I love NPC stuff, so I bought the new amiibo characters.  

(by dog on 11-22-14)

What could be better than integrated DLC with a toy that costs the same as the ones in the toy section?

As many Christmas shoppers rush to their local stores looking for the best prices, new toys finally reach their shelves and every man and woman tries to get their hands on the most popular, most interesting foray of stuff coming to market. Naturally with the release of the overly anticipated Smash Brothers for Wii U came some of the most artistically crafted gems of NPC toys to ever hit the market. These Amiibo toys are no laughing matter, with each characteristic carefully thought out and modeled after their digital counterpart. For the first time fans can hold one of them without paying gobs of cash for a stuffed toy. I was equally impressed when unpackaging Link and seeing that he wouldn't shatter like the Disney Infinity toys. 

Now I was initially unimpressed as the release of these came closer and closer. Honestly, the Amiibo functionality and features was and is currently lacking. But like the PS4 last year, it's a promise that makes it desirable. The potential of these toys continually being used in multiple and upcoming games makes it all the more enjoyable to collect. And collect I have, because after leveling up Link to about 31 I made the decision to further invest in these objects (of course, in the form of Christmas gifts).

So there is good news and bad news as it relates to these things. As always, people are most interested in the bad news first, so here goes. The bad thing about the Amiibo is the way they are initially used. First, you must go into the system settings of the Wii U and basically initialize the toy. Unlike Disney Infinity and Skylanders toys you must go through some sort of certification process. Once this is done I had to do a similar step in Smash Brothers (strange manual steps for a new product), which will no doubt cause many families confusion on Christmas morning. 

The good news is once I got Link going, it was actually fun. I thought the whole idea of training up an Amiibo as an ally was not a very good idea to begin with. However, once you start doing it and exploring stats and stuff, it becomes quite enjoyable. I was surprised to find that within a few hours it became natural for me to continually sync him up, which was both convenient and fun to watch some of the cinematic. It's like getting an oil change with a good company and reviewing the well documented notes of how the job was completed and how the car was properly inspected. This Amiibo functionality gives the owner a warm fuzzy feeling of success and looking at their carefully detailed progress and making upgrades is both pointless and really fun.

The next step was to fire up Mario Kart 8, which is supposed to support these figurines as well. Now they really got it figured out on this game. I added my Amiibo and bam! I unlocked a new Link outfit for my Mii characters and a new kart (or at least I think I did). It appears that a motorcycle horse vehicle is now available (which looks really cool). I've never seen this kart before, so it must have been the power of the Amiibo.

I can't wait to try it on all my other Amiibo powered games. It is turning out to be very interesting and regardless of reviews and opinions, fun is fun. So there you have it.

I think given the blockbuster gaming reviews that have come forth for other consoles and games this Fall, Nintendo is clearly the big innovator this Christmas. We'll see and hope that they can do well again, because what the world be without another Mario game (and Captain Hook)?

The multiplayer conundrum for Gamers, too many games on offer.  

(by dog on 11-7-14)

It seems every gamer is confronted with the Multiplayer conundrum.

Most recently I played hours and hours of Destiny, Bungie's latest outing. Despite average critic response, the game is excellent. 5 stars in my book. For those who buy the game at full price, they are promised a full fledged campaign along with a culmination of multiplayer experiences that easily outways any game to date. I spent many days working my way up to level 25 in my own nonsensible way and have enjoyed every part of it, including the cheesy story that accompanies the title. As always, Bungie continues to deliver on their high quality promise. 

While this is all fun and mighty, the gaming world continues its path towards the dreary multiplayer conundrum that each gamer is confronted with. Do I buy the next triple A title or stick to the one I have? As the Holidays creep up, it's unavoidable that gifts will need to be purchased and wants will increase as the marketing promos kick off; leaving the average gamer with about 4 or 5 titles to choose from.

The problem comes when too many gamers move to the next experience. Having played a lot of multiplayer since the original xbox, I'll be the first to tell you that the gamers who stick around are so good they have a reason too. So anyone who decides they want to hold back and stay with the current lineup of games will soon realize that playing online is no longer fun (at least if you wish to win a few rounds). Now I consider myself a good sport and I'm quick to let others know when they've done a good job, but it starts to become painfully clear that a problem exists when playing each round one after another and receiving the loss. "Aw geez! Only 2 crucible marks again!"

This problem has a bit of a history and has haunted us since the first full fledged online multiplayer games had been released. This conundrum really started when the original Gears of War was released to the delighted audiences in 2006. I was one of the many excited followers who picked up this amazing game and was easily blown away by the compelling graphics on offer. Cliff Bleszinski and his team showed us how to take Riddick's world and combine it with a world more characterized than Halo. It was different in that the multiplayer was refined and not generic. Matches started, people were all informed and talking, then the game began. Multiplayer experiences before were wait... wait... wait... "Kablam!", dead. But Gears actually made you work hard to take down your opponent's with little ease, with each player fighting for their life.

And then the fun began to decline. Triple A titles released one after another and Gears of War was long forgotten. It later received a few expansions that soon harnessed the delighted audiences once again, but shortly after it was... well, forgotten again. Having been one of the few gamers who purchased the second set of maps for that game, I was left playing with the pros. This migrating group of gamers seems to swiftly shift to the next compelling shooter one after another. Its an inconvenient truth that we simply can't avoid as gamers. 

So what's my point? I guess I wish there never was a Gears of War 2. I wish that experience could have been expanded in it's current state. It seems the culmination of games is really the quick and easy sale, not necessarily a long term experience with added gameplay elements to an already enjoyable experience. Good examples of this methodology for game development is Minecraft. 

Now I'm not asking that new developments don't keep sweeping the gaming floor each year, but rather just making an observation of the different multiplayer experiences that are out there. I can enjoy Minecraft because the people who started playing it are still playing it. The fun never dies and the audience never leaves. So I'll ask one deep question about gaming development that all of us are thinking. Can developers keep their audience by making their existing games better?