One thing that can be said about Nintendo as a company is that they always do the unexpected. Whether this is to their benefit, like the success of the Switch, or to their detriment, like the failure of the Wii U, is another matter. And yet, despite this fact, despite the Nintendo fanbase being top in its class for crazy speculation and conspiracy theories, the toy-maker turned game developer has managed to arguably deliver its biggest curve-ball yet with Nintendo Labo.
The imaginative DIY project has you creating all manner of contraptions and mechanisms utilizing cardboard cutouts, such as a fully functioning thirteen key piano or a little RC car controlled by the Switch tablet. You won’t find a bit of plastic or the like for reinforcements here. This is a 98% cardboard product with a bit of string here and an infrared sticker there. You can get more details on this zany idea from Nintendo’s own press release.
Prior to this announcement, Nintendo was pitching a new product “specially crafted for kids and those who are kids at heart”. After seeing Nintendo Labo in action, it’s easy to tell what they meant. It captures the same childlike sense of imagination and creativity that staples like LEGOs and Lincoln Logs bring to the table, but delivers it in an entirely novel way.
The fact that the material is cardboard, though, is a sticking point for many, one that is only compounded by the kits’ price tags of $70-$80 USD. This preconception will prove an obstacle for Nintendo to overcome, but the complications extend further than the cardboard mental barrier.
Nintendo Labo is clearly being marketed towards parents and their kids as an experience that can be enjoyed together, and for the new product to take off it will need to gain the approval of both sides of that equation. Each side presents its own unique challenges that Nintendo Labo will need to clear in order to meet success.
The Parent Phase
A big advantage Nintendo Labo has going for it is that there isn’t anything else quite like it on the market. The closest comparison that can be made in terms of material would perhaps be Google Cardboard, but even that isn’t something you would find on the shelf of your everyday toy or video game store. To the uninformed parent, the Nintendo Labo box would certainly be eye-catching, but that may not be enough to distract from tried and true creative classics like LEGOs. For this reason, exposure will be paramount to convince this audience.
Nintendo is already taking steps towards creating this exposure with their Nintendo Labo Studio events in New York City and San Francisco. However, with only two locations on opposite ends of the country and limited space, it’s unlikely to get into the hands of many. Not to mention the events are only being telegraphed through gaming outlets, which means the parents who do attend an event most likely already follow gaming news in some shape or form. This doesn’t help bring in the uninitiated user base Nintendo Labo needs, or the “people who barely touch game consoles” that Nintendo president Tatsumi Kimishima mentioned in a recent interview.
Fortunately, Nintendo seems to already be aware of this. Of the three news outlets that have reported hands-on impressions with the Nintendo Labo, only one of them, Nintendo Life, is dedicated to video game coverage. The other two, The Guardian and The Telegraph, are both highly respected general news outlets that pull in swaths of readers of all kinds every day.
Nintendo Labo needs more of this sort of general coverage in order to reach the broad audience it’s aiming to capture. There doesn’t need to a multi-million dollar Super Bowl commercial like its parent console had, but more articles in more local papers such as LA Times and the like will go far in conveying Nintendo Labo’s purpose, especially given how outlandish its concept is.
Marketing and coverage need to clearly communicate that Nintendo Labo is more than sheets of cardboard you can pick up at any old FedEx store. One of the many reasons for the Wii U’s historical failure is that this line of communication wasn’t there and the casual consumer saw no difference between it and the original Wii. Nintendo Labo is a teaching tool as much as it is a creative tool with (hopefully) fun games and activities attached to boot; the better Nintendo conveys this message the better chance they have of convincing a parent of putting their $70 towards a Nintendo Labo kit rather than the LEGO set sitting right next to it.
The Child Phase
So Mr. Smith has decided to buy a Nintendo Labo for Little Johnny. Great, we’re past the first step! What next? While the parents will most likely be the determining factor of whether this DIY project lifts off the ground, it’s the kids who will ultimately determine how long it stays in the air. There are a number of aspects that will factor into this, the primary of which is the cardboard dilemma.
The number one concern by many currently is the durability of these cardboard creations, and that’s a totally reasonable worry to have. After shelling out $70-$80 on a kit, a parent wouldn’t want their kid to destroy it the moment they get their hands on it. Cardboard can be made to be pretty sturdy, but not sturdy enough to withstand the full might of a ten-year-old amped up on Kool-Aid and Skittles.
However, that may be giving children too little credit, as odd as that may sound. What seems to be getting overlooked is the sense of ownership that comes with building something yourself, something even kids can feel.
The aforementioned news outlets reported that the simplest Toy-Con to put together, the RC car, took them 10-15 minutes to complete. On the other end of the spectrum is the mini-piano, which has been reported by Nintendo to take approximately two whole hours to construct. That is no small amount of time and, judging by the complexity we saw in the Nintendo Labo video, no small amount of effort, either.
If a child dedicates that much of their attention to their personal DIY arts-and-crafts project, chances are they will have a greater understanding of its functions and limitations. More importantly, it will instill a sense a pride from creating a, what seems to be, quite intricate and elegant piece of hardware with their own hands, rather than simply being given one. A child won’t be so quick to get rough with something they are proud to have created, especially if they’ve gained a deeper structural understanding of the building process itself.
Granted, some kids are rowdier than others, and broken Toy-Cons are guaranteed to happen. Even so, the number of those cases may not run as rampant as many are predicting and for the ones that do happen, Nintendo has already announced they will provide replacement parts for cheap (although just how cheap has yet to be specified). These aren’t toddlers we’re dealing with here; young children are perfectly capable of learning and appreciating something given that something interests them, and Nintendo Labo is nothing if not attention-grabbing.
On Your Marks At The Starting Line
While price and material are the primary concerns that have come to light since Nintendo Labo’s reveal, there are a number of other factors to take into account as well, such as will kids “get it”? Will they understand these sheets of cardboard will actually become a fully interactable toy? Will a child willingly forgo playing Splatoon 2 or Mario Kart 8 Deluxe to dedicate the sizeable amount of time necessary for constructing a Toy-Con? Will the final products even be worth it to the kid who put that effort into creating them?
These are questions we most likely won’t have answers for until more hands-on impressions start coming out, particularly those of the parent-child combos that attend the upcoming Studio events. If Nintendo Labo can win over both parent and child, though, then this crazy new idea has the potential to take off like a wildfire. The social networking of parent circles and virality of playground talk at schools are not to be underestimated. Combining the two together is like a warm and cold front colliding into each other. A storm will ensue, the severity of which is yet to be seen.
PAX South Hands On: ‘Streets of Rage 4’ Balances Legacy and Innovation
Streets of Rage 4 embodies the original series’ elegant, action-packed design and revives it for a new generation
From the moment I began my demo with Streets of Rage 4 at PAX South, it felt like coming home. It might have been more than two decades since the first three games in the Streets of Rage series perfected the beat ‘em up formula on the Sega Genesis, but courtesy of developers Lizardcube, DotEmu, and Guard Crush, this legendary series is back and in good hands. This brand new entry aims to recapture all the style and balance of the originals, while introducing innovations of its own. If my demo is any indication, the game is set to achieve that.
Streets of Rage 4 uses the same elegant level design that set the original trilogy apart back on the Genesis. The gameplay is simple: keep walking to the right, taking out every enemy in front of you with all the jabs, kicks, jumps, and special moves at your disposal. If anything, the controls feel better than ever before, with an added level of precision and fluidity that simply wasn’t possible on older hardware.
That’s not to mention the new move sets. Beat ’em ups might not be the most complex genre around, but Streets of Rage 4 adds the perfect level of depth to the combat. It has the same simple jabs and kicks found in the original games, but spiced up with the potential for new combos and even a handful of extravagant new special moves. With new and old fighting mechanics, this new entry features plenty of room to experiment with combat but never loses the simple, arcade-like charm of the originals.
Streets of Rage 4 revives the series’ rage-filled and action-packed style for the twenty-first century
The demo included series staple characters like Axel and Blaze, yet I opted to play as an all-new character: Cherry Hunter, a guitar-wielding fighter whose move set felt very distinct from classic characters. Her movement is speedy, certainly faster than Axel but slower than Blaze, and her guitar provided for some unique melee moves. Like the new mechanics, her addition to the character roster helps shake up the Streets of Rage formula just enough, while maintaining the core beat ’em up simplicity that made the series special in the first place.
Streets of Rage 4 might innovate in a few areas, but one thing that’s clearly remained true to form is the difficulty. It boasts of the same old school difficulty that characterized the original games. The classic and brand new enemies are just as ruthless as ever, mercilessly crowding in around you and can easily overwhelm you if you’re not careful. However, just like the originals, the fighting feels so satisfying that it’s easy to keep coming back for more action.
Amid all these changes and additions, perhaps the most obvious (and controversial) change is the visual style. While the original series used detailed pixel art, Streets of Rage 4 instead boasts of an extremely detailed handcrafted art style, in which every frame of character animation is painstakingly drawn by hand and environments are colorful and painterly. Thousands of frames of animation go into each character, and the effort certainly shows, making every punch, kick, and other acts of violence a breathtaking sight to behold.
Streets of Rage 4 reimagines this classic series for a new generation, reintroducing the best of the beat ’em up genre for players of all backgrounds and experiences.
Some fans have complained that the game loses the series’ spirit without pixel art, but DotEmu marketing director Arnaud De Sousa insisted to me that this simply isn’t the case. Pixel art wasn’t an artistic choice back then – it was a matter of necessity. If the developers could have designed the game to look exactly as they wanted, regardless of technical limitations, then it likely would have looked just like the luscious hand-drawn visuals of the current Streets of Rage 4.
That’s not to mention that, as De Sousa emphasized, the Streets of Rage games are defined by looking different from one another. The third game looks different from the second, which looked different from the first – and now this new entry has twenty years of change to catch up on. Thus, it only makes sense for this new entry to adopt a radically new graphical style after all this time.
Streets of Rage 4 reimagines this classic series for a new generation, reintroducing the best of the beat ’em up genre for players of all backgrounds and experiences. The difference between De Sousa and myself is perfect evidence of that. He grew up playing the games in the 90s, whereas I wasn’t even born when the original trilogy became such a phenomenon and only played them years later in subsequent re-releases. Yet here we were, standing in the middle of a crowded convention and gushing about decades-old games. We might have had extremely different experiences with the series, but that didn’t stop us from appreciating the joys of stylish beat ’em up action.
“A good game is a good game,” De Sousa told me, “no matter how old.” That’s the attitude that Streets of Rage 4 exemplifies. It revives the series’ rage-filled and action-packed design for the twenty-first century. And with a release on all modern platforms, more players than ever will be able to rediscover the simple pleasure of wielding your bare knuckles against thugs of all types. Between the new art style and the solid gameplay, Streets of Rage 4 is looking like an incredibly welcome return for this iconic franchise.
An In-Depth Analysis of Fifa’s Career Mode
It’s a well-known fact that career mode on Fifa has been a long-neglected element of the best selling sports games series of all time. But for soccer fans who want to pretend to be a football manager, but also want to personally play the game, Fifa is currently the main option.
The problem is: for a 60 dollar game, almost nothing about Fifa career mode works properly.
Two of the most game-breaking bugs in Fifa career mode are so bad that it fundamentally makes the game unplayable for those who want to feel any sort of immersion.
The first is a bug that makes it so that top teams will sign many more players for a position than they could possibly need.
For example, Bayern might end up signing 6 or 7 great center backs, and then only play three or four of them, while what they really need to sign might be a winger or a fullback.
This leads into the second huge issue: even when a team like Bayern HAS 6 or 7 great center-backs, they will STILL often choose to start second or third-string center backs! This often leads to top teams languishing at 12th or 13th in the tables by the end of the season, which makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.
Everything about this image is wrong. Everything. The top three teams in this table shouldn’t finish higher than 7th more than once every ten seasons between them, and teams that should finish first and second aren’t even in the top eight. 64 points near the end of the season for first place is also a very low number.
There’s been plenty of other issues as well. Even on the highest difficulties, AI on both defense and ESPECIALLY offense ranges from poor to horrible, with the AI on offense rarely actually running at the defense (making defending boring and unrewarding), leaving players like Messi or Hazard to not even try to use their incredible dribbling ability and speed and instead pass away the ball as soon as they get it.
Instead, the most common way the AI scores are by performing a janky, unrealistic and clearly scripted pinball, with impossibly precise passes between 4 or 5 players before the ball ends up in the back of the net.
Another major problem with the game (though some might call it simply a feature in presenting a more arcade-like, less realistic take on soccer) is your ability (if you’re a big club) to buy multiple huge players and bring them to your club easily in your first season, making the game an absolute cakewalk.
After years of incompetence and the ignoring of career mode’s many issues, however, EA finally faced serious backlash with the release of Fifa 20–the most broken iteration in the series yet.
For a while, #fixcareermode was trending on twitter, and reviews blasted Fifa for its litany of issues, like players going on precipitous declines in stats right when they reach the age of 30.
Yet these bugs were treated by some in the media as a first time thing, issues that had only appeared in the latest iteration. They weren’t.
As one Reddit user noted to Eurogamer: “In the last few years, every FIFA game released has had bugs that ruin the immersion. Teams not starting their strongest lineups and unrealistic tables have been an issue not just for FIFA 20 but earlier editions. Our cries for patches and change have fallen on deaf ears. The community has been grossly neglected.”
The linked article by the Independent above wasn’t accurate in other ways, either. It claims that only simulated matches suffered from the bug of teams not playing their best players, and other articles have claimed that this bug only occurs when a big team plays against a small team.
But neither of these claims is accurate.
You could play against a top team like Barcelona, and you could also be a top team like Real Madrid, and Barcelona would still consistently field third or fourth-string players over the likes of Messi against your team.
This wasn’t an occasional thing, either. At least three or four top players were benched for players 20 or more points below them every game. Every. Single. Game.
I haven’t even mentioned the commentary in Fifa, which is so buggy and so immersion-breaking in its disconnection from reality that its more immersive to just turn it off entirely.
What is so infuriating is that that many of the bugs seem like fairly minor fixes (commentary issues aside), something that seems like it would take no more than a few hours of rooting around in the code to figure out whatever misplaced number value was causing the issue.
The fact that these major issues have existed for at least no less than SIX years (Fifa 14 was the first game I played) indicates definitively how little EA cares about its products, and how little the designers care about actual football or delivering an enjoyable experience out of Ultimate Team.
Of course, Ultimate Team alone in 2017 accounted for almost a third of all of EA’s revenue from sports titles, so it’s somewhat understandable why Ea focuses most of its attention on that element of Fifa.
But with the amount of effort put into the new “futsal” mode in Fifa 2020, or the three campaign-like “Journey” modes from Fifa 17 to Fifa 19, one wonders why the developers couldn’t have spent just a little more effort to fix a mode that was in many ways fundamentally broken.
Fifa HAVE made certain changes to career mode over this period, so it’s not like they’ve ignored it entirely. But the changes made to career mode in the six years I’ve played it have all either made the game much worse, slightly worse or had no great effect.
The major changes over this period have included:
A slightly updated youth system, which has suffered from its own serious bugs over the years, such as youth prospects never gaining stats in sprint speed or acceleration so that you end up getting stuck with players with 50 to 70 speed for eternity; a widely disliked training system for players that is utterly broken and unfair, allowing you to train players to abilities well beyond what is even vaguely realistic within a matter of a year or two; a new display screen for your team; the removal of form; the slight modification of morale; adding the ability to talk with your players; and, last but not least, transfer cut scenes which are the most incredibly pointless wastes of time in any sports game, both for the player and for the developers–at least they’re skippable. There is the ability to customize your manager–perhaps the most positive change made in this six-year period. But that’s still stunningly sad given that you will very rarely actually see your manager at all.
None of these modifications, you may have noticed, go any way towards fixing the fundamental issues with the game, issues which have been pointed out to EA year after year.
It’s fair to say that one of the main reasons that FIFA got away with what it did for so long was not thanks to the players, but the media.
Year after year, reviews for FIFA received solid scores (hovering around the low to mid 80’s), whereas user reviews were usually much lower. It was only this year that media reviews seriously pointed out issues with the career mode.
The fact that FIFA received so much better reviews from reviewers as compared to players is easily explained away by the fact that the former usually play the game for comparatively shorter times, and therefore tends to miss a lot of the details.
In response to the recent outrage which had finally reached a degree of publicity that EA could no longer ignore, EA finally patched some of FIFA’s issues, like the problem of teams not fielding their strongest lineups at least semi-frequently. This was a huge step towards making career mode not fundamentally broken, but whether or not the other most glaring issue of teams like Juventus signing 9 80+rated strikers (yes, that happened in my game once) has been solved remains to be seen. Given that I mostly gave up on the series after Fifa 19 continued the same problems of its predecessors, I don’t think it’ll be me that finds out.
- Evan Lindeman
‘Atelier Ryza’ Warms the Heart No Matter the Season
Atelier Ryza excels at creating a sense of warmth and familiarity, and could be just what you need during the winter months.
The Atelier series is something of a unicorn in the JRPG genre. It isn’t known for its world-ending calamities or continent-spanning journeys; in fact, it’s quite the opposite. The small-town feel and more intimate storytelling of Atelier games has made them some of the most consistently cozy experiences in gaming, and Ryza is no exception. No matter if it’s this winter or next, here’s why Atelier Ryza is the perfect type of RPG to warm your heart this winter.
Like a Warm Blanket
Unlike protagonists from other entries in the franchise, Reisalin Stout (or Ryza for short) has never stepped foot in an atelier or even heard of alchemy at the start of her game. Instead, she’s just a fun-loving and mischevious girl from the country who spends her days in search of adventure with her childhood pals Lent and Tao. It’s this thrill-seeking that eventually leads the trio to meet a mysterious wandering alchemist and learn the tricks of the trade.
The entirety of Atelier Ryza takes place during summer, and it’s clear that the visual design team at Gust had a field day with this theme. In-game mornings are brought to life through warm reds, yellows, and oranges, while the bright summer sun beams down incessantly in the afternoon and gives way to cool evenings flooded by shades of blue and the soft glow of lanterns. Ryza’s visual prowess is perhaps most noticeable in the lighting on its character models, which are often given a warm glow dependent on the time of day.
The cozy sensibilities of the countryside can be felt elsewhere as well. The farm Ryza’s family lives on aside, the majority of environments are lush with all manner of plant life, dirt roads, and rustic architecture. Menus feature lovely wooden and papercraft finishes that simulate notepads or photos on a desk. Townspeople will even stop Ryza to remark on how much she’s grown and ask about buying some of her father’s crops. Everything just excels at feeling down-to-earth homey.
An Intimate Take on Storytelling
Kurken Island and the surrounding mainland feel expansive as a whole but intimate in their design. This is partially due to the readily-accessible fast travel system that Atelier Ryza employs; instead of a seamless open world, most players will find themselves jumping from location to location to carry out quests and harvest ingredients for alchemy. However, there’s still strong incentive to explore the nearby town thanks to tons of random side quests and little cutscenes that trigger as players progress through the main story.
It’s an interesting way to tackle world-building. Instead of relying on intricate dialogue like The Outer Worlds or massive cinematic cutscenes like Xenoblade Chronicles 2, Atelier Ryza lets players get a feel for its world rather naturally through everyday conversations. These scenes run the gamut from Ryza’s parents yelling at her to help more around the farm to running into and catching up with old friends who’d moved overseas. They’re unobtrusive and brief, but the sheer number of them gradually establishes a cast that feels alive and familiar.
Of course, post-holidays winter is also the season for more somber tales. The relationship between Lent and his alcoholic father is striking in its realistic depiction of how strained some father-son relationships can become.
The narrative escalates subtly: An early cutscene shows Mr. Marslink stumbling onto Ryza’s front lawn thinking it’s his. Then an event triggers where the neighborhood jerks tease Lent about being the son of the town drunk. Lent’s house is a small shack pulled back from the rest of the town, and visiting it triggers one of the few scenes where Ryza can actually talk to Mr. Marslink himself. The situation eventually reveals itself to be so bad that it completely explains why Lent is gung-ho about being out of the house whenever he can.
Though Lent’s general character motivation is wanting to get stronger and protect the town, it’s the heartfelt insights like these that make him much more relatable as a party member. Atelier Ryza features no grand theatrics or endless bits of exposition, but instead favors highlighting interpersonal conversations as Ryza continues to learn more about the people and world around her.
Cozy games rarely get enough credit. Just like the Animal Crossing series or Pokemon: Let’s Go provides players with a warmth that can stave off the harshest of winters, Atelier Ryza succeeds in being the lighthearted, touching JRPG fans wanted. It’s both aesthetically pleasing and heartwarming in the way it builds out its world and cast of characters, and seeing Ryza gradually grow more confident and capable is a joy unto itself. If you’re in need of a blanket until Animal Crossing: New Horizons comes out in March, you can’t go wrong here.
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