Saturday Summaries 2019-02-16: Nintendo's Direct Message Edition

It's not generally in my nature to gush over extended commercials from major video game corporations - hence my usual indignation whenever E3 rolls around - but this week's (2019-02-13) Nintendo Direct was firing on all cylinders for someone who's always appreciated the more JRPG-heavy corners of Nintendo's first- and second-party output. There were a lot of surprise announcements too, so I might suggest people watch the Direct in question (or Giant Bomb East's live reactions) if they haven't yet and don't want to be spoiled through my second-hand accounts.

For each announcement of a new game, which I discuss in the order they appear in the Direct, I offer my thoughts and a "hype" score out of five. In deference to the once again maligned Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins, which appears to not be one of the new templates in the Super Mario Maker sequel, these hype gauges will be counted in Moogyos. Surely everyone knows what a Moogyo is?

Super Mario Maker 2

I mean, way to start on a showstopper. Fans have been clamouring for a Super Mario Maker port for Switch for many moons, though I can't imagine deep down they were expecting what appears to be a full sequel with a full suite of new mechanics and hazards drawn from their current stock of Mario game templates - Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, and New Super Mario Bros. U - with a handful more from Super Mario 3D World and possibly others. Honestly, that teaser flew through all the new mechanics so fast I barely had time to register them all. Personally, I'm excited that SMB3's slope physics and angry sun and SMW's wire fence traversal have now been incorporated.

I think Nintendo made a smart decision by focusing on more of the mechanics and gizmos, even real into-the-weeds stuff like directing where the auto-scrolling moves, rather than adding more graphical filters offered by different Mario games, because the latter is relatively superficial: every one of Super Mario Maker's four templates all shared the physics of the last and most recent game regardless. Still, I'm still kicking up a fuss about those Mario games like SMB2 and SML2 that were jilted because what else is a Nintendo fanboy to do?

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Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3

It would make sense to resurrect Marvel Ultimate Alliance and tie it into the MCU to an extent, because the latter is still running strong and has many more obscure Marvel characters with which it could potentially build movies around, especially if the rumors are true that the likes of Chris Evans's Captain America and Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man are hanging up their respective shield and repulsor cannons after this upcoming Avengers: Endgame movie. A big crossover Marvel game like MUA would be perfect for exploring that back catalogue.

Unfortunately, I never really saw eye-to-eye with the original MUA game. I always felt it was a watered down version of the more substantial loot-RPG antics of the X-Men Legends franchise, diminishing the RPG equipment and character customization for the sake of a more mindless 3D brawler catawampus. The MUA3 Switch trailer showed off very little in terms of UI and menus, or numbers flying off enemies when you hit them, which makes me think they're just going full action game again. Could be fun just running around blasting Skrulls or whatever while picking out all the obscure Marvel also-rans, but I'm a little more apprehensive about this one.

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BoxBoy! + BoxGirl!

I've really been neglecting HAL Lab's little block-stacking puzzle-platformer over the years, which perfectly utilizes their strengths of clever puzzle design and cute aesthetics more commonly found in their off-kilter Kirby titles. I believe this Switch exclusive entry is the fourth game in the series, after BoxBoy!, BoxBoxBoy!, and BoxBoxBoxBoy (actually, I think that third one's called Bye-Bye BoxBoy!, which wasn't a very prophetic title). I've only played the first, but I was hoping they'd release all of them on Switch as a compilation at some point. Maybe that's still on the cards if this sequel's a hit? The Direct trailer does say it has way more levels than the previous three, so maybe they're pulling a Rayman Legends and supplementing the new levels with a lot of carry-overs. Either way, I'm always down for more BoxBoy. When I remember it exists, that is.

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Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker DLC

Well, I don't really care about DLC or Amiibos, but I'm glad that Captain Toad is getting more love with its free 2-player update and paid-DLC map pack. I played that game for the first time relatively recently and fell in love with it, not anticipating that it would offer a great deal of challenge or level design variance (it offers plenty of both, especially with its roguelike final challenge). Were it not for the many great games featured in this Direct coming relatively soon in the summertime, I could understand Nintendo wanting to focus on Super Smash Bros. Ultimate as their tentpole until something more recognizable (like the next Pokemon gen) came along. Even so, they were extremely coy about new Smash additions in this teaser, giving us only a brief glimpse of Persona 5's Joker who was announced back during the 2018 Game Awards.

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Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

Looks like this game's coming along nicely, even if the graphics look a bit too "Flash game" for my liking. The IGAvanias were beautiful because they took pixel graphics almost as far as they could go. Still, the gameplay's the thing, and it looks like Ritual of the Night is riffing more on Iga's final Castlevania game - Order of Ecclesia - with its moody heroine and the multiple abilities her tattoos conferred. I'm not someone who backed this game's Kickstarter so I very much doubt my finger's on the pulse of this game compared to someone who is getting regular update emails, but from what I've seen here - and the warm reception its fun little NES-inspired prequel Curse of the Moon received - I have every reason to believe it'll live up to its legacy of darkness.

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Dragon Quest Builders 2

You know, I only just acquired the first Dragon Quest Builders, so I'm reserving judgement on what I've seen of the second until after I've played it. I'm hoping it addresses the one big concern I have with what I've heard about the first, in that it wipes all your progress between "worlds", but DQB2 does show off what appears to be a map screen so maybe that's still a facet. It would upset the balance considerably if you could just carry all your fancy materials and blueprints to a brand new level and fulfil all its building requirements in minutes, so I appreciate the challenge of designing around that impermanence in a way that doesn't piss off those who want to keep iterating on a single kingdom. I'm just rambling now, since I don't want to think about DQB2 until I've had a shot at DQB1. Looks good, at least?

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Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age: Definitive Edition S

Got enough subtitles yet? I'm glad I haven't picked this up yet, because it sounds like this enhanced Switch version might be the one to go for. Or I might just ignore all the added bonus hoo-hah and opt for the PS4 version from last year, since I'm fairly sure that's going to dip to £20 long before this version will. From most accounts, Dragon Quest XI was the JRPG to get in 2018 so I'm definitely going to find my way to it one way or another. I can only hope that they might patch some of these new additions back into the PS4 version at some point.

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Intermission

This was a looooong Direct, so I'm going to cut off the early impressions here and get into the meat of this week's new blogging and other activities. I'll have more to say on the likes of Tetris 99, Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Astral Chain, and the glorious resurrection of a certain Game Boy game next Saturday. For now, blogs and stuff!

West of Loathing

My self-appointed Herculean task to complete every 2017 game that piqued my interest continues with this week's Indie Game of the Week: West of Loathing, the standalone cowboy RPG from Kingdom of Loathing MMO developers Asymmetric. Kingdom of Loathing was one of the few MMOs I ever spent a considerable amount of time with, A) because it was free and B) because the writing and humor kept prompting me to keep exploring its bizarre, meat-infatuated world. The one thing that eventually drove me off was how I never seemed to be done with the game; by its nature as an MMO that is supporting its developers full-time via microtransactions and donations, the game continually adds new content and tweaks to keep players tuned in. A boon for most, though not for one with a completionist mindset like myself who needs a finishing line or will burn themselves out, like the goldfish that dies from overeating because it didn't know when to stop.

West of Loathing, by its nature as a standalone RPG, lacks that issue and is therefore the complete package as far as I'm concerned. I'm not one for westerns, but I am so there if someone's making fun of them. Whether you're bashing in hellcows (the day when The Cows Came Home is treated as suitably apocalyptic), hornswogglin' a goblin in their native goblintongue, casting bean magic, spending many minutes describing mining equipment to your female companion to earn the Minesplaining perk, or visiting the local petting cemetery to stroke a cat skeleton - the game is full of surprises, filling out an immense map with locations as you wander around it in much the same way the original two Fallouts did. The combat's decent enough to buoy the game's true core: a relentless onslaught of wild west jokes and goofs as your stickperson avatar seeks fame and fortune across the wild frontier. Worth looking into, even if the rudimentary graphics and almost total lack of color originally turned you away.

Link here: Indie Game of the Week 107: West of Loathing

Sega Mega Drive

I consider my various Wiki Projects past and present as a symbiotic relationship I have with this website and its visitors: filling out the wiki pages with as much verifiable information as I can gather serves not only those coming to the site to find out more about their favorite (if not universally popular) SNES or TurboGrafx-16 or NES or Mega Drive games, but gives me all the excuse I need to do that research for my own edification. I'm a huge retro gaming buff, though it's not because I like to be challenged with harsh and archaic game design but rather because I learn so much about today's games from studying where they came from. Poking into the obscurities of the 1980s and 1990s has also introduced me to a lot of really intelligent gameplay and UI innovations that for some reason never caught on, and maybe by disseminating what I've found I can perhaps in some small way help preserve those systems and ideas.

It's why every so often I drag out my backlog of podcasts or stick on some long-form YouTube music playlists (for some reason, I've gotten into anime-infused "future funk" of late), and open a dozen tabs leading to places like Japanese Wikipedia, GameFAQs, Sega-Retro, Game Developer Research Institute, Hardcoregaming101, Romhacking.net, The Cutting Room Floor, and a few other fan-sites dedicated to tracking old game information down through original research. With all that in place, I start the process of digging up as much information on weird-ass Genesis/MD games, like the following featured in this week's circa-1991 Mega Archive: Battle Golfer Yui, Paddle Fighter, Bahamut Senki, Fushigi no Umi no Nadia, and Wings of Wor. There are certainly worse ways to spend an afternoon or evening, though very few that are quite as nerdy.

Link here: Mega Archive VII: From Joe Montana Football to Valis III

Spyro the Dragon

Like one Daniel "Dragon Egg Whites" Ryckert, I skipped the original Insomniac PS1 Spyro the Dragon games, only showing up once the proverbial party was over with the lesser PS2 titles Enter the Dragonfly and A Hero's Tail. It wasn't due to some childish apprehension about baby games, though; more that I was fully in the N64 camp during that generation and then only availed myself of the JRPGs from the library of Sony's inaugural console years later when I had a PS2 that could play them. The adventures of a cocky little dragon slipped me by, though I somehow acquired both the Croc games from the same era so who even knows what kind of messed up priorities I had back then.

Fortunately, that oversight was rectified recently with the "Reignited" remastered rerelease of the original Spyro trilogy for PS4. I don't intend to play through all three games in one month; instead, the individual entries are going to be perfect palette cleansers between longer RPGs and open-world games presently choking the backlog (phrasing). They're about the same length as a moderately-sized Indie, which is perfect for my needs, and they're all - and I didn't realize this until the recent Quick Look - unabashed open-ended collectathons: my favorite kind of 3D platformer. I'm still in the planning stages of a 3D platformer-focused "Ranking of Fighters" equivalent, but I suspect these long-overlooked (by me at least) Spyro games will be some of the first to be judged. I'll have more to say about them if and when that feature happens, but I'll leave this off by saying I'm just as surprisingly enamoured by them as Dan was.

Parks and Recreation (Season 7)

If you've been following last year's Saturday Summaries, and bless you if you have, you'll notice I'm writing way less about TV and movies this year. With movies, I've done most of the catching up I meant to with last year's fifty viewings and am going to spread the movie reviews out a bit more, depending largely on what shows up in my household's movie streaming subscription service. Conversely, all my TV watching so far this year has been spent solely on Michael Schur and Amy Poehler's small-town government bureaucracy workplace comedy after starting it up last December. That's seven seasons of TV that I've been binge-watching on and off for several months now, so while I wasn't in it for the long-haul like the fans that have stuck around between when it started in 2009 and ended in 2015 - through that rough first season, the departure of Rashida Jones and Rob Lowe, and the eventual but sudden superstardom of Chris Pratt and Aubrey Plaza - it was still bittersweet to watch the final season and the definitive way the show ended for good.

Season 7 had the terminal patient's "gift" of knowing its own demise was coming, so it made the most of its truncated final season saying its goodbyes and sending its characters off to their various sunsets. Pulling a Six Feet Under, the final episode of the entire season had Poehler's Leslie Knope and Adam Scott's Ben Wyatt leaving for Washington DC and shaking hands and hugging those they were leaving behind: each of these embraces then segued into a future scenario with that character as they would go on to get married, have kids, or find professional fulfilment. The whole season was as sappy as hell, if still packed with great jokes and sitcom set-ups, and it was evident just how much that show meant to everyone making it in that six year period. It feels a little disingenuous for someone like me, who only really discovered the show a few months ago, to share in that cathartic sense of a long journey coming to an end. Still, it's so rare for shows to go out on such a heartfelt high note like this, and I'm glad I stuck with this show to the end.

I'm also glad that I can start getting back into single seasons of TV again. I've let a lot build up, between the new seasons of Thunderbolt Fantasy and Mob Psycho 100 and some premieres I'm interested in, so be sure to listen out for my thoughts on those. That's going to do it for this week's Saturday Summaries too: next week's going to be a similar mix of new Indies, Nintendo Direct thoughts, and old Sega tapes, so look forward to more of all that.

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