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December 14, 2019

Movie Review: Jumanji: The Next Level


Spencer, Fridge, Martha and Bethany are back in a whole new adventure as Bravestone, Oberon, Roundhouse and Finbar - and this time, they have special guests.

Of all movies to get a sequel, I wouldn't have expected Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, a film I reviewed this year, to have a sequel, yet here we are. And I'll be honest, I enjoyed it about as much! Not quite "as much", but really close.

Basic story: We open a year after the previous film; everyone's life has taken a new turn. Spencer's own life isn't doing so well, as he has broken up with Martha since the events of the previous film. The holidays are coming; this movie opened in theaters on December 13th, 2019, and the story also begins on December 13th, 2019. That is an awesome idea. The team has plans to meet and celebrate, but Spencer is missing. They go to his home and are greeted by Spencer's grandfather Eddie, played by Danny DeVito, healing from a recent operation at his daughter and grandson's home. See, he was in a video game movie this year, even if it wasn't Detective Pikachu! The Spencer household also welcomes another guest - Milo (played by Danny Glover), Eddie's business partner in a restaurant they owned 15 years prior before Milo retired, souring the two older men's relationship.

Turns out, Spencer kept the pieces of the old Jumanji game console, and feeling like it was the only thing that had given him purpose in life, he has willingly repaired and gone back into it, to feel like Doctor Smolder Bravestone again. His friends decide to go in and rescue him, but the two elderly men also get sucked in. And if they were hoping to work with the knowledge they gained in the previous adventure, well, tough cookies - save for one, they're not in the same avatars as before...

I'm gonna stop there before spoiling too much. To me, the strength of a good sequel is that it builds on what was set up previously and explores new ideas with the concept, without taking away the feel and noteworthy details of the original. The element of surprise is gone with Jumanji: The Next Level, as it's the same base idea as in Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle. They more than make up for it, though, with the introduction of new characters.

Eddie and Milo bring their own baggage to the plot, and the film fills in the blanks about their relationship pretty fast. A lot of the comedy, this time around, is the young adults having to explain the outlandish situation to these two old men, who have no basis of what video games are, much less "avatars" and "powers" and "abilities" and "levels" and "whathaveyous", and who thus start with an even greater disadvantage than the group in the previous film. If you've ever tried to explain video games to a grandparent, you can definitely relate!

I was sold this movie on a somewhat fake premise; the fact that Jumanji was rebuilt as a faulty version of its former self was never a secret in promotional material. I guess I had false hopes that the film would play around more with the concept of glitches and things "not being quite right" inside the game's world, but I didn't feel cheated in the end either. To compensate, the new avatars added to the game fill up the cast nicely, while all returning avatars have new strengths and weaknesses as well, leading to new possibilities for both action scenes and moments of comedy. Special mention to Awkwafina, playing expert burglar Ming Fleetfoot in Jumanji.

The island itself is also more diverse and populated; whereas the island of the first film had nothing but jungle and mountains with one village, here we see deserts and snowy peaks as well, with implications of tribes living on the island along with more towns. And yes, the movie has a couple twists up its sleeve, and I'm doing my damndest not to spoil any of them - though some of them are easy to guess ahead.

Overall, still a great viewing experience, and one that complements its predecessor well. I definitely recommend it. Time (and box-office results) will tell if the people behind these films will go for a Round 3, but I certainly hope so if they can make a sequel as good as this one turned out to be.

December 13, 2019

Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS (Part 3)

Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3

The modes that had seen their origin in single-player modes only were relegated to the "Games & More" section. That includes Classic, All-Stars (though that one has a multiplayer option this time around) and Stadium.

CLASSIC

Well, Pit? Wanna fight the Kong, the Pac, or the Falcon?

Giants, metal versions, team fights...
You can faace anything.
I tend to play this before anything else as it’s one of the quicker ways to unlock a few characters, so it’s usually my very first Smash go-to. In the 3DS entry of the series, Classic makes six stops for battles, and goes at it a very different way from previous SSB titles. instead of having a clear battle each time, you choose one of three different paths. Each path has a different color indicating its difficulty; blue for easy, green for medium, red for difficult, so you can choose the difficulty of each level by yourself. The tougher the path, the better the reward in goldor, along with possibly trophies, equipment, custom moves or extra goldor (the extra reward for each victorious battle is set at random before the fight, using a rolling table).

Speaking of difficulty, Classic modes up to Brawl had only 5 options: Very Easy, Easy, Normal, Hard, Very Hard. Things were switched up here, using instead an Intensity system very similar to the Fiend Cauldron from Kid Icarus: Uprising. The difficulty can be anywhere from 0.0 to 9.0, with 2.0 being the basic difficulty and the player having to pay to increase/decrease the difficulty, with even more having to be spent the closer to 9.0 you get (it costs 80 goldor to enter Intensity 3.0, but 2200 for 9.0!). I originally hated that idea because it meant you got few to no rewards half the time when you played the mode on easier difficulties, and the amount required for 9.0 felt ridiculous – then again, as I improved I realized the goldor rewards increased along to the difficulty, so playing through later difficulties would net enough goldor, fairly quickly, to take on 9.0 without much hassle.

It costs 350 to play 5.0?
Why does the price shoot up so bad to get to 9.0?

Another major difference: Previously, one could also select the number of stocks (lives) they had to go through the mode, from 1 to 5. Here? No such thing. Instead, you have two stocks on each battle. On one hand, it means that you are allowed one death per battle – on the other, it means that even if you become reasonably good at the game on later difficulties, you’ll still only have two stocks every fight, even against the final boss (whereas in past games, you could reasonably reach Master Hand with still five lives).

December 9, 2019

Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS (Part 2)

Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3

I have a lot to talk about, so let’s get right into it.

THE STAGES

Be ready to... Melee! Er... Brawl! Dammit, what do we say this time?

One of the defining features of Smash is the number of stages taking inspiration from the various franchises represented in the roster. Ever since Smash 64, we’ve had stages of all kinds. And, to be fair, a great stage can add a little something extra to a battle. A bad stage is the kind where too much goes on at once, to the point where you’re left wondering if it isn’t the stage trying to kill the players, rather than players killing each other.

An ever-changing stage, inspired by a software
on a past console? Sure.
Smash 3DS was designed to feature more elements of handheld Nintendo games (mostly when it comes to stages), while Smash Wii U displays more elements inspired by console games. As an example, Smash 3DS has stages inspired by Tomodachi Life, Find Mii, PictoChat, Super Mario 3D Land (obviously), Dream Land (a trip through Kirby’s first game on the Game Boy), Living Room (Nintendogs), Golden Plains (inspired by New Super Mario Bros. 2) or the Spirit Train (from The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks). Due to the wildly different selection of stages, cross-platform play between both versions is unfortunately impossible.

I should be fighting, but dammit, the puppy in the background is too cute.

Just like fighters, there’s a handful of DLC stages; those are the same for both versions, and three of those are from the very first Smash game. Both versions also include a couple stages from both Melee and Brawl. We have classics such as Battlefield and Final Destination, and most franchises get decent representation as well.

Here’s my gripe with Smash 4’s stages, however: Save for a handful of exceptions, almost every stage has gimmicks. Wouldn’t be so bad, you’d think; a lot of past stages from Smash 64 to Brawl had gimmicks. However, they went really overboard this time. In addition to the usual (platforms and obstacles passing by or moving around), the devs at Sora Ltd. have included scrolling stages, constantly-changing stages, stage bosses, NPCs or extra effects. New stages with a restrained number of gimmicks are the exception, not the rule. Even stages returning from past Smash games aren't safe from this. Thankfully, some new stages are pretty restrained as far as gimmicks go.

3D Land changes a lot throughout - so many hazards all over.
Scrolling stages means that you must always be moving, and be aware of the various tricks the stage may play. There were scrolling stages before, sure, but never that many. Those can be pretty annoying, especially because many contain points of no return where, if you can’t catch up with the others, you’re dead. 3D Land, Mushroomy Kingdom, Dream Land are such examples. Stages that change constantly have features that can swap in and out, forcing players to adapt to new terrain and platforms. Wouldn’t be so bad if they only had changing platforms (which some do have only that), but sometimes they come with an array of hazards that can come in at any moment.

Did I say that I hate Yellow Devil yet?
'Cause I do. I fucking hate Yellow Devil.
Stage bosses and NPCs are a new mechanic of Smash 4; on some stages, a boss or non-playable character may often appear and influence the fight. Examples of bosses include Yellow Devil in Wily’s Castle and the Dark Emperor in Find Mii. Thankfully, those are the only two – Smash for Wii U ditches the Dark Emperor (since he’s from a handheld series), but adds Ridley from Metroid and Metal Face from Xenoblade Chronicles as bosses on the Pyrosphere and Gaur Plain, respectively. (Smash 3DS does have Gaur Plain as a stage, but Metal Face can’t appear there.) NPCs range from characters that can affect the stage (like Kotake and Koume in Gerudo Valley), act as enemies (the ghosts in Pac-Maze), attack fighters (the Pokémon in the Unova Pokémon League), or at their worst, become additional fighters that join the team of whoever gets to them first (like those fucking Flying Men from the Magicant stage). While I can accept that they’re an additional reference to the games these stages came from, many either halt the battle or become an extremely bothersome hazard.

Magicant. See that bird guy on the top right?
It can become an extra fighter. Uninvited.

Some stages have fun extra effects, though; Golden Plains sees a fighter turn golden if they collect 100 coins, and fighters can play along killing birds in Duck Hunt. I’ll also always enjoy the microgames popping up in the WarioWare, Inc. stage.

No Items! Fox Only! Omega Version!
Reminder that none of these hazards can be turned off in single-player modes, so if a stage decides to piss you off during Classic or All-Stars, well, there isn’t much you can do. In multiplayer modes, however, it’s possible to toggle the Omega version of a stage, which… just transforms it into a flat surface, no platforms, no gimmicks, nothing, à la Final Destination. I wished it was possible to only remove some gimmicks from stages, but much like items, it’s “all or nothing”. Either you play the stage with all of its annoyances, or with everything taken out, even any sort of interesting terrain layout.

So, a lot of good stage ideas, many awesome winks to franchises (first- or third-party), I just wished they had shown some restraint on stage hazards as these can really take over the fight and take away the enjoyment. There is such a thing as "too much".

STREETSMASH

Gonna go over this one quickly. Like a lot of 3DS games, Smash has functionalities that tie in with the StreetPass software installed on the console. StreetPass allows players carrying their console around to “meet” other players’ Miis, adding them to a sort of “people you know” list. Smash 3DS took that idea and created a mini-game out of it. You and up to 11 other players can participate to a sort of Token Smash. The characters are tokens, they can move around the board and attack the other players’ tokens. Like Smash moves in regular battles, it’s possible to charge up an attack that will then knock opponent tokens further away. The goal is simple: Knock all of the other tokens off the board, into the surrounding pits. Of course, you need to build up to having 2 to 12 players at once on the board by going out and meeting people. And once the match is over, well, gotta meet people again in order to play some more.

In short:
-It’s a sweet little mini-game, though its relevance to the series is pretty limited.
-It’s the fastest way of making money (since in-game currency is required to buy trophies, play Trophy Rush or increase the difficulty of the Classic Mode), but only when playing against opponents met on StreetPass.
-There’s a Training mode allowing you to play without meeting people, though while it does give a few coins, it’s not nearly as much as when playing against other people met through StreetPass.
-You can edit your profile (have a message for other players, and pick a fighter to represent your token), view your statistics, or play a Tutorial to learn the game.

CHALLENGES

Image taken from this video.
What would a Smash game be nowadays without the Challenges? These boxes of achievements, broken by completing all sorts of tasks within the game (or by using the few obtainable hammers), containing any of the collectibles within that Smash edition. I loved its implementation in Brawl and thought it was a great idea (even though there’s a handful of Challenges I was never able to complete). I especially loved the freedom that came with it; early on, almost anything could open one of these boxes, and late into the game, you had the information on how to open every last one. I was hoping to avoid comparisons with previous or future games from the series, but I can say I was disappointed by the way the Challenges are set in Smash 3DS, compared to Brawl at least.

The Challenges are split in 3 sets of 35 boxes, totaling 105.
  • The first box has very easy, introductory challenges (example: Beat Classic once; use a character’s Final Smash; play any mode a first time);
  • The second one has intermediate challenges (example: Unlock all characters; inflict 100 K.O.s; Beat Mode X with 5 characters);
  • And the last one has the challenges that are either difficult, tedious or time-consuming (example: Beat Mode X with all characters).

I want to do this! What is their secret?
With each set, you can earn three hammers, which are usable only within that set. Also, Set 2 only opens if you completed all of Set 1, and Set 3 only once you unlocked all characters and completed 25 challenges from Set 2. The trade-off is that once you unlock a new set, the challenges already cleared on it open instantly. Lastly, Sets 2 and 3 have a few boxes that can’t be broken by Golden Hammers.

I can once again imagine why the Challenges were made that way; splitting challenges by difficulty does make it easier to figure out what you can complete at one point of the game and what you can’t. I wished it was quicker to unlock the later sets, however.

SMASH RUN

After everyone spoiled the Heck out of Brawl’s “The Subspace Emissary”, Masahiro Sakurai expressed his opinion against creating another complex story or Adventure Mode for Smash 4, since it would just be spoiled once again by players. (As “World of Light” can attest, he would eventually go back on his word.)

That's the weirdest boat I have ever seen.

Gotta pick every single boost!
The alternatives? A Mario Party-inspired mode called Smash Tour for the Wii U version… and Smash Run for the 3DS version. Smash Run has a very simple concept: You pick a character, then you’re thrown into this gigantic platforming world filled to the brim with enemies, with a 5-minute timer ticking down. Your main task is to collect stat boosts, which is achieved by opening treasure chests, going through doors to complete challenges, and killing enemies. The six types of stat boosts increase the character’s attack, defense and speed, as well as their ability to jump and use objects or their special moves. Technically, you’re playing this mode against three opponents (human or CPUs, but you’re never going to run into them while venturing the map.

Enemies from all franchises are in there - even Mega Man!
After the five minutes have run out, all stat boosts collected by the characters are added to their stats, and then you’re thrown into a random one to two-minute challenge. The Smash Wiki lists 17 possible final challenges, most of which are regular Smash battles with special rules, though some are more like races. Free-for-all is the more common setup, but sometimes the four fighters may be split in two teams instead. You can’t focus on a single stat to boost while venturing Smash Run, as you can never tell what the final battle will be; you can be Bowser, one of the heaviest characters, and have to climb a tower. I’m pulling that example because it happened to me during gameplay, FML. You can have a somewhat decent run in the field, then do terrible in the final combat - yet that's where everything's decided. It also doesn’t help that, most of the time, the final fight will last only a minute, two at most, which is usually too short to really have a decent difference in results in that fight, frequently leading to Sudden Death matches among the leading fighters. Then, factor in items or stage hazards…

So our stats have changed - alright, but does it make
a difference in the long run?
Much of the gameplay in the first part will involve fighting your way around hordes upon hordes of enemies, which are attacking from all sides in large numbers. If you’re KO’d (which can happen if you’re thrown too far off-screen), you lose many of the stat boosts you've collected. Bigger enemies drop more loot, while some of the bonus challenges hidden behind floating doors in the arena will award massive amounts of boosts. Events such as boss monsters and new temporary hazards may appear in the arena, making things harder for everyone. In the arena, players may also come across goldor (found in chests along with more stat boosts), trophies or customization items.

Also of note, items have weight and each character has
a maximum amount of weight they can wear, and so all
characters have different carrying capacities.

Speaking of, customization is an option in every mode of the game, but it’s rarely as impactful as it is here – it’s all about gathering the most stat boosts, so you can choose to start Smash Run with a character already equipped with items that change its base stats. You’re encouraged to customize your characters with pieces of equipment before going through Smash Run, since some of these items are additional powers that can be activated. These items will otherwise only affect the fighter’s attack, defense and speed, increasing a stat and decreasing another.

To conclude, as a replacement for an Adventure Mode, this could have been a somewhat decent idea. Shorter, simpler, not at all lacking in references to the franchises of Nintendo. However, it’s got so many problems I can only play it with gritted teeth. Overwhelming swarms of enemies, many of which are either very strong, cumbersome, or have special attributes; completely random boost drops; completely random final battle; said final battle is frequently too short to really declare a winner outside of Sudden Death; I could go on and on, picking examples from my own playthrough. It could have been so much better with a couple tweaks to gameplay here or there, removing some annoyances, that sort of thing. But hey, it could have been worse – I keep hearing that Smash Tour, in the Wii U version, is even more despised!

In Part 3, the "Games & More": Classic, All-Stars. Stadium, Customization and Vault. ->

December 6, 2019

Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS (Part 1)


Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3

I haven’t reviewed a lot of games on Nintendo consoles lately; blame it on the overabundance of games I own on Steam. Also, whenever I get a hold of my Nintendo 3DS, it’s usually to play some more Pokémon Ultra Sun (and that one will hopefully get its own article someday). I almost forget that I have other games for the portable console, isn’t that odd? It’s not like I don’t have some big name games either, as I also have the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time remake and Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon. However, for the Nintendo experience, nothing beats good old Smash.

Jump, slash, run and swing your way to victory!
Or not.
Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS (AKA Smash 4), released in North America on October 3rd, 2014, comes from a relatively awkward yet recent era of Nintendo’s history. Ever since the N64, the company has felt the need to release a Smash title for each new generation of consoles. How can we blame them? Every new Smash game feels like a celebration. Masahiro Sakurai’s work on the massive crossover is something worthy of praise, and the numerous additions to the series over time have been, for the most part, well-received (whether it be characters, modes, options, gameplay mechanics… well, except tripping in Brawl; fuck tripping). So, of course, the Wii U had to have its own Smash. And yes, they went all-out; roughly fifty characters, the first instance of DLC characters added to the series, more franchises referenced, more non-Nintendo-borne characters joining the fight.

With that said, I am not too knowledgeable with Smash for Wii U, I never got a chance to play it and experience its modes. I was actually intrigued by the double release for that generation of consoles. Two Smash games released together? And the first entry of the franchise onto a portable console? Sign me up, right? That’s what I thought. And so, once I saw Smash for 3DS at a reasonable price, I bought it.


Smaller screens, smaller stages.
Let's get fightin'.
When the topic comes to Smash, I sincerely refuse to call any game of the franchise outright “bad”. As always, I tend to acknowledge the successes far more than the failures, and even though I have my gripes here or there (read: tripping, no, I’m not letting that one go), these games always seem good to me, if not outright great. People on the competitive fighting game scene might beg to differ, seeing how Melee was the sacred child of the Smash franchise for so long and there’s always been tweaks to physics and character movesets that tend to make these players prefer a Smash game (read: Melee) over another. I am in no way qualified to be a part of the competitive scene; Heck, I can barely get myself to find other people to play this game with. Admittedly, the strength of Smash games is that they’re so chock-full of content, you could never play these games with others, yet still have a good time for months. My own experience with the game allows me to make a relatively complete picture of all it contains, and what I think of each mode. There’s a bit of hindsight in there as well, considering Smash Ultimate was released in 2018 and we now have a more recent release to compare Smash 3DS (and Wii U) with. Still, I will try to rely more on personal experience than comparison with other games of the series.

Without further ado, let’s get into it.

That's only a fraction of the available trophies.
First things first, I’m impressed that they managed to fit so much in a 3DS cartridge. There’s everything you’re used to when it comes to Smash: A huge selection of playable characters, stages, items, guest stars (if you want to call the Pokéballs’ Mons and Assist Trophies that), modes and collectibles. Every time I go back, I realize how much there is, content-wise. Wows all around. As usual, the starting roster is already quite impressive, but it only gets better from there once you start unlocking characters and find out there’ll be about fifty faces on that screen to pick from by the end.

The first downside to having so much content on a single cartridge is that the loading times may feel long as a result. I did feel like there was a lot of loading in Smash 3DS, but considering everything that’s in there I’m willing to give that a pass. An understandable weakness. I would probably less forgiving if I played in multiplayer and encountered lag, which I guess is a possibility. Two points that will also pop up frequently, a fair trade for the console's technical limitations: A lot of options and modes are missing; no Events, no Tournaments, no Special Smash, but that's alright. Also, a lot of modes seem to have been made shorter, which I assume is due to the Nintendo 3DS's battery. Can't have modes that go on for too long, one's play time is fairly limited before they need to recharge the portable console again.

And so we get to my second point of criticism: I hope I’m not alone on this, but I felt that the main menu here was confusing. There seems to be a big focus on multiplayer, or at least multiplayer modes, since regular Smash, Smash Run and Online (with the first two including both single- and multiplayer options) are accessible from the first level of the menu, along with the menu of achievements and the mini-menus for the StreetPass and Wii U connectivity. Everything else, including the Solo modes, are stuffed into "Games & More" along with multiplayer options for Solo modes (All-Stars and Multi-Man Smash), customization, the vault of collectibles, the options, and the Amiibo menu. It’s all organized in a really strange manner. I can understand since the devs had to fit all of these options on the small screen of the 3DS. I also get that they may have favored the multiplayer options over the rest, but still – it’s odd to see the Solo mode relegated to a secondary menu, while the Challenges are on the main menu.

From now on? Each mode gets its own section. First is…

SMASH

Hard to actually show the difference in the game's physics
using still images. Here, look at how big the big guys
are now compared to the average Mario-sized Mario.
I don’t have much to say here, it’s pretty much the same as it ever was. The only difference is that the Solo and Multiplayer Smash options are separate, depending on whether you want to play a match by yourself or with friends. I assume that’s because you’d need to connect with other players of Smash 3DS in order to get a multiplayer match going. As usual, pick a fighter, pick a stage, set the rules just as you want them, and you’re ready to go. You do unlock extra rules after playing the game for a short amount of time. Do you like time-based matches, do you prefer stock battles? Would you like to set everyone’s handicap at 300% to make this a sudden death? Maybe a little bit of all that? Nothing else to say; it’s always been that way. So that’s fine. Of course, the 3DS’s limitations meant having a maximum of 4 fighters in a battle compared to its companion Wii U release’s 8 (in some conditions), but that’s not really a complaint.

Among new additions to mechanics, now an opponent that's
been KO'd will leave a trail the color of the fighter that
KO'd it. You can now figure out who KO'd who!
I would probably need to be more knowledgeable in terms ot Smash mechanics to truly discuss differences between this version and past ones. I do know that Brawl's physics were a little slower, in order to encourage a more party-like gameplay opposite from Melee's much more technical, fast-paced physics. This time around, I could feel like characters had their own differing weights, it was noticeable in how they moved or played, how their speed differed, and how this affected the outcome of battles. It also felt a lot faster, pace-wise, than Brawl. By the dev team's own admission, they were trying to combine the best of both worlds by having the party-like atmosphere of Brawl with the mechanics, better and more suited for competitive play, that were in Melee. I'll let better players than me be the judge on whether it worked, and whether it was a good idea. A few graphical differences were made as well, mostly regarding the size of characters when compared to each other in the roster and previous versions.

Smash is known for some of its modes, yes – but what do people really care about when it’s time to talk about any new entry in the series? Well, the roster, of course! It’s at the basis of everything Smash. Along with the famous Nintendo figures (and an increasing number of third-party fighters as well), items and stages keep getting added to double down on the massive crossover’s list of references. I figured I would close Part 1 of this review with a look at, and what I think of, the roster as well as the items of Smash 3DS. Stages will be in Part 2.

THE ROSTER

To say that Smash 4 (on both versions) went all-out would be an understatement. Up from Brawl’s ~39, Smash 3DS/WiiU ups the number of combatants to… um… depending how you look at it, 46 to 58. That’s a lot, and it certainly felt impressive at the time. 

So many faces  I can barely remember all their names.
Doesn't help that most Fire Emblem folks all look
like average shoujo protagonists.
Let’s break down the “46” first, I’ll explain the “58” later. Of these, 34 are returning from any of the previous Smash games. The original 12 are still there; Dr. Mario, Mewtwo and Roy return from Melee (the latter two as DLC), and most folks from Brawl are also here again. The absentees? Wolf O’Donnell, Snake, the Pokémon Trainer (Charizard’s in, but Squirtle and Ivysaur aren’t). Oh, and the Ice Climbers, due to the technical limitations of the Nintendo 3DS (though it means they were also out of the Wii U version). Toon Link is still in as Young Link’s replacement, and Pichu is yet nowhere to be seen.

Among the base game’s newcomers (and the DLCs discussed below), franchises making a first appearance here include Animal Crossing, Wii Fit, Punch-Out, Duck Hunt, Xenoblade, and for third-party characters, Mega Man and Pac-Man. The Miis (if you want to include them as a franchise of their own), are here too, available in Brawler, Swordfighter and Gunner flavors. Metroid and Kid Icarus, previously represented by a single character each, have new representatives as well (Samus is split in two characters, while Dark Pit and Palutena join Pit).


Seven characters in total are DLCs: Aside from the aforementioned Mewtwo and Roy, there’s also returning brawler Lucas, and newcomers Corrin (from Fire Emblem), Ryu (from Street Fighter), Cloud Strife (from Final Fantasy) and Bayonetta (from… well, Bayonetta).

Now, why the “58”? Well, some of these 46 characters have alternate outfits that are actually different in more ways than just the color; some of these are bonus character options. Fire Emblem representatives Corrin and Robin are available with both male and female models. So are Wii Fit Trainer and Animal Crossing’s Villager. Then Pikmin’s Olimar has Alph, one of his colleagues, as an alternate costume/fighter. The “holy crap” award, however, goes to Bowser Jr., newcomer from Mario’s side of the family, who has all SEVEN Koopalings as alternate costumes. WOW.

Good thing they all count as a single character.


Gee, I wonder who that is!
One of my favorite aspects of Smash is the possibility to unlock characters as you play, until you get the full roster – I am a little disappointed that there are only 12 characters that may be unlocked by playing the game this time (Then again, the Wii U version has it worse with only 8 unlockable characters). Some of them can be found either by repeatedly playing through Classic Mode on varying difficulties, but all can be unlocked by playing a numberof VS matches. The numbers of VS matches required are much smaller than in previous installments: only 120 to unlock Jigglypuff in Smash 3DS, versus 450 to unlock Wolf O’Donnell in Brawl. On the other hand, fewer characters to unlock means more options from the get-go. I also can’t forget that, of the 46 characters, 7 are behind a paywall.

"Aren't you me?"
"We're separate characters now."
"This is gonna get confusing."
"You have your name, I have my alias. Simple enough."
Another difference that disappoints me a little, but at the same time I feel it was an inevitable change: Characters who were once able to transform no longer can, and fighter transformations are new spots on the roster. Zelda and Sheik are separate characters now. Same for Samus and her Zero Suit form. I guess the alternate fighters as costumes were a good trade-off for that limitation. The other Final Smash transformations remain, however.

Overall, I’m fairly happy with the roster. There’s always the critique of there being too many new faces for one franchise while others are left without new representation. Three more Fire Emblem characters – Lucina, Robin and Corrin; two more from Mario – Rosalina and Bowser Jr; meanwhile, still not a trace of my favorite boy, Mike Jones from StarTropics! Once more, we were given new fighters that were either obvious choices, fan requests, or unexpected additions, and we're finally getting coverage for franchises that had yet to make an appearance. We aren’t missing a lot of veterans either, and the ones who originally had movesets too similar to other fighters’ saw an improvement and new attacks to distantiate themselves from the originals.

It also helps that you can customize all fighters by giving them new attacks, some of which you earn by completing challenges and clearing game modes. Don’t like a character’s down-special? You can swap it for another. I don’t really use that functionality, but it’s there for those who aren’t satisfied with a fighter’s attacks. Customization really is the name of the game here. I'll discuss this further in Part 3.

THE ITEMS

Any idea what to use for the best experience? I know! Only hammers.
The longest enduring meme of Smash might be “No items! Fox Only! Final Destination!” Yet, items are a key element of this crossover party fighter. No less than 71 items exist in the game in order to spice up these scuffles. They range from classics that were there since Day 1 on the N64 to additions paying homage to newer series as well as classics of gaming – and not just Nintendo, either, as Namco-Bandai gets a few references in there, thanks Pac-Man. The item screen in Smash 3DS is split depending on the type of item:

  • The Smash Ball for Final Smashes;
  • The helper items (Assist Trophies, Pokéballs and Master Balls);
  • Objects split in three parts to be collected in order to use their devastating effects (the Dragoon and Daybreak);
  • Containers such as crates;
  • Items that transform the character in some way;
  • Items that allow the character to punch/slash/shoot at others with added effects;
  • Items to be tossed around;
  • And last but not least, a handful of accessories.

Like in past games, you can turn on/off every item individually to customize the battle as you see fit.

My first problem here: Unlike past Smash games, you can’t set a rate at which items appear: It’s all or nothing. No gradation. If I recall, in Brawl one could choose a frequency at which items would spawn; None, Low, Medium or High. Melee had even more options. Here? On or Off. Have fun seeing either not a single item, or loads of items. I'm not sure I can blame console limitations here, either, as I think it would have been simple to implement.

Other observations:

Majestic! Silph worke dovertime to produce so many
Master Balls!
-I like that Pokéballs and Master Balls are now separate items, so you can play a match with nothing but Legendary Pokémon (and the occasional Goldeen) appearing if you want to. At the time of Smash 3DS’s release, Gen 6 had just come out, while Gen 5 came out after Brawl’s release, so both get some representation – roughly 13 Pokémon from those two Gens, along with many fan favorites returning. The new Assist Trophies are pretty cool too, by the way. I was very surprised to see Pong among the allies one could summon.

When I said BFG, I meant it.
That's one big freaking gun if I ever saw one.
-A number of Final Smashes (FS) have changed from Brawl to Wii U/3DS. I leave it to the metagame to decide whether all of these changes were good things; though generally, new Final Smashes tend to make a bit more sense on the characters using them. Charizard, Mewtwo and Lucario gain access to their Mega forms, Luigi now uses the Poltergust, Pit equips himself with the Three Sacred Treasures instead of calling an army of angels, R.O.B. swaps his diffusion beam for a BFG. Zero Suit Samus has a new FS of her own, since Samus’ original FS involved her ditching the suit or putting it back on after attacking.

Boss Galaga is one of the reasons why I'm starting to
believe in the "No Items, Final Destination" meme.
I'm not quite at the "Fox Only" part, though.
-Smash had no shortage of ultra-deadly items in the past three entries (the Hammers, some Assist Trophies and Pokémon, among others), but Smash 3DS literally introduced two items with the potential to insta-kill characters. First is Boss Galaga, taken from the famous arcade classic. When launched, it will fly around with a tractor beam. A player caught in the beam will be dragged upwards into the upper blast line. Unless the captured character is punched out of the beam or wrestles out, it’s gonna die. Guaranteed. A second item, the Lanayru Beetle, does a similar thing, also dragging a fighter upwards to kill them once it catches them. Multiple times have I been killed in Classic because the enemy got to either of these first and threw it at me. This is the new tripping for me; this ruins battles. This can turn the tide of battles in unfair ways. I hate these items.

The last time I fought winds this nasty, I was battling Wario!
-The ability to push enemies away wouldn’t seem that great in a fighting game, but in Smash, where you just need to send someone too far in any direction, it’s too good. The Ore Club can create tornadoes after successful smash attacks, while there’s an entire item, the Gust Bellows, dedicated to pushing others away. These two can coexist in one battle. Trap someone close to a side blast line, and keep pushing them towards it, and boom, easy win. Urgh. Not as bad as the insta-kill items, but still really goddamn annoying.

-So. Many. Bombs. Too many, in fact.

Using screenshots from the Wii U version...
Is that cheating? The items remain the same...
Although, there’s a number of good additions among the items (the Super Leaf, Spiny Shell, Special Flag, Rocket Belt, POW Block, Drill and Boomerang are ones I like). I do like that they keep adding items from franchises that either had very little or no representation at all, some obscure series in particular. I don’t have good words for every new item, but while I bitch and moan about details, most additions are actually good.

In Part 2: The Stages, Streetsmash, the Challenges, and Smash Run. ->

November 22, 2019

Quick Review: Virginia


Video games have thrived to become more cinematic for a decade or two now. This takes the idea to the next level by being basically a playable movie.

What better way to start the game than by showing the
point-of-view character through a mirror introduction?
Virginia was developed by Variable State, published by 505 Games, and released to Steam on September 22nd, 2016. It’s the story of freshly-graduated FBI agent Anne Tarver, on her first assignment: Helping her colleague Maria Halperin investigate the disappearance of a teenager in the small town of Kingdom, Virginia… while also investigating Maria’s other, possibly illegal activities.

That is, sincerely, all I wish to say about the plot proper, as this is an experience to play by yourself. Now, let me tell you WHY it’s an experience. This isn’t your run-of-the-mill investigation game. As I said, it’s more akin to a playable movie, which creates an almost unique effect.

"Your mission, if you're willing to accept it..."

Very much evoking the "movie" aesthetic, with
this very "DVD menu"-esque title screen.
"Continue" is renamed "Resume Feature" even!
I say “almost unique” because Variable State acknowledges in the end credits of Virginia that they took a lot of inspiration for this game’s mechanics from a shorter title on Steam called “Thirty Flights of Loving”. I actually reviewed that one too, in a Steam Pack, some time ago. Thirty Flights was another cinematic game, in which you had some freedom to act, but the scenes were cut like a short film to be followed. Virginia takes that idea and rolls with it, crafting a two-hour story with twists and turns, built like a movie. The menu even splits the story into very short chapters, akin to a film on DVD. The gameplay is mostly limited to walking around, observing the surroundings, exploring areas once in a while, and interacting with objects to move the plot forward. I hesitate to even call it a puzzle game, as there’s very little for you to do that counts as a “puzzle”. Well… unless you consider deciphering the plot to be the puzzle here.

Unless the real mystery lies within our investigation partner, Maria...

Virginia is indeed cut like a film; unnecessary parts are taken out (as an example, instead of going down the whole flight of stairs, you go down a few and then cut to Anne walking through a corridor, at the bottom of the stairs). Smash cuts and fade-ins/fade-outs are common. Camera tricks aren’t used quite as often as the game is played in first person from Anne’s perspective, but it does lead to interesting points of view. Seeing everything happen like you’re literally one of the participants is nothing new in video games, but it’s fresh and special in a story cut like a film.

That birdie, in that signature red plumage,
has to be significant to the story.
That it escapes may mean even more.
Speaking of, a general rule of movie-making. Every scene, every cut has a purpose: It moves the plot forward; conveys an emotion; gives context or clues towards comprehending the story; or many of these at once. The type of camera shot, the colors and the lighting of each scene work towards making each shot count. Therefore, if something has remained in the final montage, it’s because it’s significant. Those are not necessarily things you think about while watching a TV show or a movie, but in this game where you’re a part of the universe, encouraged to explore and discover things, it’s all the more noticeable. And it gives the player an interest in understanding each scene and its implicit meaning, beyond just what you see on the screen. Oh, and that’s not all; putting aside some sections with text, this entire story happens without a single spoken line from any character.

You can even feel the fall!
Oh wait, no, that was me, I just fell off my chair.

Is that envelope going to yell at me?
To top it off, like a lot of games out there, Virginia comes with two “collection side-quests” in which you can look for feathers and flowers, respectively. There are achievements associated with these, if you decide to explore each environment in order to find everything.

Oh, and need I mention the diverse cast, with the two main characters (Anne and Maria) being women of color? Because that’s very welcome.

Like I said; cut like the scenes of a movie on DVD.

A strong recommendation. Oh yeah, this is a great experience, you should play Virginia. It’s good. It's available on Steam usually for about 10$.

And with this, the series of quick reviews for this month is complete! Tune in... er... as soon as possible, and I'll try to publish a few more reviews before the end of the year. If I can get at least one done I'll be happy. Hopefully I can go back to doing quick reviews like these and post many of them throughout a future month again, this was fun!

November 21, 2019

Quick Review: Uncanny Valley


That’s an odd title for a video game that seems to be about horror…

Located far away from everything.
Like any locale about to turn into a horror movie.
Uncanny Valley was developed and published by Cowardly Creations, and made available on the Steam store on April 23rd, 2015. It’s the story of Tom, a night watchman freshly hired at a facility in the woods. What are they doing in there? None of our business, but the place looks and feels empty even during daytime. Tom settles into his new life, working at night, sleeping during the day (something I know quite a bit about). During his night shifts, he makes the mistake of exploring the facility further than he’s allowed to…

This great, big, empty building... What are its secrets?

No, Tom isn't being chased by monsters.
This is the cafeteria and he's going for an evening snack.
The devs pride themselves on including a “consequences” system to this game, which is a very interesting idea that would be fantastic in a larger title. Tom actually follows a fairly clear schedule; when he’s awake, usually in the evening/night/morning, there’s a few things he can do (such as participate to side-quests) as long as he still fulfills his job and spends some time guarding the facility. When he sleeps, you may play him through his dreams that often turn out to be nightmares. Things that happen to Tom may affect the rest of the playthrough; the store page explains, as an example, that if Tom suffers an injury to the leg while failing to escape from some monsters, he will be walking/running a bit more slowly afterwards, making it harder to escape from future threats. It’s a great idea on paper. In execution, it could be an issue.

Cassettes! How so '90s!
The game does offer a number of puzzles to solve, as well as a handful of side-quests and options for the story to move forward. If you wish to avoid spoilers, don’t read through the list of achievements, as some of them reveal decisions one can make throughout the game. There’s even collectibles in the form of cassettes and VHS tapes, if you wish to look for these. There’s even a way to listen to/watch them!

Connecting the dots to form a letter? Easy.
Having to do it without letting go? Tougher.
However, I wasn’t really impressed by the game itself. It sets up an interesting atmosphere, and it has pretty great pixel art by moments (anytime a sense of dread needs to arise from creepy environments, in dreams as an example). I got annoyed at how short the nights were, greatly reducing the number of things you could accomplish before the night watchman has to return to his apartment to sleep. I get the idea, Tom only has so much time to unravel the plot and make the bizarre discoveries, but it was very limiting. The consequences system feels like an idea with potential, but I’m worried there’s a risk of making the game unwinnable if too many negative consequences have piled up on Tom.

Whoa, what the Hell is that?

That said, if you’re curious, the game is available for 10$. You might find more enjoyment in it than I have, who knows? If you like horror and are intrigued by the concept, give it a try.