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Wrapping Up and Summing Up Pokemon White Version 2 September 15, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Nintendo, Pokemon.
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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 September 11, 2014

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

(more…)

And Then I Totally Binged on Pokemon… September 2, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Pokemon.
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Raptr sends me a report every Monday telling me how many hours of video games they tracked me playing the previous week.  When yesterday’s report indicated I had played less than two hours in the last week of August, I should have been quite skeptical.  It had me playing an hour and ten minutes with the Strategy Group on Friday night, with a bit of World of Warcraft, and about enough time in EVE Online to account for logging in to update skill training queues.

Last week was a bit problematic for Raptr.  They pushed a new version that doesn’t seem keen to log into the system, and so never goes live and never tracks any game time.  This sort of pushes my “Why am I using Raptr again?” doubts to the forefront.  But even if Raptr had been working, it probably wouldn’t have caught much more play time on my PC because I was busy playing Pokemon.

I mentioned that I starting to prepare for a potential run at the National Pokedex when Pokemon Alpha Ruby and Omega Sapphire come out later this year.  So I have been playing some Pokemon Y fairly regularly in order to catch Pokemon unique to it.  I could stuff those in the Pokemon Bank and bring those in when needed in the new game.

However, I still had a large number of Pokemon stored away in older versions of the game.  Rare Pokemon that I am unlikely to get in trades or be able to catch in the new versions.  The only path t0 being able to bring those forward was to finish Pokemon Black, White, Black 2, or White 2.  You can transfer from the Pokemon Diamond and Pearl forward into those four, and from those four there is a one-way ticket available into the Pokemon Bank, which will make them available to the Nintendo 3DS generation of Pokemon games.

Pokemon Bank - $5.00 a year

Pokemon Bank – The Black and White route

So I got out my Pokemon White cartridge to see what could be done.

More after the cut due to words, many of which have the prefix “Poke.”

(more…)

Pokemon and the New 3DS August 30, 2014

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

Preparing for Pokemon Alpha Sapphire and Omega Ruby August 25, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Pokemon.
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When I finished up Pokemon Y a month back, I felt like I was about done with the game.  I can be very focused and very goal oriented when it comes to short-to-medium sized tasks.

This is how, as an example, I have been able to tackle some of the Loremaster achievement tasks as readily as I have.  The achievement is broken up into a series of smaller tasks, each of which the player can take on individually.  Handing me the sum total of quests to be done would be too much.  But zone by zone, it isn’t so bad… for the most part.

After finishing up Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms I hit something of a wall.  Facing the prospect of Outland, I didn’t really log into the game for about a week.

And so it was with Pokemon.  While I played Pokemon Y over the course of nearly four months, I ended up doing it in essentially three focused sprints, with the last one, end goal in sight, probably being equal in duration to the other two combined.  And at the end of that last sprint, mission complete, I was ready to put Pokemon down for a bit.

But after a couple of weeks away, my interest in the game has started to grow again.  This has largely be because of the upcoming release of Pokemon Alpha Sapphire and Omega Ruby.

PokemonAlphaOmega_450My daughter and I are already set to play.  She has picked Omega Ruby as her title, so I will be playing Alpha Sapphire.  We just have to take out jar of coins down to the CoinStar machine and turn that cash into an Amazon gift card to be ready to pre-order.  We are good to go there.  And the launch date, November 21, isn’t that far away.

But it is Nintendo who has been driving my interest a bit.  They have had a couple of special download events to keep people interested while also putting out new bits and pieces of information about the new game to build excitement.  Polygon has created a special section on their site devoted to Pokemon, so I have been gorging on information there.  One of the latest tidbits to come down about the upcoming titles is the return of the secret base.

The secret base idea was part of Pokemon Diamond and Pearl back in the day, as part of the whole underground environment where you could play with other people (and actually see them running around) over WiFi.  That was one of the great features those titles, my daughter and I spent hours just tooling around in the underground. But it was also one of those features that lasted for just that generation and went away with the next.

A base back in the day

A base back in the day

Pokemon games are rife with such features, each version having a couple that disappear with the next.  And while there are some you don’t miss, others stick with you.  So the fact that there is going to be some form of secret base again that others can visit, including the whole flag stealing mechanic, is a pretty big deal for me aside from the whole “place of your own” housing aspect.

So that has gotten me interested in getting ready for the new versions to come out.  But the question of what to do still stands.  I have started going out and collecting some of the “new with X and Y” Pokemon to transfer over when the time is ripe… just in case I go insane and decide I need to fill out the National Pokedex again.  Nintendo has also put up a guide to collecting all of the mega stones for mega-evolutions.  It is a downloadable PDF file.  While the whole mega evolution aspect of Pokemon X and Y wasn’t a big deal to me, I might as well complete the set while I have the chance.

I will have to go through the guide book for Pokemon X and Y to see if there are any other things I ought to do before the new versions come out.  I always buy the official guide.  It isn’t strictly necessary to get through the main story line… though if you put the game down for a few weeks, it can help you regain your orientation when you return… but for activities outside of the main story the official guide can be invaluable.  And while, in this day and age, there is always some place online where you can find the information for free, I have a good deal of fun sitting in bed or on the couch or someplace else away from my computer and leafing through the book, looking up where to find a particular item or Pokemon, and then running off to get it.  The key bit there is “away from my computer” where I spend most of my time.

So clearly some excitement is building within me for the new release.  Even looking at the map they have put up of the Hoenn region makes me happy.

Hoenn region revamped

Hoenn region revamped

I can practically see the story laid out there and all of the places I will go.

Of course, if I really wanted to get myself ready for the possibility of another run at the National Pokedex, I would get out my copy of Pokemon White and finish that up.  That would give me access to a pile of Pokemon in that game as well as being the only route to move some of my rares from Pokemon SoulSilver, where I did the National Pokedex, into the current generation of games on the Nintendo 3Ds platform.

I am just not sure if I can go back to the old sprite based graphics.  Pokemon X and Y may have spoiled me in that regard.

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.

Not Quite Calculating Gaming Return on Investment July 30, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Pokemon.
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10 comments

There is a site and a chart going around that shows some games quantified in terms of return on investment.  The original source is the Video Game ROI site, hosted by Ebay of all things.

Of course, this is a list, and we love lists!  So I went to see the top ten value rated games, which are:

The Top Ten

The Top Ten

To me that was an interesting list, if a bit odd.  How did they come up with this?

Well, they are pretty up front with how they did.  How they calculated the value rating is there on the front page.

ROICalculation

Not bad so far.  Hours per dollars spent multiplied by the rating percentage.

So the original Animal Crossing currently costs $6… this is Ebay, I guess they know the used price, so we’ll give them that… and the hours to beat is rated at 69.5 hours, while the average rating for the game is 88%.

So 69.5 divided by $6 gives us 11.58, which multiplied by .88 ends up with a rating of 10.19, which is the best rating of the lot.

Now, you might ask if a game from 2001 qualitatively delivers an experience you would want to spend nearly 70 hours on here in 2014.  Fair point, and something not addressed as far as I can tell.  And the cost of the game certainly seems to favor used games, but this is Ebay and they want to sell you some used games, so go figure.

I was a little more interested in how they came up with the hours to beat a game.

As it turns out, there is a site called How Long To Beat that is just brimming with this sort of data.  I was curious as to how accurate it might be, but didn’t know how I could assess that.  I would have to actually beat a game to get that number, right?

Oh, wait, I did just beat a game!  I finished Pokemon Y, and all I really did was the main storyline as noted in my post.  So I went and looked that up on the site and, naturally, found Pokemon X and Y listed with lots of data.  But the essential bit, hours to beat for the main story was there.

 

PokemonXH2B

So they peg the main story at 33 hours of play time.  And I finished the main story in…

Pokemon Y Hall of Fame

Pokemon Y finish time

… 31.5 hours.  Pretty close.   Close enough that I am probably willing to accept the H2B numbers.  Meanwhile, the average rating is as close at MetaCritic, so I am good with that.

So it seems like we have some pretty solid numbers, even if they seem very biased towards older games, which are less expensive.  There is Civilization in second place, from 1991.  I am not sure, even if you could buy a copy for the $1 they show, that it would run on a modern operating system.  The ROI on unplayable games should be pretty low.

Of course, I am interested in MMOs, so I went digging to see what they had listed on that front.  Way down at 109th place I found World of Warcraft.  Current price, $20, hours to beat, 11.2, and overall review rating of 93%, giving it a value rating of 0.52.

WoWROI

Now, I expected the value rating to be low because I figured that they would account for the subscription model in some way.  But no, they figure you’ll be done with that free 30 days yet, since it only takes 11.2 hours to beat.

That seems sort of fast, 11.2 hours.  I mean, I am running through the 1-60 on the whole Loremaster achievement thing, so it seems like that number should be higher for somebody new who doesn’t have heirloom gear or what not.

So I started going further down the list and ran into Minecraft at 127th place.  The cost is $27 and the rating is 89%, but the hours to beat was 11.2, the same as World of Warcraft.

MinecraftROI

Now, if 11.2 hours seems very low for WoW, which sort of has a 1 to 60 main game, for Minecraft it seems very much off.

Reading through the site more carefully, I found that if a game is open ended or doesn’t have a well defined main game… which is to say the How Long To Beat site doesn’t show one… they went with the number 11.2 because that was the average of all the games measured.

Color me unimpressed.

Still, I suppose it is an interesting data point for discussing older games.  And, of course, it markets older games for Ebay.  But you’re not going to convince me that Pokemon Red and Blue, which ran on the GameBoy in 1996, provides a better return on investment than Pokemon X and Y for any qualitative measures.

 

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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5 comments

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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4 comments

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!