Can’t Escape From Switching Fate

(Video courtesy of Arc System Works’ official YouTube page)

One of the most pleasant surprises to come out of last July’s Evo World Championships was the announcement of BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle. Hot off the heels of Central Fiction’s Top 8 finals, Arc System Works revealed that BlazBlue would be stepping into the world of crossover fighters for the first time. It was revealed that the series would be teaming up with characters from two other Arc System Works properties, Persona 4 Arena and Under Night In-Birth.

But to the surprise of many, ASW pulled out one last surprise that day: Rooster Teeth’s animated web series RWBY would be making its fighting game debut here, making Cross Tag Battle an unprecedented four-way crossover. On an afternoon full of tournament upsets and surprise reveals, this game stood as one of the most pleasant of the latter.


Following its July unveiling, ASW has been slowly snowballing momentum with new info. Three more characters were announced in September, and a playable demo was at New York Comic-Con earlier this month.

(Video courtesy of Arc System Works’ official YouTube page)

The real juicy news, however, came the week after Comic-Con. At Rooster Teeth’s inaugural RTX London event, Arc System Works revealed the systems the game would be featured on when it launches next year. These include Sony’s Playstation 4, Steam, and most-notably, the Nintendo Switch.

So. Show of hands: Who saw that coming?

Nintendo has already been having a monster year with the success of the Switch. 2017 has seen an embarrassment of great titles for the system, and there are even more on the way between the rest of this year and all of 2018. This now includes Cross Tag Battle, a title that most would’ve expected to not show up on a Nintendo console.

(Then again, nobody was counting on DOOM and Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus to show up on the Switch, either, and yet both are on their way to the Switch later this year.)


What does this mean in the long run? A few observations:

  • Cross Tag Battle gives the Switch another high-profile fighting game franchise for its portfolio in the form of BlazBlue. There’s already a decent array of fighting games for the Switch that include the likes of Ultra Street Fighter II: The Final Challengers and Nintendo’s own ARMS, as well as smaller upcoming fighters like Blade Strangers. But Arc System Works is considered by many to be one of the best non-Capcom fighting game developers in the industry. They’re responsible for three of Cross Tag Battle’s four franchises, as well as the upcoming Dragon Ball FighterZ (which could also see a Switch release if the demand is there), and their legendary Guilty Gear series. That’s a helluva feather in Nintendo’s cap.
  • Similar to the previous point, this reaffirms the notion that third parties are willing to work with Nintendo again. A nagging issue during the Wii U’s lifespan was the sparse third-party support, which forced Nintendo to rely on its own franchises and smaller indie developers to fill out the system’s library. Now, developers and publishers like Bethesda, Square-Enix, and Arc System Works are willing to bring the big guns to the Switch’s library. This could even attract developers and publishers that Nintendo didn’t mention last year when the Switch was first shown off.
  • Finally, while I might be reading too far into things, I believe that Cross Tag Battle on the Switch could open the door for future communications between Nintendo and Rooster Teeth Games. Obviously, it doesn’t mean we’ll see a Red vs. Blue Switch title or Team RWBY being in the mix for the next Super Smash Bros. entry, but if all goes well, Rooster Teeth may be keen to call on Nintendo for future game developments. In addition to Rooster Teeth web series properties like RWBY, Camp Camp, or next year’s Gen:Lock, original titles in the vein of Super Rad Raygun and BattleSloths 2025: The Great Pizza Wars could also find homes on the Switch. It’s all just conjecture, of course, but if Rooster Teeth Games and Nintendo strike an alliance, it could make for some interesting stuff in the future.

Nintendo, for the most part, has been hitting all the right notes this year. Games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Splatoon 2, and ARMS have been home runs, and Super Mario Odyssey is primed to put an exclamation mark on the Switch’s first year in the open. But what’s more, the fact that they managed to get a massive crossover fighting game like BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle on the Switch is a testament to how they’ve turned their fortunes around from the Wii U days. The only question that remains is where Nintendo could go from here.

Nobody truly knows the answer at this point, but I’d say the future’s looking pretty bright.

‘Til we meet again,
Tom

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Expectation vs. Reality: First Impressions of Icons

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

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

(Video courtesy of Wavedash Games’ YouTube channel)

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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

(Video courtesy of Dan Fornace’s YouTube channel)

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

‘Til we meet again,
Tom

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