But hey, that means I can get back to vidyah that isn't LAN co-op! Not that I typically mind, you understand, but jeez has Saints Row IV been a glitchy mess. A damned fun one, at least, when it isn't randomly crashing or refusing to trigger the next story event. It's not like the PC won't get a lot of use soon anyway, what with MGSV: Ground Zeroes finally getting a Steam release, which means I'll waste 20 hours on a 2 hour campaign finding all 9 of the nigh-microscopic XOF patches to unlock a hidden mini-game that's literally an in-joke that'll only make sense to people who are familiar with the Sega CD game Snatcher. Remember Snatcher? No, I don't either, but a buddy of mine absolutely loves that. Which reminds me I really need to play Policenauts, too.
Anyway, let's talk about Nintendo for a little while. I had planned to do this at some point anyway, pushed it back to deal with real-life shenanigans, but when I saw someone saying something so stupid I felt the need to point out how amazingly wrong they are, that bumped this subject up in the queue. Sad that I have to shuffle my blogging plans around because of idiots, but such is life...
Recently, executive producer/writer behind Feminist Frequency - the now (in)famous business-slash-NPO-slash-charity of Anita Sarkeesian's "Tropes vs Women in Video Games" YouTube series I've made my thoughts quite clear on - spoke about the thematic value of the most obvious Amiibo-supporting title, Super Smash Bros. For Wii U and 3DS (or "SM4SH", as I'd like to think of it). At the risk of misrepresenting anyone, I'll simply repost what he had to say, along with pearls of wisdom cast before the gaming swine by Polygon's Ben Kuchera:
On /v/, this is what we call "Going full McIntosh".
You'll have to figure out what Dubs are on your own.
Before we even get to Super Smash Bros., let's talk about Korobeiniki - or "The Tetris Song", as it's more or less thought of anywhere that isn't Russia. It's a 19th century folk song, and has lyrics not present in the 8-bit game in which a pair of peddlers talk prices on wares, but in a way that's totally a thinly veiled conversation about when they're going to drop their furs and pack their sausage for the winter. It predates the Russian Revolution by a half-century, and was likely chosen because it's a commonly known and royalty free tune, like Old McDonald or Amazing Grace or whatever. Calling it "Soviet Inspired" is factually wrong in this context because Soviet =/= Russian, from a broader historical perspective.
As for the "Theme" of Tetris? Kuchera, stick that back up your pretentious ass. It's a block-matching puzzle game. It's literally shuffling blocks from one side of the screen to the other - hell, it has less of a theme than Pac-Man! It's like arguing that Tic-Tac-Toe or Hangman has a deeper "theme" when it's literally just scribbles on a notepad played between bored classmates. Does Kick the Can or Duck Duck Goose have a theme? No. But it's still a game. The only "theme" to be found in Tetris is whatever theme the viewer chooses to place upon it themselves. It was created as a sort of mathematical version of Tennis by a guy who worked for the Soviet government as a computer programmer - nothing more, and nothing less.
Go ahead, Kuchera. Theme me.
Nowadays, with video games consistently aping big-budged Hollywood movies, it's easy to assume that everything means something: Grand Theft Auto is a smug satire of the thug life, both aggrandizing and shitting all over the notion of the "made man". Tomb Raider was reborn as a tale of violent self-discovery and empowerment through suffering. Metal Gear Solid explores the facade of patriotism through the eyes of paranoia and jaded apathy towards anything but personal ideals. Now tell me, friends, what the fuck does Candy Crush Saga "mean"? It means fuck your free time and punch your credit card number into Facebook, because that's not a stupid idea. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Tetris? That's just a cigar, folks. Yes, the fact that Americans were happy to consume a piece of Russian entertainment during the cold war is an interesting foot note, particularly in a market where stuff like "Rush'n Attack" was about the only representation of our Cold War enemies you'd typically see - but the game itself is so thoroughly simple and pure as an entertainment device - a "game" with no moral or purpose other than to amuse the player - that no level of self important douchebaggery is going to elevate it any further.
You want proof that the game itself has no actual political agenda? The iconic Church of Spilt Blood that appears on the title screen was never a part of the original 1984 game; that was actually added by US distributors Spectrum Holobyte for the IBM PC port, who thought that marketing it as "The Soviet Mind Game" was simply too bold an opportunity to pass up! American publishers found a way to make the game political, and that's far more fascinating than the fact that, derp, a Russian made game also has a Russian song playing on the title card. I bet those crazy red bastards even wrote the code notes with backward "R" that sounds like a "ja"...
If anything, the far more interesting story is the fact that the later-credited "co-designer" Vladimir Pokhilko, who formed his own Moscow based software company after the Iron Curtain fell, eventually crashed and burned his own business which drove him to such desperation he not only murdered his own family, but left the following note behind before killing himself:
I've been eaten alive.
Just remember that I exist.
- The Devil.
I suppose I've shat on Kuchera's ignorance long enough. It's time to MOTHER FUCKING SMA--
Oh. Hey, 1998. You never call anymore...
The game was what it was - a hobby of cobbled together assets that, somehow, gelled into a unique sumo-tournament... thing. The game became a massive hit solely through word of mouth. Realizing they had something unique on their hands, HAL Laboratory greenlit a sequel as a launch title for the Nintendo Game Cube, with Sakurai as the head of development. He's been watching over the franchise for 15 years now, getting as much love and hate for it as you can imagine, It does amuse me to no end that Sakurai's response to people complaining that their personal favorite characters wouldn't appear in the latest Smash game was "they're mostly children". Yep, Sakurai's response to Ridley fans hoping he'd be a playable reskin of Charizard was that they were babies. Have I mentioned how refreshing how it is that the majority of Japanese game developers seem to have absolutely zero fucks to give at any point?
Yes, the title is, technically, a fighting game* - but with the newest entry there's no actual story to pick apart. Zero over nothing. Old fans have their prior games to reference is they need to justify any of this nonsense, but the only narrative we're given in 2014 is "Nintendo mascots beat each other up, fight a pair of giant gloved hands, lather and repeat". The "conflict" doesn't mean anything because there's literally no context behind it. Why did Captain Falcon pommel Kirby into a bloody pulp? Is there some DEEPEST LORE connection between them that shows that Falcon's mother was eaten by the ravenous pink demon, and this conflict atop Final Destination will somehow quell the age-old vendetta he's been seething at for years, with his time as an F-Zero Champion being little more than a ruse to find a wormhole back to Dreamland?!
No, because that would be stupid, even by Smash's non-canonical fuckin' around standards. Mind you, there is actually a story in this franchise - Subspace Emissary this, Tabuu that, blah blah blah - but the fact that neither the Wii U nor the 3DS version of the latest entry contained any reference to it proves it's inconsequential to the success of the game, and as the game's current sales are somewhere in the ballpark of 6.5 million copies, it would seem that gamers don't give a shit about the narrative either. No narrative in this context means no theme, either. Unless you want to argue that the unlockable Madoka Magica skins in Pangya Online somehow mean a simplistic moe golf game is actually about galactic entropy. (And if you really want to go down that road, let me make some popcorn first.)
Smash Bros. exists for the simple reason that Nintendo knows there's just enough nostalgia in the average gamer who grew up on Mario and Samus and Fox that the chance to play a low-time investment party game with other nostalgic young adults would basically give them a chance to print money.
The only "theme" being presented in Super Smash Bros. is that of raw, glorious capitalism. If there was any doubt, the very presence of the "Amiibo" toys should convince you otherwise. The competitive mode of the game consists of you, the player shuffling a small plastic toy around the game board, wagering more in-game money for additional rewards, and picking which other small plastic toys to fight next. I'm not exaggerating to make a point: That's the actual mechanic of the game. Shuffling small toys around on a game-board and gambling on your earnings. Honestly, the game couldn't be any more nakedly commercial in nature if it tried. "Violence solves conflicts?" Bitch, please. The only fleshed out theme Super Smash Brothers 4 has to offer is "Nintendo likes money. Please grab your ankles and prepare to have more of it sucked out of your wallet."
Costing $12.99 a piece, an Amiibo is a non-scale, 3" tall mini figurine with a microchip in the base. You tap the figure to the side of the Wii U's bizarre touchscreen controller, and it loads a custom version of that figure in the game. So, if you buy the little Mario, swiping it will give you access to a "Level 1 Figure Player". The FP is an AI that uses a move set you select, can use the power-ups you get from completing the main mission, and the more time you spent fighting either alongside or against it, the more the FP levels up - all the way to 50 - improving statistics and gaining new abilities all the while. Basically, the Amiibo plays as a memory card for a robotic friend you can either team up with, or beat the snot out of. It's a somewhat interesting use of the technology, and a bit less cruel in scope to the Skylanders or Disney Infinity toys, in which you literally have to buy the small plastic toy to unlock the full character in-game: Every single Smash character will, inevitably, have an Amiibo you can use to train and customize an AI version of them, but you don't actually need to buy the figure to play as said character - you just play it as the stock version, as you would in any prior entry. It's all just a bizarre way to extend the life of the game for people who happen to like Nintendo enough to buy mini-figures of the characters in the first place. It also lets you do 2-player co-op if you're such a sad sack you own a Wii U and no-one to play it with.
For reasons we'll discuss later, I picked up the Link Amiibo - not the stubby and adorable "Toon Link" from Wind Waker, but the more mature design based directly on Skyward Sword. God help me, I'm probably going to get more of them, but I started with the one figure that had confirmed unlockable content with a franchise game. I fear in the pit of my soul that this will become a pretty regular "thing" at one point or another, so if you happen to like a given franchise, you might want to consider picking them up for future use: Nintendo has straight up said that they intend to keep the most popular characters available at all times, but I'm sure the rights to Marth, Sonic and Mega Man will expire sooner or later, and it seems doubtful they'll bother keeping Animal Crossing or Xenoblade figures produced indefinitely.
It's dangerous to go alone!
You should probably buy a gun.
The overall design has some fundamental flaws: The soft PVC parts can lead to Link's sword being bent inward, like he's leaping into combat with a particularly angular dildo flopping all over the place, and while the prototype had a thin transparent rod of plastic to support his dynamic leaping pose, the actual figure has a transparent yellow brick jutting out from his knee, almost like he's been frozen taking a massive 8-bit piss all over himself. The "leaping" pose also looks a bit more like "stumbling" when you look at it dead-on, but at least they tried to make it interesting. Seams between the separate pieces are pretty obvious, and while my toy in particular didn't have any major issues, I do know that the machine-printed eyes can sometimes be juuuust a little off-center, producing a horrifying wall-eyed abomination far more disturbing than Dark Link could ever hope to be.
Keep in mind that I'm an asshole who firmly believes that most of the Play Arts Kai toys aren't worth the $100 they sell for. If you already know what a Nendoroid Puchi is, you're not going to be impressed. If you're not already one of those pricks who imports overpriced Japanese toys that cost two and three times as much as their comparable American counterparts, you'll probably think he looks perfectly fine. Even coming from a place of snobbish nerd eye rolling, I have to admit that the minor details - such as a small peek at Link's chain mail through the armpit of the tunic, the Hylian crest on his shield, and the airbrushed folds on his hat - look better than I expected them to. He's still not as sharp as the prototype, but the attention to detail is impressive enough for a mass-produced toy that costs less than a base for a generic "fire" or "crushed rocks" figure base for a Bandai S.H. FiguArts toy.
This is what a grown-up plastic toy looks like.
Too bad it's from Other M, but whatever...
These actually cost the same price in Japan, give or take the daily exchange rate, and as anyone who's bought anime and game merchandise over the years will tell you, the Japanese give you exactly what you pay for. You want a sexy looking Samus figure to tower over your adoable Amiibo? You're going to pay about $80, before shipping - well, more like $125 now that she's out of print. You want a poseable 1/6th scale Link with real cloth outfit and tons of accessories? $215 - if you were to get him for the full MSRP. I've long thought that Revoltech and Figma represent the sweet spot for me for most things - a fully articulated figure with tons of optional parts, clocking in at a not-quite 1/12th scale - but even then, the prices for those figures have been slowly creeping up closer and closer to the price of the larger, higher-quality, fixed pose PVC statues I oft adore, but can't justify the total cost for (much less the shelf space). The upcoming MGS2 style Solid Snake by Figma costs roughly $75 MSRP, and honestly, I don't know why: The rest of the toy lines I've been buying have already gone up by about 10-15%, but this is closer to a 35% increase. A licensing oddity, or a glimpse of things to come?
But anyway, only half the appeal of the Amiibo has anything to do with the toy itself. Within Smash Bros., the concept is kind of cool; it basically gives you a blank slate to customize a moveset and bonus stats using items collected in-game, and as you rank up and win matches with your little AI drone, they give you everything they win in the field as well. Neat, right? The toy lets you build a custom toadie, not unlike the "Pawn" system in Dragon's Dogma when you think about it.
How's it all work? Couldn't tell you. No, honestly, despite having bought Smash weeks ago I haven't had a chance to try out the Amiibo functionality. Just literally haven't had the time or energy to try, not with Ground Zeroes coming out on PC.
But I bought Link specifically for his HYRULE WARRIORS functionality, and that's - arguably - a far more noteworthy use of the tech anyway... and also, the use I fear is going to crop up in the future, to the point where I'm considering buying characters I'm less fond of just so a year from now I'm not
"forced" to over-pay for some stupid thing I want to unlock that I could have had for MSRP back when. But let's take a look, anyway:
BEYBLADE IS BACK!
Basically, the Amiibo here is a physical device to unlock new DLC - specifically, a new weapon for Link, in which you whip around like a maniac and grind moblins into a snortable rupee powder. While the game already has multiple characters, each weapon introduces an entirely new play style in any Dynasty Warriors game, and this is no exception, providing a moderately quick, but not overpowered mode of transportation designed to take out small clusters of enemies in no time. It's not quite as awkward as the Epona weapon from the first DLC pack, and it's a hell of a lot more fun than the Fairy Wand, but overall the new weapon is... amusing. Not game changing, not necessary or the Best Thing Ever, just a charming and fun little diversion if you happen to get sick of Link's OP as fuck 8-bit sword. It's not necessary in any way to feel like Hyrule Warriors was a complete experience, but it's a fun little bonus for Twilight Princess fans, and what is Hyrule Warriors if not the ultimate Legend of Zelda fanservice delivery system?
Part of me feels like I have to talk about Hyrule Warriors itself, since... well, that's the actual game. This is the add-on, and talking about hats without a discussion of Team Fortress 2 seems misguided, at best. At the same time, the game is such an absurd pastiche of two very specific franchises that I can't imagine anything I have to say would convince anyone to give it a shot one way or another: Either you are super into Hyrule Warriors, or you'll never get within twenty feet of it. Much like Re-Animator: The Musical or pork belly flavored ice cream, people that really, REALLY like both of the things on display are going to love it, and people who either dislike or aren't familiar with one (or both) of these things are just going to stare blankly, unsure what to make of it. The game system is a straight up clone of any given Dynasty Warriors, while the theme and universe on display is The Legend of Zelda. No more, and no less.
Dynasty Warriors games are a curious beast in that they plop you down on a massive map, square off areas that you have to conquer by destroying hundreds of opponents, and then drop bosses into the mix once you have a set number of blocks in the map on your side. You can build up meters for limited special moves that'll do massive damage, but you only have a few per match, so you have to pace yourself. Dodging, blocking and counter-attacking all have their ups and downs, and you have to shift how you play based on the enemies you're fighting, or the rules of the map at that time: It looks simple and perhaps a bit bland at first, but it's got enough variety that it never feels particularly boring or repetitive, unless you're re-playing a specific map over and over to get an "S" rank and unlock some specific goodies. Allies drop in once you've liberated key forts, but the AI is mostly useless; it's basically just you, and possibly a friend doing all the heavy lifting. Hyrule Warriors is one of the few games on the Wii U to use the gamepad screen for P1 and the TV for P2, so there's a unique, free-roam aspect that's more akin to playing a PC game in tandem over LAN rather than a classic "Split Screen" mode, as was the case on the Mobile Suit Gundam and Hokuto no Ken themed entries on the PS3. They're not the prettiest or the most polished games out there, but they're goddamn fun to grind at for an hour or two at a time, the aesthetics powering the less-than-stunning game engines are consistently very attractive, and the fact that most of these games have dozens of hours of content to unlock by re-playing maps under different conditions make them a hell of a bang for their buck. If you're into that sort of thing, of course.
The game quite literally mashes up stuff from every Zelda timeline out there with nary a concern for "Continuity": The core figures in every game have been given fresh new designs, and they come up with a universe-breaking excuse to feature characters from Twilight Princess, Ocarina of Time, and Skyward Sword in a way that almost makes sense. The story mode is pretty weak, but honestly, if you're playing a Dynasty Warriors game for the story you're probably new to the franchise anyway. They're simply massive, chaotic, and oddly cathartic grind-fests that offer new outfits and weapons for those who git gud, The myriad of cameos and throwbacks peppered throughout will delight fans well enough, but if you like Zelda games and don't care for Dynasty Warriors gameplay, you're going to be infuriated before things get too far in. Similarly, if you like Dynasty Warriors' mechanics but find Nintendo's take on Germanic Fantasy to be a bit dry or too silly to put any weight towards, odds are you won't really get why morons like me love the shit out of it to begin with. It's naked pandering, but it's done with care and finesse, so why fight it? If the game sounds amusing, just fucking buy it already. It had exactly one job - to be fun on some fundamental level for DW and LoZ fans alike - and it's done just that.
Here's why I love the game: Fishwife = Bestwife.
Don't let Lovecraft's racism against fish sway you otherwise!
(Also, don't let Lovecraft's racism in general sway you on anything.)
Anyway, the Spinner is an amusing aside, but it's a little disappointing that none of the other Legend of Zelda figures seem to do anything specific. Swiping Zelda or Sheik Amiibo figures - whom is, and this is a 15 year old spoiler incoming: Actually just Zelda disguised as a Middle Eastern Transexual Ninja** - will net you a new random weapon once a day worth 3 stars. Any other Amiibo will give you a weapon worth less than 3 stars. Anything below 4 stars is basically trash, so while I applaud them for doing something with the technology, it's a little disappointing all the same. It also uses the system's internal clock, allowing you to use each figure only once a day, so your plot to sit there for an entire weekend to get a hundred shit weapons and sell them for pocket change is probably far less useful than you'd hoped. I'm also told that the "Toon Link" figure will unlock the Spinner weapon, too, which is... surprising. Neat, even. Just a little odd.
Ganondorf's Amiibo isn't out yet, so I'm hoping we'll get at least one more new unlockable weapon in there before Koei-Tecmo are done making new downloadable shit for the game. It's done very well in the West for a Dynasty Warriors title (which usually tank outside of Japan anyway), but wasn't a smash hit in its home country, so I have no idea if Nintendo will try to milk one more sequel out of this or not. Nintendo's loss of traction after the Wii U failed to sell has given them a desperate mindset, willing to try anything to see what sticks, but I'm not sure if a moderately successful fanservice game is worth doing a sequel to in their eyes: For all the bitching people do about every Mario, Zelda, Metroid and Smash game being "the same exact thing", it's worth noting that Nintendo typically only creates one game per a system's life-cycle. There's literally been a new Assassins Creed every year the PS3 existed, but there was only one Metroid game on the Wii, only one (new) Zelda Game, and while even I admit that the "New! Super Mario Bros." franchise is getting to be a parody of the concept, there's still just one game on the Wii U, plus a massive DLC expansion that basically was a full-length sequel. There's enough Zelda fans out there to justify doing a sequel that focuses on Majora's Mask, Wind Waker and the various wacky handheld spinoffs - hell, Spirit Tracks was a game in which you build trains. Can you imagine summoning a goddamn train to pound Midna right in the-- wow. That sounded way more dirty than I'd intended. What I'm trying to say is I'd be down for a sequel. There's enough nonsense to pull a couple more fanservice clusterfucks out of it, and so long as they're as fun as this has, I'd have no complaints.
How was Veran not hidden in as a bonus character?
She's got the tits for it and everything...
In short, Amiibo are kinda' goofy and childish and not the best thing ever... but, at least they remind me that the Wii U is, at its core, a toy. Toys are meant to be played with, and Nintendo offering you bonuses for literally buying more toys is a charming level of honesty I wish Sony and Microsoft had the humility to acknowledge. The PS4 and the Xbox One have tried to convince the world that they're movie players and social media tools and "turbo-charged" computers that just happen to have a couple exclusive games. It's been a year, and at this point neither system has anything that twists my nipples hard enough to even consider it. Hell, I'd rather buy a Vita - at least that's become the universal dumping ground for Weeb bullshit. Unless you're a massive Halo fan and want to literally re-buy all four of the last games,
But the Wii U? Sure, it's still an Xbox 360 with an iPad bolted into the controller, but it's also been ramping up exclusives left and right with first and second party developers to produce the one thing a video game console should have: decent games. This year alone we've had regular franchise mainstays like Donkey Kong Country, Mario Kart and Smash Brothers, on top unexpected exclusives like Bayonetta 2, The Wonderful 101 and... well, I'm still mad that they aren't going to translate that awesome looking Fatal Frame sequel. But we did just get a new Shantae game, so it's clear God hasn't totally given up on us, even if Sonic Boom was a thing that happened.
It's officially 2015, and we're going to get a new "main" Zelda game, a new Starfox game, a new bizarro shooter in the form of Splatoon, and we're still waiting for more details on new exclusives like Xenosaga and Shin Megami Tensei x Fire Emblem, and lord knows what else going on in HAL Laboratory and the like, and I have no regrets.
Nintendo makes toys. Toys are fun. Discussing video games is fun, too, but not as fun as actually having decent stuff to play. At this point, Nintendo is delivering good stuff left and right, and if part of the deal to unlock everything in a game means I buy a cheap plastic toy, eh, I can live with that.
See that? Nintendo made me feel so good about video games I didn't have to talk about Hatred! Crazy, right? I figure that'll last a week...
*The 4P battles, unusual and simplified move-sets, elements of platforming, randomized stage-hazards and weapon items have long placed this outside the realm of "typical" fighting games. I'd argue it's a new genre entirely - "competitive party brawler", maybe? - but the fact that the franchise was balanced enough to allow from professional level competitive play means that it's examined in the same circles as Street Fighter, Guilty Gear, Mortal Kombat and other "traditional" 2P VS fighting games.
So yes, technically, SSB is a fighting game. The same way that, technically, Twilight is a horror franchise, Afro Samurai is an anime franchise, and Michael Jackson was black.
** Sheik is, by far, best Husband. Don't argue because you know you've already lost, particularly if we're talking OoT when there was magic involved giving Zelda an actual masculine body.