Currently, There are Fewer Reasons than Ever to Own Consoles

When comparing the value of computers to consoles, I have always liked both, but overall like the PC a bit more.  Computers are more versatile and have a larger game library, covering more price points, have more variety of control options than modern consoles do, and have better graphics if you have a good enough PC, too.  However, there have always been very good reasons to own consoles, most notably that a lot of games only released on consoles.  In the past, hundreds and hundreds of games only released on consoles.  From the beginning of the console business until the last decade, most console games didn’t release on the PC.  So, if you want to legally play the many fantastic console games from the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, or ’00s, you need consoles.

This article has a few main parts.  First is a list of the reasons there still are to buy a console, with counterpoints to each one.  Second is a section on the decline of console-exclusive games.

Reasons to Buy a Console Instead of a PC

There are only a few reasons today to buy a current-generation videogame console.  Some are better than others.

  1.     If you want access to Sony or Nintendo’s first-party game libraries you need to own their console.  As I said will explain below, how much this matters will vary from person to person.  Games are why we buy consoles, so access to exclusives is still a good reason to get a platform.  However, there are fewer exclusives now than there ever have been before.
  2.     If you want a portable system which plays top-quality games, you want a portable console such as the Nintendo Switch.  Portable PCs exist, but the Switch, 3DS, Vita, or older handheld consoles are specifically designed for it and are better for that.  Portability is a good reason to have a (portable) console; cellphone or tablet gaming is fine for some kinds of games, but I’d rather play something with better controls and larger-scale design than you get there.
  3.      If you have very limited money, consoles are cheaper than PCs.  While a good PC can last quite a while if you don’t mind not always running games at very high graphical settings — I used my last computer for a full decade, with only a few upgrades during that time, and it was still running games fairly well at the end — they are pretty expensive, too much so for some.  Consoles cost a lot less.  I’d still say, though, that saving up for a PC would overall be a better investment today than buying a console; sure, you will spend more, but you get more.  PC game prices are often lower than console prices, too.  This price disparity used to be higher, but it is still true.  And you don’t need to pay a yearly fee to play games online on PC, while all console manufacturers have those fees now.
  4.      4K.  Now, a lot of televisions can display images at the high resolution usually called 4K.  However, while there are 4K computer monitors, they are still not quite as prevalent as 4K TVs are, for whatever reason.  I don’t own any 4K screens yet myself, but I’m sure I will.  The issue is, streaming from PC to a television, to get rid of the old “comfy couch” argument in favor of consoles, works great… at 1080p resolutions, which is the Steam Link’s limit for example.  See my post about the Steam Link for more on that great little device.  However, while 4K streaming is possible, it isn’t as simple as just hooking up a Steam Link is.  If you want easy 4K gaming, even though consoles are less powerful, depending on your setup, it may be a LOT easier to just use a console for that as opposed to getting a powerful PC then figuring out how to output 4K from that to your TV.  This will be particularly true if the computer is a desktop that is not in the same room as your TV, which is the case for me.  Laptops would be much easier to just move around and hook up to something, with the correct cable, but they are also more expensive and less powerful.  This point is a solvable problem, but it’s not simple for the consumer, not yet at least.

So, there are good reasons to own current consoles.  I own many consoles myself, now including several still-supported ones, the New 3DS, Switch, Xbox One, and, if it still counts, Vita.  And I don’t regret those purchases.  But my point here is that compared to the past, consoles’ advantages are dramatically reduced from where they were.  PCs are still very expensive, but they last a lot longer then they used to; the days of needing a new machine every other year, as it was in the ’90s, are gone.  There’s some good value for your money now.  Additionally, using consoles is more complex than it used to be, and PCs are easier, so the old “comfy couch” argument — that it’s easy to just toss a game in a console and play it, while on PC you need to install the game, update it, maybe troubleshoot something, and such — doesn’t hold up as well as it used to because consoles are a lot more like PCs now, Sony and Microsoft’s especially.  Playing computer games on your TV instead of computer monitor is easier than it ever has been before, as well.  Streaming from your PC to your television is possible, and it’s very easy at 1080p thanks to the Steam Link.  And most games are available on PC these days, too.  Of these four points, portability is probably the strongest one.  I am no fan of cellphones to say the least, so I would still say that portability remains a strong argument for getting a console.

Now, however, I would like to expand on the issue of console-exclusive games.  I think it needs additional explanation more so than the others.

The Decline of Console-Exclusive Games

Today,  while it is still true that consoles get exclusive games, it is less true than it ever has been before.  Now, this ties in to a long post I did some years ago about the downfall of ’90s computer gaming; I never posted it here but essentially, in the ’00s most PC game developers started moving over to consoles for several reasons, including seeking larger audiences at a time when revenues weren’t enough just on the PC for the growing size of game budgets.  As before this most top Western developers had worked on computer games, this had a huge impact on the industry.  I said in that post that the effect of that was a major blow to computer gaming, particularly in the short term as developer talent fled the platform and games got simpler to attract console audiences, but that’s not the point here.  At first, many of the games those studios made only released on consoles, like the console games before them had.  Some also had PC ports, but many did not, either because Microsoft wanted to sell Xboxes or because PC sales weren’t as good.

However, that has changed in more recent years.  The PC marketplace is healthier than it was when I wrote that article eight or so years ago.  Kickstarter has its flaws, but it has made classic-styled PC games possible in a way that would never have happened otherwise.  PC game sales are good, too, and while Valve’s Steam is dominant there are other places to buy digital PC games.  Developers have finally noticed the sales they were missing out on by not releasing PC versions of their games!  Today, more games than ever are getting PC ports.  PCs have always gotten the occasional port of top console games, but today almost everything except for first-party Sony and Nintendo games release on the PC.  Microsoft now releases all of their first-party games on both Xbox and PC, giving up on their old efforts to sell Xboxes by not releasing games on the PC even though they also own that platform.  I am happy that they did this, but it has reduced the value of the Xbox.  Yes, I bought one anyway and don’t regret it, but I don’t use it as much as I did my 360.  Even most Japanese third-party games are being released on the PC these days, something which has never been true before!  The top PC digital marketplace, Steam, has its issues, but for now at least most games release there and publishers all know that they need to make PC versions of almost all of their games. As far as the games go, these are the best times to be a PC gamer in the last fifteen years, or more.

So, the number one reason to buy consoles, the exclusive games, is much less of a reason than it ever has been before.  Now, if you care about Sony and Nintendo’s first-party libraries, there is still a good argument to buy their console for those games.  I love Nintendo’s games, so Nintendo consoles are a great value for me because they make some of the best games ever.  Sony consoles are much less valuable, though, since I don’t care about most of Sony’s games.  I don’t have a PS4 and don’t regret it.  The PS4’s list of exclusive games is dramatically more a list of games published by Sony than any previous Sony console, after all, and as I said I just don’t usually care much about Sony’s games.  For people who do like Sony games, though, having a PS4 makes sense for that.

Conclusion

So, I bought an Xbox One last year, and as I said I don’t regret it.  When paired with Xbox Live Gold and, if you add Microsoft’s second, newer subscription, Xbox Games Pass, the Xbox One gives you access to a large library of games for an affordable price.  It’s got ease of use too.  But every time I walk into a game store and look at its software library, I see a lot of games which are better on PC, and almost nothing I can only play on console.  Microsoft has kind of given up on that, in favor of having everything being on both, betting that the ease-of-use and subscription-service reasons will draw people in anyway.  It’s enough to maybe justify getting one, but only if you already have a large back library of Games with Gold titles you want to keep playing, probably; otherwise, just sticking to the PC is probably the better bet.  Things are similar with Sony, except with a much larger first-party exclusive library.  Again though as they have lost almost all of their third party exclusives, the PlayStation’s value lies very heavily on your thoughts on Sony’s first-party software.  As I mostly don’t care for it I have rarely wanted a PS4 very much at all.

Nintendo, however… with the Switch and 3DS, Nintendo still has a great value proposition on multiple fronts, including both their portability and their large libraries of exclusive games you cannot play on PC.  PC plus Nintendo covers almost everything, these days, and that is most of what I play, when I’m not playing classic consoles games of course.  Nintendo has few third-party exclusives too, but they haven’t had many in a long time so that is not much of a change.

Overall, I can understand why people buy consoles.  I have them, and so do millions of others.  And there are reasons to get them.  But on the whole, today, the PC is the best value it’s ever been from both a game library and lastability standpoint, and that looks unlikely to change anytime in the near future.  And with the Steam Link I can play console-styled PC games on my television, too, taking away that advantage of consoles as well!  Both consoles and computers have their place and I still like both a lot, but the PC’s advantage is undeniable.

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More Thoughts on They Are Billions

Since my last post over a month ago, also about this game, I have played a little bit of many games, as usual. However, the game I’ve played the most by far is, still, this game, They Are Billions for the PC. As a result I have a bit more to say about it, so here it is. I am working on some other things for the site, but first I wanted to write about this game again. Please note, this is a criticism of the game, but there is also plenty I like about it! I wouldn’t still be playing it otherwise, after all. But there are some things I wish it improved on, one particularly that I need to expand on.

So, yes, I’m still playing this stupid game. I’m not really sure if it is actually fun, and still can’t beat anything, but I’m hooked… it’s addictive, for good or bad. There are things about the game I really like, to be clear. It’s really good in a lot of ways! But it’s also very frustrating. One way it’s frustrating is that most games end with you losing because a random zombie got through somewhere and once that happens it’s pretty much over, the zombies will infect your houses and you’ve almost certainly lost.

Even worse, though, is the final wave. So, They Are Billions starts out hard. The game starts out tough, and gets even harder as you go along. In particular, that day 60 wave is very hard, and more often than not wipes me out, when I get that far. But if I actually do manage to survive day 60… well, the next couple of waves are pretty easy. If you get past day 60, you’re almost guaranteed to make it to the final wave, pretty much, unless you badly mess something else. Until the second-to-last wave, waves attack from one point on the map. By this time you should have the potential attack points defended decently, and in those few times I get past wave 60 it’s not hard to survive to the end.

However, the final wave is different, very different. Again, the final wave attacks from all directions. The zombies attack from almost every point they can, so you need every single potential attack point defended STRONGLY if you want even the slightest chance of surviving. I haven’t survived yet, again. Usually I manage to stop the zombies on some fronts, but they blow through on others. It’s crazy hard.

The problem is that you need a massive amount of defenses to survive the final wave. The difference between every other wave and the final wave cannot be understated, because it’s orders of magnitude harder due to how many directions you need to defend from at the same time. I have a problem with this because games of They Are Billions last fairly long if you don’t lose early, so in games where I survive I have to wait a LONG time before I finally, at long last, learn where I didn’t have enough defenses and will lose because of. It’s a bit like SNK Boss Syndrome, named for all those fighting games where most of the game is pretty easy, except for the final boss which is crazy hard and will kill you a hundred times after you probably didn’t die even once up to that point. Sure, this game is harder than that along the way, but it’s still on that scale! The gulf between the kind of base you need to survive any other wave and the massive fortress you need to have any chance at the last one is obnoxious and, honestly, is kind of bad design in my opinion.

I mean, this is a base-building / defense focused game. Why is focusing on defense a guaranteed-loss strategy? Because it is. You’ll need a very large, aggressively expanded base to survive the end, and I never expand fast enough because I do not like playing strategy games that way. You can get TO the final wave just fine, with some luck, with the way I like to play RTSes… but then I lose for sure because of the stupid-huge difficulty spike right at the end. It’s frustrating and not fun at all, and really SHOULD get me to stop playing the game, because come on, this isn’t good.

This isn’t just about this game, either. I have long believed that great games scale their difficulty well, and don’t have sudden massive spikes in challenge. This is one of the reasons why my favorite fighting game is The Last Blade 2; yes, it is an SNK game, but it entirely avoids SNK Boss Syndrome, and instead has a nice, smooth difficulty curve though each playthrough of the single player game. It’s a fantastic game for a lot of reasons beyond that, but this helps too. They Are Billions does the opposite of that and it holds the game back a lot, particularly when you consider that getting to the final wave can take hours, depending on the game length you choose. That’s a long, long time to wait to know how unprepared you are. There is a definite audience for the kind of play this game requires, but that isn’t what I want.

I hope that as they continue to work on it they adjust the final wave at some point, at least optionally, because it needs it. Either the final wave should be easier or the earlier waves should be even harder, pretty much. There should be no insane spike at the end; it should just be a summation of everything you have seen in the game so far, not a totally different insane challenge you have no hope of surviving without some very specific strategies. I like that the game is challenging, that is part of the appeal. It’s just that it should be more balanced in how it applies that challenge.

Apart from that, the most frustrating thing about the game is how easy it is to randomly lose because one zombie snuck through somewhere, but that’s just the way the game works, so I can accept that, as awful as it is sometimes. But the final wave is different, and I do think that you should be able to beat a map with the same strategies that got you to the last wave. Having very hard final waves makes plenty of sense for the higher difficulties, but why is it this hard in ALL difficulties? Ah well…

Despite all that They Are Billions is, I guess, a good game, and it’s well worth trying, but it has issues. Not least, I badly wish that they would fix the still unforgivably horrendous pathfinding… focus on that, above adding new features! You can get used to it with practice, but it’d be nice if the game just worked without that. What you need to do to have a chance at final waves is probably my biggest complaint, though, so that gets a deserved focus here.

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First Impressions: They Are Billions (PC)

They Are Billions is an RTS/building simulation game in early access on Steam.  It was released in early access in December 2017, but I got the game about a week and a half ago.  I have been very hooked since, and already have over 30 hours played.  The game has issues, and I can see why there is a bunch of controversy in the games’ Steam forum, but overall it’s a great and really addictive game.  I’ve been playing it a lot and mostly really like the game, so I thought I should write up my thoughts.

In short, They Are Billions is a base-building-focused strategy game that runs in pausable real time.  I’ll discuss the base building first, since it is the main focus here.  As in building sims like The Settlers, Tropico, or to a lesser extent Caesar, the core of this game is building up a large base and dealing with the nested requirements therein. Unlike a standard RTS such as Starcraft or Command & Conquer, but like those aforementioned titles, here resources do not run out, the challenge is getting all of the ones you need to cover the costs of everything you are building.  The game has many resources and statistics to consider, and all buildings require not only a build cost, but also an upkeep cost in several resources. So, you need to keep scaling up every element of your base in order to expand and go up the tech tree, which requires a lot of space and planning. Fortunately you can pause at any time, and that is key for base-building purposes! I don’t love management sims like The Settlers as much as I do traditional RTSes, as learning and managing this kind of games’ complex, nested trees of building and resource dependency are not my favorite thing, but this game balances it well: it has more than enough depth to be hard to master, but is not as complex as some in the field, thankfully.  There are “only” five resources, for example.

In each game you start out with a town center, four ranger units, and a soldier unit. You always start in the center of the map, and explore out from there to see what your environs look like, while also starting to build your base. The five main resources are gold, wood, stone, iron, and oil. These resources each start out with a cap, for 2000 for gold and 50 for the others, that you can increase by building Warehouse buildings.  Each warehouse increases the maximums by 2000 for gold and 50 for each other resource.  Oil is only used lategame, but you’ll need the others earlier.  In order to get those resources you will need to cut or mine them from points on the map where they are available.   You need to expand your base to do this, but you can only build within a fairly close energy range, like a mid ’90s RTS or such.  So, you need to build Tesla Towers to expand your energy range.  Also like in a traditional RTS there are some buildings which build military units, and others which research new technologies.  There aren’t as many unit types as you might expect in this genre, though, but I’ll get into that later.

Building a base in They Are Billions is not as simple as just building buildings and then forgetting about them as you might in a standard RTS, however.  In addition to resources, you also need to manage four other important numbers: your current population size, the number of available workers you have, and the amounts of available food and power that are free.  Everything you build in this game has a maintenance cost, so for building, the most important thing to know is what is available for stuff you haven’t built yet, not what is tied up maintaining things.  That is what these numbers quantify for you.  At the beginning of the game, the only resource you are getting is gold, which generates from your population, ie, from taxes presumably. You’ll need to build those sawmills and quarries and such to get the other resources, as I said, as well as several different types of buildings to get food, mills for power, and more.  Again, as in The Settlers and such mineral deposits do not run out, but nor will this complex tree of nested dependencies ever not keep costing you money.  Residential buildings make you money, but everything else, including defense towers, quarries, farms, and such, all cost money and resources.

If you’re out of available workers, food, or power,  you are in trouble and cannot build anything until you solve that problem.   You can suspend quarries in order to free up a few workers, if that’s your problem, but cannot do this for other kinds of buildings that use workers such as food production buildings, warehouses, or what have you.  So, be careful with what you build and watch those numbers, and try to not let them get low.  So, this game is all about continual expansion, and to expand your base you need to build more of everything — more farms or fishing shacks for food, more power plants or mills for power, more quarries and sawmills for wood, stone, and metal, more warehouses, markets, and such to reduce costs and increase income and resource maximums, and more.  Every one of these elements requires the others to function, so you need to scale everything up proportionately.  A lot of these buildings are large, too, so I can definitely see that planning out your base ahead of time is a very good idea if you want to do well.  I’m not any good at this yet, though; maps are so broken up by forests, lakes, and such that it’s hard to fit everything in neatly.

A good player would quickly and steadily expand their base, never letting themself get to a point where you’re completely out of free food, workers, or power, since in such a case you’re frozen and have to disable or destroy a building in order to get your base moving again (unless it’s workers and you solve it by letting some troops get killed, but that’s not a great solution obviously.) I’m far from a good player, as is usual in this kind of game once I get a good base set up I like to sit in it and not keep expanding like you should to really do great at this game, which works for a while but does not lead to victory;  if you don’t expand enough you will die, as you’ll run out of something and solving that problem mid-game is very difficult.  If you have low gold income for example, you can’t just solve that easily, you need to have planned better early on.  Even so, I really like They Are Billions, base-building is a lot of fun!

Building your base is the main focus of the game, but you do also control combat units. You don’t need to manage peasants or such, once you build a building they do their thing automatically, but the army does need to be controlled. You only have five or six types of units you can build, so far at least in the games’ development, but it’s a decent variety and the several types of towers add to your ability to defend your base as well.  Each unit is quite different and has a place.  Still, compared to other RTSes your combat options are limited.

Additionally, the unit-control element of this game still needs work — the pathfinding is REALLY terrible, and trying to target a specific enemy may or may not work, which can be a big problem. U nit pathfinding is HORRIBLE and your troops will run straight into corners instead of going around them from the start, first. Also, figuring out exactly where you can and can’t get through with troops is not clear and is a big trial-and-error issue. Can I, or the zombies, get through that gap, or can’t I? You’ll pretty much just need to move a unit to the point to see if they start moving the right way or way off in the opposite direction. During battle, trying to give movement orders is finicky because of this, as it’s way too easy to accidentally send troops the wrong way, maybe dooming the whole colony as a result. It also can be quite hard to get your troops to attack one specific zombie in a group, if you need to do that to save a building. Buildings can only take a relatively few hits before they become infected and spit out a bunch of new zombies themselves, so this can be a huge issue. I really hope that they refine the games’ pathfinding and unit control systems before the final release. You really need to micromanage units. At least you can pause, but really, the combat side of the game has issues.

Making things worse, apart from the final wave which hits you from every direction, you’ll never know exactly where enemy waves will hit your base. Now, during the 100 days of each default-length game, at certain preset points waves of zombies attack you from a random direction, north, south, east, or west. The number and types of zombies scale up in each wave, and they’re pretty much the same in every game, so you know what you will be facing every time; the problem is trying to survive it. Zombies start from a point along one of the four sides of the map, and then take the most direct path from there to your command center. But unless you have explored the whole map and figured out that pathing, which is unlikely until deep into the game because units move somewhat slowly and clearing out zombie groups takes quite a while, figuring out where they will attack can be an exercise in frustration. I’ve lost games more than a few times because I reinforced the wrong wall before a wave, or sent my troops to the wrong place, because it can be nearly impossible to guess this correctly and you need troops in position to have any chance at stopping most of the waves! I really wish the game would give a much better indicator of where zombie waves were going to go, it’s kind of unfair as it is.

So far They Are Billions has only two modes, survival and a once-a-week scored survival challenge mode.  In survival mode you control a human colony, and try to survive the zombies in that area. Maps here are randomly generated, though you do aways start in the center. This survival mode is not endless, however — if you manage to survive 100 days, you win. Over the course of those 100 days waves of zombies attack you. Additionally, the map is full of zombies you can go out and try to kill, or deal with when they get close to your base. You will need to kill some in order to expand, or to reduce the number of zombies that will get attached to waves or attack you during a wave. It’s a simple formula, but it works very well and leads to great tension as you try to get a base that will be able to withstand the next wave.   This is a very, very hard game, but you can adjust the difficulty in the regular survival mode in several ways, including by changing the length of the game, number of regular zombies on the map, and more.  It’s great that the game has these options!  The game defaults to a fairly high setting, but it does feel best balanced there; longer games at easier settings can get dull, as you wait a long time for the game to finally get tougher… when you may well get, after several hours, absolutely crushed on the final wave if you weren’t prepared enough.  It is easier, but the default difficulty is probably more fun.   In addition to the survival mode, the developers say that they are working on a campaign mode, but so far no information has been released about what it will look like, so it’s too early to say anything about that.

Another issue with the game is that luck plays a significant factor. First, the layout of the map is always random, and where those zombies, resources, and potential choke points are will determine a lot in every game. Second, zombie waves attack from random directions as I said, and which way they come from often will decide if you can stop them or not, not only for those times that I defend the wrong wall, but simply — do they come at a point you have well defended, or your weakest wall? You’ll never know for sure and this can get very frustrating, as you lose games you were doing well because of random factors like that. Additionally, at four points in each game you get a choice between two people for mayor of your colony. These are essentially random bonuses, as each mayor gives you a thing. Some give you a free military unit or two, some resources, some walls or a building, some a specific tech-tree advance; you never know, and some are MUCH better than others. Being given a great mayor bonus can be a huge boost to a game, such as the time that midgame I was offered a mech unit, which is fantastic and the best unit in the game; I was doing well, but wasn’t even CLOSE to that in the tech tree, so it helped me immensely! In fact, to date that game is the one I got the farthest in. That was fun, but it’s not repeatable. These random elements do keep you coming back, as you hope for better luck the next time, but I’d rather have it be about skill and not luck.

As for the other issues with the game, looking at the Steam forums it’s clear that many people are frustrated by the slow pace of game updates, which makes sense; it’s been in early access for months now, and few of the major issues are any different, and that single player campaign is still not in the game either. I’m fine with it taking a while to do it right, myself, but fixing up the interface and improving on quality-of-life issues like pathing, that sometimes the game doesn’t recognize mouse clicks, and such should get priority. I’m sure it’s hard, but the game needs it. Still though, I’m loving this game, the mixture of RTS and bilding simulation works really well and both elements, exploring around with troops to kill zombies and building up a base, are great fun. I still haven’t beaten the first map, but I’m sure I will eventually… because this is a great and really addictive game. I hope the developers keep working on it and add a lot more to the game. It’s fantastic as it is, but it can get even better.

But really, They Are Billion’s biggest problem is repetition.  By design, this is a very repetitive game.  You always play as humans, fighting zombies that surround you.  You’ll never fight other humans, there is only one race to play as, and games all follow the same outline.  Outside of the random factor of the map and where zombie waves come from, every game plays pretty similarly, as you build your base going on the same tech tree, expand, wait for waves that roughly attack at the same times every game (though, again, from random directions), and such. This is a great game and so far I’m not bored of it, but They Are Billions doesn’t have the variety you might expect from a great RTS.

Still, overall so far I love this game and am hooked to it. I’ve been playing it some almost every day, though I don’t know how long I will continue to play it for.  Due to the repetition I doubt that this is a game I’ll be playing all year, like I have with other RTSes in the past, but despite its problems, 30 hours in I would say that They Are Billions is a really good, addictive game that is one of the most original and best-executed ideas in the RTS genre in a while.  It has a ways to go, but the promise here is great.

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Small WiiWare/VC List Update & Wii Online Shop Shuts Down In Hours!

As the WiiWare shop is in its final hours — the ability to add money will be shut down 4PM EST tomorrow —  I made a small update to the list here: http://www.blackfalcongames.net/?p=364 .  First, I corrected one price I got wrong; Liight is 500 points, not 800.  Also, I mentioned that arcade Space Harrier has motion controls added, but not that arcade Super Hang-On also has similar motion controls added.  That oversight has been corrected.

Anyone wanting to add money to the Wii shop has this one final chance.

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Review – The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap (GBA) – A Very Good Zelda Game

Yes, it’s an actual real update!  I’m glad to have written a review again.

  • Title: The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap (US/EU), Zelda no Densetsu: Fushigi no Boushi (Japan)
  • Developer: Flagship
  • Publisher: Nintendo
  • Platform: Game Boy Advance
  • Released: November 2004 (Japan / Europe), January 2005 (US)
  • Genre: Action-Adventure

Introduction

The Legend of Zelda series is one of my favorites in gaming, but there are some Zelda games I’ve never gotten around to finishing. Until recently, this game was one of those, as I’d started it but stopped early on, but while watching the 2018 Olympics I played through the rest of this game and decided to review it along the way. The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap is an overhead action-adventure game for the GBA which released somewhat late in the system’s short life, after the Nintendo DS had already released. This game was the second, or sort of third, game that resulted from a partnership between Capcom and Nintendo to develop some Zelda games at Flagship, a Capcom/Nintendo joint-run studio that Capcom merged into its main company a few years after this game release.  Flagship’s first Zelda games were The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons, two paired Game Boy Color games that released in mid 2001. I like those games a lot, so I was interested to see what Flagship would do next with Zelda.  Then they worked on the Four Swords part of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past / Four Swords for the GBA.  That multiplayer-only linear-levels topdown multiplayer action game has some good ideas, but its link-cables-required, local multiplayer-only nature is a big problem which made it very hard to play then, ever mind now.  Several years later, Flagship finally released a second main-series Zelda game, but while it did okay, it didn’t make quite the impression that Nintendo was hoping. The game sold well and got good reviews, but has since been somewhat forgotten. Even at the time reactions were somewhat mixed, though. Indeed, looking back at some old posts I made online back in 2004-05 about this game, I went from initial interest, to not even buying the game until at least five years after its release, and not finishing it until, well, this month. And I was far from the only person who overlooked or passed on this game at the time. Playing it now, though, it’s good! The Minish Cap has issues, but I do think that I, and many other people, under-rated this game.

Story and Controls

The Minish Cap is a traditional overhead 2d-style Zelda game. As with the Oracles games, the controls, interface, and world design of Minish Cap take heavy inspiration from Link’s Awakening, which, in my opinion, is a very good thing even if none of those elements quite match LA’s greatness. The story is as familiar as the gameplay. Unfortunately though, it has none of LA’s genius. You play as Link, and need to save Hyrule from evil Vaati. Your partner character this time is a sentient hat, which talks and can change your size. The terrible-as-usual sexist story has you saving Zelda, who has been turned to stone in what would prove to be the first of two consecutive times in handheld Zelda games. Just because this kind of really bad, sexist storytelling is common doesn’t make it okay, though. This game has plenty of amusing writing in it, but the core story is, yet again, unforgivably awful. All three (two?) Flagship Zelda games have extremely basic “rescue the princess” storylines, which is too bad when they clearly are able to write some decent and often amusing stuff for the many side characters that populate these games. The only “unique” thing in the plot is that the main villain here is Vaati, from the Four Swords games, and not Ganon. This is Vaati’s only appearance in a traditional Zelda game, and it is kind of interesting to see him in a regular Zelda game.

The controls are inspired by Link’s Awakening’s, with a few additions for the GBA’s two additional shoulder buttons. As in that game, you can assign any of your items to the A and B buttons, so once again your sword and shield are not locked to buttons like they are in other Zelda games, you just assign them like any of your other items. The other items include some returning favorites and some new ones. My favorite new item is the air-blast item, which the game uses quite often to good effect. The R button is standardized, though, as it is used for a roll move, and also for grabbing and pulling things. Jumping requires an item you get deep into the game, but rolling is a default move locked to a button? It is a little odd to have this one function locked to a button, and it might have been nice for R to be customizable too. Still, it works this way and the roll is a good move. The L button’s usage is not as successful, however. This button is locked to a function too: this trades Kinstones with the person or object in front of you, if you can do so. I will get into what Kinstones are soon, but in short they are items you collect and trade with characters, in return for unlocking things in the world. I’m not a big fan of this element of the game, and it is a significant part of it. Kinstone trading is a big part of this game, but it’d have been great to have another button for general use, and to put this function somewhere else. For the controls overall though, I have some issues with the functions on both shoulder buttons, but otherwise Minish Cap controls great. As always in Nintendo-published Zelda games the controls are very responsive, and Link moves around and items all work just as they should. I really like how you can assign the A and B buttons freely, as well.

Oh, there is also one other way you interact with the world in this game. As fitting for a game with Four Sword’s villain in it, The Minish Cap has a Four Sword component. This game is single player only, but when you stand on certain floor tiles and hold down the sword button until it fully charges, keep the button held down, and move onto other tiles, you will create clones. You start with only one Link, but as you proceed you will eventually get up to four. It’s kind of annoying that you need to hold down the attack button for so long before you are able to split, but the game makes good use of dividing yourself in many puzzles through the game, both simple and quite tricky.

General Gameplay

In the gameplay, The Minish Cap, again, is a traditonal 2d Zelda game, but with some more modern updates. I won’t describe this in full detail, as most readers are probably familiar with Zelda gameplay. In short though, this means that you explore a sizable world, including a large town full of many people in the center, and various zones surrounding that town. You wander around the world collecting stuff, fighting enemies, talking to people, and solving puzzles. At certain points you’ll go into dungeons in this world, and in dungeons, and sometimes outside of them, you will get new items to add to your inventory. These items include some old ones and some new. You then use your items, and swordfighting skills, to figure out the way forward and kill the monsters barring your way. Combat is central to the game, and again, it’s great! The enemies are varied, and you will need not only your sword and shield but also many items in order to effectively fight all of them. It’s a familiar formula, and The Minish Cap executes on it very well. Flagship’s experience and skill with the franchise shows through in many ways, from the puzzles, to the new items, to the fun dungeons, and more.

The issue of originality is worth discussing, though. Flagship’s Zelda games are very good, but they do not have the same spark of originality that you see in most of Nintendo’s Zelda games. They execute on the standard Zelda formula very well, and have a few new ideas in terms of items and the world, but for the most part this game and the Oracles titles stick to formula. I appreciate innovation, and Nintendo has done some fascinating things as the Zelda seres has evolved. However, traditional 2d and Ocarina of Time-inspired 3d Zelda are some of my favorite kinds of games, so while this is an issue worth mentioning and I have criticized Flagship for this before, I also think that their games are great, because the classic Zelda formula is one of gaming’s best! And on that note, this game keeps the standard Zelda item-collection system, of getting them in dungeons as mentioned, and does not mess with that as Nintendo’s more recent titles have. I, at least, prefer things as Minish Cap does them. I’d rather progressively get items permanently as I go through a game, then have to rent them as you see in A Link Between Worlds, or just be given them all at the start as you see in Breath of the Wild. This game isn’t necesarily better than those are, it has some faults for sure. I’m just saying that in terms of game design for Zelda games, I think the standard item-collection formula is great, and I’ve never been one of those wanting the series to drastically change.

The World of the Minish

And this game does have one significant unique gameplay element to it, beyond a few unique items of course. Now, having two worlds has been a common feature in most Zelda games since A Link to the Past, but The Minish Cap takes a unique take on it, as instead of travelling through time, as previously mentioned you can shrink and see the world from the ant-sized proportions of the tiny, and eponymous, Minish! As in Oracle of Seasons you can only switch sizes at certain, predetermined points here, and this is important for many puzzles in the game, and you will spend most of your time full-sized, but still the size-change mechanic works well and adds to the game. Figuring out how to progress through the world in small form makes for some fun puzzles as you try to figure out how to reach some Minish areas and find out what is there.

However, in addition to playing as a couple of pixels on the regular map, sometimes the game zooms in and you play as regular-sized Link in a tiny world. Unfortunately I have issues with this element of the game, as it badly lacks variety. On the better side, there is one Minish town, near one Minish-scale dungeon that isn’t very different from the other ones, early in the game. There are also some caves to find where you fight bugs and such. However, the rest of the Minish areas come from two often-repeated formulas. First, there are single-room Minish houses, which have a Minish or two in them to talk to. These are usually pointless except for Kinstone fusion, though a few have actual useful hints. And second, there are entirely straight scrolling paths. The visuals here are kind of nice, as you see giant grass leaves and such, but in gameplay terms they are incredibly basic: you either go straight up and down, or straight left and right. None of these have a single bend, which is pretty weird, and most are short and present minimal challenge and have few obstacles in them. I like the size-change concept, and it’s great to have some areas where you see the world from a tiny perspective, but why are these areas so incredibly simplistic?

While the size-change idea was new for a Zelda game, the idea of having two worlds fits to formula. Flagship did try some original things in The Minish Cap, though, both good and bad. On the positive side, the game has some pretty interesting new items to get which the game makes good use of, particularly perhaps the wind-shooting item. For anyone who hasn’t played the game I don’t want to spoil them all, but it’s great that Flagship did not just reuse old items but came up with some good new ideas. Neutrally, the game has collectables — those Kinstones — that actually change the state of the world, And somewhat more questionably, Flagship made a 2d Zelda game with a difficulty level much closer to The Wind Waker than its 2d forbears. On that last note, probably the most common complaints about The Minish Cap are that the game is short, easy, and has a small world. These criticisms are largely accurate, as the game has only six dungeons, is the easiest 2d Zelda game ever made by a good margin, and will not take many hours to finish. Even so, I found the game quite fun while it lasted, playing it this time around at least.

The Overworld

The overworld is a major component of every Zelda game, and this one is no exception. The scale of that world is a definite issue I want to discuss, however. At first, The Minish Cap’s world seems to be shockingly small. You go up just a couple of areas at the start, and you’ve already explored a good chunk of the map! However, while the world feels small, it is not as limited in scope as it may appear. The side areas add some decent size to the game, and the map screen makes things look smaller than they are due to its dual-layer design — there is a single-screen map of all the areas, from which you can enter to view detailed maps of every section of the game. It’s a great, and very detailed, map screen which is incredibly useful throughout the game.

Still, you can get across this world quickly. Why is that, though? Estimating going by the map, I think that the world here is about 16 by 16 screens, so it’s not as small as it seems. There are probably two major reasons for this. First, the game spreads things out, with large buildings and fields that take up lots of space. And second, this game is, again, a lot easier than other 2d Zelda games. Where it’s easy to die a hundred times in the 2d Zelda games before this one, this time dying even ten times in the whole game is unlikely if you’re a moderately skilled gamer. I did die sometimes, and more often than I did through most of The Wind Waker, but this is probably the second-easiest Zelda game after that one. As a result of both of these factors, while there are surely a lot more tiles in this overworld than there are in Link’s Awakening, or even the Oracles games, it probably won’t take as long to explore through. Even so, as in those games this overworld is segmented. As you explore you will see many points where you will need to return later with an item you don’t have yet in order to proceed that way. As you get items you will unlock new areas, shortcuts to get to areas of the map more quickly, and more. All Zelda games do this in some way, but the style here is very reminiscent of LA and the Oracles games, and it’s fun and satisfying to reach new areas and unlock those quicker paths.

That aforementioned more spread-out feel to it that makes this world feel smaller than it is, though. I think that The Minish Cap’s world is in a middle ground between Link to the Past’s very ‘open’-feeling world and Link’s Awakening’s very closed and segmented one. Personally I much prefer the more segemented style of Link’s Awakening over the more open style of A Link to the Past, but I’d imagine fans of either one won’t prefer this over those. I like that the world is more broken up than LttP’s boring grid-of-squares world is, though. However, in my opinion the Kinstone element holds this world back, as I will get to.

So this is definitely not one of the best of the Zelda overworlds, but even so, it is a good one. The central town is large and there is a lot to do in it, first. There are people to talk to, puzzles to solve, some minigames to play, and more. I had fun exploring this version of Hyrule, and the size of the world is just about right for this somewhat short game. Of the side areas, the mountain may have been the most fun to explore, as it has a good balance between exploration, puzzle-solving, and combat. After that, finding out how to reach all of the tiny Minish-world areas in the central town was also a highlight. The world in the sky is interesting as well. Some areas aren’t as well utilized though, such as a graveyard that is oddly large for how little time you spend there. Floating around and finding new areas is fun in that classic Zelda way; there’s nothing like a Zelda game for having some of the best exploration gameplay around!

Kinstones the Overworld’s Collection Quests

I do need to discuss those Kinstones, though. Starting a bit into the game, you will start to collect items called Kinstones. You get piles of these things, and can trade them with people and, in some cases, objects, scattered around the world by pressing L when you are standing next to someone who has a Kinstone thought bubble appear by them when you’re nearby. Each character you can trade with has one half of a kinstone, and you need to match that with one of your own. There are eight or so generic kinstone types you will collect to trade with most characters, plus about ten special one-time-use ones you will use for game-critical puzzles. In total there are about 100 kinstone matches in this game, if you want to find them all. You can only trade with each character once, as once you match kinstones with someone, something will happen in the world. The plot-critical ones open up key paths you will need to go through after matching kinstones.

The other, regular Kinstone matches give you some kind of item reward, but you’ll have to go and get it. Rewards vary from a treasure chest appearing somewhere, to ground appearing that allows you access to a previously inacessible cave, to a small lake draining giving you access to a treasure-filled cave, and more. Helpfully, after matching kinstones the point where this change has appeared is marked on the map, so you won’t forget which kinstone unlocks you haven’t gotten yet. There are no map markers for characters you haven’t matched kinstones with yet, unfortunately, so you’ll just need to wander around a lot or use a guide if you want to completely fill out the map and find all of them. I won’t be trying to do that, though, as a lot of these rewards are not too useful. Sometimes you will get good stuff like shortcuts or heart containers, but other times you get … a kinstone. For your kinstone and time. Great. Rupee rewards lose their value past the mid-game as well, as once you’ve bought the more expensive items there is really nothing else to do with the things. Also, I don’t like the idea of a Zelda game with this amount of fetch-quest backtracking in it, if you want to actually have a complete world map — after all, as since every kinstone match puts something new on the map, even if you’ve explored everything, you need to find all of the things to see the “real” map. That’s a very grindey game element to tack on to this game. On the one hand it’s good that there is something here to keep you playing, as the short and mostly easy main game won’t keep you playing for more than ten-something hours. Trying to find all the kinstones will take a lot longer than that, unless you look up their locations online. However, adding lots of fetch quest grinding to your game isn’t the best way to add replay value to a game, and I just don’t like a Zelda game where so much of the world is hidden unless I do a LOT of fetch quests! Even if most of that stuff isn’t important, I want to know what it is… but don’t really want to spend the time wandering around to find every match. Bah.

Oh, on a final side note in this section, in addition to kinstones, The Minish Cap has one other somewhat grindey collection element. As you play you will get shells. These can be spent at a shop that unlocks in town later in the game which essentially is a gatcha machine. That is, you spend shells, and get a random figurine reward as a result. The more shells you spend, the more likely it is that you get a new figure and not one you have already. There are 120 figures to collect, so while it’s easy to get a bunch of them, collecting them all will be a frustrating, and entirely random, task. It’s easy to get shells, but going through those text boxes at the gatcha shop takes a tediously long amount of time; collecting these figures is a big time-waster even if you have lots of shells, and the more you get the less often you get new ones. Fortunately I don’t care much about collecting all of these things, but people who want them all might be frustrated here. Of all the collection things in Zelda games this is one of the least fun to get.

The Dungeons

In addition to the overworld, the other major component of a Zelda game are the dungeons. There are only six dungeons, but they’re all fun to explore. As in the overworld, dungeons have a mixture of old and new puzzle and combat elements, as the new and old items are both used. Each dungeon heavily uses the item you get in that dungeon, but many items are used in multiple dungeons, which is nice; in some Zelda games you only use an item in its dungeon and then almost never after, but while some items here are like that more are widely used. As for the dungeon designs, they are linear, and don’t match up to the best Zelda dungeons but do have plenty of good moments in them. Jumping around in the sky dungeon’s a fun challenge, for example. Combat scenarios such as facing off against the games’ heavily armored knights is also pretty fun, once you figure out how to fight them. And more.

However, As with everything about The Minish Cap, the dungeons here are relatively few and mostly won’t put up the kind of fight you might expect from a 2d Zelda game. This game is quite fun while it lasts, but it is the easiest 2d Zelda game and that is quite noticeable here. The lack of challenge comes from multiple fronts. You don’t take a lot of damage when you’re hit, it’s easy to get a lot of hearts in this game, and most enemies are much less threatening than they are in earlier 2d Zelda games. However, I did have fun most of the time, and the game does present a challenge sometimes. I did die once in a while, and this game is not nearly as kind as 3d Zelda games from The Wind Waker or beyond when you do, as you get sent back to the beginning of the dungeon. Dungeons do have one, or usually two, warp points in them, so you aren’t stuck redoing dungeons all the way from the beginning every time you die as A Link to the Past annoyingly requires, though, so it’s balanced fairly well. I think the punishment for dying here is just about right. Also, some enemies hit harder, and in dungeons hearts are not always plentiful; there are always certain points that always drop hearts, but you may not be near those areas when you need them, so there are moments of tension. You can get some healing items, but this is limited by the number of bottle items you have collected. I only got two of the possible four that are hidden away in the game, so the final boss fight particularly was nicely challenging due to limited health and enemies which hit somewhat hard.

Even so, with only about six dungeons, four for four elements and a few others at key moments, this game has fewer dungeons than other 2d Zelda games do. Several 3d Zelda games from this era also have six or fewer dungeons, including both Majora’s Mask and The Wind Waker, but it’s just as unfortunate here as it is in The Wind Waker. It doesn’t feel like the game is unfinished as The Wind Waker kind of does, though, particularly with its ‘there should be a dungeon here’ moment; The Minish Cap just feels like it was designed to be a short game, with optional collection elements padding it out for people who want to spend more time with it. That works, and the results are pretty good, but a bit more substance might have been nice. Still, I like what dungeons this game has.

Graphics and Sound

The Minish Cap is, for the most part, a good-looking game. The regular-scale world has a pretty standard cartoony Zelda look. The game has a strong cartoony art style, with a light color palette that fits the GBA’s screen well. Remember, with an original GBA dark palettes can be very hard to see so the lighter palette is appreciated. This games’ look is definitely not my favorite Zelda artstyle, not even close, but it’s a fine looking game with that Zelda style to it. I’ve always had one complaint about The MInish Cap’s visuals, though, and it’s that some of the Minish-scale stuff looks … off, somehow, to me. The giant leaves and such look much more realistic than the rest of the graphics, and the contrast doesn’t work for me. This has always bothered me about The Minish Cap.

Aurally, The Minish Cap has a good soundtrack, but a lot of the tracks are classic Zelda songs reused again. It’s a great soundtrack of course, but is far from original. The limited audio capabilitites of the GBA hold it back as well.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I may have complained about this game a lot in this review, but I really do think that The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap is a very good to great game. It may have a lot of little issues, from graphical weirdness to seriously lacking challenge and length, the somewhat small-feeling world, and the annoying collection-quest elements, but it also has fantastic gameplay, just about perfect play control, a solid mix of old and new puzzle and action elements, fun dungeons, a mostly good look, and more. The good and bad are both significant here, but overall the strengths much outweigh the downsides of this game. I think I will give it an A- score, which is good, but not quite on par with the best Zelda games. That is probably about the right place for it. Any classic Zelda fan who hasn’t played The Minish Cap absolutely should! It’s a very fun, ten-ish hour experience you will probably enjoy. If you don’t like Zelda this one won’t change your mind on that, but for most The Minish Cap is well worth a try. Know about its downsides, but don’t let them stop you from playing it.

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Small article update

In the WiiWare / Wii VC Recommendations List (http://www.blackfalcongames.net/?p=364) I fixed a few minor text issues and, more importantly, added comments about what I think about most of the titles I have for WiiWare.  It’s a small but, I think, nice addition to this list.

Let this also serve as a reminder that there are only a few months left to add points to buy WiiWare games with to your Wii accounts, and some of those games are pretty good, so buy them while you can!

Posted in Modern Games, Nintendo Wii, Updates | Tagged | Leave a comment

Game of the Year 2017

So it’s game of the year time again, and despite all they have said about what a great year this is for games, the gaming press has a pretty much consensus choice for 2017’s best game: Zelda: Breath of the Wild. It’s won from IGN, Gamespot, Kotaku, etc, etc; nothing else is remotely close. Games like Mario, Horizon, PUBG, and such don’t have many GOTY awards yet, though I’m sure they will get them from somewhere. (Giant Bomb hasn’t announced their winner yet, but for some time now PUBG has been the one they’re most likely to have picked. I guess we’ll see though…)

As for me though, while BotW is a pretty good game, it’s certainly not one of my favorites. Sure it’s good, and you can do some pretty interesting things as you explore around the world, but the open-world nature of the game loses me. I’ve never liked open world games much, pretty much ever, and while even I did find wandering around looking for stuff fun for a little while, the game didn’t keep me coming back and I haven’t played it in months now.

Despite that though, this year, for the first time in a long time, I actually played a lot of modern games. Oh, I still love and played a lot of older games, but I got a new PC, a Wii U, and an Xbox One (S) this year, and played lots of games on them, and on my (New) 3DS as well. Indeed, when I looked at the list of games I have that released in 2017, the 3DS dominates the list as far as quality goes. It’s not quite as great as the original DS, but still the 3DS is amazing and one of the best handhelds ever.

That said, I’ve got three lists this year, one for my favorite games I played that released in 2017, second one for my favorite games that I bought in 2017 but are older, and last a short list of the games I think I played the most this year, old or new, games I bought this year or that I already had.

NEW GAMES

Before I begin, there is one game that definitely would be on my list if I had it and the system it’s for,  Super Mario Odyssey.  The game looks exceptional and if I had a Switch it w*ould almost certainly be my #2 game this year.  There are two other near-definite top 10 titles for 2017 that also are not here because I don’t have them and haven’t played them, Sonic Mania and another Switch game, Splatoon 2.  I got the first Splatoon this year and really loved it, so the sequel is a game I am sure I would love.  And as for Sonic Mania, as a fan of the Genesis Sonic games, it looks awesome, I just haven’t gotten it yet.  With that said though, the list below only includes games I have actually played.

My Favorite Games of 2017 That Released In 2017

1. Starcraft Remastered (PC)  The original Starcraft is my favorite game ever made, and this higher-resolution remaster is the same game, just with better graphics.  What this reminded me is that yes, Starcraft is still the best.  The gameplay is exactly the same as before, the updated graphics look fantastic, and the new auto-matchmaking is a great addition!  If HD remasters count for Game of the Year, this is my pick for sure.

2. Yooka-Laylee (PC)  Yooka-Laylee gets a lot of criticism, but I love this game.  Playtonic did a fantastic game of making a new game in the style of Rare’s classics!  The games’ relatively low budget does show in some ways, including the games’ length, the bad Rextro minigames, and such, but for the most part this is an incredible game.  The levels are fantastically designed, the graphics are great, the soundtrack is exceptional, and more.  This is a true classic, and it’s one of the best 3d platformers in a long time.  It also has the misfortune of releasing in the same year as Mario Odyssey, but still, it’s fantastic!

3. Ever Oasis (3DS) This is a very seriously under-rated action-RPG, and I like it a lot.  This game is from the creator of the Mana series, and I like that series and it has some clear similarities to this title.  Ever Oasis has some issues, but it’s really good and I recommend it.

4. Etrian Odyssey V (3DS) Etrian Odyssey V is a classic-styled dungeon crawler, much like the three DS EO games, but with some interesting new elements in the character skill trees and such.  This is not an innovative game, and I miss some of the stuff EOIV added but this game does not have, but still it’s a fantastic and very addictive game that well deserves being on the top five of this list.

5. Metroid: Samus Returns (3DS) Metroid: Samus Returns is the first new sidescrolling Metroid game in almost 15 years, and it’s great!  Considering the pedigree of this series, that alone should be enough to make a top 10 list, and indeed it is.  This game improves on the original Metroid 2 and adds some great new features as well.  I don’t love the melee attack, but otherwise this game is very good.  Oh, and it looks and sounds great, also.

6. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Wii U) Zelda is one of my favorite game franchises, but I am not an open-world game fan, which is why this game is this far down on my list despite its obvious quality.  I like some things about this game a lot, but it doesn’t grab me like I would like a Zelda game to.  Still, this IS a great game, and I definitely like it.  Finding and solving shrines is pretty fun.

7. Chicken Wiggle (3DS) This is an indie 2d platformer which most people ignored, but actually is a lot of fun.  This is a somewhat slow-paced puzzle-heavy platformer, and traversing the levels with your chicken-and-worm character pair is a lot of fun.  The campaign is pretty good, and the game has a full level editor and online level sharing too!  Given the games’ lack of success there are not as many levels available online as there should be, but there are well over a thousand, at least, some good, so there are lots of levels to play for this game.

8. For Honor (Xbox One) The Middle Ages have always been my favorite historical period, and this is a pretty fun hack and slash third-person action game in a medieval setting.  It’s not the best game ever, but it’s very fun stuff.  It looks really good, and the gameplay has some variety and interesting combat as well.

9. Snake Pass (PC) I love 3d platformers, and this unique one is pretty cool.  Figuring out the snake movement controls takes effort, but it’s worth it.  The game looks nice and making your way through the environments is fun.

10. Parascientific Escape: Crossing at the Farthest Horizon (3DS) This is the third game in this visual novel / graphic adventure / escape-room series, and it’s about as fun as the previous ones.  These are simple and short little games, but I find them interesting and fun.  The story is quite anime, but I’m okay with that and the characters and puzzles are decently good.

Honorable Mention: Cuphead (PC/Xbox One) Cuphead has a fantastic and awesome 1930s cartoon-inspired visual style, and probably largely because of that it is getting a lot of acclaim.  And I do like this game, but I don’t think the gameplay quite matches up to the visual extravaganza.  This is a pretty good game.  It is hard but in a well-balanced way, and it is rewarding when you beat a boss.  However, the sidescrolling levels are not great, the bosses are not all equally amazing,  and such.  I could see moving this game up the list, as I do like it, but even so I am going to put it here in 11th.

Again though, while I like all ten of these games, those bottom three would not make the list if I had played Mario Odyssey, Sonic Mania, and Splatoon 2.  Those three would definitely bump those three down into an Honorable Mentions category.

OLD GAMES

Second, while it’s not a ranked list, here are all of the older games that I bought in 2017 and I liked enough to mention. These are all games I think of as being probably at least worth an A- grade, though I have finished few so I wouldn’t formally score them of course.

Note: these are not in order at all. Additionally, I do not count games which I bought for one system but previously owned for another platform unless the two games are actually different.

Color Zen (3DS)
Shantae (3DS VC – GBC)
R-Type Dimensions (PS3)
Dark Lord (Famicom)* [Game is only good with translation patch though since I don’t read Japanese]
Xenoblade Chronicles X (Wii U)
Super Mario 3D World (Wii U)
Super Mario Maker (Wii U)
Splatoon (Wii U)
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze (Wii U)
Kid Icarus Uprising (3DS)
Garou: Mark of the Wolves (360 – Neo-Geo rerelease)
Picross 3D Round 2 (3DS)
Rosenkreuzstillette (PC)
Dishonored 2 (PC)
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD (Wii U)
Meteos: Disney Magic (DS)
Puzzle Quest 2 (DS)
Super Smash Bros. for Wii U (Wii U)
Overwatch (PC and Xbox One)
Gravitar (Atari 2600)
Professor Layton and the Last Spectre (DS)
Rare Replay (Xbox One)
TrackMania Turbo (Xbox One)

If I was also listing games I got for a system but previously owned for another, I’d mention Ikaruga, Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved, and Street Fighter III: Third Strike Online Edition for the 360, Dead or Alive 5 Last Round and Diablo III for Xbox One, and Geometry Wars 3 for PC and Xbox One, certainly.

Of all these games, the ones I think are the best overall, ranking-wise, are Mario Maker, Mario 3D World, and Splatoon, probably in that order.  The Wii U is a really great console and its best games are among the best ever made.  Rare Replay, Picross 3D Round 2, Overwatch, Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze, and Garou: Mark of the Wolves are also very, very high quality games I like a lot.

MY MOST PLAYED GAMES THIS YEAR

It is hard to say how much I played any one particular game, because most games do not have ingame clocks saying how much you played them, but here is my attempt at guessing which games I played the most this year. There isn’t one game I know I definitely played a lot more than any other this year, so this list is not prioritized.

Most Played (Guesstimate, Not in Order)

Splatoon (Wii U)
Picross 3D Round 2 (3DS)
Starcraft Remastered (PC)
Overwatch (PC)
Fire Emblem Awakening (3DS)
Super Mario Maker (3DS and Wii U versions)
Color Cross (DS)

Beyond that I’m not sure; I’m sure there are dozens of games I put enough hours into to make this list… so I won’t guess.  But those seven are definitely games I played a lot of this year.

… Oh, and I played a fair amount of Minesweeper (PC) too.  It’s still great…

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First Impressions: Ever Oasis (3DS) – This game is great!

This is another first-impressions article, not a review.  It reflects my opinion on the game based on the hours I have put into it so far.  I may still be early in this game, but I have played it enough to get a good handle on the game and know I like it quite a bit.

I have bought a bunch of games in the past few weeks, but of them the one that I have played the most of is probably Ever Oasis for 3DS.  Published by Nintendo, and produced and developed by Koichi Ishii, creator of the Mana franchise, and his studio Grezzo, the team behind the two N64-to-3DS Zelda ports of OoT and MM, this game should have been a much bigger deal than it seems to be. Apparently most people don’t care about the 3DS anymore, Pokemon perhaps excepted, so this really good 2017 release and new IP got overlooked. The game has mixed reviews, but some are good, such as an 8.9 from IGN, for example, but I haven’t seen the game talked about nearly as much as it should. New IPs are hard to be successful with indeed, as the stereotype goes; with the Mana name I’m sure this would have gotten more attention.

Anyway, Ever Oasis is a third-person action-RPG with two elements, adventuring in an Arabian desert-themed environment and building the town in your oasis. You are a special Seedling, and can partner with an oasis water spirit to build a small town around the waterhole in this dry expanse. Your goal is to try to stop Chaos and the monsters it has spawned, which have destroyed all of the other oasises in the desert, including the one you are from. You will meet other, regular Seedlings in your oasis town, but they cannot build oasises of their own, only businesses in your town.

Now, in the games’ box and packaging, they only show and mention the male playable character, but in the actual game you can play as either a male or female character. I have no idea why they hid the female character option from almost all of the games’ marketing, but it’s there. You can’t customize your character choice beyond choosing your gender, and both characters are cute little semi-human things, but it works in the games’ nice, cartoony art style.

Indeed, the graphics in general here are really nice, particularly in 3D. This game fully supports 3d, and as someone who always uses their 3DS with the 3d slider set to maximum, that’s awesome. The 3d effect is really nice and adds to the already good graphics. The charming art design fits with the 3DS’s graphics hardware perfectly, and the desert looks great. I like the way the sand glistens.

As a short aside, on a controls note, the New 3DS (or New 2DS) is definitely recommended for this game, as you can use the right stick to move the camera around. You can’t move the camera at all without a New 3DS, so have one for this game. The New 3DS also duplicates some functions onto ZL and ZR that you’d otherwise have to hit the d-pad or touchscreen for, which is handy. The rest of the controls work with either system — you have two attacks, weak and strong; a dodge-roll; a lock-on button; a button to use your tornado ability; and such.

On that note, in Ever Oasis’s gameplay, the Zelda influence is clear, as is the town-building influence from Animal Crossing and such. You are the mayor of your oasis, and also its protector. Most of your time in this game will be spent exploring the world, which is segmented into areas with dungeons underneath them, but you need to regularly return to your town and manage that as well. When you leave town and enter the overworld, you wander around, attack enemies with your weapon, and such. Enemies and plants will drop materials, which you can use to fulfill quests for people in your town, to build new buildings in town that convince visiting Seedlings to stay permanently, and more. By doing quests for visitors in your town you can get them to stay permanently, so that encourages you to explore. Now, as in most gmaes with monster and plant parts, there is crafting here, but it is thankfully very simple. You just collect stuff and return it to shops which need those things to sell, or to Seedlings to complete a quest, or alternately use them in your crafting area to make items for yourself. There is no guesswork involved in that last one here, though, as the game just tells you what you need to make each item, and if you have the materials and money you can make it. This is about as much crafting as I want in a game, so that’s nice.

So yes, you do a lot of fetch quests in this game. You get benefits, though, not only in health from Rainbow Protection, but also financially. See, you pick up stuff, like plant or monster parts, but you can’t just sell it for money, and you’ll need money to build new shops for your residents, synthesize items for yourself (it’s simple crafting, thankfully, you just get the items for the listed formulas and it makes them, no guesswork required), and such. Instead, you get money from revenues from sales at the shops. That is, as shopkeepers sell items to the other people in your oasis, they collect a part of the profits and you can collect those revenues once a shop has sold enough. It’s an interesting mechanic which fits well with the ‘you’re the mayor’ element of this game.

Now, at first this game seems pretty hard, but it gets easier a little ways in. One of my few criticisms of this game would be that I don’t know about having the game seem hard at first only for it to get easier later, but if you stay focused on your quests it works; it’s worse if you try to explore around right at the start without doing the missions. So, at the beginning you start with 10 hit points and die in about two hits. Additionally, in this game you can only save in town, and when you die the game is kind of harsh — you have to go back to your last save. You also can’t warp back to town at the beginning, this is something you unlock later. I don’t have this ability yet where I am in the game, but I wish I had it even now. And last, while this is an RPG with a levelling system, you don’t get experience right when you kill enemies. Instead, you get experience for all enemies you killed in your expedition when you return to town. So, you need to return alive in order to make any progress. Returning to town and seeing that experience bar fill up all at once can be satisfying, though.

As I said, however, once you get going things get easier as you unlock more abilities. If you do the first mission, which is very easy, you get Rainbow Protection, which gives a huge boost to your health (I went from 11 HP to 41), varying based on how happy your oasis’s residents are. Rainbow Protection, which refers to protection from the rainbow that is over your oasis, also allows you to resurrect after dying, once only at first but more time as you progress. This is really important, given how easy it is to die. I spent some time getting frustrated wandering around and dying a lot before doing this quest, but just do it first. You do need to learn to dodge, though. But yes, keeping your little town’s people happy, by doing quests for them and providing them with the stuff they need to sell at their stores, is a key part of this game.

Your character starts with a sword but you eventually get several weapon types. You can also shoot out small tornadoes, which you use to activate switches for dungeon puzzles, blow away small piles of sand that pile up around and often have items in them, and such. And once you get party members you can also switch between them, and they each have their own weapon and ability for use in puzzles. You also eventually get the ability to warp between where you are and town; I don’t have this yet, but it’d be very useful. Overall this isn’t an especially complex game once you get used to it, as most puzzles seem simple and the gameplay is fairly straightforward and repetitive — fight enemies, collect stuff, build town, repeat — but it’s a lot of fun and is a definite challenge. Sure, the game gets a lot easier once you have the Rainbow Protection benefits and party members, but I think there is still definite challenge to be found. Even with boosted health and such, losing a lot of it quickly is easy if you don’t dodge well, and healing items are limited. Losing health is particularly easy in battles against multiple enemies, as dodging all of them is much harder with more than one foe at once.

I mentioned that there are also dungeons beneath the overworld. The first area of the game has three, two small one-room caves and one larger dungeon to explore. Some of this game is predesigned and some is randomly generated, but regardless dungeons are fun to explore and are full of enemies and puzzles, fitting its Zelda influence. The dungeons here are not 3D Zelda game dungeon great and puzzles, at least early on, are very simple and obvious, but even so the dungeons are fun to explore, at least the first time; returning to them over and over for materials may be a pain, but ah well. It’s a good game either way.

So, overall, so far I really like Ever Oasis. The game may get repetitive and I’m not sure of its difficulty balance, but otherwise this is a very good to great game with great graphics for its system, good art design, fun and reasonably challenging gameplay, good Zelda-inspired puzzles, and some decent, if simple, town management as well. All of the elements of this game work together well into a good whole. I’m still early in Ever Oasis, but I’m quite liking it and I hope that more people play the game, it’s well worth it. The 3DS is still a great system and while next year might not have much releasing for it (we’ll see), 2017 was a good year for the platform and this game is one of the reasons why. Anyone with any interest should at least try the Ever Oasis demo, which is free on the eshop. Or just get the game if it sounds good, so far I’d definitely recommend it.

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First Impressions: Steam Link hardware – Computer Games on your Television!

… Yes, it’s been far too long.  Between being busy, that more than 6-day power outage after the huge windstorm of October 2017 knocked out power to more than half of this state, some computer problems (I think Windows messed up my video card…) and not being sure what to post next, it kept getting pushed back.  This little article here is something, at least, though, and hopefully it’s interesting.

This first impressions article on the Steam Link is broken up into three main parts, first an introduction, second for an overview of the hardware, and last for my impressions of gaming on the device.

Introduction

I got a Steam Link recently.  This is a piece of hardware made by Valve, the company who run the d0minant PC gaming store Steam, that you connect to your television via HDMI.  Then you connect it to the network your home computer is on, preferably by a wired connection for better reliability and speed, and it can duplicate one of your computer monitors onto your television, allowing you to play PC games on your TV, remotely.  The Steam Link does not run the games, it merely streams them from your PC, so how well it works depends on your setup — is it connecting via wired internet, or wireless?  How far is your computer from your TV, and is there only one router or switch in between the two or more?    Etc.

In my case, my computer and television are in different rooms, and my computers I play games on are all desktops and not laptop, so for some time I’ve been interested in finding a way to play computer games on the TV.  I have my computer and Steam Link both hooked up via wired internet to a router placed in between the two.  However, there didn’t seem to be an easy way to do that, until Valve solved that problem.  Fortunately, it works pretty well for me.  While not perfect, the Steam Link is a great device that I really like.

The Steam Link’s regular price is not too expensive, but the price was just enough that I did not buy one until recently.  However, over the past month or so Steam has had a series of sales selling off Steam Links for extremely low prices; they seem to want to clear their warehouses of these things.  There have been several bargain-basement offers, some even cheaper than the offer I bought, but the one I got cost $1 plus $7 shipping, with a catch — it was a bundle with a game, ICEY, which cost $7.69 itself; that is an okay price for that game, but not as low as it’s been. ICEY looks decent (it’s a sidescrolling action/platformer) so I decided to keep it anyway, though, so I have that too now. The total bundle was a bit over $15, which is quite reasonable.  No one is sure why they’re selling these for so cheap, if it’s because of a switch over to apps embedded into smart TVs or a new generation of the hardware that is not out yet, but within its limitations the Steam Link works and is definitely worth getting when it’s next on sale cheap.

Steam Link Hardware Overview

The way the Steam Link works is that you first have to turn on Steam on your PC and then go into Big Picture Mode.  After this, go to your television.  The Steam Link doesn’t have a power button on it, so you have to turn it on either by plugging in a controller to a USB port on the Steam Link, or hitting the ‘system menu’ button on a modern controller, such as the Xbox jewel on a 360 or Xbox One controller for example.   Because you are on a television, while the Steam Link does support keyboards and mice if you plug them into it, a gamepad is recommended.   Anyway, doing either of those things will wake up the Steam Link.  It will then look for your computer.  Once it connects, you’ll see the same Steam Big Picture Mode screen on your TV that is also on your computer monitor.  Big Picture Mode feels like a pointless waste on a computer, but on a television it’s a mostly well-designed system interface that works well.  You can play any of your Steam games through this interface, and sort by any categories you have or by which games have native Xinput controller support, which is nice.

Now, you can stream your desktop to your TV, but the hardware has limitations.  Either for bandwidth or Steam Link hardware limitation reasons, the Steam Link can only display a 1080p picture or below.  If you’re running your desktop at anything above 1920 x 1080, the Steam Link will scale it down to fit whatever output resolution you have chosen.  I have a 16:10 monitor and run my main desktop at 1920 x 1200, but it can display that on my TV, though I do need to remember to set games to 1080 to have them not cut off as much of the screen.  The Steam Link can output an interlaced image as well as progressive scan, too, allowing for 1080i support for older HDTVs like one I have that do not support 1080p.  The higher resolution you stream the more pixels it is streaming so the higher the likelihood you will have performance issues, but how well each resolution works will vary.  For me they all seem to work fairly well.   There are plenty of configuration options, which is great.  You can set what gamepad buttons will do in a game from a standard menu interface in the system menu, for example, which is pretty awesome.  If you have to use it the  Steam Big Picture Mode text-input interface is incredibly, barely unusably terrible with a regular gamepad though, so use a keyboard or Steam Controller for that, but otherwise the system menus are pretty good.

One other cool thing about this device is that while Steam does not advertise it as such, the Steam Link is not a Steam-only device.  Instead, once connected it streams whatever is on your computer monitor to the TV.  So, if you minimize Steam your desktop will appear.  At this point you will need to connect a keyboard and mouse to the Steam Link in order to navigate your desktop, but if you do that you can just use your computer on your TV, which is pretty cool.  Staying in Steam may be the most convenient thing, thanks to controllers and such, but it’s great that you are not locked into it; all PC games are not on Steam, after all!  And even when they are you may have it for another storefront for any number of reasons.  The competition of the many different ways you can buy PC games are one of the many great things about computer gaming, and hardware shouldn’t lock you to one device.

On that note, one other accessory that would go well with a Steam Link is the Steam Controller.  I don’t have one, but I am thinking about it now.  A regular Xinput controller, such as the wired, Xbox 360-compatible Hori EX2 Turbo gamepad I use (because it is the only officially licensed and dual-analog Xinput gamepad with six face buttons, mostly), is great, but the Steam Controller allows for easy keyboard/mouse mapping to it, and its touchpad things may be a better mouse replacement than analog sticks are?  I know impressions of the Steam Controller are quite mixed, though, and I remember hating the touch-only dpads of TurboTouch controllers for the NES and Genesis and such, so if I get one I’ll report on what I think.  The other negative is that it’s mostly locked to Steam; there may be ways to use it outside of Steam, but it’s intended only to run in Steam and that really is too bad.

Gaming on the Steam Link

But anyway, back to the Steam Link.  So far, I have used this to play gamepad-supporting Xinput computer games I have in Steam on my television.  Again, I am using it on a wired network because Valve warns that wireless causes larger amounts of lag which can make playing games difficult.  This makes sense, because while wireless internet usually works fine, it’s never as fast or reliable as wired internet is.  I would expect the same from an intranet like this.

I would say that for the most part the Steam Link works great.  Just as you’d hope, it displays my computer monitor on my TV, and games are entirely playable.  How playable games are on TV instead of computer monitor depends on the game in question and the screens you are running it on, though.  First, of course, many computer games are designed for you to be sitting close to the screen.  Even on a sharp television, sitting much farther away will make details hard to discern.  Playing more console-styled games is fine though of course, and I have many of them for PC as I like many kinds of games.  Second, lag is a key concern.  Everything you’re doing is going through wires over to your PC and then back again, after all, so there are multiple points where lag can be introduced that would not exist when playing just on a PC — either from the wires, from your router, from TV latency, or what have you.  In my experience, while it’s close, I do think that games probably do not run quite as smoothly on my TV as they do on the computer.  The lag is fortunately low, but it is there, and this can affect some kinds of games worse than others.  It works and the controls are responsive, though, which is great.  Being able to play computer games on my television, while the computer is still in another room, is great and I think I’ll use this thing a good amount; it’s kind of like having a new console, only it’s my computer! Sure, there is more lag and slowdown in games, and worse image quality too (because while my TV is HD and largeish, it’s pretty old), but still it’s pretty great.

I have tried a variety of games over the Steam Link, including 2d and 3d games, faster action titles and slower ones.  All are playable, and run close to how they do on my computer monitor.  The very framerate-consious might have a different experience from me, but whether I tried Deltazeal or Dead or Alive 5 games seemed to run about how it should.  There is a noticeable graphical downgrade versus playing directly on my PC, however, either because of the resolution change or simply distance, both from the computer to the TV and from how far you sit from the screen.  That’s a relatively minor sacrifice to be able to run my desktop on my television without a huge amount of hassle, however!

Beyond lag, the other issue I need to address again is controllers.  Since it is an open format there are many different kinds of controllers used by PC games.  The Steam Link will run any modern game with Xinput controller support with no problem, but anything else, whether it’s an older PC game with only Directinput support, games with only keyboard and mouse support, something outside of Steam, or what have you, require other controllers.  And considering that the Steam Link is underneath your TV, far from where I sit at least and I presume this is true for most people, and you are probably not seated in front of a desk, using a mouse or keyboard comfortably may not be realistic.  Plugging in a Directinput gamepad is easy enough, to solve that issue, though a USB extension cable may be necessary to get over to where you are; I sure would need one, PC game controllers do not have long cables.  Still, the keyboard and mouse issue is tougher.  I don’t have a wireless keyboard and mouse to use with my Steam Link yet so I’ve only been able to use it within Steam, but I will get something, perhaps a wireless keyboard with built-in laptop style touchpad; I do not like those things, but for basic Windows navigation it’d work.  These are issues which matter to me because I love computer games of all ages, not only ones from the past decade or so which mostly support xinput.  I still think that Microsoft should have just stuck with directinput instead of confusing PC gaming with two competing interfaces, but they did, so ah well.

But anyway, overall the Steam Link is pretty cool.  Lag, distance from the screen, and image quality degradation are real issues, but despite that the Steam Link is easily worth getting since it succeeds at its goal of allowing people to display their computer desktop on their television, and paired with Steam’s Big Picture Mode also has a good interface for using computer games in a console-sized menu system.  Big Picture Mode is great on a TV, but it is also fantastic that you can minimize it and use your regular desktop, for watching videos online, trying to read a website perhaps despite the inevitable text-size issues, playing a game outside of Steam, and such.  The Steam Link is a good idea that is executed fairly well, and while PC-focused titles centered around mouse and keyboard control will never be any good on Steam Link no matter what controller configuration you try to use up, there are there are many hundreds and even thousands of computer games that would run perfectly on a television.  Instead of buying the game once on PC and again on consoles, why not just buy it once, on PC, and play it on both screens?  With Steam Link, you can do that!   Overall, I recommend the Steam Link if it sounds like something you could use.  It’s pretty cool and I like it, and the repeated sales Valve is offering for these make it an easy recommendation the next time it goes on sale cheap.  Know of the issues, but don’t let that dissuade you from getting a Steam Link if it could be at all useful for how you play games.

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Wii WiiWare & Wii Virtual Console – Pre-Shutdown Interesting Titles and Suggestions List

… Yes, it’s finally an actual update!  I’ve been meaning to write something here for weeks now, but keep getting distracted by Starcraft Remaster and now also Overwatch… bah. (There are so many games to play right now, it’s a nice “problem” to have…)  Well, today I finally finished something.  This is the result of quite a bit of work going through the whole Wii digital storefront, so enjoy.

3/25/2018 Edit: As the WiiWare shop is in its final hours, I made a small update to the list.  First, I corrected one price I got wrong; Liight is 500 points, not 800.  Also, I mentioned that arcade Space Harrier has motion controls added, but not that arcade Super Hang-On also has similar motion controls added.  That oversight has been corrected.

Introduction

Nintendo announced that the Wii’s digital-download store will be shut down soon. Starting in March 2018 you will not be able to add points (money to buy games with) to your account, so game purchasing will be impossible beyond spending any points you have previously purchased. You will still be able to download games you’ve bought previously, though. Then in January 2019 the store will be completely shut down, and all redownload will be impossible after that. However, as digital Wii games are locked to the system instead of an account, that is only an issue if you have deleted something and want to download it again, a problem you can solve by having more or larger SD cards to put the games on.

So, despite the impending shutdown, I’ve decided to get a bunch of WiiWare games while we still can, because while I bought several dozen WiiWare games and a couple of Wii Virtual Console games over the years, there are a lot of potentially interesting games on the system that I still don’t have, and for as long as you can still buy them I think I should. After that maybe piracy is sadly okay, since if Nintendo doesn’t want to sell the games anymore people who want to play those games should be able to if they want, but while they are available, turn on your Wii, or Wii mode in a Wii U, and buy some WiiWare games!  I will be.

So, here is a list of WiiWare games that are of interest. I’m not also going to list many Virtual Console titles because while there are many games of interest there, those are all at least still playable on their original systems, which is where most of them are better.

Notes

Most importantly, this is not a list of everything on WiiWare. It is a list of all games that I thought looked interesting enough in some way to list, which is a lot of them but not everything. Sorry if I skipped over anything noteworthy.

This list will be in alphabetical order by publisher, because that is how Nintendo lists them in the store; there is no way to just view everything, only the by-publisher list lists all games once only. There is also a genre-based list, but some games are in multiple genres so I can’t use that one if I only want to see each title once, which I do.

I will also list the price for each game, in Wii points.  In the US, Wii points cost 1 cent each, so 500 = $5, 1000 = $10, and such.  The prices as stated never change, because WiiWare and Wii VC games never go on sale — Nintendo seems to have never put in a sale function in their store, or something.  It’s annoying but true.

Key

Bold game titles are games that I own. They’re all worth a look, though some more so than others.

Italicized titles are Wii-exclusive games; other titles are also available elsewhere.  WiiWare exclusives will not be purchasable after the shop goes down, so they deserve primary attention here.

Underlining means two things.  In games that I own, it means that I definitely recommend getting this game.  In titles that I do not own, it means that I find the title potentially interesting based on their descriptions.  These are games I definitely might get before the Wii shop closes down.  If a game is also available, often for less, or in an enhanced remade form, on some other format I probably won’t recommend it even if it’s great; the focus here is first on games you can only, or best, play on the Wii.

Finally, first comes the WiiWare section of the list.  The Wii Virtual Console section is below it.

The List: WiiWare

Nintendo (because they list themselves first)

ArtStyle Cubello – 600 – Good puzzle game. This is fun stuff.
ArtStyle Light Trax – 600
  (a sequel of sorts to bit Generations: Dotstream on GBA) – Okay game but I don’t love it.
ArtStyle Orbient – 600
ArtStyle Rotohex – 600
ArtStyle Rotozoa – 600
Dr. Mario Online RX – 1000
– An okay version of Dr. Mario, though still-online ones for newer systems would be better.
Eco Shooter: Plant 530 – 1000 – A mediocre and very short light-gun shooter. I’m glad I got this as a points reward and didn’t pay money for it.
Excitebike World Rally- 1000
Fluidity – 1200

Grill-Off with Ultra Hand – This game was only available as a Club Nintendo reward, and cannot be legitimately purchased or added to your system anymore.  Fortunately (?) it’s a pretty simple and average game which I quickly lost interest in.
Mabioshi’s Arcade – 800
Rock ‘n Roll Climber – 800
Snowpack Park – 800
Wario Ware: D.I.Y. Showcase – 800. This game can connect with the DS game, Wario Ware: D.I.Y. That is the full title, while this just lets you play some minigames. It was mostly useful as a way to play user-made games you downloaded, but since the Wii and DS’s online multiplayer was shut down years ago, so it’s much less useful now. It does allow you to play the games from the DS game on a TV though so it could still have some use.
You, Me, and the Cubes – 1000

2D Boy

World of Goo – 1500

Abstraction

Potpurrrii – 800

Akaoni

Zombie Panic in Wonderland – 1000 (This version of the game is Wii-exclusive, but there is a 3DS eShop DX version with added content that is better overall, though the Wiimote aiming here is nice.)

Aksys

Family Glide Hockey – 500
Family Go-Kart Racing – 500 (there is also a 3DS game, Family Kart 3D, but I think it might be different?)
Family Mini Golf – 500
Family Slot Car Racing – 500
Family Pirate Party – 500
Family Tennis – 500 (there are also Wii U and 3DS Family Tennis games. I don’t think they are identical to this release but they build on it, the Wii U one particularly.)
Family Table Tennis – 500
Family Card Games – 500

Anima

Anima: Ark of Sinners – 1000

Bandai-Namco

Mr. Driller W – 800 – A decent Mr. Driller game.
Muscle March – 500

Big Blue Bubble

Burn the Rope – 1000

Big John

Mouse House – 600

Bplus

Bit Boy!! – 600
Niki: Rock ‘n’ Ball – 500
Plattchen: Twist ‘n’ Paint – 1000

Broken Rules

And Yet it Moves – 1000 (not exclusive, but the Wii version has better controls than the ports)

Calaris

Space Trek – 700

Capcom

Mega Man 9 – 1000 plus about 1000 in DLC.  These games are multiplatform but if you want to have them for Nintendo, this is close to your last chance. It’s great. Hard, but great. This is harder than any of the NES games.
Mega Man 10 – 1000 plus about 1000 in DLC.  This one is a bit easier than 9 is, but it’s still tough, and really good. These are both must-plays, at least in my opinion!

Chillingo

Dracula: Undead Awakening – 1000

Cosmonaut

Inkub – 500
Dive: The Medes Island Secret – 1000

DZC

SPOGS Racing –  1000

Deep Fried

Shadowplay – 800

Digital Leisure

Overflow – 1500
Copter Crisis – 500
The Incredible Maze – 500

Disney

Jelly Car 2  – 500

DK

Equilibrio – 500

Dream Box

Robox – 1000

dtp

TNT Racers – 1000

Empty Clip

Groovin Blocks – 800

Engine

Bang Attack! – 500

Enjoy

Brain Drain – 500

EnjoyUp

Chronos Twins DX – 1000 (an expanded version of a Europe-only DS game)
La-Mulana – 1000 (a popular game, but this is not the best version)

Exzee

ColorZ – 700

Firemint

Flight Control – 700

Fishing Cactus

Trenches Generals – 500

Frontier

LostWinds – 1000 (both LostWinds games are not exclusive, but are best here, with better controls than on other platforms. They are fairly higly regarded.)
LostWinds: Winter of the Melodias – 1000

Frontline

Gene Labs – 1500

Frozen Codebase

Jam City Rollergirls – 1000

Fugazu

Frobot – 1000

Gaijin Games

Lilt Line – 500

Gamelion

Furry Legends – 1000 (also on DSiWare but this is the better version. I played the demo and liked it.)

Gameloft

Block Breaker Deluxe – 800

Game Shastra

Tumblebugs 2 – 800

Gevo

GhostSlayer – 600
Little Tournament Over Yonder – 800

Ghostfire

Rage of the Gladiator – 1000

Grendel

Diatomic – 800

High Voltage

High Voltage Hot Rod Show – 1000
Gyrostarr – 700
– This is a fun little rail shooter.  I like the speed.

Hudson Soft

Adventure Island: The Beginning – 800
Alien Crush Returns – 800 – While not as great as the original, it’s fun.
Bomberman Blast – 1000
Onslaught – 1000

Pop ‘Em Drop ‘Em Samegame – 500
Star Soldier R – 800 – This score-attack shmup was a lot better when its leaderboards were online, but I still like it.
Snowboard Riot – 1000
Water Warfare – 800

ifunforall

Paper Wars: Cannon Fodder – 500

Interplay

Stonekeep: Bones of the Ancestors – 500 – This game got terrible reviews but I enjoy it, actually.

Joju

Mart Racer – 500

Konami

Castlevania ReBirth – 1000 – Very good but short.
Contra ReBirth – 1000
Critter Round-Up – 1000
Driift Mania – 800I found this overhead racer disappointing.
Frogger Hyper Arcade – 700
Frogger Returns – 500
Gradius ReBirth – 1000 – It’s not quite on par with the classic Gradius games, but this is still really good!
Sandy Beach – 500
Tomena Sanner – 500

Lapland

Lead the Meerkats – 1000

Legendo

Ghost Mania -500
Three Musketeers: One for All! – 900

Mediaverse

Gravitronix – 500

Microforum

3D Pixel Racing – 500
Kyotokei – 500 (there is also an iOS port of the game, but it is single player only while this one has two players, and better controls of course.) This is an okay indie shmup with a color-switching mechanic. It’s kind of fun.

Natsume

Harvest Moon: My Little Shop – 1200
Moki Moki – 800

Neko

Cocoto Platform Jumper – 700
Heracles Chariot Racing – 800

Nicalis

Cave Story – 1200 (This is a true classic, but better versions are on other platforms.)

NIS America

Viral Survival – 500

Nnooo

escapeVektor Chapter 1 – 500 (it’s good, but the complete game was later released on 3DS eshop only)
Pop – 700

Nocturnal

Flowerworks – 1000

Nordcurrent

Urbanix – 500
Monochrome Racing – 500
Robin Hood: The Return of Richard – 500
Jewel Keepers: Easter Island – 500
Arcade Essentials – 500

Playstos

Pallurikio – 1000

Onteca

A Monsteca Corral: Monsters vs. Robots – 500

Over the Top Games

NyxQuest: Kindred Spirits – 1000.  This game was later ported to the PC and iOS, but the controls are designed for the Wii and it would not play nearly as well anywhere else. It’s a pretty good puzzle/platformer well worth playing.

PopCap

Bejeweled 2 – 1000

Press Play

Max & the Magic Marker – 1000

Qubic

Gnomz – 1000
2 Fast 4 Gnomz – 500

RadiationBurn

Newton vs. The Horde – 500 (technically not exclusive, but it is only also on Xbox Live Indie Games, a service which was shut down a few days ago, so this is the only way to buy this apparently-awful game now.)

Real Arcade

Boingz – 1000

RedLynx

MotoHeroz – 1500 (this is the version of this game to get, it’s only also on iOS) – From the Trials people!  Looks great.

Revistronic

Fenimore Fillmore: “The Westerner” – 1000

Riverman Media

MadStone – 800

Rock You

Bloons – 500

Ronimo

Swords & Soldiers – 1000 (a good game, but you can get it elsewhere.)

Sandlot

Snail Mail – 600 (This is a port of an iOS remake of a browser-based Shockwave PC racing-ish game.  It’s not exactly the same as either previous version, though; multiplayer has been added, and perhaps more.)

SDP

Save the Furries – 1000

Sega

Let’s Catch – 1000 (can connect to Let’s Tap for DS for an added bonus)
Sonic 4: Episode 1 – 1500

Selectsoft

Drop Zone: Under Fire – 500 (also on 3DS, but this is the better version) – This obscure falling-shooter is good fun, I thought. Look it up.

Semnat Studios

Eduardo the Samurai Toaster – 800 – This is an okay-to-good indie run & gun. It’s kind of Contra-like, and has good art. (… Not that I can be entirely objective about this one, as I used to know one of the developers online. But yeah, buy it. )

Shanblue

Magic Destiny – 500
Vampire Crystals – 1000 (there was a later iOS version of this surprisingly good game, but I think it’s altered.) – This is a great twinstick shooter, get it! It was one of the last WiiWare releases so it didn’t get much attention. Yes, despite its title this game IS actually really good.

Shin’en

Art of Balance – 800 – Also available on 3DS, Wii U, and PS4, but this original version is great too. I got it for Wii U.
FAST Racing League – 1000 – A popular classic futuristic racer. The Wii U / Switch sequel is better, but this game is also great.
Fun! Fun! Minigolf – 900 – There is a 3DS eShop followup to this available, but this is good too.
Jett Rocket – 1000
– Yes, you can do a good 3d platformer in WiiWare’s size limitation! See, this game.

Square-Enix

Crystal Defenders R1 – 800 (technically “exclusive”, but it’s just the first world of the iOS/PS3/360/etc. Crystal Defenders game sold on its own for way too much.)
Crystal Defenders R2 – 800 (see above, except this is with worlds 2 and 3 of the original game.)
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King – 1500 (plus lots in semi-required DLC) – I’d play this if not for all that DLC…
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a Darklord – 1500 (plus lots in semi-required DLC) – Expensive DLC aside this is a pretty good take on a tower defense game.
Final Fantasy IV: The After Years – 800 for episode 1, plus 2900 in DLC costs for the remaining episodes.  This is not the best or cheapest way to play this game.
The Tales of Bearsworth Manor: Puzzling Pages – 1000, plus 2100 in DLC
The Tales of Bearsworth Manor: Chaotic Conflicts – 1000, plus 2000 in DLC

Stickmen Studios

Doc Clock: The Toasted Sandwich of Time – 1000
Dragon Master Spell Caster – 500
Kung Fu Funk: Everybody is Kung Fu Fighting! – 500

Studio Walljump

Liight – 500

Studio Zan

Overturn – 800

Sudden

Astro Bugz Revenge – 700 (expanded version of an iOS game)

SunSoft

Blaster Master Overdrive – 1000

Super Icon

Soccer Bashi – 500
Stunt Cars – 800
Arcade Sports – 800
Family Games: Pen & Paper Edition! – 500

Taito

Arkanoid Plus! – 600, plus 200 in DLC (different from Arkanoid Live for X360)
Bubble Bobble Plus! – 600, plus 400 in DLC (apparently the same as Bubble Bobble Neo for X360)
Bust-A-Move Plus! – 600, plus 400 in DLC (similar to BAM Live for X360)
Rainbow Islands: Towering Adventure! – 800
Space Invaders Get Even – 500, plus 1500 in DLC – A unique spin on Space Invaders.

Tecmo

3-2-1 Rattle Battle – 500
Eat! Fat! Fight! – 1000

Telltale

Strong Bad’s Cool Game for Attractive People – Episodes 1-5 – 1000 each
Tales of Monkey Island – Episodes 1-5 – 1000 each

Tetris Online (actually by Hudson Soft)

Tetris Party – 1200 (also has an expanded Wii disc / Nintendo DS followup, Tetris Party Deluxe)

Teyon

Heavy Fire: Black Arms – 500
Heavy Fire: Special Ops – 500

The Learning Company

Carmen Sandiego Adventures in Math – Episodes 1-5 – 600 each

tons of bits

chick chick BOOM – 800

Triangle

Heron: Steam Machine – 500

Two Tribes

Rubik’s Puzzle Galaxy: RUSH – 600 (later ported to PC and Wii U.  The other versions of RUSH don’t have the Rubik’s name attached, but are the same game and cost less.)
Toki Tori – 1000 (a great game, but get it for less on another system!)

Ubisoft

Protothea – 1000 (a PC port dual-stick-style shooter with Wiimote aiming instead of mouse, or two sticks.)
Voodoo Dice – 1000

UFO

Balloon Pop Festival  – 800 (I presume that this game is original, though there are many other Balloon Pop games out there for Wii, DS, 3DS, and especially iOS.)

Unconditional Studios

Bittos+ – 800 (also available for PC as Bittos-e, sold on the games’ website only)

Vblank

Retro City Rampage – 1000 (another good game also available on other platforms for this much or less, and with expanded content in the later DX release, which is not on Wii.)

Virtual Toys

HoopWorld – 1000
Spaceball: Revolution – 800
Yummy Yummy Cooking Jam – 1000

V0gster

Robocalypse: Beaver Defense – 600

WayForward

LIT – 800 (also on iOS, Android, and PC, but all other releases are based on the much simplified phone version, not the better original Wii game here.)

Wizarbox

Around the World – 500

Xgen

Defend Your Castle – 500

Yullaby

Magnetis – 500

Zallag

Gods vs. Humans – 1200
Racers’ Island: Crazy Arenas – 500
Racers’ Island: Crazy Racers – 1000

 

Selected Virtual Console Titles

 

First, you can find a list of all Wii Virtual Console titles here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Virtual_Console_games_for_Wii_%28North_America%29

Again, all Virtual Console games are re-releases of older titles, so none are Wii exclusive.  Several hundred are titles only digitally available on Nintendo platforms on the Wii, however, including all of the Genesis, Master System, and Turbografx games as well as some Nintendo titles, so there is reason to look at these.  Additionally, Wii emulation is generally quite good particularly for people wanting digital titles that they can display at 240p resolution, since the Wii supports that.  However, as I have preferred to buy actual classic games to VC re-releases, I’ve never paid much attention to Virtual Console.  I’d like to try to mention some games for the service, however, particularly games you can only digitally buy here.

First, three games deserving of special mention.

Space Harrier and Super Hang-On (Arcade) – The arcade versions of Space Harrier and Super Hang-On for the Wii has motion controls added, to emulate the arcade’s analog stick by tilting the Wii Nunchuck controller.  That’s a pretty awesome feature to include here, and it makes this an exclusive version of the game.  As far as I know this is the only Wii VC game with motion added, and it’s not a Nintendo title, it’s Sega!  Heh.  Nintendo always has been kind of lazy with their emulation…

Monster World IV (Genesis) – This game is also available digitally on the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, but it is very noteworthy because Sega commissioned a new translation of this previously Japan-only title for its 2010 digital re-release.  Definitely get this great game for one of those platforms, and perhaps the Wii because it looks great on Wii.

Ironclad (Neo-Geo) – This quality shmup actually had its only ever release on WiiWare, as the original Neo-Geo cartridge version of Ironclad was cancelled.  A Neo-Geo CD version of the game was released in the late ’90s, but this is the cancelled cartridge version, not the CD one.  It has not yet been released anywhere else, and the CD version has not seen a digital re-release anywhere. (2018 Edit: After the original release of this list, there was a PC GOG release of Ironclad so the game is still available somewhere, thankfully.)

And now, selected titles.

First, there are some Wii VC games which, while originally released in other regions on physical media, are still exclusively released in North America as Wii Virtual Console titles.  This means that they are import games that only got released in the US on Wii VC and have not been re-released anywhere else.  They are all good games, and some are great.  Here’s a list: Gley Lancer (Genesis), Pulseman (Genesis), Street Fighter II’: Champion Edition (TurboGrafx), DoReMi Fantasy (SNES), Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (Master System) (the awful Game Gear version of this was released on cart and is available in multiple Sega collections here, but not this better SMS release!), and Sonic Chaos (Master System) (as with Sonic 2, the GG version is easily available here, but the SMS version is WiiVC-only.).  Puyo Puyo 2 (Genesis) also technically goes here, though there is a US 3DS eShop release of the very similar arcade version of the game.

Additionally some games are still US-exclusive digitally on the Wii, but do have digital re-releases on other formats in Japan: Castlevania Dracula X: Rondo of Blood (TurboGrafx) (This game is also available digitally and physically on PSP (/Vita) in the Castlevania Dracula X Chronicles package, but is only on a Nintendo system here and is fantastic.), Monster World IV (Genesis, as mentioned above), Super Fantasy Zone (Genesis), Cho Aniki (TurboGrafx) (the game has a Japanese Wii U VC release, but not elsewhere), Gradius II (TurboGrafx) (the original arcade version has some US releases, such as on the PSP Gradius collection, and in Japan it was released in the PS3’s PC Engine Classics line, but in the US the Wii has the only ever release of this version.), Bio Miracle Bokutte Upa (NES) (also on 3DS and Wii U Virtual Console, both in Japan only; here, Wii-exclusive.).

Of the Virtual Console games of  previously US-released games, I should mention some highlights that are currently not available digitally anywhere other than on the Wii Virtual Console.  Yes, all games below have their only US digital release on Wii VC.  Note this only includes games that are currently available, not the sadly delisted titles that otherwise would be here.

GameXplain made a video listing all titles that are only digitally available on Nintendo platforms on the Wii here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OZ91uR4KGd8 and it is very useful.  It doesn’t mention games that have digital re-releases elsewhere, though, which is true for many Genesis games and some TurboGrafx titles as well. For the NES, SNES, and N64, however, that video almost entirely covers it.

NES: Of the games only for sale digitally on Wii, most aren’t amazing but Bio Miracle Bokutte Upa (mentioned above), Adventures of Lolo 2, Burger Time, Final Fantasy, Faxanadu, Zanac, and Star Soldier are worth a mention for sure.  Perhaps also Milon’s Secret Castle and A Boy and his Blob.

SNES: A lot of great SNES games are still only on Wii VC, see the video for the list.  I definitely highly recommend Super Turrican, it’s amazing!  Gradius III, Chrono Trigger, and Super Bonk are great as well.  There are more.  Beyond that, I should mention that there is at least one game that does have Wii U / 3DS VC releases in Japan, but in the US is still Wii-exclusive: Ogre Battle: March of the Black Queen.

N64: Only four N64 games are being delisted for now, but all four — Bomberman Hero, Cruis’n USA, Super Smash Bros., and Pokemon Puzzle League — are good games, the latter two particularly.

As for those non-Nintendo platforms, though, things are more complex.

TurboGrafx: Excepting the handful of titles also available on the PS3/PSP (listed here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_PlayStation_Store_TurboGrafx-16_games ), all of the other TurboGrafx games on the Wii have their only US releases on Wii Virtual Console.  Many more PCE games also have Japanese PS3/PSP releases, but the US saw only a handful of titles there.  I should note that Dragon’s Curse is also Wii VC-exclusive, but the game has a multiplatform remake, Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap, that released in 2017 for many platforms.  That is based on the arcade and SMS versions and not this one, but they are essentially the same.   The TG16 and Turbo CD are fantastic systems, and buy lots of the games here!  Some of note that aren’t also on PS3/PSP include Monster Lair, Shockman, Air Zonk, Psychosis, Dead Moon, Legend of Hero Tonma, Battle Lode Runner, The Dynastic Hero, Bomberman ’93, Cratermaze, and Military Madness.  There are also some noteworthy games that are on Wii VC in the US, and still are US-exclusive digitally here, but do have Japan-only releases on the PSP and PS3 in the “PC Engine Classics” line: Neutopia II, Devil’s Crush, Bonk’s Revenge (PC Genjin 2), Bonk 3: Bonk’s Big Adventure (PC Genjin 3), Gate of Thunder, Lords of Thunder, Galaga ’90 (Galaga ’88), Splatterhouse, and Ys I & II (though this game also has multiple remakes available on various systems).

Sega Genesis: Lots of Sega’s Genesis games have PC releases on Steam, but some Genesis games available on the Wii are still Wii VC-exclusive, including the expensive classic MUSHA, Rolling Thunder 2, Street Fighter II: Special Champion Edition, Super Street Fighter II, Boogerman, and Mega Turrican.  The Genesis version of Earthworm Jim is also Wii VC-only, though other versions are available elsewhere.  Also see the import exclusives I mentioned earlier.

Sega Master System: SMS games haven’t been re-released like Genesis games, so the 15 on Wii VC will mostly vanish digitally with the Wii’s shop.  Of them, I’d particularly note Sonic the Hedgehog, Secret Command (this is actually Rambo: First Blood Part II), Phantasy Star, and Fantasy Zone II.  Some may wish to look up the Wonder Boy and Alex Kidd games as well.

Neo-Geo: This system is amazing, but few games here aren’t available elsewhere, and with how Neo-Geo games continue to be re-released on modern systems I expect that few will stay Wii VC-only for digital purchase.  Many of the games listed in the GameXplain video do have releases on other modern platforms, including GOG, Steam, and/or Humble Store PC releases, Switch, and such, but a few do not yet (in the US).  These include Ninja Masters, Ninja Commando, Ninja Combat, Ironclad (as mentioned above), Ironclad (as mentioned previously), Top Hunter, and Magical Drop III.  Sengoku 3 and probably more are still console-only on Wii, as well.  Magical Drop III is included on disc on the Wii on the Data East Arcade Classics compilation, however.   SNK’s four disc-based Wii collections include many more games, including all of the Metal Slug, Samurai Shodown, and KOF ’94-’98 games, as well as the 16 titles in the SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 1 disc: https://www.gamefaqs.com/wii/945046-snk-arcade-classics-vol-1 , which does include Top Hunter as well as some games not released digitally on the Wii.

Arcade: Space Harrier and Super Hang-On are the standouts here, and most of these games are available elsewhere, but some of these are worth a look regardless, such as arcade Golden Axe.


Conclusion

Overall, despite all the space I have given the Virtual Console here, and that many of these games are better than a lot of WiiWare titles, because they are playable elsewhere, on their original platform,s in emulation, on newer consoles, or what have you, I would strongly recommend focusing much more on WiiWare than Virtual Console.  Those are the games that are truly going away after the Wii’s online store is shut down, not the Virtual Console games… Space Harrier and Super Hang-On kind of excluded.  WiiWare may have a lot of mediocre titles released for it, including some above and more I did not list, but there are also some pretty good games here that should not be forgotten, so go play them!

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