Posts tagged Nintendo Switch

DOOM on Switch – Hands on report and experiment

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Very cool video from DigitalFoundry. I respect them a lot for their comparisons and this one was particularly interesting to me because of the “Switch like PC” they built. The comparison is far from perfect of course but it’s a nice approach. One thing to notice is that on the Switch, shader performance can be increased a lot by using FP16 instead of FP32 for calculations (Half vs Float -> 16bit floats vs 32bit floats) because the shader cores of the Tegra can either process one 32bit shader operation or 2 16bit shader operations at the same time. You lose precision but this precision isn’t even important most of the time (except for something like shadows which you don’t want to look distorted because of lower precision). That’s something especially the NVidia cards on PC can’t do. They would just process one 16bit shader per 32bit core. Current AMD cards are able to make use of that though as well as the PS4 Pro and I guess this is one of the “secrets” of bringing a game like DOOM to the Switch.

The Nintendo Switch Paradox | How Everyone Got It Wrong

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Interesting video with some good analysis but I want to point out that everyone is not everyone ;-) I remember my predictions being somewhat in line with the current situation :-P

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle – Review

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When UbiSoft‘s first game for the Switch got leaked to some amount, many players were furious. The beloved Nintendo characters of the Mario universe together with UbiSoft‘s silly casual-game figureheads? How would that not be a recipe for total disaster? But E3 came, Mario + Rabbids got announced properly with Miyamoto taking a spot on UbiSoft’s E3 stage and very quickly, sentiments began to change. The game would turn out to be a mix of exploration adventure and turn-based tactics. But did it turn out to be any good?

 

 

The story is a silly but fun narrative about the dimension traveling Rabbids stumbling across some sort of fusion device, crash landing in the Mushroom Kingdom and the device causing trouble everywhere by fusing Rabbids with the flora and fauna of the kingdom. It’s pretty clear from the start that there is no serious overarching narrative; the story is the silly foundation for a game that wants to exploit the artdesign of Super Mario and the Rabbids in all possible ways and it’s really good at that. Speaking of the audiovisual design: lush graphics, a lot of animated background assets and the creative world design all help bringing the game to life but the characters are without any doubt the diamond core of the design. I never liked the Rabbids much but in this game they often made me laugh through their actions and the quality of the animation of those actions; the designers really worked hard to work out the essence of slapstick. The music is also very good, with one particularly outstanding piece of opera interpretation.

 

 

Technically the game runs fine after the first patch. Before that it would noticeably dip below 30 Fps in certain situations but after the patch the game always remained at a solid 30 for me. This is important in a larger context because the game runs on UbiSoft’s Snowdrop engine, the game engine introduced with The Division and also used in the upcoming Starlink: Battle for Atlas (which is coming out for Switch as well), South Park: The Fractured But Whole and the license games for the next Avatar movies. This means together with AnvilNext 2.0 UbiSoft has already 2 graphic engines for Switch and based on the huge success of Mario + Rabbids it stands to hope that we will see more games and ports from UbiSoft coming to Switch.

The gameplay loop consists of two main parts: you will run around the transformed worlds of the Mushroom Kingdom, solving puzzles, finding switches and looting treasures. Your progression through the worlds is linear but the game does a good job of hiding it most of the time by giving you alternative routes to explore and secrets to find. Regularly you will come across areas marked with pirate style flags. Entering those areas will initiate a turn-based battle, the second big part of the gameplay. In general there are 3 types of those battles: beat all enemies, beat a specific enemy (those are the boss- and miniboss-fights) and reach a certain area within the battlegrounds (sometimes with a certain sidekick character which turns the mission into an escort mission). Your party will only ever consist of 3 different characters and one of them has to be Mario. The other two you can choose from a roster of 7 characters but you need to have at least one Rabbid character on the team (so no Mario, Luigi and Peach team). Each character has a different set of abilities and can use a different type of weapon which means you have a lot of freedom to experiment with your team throughout the game, especially because you can at any time freely redistribute the skillpoints of each character. Can’t beat a certain mission? Maybe try out a different team with different skills and weapons. The game’s difficulty is fine most of the time; it should be not to hard to make it through most battles okay-ish but if you’re after that “perfect” rating for each battle, the difficulty will raise significantly. The perfect rating basically depends not only on your success in the mission but also if none of your characters went KO in the battle and if you managed to finish the battle in a certain amount of turns, forcing you to play as efficient as possible.

 

 

The game contains 4 worlds each divided into 8 chapters (except for the last world who has 9 chapters) and those kept me busy between 25 and 30 hours but I will admit that I tried from the very beginning to solve every battle with a “perfect” rating, making me replay some of them 5 to 6 times. If you rush through the game I guess you will still be busy for 20 hours though. Once beaten, every world will open up additional challenge missions and you can also try to find every secret after the game ends and you unlock the last environmental manipulation skill which will keep you busy an additional 5 to 10 hours I guess. And last but not least there is a dedicated set of coop missions that you can play with an online partner. So all in all, the game doesn’t just offer good gameplay and fun adventure, it will also keep you busy for a while especially if you’re a completionist.

However, the game has some flaws that I don’t want to forget. First of all, there is a planning mode at the beginning of each battle which doesn’t really deserve the name. You can view the battlefield and change up your team but you can’t change the character’s starting points or even see their weapon range after moving. And while the difficulty is mostly fine, at the end of the game there is a noticeable spike in difficulty because the game presents you with a set of three consecutive battles and doesn’t save in between, so if you mess up one turn in the third battle this means you will have to replay the first two as well. And the biggest issue is this: there is no confirmation prompt before your character moves. This is bad because it means if you carelessly chose one field too much or too less in your movement turn, the character will move there without the possibility of rewinding or changing but since positioning is crucial in a game like this you really have to be focused at all times during the battles.

 

 

Conclusion: 3 (on a -5 to 5 scale). Despite the lack of support at the end of WiiU‘s lifecycle, UbiSoft has always been one of the most important 3rd party partners for Nintendo, often trying to make the best of the respective Nintendo console’s gimmick. Just think about the sword fighting of Red Steel or the gamepad use in Zombi U. Often those games suffered from a lack in polish, resulting in disappointing sales. But Mario + Rabbids is different in many respects. First off: they took the their time to polish this game and didn’t rush it just to meet the Switch‘s release date. Second: they didn’t try to do something fancy that relies on HD Rumble or motion controls or JoyCon sharing. They focused on a solid idea, perfectly suited for a console that you can take on the go and executed it very well. The result is a game that is neither revolutionary nor relying on some weird hardware feature. It’s just really, really good and fun and the fact that Nintendo was willing to let UbiSoft use their characters to boost sales and really make this a Nintendo exclusive is a very good sign for the Switch‘s future and tells a lot about the new openness of the video game traditionalist from Kyoto. Unless you really don’t like turn-based tactics, this game is worth a buy in my opinion.

ARMS – Review

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The genre of Fighting Games – which is not to be confused with Beat ’em Ups – can be tracked back to 1976 when SEGA released their game Heavyweight Champ. Nowadays, Fighting Games have become a wide field of competitive sensation that even got its own popular event every year called Evo that’s a profitable championship with tens of thousand viewers watching as pro Fighting Game players compete against each other in different games. Those game can get as technical as the long running Tekken series but can also be much less about combo crafting and more about tactical mind games like Nintendo‘s popular Smash Bros. series. The genre has grown a lot since the rivalry of Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat and it’s terminology as well as the abstract ideas behind them can be quite intimidating for newcomers who want to get into them. ARMS tries to extract the core idea of Fighting Games and transform them into something more digestible without scaring off players familiar with the genre. Can it do to Fighting Games what Mario Kart did to Racing games? Let’s see…

 

 

The name ARMS could not be more fitting to this game that puts its fighters with their extendable arms front and center. The idea is to play a game of spacing and strategy, resulting in tactics born from action and reaction in a kind of rock, paper and scissors style. Punches can be blocked, blocks open an opportunity for throws and throws can be cancelled by punches, but there are almost always means to use those actions and trick your opponent; you could block for a prolonged time only to wait for your enemy to start a throw and then quickly punch them. This leads to many situations where the game quickly gets to its meta mechanics of risk and reward, trying to outplay your opponent with witty tactics and unpredictable behaviour. But that doesn’t mean skill is not involved. ARMS is a very dynamic game where composure can make all the difference in a close battle as you try to pull off actions as you intended and not starting to mash buttons (if playing with classic controls) or moving the JoyCons furiously (if playing with motion controls). Its also useful to have a general strategy, a battle plan, set up that you always can go back to. Such strategies would depend on the arena you are fighting in and the character of you opponent which means that knowledge of the game’s content will definitely come in handy and make you a better player. It’s worth noting that the motion controls work very well and while I prefer my sticks and buttons, this is definitely not Wii Sports Boxing 2!

 

 

ARMS‘s cast of characters consists of 10 different playable fighters that differ in weight, speed, special abilities, design and ARMS available from the start. Most of them are iconic and well designed, easily noticeable and will without doubt spawn interesting cosplay in the future. Like the characters in many other Fighting Games though, they lack deeper personality and so it’s difficult to see them as more than fancy tools that you want to get familiar with. Part of this is the lack of proper and interesting single player content, especially compared to something like Injustice 2‘s great campaign mode. The only reasons to keep playing the single player tournament is the AI – which is quite capable in the middle levels and is able to destroy you at the higher levels – as well as the fact that you need to beat the tournament at least on difficulty level 4 (of 7) to unlock the competitive ranked online mode. Other than that the only thing I got out of the mode so far are coins which you can also get by playing other modes like the online party mode where a lobby of up to 12 players will be thrown at each other in combat scenarios of 1vs1, 2vs2, 3vs3, 4vs4 or even player vs boss AI. The single player mode can be played cooperatively though which is a great way to ease your friends into the game! Combat modes range from classic fighting to target destruction, basketball (where your goal is to punch or throw your enemy in the basket) and volleyball. It’s a much more interesting and fun mode to learn about different ARMS and characters and to farm coins. And farming coins you will do. A lot. Every character starts with a set of 3 different ARMS that you can select from before every battle for your left and right arm separately. Those ARMS are mostly fine for learning the basics of each character but once you found your main character you will want to get more to broaden your selection and thus your strategic options. Acquiring them is done by playing a mini game in which you will need to destroy targets and once in a while get the chance to punch a box which will grant you a new ARM for one of the characters. This mini game can be played in a short, medium and long variant and playing them will cost you 30, 100 and 200 coins respectively.

 

 

The problem with that is this: not only are the ARMS itself random, the character they are for is randomly chosen as well (although the chance is increased to get an ARM for the character you’re playing the minigame with) which means you will spend a lot of coins to even unlock a complete set for the character you want. The number of ARMS you unlock is also tied somewhat to your performance in the minigame and also the maximum amount of boxes that will appear differ, which leads to the next problem: I have seen 3-4 ARM boxes in short, 8-11 in medium and 18-22 in long variants of the minigame. This means one ARM will cost you between 7.5 and 10 coins in short, 9 and 12.5 coins in medium and 9 and 11 in long variants (according to my own experience, other players may have different numbers). To me this means that the short variant is pretty much the best one which I also have to save up the least for and it overall reduces the danger of completely messing up because with one bad run, you only waste 30 coins instead of 100 or 200. To me, it’s not a good adaptation of the system used in Mario Kart 8 especially because you’re not exactly awash with coins. Technically the game is very solid, with great use of color and specular materials and it runs at a rock solid 60 frames per second which is absolutely key to such a fighting game; the exception is the 4 player splitscreen where the game has to compromise with 30 frames prer second but this mode is only good for casual party gaming anyway. The arenas are varied and the soundtrack is quite catchy but still not nearly as good as Mario Kart 8. The game’s mechancis work great and are a lot of fun to explore and apply and the depth of this game becomes apparent after the first few fights. It’s certainly the most unique fighting game available which says a lot when you have other fighting games that are brutal or cute, have Superheroes and -villains fighting each other as well as over the top Anime characters and even drawn stick men.

 

 

Conclusion: 2 (on a -5 to 5 scale). ARMS is one brilliant idea flawlessly executed but not backed up with a lot of content. Nintendo has already promised future free content updates and the first new character is about to be released, probably with a new stage as well since every character has its own signature stage. The unlocking mechanic is something that I feel holds ARMS back although it means to keep players engaged. We will see if ARMS has some legs through its updates (like Splatoon) and I hope it will get enough attention from the fighting game community so this can become a returning franchise for Nintendo. Right now its a great game to enthrall new players interested in the genre but only features enough to keep veterans around. It gets better with every hour played but probably loses a lot of players in the process. It’s like a very tasty sausage, cut down at both ends.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe – Review

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There a few genres nowadays that Nintendo still dominates like they used to in past century. The industry has grown a lot since back then and while most games from Nintendo still belong to the top of the crowd, there is one genre that they still dominate today like they did back since 1992: the fun racer. Although humble attempts at the genre like Crash Team Racing and Blur tried to break Nintendo‘s monopoly, the fun racing genre is till all about Mario Kart. A game series that started of brilliantly with Super Mario Kart and stayed on top of every eventual competition ever since because they never radically changed the formula although with every game there was some unique aspect like the two player on one cart mechanic from Double Dash or the motion controls added to Mario Kart 7 for the Wii. Now we’ve got Mario Kart 8 Deluxe for the new Nintendo Switch which for the first time wasn’t built on top of the basic Mario Kart foundation but instead iterates on a complete game released on the WiiU in 2014.

 

 

So what did the Deluxe version change compared to the WiiU version? Well, the most communicated change was the addition of a bunch of real Battle Mode arenas that the WiiU version is lacking. It was the biggest complaint about the 2014 Mario Kart because the Battle Mode has been a core mode of the series ever since the SNES Super Mario Kart and while technically still existing in Mario Kart 8, it was clearly handled with a lower priority with no dedicated arenas and players instead driving around the standard race tracks of the game trying to pop each others balloons. For Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Nintendo did put in a bunch of real arenas specifically designed for this Switch release. The other big change is that players can now hold two items at once and some item containers now give two items when driving through them. I’ll discuss the implications of this change later, just let me tell you that while being a positive change in general it really drives the frustration factor in some places. Other than that, Nintendo has added some additional drivers but that’s about it.

 

Mario Kart 8 was a great game to begin with and as you would expect the Deluxe version starts high because of that. The art direction is what I would still call very strong, with great track designs and small details like face expressions of the characters when overtaking others or getting hit. Effects are being put to good use without ever getting in the player’s face and textures are underlining the overall aesthetic of the game fine. The Deluxe version received some technical improvements compared to the WiiU version though, most notably a true 1080p resolution and I am not sure if it’s because of that or if Nintendo also raised the texture resolution but the game looks better than its 2014 foundation. It also stays at a solid 60 frames per second when playing split screen with another person and drops to 30 frames when playing in 3 or 4 player split screen mode without sacrificing the 1080p. One thing that has to be mentioned again is just how great the soundtrack of this game is. It was praised back in 2014 for its quality and Nintendo luckily didn’t change a thing here.

 

 

Nintendo also added some control options, most notably the smart contols. Those will auto correct the driving of the player without the player really noticing it and it really helps to stay on track and just feel good playing Mario Kart. The only visible clue that a driver has enabled this helper mode is a little antenna coming out of the back. It won’t enable to let beginners play like a pro all of a sudden but it makes the game more accessible. The other options are auto accelerate and motion controls and with all three enabled Mario Kart 8 Deluxe can be controlled similarly to what was possible on Mario Kart 7 on the Wii or Mario Kart 8 on the WiiU, but it works much better!

In general Nintendo should be commended for all the options they put into Mario Kart 8 Deluxe but then again it shouldn’t be surprising that the company that was always on the forefront of intuitive gameplay and new control options is thinking about how to draw in new players while not putting off long time fans. The only change that I don’t really get is the missing YouTube export from the replay gallery. This was a very nice feature of the original Mario Kart 8 and it seems to be missing in the Deluxe edition. Maybe this is due to planned system wide video sharing functionality that Nintendo promised at the Switch reveal event but right now there is no way of getting your replays from Mario Kart 8 Deluxe to YouTube without additional hardware.

 

 

Teased before, let’s talk about the change in game mechanics with the dual item handling. I can see why this decision was made by Nintendo because it makes the game more interesting for beginners and gives them more opportunities to attack drivers in front of them, but it really raises the difficulty on the other end of the spektrum significantly. Mario Kart being sometimes brutal with the things that can come at you in the final round is a thing that exists since the introduction of the blue shell that will automatically hit the driver in the first place. But never before has it been this punishing, especially in the 200cc cups. See, in the slower cups, any perfect turn and every drift boost that you can get out is something the rest of the drivers will have a hard time catching up to because the speed of the vehicles is limited. Even with Mario Kart’s infamous rubberband AI, you can gain so much advantage that even bad luck won’t hold you back from taking that 1st place in the end. But as you enter higher cc cups, the reward for driving perfectly is less pronounced in gains but not driving perfectly is punished harder as it becomes more difficult to stay on the track.

 

200cc is a speed introduced as a free update for the original Mario Kart 8 and back then I didn’t spend a lot of time with it. At that time I had already unlocked everything and was comfortable with playing online (which is 100cc if I am not mistaken). But in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, you need to get at least the gold trophy in ever 200cc cup to unlock Gold-Mario; this is just a prestige thing, but a long-time Mario Kart player like me needs to have him, especially since every other driver is unlocked from the start (which is different from the WiiU Mario Kart 8 and – as I think – a good thing). I just got my last 200cc cup finished with a gold trophy and 3 stars (which means you need to finish every race in that cup 1st place) this morning and the journey towards that was brutal. 200cc needs you to learn a new facette of Mario Kart: braking. And by that I don’t mean hard braking before going into a turn, it is braking while drifting to reduce the drift radius on the fly so your speed will not vault you off the track. By the time I unlocked Gold-Mario I felt pretty confident in the art of brake-drifting but of course I wanted to have those 3 stars everywhere. And this is where the frustration began. Taking the first place in every 200cc race is not so much a matter of skill at some point but you need luck. A lot of luck sometimes.

 

 

I was struck by luck sometimes where I managed to finish some races 1st place after coming into the last turn as 8th place only to see that all 7 drivers before me had been hit by a blue shell explosion. But more often, I found myself driving perfect races only to have my blue shell destroying horn taken from my by a ghose powerup from a different driver and then get hit by a blue shell and 3 red shells just to come in second. Those are moments where the randomness of Mario Kart will not result in exhilerating enjoyment anymore but pure frustration due to the fact that every other driver now has double the chance to screw you over because of that changed gameplay mechanic. I want to stress though, that those frustrating moments don’t happen until you hit that skill ceiling and really start to go for that ultimate goal of having the perfect rating in every cup. If that’s what it takes to get more players into Mario Kart because its more enjoyable for them I think the change is a good one in the end after all.

 

It also works surprisingly well online where I didn’t have a feeling of “that’s much more chaotic than before” so far. Races pretty much feel the same they did with the original Mario Kart 8 which is probably due to the fact that the AI is somewhat working together against the player while actual players are more of lonely bastions only trying to fight for themselves. I onyl tried out the Battle Mode briefly online because I still need to improve a lot to be competitive there but it’s fast and fun and filled with enough different modes to feel fresh even after playing for 1 or 2 hours.

 

 

Conclusion: 4 (on a -5 to 5 scale). Let’s get it out of the way: if you have even the slightest interest in fun racing there is no way around Mario Kart, and if we’re at that Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. It’s the best version of the best fun racing series that is available to date. If you already own Mario Kart 8 for the WiiU it might not be worth the full price (especially if you don’t want to play online anymore) but on the other hand you can eventually sell the WiiU disc and give yourself a decent discount for the Switch version. I hope that Nintendo will find a better way to balance out the random generator in a future installment and I don’t understand why the YouTube sharing function has been taken away from the replay mode. But other than that I feel like Nintendo has very little room left for improvement in future Mario Kart titles and I am curious what they will come up to differentiate the next Mario Kart from this great installment.

Ready to make the Switch?

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Ever since the WiiU’s fate was sealed, gaming enthusiasts wondered what the next Nintendo console would be like. Would there even be a next home console from Nintendo? A bunch of patents suggested a hybrid between home- and portable console while others showed new gimmicks. When Nintendo then showed of their new console Switch – formerly known as NX – the main feature was immediately understood by everyone. This was very different from the revelation of the WiiU which even more seasoned gamers didn’t understand at first.

The console was released March 3rd this year for $299/€330 and has been a huge success since. It’s still not in stock at Amazon and other big retailers but you might ask yourself if this new thing from Nintendo is for you. I’ve been using the Switch since launch (a bit over 6 weeks at the time of writing) and will now try to tell you if you’re ready to make the switch.

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If you don’t know what the Switch is, Nintendo explains the Switch like this: the Switch is Nintendo’s new home console, that attempts to make the “home” part optional by giving you the opportunity of taking it with you, wheter you want to play it in your garden, in your bed or on the train. Many people will probably describe the Switch as a handheld console with a docking station to play your games on the TV. The truth is: it is neither one, nor the other.

The difference between the Switch and something like the 3DS or even the PlayStation Vita is the hardware power of the console and the way its makers are going to support it. While 3DS and Vita most of the time got the low-fi games of the best selling franchises the Switch will be Nintendo’s flagship device. As such Nintendo put more power in it than it would have in a regular handheld and it also renounced features like Streetpass that were prominently put in their 3DS devices for the past 6 years.

But the Switch is also not your typical next gen console. To even have a chance of being portable, Nintendo’s engineers had to find a partner to supply them with relatively powerful but small CPU and GPU hardware that would also be easy to program for and be as battery friendly as possible. It found that partner with NVidia which provides a custom Tegra SoC. It’s a powerful chipset – at least 2 times as powerful than what the WiiU is with room for further improvement if early adopter developers are to be trusted – but compared to the PS4 and XO ports will probably need to be noticeably downgraded in asset quality to run well. Some are calling Nintendo out for daylight robbery because of its hardware power and price, but there is one important point that often gets forgotten: form factor. Being a console that you can take on the go the Switch is hardly 1/6 of the WiiU’s size and circa 1/25 the size of a PS4 Pro.

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The picture above shows the PS4 Pro, WiiU and Switch and shows the huge difference in size. This is of course because the Switch can be taken anywhere (a proper case is recommended) and this works beautifully. The Switch has accompanied me almost every time I left the house in the past 6 weeks (except for some jogging workout and visits at the barber because I know I never have to wait long) and I have played games like Breath of the Wild (find my review of it on artsygamer as well), Shovel Knight, Binding of Isaac and others; let me tell you this: I don’t want to take a train ride without the Switch ever again.

The JoyCon controllers work fine for me most of the time, especially using them detached from the Switch is an amazing feeling for me; something that other people might have to get used to admittedly. They can’t compete with the Pro controller though which might very well be the best gamepad I have used so far (disclaimer: I didn’t get the chance to play with the XBox One Pro Controller so far), save for the shoulder triggers which sadly are digital triggers; it would have been difficult to put analogue triggers on the JoyCons – I get it; it would have been a nice feature for racing games nevertheless.

Battery runtime is another important topic as well for portability and I am happy to report that mixing games I get 5 hours out of the Switch most of the time. While this may seem little compared to the 3DS, it actually is close to my experience with the PlayStation Vita’s battery life and somewhat remarkable compared to the battery runtime of smartphones when doing some non-stop gaming. Luckily Nintendo uses a USB type C on the Switch which allows for some cheap battery pack setups that will prolong the Switch’s life on the go easily to something around 8 to 12 hours. I have an emergency battery pack in my bag all the time (mainly because smartphones and friends who may need a quick recharge on the go) but so far never had to use it on my Switch.

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I don’t want to conceal some caveats I have with the system however. The first thing is the system’s management of space and how it doesn’t allow the user to control it. The system’s internal space is 32GB and of course not all of it is useable. The Switch can handle Micro SD cards however which means you can expand the memory by 128GB for as low as €35 (even lower if you access speed is no concern for you). But the way the Switch handles storage is annoying. If there is not Micro SD card present, the system defaults to its internal storage of course. If a Micro SD card is present, the system defaults to the Micro SD card as long as there is space. And the user has no option to transfer data from one to the other. Most of the time this is just fine but if – for example – you want to take advantage of the faster internal storage for a game like Zelda, you need to take out your Micros SD card to force Zelda to download on the system’s memory and then insert the SD card back into the system. I haven’t tried out yet how the save files are created. Of course you’ll want them on a Micro SD card because you can just backup the encrypted data on your PC, but as with the games themselfes the save data can also not be transferred between SD card and device. This means if your Switch breaks your savegames might all be lost. And since there is no cloud saving yet (more on that later) the same goes for a lost or stolen Switch.

There are also no Video On Demand service apps like Amazon or Netflix on the device yet. Reggie Fils Aime told the press that they wanted to focus on getting out a great gaming device first and that apps for the large services will come later so it doesn’t bother me too much. But in the first 4 weeks after the Switch’s release when I was roaming the wild lands of Hyrule, the only reason I turned on other consoles at all was to watch some Netflix or Amazon on them because I couldn’t on the Switch. I also think apps that allow you to download some content and then watch it on the go would be a huge boon for the Switch.

And the last point on my list is all about Nintendo’s upcoming online services. With the Switch, Nintendo will be the last console manufacturer to join the “pay for our online service”-service providers. Currently all online functionality is still free while Nintendo is seemingly still figuring out what the paid service will offer exactly and how much they will charge for it. From my experience, online gaming works pretty good so far with low latency and reasonably fast matchmaking but other than Fast RMX and the Splatoon Testfire Beta there was not much to test so far anyway. April 28th will see the release of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe which will be the first huge multiplayer title to really stress the Nintendo Network for Switch. It should hold up though since Nintendo is using Amazon’s cloud infrastructure which offers high performance and scalability. A bigger questionmark has to be put behind the free retro game offerings and additional features like cloud gamesaves. Nintendo’s plans for voice chat by smartphone app have already been dissed by a lot of players and we will need to wait what and how Nintendo will show and offer.

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Conclusions: the Nintendo Switch is a device that I don’t want to miss anymore. It is not only the logical step to take for a company that needs to break away from the WiiU’s failure but also a major step forward in respect of product design and feature balance. But it’s also a device that will clearly see a lot of improvement in software short- and mid-term and probably new revisions and price cuts mid- and long-term. If you want a rating, here’s my formula for you to find out:

1. How much do you want to have a unique and new gaming hardware on a scale from -1 to 1?
2. How important is it to you being able to seamlessly switch between mobile and living room gaming on a scale from -2 to 2? -2 would be someone who is only interested in playing high profile games on their 4k TV on the sofa, 2 would be someone who is on the train every day and would love to spend more time with gaming that way.
3. How important are Nintendo games to you on a -2 to 2 scale? 2 would be someone who played Nintendo games for a long time and can’t imagine a gamer existence without them, -2 would be someone who avoids Nintendo games on every occasion.

Add the scores up and you have your personal conclusion (kind of) :) I hope you liked my impressions of the Switch, I will of course try to answer any questions in the comments. I would also love to know the score you’re coming up for the Switch.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild – Review

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With The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Nintendo has done something absolutely incredible and amazing. And after more than 70 hours and beating the main story of the game, I am still not quite sure how they did it.

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I was never a fan of the 3D Zelda games. Even Ocarina of Time was not able to keep me interested throughout the whole game back in 1998; something that is still true to this day. I also don’t like open world games that much. So what were the chances of me even liking Breath of the Wild? Yet here I am trying to convey the brilliance of a masterpiece to you without even realizing the full spectrum of it myself.

For the longest time, Nintendo has been infamous for ignoring most of the industry’s achievements and instead focusing on itself. This has been true since Nintendo entered the US market in 1985: 2 years after the breakdown of the game industry, nobody wanted to get into videogames; except for Nintendo, which was able to resuscitate a dead industry with games like Super Mario and The Legend of Zelda. Decades later, their ignorance of the HDTVs and after the failures of the Nintendo 64 and the GameCube, which not only lost the market leadership to the less powerful PlayStation and PlayStation 2 from SONY but also struggled against the industry newcomer from Redmond, led Nintendo to the Wii. This time, it was the company itself that rose out of the ashes like a phoenix. But it wasn’t so much the games defining the success but rather the movement control technology. Nintendo, assured that their ignorance of the rest of the industry would led them to new innovations and even bigger success then went on to present the WiiU. A critical failure that started a transformation of this industry heavyweight leading to many improvements in the way Nintendo developed and develops their businesses and Breath of the Wild is one of the products reflecting this transformation.

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Breath of the Wild is influenced by many games with more or less open worlds. Aonuma himself explained in interviews that many of the younger designers at Nintendo play a lot of games from other companies and the influences for Breath of the Wild include Minecraft, later Far Cry games, Assassins Creed, Skyrim and the Souls‘ games. But rather than just taking bits and pieces out of those games and throwing them together, Nintendo assessed and transformed them; and by doing that it created something that isn’t afraid to let the player roam free, explore everything that it has to offer and experimenting with crazy ideas that – and this is to the game design’s credit as well – most of the time work out as the player expects.

The first striking thing about Breath of the Wild is its pace in the beginning hours. You wake up, you get your Shieka slate and then you’re sent to the entry of the crypt in which you were sleeping for over 100 years. To leave the crypt, you have to climb and it’s there where the game for the first time introduces a mechanic that we have all seen in other games before but never so well implemented and put to such good use as in Breath of the Wild‘s kingdom of Hyrule. The whole introduction to the player’s toolset takes about 2 hours in which you acquire the Shieka slate‘s different powers, learn how to protect you from environmental hazards and how to use the game’s manifold system’s to ambush enemies and create paths to places formerly unreachable; or you skip all of that. Although the game is never shy to show you how useful certain objects or skills are, it also rarely forces its systems onto the player with the exception of the weather system – but more about that later. This leads to playthroughs in which players travel all the way to the final boss only equipped with sticks and apples. Having beaten the game’s final boss I can’t imagine this to be much fun but I also didn’t complete even 30% of the whole game so maybe the time will come when I have completely mastered this game and am in such a dire need for one last challenge that I will try to save Hyrule with nothing more than my boxershorts and twigs. The game would let me do it and this feels empowering. Not only for a Nintendo game but in general.

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The story seems to be your run-of-the-mill Zelda story at first: rescue the princess, defeat Ganon, defend Hyrule. And while all of this is true, the way it is presented this time adds much more to the mix than what we got in previous Zelda games at least to my knowledge. I don’t want to spoil any major plot points, but if you follow the story as closely as possible, you’ll see that this Zelda‘s story is not only about a boy saving a kingdom. It’s about a group of heroes that trained their whole lifes to defeat the most dangerous menace glooming over their homelands only to fail miserably. It’s a story about self-doubt, hidden love, rivalry between comrades and recrimination. There is a hidden warning of technologic progress for progress’ sake and a hint at sex discrimination. All of that could have been carved out more for an even bigger impact, but it is there for the player to discover as well as the ruins scattered throughout the world telling tales about that day 100 years ago when the heroes failed their mission.

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The gameplay emerges from a complex system of cause and effect. The player can discover a broad range of tools to manipulate wind, use fire, create ice, move iron objects magnetically, cause explosions and even freeze objects and enemies for a short time in which every kinetic energy will be preserved and unleashed as soon as the freeze ends. One can swirl smaller enemies through the air the same way a sailing raft can be forced to move. Use bombs to unveil caverns with treasures or even shrines in it or use them to log trees or even do some dynamite fishing. Lay an ambush by setting dry grass on fire so the wind will led it to circle the enemy group. The game lets you play freely with its systems most of the time but uses one way to remind you that this is still a wild land that can never be tamed completely: through its weather system.

Breath of the Wild‘s weather system needs and deserves its own mention here because it is something that players need to keep in mind when planning their activities. The most brutal way the weather system can rain on one’s parade is if the player plans to do some abitious climbing. Climbing will drain your stamina and once the stamina is used up, Link will faill to the ground like a rock attached to an iron ball. When it’s raining, surfaces will become slippery which will change climbing in two ways: first, more stamina is used for climbing; second, there is a chance of slipping, causing the player to lose some of the distance covered. It can be brutal and will teach you to always keep an eye on the weather forecast when planning to do some extensive climbing. Apart from simple rain, there are also heavy storms with lightning and thunder and those can wreak havoc if one is not careful. You should stay away from trees, ideally get some cover and you should unequip every weapon, bow and shield made from iron if you don’t want your gravestone to tell people you’ve been struck by lightning. On the other hand, a metal weapon thrown into a group of enemies can yield some nice and fast results and I managed to wipe out a camp of enemies more than once by throwing a metal blade towards an explosive barrel at the right time. I could go on and on about mechanics as an enabler of player freedom but I would probably never finish this review. Just know that this game is filled to the brim with options and possibilities to roam the land, fight enemies and discover (NPCs for example follow their own agenda and meeting some of them at the right place at the right time may lead to something unexpected).

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For all the game throws at the player though, it’s also forgiving and supportive. It lets the player pause on all occasions to consume some food for regaining health or stamina and the progress can be saved everywhere (although loading a saved game in a shrine will set you back to the shrine’s entry but your progress will still be saved). There are 120 shrines and beating 4 of them will give you the option to either increase your health or your your stamina. You can also find 900 so called Korok seeds that will enable you to increase your weapon, shield and bow storage. You can find and buy different outfits that provide special perks like letting you swim or climb longer (both activities use up your stamina), increase your attack power or letting you sneak up to enemies faster so you can use the backstab mechanic of the game more often. The game really does a great job to support different play styles and encourage the player to try them out, but it never forces the player to.

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Technically this game is a very nice sendoff for the ill-fated WiiU. But we’re living in a Switch world now and this is also the platform I (and most other) play this game on. The elephant in the room is of course the hardware power that a device like the Switch can provide compared to the PS4 and XBox One. Let’s get it out of the way: this game is neither Rise of the Tomb Raider, nor is it Horizon and it was never going to be. Still, with clever use of a pastel-inspired artstyle and an art direction that focuses on the vastness of Hyrule the game regularly managed to make my jaw drop. Climbing a cliff only for the camera to rise above the cliff’s edge and reveal miles of woods and mountains is just one of the occasions where Breath of Wild made me lose myself completely in the game world. Effects for lightning and fire are also put to great use and the way this game visually supports the underlying ruleset of the game world is top notch. The only issue I had with the game were occasional framedrops in places where you wouldn’t expect them. Since the Switch is supposed to be much more powerful than its predecessor I expected a bit more than just a bump from 720p to 900p in docked mode with slightly better but still not perfect performance. Nintendo already released a first patch that significantly improves performance and since there is DLC coming for Breath of the Wild this will hopefully not be the last performance increase we see for the game. Whenever performance was important to the gameplay however, the game delivered so framedrops never affected my enjoyment of the game.

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Conclusions: 5 (on a -5 to 5 scale). Scoring this game has been the most difficult part of this review. Breath of the Wild is not a perfect game, but no game will ever be. On a -50 to 50 scale, I’d probably rate it 48 but that is not possible on a -5 to 5 scale. Apart from the score, to me this game is a masterpiece of exploration, empowerment and option. I enjoyed all the time I spent with the game so far and I am looking forward to finding more shrines and secrets and I am curious what interesting things Nintendo will do with the DLC. I mentioned that Breath of the Wild is a reflection of Nintendo‘s current transformation, a transformation that hopefully is all but finished. When the credits of a game roll, I usually try to catch the names of people who – in my opinion – did a very good job as well as people who did a very bad job; you could say I try to channel my admiration and aversion during the credits. When the credits of Breath of the Wild rolled, I wanted to shake the hand of each and every member of the development team and bow to them. It truly is one of the best games ever made.

Nintendo Switch Spec Analysis

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I’m sorry to hear this :( I was hoping Nintendo would pull of a miracle and surprise with amazing mind-blowing technology inviting hordes of 3rd party developers. Or if not technology horsepower then at least a kind of Android extension/gaming standardization to leverage it’s huge consumer pull to set a standard for gaming and increasing the audience. Seems like they’ve opted instead to go further into their niche.  The question then remains to me: how many Zelda quality games can they release per year?

I wonder if the situation could be saved if as the reviewer implies price is the only problem if they dropped the price 100$ as soon as the initial great excitement/underproduction ends. If now they’re selling as fast as they’re producing but then ramp up production and lower costs they could still create strong 3rd party developer support… but even so, the Fifa example mentioned worries me if developers can’t do multiplatform games but have to do costly custom versions.

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