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Picking My 2014 Club Nintendo Reward August 9, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Nintendo, Nintendo DS Hardware, Pokemon, polls.
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Back when we got the Wii and a paid of Nintendo DS Lites and my daughter an I were playing Pokemon or Mario Party 8 or LEGO Star Wars: The Original Trilogy every Saturday morning, we went pretty whole hog into the Nintendo experience.  We got Nintendo Power Magazine, we kept up with their news sites, we went to Nintendo events that showed up locally, and my daughter even went to the Nintendo World Store in New York when she was there on a trip.

And, of course, we set ourselves up with Club Nintendo.

ClubNintendo

Club Nintendo is basically Nintendo’s customer loyalty program.  You make and account there and register your Nintendo products (each product comes with a code that directs you to Club Nintendo, so it is tough to miss) and take surveys about the games you have played to earn coins.  The coins can be spent on various cheap but often exclusive prizes.  I had some coins that were expiring this year and used them to buy my daughter a pair of posters with all of the characters from Animal Crossing: A New Leaf.  It can be a lot of that sort of thing.

Animal Crossing Posters

Animal Crossing Posters

If you get enough coins in a year, which runs from July 1 to June 30, you can earn Gold (300 coins) or Platinum (600 coins) status.  That entitles you to a special reward at the end of the cycle.

Back in the day those were rewards were similar little things.  I think we got a set of special DS Lite styluses one year and a Pokemon plush toy another.  That was about it during the Wii and DS Lite days.  But as time moved on and Nintendo bought into the digital delivery system, which started with the Virtual Console on the Wii for old games and then became a regular store with the Nintendo DSi series and the Wii U, game downloads started to become prizes.

Occasionally there is a special new game, but mostly they are popular games from Nintendo’s past.

This year, with the purchase and registration of two Nintendo 3DS XL units, two copies of Pokemon, and a couple of other games, we hit gold status pretty easily.  The rewards have been announced.  I have until August 15, next Friday, to choose one.  But I cannot figure out which one to pick.

The choices are:

Gold Level 3DS Rewards

Gold Level 3DS Rewards

There are actually more choices on the list for Gold level rewards, but they are for the Wii U, and we haven’t been convinced that buying one is worthwhile yet, MarioKart 8 and the Luigi Death Stare not withstanding.

Having come to the world of Nintendo later in my life… I already had a computer when Atari crashed the video game market and avoided console gaming for years… a lot of the Nintendo classics are just names on a list for me.

Given the choice of these four games, I would probably go for Donkey Kong 3. I am not a big fan of old DK, so it would be mostly because I am at least familiar with the oeuvre of the big ape.  Throw barrels, kill plumber.  We call all related to that.

I have heard of Metroid… Nintedo fans tend to say that name in hushed tones and a sense of reverence while wishing for a perfect remake… but have no idea what it is actually about.  And the other two are completely opaque to me.

Basically, four blind choices.  So I am going to put it out there for a vote.  Which of these four titles should I get?

We shall see where that takes us.  Expound on your choice in the comments if you are passionate enough about it.

Pokemon Y and the Nintendo 3DS XL July 28, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Nintendo, Nintendo DS Hardware, Pokemon.
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Back in April I mentioned that I had picked up a Nintendo 3DS XL and a copy of Pokemon Y with some Amazon gift cards and credits I had.

I haven’t really said much about it for a few reasons.  Mostly it my feeling that single player games don’t quite have the same “shared experience” potential as MMOs… and me being lazy.  But, this blog being something of a gaming diary… as much as it is anything… I setup a placeholder post to write about Pokemon Y once I was done.

And I am done!

Pokemon Y Hall of Fame

Pokemon Y Hall of Fame

You can see the laziness factor, in that I finished up  back at the start of the month.  And, of course, “done” in a Pokemon game is open to interpretation.  I completed the main story line, thwarted Team Flare, collected all of the gym badges by defeating each gym leader, and then went on the beat the elite four and Diantha, the regional champion.

PokemonXYlogo

That is, by about any measure, the minimum you need to do to say you “beat” or “completed” the game.  I spent about 32 hours just doing that without getting into trying to complete the National Pokedex, explore every nook and cranny (there is always a lot of stuff hidden in the game), run through the battle mansion/tower/subway, pick up the Lumiose City side quests, get involved in battling against other players, or probably half a dozen other things I am forgetting.

Pokemon games are deep and getting deeper with every turn of the franchise.

If Nintendo did not see its mission in life as selling hardware, putting Pokemon on Windows as is… not even talking about making it an MMO… would kill.  And the fact that Pokemon X and Y are 3D modeled, rather than being sprites as they have been in past generations, means that they could probably pull this off and end up with a game that looked pretty good on a big monitor.

But Nintendo sells hardware, something that is embedded in the culture of the company, and even disappointing Wii U sales won’t convince them to move off of the platforms they control ala Sega.  Besides which, Pokemon is on the GameBoy side of the business, and the Nintendo 3DS hardware is selling well.

Anyway, that aside, I finished up the game, as defined above, and naturally have some comments to make.

Let me start with the good.

The Good

First, of course, is that it is a Pokemon game and delivers all you would expect from the series.

It also looks great.  The update bringing Pokemon to a 3D rendering technology was a big move, but it paid off.  It was completely natural, not a shocking change, because they got the “feel” of the graphics just right in my opinion.  I had to go back and look at an older version of Pokemon to remind myself of the difference. (Comparisons with older version in a previous post.)

It let the game camera move, so that not every moment of game play was a top down view.

Pokemon X & Y

Not the top of my head!

And, since the it rendered rather than being sprites, it scales up to the bigger screen on the 3DS XL hardware.  This is a big deal for me.  I am now at the age where I need reading glasses to decipher any small text, such as that on the screen of my faithful old DS Lite.  But moving to the DSi XL meant I got bigger text, but the graphics just got blocky.  But with Pokemon X and Y and the 3DS XL hardware, it scales up nicely and looks good.

I will say that the 3DS XL is a very nice piece of hardware and, in my opinion, well worth the price over the standard size 3DS.  You get a bigger better screen and much better battery life, since they were able to fit a bigger battery in the unit.

But back to the game.

Connectivity to the internet seems to have been solved.  Back with Pokemon Diamond and Pearl, it was something of a chore to get yourself hooked into the Nintendo WiFi network.  That got better with Pokemon Black and White, but was still more complicated that it ought to have been.  Now, with the 3DS hardware and Nintendo’s latest revision of its online presence, it is much easier to get online.

Being online is also a bigger part of the game.  The 3DS hardware looks for other units in its area so you can see if somebody has their wifi on and is playing Pokemon in the vicinity. (I used this to catch my daughter playing Pokemon under the covers after lights out a few times!)  One of the new features I like is the “Wonder Trade” option in which you just pick a Pokemon from your collection and offer it up for a random trade with somebody else in the world.  I have gotten a few neat Pokemon that way and try to choose interesting ones to send out.  This feature is on top of the global trade center, which is the Pokemon trading auction house serving the world.

The story is good.  Team Flare and their leader are involved in a Bond villain conspiracy to protect the beauty of the world by destroying most of mankind.

The world looks great.  The new region, Kalos, is based on France and includes a few cultural stereotypes.  A new Pokemon that looks very much like a French poodle is conspicuous in the game, as is a high speed train that looks like the TGV and Lumiose City which is modeled on Paris.

The Kalos Region

The Kalos Region

The coveted experience share item, which was used to pass half of the experience gained by one Pokemon to another in your party, so you could boost up lower level Pokemon without having to go back to low level areas, now shares experience with your whole party.  My daughter, rather than ending up with one high level Pokemon doing all the work and five more way below level Pokemon hoping that the big one would not faint and expose the rest of them to almost sure defeat, actually ended up with a pretty well balanced party.  I know that it saved me from having to do a bunch of passing the item around to first level up one Pokemon and then another.  In fact, I did very little grinding experience just for levels.

And then there is your avatar which you can now customize.  There are clothes shops and items to pick up all over the game.  When I look at the avatars in the Wonder Trade, they all look very different, not just a few variations on the same theme.  It is actually quite impressive.

Finally, the game saves very quickly.  Past versions of the game took a long time to save.  But Pokemon X and Y save so quickly you might not notice it saved at all if you blink.

The Less Than Good

I don’t have anything hugely negative to say about the game, so don’t take these the wrong way.  But they are part of the whole package.

The camera gets out of control at times.  The thing with the 3D rendering and the camera being able to move can become a problem.  There were a couple of times in Lumiose City, where I was trying to get to a specific location and the camera would just not point in the direction of the building I needed to see.  To quote Yahtzee Croshaw, “The camera is like the working class: if you can’t control it, it will plot to destroy you.”  I ended up having to go away and come back again at a different angle to see the right doorway.  This feels like a rookie mistake, Pokemon never having been 3D before.  I suspect it will be better in the next game.

I am still disappointed I cannot take screen shots whenever I darn well please in the game.  Since the 3DS XL unit uses an SD card for memory, it seems like the hardware maker’s paranoia about memory usage ought to have dissipated.  I can just get a bigger card… and the approved method for upgrading cards is literally “copy the files to your PC, then copy them to the bigger card”… if I run out of room.  But having worked with the hardware team at various companies, I understand how deep seated that need to keep things in the smallest footprint possible is.  But I was hopeful in that the game allowed you to take pictures at certain photo spots and save them off.  Screen shots of a sort.  And then I copied some of those photos off of the system and… they are tiny.

I expected a little more.  And to take the pictures there is a whole convoluted camera interface where you have to focus and hold the 3DS just right and set the depth of field… all for a tiny screen shot.  It isn’t like they couldn’t render the pictures bigger, they just didn’t want to.  So 400×240 is all you get.  Such is life.  Better than nothing I suppose, but not close enough to my dreams.

Then there are 719 Pokemon.  At some point more just is not better.  But I do like the new ones with Pokemon X and Y better than some of the ones that game with Black and White.  And if you play the “Name the Pokemon” category on QuizUp, you’ll find that the names mostly reflect what they look like.  A friend who had never played Pokemon did surprisingly well just guessing.

The 3D effects work everywhere in the game, but you have to hold the 3DS unit just right for them to look good.  I turned the 3D slider to “off” unless there was something I really wanted to see mostly because I got tired of holding the 3DS XL in exactly the right position.  But the same goes for every other thing I have tried on the 3DS XL.  Everything is good enough in 2D, except Netflix, which looks like hell on the small screen with lots of pixelation and artifacts.  But that isn’t a 3D problem, that happens no matter where I have the slider. The hardware just isn’t up to decoding video.

But the biggest thing I can say against the game… which some will take as no insult at all… is that it is very much a Pokemon game and follows the set formula of all the games that went before it.  Each game has some new bits and pieces… Pokemon X & Y have aerial battles and Pokemon you use as vehicles in a few special sections of the game… but the core structure remains the same.  You are a young person in a land where everybody is obsessed about Pokemon.  Your mother is surprisingly accepting of you traveling around the region at the behest of some professor of Pokemon studies in order to capture Pokemon, battle strangers, defeat the various gym leaders, and take down some criminal syndicate by defeating them in Pokemon battles.  You then go on the challenge the elite four and the regional champion and enter into the hall of fame.  There are caves, both rocky and made of ice, puzzles to solve, a bicycle to ride, a power outage to fix, random strangers to battle, and a legendary Pokemon to catch.  Same as it ever was.

But that is not a necessarily a bad thing.  A Pokemon game will never feel as fresh as after your first pass through, but the conventions are comforting in their way.  You know, in a way, exactly what you are getting.

All in all, Pokemon X and Y reaffirmed my devotion to the series.  I am looking forward to Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire coming out this fall.  That will be just in time for my daughter and I to binge on over the break at Thanksgiving.  I actually like the remakes quite a bit.  Color me conservative.  At least the remakes do not feel the need to include another 150 Pokemon.

Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire Coming This November May 7, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Nintendo, Pokemon.
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3 comments

Nintendo has announced the next games in the long running Pokemon series, Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire.

PokemonAlphaOmega_450

Pokemon titles generally come in three flavors.  There are the original issue pairs, which include such titles as Diamond and Pearl, Black and White, X and Y, and Ruby and Sapphire. These are the heart of the Pokemon franchise and what goes in here tends to find its way to the TV show and the trading card game.

Then there are the consolidation titles that take one of those pairs, put all the Pokemon that were exclusive to either, shake up the story a little bit, and then release as a new title.  Pokemon games such as Platinum, Emerald, and Yellow fall into that category.  Those used to be a staple of the years between new stories, though Game Freak, the Pokemon game developer, seems to have gotten itself tuned up to a point that it doesn’t need to do that sort of thing (in the case of X and Y) or can release a double pair of such games (as with Black 2 and White 2).

And then there are the remakes.

This is when they take an older version of the game, usually from one of the past Game Boy platforms, and remake the story with all the bells and whistles that the current state of the art allows.  There are only a couple of these so far, and they are easy to spot as they get compound names like FireRed and LeafGreen (remake of Red and Blue) or HeartGold and SoulSilver (remake of Gold and Silver).  While this might look like an opportunity for the company to slack a bit with a remake, Game Freak seems to go all out with the remakes and they end up being some of the best games in the series.  But I had the most fun playing HeartGold and SoulSilver, it being the peak of my Pokemon experience, so that might be my personal bias talking in large part.

Add in how good Pokemon X and Y look and play on the 3DS system, and I am quite looking forward to the first remake to come to the 3DS platform.  I will even let Nintendo slide on the hyperbole in the wee announcement video (30 seconds pretty much just to show us some box art).

PokemonAlphaOmegaNewNew

It is actually and new take on a pre-existing epic adventure… for specific definitions of epic… along with what I hope will be a dramatic new rendering of the previously visited Hoenn region of the world of Pokemon.  But I still want to play.  Actually, I want to play all the more so because it is a remake.  I have a copy of Sapphire that I played thanks to the Game Boy Advance slot on the DS Lite (no longer part of the 3DS generation) but it definitely felt like playing the older generation hardware, where two buttons were considered sufficient, and I never finished it.

Information about the game… aside from that it is coming and obvious assumptions about the setting and story… are almost non-existent at this point.  But I am sure Nintendo will feed us details over the next few months to get us ready for the launch.

But even in the current information vacuum, Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire are on our list or games to play this fall.

 

A Return to Pokemon April 2, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Nintendo, Pokemon.
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I can hear some of you groaning even now.  Hush!

While 2014 might be the Year of Faff elsewhere, around here it seems more like the year of renewal and return to past happy times.  Nothing new around these parts.  I am bland about The Elder Scrolls Online, completely indifferent to WildStar, and can’t think of any other new games that have sparked any real interest in me.  No, it has been all throw backs to paths already traveled of late, what with the return to World of Warcraft, poking about in EVE Online, running up some time in Diablo III, dragging out the revamped version of Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings, and even revisiting Warcraft III.

Which, on reflection, does sound like a lot of time spent faffing about, so my year might actually be in tune with the godmother’s.  Might have to go grab that Year of Faff logo.

Anyway, with the year shaping up as it has, why not add in Pokemon?

It was just about six months back where I was ready to bid a final farewell to Pokemon.

Pokemon X & Y had shipped and required you have one of the new(ish) Nintendo 3DS models in order to play.

PokemonXYlogo

While we had a couple of DS Lites and a DSi XL sitting around the house, the current 3DS generation wasn’t really in our plans.  So that looked to be that.

But as Christmas approached, my daughter had a change of heart and put a Nintendo 3DS XL on her wish list… because that is what grandparents are for.  And, sure enough, at my dad’s house on Christmas Day there was just such a unit (in red) under the tree for her, along with a GameStop gift card from my sister.

We had to get out of the house right away after Christmas to get some games.  GameStop is a very busy place the day after Christmas.  And while my daughter was primarily interested in Animal Crossing: New Leaf, she did also pick up a copy of Pokemon X.

Still, I am not sure that we had shaken the malaise that Pokemon Black & White put us in. (Some long term veterans of the series reported similar feelings.)

Pokemon Diamond & Pearl was where we started.  The game was fresh and exciting.  Pokemon Platinum came along, the traditional interim remix of the previous titles, and we were still engaged.  Pokemon HeartGold & SoulSilver, remakes of Pokemon Gold & Silver, were the peak of our time with the series.  The game, the details, the Pokewalker (which I wore every day for a couple years) were all great.  That was when I actually sat down and caught them all.  At that point, “all” meant 493 Pokemon.

We were excited for Pokemon Black & White.  We went to events, pre-ordered the games, and were ready to go on day one.  And things kind of fell flat.  Some combo of having played through several versions of the game already (and the base game is always nearly identical at a certain level), missing elements like your lead Pokemon walking with you in-game or the Pokewalker, and something of a general coming of age for my daughter and her becoming interested in more “girly” things than playing video games with dad contributed to this.

There was no spark there.  We tried a couple of times to go back and finish the game, but we both sit at 6 gym badges out of 8 and no further.  Pokemon Black 2 & White 2 were pretty much ignored by us.

So when my daughter started on Pokemon X on the 3DS XL, I was interested to hear how she liked it.  While she gave it generally favorable reviews, there wasn’t a lot of enthusiasm behind them.  She was much more interested in Animal Crossing.

So it sat for a couple of months.  I liked the idea of the 3DS XL and its big screen as well as another shot at Pokemon, but there didn’t seem to be a enough interest from my daughter for me to take the plunge.  And then a couple weeks back, suddenly she lit up on the Pokemon X front.  She seemed to be quite into it, so I looked around and saw I had enough gift card credits at Amazon to pick up a 3DS XL myself.

Gift card money at Amazon is a special resource to me.  If somebody gives me money, it goes into the general fund and gets used to pay bills or buy cat food or whatever.  But credit at Amazon feels like it is uniquely mine.  I can’t use it to pay the mortgage or the phone bill.  I can set that aside and used it on something for me.

So I splurged last week and spent my credits on a black 3DS XL, which for some reason was $10 cheaper than the other colors along with a copy of Mario Kart 7… because Mario Kart.   Well, actually, I needed to but the 3DS XL and another title to get a “free” copy of Pokemon X or Y as part of a promotion Nintendo was running.

Last Wednesday the unit arrived.

I unboxed it, started it charging, then began setting it up.  I had get it on our wireless, then create a Nintendo eShop account, then link that account to my Club Nintendo account, and then get everything registered so I could get my code for a copy of Pokemon Y that could be downloaded from the eShop.

As annoying as that might sounds, it actually went pretty quickly, mostly just worked, and was still a lot easier than getting one of the old DS Lite models up and connected to Nintendo WiFi back in the day. (One of the most common email questions I got for quite a stretch was, “How do I get Nintendo WiFi to work?!?!?!?!”)

I was a little hesitant to only have a downloaded copy of Pokemon Y.  The tradition is to have the physical cartridge, and we have at least 10 such Pokemon games in our storage box along with just about everything else purchased for the DS series.  The 3DS line, which can use the DS series cartridges, stores data and downloaded games on an SD card.

The SD card thing is probably good in the long run.  The 3DS XL came with a 4GB card and you can upgrade it to a 32GB card if you need more space.  The upgrade process is a bit… simple?  You take the card out of the 3DS, copy the files to your PC, then copy those files to the bigger SD card, and then put it back in the 3DS.

But that just makes it software, which can go away, be erased, or otherwise corrupted, as opposed to being burnt forever(-ish) into a ROM in a plastic cartridge.  Such read-only media traditions go back to the days of the Atari 2600 for me.  Something about it being on writable media makes me twitch a bit.  Old habits.

But the game itself… is great.

It is, of course, straight from the traditional Pokemon mold.  Youth with surprisingly permissive parents allowed to go wander the world, filling up their Pokedex for the local tree-named Professor of Pokemon Studies (Sycamore this time), battling various oddly focused gym leaders, thwarting an eccentrically dressed evil organization (Team Flare this time), all while on the way to becoming the Pokemon champion of the region… and collecting them all.

And the number for “all” is now 719.  Oh my.

But while everything is the same, everything is also different… or better… or bother.

Everything is now represented on the big screen with 3D model… and when I say “3D” I mean it in the way we mean it when we talk about EverQuest or World of Warcraft.  There is also the 3D movie effect of depth, but like most everybody else, I turned that off once the novelty faded and it started making my head hurt.

And the new models and motion in the world and the world itself… just work.

There was no moment of “Oh, now this is much better!”  Instead it was just a sense of things being as they were meant to be.  In fact, I was rather shocked when I went back to Pokemon Black & White to check where I had left off.  Things were much flatter and pixelated just one version ago.  Samples gleaned from the internet, because you cannot take screen shots in Pokemon games. (You can, in a very, very limited way in Pokemon X & Y, but that is for another post.)  More is the pity.

Pokemon X & Y

Pokemon X & Y – 2013

Pokemon Black 2 & White 2

Pokemon Black 2 & White 2 – 2012

And just to show the progression over the last decade, the first Pokemon game on the DS platform and the last one on the GameBoy Advance platform.

Pokemon Diamond

Pokemon Diamond – 2006

Pokemon Emerald

Pokemon Emerald – 2004

A lot of work clearly went into Pokemon X & Y and it represents a considerable leap in the rendering technology used for the game.

And while I can be Mister Nostalgia and long for the good old days, I have to say I am very happy with the updated graphics.  Of course, that might have something to do with them being tuned for the 3DS screen… and the big 3DS XL screen especially.  That screen looks really nice, Pokemon X & Y render beautifully on it, and it is big enough for me to play the game without wearing my reading glasses!

Can’t do that with my faithful old DS Lite.

I will have more to say about Pokemon X & Y in future posts, as well as the Nintendo 3DS XL hardware (besides the fact that it may be the best made handheld unit they have ever produced) in future posts.  This post can basically be summed up as:

Pokemon is back!  There will be posts!  You have been warned!

 

Quote of the Day – No, You Gotta CATCH Them All! October 23, 2013

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Nintendo, Pokemon.
5 comments

“When it comes to business, the one thing I’ve always said ‘no!’ to is ‘the act of buying Pokémon with money,'” says Sugimori. “That is something that has been said since the days [Satoshi] Tajiri was completely involved in everything.”

-Ken Sugimori, Art Director for Pokemon, on Pokemon DLC

In a world where we have things like Skylanders, it is interesting to hear from a company that has a line they won’t cross.

Granted, it isn’t like Nintendo doesn’t exploit the Pokemon franchise.  There are the original GameBoy role playing games, the hooked-in add-on games like Pokemon Ranch and Pokemon Battle Revolution, the decent spin-off games such as the Rogue inspired Pokemon Mystery Dungeon games, the dubious (in my opinion) spin-offs like Pokemon Snap or Pokemon Ranger, there is the collectible trading card game with its various sponsored tournaments, the guest appearances by Pikachu and others in games like Super Smash Bros., and then the whole television series which is now past the 800 episode mark, with 16 full length movies along with some short subjects in there as well.

Nintendo clearly grasped Miltank by the udders and commenced to make the cash flow with as much vigor as they could manage.

Yes Miltank is a cow Pokemon

Yes, Miltank is a cow Pokemon

But there is a limit.  Selling you a Pokemon directly would potentially “ruin the world view” set in the game.  You can catch them in game or pick them up by participating in special events, but going for outright Pokemon sales might damage the brand.

And given how lucrative the Pokemon franchise is, protecting the brand certainly has to be a high priority.  The latest versions of the game, Pokemon X and Y, look to be on track for best seller status, like so many versions before them.

Then again, the amount of 100 Yen (about one dollar) came up a few times during the interview.  Would you buy a Pokemon for a buck?

What if it was the last one you needed to complete the National Pokedex?

A Farewell to Pokemon October 15, 2013

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Nintendo, Nintendo DS Hardware, Pokemon.
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2 comments

We were out shopping on Sunday.  For some reason my wife asked me to come along and for equally inexplicable reasons I said yes.  I do not like wandering around the mall “shopping” and begin to behave like an 8 year old in making up games and distractions to pass the time.  This, in turn, annoys the crap out of my long-suffering wife, so clearly neither of us was thinking straight on this call.

But as we made our way through the electronics section of Target, my daughter went over to the Nintendo section and spotted the new Pokemon X and Y games.

Pokemon X and Y

Pokemon X and Y

She actually seemed both surprised and excited to see a new Pokemon game out.  I knew it had shipped.  I still get email updates from Nintendo and was aware that the new games were releasing world wide this past Saturday.  I just hadn’t said (or written) anything about it.  (Keen and Graev have some posts about the new games.)  But I have to admit I have been interested in the game.

Pokemon used to be one of our things.

My daughter was attracted to the game a long ways back, when we saw a Nintendo DS on display at a store with Pokemon loaded up.  It was colorful, the basic functions were immediately comprehensible to her, and the idea of capturing little pets and making them battle held an attraction for her.  She was into bugs and dinosaurs and animals when she was that age. (Now, however, she screams bloody murder if there is a moth in the shower with her.)

Of course to play Pokemon you had to buy the hardware, a Nintendo DS.  That was the stopping point, until we were about to go on a trip and my wife gave me the mandate to go buy one to keep our daughter entertained on the plane for five hours.  So I went out and bought a pink Nintendo DS Lite along with LEGO Star Wars, Mario Party DS, and Pokemon Diamond.

I could have skipped the first two.  We spent the whole trip playing Pokemon.  My daughter was in kindergarten at the time and needed help reading some of the text in the game… this was before she had been trained by World of Warcraft to skip all quest text… so I spent a chunk of that time reading the game text aloud to her.  That was a bit of a chore for me, but got her motivated to read.

The game was such a success that a couple of months later my wife bought me a cobalt blue Nintendo DS Lite and my own copy of Pokemon Diamond and we were off.

We played through that together, went on to Pokemon Platinum, and really hit our peak during Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver.  We were wearing out Pokewalkers everywhere (and cheating a bit using physics and LEGO).  There were mishaps and tragedies and meddling cats, but we were into it.  We went to the Pokemon regional championships, played with Pokemon Ranch, and in went to the Pokemon Black and White tour when it showed up at a local mall.  I even caught ‘em all, nabbing all 493 Pokemon that were available in the series up to that point.

But then Pokemon Black and White came along and we were not quite as interested.  In part that was because we had played so much Pokemon up to that point.  We might have been a bit burned out having burned through all the predecessors on the DS, plus a couple of the GameBoy Advance versions, which also ran on the DS Lite.

Then there is also the fact that all Pokemon games are very much alike at some basic level.  You start out in the world as a youth, you meet some Pokemon expert, you get your first Pokemon, and you head out into the world to catch Pokemon, battle gym leaders, and eventually take on the regional champions, all while battling a rival and some oddly dressed organization bent on evil.  And all of it takes place in a world completely obsessed with Pokemon and where all conflict is resolved by Pokemon battles.

After a few runs through that, you might get a little tired of it.

And then there are the special features each game brings to the table.  My daughter and I used to enjoy playing together in the underground in Diamond, Pearl, and Platinum.  It was a shared environment you could link up in on WiFi.  We were also fond of the Pokewalker and the way your lead Pokemon would walk around with you in HeartGold and SoulSilver.  In Black and White the key features were the graphics, which were improved, 150 new Pokemon (groan), and a lot of online WiFi connectivity (like Global Link) that did not really click with us.  Neither of us finished Black or White and we never bothered with Black 2 and White 2. (Which I still think were dumb names.)

Finally, there were just other distractions.  Other games to play, other things to do.  My daughter was growing up and little things like Pokemon were no longer quite so important.  So we have not been playing Pokemon for quite a while.  I would say that we are at least two years past the last time either of us played with any read drive.

But the memory of those times, of playing together, of figuring out where to go next, of catching and trading Pokemon, that all remains.  And I think some of that came rushing back to her when we were standing there at the counter looking at the new Pokemon.  She was gushing a bit when she asked, “Can we get it?”

I had to tell her we could not.

While Pokemon X and Y have the usual range of features and even a slick way to transfer your old Pokemon over to the new games via the internet (assuming you have them all in Pokemon Black or White) using a feature called Pokemon Bank, there was a problem.

Pokemon Bank - $5.00 a year

Pokemon Bank – $5.00 a year

Pokemon X and Y are the first versions of the main line of Pokemon games that are exclusive to the Nintendo 3DS generation of handheld gaming devices.  Our Nintendo DS Lites are now pretty much obsolete.  When Nintendo stops shipping Pokemon on a platform, it is done.

There certainly seems to be some hunger for a version of Pokemon on the 3DS platform.  It is on track to be a big seller, moving 4 million units on its first two days.  The top Pokemon games of all time are Pokemon Diamond and Pearl which together move nearly 18 million units.

My daughter had an immediate solution to this problem, which was to buy new hardware!

I have clearly failed to instill any sort of sense as to the value of money in my daughter.

I had to tell her that wasn’t going to happen either.  At least not right then.  Something like a Nintendo 3DS is a Christmas/Birthday present (or maybe a going on long trip present) and not something we just buy on a whim while at the store on a Sunday afternoon.  Even the more moderately priced Nintendo 2DS, about which I am a bit dubious given what I have read (turns out it has just one big LED panel for both screens), falls outside of the impulse buy price range in my opinion.

My daughter’s response was in the “Oh well” range of emotions.  She didn’t seem all that put out by it and I somehow doubt that a Nintendo 3DS is going to make it to her Christmas list.  And if it did, I think she is more interested in Animal Crossing: New Leaf than Pokemon.

So I suspect that we have had our time with Pokemon.

Our Wii Lingers, Waiting for Retirement April 18, 2013

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Hardware, Nintendo, wii.
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Our Wii was unboxed six years ago this week.

Wii in the Box

Wii in the Box

It was at the height of the Wii’s popularity.  People were talking about it.  Wii remotes were breaking TV screens.  It was fair game for humor.  It spawned hilarious peripherals.  It was practically a meme on its own.

The previous Christmas season you could not find one for love or money… well, unless you wanted to spend a LOT of money on eBay… while competing consoles were sitting on the shelves, primarily due to their high price tags.  My wife was able to score one in the post-holiday season, but it had to stay under wraps for a couple months because we were moving.

But once it was out of the box, it was a hit in our house.  My daughter and I played a lot of Wii Sports and Mario Party 8 and LEGO Star Wars, various flavors of Mario Kart (though never Mario Kart Wii), and old classics from the Wii Virtual Console.  Miis were created in imitation of friends and family.

It was a time of excitement, as the Wii represented something new.

It was also perfect timing in our lives.  My daughter was just five years old when the Wii showed up, which was just about the perfect age for the games we were playing.

It became a Saturday morning tradition.  My daughter would wake me up early… before 7am early… and we would get up, jump in the giant Love Sac not-a-bean-bag-chair in the family room ( I really miss that thing… one of our cats was constantly peeing on it, so it had to go), and play games for hours.

Later, the Nintendo DS and Pokemon took over our Saturday morning focus, though the Wii still found ways to stay a part of the picture.  There was Pokemon Battle Revolution, which was deeply integrated with Pokemon Diamond and Pearl (but not any of the subsequent Pokemon titles) and Pokemon Ranch, which let you store and track your Pokemon collection.

Time went on.  Pokemon began to fade.  My daughter got a Nintendo DSi XL, which could download demo software on its own, without having to connect to the Wii, a restriction we faced with the DS Lite units.

But there were still things to do.  Rock Band was a big hit.  We actually had adults coming over to play.

But things were starting to sour a bit.  There was that horrible Wii Music, which actually prompted my wife to suggest Rock Band.  The unit itself started making noise.

And my daughter started playing Wii games that I did not like, such as Super Smash Bros. Brawl, or at which I simply sucked, like Super Mario Bros. Wii.  But her friends liked those games and played them with her instead.

At that point I was pretty much done with the Wii aside from Netflix streaming service, which at the time was free for any Netflix subscriber.

Time passed, the old TV died and we got a new, high def TV.  That, in turn, prompted me to get a PlayStation 3, as the Wii does not support anything beyond 480p.  We could now stream Netflix in HD and watch movies in Blu-Ray.  The Wii started to get used less and less.

Then Little Big Planet showed up on the PlayStation 3.  That became pretty much the only console game getting played.

My daughter’s interests are better served with by her iMac.  She has PhotoShop Elements and a Wacom tablet hooked up for art.  She has Minecraft.  WoW doesn’t thrill her any more, though maybe if Runic could get to work on Torchlight II for the Mac as they promised, that might be of some interest.  I already bought her a copy.

But my daughter, now very much a pre-teen, is not so interested in the Wii, or even the PlayStation 3.  It is all about her phone, her Nook Color, and her iMac.

And I am a PC gamer from way back, so console games, which always feel limited to me, have little pull.

I think the Wii went from Christmas to Easter without getting used once.  At Easter we had friends over, and their kids have a Wii, and Super Mario Bros. Wii is still on the list for them, so we broke that out.  Our Wii got played with a little bit.  But it will likely make it from Easter to Thanksgiving without much of a workout in between.

Its days are numbered.  Even Nintendo is beginning to shut down services on the Wii as they try to push people towards the Wii U.  We have no interest in the Wii U around our house, which seems to be a common theme.

Wii U in white

Wii U – Not for us

It is probably just the small size of the unit in the entertainment console that is keeping it around.  And the fact that the Wii Fit balance board fits under the whole setup.

At some point it, the controllers, and its games are going to get boxed up and stored away, waiting for somebody to get a pang of nostalgia.

The Wii was a fine console for our family, and showed up at just the right time.

Wii Sports was great, Mario Party 8 and its mini games were lots of fun, and all the LEGO games were great until they started doing split screen, which gave me a headache.

But that time seems to have mostly passed at this point.

I have said in the past that I get a game console every 15 years.  There was an Atari 2600 in 1977.  A Sega Genesis in 1992.  And then the Wii in 2007.  The PlayStation 3 doesn’t really count as it only gets used for Blu-Ray, streaming video, and, since I set up the NAS service with a hard drive on our router, a bit of music streaming now and again.

So I guess the next stop is in 2022.  What will we have then?

Pokemon Video Game 2012 Regional Championships – April 15 April 8, 2012

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Nintendo, Nintendo DS Hardware, Pokemon.
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Pokemon.com has the information up for the Spring 2012 Pokemon Regional Championships.


Unlike last year, where the regional matches were part of a big Pokemon road show and occurred on consecutive weekends throughout Spring, this year the matches are being run by regional partners and are all taking place on the same day, April 15.

Locations and Times

In California, the nearest regional event is still close by my home, just across the bay in Pleasanton.

The Pleasanton event is being run by Second City Gym, which has details about the event on their own web site.  You can also pre-register for the event there to secure yourself a spot.

Links to information about other regional matches are available at Pokemon.com.

The US National Championships will be held in Indianapolis, Indiana on June 30th – July 1st, 2012, and the World Championships will happen in Waikaloa, just up the road from Kona, on the big island of Hawaii on August 10th-12th, 2012.

Reshiram and Zekrom Download Event for Pokemon Black and White March 13, 2012

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Nintendo, Nintendo DS Hardware, Pokemon.
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8 comments

Pokemon.com has announced that Nintendo is offering a chance for owners of Pokemon Black and White to get the legendary Pokemon that is not available on each given game as part of the regular adventure.

Zekrom and Reshiram

The text of the announcement reads:

Add the Legendary Pokémon Reshiram or Zekrom to your game with a special distribution event beginning on March 10th and ending April 8th via the Nintendo® Wi-Fi Connection service*! The Pokémon that you’ll receive into your copy of Pokémon Black Version or Pokémon White Version will be the Pokémon that is not available in that version during normal gameplay. So, you’ll receive Reshiram into your Pokémon White Version game and Zekrom into your Pokémon Black Version game.

These Legendary Pokémon are Level 100, and have moves that make them extremely powerful in battle. Plus, you’ll know they are special Pokémon because they come in a Cherish Ball and are adorned with a Wish Ribbon.

The opportunity to get these Legendary Pokémon won’t be around long, so don’t miss your chance to get Reshiram or Zekrom for your game!

*Wireless broadband access required for online features. For more info, go to support.nintendo.com.

What is boils down to is that for a limited time, if you have Pokemon Black, you can download the legendary Zekrom.

And if you have Pokemon White, you will be able to download the legendary Reshiram.

The downloads are available now.  I have downloaded Reshiram to my copy of Pokemon White already.

The event is slated to last from March 10th through April 8th, though as we saw with the Mewtwo download event, Nintendo some times changes their mind, so download yours sooner rather than later.

These special Reshiram and Zekrom also unlock a special in the Pokemon Dream World.

This is not an in-store event.  This download is only available via Nintendo WiFi.  Instructions are available here at Pokemon.com.

Pokemon Black and White Version 2 – Nintendo’s Least Creative Names? March 5, 2012

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Nintendo, Nintendo DS Hardware, Pokemon.
Tags: , , ,
10 comments

Nintendo has announced the next versions of the ever popular Pokemon franchise on their handheld game system.  They are to be, giving them their official names, Pokemon Black Version 2 and Pokemon White Version 2.  These two titles will be out in Japan by the summer and in Europe and North America some time in the fall.

More black and white Pokemon

This sort of breaks the pattern of Pokemon game releases that have gone before it.

Over the years, a pattern has evolved that Nintedo will release a pair of games, like Diamond and Pearl, each of which has some Pokemon not available on the other.  This is to encourage, depending on your level of cynicism, playing and trading with friends, buying both damn versions of the game, or boosting the sales of those cheat add-ons which some no doubt believe Nintendo secretly funds.

Then, in a year or so, Nintendo will launch a single, slightly revised version of the the two games, Pokemon Platinum in this example, which has all of the Pokemon from both Diamond and Pearl, so you can feel like a schnook for playing through both of the original games AND the new one.  Pokemon Emerald and Crystal were also examples of this sort of update.

And then Nintendo goes back to remake an older version of the game.  HeartGold and SoulSilver were remakes of Gold and Silver.  Remakes always get that modifier in the name it seems.  FireRed and LeafGreen were further examples of that.

Then, finally, Nintendo gets around to knocking out a new version of the game, which is where new Pokemon get introduced (and I have to think this is the tough part, putting together a batch of 150 new Pokemon that are balanced and useful and don’t seriously offend any cultures that buy a lot of these games) in a new land.

So really, while there have been about 20 Pokemon games (not the spin-offs, the classic Pokemon role playing games), there are only really five settings in which they take place and, honestly, one damn story played out over and over again, a young boy/girl sets out to defeat some oddly dressed bad guys and become the reigning champion in a world obsessed by Pokemon.

And while I sound cynical, the system has worked.  I have the games on the shelf to prove it, and the sales numbers do not lie.  Any year a classic Pokemon RPG title gets released, it is on the top 20 list for game sales that year, and often the next year as well.

So it is always a bit surprising when a company like Nintendo, which has been living off Mario for 30 years and Pokemon for the last 15, deviates from their traditional path, especially when such deviations often fail. (Compare Mario Party 8 sales to Wii Party… Mario Party with Miis versus Mario… and well, they are not that far apart actually, but Nintendo is still going back to tradition and Mario Party 9 will be the next version.)

I was expecting that single wrap up title to come out, to combine all of the Pokemon in Black and White with a name like… well, Gray isn’t a great plan I guess… maybe Pokemon Checkerboard?

Instead, we are getting two rework games with the continuation of exclusivity of Pokemon between the two and what have to be the worst name choices ever in the main Pokemon game line.  Version 2?  Really?

And even the main Pokemon in the game, the legendaries that you play through the whole game to catch, are on the lame name bandwagon.  Rather that two distinct yet unpronounceable names, we have Black Kyurem and White Kyurem.  And they appear to be basically the same Pokemon with just a different color scheme and a slightly different accessory kit.

There is not much out there… at least not in English… about the Black and White Version 2 story or new features that might get introduced, but at a high level it feels like the Pokemon team is running out of ideas.

I know, complaining that the latest two games feel repetitive when the whole series is, quite frankly, the same game retold nearly 20 times is silly, but it is like they aren’t even giving us the fig leaf so that we can pretend that this is something new.

In the end Nintendo will have to do more than merely crank up the repetitive dial another notch in order to keep this from being a best seller.  There are a lot of people out there who are mad for Pokemon.

And a new release will mean launch events and special downloads and all sorts of thing that I will no doubt participate in over the spring and summer.

And when fall comes, I am sure we will buy a copy of each game.  Because that is the way it works.