BumbleKast – Episode 36 – Nintendo Switch Preview & Game Reviews

On this week’s BumbleKast, Kyle and I go over my first-hand early access experiences with the upcoming Nintendo Switch system and a number of its games.

All last week I posted my thoughts on the games over at the BumbleKast’s Patreon. If’n you missed out on them, here they are again to go along with the hardware review:

Thanks to the fine folks at Nyteworks, I got advanced hands-on experience with the upcoming Nintendo Switch and many of its games. I’ll be covering my game experiences this week, ordered alphabetically for the sake of simplicity.

1-2-Switch
Release Date: March 3rd , 2017

1-2-Switch is a collection of party games meant to showcase the unique features of the Switch hardware. It is, in essence, this generation of hardware’s Wii Sports. Wii Sports worked well because its games, while simple, were solid and intuitive. You played as your Mii, bringing the novelty of personalization.

1-2-Switch
feels like it’s trying to capture the same kind of pick-up-and-play, open-to-everyone mentality of Wii Sports but coming up short. It has some of the quirkiness of the Warioware series, but none of the personality. Its instructional demos and advertisements seem to try to win you over with ironically “normal” people, but they’re doing these weird games – isn’t that wacky?!

The games themselves feel more like tech demos for the hardware and less like games. And unlike Wii Sport’s satisfying swing of the “bat” or rolling of the “bowling ball,” 1-2-Switch has you using the Joy-Cons in all manner of ways that, while reasonable, aren’t really fun or immersive.

In short: It’d be fine if it was packaged with the Switch, but it has no business being a full retail game.

Arms
Release Date: Q2 2017

When Arms was announced during the Switch reveal event, I was less than enthused. It looked like a shallow launch title to promote the Switch’s gimmicks. However, having gotten my hands on it, I feel like I owe its development team an apology.

The five characters available in the demo each had distinct play styles and had a charm to their designs that felt distinctly Nintendo, almost reminiscent of Wonderful 101. At the beginning of each round, you can pick which fists you want to equip out of three sets, mixing and matching fist types. These change your punching style, its spread, and the effects of your charged-up specials.

Everything is controlled via the two Joy-Cons. You strafe, advance and retreat by tilting them, dash with LB and jump with RB. Punching comes from physically punching, and it feels far more responsive than Wii Sport’s “flail and prevail” system. When I played, it felt like a frantic but coordinated effort. Spamming punches won’t work – actually gauging your opponent and playing to the strengths of your character and their loadouts make a huge difference.

The potential pitfall I see is fighting the computer opponents. As robust as the controls are, I still felt like movement was a bit cumbersome. The precision of a computer controlled opponent is going to be impossible to match by a human. Hopefully they’ll account for that when programming the A.I.

In short: Potentially the next Splatoon. It’s fun to play, more robust than it lets on, but will live or die on its hardware gimmick.

Fast RMX
Release Date: March 2017

Since F-Zero has been dead since the passing of the Gamecube, it falls upon others to fill the niche of ultra-fast futuristic racers, and Fast RMX seems poised to fill the role. You pilot sleek rocket cars across a variety of sci-fi terrains. As you travel you’ll come across lanes of orange or blue energy. You switch your vehicle’s own power to match those colors to receive a boost. Run over the lane with the wrong color and you’re slowed down. Other color-coordinated perks are orbs that fill your boost meter, which allows you to accelerate, and columns of light that pull you into the air, where acceleration is higher.

The demo had a small sampling of the beginning stages, and they were definitely fast and challenging. If they scale at all like F-Zero GX, the game promises to be absolutely nuts.

In short: It’s F-Zero meets Ikaruga. Definitely worth a look.

Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Release Date: March 3rd, 2017

This was the title I was looking forward to the most, and I’m very happy to say it didn’t disappoint. For those of you avoiding spoilers, I’ll be brief: after the initial cutscenes and getting the required gear, I was treated to a sweeping vista shot of the land. The game made a couple of heavy-handed “go here, please” efforts, but then I was otherwise free to do my own thing.

I grabbed branches for weapons and scavenged apples and mushrooms for health. Sneaking through the tall grass, I came across a camp of enemy bokoblins. A wild boar ran close to their camp, and their archer tried to bring it down while the other two hunted it down with their clubs. While they were distracted, I snuck over and took them out. I was decked out in a club, shield, and bow in short order.

I came across another pair of bokoblins in a ravine, just outside of a putrid bog with treasures just out of reach. If I had come from another direction, there was a boulder primed on a cliff that I could’ve pushed down to smush them. Instead I climbed a tree and sniped them with my bow. They began digging up rocks to hurl at me. Through expert skill (*cough* blind luck *cough*), I shot one of the rocks out of the air, sending it back onto the bokoblin’s head.

In my all-too-brief twenty minutes with the game, I played it with the new Switch Pro Controller and the Joy-Cons attached to the portable version of the Switch itself. While I’ll be covering my experiences with the hardware on the BumbleKast, I will say that the Pro Controller felt great. The Joy-Con/Switch controller was awful, and I went back to the Pro Controller as soon as possible.

If I had any complaint, it would be that the button mapping didn’t feel intuitive. I’m hoping that there will be an option to remap them. And while I’ll sorely miss the dual-screen option provided by the Wii U version, I was very happy to see that the map screen gave you multiple markers you could place anywhere you wanted for future referencing. You could place a grand total of one hundred markers.

The other highlight was comparing experiences with my wife on the ride home. Aside from the scripted beginning, we had entirely different adventures. We found different mysteries, approached enemies with different tactics, and died in different, brutal ways. The amount of freedom in the starting area alone is thrilling, and I can’t wait to lose myself in the whole game.

In short: A gorgeous, expansive open world with the hallmarks of the Legend of Zelda series.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
Release Date: April 28th, 2017

Mario Kart 8 on the Wii U is arguably the best edition of the franchise. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe will bring Switch users all of the original’s content, including all of its DLC, plus additional characters, items and an improved Battle Mode.

I got to experience eight-player Balloon Battle using the Switch’s local multiplayer, using the Joy-Con/portable Switch combo. The objective was to drive around, gather up items, and assail everyone else until they lost all their balloons. The player who’s caused the most grief wins. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe takes a page out of Mario Kart: Double Dash’s playbook by re-introducing double Item Boxes and the ability to hold two items at once – although I believe that’s only in Battle Mode.

In terms of gameplay, it felt like a solid return to the old Balloon Battle from Mario Kart 64, which I remember very fondly and many hold as the pinnacle of the series. It looked gorgeous, and it ran extremely smoothly. The only downside was the Joy-Con/portable Switch “controller,” which was destroying my wrists very quickly.

In short: Very pretty, with very promising local multi-player. If you don’t already have the Wii U version, get this one.

Snipperclips: Cut it Out, Together!
Release Date: March 2017

Snipperclips: Cut it Out, Together! is a nifty little physics-based cooperative puzzle game. You and a friend play as a pair of identical shapes on legs. They can crouch, jump and climb over each other, but most importantly, they can cut pieces out of each other. Together you coordinate how and where the shapes overlap, then cut off pieces to create a new shape with a new functions. You can create a concave bowl for holding items, a sharp point for popping balloons, narrow the shapes so they can press recessed buttons, or so that you can fit into a predefined space.

What impressed me the most about the puzzles was that there didn’t seem to be a single “right” way to do them. There were clearly some more efficient ways, but teamwork and use of the shapes in creative ways allowed for a variety of approaches. Solving the puzzles felt rewarding and, honestly, fun.

That said it does appear to be a sequence of simple puzzles. Perhaps the full version will have more to offer, but it came across as a novelty game – not something you’d invest a lot of time in.

In short: Rewarding and thoughtful, but runs the risk of losing its charm quickly.

Sonic Mania
Release Date: Q2 2017

Styled after the classic Genesis-era games, Sonic Mania has Sonic, Tails and Knuckles play through reimaginings of past levels and brand new ones. The demo on display had Green Hill Zone and Studiopolis Zone playable as Sonic and Tails together.

There’s no need for embellishment – this game feels perfect. The controls don’t feel like an approximation, like in Sonic the Hedgehog 4, but instead they feel precisely like the classic era games. Sonic gets all of his perks from the elemental shields ala Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles, and Tails retains his ability to air-lift Sonic for a short time. The only real change is that the game feels a little more forgiving about putting Sonic onto platforms that Tails flies him through. That and Sonic gets the new “Drop Dash” move that lets you zip off the moment to land from a jump.

As for the Sonic/Tails dynamic, if you’ve played Sonic the Hedgehog 2 or Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles, you already know how it goes. Sonic will easily out-pace his little buddy. If (when) you get left behind, Tails will eventually respawn and fly to Sonic’s side. Tails defaults to computer-controlled, but immediately becomes player-controlled when you use the controller. And since Tails doesn’t drop any rings when damaged, he’s great to send ahead into danger.

In short: This is shaping up to be, potentially, the greatest Sonic game ever.

Splatoon 2
Release Date: Q2 2017

Splatoon is the best new IP to grace the Nintendo stable in a while, and the sequel is shaping up nicely. I got to play the demo version which was a 4-on-4 Turf Wars match, where the objective is to cover more of the ground in your team’s color than your opponents can in the alotted time. There were four loadouts to choose from. I went with my tried-and-true Roller and the new Splat Duelies.

The Roller has been tweeked to throw a narrow, vertical stripe of ink when you swing it while airborne, but otherwise felt the same. The Special attached to it was a jetpack that lifted you on torrents of ink and gave you a bazooka. Despite making you a very obvious target, the amount of damage you could do was delightful, especially since you could potentially temporarily access enemy territory. Once the Special ran out, it appeared to detonate, and I was launched to back to the spot where I activated it.

The Splat Duelies are dual rapid-fire pistols with a quick omni-directional roll-dodge. The guns themselves felt nice enough – good rate of fire, nice spread, and a good amount of coverage for your ammo. The real treat for me was the roll-dodge. It was incredibly fast and responsive, and it’s so unlike the rather plodding run speed you usually have, it was very easy to throw off the opponents with it. Its Special was a leaping ground-pound that created a shockwave of ink.

Everyone was playing with the Switch Pro Controller, which defaulted to the gyroscopic controls. I don’t know if these will be mandatory, but they felt really good here. They were solid in the original Splatoon, but I never felt comfortable with them there. Here in Splatoon 2, while still a little weird, I was much more at ease with them. The lack of the second screen removes some of the tactical options, but the map function that replaces it works well enough.

In short: A promising sequel that doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel, but instead adds some fresh ideas.

Super Bomberman R
Release Date: March 3rd, 2017

I never got into Bomberman. I dabbled in it enough to know the basics, but I never got into the franchise. My time with this version of the game was, in a word, frustrating. Part of that is my inexperience with the game, and I’ll own my stupidity of laying a bomb and realizing I’d trapped myself. But what was frustrating was my character getting caught on edges of the terrain, and some of the scenery obscuring me from view to the point I didn’t know if I was clear of the blast range or not. There seemed to be a wide variety of customizable options, at least.

In short: If you’re a fan of the series, give it a look. I can’t recommend it at first blush though.

Ultra Street Fighter II: The Final Fighters
Release Date: TBD

I’ll be honest: I am not an arcade fighter kind of guy. I have neither the skill nor the patience for it all. So a game like Street Fighter in my hands is casting pearls before swine. This is a remake of Street Fighter II Turbo with HD versions of the sprites and the additions of playable Evil Ryu and Violent Ken.

I played three rounds as Blanka, M. Bison and Sagat – and was thoroughly thrashed. The controls on the Switch Pro Controller were responsive, I just didn’t know what I was doing with them. And while the new HD sprites are crisp and colorful, they retain the same limited animations of the time. It’s a nice balance of nostalgia and modern presentation.

In short:
If you’re a fan of the series, it’s mot likely worth a look.

Nintendo Switch – Game Previews on Patreon

Thanks to the fine folks at Nyteworks, I got advanced hands-on experience with the upcoming Nintendo Switch and many of its games. I’ll be covering my game experiences this week, ordered alphabetically for the sake of simplicity, and will be covering my hardware experiences on Episode 36 of the BumbleKast (scheduled Monday, Feb. 6th).

I’ll be publishing the daily previews on the Patreon Page, but they will be free for everyone to read. I’ll be posting the summation of it all here at a later date.

Thursday Thoughts – Respect

I don’t like the idea of having to “earn” someone’s respect. To me a great deal of the world’s woes derive from people making entirely too much effort in finding reasons to dislike and harbor grudges against each other. In short, to disrespect one another. It’s a very simple idea, perhaps over-simplified, but I think we’d all do much better by respecting each other by default.

Personally, I prefer to give everyone my respect from the get-go. You, by the virtue of being another human being, are my equal in my eyes. It’s from there that your actions and beliefs retain or lose that respect. And that’s not meant to sound judgemental; you are entitled to your beliefs and your way of life as much as anyone else. We may not agree at all, we may be entirely incompatible as people, but that’s just how our wacky species goes. It’s when you start to diminish and endanger the lives of others that we’re going to have a problem. To quote Tom Lehrer:

“There are people in this world who cannot tolerate their fellow man, and I hate people like that.”

But getting back to the point: I respect you. And with that respect comes trust. Because I am going to treat you with respect I’m going to trust you’ll do the same to me, and that this is how the world generally works. That’s incredibly naive, I know, and maybe even dangerously so. I am fully aware that how I look, where I’m from, and all manner of identifiers will classify me as “one of them” to someone else and instantly lose their respect, and subsequently their trust.

As sad and as terrifying as that is, I can’t help it. There is a much larger world around me, and it’s had a whole lot going on to set up the reality we share today. All I can do is shape the little pocket of the world around me and hope that, maybe, my respect for you will earn back your trust. With that, you will come to respect me. And if we’re going to be really hopeful, you’ll extend that respect to the next person you meet like me and they will likewise respect you in return.

And when I screw it all up by doing something stupid, don’t hold it against me, please. But we’ll talk about “forgiveness” another time.

Thursday Thoughts – Ironically Thoughtless

So I spent an hour or so on today’s blog on the topic of the “subjectiveness of humor” and ended up just deleting the whole thing. Part of the reason is that, while this is something of an op/ed feature, I don’t want to get too preachy from my soap box. And on the other, I just wasn’t getting my points across. So instead of just skipping the feature this week, join me in moment of introspection: when a writer no word-make gud.

“Writer’s block” is a real thing. Do not let anyone tell you otherwise. There has been endless discussion over how real it is, how to prevent or work around it, or if it’s self-fulfilling detrimental thinking. Speaking from personal experience, it can be a very physical thing. I can feel the grey matter not working.

On a good day, when I’m very productive, there is a satisfying clarity of mind when I’m through. Imagine an empty attic room, finished but unfurnished, with sunlight beaming through the sole window. That’s a good feeling.

But on days like today, it’s more like I’m wandering through a hall of mirrors. I know there is a goal and I can see a direction, but each step forward is halting and unsure. The points I want to make are right in front of me, but they’re distorted, improperly formed, or misleading. I think I’m getting to something profound, or at least coherent, and – bonk! – nope, that doesn’t make sense. That could’ve been stated more clearly. I already said that, or I repeated myself, or became redundant. That joke was lame.

The worst days are when there’s nothing. As frustrating as being unable to get the point across can be, it’s miserable when there’s no point to get to at all. If you’ve ever experienced sleep paralysis, or had the misfortune to have a limb fully encased in a cast, you’ve got a general idea of what it feels like. It’s a rare occasion, but there are days when there are simply no thoughts to be thunk. It’s not like being in a fog or having the word at the tip of your tongue; it is a total inability to think creatively.

Remember that clean, empty room? Now imagine trying to push something heavy around, but there’s nothing to push. You can’t even pantomime it to get the satisfaction of tensing a muscle – it’s just air.

I hope this was illuminating for somebody out there, because right now I’m still stumbling through my hall of mirrors. I feel like I’m nearing the exit, but on days like today, it might just be another – bonk!

Thursday Thoughts – Old Games Made New Again

I’ve been on a retro game kick lately. Having dabbled in game design theory – we’re talking armchair hobbyist level here – it’s been driving me crazy with some of these titles. There are so many good ideas dragged down by unfair or unfun game mechanics that seem, from my position, obvious. Granted, many of the frustrations and short-comings come from the limitations of the technology of the times. And even in the early 90s, videogame development was in its infancy. We crawl before we walk, stumble before we run, and my generation grew up during some of the most inventive – if not most successfully designed – periods of game development.

On the other side of the coin, I look at my library (and regrettably large backlog) of modern games and feel less of a draw to them these days. I want a momentary distraction, not a major time investment. And that stems in part from the amount of time, money and manpower that goes into them. It’s staggering! And I’m just talking basic development, not the marketing or brand licensing. There’s considerably more thought put into modern game design, which is fantastic. But in a lot of ways, it also feels overburdened.

Games today cost so much to create, market and distribute they’re desperate to get your dollar. To woo you they add every bell and whistle, wave their shiniest screenshots at you, cater to the solo player, multiplayer and professional league player alike, and cram as much content as possible onto the disk – and then charge you for the DLC. It feels like a system that can’t sustain itself.

This feels especially true with the rise of mobile gaming with his far smaller production teams, budgets, and the appeal of the simpler gameplay. Instead of waiting for the latest software patch, assuming your console of choice’s network is running, passing the litany of developer logos, choosing your file and engaging in a game that wants to hold you for as much time as possible – you can click your app, hurl a bird at a pig’s house for ten minutes, and be done. Or you can sink days into them if time allows. (I’m looking at you, Tales of Link).

So where am I going with all this? I grew up in the glory days of the Console Wars, and I’m a sucker for a solid IP. Numerous franchises languish, begging to be reborn for a new age of gamers. And in an era when franchises are being pushed hard in television and movies, you’d think revitalizing these older IPs would be a no-brainer. But what if they fail? Giving them a AAA revival and modern retooling is a risky venture, especially when the console market is fighting tooth-and-nail with the casual mobile market. I think the answer lies in a simpler solution.

Let’s look at Sonic Mania, which has me ridiculously excited. It holds all the promise of the classic style of Sonic gaming, but with a level of polish greater than what the Genesis could provide. It doesn’t run on the Havok engine, it doesn’t have an unprecedented number of polygons or require the latest graphics card. It’s just the core gameplay that made the Sonic franchise stand out from among the other mascot platformers with extra polish – and that’s all you need.

Instead of reinventing the wheel, go with what you know and let a simple, solid game bolstered with the franchise name. Give us an Odin Sphere-styled Golden Axe. Dust off the God of War engine for Altered Beast. Give Mega Man to Yacht Club, the geniuses behind Shovel Knight. Hand Darkstalkers to Lab Zero, who gave us Skullgirls. Give us a straight port with updated sprite work and localization for the Phantasy Star quadrilogy! Pokemon-styled Chao Rancher! Ristar by Kirby’s Hal Labs!

In summation: I want to play with all my old toys again, and there’s comparatively cheaper and easier ways to breath new life into them than trying to “modernize” them. Go small, go focused, and once the quality foundation has been laid, go big.

And I’ll write the comic adaptation. Or the game script. Or, hell, slap a “producer” title on me and let me shout ideas all day long. I ain’t picky.