Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Why Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp is Poison

... for your brain. And similar free-to-play games in general.

Animal Crossing Pocket Camp starting screen crossed out with red paint

So, I didn't make it a secret that I've been enjoying some of Nintendo's smartphone games in the past years as a guilty pleasure, up to a point where I actually thought that getting a Zelda title on smartphones could be pretty good. (Spoilers: that's a terrible idea.)

And to be fair, Super Mario Run was actually very solid. You pay for it once, where it's rather cheap and there are no micro-transactions. It plays nicely and the game doesn't really bother you much with daily rewards, events and all that crap. The only bad thing about is that there is some "gacha" mechanic to unlocking all the kingdom parts, but this only involves spending time, not money, and is also something you might find in normal Nintendo games, e.g. the ship parts in The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass.

Then came Fire Emblem Heroes and to this day I mostly play this game to check out the beautiful ladies of the Fire Emblem universe, which is seemingly the best thing about this whole franchise, enabling it to become Nintendo's biggest gacha game. And this mobile title already has all the cancer of modern free-to-play games: gambling with an ingame currency to obtain playable units (the "gacha"), micro-transactions, daily rewards, constant events that keep you engaged and now also a "Battle Pass" (see here).

Still, it was a good way of having some fun on my way to work and out of all these bad things, the only one that really affected me were the events, mostly "Tempest Trials" and "Forging Bonds", because they lure you with some good rewards, but require extensive, repetitive grinding to get them. Of course it also sucked not getting the characters I've wanted, but at least I've never felt the urge to spend any real money here, thanks to the ridiculous prices of this game.

Now, 2020 came and I've been stuck in home office for four months now with no real reason to play Fire Emblem Heroes, other than staying up to date. And while I still play it, it's really a minimum amount of time per week.

But at the same time another of Nintendo's mobile games gained my attention, thanks to the release of Animal Crossing: New Horizons. The game felt like the perfect, carefree answer to the pandemic and certainly was Nintendo's biggest hit this year, but since I don't have a Switch yet thanks to Nintendo's reluctance of making the Switch that I want to have, I've decided to check out the mobile outing of the Animal Crossing franchise again instead.

I've actually already tried the game in late 2017, but quickly dismissed it, because it seemed like a never-ending wave of pointless fetch quests. And I should have listened to this verdict from that time, instead giving this title another chance.

In general you need to find your feminine side for this title, because it's all about making friends with cute animals and decorating your camp site. That's all there is and there is a reason why Animal Crossing is mainly popular with female players. In fact over 90% of the players I've met were female or at least using a female avatar (which I even did myself).

Well, other than the fact that this induces the least amount of testosterone you will ever have while playing a game, this sounds rather harmless. But the real problem of this game is how it creates a vicious reward cycle from performing mundane tasks...

For the most part you're fulfilling camper requests from collecting things in the environment: fish, fruits, insects or flowers. So, you visit the five different main areas of this game, which includes your campsite, and you keep collecting whatever you find. Then you give it to the animal "campers", who then reward you with Bells and building materials, which you can use to create stuff for your campsite, your van and also your house (where I tend to ignore the last two). Plus, you also level up, which gives you additional rewards.

It even provides a simple "mail" interface to do all this, so that you don't even have to talk to the ingame characters in person to get the rewards. You just click / touch your way through the list of requests. It's an incredibly easy way to be rewarded and since there is no actual challenge provided in the tasks, literally the only thing you have to do is play the game. And this can quickly make it very addicting, because you're guaranteed to be rewarded again and again and again.

The camper requests regenerate every three hours, specifically on certain times on the day: 2PM, 5PM, 8PM and so on. So, this already creates an incentive to check the game out multiple times per day, maybe even every three hours. But since you technically wouldn't miss out on anything important for not doing so, Nintendo keeps doing three major events per month that are all connected with a reward chain and where you won't be able to get all exclusive rewards, unless you keep participating in all the events.

These events are growing flowers and catching insects on them, catching fish for a tournament and collecting "Gyroidiots" in the environment. And this seems to be the same for every month, just with different themes and rewards.

This is so strict that you actually need to play this game at least three times per day to get everything in the end. I've even started to optimize things here by planning my play sessions around the times where everything gets swapped, so I can do two reward waves at once. And once you start creating habits or even planning your day around a video game, you know you're in trouble... The game creates obligations for you and that's not something you'd want from a video game.

In comparison, if you want to get all the exclusive things from events in Fire Emblem Heroes, playing the game once per day still should be more than enough. It's even designed so that you can skip it for one or two days and potentially not miss out on anything. It's still bad and this still creates some obligations,  if you don't want to miss out, but it's by far not as bad as Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp.

Clearing the events is also much easier with enough friends, who can help you out, mostly with the flower growing thingy and getting Gyroidiots. And while I usually avoid adding "friends" that I do not know in any other game, I did have over 20 of them in this game, creating a small network where everyone was helping each other out with stuff, more or less successfully. And this kind of creates a social obligation to play this game. "It helps the others."

In addition there is also a second currency in the game, so called "Leaf Tickets". Those are much rarer to get for free, can be bought from real money and naturally are required for many of the exclusive items and changing your campsite environment. There is even a gacha system here in the form of fortune cookies, where you get random stuff. Again, I did not put any money into this, but if you get addicted to collecting all the things in this game, it might get really expensive for you.

And as if all of this wouldn't be already bad enough, everything in this game keeps craving for attention. There are red exclamation mark bubbles everywhere and they don't go away, until you finally take a look. "Go check it out, there are new announcements! Go check it out, there is something in your inbox! Go check it out, something happened on your friend list! Go check it out, there are some finished quests! Go check it out, there is something new to buy for your campsite! Go check it out, there is a new camper episode to watch, even though you can't watch it yet!" It's insane and your game is completely overloaded with this whenever you're booting it up.

Mobile Game Designer: "Where do we want to attract the player's attention?"
Mobile Game Director: "Yes."

Normally, I wouldn't even look at such games and even make fun of peopling playing such trash. But since this is Nintendo we're talking about, I was inclined to give their mobile offerings a try (they are free to play after all) and ultimately fall for the same nonsense that has been poisoning gamers for many years now, with all their cancerous methods of making money and keeping the players addicted.

In the end it's good news that according to Bloomberg.com Nintendo has realized that they should better focus on their home console experience instead on the mobile gaming market, because the former is more lucrative and relies on traditional monetization methods. Ideally, The Legend of Zelda will never be abused to create such a free-to-play titles...

And yes, big games like Breath of the Wild or Hyrule Warriors can be equally addicting and even more time consuming. But at least they do not create obligations, where you can just play them on your own pace. And even if you are as crazy as me and go for 100% completion, there is still an end to these games, all while at least providing some good gameplay and a fun experience.

So, stay healthy... and not just by avoiding some virus.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Cadence of Hyrule: DLC and Physical Edition Announced

Box art for the game, available October 23rd

So, we really did get a Nintendo Direct today... probably just not what most Nintendo fans were hoping for. The first "Partner Showcase" focused on a few 3rd party announcements and surprisingly there was still something in here with relevancy for this blog: Cadence of Hyrule.

Cadence of Hyrule is probably the first Zelda-related title ever (minus the ones on CDi) that doesn't really have my attention, so I would have never come up with predictions for this. I've tried the game once, but I didn't like it enough that it can't wait until I have my own Nintendo Switch one day. And it's probably a good thing that I haven't invested in this game yet, now that it is getting a physical edition later this year, which also includes all the upcoming DLC. I'll certainly get this one.

The DLC is split into three packs:

  • Character Pack: Adds Impa, Shadow Link, Shadow Zelda, Aria and Frederick as playable characters.
  • Melody Pack: Adds 39 Songs.
  • Symphony of the Mask: Adds a new story chapter where you play as Skull Kid, who uses different masks.

This all sounds quite good, especially the Skull Kid story mode looked interesting, where the different playable characters give me small Hyrule Warriors vibes, which is a good thing. Impa even uses a Naginata here, which she so far only did in Hyrule Warriors. So, there was definitely some inspiration taken from Koei Tecmo's Zelda project.

Artwork and screenshot of Impa in Cadence of Hyrule

And it will be nice to have it all on one cartridge. The physical edition launces October 23rd, which is probably the same time when the third DLC Pack gets released.

The Character Pack will be available today and the rest gets released until the end of October. And as usual for Nintendo DLCs, this will also come with a Season Pass, where you get bonus costumes for Link and Zelda if you buy the whole thing. It's unclear whether the physical edition will include these costumes or not, but it probably does, since it's stated to come with the Season Pass.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Nintendo Direct Coming Soon?

Nintendo Direct logo

Today is the release day of Paper Mario: The Origami King. And just like after the release of Animal Crossing: New Horizons in March we're back to not knowing anything about what's next for Nintendo. Which means it's time for a Nintendo Direct or at least the announcement of the next big release.

There even have been rumors that we're getting a Nintendo Direct as early as Monday. It could again be shadow dropped, like the Nintendo Direct Mini from March, which followed the release of Animal Crossing: New Horizons the week after. So, it's probably best to write down expectations now, if you really want to go into the next Direct with expectations.

Whenever we're getting a Nintendo Direct, one of the topics will certainly be the seventh Challenger Pack for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. It's actually of note how they've already removed the "New" labels from the official website. Apparently, this only happens when a new fighter announcement is imminent. And it's remarkable how quickly they've removed this after the release of Min Min not even three weeks ago.

I'm personally so happy with ARMS and Min Min in Smash that I doubt that any of the upcoming DLC would top this, but getting a Challenger Pack for Minecraft would still be quite hype for me. They could also do another mystery reveal again, e.g. by announcing a Pokémon from Sword & Shield, but then they probably wouldn't have changed things on the official website already... In any case it will be interesting.

Otherwise such a Nintendo Direct would probably primarily focus on Nintendo's line-up for the rest of 2020. So, I'm not expecting anything about Metroid Prime 4, Bayonetta 3 or the sequel to Breath of the Wild, though it would be nice to finally learn more about these titles.

But the 35th Anniversary of Super Mario could become a topic and what's also quite in the realm of possibilities for this year is a new 2D Metroid on the Nintendo Switch, developed by MercurySteam, who did a good job with Metroid: Samus Returns on the Nintendo 3DS three years ago. It would be awesome to get a follow-up to this, whether it's another remake or finally a new title. Maybe this could even lead to a cool looking Special Edition Nintendo Switch...

Friday, July 10, 2020

Nintendo's Reluctance to Fix and Improve Games

Link in Breath of the Wild opening the stuck chest near Aris Beach
Screenshot by HylianAngel @ GameFAQs

Let's start this article by saying that Nintendo has some of the best, if not the best quality control in the business. If a Nintendo game hits the shelves, it's absolutely ready and in a finalized, fully polished state, which most games out there won't ever reach these days.

However, games are never perfect and even Nintendo goofs up here and there. And when that happens, it's very rare for Nintendo to actually do something about it, unless it's a critical, game-breaking bug.

As early as the Wii, they did provide a tool to repair your save game of Skyward Sword, if you happen to get stuck during the Song of the Hero sequence, because the Eldin part doesn't get triggered. And last year they've fixed the glitch in Link's Awakening on Nintendo Switch, where Marin doesn't ever leave her house, thus preventing you from making any progress after Level 3.

Of course in the days of the GameCube or in earlier generations something like this wasn't possible at all. The only way to fix anything was to release a new version of the game, put on disc or cartridge. So, they had to make sure that games would be near perfect before getting them out there, which is certainly one of the reasons why Nintendo's quality control is so good. Back in the day it had to be.

Now, with the Nintendo 3DS and the Wii U it was finally possible to provide extensive patches and updates for all their games. If there was a problem with one of their products, they finally had the means to easily fix it, where day 1 patches are even getting more and more common for Nintendo.

But... they rarely make use of updates and when they do it's mostly just to either prepare DLC or to fix critical bugs like the ones above. Anything else most likely will be ignored... Of course putting updates out there costs money, time and other resources, so fixing some minor issues probably just isn't worth the effort for them. But with certain games they've released multiple updates, but still refused to fix some of the issues that have been bugging the fans for a while.

This blog has actually a dedicated series of posts that are all about updating most of the Zelda games from the past ten years:

Many of these suggestions are major feature requests, which of course aren't necessarily expected from free updates, but with each game there are also some minor fixes left to be desired, which were never happening.

It basically all started with A Link Between Worlds, where it felt almost too obvious that you should be able to summon Shadow Links via Play Coins, instead of playing for four hours to have one appear. It would have made completing the game much, much easier, especially if didn't have the chance to use StreetPass in some form. (Also, they could have lowered the requirements for the Giant Cucco. *cough*)

Majora's Mask 3D then mostly had some issues with its interface and controls, where the Zora Swimming probably was the worst offender. It's notably also the only Zelda release in the last decade without some "Hero Mode" option, which could have been added via an update.

Tri Force Heroes actually had placeholders for another area and for additional outfits, where all of this never has been made for some reason. But it was really the game's singleplayer and Coliseum modes that left a lot to be desired, where they could have improved many things with some adjustments.

Twilight Princess HD introduced the new Ghost Lantern item only for it to be completely useless. Ideally it would have made the Poes appear during day or let you change the daytime to night. There was also a bug where you could miss one of the three Bomb Bags, while the interface and controls were far from perfect. Especially the new horse behavior sucked monkey balls.

And don't let me get started on Breath of the Wild... There are unobtainable chests, a glitch preventing you from getting the Thunder Helmet, lots of annoyances around the armor inventory and still no way of climbing in the rain without slipping. And those are just some examples.

The remake for Link's Awakening wasn't much better, with its lack of D-Pad controls or the silly chests with Secret Medicines staying closed if you already have one. Another warp point in the central mountains was dearly missed. And the whole Chamber Dungeon feature was so underwhelming on certain ends that an update there could have done absolute wonders.

All of these were examples for the Zelda series, but this is a Nintendo thing and certainly concerns many of their games. The hugely popular Super Smash Bros. Ultimate for example is already on its eighth major update, version 8.0.0, but it still doesn't let you toggle stage hazards on the stage select screen and it still doesn't remember your last fighter choice in the Smash mode, both things that are just annoying and are frequently requested to be fixed...


The devil is in the details and it's often the little things that might leave a sour taste in your mouth after an otherwise excellent experience. And it's not like Nintendo is completely immune to the idea of fixing little issues and improving their game in small ways.

Link is about to purchase a Korok Mask

With Breath of the Wild they did actually fix and improve a couple of things. Originally you weren't able to re-obtain any of the DLC armor pieces, if you sold them, but update 1.3.3 added them all to Granté's collection, which was a really good improvement for the game. They've also fixed a couple of issues with the game's Master Mode.

But updates like that are rare, which is a shame. Even if some of these issues seem minor, Nintendo could a lot of good by listening a little more to the players and updating their games accordingly. Small things do count and in the end this is about making your most loyal customers happy.

Monday, July 6, 2020

Breath of the Wild 2: Voice Acting Done?

Zelda and Link in a cave, as seen in the teaser trailer from 2019

Update: according to Eduardo Vasquez on Twitter they haven't confirmed anything, instead they were just messing around in the original interview. So, there's probably nothing to see here.
Update 2: they were probably talking about the new Hyrule Warriors game that is coming out this year instead. So, this most likely didn't have anything to do with the sequel and it will still take some time until that comes out.


The Spanish website GameReactor had an interview with the Spanish voice actors for Zelda and Revali, who have slipped that they are already done recording for the sequel to Breath of the Wild. And this is quite surprising.

Of course this could only mean that they have finished the story sequences and all the cutscenes – because that's what most of the voice acting is used for. All of this can be planned, prepared and finished independently from the main game. However, in case that Zelda has a more important role in the sequel, it could also mean that most of the game is finished already and they are now only spamming little side quests all over the world, testing and fine tuning.

In any case, I personally don't expect the sequel to Breath of the Wild to be released in 2020, but an early 2021 release (like in March) seems more likely after these news and would be perfect to celebrate the 35th Anniversary with a bang right out of the box. And under these circumstances I definitely expect a new trailer to be dropped with the next Nintendo Direct, which most likely had been planned for E3 2020 anyway.

It's also interesting to learn that Revali seems to be still part of the story. It will certainly be nice to see more of the Champions, because we haven't seen that much of them in Breath of the Wild, despite their importance.

Again, this could mean different things. We could see more flashbacks to 100 years ago, where the Champions were still alive. And their abilities could still be part of the game, of course. Or the game could do something crazy, where it creates an alternate reality / world, where the Champions exist in a different form. Or maybe even let you go back in time. We'll see.

Via: ntower.de

Friday, July 3, 2020

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate: Going Forward

More DLC fighters now in development

Min Min has been released earlier this week as DLC for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and the focus finally shifts from "Who's going to be the ARMS fighter?" to "Who's going to get in next?", where things feel a lot more open and exciting than they did after the announcement of the 2nd Fighters Pass.

We're going to get a total of five more Challenger Packs until the end of next year, as well as many more Mii costumes. And there is still the possibility of there being more stages and fighters beyond that. So, let's go over all of this another time, even at the risk of sounding like a broken record.

The Challenger Packs?

The addition of ARMS really has blown the doors wide open for more DLC based on Nintendo's 1st or 2nd party games. It paints a very different picture than what we had after the first Fighters Pass, where four out of five fighters came from 3rd parties and the only 1st party addition came from a brand new Nintendo Switch game, Fire Emblem: Three Houses, which wasn't represented in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate at all before its Challenger Pack – no Spirits, no music, nothing.

At the time it felt that games like ARMS or Xenoblade Chronicles 2 were simply the victim of poor timing and fans of these games had to live with the consolation prizes in the form of Spirits, Assist Trophies and Mii costumes, while Nintendo would be focusing on newer Nintendo Switch games for the DLC.

But this has changed and getting a Challenger Pack for Xenoblade Chronicles 2 seems like one of the likeliest candidates for more 1st/2nd party contents right now. But even games like Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze or Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker might be back on the table.

The 3rd party realm was mostly unaffected by this. Rayman now seems somewhat likelier, but otherwise there are still dozens of possibilities of 3rd party newcomers. However, you shouldn't expect ARMS to be the only first party addition, where ideally there will be a healthy mix of both in the end.

More Stages?

Of course each Challenger Pack comes with a new stage, so there will be at least five more. The random stage selection in the rule sets already gives you a good idea how they stage select screen will expand after Spring Stadium: there is another row for a 11 x 11 grid.

This gives us actually slots for up to five more stages beyond the second Fighters Pass (the last slot is reserved for "custom stages" in the rule sets) and it would be a shame, if those didn't get used somehow.

They could bring back some of the missing stages, e.g. Rainbow Road, but ideally they would focus on stages for Nintendo games that don't necessarily have to come with a fighter. Games like Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, Yoshi's Crafted World, The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening or Luigi's Mansion 3 would be perfect examples here.

screenshot of Link fighting the Evil Eagle in the Link's Awakening remake on top of the Eagle's Tower

All of these games are from established franchises in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and none of them would feel odd without a new fighter. And this would really fill some gaps, where so far only Splatoon, Super Mario Odyssey, Breath of the Wild and Fire Emblem: Three Houses have gotten proper stage representation in this current generation of Smash. Normally each new Smash came with many new stages from recent Nintendo games, but the focus of Ultimate was bringing back as many of the old stages as possible...

Also, I'm still in love with the idea of an Eagle's Tower stage. The Evil Eagle could be a stage boss and the tower could even rotate so that the Windfish's Egg gets into view, emulating the title screen of the remake of Link's Awakening. I'd pay good money for such a stage.

And it can't be said often enough, but Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze only being represented by two songs and some Spirits is a massive shame. In the least it should get a new stage with more of its excellent soundtrack.

Echo Fighters?

This was already discussed last month with a look at the expanded roster, where there are four more open slots, which would work best for additional Echo Fighters. Dixie Kong, Jeanne, Impa, Dry Bowser, the Octolings or others still feel like possibilities here and we have to see whether Sakurai's team is willing to take this route to fully push the roster to its limits.

But after the introduction of "Echo Fighters" as this new concept to add zest to clone fighters, it almost feels like a wasted opportunity. The branding really changed a lot, where Sakurai and his team got the fans from despising clones to asking for them. And there is probably no easier way of fulfilling some remaining fan wishes than with certain Echo Fighters.

Ideally, those would be part of the upcoming major updates. In general it feels like Sakurai's team really wants to add to the game with the updates, where we got some really big additions so far, like the Stage Builder, Online Tourneys, Home-Run Contest or the new Spirit battle feature. Now, Echo Fighters would certainly be an exciting way of adding more to the game and since they are free, people probably wouldn't complain much about getting some more clones. You don't look a gift horse into the mouth.

Alternatively, they could do an "Echo Fighters Pass", which could go hand in hand with adding some more stages. There could be Dixie Kong as an Echo Fighter, bundled with a new stage for Tropical Freeze for example.