Tag Archives: Nintendo

Here’s the Problem With Amiibo

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It’s hard to hate Nintendo. After all, they are behind many beloved franchises, including The Legend of Zelda, Mario, and the Metroid series. But their latest venture, the Wii U and 3DS compatible amiibo, has managed to antagonize a large number of its consumers. This is as a direct result of shortages in stock, and Nintendo’s subsequent failure to act on their promises to improve supply.

When amiibo were first released to coincide with Super Smash Bros. Wii U and Super Smash Bros. 3DS, they quickly became the must-have peripheral for gaming fans. The only problem was that demand for the items greatly outweighed the supply. This meant certain figures were almost impossible to find in stores and online. These included the likes of Marth, Wii Fit Trainer, and Villager, which sold out almost immediately upon being released.

It soon emerged that scalpers, intending to sell the figures for inflated prices, had somehow managed to buy these items in bulk. This meant that fans were to be deprived of the digital content associated with the amiibo, unless they were willing and able to part with extortionate amounts of cash.

Another option available to consumers was to wait for a restock. Though this method did not guarantee that they would eventually secure the amiibo of their choice, given the fierce competition for the items. The above also meant that younger gamers, without the disposable income or the means of store hopping, would go without.

At one point, the demand for the items was so high that Amazon and other online stores were giving specific order times to consumers, so as to grant them even the slightest chance of getting their hands on the rare figures.

The second and third waves of amiibo were faced with very much the same problems as the first. Rare figurines once again found their way onto eBay, selling way above their standard retail price. In addition, some areas saw counterfeiters begin to profit from deliberately misleading desperate customers with inferior goods.

Replying to the shortages, Nintendo gave customers the excuse that they did not anticipate the demand for the product. This would perhaps be an acceptable justification, if it weren’t for the problems associated with the previous waves of amiibo and the marketing campaign they undertook to entice even greater interest in the product. From the aforementioned reasons, it can be suggested that Nintendo knew amiibo were going to be in high demand, and simply failed to produce an adequate enough supply to retailers.

Many have even begun to accuse Nintendo of limiting supply deliberately in order to drum up interest in amiibo, something they have been accused of before in relation to the Nintendo Entertainment System and Wii consoles. If this proved true, it would be a contemptuous practice on behalf of the company, considering the growing necessity of amiibo to unlock additional in-game content. One such example of this is with the Splatoon amiibo, which grants access to additional gear and challenges in the game. In this case, the rarity of said items has meant that players are being denied content that should have been available to all upon release, and not just to the privileged few.

Nintendo have since commented again on the amiibo shortages in an exchange published on Game Informer. In their response, a Nintendo service agent blames retailers for the lack of amiibo on store shelves, rather than taking responsibility for their own mistakes regarding the production and distribution of the figures.

Given the events surrounding the release and sale of amiibo, it’s getting increasingly hard to be enthused about a new batch of characters being introduced. This is because there is no guarantee that players will actually get their hands on the product once they have officially been released. Hopefully Nintendo will soon make amends for this. Though, at the moment, the outlook is poor.

A Walk In The Park: Revisiting Jurassic Park For The Super Nintendo Entertainment System

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As far back as I can remember I’ve always loved Jurassic Park. Like all kids growing up in the 90s, Spielberg’s blockbuster hit captured my imagination, sparking a lifelong fascination with the source material. I expressed my enthusiasm any way that I could. This mostly consisted of writing terrible fan fiction in scrawled English, and acting out my own adventures with a box of mismatched dinosaur toys.

At approximately the same time, I was in the process of discovering something else that would prove influential on my life: videogames. I had finally started to experiment with my brother’s Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) and his collection of games. To my astonishment, whilst digging through the countless cartridges and crumpled cardboard boxes, I discovered something incredible; my two loves had been combined. There it was: Jurassic Park the game by Ocean Software. Finally, I could live the movie.

I placed the cart into the machine. Pressing the switch forward on the SNES, the title menu flickered and appeared. My excitement was at its peak.

Dropping the player into the middle of Isla Nublar, Jurassic Park the game allows players to take on the role of Alan Grant, the renowned Paleontologist from the film. Your task is simple: find a way to escape from the failed island attraction and avoid its biggest predators. Beyond that, very little prompt is given. You must collect ammunition and whatever else in order to stay alive.

Echoing the opening of Legend of Zelda for the Nintendo Entertainment System, the player is given no real clue on where to head first after beginning the game, but is instead encouraged to explore and collect. This gives the game a sense of vastness, as players take their time to navigate the different environments populated by various species of dinosaur. Along the way, you will encounter Dilophosaurus, Compys, and Gallimimus in the wild, as well as rampaging Triceratops, raptors, and a ferocious T-Rex.

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Roaming around the sandy plains and open fields, the player’s movements are accompanied by a diverse electronic soundtrack by British composer Jonathan Dunn. Lacking the rights to the celebrated John Williams score, the game definitely succeeds in reaching an interesting compromise that helps to set the tone magnificently for each particular area. This makes it arguably one of the best soundtracks the SNES has to offer.

One example is the perfectly executed visitor centre scenes that feature a Doom-like first-person perspective with an ominous synth soundtrack. Walking from room to room, players are constantly kept on edge, as they have to avoid dinosaurs that have infiltrated the base. These areas were nerve-wracking as a child to play, and today still manage to make me jump and shout stuff that would make even the hardiest soul blush.

Criticized at the time for its open-ended play style and an over emphasis on exploration, the game has defied its detractors by remaining one of the most authentic experiences to be based on its intellectual property. Taking elements from the successful videogame franchises of the day, it evoked a mixture of adventure and terror in a way that other Jurassic Park titles have since failed to emulate.

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The one major flaw the game does have is its lack of a save function. Considering the size of the game, the inability to log progress hinders the experience to some extent, appearing as an oversight on the behalf of the developers. This does have a positive side effect however, as it contributes to a heightened sense of urgency during each individual play session.

Growing up in an age when videogame adaptations of films were notoriously bad, Jurassic Park the game remained a beacon of hope. It showed that you could create a compelling experience based on a movie that didn’t necessarily have to follow the plot beat for beat.

The existence of this game helped broaden my appreciation for the world created by Michael Crichton that was realized onscreen by Spielberg, rather than simply exploiting it. The developers could have slapped the Jurassic Park label on an inferior product, standing on the shoulders of geniuses. Instead, they created a complimentary experience.

There have been plenty of other great Jurassic Park games since the original game on the SNES. These include the game’s sequel Jurassic Park 2: The Chaos Continues, the Xbox game Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis, and the excellent The Lost World arcade game. But Jurassic Park on Super Nintendo was where it all started, at least for me.

With the release of the TT games adventure Lego Jurassic World, spanning all four films, let’s hope the popular brick-based franchise can capture the magic of its source material. From what we’ve seen so far, it certainly does look like a fun spin on the popular series.

Shovel Knight: Digging Up The Past

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Over the last few years, retro gaming has seen a surge in interest, with HD remasters and remakes of games becoming incredibly common amongst developers and studios. Even Nintendo have got in on the act via their wonderful Virtual Console service, where they have begun republishing old titles such as the Legend of Zelda games on their brand new machines.

The huge advantage of this is that it provides younger players with the chance to experience previously hard-to-find games; the disadvantage is that it also demonstrates how far the games industry has come in terms of gameplay over the last twenty-five years, with many such games retaining the same flaws as when they were originally released. In 2011, a group of former employees from Wayforward Technologies, including its previous director Sean Velasco, established Yacht Club Games. Their goal was to create a game in the style of their beloved NES titles, but for a modern audience and with the advantage of hindsight. The result was the hit title Shovel Knight, an incredible 2D platformer that combines excellent storytelling with intuitive gameplay modeled for today’s gamer.

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Interview with video game composer Grant Kirkhope

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If you were a gamer growing up in the 90s, the name Rare is guaranteed to evoke warm memories of hours spent hunched over a controller, pounding on brightly coloured buttons.

For a long period of time, the game developer – originally established in 1985 by brothers Chris and Tim Stamper – were one of the most well respected companies in gaming, with many of their releases becoming instant classics upon release.

Grant Kirkhope was an in-house composer for Rare during this period, working on such games as Goldeneye 007, Banjo Kazooie, Banjo Tooie, and Perfect Dark, to name only a few. During his time with the company he helped to contribute to the vivid and lively worlds that Rare created, producing spectacular scores to complement each game’s unique world design.

Despite leaving Rare in 2008, he is still creating and producing memorable soundtracks for new releases, such as Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, Civilization: Beyond Earth and Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse. However, originally, he had reservations about becoming a videogame composer at all.

Grant states: “Being a composer was probably the furthest thing from my mind [when I was studying]. I had no intentions of being a composer at all. I hated harmony, because I thought I was terrible at it. Instead, I wanted to be in a metal band.”

Whilst, initially, he may have showed very little enthusiasm for becoming a composer, he was an avid gamer in his spare time, growing up around the arcade scene in the late 1980s and early 90s.

“I was part of a North Yorkshire county school symphony orchestra when I was in Knaresborough, in North Yorkshire. We used to have a 2-week course, so we spent a week in summer every year in Scarborough – all the kids staying away from home and playing great music. I used to get lunchtime off, and I used to spend the entire 5 hours playing video games. Everyone just thought I was mad.”

Later on, his opinion on the matter started to change when he invested in his first home gaming console – the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES). Around this time, he developed an interest in videogame music, citing the Legend of Zelda as a new influence for his music, alongside his favourite metal bands: Van Halen, Iron Maiden, and Queensrÿche.

Though despite his love for videogames and videogame music, he had still not heard of the company where he would first make his name.

“I had never heard of Rare at the time – that’s really bizarre. I must have started playing before Donkey Kong Country came out. I never played Donkey Kong Country and I didn’t know the company, but my friend Robin Beanland – we used to play in rock bands together in Yorkshire – one day said he had a job there. So he was the one with his foot in the door; the rest of us in the band weren’t.

“Literally right at that time Nintendo had bought around about 49% of the company. It was on the news at 10. It was a massive deal, because it was the first time Nintendo had ever bought a company outside of Japan. He worked there, so I called him and said, “what are you doing?” He told me he was working on a game called Killer Instinct – an arcade fighting game – writing awesome music. I was like “that sounds like a fantastic job.

Through his friend Robin, Grant was recruited to play guitar on Killer Instinct 2 for the SNES. This had come as a result of David Wise, then head of music at Rare, putting a call out for talented guitarists to perform on a range of videogame projects. This would be Grant’s first credit for Rare, though he would have some trouble securing a full time job at the company, sending a total of 5 cassettes to Rare, before receiving a reply and the subsequent interview that would lead to his employment. In 1995, after considerable effort, he became a full time employee at Rare.

“Without Robin this wouldn’t be my job. He was the guy who suggested that I do it. He recommended the gear that I bought, and told me what to do with it. Then I got on with it.”

For his first job David Wise tasked Grant with converting the Donkey Kong Country 2 soundtrack to the original Gameboy for the release of Donkey Kong Land 2.

“I got the lowest job, which was the Gameboy job. Dave had just completed the music for Donkey Kong Country 2 on the SNES and my first job was to convert those tunes from that to work on a Gameboy. I did that up until Christmas, I think. Dave said to me, “if you do this, you might get a crack on the Virtual Boy next.” I was thinking, “oh, this isn’t very exciting, and it’s hard” because it was in hex and I didn’t understand it.

“I did quite enjoy it at the start, but then it became difficult, and I felt like I was too stupid to grasp it. It was just numbers on a black screen. There was no notes, no midi-files, nothing. It was like programming really, which is very alien to me.”

At the same time Robin Beanland suggested that Grant produce some songs in order to pitch to Martin Hollis, who was head of the team developing Goldeneye 007. Without a Nintendo 64 development kit, Grant immediately began working on 6 tracks for the Bond license, with the intention of offering them to the team.

As he began to work on these tracks, Graeme Norgate, the current composer on the project, asked for some assistance with the game, because of his hectic schedule scoring both Blast Corps and the Bond licensed title. Without hesitation, Grant accepted the offer.

“I bit his hand off. It was fantastic. The deal was that I was supposed to do Gameboy in the morning, Goldeneye in the afternoon. I probably finished the Gameboy round about November, then I was working full time on Goldeneye after that.”

The finished result surprised everyone. Released nearly two years after the film, and built by a relatively inexperienced team, Goldeneye 007 revolutionized the first person shooter genre, with its atmospheric soundtrack and its fun local multiplayer modes.

Goldeneye Screenshot
Goldeneye 007 revolutionized the first person shooter genre, with its atmospheric soundtrack and its fun local multiplayer modes.

But, whilst the game had been nearing its completion, Grant had been moved away from the project onto another ambitious Rare title, with Graeme Norgate putting the finishing touches to the sound on the Bond first person shooter.

Grant recalls: “Tim Stamper and Gregg Mayles came to me in my poxy office, and they just said, “Play us your tunes Grant.” I didn’t even know who they were at the time. I knew Tim was my boss, but I didn’t know who Gregg was. So Tim sat on a chair, and Gregg sat on the floor. I thought, “Shit, this guy must be really important. He must be some kind of journalist. I shit myself, you know. I played them my tunes and they were very plain faced. I thought I was going to get fired.

“Then they said, “I’d like you to come work on my game “Dream.”” I said, “I’ll be able to come when I finish on Goldeneye” and they said, “No, you don’t understand – now!”

Immediately Grant moved offices. The intention was for him to work alongside David Wise on the new project Dream. However, David Wise soon left the development team that was working on the game to focus his attention on Diddy Kong Racing – another soon-to-be Rare classic.

Dream eventually lost focus and was later redesigned as Banjo Kazooie – a 3D platformer. The game, focusing on an anthropomorphic bear and bird duo, was to become one of the most well regarded platformers ever created, boasting bundles of wit, great graphics and sensational gameplay. It would also later spawn two sequels from the company, which Grant would go on to score.

He comments: “I must admit I have very fond memories of Banjo Kazooie. With that team of people we had such a fantastic laugh doing that game. I miss those guys a lot. It was a magical time for me. We really felt like we were up against the world. We were trying to create a Mario type game and beat the best.

“All that humour in the game is just all of us mucking around together. It was just a really great combination of people. I really miss that. Banjo’s got a special place in my heart.”

Following this title, Grant worked on several projects for Rare, including the synth infused soundtrack for the spiritual successor to Goldeneye 007, Perfect Dark. In addition, he was tasked with producing the soundtrack for Donkey Kong 64, and the sequel to Banjo Kazooie, aptly named Banjo Tooie.

He continued to work at the company over the next decade, even after the company’s acquisition by Microsoft in 2002. He stayed at Rare up until 2008, working on games like Gregg Mayles’ Grabbed By The Ghoulies and the Viva Piñata series, before leaving to pursue new challenges.

Asked about his time at the company, he argues: “My favourite work at Rare is probably Viva Piñata, because it was the first time I got to use a live orchestra. I finally got to write that kind of Elgar/Vaughan Williams sound that I really love – that sort of English 20th Century composer thing, which I can’t really describe. It is a very English sound.

“I think, if I were writing for pleasure, I’d probably write something like that. I’m a bit of a softy at heart, and I do like writing heart-rending melodies. “Bedtime Story” is the one that I think I like best of all from the game – that’s my favourite piece from my entire time at Rare. It was a bit emotional as well, because I was leaving Rare around about the time of the second Viva Piñata.”

Viva Piñata: Trouble In Paradise
“My favourite work at Rare is probably Viva Piñata, because it was the first time I got to use a live orchestra” – Grant Kirkhope

Since leaving the company, Grant has been busy with an assortment of other projects, including the new Civilization game, Ninja Gaiden Z, and several crowd funded collectathon style titles.

On the topic of platformers, he states: “I really believe collectathons are making a comeback. The Hat in Time – I did a couple of tunes for them. Lobodestroyo was another one I guested on. Cooper Goodwin did the rest of the score for that. I wrote the baddie melody.

“I wrote a piece that was about two minutes long, full of melody, and Cooper can take it and use it as he likes. It probably won’t appear in the game as I wrote it, but I gave him some theme stuff that he could weave in.”

But whilst many are anxiously anticipating the arrival of these new releases, many gamers are left craving an official sequel to Banjo Kazooie or a new intellectual property from the original team. But Grant believes his Banjo days are now over, due to his departure from Rare.

“I do think there’s a big enough audience out there to make it profitable to do it. I don’t know why Microsoft won’t do a Banjo Kazooie platformer. I think they genuinely think it’s not a worthwhile venture. Maybe they’re right – I don’t know. But I just think that there is a place in the market for a good-old fashioned Rare platformer with the humour and the rest of it.

“As for other Rare people getting together and having a crack at it – I still think that’s a possibility. I didn’t think it was possible until very recently, but I do think it is possible now. I can’t go into any more detail than that. I think it is doable right now – not Banjo Kazooie, but something like that – with people who can make something good out of it.”

Today Grant is still captivating audiences with his diverse work. Recently, he has also acquired a cult following, as a result of his appearance on popular YouTube channel Game Grumps.

Now living in LA, Grant is hoping to apply his talents to creating soundtracks for film.

No doubt, followers of his work will be excited by the prospect of hearing his music accompanying the latest film releases in the not so distant future.

Written By: Jack Yarwood