Category Archives: Nintendo Switch

What Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Needs to do to Actually be the Ultimate Super Smash Bros.

Super Smash Bros. hype is a unique entity for me. On one hand, Super Smash Bros. is one of the few remaining series where the announcement of a new entry gets me genuinely excited. But of all my favorite gaming franchises, Super Smash Bros. is the one that can (and has) disappoint(ed) me the most. Of course, it shouldn’t be too surprising, considering this is a series largely built around fanservice, so when it fails to deliver on a much-wanted character or (in the last entry’s case) seems to cater to director Masahiro Sakurai’s favoritism, the experience can feel a bit sullied.

That’s not to say that the games aren’t good though. Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, despite being the entry I have the most complaints about in terms of character selections and omissions, is actually the most solidly designed and technically sound iteration yet. Hell, even the bafflingly reviled Super Smash Bros. Brawl is still a really well made video game. But again, this is a series that’s built around Nintendo’s history, and its fandom. So when it feels like Nintendo’s history and its fans are being ignored, it really stings.

“Proof that Sakurai hates us all.”

Case in point, Masahiro Sakurai has actively asked fans to suggest characters for the series since Super Smash Bros. Brawl was in development, and yet, the three most consistently requested characters – Metroid’s Ridley, Donkey Kong’s King K. Rool, and Super Mario RPG’s Geno – were just as consistently ignored. None of them made it into Brawl, and in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and 3DS, Ridley was made into a stage hazard, while Geno and K. Rool weren’t even that lucky, being represented solely by Mii Fighter costumes, which felt like a blatant middle finger to the fans on Sakurai’s part, especially seeing as that particular entry had a sudden emphasis on his own characters (Kid Icarus suddenly seemed to get plenty of references, conveniently after Sakurai directed Kid Icarus: Uprising on 3DS).

Sakurai has tried to explain his reasons for leaving out requested characters, but most such reasons seem more like half-hearted excuses than anything. He often claimed that “Ridley was too big,” even though by that logic, Captain Olimar should be too small. Or he would claim that he would go over the character and see what uniqueness they would bring to the table…only to fill a good chunk of the roster with clone characters.

Basically, Sakurai’s excuses end up feeling like just that, excuses. Look, I get that not every character can make it in, but when you actively ask people to suggest characters, and then continuously ignore their most wanted characters for over a decade, it’s kind of hard to accept the excuses.

Even worse, however, are the people who defend Sakurai’s every action (whom I refer to as “Sakurai apologists”). Again, I understand not everyone can make the cut, but when people actively defend things like the “Ridley is too big” argument and the overabundance of clone characters, it’s like, just… come on! Sakurai is a great game designer, but it’s okay to admit to his mistakes. And well, blatantly ignoring fan requests after asking for fan requests, and resorting to simply copying existing characters and claiming its another are definite mistakes.

These people will often question what a potential character’s moves would be, but that’s an argument that seems beyond pointless, considering that from Super Smash Bros’ very first entry, Captain Falcon has been a playable character. He’s a character who, in his own series, was never seen outside of his racing vehicle! If they could turn him into a fighter back on the N64 in 1999, there’s no reason why Sakurai and company couldn’t get even more creative with current hardware.

This brings me to the point of all this ranting: Super Smash Bros. Ultimate has the opportunity to live up to its name. The game is being billed as the “Smash Bros. for everyone” and is set to include every single returning character from the series’ history, which is a good start. However, the real big news is that Ridley has finally joined the Super Smash Bros. roster as a playable character! Finally, after over a decade of waiting, the patience of Metroid fans has been rewarded.

On the downside of things, Sakurai has already stated that there won’t be too many new additions to the roster this time around. I suppose that makes sense, with so many characters in the game, they’re running lower and lower on classic characters to choose from. But that’s just my point, if we’re only going to get a ‘few’ new characters, why not make them characters that count?

Of the three most consistently requested characters, Ridley has now become the first of the trio to make the roster. So, why not finally pull the trigger and deliver the other two as well? K. Rool and Geno are two characters that have so much potential for the series – let alone their fan support – that not adding them in at this point would seem like petty spite. Hardly what you would want from a game that’s supposed to be the Ultimate edition of a franchise largely built on fanservice.

That would already make something of a statement for the series. It’s like, not only would we be getting every past character from the series history, but also the three most requested, ever-elusive characters. Whatever other newcomer selections could also potentially be filled with old fan-favorites. Again, if the newcomers are going to be few in quantity, they really better make them count in terms of quality.

Of course, even with Ridley’s inclusion, there are still causes for some concerns. The fact that clones now have the ‘official’ label of “Echo Fighters” has me greatly worried that Sakurai might just be doubling down on them (again, quality, not quantity. A bunch of clones is hardly something to get excited over). And in another downer, Bomberman is finally making his debut in the series…as an Assist Trophy. Considering how big of a multiplayer franchise Super Smash Bros. is, it’s a real shame that Bomberman – one of the pioneers of multiplayer gaming – can’t make the cut as a playable character.

Still, Ridley’s presence gives hope that not only could Geno and K. Rool make their long-awaited debut, but that the select amount of newcomers might bring out the more creative side of the developers. If Sakurai and company can deliver everything from Super Smash Bros. past (which looks to be the case so far), and throw in the few remaining missing elements that fans have been craving, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate may just live up to its name.

Between the presence of every returning fighter and the debut of Ridley, so far so good. But to make Super Smash Bros. Ultimate truly the ultimate Super Smash Bros. experience, the rest of those newcomers really have to mean something.

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Why Waluigi Could Have Worked in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

I never thought I’d say this, but I’m actually a little disappointed that Waluigi is only an Assist Trophy and not a playable character in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. Unlike a lot of people, I wasn’t rooting for Waluigi to make the roster due to his nature as a meme these days. In fact, I never thought of him as a worthy inclusion as a playable character on the Smash Bros. roster until after Ultimate was revealed. He still wouldn’t be one of my most wanted characters, mind you, but after some consideration, I can’t help but feel Waluigi is being treated rather poorly (at least, when we consider certain circumstances).

Now, some people complain that there are “too many” Mario characters in Super Smash Bros. But that’s nonsense. Exceptionalist that I am, I think the most accomplished series deserve the most characters, and seeing as Super Mario is Nintendo’s most accomplished series, it can have however many characters it damn well wants. Zelda and Pokemon have achieved similar success, and would be the two other series that could potentially keep adding characters and I don’t think anyone could make an actual argument against it, though I understand that Zelda has less notable characters to work with than Mario or Pokemon.

My point is that Waluigi was not someone I considered to be a worthy character to be playable in Super Smash Bros., seeing as he only exists for the purpose of giving Wario a tennis partner, and he only ever appears in the Mario sports games and Mario Kart as kind of a filler character, leaving no real impact on the series other than to be the butt of jokes.

But then, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate revealed Princess Daisy – a Mario character who is basically a filler character in Mario sports titles and Mario Kart who has left no real impact on the series – as a playable fighter in the upcoming Switch release. If she can make the cut, why not Waluigi?

In fact, I can think of two (somewhat connected) reasons why Waluigi actually makes more sense than Daisy. The first is that Daisy, being a clone (I refuse to call them Echo Fighters from here on out), doesn’t bring anything new to the table. I know, apologists like to claim that the clones “don’t take too much data to make and don’t get in the way of other fighters,” but they’re still just lazy, copied-and-pasted additions that don’t add anything to the game. I’d rather see less characters and have them all be distinct, than see the number of characters rack up simply because the developers were able to copy enough existing characters. Waluigi wouldn’t have to be a clone though (I guess Daisy didn’t have to be one either, but here we are). Considering Wario’s moves are primarily built around WarioWare – a series which Waluigi has no involvement in – it’s easy to separate Waluigi from the Wario that’s already present in Smash Bros.

This leads me to the other reason why Waluigi would be a decent(ish) inclusion compared to Daisy: his differences from Wario – and subsequently, the less likelihood of him being a clone – could mean drawing on different inspirations for a unique moveset, which could then lead them to draw from the Mario sports games themselves.

Why would this mean anything? Well, because the Mario sports games have no representation within Smash Bros’ character roster, and while it’s a series that may not need representation, the Mario sports titles have been around long enough and have had enough entries that it doesn’t seem undeserved to have a single character represent it.

I know, people could again argue that he’s “another” Mario character (but again, it’s a series that’s earned it), but the thing is the Mario series isn’t a singular series, but a franchise that encompasses various series within different genres, with the Mario sports titles being among the only Mario series not represented in Super Smash Bros. People could also argue that Daisy does represent just that (again, the sports titles are basically where she shows up), but because she’s a clone of Peach, Smash Bros. missed the boat on that one. Waluigi more easily avoids the clone possibility, and could have been given a Mario sports titles their Smash representation.

Think about it, moves based around tennis, golf, baseball, basketball, go karting, hell, maybe they could even throw in some kind of Mario Party inspiration in there. If Waluigi were even considered for Smash, that is.

Waluigi’s exclusion from the playable roster isn’t a major loss for Super Smash Bros. Like I said, I never even thought about him being a worthwhile character for the series until after Daisy’s reveal. But once Daisy was revealed to be just another clone, while Waluigi remains an Assist Trophy, it made me realize that, if Sakurai and company were willing to bring in C-tier Mario characters, they missed a little opportunity here for a more unique character, and an aspect of Nintendo’s biggest franchise that has yet to get acknowledge in Super Smash Bros.

Also, WAAAAAAAAH!

Mario Tennis Aces Review

Although they’ve never produced any all-time classics in the way the primary platformers of the Super Mario series, the Mario RPGs, and the Mario Karts have, the Mario sports title may be the best example of the franchise’s unique ability to seemingly make any genre more fun simply by having its name associated with it. Even those who have no interest whatsoever in any given sport should still be able to find enjoyment out of it when it’s given a Mushroom Kingdom twist. I mean, when you add in characters like Luigi and Donkey Kong, and then throw in some crazy gimmicks and special moves, something like golf suddenly becomes a lot more interesting. Perhaps the most consistent of Mario’s sporting endeavors are his ventures into tennis. The newest entry, Mario Tennis Aces, perhaps polishes up the core gameplay more than any previous Mario Tennis title, though it does come at the expense of a relative lack of content.

“Rosalina is best girl!”

Mario Tennis Aces seems to be all about refining what we’ve come to know about Mario Tennis. In this sense, the game is a roaring success. Mario Tennis gameplay has simply never felt so smooth and fluid. No matter which character you pick, the game feels great to control, with slight differences given to each character based on their weight class (don’t expect Bowser to move as gracefully as Rosalina). Mario Tennis Aces features a variety of control styles, all of which feel comfortable, though my personal preference is a Joy-con in each hand.

“Waluigi is here. That’s one thing Mario Tennis will always have over Smash.”

Different types of shots are mapped to different buttons on the controller, while combinations of those buttons (one to prepare to strike the ball, one for the strike itself) add to the mix. Should you charge a shot long enough before striking the ball, you build up energy, which can be used to slow down time, perform a quick counter-shot, and – if the energy meter is completely full – a special move. Additionally, stars appear on the court from time to time, which allow players to perform a “zone shot,” which briefly brings things to a first-person view for player’s to throw an exceptionally fast ball.

This brings me to one of the more disappointing elements of Mario Tennis Aces’ gameplay: the zone shots and character specials are more or less the same. The only difference is that the special moves come with a unique animation beforehand, and do more damage to your opponent’s racket. If a player (or the CPU) doesn’t time the ball just right after their opponent hits a zone shot or special, their racket will take damage. With enough damage, your racket will break, thus ending the game early.

It’s easy to imagine this being a divisive mechanic. On one hand, it provides a unique spin to the series, and adds a different element of strategy to the proceedings as you gain energy and plot to build up to the point of destroying an opponent’s racket. But on the other hand, it kind of makes a drastic change to the very game of tennis. But if you’re among those frustrated with the mechanic, you can always turn it off.

Though this leads to another questionable design decision for the game. While you can choose whether or not your rackets can break during a match, you cannot change the length of a match or set in a game of tennis. And, bizarrely, you can’t directly select which court you wish to play on, instead having to “deselect” stages you don’t want on the options menu, which seems unnecessarily arduous. Perhaps in another tennis game it wouldn’t be a big deal, but given the unique themes and gimmicks of Mario Tennis courts, it would make a basic level select option all the more ideal than in normal circumstances.

Thankfully, the core gameplay is so much fun, that if you’re playing multiplayer (whether online or next to a friend), you might not mind the limited options. Single player, however, does leave a bit more to be desired.

“Mario Tennis Aces brings back the odd Mario sports tradition of resurrecting Super Mario Sunshine bosses.”

The primary single player mode in Mario Tennis Aces is an adventure mode that sees Mario on a journey to collect five power stones to stop the power of an ancient, evil tennis racket, which has taken control of Luigi, Wario and Waluigi. It’s a surprisingly humorous story mode with its wacky plot, and it features some fun RPG elements to it (Mario can gain experience points and levels, and additional tennis rackets can be obtained through optional stages). Not to mention it provides a fair bit of variety in its challenges. The downside to the story mode, however, is its severely fluctuating difficulty curve.

You would think that the stages would gradually get more progressively difficult as you go, especially seeing as this is a Mario game, and that’s an area in which the franchise usually shines. But the challenge of the story mode in Mario Tennis Aces is all over the place. You’ll go from a ridiculously easy stage to a ludicrously difficult one at any given time, with seemingly no warning as to when the difficulty is going to spike to a new high or drop to relaxing low. Two stages in particular – against Blooper and Boom Boom, of all characters – gave me a considerable challenge. The story mode does provide some solid fun in the gameplay, variety and RPG elements, but the inconsistent difficulty may be too jarring for some.

“Chain Chomp FTW!”

Even with these issues, however, Mario Tennis Aces is an undeniable good time. The sheer polish that exudes from its gameplay marks a new high for the series, while free play and tournament modes give multiplayer a huge amount of replay value. Add in the fact that you can not only play as series regulars like Mario, Luigi, Peach and Bowser, but entertaining newcomers like Spike and Chain Chomp, and you have one of the most distinctly ‘Mario’ of all Mario sports titles. If Nintendo and Camelot can take this core gameplay for the next entry, while refining the single player campaign and adding more play styles and customizable options, and we could have the Mario Kart 8 equivalent of Mario’s sports titles. As it is, well, the pieces are in place.

 

7.5

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle: Donkey Kong Adventure Review

Downloadable content has become one of the more polarizing aspects of modern gaming. While the prospect of a game gaining additional replay value post-launch is enticing, many developers have used it as a cheap means to release a game before its initial vision is finished, thus charging consumers more money at a later date to make the game the complete package it should have been at launch. Well, let the Donkey Kong Adventure DLC for Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle – 2017’s surprise of the year – be a shining example of how to do DLC right. Working more as a mini-sequel as opposed to a light extension of the original game, Donkey Kong Adventure proves once again why this most unlikely of crossovers shouldn’t be underestimated.

As the title suggests, Donkey Kong Adventure takes the Mario + Rabbids formula out of the Mushroom Kingdom and into Donkey Kong Country. After a string of events sends Princess Peach’s Rabbid doppelgänger, as well as robot guide Beep-0 and a bitter and defeated Rabbid Kong into “another dimension,” they find themselves in the world of Donkey Kong (I thought Mario and Donkey Kong were part of the same world? Oh well, the Rabbids crossover changes things up I guess). Rabbid Kong goes berserk, gaining newfound strength through “bad bananas” (bananas infected with the virus from the base game), and attempts a monopoly on all the bananas of Donkey Kong Island. Naturally, this doesn’t sit well with good ol’ Donkey Kong, who joins forces with Rabbid Peach, Beep-0, and the Rabbid equivalent of Cranky Kong (named Rabbid Cranky, naturally) to put a stop to Rabbid Kong’s plans.

The core gameplay remains the same; it’s still an X-COM-style tactical RPG that’s separated into two primary segments: exploration and puzzle sections, and combat. During the former, player’s control Beep-0 (who is being ridden by Rabbid Cranky like a segway), and you navigate the maps while solving the occasional puzzle to progress or collect treasure (new weapons, artwork, and music). Additionally, Donkey Kong Adventure takes a cue from Retro Studios’ Donkey Kong Country games, and includes twenty hidden puzzle pieces that must be found to unlock more secrets.

The basics of combat still remain intact: every character can move along the grid-like battlefield, perform either a primary or secondary attack, and use a special ability per turn. You can get some additional damage in by performing a slide attack during movement, and can gain more ground by performing team jumps. However, the two new characters, especially Donkey Kong himself, really change things up.

“DK can lure in enemies with his Donkey Konga inspired congo drums, which makes for a great combo with the devastating ground pound move.”

Rabbid Peach retains her blaster/sentry weaponry, along with her healing and shielding abilities. Rabbid Cranky introduces a crossbow and grenades into the mix, while also boasting an ability that allows him to attack an enemy during movement, as well as the power to put foes to sleep. Donkey Kong is the game-changer, however. Defying the standard mechanics of the game, DK doesn’t possess any firearms, instead wielding a boomerang-like banana as a weapon, and using his own fists to perform ground pounds in place of a secondary weapon. DK can hop on higher surfaces without the need of a warp pipe, and new DK pads allow him to swing from one section of a battlefield to another. DK also breaks the established rules by lacking a team jump and slide attack. Instead, DK has the more useful ability of being able to pick up teammates, enemies and objects during his movement phase. By picking up Rabbids Peach and Cranky, DK can carry and throw them to great distance, while enemies and objects can be thrown at other foes for another means of attack.

Donkey Kong’s presence alone greatly differentiates this DLC campaign from the base game, as he goes against many of the game’s mechanics while still fitting neatly into them (being paired up with two more traditional characters really brings out the best combination of old and new). If the campaign were just a bit longer, Donkey Kong Adventure would feel like a proper follow-up to Mario + Rabbids, as opposed to DLC.

Unfortunately, the short running time of the campaign may be the downside to Donkey Kong Adventure. Granted, I wasn’t expecting it to be as long as the base game, but I don’t think the overall length even reaches the halfway mark of the original campaign. That wouldn’t be too much of a complaint, except that the uniqueness that DK brings to the gameplay feels like it has more potential that goes unrealized. Not to mention the boss fights lack the variety found in Mario + Rabbid’s original release. Still, after the campaign is done, there are additional challenges to be tackled, so while I wish there were a bit more of this Donkey Kong goodness, the unlock able challenges do add a nice bit of content to the package. Another downside is that some of the technical issues still persist in the game. Nothing major, but some occasional slow-ups, as well as graphics taking some time to load still show up.

Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle was already one of the best games on the Nintendo Switch, and now Donkey Kong Adventure adds an exclamation point to that claim. It’s a hefty piece of DLC that differentiates itself from the core game while simultaneously adding to it. All the while, Donkey Kong Adventure pays beautiful homage to the entire Donkey Kong series. The DKC aesthetics bring out the best in Mario + Rabbids’ already stellar visuals, while hearing classic Donkey Kong tunes given new life via Grant Kirkhope’s composition is a real treat. Even the loading screens pay tribute to those of Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. If Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle was the surprise hit of the Nintendo Switch, then this Donkey Kong Adventure expansion is a perfect companion piece to it, proving that, beyond all expectations, the merging of Super Mario and Ubisoft’s Rabbids (and Donkey Kong) really was a match made in heaven.

 

8.5

Shaq-Fu: A Legend Reborn Review

In this day and age, where pop culture is obsessed with nostalgia, it seems anything is fair game for a remake, reboot or sequel. Whether it’s beloved franchises making a welcome return, or something more obscure crawling its way back into the spotlight, if it existed in the 80s or 90s, it’s making a comeback. 2017 saw the baffling return of Bubsy – the nadir of the 90s platforming boom – and now 2018 follows suit with the “long-awaited” sequel to Shaq-Fu, widely regarded as one of the worst video games of all time. Though to its credit, Shaq-Fu: A Legend Reborn at least knows what it is, and while that may mean it’s a bad game, does it hurt it that much if that’s pretty much what it was trying to be?

Calling A Legend Reborn a sequel to the original Shaq-Fu may not be entirely accurate, as both are actually very different games. The original was a fighting game, while this entry is a side-scrolling beat-em-up. What they have in common, however, are Shaquille O’Neal, and a whole lot of absurdity.

Here, Shaquille O’Neal is a “humble, Chinese rickshaw driver,” who learns kung-fu from Master Ye-Ye. Shaq ends up being a chosen one destined to defeat an evil demon who threatens the Earth every 1,000 years. The demon’s newest plan is to subvert the human race by “stupefying” them with celebrity culture. So it’s up to Shaq to fight armies of demons and celebrities in order to save the world.

Yeah, it’s stupid, and it knows it. The downside is that the whole “ironic, self-aware, fourth wall-breaking” brand of humor is kind of white noise in this day and age (sorry Deadpool fans). Making fun of tropes has become the single most cliched trope out there by this point. With all that said, I will admit that Shaq-Fu: A Legend Reborn has some genuinely funny moments, due in no small part to Shaquille himself, who certainly seems to have a great sense of humor at his own expense (one of the game’s best meta-gags is that its life-replenishing item is the Icy Hot Patch, which Shaquille O’Neal is of course the spokesperson of in real life).

The jokes on celebrity culture can be a bit of a mixed bag. On one hand, basing a boss fight off an angry, drunken Mel Gibson is something that will always be funny, but a boss fight parodying Paris Hilton seems about a decade late. Of course, due to legal reasons, the game can’t use the real names of these celebrities (a la South Park), so instead has to make due with approximations that you wish could at least be a little bit closer to the real thing (a la The Simpsons).

In terms of gameplay, well, it’s fittingly mindless. Just punch hordes of enemies to build up “combo points” which you can then use to unleash Shaq’s size 22s to flatten the bad guys. And if you build up power (which is strangely separate from the combo points), you can perform the Shaq Smash, which easily dispatches foes. Occasionally, you can find two different power-up transformations: The Shaq Diesel merges the basketball star – excuse me, rickshaw driver – with a diesel engine, allowing Shaq to perform rapid punches simply by holding the attack button. But punch too much and you’ll have to unleash a diesel powered Shaq Smash, lest the engine burn up without unleashing that power. The other transformation (and another one of the game’s best gags) is the “Shaqtus,” which is, as it sounds, Shaq as a cactus, allowing him to shoot spines at enemies.

The transformation sequences are the game’s best bits, as they are really the only times the gameplay changes from what is a rather monotonous beat-em-up. Sure, you can pick up weapons here and there, but nothing else really changes up the button-mashing gameplay to any significant degree.

But hey, this game was designed entirely to be a joke and follow-up one of the most infamous games of all time. So I guess the monotony was intentional? Even if we give Shaq-Fu: A Legend Reborn that benefit of a doubt, however, the game still has some glaring shortcomings in execution and technical polish.

First and foremost, it’s baffling to think that Shaq-Fu: A Legend Reborn is exclusively a single-player game. Beat-em-ups are a genre made for couch co-op, and with a game like this, which is intentionally stupid, wouldn’t it be the kind of joke that’s funnier if you’re sharing the experience? This is only magnified more by the fact that, at six stages, Shaq-Fu: A Legend Reborn is incredibly short, and provides little (if anything) in the way of replay value. Had the game featured multiplayer co-op, the act of sharing Shaq Fu with someone else might have been incentive enough for some replays.

Then there are technical issues, and not just simple slow-downs and light freeze-ups, either. During my playthrough, the first time I died wasn’t by an enemy hand, but by Shaq randomly sinking into the ground and the game suddenly telling me I’m dead. And the game completed froze on me at least four times (two of which were on the same section) in my playthrough.

Look, I don’t know what else to say. Is Shaq-Fu: A Legend Reborn a good game? Certainly not. But that’s kind of the point. It’s a title made entirely to live off the legacy of a notorious 90s game. It purposefully sets the bar low, and, well, it hits the mark it set out to. Not all of the humor works, the gameplay is repetitive, and the technical issues are glaring. But hey, Shaquille O’Neal himself has a good sense of humor about it. So I guess I can too.

 

4.5

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.

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!”