Category Archives: Video Games

Rediscovering Dark Souls

I love Dark Souls.

I think I’ve made that pretty apparent here at the Dojo. I named Dark Souls 3 as my Game of the Year for 2016, placed BloodBorne and Dark Souls 2 within the top five of such lists for their respective years, and really haven’t stopped singing their praises. With that said, I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that it wasn’t until Bloodborne that I really got into the series. Now, it wasn’t the first one I played, but it was the first one I finished and really got sucked into.

That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy the Dark Souls games before then, because I did quite a bit. But I didn’t quite “love” them, for lack of a better word. Though that’s probably more on my part then the games, because I never got very far in them. Again, I really enjoyed what I experienced, but I didn’t properly get sucked into them. In fact, in the first Dark Souls (the most acclaimed entry in the franchise), I only reached the Gaping Dragon before I got pre-occupied with other games and, tragically, didn’t go back.

Well, I of course had to get Dark Souls Remastered now that I’m a proper nut for the franchise, and started playing through it recently. I still have a long ways to go, but seeing as I just defeated the Gaping Dragon, I figured now would be a fitting time to write about it.

Frankly, I was surprised at just how much I remembered of the game up to the point where I last left off. From shortcuts to enemy placements to secret items, it was amazing how well it’s all been coming back to me, even though I probably hadn’t played Dark Souls since 2012 (shame on me). But really, I probably shouldn’t be surprised. Part of what makes these games so special is how strongly they resonate and stick with you. They are presented and progressed in such a way that memorizing the layouts and dangers become second nature.

Not only do I remember what I traversed before to surprising detail, but with my new(ish) appreciation for the series post-Bloodborne and Dark Souls 3, I find that I have a far deeper involvement in it. I can now safely say – as I wish I could have back in 2011 – that I “love Dark Souls.

While there are some obvious elements that the sequels improved on (Bloodborne has more accessible combat, and Dark Souls 3 has fast-travel, which I now feel naked without). On the whole, Dark Souls 1 is every bit as masterful as those aforementioned successors.

It’s amazing how well it holds up, really. While many more contemporary titles can feel like standouts in the year of their release, they seem to wow less and less with return visits. But going back to Dark Souls feels like going back to a timeless SNES classic, where you still feel constantly surprised and delighted, even when you know exactly where everything is.

Simply put, even though in the past I may have “merely” respected, appreciated and enjoyed Dark Souls from an objective standpoint, I now feel a more personal level of admiration for it now that my eyes have been more widely opened to the genius of its design. Yes, I still have a ways to go, and it’s still a tough S.O.B., but I’m loving every minute of it.

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Mole Mania Review

Shigeru Miyamoto is the world’s most prolific video game designer. It’s not hard to see why, since he has served as creator and/or producer of many of the world’s most popular games: Super Mario, The Legend of Zelda, Donkey Kong, Star Fox, Mole Mania…

Wait, what was that last one?

Yes, even Shigeru Miyamoto has made a few games that have gone under the radar, perhaps none more so than Mole Mania. That’s a crying shame, because this 1997 puzzler remains one of the Game Boy’s best titles.

In many ways, Mole Mania works like a simplified Legend of Zelda. If you were to remove Zelda’s overworld, and just stick with the dungeons, doubling down on their puzzle elements, you have a pretty good idea at what Mole Mania is.

Player’s take control of Muddy Mole, who is out to rescue his family after they’ve been kidnapped by a wicked farmer named Jimbe, who’s angry at the moles for eating his cabbages. Each of Muddy’s seven children are being held hostage by Jinbe’s henchmen (the game’s bosses), while Jimbe himself is holding Muddy’s wife.

The game is spread out between eight worlds, though after the first world is completed, levels 2 through 7 can be completed in any order the player chooses (they can even leave a stage for a while and work on another, if they get too stumped). This allows players to go through most of the game at their own pace, which seemed like an idea ahead of Mole Mania’s time.

Each level is comprised of multiple rooms which, like Zelda’s dungeons, need to have their puzzles solved in order to move on. The goal is to get an iron ball to break the wall blocking the exit of each room. Muddy can push and pull the giant marble, as well as throw it forward and back. This may sound simple enough, but Mole Mania finds various ways to turn this simple setup into a complex series of puzzles.

The biggest twist is that Muddy Mole has to navigate each room both above and under ground. Muddy can dig his own holes in the ground, and most rooms also contain holes of their own. Things get tricky though, because if the marble falls into a hole, it goes back to its starting position. You can’t fill in holes, but exiting a room and going back restores it to its default state. Additionally, 20 cabbages can be found on each stage, which must be thrown (or pushed, or pulled) into a hole to be collected, adding a little extra challenge for completionists.

The ways in which Mole Mania continues to change up its simple setup throughout the game is as impressive as it is fun, seemingly never running out of ideas with its concept. There are pipes that the iron marble can travel through to change paths, enemies that may stop the ball in its tracks. blocks that Muddy can push but are too heavy to pull. Mole Mania is always changing up its formula, making for a consistently fun experience.

This creativity even extends to the boss fights, albeit not to the same degree. The boss fights are all pretty simple, but find creative twists on the gameplay as Muddy finds new ways to smack them with the iron marble, or use the environment to their disadvantage.

There are a few technical issues with the game, due to the limitations of the Game Boy. Namely, having to hold the same button to throw a marble as you do to pull it can get a bit cumbersome in later stages (if you hold still for even a second when gripping the marble, Muddy prepares to throw it). You may find yourself doing one action when trying to do the other, since both of the actions are mapped to the same button.

Some players may also find the fluctuating difficulty somewhat off-putting. Although the first few stages do a good job at becoming progressively more difficult, some of the later stages seem to crank the challenge up and down on a whim, with some of them going from a notably easy room directly into an exceptionally hard one.

These aren’t major complaints, mind you. On the whole, Mole Mania remains a delightful game, one whose puzzles can be genuinely head-scratching at times. And on top of the engaging gameplay, Mole Mania features fun musical tracks that – as is expected of a Nintendo score – end up being wildly infectious. Although Mole Mania never received a Game Boy Color update like many other Game Boy titles, the sprites are detailed enough that it still holds up decently well from a visual standpoint.

Who knows why Mole Mania didn’t join the pantheon of beloved Miyamoto franchises. Maybe it had to do with the timing of its release (after the Game Boy’s initial boom but before Pokemon gave the handheld a second life)? Maybe gamers weren’t enamored with the simple prospect of a Mole fighting a farmer when compared to Miyamoto’s usual fantasy fare? Whatever the case, Mole Mania deserved better. It boasts the same ‘pure gaming’ pleasures as Miyamoto’s more well-known titles, and had all the makings of another Nintendo mainstay. Even if it didn’t become a long-standing Nintendo franchise, Mole Mania remains an enduring cult classic, and one of the few titles to come out of the original Game Boy that holds up incredibly well today.

Now, how about Muddy Mole for Super Smash Bros?

 

8.0

300 Video Game Reviews!!

“Har har! I’m making a 300 reference!”

I have finally amassed 300 video game reviews here at Wizard Dojo!

That’s right Kevin, my recent review of Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars marked the big 3-0-0!

Funny thing is, back in the day, Super Mario RPG was going to be my 100th video game review, but because I had (relatively) recently given perfect scores to both Super Mario World and Galaxy 2, I decided to hold off on reviewing another of my favorite Mario titles. I was then going to review it on the 20th anniversary of its release (May 13th, 2016), but I didn’t get around to playing it in time. It was then going to be my 200th video game review, except I was at one-hundred and ninety some-odd reviews at the time I was playing Breath of the Wild, so making that review number 200 was just too good to pass up. From there, I contemplated making Super Mario RPG number 250, or even just any random number. After I got to a certain point, however, I knew Super Mario RPG had to be the 300th.

So, here we are! After over three and a half years, I have finally reached that 300 video game review milestone. Admittedly, that last one-hundred took me longer than the hundreds that came before, so here’s hoping I don’t slow down too much. I’d like to be celebrating 400 and 500 in the not-too-distant future.

I know some people will say I’m cheating, because some games that have different versions/releases I’ve reviewed twice (Shadow of the Colossus on both PS3 and PS4, Mario Kart 8 on Wii U and Switch, Undertale on PC and PS4, and DKC: Tropical Freeze on Wii U and Switch). But I wrote brand new reviews from the ground-up even for the repeated games. So they count!

Anyway, I’d like to give a big, fat thank you to all of my readers, and I hope you continue reading my crap for as long as I’m writing it. But, y’know, no pressure.

For those interested in all 300 of my current video game reviews (as well as those by AfterStory), you can find them all on the Game Reviews page, or you can go right to the thick of things and see all the games me (and AfterStory) have scored a perfect 10 or a near-perfect 9.5. 

Or, for quick reference. Here are the eight games (as of this writing) I personally have given a perfect 10/10:

Super Mario Galaxy 2

Super Mario World

Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (Review #100)

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Review #200)

Super Mario Odyssey

Undertale

Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars (Review #300)

Yep, I’ve certainly come a long way since I launched Wizard Dojo on Christmas Day of 2014, with my review of the original release of Mario Kart 8 being the very first thing posted here. Here’s hoping it doesn’t take me quite this long for the next 300. I still have so many games in my library that I have yet to review, and there’s always more new games around the corner. Though I think I might slow down on new purchases in the near future, not just to save money, but time. I’m sorry, but modern games are too damn long. If I ever want to make a game of my own I have to dedicate less time to playing others. So while I may have plenty, plenty more reviews to write, I think pretty soon I’ll only be purchasing the games I just really, really want. No more “eh, why nots?”

Anyway, I’m rambling. Nothing new there.

Thanks again my dear readers, for sticking with me for 300 video game reviews, some-odd hundred movie reviews, and, uhhhh…all those other things I wrote. Here’s to many more! Stay beautiful!

“Now, give me cake!”

Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars Review

*Review based on Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars release as part of the SNES Classic*

Since its inception in 1985, the Super Mario series has proven to be the avant garde of video games, prioritizing gameplay innovation and concepts unique to the video game medium over all else. This design philosophy has not only allowed the core platformers of the Super Mario series to consistently reinvent themselves, but has also turned its titular plumber into gaming’s renaissance man, able to adapt to seemingly any genre Nintendo decides to cast him in. Of the various “spinoff” Mario titles, Mario Kart gets the most widespread recognition, as it created the ‘kart racer’ sub-genre while simultaneously producing a series that rivals the core Mario titles in popularity. But while Mario Kart might be the most famous of Mario’s detours, the most outstanding might just be the 1996 SNES classic, Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, the title that sent Mario into most unfamiliar territory.

Super Mario RPG was a bold venture. A joint effort between series’ publisher Nintendo and Final Fantasy developer Square-Enix (then Squaresoft), Super Mario RPG took the characters and world of Nintendo’s flagship franchise, and merged it with the RPG genre that Square was renowned for. Though a fan-favorite today, at the time many wondered if converting the Mario series into the narrative-heavy RPG genre could work. The fact that Super Mario RPG remains one of the most beloved Mario games should be a testament to just how successful the finished product was. Its hefty reputation is well deserved.

While Super Mario RPG is a joining together of the series and genre of its title, what makes it work so well is how it both pays homage and parody to both parties involved, and turns them on their heads.

“Where can I sign up to join the Koopa Troop?!”

The story here is that – just as Mario is about to defeat Bowser for another daring rescue of Princess Peach (here called Toadstool, as she was known in the west at the time) – a massive earthquake hits the scene, throwing Mario, Bowser and the Princess to different corners of the Mushroom Kingdom. The source of this quake is a giant, anthropomorphic sword that has fallen from the heavens and plunged into Bowser’s castle. The sword is called Exor, and declares Bowser’s Keep to be occupied by its master, Smithy, who plans to conquer the rest of Mario’s world.

As it turns out, Smithy is already closer to world conquest than he knows, as Exor slashed through the Star Road on its descent onto Mario’s world, shattering it into seven magical Star Pieces. The Star Road is what allows people’s wishes to come true. With its power scattered into seven fallen pieces, the wishes of the denizens of Mario’s world can no longer come true. It then becomes a race between Mario and his companions to prevent the Smithy Gang from claiming the seven Stars, which would result in the evil Smithy’s dark desires coming to fruition.

What makes this story memorable is that it both adds a serious narrative to the Super Mario series (for the first time), while still maintaining the franchise’s whimsical lightheartedness. The premise feels like it could have been pulled out of a Disney movie, and the game takes advantage of the nature of the Mario series to add a good dose of humor into the serious RPG plot.

“Bowser reveals his artistic and sensitive side.”

Mario is joined on his adventure by four companions: The aforementioned Princess Toadstool is the obvious ally, but for the first time in the series, Bowser fights alongside Mario in a quest to reclaim his castle. The remaining two members of Mario’s party were original to Super Mario RPG; Mallow, the fluffy, cloud-like black mage of the group, and Geno, an otherworldly spirit occupying an action figure for its body. It’s a memorable cast of characters.

Mario is his usual, silent self; but the Princess becomes something of the ‘tough guy’ of the group after growing tired of being rescued, while Bowser steals the show as the insecure brute with a heart of gold. Meanwhile, Mallow is the kid of the group wanting to prove himself, while Geno has connections to the Star Road and is something of the Gandalf of the team (the wise, old badass). Mallow and Geno left such an impression that, although they have yet to properly appear in another game, fans still long for their return.

No matter how iconic or likable these characters are though, it wouldn’t mean much if the game they starred in weren’t great. Luckily for them, Super Mario RPG was one of the best games of the genre’s golden era, and remains one of Mario’s timeless classics.

The battle system here at first looks like the usual turn-based affair, but with some fresh changes, such as each action in battle being mapped to specific buttons (A for regular attacks, B for defense, Y for special moves, and X for items). The biggest addition Super Mario RPG makes to RPG battles is one that’s subtle, yet game-changing: Action Commands.

During battles, players have more involvement than in other RPGs of the time. During attacks, well-timed button presses can increase damage (and timing them just right during enemy attacks can reduce damage), while special moves have their own interactive elements (repeated button-presses or timing, holding a button and releasing it, etc.). It’s such a seemingly simple twist on RPG norms, but it adds so much more fun to the proceedings than simply selecting items from menus.

There are some small quibbles in that there’s a lack of on-screen directions to inform you of when to use button-presses during many actions (directions are briefly explained before certain special attacks, but others are trickier to figure out). Still, most of the Action Commands aren’t too hard to get the hang of, so nothing’s too cryptic. But if you do manage to master them, you may find that the overall adventure is a bit on the easy side, though I suppose turn-based RPGs aren’t known for brutal difficulty anyway. Still, these hardly qualify as complaints, as they never get in the way of the enjoyment of the gameplay, story, or overall fun.

Meanwhile, wandering through the overworlds is also improved over other games in the genre, with just a dash of platforming added into the mix for – you guessed it – more interactivity than you’d find in other RPGs. The game is given all the more personality when you talk to NPCs, who often put that aforementioned humor on full display. In case that weren’t enough, Super Mario RPG features a myriad of entertaining mini-games and side quests, some of which are exceptionally well hidden.

Being released at the tail-end of the Super Nintendo’s life cycle, Super Mario RPG pushed the console’s capabilities to their limits. Super Mario RPG features highly detailed environments and an isometric perspective to give the game something of a 3D quality, with character graphics that are comparable to the Donkey Kong Country sequels (one enemy monster even resembles good ol’ DK, perhaps to emphasize this).

However, the best aesthetic qualities of Super Mario RPG are in its sounds. Composed by Yoko Shinomura – famous for her soundtracks of Street Fighter II and the Kingdom Hearts series – Super Mario RPG’s score is her masterwork, encompassing a wide range of styles and emotions,  and captures that distinct Mario personality while also creating an identity unique to itself. The SNES is widely regarded for the stellar soundtracks of its games, and Super Mario RPG is second only to Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest for the title of best musical score on the platform. It’s an all-time great gaming soundtrack.

“How can you not love a game in which Bowser can fight a giant, evil wedding cake?”

Sadly, while Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars remains one of Mario’s most memorable adventures, it seems to be the only entry in the entire franchise that was to be a one-and-done deal. It may have influenced spiritual successors in the Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi series of RPGs – which improved on a few individual elements (Paper Mario introduced on-screen button cues during attacks) – but none of them have captured the same magic of the whole experience that Super Mario RPG did, nor have they left the same kind of unique impact on the overall Mario series.

If anything, Super Mario RPG’s isolation from the rest of the Mario series has only helped it endure as one of the most beloved entries in the franchise’s peerless history (it’s even helped inspire games such as Undertale). Here’s hoping that, someday, we might see Super Mario RPG’s legacy continue in some form. For now, however, Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars can at least still claim to be among Mario’s greatest adventures, and one of the best RPGs of all time. A legend indeed.

 

10

Reflecting on my Time at E3 2018

“Is that the real Master Sword that Link actually used in the game?!”

Another E3 has come and gone. Although this was far from my first time at the event, it was only my second time attending since I launched Wizard Dojo, which in a weird way feels like a whole different era for me (even though it’s just a wee blog). Though the fact that E3 has had a bigger attendance than ever the past two years means that the lines to actually play the games can be, well, downright evil in their tests of patience, it was overall a very fun show.

There’s plenty to be said about the mostly disappointing presentations. Whether it was Sony’s unusual format of changing revenues and taking noticeably long breaks, or Nintendo’s maybe-too-focused-on-Smash Bros.-Direct, there weren’t a whole lot of surprises, or even as much of a lineup as last year’s show.

With all that said, however, there was still plenty to enjoy. Especially for someone like me who’s just lucky to be able to attend E3’s show floor. I’ve already written some blogs dedicated to some of the games shown at E3, but now let me write just a little bit about my own experience.

“The world’s greatest necktie.”

Naturally, the first day for me was all about Super Smash Bros. (though I also played it the latter two days as well). Though the gameplay is familiar to the Wii U version, it feels like it’s getting the right level of polish, aiming for something of a combination of Melee and the Wii U game to make the definitive version of Super Smash Bros. Though I still have some reservations (please, don’t waste whatever new characters we get with clones!), Super Smash Bros. is one of the few games where I always get sucked into the hype before release. Since the demo didn’t have my main man King Dedede playable, I spent most rounds as Bowser (who is actually my favorite Nintendo character, so wouldn’t that make him my main man?), or Donkey Kong and Mega Man. I won more than I lost *brag brag* but I admit I made more than a little bit of an oopsie when I went into sudden death as Ridley (I’ll really have to practice that up-special of his). Anyway, I’m just really keeping my fingers crossed that Geno actually makes it in this time. Hey, Sakurai’s behind the idea, if only Nintendo can twist Square’s arm…

Other notable titles I played over the three day event were Marvel’s Spider-Man (which I wish had a more unique title) and Mega Man 11. Other titles that caught my eye but weren’t playable (at least not from what I could tell) were Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice and Dreams, the former of which comes from Hidetaka “Prepare to Die” Miyazaki, and the latter by Media Molecule, the creators of LittleBigPlanet who really look like they’ve upped their game.

Spider-Man’s greatest joy was simply how much it makes you feel like Spider-Man when playing it. I spent more of my time in the demo trying to find and ascend the tallest building than I did with any of the objectives. Mega Man 11, meanwhile, felt like the proper continuation of the beloved series that it should be. Mega Man 11 boasted the usual Mega Man gameplay, but with the added bonus of some fun twists on the level design.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice already looks like it could be one of my favorite games of next year. It’s interesting to see a game that follows suit with Miyazaki’s Dark Souls/Bloodborne series, but that omits the RPG elements, instead opting for action/adventure. The only downside is no multiplayer, which admittedly feels like a step back from the genius twists to co-operative and competitive multiplayer the Souls series brought to gaming. As for Dreams, well, it looks like the ultimate game-making game, with players seemingly able to make every single asset of a game (including genre, characters, environments, sounds, music, etc.). Let’s just hope the in-game gameplay doesn’t suffer as LittleBigPlanet did.

Other games I managed to play on the show floor include Team Sonic Racing, a new Senran Kagura title for PS4, Mario Tennis Aces, and Fortnite (which, believe it or not, was actually my first time playing Fortnite). Team Sonic Racing felt like a fun successor to the Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing series, though the removal of non-Sonic Sega characters actually seems like a step back (after all, Mario Kart eventually added Zelda and Animal Crossing characters into the mix. It didn’t start with them then take them away). Senran Kagura is…well, it is what it is: a mindless but fun guilty pleasure. Mario Tennis Aces actually surprised me with how much fun I had in my short time with it. I mean, playing as a Chain Chomp with a tennis racket in its mouth? How can it not be great? And although I sucked in the round of Fortnite I played, I can definitely see the appeal, seeing as it feels like PUBG, but with an actual personality and additional elements like crafting. Plus, Fortnite is now free on Switch, so I have no excuse not to get it.

Sadly, I never got the chance to play Let’s Go Pikachu/Eevee, because the lines were always too damn long. Same goes for Kingdom Hearts 3. But hey, I’ll probably play them eventually. Besides, I got to meet the REAL Pikachu and Eevee in person! That counts for like, 10 demos of the games.

“Squad Goals.”

Being able to play all these games was great of course (even if the lines could be insufferable), but just the experience of being at E3 is fun in itself for someone like me. Basically, it’s like Disneyland: wait in monotonous lines most the day, get rewarded with a few moments of quality entertainment, and overall you just enjoy being there. The experience was made all the better, however, by little things like conversing with other people with similar interests while I waited in those aforementioned lines (one particularly interesting individual in line for Smash Bros. also wanted Geno to make the roster), seeing a Solaire cosplayer fat-roll his way through the exhibit hall, walking right passed The New Day and getting a photo with Charles Martinez!

“It’s-a him!”

Yes, another E3 has come and gone, and while most will be discussing the big, news-y aspects of the event, for me, it was just  blast being there, and am itching to return next year.

Spider-Man (Playstation 4) Delivers!

Well, E3 2018 has come and gone. And while I hope to recount my personal experiences at the event soon, let’s wrap up these E3 game-related postings on the days of the show with Marvel’s Spider-Man on Playstation 4.

Now, Spider-Man was at E3 last year, but I never got around to playing it. I feared that would also be the case this year. Because geez, were those lines long! Thankfully, however, on this last day of E3, I managed to wait it out. Sure, it was still a long line, but nothing I wouldn’t see during a usual day at Disneyland.

I’m glad I decided to wait, because Spider-Man is now one of my most anticipated games on the horizon. I admit I was a little skeptical at first. Even though licensed games have deservingly removed much of the stigma that was once associated with them, I wasn’t exactly sure what would make this Spider-Man game stand out from any others.

This may sound incredibly cliched, but Spider-Man on PS4 works because of how much it makes you feel like Spider-Man. From the second I picked up the control and explored New York City, I had a big, stupid grin on my face from pure childlike elation at the ability to climb up/swing from pretty much anything. You could activate markers for different objectives, but I largely ignored them, and for the most part just wanted to explore the city. I spent most of the demo simply making my way to the tallest building I could find, and then proceeding to ascend it.

“Is Spoder-Man.”

It’s in how Spider-Man controls that makes it all such a joy. The sheer fluidity in which Spidey can go from swinging on webs to latching onto a wall to running up a building just feels…right. It’s hard to explain, but hopefully when the game is released and more and more people play it, they will get a similar feeling.

I did eventually do some mission objectives, which mainly consisted of beating up bad guys, and here’s where things do get a little worrisome. The combat pretty much made the game feel like Spider-Man: Arkham City. That is to say, it was basically just the combat from the Arkham series, but with a replacement in super hero.

Now, on its own, this isn’t a big problem, because for all intents and purposes, the combat of the Arkham games was fun. However, it would have been nice if the game felt a little more original in this area. This was especially true because – like the Arkham games – these combat sections seemed to drag on and on. Sure, the combat is fun and affective for a while, but it kind of went on to the point that I missed simply running around and goofing off as Spider-Man.

There was, however, a refreshing boss encounter against The Shocker during the demo. I say refreshing for the reasons most people might, like a completely new take on boss fights, but for the exact opposite. The Shocker boss fight was very much a video game boss fight, which in this day and age is becoming something of a lost art, and is always welcome in my book.

That’s not to say that the boss fight was just phoned in from another game or anything, of course. But it flowed like a traditional boss fight (three hits in the first phase, three hits in the second phase, third phase requires you to perform a more cinematic action to finish him off). Much like the exploration, the boss fight felt like experiencing one of Spider-Man’s battles, and wouldn’t have felt out of place in one of the Sam Raimi directed Spider-Man features (or Homecoming. Let’s not bring up those Amazing Spider-Man films though). You avoid Shocker’s attacks until you have an opportunity to strike (via throwing debris at him with webs, of course), in which case you give him a few swift punches. The aforementioned final phase sees you bringing the ceiling down onto Shocker (it’s okay, Spider-Man doesn’t kill him somehow).

“That’s not Willem Defoe! 0/10!”

The exploration alone had me giddy, but if a fight against a lesser Spidey foe like Shocker provided a good old-fashioned boss fight, imagine a throw down with one of his more memorable baddies? The standard combat is a bit overly familiar, but hopefully the final game adds some nice twists of its own, and learns when to trim things down a bit. Or maybe just make most such situations optional. After all, who cares when Spider-Man catches a bunch of books, right? The option to just head for primary objectives like boss fights might be a good alternative.

Any concerns I may have with the combat don’t come anywhere close to the sheer joy of traversing New York City as Spider-Man, however. The simple joy of swinging around on webs, sticking to windows, and scaling the tallest tower as your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man is nothing short of a joy.

Mega Man 11 is the Real Deal

I don’t get this “Mega Man 11” thing! It just looks like Capcom is trying to rip off Mighty No. 9!

All joking aside, I got to play Mega Man 11 at E3 today (after an excruciatingly long wait in line), and walked away very impressed with the game, which is now on my radar as one of my most anticipated titles of the year.

When Mega Man 11 was first revealed, a lot of fans were disappointed with the new visual look, and wanted another 8-bit throwback title. Personally, I think making another 8-bit entry would have felt a bit tired by this point. Besides, Mega Man 7 and 8 weren’t 8-bit, so it’s not as if Mega Man 11 is the first entry to go against the series’ NES roots.

“At least the long line included monitors with fun questions and factoids about Mega Man’s history. This was by far my favorite one.”

One concern I did have though, was that the new look may have meant a new direction for the series’ difficulty, and maybe ease things up a bit to grab a new audience. I’m not one of those people who demands that every game be extremely difficult, and that any game that’s on the easy side is automatically bad. But in Mega Man’s case, the difficulty is as much a part of the series as the Blue Bomber’s ability to steal the powers of defeated Robot Masters.

Although only one stage was available in the demo (Block Man’s), it proved to be pleasantly challenging. Perhaps more importantly, the challenge was brought about by some creative ideas in the level design, with the standout moment being Mega Man navigating through confined rooms which are on a conveyor belt heading for an insta-kill grinder. Mega Man has to shoot path-blocking stones, and navigate the rooms by jumping and sliding in order to escape them and, by extension, escape the grinder. But once one such mini-room is completed, there’s another one in line on the conveyor belt.

It’s concepts like that why platformers remain one of gaming’s greatest genres. Even with a template as old as Mega Man’s, getting creative with the level design is all the developers need to make things feel new again.

Additionally, Mega Man now possesses an ability to slow down time for a short while, with certain level elements and enemies taking advantage of the mechanic. One enemy hides within a spinning wheel, which has only a small opening for Mega Man’s blast can make it through. While Mega Man can time his blast to destroy the enemy under normal conditions, the enemy’s wheel spins fast enough to make it difficult to get the timing down. That’s when slowing down time comes in handy, as it turns the small opportunity to hit this particular enemy into a much bigger one.

The time-slowing mechanic is a fun little twist on the Mega Man formula, and hopefully a few similar mechanics are introduced to keep things fresh.

From what I can gather from my limited experience with the game, Mega Man 11 looks to not only revive the series after a notably lengthy absence, but also adding to the series’ norms in ways to make it feel like a proper continuation for the franchise, and not simply a throwback.

I was tentatively excited for Mega Man 11 when it was announced, but after playing a stage of the game, it’s really looking like the Mega Man title the gaming world needs…especially after Mighty No. 9.

“I’m a better Mega Man than Mega Man! I’m actually aiming my mega buster at the bad guy!”