A little before Christmas a number of Nintendo Life staffers got together in a large, comfortable virtual room and had a chat about Nintendo throughout 2013. There were some well-judged and considered opinions on the prospective years of the 3DS and Wii U, some moments of silliness and, as is now becoming a peculiar tradition, conversation around Altered Beast; there's a lingering suspicion that some participants were already into the festive spirit.
Joining features editor Tom Whitehead for this slightly anarchic round table chat is editor-at-large Jon Wahlgren, events co-ordinator Katy Ellis, along with lovely writers Martin Watts, Ron DelVillano, Morgan Sleeper, Dave Letacavage and Conor McMahon. In this first part the focus is on the 3DS.
Tom Whitehead: First off, please introduce yourselves to our lovely readers.
Ron DelVillano: I'm Ron...
Jonathan Wahlgren: I'm Jon Wahlgren, Editor at Large and a master of disguise.
Morgan Sleeper: Hey everybody! I'm Morgan, Nintendo Life's resident Magical Girl and Christmas NiGHTS connoisseur.
Conor McMahon: I'm Conor! Irish graduate and semi-charming guy for hire.
Martin Watts: I'm Martin, Nintendo Life's retro reviewer and N64 fanatic.
Dave Letcavage: I'm Dave, reviewer at Nintendo Life and editor at Pure Xbox.
Tom: And I'm features editor Tom, with a beard that aspires to be as good as Ron's.
Ron: Morgan is our resident magical girl? When did he take the title?
Jon: You slept through the competition.
Conor: I believe there was a gladiatorial contest for it
Morgan: Moon Prism Power!!!
Martin: Who got killed for it?
Tom: Anyway, moving on!
Let's start with happy thoughts, which means the 3DS. First up, if memory serves, we had games like Fire Emblem: Awakening and Luigi's Mansion 2 / Dark Moon. Did they live up to expectations and kick booty?
Martin: Without a doubt. Luigi's Mansion 2 really did blow everything else out of the water upon release. Dem visuals.
Conor: I actually just bought a 3DS this year! Got the Fire Emblem bundle and I think it was Animal Crossing that finally had me totally convinced. It's been a fantastic year for 3DS, undoubtedly.
Ron: I thought Luigi's Mansion looked and played great, but it didn't keep my interest for too long. Fire Emblem though, talk about a beautiful and engaging game.
Jon: Fire Emblem: Awakening is my own personal Game of the Year of Luigi. That was one spicy meatball with a ton of ambition. It could have easily fallen flat on its face in every department, but excellent localization, fine-tuned challenge that catered to both newbies and vets, and worthwhile DLC kept it going for a really long time.
Morgan: These games kicked so much booty! Awakening was my first Fire Emblem and it absolutely blew me away. The combat and class changes are so much fun but the dating sim elements were the best part for me! I absolutely loved it. And Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon is a blast! I still haven't finished it but it's a game I love playing with other people, so they can help me spot secrets!
Jon: Fire Emblem: Awakening is my own personal Game of the Year of Luigi. That was one spicy meatball with a ton of ambition.
Jon: I actually really disliked Luigi's Mansion 2.
Martin: Really?! How come, Jon?
Jon: It was charming and looked purdy but was too formulaic.
Each mansion was literally the same five missions.
Conor: Oh Jon..... Oh Jon...
Dave: Luigi's Mansion was great! I didn't really get into Fire Emblem, but that's because I'm generally too impatient for turn-based games.
Morgan: I actually really liked the structure in Dark Moon, I get so lost in the GameCube original so the five mansions with individual levels helped keep me on track!
Jon: I'm stoked that it exists but I think it could have done more with regards to variety of gameplay.
Conor: I guess I can see where you're coming from, but I'd have to argue that it was far less repetitive than the first. I mean, it was all about mixing it up.
Tom: I can see what Jon's saying, but I'm enough of a Luigi fanboy that I don't think I cared.
Morgan: I think we all became Luigi fanboys/girls this year!
Jon: True, as a sequel to Luigi's Mansion it definitely hit a lot of the right spots with where it blew out the structure, but by the third mansion the repetitive nature haunted the game for me.
Dave: The way everything was divided into missions was the only part of the game I didn't like. I wish each mansion would've allowed more free exploration.
Tom: I think it had to be structured that way for a wider audience, to be fair.
Conor: I was skeptical of the episodic nature at first, but I feel like it worked well. Part of me missed the singular, sprawling mansion, but there was just so much variety in the visuals and atmosphere that I was convinced pretty early on.
Martin: Not to mention that it is a handheld game, which can easily be played in short bursts!
Dave: I totally get it, especially for mobile play, but it made things drag a bit at times, I felt.
Jon: The structure itself was totally fine and suitable, but I got aggravated chasing that dog around in the same way every time, or solving a similar set of puzzles but with a different backdrop.
The bosses were great though.
Ron: I feel really left out right now. Like I said, it didn't hold my attention for very long.
Tom: Perhaps Awakening was the biggest triumph, as it actually achieved good sales and, Nintendo says, saved the franchise. I'll be honest, I thought it'd struggle in the marketplace.
Conor: As did I. It's always seemed like a niche thing. My pleasant surprise of the year to see it do so well! I think all the universal praise definitely helped there.
Jon: Yeah, they pulled out all the stops with that one.
It was just so good. So, so good. Immensely rewarding.
Martin: I think it's worth mentioning that if it hadn't have been for him leaving to go work at Nintendo of Europe, I believe we would have eventually lost our former News Editor Andy Green to Fire Emblem: Awakening — I've heard nothing but non-stop praise for that game all year!
Jon: I do wish it had proper versus multiplayer, but so it goes.
Morgan: Yeah, Awakening is the complete package. I'd say it's worth buying a 3DS for, actually!
Dave: The critical acclaim certainly put it on people's radar that it might normally not have been on.
Tom: What did you think of the DLC? If EA had done it, would we be calling it the spawn of the worst company in the world?
Conor: That's actually an interesting point. I wonder how we would have perceived it had it been released by anyone else. Personally I never played it, but I've seen...highlights.
Morgan: I actually really liked the way Ninty handled the DLC for Fire Emblem Awakening - it was really nicely described on the website, and the "packs" were themed so that I didn't have to buy anything I didn't want to get an episode I did.
Jon: EA has a toxic reputation that no matter what they do it will be seen as bad. Honestly, the DLC cost is on the higher end of acceptable, and I think the game was strong enough on its own that people gave it some leeway with pricing.
Morgan: I only bought the beach DLC. And I loved it! The story & relationships were the best parts of the game for me, so I loved the chance to squeeze out some more slice-of-life scenarios from Chrom's lovable crew.
Conor: Definitely. When the core game is good enough, people will always want more of it at a good price. Nintendo did well, and there was enough novelty there to make it memorable.
Jon: I did buy about half of the packs because I really wanted to keep playing, but then other games (Animal Crossing, primarily) took my time away.
Tom: Yeah, I got called on being easy on Nintendo in a feature, I remember, and I think the commenter was right. The DLC was quite pricey, and in some cases took away the need for excessive grinding. It's a game that really spikes in difficulty, and the DLC maybe manipulated that. Thoughts?
Dave: The critical acclaim certainly put it on people's radar that it might normally not have been on.
Ron: The only DLC I played was the first free batch. I appreciate that it had DLC available, but the price was a little steep to me.
Jon: I relished the challenge so I was more than happy to grind out a few levels here and there. There's so much content that even if your goal is to increase in level and relationships there is so much you can do that it still feels like you're advancing in some fashion.
"Grinding" is only bad when you're doing the same action over and over and over to increase what can feel like an arbitrary meter. In Awakening there's always something new to tackle. So it didn't feel like "bad" grinding, or even grinding really. More like, I'm going to divert my attention elsewhere for now.
Morgan: Yeah, I agree Jon - in fact, I way over-levelled my characters just trying to get some class changes and skills I wanted (Swordmaster Olivia!) and marry off a few pairs, without ever touching the DLC, and I enjoyed every second of the grind!
Jon: And smart play will even out a lot of the spikes.
Conor: I think that's an important point. Awakening never made it feel like grinding. There was always another aspect of the gameplay to dig into for a while.
Tom: I agree with those sentiments, personally, I'm just being a trouble maker.
Jon: Someone has to!
Tom: Moving onto New Leaf, that was a game that truly took off. It pretty much dominated my Twitter timeline, it felt like everyone had that game. Did you, and what was its secret to such success?
Morgan: That's really true, Tom - it seemed like word of mouth on places like Twitter and Tumblr helped turn New Leaf into such a phenomenon! And on a more local level, me and my sister played pretty much nothing else for months - it's one of the purest distillations of "fun" I've ever seen imprinted on a cartridge.
Conor: I adore that game, genuinely.
Dave: It was successful in my house because it's something my wife was really into that we could play together.
Ron: There's not enough time for me to talk about New Leaf in this round table. To really express how much I love that game, I'd have to write an entire article. And maybe I will... with Tom's permission, of course.
Conor: It was the big reason that I felt as though I really needed a 3DS, as I said. It's just so important to have games like it alongside everything else. Playing New Leaf feels like a moment to yourself, despite kinda being all about your village and its inhabitants.
Martin: I've had something of a weird relationship with it; got it, adored it, played it a ton, then went on a 4-month break and have suddenly gotten back into it big time. I'm absolutely loving it.
Jon: Same for me. It was my first proper Animal Crossing so I'm sure that played a role in my unexpected absorption, but New Leaf is so delightful and honest and absurd that I wanted to spend as much time in Trash as I could.
Conor: Tumblr was HUGE In promoting New Leaf. I have to praise them for that easy screenshot option. Feels as though more games could benefit from something so simple.
Morgan: Yeah! The screenshots were brilliant. I admit to losing many hours posing for ridiculous pictures with friends in our New Leaf towns!
Jon: Yeah, that was massive.
Ron: Morgan, talk about your dates.
Morgan: Oh yeah!! I first got New Leaf when my fiancée & I were living on opposite ends of the country, and instead of Skype, we'd meet up on New Leaf! Go fishing, walk on the beach, go see a KK show - it was actually really lovely! Can't thank Nintendo enough for that!
Jon: That's really sweet, Morgan.
Tom: It sure is!
Morgan: I first got New Leaf when my fiancée & I were living on opposite ends of the country, and instead of Skype, we'd meet up on New Leaf! Go fishing, walk on the beach, go see a KK show - it was actually really lovely!
Jon: Do you think that the game would have been as zeitgeist-y had Miiverse existed on 3DS at the time? The screenshot sharing over social media put the game out in front of a huge, huge audience. All without having to change anyone's consumption habits, everyone was suddenly exposed to its charms.
Tom: Good point Jon. I wonder whether it was the lack of a 3DS Miiverse that made some latch onto it, because it's incredibly social if you want it do be.
Conor: That just raises the question of anyone here using the WiiU app, Animal Crossing Plaza?
Martin: I am, Conor. It's quite limited, but I think it's a nice feature nonetheless.
Tom: How many are still playing it, raise your hands!
Morgan: Raises hand
Martin: Raises hand
Ron: Raises hand
Tom: I'm not, but it's really a time thing.
Conor: Raises hand
Jon: I fell off around September. I haven't gone back because I actually am afraid to.
Conor: It is a bit time consuming, but I do try to fit it in at least every other day.
Martin: As some of you know, I'm actually use New Leaf to help me practice and relearn my French!
Dave: I burned out on it at about 75 hours, to be honest.
Conor: I read that, Martin! Might end up doing that myself sometime
Dave: How many hours has everyone logged?
Conor: I'm almost afraid to check.
Tom: I haven't checked, quite a lot.
Ron: Martin, I was wondering why you were posting screens in French. That's really cool!
Too many and not enough.
Morgan: Yeah! I loved hearing that, Martin! Our chat about learning languages through ACNL inspired me to grab another game for my Italian 3DS, so Bravely Default is on its way!
Holy crap. I just checked my Activity Log and I'm at 100 hours 26 minutes for ACNL.
Martin: I think the quality of the languages on offer is pretty impressive; New Leaf in particular is stuffed full of some really great everyday and colloquial phrases — it's a testament to the quality of Nintendo's localisation teams.
Conor: New Leaf is actually quite forgiving for returning players, more so than previous titles at least.
Head over to page two where there's a surprisingly picky assessment of Pokemon X & Y, some Zelda chat and, bizarrely, an eShop segment that evolves into the appearance of #TeamAlteredBeast yet again.