I Have No Idea What I’m Doing – Game Critique: Super Smash Bros. 3DS

Title: Super Smash Bros. 3DS (Super Smash Bros. 4)
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: October 4, 2014
Studio/Developers: Sora Ltd., Bandai Namco Games
Publisher: Nintendo

Get the Hype!
Get the Hype!

I had previously written about the special demo of Super Smash Bros. 3DS & the limitations that provided. Now that I have the full game, I can gladly report that it doesn’t have those issues of controls that I lamented in the demo. It does still have other niggling minor issues, but they shall be addressed in a few paragraphs.

Like with the relatively recently released Mario Kart 8 [reviewed here] & The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds [reviewed here], SSB3DS doesn’t attempt to reinvent the franchise, rather just tweak previous issues. This seems to be Nintendo’s mantra of late. “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. Fine tuning is good enough”. & this is something that I agree with, for the most part.

Not from the demo
Not from the demo

For whatever reason, someone at Nintendo said that it’s better to incrementally fix things then to reinvent an entire franchise. Other critiques (well, mainly Yahtzee Croshaw) say that is a decisive failing for the Big N (as many -well, me at least- call Nintendo) & is often seen in the Super Mario Bros. franchise, where little changes are made & often the games just seem to be rehashes of previous ones. In my view, that is ignoring that many new games aren’t really aimed at non-invested Nintendo fans. What they are aimed towards is engaging new fans to become invested fans & players who have new tried a franchise before to enter at the latest title & step backwards from there by refining the system rather than building it all again from scratch. That was one reason for the popularity of Mario Kart 8 & the continued popularity of the Zelda franchise & it will be why Super Smash Bros. 4 on both the 3DS & Wii U will sell well.

The core of SSB3DS remains based around fast frenetic fighting. It is the epitome of the button-masher with strategic depth. Where you can wail on the controls until you win or you can think actively plan how to beat your opponent (if you can). The game’s graded AI difficulty plays a lot more into this; because the high the number (ranked from 1 to 9) the more the computer controlled characters (up to 3) take advantage of items, chase the smash ball & exploit the system to knock you about as much as they can. You can wail on them but if you aren’t smart about your timing, the AI can overcome you with a shield dodge & knock you out with a perfect Smash Attack.

Unfortunately, the 3DS isn’t the best system for such frantic controls. Unlike the afore-reviewed demo, you can customise the controls, ridding yourself of the annoying Up to jump & so forth. Unfortunately, the Circle Pad isn’t a very precise method of playing. It feels slippery at times & hard to make the game know the difference between a tap & a hold. I’d honestly would have preferred having the option to be able to use the D-Pad but that’s something Nintendo might be able to amend with a software update. Fortunately, you can completely customise all of the buttons. So you can choose which is best for you. I switched the X & Y buttons from Jump to Attack & Special Attack, making it feel more like a modern Platformer, which is more natural to me as a player. Despite even with this, the nature of the 3DS unit isn’t the most comfort for long term gaming session. So you often end up with some nasty hand cramps if you spend too much time playing, which will cripple many users’ sex lives.

Based on a true story
Based on a true story

I’ll quickly note two other annoyances/negatives before I get back to the good.

The main annoyance is the format itself. The tiny screen on the 3DS means that when the action is zoomed out it becomes really difficult to see where you character is, especially versing 3 other opponents. There are options to let you see things a little better, such as thicker lines around the characters if you choose that option in the menu & a target box if you tap a character icon on the Touch Screen. Unfortunately, these options aren’t explained or easy to find. Also, even with them on, if the action is zoomed well out it can be hard to spot your character in the midst of particle effects & shifting backgrounds. More so if you have an item, like an Assist Trophy such as the Puppy from Nintendogs, hogging up the entire screen.

The other issue that I had was how unintuitive the menus are. There is no way to know where the things you are after actually are. Take the options menu for example: you have to crawl through several sub-menus to find it rather than having it on the very first page. Same with some of the other game modes & side games. Again: I feel that this is something that could be fixed with a software update. Maybe even putting a few menus on the touch screen as favoured short cuts so you can have instant access. It’s not a deal breaker in any fashion but is a tad vexing when you first start up or forget where things are.

Which unfortunately plays into the Trophy selection & purchase system. Like previous games, Trophies are just a pretty little thing to collect & there are several ways to do this. You can collect them in fights, as rewards for beating challenges or doing achievement unlocks. They don’t factor into the game play but reward you with cool information about them -more so if they are Assist Trophies in game. They are then explained what they do & how they affect the game play, which is handy with some of the new ones found in the game.

Does this look like the face of mercy, motherfucker?
Does this look like the face of mercy, motherfucker?

Despite the limitations of the screen, the game play remains insanely fun & even challenging if you put the AI’s level up. Being handheld, you are prone to playing short matches on Smash Mode, which you can have as fully customisable rule sets, including or excluding various factors or focussing on your personally customised characters. These customisation aren’t just aesthetic but also factor in modified moves that you collect in Smash Run & other side games; completely transforming how a character plays from tweaks to moves, weight (the ability to be knocked out of the arena or turned into a Cannonball by your opponent) & other little factors. You can also transfer your specially customised characters to other people’s consoles & to the Wii U edition via the soon to be released Amiibo figures. They work through a NFC chip & are supposedly meant for some games outside of the two SSB releases (such as Mario Kart 8) but they seem like a bit of an expensive investment so far.

The game also boasts the biggest roster to date, which is 48 characters (not including the 3 customisable Mii classes of Brawler, Gunner & Bladesman). Unfortunately, some of these are very much clone characters -like Pit & Dark Pit. The most disappointing is Lucina from Fire Emblem: Awakening who is a move for move clone of Marth, who is already included in the game. I found this a tad disappointing because I loved her as a character in her Fire Emblem appearance.

The character who’s become my go to fighter is female variant of Robin, the Tactician from the aforementioned Fire Emblem: Awakening. She has a great combination of ranged & close attacks not to mention good speed; making for an excellently balanced fighter. More so with her health draining close range attack, Nosferatu. I just wish that I could import the character model that I have in my version of Fire Emblem: Awakening rather then relying on the default Twin Tails appearance that SSB3DS provides.

When playing Smash mode, I tend just to go for random select options, so that I get a good feel for every character. Although there are some real stand outs for me. Such as Bowser Jr, who has varied attacks & alternate forms based upon the Koopalings; or the Duck Hunt Duo, that pairs up a Dog & Duck for some pretty unique attacks & very retro references.

Unlocking the characters is a lot easier in this game too. You can just grind away in Smash Mode, where you encounter an unlock every 10 battles & if that unlock beats you (which can happen easily), you just fight them again after your next battle. You can also unlock them by meeting various conditions in the Quest mode game but just grinding for them is the much easier option.

The arenas in the 3Ds version are all nicely varied, with some console exclusive ones -such as the Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks one. Where you fight on top of Link’s train from that game (where Toon Link drives it, unless you play as that character, then Alfonzo is the driver), making the stage constantly move. Some stages are more fun than others but everyone will find one that suits them. Despite that, Rainbow Road from the Mario Kart series and the retro F-Zero SNES stages are very annoying to be on because of how they constantly shift & have things move onto the battle stage all of the time. I ended up loving the every changing Fire Emblem: Awakening Fenox Arena stage, because of how it wouldn’t stay in one form but also doesn’t try to throw you off like other stages.

The music is also to due for! Mixing up some classic Smash Bros. tune with originals & retro remixes. Plus there are plenty of hidden tracks for many of the stages (triggers by hitting a certain button on Stage Select screen). If you can find it, you can access all of the unlocked tracks in the Records area & play them instead of the default these, as well as fav’ing them. No idea what that does but it’s a good option to have.

I’ve even tried my hand at Online Play; choosing the For Fun option over the For Glory hardcore player mode. Despite the lag from my own net connection, I won my first match in a Sudden Death bout. So, like every other online victory I have, it was more a pure fluke then any skill on my part. I personally don’t see online mode as something I’ll stick with, for various reasons, but Nintendo still manage to make a close system very fun to play. Their matchmaking algorithm seems to work well, so you aren’t played with the 3l33test of the 3l33t but you aren’t placed with the scrubs whom you can mow over either. It seems balanced so far but, most importantly, it feels fun. You don’t go in fearing you get some ubergamer waiting to show off his Wang Size in replacement of any other life skills. You get similar players with similar skills & you get the most out of the hectic battles. The lag still bothered me but, again, that’s more to do with crappy Australian net services & a terrible wifi router than system itself.
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Being on a handheld console, Super Smash Bros. 3DS isn’t really made for long gaming session but that doesn’t detract from the fun. Short burst whilst travelling or waiting are good enough. You can do more dedicated sessions if you want, no one’s stopping you really, but the limitations on the current 3DS battery (to be changed with the New 3DS release in Oz in November & next year in the rest of the world) can be a bit of a hindrance on the go. Speaking of “on the go”, the Street Pass system allows you to play an Air Hockey like knock out game, that rewards you with Coins & Trophies if you beat the computer controlled tokens of people who you’ve passed on the street. It’s fun but not demanding. A lazy way to unlock things in a way but you get ranking for each battle you win, supposedly making your icon a target for more serious players but that depends on the likelihood passing another console owner with the game.

In the end, despite the limitations of the tiny screen & the vexation of the menu system, Nintendo has refined Super Smash Bros. 3DS into a superb fighting game. What it lacks in general refinement against such franchises as King of Fighters, Tekken or the granddaddy of them all, Street Fighter, SSB3DS more than makes up for in being utterly chaotic fun. It’s not a serious game for seriously competitive players but what it is more than compensates for that quality. Despite not being able to test the wireless battle mode, basically all the game modes stand up. Some you’ll play once & forget about, others you may return to (such as Smash Run) for all the unlocks & bonuses. Am still waiting to see what special unlocks connecting it with the Wii U version unleash (apart from being able to use the 3DS & game as a separate controller for mutliplayer), as well as possible future DLC. It shall more than likely be a game that I return to again & again for brief bouts of bout fun.

Is your body ready?
Is your body ready?
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The Least of the Best – Game Review: InJustice: Gods Among Us

Title: Injustice: Gods Among Us
Platform: Wii U (reviewed), PS3, Xbox 360, PS Vita
Release Date: 16/04/2013
Studio/Developers: NetherRealms Studio
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

Injustice_Gods_Among_Us_Cover_Art
Some times you buy a game not because it’s great but because it is cheap.

For me: NetherRealm’s DC adapted fighting game Injustice: Gods Among Us was pretty much that game. Only costing me $13 (free shipping) for the Wii U version.

To begin: the game, in my view isn’t great but it is very ‘competent’. It does what it does well, there is no denying that.  The characters & actions are well balanced because of the years of experience that NetherRealms has in the fighting genre (starting back with Midway’s Mortal Kombat franchise) but is unfortunately brought down by the platform which I chose to play it on.

The Wii U with its tablet isn’t the best system for fighting games unfortunately & the ‘traditional controller’ is an expense that I can’t be bothered with because of the lack of games that it supports. I had a chance to play the Playstation 3 version just after its release as an in store demo & the controller felt fine but it is still a game were you need a solid arcade stick set up. Yet that is my constant complaint about console fighters & my nostalgia for the excellent arcade stick that the SNES used to have for the range of Street Fighter II clones that console generated during the 1990’s.

My other issue with the game came before its release. That was because it was utterly tainted by the IGN.com Hype Train, where they plug the ever-loving stuffing out of a game to the point that you’re sick of hearing about it & then basically trash it in review because they got the money they wanted from Warner Bros. This is a unfortunately typical infection for the video games industry & since it doesn’t seem to be changing any time soon, let’s move on.

Since this is an arcade style fighting game -which have been popular for over 25 years- I trust I don’t have to explain how the game play works? You play as Character A, you hit Character B with a series of standard attacks, combos, special & super moves until Character B is either (on screen) dead or unconscious. I:GAU pretty much follows the old Capcom Formula, dropping the standard Mortal Kombat Fatalities & other hallmarks. As said before, the system is very balanced & smooth but is also fast paced & brutal. You can win by Button Mashing but timing & use of environmental attacks can really turn the tide of battle. Speaking of environmental attack, an entire battle can hinge on whether you can pull off a “stage transition” attack, were you knock an opponent into another part of the combat stage, can actually mean that you lose via a technicality more than anything else. Plus you can’t skip them, so they do get boring to watch, even if they aren’t used all that often (same with the Super Moves).

Speaking of backgrounds: it’s unintentionally amusing when you’re fighting a character & they’re waving at you from the background at the same time (see Doomsday battle in the Fortress of Solitude stage). Unfortunately, despite the cool environmental & background attacks, the stages aren’t all that interesting, even with the destructing stuff because it all regenerates next time you are there (or if you fight immediately in the same arena against a different opponent).

But what makes the fighting in I:GAU different from many other fighting games out there is the integration with the story.

This is both a good & very bad thing.

Good in that you actually get a good sized campaign where you try lots of different characters without endlessly replaying to see different endings.

Bad in that there is only one ending, the plot isn’t great, you don’t get much time with characters to learn how to play them and you have to play through Quick Time Events.

Now, an aside about the old QTE: these are old bugbears in modern gaming & basically have no place in this game. They are used to transition between cut scenes & combat but punish you badly if you fail. Unfortunately they do tend to come out of nowhere & throw things (literally in in-game terms) at you from out of nowhere. The controls on the Wii U also proved fiddly for these because of trying to remember which button is where & the slight lag between button pressing & response.

Anyway, the story: Superman goes evil.

That’s it pretty much.

Superman goes evil & tries to take over the world.

As has been pointed out by countless other geeks & comic nerds, this is a well played trope & frankly a bit boring.

But wait!

Its an Alt World Superman who goes evil.

Yes, that’s something that’s ben done before but they often call him Ultraman & have him as part of the Crime Syndicate of America where he pals around with other evil versions of the Justice League.

3220012-injustice-gods-among-us-wallpaper
Look, video game adaptions often don’t break new ground in terms of narrative & they certainly don’t want to canon.

So, The Joker tricks Superman into accidentally killing Lois Lane, who had a detonator for a Nuclear Bomb wired to her heart, which blows up Metropolis when the signal is cut. Finding out what he did, Superman kills Joker & decides that the world needs protection, so he turns into Super-Hitler & tries to bully everyone into being peaceful. Many of the JL join him, as do former villains who get to kill without question, & Batman forms an underground resistance to stop him.

Yes: sign. It’s all been done before & the logic of how its down is so downright bullshit pathetic that you tend to let it skip.

The same goes for the rest of the plot: where Alt World Batman draws Prime World heroes across dimensions to get a Superman killing device but the good Prime World heroes (well, Batman) has other plans & seek to redeem the Alt World as best they can.

Yes, it’s utter drivel but that’s what’s not important.

Beneath the clunky story & the annoying shifting of characters before you get used to them you get a very refined fighting system. Battles are tough & the difficult ramps up as you progress through the campaign. So opponents whom you slaughtered when you first fought them (I seriously had one stand there for a few seconds to allow me to attack) can actually deal you serious damage when you face them later.

Outside of the story, there is also a very serious challenge mode called S.T.A.R.S. Lab. Where you do certain events or have to win under certain conditions to get small unlocks. This mode really does pad everything out nicely, even if the rewards for it are a pittance really. It’s a good way to get used to characters & a god distraction from the lackluster story.

But the mode that the game is designed for is the Vs. System -the staple of all modern fighters. You get local & online matches (the latter being ranked), both of which offer in-game unlocks. The whole system is geared towards the Professional Competition scene as well as offering an extended reason to play. Unfortunately, I’m fairly misanthropic, so I avoid online & multiplayer stuff -especially after the annoyances of Street Fighter IV’s anytime online arcade-style challenges.

Any-hoo, summary: if you are a fan of fighting games, Mortal Kombat and/or DC related stuff you’ll be happy enough with it. If you want something that is long lasting, exceptionally fun & lets you sink your proverbial teeth into something meaty, you can do worse then this game. There is plenty of DLC for it (which I refuse to pay for) as well as a Gold/Ultimate/Game of the Year edition with all the DLC & bonuses out, so you might want to go with that. As I said at the start: I got it because it was cheap. I had no expectations of it, so it was better than I thought it could’ve otherwise been. Overlook the naff story & the annoyance of the constant character switching & you’ll be fine.

It is what it is & that isn’t always a bad thing.