hot  /  reviews  /  videos  /  cblogs  /  qposts


Perfidious Sinn's blog

10:27 PM on 02.25.2014

I Suck At Fighting Games: Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate

So this is what it comes down to? I go for months without a new fighting game blog, and when I come back it's just covering a game I've covered before? For shame, me!

There's even games I haven't covered yet, like Street Fighter IV, Third Strike, and Injustice. I picked up some new fighting games since last time, but here we are. With a game I've already done. What a slacker I am.

Fighting games have the tendency to do this. If you wait a while after the original release, you're almost guaranteed to get an “ultimate” edition with balance tweaks and new features. Normally I wouldn't cover the same game twice, but I feel like Ultimate deserves praise. I was kind of lukewarm on DOA5, but this update pulled me back in with its promise of excellent training systems for new players. If you're bad at fighting games like I am, Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate goes out of its way to help you.

I criticized vanilla DOA5 for burying its tutorials in the Story Mode, with no easy way to revisit them. This time around, there is a huge 42 part tutorial that covers every single concept in the game. Even things that weren't explained in the previous game's tutorial and systems I have never heard of are explained. They're accompanied by brief text boxes, clear on-screen instructions, and tests that make absolutely sure you grasped the concepts by having you perform them in a battle.

It's one of the best tutorials in any fighting game I've ever played. There's even a brief section that touches on frame data into easy-to-understand terms, teaching the concepts of startup and recovery. It's not only the perfect tutorial for learning DOA, it's a good lesson to learn if you're picking up any 3D fighting game.

As great as this mode is, it isn't perfect. The biggest issue I had was the aggressive AI during the test/mission sections. You have to complete a specific objective while fighting an opponent. As the challenges got more difficult, the AI gets increasingly aggressive, to the point where I found it difficult to even START doing my mission before I got knocked out by the AI. Helena and Ayane in particular are so tough that they're keeping me from finishing a handful of missions.

Some of the more esoteric concepts could have used more instruction than a text box. What would have helped a lot would be a demo, so I could see the computer finish the mission. At times I didn't know if I was timing my moves correctly and had to look up videos online.

[i]I used to lose to Christie 100% of the time in DOA5. Now I lose to Helena.
Dead or Alive has a large cast where each character plays very differently. So while you will get down the basics of the game in the tutorial, you won't get far without actually learning a character.

I praised the Command Training in the original game, and it's relatively unchanged here. They even added a shortcut to view demonstrations of the moves: Back+RB. The command was previously "click the right stick" which is impossible on arcade sticks, so good on them for fixing it.

There's another feature that is crucial to learning your character of choice: the brand new Combo Challenge.

I love this feature. Every character has a long list of combos that you can complete as a check list. I feel like it's a feature that many fighting games don't bother to include, because they expect players to learn combos by experimenting or observing others playing the game. Still, it's incredibly helpful for new players who might have trouble putting together a bread-and-butter combo from scratch. I'm one of those people who always ends up looking for combos on Youtube because I have trouble forming my own, but this puts that feature right in the game.

Of course, it doesn't teach you the most optimal, flashy stuff you'll see in tournaments. It does waste the last couple of slots on tag combos which I never use because I don't play Tag mode. And my biggest complaint of all is that there is no Demonstration function here, so you can't tell if you're timing your hits correctly.

Despite that, Combo Challenge is a brilliant addition and a feature I want to see in more fighting games. The last one I remember doing so was Persona 4 Arena.

I chose to show Rachel's Combo Challenge because she's a new addition and my main character in the game. I never really settled on a character in the original game because none of them fit my playstyle, but luckily for me, one of the new ones did. She has a limited moveset and is slower than most characters. However, she also has a lot of moves that stun or knock down on hit, and hits like a truck when she connects.

Command Training is a good way to test and see if you can even play a character, but Combo Challenge helps even more. By finishing all of her combos in that mode (even the Tag ones I'll never use), I knew I found my main character.

One aspect of the game that still needs some work are the online features. In Rank Match you get this screen.

Due to how many options there are, finding matches is more difficult than it should be. The “opponent strength” option is good for finding people in your skill level, but your rank isn't shown on this screen. I found myself setting the region and connection to “any” just to get matches because there aren't too many people online. There should be a “quick match” button here, and simplify the opponent strength to a single menu with three options: Stronger, Weaker, Same Level.

There is an option to search for matches automatically during Training mode, which I used more because I didn't want to stare at a “searching...” menu for too long. However it seems that this search doesn't take your rank in consideration, so I kept getting matched up against opponents that were much stronger than me.

The online connection still needs work. It was mostly unplayable in DOA5, but it has been improved to the point where most matches are pretty good and have little input delay.

However, the game doesn't compensate for lag well. Either the game runs well with minimal lag, or it's a slideshow. Also, the connection bars don't really show how the game's connection will really be. They could be full, green bars and the match will still lag terribly.

Despite the issues with online, I came away with a pretty positive opinion on the game. With better character balance and having a character I actually know how to play, I'm enjoying Ultimate much more than I thought I would.

I'm getting a better understanding of how each character's combos work. Most characters have quick strings that are fast high-low mixups, which can be pretty tough to block due to their speed. That's where the Holds come in. In theory they're combo breakers that can get you out of impossible vortexes if you guess correctly. In practice, it's a lot tougher to Hold properly than it seems.

As I've played the game more, I've found that blocking has gotten increasingly difficult, putting more emphasis on Holds. So now I'm in the point where I'm studying characters in training mode to see which moves hit high or low so I can react with a Hold properly. It's a lot to memorize especially in the middle of a match. I'm understanding the system better but losing most matches because I'm not reacting quickly enough yet.

So while the game is more balanced than before, it will take a LOT of time to get truly proficient at it. I've played about 100 online matches now and I've got a 30 percent win rate, losing the majority of my matches. Dead or Alive is a long-running series, and it strikes me as the type of game that will be easier for veterans: they already have seen which moves hit high, low, or mid through years of practice and are know when to Hold and counter them.

Still, the new game balance goes a long way in cutting down frustration. I feel like I only lose to players that are clearly better than me, not just because I suck at fighting the ninjas (the ninjas are still top tier though). Matches go by quickly and being able to beat up a training dummy while waiting for matches cuts down the frustration a bit.

I'm nowhere near good at the game, but actually being taught how to play the game helped a lot. I've already played Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate a lot more than the original version.

[b]What I Liked
[/b]-Tutorial Mode is one of the best out of all current fighting games. It teaches every single aspect of the game in an easy to explain way, and tests you frequently to make sure you understand the concepts.

-Combo Challenge gives new players a foundation to build from. It teaches you the moves, and also when and where to use them.

-The presentation is still excellent. Character models change over the fight (getting dirt on their clothes and sweating), and the environments are varied and well designed.

-The character balance is very good. Even the top-tier characters in the game have clear weaknesses so they're not unreasonably difficult to fight.

[b]What I Didn't Like
[/b]-Online netcode is inconsistent. In matches with good netcode, it's nearly lag free. If there is some latency, the game utterly fails at compensating for it. The framerate becomes a slideshow, and you can feel the delay between hitting a button and getting a response.

-Online menu system is a little too complicated and occasionally locks you in points where you cannot back out to the main menu.

-No Demonstration for harder tutorials in Combo Challenge and Tutorial. It would have helped to see how to time my moves in these tutorials.

Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate sets an incredibly high standard for what fighting game tutorials should be. It teaches every system and concept of the gameplay, teaches you all the moves for your character of choice with Command Training, and even gives you some basic combos with Combo Challenge to help you get started. I found the online competition pretty tough and the netcode needs work, but the majority of online matches were smooth.

If you're not a fan of the game's focus on Holds and stuns, Ultimate won't change your mind much. But if you're even a little bit interested in the game, try out the fantastic tutorial modes and see if you can get into it. It'll give you a fighting chance even if you're as lousy at fighting games as I am.


3:37 PM on 02.13.2014

My Very Late 2013 Game of the Year List.

I promise, there is a good reason for this not coming out last year.

There were a fair amount of excellent titles I didn’t get to touch until December or January, and I had to give them some time to see if they earned a spot on this year’s list.

Getting into fighting games consumed a large chunk of my 2012. As less of those came out in 2013, I got to spend some more time exploring older titles in my “I Suck At Fighting Games” series. I even went to my first tournament! It was incredibly fun, and I learned that I’m not as bad as I thought…but still pretty dreadful.

I didn’t get my hands on any new consoles or handhelds, but 2014’s lottery numbers are looking pretty good.

Luckily for me, a ton of great games came out on the few platforms I do own. So here’s fifteen games that made me smile. Not to play favorites here, but these are in order from worst to best, and those “Honorable Mentions” are really just there to keep up appearances.

I'm joking. Play them all!

[b]Honorable Mentions
I enjoyed these five games, but not quite enough to stick them on my list. I still recommend them all.

[b]5. Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse
Why I Like It: Grant Kirkhope’s soundtrack is excellent. The game has the sense of whimsy of old Mickey Mouse cartoons. The platforming is challenging, but doesn’t get overly difficult. Great difficulty curve overall.

Why It Didn’t Make The List: It’s a little short. Some of the bosses cause unfair deaths due to screwing up the camera.

4. Bioshock Infinite

Why I Like It: Fantastic art style, especially the character design. The facial animation is great! The story is paced so well, and built up in a way that had me almost begging to know the secrets of the world. The ending is poignant and stuck with me, even with all the nutso sci-fi stuff going on.

Why It Didn't Make The List: Just like Bioshock 1, I rarely found the combat enjoyable. They limit the salts so much that I couldn’t experiment with vigors as much as I wanted to. You end up shooting bullet sponge enemies with a small variety of guns, which got boring early on. The boss fights and encounters against larger enemies like Handymen were thoroughly frustrating.

3. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

Why I Like It: Visually gorgeous. They successfully build up the characters and the story without any actual dialogue. The rope-swinging section was one of my favorite segments of the year. They use the mechanics of the game to build up to an ending sequence so powerful that it made me cry.

Why It Didn't Make The List: I got hit by a pretty bad glitch that forced me to restart a chapter. The controls never felt 100 percent natural and even got frustrating at some points.

[b]2. Street Fighter x Tekken Ver. 2013
Why I Like It: It has a great training mode, good tutorials, and individual character tutorials to ease in fighting game newbie like me. There’s a good difficulty curve that lets you mash early on but rewards you a lot for learning actual combos. I mean it REALLY rewards you, as a good punish can chew up 50% of your opponent’s lifebar in an immensely satisfying combo. The cast is huge but somehow the characters all play uniquely. It kept me thinking about new combos to try or teams to experiment with, even when I wasn’t playing it.

Why It Didn't Make The List: The game came out in 2012, so I legally cannot add it. The gem system is overly complex, and the online mode seems to lag even in ideal situations.

[b]1. Grand Theft Auto V
Why I Like It: The dynamic score that changes in response to the action is pretty much the coolest thing ever. My favorite song is on the soundtrack. Sometimes, it’s really funny. The acting is top notch. Trevor Phillips is an unforgettable character. The heist missions are incredible. The visuals are far beyond any other game, and I love driving around just to look at stuff. When you put on flip-flops, you can see them flop and flip on your feet as you walk.

Why It Didn’t Make The List: GTA Online is not good. Some of the humor is really forced and obnoxious. There’s too much boring travel between missions and the fast travel options are inconvenient. Planning heists hints at having more depth than it actually has, which makes the heists a bit less impressive.

#10- Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon - Ubisoft Montreal - PC/Playstation Network/Xbox Live Arcade

Paintings of crying clowns and dogs playing poker… those are incredible. What I did? That’s just the job.

I feel like this game exists because someone wasn’t paying attention. Why else would Ubisoft, the megacorp with 45 minute credits in their games, greenlight a weird spinoff of one of their biggest titles?

Regardless of how it came to be, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is an excellent refinement of the game that was dangerously close to becoming my Game of the Year in 2012. It doesn’t totally reinvent the Far Cry 3 mechanics, but it does make everything a little bit better. 

The island is large, but the movement speed is amped up to the point where sprinting around is preferable to driving cars. The weapons aren’t radically different, but the new animations and modifications make them feel new. The soundtrack has gone from “totally lame” to “amazing 1980s synth rock”. The outpost takeover system has been totally turned on its head by allowing you to trick giant laser-shooting dragons into doing the dirty work for you.

Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon even replaces the deathly serious vibe of its predecessor with an absurd sense of humor and tons of 80s movie jokes. Simplifying the upgrade system actually improves the game, so you don’t have to spend too much time in menus now.

Despite the millions of dollars that probably went into creating Blood Dragon, it feels like a pet project of some people who really love 80s action flicks. Compared to Far Cry 3, Blood Dragon is funnier, more focused, and adds good things while stripping away most of the flaws.

And you can shoot a dragon with Robocop's gun.

#9- Device 6 - Simogo - iOS

The solution ‘is my ex’. Aren’t they usually the problem to begin with?

A hot gaming debate topic of 2013 was “what is a video game?” Certain people began to shun certain titles for being “not-games” and disqualify them from receiving recognition. I bring it up because Device 6 is far from a traditional video game. If you’re opposed to these “not-games”, you might want to skip this one.

However, if you’re looking for one of the best games on the App Store, you must check this one out.

It is a novel/puzzle game that relies heavily on its format; this game would NOT work if it were not on tablets and smartphones. You must constantly rotate your phone as the character’s movement is communicated through text that goes upside down, sideways, spirals, and cascades downwards. The puzzles are tricky but never overly difficult. You just have to pay attention, listen carefully to clues given, and be willing to backtrack from time to time.

I was continually impressed by how well Device 6 uses its format as a mobile game, both in navigation and the way it pokes fun at mobile game tropes. It also nails that feeling of relief that great puzzle games have, where you finally find the solution after chasing down clues and following red herrings. It's the only game I played last year that had me scribbling codes and maps on paper.

Device 6 wins for being a great puzzle game and utilizing its format in a very innovative fashion.

#8- Call of Juarez: Gunslinger - Techland - PC/Playstation Network/Xbox Live

[i]I didn’t quite get what he was sayin’, but there was definitely snakes.

There are two things that make Call of Juarez: Gunslinger special. The first is the deliberately old-school design. The levels are extremely linear, there’s no multiplayer, and the weapon selection is tiny. All the focus is on shooting dudes as quickly as possible to get a high score.

That’s right, those numbers flying off of enemies aren’t hit points, they’re just POINT points.

The most modern aspect of the game is a really simple leveling system, but the solid shooting and the fun of chasing a high score keeps this surprisingly long game entertaining through the end. Plus, it has the best gun duels since Red Dead Revolver.

The second part is the story. Silas Greaves’ narration is humorously unreliable, as he exaggerates parts of his life to make them more exciting. This leads to ridiculous moments like the terrain transforming in front of your eyes as you play, taking down small armies of enemies without getting a scratch, having shootouts with ghosts, and copious slow motion explosions. The way the game changes based on Greaves’ tall tales makes Gunslinger less realistic but a lot more fun than any other Call of Juarez game.

It’s not the deepest shooter in the world, but sometimes Swiss Cake Rolls hit the spot better than a tiramisu.

[b]#7 - Ridiculous Fishing - Vlambeer - Android/iOS

We need to talk about the money you’re spending on hairdryers. Is it ‘hairdryer’ or ‘hairdrier’. I never know.

Ridiculous Fishing is a silly game.

You catch over 50 fish on your line at once, fling them up into the air, and blow them up with firearms as RPG-esque combat music plays. Between rounds of fishing, you talk to your friends (who are mostly birds) on Twitter and buy fishing implements like toasters and wizard robes.

It is also the most addictive game I’ve played on iOS. Even with the tools to make the job easier, your progress is only limited by your skill. It compelled me to get better at avoiding fish, getting deeper into the sea and catch more expensive, stranger looking fish. Each round is just a few minutes long and the pull to improve my fishing skills kept me going back again and again for one more try. I still haven’t reached the bottom of every stage or bought everything in the store (I’ve almost got the Oil Drilling Permit!), so I’m still playing it. It’s ridiculously silly and ridiculously fun.

#6 - State of Decay - Undead Labs - Steam/Xbox Live Arcade

[i]Your Honor, I must object to opposing counsel’s attempts to chew on my head.

Like all good zombie fiction, the biggest obstacles in State of Decay are rarely related to dispatching the undead. The horde always poses a threat, but what will ultimately doom you in State of Decay is running out of stuff. You have to build and fortify a small community of survivors and keep them supplied with food, medicine, and weapons to defend themselves.

The simplest way I can describe the game is “overwhelming”. It’s a very complex game that trusts you to figure things out, rarely holding your hand. As you take in more survivors, your needs become larger. Supplies thin out, forcing you to take longer, more dangerous supply runs to get necessities. Sometimes your home base begins to degenerate, forcing you to uproot the community and move to a safer place.

The game demanded my full attention while I was playing, because if you get distracted for a minute a zombie can quickly take you down, or a friend who is dying from the flu could become a lost cause because you took too long to get medicine. State of Decay throws a ton of micromanagement into your lap along with the basic task of not getting eaten by zombies, and I loved how survival became increasingly complex and difficult.

There’s a fantastic implementation of permadeath and character building. You can switch between a large number of playable characters, but are rewarded for sticking with one and naturally building up their stats. For example, using a lot of Edged weapons unlocks special Edged attacks, and lets that character kill zombies with fewer strikes. If you run a lot, your character improves at Cardio and can sprint longer distances. When an upgraded character dies, it hurts. All of that time you spent improving and customizing someone is gone for good, and your game just became more difficult as you have to play as someone less experienced.

State of Decay lacks the flashy elements or emotional punch of other zombie games, but it’s a fantastic simulator of life after the apocalypse. Most zombie games make the zombies themselves the main threat, but this one managed to make running out of food just as stressful.

#5 - Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag - Ubisoft Montreal - PC/PS3/PS4/Wii U/Xbox 360/Xbox One

[i]“What is your true name, rogue?”
“It’s, ah…Captain Pissoff!”[/i]

Well, this is a pleasant surprise. After the trainwreck of Assassin’s Creed III derailing my interest in the series, Black Flag puts it back on track.

Not only is it significantly better than III, Black Flag ends up being the best game in the entire series. The framing device of it being a video game production is genius, as it allowed the developers to drop more of the realistic elements to make the game more fun. They even take a few shots at themselves in the story with a handful of enjoyable, jokey easter eggs…like describing Brotherhood bad guy Rodrigo Borgia as a “family man”.

Any wrinkles in the free-running system from III are totally ironed out, the combat is easy but engaging, and there is an uncountable amount of sidequests to complete and secrets to find. Like all great open-world games, there’s always something new to do around the corner, and the abundant fast travel options make sure you can always just warp near the next main mission if you want.

I’ve always enjoyed that Assassin’s Creed is an unashamedly complex series with multiple interlocking systems. It works in this game because they clearly explain what everything is for. The menus are simple and easy to use, and the display lets you know what Kenway is physically capable of at all times: no more randomly jumping off of buildings!

Sailing the enormous open world just to discover new areas and admire the scenery was a delight. I got the same feeling that the sailing in The Wind Waker gave me years ago, and its been a long time since I could compare something to my favorite Zelda game favorably.

I’d be fine if future games in the series continue down this path, exploring different eras in history even if they don’t tie in to the Grand Plot of Assassin’s Creed. Black Flag took everything good from the series and jammed it all together, while opening up tons of possibilities for future titles. It’s smooth sailing from here.

[b]#4 - Rogue Legacy - Cellar Door Games - PC

[i]Even the most valiant heroes can suffer from irritable bowels.

Every time I run through the castle in Rogue Legacy, I think “Let’s try again”. I could get 800 gold pieces, discover the new boss and almost take him down and I still think “that wasn’t great. One more run”.

This began leading to playing the game until the sun was rising, continually saying “all right, I’ll do better next time. One more”.

The upgrade system in Rogue Legacy slows down midway through the game, but I still felt like I was constantly progressing on each run. If I did nothing on one run but find a couple weapon blueprints and die? Good, but I’ll do better next time. Just discovered the boss location but I’m not strong enough to beat it? I’ll be ready next time.

Once I threw away my foolish pride and ambitions of clearing the game without dying, Rogue Legacy hooked me. The controls feel great, which lets them get away with some truly devious level design. Some of my favorite moments of Rogue Legacy were going into a room full of impossible looking traps, analyzing it for a couple minutes, and running through it without getting hit.

Now, I’ve got the castle locked and am currently on my fifth attempt against this boss. I’ve got it this time, I promise. One more run.

#3 - Tomb Raider - Crystal Dynamics - PC/Playstation 3/Xbox 360


[i]I hate tombs.

Tomb Raider doesn’t make a very strong first impression. You start with scripted, linear sequences littered with quick time events, and the story is going nowhere.

Then, around the time you get a climbing axe, the game does a total 180. Quick time events are quietly shoved into the corner and replaced by extremely satisfying third person combat. The cover system is so genius that I hope every third person shooter copies it from now on. Lara naturally crouches behind cover and shoots over it when you aim, which is a HUGE improvement over games where you hit a button to lock to cover.

I’m serious, more games need to use this system.

Even though the story progression is linear, you can always indulge in some Metroid-style exploration. There are loads of collectibles to find, areas that are locked until you get new abilities and backtrack, and hidden challenges to complete. You can go through most of the game without visiting previous areas, but the experience points you gain makes it worthwhile. Each level gained feels significant, as it changes how you fight and explore the environment.

Your arsenal isn’t huge, but the game doles out new weapons on a consistent basis throughout and upgrading them changes their functions completely.

It also has a handful of bombastic scripted moments that are a little unbelievable but still exhilarating. Tomb Raider perfectly balances the huge action movie setpieces with the solid shooting and platforming sections. I wasn’t expecting an evolution of cover based shooting and Metroid-inspired exploration from this stagnating genre of AAA games, and this was definitely a welcome surprise.

[b]#2 - Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance - Platinum Games - PC/Playstation 3/Xbox 360

This your idea of a good time? Stripping dudes in public?

I can name plenty of reasons why Metal Gear Rising is great. I could mention the best soundtrack of the year with its amazing POWER VOCALS. The way the music gets more intense and adds lyrics during climactic battles is exciting every single time. I could talk about the final boss being one of the most memorable in the entire Metal Gear series. I could probably mention how impressive it is that the game even came out given its troubled development.

Still, none of that is really why Metal Gear Rising is one of the best games of 2013. It all comes down to the mechanics. This is why I trust Platinum Games as a developer above most: they always ensure that the gameplay is on point.

The parry mechanic is the inverse of Bayonetta’s Witch Time, rewarding you for going on the offensive rather than dodging. Every single time I parried an enemy and got that slow-motion freeze, it was an adrenaline rush. The game keeps providing more enemies with unique parry timing as it goes on, but that feeling of timing it perfectly is always great.

Revengeance has tons of replay value with its collectibles and upgrade system, and even has worthwhile DLC with unique characters to learn. But the core of the game, the sword combat and the satisfying parry system, kept me coming back and raising the difficulty over time to master the timing against more aggressive enemies.

If I made one of these lists in 2010, Bayonetta would have taken the number one spot easily. It’s one of my favorites of all time.

I don't know if Revengeance will be higher than Bayonetta on my "favorite games of the seventh generation" list, but let's just say I have two games for the top 5 already.

#1 - Saints Row IV - Volition, Inc - PC/Playstation 3/Xbox 360

Aw man, it’s just like being in a Video Game! Wink!

Get comfortable, because there’s gonna be some story time with this one…

Saints Row: The Third was an awesome game, by far my favorite of 2011. It was also the most disappointing game I played that year when I compared it to its predecessor. A majority of the customization options were removed compared to Saints Row 2. The city of Steelport lacked the variety of Stilwater. The sequel hooks in the end of Saints Row 2 were ignored, and some of the main characters began to act weird. I still enjoyed the game, but I couldn’t stop thinking about how much it lacked compared to Saints Row 2.

Saints Row IV also doesn’t have the enormous suite of customization options of 2. The dark tone of Saints Row 2 is almost entirely gone, and any attempts at resolving the plot threads of that game were thrown away.

And you know what? I am completely okay with this.

Saints Row The Third started the turn away from darkness and toward sillier fare, and it has completely taken effect in IV.

The amount of call backs to every single game in the franchise had me smiling through the entire experience, to the point where any leftover bitterness I had about the series changing too much vanished after the first cutscene.

Saints Row IV is one of the funniest games I’ve ever played, even disregarding the self-referential stuff. The use of licensed songs for jokes and the more absurd jokes (see: QTE stripping minigame) are great, but what brings it all together is the sharp comedic timing. It’s surprisingly subtle humor, especially compared to how insane the premise is.

I love to laugh, and humor in games is so difficult to pull off because everyone might not experience the game the same way. The writers in this game got it totally right.

With the addition of loyalty missions and “romance” scenes, it’s easy to compare Saints Row IV to the Mass Effect series. IV feels like a game-length version of ME3’s “Citadel” DLC, being a tribute to the universe and the fans that have been with it for years.

But while Mass Effect 3 bored me halfway though, Saints Row IV’s gameplay is consistently entertaining and varied. It’s a “greatest hits” of modern open world games, refining the parkour and flight of Prototype, the super powers of Infamous, and its own solid shooting and upgrade system.

I can tell the developers and testers watched this game closely to make sure the players were doing something fun at all times. Sprinting and flying around feel great, making the simple act of traversing the city enjoyable. It gives new life to the reused city of Steelport because you’re exploring it in a completely different way.

This game allows you to break the balance early on and upgrade yourself to the point where combat is trivial. It may not be a difficult game, but I am perfectly fine with “make it fun” as a philosophy over “make it tough”. Most games don’t let you feel like an unstoppable badass in the way Saints Row IV does.

Most games don’t jam the world so full of stuff to do. I spent so much time hunting down the Crackdown orbs, audio files, and climbing up alien towers. There are sidequests everywhere, and they’re all so enjoyable that I would actively seek them out to complete them. It’s not a particularly long game, but it does such a good job of handing out fun stuff to do that every minute feels essential.

I’m not sure if there can be another Saints Row game after this, or if there even should be. But after playing these games for almost a decade, it completely fulfilled all my expectations.

It’s hilarious and charming. It’s my favorite game in the Saints Row series. It’s my favorite open world game ever, and by far my favorite game of 2013.   read

9:17 AM on 12.17.2013

I Suck At Fighting Games: Soul Calibur II HD Online

The original release on Soul Calibur II is one of my most played games of all time. When I had a Gamecube, I rented the game multiple times and eventually made the smart investment of saving up my allowances so I could own a copy for myself. The novelty of playing Link in a fighting game drew me in, but there was something else about the game that kept me coming back to it.

I've played every Soul Calibur game at least a little bit, but II always stood out to me as being the most fun. It was also the only one I owned a copy of instead of renting.

I was excited about a high definition re-release of one of my favorite fighting games from my youth. Parts of the game are just as cool as they were back then, but this port is not as good as it should be.

Fighting games are notorious for having mediocre single player options. You can usually expect a basic Arcade Mode in most titles and that's about it. Soul Calibur II is one of the few exceptions, having a ton of stuff to do outside of basic versus play. Arcade Mode is self-explanatory, but you do get a few cutscenes, a unique ending for each character, and a Character Profile for completing that. There's also Time Attack, Survival, and Team Battle which are different twists on the basic Arcade Mode formula. You can unlock “Extra” versions of every single player mode which lets you choose which weapon your character uses; this is important because each weapon has a unique effect.

To unlock all these extra weapons, you have to go through the best part of Soul Calibur 2: Weapon Master mode.

Each square on this map leads you to a screen that contains a handful of unique battles. There's a fair amount of story here (a few pages at the beginning of each chapter and a lengthy text scroll for each battle) that is mostly skippable. Nice to have it, but after a certain point I just started skipping through it because it's plain, unvoiced text.

The cool thing about Weapon Master is that every match has some kind of unique stipulation. Some matches disable blocking for both characters, so you have to rely on jumping and sidestepping to avoid damage. Some matches poison you, so you have to defeat your enemies before the poison kills you. Some matches give your enemy regenerating health and turns the edges of the stage into a hazard that harms anyone who stands on it.

In the end, I found the Weapon Master stipulations to be about 70 percent cool and 30 percent unfair. Around Chapter 6 I began running into challenges that were just not fun. There is a challenge where you have to fight five enemies in a row on a limited timer. If you beat one enemy the timer refills, but it's very possible to make it unwinnable if you don't beat the enemies quickly enough.

One challenge is a dungeon with multiple branching paths, but only one exit. It also has a timer that carries over between rounds. So if you don't find the exit quickly, it becomes unwinnable and you have to start from the beginning.

Weapon Master is the way to unlock all of the “Extra” modes on the main menu, as well as bonus characters, weapons for each character, and modes that let you do sort-of cool things like watching computer characters fight or the Exhibition Theater, which shows them doing cool tricks with their weapons.

My only problem with Weapon Master is that too much content is only unlockable inside that mode. I got stuck at some point but there's a lot of characters, weapons, and costumes to earn later on in the mode. The later missions get so annoying or unfair that I don't care to finish them, so there is just some content I won't get to without putting myself through a lot of annoying gameplay.

So I'd like to get back to the main topic of this series: does this game teach you how to play it well? Could a newbie get into this game and do well? The answer to that is a strong “maybe”.

The tutorial mode of the game isn't on the main menu, but it is the first mission in Weapon Master. This teaches you that Horizontal Attacks are good for hitting circling opponents, vertical attacks are good for hitting opponents in low stances, and kicks are really fast and weak, to catch opponents off guard.

It teaches you how to guard, but not the difference between high and low guards. So without experimenting, you can't tell which types of attacks will hit crouching or standing opponents. It doesn't teach you how to visually recognize Unblockable Attacks, or about special moves with Guard Break or Guard Impact properties. It doesn't teach you how to crouch or jump.

To put it simply, the tutorial gives you enough tools to be mediocre at the game. So I jumped into Practice to see if there is Command Training. There isn't.

I say this far too often, but every fighting game needs Command Training. Especially if you have 100+ moves per character like Soul Calibur 2 does. Virtua Fighter 5 Final Showdown nailed Command Training the best: it puts the command on top of the screen and you can't advance to the next move until you do it.

In Soul Calibur 2, you can't even make a selected move stick to the top of the screen! You have to pause, go to the Command List, scroll to the move you want to see, and click on it to view a demonstration. It's nice to have a video of every move, but I'd rather have it work like Virtua Fighter's system. So I did far too much of this:

1. Pause

2. Go to Command List.

3. Scroll to the move I wanted to see and click it. Watch the video a few times.

4. Unpause and try to move for myself.

This could have been handled much better.

And yet, I don't feel like this game requires a large amount of studying to win some matches. You won't ever get lucky and beat someone online who has hundreds of games of experience, but unlike most fighting games, you won't get completely blown out either. The game values good movement and using your moves smartly as much as memorizing combos. 

If you are adequate at blocking, Guard Impacts, and proper sidestepping, you can hold your own. I've won matches online by simply sidestepping and punishing, or Guard Impacting and punishing. So it's refreshing to beat people without having to learn too many combos...which is good because the game doesn't try to teach you any combos.

Even with inadequate tutorial and training options, Soul Calibur 2 feels pretty accessible for newcomers. People who study frame data and combo theory will excel, but if you find a character among this diverse cast whose style “makes sense” to you, you can do cool stuff just by hitting buttons sometimes.

Now, I really do enjoy Soul Calibur 2. I can't say that this is worth the $20 price tag at all, though. The single player modes are still as fun as they were years ago, but the “Online” part of this package is weak.

I'm confused as to how Soul Calibur V had nearly flawless netcode and a cool set of features, but Soul Calibur 2 HD Online has neither.

There are three options on the “Online Mode” menu: Ranked, Player, and Leaderboards. Ranked Match lets you sort by connection quality and player skill, but it seems like neither option matters. Even when picking “similar rank” I would get opponents ranked significantly higher than me (the ranking system gives the winner points, and people would have thousands more points than I did). Even when choosing the highest possible connection quality, every match has noticable input lag.

I doubt this is an issue with my connection, because it has come up in every review I've read of the game and everyone I've spoken to about it. The netcode in this game is bad. I guess this must have been developed by Namco's B team because the netcode in Soul Calibur V was excellent even under bad conditions. But the “online” part of Soul Calibur II HD Online is not very good.

There are no lobbies in Player Match. You can search for a match, but if a match isn't found it kicks you out to the main menu and you have to restart the search. Why isn't there a Refresh or Retry Search button? After finishing a Player Match, you are kicked to the main menu. No option to rematch, no lobby, there isn't even a button to pop up the opponent's gamertag.

To be honest, I'm pretty surprised this game costs $20. The graphics look fine, and as long as you aren't playing online, the versus mode and suite of single player features are above average. But even the offline modes aren't perfect. There are random instances of slowdown in single player mode that I've experienced every time I've played the game. I've seen Cervantes' auto-guard impact move freeze the game on two separate occasions. “Freeze” as in “you need to turn off your console because this is fucked” freeze. The online netcode is frustrating because it makes the game much harder than it should be, and it lags even under ideal conditions.

It's still fun to play locally, and it's easy enough that you can have fun with it without a ton of studying moves. But I can't fully recommend it for new players of fighting games or anyone really. It's too expensive, the online features are bad, and it does a poor job of teaching you how to play it. Instead of spending $20 on this, spend less money for Soul Calibur V or Virtua Fighter 5 Final Showdown.   read

9:47 AM on 11.13.2013

Sonic Generations could use some more Sonic Unleashed.

What I'm about to say might get me kicked out of the Cool Kids Club, but here goes. I love Sonic games. Not just the 2D platformers from when I was a kid. I mean, I've consistently enjoyed the series from 1991 until today. Sure, there have been missteps along the way, but I appreciate Sonic Team's efforts most of the time. Each major Sonic release is markedly different from the last, and even when it doesn't work, I respect the hell out of them for trying. It's an interesting contrast to the trends of today's game industry, where being “safe” is more important than trying new things. Sonic Team gets an idea, does it, and even if it doesn't hit, bless them for trying.

3D Sonic games have been steadily increasing in quality over the past few years. Sonic Unleashed was a thrilling, blisteringly fast game with the addition of the Boost mechanic. I remember playing that game for the first time and being blown away because it was the fastest Sonic has EVER been. On the flipside of that were the Night stages, less well received by the general public but enjoyed by a few (me plus maybe...three other people?). The night stages were basically God of War with deeper combat mechanics and better level design, but I can admit that they suffered from being too long and committing the unforgivable sin of cutting into BLARING COMBAT MUSIC every time you got into a fight.

Seriously, guys. I'm trying to enjoy the smooth jazz here.

Sonic Unleashed was pretty enjoyable and contained mostly 3D, behind-the-back gameplay as Sonic. There were 2D stages built in for fans of the older games, and the perspective during Day stages would often switch to 2D, but those sections complimented the game. I appreciated the fact that there was a GOOD 3D Sonic platformer again.

Sonic Colors on Wii followed that a few years later. While it was heralded as the “best 3D Sonic game” by quite a few people, I hesitate to agree with that sentiment. The fact is that the majority of this game is 2D. Sometimes 2.5D. But you are not spending the majority of it in the behind-the-back 3D style that Sonic Unleashed, and previous games like Sonic Heroes and the Adventure series did. Don't get me wrong here, it's still a fine game. I just would have preferred if they used their improved 3D gameplay instead of just not doing it.

The 3D sections are really well designed in Colors, better than Unleashed even. They lack the cheap death traps and occasional control awkwardness of Unleashed and added multiple paths...but they're incredibly short, often a few seconds long. If Unleashed was 80 percent 3D and 20 percent 2D, I'd say the ratio in Colors is exactly opposite.

I was a bit disappointed by this. The 3D platforming is so good! Why have so little of it? I actually felt like for the first time, Sonic Team was playing it a bit too safe. They know people will always love the 2D Sonic games, so they stuck to that closely to avoid offending lapsed fans.

Then, they came up with something that looked like the best of both worlds.

Sonic Generations is a tribute to the entire franchise that embraces both styles of Sonic gameplay. Modern Sonic has the Boost-happy 3D sections in the style of Unleashed/Colors, and Classic Sonic has the style of the 2D Sonic platformers I grew up with.

Sonic Generations is better than Colors and Unleashed, undoubtedly. The little control kinks from Unleashed are totally gone, the occasionally awkward to control Wisps from Colors have been mostly removed, and they even introduced some old gameplay mechanics that haven't been in Sonic games in a LONG time (Electric Shield!)

Still, I think they could have done more with it. I want to point out a couple of specific areas where Unleashed beats Generations, because I'm enough of a crazy fanboy to nitpick one of my favorite platforming games ever. Generations is fantastic, but they could have had a classic on their hands if they took a few cues from Unleashed.

1. Unleashed has better hub worlds.
One thing I really enjoyed about Sonic Unleashed were the towns you'd visit between levels.

These hub worlds are pretty small, but full of life. The personality comes from the villagers that you can speak to. They'll send you on sidequests or comment on the plot with some short speech bubbles. It's mostly optional to speak to them, but they add a lot of flavor to the game. I especially enjoyed how the dialogue of each character would consistently change throughout the game, based on how far you progressed the plot, or if Sonic was in Werehog or Hedgehog form. I ended up speaking to people a lot more than I thought just to see how much unique dialogue there is.

The hub world in Sonic Generations is...not as good. The White Space is a mostly empty level select where you can just go left to right. At the far left is the space for collectibles and the power-up store. Sure, you “unlock” Sonic's friends as you go along, but they don't have much to say. They have a few canned quips to repeat, mostly tips about the stage they are standing in front of. But they have much less dialogue than the citizens of Unleashed, and it's not nearly as clever. One thing I found out recently is that they'll have one piece of dialogue if you do a cooperative sidequest and talk to them immediately afterward...but only if you finish it and go talk to them RIGHT NOW. Why couldn't they add that little speech bubble to their repertoire permanently? Why is Classic Tails a character but not Classic Knuckles, or Classic Amy? It's little touches like this that make the hub in Generations not feel as lively as it could.

Also, the sidequest gates are occasionally difficult to get to. You have to switch between the Sonics to reach certain gates, and there are poorly placed springs and dash pads that could send you far away from the gate you want to get into. It's not great.

2. Unleashed has better music.
Sonic Generations has a fantastic soundtrack. I remember hearing the modern remix of “City Escape” and completely nerding out. It's a remix of the obscure Snowboard Race theme from Sonic Adventure 2 Battle! The guitar solo is ripped from Sonic's old theme “It Doesn't Matter”! Don't even get me started on Classic City Escape sampling “Endless Mine”, that awesome “Super Sonic Racing” remix by Cash Cash, or the composers pulling what can only be described as a near-miracle (nearacle) by making a remix of “Rooftop Run” that is superior to the original. Seriously, don't get me started. We will be here all day.

Still, there are some moments of odd restraint on the soundtrack. Green Hill Zone and Sky Sanctuary have Fast versions that kick in when you hit top speed as Sonic, and that is really cool. Why not do Fast remixes for every stage? There's a couple of themes that are just bummers: Modern & Classic Planet Wisp suffer from poor sound mixing and just being a really bad song, respectively. Modern Chemical Plant is bland, Modern Speed Highway is both barely a remake and inferior to the original, and then there's the issue of the “remastered” tracks from 2D Sonic games.

For some reason, the majority of the unlockable tracks are “remastered”, which means they re-recorded them with instruments that sound worse! I appreciate the appeal to nostalgia, but these tracks just do not sound good.

So, I preferred Unleashed's soundtrack overall. The Day stages are upbeat rock and techno tracks with a bit of orchestral flavoring sprinkled in, but where the game really shines are the jazzy night themes.

Despite my issue with that battle theme cutting off the music every few minutes, I really love these tracks. Sonic Team took the tried-and-true fighting game rule to heart here: beating up dudes while jazz music plays is really cool. I can't think of many songs on the Unleashed soundtrack that I don't enjoy, including the hub themes and cutscene music. I believe it's a better soundtrack as a whole, while the Generations soundtrack has far too many immediate aural disappointments.

3. Sonic Unleashed has better writing.

In all aspects, the writing of Unleashed was superior to Generations. There were tons of funny clips from the NPCs. Professor Pickle was an absolute delight. And the game comes to a very satisfying emotional conclusion in regards to the sidekick character Chip. It's a simple story done very well.

In comparison, Generations is a simple story that could have used some more writing. I wanted more in-jokes for fans of the series. It's a giant nostalgia trip but they rarely reference it in the cutscenes.

There should have been more moments like this! Knuckles should quip about Eggman taking advantage of his gullible nature. Amy should meet Metal Sonic and freak out. Like I said before, "classic" versions of Amy and Knuckles exist, and they should have been included in Generations. There should have been an extra-long load time before Crisis City to poke fun at the awful loading of Sonic the Hedgehog '06. 

Also, the dialogue during the final boss battle should have been cut entirely.

I know it's a homing shot. I knew it the first ten times you said it.

I don't know if the writing team was changed, but the script in Generations really lacked the quirky charm of Unleashed and the genuine humor of Colors.

4. Why so much 2D platforming?
Like I stated before, the majority of Sonic Unleashed is 3D gameplay, behind the back as Sonic. It's a bit janky at times, but they improved on it significantly in Colors, and even more in Generations.

However, my complaint from Colors is still here. The 3D gameplay is the best in the series, and they don't use it enough! I was under the impression that Modern Sonic would be fully 3D and Classic would be 2D, and only the latter half of that impression is correct.

In Modern Sonic's stages, the majority of gameplay is 2D or 2.5D. I was disappointed in this, because the 3D sections feel right. They're really refined and really fun, and criminally underused. In my view, it doesn't make much sense for BOTH characters to spend the majority of their time in the 2D plane, and Modern Sonic should have stuck to a mostly 3D style.

I actually enjoyed the Modern stages more than Classic in Generations, because the camera for Classic Sonic is a bit too zoomed in, and his controls are a little off. The developers claim to replicate the sense of momentum from the older games, but it's not completely there. He still feels a bit sluggish in a way I can't explain. It's something you'd have to try for yourself. Play Sonic 2 and the Classic Stages of Generations next to each other, and you'll be able to tell that Classic Sonic is not what he used to be.

I don't know much about Sonic Lost World yet, but I'm looking forward to playing it eventually. I know Sonic Team has done the Sonic Team Thing and created an entirely new gameplay style that's nothing like Colors, Unleashed, or Generations. Is it a good thing? I won't know until I get my hands on it. Still, I appreciate them trying new things every time, in an industry where major publishers and developers are actively discouraged from doing so.

So while I might not get the awesome, fully 3D Sonic game in the style of Generations that I want, I'll keep playing and enjoying Sonic games for years to come. You can keep my Cool Kids Club card.   read

11:01 AM on 11.05.2013

I Suck At Fighting Games: Street Fighter X Tekken

Before I started playing fighting games, I considered buying the latest incarnation of Street Fighter IV as a starting point. Street Fighter seemed like a good fighting game to jump into because it will teach you the fundamentals that carry across all the genres. Street Fighter has been cited by people better than me to contain “everything you need to know about fighting games”.

However, the announcement of Ultra Street Fighter IV put a damper on those plans. I decided against picking up Street Fighter IV until the newest iteration and went for something that might scratch the same itch.

I played this game after putting a good amount of time into Tekken Tag Tournament 2, which ended up being a pretty good idea. It turns out that this game shares a couple gameplay mechanics and the general strategy to doing well is quite similar to that game.
So, to start off I jumped right into the Tutorial mode to check out the game's systems.

It's a very good tutorial. There's a lot of mechanics in here, but since I have a basic understanding of how Street Fighter works through watching too many streams, it didn't take long to pick up concepts like meter management and EX Special Moves. Some of the names for techniques are confusing (I consistently mix up Cross Rush and Cross Assault), but it turns out that some of the mechanics in this game are unnecessary so it doesn't make matter if you remember them or not. Let's go into the pointless mechanics.

Pandora: Pandora is Street Fighter x Tekken's comeback mechanic. When one of your characters is at 25% health, you can sacrifice them, transfer their remaining HP to your other character and put them in a super powered state. They gain regenerating meter and their attacks get more powerful, but they are also on a time limit. If you can't KO your opponent before your time runs out, you lose.

I have rarely found a practical use for Pandora. If your opponent has over 50% health, you will probably not be able to KO them before your timer runs out. It's really easy to run away from attacks in this game, so that will also work against the person who activated Pandora. I've gotten a few lucky victories against mashers by activating Pandora and immediately using a Super Art, but it's not a sustainable strategy. Overall, Pandora is almost never worth it.

Quick Combo: If you have 1 bar of meter, you can use a Quick Combo. This is a combo that you have to program yourself in a buried menu. I suppose it could be useful for beginners, but I always found it more practical to use the meter I gained for a solid combo with an EX Special Move.

Cross Cancel: I fully admit that I only find this mechanic underwhelming because I suck. I see it used somewhat often in high level play, but I just don't use it. It's a guard cancel. If you find yourself forced to block for a long time, you can hit Forward + Medium Punch + Medium Kick to immediately reversal with an EX Special Move. Like I said, I'm sure it's useful but I've rarely been put into a situation where it's a good idea to burn some meter and use it. And the input is a bit difficult so I just end up walking forward and getting hit when attempting to Cross Cancel.

Most of the Gems: Gems are one of the most widely disliked aspects in Street Fighter x Tekken. I haven't seen any that were gamebreaking, but I did have to deal with this.

The process of customizing a Gem Unit is dreadful. The menus load slowly, and many of the gems have unrealistic activation parameters. Some of them are as simple as “break a throw” or “have your attack blocked five times”. But then you get into Gems that require your opponent to activate Pandora mode, gems that give you a boost to power but cut your speed, gems that are downloadable content and it just gets silly.

Like I said, none of the gems I've encountered are game breaking. But the poor interface and lack of diversity in gem effects makes me wonder why the customization aspect was even included. I would have preferred if every character just had default gem sets. Maybe 1 for Power, Defense, and Meter gain and that's it. The system is a bit too complicated right now, and since only default gem units are allowed in major tournaments what was the point of letting people customize them?

After finishing the Tutorial, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that each character has Trials, which teach you all of their special moves, and a few basic, practical combos. It reminds me of the Challenges in Persona 4 Arena which I love and wish were in every fighting game. Trials in Street Fighter X Tekken really helped ease me into the Street Fighter style of 2D fighter that I'm mostly unfamiliar with.

So after doing trials for several characters that I liked, I picked Lili and Nina. Lili because I was familiar with her, being my main character in Tekken Tag Tournament 2, and Nina because her moves looked cool and were easy enough for me to pull off.

Online Mode in Street Fighter x Tekken is barebones, but gets the job done. I mostly played Ranked battles, choosing “Any” area and opponent skill for “Same” so I didn't get beaten too badly. 

The thing I noticed very quickly is that the netcode in this game is not good. You can see your opponent's connection before accepting a match and it's on a ranking of 1-4 bars. 4 bars is preferable, and anything below that is borderline unplayable. The game hitches up online often, shows things that maybe didn't happen (for example: I've connected with a throw, the game rewound in the middle of a throw animation and decided that my opponent actually broke the throw), and is generally unstable. I played several matches in a row against a friend who lives one state away from me. We always had 4 bar connections but there would be unpredictable lag spikes. 

Maybe the internet connection suffers due to the large amount of detail in the backgrounds? Maybe it's an issue with Capcom games in general? I remember playing Marvel vs. Capcom 3 online and having similar problems, but encountered very little lag in other non-Capcom games that I've been playing. Either way, I began to decline every match that wasn't a 4 bar connection because below 4 bars quickly became unacceptable.

So, what is the basic game plan for Street Fighter x Tekken? I found it to be similar to Tekken Tag Tournament 2.

1. Hit a combo with your point character.
2. Launcher to tag in your second character mid combo
3. Continue the combo with your second character.

That seemed to be the best idea to get high amounts of damage. I didn't discover until several matches in that there are more nuances that weren't explained in the Tutorial.

This game has a juggle system similar to Tekken Tag Tournament 2. Certain moves will cause a “bound” state, where you slam your opponent hard into the ground and they make a big yellow shockwave. You can use an OTG to pick them up from this state and continue the combo. It's a bit complicated because you need to learn which of your character's moves will cause a bound if they hit a jumping opponent or if they are a counter hit.

The damage scaling is very harsh. I found out on several occasions that my fancy, long combo did exactly eight points LESS damage than an easier combo. From what I can tell, you want to do your heavy attacks early in the combo to get maximum damage, because the damage scaling kicks in very quickly. It's interesting to see how damaging a 2 bar or 3 bar Super Art is if you hit it raw as opposed to in the middle of a combo, because they scale REALLY harshly.

From what I can tell, the Tekken characters are better than the Street Fighter ones. Tekken Strings are more versatile than the “Target Combos” available to Street Fighter characters. In my team, Nina has a go-to Tekken String that is a mid, low, and launcher. Lili has a very fast mid to low string that's basically a built-in mixup. I saw many more Tekken characters online than Street Fighter ones. They seem to have several ambiguous animations where it's tough to tell if an attack hits high or low, and most of them have quick, reliable overhead attacks. 

So, Street Fighter x Tekken isn't the easiest game for newcomer to get into. The tag mechanics in particular took me a while to get used to, especially when doing a tag combo. The tag input is a bit awkward and I'm trying to teach myself how to hit it to Cross Rush in the middle of a string. I also had to do a bit of research outside of the game to maximize my potential. By asking some good players on Twitter, I learned that team synergy is pretty important. Nina doesn't need much meter to do high damage, but Lili really depends it. So I learned after several days of playing that I should put Nina in front and Lili in the back, which ended up improving my game quite a bit. The game doesn't really give you any tips on team synergy like that, and never truly explains how the juggle system or OTG attacks work. That's the type of thing you'd have to look up online.

-Huge cast of characters with very unique mechanics. They look cool and are mostly fun to use.

-Tutorial Mode is quite in depth and entertaining. Trial Mode is very good at teaching basic but useful combos for each character.

-Really nice presentation in the story mode. Win quotes and titles are full of silly jokes.

-Matches are mostly quick and fun due to high damage potential. You rarely get stuck in long combos, so there is always an opportunity to come back and win

-Excellent training mode with most options that you'd need in a training mode. (Needs a display to show which moves hit High, Low, and Mid though!)

-Cluttered with unnecessary mechanics like Pandora, Cross Assault, and Quick Combos.

-The timer runs too quickly and leads to many timeout decisions

-Online netcode is poor

-Poorly designed menus for Gem Customization. Too many Gems overall that are pointless/do the same thing as other Gems. I don't care for the Downloadable Content Gems that are better than the ones in the game. Overall, the whole Gem System should have been simplified.

-Tutorial Mode doesn't explain a few key aspects like OTG combos and team synergy.

It's hard to believe it considering the mess that this game was at launch, but I think Street Fighter x Tekken is a really fun game. It's the type of game that I randomly get ideas for new combos and boot up Training mode to try out. Of course there are optimal routes to do maximum damage, but I found it enjoyable to explore how the damage scaling worked to find alternate, easier routes to do maximum damage.

There isn't much here for single player content, aside from the well-produced and often hilarious Arcade mode. But the game thrives in competitive play and it's compelling to try to keep your win streak going so you don't rank down.

The biggest problem is that the online netcode is discouraging me from playing it. It's the type of game I'd enjoy to play locally where I can be sure to consistently hit combos without random frame drops, but the online netcode is really poor compared to recent fighting games. 

Will I keep playing Street Fighter x Tekken after Ultra Street Fighter IV comes out? I don't think it's likely that I'll keep playing it online if Ultra has better netcode. Still, I enjoy playing the game even though it's a bit of an odd introduction into the Street Fighter series. If you're willing to put in the effort, it's worth checking out for new players. It eases you in enough, has a lot of cool characters, and invites a surprising amount of experimentation when putting together combos. I don't know if I'll be any good at the next Street Fighter game when it comes out, but now I feel like I understand why that series is so popular. It's addictive to go from learning fundamentals to putting together combos and learning to read your opponent on the fly.

And if that doesn't sell you on the game, check out the dancing bear.


7:12 PM on 10.13.2013

Volition, can you stop doing this please?

Before I start talking about an aspect of Saints Row IV that I absolutely hate, I want to preface this by saying that I like the game. I've played every Saints Row game in the series, and was absolutely delighted by IV. Not only is it full of fanservice for fans of every previous title all the way back to the first one, it is one of the most fun games I've played in a long time. Every activity was a delight, and the story mode had a great mix of humor and surprisingly emotional scenes. As of now I'm saying that Saints Row IV has a high spot on my Game of the Year list.

Now here's the annoying part of the game. The cosmetic DLC.

This started in Saints Row The Third with the planned 40 Weeks of Downloadable Content. And very few people who heard of this thought it was a good idea because there's no way they could release 40 weeks of substantial content that enhances the game.

Guess what? They didn't. 90% of those "DLC weeks" were packs of costumes, weapons, weapon skins, and additional Homies you could call. Normally it would be easy to ignore dumb cosmetic DLC like this (Horse Armor) but this is a particularly egregious case for this franchise. Saints Row should have NEVER had paid cosmetic DLC.

The main complaint I had about Saints Row The Third was its lack of customization options compared to Saints Row 2.

The base character creator in Saints Row 2 has many options that are not in The Third or IV. You can use a slider to customize your character's body type, so instead of being 100% Male or 100% Female you can choose an in-between point that suits you. You could also customize your character's hand-to-hand combat style, walk cycle, and default facial expression.

There were also several "wear options" for clothes in stores. You could buy and customize socks and undergarments, choose to layer your clothing, choose what belt you would wear with certain pairs of pants, and even do silly things like decide if you wanted your jeans to be dirty and frayed or in pristine condition.

Understandably, many fans were disappointed or upset when these options were removed from Saints Row The Third and didn't even return in IV. So it made the addition of more clothes as DLC in those games feel like they were getting taken advantage of. You'd have to buy clothes in 3/4 to get as many customization options in 2.

There was also the issue of the DLC packs not being fairly priced and not being included with the Season Pass. In the end, buying all the cosmetic DLC in Saints Row the Third costs more than buying the Season Pass that has missions and substantial game content.

Why couldn't this content be in the Season Pass? Why did they lock so many cool guns as downloadable content when Saints Row 2 had more guns as in-game unlockables? And most importantly why is this process being repeated for Saints Row IV?

It's not the best barometer for gauging audience reactions, but comments and ratings for the cosmetic DLC trailers in Saints Row The Third were almost universally negative, if one were to check the Saints Row Youtube page. And most of these people share the same sentiment as me: having less content than the previous game with the intent of selling us more in the future leaves a terrible taste in our mouths.

It's happening right now, too. The Season Pass for Saints Row IV doesn't include the various cosmetic DLC packs already released. The prices are too high ($3 per pack). And I still can't customize my character's walk cycle or get a more malleable gender slider.

Saints Row IV is a great game, but this poor use of downloadable content is an ugly black mark on a generally great product.   read

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 naïve. 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

Back to Top

We follow moms on   Facebook  and   Twitter
  Light Theme      Dark Theme
Pssst. Konami Code + Enter!
You may remix stuff our site under creative commons w/@
- Destructoid means family. Living the dream, since 2006 -