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

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.

A Sporting Chance

Nintendo made a huge splash when it unveiled its next big thing. What once went under the codename NX is now known as the Switch, a slick-looking console that can be played both at home and on the go; basically, it’s a home and portable console rolled into one package.

Real quick before we get to the actual topic, I think this is an amazing idea on paper. The ability to play video games virtually anywhere is going to be a massive boon for many game enthusiasts out there. And that list of third-party developers is nothing to sneeze at; you know you’ve got a good thing going for you with developers like Arc System Works and Bethesda in your corner. There are concerns with the hardware, obviously, and I do think that Nintendo holding off on announcing games until the beginning of next year is kind of worrisome. Overall, though, the Switch looks like it’s going to be a revolutionary new system, and I honestly can’t wait to hear more about it.

But enough small talk, let’s talk about something that came to mind when I saw the Switch trailer for the first time: Nintendo taking on the world of E-Sports.

At the end of the Switch trailer, Nintendo unveiled what looks like a sequel to their surprise hit from 2015, Splatoon. It showed off two teams going over possible strategies, and then heading out into what may as well have been a dead-ringer for Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. The more I saw this scene, I got this feeling that the Switch would create a new avenue for Nintendo.

Then, it hit me: This could be Nintendo’s way of getting deeper into the world of E-Sports.

Before I get too carried away, let’s get one thing straight. I’m not saying that Nintendo is going to abandon the console gaming business in favor of cultivating competitive gaming scenes, and for that matter, I’m not saying they should. The Big N has always been about creating consoles and games for all audiences from Day One, and that’s never going to change. This is merely something that Nintendo could do in addition to that. They’re already trying to make strides in theme parks and movies, so why not branch out into one more medium?

Now, technically Nintendo has been involved in E-Sports before, at least to a degree. Games in their Super Smash Bros. series, specifically Melee and the latest entry for the Wii U, have been featured at several major fighting game tournaments in recent years, with Evo (short for Evolution, for those not in the know) being the most notable of them all. That’s not bad for initial exposure to the world of E-Sports, but who’s to say Nintendo can’t go deeper with this?

If Super Smash Bros. gets a new entry to the Switch (and if insiders like Emily Rogers are to be believed, it’s very possible), it would be the perfect foundation for a professional circuit, something akin to the Capcom Pro Tour for Street Fighter V. In addition to being a staple at major fighting game tournaments like Evo, the competitive Smash Bros. scene has plenty of exclusive tournaments like Genesis, Pound, APEX, and the Big House.

Imagine those tournaments as stepping stones toward something much grander.

It’s hard to say whether or not this will actually happen due to series director Masahiro Sakurai’s stance on Smash Bros. as a competitive fighting game. But considering how successful Smash Bros. has been competitively…one look at the attendance numbers of Smash Bros. for Wii U at Evo speaks for itself…Nintendo could open up new doors for the Smash Bros. series if they do something like the Capcom Pro Tour.

If Nintendo does get serious with an E-Sports venture, Splatoon is sure to be a part of those plans, what with how the first game absolutely exploded in popularity. While live tournaments have been possible with the first game, a new Splatoon game on the Switch essentially streamlines the process of conducting a tournament, with everyone being able to bring their own systems. Following this, another notable boon to having Splatoon on the Switch is that players on each team would be able to use their own specifically-tuned gear instead of having to rely on pre-made loadouts.

And why stop at Super Smash Bros. and Splatoon? When you think about it, Nintendo has a few series that could benefit from the E-Sports treatment. Mario Kart jumps out as a perfect first option for a professional league, and collaborating with The Pokémon Company International could yield a bigger, better Pokken Tournament circuit.

Some of Nintendo’s older franchises would make for great tournament games as well, if you think about it. Can you imagine an F-Zero pro circuit? Or an all-new Star Fox game with competitive multiplayer in mind? Sounds crazy, right? (Maybe that’s because it is, but you see my point.)

Or, if all else fails, we could see a new game from Nintendo that’s largely dedicated to tournament play. More specifically, a multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA for short) with characters from across Nintendo’s wide stable of franchises, with gameplay similar to games like League of LegendsHeroes of the Storm, maybe even Overwatch in some respects. The game would still be accessible to game enthusiasts of all skill levels, obviously, but for those that really want to get more out of it, a tournament series would be the perfect thing to aspire for.

By this point, all of this may seem like the crazy ramblings of a guy who grew up with Nintendo and loves competitive gaming just as much as pro sports leagues like Major League Baseball. And, honestly, I can’t fault you for thinking that. That being said, my point still stands that the Switch could be a huge opportunity for Nintendo to branch out into more unexplored territory. Would they revolutionize E-Sports in any way? Probably not, but it would still be amazing to see them give it a try regardless.

The Nintendo Switch has a ton of possibilities. Maybe, just maybe, a stronger involvement with E-Sports is one of them. Until the Big N tells us more, only time will tell.

‘Til we meet again,
Tom