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No, Nintendo Doesn’t ‘Need’ Third Parties



The need for Nintendo to attract third parties has been severely overstated, given what niche the Switch is trying to fill in the console marketplace. Far from the PS4 look-a-like that we expected, the Switch is another Nintendo console that challenges industry norms. As a result, much doom and gloom has been perpetuated about how its innovation will turn away third parties. However, rumor of the Switch’s need for third party support has been greatly exaggerated.

The truth is, ever since the Nintendo 64, Nintendo’s marketing has fallen out of touch with most third party developers and with most gamers. Nintendo consoles have remained secondary purchases for most gamers, even when Nintendo has attempted to satiate developer’s desires for better graphics with more powerful hardware, as with the GameCube. Despite such an increasingly obvious trend toward second-class consoleship, the way that Nintendo markets toward consumers hasn’t changed, until now.

With the Switch, Nintendo is finally admitting that, despite how neat it may be to play Skyrim on an airplane or NBA 2K at an actual basketball court, they aren’t targeting first console purchasers anymore. Instead, they are marketing the Switch as a complementary console for PS4 and Xbox One owners who wish to play Nintendo exclusives. Due to this shift in marketing strategy, third party games, as means to attract consumers to purchase the Switch, have lost much of their puissance. Add to that the fact that Nintendo chose as its console’s main chip an aging ARM processor instead of the more commonly used x86 architecture, and it becomes evident that their focus is on the experiences that they can craft instead of trying to compete with the Xbox One and PS4’s level of third party support.

This may not seem the wisest route for Nintendo at first glance. After all, wasn’t one of the Wii U’s greatest failures the fact that it didn’t have enough third party support to even muster a Madden or FIFA release past the first year? Not exactly.

The Wii U failed, not primarily because of a lack of third party support, but because it sold poorly and was sold for a loss even a year after launch. The added cost of the GamePad didn’t help either, costing Nintendo around $79.25 per console, an incredibly high price for a peripheral that was abandoned by most developers less than two years after release. Nintendo has lived and even thrived through consoles that sold poorly, the N64 and GameCube’s sales were anemic. The Wii U came after a poor 3DS launch that cost Nintendo millions, was marketed poorly, and had less than a year headstart over the PS4 and Xbox One. It wasn’t Nintendo’s first failure, but it was by far their most ill-timed.

Third party games, in reality, have had little to do with the sales of Nintendo consoles since the Nintendo 64. The GameCube had more third party ports than one could shake the proverbial stick at, and yet it still managed to sell less than the original Xbox, a console that, despite its graphical fortitude, was not known for good sales. The Wii had massive third party support, but in an ironic turn of events, the majority of those games were shoddily constructed shovelware that did little to change the preconceived notion that it was a console for children and the elderly.

In fact, the Wii U may have suffered from its initial focus on third party games. By overemphasizing the release of old, mid-generation games that were already popular with consumers on other consoles, while simultaneously failing to secure third party support much past launch, Nintendo seemed even more out of touch with consumers’ wishes. If they were to make the same mistake with the Switch and overemphasize the small commitments that companies like EA have made, they would appear just as laughable as they did five years ago.

With the Switch, it seems as if Nintendo has finally recognized that, for the most part, gamers buy Nintendo consoles for Nintendo games while continuing to play popular third party games on another console, or a gaming PC. In the past, Nintendo’s handhelds have succeeded as secondary consoles, not because they had ports of popular AAA games, but because they had great Nintendo exclusives, popular indie games, and a smattering of third party titles not available on any other platform (Bravely Default comes to mind). With their next system logically, but not officially, replacing both the 3DS and Wii U, it stands to reason that they should use the same strategy with the Switch and attempt to leverage their strength with handhelds to bolster poor console sales.

At the end of the day, Nintendo’s greatest strengths lay within itself. Their franchises are instantly recognizable to gamers and non-gamers alike. If they can successfully utilize that consumer recognition, then there is no doubt in my mind that the Switch can reverse the downward trend Nintendo’s consoles have been stuck on for the past twenty years and deliver a truly memorable console. If they avoid the temptation to switch things up but instead play to their greatest strength, their games, the path back to relevance becomes that much clearer for Nintendo.

Although a gamer since before I can remember, there is not a better definition of me than these three words: Christian, moderate, and learner. I am steadfast in my Faith, my Beliefs, and in my Opinions, but I am always willing to hear the other side of the discussion. I love Nintendo, History, and the NBA. Currently a PhD Student at Liberty University.



  1. ???? ??????

    February 19, 2017 at 2:57 pm

    the author is a retard.

  2. John Cal McCormick

    February 20, 2017 at 9:03 am

    “The Wii U failed, not primarily because of a lack of third party support, but because it sold poorly”

    Obviously there’s a lot to unpack in this article, and it’s fair to say that I disagree with basically all of it, but this sentence in particular caught my attention. What does this mean? That’s not “why” the console failed. That’s the conditions for failure. It’s the effect, not the cause. It’s like saying that John Lennon died not because somebody shot him, but because his body could no longer sustain life.

    This article is kinda indicative of a problem that Nintendo faces on a wider scale. There’s too many people willing to perform mental and semantic gymnastics to try and put a favourable spin on everything they do, ultimately to the detriment of the product. Yes Men don’t ever help. Looking at a product objectively (or as objectively as one can) and critiquing it helps. The Wii U failed for numerous reasons, including but not limited to third party support being non-existent.

    No console in history has been a hit without third party support. I’ll reiterate; no console in history has been a hit without third support. And so ignoring all evidence to the contrary and just defiantly proclaiming that Nintendo will be fine without third party support isn’t going to help anybody. It’s the sort of thinking that leads to this site featuring articles in five years time entitled “The Switch failed not because it didn’t have third party support, but because people didn’t buy it.” And it’s the sort of thinking that means that Nintendo won’t get any better. Their staunchest fans are contributing to their downfall, by dismissing all criticism as “haters gonna hate” or coming up with increasingly elaborate explanations for why their chosen console failed.

    • Izsak “Khane” Barnette

      February 20, 2017 at 4:02 pm

      Excellent comment, John. What I am saying is that there is no need for Nintendo to attempt to market to a consumer base that is fully saturated.

      • Izsak “Khane” Barnette

        February 20, 2017 at 4:10 pm

        In my opinion, a lack of third party support was a tangential reason, at best, for the Wii U’s failure. Developers most likely would have dropped support after the PS4 and Xbox One’s release due to hardware constraints.

        • John Cal McCormick

          February 20, 2017 at 4:45 pm

          The problem isn’t – inherently – lack of third party support. Theoretically a system could be a success without it. It just needs other things to balance in its favour. The problem is that Nintendo doesn’t have those things in their favour. They’re sat in a very perilous middle ground.

          They want to be a second console. Okay. That’s a direction. It makes sense. And it’s actually one I’d advocate them going full tilt for. So why is this console selling at a premium price? Why is the accessories so expensive? You can’t tell people that your product is a second console, a sidekick to their PS4 or Xbox One, and then try and sell them it for more than either of those consoles are going for. Optically, it’s so, so bad. Marketing-wise, it’s a big ask to make that make sense.

          Alternatively, they can go the premium console route. They’re already priced like that. But they don’t have the third party support to back that up.

          They’re stuck in the middle. They’re not fully in either camp. And that’s exactly the same problem the Wii U had. And like the Wii U, it’s happening because of what I think are poor decisions in hardware design.

          It might pan out, but as someone who’s been watching trends and marketing and the business side of the industry for many years now, I’ll be surprised if the Switch is a hit. You can never really predict these things because you never know when there’ll be that lightning in a bottle moment, but the Switch looks like it’s caught in a very dangerous middle ground, and I’m not expecting it to be a hit.

          • Izsak “Khane” Barnette

            February 20, 2017 at 6:55 pm

            That’s a pretty detailed breakdown of their business strategy there, and I agree with some of your points. I admit that my heart sank a little when they announced it would be $300. After all, there are Xbox One and PS4 bundles that come with games for that much. However, after the Wii U sold for a loss well after launch, I think they prioritized making a profit off of every console over consumer outreach.

            One could argue, I suppose, that if they didn’t include portability, then they could have sold a more powerful console for cheaper, but I think that misses the point.

            Nintendo has always prioritized innovation over typicality. The NES had R.O.B, the SNES, had the Super FX chip, the N64 had full 3D graphics, the GameCube had analog triggers, the DS had dual touchscreens, the Wii had motion controls, and the Wii U had a tablet. I think for them to make a generic, even if premium, console would be an affront to their true nature as innovators.

          • John Cal McCormick

            February 21, 2017 at 9:42 am

            I’ve never really understood the “Nintendo has always been the innovator” argument. I mean, sure, they do play against type. But a) some of those “innovations” are just Nintendo pointlessly reinventing the wheel to be wacky, and b) their hardware “innovations” have resulted in every one of their home consoles selling worse than the one before it with the sole exception of the Wii.

            The point that I’m making is that Nintendo’s business strategy seems to need a change. Just saying, “Yeah but this is what Nintendo do! They innovate!” isn’t the solution. It’s not the answer. It’s actually the root of the problem they face.

            Without getting too in depth for the sake of this comment not being an essay, look at the commercial viability of the Switch, in your opinion, and then take a look at the only Nintendo console to break their downward trend in sales figures, the Wii. What’s the biggest difference between the two?

            You might say that the Wii has an easier concept to grasp, and I’d say that’s certainly a contender. But the most stark difference for me is the cost. The Wii launched at $250 and came with a game. The Switch is launching at $350 (I think?) with no game. So it’s basically $400.

            You mention Nintendo cutting out the portability to make a more powerful console, but do you really think that is the best strategy?

            Like I said before, Nintendo is in a weird middle ground. For me, unless they can capture the public consciousness – which is an incredibly difficult thing to predict or pull off – like they did with the Wii, then they need a sound business strategy. Somehow I don’t think a handheld with an HDMI Out port is on the same level as the inclusive gaming mantra that the Wii had.

            So you’re left with a number of options. If Nintendo is going to embrace their position as the second console of choice for gamers, a place where they don’t need third party games and the console is solely used for first party Nintendo games, then they need to be cost effective. For me, removing the portability of the console is something that they definitely should have considered, but I wouldn’t have made the console more powerful at all. I’d have done everything I could to lower the cost.

            A Mario and Zelda machine shipping at $200 is a no brainer. That’s a compelling price for a second console. It doesn’t matter how powerful it is. It doesn’t matter if it’s on par with PS4. Nintendo does incredible things with underpowered tech. They’d make great looking games that played well.

            But that’s not what they’re doing. They’re selling a premium console. A console that is more expensive than the competition on the market right now despite being less powerful. They’re not the cheap second console or the PS4 competitor. They’re the worst of both worlds – an expensive console that can’t compete in terms of raw power, and doesn’t appear to have the strong backing of many developers.

            If the Switch was a budget console then I’d agree with the title of this article. But it isn’t. And I think it’s delusional to just assume everything is going to be okay when there’s a huge amount of evidence to the contrary. Hence, I think they do need third parties.

          • Brent Middleton

            February 21, 2017 at 8:53 pm

            The Switch is shipping for $300.

            It’s in an interesting middle ground, I agree. But then again, so was the Wii. It was less powerful than the PS4 and Xbox One, and it wasn’t supported with AAA third party releases at launch beyond one single title–Call of Duty 3. The Wii was able to sell based on its form factor and first party software (namely Wii Sports) alone. The third party devs came running afterwards.

            Nintendo’s portable line has succeeded much in the same way. Form factor and first party software (mainly Pokémon, Mario, Mario Kart, etc.).

            No one wants watered down versions of For Honor or Mass Effect Andromeda on the Switch. Not receiving AAA multi platform support (aside from the major sports franchises already confirmed) isn’t going to be the death of the system. Instead, like Wii and Nintendo’s handheld line, third parties will need to bring software specifically made for the Switch if they want to sell on the platform. And those games will come if the Switch is successful on its own merits, just like the handhelds have been.

            The Switch has the form factor and first party content down. It has much better marketing than the Wii U, which was it’s greatest fault. It also has tons of indie support, which is interestingly taking the place of traditional third party’s on the console.

            Is the price ideal? No, but it’s also not very expensive for a new console. It’s $50 more than the PS4 and Xbox One, but those have been out for 4 years. People have had those systems or their friends have had them for years now. The newness of the Switch combined with its form factor (the main appeal of the console) is going to see it do well. Zelda will hold launch down, Mario will hold holiday. Indies and games like Splatoon 2, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe & Fire Emblem Warriors are going to fill any software droughts, another huge problem of the Wii U.

            Is it going to be a Wii-sized hit? Of course not. But it’ll do well. The Switch is far from doomed to the Wii U’s fate. The third and fourth months will tell a far better story.

          • John Cal McCormick

            February 21, 2017 at 9:34 pm

            This is precisely my point though. Sort of.

            Nobody wants to play the rubbish version of Mass Effect or a port of a game that came out months ago on other systems. That was the Wii U approach to third party support that went down like a lead balloon.

            The point is that they have neither parity with the other consoles or price reflective of their nature as the second console. The worst of both worlds, as it were.

            The Wii, as I recall, shipped with Call of Duty, Madden, Need for Speed, Rayman Rabbids, some licensed rubbish (rubbish that sells, though), that awful Tony Hawks spin off, Red Steel, and some lesser known third party stuff like Trauma Centre. Then first party wise it came bundled with Wii Sports, which for all intents and purposes was all the Wii was to much of the casual user base getting one as a Christmas present, and a Zelda game for the hardcore.

            The Wii had a lot more going for it in terms of obvious commercial appeal AND it had the attention of third party publishers.

            The Switch looks very expensive, despite the fact it’s cheaper than the price either it’s competitors launched for, because it’s entering the fray midgeneration. That’s perfectly understandable but it also doesn’t change how bad the optics of the situation are when you can pick up a PS4 or Xbox with all of the most popular games on the market for less than the cost of a less powerful Nintendo system that pretty much has Zelda.

            I’m not writing the Switch off. I just think writing off the importance of third party support is something that Nintendo fans quite often do without actually looking at the grim realities of the situation, and the historical evidence that suggests the contrary.

          • Brent Middleton

            February 21, 2017 at 10:10 pm

            I see where you’re coming from. The launch is definitely lacking, though I’d argue that the Switch has pretty obvious commercial appeal. The Swich can recover after launch though, like the 3DS did.

            The Wii only became attractive to third parties when it took off–which it did because of it’s motion controls, Wii Sports (which showed off those motion controls) and price. The handhelds do well because they’re convenient alternatives to sitting in front of a TV, and they have killer aps like the Pokémon series.
            The Switch has a unique form factor like both of these–it just needs a Wii Sports or Pokémon–esq killer app.

            The Switch could not have supported current gen third party support and been a hybrid without costing hundreds more than it does. It could’ve been a premium-priced powerhouse, but people would then complain about the $400-$500 PS4 Pro-like pricepoint and just stick to the cheaper current gen console’s for their third parties. They could’ve gone for a $200 Nintendo-only machine like you say, and that’d be interesting, but then it’d be competing with its own still-thriving 3DS line.

            I think that because of their timing, and the position the Wii U put them in, they had to either wait a few years until the PS5 etc., or straddle the middle now and try to succeed based off the form factor of the system (like they did with the Wii and like they do with their portables) instead of harnessing the power that would let them support AAA third parties. Because of the Wii U’s fate, they were basically pushed into a corner mid-generation.

            If it does well on its own, third parties will come with great exclusives like so many did on the DS and 3DS. The Switch just has to prove itself somewhat on its own first.

            It’ll be interesting for sure. If it fails after launch, Nintendo would be wise to have a price drop and push Mario at holiday to give it a second chance, similar to the comeback story of the 3DS after its abysmal launch. We’ll see!

          • Izsak “Khane” Barnette

            February 22, 2017 at 1:01 am

            I completely agree. The 3DS got to an incredibly slow start, but picked up pace when the price was cut. As I say in the article, the Wii U was by far their most ill-timed failure coming not only in the middle of a generation but also when they could have used a much needed financial boost after having to sell the 3DS at a loss.

          • John Cal McCormick

            February 22, 2017 at 8:53 am

            The Switch can definitely recover. It might not even need to recover. It might be a huge hit. But the 3DS recovered thanks to a combination of serious price cuts and the eventual arrival of big games. I question how much room Nintendo has to move with the price of the Switch. I’m pretty sure if there was any wiggle room it’d already be cheaper than it is.

            The Switch does need a killer app but it’s very difficult to see where that could come from. It certainly doesn’t have one at launch, or one that has been announced yet. Wii Sports was a very easy sell because it used the unique nature of the hardware perfectly and anybody could grasp the concept immediately. What could you possibly do to take advantage of the Switch hardware, which when you boil it down is really just changing screens? Not only that but Wii Sports was affordable, and came packed in with the console. For a lot of people who bought the Wii, Wii Sports was all it was.

            I know that the Switch couldn’t achieve parity with PS4/Xbox One and remain cost effective, but that’s why I’m questioning the entire focus of the console, if they want it to be a huge success. If all they want is to sell respectably and be their own thing then the Switch will be fine. It can hit Wii U sales. Probably even Gamecube sales. Maybe. But word on the street is that internally they think it’s so special it’s going to be a Wii-level hit and that’s absolutely bonkers to me.

            The focus of the console just seems askew to me. Regardless, it’s going to be super interesting watching it all unfold. It’ll be of little consequence to me since I’ve already decided I won’t be picking one up until Mario hits, but I’ll be interested to see how it’s selling once the novelty of launch wears off and the hardcore Nintendo crowd have already bought theirs.

          • Brent Middleton

            February 22, 2017 at 11:59 am

            I’d say Super Mario Odyssey will be their killer app at holiday by showcasing that you can take a huge triple-A anywhere. Zelda will already do this, but Mario might do it better. That combined with a $50 holiday price cut and it should be fine. It doesn’t need a pack-in in its first yea, it just needs to enter that holiday impulse buy range, and for a console $250 would be the sweet spot. Announce Smash Switch with all the Wii U DLC included for early 2018 and it’ll do fine.

            Probably not Wii numbers, but because of all the improvements in marketing and expected software droughts over the Wii U, I’d be hard pressed to see it do that poorly. It’s seemingly poised to hit Xbox One sales numbers in its first few years, and while that won’t be stellar, it’ll still be respectable. But who knows. The 3DS did 60 million. Crazier things have happened.

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Game Reviews

‘Donkey Kong Country’ – Still As Difficult, Demanding And Amazing To This Day



Donkey Kong Country

Donkey Kong Country: 25 Years Later

Back in 1994, Nintendo was struggling with their 16-bit Super Nintendo Entertainment System, which wasn’t selling as well as they’d hoped it would. With the release of the Saturn and Playstation on the horizon, the Super Nintendo needed a visually impressive and original title to reinforce its market dominance. After three years of intense competition and heated rivalries, Nintendo desperately needed a hit that could prove the Super NES could output graphics on the same level as the forthcoming 32-bit consoles. They teamed up with Rare to produce Donkey Kong Country, a Mario-style platformer, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Donkey Kong Country is a game held in high regard and with reason. Monumental! Monstrous! Magnificent! Use any term you want, there’s no denying how important this game was for Nintendo and Rare. The graphics for the time were above and beyond anything anyone would imagine possible for the 16-bit system. For a two-dimensional side-scroller, Donkey Kong Country conveys a three-dimensional sense of dept. The characters are fluidly animated and the rich tropical environments make use of every visual effect in the Super NES’s armory. Each stage has its own theme, forcing players to swim underwater, navigate through a misty swamp, swing from vines, or transport DK using a set of barrels (cannons) to advance. And let’s not forget the mine cart stages where you ride on rails and use your quick reflexes to successfully reach the end. Every level has little nooks and crannies too, hiding secret areas and passageways that lead to bonus games where you can earn bananas and balloons, which you can trade in for additional lives. And in Donkey Kong Country, you’re not alone; your simian sidekick Diddy tags along for the adventure. You control one character at a time, and each has his own unique strengths. Donkey Kong can dispatch larger enemies with his giant fists, while Diddy can jump a little higher than his bulky cousin. It isn’t the most original platforming feature, but it works. The two heroes can also rely on various animal friends to help guide them through their adventure. Predating Super Mario World: Yoshi’s Island, Diddy and DK can also ride on the backs of Rambi the Rhino, Winky the Frog, Enguarde the Swordfish and more!

What’s really impressive about Donkey Kong Country is how it has withstood the passage of time. In 1994, Donkey Kong Country’s visuals were spectacular with its rendered 3D models, lively character animations, detailed backgrounds, and a lush jungle setting, and while some would argue the game is dated, in my eyes it still looks great to this day. Kong has heart, and he’s willing to show it in a game made with wit, excitement and moments of visionary beauty. Meanwhile, the soundtrack by David Wise is guaranteed to win listener’s over. Practically every piece on the soundtrack exudes a certain lyricism that has become a staple of Rare’s games – from its upbeat tropical introduction to the unforgettable climax which secures its place as one of the Super Nintendo’s most memorable boss fights. The result is an apt accompaniment to the colorful characters, tropical landscape, and tomfoolery that proceeds.

What really stands out the most about Donkey Kong Country after all of these years is just how challenging this game is.

But what really stands out the most after all of these years is just how challenging this game is. Donkey Kong Country is a platformer you can only finish through persistence and with a lot of patience. Right from the start, you’re in for one hell of a ride. In fact, some of the hardest levels come early on. There are constant pitfalls and Donkey Kong can only take a single hit before he loses a life. If your companion Diddy is following you he will take over but then if he takes a single hit you lose a life and it’s back to the start of a level. Needless to say, the game is unforgiving and requires quick reflexes and precise pattern memorization to continue. This game requires so much fine precision that it will definitely appeal to hardcore platforming veterans looking for a challenge and those that do are in for one hundred eighty minutes of mesmerization, astonishment, thrills, chills, spills, kills and ills. The only real downfall of Donkey Kong Country is the boss battles. Yes, Donkey Kong Country gave us some memorable villains such as Dumb Drum (a giant Oil Drum that spawns enemies after it hits the floor), and The Kremling King (who is responsible for stealing Donkey Kong’s Banana Hoard), but these enemies have very basic attack patterns and far too easy to defeat.

It’s one of the rare, great works of art that stands up endlessly despite repeated playthroughs, each time revealing something new.

Donkey Kong Country

Along with its two SNES sequels, Donkey Kong Country is one of the defining platformers for the SNES. The game looks great and sounds great and the platforming, while incredibly difficult, is still very fun. Rare did the unexpected by recasting a classic Nintendo villain as the titular hero and it paid off in spades. It’s one of the rare, great works of art that stands up endlessly despite repeated playthroughs, each time revealing something new.

The beauty of the original is that there’s more to it than the oversized gorilla. Donkey Kong Country is truly amazing!

– Ricky D

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‘Aria of Sorrow’: The Symphony of the Night Sequel Castlevania Needed



Castlevania’s run from 1986 to 1997 is downright legendary. While there are a few duds sprinkled throughout the series’ first decade (Simon’s Quest, The Adventure, Dracula X), this is the same franchise that produced Super Castlevania IV, Rondo of Blood, and Bloodlines over the course of three years– three of the greatest action platformers of all time. 1997 saw Castlevania reach what was arguably its highest point when, unprompted and with no real need to do so, Symphony of the Night pulled off such an expert reinvention that it ended up creating a new genre altogether. With 11 years of goodwill to bank on, Castlevania’s future would never look as bright again– and unfortunately for good reason. 

Following the revolutionary success of Symphony of the Night, Castlevania almost immediately fumbled as a franchise. 1997 closed out not with Symphony of the Night, but the ferociously underwhelming Legends, a Game Boy title that took a cleaver to the franchise’s lore and massacred it. The Nintendo 64 would see the release of Castlevania in 1999, arguably the worst transition from 2D to 3D on the N64, followed by a moderately improved but still mediocre re-release that same year, Legacy of Darkness. By 2000, Castlevania had entered the 21st Century at its lowest point, with Symphony of the Night silently in the background, untouched. 

As if to signal a return to form, however, 2001 saw Konami release two fairly noteworthy titles: Circle of the Moon for the Game Boy Advance and Castlevania Chronicles for the PlayStation. Where the latter was a remake of the first game, Circle of the Moon marked the series’ first attempt at producing a mechanical sequel to Symphony of the Night. Utilizing the Metroidvania format SotN popularised, Circle of the Moon was met with near universal acclaim at release due to its difficulty curve, tight platforming, and a gameplay loop catered towards old school fans. 

aria of sorrow

Which alone is enough to make Circle of the Moon less a Symphony sequel, and more a Castlevania stuck between the Classicvania and Metroidvania model. It’s a good title for what it is, but Circle of the Moon is so fundamentally different from Symphony of the Night that series producer Koji Igarashi overcorrected when re-taking the reins for 2002’s Harmony of Dissonance, a game that– while good– shamelessly apes everything it can from SotN in an attempt to win over audiences. Juste Belmont looks like Alucard, there’s a variation of the Inverted Castle twist, and the game was designed with the explicit purpose of capitalizing on Symphony of the Night.

To Konami’s credit, the series had regained its legitimacy between both Circle of the Moon and Harmony of Dissonance, but neither game captured Symphony’s inventiveness. CotM deserves some slack for generally doing its own thing and remaining the most unique Metroidvania in the series to date, but Harmony of Dissonance plays itself too safe, ultimately just winding up a worse version of Symphony of the Night. Not just that, there was the matter of the series’ story. 19 games in and past the turn of the century, the story couldn’t stay in the background anymore. Legends, Legacy of Darkness, Circle of the Moon, and Harmony of Dissonance all tried to tell a compelling story and they all faltered along the way. 

Castlevania wasn’t in need of reinvention in 2003, but refinement. The series was good, not great, and every new release was only shining a spotlight on how good Symphony of the Night was, not on how its successors were following it up. It only makes sense, though. How is a franchise meant to follow-up a game like Symphony of the Night? How can Castlevania even be discussed anymore without mention of what is unquestionably one of the greatest video games of all time? It seemed as though the franchise was suffering for no reason at all, but there’s actually a fairly simple answer as to why the series struggled between 1997 and 2003: the lack of the dream team. 

Castlevania often shuffled around its development teams, but Symphony of the Night managed to land a team that in retrospect is on-par with the likes of Chrono Trigger’s legendary development team. Alongside Koji Igarashi– who at the time was assistant director, a programmer, and the scenario writer– Michiru Yamane composed her second soundtrack for the series following Bloodlines, and Ayami Kojima made her debut as a character designer, solidifying the franchise’s gothic aesthetic for good. Unfortunately, the three wouldn’t all intersect again for some time, leaving the Castlevania games to come without the essential players who made Symphony of the Night what it was. 

Igarashi and Kojima would work together again on both Chronicles & Harmony of Dissonance, but Yamane’s other work kept her from Castlevania between 1997 & 2003, and none of them would work on Legends, Legacy of Darkness, or Circle of the Moon. The nature of the industry meant there was no guarantee the three would work on the same project again, but now Castlevania’s lead producer, Koji Igarashi had pull to hire Yamane as the lead composer of his next Castlevania game. Ready to address Harmony of the Night’s criticisms, Koji Igarashi set the stage for the game that would breathe new life into CastlevaniaAria of Sorrow

Instead of calling attention to itself as a successor to Symphony of the Night– something the game admittedly could’ve gotten away with given its production team– Aria of Sorrow does everything it can to assert its individuality asap. Soma Cruz has seemingly no connection to the Belmonts or Dracula, Dracula’s Castle is now inside of an eclipse, and the timeline is no longer rooted in history with the story set in 2035. This is all information conveyed in the opening title crawl, but less than a full minute into gameplay and audiences are already introduced to the Soul mechanic, a system which allows Soma to absorb enemy Souls in order to use their techniques. From there, it’s on the onus of the player to explore. 

For such an all encompassing opening, Aria actually kicks off with little fanfare. Symphony of the Night, Circle of the Moon, and Harmony of Dissonance all open with spectacle, but Aria of Sorrow keeps itself subdued, understanding that while Symphony’s spectacle was indeed an important part of its identity, it’s the gameplay that ultimately won audiences over. Aria of Sorrow wastes no time in presenting its defining Soul mechanic, making it the very first concept players will fully understand: kill enemies to get Souls, use Souls to kill enemies. It’s a simple gameplay loop, but it keeps Aria of Sorrow’s blood pumping long after the credits roll. 

With Soul drops determined by RNG, no two playthroughs will be the same. Such an approach might bother those looking to 100% the game, but it’s exactly this reason why Aria of Sorrow remains so enjoyable to replay. With over 100 Souls available for use, Soma can accomplish far more than any other Castlevania protagonist. Soma can equip three Souls in total at any given moment: one Bullet Soul, Aria’s sub-weapons; one Guardian Soul, skills that can be triggered with R; and one Enchanted Soul, passive abilities that don’t need to be activated. Soma also has access to Ability Souls, inherent techniques that he can activate & deactivate ala Alucard’s skills from Symphony

While the Soul system is more than enough to freshen up the series’ core combat, Aria of Sorrow ditches whips and goes back to the Alucard method of collecting multiple different weapons. Between Souls and Soma’s generous arsenal of weaponry, all play styles are accommodated. Normal Mode is also more forgiving than usual, with Hard Mode better designed for series veterans. This isn’t ideal since most will play Normal and miss out on Hard Mode altogether, but it’s an approach that– in theory– does accommodate fans old and new alike. Aria of Sorrow has an almost overwhelming amount of content, but that’s exactly why it’s so accessible. There’s a weapon, Soul, or difficulty for everyone. 

aria of sorrow

Engaging combat mechanics mean very little without the proper level design, however. Where Harmony of Dissonance comfortably followed a “bigger is better” mentality to its castle’s design, Aria of Sorrow shows a considerable amount of restraint. There is no second castle to unlock– what you see is what you get. Areas are more interconnected than usual, ensuring that fewer areas end up in dead ends, and the castle’s settings are visually grounded for the most part. Aria indulges in chaotic visuals and level design for the final area, but the castle leading up to the finale is unusually comprehensible. As far as navigation goes, this is the best castle in the series. 

Of course, the high quality castle only makes sense when one remembers that it’s Ayami Kojima’s art style that serves as Aria of Sorrow’s base. Moody and gothic, Kojima’s self-taught style has an earthy quality that easily tips into the fantastical, an aesthetic that fits Castlevania perfectly. Michiru Yamane’s score seemingly builds off of Kojima’s art, following the lead with less catchy and more atmospheric tracks on a whole. This doesn’t mean Aria of Sorrow isn’t bursting with amazing songs– one only needs to listen to Heart of Fire to understand that– rather, it’s Aria’s way of keeping a mature, sorrowful tone throughout. 

And Aria of Sorrow is indeed more mature than previous Castlevania titles when it comes to story. Where both Circle of the Moon and Harmony of Dissonance played their stories straight, Aria of Sorrow features a decent amount of subtext to bolster its already incredibly intriguing plot. Aria doesn’t just take place in the future, it takes place in a future where Dracula has been killed for good. No Dracula means that a new villain can rise up in the form of Graham Jones, and while he’s not that compelling, he ends up representing everything Dracula claims to despise in humanity. Graham is a hateful coward who thinks too highly of himself, and too little of others. A miserable little pile of secrets. 

That said, while it’s always beneficial to keep characters who fill similar roles antithetical to one another, Graham’s personality is more layered than that. He may be the main antagonist, but he’s no Dracula. Literally. The main plot of Aria of Sorrow concerns itself with who Dracula has reincarnated into. It’s obviously Soma, a fact the series no longer tries to hide, but Aria of Sorrow very cleverly gets around this by doubling down on Graham’s evilness. He’s blatantly evil from his first interaction with Soma, but that’s exactly what keeps players from guessing the Dracula twist their first playthrough.

Soma being Dracula is the cherry on top of Aria of Sorrow, that last little detail that makes everything just right– not just in the game, but in the context of the series. Fast-forwarding far into the future, Aria of Sorrow establishes Dracula’s demise, a grand battle that took place in 1999, and the last Belmont– Julius– the man who killed Dracula for good, but lost his memory in the process. Aria doesn’t hold any punches when it comes to Soma either, making him succumb before the end of the game and even featuring an alternate ending where he embraces his demonic powers, leaving Julius to kill Dracula yet again. 

Although Soma has a clear love interest in Mina Hakuba, it’s the relationship between Soma and Julius that ties the story together. Aria is just as much a character study of Dracula through Soma as it is a celebration of the ultimate struggle between the Belmont clan and the Count. The roles have been flipped this time around, with Julius serving as the penultimate battle in one of the best (& hardest) boss fights in the franchise. As he’s not the main character, Julius is also allowed greater depth than the average Belmont. When he appears, it’s because the story calls for it and his scenes are never wasted. 

They’re always used as a means to either flesh out the game’s backstory, or build up to the confrontation between Soma and Julius. The two build a slight bond over the course of the game, one that turns into genuine respect by the time the two men are fighting to the death. It’s easy to overlook the substance in Julius’ interactions since he’s only in six scenes (including the bad ending), but they all slowly chip away at the man underneath– his history, his connection to Dracula, and what it means to be a Belmont. Which in itself is important, as it gives audiences an opportunity to see a Belmont in his element from not only an outsider’s perspective, but Dracula’s. 

Soma’s relationship with Julius may be what best contextualizes Aria of Sorrow’s role in the franchise, but this isn’t to say that the supporting players don’t contribute. Hammer and Yoko Belnades are both on the flat side, but Mina and Genya Arikado do some heavy narrative lifting. Mina evokes images of Dracula’s wife, Lisa, who was first introduced in Symphony of the Night. Their dialogue shows how deeply they care for one another, and Soma’s Dracula-related insecurities end up tainting their dynamic at the end of the game, cutting Soma off from his only source of genuine affection and love. Not just that, Mina proves that Dracula could have adjusted to a normal life had mankind not killed Lisa. 

Then there’s Genya Arikado, a man so blatantly Alucard that the word “Alucard” doesn’t need to appear in the script a single time for fans to make the connection– which it doesn’t. Aria of Sorrow features the main character from Symphony of the Night in an incredibly important and relevant capacity, and he neither looks like he did in Symphony of the Night or directly acknowledges his identity. Frankly, it’s the only tasteful way to use Alucard in a post-Symphony of the Night context. His character has evolved with time, and seeing him in a supportive capacity only makes sense given the events of his own game. His presence helps draw in a sense of finality alongside Mina and Julius. 

aria of sorrow

These three characters thematically represent the main fixtures of Dracula’s life: Mina, the love that ties Dracula to humanity; Genya, the son who in spite of his father’s evil, loves him enough to ensure he can truly rest; and Julius, the final descendant of the Belmont clan and perhaps the strongest man alive. At the center of it all is Soma Cruz, the reincarnation of Dracula. Aria of Sorrow feels like the end of everything Castlevania represents. More games would follow, and Aria would even see a direct sequel in Dawn, but what makes Aria such a worthy successor to Symphony of the Night is that it wasn’t afraid to do something new and bold with Castlevania. Most of this boldness stems from the gameplay, but the story presents itself as a thematic end for Castlevania if nothing else. Dracula and the Belmonts may finally put their feud to rest. 

Or not. As previously mentioned, Aria of Sorrow features an ending where Soma goes full-Dracula. It’s morbid and cuts off right before Julius begins his fight with the dark lord, but it only makes sense. Aria doesn’t shy away from Dracula’s nastier aspects, and that means allowing Soma to be corrupted. Castlevania was always about the eternal struggle between Dracula and the Belmonts, so it’s only fair an ending offer a scenario where the cycle simply repeats. Regardless of which ending players find most appropriate, Michiru Yamane’s use of Bloody Tears in the track Epilogue makes one thing clear: Aria marks a new chapter for Castlevania

When all is said and done, Aria of Sorrow doesn’t even feel like a sequel to Symphony of the Night. Aria goes beyond wanting to replicate the greats and instead chooses to be great in its own right. The end product is the end result of the series living in Symphony’s shadow for years. Koji Igarashi went beyond parroting himself, and instead entered production prepared to take Castlevania to the next level with a tried and true team. But even in sharing the same core members as Symphony, Aria never feels like anything but its own distinct game– a mature goodbye to Count Dracula, the Belmont legacy, and everything that happened inbetween. Aria of Sorrow might not have had the same cultural impact of Symphony of the Night, but it’s exemplary of Castlevania at its best. 

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Best Video Game Soundtracks 2019



Best Video Game Soundtracks 2019

Best-Video-Game-Soundtracks-2019Awesome Mixtape Vol. 5

It’s that time once again in which I bring to you my awesome mixtape featuring the best tracks from the best video game soundtracks of the year. Last year, my mixtape featured tracks from Triple-A titles such as Red Dead Redemption 2 and indie darlings like Celeste. In 2017, my picks for best soundtracks included tracks from some of my favorite games including Cuphead, Breath of the Wild and Into the Woods, to name just a few. Well, 2019 has been another banner year for the industry and as always, the games were blessed with an astounding selection of musical scores— some would argue the soundtracks were even better than the actual games at times. As always, it wasn’t easy deciding which songs to include and what to leave out— and as always, I’ve also mixed in some audio clips from various cut scenes while trying to keep it spoiler-free. Feel free to share this link and let me know if you think I’ve missed any great soundtracks in the comments below.

Best Video Game Soundtracks 2019 Playlist

Death Stranding clip
Death Stranding
: Low Roar – “I’ll Keep Coming”
Life Is Strange 2 clip
Life is Strange 2: Seyr – “Colour To Colour”
Life is Strange 2: Jonathan Morali – “Into the Woods”
Life Is Strange 2 clip
Sayonara Wild Hearts: Daniel Olsen – “Sayonara Wild Heart”
Sayonara Wild Hearts: Daniel Olsen – “Wild Hearts Never Die”
Death Stranding: CHVRCHES – “Death Stranding”
Afterparty clip
Untitled Goose Game – Dan Golding – “Title and Credits”
Afterparty: scntfc – “Hades Gonna Hate”
Afterparty: scntfc – “Schoolyard Strangler”
Untitled Goose Game – Dan Golding – “The Garden”
Octopath Traveler: Yasunori Nishiki – Main Theme
Octopath Traveler: Yasunori Nishiki – Cyrus the Scholar
Kingdom Hearts 3 clip
Fire Emblem Three Houses clip
Fire Emblem Three Houses: Yuka Tsujiyoko, Hirokazu Tanaka – “Main Theme”
Fire Emblem Three Houses: Yuka Tsujiyoko, Hirokazu Tanaka – “Blue Skies and a Battle”
Devil May Cry 5 clip
Devil May Cry 5: Kota Suzuki – “Urizen Boss Battle Music”
Untitled Goose Game – Dan Golding – “The Garden”
FAR: Lone Sails: Joel Schoch – “Colored Engine”
Days Gone: Nathan Whitehead— “Soldier’s Eye”
Death Stranding: Low Roar – “Easy Way Out”
Death Stranding clip
Death Stranding: Low Roar – “Easy Way Out”
Metro Exodus: Alexey Omelchuk – “Main Theme”
Resident Evil 2 Remake clip
Resident Evil 2 Remake: Masami Ueda, Shusaku Uchiyama, Shun Nishigaki – “Mr.X Theme Music (T-103)”
Sayonara Wild Hearts: Daniel Olsen – “Begin Again”
Life is Strange 2: Lincoln Grounds, Pat Reyford – “Morning Good Morning”
Life is Strange 2: Sufjan Stevens – “Death With Dignity”
Luigi’s Mansion 3 clip
Luigi’s Mansion 3: Koji Kondo – “Main Theme”
Ape Out: Matt Boch – “Intro”
Deltarune: Toby Fox – “Field of Hopes and Dreams”
Return of the Obra Dinn: Lucas Pope – “Loose Cargo”
“Star Wars: Imperial March” Hip Hop Remix
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order: John Williams and the London Symphony Orchestra
Death Stranding: Silent Poets – “Asylum for The Feeling”
Catherine: Full Body: Shoji Meguro – “Tomorrow”
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening: Koji Kondo – “Marin’s Ballad of the Windfish”
Metro Exodus – Alexey Omelchuk: “Teardrops”
Sekiro: Yuka Kitamura – “Ashina Reservoir”
Return of the Obra Dinn: Lucas Pope – “The Doom”
Medley: Eye of Death / Wild Hearts Never Die / Dragon Heart / Clair De Lune

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