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

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, 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

NFL = No Flippin’ Logic

Before we begin, I just want to address one thing: I know that the New England Patriots won the Super Bowl recently. I really don’t mean to come off as a buzz kill in light of such a joyful occasion. But this is something that needs to be brought to light, for better or worse.

Having said that…let me ask you something.

Has there ever been something that you’ve grown up loving, and then something happened to sour your love for it? Did it change your view to the point of leaving it behind?

That’s the case with me and the National Football League.


When I was a kid, I loved watching NFL games. I remember watching the 2001 AFC Championship Game with my dad when I was 11, when Drew Bledsoe came off the bench to get the Patriots to Super Bowl XXXVI, which would eventually become the start of a Patriot dynasty. And as time went on, I’d always make it a mission to watch any game I could manage to find. The NFL was my gateway to sports, it’s what started me on my way to getting into leagues like Major League Baseball or the National Hockey League. Heck, I probably wouldn’t be into competitive video games if I didn’t get into the NFL.

Recently, however, I honestly couldn’t be bothered to willfully watch an NFL game. And you may be wondering why that is. Is it because I felt like the games were declining in quality? No. Is it because the officiating is usually godawful? No. Is it because there’s too much of the NFL on a week-to-week basis to the point of over saturation? No. So what is it?

You might be reading this and thinking that since I’m from the New England area, I’m just being a salty Patriots fan who was upset that Tom Brady was suspended four games for Deflategate, even after the Patriots pulled off the grandest comeback in NFL history. If that’s the case, I’ll say that you’re half-right. As upsetting and frustrating as the suspension of Brady was, however, what many people don’t realize is that there’s more to it; Brady’s suspension is part of a larger problem that the NFL has.

In short, it’s a matter of trust…or a lack thereof, in the NFL’s case.

The long answer is that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and his friends at the NFL’s front office, even if they claim the contrary, have an issue with moral priorities.

It seems like whenever the NFL comes under fire for something that legitimately damages the integrity they so love to bring up, they do next-to-nothing about it. Yet, when it comes to smaller, more minor issues like a rash of locker room bullying or underinflated footballs, they’ll go all-out and spend millions of dollars on investigations.

To get my point across, allow me to explain to you two different cases: The aforementioned Deflategate, and the recent revelation that former New York Giants placekicker Josh Brown abused his ex-wife on several different levels. When you look at the finer details of each case, you will see that not only are both cases poles apart in terms of severity, but when you think more about it, it conveys a chilling message that ultimately makes the NFL look like a league of hypocrites and scumbags.


First, let’s begin with Deflategate. In the wake of the 2014 AFC Conference Championship between the Patriots and Indianapolis Colts two years ago, the former was suspected of tampering footballs and deflating them below the NFL’s 11.5 minimum. What followed was what many consider to be the most outrageous and drawn-out case of “Much Ado about Nothing” in NFL history. While Ted Wells oversaw an investigation at the request of the NFL, there were scientists, professors, and even middle school children that stepped forward and explained that the Ideal Gas Law was the reason why those balls were under the minimum PSI; bear in mind, those balls were subjected to frigid winds and driving rain that evening.

Basically, they all proved that neither the equipment crew nor Brady had anything to do with the balls being under the legal PSI.

Despite that, the infamous Wells Report claimed in May of 2015 that it was “more probable than not” that the Patriots’ equipment staff were behind the deflated footballs. As a result, the team was given a doozy of a punishment. They were fined $1,000,000 (lunch money by the wealthy Kraft family’s standards), and stripped of first AND fourth round NFL Draft picks over the next two years. Perhaps the most damning part of the verdict was the fact that Brady was suspended for the first four games without pay for being “generally aware” of the equipment staff’s supposed tampering. Following an appeal by the NFL’s Players Association on Brady’s behalf, the suspension was upheld in July after it was revealed that Brady had destroyed his cellphone as, supposedly, a means of covering his tracks.

The case then went to a legal battle. Richard Berman of the U.S. District Court vacated the suspension just before the beginning of the 2015 NFL season, citing that not only did Brady receive no fair due process, but the NFL had no evidence to actually back up the claims. However, the U.S. Court of Appeals reinstated the suspension on the grounds that Goodell could handle the punishment as he so desired. Brady ultimately gave up the fight and served his suspension for the first quarter of this most-recent season rather than take the case all the way to the Supreme Court. All of this in spite of the fact that, once again, the NFL had no actual evidence to back up their claims.


Now we come to the Josh Brown case, and this is where you start to see the holes in the NFL’s logic. Shortly after the initial Wells Report verdict (funnily enough), Brown was arrested for assaulting his ex-wife, Molly Brown. As a result, Brown was initially suspended for one game at the start of the 2016 season after a prolonged legal process; while domestic violence incidents among NFL athletes call for a minimum of six games on the first offense (with more being added on in the event of aggravated circumstances), the reason this case yielded only a one game suspension was due to the NFL claiming that they had “insufficient information.”

However, Diana Moskovitz of Deadspin eventually found the Giants’ Pandora’s Box. And the minute it was opened, all Hell broke loose.

On top of the official divorce court records being revealed…the same ones that the NFL claimed that they couldn’t get a hold of…Brown was shown to have been abusing his ex-wife to physical, verbal, and emotional extents as far back as 2009, when she was pregnant with their daughter. He even viewed himself as God and Molly as his slave…which, if you don’t see an issue with, I genuinely don’t know what to tell you.

In addition, Brown was shown to be involved in another incident during the 2016 Pro Bowl, something that had gone unreported up to this point. He had tracked down his ex-wife and the former couple’s children, and pounded on their hotel room door in a drunken rage. It had gotten so out of hand that security for both the NFL and the hotel they were staying at had to step in and move Molly Brown and their children to a different hotel.

Worse still is the fact that not only was the NFL aware of the abuse Brown was dishing out to his ex-wife (including the incident at the Pro Bowl), but Giants owner John Mara was also aware of what was going on. Despite that, Mara signed Brown to a one-year deal that following April, only dropping him when the truth came out later that same year.

Do you see the issue here?


What most people don’t seem to get is that when it comes to off-field issues that actually damage the NFL’s overall integrity, such as domestic violence or DUI, they don’t do much about it. Moreso, they hardly show that they care about those issues; even when they try to show that they care, it doesn’t come off as genuine. They give the offender a slap on the wrist, chastise them, and move on, and that’s at the absolute most. Instead of actually cracking down on those cases, however, they seem content doing the same with what could be argued as minor issues like the Richie Incognito bullying controversy from a few years ago, or Deflategate.

This is why I’m so down on the NFL as of late, and why I’ve chosen not to write about them until now. They’ve raked Tom Brady and the Patriots across the coals when they should’ve been doing the same thing to people like Brown, Greg Hardy, and the man who actually got the NFL to try and take a hard stance on domestic violence in the first place, Ray Rice. They could’ve shown themselves as a league of their word and stand by their own policies, but as the Josh Brown case has so aptly demonstrated, they can’t be bothered.

And to anyone who may think that I approve of the Patriots’ supposedly-shady actions, let me be very clear. Deflating footballs is a scummy move; I’m not saying it isn’t, and the Patriots know that as well as any other team in the league. What I am saying, however, is that Goodell and the rest of the NFL brass have serious morality issues if they feel deflated footballs deserve a longer suspension than a domestic violence case. For that matter, the notion that deflated footballs deserve a suspension at all is suspect. And I understand that the Patriots have gotten themselves in “trouble” in the past with things like Spygate, which was not as big a deal as most like to make it out to be. However, that’s not the point.

The point is that the NFL is being generally stupid when it comes to off-field issues that damage the integrity they’re so gung-ho on protecting. And, as stupid goes, they don’t seem to realize it; either that, or they’re feigning stupidity just so they can keep their cash flow coming in strong.


People like Shannon Sharpe of Fox Sports 1’s Skip and Shannon: Undisputed say that Goodell, instead of handling outside transactions like domestic violence or DUI, should stick to handing out punishments that affect the integrity of the game, such as deflated balls or gambling. I’d be willing to agree with Sharpe’s words if Goodell’s judgment for on-field punishments were any better.

Sadly, that’s not the case.

Consider for a moment that the NFL caught the Minnesota Vikings doctoring footballs on a cold November day in Minneapolis, and all they ever received from the league’s front office was a warning against ball tampering. Adding to that, the league didn’t even bother to look into the reported deflation issues during this past season’s game between the Giants and Pittsburgh Steelers, which certainly irked Patriot Nation. In both cases, there didn’t seem to be much concern.

And yet the Patriots’ alleged tampering deserves an elaborate investigation? Just because of their past? It’s a wonder Goodell still has his job.


So, in closing, the NFL’s ineptitude on major issues is what has turned me off from them, and the fact that they’d rather tear down their most successful team of the 21st Century instead of focusing on what’s truly hurting their brand doesn’t help at all. They’d rather attempt to slay dragons that were never there instead of going after the ones that exist; it’s startling, appalling, and makes them look bad to those who see with eyes unclouded by Patriot-focused hate. With all of that in mind, the only way I see myself regaining any sort of trust in the league is if Goodell either admits Deflategate was a deliberate sting operation from the get-go, or he steps down as commissioner altogether; in a perfect world, he would do both. But seeing that none of those scenarios are likely to happen any time soon, it’s doubtful I will find myself wanting to watch another NFL game for a while.

But as they say around One Patriot Place: “It is what it is.”

‘Til we meet again,
Tom

Despite Everything, It’s Still Mahvel, Baby

When’s Marvel? It’s leading off Evo Sunday.

The player’s choice charity race for Evo 2017’s ninth and final game concluded on Tuesday. To virtually no surprise at all, Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is taking a victory lap before the next installment of Capcom’s Versus series comes to town, having raised over $70,000 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation; Pokken Tournament put up a strong fight throughout, but it wasn’t enough to win it all, although the Evo team did announce they would give $10k for all Pokken tournament pot bonuses this year as a sort of consolation prize.

Now, I will say up-front that I’m happy that Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 gets one more day in the sun, even though it came at the expense of other deserving titles like Pokken, Killer Instinct, and Skullgirls. It’s a fun game to watch, and has provided some crazy tournament moments, both at Evo and other big fighting game tournaments like Combo Breaker and Community Effort Orlando. My issue is that it should have been there from the very beginning. I did say once before that the lineup for Evo 2017 is fine, if not somewhat questionable. Amongst other things, I’ve asked myself…:

  • Why do we have both Guilty Gear and BlazBlue in the same lineup?
  • Why don’t they just hold an exhibition tournament for Super Smash Bros. Melee?

And most importantly:

  • Why is Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 not a definite part of the lineup?

I’ve already talked about why the donation drive was a bad idea in hindsight; it basically railroads Evo’s overarching purpose of uniting communities of various fighting games by turning them against each other for the sake of their own game. (And no, claiming that the money goes towards a good cause doesn’t make it any better.)

However, there’s another layer to it that was brought up by Michael “IFC Yipes” Mendoza, undoubtedly one of the most influential figureheads in the Marvel vs. Capcom community. As a whole, the series has too big a stake in Evo’s lore to be left out.


Ever since Evo started in 1996 (known as Battle of the Bay back then), Marvel vs. Capcom as a series has been featured since 2000. Marvel vs. Capcom 2 was ran from 2000 to 2010, when it passed the baton to Marvel vs. Capcom 3 in 2011. Then, MvC3 was upgraded to Ultimate, and has been an Evo fixture…on every Evo Sunday since its inaugural tournament, no less…since 2012. It’s especially important to note that the Evo staff sent off Marvel vs. Capcom 2 before the next game came out, because they knew a new entry was on the horizon.

So, given all of that, is it really asking too much to give Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 one last hurrah before Infinite launches later this year?

I get it; games usually don’t get sendoff tournaments at Evo. But Marvel is different because of the rich history it has on its side. The fact that fans had to vote with their wallet to keep such a longstanding tourney pillar in the Evo lineup is poor form on the part of Joey Cuellar. I’m not saying he should be ashamed of himself for doing that, but I do hope that he thinks twice about excluding a fan-favorite title from the main lineup.


Overall, while I still think that Marvel was unfairly shafted by being regulated to a player’s choice candidate, I’m satisfied with what Evo 2017 is going to bring. It’s a solid (if not somewhat redundant) lineup of games that’s sure to provide plenty of exciting moments, and even a few surprises, just as any Evo does. It’s going to be amazing, and I can’t wait to see what happens.

The countdown to July has officially begun.

‘Til we meet again,
Tom