This is gonna be a weird post. Shorter than I usually write and not nearly as well researched or nuanced. Kind of just popped into my head and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. So here we go.
Looking back at my entire gaming history, there have been so many boss fights. I’m not exactly sure what my first boss fight was, but chances are it was either Bowser (King Koopa for the OGs) in the original Super Mario Bros. on NES or some random giant monster in a flying shooter at the arcade, like Darius. I remember a great many boss fights from over the years. Some of them I really liked fighting, such as the Minotaur in Dark Cloud (2001) and Bob Barbas in DmC: Devil May Cry (2013). Some of them weren’t necessarily fun to fight but were a funny, enjoyable experience all the same. I think back to the countless times that I shot out the leg of the first boss in Star Fox 64 (1997), making the fight, if it can even be called that, an absolute joke. Many of them I didn’t particularly like, but I respected them for challenging me in a way that was fair but difficult. Sadly, I can’t think of any specific examples at this time, but I know they exist. However, for me most boss fights aren’t particularly enjoyable. I know why they exist, and I do believe they’re necessary. But most boss fights today seem unbalanced, uninspired, and often out of place in the games they appear in compared to the rest of the game. That’s how I would I sum up basically the entire Dark Souls experience. The boss fights aren’t fun are particularly relevant to the rest of the gameplay loop. Getting to them is the fun part.
I think the best boss fights are the ones that challenge the player to leverage everything they’ve learned since the last boss fight and display a mastery of those new skills. I find it extremely irritating when a boss fight doesn’t reflect the actual gameplay and takes the player out of their normal approach to the game they’re playing. A lot of open world games have this problem. Especially those from Ubisoft. The final boss in Ghost Recon: Breakpoint is a great example of this. You can snipe your way through like 95% of that game only to then be forced into a close-range fight against a guy with drone shields. The fight itself wasn’t terrible. But it didn’t match up with the way I played the rest of the game. I’m sure the fight seemed totally in order for people who played the game with a more close-range approach, but that’s an example of uninspired boss design. If the player is given multiple ways to approach the game, then all those approaches should be valid for boss fights. This is almost never the case though.
What I find most interesting about boss fights is the fact that we call them boss fights. Why is this the case? Clearly the practice comes from games where you’re fighting against an organization of some sort, like a gang or an evil corporation. The boss is a higher-ranking member of the organization, so they are literally a boss. But this is not the case for so many boss fights. When you play Nioh 2, for example, the boss fights are epic, difficult, and mostly relevant to the rest of the gameplay up to that point. But few if any of the non-human bosses are actually bosses of anything in the game. A boss is defined in the dictionary as “a person who is in charge of a worker, group, or organization.” Let’s not get bogged down by the term person. A boss is something that is in charge of others, for all intents and purposes.
We call Godzilla “King of the Monsters”, because the other monsters listen to his commands and follow his lead. Sometimes after a beatdown, but at the end of the day, Godzilla is in charge. He’s a boss. Dr. Octavius in Marvel’s Spider-Man (2018) is a boss because he’s commanding the Sinister Six. He’s in charge of the group. Yet we call all the fights against all the members of the Sinister Six in that game boss fights. Why? Scorpion and Rhino ain’t in charge of shit in that game. They don’t even really have their own crews. We call them bosses but in reality, that’s a misnomer. Some of the monsters in the games I play are actually lording over other monsters. But most of them are just the biggest, strongest mindless beast in the area. They aren’t commanding the smaller beasts. They aren’t leading anything. They just live in their nest and you kill them. That’s not a boss fight. That’s a monster fight.
No matter what genre you play, a great many boss fights have no business being called boss fights. They’re just fights against tougher opponents in specialized arenas. King Koopa was a boss fight back in 1985, because he was actually in charge of the other monsters. Or at least the koopas. It’s in his name. He’s King Koopa. All these years later, his name is changed but he still retains his crown as king of the koopas, goombas, and shy guys, among other types of enemies Mario has to face. A true boss, if there ever was one. The gym leaders in Pokémon games are boss fights, because they lead their gyms, all of which have students or followers of some kind. But Pokémon in the wild, like Articuno, Zapdos, and Moltres simply put, are not bosses. They don’t have command over anyone or any other living thing.
I wonder how this trend of using the term boss fight to mean any significantly more difficult fight started. Why the term boss? Why not something more logical and exact like HLT (High Level Threat) or Key Obstacle? Does the term, used in this way, predate games? Like do they call them bosses in tabletop RPGs? The term certainly isn’t used in any fantasy novels I’ve read. How did such a human centric term get applied in such a context? Was it Kojima’s fault by naming the character Big Boss in the original Metal Gear (1987)? I know we used the term boss as kids in the 90’s. So it’s been around a long time. But I’ve never thought to question why before now. Maybe that’s the real answer. It was always wrong but someone said it and then no one ever thought to question it so the term stuck.
To clarify, I’m not angry about this. This isn’t like my post about my beef with the term “Soulslike”. This is more an observation that popped into my head while getting my ass handed to me by a boss in Nioh 2. Funny enough that boss actually was a boss, because he was a human general of an army that had been mutated into a monster by dark magic. So I guess he lived a boss and died a beast. What do you think of the term “boss” in the context it’s used in video games? Does it make sense to you? Are we all just willfully accepting an incorrectly used word, because of tradition? Are there any other gaming terms that you think are wrong?
The irony of last week’s post being about a Japanese studio making a director’s cut of a game set in America and this week’s post being about an American studio making a director’s cut of a game set in Japan is not lost on me. But this post is not meant to rehash the point from last week’s post. I hate the fact that the term “Director’s Cut” is being used for games now and I hope the trend dies before it really gets going. But that is not what this post is about, so we will speak no more of the term Director’s Cut from here on out. What I want to discuss today pertains to game management, content release strategy, and of course pricing.
Let me start by saying that I absolutely loved Ghost of Tsushima. I was one of those people that genuinely believed that it should have been named Game of the Year and wrote multiple blog posts about the game and the topic. I streamed my entire first playthrough and acquired the platinum trophy. I had very few complaints about Ghost of Tsushima and most of the major issues I have were eventually patched, like adding loadouts. Meaning Sucker Punch Productions actually listened to fans in order to make their game better, which I can’t stress enough as a commendable trait for a studio in 2021. So please don’t read this post as if I’m some Ghost of Tsushima or Sony hater. My previous track record in reference to both things speaks for itself.
Recently, Sucker Punch Productions announced that they would be releasing a Director’s Cut of Ghost of Tsushima that would include both DLC and long-awaited gameplay features. Additionally, you can upgrade your normal version of Ghost of Tsushima to the Director’s Cut for a fee. Let me start by saying that I’m happy to hear that more Ghost of Tsushima content is being added. Not only is it new content, but it’s meaningful content that takes place on an entirely different island. This is real DLC worthy of an additional cost. I will complain about the fact that Special and Collector’s Editions of games used to include the future DLC with the purchase and now don’t, but that’s a separate issue. I think it is absolutely fair for Sucker Punch to charge for the “Ghost of Iki Island” expansion. No complaints here at face value. I’d have to see the amount of content before I can evaluate what the price should be, but the general idea of them charging additional money to vanilla edition purchasers seems extremely fair, in this instance. What I am not OK with is tying features to that DLC.
Selling gameplay features as an additional purchase is a slippery slope that I do not want the industry to even toy with. It’s a road that will only lead to terrible things for consumers. Imagine a world where you buy Street Fighter and Capcom charges you an additional fee to be able to use special attacks. Imagine a world where Microsoft charges you an additional fee to be able to hold two types of guns at the same time in HALO. That’s where my brain immediately goes to when I hear things like people will have to pay an additional fee, of $20 for PS4 users, in order to be able to change their controller layout and lock-on to enemies. That’s a massive red flag that we should fight against tooth and nail.
A lot of the additional features in this Director’s Cut are not things that I believe companies should be charging extra for. I would rather them not be added at all than have a cost to get them, because it sets a terrible precedent that other companies will not only copy down the road, but make even worse. We know that’s how it works, and we have decades of examples to back that claim up.
The PS5 upgrade issue is a topic that I haven’t personally discussed on this blog. It’s a weird topic that I am reluctant to choose a side on. On one hand, there is a real cost to adapting a PS4 game to the PS5 and making that upgraded version the best it possibly can be. Adding features like haptic feedback, adaptive triggers, and 4K resolution to a game that wasn’t originally built with them in mind is serious work that I can agree deserves additional compensation. How much is hard to say, but I have been comfortable with the $10 price tag to upgrade PS4 games to PS5 versions. It takes the original $60 MSRP of PS4 titles and puts them in line with the $70 MSRP of PS5 games. That’s a logical number to choose. But I also have to question the amount of additional work that went into those upgrades in post launch development. It’s not as simple as flipping a switch to get those PS5 performance upgrades, assuming the game wasn’t built with the PS5 in mind. Therin lies the problem though. We don’t actually know what was and wasn’t built during pre-launch development. We only know what we’re told. In some cases, yes it is as easy as the developers flipping a switch to get those PS5 features working. Because the game was built to run on PS5. So charging extra for that seems problematic. At the same time, we have never before had this situation occur in such drastic ways at such an immense scale. This idea of upgrading games between platforms isn’t something we’ve had before this generation. I’m still of the opinion that upgrades probably shouldn’t exist at all and people should just wait to buy the version of a game they want. That would certainly make the issue simpler for everyone involved. Even if it would be annoying for day one PS4 purchasers in a time where PS5s are still relatively hard to find. It’s a weird situation all around.
My problem with the Ghost of Tsushima Director’s Cut is that they have tied additional features, many of which should be free, to additional content. I have serious issues with this because it takes the choice away from the consumer about what they want to pay for. Personally, I’d happily buy more Ghost of Tsushima content. A new island’s worth of story-based content sounds great to me. But I honestly don’t care about a single one of the PS4 features being added as part of the cost. In my case, I would be continuing my playthrough on my regular PS4 and not use any of the three features being added. I won’t change the controller layout, after having already beaten the game. I won’t use the lock-on feature, as I completely agreed with Sucker Punch’s original statement on why they chose not to include the feature at launch, and I don’t care about hiding your quiver during gameplay. In fact, I don’t even understand where that last feature came from. The only things I want from the Director’s Cut are the new story content and, depending on what exactly is included, possibly the new Ghost of Tsushima: Legends mode. Truth be told, I never really got into the multiplayer in Ghost of Tsushima and most likely won’t, barring the new mode being the four player cooperative story missions that they should have had originally.
The point is that they’re asking me to pay $20 for five things when I only want one of them and may consider using a second one, if it appeals to me. Three of those five things shouldn’t have a cost attached to them at all, and one of those three should have been a feature in the base game at launch. I’m talking about controller layout customization for those not paying attention. So I’m paying a huge markup on the one thing I actually want. I would much rather they sold the additional gameplay content and features as separate things and allow me just to buy what I want. I’m fine with it all being packaged together in a new edition at standard new game MSRP, but that has nothing to do with people like me who already bought the original game. Really they should have just kept things normal and added all those PS4 features for free, charged $10 for the PS5 upgrade, and then sold the expansion content and the new multiplayer mode as a single DLC pack. Again, the appropriate price of which I cannot try to estimate given the information currently available. That would have been the best way to do this without giving anyone a valid reason to complain. People will happily buy new content, when it’s worth buying. Paying for new features screams bullshit cash grab. PS5 upgrade notwithstanding, possibly.
I want to make clear that this is not an issue of price. It’s an issue of optics. There have been plenty of expansions that cost more than $20 that were completely justified given the amount of content added and the quality of it. Dragon Age: Origins and The Witcher 3 being two of the best examples. Both games had paid expansions that added an entire game’s worth of story-based content. Charging $20 for either of them initially would have been more than fair. In fact, if Ghost of Tsushima’s additional content was sold without the features at $20, people might be OK with it. An entirely new island’s worth of content and a new multiplayer mode. Depending on the size of the island and what the new mode entails, that might be a really good deal. And if it wasn’t people would just wait for the price to drop, but otherwise have no serious complaints or concerns. Sucker Punch did not need to open this can of worms to get more money for their additional work. They already gave the basic PS4 to PS5 upgrade away for free, setting a precedent that garnered a lot of positive attention and support for the game and studio. Why tarnish that now by doing something so obviously controversial? This could have and should have been a non-issue announcement met with great applause from the community because of a list of new features added for free and additional content for a seemingly fair price. This should have been a post praising the studio for continuing to manage their game in an exemplary way that sets an example for the rest of the industry.
I preordered the Ghost of Tsushima Special Edition. I don’t regret that purchase. I’d like to play The Iki Island expansion, and I’m sure I will one day. But this practice of pairing content with features as a single purchase does not sit well with me. It sounds like a recipe for disaster in the long run, because we know beyond a reasonable doubt that some other company will take things to the extreme and start selling features without additional content to go with it. I mean we’re already being charged for cloud saves and access to multiplayer. Even if there really is $20 worth of new content included, I will wait until the price goes down just on principle alone. As always, you vote with your wallet; and I won’t vote to support being charged extra for basic gameplay features.
I would have published this one sooner, but in the wake of E3 we’ve had several topical post subjects that felt more important to publish first. Truth be told, I’ve been sitting on this topic since the original announcement.
If you’ve been following me on Twitter for a while, then you know I have no love for Hideo Kojima. In fact, one could rightfully argue that I have disdain for the cult of personality that is Hideo Kojima. But before you completely tune me out for insulting your false god of gaming, allow me to at least state my credentials on the topic.
Let the records show that I have played all the Metal Gear games going all the way back to the original MSX titles. Not only have I played them, but I played them all in order back-to-back as recently as 2016. I’ve even played Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance and the beta for Metal Gear Survive. I also own and eventually plan to play the PS4 port of Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner and Death Stranding. So while I am not a fan of Kojima or his seminal franchise, do not accuse me of being a troll who has never played his games and just hates on him because it’s trendy. I hate on him, because I’m well informed about how much of a hack he is.
I also don’t want to imply that Kojima is incapable of having good ideas and creating good games. On the contrary, I actually think Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is a phenomenal game that shows the best the franchise and stealth action games from that time period had to offer. I also think Metal Gear Solid IV: Guns of the Patriots was quite good and had probably my favorite camo gameplay mechanic of all time. I am absolutely willing to give credit where credit is due. I just think too many people give him credit where it’s not due and praise him for things, both in and out of his games, that should absolutely not be celebrated. I have at times described him as the Zack Snyder of video games, and no that is not meant to be a compliment.
Probably my biggest issue with Kojima is his constant need to do things that serve no purpose other than to garner attention for no valid reason and paint himself as a victim of reality itself. Again, the Zack Snyder of gaming. His most recent example of this is the announcement of a Death Stranding “Director’s Cut”.
Let’s have a little history lesson. The term director’s cut comes from the film industry. Contrary to popular belief, due to decades of misleading marketing, directors don’t actually make movies. Directors manage movie production projects. Producers make movies. They hire directors to execute their vision and leverage their names for the purposes of marketing. A director is to a producer what an actor is to a director. An employee that, due to popularity and public support, gets a lot of leeway in the execution of their job, even if the person ultimately employing them isn’t happy with their work. The term “director’s cut” was created to describe a scenario where a director made a movie differently from what the producers wanted. So the producers ultimately cut and released their vision for the film, but then later allowed the director’s vision for the film to be released.
While there might be some debate about this, the term director’s cut became popular with the film Blade Runner (1982). 10 years after the film’s original release, Ridley Scott’s Director’s Cut of Blade Runner was released. The implication being that the original theatrical cut of the film was not his vision. The irony being that he did not actually create the “Director’s Cut” either. He simply gave extensive notes and consultation to Warner Bros., who ultimately had a completely different person who wasn’t even involved in the original production edit what was ultimately released as the “Director’s Cut”. It wasn’t until 2007 with Blade Runner “The Final Cut” that a version of the film was released that allowed the director full creative control. What this should tell you is two important things:
1. Theatrical movie releases have never been about the director’s vision. Unless a director is producing, usually at executive level, movies are and have always been about the producer’s vision. And let’s be clear, when a director is the executive producer, you’re still getting the producer’s vision rather than the director’s. It just so happens that those two positions are held by the same person.
2. Director’s cuts have been a lie since the term became popular. They are and have always been a marketing ploy in order for studios and film distributors to make more money on products that have started to fizzle out in profitability while continuing to maintain some level of status in the contemporary pop culture zeitgeist.
Kojima Productions is Hideo Kojima’s baby. He’s the executive producer, the head designer, the lead writer, the main profiteer, and everything else of note within that studio. It’s literally his development studio. He could say he wanted to make a game where you play as white American cops murdering innocent Black people and no one could tell him no. Everything that comes out of that studio is his vision. So can someone please explain to me how the hell there’s going to be a director’s cut of a game made by a studio where the director’s name is literally on the studio? Did studio executive Kojima force game director Kojima to compromise his vision? Did narrative designer Kojima get fired near the end of production by game director Kojima for creative differences? In what world was Death Stranding not the director of the game’s vision? It’s this kind of dramatic, pompous, inflammatory bullshit that makes me dislike Kojima.
What’s actually happening here is that Death Stranding, like 90% of all AAA games releasing since the PS4 launched, is adding DLC. More specifically, it’s adding paid DLC. Along with that, there’s going to be a “complete” edition where you can buy the game with “all” the DLC. I put all in quotes because I wouldn’t put it past Kojima for a second to go on to add more paid DLC later. But rather than give it a normal gaming industry title like Legendary Edition, Complete Edition, GOTY Edition, or even something funny like “Mailman Edition”, Kojima has go out of his way to portray himself as some amazing visionary that has been slighted by the limitations of our cruel, capitalist society and call it his “Director’s Cut”. The implication being that the original release of Death Stranding was not a true realization of his vision, because reasons.
It is insulting to the countless writers, directors, and other content creators that struggle to get their work produced and are actually forced by monetary interests to change their vision when a person like Kojima abuses words like director’s cut. I know exactly why that arrogant prima donna got forced out of Konami. And let me be clear, this is not an endorsement of Konami. They’ve made countless bad decisions in the management of their business and IPs. I just don’t think getting rid of Kojima was one of them. If it was up to me, MGS IV would have been the final Metal Gear title and we’d have never heard from that franchise again, save for the inevitable ports and remasters. Not just because I think the franchise is overrated and has mediocre gameplay in multiple installments, but also because I believe in conclusive storytelling. Franchises can and should be able to end gracefully at the correct narrative moment. As good as the latest game was and the next game presumably will be, I still think they should have left Kratos alone. His story ended in God of War III and it ended well. There was no narrative need to bring him back. It was simply milking the name for more money. But very few non-Nintendo characters have been milked harder than Snake in the gaming industry.
The funny thing is my dislike for Kojima isn’t even really Kojima’s fault. It’s his fans. He’s a hack that intentionally does things to garner attention so that his cult continues supporting whatever he does, no matter how ridiculous and financially questionable. Again, the Zack Snyder of game development. But I can’t fault a man for playing the game well. I can only hope that one day I too come up with a racket effective enough to get people to shovel money at me for delivering mediocre products that seem creative by allowing people to describe them with buzzwords like “subversive” and “transformative”. He’s not the problem. It’s all the people knowingly supporting his bullshit. It’s no different than any other modern day influencer, director, actor, comedian, or politician. You don’t make money in 2021 by doing things well. You make money by convincing people that they like what you’re doing. Kojima has mastered that.
The cult of Kojima is so ridiculous and enthralled by him that when other studios employee people with the initials H.K. his fan base goes out of their way to build elaborate conspiracies about how it’s all a ploy from Kojima himself. Don’t believe me? Look up Blue Box Game Studios. It’s at a point now where Kojima doesn’t even have to be ridiculous anymore. His fans are ridiculous enough for him. He has transcended past the need to actually create his own hype with preposterous gimmicks. At this point it wouldn’t even be accurate to say I dislike Kojima so much as I dislike what his name and the behavior that has come to represent.
To be clear, I have no problem with additional content being adding to Death Stranding. I don’t know how much or what type of content will be added, so I can’t comment on its cost yet. But I think it’s perfectly normal in 2021 for a recent game to add DLC and a next gen edition of a game. I just dislike the fact that Kojima decided to call it a “director’s cut” and that people are already defending that decision and constructing narratives about how things like development costs and deadlines prevented the launch version from realizing his true vision. That’s literally every piece of entertainment that has ever existed. There is always more a person or team can add to something. It could always look better, sound better, and be better in general given an unlimited amount of time, talent, and money. But that’s the entire challenge of creating entertainment products. The accomplishment is in having created something great in the face of all those limitations. The fact that it has become trendy for some people to invoke terms like “director’s cut” to undercut and ignore the reality of creating art since the beginning of producing art for profit is dishonest and discourteous to all the creatives that have worked tirelessly only to never have their art seen by the masses. The latest version of Death Stranding is no more sensible to call a director’s cut than it is to call George Lucas’ several re-releases of the original Star Wars movies director’s cuts. They’re cash grabs. Nothing more. Nothing less.
I like Nintendo. I might even say I love Nintendo. But I don’t stan for Nintendo. My first console was an NES and I still love platformers. I prefer 3D platformers these days, but I still happily play games like Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze and New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe. I know many people complain about Nintendo’s strategy of forever repeating the same franchises and rarely creating new IPs, but I’m still happy to play Mario, Zelda, and Donkey Kong games among many of their other staple franchises. So I don’t really have a problem with how Nintendo has run their business in the grand scheme of things.
I have always championed Nintendo for choosing not to play the PlayStation vs. XBOX game. I respect the fact that in the past few generations they didn’t even try to compete with those other platforms. They always just did their own thing, released numerous must play exclusives, and for the most part ignored the standard business practices of Sony and Microsoft. But in recent years things have really changed. And in many if not most ways, not for the better.
I love my Nintendo Switch. I was not a debut adopter, but I would call myself an early adopter. I went into the Nintendo Switch launch 100% sure that I was going to buy one, just not at launch. I am one of the few people that owned a Wii U and never regretted the purchase during the lifespan of the console. I was happy with it, but I have no problem admitting that it had a limited library of must play games. In fact, my only regret about the having bought the console now is that they port all the games to Switch with more content for the same price, ultimately forcing those of us that supported these games at launch to waste money rebuying them just to replay the new content.
When the Nintendo Switch released, I had already stopped using my Wii U for the most part, due to a lack of games to play. But that’s fine because I’ve always got a backlog of PlayStation and PC games. I literally never have “nothing to play” and haven’t for more than 10 years. Even so, I did not buy a Switch at launch. I always make it a point not to purchase a new console until there are at least five AAA titles that I must play already on shelf. None of them can be ports or remasters. When the Switch launched, it did not meet these requirements. The game that finally got me to officially retire my Wii U and move on to the next generation of Nintendo games was Super Mario Odyssey. And what a phenomenal game it was.
Super Mario Odyssey is a true masterpiece and by no means the only new game on the console that I have enjoyed immensely. I continue to play games on my Switch constantly and new games keep coming that I want to buy. I have no regrets about buying the console. Nor do I feel that I was overcharged for it. Taiwan price markups notwithstanding. Many people were skeptical about the Nintendo Switch, but it’s important to acknowledge why. While some naysayers, that weren’t really interested in Nintendo platforms to begin with, maligned the system and company over the console’s lack of power compared to the XBOX ONE and PS4, actual Nintendo fans doubted the console because of the questionable release time, and lacking library of the Wii U. These were valid concerns. Even though I’d say Nintendo ultimately made the right choice with the Switch in the long run, it was very fair for people to worry about purchasing another Nintendo console after the lacking return on investment for many, that was the Wii U.
My biggest complaint about Nintendo in 2021 is that they have slowly turned against their policy of not trying to directly compete with XBOX or PlayStation by following in their footsteps. Even worse is that this is happening while Nintendo continues practices that honestly shouldn’t exist in the modern games market/industry but they get away with because of their differentiation from Sony and Microsoft. Nintendo games follow none of the logic that the rest of the industry, including PC, follows when it comes to pricing. We continue to let this slide, because there were key differences in how Nintendo operated compared to the other companies. There was no paid DLC, no paid online, and mostly high quality first party content. While there is still a lot of high quality first party content, literally none of these things are true any more for the Nintendo platform. Many of their first party games have paid DLC, online is a paid service and honestly the worst one currently available save for like Stadia, and the Switch has lots of third-party content, ports, remasters, and other types of content that negates the original justifications for Nintendo’s ridiculous pricing practices. Yet nothing has changed. So the question is do we still trust Nintendo?
While we have not gotten 100% undeniable confirmation from Nintendo yet, it seems all but guaranteed that there will be an upgraded version of the Nintendo Switch. A Switch Pro if you will. Sadly, this has become the industry standard in less than one generation of consoles. I’m not for it, but it is what it is. PS4 has/had the PS4 Pro and XBOX ONE has/had the XBOX ONE X. A Switch Pro will just be another example of Nintendo slowly becoming a derivative of PlayStation and XBOX. The difference again is that Nintendo also tends to do outlandish stuff that only Nintendo can get away with. That makes me worry given the prospect of a half step mid-gen console upgrade.
While I did not buy or support the idea of a PS4 Pro to replace my PS4, I also can’t say that I was personally affected in a negative way because of the existence of the PS4 Pro. Nothing changed about gaming on the PS4 because of the PS4 Pro, and this is/was a good thing. Games didn’t get segregated mid-gen so that only PS4 Pro owners could run certain titles. PS4 game prices didn’t go up because of the PS4 Pro, like they have with the PS5. There is nothing about the PS4 Pro that was of any real consequence to PS4 owners. It was essentially the equivalent of buying a PS3 slim vs an original PS3. This is the good scenario for a Nintendo Switch Pro.
As I did not buy a PS4 Pro, already owning a PS4, I will not buy a Switch Pro, already owning a Switch. I see no point in it. There is no added value for me to get a Switch with better graphics. I’m fine with the graphics on the Switch just like I’m fine with the graphics on the PS4. I will not be investing in a half console upgrade. But can we trust Nintendo not to make it a necessity? PlayStation and XBOX didn’t screw over their “early” adopters when they put out mid-gen upgrades. It did feel like that in a way, but as I already discussed, gamers weren’t actually affected by the introduction of mid-gen upgrades. Will the same be true for Switch owners in the long run?
I don’t think Nintendo is ready to drop a new generation console. In fact, I’m certain of that because if they were we wouldn’t be talking about a Switch Pro. But what I can see Nintendo doing is dropping a Switch Pro, arguing that now games can run in 4K, or whatever, and then trying to increase the MSRP of games to $70 to get in line with PS5 pricing. That’s something Nintendo would do. I can see Nintendo releasing games that are only compatible with the Switch Pro. Consider that we already have this scenario with the Switch Lite. There is a list of games that Switch Lite users are unable to play without hacking/modding their console. I can absolutely see the same thing happening again with the Switch Pro. I can see a lot of third-party releases being compatible with the Switch Pro only, because “power limitations”. Nintendo could even raise the price of their junk online subscription service, at which point I’d probably end my subscription. I’m not even sure why I have it now.
The point is that I don’t know if I trust Nintendo not to be modern Nintendo. It would be very in character for them, in recent years, to take the bad parts of Microsoft and Sony business practices while leaving the good parts. And when they raise prices, there are no weekly flash sales with meaningful discounts. There are no regular price degradation models. There are no season pass sales. You just overpay for everything whether you bought it at launch or sometimes even years later. And if they do segregate the library between Switch and Switch Pro, that also means being made to buy a new console only to have them create their next generation platform just a few years down the road. If you read my blog regularly then you know I’m a pessimist, so I always expect the worst. But sadly, I’ve been right a lot of the time. These sorts of nightmare scenarios don’t happen overnight. They take time and normalization. And Nintendo has all the time in the world, given how flush with cash they are and how rabid their user base is for nostalgia. I hope I’m wrong. If Iwata was still around, I probably wouldn’t be so worried. But as it stands now, I just don’t know if I trust Nintendo to do right by us long time customers anymore.
Given the recent E3 announcement that Starfield will now be an XBOX “exclusive”, there have been many debates about whether or not this is a good thing or even OK. So I thought I’d give my opinion on the issue. I have already commented on Microsoft’s acquisition of ZeniMax in the past. You can read that post here. The short, unnuanced version is that I was and still am against it. And not because I use a PS4. But this post isn’t about ZeniMax or even Bethesda as a whole. This post is specifically about Starfield.
I really dislike the current trend of blindly applying one situation that uses similar terms to another situation that has a completely different context. There’s a reason we have nuanced discussion about things and specific terms for specific things. The gaming industry lacks this nuanced vocabulary and it causes a lot of problems as well as debates that don’t need to happen. Or at least not in the way and frequency that they do. It’s weird that we have at least three different legal terms for when a person takes another person’s life but we have basically one term for when a game is only available on one console. My point is that to just say “it’s exclusive” and act like that means the same thing and situation for all games we refer to today as exclusive is literally false.
I was against Microsoft buying Bethesda for the simple fact that Bethesda’s money did not come predominantly from XBOX (and PC) users. For me, that’s always the main issue. I believe strongly that businesses and consumers should operate in a symbiotic relationship. Those who give money to a studio should be the ones to get games from said studio. If Bethesda had predominantly only made XBOX games over their 25-year history, or if the bulk of their sales were from XBOX users throughout that history, I would have no problem with the acquisition. But that’s not the case with their sales figures and those numbers can be verified. This is why I had no problem with Sony buying Insomniac Games. Because Insomniac Games was basically a Sony exclusive developer before the purchase anyway, and everyone felt that way. If you look up the history of the company, more than 90% of their profits have come from PlayStation users, before the official acquisition. And the one time they tried to tap into the XBOX player base, they failed miserably. In fact, it is widely believed that if Sunset Overdrive released on PS4 today, even after having spent years available on both XBOX ONE and PC, it would still end up selling more on PS4 than its combined sales figures on XBOX and PC. That’s why I have no problem with the fact that Insomniac Games was acquired by Sony. Because it in no way affected the people who have invested into Insomniac Games for the past 25 years, unlike with Microsoft’s acquisition of Bethesda.
If tomorrow Sony somehow managed to purchase 343 Industries and they announced that the next HALO will be a PS5 exclusive, I would not be OK with that. It would be wrong. There is no other word to describe that scenario. A studio that made more than 80% of its profits on XBOX players suddenly being completely out of reach to those players without them buying a PlayStation console would be wrong. I’m sure we’d still have plenty of nonsensical arguments defending the decision, but we would all know in our hearts that it would be wrong. You don’t use a player base’s money to fund games those players can’t play. It’s unethical.
As I said, this is a nuanced discussion. There are of course some outliers with very specific and verifiable situations that I personally think are OK even if not ideal. A company or franchise that is going to die without funding from a first party publisher being made exclusive as a rescue operation is acceptable. If it’s between a company or franchise dying and exclusivity, I choose exclusivity. This is what happened with Square Enix and Final Fantasy for games VII – XII. This is what happened with Bayonetta 2. We would not have Final Fantasy VII – XII without direct funding from PlayStation. Those games would not exist and Square Enix may not be in business today had Sony not have saved them. This is verifiable. Sony purchased Square Enix’s stock as a favor to the company and even sold it back to the company years later below market value so the company could be independent again. And no, Sony did not need the money to stay in business at the time of that sale. Bayonetta 2 would not exist without Nintendo bankrolling the game. The first one may have been loved, but it was not profitable enough to keep the franchise going. Nintendo went out of their way to save it. In both of these instances, the first party publisher paid for the game(s) from the ground up and had them released as exclusives to their consoles. In simpler terms, Sony and Nintendo purchased products that no one else wanted to buy and then resold them to their user bases. I don’t see anything wrong with that. Because again, those games wouldn’t exist otherwise. That’s a lot different than Epic Games purchasing timed exclusivity of games like Control, that were not in danger of not being released otherwise, just to limit Steam users from being able to play the game on their preferred platform without waiting a year. That’s completely different than Insomniac Games deciding that their player base didn’t matter and that they would rather run to XBOX in order to maintain IP ownership rather than make their product available to the people who kept their company running for the years leading up to the release of Sunset Overdrive. I want to clarify that while I don’t agree with timed exclusives, I don’t consider them nearly as problematic as the exclusivity of games like Sunset Overdrive and now Starfield.
Another exception, ironically also pertaining to Insomniac Games, is Marvel’s Spider-Man. Many people were angry about Marvel’s Spider-Man being a PlayStation exclusive, and that’s understandable. But I do not consider its exclusivity a problem, when it’s appropriately judged for what it actually is. The problem with games based on non-original IPs is that the discussion gets murky. There are a few things that need to be addressed here. Is Marvel’s Spider-Man part of an existing franchise or a completely new game? Notice that I used the word franchise and not IP. Those are not the same thing. But people often incorrectly interchange the two. This is where problems arise. The Spider-Man IP is a comic book property created and owned by Marvel. They have the right to license that IP out to any medium they want. The Spider-Man game franchise does not express full control or relevance to the Spider-Man IP as a whole. Sony currently owns the movie rights to the Spider-Man IP. That’s why it was so hard to get him in the MCU. Marvel owns the comic rights to the Spider-Man IP. That’s why he rarely if ever gets to meet Superman in the comics, the rights of which are currently owned by DC. But who exactly owns the game rights to the Spider-Man IP, and even more importantly who has the right to use them? That depends entirely on what year you’re referring to.
The fact is that Spider-Man games have existed since 1982, first appearing on the Atari 2600. Since then, there have been several Spider-Man game franchises published by several different publishers. Some of these games are connected and others are completely unrelated franchises with different canon, developers, and platform releases. Just because they are all games within the Spider-Man IP does not make them all connected or part of the same franchise. And thus they shouldn’t be treated as such. Marvel’s Spider-Man (2018) has nothing to do with Spider-Man (2002), based on the movie. Nor does it have anything to do with Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions (2010). These are three completely different game franchises that have nothing to do with each other. They all fall under the Spider-Man IP. But they are in no way directly connected. That’s why it doesn’t make any sense to say the Spider-Man franchise became exclusive. No, it didn’t. Because Marvel’s Spider-Man was/is a new franchise. It didn’t become exclusive. It was always exclusive. From day one that franchise was built from the ground and publicly announced as an exclusive title that was the start of a new franchise. It was built by a first party exclusive developer owned by Sony. There is absolutely no valid argument for why it’s not OK for that game to be a PlayStation exclusive. Now one could argue that Marvel shouldn’t allow first party developers to make Spider-Man games and thus none of them would be exclusive. But then we wouldn’t be talking about this particular game at all. A Spider-Man game made by Insomniac Games that isn’t connected to any previous Spider-Man games is absolutely fine as a PlayStation exclusive. Now if instead we were talking about say Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions 2, then I would absolutely agree that the game shouldn’t be an exclusive to either PlayStation or XBOX. But that would be a completely different situation than Marvel’s Spider-Man. The games should stay where the money that built them was acquired. It always comes back to that. Now let’s actually talk about Starfield.
I see a lot of people implying that PlayStation users are angry about Starfield being an XBOX exclusive now, because it’s Starfield. This is false. I haven’t actually seen many PlayStation users complain about the game being exclusive specifically. And honestly that’s not surprising. I have a gaming PC and no plans to purchase an XBOX console, but even if I didn’t have a PC I still wouldn’t care too much about missing Starfield. I’m still not fully convinced that Starfield is actually going to happen. I’ve been saying it’s an elaborate hoax for like two years. But that’s not even the point. The more important issue is that Bethesda hasn’t been doing that well in recent years. With the exception of the DOOM franchise, which isn’t made in house, most of their games are either the same old thing being remastered again and again (looking at you Skyrim), or trash like Fallout 76. The last Bethesda game I was excited about was literally the original PS3 release of Skyrim. I’m sorry but missing out on the next Bethesda game just doesn’t seem like a huge deal anymore. The real problem goes back to my original point. Where does the money come from?
Starfield shouldn’t be exclusive for two reasons. The first is that it was originally announced to be multiplatform. The game went into development as a multiplatform game and was announced as such to the public. That means there are people that bought PS5s believing that they would be able to play Starfield on that console. The second is that PlayStation users played a huge role in Bethesda reaching the point they’re now at. Starfield shouldn’t be a PS5 exclusive any more than it should be an XBOX exclusive. Bethesda made its money from both player bases and thus both player bases have a right to be able to access their games. It really is that simple. Bethesda was not built on XBOX money specifically. Nor was it built on PlayStation money exclusively. It was built on everyone’s money. So everyone rightfully has claim to their future games.
Now obviously we can’t prevent studio purchases from happening. Microsoft has unlimited money. They are going to purchase more studios rather than build their own from the ground up. It’s not right but it is the way of the industry in 2021. Sony, following suit, is going to start doing the same thing. And I’m sure Nintendo will eventually follow suit as well. They got cash to blow too. So where is the line then? When is it OK for Bethesda games to go full exclusive? Which games is it OK to release as exclusives after the acquisition of a studio? OK being a question of ethics as opposed to legality, obviously. I think the answer to that question isn’t too difficult to answer for anyone willing to be honest. Any game announced before an acquisition, unless it was announced as an exclusive at the time of first announcement, shouldn’t be an exclusive. Any game the public is already aware of and expecting to be available on multiple platforms should be released as such. Anything that wasn’t announced as a multi-platform is fair game for making exclusive. I’ll also say that anything that obviously was expected to be multi-platform falls under that as well. That upcoming Avatar game from Ubisoft, for instance. Even if it wasn’t announced as a multi-platform, it should still be released as a multi-platform, because it was announced while Ubisoft appeared as a multi-platform publisher with no exclusive notice at the time of announcement. Unlike say Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope. Published by Ubisoft but announced from the start as a platform exclusive. If tomorrow they got purchased by any company, it wouldn’t change the fact that the logical expectation for the Avatar game at announcement was that it will be a multi-platform title. For Avatar 2, since it hasn’t been announced yet and development presumably hasn’t started, that would be acceptable as an exclusive, provided it wasn’t announced before a Ubisoft acquisition took place. It would be shitty, as the money that financed that sequel would presumably have come from players on all available platforms. But it’s the best we can even begin to expect from the industry at this point.
The industry will always have exclusives. Exclusives sell platforms. There’s nothing wrong with that. But exclusives should come from in house a majority of the time. It’s not acceptable to purchase a studio that’s in the process of putting out a game that was originally announced to be available to everyone simply to pull that product off the opposing platform. In a backhanded way, that’s basically a form of market manipulation. Starfield’s announcement raised Bethesda’s value as a company. Microsoft buying Bethesda post Starfield announcement raised Microsoft’s value. Making it exclusive hurt Sony’s value. That’s intentional. You best believe that acquisition happened when it did because of Starfield. Maybe not exclusively because of Starfield, but that game was part of the discussion when negotiations occurred. It shouldn’t be exclusive to any platform because it was not set up to be one and development of it wasn’t exclusively funded by the player base of any specific platform. This is robbing Peter to pay Paul when Paul doesn’t even need the money.
Long time readers of this blog know that I’m not a fan of E3. In recent years, I’ve made it a point to write very little coverage of the event. Most of my posts about E3 in the last few years have been critiques calling for an end to it, or at the very least radical changes. I did watch the bigger presentations this year, because they went all digital, as I’ve been calling for long before COVID was a thing. So I wanted to show my support for the change in format, even if I’m well aware that this only happened because of COVID rather than an intentional shift in how the industry chooses to do gaming news. I commend PlayStation for not playing along this year. But what I actually want to discuss today is XBOX.
I think the console wars are dumb. Not because I have an issue with people supporting their platform of choice. I actually don’t have a big issue with that. I think they’re dumb because the comparisons between consoles are never logical from a true gaming standpoint. I hate the fact that we let ourselves as a community to be taken in by Sony and Microsoft by allowing them to set the terms of this console conflict. It’s stupid that we argue over things like graphics and processing power. It’s stupid that we allow hardware specs to be one of the main points of contention when comparing consoles in 2021. Here are some facts that I won’t debate with you. Gamers care about games. Tech enthusiasts care about hardware performance. A real gamer has a minimum standard of quality for the games they play based on practical expectations set by the contemporary standards of the gaming industry’s leading titles. That’s it. You don’t need 120 FPS. You don’t need 4K. You may want those things, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But if you refuse to play a game because it doesn’t have those things then I question whether or not you’re actually a gamer rather than a tech enthusiast. To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with being a tech enthusiast. But your opinion on games and gaming hardware, especially in a discussion of consoles, is pretty irrelevant.
The best hardware for running games is PC. This is not up for debate. But that does not make PC the best hardware for playing games on. Because the experience of playing games is a lot more than just how they look and sound. 30 FPS is playable. 1080p is playable. Loading times do not make a game unplayable. Lag sucks, but unless it’s actually the thing making you lose in a game, it doesn’t make a game unplayable. If you’re actually a gamer and not just a tech enthusiast, then you shouldn’t be comparing hardware between consoles, barring massive differences in performance. And no 5 FPS is not considered massive by any objective standard. You should be comparing the games. The reason I dislike the console wars discussion every gen is because it tends not to focus on games. And when it does focus on games, it focuses on the wrong aspects of them. Again, we focus on things like graphics rather than gameplay. We focus on framerate rather than writing quality. The discussion doesn’t focus on the games as games. It focuses on the games as software tests for hardware.
For the purposes of time and discussion, let’s ignore PC and Nintendo for the rest of this post. I just want to talk about XBOX and PlayStation. Now I don’t have a team. I own a PS4, but I am not team PS4. I’m team DJMMT likes to play good games in genres that DJMMT likes to play. I do not own an XBOX ONE. Not because I’m anti-XBOX but because XBOX ONE was/is anti-DJMMT. I buy the platform that offers me the best selection of games I actually want to play. That’s how all gamers should be comparing consoles. In my opinion, both consoles are trash in that regard. They just happen to be trash for different parts of the gaming community.
I don’t own a PS5 and I don’t own an XBOX SERIES X. Unlike most people currently in that situation, I could easily go purchase either console at MSRP today. I live in Taiwan. There is no console scarcity here, though I have heard a number of lazy people claim there is. I have seen countless PS5s in the wild since launch and have the money saved to buy one. I’m just not interested in owning one yet. You may have noticed that I’ve already implied that between PS5 and XSX I’ll end up buying a PS5. This is currently how my opinion is leaning. I have no interest in owning both consoles, so I will pick the console that makes the most sense for my gaming needs. Now I do own a gaming PC, but as I said, we’re ignoring PC for this discussion. My reason for not choosing to buy an XSX has nothing to do with hardware performance. It has nothing to do with platform cost. It has nothing to do with the price of games. I consider both consoles equally good enough to game on. And I consider both consoles lacking in a number of ways. The only reason I’d choose PS5 over XSX is that the PS5’s glaring issues affect me personally less than the XSX’s glaring issues.
I sat through almost 90 minutes of the XBOX + Bethesda E3 showcase looking for a reason to consider buying an XSX rather than a PS5. And rather than convince me that PS5 was not the way to go, Phil Spencer insulted me by having the nerve to end that presentation with a speech that started with these words:
“Team XBOX is on a mission to bring the joy and community of gaming to everyone on the planet. That’s why you, the gamer, are at the center of everything we do.”
My question for Phil Spencer is who exactly does he define as a gamer? That presentation started and ended with the statement that they would be showing 30 games. Now I do not believe that every game should be for everyone. In fact, I’m a huge proponent of the idea that it’s fine for games to have very specific target audiences and that developers can blatantly ignore anyone who doesn’t fall into their target audience for a specific title. I do not believe that developers have a responsibility to change their games for people they weren’t making their games for to begin with. It’s nice when it happens, but I would never fault a dev for not going out of their way to alter their game for players that weren’t part of their original sales plan to begin with. That is to say, I did not expect all 30 of the games XBOX promised to show to appeal to me personally. I don’t have the money for all those games. I don’t have the time for all those games. But if I’m going to buy a new console, I should be able to pick at least five games out of 30 E3 announcement titles that I actually want to play. That’s not even 20% of the games shown. If XBOX is really targeting “everyone on the planet” then I assume that includes every type of gamer.
Let me give you some background into my personal gaming interests. I’ve been gaming since the 90’s. My first console was an NES. I’ve owned every Nintendo home console, every PlayStation home console (not yet the PS5), the first two XBOX consoles, all the Sega consoles except the Sega Saturn, and the even the Panasonic 3DO. I’ve beaten (reached the credits) of over 1000 different video games. I’ve reviewed hundreds of video games. I think it’s fair to call myself a gamer. I would expect most companies targeting serious gamers to consider me as part of their general target audience. Maybe not for every specific title. But in general, I for damn sure better be included within the term “gamer”. My gaming interests are by no means niche. In fact, I’m a pretty basic bitch, mainstream gamer.
I like AAA titles with solid enough graphics in a number of genres, none of which are considered specialized or rare by modern gaming standards. I like 3D platformers, hack-n-slash, action RPGs, non-serious sports titles, and story driven third person experiences. The franchises I like are not particularly out of the box or rare hidden gems. I like Dark Souls, Kingdom Hearts, God of War, Super Mario, Zelda, Uncharted, Assassin’s Creed, and many other franchises that sell millions of copies. I’m happy to try games in any genre. I play lots of indies. And occasionally I will take the time to play highly acclaimed games in genres I don’t prefer. I hate FPS games, but I loved DOOM (2016). I’m not into realistic sports games, but I really enjoyed The Crew 2. There is no objective person that could argue that my gaming tastes are odd or hard to please. There are genres and business models I don’t particularly care for. I don’t really like shooters, though I do play some of them. I just finished Outriders and I’m currently playing Necromunda: Hired Gun. I don’t like live service games, but I enjoyed The Division 1 and 2. I don’t play MMOs at all and I’m not going to. I don’t really care for online PVP, but I do really like NARAKA: BLADEPOINT and have played other online PVP games fairly seriously over the years. The point is that it should not be hard for a company like XBOX, with 23 studios under its belt, to include games for me in their 30-game lineup. But I was sorely disappointed and frankly angry about the fact that Phil Spencer claimed that XBOX was for all gamers around the world. Based on the 30 games shown, that was a blatantly false statement. But let’s actually check the receipts.
My rule for buying any console is and has always been 5 AAA titles. There has to be at least 5 exclusive titles, ideally at AAA but I’ll accept AA in some instances, that I need to play that I can’t play on any of the platforms I already own before I’ll buy a console. You can go back and look at past posts of mine to verify this. When I finally bought my Nintendo Switch, I walked out of the store with Super Mario Odyssey, Splatoon 2, ARMS, Mario+ Rabbids Kingdom Battle, and Super Bomberman R, which at the time of purchase was a Switch exclusive. So by the same rules, I went into this XBOX + Bethesda showcase looking for just five games I had to play. And again, for the purposes of argument we’re ignoring that I have a gaming PC.
Now I didn’t count the 30 games, but they said there were 30 games being presented. As I said, I don’t like shooters and more specifically I don’t like first person shooters. So these are the games they announced from that list of 30 that are not shooters, not MMOs, not games that are already or will be available on PlayStation 4 (because I already own that platform), and not cross platform titles, because those don’t count as a selling point to get someone to buy either the PS5 or XSX specifically. This list includes 12 Minutes, Somerville, Shredders, Replaced, Grounded, Flight Simulator, and Forza Horizon 5. I will also include A Plague Tale: Requiem, which will most likely be available on PS4 and PS5 as well given it’s published by Focus Home Interactive, but since that hasn’t yet been confirmed I’ll count it. I’ll even include Slime Rancher 2, because while it is technically a shooter, it’s not a shooter shooter. Starfield showed no gameplay, so I can’t state if it isn’t a shooter or not at this point, so I won’t count it. I will not count Age of Empires IV, because at the time of writing this it has only been confirmed for PC.
So for those keeping score, of the games I would even look at shown from that list of 30 in the presentation, three are indie titles, two are serious sports games, one is Flight Simulator, and two are sequels to games I’ve never played that were both available on the PS4. None of these games fall into any of the genres I previously stated that I actually like playing. So it’s not even a question of they delivered games for players with my genre tastes and I’m just not interested, which would be on me. They didn’t even deliver any games for gamers with my genre interests. There is no hack-n-slash. There is no action RPG. There is no 3D platformer. They didn’t even give me the option of being picky about games in the genres I like. They just don’t have them. And that’s why I don’t buy XBOX consoles anymore.
I don’t think XSX is a bad console. I think it’s a console that claims to cater “to everyone (who is a gamer) on the planet” but clearly ignores a user base of tens of millions of people who want to play very common and well-established genres of games at AAA quality. I want to want an XSX. But I literally can’t. Because according to Phil Spencer, the word gamer means “person who likes hardcore FPS titles and the occasional indie game”. XBOX is literally ignoring me. And they’re doing it actively. They have 23 studios and can’t make a decent hack-n-slash game. That seems very intentional. But you know what? PlayStation is no better if you like shooters. More than 100 million PS4s have been sold. Not a single first party, exclusive FPS worth playing ever released on that console. And no, that mediocre Killzone Shadow Fall was not worth buying. I know that, because I was dumb enough to let my friends talk me into buying it. Am I to believe that 100 million gamers have no interest in the FPS genre? I mean I don’t, but I’m not narcissistic enough to assume everyone else feels that way. I know plenty of people, myself included, that played Destiny. But this is the entire problem with the console war discussion. The two consoles can’t really be compared fairly, because both are basically the same spec wise and objectively terrible library wise if we don’t count third party, cross platform titles.
You don’t buy an XSX because it’s better than PS5. You buy an XSX because you want to play shooters. If you want to play shooters and you don’t buy an XSX, you’re an idiot. Or a PC player, but that doesn’t count in this particular discussion. If you don’t want to play shooters and you buy an XSX, you’re also an idiot. Unless you just want to play one Bethesda game every decade and a bunch of indie titles we probably won’t remember. You don’t buy a PS5 because it’s better than an XSX either. You buy it because you want to play third person story driven games, action RPGs, and hack-n-slash games. And apparently have no interest in first party shooters. The reality is that both platforms actually suck for gamers as a community. This is why we’ve been forced to break up into micro-communities. We feud because we’re all angry and unhappy with the limited offerings of both platforms and lack the ability to come together and demand better from both brands.
I want a real console comparison scenario. We should be able to compare the consoles based on the quality of the software, rather than the genres. God of War shouldn’t be the selling point of PlayStation consoles because XBOX has no equivalent. It should be the selling point because it’s better than XBOX’s equivalent. HALO shouldn’t sell XBOX consoles because PlayStation has no equivalent to HALO. It should sell consoles because it’s better than Sony’s alien FPS title. But we don’t get to have those comparisons. Pretty much the only AAA first party overlap we have is with ultra-realistic racing games. Forza Horizon vs Grand Turismo. That’s it. Everything else exists in a vacuum specific to one side of the conflict. XBOX has no answer for Ratchet & Clank, Ghost of Tsushima, or God of War. PlayStation has no answer for HALO, S.T.A.L.K.E.R., or even Shredders. Let’s be clear though, no one should be making a sports game like that when Ubisoft is about to corner that market for the next several years with Riders Republic. My point is that neither platform is great for gamers. Both platforms are acceptable for certain gamers. And both companies act like they’re making games for all gamers around the world. “Power Your Dreams” . . . unless those dreams don’t involve gun-based gameplay. “Play Has No Limits” . . . except the first-person perspective and guns.
I buy PlayStation consoles, because I happen to like the types of first party games that PlayStation produces. But I can’t objectively say that they’re better than the first party games XBOX produces, because they can’t even be compared. There is basically no genre overlap, except for those two car games I have no interest in playing. I’m just choosing the lesser of two mediocre libraries for my personal genre interests. But neither library can say that it even tries to meet the needs of all gamers.
My best friend owns an XBOX ONE and will eventually end up buying an XBOX SERIES X. I own a PlayStation 4 and will eventually end up buying a PlayStation 5. The last console we both owned in common was the XBOX 360, again Switch not applying in this particular discussion. Since then, XBOX has ignored my gaming desires and PlayStation has ignored those of my best friend. With cross play now being a thing, there are some games we can play together. Most of which I hate. (Looking at you Fortnite.) But in general, we don’t get to play games together. That’s not his fault or mine. I blame Microsoft and Sony. I want XBOX to stop ignoring gamers like me, and I want PlayStation to stop ignoring gamers like my friend. Stop comparing consoles, start comparing libraries, and demand both companies do better to meet the needs of all mainstream genre gamers.
I’ve written in the past about the fact that I don’t really know if I consider the PS5 or the XBX as next gen consoles. They are literally next gen consoles, as they are the next generation of home gaming consoles. But, having not played either, I’ve yet to see anything that truly felt like it was a new generation in gaming. Don’t get me wrong. We have already seen some definite improvements over the PS4 and XB1 when it comes to performance. The SSDs for instance have allowed some amazing improvements to both game performance and quality of life features. No more loading screens in Marvel’s Spider-Man is certainly an improvement to the game. But a lack of loading screens isn’t, in my definition, next gen. But that’s kind of my point. What even is next gen gaming?
We’ve already seen many new games announced, and got a number of new releases since the latest two PlayStation and XBOX consoles hit stores. We’ve seen several remasters and remakes as well as a slew of updated versions of games. Yet I constantly see people online saying versions of “this isn’t next gen”. While I don’t necessarily approach the discussion from their same mindset, it’s hard for me to disagree with these keyboard warriors and trolls much of the time on this issue. The truth is that we have no definitive measuring stick to define next gen. Even if we choose to ignore the fact that pretty much everything that the PS5 and XBX can accomplish was already available on PC more than a year before either console dropped, we still have no objective way of knowing what next gen actually is.
Is 4K next gen? Is 8K next gen. Do graphics actually matter in the definition of what constitutes next gen? Is there a maximum loading time that negates a game from being next gen? Are specific genres automatically not next gen because of their dated mechanics? Can a 2D game be considered next gen? Is it possible for a remaster to be considered next gen? Frankly, I don’t even know how to go about answering these questions. I have my own personal opinions about some of them, but there’s not really anything that certifies those opinions as correct.
Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is the latest upcoming game from Insomniac Games. It’s a PS5 exclusive that highly leverages the SSD; and it looks phenomenal. As someone who has played every Ratchet & Clank going all the way back to the original on PS2, I can confidently say that it looks like it will be the best game in the series to date. As it should be. But is it a next gen game? Have any of the Ratchet & Clank games ever actually been “next gen games”? The game looks great for both graphics and gameplay. But are the graphics revolutionary in comparison to Ratchet & Clank (2016)? This game makes use of the SSDs to let players instantly warp between entire worlds. It’s an amazing feat that wouldn’t have been possible on the PS4 or XB1 without loading screens. So I guess maybe that makes it next gen? But if the only thing improved between the PS4 and PS5 is loading times then is it really worth all that money?
I’m not trying to attack game studios here. I’m legitimately curious about what we need to see happen in games in order for people to stop saying they aren’t next gen. For all intents and purposes, we’re still basically playing the same games that we have been since the PS3. Yes, they run way better on the PS5 and XBX. Yes, they look way better too. But where are the defining lines? The PS4 Pro and XB1X could sort of kind of do 4K in some instances. But now 8K is technically a thing. So are games running at 4K last gen, current gen, or next gen?
Does gameplay factor into next gen? We’ve been playing 2D fighters since the arcade. Not much has changed about them except for graphics quality and the inclusion of more robust single player modes, in the last like 30 years. What would a 2D fighter like Street Fighter or Tekken have to accomplish in order to be considered next gen? You couldn’t really change the gameplay model that much while maintaining what makes the genre the genre. Does that mean a 2D fighter can’t be considered next gen at all? Maybe the haptics of the Dualsense make PS5 games next gen. Or at least some of them. But what does that mean for the XSX?
Does difficulty factor into whether or not a game is next gen? Should games be harder or easier to be next gen? I always hear people complain that newer games are easier than older games. So does that not mean that a harder game can’t be considered next gen? One thing that we have seen improve considerably, with the exception of Returnal, is a drastic increase in quality of life functions and accessibility options. There are options in games now that I never would have even thought about. For those that need them, that’s probably a more clearly defined way to differentiate next gen vs current or last gen. But that’s extremely specific and doesn’t affect the majority of gamers. Accessibility options are great, but they don’t affect nearly enough players directly to justify making everyone buy a new console and spend more on the vanilla versions of games.
I haven’t upgraded to a PS5 yet, and don’t plan on doing so for some time. That choice wasn’t hard for me at all. When it came to the PS3 and PS4, upgrading was a no brainer. Games literally didn’t run smoothly or properly on the console I was using in both generational transitions. But my PS4, not the Pro version in my case, runs fine. I have noticed lag happening more frequently in some cross gen games, like Outriders. But not enough for me to feel compelled to upgrade just to play it. And that’s an always online game so it very well may be a server issue more than a console hardware issue. The loading screens are atrociously long, but the game ultimately runs fine. The graphics, in Outriders specifically, are pretty trash on the PS4. But not so bad that the game is unplayable or a chore to look at.
I want to experience next gen. I want to know what so many people are talking about and even more are struggling to reach with continued console shortages, and trying to beat scalpers. But honestly I just don’t see it yet. I haven’t seen anything that makes me think it’s time to upgrade, because I can’t do it on my PS4. There are features that the PS5 has that its predecessor doesn’t. But none of them are particularly important when comes down to actual gaming. Except for maybe the haptics. Unless you’re just really a stickler about loading times. But I need more than that. I want to be wowed by the PS5 or XSX. I want to play something that is so totally different and so totally unfathomable for the PS4 in terms of gameplay and graphics that turning on my PS4 afterwards hurts. That’s what next gen means to me.
When I got my N64, the world changed. Gaming was never the same. For years, Mario was a little 2D set of pixels that could only move in two directions and had a super limited set of possible actions. When I turned on Super Mario 64 for the first time, it was like those videos where fully colorblind people experience color for the first time. There was no possible way that anyone could question whether or not it was next gen. I never wanted to go back to 2D after that. I didn’t turn on my SNES again for like more than 10 years after I got my N64. And that was just because I was bored one day. To this day, I struggle to play 2D games, because it always feels like going backwards. When I turn on my PS3, which admittedly never happens anymore, it doesn’t feel like going backwards. The last time, it just felt like things had gotten a bit cheaper. Like I was used to playing AAA games and suddenly had turned on a AA game or a higher budget indie. The world didn’t suddenly devolve into a previous form of reality like the SNES did when compared to the N64. The latest generation of consoles just don’t deliver the same level of advancement when compared to their predecessors. They’re better, but not change your life better.
I don’t really know how to define next gen at this point. And honestly I don’t think anyone does. But I do know that for me next gen means life changing. Gaming should not feel the same as the last generation of gaming experiences when we’re talking about next gen. I’ll buy a PS5 when I run out of PS4 games to play or when it feels life changing. Given what I’ve seen so far and the size of my backlog, neither is going to happen any time soon.
Currently I’m playing a game called Ace Angler on the Nintendo Switch. It’s an Asia only released fishing game. I’ve been playing it on and off for the last several months. Being a fishing game aficionado, I also bought the fishing pole Joy-Con accessory. It’s a solid fishing game that originated as an arcade game so if you like fishing games and can find a copy of it, I recommend it. You can buy it on the Japanese eShop, if you’re really interested. But this isn’t meant to be a review of the game. What I want to talk about is the story.
Ace Angler has a single-player campaign. Unlike many other fishing games, this campaign has an actual story. It’s not a competitive bass tourney campaign where the story is basically non-existent and just has you playing different fishing tournaments as you climb the ranks, like most sports game campaigns. In Ace Angler you follow an actual plot with real characters, background lore, and clearly defined motivations that amount to more than just money, fame, or glory.
This game follows the main character, you as a faceless fisherman or “angler” as the game calls it, on a journey of scientific exploration. Your crew works with a scientific institution tasked with studying the world’s oceans. You do this by catching fish and taking them back to an aquarium, alive, for study. While fishing, you discover a magical pearl. It happens to be one of 10 legendary pearls that were said to be lost to history. If all 10 are found, legend says a special treasure will be revealed. Obviously as the game continues you go on to find the other nine legendary pearls. Throughout this adventure, you meet and compete against multiple rivals, upgrade your ship to travel to exciting new fishing areas, learn more about the history of the pearls and the world as a whole, and even discover new species of fish. When you finally discover the last legendary pearl and bring them all together, something insane happens. I don’t want to spoil it, for those who actually end up playing the game, but basically the entire planet ends up in danger. Yes, you read that right. This fishing game’s climax is that your discovery of ancient artifacts somehow leads to the entire world being threatened with an apocalypse level scenario and only you, the ace of anglers, can save the world. Somehow the people who wrote this game constructed a plot that ends up having a fishing boat getting upgraded into a spaceship so the hero can fly to space and use their fishing skills to save the planet.
There are a few things that need to be said about this game’s story. Obviously, it’s ridiculous. Over the course of this game, you do things like go fishing for literal dinosaurs, robots, and dragons. Over the course of this game, you upgrade your basic fishing boat over several phases to a submarine and eventually a literal spaceship. Maybe even more ridiculous is that all the upgrades are single handedly done by an old man referred to as the “Fishing Saint”. While you start the game by traveling to normal fishing locations like a coral reef, by the end of the game you’ve traveled to places like an underwater robot fish base, the depths of a deep-sea trench, and a sunken golden palace where the fish wear clothing and carry gold coins on their backs. The story is absolutely preposterous. Yet as the player you have no problem with it. Not once did I ever think to myself “this is ridiculous” while playing Ace Angler. Not once did I ever question the logic of the universe or complain about the lack of realism. If anything, I enjoyed the game more for not giving a shit about reality. I thought it was hilarious when I started catching fish dressed up like ninjas. I thought it was awesome when I caught a plesiosaurus with a fishing pole. I felt like a badass when I caught a giant metal shark that shoots missiles out of its mouth. The ultra-ridiculous occurrences that happen in this game coupled with a plot that only an anime fan could love made the game better. Yet I don’t afford the same storytelling liberties to everything else I consume for entertainment.
Recently a movie was released on Netflix called Army of the Dead. I don’t want to debate the movie, as I haven’t watched it. But what I have seen is a sea of comments arguing about whether or not the movie is good. From what I’ve heard and read, I probably wouldn’t like this movie. More than that, I’d most likely think it was ridiculous, in a bad way, and terrible. There’s one spoiler in particular, that I won’t reveal here out of respect for readers who haven’t seen the movie, that I had the misfortune of reading. That one spoiler pissed me off just hearing about it. And I don’t mean having the spoiler revealed pissed me off because it ruined my possible future viewing experience of the movie. I mean that spoiler pissed me off because it’s so ridiculous that knowing a producer let such nonsense get produced angers me to my core as a writer. But why?
What’s the difference between these two pieces of entertainment? On one hand we have a story where a fisherman is tasked with flying to space in a modified fishing boat in order to save the world. On the other hand we have a zombie movie about a Las Vegas heist with a twist that’s no less ridiculous than a secret under water base of robot fish. Both concepts are completely unrealistic, functionally stupid, and unnecessarily complicated to explain in their own ways. But one has brought me so much joy. I’ve been playing this fishing game for 15 hours and I’m still not done. Whereas just thinking about watching that movie makes me cringe. Why am I so lenient with one piece of entertainment and not another? And it’s not just me. We’re all like this in our own way. How many people who love Kingdom Hearts, and all its convoluted nonsense, also hated The Last of Us Part II, because of details about the story? How many people love God of War (2018), but think Marvel movie plots are dumb?
Ace Angler is a Japanese fishing game for the Nintendo Switch. Army of the Dead is an American film written and directed by a Caucasian American for Netflix. Does the writer matter? Does the medium matter? I don’t know. I’m asking the questions with an honest desire to find answers. Am I more lenient with Japanese writers in animated mediums, because of expectations built up by years of watching nonsensical anime plots like Naruto, Sailor Moon, and One Piece? Do I hold Zack Snyder to a higher standard, because of movies like 300 and Watchmen? Do I hold live action American movies to a higher standard, because of movies like The Shawshank Redemption, Inception, and Do the Right Thing? Do I hold games to a lower standard because of the mountains of shovelware that exist in the medium or even the complete disregard so many popular big budget games have for storytelling these days? Why do we as consumers of entertainment have a bias for stories told in one medium and against stories told in another? Why do we give slack to certain writers when it comes to realism and examine others under a microscope of criticism?
Consider that James Gunn wrote both Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Lollipop Chainsaw. Now it might surprise you to hear that Gunn wrote that video game, but not because of the story. You’re just surprised to hear he wrote a video game. The plot of that game, as ridiculous as it is, in no way irritates you upon hearing that it was written by James Gunn. Because it fits within your expectations of James Gunn’s storytelling conventions and the medium of video games. But if instead Lollipop Chainsaw was a movie written by Martin Scorsese, you’d probably lose your shit. That movie would get panned harder than the theatrical cut of Justice League (2017). But is that fair?
Is it fair that Martin Scorsese can’t write a zombie story about a cheerleader who carries around the reanimated head of her decapitated boyfriend? Is it fair that developers get attacked for trying to address real world political issues in their games? Not at all. Yet I do it too, knowing full well that it’s unfair. If Zack Snyder made a movie about a fisherman going to space to save the world, I’d probably spit out my drink just hearing the pitch. Yet Ace Angler is the most entertaining fishing game story I’ve probably ever played. I don’t really have a solid conclusion here. All I know is this is an issue of some sort that we aren’t really doing anything to solve. But even knowing that I’m still not motivated to take the time to watch Army of the Dead.
I’m a veteran gamer. An OG as the kids say. That is not a statement of pride or prestige. It’s a citation of age. I grew up in the arcade era. I remember going to the mall after school and pouring quarters into games that were, for practical purposes, impossible to finish because I didn’t have a fortune in quarters to spend. The first console I ever owned was an NES. I was there when games were only a few hours, if that, of content but amounted to an eternity of gameplay hours for all the wrong reasons. I was there when games were impossibly difficult and lacked what today are considered basic quality of life features, due to lacking technological capabilities of the time. I was there for all of it. And you know what? It sucked.
I love video games. Always have. Always will. On countless occasions I’ve been told I love video games too much. I certainly spend too much money on them. I loved them when I was a kid as well. But I’m not going to sit here and tell you that all those bullshit mechanics, or lacking features, made things better back then. I’m not going to pretend like we were all happy with the state of game design in that era. We wanted continues. We wanted save points and saving in general. We didn’t defend games and their studios for their “artistic vision” or adherence to “genre conventions”. We accepted what we were given because we didn’t know any better at the time. Because better didn’t exist yet.
It seems like every time a studio makes a game with blatantly outdated, and often bad, mechanics people rightfully complain about it only to be met by a bunch of mouth breathers white knighting for million dollar corporations. Don’t get me wrong. The gaming community has, on countless occasions, gotten it wrong and gotten angry at corporations for the wrong reasons. We’ve seen studios get hit with massive attacks and even death threats for reasons that were just nonsensical. We’ve seen entire hashtag movements formed over issues that simply weren’t valid criticisms or complaints. But the one thing in games development people should be allowed to complain about without being criticized for it are outdated and/or bad game mechanics hindering the experience of a game. That should be considered the one universally accepted form of games criticism. If someone has issues with a game because of how the game plays compared to other successful and well-established games, they should be able to make that criticism without being attacked for it. I’m not saying we should all agree with every negative opinion on a game’s design choices. But everyone’s opinion on a game’s design choices, when informed by a comparison to other similar games, should be shown the basic courtesy of being validated as a legitimate point of view worth considering. This should be even more the case when a large number of people share the same well informed, negative opinion about a game’s mechanics.
The current topic of gaming debate is Returnal. Probably because the PS5 doesn’t really have much else to talk about right now. Specifically, its saving/continuing mechanics. Or lack thereof, to be more precise. Now let me be clear, I haven’t personally played Returnal, because I don’t have a PS5 yet. But from everything I’ve read, it’s not a game I’m interested in playing. I’m a firm believer that not every game needs to be for every type of gamer. It’s OK for a studio to make a game that some people just won’t connect with. I’ve written in the past about how I was completely opposed to Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice adding an easy mode. I still hold that same opinion. What I don’t agree with is the idea that a game should be built with outdated mechanics, given a genre label like “retro” or “roguelike” to justify said outdated mechanics, and then when a massive percentage of people complain about said outdated mechanics, a bunch of children (and man-children) defend the studio and tell everyone to “git gud”. As if the mechanics are justifiable in 2021.
It is my understanding, again based on footage I’ve seen and accounts I’ve read having not played the game personally, that Returnal is a bullet-hell (manic shooter) roguelike with an essentially useless checkpoint system that offers you pretty much no help, because the game is hard enough to where you have to backtrack to get gear good enough to move forward, even if you’ve already opened the shortcuts to move forward with the checkpoint system. And to top it all off, it has procedural maps that change with each death. All of this sounds terrible. It does not sound low budget. The game looks beautiful. It’s my understanding that while there are a number of glitches that can occur, the game runs well. I’m not accusing Housemarque of being an incapable studio. What I’m accusing them of is intentionally making a game that leverages several terrible game mechanics that are based on outdated game design philosophies.
Classic bullet-hells have no place in modernity. They come from a time where games were intentionally designed to make you lose so that you’d have to pour countless quarters into the machine to get to the end. They are unbalanced by design. The greatest development the genre ever achieved was being ported to home consoles so players could have unlimited continues. It’s a horrible genre that has addictive qualities baked in. That’s why people play them. Myself included. But I only buy the ones with properly working quality of life features now that those options are available. For instance, I recently bought Darius Cozmic Revelation on Nintendo Switch. It’s a classic SHMUP (shoot ‘em up), which I personally feel can be counted as part of the bullet-hell genre. Certainly in the same school of game design. I could never beat Darius as a kid. Not enough quarters. But the Switch version has a number of quality of life improvements that make the game playable. Unlimited credits, a quick save feature, and a pause button just to name a few. It’s amazing! Suddenly a game that I enjoyed suffering as a kid is actually playable and thus beatable without dedicating an exorbitant amount of money and time to the endeavor. It’s a modern game if you will. The developers took the things that were fun about the original version of the game and patched in fixes to make all the bullshit manageable. Why? Because it’s 2021. Games don’t have the excuse of having to suck any more. We have the technology to make them fun.
Permadeath isn’t fun. It’s probably the single most terrible video game mechanic that has ever existed. And it only exists because back in the day, at its inception, there wasn’t enough memory for a working save system. It made sense at the time of its creation because it lengthened a game’s playtime exponentially and got people to spend more quarters. It made its way to home consoles because memory limitations still applied, and it was the way games had already been made so developers kept doing it as a normal convention of game design. We didn’t like it as players. We just didn’t have a choice. I remember the first time I played Super Mario World. I may be wrong, but I think it was the first game I ever played that had a fully functional save and continue system. It was a launch title for the SNES, so I’m fairly certain it was that one for me. It blew my mind. At that point in my life, I’d already spent countless hours playing and never beating Super Mario Bros. 1 – 3. In fact, I wasn’t able to beat any of those games until years later when I played the ports with quick save features added in. Permadeath isn’t fun. It’s an outdated product of a specific time that continues to rear its ugly head in modern game design, because dumbasses, who didn’t grow up in that era, have been raised to believe masochism makes you “manly”.
A lot of people, most of which who have easy lives, have been led to believe that the more unruly something is, the cooler that makes them for having overcome it. Which might be true. But for some reason they take this to the extreme and go out of their way to argue that because they dealt with bullshit then everyone else should have to as well. Of course while ignoring all the bullshit other people may or may not have to go through while trying to play whatever game. You know like raising children. Or working full time. Or taking care of a dog. The list goes on. There are people out there who really don’t like the idea of other people enjoying things differently from the way they enjoy things. I’m not sure why this is. But it is stupid.
Surprisingly, most people haven’t actually complained about Returnal’s bullet hell gameplay or its roguelike permadeath progress mechanics. The main complaint is a lack of quick save features for a single run. In the year of our Lord two thousand and twenty-one, you cannot save your progress in a current run of Returnal. Like all super old games, the game is built to be beaten in a single play/run. You start and have to play through the entire game in a single life or you go all the way back to the beginning. Personally, I have a problem with this, but most people don’t. The problem everyone else has is that a single run can take hours. I think the shortest successful run time I’ve seen reported is about 90 minutes and the longest run time I’ve seen reported, successful or not, is between five and six hours. Now I’ve had countless five plus hour game sessions in my life, but I am not going to sit hear and argue that such behavior should be considered healthy, normal, or an acceptable demand from game developers. If a developer is going to set a minimum playtime per session expectation on the player base, it shouldn’t be any longer than 30 minutes. An hour could be considered acceptable, because it’s a round number, but expecting players to have five consecutive hours of both free time and energy is just preposterous. Especially in 2021. The main complaint is not that the game is too hard. Or that it has procedurally generated maps that change every run. Or that you have to start over every time you die. All valid complaints, in my opinion. The main complaint that most people have is that they can’t take a break in the middle of a run and then return to that run later. The only way to do this is to use the PS5’s rest mode feature. People just want a quick save feature.
Of all the things that I could complain about in Returnal, the one complaint that a majority of players and potential players have is the only one that’s not subjective. It is a completely objective and legitimate complaint that a AAA game with five plus hour runs doesn’t let you turn it off in the middle of gameplay sessions. I can’t think of a more legitimate criticism of a game. That’s not about difficulty. That’s not about gameplay design. It’s not about accessibility options. It’s not about the gender or sexuality of the protagonist. It’s not about the graphics. There’s not a single bit of subjective reasoning in this complaint. It is objectively ridiculous to expect people not to be able to pause and turn off their consoles in the middle of a game that takes more than an hour to beat. And no “use rest mode” is not a valid argument/solution for this problem. A lot of people, myself included, don’t like using rest mode. I use it very sparingly on my PS4, except when downloading things. That’s the only commonly occurring use I have for rest mode. Otherwise, I turn off my console every time I need to stop playing, for any reason. The only gameplay related reason I’d ever use rest mode is an emergency occurs and I have to quickly step away from the console for an amount of time that I can’t predict; or the game I’m playing won’t let me save at whatever point I’m currently at when I absolutely need to step away for an extended period of time. Rest mode is a feature that sounds convenient, but it comes with a lot of risk, wastes power, and has its share of reported problems. Games crash in rest mode from time to time. A power outage while in rest mode can damage your system. I had this happen to me with the PS3 in sleep mode. There was a power surge that affected my entire city district and it blew out my PS3’s power supply, making my console unusable until I paid to completely replace the power supply unit. It is not acceptable to tell people that rest mode is their only option to pause from a game in the middle of a non-multiplayer session.
This issue isn’t a glitch. There have been many glitches reported about Returnal and rest mode. Games have crashed. Progress has been lost. The mostly useless checkpoint system does provide some value to some players and multiple people have had their saves corrupted, causing them to lose all their checkpoint progress. But this complaint has nothing to do with any of that. This is just bad, outdated game design. Yet there are people out there defending it, telling people to “git gud”. Which personally I find problematic because that’s a Dark Souls reference. Which means these ass clowns have the gumption to compare the outdated design philosophy of Returnal with Dark Souls. There’s nothing wrong with the design philosophy behind Dark Souls. Soulslikes are challenging, but most are also incredibly fair and mostly well balanced. The genre suffers from pretty much none of the issues Returnal has. It has both quick saving and regular saving. It has a fully functioning checkpoint system. There is no permadeath. You can summon other players and even NPCs to help you tackle bosses and other challenges in most games in the genre. The Surge being one of the only exceptions I can think of. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order doesn’t let you summon help, but it has difficulty levels so it’s a different animal in many ways. The reason we Dark Souls players say “git gud” is because it’s a joke that references the fact that you don’t really have to be good at Dark Souls to beat Dark Souls. You just have to be willing to use the mechanics the game offers to help you and be willing to put the time in. Because Dark Souls, like 99% of games, follows the one key tenant of progress driven game design: Time = Return.
Not every game is about making progress. Puzzle games, like Tetris for instance, aren’t about progressing forward. They’re just about playing the game. But that’s a limited number of games. Especially in 2021. Just about every game today is focused on progressing. Whether it’s a shitty mobile app puzzle game with hundreds of levels, or a robust AAA console RPG with several chapters and 50 different bosses, the overwhelming majority of single player games today are about making progress. Some games tell a story, and some don’t. But most games made today are about progressing forward in some way. And what most of those games have in common is that they follow the same basic philosophy of game design: Time = Return. The more time I put in, the more I get back from the game. To be clear, I’m not talking about some metaphorical concept of fun or return on my investment in the form of entertainment. I’m talking about actual in game resources. If I can’t afford a specific item in a game, I kill a bunch of enemies or play a bunch of mini-games and even if it takes me hours of grinding, I’ll eventually get enough in game currency to buy that item. If I can’t beat a boss, I kill a bunch of skeletons until I’ve racked up enough xp to level up enough times to get strong enough to beat that boss.
The more time the player puts in, the more they’re supposed to get back from the game. That’s not just for RPGs. That philosophy applies to just about every genre in its own way. You’re playing a sports game. The more games you play, the better your character or team’s stats get which translates directly into performance. You’re playing a racing game, the more races you play, the more money you get to buy better parts and improve your car’s performance. You’re playing a linear hack-n-slash game. The farther you get, the more powers the game gives you in order to get stronger and beat the next set of enemies. You’re playing a puzzle game that has levels. The more levels you beat, the more little power ups and other bullshit you get to help you get past later puzzles. Pretty much every game in every genre in 2021 follows this same design philosophy. Time = Return, because it works. That’s not an opinion or a coincidence. Games work that way because players respond to that type of design. It’s the way people think. The more work you put in, the more you get back. It’s the purest form of human interaction. You work and then you get something for that work. The problem with Returnal, and roguelikes in general, is that they don’t follow that simple foundational principle of game design.
I want to take the time here to acknowledge that I’m specifically referring to modern video game conventions when using terms like roguelike and roguelite. There’s a longer history that goes all the way back to Dungeons & Dragons tabletop like games that are relevant to a larger discussion of the rogue genre, but for our purposes we’ll just focus on the genres as how they’re used in reference to modern game design practices and expectations.
Roguelikes betray the player-developer contract because they don’t follow the Time = Return design philosophy. All permadeath games carry that same flaw. You play, sometimes for hours in the case of Returnal, and you have nothing to show for it. You die and then you have to start all over. There is no return for the time you put in. Any player can play the game exactly one time and beat it on the first try, provided they’re a combination of lucky and good enough. Conversely, any player can put in literally 1000 hours and still not have beaten the game. There is no return on your investment of time. You simply have to be good enough and get the right item drops to have any hope of beating the game. On top of that, the game’s map changes every run as well as the distribution of enemies. You gain absolutely nothing from playing Returnal with every death other than personal knowledge and experience. To be clear, those things will help you get better, but they aren’t tangible, quantifiable rewards for the work you put into the game. The game gives you nothing in return for playing.
The roguelike genre isn’t good. It never was. It’s essentially a collective resurgence of outdated mechanics from a time when technological limitations didn’t allow for the various quality of life features that a majority of games, both indie and AAA, have today. The reason it was able to proliferate, in my opinion, is that a bunch of kids who didn’t already grow up dealing with that shit liked how seemingly different it was from the conveniences of modern game design. It’s the concept of hipsters choosing to listen to music on vinyl but for gamers. A more discerning eye would notice that very quickly the roguelite genre sprouted up, because older people like me were quick to mention that these mechanics actually suck and always have. Coupled with the fact that most of the youngsters quickly and sensibly realized that no these mechanics are not actually fun. They just sound cool because they make you feel accomplished for having survived through the punishment. I like roguelites. It’s a popular genre, which ultimately overtook roguelikes, because it does adhere to the rule of Time = Return. Now the return might not be as good as with games in other genres, but there is still a clear and measurable return on investment of time that allows the player to eventually move forward through the accumulation of earned resources.
This is why the first rogue game I ever stuck through to the end of was Rogue Legacy. An accurate title on all accounts. It’s a roguelite, but in many ways was one of the first popular ones so it was still being touted as a roguelike. In fact, if you google it today, it’s not listed as a roguelite. It’s listed as “a platform game with roguelike elements”. This genre became popular because it offered the gameplay conventions of roguelikes while softening the punishment of dying to enough of a degree that it ceased to be annoying to the average gamer, regardless of experience level. It’s unquestionably the superior of the two rogue genres. Which is why it has garnered so much success with games like Hades.
I don’t understand why many people continue to defend Returnal and games like it. I don’t understand why people defend bullshit mechanics. I assume it’s a combination of American brainwashing to convince people that difficult and unruly things carry more value, a blind adherence to outdated ideas hidden behind buzzwords like “tradition”, and a general lack of empathy for people who don’t have the time or patience for bullshit that people who don’t have real responsibilities simply don’t have to worry about. In any case, I want to make something very clear. I ain’t going back. I ain’t going back to games with no saves. I ain’t going back to permadeath. I ain’t going back to the 1990’s and before game design mechanics. People need to stop defending old bullshit with arguments like “artistic vision”. I don’t give a shit about artistic vision when I choose whether or not to play, or more importantly buy, a game. I support a developer’s right to make whatever game they want. I will not argue that a developer has to do what a majority of the game buying public wants. I will not argue that a developer has to change their game to suit the demands of a majority of the game buying public. Nor will I argue that a game developer has to use years of commonly found user data when shaping the mechanics of their game. But I also won’t show that game developer any sympathy in the long run.
A year from now, when we start seeing articles with headlines like “Sony Passed on Returnal 2”, I don’t want to hear shit from anyone in defense of Housemarque’s design choices. I don’t want to hear people say it’s the gamers’ fault. “They should have supported this game they were very honest and open about not liking because of key design choices that went against modern game development expectations.” I don’t want to hear any of it. And I won’t feel sorry for Housemarque or any other studio in that situation. If you want to make a game that people aren’t going to support for obvious reasons, you don’t get to then turn around and blame the people for not supporting said game. Make the games you want. Deal with the consequences, good or bad, of your decisions. That’s how life works. Especially the life of a creative.
I ain’t going back to the old times. I don’t want to play games that bring back outdated mechanics and lack basic quality of life features that we fought hard to get normalized in games. I won’t be supporting any games like that. Make the games you want. I’m going to buy the games that aren’t a hassle to play. Especially if games are now going to be $70 each.
Full disclosure, I didn’t get to play this closed beta as much as I would have liked to before writing a review. Sadly, it was only live for literally a day so I only got to play a few matches of the main team battle royale mode and a single match of the duel mode. In reality, I don’t think an experienced reviewer, or gamer in general, needs to play a game for more than a few hours to understand it well enough to discuss it in a fair amount of detail. But for the sake of transparency, I felt the need to preface this review by saying that I didn’t even get to play this beta for a full two hours before writing this review. So take it with a grain of salt. Note that I did try to play the beta more, but it was already closed by the time I had time to log back in.
Hunter’s Arena: Legends was not on my radar at all. In fact, the way I got into the closed beta was that I just happened to google the phrase “closed beta” while doing some research for another blog post and the page just happened to come up. I signed up like two days before the beta started and was given a code instantly at sign-up. Not they sent me an email with a beta code to let me know that I had been accepted into the closed beta. Like literally as soon as I pressed the submit button of the game’s closed beta sign-up page it just shot out a PSN code for me. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a closed beta work like that before. They claimed to have a limited number of codes on the site, so that tells me that literally no one was aware of this beta, or worse no one was interested in signing up.
This is a hack-n-slash battle royale game that focuses on physical combat that’s directly tied to the character you’re using. While I would say that it is similar to NARAKA: BLADEPOINT, which I recently reviewed the closed beta of, and is clearly trying to tap into the same audience, the two games differ in a number of meaningful ways. In my opinion, this is the inferior of the two games for reasons that have nothing to do with style or design choices. It’s just a worse made game in just about every aspect. I do not intend for this review to be a side-by-side comparison, but I feel it’s worth noting that if you don’t want to commit to two battle royale titles that focus on physical combat and leverage an Asian setting/theme, then you should definitely choose NARAKA: BLADEPOINT and ignore Hunter’s Arena: Legends. That being said, I will not mention that game anymore for the rest of this review and will be as thorough in reviewing Hunter’s Arena: Legends as I am with every game I review. Or at least I will attempt to, given my short amount of time with the game.
The first thing I want to say is that Hunter’s Arena: Legends does not look good. The graphics are very trash Chinese MMO in style, if that makes sense. There are clear attempts at doing some epic stuff with stereotypically Asian statues and temples, but the graphics quality is a lot to be desired. A lot of it looks grainy and cheaply done. A lot of the textures are bad. Now this is a closed beta, so there is of course a chance at the final product being much improved on this issue. I will say that the game ran fine though. I didn’t experience any lag or stuttering, even though I was playing on a regular PS4. I also really liked the HUD for enemy life bars. It was noticeable, clear, and distinct, making it easy to keep track of multiple enemies on screen at the same time.
The character designs, though suffering from similar quality issues as the rest of the game, were remarkably diverse. A lot of battle royales are boring in their basic character designs. Some games get around this with skins and emotes, but the general characters are all pretty generic in a number of battle royale games. Or even just a lot of PVP games in general. Hunter’s Arena: Legends doesn’t suffer from this problem at all. Each character is completely different from all the other ones. Not just in appearance but also in how they play. I’ll speak more about the gameplay aspects of the characters later though. The closed beta had 12 distinct characters including your stereotypical cute Asian girl, a one-eyed grizzly white man with fur clothing and an epic beard, a humanoid ape that carries a shield, a kung fu panda, a blue anime type character, and of course a Black guy with a giant afro. To my disappointment, the Black guy was locked behind an in-game currency paywall at the start, but the developers were courteous enough to give you more than enough currency to unlock him at your first login. Which I of course did. Along with a great set of highly differentiated characters comes a robust set of emote/victory dances. I spent several minutes going through them all. Just like with the characters, several of them are locked behind in game currency paywalls, but the point is that they’re there. The foundation of this game screams future Fortnite style cash grab schemes though.
As with any PVP centered game, I’m happy to see any writing at all. Hunter’s Arena: Legends starts out with a fairly long opening movie that tells the story of why all these hunters are trying to kill each other. Honestly, it’s bad writing. And I don’t mean that in a most PVP games have pretty mediocre stories when they do have a story at all sort of way. I mean the story, in and of itself, leaves you with more questions than answers. Even when I was watching the opening movie during a live stream, I commented on how there are major inconsistencies within the short story they did write. Having not been able to play it for an extended amount of time, I can’t comment on if there is more story hidden inside the game. In other games of this nature, characters sometimes have bios and backstories that fill out the plot a bit more, but I couldn’t find anything like that during my time with the beta past short, barely informative blurbs in the character selection menu.
I was fine with the gameplay audio in Hunter’s Arena: Legends. The sound effects were clear and well synced, even with the frantic pace of combat. Each attack registered its own sound effects even with multiple players on screen. Characters also say a few lines from time to time to give them more character. The menu effects sound good too. I can’t really comment on the music. Didn’t really notice it at all while I was playing. Maybe it was there, and I didn’t notice it or maybe it wasn’t really there much at all. It didn’t leave an impression on me in either case. I would have wanted to examine this more in a second session, but again the beta ended too soon.
I was not happy with this gameplay, but I very much appreciated what they were trying to do at a core level. It’s a hack-n-slash style button mash system with light and heavy attacks. You can lock on and switch lock on targets easily, like with most modern hack-n-slash titles. You also have dodge and jump buttons. The basic controls are simple but sloppy. The attacking works fine but both the locking on and the dodging are atrociously delayed. It didn’t feel like a network or lag problem. Which is why I stated that the game runs fine. This felt like a game design problem. Like a delay was built in or the game isn’t optimized properly to accept commands. This was especially troublesome with the dodge. Another thing I really didn’t like about the combat is that you can’t attack players while they’re down. It’s a bit like playing modern fighting games. You can juggle an enemy with combos as long as you can keep them in the air, but once they hit the ground they are invincible until they stand up.
While the general concept of the combat is uniform across all characters, each character fights in their own way. They each have their own weapon type and special skills to leverage. Each character has five individual special attacks and an ultimate attack. There’s a sixth special, but I couldn’t get it to work in the multiple attempts I made to use it. The special attacks work on timers and the ultimate attack has to be built up over time by killing enemies. I was fairly happy with the special attacks system in this game. It works well and is quite diverse between characters. Different specials are situational. So while you can just spam them, mastering which situation to use each one in can make a real difference in match-ups between advanced players.
The game has three gameplay modes. A solo battle royale mode, a trio battle royale mode, and a duel mode. The duel mode pits two players against each other in a small ring. Each player chooses two fighters and they battle one on one until someone loses both of their fighters. I could not figure out if you could switch fighters mid-match in a Marvel vs. Capcom sort of way. It seemed to just be that you fight with one until they die and then automatically switch. Matches are best two out of three. This mode worked well as a way to test out the different characters.
The battle royale mode was pretty standard. You launch into the map and run around trying to be the last man standing. Matches can be up to 30 players but they will start with just 20 players after a certain amount of time has elapsed. The map doesn’t seem like it’s large and yet you can go a really long time without encountering other players. To get around this, the game has NPC enemies scattered around the map. I really liked this mechanic because it gave the player something to do while waiting to find other players. This was also a great way to earn better gear without having to steal it from other players. This game has a level up system in match that affects stats, so the more enemies you kill, the stronger you get. Enemies have levels as well, so the higher level NPC you kill the more XP and higher quality gear you get. There are also lots of items and chests scattered around the map. You can find gold, to use at vendors, stat boosts, and special states like shields and health regen. As with all battle royale games, there’s a cloud of death constantly closing in towards the center that damages you over time when you’re inside of it. The battle royale mode worked fine overall, but my goodness does this mode need a double jump or some climbing mechanics added in. You have a single jump, but it’s way too short and you can’t climb. It’s super frustrating to have to walk around a little staircase because you can’t just jump up the side.
One thing I found absolutely unacceptable was the in-game menu to get to your gear. Gear management is crucial in a battle royale game. You have to go through multiple layers before you reach your gear menu in match. I cannot be asked to do this while looking over my shoulder trying not to get ambushed by other players. I literally looked at the gear menu one time during the course of my entire play session and never managed to do any gear management. I can’t even really comment on how it works, and given the fact that I kept finding swords but all the characters I used didn’t wield swords, I was very curious about how gear works in this game. I can say that I was able to win my first battle royale match without doing any gear management, so at least there’s that.
As this is a multiplayer only battle royale title, it’s of course built around replay value. But the beta is banking a lot on you just loving the game as the main motivation to keep playing. There are levels and such for your account, but the rewards shown in the beta were very limited. Most games of this nature have some sort of challenge schema to keep you coming back with rewards. Hunter’s Arena: Legends does have one, but it’s extremely limited compared to other games I’ve seen. The beta only had three daily challenges and the rewards were preposterously low. Maybe it’s because the beta only lasted a day, so they didn’t want to show anything else. I would hope that there’s seasons, weekly challenges, and special challenges, like with most games of this nature today. There are a number of emotes and costumes to unlock, but the costs don’t match up to the returns at all. You do get modest amounts of in-game currency from playing. And I do emphasize the word modest. For reference, I won my very first team battle royale match with two kills and got 118 in-game credits total as my reward. Unlocking one character cost me 10,200 credits. That’s a bit too grindy for my blood. Again, this beta screams future plans for cash grab microtransactions.
While I like the fact that more physical combat focused battle royale games seem to be cropping up, I was not impressed or excited by the Hunter’s Arena: Legends closed beta. It had some good ideas, but the total project was riddled with red flags. Both the graphics and gameplay had noticeable issues, the rewards system appears extremely limited, and the overall foundation screams cash grab mechanics baked in. As this was a closed beta, there is still time for this game to evolve, change, and improve before launch. The launch date is currently scheduled for July, so I assume there will be another beta test before then. Whether or not I’ll take the time to play it is another story. At this time, I can’t in good conscience say this is the physical combat focused battle royale worth putting your time into when at least one much better one is already on its way.
I believe that every reviewer gets one pass a year. You get to write exactly one review each year that defies all logic. Your biases can run wild and your opinions, positive or negative, don’t have to be justified or based on any sort of objective reasoning. You get to take this extreme level of liberty no more than once a year. This review does NOT fall into the annual insanity category.
Reviewing New Pokémon Snap is similar to commenting on eating In-N-Out Burger for the second time. It’s basically pointless because everyone in their right mind already knows that it was a perfect experience and whatever notes you might have simply don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. So, while I did take the time to write this review, I acknowledge that the entire exercise was pointless. Because only a fool or a person who doesn’t own a Switch hasn’t already rushed out and bought two copies of this game. One to play and one to keep in case your first copy stops working for whatever reason. And sadly, I can’t help either type of person.
I was recently asked to explain the Pokémon Snap concept. This is what I came up with:
“Imagine the greatest gameplay experience ever conceived by man, multiply it by 100%, and you still won’t have reached the level of immaculate greatness that is Pokémon Snap. And that’s not in reference the latest game. That’s the concept in general.”
They managed to make possibly the greatest game of all time back in 1999 and somehow managed to top that with a sequel. Having now played it, I guess I understand why it took them 20 years to make another installment. It’s hard to top perfection. I assume that’s why we haven’t seen much of Breath of the Wild 2 since the announcement. They were busy capturing lightning in a bottle for the second time.
The concept is simple. You ride through a series of tracks and snap photos of pokémon in their natural habitats. The more you play, the more experience points you accumulate. Experience is important because it unlocks new levels, makes pokémon easier to photograph, and adds more species of pokémon to previously played stages. As I’m sure you agree, it’s a perfect gaming concept in every way.
The first great improvement over the original game is in the writing. More specifically, in the story. In that New Pokémon Snap actually has a story. The original game was essentially just you playing as Todd Snap taking pictures for Professor Oak’s research guide. Basically, you were taking pictures to go with the Pokédex. That was pretty much the entire story other than finding Mew at the end. Which is fine as a starting point, but nothing plot wise actually happens as you progress. You just take pictures. New Pokémon Snap has an actual plot. There are new characters, including the players themselves. Todd comes back as an NPC. And it’s not all crammed into the introduction. Throughout the game, a plot unfolds that includes multiple characters that appear and develop as the narrative progresses.
There’s also a backstory with lore. You’re following in the footsteps of a famed explorer from a century earlier and discovering proof of things that were believed to be myths. Let’s be honest. This isn’t Mass Effect level storytelling. But it is a well thought out narrative that’s constructed to support the gameplay rather than just existing independent of it. For that reason alone, New Pokémon Snap is already superior to its basically perfect predecessor.
I hate discussing graphics in Pokémon games. It’s always a weird topic of debate for Nintendo games in general, because too many people confuse/conflate graphics quality with art style. Even though they are two completely different things. I like modern Pokémon graphics. I liked them in Sword & Shield and I like them in New Pokémon Snap. The art style makes sense. It’s very 3D Mario in essence. I don’t want hyper-realistic pokémon and I don’t know why anyone would. So I’m not going to spend any more time discussing the art style. It’s sensible for the target audience and the scope of the game. No additional justification needed. What I will discuss, however, is graphics performance.
The game runs well visually. It’s constantly moving stages that are teeming with several species of pokémon. The levels are full of nature with lots of detailed plant life and multiple habitats. The pokémon aren’t just on the world. They live in it. They sleep in the trees, swim in the water, and hide in the dirt. It’s a beautiful game that runs beautifully. I experienced no lag or other graphical issues. I really like the natural feel the game has when it comes to pokémon placement and movement. Pokémon hide in the trees and bushes. They blend with their surroundings in many instances. Nintendo took the time to really focus in on the details in this game. The one thing I would say I was disappointed in graphics wise is that I would have liked more life to the plants in the game. The water is great. It flows. It moves. It sparkles. A lot of the plants just kind of stand there unless specifically being interacted with by pokémon. I would have wanted more wind in the trees, if that makes sense. This is made even more apparent by the fact that when you throw fruit at plants they don’t really react to it. It just bounces off or goes through them. Like fruit just flies through the grass as if it’s not even there. Which is really odd considering that the grass is some of the only plant life that actually does move as if being affected by wind. It’s a great looking game but there are definitely limitations to what it’s capable of for the discerning eye.
The audio experience is great in terms of music and artificial sound effects. The menu navigation tones and such are clear and discernible. The soundtrack is a joy to listen to. The sound of the actual pokémon while playing is good. You can hear Pikipek humming away at a tree trunk. Or hear a Torterra yawn when you disturb its nap. These pokémon have personality and much of it is expressed via sound. At the same time, the sound of pokémon definitely feels curated. Like there are tons of pokémon running around in the stages, but not all of them seem to make noise. Now technically speaking you’re riding inside of a domed vehicle, so maybe that’s the logic behind it. In reality you probably wouldn’t be able to hear most if any pokémon in that scenario. But I actually think it’s more intentional to the gameplay design. Sound is used to alert you to the presence of nearby pokémon. This is used to help you spot hidden ones. Pokémon can be anywhere. Submerged in dirt or water, hiding in holes in trees, obscured by bushes. Your ears are an important tool in the New Pokémon Snap experience. But this wouldn’t work well if the sound of pokémon was as abundant as it should be. There are so many pokémon in stages that hearing them all would drown out any chance of hearing a specific hidden one that the game is trying to clue you off to. I think that’s why the pokémon sound effects are not as abundant as they seem like they should be. You also have the ability to customize the sound mix in the menus. You can set the volume levels of the music, effects, and NPC voices separately, but I keep them at the default setting of all maxed. Overall, I was very happy with the audio quality and experience in this game.
The gameplay is exactly what I wanted, improvements and all. The first thing I said when I started up the game is “I hope there are motion controls”. Of course there are motion controls. You’ll probably have to play with the in game sensitivity settings a bit to get it to work exactly how you want, but the concept works and it’s an absolute joy. You can rotate in 360 degrees while playing. Thankfully, the game lets you use both motion and joystick controls concurrently, because obviously you can’t rotate a full circle in most gaming scenarios. My one complaint about the controls, both motion and manual, is that there’s no recenter button. You have to move both the camera and the frame of the lens independently of each other. A big part of your score is getting pokémon centered in the frame. Without an auto-center button, this all needs to be done by hand while juggling zoom, camera position, throwing items, and scanning. The ability to recenter the camera and focus with a single button push would really help with getting more centered shots. Either that or the ability to park the vehicle at will would really help. But it would also make the game easier. I’d argue the Pokémon Snap concept was never meant to be about difficulty though.
The core gameplay is much the same as the original. You ride on a track, point, and shoot pictures. Then you pick what you think your best picture is and the Professor, in this case Professor Mirror, will score them. As you progress, the game grants you ways to affect the behavior of pokémon. Fruit and special light orbs become throwable items that cause pokémon to take on new poses, netting you the opportunity for higher scoring shots. Each photo is ranked between one and four stars. Each pokémon has a page where you get to store a photo in each of the four-star ratings. The star ratings are not your score though. They are an additional ranking system that differentiates the types of poses pokémon can be found in. Each photo is scored within a particular rank and given a color rating based on that score. Scores can range from bronze to platinum based on the numerical score a photo receives. Your ultimate end game goal is to get a platinum rated photo in each of the four-star rankings for every pokémon.
Scoring of photos is broken down into six different categories and then added together. In order to achieve a platinum rating, a photo needs to achieve a total score of 4,000 or more points. Every time you play a level, you can only choose one of your photos taken for each pokémon. This forces you to make judgements about which part of your book you want to work on in each run. For instance, say you have pictures of Bidoof. Some are ranked one-star, some two-star, and even one four-star. You can only choose one photo for this run. So you have to look at your current Bidoof page photos and decide which one you want to work on. Thankfully, the UI is very informative about past progress. During the photo selection process, you can see which star ratings you already have photos for and how many points they have. The game also compares your latest photo submission to the one currently in the page for that star rating. You can see exactly how they compare to each other in each of the scoring categories. You also get to choose which one to keep in your book. Say you got a higher scoring picture but like the older one better. You can choose to keep it. But the score will reflect the current photo rather than the better scoring new one that you chose to discard. Really that’s the core gameplay loop. Finding pokémon, taking photos of them in what you perceive to be the best poses, and then hoping to get better scores as you learn what Professor Mirror values the most in Pokémon photography.
There’s also an online component to New Pokémon Snap. It’s nothing particularly important, but it is there. There’s a total ranking leaderboard that accounts for your cumulative score across all your scored photos. This doesn’t have any real differentiators in it so it’s just pure score, regardless of where you are in the game. New players rank much lower simply because they haven’t discovered enough pokémon yet. You also have a page where you can select up to six photos to feature plus Professor Mirror will select his two favorite photos of yours as well. People can award medals to photos. They don’t really do anything, but it’s a nice community mechanic. You can see which of your photos are the most popular and if you get enough medals your photo can be featured on the trending page. The game also has a fairly decent photo editor that lets you have a lot of fun. You can post your customized photos to the in game online system as well.
The replay value in New Pokémon Snap is hard to define because it really depends on what you care about. If you just want to complete the story, it’s not really that long of a game. You could maybe push 10 hours, depending on how long it takes you to grind up the XP levels of courses to unlock the next stage. But if you’re serious about the full completion then there’s a lot to do and redo. Getting platinum scores in all four-star ranking levels for every pokémon is challenging. It takes a lot of retries. In the late game, you’ll play an entire level just to get a high scoring photo of a single pokémon featured in that stage. There are also achievements and photo challenges. The NPCs will task you with getting photos of specific pokémon in specific poses. This can be quite challenging. Often the clues are super vague, forcing you to have to attempt to complete the challenge multiple times. You can definitely stretch this game out for a long time if you want to. It’s great to play in portable mode on the Switch. And runs only take about five to ten minutes, so it’s easy to pick up and put down. It’s definitely not a game that should cost $60. But in the world of Nintendo, it is what it is. You can get your money’s worth of time out of it if you strive for the full completion though.
New Pokémon Snap is not a perfect game. And obviously it’s not really a 12/10. But I still hold that it’s a perfect gameplay concept that works exceptionally well on the Nintendo Switch. It’s a fun game concept that aged extremely well consider how long ago the first installment was released. I have no regrets about preordering the game and I’m nowhere near done playing it. I highly recommend this game for players of all ages. It’s child friendly but also therapeutic. It’s challenging in a way that all gamers can appreciate, even if you’re not battling. I fought for two decades to see this game made and I’m happy with the end result. I just hope it doesn’t take another two decades to get a third installment.
I’ve always said that I hate battle royale (BR) games. It’s no secret that I’m not a big fan of multiplayer. But the BR genre takes this concept to the extreme with several additional mechanics that I also tend to hate. Things like permadeath, vague maps, and competing for loot in addition to PVP sounds like the worst gaming experience I can imagine.
I must admit that, due to my general disdain for the aforementioned core mechanics of the genre, that I have only played a limited number of BR titles. I’ve played PUBG, Hyperscape, and Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout. I’ve tried a few others once, but those are the only three that I’ve played more than a single match of. I’ve never even played a single match of Fortnite, and I probably never will. I hated PUBG. I wanted to like Hyperspace, but I just couldn’t. I did really like Fall Guys though. I played it for more than 40 hours. But eventually it became repetitive and irritating more than fun, as most continuous games tend to do after a while. I still consider it a success though, because getting 40 hours out of a PlayStation Plus freebie is a magnificent deal by any objective standard.
Recently I got to participate in the Naraka: Bladepoint (NB) closed beta, and I realized something. I don’t actually hate battle royale games. I just don’t like shooters. NB is a samurai themed BR game. It’s a competitive third person hack-n-slash game with lite shooting mechanics. I absolutely love it.
NB is the BR I’ve always wanted. It’s a skill based competitive hack-n-slash game that doesn’t get bogged down by complicated controls or balance issues due to a desire to present realistic weapons. In my personal opinion, it’s not the best game I’ve ever played. But it is by far the best PVP battle royale game I’ve ever played. In the beta, there were three gameplay modes. A basic BR 60-man mode with squads of three, a solo BR 60-man mode, and a solo melee mode called Bloodbath which was basically unlimited lives for a limited amount of time to see who could get the most kills. My favorite mode is the BR trio mode.
While most people won’t/don’t care about this sort of thing in 2021, the first thing I’ll say about NB is that it has a story. It’s not the main focus of the game, and it’s certainly not award-winning storytelling, but at least it’s actually got a fairly coherent story. When you start up the game the first time, you get a story introduction. The opening tutorial ties directly to the story, limiting you to a specific character that makes sense within the narrative. As you play more of a specific character, you unlock more of their individual backstory content. And it’s not bad for what the game ultimately is and intends to be. I commend any indie developer for even attempting to do real plot development in a BR in 2021.
The graphics are by no means perfect, but they’re fairly solid for an online multiplayer beta. The game looks and runs well. There was only one map in the beta, which I was fine with. It’s fairly large with a number of interesting locations like towns, temples, and natural settings. And it’s pretty much all interactive. You can climb on anything. Trees, buildings, cliffs, and whatever other structure you can find. The world isn’t really alive so much but it’s fairly large and diverse in what it has. I like the art style and architecture a lot. It’s based on a stylized version of traditional Asian video game locations and aesthetics. Think the stages in Mortal Kombat as an open world.
The characters have a lot of personality to them. There were six characters available in the beta with at least three more coming to the full game. Character choice matters for your special attacks but not your basic performance. I’ll touch more on that later. Each character has a lot of customization options for their physical appearance and dress, but only at a basic cosmetic level. NB has an extremely robust facial customization system, allowing you levels of detail customization that I couldn’t even fully comprehend. But such levels of customization only apply to character faces. You can’t change much else about them physically. You can’t even change hair color. But you can change skin color ironically. You can change hairstyle though as part of the accessory customization options, which are kept separate from basic character appearance customization options. Clothing can’t be customized but you can choose from a fairly long list of costumes that can be unlocked in different ways.
*I did learn after the beta, via a tutorial post on the game’s official website that you can in fact change hair color but that you have to go to the bottom of the hairstyle customization menu rather than the character customization menu.
One of the key things I’d like to point out about this test was that it ran fairly well for an early-stage beta. The game tells you to run it on an SSD when you start it up but I intentionally ran it on an HDD, because I like to test things in conditions for base level users when I’m reviewing them. I’m happy to report that it ran mostly fine on a standard HDD. I noticed some mild lag on occasions, but that may very well have been because of ping more than game performance issues. It never affected the gameplay though. It would be completely false to say that any of the times I died were caused by performance issues within the game. The only real performance issues I experienced were that sometimes the character customization menus lagged when rendering the characters. And never for long. Naraka: Bladepoint looks and runs fairly well for this stage in development. Certainly better than PUBG, in my opinion.
What I liked most about this game is the gameplay, which should always be the case in a BR game. It’s not complicated, but it does require strategy and a mastery of the gameplay to excel. It’s very basic hack-n-slash mechanics. You have two weapons slots, which can be filled with any two weapons, whether projectile or physical, and easily swapped for other weapons in your bag. You have a limited number of additional storage weapon slots, which you can unlock during the course of the match by finding bag upgrades. You can hot-swap between your two weapons with a single button press, but I did feel like there was a bit of delay at times. It may very well have been built in for balance though. For instance, when you’re shooting a projectile weapon and then trying to swap to your sword. There always feels like there’s a slight delay but it may be trying to force you to finish the current shot and then cooldown before switching. It would require more testing for me to make a final judgment on that. What did happen often was that I would accidentally switch back to my projectile weapon because of the delay, so I’d keep mashing the weapon swap button and then ending up swapping and then swapping back quickly, which pretty much meant death while going up against someone good at the combat. You only have two attack buttons, light and heavy, when using swords. Projectile weapons only have one attack button, but the heavy attack button can be used to look down the sight without firing. I actually don’t like this mechanic. It should be like other games where the heavy attack button can be used to fine tune aim with projectile weapons at the expense of speed and peripheral vision. In general, the combat is straight forward, and easy to understand, which is a good thing.
The nuances of the combat don’t come from complications in the controls but execution. Learning when to dodge, attack, what type of attacks to use, and when to run away are key to winning battles. As I mentioned before, each character also has magic. There are special magic abilities and basic magic abilities, all of which are character specific and extremely diverse in nature. Some of them felt completely useless to me, while others were extremely effective. Coordinating your characters as a team can be highly effective in the trio mode, because of these magic variations. Some characters can stun, some can heal party members, and others can deal massive amounts of damage. Basic magic attacks vary as well. Magic is also customizable in small degrees with each character. There are options for how your magic works, each coming with its own strengths and weaknesses. Another important aspect of the gameplay is grappling. You have grappling hooks, which are consumed with each use. These can be used in a number of ways such as traversal, escape, and even attacking. The best players are the ones who master the art of grappling enemies and then chaining an attack with the grapple. That can be a devastating attack combo because it stuns the target, leaving them open for massive damage. But if you miss the grapple, you potentially leave yourself wide open. Grapples can’t be canceled mid-grapple. So if you miss your target and grapple to the ground next to them, you basically serve yourself up to your opponent. I didn’t really like the grappling. I guess I’d say it was a bit too hit or miss for me. I found myself constantly misreading distances and coming up short while trying to do simple things like just climbing cliffs, so I didn’t use it much. There is a way to upgrade your grapple distance permanently, but I’ll go into that a bit later.
The thing I hate most about BR shooters is the quick pace of death coupled with accuracy barrier. If you can’t shoot a moving target while jumping around like a jackass, you will not win BR shooters. That’s just a simple fact. Unless you’re an excellent sniper and do everything at range, you pretty much have no chance at excelling in games like PUBG, Fortnite, or Hyperscape, if you need stability to shoot targets. It would actually be really interesting to see a BR shooter with realistic physics where players couldn’t jump more than a couple feet and had to deal with things like fall damage. NB is a sword based game, so you don’t have to deal with that bullshit. Yes, there are projectile weapons and headshots do give you additional damage, but the chances of you being able to win matches by relying on projectiles is slim to none. This is a game that requires you to man up and get your hands dirty to get most kills. The only effective way to get projectile kills, other than the occasional charged bow headshot, is to pepper players while they’re distracted battling someone else. Stealing kills essentially.
There are several types of projectile weapons in the game, and most of them are fairly inaccurate by design. Some have rapid fire low damage shots and others have slow fire high damage shots. Range, arc, and ammo amount all vary from weapon to weapon. You will land some hits, but very rarely will they be kill shots. Really projectiles are meant to soften opponents while you make your way towards them and finish off with a sword fight. The only really effective strategy for killing opponents with projectiles directly is if your whole squad goes in guns blazing and overwhelms a single opponent. The reality is that this is a game about swords.
There are three types of swords: katanas, longswords, and great swords. Each sword has certain strengths and weaknesses, based on your gameplay preferences. Katanas are fast but don’t do a ton of damage. Great swords are slower but deal massive damage and break/stun opponents. Longswords fall somewhere in the middle. I’m great with both katanas and great swords, with the latter being my preferred weapon type. But I’m absolutely trash with longswords. I couldn’t specifically tell you why I can’t use the long sword effectively, since the basic gameplay is all the same. But the data shows that I tend to get beaten most often when using a longsword. What I liked most about the sword combat was how balanced it was. This is not a game where the first person to attack wins. This is not a game where the person who lands a headshot even while being shot first wins. This is a game where battles go till someone is dead. You can turn a duel around at any time. You can kill someone who has more life than you by outmaneuvering them in the later half of the duel, without running away and regrouping. Fights are not decided until someone becomes a corpse. Even when playing against multiple opponents at once, you are not guaranteed to lose. If your dodges are on point and you land your attacks effectively, you can bring down a duo. A trio you probably won’t be able to bring down solo, but I brought down plenty of pairs by myself. Teamwork is key to dominating the field, but you can certainly win games without help, while playing in the team mode. And you don’t have to get fancy to win. There are crazy moves you can make. The grappling in battle being a prime example, but at its core this is a game about mastering the fundamentals of the combat. Players can win by using the most basic types of attacks and maneuvers. They just need to use them effectively. It’s like the US Open of battle royale games.
A mechanic that added a lot to the gameplay experience is resurrections. Similar to how it’s done in Hyperscape, players can get a second chance when they die in NB. If your teammate manages to revive you before you bleed out, you get a second chance at life. This can be done an unlimited number of times. Because of this, players often camp around corpses until they finish bleeding out, which is smart. You cannot execute opponents to speed up their bleeding out process. You have to wait them out. In addition to reviving players, there are also a limited number of team resurrections. When players die, they can rush to a resurrection alter and revive themselves. You have a limited time to find an alter while in spirit form and you lose all your gear when you resurrect yourself. You can run back to your corpse and reclaim it though.
My biggest concern for this game is that people will feel like the number of weapons is too limited. I think the weapons are perfect. Keeping it to just three swords and a handful of projectiles is perfectly balanced. And actually I’d remove some of the projectile weapons if I had my way as well. What’s great about this game is how fair and balanced it is. But people tend to like variation more than balance so I can see the developers get pushed into adding a bunch of other types of weapons that will ultimately destroy the balance of the combat. Making every player have to master up to three weapons and meet each other on even terms is what makes this game great for me. Once it becomes more about finding the best stuff rather than being the best, the game will cease to appeal to me. Team resurrections are limited to just one a match. I’m not sure if this mechanic exists in the solo mode, since I didn’t end up trying it.
Managing your items in general is fairly easy, and in my opinion less complicated than other BR games I’ve played. But still riddled with annoyances. What I really like is the color coding of items. There are four tiers of items: white, blue, purple, and gold. Items do not vary between tiers. There are always the same types of swords, projectile weapons, upgrades, healing items, and so on. But their tier defines how effective they are. If there’s a blue great sword and a purple great sword, the purple one will do more damage. Colors are very clearly defined on the field. Items glow with the color tier they are and can be seen from afar. They won’t show up on your map though. You have to eye everything in real time. Teammates can mark items to notify you about them though, which is helpful but not used enough by most players. There’s no boots, shirts, pants, and so on. There’s just armor. It’s a single piece item. Armor management is the way everything should work in every game that has gear. If you have a piece of blue armor on, it can never be downgraded but will automatically upgrade when you find a better piece. What this means is that you can never accidentally downgrade to white armor. If you find a purple piece of armor and collect it, the game will automatically equip it for you and drop the blue armor. It’s so convenient. But nothing else in the game works that way. If you have a blue katana and find a purple katana, you have to go to your bag, swap the purple katana with the blue katana, and then manually drop the blue katana if you want to empty the weapon slot. This is annoying because it wastes time and leaves you open to attack. I wish it worked just like the armor. It’s the same problem with souljades. Souljades are buffs that you find just like armor and weapons. They vary in types and effectiveness by rank. There are souljades that increase health, defense, attack, and other more specific things. You have a limited number of souljade slots that you can expand over time by finding slot upgrades on the field. The problem is that they require way more time to manage than weapons because you have to read what each of them does. You can’t just quickly see a weapon type and color.
There are similar issues with managing consumables. There are only four types of consumables in the game: armor repair, health potions, weapons repair/reloading, and grappling hooks. But these also have ranks. There are white and blue class health potions for example. But you can only carry a limited number of total items in your bag. So if you find blue potions and your bag is full, you have to manually drop your white potions and then pick up the blue ones. I don’t know why the game doesn’t auto-swap them the way it does armor. Adding options that allow you to set what happens automatically when finding different items would be great. One of the biggest problems with managing items is trying to pick them up. Too often do you find a pile of items all sitting next to each other and you struggle to pick up the item you want because other items are on top of it/next to it. Like say there’s a sword, a bow, and a potion on the ground and you just want the sword. You’ll spend several seconds trying to pick up the sword because the bow and potion keeps getting in the way. And if you only have one weapon slot available and accidentally pick up the bow, you then have to go to your bag, drop the bow, and try to pick up the sword again. There has to be a way to effectively fix that problem. When looking through corpses it’s easy because a list pops up that you can navigate to move items to your bag. This doesn’t happen when you find random items on the ground though.
I wish that consumables worked like they do in Dark Souls. Just make it so that you have a maximum number of each consumable you can carry specific to that item and let players pick them up until they hit that maximum number. If they use them that number goes down and then they can pick more up until they max out again. So you never need to go to your menu to manage consumables. You can see on screen at all times how many of each of the four consumables you have. And there is no tier variation for two of the four. So just remove the tiers from the other two, set the maximum number for each type to 10, and do away with consumable item management in the bag altogether. At that point you would only ever need to look in your bag to manage weapons and souljades. And once you get the two weapons you want in a match, unless you run out of repair consumables, you won’t want to change them again. Technically you can still use your sword when it’s “empty”. It just won’t do as much damage. Repair items are fairly abundant on the field, so you should always be able to repair your equipped weapons. Really the only time you should have to look in your bag in the later part of matches is to manage souljades.
All in all, I love the gameplay. It’s balanced, easy to learn but still skill based, fun to play, and fairly accessible to all players. Not once did I feel like I got cheated when I died. Every death was fair and clear. I was out played. Never outgunned. I didn’t lose because they were better at aiming. I lost because they were better at fighting, in that instance. It’s not an issue of accuracy in an unrealistic combat scenario. It’s an issue of strategy and technique. It’s the first PVP BR game I ever liked playing. Even when I lost, I still had fun playing the game. The major complaint I have is the lack of robust tutorials. There is a tutorial, but it’s more of a plot focused basic gameplay introduction. I wanted something more detailed that would teach me more about the nuances of the gameplay. Like I didn’t even know you could disarm and grapple other players until those things happened to me in game. That’s stuff that I would have liked to be told in a tutorial scenario. A training room where I could practice things like countering and magic would be nice as well. And I’ll say that I’ve noticed this in a lot of games recently, both multiplayer and single player. It seems tutorials have gotten lazier in recent years and developers just expect people to figure stuff out over time. But in a competitive game that’s not really fair, because if you don’t know all the tools in your belt then you can’t be expected to use them properly. And that does affect the outcomes of matches. For instance, in my first or second match, I was disarmed. I had no idea you could do that to other players so I thought I had accidentally dropped my weapon by pressing the wrong button. Thankfully, I had already familiarized myself with the core combat, so I actually was able to kill the player that disarmed me with my bare hands. Yes, you can fight with your fists in this game. But if I hadn’t been that skilled, I would have died and I would have done so believing that I had made some sort of gameplay mistake that I couldn’t identify. It was only several matches later when I got disarmed again that I realized it was something other players were doing to me.
Naraka: Bladepoint does have replay value above and beyond just enjoying the gameplay. There are daily, weekly, and seasonal challenges. The game has a ton of cosmetics you can unlock for both weapon and character appearance. There’s also a degree of character, or rather profile, development. You can use in game currency to upgrade performance. It’s subtle, and at least in the beta, not game breaking as far as balance is concerned. You can do things like upgrade your rate of building up special magic energy, or “rage” as the game calls it. You can upgrade your grapple distance a little at a time. They are definitely performance based upgrades and can affect the game’s balance, but they seemed miniscule enough to not tip the scales too much. At least at the early stages of development anyway. You upgrade them with currency gained from completing in game challenges. I do not know if you’ll be able to purchase this currency with real money at some point. What was clear in the beta is that there will be a battle pass system. You’ve seen this before. Each season has ranks that you level up over time and each rank comes with rewards. If you buy a battle pass, you will get additional rewards with each rank. Battle passes are purchased with gold. In the beta, they gave us free gold to buy the battle pass. I can’t say if there will be some way to earn gold in game without spending money at this time. I will say that I was motivated to work on the challenges. I specifically liked that there were challenges that pushed me to try things I otherwise wouldn’t have. For instance, some challenges were character specific. This made me force myself to try out characters that I otherwise probably wouldn’t have. Some challenges were weapon specific. In the same way, this made me try out weapons I otherwise probably wouldn’t have taken too seriously. Like the only reason I found out that the bow can get a charged headshot kill is because I was using it to complete a challenge. Even when you lose matches, you are still able to progress towards completing challenges, which works as a great motivator to play even when you aren’t doing well.
I can’t say what the cost model will look like for this game at this point. It seems that it will work like PUBG where you have to actually buy a key to play it, but hopefully that also means that the number of microtransactions will be extremely limited or even non-existent, but as this is a BR game, I won’t hold my breath. This was a very promising first beta. I went in with low expectations and was pleasantly surprised. I was quite sad when the beta ended, because I still wanted to play a lot more. It’s a great concept, which I’ve been waiting a long time for. Seeing it finally done and done well was very refreshing. I look forward to playing more Naraka: Bladepoint in the future.