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Perfidious Sinn's blog

9:17 AM on 09.18.2013

Assassin's Greed III

During an intense struggle against boredom last spring, I visited my local Gamestop to pick up something to play. Since no new games were out that I was interested in, I figured I'd go back and play one of the many games on my “critically acclaimed but I never played it” list. So, I picked up Assassin's Creed II for cheap.

I enjoyed the first Assassin's Creed game in spite of its many issues with pacing, control, and poor mission variety. The story and setting of the franchise fascinated me but Assassin's Creed 1 was not a very good game. I heard that the sequel was better, and those reports were 100% correct. Over the course of 2012 I played every Assassin's Creed title, got very involved into the lore, and even attempted to get all the Achievements in the game. I would say that so far, Assassin's Creed is my favorite video game franchise of this current generation.

And because I enjoy the series so much, I am extremely worried about its future. I think Assassin's Creed III was possibly one of the worst Xbox 360 games I've ever played, and I have almost no faith in Assassin's Creed IV being good. So why did I dislike Assassin's Creed III so much? I can only explain that by first telling you what I enjoyed about the other games.

Assassin's Creed II

The most obvious compliment this game has been given is “it is better than the first game”, but I don't think that goes far enough. Being better than the heavily flawed Assassin's Creed 1 isn't exactly difficult. But what Assassin's Creed II did was build something really solid on top of the foundation already laid.

The story of Assassin's Creed II is much more impactful. You play through Ezio Auditore's birth and early life, seeing how good his life was and how tragically it all gets ripped away from him. Replaying the game recently, I empathized even more with him during a late cutscene. He's been chasing the men who killed his family for the majority of his life, but feels like he'll never get his revenge or worse, that it will not satisfy him. Ezio is much more humorous, charming, and emotionally tormented than Altair was in the first game. It makes you want to see him succeed and the sheer amount of his life that you see makes his motivations and actions incredibly clear. There are some moments where his rage gets the better of him, but it shows that he's a flawed, yet heroic character.

The big controversy about this game was the ending. It brought in the larger narrative of the series in a somewhat random-feeling infodump and ends on a cliffhanger. I found the ending oddly humorous in its absurdity, but there is more than enough foreshadowing about how things will turn out. The “Truth” segments in the game are optional, sure. But it's not difficult to do them and get some very revealing clues about where the main plot is going to go. Personally, I liked the ending just fine.

The gameplay received a major improvement from the first. Mostly, the free running is much more enjoyable and less prone to freaking out. In an open world game, having a significant amount of travel time can wear down on the player. However, if you can make the travel enjoyable in some way, you've solved the problem. I really enjoy how fluid free-running looks and feels in the Assassin's Creed series. I'd say at least half of my enjoyment of the games is free-running and observing the beautiful architecture. Also, there are sidequests EVERYWHERE to do, so I was frequently breaking up my travel time by stopping off to the side to do a race or pick up some flags. It never really felt boring to me.

The combat is much better but I find it difficult to go back to Assassin's Creed II because of how simplistic it is. The majority of enemies can be taken out by counter kills, and they attack you one at a time even when you are totally surrounded. Heavy enemies must be thrown off with a kick to open up for combos, or you can just fight them unarmed and win handily. I felt like the fighting itself got repetitive after a while due to lack of variation, but it stays somewhat engaging until the last stretches of the game.

Assassin's Creed Brotherhood

Most people would call this game the peak of the franchise. I don't agree, but I see why it's so beloved.

The story might be why I don't care for this game too much. There is a goal (kick the Borgias out of Rome, get your revenge for your uncle's death) but it felt too much like a collection of random events than a plot. Mission threads lead you around seemingly unrelated incidents a lot of the time, leaving me wondering “when are we gonna get the Borgias?” There's some strange backtracking where you visit a major location for at least two missions and must enter it almost exactly the same way. It felt like padding there. Also, the end of the game locks you into a LONG string of missions that you can't quit from and barrels you toward the ending at an uncomfortably fast pace. I felt like Brotherhood lacked the emotional impact of II with the story of Ezio's slow build from a regular man to a trained killer. Sure, he becomes the Mentor of the Assassin Brotherhood in this game, but it is handled with little fanfare.

The ending of the game also felt like a cliffhanger for the sake of one. I can't complain too much because I was able to play Revelations immediately after finishing Brotherhood, but the cliffhanger ending felt nonsensical. Instead of making me excited to see the next game, I was just left cold and confused by this one.

The gameplay is quite an improvement. The combat has been made easier but more engaging. You can counter kill enemies in a row with one strike, but they are much more aggressive and force you to pay attention and time your counters better. You also get an absolutely HUGE amount of tools to use in combat like guns, poison darts, and the incredibly overpowered crossbow that you can use for long range stealth kills. I really enjoyed how the unique weapon classes let you fight how you want, and I switched between quick-but-weak knives or slow-but-powerful Heavy Weapons depending on what type of mission I was getting into. This missions have each been enhanced with optional objectives that really aren't good for anything but an Achievement, but are still enjoyable to pursue and give you reason to replay them.

The economy system was introduced in Brotherhood, and is much more engaging than my description will make it sound. You unlock new buildings around the area with money, and having more unlocked buildings lets you build cash faster. It's one of the few open world games with a very intelligently designed economy. I can't even call it “fun” to walk around buying buildings, but I also can't stop doing it. You want to have money to unlock new buildings or get new weapons, and so you do sidequests to get money, but then you spend it all again unlocking new buildings.

Brotherhood also adds Borgia Towers. You have to kill a specific Captain in order to “unlock” a tower/synchronization point to climb it. These made for some interesting experiences, because you can approach them several ways. Depending on how the area is laid out, you can either sneak in and assassinate the Captain, or hire a group of thugs to rush the front door and take out everyone. Because the layout of each Tower is different, it lets you experiment in completing them, making for some of the more enjoyable segments of the game.

Some of the worst segments of the game were Leonardo's Machines. You generally have to sneak into an area and destroy a paper before you're spotted. This part sucks because it falls into the worst mission type in stealth game history, the “Get Spotted and You Fail” mission. It doesn't help that every time you fail, you are subjected to a long loading screen. And the payoff for doing these missions isn't great; they all culminate with piloting the machine you were sent to destroy. The majority of these missions are not enjoyable because the machines are fragile and have very poor controls. It's an unexpected gameplay shift to go from third person stealth to piloting a mini-boat and sinking ships, but unexpected gameplay shifts are only cool when the alternate gameplay doesn't feel awkward and unfinished.

Basically, none of the Leonardo's Machine missions are as cool as the boat sections in Assassin's Creed III.

I didn't like Brotherhood as much as II despite recognizing all of its improvements. I enjoy these games mostly based on atmosphere and setting, and Rome just wasn't as nice to look at as Italy. There are too many large, open fields with nothing in them. The buildings don't look as impressive. The soundtrack is a major step down from Assassin's Creed II. And I didn't really care about the story this time around because it felt too impersonal and unfocused. I think Brotherhood is a better game in terms of gameplay, but I just didn't like anything else about it nearly as much as II.

Assassin's Creed Revelations

I'm in the minority here, but this is by far my favorite game in the franchise. Most people dismissed Revelations when it came out because it was the third yearly installment in a row. So I understand that they felt burned out. I probably view it more favorably because I paid less for it than most, but I also think it succeeds because it polished every previous mechanic from the series while adding a few more.

The story is much better than Brotherhood. Ezio is pretty darn old in this game, and you're playing through his last major quest as an Assassin. So there's an appropriate amount of references to previous events in the franchise, and some winks and nods at things only hardcore fans of the series will get. The main plot revolves around discovering a secret that Altair has hidden, and you do this by playing as him in flashbacks. These sequences give Altair more character development than the entirety of the first game and an accent that actually makes sense. Unlike Brotherhood, your goal is very clear from the start and the game does even more examination of Ezio's personality. It does nothing to advance the “main” plot of the franchise (what Desmond is doing in the real world), but it brings Altair and Ezio's stories to a close in a poignant way.

The gameplay does one thing very right off the bat by rejuvenating the free-running mechanic. Since Ezio is so old now, he needs tools to help him move as fast as he used to. The Hookblade not only makes climbing and jumping easier, it also lets Ezio climb faster than he's ever climbed before. If you make a bad jump, you can even hold the right hand button to extend your hookblade and save yourself. There are even ziplines to make travel even quicker. Free-running everywhere through three games in a row could potentially get boring, but the addition of this simple tool (and the new scenery) made it as enjoyable as the first time I did it. It also helps that Constantinople is much more visually interesting than Rome. The buildings are designed differently as well, so you have to climb them differently. The change of scenery really was welcome here, and I like Constantinople more than Rome or Italy.

The sword combat hasn't changed dramatically from Brotherhood, but the introduction of bombs lets you approach combat situations differently. I think the interface for creating bombs is a bit too clunky, but using them is worth it. It's tough to stealthily assassinate a small group of guards, but it's very easy to throw a poison bomb in the middle of them and kill them instantly. In the middle of foot chases, you can throw down spikes to hinder people chasing you and aid your getaway. You can even replace the old “Throw Money to distract guards” standby with a Gold Bomb that explodes coins everywhere! Not every bomb is useful, but using them tactically will make the game much easier and give you an incentive to approach situations differently than “run here and stab all these men”.

The mechanics behind recruiting and leveling up an Assassin hit squad to guard your back have been made a bit deeper, but not all of the change is for the better. The Assassins are linked to several strongholds you have on the map, and they can defend them from Templar attacks when fully leveled. You can also go on multi-part sidequests with them that have unique stories, which I did enjoy.

However, the interface for assigning Assassins to a stronghold is clunky. So is the one for sending them out to complete missions in “Mediterranean Defense” and assigning them to certain countries after you take them over. I won't get too much into that because the design of this part of the game is very poor, and I don't want to waste 1000 more words explaining exactly how it works. Just wanted to note how it's not very well designed.

The only gameplay in the Real World are first person platforming sections where you can spawn your own platforms to run across. I felt like these were the weakest parts of the game because the controls aren't fit for first person. It's especially jarring after playing Mirror's Edge. These sections were not worth finishing.

Despite those few quirks, I enjoyed Assassin's Creed Revelations. It's still my favorite game in the series after going back to replay them all. The new setting and revamped free-running gives new life into the basic act of traveling, the bombs open up a lot of fun options in combat, and the story has a very satisfying arc and conclusion. Even if it doesn't really advance the Real World plot that everyone wants to know about.


So why I just spend so much time describing my experience with the other Assassin's Creed games if this blog is about III? I need to convey how much III disappointed me. I saw the series steadily improve and add more mechanics to benefit the player over time, culminating in Revelations being one of my favorite games of this console generation. Then, Assassin's Creed III took most of the good in the franchise and threw it away.

Assassin's Creed III

Initially, I wanted to play and beat every game in this franchise in the same year. I finished Revelations in August 2012 and waited patiently for III. I avoided most preview materials to cut down on spoilers, and all I really knew was that it would take place in America. Sounds cool.

So in November I rented Assassin's Creed III and played through Haytham's prologue in a few days. I was extremely unimpressed. At launch, the game was glitchy as hell. I would frequently fly off into space during random jumps, clip through people, vocal/musical cues would stop working, the AI was idiotic, and I had two hard freezes. Not only that, but the prologue was just boring. I knew I wasn't playing as the protagonist and couldn't force myself to care about Haytham's story. I spent that part of the game just waiting for it to truly start. So I finished the prologue and returned the game to Redbox after two days, not wanting to play it any more.

At launch, I couldn't justify paying $60 for a glitchy game with bad controls. I waited until July 2013 for a good sale and gave it another shot from the beginning.

The Story

After playing through the game a few more times, I've grown to appreciate the prologue with Haytham. This is because Haytham is FAR more interesting than the actual protagonist in the game. He's certainly evil, but Haytham and the Templars in this game actually have motivations that are more subtle than “blow up the world”.

What I really enjoyed about the story is that it shows the shades of gray in both the Assassins and Templars. The Assassins want everyone to be free but are accomplishing it with murder. Connor isn't a clear-cut hero because he does many things for selfish reasons and is short-tempered and naďve. In fact, Connor is significantly less likable than Ezio for more reasons than that. He doesn't seem to have much agency in his life and is just being pulled from conflict to conflict. His duties as an Assassin are consistently clouded and ignored due to his desire to drop everything and save his tribe. He also has none of Ezio's charm or humor.

The speeches given to Connor by the major Templars he slays makes him appear even less heroic. The post-death in this series were always a little silly because the majority of Templars were gloating villains, but in Assassin's Creed III very few people are fully evil or fully good, including the seemingly heroic Assassins.

Connor's story has a bittersweet, but satisfying end after one of the most climatic and cool “boss” confrontations in the entire franchise. The same cannot be said for the end of Desmond's story in the real world. It rarely makes sense, is anticlimatic, and has a truly egregious sequel hook. Say what you will about Mass Effect 3. Bioware had a clear vision of how they would end the series and did so.

Ubisoft continues to make Assassin's Creed go on further, get more confusing, and push the conclusion further out of sight. Assassin's Creed games have to come out annually, so they're afraid of wrapping up the plot because they can't monetize it anymore if they do so. I felt for the first time in III that I had been had. I played through a pretty significant arc to see how they would handle the “end of the world” scenario and so far all I have is “we'll solve it later”.

The gameplay in Assassin's Creed III is almost as bad as the first game. I could go over the little things like removing the "walk and talk" feature where you automatically walk with a group you're blending with, or how the HUD doesn't label how to use some of your items, or the Notoriety system being busted, but there's no time. Let's just hit the two big ones.

Free Running. It has been simplified for the worse here. You hold the right trigger to jog or depress it fully to sprint at full speed. Also, you are in "climbing mode" whenever you have the trigger held down.

In previous games, you sprinted with Right Trigger and went into "climbing mode" by pressing a different button. It was more complicated, but it also cut down on the amount of incidents where you accidentally climbed a thing that you didn't want to. Because you're ALWAYS in "climbing mode" while sprinting in Assassin's Creed III, there is much more room for error. And holy crap did I run into a lot of errors. I frequently would climb structures I didn't want to, jump off buildings to my death accidentally, and lose targets around corners because Connor decided it was more important to run up some scaffolding than chase his target.

Combat. This is actually an area that I felt was improved. The counter system has been reworked, so when an enemy is about to attack you hit the marked "Counter" button. Time freezes, and you can choose to either disarm, throw, or instantly kill them. Due to the time freezing mechanic, the combat in general feels much easier. They ramp it up by throwing a truly absurd amount of enemies at you, and varying their types. Some enemies must be disarmed before you can kill them, some are more vulnerable to punches than swords, and some of them will draw guns and shoot at you, forcing you to act quickly before you take a ton of damage. Combat is one area that I generally consider better in Assassin's Creed III.

I love that fist fight music too.

Assassin's Guild.

In Brotherhood and Revelations, one of the most enjoyable things to do was to call in your recruited Assassins. You whistle and wave your hand, and they materialize out of nowhere to stealth kill your target.

In III, you don't gain the ability to call in Recruits for a long time. You have to do a large amount of poorly designed sidequests to get them, and when you do, they're not very good. They have very low stamina and WILL be knocked out if you call them in a fight with two or more guards. It's nice that they are now only temporarily knocked out instead of killed permanently like previous games, but they are so fragile that it's not worth calling them. There are a few special commands to issue them like "Marksman" that works as a screen nuke or "Covert Escort" that allows you to sneak undetected into certain areas. The problem is that these skills are absolutely not useful. Marksman and Assassinate are for killing a small handful of guards, but the others either don't work as advertised or end up getting your recruits injured.

In the end, it's better to kill guards by yourself because Connor is so powerful. The recruits are little more than meatshields, even if you bother to use them enough to raise their levels.

Stealth. This game introduces more stealth elements on top of the old "hide in a haystack to escape" element. There are short bushes and shrubbery to hide in, and non-lethal stealth kills to lower your chances of detection. This is to support some truly awful stealth sections in this game. There are too many missions where you must tail a target without them seeing you, because if they do see you, the mission is over and you have to sit through an overly long load time to try it again. You have more options to hide because guards are much more vigilant in this game, sometimes initiating a chase against you if you were simply standing in the wrong place for too long. That is one of the larger issues in the game: being chased so often and for seemingly no reason. And despite the inclusion of more hiding spots, chases last much longer than they need to and can put you miles away from a mission you were about to start.

Economy. I don't want to spend too much time on this, because it's too much to speak about. The economy in this game is much more confusing and pointless than the previous games. You earn money by crafting and selling items with the worst user interface ever. You use this money to buy upgrades for your ship to do optional missions. If you don't enjoy the ship combat, then you have no reason to do this because there's nothing else to buy. Purchasing weapons is pointless because they don't vary combat significantly, and it is definitely possible to complete the game with your default weapons because combat is so easy.

The attempt to add complexity with the economy completely backfired because they made it too complex to the point that it's not enjoyable to use. The poorly designed menus and fact that there is nothing decent to buy only pours more salt onto the wound.

This minigame.

Sums up Assassin's Creed III very well. Doesn't explain how to complete it, isn't fun, and gives you a pitiful reward.

I could go into the numerous glitches I experienced while playing Assassin's Creed III, but those don't ruin the game. What did was the overly complex HUD, poor mission variety, frequent loading times, uninteresting story, and sequel baiting ending. I enjoy playing Assassin's Creed II, Brotherhood, and Revelations all the way through, but there are a few pockets of boredom in them.

Assassin's Creed III is mostly boredom, a large chunk of frustration, and contains a few nuggets of fun gameplay. It went from a series that is possibly my favorite of this generation to one I don't look forward to anymore. What I've seen of Assassin's Creed IV seems that they improved the beloved ship combat mechanic and left everything else with the game alone. Will they get rid of the glitches? Will the Current Era storyline be wrapped up at all? Will the missions not be incredibly boring and contain "mess up one thing and you fail and sit through a long loading time" fail states?

I don't know anymore and I don't think I care. I have no faith in this franchise being able to produce a good game again as long as the current cycle of "turn one out every year" continues. People complain about an annual franchise like Call of Duty getting stagnant, but stagnation is preferable to releasing a game that is not only stagnant, but significantly less enjoyable than the last.   read

1:31 AM on 08.22.2013

I Suck At Fighting Games: Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3

This is the game we play!

Out of all the currently popular fighting games available today, I've seen the most of Marvel vs. Capcom 3. You can watch streams for it pretty much any time of day and it is frequently one of the “main event” games at tournaments. So I've done a lot of homework on it and learned a lot of the core gameplay mechanics just by watching and asking questions.

Good thing too, because this game is never gonna teach you how to actually play it.

Before I get into that though, why is Marvel vs. Capcom 3 so popular? The premise is instantly appealing. Comic book characters and videogame characters fighting is a really cool concept that drew my attention and probably anyone else with even a slight interest in either field. Could Dante kick Captain America's ass? Who would win in a fight, She-Hulk or Tron Bonne? All very important questions that can be answered by Marvel.

So, I think it goes without saying that Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is incredibly fun to watch once you know what's happening. Characters shout specific one-liners related to who they're battling, Hyper Combos cause the screen to rip like a comic book page, and all kinds of pretty, LONG combos are happening when the game is being played at a high level.

It's understandable why so many people want to play this game. It just looks really cool.

Now let me tell you why I found it near impossible to actually get into it.

I started this series of blogs to find a game I liked and could get good at. I hope it has helped you pick a game that isn't too intimidating right off the bat. Due to the lack of tutorial and training options and how complex Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is, I don't believe it's a good game for newcomers to jump into. In fact, it might be one of the most difficult fighting games to get good at. It is difficult to learn and even harder to master.

Until recently, the majority of fighting games seemed to have very limited tutorial options. What that means is you'd have to spend as much time learning the systems of the game as learning combos and matchups. This game came out in 2011 before Skullgirls in 2012, a game with one of the best tutorials in any fighting game. So maybe Capcom didn't care to clue in new players on how to play the game?

So, here's what tutorial options you actually have. On the main menu there is “Offline Mode” which includes Training and Mission. Mission is what you're looking for. Each character has ten missions that teach you some of their special moves, some of their Hyper Combos, and basic combos.

I learned a couple things from this. Most characters have a basic combo that involves three ground hits, launcher, four air hits. It's generally Light, Medium, Heavy, Special, Medium, Medium, Heavy, Special. I played the Missions for every character and I'd say about 90% of them have this combo or some variation for it.

Here's where Mission Mode fails. It doesn't show you every special move, normal move, and Hyper Combo each character has, only some of them. There is no information given as to why one would use these certain moves. Some of the moves are Mashable, which means they can be extended and do more damage if you mash buttons or rotate the analog stick while you perform them. The game does not explain this anywhere.

When you pause the game to look at the command list, it takes you to a huge list of every character's commands in the game. Why? Just immediately link me to the character I'm playing so I don't have to scroll through this list. I'd like to see demonstrations for some of the Missions to see what I'm doing wrong, but it's not there. It really should be there, but it isn't.

In fact there are entire gameplay mechanics that go unexplained. There's no basic tutorial in the game to teach them to you. So X-Factor's uses aren't explained, but you have to do it to complete some of the Missions. Team Aerial Combos, where you do a combo in midair and tag out to another character to continue it, is never explained. I only know how to do both of these maneuvers because I asked friends, watched a lot of streams, and studied a wiki page.

There's a juxtaposition between the game appearing approachable but actually not being so. I like a few things it does. S (special) seems to be the universal launcher, and slams your opponent to the ground while they're in a your air combo. The “magic series” combos (L, M, H, S, air M, air M, air H, air S) are near universal so you have something to fall back on if you're trying a new character. You can save a favorite team as a “Reserve Unit” to quickly access during character selection, which is useful because there are a LOT of characters to scroll through. There are some neat bonuses for beating Arcade mode like new artwork, unique endings, and really detailed character biographies. And even though the menus are outdated, the HUD in game is very nice. Your assists are clearly marked with AI and A2 so you know which button will call them out. The Assist system is very simple. You tap one button to call an assist, hold it to tag to that marked character, hit both buttons to do a Team Hyper Combo, and snapping in is quarter circle forward + assist. It's much easier to learn than Skullgirls' more complicated, multiple button system for assists and tagging, and I prefer the assist system here over that game.

However, a lot of the game's presentation feels dated and very poor. To set a Reserve Unit, you have to go to the main menu, go to your “License” card, and set it there. Why can't I select three characters to save as a Reserve Unit during character selection in Arcade or Training mode? It would be nice if I could hold a button to go into “save” mode and create my new unit right there.

The menus move sluggishly and there's a lot of waiting while the game saves whenever you return to the main menu. The online options are very limited, as you cannot set a specific region for searching within. And on the same topic, the online netcode is poor. Compared to games like Persona 4 Arena which works with minimal to no lag even under bad connections, it was jarring to go to Marvel vs. Capcom 3 online and be able to feel a delay between inputting an attack and the attack coming out every single time.

I won't complain too much about the slim single player offerings, since this game came from the era where it was acceptable to have almost nothing to do offline. The distant year of 2011...good times. I will compliment the Heroes and Heralds mode, which I spent a good amount of time playing. You collect trading cards that give your team buffs and fight against the computer or online. The AI isn't particularly difficult, but I enjoyed fighting against weird shiny versions of the characters and making the most broken combinations I could with certain cards.

So, I don't have much else to say about the game, really. I don't think it's particularly fair or balanced. Getting stuck in long touch of death combos is a bummer every time, especially considering that the game doesn't teach you how to do them. I know we're expected to do some level of online research to get good at fighting games these days, but Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 doesn't even give you the bare minimum to get started. X-Factor is a cool idea: you gain a damage and speed boost that gets more potent as you lose more characters. However, I found it to be an unfair comeback mechanic because of the damage boost. It does some smart things like let you negate chip damage while blocking and works as an animation cancel. If you're in blockstun you can activate X-Factor and immediately counterattack. That's cool! But the damage boost makes it far too unbalanced. Just look at that video up top again.

The tiers in this game have a large effect on how well you'll do. In general, you will do better if you add a top tier character to your team like Wesker, Dormammu, Zero, Vergil, or Doctor Doom. I'm one of those weirdos who plays games for fun, and I was having more fun learning characters I had some personal attachment to than picking a top tier to make my life easier. But the simple fact is that the low tier characters have to work harder to win and if you're really into winning, you better throw one or more of them on your team to make your time a lot easier.

So I don't think I'll be getting good at this game. It's enjoyable to play with people who are my skill level (which is about zero out of 10 on the Skill Scale), but the amount of time and dedication it takes to get truly proficient at it is too high for me. Maybe I got into it too late because people online are so much better than me that I can't even learn from losses (too busy stuck in an unbreakable combo to learn!). But the fact is that the game won't ever teach you how to play it. If you're a new player looking to get into a fighting game for the first time, you might want to look somewhere else.

It's a shame, too. I really was liking my Tron Bonne/Frank West/Super Skrull team. I like seeing these characters in action and I still get a thrill of of spectating and watching on streams. I also don't want to put in the effort to learn a game when it's not willing to teach me even a little bit.


1:53 AM on 08.07.2013

Why Saints Row 2 Poops On Saints Row IV (It's A Better Game)

Spoilers for Saints Row 2 and The Third.

 I see a lot of people getting excited about the upcoming release of Saints Row IV. But did you know that you are actually wrong?

Yes, it's true! The Saints Row series peaked at 2 and has been circling the drain since. I don't know if it's out of laziness or just plain contempt for their audience, but the developers made The Third a worse game and will probably ruin IV as well.

I know some of you were introduced to the series with Saints Row The Third, so let me explain why Saints Row 2 is the high point of the series that they will never reach again, ever. Prepare to get sad.

Stilwater is a more interesting city than Steelport

Stilwater in Saints Row 2 is one of the best open worlds in a video game, and I'm just talking aesthetically here! We'll get to the other good stuff later!

There are so many distinct districts and areas of Stilwater that it's crazy. You have a college campus with skateboarding students, a huge student center, and the "Frat Row". You've got a nuclear power plant island, Chinatown, the airport, factories, some high-class downtown areas that have totally different street textures, a trailer park...pretty much every traditional “open world city” setting is here. The cool thing is that they're all visually distinct and have different NPCs walking around depending on the area. You won't see gang members strolling around in baggy jeans in the downtown area.

In comparison, Steelport is a mostly flat, all industrial city that gets more boring to explore as they close off bridges. There's no variable weather or day/night cycle. You're looking at mostly the same scenery throughout Saints Row The Third and it gets boring. As opposed to Saints Row 2, where every location is visually distinct. It feels like a real town. Steelport feels like a video game fake city and really only has one "setting", lessening the joy in exploring it.

Basically, there are no cool hidden secrets like this in Steelport.

And this is only tangentially related, but the soundtrack in Saints Row 2 is the best in the series. I actually recognized a lot of the songs, as opposed to the soundtracks in Saints Row The Third and IV which are just obscure to get indie cred. Whatever, I'll be over here killing dudes to this amazing music.

More Customization in Saints Row 2

The city of Stilwater has LOADS of clothing stores, each catering to a different style. There's a hippy store, used clothing store, campus store with college clothes, and even separate stores for jewelry and cars. There's even a mall with a few unique stores and some secret shops.

Steelport in Saints Row The Third has like 20 Planet Saints (that all have the same clothes), and three specialty stores that are really far out of the way. I like the clothes in Nobody Loves Me, but why is there only one in the entire city? Am I gonna drive all the way through this boring city to get clothes there? Probably not.

I suppose there's a metaphor at play here. The Saints in The Third have grown soft and complacent, so they just monopolize the city's clothing outlets because they're boring now. And it makes shopping for clothes a boring time when there's 30 of one shop EVERYWHERE, and then three other shops that are out of the way. Why not spread that out?

Anyway, there are more glaring omissions to customization in Saints Row The Third. Stuff that was already in 2 that they removed for no good reason. You can't have custom walk cycles. You can't customize how you wear your clothes. In 2, if I buy a pair of jeans I can choose to wear them sagging, the type of wear they are (regular, battered, or acid washed for example), if I want a belt on, and many other options[u].[/u]

In The Third, that stuff is just gone. I can't customize my own walk cycle. Why? I can't customize how I wear my clothes. Instead of buying a pair of jeans and wearing them how I choose, I have to buy Baggy Jeans 1, Belt Jeans 1, Acid Wash Jeans's such a step backwards. For no good reason.

More Stores in Saints Row 2

Back in my day, Saints Row games had hella stores. In addition to the clothing options I already went over, there were some extra stores that most open world games don't have.

I'm talking about the liquor stores, mostly. In gas stations, liquor stores, and nightclubs in Saints Row 2, you can buy alcohol and weed. Now I'll admit, there's no reason for there to be several types of stores selling the same thing. And I don't even know what the alcohol and weed does besides be less useful than food powerups. They don't add anything to the game...except charm.

You know, the thing Saints Row The Third went very far out of its way to avoid? Having charm and personality? Saints Row 2 has that.

There's also record stores so you can buy songs for your portable MP3 player. That's right, you can listen to music from the radio even when you're not in the car. Another feature pointlessly removed by Saints Row The Third. I can't wait to not hear the soundtrack in Saints Row IV because I'll be running around with my super speed! Not using a car ever, because why would you? Seriously, why does that game even have a soundtrack?

There are car dealerships to buy cars to store in your garage in Saints Row 2. Which is...kinda pointless because you can steal whatever car you'll need. But that shows the length the team used to go through to immerse you in the game's world.

Saints Row 2 has regenerating health, but sometimes you don't want to just sit in a corner as your health recharges (which happens all the time in The Third). So you can go to fast food shops and buy healing items to store in your inventory. And even though every store has unique food items for no good reason because they all work the same way, and even though there's no real reason for them to offer multiple sizes of health packs because you should just buy the biggest one anyway...why take that out of the game?

It's a good idea and you just remove it. Great job.

More Side Missions In Saints Row 2

This one is a pretty big failure. Sidequests Fight Club, Crowd Control, Septic Avenger, Tow Truck, Ambulance EMT, Ho-ing, Taxi Driver, Tagging, Secret Areas, CD Collection, Drive-By, and Mugging are just gone from Saints Row The Third.

Why? Well, some could make the argument that a good deal of those aren't fun and don't fit into the story of a mogul who basically owns a city. And they'd probably be right. But find a replacement for them or tweak them to make them more fun instead of just cutting huge amounts of content.

I really enjoyed customizing your character with different fighting styles in Saints Row 2. You could pull off cool combo attacks in addition to using improvised weapons everywhere, like traffic meters and wooden barrels. And they take it all out in The Third for a worse melee system with no combos and the glitchy “finisher” button. I guarantee that the wrestling match would be more fun if they kept the old combo system.

Unlocking more rewards by completing Side Missions in Saints Row 2 was rewarding. It was admittedly annoying playing side quests just to progress the story. And even more annoying having character power-ups tied to some of the side missions, especially if the side mission wasn't fun. Why should I have to play Mayhem to make my character better? I don't like Mayhem. And Snatch is terrible.

Oops, I'm supposed to be praising Saints Row 2 here. Uh, just don't play that stuff if you don't want to! But then play them to unlock new missions and finish the game because you have to. Moving on.


This is the biggest reason why the Saints Row games won't be as good as 2. The story in Saints Row 2 was perfect. It's one of the few games to pull off the Playable Character being a villain. In their rise to the top, this character does some despicable things. They poison a rival with radioactive waste out of spite. They manufacture and sell hard drugs. They CONSUME hard drugs. They brutally decapitate another rival. They spray feces all over nice houses for some cash.

You do some ridiculous stuff in Saints Row 2, but there's also some story beats with true emotional impact. Like the infamous scene where Carlos is murdered, or when you kill your former boss for no good reason. The last one in particular shows how ruthless the Boss has become.

Each gang storyline has a buildup where you learn to really despise your rival, and a final confrontation where you kill them off in a satisfying way. There's buildup, and payoff. Even the sidequests have a small story behind them.

In Saints Row The Third, all of the gangs are a big conglomerate that fight against you. The bosses are defeated anticlimatically because there was no buildup. When Loren dies from having a giant ball dropped on him, I honestly don't know anyone who didn't say “That was it? The big boss guy just dies like that?”

Not only that, but the over-the-top elements of Saints Row The Third disconnect the player from any emotion. I really wanted to kill Maero after he tortured Carlos to death.

I didn't feel anything toward any of the bosses in The Third because the plot jumped around so much. It felt like there were large sections of story content cut out, giving the game a disjointed feel.

And now Saints Row IV seems to go in the direction of eliminating all the drama the series once had for sheer absurdity. That's not why I liked the game in the first place. The mixture of silly stuff and characters I actually cared for made it worth playing.

So, go back and play Saints Row 2. Ignore Saints Row IV and any future games in the franchise. They've peaked, and instead of improving on what they did right so many years ago, they'll just continue to get away from it and make strange “wacky” games with less and less content than the second game. But at least the gunplay and driving feels better, right?

Sigh.   read

11:25 AM on 07.22.2013

I Suck At Fighting Games: Tekken Tag Tournament 2

Here's some key links if you want to learn Tekken Tag Tournament 2:

TTT2 For Dummies

Avoiding The Puddle Text Tutorials

Avoiding The Puddle Video Tutorials

Most new fighting games are trying to strike the elusive balance of “easy to learn, difficult to master”. Ideally, the game has mechanics that are intuitive enough to understand instantly, or have a tutorial that's so thorough that new players will understand. Then, the depth of the game emerges naturally through learning matchups, combos, and your own character's unique abilities.

This happens to be a game that I found hard to learn, and even more difficult to master. It'll kick your ass at the start, but once you start to understand how the game works, it rewards you every step of the way.

The first thing that immediately caught my attention when watching Tekken gameplay were the crazy characters. There's Black Disco Stu, a kangaroo, a bear, a robot maid, and so many other characters that are very far out of the traditional fighting game archetypes.

Really, seeing that Snoop Dogg has his own stage and wrote a song for the game was a big selling point for me.

The craft put into this huge cast of unique characters carries over to the rest of the game. Menus are very clear on what options they provide and load quickly, the graphics in game are incredibly detailed and even include small touches like characters getting dirt on them as they fight, and the soundtrack is a fine combination of rock, trance, and dubstep.

Watching gameplay for Tekken, especially commentated ones, was a bit daunting at first. I try to watch a lot of footage of people playing the game to get tips and learn the ropes, but I was lost. Thankfully, the tutorial of Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is long, detailed, and has the exact amount of challenge I wanted.

Note: If you're watching Tekken tournaments with commentary, 1 and 2 are Left Punch and Right Punch. 3 and 4 are Left Kick and Right Kick. Took me forever to realize that.


The Fight Lab is one of the best tutorial modes in a fighting game right now. If you want to get into Tekken but are afraid of the high learning curve, I guarantee you the Fight Lab will help you out.

It's split into multiple chapters, each one focusing on a certain element of gameplay and ending with a boss battle. There's also a lot of text boxes for the “story” of the Fight Lab that actually give more detail into when and why you need to use certain techniques.

For example, the guarding tutorial starts off with lessons on how to block high and low attacks and escape throws. Then you're thrown into a gauntlet of color-coded enemies who will either attack high, low, or try to throw you. The lesson helps, but the real importance is getting to use your experience in an actual combat situation right away.

The Fight Lab doesn't hold your hand, either. You have a health bar, and some of the mission constraints are very strict. So you can definitely get knocked out and have to retry a stage, but you are also rewarded with bonus Gold (for customization) if you do very well.

Even as I began to understand the game more, I frequently revisited the Fight Lab to replay older missions and hone my skills by shooting for higher ranks.

One of the most daunting things I've experienced as a new player to fighting games is “Who do I pick?” Especially in games with huge rosters such as this one. I want to try out every character and see if I like the way they handle, but it's not realistic with a lineup of 55 characters. So I took the advice of a beginner's guide and just picked who I liked.

What I would recommend doing first, unless you are 100% sure who you want to play, is going into Arcade Mode, choose Solo, and pick a character you think is cool. I started off with Lili and it happened to be a good choice. Something about the character just “clicked” and I felt like I knew how to play as them effectively in a short amount of time.

Once I found my main character, I jumped into Practice Mode and learned her key moves. You want to learn all of your character's launchers, Bound moves, and moves that allow you to tag to your partner after they connect. Luckily, there is a Command List that has an icon next to all of these moves. You'll want to practice their Sample Combos as well, which the command list also includes along with video demos.

I probably harp on this a lot but EVERY FIGHTING GAME SHOULD HAVE IT. Command Lists and move demos are invaluable for new players and even veterans who want to make sure they're doing the moves correctly!

Now, how do you actually play this game? To simplify most of what I learned...AIR COMBO. A lot. Here's your general game plan in Tekken Tag Tournament 2:

1.Launch your opponent

2.Do a short combo that ends in a Bound attack

3.Tag your partner in

4.Combo again

Ideally, you want to do this as much as you can to drain your opponent's lifebar because they can't do anything about it. You can't block while you're getting punched in the air, you see.

In's not that simple. Speaking as a beginner, this game can be frustrating as hell. Advanced players will pop you up in the air, juggle you, and carry you into the corner where you get hurt even MORE. Air combos don't typically do a lot of damage, but they carry you towards the wall and wall combos HURT. So it gets disheartening to spend what feels like most of the round in the air: you can't do anything about it.

The emphasis on juggles is why Tekken was a game I initially overlooked because it looks like you spend too much of a round being helpless. I'll admit I was a little biased. Still, persistence pays off and there are ways to counter being juggled. If you don't have great defense or spacing, people online will BEAT it into you. So while the game looks crazy as hell, the spacing is so important. You can almost never just rush in and go crazy. Patience is the key to winning most rounds.

Backdashing is an important tool to establish space, but has a recovery period at the end that can be easily punished. One thing I didn't quite get the hang of was backdash canceling, which lets you get some breathing room but is much safer than a normal backdash.

I felt like sidestepping in this game was less useful than in other 3D fighters, only because so many moves track. They'll hit you regardless of your position, so I didn't feel a need to use them that often.

Tekken Tag Tournament 2 turned out to be a game where I spent more time than expected just working on movement: sidesteps, dashing, dash cancels, and jumping. It took some getting used to because it's very different from Virtua Fighter, but I think the controls feel great. I've quit playing fighting games before because the characters feel awkward or unresponsive to my inputs, but TTT2 does not have that problem.

There are a few minor issues have with Tekken. There are a couple of Free Moves (like God Hand!) that every character can do. On wakeup you can do a big springboard kick that has a lot of startup frames and covers a lot of space. If you can break into a full sprint, you can either tackle or do a slide that knocks down. Also, hopkicks are a universal launcher for everyone (I think everyone has it?) that you can do by jumping and inputting Right Kick. I don't know if everyone has these moves though, as the game or tutorial doesn't explain what they are or how to do them. Throws and how to throw break could have been explained in more detail because they are more complicated than they seem: each character has a 1+3 and 2+4 throw that you must input a certain button to break. Then there's air throws, wall throws, and tackles that require a certain input to break. The tutorial doesn't go in-depth enough with what seems like a pretty complex throw system!

Save yourself some grief and read this tutorial, but I do wish they would explain these things in the game.

[u]What I Liked:[/u]

-A fantastic tutorial for beginners and experts. It teaches you all the things you'll need to know, and then gives you a tough pop quiz to make sure you know how to do them.

-Presentation. The music is great, the characters are cool, there's a huge amount of customization, the menus are smooth, and the character endings aren't even constrained by the game's art style.

-Very challenging to get into, but extremely rewarding once you begin understanding the systems.

[u]What I Didn't Like:[/u]

-Long load times in some occasions
-Random lag spikes online
-Tutorial doesn't explain some of the more obscure aspects like backdash canceling, free moves, and throw escapes

Tekken is a tough series to get into for a newcomer. You won't get any lucky wins here, you'll have to earn them. And while it's frustrating initially to just feel like you're getting juggled to death, the reward of unleashing your own air combos is very much worth it.

I feel like this is one of the few fighting game series that hasn't changed significantly over the years, so if you were good at Tekken before you will probably still be good at Tekken. I hear the movelists for characters don't change much between releases, so I'm probably going up against people who have been with their characters for years.

It'll take a long time to get to a position where I feel I'm truly “good” at the game, but I think it's worth it. The game does one thing very right: it just FEELS good when you hit someone. Like you actually hit them and not just a hitbox. There are a few strange elements with “flop” stuns where you're comboing your opponent's legs and not them, but it still feels pretty satisfying.

As a beginner, I'd recommend Tekken Tag Tournament 2 to beginners. It's rough at first, but if you stick with it it'll pretty much beat the fighting game fundamentals of better spacing and better blocking into your head. It's a long road to getting good at Tekken, but a road worth traveling.


3:27 PM on 06.04.2013

I Suck At Fighting Games: Ultimate Fighting Game Tournament 9

All pictures from Xensin. I found the link at Check it out, they're really great!

Last year, I bought Skullgirls and this heavy $200 arcade stick. I couldn't really play against many people online back then, but I kept myself busy by learning how to play each of the several fighting games that came out that year.

I've been able to play online with more regularity recently, thanks to getting a fiber-optic internet...thing. I have no idea how it works, I just know I can play fighting games online mostly lag free. So after training as well as I could, I got the crazy idea to go to my first tournament ever.

As I've said in previous blogs, the experience of playing online is hardly comparable to playing locally. I've had very few experiences playing games locally, and by that I mean “I have played Skullgirls against one of my friends a handful of times”. So the pressure of playing when you're sitting right next to someone, with a group of people behind you watching and talking is way higher than “if I lose, I'm gonna rank down”. So I'll go into each game I entered, and what it was like playing it against someone sitting right next to you.


Persona 4 Arena:  I might have psyched myself out a little bit before playing this game. I saw someone else playing my main character Kanji, much better than I can play Kanji. So I knew this person was in my pool, and I really didn't want to lose to them and make a fool out of myself. I ended up only playing a handful of casual matches before my actual pool began.

First game, I took a few rounds but ultimately lost. It was against a player who was clearly WAY above my level and played a character I had a terrible matchup against. So I didn't feel too badly about it.

The next game, I won handily against a player who was clearly better than me, but I could tell that he wasn't on top of his game. I think he just played a game and lost, so he was a little rattled and messing up where he normally wouldn't. Of course, I'm not too great either and my win was pretty sloppy. I could hear the Kanji player behind me talking trash about my play, which kinda made me feel bad. I haven't fully gotten over tournament nerves, so I was dropping what little combos I knew. Still, I'll take it.

The last game, I was playing against a player who I recognized from the Marvel vs. Capcom 3 community. I've seen him on the internet! But I didn't get starstruck or anything, because that would only make me nervous and make my chances worse. By this point, I didn't care that people were watching just a few feet behind me. But I DID feel stupid when I lost...badly. Kanji works best at close range and has few options when far away. His character was Yukiko, a zoner who kept me at basically full screen and chipped away at my life until I died. I got frustrated while being juggled and comboed with no way to retort, but didn't give up. I think I took one round but was thoroughly beaten, and with that, I was eliminated.

Divekick: This game seemed to be incredibly popular throughout the whole tournament, and had an E3 style booth setup as well as a table to play casual matches. And while I've unfortunately heard a lot of complaining about this game online, I feel like everyone should play Divekick. It might change their mind on it.

Divekick is a simple game, but even with two buttons each character is incredibly unique in terms of special attacks, movement, and hitboxes. I played a lot of this game before and my pools to find which characters I liked. I ended up settling on Mr. N and Markman. There are character-specific matchups, but the tiers aren't so wide that there are “top tier” and “worthless” characters. What impressed me the most about this game is that it captures the essence of fighting games: reading your opponent. In most fighting games you want to get your opponent to do something, or wait for them to slip up so you can hit a combo and do huge damage to them. In Divekick, one hit ends the round. So you spend the entire game waiting for your opponent to slip up, or scaring them into a situation that's advantageous to you. It's tough to explain, but after a few matches I completely understood it. At their core, fighting games are about reading your opponent and trying to predict what they will do. Instead of every match containing multiple instances of this guessing game, Divekick rounds only contain one. It's really tense, and really fun.

Anyway, I did somewhat well in this tournament! Didn't get out of pools, but I beat a fair amount of people and even “frauded” two of them (when you win five rounds to zero). By the time I was eliminated, I got a good amount of experience, and even got some direct training on how to play Markman by the tournament organizer (Thanks Keits!). I'll definitely be picking up this game when it comes out.

Skullgirls: Holy crap, I did terribly in this game. I mean, I had an idea of how bad I was (because I lose every online match I play), but it was even harder to deal with in person. I played three matches and didn't take a single round from anyone I played. Didn't even get close. I did play a couple casual matches afterward, but didn't do any better or learn much from it. Then again, I didn't know where to start as "how do I get my ass kicked less?" doesn't tend to lead anywhere. Oh well.

BaraBariBall: I entered this tournament because of the free entry, and was pleasantly surprised when I finally got my hands on it. First of all, this game should have had some more exposure. Until the finals there was only one table with two setups to play on, in the back of the ballroom. It's a really fun game, a combination of Super Smash Bros and...whatever sport it is where you have to dunk a ball into the opponent's pool of water.

Luckily I shared a hotel room with two experts of the game and learned a lot of tactics from playing with them. I beat a few people in the tournament but was ultimately eliminated. Like Divekick, it's a game that's simple to pick up but takes a certain amount of skill to master. It is very accessible, but practice and character knowledge pays off.

Here's a video of the aforementioned experts playing to better illustrate what it's like.

Mystery Game Tournament: This was really special, and something that sets UFGT apart from other fighting game tournaments. There was a small setup of three TVs near the main stage where you entered into a tournament playing...something. At seemingly random intervals, the tournament organizers would switch the game to something different. I saw Sonic Adventure 2 Battle being played, Virtua Fighter Kids, weird, obscure fighting games I had NEVER heard of, and Hydro Thunder during my pool.

To sum up how strange and fun this tournament was, one of the finals matches was Soul Calibur 2 on DDR pads. It's that real.

I had way too much fun and laughed way too hard while playing these weird games, and I will be entering the Mystery Game Tournament for sure at next year's Ultimate Fighting Game Tournament. Here's a video of the Grand Finals, where you can really see how most matches go: players scrambling to find out how to play before eventually figuring it out and putting on a really hype match.

Since I was eliminated from every game I entered by Sunday, here are some other things I just wanted to note.

CHECK-INS: Remember to be early for your tournament pools, everyone. Because sometimes they'll pronounce your name wrong and it takes longer for you to check in than everyone else. Most people don't use the term "perfidious" in normal conversation, you see.

MARVEL VS. CAPCOM 3: I watch a ton of streams, but I've never actually seen this game being played in real life. Holy crap, it is fast and flashy. The streams really don't do it justice. After watching some matches, I see why people get so into this game: it's like it was created specifically to draw attention and excitement.

People got REALLY serious about this game too. While I was in Divekick pools I heard some guy yelling at the station behind me. Turns out a full-on argument about the game/car ownership had broken out and he was getting REALLY upset. So upset that photographers rushed over to capture a possible fight breaking out. And during finals, another fight almost happened on the main stage!

Myself and a lot of other players talk a lot of trash about Marvel vs. Capcom 3, but I understand now why people get so into it and why it's considered the most hype fighting game out. I probably won't play it ever, but I understand.

FUN & GAMES: While I had some downtime, I checked out this fun little diversion. Located near the back of the ballroom, there were three $1 entry non-video games to play for fun and profit. Yes, games where you actually had to interact with people IRL.

If you won any of these games, you get a raffle ticket and a lot of “doubloons” to cash in for prizes at the prize table. To make sure everyone had fun (and kept giving money to play!) they even gave losers a small amount of doubloons. Basically, you messed up if you left this tournament without getting SOMETHING from that prize table.

I spent most of my spare cash playing Divekick 21, a blackjack variant where you basically have hit points and can pass undesirable cards to others. So while my first few games were pretty amicable, some people want to play a little rough. That means DIRECTLY BUSTING OTHERS BY HANDING THEM CARDS in blackjack. It was really fun, and I even won a game!

I played a friend in Balrog Ball as well, which I can't describe but reminds me of a similar ball-rolling game that I played at Magic Mountain years Street Fighter. The important thing is, I beat him and got another raffle ticket and some more doubloons.

I didn't win any of the raffles but left with a cool UFGT9 mug full of candy, and a small, fancy glass (also full of candy). I hope the Fun & Games tables return next year, as they're a great way to kill time between your matches. Or just hang out...I swear I saw some people just playing these games the whole tournament and never saw them play a video game. It was that good.

THE CROWD: This is another reason why I want to go to more tournaments. You really can't get the same energy watching a stream than you can watching these players live while sitting in the crowd. These people were absolutely hilarious. A man of questionable sobriety with a funny hat spent $100 combined in character auctions for Injustice and Marvel vs. Capcom 3, only to lose immediately and get mocked by the announcer on stage. But he won a raffle later so it's all good.

Audience members pulled out money to bet on an impromptu rock-paper-scissors match. People not only react loudly to someone pulling off flashy combos in a game, but yelling along with the characters on screen as they did super moves! My personal favorite being a few upstanding citizens yelling “FUCK YOU!” as Lobo flips off his opponent.

I also noticed that after every match I played, a handshake (or fist/elbow bump if you're germaphobic) is customary. Even if it was the most rage-inducing match ever, you shake hands. It's just a video game, in the end.

This match is pretty incredible to watch, but being there and hearing the crowd lose their minds at the conclusion made it unforgettable.

There's so much more to add, but I'll wrap it up here. Next year, I want to go back, improve my game, and bring my own console to play Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown with others. I saw some people playing it in the Bring Your Own Console area but didn't have time to join, unfortunately.

Going to a tournament was a humbling experience, as I learned that I'm nowhere near as good in any of these games as I thought. I have a long way to go, and I won't excuse it by saying “well, I spread myself too thin by playing too many games”. Nope! It gave me the drive to learn more and compete even harder in the future.

If you're even remotely interested in fighting games, go to a tournament. It was expensive for me, but it was worth it. I can't say what you'll get out of it, but what I got was a renewed interest in the games, and the motivation to improve myself even more as well as attend local tournaments.

It showed me, for better or worse, what games I really want to put more work into. At this point I'm still playing Persona 4 Arena regularly, I've gotten back into Virtua Fighter 5 Final Showdown as pretty much my “main” game and am playing it a lot, and I got so discouraged by losing in Skullgirls that I haven't touched it since...I don't know about that one now. We'll see.

So, thanks to Keits and his staff for making the tournament run smoothly and providing TONS of extra stuff to do outside of competition. Thanks to all those Godlike Sundays guys for sharing a hotel room, being hilarious and fun to hang out with, and keeping me up at 4 AM playing Capcom games, damn it. And thanks if you read this. Hopefully I've sold you on seeing a side of the fighting game community most casual players don't see.

I'm still playing all the fighting games I can get my hands on, too. I've got Tekken Tag Tournament 2, Street Fighter X Tekken and Injustice to work through so one of those will be up next.


9:23 AM on 05.22.2013

100 Percent Later: Saints Row The Third

Even though I'm sure you're cool and already finished this game, EXPECT SOME SPOILERS HERE.

A few days ago, I completed a gaming goal that I was working on since late 2011. My goal was to get 100% completion on Saints Row The Third, including every single Achievement. It took a lot of time, more money than I expected thanks to downloadable content, and it was completely worth it.

I'm not really gonna talk about the process of getting 100% completion, because the end of that writing would be “and then I did donuts in an airport for 40 minutes”. That's not really the point. I want to talk about why I decided to revisit the game and finish those last few percentage points.

I've been a fan of the Saints Row series since the first game, and was completely enthralled by Saints Row 2 back in 2008. So I was unbelievably hyped for Saints Row The Third, so hyped that I broke a years-long streak of not renting games in November 2011. I couldn't afford my own copy until the next year, but as soon as I got it I literally did not want to put it down. I convinced friends to buy copies to play co-op, I downloaded and uploaded characters to, I even hunted down all the original music in the game and obsessively tried to find out who composed it.

Well, I say that last one as if I'm not still doing it every single day. But I digress.

So, I liked the game so much that I didn't want to play anything else. Why not play it to completion then? To the point where I could say “this is one of my favorite games ever, and I've gotten everything I can get out of it”. And after a couple of years, I did.

Due to the unstoppable train of games coming out and a growing backlog, I knew I couldn't realistically play the game forever, as badly as I wanted to! So after completing the main story mode at least three times, I've pinned down why I like Saints Row The Third so much. It's not just a great game, I think it's one that other open-world games should be taking lessons from. Let me explain.

The Music

The licensed soundtracks in open world games rarely stand out to me, just like the radio in real life. This one, however, grew on me in a way I wasn't expecting. The KRHYME station introduced me to rappers I'd never heard of like Yelawolf and Robert Raimon Roy. It made me search out what good, new rap was coming out in 2011. 

I couldn't recognize any of the tracks on the electronica station by name, but they're all extremely catchy and great driving music. Continuing the trend from previous Saints Row games, the classical station is filled with the most recognizable songs of the genre. And Adult Swim has perhaps the best station in the game, spanning multiple genres and having genuinely funny ad breaks and DJ banter.

The radio isn't the best part though. The use of licensed music in missions is brilliant. This moment is made by the music: (open in Youtube, copyright won't let you watch the embed)

I was bored of Power by the time this game came out. Couldn't stand it anymore. It was in every movie trailer and every other video game trailer. This mission still gives me goosebumps because of how perfectly the music is used.

It isn't just the few setpiece moments either. As opposed to many open world games, the missions are neither dead silent nor “spiced up” by a radio song you've already heard one hundred times. No, there are original compositions everywhere in this game, from mission music to a large variety of store tracks to excellent end of mission themes. The music is used so well in this game, and the effort put into using an ORIGINAL soundtrack in this type of game is admirable. Well, at least I think it's original. I've been sleuthing around for a while to see if it's just a lot of lesser-known acts that were licensed out, or if it was produced in house?

Volition, please respond to my emails on this. The people want to know.

The Economy

Every open world game gives you cash for completing missions, even if you don't know how or why you get it. What do you usually do with that cash? Buy more weapons and body armor. Saints Row The Third actually has reasons for you to seek out the cash, really good ones in fact!

It's easy to piss off rival gangs, so how about having safe spots everywhere? Buying stores gives you the security to call "base" whenever you jump into a store you own, getting all the heat off of you.

Buying stores also gives you an increase in the money you gain every hour, which lets you buy upgrades for your character more often. The steady increase in the amount of money you earn is balanced by the steady increase of prices for upgrades. Some skills are locked until you get enough experience, and since main story missions typically give you loads of experience, the game subtly nudges you to keep doing those.

You're encouraged to keep doing activities, build up your character, and drain your wallet all the time. It's one of the few games in this genre where money is really important, not just a way to get more ammo and guns after you die. The whole system is genius.

There's always something to do.

It's incredibly tough to put this game down, because there's something around every corner. A new sidequest, a building to buy, collectibles, enemy strongholds to bust up, in-game goals to progress toward, and so much more. Even if you're just wandering around aimlessly, you'll get calls to come help in a random turf war! 

Again, many open world games give you your main quests and a few scant side missions. Saints Row The Third is stuffed with content, and most of it is fun to do. And if it isn't fun, it's at least profitable due to that great economy. I find it difficult to play the game in short sessions because of the constant allure of "one more thing to do" being around every corner.

If Saints Row The Third isn't the best open world game I've ever played, it's damn sure in the top 3. Forgive the cheesiness here, but I feel like completing the game fully is a way of showing appreciation. Like, “thanks for making one of my favorite games ever, Volition”. I rarely take the time to perfect a game and I've never been a hardcore Achievement seeker, but when a game is this special and still fun to play multiple times, it's worth it.

Getting that last Achievement was a little bittersweet. I felt a bit sad after uninstalling the game, but I guess it's natural to feel that after letting go of something that's been a part of your life for years.

I'll probably replay this game in the future, but it's time to move on to other things. I'm hoping Saints Row IV gives me the same feeling as this game did, but there's a lot to be skeptical about in the upcoming sequel. That's a discussion for another time, however.

If Saints Row IV misses what makes The Third such incredible fun, I'm hoping that other developers played this game and took notes. Because I'd love to play another game worth perfecting, no matter where it's from.   read

8:16 PM on 02.18.2013

I suck at fighting games, so I'm going to a tournament.

Around this time, I would usually be posting a blog about the latest fighting game that I've tried out and how I'm bad at it and stuff. Since my last blog about Dead or Alive 5, I've picked up both Anarchy Reigns and Street Fighter X Tekken. Anarchy Reigns is pretty unconventional but shares a lot of characteristics with modern fighting games. I'd like to write about it more in depth later.

Right now, the semi-regular schedule of this series is on hold. Instead of trying a lot of new games, I'm going to try to get much better at a few? Why?

I'm going to my first tournament.

Ultimate Fighting Game Tournament 9 is May 24-26, and I'm going. It's a Road To EVO event where the top players in each game get points that determine their seeding in the EVO tournament. It's a major tournament, and one that I can actually afford to attend, so why not?

Over the past few months, my ability to play head to head against people has been very limited. I wasn't able to play online in most games until just last month, and I have one friend to play Skullgirls locally that I can't visit as often as I'd like.

I'm going to this tournament because I want to see the other side of competitive gameplay. Playing fighting games in person is so different than playing them online that netplay vs. real life play feels like playing two different games.

No matter how perfect the netcode is, the fact that the game is being played over the internet always adds a bit of choppiness that changes how you play.

When I've played sitting right next to someone, you can see so many things you can't see playing online. You can predict your opponent's movements. For example,I tend to expose myself a lot by mashing the double QCF input REALLY early in Soul Calibur 5. No one online can tell I'm mashing quarter circles like my life depends on it, but they can sure as hell hear it when I'm mashing it while sitting right next to them. Then block it. Then kick my ass.

Here's the games that will be featured at UFGT9, and the ones I've entered in bold.
Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3
Super Street Fighter 4 Arcade Edition ver 2012
Tekken Tag Tournament 2
Street Fighter x Tekken ver 2013
King of Fighters XIII
Mortal Kombat 9
Persona 4 Arena
Mystery Game Tournament ver 2013
Divekick ver 2013
Soul Calibur V
Vampire Savior (aka Darkstalkers 3)
Vampire Hunter (aka Night Warriors: Darkstalkers Revenge)

I like Soul Calibur V, but I'm not very confident in my skills with it yet so I didn't enter. Maybe next year!

The Mystery Game Tournament sounds crazy. From what I've heard, it could be literally any game. That sounds like something you don't get in regular monthly tournaments.

I'll be playing BariBariBall, which isn't a fighting game but looks fun anyway.

Divekick should be an interesting tournament as well. If you've never played it before, you should when it is released on PC, PS3, and Vita this year. It's simple and only requires two buttons, but it also encapsulates everything fighting games are about.

So for now, I don't plan on buying more fighting games because I gotta focus. I don't think I'll get too far in any of the games I'm entering because I'm not very good. But this is an essential part of getting better at these games. You want to play people who are better than you, because that'll expose all of your bad habits and show you what you need to practice the most.

I'm hoping this experience will give me that, but I'd be fine with just meeting a lot of cool people and playing these games locally, which I almost never get to do.

If anyone has any training tips for the games I'm playing, I'd fully welcome them. If you want to play on 360, I could always use the practice.

And if you're going to UFGT9, let me know!   read

10:01 AM on 01.09.2013

EVO 2013 Lineup: Why do you care?

Before I even started playing fighting games, I had a strong interest in the complexity of the games. I spent way too much time listening to friends discuss tactics and character balance in terms I could only slightly understand and sitting in front of Twitch streams in awe and confusion of the best players in the world competing.

I had always been aware of the Evolution Championship Series, because, well, it's HUGE. Even someone with a passing interest in fighting games could hear about EVO, it's like the Super Bowl, Stanley Cup, and World Series all mixed in one. Only with a little bit less physical violence than football, baseball, and hockey.

So, while I haven't seen the community firsthand yet by attending a tournament, I've been playing these games for several months now, trying to figure out which one I like the most. Last night I excitedly watched the Wakeup SRK stream to find out which games would be at EVO in 2013.

But why do I care?

Realistically, I won't be making it to EVO this year for a number of reasons. Financial reasons are the most obvious, but I don't even know if I'd go if I could afford it. Like I stated before, I've never been to any tournament for any fighting game. EVER. I've watched a lot of them on streams, but it's not the same as going.

Currently, I'm planning to attend the Ultimate Fighting Game Tournament in May, since it's the closest "major" tournament to my home and I actually know people in the city. It doesn't make sense to me to never attend any tournaments and then head to EVO as your first one. So I'll start small-ish.

So, if I'm not attending, why was I so interested in the game lineup at EVO, to the point of even cheering or being upset when certain games were announced? It doesn't really make sense if I'm not competing, right?

I'm watching the EVO stream for entertainment. So if I'm complaining about the free entertainment being provided to me, I think I'm being petty. I'll admit it. It's like having cable television and being upset that Honey Boo Boo is on. Just change the channel!

But in the moment, I was upset. I was irrationally angry that I would possibly be "forced" to see games I don't like on the stream, like Street Fighter X Tekken or My Little Pony: Fighting Is Magic. And I have no right to be upset. In hindsight, I was almost ashamed to read my reactions from last night. I was essentially getting upset over something I don't even have to see.

The interesting thing I've noticed about this fighting game community is a bizarre obsession with death. If a game isn't being streamed at weekly events, it "died". If a game has an unorthodox style in terms of either gameplay or visuals, it's pronounced dead on arrival because it'll never catch on. And the clearest sign of death is exclusion from EVO.

If your game is not being officially represented at EVO, it is dead. Pack it up, play another game.

On one hand, I can see why being represented at EVO is a HUGE deal. It's the one time of the year where the spotlight is intensely focused on fighting games, where millions of people will watch this competition, even if they know nothing about what's happening on the screen. I should know, I used to be there.

And the fear of death is getting pretty real these days. Check out this article:

Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown was dropped from the Wednesday Night Fights stream recently. Despite the best efforts of veteran players, the attendance levels for the tournament were too low to keep running actual tournaments.

That is how a game dies. When people stop attending tournaments, things in the game stop being discovered. These streams aren't run online, they are run because people show up to actual tournaments to compete in person. If that isn't happening, there won't be any tournaments to stream, and the game just...stops showing up.

So, why are the games at EVO there? Why did some of the picks make people upset? Let's look at the list first.

Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3
Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition
Tekken Tag Tournament 2
Mortal Kombat 9
Street Fighter X Tekken 2013
King of Fighters XIII
Persona 4 Arena

A few of those are givens. Marvel and Street Fighter are established as cornerstones of the EVO tournament to the point that it would be weird to NOT have them there. Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is there because at least one 3D fighter is needed, and TTT2 has been critically acclaimed as one of the best out there. King of Fighters XIII arguably had the biggest crowd reaction at EVO 2012, and the game has been evolving (terrible pun not intended) since.

Then it gets complicated.

Mortal Kombat 9 will be returning to EVO for its third year in the row. I noticed a lot of people angry about it because they dislike the game for being boring to watch, unbalanced, and seeing the same people in the finals of the tournaments each year.

Street Fighter X Tekken will be returning to EVO for its second year in a row. After last year's showing, some people were confused as to why the game even made it in the first place: it was released in an unfinished state and plagued with glitches, the on-disc DLC scandal and gem system made people dislike Capcom even more than they already did, and the tournament was played in a bizarre 2v2 format which didn't help the fact that many people found the game boring to watch.

Also one of the tournament organizers saying the game wouldn't be at EVO 2013 kinda made it seem like this wouldn't happen.

So, am I completely satisfied with the lineup at EVO 2013? Not exactly, but I understand why some games I like wouldn't make it in. And I also understand why the games I don't enjoy watching DID make it in. Mortal Kombat 9 has a large, dedicated community that runs plenty of tournaments on a regular basis. Street Fighter X Tekken is about to get a patch that changes or fixes problems that many people had with the vanilla build, and possibly a change of format would make for a very different-looking tournament than last year's. It still has a fair share of fans, probably more than most of us want to admit.

Games I'm personally attached to like Skullgirls, Soul Calibur V, and Virtua Fighter 5 have very small playerbases and wouldn't get enough entrants at EVO to justify putting it on the big stage: in terms of entertaining viewers and making good business sense, it's just not a good idea.

In hindsight, I shouldn't care enough to complain that my "favorite game" didn't make it to EVO. The best I can do is support the games I enjoy by attending tournaments and introducing new people to it. If your game didn't make it, I can guarantee that this is the most productive thing you could do. Get your game big enough to get recognized. Complaining about it may be cathartic, but it won't achieve your goal.

And if you're upset that a game you don't like is on the main stage, you don't have to watch. You don't have to change your game of choice to line up with what's on the main stage. You also can't change what's on the main stage.

The best thing to do, if you want your game to thrive, is to keep playing it. Get more people to play it with you. Try to attend tournaments. I know I will, because that would get a lot more done than my initial strategy of "complain on Twitter".

Or you could donate to a good cause in support of your game too!   read

9:28 PM on 01.06.2013

I Suck At Fighting Games: Dead or Alive 5

Part 6 of my attempt to confuse my own brain by playing a lot of fighting games in a short period of time.

Before I start talking about this game, I think I should point out that I'm not trying to be condescending when I make certain statements. It just so happens that the particular feelings I have about this game might sound that way, and you should know that I'm definitely not trying to sound like a jerk...even though I might anyway.

The sentiment of “I understand why you like this, but I cannot like it” is what I'm referring to. People seem to get offended pretty often when someone else says this, maybe because they feel like they're being patronized. Unfortunately, this is exactly how I ended up feeling after spending a good amount of time playing this game.

I see many of the reasons why people enjoy this game, but for a variety of reasons that might only make sense to me, I cannot enjoy the gameplay Dead or Alive 5.

I like a lot of things about Dead or Alive 5, and I feel like I should outline what those things are before I go on. Now, I've never played any games in this series, so jumping right into the Story mode is a great idea, right?

Of course it was! I enjoyed the Story mode of Dead or Alive 5 a lot, probably because most of it was just incomprehensible. It's obvious that this is a story that has been ongoing for years now since the very first game. I respect their commitment to keeping up the storyline, especially in contrast to other games in the genre which either have no story at all, or have a lackluster story you don't care about, SOUL CALIBUR V.

So, it was cool seeing this pretty lengthy story mode with fully animated and voice acted cutscenes and excellent music. I was oddly captivated by the worst anime cliches, uncomfortable incest subtext, and the best fight over a dumpling that I've seen in any video game:

From the perspective of an outsider, this was like stepping in on episode 50 of an anime series I've never watched before. It's so utterly predictable in terms of all the anime tropes it hits that it should be annoying, but due to the great production values and oddly charming works. It really shouldn't, but it works.

Starting off on the Story mode was also a good idea because it is the closest thing the game has to an actual tutorial. You play as most of the characters on the roster, so you're getting fight experience with them that will hopefully aid in picking a character to stick with. Also, each Story mode match has a bonus objective which gives you an element of the game's systems and lets you put it into practice.

This starts with things as simple as “Land Mid Kicks” and goes all the way up to teaching you how systems like Power Blow and Critical Burst work.

I like how the game teaches you in a hands-on manner. At the same time, I have a few problems with the teaching of the systems ONLY being in Story mode.

If you want to go back to see a lesson again, they are not clearly marked. The chapters are organized by character and name, but you cannot tell which chapter contains which lesson. I wanted to go back into the Story mode to practice Combo Throws. So to find what chapter contains the Combo Throws lesson, I had to look it up online. I don't think I should have to do that! Either label them clearly in your Story mode, or put a Tutorial option somewhere else in the game where they ARE clearly labeled.

You can only practice these tutorials while a pretty tough AI beats on you. I found myself getting knocked out sometimes before I could even complete certain tutorials because you're expected to defend yourself AND do commands which are sometimes, quite difficult.

By "tough AI" I'm mostly referring to losing to Christie EVERY TIME I FOUGHT HER

This is somewhat balanced by the game's Training mode, which is very well developed. It's easy to set up your AI opponent to do certain moves. For example, I had to set them to do every height of punch and kick because I wasn't going to go back into Story mode to try to find the mission that tells you that Forward+Hold is your counter against middle kicks.

The Training mode has every feature one could ask for in a Training mode. A wealth of options to customize every aspect of the AI's behavior, input display and frame details, and an option to jump directly into Command Training without a load time.

Command Training isn't perfect, however. At any time, you can click in the right analog stick to watch the AI demonstrate what you should be doing. I found myself needing this more than once on moves when the timing was unclear. The complaint I have is that I'm using an arcade stick, which only has one analog stick. And it's definitely not a right one. So if I needed to see a demo, as I often did, I had to have a regular controller handy to do so. Maybe it's the game's way of subtly telling me that I should be using a normal controller, but I tried and the arcade stick is more comfortable for me. Sorry!

Also, a few moves have notations that aren't entirely clear. What's the difference between white arrow and a black one? The game doesn't really tell you, so I had to find out for myself that white arrows mean hold this direction while pressing a button, and black arrows mean tap the direction and the button at the same time. What does it mean when a button has a white arrow on top of it? Or when they have smaller arrows stuck to the top-right or bottom-right of them? Well, I don't know and the game won't tell you. I assume that's something else I'd have to look up on the internet.

It may seem nitpicky but I have played other games that clearly spell out the notation for each arrow and allow you to view move demonstrations in Training mode even if you're using a non-standard controller.

This is one Command Training that I don't think I can ever finish.

My next few points get more into the territory of things that probably wouldn't bother me as much if I was a veteran of Dead or Alive games. Since I'm not, I just found a few things to feel weird to me in the gameplay. It's not something I expect everyone to relate to, but hopefully I can explain in more detail why this game doesn't feel natural to me.

When you hold back, you block. There is also a Hold button which blocks as well. This is a little redundant to me. Sometimes I don't want to block, I just want to walk backwards and put some space between myself and my opponent. However, the game is forcing me to block and move backwards really slowly, which doesn't help with the “putting space between us” part.

The Triangle System is what sets Dead or Alive apart from a lot of fighters. Holds beat Strikes, so if the opponent is attempting to Strike you, a well-timed Hold will deflect their attack and damage them. Strikes beat Throws, so if the opponent is trying to throw you, a Strike will often hit them first and cause extra damage. Throws beat Holds, so if the opponent has whiffed a Hold, you can throw them and get a damage boost from that as well.

In theory, I really like the idea of Holds. Few games have options to get out of long combos, and in some of them it can feel unfair as you get juggled through the air with no way to really stop it. Having a hard counter is a good idea in theory. In practice, Holds became necessary too often for my liking. Each character has a fair amount of moves that put you in a stunned state. You can't do anything in this state except Hold, and if you guess wrong you'll be very vulnerable, take extra damage, and possibly be juggled into the air where you are defenseless until you hit the ground. I started feeling like there was no reason to Hold unless I was put in a state where I could ONLY Hold.

I may be describing the system badly, but it's something that's about feel for me. I didn't feel like using Holds was necessary when it usually led to me messing up the Hold and taking extra damage. Throws seem to miss unless your opponent is a completely neutral state, but sometimes even that wasn't guaranteed, so I found myself using less Throws as I played more and more.

The Power Blow is a sort of super attack that any character can use once their health bar gets low enough. It has a long charging period where you are vulnerable, however. The move does a lot of damage and could be a legitimate comeback mechanic if you weren't so vulnerable during it. It's quite easy to predict when a Power Blow is being charged and either step out of the way or just hit someone out of it. Good idea in theory, but not in practice.

I like the ideas the game has, but when I was actually playing I found that the best option was to knock your opponent into the air and juggle them as much as I could. The combination of feeling bored by the gameplay and not finding any character that fit my playstyle may be something that only I experience. I am by no means saying Dead or Alive 5 isn't a good game. It's just not a game I can enjoy.

What I Liked:
-The ridiculous, hilarious, and surprisingly well-produced Story mode.

-The soundtrack. Half of it is so bad that it's good, and the other half is so good that it's great.

-The presentation. The character models all look great and the effect of them sweating and getting dirt on their clothes as they fight looks much better than expected. Each level having multiple stages and hazards makes fighting in them feel different, which is something that most fighting games don't have.

-Training Mode is one of the best in the genre and has every option you'd ever want.

What I Didn't Like:

-Some awkwardness in character movement. Throws seemed to miss when they shouldn't, holding Back to block and having a Block button seemed redundant. The Hold system in general.

-No dedicated tutorial mode, which meant hunting through the Story mode or looking up certain tutorials online.

There's a lot of this game that makes me wish I could like it. The characters are interesting and unique, the stage hazards add to the gameplay without feeling unfair, and that soundtrack is so awful. And so good. I will recommend playing this game if you have an interest in it, as I feel like it is accessible despite the slightly screwed-up method of teaching game mechanics. In the end, my dislike of the game came down to it feeling a bit clunky for me and not finding any character that “clicked”, and that's something completely subjective to me. In the end, it's just not something I could see myself spending a lot of time playing but I can see the appeal.

It's a weird feeling.

I'm running a little low on current fighting games that I'm interested in playing, so I'm thinking of a slightly different idea for the next time I do one of these. I'm thinking of playing an older game that isn't part of the current wave of fighting games. A lot of them came out in 2012, but there are a few games that came out before the current "wave" that I'm interested in. Or I'll just finally cover Street Fighter X Tekken. We'll see.   read

6:45 AM on 11.14.2012

I Suck At Fighting Games: Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown

Part 5 of my ongoing efforts to try a lot of fighting games until I find one I can get good at.

I know I go overboard on the background when I'm talking about these games sometimes. That's because I'm trying to gain some sort of basic understanding of it. All of the fighting games I've played so far have some basic connections but are EXTREMELY different. So even if I don't know what I'm talking about, I want to have some knowledge before starting.

What did I know about Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown before playing it?

It's really hard. The voice acting is terrible. And you can do somersault kicks.

I'm being introduced to this franchise late and unprepared. I'm running to Virtua Fighter 101 to take my final exam and I haven't even purchased my books or met the teacher yet. I'm going to stop making this terrible metaphor.

To put it simply, I've never played a Virtua Fighter game before. I had no knowledge of the characters, what the tiers look like, or even the hilarious inside jokes that I seem to miss out in EVERY fighting game. And as you know, the inside jokes are the best part.

So after downloading the game, I jump into the tutorial. There's a fair amount of characters, but I'm not totally overwhelmed by what I see. I picked Vanessa and began working down the list.

I feel like I'm picking up the basic concepts easily, and there are only three buttons (Punch, Kick, Guard), which makes it seemingly less complex than the last 3D fighter I played (not true). And the first thing I noticed is that this is an EXCELLENT tutorial. It teaches you every basic action in the game, AND advanced ones that I keep forgetting to use, AND they each include several pages of text so you'll know which situation to use these moves in.

At one point, the tutorial turns into Sparring Practice: a fight against an AI opponent. So I think “hey, they'll probably be just a punching bag. It's a tutorial after all!” NOPE. He whooped my ass! If I didn't have infinite life, I would've lost this TUTORIAL fight. That also stuck out to me: the AI is tough but fair. And if you don't take advantage of many tools you have, the game is not afraid to kick your teeth in. The tutorials get more complicated after this point, and I spent more time than I'd like to admit on the last two: they're hard.

After finishing the tutorial I headed into...Command Training? I love command training! I complained about Mortal Kombat not having it, and I was delighted to see it in Virtua Fighter.

It's something I think every fighting game should have, and after exploring how different each character is, I appreciated having the “flipbook” style training where you must complete a move before you go on to the next one. Really, my only issue with it is that only certain moves have video demonstrations. Some of the most difficult moves DON'T have an accompanying video, which just seems weird. It's like they chose the moves to record at random as opposed to demonstrating the most difficult ones.

The Free Training Mode is good enough for offering the ability to set your training dummy to be an AI controlled sparring partner and being able to tweak every single aspect of their behavior. What was interesting to me are the statistics you can put on the screen during training. I don't know what the hell most of them mean, but I'm trying to learn because they look really useful. “Detailed stats” appears as a pop-up on the screen that shows you execution, the amount of damage a hit does, and your advantage. I'm assuming having a positive advantage number (+20 for example) means you will recover to a resting state more quickly and be able to defend yourself, while a negative advantage is an “unsafe” move that leaves you open to counterattack from your opponent. Input display, I have no idea what the hell it is. It shows your inputted commands on the screen alongside numbers, and I just do not know what the numbers mean. If you can explain it to me in a way that I'd understand, that would be great.

The single player offerings in this game aren't too deep: Score Attack and Arcade are in pretty much every fighting game and are self-explanatory. Special Sparring is locked unless you buy all 2400 Microsoft Points worth of DLC, and since I'm not crazy, I didn't do that and don't know what it is.

Then there's the License Challenge mode, which is almost another form of training. Each Test is a set of five fights that have conditions for each match. If you lose a fight or fail to complete a condition, you're going all the way back to the beginning of the ladder. Tough, but fair.

Pictured above: the cause of nearly all of my License Challenge failures.

I say it's another form of training because they force you to use basic concepts of the game in a real fight. You need to guard X amount of moves in one. You need to perform a 3 hit combo in another. You need to remember to do Defensive Moves (sidestepping) and Offensive Moves (dashing forward during a sidestep) in a test I kept failing because I don't naturally use Offensive Moves.

Unfortunately, I can't play any games online. It sucks because I know the best test of skills in fighting games is against an actual opponent: learning to read their moves and behaviors is arguably more important than being able to string together a 30 hit combo. But the AI in Virtua Fighter is more than competent, it's actually quite tough. The enemies in License Challenge become more difficult as you rank up, and Score Attack opponents rarely give you a break.

The reason I mentioned so much training material is that the game seems to know it NEEDS it. This game is hard. Each character has a HUGE amount of moves to memorize, and most seem to have some kind of alternate stance with even more moves! My character Vanessa has offensive and defensive styles that can be easily switched between, but determining when I need to switch between these styles and remembering the moves on the fly is a lot to take in. The damage output in the game is high, so a few mistakes could lead to a very quick loss. You will almost certainly get destroyed if you don't know how to block properly, but blocking too much will open you up to getting thrown, and you do NOT want to get thrown in this game. It hurts.

So, it's difficult. It also prepares you for the difficulty with its vast training options. The amount of damage each character is capable of putting out in a short time is intimidating, especially if you're knocked off of your feet and juggled. On the other hand, the gravity is realistic so you usually can't be juggled for long, and there are lots of options for a quick ground recovery. Vanessa has a move that allows her to grab her opponent's legs from the ground and do a VERY painful grapple. It's pretty neat.

For the most part, you can't just combo someone to death in this game. There are too many recovery options to make it possible. You're rewarded more for being patient and finding the opportunity catch your opponent off their guard: rushing in and trying to launch a long string will almost always end badly because of how many defensive options every player has.

Despite not being able to play online, I'm drawn to keep playing this game. I find myself loading it up at least a couple times a week to do some more License Challenges and mess around in training mode to put together some sloppy combos. I keep playing this game despite not having the option to play online for now.

The only thing I worry about is it not having a long-term audience. I know IPLAYWINNER and 8WAYRUN host weekly tournaments featuring Final Showdown, but the game is 2 years old. I think it's a fine game, but will it be around next year? All I know is as soon as I can get online, I'm going to be all over that. I'm just hoping other people will be there.

Of course, a game that I really enjoy has to be the one that has already been out for several years. Great timing on my part.

What I Liked:
-Robust training options. Command Training, a Tutorial that covers EVERYTHING, and the fun License Challenges that force you to use the game's mechanics in combat. Even those input displays in Training Mode that I cannot decipher look useful!

-Tough AI. They never feel unfair, but they put up enough of a challenge to make single player feel rewarding.

-Fair gameplay. You can recover from being juggled easily, and since the damage output is high, mounting a comeback is always possible if you're skilled enough. It's not the type of game where you just get juggled, eat supers, and die. The only comeback mechanic is skill.

What I Didn't Like:

-Locking out an entire mode as DLC. There's no way to unlock customization items in the game without paying $30? Kinda crappy.

My complaints about the game have nothing to do with the core gameplay. It's incredibly solid all around and I want to keep playing it. Like I already said, once I can play online I will be playing this online A LOT. The game hits the perfect sweet spot of being “easy to pick up, but hard to master” and it's one of the few fighting games that would be perfect for someone new the the genre to pick up. It just teaches you everything you need to know and rewards you for putting in more time and learning the game.

Next time I'm either going to talk about Street Fighter X Tekken or Dead or Alive 5. Vote in the comments for which one you'd want to see! And I'll pretend like I haven't already bought both and decided!   read

1:08 PM on 10.15.2012

I Suck At Fighting Games: Mortal Kombat

Part 4 of my ongoing series, in which I try lots of fighting games to find one that I'm good at.

It's been a little too long since I've devoted some time to trying out another fighting game. I played Persona 4 Arena a lot, and enjoyed it thoroughly because of my appreciation of the Persona series. On the other hand, I haven't been playing it much recently because I burned myself out on it. I liked the Story mode but it was REALLY long. In fact, I played more Persona 4 Arena more than any other fighting game I've played this entire year just working through all that single player content. I'm still not sure if it's the game I'll be devoting a ton of time to in the future, but I've played too much of it to not come back at some point.

Since then I picked up another game I've been interested in for a long time. Mortal Kombat Komplete Edition was $20 at GameStop. That's a full game, four DLC characters, and that awesome Mortal Kombat movie from the 90s for 20 bucks? How could I not get that?

This always makes me laugh and I don't know why

Mortal Kombat was one of the first fighting games I ever played. Being a kid in the 90s, I looked at this game with intense violence and gallons of blood and said "I need to play this because my parents hate it!". And I did! Granted, I only played it in short bursts at a friend's house, but I still have memories of laughing hysterically at the ridiculous Fatality moves in the original game.

So, my first reason to pick up this game was my innate fondness of the Mortal Kombat aesthetics. I love the ridiculous violence, stupid costumes, and bone-crunching sound effects. The game just looks and sounds BRUTAL.

How is this not instantly fatal?!

The second reason I wanted to try this game? I was persuaded not to.

As I do with every fighting game I'm interested in, I watched a lot of videos and streams of the game before and after trying it. People in comments for the EVO 2012 Mortal Kombat matches HATE this game! Whether it be complaining about certain characters being cheap, being upset that such a casual friendly game is played in high-level competition, and worst of all, calling the game boring. I can't ignore such negativity.

I also know some people who were pretty negative about Mortal Kombat and as far as I knew, haven't played it. That's always been an interesting phenomenon I've noticed with gamers, especially those in the "fighting game community". They love seeing things fail. If a game didn't get the amount of entrants that you personally needed at a major tournament, it's dead, move on to the next one. If a game you don't like is being played it's dead and no one else should play it. When a new game of a similar style comes out, the old game is DEAD and we will all move onto the next game now (example: Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is out. Every other 3D fighting game must now be ignored. This is what people actually believe).

It's a unique form of pessimism that I'm not too keen on, so maybe I haven't been playing fighting games long enough. But I don't care to follow a trend and stop playing a game because someone on the internet told me it's dead. In fact, the negativity towards this game just made me want to play it more because that's just how my brain works.

Since I'm counting here's what games are dead right now:
-Dead or Alive 5 and Soul Calibur 5, because only one 3D fighting game is allowed at a time (Tekken Tag Tournament 2)
-Skullgirls, since it hasn't gotten patched and isn't at any major tournaments
-Mortal Kombat, because...they don't like it I guess
-Persona 4 Arena. A new Blazblue or Guilty Gear game is coming out so we're dropping P4A.

So, I'll stop ranting and talk about the actual game now.

There's a lot to talk about for this game, perhaps more than any game I've played for this series so far. There's a TON of content in Mortal Kombat.

After finishing the tutorial, the first place I went was the Challenge Tower. This isn't just a lot of increasingly difficult fights, it's full of unique match stipulations, mini-games, and activities that I don't think you can replay anywhere outside of the Tower. So far I've done Test Your Sight/Might mini-games, a pseudo shooter level, played matches where I could only use special moves or can only defeat my opponent while having half of my moves locked, and even had a rather pointless fight over a teddy bear. Seriously.

After progressing to a point where I got totally stuck in the Challenge Tower, I switched over to the Story mode. HOLY CRAP this is a great story mode! I don't know anything about the Mortal Kombat mythology as a whole, but this story mode felt like an abridged, yet slightly altered version of events that happened in past games. The graphics and overall presentation are superb; I especially enjoy the way cutscenes seamlessly transition into fights without a loading screen. The fights are generally without gimmicks as a contrast to Challenge Tower, but I was so enthralled by the story itself that I didn't care. I did have to drop the difficulty to Easy at one point to progress, but the fights are still significantly challenging on that difficulty. The 1v2 fights are still unfair and took many replays to pass, but the game even fixes this issue by subtly dropping the difficulty if you fail too much.

And I fail too much, so I definitely noticed that.

Then there's a whole Extras menu to explore. Every time you finish a fight in pretty much any mode, you get koins to use in the Krypt. This is where you piss your pants from jump scares unlock concept art, extra fatalities, codes to input before fights, music...more concept art. There's a ton of stuff to unlock, and therefore, a lot of reasons to keep playing. Since I cannot actually play online, I appreciate when a game gives me plenty of reasons to keep playing in single player, and Mortal Kombat has a TON of reasons to keep playing.

Now, I got all that out of the way because I need to discuss my issue with the game. It doesn't teach you how to play it very well. I'm probably spoiled by having playing games with really in-depth tutorials and combat training, but Mortal Kombat does not have that. And I think it could use that.

The game's tutorial teaches everything a basic tutorial should. What each of the five buttons do, how to perform special attacks, and the mechanics of the tag system. That's serviceable, but my issue with this is that it doesn't go far enough. There are over 30 characters in this game, and they often don't share commands. Besides the basic Crouch+Back Punch for uppercuts and Away+Back Kick for Sweeps, that is.
The tutorial teaches you Johnny Cage's pop-up move to begin Juggle Kombos but no one else's. You'll learn how to do special attacks for a few characters, but every character has several special attacks with pretty different commands. I think what this game really could have used was a command tutorial.

Trying to learn the moves of so many characters in training mode was a pain. I'd have to pause, look up the move or kombo, and unpause to try it out and hope I got it right. It's a simple process, but when I'm playing a new game I like to test out every character's capabilities and see who fits my playstyle the best. Doing this for every character in the game is immensely time consuming and could've taken much less time with a command tutorial.

There are also some quirks in Mortal Kombat that took getting used to. I've never played a 2D fighter with a block button before. The same basic principles for fighting games apply, you block high to avoid middle and high attacks, you block low to avoid low attacks. The thing that caught me off guard was that there are a LOT of overhead attacks (high attacks that must be blocked high), and a fair amount of combos that seemed to just break guards randomly. I never figured out why my guard would be broken on certain attacks or combos, and the game never mentioned guard breaking moves so I found myself getting frustrated when I got hit when I thought I was blocking correctly.

The combo system doesn't exactly work like any other game I've played. I got stuck on the combo section of the tutorial for a long time until I looked up this little tip: you have to input these combo commands as quickly as possible, or they will not work. It's strange to get used to and makes the character's movesets feel limited when you don't really experiment to get certain moves to link: if you're not doing the particular combo on the movelist and inputting commands as quickly as possible, it's not gonna work.

One unique Mortal Kombat element I did understand and immediately took a liking to was the way the meter works. It's not just a meter that lets you know when you can use your special attack. When it's full you CAN do a very damaging X-Ray move, but in some cases this might not be the best choice. You can use one chunk of this bar to use an Enhanced Special Move, which is just as it sounds: a stronger version of one of your special attacks. If you have two bars you can perform a Breaker to get yourself out of a combo, and this could turn the tide of the match. The meter also carries over between rounds. I wasn't expecting it, but this game has one of the smartest applications of a super meter I've seen. If you're about to lose, it might not be the best idea to save your meter for an X-Ray attack because you might get KOed before you can use it. On the other hand, the meter seems to go up more quickly for successful blocks and taking damage than hitting your opponent a lot, so you could use an Enhanced Special Attack or X-Ray as a comeback mechanic. The Breakers seem almost necessary when you're in the unfortunate position of being juggled in the air (which happened to me more than once in online matches.

What I Liked:

-A TON of content. Even if I don't see myself getting good at this game, I know I'm gonna keep coming back to it for a long time. Either to play some goofy fights in Challenge Tower, finish the incredibly-well done Story mode, or try to figure out the secret commands I can make my Avatar do in the online lobbies.

-The game's overall presentation. These characters aren't realistic but the sound effects are bone-crunchingly BRUTAL and these moves look like they hurt a lot. The X-Ray and Fatality attacks are a bloody hilarious spectacle that I never got tired of seeing.

-Unique application of the traditional Super meter. The X-Ray meter can be used as a comeback mechanic since it builds faster for taking damage than attacking, but if you're taking too much damage you'll just be dead. Breakers are a good risk-reward spending of meter because it can get you out of trouble but usually leaves the bar empty. Enhanced Special Attacks do extra damage but can easily be blocked if you use them incorrectly.

What I Didn't Like:

-The training and tutorial modes don't go far enough. You learn a few special attacks and key elements of the game from the tutorial mode, but it leaves out a lot and would be better served with a full command training mode. They even split some more basic training elements away from Training/Tutorial and put them into the Challenge Tower, which doesn't make much sense. Since every character is different in terms of some basic commands and Special moves, why not put in a mode to help me learn these moves better?

-The fact that you need to input most combos as quickly as possible to do them successfully. It makes the combat system feel a bit more stiff and not open to exploration.

-Difficulty in single player modes, especially Story mode, was pretty harsh. Even on Easy some of the fights seemed unfairly difficult.

I left Mortal Kombat feeling a little conflicted. I love the game's presentation and single player modes, but I don't feel like the game ever gave me the tools I needed to get any better than mediocre at it. I passed a lot of Story mode and Challenge Tower but felt like I was kinda flailing through it, and my online fights were ALL miserable failures. It would take me a lot of time to get better at this game, and some research outside of the game to do so. And while I do like the game, I don't think I like it ENOUGH to do this. That could just be my problem though. I had fun but the game isn't very friendly to newcomers.

Since I have an admitted preference for 3D fighters over 2D fighters, I've bought Virtua Fighter 5 Final Showdown and will probably get Dead or Alive 5 soon. It'll take a bit more time to learn the systems of new fighting games while so many other good games have been coming out this year, but I'll keep at it until I find the one game that I'll get really good at. Unfortunately I don't think Mortal Kombat will be that game, but there's so many more to try. Seriously, what's up with fighting games this year? There's like a million of them...but there are worse problems to have than "there's too much stuff to play", right?   read

4:38 PM on 08.25.2012

I Suck At Fighting Games: Persona 4 Arena and things you already knew

Part 3 of my ongoing series of trying and failing miserably to get good at any fighting game.

It's been a while since I've written one of these. My immediate positive reaction to Soul Calibur V lead me to try more 3D fighting games, and since then I've gotten a little better at that game and I'm trying to learn Virtua Fighter V. I've learned the "keypad" notation which I can't explain well here...just look at this. It's useful to know, I promise.

Before I get into what game I'm playing now, I have some advice for anyone else who is trying to get good at fighting games. If you're as green as I am, it could help probably!

1. Watch your game. Get on, get on Youtube, and find gameplay commentaries of tournaments, casual play, whatever. This has helped me so learn games faster than I ever expected I could. By watching REALLY good players in Soul Calibur V, I learned some tricks to try out with my characters and how to improve my game. It helps even more if there are knowledgeable commentators who explain the tactics at play. It won't automatically give you muscle memory that you'll need to do the crazy combos they're pulling off; that just comes with a lot of practice. But in my experience, watching gameplay helped me learn things about fighting games I never would have just discovered on my own.

2. Don't force yourself to play a character. You should never pick your character based on tier or someone else's opinion on them. These games have a lot of characters with a lot of different moves, and you should try them all out to find out which one suits your style the most. And even when you find one that "clicks", try some more to see if they do too. Not every character makes sense to every player, and you shouldn't focus on becoming a master at all of them. Find the one that suits you best and practice with them until you're awesome.

So, back to the game I'm currently addicted to!

I don't know if you knew this about me, but I love Persona 4. It has a permanent place on my top five favorite games of all time list and I would legally marry it if that were possible. My fondness for that game, and knowledge that Persona 4 Arena continues the story of Persona 4 sealed the deal. I HAD to buy this game.

Persona 4 Arena was developed by Arc System Works, the developers of BlazBlue. At least, that's what I've heard. To be honest, I know very little about BlazBlue and Guilty Gear and I don't really care to play them. Those games seemed incredibly complex and impenetrable before I was even trying to get good at fighting games, and they still do now. I also don't care for the company's tendency to release multiple iterations of BlazBlue in seemingly short time periods AND put DLC characters in's just a little off-putting to me.

I probably just lost all my street cred for dissing BlazBlue so bad. As if I had any in the first place.

On the other hand, Persona 4 Arena has excellent character design AND understandable gameplay. It's complex, but not overwhelmingly so. A big part of that is the multiple learning tools the game gives you.

I've said it before, but I love when fighting games actually try to teach you how to play them. These games are really complicated, and I want them to explain what the hell is happening in as much detail as possible. I praised Skullgirls for doing this, and Persona 4 Arena does it even better.

The first learning tool they give you is Lesson Mode. For a four button fighter, there are a LOT of commands to remember in this game. The Lesson Mode gives you all of them and has helpful text boxes that tell you why you should use these moves. I still haven't fully learned how and when I should be using certain techniques (the short hop and One More Cancel in particular), but I'm glad the developers went out of their way to explain why these things are useful.

I like how the commands are universal for each character, so even though there are a lot of things to keep track of, you always know what's going to happen when you press buttons. Your top two buttons are always gonna roll, even though every character has a different roll length. 236236 (double quarter-circle forward)+C/D is always gonna be your normal Super, and 214214 (double quarter-circle back)+C/D is always gonna be your Awakened super. Even though it works differently for everyone, B+D is always gonna be your Furious Action. And so on.

The second learning tool the game gives you is Challenge Mode. Each character has 30 challenges that get more difficult as they go on. These challenges are basically a list of combos every character can do. So not only does the game teach you basic concepts that apply to every character, it gives you tips on how to play them and goals to strive towards. I can do at least 20 challenges for each character so far, but some of them took a long time to get down and took a lot of practice. It's really rewarding to get the big "CLEAR!" message when I finally finish a challenge I've been grinding out for an hour, and as I'm doing these, I'm understanding how to use every character better. And since the roster is small, it is feasible to get a basic understanding of how everyone works and what combos you can reliably pull off with them.

How To Play Mitsuru: Always use this move.

The final learning tool the game has is a fantastic training mode. You can set the dummy to multiple states like jumping, blocking, etc. You can even record the dummy's behavior and play it back, which I've used to learn how to avoid certain attacks that always hit me. Like Mitsuru's Furious Action. Damn that move.

I won't really talk too much about the Story mode besides that I'm enjoying it a lot. There are some weird discrepancies between the stories though, because it is a tournament and not EVERYONE can win in the tournament. Therefore the endings for each character are different, and it's tough to tell WHO was really fighting that final boss or who truly "won" the tournament. Maybe it's because I haven't unlocked the True Final Path of Truth yet.

I can't speak about the Story mode in a wholly unbiased manner either. I can say that if you like Persona 4, the Story mode is a sequel to it and you need to see it. If you don't like Persona 4, maybe skip the Story mode. I think it's good, but if I didn't like Persona so much I would get annoyed at reading so much text and fighting so little. Luckily Arcade mode condenses the talking and has a lot more fighting, so that might be a good single player choice if you're not a crazy person who played Persona 4 for thirty-eight weeks.

To sum it up, and putting most of my feelings about Persona aside, I think this is a great game. It has many more options than most: Art Gallery, Sound Test, a RIDICULOUSLY LONG (for a fighting game) Story mode, Challenges, and lots of sweet unlockables. As someone who had never played a 4-button "anime" fighter in the past and is still pretty new in the world of fighting games, it does an excellent job of teaching you the basics with the Lessons, Challenges, and very detailed Training mode. Highly recommended if you're new to the genre or an old pro. It's just a really good game.

What I Liked:

-Lesson Mode and Challenge Mode actually doing a LOT to teaching how to play the game. If you're new to fighting games, this is one to check out. It'll ease you right in.

-Consistent rules for every character. Everyone shares the same commands for certain attacks/actions (Evasive moves, Sweeps, Furious Actions) and super moves. SP Skills are almost always Double Quarter Circle Forward (236236) + C/D, Awakened SP Skills are almost always Double Quarter Circle Backward (214214) + C/D, Furious Actions are always B+D, etc.

-It's a sequel to Persona 4!

-For the most part, the gameplay is pretty fair. You can Burst out of seemingly endless combos to get some breathing room if you need it. When your health gets low enough you get some extra meter and access to a REALLY powerful super move that could change the tide of battle. Throw escapes are really easy, and the game even tells you if you were blocking a move incorrectly so you know to do it right next time.

Even the Instant Kill mechanic (yes, there is an Instant Kill) is mostly for the person who is already going to win. Even then, it is possible to miss it so it's not even guaranteed.

Oh, and can I talk about how cool the Instant Kill is for a moment? Not only is the character doing some intense, visually ASTOUNDING attack, it plays that awesome final boss song from Persona 4. It's a strong candidate for the "HYPEST SHIT EVER" Award.

What I Didn't Like:
-Even as I'm having a huge fangasm about the Story mode, it really is a TON of reading. It's a cool story, but perhaps a poorly delivered one. And it's full of plot holes.

-THE MUSIC DOESN'T LOOP. For a game with such fantastic presentation in terms of visuals and audio, why is this even a problem? It's not a problem in any other fighting game I've ever played. The music just fades out and restarts from the beginning, as if it's a one-song CD with no Repeat function. It's a little annoying in Story mode but TERRIBLE during fights. Those awkward moments of silence before the song starts again. Wow. Terrible.

-No Rematch button in Versus.

That's about it! This game is quite accessible for newcomers but has such an absurd amount of depth that I'm not sure I'll ever really get good at it. It's really fun to play, and I'm personally glad it wasn't just a cheap cash-in on the license: this is a legitimate, tournament ready fighting game.

I'm trying hard to get started on another game, but I'm having too much fun with this one at the moment. And I've gotta see how the story ends! So I'll be back next time to talk about another fighting game that I might get good at. Maybe one of those BlazBlues since I sorta know how ArcSys games work now? Maybe one where the music loops (SERIOUSLY?!)


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