Monthly Archives: June 2017

More Information About Nintendo Switch Games

Yesterday I discussed some of the finer points of Nintendo’s upcoming console-handheld hybrid, the Nintendo Switch. Today let’s look at the games that I was able to play at last Friday’s press event in New York. I wasn’t able to fit all of them into that busy morning last week, but I did spend solid time playing through nine games that will be out for the system either at launch or shortly thereafter. (Sadly, Super Mario Odyssey was not playable in any capacity.) It’s crucial to actually play some of these games to fully understand them, as words struggle to do justice for 1, 2 Switch or ARMS. For others, you’ll already have some idea of what to expect if you’ve played the older games they’re based on or spun out from. And if you’re looking for something that’s a true surprise, something that wasn’t publicly known about before last week and that isn’t a direct sequel, remake or revival, you’ll have to make it all the way to the bottom to find out what my favorite game of the day was.

 

9. Ultra Street Fighter II: The Final Challengers

The latest version of this 26-year-old game adds two new characters, Evil Ryu and Violent Ken (because a professional punch-and-kick man wasn’t already violent enough), and the ability to team up against the computer. You can also alternate between pixels right out of 1991 or smoother and more cartoonish HD graphics. Otherwise this doesn’t really change much about the original, or at least the 1993 update Super Street Fighter II: The New Challengers, whose expanded roster is shared by this Switch game. I played this on the Pro controller, which felt as fine as playing any Street Fighter on a non-fight stick feels, and could see the relative flimsiness of the Joy-Con Grip becoming a hassle with a game that practically requires manic mashing and squeezing to excel at. There’s never anything wrong with rereleasing or updating Street Fighter II as a nostalgic benchwarmer that adds depth to a software library, but it’s also not the kind of game that would convince anybody to buy an entire new system in the year 2017.

 

8. Puyo Puyo Tetris

It’s two puzzle games in one with Puyo Puyo Tetris, which combines Sega’s cult match-four with, well, maybe the most beloved videogame ever made. Available in Japan since 2014, this hybrid lets you play either game alone, competitively or cooperatively, with various modes that will keep you all tense and wound up as the best puzzle games tend to do. I played two head-to-head modes last week, one where I played Tetris and my opponent played Puyo Puyo, with our more elaborate matches dumping garbage onto each other’s playfields and generally just complicating everything. Later on I took on a fellow member of the press in a mode where my game would flip between Tetris and Puyo Puyo every thirty seconds or so. Keeping the two straight was a challenge at first, as they don’t have the same goals despite their visual similarities; if you haven’t played Puyo Puyo, or aren’t familiar with the term “match-four,” imagine a game like Dr. Mario but where you have to connect four units of the same color instead of three. Switching between that way of thinking and the thought process required to succeed at Tetris took some acclimation time. It’s like doing a crossword and every so often your friend will swap it out with a sudoku puzzle.

 

7. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe

I have never cared much about Mario Kart, which is why my quickly-flowering love for Mario Kart 8 shocked me back in 2014. It’s been a couple of years since I last played the Wii U version, but the two rounds I played of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on the Switch last week immediately reawakened that dormant fixation. (Indeed, I spent an hour playing the original on the Wii U before going to bed last night.) The mode I played on a Switch tablet is one that wasn’t on the Wii U version, one that harkens back to the earlier days of the automotive sensation: it was a true Battle Mode, with karts sprinting around an arena and trying to blast balloons off of each other without having to worry about also winning a race. Battle Mode remains a classic, and Deluxe fully captures the speed and thrills of the older games. Deluxe will include the DLC from the original game, new power-ups, and five additional drivers, including the inklings from Splatoon. It’s far from another new Mario Kart, but for anybody who skipped the Wii U or Mario Kart 8’s original release, the Switch version is certainly worth trying out.

 

6. Super Bomberman R

One of the bigger surprises of the entire Switch press event was the fact that Konami had a new game on hand. The long-running Japanese game designer has largely focused on mobile games, pachinko and other forms of amusement of late, but will be releasing a new version of Hudson’s venerable Bomberman series as a launch title for the Switch. As an old Bomberman acolyte who still occasionally plays it on the TurboGrafx-16, new renditions of this old favorite will always be welcomed by me. Super Bomberman R nails the classic look and feel of Bomberman, but updated with lush details and 3D characters within its two-dimensional grids. I only played the story mode, which promises 50 stages of varying goals, and which ramps up in difficulty rather quickly, but the game will also support two-player co-op and a competitive mode with up to eight players. If I ever actually find seven other people who both love Bomberman and plan on buying a Switch, those eight-player match-ups would be hard to deny.

 

5. ARMS

I don’t think anybody expected motion controls to make up such a significant part of Nintendo’s presentation, but after playing a few rounds of ARMS, I can see why Nintendo is doubling down on the Wii’s defining feature. There’s more here than an enhanced Wii Boxing rehash. With multiple characters with various skills, and a variety of gloves and other fist-based weapons to choose from, there’s a level of customization that can impact your pugilistic approach. With a colorful visual flair and a design aesthetic that’s straight-forward but not necessarily simple, ARMS reminded me a bit of Splatoon, another game that was greeted with tepid and quizzical reactions, and one that went on to become a legitimate breakout hit for Nintendo. I can’t say the same will happen with ARMS, not after only playing it for ten or so minutes, but if the full game reasonably expounds on the good impression it made in that short time, it could certainly be a success.

 

4. 1, 2 Switch

There’s a huge disconnect between seeing something and playing something, and I can’t think of a videogame more prone to disappearing in that gap than 1, 2 Switch. If you haven’t gotten your hands on a Joy-Con and actually played 1, 2 Switch yet, you might be extremely dubious about the motion-controlled minigame package. Yes, it looks ridiculous when two adults sit down and rapidly pump their arms up and down like they’re milking an imaginary cow. It’s also about as purely fun as anything else I played at the Switch event. Between the various eccentric technologies bound up inside the Joy-Cons, the novel ways in which 1, 2 Switch interacts with them, and the sheer power (and awkwardness) of the basic human connections necessary to play these games (again, you’re not looking at the TV here, but directly into the eyes of another human being), 1, 2 Switch is the most fascinating thing about the entire Switch project so far. It could wind up being a disaster or a Wii Sports-style cultural phenomenon.

 

3. Splatoon 2

From the three rounds that I played on a tablet, Splatoon 2 doesn’t do much to overhaul the fundamentals of Nintendo’s paintball shooter. The main “turf war” battles are still between two four-person squads trying to paint as much of an arena their team’s color as possible before the time expires. You still get points for taking out enemies directly, and a number of familiar weapons from the first game return. I used a new weapon, the “splat dualies,” throughout; these are two revolvers that shoot out short-range but easily aimed paintballs ideal for eliminating your rivals. They aren’t quite as useful at painting the ground, so it’s a weapon that should be reserved for whatever you’d call the Splatoon equivalent of a striker. Perhaps the main selling points here are the new music and new fashion for the inklings, or perhaps the simple fact that it is another way to play one of the best games of 2015. And with the ersatz LAN party mode of the Switch tablets, you can finally play true Splatoon locally, which is a proposition that shouldn’t be underestimated.

 

2. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

I played roughly twenty minutes of Breath of the Wild, and what struck me the most is how quickly it let go of me and trusted me to explore its world. Now, I don’t know if this is the very beginning of the game, or a small slice that comes after whatever kind of introductory period is kicked off by the title card. All I know is within minutes of pressing start I was roaming freely through Hyrule, which feels more alive than ever, with small animals scurrying about and trees I could climb to pluck apples and other health-restoring foodstuffs. There was a dedicated jump button and more extensive voice-over work than typically found in Zelda games, although the dialogue between Link and a helpful old man was still text-only. Instead of waiting to find a sword, I could pick up tree branches to use as weapons, and use whatever I knocked out of the hands of monsters during battles. At one point I knocked a sword and shield out of a Bokoblin’s hands and picked them up myself; the now defenseless beast ran up a small hill a few feet away and started throwing rocks at me. Near the end of the demo I used an in-game item to uncover a tower that burst from the ground into the sky and pointed the way to my next objective; that aspect felt like a Zelda version of Assassin’s Creed or any number of other Ubisoft games. The demo ended shortly thereafter, right as I was approaching what could’ve been either the first major enemy or an entrance to an underground dungeon. It’s hard to get a true handle on a game as epic as Zelda from a short demo, but from what I’ve seen, there might be more freedom in how we can explore Hyrule, and more depth in how we can interact with it. As it stands, what I played felt like the least formulaic Zelda game in a very long time, while still looking and feeling like Zelda.

 

1. Snipperclips

Snipperclips is the kind of surprise I basically expect from Nintendo at this point. I knew nothing about it, and it has no clear nostalgic antecedents within Nintendo’s library, but it wound up being my favorite game of the entire event. It’s an adorable puzzle game that focuses on partnership and cooperation, as you and a friend control two papercraft buddies who are trying to arrange themselves in specific shapes or perform certain actions in order to move on to the next screen. You can rotate and tilt them freely into the necessary positions, and even use them to cut each other into different shapes in order to accomplish whatever goals are before you. That might mean perfectly filling an outline on the screen, or snipping one character into a point that they can use to pop a balloon, or even just balancing a basketball or pencil as you carry it from one edge to the other. A lot of co-op games barely require you to acknowledge your partner, but Snipperclips practically forces you to talk through each scenario, like you’re working together on a jigsaw puzzle or at an “escape the room” style event. It may not be the kind of big name, big budget extravaganza that compels customers to drop hundreds of dollars on a weird new Nintendo thing, but it’s the best game I played at the press event last Friday, and the kind of niche product that could easily develop a passionate cult audience.

 

Know More About Santorini

Santorini is primarily a two-player game, first developed by mathematician Dr. Gordon Hamilton back in 2004, that was just released by Roxley Games after a successful Kickstarter campaign that takes this very simple pure strategy game and gives it the art and packaging of a Euro title. At heart, however, it feels like a classic game, a little bit like chess and a lot like last year’s Tak, games for two players that involve a few pieces on a square board and eschew all randomness.

In the basic game of Santorini, each player starts with two Worker tokens on the 5×5 board, and the first player to get one of his/her tokens to the top of a 3-level building on the board is the winner. On a turn, a player moves one token, then places a new building level on a space adjacent (orthogonally or diagonally) to that token. If the space is empty, the player places a bottom piece; if not, the player places a second- or third-level piece, or, if the space has a building with three levels on it already, a dome piece that prevents anyone from standing on top of it. You don’t own the buildings you construct, so one player can add to a building the other player started. Your tokens can move up one level when going from one space to another, but can jump down any number of levels. The goal thus becomes setting up a situation where your opponent can’t stop you from moving a Worker from a two-level building up to the third level on an adjacent space—and to ensure your opponent isn’t doing the same, setting up a three-level building to which s/he can move on the next turn. (It’s also possible to lose if you can’t move a Worker and then build on your turn, but we haven’t had that happen in a game yet.)

The basic game is entertaining enough on its own that I could see it becoming a classic of abstract two-player games without embellishment or packaging, but it also would be tough to market—it’s a game you could easily replicate on your own using different coins as the various building levels. So Santorini comes with additional variations in the box, using cards that grant players additional abilities for their moves, as well as a third variant that reserves one space on the board for these abilities.

The game comes with two decks of cards that give players God Powers or Hero Powers; God Powers apply to the entire game, while Hero Powers apply just once per game and are then discarded. The Gods themselves are divided into categories of simple, advanced and Golden Fleece gods (for the third variant mentioned above), and can grant powers like allowing a player to build two levels on one turn, allowing the player to win just by moving down two or more levels, preventing an opponent from building on spaces next to your tokens, or giving you the win if there are five complete (domed) towers on the board. Hero cards amount to giving you one extra move on your turn, or let you sabotage an opponent once (like removing a block from underneath a worker token or moving your opponent’s Workers to corner spaces). The game even suggests using these in concert to redress an imbalance between players, giving the more experienced player a Hero card and the rookie a God card.

The Golden Fleece variant places a special token, called the Ram, on one space on the board, and then has one God card available to both players during the game. The God power is available to any player whose Worker token is in a space next to the Ram figure.

Santorini is a two-player game at heart, but the rules include options for playing with three or four players, both requiring the use of God Power cards. The three-player game is crowded, while the four-player game has the players divided into two teams of two, with each player getting his/her own God Power card. I think it’s all a bit forced—imagine trying to shoehorn additional players into chess or Othello—and unnecessary, as the boardgame world needs more pure two-player options.