Monthly Archives: December 2017

Wild Arms 2 Part 15: A Varukisas Before Dying

Previously on Wild Arms 2: Tim was nearly sacrificed, and Ashley was nearly exploded, but it all wound up working out in the end. Now ARMS has a pair of pretty significant victories under its belt. Odessa is running scared!

And the king noticed! The king!

King credits Irving, Irving credits ARMS. Remember that Tim was a penniless street urchin, like, yesterday.

King of Meria Boule list of accomplishments making him worthy of position of king: was born.

Down to business: how can we get our own rad plane?

Answer: world peace…

FGC #368 Ultra Street Fighter 4

New age of heroes?It seems gauche to hold the father accountable for the sins of the son, but sometimes it must be done. Today’s article is about Street Fighter 4, and exactly why its arcade mode is better than anything in Street Fighter 5. I’d love to talk about the other merits of SF4, but, alas, sacrifices must be made so the new generation can learn a lesson.

An Arcade Mode Must Have a Good Roster

We’ll start simple: you’ve got to have a lot of fighters in your fighting game. How many is a requirement? Well, technically, you could get away with as few as… Vanilla Skullgirls, come over here, I need to count your characters… eight fighters. Technically. Unfortunately, for any sort of good arcade mode, you’re probably going to need a solid twelve. Why? Simple: you don’t want the battle to be over before it begins.

This brings us to our first major point: an arcade mode is not just a fighting game. A fighting game can be many things. For many people, the entire concept of a one-player mode in a fighting game is perfunctory. And there’s nothing wrong with that! For a certain subset of fans, there may as well only be eight characters, because that’s all the dudes that can fit into the “top tier”, and the presence of Dan is nothing more than cruft. And, if you play Street Fighter like that, if you’re ignoring the very existence of Vega for five games running now, that’s fine. There’s an entire community that is carefully maintaining those tier lists, and why would you ever side with the scrubbiest of scrubs?

Look at 'em allBut an arcade mode is different. An arcade mode requires variety, and fighting the same three fighters for eight rounds is going to get old fast. It doesn’t matter if there are different “teams”, or a Zangief wearing a different hat, what’s important is that you’re not going to see the same handful of fighters every time, and you might even be surprised by the AI’s next pick. You’ve played through arcade mode with five different fighters, but you somehow never fought Dhalsim until now? That’s cool! What isn’t cool is battling the same dumb Ryu & Ken teamup for the 7,000th time. By about the time you’ve memorized the repeated thoughtless intro lines, you’ll know that an arcade mode needs a grand roster to sustain itself.

And speaking of variety…

An Arcade Mode Should be Random as Heck

Character variety is one thing, but it’s another thing if every one player experience is the same exact battles every single time. It’s a simple, stupid request, but is it too much to ask for your battles to be randomized? Bosses can go ahead and dominate the end game, as I don’t mind seeing Seth/Bison/That Guy in the Thong every time, but how about adding a little spice to the lead up? In fact, it appears that Ultra Street Fighter 4 has sixteen different costumes for Sakura alone, so maybe I don’t have to see her default fuku every time she pops into the ring.

WeeeeeThis may all seem cosmetic (if you’re going to fight Ken every time, what does it matter if Ken is first every time?), but it does a lot for our stupid monkey brains. When you’re fighting random fighters in random outfits, even if it’s the twelve billionth time you’ve trounced Juri, it still feels new and exciting when she randomly pops up after Balrog dressed like a cat. Meanwhile, when you always know that Character X is going to be in X position, the single player mode quickly becomes a chore, and you’re simply pummeling Sagat because you know you’re ‘supposed ta. An arcade mode should be fun, and part of that fun is including some variability.

And speaking of being tricked into having fun…

An Arcade Mode Needs Forward Momentum

Next time you’re watching a random procedural on television, take note of how often the characters simply sit down to talk, or have conversations over the phone while sitting around like normal people. Take that number, and compare it to how often protagonists walk and talk, or discuss a case while gliding down a hallway, or even while in a car, dashing to the newest crime scene. You will quickly notice that, while the characters might just be lamely recounting the plot or inching toward a conclusion the audience already discovered three commercial breaks back, there is a lot of movement involved, because that creates the illusion of forward momentum. And we need forward momentum! If two detectives are just chilling at a diner talking about murders over a side of gravy fries, it tells the audience that the heroes are in no rush, there are no stakes, and if they don’t care, why should you?

OwieAn arcade mode must serve that same master. During a tournament, it’s perfectly fine to watch every fight take place in front of that stupid practice background, but that isn’t going to cut it in arcade mode. You need to believe that Ibuki, a penniless teenager from a secret village of likely destitute ninja (there just isn’t a lot of call for ninja in today’s job market), is bounding from Africa to America to Asia exclusively so she can mix it up with Chun-Li for a minute and a half. No, it doesn’t make a lick of sense, and yes, it certainly adds to the load times, but it provides that special feeling that progress is being made, and that a journey is taking place. The simple fact that Zangief got out of his own bear-wrestling comfort zone is a story all its own, and it’s one worth telling.

And speaking of stories…

An Arcade Mode Needs a Story like a Bunny Needs a Car

Bunnies do not need cars. Bunnies do not know how to drive cars.

Dem buns

But it is a truth universally acknowledged that it is adorable when a bunny drives a little bunny-sized car.

In much the same way, a “story mode” is no more an “arcade mode” than a driving bunny is somehow your new chauffeur. Do not conflate “story” with “arcade”. An arcade mode can absolutely be about discovering the final fate of Balrog, but it’s also a fun way to demo a new fighter. A story mode might provide all the story content you could ever desire, but, practically by definition, it’s going to require playing as some characters that aren’t Ken. And that’s rough! If you’re trying to get a real feel for Guile, and Guile isn’t featured in story mode even once, then what the heck was the point?

Once again, an arcade mode can have a story, and it can have rivals, and it certainly should have some kind of ending (see the previous bullet point), but it doesn’t require any of that. Those who need a story should look elsewhere, possibly somewhere someone cares about friggen’ Urien.

But speaking of caring about half-naked, super powered monsters…

An Arcade Mode Needs Difficulty Escalation

Sticks and stonesIn the old days, we had bosses, who were not balanced in the player’s favor at all, and could occasionally climb the background itself to gain another unfair advantage. Nowadays, we have escalating AI, so your first bout might be a perfect, but the fourth is going to be a nail biter. And, through it all, we’ve had difficulty sliders, so you could choose your own adventure and climb the ranks with the help of a star or two. What’s important through it all is that you could watch your own skills escalate, and confront challenges as they appeared. A “hard” version of story mode won’t help in that department, and any sort of intensification in survival mode is certainly not going to scratch that itch. Why? Because the continue button is essential to climbing difficulty.

Look, we all get knocked down. We all lose matches. Even the greatest fighter in the world loses a match every once in a while, even if it’s just because he was distracted and worried about his carrier pigeons back home. And a difficulty escalation is only going to exacerbate that eventuality. Sagat is more difficult than Blanka, and you’re a lot more likely to lose to the cyclops than the beast man. That’s basic math. But an arcade mode allows you to continue, allows you to try again, and doesn’t irrevocably punish you for trying to box outside your weight class. You can get back up, find a path to victory, and, most importantly, actually achieve something in an arcade mode. Victory is not guaranteed, but it’s certainly more likely when a difficulty increase is a speed bump and not a road block.

And when you can actually succeed, you have fun.

And that’s what an arcade mode needs most of all.

FGC #368 Ultra Street Fighter 4

  • System: We’re looking at all Street Fighter 4s here, so arcade, Playstation 3, and Xbox 360 for the initial release, but PC, mobile devices, Playstation 4, and Xbox One by the end of its tenure. And I think the 3DS version counts, too.
  • Number of players: Streets are fought in pairs.
  • Eat itVersion Differences: Vanilla Street Fighter 4 is Street Fighter 2-2. Super Street Fighter 4 includes a few alpha and 3 buddies, and introduces the oily guy and the spider lady. Arcade Edition includes four new Ryus, and Ultra Street Fighter 4 borrowed the extra fighters from Street Fighter X Tekken. Ultra was used for this review, because I prefer to pick my Poison.
  • Favorite Character: Sakura is always there for me, but in the interest of choosing someone interesting, I’ll say Gouken. He’s… like… “broken Ryu”, and I’ll never forget the first time I activated his hurricane kick and flew into the sky. Such a majestic flying old man.
  • Favorite Featured New Character: Gouken doesn’t count? Of the new fighters, I’ll take Juri, as her kicking style is pretty interesting. Rufus is second runner up there, as he’s entirely the right kind of goofy, but I’ve never quite mastered his moves. And El Fuerte…. sucks.
  • Favorite Arcade Mode Ending: Poison starts a KISS-esque rock band of Metro City alums and Ryu/Ken. What fever dream produced that insanity?
  • Did you know? Akuma is the worst assassin ever. As of Street Fighter 3 (which was released before 4, but takes place later in the timeline), Akuma had supposedly killed his brother and Ryu’s master, Gouken (making him the Uncle Ben of the series), M. Bison (at the end of SF2), and Gen (an old man looking for a noble death in Alpha). When Street Fighter 4 kicked off, all three “kills” were back and ready to brawl. That is simply insulting! As of Street Fighter 5, it’s implied Akuma has killed Gen again… but we’ll see if that sticks.
  • Would I play again: Oh, I spent so much time talking about arcade modes that I forgot to really talk about the game. I like it! I like it a lot! Street Fighter 4 is pretty fun, ya’all.

What’s next? Our first post of 2018 is going to review 2017! Let us look to the past as we move forward to the future! Or something! Please look forward to looking back!

OH MY CAR

FGC #367 Mega Man X8

Mega Man!Here lies the Mega Man X series. Forever may it rest.

Let’s get one thing out of the way immediately: Mega Man X is one of my favorite games. Mega Man X2 and X3 are both great experiences, too, as, while they’re not as great as OG X, they both contain that same (exactly the same) enjoyable X gameplay. Then we get into X4 and X5, which introduced Zero as a (permanently) playable character. The jury is still out on whether or not this improved the series, but, for my money, there is nothing more joyous than double jumping around with a lightsaber and dicing mavericks to maver-bits. Then, starting with X6, the series tried to be experimental. And by “experimental” I mean “completely horrible”. If the stories are true, Inafune stopped formally directing the X series with X5 (so he could move on to the Zero series), and X6 was left in hands that were… slightly less capable. X6 may not have been the disaster some have claimed (it is an extremely unpolished mess, but it is still “X gameplay” at the end of the day), but then we got X7.

I’m probably never going to forgive Mega Man X7.

I’ll save the majority of this rant for when ROB inevitably pegs that Playstation 2 title, but, long story short, Mega Man X7 tried to do the “bring old franchise to the modern era” trick… but failed miserably. 3-D action areas were broken and slow, and the beloved gameplay of the SNES/PSX titles was forsaken for Flame Hyenard announcing his intention to “burn”. It was a rotten experience all around, and, while the drive to innovate is always appreciated, it certainly did not work out in this situation.

But, aside from the crummy gameplay, Mega Man X7 introduced another fine addition to the X canon: it firmly planted X’s head so far up his own ass, he could lick the inside of his own reploid ribcage. Only the buster on his arm knows for sure why, but the Mega Man X series always had a sort of maudlin sentimentality to the storytelling. It was mostly confined to the endings during the first three titles, but X4-X6 managed to wedge in conversations with Mavericks that often involved robots lamenting their sorry lots in life shortly before shooting homing fish at each other. Pew PewX7 ratcheted that up a notch or two with a tale of betrayal, refugees, and Sigma that was, fun fact, the exact same plot as Mega Man X4. X7 managed to expand the talky talk of the X series, but still told the exact same story as ever.

The next logical step was clear: an endlessly philosophizing JRPG called Mega Man X: Command Mission. Wait! No! That’s a terrible idea! Please keep the franchise going! We like action games! Please give us a new Mega Man X game, and please let it be an actual goddamn Mega Man game! Please?

Well, we mostly got our wish.

Mega Man X8 should be lauded for a number of reasons. First of all, it was a return to (almost entirely) 2-D gameplay, so 90% of X7’s inane bullshit went right out the window. Additionally, X8 did its best to add an interesting facet to the series, so it allowed for character switching “in battle”, and based a number of scenarios, like escaping a grasping opponent or teaming up for a double attack, on the convention of having two combatants available. X got some curious armor, Zero scored a menagerie of weapons, and Axl’s “morph into a mook” ability got expanded to something actually viable. Couple this with some stimulating secrets, one of the better uses of “money” in the franchise, and your typical eight mavericks ready for a beat down, and Mega Man X8 is a pretty good game to actually play. Assuming you can forgive the vehicle sections and a few areas that are entirely instant death traps, X8 is an enjoyable experience.

But then there’s the story. It’s not that the story is bad (which it certainly is), it’s not that the story is somehow at war with its own continuity (thanks, Zero series!), and it’s not even that the story pukes all over the very concept of even basic science (Earth does not need a space elevator!); no, the greatest sin of the plot of Mega Man X8 is that is tries to be Mega Man Genesis Evangelion without the tiniest hint of irony or self-awareness. The subtitle is “Paradise Lost”. The first stage is Noah’s Park. The final battles are against Sigma as a fiery devil, followed by a fallen angel with beautiful wings. X whines about having to murder his fellow robots while battling the thinnest allegory for the Light Bringer in the history of gaming. Someone thought it was a good idea for Mega Man X, the robot built by Santa Claus to bring about world peace with his flamethrower arm, to play out some Bible fanfic while incidentally battling Isn't that a song?Bamboo Pandamonium, the nihilistic panda robot with swords for fingers. This is a thing that happened, and it absolutely could not have happened by accident. Someone… probably multiple people… thought this was the proper direction for a series featuring a robot that is occasionally named after granite.

And… it killed the X series.

There are likely a number of reasons Mega Man X8 was the final chapter. At this point, it was becoming more and more complicated to create realistic and cartoony graphics, and the general population wasn’t a fan of the latter appearing in practically anything. The man behind the Mega had already moved on to a new series, and the new home of 2-D gaming, the booming portable market, would wind up hosting a number of different Mega experiments (see ZX, Powered Up, and the X-based Maverick Hunter releases). And, hey, the original Mega Man series had stopped at 8 at this point, too, so maybe that’s just the cutoff for Capcom properties (sorry to be the one to tell you this, Resident Evil). The fact that Mega Man X8 had sagging sales compared to other Capcom properties may have been a factor. But, all told, it’s terribly unlikely that anyone looked at the plot of this bonkers adventure, acknowledge said bonkinality, and decided it was time for a break. But should we have received a Mega Man X9 on PS2, I have no doubt it would have continued the story of Axl, the lamest Maverick Hunter in the world, and maybe involved a parable about the sacrifice of Christ or something.

So I have to say this right now: Capcom, if you considering rebooting or reigniting the Mega Man X franchise, please, please ignore every X game since… let’s say… Mega Man X.

Please.

All together nowLook, you don’t have to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Zero is a lock for inclusion, and even Axl could be pretty interesting with his Bass-esque abilities. Include armor parts, weapon upgrades, and maybe even a chip system. That could all be pretty great. But please ignore the entirety of Mega Man X continuity. Please let X just be moderately conflicted, and don’t make him fight gods. Let him run, jump, and explore, but don’t let him in the same room as anything called “The Jakob Project”. X, Zero, Dr. Wily, Sigma: that is all okay. Fighting angels is not.

Mega Man X8 is where the X series died. Let it be dead, and pray that its next resurrection is decidedly less holy.

FGC #367 Mega Man X8

  • System: Playstation 2, and PC a year or so later. Let’s hope the PC version fixed that glitch where the robot ant becomes accidentally trapped in his own box.
  • Number of players: Two hunters at a time, but only one player.
  • She's my buddyBest Reward for OCD: I normally disparage collectathon elements, but the reward for playing this game an unnecessarily long time is unlocking the three navigator lady reploids as playable characters. They’re just reskins of the main cast that are randomly weaker… which is not sending the best message… but they’re also the first you’ve been able to play as anyone with a rep-gina in the X series (give or take the JRPG). And Layer with Sigma’s humongous sword is a beast, so I will hear no detractors.
  • Favorite Maverick: Gravity Antonion is an excuse for flipping stage orientation in a 2-D game, so he gets my vote. He’s also one of the few insect-based mavericks that is any fun at parties. Uh… don’t ask.
  • Did you know? Dark Mantis‘ Pitch Black stage is located in Africa. Darkest Africa. Are you getting Capcom’s clever/racist joke!?
  • Would I play again: I guess there’s an X collection on the horizon, so it’s kind of inevitable. Not looking forward to reclaiming all my hard-earned powerups from scratch again, nor do I want to hear X shout “Lumine” ever again, but, hey, sacrifices must be made.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Street Fighter 4 for whatever system I can find! Hooray! Street Fighting times for the last article of the year! Please look forward to it!

So much purple

FGC #366 Snowboard Kids

Here’s my video Christmas card for the year.

Enjoy the sleigh ride, everybody!

FGC #366 Snowboard Kids

  • WeeeeeSystem: Nintendo 64. And it was on the Playstation 1 in Japan? I had no idea.
  • Number of players: Four sounds like a lovely number for a N64 game.
  • Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: It’s like Mario Kart 64… if Mario Kart kind of sucked. Look, I really appreciate what they were trying to do here, but the way momentum works with the attack items really sucks for anyone going for the gold. We are well past the horrors of blue shells here: get hit by the dinkiest missile near the finish line, and you will never regain the momentum necessary to so much as finish the course. Okay, that’s a bit hyperbolic, but, as someone who tried to “conquer” this game back in the day, it sticks in my craw.
  • Other N64 Problems: This title is Controller Pak based. One day, I will find every last developer responsible for the Controller Pak, and I will *REMAINDER OF MESSAGE DELETED IN THE SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS*.
  • Say something nice: There is some great variety in the (nine) stages, and the fun park (Busy Land… get it?) containing basically every standard amusement attraction is certainly a fine design.
  • Favorite Character: So many characters with goggles! Makes it so hard to choose! I guess I won the most races with Jam, so there’s my pick.
  • Thirsty?Did you know? Most people know about Snowboard Kids 2 (which is vastly superior to SBK1, as it contains a robot), but there was also a Snowboard Kids game for Nintendo DS about seven years later. It wasn’t bad, but it was also anime as hell, so it gets a number of points in the negative column.
  • Would I play again: Nope! Mario Kart 64 is right there! It is slightly more technical, and it has a gorilla. Clear winner.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Mega Man X8! It’s a Megamas miracle! Please look forward to it!