Monthly Archives: May 2015

Quick Impressions: Cyclades

I played my first game of Cyclades last night, and it’s definitely a game I’d like to revisit.  To be more precise, I played my first most-of-a-game: as everyone was agonizing over potential endgame scenarios, the coffee shop closed and we had to pack up and leave.  For the record, I’m just going to assume that I was about to win.


Cyclades is the kind of game that seems super intimidating at first.  The board, a series of islands – the titular Cyclades – is divided into something of a grid and is covered in iconography; the pieces are detailed miniatures of troops and ships; there are a variety of cards, cardboard pieces, dice, and tracks for your pieces; and each player has a screen that is covered with dozens of inscrutable icons but, Euro-style, not a single word.  Despite all this complexity, though, the game is actually pretty easy to pick up.  My first playthrough didn’t feel like a wasted learning experience; I felt like I actually was playing the game. Continue reading Quick Impressions: Cyclades

Here’s an Idea: An Amiibo Killer App

[When I’m not playing games or writing about games, I’m often thinking about games – thinking about what would make a cool idea for a game, or how I wish a certain game was different, or what I’m hoping for in a sequel.  So, to share some of these ideas, I’m starting a new occasional column called Here’s an Idea.  Basically, it’s game design fan fiction.]

Nintendo’s line of collectible, game-connected figures has so far been a huge success for the company.  In the six months they’ve been out, Nintendo has shipped 10.5 million units and is scrambling to get more product on store shelves.  This is, in one sense, perfectly understandable: similar products, like Skylanders and Disney Infinity, are hugely successful, and Nintendo has a stable of popular characters like Mario, Link, Donkey Kong, and… Wii Fit Trainer.  Why wouldn’t they be popular?  But in another sense, the success of Amiibo is a little weird, because unlike, say, Skylanders, they don’t really do anything.

(Image: Farley Santos)
(Image: Farley Santos)

Well, that’s not entirely accurate.  They do some stuff.  But what they do is a vague and inconsistent.  The most robust Amiibo support is found in Super Smash Bros., where Amiibo become NPC companions/opponents that you can level up and customize.  This is the closest Amiibo come to having Skylanders-type functionality, where you bring your character into the game, upgrade and/or customize it, and save the stats to the figure rather than the console hard drive, allowing you to bring your character to a friend’s house.  But in Super Smash Bros., you don’t get to play as the character, just alongside it or against it.

Meanwhile, Amiibo support in other games is pretty limited.  In Mario Party 10, a new “Amiibo Party” mode lets you tap your Amiibo to the gamepad a bunch of times to do things that could easily be done with a button press, and then save the powerups you earn to your figure.  In all other Amiibo-compatible games, functionality is limited to read-only effects, in most cases involving Amiibo unlocking things like extra costumes or consumable in-game items.  Of course, the fact that one Amiibo can be used in multiple games – though limited to one read/write game per figure – is a nice bonus, regardless of how limited the features are for those additional games.  But what is lacking is a really great killer app where Amiibo feel really essential to the gameplay.  So far, they kind of feel shoehorned in. Continue reading Here’s an Idea: An Amiibo Killer App

What’s NXt for Nintendo?

Back in March, Nintendo announced that they were working on a new “dedicated game platform,” with the codename “NX.”  No other details were offered other than to say that the NX will be a “brand-new concept” and that the company “[hopes] to share more information” in 2016.  The announcement came during a press conference in which Nintendo announced its plans to develop games for smartphones, so the point of this reveal was to reassure stockholders and/or fans that the company is not abandoning dedicated gaming hardware.  And, for now, that’s all we really have to go on: a codename and a vague notion of when we will learn more.  Well, that and our infinite capacity for unfounded speculation!

Not the NX, probably.
Not the NX, probably.

There are two big, obvious questions:  What is the NX?  And when is it coming out?  To the first question, there are really four potential answers: a home console, a handheld, some sort of home console/handheld hybrid, or something else entirely, a genuinely “brand-new concept.”  For now, let’s set aside the “something else entirely” category, as that’s a bottomless pit of speculative potential and there’s only so much Internet to go around.  Continue reading What’s NXt for Nintendo?

Ori and the Blind Forest Review

I love this game.  Let me get that out of the way right up front.  We’re in a new golden age for side-scrollers, and Ori and the Blind Forest is up there with the best I’ve ever played.  Gorgeous graphics, fluid controls, and satisfying challenges make for one of the best videogame experiences I’ve had in years.


Ori and the Blind Forest has been out for a while, but if you’re not familiar with it, here are the basics: it is a metroidvania game in which you play Ori, some kind of flying-monkey-looking thing, and you flit around the titular forest, which has become sick and is in need of saving.  The story, such as it is, is straight-up videogame boilerplate.  There’s a Spirit Tree, there are three main objectives centered on three elements, there’s the restoring of light.  But somehow, developer Moon Studios has made this paint-by-numbers story seem vital.  This can be credited mainly to two things: the game’s beautiful art design, and its poignant opening scene.  Continue reading Ori and the Blind Forest Review