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.

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