New Super Mario Bros. 2

Introduction

Nintendo’s successor to the Game Boy Advance, the DS, proved to be a tremendous hit when it launched in 2004. It revolutionized the medium by introducing touch controls. Nintendo’s effort was not without precedent, but they were arguably the first to implement them competently. By the end of its lifespan, the DS sold more than 150-million units worldwide. Even with Sony, which had dominated the console market after launching their PlayStation product line, Nintendo continued to rule the handheld scene. As the decade came to a close, people began to speculate as to how Nintendo could follow up the DS. The press wouldn’t have to wait long before Nintendo officially announced their newest handheld system: the 3DS. This console would be capable of displaying stereoscopic three-dimensional effects without the need for special glasses or any other accessory.

Naturally, as Nintendo had created some of the longest-running, beloved franchises in the medium’s history, fans eagerly anticipated new entries to debut on the console. The release of Super Mario 64 in 1996 caused a minor divide among fans. While highly regarded, certain fans longed for Nintendo to create another side-scrolling installment. For those who wanted the series to revisit its roots had their wishes granted in the form of New Super Mario Bros., which was released on the DS. Those who hoped for these kinds of games to return to consoles were similarly delighted in 2009 when New Super Mario Bros. Wii was released for the eponymous console.

With the release of the 3DS, both factions were pleased when Shigeru Miyamoto revealed two Mario games in development for the 3DS. One, taking advantage of the new technology, would be in three dimensions while the other was to retain the sidescrolling gameplay of the New Super Mario Bros. subseries. The former saw its release in 2011 – the same year as the 3DS’s launch – under the name Super Mario 3D Land. Shortly thereafter, the president of Nintendo at the time, Satoru Iwata, formally announced this sidescrolling installment’s name: New Super Mario Bros. 2. The game was released worldwide in the summer of 2012 whereupon it became the first retail 3DS title to make itself available as a digital download. The game was fairly well-received, though it didn’t seem to generate as much enthusiasm as its two predecessors. As the third game in the subseries, does New Super Mario Bros. 2 bring anything new to the table?

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Pokémon X and Y

Introduction

Around the time director Junichi Masuda and his team were putting the finishing touches on Pokémon Black and White, they had already begun drafting ideas for the succeeding set of games. Mr. Masuda wanted the themes of the sixth generation to revolve around beauty, bonds, and evolution. Evolution had always played a key role in the series, being a power many of the title creatures possessed, though it would be more accurate to describe the process as a metamorphosis. Bonds had also been a running theme throughout the series with narratives emphasizing the teamwork between Pokémon and humans in their universe. This just left beauty as the sole theme the series hadn’t covered at length. It was therefore fitting that Mr. Masuda would base the setting of these games off of France – a country known for its beauty. To this end, he brought a team with his to France to study the countryside and architecture.

As they worked on the games, the DS’s successor, the 3DS, was about to be released. The console, which would be released in 2011 worldwide, boasted the same dual-screen gameplay of its predecessor in addition to a litany of new upgrades. This included built-in motion sensors, a larger screen, and true to its name, a true three-dimensional presentation. Although it didn’t initially sell as many units as its popular predecessor, it eventually gained momentum following the release of several high-profile, acclaimed games such as Super Mario 3D Land and Mario Kart 7. It would also be the console that finally allowed Intelligent Systems’ Fire Emblem series to get mainstream acclaim in the West when Fire Emblem Awakening was localized in 2013.

The Pokémon franchise had always been on handheld devices, so it was only natural for fans to eagerly await a new generation to debut on the 3DS. In defiance of the series’ naming conventions, which involved colors or gemstones, the team decided these new games would be called X and Y. These letters were chosen in order to represent different forms of thinking, bringing to mind an x-axis and a y-axis. It was also a subtle allusion to the simultaneous, worldwide release of the games in 2013. Mr. Masuda’s team even attempted to make the names of the Pokémon the same in every country whenever possible, though Mr. Masuda found this task exceptionally difficult.

The anticipation for these games was such that Brazilian stores attempted to sell them prior to their official release date. This prompted Nintendo to issue a warning stating they would penalize them if they continued to do that. However, the United Kingdom ended up following suit when a store in Bournemouth started selling the games on the eve of their release date. This created a domino effect, prompting other retailers across the nation began selling the games early as well. Like the preceding sets of games, X and Y were well-received critically. Commercially, they beat the records set by Black and White by selling four-million copies worldwide during the opening weekend. Being on the 3DS, X and Y would be the first games in the main series to leave spritework behind in favor of three-dimensional models for their characters. After this, there was no going back. Were X and Y able to successfully translate the series’ iconic gameplay into three dimensions?

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The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes

Introduction

With The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, Nintendo accomplished a difficult task by making a worthy follow-up to A Link to the Past over twenty years after the fact. During this time, director Hiromasa Shikata expressed the desire to make a multiplayer Zelda title. However, he wished to stray from the competitive nature of Four Swords and its standalone sequel. Furthermore, he acknowledged the limitations players faced when attempting to play those games. Anyone who wished to play Four Swords with friends would need them to possess a copy of the game along with a Game Boy Advance and a specialized cable. Multiplayer sessions in Four Swords Adventures were even more demanding, requiring those interested to locate as many as five discontinued consoles. This is because any such venture would need as many Game Boy Advance consoles as there were total players plus a GameCube or Wii for the actual disc.

Because the Nintendo 3DS linked to other consoles wirelessly, it could easy avoid these problems; players didn’t even need to be in the same room to interact with each other. Therefore, Mr. Shikata along with series producer Eiji Aonuma and a majority of the team behind A Link Between Worlds reformed and started work on this new multiplayer title. Using the aesthetics of A Link Between Worlds as a primary inspiration, Mr. Shikata and his team dubbed this new game Tri Force Heroes – a pun referencing the mystical artifact that had played an integral role in the series from the very beginning. In something of a departure from how the series’ entries were usually handled, Tri Force Heroes ended up being released in 2015 to little buildup or fanfare. This relative lack of excitement seemed to reflect in what critics had to say about it. Compared to its predecessors, all of which had little trouble amassing acclaim, Tri Force Heroes received a lukewarm reception. Would it be accurate to describe Tri Force Heroes as the series’ first significant misstep?

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The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

Introduction

The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks was originally slated for a 2010 release. When the staff desired to move on and work on a new console installment, the release date was rescheduled to the end of 2009. Once Spirit Tracks saw its release, a majority of its development team were immediately assigned to work on the game that would become Skyward Sword. Three members of the Spirit Tracks team, including Hiromasa Shikata and Shiro Mouri, opted to begin work on a completely different project that would bear the Zelda banner. They originally intended to build a game around the theme of “communication”. Six months into the project, they presented their idea to Shigeru Miyamoto. Unfortunately, Mr. Miyamoto felt it “[sounded] like an idea [that was] twenty years old”. Realizing they couldn’t proceed with this concept, they decided to rethink the concept of the game from the ground up.

Shortly thereafter, Mr. Shikata proposed an interesting question: what if Link could enter walls? A day later, Mr. Mouri created a prototype to demonstrate the mechanic.

It was through seeing it in action that they truly grasped the idea’s potential for both puzzles and exploration. As they considered the new game to be an extension of the DS installments, the prototype used the same viewpoint and art style as Spirit Tracks. It was around October of 2010 that the trio presented the prototype to Mr. Miyamoto. To their delight, he approved of the new concept and was more than happy to see the project through. However, another major setback two weeks later prevented this from happening. Nintendo was preparing to launch the Wii U in 2012. As a result, core members of the development team were quickly reassigned to work on launch titles for this new console. The trio disbanded, and any further development of this game ceased.

Meanwhile, after Skyward Sword was released in November of 2011, series producer Eiji Aonuma began thinking about the future of the franchise. Nintendo’s newest handheld console, the 3DS, was launched earlier that year. Among its own launch titles was a remake of Ocarina of Time. Fans were highly enthusiastic about the remake, and as a result, the demand for a new, original Zelda installment for the console grew. Having heard of the prototype created by three former members of the Spirit Tracks team, Mr. Aonuma elected to revisit the idea of Link entering walls. With Mr. Shikata and Mr. Mouri still in the middle of developing Wii U games, Mr. Aonuma decided to personally revive the project without its core members – thirteen months after it had been shelved.

Kentaro Tominaga continued where Mr. Shikata left off, refining the system for entering walls and designing small dungeons – all of which were presented to Mr. Miyamoto in May of 2012. Mr. Tominaga then planned to create fifty more small dungeons to further utilize the wall-entering mechanic, but Mr. Miyamoto criticized the approach. Mr. Miyamoto then proposed basing the game off of A Link to the Past – known domestically as Triforce of the Gods. From this, Mr. Aonuma proposed combining the mechanic with the top-down perspective and landforms of A Link to the Past. The shift in perspective would be complemented by the stereoscopic capabilities of the 3DS. Converting the two-dimensional landforms into a three-dimensional space, they began testing the feature extensively. Many more presentations to Mr. Miyamoto ensued, and the project was allowed to proceed in earnest in July of 2012. Even better, two of those core members made a return with Mr. Skikata helming the project and Mr. Mouri serving as the lead programmer.

It was in April of 2013 during a Nintendo Direct presentation that the company made known the existence of this new Zelda installment. The release date was scheduled for late 2013. Having taken several cues from A Link to the Past, there was only one logical thing to do with this installment: make it a sequel to the 1991 classic. As if to erase any doubt, the game was to be titled The Legend of Zelda: Triforce of the Gods 2 in Japan. Even its English title, The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds made its connection to A Link to the Past quite clear, following a similar naming convention. The game was released in Europe, North America, and Australia in November of 2013 before seeing its domestic launch the following December. As opposed to Spirit Tracks, A Link Between Worlds received nearly universal acclaim with many critics believing it to be one 2013’s strongest titles. Given that the game was advertised as a sequel to A Link to the Past, skeptical members of the circle felt its positive reception could be chalked up to Nintendo cashing in on nostalgia. Time and again was progress on this game stopped only for it to subsequently rise from the ashes every time. Was A Link Between Worlds able to escape its tumultuous development cycle and emerge as one of the 3DS’s best games? Could it even begin to do justice to a game that had over twenty years to establish its legacy?

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Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice

Introduction

Apollo Justice, and by extension, the core Ace Attorney series, had gone five years without a sequel. When a follow-up was at last announced in 2012, it had a potential to alienate longtime fans. After all, this was going to be a sequel to what most fans considered the franchise’s nadir. Not only that, but an entirely new development team had taken over its production with no involvement from series creator Shu Takumi and they saw fit to introduce a new assistant as a replacement for a fan favorite. Director Takeshi Yamazaki, producer Motohide Eshiro, and their team had more than proven themselves capable with Prosecutor’s Path, but because it wasn’t localized, Western fans remained unaware of their talent. The sole entry they were exposed to was the original Ace Attorney Investigations. While enjoyed, fans didn’t have nearly as much reverence for it as they did the original trilogy. Thankfully, despite similar factors spelling the downfall of many venerable franchises, a majority of the risks taken by the duo paid off, and Dual Destinies was, by and large, embraced by the fandom.

With plenty of unresolved plot threads floating around, there was potential for a sequel. Unfortunately, shortly after finishing Dual Destinies, Mr. Yamazaki felt a crippling sense of exhaustion, expressing the desire to resign from developing any more Ace Attorney installments. Thinking quickly, Mr. Eshiro decided a trip to events attended by fans was in order. Together, they appeared at the San Diego Comic-Con International and held a press conference in Taiwan. Feeling the enthusiasm of his fans firsthand – both Western and Asian alike – Mr. Yamazaki decided to direct the series’ next installment, to be called Turnabout Trial 6 in its native homeland.

Believing that the cause behind Mr. Yamazaki’s exhaustion stemmed from being the sole director of Dual Destinies, he decided his coworker wasn’t going tackle this new project alone – enter Takuro Fuse. Mr. Fuse had cut his teeth with the Ace Attorney franchise when he replaced Tatsuro Iwamoto as the series’ primary art director. He was the one responsible for a majority of the character designs. He now found himself sharing the director’s along with Mr. Yamazaki.

The project now had two directors and a producer determined to see it through to the end. All they needed now was a theme. Dual Destinies had carried out the impressive task of simultaneously being a return to form while also taking the canon in intriguing, new directions. The only way they could possibly top such a feat was through brainstorming sessions. With nobody being allowed to veto anyone else’s ideas, they eventually settled on the theme of “courtroom revolution”. It was to be an Ace Attorney spin on a classic tale: “the oppressed and weak defeating the strong” in the words of Mr. Yamazaki.

During the development phase, the team agreed that with Phoenix Wright making his triumphant return to the courtroom, nobody could prove a match for him anymore in his normal setting. It is from this line of thinking that they decided to move him to a foreign country with a different court system. Not only that, but promotional materials made it clear supernatural elements, which had been absent from the series for the past three installments, were to return as well. This was alluded to in its English subtitle: Spirit of Justice. Responding to fan feedback, they also decided it would be appropriate to give Apollo Justice a larger role. Therefore, while Phoenix handled cases abroad, his apprentice was to resolve problems back home. How they went about conceiving episodes was a little different this time around. Each episode had a primary writer, and they were assigned based on their strengths. Some proved apt with dialogue while others had a penchant for lending their stories a sense of intrigue. The staff often stayed in the meeting room until nightfall.

After the usual fan and media speculation, Turnabout Trial 6 was released domestically in June of 2016. Four months later in September, the game saw its worldwide release under the name Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice. Though Dual Destinies was well-liked itself, several fans felt Spirit of Justice to be an improvement. In fact, shortly after its release, a particularly vocal group insisted that Spirit of Justice was the best game in the entire series. The original three games are seen as something of a sacred cow in certain subsets of the Ace Attorney fandom, yet even they found themselves admitting Spirit of Justice was a quality product. Were Mr. Yamazaki, Mr. Fuse, and Mr. Eshiro able to demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt that Dual Destinies was not a mere happy accident?

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Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies

Introduction

With its new protagonist, Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney proved to be another success for Capcom’s franchise about fierce courtroom battles. Shortly after its release, a planned sequel was announced in May 2007. However, over the next few years, other members of Capcom wound up taking the series in a new direction. Specifically, thanks to the efforts of producer Motohide Eshiro and director Takeshi Yamazaki, two games that cast the fan-favorite Miles Edgeworth in the lead role were produced. Though the localization efforts for both games were drastically limited, they managed to find an audience. Because Capcom’s focus shifted elsewhere, there was no word of a follow-up to Apollo Justice for five years.

This continued silence finally ended in September of 2012 when Capcom revealed a logo for a hypothetical new installment for the Ace Attorney franchise. As if to dash the ambiguity from the beginning, the logo clearly read “Turnabout Trial 5”. In truth, development had begun in 2011. The team responsible for Prosecutor’s Path had disbanded shortly after its release and the members were subsequently reassigned to different projects. As such, Mr. Eshiro and Mr. Yamazaki found themselves in charge of a skeleton team.

The series historically enjoyed success on Nintendo’s handheld consoles. The original trilogy debuted on the Game Boy Advance while Apollo Justice and the two Ace Attorney Investigations installments saw the light of day on the Nintendo DS. By the time this project started, Nintendo had launched their latest handheld model, the 3DS, in 2011. The development team was initially unsure whether to retain the series’ traditional 2D sprite-based graphics or utilize 3D character models. Ultimately, they realized that because this new entry was being developed long after the release of Apollo Justice, they needed to make a big impact. The new hardware presented the perfect opportunity for them to usher in a new era for the series.

Naturally, one of the greatest difficulties the team had to overcome was preserving the look and feel of the 2D sprites employed by the preceding installments. Takuro Fuse found himself serving as the game’s art director, replacing mainstay Tatsuro Iwamoto. Having to utilize the 3DS’s stereoscopic effects, Mr. Fuse understandably had problems getting character designs to fit the series’ distinctive style. This required him to get a lot of feedback from Mr. Eshiro. According to Mr. Eshiro and Mr. Yamazaki, their goal was so that their product’s graphics were superior to those of Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – a spinoff game being developed around the same time by series Shu Takumi himself.

One of Mr. Fuse’s first tasks was to render a 3D model of the series’ former protagonist, Phoenix Wright. He would later call his first attempts “cringe-worthy”, but they were able to use it as a base. From there, other members of the team gave him their feedback, and they collectively refined it until they were satisfied. This process by itself took six months. Their next goal was to translate the series’ trademark lively animation style for this new engine. To this end, they employed various tricks, including using new character models for different angles. They also used the 3DS’s hardware to add dynamic camera movements and fluid character animations.

There was a shared feeling of dread among Western fans after Capcom made this game’s development known. After all, if Prosecutor’s Path never left Japan, this fifth Ace Attorney installment could very well meet the same fate. That Capcom announced the game was to be localized proved to be something of a mixed blessing. On one hand, Western fans would get to experience more of the series. The downside is that it came at the cost of localizing Prosecutor’s Path, for Capcom decided to skip it in favor of the newer game. Nonetheless, it didn’t take long after its localization was greenlit for it to be given a Western name: Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies.

Capcom USA’s senior vice president, Christian Svensson, had previously suggested to make Prosecutor’s Path a downloadable title when the company predicted its sales wouldn’t cover the localization costs. Because the executives still believed this to be the case, the decision to greenlight the game came with the condition that it would be made available in the West in a digital format only. Because all 3DS games would be sold in both a digital and physical format from the beginning, this was deemed by most to be a reasonable compromise. Under the name Turnabout Trial 5, this game was released domestically in July of 2013. Its international debut came to pass in October of 2013. In both regions, the game enjoyed a fairly positive reception. Though Mr. Eshiro and Mr. Yamazaki had experience with the Ace Attorney franchise in the past, this would be their first attempt at creating an installment in the core series. Did their efforts pay off? Were the students able to surpass the master?

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Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney

Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney - Box

Introduction

In 2010, Level-5, the company behind the Professor Layton series of puzzle games, announced a new project. It was to be a crossover with one of Capcom’s franchises: Ace Attorney. Akihiro Hino was noted by a colleague to be a huge fan of the series and sent the proposal to its creator, Shu Takumi. Despite some initial skepticism from Capcom’s R&D Management Group, Mr. Hino ultimately convinced Mr. Takumi to accept the idea, and the latter was subsequently given full creative control over the project as both director and the main scenario writer. The game was eventually released in Japan in 2012 for the 3DS, Nintendo’s newest handheld console at the time. Many international fans believed that it wouldn’t receive a localization like the sequel to Ace Attorney: Investigations. Fortunately, after being met with much enthusiasm, Level-5 and Capcom decided in 2013 to give their game a Western release, making good on their promise by 2014.

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Bravely Default

Bravely Default - Box

Introduction

Co-developed by Silicon Studio and Square Enix, Bravely Default was originally released in Japan in 2012. The game later received an updated version in 2013 titled For the Sequel, which included several improvements such as an additional two save slots. Though there were initially no plans to localize the game outside of its native country, the second version was eventually released worldwide in late 2013 and early 2014, one region at a time. Bravely Default was created by many of the same people who developed the DS remakes of Final Fantasy III and Final Fantasy IV as well as Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light, even featuring a similar art style. Indeed, it was originally conceived as a sequel to 4 Heroes of Light. Even though it eventually became its own IP, many reoccurring elements from the Final Fantasy series appear in Bravely Default, thus making it a spiritual successor.

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