How Amazon Could Re-Create the Wii’s Success

So, rumors were flying around the internet this week that Amazon is currently developing an Android-based gaming console, which will be released before Black Friday this holiday shopping season.

Now, most avid gamers will scoff at this potential news, for a few reasons. First, the recently-released Ouya Android gaming console has received mixed reviews at best, and while we haven’t seen actual sales numbers, the console does not appear to be selling briskly.

Second, we have the Xbox One and Playstation 4 coming this holiday season, and most avid gamers that are looking for new hardware will be investing in one or both of those consoles.

Finally, many avid gamers associate Android (and iOS for that matter) games with phones and tablets, and tend to look at those games as inferior experiences to console and dedicated handheld gaming.

Here’s the thing, though–avid gamers looked at another gaming console as providing inferior experiences to more casual audiences. That console was Nintendo’s Wii, and it recently crossed the 100 million-sold mark since it’s 2006 release. Unfortunately for Nintendo, when they developed the WiiU, they got away from what made them so successful last generation created an expensive console that left more casual gamers behind.

Amazon has a golden opportunity here to fill a missing spot in this upcoming console generation. For that matter, Apple does as well, but seems uninterested in taking gaming further than it currently is on iOS devices. Both Amazon and Apple already have app-based ecosystems full of games. Unlike the Ouya, they also both have brand recognition and a built in consumer base. So, if Amazon decided to put together an inexpensive gaming console that featured a controller and played all the games on their app store and then some? A lot of parents would be seriously considering that console for their kids this holiday season.

It makes sense that the Amazon console would be able to take advantage of other apps as well, like the Amazon Prime Video library, Netflix, and other streaming media apps.

So, imagine an Amazon gaming console and controller combo releases this holiday season for $99. It plays hundreds of games from the Amazon App Store, and a new app or game can be downloaded for free each day. The console also features Netlfix, Prime Instant Video, Audible, and more. Maybe it even allows you to use your Kindle Fire HD as a touch-based controller or a second screen.

Anyway, you get the picture. If Amazon plays their cards right, they could deal a substantial blow to both Apple and Nintendo, and offer the less expensive gaming experience to families that the Wii did in the last console generation.

I am very excited to see what happens with this, and I hope the rumors don’t turn out to be unfounded. There is definitely a part of the gaming market to be filled here, and someone will eventually take advantage of the opportunity. It’s only a matter of time before Apple comes to its senses, so Amazon should strike while the iron is hot.


Animal Crossing: New Leaf–An Elegant Introduction of Systems

This past Friday, I picked up two brand new games–Animal Crossing: New Leaf for 3DS and The Last of Us for PS3. Three days later, The Last of Us in still in the shrink wrap, and I am completely addicted to Animal Crossing. There is something about this game, man. The more I play it, the more I want to evangelize it.

The crazy thing is, I had never played an Animal Crossing game until Wild World came out for the DS in 2005. I put a few dozen hours into the game, before I got distracted by something else. When City Folk came out in 2008, I tried to get into it, but the awful WiiSpeak killed any excitement I had for multiplayer, and I kind of realized that for me, Animal Crossing is a handheld console experience.

So along comes Animal Crossing: New Leaf, and from the moment I started the game, I’ve been completely hooked. In the first several hours I’ve spent with it, what strikes me most about the game is how well designed all of its systems are. When you arrive at town, you find out that you’re the new mayor, and from that point forward, you get introduced to all of the game’s systems in a very methodical way. Before you can start your mayorly duties, you need to buy a house, which brings in Tom Nook and the notion that you’ll be owing him money for the rest of eternity. Then you learn about how to make money through fishing, bug collecting and farming. After that, you find out that you need to interact with residents to raise your approval rating as mayor, giving you a run through of the social system in the game. And so on, and so on.

I love the way the game brings you in and just layers all of its systems in a way that makes perfect sense. There are some hadcore simulation aspects to Animal Crossing, but they are never presented in that panic-inducing type of way that takes away from the relaxed feel of the experience. I want to engage with all of the systems, instead of feeling compelled to try and manage them.

I’ll post more when I get farther into the game, but I thought it was worth mentioning what a great job Animal Crossing: New Leaf does of educating new players about its many systems. I think that the technical excellence of this series often gets overlooked because of it’s cute exterior. It really is amazingly well designed.


Grr! Where Are All the Games That I Don’t Have the Time or Money to Play?!!

This is a bit of a tangent, but it came to mind as I was watching the E3 presser reactions on Twitter over the past 24 hours.

Every time a new console launches, there is public outcry from gamers about the lack of games for it.

Every. Single. Time.

XBox 360, PS3, Wii, 3DS, Vita and now WiiU are just the examples from this generation. Despite promises from both Microsoft and Sony about their launches, I think we all know that at some point in their launch cycle, there will be a drought of new releases.

You know what? It’s not that big of a deal, people.

You could make the argument that it matters from a business standpoint, because of course having a robust library for your new console will help sell units. But most gamers act as if they are on the boards of these companies, getting up in arms about something that doesn’t even affect them.

A lot of gamers act as if they have unlimited money and time when they rant about this topic. Would I have liked the WiiU to have a better launch lineup? Absolutely. But the fact is, the only game I’ve completely finished for the WiiU so far has been ZombiU. I still need to finish New Super Mario Bros. U and LEGO City Undercover, and I’ve barely scratched the surface of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate. Not to mention that I’ve got a slew of games from the eShop that I’ve barely touched. I’m not even ready for Pikmin 3 yet, whenever the hack it actually comes out.

And I don’t think I’m that far from the norm. Most of us don’t have the time and money to play everything. If the new XBox One launches with 27 games on day one, or even over the first three months, do you have $1600 and 270+ hours to play them between November and January? I’m going to go out on a limb and say that most gamers don’t.

So, who gives a crap if there are a slew of games at launch? You’re going to get two or three over the first few months and then grab the others for less moeny down the road, if at all.

WiiU is going to be just fine come this holiday season, and both new consoles will have more than enough games to keep gamers happy. They’ll certainly have more than enough to keep me happy, as evidenced by the hundreds of games I’m still catching up on from this current gen.

So, everyone just settle down, okay?


Diary of a Monster Hunter–Part 2: The First Parallel

Well, it didn’t take long into my time with Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate to see the first strong parallel with the Souls series of games. Much like both Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls, Monster Hunter is a game that almost requires you to seek outside help in order to understand its systems and maximize your efficiency in terms of game time. Fortunately, there’s an even bigger community built up around the Monster Hunter series than the Souls series, so there’s no shortage of places to look for help when it comes to understanding the game and its systems.

I tried to go it alone, but you basically arrive in a port city to start the game, and then talk to a bunch of people to get the lay of the land. None of those encounters are particularly helpful in terms of making weapon choices, or thinking about how to start shaping your character. Because upgrading things take resources that you must collect (just like the Souls games), I didn’t want to waste any of those resources exploring upgrades paths I would abandon later.

So, after a few quick searches, I found a great tutorial on getting Started in MH3U by YouTube user DMJared. Entitled “The Beginner’s Guide to Monster Hunter,” this series of videos offers a clear introduction to the game, its systems and the world itself. Despite the narrator sounding like he’s doing a bad NPH impression, the videos are very well put together, and are really funny at times as well.

Having watched the series and begun some of my first monster encounters, I feel well informed enough to slog through the first few hours of the game. Much like my time with the Souls series though, I will be gathering and storing resources before I make any final decisions an what gear I’m going to seriously upgrade.

More to come!


The Nintendo 3DS Is Enjoying An Embarrassment of Riches Right Now

After a rough launch two years ago, the Nintendo 3DS has emerged as one of the strongest consoles of this generation and right now, it may be the best console on the market. Of course, that’s just my opinion, but for a console that just launched in 2011, the 3DS had an amazing software lineup, and the next year is looking fantastic as well. In the US alone, the 3DS has sold over 8 million units, which is a better pace than the original DS set in its first two years.

In the past two months, Fire Emblem Awakening (240,000 units in US), Monster Hunter 3D Ultimate and Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon (415,000 units) have all had strong launches. Animal Crossing: New Leaf is coming in June and will likely be a huge hit on the 3DS as well.

In yesterday’s Nintendo Direct, a slew of new 3DS games, as well as upcoming virtual console releases were announced. Mario Golf: World Tour, Mario & Luigi: Dream Team, a new Mario Party, a new Yoshi’s Island, Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D, the latest Professor Layton, and a sequel to Zelda: Link to the Past, are all planned for release this year.

On the virtual console and eShop front, two Zelda GameBoy games (Oracle of Ages /Oracle of Seasons) are coming in May, three new Level-5 games are on the way and the acclaimed Bravely Default: Flying Fairy from Square Enix is coming later this year. It’s already been a great year for the eShop, with games like Crimson Shroud, Cave Story, Crashmo, and Tokyo Crash Mobs, to name a few. The virtual console offerings are robust as well, especially if you were part of the Ambassador Program. Even in just the last few months, NES gems like Ninja Gaiden and Zelda II have arrived, adding to a huge collection of classics that are already available.

It’s really an amazing time to be a 3DS owner. There is a great balance of classic and new games available for the console, and with gems like Liberation Maiden and Crimson Shroud, well-known developers are flexing their creative muscle with downloadable titles that are a perfect fit for the handheld.

If there’s one negative about how awesome the 3DS is doing right now, it’s that the WiiU’s struggles seem even greater by comparison. If there’s one thing Nintendo proved with the 3DS though, it’s how to recover from a poor start. Let’s hope they learn some lessons from the 3DS soon.


Diary of a Monster Hunter–Part 1: Does This Game Have Soul?

Well, I finally did it–I bought my first Monster Hunter game. Yesterday, I picked up Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate for my 3DS XL. After everything I’ve seen and heard about the series over the years, I decided to take the plunge and see what it’s all about.

Mostly though, I picked up this game because it appears to have some similarities to Dark Souls and Demon’s Souls, two of my all-time favorites. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that my enjoyment of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate will come down to how real those similarities are.

So, from the outsider’s perspective, here’s what I presume the similarities between the series will be:

1. Combat is pattern-based. In the Souls series, every enemy has a tell, and every animation counts. Getting good at combat means knowing when to strike, and exactly how vulnerable a particular attack makes you. Monster Hunter seems to take a similar approach to combat, and that’s very interesting to me.

2. Larger than life bosses. The boss battles in the Souls series are some of the most memorable I’ve had in any game. Monster Hunter to me seems like a game made up almost entirely of boss battles.

3. Building the right gear for the job. One of the best things about the Souls series is that you’re constantly building up your gear and weapons to take on the different threats you face. There seems to be a premium on that in MH3U as well.

4. Co-Op. Teaming up to take down bosses together? Sounds like the Souls series to me. Sadly, the 3DS version doesn’t have the online co-op features, but if I enjoy the 3DS version enough, I’ll pick up the WiiU one, as there is some cross-functionality between the two in addition to the online co-op the WiiU has. And my save carries over!

So, as I begin my first foray into the Monster Hunter universe, I’ll be writing about whether my perceived connections to the Souls series pan out, and whether I enjoy the game for what makes it unique as well. Stay tuned!


Celebrate Valentine’s Day With an Extra-Large Episode of Co-Op Critics!

In this marathon episode of Co-Op Critics, Brian and Dan are joined by Christina Grenhart and Erik Haltson to talk about the current culture of gaming, from online interactions to how games are covered by the enthusiast press.

You can either listen to the episode here on the enbedded player to the right, or download it here.

You can follow Brian on Twitter @BrianLeTendre and check out his blog at

Dan Evans can be found on Twitter @Sk8j

You can find Christina’s amazing blog “Bioware According to Mom” at, and you can follow her on twitter at @clgrenhart

You can find Erik Haltson on Twitter @Erik_Haltson, and he will also be posting on Co-Op Critics blog in the future.

For more gaming discussion, head over to!


ZombiU Survivor Stories #1–John and Sarah

If I had to describe my first couple hours with ZombiU in one word, that word would be “intense.” My first character (John) died within two minutes of beginning the game, as you open ZombiU by running for your life through a London subway station to get to the safehouse that serves as the main hub. I wasn’t quick enough, as I was fumbling with the controls (“Which one is the climb button–AAGHHH!”), and a mob of zombies pulled me down from a ladder as I was trying to scramble into an air vent.

Not since Demon’s Souls has an opening gut-punched me like that. ZombiU puts you on notice immediately about several things:

1. You will die in this game, but you will learn something from each death;
2. Pay attention to everything around you;
3. Every single enemy is deadly (one bite kills you);
4. Only run when you have to–otherwise, take it very slow;
5. Use every tool at your disposal.

The comparisons to the Souls series are apt, as ZombiU is a challenging game whose systems you must master to be successful. And like the Souls series, the game is very atmospheric, and you are in a constant state of near-panic, wondering what is around every corner. There is also a messaging system that is not unlike what you’d find in a Souls game, and retrieving items from your corpse works in a similar way (except that your corpse becomes a zombie in ZombiU). But while the Souls series revolves around combat, ZombiU revolves around survival, which means avoiding combat in many cases, since one bite equals death.

Despite the game making a great first impression however, it wasn’t until my second character died that ZombiU really got its hooks into me. Maybe it was the way that character died, or the fact that I had spent some time with her inching my way through the first hour of the game, but Sarah’s death (that was her name) was the one that got me. We (Sarah and I) had made our way to the marketplace, carefully engaging the few zombies we had to, avoiding the ones we didn’t and scouring the area for supplies. I made it to the back door of the supermarket, and the door was alarmed. As soon as I opened it, a zombie lurched out at me, and a few others came shambling from the parking lot. Panic took over as I tried to fight up the steps toward the door, knowing death was all around me. I was so tantalizingly close to surviving, as I managed to get the door closed behind me, but I trapped two zombies in the small room with me, and I wasn’t quick enough with my cricket bat to take them both down. I felt like I failed Sarah–I could have taken out one more zombie outside, and probably secured the door, if I just hadn’t panicked. But that’s what ZombiU is really good at–making you panic.

My next survivor Toby woke up in the safehouse, and my first priority was to track down Sarah’s zombified corpse and get my gear back.

Tune in next time for Toby’s tale of survival (or horrible death).


Video Games New York–Love at First Sight

When I was in NY for New York Comic Con this past October, I visited an amazing game store that I’ve been meaning to post about for some time now. Video Games New York is a store in the East Village that is exactly the type of place that every gamer wishes they had in their own neighborhood.

From the Mario statue out front, to the shelves full of cartridges, to the console-filled display cabinets, Video Games New York feels like a shop and a museum at the same time. Not only do they have every console known to man, but they have tons of imports, rare collectibles, old store displays, standups and everything else you could imagine.

Check out the pics below, and if you’re ever in the East Village, you have to stop by Video Games New York.


Gaming Stories: Awesome Games Done Quick 2013

I can’t remember the last time I turned on my Xbox 360 to play video games. The backlog remains, but I haven’t made any attempts in months to clear it. Most of my play takes place on my iPad these days, and the actual experience of gaming feels very disposable these days. More than anything else, though, I seem to be spending a lot of time watching other people play. Whether it’s archived Let’s Play videos, Bazza87’s Video Game Championship Wrestling stream, or various videos on GiantBomb, my gaming experience these days seems to be composed of vicarious thrills lately.

For me, the original and purest source of vicarious gaming thrills is still the Speed Demos Archive, the repository of speedrun videos since 2004. In my previous post about the New Game Masters, I stated that the participants in the Penny Arcade Expo’s Omegathon and players like Ray “Stallion83” Cox carry the spirit of masterful play, adaptability, and comfort with all kinds of games and systems that players on Video Power and in the Nintendo World Championship Series had, but I neglected to talk about speedrunners who conquer games as quickly as possible. Their speedruns show old games like Jackal and Metroid in new ways that I would not have considered. Without speedrunners, I wouldn’t have thought about sequence-breaking in games like Super Metroid, where Power Bombs could be collected before the Grapple Beam, and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, where items from all temples can be collected before finishing the first temple.

Speedrunners are perfectionists, players who patiently explore every facet of the games that they play to discover any secret that might lower their playtimes by seconds. In my experience, this can be done either through relentless experimentation achieved through playing the same game over and over or by browsing into the game’s actual code. They approach games like they’re puzzles waiting to be deconstructed, and like the players who post Let’s Play videos, they speedrun through games because they love them.

Speedrunning records confuse my eyes every time I read them, even though I’ve watched enough speedrunning videos at this point that I could understand on a basic level how they can be done. As with many other things in life, context is everything. For example, I have the achievement for completing the XBLA version of Contra in under 12 minutes. I played through the game often enough to memorize enemy placements and platform patterns. I knew when I could pick up the Spread Gun power-up and which enemies had to be fought and which could be avoided. So when I watched David Heidman, Jr.’s run of the NES version of Contra in 10 minutes and 11 seconds, I can understand on a fundamental level how he did it, which adds to my admiration of his skill and respect for his accomplishment.

From January 6 to January 12, the speedrunning community will be participating in Awesome Games Done Quick 2013, Speed Demos Archive’s charity marathon to raise funds for the Prevent Cancer Foundation. Certain scheduled speedruns, such as Aftermath’s attempt to complete Darksiders in 1 hour and 50 minutes and TheEnglishMan’s attempt to complete God of War 2 in 1 hour and 40 minutes, stand out because I devoted dozens of hours to each game, and the idea of beating either game so quickly is astounding. Other scheduled speedruns, such as Mike Uyama’s attempt to complete Earnest Evans in 20 minutes, intrigue me because I haven’t played those games, and I’m willing to dedicate some time to watch others navigate through them masterfully.

So, please visit Speed Demos Archive’s site for Awesome Games Done Quick 2013, join me and watch some of the new game masters apply their craft, and donate to the Prevent Cancer Foundation.