Channel Zero #3: Disappointment Stalks The Land

by Rathe on Thursday, 10 February 2011

So here comes the fun part of a new console launch; the pre-order Mexican standoffs between retailers in desperate, increasingly pathetic bids to slash minuscule increments off the prices. The 3DS has had some particularly good fun lately — at the time of writing, pauper’s paradise Tesco lowered their pre-order price to £197, only to have Amazon inevitably reassert dominance by matching it. It was like watching a man playing guitar with his feet for five minutes until someone else came along and did it too, only he played Freebird and happened to be Jesus Christ himself.

Hmmm. Nope. Sorry. I need Graham Norton to convince me.

Nintendo’s decision to allow retailers to set their own prices for the 3DS was interesting and almost sort of exciting to begin with, but now it seems sort of obvious the online giant that doesn’t have to worry about maintaining physical storefronts is going to sweep up the pre-orders. Mind, I can’t talk – I’ll likely be joining the queue myself before long – but it’s nice to see some real competition going on for once, albeit one being fought between several paralysed 600-pound gorillas against one omniscient deity with laser eyes and One-Click.

But anyhoo – UK launch. How does it look? Offputting, frankly. Let’s presumptuously critique them with all the journalistic professionalism and impartiality of a particularly turgid issue of Heat, shall we? Let’s.

Pilotwings Resort
Let me tell you a story. A few years ago, I used to have a recurring nightmare. In it, Reginald Fils-Aime (pronounced “fear me”) and Carrie Dunaway would be holding Wii Remotes in front of a large projected conference screen, playing Pilotwings and exchanging lines like “something for everyone” and “easy to pick up, hard to master” with curiously-placed emphasis on certain words. I would wake up bathed in cold sweat, slam my N64 cables into my TV, and loses a few tries at Birdman just to reassure myself it hadn’t happened yet and when it does it might not be that bad. I have no real trouble with some properties being ‘dumbed-down’ to reach larger audiences – it’s not like I have to use the Star Guide in Mario Galaxy 2, etc – it’s just that I couldn’t see one of my favourite games, Pilotwings 64, making it to the Wii without being made too awkward or too simple to play. That was the beauty of Pilotwings. Yes, you would hear that ear-piercing scream as you hurled that hang-glider into a wall 58 times in a row – because you sucked at it. Really, really badly. It wasn’t until you were able to predict gravity’s pull and your own natural inertia that you’d start raking in the gold medals – and you felt like an element-manipulating, free-falling god.
Pilotwings Resort, 3DS

Strangely, it never happened. I stopped drinking quite as much coffee since then, and in some aspects I can see the appeal motion control could bring to it. I started thinking about Remote/Nunchuk-ontrolled gyro-copters and famous landmarks that they could stick Mario’s face on. Then it got announced for the 3DS’ launch, and, like an invisible wrecking ball to the stomach, the worries came back in a new, stronger, far more familiar form – the dreaded glorified tech-demo. The few pictures going around were like an ipecac for my eyeballs – the Miis, the Wii Sport fonts, even the sodding Resort logo lifted directly from Wii Sports. How dare their collection of family-friendly minigames encroach on my 16-year-old collection of everyone-unfriendly minigames. How dare they.

Pilotwings 64, Mount Rushmore, Mario
Probably a Democrat.
Now Nintendo, we’ve been friends for a long time now, and all I’m asking for here is a little long-term substance.  Something I’ll be coming back to years from now, like the original. Something that will make me want to fling the thing through a wall of nails yet give that wholesome sense of satisfaction and reward when I finally beat it. Come on now. We don’t want another Project Rub situation on our hands.

Nintendogs + Cats: Toy Poodle/French Bulldog/Golden Retriever

Nintendogs, Cats, 3DS
Infinitely more adorable when not being the worst Assist Trophy in Brawl.
I loved Nintendogs when it first came out, despite it being arguably the most casual thing Nintendo had going before the Wii itself came out. After an obsessive week or two of looking after my Chihuahua (+ Friends) Yoda, a virtual counterpart of an old family pet, the game became a fun little distraction to drop in and out of for 5 minutes a day, with some amusing tricks to teach and brilliant toys (that Bowser Kart!) that made use of the (then still new-ish) DS tech. The novelty inevitably couldn’t last, though, and after a gradually deteriorating 13-month relationship, I virtually abandoned my virtual canines for pastures new. (Metroid Prime Hunters, if I recall – what the hell was I thinking?) Years later, here I am, still too terrified to boot it up whenever I rustle through my games and find the card; lest I find a tatami lounge full of crap and skeletons. Regardless, seeing a Jack Russell, Chihuahua, and Yorkshire terrier parade to Colonel Bogey will always stick out as one of the funniest experiences I’ve had with a game.

Really, I’m not sure what Nintendo can drastically improve upon to rope us old hands back in. The walks got a little long and unsatisfying, especially only being able to take one at a time. Broaden the scope of contests and tricks. No idea if I’ll pick this up at any point. Not particularly a cat person, I should add.

Super Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition

Street Fighter IV, 4, Hadouken
For Pete's sake, this is his solution to every little thing.
I haven’t played any variation of Street Fighter IV whatsoever, so I’m a bit out of the loop as to what to expect except for a different art style I’m still not sure I like. That’s not to say it’s completely foreign to me – Indiana and I used to have great fun in Dan/Dan vs. Akuma matches in Alpha 2 (“Dan throw you once, Dan throw you twice, Dan throw you long time”). Still, should be fun to see how this turns out, though I’m having trouble keeping down the doubts. Besides the typical handheld issue – most fighters feel like steering a truck made of breeze-blocks around an ice rink – I can’t help wondering if the faster special attacks are going to be eye-bleedingly disorienting. All in time, I suppose.

The Sims 3

The Sims 3, The Sims 3DS
Cheer up. It's not like you're an empty virtual avatar who's every breath, decision, and toilet break is at the mercy of an ignorant teeanger. Oh.
Alright, I throw my hands up here – I’ve never played The Sims, but I am aware of the basic concept. I could, if pushed, build you a small town with confusing roads and outrageous taxation that coasts the rims of bankruptcy in SNES SimCity, but that’s about closest experience I have with Will Wright’s crowning glory (who I’ve since learnt doesn’t actually have green hair). So sadly, it looks like I’m at the mercy of this snippet from EA’s website, which has all the reliability of a bank advert. The game features “Karma Powers”, which vaguely promise “new ways to mess with life”. Sounds nice, but unless I can plunge someone I hate modelled on the “3DS facial recognition system” into a moral/existential hell of Kafka-esque proportions I think I’ll be skimming over this one. Also, we got The Urbz for original DS launch, too. Coinkydink?

PES 2011 3D

PES 3DS, Pro Evo Soccer, Winning Eleven
Again, I’d be lying if I said I’ve ever given Pro Evolution Soccer a go (or Pro Evo Soc or Pro Evo or Provoc or PES as it’s known to its fans). I have as much enthusiasm for football as I do having white-hot knitting needles pounded into my spinal column, so even if I were to buy it I can’t see myself being incredibly biased. Still, it has its fans, and the “player camera angle” sounds interesting. Can I go onto something else now?

LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars

LEGO Star Wars 3DS
This was the most exciting and relevant image I could find. Sorry about that.
I’ve honestly forgotten which LEGO Star Wars I last played a year or so ago. I remember it being brilliant fun though, particularly the way it managed to silently tell a storyline with adorable virtual bits of plastic and had a real sense of humour. How well it’s going to translate to the 3DS is anyone’s guess, but I can imagine the simple plastic people should look good in 3D. Also, you now have the Mos Eisley theme stuck in your head.

Ridge Racer 3D

Ridge Racer 3DS
Oh, Ridge Racer.The obligatory launch title mainstay, Ridge Racer games have seen the births of the Playstation, PS3, Xbox 360, and most relevantly the original DS; a port of Ridge Racer 64 with a hilariously ropey touch-screen steering wheel (imagine turning a car with a rake jammed in the cutaways). You’ve played one, you’ve played them all. But this one’s in 3D and is magically superior.

Super Monkey Ball 3D

Super Monkey Ball 3DS
Ugh. It's like an explosion in a bubblegum factory. In 3D.
Again, I can’t say I’ve played a Monkey Ball. I can’t imagine it being in 3D aiding my simian sense of inertia (no pun intended), though. Worse still is this Tech Digest article that, amongst other issues, complains of it being “nigh on impossible to use the motion controls and effectively view the 3D visuals at the same time”. ‘Nuff said, and you pick up the GameCube ones for peanuts. Next!

Samurai Warriors: Chronicles

Samurai Warriors Chronicles, 3DS
Do remind me to keep whining for a third Bushido Blade. I've been lax lately.
Until having looked it up last week, I had no idea Samurai Warriors was a spin-off of Dynasty Warriors. It’s been a long time since I last played a hack-and-slasher, and I sort of like the looks of this, merely because it apparently uses actual, real, honest-to-goodness Japanese generals (one of whom looks a bit like Advance Wars’ Kanbei). One I’ll be keeping an eye on.

Asphalt 3D

Asphalt 3DS
This isn't the 3DS game. I don't know what this is. I'm not even sure I really care. I mean, it's only Asphalt.
The launch well runs dry as Nintendo seemingly rounds up third-parties who made games for last DS launch to “make it again, but a bit 3D this time”. Ridge Racer, Rayman, and Asphalt were all DS launch titles, and were all by and large Not Very Good. Asphalt DS was like a man struggling to come up with a decent metaphor – forced, rushed, and slightly pathetic. I look forward to this offering nothing. 

Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars/Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell 3D

Tom Clancy
Here's Tom Clancy (left), in one of the few known photographs of him not actively working on a bestseller or attributing his name to something.
Tom Clancy’s Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars by Tom Clancy and Tom Clancy’s Splinter Clancy ClancyD  are both follow-ups to franchises that have had success on other consoles. Shadow Wars is interesting as it will be the first turn-based strategy available on the 3DS from launch. It promises “deep team-management options” and “single-console multiplayer”. Clancy games usually have a fairly stable track record so this should tide some of us over until we get Advance Wars 3DS which is definitely going to be announced soon I can feel it maybe next month I just know it or so help me god men will die if it doesn’t happen I mean it I’ll just run into the streets indiscriminately stabbing people in a blind betrayed fury.

Splinter Cell, on the other hand, has always been pretty popular, and I must say I enjoyed Pandora Tomorrow. There’s something to be said for Sam Fisher and his rather frank and brutal disarming of guards – he’s like a playable Jack Bauer. Anyway – Chaos Theory remake with “realistic lock picking”. Coo. Fancy.

Rayman 3DS

Rayman 2, 3DS
Believe it or not (I still don't), Rayman 3DS is to be yet another remake of Rayman 2 - which itself was remade for the original DS' launch. Who the hell do you think you are, UbiSoft? Who the hell do you think you are?
Limbless French Mario in 3D. I’d say more, but we’ve been here before – seven years ago to be precise.

So that’s it. That’s my largely uninformed, kneejerk reaction to the UK launch line-up. I can’t tell what’s more depressing – the fact that we get 15 games (at least one more than the US and five more than Japan, incredibly) means little when the only two first-party releases are almost definitely doomed to be a tech demo and…well, Nintendogs…or the fact the US gets Resident Evil: The Mercenaries and Japan gets Professor Layton and The Mask of Miracle. I would swap half our line-up for just one of those, and even then I probably still wouldn’t buy it until it dropped in price three years from now. Meanwhile, third-parties seem to be trying to relive the original DS launch through graphically-updated sequels – in 3D! It’s disheartening to say the least. Where’s our clever-but-tragically-ignored puzzler? Where’s our WarioWare 3D? For Christ’s sake, where’s our token rubbish Pokémon spin-off? April had better be brilliant, Nintendo.

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