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No ‘Star Fox Zero’ this year? No problem! – Part 2: Overlooked Wii U gems

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With a library of titles that, according to sales numbers, many have not checked out, any quiet spots in the Wii U’s release schedule can easily be filled in and then some just by looking back at what you may have missed.

Overlooked Gems

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Pikmin 3

With the next game reportedly almost finished, maybe this winter is a good time to cozy up with Olimar’s last intergalactic outing. You know, the one that fans had been supposedly pining over for years, then didn’t buy when it finally came out? It’s not too late (at least for a digital copy) to experience the mesmerizing spell cast by the lush, vibrant ecosystems, the addicting complexity of managing a three-member team of fruit miners, aided in their hunt for sweet, life-giving juice by the native population of plant creatures. The challenge of collecting enough resources to survive can seem intimidating at first, but after a while juggling back and forth between space explorers and their teams of unwitting servants becomes second nature, and wasted days can be replayed to maximize efficiency. Or you could grow a conscience and go back to save those innocent little Pikmin you left to die at sundown, abandoned and eaten while you watched from the safety of your orbiting rocket. You monster.

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Bayonetta 2

Platinum Games’ sequel surpassed the original in every way possible, upping the crazy action by a factor of ten, pumping the gorgeous visuals full of color and life, and delivering even more of the kind of sassy innuendo that will have you awkwardly looking over your shoulder to make sure no one walks in and misconstrues what you’re up to. The amount of variety keeps the deep-as-you-want-it-to-be combat fresh, and an incredibly forgiving ability to change the difficulty level allows players of all skill to experience the thrills, hardcore or not. Yeah, the English kid is annoying, but he’s easy to overlook when there’s so much awesome squeezed into every bit of screen around him. As a bonus, it even includes the original game, fun in its own right. Why haven’t you bought this yet?

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Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker

If you played Super Mario 3D World, surely you remember those clever breaks from the platforming action where a headlamp-sporting Captain Toad courageously made his way through diorama-like stages to nab more stars for Mario? They had many gamers wishing for an entire game based on these scenarios, and thankfully Nintendo complied with one of the most adorable puzzle games ever. Using the gamepad (or analog sticks) to manipulate the view in order to uncover secrets and hidden paths increases the sense of discovery, and mini challenges within the level give extra replay incentive. While many of the early puzzles might be on the easier side, later bonus stages really test the Cap’s mettle, and the cleverness packed into such a small space can’t help but be enjoyed.

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Lego City Undercover

The best single-player Lego game around, period. Taking the basic gameplay of most entries in the series, adding Arkham-inspired combat and parkour trials, and applying them to a colorful Babe: Pig in the City urban amalgamation of New York, San Francisco, and Venice (among others), produces a sandbox that feels like Nintendo magic. Refreshingly original characters populate a witty story that elicits genuine laughs, spouting gleefully ridiculous puns alongside physical comedy that would make Buster Keaton smile. The gamepad functions as a map, communicator, and scanner, offering some clever immersion. All abilities are contained within easily swappable costumes, so no more watching your AI companion get stuck in a continuous loop of falling to his or her blocky death. On a personal note, the game’s world is so alive and filled with charming surprises around every corner that this is the only collect-a-thon I’ve ever achieved 100% on. It’s that fun.

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Scribblenauts Unlimited

Type in anything you can think of and watch it come to video game life! Well, maybe not anything (especially if it involves curse words), but an amazing number of nouns can be conjured in pixel form to help Maxwell achieve his goal of saving his sister from being turned to stone because of a stupid prank they played on a wizard guy. This time adjectives can be used to make that snowman suspicious or that soda can angry. The puzzles are never a problem, as often as you can use the same items over and over (jetpack), but part of the fun comes from experimenting on what happens when you bring things to life. Want to see God fight an atheist? Type them both in and watch. Make an ape into a giant ape so he can live out his dream of climbing the Empire State Building, then send in a biplane and wait for the tragedy. Many Nintendo characters were licensed, and seeing Link riding Epona to take on Ganon is great mayhem. Scribblenauts games are what you make of them, whether just goofing around or playing the completionist, and Unlimited is the series at its best.

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The Wonderful 101

If you’re looking for a game that uses the Wii U gamepad in new and inventive ways, this is a good bet. The title refers to the mob of superhero characters you control in this insane actioner, each with their own set of unique transformations. Activating powers is only a crudely-drawn shape away, as you battle an invasion by over-the-top alien overlords with outrageous destructive forces of your own, and combo-based attacks similar to Bayonetta. I’m not sure which side is most responsible for the razing of Earth, frankly, but once again developer Platinum has come up with creative ways to blow shit up, and these eye-popping moments keep the game compelling, even when the touch controls struggle to register. Not for everyone, but with a dedicated following on Nintendo subreddits, TW101 is one of the most unique games on the system, and definitely worth a shot. Preferably from a massive laser canon or missile launcher.

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Rayman Legends

Don’t let the controversy with Ubisoft reneging on the Wii U exclusivity and delaying the release to coincide with other platforms get in the way of experiencing this gorgeous, funny, amazing sequel to the acclaimed Origins. The game was made to take advantage of the gamepad, something never more obvious than when player two steps in and takes control of Murfy, the goofy greenbottle. Touching the screen allows Murfy to perform a variety of actions in order to aid his teammate, from cutting ropes, activating switches, and even grabbing (or tickling) enemies to render them harmless. Featuring over 120 levels, each with a rich, hand-drawn style full of vivid color and clever traps, a weird soccer-like bonus game, and an “Eye of the Tiger” rhythm stage, this is one of the best platformers on a system with a ton of great ones.

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Little Inferno

With Human Resource Machine dropping October 15th and now confirmed for the Wii U, those who passed up Tomorrow Corporation’s launch release for the system should check out this “game” about burning everything possible in your Little Inferno brand fireplace. Use the gamepad stylus to drag objects over, flip them around, and flip through a catalog of orderable kindling, with items like Someone Else’s Family Portrait, Disgruntled Elf Plushie, and Best Friend Supplement Pills all available to set fire to. Dryly funny descriptions and a variety of combustion effects create soothing eye candy against the backdrop of a surprisingly haunting story of a young boy in a dying world. It’s lack of any kind of failure may turn some off, but for those more goal-oriented, there are numerous clever achievements attained by burning certain items together to form combos. As old as the Wii U itself, Little Inferno still remains one of the weirdest, singular, and oddly satisfying experiences on the platform.

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The Swapper

One of the most atmospheric, absorbing puzzle games I’ve ever played, with simple mechanics providing the basis upon which the game’s often challenging head-scratchers are built. A cloning gun allows the mysterious, space-suited protagonist to create clones of themselves and then swap consciousness with those creations, all in order to escape a ship deep in the cosmos before disaster strikes. Assets scanned from clay models make up the eerily tactile world, supporting the creepy, existential story that muses on the nature of the soul. The puzzle rooms are ingeniously designed, and before the game is over you will have sent possibly hundreds of clones to their deaths. Should you feel bad about that?

These are only a taste of some underrated reasons why we love Nintendo’s latest system. I could’ve easily included exclusives like Kirby and the Rainbow Curse or Hyrule Warriors, and excellent indie ports like Stealth Inc 2: A Game of Clones, Guacamelee!, and countless others to lengthen the list even further. Don’t worry about Star Fox; it’ll come around eventually. In the meantime, explore the quality library already available that Nintendo’s system has quietly built. If your Wii U needs dusting off, now you’ve got your excuse!

Patrick Murphy grew up in the hearty Midwest, where he spent many winter hours watching movies and playing video games while waiting for baseball season to start again. When not thinking of his next Nintendo post or writing screenplays to satisfy his film school training, he’s getting his cinema fix as the Editor of Sordid Cinema, Goomba Stomp's Film and TV section.

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PAX South Hands On: ‘Streets of Rage 4’ Balances Legacy and Innovation

Streets of Rage 4 embodies the original series’ elegant, action-packed design and revives it for a new generation

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Streets of Rage 4

From the moment I began my demo with Streets of Rage 4 at PAX South, it felt like coming home. It might have been more than two decades since the first three games in the Streets of Rage series perfected the beat ‘em up formula on the Sega Genesis, but courtesy of developers Lizardcube, DotEmu, and Guard Crush, this legendary series is back and in good hands. This brand new entry aims to recapture all the style and balance of the originals, while introducing innovations of its own. If my demo is any indication, the game is set to achieve that.

Streets of Rage 4 uses the same elegant level design that set the original trilogy apart back on the Genesis. The gameplay is simple: keep walking to the right, taking out every enemy in front of you with all the jabs, kicks, jumps, and special moves at your disposal. If anything, the controls feel better than ever before, with an added level of precision and fluidity that simply wasn’t possible on older hardware.

Streets of Rage 4

That’s not to mention the new move sets. Beat ’em ups might not be the most complex genre around, but Streets of Rage 4 adds the perfect level of depth to the combat. It has the same simple jabs and kicks found in the original games, but spiced up with the potential for new combos and even a handful of extravagant new special moves. With new and old fighting mechanics, this new entry features plenty of room to experiment with combat but never loses the simple, arcade-like charm of the originals.

Streets of Rage 4 revives the series’ rage-filled and action-packed style for the twenty-first century

The demo included series staple characters like Axel and Blaze, yet I opted to play as an all-new character: Cherry Hunter, a guitar-wielding fighter whose move set felt very distinct from classic characters. Her movement is speedy, certainly faster than Axel but slower than Blaze, and her guitar provided for some unique melee moves. Like the new mechanics, her addition to the character roster helps shake up the Streets of Rage formula just enough, while maintaining the core beat ’em up simplicity that made the series special in the first place.

Streets of Rage 4

Streets of Rage 4 might innovate in a few areas, but one thing that’s clearly remained true to form is the difficulty. It boasts of the same old school difficulty that characterized the original games. The classic and brand new enemies are just as ruthless as ever, mercilessly crowding in around you and can easily overwhelm you if you’re not careful. However, just like the originals, the fighting feels so satisfying that it’s easy to keep coming back for more action.

Amid all these changes and additions, perhaps the most obvious (and controversial) change is the visual style. While the original series used detailed pixel art, Streets of Rage 4 instead boasts of an extremely detailed handcrafted art style, in which every frame of character animation is painstakingly drawn by hand and environments are colorful and painterly. Thousands of frames of animation go into each character, and the effort certainly shows, making every punch, kick, and other acts of violence a breathtaking sight to behold.

Streets of Rage 4 reimagines this classic series for a new generation, reintroducing the best of the beat ’em up genre for players of all backgrounds and experiences.

Some fans have complained that the game loses the series’ spirit without pixel art, but DotEmu marketing director Arnaud De Sousa insisted to me that this simply isn’t the case. Pixel art wasn’t an artistic choice back then – it was a matter of necessity. If the developers could have designed the game to look exactly as they wanted, regardless of technical limitations, then it likely would have looked just like the luscious hand-drawn visuals of the current Streets of Rage 4.

That’s not to mention that, as De Sousa emphasized, the Streets of Rage games are defined by looking different from one another. The third game looks different from the second, which looked different from the first – and now this new entry has twenty years of change to catch up on. Thus, it only makes sense for this new entry to adopt a radically new graphical style after all this time.

Streets of Rage 4

Streets of Rage 4 reimagines this classic series for a new generation, reintroducing the best of the beat ’em up genre for players of all backgrounds and experiences. The difference between De Sousa and myself is perfect evidence of that. He grew up playing the games in the 90s, whereas I wasn’t even born when the original trilogy became such a phenomenon and only played them years later in subsequent re-releases. Yet here we were, standing in the middle of a crowded convention and gushing about decades-old games. We might have had extremely different experiences with the series, but that didn’t stop us from appreciating the joys of stylish beat ’em up action.

“A good game is a good game,” De Sousa told me, “no matter how old.” That’s the attitude that Streets of Rage 4 exemplifies. It revives the series’ rage-filled and action-packed design for the twenty-first century. And with a release on all modern platforms, more players than ever will be able to rediscover the simple pleasure of wielding your bare knuckles against thugs of all types. Between the new art style and the solid gameplay, Streets of Rage 4 is looking like an incredibly welcome return for this iconic franchise.

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An In-Depth Analysis of Fifa’s Career Mode

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Fifa’s Career Mode

It’s a well-known fact that career mode on Fifa has been a long-neglected element of the best selling sports games series of all time. But for soccer fans who want to pretend to be a football manager, but also want to personally play the game, Fifa is currently the main option.

The problem is: for a 60 dollar game, almost nothing about Fifa career mode works properly. 

Two of the most game-breaking bugs in Fifa career mode are so bad that it fundamentally makes the game unplayable for those who want to feel any sort of immersion. 

The first is a bug that makes it so that top teams will sign many more players for a position than they could possibly need. 

For example, Bayern might end up signing 6 or 7 great center backs, and then only play three or four of them, while what they really need to sign might be a winger or a fullback. 

This leads into the second huge issue: even when a team like Bayern HAS 6 or 7 great center-backs, they will STILL often choose to start second or third-string center backs! This often leads to top teams languishing at 12th or 13th in the tables by the end of the season, which makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

Everything about this image is wrong. Everything. The top three teams in this table shouldn’t finish higher than 7th more than once every ten seasons between them, and teams that should finish first and second aren’t even in the top eight. 64 points near the end of the season for first place is also a very low number. 

There’s been plenty of other issues as well. Even on the highest difficulties, AI on both defense and ESPECIALLY offense ranges from poor to horrible, with the AI on offense rarely actually running at the defense (making defending boring and unrewarding), leaving players like Messi or Hazard to not even try to use their incredible dribbling ability and speed and instead pass away the ball as soon as they get it. 

Instead, the most common way the AI scores are by performing a janky, unrealistic and clearly scripted pinball, with impossibly precise passes between 4 or 5 players before the ball ends up in the back of the net. 

Another major problem with the game (though some might call it simply a feature in presenting a more arcade-like, less realistic take on soccer) is your ability (if you’re a big club) to buy multiple huge players and bring them to your club easily in your first season, making the game an absolute cakewalk. 

After years of incompetence and the ignoring of career mode’s many issues, however, EA finally faced serious backlash with the release of Fifa 20–the most broken iteration in the series yet. 

For a while, #fixcareermode was trending on twitter, and reviews blasted Fifa for its litany of issues, like players going on precipitous declines in stats right when they reach the age of 30.

Yet these bugs were treated by some in the media as a first time thing, issues that had only appeared in the latest iteration. They weren’t.

As one Reddit user noted to Eurogamer: “In the last few years, every FIFA game released has had bugs that ruin the immersion. Teams not starting their strongest lineups and unrealistic tables have been an issue not just for FIFA 20 but earlier editions. Our cries for patches and change have fallen on deaf ears. The community has been grossly neglected.”

The linked article by the Independent above wasn’t accurate in other ways, either. It claims that only simulated matches suffered from the bug of teams not playing their best players, and other articles have claimed that this bug only occurs when a big team plays against a small team. 

But neither of these claims is accurate. 

Fifa’s Career Mode

You could play against a top team like Barcelona, and you could also be a top team like Real Madrid, and Barcelona would still consistently field third or fourth-string players over the likes of Messi against your team. 

This wasn’t an occasional thing, either. At least three or four top players were benched for players 20 or more points below them every game. Every. Single. Game. 

I haven’t even mentioned the commentary in Fifa, which is so buggy and so immersion-breaking in its disconnection from reality that its more immersive to just turn it off entirely. 

What is so infuriating is that that many of the bugs seem like fairly minor fixes (commentary issues aside), something that seems like it would take no more than a few hours of rooting around in the code to figure out whatever misplaced number value was causing the issue.

The fact that these major issues have existed for at least no less than SIX years (Fifa 14 was the first game I played) indicates definitively how little EA cares about its products, and how little the designers care about actual football or delivering an enjoyable experience out of Ultimate Team. 

Of course, Ultimate Team alone in 2017 accounted for almost a third of all of EA’s revenue from sports titles, so it’s somewhat understandable why Ea focuses most of its attention on that element of Fifa.

FIFA

But with the amount of effort put into the new “futsal” mode in Fifa 2020, or the three campaign-like “Journey” modes from Fifa 17 to Fifa 19, one wonders why the developers couldn’t have spent just a little more effort to fix a mode that was in many ways fundamentally broken.

Fifa HAVE made certain changes to career mode over this period, so it’s not like they’ve ignored it entirely. But the changes made to career mode in the six years I’ve played it have all either made the game much worse, slightly worse or had no great effect. 

The major changes over this period have included: 

A slightly updated youth system, which has suffered from its own serious bugs over the years, such as youth prospects never gaining stats in sprint speed or acceleration so that you end up getting stuck with players with 50 to 70 speed for eternity; a widely disliked training system for players that is utterly broken and unfair, allowing you to train players to abilities well beyond what is even vaguely realistic within a matter of a year or two; a new display screen for your team; the removal of form; the slight modification of morale; adding the ability to talk with your players; and, last but not least, transfer cut scenes which are the most incredibly pointless wastes of time in any sports game, both for the player and for the developers–at least they’re skippable. There is the ability to customize your manager–perhaps the most positive change made in this six-year period. But that’s still stunningly sad given that you will very rarely actually see your manager at all. 

None of these modifications, you may have noticed, go any way towards fixing the fundamental issues with the game, issues which have been pointed out to EA year after year.

It’s fair to say that one of the main reasons that FIFA got away with what it did for so long was not thanks to the players, but the media. 

Year after year, reviews for FIFA received solid scores (hovering around the low to mid 80’s), whereas user reviews were usually much lower. It was only this year that media reviews seriously pointed out issues with the career mode. 

The fact that FIFA received so much better reviews from reviewers as compared to players is easily explained away by the fact that the former usually play the game for comparatively shorter times, and therefore tends to miss a lot of the details. 

In response to the recent outrage which had finally reached a degree of publicity that EA could no longer ignore, EA finally patched some of FIFA’s issues, like the problem of teams not fielding their strongest lineups at least semi-frequently. This was a huge step towards making career mode not fundamentally broken, but whether or not the other most glaring issue of teams like Juventus signing 9 80+rated strikers (yes, that happened in my game once) has been solved remains to be seen. Given that I mostly gave up on the series after Fifa 19 continued the same problems of its predecessors, I don’t think it’ll be me that finds out.

  • Evan Lindeman
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‘Atelier Ryza’ Warms the Heart No Matter the Season

Atelier Ryza excels at creating a sense of warmth and familiarity, and could be just what you need during the winter months.

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atelier ryza

The Atelier series is something of a unicorn in the JRPG genre. It isn’t known for its world-ending calamities or continent-spanning journeys; in fact, it’s quite the opposite. The small-town feel and more intimate storytelling of Atelier games has made them some of the most consistently cozy experiences in gaming, and Ryza is no exception. No matter if it’s this winter or next, here’s why Atelier Ryza is the perfect type of RPG to warm your heart this winter.

Ryza starting her alchemy journey.

Like a Warm Blanket

Unlike protagonists from other entries in the franchise, Reisalin Stout (or Ryza for short) has never stepped foot in an atelier or even heard of alchemy at the start of her game. Instead, she’s just a fun-loving and mischevious girl from the country who spends her days in search of adventure with her childhood pals Lent and Tao. It’s this thrill-seeking that eventually leads the trio to meet a mysterious wandering alchemist and learn the tricks of the trade.

The entirety of Atelier Ryza takes place during summer, and it’s clear that the visual design team at Gust had a field day with this theme. In-game mornings are brought to life through warm reds, yellows, and oranges, while the bright summer sun beams down incessantly in the afternoon and gives way to cool evenings flooded by shades of blue and the soft glow of lanterns. Ryza’s visual prowess is perhaps most noticeable in the lighting on its character models, which are often given a warm glow dependent on the time of day.

The cozy sensibilities of the countryside can be felt elsewhere as well. The farm Ryza’s family lives on aside, the majority of environments are lush with all manner of plant life, dirt roads, and rustic architecture. Menus feature lovely wooden and papercraft finishes that simulate notepads or photos on a desk. Townspeople will even stop Ryza to remark on how much she’s grown and ask about buying some of her father’s crops. Everything just excels at feeling down-to-earth homey.

The titular Atelier Ryza.

An Intimate Take on Storytelling

Kurken Island and the surrounding mainland feel expansive as a whole but intimate in their design. This is partially due to the readily-accessible fast travel system that Atelier Ryza employs; instead of a seamless open world, most players will find themselves jumping from location to location to carry out quests and harvest ingredients for alchemy. However, there’s still strong incentive to explore the nearby town thanks to tons of random side quests and little cutscenes that trigger as players progress through the main story.

It’s an interesting way to tackle world-building. Instead of relying on intricate dialogue like The Outer Worlds or massive cinematic cutscenes like Xenoblade Chronicles 2, Atelier Ryza lets players get a feel for its world rather naturally through everyday conversations. These scenes run the gamut from Ryza’s parents yelling at her to help more around the farm to running into and catching up with old friends who’d moved overseas. They’re unobtrusive and brief, but the sheer number of them gradually establishes a cast that feels alive and familiar.

The town drunk and Lent's father, Samuel.

Of course, post-holidays winter is also the season for more somber tales. The relationship between Lent and his alcoholic father is striking in its realistic depiction of how strained some father-son relationships can become.

The narrative escalates subtly: An early cutscene shows Mr. Marslink stumbling onto Ryza’s front lawn thinking it’s his. Then an event triggers where the neighborhood jerks tease Lent about being the son of the town drunk. Lent’s house is a small shack pulled back from the rest of the town, and visiting it triggers one of the few scenes where Ryza can actually talk to Mr. Marslink himself. The situation eventually reveals itself to be so bad that it completely explains why Lent is gung-ho about being out of the house whenever he can.

Though Lent’s general character motivation is wanting to get stronger and protect the town, it’s the heartfelt insights like these that make him much more relatable as a party member. Atelier Ryza features no grand theatrics or endless bits of exposition, but instead favors highlighting interpersonal conversations as Ryza continues to learn more about the people and world around her.

Atelier Ryza

Cozy games rarely get enough credit. Just like the Animal Crossing series or Pokemon: Let’s Go provides players with a warmth that can stave off the harshest of winters, Atelier Ryza succeeds in being the lighthearted, touching JRPG fans wanted. It’s both aesthetically pleasing and heartwarming in the way it builds out its world and cast of characters, and seeing Ryza gradually grow more confident and capable is a joy unto itself. If you’re in need of a blanket until Animal Crossing: New Horizons comes out in March, you can’t go wrong here.

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