Has Nintendo Jumped The Shark?

Detractors of certain games, genres, and even systems often complain that “all they do is make the same game over and over again.”  As much as I hate to admit it, I’m starting to feel that way about Nintendo.

I first got this vibe when Super Mario Galaxy 2 was released.  I still haven’t picked it up and don’t really have any desire to.  The New Thing in that game was the addition of Yoshi.  Yay.  New Super Mario Bros. 2 was announced and I reacted to the whole “COLLECT A BAJILLION COINS!” thing with a great big “whoop-dee-doo.”

Its not just what some call “sequelitis,” either. Indeed, the Big N is almost expected to drop new Mario or Zelda games every so often, its what they do. To their credit, Nintendo has kept their franchises fresh by evolving and adding to their gameplay over the years, but I now find myself unexcited and uninterested in Mario’s latest adventures.  It also doesn’t help that the one franchise I wouldn’t mind seeing them drag into the ground (StarFox) hasn’t seen a new game since 2006.

The Wii U is now here and its not even on my radar; I find myself more interested in hunting down an iPad mini.  As much as I hate to admit it, it’s going to take more than just another Mario or Zelda game to get me to drop the cash for a Wii U.

They just aren’t special to me anymore, and there’s something sad about that.

Wii Snooze

zzzzz…

It wasn’t until a few days ago that I realized that the Wii U is being released in the USA this Sunday.  It sneaked up on me the same way like Thanksgiving did.  But whereas I am excited about spending time with family and watching football and eating good food and shopping and a long weekend away from the office, I have virtually zero interest in the Wii U.

I was interested in the system after the Wii U’s debut at Nintendo’s E3 2011 press conference.  Like the Wii, it promises to provide new ways to play games.  I even wrote an article discussing the similarities between it and the 3DS for original-gamer.com.  This year’s Nintendo press conference, however, completely let the air out of that balloon.  All I saw was Mario, a bunch of recent releases, and one or two mildly interesting games.  One of which was Lego City Undercover, which should say something.

While I didn’t get a Wii at launch, I did find the idea interesting and ultimately purchased one once some interesting games came out for it.  This time around, though, Nintendo is going to have to do better than dragging out yet another Mario or Zelda game.

My apathy towards the Wii U leaves me feeling a little sad: Part of me is wondering if Nintendo has jumped the shark, but that’s a discussion for a future time.

Random Review: Boom Blox

Just about every Wii owner that I know has “that one game,” as in that one game that they could not stop playing for hours which resulted in a sore arm the next day. I had yet to play any game to that point, until now. My first session of Boom Blox yesterday lasted over three hours and left me with a pretty sore right arm this morning…and I’ll be back for more once I can straighten out my right arm all the way again.

If that isn’t a ringing endorsement of a game, I’m not sure what is.

As I’ve mentioned before I don’t mind repetition so long as the game is fun. Like many other games I play obsessively (or at least to the point where I’m reaching for the ibuprofen) Boom Blox falls in the “easy to learn, hard to master” category.

The concept is simple: you have a structure of blocks with gems in some areas. The goal is to use as few balls as you can to knock off the gems. More gems can be removed at once by making the whole thing fall over. The balls are tossed with the Wiimote, and while a simple flick of the wrist will do, I have a habit of acting like I’m Ozzie Smith trying to throw someone out at first, which is why I’m sore now.

The job is made easier by certain blocks that disappear when hit with the ball, other blocks that explode when hit with the ball, and others that can be detonated by knocking them into each other . Seeing a well-placed throw result in a cacophony of stuff blowing up and blocks flying everywhere is VERY satisfying, and very frustrating when one or two gems are left after the fireworks are over. Its basically a puzzle game with a dash of destruction tossed in for good measure. Its great fun, especially for OCD gamers like me that have to get the high score. I haven’t tried the multiplayer or the stage-editor as of yet, but that’s because the core game is so much fun I haven’t bothered to yet.

Like pretty much every other Wii game, Boom Blox features cutesy cartoony graphics and music, those worried about catching “teh ghey” from all the pretty colors need not apply. The blocks behave as you would expect them to, but all the math going on behind the scenes appears to be too much for the Wii; explosions involving lots of objects sometimes slows down. This is a minor quibble, though. I thought the slowdown enhanced the experience, watching a tower s-l-o-w-l-y tip over and crash into the one next to it just rocks. If a Boom Blox 2 happens, I want REPLAY!

Curiously enough, this game is the first from Steven Spielberg (yeah, that one) and EA. My first reaction upon hearing this was “WHY is Spielberg making a PUZZLE GAME?!” but upon further review, it makes sense. Assuming Steven Spielberg is not a gamer (which is a poor assumption to make, for all I know he has a max-level mage in World of Warcraft and is the best Counter-Strike player on the planet…probably not, but hey, you never know) you don’t want him trying to make Halo or God of War on his first try. Instead, EA lets him get his feet wet with something simpler. I’m looking forward so seeing what he does with something more story-driven.

One complaint, however, is that this was released as a full-priced ($50) game. A $50 PUZZLE GAME!? Granted, it is a very entertaining game with lots of fun stuff to do, but its still a FREAKING PUZZLE GAME! I wonder if EA felt the “star power” Spielberg brings to the project (his name is featured prominently on the box) would loosen the wallets of customers. I rented it via Gamefly myself, and will pick it up once the price drops some.

Nevertheless, the game is great fun, and should be at played by everyone with access to a Wii.

Wii Need Exercise!

I have been curious about Wii Fit, the latest attempt at what some have termed “exer-gaming.” I’ve flirted with the seemingly unholy combination of exercise and videogaming previously but previous efforts have been hampered by techincal difficulties:

First I tried Dance Dance Revolution, which provides a pretty good workout, but can be pretty hard on the knees, or on downstairs neighbors if you’re a large fellow like myself. The short duration of the songs means having to wait in between, which is annoying, but this was on the PS2 version, so perhaps they’re fixed that in the current batch of consoles. It’s fun as a game, if you can live with the J-pop heavy soundtrack, but otherwise I can’t recommend it. Getting a decent pad also means shelling out a few bucks, the ones that come pre-packaged are alright for casual stompers, tho.

Sometime after that, I saw EyeToy:Kinetic on sale, and figured it was worth a shot. Using a wide-angle lens enables you to interact with objects placed on the screen by the game, and it offered a variety of pretty neat routines ranging from stretching to avoiding on-screen objects, to punching and kicking targets. I would work up a pretty good sweat with the game, and when it works, it works well. Sadly, the EyeToy requires a LOT of light and open space behind you to work properly. For me, this meant moving lights and furniture which added more work to the workout. Bleah.

Now we have Wii Fit, which promises to be The Next Big Thing in ‘exergaming’ and it seems to solve the problems I had with my previous attempts. It was designed from the ground up as an exercise game, unlike DDR, and it uses a peripheral that should work as advertised, unlike EyeToy Kinetic. My hope is to use Wii Fit to supplement my current regimen, which involves about 1.5 to 2 miles of walking on a treadmill. Today was Day 1 for me, and I gotta say its pretty neat.

You start out by being introduced to The Balance Board, represented by a cartoony graphic that talks in a squeaky voice like something out of a kids’ cartoon, but it seems to make sense in a Nintendo kind of way. The board itself has some weight to it, and has risers for those with thick carpet. I was a little nervous about it at first, not because of my weight (the board’s limit is 330 pounds) but because I have big feet. I wear a size 13 shoe, and my toes were just on the edge of the board. If your feet are any bigger than that, I would definitely try before you buy.

After you say howdy-do to the board, you get weighed and your balance is tested. Here’s where the bit about “OMG it told my kid she’s fat” comes in. The game uses the Body Mass Index, your birthdate, height, and a balance test to calculate a “Wii Fit Age.” The higher the age, the worse shape you’re in. In my case, the it accurately told me I was obese, to which I said “well, DUH.” The game will also adjust your Mii to reflect what physical shape you’re in based on BMI. If you have a high BMI due to being well-muscled, be prepared to see yourself turned into El Chunko (like me in the pic above) after the BMI numbers are crunched. You also set a weight-loss goal, which can be adjusted every other week, I decided to go for ‘lose 4 pounds in a month’ which seemed reasonable.

Next you select either a male or female trainer to guide you through the exercises, and I have to say they’re just a teensy on the creepy side. I know they’re trying to be neutral in terms of skin tone and all that, but solid white skin and no lip movement when they talk makes them look like the lovechild of Commander Data and a store mannequin. We’re deep in The Uncanny Valley here, folks.

The game lets you pick from 4 categories: Yoga, Strength Training, Balance Games, and Aerobics. Not all of the exercsies are available from the start, however, as you accumulate minutes doing them, they are gradually added, which I presume is supposed to provide motivation. At this point, the game feels very similar to Brain Age and its ilk, but I like Brain Age, so I can live with that. The game also lets you pick exercises at will, and recommends combinations of exercises to work certain body areas, but you are under no obligation to follow them.

What I know about yoga can be put on the head of a nail, and the 3 stretching exercises I did were simple enough. The game encouraged me along, and even pointed out when I was doing certain things: “You aren’t leaning to your right as much as you were to the left.” Neato.

Strength Training was a bit tougher, mainly due to my lack of balance (insert irony here). I dropped off the board twice, and the game recognized that I had done so. I was a little disappointed to find that I couldn’t reduce the number of reps in order to compensate for my out-of-shapeness. To be fair, though, Eyetoy Kinetic had a similar problem, in that while the game attempts to adjust for folks that are very out of shape (such as myself) it doesn’t quite do enough, but I’ll just have to try harder tomorrow.

I figured I’d take a break and try out the balance games, and they are fun, much like Wii Sports or Wii Play. One involved bouncing incoming soccer balls off your head by leaning into them. This starts simple enough, but gets harder has other items that AREN’T soccer balls start flying in. I also tried a skiing game where you have to slalom through gates. I haven’t quite gotten the hang of the controls yet, but it was fun.

Aerobics were also enjoyable and felt more ‘exercisey’ than the games. There was a hula hoop game where you swivel your hips to keep the hoops going and then lean forward in order to catch additional hoops that are thrown at you. Once again, my inexperience probably made it harder than it should have been, but it remained fun. Next was a DDR-ish step aerobics game which was also fun.

According to the game, I played for 30 minutes. I didn’t really break a sweat, but I felt pretty good afterwards as I went for my afternoon walk on the treadmill. I’m looking forward to using Wii Fit to warm up before doing my ‘real’ exercise, and I think it’s a good light workout in its own right.

Xbox is Live, Nintendo…Not So Much

I have had Xbox Live for just over a year. I think its great, especially when you get together a good group of people that you can have fun with, as opposed to the load of 12-year olds who have just learned swear words and consider everyone better than them to be ‘teh ghey.’

My friends from my old job are such a group, we’ve spent more time blowing up each other to bits playing Lost Planet, Halo 3 and Bomberman online than we’re probably willing to admit to. Its great fun, and the ability to talk to each other during a game really adds to the experience. It makes it easier to coordinate in team games, and talking smack and ridiculing bonehead moves (often made by me) is just one of those Things That Guys Like To Do.

I recently acquired a Wii, and while the single player games are fun (I’m currently playing Mario Galaxy and Zelda:Twilight Princess) I have been hungering for some multiplayer mayhem. Much to my relief, Mario Kart Wii launched this past weekend, one of the few Wii games that happen to have online support. Upon returning to my apartment on Sunday, I phoned my friend Chris to see if he was up for a few online games. I was joined by our mutual friend Ken, all three of us being veterans of almost-daily lunchtime Mario Kart DS matches. I had played a few single-player matches the night before, and was still relatively new at the game.

After exchanging Nintendo’s silly 12-digit “friend codes” we played a few online matches with Chris. Something was missing, though. The inability to hear Chris’ agonized screams when I flattened him as I passed him at the finish line takes something away from the experience. The angry phone call we received after the race was very entertaining, but it just didn’t feel the same. I suppose we got used to the instant gratification of our lunchtime matches, where the explosions of Bob-ombs and blue Koopa shells are immediately met with groans and laughter.

Granted, you can exchange canned phrases after the race is over, but that is just plain weak. The ability to send a custom message to my opponent to tell him he’s a dirty fartknocker for popping me with a red Koopa shell and sending me tumbling into the lava would be nice. Sadly, though, Nintendo is the Disney corporation of the videogame world, but hey, at least SOMEONE is thinking of the children! 😛

Wii Feel Guilty

I have a friend named Carlos (well, two, actually, but that’s neither here nor there) who has been searching for a Wii for a few months now. The purchase has been approved by the Office of Budget and Management (Mrs. Carlos) and the money is in the bank, so all that is left is for them to FIND one of the silly things.

As most folks know, that is “the hard part.” Needless to say, he took umbrage at my stumbling upon a Wii by accident. Not too much, though, since he’s a really good guy. Frankly, if I were in his shoes I would be cursing my name and spitting at the ground that I walked upon.

I would also be over six-feet tall, which would be pretty sweet.

The fact that he is such a nice guy (and also hosts a good Super Bowl party) made me feel bad for his inability to find a Wii. I then made it a habit to keep my eyes peeled for them as I’m out and about. The next day after purchasing mine, I even went back to that same store and they still had one! I then immediately called Carlos, but to no avail, as his phone was turned off. D’oh.

I certainly couldn’t blame myself for that, but nevertheless my “Wii guilt” ate at me until my insides burned like the fire of a hundred suns! Well, maybe not THAT bad, but it sounds good, doesn’t it?

As fate would have it, I happened to be at Costco last night looking for printer ink, and lo and behold, there sat a PALLET of Wii! (hmm, sounds like something out of Dr. Seuss) Once again, I called Carlos, and this time he was there (yay) BUT he doesn’t have a Costco card. We then made a gentleman’s agreement: I would purchase the system, he would pay me the cost and everybody would be happy. He would have the object of his desire, and I would be able to play Zelda:Twilight Princess guilt-free again.

There was a small problem in this otherwise brilliant plan: Like many other retailers Costco bundled the Wii, which bumps up the cost. Their bundle came with 2 games (Super Mario Galaxy and Wii Play) and a second nunchuck for $350. That’s actually not a bad deal; you’re getting the nunchuck for free. I wasn’t sure if I had the scratch to cover it in my checking account, though, and I only had my debit card on me. No biggie, I thought to myself, I’ll run home, grab a credit card with a grace period, pay it when the bill comes in with the money from Carlos, and once again, everybody’s happy.

I dash home in the Reliant feeling pretty good about myself, and hurry back to claim the prize only to find that THE LAZY BASTARDS AT COSTCO CLOSE AT 830. Dammit.

The Wii guilt weighed heavy on my heart as I dialed Carlos’ number…he told me not to sweat it…he’s just too darn nice, I tell you. Yet, I cannot let go of my Wii guilt quite that easily. Nay, I shall continue to search high and low until we are both merrily hurling Koopa shells at each other in Mario Kart. Only then will I can be absolved of my Wii guilt! Verily, I must!

Or I’ll get lucky and they’ll still have some at Costco today. 😉

UPDATE: Yup, I got lucky, woo-hoo!

Wii would like to browse

I decided to drop a few bucks and buy the Wii browser. The thought of not having to use my PC to check email sounds pretty nice. I figured if it wasn’t that great, I’d only be out five bucks. I was already pretty impressed with the News and Weather channels built into the Wii, but the fact that the browser was made by Opera gave me pause.

My last experience with Opera was a few years ago, just before it was ready for prime-time. It couldn’t render tables very well, which was a liability when reading forums. It did, however, have tabbed browsing, so it was a bit ahead of its time in that respect.

I have to say, the Wii browser is pretty nice. I can view almost all of my favorite websites just as they appear on my PC (MSNBC chokes on it for some reason, imagine that). It also has Flash support, which unfortunately means Flash ads. Youtube works pretty good, and fullscreen mode is supported. Now, if I can see Zero Punctuation on my 32″ TV, that will rock.

The icing on the cake? USB keyboards work on the Wii, which is a good thing, or else I’d have developed carpal tunnel trying to type this in.

Apparently, LiveJournal doesn’t like the way the Wii handles linefeeds, good thing there’s always good ol’ HTML!

No Zero Punctuation -sob- Hey Opera, when’s that Flash 7 support coming? 😛