Your Endless Virtual Vacation (Tower Unite)

Tower Unite is a social, minigame driven MMO which boasts the promise of no microtransactions to ruin the fun. It began life as a GMod server – called GMod Tower – and whilst it was an enjoyable experience, it was largely held together with sticks and tape, from what I could tell. Its successor, Tower Unite, is instead built in the Unreal engine, and is no longer free to play, to the game’s own benefit. The servers and developers will have proper funding, and everyone in the game is going to be on the same level of opportunity as opposed to donors holding certain privileges. Tower Unite is still lacking in content when compared to its predecessor, and is admittedly riddled with bugs from time to time (though not unplayably so). But I’m going to tell you why it’s worth picking up even in its current state.

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Uh oh

I’ll address the level of content immediately. Lacking though it may be in comparison to its predecessor, it still boasts a fair amount of activities to keep you occupied. As far as minigames go, you’re able to choose from a wide variety of courses in Minigolf and Ball Race (a super-monkey ball style game). The newly released Little Crusaders is quite fun – lots of little crusader players versus one player driven dragon – though it currently only has three maps. Virus is a decent to mediocre shooter that some players may recognise from other FPS games, though this also has little in the way of maps. And I can’t speak for the final minigame, Planet Panic, because I’ve not found an open server the two times I tried to play it. I believe it’s a horde-mode game type. These minigames are all quite fun, each clearly having care and effort put into them. You’ll definitely play them for more than just the currency they award you for winning; I typically find the earning of Units to be a bonus rather than a motivation.

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Get down here dragon. You do not belong up there.

That’s far from all there is, though. If you join a Lobby, you’ll be placed into the main world of Tower Unite. The Lobby, as well as being a rather pretty place to explore, contains multiple shops, a few activities such as the Typing Derby (a typing speed game) and Trivia, and some other locations such as the Cinema (almost identical to GMod Cinema) and the Casino. The Casino is where you’ll typically find most of the players in the lobby, and I’ve spent a few hours there myself. The existence of a Casino in modern day games typically sets off alarm bells but, as you’ll recall, there are no microtransactions in this game, and the machines in the Casino are actually rigged slightly in your favour. They’re also by no means the best way of earning money, with the grand appeal being the constant attempt to hit the jackpot on various slot machines. The last thing the Lobby serves well to do is preview upcoming pieces of content, with some buildings being shown as “under construction”. I’m personally hyped for the eventual completion of the Arcade.

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Here’s what your starter house’s main room will look like. Behind me is a very generously sized backyard and beach.

One thing that drew me to this game, and to its predecessor, is the ability to own and extensively customise your own condo. This is what you’ll likely sink most of your Units into. Upon buying the game, you’re given a very generously sized and located player home, a modern building on the beachfront that’s decently sized and has more rooms than I’ve been able to furnish as of yet. You can place furniture literally anywhere you like, with complete freedom of placement and rotation, no matter how ridiculous. That means armchairs on the ceiling. You can paint your floors and walls different colours and textures, as well as save different house templates, meaning that you could theoretically have multiple different interiors depending on the occasion. And, most enticingly, the media services that allow the Cinema to be a possibility also apply to buyable televisions for your home, meaning you can invite your friends over to your virtual house and watch Youtube together, making it a brilliant virtual hangout.

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This is the life.

None of my friends have picked up the game so far – not for want of nagging them – but even so, I find myself drawn to the social aspects of this game unlike any other MMO. I’ll happily talk to others gambling their souls away in the Casino, or start using voice chat in a particularly enjoyable minigolf lobby. I can’t quite put my finger on what makes Tower Unite different in that aspect to other games. Maybe it’s the second life nature of the game. Rather than focusing on gameplay and ulterior motives and goals, or finding hostility in open world interactions, I’m simply enjoying a virtual holiday-esque experience with those around me. Either way, it’s an aspect of the game that keeps me company, and prompts me to recommend it even to those who would be playing alone.

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You BASTARD

Despite all of this, I’ll admit that after 19 hours of playing, I feel like I’ve played a lot of what’s currently to offer. There’s only so many times you can pull the lever at that slot machine or fail to hit a par on most golf courses before you crave something new. There’s plenty of content that needs to be added, such as more clothing options, more minigames, and maybe some quality of life improvments when it comes to hosting game lobbies, like kicking people and being able to host a server for more than just the one round of a particular minigame. (And please, for the love of god, fix hair clipping through hats). But I doubt it’s something I’ll uninstall any time soon, and I’ll be following Tower Unite’s progress very eagerly over the coming months and – hopefully – years.

The Nintendo Switch, and Nintendo’s Recent Launch History

When the Switch was first announced, I was ecstatic. The proof-of-concept type trailer that they used to show the functionality of the Switch was a frequently watched video for the next few weeks, and the possibilities – mainly, portable Skyrim – were enticing. It’s the most excited I’ve ever been for a Nintendo home console, as somebody who only really paid attention to the company’s non-handhelds around the launch of the Wii. And for the most part, my excitement remains unchanged. But there’s one big reason (besides the price) that I’m not going to grab the console any time soon, and it’s the same reason why I’ve never been all that fussed about rushing for a brand new Nintendo console.

Launch titles. Nintendo has a history of launching their consoles with very little in the way of actual games, and the Switch is no exception. Typically, there will be one big, triple-A title, followed by a smattering of third party games that are swiftly forgotten in the following months, and a game or two which promotes the main gimmick of the console. For instance, with the launch of the DS, the US saw the release of Super Mario 64 DS – a remake of an older game – alongside Asphalt Urban GT, The Urbz: Sims in the City, Feel the Magic: XY/XX, Spider-Man 2 and Madden NFL 2005. The Wii’s launch was somewhat more respectable, with The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, Wii Sports (their proof of concept style title), and a handful of larger titles found on other consoles. The 3DS launch was particularly barren, with not a single standout title and a smattering of potential interests depending on your niche franchise preferences. The ill-faring Wii U launched with a dramatic number of title ports that ultimately failed to pull audiences away from rival consoles which did a better job of running the games.

The Switch, then, follows this pattern to a tee. You have the large triple-A title that everyone wants to play, namely The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. And you have their gimmicky demo, 1-2 Switch, which I’ve seen reported as being fun for a few hours but far from a full title. (Hello again, Wii Sports. I see they gave you a hefty price tag this time.) You have an attempt to revitalise a dead franchise (here’s to you, Bomberman) and a few niche or unique titles. In all fairness, I’ve not played them. They could be fantastic. But I’ve not heard much besides “meh”.

I was going to dedicate a portion of this blog post to what I thought was a less-than-wise decision to launch your new console with its main title being available on the previous platform. From what I’ve seen and heard, Breath of the Wild is only slightly less impressive on the Wii U – almost negligibly so. I’d just like to point out that on this front, though, I was dead wrong, as Breath of the Wild is apparently outselling Super Mario 64 as a launch title so far. I felt that was worth mentioning, considering how this blog post has criticised Nintendo’s console launches so far. I’m not a big Zelda fan myself, and even I want to get my hands on this one.

Despite all of this, I’m still pretty damn excited for the Switch. I’ve seen the list of games which are coming to the console, and I’m absolutely planning on buying titles such as Skyrim, Terraria, and Stardew Valley for a second (or third) time, as well as investing in some other indies that I’ve not gotten around to yet like Shovel Knight, The Binding of Isaac and Unbox. Plus, the 3DS gamer in me is eager to delve into the Virtual Console library again, and to own some of Nintendo’s older games that previously didn’t make it onto the 3DS shop. Plus, as somebody who skipped the Wii U as deftly as Neo from The Matrix dodges bullets, I’m looking forward to owning a Nintendo home console again and playing some larger titles.

But that’ll all come in a year or two. Because, once again, Nintendo has given us a console with hardly any decent games attached. I’m just hoping that Breath of the Wild’s success will carry the Switch past Nintendo’s recent early day console failings. The 3DS caught up, but the Wii U never did quite manage to recover from so many devs pulling their support.

I’ve also found Nintendo to focus somewhat too much on giving their consoles some crazy functionality, to the point where it can hinder gameplay. I can only assume that after the Gamecube’s failure to compete against the Xbox and the PS2, Nintendo decided to stop competing altogether and take things in a whole different direction. It worked for the DS. Theoretically speaking, it worked for the Wii, but in a manner that made it more of a family party console than the Nintendo gaming console that many people wanted. I can’t count the number of times I got sick of playing Animal Crossing because of the Wii’s motion controls. The 3DS had a dismissable gimmick, so much so that Nintendo capitalised on it and sold a non-3D variant of the console. The Wii U was a weird mess of motion control and dual screens combined into a home console with an identity crisis. The Switch, however, has functionality which actually makes it more convenient to play, like Nintendo’s handhelds, as opposed to being less convenient, such as its home-based predecessors.

So, that’s about the sum of my thoughts regarding the Switch. I’m sure they mirror many others. I’ll be excited to own it when it has a decent library a year or two from now, so that it can be the companion console to my gaming PC. As much as I frown upon Nintendo’s functionality-driven approach to consoles, it works out for them in the somewhat niche market of PC gamers looking for a console that isn’t simply a less-powerful version of what they can already accomplish. Making it semi-portable is what mostly solidified my interest in it.

Busy Dragon-Aging, Come Back Later

I don’t have a particular game or gaming topic to write about this week. However, I’ve just started the very exciting Dragon Age: Inquisition, a game of which I’m sure I’ll have more to discuss with you this time next Thursday.

In the meantime, I’m going to point you in the direction of my gameplay clips channel. I’ve done this before, I think, but I’d like to specifically draw attention to the fact that I’ve recently organised all of my videos into playlists. Since these clips are usually thirty seconds long (with a few special exceptions having been combined in editing), it makes for a hopefully enjoyable highlight reel experience. Here’s my Skyrim playlist.