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Open Letter to Marvel: Diversity Itself Isn’t the Issue

It’s been recently reported that Marvel Comics’ David Gabriel stated Marvel had come to understand “that people didn’t want any more diversity.  They didn’t want female characters out there” as a reason for the recent sales slump. I think this is a narrow view and doesn’t look at the wider elements causing said slump. The House of Ideas needs to look a little deeper here at a myriad of issues contributing to this and what exactly it is about the ‘all new, all diverse’ Marvel that isn’t resonating with readers.

Price

Let’s face it, comics have gotten expensive. $2.99 is the good deal these days with many titles at $3.99 or even $4.99 for a standard length issue while special editions and double size issues can be $5.99. The price really racks up if you’re buying a large number of comics. Alterna Comics made the move this year to bring prices down by returning to newsprint (#bringbacknewsprint) for their books, which might not be a bad idea.

Comics used to be seen as disposable. It’s one of the things that makes issues like Amazing Fantasy 15 so valuable and it might prove beneficial for comics now. If you want the slick beautiful image, digital options are available from the publisher. If you’re a collector, newsprint books for $1.99 or $2.99 could be appealing, especially if you want to collect multiple titles every month and occasionally dabble in new titles. What’s more, if people see the lower quality paper as disposable, they might read and toss once more, making comics kept in mint condition a collector’s item once again.

Events

Being perfectly blunt, Marvel has gotten event crazy. Every year there’s a huge event that will “change everything” or “alter the course of the Marvel universe forever.” Whether it’s Secret War, Secret Invasion, Secret Wars, Avengers vs X-Men, X-Men vs Inhumans, Death of X, RessureXion, or the upcoming Secret Empire, there’s always some huge event involving seemingly every book. Readers are simply getting exhausted.

In the 1980s, there were a total of 11 crossovers events.
There were 27 in the 1990s.
Down to 20 in the 2000s.

And a total of 41 announced from 2010 to 2017. FORTY ONE crossovers with two years left in the decade. In the 80s and 90s, crossovers were also a bit more contained. You usually had a Spider-Man crossover that was contained to Spider-Man titles (3 in the 90s). X-Books had a contained crossover (3 in the 80s, 12 in the 90s, 6 in the 2000s). Over the years, though, it’s become more and more necessary to buy titles all across the publication line that a reader normally never picks up just to follow a single crossover event story, as well as a separate 8-or-so part mini-series.

I personally blame this guy for starting the all-titles crossover mega events.

To solve the event fatigue, just take them down to a smaller level like they used to be. Have a big “Marvel Universe” crossover event that impacts everyone once every 5 years or so to make them feel really special. Meanwhile, you can still do Spider-Man crossovers that cross all the Spider-titles and X-Men events that cross X-titles, and Avengers events that cross various Avenger member titles. Age of Apocalypse never touched Spider-Man or any Avengers or the Fantastic Four and it’s one of the most liked crossover events I can recall.

Politics

This may be a big issue, even bigger than the whole diversity angle, but a lot of readers are just tired of having writers’ politics not just presented, but crammed forcefully in their face and rammed down their throat. Sure, Marvel has always had a little politics in their comics. Steve Rogers punched ol’ Adolf before the US had entered into WW II and he dealt with a Nixon-esque character IN the White House during the Watergate scandal, but largely these on the nose political statements were the peak of a crescendo while their build up was often told with subtlety, nuance, and grace. Now writers push the real world into their stories more often than having readers think about hypothetical story scenarios applied to the real world.

Subtle. Real subtle. And totally what an Asgardian would be spouting, right?

What’s more, in the post-Internet age, we live more than ever in a world of grays rather than stark black and white. While we still like our heroes a bit more cut and dried in right and wrong with the occasional anti-hero walking the gray territory, we know the real world isn’t like this. I’ve seen people sharing panels of Red Skull and questioning why the villain is the one making sense when he says people aren’t evil for fearing space alien neighbors who first pledge their allegiance to an alien emperor with open distaste for inferior humans.

Instead of taking a stance of “liberal politics = hero, anything else = villain” writers could offer some heroes who lean left, some who lean right, some who are more central, and some who personally lean one way but acknowledge understanding of another view.

We’ve seen heroes oppose one another on political issues twice now in Civil War and Civil War II (three times if you count the film). The most positive thing our super heroes could possibly do right now is have opposing political beliefs, but still work together and still respect one another. You want your heroes to reflect what society should strive for? That’s about the most idealistic thing I can think of at this time, bringing people together to work towards a middle ground of common good despite their differences.

Also, maybe don’t have good guys say stuff like this to an actual Holocaust survivor, even if Magneto is a villain in his own right.

Diversity

Now to the topic David Gabriel touched upon, that readers don’t want diversity or women leads. Mr. Gabriel, I respectfully disagree. Readers don’t want hamfisted diversity pulled out of nowhere and forced upon them as a replacement for beloved figures. I personally feel that’s been Marvel’s biggest problem. These characters are quickly tossed in the mix as replacements for long standing characters without ceremony or transition. A few have made sense, but most simply don’t. The most frustrating aspect of this goes back before the big diversity push of the last few years and is probably a bit out of Marvel’s hands, but I’m still going to call it: The X-Men.

We’re not going to pull any punches here: While wanting to promote diversity, you’ve completely shot down the most diversity driven team in your entire roster. Over the last number of years you’ve completely gutted this team.

Jean Grey, Xavier, Cyclops, and Wolverine are all dead now. Probably four of your most popular X-Men killed in the last number of years. What’s worse, before killing off Cyclops, you completely murdered his character as he became more and more militant and resembled Magneto more than Xavier. Whoever thought this was a good idea needs a smack in the back of the head.

The X-Men were always about opposing ideologies (sound like a familiar current societal topic?), Xavier’s Martin Luther King opposed to Magneto’s Malcom X and accepting one another despite our differences (sound like another familiar current societal topic?).

By bringing Magneto to the X-Men in approval of Scott, you eliminated this element entirely and corrupted the X-Men a little in the process. What boggles my mind is how you took them down this path when a clear alternative was available in Havok. Always more brash and hot headed, the right sequence of events could have led Havok towards Magneto’s point of view while Cyclops remained in pursuit of Xavier’s dream (even if he was a little more realist about it. I liked “General Cyclops” vibe that placed him a bit more like Cable in approach, but carrying the weight of his decisions as Xavier would have). Having the brothers as the new flag bearers of Xavier and Magneto’s views would have allowed you to carry on the overall X-Men theme with a new dynamic of opposition in the opposing sides.

So with the X-Men essentially out of the way, the push for a diverse cast of characters moves to other titles. This in itself is fine, but again I feel some stark errors were made.

Diversity via Addition by Subtraction: Race/Gender (and a sexuality) Swapping
This seems to be a big issue for many readers. Instead of creating, introducing, and cultivating new characters, it seems to be more common to replace an existing character, typically an iconic and beloved one, with the new character so the hero name will sell the book rather than the character behind the mask.

Thor, except a woman:
Jane Foster becoming Thor is the most cited example and I still don’t understand that one at all. Nothing about it makes sense and to my knowledge it still haven’t been explained. Nick Fury shouldn’t be able to whisper Thor into unworthiness. What’s more, if Jane Foster picked up the hammer, it isn’t entirely clear why she would transform into Thor rather than just receive his powers. After all, Captain America, U.S. Agent, Iron Man, or Storm didn’t transform into Thor (though I think Storm got an Asgardian outfit from it) when they wielded Thor’s hammer. It also seemed to me that rather than gender swap Thor, you could have had the Unworthy Thor off on his quest while another Asgardian took on his position in the book. Valkyrie would be an obvious choice, but I’m more surprised Sif wasn’t brought up to the big time, especially after she was well received in the Thor films and on Agents of SHIELD on television. If Marvel wants new readers from the movie & TV popularity, having Sif headline the Thor book seemed like a no brainer.

Hulk, except he’s Asian:
Totally Awesome Hulk is race swap that seemed somewhat out of nowhere. Now, I understand that Amadeus Cho has been around for over a decade now, but the point still stands – why a race swapped Hulk to replace Bruce Banner? Why isn’t Amadeus Cho instead a Hulk-like character: able to transform, super strength like Hulk, but not big and green? You could have a character that fits all the traits of Hulk without being Hulk, perhaps even more monstrous than the green goliath. My first thought is something akin to Beast in Bill Willingham’s Fables.

Just ignore that this pic suggests he ignores leg day entirely

Iceman, except now he’s (always been) gay:
This one was a big one for a lot of people because, much like JaneThor, it didn’t jive with history and it was handled really poorly. Iceman has a history of relationships with women, they just aren’t stable and haven’t lasted long (then again, Marvel seems to hate long term relationships for all characters and destroy them anyway). He’s been in a love triangle or two, vying for a woman’s attention against another guy. Nothing but the exception of one single panel that some point to has ever indicated he’s gay (yet some claim it’s always been obvious).

I asked my friend for his opinion on this one, wanting a perspective on how it comes across for someone it would have more impact on and he was pretty adamant: “It’s total crap.” He agreed nothing has indicated Iceman is gay and there’s too much history to the contrary to pull a Jean Grey handwave saying it’s so and thus it’s now canon.

Instead he pointed to Northstar, a character who had much less relationship history, or character history in general, until they decided to do more with him and develop him as one of the first notable gay characters in the X-Men books. Northstar had become one of my friend’s favorite characters and he feels was handled in such an organic way that his development was outstanding. Where Iceman was outed by another character and just went with it, Northstar himself made the announcement and even had a storyline with a team mate being weary of him for his sexuality. Northstar’s story actually dealt with issues that real people face, albeit in a world of super heroes. It’s worth noting I don’t recall an uproar over Northstar’s coming out, nor his marriage in the comics.

Captain America, except now he’s black, after being old, after having a metal arm:
This one I’m a bit conflicted on personally, but some still aren’t crazy with it going as long as it has. On the one hand, it makes sense with Steve Rogers out of action that he’d pass the shield to his most trusted friend in Sam Wilson. On the other hand, once Steve Rogers is restored to super hero status, it seems like Sam would insist the shield go back to Steve. Of course, it’s even more complicated with having them both acting as Captain America at the same time. Sam’s only been wearing the name for two years while Bucky Barnes was Captain America for four before he could no longer carry the shield, so I’d actually put more criticism on bringing Steve back to Cap status too soon. He could have been a SHIELD director for longer, which would have tied in well with the next example…

Captain America, except he’s a Nazi Hydra Agent:
I’m not conflicted on this. Anyone who’s read comics for more than a year knew this was a fake out from the beginning, but it doesn’t make it any less infuriating. This is blatant pandering for shock sales and definitely upset a lot of people. Captain America means something, he stands for something. This is a pretty sticky one to step in, no matter the story you’re trying to tell. On its own, apart from all the other changes and shake ups, I don’t think this one would have been seen as a fake out and readers would have gone along to see how things panned out before Steve is returned to normal. But it was released at a time when it was just another straw on a straining camel’s back.

Riri Williams, however, may have been the straw that did that camel in. With all the various changes building a strain, it was announced a 15 year old black female MIT student would replace the out-of-action Tony Stark as the new Iron Man. There was the inevitable backlash and uproar, which was written off by many people as white nerds angry about a black female lead, but that’s taking a very dismissive and superficial view. These aren’t just white nerds, or angry men. It’s long time Marvel readers of all walks of life, all sexualities, all skin colors that are upset.

Falcon is now Captain America.
Captain America is now a Nazi.
Thor is now a woman.
Hulk is now an Asian kid and Banner is dead.
Hawkeye is now a woman.
Wolverine is now a woman.
Cyclops is dead (after he cheated on his wife, hooked up with his mistress, utilized child soldiers, took an aggressive stance against humans in defense of his declared nation, and became Magneto 2.0, if not worse than, oh and KILLED XAVIER).
Xavier is dead.
Jean Grey is still dead.
Spider-Man sacrificed the love of his life for selfish reasons to the devil himself.
Spider-Man is now also a woman in Silk.
Spider-Man is also now a woman in Spider-Gwen.
Spider-Man is ALSO now a mixed race kid.

On their own, none of these are that big a deal. Some are really well done, even. But character after character gets changed and you build up some ill will that this universe is simply no longer meant for people that loved these characters for the past 10, 20, or 30+ years. So, feeling it’s no longer written for them, they stop buying and you blame the sales slump on “readers don’t want diversity” and paint your customers as sexist, homophobic, misogynistic, etc.?

Marvel, it’s not that readers hate diversity or female characters, it’s just that they don’t like the entire Marvel Universe being completely replaced over the course of a couple of years. They just love the characters they’ve grown up with and don’t want to see them replaced. DC Fans didn’t embrace Dick Grayson as Batman, even though he’s the only heir worthy of the cowl and they KNEW it was temporary. But they still didn’t love it because Bruce Wayne IS Batman.

And Steve Rogers IS Captain America. Tony Stark IS Iron Man. Bruce Banner IS the Hulk. And Thor Odinson IS Thor. Others may step in to fill the role temporarily, but not as a permanent replacement, yet that no longer seems to be something readers can rely on. I thought Jean Grey would come back and the Peter / Mary Jane marriage, or at least relationship, would triumph over the devil Mephisto, yet here we are a decade later and nothing on either front.

Alright, Smart Guy, How Can Marvel Still Do Diversity Then?

First off, pace yourselves. Change doesn’t come overnight and cramming every race, gender, orientation into your books all at once causes massive upheavals and you get what you’re getting now. People get tired of all the changes for the sake of change and just walk away, resulting in sales drops. Decide on a few things to focus on, do those, and do them well.

For example: The Avengers can put Rogers and Wilson together as Cap and Falcon again, using both characters on the team. Keep Stark, but bring in T’Challa (remember when I said opposing ideologies/politics? Iron Man and Panther have enough in common that opposing ideals would make them an interesting pair to butt heads). Bring She-Hulk in as both the Avengers’ legal council and a team member rather than Banner. Keep Luke Cage and Jessica Jones on the team. And introduce a couple of new characters to join up (I would have said Ms. Marvel, but I think she’s getting her own team elsewhere soon).

Over in the X-Men, you could introduce a gay character, or a transgender character, and have them dealing with feeling as a bit of an outsider even among outsiders. I’m kind of surprised a mutant with shape shifting powers hasn’t been used to explore some themes of self identity and orientation themselves, taking real world concepts to the super hero level when their powers allow them to quite literally be fluid in who they seem to be.

And here’s a key: Don’t throw it in reader’s faces right off the bat. You don’t introduce yourself to someone at a party as “Hi, I’m Jeff. My sexual orientation is….” because it’s not THE defining feature of the individual. You start with your interests, your job, who you know in common, what movies or shows you like. Let the readers learn about these characters before you start stepping into the intimate areas of their personal lives. Let your characters breath first.

Second, introduce new characters as entirely new characters. You can base their core features on legacy characters, like I previously suggested with Cho’s Hulk being Hulk-like instead of a copy of the original. For example, Hulk and Thing are the same character – big, strong, brawlers. One’s green and the other’s a blue eyed teddy bear made of stone, but they’re the same super hero qualities in different physical forms. Utilize the key elements, but make the character new and unique.

Look at your diversity successes – Squirrel Girl, X-23, and Ms. Marvel Kamala are the primary “this is how you do it” examples, I think. Squirrel Girl was introduced in a quirky way, but really struck a chord and has grown in popularity over time. X-23 did the same with her original introduction, then her time with the X-Men (though how Jubilee was Wolverine’s sidekick for years yet you guys never did any father/daughter bonding with Logan & Laura over some ninja killing globetrotting is beyond me). Also, Laura was always cooler as X-23 than she has been as Wolverine’s replacement. Her upcoming new costume looks way better than wearing Logan’s.

X-23

Way cooler. Just enough Wolverine without fully copying Wolverine.

Miles Morales is a bit of a unique situation since he was a response to the Ultimate Universe becoming too carbon copy of 616, but despite some initial resistance, he built up his own foundation and gained his own personality, along with his own costume design, to gain acceptance and a huge fan following.

Moon Girl is also a good example. Yes, she’s a gender swap, but of a character that many readers have likely never heard of or followed if they had. There are plenty of lower tier characters you could revive with a new version and bring them up to A List status.

Ms. Marvel may be your most successful diversity character of all and look how she developed. She wasn’t just a replacement of Ms. Marvel with the same look and similar powers. She could have been given any name, really. That Danvers’ story had taken her on to a new role and left the “Ms. Marvel” name open was a great fit for a huge fan to take on the name (and let’s face it, it’s a very fan girl thing to do). But Kamala has her own look, her own powers, and her own basis. She doesn’t feel like a copy & replace design.

Third, once you’ve created these new characters, with their own superhero persona and their own costume and identity, give them just a mini-series to introduce them or add on stories in other titles. I know it’s risky publishing books that might not sell, but this is where we look back to digital and newsprint options being cheap ways to introduce new books. Who’s going to say a 99 cent first issue isn’t worth picking up, even on newsprint? If the mini-series does well, don’t jump the gun. Guest star them in another title or two or pick an existing team for them to join. Build up their popularity before they break out on their own.

Once these new characters are ready to spread their wings and fly (or swim, bound, teleport, swing, or whatever they do), let them actually do so. Don’t put another hero in New York or Los Angeles. If you want to start introducing new characters to increase diversity, let them spread out. A new character all alone against the street crime of Chicago. A superhero immigrant dealing with criminal schemes of drug or human traffickers in Miami. Put a team in Dallas, Seattle, or Atlanta. You’ve dabbled with these ideas briefly, but give a character or team the devotion the New York characters had in their early years this time.

Occasionally, a legacy character can come through town for a team up. Punisher would make sense to be moving around the country. Blade or Ghost Rider and a new character could go road tripping fighting supernatural enemies as they train them to fight more than just street thugs, but with the expectation they’ll break out on their own once they finish the hunt. I’ve heard Ben Reilly is being brought back as Scarlet Spider, so set him in a city well away from New York and let him mentor a young character if you wish. Just be sure these new characters have their own personalities and gimmicks.

And of course not every character is going to be a big hit. Some won’t resonate with readers, but that just gives you a cast of fodder to introduce on a team and potentially kill off to heighten the stakes of whatever threat they face.

Again, Riri Williams came along at the end of all these changes and may have simply taken the full brunt of reader frustration. Please, Marvel, listen when I say that readers did not show resistance to Riri because she’s a young woman, nor because she’s black. They resisted her because she was presented as Tony Stark’s replacement.

If you had a story that took Tony away from the U.S. on an international trip that lasted a good long time (or into space, or other dimensional), Riri could have been introduced as a “meanwhile, back home” situation. Same basic concept: reverse engineering Stark tech, starts using it as Ironheart, and fighting villains. As the Stark story away continues, you devote more time to Riri until the comic is almost 50/50 split between them. Riri becomes a new character expanding Tony’s book rather than replacing him.

Personally, I would have made Riri an anime fan and given her Iron Man reverse engineered suit a bit more of an anime mech suit vibe to further distinguish it. She looks like she’s simply wearing Tony’s Mark Hojillion armor rather than her own design.

Imagine if a fan of this got Stark’s design and did a merger of the two

Once Tony returns to the US, he could find out about this “new Iron Man” getting headlines and look to confront her over patent violations, copyright issues, and just what the heck she’s doing with his tech and what her intentions are. Once it’s sorted out, Tony goes on being Iron Man while Riri continues being Ironheart. Going back to politics, you could even have Riri not wanting to be under Tony’s wing due to difference of opinion on various matters.

Remember, Peter Parker didn’t take over Johnny Storm’s role. Ororo Munroe wasn’t introduced as the “new Marvel Girl!” X-Force debuted as the “New Mutants” but not the replacement to the X-Men and even the second generation of X-Men were a new team, not replacements of the old.  Storm, Bishop, Dazzler, Jubilee, Black Panther, Luke Cage, Psylocke (including a body swap), Falcon, She-Hulk, Forge, Blade (first Marvel character to get a modern movie was black btw), War Machine, M, Skin, Mondo, Synch, Cloak, and more are all minorities or women and readers didn’t hate them. There was no outcry over them. When they were introduced, though, none of them were brought in as replacements for popular characters, but as additions to existing rosters. Additions that brought diversity to those rosters.

Summary
To summarize this long winded ramble from a long time Marvel fan, diversity itself and female characters themselves are not why readers were driven away from the books. To get readers back, you need to address these simple challenges:

  1. Price point – Consider a return to newsprint to lower cost and potentially revive the collectability of comics.
  2. Politics – Tone it down instead of preaching to your readers. Acknowledge issues aren’t black and white and let your characters have varying degrees of opinions, but mostly address politics through metaphor with occasionally on the nose stories. Super heroes are escapism and too much real world politics shatter that outlet to forget about life for a while.
  3. Build diversity by adding new, well developed, characters without replacing others.
  4. Pull the big events back to one or two smaller ones for specific groups per year with the major events far apart and thus more anticipatory.

Growing Up Gaming – PS2 & GameCube

We now reach a milestone in my gaming experience as I entered a new phase of my life. The majority of my experiences with both GameCube and Playstation 2 is set at college where I had both consoles and continued to play EverQuest. I spent the first two years of college going to a 2 year (or junior or community) college and saved money by continuing to live with my parents. I don’t have any stark memories of these consoles during these 2 years as I still spent most of my time on the PC.

As I detailed previously, I was deeply into EverQuest, so a lot of my time was spent on that. I also played a fair bit of Diablo, but the bulk of my time was EverQuest with a little still spent on Star Wars Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II. My console time started up again the latter half of my college career when I went to a university. I lived in a technically on campus apartment complex with four small bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a living area with kitchen.

I was fortunate enough to share the apartment with three guys I knew from high school. One hooked up his Dreamcast in the living room and I provided the GameCube as these two were designed with four player hook ups. The Playstation 2 was in my bedroom. I remember two of the first games I got for PS2 were Dark Cloud and Ephemeral Fantasia. I didn’t get too far in Dark Cloud and although I really enjoyed Ephemeral Fantasia, I never finished it. I didn’t like the ticking clock mechanic for Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, but found it acceptable here for some reason.

The coolest part of Ephemeral Fantasia was, like Ocarina of Time, playing music. It was more challenging than the ocarina music and I seem to recall there was a free form option as well, but I may be wrong on that.

I had to use an online guide to get pointed in the right direction at times, but the game was fun. It is probably the one PS2 game I would most like to revisit and play through fully that I didn’t complete in the past. Even though it wasn’t reviewed terribly favorably, and is probably fairly average at best, I enjoyed it.

The next memorable game I’d note would be the first Spider-Man game based on the Sam Raimi film. The game itself was a decent game, and I played through it on normal, then on the harder difficulty and had a lot of fun… until a level chasing Green Goblin through the city. Oh the profanities that came from my room were of great entertainment to my roommates (one of whom equally entertained us with the same playing Dreamcast fighting games).

Spider-Man 2, however, was leaps and bounds above the first with the first open world New York City and actual web swinging physics. If there was no building for a web to theoretically attach to, you could shoot a web in the direction. Combined with button combinations to pull off acrobatics while web swinging, the game was fun to just swing around the city being the wall crawler. Speed was based on releasing your web at the right time, you dived off buildings rather than just jumped off, there was a lot of intricacies put into web swinging. Honestly, after they simplified web swinging in the next game, I don’t feel any have matched the feel of it since this one.

Of course I picked up Final Fantasy X, the first fully voice acted Final Fantasy game. I remember particularly liking the Sphere Grid leveling progression system and I never really felt the voice acting was terrible. Looking back, even Tidus’ horrid laugh doesn’t bother me too much. I feel in the context of the scene, it’s supposed to be cringeworthy and awkward. It’s a forced laugh, that’s the whole point of that scene. Nothing’s funny, nothing amusing has happened, he’s forcing a laugh for Yuna’s sake. But that’s just me, I suppose! To Zanarkand is also one of my favorite pieces of music from Final Fantasy as a series.

While people were getting their violence kicks in Grand Theft Auto games, I opted to be violent on The Punisher instead. Not the best game ever made, but still fairly solid and it had the over the top “execution” kills if you had an enemy at the right place when they were almost finished off.

Over on the GameCube, there are a few games I particularly enjoyed, but possibly not the first one would venture to guess. First and foremost is probably Hunter: The Reckoning. Based on the tabletop RPG by White Wolf, the video game was a four player isometric game akin to Diablo and with the four of us in the apartment, it was a lot of fun. We played through it a few times and I believe we beat it as a group on the hardest difficulty. An amusing memory was being surrounded by enemies everywhere and telling our friend playing the biker character to use the cleave ability to which he yelled back “What’s a cleave?!”

Similar to Hunter: The Reckoning, a one of the roommates and I played the GameCube Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance. Hours upon hours were sunk into that game, playing late into the night, much to our roomate’s chagrin. Put away the torhces and pitchforks, though, as the same friend and I also played Baldur’s Gate on PC (though we never finished it….we got so close to the end and never knew it).

Continuing the trend of these isometric RPGs, X-Men Legends and X-Men Legends II were a huge draw for the same friend that joined me on Baldur’s Gate. Playing as the X-Men and actually building a team that you could play off each other with combos was great. While Marvel: Ultimate Alliance came in the next generation, I’d love to see a new X-Men Legends game.

Similarly, there’s Champions of Norrath, a game set in EverQuest’s world of Norrath. While the game made absolutely no geographical sense for those who knew the world from the MMO, it was fun enough to play. With Daybreak Games shuttering EverQuest Next, I’d honestly love to see a new single player EverQuest game set in Norrath akin to the Champions titles or more like Dragon Age, The Witcher Series, Kingdoms of Amalur, or in an Elder Scrolls style.

I loyally continued with the Star Fox franchise as well, picking up both Star Fox Adventures and Star Fox Assault. Surprising enough, I think I actually enjoyed Adventures more. I would have liked Krystal to have been a more active partner in the story rather than trapped in a crystal (har har), but having enjoyed Ocarina of Time, I liked Legend of Star Fox: Adventures in Time well enough as the game basically blended Zelda concepts and put Fox McCloud in place as the protagonist.

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“YOU STOLE MY GAME, FOX!”

Knowing the history of the game, even setting it in Star Fox universe, I’ll agree I’d have preferred Krystal to be the protagonist, perhaps rescuing the Star Fox team after being forced to land on Dinosaur Planet after a battle or the like. Star Fox Assault, on the other hand, seemed like a less than superb attempt to recapture Star Fox 64’s polish, but the dog fights never felt as hectic as they did on N64. The graphics were certainly a nice step up from N64, though.

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As always, Slippy. As always.

I had been thrilled with Resident Evil 2 through Code Veronica, so when the original was remade on GameCube, I picked it up. I believe I may have played only part of Playstation’s version and after finishing GameCube, I went back to play it again fully. I also enjoyed Resident Evil 0. Does anyone ever wonder what happened to Billy after all these years? In the same vein as Resident Evil, Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem was a great game as well.

Another game I can’t recall which I played first, spanning both consoles, is Metal Gear Solid. I don’t recall if I played the original on Playstation or if I went back to play it after Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes on GameCube. Meanwhile, Playstation 2 had Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty and later Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, all of which I played as they released and thoroughly enjoyed. Well, maybe less so on Metal Gear Solid 2. Sorry, Raiden, but I’m not a fan of yours.

raiden_naked-article_image

I don’t remember all the details, but I was a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer prior to college, so I did pick up the game “Chaos Bleeds” on GameCube to play. Though I don’t remember much of the game, I remember I did like it overall both in story and gameplay. I seem to remember the combat wasn’t too bad.

Lastly for these consoles, I’d note The Lord of the Rings movie tie ins, The Two Towers and Return of the King, the latter of which improved greatly over the former. For some reason, I played Two Towers on PS2 and Return of the King on GameCube, but I don’t think there’s much difference between the two to really warrant suggesting one system over the other. A bit of a smaller scale Dynasty Warriors combat with RPG character progression, the games followed the general story and were fun to play.

A few honorable mentions would probably be Okami on PS2, Enter the Matrix on GameCube (I liked it at the time), Star Wars: Rogue Leader & Rebel Strike in the Rogue Squadron series on GameCube while Jedi Starfighter was on PS2, Onimusha series on PS2, True Crime: Street of LA on PS2, and Forgotten Realms: Demon Stone on PS2 (why Wizards of the Coast hasn’t done a full Drizzt or Elminster game is beyond me).

I played Smash Bros. Melee a little, but we overall preferred the original on N64 more than the GameCube version in the apartment. I never did play Twilight Princess, though I’ve since picked it up and hope to eventually, though I’ll likely play the HD version on Wii U.

Moving on from college, though made for Playstation 2 it was brought to PC, where I played it. That game would be Final Fantasy XI. I had stopped playing EverQuest by this point and a friend of mine was excited for the Final Fantasy MMO finally coming to America. Three of us signed up and started it, but I didn’t last nearly as long as others did.

The Vana’diel March is still one of the most memorable pieces for me.

There were a few problems from the start, such as randomized server placement making us delete and recreate characters until luck put us on the same server. The only other option was a ridiculously cost prohibitive friend invite pass to bring another player to your server. I want to say it was 100,000 if not 1 million gil, which might have been reasonable for the Japanese players who had a year of economy going, but American players were started on the same servers with no gil and an economy already rife with inflation.

I fell behind my friends as they played up to 12 hours a day for a couple weeks when they were between jobs and eventually found myself spending more time shouting “Looking for group” to find a party than actually playing the game. Thus ended my stint in Final Fantasy XI. Now that the PS2 servers are down and I presume the PC servers will follow one day, it would be nice to see Square Enix create a single player version to keep the game alive in some form for the future. Perhaps the mobile edition they’ve mentioned is their intent to do so in a different format.

The last game I played on PS2 was Final Fantasy XII. I enjoyed it to some extent, but wasn’t a fan of the MMO grind in a single player game, perhaps partially because of my distaste for grinding after Final Fantasy XI. Still, I had every intention of continuing to play the game through to completion, but when the Playstation 3 came out, I sold my PS2 when I got a first gen PS3. The problem was the PS3 wanted to pump Final Fantasy XII through in 1080p and the game looked more pixelated and messy than a Playstation 1 game. As such, I’m eagerly looking forward to another chance with this title with the forthcoming HD remake.

Final Fantasy: Star Wars on Ivalice

That’s all for my trip down memory lane with the Playstation 2 and GameCube. I’d estimate there are only three posts left in this series and the next one will bring us right back to the world of MMOs with the one that changed the landscape forever: World of Warcraft.

Growing Up Gaming – Nintendo 64

I don’t recall the details of buying the Nintendo N64 as vividly as the prior systems and certainly didn’t get as many games for it. After all, the only console I can think of with a smaller library is the ill conceived Virtual Boy. I didn’t even play Super Mario 64 on the system, but there were some games I certainly did enjoy.

I got my first real FPS experience on the system with Goldeneye 007, aside from a bit of prior experience with Wolfenstein 3D on a friend’s PC. Despite that bit of experience, Goldeneye was the first I really played through and enjoyed, both for the single player campaign and the multiplayer experience. My friends and I played the 4 player battles enough that we invented our own games, such as 3 on 1 battles of “capture the base” (where in one level, the “base” was the restroom). While I still like Goldeneye, and had fun with Perfect Dark as well, I never really got into the FPS genre as a result of playing it.

Another shooter on N64 I liked was Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire, and I still prefer 3rd person shooters over FPS. Although the game was probably fairly ranked as an average game, it wasn’t bad and it did offer a chance to play in the Star Wars galaxy. I particularly liked the Hoth level and the final level with the chance to do some space battles.

But if we want to talk about “Star Wars” + “Space Battles” then Star Wars Rogue Squadron was the game to get. The entire game was excellent, from its own Hoth battle to the more on rails levels. IF any series needs a current gen entry, even a VR entry, it’s Rogue Squadron. An entire game in an X-Wing sounds much more intriguing than just a bit of DLC in Star Wars Battlefront.

But for the N64, even Star Wars has to step aside when it comes to space battles as my favorite game on the system is Star Fox 64. Essentially a remake of the game on SNES, Star Fox 64 feels like it is the presentation of what the initial game was intended to be. With more complete shapes and graphics, superior music, and a bit of actual voice acting, the game was truly a masterpiece that has sadly not been matched since (unless you count Star Fox 64 3D for Nintendo 3DS).

Of all this era’s games, Star Fox 64’s graphics still hold comparatively well.

The only other big game I have strong nostalgia for is Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. The first game to let us explore Hyrule freely in 3D, but more importantly to let us do so on horseback! Truly, Epona was the real breakthrough for the Zelda series here. The other unique aspect I liked was utilizying four arrow buttons for the ocarina music. However, aside from these new additions, it was just an excellent game that brought everything great from the series to the still budding world of 3D graphics.

Seriously, even the opening & title screen said “It’s all about Epona.”

As is obvious by the shortness of the list, I didn’t play too many games for the N64 and while the small library is partially to blame, it’s really the diversity of Playstation’s line up that really reduced my gaming with Nintendo this generation. I did miss some good games, like Banjo Kazooie and Banjo Tooie, Conker’s Bad Fur Day, Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards, and a few others.

I will give an honorable mention to Mischief Makers, which was a pretty darn good side scroller I remember quite enjoying. I was particularly happy to add it back to my library a couple years ago.

That’s pretty much it for my N64 experience. Next up, I’ll take a step away from consoles and head over to the PC that dominated the next few years of my gaming with a little game a few people may have heard of called EverQuest.

Growing Up Gaming – Playstation

Like so many others, I started the shift to Playstation from Nintendo for one game in particular. Final Fantasy VII.

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Final Fantasy II and III (still talking US SNES here) made me a full Final Fantasy fanatic. When Squaresoft announced the next installment on Playstation, it was already no question I would get it, but then the commercials showed off some cut scenes and it was like the future had arrived. The cut scenes they showed were like nothing we’d had seen before. If you go back to look at them now, they still aren’t that bad, but certainly show their age.

Then there are the graphics of the actual game. They aren’t too bad in combat, and the backgrounds were definitely beautiful, but the polygonal block bodies of the characters are certainly rough. The game definitely had weaknesses, not helped by some poor localization translations due to a rather short deadline given to the localization team. It has since developed a divided opinion with some feeling it’s an overrated entry and others feeling it’s the best entry in the series.

Personally, I had leaned towards it being a great game that was still overrated, but have started leaning back towards it being pretty damn good. I’m not sure it’s the best entry in the series and I honestly don’t want to try to narrow down a de facto decision of which I think is the absolute best, but Final Fantasy VII, in my mind, definitely deserves its praise.I think Sephiroth is generally overrated and JENOVA is generally underrated in the game’s dual villain dichotomy. While I liked all of the cast, and I was stunned when Aeris (Aerith!) was killed, my favorite team was Cloud, Tifa, and Red XIII (Tifa being the best of waifus past, present, or future).

Hopefully the forthcoming remake collection will make the game what it truly should be, with improved localization and fleshed out segments that were clunky or unclear in the original release.

The summons got more details in their animations and more impressive, but there was one thing I particularly didn’t like about them – too many Bahamuts. I’m on board with Bahamut being among the strongest summons, if not THE strongest, but having Bahamut Zero, Neo-Bahamut, and Super Hyper Ultra Supreme Zeta Excelsior Turbo Arcade Capcom Bahamut got a bit much.

I finished Final Fantasy VIII on the system, but didn’t like the game nearly as much, especially the Draw system. The graphics were a clear improvement over the polygons of VII, but are still pretty rough to go back to today and the story and characters weren’t as memorable for me. I will give VIII credit on having a better ending than VII, though, since it actually had a conclusion for the main characters while VII basically gave us a Final Fantasy ending for Disney’s The Lion King.

I loved Final Fantasy IX much more than its predecessor and it ranks highly in my all time favorites in the series. With the return of characters being specific classes, the game seemed able to really set scenes to give each character their own story arc with personality and growth.It was alos a nice change to have the more cheerful world and cast after the darker, even angsty, atmosphere of the previous two games. Even Final Fantasy VI was a good bit darker, particularly the second half. While I said previously that I would be hard pressed to pinpoint my absolute favorite Final Fantasy, I do think IX is my favorite ending of them all, and definitely my favorite ending of the series on Playstation.

The other Final Fantasy game often overlooked on the system is Final Fantasy Tactics. I had not played tactical RPGs with the aforementioned exception of Shining Force II. I actually liked the earlier portion of Tactics as the story is more grounded in the war and political intrigue amidst the kingdoms before it gets into demons and monsters and nefarious looming evils.

Though I loved Final Fantasy VII, another RPG I have fond memories of came out alongside it on the Playstation – Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete. Where Square Enix was breaking new ground with CG cut scenes gaming hadn’t seen the equal to before, Lunar (originally on Sega CD) had beautifully animated anime cut scenes and vocal songs that kicked off right from the intro. It is a fantastic game a lot of voice acting (and includes a collection of outtakes and bloopers at the end, which get rather amusing).

 

There are so many RPGs on Playstation and so many I never played as a result. A few others I particularly enjoyed were Star Ocean: The Second Story, Wild Arms, Breath of Fire III, and Tales of Destiny. Chrono Cross was a good RPG, but came off feeling a little disappointing for me as a follow up to Chrono Trigger. Likewise, I enjoyed Lunar 2: Eternal Blue Complete, but not as much as Silver Star Story.

Moving away from RPGs, Playstation pulled me far into a new genre: Survival Horror. I had been exposed to the genre with Alone in the Dark on PC, but didn’t get too far in that one. Now Resident Evil 2 truly dragged me into it. I learned to dread the “click click click” of Lickers and became paranoid of a sudden burst of glass with dogs or ravens coming for me. I really knew to be worried if I found a room with a ribbon, ammo, and herbs with a typewriter. This led me to go back to play the first one and I then continued with each main entry since.

Playstation also had Spider-Man, which was the first really good Spider-Man game (also available on N64) that let you climb the walls and ceilings as well as web swing on top of good combat. It was followed by the equally good Spider-Man: Enter Electro. While the games may not seem as good today, especially without an open world, they were absolutely great at their time. These games began the tradition of having unlockable costumes that I really hope continues on the new Playstation 4 game.

The last game to have the a long lasting impact on me from the Playstation is Metal Gear Solid. I most remember the trippy 4th wall break with Psycho Mantis being such a surprise. The solution was quite clever as well, though it drove me nuts figuring out the call frequency that’s given to you on the back of the case. The Metal Gear Solid theme is one of my favorite video game music pieces.

This line up is far from complete, though. I played Crash Bandicoot and was introduced to Spyro the Dragon on the system. Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver was a lot of fun as well. And yet despite all the good memories on Playstation, I still barely scratched the surface of what was available. As with every console I collect for, hopefully I’ll be able to get back to more of them some day.

That’s it for this entry. Next up, I’ll briefly discuss my time with the overshadowed Nintendo 64.

 

Thoughts on Nintendo Switch

nintendo_switch_dock_and_handheld

Nintendo unveiled their new console, the Nintendo Switch, this week and the Internet has all sorts of reaction, as expected. Some are proclaiming the death of Nintendo (again). Unfortunately, investors are not convinced with the console either as stocks dropped after the system’s reveal event. Many are voicing worry that it will be a repeat of the Wii U’s underperformance and, to some extent, I am too.

A lot were thinking $250 was the smart, and likely, price point for the Switch. Instead, $300 gets the Switch console unit with dock, AC adapter, the Joy Con controllers and charging grip. However, once you add a game for $60 you’re looking at $360 to get started and $430 if you want to add a Pro Controller. What’s more, it’s a weaker system than Playstation 4 or XBox One. This could have still been appealing if it was released head to head with PS4 or XB1 at launch, but with those consoles currently priced around $250 with a game included, it’s a lot to justify. When the competition has a more powerful, current gen system, having one of the cheapest release prices in console history (when adjusted for inflation) doesn’t mean much.

On top of that, the accessories seem extremely steep. $70 for the Pro controller, $80 for extra Joy Con controllers, $30 for the charging grip, $90 for an extra charging dock set (if you want a second TV set up with one). If there’s a reason for the Pro Controller costing $20 more than the Wii U Pro controller (and a Dualshock 4), such as motion control or the advanced haptic rumble feedback like the Joy Cons, Nintendo needs to make it clear to make it seem like the value is worth the price.

Many are also marking a lack of games as a strike against it. 1-2 Switch seems like it should be the Wii Sports equivalent, packed in with the system, but it is a launch day game. Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Just Dance 2017, Skylanders: Imaginators, and Super Bomberman R are all launch day titles. It does strike me as odd that Nintendo didn’t make more of a showing of Bomberman R, though I’ve seen complaints that it has micro-transactions tied up in it.

Within the release month, Has-Been-Heroes, Snipperclips: Cut It Out Together, and I Am Setsuna are also releasing for the Switch. While I Am Setsuna is available on other systems, I’d be interested if Nintendo and Square Enix offered a physical release here. Still, that’s 8 games available in the first month where Playstation 4 had 26 and XBox One had 21 launch day titles.

There was a Wii vibe from some of the titles presentations, but I’ll admit with the high prices, the game line up, and the presentation, there is a Wii U performance vibe here.

switch-dog

The fact that Nintendo didn’t come up with this themselves is also disappointing.

However, with the information provided, I heard some real excitement at work the next day from fathers who loved the idea of the games for family nights and the ability to go from TV to handheld. The battery life didn’t remotely phase them as they expected portable charger options to be available. If that spreads, the Switch could actually be more of a Wii, adopted by families and less of the “core gamer” crowd, than a Wii U.

But here is my opinion on what Nintendo needs to do to get some interest in Switch, as equally irrelevant as everyone else’s opinion!

Indie Games – Court them!
I thought this about the Wii U and I feel the same about the Switch. Since the console is less powerful than the other two on the market, Nintendo should make a strong effort to court the indie games that don’t need as much power. If Nintendo made themselves into the key console for indie devs, they could build a library that’s unique to them. Seriously, Nintendo should have secured a Wii U console exclusive of Undertale.

And even if it’s not a Switch exclusive, Nintendo could stand out by putting in the extra effort to of releasing those indie games in a physical release that are otherwise digital only. This may seem like a minor differentiating factor, but Limited Run Games has been showing there is a demand for physical releases of indie games.

Imagine if Nintendo had picked up Mighty No. 9 rather than it being a Kickstarter project. If the project had been developed with Nintendo involved, their quality requirements having to be met, would we have gotten a better product? After all, since Mega Man was a staple on the NES and SNES, I felt Nintendo should have been involved in getting Mighty No. 9 up to snuff and securing it as an exclusive.

Or how about another NES staple with Castlevania? Would it increase interest in the Switch if Nintendo had picked up Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night as an exclusive rather than that being a Kickstarter project?

In the same vein as indie developers, Nintendo needs to re-evaluate their handling of fan projects. While I understand the legal necessity to protect their IPs, they could take a look at these projects they’ve shut down and work out a deal with the creators to complete the project for Nintendo. Moreso, they could start a program allowing fan’s to submit passion projects to Nintendo for approval and release. If Nintendo could bring these creators on board and officially release the fan made Mario 64 HD  or the recent fan remake of Metroid 2: The Return of Samus, it could offer relatively cheap exclusives for Nintendo.

There has to be some middle ground for fan projects to meet with Nintendo. Just look at Sonic Mania, a passion project including team members who were working on a fan project high-definition remake of Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Having a program that encourages fans to submit their examples of levels or game work might find Nintendo new talent to bring on board.

Nostalgia & 3rd Party
One of the criticisms leveled at the Wii U is now being leveled at the Switch: lack of third party support. Some of the multi-platform games announced for the Switch are reportedly ports of last gen versions of the games due to the weaker power of the Switch. If the Switch doesn’t have the power to handle current gen games, they need to establish a unique niche that becomes a “must have” apart from what PS4 and XB1 offers.

The greatest strength Nintendo has is nostalgia, as recently demonstrated by the high demand for the NES Classic. They should capitalize on this with their new console as well. Not only do they have the nostalgia in their favor, but retro games are definitely in favor right now.

Rather than highlighting a lack of power, Nintendo could pursue third party developers to make exclusives, even if timed, that are lower cost and retro inspired. A perfect example is the XBox One’s upcoming Cuphead. Pursuing developers for these types of games while reaching back into their past library for inspiration could give them a good line up of new games. And if these games are cheaper to develop, a lower price tag on them could increase appeal. If Nintendo’s system costs as much or more than the competition, but the games were, on average $10 to $20 cheaper at retail, that could balance out the cost perception a bit.

Here are some Nintendo heyday series Nintendo could pursue convincing developers to bring back:

Adventure Island – Last seen as WiiWare, converting the original game to a 3D approach, Konami could come back to this series either as a classic style side scroller or keeping the 3D approach.

Adventures of Lolo – Another series that’s been forgotten, HAL Laboratory made Kirby and the Rainbow Curse on Wii U, so they still have a relationship with Nintendo. Lolo was a maze puzzler that would fit pretty well with Nintendo’s modern offerings.

Ghosts n’ Goblins – Though the original 8-bit and arcade versions have been re-released, a complete remake would be a solid exclusive. Staying true to the original difficulty, this could be Nintendo’s side scrolling “Dark Souls” of difficulty.

Ikari Warriors – SNK hasn’t done anything with this series since the NES. They were originally 2 player, but adding more enemies and really making the game chaotic could lend itself well to the Switch supporting 4 players, either on 4 Switch units for local co-op, or 4-way split screen could be loads of fun.

Capcom – Yes, we could long for Capcom to make another classic Mega Man that outshines Mighty No. 9, but no. Well, okay, if Nintendo could convince Capcom to make them an exclusive by the name of Mega Man Legends 3, that would get some attention for sure. But no, my thought was more towards a few remasters. Following the success of DuckTales Remastered, let’s get Rescue Rangers, Darkwing Duck, and TailSpin Remasters out.

TMNT – It’s been a while since the turtles had a good game and Mutants in Manhattan didn’t hit a home run. Either as a 3D approach or a classic side scrolling beat ’em up, Nintendo’s family gaming image might be a good fit to partner up with Nickelodeon for an approach at the four brothers.

Sparkster – Another longshot since it’s stuck in the depths of Konami, but perhaps Nintendo could pry it from their cold hearted fingers. I loved Rocket Knight Adventures and Sparkster and I don’t know why they never took off (pun intended). I’d love to see Sparkster brought back as a modern side scroller or as Nintendo’s contemporary to Ratchet & Clank.

Earthworm Jim 3 – Another title that hasn’t seen much attention other than a 2009 remake, Nintendo could do worse than to clench a new Earthworm Jim as an exclusive.

Samurai Jack – Ol’ Jack is on his way back to Toonami on Cartoon Network. Another potential partner for Nintendo to pursue, if they could land a deal to publish games based on this IP, it would be a decent win. With the new show said to be darker, it could offer a less “for kids” game for the Switch.

??? – This one will be a little difficult as it has the problem of no current developer or publisher, but Nintendo could go a long way if they could get a partnership deal with Disney now that Disney Interactive is defunct. Remember Aladdin and The Lion King on SNES? Smooth animation, tight controls, great music. Yet where was the game for Zootopia or Moana last year?

Staying in Disney’s court, where are the Marvel games? There hasn’t been anything in the MCU area since Captain America: Super Soldier from Sega. Aside from Lego Marvel Super Heroes, anyway. Where is X-Men Legends 3 or Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3? While these likely wouldn’t be Switch exclusives, having them on the system, if it was made, would be great fits for the multi-player that Switch promotes.

Mother Collection – Simply stated, if Nintendo would make a Mother Collection release for the Nintendo Switch, it would swell. At least to its fan base. If they’re that worried about it, they could do a limited first print run to gauge interest in the US with a 2nd print planned if the demand was there.

Nintendo’s Missing IPs
Nintendo has Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild at launch and Mario Odyssey slated for holiday 2017, but there are still a number of Nintendo IPs that need games lined up for Nintendo Switch.

Kirby – Almost a guarantee a Kirby game will release on Switch at some point.
Donkey Kong – Donkey Kong Country is on SNES, N64, Wii, & Wii U. It’ll happen.
Pokemon – With Switch’s portability, I’m sure it will get a Pokemon game. They may not want to step on Sun & Moon’s foot on 3DS just yet.

Metroid – I can’t really imagine Nintendo isn’t finally planning a new game in this series, likely in the Metroid Prime series. I have to think Nintendo will want to do one with the Joy Con controllers. If they are planning one, it would be wise to announce sooner rather than later.

Kid Icarus – Similar to Metroid, I think it might be interesting to see what the Joy Con controllers can do to emulate archery with the haptic rumble feedback. When was the last time Pit had a console game, after all?

F-Zero – Mario Kart has taken all the attention as Nintendo’s racer, but I’d like to see F-Zero come back on Switch.

Star Fox – Star Fox fans are still eager for a good Star Fox game whereas Star Fox Zero was really a Star Fox game built from testing the Wii U capabilities. Fake leaks suggested Star Fox 64 HD remake and that might actually be all Nintendo has to offer to satisfy fans. Personally, I’d like to see Star Fox move forward with a new story after Command. Pick an ending to make canon and go foward. I’d also like to see a little more depth brought to the story. Have Fox, Falco, Slippy, and Krystal piloting with Peppy as tactical advisor. Play up the mercenary basis and have them framed as traitors having to prove their innocence & bring down a new threat. Bring in supporting cast characters and implement cut scenes to actually make a story. Honestly, I’d even be okay with Star Fox Adventures coming back if that series went more towards Ratchet & Clank meets Zelda with more of a Star Wars style story. Or go 3rd person shooter mixed with flying levels like N64’s Star Wars: Shadow of the Empire.

Bravely Switch – Since Square Enix is developing for the Switch, I’d love to see I Am Setsuna get a physical release on the system and Bravely Third developed for it instead of 3DS. For that matter, Square Enix could bring Breath of Fire back to console.

The Big Deal – Super Mario RPG or…

Paper Mario has taken the place of Super Mario RPG, but I’d love to see Square Enix do another true Super Mario RPG sequel to Secret of the Seven Stars.

But going a step beyond that, I’d like to see Nintendo and Square Enix do a spiritual sequel: Super Smash Bros. RPG. Taking the page from Kingdom Hearts and mixing Smash Bros. cast with Final Fantasy characters for an RPG. If they come up with a good story, having these casts interacting could be fun. And they could negotiate to give us an entire line of Final Fantasy amiibos. Even splitting profits on those, I think the volume might make up for it.

The Nintendo Switch is never going to compete with the Playstation 4 nor XBox One and Nintendo shouldn’t try to. Their best bet is to establish themselves with a solid line up of games that make themselves unique and worth having. First party games alone aren’t going to be enough, as the Wii U showed. They need to get third party developers offering games as well, but not just ports that aren’t on par with the competition. If they can carve out some unique offerings, though, the Switch could still be an appealing console and with a price drop to $250, it could become an easy choice. Most gamers today are willing to drop the money for two consoles if both are offering enough unique experiences the other isn’t.

And also…cut the artificial scarcity nonsense. People want your product. Get into as many homes as you can before they get frustrated and decide to just pick up your cheaper competition.

What do you think Nintendo could do to make Switch a must have console apart and separate from the competition?

 

 

Never Alone

A tale of a girl and a fox

I’ve been meaning to play Never Alone for a while now. I had it saved on Steam, and I’m not a Steam user, nor am I a PC Gamer, to be honest. It interested me, though, to have a game that’s intended to present a story of a native Iñupiaq people and bring a little bit of their culture to a larger world. With it being on sale, I picked it up on PS4 this past weekend. My regret is that I didn’t play it sooner.

There has been a lot of discussion over the past year about diversity in video games. In my opinion, games like Never Alone are an example of how games can grow and expand into new areas to share experiences with people across cultures. I’d describe the game as a fairly simple platform puzzle game that focuses more on sharing with the player than challenging them. It was a short, enjoyable game, that can be played alone by swapping between the arctic fox and the girl or co-op with each player controlling one or the other.

Graphics
I really enjoyed the gameplay graphics. There was a nice blend of slick modern capability with stylization of some characters such as the Owlman or the Manslayer while Nuna and her arctic fox have an almost Pixar quality to them.

While often simple, the backgrounds are quite smooth and a pleasure to look at. Unless you’re being chased by a polar bear.

Upper One Games did a good job with the view of the screen as well. There’s a slight blur around the edges and corners at times, setting a mood of looking through the blizzard that Nuna and the fox are braving in their adventure.

Between levels, the story is told using cut scenes employing an artistic style drawn from traditional scrimshaw. Some won’t care for this, but I particularly liked it.

Controls
The controls can be a bit frustrating, particularly with the bola, but otherwise I didn’t have much trouble with the game. Jumping was responsive and I only found myself moving wrong when I got impatient. Honestly, impatience is your biggest enemy in this game. There are only certain times that urgency is needed and something is chasing you. Most of my deaths were caused by me trying to rush and not waiting to observe the patterns of spirits or the movements of ice. Much like the lessons taught to children in Alaska, ignoring the natural world around you can have dire consequences. Slow down, observe, and then act appropriately and you will avoid a lot of frustrations during your adventure through a blizzard in Alaska.

Music
I can’t say too much about the soundtrack for Never Alone. It was pleasant enough, but not memorable or striking to me. I would have enjoyed if Upper One Games had incorporated more traditional music into it and explored that more. There is a video on the importance of the drum in the culture, but not too much.

I will note, though, that I found the yaps and grumbles of the fox quite adorable.

Difficulty
The game isn’t hard, really. If you die, you start pretty much right where you went wrong and can try again infinitely until you finish. There aren’t many enemies and you only have to defeat one while the others are about finding ways out of the predicament you find yourself in. The game isn’t long either, taking only about 3 hours to complete with all extra items found, which open videos about the Iñupiaq.

Conclusion
The lack of challenge isn’t a detriment in this case; not for me, at least. Never Alone is more about telling a story and giving you insight into the culture and history of an entire people. In that respect, it’s a fine game. I enjoyed the puzzles, particularly where you had to scramble up walls and leap off of them as the fox in order to open a path for the girl, Nuna. However, I found myself enjoying the story quite a bit and any gameplay was largely driven by an interest to hear the entire tale.

There is even a moment where something happens that sort of made my heart sink. When a simple 3-hour game with a little narrative and no real dialog from the protagonist can have an emotional effect, even if only a slight one, I would say that’s a success. Then again, I may also be a big softie at this point.

Narrated in the Iñupiaq language with English subtitles, there was a certain feel of authenticity (it should, they worked with members of the Iñupiaq, one of whom narrates) and interweaving the videos into the game added some depth to it. Hearing actual stories from native Alaskans about their grandfather’s pet arctic fox or a brother’s pet polar bear were really interesting. I recommend watching the videos as you find them during the playthrough rather than waiting until you’re done.

Never Alone, or, Kisima Inŋitchuŋa (“I am not alone”), is a video game telling a story in an interactive method of traditional Iñupiaq storytelling. As players learn, these stories were often told to teach lessons to children about the world and about their people’s history and culture. Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned from Never Alone as well. Video games can help us view other cultures and their stories as well, and even better understand their history. If one is to play the game and take their time, one may also learn a lesson of patience and enjoying some simplicity, even in a video game amidst our current level of graphics and AAA titles.

I look forward to more games similar to Never Alone from Upper One Games and if they were able to make an ongoing career from short games like this that let us look at other cultures and stories from around the world, I think I’d be willing to play every one of them.

If you have the chance and can get this at a price that seems reasonable, I do recommend giving it a try.

Then again, considering the name of the site, I may also have a soft spot for games featuring foxes.

I want one.

Saturday Anime Review – Log Horizon & More

Alright, so it’s a day late, but I’m still keeping the title of Saturday Anime Review 😛

LOG HORIZON – THE OUTLAW AND MITHRIL EYES

The pain of waiting on Log Horizon to resume has subsided (now it’s just the week long wait between episodes) and so it’s a little easier to be objective instead of just plain giddy that the episode is simply on.  I’ve watched the first episode again to make sure I didn’t miss anything and I have to say there are a few weaknesses in there.  It feels like things move along a bit quickly, just throwing out mentions and expecting the audience to just go with it.  From my understanding the season isn’t quite following the light novels in terms of tone (the light novels having more mystery vibe that’s already somewhat given away in the first season).  That said, I suspect there may be some aspects that aren’t delved into to get things moving along.

What’s more jarring is the differences from season 1 and 2 with the change in the animation company.  Marielle and Demikas in particular look rather different from the previous season with the way their hair is drawn.  With lines missing to detail the strands of hair, it looks more like there’s a bit of a dread lock feel to them. Kanami’s new design is even more jarring.  I’m caught up on the background: how Kanami moved from Japan to Europe, contributing to the Tea Party’s dissolving, and created a new character on the European server (and her side story is apparently going to be presented this season as she’s making her way back to Japan from what I understand).  So it makes sense for her character to look different and I dig the Tifa vibe; heck, the comic I’m working on features a busty monk gal of my own, but the animators just went a bit overboard with her size to the point it looks awkwardly drawn.  And that’s saying something when anime fans disagree with an increase in bust size.  Hopefully the little we’ve seen of her isn’t just the first pass and she’ll be more reasonable as she’s featured.

There’s also a few scenes where the animation just seems less detailed somehow.  There are others where it looks fantastic and on par with season 1, but overall I’m not entirely sure I like the new studio.

We get introduced to a new character as well – Tetra, who doesn’t look like she belongs in Elder Tales with the outfit designs from season one.  The magical girl genre injected into the fantasy genre is rather out of place and her outfit doesn’t seem like what you’d see based on our experience so far.  But, if adventurers can wear pretty much a black tutu and a top hat in Eorzea, I can’t really complain about the diversity in outfits in Elder Tale!  At first I didn’t like her much, or at all, but the way she rode Naotsugu’s shoulder when she was tired and randomly popped up from inside his armor just to pop away again was pretty funny!  I’m hoping the two become something of a comic duo with Tetra being a pest that aggravates Naotsugu.

Speaking of Naotsugu, I really liked seeing the developments with Marielle.  I rather liked how Naotsugu had scenes showing small signs of affection towards her in the first season rather than being blatant. The “open pervert” being afraid of her forwardness when they first meet, then later bringing her food, and when she’s exhausted just sitting nearby and waving the fan for her was a nice development.  In the time since the first season, that’s apparently grown more as the two are talking via telepathy on a daily basis while Naotsugu is on his secret mission with Shiroe.

As for the main story, it’s still true Log Horizon style with slow development. We’re building towards a full scale raid, which we saw a glimpse of in the first episode.  We’ve also had a final scene suggesting Shiroe dies at some point, experiencing his first death (as does Akaktsuki apparently).  I’m expecting this is going to be a fairly big deal based on what William Massachusetts told Shiroe.  When you die, you experience the weight of your failure and after experiencing that repeatedly, a lot of players couldn’t face it anymore. Combine that with the loss of memories of the real world, and death may have more weight than they’ve believed.

Either way, since Shiroe and Akaktsuki apparently die and meet prior to their respawn at the Cathedral (some assumptions there) on Christmas Eve, I expect we’ll see this raid story arc resolved by end of this year, about 14 episodes into the season.  Kanami’s story will be mixed in there some, I think, so we’ll see what the second half of the season holds!

SWORD ART ONLINE – DEBRIEF

If you’ve been keeping up with Sword Art Online II but didn’t catch episode 14.5 yet…don’t bother. It’s completely a recap episode. I got irritated and fast forwarded towards the end to see if at least something was added on the end, but nnnnope.

That’s two disappointments with SAO this season.  The last episode was somewhat annoying pulling the threat of sexual assault at the end, which felt awkward and out of place.  I really felt like the episode should have culminated in a heavier focus on Kyoji wanting to kill Shino and respawn with her in “the next world” to be together.  It would have been a much better emphasis on his psychosis and break with reality.  It would have been moreso if they Kyoji had more clearly a member of Laughing Skull himself and, after the SAO incident, desired to live in a world like that again with the real world being boring after the excitement of a life of adventure and combat.

Ah well, we’ll see how things go from here.

WELCOME TO THE NHK

This is one I’ve heard about repeatedly as being a top notch anime worth watching and I just have never gotten around to watching it.  It’s been in my queue for a long time, but I finally got to starting it.

Based on the description and the little I’d heard, the first eight episodes are not at all what I expected.  Conspiracies aren’t a factor (yet) at all.  I’ll do a full review of the series when I finish it, but I have to ask….how does one become a NEET?  Anytime they’re brought up in anime, the focus is that they don’t have a job, and aren’t in school or training, yet they seem to still be able to pay rent and splurge on manga, trips, video games, or whatever they want.  No work, but still able to spend at will?  Yes, please.