Will Nintendo Screw Up a Good Thing Again?

 

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The internet is aflame with buzz over the official announcement and launch date of the Super NES Classic Edition (Sept. 29), Nintendo’s predictable follow-up to their massively popular but scarce NES Classic, which was released last holiday season but was more difficult to find than a pristine copy of Earthbound. (Not really but you get my point)

The retro micro-console, like its predecessor, will come pre-loaded with a smattering of titles, most of which are genuine 16-bit classics guaranteed to make vintage and retro enthusiasts drool like Homer Simpson in a donut shop. The packed-in software includes:

  •  Contra III: The Alien Wars
  • Donkey Kong Country
  • EarthBound
  • Final Fantasy III
  • F-ZERO
  • Kirby Super Star
  • Kirby’s Dream Course
  • The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
  • Mega Man® X
  • Secret of Mana
  • Star Fox
  • Star Fox 2
  • Street Fighter® II Turbo: Hyper Fighting
  • Super Castlevania IV
  • Super Ghouls ’n Ghosts®
  • Super Mario Kart
  • Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
  • Super Mario World
  • Super Metroid
  • Super Punch-Out!! ™
  • Yoshi’s Island

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There’s really no overstating just how ridiculously amazing that lineup of software is. Truthfully, there isn’t a bad game on that list and most are legitimate masterpieces representing the very best of the era. To further compound the awesomeness, Nintendo is including Star Fox 2, which was never released in any market, foreign or domestic, during the SNES’s storied run. (Leave it to Nintendo to debut a 22-year-old exclusive)

This is of course fantastic news. Yet, as we all move outside to dance in the streets and usher in the launch of one of the best entertainment-related values of the fiscal year, storm clouds are forming, threatening to rain on our parade. Ironically, the source of this potential torrent of negativity is the very same entity that first brought us the sun: Nintendo.

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IGN reports that Nintendo released the following statement regarding the production of the SNES Classic:

“Super Nintendo Entertainment System: Super NES Classic Edition is currently planned to ship from Sept. 29 until the end of calendar year 2017. At this time, we have nothing to announce regarding any possible shipments beyond this year…”

As you might know, the NES Classic was a HUGE seller for Nintendo and its success caught the company entirely off guard, selling out consistently. I personally never saw a single unit on a retail shelf. At the same time, the micro-consoles were consistently being sold far above market value on sites like eBay. Nintendo, in response to this overwhelming success, did what any smart company would do when they have a hit product on their hands: discontinue it entirely while also giving scalpers the greenlight to start charging people the equivalent of a small nation’s GNP for a newly rarified product.

Nintendo clearly viewed the NES Classic as a one-and-done product but regardless, a considerable amount of money was left on the table when they cut the production run short and bizarrely, it looks like they intend to do the same thing with its successor.

To be fair, Nintendo has insisted they are going to ramp up production in contrast to the NES Classic but what mystifies me is their decision – at least tentatively – to publicly announce limited production on a product that clearly enjoys mass appeal. As slick and neat as the NES Classic was, the SNES Classic is infinitely better because of the software alone; precisely the type of product that could dominate the sales charts this holiday season because it possesses that truly alchemic combination of affordability, nostalgia and branding.

Yet Nintendo – simultaneously brilliant and stupid – seems ready and willing to once again snatch defeat from the jaws of an easy victory.

Nintendo has always been odd and surprisingly inept in regards to how they handle their older but still incredibly well-loved and valuable IP’s. When the Wii launched back in 2006, it carried with it the promise of the Virtual Console – an Apple Store type e-shop that would offer gamers a robust catalog of Nintendo classics running the full spectrum of their consoles in a centralized, easy-to-access hub. Unfortunately, Nintendo released those games at a trickle and the original promise of the Virtual Console never fully materialized on either the Wii or its successor, the Wii U.

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And it’s currently conspicuously absent on the Switch.

Sincerely, the NES and SNES Classics – like the Virtual Console – is a no-brainer. There’s a frothing, rapid market for this software, even with most of these games widely available as illegal ROMS that can be easily accessed on free, legal emulation software and run on practically anything that draws amperage. Clearly, people want to play these games and they want to experience them on a console that looks like a SNES so the obvious question is this:

Why is Nintendo getting in their own way in regards to selling these products?

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A concise summation of Nintendo’s current business strategy.

What’s maddening is that this decision is entirely the opposite to what Nintendo needs to be doing on the heels of the successful debut and ongoing popularity of the Switch, which has been a resounding hit both critically and commercially. After stumbling with the Wii U, the Switch has put Nintendo back at the forefront, with a console people want and software that has the masses – both casual and hardcore alike – buzzing with interest. Even when acknowledging that the SNES Classic isn’t the primary thrust of the company, it nonetheless is the equivalent of a goodwill ambassador; a modestly priced, well-intentioned device that seems downright generous in what it delivers to the consumer.

The problem is, when those consumers can’t reliably get the product, goodwill sours and “rare” becomes a synonym for “annoying.” Even if Nintendo can somehow justify this short window of product availability, announcing that the SNES Classic is, essentially, limited-time merchandise merely ensures scalpers will clog physical and online retailers, lapping up every preorder they can scavenge in hopes of selling these little machines for triple the value. The whole thing feels like a tease and I can only speculate on just how many people are once again going to be left out in the proverbial cold when the bulk of the stock evaporates before it has a chance to hit the shelves.

Of course, this is all speculative. If Nintendo produces a larger volume of inventory this time around, the saturation of product could drive down grey market prices and ensure all of us get one for the SRP, which would be a refreshing change of pace. However, Nintendo has always played it conservatively when it comes to manufacturing and it seems more likely that by the time they wind down SNES Classic production, plenty of us will still be looking to buy one and will either have to settle for inflated, egregious prices or go without.

Nintendo has done so much right these last few months that it’s a shame to see them revert back to the type of behavior that leads to an unsatisfied consumer base. The SNES Classic looks to be a great product and an exceptional value and if Nintendo doesn’t have enough sense to get one into the hands of every consumer who wants it, that’s on them.

I hope they get it right this time.

(And I really hope I can get one.)

Happy Hunting.

A Gorgeous, Generous Slice of Nostalgia: A Review of The Unofficial NES/Famicon: A Visual Compendium

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[The following is not a paid endorsement nor is it something written for or at the behest of the company that sells this product. I recently purchased this book as an enthusiast and merely wanted to share my response to an exceptional product.]

For those of us who grew up during the heyday of Nintendo’s popularity, specifically the advent and widespread success of the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), there is an almost immediate, emotional response to the images of classic, 8-bit videogames. These pictures conjure and evoke a warm cascade of emotions, harkening back to adolescence and transporting us to another place and time, when gaming was a young and simpler medium.

Personally, when I come across such imagery, I immediately think of blowing air into grey cartridges to remove dust, bombastic, often bizarre cover art, and pixelated visuals that were – almost miraculously – able to convey a bevy of actions, stories and characters using only a simple, plain and artful aesthetic.

In the decades since the NES debuted, the graphical fidelity of videogames has progressed rapidly, giving us playable experiences that rival the best CG-animation while gradually moving us towards genuine photorealism. And while such technology is exciting, the 8-bit aesthetic, instead of evaporating into irrelevancy, has emerged as something of a counterculture; a direct resistance to the cinematic and visually complex composition of modern software. In that sense, there is something very fitting about Bitmap Book’s wonderful NES/Famicon: A Visual Compendium, an endeavor that requires the reader to flip through its pages at a slow, deliberate pace and appreciate images that were initially designed to dart across the eyes at dozens of frames per second.

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Bitmap Books is a small, independent UK publisher that is largely funded by Kickstarter but don’t let that fact dissuade you from checking out their website and ordering a book (or two) as their products are of the highest quality and caliber, evidenced by the NES Compendium (the first of many books I plan to buy from them) which is a slick, softback volume encased in a hardback sleeve and embossed with a holographic replication of the cover art. At over 500 pages, this is a hefty volume but what surprised me the most about the book was its paper quality and binding, especially given the relatively modest price tag of £24.99 GBP. (31.70 US)

The book is a sumptuous visual treat, containing a robust smattering of classic NES games ranging from Nintendo-made exclusives to third party offerings, each with a brief but interesting bit of unobtrusively placed expository text detailing each game. With nearly 200 titles mentioned, this compendium doesn’t include every NES game within the console’s massive catalog but does highlight the majority of essential software with a few notable exceptions. Each game enjoys an attractive, two-page spread that displays – with a motionless clarity – the pixelated art and effectively makes each of these selected images worthy of being individually framed. A handful of games enjoy a larger, four-page fold-out display and while the titles that receive this extra-special treatment seem arbitrarily chosen, they are a welcome addition nevertheless.

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Impressively, despite being touted as a visual resource, this book also contains a bevy of interesting, well-written information, including a preface that gives a detailed account on the history of the NES/Famicon and several key interviews with designers, programmers, and artists in regards to their experiences working on games for the console. It also includes a segment where numerous, brief testimonials from every day people share their passion for the NES and its software. Additional segments include fan artwork, a sampling of various box art, and an addendum that contains images from unreleased games, many of which I didn’t know existed. (The Superman game looked exceptionally cool)

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Ultimately, it reads like a slick combination of a coffee table book and an encyclopedia and I’d say that no genre enthusiast – especially those who love this particular era of gaming – should be without it. The Unofficial NES/Famicon: A Visual Compendium is a well-crafted, hearty bit of nostalgic fun and a comforting reminder that while you can’t go home again, you can certainly visit.

My kudos to Bitmap Books and all the people involved in the construction of this excellent and enjoyable resource. You can order this and other similar books at their website: https://www.bitmapbooks.co.uk/

  • Bill R. Boggess

It Comes at Night Review : A Sheep in Wolf’s Clothing

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Being an enthusiast of the horror genre isn’t particularly easy given the crap-to-quality ratio of films released each and every year. I imagine lovers of other genres probably feel similar but sincerely, I feel that horror aficionados exist on a very specific and pronounced plane of frustration, having to wade through equal measures of banality and mediocrity to find even a competent entry worth a two-hour investment.

To further complicate matters, contemporary horror films seem to be struggling through an identity crisis of sorts, with studios adopting a safe, well-worn approach (which in my estimation is dishwater-dull) to the types of horror projects they pursue (i.e. James Wan flicks) and independent filmmakers often classifying their endeavors as horror when in reality they are something else entirely, using the label to attract a certain demographic.

It Comes at Night, which has been heavily marketed as a horror film, is most definitely the latter.

Which is to say it’s not really a horror film at all.

Let me quickly preface the remainder of this review with an understanding that I’m not trying to indulge in some sort of enthusiast-driven snobbery or hair-splitting. This isn’t an academic or myopic rant about what constitutes a “true” horror film. The fact of the matter is that by way of just about any objective metric, It Comes at Night simply isn’t a horror movie.

In actuality, it’s a post-apocalyptic drama; a dour, bleak deliberation on the fragility of society and how rapidly our civility evaporates in the face of existential crisis and impending extinction. It is also not particularly fresh nor insightful given the bevy of films that have already explored this well-trodden thematic.

For the sake of full disclosure, I’ve seen a smattering of post-apocalyptic films over the last year, including Z for Zacharia, Bokeh, and Into the Forest, all of which were released in 2015 or later and all of which are also bleak, character-driven narratives focusing on difficult decisions their respective characters are forced to make in the face of their own encroaching mortality. It’s safe to say the genre at this point seems a bit played out – especially accounting for zombie films which can also be categorized in this subgenre – and truthfully, I enjoyed all of the aforementioned movies better than It Comes at Night, which suffers from a plodding, poorly-paced script that is steeped in the redundancies of the genre, recycling worn tropes to such an extent that the film is entirely predictable in terms of its narrative trajectory.

That isn’t to say it’s a poorly-made film; it most certainly is not. The film is well shot, the cast is excellent, including the always laudable work of Joel Edgerton, playing Paul, a father whose singular goal is to keep his family alive by adhering to a strict, intractable set of rules in the face of a nameless plague that appears to have decimated humanity. He and his wife Sarah (Carmen Elizabeth Ejogo) and their teenage son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) live a purposely sheltered and insulated existence and we are immediately introduced to their uncompromising ethos of survival when Paul is forced to kill Sarah’s father, who is infected and dying, immolating his body immediately afterwards.

The film offers little exposition; the virus and its origins are purposely ambiguous and we are never given the scope or expanse of the contagion. The film sets up and sticks to the family and their microcosm, making it a personal and minimalist endeavor. Eventually, Paul and his kin reluctantly take in another small family, and the film deals with the uneasy day-to-day ebb of flow of their collaborative existence that, unsurprisingly, goes south rapidly once paranoia and fear creep in.

The problem is that outside of some excellent cinematography, It Comes at Night is regrettably banal in the story it tells. With films like The Road and 28 Days Later having already astutely explored the vicious devolution that inevitably accompanies the breakdown of society in the face of a post-apocalyptic world, watching this film and its characters navigate similar circumstances and situations isn’t particularly interesting. There isn’t a single beat in this film that isn’t telegraphed and worse, for a movie that attempts to convey a more grounded notion of an end-of-the-world scenario, it is mystifying how entirely unrealistic and downright stupid the characters are sometimes forced to act, dampening the impact of the subsequent dramatic consequences that follow.

The climax of the film rings particularly false and is entrenched in violent, inhumane extremism on the part of the protagonists that isn’t earned or justified by their prior acts. It’s a nasty but telegraphed ending and it comes off as incredibly hollow, leading to an abrupt resolution that is clearly meant to be artful in its profundity but comes off as borderline pretentious and skirts dangerously close to being pointless.

My biggest gripe however, is that It Comes at Night was marketed and sold as a horror film yet contains nothing remotely scary or horror-themed. The closest thing we get to genuine horror are the surrealistic dreams Travis suffers each evening, but even these nightmares have a tired, familiar aesthetic about them. And while the movie is certainly depressing in terms of content, there’s nothing overtly frightening here. Especially perplexing is both the title of the film and the occasional allusions to night being especially treacherous but this idea that is never explored or expounded upon. The title itself seems to be an allusion to Travis’ dreams, which some might view as a clever sleight of hand but I personally consider part of a larger, purposely dishonest marketing campaign to attempt to garner a certain type of viewer with false promises.

And again, It Comes at Night isn’t a horrible film. Director Trey Edward Shults clearly possesses an abundance of talent and if you haven’t seen any of the myriad of exceptional post-apocalyptic movies scattered about over the last fifteen years, you might find the experience far more engaging. However, for the rest of us looking for something new or genuinely scary, it is unlikely you’ll find much here.

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Enter Here Freely and of Your Own Will

Welcome.

Celluloid and Silicon, as you’ve no doubt gleaned from the title, is a place to discuss, analyze, and enjoy the mediums of film and its distant but ever-expanding cousin, the videogame.

Here you’ll get a dose of intelligent and entertaining editorials related to both mediums, written in a unique and distinct voice which tends to skew towards the positive.

As a writer, my criticism, while hopefully sharp, contains a hefty dash of humility, as I understand and empathize with the effort required to create, even when that creation fails to resonate artistically or commercially.

And ultimately, what you will read here is my opinion; nothing more.

Feel free to disagree.

As long as I get you thinking or make you smile, I’ll consider myself successful.

  • Bill Boggess