Top 10 Video Game Launch Titles

With my recent overhaul of Wizard Dojo (with a new overall look and new scoring system), I figured I’d ring in this new era of Wizard Dojo-ing with a revised version of the very first ‘top list’ I ever posted here at the Dojo; Top Video Game Launch Titles!

The first time around, I listed five games, plus some runners-up. This time around, I’m upping things to a top 10!

Video game consoles are defined by their best games. Sometimes, a console doesn’t have to wait very long to receive its first masterpiece, with a number of consoles getting one of their definitive games right out the gate. Although it used to be more commonplace for a console to receive a launch title that would go down as one of its best games, the idea of a killer launch title is becoming a rarer occurrence in gaming.

Still, launch games have more than left their mark on the industry. Here are, in my opinion, the 10 most significant video games to have launched their console.

Continue reading “Top 10 Video Game Launch Titles”

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Mission: Impossible – Fallout Review

Of all the ongoing action franchises today, Mission: Impossible has to be my favorite. Its first three entries were high energy action pictures in their own right, but with its fourth entry, Ghost Protocol, Mission: Impossible reached all new levels of entertainment. Through the sheer ingenuity and execution of its set pieces, Ghost Protocol ascended the series to one of the few in which the action becomes the narrative. The fifth entry, Rogue Nation, followed suit with action that flowed the story like exceptional dialogue. Now we have the sixth installment, Mission: Impossible – Fallout, which proves to be a wonderful threepeat of the franchise’s newfound excellence.

Fallout once again follows Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his band of IMF agents; Luther (Ving Rhames), Benji (Simon Pegg) and Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson). Ethan’s team is tasked with retrieving three plutonium cores before they fall into the hands of the Apostles (the remnants of the terrorist organization Syndicate from the previous film). Ethan fails the mission, however, when he chooses to save Luther’s life at the expense of the plutonium. Ethan and his crew manage to uncover the Apostles’ next move, and set out to retrieve the plutonium before disaster strikes. Of course, because of Ethan’s earlier bungle, the CIA assigns special operative August Walker (Henry Cavill) to shadow Ethan.

Story-wise, it isn’t too different from the past few Mission: Impossibles. Ghost Protocol was also about preventing a nuclear disaster. But the plot is still told gracefully when need be. The real story of any Mission: Impossible film, however, is in its action-packed set pieces. And Fallout delivers on just that in spades.

The film is almost one action set piece after another, and I don’t think a single one disappoints. Per the norm for the series, CG is used to a minimum, and Tom Cruise is still doing his own stunts, which gives the film a more grounded and authentic feel, despite the sheer absurdity of some of the action sequences.

“This is just another Tuesday for Tom Cruise.”

It’s long-since become a cliche to describe an action film as a ‘non-stop thrill ride,’ but that seems to be accurate with this particular series. And Fallout ranks among the best in how frequently it delivers scene after scene of memorable action. I remember during the first action sequence, I thought it was among the best action scenes I’ve seen all year. And then I thought that about the next one, and the one after that, and the one after that.

The stunt work and cinematography used to bring these sequences to life is – as it was in the past two Mission: Impossible entries – really something to behold. If you’re getting a bit tired of seeing super heroes and villains destroy entire cities amidst their battles, it’s kind of refreshing to see a movie series that can continuously make the relatively low-key aspect of Tom Cruise punching several dudes standout. I mean, when a movie delivers one of the year’s best fight scenes in a men’s room, it definitely knows what it’s doing.

Unfortunately, there is a little bit of a downside to things in that it Fallout may seem a little deja vu at times. Again, its central plot seems to retread the last two MI pictures, and I think it may fall slightly short of its two aforementioned predecessors (albeit not by much). As terrific as the action here is, I still think the sight of Tom Cruise scaling the Burj Khalifa in Ghost Protocol remains the series most memorable spectacle.

But if being a little derivative of excellent predecessors and falling slightly short of them is all there is to complain about, then I’d say Mission: Impossible – Fallout is doing okay. It still blows the Fast and Furious films out of the water.

If you’re itching for an all-out popcorn experience, but are a little tired of super heroes, then Mission: Impossible – Fallout shouldn’t be missed. Like it’s predecessors and Mad Max: Fury Road, it takes what is essentially one long string of action and turns it into a flowing narrative. If there’s such a thing as ‘artful action’ (and I think there is), then this is it.

 

8

The Times They are a (Really) Changin’!

Wizard Dojo Digivolve to! ….. Still Wizard Dojo, but different!

“Wizard Dojo’s change is not THIS drastic…”

That’s right, I’ve finally changed things up here at the Dojo, you’ve probably noticed the site has a new overall look. Though admittedly, I’m not sure this is the look I want to stick with since I can’t seem to have the site’s different pages right at the top of the homepage like I did before (the links to them are still intact on the right side, however). But I figured the changes I’ve made deserved a fresh coat of paint.

Now it’s time for the big change… I’ve actually revamped my rating system to include only whole numbers, 1-10.

*Before I continue, I’d like to emphasize that this only affects my reviews. AfterStory can continue using the .5 system if he so desires, or can follow suit if he so desires. That’s entirely up to him.

In a way, things have come full circle, since whole number scales are what I once utilized way back before the Dojo existed. When I launched Wizard Dojo, I used the .5 system for two main reasons: to start fresh and differentiate what I did before, and to build the prestige of the “near perfect” score of 9.5. I feel I was decently effective in both respects, but over time, it became apparent how that system was only being partly utilized.

What I mean is that there may have been a clear-cut difference between a 9.0 and a 9.5, and even between 8.0s and 8.5s, but when you get lower and lower on the spectrum, the .5 scores seem superfluous. Does anyone care about the difference between a 3.0 and a 3.5?

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed using the .5 system, but when a good number of the scores seemed to have no concrete difference from each other, I felt a change was in order.

Does this mean I’m going to be a softer grader now that I’ve effectively pulled a Thanos and eliminated half my scoring system? No sir! I’m going to do my best so that each number actually means something, and isn’t just a number. If you want more information, you can check out my updated scoring system page.

And yes, I did go back and rescore every single one of my reviews, both video game and movie, to reflect my new standing (boy did that take some time). While many of my reviews still retained a similar score (some 6.5s became 6s, and so on), others were more notably changed.

For example, to still keep the prestige of the “near-perfect” score, what I once gave a 9.5 is now the standard for the ‘9’ score. Most of what I rated a 9.0 in the past are now in the 8 (great) range, with only the 9.0s where I seriously considered a 9.5 keeping their nine-dom (Mega Man 3, Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow, Overwatch, Shovel Knight, and so on). The rest of the former-9.0s are now 8s. Not as punishment, but to give the 8 score more prestige of its own.

This has had no effect on my perfect 10s, however. In fact, I purposefully reviewed my most recent 10, Dark Souls, right before I made this change to hit the point home. The 10s are 10s. Dark Souls was the bridge from the old rating system to the new one, showcasing that the best of the best are still the best under any criteria. …What the hell am I talking about?

There were, however, a number of games that dropped in scoring. Perhaps the most notable being The Last of Us, which I originally scored a 9.0 back in the day, before lowering it to an 8.5. But it now sits at a 7, to reflect some of my changing thoughts on the game that have occurred over the years. I still ultimately think it’s a good game, but one that stumbles a lot more than it itself realizes. And I have altered/added text to the review to reflect that. Other games to drop include Cuphead and Dragon Ball FighterZ, which now sit at 7 as well.

Going forward, I’m going to do my best to make sure these number grades more effectively represent my standings. But as always, read the whole review to get the meat of my thoughts!

Now, join me on embarking on this new chapter of Wizard Dojo. Because numbers!

Dark Souls Review

*Review based on Dark Souls release as Dark Souls Remastered*

Dark Souls is a difficult game. Many enemies and bosses can kill you with one stroke, deadly traps will lead to instant death, and invading players always have it out for you. The challenge of Dark Souls has become the stuff of gaming legend. And yet, that difficulty is hardly the summation of Dark Souls. Rather, the steep challenge is justified by being part of one of the most tightly constructed, immersive and overall satisfying experiences in all of video games. Yes, Dark Souls is difficult, but it’s so much more than that.

Director Hidetaka Miyazaki followed the blueprint of his earlier title Demon’s Souls when crafting this spiritual sequel. Dark Souls transcended its predecessor by delving into deeper gameplay territories. The most prominent of which being its merging with the Metroidvania sub-genre, with each land to be discovered in the game connecting with another, and shortcuts between them to be found once you meet the right requirements.

The world in question is Lordran, one of the great settings in video games. The people of Lordran suffer the curse of being undead. Unlike most fantasy stories, the undead of Dark Souls look like human beings, but they are unable to die, instead losing more and more of their humanity upon death, eventually becoming a ‘Hollow’ (essentially a mindless zombie, and more akin to what is usually labeled as ‘undead’). Players take on the role of the ‘Chosen Undead,’ who escapes from the Undead Asylum and arrives in Lordran, where they begin a pilgrimage that is destined to bring them face to face with Lord Gwyn, an old god responsible for the undead curse.

As is the standard for the series, most story and world elements are intentionally vague, with snippets of character dialogue and flavorful descriptions of items giving insight into the world of Lordran. It proves to be one of the more effective means of video game storytelling, with players able to delve into the narrative should they choose, or simply bask in pure gameplay.

From the get-go, Dark Souls’ gameplay presents a staggering amount of variety: Players can customize their character to be more focused on heavy physical damage, magic attacks, healing, quick strikes, and more. And even when you do decide which direction to take your character, there are still several different routes you can take with each build. Even the core gameplay provides different styles, whether it’s a weapon in one hand and a shield in the other, two weapons, a weapon and a staff, there’s no shortage of options. You can even swap into holding a weapon with both hands at the press of a button.

The depth in gameplay just never lets up. There are new mechanics constantly being introduced, and some which are so subtle you may not realize they were there until late into the journey.

Two of the key mechanics players will need to know are souls and humanity. Souls are acquired from defeating enemies, and work as both experience points to level up your character and currency for buying items, weapons and armor. Humanity is a bit rarer, being an occasional drop from enemies and scattered about the world, as well as rewarded for helping other players fell bosses. When the player dies (and you will die), they become Hollow which – along with making their character look more deathly – prevents you from summoning other players for help. Adding to the game’s challenge, every time you die, you lose your souls and humanity (though you retain unused humanity in your inventory). You have a chance to reclaim your lost earnings if you can return to the spot you died, but if you die again before you make it, you lose everything.

The now-iconic Bonfires serve as checkpoints, but are also where you spend souls to level up, repair and upgrade equipment, and where you can spend a humanity to undo the effects of Hollowing. Resting at bonfires also refills your Estus Flask – your primary source of healing – and you can increase the usage of your Flask at any bonfire you’ve kindled, which also costs a humanity. Suffice to say, discovering a new bonfire after a series of rough patches is a godsend.

The sheer amount of detail that emits from every environment of Lordran is staggering. The level design is among the best of any Metroidvania title, with every destination being perfectly staged with enemy and item placements, not to mention secrets around every corner (a number of which rival Symphony of the Night’s inverted castle in how they change and expand upon the whole experience). Even in its most painfully difficult moments, it’s all too easy to get absorbed in Dark Souls’ structure and depth.

If things get too difficult, you can always call on other players to help you out by finding their summon signs across the land (with players usually leaving them around bonfires and boss doors). You can summon up to two other players to aide you in an area until you rid it of its boss, but you can’t summon players when hollowed. There is a caveat to staying human, however, as whenever you’re not hollow you are susceptible to invasion by enemy players. Of course, if you’re getting stuck on a particular segment, or simply want to help or hinder someone else, you can always leave a summon sign or invade another player for a change of pace.

On its own, the multiplayer of Dark Souls – both cooperative and combative – has rightfully proven influential over the years, as it remains a fun and refreshing change from multiplayer norms. But to add another layer to everything, players can join Covenants throughout their journey, which often have their own benefits and rewards for both friendly and fiendish multiplayer.

I suppose we do have to go back and talk about the notorious difficulty of Dark Souls. While the game can get brutally difficult – to the point of intimidating some players – it’s never unfair. Whether its equipping the proper armor to withstand poisoning or finding the right spot to best hide from a boss’ devastating attack, there are always methods to what seems like madness. More importantly, there is always a sense of strategy, with players able to survive any onslaught if they know when to dodge, block or attack. While a lesser designed game may simply leave you throwing your hands in the air and giving up under such difficulty, Dark Souls is so well designed that it will leave you wanting to push yourself to see things through. Dark Souls may have you feeling like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, going about the same situation in different ways until you get it right. And when you do get it right, there’s seldom an experience in gaming that even approaches its sense of reward.

Though it was originally released in 2011, Dark Souls’ visuals have held up nicely, with the remastered version making it look all the more at home on current hardware. Better still is its art direction, which should rank among the best of the medium. There’s not a location or creature that doesn’t stick with you. Combine that with the game’s incredible musical score and unparalleled sound work, and Dark Souls is quite the spectacle, and presents perhaps the most absorbing fantasy world in gaming.

There are a few minor issues with Dark Souls, but nothing that truly undermines its overall excellence. Later in the game you gain the ability to warp between specific bonfires, though you may wish you gained the ability a little sooner when you find yourself going back and forth in the earlier half of the game. Then there’s the backstabbing mechanic, which is just far too easy for players to perform on one another. While being invaded by opposing players may be par for the course, it kind of sullies a lot of player-versus-player encounters when everyone is simply trying to pull off a backstab on each other in place of using their full moveset. But again, these are little more than quibbles.

Yes, Dark Souls is a very difficult game, but it’s so much more than that. While most of the video game world became preoccupied with trying to replicate the spectacle of Hollywood once the medium made the jump to 3D, Dark Souls instead feels more akin to what would have happened if the older style of games from the 80s and early 90s had evolved into the present day. Like the best games from those early years, Dark Souls requires its players to gain an intimate knowledge of its every last location and trinket in order to see things through. It combines those older traditions with one idea after another that are entire its own, and continues to build on them throughout its entirety.

Dark Souls is a difficult video game. But it also happens to be one of the very best.

Praise the sun!

 

10

Giving For Honor its Due

We all make mistakes. And I recently realized I made a pretty big one during my 2017 video game awards earlier this year… I completely snubbed For Honor!

For those who may not remember For Honor (I’m apparently not the only one who forgot about it during award season), it’s a multiplayer deathmatch game released by Ubisoft in which players take control of characters from one of three (soon to be four) factions: Knights, Vikings, and Samurai. Players not only swear allegiance to one of those factions during competitive seasons, but can select classes from any faction during any given match.

For Honor combines its melee combat with game modes usually found in FPSs, while throwing in fighting game-like combos and abilities, and RPG elements to progress the character classes. It’s not a perfect game – with some balancing issues still present – but it is a unique competitive multiplayer game in a time when competitive multiplayer games are a rare breed.

Not only did I fail to list For Honor in my list of the 10 best games of 2017 (a list it really should have been on), but I also failed to mention it in my award for Best Multiplayer which – looking back on things – it really should have won. Instead, I gave those honors to PlayerUnknown’s BattleGrounds, a game that’s fun and engrossing and started the current battle royal crave, but one that’s a lot more flawed and shallow than For Honor is.

I’ve recently started playing For Honor again with my friends, and it’s better than ever (dedicated servers now!), whereas in PUBG’s case, I played it for a while, but don’t feel the urge to go back to it, especially now that Fortnite has more or less supplanted it as everyone’s go-to battle royal title. Meanwhile, For Honor’s mixture of genres still feels fresh and original well over a year later. There’s nothing else quite like it…warts and all.

Long story short, For Honor should have been my Best Multiplayer winner of 2017, and deserved to be named among my top 10 games of last year. Better late than never.

Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom Review

A kingdom reborn…

The original Ni No Kuni, Wrath of the White Witch, is not only one of my favourite games on what is arguably my favourite Sony console, but it is arguably the greatest modern JRPG in recent memory – ranking meteorically high amongst the small repertoire of contemporary greats. With its brilliantly realized world – complimented with gorgeously animated sequences produced by the masterful Studio Ghibli –, an exquisite musical score co-composed by the brilliant Joe Hisaishi, a Tales meets Pokémon battle system, and a surprisingly poignant narrative that resonates on multiple accords, Wrath of the White Witch is a rare treat of an RPG that never fails to impress. Its sequel, Revenant Kingdom, takes a number of steps forward -establishing some new ideas while polishing the original’s foundation – but questionably stumbles in other areas, arguably taking a few steps backwards. Studio Ghibli’s involvement is objectively non-existent, exposition is divulged in extensive text-based dialogue sequences, the intuitive hybrid active/turn-based system is entirely replaced by a simplistic, yet fun, action-based combat system, and its narrative is disappointingly shallow in comparison to the original’s emotional brilliance. Despite its disappointing nature, Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom is an undeniably fun experience that is exceptionally beautiful and surprisingly engaging. Revenant Kingdom never reaches the resonating heights of its predecessor but manages to establish an aura of its own, thanks to its fantastic world-building and unexpected level of gameplay variance.

Continue reading “Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom Review”

Second Thoughts

So I saw Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom for the second time last night, and I actually enjoyed it a lot more the second time around. Though most of my complaints still stand (the Indoraptor is not nearly as memorable of a movie monster as the Indominous Rex, too much of the film takes place in the Lockwood mansion, etc), I just thought it was a more fun film this second time around. Still not as good as the first Jurassic World, which is still one of my favorite popcorn movies of recent memory, but more enjoyable than I thought it was the first time around.

Of course, this has me considering if I should make some edits to my review of the film. Nothing major, mind you, but maybe enough to showcase my newer appreciation for the Jurassic World sequel. Normally, I hate changing my reviews (outside of correcting spelling and grammatical errors, and lord knows I have to go back and do that often), but it’s not like I’ve never done it before. Opinions do change, after all.

This also got me thinking of another 2018 movie I’ve been thinking differently about from when I first saw it, but in this case, for less positive reasons. This film is Deadpool 2, which I find myself liking less and less the more I think about it. Yes, I do think it was an improvement over the first Deadpool, and I think that it is decently well made for what it is. But the more I think about it, the more I wonder if I like what it is. I don’t hate it, but the whole self-referential/deprecating humor of movies has run its course in my book. In this internet age, when things are mocked for taking themselves seriously, entertainment and media has followed suit, insisting on mocking themselves to “stay cool with the kids,” as it were. This isn’t saying I have a problem with humor. A movie can still be a comedy or even a bit of a stupid entertainment, and still take itself seriously (perhaps “genuinely” is a more accurate word?).

But the more I think about it, the more I feel that all Deadpool is is self-referential jokes. There’s only so many winks and nudges I can take from a movie. And just because you make fun of yourself for following easy tropes doesn’t change the fact that you’re still following those tropes!

Okay, now I’m getting a bit sidetracked. I suppose I’ll save my rants on modern media’s insistence on self-parody just to appease the cynical internet age for another day. My point is that I initially awarded Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom a 6.5 out of 10, while I gave Deadpool 2 a 7.5. After consideration on Deadpool’s sequel and seeing the Jurassic World sequel a second viewing, I actually find myself wanting to flat-out reverse their scores. I haven’t quite decided on that just yet, so in the interim, I’ve altered both movie’s scores to 7.0s, until I can more strongly decide on whether or not to alter my reviews. Of course, some might say a second viewing of Deadpool 2 may be in order before making such a decision, but that’s just the thing. I don’t find myself particularly wanting to see Deadpool 2 again any time soon. Doesn’t that say something?

Does this dilemma of indecisiveness and possibly changing review scores make me a bad critic? Eh, maybe. But I’d also feel a bit lame if I felt my reviews no longer represented my opinions. Besides, it’s not like I’m altering something I thought was great and suddenly am claiming it to be terrible or vice versa or anything.

This whole ‘ordeal’ has opened up another can of worms, however, in that I’m once again considering changing my rating system from its current .5 state to a simpler whole number scale. With simple whole numbers, the possibility of altering a score just doesn’t seem quite as taboo. Then of course there’s my silly idea of the “mostly” whole number scale, in which it’s whole numbers, except the 9.5 score remains, both as a means to be a little cheeky and have some fun at the expense of people who are maybe a little too stingy with their scoring, while still being able to seriously retain the prestige of perfect and near-perfect scores. Because if my earlier sidetracked rant a few paragraphs earlier was any indication, I have a fondness for things that can balance sincerity and silliness.

Again, I’m sidetracked. Case in point: my complaints with Fallen Kingdom still stand, but I thought it was more fun the second time around, while Deadpool 2 seems less appealing with time, so I might change those scores. Hell, even Black Panther, one of the better movies this year which I scored an 8.5, is feeling more like an 8.0 to me. That is, if I keep that ‘.5’ differentiation at all.

So anyway, I thought I’d ask you, my beautiful, beautiful readers, your thoughts on the matter. Is altering scores and tweaking reviews too unprofessional? Or does the changing of opinions justify such actions, if even just on occasion? Am I a bad critic (even if I am, I’m gonna keep writing anyway. So that’s a moot point)? Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments and whatnot.