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/

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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.

Heists.

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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.

Friday

Street Fighter X Tekken:

http://ufgt10.challonge.com/UFGTX_SFxT_PoolC1

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.

Divekick:

http://ufgt10.challonge.com/UFGTX_DK_PoolD1

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.

Saturday

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.

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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.

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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.

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I Suck At Fighting Games: Soul Calibur II HD Online

The original release on Soul Calibur II is one of my most played games of all time. When I had a Gamecube, I rented the game multiple times and eventually made the smart investment of saving up my allowances so I could own a copy for myself. The novelty of playing Link in a fighting game drew me in, but there was something else about the game that kept me coming back to it.

I've played every Soul Calibur game at least a little bit, but II always stood out to me as being the most fun. It was also the only one I owned a copy of instead of renting.

I was excited about a high definition re-release of one of my favorite fighting games from my youth. Parts of the game are just as cool as they were back then, but this port is not as good as it should be.

Fighting games are notorious for having mediocre single player options. You can usually expect a basic Arcade Mode in most titles and that's about it. Soul Calibur II is one of the few exceptions, having a ton of stuff to do outside of basic versus play. Arcade Mode is self-explanatory, but you do get a few cutscenes, a unique ending for each character, and a Character Profile for completing that. There's also Time Attack, Survival, and Team Battle which are different twists on the basic Arcade Mode formula. You can unlock “Extra” versions of every single player mode which lets you choose which weapon your character uses; this is important because each weapon has a unique effect.

To unlock all these extra weapons, you have to go through the best part of Soul Calibur 2: Weapon Master mode.

Each square on this map leads you to a screen that contains a handful of unique battles. There's a fair amount of story here (a few pages at the beginning of each chapter and a lengthy text scroll for each battle) that is mostly skippable. Nice to have it, but after a certain point I just started skipping through it because it's plain, unvoiced text.

The cool thing about Weapon Master is that every match has some kind of unique stipulation. Some matches disable blocking for both characters, so you have to rely on jumping and sidestepping to avoid damage. Some matches poison you, so you have to defeat your enemies before the poison kills you. Some matches give your enemy regenerating health and turns the edges of the stage into a hazard that harms anyone who stands on it.

In the end, I found the Weapon Master stipulations to be about 70 percent cool and 30 percent unfair. Around Chapter 6 I began running into challenges that were just not fun. There is a challenge where you have to fight five enemies in a row on a limited timer. If you beat one enemy the timer refills, but it's very possible to make it unwinnable if you don't beat the enemies quickly enough.

One challenge is a dungeon with multiple branching paths, but only one exit. It also has a timer that carries over between rounds. So if you don't find the exit quickly, it becomes unwinnable and you have to start from the beginning.

Weapon Master is the way to unlock all of the “Extra” modes on the main menu, as well as bonus characters, weapons for each character, and modes that let you do sort-of cool things like watching computer characters fight or the Exhibition Theater, which shows them doing cool tricks with their weapons.

My only problem with Weapon Master is that too much content is only unlockable inside that mode. I got stuck at some point but there's a lot of characters, weapons, and costumes to earn later on in the mode. The later missions get so annoying or unfair that I don't care to finish them, so there is just some content I won't get to without putting myself through a lot of annoying gameplay.

So I'd like to get back to the main topic of this series: does this game teach you how to play it well? Could a newbie get into this game and do well? The answer to that is a strong “maybe”.

The tutorial mode of the game isn't on the main menu, but it is the first mission in Weapon Master. This teaches you that Horizontal Attacks are good for hitting circling opponents, vertical attacks are good for hitting opponents in low stances, and kicks are really fast and weak, to catch opponents off guard.

It teaches you how to guard, but not the difference between high and low guards. So without experimenting, you can't tell which types of attacks will hit crouching or standing opponents. It doesn't teach you how to visually recognize Unblockable Attacks, or about special moves with Guard Break or Guard Impact properties. It doesn't teach you how to crouch or jump.

To put it simply, the tutorial gives you enough tools to be mediocre at the game. So I jumped into Practice to see if there is Command Training. There isn't.

I say this far too often, but every fighting game needs Command Training. Especially if you have 100+ moves per character like Soul Calibur 2 does. Virtua Fighter 5 Final Showdown nailed Command Training the best: it puts the command on top of the screen and you can't advance to the next move until you do it.

In Soul Calibur 2, you can't even make a selected move stick to the top of the screen! You have to pause, go to the Command List, scroll to the move you want to see, and click on it to view a demonstration. It's nice to have a video of every move, but I'd rather have it work like Virtua Fighter's system. So I did far too much of this:

1. Pause

2. Go to Command List.

3. Scroll to the move I wanted to see and click it. Watch the video a few times.

4. Unpause and try to move for myself.

This could have been handled much better.

And yet, I don't feel like this game requires a large amount of studying to win some matches. You won't ever get lucky and beat someone online who has hundreds of games of experience, but unlike most fighting games, you won't get completely blown out either. The game values good movement and smart use of your moveset over memorizing combos. If you are adequate at blocking, Guard Impacts, and proper sidestepping, you can hold your own. I've won matches online by simply sidestepping and punishing, or Guard Impacting and punishing. So it's refreshing to go online and do well without having to look up and memorize combos...which is nice because the game's tutorials aren't gonna teach you how to do combos.

Even with inadequate tutorial and training options, Soul Calibur 2 is the type of game where you can just randomly hit buttons sometimes and win. People who study frame data and combo theory will excel, but if you find a character among this diverse cast whose style “makes sense” to you, you can do cool stuff with minimal studying.

Now, I really do enjoy Soul Calibur 2. I can't say that this is worth the $20 price tag at all, though. The single player modes are still as fun as they were years ago, but the “Online” part of this package is weak.

I'm confused as to how Soul Calibur V had nearly flawless netcode and a cool set of features, but Soul Calibur 2 HD Online has neither.

There are three options on the “Online Mode” menu: Ranked, Player, and Leaderboards. Ranked Match lets you sort by connection quality and player skill, but it seems like neither option matters. Even when picking “similar rank” I would get opponents ranked significantly higher than me (the ranking system gives the winner points, and people would have thousands more points than I did). Even when choosing the highest possible connection quality, every match has noticable input lag.

I doubt this is an issue with my connection, because it has come up in every review I've read of the game and everyone I've spoken to about it. The netcode in this game is bad. I guess this must have been developed by Namco's B team because the netcode in Soul Calibur V was excellent even under bad conditions. But the “online” part of Soul Calibur II HD Online is not very good.

There are no lobbies in Player Match. You can search for a match, but if a match isn't found it kicks you out to the main menu and you have to restart the search. Why isn't there a Refresh or Retry Search button? After finishing a Player Match, you are kicked to the main menu. No option to rematch, no lobby, there isn't even a button to pop up the opponent's gamertag.

To be honest, I'm pretty surprised this game costs $20. The graphics look fine, and as long as you aren't playing online, the versus mode and suite of single player features are above average. But even the offline modes aren't perfect. There are random instances of slowdown in single player mode that I've experienced every time I've played the game. I've seen Cervantes' auto-guard impact move freeze the game on two separate occasions. “Freeze” as in “you need to turn off your console because this is fucked” freeze. The online netcode is frustrating because it makes the game much harder than it should be, and it lags even under ideal conditions.

It's still fun to play locally, and it's easy enough that you can have fun with it without a ton of studying moves. But I can't fully recommend it for new players of fighting games or anyone really. It's too expensive, the online features are bad, and it does a poor job of teaching you how to play it. Instead of spending $20 on this, spend less money for Soul Calibur V or Virtua Fighter 5 Final Showdown.

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Sonic Generations could use some more Sonic Unleashed.

What I'm about to say might get me kicked out of the Cool Kids Club, but here goes. I love Sonic games. Not just the 2D platformers from when I was a kid. I mean, I've consistently enjoyed the series from 1991 until today. Sure, there have been missteps along the way, but I appreciate Sonic Team's efforts most of the time. Each major Sonic release is markedly different from the last, and even when it doesn't work, I respect the hell out of them for trying. It's an interesting contrast to the trends of today's game industry, where being “safe” is more important than trying new things. Sonic Team gets an idea, does it, and even if it doesn't hit, bless them for trying.

3D Sonic games have been steadily increasing in quality over the past few years. Sonic Unleashed was a thrilling, blisteringly fast game with the addition of the Boost mechanic. I remember playing that game for the first time and being blown away because it was the fastest Sonic has EVER been. On the flipside of that were the Night stages, less well received by the general public but enjoyed by a few (me plus maybe...three other people?). The night stages were basically God of War with deeper combat mechanics and better level design, but I can admit that they suffered from being too long and committing the unforgivable sin of cutting into BLARING COMBAT MUSIC every time you got into a fight.

Seriously, guys. I'm trying to enjoy the smooth jazz here.

Sonic Unleashed was pretty enjoyable and contained mostly 3D, behind-the-back gameplay as Sonic. There were 2D stages built in for fans of the older games, and the perspective during Day stages would often switch to 2D, but those sections complimented the game. I appreciated the fact that there was a GOOD 3D Sonic platformer again.

Sonic Colors on Wii followed that a few years later. While it was heralded as the “best 3D Sonic game” by quite a few people, I hesitate to agree with that sentiment. The fact is that the majority of this game is 2D. Sometimes 2.5D. But you are not spending the majority of it in the behind-the-back 3D style that Sonic Unleashed, and previous games like Sonic Heroes and the Adventure series did. Don't get me wrong here, it's still a fine game. I just would have preferred if they used their improved 3D gameplay as opposed to mostly ignoring it.

The 3D sections are really well designed in Colors, better than Unleashed even. They lack the cheap death traps and occasional control awkwardness of Unleashed and added multiple paths...but they're incredibly short, often a few seconds long. If Unleashed was 80 percent 3D and 20 percent 2D, I'd say the ratio in Colors is exactly opposite.

I was a bit disappointed by this. The 3D platforming is so good! Why have so little of it? I actually felt like for the first time, Sonic Team was playing it a bit too safe. They know people will always love the 2D Sonic games, so they stuck to that closely to avoid offending lapsed fans.

Then, they came up with something that looked like it could be the best of both worlds.

Sonic Generations is a tribute to the entire franchise that embraces both styles of Sonic gameplay. Modern Sonic has the Boost-happy 3D sections in the style of Unleashed/Colors, and Classic Sonic has the style of the 2D Sonic platformers I grew up with.

Sonic Generations is better than Colors and Unleashed, undoubtedly. The little control kinks from Unleashed are totally gone, the occasionally awkward to control Wisps from Colors have been mostly removed, and they even introduced some old gameplay mechanics that haven't been in Sonic games in a LONG time (Electric Shield!)

Still, I think they could have done more with it. I want to point out a couple of specific areas where Unleashed beats Generations, because I'm enough of a crazy fanboy to nitpick one of my favorite platforming games ever. Generations is fantastic, but they could have had a classic on their hands if they took a few cues from Unleashed.

1. Unleashed has better hub worlds.

One thing I really enjoyed about Sonic Unleashed were the towns you'd visit between levels.

These hub worlds are pretty small, but full of life. The personality comes from the villagers that you can speak to. They'll send you on sidequests or comment on the plot with some short speech bubbles. It's mostly optional to speak to them, but they add a lot of flavor to the game. I especially enjoyed how the dialogue of each character would consistently change throughout the game, based on how far you progressed the plot, or if Sonic was in Werehog or Hedgehog form. I ended up speaking to people a lot more than I thought just to see how much unique dialogue there is.

The hub world in Sonic Generations is...not as good. The White Space is a mostly empty level select where you can just go left to right. At the far left is the space for collectibles and the power-up store. Sure, you “unlock” Sonic's friends as you go along, but they don't have much to say. They have a few canned quips to repeat, mostly tips about the stage they are standing in front of. But they have much less dialogue than the citizens of Unleashed, and it's not nearly as clever. One thing I found out recently is that they'll have one piece of dialogue if you do a cooperative sidequest and talk to them immediately afterward...but only if you finish it and go talk to them RIGHT NOW. Why couldn't they add that little speech bubble to their repertoire permanently? Why is Classic Tails a character but not Classic Knuckles, or Classic Amy? It's little touches like this that make the hub in Generations not feel as lively as it could.

Also, the sidequest gates are occasionally difficult to get to, forcing you to switch between Sonics on the fly to make it easier. It's not great.

2. Unleashed has better music.

Sonic Generations has a fantastic soundtrack. I remember hearing the modern remix of “City Escape” and completely nerding out. It's a remix of the obscure Snowboard Race theme from Sonic Adventure 2 Battle! The guitar solo is ripped from Sonic's old theme “It Doesn't Matter”! Don't even get me started on Classic City Escape sampling “Endless Mine”, that awesome “Super Sonic Racing” remix by Cash Cash, or the composers pulling what can only be described as a near-miracle (nearacle) by making a remix of “Rooftop Run” that is superior to the original. Seriously, don't get me started. We will be here all day.

Still, there are some moments of odd restraint on the soundtrack. Green Hill Zone and Sky Sanctuary have Fast versions that kick in when you hit top speed as Sonic, and that is really cool. Why not do Fast remixes for every stage? There's a couple of themes that are just bummers: Modern & Classic Planet Wisp suffer from poor sound mixing and just being a really bad song, respectively. Modern Chemical Plant is a bit bland, Modern Speed Highway is both barely a remake and inferior to the original, and then there's the issue of the “remastered” tracks from 2D Sonic games.

For some reason, the majority of the unlockable tracks are “remastered”, which means they re-recorded them with instruments that sound worse! I appreciate the appeal to nostalgia, but these tracks just do not sound good.

So, I preferred Unleashed's soundtrack overall. The Day stages are upbeat rock and techno tracks with a bit of orchestral flavoring sprinkled in, but where the game really shines are the jazzy night themes.

Despite my issue with that battle theme cutting off the music every few minutes, I really love these tracks. Sonic Team took the tried-and-true fighting game rule to heart here: beating up dudes while jazz music plays is really cool. I can't think of many songs on the Unleashed soundtrack that I don't enjoy, including the hub themes and cutscene music. I believe it's a better soundtrack as a whole, while the Generations soundtrack has far too many immediate aural disappointments.

3. Sonic Unleashed has better writing.

In all aspects, the writing of Unleashed was superior to Generations. There were tons of funny clips from the NPCs. Professor Pickle was an absolute delight. And the game comes to a very satisfying emotional conclusion in regards to the sidekick character Chip. It's a simple story done very well.

In comparison, Generations is a simple story that could have used some more writing. I wanted more in-jokes for fans of the series. It's a giant nostalgia trip but they rarely reference it in the cutscenes.

There should have been more moments like this! Knuckles should quip about Eggman taking advantage of his gullible nature. Amy should meet Metal Sonic and freak out. There should have been an extra-long load time before Crisis City to poke fun at the awful loading of Sonic the Hedgehog '06.

Also, the dialogue during the final boss battle should have been cut entirely.

I know it's a homing shot. I knew it the first ten times you said it.

I don't know if the writing team was changed, but the script in Generations really lacked the quirky charm of Unleashed and the genuine humor of Colors.

4. Why so much 2D platforming?

Like I stated before, the majority of Sonic Unleashed is 3D gameplay, behind the back as Sonic. It's a bit janky at times, but they improved on it in Colors and even more in Generations.

However, my complaint from Colors is still here. The 3D gameplay is the best in the series, and they don't use it enough! I was under the impression that Modern Sonic would be fully 3D and Classic would be 2D, and only the latter half of that impression is correct.

In Modern Sonic's stages, the majority of gameplay is 2D or 2.5D. I was disappointed in this, because the 3D sections feel right. They're really refined and really fun, and criminally underused. In my view, it doesn't make much sense for BOTH characters to spend the majority of their time in the 2D plane, and Modern Sonic should have stuck to a mostly 3D style.

I actually enjoyed the Modern stages more than Classic in Generations, because the camera for Classic Sonic is a bit too zoomed in, and his controls are a little off. The developers claim to replicate the sense of momentum from the older games, but it's not completely there. He still feels a bit sluggish in a way I can't explain. It's something you'd have to try for yourself. Play Sonic 2 and the Classic Stages of Generations next to each other, and you'll be able to tell that Classic Sonic is not what he used to be.

I don't know much about Sonic Lost World yet, but I'm looking forward to playing it eventually. I know Sonic Team has done the Sonic Team Thing and created an entirely new gameplay style that's nothing like Colors, Unleashed, or Generations. Is it a good thing? I won't know until I get my hands on it. Still, I appreciate them trying new things every time, in an industry where major publishers and developers are actively discouraged from doing so.

So while I might not get the awesome, fully 3D Sonic game in the style of Generations that I want, I'll keep playing and enjoying Sonic games for years to come. You can keep my Cool Kids Club card.

13 Comments

I Suck At Fighting Games: Street Fighter x Tekken

Before I started playing fighting games, I considered buying the latest incarnation of Street Fighter IV as a starting point. Street Fighter seemed like a good fighting game to jump into because it will teach you the fundamentals that carry across all the genres. Street Fighter has been cited by people better than me to contain “everything you need to know about fighting games”.

However, the announcement of Ultra Street Fighter IV put a damper on those plans. I decided against picking up Street Fighter IV until the newest iteration and went for something that might scratch the same itch.

I played this game after putting a good amount of time into Tekken Tag Tournament 2, which ended up being a pretty good idea. It turns out that this game shares a couple gameplay mechanics and the general strategy to doing well is quite similar to that game.

So, to start off I jumped into the Tutorial mode to check out the game's systems.

It's a very good tutorial. There's a lot of mechanics in here, but since I have a basic understanding of how Street Fighter works through watching too many streams, it didn't take long for me to pick up concepts like meter management and EX Special Moves. Some of the names for techniques are confusing (I consistently mix up Cross Rush and Cross Assault), but it turns out that some of the mechanics in this game are unnecessary so it doesn't make matter if you remember them or not. Let's go into the pointless mechanics.

Pandora: Pandora is Street Fighter x Tekken's comeback mechanic. When one of your characters is at 25% health, you can sacrifice them, transfer their remaining HP to your other character and put them in a super powered state. They gain regenerating meter and their attacks get more powerful, but they are also on a time limit. If you can't KO your opponent before your time runs out, you lose.

I have rarely found a practical use for Pandora. If your opponent has over 50% health, you will probably not be able to KO them before your timer runs out. It's really easy to run away from attacks in this game, so that will also work against the person who activated Pandora. I've gotten a few lucky victories against mashers by activating Pandora and immediately using a Super Art, but it's not a sustainable strategy. Overall, Pandora is almost never worth it.

Quick Combo: If you have 1 bar of meter, you can use a Quick Combo. This is a combo that you have to program yourself in a buried menu. I suppose it could be useful for beginners, but I always found it more practical to use the meter I gained for a solid combo with an EX Special Move.

Cross Cancel: I fully admit that I only find this mechanic underwhelming because I suck. I see it used somewhat often in high level play, but I just don't use it. It's a guard cancel. If you find yourself forced to block for a long time, you can hit Forward + Medium Punch + Medium Kick to immediately reversal with an EX Special Move. Like I said, I'm sure it's useful but I've rarely been put into a situation where it's a good idea to burn some meter and use it. And the input is a bit difficult so I just end up walking forward (and getting hit) when attempting to Cross Cancel.

Most of the Gems: Gems are one of the most widely disliked aspects in Street Fighter x Tekken. I haven't seen any that were gamebreaking, but I did have to deal with this.

The process of customizing a Gem Unit is dreadful. The menus load slowly, and many of the gems have unrealistic activation parameters and aren't worth looking at. Some of them are as simple as “break a throw” or “have your attack blocked five times”. But then you get into Gems that require your opponent to activate Pandora, gems that give you a boost to power but cut your speed, gems that are downloadable content and it just gets silly.

Like I said, none of the gems I've encountered are game breaking. But the poor interface and lack of diversity in gem effects makes me wonder why the customization aspect was even included. I would have preferred if every character just had default gem sets. Maybe 1 for Power, Defense, and Meter gain and that's it. The system is a bit too complicated right now, and since only default gem units are allowed in major tournaments what's the point of letting people customize them?

After finishing the Tutorial, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that each character has Trials, which teach you all of their special moves, and a few basic, practical combos. It reminds me of the Challenges in Persona 4 Arena which I love and wish were in every fighting game. Trials in Street Fighter X Tekken really helped ease me into the Street Fighter style of 2D fighting that I'm mostly unfamiliar with.

So after doing trials for several characters that I liked, I picked Lili and Nina. Lili because I was familiar with her, being my main character in Tekken Tag Tournament 2, and Nina because her moves looked cool and were easy enough for me to pull off.

Online Mode in Street Fighter x Tekken is barebones, but gets the job done. I mostly played Ranked battles, choosing “Any” area and opponent skill for “Same” so I didn't get beaten too badly. There's a neat system where you gain points for each match you win, and lose them if you lose. You get a larger amount of points if someone is ranked higher than you, and less points if they're equal or lower ranked than you.

The thing I noticed very quickly is that the netcode in this game is not good. You can see your opponent's connection before accepting a match and it's on a ranking of 1-4 bars. 4 bars is preferable, and anything below that is borderline unplayable. The game hitches up online often, shows things that maybe didn't happen (for example: I've connected with a throw, the game rewound in the middle of a throw animation and decided that my opponent actually broke the throw), and is generally unstable. I played several matches in a row against a friend who lives one state away from me. We always had 4 bar connections but there would be lag spikes at unpredictable times.

Maybe the internet connection suffers due to the large amount of detail in the backgrounds? Maybe it's an issue with Capcom games in general? I remember playing Marvel vs. Capcom 3 online and having similar problems, but encountered very little lag in other non-Capcom games that I've been playing. Either way, I began to decline every match that wasn't a 4 bar connection because below 4 bars quickly became unacceptable.

So, what is the basic game plan for Street Fighter x Tekken? I found it to be similar to Tekken Tag Tournament 2.

1. Hit a combo with your point character.

2. Launcher/Cross Rush to tag in your second character mid combo

3. Continue the combo with your second character.

That seemed to be the best idea to get high amounts of damage. I didn't discover until several matches in that there are more nuances that weren't explained in the Tutorial.

This game has a juggle system that is somewhat similar to Tekken Tag Tournament 2. Certain moves will cause a “bound” state, where you slam your opponent hard into the ground and they make a big yellow shockwave. You can use an OTG to pick them up from this state and continue the combo. It's a bit complicated because you need to learn which of your character's moves will cause a bound if they hit a jumping opponent or if they are a counter hit.

The damage scaling is very harsh. I found out on several occasions that my fancy, long combo did exactly eight points LESS damage than an easier combo. From what I can tell, you want to do your heavy attacks early in the combo to get the maximum damage, because the damage scaling kicks in very quickly. It's interesting to see how damaging a 2 bar or 3 bar Super Art is if you hit it raw as opposed to in the middle of a combo, because they scale REALLY harshly when used mid combo.

From what I can tell, the Tekken characters are better than the Street Fighter ones. Tekken Strings are more versatile than the “Target Combos” available to Street Fighter characters. In my team, Nina has a go-to Tekken String that is a mid, low, and launcher. Lili has a very fast mid to low string that's basically a built-in mixup. I saw many more Tekken characters online than Street Fighter ones. They seem to have several ambiguous animations where it's tough to tell if an attack hits high or low, and most of them have quick, reliable overhead attacks.

So, Street Fighter x Tekken isn't the easiest game for newcomer to get into. The tag mechanics in particular took me a while to get used to, especially when doing a tag combo. The tag input is a bit awkward (Medium Kick + Medium Punch) and I'm trying to teach myself how to hit it to Cross Rush in the middle of a string. I also had to do a bit of research outside of the game to maximize my potential. By asking some good players on Twitter, I learned that team synergy is pretty important. Nina doesn't need much meter to do high damage, but Lili really depends it. So I learned after several days of playing that I should put Nina in front and Lili in the back, which ended up improving my game quite a bit. The game doesn't really give you any tips on team synergy like that, and never truly explains how the juggle system or OTG attacks work. That's the type of thing you'd have to look up online.

Pros:

-Huge cast of characters with very unique mechanics. They look cool and are mostly fun to use.

-Tutorial Mode is quite in depth and entertaining. Trial Mode is very good at teaching basic but useful combos for each character.

-Really nice presentation in the story mode. Win quotes and titles are full of silly jokes: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sJj4BVBOSJ0&list=PL008CD580C4107249&index=29

-Matches are mostly quick and fun due to high damage potential. You rarely get stuck in long combos, so there is always an opportunity to come back and win.

-Excellent training mode with most options that you'd need in a training mode. (Needs a display to show which moves hit High, Low, and Mid though!).

Cons:

-Cluttered with unnecessary mechanics like Pandora, Cross Assault, and Quick Combos.

-The timer runs too quickly and leads to many timeout decisions

-Online netcode is poor

-Poorly designed menus for Gem Customization. Too many Gems overall that are pointless/do the same thing as other Gems. I don't care for the Downloadable Content Gems that are better than the ones in the game. The Gem system as a whole should be simplified.

-Tutorial Mode doesn't explain a few key aspects like OTG combos and team synergy.

It's hard to believe it considering the mess that this game was at launch, but I think Street Fighter x Tekken is a really fun game. It's the type of game that I randomly get ideas for new combos and boot up Training mode to try out. Of course there are optimal routes to do maximum damage, but I found it enjoyable to explore how the damage scaling worked to find alternate, easier routes to do maximum damage.

There isn't much here for single player content, aside from the well-produced and often hilarious Arcade mode. But the game thrives in competitive play and it's compelling to try to keep your win streak going so you don't rank down.

The biggest problem is that the online netcode is discouraging me from playing it. It's the type of game I'd enjoy to play locally where I can be sure to consistently hit combos without random frame drops, but the online netcode is really poor compared to recent fighting games.

Will I keep playing Street Fighter x Tekken after Ultra Street Fighter IV comes out? I don't think it's likely that I'll keep playing it online if Ultra has better netcode. Still, I enjoy playing the game even though it's a bit of an odd introduction into the Street Fighter series. If you're willing to put in the effort, it's worth checking out for new players. It eases you in enough, has a lot of cool characters, and invites a surprising amount of experimentation when putting together combos. I don't know if I'll be any good at the next Street Fighter game when it comes out, but now I feel like I understand why that series is so popular. It's addictive to go from learning fundamentals to putting together combos, and learning to read your opponent on the fly.

And if that doesn't sell you on the game, check out the dancing bear.

10 Comments

Volition, can you stop this please?

Before I start talking about an aspect of Saints Row IV that I absolutely hate, I want to preface this by saying that I like the game. I've played every Saints Row game in the series, and was absolutely delighted by IV. Not only is it full of fanservice for fans of every previous title all the way back to the first one, it is one of the most fun games I've played in a long time. Every activity was a delight, and the story mode had a great mix of humor and emotional impact. As of now I'm saying that Saints Row IV has a high spot on my Game of the Year list.

Now here's the annoying part of the game. The cosmetic DLC.

This started in Saints Row The Third with the planned 40 Weeks of Downloadable Content marketing line. And very few people who heard of this thought it was a good idea because there's no way they could release 40 weeks of substantial content that enhances the game.

Guess what? They didn't. 90% of those "DLC weeks" were packs of costumes, weapons, weapon skins, and additional Homies you could call. Normally it would be easy to ignore dumb cosmetic DLC like this (Horse Armor) but this is a particularly egregious case for this franchise. Saints Row should have NEVER had paid cosmetic DLC.

The main complaint I had about Saints Row The Third was its lack of customization options compared to Saints Row 2.

The base character creator in Saints Row 2 has many options that are not in The Third or IV. You can use a slider to customize your character's body type, so instead of being 100% Male or 100% Female you can choose an in-between point that suits you. You could also customize your character's hand-to-hand combat style, walk cycle, and default facial expression.

There were also several "wear options" for clothes in stores. You could buy and customize socks and undergarments, choose to layer your clothing, choose what belt you would wear with certain pairs of pants, and even do silly things like decide if you wanted your jeans to be dirty and frayed or in pristine condition.

Understandably, many fans were disappointed or upset when these options were removed from Saints Row The Third and didn't even return in IV. So it made the addition of more clothes as DLC in those games feel like they were getting taken advantage of. You'd have to buy clothes in 3/4 to get as much customization options that you had in 2.

There was also the issue of the DLC packs not being fairly priced and not being included with the Season Pass. In the end, buying all the cosmetic DLC in Saints Row the Third costs more than buying the Season Pass that has missions and substantial game content.

Why couldn't this content be in the Season Pass? Why did they lock so many cool guns as downloadable content when Saints Row 2 had more guns as in-game unlockables? And most importantly why is this process being repeated for Saints Row IV?

It's not the best barometer for gauging audience reactions, but comments and ratings for the cosmetic DLC trailers in Saints Row The Third were almost universally negative, if one were to check the Saints Row Youtube page. And most of these people share the same sentiment as me: having less content than the previous game with the intent of selling us more in the future leaves a terrible taste in our mouths.

It's happening right now, too. The Season Pass for Saints Row IV doesn't include the various cosmetic DLC packs already released. The prices are too high ($3 per pack). And I still can't customize my character's walk cycle or get a more malleable gender slider.

Saints Row IV is a great game, but this poor use of downloadable content is an ugly black mark on a generally great product.

17 Comments
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