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Thursday, Feb 6, 2014
Ever the villainous outsider, Wario may be the hero Nintendo needs.

Nintendo seems to be in a rough spot these days.  Sales of the Wii U are underwhelming, first-party games are slow to arrive, and the usual third-party exodus that has afflicted Nintendo consoles for the better part of two decades is in full swing.  Nintendo hardware is not nearly as powerful as their direct console competitors, and their online infrastructure and eShop approach is not nearly as agile and responsive as Steam or the mobile device app stores.


Judging by the company’s recent public comments, Nintendo seems to know something needs to change, but it’s still uncertain what that change will look like.  I’m still waiting on the company to solicit my opinion (I’m sure they’re just shy), so I’ll throw out an idea inspired by my recent trip through the Wii U’s backlog.  Game & Wario suggests that it would be helpful to embrace the anti-Mario.


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Thursday, Jan 30, 2014
If quick and simple games are often discarded as candy (bite-sized morsels with no real nutritious value), these games are hors d'oeuvres.

The tabletop gaming of my younger years was defined by Magic: The Gathering. Indeed, Richard Garfield’s amazingly successful collectible card game (CCG) started a fiery craze and for good reason. The game was drenched in lore and backed by a wonderfully sharp play system. It survives to this day because even after all these years Magic: The Gathering still offers an expertly crafted play experience.


Even so, Magic has never been the most accessible game on the market. Garfield, ever committed to the theme, gave esoteric names to some of Magic’s features. Those willing to learn eventually adapted and naturalized things like Sorcery, Instants, Interrupts, and Libraries, but teaching the uninitiated has always been a chore. Since its release in 1993, entry into the franchise has become even more perilous. While Wizards of the Coast smartly faded out some particularly complex systems and concepts, they continue to add new mechanics and an ever-growing number of cards. Familiarity is hard enough, let alone mastery. Keeping up with Magic: The Gathering remains a time consuming and expensive effort.


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Thursday, Jan 23, 2014
The Wii U GamePad has changed the way I think about console games, but not in the way I expected.

When I saw the the early publicity shots of the Wii U, I was excited for the game pad’s possibilities. It would be months until I actually got to hold one of the comically large controller tablets, but I could imagine its benefits: another screen for menus and maps, another input for new control schemes, novel multiplayer dynamics, and more. However, I rolled my eyes at one of its uses, the option to play a normal console game using only the touchpad and not the TV.


Why would someone willingly play one of Nintendo’s glorious console exclusives on a tiny, low-res screen when they had access to a full size TV? Is TV time really at such a premium that people would willingly turn their console gaming into quasi-handheld gaming? Is single-tasking really such a burden? These questions ran through my head, ensconced themselves as preconceived opinions and were then promptly shattered by hands on experience.  GamePad only play is by far my favorite Wii U feature and has helped change the way I think about consoles.


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Thursday, Jan 16, 2014
In addition to portraying the bureaucratization of unethical behavior, Papers, Please also makes fascinating and compelling claims about activism.

In his PopMatters article on Papers, Please, Lucas Pope’s wonderful game about managing a border checkpoint for the fictional authoritarian country of Astotzka, Scott Juster calls the game, “a terrifying and elegant illustration of how inhumanity is created through systems.” This description could not be more accurate. As the game progresses and feeding your family becomes increasingly difficult, you may sacrifice morality for another day with food or heat. Watching yourself become villainous is one of the most interesting and disturbing parts of the game.


In addition to portraying the bureaucratization of unethical behavior, Papers, Please also makes fascinating and compelling claims about activism. There is one very basic system that defines player behavior in Papers, Please: Familiarize yourself with the rules (although they may change from day to day) and reject immigrants and visitors who do not comply. Above the “look, compare, stamp” routine is a larger political system that defines the behavioral context. The government of Arstotzka, fearing terrorism or revolutionary dissent, maintains a deeply troubling and despotic regime.


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Thursday, Jan 9, 2014
I may barely understand them. I might have hardly played them. They might not have been released in 2013. That doesn’t mean that these games weren't some of my favorite experiences of the year.

Game of the year lists are difficult. I try to keep things pretty strict: no ties for particular spots, no games that came out last year, only games I’ve finished (or have invested significant time into if they’re multiplayer or sports games). In fact, Jorge Albor and I limit ourselves to three each on our yearly Game of the Year show.


However, that’s not to say I don’t have lots more that either didn’t make the coveted top-three cut or were disqualified due to one of my self-imposed technicalities. This week, I’ll highlight some of these games.


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