Category Archives: Video Games

Dick Tracy (NES) Review

A video game developer would have to actively try very, very hard in order to make a game more frustrating than Dick Tracy on NES. Though it was released in 1990, around the same time as the Dick Tracy feature film, this Bandai game was more inspired by the original comic strip of the yellow-clad detective. Not that it matters, really. A bad game is a bad game, no matter the source of inspiration. And Dick Tracy on NES is indeed a bad game.

The first issue with the game is its setup. As soon as the game starts, you have a mugshot screen featuring six different subjects. Dick Tracy might have been an interesting game, if it actually made you look for clues to deduce which suspect is guilty. Instead, the game already tells you which of the six is the culprit of the game’s first crime, and you simply have to look for enough clues to have him arrested (if you try to arrest them before finding each clue, you’ll just go back to the police station to continue looking for the clues). The four subsequent crimes that Dick Tracy has to solve follow a similar pattern, which really makes you wonder why the developers didn’t just present the game as a traditional side-scroller. Dick Tracy had the opportunity to make players feel like a detective (if even just a little); instead, the detective-y bits are nothing but window dressing.

That’s only the beginning. Dick Tracy includes an overworld map, presented as the big city. You traverse this overworld via Dick Tracy’s car and, my lord, the driving controls are bad. The game forces players to stay in the right lane which, while realistic, makes the driving controls feel really restrictive. When combined with how awkward the turning is, and the driving controls are just a mess.

Yet, that’s not even the worst part of the overworld. That would be the snipers. Yes, atop most of the buildings in the city are snipers, who will shoot at you repeatedly, and drain your health before you even make it to one of your destinations. You can shoot from the car, but it only shoots straight, which makes hitting the snipers nearly impossible. You can exit the car, which gives you more range in movement (and thus, shooting as well), but having to stop the car to exit just to get rid of the snipers just makes the game all the more tedious.

You may be wondering “why not just move around the overworld on foot?” The answer to that is you can’t. As soon as you exit the car, you can only walk around to what’s currently on-screen. Between the horrible controls and the barrages of snipers, driving the car is one of the game’s worst elements, yet it’s the element the game forces you to do the most.

When you actually make it to one of your destinations, things don’t get much better. Dick Tracy can jump, punch, and can use a gun. But in the on-foot stages, Dick Tracy has limited ammo, and can’t shoot unarmed enemies, otherwise you’ll take damage. Sure, it’s realistic that a good cop wouldn’t shoot an unarmed criminal, but the enemies appear on screen so suddenly that you might not have switch back to your fists before hitting the B button. You’ll be shooting at an armed enemy, only for an unarmed guy to appear on-screen and walk in front of the bullet. And with how much the stages love to bombard you enemies, trying to keep track of what enemies are in front of you and what item/weapon you’re currently using just gets way too hectic.

Dick Tracy can swap between his fists, a gun, and first aid kits by pressing the select button. The punches and gun are used by pressing B when they’re selected, but to use a first aid kit to heal yourself, you have to press the select button and B at the same time. Why the developers made such a bonkers design choice is anyone’s guess.

What’s worse with the health situation is that Dick can only carry two first aid kits at a time, and they aren’t always easy to come by. And while they replenish all of your health when used,Dick only has a handful of health, with most of it, once again, being depleted by the snipers in the overworld.

This brings me to the game’s gravest flaw: You only have one life. Just one. If you die, it’s game over and back to the beginning of the game. There is a password system, but only in between cases. And again, going through just one case by finding all the clues, and apprehending the culprit, with all those driving sections sprinkled in between, is no walk in the park. And with players only able to hold onto two first aid kits at a time, the whole experience is unforgiving and unfair.

Dick Tracy is one of the worst games on the NES. Its squandered potential of 8-bit crime solving is further muddled by its atrocious controls, tedious pacing, and its unreasonable difficulty..

 

1.5

Beetlejuice (NES) Review

The opening level in Super Mario Bros. is so expertly realized in introducing players to the game’s fundamental mechanics, that it’s largely taken for granted. From the opening screen that presents Mario is the basics (blocks to jump into for coins and a power-up, a Goomba enemy to avoid or defeat), all the way up to its secret areas and ending flagpole, stage 1-1 of Super Mario Bros. remains a case study on how to properly ease players into the game ahead.

On the complete opposite end of that spectrum, we have the opening stage of Beetlejuice on NES, which is so cryptic, convoluted and unfair that it serves as a means for everything a game designer should avoid when trying to introduce players to the game. Though I suppose for a game this terrible, the introductory stage may actually compliment the rest of the experience (though that statement in itself is certainly no compliment).

Beetlejuice is based on the Tim Burton film of the same name, and like so many ill-fated licensed games on the NES, it was published by the notorious LJN. And like all the other movie-based NES games from the (thankfully) now-defunct publisher, Beetlejuice fails as both a game and in representing its source material.

By definition, Beetlejuice is a side-scrolling platformer. Though in execution, it can barely handle being that. Beetlejuice’s jumping is sporadic and slippery, and his only means of attack his a little stomp, which naturally doesn’t harm enemies, but instead is used to crush tiny beetles that pop out of holes in the ground to get points. Beetlejuice can then use those points to purchase “Scares,” the game’s power-ups.

Though you can continuously farm the beetles for points, it proves to be an arduous process: you have to be incredibly precise with your stomps to hit them, and they only give 10, 25, 50 and 75 points (depending on the color of beetle, though even that seems inconsistent, with blue beetles sometimes giving 25 points, other times 50). Considering that it costs hundreds of points to buy even a single use for a Scare, and you’ll often needs multiple copies of a Scare in order to finish a level, you’ll find yourself spending a good deal of time stomping on beetles like an idiot. Sound fun yet?

“The shark fin in the tub can kill you. The torches can kill you. Even that umbrella thing can kill you.”

Another problem with the game is its unfair difficulty, which stems from three primary sources; the first of which being that Beetlejuice is sent flying when touching an enemy or object, which will frequently send “the ghost with the most” careening around the place like a pinball, bouncing from one damaging object to the next until he’s dead. The second issue is that, when traveling vertically, any previous ground that is now off-screen works as a one-hit death trap. The third issue is that you can rarely tell what can and can’t hurt you. Early in the first level, for example, you’ll find yourself inside a house with some torches, which look like simple background decorations, but actually hurt you when touched (even when they’re off-screen).

Combine these three issues with Beetlejuice’s aforementioned slippery jumping, and the game is utterly unenjoyable to play. And all of these issues are at the forefront of the very first stage.

This first level sees players traveling across a small town, where they are soon greeted by an enemy they can’t kill, but one that can easily kill them if it bumps into Beetlejuice and sends him into a nearby pit. Shortly thereafter, the player will enter the torch-riddled house, in which Beetlejuice has to continuously travel vertically which, you guessed it, means you’ll often get hit by a surprise enemy or object, and fall back to what should be a previous area, which instead kills you. After that you’ll find an area where you’ll waste time stomping on beetles (while avoiding another enemy you can’t kill) just so you can enter the nearby building to purchase power-ups. You’ll soon come across a beehive which can only be destroyed by using the skeleton power-up and throwing a fireball at it, which then gives you access to a cloud platform (a baffling scenario which the game never even hints at). Then when you finally make it to the first boss, you’ll find that he’s practically invincible, and can only be killed by spamming the skeleton power-ups and throwing enough fireballs at him to send him to the right side of the screen (once again, the game never tells you to specifically buy the skeleton power-up for the boss, so if you buy anything else, you’re just wasting your tediously earned points). Naturally, this boss can kill you in a single hit, which will either send Beetlejuice back to the first house area of the stage (despite other deaths taking the player back to the spot they died), or you’ll spawn right back at the boss. If you respawn at the boss, you’ll keep doing so. So if you didn’t purchase enough skeletons, or used them up and died, you’ll have to reset the game entirely, because you’re trapped in an impossible scenario.

Again, first level. And it doesn’t get better from there.

To top everything off, the graphics are ugly to look at and, though the music can be somewhat catchy, its upbeat and bubbly tone is anything but reminiscent of the dark comedy on which the game is based.

Beetlejuice is perhaps marginally better than LJN’s Bill & Ted’s Excellent Video Game Adventure –  if only because Beetlejuice’s bad controls are a relative step up from the unplayability of Bill & Ted – but it still since alongside Who Framed Roger Rabbit on NES as one of LJN’s greatest crimes against the most beloved of 8-bit consoles.

 

1.5

ARMS Review

Nintendo has really been venturing out of their comfort zone lately. Not only has the famed developer ben revamping its major franchises in recent times – such as was the case with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild – but they also seem to be more onboard with creating new IPs now than they were just a few short years ago. 2015 saw the release of Splatoon, Nintendo’s quirky take on the multiplayer shooter. And now we have ARMS on the Nintendo Switch, a 3D fighter that once again puts Nintendo’s unique spin on the genre.

The schtick here is that the characters in the game all have extendable arms, with the camera faced behind the characters, as opposed to a side-on view as in most fighting games. This makes ARMS feel like something of a fighter with third-person shooter elements, as the stretchy arms make battles more distanced than in other games of the genre.

“My favorite character, Twintelle. Such a magnificent view!”

ARMS features ten different playable characters, each with their own distinct personalities: Spring Man is the typical super hero-esque main character, while Ninjara – as his name implies – is a ninja-themed fighter. There’s also Byte and Barq, a robot policeman and his robot dog, and Master Mummy, whose extendable arms are his mummy wrappings. There’s also Mechanica, a young human girl who has made a robot suit for herself so she can face her stretchy-limbed opponents in combat; and Kid Cobra, an odd character who seems to be comprised of sporting equipment. My two favorites are Helix, a blob-like experiment, and Twintelle, a famous human actress who uses her extendable hair in place of the other characters’ robot arms.

Each character has their own special abilities (Mechanica’s robot suit allows her to hover shortly, and more resistant to knock-back; meanwhile, Byte can use Barq as a jumping platform, with the robot dog also attacking independently from time to time). But what makes ARMS a unique entry in the genre is that it features some interesting character customization, while still retaining a fair competitive edge.

All ten characters initially have three different types of arms, and you can equip both of a characters arms with any of the three different types as you choose. However, by earning in-game currency (by playing through the story mode or playing multiplayer), you can play a mini-game that gives you the opportunity to unlock different arms for the different characters. Though the fact that each character eventually shares all the same arms means it takes a little something away from the characters’ uniqueness, it also means that you have the ability to customize characters without completely breaking the game.

Once you unlock more arms, you can replace any of the characters’ three existing arms as you please. Some arms might have further reach, others might be stronger and block incoming attacks easier, and others still might cause status effects (electricity temporarily stuns arms, while ice shortly freezes an opponent in place). It’s fun just to try out different arm combinations and see which ones you take to.

The core gameplay is simple enough, but surprisingly deep. Players can launch each of their arms individually using different button presses or motion controls, (I use the ZL and ZR buttons myself), and using both at once grabs your opponent for a throwing attack. Players can slowly build-up a power meter during a match that, when full, can power-up your character to unleash devastating strikes (if you manage to land the first hit after powering up, that is).

ARMS isn’t a fighter filled with intricate combos and vast movesets. You really do only have your two fists, and your grapples. But the depth of the combat comes from combining different arms and figuring out their strengths and weaknesses, as well as learning to best predict your opponents’ movements, so that you don’t throw your arms in vain and leave yourself vulnerable.

The gameplay itself is a whole lot of fun, though the learning curve in the controls may be something of a caveat for some players. Thankfully, ARMS provides various control methods, though it may take some time before you find which one is right for you. I’ve noticed a lot of comments praising the motion controlled method, though I personally found it tough to aim my arms with that setup. I first tried using the A and B buttons to throw punches with the more traditional Joycon setup, before I found that the shoulder buttons just felt more intuitive.

Your typical matches are one-on-one affairs, but matches between three and four players are also available. There are also two-on-two matches, as well as modes that change up the gameplay. Hoops sees players trying to slam dunk each other in a basketball hoop for points, skillshot has players competing to break the most targets, and V-ball works like a game of volleyball…only the ball explodes if it touches the ground. An additional mode that occurs in some online bouts sees two or three players facing an exceptionally powerful, six-armed AI opponent.

The game modes are all fun in their own right, but the core fighting matches definitely stand tall over the others. There is a bit of a downside to the team matches though, with both members of a team being tethered together, and unable to move too far apart from one another. It’s not terrible, but you have to wonder why being linked together is the only way to do team matches.

If there’s any other issue with ARMS, it’s simply that the process of unlocking new arms can be a bit tedious. As mentioned, you have to pay in-game currency to play the mini-game just to get the opportunity to unlock more arms. A short game costs 30, a medium-length game costs 100, and a long game costs 200. The problem? Winning an online match (which is surely where you’ll spend most of your time in the game) only nabs you three coins.

Sure, you still get a single token even if you lose a multiplayer match, which is generous, but with how expensive it is just to get the opportunity to win more arms, merely getting three tokens for winning a match makes this a long process. It’s true, you can get additional points if you can keep a streak of wins going, but that’s easier said than done when coming in second place in a four-person free-for-all is tantamount to losing, or if the aforementioned six-armed AI manages to withstand the time limit breaks your streak. You always do have the option of replaying the story mode over and over (each playthrough nabs you roughly 40 coins), but that doesn’t exactly make the process less arduous. Perhaps this wouldn’t even be so bad if you had control over which arms you unlock. But the mini-game will reward you with random arms for random characters. This makes the whole process even more tedious than Overwatch’s loot boxes.

Still, these are ultimately minor gripes for what is a fun and addicting fighter, and no doubt the next notable franchise from Nintendo. The core gameplay is a lot of fun, and I have yet to experience any technical issues when playing online (with lobbies juggling twenty players and assigning them to different matches at a speedy pace). The characters give the game a fun and colorful personality, the visuals are rich and detailed, and the soundtrack is appropriately boisterous.

It may not quite have that same level of freshness that Splatoon had when it arrived in 2015, but ARMS is most assuredly a worthy follow-up to the ink-based shooter as a new, off-the-wall member of the Nintendo family.

 

8.0

Xena: Warrior Princess: Talisman of Fate Review

“Caesar! Caesar!”

If you choose to play Xena: Warrior Princess: Talisman of Fate on the Nintendo 64, be prepared to hear those words often. Why? Because one of the characters in this 3D fighter – based on the popular television series from the 1990s from the studio that brought the world Superman 64 – is Caesar, and one of his moves involves him raising his arms in the air, to which an unseen audience shouts “Caesar! Caesar!” which inexplicably knocks any opponents to the ground. This move can be spammed repeatedly, and though it doesn’t do any damage, the fact that you can just repeat it non-stop to incapacitate your opponents gives Caesar an insanely unfair advantage.

It’s a broken move from a gameplay standpoint, but it also doesn’t make any sense. What’s knocking the opponents down, exactly? Are the thunderous roars of Caesar’s fans so loud they push Caesar’s opponents to the floor with force? Or could the crowd be stomping their feet in support of Caesar with such enthusiasm that it causes a small tremor, thus causing Caesar’s foes to lose their footing? In either case, shouldn’t Caesar also be affected by this, considering he’s standing on the same ground as his opponents?

I may be going on and on about a single move, but said move somehow sums up Xena: Warrior Princess: Talisman of Fate as a whole (though “from the publisher of Superman 64″ might also explain everything). This is a fighter that’s sloppy, clunky and broken in pretty much every regard.

As stated, this Xena video game adaptation is a 3D fighter, with players being being able to choose from a variety of characters from the TV series. Among them are the titular Xena, Gabrielle, Ares and *sigh* Caesar. Battles can take place between two to four players, with team options also being available.

The controls are a mess. The four C buttons are used for attacks, Z ducks, R jumps, and A and B switch targets. There’s nothing about the control setup that feels intuitive. It’s a game that just feels awkward to play. Combine the poor controls with clunky character responses, and it becomes an utter mess (some characters have magic moves, but good luck hitting anyone with them with how long they take to activate).

“Gee, I wonder how he won?”

The graphics are similarly horrible. Now, the N64 is not one of the better-aged consoles of yesteryear, so dated visuals are to be expected. But even by N64 standards, the game is ugly. The characters look like blocky shapes tied together, and only vaguely resemble the characters they’re based on. The arenas are just wide, empty spaces that don’t stand out in terms of visuals or stage design.

I will admit, however, that the music – though not necessarily what I would call good – adds a bit of personality to the game. The “best” of the musical lot being the theme music for Joxer, the series’ comic relief character, which is intentionally annoying to such a way that, when coupled with the disastrous gameplay, makes for a good laugh if you’re playing with friends.

Really, there’s not much else to talk about here. Xena: Warrior Princess: Talisman of Fate is one of the emptiest, most poorly-designed fighters I’ve played. It fittingly sits alongside its fellow Titus-published brother Superman 64 as one of the worst games on the N64. Between the two, Xena might be marginally “better” if only because, unlike Superman 64, it may put a goofy grin on your face at its own expense, as opposed to driving you mad with rage.

 

“Caesar! Caesar!”

 

1.5

Curses ‘N Chaos Review

Curses ‘N Chaos is a wave-based, arena-brawler by indie developer Tribute Games. Though the game is simplistic, its fun co-op gameplay and sharp challenge make for an addicting experience.

Players take control of Lea and Leo, two bounty hunters who have been cursed by the Wizard King, leaving them prey to hordes and hordes of monsters. An alchemist named Allison advises the dup that they can break the curse with the Elixir of Life, but in order to obtain it, Leo and Lea must defeat the monsters.

That’s the backdrop for the action, with each stage being a single-screen arena in which players must survive wave after wave of enemies, topped off with a boss encounter. In between stages, players can purchase items from Allison with the gold they’ve collected, or even have the alchemist combine items to create new tools to aide you in battle.

During gameplay, players can punch, jump-kick, and uppercut enemies, as well as use items to heal yourselves or damage enemies, and dance (with Leo doing a comical gyration and Lea shaking what her mama gave her), which adds to your total points.

Each player has their own health, but both of them share the same pool of lives. Similarly, each player can hold one item at a time, but a third item can be saved for later by giving it to a friendly owl named Owliver, whom you can call back to drop the item later.

Curses ‘N Chaos has some fun tricks up its sleeve to keep things interesting: Each wave includes a timer that, if it reaches zero before every enemy is defeated, will summon Death to the battlefield, who can kill either hero in a single hit (Death himself cannot be harmed, and every enemy in the wave must be dealt with before he can disappear). Players can increase their points if they can continuously defeat enemies without getting hit, but this once again works as a pool, with the combo continuing for both players, and being broken if just one of them is hit. The aforementioned item combinations also prove to be a fun mechanic, as you can create new items that wouldn’t appear during gameplay beforehand, and make items that greatly enhance their normal effects (clovers, for example, increase your combo’d points by five, while the crafted horseshoe item doubles that).

The gameplay is incredibly simple, but it’s equally as addicting. Curses ‘N Chaos will have you and a friend on the edge of your seats trying to keep your combos alive, and will have you both discussing strategies of how to best handle a wave of enemies or how to defeat a boss. Perhaps the only major downside is that said bosses provide a considerable curve in difficulty. Though the bosses can be fun, you may find that you can get through all of a stage’s waves without dying, only for the boss to immediately drain both players of their lives within seconds.

Curses ‘N Chaos is a game tailor-made for two players, and I’m afraid the game loses a good deal of its appeal when going solo. The enemy waves and bosses are the same, but since they were created with two players in mind, playing alone can become really frustrating really fast.

Still, if you have a friend by your side, Curses ‘N Chaos provides a good time. Its addictive gameplay is complimented by charming, 8-bit visuals and a catchy musical score that sounds like a cross between Ghosts ‘N Goblins and Kirby. It may lack substance, but Curses ‘N Chaos makes up for it by providing a well thought-out co-op experience. It may just bring you and your friend closer.

 

7.0

Ultra Street Fighter II: The Final Challengers Review

*This review originally appeared at Miketendo64.com*

One of the most popular and iconic video games of all time, Street Fighter II, returns once again, this time on the Nintendo Switch. Ultra Street fighter II: The Final Challengers brings the beloved fighter to Nintendo’s current hardware with a lavish transition, though it does come with a few caveats.

In terms of gameplay, this is very much the Street Fighter II we all know and love. Capcom has claimed they made a few balance tweaks, but only the really dedicated competitive players will probably notice. Otherwise, it plays just as well as Street Fighter II always did, which is both a good and bad thing.

It’s good because, for the most part, Street Fighter II has aged pretty well. This is the fighter that gave us combos, and added so much intricacy to the genre’s mechanics. It’s still a satisfying fighter. But this is bad because (unpopular opinion approaching), while it has aged well, Street Fighter II is much stiffer and less fluid than its successors. Ultra Street Fighter II works like Street Fighter II always did. It certainly gives the game an authentic feel, but if you’re more used to Street Fighter III or IV, it’s going to feel a little bumpy by comparison.

You can play the game in two different visual styles: the classic, pixelated style found in the original, or a modern, HD look. Though it’s nice to have the retro look available, there’s a smoothness and visual pop to the contemporary look that makes it my preferred mode.

Ultra Street Fighter II: The Final Challengers does bring a few new tricks to the classic, with the most obvious being the additions of two “new” characters in the form of Evil Ryu and the hilariously-named Violent Ken. Though it’s nice to have additional characters brought to a new version of a decades-old game, it is a bit disappointing that the new characters are just alternate versions of ones that already existed in Street Fighter II. I understand that Capcom wants to keep the game close to its original incarnations, so I wouldn’t expect them to go all out and add a whole roster’s worth of new characters, but it would have been far more interesting if they pulled one or two characters from the Street Fighter sequels and placed them into this most iconic installment, instead of simply popping out two re-skins of the two most ubiquitous characters in the series.

Of course, being on a modern console, Street Fighter II now features online play, with ranked and casual matches available. It’s your standard online features for a fighter, but no doubt the ability to face people from all over the world for a few rounds of Street Fighter II is enticing.

One of the more enjoyable new features is the ability to create your own custom colors for the characters, though this too has a few drawbacks. Each character has ten different color sets, which you can alter however you like. On the downside, you can only equip one of your custom colors for any given character at a time. So you can’t show off your rainbow of Zangiefs to a single player online. Instead, you have to go back to the main menu, return to the color editor, select the character, and then equip one of the other color sets. It doesn’t really make much sense, since the characters have so many color sets to begin with, why can’t you equip more of your custom colors and swap them out in between matches? Still, being able to play as blue Cammy is always awesome.

There is one new feature that the game could have (and probably should have) done entirely without: The Way of the Hado. While the base game can use different control methods, the Way of the Hado mode uses the motion controls of the joycons, as players take control of Ryu from a first-person perspective to defeat onslaughts of Shadaloo soldiers. Simply put, it’s poorly-implemented, with the motion controls hardly ever working as they should. Ryu can perform a variety of moves in this mode, but it seemed like no matter what I did, he just threw Hadoukens at opponents. Only by sheer, random luck did I ever perform anything different.

When all is said and done, Ultra Street Fighter II: The Final Challengers is another fun iteration of Street Fighter II’s unique “brand within a brand.” It core fighting plays as well as it ever did, the new visuals and updated music are a pleasure, and you can definitely have fun playing online or at home in the game’s multiplayer modes. But perhaps a little more tweaking to make things move a little smoother might have brought it a little more up-to-date (at least with the new visual mode, the game could have used a little more modernization in gameplay). The “new” characters are also a tad disappointing, and some of the new features aren’t fully-realized, with the Way of the Hado mode being a complete mess.

Still, Street Fighter II is Street Fighter II. No matter how many versions it’s seen over the years, it still remains one of the most playable games of its era, and is still a surprisingly deep fighter even by contemporary standards.

 

7.0

My Favorite Games from E3 2017

E3 2017 has come and gone. Everyone seems to be doing their E3 awards now, so I’ll do the same. Though I’m mainly basing this on my personal experience of attending the event, and since I couldn’t experience every game E3 had to offer, my selections will (mostly) look different than most peoples’. I decided to do something of a top five, but instead of ranking the games, I’ll award each one in its own category, to compensate for the long lines preventing me from playing more.


*Best Game I Didn’t Play*

Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom

There were plenty of games at E3 that I didn’t get to play, so I guess it makes sense to make a category honoring the best of the games I (unfortunately) missed out on. Of course, I kept track of all the big games from the show through…basically every source I could. And while there were a lot of games I wish I had the chance to play at the show, the one that I regret not getting the chance to play was Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom.

I loved the original game, Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, on the Playstation 3. In fact, it was my favorite game of 2013, and one of the best RPGs of recent years. Though the sequel seems to be changing up the formula a bit in terms of combat, it’s still aiming to bring the ineffable charms of Studio Ghibli to the world of video gaming. And frankly, the new combat system looks just as fun (I really liked the “Dragon Quest meets Pokemon” gameplay of the original, but the Pikmin-esque elements are winning me over). In a year chock-full of great games, Ni No Kuni II is among the titles I’m most excited for. And with all due respect to the other great games I wasn’t able to try at E3, I’m kicking myself the most over missing out on Ni No Kuni II, whose line seemed to always be closed every time I tried to play it…

Yeah, I’m also eagerly-awaiting the remakes of Crash Bandicoot and Superstar Saga, but they’re remakes. It’s different.

 

*The “Wow, I Can’t Believe This Actually Works!” Award*

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle

For years, I’ve found the Rabbids to be nothing but annoying. When I heard the rumors of a crossover with Super Mario, I was more dumbfounded than anything. Never would I have imagined that this oddball combination would actually lead to a very promising tactical RPG.

It’s Mario. It’s Rabbids. It has XCOM-esque gameplay. It has music by Grant Kirkhope. The Mario and Rabbid characters use sci-fi weapons… This is the weirdest concept for a game I’ve heard in a very, very long time. Almost like Ubisoft pulled a bunch of ideas out of a hat, and decided to put them together. But, if the demo I played is anything to go by, it actually works.

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle proved to be surprisingly complex with its battle system, and it seems to be using both Ubisoft’s Rabbids and Nintendo’s most iconic IP in a really creative way. Here’s hoping the final game is every bit as much of a pleasant surprise.

 

*The “Outta Nowhere” Award*

Dragon Ball FighterZ

As a kid, I loved the Dragon Ball franchise. As I’ve gotten older, I still have a soft spot for it, even if it loses any shred of story structure once it goes into the “Dragon Ball Z” territory and beyond. The planet-devastating action from the manga/anime series should be ripe for the picking for the video game world. But to be honest, I think that Dragon Ball games, at their best, have only ever been so-so.

That all changed when I played Dragon Ball FighterZ. Visually, it looks just like you’re playing an episode of the anime. Actually, considering the game’s animation is far more fluid than the anime’s, Dragon Ball FighterZ looks better than its source material. More importantly, it plays beautifully. The combat is classic, 2D fighting at its best.

The game oozes both depth and accessibility in its gameplay, with easy-to-learn combos and mechanics that definitely take some time to learn to use to greater effect. Plus, it rectifies one of my major gripes with most 2D fighters by making the matches decently lengthy. Normally, I feel like if you get hit by just a few moves in a 2D fighter, the match is nearly over. But here, players get to choose three characters apiece, with each one being decently durable, leading to matches that felt lengthy, but not so lengthy they overstayed their welcome.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been as excited for a fighting game as I am for Dragon Ball FighterZ.

 

*The “Right in the Childhood” Award*

Sonic Mania

Sonic the Hedgehog was one of my favorite video game series as a kid, but somewhere along the line, the games started sucking. I – like many people – believe this all happened around the time Sonic made the jump to 3D. Some still swear by the Sonic Adventure titles, but I’m sorry, they really show their age. Not to mention they also began the trend for Sonic games trying to be melodramatic story-focused, furry-baiting nonsense, which focused more on introducing more small armies of dumb animal characters in each game than actually making a good game. The more I think about it, the more I think Sonic Generations may be the only 3D Sonic title I actually like…

Sega has tried in the past to bring Sonic back to his former glory, with the Sonic Advance/Rush titles being decent attempts that never quite felt right. A more literal approach was taken with Sonic the Hedgehog 4, but both of that game’s “episodes” felt like dumbed down, clunky versions of the formula.

But with Sonic Mania, Sega seems to finally be getting Sonic right! It looks and feels like the Genesis Sonic games in many ways, but also feels like a proper sequel to the 16-bit Sonic classics. It takes the best bits of Sonic’s most beloved games, while also making everything smoother, and adding a good dose of originality and creativity to boot. Plus, we get the classic pot-bellied, Felix the Cat-esque Sonic that we all love, instead of that obnoxious, desperately-trying-to-be-cool buffoon that the Hedgehog has become.

Whether or not Sonic Mania can repair the franchise as a whole is yet to be seen. But at least it looks like we’ll finally get one game that does the series proud.

 

*Overall Game of the Show*

Super Mario Odyssey

Earlier this year, Nintendo released The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, a game which reinvented the foundations of the Zelda series to masterful effect. Now, Nintendo is aiming to do the same with the one franchise that is arguably more highly-regarded than Zelda.

Nintendo may be boasting that Super Mario Odyssey is returning to the “sandbox style” of Super Marios 64 and Sunshine. But it’s actually so much more than that.

Super Mario Odyssey looks to be rebuilding what we know and love about the Mario series. The worlds of the game are outlandish even by Mario’s standards, and that sense of originality is finding its way into the gameplay.

Instead of one-off power-ups being found in blocks, Mario can buy different outfits – with each boasting different abilities – which he can then wear whenever. The famed plumber is free to search for Power Moons (the replacement of Power Stars) however the player sees fit, with the episodic nature of past 3D Marios no longer limiting Mario’s options. And most prominently, Mario can take control of enemies, NPCs and even objects using his new magic hat, which means the gameplay is constantly changing.

Even with all the changes Odyssey looks to bring to the Mario formula, it still retains the level of polish, intricate controls, and bountiful charms you would expect from the Mario series. Odyssey looks to be a classic in the making.


Well, that does it for my E3 awards. I now leave you with this video of the Super Soul Bros. performing at E3 (pardon my recording skills…or lack thereof).