Friday, October 13, 2017

Why WWE Could Benefit By Being Its Own Platform

Chances are that if you're reading this article, you play a lot of video games and you could very well play all different types. But there is a sect of gamer that sticks to the one or two titles that release annually and they're satisfied with that. Nothing wrong with it, it's just the way it is. If the new Madden, the new NBA2K, the new FIFA, or the new Call of Duty are the only games you play every year, who am I do judge?

Some of the customers that I encounter say they used to be big on the Madden  games every year, but they fell off because it felt like the same game every year. They also say that they would like to see EA go to a biennial release schedule with roster updates in the off years. Essentially, they would like to see sports games become their own platforms. Back in the early-to-mid 2000s, I was that kind of gamer, but my preferred annual release was WWE.

While EA may not see the point in changing Madden's annual release schedule, it may behoove 2K to do so with WWE. The main difference between WWE and other sports (and if you have a problem with me calling professional wrestling a sport, see me after class) is that every other sport has a constant flow of new stars each year. A kid that graduated from my high school just got drafted by the Detroit Pistons, and people are already trying to scalp his jerseys and rookie cards. He's already a superstar despite the fact that he hasn't played a single NBA game.

WWE doesn't have that. While some wrestlers come to WWE or their developmental NXT promotion and immediately capture the fans, it's rare for that to happen with anyone that wasn't already well-established in other promotions like New Japan Pro Wrestling or Global Force Wrestling (formerly TNA/Impact Wrestling). A.J. Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura, Kevin Owens, Finn Balor, these are all guys that fans knew before making their debuts because wrestling is so much easier to follow in this day and age. Everyone already knew how talented those guys are and fans were excited to finally see them on WWE's grand stage.

Those men are the exceptions to the rule. Most wrestlers that get signed to NXT either spend years there only to be released or spend years there and finally get a shot on the main roster. Even then, a lot of characters that were super popular with NXT fans don't mesh with WWE's fans. Despite being under the same umbrella, the fan bases for the two are very different. The Ascension is a great example of a tag team who did great in NXT but floundered when WWE fans didn't take to them (mainly due to poor booking, but I digress). Other sports don't have that problem. While an athlete may eventually lose some of his stardom as he or she ages or injuries make them no longer able to compete with the younger players at a high level, he or she is never going to change their character.

Another issue that I feel hinders WWE is how frequently it changes. By this time next year, someone is WWE 2K18 is going to have a completely different character when next year's game is set to release. Or perhaps an NXT wrestler gets called up shortly after the upcoming game releases. What if a popular star gets released for violating the company's wellness policy?

Case in point: Jeff Hardy. He's one of the most charismatic superstars that professional wrestling has ever seen. Unfortunately, he's also had to battle problems with addiction in his past, and while we certainly hope and pray that he never succumbs to that again, he was, at one, time, released from the company because of it. It's a very real possibility not only for him, but for any wrestler on the WWE roster.

At this point, the WWE games have every type of match you can imagine and can be customized beyond belief. Even though I'm not a fan of this particular model, I really think WWE would benefit from foregoing annual disc releases and providing fans with updates at a reduced rate or perhaps offering new wrestlers for the game at $1.99 a piece or bundling several wrestler together at a lower rate. This may be a problem for customers without access to the internet, but that could easily be rectified by providing an annual update card that could be purchased at any major retailer.

The WWE already has experience in this area with the WWE Network. Fans can forego paying $60 for the next WrestleMania simply by signing up for the WWE Network at $10 a month. They also have the WWE Supercard mobile game, which is doing very well for them.

Maybe the WWE video games could do something similar to the MMO model: get your free one month trial of WWE Online on our website, then it's only $4.99 a month and you receive all updates for free!

Vince McMahon may not know a lot about video games, but if you ask me, he's one of the smartest businessmen the world has ever known and I have no doubt that he could make something like this work. In the long run, I think WWE fans would prefer this model. You wouldn't have to wait until the following October to play as your favorite new star or get new move sets or pay-per-view arenas to wrestle in. If there's one company in one sport that I think could pull it off, it's the WWE.

There are a lot of possibilities for the company by making this switch. A new star that makes an impact could be in the game within days or weeks. The company releases a talent and they could be removed immediately. They could constantly update the game with new legend characters. Maybe once a year they do a major overhaul and include a new story line for the player. It would be like a new World of Warcraft expansion: a new story, new wrestlers, new customization options for the create-a-wrestler, and so on.

The ratings for WWE games (as well as the overall sales numbers) have been in steady decline ever since 2K obtained the rights from THQ. According to VGCharz, WWE 2K17 has sold a total of 2.26 million units, which is respectable, but is a far cry from the 7.28 million that Smackdown vs. Raw 2008 did.

I think a lot of that could be attributed to annual release fatigue. If WWE took a year off, did a major overhaul, and began work on what would become its platform, it could be a major moneymaker for the company in the long run. The WWE Network looked like it was going to be a failure, but now makes them major bank, and if there's one thing we know about Vince McMahon, it's that he loves money...and wrestling incestuous story lines for his employees, for some reason.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

An Outsider's View on Parenting in the Age of Mature Games

I do not subscribe to the notion that playing violent video games leads to a violent teenager or violent adult. In fact, I did several essays and presentations in college opposing that idea. I believe that there was a lot more going on with Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris than the fact that they were listening to Rammstein and playing Doom when they walked into Columbine High School that tragic morning. My purpose of writing this piece is not to recount all the terrible actions that children have carried out and men like Jack Thompson and Joseph Lieberman have blamed on violent video games, but as someone who has worked in video game retail for several years, I have come across lots of parents that seemingly don’t care what type of video games their children are playing, and it has always irked me.
Let me start off by giving you my history with violent video games. I was seven years old when I first saw the original Mortal Kombat arcade cabinet at our local Putt-Putt Mini Golf location (R.I.P.). I always tried out any new game that came in, but this one I couldn’t get to because it was always in use. Despite not being able to play it, my brother and I kept hearing about it from friends and seeing images of it in the pages of GamePro and Electronic Gaming Monthly. When the news hit that the game was making its way to our Sega Genesis, we begged our parents to get it for us that Christmas, which they did.

Luckily for us, ignorance was bliss in this case, as my parents had no idea what Mortal Kombat was or that it was very controversial. All they knew was that it was a game that their sons wanted and they could play it together. In some ways, my parents were much like the ones that I see at work, but in other ways, they’re the direct opposite. The original Mortal Kombat, as most of us know, was one of the biggest reasons the ESRB was created. But at the time, my parents — who stopped playing video games after Super Mario Bros. 3 — had no idea that games could be this violent.
Despite a new copy of Mortal Kombat being under the tree that Christmas, my parents were always very aware of the television I was watching. We weren’t allowed to watch Beavis and Butt-Head (though we still found a way), in fact, MTV was blocked on our televisions so we couldn’t watch any of those “rap videos with the naked women.” I wasn’t even allowed to watch The Simpsonsuntil I was in junior high, which eventually backfired on my mom when The Simpsons became a little bit of an obsession of mine. No scary movies unless they watched with me, and if there was any nudity, you cover those eyes young man, and you better not be peeking!
So, my parents were very cautious of the type of television I was consuming, but the medium of video games and the direction it was going was uncharted territory for them. The following Christmas they were kind enough to buy us Mortal Kombat II.
So if my parents weren’t aware of the violence in video games, is it fair for me to be critical of parents that allow their young children to play mature rated games today? Personally, I think it is. It’s been over twenty-five years since Mortal Kombat first hit the scene, and we’ve come to understand a lot more about video games than we did back then. As with every medium, video games have evolved as technology has improved, allowing for more realistic graphics and more engaging characters and stories. Things that were controversial back then seem very tame by today’s standards. A television network never would have given The Walking Dead the green light back in 1993. Any Grand Theft Auto game would have been given an AO rating back then. You would have had to go to the video game black market to obtain a copy.

With that evolution, parents have become much more lenient with mature content. Most parents that come in to my store and allow their children to purchase Call of Duty are probably going to be playing the game themselves or playing the game with their children. Video games have been popular for long enough that they’re no longer a thing for kids. In cases like that, I still have concerns, but at least supervision is present.
But when I have to ask a parent if it’s okay for their children to purchase a mature-rated game, and their responses are things like “It’s nothing worse than they see on TV,” “They already play it at their friend’s house,” and “If it’ll make them shut up,” how do you not expect me to be critical of that? The responses I want to reply with are “Why are you letting them watch that kind of stuff on television?” “Why aren’t you making your kid get new friends?” and “You’re a bad parent!” But I can’t say that, because that might offend someone, and we just can’t allow that.
My church operates a day care, and one day I was there helping out with some work. The young boys at the day care knew that I was into video games, so they struck up a conversation with me. When I told them they were too young to be playing Grand Theft Auto V and they should be playing something more age appropriate, one of the kids responds with (and I’m not kidding) “We play killing games.”

I was legitimately shocked when those words came out of that child’s mouth.
My wife and I are currently trying to have a baby, and I have a feeling that when he or she gets to this age that there will be lots of “But my friends are playing it” arguments. But if you’re a parent and reading this, let me assure you of something. It is completely alright to tell your kid no. You don’t have to explain yourself to them, you just have to say no. I know we live in an age where everyone has to be included in everything, but it is alright to not allow your kid to do or play or watch or listen to something that you don’t want them to. You’re the parent, they’re the child. You’re the authority, they’re not.
Recently, I had a man come in with his grandson, and when I read off the laundry list of reasons why Grand Theft Auto V was mature rated (it’s just coincidence that it’s always GTA V), he told his grandson to pick a different game. This grandfather had restored my hope, and that hope lasted for all of five minutes. After some whining and pouting, that child had a brand new copy of Grand Theft Auto V, and I let out an audible sigh as I stared out into the evening sun and wept.

Perhaps it is not fair for me to be critical of any parent when I myself am not one. It’s kind of like that guy who doesn’t workout telling you how to get more fit when you’ve been exercising for the past ten years. I know that parenting is not easy, and I know that I’m going to mess a lot of things up when I do become one.
As I said in the very first sentence of this article, I do not believe that mature games lead to violent or immoral adults. I believe I’ve turned out pretty well, and I grew up with them. I’m not condemning games like Grand Theft Auto, I play every GTA game and I really enjoy them. But I do believe that mature content can and does leave an impression on any developing brain. If you’re a parent, I genuinely hope that you’ve read this and take something away from it. Don’t take this as a condemnation, take this as an encouragement to be more aware of what your children are consuming and understand that it can affect them.
Video games are an amazing hobby, and I have a lot of great memories and met a lot of friends because of them. They can help you live out the power fantasy of being the Dragonborn, or let you throw the winning touchdown in the Super Bowl, or drift around corners at 100 mph. You can be a knight wielding a shovel, a handsome adventurer, and the Batman all in one afternoon. They allow creativity to spring forth. They allow you to create the Mario level you doodled on your math book in fifth grade. Video games allow you to be something you’re not and do things you can’t do. They’re an escape when you’ve had a bad day, and they’re a great social experience when you have friends over.
But the one thing that video games can’t be is a child’s babysitter.

Friday, May 26, 2017

More Than a 'Metroidvania': Guacamelee!

Death, taxes, and ‘Metroidvanias’ — those are the only certainties in life. It seems like every week, an indie developer releases a new game in the genre. That is not a complaint, because the Metroidvania is my absolute favorite type of game. Even a lackluster review on one will still quantify some further investigation on my part. The quality of these games can vary from brilliant to dreadful, but every now and then, we get one that does something wholly original and makes everyone else have to step up their game. Enter Guacamelee!
I intend to make this a running series of articles, but I knew going in that Guacamelee! was the one I had to start with. I think we all have those games that are so special to us that we wind up playing them at least once a year. For me, those games are Super Mario World and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, but now, I can add Guacamelee! to that list, especially since it made such a masterful transition to the PlayStation Vita, which in my opinion is the best way to play the game.
But what makes Guacamelee! stand out from the other great Metroidvania games in recent years like Axiom VergeShadow ComplexAliens: Infestation, and Ori and the Blind Forest? To understand Guacamelee!, we have to understand its source material: lucha libre. Given my love of video games and who I was in a previous life, I think I am a pretty good candidate to explain this to you.

The basic plot of Guacamelee! goes like this: You control Juan, an agave farmer in love with El Presidente’s daughter. When an undead charro named Carlos Calaca attacks the small village, he kills Juan and leaves with El Presidente’s daughter, intending to use her in a sacrifice so that he can rule the worlds of both the dead and the living. Juan finds himself in the land of the dead, where a luchador named Tostada (stealing that name for my next gimmick) bestows upon him a mysterious mask, endowing him with SUPER LUCHA POWER!
Is it a silly premise? Sure it is, but what is significant is where the game takes place: Mexico. Mexico is where lucha libre wrestling originated and is still the primary type of wrestling you will find there. In the United States, professional wrestling is treated differently than it is everywhere else in the world. Here, it is entertainment. Monday Night Raw is treated no differently than any other television show you watch on a weekly basis. In Canada, professional wrestling is a tradition and wrestlers are respected as legitimate athletes. In Japan, it is treated as a sport on the same level as sumo wrestling or baseball. But in Mexico, lucha libre is practically a religion.

A great deal of lucha libre wrestlers (“luchadores”) wear masks, which hold a special significance, and matches where the loser must relinquish his mask, while common, are always treated as a very big deal. One of the greatest luchadores of all time, Rey Mysterio Jr., once lost his mask in a throwaway match in WCW, and the outrage among the Mexican community was immense. Luckily for Mysterio, it did not hinder his future WWE success.
In their native land, luchadores are looked upon as more than just wrestlers: they are superheroes. Perhaps the two most popular luchadores of all time are El Santo and Blue Demon. Both men were buried in their trademark masks, and between the two of them, there is only one occurrence of their faces being seen in public. One short year after retirement, El Santo appeared on the Mexican television show Contrapunto, where he lifted up his mask just enough to show his face, effectively saying goodbye to his fans. He died only a week after the program aired. Santo’s identity was even hidden from the other wrestlers. When traveling, he would take different flights from the normal wrestling crew so they wouldn’t see his face when he removed his mask to make his way through customs.
Their popularity went beyond the wrestling mat. Santo appeared in over 50 films, many of which saw him in the lead role and were usually named “Santo versus…” and had him facing off against some supernatural entity. There was also an El Santo comic book series that ran for 35 years, ending in 1987. The only person in American history that we could possibly compare to El Santo would be Elvis Presley, but I think even that comparison fails to capture just how huge Santo was.
Now that you have gotten that history lesson, it should be easier to understand why Guacamelee! is more than just a simple metroidvania game. It is authentic. It may be a bit stereotypical, but it is not insulting to Mexican culture or heritage, and it does right by the lucha libre community by incorporating legitimate wrestling moves and portraying its protagonist as a larger than life persona who always fights for a noble cause.
One may argue that while luchadores were portrayed as superheroes, and took their characters very seriously, they did not do anything in the real world on the same level as saving the President’s daughter the way Juan does in Guacamelee!. That is where you’d be wrong. In 2006, Jack Black starred in his magnum opus, Nacho Libre. It is the story of a cook at a Mexican monastery orphanage who becomes a luchador to help raise money to provide better food for the children he looks after.
What many do not realize is that Nacho Libre is actually based on a luchador named Sergio Gutierrez Benitez, who wrestled under the persona of Fray Tormenta (“Friar Storm”). Benitez is a former drug addict turned priest who was in dire need of money to take care of the children in the orphanage he ran. By day, he was Friar Benitez, by night, he was Fray Tormenta. He has long since retired, but is still a priest at the monastery, and actually passed on the Fray Tormenta name to a boy from the orphanage who became a luchador. While I have a tremendous amount of respect for John Cena and all the charity work he does, he is no Fray Tormenta.
When you combine the authenticity of the character with the excellent game design from Drinkbox Studios, you get perhaps the best metroidvania game since Symphony of the Night. Because Super Metroid really solidified the genre and is heralded as one of the best games ever, many of the better metroidvania games have similar sci-fi settings, like the aforementioned Axiom Verge.
Drinkbox had an idea that was completely out of left field with a setting that was atypical from the genre standard, and condensed it down to one of the most solid 5-6 hour experiences you may ever have in gaming. The feedback from your controller makes every uppercut, body slam, and suplex feel like they have real weight to them, and the controls themselves are responsive to the point that you never feel like the game is being unfair in its difficulty.
Speaking of the difficulty, Guacamelee! does what I feel more games should do. You have a main story that offers a decent challenge, one that may result in a death every so often but you know you are capable of defeating with a little more focus. The platforming sections can be a bit tricky, but much like games like Super Meat Boy, can be conquered with a little trial and error. Secret areas and challenge rooms are a different story. These can be downright cruel, but do not offer you anything required to finish the game unless you are a completionist.
Drinkbox Studios also threw in many references to meme culture, and the video games that inspired them in the creation of Guacamelee!. Some of them are so subtle that they can easily be missed. It is a big love letter to the games that old farts like me grew up playing, and they are there for no other reason than to bring a smile to your face.
I could not possibly recommend Guacamelee! any more than I already have. You do not need to be a fan of lucha libre in order to appreciate it, but perhaps reading this will help you to appreciate the game just a little bit more the next time (or the first time) you sit down to play it.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Ed Boon's Best Game is Within Another Game

NetherRealm Studios, along with their fearless leader Ed Boon, have emerged as one of the premier fighting game developers with the long-running, ultra-popular Mortal Kombat series, as well as the recently released sequel to Injustice: Gods Among Us, pitting various DC Comics superheroes/villains against one another. Boon is one of the original creators of Mortal Kombat and has an established track record of producing solid games.
While I have never been a fighting game connoisseur, I have always had a special place in my heart for the Mortal Kombat series. I have many fond memories of playing the first two games on Sega Genesis, spending quality time with my brother and our friends trying everything we could to execute every single fatality and beat the game with every character. Over time though, I fell out of love with the fighting genre. It was one of those “it’s not you, it’s me” kind of partings. My departure began in 2008 with Street Fighter IV, and then the reboot of Mortal Kombat in 2011 was my own personal nail in the coffin. To me, fighting games just are not the same unless I am in a room full of friends binging on Pepsi and Pizza Hut.
The last fighting game that really sucked me in was Mortal Kombat: Deception in 2004, the follow-up to the first fully 3D Mortal Kombat game, MK: Deadly Alliance. I have probably put more time into Deception than every other Mortal Kombat game combined, without even the slightest hyperbole.

Mortal Kombat Konquest

However, the reason for this fascination was not because of the fighting mechanics. Neither was it the iconic characters, the inclusion of “Chess Kombat,” or even the Puzzle Fighter rip-off “Puzzle Kombat.” Despite the fighting being decent, that was not what kept me going. The thing that really sucked me in was “Konquest.” Konquest mode was established in MK: Deadly Alliance, though at the time it was nothing more than a series of challenges for each character to help you learn their combos and special moves. Mortal Kombat: Deception took the idea of Konquest and expanded it to the umpteenth degree.
One of the new characters added to Deception was a warrior named Shujinko. If you just jumped right into the fighting portion of the game, you would see that Shujinko is a man well advanced in age. Konquest mode on the other hand uses Shujinko as its main character, and chronicles his life from a young boy all the way up to the beginning of the Deception story in an action RPG/fighting hybrid, completely separated from the arcade portion of the game.
Shortly after his training with Bo’ Rai Cho, Shujinko encounters an otherworldly being known as Damashi, who convinces Shujinko to help him acquire six powerful items, collectively known as the “Kamidogu.” When Shujinko finally collects the sixth piece (46 years into his search), Damishi reveals himself to be none other than Onaga, the Dragon King, who manipulated Shujinko into finding the Kamidogu for him for his own malevolent purposes.

I wanted to get the story out of the way, because all things considered, story in a Mortal Kombat game is typically secondary to the actual gameplay. Shujinko is not a the most well-designed character; when Onaga reveals himself, you start to wonder why Shujinko never asked any questions and just went along with everything “Damashi” told him.
It is a weak plot, but it is also mostly there just because it needs to be. The story takes place across six different realms, each of which contains a piece of the Kamidogu. You start off in Earthrealm, and over the course of the game you travel to Netherrealm, Chaosrealm, Outworld, Orderrealm, and Edenia. Each realm has various missions and challenges, though most missions amount to nothing more than fetch quests. The challenges are typically normal fights with some sort of stipulation added. For instance, one challenge requires you to defeat Scorpion while Shujinko is bleeding, causing your health meter to be constantly depleting over the course of the fight. Other challenges include not being able to use the weapon stance, the inability to use projectiles, etc.

Mortal Kombat Cutscene Images

Unlike Konquest mode from Deadly Alliance, the updated version provided a legitimate reason to play through it. Treasure chests are scattered throughout the various realms, which contain either coins (or rather, Koins, since this is Mortal Kombat) or keys that unlock items in the crypt (or rather, the Krypt, since…well, you know). The Krypt is where you unlock new items, such as hidden characters, alternate outfits, concept art, behind-the-scenes videos, and more. Koins can be accumulated through the other modes that the game offers, but Konquest is the only place to obtain keys to certain coffins in the Krypt.
A lot of the treasure chests are in plain sight, but if you want to unlock everything in the game, it would not be a bad idea to have a guide next to you. Some chests only appear at certain times, days, or places. The most ridiculous of these are the chests to acquire series hero and primary protagonist Liu Kang, as well as his alternate outfit. Liu can only be acquired after returning to Konquest mode once again after completing it, at which point his treasure chest still only appears on Thursdays behind a tent in Edenia. His alternate outfit is even more specific, requiring you to be at coordinate H-5 of Edenia on the first day of any given month between 12:00pm and 1:00pm. Trust me, you want the alternate Liu Kang, because the “normal” Liu is a zombie. You heard right: Zombie Liu Kang is the default Liu Kang in this game. This stems from the developer’s idea to kill one of the series most beloved characters in a cutscene at the beginning of Deadly Alliance.

Luckily the game gives you the option to meditate, causing time to speed up significantly, so if you happen to miss the time frame for a certain item, you can get back to it quickly. No missions are time sensitive, meaning you will not miss out on anything should you decide to meditate for a substantial period of time, which was a good design decision considering how tedious obtaining chests can be. Despite the story not being exceptionally strong, it is still annoying to miss out on items or missions due to a time restriction in any game, which has been a prevalent mechanic in many RPGs over the years.
There were also some weird design choices in Konquest. Over the course of the adventure, Shujinko encounters certain characters who provide a tutorial. When the tutorial starts, Shujinko transforms into that character. It was done as a way to teach you the combos and special moves of the other characters in the game, though that could have been accomplished with the simple addition of a practice mode. Or conversely, you could just learn the characters the old-fashioned way: by playing the game.
Another weird design choice was locking Shujinko’s special moves in the Krypt. In order to use Shujinko’s special attacks in the arcade and versus modes, you have to find the keys in Konquest. If Deception were made today, this would almost undoubtedly have a microtransaction option attached to it.

Mortal Kombat in the PlayStation Store

The Konquest mode really hyped me up prior to release, as we were told that it would feature every Mortal Kombat character up to that point. The 37 different colors of ninjas, the really bad characters that only made it into one game like Nitara and Movado, and even Stryker was there. I hate Stryker. Everyone hates Stryker. But I was really excited to see his dumb face in the Orderrealm.
Mortal Kombat: Deception‘s Konquest mode does not do anything great, but it does everything well enough to be a solid time-waster. In 2004, there were better fighting games, better RPGs, better stories, better voice acting, practically everything Konquest did was done better by somebody else. That being said, for me it was the perfect mishmash of all things Mortal Kombat, and what resulted was one of the best things Ed Boon has ever put his name on.
Unless you count Noob Saibot.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Collections and Remasters I Actually Want

With so many developers resorting to various collections, remasters, and ports of their previous games, I think it's safe to say that we all feel a little burnt out. "We want new IPs," we cry from our keyboards. We want something original. Is that too much to ask?

However, just recently Capcom announced the Disney Afternoon Collection, featuring six of their classic NES titles. For those of you too young to remember, Capcom's licensed games are standouts among the glut of garbage games we had to wade through in the late 80s/early 90s. The collection features DuckTales, DuckTales 2, Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers, Rescue Rangers 2, TaleSpin, and Darkwing Duck.

I was lucky to get in on the NES collecting scene before the prices of those games skyrocketed. If you were to try to procure those six games on their original cartridges today, you'd be spending more than what it costs for a PlayStation Pro system. So, needless to say, $20 for six of Capcom's best games on the NES is a steal.

This announcement got me to thinking, and even though I too am guilty of sometimes complaining about the constant ports, remasters, and collections, there are a few series and games I wouldn't mind seeing getting a second chance on current systems.

The Dead Space Collection

The original Dead Space is one of the best survival horror games ever. I was constantly on edge, and never felt like I was in control of the situation. The game genuinely stressed me out, and I would never pass by a save station without using it first. I even sometimes bargained with myself about playing the game. Okay, let's just play this one chapter, and then we'll go get ice cream. Well, not exactly, but it was something similar to that.

Dead Space 2 is my personal favorite in the series. It was more action packed but still kept you checking around every corner to prevent any unwanted scares. Dead Space 2 is to Dead Space what Aliens is to Alien. Similar idea, same threat, but more things blowing up. Dead Space 2 was the exact opposite to me in terms of stress level, I actually beat this one in three sittings, I couldn't put it down. It also has one of the best opening sequences I've ever played, and that very well may be the scariest part of the entire game.

Dead Space 3 is the black sheep of the franchise, but I liked it quite a bit. People seemed to be down on the optional cooperative scenarios, which I didn't mind. The one criticism I do agree with is the crafting system. The previous two games had ways to upgrade weapons, and that was great, but I couldn't get a hang of the crafting aspects and after a while just stopped caring. Just make the plasma cutter more powerful, that's all we need. The game was also somewhat non-linear, and had several crafting or upgrade items that could be found if you chose to take on side missions. We can ignore how silly the final boss was...actually, EA, if you just want to retcon that part out with some extra content (like you did with Mass Effect 3), I would be alright with that.

Since this is a collection, it should go without saying that I would expect all DLC to be included in the package.

As an added incentive for PS4 owners, how great would it be if the Wii game, Dead Space Extraction, could be optimized for play on PlayStation VR?

The Contra Collection

Listen up, Konami. I'm going to say this real slow so you'll understand:

I. Will. Give. You. Money. To. Play. Your. Classic. Franchises.

It's as simple as that. I don't care if it's just a cash grab and you give nothing more than the bare bones on all of these games. I don't care if you put in any fancy-pants museum features or concept art or any of that. Just let me play the Contra games in one collection. It doesn't even have to include every Contra game, just the good ones is all I ask.

This collection should be comprised of Contra and Super C (the NES versions, not the arcade), Contra III: The Alien Wars, Contra Hard Corps, Contra: Shattered Soldier, and if they can make it work, Contra 4.

I know I already said they don't have to throw in any extras, but it would be nice if they threw in the original Probotector versions of the games as well.

Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars Remastered

The Grand Theft Auto series has always been hit or miss for me. My introduction to the series was Grand Theft Auto III, which I loved. I enjoyed the follow up, Vice City, even more. San Andreas did nothing for me, I think GTA IV is the most overrated game of the last generation, but GTA V is outstanding.

Then there's this plucky little standout title they originally made for the Nintendo DS and then ported to the PSP. I remember there being a number of people both shocked and/or confused at the idea of a mature rated title appearing on Nintendo's kid-friendly handheld. It is a bit strange, I suppose, but I'm glad Nintendo allowed it, because Chinatown Wars is my favorite game donning the Grand Theft Auto name.

Not only does the game return to its PSone roots with the top-down perspective, but the game within the game (i.e. the drug dealing) is really well done. As terrible as it sounds, I became downright enamored with becoming a drug dealer in this game. I was constantly on the lookout for someone selling drugs low and then finding someone to sell them to for profit. But it wasn't always that easy, sometimes the person selling or buying the drugs would be an undercover police officer, and you'd have to shoot your way out of the situation.

The game's setting was a nice change of pace from the typical giant metropolis you see in the console GTA titles, and the driving and shooting was serviceable enough to never be frustrating. I would gladly pay $20 for a downloadable version of this game on current consoles.

Mega Man X Legacy Collection

This one is a bit of a cheat because it already exists as a collection on the PS2 and GameCube, but so did the original Mega Man collection, and I bought those again when they were released on current systems, so why not do the same with the Mega Man X games?

When the Mega Man Legacy Collection was released back in 2015, I was a bit disappointed that they stopped with the NES hexalogy and didn't give us all ten games that fall under the Mega Man banner, especially when you consider just how amazing Mega Man 9 is.

But the Mega Man X series is the real deal. I had fallen off of Mega Man after the NES, but having gone back and played a first few entries in the X series, their superiority is evident. Everything got better: the music, the boss weapons, the bosses themselves, the level design, and an added incentive to explore each level for upgrades.

Some might say the series eventually took a wrong turn and just kept going, but when you look at Metacritic scores, only one game in the series (Mega Man X7) received below average scores, while most hover in the 70s or higher.

I have no knowledge of how the original Mega Man Legacy Collection performed for Capcom, but I would imagine the cost to produce the game was fairly low, and I can't imagine the amount needed for this collection would be much greater, so perhaps it's worth the risk.

The good news is that there are several ways to play these games outside of their original means, which is a good thing, as Mega Man X2 and X3 are two more games that will put a decent hole in your bank account, but it would be great to have them all in one place with some bonus material.

The Castlevania Saga

Few series hold as special of a place in my heart as Castlevania. The original game was one of the first video games I ever played, and even though I didn't beat for the first time until last year, it's a game that I revere as highly as games like Super Mario Bros. 3 and the aforementioned Contra. The only problem here is that Konami hates us. With a fiery passion, they hate us.

There are two problems this collection faces. First, there are nearly 20 games in the series chronology, and a lot of them play exactly the same. As much as I enjoy the 'Metroidvania' genre, I try to abstain from playing too many of them in short periods of time. They eventually become cumbersome. Secondly, if we're trying to get every main entry in one collection, we're looking at 3D games that wouldn't work too well on a handheld, or a console release with three titles designed for the Nintendo DS hardware. Of course, the latter of those two seems like an easier fix, especially when only Dawn of Sorrow made any real use of the DS touch screen.

We'll forego the Lords of Shadow series, as it's a different timeline and two of the three games therein are mediocre if I'm being generous.

It's a shame that Konami doesn't look upon their franchises with the same lens as their fans, and I hate to think of this once mighty series of games going out with zero fanfare. The last canonical Castlevania game in the original timeline was Order of Ecclesia, which, despite being one of my personal favorites, isn't the unintended sendoff the series deserved.

I can only hope Igarashi doesn't do with Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night what Inafune did with Mighty No. 9, and that it'll be a proper spiritual successor to the Castlevania name.

What other collections, ports, or remasters would you like to see?

Don't forget to check out everything else I'm doing.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Breath of the Wild is one, big Rocky montage

On a recent episode of the Error Machine Podcast, we delved deep into the world of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. The nearly two hour episode covered everything from the hype surrounding the game to our littlest of nitpicks to the build up for the final battle. On the podcast, Erik Snedegar brought up an excellent point when he said that the entire game is just hype for the final battle with Ganon, and that couldn't be a more apt way to sum up the game.

Don't misunderstand me, there is a whole lot more to the game than just "go here, do this," and I wouldn't dare trivialize everything it does right by saying so. The ultimate goal of the game is to, of course, kill Ganon and free Princess Zelda, which is the same basic plot we've seen in many Zelda titles. But every previous game in the series required specific boxes to be checked and certain obligations to be fulfilled before facing the ultimate evil.

Here, however, your goal is singular, and that is, as it says on your Adventure Log during the entire game: "Destroy Ganon."

I did every optional piece of the main quest, and with each successive Divine Beast I tamed and every subsequent boss I bested, the anticipation and anxiety of my eventual confrontation with this supreme evil only grew that much greater. The cutscenes that would follow each "dungeon" featuring the fallen Champions were nothing more than exposition in which the Champion explained how they were too weak to defeat Ganon and that they'd been waiting 100 years for another opportunity.

Even something as small as learning recipes that could be used to make more powerful elixirs and meals that would replenish more life felt like skills that would help in the final approach. Every time I learned something new, every time I would cash in Korok seeds for a new inventory slot, every time I would use Spirit Orbs to increase my health or stamina, when I found the Master Sword, when I would upgrade my armor, every single thing that I did in the game, no matter how great or small, felt like reaching the summit of a new mountain.

The Rocky film that Breath of the Wild seems most comparable to is Rocky IV. At this point, Rocky is the champion and is considered the best boxer in the world. He's rich and famous and is living the American dream. He even has a robot, which is the easiest way to point out human success.

An amateur boxer from the Soviet Union by the name of Ivan Drago shoots up the ranks, challenges former champion and Rocky's best friend, Apollo Creed, to an exhibition fight, which results in the Russian fighter killing Apollo in the ring. Rocky has no choice but to challenge Drago and avenge his fallen comrade. The montage that takes place before the fight is pure cinematic gold.

Even though Rocky is the champion, he's the underdog. He chooses to fight Drago on his home turf in front of a crowd of hostile Russians, and even his own wife doesn't believe he has what it takes to defeat Drago. This is not unlike the story of Breath of the Wild. Link is the Hylian "Champion," he enters Hyrule castle--which has been overtaken by hostile enemies--to fight Ganon, the one who killed his friends, and even some of the other Champions and townsfolk doubt Link's ability to win the battle.

In the end, good triumphs over evil, Rocky knocks out Drago (spoilers for that, too, I guess), Link bests Ganon and seals him away, and all is well. I must say that if you take the time to tame the Divine Beasts, the beginning of the final battle is well worth that effort. It has a great build up, a satisfying payoff, and tasks you with putting all of your previous learned skills to the test. It's the culmination of an 80-hour montage

If there were anything that I could count as disappointing in the game, it's the lack of a human form for Ganon. All game long it's pounded into your head that you have to beat Calamity Ganon and that's he's the purest form of evil in the world, but you're never told exactly why or how he got to be this way. We don't get any face to face confrontation, no stare down, no villainous monologue, just a boss fight.

This does not, however, make victory any less sweet.

Thanks for reading, and don't forget to check me out everywhere else.
@TheDustinThomas on Twitter
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Thursday, March 16, 2017

Resident Evil 7's success and what it means for Capcom

Resident Evil 7 is officially a success for Capcom. The game has already recouped its development costs with 2.8 million units sold worldwide thus far. Interestingly, this pales in comparison to the amount of units sold for the two previous numbered entries, Resident Evil 5 (8.08 million), and Resident Evil 6 (7.83 million), though its still very early in the game's life.

However, there's one thing that needs to be taken into consideration when comparing Resident Evil 7 with RE5/RE6. Not only is Resident Evil 7 a success financially, but it was also a huge critical success, garnering very high and even some perfect scores from major review outlets.

After Resident Evil 5--despite being what I consider an underrated game--deviated even further from the paths set by the early games than even Resident Evil 4 did, fans started begging for the Resident Evil franchise to return to its horror roots. What we instead got with Resident Evil 6 was a game that was too big for its own britches.

This is six protagonists too many.

It was 25 hours longer than it had any right to be, was overly convoluted, and added gameplay mechanics that fans never expected to see in their beloved franchise, like swimming sections, car chases, Michael Bay levels of explosions, a cover-shooting system (expanded from the one introduced in RE5), a stamina meter, and way too many cutscenes. Resident Evil was having an identity crisis. It couldn't tell if it was Resident Evil, Call of Duty, Gears of War, or Metal Gear Solid, so it tried to be all of them and succeeded at being none of them.

I'll go on record and say that I think the Revelations spin-off games are excellent and should be played by any fan that may have skipped them. But it seemed Resident Evil was content with fading into obscurity after the abysmal Operation Raccoon City and Umbrella Corps receiving many "Worst Game of the Year" awards in 2016.


Then Resident Evil 7 breathed new life into Capcom's dying IP. As someone who has been a fan of the series since its outset, I can say that the game deserves the high praise and perfect scores that it's receiving. So many things were done right. To me, the two things that make a truly good survival horror game are making the player feel vulnerable at all times and making you not want to progress in the game.

That second one seems counter-intuitive to general videogame design, but survival horror fans don't come to the genre to feel good about themselves, they enjoy the tension and the rush of not knowing what's ahead. Several times during my playthroughs I would hear a tapping on the windows or footsteps on the floor above me, making me dread my inevitable trek up the stairs.

Mainly to avoid creepy grandma at all costs.

I could sit here and lavish praise upon RE7 all day, but what I really want to discuss is what this means for the future of Capcom.

I'm 31 years old, and the first time I picked up a videogame controller was at the age of 3 with the NES. Two game companies that I grew up with were Capcom and Konami. Contra, Castlevania, and Metal Gear are three of my favorite series of all-time, but because of the changing climate in games development, it's unlikely that I'll ever see anything outside of spiritual sequels to these franchises (don't you dare try to tell me that Metal Gear Survive is a true sequel, I'll have none of it).

So with Konami lying in the grave and waiting to have the dirt piled on, my attention turns to Capcom, who are also responsible for delivering some of my favorite games ever. Despite positive reviews, Street Fighter V left a sour taste in the mouths of fans due to all that it was lacking in terms of the overall user experience. Devil May Cry was unnecessarily rebooted with a redesigned Dante that no one liked. Conversely, Dead Rising 4 relied too heavily on the appeal of its main character and delivered a sub par open-world experience. And finally, we have Mega Man, who has been MIA since 2010.

Mighty No. 9 turned out to be a colossal flop, but the one thing it did have was a very successful Kickstarter campaign. Keiji Inafune was very forthcoming with what Mighty No. 9 was: a spiritual sequel to the Mega Man franchise. The game may have burned a lot of fans by the time it was released, but if anything, that Kickstarter should have sent a message to Capcom that we do, in fact, want to play these games and are willing to give you money to do so.

Perhaps even too much money.

Resident Evil 7 received praise for returning to its roots and giving us the type of experience that made us fall in love with the series to begin with. However, critical praise doesn't pay the bills, so it's understandable why Capcom would continue to deviate from the traditional Resident Evil formula until it eventually became a (terrible) competitive shooter. One can only hope that Resident Evil 7 winds up selling close to the same numbers as RE5/RE6, so as to prove to Capcom that what's old is new again.

There's no game that I can think of that Capcom could make that I would want more right now than a new Mega Man game in the style of Mega Man X. To me, that's when the series was at its peak, and unfortunately I've had to resort to games other than Mega Man, like the Azure Striker Gunvolt series, to scratch that itch.

From the bottom of my heart, I hope that Capcom takes the ball and runs with it. I'm truly rooting for them to make a gigantic comeback, and hope that Resident Evil 7's momentum propels them to future greatness.


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Thursday, February 23, 2017

Ranking Nintendo's Home Consoles

All aboard the hype train.

With the impending launch of the Nintendo Switch, I figured now would be the time to rank Nintendo's home consoles. Despite the Switch being the home/portable hybrid that it is, I will primarily be playing it as a home gaming device--at least my intention--and that's why I'm ranking only the home consoles with this article.

As always, whenever I do a ranking-based writing, I feel the need to clarify that this is simply my opinion, and is based on my experiences with the consoles. Your experience was different than mine for each of these beautiful machines, so your level of love and affection will differ, so let's keep it clean.

6. Nintendo 64
Released: September 29th, 1996 (NA)
Favorite games: WCW/nWo Revenge, Goldeneye 007

Coming in at the bottom of the barrel is the one Nintendo console that I just never got into. Outside of a six month ownership where the only games I owned were WCW/nWo Revenge and Fox Sports College Hoops, all of my time spent with the Nintendo 64 was at various friend's houses during birthday parties and sleepovers.

Since becoming a collector, I've acquired most of the N64's more popular games, but I'll be completely honest, I'm not into those games as a lot of people are. Super Mario 64 is revolutionary, but I don't love that game. I think Ocarina of Time is just above average, and I just simply don't like Star Fox 64. I did enjoy Goldeneye 007's multiplayer mode, which outside of the aforementioned WCW/nWo Revenge was the game we spent the most time playing at birthday parties, but I was so terrible at it that I found myself becoming increasingly frustrated with each successive match.

I spent a lot of time playing as this guy.

If we can blame anyone for the loveless relationship I have with the Nintendo 64, it's Sony. I was so entrenched in the world of PlayStation that I didn't feel the need for any other consoles. This is where I found my now deep and abiding affection for series like Metal Gear Solid, Resident Evil, and Twisted Metal. The Sony PlayStation seemed like a much more adult console, and since I have an old brother who was approaching his teens at the time, he was adamant that the PlayStation was the way to go, and I followed.

5. Wii U
Released: November 18th, 2012 (US/CA)
Favorite games: Super Mario 3D World, Splatoon, Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze

For those of you who aren't familiar with this piece of hardware, let me fill you in. The Wii U was a videogame console created by Nintendo and released in 2012. To this day, many people are still unaware that the thing exists, and among those who are aware, a percentage of them don't know that it's different from the mega hit Wii console.

While that paragraph was written for humor, you'd be surprised how many people come into my store looking for Wii games, and when I ask "Wii or Wii U?" the confused patron asks "What's the Wii U?" That still happens to this day, and it's really a shame. The Wii U has some of my favorite games in recent memory and some of the best games for respective franchises. Super Mario 3D World is absolute incredible, Yoshi's Woolly World is the best game adorning the Yoshi name, Super Mario Maker gave me the ability to play and create a never ending number of Mario levels, and Splatoon is perhaps the best new IP of the generation across all consoles.

The off TV play was a great addition (though it's not something that I ever used), and laid the framework for what we'll be getting with the Nintendo Switch. It's a shame the Wii U floundered the way it did, but Nintendo really has no one to blame that on but themselves.

4. GameCube
Released: November 18th, 2001 (NA)
Favorite games: Resident Evil 4, The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, Mario Kart Double Dash

Another console that I shunned in favor of a Sony system, this time with the PS2. The difference between the GameCube and N64 for me is that I actually spent a lot of time playing the GameCube in its prime. My buddy had one, and we were dating sisters at the time, so we had a lot of GameCube parties. I also played it to mentally escape the girl I was dating (I never said it was a good relationship).

I know this is going to sound like blasphemy, but I think all of Nintendo's franchises that had mediocre N64 titles had much better entries on the GameCube. I like Super Mario Sunshine more than Super Mario 64. I like Wind Waker more than Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask. I like Mario Kart Double Dash more than Mario Kart 64. And even though I've never been high on Super Smash Bros., my friends sure were, and Melee to them is the be-all and end-all of fighting games.

Throw in some genuinely great third-party games like Eternal Darkness, Resident Evil 4 and REmake, an inferior but still solid upgrade of Metal Gear Solid, and couple those with Nintendo's new games like Luigi's Mansion, Metroid Prime, and solid sports titles in Super Mario Strikers and Mario Superstar Baseball, and you've got yourself a console that has a little bit for everyone.

3. Wii
Released: November 19th, 2006 (NA)
Favorite games: Super Mario Galaxy, Punch Out!!, Donkey Kong Country Returns

What's better than a GameCube? Two GameCubes duct taped together!

I don't care what anyone says, the Nintendo Wii is a fantastic system. There's a reason the thing sold over 100 million units, and it's not just because everyone's grandma bought it. 100 million Nintendo Wii systems, that's an insane amount of units sold. That's, like, three times the population of the entire planet (though I admit that fact checking is not my strong suit).

I bought one, you bought one, you probably know a guy that bought three and sold them all for twice as much as he paid. The thing was a phenomenon, and was still very difficult to find two years after its launch. These days we like to criticize the thing because of all the garbage games that wound up on it, but the system did have some truly great games. Super Mario Galaxy is my favorite game to come out this century, Twilight Princess was a top quality Zelda game (I know, it's not the "true version" of the game, please get over yourself), and many people swear by the Resident Evil 4 port as the best version of the game.

But let's not look past Wii Sports, the pack-in game. We can downplay it as nothing more than a tech demo, but I played a whole lot of that tech demo, and so did you. The motion control was such a cool thing, and while many companies tried to break that ground in the past, their results were sub par. Having motion control that worked just felt good. Was it perfect? No. Did I have to calibrate it every so often? Yes. But that's a minor annoyance. When you consider the ability to play Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros. online with friends--which I did a lot of--it only increases its value to me, despite the online not always being stable.

It's fun to take our shots at it now and try to discredit it as a viable gaming platform, and even though there's lots of third-party garbage on the system, there are a lot of really great third-party games as well, like Lost in Shadow, Dead Space Extraction, Muramasa, No More Heroes, Zack and Wiki, and many more. Looking back, I think the Wii deserves its place (as of right now) in the top half of Nintendo's consoles.

2. NES
Released: October 1985 (NA)
Favorite Games: Super Mario Bros. 3, DuckTales, Castlevania

This was very hard for me. I will preface this entry by saying that the NES is my all-time favorite videogame console. It's the first system I ever owned (or played, for that matter), it's the system that began this love of videogames, and the thing owns my heart completely. That being said, I can't let it take the top spot for several reasons, which I'll comment on in the next entry, but for now, let me heap praise upon praise on this revolutionary machine.

There's a reason that I still get calls at work--every single day--asking if we have the NES Classic in stock. There's a reason why the thing is still hard to find (outside of Nintendo's lack of production). It's because the NES changed the world. That's not hyperbole. The NES was estimated to have been in 1 of every 3 homes in the United States at its peak. It's still Nintendo's second highest selling console, second only to the juggernaut that was the Wii. This console is the reason my grandmother--God rest her soul--called every videogame system "a Nintendo."

We all know that this was a very different time, and nothing in better evidence of that than the fact that we who were around for it still hold even bad games in high regard. Remember Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? The one that confused every kid in America because the cover art depicted every turtle wearing their comic book red as opposed to the various colors we knew from the cartoon? That game is terrible. Screw the bomb diffusing section in particular, and I've still never gotten past level three. I hate that game. I love that game!

But the NES is also responsible for cementing many characters places in videogame history. Mario, Link, Mega Man, the Belmonts, Samus. The good games on the NES were more than just games to us. They were life-changing adventures. They were the topic of recess conversations. They laid the foundation of what we thought was possible in our own lives. Maybe we couldn't grow up to be a young elf boy slaying Ganon, but when we thought about The Legend of Zelda, we were inspired to conjure up new adventures in the backyards with our friends.

Very few things in this world have impacted my life as much as the NES has, and for that, I salute you, NES. God bless you. Now cue the National Anthem.

1. Super Nintendo
Released: August 23rd, 1991 (NA)
Favorite games: Super Mario World, TMNT IV: Turtles in Time, Ken Griffey Jr. Presents Major League Baseball

Every game that I loved on the NES, the SNES had a better sequel to. If you've read my writing for any length of time, you already know that Super Mario World is my favorite game of all-time, but we also got a better Legend of Zelda game, a better Contra game, better Mega Man games, better Castlevania games, better Kirby games, the best TMNT game ever, and the list continues on and on and on.

It also helped that the system actually worked when you turned it on.

The RPG really hit its stride with the Super Nintendo with the Final Fantasy sequels, Chrono Trigger, Earthbound, Secret of Mana, and again, the list just continues. The ports of games like Street Fighter II, Mortal Kombat II, Sunset Riders, and NBA Jam may not have looked as great as their arcade counterparts, and some concessions had to be made for them to be on the SNES in terms of gameplay, but as a kid, I didn't care or notice. They still played great, and many of my elementary school weekends were spent with an SNES controller in my hands, a pizza on the table, and my best friends on the couch beside me.

Even though the NES was my first console, the Super Nintendo is the one that makes me the most nostalgic for my childhood. Many of its titles I would consider some of my favorite games of all time. I already mentioned Super Mario World, but Turtles in Time is probably my favorite beat 'em up, and Ken Griffey Jr. Presents Major League Baseball is still, without question, my favorite sports game ever.

The face of greatness.

Many SNES games have aged beautifully, and now that I'm older and understand a little bit more about how videogames work, I'm able to appreciate them even more than I did as a young tyke. The Super Nintendo didn't perform as well as its predecessor due to the fact that it had a legitimate competitor in the Sega Genesis, and even though I still hold a bigger place in my heart for the NES, I can't deny that the Super Nintendo is the zenith of Nintendo's home console line.

Thanks for reading, don't forget to check me out everywhere else I do stuff!

Twitter: @TheDustinThomas
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