Expectation vs. Reality: First Impressions of Icons

One of the things I pride myself on when it comes to this blog is that I’m honest. You’ll never hear me sugarcoat anything; I will always tell it like it is however I want to say it, regardless of what the consequences may be.

So, with that said, let me start off by saying that Icons: Combat Arena isn’t looking too hot right now.

(Video courtesy of Wavedash Games’ YouTube channel)

I wrote a few months ago about Wavedash Games’ first big project, a platform fighter tailor-made for the competitive Super Smash Bros. scene. Well, they finally showed off the game to the public at Evo over the weekend, gameplay and all, and its initial reception has been…rather tepid. In general, people have commented on things like its presentation and gameplay, deriding them as, to put it mildly, subpar and generic. In an Evo weekend that was chock full of surprises, this was one of the few duds to come out of it.

Before I go any further, please keep in mind that this is coming from someone who has experience with Melee, both from playing the game casually and spectating competitive matches. If any of this seems foreign to you, I apologize and recommend researching the competitive Melee scene to get a better understanding of what I’m talking about. With that out of the way, let’s talk about Icons’ troubles.


We’ll start with the game’s presentation. In fairness, the look, sound and speed of the game as it stands is forgivable, albeit still hard to take in. It’s explicitly-stated to be in pre-alpha, so of course it’s going to be slower and rough around the edges. Given a little more time and TLC, it’ll hopefully look smoother, sound better, and play faster when it exits beta. So, for the moment, I’ll let them pass on presentation and game speed.

For gameplay, I will say that the Gust Shield (a mechanic similar to pushblocking in traditional fighting games) is a cool idea for a platform fighter, but other than that, it looks like Super Smash Bros. Melee all over again. I do want to see if there are more new ideas and concepts mixed in. As of now, gameplay barely squeaks by.


Where this game truly falters is the gameplay of its characters. Ashani, Kidd, Raymer, Xana, and a new sword-swinging character named Zhurong were all shown off in motion for the first time. Aside from Raymer, whose projectile zoning seems unique enough, you’d swear this game was a Chinese Super Smash Bros. Melee bootleg with all the similarities to Melee‘s beloved cast. Granted, that seems to be what a lot of people are saying, but it’s true.

Zhurong and Kidd are the biggest offenders here. The former has normal moves that are evocative to Fire Emblem’s Marth, right down to the ability to perform the “Ken Combo,” a short aerial sequence that spells certain doom for anyone caught by the blade.

Meanwhile, Kidd is a dead-ringer for Star Fox characters Fox McCloud and Falco Lombardi. This includes a laser pistol and a reflector for offensive and defensive purposes, often referred to as a “Shine.” The only things that are remotely unique are some of his horn attacks, but that’s about it.

To round out the rest of the knockoffs, Ashani moves and strikes much like F-Zero’s Captain Falcon, and even though she’s a rare true grappler in the platform fighter genre, Xana borrows a few tricks from the big bad of The Legend of Zelda, Ganondorf. It all adds up to a roster that looks fine visually, but feels painfully uninspired when it comes to the playstyles they convey.


Now, I understand the desire to retain the spirit of competitive Super Smash Bros. Melee. Even if most major Melee tournaments consist of some combination of the same five people, the mental and physical dexterity that’s shown off in competitive matches are in a league of their own. However, I believe that creativity is an important component in the development of any sort of medium, and as such, it should not be sacrificed in the name of preserving legacy. The last thing a team of creators should do when developing a spiritual successor is forgo creativity and bank on nostalgia being the lone driving force of a project; doing so hurts your bottom line more than helps it. Not to say that Wavedash Games is deliberately doing this, but with the nods to competitive Melee lore…don’t try and tell me Kidd isn’t one big send-up to Joseph “Mang0” Marquez…it almost feels like that’s what’s going on here.

(Video courtesy of Dan Fornace’s YouTube channel)

There are many instances where old and new concepts were successfully synthesized. In fact, let’s talk about another platform fighter that does this, and more importantly, does it well: Dan Fornace’s Rivals of Aether. Some of the game’s playable cast borrows from popular Melee gameplay archetypes, but uses classic elements like water and fire (as well as their respective offshoot elements like ice and smoke) to put creative spins on them.

One example of this concept in action is Wrastor, an avian wind-based battler who, much like Falco, prefers the air. On a base level, Wrastor’s moveset borrows from the likes of Falco and Captain Falcon, but what really sets him apart is his side special. It creates a slipstream that increases his aerial mobility, as well as his ability to perform air combos, making him a terror to face in the sky. And that’s before getting into the fact that he’s the only character in the game that can perform chargeable strong moves while in the air.

To be blunt, Rivals of Aether’s roster has more personality and creative ambition to it than Icons does at the moment. It strikes that fine balance between nostalgia and creativity, retaining the competitive aspects of Melee while blazing new trails at the same time. And it’s only going to get better with more new characters on the way, including the guest duo of Ori and Sein from the runaway hit Ori and the Blind Forest.

Meanwhile, Icons is being compared to a Chinese bootleg game. The platform fighter revolution we’ve been waiting for, am I right?


I wanted to see Wavedash Games do something unique with this game, and so far they’ve failed with regards to their characters’ gameplay. They may have said in a recent AMA that there’s more to these characters than what the trailer shows off, and I want to believe that. However, that just begs the question of why they didn’t show any of those unique character qualities off in the first place. Yes, it’s not feasible to show off every single difference these characters have, but showing at least one or two would’ve given people enough confidence that this wasn’t going to be another me-too Smash Bros. clone. First impressions mean everything in the long run, and the first glimpse of Icons, to me and several other people, did not give a good first impression.

And what’s worse is that this has less to do with the graphics, sound design and game speed, and more to do with how the characters play. If all you show off are one-to-one copies of Marth’s normal attacks or Fox’s Blaster and Reflector, you’re not instilling much faith in people who expect to see platform fighters taken to another level. As harsh as I may seem here, it’s only because I want to see these guys redefine what platform fighters are capable of.

Then again, there’s still time before they officially launch the game to show off more and tweak what they have. I’m willing to give Wavedash Games the benefit of the doubt for now, as Icons still has some promise to it. But until they show off more of their roster’s unique qualities, that first impression is going to stick.


‘Til we meet again,
Tom

Infinite Issues

When it was first shown off at the Playstation Experience last December, Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite gave fans of the high-flying fighting game series a sense of renewed hope. People believed that Capcom wasn’t going to let the series languish in a Hell where DarkStalkers’ Morrigan Aensland and Doctor Doom filled the air with Soul Fists and Hidden Missiles, or Zero of Mega Man X fame singlehandedly ripped through entire teams on a few well-timed mix-ups. It was a whole new ballgame, with newcomers Captain Marvel and X (also of Mega Man X) leading the charge alongside series staples Ryu (from Street Fighter), Morrigan, Iron Man, and Captain America. Minds ran wild with possibilities of what could be. There was even confirmation of a full-fledged story mode, something the series never had until this point.

(Video courtesy of IGN)

It all looked amazing. So much so that you would even say it looked too good to be true. And sure enough, with E3 creeping right around the corner, all those hopes were swiftly dashed.


Between leaks of the game’s entire starting roster, their supposed subsequent confirmation, and its overall presentation (especially the face of Street Fighter’s Chun-Li), all of a sudden people began to look at Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite in a more negative light. The overall consensus from the public is that the game looked and sounded soulless, like a shell of its former glory that Capcom pulled out from their cellar to make a quick buck. And anyone who said anything positive about the game, specifically professional players like Justin Wong and Michael “IFC Yipes” Mendoza,” were labeled “Shills” for Capcom, with the belief that they were being paid behind the scenes to speak highly of the game.

As if that weren’t enough, there are people out there who want this game to fail when it drops this September. Most want it to fail because they feel it’ll give Capcom the wakeup call it so desperately needs after bungling Street Fighter x Tekken and Street Fighter V, both high-profile fighting game releases as well.

Because the fans know what’s best for Capcom. Clearly.

First of all, it’s disingenuous to say that people praising the game are being “Capcom Shills.” People who have played the game have sung its praises, for sure, but they have also expressed concerns with it, and still may have concerns even after playing. It’s also worth pointing out that being paid to promote the title without any sort of transparency is illegal on the parts of both Capcom and the people in question. Even if that were the case, why would those same players sing Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite’s praises while openly criticizing Street Fighter V? Doesn’t make much sense when you think about it, does it?

Second, the game’s failure isn’t necessarily going to result in positive change for Capcom. If, gaming gods forbid, Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite does end up flopping, it could make Capcom see where they’ve been going wrong. I’m not denying that for a moment. The failure of one of their most beloved and popular series would more than likely force them to rethink their approach, perhaps more than ever, when it comes to developing and releasing games.

Alternatively, Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite’s failure could also signal the start of another fighting game “Dark Age,” where Capcom steps away from developing fighting games, instead putting their efforts towards reviving older franchises and creating new ones; meanwhile developers like NetherRealm Studios and Arc System Works would pick up the baton when it comes to developing fighting games, which wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing. Of course, then you’ll have fans clamoring for a new Street Fighter or Capcom Vs. title, and the cycle will likely begin all over again.

To the detractors’ credit, I can see why they’re so upset with how this game is shaping up. At least, most of it. Allow me to begin by talking about the one thing I think Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite has going for it, and the one thing it needs to have going for it to get a passing grade: Gameplay.


Instead of the chaotic 3v3 battles people tend to associate the series with most, this game goes back to its 2v2 roots, but does so with a twist. The game trades in character assists and the dreaded X-Factor mechanic from the previous entry in the series for the ability to tag in a partner at any point in time. They also introduce Marvel’s Infinity Stones, which grant teams new tools that they don’t have normally, and the ability to trigger an Infinity Storm and enter a state where their stone’s powers are amplified to ridiculous extents; the Space Stone Infinity Storm, for instance, traps opponents in a cosmic box where their movements are limited.

This in conjunction with smaller mechanical additions like the ability to stop combos makes the game more open-ended with regards to team construction, tactics, and especially combo potential. Considering the series lives and dies by flashy combos, that’s a very good thing. It’s a spectacle to watch, one that’s bound to get even better once the final build of the game comes out three months from now.


When it comes to the graphics, the game is very touch-and-go. While I greatly prefer Marvel vs. Capcom 3’s comic book-style cel-shading and visual tricks, Infinite still, for the most part, looks great when it’s in motion. The animations look solid, and the color palettes, while not as vibrant as Marvel vs. Capcom 3‘s, still look good; this is especially true when characters perform a Hyper Combo or trigger their Infinity Stone’s respective Infinity Storm. It’s only when you look at still frames or concept art where you start to see the flaws. I mentioned Chun-Li earlier as a chief example of how spotty the game’s graphics look, especially compared to her models in UMvC3 and Street Fighter V, where she looks as gorgeous as she ought to in both games.

However, Chun-Li obviously isn’t the only character with this issue; others like Devil May Cry’s Dante and Captain America don’t look any better. Capcom has said that they’re going to look into tweaking the game’s graphics to make characters look less garish; nobody knows if they’re actually going to commit to making the game look better than it does now, and it’s hard to trust them when they’ve been known to lie about this sort of thing before. I’ll hold them to it for now, because there’s a chance they may actually stick to their word this time.


And now we come to the game’s roster, the one major hang-up that I personally have. The roster was leaked towards the end of May by a NeoGAF user named Ryce, and is as follows:

Marvel:
Ant-Man (Newcomer)
Captain America
Captain Marvel (Newcomer)
Dr. Strange
Gamora (Newcomer)
Hawkeye
Hulk
Iron Man
Nova
Rocket Raccoon
Spider-Man
Thanos
Thor
Ultron (Newcomer)

Capcom:
Arthur of Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins
Chris Redfield of Resident Evil
Chun-Li of Street Fighter
Dante of Devil May Cry
Firebrand of Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins
Jedah Dohma of DarkStalkers (Newcomer)
Monster Hunter of the eponymous series (Newcomer)
Morrigan Aensland of DarkStalkers
Nemesis T-Type of Resident Evil
Ryu of Street Fighter
Spencer of Bionic Commando
Strider Hiryu of Strider
X of Mega Man X (Newcomer)
Zero of Mega Man X (*Originally assumed to be Dead Rising’s Frank West.)

Now, assuming this is what we’re actually getting on launch day, there’s a few different ways to look at it. First off, the initial size of the roster isn’t that big of a problem. I can understand why people would be disappointed with it because of the bar set by Marvel vs. Capcom 2’s 56-man lineup, but I also feel like Capcom is trying for a soft reboot of the series, opting for a smaller, more-manageable roster to start with. That’s not a terrible idea for a new entry in a long-running fighting game series; in fact, the same argument can be used in defense of Street Fighter V’s initial roster being smaller but easier to balance at the outset. The size of the roster does contribute to the real reason why I have a problem with it, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

I’m also not broken up about the lack of X-Men characters, though that’s mostly because I can see why. The Avengers are the most recognizable of Marvel’s properties at the moment, much like the X-Men were when Marvel vs. Capcom began in the late 90’s. So, of course, Marvel will want to promote the Avengers as much as they did the X-Men before them. That being said, it’s worth noting that the entire series got its start with X-Men: Children of the Atom back in 1994, as well as X-Men vs. Street Fighter in 1996. So, not including any X-Men when they were part of the series’ origins just doesn’t feel right.

The ongoing rights issues with Fox Studios might be a reason for it (and I say this because I don’t believe Mike Evans’ notion of people not remembering the X-Men for a second), but the least Marvel could’ve done is try to spring for the rights to some of them. To be more specific, the most ideal X-Men to include would be Wolverine, arguably the face of the X-Men; Deadpool, easily the most popular of the X-Men if not the most popular Marvel character in general; and Magneto, Storm, and Sentinel, who are considered the three strongest characters in Marvel vs. Capcom 2, and by extension the most memorable in the series’ competitive lore.

What I have an issue with is the fact that there are so few new characters joining the series this time around. Again, if those leaks are correct…and after E3 it’s looking more and more likely that they are…we’re only going to be getting seven new characters right out of the gate, which is a painfully small number for two companies with the variety of characters they have to offer. This also goes back to the matter of the starting roster’s overall size; like I’ve said before, I’m not overly concerned about the game only having 28 characters to begin with, but it wouldn’t be an issue at all if they had more new characters from the get-go. Having only seven of those characters being brand-new is a huge letdown, even if they seem to have interesting playstyles.

To give you an idea of how bad the newcomer count is, consider this: Of the 38 characters on Marvel vs. Capcom 3’s initial roster, 21 of them were brand-new:

marvel-vs-capcom-3-all-characters-unlockable-guide-screenshot-small

(Screencap from Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds‘ website)

Marvel:
Captain America
Deadpool (Newcomer)
Doctor Doom
Dormammu (Newcomer)
Hulk
Iron Man
Magneto
M.O.D.O.K. (Newcomer)
Phoenix (Newcomer)
Sentinel
She-Hulk (Newcomer)
Shuma-Gorath *As DLC
Spider-Man
Storm
Super Skrull (Newcomer)
Taskmaster (Newcomer)
Thor (Newcomer)
Wolverine
X-23 (Newcomer)

Capcom:
Akuma of Street Fighter
Albert Wesker of Resident Evil (Newcomer)
Amaterasu of Okami (Newcomer)
Arthur (Newcomer)
Chris Redfield (Newcomer)
Chun-Li
Crimson Viper of Street Fighter (Newcomer)
Dante (Newcomer)
Felicia of DarkStalkers
Hsien-Ko of DarkStalkers (Newcomer)
Jill Valentine of Resident Evil *As DLC
Mike Haggar of Final Fight (Newcomer)
Morrigan Aensland
Nathan Spencer (Newcomer)
Ryu
Trish of Devil May Cry (Newcomer)
Tron Bonne of Mega Man Legends
Viewtiful Joe of the eponymous series (Newcomer)
Zero (Newcomer)

And that’s before the subsequent Ultimate re-release. In addition to across-the-board balance updates to the previous cast and the overall game engine, the update added twelve new characters…11 of which were also brand-new:

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(Screencap from Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3)

Marvel:
Doctor Strange (Newcomer)
Ghost Rider (Newcomer)
Hawkeye (Newcomer)
Iron Fist (Newcomer)
Nova (Newcomer)
Rocket Raccoon (Newcomer)

Capcom:
Firebrand (Newcomer)
Frank West (Newcomer)
Nemesis T-Type (Newcomer)
Phoenix Wright of Ace Attorney (Newcomer)
Strider Hiryu
Vergil of Devil May Cry (Newcomer)

Between both versions of the game, 32 of the 50 characters had never been in a Marvel vs. Capcom title before. It could be argued that 32 is too high a number and they should’ve brought back at least a few fan-favorites like Cable and Captain Commando. However, the point still stands that Marvel vs. Capcom 3 introduced a ton of brand-new faces, and to go from that to just seven initial newcomers for Infinite is a harder pill to swallow than the overall roster reduction.

The real sting in the tail is the fact that Capcom will be more or less holding back any potential new characters as downloadable content. This includes Marvel’s Black Panther and Mega Man X antagonist Sigma, both the first of six characters (with the possibility of more afterward) to be introduced in this regard. Sigma being DLC makes little sense because of his role in the game’s story mode alongside Marvel’s Ultron, and while Black Panther being DLC is annoying, the fact that he’s going to be playable at all is fair enough. As of now, it’s unknown whether or not the other downloadable characters will be veterans or other newcomers, but that’s neither here nor there.

While it might not be the biggest source of anger for most people in regards to this game, it seems like it’s a part of it, and if that is, in fact, the case, I agree with it entirely. If there were a better mix of veterans and newcomers on the initial roster, I wouldn’t have much of a problem with this; downloadable characters would simply be adding to an already-strong roster. As it stands right now, introducing only seven new characters and keeping more potential newcomers behind a paywall is questionable marketing at best, and at worst, forwards the general consensus that this game feels more like a cheap cash grab by Capcom than a passion project for longtime fans of the series.


There’s a lot more I could talk about here, but this article has gone on long enough as it is. Overall, I want Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite to succeed, and feel that it ultimately will. In spite of everything going against it, the gameplay still looks as fast and frantic as Marvel vs. Capcom should be, and I feel it’ll be a tournament pillar like Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 was before it. But at the same time, Capcom needs to listen to the pre-release criticisms the game is receiving and take them into consideration for the future. They already bungled their last few major fighting game releases in one fashion or another, and are failing to restore any sort of good faith while trying to resuscitate Street Fighter V; any more major miscues, and they run the risk of throwing away whatever is left of their good will with the general fighting game crowd. And that’s a road Capcom shouldn’t want to travel.


‘Til we meet again,
Tom

Let’s Review: Shovel Knight, Plague of Shadows

Shovel Knight is easily the greatest Kickstarter success story ever told. Yacht Club Games asked for at least $75,000 to get the project off the ground, and instead wound up receiving $311,502 across 14,749 backers; in the process, they managed to reach every single promised stretch goal, including three separate story campaigns for three members of the game’s villainous Order of No Quarter.

PoS

(Logo courtesy of Yacht Club Games)

As of this writing, two of these campaigns have already been released, and today we’re going to talk about the first one that was released in 2015: Plague of Shadows, the story of the Order’s slightly-unhinged alchemist, Plague Knight.

[Story]
Unbeknownst to the rest of the Order of No Quarter as they try to fend off Shovel Knight and his quest, Plague Knight has his own plans. Rather than planning a coup d’état to overthrow the Enchantress and rule the Order himself, he plans to steal the “Essences” of the Order’s knights to brew the Ultimate Potion, a concoction that would give him anything his heart desires. But there’s far more to Plague Knight’s mission than you may be lead to believe…

Allow me to be straight-up here: The story doesn’t have the same sort of emotional punch that Shovel of Hope had, and is a very straightforward tale. The thing is that Yacht Club Games’ method of integrating storytelling and gameplay in Shovel of Hope was a brilliant idea that made the journey all the more meaningful. With Plague of Shadows, it’s a much more standard telling of what Plague Knight was up to behind the scenes. However, I should point out that this is not to say that this story is bad; Yacht Club Games have established themselves as great storytellers regardless of how they go about it, and Plague of Shadows is no different.

With all of that being said, one thing that Yacht Club Games should be commended for is character depth. They went out of their way to add much more in the way of personality not just to Plague Knight, but also to some characters you may not expect. Of particular note is Mona, the woman who ran the potion-busting minigame in Shovel of Hope; here, she’s a focal point of Plague Knight’s story. Watching Plague Knight interact with Mona, as well as many of the other characters, is bound to put a smile on your face, and it makes for a story that’s every bit as charming as Shovel of Hope’s was.

[Presentation]
Graphics and music are unchanged from Shovel of Hope, which means you won’t be seeing much in the way of new stuff. The few new things that are introduced, however, are up to the same level of quality Yacht Club Games is known for; the Potionarium hub, being the only real graphical example that can be brought up, is well-detailed and bristling with perhaps more personality than the village from the base game.

Musically, Jake Kaufman only delivers ten new tracks. But whether it’s “The Alchemist’s Haven” delivering a more subdued take on Manami Matsumae’s “Flowers of Antimony” for the Potionarium, or the pleasantly misty-eyed “Waltz for One,” they’re once again all hits. You might not be getting much in the way of new material, but what’s here is still top-shelf.

[Gameplay]
Where Shovel Knight takes a straightforward approach with his gameplay, Plague Knight’s gameplay is the opposite: Diverse, and intricate. The star of the show here is a wide array of bomb setups; casings, fuses, powders and bursts can be combined in a myriad of ways for both offensive and defensive trickery. In addition, it gives Plague Knight mobility that is a cut above Shovel Knight, who often struggled with mobility other than standard run-and-jump fare. While having to pop in and out of the submenu to shuffle your setup can be annoying, it’s worth trying out all kinds of combinations to see what works best.

Plague Knight also has his own answer to Shovel Knight’s Relics, the Arcana. They’re certainly useful, but only a few of them find consistent use. The issue is that Plague Knight’s array of bomb combinations is so deep that most of the Arcana rarely see use. That’s not to say that they’re bad, but you’ll only really be using the Bait Bomb, Leech Liquid, and Vat more than anything else, with the latter being clutch over any bottomless pit.

The game’s difficulty is interesting. Navigating stages is trickier than before due to Plague Knight’s mechanics. Even with increased vertical mobility compared to what Shovel Knight has, it’s still easy to miss a jump, whether you overshoot it or otherwise. On the other hand, you can mow down bosses with relative ease if you have the right combination. Some of the later bosses might pose a stiffer challenge, but even then, most times all it takes is a well-placed bomb throw to finish the job. This may make a playthrough of Plague of Shadows longer or shorter than an average Shovel of Hope playthrough, depending on how you go about playing the game.

[Verdict]
Plague of Shadows is a rock-solid follow-up to Shovel of Hope. Even though its story doesn’t hold the same weight, it’s still a joy to play the game through Plague Knight’s perspective. What’s more, thanks to the depth of the bombs and Arcana, the flexibility in how you can approach each level is a real treat, especially for more technical players and speedrunners. Give this a whirl if you enjoyed Shovel of Hope; once you get past the initial learning curve…which is pretty steep compared to Shovel of Hope…you’ll be having yourself a blast.

‘Til we meet again,
Tom


(Shovel Knight: Plague of Shadows was developed and published by Yacht Club Games (published by Nintendo for the Japanese Wii U and 3DS releases), and is available on Nintendo’s Wii U, 3DS, and Switch; the X-Box One; both Playstation 3 and Playstation 4, as well as the Vita; Amazon Fire TV; and the Microsoft Windows, OS X and Linux PC platforms. You can purchase it as either a standalone title on everything except the Wii U, 3DS and Playstation 3, or as a bundle with the other story campaigns as part of the Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove collection.)

Wavedashing into the Future

The platform fighter is an interesting breed of fighting game, with its simplified controls and freedom of movement compared to traditional arcade fighting giants. What started with Super Smash Bros. way back on the Nintendo 64 has expanded from a Saturday night crowdpleaser at parties to a fighting game tournament linchpin. They are easy to learn on the outset, yet enormously complex once you go beneath the surface. Platform fighters have ascended to a whole new level in recent years, thanks in large part to the resurgence of Super Smash Bros. Melee…often considered the competitive pinnacle of the Smash Bros. series…and the rise of the series’ fourth iteration on the Wii U.

And if they play their cards right, Wavedash Games could take the genre to a whole new level.



(Image from Wavedash Games’ official Twitter account, @wewavedash)

The Oakland-based game developer has been working on a platform fighter that’s tailor-made for competitive play. Wavedash Games is a blend of the grassroots passion found among the Super Smash Bros. Melee community, and all-star development talent from developers like Riot Games and Blizzard Entertainment, brought together to create the ultimate competitive platform fighter. They’ve also brought in the finest Melee players to playtest the game behind closed doors.

The studio’s end goal? As co-founder and creative director Jason Rice said in a TechCrunch interview, “Do for the platform fighter genre what League of Legends has done for MOBA.” In other words, Wavedash Games wants a PC platform fighter that follows in Riot Games’ footsteps.

Of course, the company hasn’t been developing entirely behind a curtain. They’ve been giving fans small glimpses of its progress, including “Commit(s) of the Day” on their Twitter account, and developer vlogs hosted by Rice. Official gameplay is supposed to be shown off for the first time at some point this summer, but with regards to insight, these have been decent substitutes as of this writing.


The aforementioned TechCrunch interview with Rice and primary founder Matt Fairchild highlighted some new details on this mystery game. In addition to a $6 million funding round from March Capital, readers got a brief sample of the game’s lore, a world where competition is the alternative to warfare, and eight characters (at the start, at least) fight it out for their people.

So far, we know of three of these characters:

  • Ashani, an African-American woman with a slick-looking power suit, and the game’s “Speedy Brawler.” (And the badass in the picture seen a few paragraphs up.)
  • Xana, a hulking alien “Belle of the Brawl” who specializes in grappling foes into oblivion.
  • Kidd, an anthropomorphic goat that, if Wavedash Games’ pitch is to be believed, should be all too familiar to competitive Super Smash Bros. Melee

Another character that goes by the name of Raymer has been mentioned, though little is known about him other than the fact that he’s portrayed by legendary voiceover artist Steven Jay Blum. Otherwise, we know very little about the rest of the first eight characters outside of gameplay archetypes, which Rice has gone over in a developer’s vlog.


While gameplay is still a ways off from being shown (as of this writing), I can at least comment on the overall vision of the game based on what’s known so far. Wavedash Games stated in a Reddit AMA that they would be following League of Legends’ free-to-play model, with a rotating roster of free characters and the ability to purchase new characters and cosmetics with either in-game currency or real money.

This doesn’t seem like a bad idea in theory. Riot Games has received high praise for making League of Legends a freemium game, even managing to win a Golden Joystick Award in 2011 for that distinction. Iron Galaxy’s Killer Instinct follows a similar system, but with a single rotating character a week instead of a cluster of them at a time, and so far that model seems to have worked out in their favor.

Even though it’s a good idea overall, I somewhat disagree with the idea of a rotating cast. The reason I say “somewhat” is because the idea isn’t bad at all in the long-term, but I don’t think it makes much sense at the outset. The model works for League of Legends, but keep in mind that the game started off with forty champions to choose from. In this case, the game is going to start off with eight characters, which isn’t that much by comparison. A rotating cast would make more sense here when the game hits twelve or sixteen characters, with eight being available from the get-go. Having all eight characters available at the start would be a better way for players to get used to the mechanics and establish a good starting metagame.


The three character designs that have been shown off so far are great. While I wouldn’t put them above the likes of, say, Overwatch or League of Legends’ character designs, Ashani, Kidd and Xana all look good in terms of visuals, and I’m sure they’ll look even better in motion once we get some gameplay. Though, if I had to nitpick any of the character designs, it would have to be Kidd’s.

I understand diversity in design, and I get the inclusion of a character that harkens back to the spirit of Fox McCloud and Falco Lombardi in Melee. That said, why make your “Space Animal” character…well, a literal animal? It feels like you’re trying to ape the best of Melee all the way down to aesthetics. Obviously you can’t go back and change things now, so take my nitpicking as you will, but it wouldn’t have hurt to make that kind of character a human, or even an alien.


All of that harping on character design brings me to the one major hope that I have for this game. I don’t have a terribly long wishlist, so you’re not going to see too much. That being said, I want this game to stand out from its predecessor more than anything.

Look, I’ve mentioned before that I love watching competitive Super Smash Bros. Melee. It’s a few ticks behind Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, Killer Instinct, Smash Bros. 4 and Guilty Gear Xrd when it comes to my favorite fighting games to watch, even if it’s some combination of the same six guys in contention to win it all at a major tournament like Evo. But I’m a guy who likes innovations made to old concepts. Shake up an idea, and I guarantee you I’ll take note of it.

For example, Rivals of Aether does a great job of putting a new spin on the platform fighter formula. The game replaces grabs, shields and ledge climbing with a parry system and universal walljumping to create a more offense-friendly metagame. Brawlhalla also has something interesting going for it with its item-based movepools for each character.

And this desire doesn’t even stop at spectating. The Wavedash Games team has said that they’re aiming to make the game accessible, yet still difficult to master, which I hope they stick to. Some elements from Melee are worth implementing, certainly, but don’t do it wholesale down to the control methods.


My point is this: The game can thrive in the long run with the talent it has, and I believe that it could succeed Melee as the premiere platform fighter that most people are used to. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that it will succeed Melee with time. That being said, I want Wavedash Games to make their game a different breed of platform fighter, not just 20XX for a new era. Keep the essentials, but do something that nobody else has thought of before.

They pull that off, and Wavedash Games’ title will truly, in a word, “Shine.”

‘Til we meet again,
Tom

No Quarterback’s an Evergreen

My fellow New England Patriots fans: Let’s have a little heart-to-heart, shall we?

Very few things in this life are eternal. The skills of an NFL quarterback, whether you like it or not, are no exception to this rule. And this includes your hero and mine, Tom Brady.


No doubt, Brady has been a boon for the Patriots since he hit the scene in 2001. Barring two crushing Super Bowl losses to the New York Giants and a negative record against longtime nemesis Peyton Manning in the AFC Championship Game, his resume is one of the most decorated of any player in the sport, being the only player besides Charles Haley to claim that they have won five Super Bowl titles. The efficiency and skill with which he’s lead the Patriots back from the brink of defeat is unmatched, including the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history two short months ago. Simply put, Brady is a gridiron god.

Recently, Brady told the Pats’ owner, Robert Kraft, that he intends to keep playing for what he claims is “six or seven years.” That might sound well and good, and I’m sure many of you were (and still are) licking your chops at the prospect of Brady leading the Patriots to even more Super Bowl wins.

But let’s pump the brakes for just a minute and be real here: Tom Brady isn’t going to play for another six or seven years.


Now, if he thinks he can pull out another seven quality years at most, more power to him. While I think he’ll play for less than what he claims, I’m putting nothing past him in that regard; the fact that he’s played as well as he has over the years is a testament to how he’s kept himself in such fantastic shape. It’s especially impressive since he’s playing this well in an age range where most quarterbacks’ skills tend to taper off.

On top of that, suggesting that Brady will see a sharp decline in skill any time in the immediate future is foolish. Case and point: Max Kellerman of ESPN’s First Take suggested (rather idiotically) that Brady would “fall off a cliff” and “become a bum in short order” once he returned from his unwarranted Deflategate suspension. Even when he missed those first four games, Brady put up regular season numbers on par with a quarterback who had played a full season. And that’s before leading the Patriots’ through the postseason and their Super Bowl LI comeback. Suffice to say, Kellerman was given more than just a slice of humble pie.


That said, while Brady is nowhere close to falling off the wagon any time soon, it’s not unrealistic to believe it’ll happen later in the future. For how well he keeps himself in shape and preps for each game day, age is going to take hold at some point. Father Time has caught up with the best athletes before, and he’ll get to Brady at some point. It won’t be this coming season, more than likely, but it’s going to happen regardless. And when that happens, you better be ready for the post-Brady era in New England.

So, how much longer will Brady go on for? Provided he doesn’t suffer another catastrophic injury like he did in 2008, my best bet would be that he has three solid years left in him. In that timeframe, if Bill Belichick can keep a solid team together…and injuries don’t force him to resort to glue, dental floss and the hopes of small children to keep the team’s title hopes alive…he and the Patriots will win one more Super Bowl at the absolute least.


Believe me, I’ve been around for virtually all of Brady’s time as New England’s field general, and it’s going to be a sad day when the man decides to hang up his cleats for good. He’s been an excellent quarterback, and an equally-excellent man off the field as seen through his philanthropic endeavors. Be that as it may, no athlete is like an evergreen; age sets in at some point, and even with all of Brady’s physical upkeep, it’ll get to him, too. That’s just the reality of things.

In short: Enjoy the Tom Brady Era while you can, Pats fans, because it’s not going to last much longer.

‘Til we meet again,
Tom

Let’s Review: Shovel Knight, Shovel of Hope

Now for something completely different: A video game review. It figures that it was only a matter of time before I tried my hand at this, seeing how much I love gaming. I don’t fancy myself a professional by any means, but I figure add something else to my portfolio; a man cannot thrive on opinion pieces alone, after all. And there’s no better way to start off than with a game I’ve been re-experiencing recently.


SoH(Logo from Yacht Club Games)

What more can be said about Shovel Knight: Shovel of Hope that hasn’t been said? Yacht Club Games’ freshman outing has taken the gaming world by storm since its successful Kickstarter campaign in 2013, followed by a subsequent full release the next year. Between its loving blend of elements from the best 8-bit titles, an addicting soundtrack, and steady stream of updates, there’s a reason why the game’s main hero has been popping up in other indie titles.


[Story]
The tale of the eponymous Shovel Knight is one of adventure and sorrow. In a time long passed, he and his companion Shield Knight roamed the untamed wilds, collecting treasure along the way. As the legend goes, no hero stood taller than they did.

Then there came a day unlike any other.

An expedition to the Tower of Fate ended in Shield Knight’s disappearance through dark magic. Shovel Knight grieved heavily, leaving behind the hero’s life for solitude. Fear then takes hold of the valley, as a wicked Enchantress and her Order of No Quarter rise to power. Dark times lay ahead, and with the Tower of Fate unsealed, Shovel Knight answers the call once more, hoping to find out what happened to his long-lost friend as he takes on the Order.

You may think that a game inspired by the pixilated romps of yesteryear would be far more simplistic in its story, and on the surface, Shovel of Hope fits that bill. It’s when you keep going past the game’s introduction, however, where you realize the contrary.

This is a deep story, one that is equal parts funny, charming, epic, and emotional. The cast is filled with personality, from Shovel Knight himself, to the bosses you battle (mandatory and optional alike), to even the NPCs found throughout the hub. The interactions between Shovel Knight and each member of the Order of No Quarter is a treat, as you get to see them as more than just stepping stones to the endgame; heck, interacting with any character is interesting.

But the beauty of Shovel of Hope’s story lies in one particular method that Yacht Club Games uses. Every once in a while, Shovel Knight will fall asleep by a campfire and enter a dream sequence. Shield Knight tumbles down from the heavens, and you, the player, are tasked with catching her. As you progress further, these sequences will introduce hordes of enemies you can fight for extra loot, with each wave becoming more difficult to stave off than the last.

What makes these sequences so special…and the reason why this story is so wonderful in the first place…is that it conveys the emotional pain Shovel Knight has endured. You go to save Shield Knight just as she’s about to land, and one flash later, Shovel Knight returns to the waking world and soldiers on to the next knight’s domain. It’s these moments that really make you feel for Shovel Knight, and want him to see his journey through. And the most impressive part is that these moments are done without a lick of dialogue. Now, that is by no means a knock against the writing in this game; in fact, Shovel of Hope’s dialogue is very well-written. But the fact that these dream sequences provide the game’s most poignant moments while putting you in control of what happens, and without any dialogue, is an aspect of the story that is far too easy to overlook.


[Presentation]
Shovel of Hope features the best trappings of an NES classic with very few of the same drawbacks. It manages to imitate the look and style of 8-bit classics of yore, right down to the limited color palettes utilized for each character. What’s more, the game utilizes more modern tricks like parallax scrolling and widescreen display to make the game feel fresh while keeping true to its heritage. The end result is a 21st Century 8-bit title with velvety-smooth animations, gorgeous backdrops that never feel similar to one-another, and an overall fantastic art style that’s sure to put a smile on any old school game enthusiast’s face.

Complementing the game’s visual presentation is a phenomenal chiptune soundtrack. Known primarily for his work on WayForward’s Shantae series, Jake Kaufman brought his A-Game with an array of compositions that would feel right at home in a classic Mega Man entry; in addition, legendary Mega Man composer Manami Matsumae is responsible for Treasure Knight and Plague Knight’s stage themes. One cool detail is that unlike the Blue Bomber’s bosses, each member of the Order of No Quarter has their own battle theme to go along with their stage’s theme. The optional bosses all share a theme, but then again when it’s as epic as “Fighting with All of Our Might,” it’s but a small nitpick. Still, there’s a great selection of tracks to choose from, whether you buy the tracks from Kaufman’s BandCamp page, or iTunes if that’s more your jam.

The game is an overall well-represented piece of software. It’s especially sure to be a treat for people with a love of pixel art.


[Gameplay]
While I have nothing but praise for the story, what really makes Shovel of Hope tick is the aforementioned blend of elements from some of the best 8-bit titles. You have eight main bosses like the Mega Man games from 2 onwards, as well as the optional roaming bosses and limited non-linear map of Super Mario Bros. 3, and an emphasis on treasure collection similar to DuckTales. Combat-wise, you have DuckTales’ legendary pogo bounce, and a sub-weapon system reminiscent of what you would find in an older Castlevania title. All of this is topped off with a Zelda II-inspired hub world.

Yet despite borrowing elements from so many other games, Shovel of Hope still manages to carve out its own identity. And nowhere is this more evident than the introductory level. The Plains of Passage serve as a perfect training ground for new players to learn the ropes of the game; you jump, scoop, burrow and bounce your way through the Plains and its dangers while taking the occasional detour to grab more loot, and there are no text boxes stopping you to explain everything. You slowly figure out the fundamentals of the game as you go, which in my opinion is smart game design.

From there, the game gradually opens up the rest of the valley for you to explore and take down the Order of No Quarter one by one. Each knight’s domain has different tricks and traps to them, ensuring you never do the same thing twice. One minute, you’re outrunning a giant angler fish in the depths of the Iron Whale, the next you’re using a green gooey substance to bounce off lava pools in the Lost City. The keeper of each domain waits at the end of a level, ready to battle you. These fights may seem daunting at first, and are certainly difficult to overcome. Once you figure out how to adapt to each knight’s tactics, you’ll bury them in no time.

On the point of difficulty, Shovel of Hope presents a strong overall challenge factor reminiscent of the games it takes influence from. While the difficulty is nowhere near as blistering as Castlevania or Mega Man, you’re still bound to lose out to either a tough enemy or a bottomless pit if you’re not careful. And with how finely-tuned the controls are, it will be nobody’s fault but your own if you make a false move. Thankfully, there are plenty of checkpoints dotted throughout a given level, though you can destroy these for more Gold at the risk of setting yourself further back if you get yourself killed.

Death is also handled differently in this game. Rather than losing a life, you instead lose a decent portion of Gold you may have collected in the level. The Gold hovers around the area you died, allowing you to pick it back up if you so choose. On paper, this is a good idea, and nine times out of ten it works. However, there is one problem that comes up on occasion. There are moments where you will fall into a chasm, and the bags of Gold are placed in such a way that make it difficult, if not impossible, to retrieve them; even worse is that the bags are replaced with new ones if you fall down the same pit trying to collect what you had just lost. The idea of losing Gold upon dying is by no means bad; it’s just that losing it to giant chasms can be annoying.

And you’ll need that Gold if you want to get through the game without much hassle. Much like Castlevania, Shovel Knight can acquire different Relics that, for the most part, will help him through certain levels. The Phase Locket, for example, turns Shovel Knight invisible and makes him immune to all matter of harm, including insta-kill spikes. Many of the Relics are useful, though some of them have more specialized uses then others. In addition, you can buy extensions to your health and magic…which you may very well need considering the difficulty of the last leg of your journey…as well as armor suits with different benefits, and upgrades to your Shovel Blade.

A first playthrough may take you roughly seven to eight hours to complete, depending on how well you pick up the controls. When all is said and done and the credits have rolled, you can take on a New Game+ mode that gives you every Relic right from the start, but makes you take double damage from enemies as a result, as well as reducing the number of checkpoints in each level. There’s also a Challenge Mode where you can test your skill. Finally, there are additional story campaigns for three members of the Order of No Quarter, made possible by millions of Kickstarter backers; two of them are out now, one is still on the way, and all three will be reviewed by me in time.


[Verdict]
Shovel Knight: Shovel of Hope is a masterfully-crafted neo-retro title. In an age of video game remakes and retro-inspired titles, there’s nothing quite like this game. It knows what it is and delivers an experience that looks, sounds, and despite the occasional moment of frustration, plays like a dream. What’s more is that there’s plenty to do once you beat the game the first time. If you’re a longtime video game enthusiast, or have any interest in the golden days of gaming, you definitely owe it to yourself to play this game.

‘Til we meet again,
Tom


(Shovel Knight: Shovel of Hope was developed and published by Yacht Club Games (published by Nintendo for the Japanese Wii U and 3DS releases), and is available on Nintendo’s Wii U, 3DS, and Switch; the X-Box One; both Playstation 3 and Playstation 4, as well as the Vita; Amazon Fire TV; and the Microsoft Windows, OS X and Linux PC platforms. You can purchase it as either a standalone title on everything except the Wii U, 3DS and Playstation 3, or as a bundle with the other story campaigns as part of the Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove collection.)

In Defense of the Jimquisition

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has been out on Nintendo’s Wii U and their brand-new Switch for a few weeks, and has so far been the toast of the town. Rave reviews have pinned it as one of the greatest games in the series since Ocarina of Time, with its wide-open world being a recurring positive element among reviewers; the general consensus seems to be that the game is deserving of perfect scores all around.

Then there are those moments where the game gets a score that’s less than perfect, and this is where the fanimals are particularly rabid.


Jim Sterling, a longtime video game journalist and host of The Jimquisition, reviewed Breath of the Wild more than a week ago at the time this writing went up, and gave the game an overall score of 7/10, which constitutes a “Good” game by his standards. While he praised most of what the game has to offer, he stated that his overall enjoyment was gimped by elements such as weapon durability, stamina, and rain popping up at inconvenient times and making mountainous terrain difficult to navigate safely. Naturally, hardcore Zelda fans have jumped down his throat about this.


Now, to be clear, I have not played Breath of the Wild as of this writing. I’m still waiting on getting a Nintendo Switch due to personal reasons, and those same reasons have kept me from getting the game on the Wii U. My only “experience” with the game has come from watching other people play it.

That being said, I don’t see why Sterling should be taken to task just because he gave Breath of the Wild a less-than-perfect verdict.

Yes, Breath of the Wild makes a lot of bold changes to the classic Zelda formula. Not all of them are going to sit well with people, and that’s exactly what’s going on here with Sterling. It’s fine if you don’t have an issue with weapon durability, but that doesn’t mean Sterling should be admonished for thinking that the weapon durability mechanic is a problem.

Besides, it’s not like he outright hated the game. In fact, if you read Sterling’s review for yourself, you’ll see that in addition to his problems with the game, he praised several elements as well, including the difficulty, the “lived-in” feel of this incarnation of Hyrule, and all the little details strewn throughout the game. Just because someone enjoys something doesn’t mean it’s automatically deserving of a perfect score; heck, as Sterling himself demonstrated, you can enjoy something while also pointing out any flaws it may have. I’m sure I’ll disagree with his opinions if…and when…I eventually get to play Breath of the Wild for myself, but at the same time I’ll be willing to respect them for what they are: Opinions.


In short: Yes, Jim Sterling gave The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild a 7/10. No, he did not commit a cardinal sin by not giving it a 10/10. Carry on.


‘Til we meet again,
Tom