The new Nintendo 3DS: $200 better than the old Nintendo 3DS (I guess)

Maybe. Or maybe it really isn’t. It’s hard to say.

I earned the money for the new 3DS by writing articles about rehab centers in New Jersey.  That's not a joke.

I earned the money for the new 3DS by writing articles about rehab centers in New Jersey. That’s not a joke.

Something happened to my old 3DS. By “old 3DS” I mean the original one with the smaller screens, and by “something” I mean my now ex-girlfriend broke it in half, on purpose. All I can say is thank God I still only buy physical copies of games. I kept the box, because why not?

I haven’t played the old 3DS XL, so I can’t say how it compares to the new one, but supposedly the 3D on this one is a lot better than on previous versions. Maybe I’m doing something wrong, but it still gives me both eyestrain and a headache. Still, the incident that happened a few months ago gave me an excuse to upgrade, and this is a real upgrade: the larger screen alone is worth it.

The damn thing didn’t come with a power cord though. What’s that about? I still had my old one, but still, really. It’s a simple courtesy, Nintendo. Will you deny us that?

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The stuff next to the E rating is a little confusing. Mild Cartoon and Fantasy Violence? Is that a baseline rating for all 3DS games as a whole or something? Or these might refer to the built-in stuff that I haven’t tried yet. I instead played Fire Emblem: Awakening for a few hours, and it looked really nice.

I know this is pretty old news, but if you were wondering whether you should buy a new 3DS, I guess the answer is yes. It’s just a few dollars more than the old XL model, and it’s got a bigger screen than the original. It’s also going to host Fire Emblem: Fates coming out sometime next year, and if you don’t own a Vita, Zero Escape 3 is coming out on both platforms over a year from now, and the 3DS is probably just as good a platform to play it on. If you already own a 3DS, though, maybe consider whether you have $200 that you don’t need. Especially if you own the old XL model. Again, people are swearing by the new 3D system and the button in the upper right that apparently does something, but I’m not sure those are worth such an expensive upgrade. And again, the 3D effect still gives me a headache. Am I holding the system in the wrong place? Did I not calibrate it or something? Whatever.

So I now have to pick up the pieces of my crap life, but the 3DS gives me a little solace.

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Sometimes good things really do happen: Zero Escape 3 announced

Occasionally, life isn’t total shit. One of those occasions was a few days ago, when Zero Escape 3 was announced for release next summer on the 3DS and Vita.

Anyone who’s wondering what the hell that crowd is screaming about should play 999 and Virtue’s Last Reward. These two games (the first two in a planned trilogy) start to tell a story that is way to complicated to even give a hint about here. Both of them, and presumably the still to be titled Zero Escape 3, are essentially visual novels with strong puzzle elements. The characters are interesting, the twists are insane, and some of the puzzles are pretty damn challenging, generally involving or taking place during life-or-death situations. Kotaro Uchikoshi, the creator of the Zero Escape series, also wrote the cult-fan Infinity series, and those visual novels have a lot of the same elements (though they’re kind of long-winded and don’t feature much in the way of gameplay, being more traditional VNs.)

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999 and Virtue’s Last Reward are both must-plays for anyone who enjoys puzzles, drama, and intrigue. I enjoy all of those, and I played through both after being encouraged by a friend. One week later, I read an announcement that the third game in the series had been canceled, and I nearly cried. Well, not really, but I felt like crying. (This was all the more unbearable because VLR ends on a serious cliffhanger.)

So imagine my happiness today. I’m excited about this game. In fact, it is definitely the release I’m most looking forward to. To put this into perspective, I like Star Wars pretty well and I’m excited about the J.J. Abrams-directed Star Wars VII coming out in December, but I’m about 20 to 30 times more excited about Zero Escape 3. It might even beat out The Winds of Winter for anticipation value, though not by much.

Are you ready for crazy nine-way prisoner's dilemma backstabbing antics.  I hope you are.

Are you ready for crazy nine-way prisoner’s dilemma backstabbing antics. I hope you are.

Okay, enough talk. I don’t normally write posts like this, but I was too happy about this news to let it pass by without comment.

Breaking the fourth wall: A review of Contact (DS)

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Have you ever wondered whether the characters on the other side of the screen knew you were there, controlling them, fighting with them? Have you ever played a game in which one or more of the characters knew they were being controlled by “the player”?

Well, chances are you haven’t, because Contact was a commercial failure. Published by Atlus and developed by Grasshopper Manufacture under the direction of famous weirdo game maker Suda51, Contact was released in 2006 for the Nintendo DS, which was still a new and fresh system at the time. This game has Suda’s marks all over it: weird story, surreal scenes that don’t make a lot of sense, puzzles with strange solutions, etc. The element of Contact that really made it stand out, however, was the fourth-wall-breaking part. The game opens with the Professor, a really professorial-looking man with white hair and a lab coat, who is amazed to see you and starts asking you questions directly. He even addresses you by name (which the game presumably gets from the DS profile.) The Professor, and only the Professor, knows that you exist, and he talks to you throughout the game. Your participation in the game is pretty cleverly woven into the story and mechanics. The game even uses the unique (in 2006) split-screen DS in an interesting way, putting the Professor and Mochi in their lab on the top screen and the main part of the game in the bottom screen.

Oh yeah, and the Professor also has a cat named Mochi. Mochi also knows you exist because you can play with him (i.e. poke him with the stylus) in the save screen.

Above: the Professor and Mochi. Below: the primary game field.

Above: the Professor and Mochi. Below: the primary game field.

The player-controlled character throughout the game is “Terry”, a silent kid protagonist who has to help the Professor recover fuel cells to get his spaceship running again. There’s also a plot about evil astronauts, and Terry chases around a girl who may or may not be a villain, but she keeps disappearing for some reason. Despite having played Contact, I don’t really know what the game is about, although this is standard as far as Suda51 games go. Also, since Suda wrote the game, there are a few creepy and vaguely sexual parts in the game despite its E 10+ rating. For example, at one point Terry decides to caress a set of nightwear folded on a female NPC’s bed while he is alone in her house.

You didn't believe me?

You didn’t believe me?

The game itself is pretty simple. It’s a basic adventure game: you move your character around on the field, hit enemies with swords and axes, talk to NPCs, run through dungeons, and find things. Contact also features a set of jobs Terry can take on, such as chef and thief, which modify his abilities. Combat is the weakest aspect of Contact, actually – it’s pretty much “run up again enemies and hit A until they die.” Special abilities and recipes for potions and dishes that modify your stats add something to this combat system, but not much.

Even so, Contact is a good game. It feels like a very “small” game – it’s short (for an adventure/RPG game), the characters are bare sketches, and the combat is as simple as it could possibly be. These qualities might have been the reasons for Contact‘s failure to sell well. However, the game is also bizarre and weirdly fascinating, with a nice soundtrack, an interesting gimmick that doesn’t feel too out of place, and a plot that keeps you at least wondering what the hell is going on. It’s a strange trip into a different world and a pleasant break from my own. I’m happy I played it. Contact takes your morning coffee and puts a drop of fairy juice in it and messes around with your brain-wires a bit, and sometimes that’s just what you need.

So if you like Suda51 and you don’t mind a kind of crappy combat system, I’d highly recommend Contact. It’s not the greatest game of all time by any means, but it also didn’t deserve to be almost totally ignored. If you find a copy for ten dollars (probably without the manual and box, but such is life) give it a try.