Last year I played through Fire Emblem Awakening on 3DS. It was my first Fire Emblem, and my first real Strategy RPG. If you know anything about Fire Emblem, you'll know that permanent character death is a big feature of the game, and that the developers tried to make Awakening a more beginner friendly iteration by giving the player a non-permadeath mode. I didn't choose to use that mode, instead opting for the more traditional mode. In practical terms, however, I couldn't let my characters die. Should one of my beloved team fall in battle, I would simply restart the game and do the battle over, adjusting my strategy to try not to die.
Enter XCOM Enemy Unknown. I've been waiting to play this for a while, all the time knowing that it was probably my kind of jam, given my love for the whole Fire Emblem experience. I'd heard podcasts speak about about squads dying permanently, and players getting attached to their soldiers, even going so far as to name them after their friends and acquaintances. Could I subject myself to that same level of attachment, and invariably, that level of loss?
Turns out I can. I'm now in my sixth game of XCOM. Not because I've finished it six times, oh no. Because I've restarted it six times. I've yet to assault the Alien Base, which I understand is about one-third of the way through the game. Steam tells me I've been playing XCOM for a total of 22 hours now.
Hello, my name is Eugene, and I'm a perfectionist.
It's not that soldiers are dying. I've been naming them after twitter friends, gaming podcast personalities, family members, friends. I had my cousin, a sniper at the Major promotion level die on a mission. Whoops. I let it go. Losing soldiers is not as problematic in XCOM as it is in Fire Emblem. In XCOM, you can replace a soldier very easily, The training and experience that they gained is lost, but there's always another soldier to take their place.
I have restarted XCOM six times because I'm obsessing. One of my restarts was because I discovered that if you start the game without doing the tutorial, you can complete the first mission without losing three out of your initial four squad members. Another 2 of my restarts were because I didn't like the fact that I only had one Steam Vent area in my base on which to build a Thermal Power Generator. Finally I've been restarting over the council members leaving XCOM. If a countries' panic level gets too high, at the end of the month they will leave the XCOM project. The only way to reduce their panic level is to place a satellite over their county, or to successfully complete a mission in that country. I'm trying to achieve a play through where nobody leaves the council. So far on this current try I have lost two countries. I almost thought about starting again, but I think this time I'll just see it through, if just to try to make it to the end. I've only got 21 days until my other jam releases, Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate.
I can always try it again at a higher difficulty level once I finish. Because it seems I don't mind punishing myself with a great game.
The Wii U has launched in North America and Europe, with the Japanese launch around the corner. After having the system for about 2.5 weeks, I have some thoughts. Here they are, in no particular order.
To me, the Wii U marks a change in Nintendo's approach to its console. With the Wii U, we've seen a Day One update, we've seen game patches, we've seen YouTube/Netflix/Amazon Video/Hulu app rollouts, we've seen a system update at the two-week mark. There have been more updates in the past 19 days than there probably have been in the 6-year lifecycle of the Wii. Make no mistake, the Wii U is an online console, and Nintendo sees it that way. In a way, it's refreshing to see Nintendo release system patches in a timely manner, as opposed to the glacial pace with which they updated the Wii.
The Miiverse, well, that to me is brilliant. Let cordial conversation and drawings prevail, I say. Off to a good start.
The eShop has a few faults, namely I feel it could be organized better, and there could be more demos available? That would be nice. However, the fact that pretty much all first party games and most third party games are available to download is great. It's already much much better than the Wii Shop ever was. Indie games are already making a big impact on the eShop, and I predict that many indie developers will find a home on the Wii U. The ability to see your downloads and redownload games you have purchased is super. I did this with both eShop games I purchased, just to test it out, and it worked fine.
Storage and Memory
I know a lot of people complained that the Wii U didn't come with enough internal memory, and that you are forced to buy an external hard drive if you want to do a lot of eShop downloading. Many eShop games that have large file sizes will actually have a warning for Basic Set owners that they need to have an external drive in order to download this game.
I'm ok with that, to a degree. If you're going to be downloading a lot of games for your console you probably want a big drive anyway, and they're so cheap now. Nintendo also neatly sidesteps the issue of price gouging for memory (have you seen the price of Vita memory cards?) and leaves it up to the consumer to find a good deal. I don't have a problem with that. Could Nintendo have given us more memory to start, maybe 32GB be basic and put 64GB in the deluxe? Perhaps. It would have been nice. But even 64GB is overshadowed by the 1TB drive I have attached. In the end I don't think it matters.
Shiny black collects fingerprints. Be warned.
Playing your games with the TV off, or while watching TV, is a near life changing feature. Seriously.
I find myself reaching for the stylus when using the Gamepad. I'm not sure if it's because I don't want to get fingerprints on it, or if it's just more natural for me to use it like a DS. Obviously drawing messages for Miiverse is better with the stylus, but typing is faster with fingers.
Nintendo should make a Draw Something game. There Nintendo, free ideas, right here.
Menus are a bit slow. Depends what you're used to. Compared to a Wii they're a little bit faster. Whatever. I use the time to center myself and reflect on what game I'm going to play next, or how awesome that game I just played was.
I understand people are experiencing freezes and locking up of their systems. So far I haven't seen it. Also people are bricking their systems during updates. That's a big problem that I really feel bad for people, and that Nintendo needs to solve so that it doesn't happen. I don't think they planned for that contingency, but clearly they should have. Any number of things would help: a more responsive progress bar, so people don't think that nothing is happening; smaller updates so downloads don't take so long; faster servers, again so downloads are quicker.
Games perform great and look great. At least the games I've been playing. And if they don't, publishers are releasing patches. If games are coded for the system properly, they can achieve 60 frames per second and great looking visuals. Games like Nano Assault Neo (which is a paltry 50MB download, by the way... let that sink in) or Tekken Tag Tournament 2 don't have frame rate drop, look gorgeous, and pretty much set the bar for third party developers to get their stuff together and code their games right.
Nintendo Land with 4 friends is a good time. People really dig Luigi's Ghost Mansion, a glorified game of tag, but man is it satisfying to catch people as the ghost! SO much fun.
Nintendo Land by yourself is OK. Multiplayer is where it really shines, but I've had fun with the throwing Ninja stars game, and Donkey Kong Crash Course is a tricky challenge.
I'm not regretting buying the Wii U day one. Not at all. I'm getting a lot of enjoyment out of it, and it's interesting to see how it's worked its way into a permanent fixture on the coffe table. One of the original hopes for the Wii was the people would turn it on and interact with it not just to play games, but to check the weather, or see news. It's why the original Wii menu is arranged into channels.
I think the Wii U is Nintendo's next iteration on that concept, and with the Gamepad I think they've succeeded. I check Miiverse pretty much every day, even if I don't play a game every day, I have the Gamepad in my hands and I'm interacting with the Nintendo ecosystem.
Score one for Nintendo.