LEGO DIMENSIONS is Going to Completely Redefine the “Toys to Life” Genre

Today Warner Brothers and LEGO and TT Games unveiled their next big thing–LEGO Dimensions, a “toys to life” game like Skylanders and Disney Infinity, where players will be able to play through all of the different licensed LEGO worlds using a portal, toys and figures they assemble themselves. Here’s the reveal trailer:

Now you might be thinking that since the addition of Nintendo’s Amiibo, the toys to life genre is a bit over-saturated right now. And that might be true, but LEGO is about to completely transform this genre, because they are adding an element that the other have not and cannot (at least to the same degree).


As you see in the trailer, Joel McHale actually builds the portal that is then used to activate figures and vehicles. He also uses pieces of the Batmobile to create an entirely new type of vehicle. And while we really don’t see much in the way of gameplay in this trailer, I believe those things are shown for a reason. With that in mind, imagine an expansion set for the game where you’re building the vehicles, weapons and structures yourself, and then porting them into the game. I’m sure there will be limitations as to what you can actually do, but even just building the Batmobile and porting it in is pretty darn sweet.

I have an eight year old son, and I can tell you he is going to lose his mind over this. We already have Skylanders and Disney Infinity, which we both play together. He is also a huge LEGO fan, as evidenced by the thousands of LEGOs we have and his LEGO Club membership. This game will be a day one purchase for us.

The potential of LEGO Dimensions is endless. And I’m sure everyone has their ideas of what sets they want to see in the future, so allow me to make a suggestion. If Microsoft is smart, they will find a way to make a LEGO Minecraft XBox exclusive set happen. Not only would it make the Xbox One the lead platform for LEGO Dimensions, it would sell gangbusters. I cannot wait to get my hands on this game.


What I’d Like the Nintendo NX to Be

Yesterday Nintendo made headlines and saw their stock prices jump with two major announcements.

First, Nintendo is finally going to be entering the smartphone game arena, as they announced a partnership with mobile developer DeNA to develop new games based on Nintendo franchises. These will not be ports, but original games designed from the ground up for mobile devices. That’s huge news and I’ll be talking more about that in another post.

The second big announcement was that Nintendo is currently working on their next hardware platform, codenamed “NX.” Iwata promised more info next year, but reiterated this will be a dedicated game console with “a brand new concept.”

It’s the “brand new concept” piece of that news that has me the most excited. Because I hope it means that Nintendo is really going to break away from what they’ve been doing and put all of their efforts into one, unified game console.

I think we can all agree on a couple of things about Nintendo. One, that they make amazing first-party games. No matter how badly the GameCube or the WiiU has sold, there is no denying that Nintendo makes great games. Sadly some of their consoles end up being machines that you just play Nintendo exclusives on. Which is fine by me, as I am a very happy WiiU owner who buys most of Nintendo’s first-party titles.

Second–Nintendo makes one heck of a handheld gaming console. From the original GameBoy (which I got at launch) up through the New Nintendo 3DS, no one does handheld gaming like Nintendo. It’s not even remotely close. Even when Sony came out with a vastly technologically superior device in the Vita, they couldn’t touch the 3DS in terms of sales. And unlike Nintendo’s TV-based consoles, their handhelds actually get third-party support.

So keeping those two things in mind, what I would like to see from Nintendo is a handheld console that can stream to TV. A new design on the 3DS that includes either a dock or some other form of connectivity to the TV. Forget about competing with the Xboxes and PlayStations of the world in terms of graphics and processing power. Stick to what Nintendo does best–handheld gaming and stellar first-party experiences–and give folks the option to play on a bigger screen if they want to.

That’s it. That’s all I’d really like to see from Nintendo in their next console. I will actually be less interested if they come out with a machine that is designed to compete with Xbox and PlayStation. Frankly, those two machines are too alike now, and they are getting close to making themselves obsolete as they get more and more similar to PCs. Steam Boxes will only exacerbate that problem for Microsoft and Sony.

So, now is the time for Nintendo to break away and focus on what they do that no one else can do. I really hope “NX” will be Nintendo doubling down on their strengths.


Why I’m Waiting on the New Nintendo 3DS XL

So, I canceled my preorder on the NewNintendo 3DS XL.

For me, that kind of a big deal, as I’d bought both the original 3DS and the 3DS XL on their respective launch days in  2011 and 2012 (I wrote about the 3DS XL when I got it here). Even when I tell myself that I’ll wait on picking up a new console or handheld, I most often end up getting them right when they come out. I’m always lured in by the newest and best gaming experience this is why I have an XBox One, PS4, Vita, WiiU and 3DS, as well as a gaming PC.

And so, I’d preordered my New 3DS XL at GameStop a few weeks ago, planning on strolling in this Friday and picking it up, probably with a copy of Majora’s Mask.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that there is really no reason for me to get a New 3DS XL at launch. For starters, I don’t have time to play Majora’s Mask right now. We’re knee-deep into Dying Light and Dragon Age: Inquisition for upcoming Co-Op Critics podcasts.

I’ve also started a Minecraft and Disney Infinity 2.0 series with my son (I used my preorder refund to get more Infinity stuff), so Majora’s Mask would be sitting for a while. I’m also not huge into the Monster Hunter series (although I’d love to have it finally ‘click’ with me), so there are no games I absolutely must play at launch.

Finally, and maybe the biggest reason I’m holding off, I missed out on the Monster Hunter and Majora’s Mask bundles, which both featured limited edition versions of the New 3DS XL. I put my preorder money down on the red one, but I just wasn’t feeling it after I did.

So, I’m waiting for two things before I take the plunge–a game that takes advantage of the new features that I’ll feel compelled to buy when it launches, and a new color or design. I’m guessing that we’ll get both of those things before the holiday season rolls around. For once, I’ll wait and see.


Club Nintendo, I Hardly Knew Ya

In a message to its members on Monday, Nintendo announced the discontinuation of Club Nintendo, its six-year-old customer loyalty program. As of July 1, 2015, Club Nintendo all close user accounts forever. 

It’s not all gloom and doom, as Nintendo is doing this to clear the way for a new customer loyalty program, one which hopefully will integrate better with the Nintendo Network (which could use its own overhaul, but that’s a discussion for a later time).
Anyway, members can continue to register purchased games until March 31st, but only on already-released products. The coins they earn for registering and other activities (surveys, etc.) can still be redeemed for game downloads and merchandise until June 30, 2015. That reminds me, I’ve got some coins to spend…
Despite being a lover of all things Nintendo, I was a latecomer to the Club Nintendo party. I had heard about it on a few gaming podcasts, but it was my friendly neighborhood GameStop manager (they’re not all the monsters the gaming media makes them out to be) who really made me realize it was worth my time and minimal effort to enroll. The first product I registered with them was my original 3DS back in 2012. 
And as customer loyalty programs go, Club Nintendo was a pretty cool one. I’m not a big collector of merchandise, so I used the coins I earned for a bunch of Virtual Console game downloads for my 3DS and WiiU. Getting free games for buying games I was going to get anyway? Pretty sweet.
The biggest bummer about Club Nintendo shutting down is that I didn’t take advantage of the program for the first three and a half years it was around. With all the DS and Wii games I bought, I’m sure I would have earned some sweet rewards.
Nevertheless, whatever the next iteration of the Club Nintendo program may be, I know I’ll be signing up for it day one this time around. 

New 3DS Models Pave the Way for Increased Wii U Interactivity, Possible GamePad Replacement

This morning at a Nintendo Direct, Nintendo announced new models of the 3DS and 3DS XL, which will hit Japan later this year and presumably, the US next year. The new models have better CPUs, built-in NFC capability and, most importantly, a second analog stick.

Well, it’s not really a stick, so much as a nub. But, this means the new models will have all the functionality of a Wii U tablet, built into the 3DS.

Now, I’ve been saying since the Wii U launched that with the addition of the Circle Pad Pro, a 3DS could function as a tablet controller for the Wii U (although it did not have NFC included). With the new models, everything you need to make the 3DS a Wii U controller is built into it already.

If Nintendo could make this work, then they could offer a version of the Wii U without the tablet for under $200, and New 3DS owners could use those devices as the primary tablet. They could also bundle the Wii U and New 3DS together for $399, giving them a great value proposition when compared to the Xbox One and PS4. The library of games the Wii U now has, coupled with the enormous catalog of 3DS games would be a huge selling point.

Now of course, I don’t know if this is part of Nintendo’s plan moving forward, but here’s why I think it is. Nintendo is fracturing their 3DS user base with this move. The 3DS is currently their most successful console. There will be games you can play on the New 3DS that can’t be played on the old models. In the long run, the only reason this would make sense is if Nintendo was updating the 3DS to enable it to be more interactive with the Wii U, and potentially replace the GamePad.

This could be very interesting.


Exiting the Tomodachi Life

Though I’m an online creature, I don’t think that the online version of me is radically different than the meatspace version of me that occupies the physical world. The same brain directs both versions of me, even though the brain has to adjust to how each version of me interacts with and receives feedback from its respective world. The same soul is reflected in how the digital and physical me interacts with the people who inhabit each world.

Since I never made a distinction between the digital and the physical me, I never saw the point of playing social simulations like The Sims, Animal Crossing, or Harvest Moon. Furthermore, the physical act of playing social simulations like The Sims or Animal Crossing seemed particularly tedious; there didn’t seem to be the type of feedback that more active games like character action-adventure games or sports simulation games or first person shooters can provide.

So, I was surprised at my own reaction to what I saw of Tomodachi Life, specifically when the Giant Bomb crew played it on an episode of their weekly show, Unprofessional Fridays. The game’s quirkiness appealed to me, and for a while, it kept me glued to the game on my commute to work every morning. One morning, I found that Jesus of Nazareth, whom I had invited to live on island, named Tummy Isle Island, had been arrested for adding hot mustard to foods around the island. No explanation was given for why Jesus had made this his mission, and the other residents of Tummy Isle Island had muted reactions to this news. Another morning, Jesus attempted to break the world record of facial distortion by stretching his face but failed by an inch. Did Jesus go on his hot mustard mission because he failed to break this world record, or was it because I fed him something that he didn’t like the day before? Another morning, one resident dreamed an ill-fated romance between a brownie and a stack of pancakes. On a different morning, another resident dreamed that he was a bobblehead on a dashboard of a car that was racing through a dark forest. One night, my own avatar dreamed that he was a snail crawling along a blank white floor. These snippets sound like gibberish when I recount them to anyone else.

Though quirky and kooky stuff have a fairly limited lifespan (I’ve seen the dashboard bobblehead dream multiple times from different residents, so it seems like something with which the game likes to populate its characters’ dreams), that wasn’t what ultimately caused me to  finally put Tomodachi Life aside. Instead, it’s something that should seem impossible for a game that’s as theoretically personalized as Tomodachi Life: the feeling of homogeneity.

For a while, my game felt personalized enough that I wasn’t left wondering about the game’s nuts and bolts. The goal is to keep the avatars I’ve populated Tummy Isle Island with as happy as possible by meeting their essential needs (food, clothes, shelter, companionship). I populated my world with a mix of celebrities (Shaq, the Giant Bomb crew), my family members (my wife, son, brother, and sister-in-law), my friends, and fictional characters (Neon Genesis Evangelion‘s Rei Ayanami, Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s Geordi LaForge, Yotsuba&!‘s Yotsuba Koiwai, and Left4Dead‘s Zoey and Louis). Though I inserted my wife and me into the game, but there’s no obvious guarantee that they would become sweethearts and eventually husband and wife. (Except, if you think about the game’s logic, there is, but we’ll explore that later.) As in real life, my wife’s avatar proposed to me, and I felt awful when I botched my wife’s avatar’s proposal to my avatar by tapping the screen at the wrong time.

As time passes and I continue to solve the avatars’ problems, the avatars’ levels rise. I think my avatar is at level 14; Shaq’s probably at level 13. The game’s simulacrum breaks not from the fact that the avatars’ measure their growth in levels, but from the homogeneity that this mechanic forces upon the avatar. At each level, the player is forced to give the character a gift from a limited selection, a catchphrase for when the character is angry, happy, or sad, an apartment design again from a limited selection, a song from a limited selection of styles, or some pocket money from the player’s own in-game funds. In the physical world, I can’t rap or sing opera. But, my avatar in Tomodachi Life does because I simply ran out of things I could give him as he gained levels. The player is limited in the number and type of gifts we can give the avatars; almost all of the avatars, including Jesus of Nazareth, on Tummy Isle Island have cell phones I had to give them something, and Jesus didn’t seem like the type to have a punching bag. Similarly, my wife and I both rap, sing opera, have cell phones, and have the same apartment designs. The distinctions between characters gets filed down by the limited variety of things we can do when the characters level up. In order to keep the avatars unique, I can either give them pocket change that they won’t use from a pool I need to use to buy things to keep the avatars happy or homogenize them.

Once the game’s own obstacle to avatar growth became clear, I was given the mental space to wonder how and why my avatars formed their connections. It was fairly obvious why my wife’s avatar formed a relationship with my own avatar: we were the only avatars on Tummy Isle Island for a while. Oddly enough, neither avatar ever formed a connection with my son’s avatar, even though I had designated in the Mii Creator that he was our son. This left me in a weird position of wondering what happens when our avatars have a baby in Tomodachi Life when our actual kid’s avatar is already in the game and seemingly estranged from our avatars. And this doubt led me to where social simulation games die: GameFAQs.

The moment I’m tempted to open a guide to understand the game’s nuts and bolts, the game’s illusions are dispelled. And because the mini-games in Tomodachi Life are shallow, the mechanics of clothing and feeding the avatars shallow, and the lifespan of quirkiness fairly limited, I took the cartridge out of the 3DS XL that I ostensibly bought so I could play Tomodachi Life with a small sense of relief.


E3 2014: What I’m Most Excited About (Part 3)–Splatoon

There was a lot of what Nintendo showed this year at E3 that got me excited, but Splatoon is the game that stands out the most. Not only is Splatoon a new IP, but it’s a multiplayer shooter that is appropriate for all ages and features some very clever new mechanics.

I chalk my excitement for Splatoon up to how well Nintendo showcased the game at E3 this year. They gave the game enough time in the spotlight for people to really understand what its about.

Splatoon at first glance is a very “kiddy” game with cute aesthetics and seemingly simplified gameplay. But as soon as you start to dig a little deeper, you see that the game is a brilliant twist on third-person shooter games. You win matches by covering a greater portion of the map with your team’s colored ink. So the emphasis is on controlling geography as opposed to “killing” opponents. And because the characters are squid-like humanoids, their ability to swim in the ink that covers the map adds a great twist to ammo refilling and navigation. You’re faster when you’re swimming, and swimming provides cover. You can cover walls with ink to allow you to climb up them and reach higher vantage points. You can sneak up on enemies and pop out just long enough to take them down. It really adds a more dynamic layer to the basic third-person shooter template.

I’ve said before that I really enjoyed Nintendo’s approach to E3 this year, and putting the developers up front to talk about the games they’re making was a great move. Splatoon looks like a ton of fun, and I can’t wait to play it with my kids.


It’s That Time Again–This Week’s Anti-Nintendo Nonsense


Well, the Nintendo gloom and doom story of the week arrived today as word dropped that Nintendo suffered an almost $230 million net loss. At the end of Nintendo’s fiscal year (March 31st), WiiU sales sit at a grand total of 6.17 million. By contrast, the XBox One (5 million units) and the PS4 (7 million units) have vastly outpaced the WiiU in the roughly six months since their releases.

Nintendo promised a return to profitability this coming year, but predicted a modest 3.6 million in WiiU sales, and 3DS sales of 12 million, which is just below what it sold this past year.

I’ve blogged about this before, but it really bothers me to see the vulture-like mentality of the mainstream gaming media when it comes to Nintendo’s woes.** They revel in every piece of negative news, producing condescending op ed-pieces and endless roundtable discussions about how much trouble Nintendo is in, and calling for them to abandon the WiiU, put all of their games on mobile or stop making hardware altogether.

Can everyone just take a deep breath, please? The WiiU has been out for just shy of 18 months.

I mean, are we really suggesting that Nintendo pull a SEGA here and give the WiiU the Dreamcast treatment? Even that console was given two and a half years from its launch before SEGA pulled the plug (capping lifetime sales at 10.6 million).

If we’re going to be comparing WiiU sales to anything, it shouldn’t be the XBox One or PS4–it should be Nintendo’s previous consoles. It’s safe to assume the Wii’s numbers will never be duplicated by Nintendo At this point, I think a reasonable comparison would be the GameCube. In its five-plus year lifespan, the GameCube sold just under 22 million units. For the WiiU to hit that number in a similar timeframe, it should be averaging 4.4 million units per year. So, if the WiiU gets to 8.8 million by November of 2014, which is very likely, it will be on pace with GameCube numbers.

Mario Kart 8 is going to sell WiiU consoles, there is no doubt about that. How many? Probably not as much as Nintendo would like, and not as few as the gaming media and anti-Nintendo fans will predict. Personally, I think we’ll see sales of WiiU hit 9+ million by the end of 2014, bolstered by Mario Kart 8, Bayonetta 2 and (hopefully) Super Smash Bros.

I will be putting a separate post together about the WiiU and the Dreamcast, because I think it merits more discussion. The Dreamcast was a sales failure, but is among the most beloved consoles of all time and was home to some fan-favorite games. The same can be said of the WiiU, although that point is drowned out by all the negativity being shouted about.

**SIDE NOTE: I know it’s not just Nintendo that gets the tabloid treatment. XBox One has been dealing with it as of late because sales are lagging behind the PS4. Last gen it was the Sony and the PS3’s early struggles. Clearly the negative tone that permeates mainstream gaming media is not limited to any one console, but it’s unfortunate and inappropriate nonetheless. We had a decent discussion about this on the gaming culture episode of Co-Op Critics if you’d like to hear more about it.


NYCC 2013: Super Mario 3D World Impressions

Despite the fact that the Nintendo booth at NYCC was jam packed for four straight days, I got a couple of chances to play Super Mario 3D World. The game is coming out on November 22nd, and it’s pretty much what you’d expect from a Nintendo Mario game–that is to say, it’s awesome.

One of the bigger additions to gameplay in this new Mario iteration is the Cat Suit. By grabbing a bell-shaped power-up, you gain the ability to scale walls and pounce on enemies. I love the scaling ability, as the level I played was wide open, and there were several ways to navigate it. There is a certain chaos to four players running around a 3D level, and the cat suit contributes to that chaos in a fun way.

And although it’s not unique to this Mario game, there’s so much to be said for the “pick up and play” accessibility of the game. Both times I played, I was with complete strangers, but the ability to just pick up a Mario game and know what to do seems ingrained into our DNA at this point. There’s really nothing else like it.

In my first play session I went through a standard level, but the second time was a boss fight. We faced off against a snake-like monster and his minions in a large arena. The boss battle was a combination of avoiding falling objects and platforming, and it was a ton of fun.

There’s really not much else to say except that Super Mario 3D world looks and plays great, and it should be a blast for the whole family when it comes out for WiiU in late November.


WiiU Price Drop–Better Late Than Never


Nintendo announced this week a $50 price drop for the deluxe version of the WiiU. This price drop will take effect on September 20th, the same day the new Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD bundle comes out. Even better, the Wind Waker HD bundle will also retail for $299, and will include a Zelda-themed GamePad, and a digital version of the Hyrule Historia compendium, which, if you haven’t seen it, is amazing.

So, the price drop puts the full-fledged version of the WiiU at $299. The PS4 will retail for $399 and the XBox One for $499. From a price standpoint, I feel like WiiU would be better priced at $249, but the fact that Nintendo has now aligned the console at $100 bucks cheaper than PS4 and $200 cheaper than Xbox One is a great thing. There are now clearly three options out there, and for those who are making the choice based primarily on price, there is at least now a marked difference between Nintendo and the other consoles.

The Zelda bundle is a no-brainer if you are even considering getting a WiiU. Hyrule Historia alone launched at $35 and is an amazing tome. Throw in the game and the special controller, and that’s a great package.

As much as the WiiU’s lineup of games has been maligned, by the time the other two new consoles launch, WiiU will have a pretty nice stable of games. We already have Nintendoland, LEGO City Undercover, Pikmin 3, New Super Mario Bros. U and Super Luigi U, ZombiU, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate and Game & Wario among the more notable titles. Wonderful 101 and Rayman Legends are just around the corner, with Wind Waker HD and Scribblenauts Unmasked (the DC Universe Scribblenauts game) following right behind. All of those games are either out now or will be by the time the next PlayStation and Xbox consoles launch. Not too shabby.

So yes, Nintendo completely squandered the year long head start it had to build WiiU momentum. And the third party support is as bad as we all feared it would be. BUT, the price drop will help overall sales, and there are plenty of great games out now and coming in the near future to make the WiiU a worthwhile purchase.

The biggest question for Nintendo now is whether or not the WiiU price cut was too little and too late. There is no question they should have either priced the console lower at the start or cut the price as soon as the game drought hit. Whether this move turns the console’s fortunes around remains to be seen, but I will never doubt Nintendo’s ability to turn things around after what they did with the 3DS, which is now blowing the doors off every other console in terms of sales.

There are still a couple of things I’d like to see Nintendo do that I think could go a long way to helping speed the recovery of the WiiU. For starters, an Ambassador Program for early adopters would be nice, similar to what Nintendo did with the 3DS. Building in more interactivity between the 3DS and the WiiU (like remote play or using the 3DS as an alternate controller) would be great as well. But I think the biggest thing Nintendo needs to work on with the WiiU is its implementation of the GamePad. Outside of ZombiU, Nintendoland and LEGO City Undercover (to a much smaller degree), hardly any games take advantage of the functionality of the GamePad. It’s one of the defining factors of the console, and it’s sorely underutilized.

For now though, I’m happy that the price cut has finally arrived, the games are starting to pile up, and a new bundle is on the way. Here’s hoping it’s enough to get the WiiU back on track for this holiday season.