Tuesday, March 26, 2013

New Super Mario Bros. U - Boost Troll

In the game known as New Super Mario Bros. U, there is Boost Mode, a mode where one person places blocks and influences the environment using the GamePad's touch screen while the other players run through levels as normal. The moment this feature was shown at E3, gamers knew in their hearts that this power would inevitably be used for evil by "that one friend". It was designed to aid the players, but it would be used to troll the players. Indeed, this is exactly what happened, but instead of getting angry, my friends and I decided to see how far we could take it. And thus, BOOST TROLL was born. It's a battle of wits and skill between Mario and the almighty "Hand of God".

My friends and I demonstrate the art of Boost Trolling.

The goal of the game is simple: Mario must attempt to finish the level while the Boost Troll attempts to kill him until he gets Game Over or gives up. Every level offers a vastly different kind of challenge depending on what powerups are available, the number of pits, whether it's in a cave, underwater, or overworld, and other factors that you'll discover as you play. Some levels give a strong advantage to Mario, but most give the advantage to the troll. Each new gameplay element offers new ways to screw over Mario. Here are a few of the most common situations to look out for and some strategies to go along with them:

As the troll, it's important to keep Mario away from any powerups. Placing a block right above (or below, if ground pounded) an item-giving block as pictured will destroy the powerup when it comes out. Yoshi cannot be destroyed in this manner. As Mario, try faking out the troll by jumping at unexpected times or ground pounding blocks instead. If the mushroom or Yoshi is moving, the troll can also use blocks to redirect its path or touch it to make it bounce.

The troll should constantly place blocks in front of Mario to run the timer down and also to annoy the player. Pits are the troll's best opportunity to kill Mario, so don't waste them. The troll should be careful not to leave any protruding blocks that might give Mario a foothold and allow him to climb over the barrier.

Whenever possible, the troll should limit Mario's space and trap him with enemies. Mario should watch out for places where this is likely to happen and jump over them or jump quickly to break the boost mode blocks before the enemy gets to him.

The troll can sometimes affect the environment or influence enemies. In the image above, the troll can cause the spinning ground to suddenly spin quickly in the other direction. Some enemies, when tapped, will hop a little, which can throw off the Mario player. But be careful when tapping enemies like piranha plants and dry bones, as this will temporarily disable them and actually help Mario.

Have you found any good trolling strategies? If so, let me know in the comments!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Wii U Isn't Doomed, But Here's How to Sell It Better

It's no secret that the Wii U's sales haven't been the greatest. Perhaps it's because the huge market of so called "casual" gamers that the Wii and DS tapped into are already satisfied with (or bored with) their Wiis and DSs, or have settled for the mediocre but playable selection of games on iOS. Then there's the possibility that many of the "hardcore" gamers who have been playing games all their lives feel a bit alienated by Nintendo's seemingly "casual"-centric strategy with the Wii (unfairly so, because there were a ton of great games on the Wii, though I can understand complaints of so-so online play). There's also the theory that people are getting confused by the name and thinking that the Wii U is simply an add-on to the Wii. More likely, I think, is that casual gamers haven't even heard of it. Whatever the reason for the Wii U's slow adoption, it's causing many to predict doom for Nintendo [again]. I very much doubt that Nintendo is doomed at all. The 3DS went through the same period of poor sales, but now that it has more games, its popularity and sales have increased dramatically. I expect that the Wii U will do the same once it has more games available at the end of this year. But apart from the obvious strategy of releasing more games, here are a few other ideas for how to sell the Wii U.

Better Demos
15 featured titles and only one playable. That's a problem. (image source: egmnow)
There have been Wii U demo kiosks in stores since its launch, but the only playable demo on them so far is Rayman Legends. Don't get me wrong, Rayman Legends looks to be a fantastic game, but apart from the gimmicky GamePad levels, it fails to show why anyone should buy a Wii U. The graphics are great, but they'd be just as great on a PS3 or 360, and as I said, the segments utilizing the touch screen aren't really that exciting. The reason so many people were eager to buy the Wii when it came out was because of Wii Sports. It was simple, but it showed off what the console could do that others couldn't. There weren't many (any?) demos of Wii Sports either, but once people tried it on their friends' Wiis, its popularity spread quickly. For Wii U, the equivalent is Nintendo Land, and it's even better than Wii Sports. And so it boggles my mind as to why there are no playable demos of it available in stores. Nintendo Land is a system selling game and to sell the Wii U, people need to play it.
My friends and I played Nintendo Land for hours. Why don't more people know about it?

Unfortunately, we can't just stop with a Nintendo Land demo, because apparently there are a number of closed minded gamers out there who will only play gritty shooters that make them feel manly. Just for them, Nintendo ought to throw in a Call of Duty demo or some similarly high profile 3rd party game just to show that they exist and that the Wii U can handle them a little differently. The demo might not show it off that well, but being able to play games on the GamePad while the TV is in use and play local multiplayer with one player on the GamePad and one on the TV are benefits worth considering when buying a multi-platform game and should be advertised as such.

Better Advertising
There has been some Wii U advertising, but I mostly saw it around the console's launch and haven't seen much since. Unfortunately, advertisements can't quite capture the fun factor of something like Wii or Wii U. That fun factor of playing with friends and family in local multiplayer is what will ultimately sell the console (that, and more games). So what the advertisements need to do is raise awareness that the console exists and that it is a new machine entirely, not just a new game or controller; and also show off some of the games and what the controller can do in them. I don't imagine that commercials by themselves will sell many consoles, but once there area few more in the hands of gamers, word of mouth and hands on experience will sell more. 
Miiverse drawings shared by friends are free advertising for Nintendo, and more influential than TV ads.
The power of word of mouth could be further taken advantage of by encouraging Wii U owners to share their Miiverse posts to Facebook and other social networks. For those who don't know, Miiverse is the Wii U's built in message board system which allows you to type comments, draw pictures, and post screenshots in different gaming communities. It's a surprisingly enjoyable feature and showing that and other small features off is also important. One of my friends on Facebook frequently shares awesome drawings that he has posted to the Miiverse and I couldn't help but think that this guy was getting his money's worth out of the console from that alone. So in addition to the console itself, Nintendo needs to show off its many smaller features like Miiverse, TVii, and Google Street View.

Drop the Price
Right now, the Wii U is in a similar place as the 3DS was in the year following its launch. It doesn't have many games and the price is a bit higher than many are willing to pay. For good reason people are waiting to make their purchase. Now, the 3DS is finding much greater success due to its expanding library of games and a price drop. I expect that Nintendo will follow the same strategy for the Wii U as they did for the 3DS. First, early adopters are being rewarded with 30 cent games on virtual console just like 3DS early adopters were rewarded with the Ambassador Program. Second, more games will be released, so that by this Christmas there should be enough games available to make buying the console worthwhile. Thirdly, I expect the price to drop by $50 or so, either before Christmas or in the beginning of 2014. I think that a price drop or more enticing bundles would get a significant number of new customers to take the plunge with Wii U. It would also cause parents who plan to buy a console for their children for Christmas to be more keen on choosing a Wii U over a Playstation 4.

Get Hacked
Whoa, whoa, whoa. I know. Nintendo would never intentionally let their console get hacked and they shouldn't. The hackability of the Wii opened up lots of helpful functionality including custom Mario Kart tracks, New Super Mario Bros. and Smash Bros. levels, and the ability to play foreign games. Unfortunately, it also makes it easy to pirate games. Nevertheless, a hackable Wii U would surely generate some interest and more sales. Admittedly, it would probably hurt software sales and the online community (due to potential for cheating), but this article isn't about software sales, now is it?

The bottom line is that Nintendo and the Wii U are not doomed to failure; at least not this generation. Like the 3DS, sales will pick up once the games arrive, so stop worrying about it and just enjoy the games you have instead of starting console wars.

Monday, March 18, 2013

If Other Games Had the Same Problems as SimCity

As most gamers already know, SimCity, the latest addition to the long-running series, has had its share of problems since its launch. The troubling part of this news is that the majority of the problems could have been prevented if the traditionally single player game did not require an internet connection to play and save your game. But the restrictive DRM isn't the game's only problem. Let's take a look at what other games might look like if they followed the same pattern as SimCity, and pray that developers do not make the same mistakes in the future.

Animal Crossing would make you wait, even for single player.

You'd lose progress and miss rare Pokemon due to connection problems.

Sonic would be reduced to walking to allow the servers to manage the high traffic.

Minecraft would be divided into small regions, but still allow you to look out longingly at the arbitrarily untouchable land beyond the border.

Items standard to the series would be cut from the game and then sold as expensive DLC.

Mario Kart would be limited to online multiplayer, for the good of the community of course.

Do these sound like good design practices to you? If not, do your research before you buy a new game and vote with your wallet! If you don't like the way a company treats its customers or designs its games, don't encourage them by buying their games.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Mr. Driller: Drill Land - Can you dig it?

Platform: GCN    Genre: Puzzle    Release: Dec. 19, 2002

If you've played previous Mr. Driller games, you may think that you know the drill, but Mr. Driller: Drill Land brings several new versions of that classic formula to the table which should entertain fans and newcomers alike. 

For those not in the know, Mr. Driller is a series of puzzle games which involve digging down through colored blocks. Same colored blocks stick together and will break when you drill through a connecting block, causing all the blocks above them to fall. You have to keep moving steadily downward while avoiding being crushed and while keeping an eye out for air refills if you want to win.

This game takes place in a theme park which has various attractions that all involve drilling. From the main hub, you can choose which of the five modes you want to play or go to the shops to spend the points you earn from playing on collectible cards, goods, and items that will help you clear levels if you get stuck. There's also a mostly pointless parade that you can watch and control that has the characters going by on floats. Four player multiplayer is also available from the main menu and features a race and a battle mode.

Each of the five attractions has three difficulties and an unlimited mode, but only the easiest difficulty is available to start. The others are unlocked one at a time as you clear all five modes on each available difficulty. The harder difficulties not only make the distance you have to dig longer, but in most cases they add new layouts of blocks and other new puzzle elements as well. Each level is also accompanied with a fully voice acted cutscene before and after it, which is generally just silly dialogue between the characters. There is a story, but it's very simple and unnecessary. The graphics are crisp and colorful, and it's worth noting that the game's soundtrack is absolutely fantastic (composed by Go Shiina of Tales of Legendia fame). In fact, the only way I knew about this game in the first place was because of its soundtrack.

Now then, onto the different modes, each of which I have recorded for your viewing pleasure.

World Drill Tour
Gameplay at 4:00
World Drill Tour is the mode that most resembles previous Mr. Driller games; in fact, it's almost identical. The goal is simply to get to the target depth while collecting air tanks. You only have three lives so you'll have to be careful to avoid getting crushed or running out of air. For high score seekers, the more air containers you get, the more points you get. You'll also get a bonus for collecting every air tank, not losing lives, and for finishing quickly. This is also the only mode in which you can choose any character and each character has certain strengths that are unique to them.

Star Driller
Gameplay at 0:50
Star Driller is very similar to World Drill Tour except that there are now ?-Block items that will cause one of many random effects to occur. Usually the effects are good and may refill your air, increase your max air, warp you further down, or destroy blocks. But getting the item blocks is also a risk because sometimes a black hole will appear which will suck you in and put you back to the start of the section you're in if you fall into it.

Drindy Adventure
Gameplay at 0:55
Drindy Adventure is the first mode that makes significant changes to the traditional formula. Air is no longer an issue, so you have as long as you need to figure out what to drill and what not to drill. However, on your way to the bottom there are gold statues that you have to collect. It isn't as easy as just collecting them though, as they are usually guarded by traps such as rolling boulders, spikes, and fire. This mode is definitely more about planning than speed.

Horror Night House
Gameplay at 1:00
This haunted house themed mode is more different still and probably one of the funnest. Once again, the air meter is gone and instead there is an HP meter. Also, the goal is no longer to reach a target depth. Instead, you'll need to collect jars of holy water which you can use to freeze roaming ghosts in blocks. Once frozen, the ghosts can be defeated by drilling the block that they are contained in. This causes them to drop "drystals" which you need to advance to the next level. If you get crushed, are attacked by the ghosts, or drill a block containing ghosts that aren't frozen, you'll lose HP. Running out of HP means game over.

Hole of Druaga
Gameplay at 1:00
This is the most different of all the modes and it resembles a dungeon crawler. The stage is divided into a randomly generated arrangement of rooms which are revealed on the map as you explore them. This time you have HP instead of air, but your HP decreases not only from being crushed, but also every time you drill or get hit by enemies. Yeah, there are enemies now and if you beat them, they'll drop items. The items can be used from a menu and will destroy certain blocks, change the color of blocks, restore your HP, or give you helpful abilities. In order to win, you'll have to find a key that is being guarded by a dragon, then find the door that the key opens, and finally defeat a boss using the items you collected throughout the level. Along with Horror Night House, Hole of Druaga is my other favorite mode.

Everything about Mr. Driller: Drill Land is incredibly polished and fun. The soundtrack and voice acted cutscenes are above and beyond the call of duty for a puzzle game like this, but are very much welcomed. It really is strange that this game never made it out of Japan because it is an excellent puzzle game. If you're into puzzle games or other Mr. Driller games and have the ability to play it, I definitely recommend giving it a shot. 

In order to play Mr. Driller: Drill Land you will need a Japanese console, a region-modded console, or a Wii with the ability to change the game region and language to Japanese. You will not be able to save if using Freeloader for Game Cube. Japanese Game Cube games require their own memory card with only Japanese save data on them which must be reformatted when used for the first time. Mr. Driller: Drill Land is one of a few games that checks the console's region before saving, so if you don't change the game region and language with AnyRegionChanger (or a safer and more up-to-date app like ModMii) you will not be able to save even if you can run the game. I found that running Pimp My Wii, which automatically downloaded and installed the appropriate hacks and custom IOSs required, fixed any errors I encountered with AnyRegionChanger, but due to the constantly evolving homebrew scene, I recommend that you find a more up-to-date and in depth tutorial if you are planning to attempt changing your Wii's region.

Monday, March 4, 2013

6 Popular Games I Don't Really Like

They aren't necessarily bad games, but for one reason or another I wasn't able to enjoy these popular games as much as everyone else seems to. I look forward to reading the rage of the fans of these games in the comments.

Madden (and other sports games)
When it comes to sports games, a lot of people say "Why don't you just go outside and play the actual sport?". That's a dumb argument. Actually playing a sport and playing the video game version of a sport are entirely different experiences and can be fun in their own ways. Even so, the reason I don't tend to like sports game is simple: I just don't care about sports. I know that playing a game is different than watching a sport on TV, but it still looks like sports on TV and that turns me off from it. Perhaps it's the years of collecting games and the short time I worked at EB Games, but the sight of those yearly iterations of popular sports titles taking up shelf space, essentially worthless, games you can't pay someone to take from you, with boring box art, and a fanbase easily identifiable in all the wrong ways... ...where was I going with this? 

Oh! Anyway, they evoke negative emotions deep within my soul that makes me want to keep them far away from my other, good games. Sure, it might not be the best reasoning, but I definitely have an aversion to sports games.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
So... like... everyone was playing this game right? Before they moved on to Modern Warfare 3 and Black Ops and Black Ops 2. Well, I picked it up from the local game store for like ten bucks and it's alright I guess. You shoot people, run around... the usual. The single player story seems to jump from one thing to the next just to get you into the different maps the developers wanted to show off. I was surprised to find that there was a targeting button so even noobs like me could aim. But the main draw of this is online multiplayer so I tried that out too. It's nice, nothing special. This perk system I heard so much about though seems more like a bad thing to me. While I appreciate some kind of progression and unlockables for playing online, it feels more like a system that allows the good players to be even better because they have weapons and abilities that you don't. In a multiplayer game, everyone should be on a level playing field and the victor should be the one with the most skill, not just the one who has the better perks. Maybe the perks are more balanced they first appeared, but I think I'd prefer to play a game where everyone has the same tools at their disposal and multiplayer unlockables are limited to aesthetic changes like titles, costumes, and hats.

Metal Gear Solid
Let me start by saying that I love Zelda: The Wind Waker. Now let me explain why I never start new files in it: that freaking stealth part in Forsaken Fortress!! It's not particularly hard, but it's darn annoying. Stealth segments in general tend to tick me off. They slow down the game while you wait for enemies to walk around their set paths to just the right positions, which makes getting caught and starting over all the more frustrating. Admittedly, I didn't play too much of Metal Gear Solid. The story seemed cool and there was some action, but I found the controls to be awkward and the stealth to be not much more fun than in any other game. I can't say that the series is bad, but unfortunately it's not my cup of tea. I believe Han Solo said it best, "I'd prefer a straight fight to all this sneaking around."

Angry Birds
To be honest, my dislike for Angry Birds doesn't really come from the game itself, but from its undeserved popularity. The game is ok, but it's no more special than any of the thousands of free flash games online and certainly not any better than other indie games or big name games. It's really just a better branded version of Crush the Castle. I'm not sure how Angry Birds got so ridiculously popular, but my guess is that it has something to do with iOS's failure to be the viable gaming platform that it likes to pretend it is, leaving this as one of the only games worth getting. Apple's marketing strategy seems to have worked quite well for itself and for the developers of Angry Birds; take away the user's ability to use Flash, and you take away their free online games so you can charge them for the same things in a different package. With so many people owning Apple products (for what reason, only God knows) and buying one of the only half decent games for it, it grew in popularity, and that popularity snowballed into more popularity. Now there's every kind of Angry Birds merchandise imaginable. Kudos to the developers, but I can't deny that I'm a bit peeved that such an asinine game got more famous than the hundreds of other, better flash games and full release games.

Kingdom Hearts
Man, when I got my PS2, I was pretty hyped to play Kingdom Hearts; everyone seemed to love this game. And when I started, I wasn't disappointed. The story was intriguing and full of mystery, the characters were interesting, there was that awesome opening with the song by Utada Hikaru; it was pretty awesome. And then... Disney characters intruded into this wonderful game world. I knew, of course, that there would be Disney characters before I started, and it's not that I dislike Disney characters, but I already knew them. Their stories were the same, but with Heartless somehow in cahoots with the usual antagonist. The characters were the same, with nothing new to offer. And most importantly, they were delaying me from finding out more about the story I had been drawn in by in the first place. Still, I continued to play. Everyone loves Kingdom Hearts after all, so it must get better, right? I held out hope for an interesting progression of the story, even as the gameplay devolved into repetitive button mashing and retreating back to heal. I held out hope for two full games, but the sparsely distributed bits of plot only served to make everything more nonsensical. By the end of Kingdom Hearts 2, I was sure that the writers were just taping together scraps from failed anime plots and leaving the mess for someone else to clean up in another game. The merely average gameplay had little backing it up, and so I decided that I would spend no further time on the series.

I think my biggest beef with Minecraft is its lack of a real goal. Sure, there's "The End" now, but trying to get there is more of a chore than fun and it still doesn't feel like a purposeful goal. You could argue that there's no point in playing any game if you wanted to be technical, but the impermance of any sort of "progress" in Minecraft makes it feel especially pointless to me. You can try for diamond tools, but they'll degrade and break eventually; you can build castles, but they can be destroyed by creepers. In a nutshell, the whole game is putting yourself through varying degrees of hassle just so you can get different colored blocks. Degrading tools, enemies, and hunger all just make the pointless task of building your dream home take even longer. Survival isn't that much of a challenge, and simply surviving as long as you can isn't a thrilling achievement. If your goal is building, you may as well play in create mode and give yourself all the blocks from the start. But if you're going to do that, why not just build something in a 3D modeling program or another game that has more options available?

Basically, Minecraft is just like real life: you spend your days slaving away at monotonous tasks so you can build your meaningless dream home and try to survive comfortably for as long as possible until you eventually die. The only difference is that in Minecraft, you can respawn when you die. I can't decide if that makes it more or less pointless than real life.

So, think I'm full of crap? Want to rant about a popular game that you don't like? Let me hear about it in the comments.
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