Samurai Shodown 2019 — Issue 39

Show­ing up to show out

Vet­eran fight­ing series Samu­rai Shodown returns with few flaws

SNK has done it again. Gor­geous graph­ics, fun play mechan­ics and a solid fight­ing game engine make up the core of one of its flag­ship fight­ing fran­chises fea­tur­ing samu­rai. If you’re in the mode for beau­ti­ful fight­ing in the Japan­ese feu­dal era, you’ve come to the right place in the 2019 revival of Samu­rai Shodown.

Get­ting back to the root of what makes Samu­rai Shodown fun and unique, the 2019 reboot is basic in every way. The bare­bones options mean there isn’t much to do, but if you’re look­ing to just pick a fighter and jump in, it’s clearly there for that. You choose from 18 base ros­ter fight­ers and duke it out in feu­dal Japan with var­i­ous moti­va­tions. All are inves­ti­gat­ing a com­ing cat­a­stro­phe, but their inten­tion in the face of a sin­is­ter envi­ron­ment is unique. Timeline-wise, the game is set between the pre­quel Samu­rai Shodown V and the orig­i­nal Samu­rai Shodown. So, you’re get­ting a taste of the story before the main series even kicks off.

The char­ac­ters, as well as the back­grounds, are stun­ning. SNK has always been known for its impres­sive atten­tion to detail when it comes to graph­ics with Samu­rai Shodown, and this entry is no dif­fer­ent. The col­ors pop with an empha­sis on non-realistic graph­ics that resem­ble what we know in the West as ukiyo-e and wood­block paint­ings; every­thing is utterly gor­geous, begin­ning with the menu and options screens.

As a title set in feu­dal Japan, the music must reflect the envi­ron­ment — and it’s well done as well. The use of tra­di­tional Japan­ese instru­ments has always been present in Samu­rai Shodown and it’s used lib­er­ally and to great effect. Also, the voice work is excel­lent. We appre­ci­ate the Japan­ese lan­guage, and it sounds beau­ti­ful and clear here.

We do have an obvi­ous issue with the reboot, despite its beauty. There is a notice­able lack of things to do once you stop mar­veling at the graph­ics. Where are the modes beyond the stan­dard offer­ings? So much more could have been added, espe­cially with the series’ his­tory at hand. It’s a pretty pack­age but it’s miss­ing a lot.

Samu­rai Shodown has been around for a long time, and this revival is just that: A return to the roots of a fan­tas­tic fight­ing game series. This entry is stun­ning and grace­ful yet just enough to whet the appetite of a fight­ing game new­comer or a sea­soned vet­eran. With this suc­cess, SNK now knows what it needs to do to show up and show out with the renewed inter­est in the show­stop­per that is Samu­rai Shodown.

Ghost of Tsushima — Issue 39

A ghostly com­pelling tale

Beau­ti­ful. Stun­ning. Breath­tak­ing. The Japan­ese coun­try­side of Tsushima can only be described this way, and this is being mod­est. Immer­sion in the strug­gle and bur­den of a samu­rai lord in 13th cen­tury Japan against invad­ing Mon­gols is stu­pe­fy­ing once you real­ize that it’s intri­cately crafted in a video game. You are the ghost, the Ghost of Tsushima.

Wan­der­ing around the real island of Tsushima, Japan, in 1274 is a fairy­tale. Every loca­tion and nearly every blade of grass or tree tells a story. That story is of samu­rai lord Jin Sakai, a man des­per­ate to save his home from an invad­ing Mon­go­lian force led by the grand­son of Genghis Khan. Jin gath­ers a coun­ter­force, only to be defeated and nearly killed. In the process of heal­ing, Jin finds allies to rally to the cause and peti­tions for help from the shogu­nate to defeat the Mon­gols. You become Jin in your quest to save his home and gather weapons and sup­plies, learn skills, acquire alliances, and fight to repeal the invaders. There is much to learn and see in the open world pre­sented to you even if you aren’t a his­tory buff or care about the pol­i­tics, econ­omy, or goings on of feu­dal Japan. There are no time lim­its for tack­ling mis­sions, and you are encour­aged to free roam and explore the land.

Much like any other open world game I’ve ever played, what I like to call the “Metroid instinct” kicks in and I find myself search­ing every nook and cranny to find hid­den sup­plies and other good­ies. Dur­ing my explo­ration, of course, I come across peo­ple who don’t like Jin. I note the pres­ence of bon­fires, which gen­er­ally indi­cates who I like to refer to as “dudes.” Dudes are the type that are gen­er­ally hos­tile to me and my inter­ests. Those inter­ests involve inves­ti­ga­tion and sav­ing peo­ple in the gen­eral pop­u­lace who require the ser­vices of a skilled samu­rai and con­tract killer. This is usu­ally how the fight starts: Dudes notice me in my fin­ery and my mag­i­cal horse frol­ick­ing in the coun­try­side and now they want to get reck­less about things.

In an absolutely fun mechanic, I tend to get into stand­offs with ban­dits. Now, my fight­ing skills here with a katana and tantō are not the best, but I have been known to make dudes meet their maker quickly. Sim­i­larly, I’m not great with archery, but I make the best of a bad sit­u­a­tion and stealth kill my way through the coun­try­side cleanly and quickly. My grasp of the con­trols is ten­u­ous at best, but that’s on me and my lack of skill and “older folks’ reflexes™”. Ghost’s con­trol mechan­ics are sound and easy to pick up with a lit­tle practice.

As I explore after my fights, loot­ing what I need, I take in the scenery. Ghost of Tsushima is quite pos­si­bly the most beau­ti­ful video game I have ever seen. I’ve been play­ing games a long time, and I can’t say until now that I’ve ever been just wowed by a game where I specif­i­cally take in-game pho­tog­ra­phy to use as a back­ground. This is what you buy the lat­est con­sole for and the best TV for: mar­veling at the graph­ics. I’m not even on the lat­est PlaySta­tion model (I’m play­ing with a PS4 Pro), and Ghost makes almost every­thing else look like stick fig­ures from the Atari 2600 era.

With a mas­ter­ful audio expe­ri­ence, Ghost has the sound and feel of a Kuro­sawa mas­ter­piece. You want to feel like the epic Seven Samu­rai? Turn on the Japan­ese dia­logue and Eng­lish sub­ti­tles. It’s that type of expe­ri­ence. The nat­ural ambiance is also nice. It’s com­fort­ing to know that pay­ing atten­tion to sounds in the envi­ron­ment can save Jin’s life when I’m explor­ing. I’ve lost count of the num­ber of times lis­ten­ing for audio cues linked to bears or dudes has helped me avoid an ambush.

While it’s a great expe­ri­ence, Ghost is not with­out its prob­lems. The cam­era work doesn’t always help when it’s time to fight. Often, I’m fight­ing the cam­era to see my ene­mies and avoid tak­ing mas­sive dam­age. The cam­era could use some refine­ment in later updates. And my other issue is the Leg­ends mode, added after the game’s ini­tial release. I was all geared up to play with my part­ner and then real­ized that this long-awaited co-op mode does not sup­port local play. We were hotly antic­i­pat­ing being able to roam around Tsushima together as we’re gamers, engrossed in the tale of Jin who absolutely love samu­rai. But we were highly dis­ap­pointed to learn that the only co-op sup­ported is online. Though the mode is free, it was a mas­sive let­down to real­ize that we weren’t going to be play­ing this epic together.

Despite some minor tech­ni­cal issues, Ghost of Tsushima hits the mark in a lot of areas. A com­pe­tent nar­ra­tive, open world explo­ration, stun­ning visu­als and an easy-to-grasp sys­tem are just some of the good­ies await­ing engross­ment in Jin’s tale of revenge and rev­o­lu­tion in 1274 feu­dal Japan. Ghost of Tsushima scares up a great adven­ture wor­thy of all the praise one can muster.

Dynasty Warriors: Gundam 2 — Issue 39

Gun­dam sec­ond game not yet there

Pre­vi­ously, I reviewed Dynasty War­riors: Gun­dam 3, which set the stage for me to try the oth­ers in the series. Lit­tle did I know, I would be learn­ing a valu­able les­son: Not every pop­u­lar fran­chise will always have best-sellers. An excel­lent exam­ple would be Dynasty War­riors: Gun­dam 2.

Gun­dam 2 fol­lows the same ros­ter of char­ac­ters in var­i­ous entries in the Gun­dam uni­verse, includ­ing some char­ac­ters and mobile suits that were only fea­tured in Gun­dam movies. To com­pen­sate for a lack of a sto­ry­line, DWG2 has two modes: Story, where you can play as one of a select group of char­ac­ters from their respec­tive Gun­dam series; and, Mis­sion, where you choose a char­ac­ter with var­i­ous mis­sions set in the uni­ver­sal cen­tury time­line and you can inter­act with var­i­ous char­ac­ters from other series. As you move along, you gain expe­ri­ence points to increase your level and col­lect var­i­ous mobile suit parts. There is also a chance to earn new skills just like DWG3 as you advance to higher levels.

Gun­dam 2 also spe­cial mis­sions where you can fight against other oppo­nents to earn licenses to pilot dif­fer­ent suits, earn the trust of other char­ac­ters to fight beside you and acquire higher-level parts for mobile suits. The mobile suit lab and ter­mi­nal fea­tures help you to keep up with chang­ing events and cur­rent devel­op­ments with dif­fer­ent mobile suits.

What I like about Gun­dam 2 is that every char­ac­ter is legit in the Gun­dam uni­verse, which made me won­der if I saw the actual Gun­dam series with that char­ac­ter. Also, the open­ing cin­ema was high qual­ity, show­ing off the minor suits such as GMs and Zakus, who were observ­ing the OG RX-78, Strike Free­dom and Nu Gun­dam suits doing bat­tle while the Saz­abi and Psy­cho Gun­dam lurked in the shad­ows. Addi­tion­ally, I also appre­ci­ated Namco Bandai, Sun­rise and Koei retain­ing the orig­i­nal Eng­lish voice actors to reprise their respec­tive char­ac­ters; this gives DWG2 the needed cred­i­bil­ity as an offi­cial Gun­dam video game.

How­ever, despite the good, the bad parts stick out like sore thumbs. When I try to fight in other bat­tle­fields, I’m restricted in mov­ing, which weak­ens my attacks, and leaves me vul­ner­a­ble. Also, the in-game cam­era was VERY unhelp­ful, espe­cially in boss fights with giant ene­mies where I was pilot­ing my mobile suit on low energy while run­ning and avoid­ing attacks by giant ene­mies like Psy­cho Gun­dam, Big Zam, and Queen Mansa. I also found cer­tain parts of the game have unre­al­is­tic time lim­its to fight ene­mies to achieve cer­tain objec­tives. Finally, I found the biggest insult to me as a Gun­dam fan was the graph­ics; these feel like cheap knock-off paint jobs of Gun­dam and lower-rank mobile suits alike. To be fair, the asso­ci­ated pilots look like their anime coun­ter­parts, but the suits were not given the same treat­ment. Unfor­tu­nately, I would also be remiss if I did not include the LONG wait to obtain skills, unlike in DWG3. I could unlock and pur­chase new skills in addi­tion to lev­el­ing up char­ac­ters more effi­ciently via train­ing ses­sions in the lat­ter game’s shop.

There are hits and misses that the qual­ity assur­ance teams should have noticed, but there are bright spots such as music and voice act­ing being excel­lent. I would still play Gun­dam 2 when I have free time, but Bandai Namco did such a rush job on it that I feel jus­ti­fied almost not rec­om­mend­ing it. I’m just glad that DWG3 is a far supe­rior prod­uct and sticks to the essen­tials that make Gun­dam, well, Gun­dam. Dynasty War­riors: Gun­dam 2 is on the way but not quite there.

Nobunaga’s Ambition — Issue 39

Ambi­tious guide to greatness

I’m appar­ently no bat­tle­field gen­eral. I learned this fas­ci­nat­ing tid­bit about myself within a rather rough short sea­son of my gam­ing life through dis­as­trous deci­sions and lack of prepa­ra­tion. My troops weren’t ready, I didn’t have enough horses and my crops failed to sus­tain my gar­ri­son. Even my samu­rai and ninja were taken out quickly. I was out­manned, out­matched and dec­i­mated before I knew what hit me. Suf­fice to say, if I had been Oda Nobunaga, feu­dal Japan would have been in sham­bles like my men­tions on Twit­ter these days. That is the way in Nobunaga’s Ambition.

Ambi­tion is not for the faint of heart. It requires seri­ous plan­ning, thought­ful tac­ti­cal strikes, and good resource man­age­ment. At its core, Nobunaga’s Ambi­tion is a war sim­u­la­tion that takes you through feu­dal Japan’s rev­o­lu­tion­ary period, where uni­fi­ca­tion was the goal and Nobunaga was the man to do it — pos­si­bly. While you can choose to be Nobunaga, you can be any other num­ber of gen­er­als from dif­fer­ent regions of Japan at the time. You’re tasked with rais­ing an army, gath­er­ing and main­tain­ing sup­plies, and defend­ing your region while con­quer­ing oth­ers in a bid to unify all of Japan under your shogunate.

You roam around the Japan­ese coun­try­side with your troops and chal­lenge the other gen­er­als in a turn-based bat­tle some­times to the death. If suc­cess­ful, your name will be men­tioned in his­tory as a great gen­eral and the uni­fier, much as his­tory played out with Nobunaga’s vic­tory over Shogun Ashik­aga Yoshi­aki in 1582 and his suc­ces­sors’ bat­tles after his death.

The premise is unique, though to fully appre­ci­ate what it is you’re doing and why, you prob­a­bly will have to be a his­tory geek or inter­ested in Asian his­tory. It’s niche but fun with a lot of his­tor­i­cal edu­ca­tion thrown in.

Its niche con­text aside, the game is fun to play once you fully get into the sim­u­la­tion. It’s a very 1993 pre­sen­ta­tion. The graph­ics are small for the maps, but they’re rem­i­nis­cent of the graph­ics of the time for the SNES and Win­dows games. The stand­out among the graph­ics, though, are the gen­eral por­traits. They’re col­or­ful — as are the other graphic ele­ments — but are also beau­ti­fully detailed. For a SNES game, the graph­ics are top notch and still can com­pete with the big titles of the era.

The music can be a lit­tle grat­ing but it’s not overly ter­ri­ble. There are a few dif­fer­ent songs for the menus and bat­tle, and while slightly tinny, they are OK in a short-term play setting.

If you’re into strat­egy sim­u­la­tions and Japan­ese his­tory, let curios­ity strike and set­tle in for a rous­ing bat­tle. Nobunaga’s Ambi­tion is enough to get you started in the genre and is des­tined to lead to greater things.

Yakuza: Dead Souls — Issue 39

Yakuza and zom­bies mix well

In my vast inven­tory of inter­ests, mafia movies are one that would make me curl up on a week­end after­noon with pop­corn, drinks and other treats in hand. While I know that some famous mafia movies and tele­vi­sion series are being devel­oped into video games, Sega’s Yakuza series is already a per­fect com­bi­na­tion of action, adven­ture, and the mafia. I was thrilled to com­bine my love for the series with zom­bie ele­ments in Yakuza: Dead Souls.

Set a year after the events in Yakuza 4, an unknown dis­ease out­break in the dis­trict of Kamurochō has affected its res­i­dents, turn­ing them into zom­bies through bites. As a result, the Japan­ese Ground Self-Defense Force has been called in to assist with the slow and expand­ing quar­an­tine. Dur­ing this chaotic time, cer­tain ene­mies of the Tojo clan have arisen to take advan­tage of Kamurochō’s suf­fer­ing. The fate of Kamurochō and Japan rests in the hands of four men: Shun Akiyama, a loan shark try­ing to save his sick recep­tion­ist; Goro Majima, a feared yakuza and con­struc­tion com­pany owner who is fight­ing his own infec­tion; Ryuji Goda, a dis­graced yakuza and takoy­aki chef whose clan has a tie to the out­break; and, series pro­tag­o­nist Kiryu Kazuma, who runs a children’s orphan­age and returns to Kamurochō when his adop­tive daugh­ter is kidnapped.

Dead Souls is an open-world game that com­bines action, adven­ture, and sur­vival hor­ror ele­ments. The plot is one akin to samu­rai movies where there are four chap­ters with four parts for each char­ac­ter with the final chap­ter reserved for Kiryu. Con­trols for move­ment and the game cam­era are sim­ple with the ana­log sticks. You will also be given “memos,” a list with spe­cial sec­tions to teach you basics such as using weapons, eva­sion, and close quar­ter com­bat, which help when fac­ing off against the legion of zom­bies. I appre­ci­ated the abil­ity to level up each character’s attrib­utes through use of soul points that upgrades abil­i­ties to carry more items, improve knowl­edge of zom­bies, weapons mod­i­fi­ca­tions and pro­tec­tive gear, and mas­ter advanced close quar­ter com­bat techniques.

As the game pro­gresses, your cur­rent char­ac­ter will be assisted by three NPCs: Reiko Hasekawa, a researcher who offers infor­ma­tion and rewards for com­pleted tasks; Gary “Buster” Holmes, a firearms expert who helps the pro­tag­o­nists and their tem­po­rary com­pan­ions with gun train­ing; and, Renji Kamiyama, weapons seller and mod­i­fier of weapons and pro­tec­tive gear who can also be used as a pawn­bro­ker to buy rare items.

I also appre­ci­ate the clas­si­fi­ca­tion of var­i­ous zom­bie ene­mies; that orga­ni­za­tion method can help you plan the appro­pri­ate strat­egy or sim­ply avoid con­tact with them. While you’re run­ning around Kamurochō, pay atten­tion to the music. It’s one of Sega’s best sound­tracks in the mod­ern era and puts the Yakuza series among Sega’s go-to ros­ter of great soundtracks.

The graph­ics are OK for the time when it released. It’s good for an open world game, though there’s room for improve­ment. Though, com­pared to other games at the time, Yakuza: Dead Souls doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily out­shine the com­pe­ti­tion; it just merely com­petes. The only real prob­lem I have with Dead Souls is the inclu­sion of sce­nar­ios where you must chase down peo­ple while fend­ing off zom­bies. I know a yakuza got to make his money, but Sega was putting these char­ac­ters in dan­ger­ous con­di­tions with­out any pro­tec­tive gear, which is slightly unrealistic.

Dead Souls is great to play on a day off or slow week­end, though I would offer two pieces of advice: Do not play late at night, and do not play while COVID-19 is still around. It’s a nice attempt to mix mul­ti­ple gen­res. I can say this with no doubt: Sega’s got a smash hit ready to secure all bags and show its com­pe­ti­tion why it does not pay to under­es­ti­mate the Yakuza.

Fun Facts:

* Yakuza is the term given to transna­tional crime orga­ni­za­tions based in Japan. They are also known as” boryoku­dan,” which the Japan­ese police advise for pub­lic media to use when cov­er­ing yakuza-related sto­ries. The yakuza also call them­selves “ninkyo dan­tai,” or chival­rous groups.

* Accord­ing to Japan’s National Police Agency as of 2020, there are at least 25,900 active yakuza mem­bers, despite rigid leg­is­la­tion aimed to com­bat yakuza involve­ment with the Japan­ese pub­lic. These mem­bers are accounted among the three major yakuza fam­i­lies: Yamaguchi-gumi, Somiyoshi-kai and Inagawa-kai.

* Yakuza groups have been known to oper­ate in major U.S. cities and use Hawaii as a hub to con­duct var­i­ous legal and ille­gal enterprises.

Gundam Versus — Issue 38

Gun­dam soars in top-notch mecha simulator

I’m a HUGE Gun­dam fan. Next to my love of Mega Man, Gun­dam is my sec­ond great­est obses­sion. Because of lim­ited space, I’ll have to be con­tent with the lim­ited Gun­dam merch that I have amassed. The lat­est addi­tion was given to me for my recent birth­day; it made me recall play­ing a Gun­dam arcade fight­ing game at Nashicon 2016. Would it serve to sat­isfy my hunger for giant robots caus­ing mas­sive dam­age and beat­ing them­selves to obliv­ion? “Gun­dam Ver­sus” for PlaySta­tion 4 gave me my answer.

Gun­dam Ver­sus has some unique advan­tages going for it as a fight­ing game. Its source mate­r­ial is based on a uni­ver­sally rec­og­nized anime series. Unlike other fight­ing games, it does not have a sto­ry­line, allow­ing you to jump straight to the action with­out know­ing back­ground story. That sold me as some­one who knows a series’ back­ground, not need­ing knowl­edge about spe­cific char­ac­ters’ background.

The abil­ity to choose a series favorite from a ros­ter of more than 90 mobile suits from var­i­ous Gun­dam works ensures that you are not lim­ited to char­ac­ters in Gun­dam series only aired in the U.S. Each stage is open area, allow­ing you to plan offense or defense with the ben­e­fit of hid­ing or run­ning from your oppo­nents while recov­er­ing from attacks. Also, you can have two addi­tional char­ac­ters to back you with one serv­ing as a strik­ing part­ner to tag team oppos­ing forces with the per­fect tim­ing. They are avail­able to have a train­ing ses­sion to get you famil­iar with your cho­sen suit.

Those who are not accus­tomed to run-and-gun gam­ing will get frus­trated and want to quit play­ing. The open bat­tle­field requires a 360-degree view, which the PS4 con­trols are decent enough to help han­dle the action. While Gun­dam Ver­sus made an hon­or­able attempt to include all Gun­dam ele­ments, some open­ing themes were played on repeat way too much and that took away the focus from game­play and placed it on the music. Music for the game is top notch, which is to be expected from the Bandai Namco sound team. This was the first time the team did an inter­na­tional col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Czech Phil­har­monic Orches­tra for the open­ing visual. That adds some fla­vor and extras to the pre­sen­ta­tion. While I was dis­ap­pointed that the game didn’t offer an Eng­lish dub track, the orig­i­nal Japan­ese audio for the Gun­dam fran­chise ensured that Ver­sus has the appro­pri­ate Gun­dam feel.

A down­side is that cer­tain series I liked and wanted to use suits from are stuck as paid con­tent, which left Gun­dam fans like me at Bandai Namco’s mercy regard­ing afford­able pricing.

Gun­dam Ver­sus is a tes­ti­mony of how anime, sci-fi and fight­ing games have merged to cre­ate a prod­uct that is playable for every­one, regard­less of fan­dom knowl­edge. As a Gun­dam afi­cionado, Ver­sus is well worth the time spent play­ing and is the next best thing to own­ing a Gun­dam or mobile suit. I wel­come this new addi­tion to my Gun­dam col­lec­tion as I con­tinue my quest to build a mas­ter­piece col­lec­tion of all things Gundam.

Tekken 7: Fated Retribution — Issue 38

Tekken’s fate unknown after mile­stone entry

Tekken is about a cer­tain sub­stance and style. The fight­ing engine is so deep in Tekken that if you’re just start­ing with the sev­enth game, you’re at an imme­di­ate dis­ad­van­tage because you’re behind. Way behind. Story-wise, you’re behind, too. There’s so much going on with the Mishima clan that you’re bound to be ask­ing the ques­tion: Why now? Tekken isn’t just answer­ing that; it’s pos­ing the ques­tion of what’s next?

For the Mishima clan — and Tekken’s ros­ter at large — the future is the ques­tion on everyone’s mind, but to get there, Tekken 7 stakes its ambi­tions on look­ing back to tell the story of the future. Spoiler alert: With Hei­hachi gone, there’s only Kazuya and Jin left to carry on the blood feud of the clan. The sur­round­ing enti­ties are on either side of the con­flict between father and son, and there will be casu­al­ties. But that isn’t Tekken 7’s main story to tell. Really, it’s two ques­tions: How did Kazuya become enmeshed in the devil gene fool­ish­ness, and how is Hei­hachi entan­gled in that as well? The answers lay with new char­ac­ter Kazumi Mishima, Kazuya’s mother and Heihachi’s wife. She plays a cen­tral role in unrav­el­ing the mys­tery of Kazuya’s trans­for­ma­tion using the devil gene and why Hei­hachi threw his child off a cliff more than 40 years before.

While Bandai Namco is set­ting up the pay­off, look around. You’re in a Tekken game and many things will be true at once: The sound will be phe­nom­e­nal, and the graph­ics will be stun­ning. After all, this is a Tekken title; the King of the Iron Fist tour­na­ment does not slouch. What’s strik­ing is, this is a four-year-old game and it still looks decent. Tekken has never been one to hold back when it comes to looks, and even with the upgraded PlaySta­tion 4 Pro, it’s still a good-looking game. Tekken 7 could look worse with the ben­e­fit of more pro­cess­ing power, and some sec­tions do show the age of the game. How­ever, it’s min­i­mal as far as Tekken is con­cerned, and Tekken 7 is still a pow­er­house when com­pared to every­thing else on the market.

The sound­track is excel­lent, though I wanted a lit­tle more from it. I real­ize that not every Tekken sound­track is going to be the first Tag, where every track was a banger. How­ever, this is Tekken, and a cer­tain bar has been set by past games that cur­rent games must live up to. There are some bangers here, but not nearly enough. For ref­er­ence, I have every Tekken sound­track ever released, arcade and home ver­sions. For the first four games, I have the entire sound­track saved on my iPod. As the series pro­gressed, I had fewer songs from each sound­track. As of Tekken 7, I have two tracks. It’s a good sound­track, but it just isn’t any­thing I haven’t heard before in a Tekken game. Tekken 8, or what­ever it will be called, will have to step things up in the sound department.

As far as Tekken’s playa­bil­ity, I can’t really attest to it on a hands-on level. Full dis­clo­sure: I’m not a good Tekken player. That said, how­ever, I find it a lit­tle eas­ier to pick up Tekken and play with the new fea­tures added in the arcade mode. I really like that there’s an easy combo assist fea­ture. It makes it far less frus­trat­ing to learn the combo sys­tem, and it makes it much eas­ier for begin­ners to under­stand how moves flow together.

Tekken, despite hav­ing only four attack but­tons, has always been about depth, and that’s scary for the unini­ti­ated like myself. With the assist fea­ture, I’m more inclined to take the time to learn and dig just a lit­tle deeper with the series. It’s a fan­tas­tic addi­tion that needs to stick around in future entries.

The char­ac­ter cus­tomiza­tion mode also deserves some praise as it’s com­ing along nicely. It’s been around now for at least three games, and it’s got­ten bet­ter each iter­a­tion. This is part of the depth of Tekken — along with its engine and combo sys­tem — that makes it such a great series. Tekken 7 takes care of the details, and the obvi­ous love and care put into the cus­tomiza­tion sys­tem gives the game con­tin­ued life, even as it gets a lit­tle long in the tooth. The fact that new char­ac­ters and upgrades are still being released is fan­tas­tic con­sid­er­ing the game’s age.

With the sto­ry­line dic­tat­ing growth and the graph­ics engine need­ing to catch up to other fight­ing game dar­lings, Tekken has its work cut out in keep­ing up with the sur­round­ing com­pe­ti­tion. Tekken 7 does an admirable job demon­strat­ing its sta­bil­ity and abil­ity to lead the pack as the King of the Iron Fist, and its longevity and intu­itive fea­tures con­tinue to make it an attrac­tive option for those need­ing a fix from Mishima and Co. Tekken 7 is good enough to keep its crown and can prob­a­bly shrug off new chal­lenges for the throne until its time for the eighth go-round. Long live the king.

Injustice 2: Legendary Edition — Issue 38

Injus­tice 2 hits right notes in super rematch

The intri­ca­cies of deter­min­ing the win­ner of the sto­ried fight between Bat­man and the Joker all depend on prep time for Bat­man and the Joker’s mani­a­cal state at the time of the bat­tle. We’ve thought this through and deter­mined that even with min­i­mal prep time, Bat­man could win this fight con­sid­er­ing his pre­vi­ous expe­ri­ence with the Joker. To sim­u­late it, we would need only one thing: the Injus­tice series of games. And con­sid­er­ing Injus­tice 2 has more chances for this to hap­pen with proper sim­u­la­tion, you can best believe we’re div­ing deep into the solid sequel DC comic book fight­ing game.

Injus­tice 2 is a com­pe­tent sto­ry­teller in its quest to be a DC comic book sim­u­la­tor. Set after the fall of Superman’s tyran­ni­cal regime, Injus­tice 2 places Bat­man at the fore­front again to take on the task of rebuild­ing soci­ety and com­bat­ing a new threat in the form of The Soci­ety. Mix­ing in long­time Super­man foe Bra­niac only adds to the chaos. What it boils down to is that these are char­ac­ters you know from the DC uni­verse — even if you’re pass­ingly famil­iar with them — fight­ing it out to stop Super­man from con­tin­u­ing his reign of tyranny estab­lished in the pre­vi­ous game.

Where Injus­tice 2 shines is its pre­sen­ta­tion and its char­ac­ters. Every­thing that looked good in the first Injus­tice is much-better look­ing the sec­ond time around. The user inter­face got a newer, sleeker coat of paint, and all the char­ac­ter mod­els and back­grounds look bet­ter and cleaner, too. The char­ac­ter select screen even looks bet­ter and more fluid. NetherRealm’s fight­ing game visu­als get bet­ter with each game, so this is just a tes­ta­ment to their grow­ing prowess. The music isn’t stand­out, but it’s serviceable.

Despite its shiny upgraded pre­sen­ta­tion, I’m still not a fan of how it plays. The com­bat doesn’t feel nat­ural, like say, how Mor­tal Kom­bat feels. It still feels like it’s a step or two behind MK and like it’s try­ing too hard to dif­fer­en­ti­ate itself from that series by throw­ing a wrench into the basic combo setups. I’m also not a fan of the unlock sys­tem. It’s a lot of gear to unlock for a lot of char­ac­ters, but I don’t really have the time or the incli­na­tion to sit and work on it. I’m not say­ing have it unlocked imme­di­ately when I first start the game, but I am say­ing it needs to be eas­ier. The expe­ri­ence is not the most enjoyable.

Injus­tice 2 is a nice upgrade from the first game. It’s got the name fac­tor, char­ac­ters you prob­a­bly know and slick pre­sen­ta­tion that will catch most anyone’s eye who is into fight­ing games. Whether you’re a comic book fan or a casual fight­ing game con­nois­seur, Injus­tice 2 is worth a look to see if it’s worth its weight in kryptonite.

https://youtu.be/y2pRWAccRMg

Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite — Issue 38

Mar­vel vs. Cap­com now infi­nitely frus­trat­ing series

The Mar­vel fight­ing game scene is well known by now and well worn. Pretty much, any­one who’s any­one in the Mar­vel comic uni­verse and movies has been in a Mar­vel Ver­sus game. This is noth­ing new by now. You’ve seen these peo­ple before and, if you’re a Cap­com fan, you have seen their side of the ros­ter in other games before you got here. So, what exactly are you get­ting out of play­ing the lat­est iter­a­tion in the long-running Mar­vel Ver­sus Cap­com series? Not much, but Cap­com already knew that. They just hoped you wouldn’t notice.

If you’re invested in the Mar­vel Cin­e­matic Uni­verse but don’t know any­thing about the comics, MvC: Infi­nite serves as a start­ing point for under­stand­ing the comics side of things in prepa­ra­tion for Avengers Endgame. Oh, yeah, there’s some Cap­com story set up, too, as an after­thought. Really, this is sev­eral sto­ries mashed together: From Mar­vel, you get the Infin­ity Saga and Age of Ultron story; from Cap­com comes Sigma and Mega Man X’s story and some of Vam­pire Savior/Darkstalker’s 3 arc deal­ing with Jedah Dohma. The story kind of makes sense in a mashed-up way. It’s not half bad, given that the pre­vi­ous efforts of Mar­vel vs. Cap­com 3 to give a cin­e­matic team up was decent and miles ahead of any other title in the series to date. Mostly, the Mar­vel Ver­sus series has fol­lowed an estab­lished comic book arc — Mar­vel vs. Street Fighter was mostly Apoc­a­lypse and the first Mar­vel vs. Cap­com focused on Onslaught — and this is no dif­fer­ent. Where it fal­ters is oversimplification.

The Infin­ity Saga is never truly fin­ished in the comics because Mar­vel con­stantly returns to it over the years to explain a lot of things. Also, think­ing crit­i­cally about what this is really based on, the story of the Infin­ity Saga really took about 18 of the 22 MCU movies to tell its story. You can­not tell this story in two games — Mar­vel Super Heroes being the first to tell this arc. Infi­nite tries to and winds up half accom­plish­ing it with some weird, forced Cap­com story side fool­ish­ness thrown in for good mea­sure, because hey, Cap­com is also in the name.

You get the sense that if Capcom’s angle of things was removed, this would be just fine, and Infi­nite would be OK with­out it. That does not help Cap­com at all here. Imme­di­ately, it destroys the need for a new team-up game and ren­ders Capcom’s side of the ros­ter unnec­es­sary. I do not feel Ryu or Chun Li are use­ful in any of the sit­u­a­tions pre­sented in the story mode.

The ros­ter is actu­ally not bad, but with the few new addi­tions locked behind a DLC pay­wall, you’re kind of left to won­der would Infi­nite be just a tad bit bet­ter if the more note­wor­thy char­ac­ters were avail­able from the start. The base group is basi­cally a retread ros­ter from MvC3, and the new addi­tions should have been in the series; the fact that we’re just now get­ting Black Widow, Black Pan­ther, Jedah and the Win­ter Sol­dier is a crime that only Cap­com seems to like committing.

In addi­tion to the generic over­sim­pli­fi­ca­tion of the story, the pre­sen­ta­tion is just as generic and bland. The Mar­vel Ver­sus series has always had strong pre­sen­ta­tion, and to be frank, this ain’t it, as the kids say these days. The back­grounds are good, but some of the char­ac­ter designs have an oof level the size of Ultron Sigma’s final form. They are, quite frankly, ter­ri­ble a lot of the time. There seems to be an attempt at real­ism but not, at the same time, because some of the Mar­vel char­ac­ters look like their MCU coun­ter­parts, but then when you look closer, there’s a detail that keeps them from look­ing exactly like the actor or actress that plays the character.

For exam­ple, look at Cap­tain Amer­ica and Cap­tain Mar­vel. Cap­tain Amer­ica, from far away, looks exactly like MCU Win­ter Soldier-era Cap­tain Amer­ica as por­trayed by real-world Cap­tain Amer­ica stal­wart Chris Evans. Up close, how­ever, Cap looks just enough dif­fer­ent for you to real­ize that Evans prob­a­bly didn’t con­sent to his like­ness for the game. Same for Cap­tain Mar­vel and actress Brie Lar­son. It’s a small but notice­able quib­ble I have here. And, some of these Cap­com char­ac­ters look atro­cious. Ryu’s face on the title screen is hor­rific. The sprites look ter­ri­ble here but in game, he looks fine. It’s a shame because every other game in the series has been OK in terms of the graph­ics. Sure, they weren’t award-winning, but they reflected the series’ growth. Infi­nite looks like it took about 10 steps back in a lot of respects.

The music is just as bland. Each iter­a­tion of the Ver­sus series has had some bangers on the sound­track — even the much-maligned Mar­vel vs. Cap­com 2’s sound­track was mem­o­rable if not catchy. Here, there is absolutely noth­ing note­wor­thy. It’s the first Ver­sus game where I don’t have some­thing from the sound­track saved, which is not good at all. As I played through the story mode, I kept wait­ing for some­thing to jump out at me, and I got noth­ing. I was not impressed.

The con­trols didn’t impress, either. There has been a noted trend, since MvC3 was released, to sim­plify the game sys­tem for the Ver­sus games to make them more accessible.

While I’m always a fan of draw­ing in the casual fan for these types of games, I’m not a fan of ruin­ing a good thing. MvC2 was still acces­si­ble to even the most casual fight­ing game player, and this is even worse than the ton­ing down of the con­trols between MvC2 and MvC3. There is no depth to the combo sys­tem now, and that doesn’t help Infi­nite in any way.

I’m under­whelmed when it comes to Mar­vel vs. Cap­com Infi­nite. Noth­ing plays in its favor, noth­ing makes any sense, and the team-up crossover event is show­ing its age in every facet of the game. There’s noth­ing new here to make me say wow or push me to play as I did the other games in the series. If Cap­com were to lose the Mar­vel license again, it wouldn’t be a shocker or unwarranted.

 It’s time to admit that the series is not an infi­nite source of amuse­ment. Unfor­tu­nately, at this point, it’s merely a finite source of fight­ing game goodness.

https://youtu.be/HtaPm4hF4FY

Final Fight 2 — Issue 38

Cap­com brawler takes fight worldwide

As a child of the early ’90s, Final Fight not only increased my addic­tion to arcade games, but also intro­duced me fur­ther to Capcom’s sky­rock­et­ing rise as a game devel­oper. I dived into Final Fight 2 to relive my arcade glory days.

In Final Fight 2, time has passed since Mike Hag­gar, Cody Tra­vers and Cody’s friend Guy defeated the Mad Gear gang, restored peace to the streets of Metro City and res­cued Haggar’s daugh­ter Jes­sica from the Mad Gear’s leader, Bel­ger. That peace is short-lived when the rem­nants of Mad Gear return under a new leader and kid­nap Guy’s fiancée, Rena, and Guy’s sen­sei, Genryusai.

With Cody away on a trip with Jes­sica and Guy away on secret train­ing, Hag­gar is joined by Rena’s sis­ter, Maki, and Haggar’s friend Car­los Miyamoto on a world­wide quest to crush the Mad Gear and res­cue Rena and Gen­ryu­sai. FF2 has a lot going for it; it’s a direct sequel never released in arcades with a lot of new mate­r­ial despite no new gen­eral mechanics.

FF2 has an expanded bat­tle­field with Hag­gar, Maki and Car­los start­ing their jour­ney in Hong Kong and end­ing that jour­ney in Japan. The main pro­tag­o­nists make their way through sev­eral locales in Europe in their search for Rena, all the while sur­rounded by improved graph­ics over the first game. The back­grounds are high qual­ity, and the sprites are well-drawn and crisp for each char­ac­ter with a lot of atten­tion to detail.

The atten­tion to detail also shows up in the con­trols. Over­all, con­trol is sim­ple even though each char­ac­ter has a unique fight­ing style. Hag­gar still has his pro wrestling moves, Maki makes use of Nin­jitsu and Car­los prac­tices mar­tial arts and sword skills. Though they are generic in exe­cu­tion, it’s fun to see how each char­ac­ter oper­ates dur­ing the fight.

Power-ups are still obtained via smash­ing var­i­ous objects and range from steamed Chi­nese buns to a pair of shoes that can increase health or score points. Find­ing either a Gen­ryu­sai or Guy doll will give an extra life or invin­ci­bil­ity. As for the music, it is arcade per­fect just like its pre­de­ces­sor. It’s a nice sound­track of early Cap­com brawler, and it fits the action per­fectly in each of the game’s locations.

As much as I enjoyed FF2, the game does have some flaws. While each char­ac­ter has their own awe­some spe­cial moves, using them does cost health. That’s annoy­ing when you’re try­ing to use more pow­er­ful moves to defeat bosses and try­ing not to die at the same time. Also, dur­ing the timed bonus stages, con­trol is hit or miss when strik­ing objects; if it’s not done per­fectly, you lose the bonus points. I also got frus­trated when I couldn’t take the weapons I found into other areas. That cheap­ens the use of the weapon and makes it use­less shortly after pick­ing it up. And, the chal­lenge level is ridicu­lous. I needed a cheat code just to get to the real end­ing in expert mode. It’s too easy to die and tak­ing hits from off-screen ene­mies is terrible.

Final Fight 2 placed the series in the ranks of Capcom’s top-tier fran­chises. While it hasn’t seen the level of push of say, Street Fighter or Res­i­dent Evil, the beat-’em-up is fondly remem­bered as one of Capcom’s crown­ing achievements.

https://youtu.be/a4MOiv7R0el