This Week in Games - Nintendo Switch

by Dustin Bailey,
This Week in Games gets published on Thursday mornings. You might even be reading this on Thursday morning—if so, congrats! However, it gets finalized and submitted on Wednesday, typically early in the afternoon. This is why last week's column had only the barest mention of the Nintendo Switch, despite that being the biggest bit of news since I took over from the X Button. But what can you do? I've got a lot of things to say about Nintendo's new console, but we'll get to that in just another minute. You've already waited a week, you can wait another couple paragraphs.

First, you need to hear this song. Not just listen—absorb it. Bathe in it. Live your life in memory of the most wistful creature in video games.

World of Final Fantasy came out this week, and it's good! My review is already up so I won't go into too much detail here, but I wanted to mention it because it is a high quality video game. There are some niggling issues and it's on the slight side, but check it out if you have any affection for Final Fantasy. (And maybe even if you just like RPGs in general.)

A giant DNS hack took down an array of websites ranging from Spotify to Reddit for a good chunk of the US this week, once again reminding us once again that the rickety structure of the internet only holds together because the people who could tear it apart like it too much. On the plus side, we did discover unobtainable coin in Mario 64 and a lost SNES prototype of Rayman, so we do have that going for us.

Okay, let's talk about Switch.

Opinion: Nintendo Switch

As one of approximately three really big fans of Will Smith's 2005 “don't call it a comeback because he didn't come back” album, Lost and Found, I've had
That's it. The Nintendo NX, which people imagined to be everything from a touch screen football to a fancy pizza box, turned out to be a video game console that docks at your TV and can be taken out on the go. The NX subreddit can breathe a sigh of relief, as its time is up. The Nintendo Switch is almost here.

I think it's a fantastic-looking piece of gaming tech. It's generating far more mainstream buzz than the Wii U did. There's a terrific list of third-party publishers with interest. That trailer did a fantastic job of showing an understanding of the current market, what games appeal today, and how to capitalize on that appeal. In short, I'm about as impressed as I can possibly be with a three-minute console reveal trailer.

The Switch is a tablet-like console that can dock with a station that outputs to a TV. A pair of analog stick and button-bearing remotes can connect to either side of the tablet, or to a wireless controller, or they can act wirelessly on their own. The system uses DS-like game cartridges. It has a headphone jack. There's a traditional Pro-style controller. The video featured footage of a new 3D Mario game, Splatoon and Mario Kart titles that would suggest new sequels rather than ports, a version of Skyrim, and an NBA 2K game. Of the titles shown, only the Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is actually confirmed for the system.

We don't know if that screen will feature touch input. It seems absurd to release a tablet-like device in 2017 without any touch capabilities, but nobody is tapping that thing in the trailer and word going around is that you can't use the tablet while it's outputting to the TV, meaning that games wouldn't be able to use the touch screen for anything of particular significance. We also don't know about battery life, price, or release date beyond a generic “March.”

For my own tastes, I think the Switch looks awesome. Hybridizing the console and portable will allow Nintendo to focus their world-class development efforts on a single platform, and having both options available means that it can play host to both the quick, casual games that play best on portable and the meatier titles that play best at home. Nintendo's third-party support has shrunk from mediocre to bad over the last few decades, and they've struggled to support two platforms with only their first-party software. If you only have to have a single system to play all of Nintendo's games, that's huge.

Granted, the Switch has an impressive list of third-party developers on its side, and the selection of names is far bigger than it was last time around. You have those that will always capitalize on a new platform launch, like EA, Ubisoft, and Sega, but the list this time includes Platinum, Square Enix, From Software, Bethesda, and a big variety of small and independent developers, none of whom were in the initial announcement for Wii U. None of those interested names are guarantees of real software, but it's a start.

But here's the thing. The automatic reaction whenever Nintendo announces a new platform is “well, they'll need third-party support for it to work.” I don't think that's true. The Wii sold like it did not even on the strength of great first-party games, but on the strength of a single title in Wii Sports. This is obviously a much different situation, but banking the Switch's success on the interest of third-party developers is missing entirely where Nintendo's strengths are these days.

The other interesting thing about that trailer is that it's focused entirely on 20-somethings to the exclusion of kids and families. There will be games for both of those latter groups, to be sure, but this is the first time that Nintendo hasn't been marketing to them first and foremost. Instead, they're focusing on a group that has powerful nostalgia for the games Nintendo makes, and the disposable incomes to furnish lavish condos and hold rooftop fondue parties.

One last thought. It is entirely possible that the 3DS and Vita were the last dedicated portable gaming platforms. That would mean that an entire tier of game development—a relatively small one, but an important one, especially in Japan—is without a home. Do they move to the next closest thing, with Switch? Do they go to mobile? What does this mean for Monster Hunter? What does it mean for 100+ hour dungeon-crawler RPGs? What does it mean for fetishized casts of anime girls?

Truly, these are interesting times.

VOICE ACTORS ON STRIKE

The other big news this week is significantly less positive. There've been rumblings about a voice actor strike for several months now, and it became official last Friday. The Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists—SAG-AFTRA—has declared a strike against 11 companies, including Electronic Arts, Activision, Insomniac, Disney, Take 2, and WB Games.

Some of the issues for workers under the union, which includes names like Steve Blum and Jennifer Hale, involve time limits on vocally stressful performances, the presence of stunt coordinators for performance capture, and transparency for the projects they're working on. Keythe Farley voiced one of the central villains of Fallout 4, providing a year and a half of vocal performance without ever being told what he was working on. Voice actors without the clout to negotiate more beneficial contracts are also subject to extended periods of high-stress performance—spending hours on end screaming and grunting for fights and wounds, as you might imagine, has poor effects on your vocal cords.

The stickier point is the issue of secondary compensation. Currently, most voice actors receive a fixed rate of $825 for a four-hour recording session. That's the case whether the game sells one copy or 10 million. SAG-AFTRA is pushing for a system of bonuses for every 2 million copies sold, with a cap at 8 million. The problem is that it's difficult to tie the success of a game to the presence of specific vocal talent, and the vast majority of game developers don't see residuals or royalties for their contribution to the production.

The specifics of labor law and union negotiations are far too intricate to dive deep into here in our humble gaming column, but it's going to be well worth keeping an eye on this story as it develops in the weeks to come.

SQUARE IS “COMMITTED” TO BRINGING MORE DRAGON QUEST WEST

Dragon Quest has always had a rough time in the west despite the “phenom” status in its native country. The NES release of Dragon Warrior, although it was an improved version of a genre-defining game, failed so utterly to gain an audience in North America that Nintendo started giving away free copies with Nintendo Power subscriptions. Later main series releases had varying degrees of success, but most of them were caught up so long in the localization process that by the time they released over here, game players had moved on to newer consoles.

But the past two years have brought us two DQ spin-offs within a few months of their Japanese releases, with both Dragon Quest Heroes and Dragon Quest Builders gaining timely western localizations. The latter title, with its obvious Minecraft inspirations, even seems tailored to mainstream western tastes. Does this mean that there's hope for further DraQue for us English-speakers?

According to an MCV interview with producer Noriyoshi Fujimoto, the answer is yes. “We're committed to bringing more Dragon Quest titles in the west,” he said, “as we believe it truly has potential to succeed even better.” The next main series entry, Dragon Quest XI, is expected to have its Japanese launch in 2017 on PlayStation 4, 3DS, and Nintendo Switch. Can we expect a western release to soon follow? Time will tell.

THE LAST GUARDIAN IS REAL AND IT'S ALMOST OUT

I don't want to really even talk about this story except to say that the Last Guardian is done. It's almost out. Barely over a month away. They're actually printing discs. It's real, okay?! It's real. And it's coming out December 6th!

The Last Guardian has been in some sort of development since the completion of Shadow of the Colossus in 2005. That means two games a decade in development, upon which the hopes and dreams of Japanese game development are pinned, are coming out within a week of each other. No pressure, guys!

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

BLAZBLUE: CENTRAL FICTION
Developer: Arc System Works
Publisher: Aksys Games
Platform: PlayStation 4 / PlayStation 3
Release Date: November 1
MSRP: $59.99 / $49.99

BlazBlue: Central Fiction is the latest title from the fighting veterans at Arc System Works, picking up where Chrono Phatasma Extend left off. It features every characters from that release, plus seven more, bringing the total roster to 35. There's also a story mode promised to be over 40 hours long and some downright gorgeous visuals.

My knowledge of fighting games is limited, and BlazBlue is definitely not among the series I even have a dash of knowledge about, so I'm not even going to try to dive into the new mechanics here. (But feel free to educate me in the comments.) It sure does look pretty, though.

OWLBOY
Developer: D-Pad Studio
Publisher: D-Pad Studio
Platform: PC
Release Date: November 1
MSRP: $24.99

Speaking of games that are gorgeous, and also speaking of games that have been in development for a decade, we've got a beautiful indie action-adventure this week in the form of Owlboy. It's an open world that combines flight and platforming, featuring big dungeons with challenging boss battles.

It looks terrific, and while it's hardly the only open, pixel art-styled 2D adventure out there, there's a certain je ne sais quoi to it that's really got my attention. We've got a code in for review, but my editor has selfishly, thoughtlessly absconded with it - and we'll have those impressions next week.

ALSO AVAILABLE:
In the wide world of western releases, we've got Titanfall 2 ready to drop on Friday. It's got giant robots and a story mode and the reviews have been very positive, so it sounds like it's followed up well on the original release. We also have The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition, a release for which people's enthusiasm is absolutely baffling to me. You guys, we all played this game five years ago. It's great, sure, but you probably still have your copy.

Assuming the internet survives the inevitable barrage of DDOS attacks over the weekend, I'll see you in another seven days!


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