I Suck At Fighting Games: 2014 Recap

Since 2012, I've played a ridiculous amount of fighting games. I've tried to commit enough time to each of them to gain a basic understanding and maybe win some matches.

Turns out, that takes a long time. So long that I didn't even finish enough games to put together a proper Game of the Year list for 2014. Instead of doing that, I'll go over all of the fighting games I put time into in 2014 to determine if I am any good at them (probably not) or if I'll stick with them in the future.

Injustice: Gods Among Us


After being pretty cold on Mortal Kombat 9, I'm surprised at how much I continue to enjoy Injustice. I spent a huge amount of time messing with the S.T.A.R. Labs and other single player content. When I finally got online, I was winning matches within a few days.

I like how easy this game is to control. Unlike MK9, everything in this game just clicked with me. The combo strings aren't overly harsh on their timing or requirements, and allowed me to quickly start innovating my own offense instead of just copying what I saw online. I also like how important meter management is in this game. It's important to get the first hit because it awards you with bonus meter. And there's so many ways to use it that all feel equally important. Except for Super attacks though, nobody uses those.

I stuck with Raven and Hawkgirl through my entire time playing it, two different but equally enjoyable characters. Raven's long-range projectile tactics were great fun, and got me a fair amount of hate mail from people on Xbox Live.

My biggest complaints with Injustice were the somewhat spotty netcode and a few of the top tier characters. Every character has reliable, damaging combos which make comebacks very possible, but some matchups just feel crazy difficult. Batgirl is definitely the strongest character I've faced in ANY fighting game I've played, and I struggled against Batgirl players greatly. Even bad Batgirl players can ruin my day with her high damage and lightning-fast mixups.

I will keep playing this game because I like it so much, but to be honest I'll probably switch to Mortal Kombat X when that comes out. Online numbers for Injustice seem to be pretty small and the community will probably switch over to MKX for good, so I'll follow. I have high hopes for that game after Injustice.


Long combos are lame. The least interesting part of fighting games is dialing in a 156-hit combo from muscle memory, or getting hit by said combo and just watching it for a bit. I'm all for short, flashy corner loops, but long combos put me to sleep.

No, the good parts of fighting games are tricking your opponent. Making them think you're going to do one thing, but doing something else that catches them off-guard. Hitting your opponent out of the sky so many times that they're afraid to jump. Punishing a whiffed attack so hard that they never use it again. The mind games are the interesting part.

With that said, I love how Divekick takes away the execution barrier and lets people of any skill level immediately experience the good parts of fighting games. This was one of the few games I entered a major tournament for, and shared with people who don't play fighting games at all.

There is still a skill gap involved between new players and dedicated fighting game players. I got a few victories at UFGTX in Divekick but ultimately lost to a better player. The game lacks a training mode or character tutorials. I feel these should be included because special moves are so important and some of the characters have strange specials that are hard to describe.

However, Divekick succeeds because the skill gap isn't enormous. I won't ever be good enough at Street Fighter to beat a veteran, but didn't go 0-2 in a tournament for Divekick. I had a lot of fun playing this game in casual and competitive settings, and I feel like I'll be busting it out to play with friends for years to come.

Ultra Street Fighter IV


Out of all the games on the list, this is the one I am the worst at. Makes sense, too. It has been out since 2009 and people have been practicing for years. As a '14er, what chance did I have against them?

Still, this game did make me realize what I appreciate and don't appreciate in fighting games. My main characters were Rose & Poison, which made me realize how much I rely on fireballs. I picked up Elena because she had no projectiles, forcing me to learn how to play without that resource. The one thing that draws me back to Street Fighter IV is the characters. They have tons of personality, lots of cool alternate costumes, and ridiculous win quotes.

What kept me away from Street Fighter IV was...everything else. I played the game for months with outdated, unusable Trials so I couldn't even get an idea of how to play my characters of choice. The netcode is inexcusably poor for a modern fighting game. And the biggest issue for me was controlling the game.

I don't like 1 frame links at all. It took too much practice time for me to complete many Trials. And the netcode online made 1 frame links even more difficult. I couldn't consistently do Hooligan Throw-style inputs or 720 inputs consistently, and input shortcuts made me accidentally do moves I didn't want to.

I don't think Ultra Street Fighter IV is a good game for new players, but some parts of it kept me coming back. Poison is one of my favorite characters to play in any fighting game and Omega Mode is fun in a “crazily unbalanced” kinda way. I can play the game a few times a month but it gets frustrating quickly, so I don't touch it often. And yet, I'm still excited for Street Fighter V. Maybe Q will be in it.

Persona 4 Arena: Ultimax


This year, I learned that a lot of fighting game players import their games. Persona 4 Arena Ultimax was out for months in Japan before America, so lots of players downloaded a Japanese copy. They got a head start, and I definitely felt it. If there are “newbies” in Persona 4 Arena Ultimax online, I haven't seen them yet and most of my matches have been a challenge.

I also learned that PS3 became the place to play fighting games. The PS3 version of Ultimax has more features than the 360 version and a much larger playerbase.

As for the game itself, it's nuts. Some Shadow characters have consistent touch-of-death combos, or at least ones that can take 70% of your health. Everyone was buffed, which makes things both more fair and more unbalanced as the weak got average and the top tier got even stronger.

And I keep playing it. I curse the screen when I keep getting reset over and over by Minazuki, but cackle like a madman when I hit him with a command grab that does 70% damage. I groan when getting hit by Shadow Chie's death combo but smile when winning with Kanji's “1.5 million frames of invincibility” DP. It's not the most balanced game in the world, but it's so much fun that I don't care. In the end, I appreciate having fun more than having a game that's “100% fair” (I put that in quotes because none of them are)!

I'll definitely keep playing it until I can get a PS3 and access to the larger world of anime fighting games.

Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate


I played about 100 matches of Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate and pretty much stopped. I like the game, I love that it has one of the best tutorials in any fighting game, and it has plenty of stuff to do single player. It's one of the few games where I stuck to one character and didn't pick up any substitutes. Rachel's combination between grappling and slow, heavy strikes ended up fitting my playstyle very well. It's one of the few times where a fighting game character perfectly fit how I wanted to play, and playing as Rachel is so fun that I still load up the game from time to time to do so.

The only reason I quit is because the online netcode is bad. The online menus are clunky and load slowly. Sometimes matches that started off good would have huge lag spikes in the middle. It's ideal to play fighting games locally, but since I don't get many opportunities to do so, I rely on multiplayer. If the online is bad, I stop playing.

Still, I enjoy playing the game enough that I'm about to buy it a third time. Dead or Alive 5: Last Round is coming out next year and I'm looking forward to it. Just hoping that the netcode is better this time.


This is not a fighting game, but it's worth bringing up. It's 1v1, competitive, two dimensional...close enough, right?

Nidhogg has online gameplay but I have only ever played it locally. It's more complex than Divekick but still accessible for new players, and there is a surprising amount of nuance. Holding your sword high counters divekicks. If you want to face off on the ground, your sword stances actually allow a fun fencing game. And there's also the tried-and-true tactic of sweeping the legs and ripping your opponent's heart out.

Just like any good fighting game, Nidhogg relies on your analyzing your opponent's strategy and countering. I've fought people who love divekicking, so I adapt by holding my sword high whenever they take to the air. I tend to stay on the ground a lot, so I'm extremely vulnerable to the sweep & heart rip combo.

This is another game that has the soul of a fighting game but simple rules that allow anyone to play. It's another game that I'll break out in gatherings with friends for a long time.

Playing Offline


This year I made it to Ultimate Fighting Game Tournament X, a major tournament in Chicago. I used the time to play a lot of casual matches and ask questions while playing. It was an invaluable experience, as I learned nuances of the game systems and matchups that I can't really get online. Turns out, people are pretty nice and willing to help out when playing fighting games offline!

I entered Divekick and Street Fighter X Tekken tournaments, but ended up spending a lot of time with Injustice. When I think about it, I enjoy that game so much that I wish I entered the tournament for it.

I also realized how bad my tournament nerves are at UFGTX. My days of practice were shot as I forgot my combos, fumbled around in button checks, and had to calm my shaky hands before playing. I suck at tournaments, which is why I need to play locally more.

To do so, I found a local scene to play fighting games on Tuesday nights. I also found a game club at college, and we play fighting games together occasionally. Just by going to these meetups, I've been able to calm my awful “tourney nerves” and play more consistently at a local setting. Hopefully this will translate to better results in the future if I go to more tournaments.

2015's Fighting Games

There's a lot of fighting games to look forward to next year. Mortal Kombat X is looking great, and I'm even more excited for it after loving Injustice. Dead or Alive 5: Last Round might be more of the same, but I enjoy DOA5 and the same game with better netcode will be good for me. Tekken 7 might come out next year, and I will definitely check that out. I liked Tekken Tag Tournament 2 for everything except the “tag” part, so Tekken 7 looks like it's for me.

If I can get my hands on a new console, I'd love to play Guilty Gear XRD, Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late, and Super Smash Bros. For Wii U.

Will I ever get good at any of these games, or place high in a tournament in 2015? The answer lies...in the heart of battle.

And the title of this blog.


I Suck At Fighting Games: Persona 4 Arena Ultimax

If you would like to avoid spoilers, play Persona 3 and 4 before reading this.

For the first few days, I had no idea if I even liked Persona 4 Arena Ultimax. I anticipated it for months because the previous game is one of my favorite fighting games ever. This sequel takes the base of Persona 4 Arena and piles on a ridiculous amount of extra content like new characters, stages and game modes. They also changed the systems and the characters themselves so much that parts of it are unrecognizable.

I enjoy Persona 4 Arena Ultimax, but not every change improved the game.

What's good about the game?

1. It's not too complicated.

In 2012, I praised the original Persona 4 Arena for its wealth of tutorial and training systems. Fighting games are extremely difficult to get into, but even a new player like me eased into Persona 4 Arena and could actually win matches.

I'm happy to say that this game continues that trend. It quickly teaches you all the important mechanics, and is a great game for new fighting game players at a low level.

The Lesson Mode is even more detailed this time around, with more tutorials and more detailed descriptions.

There's also Challenge Mode that teaches you the moveset and several combos for every character in the game, along with Demonstrations where the game shows you a brief video of what you should be doing. Every fighting game should have this!

The Training Mode is one of the best around, with multiple pages of options that allows you an unprecedented level of customization. Want to know exactly how fast Junpei recovers health with Victory Cry and 31 runs on the board? You can do it.

Persona 4 Arena Ultimax already has simple inputs compared to most fighting games. 90% of special moves are quarter circle forward or quarter circle back, and there are only four buttons. Combine that with robust tutorial modes and an excellent training mode, and it remains one of the best fighting games for newcomers.

2. Lots of new stuff.

A lot has been added to this sequel. It's far from a simple expansion pack because of the amount of added content AND the changes made to each character.

New Characters: The characters added in this sequel are so cool that I wish I could play them all (except for Marie). Including downloadable characters, Margaret, SHO Minazuki, Sho MINAZUKI, Ken & Koromaru, Yukari, Adachi, Junpei, Rise and Marie are brand new. I won't waste too much space talking about them, but for the most part I found these characters enjoyable to play in their own individual ways.

Playing Ken & Koromaru tested my dexterity because they are basically two separate characters to control, with the dog even having his own health meter. When played properly, they are devastating. You can attack with both of them at the same time, covering some of Ken's slower moves with Koromaru's quick attacks. Fighting this pair can lead to situations where you're blocking for a LONG time because it gets overwhelming and you don't know when you can counterattack.

Junpei is possibly the worst character in the game, but he has the coolest mechanic I've ever seen in a fighting game. He is a baseball player with a BASEBALL METER on screen. Connecting with bat attacks builds up a run counter, and when you have 10 runs he goes into a super mode where he gets more powerful as well as regains health and meter slowly. More runs = more buffs. You can also lose opportunities to build your score, as whiffing attacks or getting blocked count as strikes! You're playing baseball in a fighting game, which is the coolest and most inventive thing I've seen in the genre in a while.

Junpei struggles to win against most of the cast, but he is so much fun to play as.

All of the returning characters also received new moves and a Shadow mode. The Shadow mode isn't too special for most characters, but for some it is a major buff. More on that later.

The rebalancing and addition of new moves has lead to the returning characters playing differently from the last game, which has both forced me to learn new combos and drop characters like Yosuke because my brain couldn't reconcile how much they've changed. Overall, I appreciate how far they went to make the characters play differently, giving them new options and tactics. The tiers are slightly closer, and those extremely difficult matchups from Persona 4 Arena feel more manageable.

There are a handful of new universal mechanics that change up tactics as well. SP Skill Boost are EX Supers, costing 75 meter but dealing much more damage. Fatal Recovery is added to certain moves, meaning that getting counterhit after them is always a Fatal Counter. Guard Cancel Evasive Action allows you to roll out of blockstun and get some breathing room. And of course, the Shadow characters have their own quirks.

New Score Attack: In Persona 4 Arena, Score Attack was a brutally difficult variant of Arcade mode where you fought Boss variants of every character. Now, it's a bit different.

New Score Attack allows you to pick your difficulty and your course, the latter of which determines what 10 characters you will face. Depending on your difficulty, you could face five Bosses, ten bosses, or none. You don't really unlock anything if you're not on the highest difficulty, but the mode is good for a challenge against tough but fair AI.

Golden Arena: This is basically Survival Mode from any other fighting game with RPG elements. You fight several battles in a row, some of them being against stronger boss characters. All the while, you gain experience points that allow you to raise your stats, equip skills and customize your character just like in Persona 3 & 4.

This mode is a cool way to tie together the RPG side of Persona games with the fighting game, but it has a few issues. You “equip” a partner for buffs, but unlocking them is explained. Rise is provided and it's shown that there are other Social Links to unlock, but you aren't told how to unlock them. Even after completing the first course (46 fights!) I was stuck with Rise with no hints of how to get anyone else.

The game also doesn't mention when your progress is saved. From what I can tell, the game saves after boss fights. However, it doesn't tell you this and it's not obvious when you are fighting a boss. From what I observed, bosses are probably the characters with slightly higher stats and are decked out in all-black colors. The rules could have been explained better on that. Still, Golden Arena is a cool twist on the Survival mode that some fighting games include.

3. Excellent Online.

I can't speak about new lobby system because I'm on Xbox 360. Get the PS3 version if you can because that thing looks awesome.

Besides that, the online experience in Persona 4 Arena is still great. Unranked matches allow for 8 player “Open Arena” lobbies where everyone can play with no waiting or spectating. Ranked matches allow you to “Enlist” and then back out of the menu.

While Enlisted, you can play the majority of offline modes while the game searches for matches in the background. When that happens, you get a little pop-up and can jump directly into a match. After that, it puts you back into the mode you were in.

I found this very useful while training. I'd warm up and practice combos in Training Mode, and a match pops up. I'd take the match and seamlessly get put back into training when I was done. It's a great feature.

Aside from that, the netcode is comparable to Persona 4 Arena. It's much better than most fighting games and rarely stutters online, even in situations where the bars look low. Just make sure you watch the intro before an online match, and any stuttering will magically fix itself.

What's not good about the game?

1. Marie is in the game. Remove her please.

I'm kidding. I don't actually want her removed....unless you're gonna do it.

2. Shadow characters might be overpowered.

The Shadow characters in this game work a little differently than normal characters. They have lots of altered properties, but these three are the most important:

-More health

-Higher meter gain

-Access to Shadow Frenzy

To simplify Shadow Frenzy, it gives the character infinite meter for a few seconds and lets them cancel any move into any other move. This lets you do stylish combos and loops...which can do 50 to 100 percent damage on other characters.

Shadow Chie and Shadow Naoto are the best at this. They have extremely painful combos that are difficult to burst out of. If you used your Burst earlier in the round against Shadow Naoto/Chie, you're probably gonna die.

Most Shadows don't seem as good as those two, but I've seen and been hit by insane combos from Shadow Yukiko and Shadow Akihiko as well.

Shadow characters might be overpowered because their advantages are not balanced by many disadvantages. They do less damage overall, but their Shadow Frenzy combos can kill easily. They WILL get Shadow Frenzy at some point because of their increased meter gain and the fact that their unused super meter carries over through rounds.

Besides that, dying in one combo just feels unfair. It wasn't a regular occurrence in Persona 4 Arena, where Awakening mode gave you some more health and meter for a comeback. Fights against Shadows can feel hopeless as you get hit once and eat an 80% combo. It feels unbalanced in a game that is mostly fair.

3. Everyone got buffed.

In order to bridge the gap between low tier and high tier in Persona 4 Arena, every character seemed to improve in Ultimax. I play Kanji and I have appreciated his changes. His autocombo is much better, the Skill Boost versions of his supers allow him to do high damaging combos and make crazy comebacks, and his new shoulder charge move allows him to close the gap on zoning characters more easily.

However, buffing everyone made some balance problems worse. Yu Narukami was one of the best characters in Persona 4 Arena, but his buffs just made him annoying to fight against. He has a new command grab and his Cross Slash super has been made even better. Shadow Narukami is an entirely new level of ridiculous. Labrys has fallen even further in the tiers as the stronger characters around her got even better. Junpei is hopeless. Minazuki (with Persona) is so much better than Sho that he makes the latter irrelevant. Shadow Chie and Shadow Naoto make their regular versions irrelevant.

It took me a while to decide, but I ended up enjoying Persona 4 Arena Ultimax. However, it is a very different game than the first Arena. It's less balanced and has many more instances where a stray hit can turn into a fatal combo.

Despite all that, I don't get truly frustrated playing this game. It could be the combination between my unhealthy Persona obsession and the fact that every character has SOMETHING unfair in their arsenal. It's rough getting trapped in Minazuki's long, easy to execute, high damaging combos. But once I get into Awakening I can land a 70% super grab and turn the tide. It's unfair but enjoyable to employ those scumbag tactics. You could say it's FUNfair!

I'd recommend it to fans of Persona 4 for the story mode and other single player modes. At a low level, it's still great to get into for newer fighting game players due to its easy inputs and great tutorials. But if I wasn't already somewhat experienced, I'd probably be more upset at some of the insane things that happen. I still enjoy the game and recommend it, but I find myself playing online for shorter sessions than I did in Persona 4 Arena.

A common argument is that every fighting game is unfair or unbalanced in some way, and your personal preferences will determine what type of unfairness you're willing to put up with. Compared to its sequel, Persona 4 Arena: Ultimax is MUCH less fair and balanced. But I can put up with it.

Is that damning it with faint praise? Maybe!


I could not finish Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas HD.

I couldn't complete Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas HD. After 10 hours, I hit a wall. I probably could push on and finish the game at some point as I've done many times in the past. But this time, I absolutely could not motivate myself to see it through until the end.

There's a lot of quirks that makes this game difficult to return to, especially playing it after Grand Theft Auto V. But even after dealing with them, the failure of one mission caused me to turn the game off.

I appreciate this port adding checkpoints. Without them, I would have had to drive about five minutes back to the mission start point and retry. So after failing, I hit “Retry From Last Checkpoint”.

It returned me to the beginning of the mission. I turned off the game, and I doubt I'll turn it back on.

For a ten year old game, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas still has some cool tricks. The world feels larger than even Grand Theft Auto V, even though that may not be true. The character customization is still cool, as you can completely change CJ's clothing and physique. If you want to make a buff Mr. T impersonator complete with mohawk and tacky gold jewelry, you can. If you'd rather eat a lot of fast food and get fat, you can. And there seem to be hundreds of lines of dialog related to your character's physique and clothing that change as you alter those parameters.

There is a ridiculous amount minigames and collectibles scattered around the game. It's possible to go through the story and never encounter pool, blackjack and poker, dating, hidden packages, and an entire line of sidequests. I know I won't encounter some of these, because I can't bring myself to finish the game.

At $3.74, I couldn't resist delving into the Grand Theft Auto nostalgia. I know the game is technically a mobile port, but I'm completely fine with the updated visuals and improved draw distance. It only took a few minutes to get over the weird faces and blocky hands.

The dated graphics aren't the worst part of the game.

It's a known issue in this port that sound will cut out during cutscenes. I've played the game for about ten hours and it happened during four cutscenes. It's a low percentage, but considering that it NEVER happened in the original version, it's an unacceptable percentage.

The control scheme is imperfect compared to the original. I prefer total free aim and played both IV and V without using lock-on targeting once. In San Andreas HD, you can use Free Aim only...but I do not recommend it. Even after tweaking sensitivity settings, I never got the aiming to feel completely natural. Slight movements would cause the reticle to fly way off, and I could never aim onto targets as fast as I needed to. I switched to Lock-On targeting which limits your targeting to ONLY Lock-On. If you're trying to use Free Aim with this control method on, you can't. It locks onto the nearest human, making it completely impossible to aim for a car's tires or gas tank when you really want to.

I know I'm not remembering things incorrectly here. In the PS2 version, you could lock on to someone but then move the reticle, smoothly transitioning you to Free Aim. It wasn't Free Aim Only or Lock-On Only. This change makes an already awkward combat system feel worse.

The dated controls are only a minor reason why I gave up. I remembered shortly after starting the game how poor the pacing can be. The missions where you are stranded in the mountains involve large amounts of travel time across uneven terrain. There's no GPS line on the minimap, which lead me to many situations of driving across the grass and up mountains because I didn't know which road to take. After a mission ends, you often must drive several minutes to get to the next one.

Rockstar probably wants you to get distracted by side missions between story missions so the travel time feels less repetitive, but I've played this game to 100% completion in the past. I only focused on finishing main story quests, and that meant a lot of monotonous driving back and forth. After a few hours, I was begging for a fast travel system. The 5+ minutes of driving after every mission is boring now.

I had a few more reasons to stop playing San Andreas HD apart from being completely fed up with driving everywhere. There's a San Fierro mission that locks you out until you build up your Lung Capacity, which meant spending some time swimming underwater and resurfacing over and over. I've never spent the time building that stat, so it would be a session of level grinding that I have no motivation to do.

My favorite parts of San Andreas were the Las Venturas and Los Santos missions near the end. I loved the storylines of setting up an elaborate heist and returning to Los Santos to retake it for Grove Street, and looked forward to the missions where you visit Liberty City, skyjack an airplane, and break into a military base to steal a jetpack.

Most of those missions are in the latter half of the game, however. The initial Grove Street missions are basic, the countryside missions are annoying due to the travel time and dealing with unlikable characters. The San Fierro missions are largely uninteresting. San Andreas has major pacing issues, and for every spectacular mission there are five uninspired ones. The controls actively hindered my enjoyment of many missions, particularly ones that involved drive-by shooting.

Still, there are parts of the game that were good to revisit. Going into fast food places to restore health and being able to customize every part of your outfit individually were missing from Grand Theft Auto V. It still seems like there are more random hobbies and side missions in San Andreas compared to the latest game, and they have tangible, useful rewards for completing them like increased maximum health or armor.

The sheer amount of things to do in San Andreas is impressive, but the dated design of the game wore me down too much. It was worth the three dollars to revisit, but I've been spoiled by its successors. I couldn't finish Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas HD, but going back makes the newer games look even more impressive by comparison.


I Suck At Fighting Games: Ultra Street Fighter IV

I've looked at a lot of games since I started taking fighting games seriously around two years ago. I've covered most of the subgenres and found what I like and dislike about most of them. However, this is my first time covering a game that isn't finished.

Street Fighter IV isn't a new game, and I guess some of its various problems and weird glitches can't really be fixed in this incremental update (Check out this article for more on that). There's things wrong with Ultra Street Fighter IV that were wrong with the game when it first came out...but the bug list is pretty intense. http://forums.shoryuken.com/discussion/190962/usf4-bugs-and-improper-set-character-data-list-please-contribute/p1

I don't care enough about frame data to get upset about some of this, but there are things that affect the characters I play, and I can feel it.

For Poison,

“On block Super grants the opponent 100% of the "on hit" meter.

Ultra 2 input cannot end with any UP input. 2X half circle back -> up back +3P results in EX Rekka instead of U2. Fireball input cannot end with any UP input. QCF+Up results in a jump instead of canceling the prejump frames into fireball.”

For Elena,

“Move list priority is incorrectly set. Elena's super and ultras are ranked as higher than appeal or focus. This allows for canceling focus attack into ultra / super by utilizing an armor absorb cancel.

Most multi hit specials are inconsistent on a large majority of the cast resulting in mid move drop outs.”

It may not mean much to new players, but I ended up spending around $35 for this game ($20 for the base game, $15 for the Ultra update) and that's a lot of money for a game that's not finished. The weird glitches aren't the only reason why I say this. There's things that I found which hampered my ability to learn SF4 as a new player.

Ultra Street Fighter IV has no tutorial. The previous iteration Super Street Fighter IV Arcade Edition 2012 had no tutorial. And despite the theory that Street Fighter IV is great to get beginners into fighting games, I don't see it. I'm not new to the genre, but I am new to this game and there is just one included resource to learn how to play: an in-game text manual.

Do you know what a Focus Attack is or how to perform it? I didn't without looking it up! I also didn't know that Focus Attacks have three levels with different attack properties or how to do the extremely important Focus Attack Dash Cancel.

The “Trial” mode is the closest the game comes to a tutorial. You're given a set of 24 combos to perform, the first few teaching you how to input some of your character's special moves and Ultras.

The problem is that Trial mode is one part of the game that's currently unfinished. Upon entering Trial Mode you see this screen:

This game has seen many iterations since 2009. The Ultra Street Fighter IV versions of characters have changed since the previous iteration, AE2012. Trial Mode gives you combos that might not even be possible in Ultra. The inputs for Super or Ultra Combos are occasionally inaccurate, since a handful of them did change with the latest update. And Trial Mode never teaches you about the new mechanics for Ultra, Delayed Wakeup and Red Focus. There are entire characters missing from Trial Mode, so you'll have to go to Training Mode to try out their movesets.

And even if this mode were fully updated, it would be inferior to Persona 4 Arena's challenge mode. That challenge mode displays your needed inputs for Special Moves on screen at all times, allows you to quickly reset both characters positions with one button press, and includes a Demonstration where you can see the computer performing the combo so you can tell what you need to do.

For a game where combos are extremely reliant on timing and 1 frame button presses, it's crazy to me that there's no Demonstration so I can even see how the combo should look.

Since the game just straight up leaves out the resources you'll want or need to learn it, I looked elsewhere. Luckily there's a large database online, and I'll link a few videos that helped me a lot in learning.

UltraDavid and James Chen go over the basics: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Aq3pJ-LvxVA&list=PL45-KVgrSkf7Yz5S3dGWZ3Sfti-3A8k0d

The USF4 Guidebook by MetalMusicMan04: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uiWHE0iGG74


Shoryuken Bruh on Combos, Links and Timing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CU7xRoVRUxQ&list=UUrq8B--z8VyqzrQBtv5JxOw

It's good that this game has been around so long that people are REALLY good at it and willing to teach.

So, since there were no Trials for my character of choice, I jumped into Training Mode and just messed around for a while. Training has its ups and downs.

+You can set the CPU to “Auto Block” which is crucial for learning the timing on combos. If you time your combo correctly, every attack will connect. If you mess up, the CPU will block and you'll know that the timing is wrong. “Random Block” is also useful for learning to cut your combos short if they're getting blocked.

+Input Display lets you see if you're inputting a move incorrectly, so you know why it's not coming out.

+It's very easy and quick to record and replay a training dummy's actions

+You can turn on Fight Request from here, allowing you to train while waiting for online matches. Way better than sitting in a lobby!

-You can't quickly restart the training state by hitting the Back or Select button

-You can disable Fight Request from Training Mode, but you can't turn it back on

-It takes too long to leave Training, pick a character, and go back in due to the load times

-You can't set the dummy to break throws

-You can't set the dummy to do Delayed Wakeup

The last one is also silly because Delayed Wakeup affects some characters significantly. Characters like Ibuki and Cammy prey on opponents getting up after a knockdown because they can put them in an extremely difficult to block situation, but Delayed Wakeup can throw off their timing when used correctly. So why isn't a Training option? The game's not finished.

(Your worst nightmare until you get good at the game)

So, after spending not enough time learning my commands I jumped into Ranked mode online. I would highly recommend going into Ranked over Endless Battle, and be sure to set the skill level to “Same Skill”. Jumping into Endless Battle or Ranked (not on Same Skill) is like diving into shark infested waters. This game has been around for so long that basically everyone playing it is good, or at least better than you will be at first.

I found getting into matches via Fight Request in Training was preferable, because the experience of going to “Xbox Live Battle” is a mess of refreshing, clicking lobbies as they disappear and kick you back a layer, loading, refreshing the search, loading, loading again.

Once you get online, the netcode ranges from “OK” to “atrocious”. I've had many matches where “Waiting For Player” messages pop up every few seconds, making the game nearly unplayable. I've had matches where the game felt fine but my controller inputs were blatantly not coming out, resulting in it registering two simultaneous button presses when I presses three, or a double QCF registering as only one. I've been playing with friends for several matches in a row, and for some matches it randomly decides to make the netcode much worse for no real reason. It's not the worst netcode I've ever experienced, but it's outclassed by nearly all of its contemporaries.

Playing Ultra Street Fighter IV online actually wasn't an endless loop of me losing every match like I expected, but I'm sure it's only because I'm on Same Skill. I win the majority of my matches in my rank, but if I'm fighting someone more skilled it's never close. I feel like I'm stuck and won't ever be able to beat people at a higher rank than me, no matter how often I play.

But I can admit Street Fighter IV is a unique case here. There are people playing this game that have been playing since 2009. I can't realistically expect to get to that level because I can't make up for the several years of practice other people have on me. It's one of the reasons why I wouldn't recommend this game to beginners.

The timing for combos and inputs for certain special moves makes this game even more difficult to get into. Many combos rely on one frame links which rely on pressing buttons in some esoteric, unexplained timing. There are a few characters with “Target Combos” which work like strings in other fighing games (input moves as quickly as possible) but not everyone has the benefit of having easy, reliable combos. Some special moves like Cammy's Hooligan Throw have weird inputs like

360 commands are very difficult to do without jumping, so playing grappler characters as a beginner is an exercise in accidentally jumping forward when trying to do a command throw, and your opponent realizing you're trying to do a command throw and avoiding it. I still can't do double 360s consistently without jumping. I've had issues pulling off Delayed Wakeup even though I input it correctly, and I can't really explain why.

What I Liked:

+Large cast of unique characters. Even the ones who fall into the same class feel different

+Launching into online Ranked mode straight from Training or Arcade

+Animated cutscenes in Story Mode

+Ability to individually change character voice languages

What I Didn't Like:

-No tutorial

-Trials aren't helpful

-Online netcode isn't good

-Combos rely on strict timing and it's difficult to tell how to do them correctly

-Numerous glitches, some of which affected my gameplay (like hurtbox glitches and inputs being overlapped)

-Some special moves have very complex inputs

-Training Mode lacks a few options like setting the dummy to break throws or use Delayed Wakeup

-Arcade Mode isn't useful for learning the game because the AI reads inputs, making it an unfair match

-Online menus are clunky

-Lots of loading

Ultra Street Fighter IV is an update of an older game and will understandably have some drawbacks. From my perspective as a new player trying to learn it, it wasn't very enjoyable. I think it's difficult for new players to get into in terms of gameplay and its dated presentation. The only reason I've won 100 online matches so far is because I've built up fundamentals playing other games. I keep it simple online and never try to do advanced combos, partly because of online lag, partly because I find the combo system awkward.

Ultra Street Fighter IV is a good game to get into if you've already been playing Street Fighter IV for a while, or you're incredibly dedicated and want to dedicate your time to making it the only fighting game you play. For new players, trying to play this game as your first will be frustrating and I'd recommend other, more modern games.

Here's some links again for beginner tutorials that helped me out.





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I Suck At Fighting Games: Injustice: Gods Among Us

I can't claim to know much about the history of DC's heroes and villains. I never watched the Batman or Superman cartoons when I was a kid, and I've read a grand total of five comic books in my life. The appeal of DC characters punching each other didn't draw me into Injustice: Gods Among Us. What drew me in were the things I saw in Injustice that no other current fighting game had.

The mechanics that makes Injustice stand out aren't new. Dead or Alive had level transitions for years. Godzilla: Destroy All Monsters Melee had interactive objects as a major part of gameplay, as you threw bridges and buildings at your opponents. Still, seeing these elements combined in one game immediately set it apart from other 2D fighting games. In movies and cartoons, superheroes and villains always smash their opponents through buildings and throw heavy junk at each other. It only makes sense to put it in a game about superheroes.

To beginners, the interactive objects in Injustice can seem cheap. They do a punishing amount of damage for what seems like relatively low risk. However, the tradeoff is using any interactive object has a slow startup that can be punished easily. If the object is a thrown item, it always travels in the same path. I quickly memorized how each object would react so I could jump out of the way or evade it with the small amount of invincibility frames on backdashing.

The level transitions are very painful to get hit by, but not every stage has them and are only activated if you get hit by a slow wall bounce move that is easy to avoid.

And if you still find these elements of the game too distracting or unfair, you can turn them off. The Injustice community has generally accepted level transitions and interactables as fair for tournament play, which is cool because it's one of the things that sets the game apart from others, especially its predecessor Mortal Kombat 9.

But before I started worrying about getting hit in the face with air conditioners, I tested out various single player options to see if Injustice would be a game I could get into. The tutorial is highly recommended, as it teaches nearly every aspect of the game quickly.

I had a couple of issues with the tutorial in the end. One is just an issue with the Reversal system. After you block any attack you can input a special move and do it faster than normal, which is a feature in most fighting games (Street Fighter comes to mind). I like how it says “Reversal Window” when it's possible, but the timing is so awkward that I never really go for Reversal moves because I don't know if they'll come out or not.

The second issue is that the tutorial doesn't teach you enough about your meter.

You can hit the meter burn button while using an interactable to gain several hits of armor, making many of them basically safe to use. To assist in stage transitions, you can also meter burn your wall bounce (back+heavy) and your ground bound (forward+heavy). The tutorial also doesn't teach you which interactables can be Meter Burned, which might be understandable because there's a lot of them.

After the tutorial, I jumped into the Story Mode. Similar to Mortal Kombat 9, you play a large cast of characters through the story, giving you a chance to learn their moves. I also enjoyed the minigames that took place between fights to break the monotony. But what was up with Superman killing all those civilians?

That's not all for the single player content. There's Battles mode where you fight several characters while hindered by a gimmick like draining health, handicap matches or a shortened time limit. There's S.T.A.R. Labs that contain a huge amount of challenges for each character. If you want to learn more about how to play a character, the S.T.A.R. Labs all contain a mission that acts as a brief tutorial. There's even some missions that are execution drills, forcing you to use a handful of special moves over and over until you can do them easily.

There's one issue with S.T.A.R. Labs as a training device, however. You have to unlock later character's missions by getting enough stars on the earlier ones. If you want to play Wonder Woman or Ares' tutorials, you might have to beat over 100 missions just to unlock them! Also, some of the downloadable characters don't have tutorials at all.

For those characters, the excellent Training mode makes things a lot easier. On top of expected features like full control of the AI's states including record and playback, you can turn on a detailed display that tells you how much damage a move did and what region it will hit (mid, high, low, or overhead). You can highlight where you need to stand to use an interactive object or transition. You can tag up to six moves to appear at the top of your screen so you don't forget them as you practice, eliminating the need to return to the pause screen and look up moves every couple of seconds.

That last one is something I think should be included in every fighting game. Tagging moves is amazing. You can even tag moves for multiplayer matches if you're the type of person to freak out and forget your moves mid match (I am!)There's frame data on each move and combo string, but I've heard it's not accurate.

(credit: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC-HApsuNV7Qb5QAxXVucW0g)

So in my quest to Get Good, I found the S.T.A.R. Labs missions were actually more helpful than I thought. Missions where you can't let you opponent hit you once are a quick drill on your character's movement options and keepaway attacks. Missions where you have to hit a high-damaging combo force you to innovate on the spot and maximize your damage. Of course, looking up YouTube videos like the one I linked above helped a lot too.

Now that I've been playing online a lot and winning enough to get a fair amount of hatemail, I've really found out what I enjoy about Injustice. With the exception of maybe The Joker and Cyborg, there aren't any matchups that have felt hopeless. Most characters can perform a 20%-30% basic combo with one bar of meter, and their Character Power helps them out of desperate situations. I play lame in most fighting games, which naturally drew me to Raven as a keepaway character. Raven's Character Power lets her cover basically anywhere on the screen with projectiles and grab her opponent from full screen. The Character Power is a great feature that makes each character feel totally different even as they share the universal inputs.

I feel like the game is fairly easy to pick up because of the universal mechanics like down+Medium for launchers and back+Heavy for wall bounces. If you can hit those, you can get a quick and easy combo. It just takes training to maximize your damage off of that one hit.

With the exception of a few weird command grabs and Close/Far projectiles, the inputs aren't difficult and the combo strings aren't dependent on strict timing; you just input them as quickly as possible and they work. Clash is an interesting twist on a traditional “combo breaker” because you only get one and it's dependent on meter, so even if you break the combo you could still be one hit away from losing.

I've enjoyed Injustice: Gods Among Us more than I thought I would, and I've been playing it regularly since April, just recently passing 200 matches played (with a little over 100 wins). The game is balanced well enough that you can get wins with most characters (except for The Joker and Cyborg probably), and I have fun playing it. It would be an injustice if this game doesn't get a sequel with even more DC characters I don't know.

What I Liked:

-Execution barrier is low. Most combos don't rely on strict timing and are easy to execute

-Many strategic uses for meter

-Story Mode that lets you try out many characters, and has fun minigames

-S.T.A.R. Labs provide more solo content than most other fighting games

-Very detailed and customizable Training mode

-Daily Challenges gives an incentive to keep playing online

-Unique online multiplayer modes

What I Didn't Like:

-S.T.A.R. Labs contain character tutorials, but they aren't all unlocked from the start.

-Netcode can be unreliable

-Lots of quitters online

-Awkward inputs for some special moves like command throws and Close/Far projectiles

-Damage effects don't look good

-Load times are frequent and too long

-Input window for reversal attacks is difficult to discern

If you're looking for a good starting point to learning a character, check out http://testyourmight.com/forums/choose-your-hero-villain.233/


GTA Online: 100 Tiny Cuts

Since the initial trailer, Grand Theft Auto Online seemed like a dream coming true for me. I've been a fan of Grand Theft Auto for a while, and have lots of memories playing the game with friends locally. I remember the extremely limited and strange feature in San Andreas that allowed you to play brief 2 player Rampages.

The online function of Grand Theft Auto IV was a little better, but the awkward menus and my growing apathy toward most of the game kept it from being the GTA Online experience I really wanted. I liked Grand Theft Auto V a lot more, and the online function looked like exactly what I wanted.

Creating and leveling your own character, participating in structured Jobs and Missions with friends, or just roaming the enormous game map. It was everything I wanted and I couldn't wait to jump into it with friends.

I've played Grand Theft Auto V for about 300 hours now, and about 100 of them were spent in GTA Online. While I'm still having fun when teaming up with friends, and while the game has significantly improved since release, I have a handful of issues with it that I'd like to see improved with future patches. I want Grand Theft Auto Online to be the best it can possibly be, and maybe fixing some of these issues will help with that.

Character Creator Is Bad

I have very few positive things to say about GTA Online's character creator. It's confusing, convoluted, and probably worse than every modern character creation system out there. Instead of choosing your character's physical appearance with sliders, you choose what your parents and grandparents looked like and they give you an appearance linked to that. You also choose your character's lifestyle with a weird time assignment system that doesn't seem to affect anything but starting stats...which doesn't matter because you'll level all those stats up to full naturally.

The biggest problem here is that your character looks different in the Creator than they do in the game. So I had to start over after creating them and sitting through copious load screens, because they had a weird face in game. My proposed solution is to incorporate a plastic surgeon in GTA Online so you can fix your appearance as needed. It might link back to the same broken character creation screen, but it's better than having to remake them from scratch.

Failed To Find A Compatible GTA Online Session

Revisiting the image I posted at the top of the article.

I get this message 90% of the time that I try to join GTA Online from the main menu. The process is as such:

1. Hit A at startup to join GTA Online

2. Sit through several minutes of loading time

3. Failed To Find A Compatible Session

4. Sit through brief load time to get kicked into GTA V single player

5. Try to join GTA Online again

6. Sit through several minutes loading time

And if I don't get step 7 (get kicked out again), I'm in the game. It's silly. My proposed solution is to put me in a solo session if I can't connect to a group one. Kicking the player back to GTA V for them to start the loading process again is maddening, especially when the game takes so long to load up in the first place.

GTA Online separates lobbies by your Targeting Mode: Free Aim, Traditional GTA, or Assisted Aiming. I only play Free Aim and I assume the other lobbies are more populated, which could lead to my repeated “failed to join” experiences. But don't punish me by making me wait longer. Just put me into a Solo Session if necessary. There are plenty of things to do solo! I really don't mind!

Passive Mode and the Broken Spawn System

Most players in GTA Online lobbies want to kill you. A lot. In theory, you can go into Passive Mode and be left alone while you go about your business. Passive Mode protects you from getting shot by other players.

In practice, Passive Mode isn't passive enough. I've found in this state, you can still be killed if a player runs you over or kills you with explosives. If you get into your car, they can shoot you and your car can be blown up.

If you're getting hounded by a player who is killing you over and over, Passive Mode is near worthless because of another oversight: the respawn system. After death, you respawn close to where you were killed and in many cases, close to the player who killed you. I have had more than a few instances of getting killed by a player, respawning, trying to get a car to drive away, and getting shot down because Passive Mode disables when you're in a car.

My solution to this problem is allow you to respawn at a chosen location after death/suicide. The handy Interaction Menu allows you to set a waypoint for major landmarks at any time. How about adding an option to choose your respawn point on death? If you want to stay near the place you died, leave it off. If you need to get out of there and avoid spawn kills, pick a location from the menu. Seems like an easy fix.

"On Call" Doesn't Actually Work

I've complained multiple times about no one joining lobbies in GTA Online. Maybe it's a complaint about the playerbase as a whole, but I haven't had a race or mission start quickly in months. People just don't want to join. This could also be linked to Free Aim lobbies having lower population, I admit.

So, was my routine. I'd make a lobby for a race/deathmatch/whatever, and wait.

I've waited up to 20 minutes for games to start before, even using the “Auto-Invite And Play” button which allegedly “Finds players to quickly start a session” for you. No dice. I've probably spent more time waiting in empty lobbies in GTA Online than doing anything else.

So, in a recent patch Rockstar added “On Call” mode. You can queue up an event and continue to roam the open world as players join. But I've never seen anyone join. Tried every match type, waited for over 10 minutes, and nothing. Does the feature even function? Can I still change match options when I join?

No one really knows!

I guess my solution is to yell at everyone playing the game to make them join lobbies, but that's unrealistic.

No Tracker For Online Goals

One cool things about GTA Online is that you can level up and are given a HUGE amount of tasks and challenges to complete to help you level faster.

It's anything from spending cash on clothes to killing people in Deathmatches enough times with a shotgun. A lot of these challenges can be completed alone, so I still enjoy jumping into GTA Online alone just to grind through some of them. It's a cool feature that gives GTA Online some added value outside of “roaming about” and “doing missions”

My nitpick is that you can't tell how much of a challenge you've done until you finish it. Well, you can't tell QUICKLY at least. To look at your progress you have to pause the game, go to Stats, go to Awards, and find the progress of what you've done by scrolling through multiple pages. The pause menu isn't really slow, but it doesn't load quickly enough!

You know what would be nice? A progress tracker that pops up as you get closer to completing an Award. Think Gears of War.

See how the bars in the bottom left aren't fully filled, just a reminder of how close you are? GTA Online should definitely have that.

In the end, a few of my problems can be solved just by “get more people playing matches”. The general mindset of GTA Online players seems unfocused on the missions and more on killing random players; just go into any lobby and see how many people with bright red Mental States you see. Even though I prefer playing races and co-operative missions, I can't change how those people want to play the game (yet?)

GTA Online is fun, and I wouldn't have put 100 hours into it if I weren't enjoying it on some level. But there's a lot of improvements to be made before it can reach its full potential, and I hope they are made so it can really become the multiplayer Grand Theft Auto experience I've always wanted.



I Suck At Fighting Games: Ultimate Fighting Game Tournament X

Some of the pictures used in this post are from Old Abbot. https://www.flickr.com/photos/124173938@N02/sets/72157644502259238/. They're the ones that look great, in comparison to the ones I took myself on my phone.

Ultimate Fighting Game Tournament 9 was a blast in 2013. I chose wisely for my first tournament ever, and had fun throughout the weekend even when I wasn't competing. I was a little bummed to hear that this year's event would be the last Ultimate Fighting Game Tournament, but I also knew that going to it was a necessity.

In contrast to last year, I entered less games which allowed me to manage training time better. I learned from playing in 2013's event that there are certain games that I just don't do well in competitively and avoided them this year. My tournament results benefited from doing so, but only slightly.


Street Fighter X Tekken:


Here's what I observed from SFxT at this event. The game isn't drawing in a large amount of new players, and isn't extremely popular. Some games had multiple tables at UFGTX to run a large amount of pools, and Cross Tekken was one of the games with just one table.

However, the people who still play this game are extremely dedicated and very good at it. In my pool alone there were several strong players that I had recognized from their tournament results on streams and past events. I may have psyched myself out a bit and gotten too intimidated before playing because of that.

In this tournament, I lost 0-2 and I only remember winning one round in any of the games I played. I didn't know the matchup against characters I played against like Lars and Elena, which is my fault. There's a ton of characters in the game and I never prepared in training for those I rarely see online, so my lack of matchup experience got me knocked out fairly quickly.

I was disappointed in my performance, but not upset at the end of the day. I had some adjusting to do offline, as far as having no lag and no access to my custom gem sets. Mostly, I wish I made better use of my time to play more casuals and ask the better players for tips. I did that a bit, but not as much as I would have liked to. Still, this tournament made me want to train for the game even more.



I have no way to play Divekick at home. The last time I played was before Addition Edition, a huge balance patch that changed the majority of the cast. However, since Divekick fundamentals are impossible to forget, I got back into the swing of things very quickly. I also got some help from other players during casuals, asking them a lot of details about the changes my characters (Markman and Mr. N) received as well as theirs. That's what I've found in general when playing fighting games locally. If you've got questions, 99% of people are nice enough to help you.

In the tournament, I lost my first game, won the second, lost the third and got eliminated. I'm fine with that because I am completely out of practice and Divekick is a game that never makes me upset (for long) when I play it. I still think it's great fun to play casually and a good way to secretly turn your friends into fighting game fans. What I really liked to see were the people who play Divekick as a main game and are incredibly good at it. It's so exciting to watch at high levels, and see how different the game looks a year later.

Also, shoutout to the guy playing Divekick with Donkey Konga bongos.


Mystery Game: http://ufgt10.challonge.com/UFGTX_MYST_PoolI1

I wouldn't have felt right if I went to UFGT and didn't enter the Mystery Game Tournament. I was quickly eliminated after playing Bloody Roar and another fighting game I cannot recall (which involved leveling up or absorbing enemy powers Mega Man style...it was unclear) but this tournament is always fun and moments of it had me laughing harder than anything else all weekend. I saw people playing Burnout, indescribable Japanese minigame collections, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Tournament Fighters, and it all culminated in the most unbelievable Grand Finals of the night: Don't Break The Ice.

I can't wait for that video to go up.

That was it for the tournaments I entered. Here's some other observations I had throughout the weekend.

Playing Casuals

I made sure to play many more non-tournament matches this weekend than I did last year. In my downtime, I was playing Injustice, Street Fighter X Tekken, Divekick, and a little bit of Skullgirls. The whole time I made sure to ask questions. It was extremely helpful to get some matchup experience against characters I don't really see in online play. I didn't enter the Injustice tournament, but I played a lot of casual matches against people better than me. I lost a lot, but I learned a lot more and I'd love to play that game in a tournament some day.

As I try to improve in more fighting games, I've found that this is a lot more helpful than grinding out training mode alone. Having people to share ideas and strategies with is great, even if you're still losing a lot. Really, I just wish I played more casuals during the weekend.

Side Tournaments

Through Saturday and Sunday, I heard a TON of side tournaments being announced over the speakers. I remember hearing them for Persona 4 Arena, Chaos Code, Melty Blood, Super Turbo and more that I surely missed. It was really cool to see people organizing these tournaments for games that weren't on the main schedule. Some of the games I've put a ton of time into and enjoy are less popular, but it was encouraging to see that there's basically a scene out there for any game if you're looking hard enough.

The Crowd Experience

Since I entered less games this year, I had more time to spend just sitting in the crowd watching people play. Even for games I know nothing about, it's so much fun just to watch them being played on stage. There are countless moments that I can't capture in photos or videos that weekend. The crowd broke out in dueling “Let's Go Cena/Cena Sucks!” chants while WWE All Stars was played during the Mystery Game Tournament. People loudly heckled and cheered for players on stage during the Marvel X tournament, excited to see many characters that almost never show up in tournament play. I came dangerously close to losing my voice cheering for Double A as he got extremely far in the Marvel X tournament (good job dude! Follow him on Twitter!) I might not be good enough play on the stage, but watching people play on streams is nothing like seeing it in person.

The ending of Ultimate Fighting Game Tournament is a little sad. Even though I've only been for two years, I've grown attached to it as it was the very first tournament I went to. The brackets ran very smoothly again thanks to the people running pools (and Keits, of course) wasting zero time screwing around, and I appreciate it. I can only hope any future tournaments I go to run as well.

Going to these tournaments has been a strong step forward into me becoming better than “mediocre” at fighting games. I still enjoy playing Street Fighter X Tekken and Injustice a lot, and playing casuals made me just want to play the games more and improve. I'd like to check out some local tournaments around my area now that I have more free time and the ability to get to them.

I had a lot of fun at Ultimate Fighting Game Tournament X, and I'm glad I got to be there for the last one. I can't wait for Combo Breaker.

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Stepping Into The Next Generation

The “next generation” of game consoles isn't just around the corner anymore. We're fully into it and it's an exciting thing to observe. I've already seen how the Wii U, Playstation 4, and Xbox One have all found their places in the market and drawn unique audiences despite their general similarity.

Xbox One is still plagued by its bad reputation and weak start, but is making up for its stumbles with a price drop (and Kinect drop), dropping the Gold requirement to watch Netflix, and a handful of excellent exclusives like Killer Instinct and Dead Rising 3. It's still not the place to go for exclusive games, but there are enough titles there that make it a very attractive option for me. Mostly due to my overwhelming love of Dead Rising.

Playstation 4 has been riding high on its early trouncing of Xbox One, overshadowing it in support for indie games, less scumbag business tactics, and large number of console exclusives. They're pretty lucky that Microsoft messed up so badly right out of the gate, as I imagine that turned many indecisive consumers into surefire Playstation 4 buyers. Giving away free games with Playstation Plus and regular discounts can't hurt as well. If they're still in first place for console sales, it's easy to see why.

Wii U has seemingly struggled with the issue of games being few and far between. Mario Kart 8 was just released, but the next big titles like Bayonetta 2, Hyrule Warriors, and Super Smash Bros are still floating around with an annoyingly unspecific “2014” release date. I know Wii U owners that are upset with a number of things: the limited utility of the GamePad, publishers dropping support, paying for the console before the price drop and not having enough games to play. But at least those few games are genuinely great. Wii U might not take the lead as far as sales go, but I think overall it has the most games I'd like to play right now. In the end, that's what matters most.

So after considering the pros and cons for each system, I have a solid idea of which one I'd like to buy first. They're all worth a purchase for different reasons, but deciding which one to get first is important to me. It could be years before I get another.

Before that, however, I got another gaming platform. While I think most people are willing to pay attention to pros and cons of the major current gen systems, this one a lot less love. The games available range from shallow wastes of time to disgusting, blatant cash grabs in the eyes of gamers. But the funny part is most people already own it.

I received my first smartphone, an iPhone 4, as a gift last year. I probably spent more time fascinated by the features in the first month of ownership than actually making calls. It's a brilliant piece of technology to just have in my pocket at all times, and cuts down on the amount of time I spend struggling with my dying laptop significantly.

More importantly, there are games! A huge, scary App Store filled with them. There are clones of more popular games, games that I don't know why were even allowed onto the store, and even ports or adaptations of games I've played on other consoles. I feel like in my social circle, the general reception of iPhone games ranges from “negative” to “they aren't even games”. So over the past few months, I took recommendations and followed my own interests to see what iPhone games are like. There are obviously some duds in the bunch, but there are many more games that shocked me with their quality. For better or worse, iPhone games can accomplish things no other console games can do.

Device 6

Device 6 was probably the first iPhone game that surprised me with its depth, especially because most of the game is just reading. However, the developers took full advantage of the platform to make a game FOR the iPhone that feels like it. The text wraps and slinks around the screen, forcing you to rotate the phone as you slide through it. Clues for puzzles are hidden in strange audio logs and songs, meaning you'll need to put on headphones or be in a very quiet room if you want to progress. There's 'backtracking' that means you'll have to go back to a previous text passage/room to explore another branching path.

It's definitely challenging as well. I had a notepad beside me to scribble down notes on the more complex puzzles. It never gets as confusing as old PC adventure games, but it is surely a test. This isn't a game to kill time with at work. It's one you want to sit down at home by the fireplace with. Hot chocolate and notepad close at hand, obviously.

The only issue is as a puzzle game it isn't very replayable. Once you know the solutions to the puzzles it's tough to forget them. I've deleted it from my phone for now, but I'd love to revisit it in a year or later when I've forgotten how to automatically complete everything.

Sonic Dash

Sonic Dash, in comparison, is not a game that requires much brainpower or time investment. It's the game I played while sitting in a waiting room, on a bus or during downtime at work. A simple free-to-play endless runner with the hook of adding characters from the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise. To be honest, this is the only game of its type that interested me because I do like Sonic games so much.

It was also my first experience with how an advertisement supported free-to-play game works. In this case, it was a little annoying. After every run, a skippable 15 second video ad plays. It'll be for another game or app that is not related to Sonic Dash at all. I was confused by this because the games are so unrelated, it's like a different company just bought ad space in this game! Also, it liked to replay videos every time you went from the game's shop or Challenge Menu back to the main menu...which led to me often getting stuck in a loop of accidentally watching ads over and over.

The game rewards you for continually playing. You get to spin the Wheel of Fortune once per day to get powerups or the Grand Prize (or you can spend an in-game currency for more spins). There are daily challenges that grant you score multipliers and more in-game currency (or you can spend in-game currency to automatically beat the challenges). I came across one challenge too annoyingly time consuming to bother with, and ended up spending $3 for enough in-game currency to bypass it. This also completely removed the advertisements from the game, which is a nice touch.

After working my way up to my goal over a month, I unlocked my favorite Sonic character to play as...and my motivation to keep at the game dropped. The challenges are now too difficult to reasonably complete, and I won't spend more money on the game to pass them. Since I've reached my personal “goal” with the game, I've played it much less.

Ridiculous Fishing

Ridiculous Fishing is another great game to play in short bursts, but has much more longevity than Sonic Dash. As a paid game, there are no advertisements, daily challenges, or even an option to pay real money to progress. It all depends on your skill. Even with the upgrades you can purchase, if you're not good at tilting your phone to avoid fish you will not reach to bottom of the pond. Speaking of tilting, this is the only time I've used the accelerometer in my iPhone. Didn't know it had one until playing the game.

It has an excellent sense of humor with the goofy encyclopedia of fish, constantly updated in-game Twitter parody, and the concept of blowing up fish with machine guns for money. Since reaching the ending I've played it a lot less, but its charm keeps me coming back as much as my drive to catch every fish in the game.

Injustice: Gods Among Us

Wondering how fighting games would work with a touchscreen, I picked up this game after spending a lot of time with the console version. Injustice mobile and console link up, rewarding you for accomplishing tasks in each game. Beat a tough challenge in the console version? Get a rare card for the mobile game. Beat enough battles in the mobile game? Get a new skin for the console game.

The gameplay is pretty simple. Taps are light attacks, swipes are heavy attacks, and you build up meter for special attacks which are simple minigames that grant bonus damage for doing well in. It's not too challenging or deep, but it's a mostly inoffensive time killer.

Where Injustice mobile falls apart for me is the currency system. You get very little money for completing each battle, from 400 to 1000 coins. The cool characters you actually want to play as start at 45,000 coins and go up. Also, the battles get progressively harder as you go on, so you WILL need to spend coins upgrading your special moves to get further in the game.

Overall, it leads to a feeling of never having enough coins. I'll beat the game by consistently upgrading my team, but that means I'll have no coins to buy a cool character I want. The struggle is eased a bit by getting a daily Login Reward, but those are rarely coins or good characters. I played many hours of this game before recently hitting the wall. Even if I kept playing it, I'd never be able to get the characters I want without spending money. And while the game is free and you never NEED to spend money, it's unreasonably time-consuming to get the Cool Stuff (TM) without spending money.

Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective

I have no idea how this game played on the Nintendo DS. I can tell you that it translated so perfectly to the iPhone that I never noticed it was a DS game. All of the information and gameplay options are on the one screen, and I never felt like I was missing a perspective by not having the second screen.

The game itself is excellent. The animation is fluid and beautiful, the music is so catchy it's almost annoying to have these tracks stuck in my head all day, and it delivers a mystery in a slow pace that makes big reveals even more satisfying. It is NOT a game to play on the go at all. There is a lot of text to read, and there are many opportunities to ignore the story and explore the world and its characters. I have my phone on me everywhere, but I only played this game at home so I could absorb every clue and line of dialog. And while the puzzles are mostly easy (there were only two I had to restart multiple times), seeing how I altered time and saved someone's life made me smile. It's not just “good for the iPhone”, I think Ghost Trick is a game everyone should play no matter how you get to it.

It wasn't my first choice for a new gaming platform, but I'm happy with my iPhone so far. Recently games like Hitman GO and Monument Valley have taken up my time, both of them being games I sit down at home with a good pair of headphones on to play. I have had more difficulty finding games to play in short sessions that interest me, now that the appeal of Injustice and Sonic Dash have worn off. Still, if the only games I have on my phone are ones that I can only play when I'm NOT on the move, I'm fine with that.

I've spent plenty of time considering what my next big console purchase will be, and getting that will cut into my time playing iPhone games significantly. Still, I'm glad I took the time to give the underdog a chance.


I Suck At Fighting Games: Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate

So this is what it comes down to? I go for months without a new fighting game blog, and when I come back it's just covering a game I've covered before? For shame, me!

There's even games I haven't covered yet, like Street Fighter IV, Third Strike, and Injustice. I picked up some new fighting games since last time, but here we are. With a game I've already done. What a slacker I am.

Fighting games have the tendency to do this. If you wait a while after the original release, you're almost guaranteed to get an “ultimate” edition with balance tweaks and new features. Normally I wouldn't cover the same game twice, but I feel like Ultimate deserves praise. I was kind of lukewarm on DOA5, but this update pulled me back in with its promise of excellent training systems for new players. If you're bad at fighting games like I am, Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate goes out of its way to help you.

I criticized vanilla DOA5 for burying its tutorials in the Story Mode, with no easy way to revisit them. This time around, there is a huge 42 part tutorial that covers every single concept in the game. Even things that weren't explained in the previous game's tutorial and systems I have never heard of are explained. They're accompanied by brief text boxes, clear on-screen instructions, and tests that make absolutely sure you grasped the concepts by having you perform them in a battle.

It's one of the best tutorials in any fighting game I've ever played. There's even a brief section that touches on frame data into easy-to-understand terms, teaching the concepts of startup and recovery. It's not only the perfect tutorial for learning DOA, it's a good lesson to learn if you're picking up any 3D fighting game.

As great as this mode is, it isn't perfect. The biggest issue I had was the aggressive AI during the test/mission sections. You have to complete a specific objective while fighting an opponent. As the challenges got more difficult, the AI gets increasingly aggressive, to the point where I found it difficult to even START doing my mission before I got knocked out by the AI. Helena and Ayane in particular are so tough that they're keeping me from finishing a handful of missions.

Some of the more esoteric concepts could have used more instruction than a text box. What would have helped a lot would be a demo, so I could see the computer finish the mission. At times I didn't know if I was timing my moves correctly and had to look up videos online.

I used to lose to Christie 100% of the time in DOA5. Now I lose to Helena.

Dead or Alive has a large cast where each character plays very differently. So while you will get down the basics of the game in the tutorial, you won't get far without actually learning a character.

I praised the Command Training in the original game, and it's relatively unchanged here. They even added a shortcut to view demonstrations of the moves: Back+RB. The command was previously "click the right stick" which is impossible on arcade sticks, so good on them for fixing it.

There's another feature that is crucial to learning your character of choice: the brand new Combo Challenge.

I love this feature. Every character has a long list of combos that you can complete as a check list. I feel like it's a feature that many fighting games don't bother to include, because they expect players to learn combos by experimenting or observing others playing the game. Still, it's incredibly helpful for new players who might have trouble putting together a bread-and-butter combo from scratch. I'm one of those people who always ends up looking for combos on Youtube because I have trouble forming my own, but this puts that feature right in the game.

Of course, it doesn't teach you the most optimal, flashy stuff you'll see in tournaments. It does waste the last couple of slots on tag combos which I never use because I don't play Tag mode. And my biggest complaint of all is that there is no Demonstration function here, so you can't tell if you're timing your hits correctly.

Despite that, Combo Challenge is a brilliant addition and a feature I want to see in more fighting games. The last one I remember doing so was Persona 4 Arena.

I chose to show Rachel's Combo Challenge because she's a new addition and my main character in the game. I never really settled on a character in the original game because none of them fit my playstyle, but luckily for me, one of the new ones did. She has a limited moveset and is slower than most characters. However, she also has a lot of moves that stun or knock down on hit, and hits like a truck when she connects.

Command Training is a good way to test and see if you can even play a character, but Combo Challenge helps even more. By finishing all of her combos in that mode (even the Tag ones I'll never use), I knew I found my main character.

One aspect of the game that still needs some work are the online features. In Rank Match you get this screen:

Due to how many options there are, finding matches is more difficult than it should be. The “opponent strength” option is good for finding people in your skill level, but your rank isn't shown on this screen. I found myself setting the region and connection to “any” just to get matches because there aren't too many people online. There should be a “quick match” button here, and simplify the opponent strength to a single menu with three options: Stronger, Weaker, Same Level.

There is an option to search for matches automatically during Training mode, which I used more because I didn't want to stare at a “searching...” menu for too long. However it seems that this search doesn't take your rank in consideration, so I kept getting matched up against opponents that were much stronger than me.

The online connection still needs work. It was mostly unplayable in DOA5, but it has been improved to the point where most matches are pretty good and have little input delay.

However, the game doesn't compensate for lag well. Either the game runs well with minimal lag, or it's a slideshow. Also, the connection bars don't really show how the game's connection will really be. They could be full, green bars and the match will still lag terribly.

Despite the issues with online, I came away with a pretty positive opinion on the game. With better character balance and having a character I actually know how to play, I'm enjoying Ultimate much more than I thought I would.

I'm getting a better understanding of how each character's combos work. Most characters have quick strings that are fast high-low mixups, which can be pretty tough to block due to their speed. That's where the Holds come in. In theory they're combo breakers that can get you out of impossible vortexes if you guess correctly. In practice, it's a lot tougher to Hold properly than it seems.

As I've played the game more, I've found that blocking has gotten increasingly difficult, putting more emphasis on Holds. So now I'm in the point where I'm studying characters in training mode to see which moves hit high or low so I can react with a Hold properly. It's a lot to memorize especially in the middle of a match. I'm understanding the system better but losing most matches because I'm not reacting quickly enough yet.

So while the game is more balanced than before, it will take a LOT of time to get truly proficient at it. I've played about 100 online matches now and I've got a 30 percent win rate, losing the majority of my matches. Dead or Alive is a long-running series, and it strikes me as the type of game that will be easier for veterans: they already have seen which moves hit high, low, or mid through years of practice and are know when to Hold and counter them.

Still, the new game balance goes a long way in cutting down frustration. I feel like I only lose to players that are clearly better than me, not just because I suck at fighting the ninjas (the ninjas are still top tier though). Matches go by quickly and being able to beat up a training dummy while waiting for matches cuts down the frustration a bit.

I'm nowhere near good at the game, but actually being taught how to play the game helped a lot. I've already played Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate a lot more than the original version.

What I Liked

-Tutorial Mode is one of the best out of all current fighting games. It teaches every single aspect of the game in an easy to explain way, and tests you frequently to make sure you understand the concepts.

-Combo Challenge gives new players a foundation to build from. It teaches you the moves, and also when and where to use them.

-The presentation is still excellent. Character models change over the fight (getting dirt on their clothes and sweating), and the environments are varied and well designed.

-The character balance is very good. Even the top-tier characters in the game have clear weaknesses so they're not unreasonably difficult to fight.

What I Didn't Like

-Online netcode is inconsistent. In matches with good netcode, it's nearly lag free. If there is some latency, the game utterly fails at compensating for it. The framerate becomes a slideshow, and you can feel the delay between hitting a button and getting a response.

-Online menu system is a little too complicated and occasionally locks you in points where you cannot back out to the main menu.

-No Demonstration for harder tutorials in Combo Challenge and Tutorial. It would have helped to see how to time my moves in these tutorials.

Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate sets an incredibly high standard for what fighting game tutorials should be. It teaches every system and concept of the gameplay, teaches you all the moves for your character of choice with Command Training, and even gives you some basic combos with Combo Challenge to help you get started. I found the online competition pretty tough and the netcode needs work, but the majority of online matches were smooth.

If you're not a fan of the game's focus on Holds and stuns, Ultimate won't change your mind much. But if you're even a little bit interested in the game, try out the fantastic tutorial modes and see if you can get into it. It'll give you a fighting chance even if you're as lousy at fighting games as I am.


My Very Late 2013 Game of the Year List.

I promise, there is a good reason for this not coming out last year.

There were a fair amount of excellent titles I didn’t get to touch until December or January, and I had to give them some time to see if they earned a spot on this year’s list.

Getting into fighting games consumed a large chunk of my 2012. As less of those came out in 2013, I got to spend some more time exploring older titles in my “I Suck At Fighting Games” series. I even went to my first tournament! It was incredibly fun, and I learned that I’m not as bad as I thought…but still pretty dreadful.

I didn’t get my hands on any new consoles or handhelds, but 2014’s lottery numbers are looking pretty good.

Luckily for me, a ton of great games came out on the few platforms I do own. So here’s fifteen games that made me smile. Not to play favorites here, but these are in order from worst to best, and those “Honorable Mentions” are really just there to keep up appearances.

I’m joking. Play them all!

Honorable Mentions

I enjoyed these five games, but not quite enough to stick them on my list. I still recommend them all.

5. Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse

Why I Like It: Grant Kirkhope’s soundtrack is excellent. The game has the sense of whimsy of old Mickey Mouse cartoons. The platforming is challenging, but doesn’t get overly difficult. Great difficulty curve overall.

Why It Didn’t Make The List: It’s a little short. Some of the bosses cause unfair deaths due to screwing up the camera.

4. Bioshock Infinite

Why I Like It: Fantastic art style, especially the character design. The facial animation is great! The story is paced so well, and built up in a way that had me almost begging to know the secrets of the world. The ending is poignant and stuck with me, even with all the nutso sci-fi stuff going on.

Why It Didn't Make The List: Just like Bioshock 1, I rarely found the combat enjoyable. They limit the salts so much that I couldn’t experiment with vigors as much as I wanted to. You end up shooting bullet sponge enemies with a small variety of guns, which got boring early on. The boss fights and encounters against larger enemies like Handymen were thoroughly frustrating.

3. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

Why I Like It: Visually gorgeous. They successfully build up the characters and the story without any actual dialogue. The rope-swinging section was one of my favorite segments of the year. They use the mechanics of the game to build up to an ending sequence so powerful that it made me cry.

Why It Didn't Make The List: I got hit by a pretty bad glitch that forced me to restart a chapter. The controls never felt 100 percent natural and even got frustrating at some points.

2. Street Fighter x Tekken Ver. 2013

Why I Like It: It has a great training mode, good tutorials, and individual character tutorials to ease in fighting game newbie like me. There’s a good difficulty curve that lets you mash early on but rewards you a lot for learning actual combos. I mean it REALLY rewards you, as a good punish can chew up 50% of your opponent’s lifebar in an immensely satisfying combo. The cast is huge but somehow the characters all play uniquely. It kept me thinking about new combos to try or teams to experiment with, even when I wasn’t playing it.

Why It Didn't Make The List: The game came out in 2012, so I legally cannot add it. The gem system is overly complex, and the online mode seems to lag even in ideal situations.

1. Grand Theft Auto V

Why I Like It: The dynamic score that changes in response to the action is pretty much the coolest thing ever. My favorite song is on the soundtrack. Sometimes, it’s really funny. The acting is top notch. Trevor Phillips is an unforgettable character. The heist missions are incredible. The visuals are far beyond any other game, and I love driving around just to look at stuff. When you put on flip-flops, you can see them flop and flip on your feet as you walk.

Why It Didn’t Make The List: GTA Online is not good. Some of the humor is really forced and obnoxious. There’s too much boring travel between missions and the fast travel options are inconvenient. Planning heists hints at having more depth than it actually has, which makes the heists a bit less impressive.

#10- Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon - Ubisoft Montreal - PC/Playstation Network/Xbox Live Arcade

Paintings of crying clowns and dogs playing poker… those are incredible. What I did? That’s just the job.

I feel like this game exists because someone wasn’t paying attention. Why else would Ubisoft, the megacorp with 45 minute credits in their games, greenlight a weird spinoff of one of their biggest titles?

Regardless of how it came to be, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is an excellent refinement of the game that was dangerously close to becoming my Game of the Year in 2012. It doesn’t totally reinvent the Far Cry 3 mechanics, but it does make everything a little bit better. The island is large, but the movement speed is amped up to the point where sprinting around is preferable to driving cars. The weapons aren’t radically different, but the new animations and modifications make them feel new. The soundtrack has gone from “totally lame” to “amazing 1980s synth rock”. The outpost takeover system has been totally turned on its head by allowing you to trick giant laser-shooting dragons into doing the dirty work for you.

Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon even replaces the deathly serious vibe of its predecessor with an absurd sense of humor and tons of 80s movie jokes. Simplifying the upgrade system actually improves the game, so you don’t have to spend too much time in menus now.

Despite the millions of dollars that probably went into creating Blood Dragon, it feels like a pet project of some people who really love 80s action flicks. Compared to Far Cry 3, Blood Dragon is funnier, more focused, and adds good things while stripping away most of the flaws.

And you can shoot a dragon with Robocop's gun.

#9- Device 6 - Simogo - iOS

The solution ‘is my ex’. Aren’t they usually the problem to begin with?

A hot gaming debate topic of 2013 was “what is a video game?” Certain people began to shun certain titles for being “not-games” and disqualify them from receiving recognition. I bring it up because Device 6 is far from a traditional video game. If you’re opposed to these “not-games”, you might want to skip this one.

However, if you’re looking for one of the best games on the App Store, you must check this one out.

It is a novel/puzzle game that relies heavily on its format; this game would NOT work if it were not on tablets and smartphones. You must constantly rotate your phone as the character’s movement is communicated through text that goes upside down, sideways, spirals, and cascades downwards. The puzzles are tricky but never overly difficult. You just have to pay attention, listen carefully to clues given, and be willing to backtrack from time to time.

I was continually impressed by how well Device 6 uses its format as a mobile game, both in navigation and the way it pokes fun at mobile game tropes. It also nails that feeling of relief that great puzzle games have, where you finally find the solution after chasing down clues and following red herrings. It's the only game I played last year that had me scribbling codes and maps on paper.

Device 6 wins for being a great puzzle game and utilizing its format in a very innovative fashion.

#8- Call of Juarez: Gunslinger - Techland - PC/Playstation Network/Xbox Live

I didn’t quite get what he was sayin’, but there was definitely snakes.

There are two things that make Call of Juarez: Gunslinger special. The first is the deliberately old-school design. The levels are extremely linear, there’s no multiplayer, and the weapon selection is tiny. All the focus is on shooting dudes as quickly as possible to get a high score.

That’s right, those numbers flying off of enemies aren’t hit points, they’re just POINT points.

The most modern aspect of the game is a really simple leveling system, but the solid shooting and the fun of chasing a high score keeps this surprisingly long game entertaining through the end. Plus, it has the best gun duels since Red Dead Revolver.

The second part is the story. Silas Greaves’ narration is humorously unreliable, as he exaggerates parts of his life to make them more exciting. This leads to ridiculous moments like the terrain transforming in front of your eyes as you play, taking down small armies of enemies without getting a scratch, having shootouts with ghosts, and copious slow motion explosions. The way the game changes based on Greaves’ tall tales makes Gunslinger less realistic but a lot more fun than any other Call of Juarez game.

It’s not the deepest shooter in the world, but sometimes Swiss Cake Rolls hit the spot better than a tiramisu.

#7 - Ridiculous Fishing - Vlambeer - Android/iOS

We need to talk about the money you’re spending on hairdryers. Is it ‘hairdryer’ or ‘hairdrier’. I never know.

Ridiculous Fishing is a silly game.

You catch over 50 fish on your line at once, fling them up into the air, and blow them up with firearms as RPG-esque combat music plays. Between rounds of fishing, you talk to your friends (who are mostly birds) on Twitter and buy fishing implements like toasters and wizard robes.

It is also the most addictive game I’ve played on iOS. Even with the tools to make the job easier, your progress is only limited by your skill. It compelled me to get better at avoiding fish, getting deeper into the sea and catch more expensive, stranger looking fish. Each round is just a few minutes long and the pull to improve my fishing skills kept me going back again and again for one more try. I still haven’t reached the bottom of every stage or bought everything in the store (I’ve almost got the Oil Drilling Permit!), so I’m still playing it. It’s ridiculously silly and ridiculously fun.

#6 - State of Decay - Undead Labs - Steam/Xbox Live Arcade

Your Honor, I must object to opposing counsel’s attempts to chew on my head.

Like all good zombie fiction, the biggest obstacles in State of Decay are rarely related to dispatching the undead. The horde always poses a threat, but what will ultimately doom you in State of Decay is running out of stuff. You have to build and fortify a small community of survivors and keep them supplied with food, medicine, and weapons to defend themselves.

The simplest way I can describe the game is “overwhelming”. It’s a very complex game that trusts you to figure things out, rarely holding your hand. As you take in more survivors, your needs become larger. Supplies thin out, forcing you to take longer, more dangerous supply runs to get necessities. Sometimes your home base begins to degenerate, forcing you to uproot the community and move to a safer place.

The game demanded my full attention while I was playing, because if you get distracted for a minute a zombie can quickly take you down, or a friend who is dying from the flu could become a lost cause because you took too long to get medicine. State of Decay throws a ton of micromanagement into your lap along with the basic task of not getting eaten by zombies, and I loved how survival became increasingly complex and difficult.

There’s a fantastic implementation of permadeath and character building. You can switch between a large number of playable characters, but are rewarded for sticking with one and naturally building up their stats. For example, using a lot of Edged weapons unlocks special Edged attacks, and lets that character kill zombies with fewer strikes. If you run a lot, your character improves at Cardio and can sprint longer distances. When an upgraded character dies, it hurts. All of that time you spent improving and customizing someone is gone for good, and your game just became more difficult as you have to play as someone less experienced.

State of Decay lacks the flashy elements or emotional punch of other zombie games, but it’s a fantastic simulator of life after the apocalypse. Most zombie games make the zombies themselves the main threat, but this one managed to make running out of food just as stressful.

#5 - Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag - Ubisoft Montreal - PC/PS3/PS4/Wii U/Xbox 360/Xbox One

“What is your true name, rogue?”

“It’s, ah…Captain Pissoff!”

Well, this is a pleasant surprise. After the trainwreck of Assassin’s Creed III derailing my interest in the series, Black Flag puts it back on track.

Not only is it significantly better than III, Black Flag ends up being the best game in the entire series. The framing device of it being a video game production is genius, as it allowed the developers to drop more of the realistic elements to make the game more fun. They even take a few shots at themselves in the story with a handful of enjoyable, jokey easter eggs…like describing Brotherhood bad guy Rodrigo Borgia as a “family man”.

Any wrinkles in the free-running system from III are totally ironed out, the combat is easy but engaging, and there is an uncountable amount of sidequests to complete and secrets to find. Like all great open-world games, there’s always something new to do around the corner, and the abundant fast travel options make sure you can always just warp near the next main mission if you want.

I’ve always enjoyed that Assassin’s Creed is an unashamedly complex series with multiple interlocking systems. It works in this game because they clearly explain what everything is for. The menus are simple and easy to use, and the display lets you know what Kenway is physically capable of at all times: no more randomly jumping off of buildings!

Sailing the enormous open world just to discover new areas and admire the scenery was a delight. I got the same feeling that the sailing in The Wind Waker gave me years ago, and its been a long time since I could compare something to my favorite Zelda game favorably.

I’d be fine if future games in the series continue down this path, exploring different eras in history even if they don’t tie in to the Grand Plot of Assassin’s Creed. Black Flag took everything good from the series and jammed it all together, while opening up tons of possibilities for future titles. It’s smooth sailing from here.

#4 - Rogue Legacy - Cellar Door Games - PC

Even the most valiant heroes can suffer from irritable bowels.

Every time I run through the castle in Rogue Legacy, I think “Let’s try again”. I could get 800 gold pieces, discover the new boss and almost take him down and I still think “that wasn’t great. One more run”.

This began leading to playing the game until the sun was rising, continually saying “all right, I’ll do better next time. One more”.

The upgrade system in Rogue Legacy slows down midway through the game, but I still felt like I was constantly progressing on each run. If I did nothing on one run but find a couple weapon blueprints and die? Good, but I’ll do better next time. Just discovered the boss location but I’m not strong enough to beat it? I’ll be ready next time.

Once I threw away my foolish pride and ambitions of clearing the game without dying, Rogue Legacy hooked me. The controls feel great, which lets them get away with some truly devious level design. Some of my favorite moments of Rogue Legacy were going into a room full of impossible looking traps, analyzing it for a couple minutes, and running through it without getting hit.

Now, I’ve got the castle locked and am currently on my fifth attempt against this boss. I’ve got it this time, I promise. One more run.

#3 - Tomb Raider - Crystal Dynamics - PC/Playstation 3/Xbox 360

I hate tombs.

Tomb Raider doesn’t make a very strong first impression. You start with scripted, linear sequences littered with quick time events, and the story is going nowhere.

Then, around the time you get a climbing axe, the game does a total 180. Quick time events are quietly shoved into the corner and replaced by extremely satisfying third person combat. The cover system is so genius that I hope every third person shooter copies it from now on. Lara naturally crouches behind cover and shoots over it when you aim, which is a HUGE improvement over games where you hit a button to lock to cover.

I’m serious, more games need to use this system.

Even though the story progression is linear, you can always indulge in some Metroid-style exploration. There are loads of collectibles to find, areas that are locked until you get new abilities and backtrack, and hidden challenges to complete. You can go through most of the game without visiting previous areas, but the experience points you gain makes it worthwhile. Each level gained feels significant, as it changes how you fight and explore the environment.

Your arsenal isn’t huge, but the game doles out new weapons on a consistent basis throughout and upgrading them changes their functions completely.

It also has a handful of bombastic scripted moments that are a little unbelievable but still exhilarating. Tomb Raider perfectly balances the huge action movie setpieces with the solid shooting and platforming sections. I wasn’t expecting an evolution of cover based shooting and Metroid-inspired exploration from this stagnating genre of AAA games, and this was definitely a welcome surprise.

#2 - Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance - Platinum Games - PC/Playstation 3/Xbox 360

This your idea of a good time? Stripping dudes in public?

I can name plenty of reasons why Metal Gear Rising is great. I could mention the best soundtrack of the year with its amazing POWER VOCALS. The way the music gets more intense and adds lyrics during climactic battles is exciting every single time. I could talk about the final boss being one of the most memorable in the entire Metal Gear series. I could probably mention how impressive it is that the game even came out given its troubled development.

Still, none of that is really why Metal Gear Rising is one of the best games of 2013. It all comes down to the mechanics. This is why I trust Platinum Games as a developer above most: they always ensure that the gameplay is on point.

The parry mechanic is the inverse of Bayonetta’s Witch Time, rewarding you for going on the offensive rather than dodging. Every single time I parried an enemy and got that slow-motion freeze, it was an adrenaline rush. The game keeps providing more enemies with unique parry timing as it goes on, but that feeling of timing it perfectly is always great.

Revengeance has tons of replay value with its collectibles and upgrade system, and even has worthwhile DLC with unique characters to learn. But the core of the game, the sword combat and the satisfying parry system, kept me coming back and raising the difficulty over time to master the timing against more aggressive enemies.

If I made one of these lists in 2010, Bayonetta would have taken the number one spot easily. It’s one of my favorites of all time.

I don't know if Revengeance will be higher than Bayonetta on my "favorite games of the seventh generation" list, but let's just say I have two games for the top 5 already.

#1 - Saints Row IV - Volition, Inc - PC/Playstation 3/Xbox 360

Aw man, it’s just like being in a Video Game! Wink!

Get comfortable, because there’s gonna be some story time with this one…

Saints Row: The Third was an awesome game, by far my favorite of 2011. It was also the most disappointing game I played that year when I compared it to its predecessor. A majority of the customization options were removed compared to Saints Row 2. The city of Steelport lacked the variety of Stilwater. The sequel hooks in the end of Saints Row 2 were ignored, and some of the main characters began to act weird. I still enjoyed the game, but I couldn’t stop thinking about how much it lacked compared to Saints Row 2.

Saints Row IV also doesn’t have the enormous suite of customization options of 2. The dark tone of Saints Row 2 is almost entirely gone, and any attempts at resolving the plot threads of that game were thrown away.

And you know what? I am completely okay with this.

Saints Row The Third started the turn away from darkness and toward sillier fare, and it has completely taken effect in IV.

The amount of call backs to every single game in the franchise had me smiling through the entire experience, to the point where any leftover bitterness I had about the series changing too much vanished after the first cutscene.

Saints Row IV is one of the funniest games I’ve ever played, even disregarding the self-referential stuff. The use of licensed songs for jokes and the more absurd jokes (see: QTE stripping minigame) are great, but what brings it all together is the sharp comedic timing. It’s surprisingly subtle humor, especially compared to how insane the premise is.

I love to laugh, and humor in games is so difficult to pull off because everyone might not experience the game the same way. The writers in this game got it totally right.

With the addition of loyalty missions and “romance” scenes, it’s easy to compare Saints Row IV to the Mass Effect series. IV feels like a game-length version of ME3’s “Citadel” DLC, being a tribute to the universe and the fans that have been with it for years.

But while Mass Effect 3 bored me halfway though, Saints Row IV’s gameplay is consistently entertaining and varied. It’s a “greatest hits” of modern open world games, refining the parkour and flight of Prototype, the super powers of Infamous, and its own solid shooting and upgrade system.

I can tell the developers and testers watched this game closely to make sure the players were doing something fun at all times. Sprinting and flying around feel great, making the simple act of traversing the city enjoyable. It gives new life to the reused city of Steelport because you’re exploring it in a completely different way.

This game allows you to break the balance early on and upgrade yourself to the point where combat is trivial. It may not be a difficult game, but I am perfectly fine with “make it fun” as a philosophy over “make it tough”. Most games don’t let you feel like an unstoppable badass in the way Saints Row IV does.

Most games don’t jam the world so full of stuff to do. I spent so much time hunting down the Crackdown orbs, audio files, and climbing up alien towers. There are sidequests everywhere, and they’re all so enjoyable that I would actively seek them out to complete them. It’s not a particularly long game, but it does such a good job of handing out fun stuff to do that every minute feels essential.

I’m not sure if there can be another Saints Row game after this, or if there even should be. But after playing these games for almost a decade, it completely fulfilled all my expectations.

It’s hilarious and charming. It’s my favorite game in the Saints Row series. It’s my favorite open world game ever, and by far my favorite game of 2013.