Starting Screen is the USgamer staff's weekly column. Check back every Monday as we share our thoughts on the news as well as our favorite obscure RPGs, game music, and racing games.
We're less than a week away from the launch of the Nintendo Switch. At this very moment, we have Mike sequestered in his living room playing it for review. It's really exciting, but also in some ways troubling.
There have been a number of signs that the Switch isn't quite ready for prime time. Its launch library is practically non-existent, for example, relying almost exclusively on Zelda: Breath of the Wild for its appeal. Virtual Console won't be available at launch, either. And there have been troubling reports of JoyCon issues from previewers.
It's easy to criticize Nintendo for these issues and others-how in god's name is 1-2 Switch not a pack-in?-especially given the company's track record of late. One wonders why Nintendo decided to push it out in March instead of, say, this fall, which is a much more traditional launch window.
To answer that question, one has to look back a generation to the Wii U's launch in 2012. Compared to the Switch, the Wii U's launch lineup was much more robust, bringing with it Assassin's Creed III, NBA 2K, Call of Duty Black Ops II, and New Super Mario Bros. U. It was able to compete on an even footing with the Xbox 360 and PS3 from a technical standpoint, and it had that fresh Nintendo smell.
It ended up being totally buried.
This is down to the fact that Nintendo's platforms aren't really seen as being on an equal footing with those of Sony and Microsoft. Absent a top-tier game like Zelda or Pokemon, Nintendo is always going to get drowned out by heavier hitters on other platforms-something that happened to the Wii U time and again.
The Switch, of course, has one of those aforementioned heavy-hitters: Zelda: Breath of the Wild. In that respect, it's already far ahead of the Wii U, which arguably didn't get a true system seller until 2014 (sorry Bayonetta 2). You could easily argue that Zelda combined with the novelty of a more feature complete Switch would be enough to break through the noise of the fall.
On the other hand, 2017 is shaping up to be an exceptionally strong year for games. On top of Microsoft's Project Scorpio, the fall season will most likely see the release of Destiny 2, Red Dead Redemption 2, Star Wars Battlefront 2, and Middle-Earth: Shadow of War. That's a lot of good games! Red Dead Redemption alone ought to dominate the headlines for several months. Nintendo are probably kicking themselves for not getting the Switch out last year, which was considerably weaker.
Still, by launching now, Nintendo is avoiding the inevitable noise of the holiday season and taking the spotlight for themselves. For better or worse, the Switch has dominated much of the media chatter over the past month, which is a far cry from the very quiet launch of the Wii U. It has plenty of issues, but at the very least it's in the public eye.
Where it will get tricky is this fall. Nintendo will have to rely on Mario Odyssey (and maybe Pokemon Stars?) to compete against the heavy hitters while hoping that Zelda gets a second rush of interest. They will also have to roll out Virtual Console and put together some enticing bundles (Pro Controller Bundle please). If they get started on the right foot in March and pick up momentum in the fall, the Switch may well be the hot item of the fall.
That's the best case scenario. The worst case scenario is that the Switch's foibles (low battery life, high-priced accessories) hurt it out of the gate, resulting in the system's momentum dissipating after the initial rush of loyalists. Nintendo would then be left with the tough task of rebuilding momentum after giving what is essentially their best shot.
All in all, various issues aside, Nintendo was probably right to launch in the spring rather than the fall. Since the Nintendo 64, only the Wii has received more hype and mainstream attention than the Switch. That bodes well for Switch's short-term prospects. We'll see if they can keep it up through the fall.
Kat's Obscure RPG of the Week
I asked for you to send in your obscure RPGs, and you responded! Here's James Fletcher on an environmentally themed Game Boy RPG by Namco called Great Greed: "All the characters are named after food or kitchen appliances and the quests include tracking down a debut record in an abandoned factory and exposing a corrupt politician. The battle system is also worth mentioning since it is also very weird. All fights are one-on-one with attacks happening at the same time. If I remember right, if you take to long to pick an input the enemy gets a free hit on you. I originally played this game based off the recommendations of an old Game Boy fan site and I remember it being pretty fun. No idea if it's aged well though.
I'll let you decide for yourself, but at the very least, it looks a lot better than a lot of Game Boy RPGs I've seen. Its open world isn't much to write home about, but its battle sprites are large and detailed, and even includes a bit of animation. That at least puts it above Pokemon, which didn't get animations until its second generation releases (and only in a special version). It also has weird enemies like "Eye Cakes." I like.
Keep sending me your obscure RPGs! Mail me at email@example.com or tweet me at @the_katbot!
Nadia's Note Block Beat Box
It's a big, big week for Zelda fans, so of course we need to highlight some Zelda music. I want to turn the spotlight on a piece that's received very little attention across the years even though it's one of the most atmospheric bits of Zelda music in the series' history: The Silly Pink Rabbit from A Link to the Past.
The Silly Pink Rabbit accompanies Link if he turns into a rabbit after venturing into the Dark World -- and he most certainly will be transformed by the twisted realm's black magic unless he's in possession of the Moon Pearl.
A Link to the Past actually forces you to detour across the Dark World in order to reach the Tower of Hera, where the Moon Pearl is held. It's a short visit, but an awe-inspiring one. Link is restricted to the peak of Death Mountain (where you can even catch a glimpse of Ganon's tower behind its crackling barrier), which is scoured by an endless storm. He's completely helpless: As a rabbit, he can't use his sword or any of his tools. He can only wander across the blasted rock and wonder at its hazards.
The Silly Pink Rabbit drives home Link's helplessness; it really does sound like a rabbit's nervous, desperate movements given musical form. When Link slips back into Hyrule and finds himself as a dignified (and armed) human being again, it's certainly a relief -- but now that you have an idea of what's waiting for you under those bleak, black skies on the Other Side, the journey to save Princess Zelda suddenly feels a lot more sinister and serious.
Mike's Media Minute
Last time, it was all about Batman and the DC Cinematic Universe, so I figure I might as well follow-up on that. Late last week, it was confirmed that Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Rise of the Planet of the Apes director Matt Reeves will be filling the director's chair for The Batman. That's great news, as Reeves is a solid director. Hopefully this mean that film is back on track.
More importantly, Warner Bros also announced a Nightwing solo film from Lego Batman Movie director Chris McKay. I'm truly excited for this because Nightwing is my favorite DC Comics character. The former Robin is all of the magic of Batman, without most of the dour baggage. If WB pulls this film off, we're in for a treat. (And it gives Affleck a way out if he decides to stop being Batman, as Grayson has assumed the mantle before in the comics.)
In other news, Blade of the Immortal is getting a live-action film in Japan, starring fan-favorite actor Takuya Kimura as Manji. Japanese live-action adaptations are hit-or-miss (honestly this is true of any adaptation), but hopefully this one turns out well, because the source material is the best.
Finally, Naruto might be over, but the money never dies. There's already a Boruto manga series not drawn by Kishimoto, but now there will also be an animated series starring Naruto's son. Boruto: Naruto Next Generations is coming to Japanese televisions on April 5. I'm sure we're all waiting for that excellent filler.
Caty's (AltGame) Corner:
My recommendation is a little bit different this week. It's a game within a game, actually, and it's called Demontower. Demontower is a top-down action game that lies in the desktop of college dropout feline Mae in Night in the Woods. In Demontower you're also a cat, equipped with a dash ability and a sword to stab skeletons, ghosts, and other menacing foes that cross your path.
Demontower is surprisingly dense too, despite being a minigame. With every floor cleared, you're punished for the progression as your maximum health gets knocked down, but your dash ability gets bumped up. With every death, "you died" is scrawled across the screen, like a familiar precise action game. Though buried in the depths of the PS4, PC, and Mac game Night in the Woods, Demontower's blood-soaked levels and eerie bosses alone are worth the trip to Possom Springs. (Though, Night in the Woods itself is pretty swell too, even if it falters in its last act.)
Racing With Jaz
Last week I said I was going to post a review of Ride 2, but unfortunately I didn't get around to it because I was far too wrapped up with a bunch of other games, including Mass Effect Andromeda, For Honor, and Halo Wars 2.
Still, I did manage to find a few spare hours to delve a little deeper into Milestone's motorcycle racing game, and have begun to properly get to grips with it. Those early frustrations I mentioned last week were due to the game's rather baffling structure. You actually start with a really underpowered motorcycle that makes it difficult to keep up with the competition during the game's early races, and consequently it feels like a bit of a grind where you have to tackle races repeatedly to earn sufficient cash to upgrade your bike to make it competitive.
That grind continues as you get deeper into the game. The in-game currency awarded for winning races is actually quite meager, so earning sufficient funds to be able to afford new bikes and thus participate in the different classes of races takes far more time and effort than seems necessary. I mean, the game has more than 200 motorcycles on offer - many of them highly desirable - but almost all of them remain out of reach for now. It just makes progress feel restrictive and painfully slow.
It's a shame that's the case, because the game has a lot of positive aspects: Its racing is exciting and challenging, it features an impressive roster of interesting tracks, and the game's customization aspects are really comprehensive. Hopefully things will pick up as I continue to play, but as it stands, Ride 2 is a bit of a disappointment so far.
WB Interactive confirmed what everyone already knew today-Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor is getting a sequel. I have to say that my feelings are pretty neutral on this one. On the one hand, it was a beautiful game with a really interesting gameplay system that led to all sorts of unxpected stories. On the other, it ran out of gas too soon. I enjoyed the hell out of it until I reached the second half the game, where I discovered that I had to kill all of the captains again. As I was already pretty overpowered by that point, my interest quickly dissipated.
As I described in the most recent episode of Axe of the Blood God, this is a pervasive problem with modern triple-A games, particularly open world ones. They will get off to a really strong start, hit the midpoint, and start to bulk out the playtime with repetitive encounters, dulling the overall impact of the initial content. Fun as it could be as a sandbox game, Shadow of Mordor fell into this trap in a lot of ways, culminating in a disappointing finale that was effectively one big QTE. Shadow of War is an opportunity to build on the very real strengths of the first game while improving on its weaknesses. In that respect, I hope it succeeds in reaching the potential of the first game.
- Ken Levine returned to the public eye over the weekend with the announcement that he has started a new studio called Ghost Story. Levine has previously said that he's more or less done with linear narratives, and that he's thinking in terms of exploring the motivations of NPCs. Whatever happens, he's definitely not making another BioShock. Whatever happens, I appreciate Levine's willingness to try something new, particularly with so many studios continually going back to the well and relying on safe, established IPs.
- Sony has apparently sold nearly a million PlayStation VRs since launch. Those are pretty good numbers, particularly in light of Vive and Oculus Rift being so slow out of the gate. With well more than 30 million PlayStation 4s in the wild, though, it's evident that VR still only appeals to a tiny fraction of Sony's audience. Give it another five years though...
- When the Switch was first revealed last year, Nintendo broadly hinted that they were interested in more aggressively pursuing eSports with games like Splatoon. Nadia talked to a bunch of people in eSports about whether they actually have a chance. Personally? I think anything that Nintendo rolls out in terms of eSports will be pretty small scale. Smash Bros. has carved out a pretty solid niche, but Nintendo's games still have a bit of a perception problem. Apparently Splatoon is doing pretty well in Japan, though, so I guess anything is possible. It's not as if they're starting from scratch.
- In case you missed it, USgamer alum Jeremy Parish is currently taking the deepest of dives into Final Fantasy VII. This is his third game in a series that has thus far included The Last Guardian and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. I love having this kind of stuff on my site, so kindly please support it with your clicks.
- Chrono Trigger Report: Speaking of old-school RPGs, I've been discovering Chrono Trigger for the first time, and I've been loving pretty much every second of it. Aside from the fact that it's an incredibly well-crafted RPG-maybe the best I've ever played-it tells a strikingly good time travel story. This is surprising to me because usually time travel stories are, to put it kindly, flawed. Chrono Trigger's secret is that its fantasy sci-fi setting allows it to weave its own time traveling tapestry without having to worry about whether its accurately portraying Rome or whatever. Seriously, it has cave people fighting sentient dinosaurs and it's not even a thing. I find myself enthralled by Chrono Trigger's setting, and now that I have the Epoch at my disposal, I can't wait to dive in even further.
- Just one more week until the Switch! Mike has been killing it with his coverage, producing extremely thorough articles about the Joy-Con desync issue, Zelda, and the Switch itself. Standby for his full review later this week!
- Finally, Caty, Jaz, and I will be covering GDC this week! It's shaping up to be an exciting show with a slew of interesting talks ranging from a Zelda: Breath of the Wild post-mortem to the return of Warren Spector. Keep an eye on the site throughout the week for all of our coverage!