The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword features RPG-like upgrade system
July 23, 2011

After the release of Twilight Princess in 2006, famed videogame designer and Pope of Nintendo – Shigeru Miyamoto – famously said that it would be the last Zelda of its kind. At a time when people were unsure of the seemingly ‘new’ direction Nintendo were heading in, and of the consequent audiences they were attracting, many took the quote as a doomsday declaration for the series, speculating that Hyrule would be forever consigned to the history books, or to crappy spin-offs and peripheral pack-ins like Link’s Crossbow Training.

Other, more level-headed and less melodramatic fans took it to mean something altogether more positive in that Miyamoto was recognising something that Zelda fans had recognised years ago – Zelda needed to change. Wind Waker was, visually, a pleasant change from the usual greens and browns of Hyrule, but structurally it remained virtually identical to its predecessors. Skyward Sword  has promised to offer a somewhat different approach to overworld exploration and progression, with a central hub-world, somewhat akin to its DS brethren – Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks.

Those games were certainly a departure from traditional Zelda fare, but the design choices inherent in these pocket-sized outings were likely made in the name of file size conservation and, primarily, tailoring the titles to the handheld experience. With Skyward Sword already offering a teen drama storyline, an orchestrated soundtrack and a brand new villain, what else does a console Zelda have to do to shake things up? Voice acting? Blood and gore? Multiplayer?

Nope, nuh-uh and not a chance; what Zelda has apparently been missing these past couple of years is an RPG-esque equipment upgrading system. In a recent hands-on demo with Gamespot, Bill Trinen of Nintendo of America let slip a few details about a leveling-up system that the game features.

They’ve built an entire upgrade system into the game. So for example, right now you can see that Link has his traditional shield, but he actually will get a lot of different shields in the game.

He will start off with a very basic one, and then as you fight enemies, you will recover kind of these treasures or artifacts that you can then use as resources to upgrade your items. And you can do that with your shield, you can do that with the beetle, and some of the other items that you have where you’re able to kind of combine your collection of rupees and your collection of resources and improve the items that you have.

Whether or not one of those ‘other items’ is Link’s sword is both unknown and doubtful. Additionally, whether this will be a somewhat pointless pursuit or an integral point of the game remains to be seen, but this, coupled with all the other innovations that Skyward Sword is bringing to the table keeps it at the tippety-top of gamers’ most anticipated releases of 2011.

– Rory


Nintendo ‘willing to invest’ to secure third-party support
July 7, 2011

It’s not a new concept to the industry; Microsoft reportedly paid $50 million for exclusive Grand Theft Auto IV DLC and were even accused of money-hatting Namco in order to secure the exclusivity of Tales of Vesperia, but paying for third-party content is not something that Nintendo has openly admitted to. Similarly, Jack Tretton – President of Sony Computer Entertainment of America – has, in the past, proudly proclaimed that Sony ‘don’t buy exclusivity’, whilst also taking a side swipe at Nintendo, who, in the eyes of Tretton, have a tendency to rely too heavily on first-party production.

While Tretton is world-renowned for talking from his arse, I do believe that particular comment holds some merit. It’s unlikely that Nintendo took his words to heart, but it’s no secret that criticism can be a compelling catalyst for creativity, and Nintendo’s relationships with third-parties have elicited criticisms abound. To what extent you believe their words or not aside, Nintendo have, since the Wii U’s reveal, been promising much-improved third-party support, suggesting they’re willing to learn from, and, more importantly, act upon, their shortcomings.

At a recent shareholders meeting, Satoru Iwata was questioned on the Wii’s frequent software droughts, and if Nintendo had plans in place to prevent a similar situation with the Wii U and the Nintendo 3DS:

We think it very important to make several hits from the third-party software publishers within the first year from the release of the platform, while offering Nintendo software seamlessly. In order to achieve this goal, we have shared information about the new hardware with the software publishers earlier than we did previously and built a cooperative structure, and we are developing several titles in collaboration with these publishers. I cannot talk in detail about the names of the titles, or with which publishers we are currently collaborating, because we have not announced this information yet, but what we are aiming for with the Nintendo 3DS and the Wii U is, platforms which have much more software and a wider variety of software than the former Nintendo DS or Wii. Therefore, we are thinking of creating an environment where software from other companies will become hits.

Nintendo claims to have shared the hardware specs of the Wii U earlier than usual, but developers such as Bethesda have indicated that they ‘know nothing’ about its capabilities. To me, this is worrying. Huge, Western developers like Bethesda are of the precise ilk that Nintendo should be trying to get on board. Bethesda, BioWare, Infinity Ward, Rockstar, Valve, Crytek – names that core gamers recognise and respect, names that will sell, and names that will promote system sales. I don’t work for Nintendo, I have absolutely zero inside knowledge or sources at Nintendo, and I have never claimed to. In that sense, I also have absolutely no idea who Nintendo is courting and who they’re not, but if a studio as big as Bethesda has been left in the dark, then it doesn’t fill me with confidence.

After the initial excitement and positivity coming from select studios, promises of core IPs like Assassin’s Creed and Battlefield heading to the Wii U were made by developers Ubisoft and EA, respectively, but their relationship with Nintendo was already fairly strong. So, what about those who are seemingly less inclined to develop for Nintendo’s latest console? What kind of Nincentive (sorry) will be offered to them? Money, of course!

Please understand that Nintendo is prepared to invest in order to make this a reality.

Problem solved? We shall see…

 – Rory


The state of play – Wii U and the ‘core’ gamer
June 30, 2011

We’ve heard it time and time again from Miyamoto: how a game looks should be secondary to what new ideas, innovations and surprises it brings with it, and whilst I’m inclined to agree with his omniscient words, I am only human, and as such, I find myself hopelessly drawn towards shiny things, and, like the dudebro that I am, that includes graphics. A massive part of my infatuation with Nintendo lies in their seemingly unique philosophy of videogame design – substance over style.

If you’ve been following what Nintendo has to say about the Wii U recently, you’ll have noticed that there’s been a distinct lack of discussion about its graphical capabilities, as was the case with the Wii. The implications of this may present cause for concern to some, but to me, this is just Nintendo’s way of taking the emphasis off presentation, and onto innovation and ideas, as has always been the Nintendo way. This quote from Animal Crossing producer Katsuya Eguchi summarises their viewpoint:

“Rather than compare specs with Microsoft and Sony, I’d like for people to view this as a different type of machine altogether. For me personally, what’s most important is what makes Wii U original, and that’s the controller.”

If the Wii taught me anything, it’s that a game doesn’t require modern vertex shaders, heaps of normal mapping and per-pixel rendering to provide an entertaining experience. Why, then, do I find myself snooping around the Internet at night, restlessly hounding down the faintest whiffs of articles pertaining to the graphical capabilities of the Wii U? Curiosity can account for much of it, but there’s simply no denying that advanced hardware can lead to more immersive, more enjoyable experiences when – and only when – it’s twinned with solid design.

First, lets tone down our expectations. Nintendo have stated that they’re trying to strike the balance between sophisticated hardware and affordability. As with the Wii and the GameCube before it, they want the Wii U to be the most financially viable console on the market in order to broaden appeal. Therefore, the Wii U was never going to be an absolute powerhouse.

Of course, Nintendo had to step up to the mark and provide a console that at least matched current gen offerings, – anything less would’ve been, candidly, embarrassing. Improvements in hardware are essential and, alone, they are usually enough to constitute the boundary between generations, but is there really a necessity to go above and beyond what’s already on the market? Looking ahead to the PlayStation 4 and Xbox 720, Nintendo will no doubt want to remain competitive to a degree in order to receive acceptable-looking ports from those platforms – something that the Wii kind of missed out on – but to put it simply, who cares?

Let me start by saying that I don’t hugely care for the whole casual vs. core debate; it’s full of generalised, ignorant, inaccurate and arbitrary views, categorisations and opinions which generally amount to nothing. However, I do think there is a clear divide between the two, and it’s at least worth talking about.

Despite what the ubernerds at NeoGAF might have you believe, the average ‘core’ gamer isn’t going to notice if Call of Duty Wii U runs at 720p whilst the Xbox version only runs at 600p. Nintendo fanboys aren’t going to care if Arkham City has better lighting effects on Wii U than its current-gen counterparts – they’ll be playing Zelda and Mario. Parents and kids sure as hell aren’t going to care about how many GFLOPS this thing can push. The only demographic that will care has already been lost by Nintendo, potentially forever – the dudebros.

The dudebros will not see the Wii U as a viable upgrade for two reasons.

  • It has Wii in the name.

  • It has a slightly unconventional controller.

Sadly, it’s as simple as that. Your average FIFA nut will not play with this controller. End of story. Besides, all their chums are already on Xbox LIVE. Do you really think they’re going to trade friend codes? Because they’re not.

“But, but, but…the developers!” I hear you cry, and cry you might – third party support is something that may prove to be hugely important to the success of the Wii U, so they ought to keep them happy; righting the wrongs of previous generations is a priority. Reggie talked about ‘ticking boxes’ for developers – powerful hardware and 1080p output are two of those boxes, but I personally feel there are more important shortcomings that Nintendo ought to tackle, namely a solid, robust yet flexible Online infrastructure.

Besides, third party developers seem perfectly happy with the system’s horespower. Japanese developers commented on how the Zelda HD demo simply isn’t possible on current consoles, whilst EA don’t even seem to know how powerful it is, and don’t seem to care; as far as they’re concerned, if it can run Battlefield 3, it’s powerful enough.

So, why do I care? Frankly, I enjoy a visual feast. Whilst I’m of the mindset that how a game makes you feel is more important than how nice it looks, I can’t help but want both – style and substance. Above all though, a hidden, illogical part of me just wants to see Nintendo really make a balls-to-the-wall machine with cutting edge specs, a robust Online system and heaps of third party support and I really, really don’t know why.

I am a multi-console owner. One of the main reasons I enjoyed this generation was due to the fact that I had two complementing systems – the Wii and the Xbox 360 – that offered two totally different experiences. In a utopian world, Nintendo could offer me the best of both into one package, but I just know they can’t – so why would I want two consoles which offer almost identical experiences? As long as the leap to Wii U is in line with current technological advancement, I don’t really care.

After re-reading this multiple times, it’s nowhere near as concise or succinct as I’d hoped, so I think it’s time to wrap up.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that Nintendo improving their game in the fields of hardware and Online networking is by any means a bad thing; it’s something that I very much welcome. However, I don’t feel that graphical prowess should ever be the main draw for a Nintendo console, and to me, it feels like all this talk of upping third party support is a somewhat futile effort to pander to a crowd which will never be satisfied by anything that Nintendo does.

 – Rory

Will GoldenEye be a Wii U launch title?
June 28, 2011

Mary Tuck – Senior Litigation Counsel for Activision – has been caught in the act of registering some new web domain names for the publishing giant. The domains suggest that some sort of follow up to the Wii/Nintendo DS FPS GoldenEye is in the works, and whilst no platforms were mentioned, Nintendo’s next home console seems a shoo-in.

Developed by British studio Eurocom, 2010’s GoldenEye was itself a remake of the N64 classic. A robust Online mode, pointer controls and a reworked narrative – including Daniel Craig as Bond – were enough to squeeze some life out of the old dog, but could the developers really put out a third game based on the same source content?

Should GoldenEye be reloaded, or simply have its magazines discarded onto the cold, hard ground?

 – Rory