Thursday, December 18, 2014

The future of Street Fighter is here, and it is noodly.


Fans everywhere of Capcom's "Street Fighter" fighting game series rejoiced this week. Not only did a new patch for Ultra Street Fighter IV get released which included character re-balancing and the debut of the supremely wacky Omega Mode, but we also got our first glimpse at a live match of Street Fighter V which was announced for PC and Playstation 4.



While the Nerdist runs the headline as "Destructible Stages Revealed in First Ever Live Street Fighter V Match", I think they buried the lead here. The real headline should be "Chun-Li Kicks Butt, Even With A Bowl Of Noodles On Her Head."

If you fast forward to around 6:54, you will see series mainstay Ryu finish a round against Chun-Li with a devastating Denjin Hadoken, pushing her through the stage wall and into the kitchen where a bowl of noodles lands on her head. It's not just a cutscene tagged onto the end of the round - the noodles stay on her head for all of her victorious last round and the closing tag, despite her rather acrobatic Spinning Bird Kicks.

Certainly, there are more implications to be discussed, like why Street Fighter V isn't going to make it to XBox One or WiiU, or how on earth Charlie has made it back into the series despite being MIA since the Alpha series games, but those will have to wait for another time.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Infinitely lost in the toy aisle...

On the way back from doing a little bit of computer tech work this morning, I thought I would peek my head in the local ToysRUs. I thought that it might not be a total madhouse, since even though it was getting closer to Christmas I still had the advantage of it being both Sunday and lunchtime.

While they had a good special on games (buy one game $19.99 or under get the second 40% off), the majority of the games available on special were games that I had already purchased. The one game that stood out as something I might play (Midnight Club Los Angeles - Complete Edition) is tainted by the fact that I only got to the end one of the three versions of Midnight Club that were on the PS2, and I don't really think that I unlocked everything even in that one. As I might have mentioned before, I already have plenty of things to play.

ToysRUs has made most of their stores work in a loop fashion, similar to the layouts of Harmon Face Value Stores and Bed Bath & Beyond. At the beginning of the loop are usually seasonal and promotional items, so while you might have found Halloween costumes there two months ago, the front area is now filled with Christmas candy and new offerings from their featured vendors including LEGO, Skylanders, and a large (15' high by about 18' wide)  Disney Infinity 2.0 display.

I had previously mentioned to my children that the reason we didn't play Skylanders is that at the time (2011) was that it was the most expensive game at retail. ("Steel Battalion" by CAPCOM used to have that distinction because of the ridiculously expensive custom controller.) The basic game was similar to the Gauntlet series, where you got a bunch of characters together and tried to fight your way through a series of levels, using the power of the skills of the different characters. The reason I discouraged my kids from this game was that to be able to play every thing that was already on the game disk, it would cost over $300 (and this was just for the first Skylanders game), and you could buy five or six other new release games that didn't do that to you for that amount of money, and maybe ten or fifteen games if you picked them up used or waited for the price drop. Why so expensive? It's expensive because they sell you in-game characters a la carte as plastic toys with computer chips that stored your data in them that range in price from $8 to $15 each, and only certain characters types can unlock and play certain missions.

Now, Disney/Marvel has jumped on this bandwagon and created Disney Infinity, now on version 2.0. Taking elements from both their own and other "sandbox" style games, they have combined it with the same RFID/toy technology used in the Skylanders games and their own gigantic stable of Disney and Marvel characters. (The first Infinity game was only Disney/Pixar characters.) While it may be cool for an eight year old boy to play as a giant spore-shooting mushroom, or a big muscular brawler that looks like an eyeball, it's going to be really hard to compete with a game where you can play as Iron Man, The Hulk, Thor, Elsa,  Anna, Merida, Sully, Mike Wazowski, Buzz Lightyear, or Malificent (and dozens more). The same rule as Skylanders applies - if you want to play as a character, you need to buy the corresponding plastic toy for $14.

Maybe this would be easier if you could see it in action. This is from Disney Infinity's own Youtube channel.



Perhaps this is a hard concept to convey, because since you can do all sorts of things in the Toybox mode of Disney Infinity, it's almost easier to say what the game isn't than what it is.

So, back to the loop thing. The way the ToysRUs is set up puts the expensive "R" Zone items (electronics, most of the video games, tablets, headphones) at the end of your loop so you can't second-guess yourself as you go around the store, and also so the employee that has to take things out of a locked case for you can then just ring up your purchases at that point. The video displays that they have in the store include a setup for Infinity 2.0 and a setup for Skylanders so that parents and kids can get an idea of what the game is about. But, if you ran into Disney Infinity at the beginning of the loop and didn't know what it was, do you supposed that you could find out what that game is about? Probably not. Even though it should sell enough copies this year to make an amount of money for Disney/Marvel that would make Scrooge McDuck a little envious, most of the ToysRUs employees aren't in the right demographic to get any firsthand exposure to these games. I saw a couple over by the big display out front that were struggling with understanding even the most basic thing about the game. They were a little exasperated that the employees didn't know that much. I was happy to help them pick out the PS4 version today along with Anna and Elsa figures, and answer a few easy questions for them. Since the questions are relevant, perhaps they are worth including.

What is Disney Infinity 2.0? It's an open-world/sandbox game where you can explore, race, shoot stuff, build buildings, and all kinds of things. Some specific missions go with some spefic characters, and that unlocks more things that you can use in the Toybox mode.

What's the difference between the Marvel Super Heroes version of Disney Infinity 2.0 and the Toy Box Version? The biggest difference is the starting characters. The Marvel Super Heroes version comes with three of the Avengers (Iron Man, Black Widow, and Thor), and the Toybox version comes with Merida from "Brave" and Stitch from "Lilo and Stitch". The game disk is the same, the Infinity base is the same, and what happens from there depends entirely on what characters you have. The reason for the two versions is just that it makes more sense to start you with a few Disney characters or a few Marvel characters, and the things available to do in the game vary based on what you start with.

What platform should I get it for? Get it for the newest platform that you still intend to be playing a year from now or are comfortable with your kids hogging all the time. The PS4 is going to run a lot smoother than the PS3 version and be able to do a lot more visual effects at once even though the basic style of the graphics will be the same.

I learned later that the PS4 version will be capable of building much larger Toybox areas, since the machine has more RAM available to do that. The same is true of the XBox One version over the 360 version. Sadly, the WiiU version is more on par with the PS3/XBox360 versions in that regard.


If you want to learn even more about the game, you should probably check out more of the videos on the Disney Infinity Youtube channel. I don't think we'll be picking up the game here since I don't want to fall in the Skylanders trap, and I will have my own problems with amiibos on the WiiU by the time Christmas rolls around.

As part of my usual schtick, since I do identify myself as SuperMonkeyCube to people when I meet them in person in a situation like this, I did do a quick(ish) Rubik's cube demo for the couple that I helped. (Three unseen mistakes, still finished in 37 seconds.)




Saturday, November 29, 2014

Things to be thankful for...

So, it's Black Friday weekend, and all of us have been trying as hard as we can to get screen time. Everybody was on their DS on Thursday since we spent a lot of it in the car. My older son is working on Pokemon Alpha Sapphire on his Nintendo 3DS, and my younger son was playing more Scribblenauts and some Desktop Tower Defense on his 2DS. About the only thing that I bring to play on DS is my Korg DS cartridge, and I had fun figuring out how to make some drum noises that don't really sound like drums.

My older son and I are still trying to unlock all of the characters on Hyrule Warriors, and it seems like we've had to do a lot of repeated boards to get our characters leveled up enough to face the later challenges. I still have a long way to go on the WiiU version of Bayonetta and the new Bayonetta 2. I was in Gamestop the other day and my regular cashier asked me if I had started the new Smash Bros. game for WiiU, and my exasperated answer was that I still had a long way to go on the last two games that I got! We haven't even talked about the new LEGO Batman 3 game, since my older son and I are casually pretending that the game's not out yet so we're not inundated for requests from my younger son to pick up the game some weekend with Christmas on the way.

The first add-on pack for Mario Kart 8 came out a couple of weeks ago, and the playable Link character and the Hyrule Castle board are both nice additions to the game. I haven't played with the Tanooki Mario or Cat Peach characters yet, but I did see that some of the other courses make for some multiplayer insanity.  The Excitebike course has super-long straightaways leading to lots of shell-flinging shenanigans. Ice Ice Outpost is full of multiple paths most of which require rather precision driving or you will easily find yourself taking an ice bath.

So, even though I haven't picked up either of the newest systems, the PS4 or the XBox One, it still seems like there are plenty of games to play. There are still games coming out for the PS3, and the WiiU seems to have a steady stream of new releases coming out soon to be bolstered by the presence of the newest addition to the WiiU system, the amiibo.  Similar to their Skylanders and Disney Infinity counterparts, an amiibo is a plastic representation of one of the Nintendo characters with some electronics inside that will identify it to the WiiU. Unlike the Skylanders and Disney Infinity characters which each require their own portal, the Amiibo can talk directly to the WiiU gamepad. There is a newer model of the 3DS that has not been released yet that will also be able to read the amiibo information. For the 3DS and 2DS units that are already out, there will be an external  peripheral that will be released next year. Even more curiously, the amiibos do different things in different games. In Smash Bros., they become a specific character that you work on leveling up, in a very similar fashion to how they work in Skylanders and Disney Infinity. In Hyrule Warriors, different amiibos interact with the game in different ways. Some amiibos of the Zelda series characters give you weapons, and from the in-game description it sounds like some of the other ones give you random gifts (which I can only presume are materials to craft upgrades from). In Mario Kart 8, you can customize your Mii racer with an outfit based on the character that your amiibo is based on. I hope that they find other interesting ways to utilize these.

I am also looking forward to Street Fighter IV's upcoming Omega Mode patch, which will add a different version of each of the World Warriors to the line up, with different special moves and inputs. While the existing version of Ultra allows you to play as any previous Street Fighter IV version of any of the characters, the differences between those four versions are rather subtle and are just adjustments to the nuances of the game's balance. The Omega Mode versions are rather different, as you can see here.

So, what am I thankful for (as a gamer) this holiday season? I am thankful for the fact that there are more games out than I have time to play. That reminds me. I need to get ready for band practice.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Bayonetta 2 Demo for WiiU, part 2 - Touch(y) Controls

In my previous post I briefly mentioned that the Bayonetta 2 demo for WiiU offers an option for touch controls that I had not tried. I have tried them, and I'm not convinced that they're useful, but I think I might understand why they were available.

The most important buttons for Bayonetta are dodge, jump, punch, and kick. In the default control configuration, all of these are mapped to right hand buttons that are easy to get to - ZR, B, X, and A. If you're unfamiliar with the layout, have a look. Movement is handled with the left analog stick, which is fairly standard.

With the touch controls, Bayonetta turns to face the location of where you tap on the screen. I think that if you tap and hold, Bayonetta is supposed to run to that location but there are very few opportunities to test this in the demo as the battle is constantly in motion. If you tap on an enemy, you move towards them and attack them. However, I have no idea (and the demo of the game does not say) how it decides whether any given attack is a kick or a punch. Jumping is done by double tapping, which I did not find difficult to do with either hand. Dodging is done with a swipe, which was easy enough. No individual motion was too difficult to perform, but fluidly doing exactly what I intended seemed difficult. Stylish action games usually demand precision, although Bayonetta is forgiving in this way by offering a wider range of difficulties than most of the other games in this style.

Since the release of this game had been in question until Nintendo became involved, I wonder if Platinum had been considering a way to put Bayonetta on a tablet or a phone platform as a way to recoup having developed a significant chunk of the game already. Certainly another possibility is that the touch controls were added after Nintendo's involvement at Nintendo's request. Bayonetta 2 was initially being developed for SEGA by Platinum, but when SEGA felt they had other priorities and back-burnered Bayonetta 2 Platinum had to talk to other producers and the console companies because they wanted to see if they could still manage to release a game after all the work they had already put into it. Thankfully, Nintendo stepped in to help, but that posed a different problem. Since the original Bayonetta was not on a Nintendo platform, there were many people resistant to the idea of buying a second game without having played the first one. Platinum has fixed this by including a beautiful port of the original Bayonetta along with the purchase of Bayonetta 2, making it a fantastic value. On top of this, Platinum and Nintendo have created extra costumes for Bayonetta to wear in the style of Samus from the Metroid series, Princess Peach from the Mario series, and Link from the Legend of Zelda series. (I thought I also saw something about Star Fox as well but I can't be sure  Not only are there Nintendo-themed costumes available in both the original Bayonetta and Bayonetta 2, but each costume includes a unique weapon to add to the already varied gameplay.

Having spent enough time playing the first Bayonetta on a PlayStation 3 controller, I don't think I'll be taking the step backwards to touch controls. Perhaps some people new to the game will be able to start purely with the touch controls and do something amazing with them. It can't be any crazier than trying to play Soul Calibur with a SEGA fishing controller...

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Things for WiiU : Hyrule Warriors and Bayonetta 2

Maybe it's because I've been listening to too many Nerdist podcasts with Chris Hardwick, or maybe it's the drummer in my band who works on advertising who did this to me, but I have this concept lodged in my head that I can't get out.

If you're going to pitch a new game idea/movie idea/story idea to someone else, it has to be conveyed in terms of two things that the person you're pitching to is already familiar with.

For example, if  Sam Raimi were pitching Army of Darkness to someone trying to get funding after he just did Evil Dead 2, he could say that it's Evil Dead 2 meets A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. Sometimes you can use more basic references, like you could say that Blade Runner is a murder mystery but with robots. (Yes I know they're called replicants, but you shouldn't use a word you're just going to have to turn around and explain in a pitch.) So if I were to explain the new WiiU game Hyrule Warriors to you, it could be framed in the same way - it's The Legend of Zelda meets Dynasty Warriors.

Of course, one of the problems with that is that not everybody has played Dynasty Warriors, and compared to the long-running success of the Legend of Zelda games, it's practically a niche title. The other problem with that is that the Dynasty Warriors games have all been on Playstation 2 and 3 (and now 4). The only games that have come out for a Nintendo system that are even close to the gameplay of Dynasty Warriors are Mystic Heroes which came out for Gamecube in 2002 and Sengoku Basara which came out for Wii in 2010 (which was played in our house almost continuously for a stretch of  a year or more).

The word used to denote this style of game is Musou, because Koei/Tecmo made most of these games and so those games are referred to as Musou games or Warriors games. Unless you work for CAPCOM, it's probably acceptable to say that "Sengoku Basara is a Musou-style game series made by CAPCOM".  These games have a variety of characters to choose from, and a number of medium-size playfields broken into smaller areas. The characters typically have swords or pikes or other melee weapons, but some characters also have more fantastic attacks that may seem like guns or magic or something else that isn't totally realistic. Most of these games heavily rely on fantasy elements to keep the gameplay moving along. The characters all seem to have attacks that are widely varied from character to character so each character may require a different approach. They are designed to simulate a battle scenario that includes a number of base camps for your character to conquer. As you play through a level, the game will put messages on-screen to tell you what the victory conditions are, and sometimes they change during the course of a battle. Your character usually has to fight thousands of enemies throughout the course of a battle, most of which are rather minor, some base commanders that are a little more substantial, and some of which are powerful "boss" characters that have strength more on par with yours.

With Hyrule Warriors, there are both existing characters to choose from and some new characters created specifically for the game. Our hero Link, the princess Zelda and her alter ego Sheik, the fierce warrior Impa, the evil Ganondorf, Princess Ruta of the Zora Kingdom, and the Goron leader Darunia, are all available as playable characters from the Zelda series. Even the newer sidekicks like Midna and Fi are playable. Most strangely, Agitha is a playable character, but here insect-based attacks are quite the force to be reckoned with. Rounding out the first wave of playable Zelda universe characters are the bad guys Girahim from Skyward Sword and Zant from Twilight Princess. Lana is a cutesy magic-user made specifically for the game who can use a big spell book or a staff from the Deku tree.  Her rival the evil sorceress Cia will be a playable character if you get some of the DLC for this game.

Here's a rather long clip from the Treehouse that shows a lot of footage from the game.



My older son has completed the main story already and has most of the characters unlocked that are currently available. He's still having a difficult time working his way through the Adventure Mode, since some of the specific missions require beating the boss enemies more quickly than we are used to. So, that means Zant and Girahim are still waiting to be unlocked. (I'm still working on the story mode but I wonder why I don't get to play it as often...) The game has done a fantastic job of recreating several areas directly from Skyward Sword, Twilight Princess, and the Ocarina of Time. Some of the other areas are a little less recognizable to me, but maybe I should have played more Majora's Mask. It plays exactly as I would expect, and the game seems very responsive even when there are scores of enemies on the screen. The only complaint I could possibly have on the visuals is that when the game is played 2-player, one person plays on the GamePad screen and the second player plays on the TV, and the person that plays on the GamePad screen gets a little less visual fidelity than normal. Some of the effect passes are skipped over when rendering the small screen. It does seem like genius to not have the splitscreen, since my biggest problem with two-player Sengoku Basara was that the split screen made it difficult to see what you were supposed to be doing a lot of the time.

Some hardcore Zelda fans are bound to be disappointed by this game because it's not a real Zelda game to them, but if you're a fan of beat-em ups or the Warriors games and also like the Zelda characters, there is so much fan service and depth to the game that you could play the game for weeks and still have characters to level up, Golden Skulltulas to find, and challenges to master. If that's not quite enough, for another $20 you can get all of the DLC that is going to be put out over the next several months.

In other news, Platinum Games' stylish action title Bayonetta 2 is finally coming out for WiiU this month. Before the WiiU was even released, Platinum had announced that Bayonetta 2 was going to be a WiiU exclusive because of Nintento's help in making the game happen. The first Bayonetta game told the story of a woman that wakes up from a lake not knowing exactly who she is but having to figure out why she is a witch, why there are creepy monsters with halos trying to kill her, why there is a doofus reporter and a small girl chasing after her, and how to dance around firing guns on her feet and using her hair as a weapon. The pitch for Bayonetta 2 should be "Everything that you already did in Bayonetta 1, but bigger!" For WiiU owners that didn't play the original Bayonetta, a port of the first game is included on a separate disc, with the addition of Samus, Princess Peach, and Link costumes with unique weapons for Bayonetta to unlock and use.

There is a demo out for Bayonetta 2, which we have played already. You get a brief tutorial on the controls, which are identical to the first game with the exception of one button. In the demo, you start out fighting three large centaur-like enemies at a time while on the back of a fighter jet flying through skyscrapers while another larger enemy flies around. At some point, you start attacking the larger enemy from the plane, and then jump down on the back of a moving train to continue the battle. The third part involves battling a large monster at the spire of a tall building, King-Kong style. Here's a look from GamersPrey HD:

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I did pretty horrible at the game, I think a got a third or fourth-tier ranking (either Silver or Stone) but I was so busy looking at everything that I didn't care about my bad score. This looks pretty great, has more going on visually than the original did, runs much more smoothly, and I'm really looking forward to playing this in a week or two assuming everybody else isn't still hogging the machine. For those of you that played this on PS3 and you're not sure how you feel about the GamePad controller for an action game, the solution would be dropping another $50 on the WiiU Pro Controller. Now there is another control option that involved the touchscreen, but I didn't check to see what that was yet. If it turns out to be significant, I will post about it separately.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Well, it's about gosh darn time.

No, I'm not talking about pumpkin doughnuts, although we did have some.

No, I'm not talking about the new Super Smash Bros. (That's mostly because I don't really care about the 3DS version of it and I'm perfectly happy to wait until the WiiU version is out.)

I'm talking about the fact that I actually got a professional demolisher to take apart one of the new Hasbro Rubik's Cubes so I can see what it looks like inside. My wife and I were waiting at one of my kid's appointments, and she figured out that she would be able to remove one of the egde pieces using her housekey. I waited a couple more days to post this, partly because I didn't have the camera batteries charged, and partly because I wanted to be sure that I could reassemble the cube again after I took the photos but before I posted this. If it was impossible to reassemble, I wanted to be able to warn people not to do this.

It's safe to say that removing a piece is non-trivial. Even with a broken-in version of this cube, it seems to be designed in such a way that removal is rather difficult. However, for sake of comparison, let's look at the original cube pieces. This is a corner piece and an edge piece from one of my older Rubik's cubes:


And here's the interior:


Here's a corner and an edge piece from the very smooth-turning DaYan:


Here's the DaYan interior:


And now, possibly for the first time outside the Rubik's forums, here's the new Hasbro/Funskool corner and edge piece:


And the Hasbro/Funskool interior:


Of particular note is the fact that there is a notch in only one side of the center flange on each of the six center pieces. Note that the flange you can see on the white center above has the notch, the flange on the red center does not have the notch. (Well, it has a notch, but it's not positioned so that you can see it at the moment.) When I finally popped the edge piece back in, I was so relieved that I can't remember if I was able to take advantage of the position of the notches or not. The edge pieces have two different sets of tabs to hold them in to the other pieces and it makes it very hard to remove and equally difficult to put in. Even with an edge piece out, the adjacent corner pieces don't really want to come out without substantial assistance.

Once I got it all back together, it still sounds like that I have a loose piece of something inside, but I never discovered anything when I had it all apart. There is some irregular wear on a couple of pieces, but it was inside a groove that I'm unlikely to be able to sand precisely without risking breaking it.

So, overall, here's my review of the new Hasbro/Funskool Rubik's cube.

Pros:

  • Widely available in Wal-Marts everywhere for $10, no need to wait for mail order
  • Plastic tiles feel nice and are completely flush with the rest of the cube
  • If you get a good one it turns much better than the previous model did right out of the box
  • Nearly impossible to tamper with
Cons:
  • Much louder than nearly every other cube available
  • Even the best ones don't turn as well as a DaYan or a Ghost Hand
  • Hard to pop a piece out even with aggressive turning
  • If you get a bad one it's difficult to fix because it's...
  • Nearly impossible to tamper with
If you want a cube just to mess around with, and you're not worried about speedsolving, and you're not concerned about potentially having to buy it twice just to have one that doesn't give you tendonitis, then this is just fine. Otherwise I would have to suggest a Ghost Hand ($6 plus shipping), a DaYan ($8-$15 plus shipping) or a V-Cube ($20 but maybe not shipping. Barnes & Noble seems to be selling V-Cubes at some of their locations.)

Next Post: Hyrule Warriors and the Bayonetta 2 Demo for WiiU!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Cubing in Public, Hasbro Edition

One of the things that I did this week was take my younger child to a play group. The least I could do as a parent would be to make sure that he's better socialized than I am. Since I don't know any of the other parents that well I wasn't quite ready to socialize during the waiting around part. (See - this is why I need to do this.) I'm not worried about waiting around while the kids play, that's what I have my Rubik's cube with me for. However, it was rather quiet there, and like any lobby or waiting room it can be rather echoey.

The cube I brought the first time was one of my two new model Hasbro Official Rubik's cubes with the plastic tiles and the new mechanism that I talked about here. After doing a couple of solves, I realized that it seemed rather loud. It would seem that I am the only person that would excuse himself from a semi-social situation to go get a quieter cube. I had a couple of DaYans in the car and opted for my fancy (well, to me it's fancy) stickerless cube. While I am always happy to demonstrate my meager cube prowess, it didn't seem like I should be making a big racket to attract attention on purpose. It did seem odd to me on later reflection that I had so many cubes in the car.

In other news, I haven't seen an email back to find out why Gamora isn't on the official Guardians of the Galaxy coffee mug. I've been thinking about calling them, but I don't know how my employer might feel about a random call to Apopka on my lunch break. I suspect that the answer is going to be something like "That's the artwork that got approved by the Marvel people" without any regard for the exclusion of one of the members.