Nintendo Goes Retro: The Mini NES

Mini NES.jpgWe know that Nintendo has a new HD console in the works with the NX, but we don’t know a hell of a lot of details about said console. But this week Nintendo announced a different console, one that’s aimed in a different direction. Coming this November 11, Nintendo is bringing a Mini-NES to us, complete with HDMI video out, a classic NES themed controller and 30 pre-installed classic games. I think this is an excellent way to bring what made Nintendo so special to us older gamers to a younger generation, the kids just starting to play games now who never had the opportunity to play the NES. They’ve never had the joy of getting a cartridge to work after you spend 10 minutes blowing on it and the console; they know the names of the classics but haven’t (most likely) ever had the chance to play the originals. It’s also a fantastic way for us older gamers to reacquaint ourselves with our favorites, especially if you’re like me and gave your original NES away back in junior high and just haven’t been able to find another at the local retro shop since.

A lot of the games that will be part of the new Mini-NES are available already in other forms, mainly on the Virtual Consoles for Nintendos current group of consoles. That doesn’t mean that this is a rehash though – based on what Nintendo has said about the controller being based on the NES one, there’s something very different about playing those classic games on that controller, it’s a special feeling playing the games with the exact controller they were designed for. We don’t really think a lot about that these days, the controllers on the big two consoles are functionally identical, it’s just a few minor design and layout details that differentiate them. The NES controller is such a different feeling and looking controller compared with what we’re used to now – it’s blocky, almost uncomfortable in your hand; it’s incredibly simple in its design, two buttons and a D-pad. It’s actually something I’m really curious to see how the younger generation of players will react to – it’s a weird situation because there are tons of players who are familiar with the controller, but just as many who aren’t.

Mega Man 2 American Box

What they are familiar with, at least more so, are the games the Mini-NES will come with. The list of 30 games hits some of the biggest games that the NES had, including games that started franchises we’re still playing to this day. There are plenty of Nintendo favorites on there, along with a couple other third party gems. The full list includes:

  • Balloon Fight
  • Bubble Bobble
  • Castlevania
  • Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest
  • Donkey Kong
  • Donkey Kong Jr.
  • Double Dragon II: The Revenge
  • Dr. Mario
  • Excitebike
  • Final Fantasy
  • Galaga
  • Ghosts’N Goblins
  • Gradius
  • Ice Climber
  • Kid Icarus
  • Kirby’s Adventure
  • Mario Bros.
  • Mega Man 2
  • Metroid
  • Ninja Gaiden
  • Pac-Man
  • Punch-Out!!
  • StarTropics
  • Super C
  • Super Mario Bros.
  • Super Mario Bros. 2
  • Super Mario Bros. 3
  • TECMO Bowl
  • The Legend of Zelda
  • Zelda II: The Adventure of Link

Just looking at the list there are plenty of games that I’ve already played and beaten time and time again, but keep wanting to play another time. Games like Super Mario Bros 3, Mega Man 2, The Legend of Zelda and Metroid are some of the best NES games of all time. There are a couple deeper cuts in there that younger fans might not have ever played – StarTropics in particular jumps out to me. If you’re a new fan to gaming, or you’ve been playing for a handful of years, this is an incredible collection of games that forms the foundation of modern gaming. If you want to get a history lesson while playing some really amazing games at the same time, this Mini-NES is a must have this November.

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Twenty Years of Pokemon – My Memories

Pokemon BlueOver the weekend, Pokemon Red and Blue turned 20 years old. That’s a whole lot of Pokemon over the years. Other than making me feel really old, it did get me thinking a bit about my journeys through the various regions in Pokemon’s world. From my very first Pokemon, to my more recent adventures, I thought I’d join in with the chorus celebrating Game Freak’s games.

My very first experience with the original games was actually through one of my cousins. He had Pokemon Red with him at a Memorial Day cookout – the year is lost to my memory though. I remember watching him make his way around the Safari Zone and thinking that it looked so cool. Flash forward to that Christmas – I wake up, head downstairs, and in the pile of presents that “Santa” brought was a Green Gameboy Pocket (which I still have, and works) and Pokemon Blue. I can’t tell you how much I played that game – I fell in love with the series right away. I, of course, picked the best starter ever – Bulbasaur – and he never left my party the whole game. I got him to level 100 (legit, without the Missingno trick – which I later abused), he was present in pretty much every Elite Four run I made and has always been my favorite Pokemon line. I went out and bought Pokemon Red so that I could trade my way to owning all 150 Pokemon. I can clearly remember battling my friends on the bus to Young Scholars in fifth grade – twenty minutes of Pokemon bliss. I never really watched the cartoon, but I loved the games – including the card game for a good handful of years. Twenty years later I still really love the games – I think they’re really amazing ways to introduce younger players to RPGs. They have a really surprising depth to the combat, going beyond the surface “Rock, Paper, Scissors” style that first time players see.

Pokemon Red

As the years have gone on, and as each subsequent generation has added in a tons of new Pokemon species, what hasn’t changed is the charm. Few games, and especially few big budget games, have the same level of charm that the Pokemon games do. It’s in the design of the different Pokemon, it’s the childlike wonder that each different region has (probably because the player character is a kid), and it’s in the simple, but well written dialogue. There’s a reason that every time a new set of games is announced that the collective gaming public goes crazy. For a huge portion of gaming’s community Pokemon has been a major part of our lives growing up. It was the game that got me interested in RPGs, and 100% completion in games. Now that Nintendo has re-released those first two games (and Yellow) for the 3DS Virtual Console a new generation of players can have that same experience we did, and us old folks can revisit Kanto all over again. Hell, I still have both of my cartridges for Blue and Red and I still am thinking of picking them up on the 3DS (mainly because the battery save on one of them has gone out).

There are still plenty of stories in the world of Pokemon to tell – I’m still waiting for Nintendo and Game Freak to bring them to the home console as traditional Pokemon RPGs, not as a spin off. As the community still finds more in-depth ways to dig into the combat, with IVs and EVs and Natures and all that, the competitive scene will keep getting deeper too. Nintendo has a track record with keeping franchises alive for a real long time – Mario is 30, Zelda just turned 30 this year, Metroid is coming up on that 30 year mark as is Mega Man (which I know is Capcom). With that in mind, I can’t wait to see Pokemon keep going on for years to come.

Why Those NPD Sales Data Numbers Aren’t That Huge a Deal

PlayStation 4The sales data for each console has recently been released. As they always do, the NPD reported on the numbers of consoles sold, and the manufactures then report those numbers to the press. I saw a couple of tweets talking about Microsoft’s take on the sales figures. In particular that they focused on their year-to-year growth continuing to be strong. What I saw was a lot of people shouting that, based on that thought, that Sony is “Winning” the console wars. And sure, that probably does mean that the PlayStation 4 outsold the Xbox One still, but thinking of it that frame of mind is just plain asinine.

It still bugs me that we all frame the world of console gaming as a “console war” that has to have a winner and a loser. We look at frame-rates, resolution, pricing and sales data with a microscopic focus and compare the most minute details. It all comes out of the huge boom in the 90’s with SEGA and Nintendo going after each other. And during the 90’s that actually made sense. We were an industry that was struggling for a foothold in the mainstream, and needed the competition to get that foothold. But that was twenty years ago – the industry has blown up, not only in sales numbers, but the money that comes with them. We don’t need to have a war anymore – at least not within the industry. Competition is healthy sure, but going for the jugular isn’t. I would much rather see the industry start looking at more clearly defining ourselves versus the other mainstream entertainment choices – movies and TV.

Xbox One

For the most part, a lot of this mentality is driven by the fans. We feel so fiercely connected to a brand that we see the others as an adversary. I definitely think of myself more as an Xbox gamer at this point – mainly because I really love the Xbox Live and Achievements systems. But I don’t hate the PlayStation. In fact, I think that the PS4 is a really great system – PSN has grown up a lot in the last five years. Nintendo will always have a special place in my heart – I still think they make the most innovative games of the three big names. We are living through the brightest era in gaming now – the industry hasn’t ever been bigger. At the end of the day, what these NPD sales figures say isn’t that Sony is winning and Microsoft is losing. What they say is that Gaming as a whole is winning. And that is really the most important thing.

Black Ops III Comic Con News and My Nintendo History

NintendoToday’s title might be a little out of the ordinary, but that’s because I have an unusual plan for the day. I want to start with my thoughts on the passing of Satoru Iwata – Nintendo’s President and CEO. Over the last probably 5-7 years, I’ve moved almost exclusively to Xbox gaming. But the other console that I play far and away the most is Nintendo. I play my 3DS, I use the Virtual Console on my Wii and I went out and got a Super Nintendo last year too to play. Nintendo was my very first experience with gaming – my dad had an NES, and I used to play it all the time. In more recent years, Nintendo has been largely shaped and directed by Iwata. He kept Nintendo unique in the world of gaming – something that I think the industry very much needs. His presence in the Nintendo Directs was something that helped make them feel like events. It’s going to be weird moving forward, but I really hope that Nintendo can take the lessons he taught to heart and stay themselves.

Black Ops 3

Now, in other news, over the weekend we got the announcement of the Zombies mode in Call of Duty: Black Ops III out of Comic-Con. I’ve never really been a huge fan of the Zombies mode in the Treyarch games – mainly because my friends tend not to pick them up, and I don’t see Zombies as being a pick-up-group style mode. But that said, the new take on the mode in Black Ops III looks pretty damn cool. They’ve gone this route lately across the board, bringing in celebrities as the player characters in various capacities. Sometimes they actually play themselves – as in Call of the Dead; in this case it’s just their voices and likenesses. The cast this time around is pretty solid – to me it’s anchored by Ron Perlman and Jeff Goldblum.

The cast is really only a small section of the mode though. The setting is very important – and it looks like their doing something a little different with this one. It looks like we’re heading back in time – from the looks it seems like the 1940’s or earlier. And from what we’ve seen, it looks like it’s going to be set primarily in a cityscape. Future maps could break that mold – there could even be multiple maps in the launch game, similar to Black Ops II. The real meat though is the actual gameplay. And from what we saw with the reveal trailer, it looks like their expanding on the gameplay a lot more than previous games. It looks like their adding in a lot more variety in the zombies – including some more boss like ones. It’s hard to say exactly how it will play until we have it in hand, but it almost looks like they may have taken some influence from Extinction mode that was in Ghosts. We’ll just have to see in November.

E3 2015 – Final Thoughts and Wrap-Up

E3 LogoNow that the insanity of E3 week has come to a close, I want to take a quick look back at the show as a whole. After a week of long posts, today’s is going to be a bit quicker.

E3 last year was pretty strong – there was a strong focus on games, from all the developers and publishers. Going into this year’s show I think we had a feeling there might be a bit more tech shown. VR is picking up now, with Microsoft and Sony both embracing it in different ways. And while both publishers did devote a little time in their press conferences to VR, it wasn’t a focus for either one. Instead we got a second year running where games took the spotlight. And really, that’s how E3 should be.

E3 is the one week of the year where developers know that the entire industry is transfixed on their games. They’ve spent a ton of time and effort on these games, and this should be a showcase of them. The show has evolved over the years for sure, and I think that we’ve gotten to a format now that not only makes sense for the exhibitors, but also helps legitimize the industry. And this year in particular was awesome. This year might have had the strongest lineup of games ever. It certainly had the strongest in any recent memory.

It’s a really popular thing to grade the show and declare winners and losers when it’s all said and done. I think that’s only partially worthwhile. Grading the show makes sense – two years ago was weak, this year was much stronger. That helps the developers and publishers know more of what we’re looking for with E3. In that regard, this year’s show was easily an A. There were huge announcements – both games and news – and the games shown looked incredibly strong. With winners and losers though, I hate doing that. The answer to that question is always the gamers. We’re the winners, and there really isn’t a loser of E3.

Fallout 4 Box Art

I do like picking a game of the show though. Really it isn’t any question for me. It was probably going to be Fallout 4 going into the show, and after Bethesda’s and Microsoft’s conferences that decision was cemented. There were a ton of awesome games this year – Horizon, Halo 5, Kingdom Hearts III the list goes on. But for me, Fallout 4 is just the game that I am far and away the most excited about. It comes out this year, so the wait is much less; the game looks like a major step forward for the series, and on top of that just look amazing.

The Calm Before the Storm: What I’m expecting from E3 2015

E3 LogoE3 2015 starts this weekend with the Bethesda press conference, their first solo conference ever, at 10:00 PM, Eastern Time. While that might be a little odd for a start time, I think it’ll benefit Bethesda, and really set the tone for the show as a whole. Since it’s so close, I thought we’d get things started early with my pre-E3 thoughts on what we’ll be seeing this week.

Let’s start with the Bethesda conference, since it’s kicking off the show. We already got to see Fallout 4 announced, but we know that there’s plenty more on the way Sunday night. Whether that means a gameplay demo, potential gameplay on the show floor, or just a longer cinematic trailer remains to be seen. My money is on a good gameplay demonstration. But I really don’t think Bethesda has this whole press event just for Fallout. We know that there’s a DOOM announcement coming our way, probably something along the Fallout 4 trailer – a nice announcement trailer showing off the engine and revisiting an old friend in the DOOM world. The big surprise potential I think comes from Dishonored. It’s been a few years since the first game came out, and back then there was already talk about making it into a franchise. The timing this year I think is perfect. The assumption is that Fallout is a fall release, based around retailer listings (which could easily be placeholders); which means that 2016 could be looking for a big name. DOOM satisfies that in one genre, but Dishonored is a whole different beast. With how flat Thief fell last year, the current generation is looking for a good stealth game – Dishonored would fit that perfectly.

Sunset Overdrive Xbox Bundle

With Microsoft leading the show on Monday, I fully expect them to try to set the pace. Nintendo has bowed out in recent years, opting for their digital deliveries, which really puts the pressure on Microsoft and Sony to put on good shows. With that said, we already know the two biggest games Microsoft will be showing – Rise of the Tomb Raider and Halo 5: Guardians. The rest of the rotation could be a little interesting. I would bet on seeing Call of Duty: Black Ops III here, just because of the past relationship with the franchise and Xbox. There’s bound to be some Fable Legends demo, most likely a release date set too. I also fully expect them to put their Indie lineup out there to shine – we saw that last year with a good focus on Ori. I don’t really see any crazy surprises coming here – Microsoft knows they have a great lineup coming for the rest of the year, especially with Uncharted 4 pushed back to next year. The surprises I think we’ll see are probably going to be more focused – DLC exclusivity deals, maybe some third party release dates – that sort of thing.

PlayStation 4

The Sony conference is the one where I think we really need to see some big moves, especially focused on this year. Uncharted 4 and the Nathan Drake collection will be shown for sure, but Sony is going to need something big for the fall. My guess is that ends up being Assassin’s Creed and Destiny. They went that route last year, and while both games are multiplatform they focused on the PS4. Both just had some issues at launch that maybe hurt the PS4 pairing a little bit. Losing Silent Hills hurts a lot too, but they still have Metal Gear Solid V to point to, along with No Man’s Sky – which still looks unreal. They’ve said that Ratchet and Clank will be playable at the show, so I would expect that to take up a good bit of conference time. Sony is a bit of a mystery going in this year – there has been plenty of shake-ups with the PS4 lineup for this fall, so this could be a pretty entertaining conference.

Nintendo

Nintendo is, once again, going with a longer version of their Nintendo Direct style PR videos for this year. While that’s great for those of us not able to make the show – I think it takes a little away from the mythos of E3. But what Nintendo does best is be Nintendo – they’re the company that’s just play different these days. In terms of games for this year, we know we’re bound to see two of the Core Nintendo Three – Mario and Zelda. Whether this is the year we finally see the return of Metroid remains to be seen, but I really hope that it is. It’s been five years since the debacle that was Other M. We’re ready for Samus to come back. I also expect to see a good chunk of Star Fox and Yoshi on display, with a potential showing of Donkey Kong. What really intrigues me with this show is how much we’re going to see/hear about the new Nintendo console – NX.

EA, Square Enix and Ubisoft round out the press events before the show floor opens. EA has a strong lineup this year – Star Wars: Battlefront, Need for Speed, Mirrors’ Edge, Mass Effect, and EA Sports titles. That’s just what we know they’re going to show. There’s always the possibility for some kind of Battlefield demo, probably Hardline DLC; as well as the announcement of Titanfall 2. While that hasn’t been announced at all, it really shouldn’t be a surprise – it’s bound to be in development after the success of the first game. Ubisoft will obviously show off Assassin’s Creed, but I think the real meat here will be the Tom Clancy games. We know that The Division got pushed back to next year; but Rainbow Six: Siege still is a bit of a question. If it ends up being this year, which console gets the exclusivity could be a big detail. Square is the wild card here – we know that they’ll show off Final Fantasy, as well as Rise of the Tomb Raider (probably the same demo we’ll see at Microsoft.) Beyond that though, I’m a little curious as to what they’ve got on hand. I would be a bit surprised if it ends up being Kingdom Hearts, but I want that so bad.

All things considered, this year’s E3 is shaping up to be just as strong as last year’s show was, if not even better. There are tons and tons of great games on the way, which means that the conferences should be pretty jam packed. I never rule out hardware details – they’re a good way to provide breathers in the show. Regardless, be ready for a lot of news in the next week or so. Here at Infinite Lives, I’ll have wrap ups for each conference, starting Sunday night after the Bethesda show; and as always, check out Twitter, where I’ll be sharing my reactions to the show live.

Weekly News Recap: Week of March 30, 2015

As March came to a close this week, we certainly got a fair bit of news. On Wednesday Nintendo had their monthly Nintendo Direct address – and as it has been lately, they weren’t skimping on news.

Super Smash Bros for Wii U

SUPER SMASH BROS DLC COMING
While not the biggest Nintendo news lately, anytime they announce new DLC characters for Super Smash Bros. it’s a big deal. This time it’s the arrival of Lucas later this year – returning from Brawl as a second option to Ness for a psychic character. The other really cool bit was that Nintendo opened up a page where fans can submit requests for characters to join the fight.

MARIO KART GETS DLC AS WELL
The other bit of DLC news was that Mario Kart 8 is also getting some DLC. In a somewhat surprising move, Nintendo will be adding in a 200cc mode, essentially amounting to a harder difficulty mode, as well as faster karts. I saw a number of people online wondering why they didn’t address battle mode instead, but I think when all is said and done, the 200cc is a good move.
Wooly Yoshi Amiibo
AMIIBOS CONTINUE TO SWEEP THE WORLD
When Nintendo announced the Amiibos back at E3 last year, I was a little skeptical. I thought it might end up being another Nintendo gimmick. But they’ve been embraced by players on a level I never saw coming. I think partially that’s due to how well they work with the games, as well as how cool they look. I don’t actually have a Wii U, and even I want to grab a couple of the Amiibos to have as desk decorations. With this week’s Nintendo Direct, they’ve announced the next wave to hit shelves. Among the highlights is the Wooly Yoshi, which looks super nice, and the new ones for Splatoon later this year.