Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Breath of the Wild 2: Corroded Master Sword

Link in his ancient gear holding a badly corroded Master Sword against a golden glow

Today's announcement didn't come without any new footage, where we can take another glimpse at what the ancient-looking Link is up to. The Master Sword is completely corroded, it's in a much worse state than it was in Breath of the Wild. There is an orb of golden light next to Link and he draws the sword, where his hand is glowing in the same golden light.

It feels like one of those scenes in Skyward Sword, where Link was forging the Goddess Sword into the Master Sword. Maybe Fi will even play a slightly bigger role again, since she already got teased in Breath of the Wild, but probably not in the same vein as in the Wii title. You don't see her dancing around or anything like that, but the Master Sword has a blue glow to it and the handle looks a lot more blue. Maybe Fi will be equally damaged, where you are saving her along with the sword. In any case, it would make having Skyward Sword HD on the Nintendo Switch even more relevant.

The Master Sword probably gets corrupted like that in the beginning, in the scene with Mummy Ganondorf from the original teaser trailer. And it will be part of your mission to restore it. This makes sense, because having the Master Sword right from the start will be too overpowered, so Nintendo needed to find a way to get it out of the equation. But at the same time this is hardly innovative, so let's see what else they are going to make out of this situation.

It was also never fully restored in Breath of the Wild, where Ganondorf probably took advantage of that fact. Remember how he mocked the weakened Master Sword back in The Wind Waker, where now he may be a little bit wiser and tried to destroy the blade once and for all.

Breath of the Wild 2 Delayed to Spring 2023

Link next to a golden orb of light

Two hours ago Nintendo has published an announcement by Eiji Aonuma that the sequel to Breath of the Wild was rescheduled to Spring 2023. For readers of this blog this won't come as a shock, where at the fifth anniversary of Breath of the Wild this release window came up as speculation.

2022 is already crowded as it is and this way they can release the sequel on March 3rd, exactly six years after the release of Breath of the Wild and the Nintendo Switch. Maybe the game will even be the launch title for the second generation Nintendo Switch, who knows...? Well, Nintendo does.

For me personally this is good news, because this will give me enough time to replay Breath of the Wild before the sequel comes out. Plus, I have so many games to catch up with on Nintendo Switch, especially with Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes and Xenoblade Chronicles 3 coming later this year, where I wanted to play Fire Emblem: Three Houses and the first two Xenoblade Chronicles first. I won't be able to play all of it, of course, but I certainly won't be playing anything else for a while once the sequel to Breath of the Wild hits the stores.

Right now we can safely say that 2023 will be all about the sequel to Breath of the Wild. The game will come out in Spring, DLC will probably follow during the rest of the year, and every Zelda fan will be playing this for months.

This also shifts the road ahead for Zelda overall. If GREZZO is making more topdown Zelda titles, like remakes of the Oracle games, then those probably won't come out before 2024. And for this year it's still possible that we might be getting something for the meantime, like ports of The Wind Waker HD and Twilight Princess HD in a double-pack (or a triple-pack if they decide to add something else to it, like Link's Crossbow Training HD). Having all 3D Zelda games on the Nintendo Switch in some form before the next big Zelda games comes out would certainly be desirable and also good advertisement.

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Booster Course Pass: Leaks and Speculation

Booster Course Pass Banner

Let's have some more fun with the Mario Kart 8 Deluxe DLC by looking what may await us with the remaining waves. There have been two leaks with the release of the first wave, where we can already paint a pretty good picture. One is mined data of the current prefixes for all the tracks in the upcoming cups, which tells us what games the tracks will be from (for the most part). The other is an updated banner for the Booster Course Pass, which potentially shows us a variety of upcoming tracks. Well, let's put this all together and see what else there might be.

Spoilers ahead! If you don't want to know any of the leaked stuff, stop reading right here. You've been warned.

Let's start with the mined course data. Following are all the names of the future cups and the currently known retro labels for their courses. Some of them don't have any, but this is also true for Ninja Hideaway, where this data will probably get filled with upcoming updates.

As for the new banner found by Joshua 'NantenJex' Goldie, it's not clear where he got this from. But there's an upscaled version provided by Jolimations, which makes it easier to see the tracks:

updated banner art with lots of small images

It looks like this is mainly images of tracks from Mario Kart Tour slapped together, which accurately describes the whole DLC anyway. But there is what seems to be the trick variant of Choco Mountain next to Luigi's right arm, which doesn't really make any sense, unless not much thought was given into making the new banner. So, don't expect any shown courses here to be guaranteed.

Still, since all the new tracks are very likely going to be ported over from Mario Kart Tour, everything already in the mobile game is up for consideration anyway, where it makes sense to take a look at the list of courses for the game and remove what's already in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.

This compilation doesn't cover any remixed courses or courses that aren't in the game yet, of course, like Coconut Mall for example or upcoming city tours. So, just because a course isn't in the above list, it doesn't mean that it won't make it. There is still a lot of time until the end of 2023, where Mario Kart Tour and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe will continuously get additions.

And this list doesn't really fit well together with the numbers that we have above anyway, where apparently there won't be so many SNES and Nintendo 3DS courses, while GameCube and Wii are said to get more than what Mario Kart Tour already has. Even Mario Kart Tour itself only provides eight out of the dozen original Tour tracks so far, where at least three more city tours would be needed to start each new cup with a different real life city inspired course. And there is probably one more original course coming to Tour.

Also, there's are so many courses from Mario Kart 7 in Mario Kart Tour that it will be hard to pick between them. It would take all of the seven unlabeled tracks to cover the above list of Nintendo 3DS courses and this doesn't even include the two Wuhu Island tracks yet, which feel like a must-have and will certainly come to the mobile game at some point. Overall, the tracks from Mario Kart 7 will make for some of the best additions to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, because this is the game that has introduced the different driving modes. Even if there won't be any anti-gravity sections, these tracks will at least make good use of the glider and offer some great underwater tracks as well, e.g. Wario Shipyard.

In the leaked banner you can already spot the 3DS Rainbow Road and the Rock Cup will very likely feature Rock Rock Mountain, where there isn't much room left, really. With in this mind it's absolutely baffling that they went with the simplest track from Mario Kart 7, Toad Circuit, instead of something like the amazing Shy Guy Bazaar...

Shy Guy Bazaar as seen in Mario Kart Tour

At the same time we will be getting more GBA tracks than what there already is present in Mario Kart Tour, unless they are giving us both of the Bowser Castles, which would be lame. Those courses will most likely end up all being very short and simple as well, similar to Sky Garden. While that's not a problem in itself and it's nice to have some more carefree tracks, it will be disappointing if we end up getting many simple courses over some more interesting ones. In the end it's all their ripe for the taking.

And this raises one big question: Why not just have it all?

Well, the answer is that currently "only" 48 additional courses are planned. And if these courses were made in the quality of the base game, then this would be a gigantic effort for Nintendo, where we couldn't really ask for more. But they aren't in the same quality, they are mass-produced Mario Kart Tour ports, where their main purpose is probably for people to subscribe to the Expansion Pack of the Nintendo Switch Online service. And it's in Nintendo's own interest that they stay subscribed for the years to come, where the best way to ensure this is to keep releasing more courses. So, if we're really going the "quantity over quality" route, why not go it down all the way?

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate had a second Fighters Pass, where it's possible that Mario Kart 8 Deluxe may get a second Booster Course Pass in 2024 and 2025. They will keep making more courses for Mario Kart Tour and they could keep exporting them to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe while they are it... The current system to swap between the cups via the L and R buttons in the menu already feels like it's meant to be expanded even further. Especially in the trophy overview of the game modes this handles quite oddly, where they could have just used a single button instead.

And with 96 courses in total we could have everything from Mario Kart 7 and pretty much everything of note from the entire Mario Kart series. The only problem is that they will eventually run out of power-ups to name these new cups after. "Fruit Cup", really?

Well, there is another problem: at some point Nintendo will want to upgrade the Nintendo Switch to the next generation and also release a new Mario Kart title for that system. But that title will most likely go in a "Nintendo Kart" direction, where their goal might be to make Mario Kart 8 Deluxe the ultimate Mario Kart experience until then by adding all these retro courses.

all four Kongs in Mario Kart Tour driving in Rambi Riders

It won't be the ultimate Mario Kart without some character additions, however. It doesn't need any of the weird characters variations that Mario Kart Tour has, like Lederhosen Luigi, but some of the most prominent omissions from past games and additions in Tour should make it over to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe as well, either as separate DLC or as part of the free updates. This includes Diddy Kong, Dixie Kong, Funky Kong, Birdo (with colors), Kamek, and Pauline.

Zelda from Breath of the Wild would also be great, especially after she took over the Master Cycle Zero in Age of Calamity. But Nintendo will probably save additional crossovers for the next Mario Kart game as a selling point.

 

Conclusion

By porting over the courses from Mario Kart Tour Nintendo went on the "quantity over quality" lane, but on that lane it won't be easy to satisfy everyone. There are just too many good tracks in Mario Kart with all of them being a favorite for someone. When the Booster Course Pass is gone and done, Mario Kart Tour will still have a good amount of desirable courses left, wanting to be ported over to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe as well, where it's possible that those will all of this will be continued in a second Booster Course Pass. Oh, and there should be some more drivers to truly make this the ultimate Mario Kart collection, but everyone knew that already.

Saturday, March 19, 2022

Booster Course Pass: Wave 1 Impressions

Link flying through Sky Garden on the Master Cycle Zero

The Master Cycle Zero is back on the track! The first wave of the Booster Course Pass has been released for Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and it's making waves of its own. It contains the following eight tracks:

Golden Dash Cup:

  • Tour Paris Promenade 
  • 3DS Toad Circuit
  • N64 Choco Mountain
  • Wii Coconut Mall

Lucky Cat Cup:

  • Tour Tokyo Blur
  • DS Shroom Ridge
  • GBA Sky Garden
  • Tour Ninja Hideaway

For some reason Ninja Hideaway isn't labeled as "Tour" in the game, but this might be an oversight. The retro labels of all upcoming tracks already have been datamined, where there are a couple "unknown", despite the fact that the Booster Course Pass is said to be entirely made out of returning courses.

In fact, it seems like everything simply got imported from Mario Kart Tour with some polish. This has been a concern since the pass was announced over a month ago, but it definitely creates a rift in quality between the base game and the new DLC tracks, where the new tracks look a lot more plastic. It doesn't look terrible, but it is simply not on par with the rest of the game and comes with a completely different art style, which also clashes with the drivers and carts.

In addition, everything was upscaled to make space for a higher number of drivers. As a result you will find gigantic Toads at the wayside or comically large objects, because they didn't scale these elements properly afterwards. And you can't unsee this stuff.

Funnily enough, all the original cups got a golden border in the menus, while the new cups got one in silver to differentiate them visually. That's a good idea, but at the same time this can be seen as a statement that we're indeed getting second-rate courses here. Let's just hope that there won't be any bronze DLC in the future with an equal fall from quality...

You can switch between the golden and silver cups by pressing L or R, where it seems that this was put into the game whether you have purchased the DLC or not. Mario Kart 8 on the Wii U already had this bad habit of adding such "buy me" placeholders for the DLC, where Nintendo seems to continue this trend once more, though it's not as bad here, since you simply don't have to flip the page and the rest still looks complete.

Well... this blog has a saying: bad DLC can taint an otherwise great game. The original Hyrule Warriors on Wii U was very solid out of the box, but then Koei Tecmo gradually turned everything into a mess with all the molecular DLCs and the excessive difficulty and level increases. Breath of the Wild is one of the best games ever made, but the Expansion Pass put a visible dent on that with its "pay for quality of life improvements" approach, the random insertion of treasure chests with DLC armor pieces, or questionable challenges that may not be fun for everyone... Of course these DLCs also had some really good things in them, making them worthwhile overall, but it's hard to ignore the taints that came with them. And it's the same with the Booster Course Pass.

Other than the placeholders, the DLC for the original Mario Kart 8 was absolutely great. It offered new courses, drivers, and vehicle parts in the quality of the base game (except for the generic trophies), as well as some very interesting crossovers with other Nintendo franchises, like Zelda or F-Zero. It expanded the whole package to what we know today as Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, minus the Battle Mode.

Ninja Hideaway start area with a Japanese themed castle

The Booster Course Pass on the other hand has a very different goal: to bring over most of the tracks from Mario Kart Tour, where Nintendo could have just called this the "Mario Kart Tour Pack" if they were more upfront. In itself this is a noble goal. Mario Kart Tour is a service game and that service will cease to exist eventually, where it's good that they are preserving these courses by bringing them over to the current Mario Kart on consoles. This way you can play them whenever you want on a big screen, which is awesome.

But Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is the most popular game on one of Nintendo's most successful systems, where you would think that this gets all the budget it needs to become fabulously fantastic. Instead, they are not even trying. They know that this going to sell in any case, so they are saving costs and efforts left and right by simply porting over what they have in Mario Kart Tour without any bigger adjustments...

At least the music is of the quality that you would expect, where it seems that they've actually brought the band back. So, that's something and honestly a relief. Still, the music can't hide the fact that these new tracks were made for a mobile game and are a visual downgrade – or at least a divergence – from the rest of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.


The Courses

Now, going through the new tracks, there are some ups and downs. The highlights are probably the courses that got first made for Mario Kart Tour, where it seems like those will make up a majority of the DLC. Each of the new cups will start with one of the city tours even. There is Paris Promenade in the Golden Dash Cup, Tokyo Blur in the Lucky Cat Cup, and also Ninja Hideaway.

These are the most complex of the additions, with different routes and course alterations. The city courses all have different variants in Mario Kart Tour, where some of them now get combined into one for Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, which is clever and creates an unique experience for all of these.

In Paris Promenade you can choose between two different routes on the first two laps, but the last lap then makes you go in reverse for a bit, where you may even run right into other drivers who are still going through lap 2. This is such a great idea that you might wonder why Nintendo didn't come up with this any sooner. And this also builds on the fact that the tracks in Mario Kart Tour do have reversed variants, something completely new to the series.

Tokyo Blur simply makes you go different routes on each lap, where on the last lap you just go up a spiral driveway on a completely untouched section, so the first place won't have any bananas or other obstacles left by players in the way. But it's by far the simplest of the additions from Mario Kart Tour so far.

Ninja Hideaway is a quite open track with lots of possible routes take, without straying too far from each other. So, this isn't another Yoshi Valley, but that's mainly because the different ways are above each other, where the paths splits vertically. There is even the biggest updraft section in the game, where you have complete control over where to go. And it feels great. Curiously, the level only features Shy Guys, but no Ninjis... Probably because that's what they already had in the game.

Toad Circuit with a large yellow balloon Toad

The classic courses on the other hand, which also got ported over from Mario Kart Tour, feel very basic in comparison, where Toad Circuit from Mario Kart 7 is the prime example of this. It's a good tutorial track and there's nothing inherently wrong with this course, where it's just a short feel-good racing experience. But in a game where basically every course has something unique to it, this just falls flat and can be quite boring.

Choco Mountain could have had the chance to become something more unique here, instead they've changed this by making it more similar to Wario's Goldmine, where now there is a small cave section with bats flying towards you... They also kept the railing at the end at all times, but that's actually very useful for 200cc.

Coconut Mall start

Some of the other classic tracks also have some quirky changes that seemingly got made by Mario Kart Tour and weren't improved upon in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. This even goes for the tracks that aren't officially in Mario Kart Tour as of yet, but it's safe to assume that those tracks were originally made for the mobile game and simply haven't been available so far.

Coconut Mall for example changed its escalators into flashy conveyor belts, where it's always obvious which way you need to go. At the same time you can't slowly go up in the wrong direction any longer, it's just way too strong. The course also feels more narrow overall, where it's easy to crash into the curves after said conveyor belts. And the moving cars with the Miis in them at the end aren't moving any longer and now feature Shy Guys instead of Miis. Such a change may be understandable for a mobile game, but on the Nintendo Switch this should have been made how it was in the original, since this game still supports Miis and it's easier to dodge moving objects. Curiously, the ramp and booster fields in the final section have also been removed, making it a lot more boring overall.

On Shroom Ridge you also won't find any oncoming traffic, everything goes in the same direction, where this course has borrowed some of the vehicles from Toad's Turnpike. This is arguably not the worst change, because the track is difficult enough as it is with all its sharp turns, where both here and on Ninja Hideaway you may find yourself hitting the brakes on 150cc already. Those two tracks are a nightmare on 200cc, which gets compensated in the Lucky Bell Cup by Tokyo Blur and Sky Garden, which are two of most relaxed courses in 200cc, almost if they were made for that speed specifically. But this also goes for Toad Circuit and comes with the simplicity of these racing tracks.

Sky Garden as seen from above

Sky Garden also would have been a great track for anti-gravity, but instead it's as basic as it gets. And that's true for the whole DLC. Well, all of the new courses have a glider section, almost as it was obligatory to put at least one into each track, so that players can see their entire cosmetics... But there are no underwater or anti-gravity sections. To be fair, the original Mario Kart 8 DLC also didn't have any underwater parts and it was fine. Also, Mario Kart Tour does feature underwater racing, where it's likely that we will be getting some courses with this feature later on.

But the lack of anti-gravity is concerning. Mario Kart Tour doesn't have anti-gravity and they may not bother implementing what's Mario Kart 8's defining feature into the new tracks, simply because the courses in Tour don't have it. Of course not every track needs to have it, but anti-gravity could have worked really well on Sky Garden or on the roof in Ninja Hideaway, but there is nothing. And right now we have reason to believe that there won't be any anti-gravity in the whole Booster Course Pass... Which is somewhat ironic considering that the promotional art has Mario, Luigi, and Peach drive over images of the new courses in anti-gravity.

And this isn't just about the anti-gravity. This DLC doesn't get the same treatment as the remastered classic courses from the base game, where Nintendo did some really creative things to fit them into Mario Kart 8. They are taking what they have made in Mario Kart Tour and they are simply shoving it into Mario Kart 8 Deluxe as it is. The only tracks that seemingly got some efforts put into them are the city tours with the altered laps, but that this feels like the utmost minimum.

Overall, this is quite disappointing and the sad thing is that we can't expect this to get any better with the rest of the DLC. It will be nice to have all these tracks available, sure, but it's tarnishing the quality of an otherwise excellent title.

Thursday, March 3, 2022

Breath of the Wild: Five Years

Link on the Great Plateau cliff looking at a text saying "five years"

Five years ago today, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was released on Wii U and the Nintendo Switch. It was on that day that many players have experienced the infamous and beautiful scene on the cliff in the middle of the Great Plateau for the first time, with the view of the gigantic new Hyrule unfolding before them. Breath of the Wild is a monumental entry to the series, which has greatly influenced the open world genre and will shape the Zelda series for many years to come, much like Ocarina of Time before it.

With over 26 million copies sold, it became the most successful Zelda game by a gigantic margin, a number that will be very hard to top in the future. This success essentially spawned a franchise of its own, where Breath of the Wild got its own of everything: merchandise, an amiibo line, an artbook, even an entire Hyrule Warriors game all dedicated to itself. You could even distinct between classic Zelda, with all the games part of Hyrule Historia, and modern Zelda with Breath of the Wild, where the title has left all the other legends far behind on the timeline.

It was a fresh take on Zelda in many ways, where it finally brought the focus back on what may be the most important thing in a Zelda game: exploration. It is unrivaled in giving the player freedom, especially with the ability to climb and glide almost everywhere, as well as employing an intricate physics system for solving all sorts of problems in all sorts of ways.

Now, five years later and after playing Breath of the Wild for hundreds of hours, the fans really only have one question in mind: Where is the sequel? Will the sequel to Breath of the Wild really come out in 2022?

a Talus fortified by Bokoblins as seen in the sequel

Well... the answer is probably "no". Sure, Nintendo has still listed the game for a 2022 release in their latest financial reports, where the media took this as a re-confirmation, but you shouldn't read too much into that. That's still the release date they gave at E3 2021, where even if their plans have changed internally, they will announce this separately to the public once they are ready. And until then they will go with the given placeholder date of "2022".

Of course it's still possible that it may come out in this year, but it already feels very crowded in 2022. We're getting Kirby and the Forgotten Land, Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes, Xenoblade Chronicles 3, Splatoon 3, and Bayonetta 3. A couple of days ago, for Pokémon Day, it was also announced that Pokémon Scarlet & Violet are coming to the Nintendo Switch in late 2022, which can be seen as Nintendo's big holiday hit.

2022 is going to be a fantastic year for Nintendo, even without the sequel to Breath of the Wild, and it's also going to be a year full of massive open world titles and large-scale Action Adventures all around. Pokémon Legends Arceus, Dyling Light 2, Horizon Forbidden West and Elden Ring were all already released this year, and there are many more to come, including God of War Ragnarök... There will be a huge fatigue when it comes to Action Adventures of this magnitude later in 2022, which isn't exactly a good position for the sequel to Breath of the Wild to be in, no matter how great the game might be. Nintendo will want it to get as much attention as possible, where it's best to wait until the current tide is over.

And with that in mind, an early 2023 release doesn't feel out of place, which still is part of Nintendo's fiscal year 2022 anyway.  The same thing happened with Breath of the Wild, which originally was planned for 2016, where history could repeat itself with its sequel, starting with an extensive showcase in June. Come to think of it, March 3rd 2023 will be on a Friday again, where the sequel could be released on the exact date of the sixth anniversary of Breath of the Wild.

In that case the game would also have gotten the exact same development time frame as Breath of the Wild did with a little over five years, considering that the development started at the end of the DLC Expansion Pass in late 2017. It all would add up.

Additionally, the game could get into the same position as Breath of the Wild (and Twilight Princess), where it becomes the launch title for the next Nintendo system. Let's not dive into any "Nintendo Switch Plus" rumors at this point, but Nintendo has been releasing a new model of the Nintendo Switch every second year, where in 2023 we could finally see a second generation for the system. The Nintendo Switch has become quite outdated from a technical view, where players and developers alike would love to get their hands on something with more power.

A new Nintendo Switch will most likely be backwards compatible and here it's thinkable the sequel to Breath of the Wild could make use of the new system's power somehow, but also run on old Nintendo Switch systems, basically like certain GameBoy Color titles did early on, e.g. Link's Awakening DX.

Anyway, as for 2022, the obligatory Zelda release of the year could just be ports of The Wind Waker HD + Twilight Princess HD as a two-in-one package, so that the Nintendo Switch will have the entire collection of 3D Zelda games available before the sequel to Breath of the Wild comes out.