- Pokemon Rumble World Gems Bundle (3DS) – $1.79
YTD Total: $689.51
- Starfox Zero (WiiU): 8h 29m
- Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze (WiiU): 6h 12m
- Pokemon Rumble World (3DS): 3h 15m
- Hitman Intro Pack (Xbox One): 2h 55m
- Pktball (iOS): 1h 20m
- Romans From Mars (iOS): 26m
- Age of Diamonds (iOS): 22m
- Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse (WiiU): 12m
At the start of this week, there were 12 days left to burn before the release of Uncharted 4. I knew that I’d finish Star Fox Zero (WiiU) easily in that time, but what should I play after that? I didn’t want to dive into something meaty like Far Cry Primal (Xbox One) or The Division (Xbox One), since I’d have to stop my flow mid-way to jump into Nathan Drake’s new adventure. So I opted for Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, which I had already finished the first half of – twice.
But getting back to Star Fox Zero… What a mess. Looking at the credits, Shigeru Miyamoto was heavily involved in this one – he’s listed as a Producer. That, combined with the pedigree of Platinum Games, had me amped for the final product, regardless of reviews. But this is a great example of critics being right… Star Fox Zero is not a good game. Interesting, yes, but it feels half-baked, like they had to rush it out the door. This is no more evident than in the sloppy final boss sequence. The manner in which you control the ship changes entirely, shifting to a disorienting orbital rotation. And then, when you are trying to do damage to the final foe, the camera goes berserk, becoming a more formidable enemy than anything Fox McClould’s arch nemesis can throw at you.
The game’s overall difficulty ebbs and flows with reckless abandon, the graphics are sub-par, and the accelerometer-based aiming constantly has to be recalibrated on the fly. There’s plenty of great fan service in the game, but that’s not enough to compensate for the title’s shortcomings. Rent Star Fox Zero if you can, enjoy it for a weekend, and then go back to Super Mario Maker.
Once that game wrapped, I moved on to Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. When this game first came out, I had gotten to level 5-2, roughly the halfway point, and then traded the game in. This was one of those rare instances where I ultimately regretted having traded the game, so I bought it again during a winter sale for about five dollars more than the trade-in credit I received. I started the game all over again, and I’ve been playing off and on ever since. It’s a beautiful, fast paced action-platformer with old-school design sensibilities. One of things that this system will be forever remembered for is its lineup of superlative 2D side-scrollers: New Super Mario Bros WiiU, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, Yoshi’s Wooly World, Kirby and the Rainbow Curse, Shovel Knight, Steam World Dig, and the best version of Rayman Legends.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is an easy game to pick up and play, but it’s no cakewalk. Every stage is liable to take you a dozen or more times to complete, and the boss fights can be ridiculous. They are all pattern-based. If you get hit twice, you lose your partner ape. Without a helper simian, your maneuverability goes to shit. You can’t hover or pogo bounce without your friends, so end bosses tend to trash your last two heart containers with ease. And then, it’s back to the beginning of fights that can last up to ten minutes. A few bosses have taken more than 30 lives to knock out, which makes the process so long that I end up turning on a podcast to keep from getting bored. A big design flaw in an otherwise polished game.
The other strange design decision is that the WiiU controller screen goes black when you play Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze on a television screen. There’s no functionality there, not so much as a heads-up-display. Just black. This is odd, but not a problem, really. And this game supports off-screen play, which is more than I can say for Starfox Zero.
Pokemon Rumble World (3DS) has taught me something really interesting about free-to-play games: I am willing to put up with timers, consumables, and randomness if the game has a spend cap. In this case, Pokemon Rumble World will not allow players to spend more than $40 in-game. When you reach that threshold, everything unlocks. This is a rare model, though not unprecedented: Pac-Man 256 and NoNo Islands on iOS does this, too. This is a hybrid of premium and F2P, which I believe has the potential to convert a significant audience into paying players: those who like the idea of starting a game for free, but feel uneasy about the unlimited spend model. I think this has to do with the frame traditional gamers have for what the high-end value of a handheld game should be. For years, I was trained to accept a $40 price point for GBA, DS, PSP, 3DS, and VITA games. I’m totally fine with spending that much on a game experience that I enjoy, but being asked to spend more (hello, $99.99 chest of gems in Clash of Clans) totally freaks me out. I’m not philosophically on the same page as Supercell, in this example. They think their game is worth thousands of dollars. I think it’s worth no more than $40. Their optimal scenario is that I spend as much as my credit card will let me in the game. My optimal scenario is not available in Clash of Clans: unlimited play after hitting a spend threshold I’m comfortable with. By contrast, the makers of Pokemon Rumble World agree with me that their game is worth up to $40… but not more. I feel like I’m getting a good value for anything I spend below that agreed threshold, and the optimal case for both of us is that I enjoy the game enough to bring my spend up to $40. We are philosophically aligned. This allows me to feel trust and brand affinity. This model would never let a game hit the Top 50 Grossing in the App Store, but it could allow for the creation of a middle-class in that market: folks that are more than happy to spend, but not a king’s ransom. This year, I have spent less than $10 in F2P games. But if more games were built with fair spend caps, I’d spend a whole lot more in that category.
Completing the first content pack in the new Hitman series (Xbox One) was very satisfying, but I haven’t jumped into the second mission yet. Now that a good week has passed since finishing, I wonder if I will come back. I like what I played, but I have such a backlog to get through that it’s tough to justify spending the $10. This, I suppose, is the publishing challenge of episodic games: once the novelty is gone, the appeal of continuing is lessened, particularly if the game is not focused on pulling you through with great story telling and interesting characters. The model sure is great for consumers, though.
I have some friends over at Sidekick Games, and I decided to try some of their mobile VR games, using my iPhone and a Google Cardboard-compatible Viewmaster. The 360 degree immersion in both Romans from Mars and Age of Diamonds is great, and it’s terrific to go back to reflex-driven games of skill on the phone. These are not meta-games, they are game-games, and they are a lot of fun. The VR future is an exciting one for sure.