Mario Kart Tour — 4Q2020 issue

Mobile Mario Kart still stuck at start­ing line

Grow­ing up as a gamer, there was always a series I could count on to pro­vide a lot of enjoy­ment: Mario Kart. High qual­ity, fun rac­ing ensued as did a famil­iar­ity with the sys­tem that made up rac­ing in the Mush­room King­dom. But as time has marched on, there are dark clouds over the king­dom and it’s not nec­es­sar­ily Bowser’s fault for the fool­ish­ness for once; it’s Nintendo’s greed.

Mario Kart in mobile form has always been a safe bet for the Nin­tendo rac­ing fan. Being able to race with your favorite Mario char­ac­ters and take it on the go? Where do I sign up? But Mario Kart Tour, the lat­est mobile prop­erty for the gam­ing giant, is not a fun tour … er, trip. It’s Mario Kart for the SNES dumbed and watered down with gatcha ele­ments tacked on for good measure.

Mario Kart Tour takes the usual Mario Kart for­mula and adds things like gatcha pulls to unlock spe­cial char­ac­ters, karts and glid­ers, usu­ally in the high-end cat­e­gory, as well as level up your estab­lished ros­ter. The gatcha pulls are obnox­ious because it’s depen­dent on luck of the draw using real money to fund the pulls. The real money — that you’re pulling out of your wal­let — is spent in the form of rubies, which allow you to pull from pipes pos­si­bly con­tain­ing the high-end items in batches of one pull for five rubies or 10 pulls for 45 rubies. Though the rubies are mod­er­ately priced, it’s the fact that you must buy the rubies or com­plete some­times ridicu­lous chal­lenges to get rubies that makes it beyond the pale.

And, just as infu­ri­at­ingly, there’s the character/kart/glider sys­tem that’s tied to the stages cho­sen for each tour. Each level has three or four spe­cific char­ac­ters that are favored on this track. Usu­ally, the char­ac­ters that are favored are the fla­vor of the tour; that is, a char­ac­ter or vari­a­tion cre­ated espe­cially for the spe­cific tour. As always, they are high-end and exceed­ingly hard to acquire. Because this is tied into the pipe pulls, it’s also a cash grab designed to pull in the most ded­i­cated who have the most money and time to spend fid­dling around with a mobile game. These “whales,” as they are called in online cir­cles, keep this cash grab going and endorse this con­tin­ued behav­ior from Nin­tendo, which, in all hon­esty, is atrocious.

In addi­tion to the tool-like single-player mode, there is the mul­ti­player mode from hell. I wish I could some­how con­vey the trash-like qual­i­ties of mul­ti­player in words, but I’m at a loss with­out get­ting an FCC fine for pro­fan­ity. The mul­ti­player plays like garbage and ignores any sort of mechan­ics that Tour attempts to cre­ate in the single-player cam­paign. It is utter chaos in every match and those lucky enough to do well have to be doing that with sheer luck. It can’t be from actual skill and good mechan­ics, because Tour is miss­ing the mark in both areas.

The mechan­ics, lack­ing in skill and refine­ment, are a seri­ous prob­lem. Now, I’m cog­nizant of the fact that this is a mobile game, so we’re not talk­ing pre­ci­sion like a main entry would have. How­ever, this is rough even for a mobile game. Often, drift­ing is dif­fi­cult and ultra mini-turbos are next to impos­si­ble. Given that I’ve mas­tered the drift­ing fea­ture in Mario Kart with every entry start­ing from the Nin­tendo 64 days, I shouldn’t have this much trou­ble main­tain­ing a drift. The combo sys­tem, while inter­est­ing and a great fea­ture, is not refined as well as it should be. There should be a meter that shows me the length of time between combo actions and how much time I have left if you’re going to tell me that I have a time limit on those actions. Some­times, com­bos drop inex­plic­a­bly, ruin­ing a run at a chal­lenge that requires a cer­tain number.

Equally prob­lem­atic are the weapons sys­tem and the AI level. I tend to race com­fort­ably on 100cc, but I will race on 150cc and 200cc (with a pur­chased Gold Pass) if I’m work­ing on improv­ing scores in the bi-weekly ranked cups. In the months since I’ve begun play­ing, I’ve noticed the aggres­sion of the computer-controlled karts steadily creep­ing up, which is a prob­lem. It’s mostly notice­able on the weekly favored track, which quickly gets infu­ri­at­ing when you’re try­ing to main­tain a rank­ing and the com­puter is hell bent on keep­ing you from achiev­ing this goal. The weapons sys­tem plays a large part in this because it’s nearly impos­si­ble some­times to receive your character’s spe­cific weapon or a frenzy or even a use­ful frenzy despite your char­ac­ter more than likely being a high level.

Also low­er­ing Tour’s fun fac­tor is the char­ac­ter sys­tem. As in other games in the series, there are a vari­ety of char­ac­ters from the Mush­room King­dom and Nin­tendo in gen­eral that can be and have been added to the ros­ter. The sheer vari­ety is great but the need to unlock and pay for these vari­eties is the prob­lem. It’s greedy as hell that you have to buy rubies to pos­si­bly unlock a char­ac­ter to do well in the fea­tured tour track or mag­i­cally come up with the ways to earn them, which are far and few in between. Basi­cally, Nin­tendo wants you to spend money and they’re not afraid to pimp out Mario Kart to achieve this goal, so they’ll nickel and dime you constantly.

And I hope you love a lot of the tracks already pulled into Tour because track vari­ety is lack­ing. There are a lot of not-fun tracks that seem to be repeated quite often. That decreases the enjoy­ment of rac­ing because you know you aren’t going to want to mess around with a cup that has an obnox­ious track (I’m glar­ing at you, 3DS Rain­bow Road).

Visu­ally, Tour is fine. It looks like Mario Kart and has all the ele­ments of the rac­ing god we’ve come to know and love. As a mat­ter of fact, the game looks like a bet­ter ver­sion of the Wii U’s Mario Kart 8, just below Mario Kart 8 Deluxe for the Switch. Those oft-repeated tracks are gor­geous recre­ations of old faith­ful favorites from the SNES, Nin­tendo 64 and Game Boy Advance titles with a few new cities of the world tracks thrown in the mix. In the begin­ning there were a lot of dif­fer­ent city tracks, but because of the pan­demic, work on the tour has been kept to already estab­lished tracks from the series that can quickly be con­verted for use in Tour.

Musi­cally, Mario Kart is known as hav­ing a banger sound­track for every game. Tour doesn’t slouch in that depart­ment with the new tracks, but it does mess up with some of the older tracks. I’m not quite sure how a game can get one part of the sound­track right but mess up the other parts, but Tour some­how man­ages to do it. Any of the new tracks that were cre­ated for Tour are excel­lent. The menu themes are excel­lent, as well, with new tunes mixed in with remixed favorites from pre­vi­ous games. But then you get to an older track, let’s say Koopa Troopa Beach from the SNES. It does not sound the same as the orig­i­nal ver­sion at all. The pitch sounds off by a few notes, as if some­one recre­ated it for Tour and kind of, sort of remem­bered the way the orig­i­nal sounded. Rain­bow Road from the SNES has the same prob­lem. It sort of resem­bles the orig­i­nal tunes but also … not really. I’m not quite sure what I’m going to get from tour to tour, so I don’t nec­es­sar­ily get my hopes up in terms of music qual­ity when I see an older track announced.

All my prob­lems with Mario Kart Tour are fix­able, but that’s up to Nin­tendo to work on and decide if it’s worth it this far in. With increas­ing fre­quency, how­ever, I find myself say­ing this might be the part of the Tour that’s my last stop.

Dynasty Warriors Gundam 3 — 3Q2020 issue

Gun­dam, Dynasty War­riors carry on tradition

“Gun­dam, what a strong sound­ing name.”- Lacus Clyne, Mobile Suit Gun­dam SEED/SEED Destiny

Next to my love for Mega Man, I’m also a fan of the Gun­dam series. Since 1979, the space mecha anime has brought thought-provoking per­spec­tives on issues of human­ity and war, and has cre­ated a stan­dard for all sci-fi series, espe­cially anime with sci-fi and mecha ele­ments. Through var­i­ous series, mer­chan­dise (includ­ing video games for var­i­ous con­soles) and other media, Gun­dam and its stu­dio, Sun­rise Inc., has secured its place among the GOATs of global pop cul­ture. Lyn­d­sey and I have also taken a lik­ing to the Dynasty War­riors game series. I thought: “What would hap­pened if a Dynasty War­riors game was made with Gun­dam ele­ments?” I got my answer in Dynasty War­riors Gun­dam 3.

In DWG3, you play as a cho­sen indi­vid­ual who has been selected to a pass a test of skill and deter­mi­na­tion. Your requests come from a mys­te­ri­ous Gun­dam suit that asks why humanity’s exis­tence in the uni­verse should con­tinue. This test is con­ducted in four orig­i­nal story arcs that pair char­ac­ters from var­i­ous Gun­dam series such as the MS Gun­dam, Gun­dam Wing, G Gun­dam, Gun­dam 00, Gun­dam Uni­corn and oth­ers who have heroic, vil­lain­ous or neu­tral opin­ions to this mys­te­ri­ous Gundam’s test. These arcs also con­tain side mis­sion that explains each rep­re­sented series’ his­tory, rein­force a group’s cama­raderie or dis­plays each mobile suit’s spe­cial abilities.

Con­trol of these suits is easy whether you use the PlaySta­tion 3’s ana­log sticks or con­trol pad. Shoot­ing and melee attacks are flaw­less, and good con­trols help to pull off some dev­as­tat­ing com­bos to drive oppo­nents back for a moment. In true Dynasty War­riors form, your char­ac­ter will have a part­ner or part­ners with sim­i­lar abil­i­ties and lesser suits to help take down cer­tain key areas of stages. I’m sug­gest­ing three pieces of advice when play­ing: Plan to take places such as repair hang­ers, suit fac­to­ries and com­mu­ni­ca­tion tow­ers ASAP; know when to team up with your com­rades to take on stronger suit; and, keep an eye on your side map to avoid being lost.

At the end of each stage, your char­ac­ter will be shown how many expe­ri­ence points he or she earned and how much gold was col­lected. These ele­ments help you to earn new skills and more stronger suits. To help your char­ac­ter out, there is a tuto­r­ial stage with prac­tice mis­sions that will help them earn more points or to refresh basic skills.
The graph­ics were designed as if you are play­ing in an actual Gun­dam episode with spe­cial detail given to the suits and their sur­round­ing envi­ron­ments. Namco Bandai and Koei did a great job with keep­ing the game’s for­mula sim­ple: Keep Dynasty War­riors ele­ments intact while adding Gun­dam elements.

The sound is on point with the addi­tion of Dolby Dig­i­tal Sound ensur­ing that every sound effect stays true to Gundam’s legacy of high-level anime action. Credit should also be given to the Ocean Group for assist­ing with voice cast­ing, which included some of the orig­i­nal anime Eng­lish voices per­form­ing their respec­tive char­ac­ters for the game. The replay value of DWG3 is very high and is per­fect for a Gun­dam enthu­si­ast or for a friendly scrim­mage at your local anime convention.

Gun­dam is and will always be the absolute stan­dard bearer in sci-fi mecha anime. DWG3 is an exam­ple of how to build an anime mas­ter­piece and present it for a dif­fer­ent medium. With its 40th anniver­sary, the Gun­dam name has earned the respect of many anime fans new and old with a qual­ity title such as Dynasty War­riors Gun­dam 3 to carry on the Gun­dam tradition.

Fun facts

  • Gun­dam was not Sunrise’s only smash hit. They con­tin­ued the trend with the Big O, Cow­boy Bebop, Out­law Star and Code Geass, dis­play­ing Gun­dam design traits in each of those shows.
  • Gun­dam has made its Hol­ly­wood appear­ance recently in the movie “Ready Player One” and will do so again in a live-action movie being devel­oped and co-produced with Leg­endary Pic­tures (Pacific Rim, Poké­mon: Detec­tive Pikachu, Hang­over trilogy).
  • Brad Swaile, Richard Cox, Brian Drum­mond, Michael Adamwaite and Kirby Mor­row are five mem­bers of the Eng­lish voice cast that reprised their orig­i­nal respec­tive roles. Swaile and Cox played Amuro and Kai in the orig­i­nal Gun­dam and returned to voice Set­suna and Allelu­jah in Gun­dam 00. Mor­row and Swaile also played Trowa and Qua­tre while Drum­mond voiced Zechs/Milliardo Peace­craft in Gun­dam Wing. Adamwaite voiced Rib­bons in Gun­dam 00.

Dengeki Bunko Fighting Climax — 3Q2020 issue

Anime fighter cre­ates clash of titans

If you’re a fight­ing game enthu­si­ast like myself, you’re happy to see the com­mu­nity enjoy­ing main­stream suc­cess now in the esports land­scape. For many years, it was rel­e­gated to a fringe activ­ity, some­thing only nerds with noth­ing else bet­ter to do and a lack of hygiene were known for enter­tain­ing. Now, it’s all over the place and there’s money to be earned. But this is now a professional-grade enter­prise and anime games are tak­ing cen­ter stage. One of the best? Dengeki Bunko: Fight­ing Climax.

The game series that I lov­ingly refer to as that “all-star anime fight­ing game” is a blast to play. You choose from 19 playable and 30 assist char­ac­ters from var­i­ous anime series who team up in duos to fight each other. Even if you’re mildly into anime, there are some well-known stars of the medium and some obscure names that will make you do a lit­tle research. For instance, your favorite edi­tor is an anime junkie and has seen or heard of most of the series with some stand­out selec­tions that she’s per­son­ally watched: Oreimo, Boo­giepop Phan­tom, The Devil is a Part-Timer and Toradora. There are oth­ers like Sword Art Online that are main­stream enough to draw in even the newest anime watcher.

So, how does it play? Much like you’d expect an anime game to play: Super floaty physics and off-the-wall attacks that feel like they do a ton of dam­age but prob­a­bly don’t in terms of fight­ing games. The game feels good once you start play­ing, and like most games of the genre, there are lev­els to the play sys­tem. You can come in on the ground floor of fight­ing game knowl­edge and be able to play and then there’s com­pet­i­tive fight­ing game-level of play that requires inti­mate knowl­edge of the game’s sys­tems. That range serves the game well as a draw for mul­ti­ple groups and it’s a tes­ta­ment to Sega’s devel­op­ment prowess.

The voice act­ing, a major part of a project like this, must be top notch and it is. Because Sega gar­nered most of the ani­ma­tions’ voice actors, there’s a high level of con­sis­tency and gloss over the game’s audio. The back­grounds are also faith­ful to the dif­fer­ent anime series, so expect to be wowed with the pro­duc­tion values.

Over­all, if you’re into anime enough to go to con­ven­tions reg­u­larly or just hav­ing a pass­ing inter­est, Dengeki Bunko: Fight­ing Cli­max is a good buy. Yes, it’s got that “super anime” feel to it, but there’s a solid engine and mechan­ics wrapped up in an extremely gor­geous pack­age that deserves to be played here. This fancy fan-service fighter is enough to make an otaku like myself sit up and take notice.

J-Stars Victory Plus — 3Q2020 issue

Jump into this fan­tas­tic anime series brawler

If you’re a manga afi­cionado like me, you’ve heard of Shonen Jump mag­a­zine. For 50 years, Japan-based pub­lisher Shueisha Inc. brought to the world to leg­endary char­ac­ters such as Son Goku, Mon­key D. Luffy and Naruto Uzi­maki. With these char­ac­ters and their respec­tive series, they became overnight hits in Japan with var­i­ous movies, mer­chan­dise (includ­ing video games) and sep­a­rate graphic nov­els. It was only a mat­ter of time that the SJ phe­nom­e­non would branch out to the rest of the world being pub­lished in var­i­ous lan­guages includ­ing Eng­lish. Shonen Jump, undis­put­edly, has become the stan­dard of intro­duc­ing new anime and manga series. J-Stars Vic­tory VS+ is an exam­ple of that stan­dard.

Pub­lished by Namco Bandai and co-developed with Spike Chun­soft, J-Stars takes more than 50 char­ac­ters from 32 series within the Shonen Jump uni­verse and pits them against each other in var­i­ous loca­tions within each SJ series. The story mode con­sists of each SJ char­ac­ter prepar­ing for the “Jump Bat­tle Tour­na­ment,” devised by the god of Jump World to deter­mine its strongest cham­pi­ons who will defend it from evil forces pos­ing as strong fight­ers.

Within the story mode there are four arcs: Dynamic with Luffy, Hope with Naruto, Inves­ti­ga­tion with Toriko and Goku and Pur­suit with Ichigo. Regard­less of the arc you choose, your char­ac­ter and their respec­tive com­rades will face off against oth­ers to obtain essen­tial parts for your pro­vided ship and badges required to enter the tour­na­ment. I like the story mode, and I also like that the arcade ver­sus mode is an option when you just want to pit char­ac­ters against each other to see who would win.
Con­trol is sim­ple, which has your char­ac­ters roam free dur­ing bat­tle to pull off their sig­na­ture moves along with a Dragon Ball-styled map to track the battle’s progress. How­ever, the down­side is the game cam­era: It moves wildly about and con­stantly requires adjust­ment. At the end of each suc­cess­ful bat­tle, your char­ac­ters not only gain expe­ri­ence points, but also gain cur­rency called “jump coins,” which upgrades skills and cloth­ing and unlocks var­i­ous theme music and addi­tional char­ac­ters to strengthen your team.

All of the sound in the game is cour­tesy of Namco Bandai’s excel­lent sound depart­ment and the use of Dolby Dig­i­tal. There isn’t an Eng­lish voice track in J-Stars, but the Japan­ese voice track for each char­ac­ter is per­formed per­fectly, as if you’re watch­ing a Shonen Jump anime. J-Stars Vic­tory VS+ is per­fect for an anime con­ven­tion tour­na­ment or if you want to spend a day with friends immers­ing your­selves in Shonen Jump lore.

This anime-infused brawler is another tes­ta­ment to Shonen Jump’s recog­ni­tion of being a leader in global pop cul­ture and how anime and manga are quickly becom­ing visual arts that aren’t just for kids.

Fun facts

  • J-Stars Vic­tory+ was billed as the “ulti­mate Jump game,” com­bin­ing past and newer jump titles.
  • Unlike “Tat­sunoko vs. Cap­com: Cross Gen­er­a­tion of Heroes,” licens­ing for all the Jump char­ac­ters was not a seri­ous issue. Accord­ing to pro­ducer Koji Naka­jima, the real prob­lem was deter­min­ing actions for char­ac­ters that do not fight. Solv­ing this prob­lem required numer­ous nego­ti­a­tions with Shueisha and the respected licensee for each series to deter­mine what was and was not accept­able for those characters.
  • J-Stars Vic­tory VS + intro­duced the “new class” of SJ series such as The Dis­as­trous Life of Saiki K., Gin­tama, To Love Ru and Reborn!. These titles have been licensed for North Amer­ica by var­i­ous anime and manga distributors.

Animal Crossing Pocket Camp — 2Q2019 issue

Camp­ing with friends

My love affair with Ani­mal Cross­ing began in 2003, a year after the Game­Cube ver­sion was released in the U.S. It wasn’t enough to merely start a life with a char­ac­ter — known as Rubes(kitty) — in my pro­ce­du­rally gen­er­ated town known as Tokyo; I had to col­lect every­thing in my cat­a­logue, build my house into a man­sion and catch every insect and fish just for com­ple­tion sake. In the ensu­ing 16 years, I have played every iter­a­tion of Ani­mal Cross­ing avail­able. So, you can imag­ine my pal­pa­ble joy when a mobile ver­sion of Ani­mal Cross­ing was announced in 2016. Cue Ani­mal Cross­ing: Pocket Camp in 2017, and I’m still going strong in my quest to build the per­fect camp.

Pocket Camp is a spin­off of the main Ani­mal Cross­ing series but retains ele­ments of the series. Famil­iar tasks such as pay­ing off your debt for your liv­ing quar­ters, com­plet­ing requests for ani­mals that visit or improv­ing your finances through item sales are abun­dant in the Pocket Camp land­scape. New to the series is the timed rota­tion of the ani­mals that are in one of four loca­tions scat­tered around the land­scape. Four ani­mals will be in these loca­tions with options to talk to you and request items; whether you choose to give them the spe­cific items they request or just chat it up for expe­ri­ence points is up to you. Also new are the afore­men­tioned expe­ri­ence points. Each ani­mal has a meter that gauges their friend­ship level with you. The higher the level, the more rewards they give in exchange for items they request. The rewards are also new, usu­ally in the form of Leaf Tick­ets and raw mate­ri­als that are used in craft­ing fur­ni­ture and clothes that can be used to dec­o­rate your camp site and RV.

Pocket Camp, in its most sim­plis­tic form, is a dumbed down portable Ani­mal Cross­ing main game that requires inven­tory man­age­ment and micro trans­ac­tions. And it’s a sat­is­fy­ing way to get that quick Ani­mal Cross­ing fix. Much like the main series, it’s relax­ing and fun to pop in and check with the camp site to see what’s hap­pen­ing, pick up some gifts or get involved in fes­ti­vals and events at my own leisure. Time is still mea­sured real­is­ti­cally, and insects and fish are still viable at cer­tain times, though the sea­son require­ment is not in use. Money is still prac­ti­cally around every cor­ner, and it’s eas­ier than ever to pay off the debt of upgrad­ing your hum­ble abode when rare bugs and fish are more plen­ti­ful this time around. It’s also quite nice to be able to buy items from other play­ers world­wide in an item mar­ket­place with the Mar­ket Boxes option. The econ­omy that has devel­oped still has some work to do, but the abil­ity to find rare insects, fruit, shells and fish for sale from other friends and strangers is a great start.

For a long­time Ani­mal Cross­ing player, the fun in Pocket Camp is imme­di­ately there but not with­out some caveats. After a cer­tain point, the in-game cur­rency of Bells ceases to be a prob­lem. While scarce in the early going, Bells aren’t an issue once the final upgrade for the RV is obtained and paid off. I now reg­u­larly have about 1.8 mil­lion Bells on hand daily and can’t spend it fast enough on things other than craft­ing and a rare item inven­tory econ­omy that has con­ve­niently sprung up in my friends list. This is like the issue of Bells in the main series so while it’s not sur­pris­ing, it’s still an issue that needs to be reme­died with more things to do. And, the price of Leaf Tick­ets is a bit much. Their addi­tion is help­ful, but their pric­ing should be adjusted. Also, in-game cur­rency should be allowed to be used to buy Leaf Tick­ets. That would give another rea­son to hoard money later in the game.

While it might not be a main­line game, Ani­mal Cross­ing: Pocket Camp is still a neat and wel­come addi­tion to the Ani­mal Cross­ing fran­chise. With its con­tin­ued updates and addi­tions, the Ani­mal Cross­ing pop­u­la­tion is still growing.

Super Street Fighter IV Arcade Edition — 3Q2018 issue

Father of fight­ing games gets super upgrade

Gone are the days of roam­ing a local arcade to play the throng of would-be chal­lengers and pre­tenders to the throne of the best local fight­ing game cham­pion. In its place are home con­soles designed to push the power of the arcade. Fight­ing game fran­chises have had to keep up or suf­fer irrel­e­vancy or, worse yet, extinc­tion. The ear­li­est king of the genre, Street Fighter, has had a chal­lenge of sorts: con­tinue for­ward or go the way of its ride-a-longs of the ‘90s. Super Street Fighter IV attempts to con­tinue the tra­di­tion with mostly success.

Super SFIV, at its core, is a fight­ing fan’s dream. A robust engine with plenty of options for either the novice or the advanced, SSFIV makes play­ing a fight­ing game easy. Even if you haven’t played since the hey­day of SFII, there’s a lot of com­pelling con­tent here to draw you in and get you started in the world of com­pet­i­tive dig­i­tal fight­ing. Var­i­ous modes are here, ready for a deep dive, and there are more than enough new char­ac­ters and old stal­warts to make fight­ing inter­est­ing. The gen­eral rule of thumb is, if the char­ac­ter was in SFII and its deriv­a­tives, SFIII or SF Alpha, there’s a good chance they are avail­able for play in SSFIV.

Fight locales asso­ci­ated with many of the char­ac­ters are avail­able with a great sound­track accom­pa­ny­ing them. SSFIV does an excep­tional job of remind­ing more expe­ri­enced fight­ing enthu­si­asts of the Street Fighter ori­gins and piquing the curios­ity of newer fight fans. The con­trols also hear­ken to the old days, so much so that it’s easy to pick up and play and learn about the dif­fer­ent sys­tems afforded to each char­ac­ter. Most new char­ac­ters will play like an older char­ac­ter on the ros­ter so it’s easy to learn the nuance of fight­ing with a new­comer if you’re expe­ri­enced with pre­vi­ous SF games. If you aren’t expe­ri­enced, there’s a great tuto­r­ial mode that runs through combo and movesets of each char­ac­ter to teach the basics. That var­ied level of depth goes a long way toward replay value.

My one gripe out of all the love­li­ness that is the mixed nos­tal­gia fest of SSFIV is that it’s Cap­com being Cap­com as usual. For the unini­ti­ated, Cap­com gained a rep­u­ta­tion in the ’90s for hav­ing a solid fran­chise in Street Fighter II but not being able to count to three. The con­stant upgrad­ing and reis­su­ing of SFII got old quickly. And, quite frankly, Cap­com hasn’t learned its les­son because Street Fighter IV should not have mul­ti­ple retail ver­sions of its upgrades. Arcade Edi­tion should have been an update that could be bought dig­i­tally and down­loaded to patch the game up to what­ever ver­sion Cap­com wanted con­sumers to have. Even when the orig­i­nal ver­sion was released, the capa­bil­ity was there. This just screams of cash grab and Cap­com being igno­rant of tire­some tac­tics wear­ing on the fan base. The fact that Ultra Street Fighter IV — one more ver­sion beyond this one — exists is proof pos­i­tive of this.

Other than the fiasco of mul­ti­ple ver­sions, Cap­com has a solid win­ner on its hands with the fourth entry in the long-running series even as it fades into the back­ground in favor of SFV. If SFV is not your cup of tea, but you want to stay cur­rent with the world of Street Fighter, SFIV is a good bal­ance and at the right price now to delve into the world of Ryu, Ken and Chun-Li.

Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm — 3Q2018 issue

The ulti­mate beginning

Naruto Uzi­maki. From 1999 to 2017, Shonen Jump Magazine’s hyper­ac­tive ninja knuck­le­head had a major impact on the geek cul­ture scene as well as anime and manga. From graphic nov­els, to other nov­elty mer­chan­dise and video games, many anime fans world­wide fol­lowed his rise from out­cast of his ninja vil­lage to its leg­endary sav­ior. Dur­ing Naruto’s rise, there were many video games for var­i­ous sys­tems that fol­lowed every adven­ture of our blonde, blue-eyed hero and his friends. I got the oppor­tu­nity to play one of the Naruto-based games after a recent game shop­ping expe­di­tion when I found Naruto: Ulti­mate Ninja: Storm.

Ulti­mate Ninja: Storm is a hybrid con­sist­ing of fight­ing and role play­ing game ele­ments. Free Bat­tle mode allows you to choose one main fighter with two backup char­ac­ters against another player or the console’s choice of char­ac­ters in var­i­ous stages taken right out of the Naruto uni­verse. Free Bat­tle also allows you to earn extra cash if you defeat their oppo­nents using var­i­ous moves known as nin­jutsu. The extra coinage will be needed in the role play­ing mode, Ulti­mate Mis­sion Mode, dur­ing which you con­trol Naruto in var­i­ous mis­sions that involve episodes 1 to 135 of the anime series.

I found every­thing from the cin­e­matic intro to actual game­play excel­lent. Namco Bandai brought their expe­ri­ence in mak­ing games like Tekken and Soul Cal­ibur and com­bined it with Masashi Kishimoto’s guid­ance in devel­op­ing the per­fect exam­ple of a video game based on a pop­u­lar anime fran­chise. Every stage, land­mark and char­ac­ter are por­trayed per­fectly in the game mak­ing me as if I was trans­ported to the Hid­den Leaf Vil­lage. The con­trols are easy and will help you pull off some up-close cool com­bos when cer­tain but­tons are dis­played. They’re also great dur­ing the explo­ration of Ulti­mate Mis­sion Mode as you’re try­ing to find hid­den items and mis­sion locations.

Another cool thing about the game was that the music from the anime series was not only kept intact, but also was done in Dolby Dig­i­tal Sound. The voice act­ing in the game is high cal­iber thanks to Namco Bandai work­ing with Viz Media and Stu­diopo­lis Inc. to bring together the orig­i­nal Eng­lish voice actors to reprise their respec­tive roles. Even with the excel­lent Eng­lish voice act­ing, you can also play the game in Japan­ese with Eng­lish sub­ti­tles for a more authen­tic feel. Any­one who has not played a Naruto video game will find it per­fect for either a hot or rainy-day after­noon, or a friendly fight­ing game tour­na­ment at any anime convention.

Namco Bandai did an awe­some job of bring­ing Naruto to the PS3 in addi­tion to pub­lish­ing addi­tional games based off this iconic fran­chise. For now, Naruto’s jour­ney to be hok­age has ended suc­cess­fully, with a son ready to take up his own chal­lenges. Ulti­mate Ninja: Storm is a great start show­cas­ing Naruto’s early adventures.

Devil May Cry 4 — 3Q2018 issue

Devil’s in the details: DMC4 a nice break from Dante

Capcom’s “Devil May Cry” series is a game that has basi­cally rede­fined the term “hack–and-slash” in video games. With the first three games using hack-and-slash style as well as action-adventure ele­ments, I won­dered what new sur­prises would the fourth install­ment of the series bring and to which system?

DMC 4 fea­tures demon-hunter extra­or­di­naire Dante, but the story and main char­ac­ter has changed for a more intense expe­ri­ence. Tak­ing place in a remote island town called For­tuna, you assume the role of Nero — a younger ver­sion of Dante — who is a mem­ber of the Order of the Sword. The Order of the Sword is a mil­i­tant reli­gious orga­ni­za­tion formed to destroy demons based on the actions of the Demon-Knight Sparda, who rebelled against the demon under­world to pro­tect human­ity. At a recent cer­e­mony to honor Sparda, Dante smashes though a sky­light and kills the priest lead­ing the cer­e­mony, set­ting off a chain of events that would not only put Dante and Nero on a col­li­sion course with each other, but also would lead both demon-hunters through a greater mys­tery to find out the true inten­tions of the Order and to stop a more vicious plot of a demon-invasion.

While Dante’s role in DMC 4 is not as the main char­ac­ter, he does still play a key role in the game as a playable char­ac­ter in cer­tain scenes. Nero is not to be taken lightly either as his arse­nal con­sists of his Devil Bringer arm, his mechan­i­cal sword Red Queen and his dou­ble bar­rel revolver, Blue Queen. Nero can gain an extra advan­tage to accom­plish his mis­sion by gath­er­ing “Red Souls,” DMC’s orig­i­nal game cur­rency, and “Proud Souls,” a new cur­rency. After a mis­sion is com­pleted, Pride Souls can power up Nero’s tools rang­ing from extend­ing the Devil Bringer’s reach to more pow­er­ful shots from the Blue Queen. The con­trols for Dante and Nero are easy to use thanks to the PS3’s Six Axis controller’s built-in ana­log fea­ture, which I found help­ful with cam­era issues from time to time.

The excel­lent detail that is used in each level comes to life in the back­ground and cin­e­matic scenes. These were done with high def­i­n­i­tion tech­nol­ogy that will make you feel like you are play­ing with a mas­ter­piece of art instead of a video game. Capcom’s sound team brings their A-game again. Each sound and vocal effect com­bined with Dolby Dig­i­tal Sound gives an orches­tral qual­ity to the game. Cap­com did a great job in voice and motion cap­ture for DMC 4. Johnny Yong Bosch (Bleach, Street Fighter IV) brought Nero to life and Reuben Lang­don repris­ing his role as Dante.

Devil May Cry 4 shows what Cap­com is capa­ble of doing when they let their devel­op­ment team do its job: make their games enjoy­able. DMC4 is a chal­leng­ing, but enjoy­able way to kill free time when you want to get your demon-hunting on. The replay value is strong espe­cially if you are a vet­eran DMC player; this game is worth your hard-earned cash.

BlazBlue: Continuum Shift Extend — 3Q2018 issue

Guilty Gear suc­ces­sor cleans up nicely in fight­ing game arena

Fight­ing game con­nois­seurs have a robust buf­fet to choose from these days. There’s Mar­vel, Street Fighter, Tekken and Mor­tal Kom­bat for tour­na­ment purists, a new Soul Cal­ibur has been announced, and a new Smash is on the hori­zon and the older games in the series are still played in some cir­cles. Guilty Gear, which has always been qui­etly in the back of the lunch­room, was a mix of tour­na­ment and casual, so it stands to rea­son that its spir­i­tual suc­ces­sor — BlazBlue — would mimic that notion.

BlazBlue arrived in the fight­ing game scene as a new entry in the port­fo­lio of Guilty Gear devel­oper Arc­Sys­tem. Tak­ing what they learned from that series, Arc­Sys­tem improved upon the for­mula they’d cre­ated with gor­geous visu­als, a rock­ing sound­track and impres­sive game­play options that ensure you’ll have plenty to do.

BlazBlue CSE starts off rather intim­i­dat­ingly. From the begin­ning, there are quite a few modes to choose from. If you’re not informed, you might be a lit­tle lost try­ing to under­stand just where you should start. With a var­ied plate to choose from, at the very least the modes are inter­est­ingly designed and add value to an already-packed game.
The stand­out fea­tures, how­ever, are the graph­ics and story. As with Guilty Gear, you’re get­ting a treat visu­ally. The level of detail in each char­ac­ter and the back­grounds make the game worth sit­ting down and study­ing. If you’re into anime, the aes­thet­ics were designed with you in mind.

The story is also wor­thy of com­par­i­son to most mod­ern anime. It’s con­vo­luted and com­plex and has twists and turns involv­ing a multi-layered cast. There’s a lot about the search­ing for a sav­ior and magic — which isn’t out of place for an Arc­Sys­tem game. It feels famil­iar but it doesn’t detract from the fact that it’s lay­ered and deep.

Learn­ing the mechan­ics for most fight­ing games is a mixed bag. Some games expect you to be able to jump in and mas­ter the basics as if you’ve done noth­ing but play fight­ing games all of your gam­ing life. Oth­ers like to give you a tuto­r­ial so that you’re not lost and quickly putting the game down, never to return. BlazBlue CSE is in the lat­ter cat­e­gory: So con­cerned is the game about you learn­ing to play and mas­ter all that it has to offer that it throws a sur­pris­ingly deep tuto­r­ial mode at you. It slowly increases the level of com­plex­ity and the mechan­ics are spot on and easy to grasp. All fight­ing games need the type of learn­ing tool that’s offered here.

If you love Guilty Gear or if you just want a deeper sto­ry­line than what’s cur­rently offered by the larger more well-known titles on the mar­ket in fight­ing games, BlazBlue promises to deliver a rich expe­ri­ence. It deliv­ers on that promise with a com­mit­ment to extend­ing beyond just the reg­u­lar fight­ing game expectations.

Animal Crossing: Amiibo Festival — 1Q2017 issue

Rolling the dice with Ani­mal Crossing

Judg­ing from the stand­point of an avid Ani­mal Cross­ing player and enthu­si­ast, the con­cept of new games com­ing into my beloved fran­chise is not always wel­come. There have been par­tic­u­larly good games (i.e. Wild World, the orig­i­nal game) and mediocre offer­ings (Happy Home Designer and City Folk). Ami­ibo Fes­ti­val is a lit­tle bit of both: It’s a fun take on the Ani­mal Cross­ing uni­verse, but it needs a lit­tle bit of pol­ish and more things to do to keep the con­cept of a board game based on the fran­chise interesting.

I’ve always referred to Ani­mal Cross­ing as the series about doing noth­ing. Ami­ibo Fes­ti­val takes that con­cept and turns it on its head. With Fes­ti­val, you’re tasked with mov­ing around a typ­i­cal Ani­mal Cross­ing town in the form of a large board game. The town is trans­formed by spaces that can be events, Stalk Mar­ket sale stops and vis­its from the usual assort­ment of guests that visit a nor­mal town in the franchise.

What makes the game fun is the usage of all things Ani­mal Cross­ing. Game time is deter­mined by a cal­en­dar that uti­lizes events com­monly found through­out the series, and vil­lagers that you would encounter in town show up to help out player char­ac­ters. The player char­ac­ters them­selves are Ami­ibo fig­urines that you pur­chase and input into the game. For exam­ple, GI has about 25 Ami­ibo, eight of which are Ani­mal Cross­ing related (Digby, Celeste, Isabelle, Vil­lager, Tom Nook, Mable, Rover and K.K. Slider) that can be used to play through a ses­sion. These char­ac­ters can col­lect points to unlock new out­fits and modes in the plaza based on game per­for­mance. The tie-in to the series ben­e­fits the otherwise-tired Mario Party for­mula and enhances the charm of what would prob­a­bly be a tire­some exer­cise in board game management.

Using some of that inher­ent charm of Ani­mal Cross­ing, Ami­ibo Fes­ti­val plays well and looks great. There is a notable pas­tel sheen over every­thing in-game, but it still looks just like you’d expect Ani­mal Cross­ing to look: Bright, col­or­ful and smooth. Because we’re long past the janky block graph­ics of the orig­i­nal game, Ami­ibo Fes­ti­val is closer in style to the lat­est game in the series, New Leaf, and it works in its favor. The sound­track is also in line with the New Leaf era and it’s ser­vi­ca­ble. It’s not the main fea­ture of the game, so I’m not expect­ing it to reach the realm of New Leaf’s great tracks, but it’s not unpleas­ant so it works just fine for what it’s asked to do.

My main com­plaint about Ami­ibo Fes­ti­val, how­ever, has more to do with the pol­ish of the final prod­uct and some of the addi­tions. It feels as though there isn’t enough to do in-game, quite hon­estly. While the board game is fun, it’s not enough to keep me inter­ested long-term. The addi­tions in the plaza — mini-games that use Ani­mal Cross­ing ideas — are cute but get old quickly, and some are out­right frus­trat­ing, even for a long­time player like myself.

The trivia sec­tion, for exam­ple, tests your knowl­edge of the series. Set­ting aside the fact that there shouldn’t be a time limit to answer ques­tions that test your prowess of a series that has at least seven games, the ques­tions are incred­i­bly obscure most of the time and require that you have ency­clo­pe­dic mem­ory and under­stand­ing of how the series works. Most peo­ple just look­ing for a fun board game aren’t going to know the answers, let alone know them quickly. I have been play­ing Ani­mal Cross­ing since the “Pop­u­la­tion grow­ing!” days of 2003, and I had trou­ble with quite a few of the ques­tions asked. There should be more to do, more inter­ac­tion with the town that you play in and more of an attempt to dig deep into that well of seven games.

Ami­ibo Fes­ti­val is a unique take on a series that has man­aged to endure and improve over the past 15 years with new con­cepts and inno­va­tion. If there is some con­so­la­tion prize for stay­ing on this board, it’s know­ing that while it could use some pol­ish and flesh­ing out, Ami­ibo Fes­ti­val is a good roll of the dice and gam­ble that paid off for the Ani­mal Cross­ing franchise.