Category Archives: Nintendo Switch

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

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).

E3 2017: Day 3

E3 2017 has come and gone. While there are plenty of discussions to be had on the presentations and such, I’m just here to recollect my experience at the show. While there were some detriments to this E3 (namely the ungodly long lines), it was fun to be able to experience E3 again, and I look forward to next year’s show… provided they sell reasonably-priced tickets to the public again. Anyway, here’s how my last day at E3 2017 went.

First the bad news: I didn’t get to play Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom. I tried – several times – to get in line for it, and every time the line was “temporarily closed,” until the last time I tried and it was closed for the day. So that sucked. Otherwise, I had a good last day at the show, though I didn’t actually play a whole lot.

The first game I got to play was a second go at Dragon Ball FighterZ against my brother. I managed to win once again after a hard fought battle (I usually suck at fighting games, so I don’t mind bragging here), but I really can’t stress enough how much I enjoy this game. It was definitely worth a second look, and was definitely one of the best surprises of the show.

Speaking of pleasant surprises, the next game I managed to play was Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle. Now, when I first heard of the rumors of this game, I can’t say I was too excited. I was never a fan of the Rabbids, so to hear they were crossing over into my favorite franchise was a bit iffy. It also didn’t help that the rumored title was Super Mario RPG: Invasion of the Rabbids, which seemed like a disappointing follow-up to the classic Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars (one of my favorite video games of all time).

Now that the game’s been revealed (and has no connection to Super Mario RPG), I’m actually really excited for it. The game basically plays like the XCOM reboot, but with Mario and Rabbids characters, and music by the composer of Banjo-Kazooie (Grant Kirkhope). That is an odd combination, but certainly an interesting one.

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is essentially a tactical RPG, with the game featuring eight playable characters (Mario, Luigi, Peach and Yoshi, along with four Rabbids dressed as those four characters), though the demo only featured three (Mario, and the Peach and Luigi Rabbids). The battles use a turn-based system, with players able to move their characters to different places within a certain distance on the field at any time. During movement, players can boost their characters’ distance by pairing them with another character or going through pipes, perform a sliding attack by crossing an enemy, and ultimately find a spot to cover from enemy damage. After the characters are positioned, they can attack enemies using an array of weird sci-fi weapons.

It sounds simple, but Mario + Rabbids proved to be surprisingly deep and complex with its tactical elements. What seemed so easy on face value had me making a number of mistakes before learning better.

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle may be one of the weirdest games I’ve ever heard of, but if the demo was a taste of what is to come, then I can say I’m actually very excited for a game featuring the Rabbids. Never thought I’d say that.

Truth be told, standing in line for Mario + Rabbids took up a good deal of time, so I didn’t get to play a whole lot else on this final day of E3 2017, though I did get to explore the show floor a bit more, and I liked what I saw. Two games I’m looking forward to but skipped were ARMS and Crash Bandicoot: N. Sane Trilogy. With ARMS literally being released tomorrow, I didn’t feel the need to stand in a lengthy line for it. And while the Crash Bandicoot remake compilation is one of my most anticipated games this year, it comes out at the end of this month. So again, I didn’t think waiting in a long line for it made much sense (I would possibly make an exception for Mario or Dark Souls, if that scenario ever occurs).

So the last game I played at this E3 was, well, the first game I played at this E3: Super Mario Odyssey. Mercifully, Nintendo seemed to learn from the chaotic mess of a line from the first day of E3, and tweaked things to make it more tolerable. There were more, smaller lines this time, instead of a gargantuan mass of humanity. I probably only had to wait a half hour, which was a godsend compared to the first time around.

On the first day, I played the desert stage of the Mario Odyssey demo, which felt familiar to the Super Mario Galaxy games in that it was built around action and platforming. This time, however, I tried out the city stage, which felt more in line with Super Mario 64 or – perhaps more accurately – Breath of the Wild.

The city stage serves as a massive sandbox with objects galore to be found and completed as the player sees fit. In retrospect, I probably should have tried out the different costumes to see their abilities, but I was too busy gathering Moons (Odyssey’s replacement for the traditional Stars).

I got one Moon by performing well at a game of jump rope, one for besting an obstacle course, and a few for braving precarious situations. In total, I earned a total of six Moons, which the man working at the kiosk told me tied the record set for the city stage during the demo. Of course, this leads me to an aggravating little detail: My demo ended just as I was climbing the pole at the top of the highest building in the city, which the Nintendo employee ensured me had an additional Moon at its peak. So I was apparently seconds away from having the best record of Moons on the city stage for Super Mario Odyssey’s E3 demo. Just my luck…

In between viewing, playing, and waiting in line for all these great games over the past few days, I also enjoyed some of the other things E3 had to offer: I enjoyed a bit of a GameSpot interview with WWE wrestlers Xavier Woods and Samoa Joe on the last day, while during the second day I had a listen to some awesome Mario Kart 64 remixes courtesy of the Super Soul Bros.

“Joe’s gonna kill you!”

I’ve had a great time at this year’s E3. Yes, the lines were disastrous (hopefully they’ll learn how to better handle the extra people if the event is still open to the public next year), and sure, people can go ahead and comment about how Sony’s presentation wasn’t up to their usual quality, or how there weren’t too many surprises. But for me, it was simply a great time. I made lots of memories, played some terrific games (particularly Super Mario Odyssey, which I feel is destined to be a Nintendo classic), and just had a good time.

I’m hoping I can return to E3 again next year, but all I can say for now is that it was great to attend the event again. But good luck with 2018’s E3 having as stellar of a lineup of games as this year.

“Me…about to be crushed by the DK Rabbid…”

E3 2017: Day 2

Day two of my ventures of E3 2017 have come and gone. Today, I managed to play a few different games, and actually found some great surprises. On the downside, the AAA booths have proven almost too crazy to deal with. I made the exception for Super Mario Odyssey, and I hope to still play a few more AAA games if I’m able (I really want to try Sea of Thieves). But their lines are pure evil. Just evil.

On the plus side of things, I’m not the biggest fan of the direction many AAA games are taking these days, so missing out on them at E3 isn’t a personally crushing loss. But there are a couple of games I hope to catch tomorrow, seeing as it’s the last day of E3 2017 *sob*.

Anyway, the great news is that I spent most of the day with my brother, so we got to experience a number of games together. First we played Dissidia Final Fantasy NT, the newest edition of Square-Enix’s Final Fantasy spinoff fighter for the Playstation 4. It was pretty fun and interesting, though I clearly didn’t know what I was doing. In a game placing two teams of three against each other, I came in last place in the losing team, while my brother got first place on the winning team. Ouch.

I got a bit of vengeance, however, with one of E3’s biggest surprises. Dragon Ball FighterZ had a bit of a line, but it was definitely worth it. The game is a classic-style, 2D fighting game from the makers of Guilty Gear, and uses the same beautiful cel-shading as said series, which looks as close to hand-drawn animation as possible.

Dragon Ball FighterZ uses a team system, with players picking three different characters. The demo consisted of six characters from the anime franchise: Goku, Vegeta, Gohan, Frieza, Cell and Majin Buu. Both me and my brother picked variations of a Frieza, Cell and Buu team (because Saiyans are boring). The game not only looks gorgeous, but the controls and gameplay are incredibly fluid. Better still, unlike many fighters, where it seems like characters are eliminated rather quickly, it took a good few minutes before either of us knocked out our first character. I ultimately ended up victorious in my match against my brother after a hard fought battle. But the real story here is how disappointed I was when my time with the game ended. I wanted it to keep going. Dragon Ball FighterZ was that much fun.

“The bounciest game of the year.”

Another surprise of the show was Senran Kagura: Peach Beach Splash. Yeah, yeah, this is a series all about waifus and bewbs (as if that’s a bad thing), but it was fun. It basically works like Splatoon meets Super Mario Sunshine, with teams of bosomy, bikini-clad ninjas using squirt guns against each other. Once you have an opponent down, you can continue to squirt them to remove their bikini top or bottom for extra points (convenient lighting prevents all-out nudity). Look, it’s actually a fun game, okay! I know sites like Kotaku are probably already writing their SJW-fueled negative “review” of it. But it’s harmless fun, and more humorous than anything.

Sadly, due to long lines and rather chaotic crowds, I didn’t get to actually play much else, but I did get a good looksy at Sony’s booth, and made another trip to Nintendo’s. That Spider-Man game looks great, and call me a sucker, but I’m really excited for the PS4 version of Shadow of the Colossus, even though I’ve already played it on PS2 and PS3.

I really wanted to try out Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, but the lines for it at both the Nintendo and Ubisoft booths were closed by the time I made it to them. Strangely, Ni No Kuni II’s line was “temporarily closed” the first time I approached it, and then closed for the day the next time. So I guess I know which games I’m starting with tomorrow.

“I never thought I’d want to play a game featuring the Rabbids so badly…”

I did get to play one additional game before the day was done though, Sonic Mania. The Sonic Mania demo allowed you to play as all three characters (Sonic, Knuckles and Tails), and had two different stages to try out (the classic Green Hill Zone and the brand-new Mirage Saloon Zone). I decided to go the classic route and play as Sonic, though because Green Hill Zone seems to be recreated in every Sonic game in existence, I picked the original level instead.

I have to say, it’s hard to get very excited for Sonic games these days, but Sonic Mania has been on my radar since it was announced last year. Even with under ten minutes of playtime with the demo, I think I can safely say it’s the best Sonic game in years. It looks, sounds and feels like the golden age of Sonic games. Though I might even say it controls even more fluidly than the classic Genesis games, and the fact that it’s on modern hardware means that, even though it’s still 16-bits, it can allow for far more complex and robust animations. Sonic Mania is now a game I can’t wait to get my hands on, and it’s been so long since I’ve felt that way for a Sonic title.

Well, that about covers everything I actually managed to play on day two of E3 2017. There’s one more day left, and still a few games I want to be sure to try (mainly Mario + Rabbids and Ni No Kuni II, but if I can manage Splatoon 2, or the Crash Bandicoot and Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga remasters, I’ll hopefully squeeze them in as well. And I wouldn’t mind another go at Super Mario Odyssey, provided the line isn’t two and a half hours long).

Even though I may not get the opportunity to play a good deal of games on the show floor, just being able to be at E3 is a real joy for me. As a kid I always wanted to attend E3, and now I actually get to go and play some of the most anticipated upcoming games on the show floor. That’s pretty cool the more I think about it.

Here’s hoping for another trip to E3 in 2018!

E3 2017: Day 1

Day one of my ventures to E3 2017 have come and gone. The bad news is that the first day of the event always has the most unholy of long lines, but at least this means the next two days (hopefully) will be more manageable.

So how was my first day at E3 2017? Well, if I could describe it with a single image…

With a brand-new 3D Mario playable at the show floor, of course that was going to be the first place I went. And the above image pretty much explains what was in store for me. I waited in line for over two and a half hours just to play ten minutes of the newest Mario title.

Thankfully, though the wait was painful, it was ultimately worth it, because those ten minutes were a whole lot of fun. Super Mario Odyssey is shaping up to be something special. It controls beautifully (as is the case with most games starring the famed plumber), looks wonderful, and sounds great. But perhaps the best thing about Mario Odyssey is just how utterly insane it is: Mario can now take control of enemies and some NPCs by throwing his hat on them, with each possessed form bringing their own abilities to the table (a stone maui head could reveal invisible platforms, for example). Plus, Mario can actually buy stuff with the coins he collects, primarily more hats, as well as additional costumes, with each one having their own benefits as well.

Another thing I noticed in my brief time with Super Mario Odyssey is that it seemed to address one of my biggest wishes for the 3D Mario games, and allows Mario to stay within a level after nabbing one of its prizes (this time being Moons, replacing Stars). Hopefully this feature makes it into the final game, because while I loved all of the previous 3D Mario titles to some degree, I felt that the “episodic” setup for the stages – with the selected objective dictating the direction the stage took – was better suited for the Galaxy titles, which were more linear. Super Mario 64 and Sunshine are still touted for being more “open-world” platformers that were built on exploration, so it kind of felt counterproductive to have a fixed objective for you as you picked which “episode” of a level to tackle. If Odyssey sticks with the direction it’s going, then being able to grab whatever Moon on a stage in whatever order is a step in the right direction for this style of 3D Mario.

That’s right, folks. I played Super Mario Odyssey. I even got the hat to prove it.

Obviously, I felt very highly about what Super Mario Odyssey has in store. In a gaming year that has been exceptionally generous in quality titles, and one that has seemingly changed Nintendo’s fortunes for the better, Super Mario Odyssey has a good chance to end up being one of the 2017’s best titles. It already feels like one of the freshest games Nintendo has made in a very long time, and any game where you can possess a T-Rex with a magic hat should be a great time.

On the downside of things, I didn’t get to do a whole lot else on my first day at this E3 (though I did walk by Danny Trejo before entering the building, so that was cool). I saw a number of games that I can’t wait to play, but the lines were all either really long, or just all over the place. I’m hoping that tomorrow and the day thereafter will be a little more calmed down, so that I can check off the games on my “to-play” list.

Ni no Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom certainly caught my eye, as did Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle (apparently I like games with the word “kingdom” in the title). I also hope to check out the indie games, and even though it comes out pretty soon, I’m really tempted to have a go at Crash Bandicoot: N. Sane trilogy. Sonic Mania, Sonic Forces, Splatoon 2, and Arms are also on my radar. If I can somehow manage to get through the Sea of Thieves line, I definitely will do that as well. Finally, if that remake of Superstar Saga is playable (it was hard to tell with the mass of humanity at Nintendo’s booth for Mario Odyssey), I’ll definitely spend some time on that if I can. With how far the Mario & Luigi series has fallen with its last two entries, going back to its glorious beginning may be just what Nintendo needs to get the Mario RPGs back on track.

So perhaps not too eventful of a day for me when it came to playing a variety of games. But I got to play the game I’m most excited for, so that definitely counts for something. Plus, for someone like me who’s not there to write news reports and interview people, going to E3 is as much about the experience of it as anything. And despite the lines, I had a fun time. There are certainly a lot of great games to look forward to, and I may have already played the best of the bunch.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Review

Mario Kart 8 was not only the best-selling game on the Wii U, and one of the system’s best titles, it was the best Mario Kart to date. It abandoned the luck-based nature of Mario Kart Wii, and gave it a sense of polish like the series had never seen before. There was, however, one glaring flaw with Mario Kart 8.

Despite all the improvements MK8 made to the core racing mechanics of the series, it somehow managed to butcher the series’ beloved Battle Mode of all things. Gone were the arenas where players did battle. Instead, players had to pop each other’s balloons while wandering around the racetracks, hoping that they could manage to even find one of the other players.

Thankfully, it seems Nintendo realized they made more than a little bit of an oopsie with Mario Kart 8’s Battle Mode, and decided to revamp it entirely for the game’s relaunch on the Nintendo Switch. By taking an already exceptional game, rectifying its one great flaw, and sprinkling in several other small changes, Nintendo has ensured that Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is as essential to the Switch as its original incarnation was to the Wii U.

This being a re-release, the core mechanics of the experience are nearly identical to what they were in the original Mario Kart 8. The racing is as tight and intricate as it was back in 2014. You still get boosts for drifting and for performing stunts, the racetracks still posses anti-gravity sections, and the items are still more balanced than in previous entries in the series.

There are, however, a few subtle changes that improve the already smooth experience. You can now drift longer for even greater boosts (represented by pink sparks flying from your wheels), and the infamous “fire hopping” trick (which gave an advantage to those who could pull it off) has been removed, making the racing all the more balanced.

Perhaps the most noticeable change in gameplay is that you can now hold two items at once, a returning feature from the GameCube’s Mario Kart: Double Dash!!. You can even find double item boxes, to immediately gain two items at once.

These may all sound like small changes, but you’d be surprised just how much they change things up. This is particularly true for the double items, which make getting and maintaining first place a greater challenge than before.

There are other changes present as well: Beginning players can now enable “Smart Steering,” which prevents your kart from falling off track (though this feature disables the pink sparks, and makes certain shortcuts harder to reach, should they require you to jump from one track to another). You can now change characters and karts in between online matches, instead of going back to the online lobby in order to do so. Additionally, the randomization of items seems to have been tweaked, with speed-boosting Mushrooms – while still the most common item – no longer feeling annoyingly frequent, while more useful items aren’t quite as rare, though not common enough to ruin the game’s balance.

We even get two items returning from older entries in the series: Super Mario Kart’s Super Feather allows players to jump over obstacles, and Mario Kart 64’s Boo turns players ethereal, making them impervious to enemy items, while also stealing an item from a random opponent.

To top it all off, the game includes every character from the Wii U version, including the DLC originals like Link from The Legend of Zelda, Villager and Isabelle from Animal Crossing, Tanooki Mario, and Dry Bowser, as well as five brand-new characters: King Boo, Dry Bones, Bowser Jr. and the boy and girl Inklings from Splatoon.

On the downside of things, the only unlockable character is Gold Mario, who is merely an alternate color for Metal Mario, who already seemed like an unnecessary character to begin with. Mario Kart 8 had a mixed bag of characters as it was, with every timeless video game icon like Mario, Bowser and Donkey Kong being countered with a throwaway addition like Baby Daisy and the creative low that is Pink Gold Peach. The five brand new characters do bring a bit more proper franchise representation to the game, but the more lackluster characters still sour the roster a little.

Of course, the big news here is the Battle Mode, which has been brought back to its former glory, and features five different gameplay styles.

Naturally, there’s the traditional Balloon Battle, where players fight in an arena and try to eliminate the other players’ balloons by using items. Then there’s Bob-omb Blast, which is essentially just Balloon Battle, but where every item is replaced with Bob-ombs, making for pure chaos. Coin Runners sees players trying to hold onto the most coins by the time the clock runs out, with players losing coins every time a weapon strikes them.

One of my personal favorites is Shine Thief, a returning mode from Double Dash!! that sees every player fighting for a single Shine Sprite. Whoever can hold the Shine Sprite for a count of twenty is the winner. As you can imagine, holding the Shine Sprite makes you the target of every other player, and though reclaiming the Shine Sprite will continue your counter from where it left off (until it reaches five or below), getting it back after losing it is easier said than done. The hectic action of Shine Thief is matched only by Renegade Roundup, a brand-new Battle Mode that is divided into teams. One team takes the role of “The Authorities,” identified by the Piranha Plants with police sirens attached to their karts, while the others are the “Renegades.” The goal of the Authorities is to capture all of the renegades via the Piranha Plant, while the Renegades simply try to survive within the allotted time. This may sound like it heavily favors the Authorities team, but the Renegades can free their captured teammates by driving into a switch, making things much more competitive.

Having a proper Battle Mode rectifies the one big mistake Mario Kart 8 made the first time around, and the fact that it comes in five variants makes it feel like Nintendo went out of their way to make up for its omission in the game’s original release. Battle Mode gives a great alternative to the racing, and all five versions of it are extremely fun.

If there’s any disappointment to be had with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, it’s simply that there are no new racetracks added to the game (not counting the battle arenas). Yes, the track design in Mario Kart 8 is the best in the series, and the fact that Deluxe comes with all the original’s DLC tracks out of the box means there’s no shortage of variety. But considering how Nintendo went above and beyond the call of duty for the Battle Mode, you can’t help but wish they’d have done the same for the core racing by including a new cup or two.

Even with the lack of new racetracks, it’s hard not to be impressed with what Mario Kart 8 Deluxe has in store. Mario Kart 8 already had great gameplay, and more polish than any entry in the series before it. But now the few kinks that were present have been ironed out, making it the smoothest and most polished kart racer around.

You also couldn’t ask for much better in terms of presentation. Mario Kart 8 was always a gorgeous game. Though it’s hard to tell if the graphics have been improved at all, that’s just a testament to how stunning the game always looked. Its colorful characters and locales, fun and varied art direction, and sharp graphics come together to make a game that looks simply stunning, and whose visuals perhaps don’t get the attention they deserve. It’s an outright beautiful game to look at, and the orchestrated soundtrack is just as pleasing to the ears.

Combine all of this with the more streamlined tweaks, and an online mode that is sure to keep you coming back for more, and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe proves to be one of the finest of multiplayer games. Mario Kart 8 was already the closest thing the series had to a definitive entry, and now as Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, it undoubtedly belongs on any list of the best Nintendo games.

 

9.5