Rundown (2/06-2/12) Bluetooth Frustrations

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Wherein I discuss Platinum’s painful pivot, another acquisition, a definitive failure’s grand success, and the oodles of delights from Nina Tendo’s happy time press release showcase!

One of the daily frustrations I’ve encountered as of late has been the Bluetooth Audio for Nintendo Switch. I have an unusual audio setup for my room, where I have all audio go through my computer and out into a pair of $10 Panasonic ErgoFit In-Ear Earbud Headphones. I previously used a male-to-male 3.5mm audio cable, with a noise isolator, to connect my Switch’s headphone jack to my PC’s microphone jack. But once I learned about the Bluetooth Audio Receiver by Mark Smirnov, I decommissioned that cable. Bluetooth has worked great for connecting my phone to my PC, but the Switch has been such a temperamental little bugger.

In order to enable a connection between my Switch and PC, I need to open the connection on both ends and hope that they communicate with each other. Sometimes it works immediately. Sometimes I get an error on the Switch, sometimes I get an error on my PC, sometimes the connection works for roughly 20 seconds before it peters out, and sometimes the connection a few milliseconds every second. I can get the two to connect within two minutes of trial and error, but it is such a frustration-riddled process that it almost makes me want to go back to using audio cables… almost.

The first story I saw came Monday morning was a translated Famitsu interview with PlatinumGames’s new CEO, Atsushi Inaba. Inaba discussed what he sees for the future of the much beloved developer, but the major takeaway being how he plans to pivot PlatinumGames away from “one-off, well-designed” titles and to live services. Or at least that’s how the story originally went. The “one-off, well-designed” comment was actually a mistranslation, and the VGC article about the interview was updated accordingly. But he still insinuated that the studio was pivoting to live services, which is enough to warrant a 500+ word diatribe.

To me, this shift toward live services sounds like an antithetical approach that goes against why people have such affection for PlatinumGames. People like them because they produce one-off action games, and they are quite good at it… most of the time. The reception to their first live service title, the upcoming Babylon’s Fall, has been negative so far, and I have to ask why they think that pivoting to this naturally competitive genre would be good for them. While they are a versatile studio, or at least were at some point, they are ultimately a niche developer of hardcore action games that, probably, should be focusing on more conscious, polished, and replayable titles. Not bigger, girthier, and less distinct titles.

I do not understand the logic behind a developer increasing their scale of operations while pivoting into a new genre that is fundamentally different from the one they are known for. Accordingly, I do not see this shift leading to good things for Platinum, let alone any other developer in their position. Hell, I do not see live services as a whole being anywhere near as successful as gaming executives want them to be, and my reasons are rather simple. 

  • Live services require players to invest more time into them than a traditional ‘packaged game.’ And the content per time ratio is far lower than it would be if the player were playing multiple different games, instead of investing hundreds of hours into a single game.
  • Live services are designed around the idea of being a product that the user continuously monetarily engages with. This often results in a less engaging experience, where the player is prompted to make in-game purchases, turning the game into a potential multi-stage investment. 
  • Live services do not wait for the player, and do not necessarily get better as time goes on. Shut downs are common, accepted, and there is no way to revisit these games once the servers go down. Well, at least without the help of highly skilled and intelligent individuals capable of creating game-specific server emulators.

Live services require a large time investment from players, are effectively designed to die, and they simply are not an optimal way of distributing content. Everything a live service could do could be better done through another, more traditional, method. And while live services do offer a sense of community, investment, and routine for players, it is exceptionally difficult to become invested in more than one live service at a time, due to how demanding they are.

Live services are sustainable, for now. But that is only due to how large the potential audience is and how gaming, as an industry, is still expanding into new markets. Live services as a genre can succeed in a growing market. But once this growth declines and live services continue to come out, then things will probably start resembling the MMO market during the late 2000s and early 2010s. There will be a lot of bold and ambitious projects launched, but many of them will shut down and be rendered unplayable. Hell, this is already happening. 

The mobile games industry is littered with the corpses of dead live service games. There are hundreds of PC games that can never be played due to their reliance on a central server. And the industry has normalized this practice. People do not ask for games to be preserved, and seem to have largely given up, instead of voicing outrage. It makes me profoundly sad to see people look at the announced shutdown of a game and say something like, ‘it’s been X years, it’s time for it to go away.’ Because that is not how things used to work and not how things should work. The gaming industry is one that has been generally well preserved prior to the advent of online gaming, but after that, it became an utter shitshow with so many games lost to time. All thanks to sheer apathy from the rights holders, who only care about preservation when there is profit involved. 

…And that is why I am pissed about the very notion of Platinum pivoting to live services. Because live services, at least in their current generalized form, are not good for gaming as a medium. And because Platinum is clearly doing this because ‘that is where the money is nowadays.’ Which is complete horse truffles. Live services make the most money, yes, but you do not need to make all the money to make a game or a company a success. One-off packaged titles are something that has succeeded across gaming for decades. There is no true indication that it will stop succeeding for decades, and I am so tired of hearing executives heralding these grand paradigm shifts.

Multiplayer gaming did not destroy single-player gaming in the seventh generation. Games sold less because of the economic recession, a lack of marketing push, high price tags, the young age of target demographics, and the prevalence of a used game market with rapidly depreciating prices.

Mobile gaming did not destroy console gaming in the eighth generation. The generation was a bit slow to start due to a lack of landmark titles and backwards compatibility, but once people started making games for the systems, they did incredibly well in both hardware and software sales.

And live services will not destroy the packaged games industry. I mean… it did in Korea and a lot of other Asian countries, which shifted primarily to online gaming in the early 2000s. But that had more due to the limited income of target demographics and socially accepted piracy. Plus, that did not kill them forever, as packaged games from these regions are becoming more common as the industry becomes increasingly globalized.

There will always be a market for “one-off, well-designed” single-player games. Not every single one will be a success, but the market for these titles will not go away, and it is so frustrating for me to yet another executive echo how ‘online gaming is the future.’ 

…Actually, hold up, PlatinumGames received a capital investment from big daddy Tencent back in January 2020. While Platinum remained independent after this transaction, it is possible that Tencent has some control/influence over the developer, which might be part of the reason why they are shifting to service gaming. Now, I am not theorizing that Tencent is forcing Platinum to do this— they aren’t— but it is possible that Tencent is feeding them information and data about how Platinum, as a developer, should look into live services. They could refuse to change their ways, but when one of the biggest names in the industry is telling you to do something, chances are you’ll be inclined to believe them.

Moving to the near-weekly acquisition news, Midgar Studio, developers of the crowdfunded JRPG, Edge of Eternity, was acquired by Nacon. For those who only vaguely recognize the name, such as myself, Nacon is a French publisher formerly known as Bigben Interactive who, in 2020, decided to become a big time AA European game publisher. In pursuing this goal, Nacon has been on an acquisition kick as of late, having acquired Crea-ture Studios (developers of the skateboarding sim Session) and the indie game label Ishtar Games back in 2021.

However, Nacon is a pretty dubious publisher, given their history with developer Frogwares. The long and short of it is that Nacon was originally the publisher of Frogware’s Lovecraftian adventure game, The Sinking City. However, Nacon failed to pay Frogwares and did not transfer the distribution rights after a set time. This led to the game’s temporary delisting, and leading Nacon to publish a pirated version of The Sinking City. Or in other words, Nacon does not play nicely with others, it seems. 

With this story in mind, I am not too happy to hear that Midgar is now under their umbrella. Because you typically do not want to work with someone who does not respect IP laws or issue timely payments to development partners.

Normally, acquisition news would be among the most depressing, but this week, the clear winner is the (interpolated) news that Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition has sold over 10 million units. Despite being a rushed, buggy, and in many ways broken remaster of games that deserved far, far better, The Definitive Edition managed to do outrageous numbers. Part of this success was probably due to the social media buzz around the game, but I cannot look at this story and not walk away with the impression that… quality really doesn’t matter when you have a reliable brand.

These games were butchered and abused, the title is an outright lie, and everything about these remasters is a testament to how much time and care is actually needed to remaster something properly. The games deserve better than this, but Take Two Interactive does not care, and it will never care.

Okay, I need a hit of something after this downer streak, and Auntie Nina Tendo has thankfully blessed the children of the motherlands with another peek at her amble lower bosom. Which is Nat-Nat-Talk for ‘the first of three Nintendo Directs of 2022 took place this past Wednesday,’ and it offered some scrumptious goodies for all the children!

Let’s start by talking about the non-Nintendo exclusive offerings, as there were quite a few exciting game announcements. And by game announcements, I mean, announcements of things that were leaked some months ago.

Moving in loose release-date order, we have a remaster of 1999’s ‘mixed’ cult classic Chrono Cross was rumored back in November, and supposedly scheduled to be announced during The Game Awards. That did not happen. Instead, it was announced here as Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition. A remaster with smoothed out pre-rendered backdrops, a 4:3 aspect ratio, low-quality-looking CG cutscenes, touched-up character models and portraits, and minor quality of life additions, such as disabling random battles.

As the subtitle implies, this also comes with the first official English release of Radical Dreamers— a prequel of Chrono Cross that was originally released via Satellaview back in 1996. While this release looks to be nothing all that special, it seems like a solid addition to Square Enix’s re-release catalog, which is more than I can say about certain other titles.

Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition will be available for PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC on April 7th.

Speaking of Square Enix rehashes, a year ago, Forever Entertainment picked up the license to remake multiple games from a Square Enix property. And that classic property was revealed as none other than Front Mission.

Front Mission is a hardcore turn-based strategy series by SquareSoft but, because of the time and talent pipelines of localization, the series had a spotty release history in the west. Front Mission 3 hit the PS1 in 2000, 4 came out for the PS2 in 2004, and a DS remake of the 1995 original came out in 2007. Unfortunately, none of these titles were particularly successful in the west. Hardcore strategy RPGs had not really cemented themselves at the time, and the DS was home to rampant piracy when it came to its more ‘core’ titles.

Recognizing this as a liability for the series going forward, Square Enix decided that Front Mission needed to be reimagined for a western audience. This led to 2010’s Front Mission Evolved, developed by Double Helix Games (who have not shipped a game in 8 years). The game was a generic third-person action title and failed on basically every metric.

This led Square Enix to try another ‘spin-off-reboot’ in 2019 with Left Alive. A stealth game that was unbalanced, unfinished, and generally unsatisfying, earning itself a spot on many ‘worst game of the year’ lists. It failed on every metric, and even worse than Front Mission Evolved. So, recognizing this series as a lost cause, Square Enix licensed it to Forever Entertainment, who are probably best known for Panzer Dragon: Remake and the upcoming The House of the Dead: Remake.

Anyway, Front Mission 1st: Remake is set to be a straightforward recreation and modernization of the original, and… it looks to be a near 1:1 remake of the title, almost to a fault. Visually, I think the game does not look great. The original title was limited by sprites and tilesets, and while it did go for a more muted color scheme, it felt more distinct and grimy in the era. Nowadays, after the brown/gray generation of the Xbox 360, this aesthetic does not work nearly as well, and blocky realistic environments never look particularly natural, especially in a more serious war story like this. 

However… it is what it says on the tin. A remake of Front Mission 1. I don’t expect it to be met with great success critically or commercially, due to how little it changes and how forgettable it seems aesthetically. Also, Forever already started production on a remake of 1997’s Front Mission 2, Front Mission 2: Remake. Which is not too surprising seeing as how how Forever is also working on Panzer Dragon Zwei: Remake and The House of the Dead 2: Remake. I guess they’re just really into two-for-one specials…

Front Mission 1st is set to launch for PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC this summer.

Next, we have… another Square Enix project? Seriously, three in one Direct? Well, yes, but this one is special, as it is a full remake of the 1994 SquareSoft cult classic, Live A Live. The title never left Japan, but in the past two decades, it gained something of a cult following as a ‘hidden gem’ of sorts, and it’s pretty easy to see why, as the title was ahead of its time in many ways. It was a multi-scenario story-driven title set in 7 different time periods. It was remarkable for having few random battles and a more episodic structure. And its focus on variety allowed the game to do more than many other games of the same era. 

Now, buzz about the game getting a comeback has been going on since 2020 or so. Though, I never expected something this obscure to get the full HD-2D treatment, something that has only been used for new original titles or Dragon Quest III. So imagine my surprise when I saw how they took a fairly subpar looking Super Famicom JRPG and turned it into this:

This is how people want to see a game of this era remade. Remade so it reprises the aesthetics and looks of the original, while taking advantage of modern graphical fidelity and technology, striking this gorgeous balance between retro and modern.

Live A Live will hit the Switch on July 22nd, and it looks like it will be an exclusive for the time being.

Speaking of previously rumored re-whatevers, a remaster of the first two Klonoa games was more or less confirmed via trademark filings in September and December last year. And that remaster was revealed as Klonoa Phantasy Reverie Series. Despite the name implying that it will be a collection of the entire series, it is merely a two-pack of 2008’s Klonoa: Door to Phantomile (a Wii remake of the 1997 PS1 original) and 2001’s Klonoa 2: Lunatea’s Veil. While this does miff me a bit, as I doubt it is that hard to include GBA ROMs and an emulator in a collection, I am quite pleased by how these remasters look.

Klonoa: Door to Phantomile caught me off guard when I first saw it, as it has a noticeably different look than the Wii remake. The Wii remake was a cartoony platformer, but it had a lot more muted colors and aimed for a slightly more naturalistic look. Here, the textures were completely redone, giving the game a brighter and more saturated look, which I appreciate. Now, there is an argument to be made in favor of the Wii version, as it had more color variety and used textures to simulate shading, but I prefer the facelift it was given here. 

The same goes for Klonoa’s model, which is more reminiscent of his design from the 1997 original, where he had an oversized collar, no shirt, and big pants. It looks a bit strange, given how this design was never used outside of the original game, but I think it makes Klonoa look more like an adorable woodland critter-child.

As for Klonoa 2: Lunatea’s Veil, the 2001 title had some early PS2 jank to it, and this look more akin to a proper remake of that game. One with more advanced lighting effects, new textures, brighter and bolder colors, and enhanced level geometry. It does not look modern, but it looks like a nice facelift and like the developers invested the bulk of their time into this title, which was a smart move.

Klonoa Phantasy Reverie Series is coming to Switch on July 8th, with a release for PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series, and PC slated for sometime later. Implying that there is some sort of timed exclusivity deal going on, which I’ve come to expect from Nintendo.

Moving onto proper Nintendo games, people have been hoping for and theorizing about DLC for Mario Kart 8 Deluxe ever since the title launched in April 2017. And I agreed with them wholeheartedly, as Mario Kart + monetization = big money. Just look at Mario Kart Tour if you have any doubts about the quality of that dinosaur math.

Now, 5 years later, after Mario Kart 8 Deluxe managed to sell 43.35 million units, making it one of the top ten best-selling games of all time… at least according to Wikipedia, Nintendo has announced the Booster Course Pass. A $25 season pass that will give players access to 48 remastered and remade tracks from prior Mario Kart games, including Mario Kart Tour. This will be distributed as a series of 6 updates, each with 8 courses, with the first wave coming on March 18, 2022 and the last wave coming before the end of 2023. 

This is a genuinely excellent deal considering the longevity more tracks add to this game, and Nintendo is making this DLC freely available to all subscribers to Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pack. But I have to ask… why did it take them this long to roll out something like this? Remastered tracks do take a good chunk of time to make, test, and polish. However, this is something that could have been even more successful if they found the mappers, artists, and programmers needed to do this back in 2017 or 2018.

Regardless, this move will make the (probably) best Mario Kart game even better. I’m sure it will add life to this game, inspiring people to pick it back up and play through these tracks a couple of times. Not much more than that though.

Wii Sports was a title that Nintendo really should have made a mainstay of their consoles going forward. But after 2014’s Wii Sports Club failed to be much more than an HD and more gimmicky version of the 2006 original, Nintendo abandoned the series. Then the Switch did super well, Ring Fit Adventure showed that there is an audience for more casual motion control games on the system, and Nintendo is bringing this series back as Nintendo Switch Sports. A motion control sports game that appears to only work with Joy-Cons, only contains 6 sports (as opposed to the 13 from Wii Sports Resort) and instead of featuring the iconic Miis, there are these Xbox-Avatar-looking things instead.

The title contains tennis, bowling, chambara (sword-fighting), soccer, volleyball, and badminton (which is basically just tennis). All of these games look to reprise the same general fun of the Wii Sports series, but the package does not seem to offer much depth at all. Also, the game is blatantly releasing in an unfinished state, as they announced that a staple Wii Sports mode, golf, will be added in a future update.

This staggered early access release strategy has plagued Nintendo sports titles for a while now, and I have no idea why they think this is acceptable. I understand the importance of putting a package on the shelf, but shipping a game with barebones features is only going to hurt its reputation in the long-run. And this game looks so bare-bones that I have to ask who this is really for.

The Switch came out 5 years ago, so there is not really a casual novelty audience anymore, and those who want to be active with the Switch probably picked up Ring Fit Adventure by now. If you wanted to put out a title like this, it should have been closer to launch, and if you want to revive the Sports series like this, why put “Nintendo Switch” in front of it? Why not just call it Nintendo Sports

Nintendo will continue to baffle the world when Nintendo Switch Sports gets punted onto the streets, where it belongs, on April 29, 2022. 

Moving onto a far more promising sports title, Next Level Games is reviving the Mario Strikers series after a 15 year hiatus. This new title, Mario Strikers: Battle League, looks to be pretty much what one would expect: A more aggressive and video-gamey version of international football (or American soccer) featuring a spectrum of well-animated Mario characters. Though, I have to say that I would prefer the more distinct cel-shaded style it uses during super moves. Mostly because it is a tad tiring seeing the Mario cast presented in the same general art style over and over again.

Aside from featuring 8-player online and a customizable gear system, it is not clear what else this game offers beyond being a good football game. But if it’s anything like the Camelot Mario sports games as of late, more features and details will be revealed, including a single-player mode, leading up to this game’s release. Which is pretty soon, as Mario Strikers: Battle League will… dunk a diaper dandy on June 10th.

Fire Emblem: Three Houses is one of those titles that have been stuck on my backlog for far too long. I hope to get to it eventually, as I enjoy friendship-building tactical RPGs a fair bit, and I have a soft spot for the series after Fire Emblem Awakening and playing Fire Emblem Heroes for the first year of its life. And if anything gave me an ample reminder that I really should check out the game, it was the announcement of Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes.

Yes, following Hyrule Warriors in 2014, Fire Emblem Warriors in 2017, Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity in 2020, the Nintendo Musou lineage has continued. And much like Age of Calamity, Three Hopes is less of a crossover and more of a side story. A side story that offers an expanded fifth route to the game, uniting the titular three houses under a single banner as they face off against a daunting new anime-movie-esque threat. 

I was initially surprised to hear this was a spiritual sequel instead of a crossover title. Then I remembered that Three Houses was the most successful Fire Emblem, having sold over 3 million units, and that Koei Tecmo co-developed Three Houses. In fact, based on interviews, it sounds like Koei Tecmo was the lead developer, and Intelligent Systems mostly supplied the direction and design. So it makes sense that Koei Tecmo would want to explore this universe again, as they co-created it.

Fire Emblem: Three Hopes will release on June 24, 2022.

Xenoblade Chronicles 3— It has been 11 years since I first heard that name, and I’m still pissed that Nintendo of Europe slapped the word “Chronicles” to the end of Xenoblade. Xenoblade is a distinct word that is not used outside of the series name, and it has always been called Xenoblade in Japan. But they just had to include the Chronicles subtitle because… it makes it sound like more of an RPG, I guess? They could have easily stopped using it at any time, such as with Xenoblade X or Xenoblade 2, but they decided not to, and that… just broils my broth.

Anyway, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 was accidentally revealed by voice actress Jenna Coleman during an interview back in June 2021. Fanbyte picked up on this obscure interview and ran a story in August 2021, where they claimed that Xenoblade Chronicles 3 was “nearing its final stages of development” and that the game had encountered pandemic-related delays.

Now, exactly 6 months later, Nintendo announced the title with a mostly cutscene trailer that does not do much to explain what is going on. All I got from the trailer is that the game is super pretty with its scenic vistas, it is probably set in the same world as Xenoblade 1, and I really need to get caught up on the series. Because I feel like I should be remembering a lot more than I actually do.

As to be expected, the game’s scenic vistas look excellent, the character designs are refreshingly different compared to the prior games, and I am sure that this game will be yet another grand RPG. Though, part of me just wants to see a re-release of Xenoblade X instead. Because I think that game has a coolness factor that the numbered series has not come close to capturing. Also, it has vocal themes, and vocal themes make any game better.

Xenoblade Chronicles 3 will uncover the secrets lost by hundreds of years of history and through the mingling of worlds, or maybe not, sometime in September 2022.

Those are all the highlights I happened across, but there were some other noteworthy stragglers announced during this Direct:

  • Earthbound Beginnings and Earthbound were both added to Nintendo Switch Online. Normally I would not really find this remarkable, but the announcement trailer was cut in a way that made me think that Mother 3 was finally leaving Japan through official channels, but that did not happen.
  • Metroid Dread got a patch that added a boss rush mode along with two difficulty modes. A rookie mode where health drops heal Samus more, which makes the game more approachable for casual playthroughs. And a dread mode where Samus dies in one hit, because I guess some people love repetition like that.
  • No Man’s Sky was announced for Switch, which I think is kind of hilarious, as No Man’s Sky was initially heralded as a title that could only be done on ‘next gen hardware’.
  • Kirby and the Forgotten Land… continues to look like the best Kirby game in a decade.

All in all, I think this Direct was a fun time. Sure, the majority of things announced here were leaked in advance, but that is just the nature of media nowadays, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. If anything, leaks make things more exciting, as you get to see both an unofficial and official reveal.

…Okay, that’s it! I’m still trying to finish off Pokémon Legends: Arceus as tax season is revving up into full gear. But I’m taking my sweet-ass time and have not even been to the fifth area, despite being 70 hours deep into this game.

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