Hit by the Hype Train – Game Critique: Pokemon Ruby Omega & Sapphire Alpha demo

Was meant to have written this a while back but back have been busy with more than a few things of late. Oh, well. Such is life.

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Because Nintendo view me as a hyper-consumer of their products, they selected me (& a few thousand others) to test & brag about their demo for their forcoming (re)releases Pokemon Ruby Omega & Sapphire Alpha.

Since there isn’t honestly much to the demos, I’ll take a moment to about the Big N‘s strategy with releasing unlimited demos & special promotions (such as Halloween themes) to their heavily invested consumers before releasing limited versions to the general public through their eShop system.

The main idea in doing this is so those individuals who are already rapid fans of Nintendo & their various products are both kept engaged & are ready to be zealots for the Big N’s cause. Nintendo lose nothing from sending out demos & free bonuses to Nintendo Club members or randomly selected consumers. In fact, they have everything to gain because it is these individuals who are most like to have ways & means (such as I with this blog) to promote these special promos & get other consumers who aren’t as devoted to become jealous &/or intrigued by they aren’t afforded the same deals. That is when, after much internet metaphorical (unless you have a Nintendo logo tattooed on it) dick-waving, Nintendo release a limited use demo for everyone else -such as they did with the recent Super Smash Bros. 3DS demo.

This sort of trickle release in the Age of the Hyper-Engaged consumer means people are always aware of what they are potentially missing out on, so are more able (& eager) to demand their share too (deserved or not).

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What people have been neglecting to notice is that Nintendo has been the quiet achiever of the current Console War of sales of the 3DS in Asia & the increase of Wii U sales due to a steady flow of new release games over the past year. Whilst people focus on the current home console battle between Sony (PS4) & Microsoft (XBone) (in which the XBone is being smashed by the PS4) & how rapid the fans get there, almost everyone has a Nintendo platform of some variety (usually a DS or 3DS). Nintendo are the constant of the video game industry, having beaten Atari, Sega & a myriad of other companies (apart from PC game makers), so no matter your current allegiances, the majority of gamers have played or owned a Nintendo console at some point.

Further to this, as previous written about in my Pokemon article, the biggest driven force for Nintendo still remains as the Pokemon franchise. With consumers demanding both new & reimagined games. Which brings us to the crux (it’s pronounced, crue, the X is silent because it is French) of this rambling article: the demo for the forthcoming remakes of Pokemon Ruby & Sapphire.

The demo is extremely limited. Your character is pre-named as Orlando (you can’t customise appearance even in full game, unlike X/Y) & you can only explore Mossdeep Town as well as a few enclosed dungeons (forests, caves & islands), a few battle areas & one semi-proper quest. You interaction with only a few characters, mainly the Pokemon League Champion Steven but cameos from other major characters (gym leaders) appear too. This is all to get you a taste of the new game, showing off the improved graphics (improved even from X/Y in some cases).

The best example of the improvement in graphics is fly mode with Steven on the back of Latios or Latias. From the back of those Pokemon, you can see the entire Hoenn region in 3D (the 3D effect automatically turns off when out of battle & cut scenes). There are heaps of other little graphical details added, such as grass rustling in the breeze & the way the long grass moves as well.

The other much hyped new feature in the demo is the ability to sneak up on Pokemon who are poking up out of the long grass (in the full game these are meant to be harder to catch monsters or ones with different move sets from the normal ones). It’s done like sneaking in pretty much any game: slightly moving the circle pad in a direct so you move slowly. I thought that this would also lessen encounters in the long grass but didn’t find that to be the case.

Unfortunately, you can’t catch any of these long grass Pokemon. In fact, the only one that you can catch is in the only proper mission, where you have to save a Mega Evolving Pokemon from both Team Magma & Team Aqua lieutenants. I was given a Glali but some people were meant to have been able to have captured a Steelix. You can Mega Evolve the Glali into a neckbearded bit of weirdness but isn’t all that great. You also fight with the top evolutions of the 3 Starters, each with the ability to be Mega Evolved as well. You can also transfer Glali into the full game, once you purchase, along with some other bonuses that you can unlock through repetitive plays (though haven’t found any other Pokemon that you can capture & transfer).

I’ve played the demo through about a dozen times now, playing missions that only take a few minutes each (mainly missions to flush a Shroomish out of some long grass without battling it). There isn’t anything special to do or great challenge, mainly just battle several basic trainers or one more special one.

In the end, the OS/RA is just to whet the appetites of eager fans & silence nay-sayers that it’s just X/Y set back in Hoenn. Which does make it kind of pointless because people have been waiting for it for so long now, they’ll already have it pre-ordered or pick it up the moment that it’s out (it won’t break street date though, the Big N is very very strict on that these days). It’s something that I already plan to get but having stuff to transfer into it upon purchase is just a nice bit of spice to an already decent meal.

With not much left to say about it, I await any flaming on providing incorrect info on the Console Wars as well as the general haters having a go (before they are deleted) as I try to conquer my Pile of Shame.

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I Have No Idea What I’m Doing – Game Critique: Super Smash Bros. 3DS

Title: Super Smash Bros. 3DS (Super Smash Bros. 4)
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: October 4, 2014
Studio/Developers: Sora Ltd., Bandai Namco Games
Publisher: Nintendo

Get the Hype!
Get the Hype!

I had previously written about the special demo of Super Smash Bros. 3DS & the limitations that provided. Now that I have the full game, I can gladly report that it doesn’t have those issues of controls that I lamented in the demo. It does still have other niggling minor issues, but they shall be addressed in a few paragraphs.

Like with the relatively recently released Mario Kart 8 [reviewed here] & The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds [reviewed here], SSB3DS doesn’t attempt to reinvent the franchise, rather just tweak previous issues. This seems to be Nintendo’s mantra of late. “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. Fine tuning is good enough”. & this is something that I agree with, for the most part.

Not from the demo
Not from the demo

For whatever reason, someone at Nintendo said that it’s better to incrementally fix things then to reinvent an entire franchise. Other critiques (well, mainly Yahtzee Croshaw) say that is a decisive failing for the Big N (as many -well, me at least- call Nintendo) & is often seen in the Super Mario Bros. franchise, where little changes are made & often the games just seem to be rehashes of previous ones. In my view, that is ignoring that many new games aren’t really aimed at non-invested Nintendo fans. What they are aimed towards is engaging new fans to become invested fans & players who have new tried a franchise before to enter at the latest title & step backwards from there by refining the system rather than building it all again from scratch. That was one reason for the popularity of Mario Kart 8 & the continued popularity of the Zelda franchise & it will be why Super Smash Bros. 4 on both the 3DS & Wii U will sell well.

The core of SSB3DS remains based around fast frenetic fighting. It is the epitome of the button-masher with strategic depth. Where you can wail on the controls until you win or you can think actively plan how to beat your opponent (if you can). The game’s graded AI difficulty plays a lot more into this; because the high the number (ranked from 1 to 9) the more the computer controlled characters (up to 3) take advantage of items, chase the smash ball & exploit the system to knock you about as much as they can. You can wail on them but if you aren’t smart about your timing, the AI can overcome you with a shield dodge & knock you out with a perfect Smash Attack.

Unfortunately, the 3DS isn’t the best system for such frantic controls. Unlike the afore-reviewed demo, you can customise the controls, ridding yourself of the annoying Up to jump & so forth. Unfortunately, the Circle Pad isn’t a very precise method of playing. It feels slippery at times & hard to make the game know the difference between a tap & a hold. I’d honestly would have preferred having the option to be able to use the D-Pad but that’s something Nintendo might be able to amend with a software update. Fortunately, you can completely customise all of the buttons. So you can choose which is best for you. I switched the X & Y buttons from Jump to Attack & Special Attack, making it feel more like a modern Platformer, which is more natural to me as a player. Despite even with this, the nature of the 3DS unit isn’t the most comfort for long term gaming session. So you often end up with some nasty hand cramps if you spend too much time playing, which will cripple many users’ sex lives.

Based on a true story
Based on a true story

I’ll quickly note two other annoyances/negatives before I get back to the good.

The main annoyance is the format itself. The tiny screen on the 3DS means that when the action is zoomed out it becomes really difficult to see where you character is, especially versing 3 other opponents. There are options to let you see things a little better, such as thicker lines around the characters if you choose that option in the menu & a target box if you tap a character icon on the Touch Screen. Unfortunately, these options aren’t explained or easy to find. Also, even with them on, if the action is zoomed well out it can be hard to spot your character in the midst of particle effects & shifting backgrounds. More so if you have an item, like an Assist Trophy such as the Puppy from Nintendogs, hogging up the entire screen.

The other issue that I had was how unintuitive the menus are. There is no way to know where the things you are after actually are. Take the options menu for example: you have to crawl through several sub-menus to find it rather than having it on the very first page. Same with some of the other game modes & side games. Again: I feel that this is something that could be fixed with a software update. Maybe even putting a few menus on the touch screen as favoured short cuts so you can have instant access. It’s not a deal breaker in any fashion but is a tad vexing when you first start up or forget where things are.

Which unfortunately plays into the Trophy selection & purchase system. Like previous games, Trophies are just a pretty little thing to collect & there are several ways to do this. You can collect them in fights, as rewards for beating challenges or doing achievement unlocks. They don’t factor into the game play but reward you with cool information about them -more so if they are Assist Trophies in game. They are then explained what they do & how they affect the game play, which is handy with some of the new ones found in the game.

Does this look like the face of mercy, motherfucker?
Does this look like the face of mercy, motherfucker?

Despite the limitations of the screen, the game play remains insanely fun & even challenging if you put the AI’s level up. Being handheld, you are prone to playing short matches on Smash Mode, which you can have as fully customisable rule sets, including or excluding various factors or focussing on your personally customised characters. These customisation aren’t just aesthetic but also factor in modified moves that you collect in Smash Run & other side games; completely transforming how a character plays from tweaks to moves, weight (the ability to be knocked out of the arena or turned into a Cannonball by your opponent) & other little factors. You can also transfer your specially customised characters to other people’s consoles & to the Wii U edition via the soon to be released Amiibo figures. They work through a NFC chip & are supposedly meant for some games outside of the two SSB releases (such as Mario Kart 8) but they seem like a bit of an expensive investment so far.

The game also boasts the biggest roster to date, which is 48 characters (not including the 3 customisable Mii classes of Brawler, Gunner & Bladesman). Unfortunately, some of these are very much clone characters -like Pit & Dark Pit. The most disappointing is Lucina from Fire Emblem: Awakening who is a move for move clone of Marth, who is already included in the game. I found this a tad disappointing because I loved her as a character in her Fire Emblem appearance.

The character who’s become my go to fighter is female variant of Robin, the Tactician from the aforementioned Fire Emblem: Awakening. She has a great combination of ranged & close attacks not to mention good speed; making for an excellently balanced fighter. More so with her health draining close range attack, Nosferatu. I just wish that I could import the character model that I have in my version of Fire Emblem: Awakening rather then relying on the default Twin Tails appearance that SSB3DS provides.

When playing Smash mode, I tend just to go for random select options, so that I get a good feel for every character. Although there are some real stand outs for me. Such as Bowser Jr, who has varied attacks & alternate forms based upon the Koopalings; or the Duck Hunt Duo, that pairs up a Dog & Duck for some pretty unique attacks & very retro references.

Unlocking the characters is a lot easier in this game too. You can just grind away in Smash Mode, where you encounter an unlock every 10 battles & if that unlock beats you (which can happen easily), you just fight them again after your next battle. You can also unlock them by meeting various conditions in the Quest mode game but just grinding for them is the much easier option.

The arenas in the 3Ds version are all nicely varied, with some console exclusive ones -such as the Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks one. Where you fight on top of Link’s train from that game (where Toon Link drives it, unless you play as that character, then Alfonzo is the driver), making the stage constantly move. Some stages are more fun than others but everyone will find one that suits them. Despite that, Rainbow Road from the Mario Kart series and the retro F-Zero SNES stages are very annoying to be on because of how they constantly shift & have things move onto the battle stage all of the time. I ended up loving the every changing Fire Emblem: Awakening Fenox Arena stage, because of how it wouldn’t stay in one form but also doesn’t try to throw you off like other stages.

The music is also to due for! Mixing up some classic Smash Bros. tune with originals & retro remixes. Plus there are plenty of hidden tracks for many of the stages (triggers by hitting a certain button on Stage Select screen). If you can find it, you can access all of the unlocked tracks in the Records area & play them instead of the default these, as well as fav’ing them. No idea what that does but it’s a good option to have.

I’ve even tried my hand at Online Play; choosing the For Fun option over the For Glory hardcore player mode. Despite the lag from my own net connection, I won my first match in a Sudden Death bout. So, like every other online victory I have, it was more a pure fluke then any skill on my part. I personally don’t see online mode as something I’ll stick with, for various reasons, but Nintendo still manage to make a close system very fun to play. Their matchmaking algorithm seems to work well, so you aren’t played with the 3l33test of the 3l33t but you aren’t placed with the scrubs whom you can mow over either. It seems balanced so far but, most importantly, it feels fun. You don’t go in fearing you get some ubergamer waiting to show off his Wang Size in replacement of any other life skills. You get similar players with similar skills & you get the most out of the hectic battles. The lag still bothered me but, again, that’s more to do with crappy Australian net services & a terrible wifi router than system itself.
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Being on a handheld console, Super Smash Bros. 3DS isn’t really made for long gaming session but that doesn’t detract from the fun. Short burst whilst travelling or waiting are good enough. You can do more dedicated sessions if you want, no one’s stopping you really, but the limitations on the current 3DS battery (to be changed with the New 3DS release in Oz in November & next year in the rest of the world) can be a bit of a hindrance on the go. Speaking of “on the go”, the Street Pass system allows you to play an Air Hockey like knock out game, that rewards you with Coins & Trophies if you beat the computer controlled tokens of people who you’ve passed on the street. It’s fun but not demanding. A lazy way to unlock things in a way but you get ranking for each battle you win, supposedly making your icon a target for more serious players but that depends on the likelihood passing another console owner with the game.

In the end, despite the limitations of the tiny screen & the vexation of the menu system, Nintendo has refined Super Smash Bros. 3DS into a superb fighting game. What it lacks in general refinement against such franchises as King of Fighters, Tekken or the granddaddy of them all, Street Fighter, SSB3DS more than makes up for in being utterly chaotic fun. It’s not a serious game for seriously competitive players but what it is more than compensates for that quality. Despite not being able to test the wireless battle mode, basically all the game modes stand up. Some you’ll play once & forget about, others you may return to (such as Smash Run) for all the unlocks & bonuses. Am still waiting to see what special unlocks connecting it with the Wii U version unleash (apart from being able to use the 3DS & game as a separate controller for mutliplayer), as well as possible future DLC. It shall more than likely be a game that I return to again & again for brief bouts of bout fun.

Is your body ready?
Is your body ready?

Look Upon My Access, Ye Invested, & Despair! – Random Post: Alpha Sapphire & Omega Ruby demo access

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Fear me! For I have the l33t Nintendo status!

Got an email from the Big N this morning saying that I’ve been granted access to the unlimited demo of the new Pokemon re-masters, Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire.

Since am in the office, I can’t download it yet but will give a Hands-On Impression once I’ve gotten it tonight.

So, nothing really to report, I just like to brag.

For those interested, the title is modified from the sonnet Ozymandias by Percy Shelley & can be found here in annotated form: http://rpo.library.utoronto.ca/poems/ozymandias

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The Hype Is Strong With This One – Game Critique: Super Smash Bros. 3DS demo

For months now, people have watched the Nintendo Hype Train pulling into the station whilst the PS4 and XBone still lumber down the tracks (especially the poor poor XBone) but the Big N has put a heavy Hype Boot in with the release of demo codes of the 3DS version of the latest game in the Super Smash Bros. franchise.

Choo-Choo, Motherfucker!
Choo-Choo, Motherfucker!

Basically, it was release to limited numbers of Nintendo Club members (4 codes per Golden Ticket), causing people to lose their mother fucking minds of it. Selling & demanding them for hefty prices but is it worth the hysterics?

I got my codes (all gone now, so don’t demand) whilst I was away, so couldn’t download until this past Sunday.

Unlike the free demos that you used to get with old PC magazines (which were basically the entire games), Super Smash Bros. 3DS is an exceptionally stripped affair. you only get 2 game modes -vs CPU & verses 3 other plays via wireless mode- 5 characters (Mario, Adult Link, Villager [Animal Crossing], Pikachu & Mega Man) and a single stage with 2 modes (one with platforms, one without). You also don’t get any configure options, so you can’t change the tricky controls (more on that later). You can get different character appearances by pressing X over the character icon (including getting a Female Villager) but that’s it for customisation in the demo.

As for proving the greatest of the game, I don’t think the demo really does that.

Not from the demo
Not from the demo

As mentioned before: the default controls are pretty painful to use.

The Y & X buttons are set to jump, which makes it clumsy after decades of having B or A used as jump buttons. To add to complications, UP on the Circle Pad also makes you jump but is needed to do certain types of attacks.

The attack buttons are also confusing, because it’s hard to tell at a glance if you are doing a normal or special attack & if you hit the wrong direction whilst pressing either button, you get an entirely different attack.

Supposedly, according to import hands on, you can completely customise the controls in the full game. I hope so, because the default is very confusing & SSM3DS is such a fucking frenetic game.

Which leads into the other issue: playing on the tiny 3DS screen.

When you have 2 other player who all look very similar you can easily make a mistake. More than once I was looking at the wrong character trapped in a blast of flashing light effects thinking that it was mine, only to have my character fall off the ledge because couldn’t see where he was.

That was also a general problem when playing Super Smash Bros. Wii on an old analogue TV but the compact nature of the 3DS screen does mean that you have to really pay attention.

I haven’t tried it in 3D mode yet. I don’t often use it, so tend to forget that it’s even there. According to others whom I’v3 spoken with, the 3D helps you see things a little better, especially dodging moves & background but the game can still easily be played in 2D mode (for those who got the 2DS wedge).

I have no idea how the work on the New 3DS with its Wii U GamePad like button set up but don’t think it will impact much.

So, what is good about the game?

Well, despite the control & screen issues, it’s still very very fun.

the Smash Bros. has always been a Beat’em Up light style of game. You can casually play without hassle or get hardcore into it, learning all the little tricks. The game caters for both style of plays & so does the demo.

All the move sets for the characters are unlocked, including their Final Smashes (super moves trigged by acquiring the right item). As are all the items that pop into the battle. There are so new interesting ones so far, especially Pokeball related assists. There are also a ton of Assist Trophies too. I found that the best one was Isabelle from Animal Crossing: New Leaf because she cheers for you & drops healing items (food). You can also get near one hit smash items (knocks opponents out of the arena) but they take a while to wind up, so it balances out. The towards screen smash do look awesome on the 3DS, even if they block gameplay for a moment.

The demo also allows you unlock Smash Coins, which are the in game currency. These coins carry over to the full game once you buy it (similar to the Bravely Default items in that game’s demo), allowing for you to purchase unlockables (not to be confuse with DLC micro-transaction, they only use in game stuff).

All matches are limited 3 minutes. Any more than that & you’d probably have a heart attack trying from all the Hype.

In the end: the demo is but the tiniest, inciest taste to get you hooked on the full thing. Making the Big N your typical high end drugdealer. The lack of control customisation is vexing but can be dealt with. I’m not sure that you truly get enough to get you salivating over the full experience but it’s enough t make your mouth moist.

Supposedly the full game will be able to be hooked up to the Wii U version, so you can play it with your customised characters & use your 3DS as a controller on the big screen. That’s a function I’ve been waiting for in Nintendo consoles since the Wii was meant to hook up to the DS for certain games.

With only a few weeks until the full game is available, Nintendo have done a lot to get the Hype Train up to full steam before the pre-Xmas glut of games. They themselves have at least a dozen things coming out in a short space of time, so they need to get people prioritising their purchases (doesn’t help that they are doing sales in their console stores that offer download discounts on related game franchises).

So, whose ready to claim aboard the Hype Train already?

Get the Hype!
Get the Hype!

My life as a Pokémaniac – Retrospective: Pokémon

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16 years ago, on my 18th birthday, I brought a present for myself consisting of Game Boy Pocket & a copy of Pokémon Blue. Fast forward 15 years to 2013 & my 33rd birthday, where I brought for myself a limited edition Pokémon 3DS XL & a copy of Pokémon X.
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The years between those purchases have seen the release of 62 games over various Nintendo consoles (mainly handhelds with 23 games being the main franchise), over 800 anime episodes, 16 movies (one released a year), a popular Collectible Card Game & various manga incarnations. Not to mention every form of merchandise imaginable, from clothing to toys to cars & furniture.
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All brought to the fore once again by Nintendo’s recent announcement that they shall be re-releasing the Generation III games in the main series, Ruby & Sapphire, for the 3DS in November of this year.

For those who have been living under a rock for the past 17 years, Pokémon is one of Japanese greatest pieces of branded marketing & corporate Soft Power as well as one of the most popular multimedia franchises the world has ever seen.

Very few of us have not been exposed to the nauseating cuteness of the franchise mascot Pikachu or have heard some acapella version of one of its many themes posted online. It is a phenomenon that has well surpassed your average zeitgeist & doubtless it will continue on for many years to come. Or for how long it remains profitable.

Yet what has turned a fairly simple handheld RPG about collecting different monsters into a media & cultural juggernaut?

Well, many academics, critics & fans have written about that but I’m going to ignore them in favour of my own personal journey & experiences with the Pokémon franchise. Because it’s my blog & I can write what I bloody well please.

Like many people my age, I first heard about Pokémon from the urban legend where the anime had caused a series of seizures during the screening of an episode. This led to all sorts of prefabricated outrage out the dangers of children’s cartoons but it also meant that lots of people in the West were eager to watch it but it was added to the list of episodes that were either banned or altered when purchased by 4Kids Entertainment for Western distribution.
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To break it down, Pokémon is a portmanteau of the words Pocket & Monster (Poketto in Japanese), which are the titular creatures that you collect in the game. There are over 720 of the little buggers now; the number growing with each new generation released. Each Pokémon has certain elemental or type affinities -like Grass, Fire, Water, Electric, Flying, Fighting, et cetera, sometimes have two types at once -such as Venusaur’s Grass/Poison type or Geodude’s Rock/Ground type. Each type has a strengths & weakness against other types, giving the game play a Rock, Paper, Scissors approach, where you can gain advantage & bulldoze through opponents by having the right types & attack types or similar getting your team handed to you because you choose poorly. The series combines dungeon crawler/exploration style RPG elements with a collecting game play, as you capture wild Pokémon to add to your team & fill out your Pokédex. Each battle gains your creatures experience points, which helps them level up to gain new abilities &, in some cases, new forms as they evolve once they reach a certain level (or have something else affect them like a stone or similar item).
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Despite this lack of seizure inducing animation, the games were still due out in the West & come 1998, I had eagerly saved up my money for a slightly improved Game Boy Pocket & a copy of Pokémon Blue. Unlike in Japan, we in the West only got two version of the game at first Red & Blue, where as they had Red & Green (1996) at first & then an enhanced version of Blue in 1997. Plot & game play wise, the games were identical but the mantra of the series form the beginning (other then the marketing phrase “gotta catch’em all!“) was all about trading & sharing with other players (then via the Game Boy Trade Cable).

Supposedly, the games creator Tajiri Satoshi game up with the idea for the series by basing it around the Japanese children’s hobby of catching & releasing bugs (especially beetles) & this is an element that is the core foundation of the series.

Starting with 151 Pokémon (including the special event only monster Mew), each game had a different set that you were allowed to collect plus some evolutions that you could only obtain through trading, so you were actively encouraged to find friends with different versions & trade with them.

Or do what I did & buy different versions of the game & use your old Game Boy to swap pokémon across so that you can come close to completing your collection.

Anyway, these first few games combined with the anime series were popular enough that Nintendo released Pokémon Yellow (1998), which featured their electric mascot character Pikachu as your primary monster (actually follows you around & emotes during certain events) to help promote their new Game Boy Colour system. I ended up getting the game along with the limited edition Pokémon edition GBC, possibly in a bundle, I can’t remember.
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The first three games (including Yellow) were all very basic affairs of choose one of three starter Pokémon (Bulbasaur, Charmander or Squirtle), battle your rival (whom most people named rude things), collect different Pokémon, battle other trainers, gain experience & evolve most of your monsters who can evolve, defeat gym leaders for badges which grant special bonuses & eventually go up against the Elite 4 in order to become the Pokémon Master.

Yellow mixed up the formula a bit by adding things related more to the anime, such as battles with Jessie & James from Team Rocket as well as making some of the sprites match up more with the anime depictions.
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Blue began my habit of always picking Water Type starters (Squirtle & his evolutions was pretty awesome). I was a dedicated player, collecting as many monsters as I could, smashing Gym Leaders & beating my Fated Rival to become Pokémon Master! Unfortunately I messed up & used the Master Ball on one of the legendary birds instead of Mewtwo but I rectified that when I picked up a 2nd hand copy of Red a couple of years later.

I still remember my favourite team to this day: Butterfree, Rhydon, Raichu, Lapras, Snorlax, Blastoise, Articuno with a couple of others to alternate with depending on the situation.

I also got Yellow when it available & found it more challenging then Red/Blue but that was mainly because of Jessie & James popping up when you’ve already battled hard & didn’t have much left in terms of health or PP.

The next main games, after the fun & strangely addictive Pokémon Stadium (2000) (which was great because you got bonus starter Pokémon for beating various cups & could play the normal game on your TV), were Gold & Silver. I opted for Silver because of Lugia on the cover & prefer silver over the colour of gold.
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Personally, Silver is still one of my favourites in the series because there was so much to do. More so after you beat the gym leaders & Elite 4 you go back to the Kanto Region (from the 1st games) where you battle all the Gym Leaders & Elite 4 there until you come to the Pokémon Master (technically you from the last games), lonely upon his high mountain. You also had 3 new starters (I naturally went with Totodile, who is still my favourite starter) & new ways to evolve your monsters -including keeping an eye on their happiness (which couldn’t be measured in game for some reason, you had to see a NPC to tell you) as well as 100 new monsters to collect. The game just felt so much bigger then Red/Blue/Yellow -dare I say that it felt epic?- & with such a huge game map to explore you truly felt as though you were getting your money’s worth with it.

When they brought Crystal out (an expansion for Gold/Silver) a little later I didn’t bother with it. Was kind of moving away from handheld stuff for some reason.

Which is why I was late to getting to Pokémon Ruby/Sapphire.

Instead of getting one of the many Game Boy Advances, I instead opted for the original Nintendo DS (a mistake but wanted Mario Kart as a free bundle) & got Sapphire (yes, sticking with the trend of blue over red because blue rocks as a colour!).

Unfortunately I found Sapphire a bit boring.

Nothing had really evolved in terms of gameplay.

Sure, there were more very cool Pokémon to collect but you still had a plethora of the earlier ones plaguing the game. Plus some of the new evolutions & evolving methods were fairly tricky to get around, meaning that you needed a strategy guide to get your head around it all.

The story also hadn’t changed one iota.

You play a mute who everyone says is destined to save the world. You battle Team [Insert Name Here] who wants to steal all the pokémon/destroy some aspect of the environment/control time & space/free all the pokémon/kill every living thing on the planet -which no one else seems to fussed to do anything about strangely enough. You encounter legendary pokémon that you capture & exploit & you beat the Elite 4 & your Fated Rival.

That’s EVERY main Pokémon game plot in a nutshell.

Sapphire stuck to it without variation, just adding a few more bells & whistles to the blundering edifice of the franchise. It vexed me, despite how fun I still found the core gameplay. I honestly just couldn’t bring myself to finish it, so its still sitting in my pile of shame.

Naturally, as soon as the follow up Diamond/Pearl was available, I made sure that I had it on the first day of release.

Unfortunately I suffered through the same doldrums of repetitive gameplay & lack of any interesting plot &/or motivation & wave after wave of previous Gen monsters to wade through before you found the new & interesting ones specific to that generate.

There were a ton more bells & whistles add for distraction but at least a lot of secrets to find & clever little things added to the series to give it more life.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough for me & I eventually got bored. Mainly because I got stuck trying to get through Victory Road to the Elite 4, which was a painful grind.

So, four years later, when Black/White arrived, I also picked it up first day of release.

I am nothing if not a sucker for punishment.

Naturally, I went with Black & choose Piplup as my starter.

I genuinely appreciated all the changes that they made to the formula. Add new character dynamics with your friends/rivals, new evolution styles, new types & so on. Plus fancy shiny graphics outside of battle but inside it was just the same old static sprites.

It wasn’t a breath of fresh air but it was a breeze blowing some of the staleness away.

Unfortunately it just wasn’t enough & I soon grew tired of it all. When Black/White 2 was announced I didn’t bother to get one but that was genuinely more to do with how much they cost (& still cost) then not wanting to continue my obsession with the series. It was basically too much like Black/White, so wasn’t really needed to be purchased.

So, that brings up to the present Generation (Gen VI): X/Y (with Z due out next year or so)

I got X first day of release as well as a limited edition Pokémon Y 3DS XL (all red with pictures on it).

With this game they had changed up plenty of the formula to make it more interesting & far more accessible for a new generation of player. Overall, it’s far easier, with a lot of the random challenge difficulty toned down, as are the gym battles. This isn’t a negative in my book but does mean that you can utterly steamroll through the game with a handful of pokémon whom you’ve grinded up well enough. Same as when you get the mega-evolution ability. Using it on something like Blaziken (that you got as a special early purchase bonus) will mean that you can destroy many opponents (unless they are high level Psychic &/or Water types).

They also mix up the new & older Gen monsters a bit better but still vexing to have all the old ones & barely get a glimpse of the newbies. Most of the new ones aren’t incredible but many are interesting in their types & evolutions. Inkay is a perfect example because it reverses any status affects thrown at it (turning negation effects like Growl into a status buff) & you have to evolve it into Malamar by turning your 3DS upside once it hits level 30. Such a gimmick I’d usually find bothersome because there would be no way you could figure it out by yourself but once you’re told about it seems perfectly naturally to evolve it in such a manner.

Unfortunately Inkay/Malamar is the only new monster of this type to evolve in such a fashion but you have the much touted Sylveon, the mascot for the new Fairy Type, who needs Affection (different from Happiness) to evolve from its basic Eevee form. To do this, you need to spoilt an Evee in the Pokémon-Amie distraction thingie by feeding & petting it & then level it up once it’s acquired a Fairy Type move (which is part of the normal levelling progression luckily). This is very fiddly but since there are so few new Fairy Types in this game, it’s necessary if you want that branch of Eevee evolution.

My other favourite new ‘mon at the moment is Helioptile/Heliolisk because he has an ability called Dry Skin, which means he absorbs any Water Type attacks & even rain from moves like Rain Dance to heal at the end of each round. Combine that with his Parabolic Charge move, which drains HP from whomever it hits. Turning him into a sunny loving vampire lizard! Unfortunate due to being an Electric/Normal type hybrid, it has some annoying weakness to Fighting Type attacks.

One drawback to having so many ‘mon to catch & discover as well as all the types there are, unless you have a handy chart to hand, it’s easy to forget what beats what. More so with the recent additions to the series such as Dark (Evil) & Fairy.

They also tried to spice up the story a bit by adding more side characters for your PC to interact with but they aren’t really fleshed out & don’t play much into the plot. Most of them really don’t have a place with one of them appearing towards the end of the game before you’re hit by a massive (& very, very dark) back story to the region that you are exploring.

Unfortunately, the plot still is just what I mentioned a dozen or so paragraphs back. That is definitely something that I hope that they improve upon in the next non-remake game. I don’t want some epic opus or exploration upon the human/pokémon condition but a little more rounding of character, plot & background plus a sense of choice & personal agency wouldn’t really go amiss.

I’m still yet to finish my version of X, despite the main thread of the game being so much shorter & relatively easier then previous Generations but will get around to it eventually. Of course I started with a Froakie but foolishly chose Squirtle for my 2nd starter out of habit because Charizard Mega Evolution X does look pretty boss .

There are also plenty of secrets within the game as well as updates to add more ‘mon & moves that will get me to keep playing. Am basically up to Victory Road but don’t have as much time to play as I would like.

Am still not sure if I’ll end up getting the re-releases of Ruby/Sapphire (entitled Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire) but other people seem genuinely excited by the news (mainly because people have been making memes out remakes for a few years now, pretty much since the Gold/Silver remakes of a few years ago). I’ll probably end up getting them because of the new features they’ll out into the games.

I do hope that they continue with positive progression as the main series continues into the future. I personally would prefer to see an utter clean break with the franchise. Where the next main game ONLY has new pokémon in it & you unlock all the previous ‘mons post game or via trading. That way you can focus on all that is new without getting bothered by all the old mooks who keep getting in your way as you wade through long grass & caves.

Fans are still demanding a Wii U based MMO style game but that honestly would be hard to control, especially if it allows for imports from the handheld versions. Something akin to an MMO Stadium game would work well, with level caps & all that & being able to link your 3DS to your Wii U so you can just use the ‘mon you have already on your system without fiddling around too much.

Outside of the main series, I haven’t really played many of the other recent Pokémon games.

I used to be hopeless addicted to Pokémon Snap despite it being exceptionally simplistic & lacking in any true form of gameplay. This is also a game screaming out for a sequel & seeing one on the Wii U would indeed be most epic!

The other non-main games don’t truly interest me because they often aren’t very good & don’t have the same kind of attention grabbing, life-draining play that the main handheld series does.

I also don’t get into the whole weird things surround the main games.

Such as breeding for natures, EV training and competitive battles at real life tournaments & such.

Also! I’ve been playing for 17 years & I’ve never seen a bloody shiny ‘mon the entire Pikachu-loving time!

I also have no idea why people bother with things like the Nuzlocke Challenge or the Smogon University elitist style battles (which is a constant point of contention in many fan communities).

Speaking of the fan community: Pokémon still attracts a massive & diverse online fan community. Ranging from art & stories to the ever popular memes, such as the Cheezburger Network channel Pokémemes. Of course there are communities on 4Chan & Reddit dedicated to Pokémon related stuff but I’m honestly not brave enough to endure some of the horrors that people post there these days. & naturally there is a plethora of Rule 34 related items because, as the rule doth state: “if it exists, there will be porn”.

pokemon-girls-full

Yet, despite my bagging of it, the fan communities are what keep the entire Pokémon franchise popular after all these years.

They are the perfect example of the invested/dedicated consumer phenomenon because they add back to the culture/community surrounding the franchise. Moving it from a mere game & extended merchandise to a truly global cultural force.

Everything has been related to Pokémon at some point.

From cars to trains & even aeroplanes.

Entire stores within Japan exist just to sell related products. Battle tournaments are now global, attracting huge prize purses as well as attention. Not to mention that every new (main) game announced always garners huge amounts of attention -from both media & the fans/consumers.

& of course the anime series & its associated movies are continuing regardless of all other trends within the media. At over 800 episodes & 16 movies, it is one of the longest running anime series ever! & it keeps to a pretty basic formula too, so it’s easy to keep making.

Ash Katchem (stupid pun but he’s known as Satoshi in the Japanese version) & his companion Pikachu travel various regions with their pals (always one female & usually with Brock or another male companion), battling their Fated (regional) Rivals, foiling Team Rockets’ plans, bonding with different people & pokémon, learning life lessons, fighting gym leaders, et cetera et cetera.

Each new series sees Ash & Pikachu leave behind his previous team (mainly so they can get the latest ones for the latest games), Pikachu somehow loses his power which means he & Ash lose to their new rival, they encounter a legendary ‘mon somewhere within the 1st or so ep & Ash finds new friends to travel with which are always a loudmouth girl who is tsundere towards him & a male companion who explains everything.

Ash also never ever becomes a Pokémon Master or wins the huge tournaments (might be a few exceptions) because he’s always go to keep travelling to get the newest series rolling.

I honestly haven’t watched it in years. Mainly because the dubbing & translation are so bloody awful! Not to mention the censorship (which I already did actually). My niece still digs it as far as I recall but she’s becoming an invested gamer, more so after I got her a copy of Diamond 2nd hand for her 4 years ago.

Which pretty much proves how the franchise cross generations.

Hell, I’ve got friends who gave their original Red/Blue version to their kids to play (when they weren’t keeping them for themselves) & actually play each new game with their kids (it’s a great way to monitor what they do play as well as engage with them properly).

I do think that I’ll still continue to collect the games as I grow older. Even pick up a few pieces of merch here & there (mainly cute figures if I can).

I honestly don’t think that Pokémon is going to go away for a long long time.

I just don’t want to be trying to hunt 10,000 of the little buggers when I’m 90.

Piplup_maid

Game Review: The Legend of Zelda – A Link Between Worlds

Title: The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
Platform: Nintendo 3DS/2DS
Release Date: 22/11/2013
Studio/Developers: Nintendo EAD Group No. 3 & Monolith Soft
Publisher: Nintendo

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So, after 27 years & over 17 different titles, what has changed in The Legend of Zelda franchise?
Sadly, not a lot.

A Link Between Worlds is the 17th titles in the series & the first for the Nintendo 3DS (or 2DS if you hate the 3D but more on that later) & a direct sequel to the SNES classic A Link to the Past (1991). Though part of me thinks the terms ‘sequel’ is a bit generous & the term ‘high def copy/paste’ seems more accurate.

But are they the ramblings of a cynical old gamer who has been with the series since the Famicom days (I first played it back on my best friend’s Famicom disc system, in Japanese, & neither of us had any idea what we were doing) or are they true?

Well, in all honesty, a bit of both.

The maps & assets are all almost directly lifted from the SNES game, as is the top down play style. Basically, the game feels like a spit & polish of A Link to the Past but without the depth that made the SNES game so beloved by fans.

One of my biggest bugbears in geek, pop & media cultures is the constant harking back to nostalgia. So many other reviewers of this game (especially ABC2’s Good Game) go all squeeeeeeeee! over many nostalgic properties but I mainly the stance if you want to play a game that is exactly like the one that you love, you should play that game since it is still available to you in one form or another.

Long running franchises, especially with Nintendo’s own properties, need to be able to grow & change without ardent Nostalgists clammering for pitchfolks & torches. Times change, people change & things move on. Grant, not always to better things but oft you have to let go & let a new generation take over. ‘Childish things’ & all that.

OK, with that (soon to be typical) rant out of the way, do I agree that A Link Between Worlds is actually a well done & enjoyable game?
Yes. Of course it is. What kind of idiot says that there is a bad Zelda game out there?
Can the game stand on its own merits & show its own strengths without forever being compared with A Link to the Past?
Well, that’s a resounding “eeeeergh”, complete with waving hand gesture.

Why so flaky on an answer?

Well, that’s because this game is the very incarnation of the old phrase “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”. Which translates as “the more things change, the more they stay the same”.

For every innovation that Nintendo has made within the game, there is another idea that is so fixed in the tradition of the series that it’s almost painful. Too many half measures & not enough boldness to break free from convention. But at least there are understandable reasons for this, at least to me.

A Link Between Worlds seems to me to be an attempt to get a whole new generation hooked on the franchise. It’s more open world nature & toned down challenges designed for younger gamers who’s first handheld is the 3DS. That is similar to what Nintendo & Game Freak recently did with the releases of Pokemon X & Y, making improvements for long term fans but toning down some elements for new entrants into the franchises.

This is actually something that I actively applaud because it means that if the games sell well, we can see more changes, improvements & departures to & from the standard formula because younger games will want things they are yet to experience, where as many gamers tend to think that they want what they are more familiar with. This is merely generalisation of course but oft rings true in my observations & experiences.

So, let us begin with what has stayed the same.

For one: the story.

ALBW art    You play as Link (or whatever name you decide to pick), the protagonist/player cypher/non-customisable avatar who is awoken at the start of the game to perform a mundane task but soon finds himself to really be the Legendary Hero, tasked to free Hyrule from the evil that is plaguing it & rescuing the Princess Zelda from whatever master mind (usually Ganon but not in this case surprisingly) has entrapped her. You do this by exploring various dungeons, collecting various items & defeating various bosses of various sizes, until you have a certain amount of magical MacGuffins that will unlock the final dungeon & boss fight. 26 years, very little change in the overarching narrative or the characters involved. It borrows the mirror world motif from A Link to the Past but doesn’t use it to any great effect. Even the big twists in the plot I had guessed even before the game had begun but it doesn’t really matter because the overall plot is merely a cloth horse upon which to hang the gameplay.

Where A Link Between Worlds does change things is in how you now acquire the items & how you explore the dungeons.

After a certain point, items can be “hired” from the rabbit hooded layabout Ravio, that is purchased & used until you die, where upon they are returned to him & you have to hire out again. You can of course purchase the items a bit further into the game, meaning that you keep & upgrade them without fear of losing them. You can also choose which dungeons to tackle first but if you are a canny player, you merely go through each until you find the unique items within & then uber (overpower) your way through them in which ever order you choose.

Because of the open nature of the game, the different areas aren’t that difficult to defeat & the dungeons themselves aren’t overly large or complex. That isn’t to say that there isn’t any challenge within the game but I found that I only died on the overworld from creatures such as the bomb throwing orges or attacks from off screen or, mainly, my own dumb mistakes & confusions over the controls. I managed to beat most of the boss, almost all of whom are lifted straight from A Link to the Past, without a lot of hassle & pretty much no strategy. Just watched the pattern & wailed on them with my weapons, using bottled fairies to revive when needed.

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Against everything negative I’ve been saying, I have to wilfully admit that the dungeons are exceptionally clever at times. How you solve puzzles & get about will keep you quiet entertained, even if you don’t feel challenged by them.

This is mainly because of the game’s primary gimmick: turning Link into a painting upon the wall. This makes you flat & able to move across walls & other similar surfaces, letting you slip through gaps & cracks to find hidden little things or avoid traps or falling. You have a limited amount of time that you can do it (with your Magic Metre draining during its activation), so timing becomes everything when getting about in painting mode. It also has other wonderful little touches, such as the music & other noises going tinny & 2 dimensional when you’re a painting, making it feel as though you’re hearing it through Link’s inky ears.

Other great addition to the game is that you no longer have to scavenge for bombs or arrows or risk running out in the middle of a boss battle. All the weapons & magical items that you use drain your Magic Metre (a purple bar on the left side of the screen), which naturally replenishes in a short amount of time. This does take a lot of the frustration out of pot smash/grass cutting to find everything that you need & means that you do need to employ some strategy when dealing with enemies & puzzles.

But my utter, utter favourite addition to the game are the Maimai, which are the new scavenger hunt creatures in the game -akin to the golden spiders in Ocarina of Time or the Good Will glimmers from Skyward Sword- but these are actually important to get. Instead of giving you something useless like Rupees or a larger wallet, you actually get something important for finding them. Return to Mother Maimai with 10 of her lost children & she’ll reward you with an upgrade to any weapon that you’ve brought from Ravio to a more powerful version. Since all the Lorule dungeons are tied to specific weapons, it pays to know what you want to upgrade & when. The Maimai are also cleverly hidden in both Hyrule & the mirroring Lorule overworlds (so you don’t have to go through dungeons to get them) but they are actually fun, as well as vital, to hunt. Most upgrades give you an advantage with whichever item you improved, some being more practical then others. Such as the bow shooting 3 arrows or the Hookshot doing damage as well as stunning. While some items are useless outside of their specific dungeons, they are still handy to have upgraded.

Another improvement in the game is the actual usefulness of the stereoscopic 3D function. You often need it on to negociate dungeons where you have platforms at different heights to you have to drop down a fair way. I hate 3D (despite owning a 3DS) because it hurts my eyes & I have trouble seeing it easily but the function of it within the game is really handy to have switched on from time to time. Such as trying to get through Death Mountain.

Another nice feature in the game is the music, even though it is lifted straight from A Link to the Past with a couple of remixes from The Legend of Zelda II. Music has always been an exceptionally vital component to the Zelda series & A Link Between Worlds doesn’t let you down in that department. The tunes are layed but catchy, electronic but orchestral, nostalgic but fresh. It is nigh impossible to play & not hum (or, in a couple of cases, sing very very loudly) the immortal overworld theme to yourself.


As much as I ragged on this game for pretty much being a short, not very challenging exercise in nostalgia, I still have found it an exceptionally good game.

It’s fun, great to look at & almost hypnotic in how it can suck you into it. You hit a nice rhythm with it but can take things at your own pace. You can pretty much finish your first run in a couple of sittings (battery life not withstanding) but it pays to have fun & explore both the overworlds & all the dungeons. There is some challenge once you’ve done because you unlock the ‘Hero Mode’, which makes enemies tougher, but I haven’t gotten to it yet because ran out to get SquareEnix’s latest Bravely Default (oh, wait for the nostalgia rants that one is sure to generate) as soon as I finished A Link Between Worlds.