Category Archives: Nintendo

A Decade of Dual Screens – 10 Years of the Nintendo DS

I remember seeing the original GameBoy back in the early 90s.

Display Case #3

GameBoy units at the Nintendo Store

My youngest cousin, some 22 years my junior (which is about the same age difference as between my father and I) had one back then.  While I was mildly interested in it due to the fact that she had the Elevator Action cartridge, which faithfully reproduced the arcade game of the same name that I played in my own youth, overall my reaction was tepid.  I had a computer with a 17″ color monitor that played a myriad of deeper, more interesting, and much more colorful video games than the chubby little monochromatic brick battery hog from Nintendo.

But I had made the jump from arcades and consoles ages before the GameBoy showed up.  I dribbled a bit with a Sega Genesis when somebody gave it to me, but other than that I was strictly a computer gamer.  So the GameBoy was something off in the periphery.  I have vague recollections about changes in form factor, the arrival of color, and the advent of what might be the defining game for the platform, the Pokemon series of games.  Though the latter first came to my attention via the trading card game, which brought me to the TV show, and the finally to the realization that it all started as a video game.  That was at approximately the Pokemon Yellow stage of the series.  One of my nieces had a GameBoy Advance SP, which seemed like a flimsy bit of hardware.

And it still wasn’t of much interest.  The internet and online gaming was where it was at for me.

Then, on November 21, 2004 Nintendo officially launched the Nintendo DS in North America.

Again, something on the periphery of my gaming.  It was a big deal and, thus, hard to ignore.  The news bled through and I remember wondering how a two screen system would work and what advantage it would provide.  I think the fact that the unit had more buttons on it that its predecessors made a bigger impression on me.

Of course, by that time I had a daughter of my own, though she was far too young for that sort of thing.  But time passed.  I remember us being at Toys R Us one day when she started playing with one of the DS units on display.  It had Pokemon Diamond running on it and my daughter was transfixed by the idea of wandering the countryside in the game.

Not too long after that, we were preparing for a flight to Hawaii to visit family (my daughter has been to Hawaii more times in her few years than most people will go in their whole lives), when we discovered that the video player, used to maintain our sanity by keep our daughter busy, was no longer holding a charge.  It would not be an option for this trip.  Faced with six hours of “are we there yet?” my wife sent me out specifically to buy a Nintendo DS and a few games in order to keep our daughter busy during the flight.

And it had to be pink.  This was the era of the Nintendo DS Lite, the overhaul of the original hardware and maybe the best packaging Nintendo ever did.

I remember the bit about the color, because when I got to the store, they only had blue units.  So I bought a blue one because, what the hell, right?  My wife wasn’t having that, and when I arrived home with the wrong item she called around, found a pink unit, and sent me out to exchange the red unit for the pink.  That was a little over six and a half years ago.

The whole thing was a big hit, and I was as interested in the Nintendo DS Lite unit and the Pokemon game running on it as my daughter.  Within a few weeks I had my own cobalt blue Nintendo DS Lite and a copy of Pokemon Diamond as well.  I remain impressed with the unit to this day.  It is solid, the screen is crisp and clear and colorful (though a bit small for my aging eyes these days), the battery life is excellent, and the built in WiFi and connectivity with the Wii was a master stroke.

And, of course, Pokemon.

There have been a few other games we have enjoyed on the DS hardware at our house.  The Mario Kart games have been good, and my daughter has played a lot of Animal Crossing.  But the mainline Pokemon RPG games have been the mainstay of the hardware for us, the reason for having the units.  There are now five DS models in our home, all of which still function.  We have the original two DS Lite units, a DSi XL unit my daughter got as a present, and then a pair of 3DS XL units, which followed the same pattern as the originals, as once my daughter got one… and started playing Pokemon X… I had to have one too.

Overall, I have to say I remain impressed with the design and functionality of the hardware.  I have had the DS Lite out in order to transfer Pokemon between versions of the game as well as to withdraw quite a herd of Pokemon from Pokemon Ranch, and it was still a solid, comfortable device to use.

And I am clearly not alone in my admiration of Nintendo’s dual screen handheld.  Over 150 million units of the original DS line sold during its life, making second only to the PlayStation 2 in console hardware sales, and another 45 million 3DS generation units have sold as well.  That is nearly 200 million units, or nearly 400 million screens.

Nintendo seems to run hot and cold with its living room consoles.  The NES and SNES were both hot, but the GameCube was not.  The Wii was on fire, but the Wii U hasn’t found its killer app.  The game pad controller seems like a weight around the console’s neck.  They should have left that sort of thing to the handheld side of the team, as they did with the Wii.

But on the handheld front, Nintendo has been dominant for years.  How much of it was hardware and how much of it was the games… especially Pokemon… I couldn’t say, but the combination has been a winner for Nintendo for a long time now.  And there is a new 3DS unit on its way to consumers next year.

The New 3DS

Colorful buttons and a second analog control

Over at The Verge they have a timeline of Nintendo portable devices, most of them hot, a few of them… well… not.

Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphired Launch Today

The busy November continues as another launch I have been waiting for arrives.  Nintendo and Game Freak’s remakes of the Game Boy Advance titles Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire are finally here.

Today is the day

Today is the day

Pokemon Alpha Sapphire and Omega Ruby are now available and, if Amazon keeps its word, a copy of each should be waiting for my daughter and I when I return home from work today.  After playing Pokemon X and Y, I am looking forward to another round of Pokemon on the Nintendo 3Ds platform.

Hoenn region revamped

Hoenn region revamped

I know the reaction to this release being a remake has been “yawn” or “boo, hiss” in some quarters… and not just from the lost cause sons of Digimon types… but remakes are pretty much part of the Pokemon tradition at this point.  And Pokemon is pretty much steeped in tradition at this point, so one might as well embrace it.

There have been four consolidation remakes, a seemingly discontinued tradition at this point as Game Freak seems to have streamlined their development process to allow production of new titles more frequently, where they would take the current pair of games, such as Diamond and Pearl, and make a combined version, such as Platinum, that had Pokemon from both games and a few small differences.

Then there have been the generation-crossing remakes, where an older version of the game that is no longer available on the current platform gets remade with the current technology, with Alpha Sapphire and Omega Ruby being the third on that list.  Those remakes have been well received.  Pokemon FireRed and LeafGreen were top sellers, while Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver are still my favorite Pokemon games from the DS Lite era.  And, of course, they are great ways to bring old rares back into the population.

So given the history of the generation-crossing remakes, I am pretty excited for Pokemon Alpha Sapphire and Omega Ruby.

Of course, this means that I will likely continue to move slowly through the Warlords of Draenor expansion… and all the more so since, unlike WoW, where I binged for a couple weeks before the expansion, I set Pokemon aside for the last month or so, stopping that binge shortly after wrapping up Pokemon White Version 2.

So we are primed.  Our Nintendo 3DS XLs are charged up, my daughter and I have the next week off from school and work respectively, we will have a fresh video game in our possession, it is dark, and we are wearing sunglasses.

Hit it.

Wrapping Up and Summing Up Pokemon White Version 2

I made it to through the final four and defeated Iris, the Unova champion, the evening after my last Pokemon post.

Iris awaits

Chamber of the final battle

It was pretty much inevitable that I would win sooner rather than.  I had already made it through the final four to Iris on my second attempt.  It was just a matter of tuning up my team a bit.

I used some of the stat increasing items I picked up along the way on my team, and bought a few more at the department store on Route 9.  I trained LazTel my Azurmarill the Ice Beam move, which was a key weakness in Iris’ lineup.  I used a few PP Ups to increase the number of times I could use key moves.  As an example my only grass attack, Giga Drain on Wibla my Verizion, only had five uses, which was not enough.  And I tossed out a couple Rare Candy level ups and made sure everybody was holding an item that would boost key aspects of their abilities.

All that, plus knowing now which abilities to use against which opponents meant that the run was pretty smooth.  My victory was not in doubt.

My winning team

My winning team

I still need to work out the best way to take pictures, but I think I am getting a little bit better.  There, from the 6 o’clock position, moving clockwise, are:

And there we are.  The last great battle, the main story arc is over, and roll the credits.

That last item is literal, when you finally defeat the regional champion, the game saves and then shows you the credits.  It is one of the conventions of the series.

Of course, the game is not done yet.  Not by a long shot.  Technically, you are not even done with the story yet.  There are still remnants of Team Plasma to encounter, some more key battles to fight, half a dozen key locations to visit, and legendary Pokemon to catch.  In regards to that last, Pokemon White Version 2 was a bit stingy compared to its immediate predecessor, which let you catch one of the legendary Pokemon before the championship battle.

This is generally where the official guide book for a given Pokemon game tends to become very useful to me, as a lot of the end game stuff can be… obscure, for lack of a better word.

I know with enough patience I could figure a lot of it out.  12 year old me would have had no problem, current me is no longer motivated enough for that sort of thing.  For example, in Pokemon X & Y, one of the legendary Pokemon you can catch post-story is Moltres, who has been around since the original games.  You run into him pretty readily if you are stomping around in the tall grass where Pokemon show up.  However, he flees immediately upon entering battle, so you cannot catch him.  The “figuring it out” bit is that you have to encounter and lose him eleven times… and you can only find him once per day… before you can go to a specific spot for a chance to catch him. (And I only get Moltres because I chose Froakie as my starter Pokemon.  It is convoluted, but that is part of the appeal of the series.)

I did not buy the official guide this time around, but the internet knows all.  You can find guides in plain text, HTML, pictures, and even in video format.  I just can’t sit over on the couch or in bed, away from my computer with the game in my hand and the book at my side, which is one of the aspects of the handheld console gaming I enjoy.  Well, I can with the iPad in tow I guess, but I find web navigation much more efficient with a keyboard and mouse.

The upshot of this is that there is still a pile of Pokemon in the game to be caught.

And then there is the moving of Pokemon from the older DS generation games into Pokemon White Version 2 so I can use the Poke Transporter to send various Pokemon on a one-way trip to Pokemon Bank, where the 3DS generation Pokemon games will be able to access them.

Pokemon Bank - $5.00 a year

Pokemon Bank – a deal at $5.00 a year

Getting the Pokemon out of Pokemon Diamond, Pearl, Platinum, HeartGold, or SoulSilver is a process that requires two Nintendo DS consoles. (Not a problem in our house, where we have five)  You download a special game from the DS running one of the Pokemon Black and White series, pick six Pokemon you want to move over (usual restrictions apply, no Pokemon with hidden moves… never train hidden moves on your legendary Pokemon…), and then play a little game where you have to catch your chosen Pokemon before they will be moved over… because nothing is ever easy.

Aim and catch

Aim and catch

This involves shooting Pokeballs at the Pokemon who are hopping around the screen or hiding behind bushes.  There is a timer, and anything you don’t catch goes back, though you can load them up and try again.  It seemed like it might be a chore at first, especially since the more rare Pokemon seem to move a lot faster.  However, since I have never failed to catch all six in half the time allocated, it is probably okay.  And you can do it as many times a day as you like, unlike the .  Now I just have to figure out which Pokemon I really want to move over and where they are.

So Pokemon still to catch and Pokemon to move.

Along the way I think I also figured out why the DS generation Pokemon games are in short supply, with unopened copies selling for a premium most places.  One of the things that Nintendo did as part of the changing of hardware generations was turn off all of the back end services for those games back in May.  There is no Global Trade Station or other online content available for them any more.  If you try to access anything like that… and by the time they got to Pokemon Black & White Version 2 there were quite a few features that required back end support… you just get an error indicating that the service is no longer available.

Unfortunately for Nintendo, all of those online features are heavily advertised on the various retail boxes and the sites dedicated to the various titles.  So I suspect Nintendo decided to cut whatever liability it feels it might have in no longer supporting those online features by no longer shipping any of those titles.  That Amazon is blowing out their back stock of Pokemon White Version 2 hints, at least to me, that Nintendo might have future plans for those titles.  We shall see I suppose.  But if you want a new, in box copy of one of the other DS generation Pokemon games, be prepared to pay a premium.

Finally, I returned to Pokemon Y to pull some Pokemon over from the Poke Transporter app, which led to some odd moments.

I said a while back that the new rendered graphics style of Pokemon X & Y felt pretty natural when I picked up the game.  Then I went back to finish up Pokemon White and then Pokemon White Version 2, which involved a few weeks of binge playing.  That transition wasn’t too bad either.  I quickly got used to the sprite based graphics again.  Visual closure is a wonderful thing and their overly blocky look on the bigger XL screen soon seemed quite natural.

Then, after all of that, I went back to Pokemon Y and it really felt strange.  I think the most noticeable difference is that it just doesn’t feel like you see as much of the world around you as you do in the earlier games.  That and your character and everything else is so much bigger on screen.  It was a little disorienting upon my return.

However, after about 20 minutes my brain settled down and accepted the game as it was and I got back into that groove.

Now it is just the clean up and catching and breeding and such prep work while we wait around for Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire to come out this November.  My daughter and I have already turned in our coin jar for an Amazon gift card and pre-ordered the titles.  We’ll just need to find time to play them.  November is going to be a busy month for releases.

The Pokemon Binge Continues in Unova

Avoidance is a wonderful thing.  You can accomplish so much when you are trying to avoid doing what you are actually supposed to be doing.

I am not ready to admit defeat on my run for the Loremaster achievement, but I must admit that my current focus on the little Nintendo 3DS XL screen is related to my reluctance to face another round of questing in The Blade’s Edge Mountains.  Outland has worn me down some.  So, while I did log in to run through Darkmoon Faire, most of my gaming time lately has been spent in New Eden or the Unova region.

The Unova region is the setting for both Pokemon Black and White as well as Pokemon Black and White Version 2…. the latter I maintain are, if not the least creative game names ever in the Pokemon series, at least the most awkward.

I followed up on last week’s Pokemon post and used an Amazon gift card I had sitting around to pick up Pokemon White Version 2 which, as I mentioned, was much more reasonably priced than Pokemon Black Version 2.

Amazon Pricing Differential

Amazon Pricing Differential

In fact, looking quickly online, it seems like all of the DS series Pokemon games… except Pokemon White Version 2, are selling for well over original list price.  That seems odd.  Back when the Nintendo DS Lite was king, and had that Game Boy Advance cartridge slot in the front, all of the GBA versions of Pokemon games remained available in health supply at pretty much suggested retail price.  It actually sort of irked me that they weren’t marked down a bit back then.  That was last generation stuff!  But at least nobody was suggesting I pay a premium for them.

Now, however, the last generation stuff… which, as before, still works in the current 3DS hardware just fine… seems to be in short supply.  I am not sure what this means.  I haven’t walked by a GameStop to see what is on the shelves, but when everybody online is selling well over list price, it raises questions. Is Nintendo converting them all to sell directly in the Nintendo Store?  Is something else afoot?

Anyway, that is an investigation for another time (though if you know the answer, clue me in via the comments please!), I am here to talk about actually playing Pokemon.  Joy!

I got the game and started off.  As with its predecessor, it starts off with a rather direct and somewhat abbreviated introduction to the game.  That isn’t bad, but clearly somebody missed the slower unfolding of your own story, as they went back to that for Pokemon X & Y.   You start with your own name.  For me that is always Wilhelm.  And then you are asked to name the person who essentially becomes your rival in the game.  The default name is Hugh, but I always give it a more interesting name.

This time, because I happened to have just gotten done with a fleet op, I went with an EVE Online theme.  Actually, more of a CFC theme.

I named my rival Mittani.

More after the cut because of excess verbiage.

Continue reading

Quote of the Day – In Which 25 Million Equals Nothing

25 million people play Call of Duty monthly, but that pales in comparison to 2.5 billion people on the Internet. That’s 1 percent of the Internet, that’s nothing.

Michael Pachter, at Cloud Gaming USA

That is one of those quotes that boggles the mind as it lets so much slip by, to the point of being meaningless.  What percentage of that 2.5 billion plays video games, has hardware capable of playing something like Call of Duty, has an internet connection capable of playing the game, can afford the game, and can actually buy the game in their local market?  What should Activision have done differently?  What should their target audience have been?

And the irony here is that just a few paragraphs down the line he takes gaming companies to task for embracing the free to play model, which is all about increasing market penetration. Free-to-play should go away he says (and I have some bad news for him about his ad revenue idea) and the game companies are stupid for taking less than they should get.  And then further along he projecting 4 billion people playing games in the very near future.  Will they be on the internet?  How does it relate to that 2.5 billion number?  It is a mishmash, though that could be as much the reporting as the presentation itself.

Of course, Michael Pachter is an analyst, and the analyst’s bread and butter is in making outlandish, unsupported, attention getting statements like that.  All the better to get you to pay them for their deep insight.  You don’t get speaking gigs by being dull.  As Apple’s iPhone announcement today was nothing but an ad for Apple, this presentation was mostly an ad for Michael Pachter, and nobody should have expected otherwise.

Not that he is completely off base on things.  He frets about the future of consoles in the face of dropping physical game sales and the expanding smart phone market as well as where Nintendo will end up.

He really focuses on Nintendo.

But even I can see that Nintendo is especially vulnerable as its corporate culture is still tied up with the idea of them being a hardware company, while their real assets are in their software.  I like my Nintendo 3DS XL very much.  It is a fine piece of hardware.  But I bought it solely to play Pokemon.

Without Pokemon the 3DS XL is just like the Wii U, an interesting piece of hardware I don’t really need in a world where the iPhone and other such devices loom.  Nintendo’s goals may be in line with Corless, the Team Plasma Boss from Pokemon Black 2 & White 2.

Can't stay proprietary with that goal...

Can’t stay proprietary with that goal…

But they are not going to get there with the mindset of the 90s, where the software was there to sell hardware.

Anyway, the article that the quote came from at the top of the post has enough fodder for a dozen blog posts.  I can’t even get started on how much it irks when somebody stands up and speaks of “the cloud” that will solve all problems.  Put something in the mythical “cloud” and be prepared to do without it unless you control it.  Or, put another way:

But like Oscar the Grouch, I am often happiest railing against something like this.  Pachter is many things, but he isn’t boring.  I look forward to many more pronouncements.

Pokemon and the New 3DS

It is certainly expected that Nintendo, suffering from its various mis-steps with the Wii U, would tread a careful path with its other current console line, the Nintendo 3DS series.  And that is what it felt like with yesterday’s announcement of the New 3DS line.

The New 3DS

The New 3DS

There were a some comments about the button colors and how that harkens back to earlier Nintendo console controllers.  Oooh, nostalgia.

But the key discussion points have been around the upgraded processor, the addition of a second analog stick (the little nub above the colored buttons, which will keep players from having to buy/use an add-on peripheral for games that require dual analog sticks), the extra shoulder buttons, the slightly larger screen, some changes in layout, and the dubious current naming plan, under which Nintendo has christened the new units (which will come in both standard and XL form) as the “New Nintendo 3DS.”

I foresee in the not too distant future somebody going to GameStop and asking if they have a “Used New 3DS.”  Maybe that makes more sense in Japanese.

Aside from the name, there is also the question of a more powerful unit.  That seems like an uncontroversial move by Nintendo, but what does it mean?  What is Nintendo telling us by giving these new models more processing power?

My first thought on reading about this new unit was, “Am I going to need this for Pokemon.”  Because my own 3DS XL… which is a great piece of hardware… is pretty much a console for playing Pokemon games right now.

From what I have read, it does not seem likely that I will.  At least not for the next release.

There were a couple of points when playing Pokemon X and Y where the hardware felt like it was struggling a bit to keep up with what it had to draw on screen, but that felt more like rough edges from Gamefreak’s first attempt at a rendered Pokemon game rather than any shortfall in the hardware.  I suspect we won’t get to November and the Pokemon Alpha Ruby and Omega Sapphire release only to find ourselves wanting for more CPU power.  At least we had better not, since the New 3DS models won’t be coming to the US until some point in 2015.

But over at Forbes they are worrying that Nintendo has already said that some games will require the processor power of the new units.  That gets me back to the naming scheme, because if you’re going to ship games that run on one generation of a platform but not another, it had better be very clear up front which is which.  Nintendo has been through this before, with the Nintendo DS to 3DS generation change, and they not only made sure everything was carefully labelled, but 3DS cartridges have a tab that sticks out, preventing them from being stuck into the older DS platform consoles.

So we shall see if Nintendo manages to fracture their user base or not with nominally compatible systems in this generation, some of which may not be able to play all of the games available.  I suspect, no matter what, Pokemon will remain playable across the board.  Messing with a huge selling title like that comes with risks.  I bought my current 3DS XL just to play Pokemon, but I am not sure I would buy another one just a year later to carry on.

And the other aspects, the improved battery life in the standard size version and slightly larger screens, do not really move me.  The current 3DS XL is big enough for me to use without putting on my reading glasses, which is what really matters to me at this point, and the larger battery pack on the XL unit has me covered.

Picking My 2014 Club Nintendo Reward

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.