Thus far, there are only five titles slated for the Nintendo Switch launch: 1-2-Switch, Just Dance 2017, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Skylanders: Imaginators, and Super Bomberman R. While that might not seem like much, here’s why that’s more than enough and why less weight should be placed on console launch lineups in general.
The Legend of Zelda
For starters, one of the titles is a Zelda game, and while that might not float everyone’s boat equally, for most Nintendo fans that’s one of five to ten major reasons to buy a Nintendo console (ie. 1. Zelda, 2. Mario, 3. Metroid, 4. Pokémon, 5. Animal Crossing, etc.). Not to mention that the particular Zelda title launching with the Switch looks to be massive and should sustain player’s interest at least until the next major title comes out. While my time with the game has been brief, twenty minutes at E3 was enough to convey that Breath of the Wild was an all new breed of Zelda, with more to see, do, and explore than ever before. And with Nintendo claiming that Breath of the Wild‘s map is twelve times the size of Twilight Princess‘s, it promises to be a truly deep, rich world to explore and, at first glance, certainly seems to have more vertical depth and a notable…breadth of the wild for players to traverse. A completionist run through of a closed world Zelda title can easily run up to forty to sixty hours, so expecting Breath of the Wild, an open world game, to match if not double that seems like a sensible prediction. Consequently, a play through of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild should more than entertain early adopters of the Switch until…
Near Launch Titles
Only five games may launch on March 3rd when the Switch does, but within the launch window of Nintendo’s latest console that number more than doubles. In fact, three or more titles are expected to launch in March itself including Has-Been Hereos, I am Setsuna, and the adorably intriguing indie title Snipperclips, Cut It Out Together. Not long after, the next new, major title for the Switch and the newest Nintendo IP, Arms, is due out sometime in the spring. Perhaps more so than 1-2-Switch, Arms looks capable of demonstrating just what the Switch controllers, the Joy-Cons, are capable of. Reminiscent of Wii Sports and Punch-Out, Arms is described by Nintendo as having “depth, challenge, and replayability,” favorable words in any gamer’s lexicon. Arms could easily be the competitive, multiplayer counterpart to the enormous, Zelda single-player experience Switch owners need to switch things up and keep the console from getting stale early on. If not, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe certainly fits the bill. A phenomenal Wii U experience both alone and with friends, Mario Kart 8 was undoubtedly a high point for the last Nintendo console, and Deluxe looks to be the best version of a near flawless game. Just look at that sexy graphic design in the title! Toting new racers, courses, karts, power-ups, and a long-awaited, previously missing battle mode, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe features more than enough to justify a repurchase, on top of including all of the original title’s content, including the sensational DLC. With only eight million copies of the original sold, this is a rare opportunity for millions to experience for the first time one of the best racing games of our time on what will hopefully be a far more successful and capable console. Don’t let Mario Kart 8 Deluxe drive-by when it releases April 28th, shortly after the Switch launch.
That’s all just in the relative launch window of the console! The rest of the year looks equally if not more promising for the console with first and third party titles launching throughout. And, with exclusives ranging from the magnificent looking sequel to Splatoon in Summer, to Xenoblade Chronicles 2 later in the year, to a brand new, truly unique 3D Mario title projected for the Holiday in the form of Super Mario Odyssey, on top of titles with releases to be determined, 2017 looks like a positive beginning to Nintendo’s newest project. All of this goes without mentioning the inevitable return or follow-up to…
While Nintendo has been relatively quiet concerning its virtual library of titles, it’s unmistakable that Nintendo’s massive library of past titles will once again be available for purchase in some capacity. Whether dreams will come true and previous Virtual Console purchases will be linked to a player’s Nintendo Account and be immediately available at launch or some unspecified date at a low to no cost point remains to be seen. Perhaps it will be a perk of Nintendo’s eventually paid online service. With the Switch fully revealed, maybe this will be the hot speculation topic of the next couple of months, but until Nintendo makes a statement, there’s no saying. At least not beyond saying old titles will be obtainable on the Switch at some point. I guarantee it. What remains to be said is that this is yet another excellent way to flesh out the launch of the console and the year ahead of the Switch. Should rumors prove true and select GameCube games be downloadable on the Switch, 2017 could feature some brilliant throwbacks as well as new titles, perhaps to prepare gamers for titles to come. Super Mario Odyssey has already been compared to Super Mario Sunshine, perhaps players will be invited to make the comparison for themselves. Perhaps the future of Luigi’s Mansion rests on the Switch, and players can once more take a spooky journey through the spin-off’s eerie roots. Many rumors surrounding the Switch proved true, let’s hope these rumors come true too.
Waiting May Be Worth It
Some of us are day one kind of people. We like midnight showings of movies, we buy games immediately even if we don’t know that we’ll tackle them as quickly, and we want the latest piece of hardware on our TV stands or in our pockets as soon as possible. For those like me, and diehard Nintendo fans to boot (have you noticed I write for a site called Goomba Stomp and host NXpress podcast? I like Nintendo…like a lot.), the Switch has presented more than enough reason to purchase immediately, and my body is ready for the next Nintendo console. But, for everyone else, it might be worth waiting to buy the Switch. While I want the console to succeed immediately and not to get caught in the vicious cycle the Wii U did where developers weren’t developing for the console because it didn’t have enough adopters, and gamers didn’t adopt the console ’cause it didn’t have enough support (for the record, it had more than enough of a library to justify purchasing it, especially by the end of its life), the thing about consoles is that waiting to buy in typically pays off. Consoles get progressively better, cheaper, and come packaged with more later in the life cycle. While $300 is more than justifiable for a portable home console (that’s amazing technology!), perhaps waiting to buy the Switch is the proper solution for many on the fence. The library will only get stronger, the pack-ins better, and the services more sound. While it may be worth it for the diehard Zelda fan to strike quickly, especially if they want to get their hands on the phenomenally enticing Special or Master Edition of Breath of the Wild, others may find many benefits to waiting. Especially since gamers seem to always have a backlog of games waiting to be completed. Maybe now is a better time to finally tackle The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword if you’ve never beaten it before discovering an all new Hyrule in Breath of the Wild.
Conversely, backlogs provide excellent diversions during the slow seasons in gamers’ lives. Whether the Switch will have any slow points in its first year remains to be seen. Many announcements may await us, and E3 could be a source of immense joy for countless Switch owners. Time will tell. What’s true now is that less weight should be placed on a console’s launch titles. Understandably, gamers want to reap the benefits of their investments immediately, but, historically, launch lineups are chalk full of games that are nothing short of a waste of money. At the risk of sounding reductive, one of the greatest consoles of our time, the Xbox 360, featured nearly twenty titles at launch, none of which are even mentioned today, except for maybe Perfect Dark Zero, mentioned because of how disappointing a follow up it is. The N64, on the other, only launched with two titles in the U.S., one of which, Super Mario 64, revolutionized 3D platformers forever and is considered by many to be one of the best games ever made. But all too often the games a console is remembered for come much later in the console’s lifecycle. No one talks about the Western launch title GUN for 360, but Red Dead Redemption, which launched five years after, is still fondly remembered and is receiving a well-earned sequel. When it comes to launch titles, I’d opt for quality over quantity any day. While the Nintendo Switch admittedly has a light launch lineup, one of its launch titles is the most promising game of 2017, and I for one can’t wait for the console’s launch, even with only five titles. Personally, I’m about ready to make the switch to a new console and March 3rd can’t come soon enough!
‘Garden Story’ First Impressions: The Coziest of Adventures
Long-awaited Twitter darling Garden Story just released its first demo. Here’s what we learned after playing through it twice.
Following the unfortunate (but understandable) delay of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, there’s been a distinct lack of chill, aesthetic games to fill the void. Garden Story’s charming environmental art and animation have earned it a dedicated social media following, but it wasn’t until Picogram released a demo just a couple days ago that anyone with a Steam account could actually experience the game for themselves. So, just how fun is this wholesome little RPG?
Setting the Scene
Garden Story’s demo centers around the newly-appointed village guardian Concord (a grape) and their first steps in rebuilding Autumn Town, a community ravaged by a sinister force known as “the Rot.” Chatting with villagers reveals a bit of insight into the situation at hand; it’s soon clear just how much the other townsfolk need the player’s support.
There are several clear parallels to old-school Legend of Zelda titles here, but Garden Story manages to set itself apart rather quickly. For one, this isn’t a solo adventure; the player sets out with Rana (a frog) and Fuji (a tomato) on a friendly quest to be as helpful to the surrounding community as possible. Seeing friends around and watching cute scripted cutscenes between the crew does a great job of instilling a sense of camaraderie and friendship.
In another pleasant twist, everything here is themed around building rather than destroying. Instead of traditional swords and bows, Concord repurposes his dowsing rod and scavenging pick into makeshift weapons. The combat itself calls to mind Stardew Valley; simple, minimal, and clearly not the main focus. There’s a pesky stamina bar that restricts the number of times Concord can attack and how far they can run, frequently forcing players to pause between barrages. In this way, encounters often come off as more of a necessary evil in Concord’s town rehabilitation journey than a main attraction.
Rebuilding a Community
So, how does one go about aiding the town? The method highlighted in the demo was by attending to a quest board with three different types of requests: Threat (combat), Repair (exploration), and Want (gathering). Each is accompanied by a task that plays an integral part in keeping Autumn Town safe and in good working order (e.g. clearing out Rot, finding sewer access so new resources can flow into town, and so on).
Aside from fulfilling requests, there are a few interesting hooks to incentivize hitting every shiny thing you come across regardless. The more different types of items are scavenged, and the more catalogues are filled by being updated with new materials, the more literature becomes available to give little bits of insight into Garden Story’s world and history. Then, in another parallel to Stardew Valley, any leftover resources can be sold in the pursuit of buying tool upgrades.
While the full game will feature four locations to explore and tend to, there was still plenty to do in Autumn Town itself by the end of the demo. Rana mentioned that villagers will post new requests daily, and the demo even featured a mini side quest (called “favors”) that led me to obtain a brand-new tool. Between daily requests, favor fulfillment, and dungeons spread across four different regions, it’s looking like there will be a good bit of content here for those who really want to hang around Garden Story’s world for as long as possible.
Though it remains to be seen just how enticing its complete gameplay loop and accompanying systems are, Picogram’s latest is already delivering on its core appeal: being a cozy, relaxing experience. The color palette is soft, the lighting is moody, and the soundtrack is right up there with the Animal Crossing series as having some of the most mellow, loopable tunes around.
In fact, it’s the sound design in particular that gives Garden Story such an intimate feel. From the sound of a page turning when entering and exiting buildings to the gentle gurgles of a bubbling brook in the forest, it’s clear that composer Grahm Nesbitt poured a ton of love into making this one feel just right. Here’s hoping the full game more than delivers on all the potential shown here.
Garden Story is slated to release in Spring of 2020 and is available to wishlist on Steam.
How Asynchronous Online in ‘Death Stranding’ Brings Players Together
Hideo Kojima’s latest game creates a sense of community by aiding other players on the same perilous journey.
Video games have always been fascinated with the idea of player interactivity as a means of crafting a power fantasy. The player typically goes on a hero’s journey, eventually culminating in them being the one and only savior of the world inside the game. Typically associated with single-player games, MMOs also crafted that same narrative but with the conceit that everyone is going on this journey. Often the acknowledgments of other players are in multiplayer-specific features such as PvP and Raids. Destiny is a great example of a series that takes players on the same journey and makes no promise that the story is different between players by even allowing them to engage in playing story missions together. It all feeds into the larger narrative of Guardians fighting together to save the Light. A game that handles this very similar and perhaps more successfully is Hideo Kojima’s Death Stranding.
While lacking any direct player-to-player interaction, Kojima’s latest game is drenched in the conceit that community is crucial to triumph over adversity. You can read many articles about the game’s ideas of community from fellow writers on the site. What hasn’t quite gotten the attention it deserves is how revolutionary Death Stranding feels in terms of utilizing asynchronous online to greatly affect the game itself. Games like Dark Souls and other FromSoftware titles have included the ability to leave notes (which Death Stranding also offers) that help (or trick) players as they venture throughout the world on their own. How those notes’ effects are manifested are often on a much smaller scale – helpful at times but often to warn players of an impending way they might die. They don’t have a large impact on the player, only a temporary means of cheating death.
Where Death Stranding becomes something greater in scale is in what it lets other players do to other peoples’ single-player experiences. In the game, you play as Sam Porter Bridges who is tasked with reconnecting America from coast-to-coast. At first, the game thrusts Sam into its narrative, taking the reluctant, isolated character and forcing him to eventually realize the importance of hope and connections in dire times. As Sam starts bringing more and more people onto the Chiral network (which allows instantaneous communication and the transferring of 3D-printable goods), so too does the game open up and reveal its ultimate goal: to bring players together.
This doesn’t mean players will ever talk to other players, and the game very much avoids any real negative actions that can be performed on players. In fact, someone could play the game without ever actively engaging with online features. Instead, the game will passively hand out “likes” to other players whose ladders are used or roads are driven. If one wanted to fight the game’s narrative and instead keep Sam isolated and away from the community that the Chiral network provides, they could definitely do that – no matter how antithetical it would be to do so. Death Stranding even offers an offline mode that would nullify all of that and keep the experience solely on the player’s impact on the world and no one else’s.
Yet there’s a reason the online mode is the default mode. It was near the end of Episode 3 (which also happens to be when the game unloads almost all of its mechanics onto the player) when I finally realized the impact I was having on other people’s games. I had spent an entire day playing the game, but focusing largely on delivering premium deliveries – these are optional challenges that essentially boil down to carrying more cargo, damaging cargo less, or getting to your destination in a set amount of time. Death Stranding doesn’t ever tell you the best way to get somewhere. Instead, it places a wide array of tools in front of you and assuming the Chiral network is set up in an area, it can provide a rough guide on places to avoid or infrastructure already built. However, one of the key pieces of infrastructure missing for my playthrough was roads. My efforts immediately became focused on building a network of roads that made their way all throughout one of the larger areas in the game.
The game doesn’t ever make you build roads. It tells you the option is there but it doesn’t force your hand. Often tools will be introduced, like zip lines and floating carriers, but the game never demands that they’re used. Of course, engaging with those tools will make your life easier. There are easy ways to start building infrastructure in Death Stranding: ropes and ladders can help to scale mountains or plummet depths. Those will remain in the world for other players to use and will even appear on their maps as they hook up areas to the Chiral network. So, someone who plays the game earlier than someone else could lay down ropes and ladders, and depending on when the other person starts playing, they will find those once they have progressed to a point where they are traversing that area. Where the game becomes even grander in its sense of community is the realization that the more players commit to building roads or setting up zip lines, the more other players benefit.
The reality is that ladders and ropes are temporary – they cannot be rebuilt, they can only be replaced. The game’s Timefall – a weather phenomenon that acts as rain but ages anything it comes into contact with – can reset an entire map after a while if there is nothing more substantial placed on the map. So in my game, I decided that whenever I could build a road, I committed to doing so. This could mean going to multiple waystations and collecting materials that have amassed over time from deliveries, or going out in the world and finding these materials like Chiral crystals. At a certain point, I would load up a truck with multiple deliveries that were on or near the roads I had built, as well as with as many metal and ceramic materials I could load into the truck before it reached capacity. As I delivered packages, I’d replace them with more deliveries and more materials from each waystation. Eventually, I’d find myself at a point where a road was not built yet and would then build that road.
Community stands as the strongest component of Death Stranding .
In contrast to a game like Dark Souls, actions in the world such as providing notes on the ground or helping another player with a boss battle is helping them cheat death. The community that is being built is not one that has any lasting effect on the world in the game. No Man’s Sky may let players interact with each other and further their knowledge of the universe within the game, but often that help is relegated to an isolated planet. It’s a more contained impact. Hideo Kojima created a game where players don’t just build infrastructures for themselves, they can intentionally or inadvertently assist other players throughout their games. This leads to players like myself creating strand contracts with other players who have built things I liked in the game. A strand contract is a powerful feature because it means more of that players’ roads or other items built for the world will show up more frequently in my game.
Every Action in Death Stranding Creates Hope
One of the perks of building so many roads is you also get a lot of likes, whether passively given because someone used the road or actively provided by a player because they not only used the road but were appreciative that someone built it. It’s hard not to feel important in someone else’s life when you’ve made their experience less cumbersome because they no longer have to drive over rocky terrain or through enemy territory but instead can take a highway to their destination. What’s better is that more substantial developments like bridges and roads can be repaired by other players and even upgraded. So while I laid the initial roads down, I actually haven’t spent any materials repairing them. Instead, notifications come in and tell me players have repaired roads I’ve built. There’s no real reason to do that unless the infrastructure built was necessary to their journey through the game – making it easier but also providing the same feeling of helping out a larger community.
Community stands as the strongest component of Death Stranding – a game that doesn’t even try to be subtle in its intentions. Traversing Kojima’s version of post-apocalyptic America is harrowing on your own. With just your two feet and a package to deliver when the entire world itself is trying to stop you from doing so, America isn’t just divided – it’s hostile. Where Death Stranding shines brightest is when it offers a helping hand. Players aid one another to achieve the same unified goal: save the country. All of this is under the assumption that the country can be saved, but there is no denying that seeing someone else’s rope hanging off a steep cliff, or a Timefall shelter where it rains Timefall on a constant basis, is one of the most satisfying feelings. In Death Stranding, it isn’t enough to know that you’re making progress, but that everyone is willing to assist others to reach the same end goal. It’s a game where every action creates hope and is built upon the idea that we are at our best when we work together.
‘Woven’ Review: Comfortably Soft and Lumpy
Despite those blurry visuals and stilted gameplay, there’s something endearing about this innocent elephant’s adventure.
With a sincere warmth and fuzziness that conjures up dreamy recollections of 3D games gone by, Alterego Games‘Woven mostly overcomes its blurry visuals and technical jankery to somehow create a pleasant, old-fashioned experience. Those excited by modern gaming probably won’t give this lovable hand-me-down a second look, and perhaps they shouldn’t; extremely simple actions and soothing narration support a fairy tale quality that’s probably best suited to younger players. However, anyone willing to look past the well-worn exterior in search of a relaxing break from stressful button pushing may squeeze more fun out of this familiar stuffed toy than they might originally expect.
Woven tasks players with taking control of a meandering patchwork elephant named Stuffy, and guiding him through a sparsely populated knitted world that seems to have met an untimely demise. Because Stuffy has cotton for brains, he is assisted on this journey by a much smarter metal firefly named Glitch (a reference to his role in this story?), who floats alongside the curious-but-clumsy plush toy and provides hints as to how he can use his various abilities. Together, this odd couple will traverse open plains blanketed with colorful yarn grass, maneuver around impassable felt trees and plants, and hopefully discover the secret of where Stuffy’s clueless kin have all gone.
Along the way, the duo will walk great distances (often without much event), solve the occasional environmental puzzle, and generally just keep on keepin’ on.Woven is mostly straightforward in its campaign, merely about getting from point A to B by whatever means the path requires. Most often this involves finding new blueprints that allow players to change Stuffy’s design from an elephant into a wide variety of other animal shapes, each with a set of abilities that come with a new set of arms, legs, and a head. For instance, while the stocky (and adorable) bear can push plush boulders and perform a mighty stomp, the goat and frog can both use their legs to hop, while the kitty cat is able to push buttons on rusted consoles that activate dormant machinery.
However, these abilities are usually only able to activate when context-sensitive prompts from Glitch appear, so don’t expect some sort of platforming freedom. Woven handles a bit clumsily in that regard and others; strolling is definitely the order of the day, as long as Stuffy doesn’t get hung up on the geometry.
But these actions do help provide variety; a tropical bird of some sort (toucan, maybe?) can sing certain notes, while a pelican-thing can fly (sort of) over land and shallow water with great speed. And so, it often becomes necessary in Woven to alter Stuffy’s look with a total reweave. These designs can be applied at various sewing machine-like stations scattered about, which go a step further than just swapping Stuffy the deer for Stuffy the ape. Each blueprint is comprised of five parts, allowing for players to create a Frankenstein Stuffy made up of all the best abilities the player has on hand (or cushioned paw). By mixing certain sets, Stuffy will soon be able to scale mountainside crags, cross piranha-filled rivers, and pick up industrial cogs without the need to make a pit stop and bust out new needle and thread.
Some truly hilarious (or horrifying, depending on your sensibilities) aberrations can be created; seeing Stuffy hobble on hooves as he flaps a wing on one side and swings a muscular gorilla arm on the other, all with the head of a squirrel, is freakishly entertaining. In addition, for those who like to wander off the beaten path, there are a plethora of knitting patterns to discover, tucked away in both obvious and devious locations (and denizens). These cosmetic enhancements can also be applied at the sewing stations, essentially giving players seemingly endless amounts of customization. And these aesthetic changes even get in on the puzzle act every once in a while, especially when a pesky cobra shows up.
But outside the odd ‘connect the power line’ or ‘raise and lower platforms’ objectives, Woven doesn’t throw much at players that even young children shouldn’t be able to handle — and that seems to be the aim. Stuffy’s adventure lives or dies on its wholesome and serene vibe, which players either buy into or they don’t. There’s no combat here, very little to actually do outside hunting down those patterns, illuminating some painted caves, and activating some of Glitch’s ‘memories’ contained by machines hidden in the soft folds. Ongoing narration is pleasant to the ears, often conveying old-fashioned morals and cutesy jokes, but there’s no more story than in a classic fable.
And make no mistake — though the world is certainly bright and cheerful, it’s also quite fuzzy around the edges. The tactile nature of the cloth textures is lessened greatly by the low definition (at least on the Switch version), eliciting memories of the Wii-era. An increased crispness would have really made the world of Woven pop off the screen, perhaps luring in a larger audience who have become accustomed to such. There is still plenty of charm, but it feels like a missed chance at that true magical feeling the game seems to be shooting for.
Other stumbles come when certain worlds try to open up a bit more, which might lead a younger audience to get frustrated by the lack of direction (especially when they keep getting hung up on that geometry!); Woven definitely works better when it’s casually guiding players along, letting gamers of all ages envelop themselves in the easygoing atmosphere instead of requiring tedious backtracking. There’s just something nice about sitting back and relaxing to hummable music, watching the roly-poly amble of a stuffed kangaroo.
Woven will not be for everyone; those who play for challenge or eye candy won’t find either here. And yet, despite those blurry visuals and stilted gameplay, there’s something endearing about this innocent elephant’s adventure. Woven certainly has its share of lumpiness, but somehow remains cozy regardless.
‘Woven’ is available on PC, Xbox One, PS4, and Switch (Reviewed on Switch).
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