across in their new Zelda game, it would still somehow feel like home.

David

Wii-air are you?

I have a Wii U.  I have no online friends.  This is a problem, sort of, for now.  I have recently discovered the ‘recently played’ list that has allowed me to go back and request friend invites from strangers who have thrashed me at Mario Kart 8 but otherwise I am looking round from my ship in the Wii U ocean finding myself very much alone for a considerable distance.  I didn’t consider this much until explaining what ‘Wii’ meant to a colleague: a play on the English language-pronunciation of ‘we’, meaning ‘together’, along with two lower-case instances of the letter ‘I’ to represent two people.  Then it hit me: I am playing a console designed to be a group activity…by myself, in a house where no one else is likely to play it.

This is where a brother would come in handy.  Alas.  I suppose I could ask my mum if she didn’t mind giving me a brother but…you know…

David

The Sims 4: No Toddlers & No Pools in September - SimsVIP

If you don’t want to read the article I will sum it up for you in two letters and one word: E-Fucking-A.

David

Nintendo gets my vote

Having no inclination before E3 to buy any of the new consoles, I am now considering heavily whether or not to buy a Wii U.  The main reason is, of course, the games: as of today all of the non-Nintendo games I liked the look of are coming out on platforms I already own: Arkham Knight will be coming to the PC, and LittleBigPlanet 3 (yay!) and Far Cry 4 will be spreading themselves out onto the PS3 as well as the PS$ (that was a typo but I like it, so it’s staying).  The Wii U already has a new Mario platform game, Mario Kart 8 and Luigi’s Mansion 2, but soon it will have a new Zelda game, new Kirby game, new Yoshi game, Bayonetta 2 and, of course, last but definitely not least, Super…Freaking…Smash Bros…..Freaking…Wii…Freaking…U!!!

Also it’s completely backwards compatible so it will give me an excuse to break out the Metroid Prime Trilogy again.

Go Nintendo!  From bottom of the class to major winner, just like always.  Kill the doubters!

By the way, I was sold before this clever intro had even finished.

David

The Curse of Dwarf Fortress on the Uninterested

Being fond of niche culture in any respect is never easy.  You pick up a little bit here and there which goes some way to appeasing your appetite, but ultimately you’re always left at the apex of the yawn, frustratingly bereft of the climax.  Ever since playing The Settlers IV I’ve been trying to fill the void of management-style RTS’ with little-to-no luck.  What I loved about it was the way in which you managed an economy and had to keep the production line going.  My one major gripe was that production lines reached a natural end and, unless you were constantly building and expanding, the end of each line started becoming cluttered with resources that nobody needed or wanted.  Thus, eventually, the entire line stagnated.  I guess in a way this was an analogy for Capitalism, always having to move forward, except in real life people take on consumables and then leave behind waste.  In The Settlers IV your people endured no such mortal irritations and were happy to stand like a statue for eternity.

Eventually I came across Dwarf Fortress and thought ‘that sounds right up my alley’, so I gave it a go.  The first thing that threw me was the graphics (read: none, or at least not in the conventional sense): the game is portrayed through text and symbols, a necessity really when considering the depth of the game and the materials available to Tarn Adams, its creator, at the time.  This was a stumbling block for me but I’d read on forums that it was a game with a very steep but very rewarding learning curve, so I persevered.  Using tutorials and graphics mods I was able to slowly get to grips with it, but the entire thing felt oddly cold to me.  Then I realised it was because there was too much micro-management for my liking.  And there I fell into my own First World Problem: I liked the mechanics, but I was too lazy to operate them all manually.

Since then I have been searching for Dwarf Fortress clones that do away with the minutia and focus more on the broader strokes of the economy as I had enjoyed so much with The Settlers IV, to no avail.  I have yet to come across a game that so deftly manages to combine sandbox building with economy management.  Perhaps I am destined to go on forever never knowing the true beauty of The Dwarf Settlers Fortress.

David

A Question of Difficulty

Who would win in a fight between a copyright-friendly non-teenage mutant ninja turtle and a pole-dancing, time-stopping, pistol-whipping witch?  The answer is, of course, irrelevant (cop out!).  I draw this analogy not to make you salivate with the prospect of an epic crossover battle, nor even to make you salivate over the prospect of a skimpily-clad woman wrestling a muscular, topless man-toad, but to use, as examples, two games from very different gaming eras that both represent a pinnacle of sorts for what is termed as ‘difficulty’ in games.

Let’s start with Battletoads, a game that won over many hearts for being outstandingly frustrating.  A quick search will uncover many memories of fist-shaking and thrown controllers, all in the name of this classic.  Some people may quite rightly ask ‘if it’s so difficult, how can you enjoy it?’  Perhaps a small percentage of those people are videogame masochists, individuals who like to encourage their angry side to pull their own hair out, but most of them will simply be players who enjoy a riotous challenge and the immense reward that comes with overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds.  Battletoads found a golden ratio of ‘hair-pulling madness’ stick to ‘hot-damn that feels good’ carrot.  And it achieved it by being difficult but fair.

Cometh the ‘retro’ gamer and now, suddenly, modern games are easy.  ’Where’s the challenge?’ they say.  Admittedly, the most successful games these days are aiming not for challenge so much as accessibility, to get as many people playing them as possible.  That’s where the tried (read: tired) and tested Call of Duty adage of ‘reward tiers’ have diluted the playing field to give every player who turns on their game a new gun, a basket of points and a round of applause.  But the buck doesn’t stop there.  Dark Souls 1 and 2 have been wildly successful even while playing on the premise that ‘dying has never been so fun’ but the comparison between Battletoads and Bayonetta is the one I want to discuss.  Bayonetta is what I would call a ‘difficult’ game, but whereas the ‘difficulty’ of Battletoads is greater I would say the ‘challenge’ of Bayonetta is superior.  How am I quantifying this?  Simply put, the ‘challenge’ is the games ability to test your limits by giving you absolute control over its mechanics.  I have spoken before about how pure and fluid Bayonetta’s dodge mechanics are, to the point of being almost perfect, and to have such a responsive and intuitive mechanic that is so closely entwined with the difficulty makes the challenge all the more harder.  Now we get to the contentious part: Battletoads is unfair to the gamer, which increases its difficulty: its mechanics do not compliment its difficulty as closely as Bayonetta’s and thus the gamer is at a disadvantage.

Perhaps Battletoads is a harder ride, but Bayonetta is certainly the more rewarding of the two.  Whereas the former rewards tenacity, Bayonetta rewards refinement.

David