Nintendo’s smash hit (too easy?) Super Smash Bros is back after a long break of almost two months. Yes, I am playfully referring to the recent release of Super Smash Bros for 3DS, but make no mistake; Super Smash Bros Wii U is a very different game from its 3DS counterpart.
Yes, all the characters are the same, but on the Wii U, they are all captured in brilliant HD at sixty frames-per-second, compared to their fun, cel-shaded appearance on the 3DS. And with such an enormous cast of forty-nine characters so far there is still a lot to discover and master. Not to mention, that with this rendition of SSB, all characters can be customized to your liking with altered move sets and attributes. For example, my Toon Link character has an altered Up-B sword spin that propels opponents upward with a vertical slash at its conclusion. Mario’s signature fireball can be altered to fire faster, or it can be made slower but more damaging. With all of these minor tailoring options, there is a lot to experiment with and perfect this time around. As an added benefit, if you have customized characters on the 3DS that you don’t want to part with, they can be transferred to the Wii U very quickly and efficiently.
While the 3DS version played exceptionally well, Super Smash Bros Wii U demonstrates the quick, fluid, and intuitive controls that we’ve come to expect from a Smash entry. Here, they are as sensitive and responsive as ever if not more so. The pacing and balance of the game are meticulous, with updates rolling out for continued parity. The pace has found a very neutral position somewhere between the speed of Melee and the bulkiness of Brawl that seems perfect for the series. Plus, with the tripping mechanic which was introduced in Brawl removed, there won’t be any unwanted element of the unexpected involved. This goes without mentioning that with the immense amount of controller options, you can truly play how you want. I count a total of six controller options, from the Gamepad to a Wiimote with nunchuck attachment, to a pro controller, to the classic controller. You can even use a 3DS as a controller. My favorite, however, is using a Gamecube controller, arguably the most comfortable controller ever developed, connectable to the Wii U through a new controller adapter that released alongside the game. Running out of controllers is going to be the least of your worries, ensuring that everyone can play. And I mean everyone.
A new feature exclusive to this entry is the option to have up to eight people battle at once. At first, I thought that this seemed pretty excessive. Four-player battles get hectic enough, but after playing with eight fighters, trust me when I say the chaotic rumble is a romp you won’t want to miss. This option is only available on the same console, and not online, but it ensures that Smash parties will be something to remember. Other modes exclusive to the Wii U title are Master Orders and Crazy Orders, which allow the player to wager gold and then fight for rewards resulting in showdowns with Master and or Crazy Hand. I found both, but especially Crazy Orders to be a fun way to earn some trophies and abilities for my custom characters and a great addition. Classic Mode is also a distinctly different and welcome addition unique from the great 3DS counterpart. Instead of choosing a trail, almost like a pick your own adventure version of any other Smash game, you pick opponents, and sometimes allies, and battle until you are the only one left on the battlefield. Events also make their return in either solo or co-op mode. Brilliantly building off of the game’s predecessor, completion of an event opens multiple trails to other events, while meeting special requirements rewards the player or opens secret paths otherwise unavailable.
There is also the Smash Tour feature, which operates like a board game. Over a series of turns, players roll and move spaces, collecting stats and characters, preparing them for one final battle once all turns are up. Players can keep things interesting by sabotaging other players or battling them, and stealing their collected characters with short Smash rounds. All characters collected can be used in the final battle, which decides the winner. The concept is a novel one, but is undermined by short time limits in the final battle, resulting in many collected characters never getting used and frequent and irritating sudden death, conclusions despite said unused characters. I witnessed one particularly haunting round in which a player who would have otherwise been eliminated won in sudden death because, despite running out of characters, had racked up a high amount of kills with a strong character. That could be good or bad, depending on how you look at it, but I personally would prefer stock battles, which would reward players for playing the board game well.
The only other scruple I have with the game is in the Stage Builder mode, which, rather than improving what was offered in Brawl limits the player to what they can draw with the stylus on the Gamepad. Allowing the player to drag and paste blocks and pieces quickly and efficiently with the Gamepad would have made for a brilliant custom stage generator. Instead, I had to draw everything in to place, resulting in uneven, unaesthetic surfaces, and making it much harder to measure out distances and replicate old levels (a personal hobby of mine), despite offering a grid by which to measure. This was hardly the highlight of Brawl anyway, but it is still a missed opportunity.
There is, of course, the option to battle online. You can connect and battle with friends, always guaranteed to be a good time, or you can get matched up with strangers and fight either for fun or for glory. Fighting “for glory” ranks the player depending on how well they perform, and then pairs them with similarly ranked players, not unlike any other competitive multiplayer title. Unlike the lag-ridden Brawl, playing online on the Wii U is a quick, easy, and smooth experience. Matchups were fast and entertaining as the game sends you into a training mode once you’ve selected your character. I also had little to no connectivity issues, making sure all victories are player-earned and not giving players with a better connection an advantage. You can battle in a free-for-all mode, or on teams, or in a particularly thrilling one-on-one mode, making for some epic showdowns. It was fun to see other players strategies and character choices. There is even a Spectator Mode to investigate further, which gives the option to sit back and watch the fray rather than participate in it.
Super Smash Bros Wii U is a brilliant game, and quite possibly the best game to come out this year. Incredibly fun, beautifully rendered, expertly balanced, intelligently paced, with immense replay value, multiple ways to play, a staggering amount to achieve and unlock, and all of this wrapped in what is truly a celebration not only of Nintendo’s past but all of video game history as a whole. From the unique stages to remastered songs, to the included vintage characters including Pac-Man, Little Mac and a couple other secret fighters, the game perfectly blends the retro and the new. Not to mention the game is complete with incredible amounts of fan service, including the final inclusion of the long requested Mega Man, whose final smash is a celebration of his own complete history, to the ability to use outdated, but still favored controllers. With added features like amiibo figures and, at least, one coming DLC character, a fiftieth character in the form of the 150th Pokemon- Mewtwo (eventually to be free for those who purchase and register both the 3DS and Wii U versions of the game. How is that for fan service?), the game will only get bigger and better, despite already being a near perfect game. Super Smash Bros Wii U is a must have and is sure to be a beloved favorite played for years and years to come.
Note: This article first appeared over at www.soundonsight.org
‘Life is Strange 2’ Episode 5 Review – “Wolves”: A Worthy Send-off
The final episode of Life is Strange 2 may take a while to get going but it does offer a solid conclusion to the Diaz brothers’ journey.
Life is Strange 2 hasn’t made any bones about being a political game over the course of the last year. The 5th, and final episode, “Wolves”, doesn’t just continue with this message, it doubles down, and in a big way.
Set near the Arizona-Mexico border, “Wolves” follows the Diaz brothers on the final leg of their journey. Having escaped from the cult that held Daniel up as a messianic figure in the previous episode, Sean and Daniel are camping out in a sort of pop-up town filled with outsiders like themselves.
The location provides Life is Strange 2 with its final breath of relaxation before the story enters its high tension endgame, and it’s a much needed reprieve. Unfortunately, it does seem to go on a bit longer than the player might like, and that makes things drag a smidge.
To give you some idea of how long you’ll be spending in the village, 4 of the 6 collectibles are found here. So, yes, this starting area is the main place you’ll be spending “Wolves” in. To be clear, the area isn’t bad per se. There’s a lot to see, a scavenger hunt to go on, and a few interesting characters to speak with, including a surprise cameo from the original game. The bummer of it all is that players will be feeling the time here more laboriously simply because there isn’t much of anything happening.
In the 2nd or 3rd episode of this story it’s perfectly fine for an extended bit of down time. Episode 3, in particular, benefited greatly from allowing you to settle into the setting and get to know a diverse and likable new group of characters. However, by the 5th episode, players will be so eager to see how things are gonna settle up, they won’t be able to get out of this area fast enough.
On the upswing, once Sean and Daniel leave the village, the story moves at a pretty solid clip to the credits. As the key art and trailer for “Wolves” might suggest, the Diaz brothers do indeed challenge the border wall in the final leg of Life is Strange 2. Where things go from there, I won’t spoil, but rest assured that Daniel will absolutely go through the crisis as you’ve trained him to do.
By this I mean, you will see the final results of your choices throughout the game, and they’re pretty impressive. With 4 possible endings, and 3 possible variations on those endings, Life is Strange 2 can ultimately play out in a variety of ways. How yours plays out will, of course, depend on the choices you’ve made and how you’ve influenced your brother throughout your journey.
Either way, though, Life is Strange 2 closes off “Wolves” with an emotionally satisfying and generally fulfilling conclusion to your journey. It might be a necessary evil that the events can’t be intense the whole way through, being that this is not an action or combat-focused game, but the fact that things take so long to get going in the final episode is a bit of a problem.
Still, fans worried that Life is Strange 2 might fail to stick the landing can rest easy. “Wolves” might not be the best, or most satisfying, episode of the series but it does what it needs to do and it does it well, particularly in the back half.
‘Yaga’ Review: A Bittersweet Fairy Tale
Some games feel perfectly suited to their genres, as if they fulfill every ambition that their genre could promise. On paper, Yaga from the developer Breadcrumbs Interactive, should be one of those games. This roguelike RPG is meant to bring traditional Slavic folktales to life, and its procedurally generated structure allows the game to change in every playthrough, just like how the ancient fairy tales it’s based on can change in every telling. Yaga immediately shines on a conceptual level, but as a game, the most important question remains: will this fairy tale be enjoyable to play?
From start to finish, Yaga uses the rich source material of Eastern European history and folklore to create a vibrant, fantastical world. The entire game is framed as three elderly women telling the story of Ivan, a heroic blacksmith who has been stricken with the curse of bad luck. These women spin a fanciful yarn, one in which Ivan is constantly plagued by horrors from traditional fairy tales such as the hideous One-Eyed Likho, along with more realistic foes, such as a corrupt, overbearing Tsar. The game thrives on this balance between history and fantasy. Its world is filled with peasants who face daily, universal struggles with war and agriculture, while massive ogres and goblin-like Vodyanoys haunt the surrounding wilderness. This mixture creates a strong setting that finally gives Slavic history and mythology its long-overdue representation in games.
“Take the presentation and story together, and Yaga becomes a playable portrait of the lives and superstitions of Eastern European peasants.”
The frame story always remains the same: Ivan will always have to serve his Tsar while avoiding bad luck in every playthrough. However, beyond these core details, the old women are extremely flexible storytellers, often switching events around or changing story beats entirely. In some playthroughs, you may discover a woman raising an enormous chicken; in others, you may instead encounter a band of thieves waiting to rob you. You will frequently face important decisions to make that will dramatically impact the outcome of your quest. yes, you can always break into monster hideouts with hammers blazing to slay every creature before you; but more often than not, you are also given the opportunity to peacefully talk your way out of these toxic situations. Even more dramatically, oftentimes the game will zoom out to the old women storytellers and allow you to choose how they tell the rest of Ivan’s story. Yaga is at its best when it doubles down on this player freedom. It makes every moment engaging and allows its stories to truly come alive.
Yaga’s writing and presentation only serve to make this world even more striking. It features a distinctly dark sense of humor – for instance, a man may ask you to push a boulder into a well behind his house, but he will neglect to tell you that he has also thrown his wife into the bottom of that well ahead of time. Much of this dialogue is even written in rhyme, enhancing the otherworldly, fairy tale atmosphere. On top of that, nearly all dialogue is fully voice acted, with most voice actors delivering some eccentrically charming performances that make the game feel as if it’s a playable Disney film. The visuals look like they’re taken straight out of a Russian children’s book of fairy tales, while the music incorporates traditional instruments and language into an electronic, hip-hop fusion soundtrack that captures the cultural heritage that Yaga focuses on while connecting it to modern culture. Take the presentation and story together, and Yaga becomes a playable portrait of the lives and superstitions of Eastern European peasants.
However, this leads to the gameplay. Quests may be randomized each time you play, but nearly every one of them takes the same general format. One character will request help, and then Ivan will have to venture out into the world to fight some demons or recover an item. Worse yet, the levels are just as randomized in their procedurally generated design, and not in a particularly clever way, either: most of them likewise follow the same formula, being little more than arenas full of enemies connected by copy-and-paste environments. Many paths in each environment lead to nothing more than pointless dead ends. The combat has a satisfyingly simple basis, with basic moves like long- and close-range attacks, roll dodging, items to use, and a variety of different weapons to equip, although his trusty old hammer is generally the best choice. However, while this simplicity makes the combat enjoyable on its own, there is very little depth to it, and the inherently repetitive design of the mission only serves to highlight how paper-thin combat can be. Most battles involve little more than hacking away at enemies until they die, which becomes increasingly repetitive by the end of the roughly ten-hour campaign.
At the very least, the robust customization system helps add a little intrigue to the combat. As a blacksmith, Ivan is naturally gifted with the ability to craft weapons for himself to use. By scavenging parts and items from fallen enemies and treasure chests around the world, Ivan is able to create the most powerful weapons. Crafting is simple to use yet extremely ripe for experimentation, requiring only one base item and a handful of accessories to create unique new items. With dozens of components to discover and use in your forging, there are plentiful opportunities to create the best possible weapons.
“All told, Yaga achieves a bittersweet ending: it’s bitter as a game but sweet as a fairy tale.”
The crafting system would be the standout aspect of the moment-to-moment gameplay if it weren’t foiled by another one of the game’s systems: Bad Luck. Ivan has been cursed with perpetual Bad Luck, which grows constantly throughout the game – whenever something good happens, Bad Luck is sure to increase. Whenever the Bad Luck meter fills all the way, Likho will appear and strike Ivan, generally breaking one of his weapons or stealing his money.
On paper, this mechanic makes sense, since it prohibits the player from becoming too overpowered and also fits into the folklore style off the story. In practice, however, it is an infuriating limitation on player progression and invention. It effectively punishes players for putting thought and care into their weapon crafting and character-building – at any moment it can all be washed away in bad luck, so what’s the point? Considering how enjoyable the crafting and combat systems are, it’s a shame that Bad Luck seems to exist solely to diminish the very best parts of the gameplay, leaving the game feeling like it cripples itself.
Your enjoyment of Yaga depends heavily on what experience you want out of it. If you’re looking for a deep and satisfying RPG, then it likely won’t deliver. Although it features satisfying combat and customization systems, the frustrating randomization of its level design and Bad Luck system only serve to foil these good qualities. If you are instead looking for a faithful, fleshed-out image of Slavic cultural heritage, portraying both the harsh realities of peasant life along with its fanciful folklore, then Yaga is a clear triumph thanks to its emphasis on player choice, its excellent writing, and its beautiful hand-drawn visuals and inventive soundtrack. All told, Yaga achieves a bittersweet ending: it’s bitter as a game but sweet as a fairy tale.
‘Remothered: Tormented Fathers’ Review: I Want My Remummy
There’s merit to be had if you just want a quick bash at a quirky, indie horror game, but with so many flaws, I can’t recommend Remothered.
It feels like a while since the ‘survival horror but you can’t fight back’ genre was at its peak, especially with the recent, tradition-tinged revival of the Resident Evil series, but back in 2017 when Remothered: Tormented Fathers was being developed for PC it was all the rage. Like any indie game that’s had even the slightest amount of interest or acclaim during the current generation, Remothered has received the now-obligatory Switch port. Although its modest technical requirements clearly made a successful transition to the platform more than manageable, they don’t help to hide the game’s very obvious shortcomings.
Players take control of Rosemary Reed in her attempts to investigate retired notary Dr. Richard Felton, who is currently undergoing treatment for a mysterious disease. Oh, and he has a missing daughter that he probably murdered. The plot of the game feels a little cliché, but it’s undoubtedly its strongest facet. However, suspending your disbelief at the ropy animations and dodgy voice-acting is needed to avoid being sucked into feeling like you’re watching Theresa May running around a big mansion trying to escape from a John Cleese impersonator with his arse hanging out. Alas, I clearly failed in this endeavor.
Remothered is essentially a game of ‘go there, fetch that, bring it here, use it’ with an added element of ‘don’t let the annoying old man kill you in the face with a sickle’. Yeah, one of those ones. The story takes place almost entirely within Felton’s huge mansion, and navigating the ol’ girl is by far the game’s toughest element. It’s made especially harder while you’re constantly on edge, trying to avoid the stalking lunatic without a map, weapons, or a proper objectives system. Be prepared for your bearings to be quite considerably lost.
There are a couple of ways to avoid that face full of sickle. There’s a dodge button (provided Rosemary isn’t too tired to actually dodge), a run button, distraction items, and defense items that will automatically be used to escape a grab attack if you have one equipped at the time. Remember those crappy bits in Resident Evil 4 where you had to play as Ashley? This is like that… for a whole game.
While a little tired in 2019, there’s nothing inherently wrong with the formula of the weapon-less survival horror game – it’s just that in Remothered, it’s not implemented all that well. Enemy AI routing is weird, which should be grounds for an unpredictable fright-fest, but leans more toward the annoying and/or hilarious. It seemed like the stalkers would either sit directly outside the room I needed to enter – barely moving and refusing to be distracted for longer than a few seconds before returning immediately to their original spot right on my current objective – or simply bugger off to another floor and never come back.
Even with his penchant to completely vacate the area, and despite his advancing years, Dr. Felton possesses supersonic hearing. It seemingly doesn’t matter how far away you are – if you run in this game, he will hear you. To make matters worse, the sound design just doesn’t make sense. With every press of the run button, enemy dialogue would instantly change to indicate they’d heard you and then loud footsteps would permeate every room you enter as if they were right behind you, when they most certainly are not.
It’s either a cheap scare tactic to give the impression of enemies constantly being within touching distance, or the fallout from a combination of naff sound design and the limitations of my Switch’s Pro Controller not having a headphone port. What makes it worse is that everything is so campy that it’s seldom scary in any tangible way. When the man trying to murder you is constantly shouting about how he hasn’t got anything to eat that isn’t moldy while you hide in his cupboard, it’s not exactly bone-chilling.
As a result of the big-eared murderers and their impeccable radar tuned to the sounds of running, I spent almost the entirety of the game… well, not running. Unfortunately, Rosemary walks slower than an asthmatic ant with heavy shopping, and this made exploring the mansion a monotonous chore – especially when getting caught and subsequently having to run up and down floors to hide before slowly sneaking back to restart the investigation.
Puzzles are that old school type of obtuse where you’re tasked with finding everyday items to fix problems. The puzzle itself lies in realizing the item the developer decided should work, finding it in the giant four-floor mansion, and slowly returning to the its intended area of use without dying. For example, in order to get into an attic, you have to search rooms at random to find an umbrella to pull down the door’s previously-out-of-reach cord. It’s such a shame that Remothered eschews any type of self-contained puzzle for a string of confusing fetch quests, as everything feels more tedious than taxing.
It feels a little unfair to bemoan the lack of polish for a two-year-old indie game, but Remothered is full of niggling issues. Animations are janky, lip-syncing is non-existent, and the camera wigs out after the QTEs to fight off enemies have finished – always pointing you in the wrong direction. I also encountered a couple of game-breaking bugs where Rosemary did her door-opening animation without the door actually opening, and I couldn’t enter the room without rebooting the game. Lastly, and I don’t want to be too harsh to an Italian developer, but the in-game English is pretty abysmal, and lots of the game’s expositional notes and articles border on illegible through their poor translations.
There are some people out there who can’t get enough of the whole hiding under sofas schtick, but I like my survival horror games with better psychological tension, a (limited) means to fight back, and coherent puzzle-solving. There’s merit to be had in the game’s labyrinthine setting and short length if you just want a quick bash at a quirky, campy indie horror game in the Haunting Grounds model, but with so many flaws and such a frustrating gameplay loop, I can’t recommend Remothered: Tormented Fathers outside of anything other than morbid curiosity.
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