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

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

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

Eight Crazy Games…Plus One TBD

The pillars are set for video gaming’s biggest competitive stage…almost.

At the beginning of the month, I talked about what I thought was going to be announced for titles at the Evolution World Championship, easily one of the biggest video game-based competitions in the world today. Recently, the head of the tournament series, Joey “Mr. Wizard” Cuellar, announced the 2017 lineup on a livestream.

How right was I? Well, first let’s take a look at what my predictions were:
Street Fighter V
Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3
Super Smash Bros. for Wii U
Killer Instinct
King of Fighters XIV
Tekken 7: Fated Retribution
Injustice 2
Guilty Gear Xrd: Revelator OR BlazBlue: Central Fiction
A “Day Zero” Super Smash Bros. Melee exhibition tournament

As for the official lineup, Cuellar revealed eight official games:
Street Fighter V
Guilty Gear Xrd: Rev2
Super Smash Bros. for Wii U
Super Smash Bros. Melee
Injustice 2
BlazBlue: Central Fiction
Tekken 7: Fated Retribution
King of Fighters XIV

There will be one more game, but we’ll talk about that later. For now, let’s talk about what’s officially there.


So, the lineup is almost exactly what I was predicting it would be. Street Fighter V was the ultimate gimmie pick since Street Fighter is a cornerstone series for the tournament. The new characters coming in the months leading up to Evo (as well as any balance changes if Capcom decides to answer the players’ call) will surely shake up the metagame, and it’s absolutely sure to be a part of the Capcom Pro Tour once again. Whether it’ll get primetime broadcasting on ESPN again is still to be determined, but with how well it worked out last year, it wouldn’t be shocking to see.

Tekken 7, King of Fighters XIV, and Injustice 2 were all games I was expecting to be there, considering all three series have a past history with Evo. From what I’ve been hearing, King of Fighters XIV has been doing well in terms of tournament attendance and viewership, and considering the series hasn’t been featured on the main Evo lineup since 2013, it’ll be nice to have it back. The same can be said for Tekken 7, though now it’ll be on console as opposed to being limited to an arcade cabinet.

For Injustice 2, it’s still fairly early to say whether or not it’s going to do well since it hasn’t come out yet, but I would imagine we’ll get some decent character variety with the game still being fairly fresh. (It was announced by NetherRealm Studios prior to the lineup reveal that Injustice 2 would be launching in May as opposed to April, which is when they traditionally release their new titles; this means that the metagame will only be about two months young by Evo.)

One of the interesting things about this lineup of games is that we didn’t get either Guilty Gear or BlazBlue, but instead we wound up with both games on the main lineup. It’s hard to say how I feel about this. On the one hand, both series are incredibly fun to watch, and they each have their place in Evo lore for different reasons. (Part of 2015’s Guilty Gear top 8 was featured on SportsCenter while BlazBlue had one of the most emotional grand final sets a year before.) At the same time, however, it feels a bit redundant having two “anime fighters” on the main block, especially when you consider that they’re both created by the same developer. Honestly, I’m torn on this one.

What I’m not torn on is my stance when it comes to Super Smash Bros.’ presence at Evo. I still stand by the notion that Melee should’ve been given a Day Zero exhibition tournament instead of being given a full-blown tournament, because everybody knows that it’s going to come down to one of Melee’s Five Gods or Leffen. Moreso, one of them is going to end up winning it all. I’m sure it’ll be fun to watch, as competitive Melee always is, but knowing the probable winner takes some of the excitement away.

That being said, I’m very glad that Smash Bros. for Wii U got a spot on Evo Sunday. The game has come into its own over the course of the year, with different names rising to the top from tournament to tournament. Despite a few technical hiccups and other issues (which I may discuss later), Smash Bros. for Wii U has shown that it can hang with Melee in terms of views and excitement. Now, it has a chance to truly prove itself as a worthy Evo Sunday title.

Overall, it’s not a bad lineup at all. Are there things that I would change about the lineup? For sure, but I’m not going to pout about it because there’s not a whole lot I can say on the matter that will actually change anything.

…Oh, right. There was one more game, wasn’t there?


Five years ago, Cuellar left the last game up to the players through a fundraiser contest; the game that received the most donations towards breast cancer research would be the final game at Evo 2013. The winning title, as fate would have it, was Super Smash Bros. Melee, which barely beat out Skullgirls and Super Street Fighter II: Turbo in the closing minutes.

The contest is coming back again this year. All proceeds will be going to the Make-A-Wish Foundation this time, and whichever game wins not only becomes the ninth game at Evo, but will lead off Evo Sunday ahead of Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, BlazBlue: Central Fiction, King of Fighters XIV, and the traditional closer in Street Fighter V. The candidates include:

Super Street Fighter II: Turbo
Mortal Kombat XL
Skullgirls
Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3
Killer Instinct
Pokken Tournament
ARMS (A title for Nintendo’s Switch)
Windjammers
Nidhogg

We have three Evo mainstays (Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, Killer Instinct, and Mortal Kombat XL), a potential returning title from last year (Pokken), an absolute classic (Super Street Fighter II Turbo), an underappreciated gem (Skullgirls), an unproven title that isn’t even out yet (ARMS), and two non-fighting games as candidates (Windjammers and Nidhogg) for the final spot. It’s…an interesting lineup, to say the least.

The issue that I see here has nothing to do with any of the titles that are up for contention…though I am very surprised that UMvC3 may not be in the main lineup at all…nor does it have to do with where the money is going. I recognize that the money being donated is ultimately going to a noble cause. That being said, the larger problem with the charity drive is that it’s counter-intuitive to the main purpose of Evo.

See, the whole point of Evo is to bring fans of fighting games together under one roof. It might have seemed like a daydream once upon a time when it strictly ran Capcom fighters, but now more than ever has Evo become a unifying force for fans of all fighting games, similar to how the Olympics bring together athletes from all nations for all sports. Even with a good cause in mind, however, setting up something like this only serves to divide, not unite. There’s already been a fair deal of in-fighting among many of the games’ communities, and there’s bound to be more of it when the donation drive ends in two weeks’ time.

Community interaction is fine, I’m all for it. But when it pits communities against one-another and enables them to put down other titles while promoting their own, all of a sudden we have a problem. If anything, I would’ve preferred if the Evo team debated on the last title and decide it for themselves…or, in a worse-case scenario, just stick to eight and be prepared to catch flak from the communities that have been left out. It may be a lose-lose situation, but it beats the alternative of the other communities trashing each other in the name of their game.


Here’s the bottom line, though. Whatever qualms I may have with this year’s Evo lineup…I would’ve included Ultimate Marvel 3 and Killer Instinct over Melee and Guilty Gear Xrd personally…I think it’s still pretty solid. No matter what the last game ends up being, it’s going to be a fun weekend come the middle of July.

It’s a long wait until July, and I couldn’t be more hype.

‘Til we meet again,
Tom

P.S. If anything, this is what I would’ve done for an Evo lineup:
Street Fighter V
Killer Instinct
Super Smash Bros. for Wii U
Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3
Injustice 2
BlazBlue: Central Fiction
Tekken 7: Fated Retribution
King of Fighters XIV
Windjammers (Purely for the sake of having something off-color by Evo standards)
Three “Day Zero” exhibitions: One for Super Smash Bros. Melee similar to last year’s “Battle of the Five Gods,” another for Guilty Gear Xrd Rev2, and a final one for Pokken Tournament.

EVO Daydreamin’

It’s been a while, hasn’t it?

First and foremost, Happy New Year! I apologize for leaving this blog to collect dust for a while. Truth is, December was pretty crazy, between working a temporary paid internship for the first time ever, and getting swept up in the Holiday Season. Because of both, I didn’t have a whole lot of time to work on stuff for the blog. Now that both are in the rear view mirror, I can put more focus on writing for this. Call it my New Year’s Resolution, if you will.

But enough about my whereabouts…let’s talk eSports.


January is usually a time where there isn’t too much going on in terms of competitive sport. The National Hockey League and National Basketball Association are in the middle of their respective seasons, while the National Football League is in the process of whittling the field down for Super Bowl Sunday. I’m talking about none of those today. (Especially the NFL, for reasons I may or may not get into in another blog.)

Instead, I’m here to talk about the inevitable announcement of what games will be at the Evolution World Championships.

Evolution, or Evo for short, is widely regarded as one of the most prestigious video game tournaments in the world. Fighting game players from all over flock to Las Vegas every summer to compete for massive prizes and a year’s worth of bragging rights. It’s right about this time the lineup of games usually gets announced, so with that in mind, I have a wishlist of what I’d like to see played at Evo 2017. No real guidelines to speak of here, but keep in mind that this is all strictly opinion. If there’s something you don’t agree with here, that’s perfectly fine; I’m willing to debate any point in this article, so long as things stay civil.

With that out of the way, how about we jump right into it?


Street Fighter V
First, let’s address the elephant in the room. However you want to look at it, Street Fighter V is going to be at Evo; it started off running only Capcom fighters, and Street Fighter has been an Evo staple to this day. Also, despite the game bombing commercially, it’s been an excellent tournament headliner, thanks in large part to Capcom’s eSports initiative in the form of the Capcom Pro Tour. In fact, Evo’s Top 8 tournament for Street Fighter V managed to get a prime time spot on ESPN2. That’s a pretty major accomplishment, so there’s no way Joey Cuellar (A.K.A. Mr. Wizard) won’t feature the latest iteration of the grand master of fighting games at the biggest fighting game tournament ever. And with balance changes to the old cast, as well as new faces joining the fray throughout the year, there’s potential for new faces to make some serious noise.

Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3
Another “gimme” pick, Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 has been a part of Evo’s lineup since 2012 (or 2011 if you count the initial Fate of Two Worlds version), being featured as part of what I like to call “Evo Sunday” all five years…most of them just before whatever version of Street Fighter IV was hot at the moment. And that’s despite the fact that the game has received no additional support from Capcom due to licensing issues with Marvel. Of course, we all know that’s no longer a problem as of early last month, and with Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite coming later this year, it only seems right to take the third chapter of this classic crossover fighter for one final ride.

Super Smash Bros. for Wii U
Ever since its introduction to the Evo scene in 2015, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U has had…kind of a weird run. Both tournaments had their entrant counts in the thousands, with 2016’s tournament actually seeing a substantial increase in entrants (2,662, an increase from 2015’s 1,926), and both tournaments even managed to surpass its older counterpart, Super Smash Bros. Melee, in terms of raw participant numbers. When it came to the actual tournaments, however, they felt more like afterthoughts, with inconvenient time slots and very little fanfare compared to the treatment the Melee tournaments received at Evo. To be fair to Mr. Wizard, scheduling for a tournament of this scale (with only three or four days to work with) is a massively tricky undertaking. Still, a little more care could’ve been put into the Smash Bros. for Wii U tournaments; I’m not necessarily saying they should’ve been given treatment equal to the Melee tournaments, but they could’ve tried a bit harder to hype it up rather than put all the hype towards Melee because of the seniority it possesses. Thankfully, every game at Evo this year is going to be featured at the Mandalay Bay arena in Las Vegas, so that’s a good start.

Also, no disrespect to D’Ron “D1” Maingrette, the guy’s masterful when it comes to Smash Bros. commentary. But would it be too much to ask for Phil “PhenomenalEE” Visu to co-cast Top 8 along with TKBreezy this time?

(As an additional note, while a Switch version of Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is likely, I doubt it will be available in time for Evo. It would be nice to see, though!)

Killer Instinct
Originally, I thought Killer Instinct’s chances of returning to Evo for the fourth year in a row were a bit shaky, since it looked like Season 3 was the last hurrah for the game as a whole. That, and with the number of entrants for each Killer Instinct tournament at Evo dropping year to year, it’s not unreasonable to think that it won’t be back in 2017. However, with three new characters coming to the game throughout 2017, and Iron Galaxy promising more surprises, it’s not out of the realm of possibility to think that it could be back after all. Killer Instinct is not a lock for Evo 2017 by any means, but the chances are better than they were before.

King of Fighters XIV
Evo is no stranger to hosting SNK games; Capcom vs. SNK 2 was an Evo classic for many years, and King of Fighters XIII featured some crazy Top 8 moments in 2012 and 2013. With King of Fighters being absent from Evo’s main stage for the past two years, and SNK announcing an E-sports support program for the game, King of Fighters XIV could bring it back in a huge way, maybe even set a precedent for future King of Fighters tournaments.

Tekken 7: Fated Retribution
The original arcade version of this game was featured in 2015, while the Fated Retribution update got the spotlight in 2016. Now, with the latter coming to consoles at some point this year, it makes sense to think that Tekken 7 will be on the Evo stage once again. I’m not sure if there will be another King of Iron Fist tournament series like what Bandai-Namco had last year, but if one gets announced before the Evo lineup is revealed, I could see Tekken 7 coming back for at least one more year.

Injustice 2
Ed Boon and NetherRealm Studios have barely said a damn thing about this game since August, so it makes you wonder what’s going on behind the scenes. I’m not about to put on a tin foil hat and theorize what’s going on, but fighting games usually don’t have info droughts that last this long. That being said, considering Kombat Pack Season 3 won’t be walking through the door for Mortal Kombat XL any time soon, NetherRealm’s relationship with the Evo crew over the past few years is a good sign that Injustice 2 has a shot at getting into the lineup. Let’s just hope this game is not as zone-heavy as the first…

Guilty Gear Xrd: Revelator OR BlazBlue: Central Fiction
The last entry on this list is technically two games, but only one of them is bound to make it to Evo. It’s just a matter of which one gets the call, and there are arguments for both.

While Evo has been publicly known to a decent degree, it’s Guilty Gear Xrd that helped it get SportsCenter’s attention, with the infamous “What’re You Standing Up For?!” match between Ryuchi “Woshige” Shigeno and Kenichi Ogawa being a particular focal point. On the other hand, BlazBlue: Central Fiction is the newest addition to the BlazBlue series, which hasn’t been on the main Evo block since what many consider to be the greatest Grand Final set in Evo history two years ago, Galileo’s comeback against Dogura in Chrono Phantasma.

It’s hard to say which of these two will get the call to Evo, but rest-assured, one of them WILL get in.


Now, by this point you may have noticed two omissions from this wishlist: Pokken Tournament, and Super Smash Bros. Melee. There are a few reasons for this. For Pokken, it’s simply a matter of popularity. It had a great start when it first launched last spring, and did decently at last year’s Evo in terms of views and participants. In fact, the Evo tournament was even a part of Game Freak and The Pokémon Company International’s Pokken circuit that lead to the Pokémon World Championships the month after.

Sadly, the well of success Pokken found early on dried up not long after it had sprung. Even if it was featured at other tournaments after both Evo and Worlds, its popularity took a nosedive after the Pokémon World Championships. Moreso while new characters made their way to the arcade version, there has been no sign of them coming to the Wii U version…which makes sense, considering the Wii U is essentially done and dusted.

For Pokken to come back to Evo, one of two things need to happen. Either an updated version for the Nintendo Switch comes out with the four arcade newcomers (as well as any other new surprises), or Bandai-Namco and TPCi wave enough dollar bills in Mr. Wizard’s face to convince him to give the game another shot. Only time will tell, but at this point, I say Pokken’s Evo status is looking grim.

Melee, however, is in an unusual position: I want to see it at Evo…and it’s more than likely going to be there…but at the same time, I kind of don’t want to see it.

First, let me start off by saying that I don’t hate competitive Melee, and I get why it’s as big as it is. It’s a fun game to watch at a high level, easily on-par with Marvel vs. Capcom or Guilty Gear in terms of fun factor. Moreso, it pulls in Twitch views by the truckload, and the competitive scene has been running strong since its revival in 2013. It’s a game with a massive following, and doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.

So, why do I want to see Melee at Evo while not wanting to see it at Evo at the same time? (It’s confusing, I know.)

The short answer is that there’s no point in holding a tournament when you know who’s likely to win it all in the end.

The long answer is that as amazing as Melee tournaments can be, they’ve gotten predictable over the years. Allow me to explain for the uninitiated: There are at least six Melee players that are the strongest and most consistent in the competitive Smash Bros. community, players that, at their best, are borderline unstoppable by all but themselves. You have “The Five Gods,” which consist of:

  • Jason “Mew2King” Zimmerman
  • Kevin “PPMD” Nanney
  • Juan “Hungrybox” Debiedma
  • Joseph “Mango” Marquez
  • Adam “Armada” Lindgren

And then you have a player who many consider to be the “Sixth God,” William “Leffen” Hjelte.

If there is a major Melee tournament going on, like Dreamhack, CEO, or Big House, chances are very high that it’s going to come down to any combination of these six players, and one of them is going to win it all. Those six are on a different level compared to other Melee players, and only a few other Melee players, such as Justin “Plup” McGrath, can actually beat them in the early stages of a Top 8. Further down, however, is another story.

By comparison, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U tournaments are much more diverse in terms of entrants, even with only two years of metagame development under its belt compared to Melee’s fifteen. True, you may see faces like Gonzalo “ZeRo” Barrios pop up more often than not, but most of the time, any Super Smash Bros. for Wii U tournament feels like it’s anyone’s game to win.

So, with all that in mind, if Mr. Wizard and friends believe that Melee absolutely needs to be at Evo, here’s what I think they could do as a compromise. Skip hosting a full-fledged tournament for Melee, and instead hold a “Day Zero” exhibition tournament with a prize pool, similar to last year’s Battle of the Five Gods. The staff can gather the best Melee players in the world…the Five Gods, Leffen, and any other top Melee players they can get a hold of…and invite them to participate.

It’s a win-win for everyone: The Melee community gets its time to shine, they help kick off Evo weekend, and an important point of contention as far as its growth as a competitive title, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U gets more limelight for the actual tournament.

And as a final, not-actually-serious prediction for the Evo ’17 lineup, I predict another Day Zero exhibition: A Fighting Game Community Overwatch tournament. Non-fighting games have been featured at Evo before (hello, Mario Kart DS), and Overwatch feels very close to a fighting game with its emphasis on counterpicks. Keep in mind that there’s very little chance this will actually happen, but it would be kind of funny to see major fighting game names like Justin Wong and Michael “IFC Yipes” Mendoza go at it with the likes of McCree and D. Va as opposed to Karin Kanzuki and Necalli.

…A man can dream, can’t he?!

Evo Speculation Season is upon us, and the official unveils are not too far off. Will my guesses be accurate? Only time will tell. Maybe I’ll speak more on the official reveals when they happen.

(Spoiler: I’m going to speak more on the official reveals when they happen.)

‘Til we meet again,
Tom