Sunday, June 29, 2014

Another report from the land of WiiU.

These are things I am glad about, some of which I realized beforehand and some I didn't.

1) The WiiU Game Pad is a pretty good controller even without the screen on it, when it's a game where a traditional controller is a good fit. The analog sticks are very responsive, the button layout and the physical contours of the controller are comfortable in the hand, and the screen is just a nice bonus.

2) NintendoLand is a good, solid, way to get used to using the Game Pad. It's a little cutesy, but the various activities are all modeled after beloved Nintendo first party franchises. The Pikmin game in NintendoLand is a household favorite.

3) Nintendo's attempt to increase their attach rate by offering a free download game with the purchase of Mario Kart 8 may be working a little bit. (It's still going to go on through the end of July, so if you were thinking about getting a WiiU this summer, it's not a bad way to start.) We opted for New Super Mario Bros. WiiU, since we already picked up Pikmin 3 and our console was bundled with Wind Waker HD.

4) My older son seems to be a little better at Mario Kart 8 than I am, and I'm actually really excited about that. (For those of you that are wondering, the answer is Rosalina, the Circuit Special, the Slicks, and the Cloud Glider. We don't have the Cyber Slicks unlocked yet.) We've even managed to win some races playing on the internet.

5) My younger son spends most of his time on the WiiU playing regular Wii games. At the moment, everyone is taking another swing at The Legend of Zelda:Skyward Sword when we're not playing Mario Kart 8 or New Super Mario Bros. WiiU or Pikmin 3.

6) If you're bad at a particular level of New Super Mario Bros. and you're playing the Wii or WiiU versions, eventually an exclamation block will appear at the beginning of the level. Ordinarily this would not be a big deal, since it's there to ask you if you need help. If you hit the block, Luigi shows you a way to get through the level. It's just that the noise that the game makes when that block is present sounds an awful lot like a doorbell, which means that our dogs have to bark at it.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Change happens -OR- When lefty is not right.

Getting a new game console has seemed like an upheaval every time it's happened. For a long time, I was only concerned with Nintendo consoles, so it was simple enough to tell when it was time to get the newer console.  At a certain point, they stop making the games you want for the console you have, and the effort goes into making the games you want for the console you don't have yet. However, near the end of a console cycle, it's very easy to amass some of the titles you hadn't played for a quarter of the price you might have paid otherwise. In the Nintendo and Super Nintendo era, that usually meant pawn shops and yard sales, but in subsequent generations that also meant clearance bins and record stores and game stores. So, the end of each console cycle meant weighing your amassed collection against how much you wanted to play the new games.

Now if there's only one specific game series that you play, then it's usually child's play to make the determination, since you just play your old system until the game you want comes out for the new system. This is especially true for system exclusives like Nintendo's Mario, Zelda and Metroid series games, Sony's Gran Turismo games, or the Halo series on XBox. At the other far end of the spectrum, if you have more money and time than everyone else, it's also very easy since you can just get each console when it comes out and pick up whatever you find interesting at the time. If you fall somewhere in the middle (which most of us do) and play a variety of games but aren't in a position to get or even have time to play everything, then usually the decision to get a new console and which console to get is tied to the point at which you can afford a new console but you can no longer afford to be left behind on a particular game series. For example, I played a lot of Street Fighter on the Super Nintendo, but when the next generation of consoles came out Capcom made no effort to make them for the Nintendo 64 since it was a style of game not well-suited to the N64's controllers or hardware. So, the other systems got Street Fighter versions but not the N64, and I eventually got my hands on a Playstation so that I could continue on in that series. When Street Fighter continued on to the Dreamcast, however, I was not compelled to get a Dreamcast since there weren't enough of the other games that I was playing available for that system. The Playstation 2 had a lot to offer at that point, it played all my existing Playstation games, and it also doubled as a DVD player so I couldn't find a way for the Dreamcast to outweigh the PS2's benefits.

My Wii tanked completely at Christmas of last year, months after having done a laser module replacement myself. There were a lot of things my kids were still playing on it, even though I had started getting all of the new LEGO games for my Sony Playstation 3 instead of for Wii. I couldn't have regrouped fast enough to pick up a WiiU at that point, and we still had plenty of things to play on PS3. So, I started figuring out when I could get one.

My tipping point for the WiiU was Pikmin 3. The Pikmin series is fundamentally about managing a group of entities, the bipedal but flower-like Pikmin, to complete tasks on your behalf. Different Pikmin types are able to perform different types of tasks and some tasks can be performed by all of the Pikmin. These tasks include finding parts to repair your ship, collecting treasure, and collecting sustenance.

I really enjoyed Pikmin 1 and 2, and I still like to go back and play the challenge mode boards on Pikmin 1. As both Pikmin 1 and 2 were on the GameCube and largely overlooked by mainstream gaming since the words "Theft", "Duty" and "War" were not in the title, I was a little surprised that Pikmin 3 made it to the WiiU. As it turned out, Pikmin was relatively well-received among people who were already buying other Nintendo first-party titles. I suppose that Captain Olimar's inclusion in Super Smash Brothers Brawl allowed him to be introduced to a few more people, and Nintendo followed up with revised Wii versions of Pikmin 1 and 2 to take advantage of the Wii's control scheme.

On the WiiU, there's even an interesting control scheme that takes good advantage of the Game Pad controller and its touchscreen controls.

If you're right handed.

They worked out a control scheme that involves the two left triggers, the left analog stick, and the d-pad, used in conjunction with the stylus in the right hand. It has a lot of functionality, but no option to mirror the controls to the other side. If you still have your Wii controllers, which I did, you can use a Wiimote and a Nunchuck controller and control the game identically to the Wii Play Control versions of Pikmin 1 and Pikmin 2.

The map on the Game Pad works better if you don't need glasses at all, or if you need glasses for everything. I don't really need glasses to read with, but I need glasses for distance. It's not like I could just push my glasses down my nose and look down at the Game Pad. However, once I started using the Wiimote + Nunchuck controls, I put the Game Pad back in its cradle so I could look down at the map and have it be approximately the same distance away from me as the TV is.

I'm going to have a hard time explaining this to my ophthalmologist.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Squirrel! -or- How long does it take to set up a new console?

So I feel like I've been sidetracked a little. (Squirrel!) My intention of late was to try to play some of the hidden hits of the PS3 before they all disappeared, but now that school is out my attention has been turned to the WiiU.

I actually purchased a WiiU (Nintendo's next console after the Wii) weeks ago, knowing that I wouldn't be allowed to set it up until after school was out. The details from yesterday were a little tedious, I tried to summarize a little while still giving a sense of the timeframe.

  • 7AM - Download the WiiU transfer tool onto the Wii. Play it cool for a while because my younger child doesn't know we have a WiiU yet.
  • 10AM - Charge the gamepad in the older son's room without the younger son noticing. The biggest difference between the Wii and the WiiU is the gamepad. Sure, the WiiU finally has HD graphics now, but you don't notice that as much as holding a controller with a 852x480 6.2" touchscreen in the middle of it.
  • 2:30PM - finally start hooking things up in the living room, and tell younger child what's up.
  • 3PM - still setting things up. User accounts, the player characters called Mii's, etc.
  • 3:30 PM - Still downloading a system update.
  • 4PM  - configuring an SD card for the data transfer from the Wii.
  • 4:30 PM - The second SD card has failed to communicate with the Wii.
  • 4:45 PM - The third SD card has failed, and I'm giving up on retrieving the Wii data for now.
  • 5PM - start the download for Hyrule Historia
  • 5:15PM - Start playing NintendoLand while Wind Waker downloads in the background.
  • 9PM - after older son is done playing Wind Waker, I tell him to put in Pikmin 3, just to see if it has to do an update, even though he's not interested in playing Pikmin 3.
  • 12:30AM - tell older son to stop playing Pikmin 3 and go to bed.