In Defense of the Jimquisition

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has been out on Nintendo’s Wii U and their brand-new Switch for a few weeks, and has so far been the toast of the town. Rave reviews have pinned it as one of the greatest games in the series since Ocarina of Time, with its wide-open world being a recurring positive element among reviewers; the general consensus seems to be that the game is deserving of perfect scores all around.

Then there are those moments where the game gets a score that’s less than perfect, and this is where the fanimals are particularly rabid.


Jim Sterling, a longtime video game journalist and host of The Jimquisition, reviewed Breath of the Wild more than a week ago at the time this writing went up, and gave the game an overall score of 7/10, which constitutes a “Good” game by his standards. While he praised most of what the game has to offer, he stated that his overall enjoyment was gimped by elements such as weapon durability, stamina, and rain popping up at inconvenient times and making mountainous terrain difficult to navigate safely. Naturally, hardcore Zelda fans have jumped down his throat about this.


Now, to be clear, I have not played Breath of the Wild as of this writing. I’m still waiting on getting a Nintendo Switch due to personal reasons, and those same reasons have kept me from getting the game on the Wii U. My only “experience” with the game has come from watching other people play it.

That being said, I don’t see why Sterling should be taken to task just because he gave Breath of the Wild a less-than-perfect verdict.

Yes, Breath of the Wild makes a lot of bold changes to the classic Zelda formula. Not all of them are going to sit well with people, and that’s exactly what’s going on here with Sterling. It’s fine if you don’t have an issue with weapon durability, but that doesn’t mean Sterling should be admonished for thinking that the weapon durability mechanic is a problem.

Besides, it’s not like he outright hated the game. In fact, if you read Sterling’s review for yourself, you’ll see that in addition to his problems with the game, he praised several elements as well, including the difficulty, the “lived-in” feel of this incarnation of Hyrule, and all the little details strewn throughout the game. Just because someone enjoys something doesn’t mean it’s automatically deserving of a perfect score; heck, as Sterling himself demonstrated, you can enjoy something while also pointing out any flaws it may have. I’m sure I’ll disagree with his opinions if…and when…I eventually get to play Breath of the Wild for myself, but at the same time I’ll be willing to respect them for what they are: Opinions.


In short: Yes, Jim Sterling gave The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild a 7/10. No, he did not commit a cardinal sin by not giving it a 10/10. Carry on.


‘Til we meet again,
Tom

Baton Pass, Part II: To Alola, and Beyond

Last time I talked about Pokémon, I offered my perspective on the most recent generation of the series. Now, with the latest generation almost ready to take the world by storm, let’s focus on what’s to come.

To this day, it still amuses me how the news cycle for this generation has played out. (And, if we’re being honest, it’s been far more fun than this past electoral cycle.) If you weren’t paying attention, here’s a brief summary of how the news cycle has played out:

  • February 26th, 2016: Sun and Moon are officially announced.
  • March to Mid-May: No news at all; not even anything from CoroCoro Magazine, a Japanese magazine publication that is notorious for leaking Pokémon-related information ahead of The Pokémon Company International and Game Freak’s official announcements.
  • May 10th: The first gameplay, starter trio, and legendaries are revealed.
  • June-October: Monthly news blitzes revealing mind-blowing new additions and features, with some smaller surprise reveals in-between.

Yeah. That’s pretty crazy. What’s even crazier is how they’ve been able to keep this up for almost half a year.

We get confirmation of new titles, things go bone-dry for a few months afterward, and then all of a sudden all kinds of new information pops up every month, most of it involving things people never would’ve seen coming otherwise. Things like Alolan forms, Z-Moves, and Ultra Beasts blew people away when they were first revealed, with the promise of adding new dimensions to the tried-and-true formula. That, to me, is a big part of why I think Game Freak has been keeping all the excitement and speculation going for as long as it has.

But as great as all these supersized info-drops have been, one of my hopes for these games is that there’s more to these games than what Game Freak and TPCi are letting on. The fact that we’ve been getting so much info on these games before their release is all well and good, considering we didn’t get anything for the better part of two-and-a-half months. At the same time, I still want there to be some element of surprise when it comes to what the games have to offer.

Something that I feel is missing in a lot of games these days is that surprise factor. Everything is unveiled before the games even officially come out, whether it’s through leakers or, in some rarer cases, the developers themselves. Even then, and with this being Pokémon’s big 20th anniversary, my hope is that all of this info they’ve dropped on us for the past five months is just part of something bigger. Not a small part, necessarily, but this game as a whole feels like something Game Freak has been working towards for a long time.

One of the few issues that I had with Generation VI as a whole was its story. Again, it was nothing really bad… just lackluster. I will grant that it had a tough act to follow with Generation V’s story, but even then it’s no excuse to follow up with a story that wasn’t just hollow, but also left a lot of untapped potential on the table; potential that could’ve been realized with a Pokémon Z, or an X2/Y2 like what they did for Black and White. Of course, we now know that’s never going to happen.

For Sun and Moon, I want to see what Game Freak can really do for a story. There have been little bits and pieces on what the games’ story centers on, such as what truly makes a Pokémon, which already sounds like an interesting concept to work off of. If Game Freak goes deeper with that concept, and truly delivers, we could have something really special on our hands. On top of that, strong character development is also welcome. The characters we’ve seen so far look fun and enjoyable, but there’s bound to be more to them under the surface.

A story-related hope I have is that Game Freak really surprises us with these characters and how they develop throughout the journey. I want to see something like Lillie, who’s against Pokémon battles normally, come to the realization that they’re not as bad as she makes them out to be. Or what about something like Guzma, for all the streetwise bravado he’s shown off, revealing a different side to his character. And possibly the biggest surprise of them all would come from the Aether Foundation; most people are pinning them as the true villains of the story, but what if Game Freak toyed with our expectations and made them a genuinely benevolent organization? I’d give them kudos for that.

…Maybe.

But above all else, the single biggest wish that I have for Sun and Moon is really pretty simple: That it’s just as fun as the previous games, if not moreso. Being a game enthusiast, I always hold out hope that the games I play will be enjoyable; basically, I’m a “Gameplay First” kind of person. They pull that much off, and they get a passing grade, it’s as simple as that. X and Y were already enjoyable as they were; they may have had a few hiccups to them, sure, but in the end, going through Kalos was still a treat. For Sun and Moon, I’m really hoping that they take what worked before, and go a few steps further with them. With the demo being out for a while, there’s a good feeling that Game Freak will answer the call in making this a great experience for any and all Pokémon fans. Whether or not that will translate to the full experience being fun is anybody’s guess.

Even with all the reveals we’ve been getting, and some leaked information coming out as well, there’s still a lot about Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon that we don’t know yet. Are we getting more than what we’ve seen for new Pokémon and Alolan forms? Is the Aether Foundation the real team of antagonists? What exactly ARE the Ultra Beasts? What happens once we clear the Island Challenge? We don’t have the answers to these questions yet. Thankfully, there’s good news: As of this writing, we’re a week away from finding out.

From Generation VI to Generation VII, Game Freak used Baton Pass.

‘Til we meet again,
Tom

A Sporting Chance

Nintendo made a huge splash when it unveiled its next big thing. What once went under the codename NX is now known as the Switch, a slick-looking console that can be played both at home and on the go; basically, it’s a home and portable console rolled into one package.

Real quick before we get to the actual topic, I think this is an amazing idea on paper. The ability to play video games virtually anywhere is going to be a massive boon for many game enthusiasts out there. And that list of third-party developers is nothing to sneeze at; you know you’ve got a good thing going for you with developers like Arc System Works and Bethesda in your corner. There are concerns with the hardware, obviously, and I do think that Nintendo holding off on announcing games until the beginning of next year is kind of worrisome. Overall, though, the Switch looks like it’s going to be a revolutionary new system, and I honestly can’t wait to hear more about it.

But enough small talk, let’s talk about something that came to mind when I saw the Switch trailer for the first time: Nintendo taking on the world of E-Sports.

At the end of the Switch trailer, Nintendo unveiled what looks like a sequel to their surprise hit from 2015, Splatoon. It showed off two teams going over possible strategies, and then heading out into what may as well have been a dead-ringer for Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. The more I saw this scene, I got this feeling that the Switch would create a new avenue for Nintendo.

Then, it hit me: This could be Nintendo’s way of getting deeper into the world of E-Sports.

Before I get too carried away, let’s get one thing straight. I’m not saying that Nintendo is going to abandon the console gaming business in favor of cultivating competitive gaming scenes, and for that matter, I’m not saying they should. The Big N has always been about creating consoles and games for all audiences from Day One, and that’s never going to change. This is merely something that Nintendo could do in addition to that. They’re already trying to make strides in theme parks and movies, so why not branch out into one more medium?

Now, technically Nintendo has been involved in E-Sports before, at least to a degree. Games in their Super Smash Bros. series, specifically Melee and the latest entry for the Wii U, have been featured at several major fighting game tournaments in recent years, with Evo (short for Evolution, for those not in the know) being the most notable of them all. That’s not bad for initial exposure to the world of E-Sports, but who’s to say Nintendo can’t go deeper with this?

If Super Smash Bros. gets a new entry to the Switch (and if insiders like Emily Rogers are to be believed, it’s very possible), it would be the perfect foundation for a professional circuit, something akin to the Capcom Pro Tour for Street Fighter V. In addition to being a staple at major fighting game tournaments like Evo, the competitive Smash Bros. scene has plenty of exclusive tournaments like Genesis, Pound, APEX, and the Big House.

Imagine those tournaments as stepping stones toward something much grander.

It’s hard to say whether or not this will actually happen due to series director Masahiro Sakurai’s stance on Smash Bros. as a competitive fighting game. But considering how successful Smash Bros. has been competitively…one look at the attendance numbers of Smash Bros. for Wii U at Evo speaks for itself…Nintendo could open up new doors for the Smash Bros. series if they do something like the Capcom Pro Tour.

If Nintendo does get serious with an E-Sports venture, Splatoon is sure to be a part of those plans, what with how the first game absolutely exploded in popularity. While live tournaments have been possible with the first game, a new Splatoon game on the Switch essentially streamlines the process of conducting a tournament, with everyone being able to bring their own systems. Following this, another notable boon to having Splatoon on the Switch is that players on each team would be able to use their own specifically-tuned gear instead of having to rely on pre-made loadouts.

And why stop at Super Smash Bros. and Splatoon? When you think about it, Nintendo has a few series that could benefit from the E-Sports treatment. Mario Kart jumps out as a perfect first option for a professional league, and collaborating with The Pokémon Company International could yield a bigger, better Pokken Tournament circuit.

Some of Nintendo’s older franchises would make for great tournament games as well, if you think about it. Can you imagine an F-Zero pro circuit? Or an all-new Star Fox game with competitive multiplayer in mind? Sounds crazy, right? (Maybe that’s because it is, but you see my point.)

Or, if all else fails, we could see a new game from Nintendo that’s largely dedicated to tournament play. More specifically, a multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA for short) with characters from across Nintendo’s wide stable of franchises, with gameplay similar to games like League of LegendsHeroes of the Storm, maybe even Overwatch in some respects. The game would still be accessible to game enthusiasts of all skill levels, obviously, but for those that really want to get more out of it, a tournament series would be the perfect thing to aspire for.

By this point, all of this may seem like the crazy ramblings of a guy who grew up with Nintendo and loves competitive gaming just as much as pro sports leagues like Major League Baseball. And, honestly, I can’t fault you for thinking that. That being said, my point still stands that the Switch could be a huge opportunity for Nintendo to branch out into more unexplored territory. Would they revolutionize E-Sports in any way? Probably not, but it would still be amazing to see them give it a try regardless.

The Nintendo Switch has a ton of possibilities. Maybe, just maybe, a stronger involvement with E-Sports is one of them. Until the Big N tells us more, only time will tell.

‘Til we meet again,
Tom

Baton Pass, Part I: Views from the Sixth Generation

We’re exactly one month away from the true beginning of a brand new generation of Game Freak’s crown jewel video game franchise. Ever since the middle of May, news for Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon has been coming at a frequent clip, with information coming almost monthly. With so much newness to look forward to, Pokémon Sun and Moon are looking to cap the series year-long 20th Anniversary celebration with a bombastic finale.

But before we jump into the newest generation of Pokémon, let’s take a look back at the previous one.

Now, I want to start this piece off by being very clear about something. I’m not going to make too many comparisons between Generation VI and the ones that came before it. There are a few reasons for this; for one, I haven’t played many of the games past the original Pokémon Red, Blue, Gold and Silver. In recent times, I have only completed the main campaigns for X and Alpha Sapphire, both of which will be talked about in this piece the most. In addition, I am currently working on Pokémon Platinum, and have yet to play Black, White, and their sequels, though I plan to do so in the future. Any references to these games I do bring up are strictly based off of viewing experiences rather than actual gameplay experiences.

Second, and most-importantly, even if I did play any of the previous titles, I would rather not compare Generation VI to previous generations too much. While I may bring up fleeting comparisons, I would rather judge this generation on its own merits instead of weighing them against those of its predecessors. Yes, there are things that previous generations did better; case in point being the fifth generation’s storyline. But at the same time, the point is more about my own personal experience with generation six.

Having said all of that, what was Generation VI like for me? Well, on an overall scale, it was a solid generation to return to after so many years away from the series. There was a lot that Game Freak did well with this generation, and just as much that they fell short with. The story of Pokémon X is, unfortunately, one of the latter.

The story takes a very back-to-basics approach, where you journey across Kalos to collect eight gym badges and challenge the Pokémon League, all while dealing with an evil organization along the way. The thing is, this would’ve been fine if not for one key problem: Missed potential. Shauna, Tierno, Trevor and Serena/Calem are enjoyable enough to be around as human companions, and as characters, there are some cool concepts; Tierno’s obsession with dancing, for example, is a great idea that I would’ve loved to see explored and expanded on. Unfortunately, the game’s story never seems to develop these characters any further than their basic traits.

AZ is even worse in this regard. At least the companions have a presence in the story, but AZ is just…there. His backstory is explained somewhat, but other than that he has no real impact. The story could’ve had a focus on AZ and his place in the lore, and it would’ve been far more interesting. All we get instead is his backstory, very little exposition from him, a battle following the champion, and a reunion with his beloved Floette. That’s all.

That’s the biggest issue with Pokémon X and Y’s story. There’s so much potential here for a compelling storyline, between AZ’s past and the history of Mega Evolution. None of it is tapped into, and all we’re left with is a hollow story topped off by a laughable evil organization in Team Flare. (Don’t get me started on those jokers, I swear…) I understand that Pokémon isn’t known for prize-winning narratives, but if you’re coming off one of the most story-driven entries in the series to-date…Black and White, for those keeping score at home…a little extra effort would’ve gone a long way.

Outside of the story, the gameplay fares much better, albeit with a few hiccups of its own. The introduction of Fairy-type Pokémon brought a sense of parity to a series that was otherwise dominated by Dragon-types, and Mega Evolution was a good way to breathe new life into some old favorites like Gardevoir and Charizard. (That being said, I do feel like there was some favoritism involved in the development of some Megas; did we really need Mega Garchomp?) On top of that, while the likes of Aegislash, Talonflame and Greninja wore out their welcomes in the eyes of competitive players, the new Pokémon that were introduced this generation are all great additions between their concepts and designs.

Sadly, the fact that there were so few new Pokémon presents a nitpick that I have with Generation VI. X and Y’s combined selection of monsters (as well as that of Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire) are curated from past generations to make up for the small number of new ones. This makes Generation VI’s games feel less like a brand new generation, and more like an anthology of the series’ greatest Pokémon. Yes, it does offer players plenty of options for in-game team building, but my point still stands.

On a final note in regards to problems I have with the game, it felt a bit too easy, even by the series’ standards. Part of it does have to do with how the EXP Share works, but it’s not the only factor. (Even though, for what it’s worth, I didn’t find the EXP Share to be all that busted.) Super Training and the benefits you get from Pokémon-Amie, like shrugging off status conditions, also factor in. Once you train and play with your Pokémon, and you have an idea of what’s coming as far as opponents go, beating the main story is a breeze. For instance, I went into the Elite Four with my team at least five levels lower than the champion’s ace, and I still managed to make it through the last fight without losing anybody. Granted, there were one or two moments where things looked dicey, but it doesn’t detract from the fact that beating the champion was fairly simple.

Whatever issues Pokémon X and Y may have had with story and gameplay, it’s tough to deny that Game Freak managed to nail the little things. Kalos is an amazing region to explore, with some incredible locales worth exploring. The soundtrack is phenomenal (try to tell me the theme of Xerneas and Yveltal isn’t epic with a straight face), it looks good, trainer customization is an excellent addition, and Pokémon-Amie is a fun, charming way to interact with your Pokémon companions in ways you never could before.

As far as Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire go, the problem is that I never played the original third generation games when they came out, due to their release coming around the same time I started losing interest in Pokémon as a whole. So I can’t really judge whether or not the remakes are improvements over the originals. That said, I think they’re fine games, all things considered; they build off of what worked in X and Y, while adding features that I’m surprised didn’t make it into those games, like Soaring. The fact that they didn’t include customization for the remakes was a downer, but it doesn’t make it any less of a good game.

Overall, Generation VI of Pokémon was just as I described it earlier: Solid. It did have some growing pains, with the jump to the Nintendo 3DS being chief among them, but it still managed to do enough to succeed in my book. Not for one second do I regret returning to the series with this generation.

I do want to close on one thing that I feel needs to be mentioned. Without name dropping, there are some individuals who are far more passionate about Pokémon than I am who have said that Generation VI felt “soulless.” Now, I’m not going to say that these people are wrong; after all, that’s their opinion, and they’re entitled to it. Having said that, I respectfully disagree with that notion. The fact that you can customize your trainer however you want them to look, as well as the ability to actually interact with your Pokémon partners, shows that there is a soul to these games. Moreso, the problems with Generation VI have nothing to do with a lack of soul so much as they do missed opportunities and the aforementioned growing pains. Sure, X, Y, Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire weren’t perfect games, and they made some weird design decisions, but that doesn’t necessarily make them soulless. Make of that what you will, but that’s just my two cents.

So, those are my thoughts on Generation VI of Pokémon. What do I think of what lies ahead for the series? Well, I feel that I’ve talked more than enough here, so we’ll save that topic for another time.

‘Til we meet again,
Tom