No Quarterback’s an Evergreen

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

‘Til we meet again,
Tom

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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

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, Tekken 7, 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.

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,” four of which still play the game to this day and consist of:

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

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

Finally, the fifth god of the group, Kevin “PPMD” Nanney, has not participated in a proper Melee tournament since 2016’s Battle of the Five Gods exhibition, but is often noted as one of the Five Gods regardless.

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 five players (sans PPMD), and one of them is going to win it all. Those Melee players are on a different level compared to others, hence their distinction as “Gods,” 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 (PPMD’s health issues permitting), 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