Toejam & Earl: Back in the Groove Review

*Review based on the Nintendo Switch version*

Despite being one of the more fondly remembered games on the Sega Genesis, Toejam & Earl has had a rough time in the sequel department. Beloved for its originality and off-beat humor, Toejam & Earl saw its titular dup of funky aliens take part in an exploration-based adventure. In search of ten missing pieces of their crashed rocket ship, Toejam (the red one with the eyestalks) and Earl (the one who looks like a proto-Patrick Star) traversed a series of randomly generated levels, avoiding annoying humans, throwing tomatoes, and opening presents to get power-ups along the way. While just about everything else on the Genesis was trying to replicate Sonic’s sense of ‘cool,’ Toejam & Earl’s wacky originality stood out.

That’s why it stung a little when its sequel, Toejam & Earl in Panic on Funkotron (also on Genesis), was a simple 2D platformer in a time when such games were commonplace. Though it was decently remembered in its own right, Panic on Funkotron’s lack of originality made it fall by the wayside. It would be another decade before the duo would return in Toejam & Earl: Mission to Earth on the original Xbox. And while the series’ sole 3D entry attempted to recreate the gameplay of the original game, its mixed reception – combined with the very different tastes of gamers in the early 2000s – meant that Toejam and Earl once again faded into obscurity.

There they remained for another seventeen years. But after a successful Kickstarter campaign from series creator Greg Johnson, and some back-and-forth between publishers over the past couple of years, Toejam and Earl made their long awaited comeback in March of 2019 in the form of Toejam & Earl: Back in the Groove, bringing the gameplay from the original 1991 game along for the ride.

For fans of the series, there may be a wee bit of a double-edged sword in this regard. Back in the Groove is both a wonderful return for the series, and a refreshingly silly joy in today’s overly serious gaming landscape. But if you’re a fan of the original Toejam & Earl, Back in the Groove can feel more like a remake than a full-on sequel.

That’s not a terrible thing, of course. Not when Toejam & Earl still feels unique twenty-eight years on. But it does put Back in the Groove in a strange state of being unique among other games, but derivative of itself.

“A chunk of snowy land floating in outer space. Y’know… Earth!”

Just as in the original game, Toejam and Earl have crash landed on Earth, and must recover its ten missing pieces in order to head back home to planet Funkotron. As a bit of a joke, this time around the aliens borrowed their friend’s ship (because they didn’t want to risk crashing their own ship again, naturally). Otherwise, it’s basically the same plot.

Another difference is that, this time around, there are nine different playable characters, six of which are playable from the start: Toejam and Earl (obviously), in addition to the same duo with their classic designs (aptly named Classic Toejam and Classic Earl), as well as Toejam’s ladyfriend Lewanda, and Mission to Earth’s Latisha. Though it should be noted that the differences between characters are purely cosmetic.

“Gotta love the elevator cutscenes and their “Rocko’s Modern Life” backgrounds.”

Otherwise, the gameplay largely echoes the original game: You travel across different landscapes, looking for the elevator that leads to the next stage. Levels that feature a rocket piece are marked upon entry, meaning to beat the game, you have to track the piece down before heading for the elevator. Be careful, as you can fall off a stage and back to the previous one, leading to a tedious trip back up.

Toejam and Earl (and the rest) are normally defenseless against persistent earthlings. But our heroes can gain weapons and power-ups (such as the aforementioned tomatoes) by finding and opening presents. What’s inside of each present is at first a mystery to the player, until you pay a wiseman (an old man in a carrot costume, naturally) to identify them for you, with each type of present remaining identified for the rest of the current playthrough. Additionally, by opening presents and uncovering more areas of the map on each stage will give you experience points. Once enough experience points have been gathered, you can ask the wiseman to level you up.

“My name’s Poochie D and I rock the telly! I’m half-Joe Camel and a third Fonzarelli!”

While the leveling up feature was present in the original game, it was mostly just to see the joke of the next level’s title, here in Back in the Groove, each level will grant you a bonus such as improved speed or the capacity to carry more presents. It’s a nice touch of RPG character progression that makes the leveling system actually worthwhile this time around (don’t worry, the joke names for each rank are still present). The only issue with it is that the bonuses are received via roulette wheel, meaning the randomness prevents you from building your character how you want.

That random element is of course present in other areas as well. Though the items in each different present will be consistent during the same playthrough, the items and presents will swap with every new playthrough. That’s fine. But less tolerable is when a level spawns a second, fake elevator, which will take you back to the previous stage (though you do have a small window of time to exit the elevator before its door closes, saving you the tedium). Certain random elements such as that probably won’t sit well with some players.

The one random element the series does best, of course, are the randomly generated stages. When the original Toejam & Earl hit the Genesis in 1991, it was rare among games at the time for being different with every playthrough. While the goal of collecting ten ship pieces may have always been the same, each stage provided a new challenge, and oftentimes you never knew when another ship piece would show up.

That’s still true here, but with an unfortunate caveat: you have to unlock the randomly generated playthrough option. Before you can play Back in the Groove the way it was meant to be played, you have to give a pre-set adventure a go. Granted, this was probably done to ease newcomers in, but it would be nice if Toejam & Earl veterans had the option to play with the randomly generated stages from the get-go.

“Also the game is executive produced by Macaulay Culkin.”

Ultimately, these aren’t major complaints. As stated, Toejam & Earl remains a pretty unique game, so Back in the Groove’s overt reminiscence of it isn’t a deal-breaker. Nor is the act of unlocking the random stage layout (albeit it is a little bummer). The gameplay is still fun, with the game being at its best with its multiplayer co-op mode (another feature from the surprisingly forward-thinking original, but now with the modern benefits of playing with up to four players online). The graphics are vibrant and cartoonish, with a kind of “90s Nicktoon” appeal. And true to the nature of the funky rapping aliens, the music is as cool and funky as ever.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from Toejam & Earl: Back in the Groove, however, is its utter charm. In the modern gaming world where AAA and Indie titles alike feel like they’re made more to earn awards from critics than to entertain, Toejam & Earl: Back in the Groove is refreshingly silly and innocent. Spend a few hours as Toejam or Earl (or one of the other characters) as you run from teens pre-occupied on their cellphones, throw tomatoes at evil dentists, seek refuge with Ghandi, roll a D20 with a group of nerds, and jam out with some alien buddies, and you’re bound to have a smile on your face.

 

7

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Tetris 99 Review

Tetris really is the eternal video game. No matter how gaming evolves and advances, no matter how quickly it makes progress, Tetris remains one of the medium’s few constants. While many critically-acclaimed titles prove to lose their luster in the long term, Tetris will always be one of gaming’s quintessential titles.

Tetris 99 – the completely free Nintendo Switch exclusive – is just another example of Tetris’s uncanny ability to adapt to any gaming landscape. As the battle royal genre has quickly come to prominence thanks to PlayerUnkown’s BattleGround and Fortnite Battle Royal, Tetris 99 throws the classic puzzler’s hat into this ring. Somewhat poetically, the simplicity of Tetris translates so easily into the battle royal genre that it’s currently the best product of the genre on the market.

To put it simply, Tetris 99 is exactly what it says it is: Tetris with ninety-nine players. Simply start up a game, and soon enough you’ll be paired with ninety-eight other players from across the globe, experiencing the classic Tetris gameplay as you aim to be the last player standing.

The core gameplay remains as it always has: the flawless combination of different shaped ‘Tetrominos” fall from the top of the screen, with the player needing to fit them into rows, thus eliminating them, earning points, and preventing them from reaching the top of the screen. Like in most competitive Tetris titles, clearing rows will also send “garbage blocks” to your opposition. Garbage blocks rise from the bottom of the screen, and bring the player closer to defeat.

Of course, with ninety-nine players, things can get chaotic really quickly. Players control the Tetrominos on their board with the D-pad, while they target other players using the joysticks to aim at any of the other players on screen. The chaos begins once players start getting eliminated, and their are fewer and fewer targets on the board. As you may have guessed, this means that multiple players will soon start to target the same opponent. And if you happen to be that opponent, you can kiss your hopes of victory goodbye.

Admittedly – perhaps due to the battle royal genre still being in its infancy – the translation of Tetris to the genre isn’t quite perfect. Given that there are ninety-eight miniature boards representing the other players on the screen, it’s hard to make out the details of what they’re doing, which means you’re mostly targeting other players at our random or, at its worst, forgetting to change targets at all and just let the cursor move on its own as players are eliminated. Of course, compared to the bugs, glitches, and technical issues that still plague PUBG and Fortnite, the sometimes rough translation of Tetris 99 isn’t so bad.

The sometimes confusing interface prevents Tetris 99 from reaching its full potential, but it’s still the most easily accessible and fun battle royal title yet. It takes one of gaming’s greatest classics and uses it to help polish up a contemporary genre. And as a free download, there’s absolutely no reason why every Switch owner shouldn’t have it in their library.

Plus, come on, it’s Tetris.

 

7

The Inconsistency of the Smash Roster

I ramble about Super Smash Bros. a lot, and I plan to write my full review of Ultimate really soon, so I’ll try to keep this quick. But the other day, I saw a tweet that made a good point, claiming that Ultimate, more so than Brawl or Smash Bros. for Wii U/3DS, has a list of Assist Trophies who should be playable characters, and playable characters who should be Assist Trophies.

Now, this person did leave out the first four announced newcomers in Inkling, Ridley, Simon Belmont and King K. Rool in their argument. Some people argued that that skewed the original poster’s point, but they emphasized that they left those characters out because they thought they were deserving newcomers. Hard to argue that, seeing as Ridley and K. Rool have been two of the three most wanted characters for over a decade, Inkling represents a contemporary Nintendo franchise, and Castlevania’s history with Nintendo goes without saying. But they pointed out that the remaining newcomers – including echo fighters – when compared to a number of characters who were relegated to Assist Trophies, leave a lot to be desired. And I kind of agreed.

Yes, I am aware that the echo fighters “don’t take up much programming space” yada yada yada. I get that. But let’s face it, they’re still difficult characters to get too excited over. Especially when we get reminded of the characters we could have had. And if the remaining newcomers are a little on the… ‘iffy’ side, well then those echo fighters are going to mean even less.

But let’s get back to the remaining newcomers. Isabelle is a choice that makes sense given Animal Crossing’s immense popularity. And you know what, I like that she’s in the game and think she’s very fun to play. However, whenever I remember that Shovel Knight and Bomberman are simply Assist Trophies, Isabelle’s placement as a playable character loses some of its appeal. Yeah, she’s a good addition, but if I – and many, many others – had a choice between Isabelle and Shovel Knight or Bomberman, well, I think we could all agree that’s a runaway victory for Shovel Knight and Bomberman.

“Even Incineroar is embarrassed he made it in before Geno.”

Then of course, we have Incineroar. Now, again, I completely understand the popularity of Pokemon, and have stated in the past that it’s one of the few series where it could potentially have as many characters as it wants. But, also again, when we look at characters who didn’t make the cut who fans have been begging for for years (Isaac from Golden Sun, anyone?), it boggles the mind that a Pokemon as random as Incineroar would be chosen instead. I mean, at least someone like Decidueye would be unique with his grass/ghost typing and emphasis on archery. But Incineroar kind of just seems to cover ground that’s already been covered in Smash being a brute character with fire moves. Again, I don’t hate Incineroar, but why are so many characters fans have wanted relegated to Assist Trophies in favor of random selections like Incineroar.

“Kill it with fire!”

Oh, but then we have the soon-to-be-released Piranha Plant. Now this is where I feel the selection was just a massive letdown. I mean, no one asked for a generic enemy (and if they had to add one, why not Goomba? At least Goombas are kind of the most iconic generic enemy in games, so they have that going for them). Some people claim Sakurai wanted to do something unexpected to surprise fans, but does a surprise really matter if it ends up disappointing? I mean, if someone ding-dong-ditched me and left a flaming bag of dog poop on my porch, I’d be surprised, but certainly not happy about it.

Sure, Piranha Plant could end up being a fun character to play. But its inclusion still seems like a slap in the face to all the fans who have been dying to see their favorite characters make the cut. I repeat, people really, really wanted Isaac, Bomberman, Shovel Knight, and many others. No one wanted Piranha Plant. And for a series as grounded in fanservice as Super Smash Bros., it just seems like a counterproductive move to so blatantly go the opposite direction of what fans want.

Yeah yeah, I’m going to bring up Geno again. Of course I am. But I don’t continuously bring up Super Mario RPG’s possessed puppet without reason. Fans have begged for the character’s inclusion for perhaps longer and more adamantly than any other character (wit the possible exceptions of K. Rool and Ridley), and yet, time and again, Super Smash Bros. fails to deliver on him. Granted, there’s still hope for Geno to make it as DLC, seeing as he doesn’t appear as an Assist Trophy. But there’s no guarantee to that. Some people think the fact that he shows up as a spirit deconfirms him, but that just sounds like a weak argument, since the spirits are just stock images that boost stats and don’t actually appear physically in matches.

But as I’ve stated ad nauseam, Geno’s continuous absence seems to personify the wonkiness of Smash’s character selections and omissions. I mean, if the most requested characters by fans can’t make it in, but Piranha Plant can, it seems to go against the very nature of the series.

Some people defend these selections by claiming that “it’s Sakurai’s game” and while that’s true, his is a game series built on fan service. It’s not like he’s telling a deep, personal story with the series. It’s Nintendo (and other) characters beating the crap out of each other.

What’s really annoying is when Sakurai apologists lash out against disappointed fans, as though they don’t have a right to be disappointed. We all love Smash Bros., but again, when the characters people want keep getting ignored while seemingly random selections make it in, it’s annoying. I love Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, and I think it’s the best game in the series. But would I enjoy it more if I could play as Geno? Oh, hell yeah! Without question.

Look, I understand that not everyone can be pleased, and some fans are always going to be disappointed. But there’s a difference between certain characters not making the cut, and the characters people have wanted most for over a decade not making the cut in favor of characters no one asked for (again, that damn plant!). It just comes off as spiteful (even if that isn’t the intent).

Even K. Rool and Ridley, despite their demand, had to wait until now to finally make it into the series, with Sakurai always coming up with rather weak reasonings for their omissions in the past (the “character uniqueness” statement in regards to K. Rool was particularly laughable, given all the similar characters already present in the series). I don’t want to complain too much about that, since they’re here now. Better late than never and all that. But given some of the characters who made it in before them, it’s pretty head-scratching.

What’s particularly hypocritical of the fans who dismiss those who express disappointment is that they’ll often ridicule fans of a particular character when they’re not in, but once a character makes it in, they suddenly act like they were always onboard with the idea since Sakurai and company gave the green light. It’s like, what a bunch of trollish sheep.

Look, I hope I never sound too negative in regards to Super Smash Bros. I truly love the series. But that’s why I get so passionate about it, both the good and bad. It’s easy to love the games themselves, but it’s often hard to ignore what could have been… especially if what we get is Piranha Plant.

Again, I hope to have my review of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate up soon. And since the omissions of my (and other people’s) most wanted characters isn’t a serious fault in terms of game design, I won’t be talking much about this stuff in my review. Hence why I decided to get it out of the way here. It’s certainly not the first time I’ve ranted about the Smash roster, and it surely won’t be the last.

My review of Ultimate is definitely going to be mostly positive (except in regards to World of Light). So please don’t think I’m just a grumpy guys when it comes to Smash. It’s just that I, like many fans, have the right to be disappointed when the series, frankly, disappoints in certain areas.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Impressions

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is finally here, and it’s yet another jewel in the crown that is the Nintendo Switch. Although it may be premature of me to say this, given I haven’t tried out all of its modes yet, but Ultimate may very well be the best Super Smash Bros. title yet.

Like any sequel to a multiplayer title, the gameplay hasn’t exactly changed much, but something about it definitely feels smoother. It just feels right to control. It’s hard to explain, but it seems like every returning character I’ve tried feels more fluid to control than they did in past games, and the newcomers are just as smooth. The gameplay may be the series’ trademark “sumo rules” take on the fighting genre, but it just feels so polished.

Another big improvement over past games is the Classic Mode. As much as I appreciate Super Smash Bros for 3DS/Wii U trying to make Classic Mode into something bigger, it never really enticed me to try it out with every character. But here in Ultimate, I find myself wanting to complete Classic Mode with every new character I unlock. The beauty lies in its simplicity, as Classic Mode sees each character go through six fights, a bonus stage and a boss enemy, with each character’s opponents being vague (or literal) little callbacks to their own games.

For example, Ryu’s version utilizes stamina rules to reflecting the traditional fighter nature of Street Fighter. Meanwhile, Mega Man’s journey ends with a battle against Dr. Mario who, once defeated, becomes Mewtwo, subtly referencing the final fight against Dr. Wily in Mega Man 2). And in perhaps my favorite example, Dr. Mario’s fights are against triple opponents, with each bearing a red, blue and yellow color scheme in reference to the viruses from the classic puzzler. It’s just simple, fun and addictive.

Admittedly, the Adventure Mode, dubbed ‘World of Light’ is one I have yet to play. I’ll get around to it, but honestly, Brawl’s Supspace Emisary story mode was kind of a glorified means of unlocking every character. So I’m not exactly rushing into the story mode when everything else is already so much fun. So no opinions on World of Light for now.

Much to my pleasant surprise, it was actually really easy to play against my friends online! I know, that seems shocking considering this is a Nintendo game that isn’t Mario Kart, but playing against friends is actually accessible. That alone gets huge brownie points from me. I also haven’t experienced any lag issues when playing against opponents on a broader online scale, so that’s also an improvement from its predecessors. I have heard some people say the specific searches for quick online matches aren’t very accurate (one-on-one proponents experiencing repeated multi-man matches and such), but I haven’t tried that myself yet so I can’t comment. But the sheer easiness of playing against friends alone feels like a godsend, given all the hoops you usually have to jump through for such features in Nintendo games (I’m looking your way, Splatoon 2).

Then, of course, we have the characters. The title’s main selling point is that every past fighter from Super Smash Bros’ history is present. And with a small batch of newcomers, as well as ‘echo fighters’ we have about 70 characters (depending on how you count Pokemon Trainer). That’s a pretty hefty lineup of characters. And while the roster isn’t perfect (Geno isn’t in it), there really is such a wide variety of characters that, no matter what your play style is, you’re bound to find multiple characters you like. I personally have quickly become a King K. Rool man (hey, if Super Mario RPG isn’t represented, I’m going with my other favorite SNES title, DKC2).

All in all, I find myself having trouble putting Super Smash Bros. Ultimate down. In a weird way, it doesn’t feel quite as “massive” as the past few entries in terms of what it adds compared to what came before, but it does feel better. It takes the best bits and pieces of past Super Smash Bros. games and makes something that feels like one of those ‘special’ Nintendo releases on par with Breath of the Wild or Super Mario Odyssey.

But seriously, can we please get Geno?

My Thoughts on Persona 5’s Joker in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is finally out (and it’s pretty great). A day before its release though, it was revealed that the first of the five upcoming DLC characters for Nintendo’s brawler is none other than the protagonist of Persona 5, Joker.

*And yes, I am aware that by internet standards this news is old by now. But guess who doesn’t care and is going to write their thoughts about it anyway….. Me, obviously. I can’t very well write other people’s thoughts.*

To sum up my feelings about Joker being added to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, I direct you to this classic prequel meme.

Now, I’m not going to pretend like I’m a major fan of Persona who knows the series by heart. Persona 5 is, thus far, the only Persona game I’ve actually played. And even then, I didn’t get very far as I was intimidated by the game’s sheer length (though I guess I really have no excuse for not going back to it now that I’ve trudged through the campaign of Red Dead Redemption 2. I’ll get back to it). However, Joker’s addition to Super Smash Bros. not only showcases how far Persona has come as a franchise, but also can give Smash Bros. fans a collective sigh of relief, as all our concerns over the fact that Nintendo chose all the DLC characters were maybe a bit misplaced. That is, assuming Joker isn’t a one-off and the rest of the DLC characters don’t end up middle finger-y towards fans in the same vein as Piranha Plant (yes, I’m still salty about that).

Not only are third-party characters still in the cards, but so are fresh character ideas that are unexpected and different. Granted, I still (obviously) expect some of these DLC characters to be from Nintendo franchises (why wouldn’t they be?), but it’s kind of nice that the first one announced is so promising, and not just another random Pokemon or Marth clone. Maybe we can finally get Dixie Kong as an expected (and well overdue) character, and then get a bunch of surprises for the rest of the DLC (because, honestly, aside from Dixie, what major recurring Nintendo character isn’t in Smash already?).

Basically, Joker’s presence in Super Smash Bros. – like Snake’s all those years ago – opens the door to seemingly anyone. Especially seeing as Persona 5 isn’t on Switch (though I assume that his inclusion could mean a port is in the future), it feels like all the gloves are off. And that’s awesome.

Most importantly, let’s hope this means we can finally get Geno.

Minit Review

Because of their limited resources, indie games often have to rely on a specific ‘hook’ to compensate for their smaller scale. Minit is one such indie game, and one whose charm stems from its particular gameplay hook which, in a weird way, seems to be a parody of indie games with said hooks. Though it’s mostly modeled after 2D Zelda adventures, Minit also feels equally inspired by WarioWare. That’s because the aforementioned ‘hook’ of Minit is that the player character dies and returns to a checkpoint every sixty seconds, keeping whatever items you claim in a given life, meaning that you’ll make incremental progress at a time.

It’s a fun and charming little gimmick, as you rush to get even a single objective done within the allotted minute. Your house is your initial checkpoint where you’ll respawn after every minute, though there are other houses (as well as a hotel and a trailer) that become your new checkpoint when entering, thus serving as shortcuts to different objectives.

As stated, Minit works like a bite-sized Zelda. The player character (who resembles a Tamagotchi creature) travels the land, completes puzzles, and helps others to gain items. The ultimate goal of the game is to stop a factory from producing cursed swords, which are the cause of the “one minute of life” curse. With your own such cursed sword, you fight off enemies, but the character can only equip one primary item at a time, so for certain lives you may have to replace your sword with another item (found right outside your current checkpoint once collected) in order to solve a particular puzzle. It makes for some fun puzzle-solving as you try to use every last second effectively.

Perhaps the game’s greatest strength is how the setup allows for players to tackle it in different ways. Only a handful of items need to be acquired in order to stop the factory, but others still exist out in the game’s world to be collected, along with additional hearts and gold coins. Basically, even though the game is already served up in bits and pieces, it works in such a way that should really appeal to speed runners. On the downside, while Minit may be fun while it lasts, it doesn’t last very long, with most players probably able to complete the whole thing in about two hours. And unless you are really into speed running or are a completionist, I can’t imagine Minit would have too much replay value.

“The game features some fun (but necessarily brief) dialogue.”

While it may seem like unfair to criticize the graphics of an indie game of limited resources and budget, the fact that Minit’s graphics lead to me dying more than any enemies seems to be a bit of a problem. Although the character designs are charmingly simplistic, the black and white graphics can often lead to objects blurring together, and I found my clock hit ‘0’ quite often simply because I couldn’t tell where I could and couldn’t go. Even the puzzles themselves can, at times, be pretty vague with what you’re supposed to be doing.

Minit may be something of “Zelda meets WarioWare” in concept then, but it lacks the depth of the former, and the latter’s instant communication. Minit could be better polished then, and it may not have enough substance to it to make up for its short playtime. But all things considered, Minit is a fun little experiment that strips the Zelda template to its barebones minimum, and should leave those with the interest finding scurrying to find ways to save every precious second.

 

6

Super Smash Bros. Disappointment…

Well, the final Super Smash Bros. Ultimate-focused Nintendo Direct before the game’s launch has come and gone. And, well…that was it? I mean, really? That’s it? To use an old (and pretty disgusting) phrase, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate was about to win the race, and then crapped its pants right at the finish line.

Look, I have no doubts that – mechanically speaking – Super Smash Bros. Ultimate will still be a very fun game. It has a solid foundation to work from, and it really can’t be too bad in terms of gameplay if it sticks to what the series does best (Brawl was also a very fun game, even with the tripping). But the forty or so minutes it took for the Direct to begin and end made Ultimate go from my most anticipated game of the year, to one I’m simply going to play and review. And that’s kind of sad when I think about it.

Let’s get the big bad out of the way first: Geno is not in the game. Despite being arguably the single most requested character to join the series for well over a decade, he’s still MIA. And I know people will say I’m just being sour over the character I wanted not making it, but here’s two things: 1) This is a series built on fan-service, so being bummed out about your favorite character not making it is actually a reasonable disappointment (provided that the character in question was a likely possibility, which Geno very much was at this point). And more importantly 2) It’s not like I’m the only one who wanted Geno. Like I said, he’s been possibly the most requested character for years, rivaled only by Ridley and King K. Rool, who collectively became known as the “Big Three.”

Look, I think it would be awesome if Muddy Mole were added to Super Smash Bros., but I also know I’m just about the only person who thinks that. So no harm no foul with that omission. But Geno? Pretty much everyone and their grandmother wanted him at this point, and after giving fans what they wanted with Ridley and King K. Rool, people actually expected Geno to make it in. So now it all feels like a cruel tease, especially after that Mii Fighter costume debacle last time around…

“But Geno’s too obscure! He was in one game! He hasn’t been seen in years!” is what the detractors (AKA people who apologize for everything Sakurai does) would say. But none of those arguments hold a bit of weight by this point, considering K. Rool and several other characters hadn’t been seen in years, obscure characters have been part of the series since day one (EarthBound, Ice Climbers), and the fact that a character like Dark Pit is in the game at all means relevance clearly isn’t an issue. Hell, if anything, the demand for Geno over the years has actually made him more relevant than ever. Besides, Ultimate is the fifth (technically sixth) installment in the Super Smash Bros. series. We got all the most recognizable characters out of the way long ago, now was the time to get crazy with the fan-service. Instead Ultimate only went halfway.

Again, if we were talking about a character I wanted, but I know I was alone in wanting, I would give it a pass. But when a character has actually grown more iconic because people want him in Smash Bros., wouldn’t you think they’d prioritize such a character? As stated, if we weren’t teased with a Mii Fighter costume in the last game in might not sting as much, but after that mess, it feels like the fans were practically owed the character.

It’s not just Geno’s exclusion, but other characters that people have wanted for years also got left in the cold. Isaac from Golden Sun is still an Assist Trophy. Again, people would say I just regret the omissions of my favorite characters, but I’ve never actually played Golden Sun (it’s on my to do list), so I’m not talking about personal history or want here. But I sure as hell know he’s been one of the more requested characters over the years, certainly more so than many characters who are already there (did anyone really want three different Marth clones?), so the fact that the Direct just casually showed Isaac still stuck in his Assist Trophy position and just expected people to be cool with it is kind of insulting. I mean, could they have at least made a bigger deal about him somehow? It basically just screamed “you want this character? Yeah, we don’t care.”

Yet even more notable omissions include Skull Kid and Dixie Kong (the latter of which having no excuse for not having been in the series for some time already). Two prominent, highly requested characters from two of Nintendo’s biggest series. But, y’know, screw them. And yes, I know, from the beginning, Sakurai said there wouldn’t be too many newcomers this time around. But you would think, with fewer newcomers, they’d actually put the most requested characters front and center. At the very least, had Geno made it, I’m guessing the other exclusions would have been a little easier to swallow, considering it would mean we’d finally be getting the “Big Three.”

“Incineroar reaction.”

What makes the omissions sting all the more is the final lineup of newcomers in the Direct. Ken from Street Fighter makes sense, but it’s kind of hard to get too excited over a clone of an existing character. What makes less sense, however, is that the final ‘new’ character was revealed as Incineroar from Pokemon Sun/Moon.

Look, I get that Pokemon is Nintendo’s big money maker, and I’ve said in the past that Pokemon (along with Mario and Zelda) is one of the few series that could have as many characters as it wants and it would be hard to argue against it. But THAT’S the final character you decide to reveal? Incineroar isn’t even as popular as fellow Sun/Moon starter Dicidueye, who would have been a more unique character anyway. I mean, I’m not totally opposed to Incineroar, but to be the final character in the starting roster? Talk about a popcorn fart of a reveal… Would have been better off revealing Incineroar months ago and ending with the Belmonts and K. Rool.

Since I mentioned the starting roster, it is important to note that Sakurai has promised that, through the first year or so after Ultimate’s release, a quintet of DLC characters will be released, each coming with their own stage and selections of music. So there is hope yet for Geno, Skull Kid, and Dixie (not sure on Isaac though, given that they kept him as an Assist Trophy). But still, wouldn’t revealing someone like Geno (after already having Ridley and K. Rool) been the perfect final character? Incineroar just seems so…unceremonious.

There is a downside to the DLC, however, in that the five characters are still a mystery. So while we can all be hopeful that those aforementioned fan favorites will make the cut, after having the rug pulled from under us time and again from the Smash Bros. series’ character choices, it’s kind of hard to get too excited. I mean, if Geno couldn’t make it even after teasing everyone with the Mii costume, it’s more than a little bit of a kick to the crotch of the fans.

“Wow, a generic Piranha Plant can make the roster. Suddenly I really feel for the Waluigi people.”

Speaking of the DLC, however, there is one inclusion that might be even more questionable than Incineroar’s baffling presence as the final reveal… Piranha Plant is going to be a DLC fighter shortly after the game’s launch. Thankfully, it’s separate from the other five mentioned mystery DLC characters, but yes, a standard enemy from the Mario series gets in before the handfuls of characters fans have been requesting for years. That’s… that’s just insulting. I mean, I think Waluigi is a pretty lame character, and I think his requests for inclusion is little more than a joke taken too far. But at least Waluigi is a character! I think he’s earned a spot before a basic enemy like a Piranha Plant, no matter how much of a staple they are to their series. And if we’re throwing in standard enemies now, why not add the Waddle Dee with the bandana, since people at least wanted him? It is the most baffling inclusion, and not in a good “I wasn’t expecting that!” kind of way, but in a “wow, no one asked for that…” kind of way.

Sure, the Direct also revealed things like the new Story Mode, titled ‘Spirits.’ And I know some people are excited for a story mode. But in a game like Super Smash Bros., a story mode isn’t exactly the selling point. I’m sure more people would have preferred to see more of their requested characters make it into a series all about providing fan-service than they would like a story mode out of a fighting game. I mean, Brawl’s story mode – Subspace Emmisary – became pretty infamous for being a means to unlock the characters, and then completely forgotten about afterwards. And while the Spirits mechanic has some appeal, I again state that people would have probably preferred more newcomers over it.

Yeah yeah, Sakurai apologists would just write me off as being salty about the exclusions, but again, I’m talking about characters fans have wanted for years (some for over a decade). And they get bumped (yet again) for uneventful inclusions like Ken and Incineroar, and a Piranha Plant, something no one wanted. How exactly were they expecting people to react to these final announcements?

Sure, I’ll repeat myself and say I’m sure the game will be good fun in terms of gameplay and mechanics. But whatever steam Super Smash Bros. Ultimate picked up in the past few months through the likes of the Inklings, Ridley, Simon Belmont and King K. Rool came to a screeching halt in the span of forty minutes. Sure, Ultimate has already added some good new characters, but if you’re playing the lottery it doesn’t matter how many numbers you have, if you’re missing out on the last number, you still lose the jackpot.

Well, here’s hoping those five mystery DLC characters end up being worth the hype. In the meantime… Meh.