Tag Archives: nintendo

The Galaxy Is At Peace: Checking in on Metroid

There are three video game series that are currently MIA. You probably know them. F-Zero hasn’t had a new installment since 2004. Star Fox hasn’t had a new installment since 2006. 1)A remake of Star Fox 64 was released for Nintendo 3DS in 2011 and a new title is currently in development for Wii U. And Metroid hasn’t has a new installment since 2010—2007 if we choose to discount Metroid: Other M. We’re here to talk about Metroid today.

Of those three series I mentioned, Metroid has the longest history, dating back to the original Metroid on the NES in 1986. If you’d like to keep track, the series will turn 30 on August 6, 2016. That game made some significant waves by revealing at the end that Samus Aran, the player character, is a woman. 2)The ending only revealed Samus’s identity if the game was completed quickly enough. It was one of the first games to feature a female protagonist and definitely one of the first where the female protagonist’s gender is irrelevant to the story.

Hold that thought for a bit. I’ll also say that the material I’m talking about here is limited to the games alone—there are comics that supposedly expand on Samus’s backstory, but do so while conflicting with some pretty important plot points in the actual games. Furthermore, I’m choosing to discount Other M for a pair of reasons: I haven’t played it, and, from what I’ve read, it seems like an anomaly in the grander scale of Metroid games.

The two games I’m focusing on are Super Metroid, released in 1994 for the Super NES, and Metroid Prime, developed by Retro Studios and released in 2002 for the GameCube. Though it’s a bit hard to believe now, there were precisely zero Metroid games released between those two games. 3)Metroid Fusion on the Game Boy Advance was released on the same day as Prime. Samus Aran made two appearances in Super Smash Bros. titles during that gap.

I recently finished a replay of Metroid Prime via the Prime Trilogy that was released as a downloadable title for Wii U, but for simplicity’s sake I’m working with the GCN edition. I’m currently in the middle of my first-ever playthrough of Super Metroid using the Wii U’s Virtual Console service. It’s fascinating how similar these two titles are, especially considering Prime was handled by a different developer entirely.

What both games absolutely nail is the balance between the feeling of isolation and an enjoyable gaming experience. The glut of zombie and/or post-apocalyptic games that have been flooding the market for years often go all-in on the former at the expense of the latter. In all honesty, it’s a pretty simple task to create a sense of isolation for the player. It’s a significant part of any survival horror game and even a few action games. You can go for hours without even seeing an NPC to talk to in games like Fallout 3, though you do have the option of recruiting a traveling companion.

That’s something a lot of those games do to, in a way, subvert the isolation. Two examples that come to mind are Resident Evil 4 (Ashley) and The Last of Us (Ellie). It’s executed pretty well in the latter title, as the banter between protagonist Joel and Ellie served to lighten the mood in times where riding solo would have been nervewracking. It made the game fun and easy to play for long periods. But trekking through the Bethesda Fallout titles can get real boring real fast with no one to talk to, even if they accurately portray that feeling of loneliness.

And then you have these two Metroid games, in which you are Samus and only Samus for the entire duration of both. Super Metroid has a bit of a monologue from Samus at the start of the game to set the scene, but Metroid Prime doesn’t contain a single word of dialogue at all. None! You’re the only human you ever see. The Space Pirates you encounter care too much about killing you to bother with stopping to talk. There’s never a Shakespearean moment where Samus feels the need to recap whatever may have just happened for the benefit of the player. There’s never a need to speak–so she doesn’t.

You are isolated. But the games themselves are still exciting, not only because of the ability to explore, but what you’re exploring. This is particularly true in Prime, where the environments squeeze every last bit of processing power and graphical prowess out of that tiny little Cube. 2002 wasn’t exactly a time where HD was the norm, but exploring the crumbling Chozo Ruins and the icy Phendrana Drifts sure made it feel like it.

Prime had a lot of small graphical touches that made it clear Retro Studios was handling the franchise with respect. Once you emerge from the water, the leftover droplets take a few seconds to roll off your visor. Walking through steamy areas fogs your vision. Energetic explosions offer you brief glimpses of Samus’s reflection in her own visor. You can even see Samus’s own bones whenever you peer through her X-Ray Visor.

That’s not to say Super Metroid wasn’t equally impressive for 1994. The X-Ray Visor obtainable in that game functions differently—it’s used to determine whether walls are breakable (by displaying the weapon icon that can be used to break them) or transparent. But there’s so much attention to detail in that game where running into a dead end is just an excuse to use the scanner so you can see that small hole the Morph Ball can fit into.

Elements like that give these two games the sense of exploration that makes them so enticing to come back to. I was barely able to put Metroid Prime down despite having played through it long ago and I’m feeling the same way about Super Metroid right now. People don’t often find criticisms with Metroid games, but a common one is a perceived overreliance on “backtracking.” What is backtracking?

I know what backtracking is; rather, I know what people see it as. Badly-designed games suffer from it in many ways. As a means of arbitrarily lengthening gameplay, sequences are inserted into the game where you have to return to a previously reached point in order to advance the story. A few of the later Zelda games are victims of this, but on a smaller scale since at least (in most cases) they’re still entertaining.

It never feels tedious in the world of Metroid. I’m always excited to keep exploring, because each time I get something new I want to try it out. The game rewards you for it, too. Shortcuts, upgrades, expansions, all of these are often only found upon very close examination with something you may not have had earlier in the game. Metroid Prime adds a further dimension to it with the scanning system, a mechanic not present in any of the prior Metroid games.

Available from the start of the game, you can enable Samus’s Scan Visor, which will highlight things you may scan in your immediate radius with an orange or red (signifying something important) icon. Orange icons often provide minor context, such as computer screens. The red icons can unlock doors and signify that something is a breakable material (like the X-Ray Visor in Super Metroid), but their main function is to fill out Samus’s Logbook.

The Logbook is split into five parts:

  • Many of the game mechanics fall into this category, such as the health/ammunition pickups Samus can collect as well as save stations, Samus’s gunship, and so on.
  • Every enemy you face falls into this category, including bosses.
  • Chozo Lore. Messages on the walls of the Chozo Ruins region fall into this category. The entires flesh out what happened on Tallon IV before Samus’s arrival and even contain a few prophetic references to her.
  • Pirate Data. Computer terminals across Tallon IV fill this category. They detail the circumstances of the Pirates’ arrival/research and, later, their consternation with Samus Aran, including one hilarious log where they try to duplicate Morph Ball tech.
  • The twelve Chozo Artifacts necessary to complete the game fall into this category–sort of. What actually fills the log are the hints for each one which can all be scanned at the same place.

The Logbook is, essentially, the source of the story for the game. With no dialogue, it’s up to the player to piece together the bits and parts in order to determine the whats, whens, and whys. Of course, it’s entirely optional. But it’s all there for the taking. You’re free to blaze through the game, shoot everything in sight, and not give one hoot about why you need to do it. You’re just as free to walk through the game, scan everything in sight, and figure out just what the hell happened to Tallon IV. Any option in between is just as possible—a level of freedom not achievable were you to just select Story On or Story Off at the start of the game.

Everything, really, is up to the player. That’s what keeps the isolation from being overwhelming. You are your own company, and you’re pretty good company. Exploring every nook and cranny, trying to see if there’s a new shortcut to hit, everything is your choice and your choice alone. Samus Aran is a capable bounty hunter with a wealth of tools at her disposal; it only makes sense that’s it’s fun as hell to play as her.

That brings me to that point I brought up at the very beginning about her gender being irrevelant. At no point in either Super Metroid or Metroid Prime is it ever capital-I Important that Samus Aran is a woman. The Space Pirates getting their asses unequivocally handed to them by Samus never once state in one of the Pirate Data entries how frustrating it is to get “beaten by a girl.” In fact, only one log at all refers to her gender explicitly, identifying her as a “female hominid […] heavily armed and extremely dangerous.”

It’s never unrealistic or surprising that Samus Aran is a woman. She is never obligated to prove herself to anyone. It’s the logical endgame of progressive video game writing, something I talked about in my review for Transistor. It’s not tokenism. It’s not exploitative. It’s just perfectly natural within the context of the game. Like I said, the Space Pirates don’t seethe about being beaten by a girl. They seethe about getting beaten, period. That’s realistic.

For nearly 30 years, Samus Aran has been the only female “mascot” for a flagship Nintendo series. 4)Though Zelda’s name is in the title of the games, it’s undeniable that the most recognizable character is always Link, to the point where many mistakenly refer to him as Zelda. For this reason, it’s particularly disappointing that there hasn’t been a new entry in her series since Other M. But as stated earlier, the wait between Super Metroid and Metroid Prime was eight years. So waiting can often be worth it.

The question is, though: who’s going to make the next Metroid? Retro Studios handled the Prime trilogy, moving to work on the Donkey Kong Country Returns franchise once their work with Prime wrapped up. Team Ninja (of, ahem, the Dead or Alive games) worked on Other M. It’s arguable that Retro is batting 1.000 with the critical and commercial successes of both the Prime trilogy as well as the Donkey Kong Country Returns games. As of now, they’re currently working on an undisclosed Wii U title which will likely be revealed in a month at E3. Here’s hoping we get to see the return of Samus Aran—it’s been too long already.

Notes   [ + ]

1. A remake of Star Fox 64 was released for Nintendo 3DS in 2011 and a new title is currently in development for Wii U.
2. The ending only revealed Samus’s identity if the game was completed quickly enough.
3. Metroid Fusion on the Game Boy Advance was released on the same day as Prime.
4. Though Zelda’s name is in the title of the games, it’s undeniable that the most recognizable character is always Link, to the point where many mistakenly refer to him as Zelda.

Together, We Ride: How Fire Emblem Went From Death’s Door to Cornerstone Franchise

Super Mario. The Legend of Zelda. Pokémon. Fire Emblem.

Wait, Fire Emblem? Yeah. It’s true. In the past several years, Fire Emblem has gone from being on the verge of an orphaned series to one of Nintendo’s flagship titles. It didn’t happen overnight, and it can’t be traced to any one thing. Rather, it gradually happened over time as both old and new FE fans came together to support one of Nintendo’s longest-running franchises. 1)It began way back in 1990. How did it happen? And just how close was Fire Emblem to ending for good? Most importantly, what does this mean for both the series and Nintendo moving forward? Well, you’ve come to the right place. Welcome back to Game Losers. Continue reading Together, We Ride: How Fire Emblem Went From Death’s Door to Cornerstone Franchise

Notes   [ + ]

1. It began way back in 1990.

Animal Crossing and the Season of Giving

This article goes live Christmas Eve, so it’s only fitting to tie it into that season of giving. I’ve been getting back into Animal Crossing: New Leaf recently after taking about a year off from it from last October to this October. Those of you who play AC games know the vicious cycle that happens when you’re unable to check in for a couple of days: you get nervous about how different things are going to be when you finally turn the game on again. The slogan for the original Animal Crossing on GCN was, of course, “the real life game that’s playing, even when you’re not.”

When I finally turned it on after about a year, the results weren’t as bad as I was expecting. One of my villagers, Dotty, had moved away, but she moved to GL Head Editor Christie’s town so I can still visit her. There was a new villager, Bree, and she moved away a couple of days after I started playing daily again. The town was, of course, covered in weeds. I had a bad case of bedhead. There were cockroaches all over my house. The villagers wondered what had happened to their mayor. Some of them thought I clandestinely moved away. Cranston thought I had just overslept. But they welcomed me back with open arms.

I think you look just fine.
I think you look just fine.

And now, what the world of AC playfully dubs “Toy Day” is fast approaching. In ACNL, this event revolves around the player playing the role of Santa Claus. Throughout December the villagers will drop hints about what they asked for. Your job is to make sure they get what they wanted. It’s a fun little diversion and a nice way for ACNL to reflect the holiday season. It got me thinking about my personal history with the Animal Crossing series and what it means to be able to go back to New Leaf after a year. Continue reading Animal Crossing and the Season of Giving

Skyward Sword, Downward Spiral

WARNING: This article contains unmarked spoilers for The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword.

Let me preface this half-review/half-some other thing with the qualification that I cannot and will not call The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword a “bad game.” Too much work and effort was put in by too many people for me to feel at all comfortable with dismissing it like that. I made a similar qualification before when discussing Grand Theft Auto V; some consideration has to be made for effort and personal taste when reviewing a game.

All that said, Skyward Sword deeply disappointed me to the point where I had to stop and think super hard about whether my problems were with SS in specific or with modern 3D Zelda games as a whole. Continue reading Skyward Sword, Downward Spiral

Ace Attorney: How To Wright A Story

Here is an excerpt from the February 2004 issue of Electronic Gaming Monthly:

“In real life, Japanese courts are so slow that it can take several years to complete a typical lawsuit. In the world of Gyakuten Saiban (available now in Japan for GBA), which translates to ‘Courtroom Reversal,’ it’s a different story—there’s no jury, no insanity pleas, and only three days to convince the judge that your client’s innocent. How do you, defense attorney Ryuichi Naruhodo, manage this? Simple: Visit the crime scene, gather evidence, and use it to rip the prosecutor’s case to shreds during cross-examination. It sounds boring, but the high-energy anime sequences and nutty characters have made Gyakuten Saiban one of Japan’s most popular adventure series—this third installment is coming to Japan in January 2004.”

Haha! What a weird game that has no chance of ever making it to America, right? Continue reading Ace Attorney: How To Wright A Story

720°: You Either Skate Or You Die

Sports games have come a mighty long way since the 90s. Editor-in-Chief Roger Burton can tell you that much—he knows way more about the major sports game franchises than I could ever dream to learn (or want to learn, but that’s another story).  So I was pretty surprised when we were talking about NES games and he’d never heard of 720°. I mean, really? How do you know so much about sports and games and everything in between but not this? Come on, Burton, step it up. So anyway, now that I’ve proven that I actually know a sports game thing that Roger doesn’t know, I want to share with you all a little bit about this game.

And, of course, why it terrified me as a kid.

720flyer
The Ultimate Aerial Experience!

So, what horrors lurk beyond this gnarly facade? Well…admittedly, not that many, but I still feel weird whenever I think about this game.

Continue reading 720°: You Either Skate Or You Die

Race in the Wide Worlds of Fire Emblem

-Notice: This article contains unmarked spoilers for Fire Emblem on the Game Boy Advance and Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance for the Nintendo GameCube.-

“Sub-human? Ha! What arrogance it takes to coin such a name! You think yourselves the only ones worthy of the name ‘human,’ and so we laguz must be beneath you? And thus you call us ‘sub-human.’ We are less than human to you, is that it?”

“I’m sorry…I don’t know any other name for you. If I have offended you, I apologize. What should I call you? Laguz? Would that be more appropriate?”

“Huh? You show manners? How odd. I like that. Now, you are…Who, exactly?”

“My name is Ike. Ike of the Greil Mercenaries.”

I recently finished a playthrough of Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance, my first time going through it in at least seven years. Though I knew it was a game that wasn’t afraid of tackling delicate issues, they hit a lot harder when I was old enough to really realize what they were talking about. Fire Emblem games have a reputation for depicting how fucked up royal families are—in one, a prince clandestinely murders his father so that he can become king and in another a king arranges to have his prepubescent son assassinated.

But that’s all par for the course and royal family fuckups aren’t necessarily things we deal with on a daily basis. What about race, though? Continue reading Race in the Wide Worlds of Fire Emblem

The New Revolution: Nintendo’s Renaissance

(Note from the Editor-In-Chief: This article was written before Nintendo’s disappointing response to pleas for equality in Tomodachi Life. While my points in the article still stand and while I still love Nintendo, I cannot pretend they are a flawless company. Until they offer all gamers an equal experience, they will never be flawless. I hold out hope that Nintendo will be a trailblazer not just in video games but in equality. They have listened to the voices of their audience before; those voices are rightly louder than ever now.)

In September 2005, Nintendo changed the game.

This is Satoru Iwata’s keynote speech at the 2005 Tokyo Game Show, an event not usually attended by Nintendo. I recommend watching the entire video, though it cuts off early and the second part is nowhere to be found. But if you want to skip to the important stuff, the video showcasing the Wii (then codenamed “Revolution”) controller for the first time begins at 3:30 and, more importantly, Iwata takes out a prototype and begins to speak about it at 5:45. He holds it up, triumphant, as thousands of cameras flash, seeking to capture a once-in-a-lifetime moment. He knew then that Nintendo was right to codename the Wii “Revolution.” The Revolution began with that controller in the air.

That said, the Revolution had been announced and teased at E3 earlier that year.

Continue reading The New Revolution: Nintendo’s Renaissance

Ye Olde e-Reader

One of the main themes in the history of Nintendo is “ahead of its time.” Take the Virtual Boy, the largest hardware failure in the history of consumer gaming. It took over a decade for the stereoscopic 3-D Nintendo was so keen on to become marketable, in 3DS form. Or take the Game Boy Advance-GameCube Link Cable, which Nintendo pushed harder than just about anything else. It got released about ten years before cross-platform connectivity became a buzzword.

But what about our obscure friend, the e-Reader?

A bit ugly, sure, but everything was in 2002.

I had one. I still have one. It still works. I still have a couple of Animal Crossing cards that it’s still perfectly capable of scanning, even though it takes a few tries. But it was pretty unwieldy. It took several cards to start up an NES game, it took two connected GBAs for some features, and a GBA-GCN connection for some others.

It caught on in Japan but never in the USA or Europe and it was discontinued by 2004. Why not? Was it because keeping track of all the cards and their respective games was too difficult?

Three million starter packs have been sold.

Was it because it wasn’t practical to release things that had little to no intrinsic value (except as collectibles) when separated from their associated games and functions?

“As of February 2014 the Skylanders series has crossed the $2 billion in sales threshold.”

Maybe it was because many of the cards themselves weren’t really necessary for the games they were tied to. I guess we’ll never know. For the record, e-Reader cards themselves are now highly collectible, as any __________ card becomes after enough years.

I don’t think anyone wants my crinkly Tom Nook one, though.

This Kong’s One Hell Of A Game, Part I

So I’ve been playing Donkey Kong 64 lately.

This isn’t the case of revisiting an old favorite. I’m playing DK64 for the first time. I missed out on it when I was a kid, not because I didn’t have a Nintendo 64 (I did), and because I didn’t have the necessary Expansion Pak (I did). I just missed out on it. Continue reading This Kong’s One Hell Of A Game, Part I