We all love a good underdog story, don’t we? As people, we tend to root for the underdog whenever we’re faced with a contest in which we have no particular vested interest. If you’re watching a football match and you don’t support either of the teams, you’ll likely cheer on the team that looks outclassed on paper. When we switch on the TV and Rocky is on we instantly feel compelled to hope that the bum from Philly will knock out the brash, flamboyant champion, Apollo Creed. Whether it’s because we see underdogs as an analogue for our place within society and we want to know that people like us can succeed, or whether it’s just because it makes for a better narrative, we as people just can’t help but want the little guy to win.
When Nintendo revealed their new console – the Switch – last week, reaction to the trailer was overwhelmingly positive. Twitter, Facebook and the gaming press are chock full of people falling over each other to praise the return of the almighty Nintendo. “This is the console we should have had last time,” they say. “Nintendo are back!” cry the masses. But it’s hard to look at the positive reaction to the reveal of the console and not wonder if people are falling into the trap of overstating just how impressive the Switch looks because it makes for a much better story that way. Everybody wants Nintendo to make a heroic comeback. Nintendo coming back in style after the failure of the Wii U makes for a great tale. The Switch failing because Nintendo made a bunch of the same mistakes they always make is just another sad chapter in the depressing story of where Nintendo went wrong.
As someone who has loved Nintendo from an early age and then spent the last decade or so entirely befuddled by their contributions to the gaming industry, there’s nothing I’d love more than a return to form for the once proud gaming giant. But I also think that it’s important to be realistic about what we can expect from Switch and not just buy into the hype based on a three minute video of implausibly cool people playing video games at rooftop parties and on aeroplanes. Hype is a dangerous thing – just ask anybody that got burned by No Man’s Sky earlier in the year – and we owe it to ourselves as consumers to be smart, and not just declare Switch the second coming of Christ on the basis that it looks better than the Wii U.
Nintendo’s Switch – horrible name aside – was introduced to the world in an impressive trailer that showed that Nintendo’s marketing team has at least learned something from the disastrous Wii U reveal. In three funky minutes Nintendo managed to let the entire world know exactly what the Switch was, and what it could do, in a way that instantly made sense. It’s been four years since the Wii U was released and they still haven’t explained what the point of that console is. They managed it in three minutes for the Switch. It’s impossible to overstate just how important that is.
First impressions of the console, again, show a different, unexpected side to Nintendo. The Switch – horrible Joy-Con controller aside – looks cool. It doesn’t look like a toy. It looks actually, genuinely cool. The tablet portion of the console looks like a serious, honest-to-god tablet and not the Toys R Us iPad that shipped with the Wii U. The Pro Controller looks like an actual video game controller, and they’ve even moved the right analogue stick to a place that makes ergonomic sense this time around. It looks like a grown up console for grown up Nintendo fans, and that’s something that Nintendo should have been aiming for years ago. First impressions matter, and the Switch makes a hell of an entrance.
But once the dust settles and we take a step back, there are a number of unanswered questions that should concern anybody other than the Nintendo fanboys that would hail the arrival of the Switch were it a tin of baked beans with “Nintendo” scrawled across it in sharpie. There are a number of potential pitfalls for the system, and as consumers, we need to consider these before throwing our money at a console that might turn out to be another lame duck.
Let’s talk about specs, baby
The Switch trailer didn’t really tell us anything we didn’t already know. Strong rumours had persisted for months that the console once code-named NX would be a home/handheld hybrid. We even had mock ups that looked startlingly close to the console that Nintendo showed off last week. And so while it was undeniably cool to see the thing in real life, when we stop letting our excitement take over rational thought, we can see that we’re actually barely any further forward than we were a week ago.
We know next to nothing about how powerful the machine is. From what we can see in the trailer, it certainly doesn’t appear to be on-par with the PS4 or Xbox One, but it looks like a step up from the Wii U. Power doesn’t necessarily matter in terms of the graphical prowess of first party games – Nintendo did incredible things with the under-powered Wii U to make games like Super Mario 3D World beautiful – and there’s no direct correlation between the success of a console and how powerful it is in comparison to the competition. This generation is, in fact, the only one in which the most powerful console is actually winning in terms of sales. But power does have some potentially devastating implications for the success of the Switch, which we’ll get back to later.
What’s the battery life of the tablet? Rumours abound that it won’t last any longer than three hours and that wouldn’t be great news for a console that that is being billed as a home console that you can take anywhere. In the trailer we see people playing on their Switch at the airport, but if the battery only lasts three hours you’d barely be through check-in before the console was dead. If portability is the selling point of the Switch – and that seems to be what Nintendo is banking on since that’s all they highlighted during the trailer – then it must have a battery life to suit.
How much storage does Switch have? The Wii U shipped with a paltry 32GB of internal storage. Nintendo needs to embrace the idea that the Internet is a thing that is happening, and people want to be able to download games. Storage this time around must be more robust, and if the Switch is going to require memory cards they need to make sure they’re using standard hardware and not opting for propriety cards like the PlayStation Vita used. Proprietary cards might make piracy harder and they might put more money into Nintendo’s pockets, but if you need to remortgage your house just to buy a memory card for your console that should – really – already have lots of internal memory, then you’re probably going to be unhappy.
Is it touch screen? Does it instantly switch between TV and tablet mode or do we need to wait for it to transition? Can we lay the console down horizontally so it can actually fit into our entertainment centres? How do we stop our kids losing those snap-off controllers after five minutes? There are a lot of questions that Nintendo needs to answer.
Sadly, they’ve already stated that they won’t be talking about hardware in regards to the Switch again in 2016, and that should set alarm bells off for anybody that isn’t already firmly aboard the Nintendo Switch hype train. If you’ve got a good enough memory to remember the pre-launch cycle of the PlayStation Vita, you should recall that people were very excited about the handheld right up until the point that Sony dropped a series of bombshells about limitations of the system that killed a lot of consumer interest. Nintendo needs to get ahead of the story, and if there is bad news that we don’t know yet, make sure they give consumers enough time to get excited for the console again by revealing it early.
You say you want a revolution
Nintendo has talked a big game when it comes to the Switch. They’ve previously billed the console as a completely new way to play video games, but once we actually take stock of what the Switch is, it’s not exactly a revolution is it? Analogue sticks were a revolution for gaming. Xbox Live and Live Arcade were revolutions for gaming. VR could be a revolution for gaming. Even the Wii – despite the fact everyone hates motion controls now – was a new way to play video games. What’s the Switch? Well, it’s basically a handheld console with an HDMI Out port.
The only thing that separates the Switch from the Wii U – conceptually – is that you can take the tablet aspect of the Switch more than six feet away from the docking station before it stops working. Everything else – that we’ve seen – is just bells and whistles. It’s a true handheld system that can be played anywhere – battery life permitting – and lets you continue to play the games you’re playing at home on the go. That distinction right there is important to point out. It’s the same games that you’re playing at home that you can play on the go.
Handheld sales are collapsing in the wake of the rise of smart phones. PlayStation Vita and Nintendo 3DS have both sold a fraction of the number of units sold by their predecessors. People generally don’t like to carry around more things than they need to. Look at iPods; you can’t buy one for love nor money in 2016. They used to be all the rage but since our phones got enough storage space to hold our music – and then streaming services like Spotify came along to really turn the screw – the world no longer needs dedicated mp3 players. Handheld consoles, similarly, feel superfluous to anybody but the hardcore gamer when we’ve all got smart phones that can play games like Candy Crush to keep us entertained for five minutes while we’re sat on the pot. They’re now a more niche product with little mass appeal.
Handheld sales may have died, but home console sales are surging. Sony built the PS4 to be a system that was all about games – not gimmicks – and it’s flourishing. Microsoft well and truly dropped the ball by designing the Xbox One as an entertainment system but have since corrected the course of the ship by focusing on – you guessed it – games. Dedicated home consoles are what the gamers of 2016 want after those couple of sticky years when the Wii had us all waving our arms around like drowning gibbons. When it comes to home consoles, the simpler the better seems to be the order of the day.
Considering the relative lack of interest in handheld consoles today, it may seem incredibly misguided for Nintendo to be focusing on that with the Switch. And to an extent, I’d agree. It’s certainly a risk. But I think it’s worth pointing out that Nintendo, potentially, are getting the best of both worlds here. Gamers want home consoles that play great games, but they’re not prepared to shell out for a handheld when they’ve got smart phones.
But what if they already have the handheld as part of the home console they bought, and what if they didn’t have to worry about two separate ecosystems of games, but could just continue playing the game they were playing at home while on the train to work? It’s not a case of learning a new system or having games that you play at home separate to games you play on the bus. It’s all one library of games and leaving the house doesn’t mean you can’t play the game you were enjoying at home. This is what Nintendo is banking on, and it might just work.
But the central gimmick of the system – being able to play all of our games on the go – isn’t without issue. The decision to make Switch a hybrid console has forced Nintendo to settle for a console that is less powerful than the competition. Making a PS4-level handheld would undoubtedly result in a system that would be too expensive to sell in great numbers, and so sacrifices needed to be made. The question is; was the sacrifice worth it?
Once bitten, twice shy?
We could spend all day talking about all of the problems with the Wii U, and while I’m sure that would be a lot of fun, there is one important problem with the Wii U in particular that is something that should be seriously considered when we look at the potential success or failure of the Switch. Namely, is the central gimmick of the system worth it?
The Wii U was a system that was designed around a tablet-style controller, but Nintendo never really managed to give consumers a reason to care about the idea. Few games – even the first party ones – managed to make a convincing argument as to why the tablet needed to exist. Whether you like the Gamepad or not is irrelevant. Some people love it. Some don’t. What’s relevant is that it didn’t really add anything of substance to the system, and presented us with few games that couldn’t have been played on a standard controller. And so given how much Nintendo had to sacrifice to keep the cost of the Wii U down because of how expensive the Gamepad was, was the sacrifice worth it? Obviously, it wasn’t.
Looking at the Switch it’s difficult not to draw a direct comparison. Here we have a system that is very clearly built around a central idea of home console gaming on the go. But in order to keep the console affordable, Nintendo has had to sacrifice power. Is that an issue? Potentially, it is. Probably the single biggest issue with the Wii U was that it simply didn’t have many games, especially the big ones that most gamers want to play. Yes, Nintendo released a fairly regular stream of largely decent games for the system, but when put up against the competition the line up of titles available for the console was, and is, embarrassing.
Third party support died for the Wii U because it simply wasn’t worth the effort to port the games over, and it certainly wasn’t worth the effort to make exclusive games for the system. Big companies like Ubisoft and EA love money and if they thought they could make some on Wii U, they’d try. If the Wii U had a standard set-up and was comparatively powerful to the competition, you better believe that games like FIFA, Madden, Assassin’s Creed, Call of Duty, Battlefield, Fallout and more would be getting ported over. But given the hardware differences between the Wii U and the Sony and Microsoft consoles, porting games was more complicated and thus, more expensive, and it simply wasn’t worth the effort thanks to the small install base of the system. Commercial viability of third party titles was just too low.
The Switch is worryingly similar to Wii U in this regard. It’s clearly under-powered when compared to the PS4 and Xbox One – especially with Pro and Scorpio on the horizon – and differences in the hardware architecture could make porting a little more complicated than studios would like. Sure, there’s lots of developers on board with the Switch right now, but how quickly will that support dwindle if the sales of the system don’t get off to an impressive start? You may recall that that’s exactly what happened to the Wii U. And so I can’t help but wonder, is the ability to take my console out when I walk the dog important enough to justify losing power, and potentially alienating third party developers?
Personally, I don’t really think so. It’s a cute feature, but beyond the novelty value of showing it off to friends and family for the first few weeks, is it a game changing revolution for the industry that will cause the console to fly off the shelves? Perhaps if you’re a games journalist living in San Francisco and on the commute to work every day. Maybe if you live in Japan where portable gaming is the norm. But for the mass market? I’m not a betting man, but if I were, I’d say it’s not a safe bet. I don’t think that the central gimmick of the Switch is strong enough to justify the sacrifices that Nintendo has had to make, and I’d rather have had a console that wasn’t portable, but was either more powerful or less expensive as a result. And I’m surely not alone in this thinking. Who, exactly, is the console for?
The target demographic for the Switch is difficult to pin down. Nintendo wisely showed only adults playing the Switch in the trailer, as though to distance themselves from the thinking that they only make products for children. That’s wise, because Nintendo fans have grown up, and the kids of today are playing PlayStations. Nintendo needs to appeal to the adults who grew up on their consoles, and the sleek aesthetics of the Switch are definitely a step in the right direction, but it’s hard not to question whether the philosophy of the system is at odds with that.
Do adults really want to take their consoles out with them? Who is the console for, specifically? Is it for the kids that need entertaining in the car, or for the adults who’ve had a hard day at work and just want to put their feet up while they sit on their couch? PlayStation and Xbox have clear messaging, but for Nintendo it’s a little more muddled precisely because they refuse to stick to the norm and seem determined to be different. If they’re going out on their own then they need to justify why they’ve made the decision to do that, and so far they haven’t made a compelling argument. They need to nail that sooner rather than later.
Perhaps even more important than demographic issues however, is how much the Switch is going to cost, and how the form of the system affects said cost. If the hybrid nature of the Switch has an adverse affect on production costs and drives the price of the console north $349 then it could kill the thing before it’s even launched. Nintendo needs an appealing price point for the system, especially after the failure of the Wii U and since the console appears to be less powerful than the PS4 and Xbox One. $299 is a fairly attractive price point, but lower would be better if they can manage it. Higher, and it could be curtains for the new console.
If the console is cheap enough, the portability gimmick of Switch might not matter either way. Many of us – the people who consider themselves lapsed Nintendo fans – have been crying out for a normal console with no parlour tricks for years. Sure, the Switch has a gimmick, but nobody is holding a gun to your head and telling you that you have to take it outside. Personally, I’d have liked a meatier console without the portability, but if they can keep making good looking games for it like they did with the Wii U, and if the price of the console reflects the relative lack of power in comparison to the competition, then what does it matter if it stays docked next to my television for its whole life? With a Pro Controller in my hand and a Pokemon game on my big screen, if the Switch is priced competitively, the gimmick simply might not matter at all.
Follow the leader
So far, Nintendo hasn’t made the strongest case for why the Switch should be your next purchase. Beyond the novelty of carrying your console around with you, there’s little that they showed in the trailer to explain why you should buy one if portability doesn’t matter to you. There are still a number of gamers for which handheld gaming is a priority, but these are in the minority, and that’s an inescapable fact. Handheld sales are down, and they’re not getting any better. For a lot of gamers, the ones that don’t care about being able to take their consoles with them when they leave the house, they’ll need a stronger reason to buy a Switch come March.
By far the most exciting thing to come from Nintendo’s decision to make a hybrid console is that they’re unifying their home and handheld ecosystems into one. Currently, they have studios working on games for the 3DS and for the Wii U separately, whereas going forward all games they make will be for one system. This is a fantastically important point because if third party support does indeed dry up, with all their focus on one system Nintendo might be able to create enough games to make the Switch a worthwhile purchase regardless of whether anyone else is making games at all.
Sony and Microsoft have found success by letting consumers know that they’re all about the games, and it might behove Nintendo to follow suit. They’ve got a gimmick to separate them from the pack, but that shouldn’t stop them from hammering home the point that with a unified, single Nintendo ecosystem to worry about, they’ll now have way more games available than before. Suddenly, the handheld franchises like Ace Attorney, Professor Layton and especially Pokemon, should have a chance to shine on home consoles where many fans have wanted them for years. This is a huge deal, and one that Nintendo should be focusing on prior to launch. For those who felt let down by the lack of content released for the Wii U, Switch could be the answer. Take a leaf out of your competitor’s books, Nintendo, and make sure people know that.
A different Nintendo?
Right now, we’re still in the dark. We’ve seen one trailer for the Switch, and so it’s way too soon to be in or out. The central gimmick of the system might not appeal to you – and I’m sure it won’t appeal to the majority of gamers once the novelty wears off – but the implications of that gimmick will be what’s important. Will Nintendo’s desire to different alienate consumers and lead to another Wii U level failure? Or will a unified ecosystem mean that there’ll be enough games on the system to keep it afloat whether the quirks of the Switch appeal to consumers or not?
For the best possible launch, Nintendo need to come out of the blocks with some strong titles to make sure that gamers get involved. The likes of Mario, Zelda and Pokemon need to be hitting the streets in time for the launch of Switch or within the launch window as rumours suggest. A strong launch line-up puts the system in good stead, and sends out the message that this is a system that Nintendo will support with quality titles that you can’t play anywhere else. It’s up to Nintendo to give gamers a reason to buy the console, and to give third party publishers a reason to keep making games for it.
One thing for sure is that while Nintendo might have made some decisions regarding their hardware design that could prove costly, they’ve at least revealed the console with confidence, and they’ve got their marketing on point. The failures of the Wii U were, in part, down to an inability of Nintendo to let consumers know what the console was. This time round they’ve nailed the reveal, and thanks to a wise marketing strategy, they’ve built up a lot of good will on the part of gamers. People are excited about Nintendo again, and that’s a good thing.
Nintendo has made a lot of mistakes in recent years. From their draconian and backward-thinking attacks on copyright violations on YouTube to their antiquated approach to integrating online functionality into their consoles, Nintendo is falling way behind the pack. The Wii U was an embarrassing mis-step that was instantly outdated and struggled to ever find a footing with gamers. But the reveal of the Switch was clear and confident, and so perhaps this is a sign that Nintendo has learned from their mistakes, and they’ll be adopting a more forward thinking approach when it comes to Switch.
Perhaps the Wii U was a wake up call for them, and they’ve finally accepted that they’re behind the times. There’s no shame in admitting defeat and looking at what the competition is doing well, and Nintendo would be wise to copy some of those things – particularly in relation to online infrastructure, achievements and user interface – when it comes to Switch.
Miiverse was an interesting and quirky quasi-social network that allowed Wii U users to comment on the games they were playing. But while it was an interesting idea, it wasn’t implemented particularly well, and it might be sensible for Nintendo to either abandon it for the Switch, or update the interface to make it more user friendly, and a lot cooler to look at. They need to catch up with the competition when it comes to how slick the UI of the system is, and how simple it is to use. Nintendo needs to change and they need to let potential consumers know that they’ve changed.
Only time will tell whether this is a new era for Nintendo or if it’ll be the same old problems. There are a lot of unanswered questions when it comes to the Switch, and we might not like the answers when they arrive. For now, they’ve got our attention. But if they want to win back the legions of fans they’ve lost over the years thanks to backward thinking and inelegant design, they really need to stick the landing before Switch launches in March 2017. And we, as consumers, really need to make sure they do before we buy into the hype and pledge allegiance to a console that could just be a Wii U in disguise.
20 Years Later: ‘Pokémon Gold and Silver’ Took the Franchise’s Next Evolutionary Step
The legacy of Johto lives on in what was Game Freak’s next evolutionary step in the world of Pokémon.
Two regions to explore, 16 gym badges to collect, two Elite Four runs to conquer, a battle tower to climb, a previous champion to best at your own game, and 251 pocket monsters to capture. There is no denying that the Johto region of Pokémon Gold and Silver had- and still may contain- the most amount of content to dig into for any player when it comes to everything outside of filling up all the entries of Sword and Shield’s Pokédex.
Pokémon Gold and Silver released in Japan 20 years ago today on November 21st, 1999. The Johto region still stands as not only one of the most renowned Pokémon games in the franchise but a contender for one of the top Game Boy and Game Boy Color games to be released on the handheld systems. No matter which entry is your favorite, there is no denying that Pokémon Gold and Silver was the next evolutionary step on Game Freak’s stairway to fame in what is now currently the largest franchise in history.
A Daunting Next Step
Pokémon Gold and Silver’s development was greenlit immediately after Red and Green had launched in Japan. The untitled sequels at the time were slated for release for the holiday season of 1998. However, during this time frame, Game Freak had also been working on a multitude of Pokémon projects including the Nintendo 64 game Pokémon Stadium and a rebranded companion version to Red that would replace Green for the overseas release of the games. The majority of the small staff team of programmers had already been occupied once the development of Gold and Silver truly began.
What was originally intended to be one year of development slowly turned into three and a half due to a lack of on-hand resources and major programming difficulties that inevitably delayed what was to be the company’s most ambitious release yet. Game Freak found themselves in a troubling situation as the independent company had to balance out time for overseeing the entire Pokémon brand that had expanded into an anime, cards, toys, and even soon to be movies. The worldwide phenomenon was continuing to expand faster than Game Freak could keep up with.
Late into Gold and Silver’s development, Game Freak’s team of programmers called upon star-man of the industry Satoru Iwata as the developers were having trouble with various coding bugs and fitting all the game assets onto the small memory storage of the Game Boy’s cartridges. Iwata stepped in immediately and saved yet another second-party Nintendo project from disaster. At the beginning of Gold and Silver’s development, Iwata had single-handedly recreated the entire battle system code for Pokémon Stadium by just simply playing the games and analyzing some internal coding. Iwata’s trustworthy knowledge instantly skyrocketed him to become one of the company’s most valuable informants. Nintendo’s future president returned to his all-star team of programmers working at HAL Laboratory to create graphical compression tools for Game Freak to use. This allowed the company to combine both the Johto and Kanto regions onto a single 1-megabyte Game Boy cartridge and meet their latest home territory release deadline.
The Next Phase of Evolution
Gold and Silver continued to build off of Red and Green by introducing the next region in the Pokémon world that would naturally set trends for the series going forward. One of these trends was the reoccurring introduction of a new region inspired by a different area of the world for each game.
Johto was the western half of a landmass shared by the previous game’s location. While Kanto had been based on the Kantō region of Honshu, Japan, the nearby Kansai region would become Johto’s core source of inspiration for its landscape as seen through not only its general location on the map but its architectural features. For example, the sharp shapings of rooftops and gateway entrances to towns known as torii are littered everywhere throughout Johto; some of Kansai’s most common building aesthetics.
Gold and Silver gained several new features that would ultimately become some of the most crucial and missed aspects of the mainline games. For starters, one important new feature that would solidify its place in future entries was the inclusion of a real-time clock. Multiple in-game events, visuals, and even Pokémon variety in the wild areas would alter depending on the time and day of the week. For example, the psychic owl species of Pokémon, Hoothoot and Noctowl, would only appear in the wild starting in the late afternoon. Eevee could only evolve into Umbreon at night, while the Bug Catching Contest was exclusively available at certain hours on weekdays.
Suicune, Entei, and Raikou became the first trio of legendary creatures to start what is now known as “roaming Pokémon.” Rather than traditionally entering a dungeon-like area, players would randomly encounter these three minor legendaries in the wild grass areas of the game after they had witnessed them book it from the Burned Tower of Ecruteak City during the story. When in battle, the Pokémon will attempt to flee immediately on its first turn. If any of the three are killed in battle, the beast will never be able to appear again on your save file.
The competitive scene for the series would begin to take its modern shape because of the introduction of both breeding and the move deleter. Breeding opened a new floodgate of multiplayer strategies by allowing specific Pokémon to obtain moves they would naturally not be able to learn through technical machines and evolution. Meanwhile, the move deleter finally allowed Pokémon to be rid of their HM moves that previously could not be overwritten, allowing players to freshly design their move-sets at any given time.
The most notable feature, however, would never see a return in a future game. Being able to journey across two different regions is by far Gold and Silver’s most proclaimed component. As stated before, Kanto and Johto share an extremely close geographical connection. Because of this, players can explore the entirety of Kanto after defeating the elite four- more than doubling the amount of content the game had to offer. Outside of the Johto games, this feature has never once returned to another Pokémon game.
The Legacy of Johto Lives On
At the time of its release, Gold and Silver received a highly positive reception from both audiences and critics. The most notable features praised by critics in reviews were the inclusions of more mechanics and typings that deepened the battle system along with the designs of the lineup of new Pokémon receiving all-around praise. During its lifetime on store shelves, the two versions nearly recreated the success of their predecessors as both combined with the sales of their later third enhanced entry Pokémon Crystal sold a total of 23 million copies. Today, Pokémon Gold and Silver are still regarded as some of the best Pokémon games, but not in their original form.
In 2010, trainers had the opportunity to return to the Johto region for the third time in the tenth anniversary generation two remakes Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver for the Nintendo DS. Following in the footsteps of Pokémon FireRed and LeafGreen, the generation two remakes not only attempted to streamline and fix the problems found in the original Game Boy entries of the series but they added a hefty new amount of content for both retuning veterans and newcomers on top of a gorgeous graphical overhaul.
Building off of the engine used for Pokémon Platinum, the enhanced remakes envisioned what is arguably the greatest interpretation yet of the Johto region by continuing to build off what the other DS games had already successfully established. HeartGold and SoulSilver contained nearly every feature found in a Pokémon game up until that point. It sought to continually expand upon modernizing the series through making needed accessibility changes and improving on the Nintendo Wi-Fi connectivity abilities that Diamond and Pearl had a rather shaky start with. Several lost features from previous games outside of Gold and Silver even managed to return for the remake. The beloved idea of having an interactive Pokémon partner to journey around the world with from Yellow, for example, made a comeback but this time any Pokémon could follow you as long as they had been placed in the first party slot.
While still being one of the Nintendo DS’s most commercially successful games, HeartGold and SoulSilver were not able to reach half the amount of sales their original incarnations had achieved. However, the games have averaged the highest critical reception of any mainline Pokémon game released in the franchise. The game notably received spotlight due to its included pedometer accessory the Pokéwalker. The device allowed players to place one Pokémon in the device. As a player walks in real-life, their Pokémon could collect experience, find items, and even catch other creatures that could be transferred directly back into the game.
Today, the original versions of Gold and Silver can be purchased on the Nintendo 3DS Eshop alongside the first Pokémon games- Red and Blue- that had released on the original Game Boy. Alongside the original generation two games, its counterpart successor Pokémon Crystal can also be purchased currently on the Eshop. 3DS home screen themes (as depicted to the left) can also be obtained through gold and silver points through the MyNintendo website.
‘Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order’: The Force is Strong in this One
A new hope…
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is one of the more propulsive and joyous games released this year. The latest from Respawn Entertainment (the creators of Titanfall and Apex Legends) is sure to satisfy fans who have impatiently waited almost a decade for a single-player action-adventure Star Wars game, and one that is actually good. In fact, Fallen Order is better than good— it’s great and worthy of standing side by side with the best Star Wars games ever made. Save for an incredibly bland protagonist, Fallen Order delivers what any fan could hope for.
We’ve been waiting a long time for a good single-player Star Wars game and thankfully Respawn has come through with a narrative-driven adventure that calls to mind the best of Uncharted, Tomb Raider, Dark Souls and even God of War while also embedding itself in official universe canon. If that isn’t enough, Jedi: Fallen Order drops you into Metroidvania style environments and features incredibly tough boss battles and a skill tree that lets you unlock tons of new abilities by accumulating experience and skill points. Jedi: Fallen Order is an ambitious game, to say the least. It features the fast-paced action the developers have become famous for and while the result isn’t groundbreaking (nor original), it’s a solid space opera spectacle with enough nostalgia to overpower even the most jaded gamer.
The story takes place sometime between Star Wars: A New Hope and Episode III, when most of the Jedi Order are either dead or missing in action. You assume control of Cal Kestis, a promising young Padawan in the Republic who following the events of Order 66 (which resulted in the deaths of thousands of Jedi) was forced to abandon his training and seek a solitary life on the planet Bracca. In order to survive Darth Sidious’s purge of the Jedi Order, Cal removed himself from the Force, concealed his identity, and took on a job working for the Empire. Unfortunately for him, a squad of professional Jedi hunters led by Second Sister have tracked him down, leaving him with little choice but to fight back.
The Story is Canon
Fallen Order kicks off with a powerful and emotional sequence as Cal decides to risk his own life and try to save his friend. In doing so, Cal reveals himself to the Empire, setting in motion a cat-and-mouse chase that sees him team up with former Jedi Master Cere Junda and a Latero pilot named Greez Dritus. Armed with Jedi powers, a lightsaber and the trusty aid of BD1 (a droid designed to assist with exploration in remote and dangerous locations), Cal blasts his way through hyperspace discovering ancient tombs, freeing Wookie slaves, hijacking an AT-AT and basically fighting the Imperial Army.
Jedi: Fallen Order is a step forward for the franchise – an exhilarating ride, filled with exciting battles, non-stop action, soaring emotions, and performances that can be described as legitimately good, rather than just good, for a video game. It’s also a rousing introduction to new characters who will likely carry this world forward (I expect a sequel or two). There’s seriously a solid story here and one that adheres to the spirit and tone of the Star Wars universe. The supporting players, for example, are all great. Cal’s droid, BD-1, is particularly captivating, and the game does an admirable job of building up Cal’s friendship with the droid in both the cinematic cutscenes and in the actual gameplay.
Story-wise, BD-1 is crucial to the plot since the droid is entrusted to guide Cal on a dangerous mission assigned by Master Cordova who left behind a list of the missing Jedi children who he believes will one day restore the Jedi Order and defeat the evil Empire. Without BD, there is no adventure. With the help of the droid, however, Cal is able to travel to various planets and discover and unlock important messages and clues left behind by Cordova. Aside from guiding Cal across various planets, BD-1 also serves several support functions in gameplay. He can function as a zipline, hack certain droid enemies, unlock doors, project holographic maps and even provide Cal with “stims” that allow him to heal himself during combat— something you definitely need since a number of gameplay mechanics are lifted from the Soulsborne genre; in other words, the game can be hard.
Truth be told, the first few hours of Fallen Order are a bit generic as players are slowly introduced to the world, but it doesn’t take long before the game starts to shine thanks to the relationships Cal forms with his colleagues who he meets along the way. Jedi: Fallen Order is a story of rebellion and finding hope, but it’s also a story of friendship and braving adversity and the game really excels by investing in the interpersonal dynamics of its entire cast, and not just the good guys but the villains as well. BD-1 is without a doubt the scene-stealer as he certainly adds some much-needed levity to the journey, but every character serves an important role (big or small) in moving the story forward. Of the entire cast, I have to make mention of Actress Debra Wilson who does a superb job in her motion-capture performance as Cere, a warrior who is wounded and haunted by her past. She is the moral center and becomes Cal’s mentor as they desperately try and survive in a world that seems entirely devoid of any hope. As the plot unfolds, Cere relives her darkest moments and confronts the mistakes of her past. In these scenes, Debra Wilson shines so brightly, you’d be forgiven for thinking she deserves an Oscar.
Jedi: Fallen Order is a fun, polished space odyssey that embraces the appeal of the Star Wars universe.
Given that Respawn Entertainment worked closely with Lucasfilm, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Jedi: Fallen Order is officially part of the Star Wars lore. And despite operating in the shadow of the immensely popular series, it understands this and hardwires that understanding into its own DNA. And like the best Star Wars games, it borrows ideas from the films (and other reading material) while inserting flashbacks to flesh out the heroes and the conflict at hand. It certainly helps that the latest game in the canon explores new characters and new corners of the galaxy while remaining faithful to the core themes of the franchise and even if some of these storylines seem recycled from past stories, the new additions and the central mystery keeps the story engaging from start to finish. And while this story is much smaller in scale than the blockbuster movies, Jedi: Fallen Order raises the stakes in every chapter thanks to the omnipresent threat of the Inquisitors hunting Cal, who always seem like they’re one step away from closing in on the kill. And if you know anything about the future of the Star Wars universe, you know that Cal’s future isn’t looking too bright. All in all, the team at Respawn did an incredible job of exploring and expanding the universe of Star Wars, especially considering the dark time in which this story takes place.
It’s clear when playing Fallen Order that the team was interested in creating a more nuanced, character-driven tale and in order to achieve that goal, they carefully crafted a story that weaves the player’s actions and interactions into Cal’s evolving journey. What we have here is a coming of age tale which sees Cal growing as a person while strengthening his relationship with the Force. Unfortunately, Cal Kestis is also somewhat of a dull protagonist. Sure, he has a tragic past (who doesn’t in this universe) but he’s also a blank slate, predictable and devoid of layers. Given that the story takes place after the Great Jedi Purge, you’d figure the writers could have used that trauma to create a far more complex character and inject Cal with a bit more life— a bit more personality— and/or a bit more fight; instead, he’s just a quiet, brooding loner. In the end, it feels like a missed opportunity, especially since actor Cameron Monaghan, who plays both the younger and older Cal, delivers the best performance he could with the writing he was given. It’s not a deal-breaker by any stretch of the imagination but Cal is surprisingly the only disappointing factor of the game.
Jedi: Fallen Order’s best quality is exploration. What at first seems like a standard linear experience quickly reveals itself to be so much more. Levels are immense with plenty of shortcuts to unlock and puzzles to solve— and to help you navigate, Cal is given a handy 3D map that highlights which areas you can and cannot yet pass. Much of the game is spent exploring and it helps that each planet feels distinct and features various set pieces that liven up the proceedings. Although you do spend some time backtracking through these environments, it never becomes tedious as most areas are filled with tons of secrets such as new outfits for Cal to wear and additional stim canisters, which become valuable when facing off against a dangerous foe. As the level design quickly opens up, Cal gains new abilities that allow him to run along walls, jump higher and push and pull large objects that help him navigate through the treacherous ground.
Jedi: Fallen Order Kicked My Ass
The combat in Fallen Order which has frequently been compared to Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is easily the biggest surprise. Fighting relies heavily on blocking and carefully timed parries and the decision to make combat more focused on defensive strategy heightens the spectacle as well as the flow and pacing of the game. Jedi: Fallen Order requires patience and relies less on mindlessly button spamming and more on strategic mastery. You have to look at your surroundings, understand your enemies and identify their strengths and weaknesses. It’s all about timing, and exchanging lightsaber blows during riveting boss encounters is incredibly satisfying. And it’s not just with the boss battles either; even encounters with regular stormtroopers and alien creatures take precision and care, each battle becoming a ballet of blocks and dodges as you patiently wait for an opening to attack so you can inflict more damage. Playing in the Jedi Master mode is tough and I do mean tough. Jedi Grandmaster seems downright impossible, at least for me. You’ll die. And then you’ll die again; rinse and repeat. And did I mention that when you do die, you lose whatever XP you’ve gathered toward skill points and have to return to defeat whoever killed you in order to reclaim it. Fans of the Dark Souls series will love it; for the rest of us, you can always dial down the difficulty setting because unlike those From Software games, you do have a choice over which difficulty you want to play. Whether you’re an action game veteran or a casual Star Wars fan, the game has four difficulty modes that should accommodate everyone. That said, if you’re familiar with action games, I highly recommend Jedi Master for your first run; Story Mode and Jedi Knight are too easy and don’t provide enough of a challenge.
Jedi: Fallen Order may not receive points for originality, but Fallen Order is still one of the most entertaining games of the year.
Jedi: Fallen Order feels like a direct response by EA to its fans who’ve been very vocal about their disappointment with the company’s previous Star Wars games. Or maybe EA was just trying to please Disney who has made it clear they have no issue in parting ways with collaborators who don’t deliver quality products. Whatever the case, EA was wise to hand over the license to Respawn Entertainment who’ve proven they have a real talent for making spectacular single-player action/adventure games. In spite of some minor performance issues, Fallen Order does exactly what it set out to do. Not only does it feel like a genuine Star Wars game but it pumps new energy and life into the franchise in a way that both resurrects old pleasures and points in promising new directions. Fallen Order is great. Not groundbreaking. But one of the very best games of 2019 and one of the best Star Wars games ever made.
Jedi: Fallen Order re-awoke my love of Star Wars video games and turned my inner fanboy into my outer fanboy. Here’s hoping they make a sequel.
This Heart’s on Fire: ‘Death Stranding’ and Heartman
‘Death Stranding’ has no shortage of your standard Kojima weirdos but one that almost no one is talking about is the eccentric Heartman.
*This article contains spoilers up to and including Chapter 8 of Death Stranding*
Over the course of Hideo Kojima’s wildly ambitious Death Stranding there are a whole cavalcade of intriguing and intoxicating characters for players to meet and acquaint themselves with. From the guy with the weird goalie mask to the lady with the magical umbrella, there is no shortage here of your standard Kojima weirdos but one that almost no one is talking about is Heartman.
Portrayed by writer-director Nicolas Winding Refn, best known for Drive, Heartman brings the game to a dead halt when you finally meet him face to face in chapter 8 but the reprieve comes as a welcome comfort to the player. Having just crossed a treacherous mountain range and survived a second trip to Clifford Unger’s war-torn beach, most players will welcome a little down time, and Heartman is there to provide it.
It’s immediately clear that Heartman’s home is something special from the moment Sam walks through the door. Lit with a ring of holographic fire, the foyer of the mansion is immediately welcoming in the hostile environment of the snowy mountains. However, it also has a sort of clinical detachment to it. This is by design, as reality for Heartman is merely a distraction — downtime to be filled.
Yes, Heartman comes with the tragic backstory players will no doubt be expecting but, like most of them in Death Stranding, his is a real treat. Delivered partly through voiceover and partly through flashback, Heartman reveals how he lost his family to a terrorist attack while in the hospital for a heart operation. When he flatlined during the operation, though, he was able to find them on the beach before being whisked away back to reality.
Obsessed with finding them again and joining them, Heartman now spends his life in 24 minute intervals: 21 minutes of life, 3 minutes of death. Every 21 minutes Heartman journeys to the beach by flatlining himself with a personal AED, only to be resurrected 3 minutes later. During those 3 minutes though, where time is altered by the elastic effect of the Death Stranding, he seeks out his family and makes observations on how the beaches and the after life work.
Bizarre as all of this is, it makes Heartman a truly fascinating character. Since his life is mainly confined to 21 minutes at a time, he has collected hundreds of books, movies, and albums which can be experienced during that tiny window of time. His study is brimming with them, stacked on the ceiling high bookshelves that surround his work area. Also in the study are eerie recreations of frozen corpses, old family photos, and a host of other curiosities, each of which will earn the player likes from Heartman for noticing them.
Of course, this is the most interesting part of the meeting. As Heartman continues to explain his theories, a counter occasionally appears in the bottom corner of the screen, showing how long Heartman has before he will flatline again. When the moment of truth finally comes, he lays himself down on a chaise lounge, turns over a golden hourglass and dies before your eyes. As the Funeral March begins playing from an old record player, Sam must keep himself busy for 3 minutes while he waits for Heartman to return to the land of the living. It’s a truly brilliant moment, as a counter appears in the bottom corner again, and the player must simply take in Heartman’s eccentric home from a first person perspective for 3 minutes uninterrupted.
What would be boring as sin under the wrong direction becomes a welcome moment for the player to just sit and absorb this strange, yet comforting, place. Then, after three minutes have elapsed, Heartman reawakens and picks up from where he left off as if nothing out of the ordinary had occurred. He even breaks the 4th wall as he continues to talk, swatting away the timer when it appears on screen again and adding likes to your counter in real time.
There’s really nothing like the meeting with Heartman in all of Death Stranding — but then, there’s nothing like Death Stranding really in the realm of gaming either. With its long periods of walking between haunted destinations and its deliberately cryptic mythology, the game is like a series of tone poems and intellectual treatises mashed together into a post-apocalyptic courier sim.
Heartman then, with his heart-shaped lake and pink-lit study, is just one more piece of Kojima’s mad puzzle here but what a piece he is. Who would have thought the most normal looking member of Death Stranding‘s bewildering cast would end up also being one of its most interesting? Certainly not this writer. Still, Heartman and his eerie, purgatorial existence make for one of the nicest surprises in the game.
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