Articles tagged with nintendo

JM: *Clears Throat*:
Amiibo, Whales, and
Nintendo's latest strategy
Feb 25
Posted by James at 06:28

Nintendo of America president Reggie-Fils-Aime was almost obsessed with the idea of "growing the Wii U install base" during interviews at last year's E3. Not that I blame him -- Nintendo's latest console is treading behind the company's lowest-selling home console to date -- but their lineup painted a very different story.

The hidden message was clear: Nintendo has dropped the 'Blue ocean' strategy that they'd been chasing since the early days of the format with the likes of Wii Fit U, Super Mario 3D Land and Wii Party U. Instead, they've been working on games that will primarily appeal to their core fans, followed by those who'd appreciate the fine qualities of a good, traditional videogame.

There was Smash Bros for Wii U, of course, but when Mario Kart 8 failed to lift Wii U sales in the way they should have (and not enough to bump Nintendo back into profitability at the time), what hope did Smash have? Historically speaking, Smash just hasn't reached out to the masses in the same way that Mario Kart or New Super Mario Bros. did, selling a fraction of the units of those two games on Wii.

But Smash Bros. for Wii U is actually a good indicator of where Nintendo is (re)focusing its efforts. Rather than grow the install base, Nintendo has shifted to feeding the install base. Their lineup of Amiibo figures -- heavily marketed and integrated alongside Smash Bros. at launch -- is a clear attempt to increase the average revenue per Smash player, who would traditionally have paid once and never again until the next generation.

Amiibo unlock all sorts of throwaway trinkets across Nintendo's upcoming lineup of titles too, a way to keep the figures relevant while the company expands into new collections of the figurines. And this slightly aimless approach to integration with the games appears to be working, as this was all enough to give the figures 36% of the Skylanders-Disney Infinity-Amiibo market (according to ConsulGamer estimates) in one of America's biggest retailers, with 5.7 million Amiibo sold worldwide by the end of 2014.

Why were Amiibo such a big success? Launching alongside Smash rather than a true Toys-to-Life is telling: if they aren't heavily integrated with the games themselves, they certainly are from a branding perspective. Smash Bros. is a celebration of all things Nintendo, with ties to nearly every Nintendo game/character/franchise you can think of. As good an excuse if any to release a plethora of Amiibo figures.

Current and upcoming Amiibo are also being tied in with future releases. A glance at the upcoming Super Mario Collection says a lot: Toad Amiibo will be bundled with Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker. The new Mario Amiibo? Bundled with Mario Party 10. Combine this heavy link to the company's biggest and best brands and the desire of superfans and collectors to collect all things and it's easy to see the appeal and the genius behind it all.

While some of us might only pick up a couple of Amiibo, they are cheap and novel enough to warrant an impulse buy, especially for the time-constrained of us who would happily buy a new game, but not necessarily have 20 odd hours spare to put into it. Meanwhile the big spenders (Whales) are buying every Amiibo they can get their hands on, fuelled by carefully orchestrated supply constraints and that urge to collect all things.

While Amiibo is the clear leader behind this new strategy, some of Nintendo's newer product lines also paint a similar picture: New 3DS's IP-adorned cover plates, 3DS home menu themes, New 3DS's built-in Amiibo support, this heavily integrated Collectible Badge Center customisation app, the company is well set up to pursue the Collectibles market and chase after the Whales for the rest of this generation.

I think that's fine, a necessary evil at a push. Nintendo needs to keep making a small but tidy profit until the next generation rolls around, and doing this offers them a tidy new revenue stream alongside their core hardware and software sales, while also keeping their marquee titles free of the sorts of things their core fans find unsavoury, like poorly implemented microtransactions and in-game-purchases.

It's also a good way for the company to spread their risk in the event that their venture into the health industry with QOL (Quality of Life, a device that analyses your sleeping pattern and provides helpful input) isn't a successful secondary business in the short run.

The big question is whether Amiibo success will tempt Nintendo towards pushing the things to the point of annoyance. Right now I think they've struck a good balance with them: you certainly don't need the things to play any of their games, and if you have bought into them, there's sprinklings of bonus content here and there to tap into that'll bring a smile to your face. Fire Emblem Amiibo let you play as series characters from the series in the upcoming Codename STEAM. This is neat for Fire Emblem fans, and something that wouldn't have made it in had Amiibo not existed (it'd be like having Fire Emblem units in Advance Wars), so non-buyers aren't feeling left out.

Nintendo's treading a fine line, then. If they do want to heavily integrate the things without losing the faith of the loyal fans who are buying them in droves, I'd like to see a killer game which is appropriately tied to the figures in ways which make sense to the player -- like Skylanders and Disney Infinity. Perhaps these Amiibo/NFC cards that Iwata keeps hinting at will do that, but they're also telling that Nintendo might be working on a more portable-friendly Amiibo title for the 3DS.

There is also uncertainty around whether Nintendo is only pursuing this strategy to weather the storm of lower-than-expected hardware and software sales this generation, or if it will continue on in the next generation. Here's hoping it strikes the right balance from here on out.
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Posted by James at 11:40
The Q&A from Nintendo's investor meeting this month was recently translated into English, and there are a few nuggets of information within. Iwata talking about Amiibo production costs standing is one worth bringing to light:

I think you can easily tell just by looking at several amiibo figures that production costs vary for each one of them; some amiibo have a more complex structure and a greater number of colors, which means they cost more to produce than others. Nevertheless, since setting different price points could be misinterpreted as the company valuing certain characters more than others, we came to the decision to set an MSRP that would return a profit from the amiibo platform as a whole.

It would appear that Nintendo might be losing money on those Amiibo which have more detailed facial features or Amiibo of characters with more elaborate clothes and poses, like Captain Falcon.

Conveniently, these tend to be the characters that are relatively less popular and in lower supply, so Nintendo's able to turn a profit on their Nintendo Figurine Platform business with all those hot selling Link and Mario Amiibo.

Speaking of Link, this might also explain why the Link Amiibo featured workmanship that is a bit...suspect. Its 'urine-yellow' stand (sorry) looks decidedly worse than the one which holds up Rosalina's floating Luma star, and selling millions of Link Amiibo at a loss just wouldn't be sustainable.
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Feb 18
Posted by James at 13:27

Pokémon Shuffle is an interesting release. Not only is it a high profile F2P (free-to-play) game on the 3DS, but it utilises modern business models. So there's quite a lot of insight to be had behind how developer Genius Sonority has designed the game, and the implications in how it plays as a result.

Surprisingly, this isn't a retooled version of last year's Pokémon Link Battle, a slightly inventive take on the match-three puzzler. Gone is the Link box, a playing field of Pokémon-themed blocks spanning both screens. The finite nature of the puzzle blocks in Link Battle encouraged you to clear the lot by smartly rearranging them on the fly. Pokémon Shuffle instead assigns the playing field to a single screen, the field itself now being infinite, every cleared chain being replaced by more blocks from above.

At its core, Pokémon Shuffle revolves around matching similar-type blocks to weaken an encountered Pokémon, all done within a strict move limit. Each match of three-or-more blocks deals damage to the opposing critter, depending on type matchups and your party's level.

With a set number of moves to finish each stage, there's now a big emphasis on utilising combos for big damage dealing. You'll be partly relying on luck to achieve this, though, since the playing field hides away all those blocks above -- blocks that fall down when you make a combo -- when you make your move.

This isn't necessarily bad, but it makes for a more boring and less engaging game than its predecessor, one that's also less satisfying to master. Even when it extends the formula to include cool things like garbage and ice blocks, your overall success will still largely be determined by luck or whether you've amassed the right set of Pokémon (more on that later). Shuffle's move limit means you're forced to wait and watch mid-combo, rather than slide a few blocks here and there to keep things going, Panel de Pon style.

What, then, of its monetisation and in-game purchases?

Pokémon Shuffle employs a common trick, that of the premium currency. These have the effect of reducing the number of psychological barriers between the purchase and the player. What has more weight to you: using up one gem to continue past the game over screen, or paying its equivalent value of Ł0.89/$0.99?

Your gems can then be used to purchase even more abstract currency, such as hearts or coins. Hearts are used as energy to attempt each stage, and coins buy powerups and help items, which have a distinct air of 'Pay-to-Win' about them.

Meanwhile, the game will dispense a small amount of currency your way for free. Gems are awarded at key progress points. Hearts regenerate over time, one every thirty minutes. And you'll get a 100 coins for clearing stages as a general rule of thumb.

Energy systems and wait timers in stage-based games are generally okay, since the game has to be upfront about what you're getting into, whereas pay-to-win items have all sorts of implications on not only whether the game's one of skill, but how the game tries to nudge you towards using the items in the first place.

Sadly, Pokémon Shuffle is great at implementing both in smart ways, even if the overall result is still far from the worst examples in the F2P space.

Want to simply plough through the game? If you don't mind putting the game down for the odd hour here and there, you'll probably be alright in the long run. Each stage costs you one heart, and every five stages (which soon becomes every ten) you're rewarded with a gem that can be converted into five hearts. Progress is fairly speedy this way, and you'll probably end up thanking the energy timers for letting you put the game down.

The problems emerge if you want to excel at the game or get everything. If you're the sort of player who cares about catching every Pokémon, or turning up to each battle with a smartly chosen party, then you'll probably feel more pressured to top up your gem balance.

There's a theory within the field of behavioural economics called loss aversion, which refers to how humans value potential losses more than gains.Pokémon Shuffle is pretty adept at exploiting that.

Picture this: every time you weaken a Pokémon and clear a stage, its capture isn't guaranteed, and you only have one Pokéball. So if you wanted that Togepi which is super effective against Absol, you've got one chance to capture it. Your odds of success are partly determined by how well you do, so scraping by with the minimum of combos or few remaining moves yields low chances. Fail to catch the Pokémon and you're offered a Great Ball, doubling your chances of success.

Here's where the loss aversion comes in. This level attempt just cost you one heart and 30 minutes' waiting time, as well as what you could have been doing with the currency -- you might have wanted to play a different stage instead. If you fail to catch the Pokémon, you've not only got to wait 30 minutes to try again if that was your last heart, but you've got to clear that stage once more, and even then you might not succeed. Suddenly that Great Ball at 2500 coins seems a bit more tempting, and Pokémon Shuffle just managed to turn those previously unobtrusive wait timers into a liability.

You're likely to come across situations like this a fair few times, and if you value the freedom to play when you want, the easiest way around it all is to just shell out some money in return for some gems to convert back to hearts and/or coins. But doing this sometimes leaves a game which feels awkward to excel at, especially when your enemy tends to be the unpredictability of luck.

Sure, you could go out and purchase that 75 gem pack for around the same price as a retail Nintendo title, and have a stress-free experience. In fact, Serebii's website owner has been doing just that, and has been able to conquer a fair portion of the game already.

But Pokémon Shuffle doesn't exist in a vaccuum. Its fellow eShop puzzler, Pokémon Link Battle is a one off purchase and does nearly everything better -- you don't get the same feeling that the game and its mechanics have been designed around that currency system.

So there's Pokémon Shuffle. It's a mechanically solid puzzle game, let down by awkward balancing that opens up a rift between different types of players. Those who want to catch every critter or play the game in more exacting ways are being nudged towards buying up currency far more than those who won't be overly fussed about that sort of thing.
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Posted by James at 10:22
Sega, who also collaborated with Nintendo in making Rhythm Tengoku and F Zero AX for the arcade, has taken Luigi's Mansion in new directions for its arcade adaptation.

A particularly exciting new direction, too. Developed by Capcom, Luigi's Mansion Arcade adapts the 3DS's Luigi's Mansion 2 and turns it into a lightgun game of sorts, viewed through the eyes of green 'tache.

One thing Luigi's Mansion has always done well is its combat, which never feels less than great. It admirably captures the tension - both figuratively and literally speaking - that comes with fishing those pesky ghosts into your vacuum cleaner.

A first person adaptation of the game, with an emphasis on the game's combat, should do an even better job at replicating this feeling. You even play the game with a sizeable vacuum cleaner controller, complete with strobe torch button to blind your ghost foes.

Whether there'll be a Wii U port of this - much like the question everyone's asking about Namco's Pokken Tournament - is yet to be known. Though the Wii U GamePad certainly would make for a good vacuum cleaner controller...
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Gunman Clive 2

Feb 02
Posted by Ben at 17:39

I quite liked the original Gunman Clive. A relatively unheard of 3DS eShop game, released at a bargain price with some of the most interesting visuals on the platform. It’s well worth a look if you haven’t already played it, but in every way the sequel is a better game

In some ways Gunman Clive 2 is more of the same, which is no bad thing. It’s the retro inspired run & gun of the first game, with a focus on timing and patience rather than rapid-fire and credit feeding. You will die a lot in gunman Clive 2, be it from taking a hit or falling to your death. There’ll be moments where you wonder how you’ll get passed certain sections or enemies, particularly the bosses, but each attempt you’ll improve, learning a little more, until the early sections of the levels are trivial. It’s why the retry system is such a good idea. Rather than rely on lives, death means restarting the level again, right from the first act, giving you plenty of chance to improve and learn to take your time.

It’s where the level design is so important, levels are actually relatively sparse, you aren’t swarmed by enemies. Gunman Clive 2 is a deliberate game, you learn the levels, the timing, the patterns, it’s what a lot of retro-inspired games forget. The boss fights are superbly designed, again all about patterns, using your head and patience, pulling in mechanics from the levels, mixing things up so it’s not just about dumping bullets or hitting weakpoints, there’s more involved.

There’s a few areas where Gunman Clive improves over the original. Levels are far more creative, pulling in concepts from platform games like altering gravity, minecart sections (seriously, they’re alright!), even riding on a panda. An issue I had with the first game was how it loaded in the enemies. It was true to the retro-inspiration I guess, but having enemies activate as they appeared on screen meant a few cheap deaths as you took a hit in mid-jump, falling to your death. While that may still be how the enemies activate, I’m no designer or developer after all, I can say it was less of a problem this time around

Graphically the first game was pretty special, Gunman Clive 2 improves things again, adding colour, a variety of locations, and better use of the 3D. The first game was ported to a number of other platforms, it’s hard to see how any of them would be better than the 3DS this time around. The Afterburner inspired level, and the horseback levels work superbly with the 3D, giving a real sense of depth, and benefiting from the feature in gameplay terms. The game runs fantastically smooth too, I can’t recall a single moment where the game slowed down, which may not sound that impressive given what’s on screen, but some of the bosses aren’t to be sniffed at.

For a couple of quid if Gunman Clive 2 was just a map-pack of a sequel it would still be worth your time, but considering it’s such a big improvement on an already very good game, Gunman Clive 2 should absolutely be downloaded to your 3DS
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Posted by James at 06:43
Heads-up, readers: Nintendo and Monolith Soft will be presenting a video showcase for Xenoblade Chronicles X this Friday, at 10pm JST (so 1pm GMT, or a tiring 5am PST).

It'll take a closer look at the game's mammoth world. We already saw how varied planet is from the Exploration Trailer played during the last Nintendo Direct, so expect to see details on those closer moments, as well as what each location has to offer.
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Posted by James at 20:34
2014's UK retail software sales figures (anything which isn't a digital download, then) are in, thanks to Matt Matthews.

**UK software sales chart**
**UK software sales table**

The figures are compiled from various reports on the UK videogames industry, and they paint an interesting narrative as to where things are going now that all three eighth generation consoles have been on the market for over a year.

Unsurprisingly, there's growth in PS4 and Xbox One software, both formats having been on the market for the entirety of 2014, compared with around two months of 2013. But what's surprising is the extent of that growth.

Both PS3 and Xbox 360 software sales saw sizable declines in 2014 - declines which are in close range to overall PS4 and Xbox One software sales growth for the year. This is especially surprising given how the biggest releases of the year are cross-generation, indicating strong current-gen uptake for both software as well as hardware. Expect publishers to start dropping the older systems from here on out.

Wii U software sales saw small gains of around 200k (a 32% rise), likely attributed to the arrival of flagship, long-awaited titles such as Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Bros. However, the decline in its Wii predecessor's software sales was five times larger than this gain, at around 1,000k (a 60% fall), further cementing the ongoing assumption that people aren't making the switch from Wii to Wii U. The effect is particularly pronounced when you factor in how the Wii is at the end of its life, with no major new software releases to note, yet the Wii U has seen a bumper crop of first party software over the last two years.

Every other format saw declines. 3DS's decline reflects its weaker software lineup relative to 2013, though Tomodachi Life turned out to be a surprising hit. Sony's PS Vita is still doing small numbers - smaller than software for the decade-old DS, the DS itself seeing a 60% fall in software year on year.

This should comes as no surprise to anyone who has tried to find Vita software at UK retail - even specialist retailers like GAME aren't dedicating shelf space for the format. Vita's decline at retail reflects an ongoing shift towards digital for the format, though it's worth noting that in January 2014, the majority of Vita software was consumed as physical media.

Xbox One and PS4 are the clear winners here as far as where software sales are headed, but Xbox 360 was still on top in 2014, commanding a 500k lead over PS4. Expect that lead to diminish in 2015. It'll be interesting to see whether a new hardware launch for 3DS can spark enough interest to reverse the decline in that format's software sales.
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Jan 30
Posted by James at 10:18

Nintendo surprised everyone by recently releasing a demo for Codename S.T.E.A.M. (or SHHHHTEAAAM, as its home menu icon proclaims). It's Intelligent Systems' latest take on the strategy genre, and a big departure from the Advance Wars and Fire Emblems of this world.

You see, Codename S.T.E.A.M. is played entirely in third person, complete with 'shooter controls'. At first glance you wouldn't be mistaken for thinking it's a very similar game to Sega's Valkyria Chronicles, but it's actually quite different, with any comparisons only running skin-deep.

Project lead Paul Patrashcu laid out his team's ambitions for the game at last year's E3, stating that the genre tends to be a turn-off to people because of the many layers of abstractions within their interfaces - things like character turns, an overhead map, and grid-based movement. He then explained how they wanted to break the linear gameplay associated with many strategy games, noting that Intelligent Systems' own strategy games play out almost like puzzlers.

Codename S.T.E.A.M. certainly has a unique approach to strategy, then, complete with a set of rules to deliver on Paul Patrashcu's nonlinear vision. There's no top-down map to speak of, and you don't pick a unit, then complete a turn, then pick another unit. Instead you're encouraged to take a more active, hands-on approach to solving the maps. Being able to switch between units on the fly in real time encourages you to scout out your surroundings from your own perspective, perhaps taking advantage of different routes or terrain, or your team's nexus of abilities.

It's a bit like playing in Fog of War, only without the fog. The game's insistence on not giving too much away seeps into how the enemy turn is viewed: from the heads of your own troops. They do drag on a little if you haven't uncovered many threats, though, but in the right situations it lends an unnerving sense of tension.

The handful of maps in the demo are also quite claustrophobic - true to the game's roots as a strategy game. Like Advance Wars, almost every square metre of space has some useful purpose to it. Upgrade cogs tempt you to take daring moves and explore harsher locations. It all neatly complements the battle system's main theme: that Steam is the most valuable resource there is.

Steam in your characters' boiler packs is a scarce resource, required for moving, attacking, and even counterattacking. Combining all actions into one metre along the bottom of the screen not only reduces those strategy game abstractions (there's no separate 'resource' for taking turns), but in encouraging you to focus on making sure every decision counts within the game's tight environments. Do you use those last three bits of steam to take out that enemy threat, or do you leave them free to defend yourself during the enemy turn?

Here's hoping the A.I. is good. Valkyria Chronicles' Achilles heel was its unpredictably stupid and exploitable enemies, but initial impressions here are positive. If you've made a silly move, the enemy will show you no mercy for it, and there's some fiendishly tricky enemy placement in the second and third demo maps to get your head around.

So there's Codename S.T.E.A.M. Intelligent Systems have certainly crafted quite an intuitive take on strategy. Rather than worry about remaining 'turns' per unit, the focus is on making the most of your steam power, and the prospect of head-to-head multiplayer is a positive signal that the game has a well-balanced battle system.
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Gunman Clive 2
Video Preview
Jan 29
Posted by Ben at 02:10

Gunman Clive 2 is out later today, and I can confirm it's a fantastic little game.

There'll be a full review later, but it's a better game than the original Gunman Clive, and still manages to feel packed with good, new ideas.

There's a gameplay video below where I show off a couple of the levels and a boss fight

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Posted by Ben at 02:29
I forget what score I gave the original Gunman Clive, I definitely liked it, not as much as many other people, but it's great little game that you really should pick up.

So it's very much good news that the sequel is imminent, coming to the European eshop on January 29th

The trailer is below, and it looks twice the game graphically

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