Feature: E3 2015 Sunday Recap

The Nintendo World Championships and Bethesda start things off strong.

E3 may not technically begin until Tuesday, with most people calling Monday “Day 0,” but Sunday seemed to start off the celebration of all things gaming for this writer with Nintendo and Bethesda bringing some interesting guns to the start of the show.

Nintendo kicked things off with a 20 minute Smash Bros. presentation that saw 2 new fighters added: Roy from Fire Emblem and Ryu from Street Fighter. There was a leak that took the wind out of those announcements, but it didn’t make Ryu’s well-executed inclusion any less important for the Smash series. Also included in the announcement were new stages like Sakura Castle from Street Fighter II, a ton of new music, some new Mii Fighter costumes, and more. Overall it was a pretty packed 20 minutes with something you would have expected to be saved for Nintendo’s proper Digital Direct coming Tuesday. It kinda makes you wonder what they still have up their sleeve.

Then came the Nintendo World Championships 2015 event where 16 competitors played through a gauntlet of Nintendo games to be crowned the first Nintendo World Champion since 1990. Overall the event could have used some work, namely on the identifying who was who during the gameplay front, but the World Premiere of Blastball was interesting. In this new game, you’re in a futuristic looking mech that shoots around a giant death-ball, trying to get it into the opposing teams goal. It’s like Soccer (sorry, football) meets Metroid Prime in some really neat ways. It doesn’t look to be the biggest game of the show, but it’s always nice seeing something debut like that. But once Super Mario Maker was revealed, all the nitpicks and other surprises went down the drain. This was easily the best way to demo the game: have some of Nintendo’s finest create specifically tailored levels and have expert speedrunners try their hand at them. It made for a thrilling show filled with twists, laughs, and a whole lot of childish glee.

My favorite E3 moment thus far from the Super Mario Maker segment.

Bethesda came out for their first ever show, and overall I don’t think it was that great. Before you take the pitchforks to me, let me explain.

Doom was doing absolutely nothing for me. The atmosphere of the game just doesn’t strike any sort of a cord that I relate too, the visual design was all around unimpressive, and the action just seemed more exhausting than exhilarating. If it wasn’t for Snapback (or as I call it, Super Doomio Maker), a whole new style of modding tool for Doom, I would have passed the whole game off as “Just not for me” and moved on. At least that last bit got me excited.

I’m sorry, but Battlecry just looks awful. The visuals were drab, despite their attempt to inject color into it. The animations were janky as hell. And overall I just got the feeling that this was going to be some Team Fortress 2 meets a MOBA as produced by an independent team of 5 people kind of project, only it was being given it’s own studio by Bethesda. It just… Nope. Don’t think so.

Elder Scrolls Online is just not working for me on a conceptual level, so nothing there was interesting.

There was an announcement for Elder Scrolls: Legends. This is a new free-to-play trading card game that runs on PC and tablets and boasts a trailer that was almost identical to Blizzard’s original Hearthstone trailer. In fact, the whole project sounds like an attempt to cash in on the Hearthstone name, and I don’t know about you, but I’ve only got the funds to dedicate to one money-sucking card game.

Speaking of trying too hard to be Blizzard, Bethesda also announced “Bethesda.net,” a new service that will be your go-to source for “all things Bethesda.” Sounds exactly like Battle.net, the client that Blizzard uses to house all of it’s games. I’m always leery about having another dedicated publisher program on my computer, especially after Ubisoft’s ill-conceived uPlay initiative.

So, my saltiness on Doom not withstanding, that was a pretty bad press conference. That was until Fallout 4 happened. If anybody manages to beat that in-depth look at the insane features planned for that game, we’ll have one of the best E3’s in a long time. Total weapon and armor customization, building your own settlement piece by piece, an insane looking story, second-screen gimmicks. This game has it all, baby. The overall presentation was a bit bloated, but I came away from it feeling that I have a most anticipated game of E3 before the show technically even begins. We’ll see what else everybody is bringing, but man. Fallout fucking 4.

What did you think of the opening round of E3 information? Are you excited to see what everyone else has to offer, or did Fallout 4 give you everything you will ever need?

News: Nintendo Direct Micro: 6.1.2015 Summary

In case it went by unseen. You know. ‘Cause it’s small.


Nintendo of America put out another one of their famous digital directs today, focusing on a few surprise announcements for all fans. At this point, I can only conjecture that Nintendo has enough content to fill up an hour long press conference, and still had a few things leftover, so they created this small Direct to get the smaller ones out of the way. That feels like I’m giving the House of Mario a bit too much credit, but I can’t come up with a better reason why they would do this.

Anyhow, here’s a breakdown of the content for those who don’t feel like listening to Micro-Bill Trinen’s voice:

  • Chibi-Robo ZipLash – If you’re not familiar with the Chibi-Robo franchise, it’s a. not surprising and b. not a big deal. It’s not exactly a storied franchise. And this new game plays nothing like the originals! Where the first few Chibi-Robo titles had you running around a house as a micro-sized robot fixing and cleaning, this new title has you whipping your little plug tail around and defeating other robots. It honestly looks like a little Castlevania meets Kirby mixture starring the most adorable little robot overlord.
  • Dr. Mario Miracle Cure – It’s really just more Dr. Mario, with Dr. Luigi thrown in, but there’s online and local multiplayer with some new items thrown in. It’s nothing terribly new, but I’m always a sucker for the series.
  • Pokemon Super Mystery Dungeon – It looks exactly like the previous Pokemon Mystery Dungeon games. If that’s your thing, great, if not, I don’t see how this’ll convince you that it’s good. The series is just too limited for my tastes.
  • Mario and Sonic at the Rio 2016 Games – More and more, I think about picking up one of these Mario and Sonic titles. This game may hit the tipping point where I finally pick one up. Especially if the series holds true to the same awesome soundtracks that they have in the past.
  • Art Academy: Home Studio – This appears to be another title where folks can mimic real world art tools to create custom drawings on their Wii U gamepad. What’s unique about this version is it features the ability to record time-lapse videos and upload them to YouTube.
  • Project Treasure – This game was announced at an earlier Nintendo Direct, but we got our first look at it in during the Direct. You can watch the full trailer here and laugh along.
  • LBX: Little Battlers Experience – They made a lot of assumptions about my familiarity with the brand during the Direct, but this apparent kids cartoon tie-in features the ability to customize tiny robots and fight them out. It looks like it could be a new entry in the Custom-Robo series, and I would never know the difference.
  • Bravely Second: End Layer – Another terrible name for the second entry in the Bravely Default franchise. It looks like more of the same in all the right ways. If the first game tickled your fancy, you’ll probably be happy to see more of the deep and engaging combat coming your way.
  • Finally, there were some details revolving around updated content for Splatoon and Puzzle and Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition x Puzzle and Dragons ZSplatoon received a new weapon called the N-Zap ’85 that resembles an NES Zapper. There’s also a new map that was added to the rotation of regular play, and Ranked Battle was finally opened for everybody over level 10 in-game. For Puzzle and Dragons, there’s a bunch of new content including weekly challenges available in-game.

Overall, Chibi Robo was the most exciting announcement for me, but I love a good 2D platformer. What excited you the most, if anything? If you weren’t blown away by this presentation, don’t worry, I have a feeling this was just some of the fat trimmed off of the proper presentation set for E3 two weeks from now.

Editorial: Why Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is the Most Dissapointing Smash Bros.

I don’t think it’s the worst, or even bad at all. But I can’t help feeling let down by the latest brawler from Nintendo due to a few huge missed steps.

If you’ve followed my work, you may have noticed a small obsession between me and the Smash Bros. franchise. I can’t help it. Ever since I spent countless hours playing the Nintendo 64 original with friends, I’ve been hooked on Nintendo’s mascot beat-em-up. Each new version, rare as they actually are, came with years of excitement that eventually lead up to a new batch of countless hours wasted playing the damn thing. That was until Super Smash Bros. for Wii U. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve still wasted countless hours, but I haven’t felt the same thrill that I used to.

If I had to give this article another name, it would be “All the things wrong with Smash Bros. for Wii U.” I’m not saying Smash Bros. Brawl and Melee didn’t have their own problems, but I feel that the potential for this game was hamstrung by a number of design and developmental issues that ultimately weaken the experience.

The Characters

While I generally think the newcomer cast for Smash Bros. for Wii U is ultimately one of the strongest in the series, there are still some sore thumbs that stick out in the overall line-up that need to be addressed.

The first is the unnecessary omission of Ice Climbers. It’s been documented that the only reason the parka-clad duo was removed was due to limitations of getting them to run on the 3DS version of Smash Bros. I get that it’s a big roster, and the Ice Climbers aren’t particularly loved by the fanbase in general, but it felt like a bit of reckless character weeding and only showed how Smash Bros. for 3DS would begin to hamstring the development of it’s Wii U counterpart.

There was originally going to be a section about how Lucas was removed as well, but he’s apparently coming back as DLC so we’ll let that one slide.

What could have been.

Ganondorf continues to be a big sticking point for me, as he was in Brawl. At least then we got a new look for Ganondorf, and a general redesign that helped to separate him from being a perfect clone of Captain Falcon. However, with Smash Bros. for Wii U, we really had a chance to set up something new with Ganondorf. Maybe we could have had his pig monster form throwing a trident and flame-bats every which way. Or better yet, Toon Ganon could have entered the fray. Instead, however, we just got the same Ganondorf from Brawl, with no real respects to any other Ganondorfs that have yet to grace Smash.

Ultimately, the character roster isn’t bad. There are far more disappointing aspects of the new game.

The Stages

The 3DS incarnation of Smash rears it’s ugly head in the worst way when it comes to the development of Stages for Smash Bros. for Wii U. Where as Brawl had 31 brand new stages when it came out, Smash Bros. for Wii U. only had 28. I know. 3 stages, what a deal, right? But consider the 25 new stages that were introduced for the 3DS version. Granted, some like Guar Plains and Final Destination exist in both, so it’d be more like 20, but even still. That would be 20 more stages we could play on the console, including some of my favorite stages of this whole 4th generation of Smash, SNES Mute City and Spirit Tracks.

But honestly, it’s not just a numbers game. The quality of stages on the Wii U Smash is just low. Palutena’s Temple is a gigantic and unwieldy level that fails to impress visually, Yoshi’s Woolly World just isn’t fun and fails to capture the magic of the visual style in the upcoming platformer by the same name, and Orbital Gate Assault is just plain janky. Very few of the new stages impress on any real scale, and while I appreciate the experimental stages like Jungle Hijinxs, they ultimately don’t land as stages I want to play on. Then there’s the stages that are neat, like Wily’s Castle, Pyrosphere, and Guar Plains, but have this pesky boss that you just can’t get rid of. They take stage hazards to a new and aggravating level of unfun.

Fortunately, there is a solution to this problem, but it’s likely a costly and ultimately unworthy one: develop the 3DS stages into Wii U stages and sell them as DLC, along with brand new stages as promotional material for new games. But heck, I’m just dreaming at that point.

And while I’m ranting about the quality of the stages, fuck Pac-Land. I’m sorry if anyone has a nostalgic trip for that stage, it’s a hot, burning MSPaint nightmare and it needs to be ejected from the game in the next major patch.

Maybe I’d want to play on some of these stages a bit more if there were other reasons to come to them…

The Music

It wasn’t until Smash Bros. Brawl that the music of the Smash Bros. series really came into its own. Before that, the music was mostly bland remixes of the most obvious tunes, and there was a very strong limit to what was selected. But when Brawl happened, the music exploded into a wide range of songs, original and remixed, from countless Nintendo games. Most stages had more songs than you could shake a conductor’s wand at, and most of them were great. Smash Bros. for Wii U ultimately tried to repeat history, but it was ultimately unable to make that musical lightning strike twice.

With Brawl, we had great pieces like the Fire Emblem Theme, Corneria, Meta Knight’s Revenge, and Bramble Blast (which turned out to be one of my favorite video game tracks, having never played Donkey Kong Country 2.) There’s no real spectacle in this new soundtrack. No sweeping orchestral pieces, no hilarious vocal arrangements, AND a truncated version of The DK Rap. Next to no songs top even the middle-ground in Brawl‘s overall soundtrack. At least I’ll always have “7 PM/Main Street” track from the new game.

Probably the worst part of the music is that a large chunk of it is locked behind content you don’t want to play.

The Unlocks

I still haven’t seen half of these unlock.

It’s 2015. Why are we still unlocking content in our fighting game that is essential to playing the fighting game. How many times have you been to a tournament for a game, only to find that they don’t have your favorite character unlocked? (or worst, they’re DLC?) I know some people like the thrill of unlocking things, but in this Age of Ultron The Internet, nothing is a secret 5 minutes after the game releases, if it even makes it that far. It’s just not reasonable to lock your characters, and in the case of Smash Bros., your stages behind any sort of wall.

And the biggest offender in all of this is the Custom Moves.

They were a great idea: Give each character 2 alternates for their Special Moves to really change up how they play. Many tournament communities are taking this as a great way to add variety to the character line-up, and it really throws the Meta into the air. In fact, EVO, arguably the biggest fighting game tournament scene in the world, will be allowing custom moves later this year. How they are going to do this is a mystery to me as it will require them to unlock all of the moves on multiple machines. Have you tried unlocking custom moves yet in Smash Bros. for Wii U? There’s no sure-fire way to get any particular move, it’s all randomly distributed via the numerous modes throughout the game. That is, numerous modes save the one you’re here for, which is the core game itself. No, instead you have to go play Trophy Rush, Master Orders, or the Mario Party like Smash Tour to grind out 8 moves per character, for each of the 47 characters. (48 minus Palutena, who for comes with all of her moves unlocked for some reason.) On top of that, the unlocks are flooded with Equipment, a terrible new feature that’s banned from tournament play because it completely breaks characters in new and terrible ways. Overall, this is an insane, and ultimately boring undertaking for anyone trying to bring out this amazing new feature added to Smash Bros.

Maybe I’m just becoming more nit-picky as I get older, but I hope you can see some of the numerous issues poking me in the rib every time I boot up the new Smash Bros. I blame a large part of it on the feeling that they had to make the 3DS version simultaneously, as it seems to have detracted from their overall work. Also, their sales. I’m willing to bet Smash Bros. for Wii U would have sold more units, and consoles, if the 3DS version didn’t exist.

What do you think? Am I being too harsh on the game? Are there other things that are bothering you? Feel free to post a comment.

Feature: Top 5 Indie Characters for Smash Bros.

Who’s your favorite “Nindie?”

Recently, it was announced that Smash Bros. for Wii U and for 3DS would be getting some DLC in the form of characters Mewtwo and Lucas, as well as some costumes for the Mii Fighters. It was also announced that a new poll would go live where you could vote for a character- any character- to be dded to the Smash Bros. roster down the line.

With that new information in mind, it seems like a lot of indie developers want in on some of that sweet Smash action. I’ve decided to compile a list of five of those characters that you should vote for in the poll. You can feel free to vote for your favorite game character here, but I recommend waiting until AFTER you’ve read my article, in case it gives you a better idea.

5. Commander Video

The star of the Bit.Trip series got his start on the Wii Shop back in 2008. The series has been going strong, with Bit.Trip Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien releasing as a Wii U launch title. To show that Nintendo has some love for the Commander, he even appears as a trophy in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U. While he may not have a lot on the surface, if you factor in some of his other Bit.Trip games for themes, he could have some cool retro pixel powers and throw bars of gold at his opponents.

Maybe he could just replace Sonic since he’s a better runner anyway. SHOTS FIRED!

4. Shantae

Shantae has been around since the Game Boy Color. Her creators at WayForward have developed a ton of great games on the Nintendo platforms, and I considered a fair number of their characters from games like Mighty Switch Force, but it always came back to Shantae having the better move pool and being more recognizable. The half-genie would be a well-deserved addition to the Smash Bros. roster.

3. Max

Another indie developer that every Nintendo fan should know is Renegade Kid. Their games Dementium and Moon proved that the DS could do a lot with a little, and on the 3DS, some of their best work has come in the form of Xeodrifter and Mutant Mudds. From all of those, I chose Max from Mutant Mudds for his retro-goodness and variety of moves. From an Up+B rocket pack recovery to an arsenal of water canon-based moves, he’s got a lot to offer.

2. Shovel Knight

The Cyan Shoveler is almost -too- well suited for Smash Bros. He has an arsenal of abilities to borrow from his game’s unique boss line-up, a series of his own power ups, and a built in palette swap in the form of alternate armors. There’s no reason for him to not already be in the game, as far as I’m concerned.

1. Quote

It’s hard not to call Cave Story a Nintendo fan’s ideal indie game. At least it’s one of mine, so that’s why Quote got the number one spot. The adorable robot from the Cave Story series is a one-boy-army packing all sorts of weapons that could be converted into the Smash Bros. formula. My favorite idea is his recovery: make it a Down+B combination where he busts out his machine gun and fires it downwards to push up into the air! Plus, the floating island he hails from would make an excellent stage. Imagine fighting on platforms hanging over the game’s signature dark blue clouds with the full moon while the title music plays. Glorious.

But those are my five “Nindies.” What indie character would you/have you voted for to get into Smash Bros? Leave a comment to discuss!

Review: The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D

Feeling fine at the end of the world.

 

Few games are able to invoke a true feeling of dread and foreboding. Most games try to give you a sense of urgency in the story, but the gameplay mechanics are either artificially constructed or just ignore the problem entirely. That evil army looming just on the cusp of the country will never quite get here until you reach points X, Y, and Z in the storyline. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D forgoes all of that, and gives you one of the most dreadful and sad Zelda games in the franchise’s history.

Granted, it was able to do that back in 2000 when the game came out, but now it does so while cleaning up a few odds and ends to make for a better, slicker experience.

If you missed it the first time around, Majora’s Mask is a departure from what would be considered the standard Zelda experience. The moon is falling and threatens to kill everyone in the strange land of Termina unless Link can find a way to stop the Skull Kid who started it with the help of an evil mask. Rather than focusing on a grandiose tale of good versus evil, Majora’s Mask is about people dealing with the hardships that have come to their lives, and the inevitable end of them right around the corner. It’s a rich set of personal stories with the apocalypse serving more as a backdrop than the primary focus.

That being said, you never lose the sense that “No really, this is going to end.” There is a persistent doomsday clock counting down the remaining 3 days you have until the moon ends all life in Termina, and potentially the world. This countdown clock isn’t just your typical gameplay level countdown, found in games like Mario and Sonic, but serves a grim reminder that the end is coming. The most you can hope to do is reset time for 3 days in order to take another stab at saving the world. With the rise of the genre in recent years, it’s not unfair to favorably compare this system to “roguelikes” and their need for the “perfect run.” You’re never really going to have one perfect run for the whole game, you’ll need a number of them for clearing dungeons and gaining the equipment you need to take back with you to the start of the cycle to move further in your overall goal.

This system is going to be the thing that makes or breaks most people’s enjoyment of the game. Some people are going to run into an instance where they have to redo the majority of a dungeon because they didn’t make it in time, or they’re going to just get bored with having to relive the same 3 days in Groundhog’s Day fashion. That’s okay, it’s not going to appeal to everyone, and you should know going in whether or not you think it sounds like fun. If it does, though, let me assure you that it is done superbly well. The world runs like clockwork, and you’re given just enough tools to keep track of it while still allowing you to discover all the minutia of detail hidden around Termina. It’s a great system, and one that I’m surprised hasn’t been attempted since.

Just like in the Ocarina of Time remake on 3DS, the bottom touch screen adds a lot to fix the issues with going into menus and dealing with the busted interface of the 64 games. Now, you can assign items with a quick drag of your thumb, and even have an extra slot you can assign masks and items too. It’s an improvement over the old system, but I’d honestly prefer it if Masks could just be equipped directly from the mask screen without having to assign them to a button. it’d be a bit more annoying for the rare puzzles that require you to transform between forms, but for 95% of the time, it would make mask equipping snappier.

The game also looks markedly better than it did in 2000, though that should be a given with any remake. Colors are more vivid, but don’t sacrifice the game’s overall dark style. If anything, they enhance it with a better contrast to the doom and gloom hanging overhead. Character models all look more like your foggy memory wants them too when you look back on Majora’s Mask, so it may not look immediately better. But trust me, I’ve done the side by side comparisons, and the difference is night and day.

Majora’s Mask has always held a special place in my heart for it’s pathos. It holds a real sadness in it’s story, and doesn’t always give you the happiest of endings. But the endings are always cathartic. They end exactly as they should, even if it’s not necessarily how you would want them too. Sometimes, people aren’t coming back, even when you save the world. It’s a harsh, but beautiful reminder of loss and sorrow told in an ultimately interesting story. It would be my hope that if you took anything from this story, it would be that feeling of sadness that makes you smile. That’s how I felt when I played it, anyway.

What Majora’s Mask did back in 2000 was break a mold that was only made for the previous two games. Like Link’s Adventure before it, it decided to try something new and different. Even in the areas where you think it might fail, I believe the game should be rewarded with your time and your efforts to see it through. It truly is a remarkable game that I would not hesitate to recommend to anybody looking for a change in what has become the traditional Zelda story beats. It will be a trip into a strange, new world, that I believe you will find utterly enchanting.

Have you had a chance to play The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask? What did you think? Sound off in the comments for your chance to be a part of the discussion.

***Reviewer Pro-Tip*** If you plan on playing this game, just remember one thing: You can play the Song of Time backwards, at any point after getting your musical instruments, to slow the speed of time. Why this isn’t just the default speed of the game, or made more apparent is beyond me. But it’s there, and it will likely help you further enjoy the game. You can also play the notes to the Song of Time twice in a row to skip time forward. I hope this helps!

Breakdown: Persona 5 Trailer

We’re not in Inaba anymore.


Atlus recently launched a full trailer for Persona 5, and it looks grand. You can watch it above and then join me below as I discuss some elements of the trailer that caught my interest.

The most interesting thing is that the protagonist and his friends appear to be ne’er-do-wells in this game. That’s a stark contrast to the goody-goody detective squad we’re used to in Persona 4. They appear fancy free and happy about their nefarious deeds. Another stark contrast to Persona 3’s ultra grim cast. The evidence is all over the place in this video that the main character is a Lupin the 3rd style thief, perhaps with some good intentions, but a thief never the less.

For starters, we see him breaking into a ritzy joint and then have to escape, only to be caught by what I assume are the police. It also appears that he isn’t welcome into The Velvet Room, as we see him behind bars and guarded by his eye-patch sporting Velvet Room attendants. The goal of The Velvet Room is to lead guests to their destiny, it’s never said that they have to like their guests. I think this is a great new dynamic, if this is truly the direction they’re going.

Something else that caught my attention was the way the menus move. Storekeepers don’t just remain idle while you flip through different menus, they reposition themselves with swift, dynamic actions every time you select a new option. It’s not much in the way of changing gameplay, but visually, it’s absolutely stunning. Elements like this are what separate the Persona series above their contemporaries, and even still, Persona 5 is smashing it’s predecessors into the ground.

There are elements of Personas 1 and 2 that are reappearing in this game, judging from the trailer. You can equip a melee weapon and a gun, which I believe was also in Shin Megami Tensei IV and/or Strange Journey, so you could start to see applications if you’ve played either of those. Also, in an attack sequence, you see that the party isn’t fighting Shadows but is in fact fighting Personas/Demons. This was how things were done in the original two Persona games, so there’s a good chance that we’ll be seeing demon communications return as well. It also might mean that the Persona you start with is your Persona throughout the game, rather than trading him off for a Pixie in the first 15 minutes of your first dungeon crawl. I’m very excited to see how this all will work in the coming months as more is revealed about the game.

As a side note, that new All-Out Attack animation is simply breathtaking.

I think it’s important to talk about the cat character, whose name I do not yet know. We see this character in the trailer transform from a regular black cat into a super cartoonish cat burglar character. It looks like Atlus learned the importance of an easily recognizable mascot character with Teddie, and they seem to be retreading those grounds. I’m curious to see what this character’s story is about, but I can’t help but be a little cynical as to the design and need for such a character to begin that.

Finally there’s that little transformation sequence at the end. It’s kind of sinister looking, and the main character’s eyes even turn yellow. We’ve seen characters with yellow eyes before, but I can’t help but notice that’s the same color as a Shadow self. However, Shadows can’t summon Personas (long story short: they’re the same thing), and there’s clearly a Persona Summoning sound at the end. This is more than likely just how the main character summons his Persona, rather than swallowing the business end of an evoker or flip kicking a card.

Those are some of the things I noticed in the trailer. Did you catch anything I might have missed? What did you think of the trailer? Have you acquired maximum excitement for Persona 5 as I have?

As a bonus for sticking with me through this article, here’s the trailer to Persona 4: Dancing All Night for the PSVita. It’s a rhythm game featuring remixes of Persona 4 songs and looks fantastic.

 

Feature: Games in Review for 2014

My Top 10 Games of 2014

Game of the year awards are dumb, so here’s mine:

10. Persona Q

One part Etrian Odyssey, one part Persona, all parts amazing JRPG action on your 3DS. There’s nothing about Persona Q not to love. I don’t have a lot more to really say about it other than if you’re a fan of JRPG’s at all, you really need to check this game out.

9. Transistor

The creators of Bastion hit their second game out of the park with Transistor. The sci-fi noir setting is beautifully complimented by it’s synthetic soundtrack and gorgeous art style. Together, it’s easy to get lost in the world. One of the things that struck me about the gameplay was the way the damage penalty forced you to try different combinations with your abilities, which in turn opened me up to new ways to play. I never really had a one combo that I stuck with because I was always reinventing them. It was a truly unique experience.

8. Shovel Knight

Shovel Knight isn’t just relying on a nostalgia kick to lure you in and take your money. It’s using classic game design and melding it with modern gameplay conventions to make for a truly unique experience that will satisfy 8-bit game lovers and modern game lovers alike.

7. World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor

I didn’t think Blizzard could top Mists of Pandaria in terms of the quality of their content, but it turns out I was wrong. Warlords brings with it a killer storyline, better dungeons, and the biggest reason ever to log into the game every day: garrisons. There’s so much to do, so many improvements to older systems (like professions), and so much to see that I think this is, without a doubt, the best expansion for Warcraft yet.

6. Smash Bros. for Wii U

Anybody who knows me probably won’t be surprised to find this on my list. I’m a huge fan of the Smash Bros. series. Not only is it a fantastic game, it’s a wonderful reflection over the past decade and beyond of Nintendo that reminds me why I love that company. Yeah, maybe it’s just Nostalgia Simulator 2014, but god damn if it isn’t one of the best looking games this year.

Everybody wants 60 frames per second and 1080p visuals on their new PS4 and XBOX One, but it’s sitting right here on last-gen level technology running without a hitch. It’s thanks to a solid artistic vision and technical know-how that this game looks better than almost anything I’ve played this year.

5. Captain Toad’s Treasure Tracker

It may not have been the biggest game, but Captain Toad still filled a big hole in my gamer heart with color, laughter, and legitimately clever puzzles. I’ve spoken before about what this game means to me, so just suffice it to say that I have no qualms saying it’s one of the best games to have come out in 2014.

4. MarioKart 8

Until Smash Bros. came out, I hadn’t spent as much time with friends in any other games combined as I did with Mario Kart 8. And I still enjoy going back to it, especially thanks to the incredibly high-quality DLC they released in November. The absolutely gorgeous visuals, the gripping gameplay, and the amazing design of the tracks keeps you coming back. Battle-mode aside, which is the worst the series has ever seen, Mario Kart 8 stands well above it’s predecessors in a long line of pretty great games.

3. PT

I’m not sure whether putting this game on this list says something about me, the horror game wheelhouse at large, or the video game industry at general, but here it is. I’ve effectively nominated a movie trailer on YouTube for Best Picture at The Oscars in saying that PT, which literally stands for Playable Teaser, was one of the 10 best games last year.

PT was a great horror experience. You walk through the same hallway over and over again, slowly noticing subtle changes each time, and watching as things descend into madness. The atmosphere is top-notch compared to full-price horror games, relying more on mood and subtlety than jumps and loud noises. But most impressively, it got me excited for the first Silent Hill game in over 5 years, as it turns out this whole experiment was one big teaser for the upcoming Hideo Kojima and Guillermo Del Toro production, Silent Hills.

2. Bayonetta 2

Every bit as insane as the first game, and in most cases: more so. The smooth, yet chaotic combat returns with stunning visuals, a bonkers story, and even an interesting multi-player mode to check out. Character action game fans need to take note: this isn’t just one of the best games of the year, it is among the best in the entire genre.

1. Hearthstone

To clarify, this list isn’t me trying to rank the 10 best games, it’s just ten great games that came out this year that I played and that I want you to play. So while the previous nine weren’t ranked in any particular order, I did consciously put Hearthstone at number one for no other reason than because it’s the game that I really have loved the most and spent the most time with in 2014. Between the Naxxramus single-player content and the Goblins vs. Gnomes expansion, I’ve had a stellar time with Blizzard’s free-to-play card game, and will continue to do so well into 2015.

There you have it, the ten best games that came out last year. If you have any you’d like to throw in, please feel free to do so in the comments. This is all in the spirit of getting people to play better games, and unfortunately I couldn’t play everything out there. But I’d love to see what other recommendations of games I should play that you have.

Discussion: Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker

The impact of color in the darkest nights of winter.

Like many people, I have issues. Specifically, I suffer from regular depression, and it’s compounded during the winter by Seasonal Affective Disorder. I don’t say that for pity, or because this is about to be a rant about what a unique snowflake I am. I say it because I know I’m not the only person who does, and I hope that by reading why Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker (and by relation, other Super Mario games) mean so much to me during these long nights.

There’s something that Nintendo’s EAD studio puts into their art design that I haven’t been able to fully articulate in words, which is why this article is inundated with pictures of the game Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker. It looks infinitely better in motion, but I just want you to try and see what I see; color, simplicity, and a certain glamor that is unrivaled in the video game industry. This subtle, inviting visual style makes Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker a safe place to be, even when things are at their most hectic. It’s a trait shared with the game that spun off this series, Super Mario 3D World, also for the Wii U. Last year, that was that game that kept making my jaw drop with every level’s visual design bursting with color on the screen. This year, though, it’s all about Captain Toad.

There’s something nostalgic about the colors Nintendo uses, and the way they use them. And I’m not just referring to the “oh Nintendo just relies on nostalgia form their previous games to make money” mentality that a lot of people have fallen into, complete with untold amounts of cynicism and blindness to other developers who do the same thing. It’s a real nostalgia that brings back memories of Christmas and seeing all the houses decorated in an array of brilliant lights, shining atop a field of fresh snow. It reminds me of fireworks blasting in the warm June sky. Every scene is a rush of positive memories and emotions that come flooding back, and so each level fills me with fuzzy feelings. How am I supposed to not like a game that does that? It is literally giving me the feeling that this time a year does so well at suppressing, and makes it nigh impossible to feel sad.

At some point I should mention that Treasure Tracker is about playing the titular Captain Toad and running through small, floating dioramas in order to find gems and collect the star at the end of every stage. Most stages have a fairly simple point A to point B puzzle to get the star and move on, but the real challenge lies in hunting down every gem and completing each level’s secret mission. It’s fairly simple, but the puzzles ramp up to brilliant early on, and get genuinely difficult before too much longer.

The games aren’t perfect. Captain Toad has some issues with juggling the Game Pad and the main screen, especially when it comes to interactions with things like wheels that need to be turned. I don’t want to give the impression that I’m too busy gorging on warm fuzzies to identify the problems this game has. I just want you to know that I don’t think they matter in the face of the brilliant, pocket-sized spectacle Nintendo has created here.

If you’re facing some Winter doldrums, or are just in need of something a little less bloody (and a little more functional out of the box), I cannot recommend Captain Toad’s Treasure Tracker enough. Though I would recommend you hold off if you haven’t played Super Mario 3D World first. Like any spin-off, it just makes the experience more meaningful if you’ve covered the source material first.

How about you? Have you had a chance to play Captain Toad? What do you think? Drop a comment and let me know!

NaNoWriMo Update

The first draft of Book 1 has been completed, and I am now moving over to Book 2 of my story. The site will continue to remain quiet while I work on my novels for NaNoWriMo. But feel free to stick around, because when I get back, we’re going to be talking a lot about Video Games!

-Randy Marr