Rundown (2/14-2/20) Snow Covered – Repeated Shoveling

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Wherein I discuss the woes of midwestern home-having, the Re;Birth of the Direct, anti-crypto-mining tech, and a truckload of remasters.

This past week, it snowed an exceptional amount in the midwestern suburb I live in, and that naturally meant I had to go outside every few days, or multiple times in the same day, in order to keep the sidewalk to my front door and alley clear so that my mother can bring in groceries and we can still take out the trash. This is typical of every winter, but this past week has been ridiculous. 

The accumulated snow on my lawn is past my ribcage, and I’m about 1.78 meters tall. It’s caked around my front steps and I have no practical way of getting rid of it without shoveling twice my body volume in the snow away from each side. And ice has formed on what sidewalk I did clear, because when you have a roof in the winter, you have icicles. And when you have icicles, you have ice on the ground.

Now, I’m not bringing this up because I feel the need to complain about my exceptionally privileged existence where I have basically nothing to complain about in my life beyond a surplus of work hours, semi-self inflicted psychological issues, and a set of swollen genitals from my latest round of electrolysis. But rather, how all of this makes me realize how old I have gotten in my way of thinking or assessing situations. 

As a kid, I loved going out in the snow with my big puffy snow pants, building forts with plastic totes, making snow angels, and filling up plastic cups with snow so I could have it as a snack of snow once I got back inside. But now, I just view snow as an annoyance, a burden I need to deal with, and something I hope to avoid worrying about in the future. But chances are, I’m going to be stuck at this house for another decade, so I should just accept this as the norm until I’m 36… assuming I live that long.

Now then, gaming news this past week was more or less dominated by a new Nintendo Direct. It has been nearly 1.5 years since the last true and full Nintendo Direct on September 4, 2019, to the point where Nintendo fanatics started theorizing that Nintendo Directs were over and done with and Nintendo would announce titles piecemeal going forward. When in reality, they just had little to announce and were being conservative with their line-up due to the ongoing uncertainty with much of the world thanks to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and how Nintendo as a company was not equipped to support remote work. But they’ve been through this for about a year now, and Nintendo has presumably adapted to the current situation, and can resume their former productivity and feel confident in announcing when certain titles will be released. Which they did in the form of a whopping 50 minute showcase that mostly centered on titles coming out in the first half of 2021, but there were naturally some exceptions.

Anyway, things kicked off with a new Super Smash Bros. Ultimate fighter, and it was none other than Xenoblade Chronicle 2’s Pyra. Yes, yet another Nintendo first party anime sword user, and while she has the not-so-unique ability to switch between her usual form and that of her earlier incarnation, Mythra, she overall seems like a fairly standard character, instead of somebody more technical or mechanically unique, like many of the other Fighter Pass characters. 

On that note, I’m sure that some people have gotten their jimmies in a knot over how Pyra/Mythra was chosen over legacy character X, Y, or Z. While I can understand where these hypothetical straw-based critter-persons are coming from, viewing Smash as a sort of video game canon where only the most prestigious of characters are permitted, I can’t say I care anymore. 

While banter and wild fan theories about Smash Bros. rosters were a riot in the days of Brawl and fun in the days of Smash 4, it has gotten absolutely toxic in recent years, and now I’m just glad that we only need to deal with another two new character announcements before Smash is put to bed until the next entry, which will probably need to be a soft reboot and involve a culling of characters, instead of a roster that expands into three digits.

Moving onto something less heavy, back in 2019, as part of the last full Nintendo Direct, Nintendo of Japan announced remakes of the two Famicom Detective Club games. If you never heard of this series, or only of it from that one Super Smash Bros. Melee trophy, that’s not surprising. While they were both internally developed by Nintendo, they never saw a western release, there was never a complete fan-translation for the first game, and the games were classic adventure games, a genre that self-styled diehard Nintendo fans typically are not especially interested in. 

However, Nintendo of the modern era is far more willing to localize everything that comes their way, and announced that the Mages. developed remakes of these titles are indeed coming to western audiences. Personally, I was never all too interested in these games due to their age, and while I doubt their stories would be anything special, I am interested in checking them out simply because you don’t see deep cut remakes like this every day, and if Nintendo is going to the trouble of localizing this sort of niche weeb crap, the least I can do is monetarily support it. 

Famicom Detective Club: The Missing Heir and Famicom Detective Club: The Girl Who Stands Behind will release as digital-only Switch titles on May 14th.

Speaking of remakes, or rather remasters, I am always cautious whenever Square Enix announces they are bringing back a game from their catalog, because of how mixed their results are. Sometimes they absolutely butcher their games, and sometimes they easily make the definitive version. It’s gotten to the point where I have convinced myself that there are two remake divisions in Square Enix. One that hates the past and wants it to die, and one that actually knows what they are doing and wants to make the best games possible. 

And I don’t think that two titles better represent this divide than Saga Frontier Remastered and the recently announced Legend of Mana Remastered… which is actually just called Legend of Mana for some reason. I railed on SaGa Frontier back in November 2020 for what it did to the visuals of the original game, which originally featured sprite-based characters, pre-rendered backdrops, and pre-rendered monsters. However, the remaster decided to ditch the character sprites in favor of pre-rendered approximations of what the original sprites looked like. Everything looks smeared, blurry, and just… bad in general. 

Compare this to Legend of Mana, which was originally a game with gorgeously detailed illustrated backdrops and sprite-based characters. When it comes to remastering this, Square Enix could have very easily kept the game as it was, since it already upscales nicely. But instead, they either redrew or restored the original background images and the end result is so good that you could easily pass this off as a modern game, and something that I want to support simply because they did such a good job at enhancing this title visually.

Beyond the visuals, Legend of Mana looks like a nifty and whimsical RPG by the ‘golden age’ developer during the ‘golden age’ of the genre, and hopefully that is enough to garner some attention and sales when it comes out for Switch, PS4, and PC via Steam on June 24th.

Mario Golf: Super Rush is the Nintendo Switch’s much expected iteration in the Mario Golf series, and… it looks a lot like the modern streak of Mario sports games. Which is to say, it looks like a sports game with Mario characters in it and some quintessential Mario flair and zaniness, but likely not enough to support a whole game. 

In this particular installment, there are two major draws. One is the return of a dedicated RPG story mode, something seen in the GameBoy and GBA Mario sports games, where you guide a self-insert protagonist through a series of challenges, boosting their stats while rising through the ranks of some tournament that just happens to feature a scattering of Mario characters. It’s a cute idea, and one that could keep players invested in what is ultimately a golf game. 

However, developer Camelot is also looking to add some zaniness into the game with Speed Golf. A mode where players, or players and AI, race against each other to see who can get their ball into the hole first, using power-ups and character-specific ability to travel to the ball after it was hit, and putting it with both power and precision in order to make it in first. Which sounds like a game that a child would suggest after being dragged to golf with their boring dad when all they want to do is run around and play with their friends.

Or in other words, the latest Mario Golf’s biggest selling points are stat manipulation and a mode antithetical to the idea of golf. Which, for the record, is all about slowly analyzing a situation… while networking with wealthy individuals who might be willing to form a strategic alliance. Anyways, Mario Golf: Super Rush is aiming to smack a branded Nintendo egg ‘on the green’ on June 25th.

Next up is… a game that absolutely nobody would have ever thought was coming to the Switch. Miitopia was a Mii themed casual life simulator RPG that came out during the tail end of the 3DS’s life, was met with a mediocre critical reception, and was pretty much dead on release as far as I could tell. But now, four years after its release, Nintendo is remastering the title for Nintendo Switch. Where the biggest changes mentioned in the reveal were the ability to dress your Mii characters up in gaudy wigs and makeup, and you can also befriend a horse now, which is pretty dope. Not enough games let you make friends with a horse, and horses own. They’re real life monsters that you can gamble on in most of the world, and they got some dope genitals. 

…Miitopia shall pillage the world with its horse friend to kill the dark lord that is its dad on May 21st.

On the subject of RPGs, following the release of Octopath Traveler, I saw a lot of people clamoring for the HD-2D art style seen in the game to be used in remaking other titles by Square Enix, namely Final Fantasy VI. However, this reaction always struck me as a bit disrespectful to the developers, who wanted to evoke a classical flavor while telling a new story and innovating on things that they personally loved about games of a particular era. Personally, I expected Octopath Traveler to get a sequel akin to Bravely Default 2. Something that expanded on the ideas and concepts while being discernibly disconnected from the original in a very Final-Fantasy-esque manner. But that’s apparently not the case, since the team behind Octopath is instead making the closest thing to a Final Fantasy Tactics that Square Enix has made in a decade.

Project Triangle Strategy— a game that should be called Triangle Tactics, Trinity Tactics, or Triple Tact— is a tactical RPG that is largely selling itself through its gorgeous and overzealous art direction and its fixation on being a strategy game on multiple levels. For it forces the player to be mindful in how they progress through combat, using terrain effects, advantageous high ground, and chain attacks all to their advantage. And outside of combat, they need to make choices, face consequences, and balance the scales of utility, morality, and liberty in order to capture the convictions of valuable allies. All as part of a grand history forging quest to bring peace to the continent, dole out justice, and seek a better future for their people. Or at least something to that effect. 

Overall, I think this looks like a far more ambitious and nuanced title than Octopath Traveler, and it has a lot going for it. However, the initial demo left me feeling a bit… miffed. While the story seems interesting and the game is gorgeous in some respects, this game has some of the worst screen tearing I have ever seen. While the 3D environments look fine, whenever the camera nudges by a single degree, there is a notable tearing effect on the sprite-based characters. It is something I noticed immediately and… I honestly have no idea how something like this got through any degree of testing without being noticed immediately. At first I thought this was just a problem with my monitor, but no, it looks like this on the Switch’s native screen too. This issue is normally fixed by toggling on V-Sync, but no option like that exists in the demo.

This issue notably did not crop up in Octopath Traveler, and I think that’s because of Triangle Strategy’s freeform camera system, which allows players to re-angle the game to their liking. This does a lot to make the environments feel like deliberately constructed dioramas that the game is practically begging players to explore visually, and it rewards them with both goodies and fine details that serve as their own reward. Sadly, said details are obscured by the deluge of liberally distributed visual flourishes and a nasty shadow effect around every sprite. I get that this helps them stand out, but this is just unnecessary. I, and most people, can distinguish between sprites and 3D environments just fine, thank you very much.

As for the gameplay… It is a tad slow, but I like how they are bringing over the 4 Heroes of Light charge-based system for actions in lieu of an MP system, and think there is some potential for some major tech here, as the whole chain attack system urges players to kite enemies away and maneuver around them in a specific way that can bite you in the butt if you’re too reckless. However, I also think this game, like most SRPGs, will be more fun if you can grind to be 3 to 5 levels above the recommended bar. Overleveled enough to make some mistakes and take down foes expediently, but not enough to make the game a cakewalk. 

In summation, I have some problems with this game, but it has plenty of potential, so I’ll keep an eye on this game when it launches in 2022 as a Switch exclusive… until it comes to PC, like Octopath Traveler did.

Back in September 2020, an innocuous Hong Kong games distributor by the name of Game Source Entertainment accidentally let it slip that an HD remaster of the modern Ninja Gaiden games was in development. A collection set to include Ninja Gaiden Sigma, Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2, and Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge for the low price of $40. I took this as a given and was appropriately surprised when this compilation was announced as Ninja Gaiden: Master Collection

As I said when word about the collection first got out, I’m glad that these games are coming back and people can play them again, but I have to ask why these are the versions coming back, when many people prefer Ninja Gaiden Black and Ninja Gaiden II over the Sigma variants. Furthermore, if you are calling something the “Master” collection, then isn’t it a touch limited to only include three games? 

As far as I can tell, there’s nothing stopping series publisher, Koei Tecmo, from licensing out some emulators, loading in a few ROMs, and pairing this collection with their back catalog of Ninja Gaiden games. Not everything of course, as it would take far too much effort to include something like Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword (which is a pretty dope touch screen action game), but they could definitely include the majority of the series history in this collection.

There’s the NES trilogy, the Atari Lynx game, the Game Gear game, the Game Boy game, the Master System game, and the SNES remaster of the NES trilogy. They could throw in all these games, some rudimentary extras, and easily sell this game as a value pack for new and old fans… but they’re just not selling their back catalog even though they have the perfect opportunity to do so. 

Bitter old lady grumbles aside, Ninja Gaiden: Master Collection will be released for Switch, PS4, Xbox One, and PC via Steam on June 10th, keeping at least some of the legacy preserved and accessible.

On the subject of preserving a legacy, 2021 is the 35th anniversary of the Zelda series, and accordingly people have been expecting a deluge of collections and remasters for them to purchase before Nintendo puts them back in their vault, because they’re a bunch of a-holes when it comes to this sort of thing. Personally, I was excited to pony up the green to buy titles like Ocarina of Time HD, Wind Waker HD, Four Swords Adventures HD and Twilight Princess HD. Hell, I would even buy Majora’s Mask HD, and I get anxious just thinking about that game. However, there are a few games in the series I have next to no interest in touching again. Including the NES games, the DS games, and… Skyward Sword

Skyward Sword was a game with great potential, ideas, and moments, but was woefully held back by the fact that it was a Wii game. The game had arguably the best art direction of any Zelda title, with so dozens of amazing creatures and character design. I thought its mythos and place as the first story in the timeline were really cool. Despite the generic biome concepts for the main locations, the developers did put a lot of creativity into the game’s environments. And characters like Ghirahim and Groose were quite memorable and likeable. Hell, despite being a nagging meme-able ghost robot, I actually liked Fi as a helper character and found her warnings weirdly endearing. But beyond these positives, I have a lot of problems with the game.

The gameplay is overly focused around using motion controls, which were on the way out when the game finally released, and have not made many strides since then. The developers tried experimenting with a stamina meter, resource collecting, and shield durability, but none of these elements added to the game in a meaningful way and just feel arbitrary in the final release. The game’s world feels fragmented and small, because it is. And the game has one of the worst second halves of any Zelda games, becoming a slow-paced fetch-quest with routine roadblocks that requires players to backtrack through the same thoroughly explored locations. At least Wind Waker and Twilight Princess felt like treasure hunts.

However, my biggest problem with the game is actually with its visuals. While the art for this game is fantastic, the people responsible for translating it into 3D models had to contend with the limitations of the Wii and a desire to keep the game looking simple and approachable.  Even when looking at the game upscaled in HD resolutions, everything feels weirdly muted, flat, and textures look foggy or blurred. I get that they were going for a more painterly look with this game, but when stacked against Wind Waker and Twilight Princess, I think it looks bland by comparison.

So naturally, you can imagine my reaction when I saw that they were kicking off this celebration by releasing The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD. A remastering of a title that I was never a big fan of, and have liked less and less over the years. For the most part, the game is precisely what the title implies. Skyward Sword, but in HD. However, NIntendo is correcting one of the biggest drawbacks, and selling points, of the game by changing up the control scheme.

While you can, if you are desperate or crazy, play Skyward Sword HD using motion controls via Joy-Cons, the game was reworked to work with a traditional controller by mapping the sword swinging animations to the right stick. That alone makes the game dramatically more playable to a modern audience, but even with this significant improvement I don’t expect to see people raving over Skyward Sword HD when it comes out on July 16th.

Skyward Sword HD served as the penultimate reveal… for some reason, but the final big ‘wow’ title was none other than a new Splatoon game. Now, I like Splatoon. I love its art direction, I love its character designs, I love its soundtrack, and I love its overall style. However, I do not like how it is a predominately multiplayer game. My only real experience with it was via a multiplayer only demo released last year, and while I thought turf war was fun the Salmon Run was an interesting take on a horde mode, I was left wanting something more substantial by the experience. 

I want characters, a story, an adventure, and scripted challenges. When I saw this trailer, I assumed it would be for a spin-off that would give me just that due to its post-apocalyptic desert setting. However, right as I was getting excited about what this game could be and how the developers could expand on a single-player experience… a title card for Splatoon 3 appeared, and I let out an exasperated groan, as I had never been so upset to see that a game was a numbered sequel.

Don’t get me wrong, the game looks great visually and I’m sure the dev team will find plenty of ways to keep the gameplay fresh and world riveting, but I seriously doubt the game will offer a substantial single-player campaign like I want. I guess it could happen, though I’ll need to wait until 2022 before I can assess if the game is truly what I want from this series. And I’m not getting my hopes up.

As a whole, I think this Direct was stacked, but I was left wanting more remasters. I know, half of the games I just talked about were re-releases and I want more. Though, that’s only because Nintendo has been so bad at keeping their past titles on modern systems, and they have so many games I want to own on modern hardware. Namely Metroid Prime Trilogy HD, which I know Nintendo has on some server, ready to be released when it would be most advantageous for the marketing of Metroid Prime 4!

However, I walked away with this commercial with a list of games I want to purchase and play… but I’ll probably only get around to purchasing them, as I am quite busy with writing Nigma Box content and accounting work.

For those not aware, I am a tax accountant with a specialty in cryptocurrency, and as such, I tend to hone in whenever I see my interests dabble in the matters of taxation and crypto. So it’s no surprise that I’ve kept an eye on the high-end GPU market, as so many people have been buying them for use in their own cryptocurrency mining machines. I admire the idea of building hardware to generate something of value, but in the vast majority of cases it is a waste to mine your own crypto due to the power that is required to mine a substantial amount of a valuable currency. 

Bitcoin mining is basically a fool’s errand at this point, and while things like Ethereum and Dash can definitely be mined, if you are going to mine them, you are going to need to compete with companies that have formed dedicated mining operations and have hardware specifically designed for. Such as, to name an asset a client of mine has on their books, the Spondoolies SPx36

However, even once you do purchase the tools for the job, you need to deal with the exorbitant power consumption of these machines and the associated electric expenses. Because of this, many crypto mining companies have been striking deals with utility companies, who actually really like working with crypto mining companies.

You see, power companies are set up to meet the needs of their area during peak hours. They identify when power consumption is the highest and acquire the resources and equipment to meet those needs. Outside of peak hours though, power companies are typically looking for ways to offload or sell their power, instead of scaling down production, which is often more expensive than running their equipment at full capacity at all time.. Sometimes they sell it to other areas, but other times they sell it to specialized companies who only need it outside of peak hours. And cryptocurrency miners fit that mold quite nicely.

Or in other words, if you really believe in cryptocurrency mining, start a company, buy some specialized equipment, and cut a deal with a power company to get discounted electricity for your servers. Also, make sure you store your hardware in a room with clean and quality airflow. These machines need a lot of oxygen, and you don’t want the hardware to get damaged by dust and other pesky particles.

…Why did I go on this tangent in the first place? Oh, right. Nvidia is preparing to release their next line of GPUs, the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 (which I’m looking to buy for my next computer). However, their graphics cards have been targeted these past few years by crypto miners, and they would rather sell their gaming graphics cards to people who use them to play video games… or edit video… or any other intensive GPU work other than crypto mining. So they included a limit on something or other that makes their latest GPU quite bad for mining cryptocurrencies, namely Ethereum, in order to deter miners from buying them. 

What they are doing here is artificially removing functionality from a product, which is something that should never be celebrated and should always be identified as such. However, there are plenty of alternatives for crypto mining, so I can’t say I’m particularly mad about Nvidia’s decision here, as the net effect is a positive one. Now I hopefully won’t need to pay exorbitant fees to get a decent GPU… but thanks to some awful man’s idiotic tariffs, I will need to pay more than I should for a mid-end piece of computer hardware.

I initially thought that would be about it for this week, but apparently an online version of BlizzCon happened this past week, and Activision Blizzard announced re-treads of the games that brought their subsidiary, Blizzard Entertainment, some of their earliest and most prolific acclaim. 

Blizzard Arcade Collection is a repackaging, sprucing up, and re-release of three of the studio’s earlier console games that, contrary to this collection’s title, were never released in an arcade. This collection includes The Lost Vikings, a comedic puzzle platformer that I’ve heard people praise without giving any specifics or qualifiers. Rock N Roll Racing, an isometric monster truck racing game that instantly reminded me of why 2D racing games stopped being a thing. Because how the hell are you supposed to know where you’re going without memorizing these wackadoo courses? And also Blackthorne, a cinematic platformer that garnered a slight resurgence this past decade, but never struck me as particularly impressive due to how slow and deliberate its gameplay is.

While I never considered any of these games all-too remarkable, I am glad to see any company respect their back catalog like this, but when doing so, I always want to see them do so fully and completely, which is not the case here. 

Firstly, while this collection might seem like an all-encompassing compilation of Blizzard’s earlier console efforts, that’s not actually the case. This collection curiously omits RPM Racing, the 1991 predecessor to Rock N Roll Racing, and 1997’s The Lost Vikings 2. The entire purpose of a collection like this is to collect an entire era, series, or other denomination of something, and while I understand the omission of titles like The Death and Return of Superman and Justice League Task Force, as those are licensed games, I see no reason why Activision would lack the rights or capacity to re-release these titles.

Secondly, The Lost Vikings, Rock N Roll Racing, and Blackthorne were all ported to multiple systems, and rather than including all of these unique renditions, the developers are only including two. One vaguely defined ‘original’ version of each title, and one definitive edition that takes in elements from the various ports, widens the aspect ratio to 16:9, and adds in other features to enhance what the original offered. Now, I think the idea of a definitive edition, a full remaster of these original titles, is a wonderful feature that should be in more of these classic compilations. However, when you deliberately don’t include all versions of a game you’re re-releasing, you’re practically asking people to look them up on ROM sites to emulate them. When you could have just sold them a basic emulator and ROMs for the SNES and Genesis versions of these games. Or SNES and 32X in the case of Blackthorne.

Gripes aside, I’m still happy to see these games available for purchase once more, and players who want to see what these new definitive versions offer don’t need to wait. As Blizzard Arcade Collection launched for PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC right after its announcement

However, that was not the only classic Blizzard game that’s being remastered for a modern audience, as, after being a well-known secret for quite some time, Activision Blizzard has finally announced Diablo II: Resurrected. Developed by what once was Vicarious Visions, Diablo II: Resurrected looks to be precisely what one would expect. The beloved 2000 action RPG dungeon crawler, but recreated with modern graphics, and while this is probably an overwhelmingly positive thing in most cases, I… had a different reaction.

The shadows are too intense and make it harder to eke out environmental details. The animations are clearly trying to replicate those seen in the pre-rendered character sprites of the original, but with 3D character models. And for all the love and care that has gone into recreating this world in a stunning level of detail, I can’t say I like the end result.

I’ve brought this up sporadically over the years, but I have a strong dislike for pre-rendered graphics. They do not stand the rest of time, look increasingly terrible as resolutions get higher, and even if they are rendered using modern technology, they still feel flat, limited, and like they aren’t really part of the greater game world. Because they’re just pictures with layering, lighting, and illusions of depth. Which is the case with Diabo II: Resurrection. Instead of using 3D environments like the modern Diablo games, Resurrection uses a new slate of lavishly detailed pre-rendered locales, and despite their fidelity… I can still tell that they’re just an illusion, and the characters may as well be walking over an image file.

I think this looks bad, jarring, and distracting, but I’m sure millions disagree with me, and many of them will go on to play and adore Diabo II: Resurrection when it launches in 2021 for PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Switch, and PC.

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