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.

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.

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.

Killer Instinct Gold — Issue 38

A killer Nin­ten­do 64 fight­ing sequel

It’s not been that long ago that Killer Instinct was still being rec­og­nized in the top ech­e­lon of fight­ing game series. But that was then, and this is now, and folks have a crit­i­cal eye toward the lega­cy of the defunct series. What folks real­ly want to know: Where does KI Gold – the 2.5 sequel game – appear in that legacy?

I’m old enough to remem­ber the launch of KI2 and then Gold for the Nin­ten­do 64 in 1996. I was heav­i­ly into fight­ing games then, still stick­ing with Mor­tal Kom­bat and look­ing for some­thing new to sup­ple­ment that fight­ing game itch. Enter Gold, which is an upgrade of KI2 for the home mar­ket. It’s a slight uptick in graph­ics, music and tweaks over the arcade ver­sion. The upgrades make it the bet­ter ver­sion of the game and push it toward must-have sta­tus for the N64.

Con­trol-wise, KI Gold is easy to pick up and a lot more acces­si­ble than its pre­de­ces­sor. For con­text, I bare­ly under­stood the com­bo sys­tem of the first game, but by the time Gold came along, I could hold my own against oth­er KI mas­ters, such as long­time friend of GI David Rhodes. If I could actu­al­ly win some rounds and every so often match­es against him, that’s evi­dence that the sys­tem is improved for casu­al fans. The con­cept of link­ers and chain com­bos made much more sense with a lit­tle in-game expla­na­tion, so this made the learn­ing process a lot eas­i­er to grasp. The change in sys­tems was the best in terms of accessibility.

Gold’s graph­ics are a slight improve­ment over the arcade ver­sion and even more so over the orig­i­nal game. But, in com­par­i­son to oth­er games on the mar­ket at the time, Gold doesn’t hold up par­tic­u­lar­ly well. Putting it along­side oth­er games avail­able at the same time, such as Tekken 2, doesn’t bode well for Gold. In par­tic­u­lar, there are janky tex­tures that snag and tear in the back­ground envi­ron­ments, which detracts from the oth­er­wise sol­id char­ac­ter models.

The sound­track, much like the pre­vi­ous game, car­ries the bur­den for the rest of the game. Rare’s sound depart­ment was known for pump­ing out good music, and Gold’s sound­track has quite a few bangers. It’s a lot of hard rock and a few tech­no tracks thrown in for good mea­sure, but it still holds up. In par­tic­u­lar, the char­ac­ter select theme – which was re-cre­at­ed for the 2013 revival of the series – is a toe-tap­per and still sounds fan­tas­tic on mod­ern sound systems.

But, the per­ti­nent ques­tion still remains: Where does Gold rank in fight­ing game genre lega­cy? It depends. If you care about flashy com­bos and aren’t too much of a tech­ni­cal con­tent fight­ing purist, Gold is prob­a­bly your fan­cy. It’s got enough to draw the casu­al fan in, but it’s light on the tech­ni­cal aspect of fight­ing games that the long­time purist would be look­ing for. It’s fun to play and revis­it from time to time, but if you’re look­ing to get bogged down in frame data and dig a lit­tle deep­er, Gold isn’t going to be your col­or. Your best bet is to look to the future of the series, and let this instinct die out.