Fortnite Battle Royale Review

*Review based on the Nintendo Switch version*

Poor PlayerUnknown’s BattleGround. PUBG quickly rose to prominence in 2017, created the current trend of ‘battle royal’ games, and became the smash hit of the year, outselling long-time heavy-hitters like Overwatch and League of Legends. But around the time PUBG was becoming a phenomenon, Epic Games released Fortnite, a survival shooter in which groups of players faced waves of zombie-like creatures while also gathering materials to construct safe houses to better combat the creatures. PUBG’s popularity caught the eye of Epic Games, who then used the assets of Fortnite to create their own battle royal title. Thus Fortnite Battle Royale was born (and the original Fortnite now earning the “Save the World” subtitle), and quickly beat PUBG at its own game. Sure, PlayerUnknown’s BattleGround can still claim to be one of the best-selling games in history, but for a game that essentially became a cultural phenomenon, it probably had the shortest time in that level of spotlight than any other. And it has Fortnite Battle Royale to thank for that.

But is Fortnite Battle Royale actually better than PlayerUnknown’s BattleGround? Truth be told, they may be too similar to actually make a definitive call on that. But there are some differences between Fortnite Battle Royale and PUBG that at least justifies their competition.

Like PUBG, Fortnite Battle Royale sees players skydive onto an island, where they then scavenge for weapons and items for their inevitable confrontations with other players. Meanwhile, the safe zone on the island continue to get smaller and smaller, with players stuck outside of it quickly taking damage, thus forcing players into a more confined space.

The key gameplay differences here are that Fortnite Battle Royale has a stronger emphasis on team-based match-ups, and that Save the World’s construction mechanic remains intact.

Players are equipped with pickaxes, which they use to gather wood, stone and metal from the environment. With these materials, players can build  constructs to better maneuver the island and protect themselves from enemy fire. It’s a nice little Minecraft/Terraria twist on the PUBG gameplay, but you can definitely tell that the element wasn’t designed with the battle royale mode in mind. Switching between combat mode and building mode, and then cycling through all the options within them is just too cumbersome when you’re in the middle of a firefight. When enemies start destroying your walls and safe houses faster than you can build them, it gets all the more tedious. It’s a nice mechanic in concept, but it’s obvious it was made for the player-versus-environment half of Fortnite.

The emphasis on teamwork also makes Fortnite Battle Royale a more easy-going game than PUBG, since you can still rack up extra points if one (or more) of your teammates are the last ones standing. And the more points you get the more cosmetic items you unlock, which may be where Fortnite Battle Royale actually beats PUBG, instead of simply matching it.

In contrast to PUBG’s vanilla FPS visuals, Fortnite Battle Royale has a more cartoonish look, with cel-shaded visuals and outrageous character cosmetics (rainbow afros, mascot costumes, etc.). Even the environment is comprised of random oddities like Maui heads and beach balls. Even the aircraft that drops players onto the battlefield is a party bus attached to balloons. Some might say the cartoony aspects of the game clash with the survival aspect – and indeed it never matches the suspense of PUBG – but the added personality definitely sets it apart.

On the downside of things, Fortnite Battle Royale suffers from many of the same technical issues as PUBG. Environments and textures can take a long time to load, character movements can get sporadic and jittery, and so on. The technical issues may not be quite as bad as in PUBG, but it is a shame that such issues are still present in a title that had a larger developer behind it.

In the end, Fortnite Battle Royale is more complimentary to what PlayerUnknown’s BattleGrounds started than it is an improvement of it. It’s just as fun, the construction element – while maybe a little tacked on – helps differentiate things a bit. If PUBG gained a lot of momentum, it makes sense that Fortnite’s added does of personality would lead it to take the battle royal torch and run with it.

 

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WarioWare Gold Review

Is there any series – whether in the arsenal of Nintendo or any other developer – that better showcases the joys of video games in their purest form than WarioWare? Wario’s bizarre collection of ‘micro-games’ strips the medium to its most bare bones state: Push the A button. Go right. Duck, jump, tap the touch screen. WarioWare deconstructs and parodies the very idea of video games through sheer simplicity, but also providing a great time while doing so. WarioWare Gold serves as something of a greatest hits of the irreverent series, showcasing micro-games from past entries as well as a host of its own; featuring traditional button presses, touch controls and motion controls to create the biggest WarioWare yet. Possibly even the best.

After the well-meaning but misguided Game & Wario on Wii U, WarioWare Gold is back to basics. Players face a succession of seconds long micro-games, each one asking the player little more than a button press or two. But the more micro-games the player completes, the faster they get, until everything turns into a jubilant chaos worthy of Wario’s maniacal laughter.

WarioWare Gold features three different primary modes of play: Mash games simply require the use of the D-Pad and A button (y’know, button mashing). Twist style games – named after the Game Boy Advance’s brilliant WarioWare Twisted – see players rotating their 3DS console in a myriad of ways to accomplish them through motion controls. Finally, Touch based games use the 3DS’s touchscreen.

The games are wonderfully silly, with my personal favorites being the Twist-style of games. These micro-games can be unlocked by playing through the story mode (a loose term here, as there isn’t much story, but it should provide some good laughs). The story mode sees the absurd cast of WarioWare each introduce a different theme of games within the different playstyles, with players needing to beat a ‘boss game’ within a character’s series of games to move on to the next chapter within a particular play style. Once the boss round is completed, players can replay the chapter and try to shoot for a high score, with four failed games leading to a game over (though extra lives can be earned by defeating the boss rounds).

After a micro-game is played, you unlock it in the other game modes. These modes include the Index, where you can play any micro-game you want repeatedly to get a high score on a specific game; meanwhile, Challenge Mode is unlocked once the story is completed, and bring changes to the micro-game marathons (such as randomly switching between the three play styles of micro-games, which is sure to keep players on their toes). You can even compete against another player online to see who can outlast the other as the micro-games get faster and faster.

“One of my favorite Micro-games sees players repeatedly press the A button to keep unwanted guests out of Wario’s house.”

WarioWare Gold features a strong presentation, with the usual , purposefully cheap animation making a return, albeit looking crisper and cleaner than ever. Notably, this is the first entry of the series to feature full voice acting, which makes the story mode all the funnier. And of course, the micro-games feature a dizzying variety of art styles which range from Nintendo throwbacks to anime to stock photos and scribbles. Many of the micro-games will leave a goofy grin on your face through the art alone.

WarioWare Gold may not reinvent the series formula, but this isn’t exactly a series aiming to revolutionize. What WarioWare Gold does achieve is providing the closest thing to a definitive entry in the series yet. It takes bits and pieces of its predecessors and tosses them into a blender. WarioWare Gold’s rapid-fire micro-games and different play styles make for an ideal on-the-go gaming experience.

 

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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”

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!

 

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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”