Will developers force Nintendo’s hand and accelerate a Wii successor’s debut?

Despite that fact that Nintendo held onto it’s position as the best selling game console in 2010, developers are starting to pass on Wii projects, opting to move previously announced Wii titles to other platforms including the greener pastures of 3DS.

Developers following this trend include High Voltage Software, who were previously great supporters of the platform. Two years ago they announced a then Wii-exclusive game called The Grinder that was to follow up their popular FPS The Conduit, but they promptly switched gears and announced The Grinder was instead moved to development for 360 and PS3 with the Wii version on hold and apparently being reevaluated. The latest Wii casualty is Animales De La Muerte, a WiiWare game that had been announced and was being eagerly anticipated by fans as a WiiWare title. Read more

Filed under : Consoles, Nintendo

Super Monkey Ball 3D (3DS)

Let’s face it–there are a ton of Super Monkey Ball games out there for even console, handheld, and mobile device.  And although controls have included touch screens, controller-tilt, device-tilt, and even full-body balance board tilt, the original analog stick control of the original games on GameCube and PS2 were arguably never matched by these newer control schemes.  So it’s no surprise that for Super Monkey Ball fans, the new Circle Pad elbows it’s way to the forefront as the star feature of the game despite the attention the 3D visuals understandably get from gamers.

And that’s not to say the 3D isn’t spectacular on Super Monkey Ball 3D–in typical Sega fashion, the game is beautifully adorned with some of the most vibrant and colorful art design of any of the launch titles I’ve played Read more

Rabbids Travel in Time 3D (3DS)

I love Rabbids.  I have since their debut on the Nintendo Wii so many years ago.  They are a property I would have expected to go farther – but they do have their own line of toys and accessories; everything from action figures to Wii controller chargers.  They are cute, funny and nothing beats pumping their masks full of carrot juice.  Naturally, when a Rabbids title dropped for my shiny new Nintendo 3DS, I just had to race out and buy it.

I’m a whore for platformers.  I’ve been playing them across systems for decades and still fire up classic titles from time to time (ever play Superfrog on the Amiga? I still play that).  Heck, I dropped my share of quarters in Super Mario Bros. at the arcade – as much as the next guy.

Unfortunately, platformers don’t tend to range in quality – they seem to either totally rock or totally suck; rarely do they appear to fall somewhere in between – and yet that’s exactly how this outing of Rabbids is … somewhere in between.

The premise is pretty simple.  Using a magic time traveling washing machine, you take your rabbid into various eras (prehistoric, Egyptian, medieval, etc.) and collect coins (and rubber ducks – which are actually just coins).  Getting to the end of each level is the end goal – and coins help you unlock stuff along the way.

Would you believe that’s the entire premise of the game?  Every “world” has various levels to play – each one almost the same as the last (in some cases, the levels have perfect clone parts of other levels).  Like Super Mario Bros., you unlock them in a sequential order with the occasional bonus level along the way.  Uh .. yeah, that’s pretty much it.  Oh, you have to collect pieces of the time machine along the way through the time period.

There are two types of unlockables along the way – figurines and pictures.  These are obtained essentially by getting coins (or ducks – which are really just 5x or 10x coins) or by performing levels over again in Against the Clock type modes (more about this in a minute).  The figurines are 3D objects that feature a rabbid or two animated on it.  You can zoom in and out and rotate it.  The pictures are “puzzles” that have like four pieces that you earn to complete them.  The longer I played the game, the less I started caring about these unlockables.

You can also earn costumes by completing bonus levels (which you unlock with – you got it, coins).  The bonus levels have you – that’s right – gather coins to fill a meter – if you fill it up in time (they are VERY generous with the time), you unlock some costume you can skin your rabbid with (using a more-complicated-than-it-had-to-be control system) and play the game from that point on with your newly dressed rabbid.

Well that covers WHY you’re playing – so let’s move on to the levels themselves.

The levels are very generic – both in construction and design.  Most of the standard things are here – holes to fall in, spikes to hurt you, breakable blocks, butt bouncing, trampolines, swinging vines, tipping seesaw platforms, spouts that push you up (and some that hurt you) – there is nothing here you haven’t seen before – and better implemented elsewhere.  Some very light puzzle solving (you can pick up some blocks and move them so that you can reach a higher place) is involved, but don’t expect this to carry the game.

The occasional enemy rabbid dressed in some “period” clothing shows up – but as you play more, you’re wonder why they even bothered putting them in there at all.  Rarely will they offer any sort of resistance other than a “lucky hit” from time to time.  Even the ones swinging from vines are very easily dispatched.

There are other obstacles you’ll encounter that will be minor annoyances – but it seems they purposefully made them easy to dispatch.  Sometimes you’ll find a bunch of mines you have to time your jumps carefully through, but most of the time, you can grab a box or item and throw them at the mines (where they vanish with a poof rather than the explosion you would hope for).

As mentioned before – levels are levels – be it in the prehistoric world or in the Egyptian world.  There won’t be a single level you’ll go “whoa, now that was cool and I’m DYING to play it again” – which is too bad.  You’re going to do the same things ad nauseam – so hopefully you like it.  Minor exceptions occur – like the level you spend running (and you can’t stop – just jump or attack) away from the T-Rex – you know, the level that is shown in EVERY video for the game you see.  Overall, playing through the levels feel like more of a “means to an end” vice a savory experience.

You can replay levels in Stopwatch mode and in Mission mode – neither mode overly drove me to play the sub-standard level designs over and over.  Stopwatch ranks you based on how fast you can finish the level – the Mission mode requires you to perform certain actions (don’t get hit the entire level, for example) or collection particular items.

Your character offers the basic actions – jump, attack (on ground or in air), pick up/throw (also on ground or in air) and a frantic running action (which doesn’t do anything – no longer jumping or anything).  You can also zoom in and out of the level (not much – like two camera settings – again, you wonder why they bothered at all).  There are a couple of “power ups” you’ll see – invincibility (aka Star Power) and a propeller hat (longer jumps for a few seconds) – but they are FAR and few between; so much so that you’ll forget about them by the time you see the next one.

The controls are fine – yet the button placement always seems backwards to what I want to do – which makes it hard to get used to using the “carryable” items.  This could very likely be a personal issue – so I won’t come down on the game for it – but it’s like the A and B button REALLY need to be reversed for my liking.  Character response to controls are well-done (you know what games are like that have poor reaction times to input) and you don’t feel like you’re fighting with your character the whole time.

Graphics are fine – although the camera keeps you pulled away so far most of the time you won’t get to really enjoy them.    You can zoom up (as mentioned above) but it’s like two settings – “far” and “not so far”.  The level graphics are pretty damn good though – especially with the 3D effects (more on that in a minute).  While pleasant, these graphics do not push the 3DS much at all and you feel like you’re playing a DS game that has been overhauled.  There is no good use of lighting effect or advanced graphics techniques that the 3DS is perfectly capable of.

From a 3D standpoint, the use of 3D is pretty dang good.  The 3D parallax scrolling of levels is fantastic (especially the lava levels).  Sparse use of more advanced 3D features is very fresh and well-done.  Rarely does anything “fly out” but landscape or items (like a giant scarab beetle) appear BETWEEN your player and the camera, so you get a real funky sense of 3D for those moments.  Because they are rare, they will not detract you from the game and they are “special” each time they happen.  When you die, your rabbid is flung against the camera “in your face” and the glass breaks – a fun effect but it should have followed the other effects and only happened every so often.  The good news is – you won’t die enough to really care about it.

The game’s aural presentation is pleasant and isn’t annoying (always nice).

What’s sad is, this isn’t a bad game – but it just isn’t a good game either.  The MECHANICS are sound enough – but they phoned in the level design so much that is just isn’t fun to play as a core platformer game.  There are no hidden areas to explore, no real reason to replay levels and not enough penalty for burning through the level as fast as you can just to get to the end.  While the 3D effect is nice, they forgot about everything else with the 3DS – no streetpass, no spotpass notices – no multiplayer (local or otherwise), no mini-games and “between DS and 3DS graphics”.

What’s worse, I never laughed even once playing this game.  I expect a certain level of entertainment around rabbids – and even THAT wasn’t there.  While I’m bitching, let’s throw in the fact you can’t skip the intro every time you boot it up.

The game seems hurried – from the obvious incomplete feature set to the barely upgraded DS graphics down to the really cookie cutter level design.  It seems to suffer from a target audience confusion too – who is this for?  It’s not really made for young kids, but the levels don’t challenge the adult player very often and when they do, it’s pretty simplistic.

I’ve seen worse platform games – but I’ve seen a lot better ones too.  It doesn’t offer the “just one more level” addictive quality that a platformer should – the only reason you keep playing is hoping the next level/world will be better than what you just played.  If what you want is a super casual no-challenge rabbids themed platformer – this might fit the bill.  Otherwise, spend LESS money, grab Super Mario Bros DS and play THAT in your 3DS instead.  You might miss the 3D – but you’ll get a lot more bang for your buck.

If you feel you just HAVE to try this game – do it as a rental or a used “Gamestop returnable” title.

About Shane Monroe

Shane R. Monroe has been doing technical and social commentary writing for over 20 years. Google+

MadCatz 3DS Traveler Bag

People seem to have a very love/hate relationship with accessories.  With each new handheld, so many of us rush out to buy some sort of case, protector, skin or something else we are absolutely sure will protect our new investment from that inevitable drop, crush, throw or toss that will destroy our beloved new toy.

Of course, within a week or two, you stop carrying your new toy around in the jacket.  The carrying case ends up in a drawer somewhere.  In short, once the honeymoon is over, the luggage goes in the attic.

Lately, though, I find myself carrying around a lot more electronics; my big ass HTC Thunderbolt, the 3DS (I’ve become a whore for shooting 3D pictures), a higher quality P&S camera, a USB power pack … the list seems to grow every year.  So, when I went to pick out the “wedding suit” for my new 3DS, I decided to get something a little bigger that could not only carry my 3DS but my other electronics as well.

Enter the MadCatz Travel Bag – promising a roomy bag for any Nintendo DS (although marketed to 3DS right now of course – and the front branding says 3DS).

I own about 350 Nintendo DS games – but like so many others, I’ll use a flash cart to help me carry them all around with me in my DSi.  Since this isn’t an option for the 3DS yet (heck, it might never be), I was attracted to the numerous slots (21 in fact) for games plus the fold out design is clean and usable.

As with many of these cases, there are adjustable (via Velcro) inserts that come preconfigured in four sections – three squares and a rectangle for the game system.  The sections can be moved around for a few different configurations – but you’ll likely end up keeping the default configuration.

The front of the case has a very clean DS logo montage and the “lid” features a double zipper design.  The top has a sturdy handle – but there are no straps (nor clips for straps) so if you are looking for an “over the shoulder” solution, you’re out of luck.

The overall construction of the bag meets or exceeds any of MadCatz other bags or carry-alongs.  I tested it’s durability by putting all my “take with you to an event” electronics (cell, p&s camera, 3DS, battery, etc) and carried it by its handle.  The bag appears to hold up the weight just fine.  Over time, of course, it’s going to start getting droopy – as all bags tend to do – but I think you’ll get through the honeymoon phase and beyond.

The price tag is a bit higher than most bags – $20 vice the normal $15 or so.  Totally to be expected the week after the 3DS launches – I expect we’ll see it cheaper in the coming months.  Oddly enough, the bag isn’t available on Amazon for several more days from now (same price, but you might not have to pay tax or shipping – depending on your Amazon Prime status).

Is it for you?  You’ll have to decide.  For me, it will likely join the dusty collection of bags within six months – but I’m going to try to use it as a more “all purpose” carry-along.  Construction-wise and design is solid – so if you need the extra room to haul your crap around and you don’t have a man-clutch already – this might be just what the Dr. Mario ordered.

About Shane Monroe

Shane R. Monroe has been doing technical and social commentary writing for over 20 years. Google+

Steel Diver (3DS)

The Nintendo 3DS has been out here in the United States for just over a week at the time of writing, so I finally feel comfortable reviewing the unit and some of its games.
Of all the launch title games, one alone stood out to me as the “must have” title on launch day – and that was Steel Diver; a first party submarine simulation game.

Oddly enough, we first saw Steel Diver years ago as a possible proof of concept game demo on the Nintendo DS.  Since then, the game has been fleshed out, “Nintendoized” and of course put into 3D.

Pre-launch feelings about the game seemed quite black and white;  those like me couldn’t wait to get my hands on it – while the rest of the folks wanted nothing to do with it.

Post-launch feelings seemed to confirm the game fit more into the latter category – with many people feeling very disappointed and let down by the title (especially with the $40 price tag).

So how did the game fare with me?

Let’s start off by discussing exactly what Steel Diver is – since I believe many people had incorrect expectations of the title leading to disappointment.

Steel Diver is a three-part title.  There is an action game (periscope hunt), a simulation game (the mission based side scroller) and a tactical turn-based style game (a cat and mouse sub hunt).  In defense of those unhappy with the title, it IS an odd combination.  I think most people believed it to be an action game (most side scroller shooter games are) and to have two of the three modes being more strategy – well, that surely pissed some folks off.

The periscope hunt game is visually stunning and a great little score attack style game.  As you would expect, the view in out the periscope and you shoot down enemy ships with your torpedoes.  The periscope is controlled through motion – via the gyroscope/accelerometer in the 3DS.  It gives the game a very authentic feel, much like some of the arcade submarine games (or an actual submarine for those like myself who have actually BEEN on one).  As with most Nintendo score attack style games, the mode is definitely addictive and has the “just one more time” quality to it.  The water effects are simply awesome (especially during the night mode of the game) and the 3D works exactly the way it should – without you even realizing it.

The sub hunt style turn-based game is a fun little distraction.  The first mistake is thinking that it’s just Battleship (it’s not) while the second mistake is thinking it is a two player only game (it’s not).  Each player puts his ships into a secret formation on the hex grid.  Each player uses his sub to hunt down the other ships – using sonar and a bit of luck.  Once you find ships with your sub, you close in for the kill.  Ships attacked by the sub have no real means of defense and you cannot evade or otherwise lend action to the scene.  This is the most unfortunate part of the game – since being able to do some sort of evasion or anti-torpedo evolution would have made those scenes a lot more fun.  Ships located right above the sub are allowed to drop depth charges at one of three depths – and the sub is allowed one chance to change depths before the charge drops.  This allows a 1-in-3 chance of damaging the enemy sub if your ships were previously under attack.  This is all luck, but still fun.  To win, you have to destroy all the enemy ships or kill the enemy sub – and you have 100 turns to do it.  This game 100% should have been playable online with your friends – and that was a wasted opportunity on Nintendo’s part (you can, of course, play this game locally).

Graphically speaking, this mode of play is appealing – despite the serious overuse of cut scenes between moves.  The 3D ranges from “stunning” to “average” (I love the depth charge sequence).  Because the map itself is a 2D entity, it doesn’t lend itself as well to the 3D motif, but it doesn’t detract from the enjoyment.

This leaves us with the most misunderstood part of the game – the side scrolling missions.

This game mode is a strategic simulation game.  Submarines do not travel at 200mph with unlimited torpedoes and stop-on-a-dime/turn-on-a-nickel controls.  As a simulation, you are going to be dealing with the submarine’s slow lumbering pace and the unique skills required to think ahead to get the submarine to behave the way you want.

This is similar to comparing a fast arcade action flight game like Afterburner and contrasting it to say, Microsoft Flight Simulator;  they are two different games that cater to two different audiences.  The missions mode is more the latter than the former.

Anyone that knows anything about submarines (I spent over 5 years on one myself) knows that submarines are not joystick controlled bathtub toys, but a complex system dealing with rudder controls, propeller speeds and ballast based depth control.  All three of these are represented pretty accurately in Steel Diver – and each one has their own control mechanism on the touch screen.

A lot of people take issue with the controls NOT being mapped to the d-pad and/or buttons but in the really real world, this makes sense.

On a real submarine, you use a throttle control that you put into position and it stays there until you want a change (propeller speed).  You control depth via how much water/air you have in the ballast tanks (along with some basic rudder control).  Both of these controls are done via drag-and-stop sliders with center points that indicate a zeroed out setting (no speed, no depth control).

The rudder is controlled with a steering wheel style control that is also rotate-and-stop (again, much like a real sub) with the ability to tap-and-hold to re-center the stick.

These three controls (along with a button for anti-torpedo air release) make up the entire control system for the submarine.  Putting a sub’s throttle in “back 1/3” from “all ahead flank” does NOT make the sub stop on a dime and start moving backwards.  Depth and rudder changes operate in a similar way.  This requires foresight and in some cases, repeated experience with the mission maps you are navigating to understand exactly how to pilot the submarine to complete the mission successfully (again, much like a real submarine captain).

In both periscope hunt and the missions mode, damage can occur on your sub, causing water leaks which require you “tap” repeatedly to repair.  Hey, be damn lucky they don’t make you band the pipes like they do on a real sub. 🙂

I will say that if you did not know what you were in for – or strategic simulation just isn’t your thing – I can COMPLETELY understand NOT liking the missions mode of Steel Diver – which effectively removes at least a third of the appeal of the title – making it a more expensive proposition.

So, in summary – what we have here is a trifecta of gaming;  three very different games (action, strategic simulation and turn based) in one box – with average to amazing use of 3D.  There is some replayability here along with some time to put into the missions mode where you may have to play some maps more than once to get the kind of score you are looking for.

As a launch title, I believe it does the job, which is showing off 3D technology and offering experiences for both simple and complex type game play.  Where it falls short is in the proper conveyance of the game play in mission mode (where I think a lot of people got pissed) and the lack of online multiplay (which I believe every single launch title should have included – so that’s not Steel Diver’s fault alone).

This is not a game I would recommend for everyone.  Granted there is SOMETHING for everyone in the box, but not everything in the box is for everyone – which will drastically reduce the value of the game to many folks; certainly not commanding the launch day price of $40 to all gamers.

With many folks being “disappointed” with the game, surely a used copy at a much more reasonable $32.99 will be available at Gamestop by the time you read this – allowing a risk-free “rental” of the title to allow you to properly evaluate on your own.

As a reviewer, starting with this review, I’m no longer judging a game’s value by how much it costs.  There are several reasons for this – but two come to mind.

Death and taxes are considered guarantees in life – but I also submit that “falling game prices” are also guaranteed.  With minor exceptions, EVERY game goes down in price within 3-6 months (if not sooner). The game itself, however, doesn’t change when the price does.

Second, everyone’s needs are different.  Some people will buy ANY game with “Halo” in the name – regardless of price and/or quality – and they will smile when they pay $70 for the pleasure of doing so.  Other folks won’t pay more than $20 for any game – no matter how great it is.  My point: price is relative to the person.  The value of a game cannot and should no be determined by price.  Bottom line?  Everyone would like games to be cheaper – no matter how much they cost; if they are $40, you wish they were $30 … if they are $30, you wish they were $15 … if they are $1, you wish they were free.

That being said, I PERSONALLY believe $40 in general is a bit pricey for a handheld game – but when you’re an early adopter of any technology,  you’re going to pay a premium – and you know that before you go in.

I like Steel Diver.  I enjoy all three modes of play and I find the use of tech fun and refreshing.  It is not a game I’d be embarrassed to show friends and family and it has something for everyone in the box.  I highly recommend a “rental” (either a Gamestop used purchase or an actual rental) because it isn’t a game for everyone and you need to make sure it meets your needs before plunking down the cash.  For those that enjoy these types of games, you will not be disappointed.

About Shane Monroe

Shane R. Monroe has been doing technical and social commentary writing for over 20 years. Google+