Operation Backlog Completion 2017
Jun 232014
 

I loved the original Paper Mario. It came out in 2001 for the Nintendo 64, and I played it over and over. When I ran out of save files, I picked my least favorite playthrough to overwrite. My first playthrough remained preserved forever, and sometimes I replayed the final battle. Everything about it was fantastic–the RPG gameplay, the music, the memorable characters…

Even the somewhat simple story, which has Bowser kidnap Princess Peach and wreak havoc with the help of the Star Rod he stole from the seven Star Spirits, was great. If I’d understood the concept of fanfiction back then, I’d have written a Paper Mario fanfiction filled with adventure, combat, time travel, and cheesy romance. As it was, I kept it in my head. The world is grateful to me for that.

In 2004, the first sequel came out. Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door had a stronger (and darker) plot, which stepped away from Mario conventions with the new hub city of Rogueport, which hides the Thousand-Year Door and the treasure it supposedly contains. It was just as amazing as the original, maybe even more so.

2007 saw the release of Super Paper Mario, and I missed it because I didn’t have a Wii. When I finally got a Wii, I played it. It was quite different from its predecessors, because it was more of an action RPG, or perhaps a platformer with RPG elements. Still, it had a great story and some truly memorable characters (especially the villains).

And then… in 2012… THIS happened.

When Paper Mario: Sticker Star was announced, I was interested. It was Paper Mario, after all. Then I saw people online talking about how this game would bring back partners (one of the series elements missed the most in Super Paper Mario), and I was excited. And when I learned about the sticker-based combat and puzzles during E3 2012, I was ecstatic. It sounded amazing. Then I saw an article about how Sticker Star wouldn’t have any new characters or an emphasis on plot… but I wasn’t too worried, because that couldn’t be what they meant.

It was.

Sticker Star doesn’t introduce any new characters to the Mario series except for a sticker companion named Kersti, who ranges from “mildly amusing” to “annoying and unhelpful.” It barely has a plot. And it does such a good job keeping its “plot” involved in the story that by the time I finished World 1, I couldn’t even remember if Peach had been kidnapped or not.

This game makes heavy use of the paper theme, with scissors as powerful weapons, stickers everywhere, NPCs blowing away in high winds, and so on, but it doesn’t deserve to be called Paper Mario. This is not a Paper Mario game, much like a certain un-funny “comedy” released in 2012 is not Dark Shadows no matter how many character names and vague plot similarities it throws around.

Both ripped the heart and soul out of their series in such a way that they left me with distrust for the people responsible–Tim Burton and Johnny Depp for not realizing the movie was completely devoid of what made the beloved TV show good, and Shigeru Miyamoto for deciding plot and characters weren’t important to PAPER MARIO and making the developers do this.

And you know what? Just like 2012’s Dark Shadows still would be a bad movie even if it had a different title, Sticker Star still is a bad game even without Paper Mario considerations.

Somehow, the only thing that made it out of the Super Paper Mario complaints and into the heads of the developers (or maybe just Mr. Miyamoto’s) was that fans missed the turn-based combat system. Sticker Star has turn-based combat. So…it’s an RPG, right? Right??

Wrong!

You know what battling gets you? Coins. There’s no experience. No leveling up. No abilities to learn, no partners to fight by your side, no stats to build except by finding HP upgrades, kind of like heart containers in The Legend of Zelda series. It’s less of an RPG than Super Paper Mario was.

Stickers are at the core of the game. You keep them in an album with limited space, and you use them up when you want to attack. One jump attack uses one jump sticker, one mushroom uses one mushroom sticker, and so on. Inventory management, right?

Nope, the game even failed me there. When I heard about it at that fateful E3, I imagined something akin to Resident Evil’s inventory management. (Yes, there was a time when I honestly believed Paper Mario: Sticker Star would fill my need for survival horror mechanics.) Limited inventory space, time spent deciding how many items you should take with you and how much free space you should leave–and items that take up different amounts of space, more like Kid Icarus: Uprising’s ability system than survival horror, but fun nonetheless.

Nope!

Sticker Star managed to drain away all the strategy and leave a tedious mess in its place. You buy stickers at shops, pick them up from the environment, and even get some as drops after battles. They are plentiful. So are coins. And there’s no storage system, either. Everything was reduced to keeping powerful stickers, discarding/ignoring weak stickers, and occasionally sorting them to make room for a big sticker. As for the shapes, stickers generally came in three–square, big square, and really big square.

Among the biggest stickers were the Thing stickers. Things, or 3D objects, are hidden around the levels (which, by the way, you access from a world map like you’d see in 2D sidescrolling Mario games). If you find one, you can turn it into a sticker. Thing stickers tend to have powerful effects in battle and some are used to solve puzzles.

And that’s where this gameplay element fails.

Suppose you’re on your way to the next level, and you encounter an impassable obstacle. You go into stickerization mode and see a spot for a big sticker. Clearly a Thing is needed. If you already have it with you, great, just use it. If you don’t, but you already found it, you can either go back to its hiding place and pick it up again, or buy it from a shady Toad. And if you don’t have it…. well, you’d better search all the worlds, because the game isn’t going to give you any clues as to where it is, and it probably won’t be somewhere logical. And this is all assuming that you can use the context clues to figure out what Thing you even need. For example, what object would you use to stop a whirlwind?

Ready?

Paper Mario: Sticker Star vacuum puzzle

If you guessed “vacuum cleaner,” you’re right!

I’m all for games that make you figure things out, but at least have puzzles that make sense! Sticker Star’s illogical puzzles just forced you to 1. use Google, or 2. waste your coins on space-consuming Thing stickers to lose one at a time as you try them. Yes, if you use an incorrect sticker in stickerization, you lose it.

It wasn’t all bad. There was a nice mansion chapter with logical puzzles and little hints of story. I’m not sure what it was doing in Sticker Star–maybe it was left over from the original design?

Now that we’ve gotten the gameplay out of the way, let’s go back to the characters. Kersti was awful. Unmemorable, unlikable, and unhelpful. She was supposed to provide hints, but every time I was stuck, her “hint” was more a vague comment about the general situations. “The climate here sure is bad for stickers.” No kidding, now where do I find the door?!

As for the other characters…

Well, there was Wiggler. He had a personality and almost a plot, even if that level was tedious and annoying. Then there were bosses who had enough personality to be thought of as Evil Generic Goomba Boss, Evil Generic Blooper Boss, Evil Generic…

Look, I’m not faulting them for using existing Mario species. The other games did that all the time, except they still made them characters. Remember the Koopa Bros.? They were Koopas, but they had enough personality to ensure they were never “just Koopas.” They were more memorable than the entire cast of Sticker Star.

So, how did they do with the actual named characters? Mario was a silent protagonist, as always. Peach had no role beyond being kidnapped. (I guess playing as her in the previous Paper Mario games added too much depth to the story to work in this game.) Bowser had no lines. Bowser Jr. showed up for a few boss battles. K–wait, wait, wait, what?

Let’s go back to Bowser for a minute. Bowser had no lines. None. Zip. Zilch. Zero. Like everything else about Sticker Star, the portrayal of Bowser went back to classic Mario games, even though it’s all but an unwritten rule that Mario RPGs give him character development. (But then, we’ve already established that Sticker Star isn’t an RPG, so why am I surprised?)

I have to bring back the Dark Shadows analogy. We’ve got a series villain who gets a surprising amount of character development, veers into villain protagonist and antihero territory whenever a greater threat rears its head, and may or may not be in love with one of the main characters.

Angelique, from Dark Shadows

I bet no one has ever compared Angelique and Bowser before.

I bet no one has ever compared Angelique and Bowser before.

Of course, that’s where the similarities end. The version of Angelique we saw in 2012 was a one-dimensional villain because the movie seemed to have a phobia of anything that would cause any ambiguity whatsoever. Sticker Star’s version of Bowser was a one-dimensional villain because the game had a phobia of plot and character development. And maybe I’m being too harsh with this comparison. After all, Lara Parker’s portrayal of Angelique was the original, while the more developed Bowser seen in the Mario RPGs came after his original portrayals.

But still… other characters had dialogue. One of the things that aggravates me the most is a story where the villain has very little presence. Bowser was supposed to be the villain of Sticker Star. I didn’t hate him. I didn’t like him. He was just there. Back to our character list, Kamek had more personality than the rest of the characters combined. When The Dragon is the only one with any character development in your story, something has gone terribly wrong.

So the characters were negligible, the plot was all but nonexistent, and for a game that ignored characters and plot to focus on gameplay, the gameplay was an absolute mess. Sticker Star has a certain charm when you start it, but once that charm wears off, it is horrible. The only good things I can say about Sticker Star are that the mansion level is nice, the music isn’t bad, and the descriptions of Things in the sticker museum are funny.

Is Paper Mario: Sticker Star worth playing? As far as I’m concerned, no.

You shouldn’t cringe when someone mentions the name of your favorite series. But just like I add a “the original show from the 60s, not the new movie” whenever I mention Dark Shadows, I now add an “except for Sticker Star” when I praise Paper Mario. Maybe 2012 was just a weird year. Maybe the next Paper Mario will go back to its roots.

But the next time one is announced, I’ll eye it with the suspicion that it will end up like Sticker Star, a Paper Mario game in name only.

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Jun 212014
 

Did you think Nintendo’s role in this little overview of E3 was over? Of course not!

Microsoft
EA
Ubisoft
Sony
Nintendo
More From Nintendo
Conclusion

Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney

If Nintendo hadn’t already won, this would have done it.
In fact, yes. Nintendo won twice this year.

I’ll be honest, even though E3 runs for three days, four if you count the first day of press conferences, for me it tends to fade away after the first two. Sure, after all the press conferences are finished, games are being shown on the floor and streamed for those of us at home, but it just isn’t as exciting as the initial rush of game announcements.

Nintendo held my attention until E3 was over.

But let’s go back to the second day we covered, when Nintendo held its digital event. It also announced some games that weren’t mentioned there, like a new Star Fox game for Wii U (along with a tower defense game and a robot fighting game that may or may not be somehow linked to Star Fox, maybe), a mature title called Devil’s Third, and Mario Party 10. I’d been feeling nostalgic for the Mario Party series ever since I watched GameInformer’s replay of Mario Party 2, my old favorite. Mario Party 10 looks great because it has a mode where the player with the GamePad gets to play as Bowser versus the other 4 players. On the other hand, I haven’t seen if the regular, classic gameplay mode lets the characters move individually, or if they’re all trapped moving together in a car. I don’t get the appeal of the car when they don’t have a common enemy.

Two games previously released only in Japan were also announced for localization. (No, not that game, the write-in/call-in campaign is still on for July 1.) One was Fantasy Life, which is an RPG (good) co-developed by 1-UP Studio (good) and Level-5 (awesome), with music by Nobuo Uematsu (YES YES YES).

I’ve had my eye on Fantasy Life ever since I first heard about it. Now that it’s being localized, I already pre-ordered it–though not as quickly as I preordered Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney.

This crossover, which I mentioned briefly in my spoiler-free review of Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy, would have been at the top of my list for localization requests if not for three things:

  1. It was already confirmed for localization and released in Europe, although the North American version kept a vague release window of “early 2014.”
  2. I want Investigations 2 even more.
  3. The crossover’s localization was in Level-5’s hands, and I trust them more than I trust Capcom.

Anyway… this crossover between two of the greatest video game series ever is going to hit North American on August 29! Yeah! I know what I’ll be playing between bouts of grad school work!

(I’d like to take this opportunity to express my personal hope that Level-5’s love of sword fight scenes will lead to a sequel with a duel between a certain sword-wielding prosecutor and a certain sword-wielding, cloak-wearing, masked master of disguise.)

Ahem.

You know, it’s funny–some fans criticize Nintendo’s E3 show for focusing too much on the Wii U at E3, and not enough on the 3DS. I loved the Wii U selection, but so far I’ve preordered three 3DS games and no Wii U games. The 3DS came out of this E3 just fine…

Anyway, I spent the rest of June 10, 11, and 12 tuning into Nintendo Treehouse every now and then to see what they were streaming. This isn’t the first time Nintendo has done this–I know Nintendo Treehouse was around last E3, but I also remember tuning in and getting bored. Not so this year! While I didn’t watch every game, since I had things to do and they didn’t all interest me, I saw a lot of great stuff. For example, I watched some gameplay of Fantasy Life that confirmed my intent to buy it. I also caught a few snippets of Xenoblade Chronicles X, although not as much as I would have liked to see. I checked out a Bayonetta 2 battle, watch Zelda destroy enemies in Hyrule Warriors, and fell further in love with Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker.

Don’t think Nintendo was done with game announcements, either. While there weren’t as many new games announced as an erroneous schedule led me to believe, Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. was announced for the 3DS in a special un-streamed event. It’s a turn-based strategy game by Intelligent Systems, set in an alternate history (Abraham Lincoln vs. aliens) where the Strike Team Eliminating the Alien Menace (S.T.E.A.M.–they worked hard on that one) fights…uh… the alien menace. I’d be interested enough just for the sheer weirdness of that premise, but then they mentioned that the alien designs drew inspiration from H.P. Lovecraft. All right, count me in! This is much better than what people thought S.T.E.A.M. was going to be, a first-person shooter by Miyamoto. I’ll take this game over that any day!

I’m going out of order, but I also watched the Super Smash Bros. 4 tournament, which was fun, even if I had to take breaks to do work.

Really, all I can say is… keep it up, Nintendo! People are saying Nintendo should go back to a traditional stage show at E3, but if this is what a digital event can do, I say keep going. Nintendo came in swinging this year, with new IPs, tons of great games, and enough content to make sure I tuned in every day.

Even without a Majora’s Mask remake and the localization of Gyakuten Kenji 2, there was enough to satisfy me. In fact, there was so much, I probably forgot some games, so feel free to post in the comments with, “Why didn’t you talk about such-and-such,” and I’ll get back to you.


And so, E3 2014 came to an end. My final rankings? Nintendo was in the lead by a huge margin, followed by Sony, followed by a much-improved Microsoft, followed by Ubisoft, with poor EA bringing up the rear. I’ve pre-ordered three games and have a huge list of titles to wait for.

I’ll be trying the Super Smash Bros. series and rejoicing over Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright. My gaming backlog has no hope. This was a fantastic E3–not just for Nintendo, but for everyone (except EA and, for me, Ubisoft). I had a great time. What surprises will next year’s hold?

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Jun 192014
 

At last, the moment you’ve all been waiting for…maybe. It’s not like I kept you in suspense.

Microsoft
EA
Ubisoft
Sony
Nintendo
More From Nintendo
Conclusion


I was looking forward to Nintendo’s show the most out of all of them. Sure, it wasn’t going to be a traditional press conference, but after the past few videos released by Nintendo, a “digital event” sounded like the perfect format for an entertaining show. I was hoping it would be crazy, and it was.

It started with Robot Chicken animation, as an animated Reggie Fils-Aime took the stage and joked about how we thought they weren’t having a press conference. An animated audience member complained that it would just be another Mario game, to which Reggie said there would be no new Mario game. The scene cut to an irate Mario.

The audience member then asked for Mother 3, and Reggie blasted him with a fireball. Some fans took offense at this attitude, but I thought Nintendo meant it in good fun–and possibly a tease of a future Mother 3 announcement. To me, the entire animated opening showed that Nintendo is aware of what people say about it, and isn’t afraid to poke fun at itself.

Reggie at E3 2014

Then it got crazier.

You can use Miis against your friends in Super Smash Bros. 4, but this is Nintendo. You didn’t think they’d just announce that, did you? Of course not. Reggie and Satoru Iwata appeared in a black void, and proceeded to battle.

(At this point, some people declared Nintendo the winner of E3.)

Their battle then switched over to the game, so we could see their Miis in action. This gives me more incentive to get Smash Bros. 4. I want to fight as Miis of some of my favorite characters, especially with the customization options.

The battle also gave us our first look at an Amiibo, a figurine you can transfer into the game. Amiibos will store data from the game as well, and they become stronger the more often you use them. I’m not sure how I feel about this sort of toy model popularized by the Skylanders series, but I’ll reserve judgment until I learn more about them.

They showed Super Smash Bros. for a while longer, and even though I’m not a big fan of the series, I plan to try this one, so I remained attentive.

From its hilarious start, the show’s pace slowed slightly as they discussed the Amiibos, but then it was time for a game full of yarn. I wasn’t interested in this game when it was first revealed as Yarn Yoshi in 2013, but now Yoshi’s Woolly World looks adorable. Cuteness alone isn’t enough to make me buy a game, but a cute Yoshi platformer with exploration and–best of all, perhaps–no time limit?? I’m not sold yet, but I want to see more.

Speaking of adorable games, the next thing Nintendo revealed made me glad I finally got a Wii U and started Super Mario 3D World, even if I haven’t had the chance to play very much.

You mean the fun puzzle platformer mini-game level I discovered just a few days before E3 is being expanded into a full game? More Captain Toad? Count me in!

Another animated short featuring Bowser and Peach made me laugh, even if many people thought it wasn’t funny.

Next up was one of Nintendo’s most anticipated games, the new Legend of Zelda game for Wii U. I’ll be honest–it makes me uneasy when I hear them talk about how the game will be open and not have the usual Zelda conventions. Open world isn’t one of my favorite things, as you’ve probably gathered by now. And while change and innovation are great, some games are great because of their conventions. It’s Zelda, though. I’m not saying it won’t be good. I’ll keep my eye on it for sure.

A short bit of gameplay was shown, and as the character galloped forward on his horse, bow and arrow ready to fire at the monster, I thought, Hey, that’s not Link–that’s Zelda, isn’t it?

It was Link. Oops.

I wasn’t just completely crazy, though. There was a lot of debate later on about whether that character was Link, and many fans thought it was a woman, until Aonuma finally just said it was Link.

Onward to Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire and their 3D graphics! Ruby and Sapphire were my least favorite generation, and I’m not sure how they’re working in Mega Evolution, but I’ll probably play them. Pokemon is great.

Yet another animated short demonstrated Nintendo’s growing insanity.

And then, hey, you know how people complain that Nintendo is a kiddie console and never gets anything adult gamers will enjoy, blah blah blah? Aside from the stupidity of claiming adults can’t enjoy fun, lighthearted, and even *gasp* E-rated games…….

Not rated E for Everyone.

Not rated E for Everyone.

There are still people who insist that Bayonetta 2’s Wii U exclusivity is a death knell for the game (because only kids play Wii U, remember?), never mind that it’s thanks to Nintendo that Bayonetta 2 can even exist. Anyway, Bayonetta 2 was shown off, with the surprise announcement that the original Bayonetta will be included as well. I never played Bayonetta, and I’m not sure I will, but it could be fun. Fighting monsters as a witch–it has its appeal.

Let’s go back to Zelda, with Hyrule Warriors, the Dynasty Warriors take on Zelda. When it was first announced, it didn’t look that good to me, but now it looks like it could be fun. I’m interested in seeing who besides Link, Zelda, Impa, and Midna will be playable, too. Keeping my eye on it…

Kirby and the Rainbow Curse. Not a Kirby fan, not really interested.

And then, one of the many moments I was waiting for–X! Or, as it’s now known, Xenoblade Chronicles X. It isn’t a sequel, just a spiritual successor, which makes the name kind of confusing. It looks like it will have a great sci-fi JRPG story, though, and if it plays like Xenoblade, it should be fantastic. Xenoblade was great, after all, if a little too long for me.

Next up was Mario Maker! I’ve never been interested in level creators, so even though this was one of the fan-favorite announcements of E3, I don’t really care.

Colored ink… swimming squids…. squid-people with guns? Splatoon is Nintendo’s unique twist on multiplayer shooters, as each team tries to cover as much of the map with its color of ink as possible. It sounds weird, unusual, and like it could be a lot of fun–although I won’t decide if I want to get it or not until I learn more about its local multiplayer, which might be quite different from the online multiplayer it’s built for.

Super Smash Bros. 4 returned with the revelation of a new character–Lady Palutena, the Goddess of Light from the Kid Icarus games. Viridi and Dark Pit both had cameos in the announcement, but it’s unclear as to what extent they’ll be involved in the game.

That was it for the main digital event, and I knew Nintendo had won E3 for me. The humor, the wackiness, and the games–between Captain Toad, Xenoblade Chronicles X, and all the other fun games shown, I was excited. Best of all, it wasn’t finished yet. (And neither is this blog series.)

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