Gaming in Taiwan – Ring Fit Adventure Woes

I think it’s important to tell stories like this every so often so that gamers and people in general can have a better understanding of how the world works differently for different people in different places. If you follow my content regularly then you probably know that I’m an American living in Taiwan. This is my firsthand account of the struggle of trying to buy the recently released Ring Fit Adventure for Nintendo Switch.

One of the most important reasons these stories/posts are important is that they help people have a better understanding of how value/pricing should work vs how it actually works. “Value is subjective” is the go to bootlicker answer that most people give when confronted by complaints about overpriced entertainment media such as games. But most of the people who tow this corporate shill line are speaking from a place of privilege in a country with a much higher standard of living and a much lower ability to stretch currency because of how much things cost. So I want you to read this post with the context of money relative to Taiwan rather than relative to your own country and standard of living.

TaiwanTaiwan is a modern country. It has democracy, running water, modern technology, Netflix, and so on. The government is not a fascist dictatorship. The police cannot just arrest and detain citizens indiscriminately with no cause for undefined periods of time. It’s by no means a third world country. But the cost of living is relatively low compared to the US, most of Western Europe, and expensive parts of Asia like Japan and Hong Kong. So for context, allow me to explain to you with a few examples how money works here.

As I write this, $1 USD  = 30.42 NTD. You can buy dinner in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, for 50 NTD ($1.64). This is not what everyone pays for dinner in every part of the city at all times mind you. But this is the price that I have paid for dinner literally hundreds of times. And by dinner I mean something at the caliber and amount of food as a Panda Express 2 item plate including a drink. The subway charges you relative to the distance you are traveling but the minimum cost is 16 NTD ($0.53). Taipei has a pay as you go bike share program that costs literally nothing for the first 30 minutes you ride. I commute to work every day with this bike share program in under 30 minutes, meaning my cost to commute is absolutely nothing. The first hour (up to 30 minutes after the first 30 free minutes) on the bike share program costs 10 NTD ($0.33). Rent is very low here, but owning property is not. Most people rent apartments, while few people own them. I spent the last four years until I just recently moved paying 15,000 NT ($493.02) for a three bedroom apartment, which I lived in alone. A standard AAA video game usually launches for 1790 NTD ($58.83). For the rest of this post I will mostly write prices in NTD for the purposes of relevance and time.

taipei-game-show-2018Taiwan has a huge gaming community and culture. Many gaming events such as Taipei Game Show are hosted here. Game launch promotional events are quite common and often involve giveaways and huge displays. The most recent one I personally attended was for Pokemon Let’s GO. Death Stranding Tour will stop in Taiwan as another more recent example. While gaming is big in Taiwan, there is no regulated gaming market and there are no giant corporate gaming entities such as GameStop to help regulate game pricing. There is a store akin to Walmart called Carrefour that sells some games, but their prices are always marked up for reasons I have never understood and they don’t carry everything. Every game focused store runs independently as a mom and pop style game seller. This is a bitter sweet situation.

On one hand, consumers are not beholden to one evil corporation monopolizing the games market. Game stores all run however they want to and even carry items that are hard to get in other places. When Fallout 4 launched, the Pip Boy Edition was super hard to find in the US. Even preorders were selling out in many places. In Taiwan they were easy to find. You couldn’t walk into any store and be guaranteed to find one, because that edition didn’t actually get distributed here, but many shop owners imported them. I didn’t buy one, because I don’t play Fallout, but I could have easily bought more than one of them if I had wanted to. Another example of this freedom of operation was God of War: Ascension’s collector’s edition. I bought the collector’s edition in the US. This version came with a steelbook and a Kratos statue. The collector’s edition in Taiwan didn’t come with a statue. It came with a Kratos themed PS3 controller. This controller wasn’t distributed to the US so you couldn’t get it there unless you imported it. I really wanted the controller but I wasn’t going to repurchase the game. I was able to go to a game store and tell them that I just wanted to buy the controller because I already had the game. They took the controller out of the collector’s edition and sold it to me at fair market controller price with no markup. I assume they later sold the steelbook edition of the game without the controller. This sort of thing could never happen at a legitimate game store in the US.

No rulesThe reason these sorts of things can happen in Taiwan is because of the lack of regulation. Game stores are not distributing games on credit from publishers and beholden to their rules. Instead they’re purchasing stock in advance and then selling it to the public at whatever markup they decide. This allows them the freedom to do whatever they want. Sometimes this can work in the consumer’s favor, such as when I wanted to buy the Kratos themed PS3 controller. Another example is that I was able to preorder the Pokemon Sword and Shield double pack for 3040 NTD ($100 USD). That’s $20 cheaper than a preorder in the US. The reason they were able to sell it to me at that much lower price is because they were able to purchase it at a wholesale price and distribute it at below standard global market value. In the US, GameStop would never sell you a new Nintendo game at a 17% mark down because Nintendo wouldn’t let them. In Taiwan, the only thing stopping a game store from doing so is how much profit they want to make. That’s the sweet side of an unregulated games market. Now let’s talk about the bitter side.

kratos controllerThe problem with a completely unregulated games market is that there are no price protections for consumers. When a game launches, stores can charge whatever they want for it, and they often charge too much for certain games. While this doesn’t usually affect the pricing of AAA games, it absolutely affects indie titles. Indies almost always get sold at a high markup in Taiwan. Because they don’t have a standardized breakdown of indie vs AAA market pricing. Instead they’re all just games. So you often see indie titles and titles that aren’t supposed to launch at full AAA price being sold for more than they should be because the store(s) have decided that’s what they think they can get for it. To be fair though, this can go the other way as well such as with my Pokemon Sword and Shield preorder example. Along with this is the fact that the standard price degradation over time system pretty much doesn’t apply here. In the US, you can all but guarantee a non-Nintendo Switch game will drop in price at an almost systemic rate. Not to mention peak discount holidays like Black Friday. None of that applies in Taiwan. Games often go down in price over time, but there are no guarantees it will happen and it can take literal years. And the platform doesn’t matter. Nintendo games almost never drop in price in the US. In Taiwan, that same slow rate of price decline can be applied to PS4 and XB1 as well.

no dealAnother problem is that there are no guarantees about stock. In the US, if a game is getting distributed to physical stores you can pretty much guarantee that the game will be available somewhere. You might have to look around, because the game might sell out in some places, but you can pretty much know for sure that if it’s legitimately being distributed to the US then you can find it at GameStop, Best Buy, Walmart, Target, and a number of other stores. In Taiwan, you have no guarantees that a game will be available in store unless you’ve personally gone to a store and asked about it. Basically, the Taiwan games distribution industry operates almost exactly like a black market but without the criminal element. This is the backdrop with which I tried to purchase Ring Fit Adventure for the Nintendo Switch on launch day/weekend.

Ring Fit Adventure for the Nintendo Switch is a special game because it can only be sold as a physical release, due to the required ring accessory, and, also because of the ring accessory, the packaging is large and the cost is in no way standardized. Especially in a place like Taiwan. The game was first announced during a Nintendo Direct in September 2019. I was sold by the end of the trailer. I immediately decided that I would purchase it on launch day for the full price. A very rare decision for me. Since launch was only about 2 months away from announcement, I immediately went to game stores and started inquiring about the price and preordering it. No stores could give me a definite answer about whether or not it was going to be released in Taiwan, when it would be available, or how much it would cost. Sadly this is a common occurrence in Taiwan for non-standard games. So I kept checking back periodically.

Ring-Fit-AdventureLike I said before, there is no regulation and no larger games distribution franchise that you can easily access online and check for standard prices. This means you have to physically enter stores to make these sorts of enquiries. Admittedly you could call stores, but as a person who doesn’t speak Mandarin, the local language, fluently this is much more difficult than actually walking into stores and asking in person. I also have to say that a large number of game store employees in Taiwan aren’t true believers. They aren’t knowledgeable about a lot of details concerning upcoming games, hardware, and services and often need to have things explained to them, which I find really irritating, if I can be honest. And it’s not just with games. Tech store employees in general often disappoint me with their lack of knowledge even though the bulk of computer products are being developed and often manufactured in their back yards. But I digress.

I kept checking back periodically and finally got an answer that Ring Fit Adventure would release in Taiwan on 10/31. I found this odd since it was officially announced to be releasing on 10/18 but this has happened in Taiwan before so I didn’t think twice about it. I asked what the price would be and stores were still not giving me a clear answer. At this point, no store would offer me a preorder, since they couldn’t give me a price quote. Based on the general lack of knowledge, the lack of physical ads showing up in stores for the game, and the lack of a price, I assumed the game was not in high demand here.

Game store taiwanFor me personally, there are a great many game stores I visit in four general locations. One store by my apartment, three by my office, eight to ten at one shopping district, and another eight to ten at a second shopping district within walking distance of the first. I say eight to ten because some smaller stores open and close frequently, don’t consistently carry all products, and often mark up prices a great deal to the point of them not being worth wasting my time at unless I’m desperate for information as opposed to making an actual purchase. This means I literally take the time to visit 15 or more stores when I’m trying to buy a game. And I always go for the best price I can possibly find on principle. Like I said, the cost of travel is often free here so it’s just a matter of finding the time to visit all the stores.

Right before Ring Fit Adventure released, I was finally able to get a store to tell me the price would be 2500 NTD. Based on my own estimates due to experience in this market, this was exactly the price I assumed it would be. Still I was unable to get any store to give me a preorder, for reasons I still am unsure about because I’ve preordered multiple games here in the past. I even had some stores tell me that they wouldn’t be getting the game outright. But at least I had a release date, which I found odd considering it was the same release date as Luigi’s Mansion 3, a price, and the time to go buy the game from one of the four closest game stores on launch day, which was a Thursday. I had the money, the time, and the access. I was as prepared as I could possibly be to buy this game at launch.

luigis_mansion_3As soon as I got off work, I rushed to the first of four game stores. They were sold out. They said they only had enough units to fill preorders. This was odd to me for two reasons. The first was that the store hadn’t offered me a preorder when I had enquired multiple times over the past two months. The second was that it’s extremely bad practice for a game store to only carry enough units to fill preorders. It’s also unheard of in Taiwan for anything other than super limited collector’s edition stuff. Even Nintendo Labo sets were and still are super easy to find all over Taipei. But I didn’t have time to discuss it so I rushed off to the next store. Sadly and surprisingly, I got exactly the same answer. Then again at the third store. The fourth store had told me that they weren’t getting the game, but I went there to check anyway. They now had a physical ad for the game, brochures, and some units sitting behind the counter. But they too wouldn’t sell me a copy because they had already been preordered.

At this point I was both in shock and angry. This had literally not happened to me since I was a kid living in LA trying to get a new copy of Mirror’s Edge (2008) for XBOX 360 a week or two after release. I went to multiple stores only to be told it was sold out and then finally gave in and paid a GameStop $55 for a used copy. That was literally the last used game I purchased, because I don’t buy used games as a general rule. Over the course of that evening of failure it started raining so I had to take a bus (15 NTD) once and also went over the 30 minute free limit on the bike share costing me another 10 NTD. That’s 25 NTD, or half a dinner, wasted on failing to get a copy of Ring Fit Adventure on launch day. But these were all smaller local stores so while I was angry and surprised by what had transpired, I was confident that I could get a copy on the following Saturday, since I didn’t have time on Friday to go to the shopping districts.

super monkey ballThe following Saturday I went to the shopping districts and I fared no better. Stores kept telling me the same thing I had heard two days ago, with one exception. Some stores did have one or two spare units but their prices were extremely inflated. I learned that the standard price for Taiwan had actually been set at 2550 NTD, or one dinner higher than originally quoted. While I found this annoying, I deemed it a manageable price increase. If I was purchasing the game in my native California, I’d most likely pay more than that with tax. But the prices these stores were offering me were way above that standard price. 2700 NTD, 2990 NTD, and so on. I even had one store offer it to me at a whopping 3450 NTD. That’s a markup of 900 NTD ($29.58). For reference, Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD Remake on the Switch released here just a few days prior to Ring Fit Adventure for 790 NTD. Meaning this store wanted more than the price of a new game in addition to the standard price of the game I was trying to buy.

At this point I was confused, shocked, and angry. Why was it so difficult to get a copy of Ring Fit Adventure? For all the problems I’d had in the past with games pricing in Taiwan, rarity had pretty much never been an issue for things I wanted that could be gotten in Taiwan. And honestly I can count all the things I really wanted in Taiwan and just absolutely couldn’t get without importing it myself. The most recent example I can think of is the collector’s edition of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice for PS4. They got the game here with a steelbook but not the edition with the statue. So why was Ring Fit Adventure so hard to get for a fair price? Eventually one clerk who understood English and saw my frustration with the ridiculous price he offered told me that all the units in Taiwan were not legitimately distributed there but instead had been imported from Hong Kong or directly from Japan. This was why the markup was so prolific and ridiculous throughout all these stores. While he didn’t give me a reason why this was the case, he did help me understand what was going on.

sekiroFinally I made my way to the store I should have started with, but didn’t because it’s the most out of the way so I usually end there. There’s a game store in the middle of Taipei that has a clerk that is both knowledgeable about games and fluent in English. He’s the only clerk in this country that I consider a friend. He knows me, greets me personally every time I enter the store, and always fills me in on what’s going on. The reason I don’t start there every time I want something is because his store never has the best price. They always have the standard base price. If I was willing to pay the standard market price for games, I’d always just go there. But I always hunt for the best price so I never start there because that’s the last resort shop. If I absolutely can’t get a good price then I go to his store and pay the base price, because their prices are absolutely fair. They’re just not a deal. It’s like buying from Target instead of Best Buy because Target is selling the new game for $57.99 while Best Buy is selling it for $59.99. His store is Best Buy. That’s actually the store I bought my Switch at as an interesting side note.

It’s important to note that he doesn’t own the store. He’s just a part time employee there. That means I have to catch him at work. I actually visited the store multiple times in the two months leading up to the release of Ring Fit Adventure but he just happened to not be on shift when I walked in. If he had of been then I would absolutely have been able to get Ring Fit Adventure for a fair price of 2550 NTD on launch day (10/31 for Taiwan). When I walked into the store on the Saturday he was there, thankfully. I asked him about the game and he told me the same thing every other store that didn’t have spare copies to markup told me. They were sold out and only had enough to fill preorders. The difference was that because he both speaks English and is knowledgeable about games, from both the consumer and business side, he could tell what the hell was actually going on with this game.

contrabandAs it turns out, I had been completely misled, or more accurately misinformed, about Ring Fit Adventure’s distribution in Taiwan. Every store told me that the game would be available in Taiwan on 10/31. I took this to mean that the game was being legitimately distributed by Nintendo to Taiwan, like any other Switch game such as Luigi’s Mansion 3 which was and still is widely available here, on 10/31. This was not actually the case. The truth is that the game was not legitimately distributed to Taiwan at all. Apparently the Taiwanese government agency that is in charge of approving products for sale in Taiwan didn’t approve of the ring accessory for Ring Fit Adventure. I still don’t know why this is the case. But like I said, the games market here operates like a black market. So rather than not sell the game since it couldn’t be acquired through legitimate publisher/distributor channels, all the stores imported the game manually via connections in nearby countries, specifically Hong Kong and Japan. This means that 100% of Ring Fit Adventure copies sold in Taiwan currently were/are contraband. This is why the prices were so marked up and the game was/is so hard to find.

Now I don’t personally care about the legality of owning a game that isn’t supposed to be sold in Taiwan. No one does. The government isn’t going to knock on anyone’s door looking for Switch games. And even if they were, everything is paid for in cash in Taiwan and no records are kept for game sales, so they wouldn’t know whose door to knock on anyway. I just want a copy of the game at a fair price. I’m less angry now that I understand the situation, but I’m still really pissed that I wasn’t offered a preorder. All these stores told me I couldn’t preorder the game and then apparently sold preorders to everyone else. I assume it was because of the language barrier and that most people just couldn’t explain the situation to me clearly. I will give them that benefit of the doubt, because racism against Westerners isn’t really a thing here so I don’t assume it was anything like that. But if I had known about this contraband situation I would have dragged my wife to a game store and had her demand a preorder for me. Or I would have preordered it from my friend clerk if he had been at work when I went to his store prior to launch, because he would have informed me about the situation.

try fail succeedUltimately I did not acquire a copy of Ring Fit Adventure during the opening week. As I write this I still don’t have a copy now. But my friend allowed me a special order and said they will put one aside for me in their next shipment at a price of 2550 NTD. He couldn’t tell me when it would be available but the store will call me when it is. So I ended up spending a bunch of time and 56 NTD (just over one dinner) in travel costs to not get a copy of Ring Fit Adventure plus I have to spend another 30 NTD to go back to the store when they do finally get my copy in stock. Hopefully it becomes available the week of November 15th week so I can pick it up at the same time I pick up Pokémon Sword and Shield.

If not for the wasted travel money, I wouldn’t be super angry about not being able to get the game during launch week. While it’s a game I’m really looking forward to, I’m extremely backlogged and have other fitness games I can play like Just Dance anyway. What I’m really unhappy about is the rampant overpricing that many stores sold the game at to parents and kids without the patience and knowledge required to make an informed purchasing decision about Ring Fit Adventure’s odd product status in Taiwan. This sort of information, though kind of risky because of the illegality of it all, should have been more widely distributed. As I went to store after store looking for the game that Saturday, I realized that I was not the only one desperately trying to get a copy. Originally I thought there was no demand because all the stores seemed so out of the loop when I inquired about it over the two months leading up to release. It turns out that I was extremely wrong. Lots of people preordered the game and lots of people who didn’t preorder the game were hunting in stores just like I was. I saw many a parent and their pleading child in game stores asking about it. And I know those marked up units were ultimately sold to parents with spoiled children as well as to parents who just aren’t knowledgeable about such things and thought the prices being quoted were just the normal price for the game. It’s a really despicable scenario that should not have occurred in the way it did. But that’s what happens when you have a completely unregulated games market. Free market capitalism is never for the benefit of the consumer. Especially when it comes to entertainment.

ring fit adventure battleI hope that eventually Ring Fit Adventure does get legitimately distributed to Taiwan and is sold at a fair price to gamers of all types and ages. I also hope that I get my copy soon.

Some people are probably wondering about the online aspect of buying physical games in Taiwan, since I didn’t really address it here. The reason I didn’t is that it’s not super simple, it doesn’t work in cash like the brick and mortar market does, and the prices are often marked up at a default. There is no Amazon type entity here. Nor are there brick and mortar stores with an online component like a Best Buy or Walmart. The best you can hope for is something akin to Newegg, where there’s a well-known online store that you can trust, but the prices aren’t usually better for games. There are a few of these such as PlayAsia, which usually has marked up prices, sometimes ridiculously so, and a site called PCHome. You also often have to pay shipping on these online purchases. So to answer the unasked question, yes there is online game purchasing here but it isn’t the most convenient or affordable way to buy games here. In the five years that I’ve lived in Taiwan, I’ve never purchased a single physical game online. You also need to be able to read Chinese for many online stores in Taiwan. For reference though, PCHome sold Ring Fit Adventure on opening day for 2550 NTD. I’m not sure what the cost of shipping would be, but they are currently sold out as I write this and were sold out opening weekend. PlayAsia has multiple versions of the game from different regions with prices ranging from 2457 NTD all the way up to 2872 NTD. This does not include shipping cost.

*This post was originally written on November 4th. Due to my busy blog schedule I was not able to publish for some time. I ultimately was able to claim my copy of Ring Fit Adventure on November 12th. Same week but not the same day as Pokemon Sword & Shield.

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From Milan to Gamescom!

Last week, I was granted the privilege of attending the Mario + Rabidds: Kingdom Battle (MRKB) Summer Games Community Competition finals tournament. This event pitted four finalists against each other in the MRKB Vs. Mode live and in person at the Ubisoft Milan studio in Italy. Ubisoft paid to fly me to Italy from my home in Taiwan and paid for everything while I was there. This was an amazing opportunity and really my first legitimate entry into the world of competitive e-Sports.

This was a great experience. While at the studio I was able to try a prototype for a currently unannounced project from Ubisoft, which I can’t go into details about now for legal reasons. I also got to meet a number of different members of the MRKB development team and pitch my own ideas and feedback about what I’d like to see for the future of the franchise. It was especially informative and inspiring to meet the narrative director of MRKB. He gave me newfound hope that it’s not too late to achieve my goal of writing for a AAA studio. I also got to experience Italian food straight from the source as an added bonus.

Episode - Screenshot 2019-08-12 19-35-20

While I can’t say much about the things I saw during my visit to the studio, I can talk about the tournament. As I said previously, four finalists, including myself, were invited to compete in a Vs. Mode tournament. It’s important to note that the qualifying challenges were in single player mode and up until I was informed that the finals were a PVP Vs. Mode tournament, I had never played a single round of the Vs. Mode. Luckily for me this was true for the other three finalists as well. At the time I was informed about the tournament, I had played 65+ hours of the single player mode and zero minutes of the Vs. Mode. By the day of the tournament, I had practiced the Vs. Mode for about 20 hours.

Training for/in Vs. Mode was very difficult because it’s a local only PVP mode and I had no one to practice with. This meant playing 30 hours of PVP matches against myself. But thanks to my dedication I was able to use this time productively. I learned all the maps, mastered all the items, and developed a number of strategies for different scenarios. I also came up with what I consider to be the best possible three man squad in the game. According to what the other competitors reported going into the event, I put in more training hours than the three of them combined. And my hard work payed off.

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The tournament consisted of six preliminary rounds. Each competitor went up against each other competitor in a single match. Each victory scored you a single point plus they kept track of how many remaining characters you had in case of a tie. The top two scores would go up against each other one more time in the final round for one more single match. Of the four competitors, I was the only one to win all my preliminary rounds, of course taking me to the final round. The second place combatant that I had to battle again was the only one of the three to almost beat me. And if I’m honest he should have beaten me in our first match. I won by a single move. All the preliminary rounds were viewed by a limited number of team members from Ubisoft Milan but for the final round they had the entire staff watch. This added to the pressure considerably. I went on to win the final round and was declared champion of the Summer Games tournament.

Upon winning this tournament, I was informed that I was now invited to Gamescom, all expenses paid, to compete in the Grand Championship. Going into this tournament, I did not know such a prize was even on the line. I was shocked to find out that I would be taking another trip to Europe less than a month later to compete on a stage in front of hundreds to thousands of people for the grand prize. I still don’t actually know what the grand prize is, but going to Gamescom has always been a dream of mine so that’s a prize in and of itself.

Gamescom-2018

This final tournament to decide the MRKB Grand Champion will consist of the first and second place winner from each of the three Community Championship seasons and two community leaders with a new set of match parameters, which have not yet been disclosed to me. To the best of my knowledge, they have not released the match footage of any of the seasonal tournaments so I have no way of knowing how good the competition is going into the tournament other than the second place winner from my season. All I can do is continue training alone for this tournament and hope for the best. I really want to win this. If winning a tournament at Gamescom on stage doesn’t make you a legitimate e-Sports champion then I don’t know what does. So next week I’m off to Germany to compete in this tournament as well as experience everything Gamescom has to offer.

Important Note: Not only am I traveling to Germany to attend Gamescom next week, but I am also getting married exactly one month from the day this post was published. As you can imagine, I am extremely busy both at work and in my personal life. Between all the traveling, planning, and time away from home, I’m barely able to handle all my usual content creation endeavors. I’ve streamed less than five times in the last two weeks and it’s a miracle I haven’t missed any blog posts. That being said, I cannot say if I’ll be able to keep up with everything for the next couple months between Gamescom, my wedding, my honeymoon, and all the work I have to make up from traveling for these tournaments. So while I will do my best to continue posting weekly, as my record has gone untarnished for years, I ask you to please bear with me during this very busy time in my life in the event that I miss a few posts. As always, thank you for your understanding and support.

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Choose Your Weapon

This is kind of a weird post. It’s honestly more stream of consciousness than me making any particular point or argument. But I’ve been thinking about it a lot recently so I wanted to write about it.

There are so many types of controllers for games these days. When I was a kid, there were very few options for controlling your games. You were pretty much stuck with the controller based on the platform you were playing on. Or a keyboard/mouse when playing on PC. There were a few specialty options like joysticks for flight simulators and racing wheels. And there were some third party controller redesigns, but really these didn’t change the controllers. Just the size and grips on them. For the most part you used a certain controller for a certain type of game or in the case of certain games like fighters, you could play them at home with a controller or at an arcade with the traditional stick and buttons layout. In general though, pretty much everyone moved Mario the same way at any given time.

crash n sane

Today controllers are no longer platform or even generation specific. Between adapters, third party full redesigns, first party specialty designs, and custom made control mechanisms, people can play games with whatever they want now. And by whatever they want I mean there are people who literally play games with bananas. I remember the first time I used an emulator on my PC. I played a Nintendo game on a PC with a PlayStation controller. The whole thing seemed like blasphemy. Now I can play Crash Bandicoot on the Nintendo Switch with a DualShock 4 designed to look like an XBOX 360 controller, completely blending if not all out destroying the lines between platform, generation, and originally intended gameplay design. It’s a beautiful thing. Yet I can’t help but wonder if this level of customization isn’t ruining the experience of at least some games.

When Cuphead was first announced, I really wanted to play it but it was an XB1 exclusive so I was fairly certain that I was never going to get to play it. Then later they ported it to PC. Now you can even get it on Switch. I got it on PC, but I probably would have gone for the Switch version if I had known that was going to be a thing. As a person who doesn’t own an XB1, I opted to try out Cuphead with a PS4 DS4 controller. This was easy for me to do because I have an adapter that allows me to connect my DS4 or Wii U Pro controller to my PC or Switch to use with any game I want. I don’t have any particular rationale for why I chose the DS4 over the Wii U Pro Controller for Cuphead. It was just the controller that was hooked up when I started the game. And I was absolutely not going to play a fast paced run and gun platformer with a keyboard and mouse. Some people can do that. Sadly I am not one of those people.

Cuphead

I connected with Cuphead fairly quickly. It’s a beautiful game with fairly accessible mechanics and difficult but seemingly balanced challenges. I easily cleared the tutorial and even managed to do the jump dash on the first try. I liked it and wanted to beat it. But I struggled so much while playing it. I started with The Root Pack as my first boss. This was very difficult for me. More difficult than a first boss in a game should be. But one of the most widely talked about aspects of the game was its difficulty. So I, like any seasoned Dark Souls player who can’t find any summoning symbols, decided that it was my lacking skills and that I just had to get gud. It took me several tries but I did finally manage to defeat The Root Pack. Then I faced Ribby and Croaks. I couldn’t beat them. I tried and I tried and I tried but I could not bring them down. I continued to blame my own lacking skills, but as an experienced gamer I eventually felt like maybe it just wasn’t balanced properly. Sadly my pride got the best of me and I stopped playing rather than allowing myself to play on easy mode. I said I’d return to the game eventually but never really did.

Recently I received a free XB1 controller. I had wanted one for PC gaming for a long time, because many games on Steam, and PC in general, are optimized for XB1 controllers rather than PS4 or Nintendo ones. But seeing as how I had multiple controllers that I could use with PC games, it seemed like a waste of money to go buy an XB1 controller I didn’t actually need. Ironically I ended up having to spend $40 to get a charge pack and wireless dongle to properly use the XB1 controller the way I wanted to, so really I didn’t save any money. But that’s beside the point. In order to test my new controller, I started up Cuphead. This wasn’t because I had a desire to return to the game, but really just because it’s one of the only games on my PC that doesn’t require me to login to a launcher to use, since I bought it from the Microsoft Store and keep it saved in my start menu to motivate me to play it.

Current Gen

I loaded up the game and challenged Ribby and Croaks again. I lost a few rounds but I quickly became aware of how close I was to defeating them. Was it this new controller or had my skills improved with no practice over the last several months? Ultimately I defeated them and went on to quickly defeat a number of other levels before getting stuck again. But now I knew for certain that I was good enough to play Cuphead. Why had my skills improved so much so unexpectedly? It had to be the controller. But why would/should that be the case?

I love the DS4 controller. I prefer it to the XB1 controller any day of the week. I like symmetrical joysticks. I like symbols instead of letters on the main buttons. And though I almost never use it for the games I play, I appreciate having the touchpad. I also liked the DS3 over the XBOX 360 controller. I don’t think it’s a better controller. I just think it feels better to me. I also really like the Wii U Pro controller. It’s the main reason I bought my adapter in the first place. So I can use it on my Switch instead of paying $70 for a Switch Pro controller.

8bitdo

My preference for the DS4 and Wii U Pro is why I invested in adapters instead of just buying an XB1 controller originally. I knew the XB1 controller would be easier from a technology standpoint to use for PC gaming. But I don’t prefer the controller. Yet I have to admit that based on my limited amount of data, I’m noticeably better at Cuphead with an XB1 controller over a DS4. I’ve had similar experiences before. Last year I got The Crew 2 for PC. I first tried to play it with a Wii U Pro controller and it was absolute garbage. Absolutely horrendous experience even though that same controller is great for Mario Kart. Then I tried it with a DS4 and it was great. I also remember trying Hyper Light Drifter for the first time with a keyboard and mouse. It was so bad that I quit the game before even reaching the first boss and never wanted to play it again. This was before I had my adapter for PC. Later I got the game for PS4 through PS Plus and decided to try it again, now with a DS4. That game is amazing with a DS4.

It’s odd to me that the controller matters so much for some games. Especially in 2019 where there are so many varying controller options. You can even get a PS4 controller that’s built to the shape of an XB1 controller. So the fact that games seem to feel wrong when using certain controllers should be considered problematic within the current trend of customized controller options for literally any game. There are definitely some limiting factors to consider. Latency caused by adapters can be an issue. It’s not something I often feel like I’m experiencing but there are definitely times where I do. Button customization is also still not widespread enough within software itself. I often still find games that either don’t have button customization, or the PC version of the game’s button customization isn’t functioning properly with a controller. It could also be the adapter causing the game to not to properly allow the button customization to work I guess. But in my experience, the controller you play a game with can make a huge difference in how that game feels and plays.

Onyx Hori

If the specific controller used matters when playing a game is it intentional or just a coincidence? I now genuinely believe that Cuphead was made to be played with an XB1 controller. And this makes sense because it was originally released as an XB1 exclusive. But now you can play it on PC or Switch. Is this OK? Is it acceptable for developers to create games to be played with a specific controller and then release those games to other platforms where that controller isn’t a viable option? Of course it’s legal. And obviously publishers will do it because it’s more profitable than a single platform release. But if a studio makes a game to be played with a specific controller, are we not as gamers lowering the caliber of our gameplay experience by using the “incorrect” controller?

Like I said, I don’t really have a conclusive final thought or argument with this post. Just some ideas I was thinking about controllers and the controller ecosystem we have today. I know that I will almost exclusively use my XB1 controller for PC gaming, when not using a keyboard/mouse, from here on out. But at the same time I still favor the DS4 and will continue to do the bulk of my gaming on PS4. What are your thoughts on controllers? Have you had an experience where you tried out two different controllers for the same game and noticed that one seemed superior for that particular game?

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Starlink: Battle for Atlas Editions Matter

A couple months ago, I published a review of my first hours playing Starlink: Battle for Atlas. While I stand by the views expressed in that review, it has come to my attention that it may have been misleading due to information that I was not aware of at the time of writing. So don’t consider this post a retraction of that review but rather a clarification of some specific points.

I praised Starlink and continue to do so. It’s a phenomenal game that I never put down feeling disappointed. But having done more research and now finished the game, my perspective has been altered, or more appropriately refined, slightly. Every play session I had, in the 30 hours it took me to complete the game, was enjoyable. Whenever I stopped playing, I was excited to play it again as soon as possible. While I was playing it, I always felt like there was a lot of content, albeit much of it was repetitive a la the No Man’s Sky formula. It definitely feels like a large amount of fulfilling content tied to a story I found interesting, until I reached the end, which was surprisingly abrupt, even though it was after almost 30 hours of play. While the gameplay can get repetitive due to the farming and planetary take over mechanics inherent to the game/genre, I still think it’s a great overall experience that appeals to players looking for games like No Man’s Sky with more direction. What I was not aware of though is how vastly different my gameplay experience was to that of other players. More specifically to players who don’t also have the Digital Deluxe version of the game.

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The review copy of Starlink I received wass the digital deluxe edition on Switch. When I first started the game, I was under the impression that most of the content I had access to was available to all players with the exception of StarFox related content for PS4 and XB1 players. What I learned after already playing 20 hours was that this was/is completely false. Apparently anyone who didn’t buy the digital deluxe edition is playing a completely different game than I did.

My version of the game gives me full, unadulterated access to 10 pilots, 6 ships, 15 weapons (not including the default Arwing lasers), and all the StarFox story content. All ships, including the Arwing, all weapons, and all pilots can be used interchangeably in real time for every single portion of the game. You can even play the StarFox missions without using StarFox. Every pilot, weapon, and ship has independent experience points and can be mastered through use. Each pilot has special abilities and attacks that are useful in specific situations. Each weapon and ship can be modded with four to five mods that drastically affect performance. You can have up to three saved loadouts that can be hot swapped in the menu screen whenever you want, including mid battle. I had full control of my gameplay experience. I could tailor my loadout(s) for each individual enemy to be perfectly suited to take them down.

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I needed a ridiculous amount of experience to max out everything, which I didn’t end up doing due to a lack of content, so I was never needlessly gaining XP. The RPG elements of the game were a critical part of my gameplay experience and added to the diversity and strategy of playing the game. For me, Starlink was a robust, multifaceted space fighter shooting game with RPG elements, a solid plot concerning several playable characters, and an arsenal of weapons at my disposal. I do think it was ultimately too short for the amount of pilots, ships, and weapons available though. But this wass not the game many people appear to be playing.

Something that needs to be noted about my version of Starlink is that the content is all seamless. When I was playing the game, I couldn’t tell what was vanilla content and what was deluxe edition content. There are no content walls. There are no purchase this to unlock this moments. There are no separate menus for DLC content. The story doesn’t break apart for each character. The cutscenes aren’t broken up between different characters. Everything in the game seems like it should be there and the game would suffer if any part was removed. Even StarFox content has been almost perfectly weaved into the rest of the game. Other than the differing art style, the characters appear in basically all the group cut scenes, as do all the other pilots. So I honestly can’t even imagine what this game would look like without all these pilots present. Yet this is apparently how the game is for everyone else.

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I had assumed that everyone had access to all the weapons and ships but that some of the pilots may be in the story but not playable without those specific toys. What I have come to learn is that actually nothing is available to vanilla physical edition players except the toys that came with their version. Even worse is the fact that the XB1 and PS4 physical starter packs come with less content than the Switch starter pack for the same price, due to the lack of StarFox.

The Switch physical starter pack comes with two pilots, two ships, and three weapons (not including the built in lasers on the Arwing that don’t take XP to get stronger). The XB1 and PS4 versions only come with one pilot, one ship, and three weapons, don’t have StarFox pilot or content, and don’t have a built in default weapon on the ship. All additional pilots, weapons, and ships have to be purchased separately for all versions. This is ridiculous. It’s literally all my fears for gaming brought to life. People have been making EA DLC jokes for years but this is the extreme version of that.

StarFox Starter Pack

Playing Starlink with only two pilots, three weapons, and one ship would be like paying $60 for Smash Bros and getting only two fighters, one map, and only hammers, hearts, and bombs as usable items with everything else being available as paid DLC. And these physical starter packs cost $75! That’s insane. Especially when you consider that for $60 you can get the vanilla digital edition and start with five ships, seven pilots, and 12 weapons. You are literally getting bent over by buying the physical edition. Expanding your arsenal of ships, pilots, and weapons is also considerably cheaper via DLC in digital form. You could probably buy a second digital deluxe edition of the game and have change left over with the amount of money you would spend buying all the content in physical form. For just $5 more than the physical starter pack you can get the digital deluxe edition and that’s without taking sales prices into account. As I write this, it’s currently $60 on the eshop.

I think this is a real problem. Not only for the game itself, but for the precedent it sets. This is more predatory than amiibo and that’s already bad to begin with. Not to mention the fact that this pricing scheme ruined the image of a perfectly good game that should have been in the running for Game of the Year. It definitely shouldn’t have won, but the digital deluxe edition would have been worthy of nomination if it was the standard edition.

Physical DLC

At first I didn’t understand why this game was being ignored. It was old news just a couple weeks after it released. I was having a blast playing it and I didn’t understand why no one else was even talking about it. Now I do. This is a phenomenal game that has everything I wanted from this genre, but the bulk of players are essentially playing a beta version of the game, and that sucks for the developers too. Their game was ruined by greed. And the gameplay experience is ruined for the players who don’t have all the content as well.

The difference in weapons, ships, and pilots is so severe that it’s honestly like playing a completely different game. For example, I have six ships. That means that in any battle I can have my ship blown up six times before it’s game over. I have never gotten a game over even though I played on hard. But if I only had one or two ships I would have been getting game overs constantly. I have 15 weapons to choose from with elemental properties, range properties, and ammo style properties. Some are rapid fire. Some are burst fire. Some are single fire. Some are short range. Some are long range. I have five different elemental types to choose from, all of which were required to solve certain puzzles along the way. I honestly can’t imagine playing the game without all these options. Elements matter. There are fire and ice type enemies. If you only have one fire weapon, one ice weapon, and nothing else, you are basically playing with one weapon against any fire or ice type enemy because using the enemy’s element powers them up.

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Of course people aren’t enjoying the game. They’re not getting to play the full game with the entire experience. Every character can max out each ship and weapon plus their skill tree. I’ve mastered some weapons with StarFox, no ships with anyone, and only managed to max out StarFox’s skill tree before finishing the game. But that’s because I played as all 10 pilots throughout the course of the game. Whenever I maxed out something with a specific pilot, I wouldn’t use it with that pilot anymore so that I never wasted any XP. If I was limited to only one pilot, one ship, and two weapons, I’d have  maxed out everything long before the end of the game and would have wasted tons of XP. It’s also important to note that every pilot has a skill that enhances all other pilots. That means that the more pilots you have the more benefits, which I did take advantage of with all 10 pilots, you get for the entire team.

I think this whole thing is a real shame and a scary look at the potential future of games distribution. Starlink: Battle for Atlas is a great game. I encourage everyone to buy it. It’s lots of fun and 30 hours of content isn’t terrible by today’s standards. But please make sure you buy the digital deluxe edition, otherwise you’re not only not getting the full game experience. You’re getting flat out conned into spending more money than you need to for not even a quarter of the experience you get with the digital deluxe edition. It’s a shame this game was ruined this way. It’s a shame most people won’t play it because of this system. And most of all it’s a shame that Ubisoft felt like this was an acceptable practice. I hope they patch it so that everyone can at least get the minimum number of pilots, weapons, and ships that the base digital version offers. Otherwise this is just highway robbery.

Again, I don’t retract my original soft review of the game. Everything I said in it was accurate and I do stand behind the game for its graphics, story, and gameplay. But I now have to qualify it by saying that I was speaking specifically about the digital deluxe edition and that’s the only version I endorse people to buy.

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Black Friday Aftermath – 2018

If you’re reading this it means you survived another Black Friday. Congratulations. I hope that you’re not too traumatized, either physically or mentally, from any of the horrors you might have seen while out hunting for deals. As has been the case for a number of years now, my Black Friday was once again a purely digital shopping experience. It wasn’t all fun and games while I sipped cocoa in my pajamas, but I do miss the thrill of being on the ground hunting in the traditional way like the shoppers who came before me.

Let me start by saying that in general this was a much better Black Friday than last year’s. Black Friday 2017 was as bad as the rest of 2017. This year we had some actual deals and even in a fully digital marketspace, like I had, we had to actually shop around and locate the best prices. I bought double the number of games I did last year because there were just so many great deals between the various digital storefronts I visited. Many stores were changing prices throughout the last week through Cyber Monday, so it was imperative to stay diligent in the pursuit of discounts. This is the way Black Friday is supposed to be.

Black Friday Thumbs

As far as my personal list going into Black Friday, I managed to snag seven of my hoped for titles. That’s two more than last year but due to the volume of titles in this year’s list compared to last year’s, it’s only a 5% increase in success rate. That being said, I did actually manage to find a couple more titles from my list at the prices I wanted but was unable to get them because of limitations like “in store only”, which I cannot do, or I found the game at/below the price I wanted on the wrong platform. For instance, I wanted to pay $10 for Shaq-FU: A Legend Reborn. I specifically wanted it on Nintendo Switch, for reasons I still can’t summarize or justify properly, and never found the price I wanted. I did end up purchasing the game but I paid $15 for it, which is 50% higher than what I wanted to pay. I found a copy of it on PS4 for $5. That’s a failure on Nintendo’s part for their hubris and mine for my stubbornness. I also found some games at the right price but decided not to buy them yet. Middle-Earth: Shadow of War Definitive Edition is the best example of this. I found it for $20 but chose not to buy it last minute because I haven’t finished the first game yet. Overall though, I managed to pick up a lot of games for great prices.

Pirate Booty

Here’s what I managed to get from my original shopping list.

  1. Crash Bandicoot N Sane Trilogy (Nintendo Switch) – $25
    1. I overpaid by $5 to get the Switch version. I actually did find the PS4 version at my desired price but I really wanted it portable for some reason.
  2. Injustice 2: Legendary Edition (PS4) – $18
    1. I beat my desired price by $2.
  3. Cuphead (PC) – $7
    1. It took some maneuvering but I managed to beat my desired price by $3.
  4. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice (PC) – $15
  5. Shaq-FU: A Legend Reborn (Nintendo Switch Physical) – $15
    1. I overpaid by $5 to get the Switch version. I actually did find the PS4 version at half my desired price after already purchasing but it was an in store only deal.
  6. Just Dance 2019 (Nintendo Switch) – $25
  7. Sonic Mania Plus (PC) – $9.28
    1. I gave up on the Switch version but was able to get the PC version for $5.72 below my desired price by purchasing the game and DLC separately.

I also managed to find South Park: The Fractured But Whole, Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise, and Assassin’s Creed: Origins at or below the prices I wanted but was unable to get them or chose not to get them because of extenuating circumstances.

I also managed to find a Garmin Vivosmart 4 Fitness Watch for $99. $10 higher than I wanted to pay but it came with a two year warranty so I felt that it was worth the extra cost in case my girlfriend breaks it.

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What is more impressive is the number of games I got that weren’t on my list because of how good the deals were. I bought three times the number of off my list games than I did last year. And I actually wanted to buy more but couldn’t because of in store only limitations and some region locked prices. The one I was most angry about not being able to get was a physical version of The Banner Saga Trilogy on PS4 for $10. Best Buy screwed me with an in store only deal.

  1. Wolfenstein 2-Pack (The New Order + The Old Blood) (PC) – $9.89
  2. The BIT TRIP Collection (Includes 6 games) (PS4) – $0.99
  3. Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy (PC) – $4.79
  4. 1 Year PS Plus – $40

While this wasn’t the best Black Friday I’ve ever had, it was a great improvement over last year’s disappointing month of lackluster sales. I’m most happy about the fact that I finally managed to get Cuphead. I’ve been waiting to be able to get that for under $10 since before it released. I had started to lose hope that it was ever going to happen.

Runner 3
A difference of 52% in price between USA and Taiwan.

One thing that surprised me a lot this year was how vastly different the prices were between the Taiwan and USA digital markets. Because I live in Taiwan but have American accounts that I started when I was still living in the states, I end up looking at both sets of prices for UPLAY, Steam, and a few other digital stores. Taiwan gets considerably better prices. For example, the reason I didn’t buy Assassin’s Creed Origins was because if I had wanted it on PC, which admittedly wasn’t my ideal platform, from the US UPLAY store it would have cost me $39.99 but with the 20% additional discount they were offering for 100 UPLAY coins I could have gotten it for $32. In the Taiwan UPLAY store the starting price was $31.50 and the 20% off dropped it down to about $25.20. I absolutely would have bought it at that price but the Taiwan UPLAY store wouldn’t allow me to claim the additional 20% discount. Issues like this kept me from buying some other games I really wanted as well.

In general, I’m happy to see that Black Friday this year was much better than last year. I saw some amazing deals that were irrelevant to me such as God of War for $17. If I didn’t already own it, I would have for sure purchased it at that price. The Steam sale had a lot of great deals but the store wasn’t organized as well as I’ve seen in past years so I actually missed out on buying some games because some prices were limited time only, causing me not to see some stuff till it was already too late. The PSN sale was fairly decent but the Ubisoft titles, which were some of the most noteworthy in the sale, were not discounted nearly enough.

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GOG was a straight disappointment because they really only offered the same sales we’ve now seen countless times. Like The Witcher 3 GOTY for $20. That’s a great game but that price is nothing new. The point of Black Friday is to have the best deals of the year. Not the same deals over and over. And a lot of their prices weren’t even better than Steam and PSN. I was actually going to buy The BIT TRIP collection on PC but the price on GOG for all six games was like three times higher than on PSN. Their price for Runner 3 was way higher than Steam’s limited time promotion for the game and almost three times higher than the Steam Taiwan price.

For physical stores, Best Buy and Amazon had the best deals this year. Best Buy actually had the best deals but because so many of them were limited to in store only, it was impossible to fully take advantage of all their offerings for me. Something I noticed on multiple store fronts, including digital, is that prices weren’t fixed or constantly descending. This is not supposed to happen on/during Black Friday weekend. All prices are supposed to be fixed or continue dropping as demand waivers and supply clears. Some prices went up and that goes directly against the purpose and practice of Black Friday where the main goal is supposed to be clearing stock for the Christmas season and New Year stock.

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Of course the most disappointing company for every Black Friday is still Nintendo. Whether it’s physical or digital, their prices are always the highest on the market even with the lowest hardware specs. The fact that I paid three times the value of Shaq-FU: A Legend Reborn is par for the course with them. The only game that was actually properly priced for the Switch was Just Dance 2019 and that only applies to the physical version. The reason I put $25 on my desired price list is not because I was guessing at the price. It drops to that on multiple stores every year and I almost always buy it from Amazon. But I could have gotten the physical version on any platform, including the Wii, for $25 just like with 2018, 2017, and so on. But the digital version on Switch was $28. I’ll never understand why they feel like that’s OK. I had hoped to buy Super Mario Party and possibly even Pokemon Let’s GO Eevee but those prices didn’t move a cent.

I hope this year was the beginning of a trend of making Black Friday meaningful again. Last year was worrying because it showed a continuance of a trend in declining Black Friday deals quality. This year went in the other direction. I hope that continues for Black Friday 2019.

How did Black Friday go for you this year? Did you see any notably great deals? How did it compare to last year for you? Let me know in the comments.

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Black Friday 2018

Do you hear that? That sound. It’s the sound of war slowly creeping towards us. The war for deals. Each year we commemorate this time of year with a battle. The battle to end all wallets. It’s a violent day. It’s a mad day. A black day. Black Friday!

When I look back at Black Friday 2017, I am not impressed. In fact, I flat out disappointed. I failed myself in battle last year. More accurately, the deals failed me. Of the list of 15 games I wanted to get during Black Friday deals last year, I only managed to get four of them. The deals just weren’t there. To this day, I’ve only managed to acquire six games from that list total. The prices for them simply will not drop by a reasonable amount. So there’s gonna be some repeats on this year’s list as well as new additions.

Black Friday 2017 Aftermath
Black Friday 2017

Last year I only wanted software, which is always my preference because hardware shopping can be even more troublesome than games. But this year I’m not so lucky. Along with a hefty list of games, I need two items of hardware as well. May the deal gods smile upon me in battle this year.

The rules of engagement, for those not aware, have not changed. There is a list of products I want for prices I have set based on a combination of factors. I will not go above my price range for any product. If I cannot find the deal, I simply take the L and continue waiting for that ideal price point. Once again, I recruit you into my deal force. I need you to help me find the deals I seek. If you see something on my list at or below the price I’ve listed available for online purchase, please, please, please take the time to leave a comment with a link or tweet me directly for me to see it even faster. And of course I shall I assist my comrades in arms as well. Link me your lists in the comments and if I see anything I’ll be sure to send you a link. So without further ado, here are my targets for Black Friday 2018.

Black Friday 2018
Black Friday 2018
  1. Crash Bandicoot N Sane Trilogy (Nintendo Switch) – $20
  2. Injustice 2: Legendary Edition (PS4) – $20
  3. Cuphead (PC) – $10
  4. Assassin’s Creed: Origins Gold Edition (PS4 or PC) – $30
  5. Middle-earth: Shadow of War Definitive Edition (PS4 or PC) – $20
  6. South Park: The Fractured But Whole Gold Edition (PS4 or PC) – $30
  7. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice (PS4 or PC) – $15
  8. Shaqfu (Nintendo Switch Physical) – $10
  9. Super Mario Party (Nintendo Switch) – $30
  10. Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise (PS4) – $20
  11. Shadow of the Tomb Raider Deluxe/Croft Edition (PS4 or PC) – $20
  12. Just Dance 2019 (Nintendo Switch) – $25
  13. Vampyr (PS4 or PC) – $15
  14. Unravel Two (PS4) – $5
  15. Shenmue 1&2 Bundle (PS4) – $15
  16. Sonic Mania Plus (Nintendo Switch) – $15
  17. Yakuza Kiwami 2 (PS4) – $20
  18. Nintendo Switch Bundle with Any Game – $200
  19. Garmin Vivosmart 4 or HR+ Fitness Watch – $90

Please note that while the platforms aren’t negotiable, the games can be in physical or digital form. They just have to be at or below the prices listed.

Black Friday 2018 Prices
Black Friday 2018 Prices

Probably the most important item on the list this year is the Nintendo Switch. It’s not for me. I already have one that I bought around Black Friday last year and I absolutely love it. It’s for my nephew. He’s 10 and I’d really like to be able to get him a console that he can enjoy with games appropriate for his age that are fun for the whole family. I’d like to be able to give him the best Christmas ever like when I was a kid and my parents got me a Nintendo 64.

As always, I have prepared a convenient graphic with target prices to make my list easier to reference for my comrades in arms. Save it, share, it, reference it, use it for yourself. Thank you in advance for helping your fellow gamer find and capture his prey. And as always, Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers out there. Happy Black Friday, and may the deals be ever in your favor!

 

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Starlink: Battle for Atlas (Nintendo Switch) Early Impressions Review

I was unsure about Starlink: Battle for Atlas going into it. The marketing was good but kind of vague. I was getting some No Man’s Sky vibes from it, which isn’t a compliment, but I was also getting some solid story based gameplay vibes from it as well, which is the greatest of gaming compliments. If I’m honest I have to say that the main selling point for me was that Star Fox is in the Switch version. You have to understand how much I love Star Fox and how long I’ve been waiting for a good Star Fox game. Having played every home console Star Fox game on its original release console, including Star Fox Guard and Star Fox 2, it’s my opinion that a good Star Fox game hasn’t been made since 2005. Star Fox 2 is good, but that was made in 1996. I hated Star Fox Zero. It had some good ideas but the controls were terrible to the point where I struggled just to finish the base game and haven’t played it since. So the prospect of a good Star Fox game was very appealing, but not enough to get me to buy Starlink day one, because this wasn’t made in house by Nintendo. Thankfully I received a review copy and I’m glad I did.

Let me be very clear in saying that I’m only about three hours into Starlink: Battle for Atlas at this point. I plan on playing it a lot more and after the three hours I have played, I can already say that I will absolutely finish this game and possibly go for a 100% completion. But I wanted to write something about it now while it’s new so people who are on the fence can get a better understanding of it so they can make a more informed purchasing decision. That’s why I’m leaving this review unscored and I put “Early Impressions” in the title of the post. I also want to make clear that I haven’t looked at the non-Switch versions of the game at all. I don’t even know how they compare graphically so be aware that this review is only talking about the Switch version unless otherwise stated.

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Before getting into the finer details of the game, there are two main things that need to be said about Starlink before anything else. The first is that this game essentially took all the good ideas from No Man’s Sky, layered them over a The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild foundation, and then decorated it with Star Fox paint. That’s what this game is in a nut shell. They took the No Man’s Sky open world, resource management, space exploration concept, added an actual story, dialed back the map to that of large, but not infinite, and allowed players the ability to play an open galaxy space fighter game as Fox McCloud with his crew along for the ride. In other words, they did what people actually wanted rather than try to be overly experimental for the sake of grandeur.

The second thing that needs to be said is that this is not a Star Fox game. The PS4 and XB1 versions of the game don’t contain the Star Fox team. They were added into the Switch version similarly to how Link was added into Soul Calibur II (2002) on the Gamecube version of the game. The difference though is that Fox and crew have been added into Starlink with great care and effort. It’s not lazily done last minute. It’s not a few added cutscenes and no direct interactions. From what I’ve seen so far, Ubisoft took the time to weave Fox, Peppy, Slippy, Falco, and it seems Wolf directly into the plot of the story. There are cutscenes where the Starlink regular characters and the Star Fox team interact directly. Fox and crew enter the Starlink team’s ship during cutscenes and interact with them in dialog during normal gameplay. The point is that while this is not a Star Fox game, you’re able to play the Switch version like it is one, and that’s intentionally how I’ve been playing it so far. In a lot of ways, that might be the future of Nintendo games and if so, I’m looking forward to it.

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Visually speaking, Starlink is very good, but it’s still a Nintendo game. I do believe it could look better on a more powerful machine. That being said, in true Nintendo style they’ve crafted a game that isn’t trying to look realistic so it’s fine that it doesn’t have super PC Master Race 4K graphics. The graphics are by no means bad though. The landscapes are beautiful and fairly well detailed. Fox and crew look great as far as finer details go, but they don’t really fit into the art style of the rest of the game. And the game runs very smoothly. The cutscenes look surprisingly good. Or at least the present day ones do. There are also some flash back cutscenes that are hand drawn comic strip style art. They look good for what they are, but they don’t match the rest of the game, that I’ve seen so far, in tone. Mostly though it’s one of the better looking games I’ve seen on Switch. It’s up there with Xenoblade Chronicles games. There are definitely some things that I believe are scaled down from what they would look like in the PS4 version, but not so much so that I feel like I’m being cheated playing on this platform.

What’s nice about this galaxy is that it’s both diverse and lived in. There are a lot of different settings and landscapes, even on individual planets. It’s not just dessert planet, lava planet, water planet. One planet, of which there are several, has multiple habitats. Wild life is native to certain regions and not others on any given planet. There are abandoned cities, skeletons littered across deserts, active settlements, roving bands of outlaws, and ancient ruins. It’s not a world(s) that exists for you. They just exist and you happen to be there.

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There’s a lot going on in the full HUD. I haven’t turned anything off yet, but I’ve already considered it. It’s all useful information, but it just takes up so much of the screen. Depending on what’s happening, there are times when like 50% or more of the screen is covered in HUD data. Thankfully, you have the ability to toggle off and on each individual part of the HUD and two of the options can be set to appear only at specific times. I like the menus. They’re very simple and easy to understand. They have a very space age tone to them but they still come off very Nintendo. Smooth edges, interactive pictures, and easy to read text. I also really appreciated that you can set the subtitle text size, language, and backing opacity. You can even set the temperature readout to Celsius, Fahrenheit, or Kelvin. I don’t know if I’ve played any other games that have Kelvin as an option. Enemies, target objects, and bases all have floating life bars as well, so you can always see the status of things. This is really helpful and I’m glad it’s there, but it also adds even more HUD to the screen. I guess the best way to describe Starlink overall is that it looks the way it’s supposed to. I don’t think I’d change anything about it visually other than giving it more power so the details could be even crisper in the landscapes.

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The sound is solid. The effects are limited to user interactions, which is a bit of a disappointment, but you don’t usually notice it during normal gameplay. What I mean is everything you do has a sound effect, but only certain things you do things to have a reaction sound. For example, if you shoot a canister that’s meant to be shot, you will hear your weapons fire and you will hear the canister explode. But if you shoot a wall, that’s not meant to be shot, you will hear your weapons fire, but the wall won’t make a sound. Essentially there are a limited number of sound profiles and interactions in the game. But again, most of the time you won’t notice this unless you’re actively shooting things you aren’t meant to shoot. Your ship has sounds for everything from boosting and jumping to changing out weapons. And the things you’re supposed to interact with all make sounds as well. The quality is clean and mostly clear, but it can get drowned out by your weapons fire. You do have the ability to set separate volume levels 1 – 100 for speech, SFX, music, and ambient sounds as well as change the audio mix between three sound profile options.

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The dialog audio is good. There are many different characters that speak in this game and they all have their own voices. That includes NPCs like shop keepers and outlaws. All speaking characters, including outlaws, have individual names and their talking avatar shows up on your screen during dialog. You will never see any characters walking around though. Every sentient being is in a ship at all times. Only wildlife and enemies are just walking around the landscapes. The wildlife have their own sound profiles as well, which is always a nice touch.

The gameplay takes some getting used to. It’s essentially an all-range mode fighter plane game that takes place both in space and on the ground. You have the option to free fly between space, the sky within a planet’s atmosphere, and at ground level. You are always in your ship, but the way you move is determined by the flight mode/space you’re in. In general, the controls are fairly straight forward. You have up to two weapons mounted at any time, which you control with the triggers. You can boost, shield, jump, and interact with the four buttons (A,B,X,Y) on the right joy-con and you use the shoulders and arrow buttons for special commands. When in ground flight mode, you have a lot more control and don’t have to worry about altitude. But you also have limits to how high up you can jump. What is interesting though is that the game seems to have dynamic jumping, meaning it tends to make you jump as high as you need to go rather than having a limited jump height. There is a max limit though before you have to change to flight mode, which you do by holding the right shoulder. My biggest complaint is that the buttons aren’t customizable. I wish I could swap the boost and jump buttons and make the shield a different button as well. I pretty much never shield during combat because of where the button is placed.

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The fact that you’re always in your ship is a good thing. It makes for a more streamlined experience. You travel around planets and mine for resources, among other tasks, but things don’t require as much nitty gritty work. Boxes are scattered around the worlds that contain Electrum, the equivalent of gold/money, mods, and other useful things. You just have to shoot or blow them up to open them. The items contained within the boxes are automatically collected. This saves you so much time. At first I didn’t realize collecting was automatic so I went up to every box and manually collected things. But once I realized I didn’t have to I started sniping boxes from far away and saving tons of time farming. There are also resources that need to be mined from nature like plants and metal ore. These do need to be picked up manually. They can be sold at outposts for Electrum. NPCs will often task you with collecting things for them as well a number of other types of tasks like deliveries, scouting/exploring missions, and hunts for enemies and objects. You use Electrum and special resources to upgrade the main ship, your general skills/perks, and outposts. Your weapons and fighter ships are upgraded through perks rather than individually. But each weapon, ship, and pilot has their own experience gauge and leveling, so it pays to play with various loadouts so you’re developing your entire crew as opposed to just one set. I will admit though that I haven’t been good about that myself just yet. I’m pretty much only playing as Fox in the Arwing and I tend to use the same two guns a majority of the time. In the long run though I will change them once I max them out, otherwise it’s just a waste of XP.

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The game lets you change your loadouts, including ships and pilots, on command. At any time, including in mid-battle, you can just go to the menu screen and change your load outs. Ships and weapons also have mod slots, which matter a lot. Mods can affect a number of things like base damage, elemental damage, healing speed, movement, and so on. You have a limited number of slots for each piece of gear, but these can be expanded a finite amount with general upgrades. The ability to change loadouts in real time is useful because you can create loadouts for multiple scenarios and hot swap them based on the situation rather than having to re-spec your ship for every encounter. Loadouts matter because different mods and weapons work in tandem for the best results. For example, using fire and ice weapons concurrently results in a “Thermal Shock” damage scenario. You freeze enemies susceptible to ice damage, causing them to literally freeze in place and sometimes fall over. Then you burn them with fire ammo. The resulting reaction between the two types of ammo causes additional damage and effects to enemies. There are several types of weapons combinations that have special effects. This is why preparing multiple layouts is so useful.

The Ubisoft Club rewards for Starlink are some of the most useful I’ve seen in any Ubisoft game. The four rewards give you a collection of strong mods that will greatly enhance your performance. I don’t know if these mods will be that useful down the road once you’ve started finding higher level stuff and creating your own via mod merging/crafting, but early on the rewards mods are extremely valuable. I recommend buying them right off the bat if you have the Ubi coins to spare. And since the game has more coins to earn than to spend, you still make a net gain if you complete all the rewards tasks, many of which are pretty easy.

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The game, at least at this point, is not too difficult. That’s not to say that it’s easy, but more that it’s fair and rewards you for playing both smart and dynamically. If you just sit in one spot and fire away you might win, depending on the difficulty, but chances are you will struggle. To master the game you need to understand how weapons combinations work, which enemies require which weapons, which the game helps you with, which mod combinations work the best for your play style, and you need to master maneuvering. You also need to pick the right pilot for you. Each pilot, of which there are at least 10, some of which I found later in the game, has their own strengths, weaknesses, and special moves. Fox, for example, summons Peppy, Slippy, and/or Falco to battle. They only stay for the duration of the battle, but it’s a useful technique. You can do this at ground level or in space. Once you get the hang of the game, you will push yourself to harder challenges. I started at normal, but after only two hours in I changed it to hard. I haven’t tried very hard yet. You can also turn friendly fire on or off. I keep it off though personally.

Enemies have levels and you aren’t aware of how big a difference those levels can be until you challenge something way out of your league. My Fox is level four and I haven’t struggled much, but I have had a ship blow up a few times in the normal course of play. But when I discovered a level 16 special enemy, it whipped my ass. Something to come back to later. That’s the nice thing about the game. There are things you know you’ll want to come back to later. The death system is interesting in Starlink. I think it works well for the type of game it is. Your ship has a life bar that heals automatically after a certain amount of time without taking damage, but if you take too much damage too quickly your ship will blow up, but this isn’t game over. You have a total of at least six ships. Each one has its own stats as one of four classes that I’ve seen so far. When you lose a ship, you can just swap out another one and use that one for as long as you want or until it also blows up. Then the next time you get to a repair shop you can spend Electrum to repair all your damaged ships. This system is really convenient because it means you rarely have to stop play even if you got a ship blown up. This also means that there is no stoppage in normal play. You can get hit with multiple battles back to back. Outlaws can attack at any time. You can fly into a nest accidentally. When you go to the menu the game is paused so you don’t have to worry about dying while trying to re-spec. But you never truly know what you need to be prepared for.

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There are also a number of mini-game and puzzle mechanics scattered throughout the game. Some are quite simple like pulling/plucking things. When you want to harvest plants or open doors, you have to grab them with your ship’s cable and then pull. But you have to pull the right amount. There’s a meter that you need to fill with enough pull pressure before the object will release. You aren’t allowed to over pull it though. It has to be properly measured or the object will remain attached. It’s hard to explain in text form, but as you find more important items, the pull min-game becomes harder. Some puzzles involve shooting targets with certain types of ammo or in a certain order. There are door puzzles that require you to figure out a sequence of locks in a specific order. I also really enjoy the ways you can interact with wildlife. You have to scan them to add to your database and learn more about them. Scanning one isn’t enough though. You need to find and scan three or four of the same species to get full data about it. You can also help animals, which I really like. Sometimes you find animals that have infections and you can help remove them. This will make that particular animal act friendlier towards you. To be honest I have yet to see any wildlife act with hostility towards me unprovoked, but I have had them show fear. The game is so much more than just flying around, collecting, and shooting.

While Starlink is a story driven game, it’s also an Assassin’s Creed style open world game. There are tons of side activities, special requests, hidden treasures, and random encounters you can seek out. You can spend a seemingly unlimited amount of time developing your team and resources without touching the main quest. It’s like No Man’s Sky with the option of meaningful gameplay. Overall, I’m very happy with the gameplay experience. There are some control issues you have to get used to and as with all resource games, mining will most likely get old. But as a whole, this is a great experience that I’ve only scratched the surface of.

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As I said, I’m not super far into this game yet. Less than four hours total. So my understanding of the story is still very limited, but I can say that unlike with No Man’s Sky, this is a narrative driven open world(s) game. And that includes Star Fox’s role in the game. You are actively pursuing narrative based goals. You meet characters and develop relationships with them. Outlaws have grudges against you and/or members of your team that they’ve had past interactions with. You’re not just flying around space collecting resources so you can build better ships. The game does have lots of mining opportunities and developing/upgrading your ships and other things in the game are a core part of the gameplay, but this is a single player, story driven experience with a finite amount of content. That more than anything is why I like this game and was almost completely disinterested in No Man’s Sky at release. The story is what makes the game worth playing.

The writing works. It’s not Naughty Dog level storytelling, but it’s a fairly large cast of characters, real social interactions between them, developing relationships, villains, heroes, mysteries, and side characters that you grow fond of. Now again, I’m still very early in. It’s quite possible that this is all just strong foundation to hook the player in early and then it will eventually devolve into a boring mining collectathon with little story. But it doesn’t seem to be going in that direction at this point in the game. So far I’m happy with the characters, I’m happy with the plot, and I’m especially happy with the fact that all the Star Fox team members are an active part of the story, even though they were added in later.

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I’m not gonna speak much on the replay value of a game I’m only three hours into of this seemingly high amount of content. What I will say is that there appears to be quite a bit of content and I assume there will be some future DLC as well. Because of the way the game is structured, there are multiple ways to play and approach things, which means there is the potential to want to replay the game using different pilots, load outs, and tactics. You also have four different difficulty levels. But because you can change difficulty, loadout, ship, and even pilot at a whim, I see no reason to replay the entire game at this point. It makes more sense to just change things around as you play your first playthrough fairly often and make the most out of a well-rounded experience. So at this point, I can’t say whether or not the game makes sense to replay, but in general there appears to be a lot of content anyway so that’s fine for me.

I’m really happy that I’m playing Starlink: Battle for Atlas. I’m not far in yet, but I’ve enjoyed it a lot so far. I’ll admit that my bias towards Star Fox plays a factor. It’s the game that I think many people wanted No Man’s Sky to be with the tradeoff of a finite amount of content. Finite doesn’t mean lacking amount though. A game doesn’t have to be infinite and in my opinion shouldn’t be. I enjoy the fact that the game has a lot to do but still has defined end goals. As I said, I’m not going to score this game so early in my experience with it, but I do recommend it for people who like open worlds, space fighters, and customization options in games. You can also check out some gameplay on my YouTube channel. I’ll be streaming the game via Twitch on weekends as well.

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