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  1. Monday Musings is a feature where every Monday, I'll shoot the breeze about what I've been playing and what my thoughts are on various news and events in the game industry. This week I'll be talking about the upcoming launch of the Nintendo Switch on Friday, one early challenge that's come up already for it, and how I haven't been this excited for a new console in a long time. Is it Friday yet? No? Then is it too late to put myself in cryogenic sleep otherwise? Maybe that'd be overdoing it a bit considering the Switch comes out a mere four days from now, but seriously... I want that Switch yesterday. It's funny -- when I think of the Wii U, I actually can't remember much of the pre-launch hype for it. I do remember that it was barely advertised on TV (much less elsewhere) -- Nintendo claimed that it was due to high ad prices because of the 2012 election -- but when it comes to being excited for it and the games it was launching with, I remember... nothing. Of course, getting a new console is always exciting -- I do remember the day my Wii U arrived in the mail, but I don't remember being super hyped for it, and it's not hard to see why when you look at its launch lineup. People like to rip the Switch a new one considering that it's only launching with 10 titles (9, if you don't count Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove and Specter of Torment as separate releases), whereas the Wii U launched with just over twice that amount. But here's the thing -- there are more titles in Switch's lineup that interest me a lot more than the Wii U's, and I'm willing to bet I'm not the only one who is thinking that. Despite its superior quantity and diversity of launch titles, only five titles in the Wii U launch lineup were exclusive, none of which had major hype behind it. Its strongest first-party title was New Super Mario Bros. U, a game that was too similar to previous games in the series and launched too soon after New Super Mario Bros. 2 released on 3DS just a few months prior. Nintendo Land was a decent pack-in mini-game collection that was largely overlooked, as was Ubisoft's ZombiU. In contrast, Switch has six exclusives (Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment is a timed exclusive for one month) -- all of which I'm much more interested in than the Wii U's five, which are now looking downright ho-hum. If Switch's launch lineup doesn't interest you at all, I don't blame you. Having more titles is never a bad thing, and it's not a hugely diverse bunch of titles either. But compared to Wii U's lineup, Switch's is looking more and more like it makes the argument for "quality > quantity." The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild may be the driving factor for most people buying the Switch on day one, but I'm already much more excited to play some of the other games coming day one than I was for the many launch ports on Wii U. Super Bomberman R, FAST RMX, Snipperclips, and Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove are all games I'm excited to dig into alongside Zelda, leading this to be one of the better launch lineups I've experienced in some time. While the verdict is still out on how good Super Bomberman R is, more than half of the launch titles have already received critical acclaim, which says a lot about the quality of the lineup itself. Honestly, it was easy to be disappointed when Nintendo revealed that the Switch launch lineup would be a bit more meager than both the Wii's and Wii U's, but the more time we've had to adjust to it, the more I think the Switch will be just fine in the end. Nintendo has already set in motion a number of titles (both big and small) that are set to launch in the following months and throughout the year, with more indies and third party games being announced every week -- more than enough to keep momentum and interest strong throughout the year. Wii U -- on the other hand -- had the inverse situation. It launched with a respectable number of games of varying quality and then... was virtually silent for months at a time. The next big exclusive to release after launch came in March, some four months after. This was a huge blow to the Wii U's momentum, and it showed in the monthly sales after 2013 began as the platform began to sell less and less. It's often said that a game console's library is judged by the amount of exclusives it has. Wii U had five at launch. Of 23 overall. The rest were available elsewhere. The Switch has six exclusives. Of ten overall. The remaining four? Probably not slated for doing big business, with maybe the exception of Just Dance 2017. Skylanders Imaginators isn't likely to sell gangbusters on Switch, because it's a game that's already been on the market for nearly 5 months now. Most of those third party Wii U launch games didn't sell like crazy either. Because they were also available elsewhere. You know what most people thought when they saw that Assassin's Creed III available on Wii U at launch? "Huh, that's cool. I'll buy it on Xbox 360 or PS3." 60% exclusives to 21%, that's what you're looking at with Switch vs Wii U when it comes to their libraries. Even if Tomorrow Corporation's games make Switch's launch (which it isn't guaranteed as of this writing) and bumps the number from 10 to 13, 46% is still a fairly good number for launch exclusives. One other thing Switch's launch lineup has going for it is that it knows its audience. Just look at the games -- 1-2-Switch - March 3 The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild - March 3 Skylanders Imaginators - March 3 Just Dance 2017 - March 3 Super Bomberman R - March 3 I Am Setsuna - March 3 Snipperclips - March 3 Fast RMX - March 3 Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment - March 3 Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove - March 3 For the most part, these are very Nintendo-oriented games, with a few casual games thrown in to attract the mass market crowd. It's not attempting to go after the Call of Duty crowd or the hardcore action crowd right now because it doesn't have to (and because it would be a moot point at the moment). Rather, they're doubling down on the games they know Nintendo fans will like best (and the ones that are actually ready to release): old-school platformers, arcade games, creative puzzle games, RPGs, racing games, and adventure games. Wii U tried to be everything to everyone, but it wasn't because it didn't have enough that was unique to it at launch, whereas Switch is more focused and selling to a very specific crowd with most of its titles, while relying on 1-2 Switch and Just Dance 2017 to reel in casuals. This is why Switch's lineup beats out Wii U's. That, and Breath of the Wild pretty much beats out the entire Wii U launch lineup anyhow. Seriously, is it Friday yet? What do you think? Is Switch's launch lineup more appealing to you than the Wii U's was? Would you have actually bought most of the third-party titles on Wii U, or would you buy them on PS3/360 at the time?
  2. Monday Musings is a feature where every Monday, I'll shoot the breeze about what I've been playing and what my thoughts are on various news and events in the game industry. In today's edition of Monday Musings, I'll be taking a look at one of Sony Interactive Entertainment's studios, Media Molecule, and examining their current project Dreams and whether or not it could be in for some major challenges down the road. The Curious Case of Media Molecule Remember how groundbreaking LittleBigPlanet was when it first released? Media Molecule was running on a high during that time period -- both as a business and creatively-speaking -- leading up to the release of its sequel, LittleBigPlanet 2. Like the first game, both critical and sales reception of LBP2 was great, but the experience left the studio with the urge to move on and work on something else for a change. In the year or two following, Media Molecule decided to focus their efforts on developing brand new ideas. Meanwhile, a smaller team within the studio was hard at work creating a new experience for the PlayStation Vita. The result was Tearaway, a title that was considered one of the best and most creative games for the handheld. However, the game did not soar on the sales charts like the LittleBigPlanet series had. Hopefully their other project would turn things around. In 2013, Sony's PlayStation 4 was finally revealed to the world, and Media Molecule pulled back the curtain to reveal what they had been working on in the interim -- a then unnamed project that allowed players to create and mold 3D objects and animate them with the help of the PlayStation Move controller. Later on, this project was revealed to be Dreams. However, the game's ambitious nature meant that it wouldn't be releasing anytime soon. In order to deliver something earlier, Media Molecule decided to create an enhanced port of Tearaway for PS4, resulting in Tearaway: Unfolded. Although it garnered critical praise like the original, it too failed to deliver in sales and became a commercial disappointment. Development on Dreams would continue on unabated. Despite the immense creativity behind Dreams, some PlayStation fans were a bit taken aback by what it was. With LittleBigPlanet, the player creation aspect was a bit more straightforward in what you could do with it, or at least what the player expected out of it. With Dreams, the idea sounded neat on paper, but in reality was almost too open of a concept for many to fully understand without experiencing it firsthand. Is Dreams just an outlet for pure creativity? Is there a more focused experience within, possibly some sort of single-player game campaign not unlike what LittleBigPlanet had? Or is it more akin to Microsoft's Project Spark? Because if it's the latter, Dreams could be in more trouble than Media Molecule and SIE realize. Dream a little dream Once upon a time, Microsoft was betting big on Project Spark to develop an interest in creativity with level design in Xbox One fans. But despite their best efforts, Project Spark never took off with the Xbox community. It was, perhaps, too ambitious for its time, or it just didn't have the right audience. If Dreams is attempting the same open sandbox approach, Media Molecule could be at risk of receiving the same reaction of indifference once Dreams finally releases. The good news is that Media Molecule at least has some proof of concept behind their ambitions -- after all, there was a very active community of players that created levels in LittleBigPlanet and its sequel. Surely the same will happen for Dreams as well? It's too early to say for sure, but one very different thing about this scenario is the fact that Dreams is said to be a much larger and likely complex experience. Dreams' success will depend greatly on how simple it is for players to create and animate, because if it's too convoluted in any sense, most players will skip out right away. Additionally, a single-player or co-op campaign of some sort designed with the game's tools will be needed. This will not only help give the game a sense of cohesiveness but also give the player a certain amount of value out of the game if said player does not click with the creative aspects (as was the case for many who played LittleBigPlanet). While information on Dreams' current progress seems to be rather sparse, Media Molecule have been publicly active on their website and showing the game off at different trade shows over the last few years. We're also supposed to be getting new information about the game as soon as this Spring, so perhaps we'll have a much better idea about what will be included in the final version. Honestly, I hope Media Molecule succeeds; the whole project looks and sounds incredibly ambitious and I'd love for them to see their efforts over the last few years pay off in a big way. But, like any other business, there's a point where SIE can't ignore the fact that Media Molecule has been producing diminishing returns for the company as far as bankable games go -- at least as far as the public eye can see. If Dreams -- or whatever the final title becomes -- doesn't take off the way SIE and Media Molecule are hoping, this could put them in a bad position. If Dreams are dashed SIE certainly hasn't been shy about closing underperforming studios left and right over the past few years, and there's no reason to believe that Media Molecule would have complete immunity from potential shuttering. If there's one thing that saves them, it's the fact that it's an immensely talented studio that is well-versed in creating new tools and known for creativity. So what happens if Dreams releases and undersells? It likely depends to what extent the game doesn't perform. If it just breaks even or sells only slightly better than that, SIE could end up reexamining Media Molecule's development focus, possibly steering them away from the more creative art games and endeavors they're known for in order to concentrate on something new and different. But... if Dreams completely bombs and undersells by a significant amount, a number of different scenarios are possible. The first scenario is that Media Molecule could be restructured into a tools developer. There's too much talent among the staff to totally dissolve the studio, and their work on LittleBigPlanet has earned them at least some leeway, although it is quickly disappearing as the years go on without another big hit. Remember Evolution Studios? World Rally Championship and Motorstorm titles kept them going for a number of years, and while Sony gave them a pass for Motorstorm: Apocalypse's disappointing sales (partly due to bad timing with the 2011 Earthquake/Tsunami in Japan), DriveClub's immense issues and failure sunk the entire studio in the end. Despite its ambitious nature, DriveClub was an unmitigated disaster that ultimately sunk Evolution Studios The second scenario that could happen involves SIE shuttering Media Molecule but keeping the talent intact and reassigning them to different studios as needed -- such as Studio Liverpool. Considering the latter's recent redundancies and SIE's penchant for reorganizing resources to where they can best be utilized, this isn't such a farfetched idea. Of course, the third scenario is that the studio is completely shut down and everyone goes their separate ways (and hopefully reforms as another studio sometime later). Personally, I don't see SIE letting the talent walk away without trying to keep them around first, which is why I think the second scenario is more likely. However, Media Molecule was created with the intent of making creative games. If you take that away from the equation and relegate the staff to standard positions elsewhere, is that the path they'll want to take? They may rather take the indie route in the end. But enough doomsaying. Media Molecule could be plenty stable in the end -- we simply don't know enough currently about what's going on behind the scenes to say for sure, but the situation with Dreams certainly appears to be complex from the outside. Currently, Dreams is not confirmed for 2017 release at this point, so hopefully we'll have a better idea of where it's at come E3 or Gamescom. I look forward to getting my hands on it eventually, and if it really is everything Media Molecule makes it out to be, we may have our next generation of LittleBigPlanet creativity for some years to come. What are your thoughts on the current state of Media Molecule and its upcoming game Dreams?
  3. Last Thursday was a day of unbridled excitement for Nintendo fans and heightened curiosity for mostly everyone else. It's been quite some time since I've last seen anticipation from people who were previously down on Nintendo due to its more casual-oriented focus with Wii and the failure of its successor. But leading up to Thursday's event, even people who were staunch critics of Nintendo for the last 10 years or so were pretty bullish on the Switch's prospects. Would this be the console that would turn things around for them and their outlook on Nintendo? I remember distinctly listening to an episode of the Kinda Funny Gamecast sometime in the last month, and both Greg Miller and Colin Moriarty were talking about how interested and excited they were for the Switch, but Colin made a mention of something about how it all seemed too good to be true and that he was "waiting for the other shoe to drop." And he was right. Thursday's Nintendo Switch Presentation was not perfect by any means, and it was a pertinent reminder as to why the company is now opting for Nintendo Direct videos instead, and -- frankly -- why they're much better off doing the latter. For starters, let's start off with what went wrong- Lost in Translation There's a reason why international press conferences aren't done a whole lot in the game industry, or at least not in Japanese -- essentially, the rest of the world (that doesn't know Japanese) were left to watch a presentation that was awkwardly translated and paced. Beyond that, the first two games that were shown displayed a Wii-like casual focus, something that was a bit scary to see for many that were watching. I remember one person on Twitter saying that it was like they were focusing on the Wii concept all over again, and I kind of had a similar dread about that as well. Waggle is definitely not the way to go (in the case of ARMS), but I was happy to learn that it wouldn't be the only method of control in that game. Failure to Launch? No doubt about it -- The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild will be a great game to have at launch, not to mention the key reason people will be buying a Switch at all on day one. But one game will not carry an entire launch (and in the rare case that it does, it's because it has exceptional word of mouth, such as Wii Sports). At the very minimum, there needs to be at least one big game to get people excited and 2-4 noteworthy supporting games that may not be quite as big but still get people interested in playing. Let's compare this to PlayStation 4's launch for a minute. Now, PS4's launch lineup wasn't amazing (no launch usually is) but it did roughly meet those fundamental requirements. Depending on your interest, Killzone: Shadow Fall and Knack were interchangeable as the big game in the lineup, with one or the other also serving as the next best thing in addition to Resogun and third-party games that were launching day and date with other platforms such as Call of Duty: Ghosts, Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag, LEGO Marvel Super Heroes, and a few others. It was a solid lineup, if unremarkable for many, yet it got the job done. Think about it this way -- in a football game, a successful play is pulled off when the quarterback is well-supported by the linemen, running backs, and wide receivers. Let's say the quarterback represents the console (or the console manufacturer, in a sense) and the wide receiver represents the launch lineup's best game. The killer app, in a sense, which in this case represents Breath of the Wild. Since that title is largely the only notable game in the launch lineup, it's almost as if this figurative football game is being played just with the quarterback and wide receiver. So when the play begins, quarterback Switch has no choice but to throw to the wide receiver (Breath of the Wild) and hope beyond hopes that he can break through the other team's defensive line and -- at the very least -- score a first-down, if not a touch down (which, in this case is a successful launch with great sales, great momentum beyond just the first month, people buzzing, etc.). Now, if there were at least 2-5 other notable games launching beside Breath of the Wild, they would be able to help support the play and make sure the wide receiver can get as far as he needs to go. The chances of success increase. But without them, the wide receiver's chances of success are greatly reduced. This is exactly where Switch is at with its launch at the moment. The other shoe drops - Price Inconsistencies The launch lineup, as dismal as it is right now, is just one part of the equation. The part where "the other shoe drops" is with the price of extra controllers and such. Namely, a Switch Pro controller will run you $70. Two extra Joy-Cons will run you a cool $80. If you opt for just one Joy-Con? Not $40, but $50 (what??). Now, I can understand why the Joy-Cons cost as much as they do, especially with the new HD Rumble functionality that's probably not too cheap to implement; there's a decent amount of tech in those controllers. Still, that isn't much of a comfort to anyone who has to spend close to one third of the price of the console just for extra controllers. So why is the Switch Pro controller $70? I can only imagine it's because they want to profit heavily on people wanting a traditional controller, much like how Sony wanted to profit on Vita memory cards by charging much higher than other companies would for similar cards (like SDHC). I mean, the Wii U Pro Controller was $50 initially (even less now) -- what is it about the Switch version that merits an extra $20? Western third-parties are still very much a question mark One important thing that I was hoping would be addressed that totally wasn't is the acceptance of Western third-parties. Nintendo had all of two Western third parties say something at the press conference: Bethesda's Todd Howard confirming Skyrim on Switch, and EA's Patrick Soderlund confirming FIFA. What other western publishers that were previously announced seemed to be showing token support so far, with Take-Two and 2K bringing only NBA 2K17, Activision bringing Skylanders Imaginators, and Ubisoft with Just Dance 2017 for now (though the latter has other rumored stuff in the works). I can understand why any Western third party would be cautious about working with Nintendo after the Wii U, but so far the future does not look good for Switch and Western AAA games -- something that many hoped would change with this new generation. It's too early to say for sure, though, but the early outlook isn't promising. I'm more optimistic than I was with Wii U because Nintendo getting Todd Howard aboard isn't an easy feat and it at least shows that they're trying this time around. However, it does look like most third-party support will be from Japanese publishers unless the install base really takes off, along with support from indies. But here's the good news... First-Party Lineup is incredibly promising Despite an auspicious start, the Switch's first party lineup from now until the end of the year and beyond is looking incredibly good. Mario Kart 8: Deluxe Edition may be a port, but it will sell and people will want it especially as a multiplayer experience when there will be few others available at that time. Xenoblade Chronicles 2, if it makes 2017 as planned, will be a welcome title for RPG fans and hardcore gamers alike. Super Mario Odyssey looks like it could be the most influential Mario game since Super Mario Galaxy, and it's the game people are most excited about other than Breath of the Wild. I've seen many people on Twitter and elsewhere who haven't been into Nintendo for a while that are pretty excited for this one and have voiced their interest in getting a Switch to play it. We'll hear more about Fire Emblem Warriors in just a few days, but it is also another big reason to be excited about this year's lineup, especially after how well Hyrule Warriors turned out. ARMS looks like goofy fun yet could be a deeper experience with how the mechanics work, leading to a game that could potentially be a new, breakout hit. And Splatoon 2 looks like it'll help kick off Switch's multiplayer in a big way. There are also a number of big games that have already been leaked but haven't been talked about officially just yet. Pikmin 4, the Mario x Rabbids RPG by Ubisoft, rumblings of a Metroid game which may be Retro's next project or even an internal Nintendo team, and even the upcoming Super Smash Bros. port, which will likely contain extra content. And that's not counting other games we don't know about that might also be announced at E3. It'll be a fairly good first year for Switch as far as first-party games go once we pass through the dull launch period. Virtual Console and eShop news is still coming Easily one of my most anticipated features that will still have yet to hear about is the Switch eShop and rumored Gamecube Virtual Console games. Fans have been wanting Gamecube VC games for the longest time now, and the mere thought that we'll be able to play those games on the go is incredibly exciting. But even excluding the Gamecube, it's exciting to think we'll be able to take any VC game on the go now (aside from Game Boy/NES/SNES with New 3DS). And hopefully they'll begin putting various SEGA titles back on the eShop this time around; we'll see. The Tech is intriguing Despite the overall horsepower being purportedly lower than a PS4 and Xbox One, I'm looking forward to seeing what developers do with the Switch overall. While it may have sounded uninteresting or gimmicky at first, the HD motion capabilities do seem pretty clever after dwelling on some of the possibilities. Someone on Twitter gave a great example, saying that a new Metroid Prime game could benefit from this by providing different sensations as you select different types of beams -- the sound/sensation of ice tensing up with the ice beam, a sort of pulse sensation as you fire off the wave beam, and so on. I'm also interested to try the Joy-Cons as individual controllers and see if the 2-player holds up with them. While it probably won't be a preferred way of playing, I could see myself casually playing with one or more people on the Switch tablet at certain times, provided that the game works with the multiplayer feature. And like I mentioned in the section above, playing console games on the go is going to be a fantastic choice to have. Switching things Up In any case, I would have to sum up my thoughts by saying that Switch has a rough short-term and a potentially great long-term ahead of it. We'll know a lot more about to what to expect in regards to third-party support and how often it'll get games by E3, but in the meantime, I'm looking forward to the few main games that will be coming out beforehand. Nintendo definitely has some kinks to work out in regards to the pricing of various things (and the decision not to bundle in a game), but I'm hoping they'll come their senses and fix what's not working over time. If anything, I'll probably be mostly lost in the splendor of Breath of the Wild instead of getting upset at why there aren't more games out in the first month or two anyhow. What do you guys think about the Switch, both in the short-term and long-term?
  4. Monday Musings is a feature where every Monday, I'll shoot the breeze about what I've been playing and what my thoughts are on various news and events in the game industry. On this week's Monday Musings, I share my thoughts on the state of VR and how the NES Classic Edition has revitalized my interest in some of the classics games of old. Read on below! VR: The wave of the future... at some point VR is something I definitely would like to get into at some point. Surprisingly, it's something I still haven't experienced for myself just yet (maybe I need to get out to Best Buy or some other place that demos it at some point) but I've heard all about what a "religious experience" it is once you do finally try it. One thing that really sold me on it was Jeff Gerstmann and the rest of the crew from Giant Bomb talking about Google Earth VR on recent episodes of Giantbombcast where they were discussing Game of the Year stuff. Of course, Google Earth VR isn't explicitly game-related, but as an experience, the idea of strapping a device to your head and instantly being transported to another part of the world as if you were standing right there and looking around sounds absolutely mind-blowing to me. Even if -- in application -- you're using it mostly for checking out an area that you're unfamiliar with that you might be going to (around the city, for example). The main reason I haven't gotten it yet, then? Price is certainly a factor, and at a time when another new console is soon to release, I'd rather focus what money I have on Nintendo's Switch for now. But more so than that is the fact that PlayStation VR -- the VR platform I'm most likely to buy -- is still in its infancy, as is its lineup (as good as some of the games may be). Eventually, PS VR 2.0 and 3.0 will be a thing (this year will be telling as to how often that cycle will be), and I'd rather wait it out and see how much things improve before taking the leap. Also, there's the fact that -- between PS4, Xbox One, PC, and Switch (not to mention 3DS and Vita) -- there's just way too much to play at the moment. Adding a VR platform right now would divert ever-decreasing free time away from games that I'm currently trying to play, so I'd rather wait until there's a huge reason to get one that absolutely can't be ignored. That, and I'm still waiting to see how well (and often) Sony supports PS VR. Seeing as how they virtually stopped producing their own games for Vita just two years in, you can't blame me, right? Learning to appreciate the NES Classic Edition Ever since the end of 2016, I've been spending more time with the NES Classic Edition and -- short controller cord controversy aside -- been really enjoying it so far. One thing I'm attempting to do is replay most of the games on there one by one, starting with Super Mario Bros. Now, aside from its legendary status, that game was actually never one of my favorites to play over the years. I always felt that it suffered from "sameness" in that most of its levels largely felt the same, thanks in part to the NES's limitations at the time. Thus, I was never inclined to play it over again and again over the years the same way I would have done with, say... Super Mario World or Super Mario 64. But with the NES Classic Edition, I discovered something interesting: playing NES games with the NES controller makes a world of difference. I don't know what it is -- maybe it's nostalgia talking -- but there's nothing quite like playing Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda with an NES controller. It just doesn't feel the same if you're playing with a Wii U gamepad, Wii remote, or heck, even a PlayStation 4 controller (if you're into homebrew stuff), but playing with that blocky little controller makes the game make sense, like "Yeah, NOW I get it!" Also, that game is a LOT harder than I remember. Mario controls like a tank and once your three lives are out, it's game over (and there are no continues either). NES-era games are definitely unforgiving, but hey, that's part of their charm too! Anyhow, that's a wrap for this week's Monday Musings. I'm attempting to keep things a little shorter after last week's initial post was a bit on the long side. Maybe I'll continue to shorten it next week as well. Like what you're reading? Don't like it? I'm trying to tailor this to feedback, so let me know what you think, and thanks for reading!
  5. Hey everyone, thought I'd try a new idea out for 2017 - hopefully it'll stick around as a new feature. Monday Musings is a feature where every Monday, I'll shoot the breeze about what I've been playing and what my thoughts are on various news and events in the game industry. It's a bit more informal than a lot of the stuff that goes up here, so hopefully it'll be different and at least entertaining to read. That said, let's kick things off with our first topic... The Star Wars cast voiced original lines in a LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens? So I've been playing quite a bit of LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens recently (which is pretty darn good btw), and noticed, well, a disturbance in the force, you could say. That is to say - apparently, somehow, some way, TT Games managed to get the main cast in The Force Awakens movie to voice some extra lines for the game. I haven't played LEGO Jurassic World yet, so I'm not sure if that it also did this, but man, this is wildly unheard of for a Lego game. Why? It might be one thing for up-and-comers like Daisy Ridley and John Boyega to do this, but it's entirely surprising for someone like Harrison Ford (y'know, only one of the biggest stars of the last half century?) to do it. "Why would the cast record lines for a lowly video game when it would normally be beneath a lot of other actors (both in prestige and pay)?" TT Games generally has been using the movie voice track for their movie adaptations of games ever since LEGO Lord of the Rings, and they do in this one as well, but my first cue that extra lines were recorded by the main cast when I started hearing Han Solo say things like... "Darn, the door is locked. If only we could access the panel to get into it," or "Hey, maybe we should press this button over there." Which is SUPER jarring when you realize Harrison Ford is actually voicing these generic hints. To TT Games' credit, they did give Ford some actual witty Han Solo-isms to say, which you'll hear interspersed throughout some of the other banter when you're playing, which was a nice touch. So how did this all happen? Why would the cast record lines for a lowly video game when it would normally be beneath a lot of other actors (both in prestige and pay)? My guess is that when they signed on to star in The Force Awakens film, there was a clause in their contract that obligated them to also do voices for a tie-in game -- in this case, LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens. ...Or maybe they really did just do it just for the money. Who knows. -------------------------------- Backlog is good, backlog is life Now that 2016 is finally over and the bulk of GP's Game of the Year event is over (we still need to put up our overall top 10 for the site), I'm actually excited to dive back in and start playing some of my backlog games again. Around last November, I had a weird hankering to finish up Lego Marvel Superheroes (so much talk about Lego games, I know), which I previously left off in the Spring of 2015. Needless to say, I beat it and was enthralled with it enough to want to 100% it, but I had to put aside once I realized I should be focusing on finishing games for that year for GOTY consideration. I still have Katamari Damacy to get back to as well which was pretty fun (and challenging), so hopefully that'll mark the beginning of me making a big dent in my digital PS2 game collection on PS3. But going back and playing these games really reminded me that it's good to intersperse backlog titles with newer ones because they kind of help give you some focus and make you realize that it's not all about keeping up with the Joneses and what they're playing. No doubt there's definitely something to playing a new game when everyone else is playing it (see: Splatoon, FFXV, Overwatch), but playing backlog games helps me realize that it's good to go at your own pace as well. Otherwise, sometimes I kind of get lost in the shuffle of just playing recently released games and -- even though I'm having fun a lot of the time while doing it -- I realize that I'm sort of forcing myself to play through stuff that I may not really want to play at that time just to justify the expense or to experience what everyone else is talking about, even if it doesn't click with me in the same way. It also shows me that I don't need to have every single game right when it releases. Given this, I'll try now more than ever to only buy the games I'm most excited about at release, and also try not to buy too many altogether at once as well. On the upside, however, I did notice that I ended up beating many of the games I bought in the latter half of 2016, especially those that I was playing in anticipation of writing up my game of the year list. This is in stark contrast to 2015 when I bought a bunch of games that I still haven't played or beaten to this day -- stuff like Tembo the Badass Elephant, Ori and the Blind Forest, Axiom Verge, Undertale (still need to beat), and others. Hoping to continue that upward swing this year! Really digging Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright right now So, to put things in context beforehand: I actually had a really hard time putting together my game of the year list this year, so much so that I actually wrote up most of it the night before it was published. It wasn't that I had a hard time thinking of games that I wanted on the list -- no, it was actually the opposite. There were too many games that I wanted to play and experience before I wrote up my list, and I just didn't know when to cut things off. I had actually only just played Abzu two days before, and Firewatch only the night before it went live. Yeah... Needless to say, I didn't truly get to let the whole experience of Firewatch set in on me after the credits rolled, and I found myself going with my gut reaction to keep Fire Emblem Awakening since I spent way more time with it. The next day, I found myself thinking about Firewatch all day long and wondering if I made the right choice. But after spending the weekend and yesterday really digging into Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright, it reconfirmed my faith in that game is well-placed. What really makes the experience for me is a rich blend of deep strategy combined with the relationships that build between different characters via support conversations (a mechanic where characters can build a relationship based on the amount of time they spend next to each other in battle). Eventually, male and female characters that reach a high enough level with each other will marry, producing a child that -- through really lazy writing -- has been raised to adolescence via an alternate realm (where time passes much faster) and will join you in your quest (after beating their paralogue chapter). If the reasoning behind that sounded dumb, it absolutely is, but the gameplay ramifications behind it are amazing because it essentially allows you to breed new units with the unique special abilities that parents have, similar in a sense to Pokemon breeding (sounds weird when I put it that way). Anyhow, I've been spending much of my time pairing up the characters to get their child characters, but also leveling up lower level characters on skirmish maps and doing the main story chapters in between as well. Some of the later chapters are challenging in a really refreshing way; like, you'll have to deeply think about where you're positioning your units before they strike whereas earlier maps you might have been mostly bulldozing through it without as much thought. You also have to make more use of pairing units together (and thus making use of stat bonuses), not only to take down tougher foes, but also to defend from them as well. Those two aspects of the game are what really makes it for me, and the main story is just the sprinkling on the top, really. I've heard complaints about the plot from others, and -- maybe it's just that I haven't gotten to the end where something happens but I think it's fine so far (I think I'm on Chapter 23?). In the meantime, if this is your first Fire Emblem experience, I'd probably recommend Awakening first, but you really can't go wrong with any version of Fire Emblem Fates. "You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain." I recently finished the Batman Telltale Series (yes, that was another game I didn't actually finish before I had to put up my GOTY list), and holy cow, that's a good game. They do some really unique things with the story, especially with Bruce Wayne's side of the story that keep things on the edge from beginning to end. Being Batman is great, but I'm thoroughly convinced that for a Batman story to be truly good, you need almost equal amounts of Bruce and Batman to really flesh things out. I'll save my full thoughts for a review, but I will say that you should definitely play, especially if you've been holding off of recent Telltale games. Hopefully Season 2 is a foregone conclusion at this point; we'll see! That wraps up this edition of Monday Musings! I don't know if they'll always be this long, but definitely let me know what you think below; I appreciate any and all feedback and will try to tailor future ones accordingly. Thanks for reading!