I think the greatest thing I heard this year was that Myamoto was finally working on a new IP. After 9 years.
"But what about the 3DS?" You scream. Well, that's great too, but 3DS isn't exactly revolutionary, it's EVOlutionary.
"But it's 3D! Without Glasses too!" You shout. Yes, that's true, but that's not exactly something completely different. It ISN'T a gameplay changer, however, it IS a game-display changer. Lets be frank, will the mushrooms in Super Mario Bros pop out at me really change the way I'm playing the game? Short answer: No
But will it be really cool? Yes.
I think what we have to realize is that the 3DS is not the "big step up" that we're trying to make it sound like it is. I think if Darwin was alive today, he'd refer to that picture of the monkey becoming a man, if it were of game consoles, the 3DS would be on the line right after the DS.
We're not talking about the opposable thumbs that makes us different from every other animal, we're talking about something less, like the moment we went from bent over back position to straight up, it didn't re-invent our place in this world, it just makes us see farther and not have as much back pain. Although that's good, it's not a huge deal, I think we could accomplish the same things we do nowadays if we were all running around with our backs bent over, however, try doing those things without your thumbs, and you'll have a significantly tougher time.
Basically, we're going from Gameboy to Gameboy Color, not Gameboy Advance to DS. They didn't even really change the name...
And what I've found is that this is the direction that Nintendo's now heading in. Tell me, what was their focus this E3?
Time's up, gimme your answer, and it's probably gonna be something on the lines of "Returning Old Franchises"
Correct? Of course it is. What we saw was Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, Donkey Kong Country Returns, and Kirby's Epic Yarn, not to mention, Kid Icarus. You could say their focus was the 3DS, but the 3DS is just a mere vehicle to deliver some of these titles on.
But tell me, how many of those games weren't a sequel or part of an already existing franchise? None. Tell me again, how many of those games DIDN'T use mechanics we'd seen before? None. How many could you label as revolutionary? None. But how many showed some clear improvement on their predecessors? All of Them.
So what we REALLY saw was not REVolutionary, it was EVOlutionary. They didn't re-invent Link, they gave him some new toys and perfected his sword slashing, but he's the same elf we've all come to know and love. They didn't re-invent Kirby, they took his copy ability, and put him in yarn, but he's still the same puffball we've come to know and love. They didn't re-invent Donkey Kong, they gave him co-op, in a 2.5D setting, but he's still the ape we've come to know and love. They DID re-invent Kid Icarus, but it's merely changing his definition to be a bit more action-ey, his new game doesn't exactly bring anything new to the table.
What I'm getting at here, is that there's no real new things here. Kirby has co-op, but it's basically gonna be the same thing in Superstar Ultra, but with more yarn. Link now has some weird flying thing, but I've seen that before in different franchises. Kid Icarus now kicks ass, but he kicks ass similar to every other pre-gun ass kicker.
We're not exactly seeing Olimar here. Yes, Olimar, you know, the guy who had a whole new world made just for him so he can Pik-his-min as much as he pleases. And you know why he had that happen to him? Because that simply wouldn't work with Mario. What? He has swarms of Toads following him? No, seriously, give me a break. (Although Nintendo DID try that in a different manner with Mario VS DK series, but that's something completely different.)
The thing is, Nintendo has simply run out of room in its own franchises. They cannot revolutionize the way you play Mario anymore, I mean, you've gone 3D, what more can you really change? Yes, they DID make Super Mario Galaxy, which allowed you to circle around planets, but that's not a revolution, that's an evolution.
On the Darwin chart, this isn't a fish saying "screw the water, I'm going to land" and becoming the first land walker, this is the Neanderthal saying to the monkey "hey, I can do what you're doing BETTER then you" and then growing a larger head so he can figure out that a cave's a nice place to live.
Likewise, Mario isn't going do his best Kratos impression, he's just getting his platforming refined, because frankly, there are just so many things you can do with your hammer, and taking down Greek Gods isn't one of them (unless you have the hammer of Thor or something.)
So when the concept of a game that's completely different from anything Nintendo's ever done before, like Pikmin, they realized it simply wouldn't fit in the Mushroom Kingdom, Hyrule, OR Popstar, so they had to create something completely new.
Pikmin wasn't an evolution, it was a revolution. I've never played a game like Pikmin before, outside of the game itself, and it didn't take too many/any cues from past games. It was that thing that Scientists are still scrambling to figure out like "how did that thing get wings and become the first bird" or something related. I could tell you exactly where Super Mario Galaxy is coming from, or where Donkey Kong Country Returns is coming from, but I can't exactly tell you where the hell Pikmin came from.
But we're talking about the Nintendo of 2001, Nintendo just doesn't do that anymore. How many lovable Brawl-Worthy characters have we seen in the last 10 years representing a new franchise, aside from Olimar? None!
There's a problem right there, because Nintendo simply can't do as much with Mario, Link, and Kirby, without the great rubber-band of business pulling them backwards again, and they DON'T build enough new worlds for some truly new things to come around. And what we've seen is more evolution then revolution.
Yes, the Wii was revolutionary, but nobody thought "lets try making something completely new here," or at least, not for long, instead, they thought "lets see how I can put this into my old game without screwing it up," such as with Twilight Princess, the two Galaxy Games, and their pals.
TL;DR version: Screw off, read the full thing dammit.
Notes: - Animal Crossing is not mentioned here, simply because it wasn't actually made in the last 10 years, it was originally an N64 game. - Also, we had an Animal Crossing STAGE in Brawl, no characters though, and outside of the stage, their interaction is minimal. - Also, I'm not saying the recent games are bad, but they aren't anything exactly different, at least, in my definition, they aren't a whole "take the other road" type thing. - I don't mention WiiSports, because those aren't as relevant nowadays, taking it that Nintendo's began to recede again into the "hardcore" space.
Games have always had that feeling of "we're still in the garage in our hearts," but now, we aren't. I recall Adam Sessler on his soap box talking about how the "B-Movie Game" is dead, and I remember how he said that now people are putting more "thought" into games. And when I heard that, I decided to take a trip down memory lane.
I've always thought of nostalgia as that thing you feel about games made during the 5th gen and before, but what I've began to realize is that it now is beginning to happen for me during the 6th gen, and what I realize is... it's been five years. Yes, five years, I felt nostalgia for the 5th gen back then, during the 6th gen, so I guess it's apropriate to feel nostalgia towards the 6th gen... But is it? I mean, I can't call Super Mario Sunshine a classic, neither can I call Ratchet and Clank, in fact, I can't really say anything during the 6th gen as having the "classical" feel to it. I mean, there are no blocky graphics, it's all pretty clean, and there are no real great forays into the game world, like the invention of 3D during the 5th gen.
All in all, the 6th gen was an updated 5th gen.
Except, there was something different. And that was the games.
I recall that during the 6th gen, the games were a lot stranger. I remember looking at the PS2 aisle in particular and being filled with wonder about all the odd and strange games I see. I saw Katamari Damacy, I saw Timesplitters, hell, I even saw Destroy all Humans. There were all these strange things that just wouldn't exist today. I remember Xplay back then, it used to be a lot more "personal" then it is right now, it was less flashy, and it was more about the reviews. I remember they had more games to mock back then, there was Big Rigs, there was Yogi-Oh game #999,999, there was Dynasty Wars, and all of them Adam and Morgan made a point in mocking to the fullest. They also did more skits, such as the famous test of the three consoles in terms of durability, where they smacked them with sludge hammers, or the Xplay goes to Japan episode, I mean, the good one, with Adam going to a diner and inventing a "game" based off it, where the money is the points.
Nowadays X-Play is a half-decent attempt at trying to be what it used to be, all the while carrying the weight of what was once an entire line up of shows, now all confined to their little 30 minutes or one hour at times. They now try to reach broader audiences then they used to, in fact, that's G4 in general, and yes, that all started with the beginning of the 7th generation for the most part. If it weren't for Adam Sessler, I wouldn't watch it.
All in all, there was that feeling that lingered in the game industry that no longer exists today.
Yeah, GameStop doesn't do that stuff anymore, watch ANY review now and you'll see that the times have changed.
Now I'm looking at the news feeds and the game aisles, I'm seeing a lot more big budget games, and the small budget games don't even get shelf space (they go on XBLA, if you've wondered where they gone.) Yes, XBLA also gets featured here. Who honestly knew in 2005 when we had Geometry Wars as the biggest thing there that we'd end up with Limbo, Castle Crashers, and Skulls of The Shogun? The small time game scene has changed. One of the most notable thing is the massive absence of the small time Japanese developers, you know, the guys who either delivered a JRPG or some wtf game that doesn't even make a moderate amount of sense, they're all either shut down or still hanging around the PS2 which is still actually quite popular in Japan as I heard.
Now what we're also hearing is PR guys getting everywhere. Believe it or not, there was a time when Community Managers didn't exist, and PR was a short ad. Now we're seeing exclusive game trailers being shown during the NBA Finals, complete with all the explosions and special effects of a big budget movie. Additionally, we're getting a lot of press coverage. I was actually shocked to see Yahoo putting down Starcraft II on their front page, that was virtually unheard of during the 6th gen. Also, remember how much coverage the Wii got? And how much coverage MW2 got? Yeah, this stuff didn't used to happen. I think the biggest game during the 6th gen was Madden, although Madden's still huge right now, it's certainly NOT the biggest game. Speaking of which, remember that Madden show where they used to get the best players and put them in real football training camps? Does that show even air anymore?
Anyways, I think the biggest thing we've seen is that gaming has "opened up" and now we've got a lot more people watching us. The airport scene in MW2 wouldn't have caused such a stir if it wasn't in... well... MW2. We're getting a LOT more games selling multi-million copies. I hear a LOT more chatter in my school about kill counts in Call of Duty then I ever heard before, and this isn't just because I've grown up, I don't think it really existed all that much before, this is something new. I think my local Gamestop's drawn a lot more attention too, it didn't used to be crowded 2/3 of the time. And what about Farmville, 100 million players? The guys who used to chastise WoW players are now replicating the same things they hated, except instead of bashing boars, they're growing crops.
Now that games have opened up, companies have a lot more money in their pockets, too. Remember when EA shut out 2K sports out of the NFL license? That used to be huge news, but that's NOTHING compared to Activision shutting out West and Zampella out of their royalties. And what? Activision and EA are both fortune 500 companies now? They were big before, but now they're among the ranks of banks and oil tycoon's, and they're making money off a much smaller medium, yet they're still pulling out multi-BILLION dollars. And what do they do with all that money? They spend it on PR and all that stuff, the big trailers and making a name for themselves. Like Nintendo setting up a Wii station practically EVERYWHERE during the 2007/2008 holiday season, you think that's cheap? You think they could do that when the GC was around?
So much has changed... So much. I think this is the biggest leap gaming has ever made, forget 3D and whatnot, this is huge. And what we've found is a LOT of things we used to know don't exist anymore. We're not seeing any colorfull wacky Japanese games (Bayonetta aint colorful, and it can't hold a light to Katamari Damacy) like we used to, the small devs are now on XBLA, PSN, Wiiware, but NOT on the shelves, and now the companies have gotten a lot bigger and we've seen the overall tone of gaming change.
And I don't like it... But that's just me... I mean, I miss the old X-Play, I miss letting the Japanese have their way with game design, and I miss seeing more variety in the store shelves, and I miss the days when gaming was just a lot more... cheesy.
So yes, I do feel nostalgia towards the 6th gen, and it's alright if you do too.
It was father time, with the retro flare, in the home console.
What inspired this blog post today of all days is a nice little game called Super Mario Galaxy 2. Yes, it is a good game, yes, if you don't have it yet then you're most likely a hell spawn that needs to be shot... twice, and yes, it is supposed to be the follow up to the original Super Mario Galaxy... And there lies the problem. If common belief holds true, Super Mario Galaxy was the sequel to Super Mario Sunshine, which was in turn, the sequel to Super Mario 64. Yes, it's true that all three are completely different games with no real constant story, but so are Super Mario Bros 1, 2, and 3.
Now how does this game relate to the death of the platformer? Well the thing is... It's linear. Really... Damn... Linear.
Although I like defying gravity (or more so actually following the rules more then I should be) as much as the next guy, and Super Mario Galaxy 2 does a good job of doing so, I can't shake off the feeling that there's a hidden man with a gun right behind me pushing me through a set path. Even more so, this game makes absolutely no effort to hide it. You've got your "hub world," but that's in parenthesis because it's just a fancy way to get to the level select screen. The level select screen, although it always allows you to skip a galaxy or two, is litteraly drawing a line for you to follow. Yes, there are checkpoints, that's a bad sign.
Now this wouldn't be as important if the levels themselves weren't just massive straight lines which are just pushing you along from point A (where Mario makes his dramatic entrance) to point B (the star.) In fact, if you don't select the star from the chapter screen, it's down right not accessable while attempting another one. And this isn't just for select levels, this is for every one of them. The game does all sorts of things to make sure that you stay on the path it told you to stay on, and although there ARE secret stars that diverge from the path, they just end up being a small hidden room with a challenge, or a special code, a coin luma, or ANOTHER path to follow. The entire time I feel the game's telling me "Hey, you wanna skip ahead and get star 2 during chapter 1? WELL TOO BAD! See those critical platforms? Gone! See that boss? Gone! See that path? Blocked! Now stick to the linear path, sucker!"
Of course, this is the game being the game it wants to be, but that's the problem, the fact that this IS the game that Super Mario Galaxy 2 wants to be is just a hidden reminder of what once was: The Open 3D Platformer.
Although SMG 2 is a platformer and a 3D one at that, it's not open. And the cruel irony is... this is the series that created the concept in the first place.
When Super Mario 64 came around, it's most notable feature was the fact that for once, you could move around like you do in real life, with 360 degree control. And Mario didn't hide it, he was as happy as it gets, he jumped, ran around, climbed trees, did backwards summer saults, and all in all, platformed his way to 120 stars and saved the Peach for the 64th time or so. However, what Mario also created was one of the most important genre's known to man: The Open 3D Platformer.
The Open meant that you could take a number of paths from one area. Yes, if you were on Chapter 1, and you saw Star 6, you can get it if you have the skills. You may get a hint if you follow the game's path, but the game won't go at great lengths to make sure you get Star 1 on Chapter 1 or no star at all. If you notice, the only time you have a straight down path in Super Mario 64 that you couldn't avoid was during the bowser stages, and those were for self explanatory reasons.
Even more so, however, is that some stars in the game were downright unaccessable until you went ahead and found something that you needed to do it later on in the game. If the game needs a metal cap, well, go find the switch yourself.
However, what has happened during the line down is that Mario has found himself more restricted every new game. Super Mario Sunshine wasn't TOO restrictive, but yes, there were a lot of triggers that were activated only if you have the Chapter activated, as in, you can't go into the hotel on Sirena Beach unless you're SUPPOSED to, and you're not SUPPOSED to until the game makes you, when the chapter becomes available. However, there were still those moments where there are those stars which you can't get to until you unlock something later on in the game. And so, I'm still not done with Bianco Hills even if Noki Bay is unlocked, simply because I need more stars from Noki Bay so I can get a new nozzle for Fludd that I need for Bianco Hills.
It's that kind of interaction that defines the open world 3D platformer, and although Super Mario Sunshine had less of it then it should've had, it still had it.
Super Mario Galaxy, however, didn't have that kind of interaction at all. If I was offered the chance to get the star, I could go and get the star. I only reached a level with Bee Mario if I already had Bee Mario. Thus, completely removing the unlinearity that Super Mario 64 had worked so hard to pioneer.
Super Mario Galaxy 2, however, removed that to every degree possible. It's downright impossible to get any star until it's offered to you. There are no switches to switch, power-ups are just handed to you, usually on a silver plate too.
Now this is just ONE franchise, but the problem is, this is an accurate reflection of everything. The 3D Super Mario Platforming games were the last hope of the modern unlinear open 3D platformer, and it's all but gone now. Super Mario Galaxy 2 effectively nailed the coffin shut.
However, this was a long time coming, too, the franchise had been dying for years.
Two franchises that come to mind are Banjo-Kazooie and Spyro, both didn't even have a chapter system. That is, you're never even given hints to where things are for the most part, the jiggies/whatever Spyro needs are just thrown around the game world. However, we all know what happened to those franchises.
Spyro got sold to a new company who has been butchering the poor dragon ever since, killing the franchise to a pulp, and then eventually dropping all the core concepts altogether and making a crappy combat based game which got crappy reviews, and as expected, sold crappily.
Banjo-Kazooie, one of my favorite franchises in gaming history, ended up with a sequel, Banjo-Tooie, which had a bad GBA prequel, Banjo-Kazooie: Grunty's Revenge, which most people forgot and isn't really cannon. However, the cannon story setup at Banjo-Tooie, was supposed to be continued with Banjo Threeie... But it didn't. First it was delayed, then it was unheard of, then it was finally revealed as a completely new game... A vehicle costumization one at that.
Also known as Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts, this game basically repeals everything Banjo-Kazooie/Banjo-Tooie did. Banjo Kazooie had open worlds with jiggies thrown around, Banjo Tooie went farther and connected worlds together, making you have to go to several worlds, connecting the early game and the late game, doing multiple various things to get one single jiggy. For example, you had to free a train in Glitter Gulch mine, then drive it to Hellfire Peaks, then cool it down with a camel that you freed from Witchy World, to go and get a jiggy in the ice side of the level... And that's only one thing, for one jiggy. However, instead of Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts continuing this, it provided us all with levels that aren't related in the least sense... at all. In fact, all the Jiggies were clearly laid out for you, and the only way to get them was through Jiggy challenges that were different in each chapter. So not only did the game not connect worlds, it didn't even bother to connect chapters. Each jiggy was its own individual challenge that wasn't related to anything else. The game didn't stop there, however, it basically garunteed you that as long as you finished the grunty challenges in order, you're going to be able to complete every challenge in the game. For example, Bottles never gave me a flying mission before I unlocked a set of wings. And so, Rare killed the back tracking that made its series so popular and unique.
Now where are the parallels in here? These are all series that built off each other, shared a common gameplay element, and then repealed almost everything as soon as the 6th generation of consoles ended, for the most part. Spyro 3 built on Spyro 2 which built on Spyro 1, but then it was sold and nothing afterwords continues any of that. Banjo-Tooie built on Banjo-Kazooie, but then the 360 came and Nuts and Bolts doesn't continue that. Super Mario Sunshine built on Super Mario 64, but then the Wii came Super Mario Galaxy doesn't continue that.
So what we have here is a complete lack of Open 3D Platformers.
But who killed them? It wasn't Nico Bellic, it wasn't Master Chief, and it wasn't Marcus Pheonix.
It was father time.
What ended up happening with Super Mario Galaxy 2 is that it's a return to Mario's "roots." Mario was never an open world game, and once it became one, it went forward, but then it started going back again to be linear... again. I can easily say that it was the New Super Mario Bros that made Super Mario Galaxy 2 what it is. Think about it, the game sold like hot cakes, but why? It was because it was a linear, straight forward, game. None of those "complexities" such as back tracking or things you can't access yet. And then Super Mario Bros Wii came out, and that changed everything... It was the first 2D Mario game on a console not following Yoshi since Super Mario World... That's 19 years. And boy did that game sell.
You thought Nintendo's trying to appeal to the hardcore audience? Well, you may be right, but they've got their sights on the casual audience too. The casual audience is not what the 3D Open Platformer is all about, the casual audience likes a set path right down the middle. They like being told what to do, and if they see something they can't use right off the bat (such as a clear red box, for example) they get confused. However, if they're given a straight line right down the middle, with everything you need available, then they enjoy it and tell their friends. All the while, the hardcore gamers are enjoying it too because, yes, SMG 2 has its challenging areas (although I find it medium difficulty, to be honest,) and yes, this is Mario being as Mario as he gets.
So yes, they kept chipping away at the 3D Open Platformer until it's gone, Super Mario Sunshine was less open then Super Mario 64, and Super Mario Galaxy was less open then both, and Super Mario Galaxy 2 takes the cake for the least open 3D Mario game ever created. However, those aren't faults, those are what the games are TRYING to do, but the problem is, that's what they're trying to do...
The cruel irony is... We're backtracking. The worlds were too open and now they're closing up again. Super Mario Bros was really linear, Super Mario Bros 2 was less linear, Super Mario Bros 3 was even less, Super Mario World had alternate routes, Super Mario 64 was completely open, Super Mario Sunshine was less open, Super Mario Galaxy was pretty linear, and Super Mario Galaxy 2 was really linear.
Alas, the poor Open 3D Platformer, I knew thee well, I enjoyed collecting yee magical items to open thein worlds, and I enjoyed doing it in any order I find fit, and I enjoyed yee teasing me with unaccessable areas, and I enjoyed the power of collecting thein items later.
Notice: I don't hate Super Mario Galaxy 2 or Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts, I enjoy them both and they both deserve the ratings they got, however, they just aren't the games I was hoping they would be. They're fun, they aren't lacking, and they're pretty impressive. It's just a different genre now.