Tuesday, May 20, 2014

My Top 8 Picks For Super Smash Bros For 3DS and Wii U

It seems to me that I've done a great disservice by not bringing up this series before, even going so far as to overlook it in my 100 Posts Retrospective. While I've never mentioned Super Smash Bros on the blog before that doesn't mean I'm not a fan. Quite the opposite, actually. I've been a fan of the series since its debut on the Nintendo 64, I've been following the development of Super Smash Bros for 3DS and Wii U from the beginning, and I was even an off-and-on part of the largest Smash Bros fanfic in existence, Super Smash Stadium.

So, yeah, to say that I'm a fan of the series would be a bit of an understatement. So, in anticipation of the upcoming Super Smash Bros for 3DS and Wii U (God, I hope that game gets a better title before launch), I thought I'd join the crowd by listing my own personal top picks for the new fighters.

Also, note, I'm speaking specifically about NEW characters I'd like to see. While there are still plenty of as yet unconfirmed characters I'd like to see return, that's not what this list is about, so don't expect to see Snake or Meta Knight appear here.

And before you ask, no, this doesn't mean that I've forgotten my promise to review Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2. This is coming first, due to both being on my mind right now and because I still haven't actually beaten that game yet.

8. Kevin, Captain N the Game Master
Captain N the Game Master, for anyone who doesn't know, was a cartoon that ran from 1989 to 1991 about Kevin Keene, supposedly the greatest video game player ever, who was brought into the world of Nintendo to become Captain N and win the fight against all the villains of Nintendo.

Okay, so he's not actually a video game character at all, but so what? He's pretty much the perfect candidate for a Smash Bros character. He personifies everything that is Nintendo, he fights using a Nintendo Zapper and an NES controller, and his cartoon series was THE original massive Nintendo crossover, teaming him up with characters like Megaman and Pit against villains like King Hippo, Mother Brain, and Eggplant Wizard.

Unfortunately, there are two massive obstacles standing in Captain N's way. Number one: Nintendo doesn't actually own the rights to the character, DiC does, and Nintendo doesn't seem to be interested in getting said rights especially since, number two: Captain N the Game Master was only ever really a thing in the United States. Japanese and European fans would have absolutely no idea who the Hell Kevin Keene was, and Nintendo is understandably not so keen (pun fully intended) on spending the money to acquire the rights to the character just to please a few nostalgic Americans.

7. Phoenix Wright, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
Phoenix Wright isn't actually a Nintendo character, though he is closely tied in with Nintendo as (not counting ports to iOS and Android systems) all of the Ace Attorney games have been exclusive to Nintendo handhelds.

People will likely point out that Phoenix Wright isn't really known for fighting. I would counter that first off, that didn't stop him from being a playable fighter in Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and second, neither was Captain Falcon prior to Super Smash Bros 64.

It isn't very likely that we'll see him appear thanks to the inclusion of Megaman as Capcom's representative. If, however, Capcom is able to get two representatives in Smash Bros then I would love to see their number two be Phoenix Wright.

6. Simon Belmont, Castlevania
As much as I liked Snake being in Smash Bros. Brawl, I have to admit that when I think about Konami games that helped to put Nintendo on the map I don't think Metal Gear so much as Castlevania, so much so that I was honestly shocked when Snake was announced as Konami's entrant into the series instead of a Belmont.

Like everyone else I played the crap out of these games back in the day, and unlike Metal Gear, this franchise has remained closely tied in with Nintendo, with numerous games on their handheld systems, as well as Castlevania Judgment on the Wii.

The obvious choice for a character to represent the series would be Simon Belmont. Not only was he the first protagonist in the series, but his games were among the top games that helped make the NES a contender, far more so than Metal Gear ever had.

5. Ryu Hayabusa, Ninja Gaiden
Speaking of games that made the NES worth playing, nothing speaks to that quite so much as Ninja Gaiden. I personally didn't really play the game so much at the time, but I've developed an appreciation for it more recently, and I know a lot of people did play it back in the day. Let's face it: this series helped make the NES, period.

Since then, Ryu and his series moved on to other consoles, to the extent that they're now more commonly associated with the XBox and Playstation, though showing some love to Nintendo wouldn't be entirely unreasonable since Ninja Gaiden 3 got a rerelease on the Wii U as Ninja Gaiden: Razor's Edge.

There's also the fact that Super Smash Bros for 3DS and Wii U now has the pokémon Greninja, who is basically Ryu Hayabusa as a frog. Full on ninja battles between these two, or perhaps a tag team pitting them against the player as one of the challenge levels, would be just plain awesome.

Perhaps the biggest roadblock in Hayabusa's path is his series' violent nature. Snake had this problem too, but Ryu puts even him to shame. Ryu Hayabusa soaks in more blood than your average Evil Dead movie.

4. Black Mage, Final Fantasy
Square-Enix has historically worked very closely with Nintendo. They created an entire game, Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, in cooperation with Nintendo, and prior to the seventh game in the series Final Fantasy had always been a Nintendo title. Of course, fans know that Final Fantasy 7 was where the two parted ways, thanks to Nintendo's decision to make the N64 a cartridge-based system instead of a disc-based one. If there was any animosity over this it seems to have evaporated, judging by the existence of Mario Hoops 3-on-3, a Square-Enix game for the Nintendo DS that included Final Fantasy characters including Black Mage.

Okay, so a Mario basketball game isn't exactly the best precedent, but it does prove that Square-Enix is not averse to the idea of their characters appearing in Nintendo titles, and Black Mage is a perfect candidate. He's a well known character with powers that would be interesting in the series, plus he's an FF character who doesn't use a sword - between Link, Toon Link, Ike, Marth, Roy, and Meta Knight we've got more than enough of those.

And no, idiots, they wouldn't be forced to use Cloud Strife from Final Fantasy 7 instead. That's a stupid argument and you should feel like a moron for using it.

3. Isaac, Golden Sun
That's enough of the greatest third party hits of the NES, because the truth is there are plenty of Nintendo characters and franchises that aren't represented well or at all. Nintendo's handheld-based RPG series Golden Sun is one of these sadly neglected franchises.

I'll admit that I don't know a whole lot about Golden Sun, having never played the games. Still, I do feel that this franchise deserves to get some representation, and Isaac seems to be the most popular candidate.

2. Geno, Super Mario RPG
Geno first made his appearance in Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars. He's a spirit from Star Road, who took control of a wooden doll in order to help Mario save the Mushroom Kingdom from the villainous Smithy. He became easily the most popular character in that game, thanks to his interesting and powerful moveset, despite being a completely new character to the series.

Sadly, that was to be Geno's first and only starring role, due in large part to the afore-mentioned falling out between Square-Enix and Nintendo. Still, there is a chance for him to reappear. His cameo appearance in Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga suggests that Nintendo does own at least enough rights to use his likeness, and he does remain a fan favorite even long after Super Mario RPG's release.

If he's going to appear again, the Super Smash Bros franchise would probably be the best place for it to happen. Smash has seen the return of obscure characters in the past, like Pit for example, whose appearance in Super Smash Bros Brawl not only re-introduced him to gamers, but also paved the way for a new installment in his long dead series, Kid Icarus Uprising.

1. Goku, Dragonball Z
Just kidding. This is a stupid idea and anyone who honestly wants it is also stupid.

The ACTUAL Number 1. Ridley, Metroid
Detractors are quick to point out that Ridley is too big for Smash Bros. I'll admit I used to say the same thing myself, but when you really think about it that's kind of a stupid thing to say. Size doesn't matter in this series. Kirby is officially listed as being 20 centimeters tall (just under 8 inches) which should put him up to Mario's shins, and Bowser is usually portrayed as being anywhere between two to three times Mario's size. That didn't stop anyone from including either of them

The point is, no one really cares how big Ridley is. Just as Kirby and Bowser were both altered in scale, they could easily scale down Ridley to make him the right size, like they did in the opening cinematic from Super Smash Bros Melee, where he's only a little larger than Samus. Ridley deserves to be a fighter. If you can get past the minor size problem he's a perfect candidate from one of the most underrepresented franchises in the series.

In fact, word of the developers states that he was originally going to be a fighter in Super Smash Bros Brawl before it was decided that he would be cooler as a boss fight in Subspace Emissary. Super Smash Bros for 3DS and Wii U could definitely see him become playable.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Video Game Review: Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate HD

This review is the second in a series. Find the first here.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate HD. God damn that title. It's like something you would expect to see on a bargain bin game from some no-name company no one's ever heard of. For those of you wondering, Mirror of Fate is not actually part 2 of the series. It's more like Lords of Shadow 1.5, and its main purpose was to bridge a certain gap.

One thing I regret not mentioning in my first review (mostly because I didn't find out about it until said review was almost finished) is that Lords of Shadow was not developed as a Castlevania game. It was originally intended to be a completely separate IP, titled simply "Lords of Shadow." Then, at the last moment, Konami realized it was generic crap that would never sell without a big name like "Castlevania" attached to it. So they changed the name to Castlevania: Lords of Shadow and then put the least amount of work possible into a half-ass facelift for it. They stuck some Castlevania names to it, put some old school Castlevania music in the Baba Yaga's Music Box level, and added the end credits scene where Gabriel becomes Dracula.

That was the gap that this game was meant to bridge: taking Lords of Shadow and turning it into an actual Castlevania game. Insofar as achieving that goal it was moderately successful, though the fact that they needed an entirely new game to fix all the bullshit they broke with their first game makes me want to take another point off of the first game's review score (or another 5 points).

But about this game... one of the first things you notice is that this game's presentation is much, much worse than the previous game. The dumbest among you will probably say, "well, of course! It was originally designed for the Nintendo DS!" It is true that the DS version was grainy and awful, but that's hardly a flaw of the Nintendo DS, especially when you consider Dawn of Sorrow came out 8 years earlier and looked like this...

While Mirror of Fate looks like this...

The first is beautiful, lovingly rendered sprite work. The second is... dark. Very dark. And the entire game is like that, if not even worse. I had to turn my brightness setting all the way up and even then I could barely see what was going on.

The second thing you notice is that this game abandons the 3D adventure style of the first game in the series to go back to the franchise standard 2D platformer style of gameplay, except it's not nearly as much fun. It's short, there's barely any really noticable variety in the different areas, and somehow it manages to be even more linear than the first game in the series. What little exploration there is in this game never feels like it's being rewarded at all. At least in Lords of Shadow you could find the occasional Life Gem or Magic Gem. In this game your reward is usually a flavor text scroll, or the occasional bestiary entry. (Yeah, that's right. You have to FIND bestiary entries in this game, they don't unlock on their own.)

Oh yeah, and Alucard is in this game! Except instead of being a badass supernatural predator conflicted over his dark nature and determined to right his father's wrongs, he's an emo Trevor Belmont with gray skin. Oh yeah, spoiler alert except not because you'll see the "Alucard is Trevor" plot twist coming almost immediately after he appears. The point is, yeah, this game ruins Alucard too. And Simon Belmont, who is now a Scottish barbarian apparently. And Sypha Belnades, who is no longer a witch! And... possibly the pirate king Grant DaNasty too; I don't know, only his name appears in a scroll that talks about how dead he is. Ugh. At this point I would rather they just left the two series disconnected if this is how they plan on treating the returning characters. I mean, who's next? Seriously, who? Is Lords of Shadow 2 going to include Soma Cruz as Dracula's pet talking dog? Ugh.

KR Rating: [1] HORRIBLE

The one good thing that this game actually did was give us some more interesting enemies to fight, though they still don't give us anything that looks like it belongs in a Castlevania game, and the enemies aren't really any more fun to fight than they were in the first game either.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow might have been a train wreck attempt at sticking the name onto a mediocre game in order to sell copies, but at least that meant it didn't ruin fan favorite characters like Alucard. At least Lords of Shadow looked good.

This game really has absolutely nothing going for it and I can tell you that I was honestly tempted to just give up on this franchise right here. Nonetheless, expect part three of this review, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 next week.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Video Game Review: Castlevania: Lords of Shadow

So it seems that very time I walk into my local GameStop store lately I'm assailed by advertisements for Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2. Play as Dracula! Fight Satan! Whoo! So on a whim I decided to give this series a try. I bought Lords of Shadow 2 and the Castlevania: Lords of Shadow Collection which came with the first game in the series, as well as both of the DLC chapters for said game and a download code for Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate HD, and decided to play through and review them.

In the interest of fairness I should confess: I have experienced this particular game before. I watched my brother play this game years ago and was disappointed by the linear, simplistic nature of it. (I even eventually came up with a nickname for it: Casualvania.) But far be it for me to judge something based only on such a limited experience.

I should also mention that I'm a huge fan of the Castlevania series, but in the name of being fair, I'll hold off on comparing this game to its predecessors. We're going to be fair, here. Maybe too fair, honestly.

So, let's start with this game. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow set out to re-invent the Castlevania series, with a shift in focus away from exploration and RPG stylings and towards combat and storyline. Sounds good, so let's talk about those.

Right off the bat we see that combat in this game is a carbon copy clone of the combat from God of War, complete with combos and quick-time-event finishing moves. But hey, God of War was fun, right? If it ain't broke, don't... yeah, I'm sorry. I'm not buying this fairness act either. Let's start over.

Combat in Lords of Shadow is shit. It's drawn out, tedious button-mashing. This shouldn't be much of a shock; as I said before, this game's combat draws heavily from God of War, which was a very button-mashy kind of game. This problem is compounded by a lack of ability to upgrade your attacks and the fact that almost all enemies have enormous pools of health for soaking damage, turning every battle into a chore.

But what about story, the other focus of this game? The story is... not much better. It's melodramatic and cliché, and full of one-dimensional characters most of whom die horribly within minutes of you meeting them anyway. All of this will be introduced to you in boring narration and cutscenes that are entirely too God damned long. (It shouldn't shock anyone who is familiar with that series to know that this game was made by the same people who made Metal Gear Solid.)

And no, I know that story was never one of this series' strong points, but at least characters were cool in the other games in this series. Don't get me wrong here; as I mentioned in my review of Loonatics Unleashed I don't mind an alternate continuity story changing things as long as they do it in a way that's cool. So if they really wanted to re-imagine the hero of Castlevania 64 as a villain that's fine, but making him completely generic and one-dimensional is... less so.

It doesn't stop there. The game takes Brauner, the tragic villain from Portrait of Ruin, and makes him a generic, personality-free bat monster. Fan favorite villain Death is back as... a HUMAN SORCERER of all things. Dracula appears only in the end credits sequence (because this game is already trying its hardest to be a movie, complete with shaky-cam even, so it might as well have an end credits sequence too, right?) where it turns out (spoiler alert in case you've been hiding under a rock) the main character, Gabriel Belmont, was a pre-vampire Dracula all along!

Except, wait, why? The game ends with Gabriel saving the world, defeating his demons (literally), gaining forgiveness for his many sins, and most notably NOT becoming a vampire. This game has done absolutely nothing to earn this plot twist, and don't you dare bring up the two DLC chapters when you're defending this shit because this end credits sequence came BEFORE them.

KR Rating: [3] MEDIOCRE

To be fair, the game does get a bit better the further you get, at least insofar as learning more powerful combination attacks making combat a bit quicker. Unfortunately, it never gets to a point where it can be called good, and even more unfortunately, it doesn't matter.

I've tried to avoid comparing this game to its predecessors, but it really can't be helped. I won't sugar-coat it: Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is an unwelcome attempt at "re-inventing" a series that was, to be totally honest, just fine the way it was. The result is a mess of unoriginal ideas that throws away everything that made the series unique while adding little to nothing of value.

Gone are the imaginative enemies, replaced with generic bat-like vampires and snarling werewolves, several varieties of giant animals, trolls and goblins... yawn. The game does take a few brief stabs at giving us something interesting like burrowing zombies that throw their heads at you, or the giant titans which were clearly stolen from Shadow of the Collosus. Sadly these are too few and far between and only ever appear once each anyway.

Gone is the iconic gothic music, replaced with generic "moody" tracks that you probably won't even notice. There's exactly one moment where the game teases you with the old style music, in a level with a music box, and then never does it again.

Gone is the quick and fun combat, replaced with endless, boring button mashing.

Still, I do still intend on playing and reviewing the next games in the series. So look for part two, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate HD next week.

Annotation From A Week Later:

As I mentioned in my review for the sequel, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate HD, one thing I regret not bringing up in this review was that this game was not developed as a Castlevania game. I decided to mention it here both because it should be brought up, and to make a point about it.

The game was first conceived as a new 3D Castlevania game, but Konami didn't want it to compete with Castlevania Judgment so they quickly re-worked it as an original IP, titled simply Lords of Shadow. The only real carryover between this game and Castlevania was the whip-like weapon the main character uses, and the fact that it involves fighting monsters.

However, somewhere near the end Konami decided that the game wouldn't sell without a big name attached to it (probably because it's an awful game that's mediocre at best and shitty at worst) and so gave it a half-ass facelift. They gave some of the characters Castlevania names, threw a few Continuity Nods into the narration (like referring briefly to the Combat Cross as "Vampire Killer," the whip from Castlevania), and tacked on the aforementioned out-of-left-field end credits scene, and called it a day.

This information certainly explains a lot of the bad things with this game, but it doesn't excuse them. If anything, it kind of makes me want to take another point OFF of the game's review score, but I won't.

What I will say instead is that, if the game had been developed with the intention of being a Castlevania game from the very beginning, it might have been much better. I'm not just saying that as an underhanded way of saying "they should have given us another regular series game" either. No, I'm totally fine with them creating an entirely new alternate timeline for this game.

The biggest problem that Lords of Shadow had, I think, is that they just didn't have any ideas. As I said above, enemies are bland and characters are one-dimensional. If they had developed this game with the intention of making a Castlevania game, they would have had all the ideas they needed already waiting for them to draw from.

For example, let's look at two of the worst characters in the entire game: Brauner and Olrox. They're two brothers who became vampires and are lieutenants in the service of the vampire queen, Carmilla. You know what? I'm actually totally fine with that. What I'm not fine with is how generic they are. Their personalities can be summed up as "rar, I'm going to kill everyone because I'm evil" and their designs are just generic bat people with swords.

But those names carry with them a wealth of inspiration. In Portrait of Ruin, Brauner was a tortured artist who developed a magic that brings paintings to life. In Symphony of the Night, Olrox was a sophisticated former master of the castle who had powers similar to Dracula's.

Why not go with that? Give these two some uniqueness. You could still have them be brothers. You could still have them be servants of Carmilla. But they would at least have been INTERESTING servants of Carmilla.

But of course, the problem is that they just didn't have that inspiration. They didn't develop these characters as Brauner and Olrox. They developed them as Generic Vampire Lieutenant 1 and Generic Vampire Lieutenant 2, and then pasted the names on later.

If there's one thing worse than a terrible game, it's a terrible game that honestly had real potential that was just totally squandered. And if there's one thing worse than that it's a terrible game that has no ideas whatsoever, which never should have been made, and which had the name of a great game slapped onto it so that the creators could make a buck.