Cranky Kong complex: the imposition of narrative

In the lead-up to the release of a new Donkey Kong game, and the reveal that the cantankerous Cranky Kong will be appearing as a playable character, the discussion about how Cranky fits in with the overarching narrative of the Kong saga has been re-ignited. No, seriously.

When the old man character was first introduced reference was made to the fact that he is actually the titular ape of the original 80s Donkey Kong, long since retired, making the current Donkey Kong a younger relative.

cranky dkc

The wealth of discussion and debate and evidence floating around that seeks to establish a narrative thread between such a hugely varied and numerous collection of games is part of of a pretty weird impulse we as consumers of media share. We’re desperate to find meaning, especially narrative meaning, in the connection between experiences that share commonalities, even if that connection would seem to be overwhelmingly not narrative-focused. Does this imposition of narrative make for a more enjoyable gaming experience? Does it hinder?

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Wii Sports and the state of Nintendo vs next-gen

Almost exactly seven years ago Wii Sports had the entertainment world in a frenzy. Wii consoles disappeared immediately at launch at wouldn’t be able to sit on a store shelf for longer than five minutes until July. Oprah gave out Wii consoles with Wii Sports to hysterical and tearful parents. Dedicated gamers trying to hookshot their way through Twilight Princess and rediscover old favourites on the Virtual Console found their machines hijacked by grandmas and cousins looking for their fix of tennis and bowling.

Today Wii Sports relaunches as an online service for Wii U, offering the same sports as before with updated graphics and control, online play and a competitive feature that groups households into regional clubs and pits them against each other. Except the leaderboards and online lobbies of Wii Sports Club are as bare as those empty shelves were seven years ago. The excitable Miis gathered at the virtual tennis court to see families come from around the world to face each other are viewing little more than an empty and yellowing block, and the rental shoes at the bowling alley are getting so little use their odour could almost pass for that of a regular shoe.

While the reintroduction of the Wii Sports brand might initially have given hope that Nintendo was gearing Wii U up for a battle against the next-gen consoles for a piece of the mainstream mindshare this Novemeber, the fact that it’s seemingly failed to arouse any interest in the press or amongst the casual crowd can be put down to a worryingly recurring cause: Nintendo simply didn’t tell anybody outside their hardcore fanbase it was coming.

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Giana Sisters: pretenders to the Mushroom Kingdom crown

In 1987 a humble little game with a difficult-to-pronounce title and cover art that makes me grin every time I see it was loosed on various consoles including the Atari ST and Commodore 64. The Great Giana Sisters is only one of many games of the era that took its cues from the near-inimitable Super Mario Bros, but this game did such a good and successful knock-off job that Nintendo mobilized the lawyers and Giana was eventually withdrawn from sale.

gianacoverThe 26 years that followed held some interesting turns for the Giana brand. Creator Armin Gessert founded Spellbound Entertainment in 1994, which developed mid-tier games for 15 years before releasing a brand new Giana Sisters game for the Nintendo DS. Unfortunately Gessert died of a heart attack that same year, and in 2012 Spellbound went into administration.

From the ashes of that company though came Black Forest Games, a group whose first order of business was to hit up Kickstarter and fund a brand new Giana Sisters game for the modern age.

See while side-scrolling arcade platformers with an emphasis on precision, tight control and interesting character abilities was plagiarism in 1987, and a drop in the ocean on DS in 2009, today it’s something many players are dying to return to after the inflation of Hollywood AAA games and the perceived dumbing-down of Nintendo’s own 2D platformers.

After a successful Kickstarter campaign and a release last year, Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams — billed by Black Forest as the spiritual ‘grandchild’ to the original Great Giana Sisters — is now arriving on Nintendo’s Wii U.

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Nintendo spotlights Wii U indie titles

Before the Wii U released, Nintendo was talking a big game in regards to shedding their former insular work practices and opening up to both third party and indie developers. Of course a combination of issues meant that third party support never actually eventuated, but recent rumblings from the indie community have hinted that Nintendo are still out there signing self-publishing deals with indies and bringing smaller-scale third party publishers on board. During the European-specific portion of yesterday’s Nintendo Direct broadcast, Ninty made a statement with a sizzle reel of 18 upcoming games, all from European or Australian indie developers. Check out the video here if you haven’t already, then join me below for a look at a few of these games and what they could mean for Wii U.

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StreetPass shop reviews

In the latest software update for Nintendo’s 3DS, the Streetpass plaza was updated with a shop that allows new Streetpass-focused games to be bought and downloaded. Now that the system has been out for several years the original streetpass games are getting a little dull, so it makes sense to inject a little more incentive for gamers to keep their 3DS on them at all times. Currently four titles are available: Streetpass Squad, Streetpass Garden, Streetpass Battle and Streetpass Mansion. Each game has been developed by a different studio and interestingly each of the four games has a list of achievements that allow you to win ‘tickets’ that can be cashed in for various prizes (i.e. hats). I’ve taken the financial gamble of downloading the four games to give you my initial impressions below. Luckily for me, they all turned out to be pretty fun.

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Nintendo, E3, and ‘missing’ Wii U games

More than a week after the close of E3 the ripples of its events still reverberate through most of the games media and its output. As a frequent lurker of games article comments sections I’ve extracted some talking points for each platform holder that web denizens still all seem to have an opinion on. Be sure to also check out what Sony didn’t say at their press conference and why Microsoft’s reversal on DRM is fine but our loss of an always online console sucks.

Nintendo showed off plenty of fun-looking new Wii U games at E3, including a new Mario Kart, Smash Brothers, Super Mario and Donkey Kong. Ignoring the fan reactions at either end of what I like to call the Nintendogma spectrum (with “That new Wii Party looks awesome” at one end and “Nintendo’s only ever put out 6 games” at the other), the overwhelming response seems to be a welcoming of the games but a disappointment at the lack of killer apps or new properties.

A vocal minority of outliers do have some loud complaints though, and of the ones I’ve seen the most numerous are variations on either “Retro is too good a studio to be on 2D Donkey Kong AGAIN. They made METROID PRIME!!!” or “This is the wrong direction for a console 3D Mario. Mario needs to be a system seller and I want a new Mario Galaxy”.

It pains me to say it but at this point I can’t really get behind these calls for a Retro Metroid game. I would love to see it, but for me their assignment to a Donkey Kong follow-up indicates that the colossal talent the studio once had might just not be there anymore.

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E3 speculation machine part 1: Wii U

It’s finally here. Next week we’ll be celebrating the triumphs and suffering the disappointments of another Nintendo E3 extravaganza. Except this time there’ll be significantly less clapping and cheering and significantly more awkward crosses to various Nintendo bosses across the globe.

There are plenty of first party Wii U games that will definitely be appearing during the E3 Nintendo Directs, even if only in trailer form. They are:

  • Super Smash Bros.
  • Super Mario
  • The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD
  • Mario Kart
  • Pikmin 3
  • New Super Luigi U

And with those out of the way, let’s get to some speculating.

Read the rest of this entry at Wii U »