So, What's Happening With Capcom?


So, What's Happening With Capcom?

Capcom might just be the single most confusing company in videogames right now.

That’s right, more than Microsoft’s Xbox One backtracking, Nintendo’s WiiU bullishness, and Square Enix’s maddening attitude towards Final Fantasy, Capcom has managed to make their every business move so confusing, so baffling, that they’ve developed one of the largest hatedoms in gaming.


There isn’t a news article about Capcom in existence that doesn’t have some commenter fuming beneath it about how it’s the worst company in existence ever and why did they kill Mega Man those horrible people. But I don’t think these people necessarily hate Capcom. It’s hard to hate a non-physical entity that exists to put out products for your entertainment, even when they aren’t always great. My best guess is that these people are, like me, completely and utterly baffled by Capcom, and are angry to see their favourite games caught up in the mess they’re making right now.


Let’s start with the most recent red flag: PAX. At PAX last weekend, Capcom’s booth was only showcasing one unreleased game: Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies. There was also a photo-op area for the new Strider game, and then demos of games that have already been released. Some demos for games like Monster Hunter 3, which came out in March. It’s strange, but it makes you think. Capcom’s marquee games right now are Ace Attorney and, judging by the amount of advertising still going on for it, Ducktales Remastered. Nothing against either of those games, especially not Ace Attorney since I love it so, but two digital only, niche titles don’t seem to spell out “marquee game for one of gaming’s giants” do they?

Meanwhile, Keiji Inafune, former head of R&D at Capcom and creator of Mega Man, announced a kickstarter for his new project, Mighty No. 9. To spare you the finer details, No. 9 is essentially Inafune making a new Mega Man game now that he’s left Capcom and no longer has access to his character. Inafune left Capcom while two Mega Man games were in development, both reportedly eaten alive by executive meddling, and cancelled soon after Inafune departed from the Company.


But now that the Mighty No. 9 kickstarter is already funded and hitting stretch goals left and right, I imagine Capcom isn’t so pleased about cancelling those games. I imagine they’re wondering why they didn’t let Inafune make the Mega Man he (and the fans) wanted.

That or they’re still busy putting out other PR fires. Between Devil May Cry fans getting up in arms about the recent reboot, causing the game to miss sales expectations (one million copies isn’t bad, but it seemed like the game was worth a lot more to Capcom), and Resident Evil 6 hitting 4.9 million copies and still being considered a financial disappointment, Capcom is preoccupied with corporate schizophrenia. They can’t seem to decide what company they want to be.

 Capcom, pictured here about to do battle with Capcom.

Capcom, pictured here about to do battle with Capcom.

Capcom wants to be like Activision, taking massive risks by pumping huge amounts of money into huge games and getting to call 4.9 million sales a disappointment. Capcom also wants to be like the more fiscally responsible Aksys games, relegating riskier propositions like a western release of Ace Attorney to digital only. But Capcom also wants to be like Atlus, releasing the previously digital only Ducktales Remastered in a limited physical edition with goodies inside the box. Of course, they also want to be like EA, taking risks on smaller games like Remember Me and making them big under Capcom’s umbrella. But then they also want to be like Nintendo, and rely on their classic staples by rereleasing old titles on every digital platform under the sun. And finally, they want to be like Capcom of the ‘90s, releasing minor updates and closely related sequels to Monster Hunter and Street Fighter for as long as people keep buying them.

But none of these companies MOs really fit together in any cohesive way. Especially when your company isn’t doing so well, financially speaking, and you’ve just suffered significant layoffs, like Capcom has.


And what’s on the horizon for Capcom? Dead Rising 3, which, if its showing at E3 is anthing to go by, is trading off on the series’ trademark humour and zaniness for grim, gritty and brown, presumably to turn a once decently performing series into a next gen cash cow. It’s not a bad move for the company, since it’ll probably fall more in line with current popular consumer taste, but doesn’t bode well for Dead Rising fans, who seem to just want more servebot helmets and mega busters in their million zombie death carnivals thank you very much.

If I was Capcom’s PR, I’d be seeing a feast of good publicity just around the corner. With the company (seemingly) strapped for cash, reusing the Resident Evil 6 engine (which must have cost a fortune) and the DmC engine (which was 100% solid as a Devil May Cry game) for lower budget, back to basics games for each franchise seems like it would kill four birds with one or two stones. Fans would get their franchises back to normal; Capcom would release highly successful instalments in their marquee franchises, and make a nice profit off reusing assets from two underperforming games. I understand that fan desire isn’t enough to get games greenlit, but this seems like an obvious chose to (an admittedly outsider) me.


So what happened to Capcom? Just five years ago, they reinvented and revived the fighting game genre, turning Street Fighter into a serious franchise again and putting fighting games on everyone’s mind. Ten years ago, they created some of this generation’s most popular genres; the third person shooter with Resident Evil 4, and the third person action game with Devil May Cry. Twenty years ago, Capcom invented modern fighting games in the first place, and before that, codified the template for a side scrolling action game that wasn’t Mario. Now, they’re releasing bloated, broken Resident Evils, shutting down any Mega Man related project that might make it past the greenlight stage, all the while finding new, contradictory ways to baffle fans.


Ace Attorney not receiving a limited physical release while Ducktales does makes a little bit of sense, considering Ducktales will sell more in a week than AA5 probably ever will, but still leave Ace Attorney fans in the cold. A $60 dollar limited edition with a soundtrack sold exclusively through the Capcom store would probably even make its money back at this point. Similarly, after touting that Mega Man Legends 3 will have unprecedented fan input on design decisions, Capcom cancelled the game, and never released the paid beta/demo. I have to imagine that making back any money on a cancelled project would be a high priority for a company that seems as down as Capcom right now, and releasing the demo on the 3DS eShop for 10 bucks would recoup something. And something is always better than nothing.

Honestly, what I think is happening to Capcom is what’s happening at every major Japanese publisher right now. The West has fully taken over, and these companies are struggling to find relevance now that they can’t just take being the mainstream for granted anymore. But Capcom’s the one that’s receiving most of the hate. People have totally given up on Sqaure Enix, and Nintendo will always have its diehards, but they always come back to hating Capcom. I’m not sure why. My best guess is because Capcom was one of the few companies that always had titles that appealed to the west. Games like Mega Man, Resident Evil and Street Fighter caught on in the west in a bigger way than Final Fantasy or Castlevania, and occupy a pretty big place in western gaming culture. People hate Capcom because they care about those games, and the longer Capcom spends confusing the living hell out of everyone, the longer we have to wait before seeing them get back to form.

I just hope they get back to form at all.




The 2DS is Not an April Fool’s Joke: It’s a Really Smart Move


The 2DS is Not an April Fool’s Joke: It’s a Really Smart Move

Over the years, I’ve learned it’s impossible to predict Nintendo, and that’s why you can never count them out. When the 3DS was dying, no one could have seen the massive price cut and ambassador program that gave the system the second wind it needed to become a serious threat that went on to essentially kill the Vita. But somehow, even though I expect to be surprised by then every time, Nintendo always manages to do something completely insane that no one could ever see coming.

This week, it was the 2DS.


If you haven’t heard of it by now, the 2DS is Nintendo’s new 3DS iteration. It’s a kid-focused handheld that strips out the glassesless 3D feature and the clamshell design in exchange for a lower price and increased durability. Which is to say it looks like it was made by Tonka and it costs $119.99, about $40 cheaper than the standard 3DS.

According to Nintendo, it also boasts slightly increased battery life, a bigger stylus with a dock on the side of the system (where it should have always been), and a sleep mode switch that replaces closing the 3DS clamshell to activate sleep mode. Additonally, the two screens are actually one large touchscreen separated by the casing, with the top screen covered to prevent people from touching it.


It’s a smart move from Nintendo. There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence around the internet and from Gamestop employees about parents holding off on the 3DS out of worry that it’ll ruin their children’s eyes. The 3DS (and every 3DS game) even has to have a little notice on it, warning that children under 7 probably shouldn’t play games in 3D, lest their corneas rocket out of their eye sockets or something. So it assuages that worry for parents.

The new design also gets rid of the 3DS’s flimsy hinge. I’m not one to jump around and move a lot while playing a handheld game, but I’ve had the 3DS top screen shift around when the bus takes a sharp turn, or the subway gets a little bumpy, I can’t imagine how bad it must be for a kid, who’s probably going to get a little hyperactive with their new toy. The brick-like design, with the covered top screen and thick top makes the 2DS look like a safer proposition for parents afraid their kids will break their $160 toy on day one.

Now, it’s not all sunshine and roses for the 2DS. Its existence and branding aren’t exactly the best thing in the world for Nintendo. The name is one thing. We all know it’s ridiculous sounding, but it’s also too clever by half. Sure its sort of a cut little pun, similar to the 3DS, but think back to when that system launched. I can remember Gamestop employees frustrated trying to explain the difference between the regular DS and the 3DS to confused parents. They weren’t frustrated because the parents were misinformed; they were frustrated because it’s sort of hard to explain why a DSi can’t play 3DS games when their names are so close.


And that’s the kicker. Nintendo painted themselves into a corner with the name. Of course they wanted to name it something similar to the DS, the DS sold tens of millions. But now consumers don’t get the difference. The same thing happened to the WiiU.  WiiU doesn’t sound like a sequel to the Wii, it sounds like an expansion, like the Wii MotionPlus, or the Wii Speak. Even Sony has the sense to just number them.

You now have three 3DS systems on the market, alongside the DS, which is still selling pretty decently. The DS can’t play 3DS games, but the 2DS can. But the 3DS and 3DS XL play all the games that the 2DS can, only with the option to play them in 3D. And the 3DS XL has bigger screens, which don’t actually change the experience. And depending o the DS you get it also has a slot at the bottom for Game Boy Advance games from a decade ago.

Do you see where it gets confusing?


Not to mention the fact that the lack of 3D splinters the market. There really aren’t very many 3DS games that have a heavy focus on the 3D features, but games like Super Mario 3D Land, the best selling game on the system, have levels that can get pretty difficult if you have the 3D turned off. If the 2DS takes off, we’re less likely to see games that utilize the 3D, since anyone who has a 2DS won’t be able to play. Of course, I can’t remember the last time I turned on the 3D, so it’s no great loss to me, but it certainly got a lot trickier for a developer with an interesting idea for a 3D game to get the greenlight.


But make no mistake. The 2DS will take off. It’s launching on October 12th, the same day as Pokémon X and Y, in blue and red colours that scream “bundle with Pokémon” to me. It’s targeted at young children, who are going to want Pokémon this holiday season, and is launching with a system that addresses parental concerns while also getting pretty close to very parent friendly $100. It’s an almost guaranteed formula for sales.

Nintendo is going to have an uphill battle explaining what the 2DS is to parents, and explaining why it’s different than the 3DS, but with enough signage, I think they can overcome that hurdle.


There’s a more interesting nugget hidden amongst the 2DS debate though. It only has one screen, and it’s shaped shockingly like a tablet. You’d need to be living under a rock to miss all the news stories about kids getting into tablets at younger and younger ages, and becoming incredibly well informed about their devices. Nintendo wants a piece of that action, and they want it bad. Kids are mostly using tablets to play games, and Nintendo can offer something app developers can’t: Pokémon and Mario.

I doubt the 2DS is ever going to steal the iPad’s thunder, but between it and the Wii U game pad, I wouldn’t be surprised if the next Nintendo handheld doesn’t launch with tablet and clamshell options. One intended for kids, one marketed to older gamers. Nintendo might pretend they aren’t afraid of Apple, but the 2DS marks the start of a serious effort to take tablet gaming back into Nintendo’s hands. After all, the Game Boy was basically a brick with a screen, and what is that if not the tablet of the late ‘80s?



Mark of the Ninja Special Edition- What You Are in the Dark


Mark of the Ninja Special Edition- What You Are in the Dark

It’s interesting how another trip back to a game you love can really change your mind about it. Mark of the Ninja was one of my favourite games of 2012, and, in my opinion, one of the best stealth games ever made. Mark of the Ninja: Sepcial Edition is its $5 expansion DLC, which adds a bonus level set before the events of the game, a new play style, two new weapons, and developer commentary. Going through the game again for the commentary reminded me that its still one of the best designed games ever made, but when it came to the new level, something clicked in my head. The new level that Special Edition offers somehow manages to show off why Mark of the Ninja is so great, and also why it could have so easily sucked.


The new level stars Dosan, a ninja without the titular mark. For those of you who haven’t played the original game, or forgotten about the lore, the mark is what lets you freeze time to aim your throwing weapons, and use farsight to see through walls in a very clear take on the Arkham game’s detective vision. Dosan, being a technical pacifist, also doesn’t carry a sword, instead having access to an instant non-lethal takedown.

For me, that last one sounded like a breath of fresh air. I love playing through stealth games as non-lethally as possible, slowly and methodically making my way through a level without being seen, and without touching a hair on my enemies’ heads. Unfortunately, that often slows down the game significantly. In games like Metal Gear Solid and Dishonored, this is par for the course, the game is meant to be taken slowly. But Mark of the Ninja is different. It’s fast paced and fluid and slowing down the game to play non-lethally really messes with the flow of the level sometimes. I figured that a non-lethal takedown would bring speed back to my pacifistic play style.


Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite work. Dosan’s inability to slow down time while aiming, an almost essential feature when playing stealthily, essentially means that his throwing items (a dust cloud that confuses enemies briefly for an easy takedown, and poisonous spores that kill anyone who comes in contact with them) are completely out of play when you’re on the move. His takedown also leaves something to be desired, as it instantly knocks out any enemy it hits, unlike regular takedowns, which require a directional input and an extra button press. It’s a small thing, sure, but it’s what made lethal takedowns so visceral and exciting, and also offered the ability to mess up with them, granting you a kill, but creating noise that drew enemies to your location.

Dosan is just as quick on his feet as the ninja of the original, and in fact, the new level almost requires speedy play, with enemies that have short patrol loops and a segment that has your usual methods of sneaking my enemies slowly taken away from you, one by one. That segment is actually when the DLC begins to come into its own, only to fall and frustrate you once again. Each time you activate one of the “traps” in this area, you lose one of your usual hiding spots. In the order of your choosing, you booby trap the scaffoldings and climbing spots, the vents, and the hiding places. Taking these three things out of play, three of your most important stealthy resources, makes for a very interesting level, but also highlights the flaws of Dosan’s play style. With no way to slow things down, directly kill enemies to get rid of their bodies, or hide and plan, an interesting level mechanic turns into an exercise in frustration, reloading from the last checkpoint for the fifth time because you spent one second too long in the vents and got impaled by the spikes that now line it.


However, the level does come around to a much more satisfying conclusion, one that’s better tailored to Dosan’s strengths. The end of the level tasks you with either knocking out every guard in the area, or terrifying five of them. Of course, without the ability to kill or the game’s terror dart weapon,  Dosan has a hard time of managing to terrify enemies. Also, the area this challenge is given to you in is sprawling, intricately connected, and has dozens of guards with variable patrols. Terrifying one guard in the corner of the map can completely alter how the rest of the guards move around the level. Not to mention the fact that terrorized guards shoot wildly into the air and can hit you, or worse, mess up your plans by hitting other guards.

This challenge, clearly designed around Dosan’s ability to play fast and loose, without too much planning, is one of the most sublime setpieces in the entire game. Dashing and swinging around this massive complex, with an unconscious guard in tow and three at your back creates a sort of tension the game didn’t have until now. Special Edition forces you out in the open and into direct, non-violent confrontation with the guards, in a level perfectly designed around the play style they invented for it. It’s perfect, and almost makes you forget how the rest of the level is sort of lacklustre.



As for the commentary, I was expecting it to be audio-based, like in Portal. I was surprised to find text commentary strewn across the level instead, stopping me every time I wanted to read up on the game. Of course, any look into how Klei made a game I love so much is appreciated, but I have to wonder if audio commentary wouldn’t have broken up the flow of the game as much, especially in a game so focused on fluid play. 

Klei has the chops to make incredibly designed stealth levels. They put out an entire game full of them. It’s slightly off-putting that they didn’t seem to get their game together until the very end of this DLC. It unfortunate too, because they made the rookie mistakes that would have turned Mark of the Ninja into a bad game. Easy takedowns, weird pacing, boring, straight hallways lined with unpredictable traps, all these things and more populate the first three quarters of Dosan’s tale, but brave them all, and you’ll find the crown jewel of Special Edition: proof that Mark of the Ninja can still be a spectacular game when it wants to be.



Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons Has the Best 10 Seconds of Any Game Ever


Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons Has the Best 10 Seconds of Any Game Ever

[Major Spoilers for Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, if you haven’t played it yet, DO THAT NOW. It’s a spectacular game.]


There’s a moment in Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons that reminded me why I love videogames. In fact, it left such a huge impact on me that I’m pretty sure that it’s the single best 10-15 seconds of any videogame. Ever.

It’s a solo co-op game, with the left stick and trigger controlling the older brother, and the right stick and trigger controlling the younger. It requires some impressive brain gymnastics to get the hang of controlling two characters at once, both moving independently of each other and focused on completing different tasks. Games have trained us over the years to be excellent at controlling a single object, possibly with some subservient followers, probably because moving two figures at once, with no relation between their movements is hard.

 "Brothers is confident that it can teach you how to work as a team with yourself"


Beyond just videogames not training us for this, I’m pretty sure the human brain isn’t wired for this kind of job. People who have never played videogames before often have trouble working a first person shooter, since it requires the player to operate two axes of movement independently of each other. The abstract task of controlling even a single figure on a screen is too much for most people. Not to mention the fact that we’re terrible at multitasking in general, even when it’s something as simple as patting our heads and rubbing our bellies at once. So when it comes to controlling two characters at the same time, it’s not surprising that the majority of the first chunk of the game is spent making your characters run into walls and stumble around each other.

But, Brothers is confident that it can teach you how to work as a team with yourself, and that confidence isn’t just bluster. As the game goes on, you get better and better at controlling the brothers, better and better at working in unison with yourself. It’s an impressive feat of game design, but what’s more impressive is how they tie it in to the narrative.


Brothers tells its story with out a single word of dialog, at least not that anyone can understand. Characters speak a fantasy babble language that sounds vaguely like simlish. The only words I could make out by the end were (what I assume are) the names of the two brothers. It’s a simple story, two brothers go on a quest to find the water of life, which will save their dying father. The journey goes about as well as you’d expect for two children, with moments of triumph and wonder punctuated by loss and danger at every turn. It’s a story of love, brotherhood, and loss, but manages to get your to care about its characters without ever saying a single word to you.

Not only that, but as you play the game, you get better and better at controlling the two brothers in unison, to the point where it becomes second nature. The game is teaching you how to do it through practice, but what it ends up looking like is that the journey these two brothers go on brings them closer and closer, until they don’t make mistakes, they know what the other is thinking, and they become a perfect team. It’s as if they share a brain. Of course, they do. It’s your brain they share. But there’s a little more to it.

At the beginning of the game, there’s a cutscene which shows the younger brother on a boat, trying to save his mother from drowning. The scene ends with him woken up by the older brother, calling him away from their mother’s grave to help carry their father to someone who can help.


Later on, you encounter water, and the younger brother refuses to go in. At first I thought it was because he couldn’t swim, but I realized very quickly it was because he was afraid of water, because he watched his mother drown, and the concept of being in water now terrified him. In order to get him to swim, the older brother has to enter, then the younger brother has to walk near him and grab his back. You hold down the right trigger to have the younger brother hold on, and then swim with the left stick. It’s a pretty simple action, all things considered, but it means something a little bigger. The younger brother relies on his elder, he’s useless without him, he needs him to help him get over his fears and contribute. It’s an extremely subtle moment of character development, and amazing that it’s told almost entirely through player interaction.

Later in the game, the older brother dies. The brothers make it to the tree where the water of life is kept, but the older brother doesn’t hold out long enough for the younger can make it back with the water of life in time to save him. Thus, the younger brother, now the only brother, has to head back to save his father alone.


On the way back, the younger brother comes across a river. Walking up to the river elicits the same reaction from the younger brother as it always did He shakes his head no and tries to turn away. He still refuses to walk into the water, no matter how many times you try to press his action button. Ever since the two brothers separated at the tree of life, the game only has you use the right stick and trigger, the buttons that once controlled the older brother are useless. But now, standing in front of the river, you realize that they do have a use.

Pressing the left trigger, the older brother’s action button, makes the younger brother jump in the river and swim across as fast as he can. It’s stormy, the waters are choppy, but he swims across, crying the whole way.

It doesn’t seem like much, I know, but it’s those ten seconds of swimming across a river that drove home every single one of the game’s themes. Every leg of the brother’s journey is about love and how it changes people. A troll helps you along your way, but then throws you into mines in order to save his beloved. You free another troll only for her to run away, forcing you to deal with her captors. She returns and offers her help, realizing you were sent by her husband. You free a strange-griffin like creature, which in return for your help, flies you across a chasm before dying, loving freedom until its last breath. The older brother falls for a girl you save, and stops listening to his younger brother, the person with which he essentially shares a soul. Ignoring his brother’s advice costs the older brother his life. His love for the girl made him ignore his love for his brother, and changed him for the worse. I could write essays upon essays about all of the individual thematic moments in Brothers, and why they’re all so spectacular. They’re all little parables, almost fable-like in how they express their themes without any dialog, just gameplay.

"Hitting a button reminded me why I love videogames."


In the end, pressing that trigger to make the younger brother swim is the final point the game has to make about brotherhood, love and loss. Love can make you stronger, it can change you, but it can also ruin you, in the case of the older brother. Loss can make you weak, and useless, like the younger brother who can’t even swim without help. But brotherhood is stronger than any of these forces, a permanent bond that ties two people together, through love, loss, death and anything else the world can throw at them. In ten seconds, the game throws all of that at you. With one button press, the game puts you in charge of putting the thematic conclusion on the entire game. Hitting a button reminded me why I love videogames. Why a medium that can affect you through your own interaction with a story is worthwhile. Why interactivity can enhance a story.


Ten seconds reminded me that videogames can be amazing, and that makes them the best ten seconds of any videogame ever.



Mario and Luigi: Dream Team- Put the Kids to Bed


Mario and Luigi: Dream Team- Put the Kids to Bed

About 20 hours into Mario and Luigi: Dream Team, the game stopped me to teach me how to use a skill I’ve been using since the beginning of the game. Then, it added a minor wrinkle to this ability, and stopped to teach me how to use that. Then, in the next room, it stopped me to talk about it one more time. This was 20 hours in, very close to the end of the game. I almost threw my 3DS across the room when in the very next room, the game stopped to teach me how to use this ability AGAIN.

Mario and Luigi: Dream Team is not a bad game In fact, half of it is an excellent game. The other half of it is one of the most infuriating RPGs I’ve ever had the displeasure of sitting back and reading. Dream Team is not a half bad game; it’s a half good one.

 Even in Luigi's dreams, Mario is the one in charge.

Even in Luigi's dreams, Mario is the one in charge.

Dream Team is the fourth Mario game in the Mario and Luigi series of RPGs, one of two series spun out of Squaresoft’s Super Mario RPG: The Legend of the Seven Stars. The Paper Mario series plays a little more like a Mario game, with a sidescrolling perspective in the overworld, and a very minor use of stats. The Mario and Luigi games are slightly more traditional in their RPG-ness, other than the fact that, like Mario RPG and Paper Mario, the game uses properly timed button presses during attacks to make them stronger. It’s a fantastic marriage of Mario’s action game roots to an RPG battle system, and turns the usual slog through turn-based battles into an exciting game of reading enemy tells, finding the timing to counterattack, and then perfecting the timing on your own attacks.

This part of Dream Team, the combat half of the game, is spectacular. The game is loaded with plenty of interesting, challenging enemy attack patterns to learn, and boss fights start becoming a serious challenge pretty quickly. I found myself dying on bosses multiple times, just because they get so tricky. Fortunately, dying lets you just restart the current battle instead of having to go back to the title screen, which makes the challenge fun rather than brutally frustrating.

 Mario's helmet must me made of steel if it protects him from a dozen Luigis falling on him ever time he jumps.

Mario's helmet must me made of steel if it protects him from a dozen Luigis falling on him ever time he jumps.

The frustrating part of the game is everything else. From the presentation to the dialog to the puzzles to the overworld, nothing else about this game works the way you’d hope it should. While the game has gorgeous spritework (I found myself obsessing over the tiny animation details, like Mario adjusting his cap after landing from a particularly high jump in battle), that level of detail isn’t matched by the music. There’s only one battle theme, one boss theme, and one tune for each area, and you hear them a lot. It gets incredibly grating very quickly.

You can’t turn to the dialog to keep you entertained though, because while the localization staff tried their hardest to pump the exposition-laden script full of jokes, they just couldn’t keep up with amount of chattiness in this game. Characters rarely talk for a long period of time, but they do take a page out of Final Fantasy 13’s book and give you some exposition before making you walk across the room for another five minutes of their lecture on the history of this island you don’t care about.

 Those characters are sprites! Incredibly detailed sprites that look 3D! It's crazy!

Those characters are sprites! Incredibly detailed sprites that look 3D! It's crazy!

I don’t think there’s a single room where the game doesn’t wrest control of the camera away from you to highlight the solution to that room’s puzzle, and then has one of your two Navi-like companions pop out to wonder if what the camera just focused in on is the solution to a puzzle. And then when you solve this puzzle in 30 seconds because the answer was spelled out for you, they will fly out of Mario’s back pocket again to comment on how that WAS the solution and boy they’re sure proud you figured out that brain-buster.

It’s a toothless exercise in going through the motions, exacerbated by the fact that it never just shuts the hell up and lets you enjoy the combat. Other than backtracking, there are no 10 minutes of playtime in this game that go uninterrupted by some NPC who will heavy-handedly reveal the solution to a puzzle, give you some exposition, then maybe manage to crack one cute joke.

 Maybe the constant exposition is why Luigi's able to fall asleep so easily?

Maybe the constant exposition is why Luigi's able to fall asleep so easily?

The localization staff deserves some real recognition for managing to punch up this script as much as they did. They tried to make as many jokes as they possibly could, but the sheer amount of text in this game must have overwhelmed them. It’s a real shame, because the game’s predecessor, 2010’s Bowser’s Inside Story, managed to have a consistently punchy script all the way through. Mario and Luigi only had one tagalong “helper” to chat up tutorials, Bowser rampaged through exposition because he just wanted to break stuff, and the game’s villain, Fawful, spouted incomprehensible gibberish most of the time. It was great.

Boswer’s Inside Story had the same structure as Dream Team too, with half the game taking place in a sidescrolling, platformer-lite world, and the other taking place in a more traditional, top down overworld. In this game however, instead of Mario and Luigi spelunking inside Bowser’s internal organs for the sidescrolling portions, Mario delves into the dreams of his ever-forgotten younger brother. In these dream worlds, Mario fights alone, with Luigi’s many dream selves acting as afterimages that power up his attacks. The battles also let you move up and down or face left and right with the circle pad when dodging certain attacks, which adds an appreciated level of extra depth to the combat.

 Ugh, gross Luigi, use a giant dream tornado tissue.

Ugh, gross Luigi, use a giant dream tornado tissue.

But again, the combat is great. If it weren’t for the fact that playing as Bowser in the previous game was so fun, Dream Team would have the best combat in the series. It’s the constant hand holding and exposition that drives me up a wall. It almost feels like a reaction to last year’s Paper Mario: Sticker Star, which refused to hold your hand so much that it never even hinted at the solutions to the increasingly obtuse puzzles. Sticker Star hated holding your hand; it wanted nothing to do with it. Dream Team loves your hand, and wants to hold it so tight and never let go. It wants to take your hand and lead it to this item box, which it will make you stand under and show you how the A button makes you jump, 25 hours into the game.

I can understand tutorials in games, they aren’t a big deal most of the time. Ten hours into Dream Team, I thought I was finally seeing the end of them. That’s a long time for a game, but the combat was so good that I was willing to accept it. And then they didn’t stop. They never stopped. Ever. Mario and Luigi: Dream Team is a half good game. The combat is the good half, everything else is the bad half. It’s a testament to how great the combat is that I want to recommend the game at all, but unless you’re jonesing for a new Mario and Luigi fix, I don’t know if anyone can make it past the constant hand-holding, exposition and tutorials. If you need to play it though, do yourself a favour and maybe do something else when everyone’s talking, you won’t miss much.



Turn on, Tune In, Drop out (of Videogames): The Pandora's Box of Fan Interaction


Turn on, Tune In, Drop out (of Videogames): The Pandora's Box of Fan Interaction

After a long, drawn-out twitter feud last week, Phil Fish cancelled his upcoming game, Fez 2, quit videogames, and for a few days there, quit the internet.

You might know the story by now. Phil Fish, game designer, creator of the “worst map ever” award winning game, Fez, and subject of the documentary Indie Game the Movie, is prone to emotional outbursts. If you haven’t heard of him from the projects he’s been involved in, you might remember the time he said that all Japanese games suck while on stage at last years Game Developers Conference. Or maybe you know him from his frequent twitter battles with games analyst Kevin Dent. Or maybe that time he publicly stated he couldn’t update his own game after releasing a broken patch due to Microsoft’s draconian patching policies.


And more recently, Marcus Beer, who rants as the accused Fish and Braid creator Jonathan Blow of using the press as a means to an end. He specifically cited the fact that neither gave comments on Microsoft’s self publishing policy for indie games until after the fact. This led Beer to call the two “self-styled kings of indie games” and accused the pair of only giving quotes to the press when it suited their needs.

Fish took Beer to task on twitter, fans of the two, as well as casual observers and the legion of people don’t necessarily like Beer, but definitely don’t like Fish got involved, and the rest is history.

Basically, there hasn’t been a moment in the last couple of years where Fish wasn’t in the public eye, made even more apparent by his active twitter presence. Going back through his replies and looking at forum posts about him around the internet, it’s pretty clear that a significant number of people took it upon themselves to constantly put Fish down. Heck, according to him, the reason he’s getting out of videogames isn’t because of his most recent argument, but the constant abuse he faces on the internet, day in and day out.


The thing is, I find it hard to blame him for this. It’s hard to make things for an audience that seems to only be out for your blood, especially something as personal and draining as a videogame. I think he could have handled it more elegantly and not quit videogames entirely, but at the end of the day it’s hard to argue with the kind of abuse he put up with.

We live in an era of facebook, twitter and e-mail, where the person who created your favourite game, song, movie or book is just a few keystrokes away. But for most people, we live in an era where the person who made something you don’t like is so much closer. It’s hard to be genuine and express your gratitude for something you like. It’s easier to find someone you don’t and by a jerk to them. Abuse is easy to give, but it’s hard to filter through for the person getting it.


Sure, Fish has a reputation for making emotionally charged, off the cuff remarks, and he probably knows that. Yes, he could have put two and two together and realized that being constantly active on twitter and engaging with his trolls would eventually lead to a situation like this, but these days, it’s becoming impossible not to be a public persona.

Look at Super Smash Bros. director Masahiro Sakurai. There aren’t a lot of public Japanese developers, at least not public from a Western perspective, but Sakurai has an active twitter presence, he writes a monthly column on game design in Famitsu magazine, and when developing a Smash Bros. game, makes daily updates to fans on his progress.

Nowadays, he posts pictures to the Smash Bros. community on miiverse, Nintendo’s Wii U social network. The most interesting comments are preserved by a blog called Please Sakurai, where the blog’s manager spotlights the posts made by people specifically trying to contact Sakurai.


 Wherein Megaman is Sakurai, and DK is the fans.

Wherein Megaman is Sakurai, and DK is the fans.

As far as I know, Sakurai doesn’t speak English, but the people trying to reply to him, at least on the North American miiverse, don’t really know that. They request (mostly outlandish) characters, new info, and occasionally, get very angry and try to insult Sakurai personally for his design choices. 


These aren’t the only mean-spirited comments on the blog, but they’re probably some of the most mean spirited. The blog doesn’t really highlight any posts that are people having rational, logical problems with the game, but knowing how the internet works, I have to imagine they’re very, very rare in the first place.

There are plenty of positive comments too, but always tied to requests. I know Sakurai can’t read these, so I’m left to imagine what would happen if he could. First of all he wouldn’t be able to do anything, because I’m pretty sure the character roster and choices about cutscenes were finalized a long time ago. But I wonder if he’d be disheartened by the negative comments. Maybe not enough to change anything, definitely not enough to make him quit, but enough to make him wonder why there are people who are dedicating their time and internet presence to attacking him.


Not so say that communication between audience and creators is a bad thing. Look at what happened to Mass Effect. Fans got together and expressed their displeasure with the game, then found rational arguments, and presented a unified front. The organized campaign wasn’t one of personal attacks or internet bile, but of a reasoned argument made by people who loved Mass Effect, and wanted to see it end in a more satisfying way.

Whether they were right to do it, or if the ending actually sucked, or if their motivations were pure doesn’t matter. What does is that they created positive change in a game they loved by speaking with the creators. And they did it without resorting to being anonymous jerks on the internet, at least for the most part.


The internet’s obsession with social media and reducing anonymity has opened this channel for people to communicate with creators. The audience and the artist are no longer separated by each other by security guards, PR handlers, critics, and the work they’re associated with. The two can now speak, one on one.

I think it does more good than bad. I think a lot of people have thick enough skin that an anonymous internet troll won’t affect them as much, and are more capable of focusing on the people who stay positive. I also think we might see more instances of fans banding together and creative negative change. Right now, focus grouping and the unbelievable success of Call of Duty has “told” publishers that first person shooters will always sell, and a game needs multiplayer to be viable. That’s completely different from this, but it’s not hard to imagine that publishers and market researchers will turn to the internet next, and look to the masses of uniformed fans who don’t necessarily know what they want out of a game until they get it.


But, I also think that having this channel opened between artists and creators makes both more informed. Fans get to learn more about how the sausage is made, and developers find out more about what they people who play their games want. They can choose to listen or not, and then hope that when they don’t, the internet abuse will be worth it because they’ll know they’re right.

It’s become impossible not to be on some social network or another for people under 30, and as time keeps passing, less and less of people responsible for making the media we consume will be able to be private people. The internet has offered these people Pandora’s box. Do they want to hear exactly what fans want from them? Do they want to know what’s popular? Do they want to hear the personal stories of the people who were touched by the thing they made? All they have to do is open the box. But with that comes the abuse, the trolls, and the people who don’t know what they’re talking about.

For now, the choice is theirs. The box isn’t open for everyone just yet. But give it a few years, and there won’t be a single person left without a presence on the internet. After all, everyone always opens the box; we all just want to know what’s inside.



Shin Megami Tensei IV- Mikado is About to E-X-P-L-O-D-E


Shin Megami Tensei IV- Mikado is About to E-X-P-L-O-D-E

Between Akira, Godzilla, Neon Genesis Evangelion, and the Shin Megami Tensei games, Tokyo can’t quite seem to catch a break in Japanese media. Like seeing the broken Statue of Liberty at the end of Planet of the Apes, the ruins of post-apocalypse Tokyo are a symbol that the world can never be the same. It’s also inevitable. If it’s Japanese and the world is being destroyed, Tokyo is going to be destroyed; gruesomely, and often with a strong message about nuclear weapons.

Shin Megami Tensei IV is the fouth (or fifth, depending who you ask) in a series of games that delight in destroying Tokyo, only to rebuild it and destroy it again for the next instalment in the franchise. But this time, the game doesn’t being in Tokyo pre or post-apocalypse. Instead it begins in the pastoral Eastern Kingdom of Mikado, a feudal nation divided into castes that has no ties to Tokyo, Japan, or any nation on earth, really. People speak in a dialect that can only be described as Shakespearean, the knights are called Samurai (pronounced SAW-moo-rai, which only gets more infuriating as the game goes on), and demons spill out of a hole in the ground known as Naraku.

Okay, so maybe there’s a bit of Japan in there.

 Come on, it's not  that   surprising.

Come on, it's not that  surprising.

Your character is made a Samurai at the beginning of the game, and given a gauntlet they can use to negotiate with the demons in Naraku and summon them in battle. It’s almost like Pokémon, except the demons are far more disposable. Once they’ve learned all their skills, the game recommends you fuse two or more together into a stronger demon, which inherits its “parents” attacks. The more varied a demon’s skills, the more useful they are in combat, which focuses around the series trademark Press Turn system.


Every character in the party is given one turn, hitting an enemy’s elemental weakness or landing a critical hit grants them an extra turn. However, hitting an enemy with an element that they nullify, reflect or drain costs you extra turns. This is true for enemies too, which means having a party with plenty of resistances keeps enemies from overwhelming you with their bonus turns. A new feature added to the system for SMT4 is smirking. When a character gains a bonus turn or nullifies an opponent’s, they have a chance to smirk, which gives them incredible stat boosts, and makes all attacks miss them until they get their next turn. It can totally turn the tide of a battle, but of course, enemies can smirk too, and they never waste it on a useless attack.

In true SMT and Atlus tradition, this makes the game very, very hard. You will be dying a lot. However, unlike most SMT games, you’re given to option to save anywhere, as well as difficulty settings, and the opportunity to pay your way back from death. Whenever you die, you’re sent to Charon, the ferryman of the river Styx, who offers to let you revive for a fee, payable in either Macca, the in-game currency, or Play Coins, the 3DS’s system level pedometer reward.

 Burroughs, the AI that inhabits your demon summong gauntlet, never fails to warn you about upcoming boss fights.

Burroughs, the AI that inhabits your demon summong gauntlet, never fails to warn you about upcoming boss fights.

Unfortunately, this happens EVERY time you die, with no way to opt out, meaning whenever you die, you have to go through a few dialog choices telling Charon you don’t want to pay, then confirm that you don’t want to pay, and then finally you get a game over screen that sends you back to the main menu. The game warns you when a boss is coming; you’re never thrown into the fray without a chance to save. It feels like the game was designed with save points, and then hastily retrofitted to let you save anywhere, without anyone realizing that it made the whole revival system moot and frustrating.

But back to the Tokyo thing. 

 Explore Shibuya in style, a hoodie, toque and backpack make for great defense against demons!

Explore Shibuya in style, a hoodie, toque and backpack make for great defense against demons!

As the game progreses, you eventually find yourself in Tokyo, but only after a few hours of digging deeper and deeper into Naraku. About six hours of the game take place exclusively in the menu-driven Mikado. Dungeons like Naraku and a nearby forest are explored in a third person perspective, much like Shin Megami Tensei 3, or the more popular Persona spin-off games, but in Mikado, getting to those places is as simple as selecting them from a menu. No world map, no exploration, no getting lost.

In Tokyo however, you explore a top down world map with buildings you can enter to explore in third person. The map is massive, complicated, and is sometimes best navigated with an actual map of Tokyo in hand, but it’s also littered with treasures and demons to negotiate onto your side. The stark dichotomy isn’t lost on anyone who’s played an SMT game before, it’s a reference to the game’s other constant, the alignment system.



In a page torn straight out of a Dungeons and Dragons instruction manual, players in SMT make choices that determine their alignment with either Chaos or Law. Law traditionally represents angels, dogma, peace and the status quo. Chaos is associated with demons, and revolves around individuality, revolution and the tenet that might makes right. The rigid structure of Mikado is law. The player can never get lost and can only be hurt if they put themselves in harm’s way, but can also never explore, never see anything that Mikado doesn’t explicitly want you to see. Tokyo is chaos. The apocalypse has left factions warring for control of the destroyed city, with the weak having no place in the ensuing ruins, but the player is free to go wherever they please, even if it means they’ll get horribly lost.

Some players might find that they enjoy Mikado’s structure and simplicity. Some players might want that status quo to be shaken up and prefer the constant danger of Tokyo to the ignorance of Mikado. But for players who find both to be too extreme, there’s a middle ground to the two alignments, one that often represents the “good” endings of the SMT games; neutral. Neutral is associated with humans, balance, rationality, and the ability to make a change. Of course, there’s no good or evil, but historically speaking, the canon endings of SMT games are usually the neutral ones. SMT4 ingeniously ties the games very structure into this message Extremism on either side isn't right, but both sides have a point, there can be a balance, there should be a balance, and you, the player, should strive to find it.

 and Law

and Law

It’s incredibly clever game design and would make the game absolutely perfect, if not for one minor problem: it leads to a game with two problematic halves making an even more problematic whole. Mikado is too linear, too rigid, but Tokyo is too open, too chaotic. Of course, neither is “bad”, just like the alignments, but neither works if you ignore the other half. And while that dovetails with the game’s message perfectly, it also means you have to warp between Mikado and Tokyo a lot, which is less than ideal. Like the revival system, it feels like an excellent idea that’s just executed incorrectly, if not poorly.

The connections between Mikado and Tokyo run deeper than just gameplay and story integration. There’s a story that underlies the whole thing, but it never overstays its welcome, characters are never terribly chatty, and cutscenes rarely interrupt the flow of battles and exploration. It’s an interesting supernatural/sci-fi mystery that stays intriguing the whole way through. But, there’s no way to skip cutscenes or dialog. You can fast forward through it, which works well enough, but when you’ve died on one boss five times, and you’ve just spent all the extra time either going through Charon’s dialog or just exiting to the home menus and restarting the software, those extra minutes of fast-forwarded dialog really add up. 

In terms of pure gameplay, battles are addictive, and it never stops being fun to suss out enemy weaknesses and exploit them. But Tokyo can occasionally be a pain to explore, and Mikado often feels too boring and pointless. Tying those gameplay elements into the narrative and themes of the game is brilliant and deserves to be commended, I just can’t help but feel it could have been done with some more elegance. 

Shin Megami Tensei IV is, fittingly, a game of dualities. It wants to be hard in an old school way, and forces you to strategize carefully and thoughtfully in battle. But it also wants to be friendly and modern, offering you the ability to save anywhere and revive upon death. It wants to be chaotic and unpredictable, but also wants to get you right to the action when necessary. It wants to be a linear, story-driven game, but it also wants to give you plenty of choices, both in dialog and in gameplay. It wants to be both Chaos and Law at once, and asks you to find your own balance between the two extremes. Unfortunately, sometimes it just can’t find the balance necessary to make itself a flawless game.



EVO: The Evolution of a Community


EVO: The Evolution of a Community

Evolution, or Evo, is an annual fighting game tournament held in Las Vegas. It’s sort of like the Super Bowl or Stanley Cup finals of fighting games, except instead of a selection of teams competing, every single fighting game player who flies out to Vegas is taking a shot at the grand prize. During the event, on-stream commentators continuously referred to the tournament as a mountain, and compared victory to scaling it. You don’t just have to beat the best at Evo, you have to beat everyone.

Evo’s traditional games are Capcom fighters. The Street Fighter and Marvel vs. Capcom series make annual appearances, but other games shift in and out of the roster. SNK’s King of Fighters games, Namco-Bandai’s Tekken series, and this year, even Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros. Melee made its first appearance since 2007 as an official tournament game.

But that’s not really what Evo is about. No, Evo’s about something bigger. Well, a few things that are bigger. Evo 2013 had three matches in three games that perfectly exemplified was Evo is really about, and here they are.

Justin Wong vs. Chris G

"Going into Evo 2013, there was one name on everyone’s hitlist: Christopher “NY Chris G” Gonzalez."

I don’t really love sporting events. I’ve never been a big fan of sports, I don’t have much national pride, and think it’s sort of silly to cheer for a team because they have the name of my city on the back of their shirts. What I can get behind is a story, a rivalry, a heel and a face.

In baseball, everyone hates the New York Yankees. In hockey, Toronto and Ottawa have a long history of rivalry. In basketball, the Miami Heat might as well be the Yankees at this point. Going into Evo 2013's Marvel vs. Capcom 3 tournament, there was one name on everyone’s hitlist: Christopher “NY Chris G” Gonzalez.

Chris G plays Morrigan/Dr. Doom/Vergil, a team focused on covering the screen in Morrigan’s fireballs and Doom’s missles, juggling players between them, or just chipping away at them until they die. It’s a slightly boring strategy to watch in action, but it’s by far the most dominant team in the history of the game. Not only that, but he has a bit of an emotional streak. Chris lashed out at Evo founder Joey Cuellar over twitter a few weeks ago, referring to Cuellar as a “faggot.” Going in to the tournament, Chris wasn’t only the player to beat to prove your worth at the game, he was also the player everyone wanted to see knocked down a peg.

 In MvC2, Storm was considered a top tier character, nowadays, she's just about average.

In MvC2, Storm was considered a top tier character, nowadays, she's just about average.

But back in the days of Marvel vs. Capcom 2, there was a different villain. Justin Wong. Justin won every single MvC2 tournament out there, he was legendary. His win streak in the game holds the record for the player to have won the most Evo tournaments for a single game ever. Justin and Chris have faced off before, recently even, but this one was for all the marbles. Whoever lost went home, and didn’t get a shot at the grand finals.

Chris, the favourite, took Justin down two matches in a best of three set. And then, the comeback happened. Watching the video still makes my heart beat faster, and I was close to ripping my hair out while I was watching it live. It’s some of the most incredible Marvel play I’ve ever seen. In case you haven’t seen that part of the video, Justin won. He won three games in a row, one from about as close to death as you can get in a game as fast paced as Marvel.


The crowd was cheering Justin’s name as he played, jumping up and down and shaking the stage every time he took back a round from Chris. A few years ago, the crown would have booed him and resigned themselves to his inevitable victory, but now, he was up against the one man they all wanted to see go down. Even commentator Michael “IFC Yipes’ Mendoza, a fellow New Yorker who trained with Chris, was rooting for Justin by the end.

Chris probably isn’t a bad guy by any means, and one can only imagine how hard it must be to be part of a community that is so out for your blood, and hates seeing you succeed, but for a few minutes there, all that was put aside. For that whole comeback, it wasn’t about Justing Wong and Chris Gonzalez. It wasn’t even about the classic MvC2 east coast vs. west coast rivalry. It was about two giants of the game, two players renowned as the best, clashing with absolutely perfect play. It was about the hype of watching the good guys triumph over the bad guys. It was about watching an underdog win, even if that underdog is one of the best in the world.

Sometimes, Evo’s about the hype, and the legends behind the big matches.

Infiltration vs. PR Balrog

But sometimes, I don’t need a rivalry, I need personal stories. I need stories like Eduardo “PR Balrog” Perez’s. A player that came out of nowhere just a few years ago to become one of the best in the world, the last American player left standing in the top eight of Street Fighter this year. Or a story like Sun Woo “Infiltration” Lee’s, last year’s champion, playing for his tournament life after eliminating not only Daigo Umehara, the “god of Street Fighter” but also his best friend, sparring partner, and coach, Ryan “Laugh” Ahn in the most intense game of Street Fighter that’s ever been played.

"Lee had to win because he had to make sure beating his friend was worth it. Perez had the hopes of a nation on his back." 

After Lee beat Ahn, the two players turned away from each other in respect. They went into the match knowing that the loser would be going home empty handed, not even making it into top eight, and they played with every ounce of their skill. It was a slow, almost painful match to watch, with commentator and former Capcom employee Seth Killian pointing out that they were running down the clock just to avoid having to fight each other. 

Lee had to win because he had to make sure beating his friend was worth it. Perez had the hopes of a nation on his back. Both are two of the best players in the game. Lee took one match from Perez. Then Perez fought back and took two. It was looking to be Perez’s game until Lee used his privilege as the loser of the last match to switch his character. Lee is known for his dominant Akuma, widely considered to be one of the best characters in the game. He switched to Hakan, who looks like this:


He’s not that great. Hakan is a Turkish oil wrestler who can oil himself up during battle to make himself a significantly more dangerous opponent, and when I say significantly, I mean that it turns him from one of the most worthless characters in the game into a top-tier threat. The only issue is that oiling up leaves Hakan open, and if the oil wears off in the middle of a combo, your damage output is shot. Needless to say, he’s not very popular in tournaments.

 Sun Woo "Infiltration" Lee

Sun Woo "Infiltration" Lee

Which is why Perez had no idea how to fight him. Hakan is already a tough match for Balrog. Hakan likes to grab characters at very close range while Balrog likes to run right up and punch people, but doesn’t really have any answers for a grab. All this was made worse for Perez because there are really no high level Hakans to practice against, especially because Lee is the world’s best Hakan.

Perez didn’t know what hit him. In an utterly dominant set of games, Lee’s Hakan climbed back up and won two rounds, taking the set. The crowd was screaming, Hakan became a worldwide trending topic on twitter, no one could believe that they just saw a Hakan not only be played at Evo top eight, but that he just knocked out PR Balrog, the great American hope. 

 Eduardo "PR Balrog" Perez

Eduardo "PR Balrog" Perez

Everyone was flipping out, unable to control themselves due to the hype when the match ended. But Perez and Lee were calm and collected. There was no anger, they knew that it was an incredible game they just played, maybe the best game of the tournament, and instead of the traditional post-game handshake, the two got up out of their chairs and gave each other a big hug.

Sometimes, Evo’s about the people and their love, not just for the game, but for each other.


Mango vs. Hungrybox

To continue the sports comparison, sometimes, there’s nothing that can get me into a sport. The stories aren’t good enough, the hype’s not great enough, and I go into it thinking I’ll be bored.

"To me, the people who broke down Smash Bros. and figured out how to remove all the randomness and understand the many, many hidden variables were developing an algorithm that churned out jazz."


Year ago, I used to play soccer with some kids from my tae kwon do class. None of us were “good” but we played as sort of a cooldown from the two hours of punching and kicking and pushups we just did. We weren’t playing it because it was a sport, we were playin it because it was a game. Soccer only needs a ball and something to mark off a goal, it’s the lingua franca of games, everyone gets it, and anyone can play it.

But whenever the World Cup is on TV, I always watch a game or two. Not because I love the sport of soccer, or I have any affiliation with a team, but because I have a respect for the game that anyone can play being played by the absolute best. Everyone plays hockey as a kid in Canada, but there are barriers there, you need to be able to afford the gear, it’s no cheap sport. Soccer is the cheapest sport in the world; literally everyone who can kick a ball has a shot at being the very best.

Street Fighter isn’t as simple as soccer, but it was born in the arcades, where one round cost 25 cents. It was the cheapest videogame to play, and it was all about who was the best. That’s might be a reason why the fighting game community is populated by so many visible minorities, who are very often, and very unfortunately, not given the same opportunities in this world as white people. Kids who couldn’t afford new games all the time, but could drop a few quarters on Street Fighter.


But Street Fighter is too complicated to be a lingua franca of videogames. Super Smash Bros. wasn’t cheap, but it just might be simple enough to be a contender. I’ve never enjoyed Smash Bros. as a tournament level game. It was designed with elements of randomness, with certain factors and variables deliberately hidden from the players. A game designer once told me you want your games to feel more like freeform jazz than math. To me, the people who broke down Smash Bros. and figured out how to remove all the randomness and understand the many, many hidden variables were developing an algorithm that churned out jazz. Sure, it was recognizable as the the thing I love, but it wasn’t the same.  

After watching this video, and the whole Smash Bros. top eight, I still don’t like it as a tournament level game. I think matches take too long, characters aren’t distinct enough, strategies are boring, and positioning is pointless. I think playing on only a handful of stages without any items defeats the purpose of Smash Bros., a game all about randomness and goofy fun.

But, hearing the crowd cheer, and seeing two players that were obviously at the top of their game (check the moment at about 7:30 where Hungrybox’s Jigglypuff chases Mango’s fox all the way off screen, then expertly floats back to safety), made something click in my head. It’s not the tournament level game I want, but it’s the tournament game that thousands more do. Hell, the game made it in to Evo for the first time since 2007 this year because the fans won a charity drive; they love the game more than I could probably understand.


I might not care about the World Cup, or the Super Bowl, or even the Stanley Cup finals, which my country places unbelievable importance on, but I care about Evo; because sometimes it’s not about me. It’s about something bigger.

It’s about the hype, the legends going into each match, the people who love the game, the people who just want to bond over their shared love of a game, the people who watch three days of tournament just to see the one guy who knocked them out make it to the top. Evo is about respecting a game, and falling into the hype. Evo is about a community, the fighting game community, and even though they’ve had some problems in the past, the very best of them, the ones on stage at the end of the night, they’re what shows you the community is great. People who inspire the hype, people who don’t let it get to their heads, and hug after a match, people who will respect another game, and another person.

Evo is about inspiring the community to be the best it can be. 


Layton Brothers: Mystery Room - The Other Sons


Layton Brothers: Mystery Room - The Other Sons

So Professor Layton has a son. Or two.

One of those sons was just given his own game.

That game is Layton Brothers: Mystery Room, the latest instalment in Level-5’s incredibly popular Professor Layton franchise. The game didn’t start out this way, however, and was originally planned as an\ game in Level-5’s series of puzzle games, Atamania. The game was eventually reworked, and given the Layton name, while maintaining its core focus on the investigation of crimes.

Photo Jul 10, 20 42 15.png

The game follows the adventures of investigators Lucy Baker and Alfendi Layton, son of the great Professor Hershel Layton, though a series of homicide cases at “New Scotland Yard Serious Crime Division Classified Investigation Agency”, which, for obvious reasons, the characters prefer to refer to as the “Mystery Room”. Alfendi was the sole member of the Mystery Room until he was given an assistant, Lucy Baker, a young detective eager to help out. His role as her teacher and mentor leads her to give him the nickname “Prof”, of which he is not a fan, given his fathers reputation. Alfendi is a genius investigator, although somewhat passive and reclusive, who begins every case by predicting the outcome with varying degrees of confidence, usually hovering somewhere above 90%.

Pretty early on Lucy discovers the “Prof” has an alternate personality, a coarse, aggressive version of himself that comes out during moments of stress or extreme emotion. This “Potty-Prof”, as Lucy calls him, seems to have something to do with a mysterious murder case that Alfendi was involved in several years prior. Alfendi’s mysterious alter ego, and the case surrounding it, eventually become the central theme of the game which culminates in the final chapters, in which you are tasked with re-solving the case from Alfendi’s past.

 A crime scene durning investigation

A crime scene durning investigation

The gameplay is fairly straightforward; Alfendi presents a theory, and Lucy is tasked with finding the evidence to support his claims. This is spilt into two sections: investigation and interrogation. During the investigation phase, you investigate a re-creation of the crime scene by clicking on the difference pieces of evidence, all of which are highlighted for you, in order to gain the information necessary for the interrogation. During interrogation, you interview suspects in the crime, getting their version of the events while also taking statements that can later be presented as evidence. Once you have collected enough evidence that Alfendi is 100% confident of the culprit, that person is called in, and formally accused them of the crime. At this point it is simply a matter of presenting evidence to support the proposed chain of events that culminate with the accused committing the murder.


 The cases themselves are fairly interesting, and while they are all murders, they all manage to feel very different. The circumstances of the murder, and the locations at which they take place vary quite widely and this, coupled with the large variety of suspects from case to case (maids and waiters, jungle-dwelling natives and even cross-dressing radio show sound men) ensure each case has its own unique feel.

 Statements are given weight by the words in the arrows that impact the opposing character 

Statements are given weight by the words in the arrows that impact the opposing character 

Conversations, and in particular accusations, are given weight by the words that fly across the screen, impacting the characters and breaking down their resolve, symbolized by a shield around their heart. Dialogue can be funny, and, much like in the Phoenix Wright games, most of the characters names are puns (i.e Destiny Knox the actress, or Archie O’Logie, the professor of archaeology), some of which managed to get a chuckle out of me more times than I’m willing to admit.


 The game does have its flaws though. First off it’s rather short; I was able to finish all nine cases inside of seven hours and that’s probably bordering on the longer side. It is also fairly easy. There are a few difficult spots, but nothing too challenging, and there is no penalty for getting anything wrong. During the investigations, all the potential evidence is highlighted for you, so it is rather difficult to miss anything important.

 A not unrepresentative sample of the games use of accents 

A not unrepresentative sample of the games use of accents 

Worst of all though is the accents, the horrible, horrible accents. Some of the characters in the game, mostly notably Lucy, have very heavy accents, and since the game isn’t voiced, these are represented in the text. While sometimes the accents come across as a quirky character trait, often it renders sentences almost unreadable. I, as well as many others, initially thought the game was simply full of pervasive grammar errors and poor translation, but as you progress, it becomes obvious that these are intentional. The accents are often jarring, and have the effect of distancing the player from the games characters, which, I assume, is the opposite of the intended effect. They simply serve as an unnecessary complication to otherwise well written dialogue.


 Layton Brothers: Mystery Room offers a short, but entertaining ride though a series of unique murder cases. It doesn’t manage to be as gripping as either the Phoenix Wright or Professor Layton games, but proves to be a solid experience in its own right. The game is also accompanied by one of the greatest videogame sound tracks I have ever heard, composed by the legendary Yuzo Koshiro, which in itself would be worth the $5 price of admission. Alfendi has big shoes to fill, and while the Layton association does come across as sort of slapped on for the purposes of brand recognition, the game still provides an entertaining experience and a cast of memorable characters.  

You can pick up Layton Brothers: Mystery Room on any iOS device for $5, however the first two cases are free, so go try it out!

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The Walking Dead: 400 Days - Black Clouds


The Walking Dead: 400 Days - Black Clouds

A few minutes before I started playing The Walking Dead: 400 Days, a thunderstorm started up. It was the kind of storm that moves slowly, the kind you know is coming for the half an hour or so before it hits, approaching you from the north. You don’t hear the thunder, or the see the lightning, but you see black clouds rolling in, thick shadows that block out the sun, erasing any doubts that this is going to be any other storm. You know, long before it hits, that this storm is going to make headlines. 400 Days is that storm. It’s the culmination of months of waiting, of dozens of awards and accolades, of black clouds rolling in, telling players to anticipate something big from this series.

400 Days is one hell of a storm.

the-walking-dead-400-days- (1).jpg

400 Days is the newest episode of Telltale’s The Walking Dead, and the first episode since November’s season finale. It’s meant to bridge the gap between the award-winning first season, and the yet-to-be-dated second season. The episode focuses on five stories, all of which happen in the first 400 days of the outbreak, and all of which are vaguely connected to a gas station you see in the episode’s opening moments. The stories are never limited by this setting, and could probably be told without that connection, but it serves as a neat anchor for the separate characters, and ties them all together at the end quite nicely.

Each chapter has at least one of the tough choices that tended to cap off every episode of the first season. And while they’re still tough, they’re lacking a bit of their meaning. Choices in the first episode of season one had to have an impact on episode two, simply because we knew that episode two was coming. Season two is almost certainly happening, but without that tangible certainty, it’s hard to really say whether these “meaningful” choices are meaningful or not. Of course, 400 Days is intended as a bridge, and it’s unfair to judge a bridge by where it leads to, so let’s talk about the game itself.


In gameplay terms, 400 Days feels like a distillation of the entire first season, concentrated on action set pieces juxtaposed with quiet drama scenes. Two episodes featured the series’ signature firefights in a world where finding ammo is always a concern, but guns never need to reload in battle. Another episode was set around a hedge maze chase, where the character had to avoid flashlight beams from hunters trying to catch her. One chapter was all about the rapid problem solving and tough choices that made the first season so exciting at times, and the last chapter I played was a calmer exploration sequence, that was about nothing but the hard choices that made the series so famous.

And Telltale is still just as good at character development as ever. It almost feels like 400 Days was a grand experiment. A test to see if they could do more character development for five characters in 15 minutes each than most games manage to do for one in 10 hours. Of course, there’s a bit of cheating involved, most games don’t force your characters to make dozens of impossible choices in such a short span of time, but the setting makes it work. When every choice could mean life or death, it turns every decision into an important one, and one that tends to show how you really feel about other people.

There are moments of levity, moments of calm, and even a joke or two thrown in for good measure, tools that good writers use to make those serious moments, when you’re forced to choose between killing someone or letting them run back to their friends and come back for revenge, all the more dramatic.


Telltale really could just have just pumped out more of the same. They could have given us an epilogue to the first season, and fans would have eaten it up. Instead, they tried something new for games, an anthology that, while relying on unreleased content to give it meaning, manages to stand on its own. In fact, choices you make within the episode change the ending in such a way that it needs to impact season two in a meaningful way. The telltale (no pun intended) messages in the corner of the screen telling me which character noted my choices definitely get my hopes up for some real consequences in season two. It also makes me wonder if Telltale will try more of this anthology format. With the promise of consequences and meaningful choices, these anthologies could make a welcome change of pace from the usual endless stress of the series standard episodes.

400 Days is a fast paced, but very brief, ride through some of the best writing in videogames, and is worth your time. It’s hard to truly judge the bonus episode on its own merit, considering it ties itself so closely to season two, but it’s also hard to judge a storm until the day after. For now, I can see black clouds rolling south, away from me, but I’m hearing reports of flooding down there. Only time will tell if Telltale can make lightning strike twice, but if 400 Days is any indication, it’s gonna be one hell of a flood.



Preview: Nintendo's E3 Lineup


Preview: Nintendo's E3 Lineup

For those of us unable to head down to Los Angeles for E3, Nintendo provided a (significantly less smoggy) venue in Toronto to play the Wii U and 3DS demos from the E3 show floor. The games were mostly titles coming out between now and the end of the fall, but there were some notable absences in the lineup. Nintendo's roaming Best Buy demos included Mario Kart 8, which was notably absent from Nintendo's previews, but we soldiered on nonetheless. Here are Nintendo's upcoming Summer and Fall Wii U and 3DS games.


Super Mario 3D World:

 Platform: Wii U                                                                                                      Release date: December 2013

Platform: Wii U                                                                                                    

Release date: December 2013

The thing that strikes me most about Super Mario 3D World isn’t so much its lack of innovation as how good it is at hiding clever design. The Mario team has always liked to play it coy with level design, never doing anything too huge, instead preferring to let levels speak for themselves, without any major set pieces. As such, the new items and mechanics in Mario 3D World do end up feeling a little underwhelming, but that might not be the worst thing in the world.

The cat suit, which lets Mario and company don a fursuit (and will certainly inspire some frightening cosplay) gives them the ability to climb up walls and do pouncing attacks. The pouncing didn’t come into pay too much in the levels that were on demo, but the wall climbing definitely let players who weren’t quite up to platforming cheat their way up certain walls. Wall climbing is a little tricky, but the ability to bubble up and wait for someone to finish the area for you, like in New Super Mario Bros. Wii, should appease some less skilled players.


The other new mechanic the demo showed off was the Mario series’ iconic green pipes repainted to be transparent. It feels a little disingenuous to call this a mechanic, considering it mostly seems like an aesthetic change, but it does allow for some neat little pipe mazes that will probably be explored much further in post-game worlds.

But the real nugget of great design in Mario 3D World doesn’t come from these new things, it comes from what they took from Super Mario Bros. 2 and New Super Mario Bros. Wii. Having four players on screen at once in a 3D level should be overwhelming and claustrophobic, and making them all different should make it feel unbalanced, but somehow, it all clicks together perfectly.


Levels are designed with just enough space to the four players can check out different paths better suited to their abilities, and working together often led to greater rewards. It feels like a natural step from the “everyone plays the same” mentality that held back New Super Mario Bros. Wii’s multiplayer, and allows for much more dynamic interesting levels.

While 3D World hasn’t bowled me over like Super Mario Galaxy and Super Mario 64 did, I know it’s a fun game with clever concepts tucked away in it, but every Mario game is. 3D World comes off as underwhelming, and doesn’t talk a big game, but you have to wonder where the Mario game that does is hiding. 


Pikmin 3: 

 Platform: Wii U  Release Date: August 4,2013

Platform: Wii U

Release Date: August 4,2013

Pikmin has been suspiciously absent from Nintendo’s releases since 2004, and this decade in the making sequel has quite a lot to prove, especially considering it’s been delayed so much. For the most part though, Pikmin 3 is an unassuming game that doesn’t seem like it recognizes that burden, it just wants to be fun.


Compared to playing the game with a wiimote and nunchuck, the control scheme on the gamepad is cumbersome and unbelievably inaccurate, which sort of betrays the fact that the game was originally designed for Wii. I found the best way to play the game was with the wiimote for aiming, and the gamepad in front of me to use as a map when I got lost. It’s kind of clunky and doesn’t really sell you on the idea of the gamepad working so well in conjunction with other devices, but the map is unnecessary, and the game is so rock solid that it doesn’t matter.

You play an astronaut sent to drain the resources of a faraway planet to bring back to his troubled home planet. In order to do this, you pluck Pikmin, tiny little flower-like creatures with different powers from the ground to do your bidding. Red Pikmin withstand fire, blue Pikmin can swim, the new rock Pikmin do more damage when thrown, etcetera. The whole thing is Nintendo’s take on the real time strategy genre, and offers a relaxing stroll through a dangerous planet littered with horrible death monsters just waiting to send your little Pikmin’s souls up to Pikmin heaven.


The mode that really got me was the new competitive Bingo Battle mode. Pikmin 2 had some co-op functionality, but it was nowhere near as fun as this. Each player receives a bingo card of items they need to pick up, and the first to fill a row wins. Naturally, this means you both race for items, but players start messing with each other by stealing items from out of their Pikmin’s hands, or sniping an item they don’t need because they see their opponent needed it to win. Pikmin 2’s competitive multiplayer boiled down to a pretty basic and kind of boring capture the flag mode, but Bingo Battle’s balance of scavenger hunting and screwing with opponents made it one of the more interesting multiplayer experiences I’ve had in a while.


The Legend of Zelda:  The Wind Waker HD:


 Platform: Wii U  Release Date: October 2013

Platform: Wii U

Release Date: October 2013


Wind Waker HD is exactly what it says on the tin, an HD remake of the first Gamecube entry in the Zelda series. It’s very pretty, with a new, slightly more shaded art style that brings to mind studio Ghibli movies like Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke, but is still rooted in the original game’s highly controversial cel-shaded style. It’s the same cartoony game, and from what Nintendo has been showing, it’s literally that. The mostly unused Tingle Tuner Game Boy Advance minigame has been replaced with a message in a bottle system that connects the game to Miiverse, the Wii U’s social network, and Nintendo has gone on record saying that the two dungeons cut from Wind Waker will not be restored for the HD remake. It’s a classic, and one of my favourite Zelda games ever, but Wind Waker HD isn’t really blowing my mind yet, and it might not need to, but itdefinitely won't be doing it anytime soon.


Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze:

 Platform: Wii U  Release Date: November 2013

Platform: Wii U

Release Date: November 2013

Retro’s sequel to their 2010 Donkey Kong Country revival is, not shockingly, an almost identical game. I was never a huge DKC fan, but one of the reasons I dropped out of that franchise pretty quick was the almost indistinguishable sequels. The flat, point-A to point-B level design was fixed for the 2010 reboot, but seeing a game that’s almost identical to its predecessor, three years after it came out, is a bit disheartening.

The game is solid, built on the same engine with sharp controls and great graphics, but I can’t help but feel like I’ve been here before, gathered these same bananas, beat up these same barrels. Maybe by distaste for the Country series in general is colouring my enjoyment of the game, but I did have a bit of fun while playing it, it just felt hollow. With this game coming out so close to the 3DS port of the original game, I can only hope Retro and Nintendo start showing off some unique stuff, because even the promise of Dixie Kong and her Tails-like helicopter ponytail isn’t really giving me much hope for this reboot’s chances of not falling into the trap that pushed DKC 2 and 3 into irrelevance.


Wii Party U: 

 Platform: Wii U  Release Date: October, 2013

Platform: Wii U

Release Date: October, 2013

Wii Party U holds an interesting place in the Wii U’s line up. It’s the third first party minigame collection for  the console in less than a year, and one really has to wonder if that means Nintendo doesn’t have any ideas for full games that use the gamepad in interesting ways, but can think of all kind of neat, 5-15 minute applications for the device.


The game’s regular multiplayer mode plays a lot like Mario Party, with four players rolling virtual dice to move spaces on a board, playing minigames between turns. The minigames themselves though are a little different from the standard Mario Party fare. The minigames Nintendo was showing off in this demo were slightly more akin to parlour games; icebreaker type stuff. I got to play a take on the iOS hit Draw Something, where every player was given 15 seconds to draw, with one player given a slightly different prompt from the rest. The drawings went up on the TV and players had to vote on which they thought was the different prompt.


Another game I saw being played involved one player getting a prompt from the gamepad to make a specific face. For example, “Make a face as if you just told a really funny joke.” The player makes the face, the gamepad takes a picture, and the other players vote between four options as to what the face was. With more than 80 games in the collection, there are probably more than a few traditional, Mario Party-style minigames, but the focus on these games that could be played without a gamepad but are slightly enhanced by the technology is telling.

The games were fun, and I can see them being a hit at parties, but maybe only once or twice. Like most icebreaker games, once everyone’s comfortable around each other, they really don’t serve much of a purpose beyond giving everyone something to do, which might be achieved better by a game like Nintendo Land, which everyone with a Wii U already has.


The Wonderful 101: 

 Platform: Wii U  Release Date: September 15, 2013

Platform: Wii U

Release Date: September 15, 2013

The Wonderful 101 is far and away the most interesting Nintendo has up their sleeve for Wii U. The new Platinum Games title takes cues from Pikmin, Viewtiful Joe, classic superhero serials and Japanese super sentai aesthetics and mixes them all into one frenetic, frantic action game mess.


You play as a group of superheroes (the titular 101, natch), with the ability to combine together and morph into various forms. The demo started off with the ability to change into a giant fist, a sword, a whip, a pistol, and a hand glider. To change forms, you draw the shape of your transformation on the gamepad’s touch screen, or with the right analog stick. For example, to change into a sword, you draw a straight line. Depending on how long the line you draw is, the longer your sword gets, but there are only so many heroes you can use to make the weapon. It creates a really interesting risk/reward balance between looking down to draw on the touch screen and looking up at the TV screen to avoid attacks from enemies. Drawing with the right stick negates a bit of the danger of looking down to draw, but is less accurate than drawing with the touch screen, and you’re more likely to mess up what you meant to draw.  There’s no perfect way to play, and it keeps the pace of the game frantic and exciting, which is part of what makes the game impossible to understand from trailers.


What really struck me about the game were the small details. As you run through a level you collect new heroes, and some have special cutaways that give you some data on their secret identity. The TV screen shows their name, secret identity, place of origin, super power, and some other details, while the gamepad screen shows their superhero ID along with their personal logo. It’s a cute little touch that really adds to the charming, pulpy atmosphere of The Wonderful 101, and I really can’t wait to see more of stuff like that.


Also, one of the heroes I collected had a toilet bowl for a head, which basically makes it the best game I’ve ever played.


The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds: 

 Platform: 3DS  Release Date: November 2013

Platform: 3DS

Release Date: November 2013

A common complaint against Nintendo recently has been that they rely too strongly on their old franchises and don’t innovate on those original concepts. I bring this up because Link Between World’s overworld (at least the tiny fraction of it that Nintendo allowed me to explore during the demo) is an almost pixel-perfect recreation of the overworld from 1991’s The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.

The fact that the demo only let me explore a few screens of the map before hitting a wall of unbreakable rocks bodes well for the rest of the world being significantly different, and the whole “between worlds” thing in the subtitle all but confirms that there will be some other worlds Link will be exploring. But even with the brand new dungeon the demo let me explore, I couldn’t help but feel I’d seen and done all of this before.


The dungeon was focused on Link to the Past’s standard coloured block puzzles, where hitting a switch would raise one colour of blocks and lower another. The new magic bar subweapon system makes it impossible to get yourself stuck on these puzzles like you could in the original game. All subweapons draw from a purple bar in the corner of the screen. Charging an arrow or hammer strike will use more magic, but create a more powerful attack, and the bar slowly recharges over time. It’s an elegant system, and makes the game fast and fluid. But even with the added speed and surprisingly intuitive and fun merge mechanic -where Link flattens himself onto a wall and walks along as a 2D structure- I can’t help but feel like I’ve been to this Hyrule before. Hopefully we’ll see some more interesting, unique environments from this game soon.


Mario & Luigi: Dream Team: 

 Platform: 3DS  Release Date: August 11, 2013

Platform: 3DS

Release Date: August 11, 2013

What you might not glean from Mario and Luigi Dream Team’s trailers is that the characters are drawn in 2D. What you probably will glean is that this game is very, very weird, even by the standards of the off-the-wall wackiness of the Mario and Luigi series.

When in the “real” world, Mario and Luigi explore Pi’illo island just like they did the Mushroom Kingdom in previous games. The overworld is top-down, with each brother being controlled with either the A or B buttons, with various abilities remapped to the buttons when the R button is pressed. In battle, the game is a turn-based RPG with actions commands, similar to the Paper Mario games. For example, hitting A after a jump allows Mario and Luigi to jump in the air again and bop the opponent one more time. The game also maintains the series traditional Bros. moves, special attacks that have the brothers Mario working in tandem to kick shells, toss fireballs, and surf on each other to deliver powerful finishing blows.


However, in a feature new to Dream Team, Mario can step into the dreams of his long-suffering younger brother, and experience some of the most surreal things I’ve ever seen in a Nintendo game. The dream world is a side scrolling environment, similar to Mario and Luigi’s levels in the previous game in the series, Bowser’s Inside Story. When in Luigi’s dreams, players use the touch screen to mess with Luigi, causing him to do….things in his dreams. For example, pulling on Luigi’s moustache causes him to possess vines in the dream world, which Mario can then use to swing across chasms. Like I said: weird.


In dream world battles, Luigi merges into Mario, and gives him access to thousands of Luigi clones that copy his moves. Jumping on enemies with Mario causes dozens of Luigis to fall down on them as well. The bros. moves are in turn replaced by Luiginary attacks, where Mario does things like crowd surf on hundreds of Luigis as he tries to stack them up in a perfect pile by ordering them to jump at once onto another army of Luigis before ordering them to all fall down on the opponent in a torrent of green. Additionally, when dodging attacks in dream battles, Mario can move up and down and turn left or right, adding some appreciated depth to combat.

In another substitution from Bowser’s Inside Story, the Luigi clones can also merge together in a Godzilla-sized Luigi to giant boss battles that play very similarly to the giant Bowser fights from the previous game.

All this, combined with the dreamy, muted colour palette and the strange cross between 2D characters and 3D environments, this is almost certainly the most surreal thing Nintendo has put out in America. The year of Luigi is turning out to be a strange one indeed.



Animal Crossing: The Cure for my AAA Doldrums


Animal Crossing: The Cure for my AAA Doldrums

A few weeks ago, I thought about buying The Last of Us on launch day. Usually, when I think about buying a game, there’s not a lot of decision process. If it’s something that interests me, I dive right in if I have the money. If I’m not interested, then there’s no sale. But for some reason, even though I knew that The Last of Us is a game I’d probably enjoy, and was a game I was following for a while, I was so throughouly disinterested in buying it.

Probably because I’d been playing so much Animal Crossing: New Leaf.

Animal Crossing: New Leaf is the fourth game in Nintendo’s life simulator series. You play a customizable villager who has moved to a town populated entirely by talking animals and just sort of live your life. You make money by fishing, or catching bugs, or cultivating and selling rare fruit and you use the money to build public works projects for your town or furniture for you home. Of course, first you have to pay off the obscene mortgages places upon you by local extortionist and racoon, Tom Nook. 


"Why is (Animal Crossing) making me want to stay away from big budget, AAA gaming, at least for the rest of the summer?" 


 Yes, it's a cartoonish looking children's game, but maybe that's what it takes to show the flaws of this industry.

Yes, it's a cartoonish looking children's game, but maybe that's what it takes to show the flaws of this industry.

It’s not like this game fills any of the same niches that AAA games do for me. It’s a strange beast, a social game divorced of social game mechanics and simple connectivity. But it has the same constant goals and generally passive atmosphere of the traditional social game. One wouldn’t be entirely remiss to call it an expanded Farmville, but with rocks that spit out money to check every day instead of crops. So why is it driving me away from gaming’s latest darling, why is it making me want to stay away from big budget, AAA gaming, at least for the rest of the summer?

There are a few reasons. First, and this point can’t be understated, Animal Crossing might be one of the most progressive games on the market. Now, saying that makes me very sad, because it’s a game from Nintendo, a company who recently patched out same sex marriage in one of their other life simulator games, Tomodachi Collection. Japan is not known for gender equality or race equality, or progressive views in general, but somehow, Animal Crossing manages to be more progressive than any FPS I’ve played in years. 



Men can wear dresses and skirts, girls can wear pants, gender isn’t a binary in Animal Crossing; it’s unbelievable, unprecedentedly fluid. I can only really think of games like Saint’s Row and Second Life that allow you to present your character in a similar way. Haircuts of either gender are available to any character, and multiple characters comment on how boys can wear makeup and how you look damn fine in whatever you choose to wear.

People smarter than me have already discussed at length Animal Crossing’s core customization flaw, the fact that there’s no race option. The fact that you character defaults to white is made even more ridiculous by the fact that the system-level Mii creator allows various skin tones. The only way to change skin colour in Animal Crossing is to leave the game for a few hours in the summer and “tan”. The terminology is frustrating. Where gender isn’t binary, race is default. You are white, unless you want to go out of your way to be not white. Two steps forward and one step back is the name of the game here, but that one step still puts Animal Crossing five steps ahead of the AAA competition, where deviations from the norm are cast aside and either made fun of or exploited.

For example, Mass Effect treats same-sex romance options as dalliances for the most part, with only the relationship between a female Shepard and Liara considered to be as valid as the “straight” options, and mostly because they’re two women and thus hot. Male Shepard and his single same-sex romance option, Steve Cortez, don’t even get to have on screen intercourse, likely because Electronic Arts felt that their audience wouldn’t want to be party to something like that. And Mass Effect is considered to be an otherwise fairly progressive game, with women and men treated equally in-universe, and homosexuality is considered to be completely normal. 


Do you see where I’m coming from? It’s so refreshing to me to see a game that treats gender with such equality and rationality. Sure, Animal Crossing doesn’t have any same-sex options, but it’s not that kind of game. Animal Crossing is devoid of sexuality, likely because it’s an “all ages” title. But it isn’t devoid of emotion, with characters of either gender expressing their love for you, regardless of your gender. It’s not a huge step forward. But compared to where the rest of the industry is, this unassuming children’s game about living with talking animals is the single most progressive (non-indie) game on the market. And it’s hard to dive right back in to the exclusionary, occasionally bigoted culture of AAA gaming after experiencing that.

 According to Nintendo's statistics, Animal Crossing New Leaf is primarily played by women. 

According to Nintendo's statistics, Animal Crossing New Leaf is primarily played by women. 

Not to mention the fact that your character becomes the mayor of the game, the most powerful figure in the town, regardless of gender. Animal Crossing is a power fantasy, but it’s decidedly not a traditional white male one. As a straight, white male, I’m sick of being told that violence (often against people who are not straight white males) is power, and I can’t even begin to imagine what it’s like for people who aren’t like me, the people who have even more of a reason to be offended by this, the people who feel excluded when games tell them that in order to have power, they must be like the people who came up with this power fantasy. I miss pleasant games. Games that want to be taken at their own pace, games that don’t want me to run and shoot every brown person I see while my player character refers to them as “faggots”. Games that don’t exclude you simply because you don’t “fit”.

AAA gaming is in a rut. Naughty Dog had to fight to get protagonist Ellie on the cover of The Last of Us, Bioshock Infinite’s Elizabeth isn’t even ON the front cover. The Last of Us might not even be the best example of a game that falls into the standard pitfalls of AAA gaming, but it's just the catalyst of all this for me. The culture around these games is pushing away anyone who isn’t a straight, white male, and excluding anyone who doesn’t want to take part in these power fantasies of violence and, well, exclusion. And not every AAA game is like that. Tomb Raider is, from all accounts, fairly respectable towards protagonist Lara Croft. Saint’s Row let’s you play as a woman and play with gender distinctions. But these are exceptions, exceptions that often have to make sacrifices to sell well. And I’m just so tired of it.

 Just a regular day in Animal Crossing, boys, girls, and gender ambiguous ducks working together.

Just a regular day in Animal Crossing, boys, girls, and gender ambiguous ducks working together.

Let me tell you this fun fact about Animal Crossing before you stop reading this and comment about how gay I am for hating on Call of Duty and Battlefield and Guns of Shooting 69. Animal Crossing lets you run by holding the B button. That’s not a big deal. It’s been a feature in games since Super Mario Bros. in 1985. But running is almost always a bad idea. It destroys flowers that beautify your town and chases away the fish and bugs that make you your profits. Not only that, but it tramples your town’s grass, which only grows back at a very slow rate, and not at all during the winter and fall.



"Why would the game even let you choose something so negative?"


So why would you ever run? It’s a universally bad choice. Why would the game even let you choose something so negative? Because that’s what Animal Crossing is about. Choosing to take the game slowly, to stop and smell the roses, to experience this tiny little world at its own pace. Animal Crossing knows that eventually you’ll get bored with it. Six months in you’ll stop visiting the town, it'll be infested by weeds and all flower life will wither away. It knows that one day it as a world will die. And so it wants you to appreciate it for every thing it is. It wants you to slow down and take a look deep inside of it. It wants you to see that there are flaws with race customization; it wants you to see how it’s barely removed from Farmville and many other time sink social games. It wants you to see it for all of its flaws, because it knows that above all else you’ll see the most important thing.  

You’ll see that Animal Crossing might not be perfect. It might not get all of its progressiveness right, but it wants to. You'll see that Animal Crossing is one of the most well intentioned games you’ll ever play, and that’s something not even the biggest budget can buy.


Killer is Dead is Completely Insane


Killer is Dead is Completely Insane

I have no idea what's happening in this trailer but I am so excited for it. Killer is Dead is the new game from  Suda51 and the newest game is in his personal brand of batshit insanity. Suda51 has been tame for too long. A shooter where a Latino man says "Look at my big boner!" over and over again is pedestrian. Move aside that zombie hunting game starring the most American cheerleader. A game where you kill monsters by being great at baseball? Please. I want completely incomprehensible juvenile nonsense. 

Suda51 has been building back his reputation as being the most inexplicable man in video games. A good sign came a few months ago where he said that the PS4 made him horny. I assume what he meant was that new technology made his penis unconditionally erect and he was looking forward to spreading his enthusiasm, but who cares.

Killer7 is the game where you solve all political issues by killing yourself. No More Heroes is the game where you sumo wrestle your way through football stars and supermodels. The less I understand the better. 


Final Fantasy XV Gameplay Trailer


Final Fantasy XV Gameplay Trailer

Going into E3 this year, I had a fairly good idea of what Square Enix planned to do with its Final Fantasy series. Versus XIII was a joke. They promised it for the first PS3's first E3, back when charging $600 for that monolith seemed like a good idea. So I expected the branding change. What I did not expect was a game that looks absolutely incredible to play, or at least watch someone play. You'll see what I mean in the video. 

It's an incredibly pretty game but I have to wonder how much agency the player has in the gameplay. It appears linear with a limited ability to interact. There are three options in the menu: Warp, Attack and Linkform. Warp pulls you right next to the enemy, attack makes Noctis strike and I have no idea what Linkform does. I have to assume it's the crazy looking combo attacks done with multiple characters. The swords to the right of the menu is a mystery. It could be an array of weapons at your disposal at a given time, allowing you to switch on the fly to suit the opponent. That would definitely be a departure for Final Fantasy for sure. In any case, I'm definitely interested to see what Final Fantasy XV becomes and whether it'll be an interactive movie or an role playing game on PS4 and Xbox One. 


Nintendo E3 Roundup: Megaman, Cat Mario, and Ennui


Nintendo E3 Roundup: Megaman, Cat Mario, and Ennui

Nintendo came into E3 with good news and bad news. In good news, 3DS sales have picked up significantly since last year, and the handheld is no longer treading water. In bad news, the WiiU isn't exactly lighting the world on fire, in fact, it's only barely outselling Sony's bastard stepchild, the Vita. But with promises of price cuts, Smash Bros. and Mario games, can Nintendo turn the sinking WiiU ship around?

Nintendo went for a lower key presentation this year, sticking to the Nintendo Direct livestream format that's served them so well for the last little while. And it makes sense, after all, nothing they could show off would be as impressive as Sony's show last night, why go big when you know you can't win?

Nintendo started off by talking up the new Pokemon games, X and Y. They showed off a new Fairy type which will be applied to some new Pokemon, as well as a handful of old favorites, like Marill and Jigglypuff. They also showed a new mode for the game, Pokemon Amitie, which lets you interact with your Pokemon in a Nintendogs-like fashion. 

The next big game on the docket was Mario 3D World . In the vein of their New Super Mario Bros. titles the game features multiplayer for up to four players in levels that resemble the level design of stages from last year's Super Mario 3D Land.  Nintendo touted the fact that Princess Peach was playable again in a main Mario game, the first time since Super Mario Bros. 2 on the NES. Also, Mario got in a cat suit and climbed up the flagpole at the end of the level. It was pretty neat.

Mario Kart 8 was then shown, and looked very similar to Mario Kart 7, but this time with hovercars. After a quick WiiU eShop sizzle reel, Nintendo talked up Wind Waker HD,  which will have some minor improvements over the original, including a speed-up function for sailing.

Retro Studio's Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze  was next up, with some quick gameplay shown off before Nintendo revealed another CG teaser for Bayonetta 2. Iwata seemed very excited about Bayonetta's "major makeover," which mostly included shorter hair. After aproximately 30 seconds of gameplay footage, Nintendo moved along to another Platinum game, The Wonderful 101, which launches in September. 

Nintendo gave us a quick look at X , the spiritual sequel to Xenoblade , also developed by Monolith Soft. The new trailer featured giant transforming robots which fought dinosaurs in RPG combat. 

Finally, Nintendo played themselved out with the first trailer for the new Super Smash Bros.. The trailer showed off both the 3DS and Wii U versions of the game. The handheld game looked more cartoony than it's console sibling, but the big news were the two new characters. Well, one of them. First was the player character from Animal Crossing , who fights with various tools from the game. The second new character was Megaman. In the trailer, he swapped between weapons from various Megaman games as a remix of Wily's theme from Megaman 2  played. The trailer ended off with Megaman battling a still-forming Yellow Devil, a recurring character from his series.

All in all, it was a bit of a plain event. Nintendo just focused on the games, which kept it brief and to the point, but you really do get a sense that need something more to push the Wii U. If last year's E3 events are anything to go by, Nintendo has some more announcements in store for the weeks to come, but for now, they aren't going to be leaving E3 with any trophies. 


Sony E3 Roundup: The Day Sony Won


Sony E3 Roundup: The Day Sony Won

After Microsoft's lackluster showing this morning at E3, it was Sony's show to win, and boy did they win. With no DRM, a low price point, and some top notch games, Sony went on the aggressive, and tore Microsoft's Xbox One to shreds.

This E3 might go down as the E3 that Sony won.

It started as Sony America CEO Jack Tretton strutted on stage to Daft Punk music with a spring in his step. We had no idea how pleased he was, promising to show up some upcoming PS4 titles, but first there was the housekeeping to do.

Sony's minor flop, the Vita, got a little bit of love, with Media Molecule's Tearaway , Batman Arkham Origins and Flower, as well as a port of God of War Collection  and Final Fantasy X and X-2 HD , among a handful of other titles showing up for the handheld. Ports and remakes can only take a system so far, but Sony was quick to move onto a sizzle reel of PS3 titles.

Sony gave us another look at The Last of Us , which launches on Friday, then moved onto Japan Studio's Puppeteer, Rain,   Beyond :Two Souls, and Gran Turismo 6. After that, it was time for third party titles, with Batman: Arkham Origins headlining. Sony also announced a $299 PS3 plus Grand Theft Auto bundle, which will also come with a Sony Pulse headset.

Then it was time for the real news. Andrew House came on stage to give us out first look at the PS4, a parallelogram looking machine, much smaller than the Xbox One. This was followed by a pretty long talk abot Sony's music and movie offerings on PS4, where they announced that Redbox and Flixster would be coming to the new machine.

Shuhei Yoshida then took the stage to show off a slew of PS4 titles. The Order 1886, a steampunk themed shooter only got a CG teaser, but looked quite interesting. Yoshida also introduced Killzone: Shadow Fall, Infamous: Second Son, DriveClub, and Knack, games we saw at the PS4 reveal in February. We also go to see Quantic Dream's old man tech demo once more, but now in the form of the "Dark Sorcerer" a strange comedy skit meant to show off the processing power of the PS4, but mostly showed off David Cage's lack of comedy chops.

Sony made up for the lost momentum by rapidly showing off a bunch indie games in quick succession. Transistor, Octodad: Dadliest Catch, Ray's the Dead, Outlast, Secret Ponchos, Mercenary Kings, Don't Starve, and Galak-Z, all console exclusive to PS4. 

After a quick stop with Diablo,  Sony brought on a video of japan's favourite zipper slinger, Tetsuya Nomura, to show off Final Fantasy Versus 13. After a very un-Final Fantasy- like trailer, it was revealed the game had been rebranded as Final Fantasy 15  That shocker was quickly followed up with the announcement of Kingdom Hearts 3 for PS4.

 Sony's winning slide

Sony's winning slide

After a few third party PS4 games, including Assassin's Creed IV, Elder Scrolls Online, NBA 2K and Watch Dogs,  Sony got to what we were all waiting for. DRM. Sony revealed that the PS4 has no used game DRM, nor does it need to check in online like the Xbox One. The crowd cheered, Jack Tretton, who came back on stage for this announcement, opened his arms to the crowd, ready to receive the applause. The audience began to chant "Sony" over and over again, and Tretton only smiled.

After some announcements about PS Plus, namely that it will carry over to the PS4, as well as include online multiplayer for PS4 games, Sony revealed the first ever gameplay footage of Bungie's Destiny.  Most people were still distracted by Sony's brazen display of their victory over Microsoft, going so far as to specifically point out that the PS4 didn't ever need to check in online, not once every 24 hours, not every hour, never.

With Destiny out of the way, Sony moved in for the kill. They announced the PS4 would launch at $399. A whole $100 less than the Xbox One. Their conference over, Sony played themselves off with a sizzle reel, but this time to a deafening applause.

That applause was the sound of Sony winning the console war before it even began.



Microsoft E3 Roundup: Safe and Sound


Microsoft E3 Roundup: Safe and Sound

Microsoft kicked off E3 today with their Xbox press conference. After the criticisms surrounding the Xbox One’s reveal, an event more or less devoid of games, the pressure was on to deliver a spectacular performance at this year’s E3.

They managed to deliver on the promise they made after their TV laden reveal event; today’s event was all about the games.  They dedicated the first few minutes of the conference to talking about the Xbox 360, a console, it seems, Microsoft has no plans to forget. The Xbox 360 has undergone a second redesign, which Microsoft says is available starting today. They also plan to keep releasing games new game for the console, listing titles such as Dark Souls 2GTA V, and the PC hit, World of Tanks, as games that will be available on the console in the near future.

Microsoft has also announced updates for Xbox LIVE. Gold Members can now look forward to two free game downloads every month, starting withAssassin’s Creed 2 and Halo 3. Gold members can now share the features of their accounts, including multiplayer gaming, with other users on their home console without having to be logged in. They have also done away with the loathed Microsoft Points, opting instead to use local currencies.

As expected, the Xbox One took the spotlight, with Microsoft announcing a November launch and a $499 price tag. With the announcement of a myriad of new games and exclusive content, Microsoft made this one of the most jam-packed E3 in recent memory. Ryse: Son of RomeKiller Instinct,Forza Motorsport VQuantum BreakCrimson DragonDead Rising 3 and Halo, all exclusive titles coming to the Xbox One. On top of exclusive titles for their console, Microsoft has also managed to convince previously PlayStation exclusive franchises and developers to create content for the Xbox One. Hideo Kojima, vice president of Konami and director of Kojima Productions, has brought the Metal Gear franchise to an Xbox console in the first real way with Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. Insomniac, the once PlayStation only developers of the Ratchet and Clank franchise have also announced their new title Sunset Overdrive is going to be coming to Xbox One.

Microsoft managed to deliver the press conference they needed to in lieu of the negative reaction sparked from the some of the Xbox One’s policies. While they did not address any of the policies that caused said controversies, they did deliver one of the best press conferences in recent memory. With a set of exclusive titles, and a great multiplatform and indie game showing, Microsoft is approaching the next generation of gaming with full force.  



D4, Swery 65's Newest Game


D4, Swery 65's Newest Game

Microsoft didn't have too many complete shockers at their E3 press conference this year, but what they had was a doozy. In between trailers for flashy new IPs and world premieres of grayer and grittier first person shooters, Microsoft quietly announced they were publishing Swery65's new game, titled D4.

Swery65, best known for his work on Deadly Premonition, the completely bonkers send up of B-horror movies and Twin Peaks, is in charge of this game, which makes it a bit more interesting than the sum of its parts.

D4 is an episodic adventure game, which follows a man who can stop and travel through time. He uses this power to find his wife's killer, then stop her from being muredered. Seems a bit cliche, and even overlaps with the time shenanigans going in Microsoft's other time-travel Xbox One game, Quantum Break, but again, Swey65 brings  a unique flavour to his games that really has to be experienced, for example: check out that DDR-themed combat.

D4 was probably the most interesting thing Microsoft has in terms of exclusives, in my opinion. The cartoony art style makes it stand out among the grey and brown shooters that are already populating the Xbox One, and showing off a game made by a quirky, relatively unknown Japanese auteur game designer at a major press conference makes me feel like Microsoft is really banking on Swery65 working his crazy magic once again.

Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to be a sequel to the Swery-levels of crazy D and D2, made by recently-deceased Japanese game auteur Kenji Eno. I can only hope you dine on the heart of your dead mother at the end of this game too.


Dark Souls II E3 Trailer


Dark Souls II E3 Trailer

None of the E3 press conferences have gotten me too hyped up just yet, nothing has been too surprising so  far, but Microsoft did manage to show off one trailer that I was expecting, but still blew me away. 

 Dark Souls II's trailer is suspiciously low on deaths, as well as high on editing that makes it look like more of a traditional action game, but it's unmistakably Dark Souls. Hopefully, Namco Bandai's recent statements that they're positioning the game as the next Skyrim, and that it's their next "AAA" title, will only affect the game's marketing. From Software doesn't have much experience developing big budget titles, and I'd rather not see them make a mess of a sequel to one of my favourite games of this console generation. But hey, at least that extra money in the budget is going to making this game look gorgeous. I'm pretty pumped for next March.



I'll Teach You and You Teach Me: Was Pokemon the First Social Game?


I'll Teach You and You Teach Me: Was Pokemon the First Social Game?

I'll Teach You1
 (Image credit to  Shiny Latios01 on Deviantart )

(Image credit to Shiny Latios01 on Deviantart)

In a world of Farmvilles, in-app purchasing, online multi-player, asynchronous multi-player, online communities and thirteen year olds calling you any one of the three bad words they know, it’s hard to remember when video games were purely self-contained, single player experiences. When multiplayer was a nice bonus, and video games didn’t ask you to interact with other gamers every 30 seconds. The interaction mechanic du jour are social gaming features. Mechanics that force interactions by punishing players for not spending every moment they have interacting with others playing the game, and only let your progress via that interaction.

t’s sort of a mess. But like all messes, it started with a good idea. That gamers should be rewarded for leaving that isolated single player bubble and finding new ways to play a game alongside friends, without necessarily having those friends compromise their game experience. It’s clever, and also Pokemon did it first, decades before Farmville and Facebook games took the idea to a horrible place.

To be fair, videogames have always been a form of social entertainment. You went to the playground to talk about how to get past a certain level, to learn about the minus world in Mario, to discuss why Mario was so interested in Princess Peach when her sprite looked like she was suffering from a severe case of “my face is melting-itis.” Miyamoto even designed Zelda with obscure, hard to find secrets in hopes that players would come together to find a way through Hyrule. By the early ’90s, games like Street Fighter were played mostly competitively an in public, with players learning strategies from one another, but multiplayer does not a social game make. It wasn’t until Pokemon that social gaming was created. A single player experience that was affected in a meaningful way by another player’s single player experience, that rewarded players for having interactions with other players in-game, and created far reaching meta-goals, all focused around players interacting. 

Let’s start with the interactions themselves. In Red and Blue, you could really only interact with other gamers in two ways: battling, and trading. Satoshi Tajiri claims he came up with Pokemon when he first saw a Game Boy and a link cable. The game was built around the concept of hooking your game up to another person’s. That’s sort of where modern social gaming was born. In order to encourage players to do the whole linking thing, Game Freak placed all kinds of interaction incentives around the game world. Badges very clearly stated that they’d allow a player to control a higher level traded Pokemon, and traded Pokemon also gained more experience points. 

The multiplayer hubs were conveniently located in the many Pokemon Centers dotted across Kanto, so players immediately knew they wouldn’t have to go out of their way to interact with other players. Certain Pokemon could only evolve if they were traded into another game. It was smart. Hell, it was ahead of its time. Game Freak could have been forgiven back then for making the now-common mistake of taking features away from people who don’t interact, but instead they ensure that player interaction would grant only benefits, and that the games were entitrely self-contained and playable without linking up cartridges. A few Pokemon were exclusive to each version sure, but that just ties into my next point. Game Freak, or perhaps Nintendo’s marketing department, wisely crafted meta-goals that encouraged players to play Pokemon socially.

Gotta Catch ‘em All and Be a Pokemon Master. It’s hard to say if Game Freak came up with those goals on their own, or if Nintendo’s marketing team serendipitously came up with them while thinking of a way to sell people one game for the price of two, but they informed the way people played Pokemon forever. Not only that, they were the impetus to play Pokemon as a social game. Even though the games were designed with social gaming hooks, they were still mostly simplified, single player RPGs that didn’t really require multiplayer features. Sure the games encouraged it, but it was still a bit of a chore to round up a like-minded Pokemon trainer and hope one of you had access to a link cable. 

So to encourage this activity (for the sake of selling more copies, really), Nintendo pushed Pokémon with the tagline “Gotta Catch ’em All!” Not only that, but the anime, which launched with the games in North America, hammered home the idea of becoming a Pokémon master, or as the theme song so eloquently put it, becoming the very best. They were both goals that existed in-game. Professor Oak hands you a Pokedex with the stated goal of cataloging all 150 Pokémon, of course, this is impossible without a second cartridge, but that’s mostly beside the point. As for being the very best, like no one ever was, the game ends when you become the Pokémon League champion. But then you could battle your friends to decide who was the best in the playground, maybe organize larger events with friends from other schools; really figure out who the champion was. Nintendo even organized tournaments, basically telling kids that they really could be a Pokémon master.

Think about it, Pokémon was designed purely around the concept of interaction. The games internally reward playing Pokémon socially, the marketing campaign encouraged kids to catch ‘em all and be the best. Not only that, but Pokémon’s infinitely customizable mechanics encourage sharing gameplay experiences with other players. With 150 readily available Pokémon, and six to a team, no two teams would ever be the same. Not only that, but effort values, which give individual Pokémon stat boosts defending on what they defeat in battle, ensure no two Pokémon could even be the same. Add in the fact that each one can have four different moves and a nickname, and you have a recipe for infinite customization.

Having that element of personalization in the game is what really makes it the prototypical social game experience. Not only does it focus on gaming with others, both competitively and cooperatively, but it also makes sure that every game experience is entirely personal. Not only did players share tips and strategies, but they wanted to know what happened in other people’s games. Sure the story was the same, and they’d beaten the same trainers, but with what Pokémon? Which moves? When? Did they have trouble? Does that mean I can beat them? Or should I convince them to trade me their sweet Gyarados? Maybe we should talk about it first. Oh, I think I can beat them.

Hey, you want to link up? I want to battle.