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December 21, 2017

Ho, Ho, Ho! Merry Switch-mas!

I mean, granted it’s not Christmas yet -- assuming you’re reading this on upload day instead of that hallowed holiday -- but it’s close enough.  It’s the highest without going over.  Also, we’ve apparently been in Christmas Mode since…I don’t know, before Halloween.  So it’s fine.

Anyway, 2017.  What a year.  Not what I’d call the best year in terms of politics and global events (and let’s leave it at that), but man.  Games on games on games.  Remember that borderline-lethal deluge of games in the first third of the year?  And I say borderline, but it wouldn’t surprise me if people actually bit the dust because of what dropped.  Persona 5, Nier Automata, Yakuza 0, Nioh, Resident Evil 7, and more -- with personal props going to Tales of Berseria, the secret top-tier RPG I’m only mildly butthurt about vis a vis its inevitable overshadowing by higher-profile titles.  But part of the reason we had this deluge is because Nintendo chose to release the Switch in March.  And boy, is it a doozy.

I’m not going to spend any time raving about Breath of the Wild because of course it’s the GOTY.  Instead, I’m going to focus on four other Switch games I’ve put some time into -- and I hope you do, too.  Make yourself or some friend or relative happy…which to be clear can be done just by giving them a copy of ARMS.

Don’t worry.  I won’t talk about ARMS any more in this post.


I’m gonna talk about ARMS some more in this post.

I came into the game late -- the first third of October, as opposed to the original summer release -- and I’ve had it for a couple of months since.  And while I haven’t played it as much as I could or should, I can still say that ARMS is a fun game.  At this stage, I would rather play more of it than go back to Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite; at least that way I wouldn’t have to deal with annoying Dante and Jedah players (of which there are many).  And lag.  So much lag that erases my combos.  Admittedly I haven’t tried ARMS online so there could be lag there as well, but whatever.

I’ve gotten an intense amount of mileage from the game solely through its single-player content.  To wit: there are 7 levels of difficulty, and the highest I’ve ever gotten to is 3.  Technically that makes me a total wimp, but Level 3 -- to say nothing of the default CPU in a standard versus match -- can and will leave me a pulverized mess on the floor.  The fundamentals of fighting games are all there, but the approach to each element is so different that you need to change your thinking to compensate.  Same destination, different path -- and you can define that path as you see fit.  Your character, your movements, your defensive techniques, and ESPECIALLY the placements of your shots; the execution barrier is low, but the skill ceiling is high.

It’s also worth mentioning the Arms acquisition system, since I didn’t last time (man, WTH was I thinking?).  Here’s how it works: by playing through the game’s modes, you earn coins you can use to access a special minigame -- a sort of shooting gallery where you break targets with your punches.  You’ll only have a few seconds to play (depending on how many coins you put in), but you can punch out wrapped presents to unlock new Arms (read: your weapons/loadout) for specific characters.  That’s fine, but recent patches have made it easier to buy your way into that minigame: play the game, earn badges for your achievements, get coins for those badges, and then get more Arms.  There’s some grinding, but not as much as there was and your “punishment” is to play more ARMS.

Basically, the system is a more elegant solution to the lootbox controversies as of late.  For starters: no microtransactions.  Don’t like how you could get random equipment for a character you’ll never use (like a Legendary skin for Widowmaker)? No problem; ARMS is weighted so that the character you use most will have WAY more presents pop into view.  Think you can lock in a competitive advantage?  As far as I know, your weapon choice won’t guarantee an automatic win -- because it doesn’t matter how good your loadout is if you can’t land a hit.

Also, Min Min continues to be the greatest.  Prove me wrong if you can.

Splatoon 2!!

Full disclosure: out of the four Switch games I’ve got right now, I’ve played Splatoon 2 the least.  That’s not an insult to the game, of course; it’s just that I’ve put more time into other stuff.  Besides, it seemed like such a no-brainer that it barely needed mention.  Did you like Splatoon 1?  Do you like Splatoon in general?  Do you want to play more Splatoon?  If you answered yes to any of those questions, then Splatoon 2 is a good game and you should get it if you haven’t.

Once again, it’s a shooter for people who are terrible at shooters.  Though it is helpful to take aim at and blow up your foes, the object of the game is to cover each stage with as much of your team’s ink as possible, and keep it that way until time runs out (at least in the standard ruleset).  So it’s less about pixel-perfect headshots and more about controlling space and territories -- literally.  True to the sequel moniker, you’ve got a host of new options to toy around with.  I haven’t bought or tried the dual pistols yet, but I just might have to for the sake of gaining the almighty dodge roll.  I’ve had a secret fondness of dodge rolls since the days of Kingdom Hearts 1, you see.

Is it possible to dock points from Splatoon 2?  Sure, depending on your tastes.  It builds on the formula, but doesn’t do too much to deviate from it in the main mode of play.  There’s another single-player campaign that’s just as serviceable as the last one, but I can’t help but wish it had some more bells and whistles (though I’d be willing to play it just to see what happened to Callie).  But the base game is still top-notch, and free updates are doing their best to breathe new life into it on a regular basis -- like the ability to switch loadouts between matches instead of backing out entirely.

Honestly, though, there’s one addition that comes off as a side mode, but feels as interesting to me as the standard battles -- maybe more, depending on what mood I’m in.  Chalk this up to me being more about PvE instead of PvP, but the Salmon Run mode pits 4 players against an army of aquatic invaders (along with the occasional boss/elite); in order to succeed, you have to survive as a team and harvest the Golden Eggs that drop within a time limit.  It’s been compared to Horde Mode before, and with good reason -- yet, strangely enough, I’m compelled to play that as much as I am the usual battles.  Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I’m woefully underleveled and thus weigh down my team like an anchor the size of a 747.

Nah, that can’t be it.

Super Mario Odyssey!!

Is it worth it to buy a Switch just to play this game?  Ehhhhhhhhhhhhhh…I don’t know.  That depends on the gamer in question, and/or whether they’ll view the purchase as an investment for future endeavors or a bitter regret days down the line.  More importantly: what kind of message is it sending to Nintendo -- a company that’s banked on nostalgia and a few choice properties for over thirty years -- when everyone’s going gaga over another Mario game?  Are we at once trapped in and enabling a negative feedback loop where innovation takes a back seat to the fuzzy yet ironclad grip of nostalgia and the familiar?

Probably.  But this game makes the best of a bad situation -- “bad situation” being relative, given that we’ve been cursed with a fantastic game.

I’ve finished Odyssey at this point.  I haven’t gotten all of the moons yet, for reasons that don’t need to be explained.  I may or may not have gotten the “true ending” considering some of the post-game content that opens up and likely answers questions that have lingered since day one.  But I can say it was a delight to play from start to finish.  Is it in the Mario mold?  Sure.  But as with plenty of Nintendo releases, it’s about what each game does to innovate within that mold.  And in that sense Odyssey is downright fractal in terms of its innovation -- changing the rules and defying expectations from one minute to the next.

The one constant about Odyssey is that it never really gets more challenging than the first couple of hours in.  I know that there are some secret levels later on, but in terms of the base game?  Smooth sailing.  An even, relaxed pace.  Those looking to test their platforming mettle are better off looking elsewhere; on the other hand, I don’t think Odyssey is necessarily about putting you through platformer hell.  (That’s why Mario Maker exists.)  It wants as many players as possible to see as much as possible, without being gated off by extreme demands of frame-perfect button presses.  It’s an adventure, not a trial.

My brother is one of those people that adore Mario Sunshine, though from what I can gather and remember he’s in the minority.  The FLUDD and its mechanics may have dampened the flow of the game, and/or made traversal too clunky.  In Odyssey, you have a lot of options for moving quickly and clearing space, whether it’s on the ground or in the air.  Using Cappy as a makeshift platform is a game-changer in more ways than one, so now I can’t help but wonder what the next step is in Mario’s gameplay evolution.  Where do you go from here?  Guess we’ll find out someday…

Xenoblade Chronicles 2!!

And now that I’ve gone to YouTube to grab this trailer, it’s only a matter of time before I get lots of “recommended” videos dousing me with spoilers.  I can’t even look up songs without taking a big gamble.  Thanks, YouTube!  YOU’RE THE BEST!

In any case, this game.  I’m not going to go too in-depth here, because there’s a lot to unpack and it’d take a full post to do it.  But having put in more than 20 hours so far, I can talk about it at least a little bit.  For starters?  Yeah, it’s good.  It’s as anime as it gets (or maybe as JRPG as it gets?  The lines have blurred), which might be an instant deal-breaker for legitimate reasons.  Even I can’t help but sigh and groan over some of the events and archetypes here.  Despite that, it’s a hard game to put down.

This is my third Xenoblade foray, so between starting this new title and putting in 120+ hours into Xenoblade Chronicles X, there was a pretty hefty adjustment period.  It seems like a constant circumstance is that it takes me a while to get used to the new combat system, the flow, and what it expects of you.  XC2 is not XCX, and for multiple reasons.  Healing works differently, for one thing.  There are some natural healing arts, but in a lot of cases you knock HP potions out of foes with your special moves, and you have to manually grab them.  It does mean you can’t just stand there and auto-attack until everything dies, which is good.  But woe to you if you’re fighting on terrain that doesn’t let you move more than a few paces in any direction.

Like the other XC games before it, once you get a handle on the battle system, there are plenty of moments where you get sucked into the rhythm and feel the hype -- when it’s not so much about remembering what you learned in tutorials and more about “seeing the code” behind the game.  Lots of thrilling moments, to be sure.  But in true franchise fashion, the real delight comes from seeing these sprawling, colorful vistas on your TV (or if you’re playing in handheld mode, in the palms of your hands).  I do wonder if the game’s narrative -- and the inherent linearity -- will make world traversal less important as it was in XCX, but we’ll deal with that when the time comes.

Also, lootboxes are in this game…sort of.  You get glowing cubes that contain Blades, AKA your weapons, classes, and move list rolled into one (to be dropped into one of three slots).  That means you’ll get some common, generic Blades -- albeit with different weapons for you to build the fighters you want -- but if you’re lucky, you’ll get the unique and powerful Rare Blades.  This one was my first (thankfully not my last), and my hype levels hit the roof every time I get a new one.  That’s not to say Adenine goes into the trash, though; as the saying goes, you never forget your first.  Also, she was exactly what I wanted, so there’s that.

It doesn’t make lootboxes any less of a dirty system, but…hey, I’m no saint.  I can cheer when I want to.

And that’s about all I’ve got for now.  It almost goes without saying, but I’m happy with the Switch, and I’m happy for the Switch.  It’s off to a solid start sales-wise, and with Nintendo at the helm, it’s a given that we’re in for more awesome games down the line.  (The second a new Smash Bros. gets announced, Nintendo will have everybody come running -- including me.)  I’m still hoping, if not begging, for stronger third party support; historically, it’s the area that the Big N has struggled with for decades.  Or an area, given issued like its status -- or lack thereof -- in the online space.

But hope springs eternal.  It’s a marvel in its own right that Nintendo got to have a do-over in the eighth console generation -- or does this mean we’re in the ninth now? -- but here we are regardless.  Even though I wish the Wii U didn’t have to be sacrificed as tribute to summon the Switch, this fresh start has the chance to do what every game and every console should: put a smile on people’s faces.  And whether it’s in the holidays or beyond, I know that’s exactly what we’re in for.

Happy Holidays, guys.    

And remember: #GoodGuyNintendo.

Also remember: I’m a pretty good shill when I need to be.

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