Articles tagged with nintendo

Piecing together
Nintendo's NX platform: Part 1
Jul 31
Posted by James at 08:10

Square Enix surprised almost everyone by announcing that both Dragon Quest X and Dragon Quest XI will be coming to Nintendo’s “NX” platform in addition to PlayStation 4 and Nintendo 3DS versions. The publisher was quick to change their stance on the announcement soon after, but by then it had been too late – publishers don’t confidently announce that they are supporting a platform (at a major media event no less) unless the move had been thoroughly thought through beforehand.

How can a game be announced for a platform that has no concrete details behind it? After all, Nintendo refuses to speak about NX publicly until the following year. It all dates back to March this year, when the late Nintendo president Satoru Iwata revealed an ambitious plan to utilise smart devices. This forced his hand in prematurely revealing the code name, NX, of their next video game platform, thus confirming it exists, also sending a message that Nintendo is still committed to its dedicated video games business.

Elsewhere, it’s easy to get the feeling that NX development is nearing completion. Not only are Square Enix (and therefore, other publishers) developing and planning software for it right now, but Iwata told investors to expect a return to “Nintendo-like profits” in the financial year ending March 31, 2017. This suggests a new platform is launching next year, as Nintendo maintaining the status quo with Wii U, 3DS and Amiibo won’t change their financial situation much despite a recent return to profitability in FY2014.

Sure, you could interpret that as a by-product of the five mobile games Nintendo plans to launch from now up until March 31 – DeNA themselves are hoping that each game brings in £17 million per month. But the whole point of mobile, and the DeNA partnership, is to create an interconnected online network which will act as a bridge to the dedicated games business. NX has to be a part of that sooner rather than later, otherwise Nintendo will be squandering an opportunity.

Furthermore, Mr. Iwata has been leaving behind a trail of breadcrumbs about the paltform, dating far back to February 2014. With NX development fully underway, now is a better time than ever to pick apart what it all means.

The weaknesses behind Nintendo’s current approach

In a note to investors in February 2014, Satoru Iwata outlined a number of weaknesses to Nintendo’s current approach to serving up a dedicated games platform. Currently, Nintendo adopts the same generational approach that Microsoft and Sony do; every 5-10 years a new console generation rolls around and all the platform holders start again with new hardware and need to build up an install base from scratch.

Furthermore, Nintendo traditionally releases two platforms every generation: one handheld and one console. Mr. Iwata outlines some of the pitfalls behind that approach:
"…currently it requires a huge amount of effort to port Wii software to Nintendo 3DS because not only their resolutions but also the methods of software development are entirely different. The same thing happens when we try to port Nintendo 3DS software to Wii U.
Nintendo produces two wildly different pieces of hardware both from a software and hardware architectural standpoint which results in both internal and external developers struggling to support both platforms with equal attention, especially so when sales forecasts and development costs are involved given the other platforms they could be supporting instead.

Indeed, 3DS has arguably cannibalised the Wii U; rational publishers choose to support the platform which yields higher returns, it's no surprise that Wii U failed to garner third party support from Japanese publishers, even with its competitive install base in the grand scheme of the Japanese console market (in the west, the Wii U’s install base is relatively tiny in the grand scheme of the console market).

Iwata also expressed some of the problems the current cyclical hardware cycle causes when new hardware is launched. Note that in this context, platforms equal new hardware.
"If the transition of software from platform to platform can be made simpler, this will help solve the problem of game shortages in the launch periods of new platforms."
A year later, Iwata went on to elaborate on this point when speaking to the Nikkei (translated by Kotaku and Google Translate). There he explained how in the current environment, there is a need to "start over from zero" whenever a "new game machine" is released. Note the difference in terminology in the space of a year – he is now referring to launching new video game hardware rather than new platform.

Finally, Iwata brought up one final weakness to the typical 5-10 year hardware cycle, which involves platform holders having to start all over again:
Switching platforms resulted in a gap in the relationship with our customers…I think that’s to be reflected upon greatly.
It’s easy to see how quickly the tide can turn in favour of one platform holder or another once a new generation of video game hardware (and thus, a new platform) rolls out. Success in one hardware cycle and platform doesn’t necessarily guarantee success in the next, since all the major players start again from scratch – the playing field is levelled. Look at the transition from Wii to Wii U, or PS2 to PS3, or Xbox 360 to Xbox One as the most recent examples of how quickly platform holders can lose customers and mindshare.

In summary, Iwata outlined three big problems which Nintendo hopes to tackle with its next platform:

1) Software shortages throughout a video game system’s lifetime. Developers struggle to develop for both Wii U and 3DS at the same time due to the massive differences in hardware and software architecture.
2) The cyclical nature of a console generation, and how a new platform traditionally means starting all over again. With a clean slate, the tide can turn in favour of an entirely different platform holder.
3) Every new generation begins with an effective new software library of nothing.

From what we know so far, NX is a solution to these problems. Stay tuned this weekend for a look at how Nintendo is defining NX as a platform, compared with what came before it.
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Posted by James at 08:58
Not a headline I thought I'd be writing. The first wave of "Amiibo cards" -- NFC cards which unlock a range of content in supported Nintendo software -- may be difficult to get hold of when they launch in Japan this coming Thursday.

The cards, which work with 3DS game Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer, always seemed like a great way for Nintendo to tackle their ongoing Amiibo supply problems. More recently, Nintendo has shown signs of flexibility in managing the supply and demand situation of Amiibo figures; they budged from a single RRP of £11.99/$12.99/1200 yen.

Amiibo cards were another piece of the puzzle in giving Nintendo more flexibility to deal with supply and demand. They can be manufactured faster and shipped en masse than plastic painted figurines, also taking up less space in retailers' warehouses and store shelves. Thus Nintendo can ship more of them time for a product's launch -- it's speculated that Yoshi's Woolly World is launching months later in North America in order to give Nintendo time to build up enough supply of that game's complementing knitted Yoshi Amiibo.

So it's a bit strange to see a Reddit user receive the following email from Japanese retailer AmiAmi, regarding his/her order for an Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer Series 1 card pack (emphasis ours):
Dear Customer,

Thank you for shopping at AmiAmi.

This message is being sent with regards your order for the item "Animal Crossing amiibo Card Vol.1 5Pack Set" (GAME-0014482).

Unfortunately due to production issues, we have been notified by the maker that there is a major stock shortage of this item. We will be unable to fulfill most orders for the item placed at our store because of this, and we are sorry to say that your order is among those we will not be able to fulfill. Your order for the item will be canceled.
Not the rosiest of news in light of a potentially hassle-free launch. Worse still, at the time of writing retailers such as Amazon Japan are no longer selling the Amiibo cards directly, or in single packs. Third party sellers currently own Amazon's marketplace and are peddling the cards at a hefty markup -- Amazon sell five packs for 1620 yen, the featured third party seller is charging 3500 yen, nearly twice that. (Update: The cards have remained out of stock. Users have since been leaving 1-star reviews to complain about the stock situation).

There may be a couple of factors at play here. Firstly, AmiAmi sells goods both to domestic customers and those overseas -- it's possible that their stock allocation would only cover any demand they'd receive from customers in Japan, hence the subsequent cancellation notice.

The other possibility is that Nintendo underestimated demand. Yes, they plan to ship 500,000 units of the complementing game for launch day next Thursday. But Japan has typically shrugged at Amiibo in the first place. Just 11.5% of global Amiibo shipments went to the region in the three months leading to March 31 this year. While Amiibo cards are different due to the similarities to card games rather than the toys-to-life genre occupied by the likes of Activision's Skylanders and Disney Infinity, Nintendo may have been less optimistic about their success.

Regardless, there is little reason for concern. Amiibo cards have a far faster turnaround rate at the manufacturing stage, which will give Nintendo the more wriggle room to respond to stock shortages as quickly as possible. Indeed, the true test for Nintendo is how fast they can react to changing demand compared with shortages for the Amiibo figures, so we'll soon see whether the Amiibo cards are a more flexible avenue for the platform.

Find more Amiibo analysis here.
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Posted by James at 08:38
A fine interview with Splatoon co-director Tsubasa Sakaguchi went up today over at Eurogamer, and features editor Martin Robinson managed to uncover a few tidbits both about the game's development as well as its future.

It's definitely worth a read regardless of whether you've played the game or not; Splatoon is shaping up to be one of the freshest shooters in years, making matches revolve directly around spraying and moving around in coloured ink opens up a multitude of new game modes and strategies.

Its street-chic look and boundless energy to how it both looks and plays lends Splatoon the mass appeal that makes it a game anyone might want to try -- something that's been reflected by sales which were higher than even Nintendo were expecting, despite being a new IP.

There were two really interesting factoids that stood out in the interview. The first is about the game's gyroscopic motion controls, which are perhaps the finest we've ever experienced in any game with an aiming reticle. While Mr. Sakaguchi attributes this to years of fine-tuning across Nintendo software since the Wii U launched nearly three years ago, he also revealed that 70-80 percent of players were using them.

That's a real win given the dismissive stigma that surrounds motion controls on console games nowadays, which always suggested that players just weren't willing to give them a chance, even when they genuinely enhance how a game plays and how it feels. It speaks volumes when website Nintendo Life had to record a video (below) where they pleaded players to stick with the motion controls. Knowing that three-quarters of players have stuck with the controls two months after the game's launch is delightful news no matter how you put it.

Show/hide video

The other tidbit from the interview revolves around how the game dishes out its content. You see, when Splatoon launched players only had access to five maps, twenty or so weapons and one mode.

A sticking point for some players was the lack of available content at launch, but Nintendo has steadily been making more content available for players every week in what was basically a masterstroke for a game of this genre. By withholding free content on-disc, Nintendo has been extending the online lifespan of the game by keeping players coming back for more.

Indeed, in an interview with Nintendo Life, producer Hisashi Nogami said:
We want users to enjoy each and every single piece of content we've prepared, so rather than provide a lot at once, we're going to be adding them a little at a time...

...We'll be adding more stages and weapons as we see how the community matures. We'll also do something similar with further game modes too.
This should be applauded because not only is it vital for maintaining a healthy playerbase, but Nintendo has been able to tie in its content updates with what has been its best ever use of social media yet (one, two) as well as make good use of metrics-based decision making.

And so it's great to discover that Nintendo plans to add even more weapons and maps in an August update to the game, free of charge. Splatoon shows that Nintendo has been willing to react quickly to change -- while this week's update finally exhausts all content shipping on disc, Nintendo has been able to deliver more content just two months after launch, and slowly unlock content in an order that reflects where the playerbase is going.
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Posted by James at 16:12
"Nintendo is partnering with Facebook to celebrate the launch of #SuperMarioMaker!" A tweet from Nintendo of America read this afternoon. "Facebook employees with design level in the game, w/ one level available to download for free after launch", another tweet claims.

The tweets have since been removed, implying that someone at Nintendo jumped the gun in what is shaping up to be one of the more unexpected partnerships surrounding a flagship Nintendo release.

More recently, Nintendo partnered with beverage company Kirin for Splatoon, where players would end up participating on a vote-off between Lemon Tea and Ice Tea, two of the company's products. Last year, in a cross-marketing deal for Mario Kart 8, Mercedes had Mario-inspired television commercials while Nintendo inserted Mercedes vehicles into the game as free downloadable content.

While both of those previous deals resulted in Nintendo receiving a little bit of cash, the same likely cannot be said for Facebook's involvement with Super Mario Maker. Instead of Nintendo including product placement in their game in return for funding, here we have a case where Nintendo is hoping to rely on Facebook's sheer reach to spread the word when the game launches in September.

It's a good move, since 2D Mario is far-reaching to the masses, and the Wii U never went massmarket. Putting a tentpole game that celebrates 30 years of Super Mario Bros. in front of people who wouldn't have known it existed otherwise might shift some heads.
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Posted by James at 07:43
Well, technically. Today Nintendo of Europe has announced more details concerning Super Mario Maker's release, and joining the two editions of the game (a regular edition sans-Amiibo and limited edition including Amiibo) is a Wii U hardware bundle which includes the limited edition of the game.

This is the first time an Amiibo has been offered as part of a hardware bundle. Typically, Amiibo are only offered as part of software bundles either with complementing games by publisher Nintendo (Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, Splatoon, Yoshi's Woolly World), or with entirely unrelated games by the retailer. The latter method is a way for retailers to ration the figures amidst ongoing stock shortages.

This is purely anecdotal, but if Super Mario Maker's adorable 8-bit Mario Amiibo falls into short supply maybe bundling the thing with an entire Wii U console might shift a few Wii Us to desperate Amiibo collectors...
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The Beast of Re Eden
Jul 19
Posted by Ben at 13:27

I talked in the gameplay video we recorded about how I've had a lot of time for Milestone's shooters over the years. I adored Radilgy on the Dreamcast, the original Karous wasn't too far behind, even illvelo was fun. So it was with some anticipation that I picked up Karous The Beast of Re Eden on the 3DS, a platform best described as bereft of decent shooters.

Karous The Beast of Re Eden doesn't play out like a traditional shmup, levels aren't long stretches that run you in to enemy waves. Instead it shares more in common with something like Space Invaders. You can dodge around while waves of enemies float in from the top of the screen, clear them out, or take too long about it, and more will appear. Stages are complete when you meet their requirements, for example killing 100 enemies with your standard shot or only killing the blue enemies.

A staple of Milestone's games is that weapons level up with use. The more you use your shot, shield, sword or bomb the more powerful they become. In Karous this is taken a little further with new abilities locked as new tiers. Eventually your shield will be able to fire back at enemies, you'll be able to chain sword attacks together, and your shot will spread wider, but you've got to invest time to get to that point

Which is the big area where Karous falls down. The objectives aren't all that varied or interesting, it's just "kill this many things" or variants there on. It's the same enemy wave patterns over and over again. Having to redo the same missions repeatedly to improve your weapon to make the next mission doable, it's just not fun. With new weapons not unlocked until you get your latest weapon to a high enough level, it's not even like things move at a pace, similarly a quick retry option would have helped immensely.

The technical issues with the game are disappointing. I know the 3DS isn't a powerhouse, but you'd hope it could run a simple schmup smoothly. Unfortunately Karous is littered with slow down, and not the good dramatic kind you get during an epic boss battle, the bad kind that makes you think less of the game. Weirdly it seems like the cause of the slow down is actually your own bullets, leave the enemies alone and things aren't so bad.

It’s a shame, Karous was fun, Karous The Beast of Re Eden is a trudge. It’s as though the design is inspired by mobile game design, which isn’t the insult it may read like. In theory taking a long grind approach to a shooter isn’t the worst idea for a 3DS game, you could just close the lid and come back to it. But you need an injection of pace, you need something snappy on a handheld, particularly if you are going for a pick up and play genre. Karous is disappointing on a number of levels, and I can see the sub-£5 pricetag going some way to mitigating a few issues, and it really isn’t a horrible game, but it’s one that’s very hard to recommend.
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The Beast of Re Eden
Jul 10
Posted by Ben at 02:12

We take a look at the English release of Karous: The Beast of Re Eden, a challenge based shmup for the 3DS

Developed by Milestone, who are responsible for Radilgy (Radirgy) and Karous on the Dreamcast, 2 games I've got a lot of time for, Karous The beast of Re Eden has recently had a budget release on the 3DS eshop

The video shows some gameplay from a couple of levels, nothing too complicated, but it does show the challenge structure of the game

Show/hide video

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Posted by Ben at 17:24
Probably for the best from a personal point of view, I'm skint, but it's still tragic news that 3D Streets of Rage 2 has been delayed a week

Not a long wait, but just a heads up any way. 3D Streets of Rage 2 is now releasing worldwide on 23rd of July, which is a Thursday
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Posted by James at 16:23
There's an interesting blog post detailing the basics behind Fire Emblem Cipher, a trading card game that's been overshadowed (as far as internet coverage goes, that is) by the release of Fire Emblem if last week.

That's a shame, as this collectible card game has been developed and planned in-house by series veterans Intelligent Systems.

As you'd expect, the cards are adorned with characters from various games in the series. Collect enough or pick up one of the starter packs and you'll be able to assemble a competent deck of Knights, Paladins and the like to face off against an opponent.

The post even details the rules of the game. Don't expect to see anything out of the ordinary though, as Fire Emblem Cipher contains all the tropes you'd expect from collectible card battlers: stat comparisons, card substitutions and the ability to pair two cards together are all in.

What's interesting about this is that a Fire Emblem card game seems like a likely candidate for a mobile game from Nintendo in the future. Perhaps not one of the five games launching before April 2017 -- expect Nintendo to use their biggest and most recognisable IP for those -- but it wouldn't be too surprising to see something like this launch once the dust has settled and Nintendo and DeNA's mobile business has firmly established itself.

Card games are a well established genre on mobile, after all, and Intelligent Systems has developed this one in-house.

There is one problem though: Each game in Fire Emblem Cipher takes about an hour to complete. That's not a great fit for a platform that's arguably best at offering bitesize chunks of interactive entertainment, and Nintendo wants to sufficiently differentiate their mobile offerings from meatier experiences on their dedicated games hardware.

As an example, you can complete a match in Blizzard Entertainment's Heartstone in a tenth of the time it takes in Fire Emblem Cipher. So if a Fire Emblem trading card game does hit mobile, expect it to be significantly retooled and built from the ground up for the platform. Which is as you'd expect from Nintendo, who have sworn to make every mobile game from the ground up.
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Posted by James at 07:31
The UK software sales charts are in for the week ending 30 May, and they give us an indication on how Splatoon performed on the market, Nintendo's latest (and biggest) new IP and their first shooter.

As you have probably figured out from the headline, Splatoon debuted in second place in the all formats charts, which collates software sales figures across several platforms instead of individual ones.

It debuted behind The Witcher 3, which isn't surprising given that game's mainstream appeal, established IP and rave reviews. The Witcher 3 is also on several formats (PS4, Xbox One and PC), which have a far higher combined install base -- both PS4 and Xbox One have passed 1 million sales in the UK, the Wii U has yet to attain this feat.

Indeed, if you look at the individual formats charts, Splatoon sold behind both the PS4 and Xbox One versions of the Bandai Namco-published The Witcher 3.

That being said, Splatoon still broke a few platform specific records. It was the best selling new IP on the platform since Ubisoft's launch title two-and-a-half years ago, ZombiU. That's actually a bit of a back-handed compliment, given ZombiU launched two-and-a-half years ago, but you could argue it benefitted from what some developers and publishers call the "launch effect", where early adopters pick up games amidst excitement for new hardware, and thus accumulated enough sales to make it a hard target for new IP on Wii U to beat.

Chart-Track also noted that Splatoon is the fifth best selling Wii U title in the country (not accounting for downloads), which is less rosy news. We have an inkling (sorry) that the shooter, which turns the genre upside-down by asking players to paint the map as squids in a frantic turf war, may have sold beneath Nintendo's expectations, given the above, and the game's Mario Kart 8-sized marketing budget.

Unlike Mario Kart 8 however, Nintendo does benefit from tightly integrating Amiibo into Splatoon. While the solus game carries an RRP of £34.99 -- £14.99 lower than Mario Kart 8, Nintendo sells three Amiibo alongside Splatoon, potentially raising the ARPPU (average revenue per paying user) above Mario Kart's within the game's launch window.

Interestingly, older Wii U software such as Wind Waker HD (October 2013) and Mario Party 10 (March 2015) re-entered the UK top 40, which implies that Splatoon shifted Wii U hardware as well, though it's unlikely to be at a level similar to Mario Kart 8's.
UK All-formats Top 10, week ending May 30
1. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
2. Splatoon
3. Grand Theft Auto 5
4. FIFA 15
5. Farming Simulator 15
6. Battlefield Hardline
7. Project Cars
8. Destiny
9. Mortal Kombat X
10. Minecraft: Xbox Edition

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