The Wii: Gold Ignored By Fools

It’s been a turbulent generation for Nintendo. After Wii U’s crushing market failure, Nintendoom was at possibly its highest point in living memory, for me anyway. Then when things looked darkest, the light got Switched back on. In a miraculous turnaround that was more than I dared hope for, Nintendo once again had a system that was selling at a record setting pace. The Switch has clearly caught the attention of a mass market that ignored or just didn’t know about the existence of Wii U. And this time, the gaming community hasn’t even turned on it the second it became popular.

Wait, this time? Yeah, pretty much this exact scenario happened before. The year is 2006, and GameCube is currently the worst selling Nintendo console of all time and the only one to ever get third place in a console war. Nintendo goes batshit insane and decides that for their next generation system, they will release something barely more powerful than GameCube, depending on a crazy sounding gimmick to make people buy a new console. And they’re calling it Wii. I think you know what happens next: it becomes a mainstream phenomenon, wins its generation’s sales war despite quitting early, and becomes Nintendo’s best-selling console of all time. While being called Wii.

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The definition of successful insanity.

But there’s a big difference between Wii and Switch: while Switch has had fantastic software sales for everything from Nintendo’s major IPs to originally obscure indie games and has a legion of gamers asking for their perfect world where everything is on Switch, Wii was quickly rejected by “hardcore” gamers who labeled its controller an inferior waggle stick and dismissed its game lineup as nothing but shovelware and “non-games” Nintendo had betrayed their fans to focus on. Nothing seemed to be able to break this perception, and by the time Wii U was released the brand was somehow considered toxic despite how successful the original Wii had been. Why did people treat the Wii like this? Because they’re… I’ll avoid saying idiots, but “massively misinformed.” So what am I building up to? Well, I’ll make it as clear as I can:

As of this moment, the Wii is the second best system Nintendo has ever made.

Yes, aside from the sacred SNES, the original Wii is my favorite system Nintendo has ever made, and in my top three overall. Now there are two major reasons people would object to this claim, and I intend to argue against them for the glory of Nintendo’s fifth console.

First up is the controller. If you listen to most people, the only thing you did with the Wii controller was randomly flail your arms around while Miis laughed maniacally about how F-Zero was dead forever. That obviously isn’t how the controller actually worked, and there are two misconceptions about the controller at the root of this misinformation. For one, almost no games required or played best when you dramatically swung your arms around. Simple wrist movements were the ideal way to control almost every motion based Wii game, or at least the ones that were good aside from being “ruined” by motion controls. If you’re dying in Donkey Kong Country Returns because you stand up and heave the Wiimote in a three foot upward swing whenever you want to roll, that isn’t the game’s fault, you could have just given the controller and quick, small shake using nothing but your wrists.

But what people really overlook when it comes to the Wii controller is the IR sensor. I love that thing, it is to this day the best aiming control option I have ever encountered in a game (and yes, I’ve used mouse aiming, despite the PC issue limiting my time with it). You can almost instantly place the reticule or cursor anywhere on screen with no more “waggling” than moving a mouse. Any game where aiming is intergral to the gameplay benefits greatly from the Wiimote and Nunchuck setup. I don’t care how much HD the re-releases add, the Wii version of Resident Evil 4 will be my favorite until something can match IR aiming. While the Switch (which has turned negativity into positivity so miraculously I can only guess that Iwata’s spirit is protecting it) seems to have made people warm up to gyro aiming to some extent, it still hasn’t reached the precision and speed level of IR aiming in my opinion. People ignoring and forgetting IR aiming is one of my biggest disappointments in the direction gaming took. Seriously, go play Resident Evil 4 Wii Edition or Metroid Prime Trilogy before you dismiss the Wiimote.

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The current and eternal best version.

The other reason people don’t appreciate the Wii like they should is a universal among consoles: games. The measure of a system is its game library, and once again, there are two things people ignore about the Wii’s library. Contrary to popular belief, Wii Music isn’t the only game Nintendo made between GameCube and Breath of the Wild. If your response to this was going to be “sure, they made Super Mario Galaxy and Xenoblade, but a couple…” let me cut you off right there. Nintendo made/published a lot of fantastic Wii games that were in no way “non-games”. Metroid Prime 3, Donkey Kong Country Returns, Kirby’s Epic Yarn and Return to Dreamland, Wario Land Shake-It, Sin and Punishment 2, New Super Mario Bros. Wii, Punch-Out!!, Zelda: Skyward Sword (read the controller part before yelling at that inclusion), Pandora’s Tower, and those are just ones I’ll enthusiastically defend. Just because F-Zero and Star Fox weren’t there (as opposed to Punch-Out, Kirby platformers, and Metroid being on every single prior system, apparently) doesn’t mean Nintendo abandoned their fans and franchises. The Wii was actually a glorious time for Nintendo’s first party performance.

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Yeah, this was clearly made for your grandmother.

But that isn’t what makes me so confident that the Wii is better than its non-SNES brethren. What really sets the Wii apart from the other post-SNES Nintendo consoles (currently active hybrids not included) is its third party support. Now if anyone actually read this there would be countless people ready to post images of various shovelware games that publishers lacking talent and/or ethics dumped on the system, but I’m going to let you in on a secret. Something nearly everyone overlooked about the Wii, this one weird trick will change how you view its third party support forever:

No one is making you play the bad games.

That’s right, turns out owning a Wii does NOT in fact mean you will be held at gunpoint and forced to play terrible party games by people who would go on to make those creepy YouTube shorts with Elsa and Spider-Man. You are, in fact, free to ignore those and do a little research to find the hidden gem mine buried beneath the crap. Zack and Wiki, A Boy and his Blob, The House of the Dead: Overkill, Madworld, Red Steel 2, Lost in Shadow, Dead Space Extraction, Prince of Persia: The Lost Sands, Boom Blox and Boom Blox Bash Party, Trauma Team, de Blob 1 and 2, Silent Hill Shattered Memories, Rodea The Sky Soldier (for the love of God, make sure it’s actually the Wii version), Rabbids Go Home, Epic Mickey, Sonic Colors, Muramasa, it goes on and on. The Wii may not have gotten the big AAA games, but mid-ware, often thought to be extinct, thrived on it. Not only are there tons of quality third-party games on it, most of them are dirt cheap. The Wii’s library, especially the third party portion, is one of the most underrated in all of gaming.

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You don’t even know who I am!

So there you have it, my case for the Wii being one of Nintendo’s best systems and one of the most underrated of all time. Is Switch going to surpass it? I hope so, hell, I hope it dethrones the SNES. Things getting better is always… better. But that doesn’t mean we have to just leave the Wii to its unjust scorn, or that you can’t take advantage of how cheap games for it are right now. And remember, there is a force coming to its aid far stronger than anything I or anyone could write: nostalgia. Someday people will appreciate the Wii, it’s inevitable. Even if it takes until 2026, the turnaround is coming someday, but now is your chance to be on the right and bargain-priced side of history. Wii would like some appreciation, and it deserves it.

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The Top Ten Most Overrated Games of All Time and What You Should Play Instead (Part 2)

Here we are, Part 2, hopefully in a more reasonable timeframe. I’m continuing counting down my top ten most overrated games of all time and listing antidote games that do what the overrated games are doing, but better. Let’s get right into it!

Number 5: Metroid

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Told you more Nintendo games were coming. Now there’s no way to deny how important the original Metroid is, it expanded what a platformer could be with its non-linear, interconnected world and myriad of upgrades that were needed to progress in the game. But damn it, that doesn’t mean we have to pretend it aged well. Metroid laid a great foundation, but the house is absolutely not up to code. The endless stretches of identical looking rooms with no map make navigating the game a nightmare, the control is too clunky for the game’s high difficulty level and starting at the first room of the game with 30 health (out of a possible 800 by the end of the game) are crippling flaws. I’ll give it a pass on the password issue, since the original disk-based version had saving. There are plenty of NES games that are much more playable today, to say nothing of later games using the Metroid formula. This hasn’t stopped people from acting like the original Metroid is the timeless classic that later games in the series are, and that’s why I’m putting it on this list. It deserves appreciation and respect, but you don’t have to pretend none of its flaws exist just because it came first.

Instead You Should Play: Super Metroid

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Here it is, the game you remembered the original Metroid as. Super Metroid takes the formula from the original game and fixes everything wrong with it. A fun to explore world with a map, excellent controls, a balanced difficulty level, worldwide saving. Plus great new abilities that the game uses to their fullest, great boss fights, and one of the most iconic emotional moments in gaming. Super Metroid is everything the first game wanted to be, the seeds of potential that the first one planted sprouted and produced one of the best series in all of gaming. There’s even a remake of the original Metroid using the elements from Super Metroid, which I considered for this position, but using a remake didn’t feel right. But whatever your preference is in that area, there are Metroids out there that will give you exactly what you remember from the original game and require much less nostalgia filtering.

Number 4: Secret of Mana

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Yeah, this is what I was talking about when I mentioned those supposed action-RPGs that may as well be turn-based. In the 90s, any RPG that wasn’t literally turn-based would be labeled a Zelda-style game, and that’s what I went into Secret of Mana expecting. Yeah, that’s not what I got. My sword needing to recharge after every swing and magic attacks freezing everything on the screen while they connect (and this includes bosses freezing you to get in their unavoidable attacks) was not my idea of Zelda. But genre preference isn’t my only reason for putting Secret of Mana on here. You have a three-person party in the game, with the option of co-op play. But if you don’t have two friends you can summon to your side whenever you want to play, you’re going to have to deal with the AI, and dear God. Now, I understand that a hyper-competent companion AI in a SNES game wasn’t a realistic request, but my issue is that the game puts the responsibility on you for the AI characters dying. And this is one of those RPGs where bringing a party member back from the dead is a huge pain in the ass early in the game. You can swap which character you control, but there will always be two vulnerable, AI-controlled characters during fights if you’re in single-player. Oh, and you not only have to individually level up several different types of elemental spells, the game sucker punches you by basically requiring you to have maxed out several elements to beat one of the last bosses. The grinding I endured when I got there… never again. Secret of Mana simply does not deserve the praise it gets, there are so many better RPGs on SNES. But for the antidote, I decided to go with the three-person party theme…

Instead You Should Play: Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana

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There are a lot of great things about this game, but for the purpose of being an antidote to Secret of Mana, I’m going to focus on the combat. Like Secret of Mana, Ys VIII is an action-RPG where you have three party members fighting at once, which you can freely switch between at any time with the other two being AI-controlled (there’s no co-op option, but that allows for the single player mode to be better balanced). However, the CPU-controlled characters have greatly increased defense and can’t be knocked out while the computer is controlling them, because the game isn’t a complete asshole. And the combat, it’s night and day. Fast action game-style combat where every attack is avoidable, you can combo enemies, link in special moves, dodge and parry, even activate something like Bayonetta’s “Witch Time” mechanic. This is what an action-RPG should be, and modern action-JRPGs thankfully seem to be adopting this style as a whole. The fourth generation was a golden age for many genres, but action-RPGs are doing much better in the present.

Number 3: Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater

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I’m still in a dream, and I want to wake up and get the Metal Gear I loved back. I’m not talking about the universally acknowledged monstrosity that modern Konami has turned Metal Gear into, I’ve felt this way ever since Metal Gear Solid 3 was first released. After loving the first two console Metal Gear Solid games and the Game Boy Color one for their fast-paced stealth gameplay and insane stories, Metal Gear Solid 3 messed everything up and the series never recovered, although MGS3 remained the low point until Konami really went demonic. The story was much simpler than the previous games with a one-dimensional main villain, zero dimensional bosses, and far fewer plot twists with the one the game presented as its biggest being insultingly obvious. But the gameplay was worse. Fast-paced stealth? Yeah, screw that, now we have to tip toe up behind enemies to avoid alerting them and worry about our supplies so that we can micromanage camouflage and recovering health, with long load times for the menu we constantly need, of course. And we lose the radar from the earlier games while at the same time getting much more open environments that the overhead camera is absolutely not suited for. I just want the old Metal Gear back.

Instead You Should Play: Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty

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Well, this should have been pretty easy to guess after what I wrote above. Metal Gear Solid 2 is one of my favorite games of all time, and one of the most unfairly bashed in its heyday. Raiden not being Snake doesn’t change that the gameplay of the Metal Gear series, which is at its peak in MGS2, with fast paced stealth that still gives you real options (as opposed to “do you want to use the camouflage that the game demands on this specific texture or be handicapped?” in a certain later game). The story doesn’t give a shit about realism, and that’s exactly how it should be, and it doesn’t hinder it at all when it wants to be philosophical. The fact that this game never got a faithful sequel saddens me to this day, and I can only hope that by some miracle Death’s Stranding turns out to play like this (not like we have any gameplay information to prove it won’t). Easily the best game of 2001, and the fact that people nitpicked it to death while giving a pass to… never mind, we’ll get to that in a bit.

Number 2: The Legend of Zelda

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I’ve had this issue in articles before, the Zelda and Metroid series parallel each other so well in their early days that it’s hard to think of unique things to say about one after covering the other. The original Zelda is an incredibly important game that laid the foundation for an incredible series, but the house is nowhere near up to code and if you go into that basement known as the second quest, you’re as good as dead. The original Zelda has barely any puzzles, control that is too stiff for the level of difficulty, obnoxiously scarce resources, and cheap “do something in a random place with no indication” roadblocks that try to pass themselves off as puzzles. It not holding your hand does not make up for all of this, it does not even come close. When I first played this game (with the very much needed help of a guide) I assumed that I was just bad at it since I was still fairly inexperienced with adventure games. When I came back to it years later, I realized that it was actually just not well designed. This led to some pretty strong feelings towards it, and it was actually my pick for the most overrated game of all time for a good number of years, before a certain game (I feel like I’m trying to hide Wily or Sigma being the final boss of a game by refusing to name it) took that spot.

Instead You Should Play: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

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I was originally going to put A Link to the Past in this spot, but I decided to try something different (if you want the ALttP writeup, go to the Super Metroid one and replace every mention of Metroid with Zelda). For all my issues with Breath of the Wild, there’s no way to deny that it completely annihilates the original Zelda at everything the latter game is praised for. More freedom, more non-linearity, way more open world to explore. This game was clearly made to please the people who loved the original Legend of Zelda, and while there are some parts that weren’t done as well (the original Zelda had way more dungeons and I don’t remember your sword breaking) it unquestionably obliterates the original game in pretty much category that gets it so much praise. Now just please fix the weapon durability and lack of dungeons so I can feel confident in the future of my second favorite series.

Number 1: Mega Man X

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Well, what can I say? People change. After a while you have to come to terms with what the games you played as a kid were really like, even if it means having an unpopular opinion. Yes, there was a time when I thought the control, level design, boss fights, secrets, and aesthetics in this game were enough to earn it all the praise it absorbs, but after REALLY taking a long look at it, you realize… you’re not buying this, are you?

The Real Number 1: Grand Theft Auto III

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Yeah, I know, this was a really, really obvious pick. I’ve actually called this my pick for the most overrated game of all time in previous articles. But I am not going to pretend I have a different pick just to surprise people… not for longer than it takes to set up a joke, anyway. Well, I think this is where I should lay it all on the line and tear into Grand Theft Auto III as much as I can and try to thoroughly explain why I hate this game so much.

Basically, the game has a similar decent structure but completely unsafe building issue to the original Metroid and Zelda. But this game isn’t from the 80s, it’s from 2001 and it’s not the first game in its series. Yes, it was the first 3D one, but many of its issues are unrelated to that (although some certainly are). The game not only has an appalling lack of checkpoints, it is actually designed so that even the meager checkpoint you do get is worthless. Die during a mission? You wake up at the hospital and have to drive back to the mission. Except you lost pretty much everything (all your weapons and money), so what you really have to do is load your save, which may be even farther away, since there are only three save points in the entire game. And you’ll have to drive to one after every mission, so even more pointless trekking back and forth. A Retry option would have made this game so much better, but nope, you’re going to spend exponentially more time driving to missions than actually playing them. Also, there’s no full map. Yes, you get a mini-map to guide you to missions, but I hope you never have to visit a gun store or Pay ‘n’ Spray after the one time the game points out the location of a single one to you. You’re also treated to the worst lock-on system I have ever seen in a game. Winning a firefight is nearly impossible, you’ll be quickly shot to death while the camera has a seizure and all of your bullets miss. The driving controls aren’t as bad, but they’re still lacking considering how easy it is to get caught on objects or get flipped over. And let’s talk about the hidden packages. They are the codifier for the worst type of collectable in all of gaming, tiny objects that could be hidden ANYWHERE in an open game world. And they aren’t even confined to masochistic 100% runs in GTAIII, if you want simple quality of life features like being able to restore health at save points, you’re going to need several of them.

Now, some people dismiss these issues by saying you’re really supposed to ignore the missions and enjoy causing chaos with no other objective. I have two responses to that. One, if a game puts in the amount of content and effort into its story mode that Grand Theft Auto III did, and it turns out the game is at its most fun when you ignore it, that is an abject failure on the developer’s part. Two, even this is held back by the awful controls and ultra-strict penalties for dying. And you’re going to need to find a lot of those hidden packages if you want good chaos tools without playing the story. I get it, being able to kill any character in a 3D game was mind-blowing at the time, but that doesn’t change that GTAIII is a genuinely bad game. Innovation can’t replace quality, at least not in the long term, and while the sequels to GTAIII fixed some of my many issues with it, several others remained for no reason. I genuinely think the lack of demand for Grand Theft Auto to fix its issues held the series and genre back for years. It took until Grand Theft Auto IV in 2008 for the gaming community (not reviewers, they still worshipped it) to finally say that the sandbox emperor had no clothes. Not that anyone admitted that about the prior GTA games. Thankfully, the sun was about finally rise and eliminate the shadow GTAIII cast on its genre…

Instead You Should Play: Saints Row 2

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Yep, this was also pretty predictable if you’ve read my past articles. But like my pick for most overrated game of all time, just because it’s predictable doesn’t mean Saints Row 2 hasn’t earned its spot. Saints Row 2 is incredibly similar to the PlayStation 2 Grand Theft Auto games, in most circumstances a game so similar would be a shameless rip-off. But Saints Row 2 had the radical, groundbreaking idea of making the gameplay style good. Almost every single issue I mentioned about GTAIII is fixed. Solid control in every area, checkpoints, a fully functional map, the hidden package equivalents are still there but at least the gameplay doesn’t depend on them in any way. This means you can enjoy the over-the-top story, massive gameplay variety, content packed quest, and all the senseless chaos you want without crippling flaws holding you back at every turn. Saints Row 2 is what Grand Theft Auto always should have been, and between it and the backlash against Grand Theft Auto IV, the genre finally evolved into what it had the potential to be. Saints Row 2 is not only an antidote to Grand Theft Auto III, it cleansed its entire genre of GTAIII’s illness. It earns the number one spot on its list as much as GTAIII earned its number one spot.

So, there you finally have it, my ranked picks for the top ten most overrated games of all time and the antidotes to their flaws. I’m very relieved to finally be finished, see you next time for an article that hasn’t been hanging over me for almost two years.

Turn Based #5: Losing Steam with Console Woes

Professor Icepick: Hello everyone and welcome to another installment of Turn Based. Considering that this is our fifth article in this series, it seems only fitting that we tackle a topic of the utmost importance. For years, a war has been brewing within the medium of video games as a whole. One that goes well above and beyond the petty console wars of our childhood. One which both KI and I actually have personal stakes in. I speak, of course, about the schism between PC and console gaming.

Can one of our classic arguments finally settle which platform is superior once and for all? …I wouldn’t count on it, we’ll probably just end with another stalemate. Regardless, it’s a topic that is still worth exploring. With that being said, KI will start arguing his preference for console gaming.

SNES Master KI: Consoles simply work better for gaming, their dedication to gaming (yes, I know they can do other things now, but those are afterthoughts and things that take less effort than running games) results in many direct and indirect benefits. These range from the simplicity and guaranteed function of standardized hardware to the motivation for companies like Nintendo to make so many great games to support their consoles. The game library and quality of life advantages of consoles are completely overwhelming from my perspective.

Icepick: The problem with that is that the advantages that consoles once held over PCs have begun to fade with time. During the seventh generation of video game consoles — the days of the Wii, the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360 — consoles have become less and less “plug-and-play” devices, relying on internet connections to patch firmware and software regularly. Unfortunately, the process is hampered by the traditional “walled garden” approach that consoles have adopted since their inception.

With the current generation of consoles doubling-down on constant updates and upgrades that no longer work right out of the box, you’re probably expecting me to argue that the PC is a much more stable platform. You would be wrong. In fact, this has been how the PC gaming landscape has looked for nearly 2 decades now. The major difference lies in the more open source nature of PC gaming. Updates to games that would take weeks or even months for companies like Sony and Nintendo to approve and implement can literally be in gamers’ hands within minutes. Steam upgrades games automatically — both games that are already installed and those that have yet to be downloaded — and most other services (even GOG via their Galaxy client) offer similar user-friendly services. The PlayStation 3 and 4, at least in my experience, relied on gamers to open games before it would even consider updating them.

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Plus we don’t have to pay for cloud saves.

KI: The pick up and play potential may have been diminished, but that doesn’t change that the standardization of consoles means that playing the games once everything is set comes with far fewer issues. It’s also not all bad, although games shipping in a perfect state would be ideal, patches can often be very useful for removing glitches or fixing stupid, simple design issues in otherwise great games. If I start a new console game, there may be a wait for something to download, but once it does I know it will run and my controller will work for it as intended. And for the record, PlayStation 4 and Switch will download patches for games you have installed/in your play history even if you don’t start the game or have the physical disc/cart inserted. Xbox One may do the same, but I can’t confirm that from experience.

Icepick: The point is that consoles have moved onto providing non-gaming experiences as well as traditional gaming, and in that regard, consoles are definitely outgunned, due to their reliance on the walled garden.

Having said that, I guess it’s time to discuss some of the more objective advantages that PC gaming has over home consoles: library size. For the sake of discussion, I’ll stick to “legitimate” games — so no talk of emulators and whatnot — but even in that case, the sheer amount of content available on PC is staggering. Best of all is the sheer amount of old content available. While many consoles have essentially given up on the concept of backwards compatibility, services like Good Old Games and DOSbox allow gamers to play their favorite games of yesteryear with very little hassle. This makes the PC the ideal platform for retro gaming in general.

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Eat your heart out, Virtual Console.

We’ve also seen the rising popularity of indie games on consoles, but PC is where that revolution started and there are still many hidden gems exclusive to the platform. The sheer amount of content available on PC absolutely dwarfs all current consoles (even handhelds) combined. Gamers of all stripes can find something to enjoy on PC, which isn’t always the case on each console.

KI: Well, lots to address. Consoles are certainly outgunned in non-gaming purposes, but that’s completely expected, the non-gaming functions of consoles are a bonus. Although I’ll point out that if I actually did intend to use PC as a gaming platform, that multi-functionality would create complications since I need a PC for work/communication/general internet functions. I can’t just leave it hooked up to a TV in an area where I would want to game.

For backwards compatibility, it comes down to what you prioritize in convenience. Consoles don’t disappear when their generation is over, as my name attests you can keep and continue playing old consoles for decades, and there’s no need to mess with DOSbox to make the game run correctly. Backwards compatibility may also very well be about to make steps forward/recover for consoles, Sony and Microsoft’s more standardized system architecture could make PlayStation 5 and Xbox 2001 or whatever confusing name they give it easily backwards compatible. Nintendo was great with backwards compatibility until Switch’s hardware made it physically impossible (no dual screen set up or disc drive), I think it will come back when Switch gets a successor.

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25+ years and still working.

For sheer amount of games, PC of course wins, but when both sides number in the thousands total quantity isn’t that important, no one could possibly play everything and the vast majority of games on both sides aren’t worth playing. Consoles have made great strides in picking up the prominent indie games that were once PC’s exclusive domain, and while PC has certainly made a lot of progress in getting the big budget third-party games that used to stick to consoles, it seems to have come at the expense of PC exclusive big budget releases. And of course, there’s the old quantity versus quality argument. I think Nintendo alone more than makes up for the quality indie games that fall through the cracks and don’t make it to consoles.

Icepick: Fair point. Nintendo consoles are worth buying for their first-party games alone.

Another advantage I’d claim that PC has is a much more balanced relationship between consumers and content providers. On consoles, players have to essentially accept whatever terms first-party publishers set without question. On PC, everything’s a lot more open to discussion. While Steam controls a majority of the modern PC market, there are alternatives that offer exclusive titles (Origin, Windows Store) or other features (GOG, Humble).

This also applies to online gaming. While even Nintendo is preparing to succumb to charging for online play this year, the entire prospect of charging PC gamers for online play is genuinely considered a fool’s errand. When Microsoft launched Games for Windows Live — a sister service to Xbox Live — they intended to charge players the same price for online play. PC gamers protested that and Microsoft dropped the paid component, while keeping every other feature, including crossplay with Xbox 360.

Then you’ve got the modding community. While many of them are associated with various cosmetic mods, they also have a tendency of fixing games that are either broken at launch or incompatible with newer systems. It’s gotten to the point where fan-programmed patches have even been implemented into official releases of games. Content is much more community driven on PC and that works to the advantage of everyone. While Xbox One and PS4 has begun to experiment with the ability to download mods, it just pales in comparison: they’re strictly limited to cosmetic stuff, meaning that console gamers are generally reliant on official patches, which as I said earlier, tend to be released slower than molasses in January.

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One of my favorite mods of all time.

KI: I interpret the relationship between the platform and gamers differently. You can view consoles manufacturers as having more control over gamers, but they also have more obligation to us. One of the core reasons I don’t game on PC is because I can’t stand paying for something and then basically being told I’m on my own to make it work. If I buy a console game and it for some reason doesn’t work, that’s on the company and they have to fix it, and it very rarely comes to that. Aside from making sure I’m not putting an Xbox One disc into my PS4, I don’t have to think about whether I will be able to play the game that I buy, there’s no fear that I’ll come up short in a spec related area and not be able to play the game with no solution besides spending more money and putting in the effort to upgrade my computer. I view the “control” console manufactuers have over me as more of a contract, and it’s one I’d much rather sign than be on my own and have more control.

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The most complicated system requirements I have to deal with.

As for paying for online, I acknowledge that probably isn’t necessary and it would be better if it wasn’t required, but I will say that the perks that come with PSN+ do a good job of mitigating it for me. The amount of (conditionally) free games I get for $60 a year usually satisfies me, and with Nintendo’s much cheaper price I don’t think they’ll have any issues making me feel okay paying $20 a year.

Icepick: Yeah, but the PS+ games on offer generally lean more on the lame side most of the time. This month had some good stuff, but I think they only did that to cushion the blow of retiring PS3 and Vita games next year.

KI: Well, if they were all great, it would be way too fantastic a value for any company to agree to, I’d be saving around $1,000 a year if I actually intended to buy every game they offered. But I think it’s time for me to go on the offensive. One of my first points was that consoles cultivated an ecosystem where exclusives from the first parties are highly valued. For some reason, PC did the exact opposite. When Valve rose to become basically the first party leader of PC gaming, they all but gave up on making their own games. Jokes about Gabe being afraid of the number 3 aside, it’s more that they just make barely any new games. Steam seems to have drained Valve as a developer, while companies like Nintendo and formerly Sega put way more effort into making games when they have their own console, and Sony and Microsoft at least fund a large amount of games (well, you can argue about Microsoft, but that’s literally a topic for another time).

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Even the less supported ones made it to three games.

So my main point in this is that the state of PC exclusives is not good. In the fourth and fifth generations, PCs weren’t making the types of games I personally wanted, but there were genres PC dominated and PC exclusives that were beloved classics. This seems to have all but died off, the best PC exclusive games seem almost accidental at this point, an indie developer makes a hidden gem that never quite gets the attention and funding needed to bring it to console. In the 90s Doom 1 and 2 were out on PC first and the console versions were vastly inferior, while Doom 2016 came out on consoles the same day as PC. For all the strides PC has made in getting console games, I feel like it traded its exclusives to do so, and ultimately it’s all about the games.

Icepick: I’ll admit, Valve has definitely fallen down as an actual game developer. While they’ve recently claimed that they’re still making new games, no one believes them. At this point, they’ve transitioned into more of a PC gaming advocate, cultivating an environment that will allow for more games to reach the platform. While there are still those clamoring for new Valve games — I personally want a third Left 4 Dead or Portal much more than Half-Life 3 — most PC gamers have accepted that Valve’s days as a developer are… numbered?

I understand your concern about PC exclusives and while content in that field is clearly limited compared to the 90s and even the early 2000s, there are still PC exclusive games in the pipeline. For example, I remember you being quite distraught that Quake Champions, a class-based FPS, was going to be a PC exclusive. The Total War series offers solid real-time strategy combat. Divinity: Original Sin II is a turn-based RPG that is both critically acclaimed and massively popular, which is currently only available on PC.

Original Sin II relied on crowdfunding, which is a pretty big source of modern PC games, both exclusive and otherwise. I remember your general apprehension towards the concept, but many crowdfunded games list PC as their sole initial platform and many more list it among multiple launch platforms. With that in mind, it’s safe to say that the platform still holds weight with developers of all sizes. A Hat in Time was originally intended to be a PC-exclusive — launching on the platform first — before PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions were added due to the game’s popularity. It wasn’t the first crowdfunder that got released on other platforms after being pitched as a PC exclusive and it certainly won’t be the last. You’ve made the claim that PC relies on consoles for new games, but I’d argue that it goes both ways.

KI: For Quake Champions, I was mainly upset by their hypocritical reasoning for it not being on consoles (claiming it needed to be 120 FPS to be playable, but then assuring PC gamers with less powerful rigs that it would play fine on their systems). Honestly, id making a multiplayer focused game after Doom 2016 made such strides for single-player focused FPSes probably would have annoyed me even if it was on consoles. I know there are still some quality PC exclusives (although still in genres I don’t personally play), but I think consoles are still demonstrating a pretty massive advantage in that area.

 

As for which system relies on which for games, I don’t really care that much. Indie games need PC’s lower entry fee, big budget games need sales from console gamers to survive, what ultimately matters is what games your platform of choice gets. The issue is that consoles have games made specifically to be exclusives, and I think those give it a very clear edge in library.

Icepick: I guess that’s all there is to it. We’ve got different priorities. You tend to prefer the simplicity of a console — an advantage which I’d argue is slowly but surely eroding with each generation — while I prefer the freedom offered by PC. Still, with many more companies beginning to embrace PC, the future seems bright.

KI: Well, I’d generally say that my arguments for consoles have two main points, the functionality guarantee and the much larger number of exclusive games on them that appeal to me. After several years of pessimism applied to console gaming, I think Nintendo’s resurgence, the other consoles exiting the growing pains of the early eighth generation, and the ever-growing indie presence on consoles (“Perfect for Switch” may be a meme, but indie games really do sell amazingly on it) that the sun has risen for console gaming.

And as expected, the discussion has once again ended in a stalemate. But the arguments were elaborated on, and no one was called an elitist, peasant, Nazi, or iOS supporter. What about you, are you changing chairs to play something after this, or just switching windows? Tell us in the comments, and remember that no matter how much you disagree on a topic, you can always fake civility in text form.

The Top Ten Most Overrated Games of All Time and What You Should Play Instead (Part 1)

I’ve been wanting to do this article for a long time. Over a year and a half ago, I made a ranked list of what I consider the ten most overrated video games of all time. Due to having limited freedom in what my articles could be about at the time and then constantly feeling like I was doing too many lists after returning to Retronaissance, it has taken until now to finally give this list the articles I always wanted to. But the waiting hasn’t been for nothing, I recently (well, it was recently when I started this article, then I got sidetracked yet again) came up with a gimmick for this list: in addition to listing overrated games, I will also be including an antidote, a game that is similar to the game on the list but fixes my issues with it. So, with 20 games to cover, let’s get right to it!

Number 10: Super Mario 64

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As controversial as this choice is, I can’t help but feel that it also acts as a personal safeguard. Starting with an entry from my favorite publisher in my favorite series (on my least favorite console they made, but let’s save that for another time) seems like a pretty good shield against accusations of bias when we get to non-Nintendo choices on my list (although I promise this isn’t a token Nintendo entry, more are coming…). But while this is easily my favorite game on the list, hence it being number 10, it’s still a genuine pick. Super Mario 64 may have been a gigantic leap forward for 3D games, but damn it, it is not retroactively the sole arbiter of a “true” Mario game. It does not get to make linear Mario games a bad thing or deviation. It also isn’t an avant-garde work of horror that later Mario games ruined with their “kiddiness.” The eel isn’t trying to scare you, it just doesn’t have a lot of polygons to work with. And this isn’t even getting into the control and camera improvements that later 3D Marios made. It may sound like I hate this game, but I really don’t, it has just been given a sacred status that went way too far, even if a lot of it is earned. It’s overrated mainly in comparison to other Mario games, which is why it’s only number 10.

Instead You Should Play: Super Mario Odyssey

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While I may prefer linear style Mario games, I’m not going to use this category as a bludgeon against non-linear ones. After a decade of complaining, Nintendo made another sandbox style Mario game (sandbox Mario games coming from the timeline initiated in the Autumn World ending from Super Mario World, while the linear ones came from its normal overworld palette) and while it wasn’t my first choice, they did such a good job with Super Mario Odyssey that it was the first game I felt my old level of hype and excitement for in years. Super Mario Odyssey improves on Super Mario 64 in every conceivable way, with more jumping tricks to exploit, more actual platforming, and way, way more to do and find in its levels. 120 stars? Odyssey has 880 moons. No, not every moon matches the main stars, but SMO is still going to take much, much longer to fully complete. Super Mario Odyssey also makes exploring more pleasant by not forcing you back to the start of the level after almost every star/moon, and it is filled with the brilliant platforming that Super Mario 64 often came up short in. Odyssey may not quite be my favorite Mario, but it gives me hope that an even better direct sequel could make a style of Mario game that fully satisfies fans of both linear and sandbox style, which is not a hope that Super Mario 64 ever gave me.

Number 9: Final Fight

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I don’t really have as much to say about this as the previous entry, although I’m just now realizing it could be considered something of an inverse. While Super Mario 64’s status as the supposed unquestioned best 3D platformer of all time leads to an absurd level of worship for it, Final Fight’s status as the most iconic beat-‘em-up of all time leads to the genre as a whole being thrown under the bus. Brave journalists who want a controversial opinion that no one will get mad at them for often announce that they consider the entire beat-‘em-up genre an outdated relic that was never that good in the first place. The claims that go with this, that they are repetitive button mashers, do apply fairly well to Final Fight in my opinion. Overly large, not very mobile characters fighting a few main enemy types over and over again in levels that are mostly window dressing without much technique in combat. Final Fight isn’t a terrible game, but it just doesn’t hold my interest very well and doesn’t deserve to be considered the main representative of its genre. Sure, some people would say the Genesis’s Streets of Rage series deserves that title, but I have a different choice for the SNES’s champion in that contest…

Instead You Should Play: TMNT IV: Turtles in Time

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Now take every complaint I had about Final Fight and reverse it. Reasonably sized, fast characters with jumps that could handle most Mario levels and lots of moves which almost all have their own purpose. Tons of enemy types and level obstacles. And instead of having a watered down SNES version, the home version obliterates the arcade game with more levels, bosses, and greatly improved controls. Turtles in Time is what a classic style beat-‘em-up has the potential to be, and the greatest argument for their value. I’ve loved this game for almost all of my life, but it was relatively recently that I realized just how much it excelled compared to other beat-‘em-ups even if you completely ignore TMNT nostalgia. Turtles in Time will be just as fun as it ever was in 2020: Neon Night-Riders and beyond.

Number 8: Bioshock

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This is the game on the list that I made the least progress in. While I beat most of the overrated category games on this list and made a lot of progress in the couple others I didn’t, I just couldn’t make myself keep playing Bioshock. Yes, the story and atmosphere are good, but it had been generations since I played an FPS with such clunky control and poor hit detection. I felt like I was playing one of those action-RPGs I can’t stand where you essentially have to trade hits (yeah, stay tuned, we’ll get to one of those later). Regardless, I’m sure I could have beaten it if I really wanted to, thanks to its checkpoint system. Really, if it wasn’t for that checkpoint system, I’d almost file this game under “just not my thing” and leave it off the list. But that checkpoint system, not only do I hate it with a burning passion, it spread into and poisoned other FPSes. In its default mode (turning off this feature will result in unfairly huge gaps between checkpoints) dying in Bioshock will make you spawn at a checkpoint equivalent. However, everything except your health meter will be exactly as it was when you died. Enemies stay dead/injured, ammo and consumables you used are still gone, you just have to walk back to where you were. So, the penalty for dying is now tedium, solely tedium. Sorry, no amount of men, oceans, and lighthouses can make up for that.

Instead You Should Play: Metroid Prime

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This is probably the antidote game that’s the most different from its counterpart, but I think there are still enough similarities to justify my choice. Metroid Prime is an atmospheric, lore heavy, varied mix of weapons and abilities sort of-FPS, like Bioshock. While it trades an emphasis on direct story for puzzles and platforming, Metroid Prime shows that gameplay doesn’t have to be sacrificed for atmosphere, and that’s why I picked it as the antidote. Metroid Prime is a faithful recreation of Super Metroid’s formula in 3D, and it pulls off everything it tries expertly. I don’t want to go into too much detail about it since, again, this is more different than its counterpart than would be ideal, but if I get an itch for the type of experience everyone describes Bioshock as, Metroid Prime is my first choice for scratching it.

Number 7: Strider

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Now what could I dislike about this legendary action game with great, buttery smooth control and a high but always fair difficulty level? I guess the biggest issue would be the fact that I have no idea what game everyone praising it is playing. I’ve played both the arcade and very faithful Genesis versions of Strider, and neither one matches the game everyone else apparently played. Strider’s controls are as stiff as the original Castlevania, and the level design is definitely not built around them to the extent that it is in that game. Strider is also among the most prominent examples of one of my biggest gaming pet peeves, your character is way too big and it makes dodging even more difficult. I can’t make any progress in the game without tedious memorization to compensate for how big, slow, and clunky the title character is. That is not my idea of a well-designed action platformer, and unlike with Bioshock, this is a genre I definitely have enough familiarity with to judge. I genuinely don’t understand the disconnect I have with everyone else when it comes to this game, but it’s huge and I have to put Strider on this list.

Instead You Should Play: Hagane: The Final Conflict

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This is the most obscure antidote game on the list, but it’s also one of the most perfectly fitting. Hagane was released late in the Super Nintendo’s life, and sadly it is currently only available in that form and at an absurdly high price. Regardless, it is the game everyone seems to be describing when they talk about Strider. A very hard but always fair melee-focused action platformer, Hagane is everything you could want from this type of game. I feel like the agile ninja that everyone says Strider is when I’m slashing through enemies and dodging projectiles in Hagane. This is one of the best hidden gems of the 4th generation, and it deserves the praise and great 2014 revival game that Strider got.

Number 6: Sonic Adventure 2

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There’s a third of a good game in here. The Sonic and Shadow levels are some of the best examples of 3D Sonic platforming even to this day, but they are only a third of the game. For the other two-thirds, you get two play styles from the original Sonic Adventure, but for some mind-baffling reason they’ve been made worse. The shooter levels have become mindless and tedious thanks to your reasonably agile robot from Sonic Adventure being replaced by clunky, slow walkers. And the treasure hunting levels… someday I’m going to play Sonic 2006 just so I can justify saying they are the worst thing ever in a 3D Sonic game. Wandering around levels with a horrific camera that was not designed for any kind of backtracking, possibly walking right by a buried master emerald shard because the radar will only track one shard at a time for absolutely no reason. I don’t care how much you love the music or how you think this is the only game ever made where Shadow is cool instead of an edgelord, two-thirds of this game ranging from boring to atrocious means it doesn’t deserve to have praise heaped on it. Also, I hate the Chao Garden with a burning passion.

Instead You Should Play: Sonic Adventure

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As I mentioned, the worst crime Sonic Adventure 2 committed was making two of the gameplay styles from the original Sonic Adventure worse in every way. So it’s pretty easy to see why I’d recommend just playing the original. Sonic Adventure has the same amount of Sonic style levels, much more enjoyable versions of the other level types from Sonic Adventure 2, two other styles that are pretty fun, and one level type that is poorly executed but represents a much smaller portion of the game and can be breezed through instead of the drawn-out torture of the SA2 hunting levels. The open adventure fields aren’t great, but they’re mostly simple and painless, much better than what Sonic Adventure 2 makes you go through for the majority of its duration. The music is at least as good as SA2 and the story is similar in quality, just make sure to pick up the DX version so that you don’t have to deal with unskippable cinemas showing the same scenes in different characters’ stories. I still hate the Chao Garden, however.

Well, I finally did it, halfway there and ready to post the first part of this article. Writing about games higher up on my lists is usually easier for me, so hopefully it won’t be that long until we get to Part 2, stay tuned!

Of Axioms and Idioms: Best but Not Least

Well, it certainly has been awhile since I’ve written in this series. The funny thing about this article is that the concept behind it was originally completely different from what I’ll be writing about today: in fact, the original concept was going to be the third article in this series, but eventually, I just ended up discussing the bulk of the content in other articles. There was still some facet of the earlier iteration that I hadn’t explored, so I decided to change my approach to this whole concept and workshopped it into an entirely new direction. Unfortunately, my brain waits for no idea – I was originally going to write this up back in November but came up with an entirely new topic instead – so it just ended up sitting in my drafts folder, as I was working on other projects up until now. I just hope it was worth the wait.

It’s still difficult to articulate my thought process here, but I’ll try to summarize.  Put simply, this article’s topic is about how my favorite games in a particular series generally aren’t the ones I would consider the best. I think the most prominent example I have of this is the comparison between the second and third MegaMan games. For years, I’ve had difficulty explaining my exact feelings on the subject: the most accurate take I’d been able to articulate is that “while MM2 was a better NES game, MM3 was a better ‘MegaMan’ game”. A bold, ham-fisted statement, yes, but still the best I could do until recently. These days, I’ve got a much better handle on my thought process – my favorite game in a series and the “best” game are two distinct concepts that have been intertwined for far too long, so it’s just better to handle both of these indicators separately.

I’m not sure exactly when it started, but as far back as I can remember, I’ve always held preferences that aren’t particularly mainstream. When asked if I wanted Coke or Pepsi, I asked for Sprite – or more accurately, Lemon-Lime Slice. When it came to pizza toppings, I generally shied away from the standards of cheese, pepperoni and sausage. I’m not sure if it stemmed from a need to be different, rebel against the status quo or what have you, but I’d always pick things I enjoyed – even if it wasn’t on the menu. The thing is, this wasn’t just limited to food choices: I felt the same way about media. If there was ever anything resembling a consensus about the best entry in any fictional series I enjoy, chances are I’ll end up disagreeing. I never liked the seventh Friday the 13th film; my take on The Simpsons’ “dark age” is totally out-of-whack with the general consensus and I think Sonic Lost World may have been the best 3D Sonic since the first Sonic Adventure. At the same time, I’ve always acknowledged any widespread agreement on any such topic, albeit with varying levels of contempt. If I’m going to be honest, agreeing with it has always been something of an uncomfortable realization – even when default opinions shift with time – to this day, I feel strange whenever my personal favorite ends up being “the best”.

Perhaps the best way to illustrate this distinction is by defining both terms I’ve been using so far. Let’s start with the simpler of the two: “favorite”. It’s the pinnacle of subjectivity: my personal choice for what I like the most. Given the fact that what I personally consider best can vary based on anything from my mood to seemingly random criteria at any moment – if you could see how many drafts any top ten list I’ve written has gone through, your head would spin – in my case, the concept’s far more nebulous than subjective most of the time. As such, “favorite” lives and dies by personal preference. It’s strictly a personal opinion, one that varies from person to person, one that shouldn’t need to be defended or even explained (but this world is far from perfect). In the end, it’s useless with regards to objectivity – but that’s not the point.

Conversely, the concept of being the “best game” is much harder to define. It’s safe to say that it’s a much more objective concept than being a mere favorite, but that’s a gross oversimplification. In my eyes, the title of best game doesn’t depend on things like personal preference or any sort of quality that can be concretely proven. Instead, it relies on a general consensus – and one that is outright agreed upon by those familiar with the series at large. Going beyond that, this opinion must be stated out loud, repeatedly to the extent that it essentially becomes a “meme” – of course, I’m referring to the original definition (a cultural item transmitted repeated, similar to the biological transmission of one’s genetic code) as opposed to the more commonly-known one (running jokes on the internet). For all I know, there could be a widespread silent minority that considered the second Devil May Cry, Final Fantasy VIII or even (God forbid) MegaMan X6 to be the most beloved games in their respective series, but the deafening silence surrounding such opinions disqualifies them from being considered the “best game” of their franchises.

Of course, I personally disagree with this concept, but this is my gut reaction when describing a “best game”. However, this isn’t the only way to characterize this idea. In fact, there is a much more simplistic way to look at things that doesn’t revolve around the mob mentality of my original definition, but in most cases would lead to the same results, if not choices that are much more representative of each intellectual property in question. At this point in time, the most accurate definition I have for describing the “best game” in a series would the one that you would recommend to a complete newcomer that would give them the best representation of the series as a whole. But more specifically, they serve as the best example of what you – or I or anyone, for that matter – like about the games in question regarding their core concepts. Once again, this isn’t a perfect answer to the question at hand, but it’s the best that I’ve been able to come up with when properly defining the concept at large. At this point, that’s good enough for me.

Of course, the best way to define this entire concept is by, as usual, going through various examples from my own questions. When it comes to the Ys series, the fanbase generally recognizes three distinct “flavors” – Classic (the games that use the bump mechanic, along with black sheep Wanderers from Ys); the “3D” games (utilizing the hack-and-slash Napishtim engine with pre-rendered sprites on fully 3D backgrounds) and “modern” (which utilize a party system – switching between up to 3 characters on the fly – and incorporate 3D models into the game’s themselves). While there’s a recurring joke about “every Ys game being the best game of the series”, the most vocal segments of the fanbase swear by those Napishtim engine games, specifically the second game: The Oath in Felghana, a remake of the third game. Personally? I prefer Ys Origin, a far-flung prequel to the first two games and the last game to make use of the engine. That being said, due to the sheer amount of references to the first two games in Origin, I’d generally recommend Felghana to people interested in finding out about the series. There are other cases that just boil down to preference. For example, while it’s safe to argue that both Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World are among the best representations for 2D Mario games as a whole, I always find myself gravitating more towards SMB2 (or Super Mario USA, as the Japanese know it). The unique game mechanics just make it that much more enjoyable for me, but it’s probably the worst representation of the Mario series as a whole. This also manages to skew my views on even the most niche titles. Of the Darkstalkers games, I will always prefer playing Night Warriors over its more-lauded sequel, Vampire Savior – even while acknowledging that the latter has some much more interesting game mechanics.

The weird thing about this entire concept is just how much it ends up helping me understand some of my own opinions and biases. Separating my personal favorites from a much more objective ranking of things has been pretty helpful in the long run, keeping me from twisting myself into intellectual knots in order to just why I’d acknowledge other things as being better than my personal favorites. Having struggled with articulating the concept for well over a decade, it’s honestly relaxing to be done with the mental gymnastics I’d often associated with trying to justify why I liked certain games more than ones that were often considered “the best”, but the added benefits of being able to apply this to other opinions I’ve had that are out of the ordinary is a significant bonus. Thanks to this new perspective – that personal preference and widespread consensus can exist separately and simultaneously – I’ve honestly become a bit less defensive about my own opinions. Who knows, maybe the same could be true of anyone who shares this perspective. If this article causes anyone to reconsider these two concepts as being separate rather than identical, then I think it was worth the wait.

An Odyssey That Will Take Your Breath Away

Ever since those six seconds of footage in the Switch reveal trailer, I was incredibly hyped for Super Mario Odyssey (and endlessly gloated about how “Super Mario Switch” was a real game and not a tech demo as Nintendo tried to claim). I’ve wanted to write an article entirely dedicated to it for a while now, but ended up waiting until my second playthrough so that I could have maximum clarity on my feelings for it. It’s not like I could have had a review of it ready for launch day. Of course, after waiting this long and having already said that it lived up to my hype in the most anticipated games of 2018 article, I can’t just spend a few thousand words raving about it. I need a hook for this article. And during my second playthrough, it came to me. Last year there were two extraordinarily well-received games released in my two favorite game series, both of which weren’t my first choice for the series’ direction. And while I loved one of these games, the other left me very conflicted. These games are, of course, Super Mario Odyssey and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Why did two games that seemed so similar in basic concept, both in series I adore, turn out so differently for me? Well, that’s what this article will attempt to answer.

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Spoilers: Mario wins this time.

Let’s start with Breath of the Wild, since as always, I like getting the negative out of the way first. Now despite me labeling this “the negative,” I’d like to clarify that I absolutely do not think BotW is a bad game. Putting all fears and associations aside, I’d have to say the Breath of the Wild is my pick for the second-best game of 2017, and that was a very, very good year. If it had actually made either its 2015 or 2016 release targets, it would have deserved to be my game of the year. There are things BotW does better than any other game I’ve played, the absolutely massive open world is better and more intricately designed than I would have thought something that big could ever be. Being able to climb almost any surface and safely jump/glide from any height in a game of this scale feels incredible and earns the game the “open air” label Nintendo gave it. Tricks with game mechanics that you should logically be able to do almost always worked, even when they wouldn’t in most games. The rune powers are used to great effect in the many, many, many micro-dungeons, and the game is gigantic. It took me over 100 hours to do everything in the game I felt was worth doing.

So why am I conflicted? There are two major issues. One is that for everything the game did better than I thought possible, there was a design choice I hated and felt almost betrayed by the inclusion of. Breakable weapons are the biggest factor, I really, really hate excessive resource management. How the game can give you infinite quickly regenerating bombs, but no truly permanent melee weapon boggles my mind, and it added a constant, unnecessary level of stress. This made the somewhat clunky menu worse, since you are forced to constantly switch weapons. Climbing was much slower than it needed to be and rain disabling it was ridiculous. It felt like there was a civil war going on during the game’s development over whether to make quality of life the goal or the mortal enemy, and neither side decisively won.

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Why why why why why WHY!?

My other issue is a more subjective one, or at least it counting as a negative is. Even with all the problems I mentioned above, Breath of the Wild is probably the best open world game I have ever played. But that isn’t what it should be, or at least not the only thing. It is a Zelda game, and as a Zelda game it fell short in many areas. I don’t want 50 different equippable weapons that have nearly identical functions, I want 10 unique items used in countless ways for puzzles and combat. Breath of the Wild only had five or so things that felt like genuine Zelda items. I want full dungeons, 120 tiny ones is a nice bonus, but it isn’t worth the five “real” ones being so short and de-emphasized. I don’t want to worry about collectables and stats and weapon durability, Zelda should be about level design. I should never dread having to explore a new town or area because I’m already overwhelmed. Breath of the Wild is clearly an exceptional game, but I feel it is noticeably lacking as a Zelda game, and games of that type are much rarer than the open world games BotW takes inspiration from. Until the next Zelda is announced and fixes my major issues, there is a cloud of fear hanging over this exceptional game.

I realize that my opinion is not a divine proclamation, and clearly many people really, really liked having such a non-linear and exploration-focused Zelda. I know that pleasing every fan every time is an impossible request, but I feel Breath of the Wild went too far in one direction. I’m not asking for every Zelda to be 90% dungeon style gameplay like Skyward Sword, but there has to be a compromise, right? Could a game find a balance where even if it wasn’t my very first choice, it left me feeling fully satisfied and secure about the franchise’s future, while still giving people with different priorities than me what they wanted? Is that even possible?

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Mario can do anything.

Yep, it absolutely is. Super Mario Odyssey is the first sandbox-style Mario game since 2002, as opposed to the linear platformers that are my preference. At its official reveal during the Switch’s formal debut, the trailer made it clear that the game would be far more focused on exploration than the recent 3D Mario platformers. While this somewhat disappointed me, it wasn’t like I didn’t enjoy the previous sandbox Mario games, and there was no indication that Mario’s ability to jump could break. I decided to have faith in the game, even with my conflicted response to Breath of the Wild when it was finally released. I eagerly awaited seeing more of Super Mario Odyssey, and counted the days until E3 when we were certain to get one of Mario’s signature greatly improved second trailers.

Would posting the entirety of Jump Up, Super Star!’s lyrics be excessive padding? Yeah, probably. But suffice to say, Super Mario Odyssey’s E3 2017 trailer was one of the best video game trailers I have ever seen. The game’s main new feature was revealed, Mario’s ability to possess enemies and objects ranging from goombas to a hyper-realistic T-rex that I’ve dubbed “Yoshi Senior”. And seeing extended gameplay demonstrations revealed that the non-linear levels were full of small sections containing classic style linear Mario platforming. My hype skyrocketed, I felt a sense of wonderful anticipation for a game that I hadn’t felt in years.

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And this isn’t even Yoshi’s final form!

I won’t go into too much detail about how fantastic Super Mario Odyssey is, there are plenty of reviews that will do that for me and you’ve had months to experience it for yourself. A colossal amount of content, constant variety with new things to possess in each level, 50+ mini-stages that play in my preferred Mario format, creative and beautiful settings with a huge amount of aesthetic variety, a staggering amount of things you can do with Mario’s partner Cappy even without possessing anything, and of course Mario’s signature perfect control and exceptional level design. But what I want to really praise Super Mario Odyssey for in this article is how it managed to balance two styles of Mario game and please everyone (well, every sane person).

Super Mario Odyssey has fully explorable levels, with secrets literally everywhere (they actually put in invisible coins to let you know when you had reached an area that didn’t have a moon hidden somewhere in it). Mastering the jumping system gives you an incredible amount of freedom and makes exploring every corner of every level enjoyable. A fast travel system and levels that put more of an emphasis on being deep than being sprawling means you never feel like you’re wasting time walking to a different area. The many forms Mario must take to find every Power Moon means your generous jumping abilities don’t make platforming challenges trivial. Levels have story missions that make them play out like the linear 3D Mario games, before opening up the entire level for exploration. And your reward for exploration may be a linear platforming mini-level. Super Mario Odyssey doesn’t feel lacking regardless of whether your prefer linear or sandbox style platformers.

Now despite this, Super Mario Odyssey isn’t my favorite Mario game and wouldn’t have been my very first choice. But that leads to another thing it does much better than Breath of the Wild. While Breath of the Wild’s decisions have me holding my breath for the next Zelda to address my issues and assure me that the series hasn’t been harmed in the long term, Super Mario Odyssey does the opposite and fills me with hope. Mario games often come in pairs, and with how successful SMO was, I’m expecting the next 3D Mario to essentially be Odyssey 2. Now Super Mario Galaxy 3 would probably be my preference if I was given the choice, but… there’s a possibility. The second Mario game in a pair is usually better, and if Super Mario Odyssey 2 is a better game and improves in the right ways, it just may manage to make a Mario formula I like better than the SMG games. Maybe if we cut down the number of worlds but made the linear platforming areas you found longer, long enough to pass for Super Mario 3D Land stages, we could actually have a hybrid that I like better than the linear Mario formula. It’s not guaranteed, but I never would have even contemplated it before Super Mario Odyssey. A game giving me that kind of hope, having that kind of potential, is something truly special, and a sign of just how masterfully designed Super Mario Odyssey is.

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Mario has the whole world open to him.

So, despite how similar Super Mario Odyssey and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild seem in many ways, they also gave me an almost opposite reaction. Again, I’m not saying BotW is a bad game, in fact with a few changes (full dungeons in exchange for the map being Skyrim sized instead of double Skyrim sized, no more breakable weapons) a direct sequel could be one of my favorite Zeldas. The game was great and could provide a great foundation, but there is also a risk of there being long term damage. Super Mario Odyssey, however, is both an exceptional game and something that made me optimistic and excited about the influence it could have on my favorite gaming series of all time, and that’s something that truly deserves to be described as taking my breath away.

Turn Based #4: Focus Group Fantasy

SNES Master KI: Hello, and welcome to another Turn Based!  We’ll be trying something new this time, this will be a three-player round.  Increasingly prominent contributor Dari will be joining us for a discussion on how to design the ideal JRPG.  All three of us have our own ideas on how to do this, so hopefully we’ll end up with lots of bloody conflict and furious verbal combat.  Or hopefully we won’t, I forget which one we want.  Icepick is the least enthusiastic about the genre, so we’re making him go first.

Professor Icepick: I guess it could be argued that one of the most important aspects on a Japanese turn-based RPG is its setting. Due to the genre’s increased emphasis on storyline, a proper setting can create an engrossing world to explore for the 40-400 hours players can look forward to spending in the game itself. Yet roughly half of all JRPGs in existence will go for a cliched fantasy setting, taking place in a fictionalized version of medieval Europe. More recently, we’ve seen post-apocalyptic steampunk future go from a breath of fresh air to yet another one of those standard set pieces. Yet, very rarely, we’ll actually get something unique. I think the best example of this would have to be the Mother trilogy, released in the West as “Earthbound”.

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Long ago, in the far off ancient land of New York City circa 1993…

Taking place in what is essentially a contemporary setting driven more by off-the-wall humor than trying to ape the entire of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Earthbound managed to garner a cult following in the West due to its irreverent sense of humor and a setting that was, quite frankly, a breath of fresh air within the genre. As such, my ideal JRPG setting would be anything besides those two clichés that feel omnipresent within the genre. That’s not to say that it’s not possible to escape the bland nature associated with traditional fantasy or sci-fi tropes. It just takes some kind of a gimmick, like a fantasy game basing itself more on the folklore of a non-European region, perhaps a more mundane future with less obvious flaws or being developed by Nihon Falcom.

Dari, your thoughts?

Dariwan: I’d have to agree. Most of the time it takes something drastically changing in the middle of the story to make the setting be anything more than just the same old thing. Earthbound was definitely a different beast, kind of feeling like it’s in “America” which makes you feel like the game could be in your hometown or somewhere close by.

I feel like my ideal JRPG would be something like a mix of Japan or something like Earthbound mixed in with the tropes. I think that Tokyo Mirage Sessions mixed in eccentric Japanese settings and the cliché stuff pretty well, but I think we can go a bit farther than that. Not that we’re going in that far, but MMOs have the same problem as JRPGs with their settings being a bit blasé. but I feel as I said before my ideal setting is one that “lives” and changes as the game goes on, instead of being the same thing throughout.

KI, do you agree?

KI: My main criteria for a setting is that it’s different enough from reality to accommodate the variety needed for a 40+ hour game.  This seems easier to do in fantasy settings, which may be a reason why they’re such a common choice, but it isn’t necessary.  As mentioned, the Mother series was able to take neighboring towns in contemporary America and make one feel completely different from the next.  The key is that the setting can’t get caught up on feeling realistic.  You shouldn’t be confined by real life settings, or an obsessively “believable” medieval Europe expy, or rock-hard science fiction.  I want imagination and variety, and you can do that in any setting as long as you have the creativity and don’t chain it to realism, even realism attached to a fantasy setting.

I do like it when games change tone midway through as well, games like Xenoblade Chronicles 1 and 2 and Final Fantasy IX introduce settings late in the story that you see no indication of at the start of the game.  And Chrono Trigger of course has every world setting you can think of thanks to time travel.  With how huge the scale of JRPGs should be, one setting often isn’t enough for an entire game.

Icepick: Of course, JRPGs aren’t the only genre that relies heavily on story. Visual Novels are quite similar to JRPGs in terms of storyline, but the main that differentiates the two is the emphasis on gameplay. In my honest opinion, the main gameplay aspect related to JRPGs is the battle system present in each game. Unfortunately, in most cases, I’m left underwhelmed. I’ll break it down as simply as I possibly can: if the game’s concept for a battle system starts with “Attack”, ends with “Run” and can only manage to shove “Magic” and “Items” in between them, then chances are I consider you a cancer to the video game medium as a whole.

There have been a lot of games that have had interesting takes on the JRPG battle system that manage to set themselves apart from that mediocre stereotype. Games like Lunar and some of the Legend of Heroes games have turned their battles into almost miniature “turn-based strategy” segments, relying significantly on character placement to allow for more thoughtful combat. The aforementioned Earthbound sticks to a Dragon Quest-inspired battle system with one very unique (and game-making) alteration: when party members take damage, their health gradually decreases, allowing a knowledgeable player the chance to heal them before they get knocked out. I’d also be in remiss if I didn’t mention Undertale, an American indie game that was clearly inspired by Earthbound, but took its battle system in a different direction. Players can choose to attack enemy monsters, using an accuracy bar or simply interact with them to settle their conflict peacefully. But when the enemy attacks, the game turns into a sort of shoot-’em-up style game, representing the player with a heart icon, forcing them to escape injury in various ways.

Of course, my personal favorite battle system would have to be the ones found in the early Paper Marios, and to a lesser extent, the Mario & Luigi games. Relying on button presses to increase damage, extend attacks and even defend and counter enemy attacks with proper timing. There’s just something so captivating about this simple gimmick: it’s the closest I’ve ever felt to really being in control of my character in a turn-based RPG. It’s a shame that few other games have attempted to lift this system, going instead for the more traditional Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest-style of combat. The only game that really comes to mind for me is South Park: The Stick of Truth. The fact that the game is only referred to as being “inspired” by Paper Mario, rather than a “Paper Mario clone” or even its own sub-genre is perhaps one of the greatest crimes that JRPGs have yet to answer for.

Dari: I personally like turn-based RPGs simply because they allow you to strategize instead of getting hit every 2 seconds with no real chance to defend. Also, the turn-based system allows you to exploit weaknesses and keep going. I do agree that “Attack Run Magic Item” gets boring at times. That’s why games like Persona (Especially 5) and games like the Tales series definitely are different beasts of turn based games. The Tales series in particular feels like an action RPG as most of the games are open field actions in battle. You can jump and do combos almost like a fighting game and even do certain mystic arts by chaining certain moves together. I like those different atmospheres that can generate difference in the game itself. But as I said I like the standard JRPG experience except when they do it wrong.

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This is very different than the “Attack Magic Item Run” system. and that’s why I like it.

 

The game I’m currently playing is Blue Reflection it’s kind of like Persona but backwards. The battle system is…interesting to say the least. they have systems that don’t really matter until boss battles happen, and the basic gameplay is kind of easy. You also auto heal after every battle, which takes away any urgency in any battle, since you know you won’t die. It bothers me, but the story is decent enough to keep me playing. That’s another argument for another time though.

KI: I’ve recently had trouble getting into turn based games, so my ideal JRPG battle system has become the Nier/Ys style where basic combat feels like a character action game, but you still have stats and items and an MP equivalent.  As long as I’m not being harshly punished for CPU controlled characters getting themselves killed or spammed with unavoidable spells, I generally prefer action-JRPGs at this point, and my ideal one would definitely have a real-time combat system.

If the battle system is turn based, it’s important there be something to prevent it from being tedious or feel like you don’t have to really be engaged.  Semi-turn based battle systems like the Mario and Luigi games or Xenoblade games can work very well for alleviating this, with timing being a constant part of every battle.  Even something as simple as the rhythm-based damage bonuses in Xenoblade Chronicles 2 adds a lot to the battle system for me.

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This is way more like a rhythm game than it looks.

Icepick: The role-playing game designation in video games generally feels like a catch-all term: there is little in common between games like Final Fantasy, Fallout and Ys, yet no one would argue that they are not all “RPGs”. One common element all of these games share is the concept of “character progression” — simply put, as battles and other quest elements are completed, the player character becomes stronger and gains access to new abilities, much like how studying or exercising increases people’s mental and physical prowess in real-life.

I’m honestly kind of torn about this one. Generally, I like mostly random stat boosts with experience, with a handful of points for the player to assign themselves, in order to further customize their character to suit their playstyle. That’s generally what I would consider the standard, but it’s just how much control one has over these stats that I feel conflicted. I’ve played games where stat changes are considered permanent, which forces players to make their choices wisely, which I like. On the other hand, I’ve also played games that have allowed for a constant “experience pool”, which can allow stats and abilities to be changed at will, depending on the situation. For example, if one focuses on the “strength” stat in a game, to deal big damage, but eventually finds themselves in a position where an ability only accessible to characters with a high “wisdom” stat becomes necessary, the ability to shift those points around saves the player from pointless grinding — but also sort of destroys any stakes in making those decisions in the first place.

Dari: It’s a mixed bag for me– I like the usual “Level up assign stats and go” which is kind of like Dungeons & Dragons, but I like JRPGs that buck that trend. Games like Fire Emblem that just give random stats that you don’t have control over, but offer different classes at max level give you more customization than other RPGs regardless of how it looks in the start. I’m a fan of flashy attacks and big damage so character progression is really big for me. The thing that irks me more than anything is when your characters are starting, and they really don’t have much to do, so you’re sitting there attacking and praying you don’t die every battle. This goes into ‘grindin6g’ which is another thing that i actually hate about JRPGs. JRPGs that “hide the grind” are the games that I enjoy a lot more than ones where you literally have to find in a area, sit there and fight for your life until you level enough to easily beat them then move on. (FFVII, I’m lookin’ at you…damn Worm area.)

KI: I generally don’t like being overwhelmed by choosing stat placement, especially early in a game when I may not know what exactly stats do or how important they are to the battle system.  I like getting a boost in every stat when I level up, I’d rather have customization be separated from that base stat increase.  Systems like the Abilities in Final Fantasy IX or the badges in the first two Paper Mario games are my preferred way to customize characters, you have more understanding of exactly what you’re choosing and how it will affect the game.  I’d prefer that the customization system not be overly buerocratic, a skill tree where I have to essentially grind level ups to get an ability I want is very annoying.  I also like a balance between whether stats/abilities can be reassigned or not.  Permanent choices made before you understand the game should never ruin a save file, but if everything can be changed at any time I don’t want constant micromanagement required because the game didn’t bother to balance areas so multiple play styles would work.  So having experience and ability point equivalents separated is my preference.

Icepick: Another common trait among RPGs in general is that they have a tendency of adding side content in an effort to flesh out the game world and make it feel more like an organic, real place, as opposed to, well, a video game. Secret bosses or dungeons, sidequests, card games, collectables, it must be required by Japanese law for every single RPG in existence to have at least one of these tacked on.

I honestly can’t think of an example of side content that actually managed to elevate an otherwise mediocre game. I guess there’s really only one bit of non-story related content that I actually found memorable and those were the bromides in Lunar 2 on the original PlayStation. Maybe it was due to the inclusion of characters from the previous game — or perhaps it was the lewdness of a few choice images chosen — but that’s probably the only piece of optional content in an RPG that’s actually stuck with me.

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Expecting me to use one of the sexy ones? Shame on you.

Dari: I don’t think they’re exactly NEEDED but in grindy games, I think side content is good as a “rest” from the game and doing something different, keeping the game fun and not tedious and making the player hate them. One of these “side content” things I like, again from the Tales series, they have “skits” which is side stories and sometimes just random conversations that add to character development and sometimes elaborate on story. It’s really helpful to have small cute offside stuff like that to help an RPG shine and show out as a better game in general.

Stuff like sidequests can help or hinder a JRPG. They can be good for a refreshing side story or they could just open a new time hole that you want to get out of because you want to access the story. this happened to me in Final Fantasy Crisis Core. I didn’t get past chapter 2 of the story because the side quests never ended. But things like the card games in the Final Fantasy Games are nice diversions that are optional that you don’t have to put time into unless you want to. I think that’s the ideal “Side content” in a JRPG. optional stuff that has enjoyment in putting in effort, but it’s not pertinent to the story or plot of the game, just something to break the monotony of the grind or the game in general.

KI: For side content, my general feeling is that RPGs should heavily lean towards quality over quantity.  Tons of trivial (or would be trivial if they didn’t involve luck based grinding/trying to figure out what the hell you’re supposed to do) sidequests are a very bad thing, they are tedious and overwhelming.  Sidequests should never end up being the majority of a JRPG.  It gets even worse when those sidequests are practically mandatory, meaning that you will be severely underleveled if you skip sidequests and don’t do an absurd amount of grinding.  Xenoblade Chronicles X was really bad about that, if you somehow had high enough levels doing just main story missions would take around five hours.  As it is, I spent 60 hours and gave up on the final boss because I STILL wasn’t strong enough to win.  There’s a reason I usually specific Xenoblade 1 and 2 when I praise the series.  Chrono Trigger is probably the best handling of sidequests I’ve seen in a JRPG, the sidequests at the end of the game felt as polished as the main story, they weren’t overwhelmingly difficult to track down, and they added to the characters, basically being the end of their individual story arcs.  We need more RPGs with 5 great sidequests instead of 500 mindless/frustrating ones.

Icepick: Of course, what good is world-building when the world itself is lackluster? Map design is an important aspect of any RPG, regardless of sub-genre. In the 8-bit and 16-bit era, games relied on an overhead view to create truly labyrinthine dungeons and vast overworlds, but these days they can exist at any angle. It’s tough to really quantify my ideal world in general — I think my favorite maps of all time have been in the Ys series — but rather, it’s better to define a key component: variety. Each area on a world map should feel different from other areas, both in terms of aesthetic and in terms of design. If the layout of a volcano area matches the tundra, which matches the desert, which matches your character’s hometown where your adventure begins, which matches the villain’s fortress where the game comes to its conclusion, then what’s the point of changing the setting in the first place?

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Ice slopes in a desert area, Falcom is truly brilliant.

Likewise, the setting of each area should inform the designs of the dungeons themselves. You wouldn’t expect to sink in quicksand in a volcano area, deal with water puzzles in a forest and frankly, I think Ys Origin is the only game that could reasonably work slippery terrains into a desert setting. Granted, it’s interesting to experiment with that sort of thing, but recasting existing hazards to match their new biomes is a must.

Dari: I don’t have much to add to that. except in the realm of randomized worlds. The world has to be unique each time. it can’t be the same thing with a color or tint change and pretend it’s different. There needs to be some kind of radical change for it to make sense. The Persona games do this well – at least 1 and 2 and on for sure – 3 and partially 4 kind of slipped up by having pretty much the same layout for each dungeon but just had different randomized maps each time you enter.

Stage hazards are also an interesting thing i don’t see many games pick up on. You may be in a volcano area, but the lava rarely affects you. The Desert doesn’t really do much but make you hot (Golden Sun actually made you drink water in the desert and your temperature went up the more you stayed in it which I liked) We need a sense of danger otherwise we’re just walking around through a nice-looking setting with really nothing to fear or worry about. Except the monsters/enemies which get kinda stale when they’re the only threat.

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Speaks for itself more ways than one.

KI: When it comes to world design in JRPGs, there is a gold standard that isn’t even technically a JRPG.  If asked about level design in my ideal JRPG, there’s pretty much one word I would use to communicate what I want: Zelda.  Dungeons should be intricate and filled with puzzles and obstacles.  The overworld should never have generic empty space in it, for all my issues with it, even Breath of the Wild knocked it out of the park when it came to avoiding that.  The dungeons don’t have to be exactly like Zelda, but I want something in them besides combat.  Puzzle solving, platforming, shmup sections, just anything but flat halls or mazes.

Being able to interact with the world beyond a generic talk/inspect button and fighting enemies is important to me in a JRPG.  Again, the gold standard is Zelda’s palette of unique items that can be used for both combat and puzzle solving, but anything that makes the levels more than a hall/maze/field with a graphical theme (as Icepick alluded to) will satisfy me.  If I’m going to be playing a role in a world, let me truly interact with that world.

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Just because it isn’t an RPG doesn’t mean it can’t be the gold standard for them.

Icepick: Well, I’ve got to say, we’ve had a pretty fruitful discussion about what each of our ideal JRPGs would look like. I guess, the best way to finish would be to do a quick summary of everything we like to see in the genre. I love unique settings that avoid cliches that are synonymous with the genre. Engaging battle systems that go beyond simple menu-based random number generation are a must. I’m open to either permanent stat boosts or a pool of experience that can be readjusted on the fly, but not that big on sidequests in general and love it when an area’s themes are taken into account when designing dungeons.

Dari: I love JRPGs that don’t rely on side-quests but make wholesome side content that help the monotony. Games that “hide the grind” or even change up the battle system entirely to make a change. I like “Living” worlds that change and evolve as I go through them and I like when the character progression isn’t exactly the same as D&D and can do its own thing and still be interesting and fun. Also having the world fight you too is good as well. Have something besides the big bad and his/her cronies to want me dead.

KI: So, my ideal JRPG would basically be Zelda, Nier Automata, and Xenoblade being mixed together.  Varied settings with lots of surprises as you go through the game, action game style combat, intricate, puzzle heavy dungeons.  Simple upgrade system with a separate ability customization system, a few major sidequests that aren’t forced on you under threat of grinding.  A world that’s big enough to make exploration feel significant, but not so big it all blurs together.  Put gameplay and variety over realism.

Icepick: Well, that was a successful experiment. Hopefully Dari decides to join us in more Turn Baseds in the future. (We’ve actually already got a topic picked out, just in case he does.) So, who do you think has the best concepts for the perfect RPG? Dari, who is a die-hard fan of the genre; KI who is neutral, or the radical rebel that is Professor Icepick? Feel free to sound off in the comments below.

Bad Portsmanship?

Recently there has been quite a bit of derision directed towards the practice of “portbegging.” The idea that people asking for a game to be made available on their system of choice are at best pathetic and at worst a species of parasite that video game websites must actively suppress has become a strongly-held belief by some influential members of the gaming community, and as you can probably guess from my word choice thus far, I disagree. There’s a fair amount of nuance involved in this issue, but as a whole I think the title of this article more often applies to those against so-called “portbegging”.

Portbegging can be simply defined as asking for or demanding that a game which is coming to at least one other platform be released on your system or one of your systems of choice. Now that right there sums up the crux of why I think many condemnations of portbegging are unfair: they lump together asking for a game and demanding a game. There are very few circumstances where I would consider asking for a game to come to your system worthy of derision, as long as you are willing to take no for an answer given a reasonable explanation. Someone genuinely doesn’t know Nintendo owns Mario? Then I’m not going to throw a tantrum if they ask for Super Mario Odyssey on PS4, as long as they accept it not happening upon having the situation explained to them.

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No, this isn’t precedent.

This segues nicely into something I want to discuss. As you may be aware, Bayonetta 2 and 3 being Nintendo exclusive is the greatest injustice of the modern era, and Nintendo funding (or very likely funding in Bayonetta 3’s case) them is no excuse for the games not being released on PC, PS4, Xbox One, Vita, and 3DO. This is a rallying point for people who take the acceptance of portbegging to its illogical extreme, and needs to be addressed so that my argument does not appear contradictory. It really isn’t that complicated: there’s a difference between wanting a completely third-party game (especially if it’s already on systems from multiple companies) to be released on your platform of choice, and demanding a game owned or funded by a first-party publisher be released on competing systems.

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Coming to PS4 any day now for the last five years.

This is so obvious that I’m skeptical that many people truly don’t understand it, I think this false equivalency is more likely to be a bad faith argument used by people who are bitter that a game isn’t coming to a system they own. The idea that Nintendo is holding a game that only exists because of them “hostage” by making it exclusive to their systems, or that Nintendo fans have no right to complain if a third-party game is on every platform except Nintendo’s because they won’t “share” Bayonetta, is blatantly ridiculous. For the record, I completely understand that games like Cuphead will not come to Switch or PS4 unless Microsoft decides to allow it, and am not angry at Microsoft or those games for the situation. And again, if someone doesn’t understand the Bayonetta situation and asks for it on their system of choice, they’ve done nothing wrong as long as they accept the explanation for why that won’t happen.

So, moving on from the clear-cut exception of games that are made or owned by first-party publishers, what else determines when it becomes reasonable to be upset at an answer of no when you ask for a game on your system? One thing I consider a major factor is exclusive versus excluded. Of the four major gaming platform brands (Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft, Steam), I find it much harder to justify a game being on only three of those than just one of them. If a company can only afford (at least for now) to release a game on one of those, or even if one of the companies made a deal for exclusivity, I think that is often understandable. Now there are exceptions to that, mainly when it comes to sequels. If an indie game was successful on consoles but only the PC version gets a sequel, I’m much less likely to accept “well we could only afford to make a PC version” as a justification. (I’m still furious at ScrewAttack for what happened with the AVGN Adventures sequel) Likewise, paying to make a sequel to a multi-platform game exclusive to your system (not funding that game existing in the first place like Bayonetta 2) is a dick move. But for the most part, if a game is only available on one platform (or two in the case of Microsoft’s decision to release all of their Xbox One games on PC as well, which I think is a strategically bad move but one they have every ethical right to make) I consider demanding that it come to other systems to be bad portsmanship.

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I’m not angrily demanding this on Switch or PS4. That means I’m better than PC gamers and they should put it on my systems, right?

With all those exceptions, when do I actually think portbegging is unfairly maligned? When the game isn’t exclusive, but excluded. If a company refuses to release games on PC for no apparent reason or excludes Switch from a collection of classic games that it could unquestionably run perfectly (Capcom was guilty of this, but got better), while the other three platforms get it, I think asking for the game to come to the one platform that is missing out is a completely reasonable request. Does seeing “Can we have this game on Switch?” or “Is there any reason you can’t put this on Steam?” on a forum really ruin a game for you? Why is wanting your system to get every multi-platform game a sign of greed, isn’t that the entire point of games being multi-platform? The fact that at least one major message board would ban people on sight for asking for a game on a system it wasn’t announced for shows just how bad this anti-portbegging hysteria has gotten. It seems like it’s just a repackaged version of spending recess bragging that your system got a game and that loser’s system didn’t, only even more obnoxious since you’re acting like you’re the victim of having to see… *clutches pearls* portbegging!

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Never forget. Never.

So not too much more to say about this topic. There are times when demanding a game on your system is clearly unreasonable, but this does not apply to simply asking and, in some circumstances, even demanding it isn’t that unreasonable. If seeing someone ask for a game that isn’t even exclusive to your favorite system get one more version is really that upsetting to you, maybe you’re the one with the problem.

Retronaissance’s Most Anticipated Games of 2018

SNES Master KI

2017 didn’t quite turn out the way I expected when I wrote my top ten list for it.  Between delays and disappointments, I’d say only three games on it really matched my expectations.  In the end, I’m forced to say that 2017 in gaming was… freaking incredible!  Lists don’t define years, releases do, and between games I didn’t know I wanted so badly (Ys VIII, A Hat in Time, among others), a huge amount of games being both announced and released in 2017 (Xenoblade 2, Wolfenstein 2, Splatoon 2, The End is Nigh, Metroid II: Samus Returns, the long awaited console Undertale), the honorable mention games exceeding expectation (Crash N. Sane Trilogy, Sonic Mania) and my number one pick for Game of the Year both meeting my hype and actually making it out in 2017 (unless you want to take Nintendo at their word and say Super Mario Switch was a tech demo that just happened to have a level from Super Mario Odyssey in it), 2017 was amazing.  It was also great for announcements, so many franchises that had their future in doubt in 2016 got new games announced, and while some of them I’m not expecting until 2019, others will definitely be on this list.  Between those and the delayed/never confirmed for 2017 games, there’s plenty to anticipate in 2018, so let’s get started.

Honorable Mentions

  • Pikmin 4 (Switch): While not confirmed for 2018 (main reason this is only an honorable mention), with this game being “near completion” since 2015, I think we’re due. The only RTS I’ve ever gotten into, Pikmin finally getting an original mainline game on a successful console could be the big break it needs to go from Miyamoto passion project to major Nintendo IP.  Either way, it should be another great adventure in the cutest post-human world ever.
  • God of War (PS4): I was not pleased when this game was initially revealed. Well, that’s an understatement, I was heartbroken.  Thankfully, 2017 showed some improvements (more action, less WRPG) that have given me cautious optimism, although if this played like the original God of War games it probably would have made the top three.  This game’s cycle for me has been the complete opposite of Breath of the Wild, where I loved it at reveal but got more and more nervous as it approached release.  BotW was a fantastic game that disappointed me as a Zelda game, so is this going to be a terrible game that feels completely faithful to God of War?  Yeah, probably not.
  • Spider-Man (PS4): If you think about it, the Arkham series’ gameplay seems better suited to Spider-Man than Batman, with the emphasis zipping to (near) the ceiling, warning prompts, and “detective vision” that feels a lot like Spider Sense. Since Spider-Man is my favorite superhero, that definitely puts this game on my radar, even if it doesn’t quite crack the top ten.  Just hoping for lots of real boss fights against super villains and some platforming.
  • Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes (Switch): I remember when Wii U made its official debut at E3 2012, Suda 51 basically confirmed that No More Heroes 3 would be made for it. Then it was never heard from again.  Well, fixing everything that went wrong with Wii U is Switch’s main purpose, so it getting a new kind of-No More Heroes game seems appropriate.  Haven’t followed this too closely, but will definitely pick it up when it comes out.

10.  Red Dead Redemption 2

Publisher/Developer: Rockstar Games
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Release Date: 2018

The delays got this one, and we still haven’t really seen any more than we did in 2016, but this is still the first new Rockstar open world game in years, and the sequel to the game that signaled them getting their head out of their ass when it comes to quality of life features.  Not a whole lot to say about this game, I already complemented the environment graphics last year, and… yeah, nothing else to really do.  I did play Red Dead Revolver last year, that was fun, but completely different from Redemption and I’d never mention it if there was anything meaningful known about this game besides its series and developer.  Red Dead Redemption also taught me how to play poker, so that’s… yeah, let’s just move on.

9. Kingdom Hearts III

Publisher/Developer: Square Enix
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Release: 2018

The best case scenario for this game is that it comes out 12 years after Kingdom Hearts 2 and six years after the last new Kingdom Hearts game.  Where did it all go wrong?  Well, whatever the reason was, 2018 is the first year where I feel like there’s a real possibility of this game coming out, and I am looking forward to it.  The combat looks greatly improved and Disney has bought a ton of franchises since Kingdom Hearts 2 that would make great worlds.  And they just bought more, maybe if I’m still alive when Kingdom Hearts 4 comes out it will have a Simpsons world.  I liked Final Fantasy XV’s combat system, combine that with a better story and characters and you could have a masterpiece.  This might actually be higher on my list if I had more confidence in it coming out in 2018, but whenever it comes out I think I’ll like it.  It may have taken forever, and I’ve lived more than a third of my current life since Kingdom Hearts 2 came out, but at least it wasn’t a half life scenario (puts on sunglasses).

8. Runner3

Publisher/Developer: Choice Provisions
Platform: Switch (at least)
Release Date: 2018
 

The other game from my list last year that got hit by the delay stick (or would have if I hadn’t just been guessing when it would be released), we should actually get it in 2018, and it’s even a Switch semi-exclusive!  Back when the Bit.Trip games were being released, I thought Runner was the best of them by a wide margin, and was shocked when the developer agreed with me and gave it, and only it, a sequel.  And I was even more shocked when Runner2, which everyone seemed to forget about as soon as it was released, got a sequel.  Runner3 became a bit of a symbol of hope for me when it was announced, that the series I felt like I had lost in recent years weren’t gone forever (and that hope was completely valid, with the long awaited returns of Metroid and… something we’ll get to later).  But symbolism aside, Runner and Runner2 are great games and Runner3 looks at least as good, this game is slotted for early 2018 and I can’t wait.

7. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

Publisher/Developer: 505 Games/ArtPlay/DICO
Platform: PC, Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation Vita
Release Date: “March 2018”

There’s hope for Konami’s franchises, there’s always hope, 2017 made that abundantly clear.  But while we wait for whatever demon has possessed Konami to be excised by a priest who calls his cross a boomerang, we have Bloodstained to tide us over.  Despite some people desperately trying to tie this game to Mighty No. 9, there is nothing to indicate that Igarashi exaggerated his creative talent the way Inafune’s was, and Bloodstained still looks great as we finally get close to its release date.  With a huge amount of content (Metroidvania mode, Classicvania mode, retro mode), this could be a feast that makes the wait worth it.  I even backed this game on Kickstarter, mainly to reward it for not pulling that “yeah, we’ll put it on consoles if hit this stretch goal placed above every extra for the PC version that we can think of” crap.  That alone shows a level of integrity that certain other Mighty disappointing games never could have matched, I think we could finally get a good replacement goldfish from Kickstarter.

6. Kirby: Star Allies

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo/HAL Laboratory
Platform: Switch
Release Date: Spring 2018

Kirby has been doing great recently, ever since Return to Dreamland brought back the deep combos and variants for powers that had been missing since Super Star, Kirby platformers have been getting better and better.  So what can Star Allies do to stand out and keep that improvement streak going?  Maybe being the first HD Kirby platformer and the first console one since 2011?  Screw that, we got the goddamn yo-yo back!  My favorite Kirby powerup of all time, which was confined to Kirby Super Star for more than 20 agonizing years, is finally in a new game!  There isn’t too much else to say about the game at this point, but with Kirby’s recent track record there’s no reason not to expect a great platformer.  And again, it has the yo-yo; that’s on the level of Charging Chuck’s return for me.

5. Darksiders III

Publisher/Developer: THQ Nordic/Gunfire Games
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: TBA 2018

Not even a game released as its publisher died, that starred Death himself, could kill this series.  After years of re-releases and vague promises that “something” involving the series would be announced by its new owner, in 2017 we finally got Darksiders 3 announced.  The hybrid of character action combat and Zelda style puzzles is one I absolutely love, and Darksiders 3 looks to continue that and tone down on the WRPG elements added to the second game.  And with your character in this one using a whip, it looks like the new God of War game that I wanted.  Character action games haven’t been doing so great in the past couple years, but with this game, the hopefully at least decent brand name God of War, the heavily rumored Devil May Cry 5, and something you’ll see in a bit, 2018 looks like a comeback year for the genre.  At this rate we won’t see what happened after the end of the first game until Darksiders 5, but as long as we keep getting great playing games, this series can draw it out as long as it wants.  It was a long War, full of Strife, that may have caused some Fury, but this series was rescued from the grip of… doom.

4. Guacamelee 2

Publisher/Developer: DrinkBox Studios
Platform: PlayStation 4
Release Date: “Early 2018”

I didn’t play Guacamelee until I was given a free copy of the Wii U version to review, and it made me wish I had supported the series from day one.  Guacamelee is my favorite digital only game of all time and one of my favorite Metroid-likes of all time.  The other games I played by its developer, Drinkbox, were also high quality, but nothing compared to Guacamelee.  So it getting a sequel (the developer kept their word about making it after they finished Severed, that’s something I always respect) natural caused a great amount of excitement for me.  I’m not sure how the story will continue, the first game seemed pretty self-contained, but I don’t care.  As long as we get that same mix of platforming, melee combat, and exploration, all done fantastically, the story can be whatever it wants.  Even with Metroid back, this series is one of pinnacles of its genre and deserves more praise and attention.

3. Yoshi Switch

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo/Good-Feel
Platform: Switch
Release Date: 2018

It may not have a name yet, but after Yoshi’s Wooly World miraculously not only made a good Yoshi game again but one that goes toe to toe with the legendary Yoshi’s Island, a sequel from the same developer is something I prayed for and am ecstatic that we got so quickly.  Aside from a couple interesting new features (being able to aim eggs at things in the background and flip to the other side of levels) we don’t know too much about this game, but I think that will change very early in 2018.  With levels demoed at Nintendo’s Treehouse during E3 2017, I think this game is close to completion and we should get it pretty early in 2018.  Whenever it comes out, I can’t wait to have Yoshi’s amount of great games finally average one per decade since the 90s… yeah, that’s really sad, but it’s water under the bridge.  Yoshi has finally found a Good home, and I can Feel that things will be all right for him from now on.  But what will Arzest do now?  Yeah, I don’t care either.

2. Bayonetta 3

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo/Platinum Games
Platform: Switch
Release Date: TBD

Okay, they never said this was coming in 2018, but I have two arguments for why this is on the list while Metroid Prime 4 and Pokemon Switch aren’t.  One, we’ve technically seen more of this game that either of those, and with Bayonetta 1 and 2 being ported to Switch in very early 2018, I feel like waiting over a year from then to release Bayonetta 3 seems unlikely.  And it’s not like Nintendo hasn’t released some games faster than anyone thought possible recently. (Wait, why isn’t Xenoblade 2 on this list?  Oh, right, the “inevitable” delay didn’t happen.)  Two, it just wouldn’t feel right if I DIDN’T put something on this list with a high chance of showing up on the 2019 list.  It’s tradition!  That aside, this announcement filled me with glee.  Bayonetta 2 is one of the best action games of all time, and I’m so relieved that Wii U’s sales struggles didn’t doom the series.  Now that Bayonetta 3 is on a successful system (and it being on one system is better than zero, regardless of what your favorite platform is) we can see what a Nintendo/Platinum team up is truly capable of.  As mentioned earlier, character action games seem to be making a comeback in 2018, and Bayonetta 3 is the perfect title to symbolize that.  Time for this series to achieve a triple platinum.  But would you believe it wasn’t the most exciting game announced during the week where it debuted?

1. MegaMan 11

Publisher/Developer: Capcom
Platform:
Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Release Date:
“Late 2018”

I think this was the closest a game announcement has ever come to making me cry.  Even with Super Mario Galaxy 2 and Super Mario We Swear It’s A Tech Demo, it’s not like I thought there was a chance we’d never see another Mario game.  But Mega Man… I kept the faith, during the dark six and a half year between Universe (yes, Icepick, I did care about it from the start) and Legends 3 being cancelled and Mega Man Isn’t Dead Day I always insisted that series as popular and long running as Mega Man couldn’t permanently die.  But there’s always doubt, always fear, until it actually comes back.  And it did, it finally did.  I would have settled for a licensed game based on the new cartoon, so even if Mega Man 11 isn’t my very first choice, it’s still way more than I dared to hope for.  Classic Mega Man gameplay combined with the first attempt to feel like a modern game in over a decade should make the game fantastic, but I’ll be honest, the emotional impact was a big factor in this getting the number one spot.  It feels like a giant weight has been lifted from gaming, and the one two punch of Metroid and Mega Man returning after being MIA since 2010 made 2017 a better year than even my hope for it last year could have imagined.  As 2013 proved, even releasing great games can leave a dark aftertaste if the future doesn’t look bright, and 2017 was both the best year for gaming in a long time and one of the most hopeful.  2017 has left the world of gaming a much brighter place than it was at the start, and 2018’s games are a testament to that.  2018 has big shoes to fill, but it also has momentum on its side, I can’t wait to see how it turns out.

Dariwan

2017 is winding down. It was a pretty decent gaming year. We got great games like Persona 5, even better systems like the Nintendo Switch. Now that 2017 is coming to a close, we’re looking forward to 2018.  Here’s my top 10 Games (if I can find 10 I’m even interested in…) but first, a few honorable mentions.

Honorable Mentions

Here’s a few games that didn’t make the top 10 but I feel still deserve a mention…

  • Bayonetta 3 (Switch) – I love the Bayonetta series. A sexy witch who fights angels because she doesn’t like them. How can you hate this! (oh wait, you hate that the game isn’t on your system even though when it was, no one bought it …but I ain’t saying nothing you ain’t already heard…)
  • Death Stranding (PS4) – This game …I’m not even sure it IS a game at this point…interests me. I like the whole death and life thing it’s trying to portray, and I hope to see more of the gameplay that may interest me in the future.
  • Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night (PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PS Vita, PC) – I’ve half been a fan of the Castlevania series, despite playing half of one game. This game somewhat interests me because it seems like what the creator wanted to do with the Castlevania series if he had the chance.
  • Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection (PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC) – The Street Fighter anniversary train still won’t end! Re-releases of most of the old games (Street Fighter 1, some of the Street Fighter 2s, Street Fighter Alpha, and all of Street Fighter 3) some with online and they’re all Arcade Perfect! There are some problems we’ve found with this but again, another article for another time.
  • Dragon Ball FighterZ (PS4, Xbox One, PC) – the only game with an actual date on this list! Dragon Ball FighterZ is a pretty much pitch perfect anime fighting game made by the great minds at Namco Bandai and Arc System Works. They really put in the work to make the game look like it literally came from the anime to my console! 3V3 combat is reminiscent of Marvel vs Capcom 2 and 3 and the combat looks pretty good for a Dragon Ball Z/Super fighter.

10. Spider-Man

Publisher/Developer: Sony Interactive Entertainment/Insomniac Games
Platform: PlayStation 4
Release Date: 2018

I have a small bit of nostalgia for this game, mainly because of how I got certain consoles in my youth. I got an Xbox around the time the Raimi Spider-Man movies came out, and  of course they had games for said movies. I had the first Spider-Man Raimi  movie game (what a mouthful!) and I thought it was pretty awesome!  I’d eventually get my hands on the second game as well. Even if the games are considered mediocre for this day and age, I enjoyed them. So seeing a new Spider-Man game in this generation with great graphics and  great gameplay. Even though I also loved Shattered Dimensions in its day, I cannot wait to web-swing the streets of New York as Peter Parker (or maybe even  Miles Morales) against fighting Spider-Man’s great rogue gallery!

9. Ghost of Tsushima

Publisher/Developer: Sony Interactive Entertainment/Sucker Punch Productions
Platform: PlayStation 4
Release Date: TBC

We don’t know a lot about this game, as all we saw were some nice looking cut scenes (I guess?) and some developer talk on  the game at the Paris Games Week in 2017, but the premise got me hooked. Being a Samurai in the feudal era of Japan interests me. And I’d like to play as that since I missed out on so many other games in the past like that (Brave Fencer Musashi, for one) The closest to a game like this I’ve played Is Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. So I’m excited to see what more Sucker Punch can give me after the Infamous series.

8. Vampyr

Publisher/Developer: Focus Home Interactive/Dontnod Entertainment
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: Spring 2018

Again, this one I know little about. I have a love-hate relationship with Vampires. There are times when they’re awesome, (Castlevania series and the Vampire: The Masquerade series in games, almost anything really involving Dracula -OR BLACULA!- in movies/TV) and times when they’re just not. (Twilight, anyone? I shudder when I think about it: VAMPIRES DON’T SPARKLE!)  The little I’ve seen of this game reminds me of The Darkness, one of the only 3 FPS games I’ll actually play and enjoy. (If you want me to delve into that, I’ll talk about it some other time) and the Infamous series, which interests me a bit. So I’ll see how this goes…even though the developer, Dontnod, has had some stinkers in the past (Life is Strange, a train wreck using time travel to make things worse; and Remember Me, which no one remembers…ha ha) Let’s see if they can actually come up with some gold with Vampyr.

7. Indivisible

Publisher/Developer: 505 Games/Lab Zero Games
Platform: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch
Release Date: 2018

I backed this game back in 2015. (I know, that feels SO long ago..) and this game is finally coming out in 2018! The things that sold me on it back then were the people who made the then-wonderful fighting game Skullgirls were developing it, and it had an interesting battle system. Now in those 3 years, we’ve seen a couple games copy this system, like the Fallen Legion series and Has-Been Heroes to an extent. But I think Indivisible will be a great game on its own and I hope my 3-year-old payment will be worth it in the end!

6. Darksiders III

Publisher/Developer: THQ Nordic/Gunfire Games
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: TBA 2018

I have had an interest in this series for a while. I bought the first game on PS3 a few years ago, I got stuck in it (as I usually do) and eventually shelved it, but I did like what I played. It definitely had God of War vibes and I love the fact that it involved the Horsemen of the Apocalypse. I enjoy the supernatural parts of religion, such as angels and demons and the such, so this game is right up my alley! I haven’t played the second game yet, but I have it on my PS4, so hopefully by the time this comes out, I may have a chance to play, if not beat the second one. Maybe even get the first one played and beaten to so I can enjoy this one. As always, a female protagonist is never a bad thing and neither is a whip for combat! (Here’s looking at you, Belmonts!)

5. God of War

Publisher/Developer: Sony Interactive Entertainment/SIE Santa Monica Studio
Platform: PlayStation 4
Release Date: Q1 2018

How fitting this game is next after talking about Darksiders 3, since that game is pretty much inspired by this one! I’ve loved God of War since I bought the first game on an impulse so many years ago at Walmart (back when I bought my video games exclusively at Walmart…those were the days) I call(ed) it my rage game because I can let out all my anger and kill and gnash and have blood everywhere and no one will tell me anything AND I won’t go to jail!  Anyway, I’ve played most of the  games in the series by now (sans Ascenion) and I’ve loved every one I’ve player (save Chains of Olympus…don’t ask.)  Even though this game is straying from the old formula and it’s kind of giving me “dadmance vibes” like Spider-Man Homecoming did with Peter Parker and Tony Stark, I think the game will still be solid. Also using Norse gods this time instead of Greek will defintely spice things up in Kratos’ world, and he’ll obviously show that age isn’t anything but a number, and he can still kick butt, beard and all!

4. Soulcalibur VI

Publisher/Developer: Bandai Namco/Project Soul
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: TBA 2018

Ah yes, “it’s time to go back to the stage of history!” I’ve loved the Soul Calibur/Soul Edge series for a while, even if Namco themselves went a bit crazy for a few years. The last Soul Calibur game I played and loved was Soul Calibur II, but some of the characters in the later games were interesting to see. I didn’t really play very much of Soul Calibur III, IV, or V, so I’m not gonna comment much on them. But I got really excited when I saw the announcement for Soul Calibur VI during The Game Awards. The game looks superb, even if it looks like a retread back to  the original Soul Calibur, I personally think the game needs to go back to its roots, since the current games really have left  a sour taste in some people’s mouths. It’s also fitting since Soul Calibur just recently had its 20th anniversary, so a nod to its roots is never a bad thing. Also I may need another solid fighting game as it looks like my choices are dwindling…but that’s another article for another day.

3. Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes

Publisher/Developer: Marvelous Entertainment/Grasshopper Manufacture
Platform: Switch
Release Date: 2018

NO MORE HEROES. Another impulse game on the Wii, one of my first in my Gamestop days of buying games (I’m feeling  a bit old typing this). I bought this game because I’m a sucker for a cool guy with a sword. And oh that rabbit hole that Goichi Suda (Suda 51) dug was a nice one. The game is about a crazed otaku-turned-assassin who’s told to kill other assassins and rise up to the top of the leaderboards. The gameplay is amazing and one of the few games of its time to truly make motion controls feel fun! I really felt like I was Travis Touchdown and I was swinging that katana around! I beat the first game and loved it, and got stuck in the second. I got a bit angry when they remade the first game for PS3, because I really felt like the Wii was the perfect system for the game, but people gonna complain until they get what they want, and apparently it wasn’t that good a game. (good for them…) I got a bit scared for this series, because as I recall, Suda51 said on many occasions that this game wouldn’t be on a Nintendo system if it was gonna get an update, and the game wouldn’t really see a release. But when I saw this trailer, I felt like Suda51 gave me an early Christmas/birthday gift! (My birthday is 4 days before Christmas) I cannot wait to see what (and WHO) Travis Touchdown has gotten his awesome katana(s) stuck into this time!

2. MegaMan 11

Publisher/Developer: Capcom
Platform: PC, Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Release Date: “Late 2018”

I know I’ve personally had some bad times with this series, but I’m actually happy that Mega Man is gonna come back again in 2018! It’s been a long, long  wait for a new Mega Man game since Mega Man 9 and 10 came out in 2008 and 2010, respectively.  Most people even thought Mega Man to be a dead series, never to see another new game again. But for its 30th Anniversary, Capcom announced Mega Man 11 and also the Mega Man X series coming out to next gen consoles (PS4, Xbox One, and Switch)  I am personally very excited for the new Classic Mega Man game, even if I had much trouble with the series in the past, and it caused me a few…issues. I’m sure this game will be amazing and I will hopefully beat it sometime in the next 10 years….

1. Kingdom Hearts III

Publisher/Developer: Square Enix
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Release: 2018

Oh god I’ve been waiting for this game FOR-EVER!  Almost as long as the smash hit Persona 5 that finally came out last year in 2017!  (Winter 2015….grumble grumble) Anyway I’ve loved this series for a long time. Ironically I got into this series because my cousin had it. And she was afraid of one of the bosses. So she ended up giving it to me. My Xbox got stolen so I got a PS2, mainly for this game, and I’ve been in love ever since. I’ve played almost all of the games except for the few mobile games since then. I’ve been waiting for Kingdom Hearts 3 since I finished 2 around…2006-ish. When I heard this game was actually happening, I was shocked. I didn’t expect this game to come out at all in my lifetime since it took so long between 2 and 3 and they had so many side stories and spin-off games. I think they’re finally putting Nomura’s foot to the fire and telling  him to release this game in 2018, so I hope it actually comes out. The worlds look amazing from what I’ve seen and the properties they’re using are also top-notch. I chose this as my number one because I think this game will hopefully be the best of them all as it will end the Keyblade Seekers portion of the Kingdom Hearts series, then they can start on a whole other adventure, which I cannot wait to hear about in the far-flung future!

Well 2017 has ended and 2018 will soon begin. The last 12 months of gaming have been great and let’s hope for 12 more!

This is Dari, signing off!

NekoGamerX

2017 was a great year for video games and 2018 is looking good so far as well. This is my list for most anticipated games for 2018.

Honorable Mention

Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection (PC/Switch/PS4/XBO): Okay, so technically this is not a new game. I love classic Capcom fighting games and this sounds like a great collection. I only wish Capcom would release some more of their other classic fighters like Darkstalkers but that dream is dead.

10. Guacamelee 2

Publisher/Developer: DrinkBox Studios
Platform: PlayStation 4
Release Date: “Early 2018”

I liked the original Guacamelee. It was a really fun Metroidvania/Metroid-like game. I didn’t care for the game’s theme but the gameplay was solid. I want more games like this.

9. project OCTOPATH TRAVELER

Publisher/Developer: Square Enix/Acquire/Nintendo
Platform: Switch
Release Date: 2018

This game reminds me of the old RPGs that were on the Super NES back in the day. I’m glad to see games like this are still around. Hope to see more like it in the future.

8. MegaMan 11

Publisher/Developer: Capcom
Platform: PC, Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Release Date: “Late 2018”

Okay, classic MegaMan is my second favorite MegaMan, but I won’t lie: I was hoping for a new MegaMan X game. Oh well, this is the next best thing and at least the older MegaMan X games are getting re-released on everything and MegaMan is not dead.

7. Blazblue Cross Tag Battle

Publisher/Developer: Arc System Works
Platform: PC, Switch, PlayStation 4
Release Date: 2018

I’ve been a Blazblue fan for years and I think it’s a way better series than Guilty Gear. I’m just waiting for Taokaka or Kokonoe to be announced as playable characters. Hell, why not both? I’d be happy with just one of them though, but at least Makoto is in it.

6. Monster Hunter: World

Publisher/Developer: Capcom
Platform: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Release Date: January 26, 2018

The Monster Hunter series is really fun and I’m glad to see it come to the PS4, though I don’t mind what it comes out on, as long as they keep coming out here.

5. Kingdom Hearts III

Publisher/Developer: Square Enix
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Release: 2018

Okay, this game has been a long time coming. I just about gave up on it, but it looks like it’s finally going to happen. And it’d better!

4. Indivisible

Publisher/Developer: 505 Games/Lab Zero Games
Platform: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch
Release Date: 2018

Now this game, from what I’ve seen. It looks good and it’s being made by the same people that made Skullgirls, so I’ve got faith that it’s going to be good.

3. Dragon Ball FighterZ

Publisher/Developer: Bandai Namco/Arc System Works
Platform: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Release Date: January 26, 2018

This game looks way better than what MvCI could ever hope to be and a lot more. MvCI was the biggest letdown of 2017 for me and I hope there are more fighters like this in the works – and less games like MvCI.

2. Freedom Planet 2

Publisher/Developer: GalaxyTrail
Platform: PC, possibly more
Release Date: 2018

The first Freedom Planet was one of the most fun 2D platformers I’ve played in a long time and I was hoping for a sequel. Glad it’s coming in 2018. Well, at least I hope it does and doesn’t get delayed.

1. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

Publisher/Developer: 505 Games/ArtPlay/DICO
Platform: PC, Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation Vita
Release Date: “March 2018”

I’ve wanted a new Metroidvania-style Castlevania game for a long time and with Konami being the way they are right now, I’ve given up on that. Bloodstained is the next best thing and it’s my only hope for a Metroidvania game. I don’t want this to be another Mighty No. 9 and from what I’ve seen, it looks like it’s not going to be. It looks like the people working on this game know what they’re doing, which makes me happy and I can’t wait to play the final game.

Shellshock

The year 2017 started with, and ended with a bang on many different fronts. We had what many consider to be one of the best years in gaming, and with good reason. We’re already seeing a growth in many different gaming markets with compelling software, as well as new hardware being released. Now that 2018 is on the horizon, there are many different games I’m excited for, more than how I was going into 2017. I don’t expect 2018 to top 2017, but it doesn’t have to, as it needs to be able to hold its own with lots of games that will keep people playing.

Now, I’m going to omit games with no set release window or date (Metroid Prime 4, Pokémon Switch, Fire Emblem Switch [sic], and Bayonetta 3, to name a few), as we don’t have a lot of info to go by. I’m also going to shy myself away from ports or remakes, with one exception. That being said, let’s get on with, what I would consider to be my Top 10 Most Anticipated Games of 2018!

Before we get into the list, let’s get into some honorable mentions, shall we?

Honorable Mentions

  • Soulcalibur VI (PS4, Xbox One, PC): Announced at The Game Awards 2017, Soulcalibur VI is returning to its roots by bringing us fan favorites from the original series, with a new take, and a reimagining of the series’ story and setting. Soulcalibur V was a disappointment, and it’s been years since that game was released, so I’m looking forward to seeing if 6 could give us the experience we’ve been wanting to see again.
  • Wargroove (Switch, PC, Xbox One): A strategy game in the vein of Advance Wars, Wargroove has a lot of interesting characters, and a battle system that will keep you coming for more. I’ve enjoyed the Advance Wars games, so I’ll definitely be looking forward to this.
  • Runner3 (Switch): The Runner games were fun to play, especially Runner2, in addition to the cool background music during gameplay. With paths that you could now branch off into the background, and the ability to double jump, there’s lots of new experiences to be had in this installment.
  • Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes (Switch): I’m going on record to say that I still need to finish the first game (as well as start the second after that), but that doesn’t take away my excitement I have for this game. There’s a lot of crossovers with other indie games, which is really cool. From what I’ve played of the first game, I liked, so there’s a high chance that I will enjoy this one.
  • Indivisible (PC, Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, XBOX One): Lab Zero made a great fighting game in Skullgirls, and I’ve enjoyed that one a lot. With Indivisible, it looks a lot more ambitious, by combining Valkyrie Profile and Metroidvania-style gameplay, and that’s an awesome combination. However, there’s not a lot of info on this game, which is why it’s an honorable mention at best. Hoping we get more info on this game really soon!

And now onto the main list.

10. Valkyria Chronicles 4

Publisher/Developer: Sega
Platform: Playstation 4, Nintendo Switch, XBOX One
Release Date: 2018

Valkyria Chronicles 4 looks to be a return to form for the series, as it’s going back to a similar style that the first game had. It’s set in the same timeframe as the first game, so it’s not required to have played any of the other games in the series to have knowledge of what’s going on, or to even get right into it. If you are into turn-based strategies with an overhead view, and controlling characters with different methods of combat, then you’ll definitely want to pick this up.

9. Yoshi (Nintendo Switch)

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo/Good-Feel
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 2018

Yoshi makes his return, this time on the Nintendo Switch. The game is developed by Good-Feel, and has a similar gameplay style as Yoshi’s Woolly World. Unlike Woolly World, Yoshi is made of a different material than yarn. When this was announced at the Nintendo E3 Spotlight, it was overshadowed due to the announcement of Metroid Prime 4. Despite that, I thought it was nice to see a new Yoshi game on the Nintendo Switch. Eggs are back, which made sense since Yoshi’s not made of Yarn in this one, so he won’t need Yarn Balls. Otherwise, the game is just like Woolly World, which is a good thing. I like Yoshi, so I’m definitely looking forward to this!

8. Dragon Quest XI

Publisher/Developer: Square Enix/Armor Project
Platform: Playstation 4, Nintendo Switch, Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: 2018

The Dragon Quest series outside of Japan has always been overlooked, at least until Dragon Quest VIII on PS2. That game sold well, but it did have a demo for Final Fantasy XII as part of it. We did get Dragon Quest IX on DS, and that ended up being the best-selling game in the series outside of Japan. We never got X here, though it did go the MMO route, but I’m sure some people would’ve appreciated it. That being said, when Dragon Quest XI was announced, I couldn’t be any more excited! It’s back to the traditional Dragon Quest gameplay we all know and love, and the game itself looks even more beautiful than ever before. I’m hoping it gets localized here in 2018, as I will be spending so much time with this game!

7. Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection

Publisher/Developer: Capcom/Digital Eclipse
Platform: PC, Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, XBOX One
Release Date: May 2018

I said I wasn’t going to talk about ports or remakes, but I have to make this one an exception. Coming from Ultra Street Fighter II: The Final Challengers, many people criticized the price point, using HD Remix’s graphics, and the awful Way of the Hadou minigame. Out of nowhere, Capcom announced the Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection at the 2017 Capcom Cup, which includes twelve different Street Fighter games. You get the original, five versions of Street Fighter II, all three games in the Alpha series, and all three games in the Street Fighter III series. The reason I’ve added this game to my list is because of the Nintendo Switch version, specifically. The fact that I could take Street Fighter Alpha 3 and Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike anywhere with me is a big deal. Now I could play with my friends at the meetups I run, at conventions, or even online. You could only play Hyper Fighting, Super Street Fighter II Turbo, Alpha 3, and 3rd Strike online, but those are the four that are worth playing the most, so I’m fine with that. No matter where I go, Street Fighter will always be with me.
 

6. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

Publisher/Developer: 505 Games/ArtPlay/DICO
Platform: Nintendo Switch, PC, Playstation 4, XBOX One
Release Date: 2018

Konami’s Castlevania series has been dormant for a couple of years now, mostly because Lords of Shadow 2 didn’t set the world on fire. As such, we haven’t seen a Metroidvania style game since Order of Ecclesia, though we did get Harmony of Despair, but that’s more-or-less a multiplayer platformer. Bloodstained returning to the Metroidvania style roots is something that I’m excited about. There’s also a prequel to the game in retro style, which is right up my alley, as I loved classic Castlevania.

I’ve backed this game on Kickstarter, and originally went for the Wii U stretch goal. Earlier this year, the development staff confirmed that the Wii U version was cancelled, but later confirmed that it was coming to Switch. I made the Switch (no pun intended), and now I’m looking forward to playing this game anywhere I go!
 

5. Dragon Ball FighterZ

Publisher/Developer: Bandai Namco Entertainment/Arc System Works
Platform: Playstation 4, XBOX One, PC
Release Date: January 26, 2018

I’m a huge Dragon Ball Z fan, and I’ve enjoyed many of the DBZ fighting games in the past, so this one is a no-brainer. After the disappointment that was Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite, many fighting game fans (including myself) took a look at this game’s previews and trailers, and were wowed at the execution of the fighting system. This felt more like a Marvel vs. Capcom game than Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite, and it showed. This game also has elements of many different Arc System Works games, such as “Vanish” and “Dragon Rush” moves, as well as “Super Dash”. Who is developing this game, might you ask? Well Arc System Works, of course! Even the element where you could collect the Dragon Balls to make a wish that helps you in the match sounds interesting, too! Dragon Ball FighterZ is definitely going to be a lot of fun, whether you love fighting games, the Dragon Ball universe, or both!

Sadly, this is the final Dragon Ball series video game where longtime Japanese voice actress Hiromi Tsuru voiced Bulma, as she passed away on November 16, 2017. May she rest in peace.
 

4. Blazblue Cross Tag Battle

Publisher/Developer: Arc System Works
Platform: Playstation 4, Nintendo Switch, PC
Release Date: 2018

Another crossover fighter? Yes, please! Arc System Works is two for two with multi-man tag team fighting games, both with Dragon Ball FighterZ, and now Blazblue Cross Tag Battle! Who knew they would be the ones filling a huge positive void in that market that not even Capcom could do?

Anyway, you have characters from the Blazblue series, Persona 4 Arena, Under Night In-Birth, and RWBY, all colliding against each other in this tag team fighting game! The gameplay is a mix of Blazblue Central Fiction, Persona 4 Arena Ultimax, and Under Night In-Birth EXE: Late[st], with lots of tweaks. While I’m looking forward to Dragon Ball FighterZ, I’m looking forward to Blazblue Cross Tag Battle even more!

3. Kirby: Star Allies

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo/HAL Laboratory
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 2018

Kirby has a lot of fun games; some of them are easy, and many of them are very challenging. Kirby: Star Allies returns to the 4-player co-op style, similar to Kirby’s Return to Dreamland. However, it also brings back the Helper feature from many games in the series, such as Super Star and Squeak Squad [sic]. You could have up to three companions with you throughout the game, and turn into a giant tire as you roll down hills. There’s a lot of new puzzles, which I always enjoy, since they could be challenging. You could also combine power-ups, something that hasn’t been seen in the series since Kirby 64, which is neat. During the September Nintendo Direct, they revealed King DeDeDe with huge muscles, so clearly, he’s been working out (though he still has stubby legs). This looks like it’ll be released during the Spring, and I’ll be picking this one up as it’s released!

2. Project Octopath Traveler

Publisher/Developer: Square Enix/Acquire
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 2018

The moment I first laid my eyes on this game when it was announced back in January, I fell in love with it! Using an HD 2D engine, Project Octopath Traveler goes back to the old school JRPG roots with many new twists. In this game, you could make your command multiple times via boost points, which allows you to attack, defend, or increase potency of abilities. This game gives me vibes from Final Fantasy VI, Chrono Trigger, and the Bravely series of games, all rolled into one, with beautiful 2D graphics. This game feels more like a Final Fantasy game to me than a lot of modern games in that series. Acquire and Square Enix captured the magic of the older 16-bit era Squaresoft RPGs, and if they could add a lot of content to this game, it’ll make a lot of people come back for more! I also look forward to what the final name of the game will end up being.

1. Mega Man 11

Publisher/Developer: Capcom
Platform: Nintendo Switch, PC, Playstation 4, XBOX One
Release Date: Late 2018

Many of you who know me better have already seen this one coming, and why wouldn’t this be my most anticipated game of 2018? I was so happy to see The Blue Bomber back with a new game! I had a glimmer of hope for a new Mega Man game for years now. I felt like there was hope since Mega Man was included as a playable character in Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS and Wii U. Since then, all we’ve had were Mega Man Legacy Collections 1 and 2, up until December 4th, where Capcom had that Mega Man 30th Anniversary Livestream. Even with the hope that I had, I went in, and kept my expectations low, as I didn’t want to be upset if there wasn’t a new Mega Man game that wasn’t a port. I sat through watching a game show, a Mega Ran Live Performance, and some developers talking about Mega Man’s history. Not long after the Mega Man X games were announced for all major platforms, Capcom showed off the History of Mega Man retrospective, in the form of Mega Man in 8-bit, running, jumping, and climbing through a big stage, showing off all the main games in the Classic series. It was sad to see Mega Man pass through 2011 and onwards with nothing (Mega Man XOver doesn’t count as a real Mega Man game in my eyes). Once I saw Mega Man in Dr. Wily’s lab, I was wondering what was going on, as Dr. Wily went through a turning door. When I saw Mega Man get the ? Orb that represents 2018, I wondered what was up, only to be shocked at what I saw.

MEGA MAN IS BACK!!!

So let’s talk about the game, and what we know so far. It’s a 2.5D style game that plays like the Classic Mega Man games. Mega Man looks a bit taller and sounds like a teenager, which I didn’t mind. The slide and Charge shot are back, which is great, because I wanted them to add a lot of elements from the entire Classic series. It looks like there was a Super Charge Blast of some sort, which I don’t know much about, but it looks to do a hefty amount of damage. The music sounds good, but I want to hear more catchy tunes that the Mega Man series is known for. The graphics look exactly what I would expect them to, a modernized Mega Man game with a 2.5D Gameplay. I’ve seen people claim that this game looks like Mighty No. 9, but to be honest, I think this looks a heck of a lot better. You could collect gears in this game, but it’s unknown as to what purpose they serve, but I wonder if it’s either similar to the Nuts and Bolts from previous entries, or something different? I’ll have to wait and see to find out all the details when Capcom’s ready to share them.

Capcom has been on a huge roller coaster ride with many of their fans for over 11 or so years, and they’ve made a lot of stupid decisions that really ticked people off. It seems like they now want to get on their fans’ good graces again, and while Mega Man 11 is a great start, they still have a long way to go before they get universal praise again. I really hope Capcom delivers with this game, and I trust the new lead director and producer to get the job done. I also had a funny feeling that Capcom wanted to make a new Mega Man game for years now, and there have been cancelled games, even after Universe and Legends 3’s cancellations (the Metroid Prime-styled Mega Man X game for Nintendo 3DS [sic] says hi), but they weren’t sure as to how to go about it. Now that the Blue Bomber is back, I will do everything I can to support this game. I will buy this game on both Switch and Steam (and if I had a Playstation 4 or XBOX One, then I’d get them on those platforms, too). Not only am I happy that Mega Man is back, I also never want him to go on another seven-to-eight-year hiatus ever again. Saying that I cannot wait for this game is a complete understatement, but the latter part of 2018 is going to be worth it!

So that’s my 10 most anticipated games of 2018.I had a lot more games that I was more anticipating than previous years, as there’s a lot for me to look forward to. There are many other games I’m looking forward to that’s not on this list, but they lack info or a solid release date, but if any of them get released in 2018, you bet I will be picking them up! Again, I enjoyed 2017 a lot more, and while I don’t expect 2018 to top it, I do hope we get yet another great year in video games.

Professor Icepick

2017 was probably one of the best years for gaming we’ve had in a long time. What I find really surprising is the fact that, for once, the vast majority of the games on last year’s list actually managed to come out – for better or for worse. The only real issue I’ve got with this year is that it seems like compared to this time last year, relatively few new games were announced to fill in the gaps the stellar releases that hit in 2017 left behind, but that’s just nitpicking. Hopefully, 2018 manages to continue 2017’s trend of timely releases and amazing titles. With that being said, let’s get started with this year’s honorable mentions before we tear into my top 10.

Honorable Mentions

  • Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection (PC/Switch/PS4/XBO): Okay, so technically this is a cheat. But that’s why it’s only on the honorable mentions listing. 12 classic Street Fighter games, with 4 of the most popular games getting full online capabilities for $40 sounds like an amazing offer to me. The fact that Digital Eclipse – who previously brought us the original MegaMan Legacy Collection and the Disney Afternoon Collection – is heading up this game’s development, and we know that there’s at least some form of rollback netcode involved makes me feel confident in this upcoming anthology’s quality.

I just hope they reconsider making Alpha 2 an offline-only experience. There has also been a bit of controversy over the fact that they’re only including the American versions of each game in this collection: even MMLC had both the American and Japanese versions of each game included in all releases.

  • Toejam and Earl: Back in the Groove (PC/PS4/XBO/Switch): One of the few stragglers from last year’s list, TJ&E may look amazing, but it’s been demoted to honorable mention this time. It’s partly due to the fact that so many other amazing games were announced for 2018, but I’m still bitter that it didn’t manage to release in 2017. I guess adding a Switch version pushed everything back.
  • Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom (PC/PS4/XBO/Switch): Monster Boy also hits the honorable mentions for the same reasons as Toejam and Earl. Of course, I guess Cursed Kingdom has an excuse: they’re retooling the graphics from sprites to hand-drawn animation. Considering how late into development they decided to shift the artstyle, it only makes sense that it’d be pushed back at least a year.
  • Dragon Ball FighterZ (PC/PS4/XBO): DBFZ was actually on the main list until I realized that there was another game slated for release next year that I preferred. It’s nothing personal, but I generally tend to prefer 2-on-2 tag fighters over the 3-on-3 versions – but looking at how well Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite turned out for me, that’s not an automatic sign of quality.
  • Indivisible (PC/PS4/XBO/Switch): Another game that was just barely kicked off the main list, Indivisible is the newest product from Lab Zero Games, the people behind Skullgirls. News on the game’s development has been slow and I’ve been following for a long time now. By this point, I’m just kind of burnt out on the whole concept, to the point where I’ve been ignoring news until something significant pops up. Still hoping they make that final stretch goal – which would add a bonus dungeon and multiple endings – by their end of the year deadline.

Dishonorable Mention

  • Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana (PC): “Same day release”, my fat, pale hairy ass.

10. Guacamelee 2

Publisher/Developer: DrinkBox Studios
Platform: PlayStation 4
Release Date: “Early 2018”

I consider the original Guacamelee among the best Metroidvanias platform-adventure games ever released, so I was incredibly excited to hear that it’s finally getting a sequel. The only reason that it ends up so low on my list is that it’s presently a PS4 exclusive. That’s not much of a surprise, considering the first game launched as a timed exclusive on PlayStation, but considering the game took roughly 15 months to hit other consoles, that means I probably won’t be getting my hands on it until 2019 at this rate. Kind of kills the hype, don’t you think?

9. Lethal League Blaze

Publisher/Developer: Team Reptile
Platform: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Release Date: 2018

The original Lethal League is perhaps one of my favorite indie games of all-time. Effectively the bastard love child of Super Smash Bros., Super Dodge Ball and Pong, the game is a unique blend of arcade sports and fighting game action. The game managed to finally hit both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One this year, but they also announced a pseudo-sequel – it’s been stated to be an expanded retelling of the original game – for those two platforms as well as PC. Boasting additional characters and a sleek new cel-shaded 2.5D art style, Blaze seems to be well on its way to taking Lethal League to the next level. We have very little information over all, but Team Reptile seems confident that the game will launch next year. I’m hoping that there’s some form of crossplay – ideally between PS4 and Steam – but even if there isn’t, I’m still excited for this remake.

8. Kirby: Star Allies

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo/HAL Laboratory
Platform: Switch
Release Date: Spring 2018

I’ve been a fan of the Kirby series for a long time and I’d consider them to be the “chess” of the platformer genre: easy to learn, but difficult to master. Considering how much I ended up loving Triple Deluxe and Planet Robobot, I was excited when Nintendo first revealed their new Kirby game for the Switch back at E3 this past year and we got to see even more footage this past September during one of their Nintendo Directs. The ability to combine copy powers returns from Kirby 64, though in an entirely new form, which seems like a pretty good gimmick to base an entire game around. My only nagging doubt is the implication at the reliance on co-op play – and by extension, AI partners in single-player. I’m hoping that this doesn’t end up dragging things down, but I’ll just have to wait and see when the game releases.

7. Blazblue Cross Tag Battle

Publisher/Developer: Arc System Works
Platform: PC, Switch, PlayStation 4
Release Date: 2018

Okay, so Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite ended up being a huge disappointment to me and many others and to capitalize on that, Bandai Namco partnered with Arc System Works to deliver what looks like an amazing 3v3 tag fighter featuring the Dragon Ball franchise, with gorgeous cel-shaded 3D models on par with those of the Guilty Gear Xrd games. I was impressed, but still a bit sad: I’d been waiting for so long for a return to form for 2-on-2 games and Capcom had clearly messed that up for me. Turns out Arc System Works had my back the entire time – and with Blazblue no less! A crossover fighter utilizing Blazblue, Persona 4 Arena, French Bread’s Under Night In-Birth and the popular online animated series RWBY, I was suddenly unshackled from the tyranny of MvCI’s oppressive mediocrity. I’m not particularly fond of the current roster, but Arc’s promised many more announcements in the coming months.

6. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

Publisher/Developer: 505 Games/ArtPlay/DICO
Platform: PC, Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation Vita
Release Date: “March 2018”

This has been a long time coming. Originally slated to be released this past year when it was first Kickstarted, Bloodstained was quickly booted back to 2018 once the fundraising came to its conclusion. Since then, we’ve had a revolving door of developers: Inti Creates was booted off the project and replaced with developers more proficient in Unreal Engine 4. The Wii U version was killed off and replaced with a Switch version, which led to mixed reactions at first, but inevitably met with more and more support as time went on. I played the demo they released back in 2016, and while it was a bit rough, the potential was definitely there even that early into development. So, as we finally approach the game’s release, I’m excited once more. I’m probably far more excited for the pack-in retro-themed prequel game and the game’s linear mode than I am for the base game itself, but the entire thing should be a blast. Yet for all that excitement, I still worry that we may have another Mighty No. 9 on our hands.

5. Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes

Publisher/Developer: Marvelous Entertainment/Grasshopper Manufacture
Platform: Switch
Release Date: 2018

“It’s a new game in the No More Heroes franchise” should be enough of a reason for this game to nab the number five slot on this list, but I’ve got a reputation of going above and beyond when it comes to describing just why these games end up where they do. Travis Strikes Again isn’t a traditional entry in the series, but instead chronicles Travis Touchdown being assaulted by Badman – the father of NMH’s Bad Girl – only for the two of them to get sucked into Travis’s Death Drive Mark II video game console and forced to beat its games in order to escape back to the real world. It’s implied to be a collaborative game, developed by several indie developers and might feature some crossovers with paradoxical big-name indie titles like Hotline Miami and Shovel Knight. To put it mildly, this game is for me what Death Stranding is to what feels like everyone else on the planet: I have no idea what it is, and yet I can’t help but be excited.

4. Fighting EX Layer

Publisher/Developer: Arika
Platform: PlayStation 4
Release Date: 2018

This game almost didn’t make the list – simply because I was unaware that it was set for release next year. Back when I was a kid, I loved the original Street Fighter EX – a close friend of mine lent me his copy of the game for an extended period of time. Sure, the graphics were crude, the mechanics imperfect, but there was just something endearing about the whole game. I feel exactly the same about Fighting EX Layer: not an amazing technical powerhouse – either in terms of graphics or gameplay mechanics – but it looks like it’s going to be a lot of fun. Unfortunately, the game’s currently slated as a PS4 exclusive, but maybe if the game performs well, it could make its way onto other platforms.

…just wish they’d gone with “Fighting Layer EX” for the title instead. FLEX is a perfect acronym.

3. “Yoshi for Nintendo Switch”

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo/Good-Feel
Platform: …Switch
Release Date: 2018

20 years. 20 long years. 20 long, agonizing years filled to the brim with broken dreams and unfulfilled promises. That’s how long it took for Yoshi’s Woolly World to deliver a worthy successor to Yoshi’s Island and one that arguably outstripped its predecessor. Fortunately, it’s only taken 3 years for yet another sequel. Once again developed by Good-Feel, “Yoshi for Nintendo Switch” looks like it’s going to expand on the previous game’s formula – and honestly, that’s all it really needs to do. It looks like the game is going to expand on the craftwork setting of the previous game, implementing papercraft and various other media, while the gameplay appears to be better utilizing its 3D graphics, not unlike the early 2.5D platformers, allowing Yoshi to walk into the background and foreground. The truth is, this could’ve been a level pack sequel and I’d still be excited, but it’s good to see further experimentation with the solid formula of the previous game.

2. Freedom Planet 2

Publisher/Developer: GalaxyTrail
Platform: PC, possibly more
Release Date: 2018?

It’s funny: I put Freedom Planet 2 in the #2 spot and GalaxyTrail comes out with a massive update on the game’s progress. The original game is probably one of my favorite 2D platformers of this generation thus far and FP2 looks to deliver at least twice as much on everything the first game had. While we were never really given any sort of release window for the game – only a mention that a playable beta would be available in “mid-2017” (it hit in January of that year) back when the game was announced on Christmas 2015 – the game looks to be nearing completion. GalaxyTrail has mentioned that they have a release date in mind, but simply don’t want to announce it until they’re absolutely sure they can hit it. Considering the issues they had with the first game’s Wii U port, I can’t really blame them. They also mentioned that they can’t confirm any platforms besides PC, Mac and Linux, but are working hard to secure at least some form of console release.

1. MegaMan 11

Publisher/Developer: Capcom
Platform: PC, Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Release Date: “Late 2018”

I know I said these same exact words last year – and I know how well that turned out for me – but once again, “it couldn’t be anything else”. The Blue Bomber has been in dire straits the past seven years, with only a free PC game, a crummy mobile game and a disappointing spiritual successor to show for it. In retrospect, Capcom’s choice to let Inafune make the first move was a brilliant one, but it left the fanbase feeling frozen out. With the specter of Mighty No. 9 finally banished from the forefront of the fanbase’s mind, MegaMan 11 seems poised to capitalize on our aching hunger pangs and deliver a true new-generation MegaMan game.

The ironic thing is that one of the main criticisms I’ve seen leveled at MM11 is that the game has decided, like MegaMan 7, 8 and MegaMan & Bass before it, to abandon its 8-bit roots. Yet I seem to recall an incalculable amount of teeth-gnashing and wailing when MegaMan 10 decided to reuse that retro throwback art style, two years on the heels of MegaMan 9. I guess it’s true what they say: you can’t please everyone. The 2.5D style looks gorgeous, with the character models properly representing the concept art’s new take on the classic anime-inspired look. Some of the backgrounds even look hand-drawn, which just adds to the appeal.

Capcom has been a bit of a mixed bag in recent years, delivering on the promise of Resident Evil 7, while stabbing me in the back with abominations like Dead Rising 4 and Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite. Perhaps it’s naïve to believe in Capcom blindly at this juncture, so I’m looking at this game through the lens of cautious optimism. Still, after 7 years of radio silence, I’m ready to get hurt again. MM11’s set to launch on all four major platforms late next year and I’m willing to give Capcom the benefit of the doubt given what we know so far. At the very least, it should be better than nothing.

Those are my picks for 2018. Last year, I was cynical about any of my choices releasing in 2017, but considering how many did, I was able to come up with an entirely new list this time around. However, this was a double-edged sword: I’m a bit less hyped for this list overall, simply due to a lack of information on what’s been announced and the fact that it feels like very little has actually been announced in 2017 for next year. My previous lists all had the stench of constant delays permeating from some of my major picks, but this year has all but wiped the slate clean. I guess that makes creating a new list difficult: chances are, there could be some pretty amazing games set to release in 2018 that we don’t even know about yet. That’s my hope, anyway.

Retrospective: MegaMan Classic [Part 3]

Mega_man_logo

Welcome back once again to my retrospective look back at the Classic MegaMan franchise. The first two articles looked back at MegaMan’s glory days during the 8-bit era. While the Blue Bomber began to lose his luster during the second half of his appearances on the Nintendo Entertainment System, all of the games are generally recognized as memorable. However, MegaMan had yet to face his greatest challenge: staying relevant for two more generations. The 16-bit era saw consoles that made huge technical leaps from the previous generation. By extension, video games themselves becoming more complex than when NES reigned supreme. Yet this was child’s play compared to the horrors that awaited the Blue Bomber in the 32-bit era: 3D games were considered the wave of the future and anything 2D was deemed passé, especially in the West. To make matters worse, the Blue Bomber had to contend with two completely different successors, each falling more in line with the evolving tastes of the marketplace. I also discussed various spin-offs and licensed games in previous articles and I’m happy to say I’ve only scratched the surface. I’ve got a few more left to discuss, including MegaMan’s two major arcade outings, the most baffling sequel ever devised and what may very well be the worst game in the franchise’s history.

MegaMan 7

MegaMan 7 is generally considered one of the worst mainline games in the MegaMan franchise. It was also a game that had a lot going against it. For starters, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System had already seen the release of both MegaMan X – a modernized take on the franchise – by the time MegaMan 7 had entered development. Worse yet, its release was literally sandwiched between X2 and X3, further games in the X series that used the special CX4 chip, allowing the SNES to display rudimentary wireframe effects, generally considered a technical marvel when both games were released. MegaMan 7, therefore, had two options upon its release: be an outdated retread of the NES games or completely ape its successors, diluting any chance of a unique standalone identity from the X series. MM7 chose a third option, though how well it worked is still up for debate.

I remember my two main introductions to MM7, and neither of them came in the form of actually playing the game. The first was a comprehensive guide for how to play through the game, including various hidden secrets and how the weapons functioned, in a magazine I owned during childhood – the only other things I recall about it was that the issue in question was an “end of the year” special, and I’m almost certain that the publication was Tips & Tricks magazine. The other came from my introduction to the MegaMan online community, when I first started browsing the internet itself. Back then, a lot of people were using MegaMan 7’s sprite work for a lot of their iconography and as a child, I fell in love with those character designs. Despite the valid criticism levelled against MM7,  it was the newest game available in the Classic series around the time I was exposed to the series again and for that reason, I’ve got an irrational love for the game.

MM7-03

More than two decades later, I think this game looks gorgeous.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about MegaMan 7’s development cycle was its length: the game spent a mere three months in development, due to what Keiji Inafune only referred to as “bad timing”. Regardless, the team said that morale remained high while working on the game. Designer Yoshihisa Tsuda compared the game to a “sports team camp” and said that his only regret was that they didn’t have at least one more month to work on it. Personally, I found the game’s quality impressive considering how little time was spent on its creation: I’ve played worse MegaMan games with longer development cycles and some of them even came from Capcom themselves. Inafune designed one of the game’s new characters, Auto, having based him on stereotypical toy robots he remembered from his childhood. He also came up with the original concepts for Bass and Treble – then referred to as “Baroque” and “Crush” respectively – before handing the designs off to Hayato Kaji, who refined them into their final designs. The game’s infamously difficult final boss fight was also a conscious decision from the development staff: they wanted something “insanely hard” and “something that cannot be defeated without the use of an Energy Tank”. For this game, Capcom received roughly 220,000 boss character submissions – impressive considered they’d scaled back to Japanese entries only. One last interesting bit of trivia: Capcom originally completed the game in Summer of 1994, but decided not to release it. The resulting fan backlash forced their hand, with the game eventually seeing release on March 24, 1995 in Japan. It seems odd that they’d just leave the game hanging around for that amount of time without trying to improve it.

After his past six attempts at taking over the world, Dr. Wily has finally been brought to justice. At the end of the Robot Master Tournament, MegaMan finally apprehended the mad scientist and he stood trial, where he was sentenced to a long stint in jail. However, the not-so-good doctor lives up to his name: he built four Robot Masters and put them in storage as a failsafe in case he was ever incarcerated. After six months with no word from their creator, these new robots awoke from stasis and attacked the city, leaving it in ruins. This ended up being a distraction, allowing them to attack the prison holding Dr. Wily, freeing him and allowing him to return to his megalomaniacal schemes. While MegaMan was unable to stop Wily from escaping, he does manage to meet two new robots, Bass and his robotic wolf partner, Treble. They inform him that they were also assigned to battle Wily before leaving to chase after him. MegaMan is confused, but also optimistic that with the help of his mysterious new allies Wily will be back behind bars in no time.

MM7-01

Meet the new guys.

One odd criticism I’ve heard about MegaMan 7 is that it takes pretty much absolutely nothing from the first 2 X games, which came out before this game. Instead, this game was built from scratch to best try to emulate the original games on the NES in terms of base game mechanics. I feel like this was a conscious choice on the development team’s part, in order to get differentiate this new entry in the Classic series from the aforementioned X series, which enjoyed significant popularity due to bringing the franchise to the 16-bit generation. I think the game was essentially built from scratch rather than building on the existing MMX engine in order to make the game as different from the new series as possible, therefore justifying the continued existence of the Classic series in light of the new spinoff. MegaMan’s slide and chargeable Mega Buster both return from MM6. However, more than anything, MegaMan 7 actually feels more like a “MegaMan VI” – that is, it feels like it takes far more of its elements from the later Game Boy games than it does from the NES games. There are various story cutscenes in gameplay, far more than any of the Game Boy games had. It gets to the point where there are even cutscenes after defeating each Robot Master where MegaMan and Dr. Light discuss the possible applications of the Blue Bomber’s new weapon. The shop system returns from MMIV and MMV, replacing the “P Chip” currency with “bolts”, allowing MegaMan to buy various power-ups and enhancements – most importantly, E-Tanks, Weapon Tanks and the ever-useful Super Tank. The inclusion in MM7 would make the shop mechanic an integral part of the Classic series’ identity, appearing in every mainline game (and even a few spinoffs) from that point on. Of course, most of the power-ups are actually hidden in stages themselves, much like the various items in the last two Game Boy games. They can also be purchased for a substantial number of bolts, encouraging players to search levels thoroughly to save bolts for much-needed Energy Tanks. Finally, the Robot Masters are separated into two sets of four, much like the Game Boy games, though all eight can be accessed from the beginning when using a special password. Interestingly, despite all this, MM7’s Robot Masters do have a full weakness cycle, due in no small part to the fact that two of the Robot Masters – Burstman and Slashman, from the first and second set respectively – both have two weaknesses, which they share.

MM7-02

I’ll never stop loving the animations associated with boss weaknesses.

MegaMan 7 does incorporate a few elements from the X series. For example, MegaMan does gain the ability to exit stages that have already been completed, though much like the Energy Balancer, it’s only available through a power-up that can either be found in a stage or purchased from the shop. Some have criticized this addition due to being locked behind a power-up, but it does seem to follow the Classic series’ conventions. MM7 also adds the ability to switch weapons in-game with the L and R buttons, much like the X series. Unfortunately, these are limited to the Special Weapons themselves – equipping support items still requires the pause menu. Likewise, MM7 incorporates a short introduction stage, much like the X games, as well as bringing back the “intermission” stage from some of the Game Boy games, taking place between the two sets of Robot Masters. Of course, both of these stages are quite short – the intro stage is particularly shorter than those found in the X series – but these are both firsts in the mainline Classic series. Put simply, the game itself appears to be attempting to take elements from the NES games, the Game Boy games and even a few minor elements from the X games to forge a unique identity for the Classic series moving forward. Whether it succeeded or failed is strictly a matter of opinion. MegaMan 7 also had a unique unlockable mode that allowed two players to fight in a Street Fighter-style battle – allowing players to choose between MegaMan and Bass – armed with only the standard Busters and some unique special moves. This mode was actually hidden behind a special password, obtained at the end of the credits. Inputting the password and pressing start while holding the L and R buttons unlocks the mode – entering the password normally simply sends players to the final Wily stage with maxed-out items.

Of course, many have criticized the base gameplay of the game, which is a fair assessment. Even when compared to the original MegaMan game on the NES, something about MM7’s gameplay just feels …off. MegaMan seems to move slower and his jumping ability has been severely limited, which manages to make jumps that would be completely simple in any other game in the series feel nearly impossible at times. I’ve seen a lot of people in my time blame this on the game’s graphical style: specifically, the large character sprites that even manage to dwarf those of the X series. Unfortunately, this theory falls apart under scrutiny. The Game Boy games had much less visual space to work with compared to its console counterparts, leading to a relatively gigantic MegaMan dominating the tiny pea-green screen, yet they made far less concessions when it came to the Blue Bomber’s mobility. Personally, I think the game’s short development cycle is likely what led to the game’s odd mechanics and therefore, with some additional work, the game would have likely ended up with solid controls that would have lived up to its pedigree. Of course, if I were a paranoid man – and I am – I’d also hazard a guess that the controls were made sluggish on purpose: meant as a deliberate scathing parody of the NES games when compared to the new X games. Considering all I’ve got to go on with regards to this theory is just a feeling in my gut, it’s likely nonsense.

MM7-05

Seriously, absolutely gorgeous.

Compared to previous entries in the series, MegaMan 7 has an obscene amount of support items. Unlike previous mainline Classic games – and ironically, much more like the Game Boy and X games – most of them aren’t tied to defeating bosses, this time they’re hidden in various stages or can be purchased with bolts. MegaMan starts with his trusty Rush Coil, but that’s about it. The Rush Jet power-up returns as well, hidden in Junkman’s stage. There’s also the new Rush Search ability, which summons Rush to dig around for items (you know, like a dog would) alongside the new Escape Unit, which allows players to exit from stages they’ve already completed at any time. In fact, the Escape Unit actually needs to be dug up by Rush in order to find it. There’s also the new Rush Super Adapter, which essentially combines the Rush Jet and Power Armors from MM6 with the Mega Arm from MMV to create something that makes the game significantly more playable, though again, this comes at the cost of sliding. This can be further upgraded with the PU Fist hidden in Turboman’s stage, which gives the Super Adapter’s charge shot homing capabilities. Beat returns, being held captive in a birdcage in Slashman’s stage. This time, instead of providing offensive support, Beat actually rescues Rock from falling into pitfalls, depending on whether or not the player has any whistles remaining. Springman’s stage hides the Hyper Bolt, an item that when given to Auto reduces the cost of every item in the shop by half and allows Dr. Light’s mechanical protégé to create brand-new items as well. The Energy Balancer also returns from MM6, hidden in Shademan’s stage. There’s also a hidden boss fight with Protoman there, but only if you encounter him in two other locations first. If he can be defeated, he gives MegaMan his Proto Shield. When equipped, it allows MegaMan to reflect energy shots while standing still.

MegaMan 7 also managed to find a way to make the Special Weapons feel useful again. While the X series allowed for weapons to be charged with a special Buster power-up, the developers of MM7 decided to go in a different direction. Most of the weapons have secondary uses, usually dealing with the various stage environments, allowing for rudimentary puzzle solving. While the original MMX toyed with the concept, both MegaMan 7 and X2 provided much more emphasis on using weapons strategically, to navigate obstacles and access alternative paths. For example, the electric weapon can power various pieces of inactive technology, the ice weapon can affect weather patterns and freeze heat-based obstacles and the fire weapon can burn down obstacles and even light candles, allowing for better visibility. On top of that, most of the weapons are more fun to use compared to the previous game. Ironically, compared to the previous two games, MegaMan 7 suffers from the opposite issue with regards to weapons: with power-ups like the Rush Super Adapter and more useful special weapons, the standard Mega Buster feels kind of useless by comparison. Unfortunately, 2 weapons are pretty much lifted directly from the original MegaMan X, alongside the return of a “Leaf Shield”-style weapon. Fortunately, the rest of the weapons are fairly unique.

MM7-04

Certain bosses are also strong against specific weapons. Who’d thunk zapping Springman with Thunder Bolt would turn him into an electromagnet?

As per usual, I’ll be ranking the weapons in order of how much I like them. My top choice would have to be Shademan’s Noise Crush, a standard shot with a unique charging property: when fired into a wall, it reflects and if MegaMan catches it, he starts flashing as if he’s charging a buster shot. When MegaMan fires in this state, a more powerful shot that no longer reflects comes out. Next would be the Junk Shield, fittingly taken from Junkman. It’s a shield weapon, not unlike the Leaf Shield, but unlike the ones found in the last 3 games, the Junk Shield actually improves on its predecessor. Each piece of junk provides several hits of cover but hitting the fire button a second time, shoots off the pieces of junk in multiple directions – allowing for a widespread attack. Third favorite would have to be Burstman’s Danger Wrap, which is probably the most unique weapon in the game. MegaMan fires off a bubble filled with an explosive that floats up and explodes after a brief period. The bubble can engulf smaller enemies or explode automatically when coming into contact with something larger. Holding down on the D-Pad while firing off the Danger Wrap allows MegaMan to just place the explosive in front of him sans bubble. Not particularly useful in the grand scheme of things, but too fun to ignore. Number four would have to be the Thunder Bolt, obtained by defeating Cloudman. Essentially a retread of Spark Mandrill’s Electric Spark from the first MegaMan X, this weapon fires off a bolt of electricity which splits and travels both up and down on impact. Then there’s Freezeman’s Freeze Cracker, a knockoff of Chill Penguin’s Shotgun Ice from MMX. MegaMan fires off a giant snowflake that bursts into a spread shot in the opposite direction when it comes into contact with a wall. Number six is the Slash Claw, obviously taken from the bestial Slashman – it’s a short-range swipe that deals decent damage in general. Seventh is Turboman’s Scorch Wheel. An odd take on a shield weapon, MegaMan summons four fireballs in a wheel-like formation, which eventually flies off. It can be aimed and deals heavy damage, but it’s tricky to use. The clear worst weapon in the game would be the Wild Coil, taken from the perennial joke that is Springman. MegaMan throws two springs that bounce around, both in front of him and behind him. This attack can also be charged to change the springs’ bounce arcs, effectively giving them a higher bounce. Unfortunately, no matter what trajectory is used, the Wild Coil is extremely awkward to aim, making it effectively worthless in any real in-game situation.

As I mentioned earlier, MegaMan 7’s graphics have long been a sore point for fans, due to the long-standing belief that the large character sprites had a detrimental effect on gameplay. I also mentioned that as I was first discovering the plethora of MegaMan games I’d missed out on, MM7’s artstyle resonated with me. To this day, I think this game’s artstyle may be my favorite official take on the Classic franchise. Everything just looks right to me: the size differentials between MegaMan and the various enemy robots – particularly the Robot Masters – have never seemed so concise as they were in this game. While most people are still the most enamored with the 8-bit era graphical style and some believe that the later 32-bit sprites were superior by the sheer nature of being made later, I think Capcom knocked it out of the park on this one. The characters have never seemed so expressive and this was the first time in the Classic series where Robot Masters visually react to being hit with their weaknesses – a hallmark of the X series. However, while the first two X games downplayed these reactions, MM7 exaggerated things. Turboman has a seizure when he’s hit with Noise Crush, Junkman’s body falls apart when hit with the Thunder Bolt, and both Slashman and Burstman alternatively freeze or burn up depending on whether they’re hit with the Freeze Cracker or Scorch Wheel. In fact, despite stepping away from the series’ super-deformed roots, everything in general just feels more exaggerated. The level designs are also significantly more ornate than those found in the 8-bit games – an obvious side effect of moving onto more powerful hardware. More than ever before, the theming of each Robot Master’s stage becomes completely obvious: Shademan inhabits a haunted castle, Springman invaded a toy factory and Freezeman’s tundra hideout contains dinosaur bones frozen in glaciers.

MM7-06

Rush Super Adaptor: clearly the most useful power-up in the entire game.

The game’s sound design is interesting. Some of the sound effects actually manage to sound more artificial and “video gamey” than those found in the 8-bit titles, which is just outright weird. The game’s soundtrack, on the other hand, is put together pretty well. Unlike previous games in the series that typically maxed out at 2 composers, MegaMan 7 had a full sound team of 10 composers behind it. This leads to an overall less cohesive soundtrack than previous games had, but considering some of the talent behind it, there are definitely some amazing tracks in there. Some of the more recognizable members of the MM7 Sound Team include Yuko “Yuk” Takehara, who composed MegaMan 6 and “Ippo” Yamada, who would later go on to provide the compositions for the MegaMan Zero and ZX series, as well as acting as the sound director for MegaMan 9 and 10. A couple composers that worked on the original MegaMan X – Toshihiko “Krsk” Horiyama and Makoto “V-Tomozoh” Tomozawa – also worked on the game. MM7 was also the last known project with one of Capcom’s most prolific SNES sound designers, Tatsuya “T. “Anie” .N” Nishimura, a man who previously worked on the original Breath of Fire and even the SNES version of both Street Fighter II and Street Fighter II Turbo. It was Noriko “Apple Z” Ando’s first project with the company, though he was generally associated with the Resident evil and Dino Crisis series.  Atsushi “More Rich” Mori and Nariyuki “Narinari” Nobuyama also worked on the game. The last composer is mired in mystery, referred to only as “Kan”.

Perhaps one of my favorite things about the MegaMan 7 soundtrack was a fact that I only realized years later: much like how MM2’s introduction was based on the ending to the original MegaMan, the song that plays at the beginning of MM7’s opening cinematic is based on the credits theme to MegaMan 6. It’s a far subtler reference than the Ghouls ‘n Ghosts easter egg in Shademan’s stage. Then you’ve got the Robot Museum intermission stage, which takes musical cues from Snakeman, Gutsman and Heatman’s themes. Aside from those references, the music of MM7 in general appears to be attempting to distance itself from both the 8-bit sounds of the previous games, while also avoiding the heavy metal influences of the X series. Having said that, the odd sound design finds its way into the game’s composition: I generally preferred the Genesis’s sound chip over the SNES and while most games had their own unique sound hardware installed, there’s just something unusual about the instrumentation in MM7. Having said that, the composition is still top-notch. It may sound different from most of the other games in the series, but MM7’s music lives up to the series’ reputation of great music. It’s honestly hard for me to choose specific tracks that are my favorite. The intro stage, Bass’s theme, Turboman and Burstman’s stages, the standard boss fight theme, the second and third Wily stage themes and the credits theme would have to be my favorite tracks overall.

In the end, it would be a lie to pretend that MegaMan 7 isn’t an imperfect game. However, it feels like it came far too late to make any sort of meaningful impact. Given the Classic series’ stubborn insistence on staying with the NES long after the Super Nintendo had been released and the X games’ outright “reinvention” of the franchise’s gameplay, not to mention the game’s incredibly short development cycle, there was too much working against this game from the beginning. Having said all of that, MM7 is by no means a terrible game. Certainly a weak point when compared to the rest of its pedigree, but still well above the curve when it comes to the SNES’s library. All the same, it just doesn’t live up to its Japanese subtitle, “Destiny’s Greatest Battle”. I just wonder what would have happened if the game had managed to have a more substantial development cycle. Could MM7 have exceeded MegaMan X? Probably not, but it would’ve likely trounced the other X games on SNES – fancy graphics chip or no. For a long time, I’ve honestly wanted Capcom to “remake” some of their MegaMan games in the same fashion that Sega redid Sonic CD some years back: keep all of the art and sound assets, but readjust the gameplay. Considering the release of the second MegaMan Legacy Collection, I think it’s safe to say this dream is dead. However, there was a Japanese fan remake Rockman 7 FC which reimagined the game in the style of its predecessors, and that fangame is living proof that MM7 was filled with untapped potential.

MegaMan 8

If MegaMan 7 went out of its way to recreate the Classic MegaMan gameplay on a modern platform, then MegaMan 8 tried its hardest to evolve the formula into something viable for years to come. Perhaps the most experimental game in the entire franchise, MegaMan 8 was the last mainline Classic game that would see release outside of Asia for over half a decade – a fact that could be taken as proof that the game failed to reinvent the original MegaMan style in a meaningful way. However, it isn’t a bad game by any means: truthfully, I’d say that it exceeds both 6 and 7 in terms of overall quality. However, because the X series continued – fulfilling the demand for a proper 2D MegaMan platformer – and the brand-new 3D MegaMan Legends series made its way onto the scene during the fifth generation, MM8 clearly lost out and the Classic series itself went into hibernation for the most part, at least in the West. Ironically enough, this was the first undeniable example of a problem that would plague the MegaMan franchise in its later years: oversaturation.

After a long, long hiatus from the series, MegaMan 8 was the third mainline Classic game I managed to get my hands on. At the time, a Blockbuster Video had opened within walking distance of my house and they were renting out video game consoles. At the time, they had 2 or 3 PlayStations available for rental, and a decent selection of games. Among the first games I rented for the console was MegaMan 8. I remembered enjoying the first two games when I was younger and decided this new one was worth a shot. At the time, I was completely floored – my enjoyment only hampered by the lack of a Memory Card, which made whatever progress I made meaningless. MM8 was among the few games that enticed me into getting a PlayStation of my home, my first true home console. When picking up the thing, I wanted to grab MegaMan 8 as my first game, but alas, the store itself was out, so I settled for MegaMan Legends instead. I would eventually get MegaMan 8 and though my memory’s a bit hazy, it was either the first or second MegaMan game I was able to beat on my own: MegaMan II for the Game Boy was the only other game I could’ve beaten beforehand. While there was a brief period in my fandom where I despised the game for being too easy – after all, it was the first mainline MegaMan I’d been able to beat – I’ve otherwise felt a close connection to the game.

MM8-01

Seriously, this intro always gives me shivers.

MegaMan 8’s development has an interesting story behind it. For starters, it was the first mainline MegaMan game that didn’t receive a release in any form on a Nintendo platform at launch. Originally developed as a Sega Saturn exclusive, the game would also make its way to the PlayStation as well, in spite of Sony of America’s strict anti-2D policies at that point. Each version has their own unique quirks – more on that later. Most people are familiar with the PlayStation version of the game, due to the platform’s popularity and the fact that this is the only version that has been re-released since, most recently in MegaMan Legacy Collection 2. MM8 was also the first game in the series where Keiji Inafune would act as producer, allowing him to bring a unique perspective to the game’s development. The game’s creation wasn’t without its hardships though: coordinating releases on two different platforms as well as allowing for full-motion video anime cutscenes often caused the development team to feel overwhelmed. Anime cutscenes were apparently something Inafune had wanted to include since the first game and he was pleased with the results.

The new character Duo was originally designed to be a creation of Dr. Cossack – explaining the Russian influences in his design. Ironically, Duo first appeared in MegaMan 2: The Power Fighters – more on that later – but MegaMan 8 was meant to introduce the character in-universe. Considering the fact that both MegaMan and Duo work together to stop the evil machinations of an evil energy-fueled Dr. Wily from about halfway through the game on, “Metal Heroes” was a fitting choice for the game’s Japanese subtitle. Capcom held their standard Robot Master design contest for MegaMan 8, though there were a few differences. For starters, two robot bosses – Tenguman and Astroman – were already designed by Capcom staff prior to the contest. As an added caveat, Capcom also provided three skeletons for potential robot masters for entrants to design around: one with a giant sword and a separated body (which would eventually become Swordman), a robot with two heads (Searchman) and one with really long arms (Clownman). In the end, Capcom received roughly 110,000 entries for MM8’s boss design contest and the development team actually loved looking at all of the submissions. Some of the rejected designs and original drawings that led to the final robot designs actually managed to make their way into MM8’s credits, owing to the much stronger hardware of the 32-bit systems.

 

In the year 20XX, two powerful robots are fighting in outer space. As they collide into one another, a victor is decided, but both begin to fall toward Earth. Meanwhile, Bass is once again antagonizing MegaMan, goading him into a fight to prove that he is the superior robot. MegaMan is able to defeat him when Roll arrives with a message from Dr. Light. He tells MegaMan that a strange meteor with a strange energy reading has fallen on a deserted island and he wants to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands. Unfortunately, that island just so happens to be Dr. Wily’s new base and the mad scientist manages to escape with the extraterrestrial energy in hand. However, MegaMan finds a heavily-damaged robot in the meteor crater, sending it back to Dr. Light for repairs before setting off to stop Wily’s latest scheme.

MM8-05

I guess Hi-Tech Expressions was ahead of their time.

Despite the leap to 32-bit systems, MegaMan 8 is undeniably a MegaMan game. The Blue Bomber maintains his abilities to jump, slide, fire charged and standard shots and steal weapons from the eight Robot Masters. As in the previous game, the Robot Masters have been split into two sets of four – each with their own weaknesses. The introductory and intermission stages before each set of bosses respectively also return from the previous game, as well as the Shop and the standard 4 Wily Fortress stages at the end of the game. The game also makes use of both the Saturn and PlayStation’s shoulder buttons to allow MegaMan to switch weapons on the fly, as in MM7 and the X games. Interestingly, MM8’s stage select is split across two separate screens: the first includes the first four bosses (Tenguman, Frostman, Clownman and Grenademan), Dr. Light’s Shop and the Intro stage, while the second contains the other four bosses (Astroman, Aquaman, Searchman and Swordman), the intermission stage and Wily Tower.

Of course, that’s the least of the game’s changes. For starters, Robot Master stages are now split into two segments – with a continue point mechanic that allows players to continue from the second part after a game over. Some stages use a mid-boss to separate the two points, but in other cases, there’s simply a transitional area, generally with some kind of special hazard. For example, Tenguman’s stage transitions into a shoot-‘em-up style section where MegaMan rides the Rush Jet and can summon Eddie, Beat and Auto to act as “options” to assist him. And who could forget the infamous snowboarding sections in Frostman’s stage? Jump, jump, slide, slide and all that. Another interesting quirk is that the game uses the two sets of Robot Masters to its advantage. The second batch of stages incorporate obstacles that require the first set of weapons to avoid. The best example of this would have to be Swordman’s stage. The first half of the stage includes four chambers, each associated with one of the four Special Weapons MegaMan would have to have obtained before reaching the stage. I wish more games in the series had exploited this kind of mechanic, but MegaMan 8 certainly explored the concept to a great extent.

MM8-03

Seriously, the effect on level design was worth it.

Another change that I’d consider an improvement is that MegaMan now has access to his Mega Buster even when Special Weapons are equipped. I’m surprised they didn’t implement that into MegaMan 7 or even the SNES X games, and I’m disappointed that it didn’t appear in later Classic games. MegaMan no longer “space jumps” in water, he now swims in water instead, allowing for new puzzles and obstacles. While the shop returns from MM7, it’s balanced differently in MegaMan 8. For starters, there are a limited number of Bolts hidden throughout the game, essentially acting as collectables. As such, it is impossible to buy every single item from the shop in the game. Instead of selling 1-Ups and Tanks as in the previous games, MM8’s shop focuses more on persistent power-ups that can be equipped from a sub-screen on the pause menu. The shop starts with 7 items at the beginning of the game, but once the second set of bosses is unlocked, 8 more items become available for purchase. These include such things as the Escape Unit, the Energy Balancer (and similar items that affect energy management), various Buster upgrades that change its charge shot properties (I swear by the Laser shot, personally) and even stat-boosting items that speed up MegaMan’s slide, automatically refills extra lives after leaving a stage and allow MegaMan to have five standard Buster shots on-screen at the same time instead of the typical 3. Of course, the store no longer sells E-Tanks or the like, because they no longer exist in this game. Fortunately, the difficulty has been balanced around this fact, but considering that E-Cans were considered a series staple since the second game, their omission in MM8 was always a bit of a surprise.

Likewise, the support items have been completely overhauled from previous games. No Rush Super Adapter, no Rush Jet, not even the Rush Coil, they’ve all been removed. In fact, the only support item that resembles the previous ones is the Mega Ball, which MegaMan is given less than halfway through the intro stage. Even then, the Mega Ball is unique. MegaMan fires a small ball, that falls at his feet. He can then either kick it by hitting the attack button again or jumping on it to gain extra height. It’s most useful in very specific situations but it’s at least a unique weapon which is always a good thing in my eyes. The other four support items work differently. They’re accessed from the pause menu sub-screen, much like the shop upgrades and each of them is unlocked after beating one of the four mid-bosses found in specific Robot Master stages. Each of these support items only allow one use at a time and require some time to replenish. Beating the mid-boss in Grenademan’s stage unlocks the Rush Cycle, which allows Rush to transform into a motorcycle for a brief period of time. This renders MegaMan invincible, though the cycle takes damage, which reduces the remaining time. Rush can also fire missiles out of his mouth. Rush Surprise comes from Clownman’s mid-boss and summons Rush to drop a random item, not unlike Eddie from the later NES MegaMan games. Rush Bomber is unlocked by defeating the midboss in Swordman and summons Rush to fly around in Rush Jet form, dropping missiles and bombs on enemies from a brief period of time. Beating the miniboss in Aquaman’s stage unlocks the Rush Charger, which is similar to the Rush Bomber only he drops health and weapon energy power-ups instead.

MM8-02

The Mega Ball is so ridiculous, I can’t help but love it.

MegaMan 8’s special weapons take the puzzle solving elements of the weapons from the previous game and essentially ramp them up to their logical conclusion. Most of the weapons in this game have secondary uses that become necessary as the game goes on. The fact that the game is essentially separated into 3 sets of 4 – not including the introduction and intermission stages – allows for more thorough planning when it comes to some of the levels being designed around weapon utilities. Even more important is the fact that the weapons in this game are the most fun to use since MM5. My favorite weapon in the game is easily Grenademan’s Flash Bomb. It’s a straight shot that leaves an explosive flash in its wake for a few seconds after colliding with a wall or enemy that deals additional damage. It can also light up darkened areas. Next is the Tornado Hold, taken from Tenguman. It generates a tornado in place that MegaMan can jump onto, which raises him into the air. Third would be Swordman’s Flame Sword: a short-range slash attack that can light fuses and set certain objects on fire. Then there’s the Ice Wave, obtained after defeating Frostman. It sends forth a wave of ice – hence the name – that can freeze enemies in its path, destroying them instantly. Number 5 would be Clownman’s Thunder Claw: a short-range beam of lightning that MegaMan can use to grapple and swing from specific hooks found in various levels. The Thunder Claw isn’t much of an offensive weapon, but its secondary uses put it higher on the list. The Homing Sniper from Searchman is the next on the list. It’s essentially an improved version of the Dive Missile from MegaMan 4, only this time there are reticles that depict the missile’s target. The weapon can even be charged to tag multiple targets at the same time. The seventh best weapon is easily Astroman’s Astro Crush. It’s a devastating full-screen meteor shower that destroys all minor enemies on-screen as well as some obstacles. It also renders MegaMan totally invincible for a short time and locks him into position, even while jumping. Unfortunately, it consumes a great deal of energy – a full weapon bar only allows for 4 uses, not even enough to destroy the Robot Master weak to it. Finally, there’s Aquaman’s Water Balloon, which fires a ball of water at a low arc. Of course, there’s no limit to how many Water Balloons can be on-screen at a time, but it just doesn’t do that much damage in general and its angle makes it awkward to aim.

Even though the game was released around the same time on both the PlayStation and Saturn, both versions have a few differences. Personally, I’ve only been able to play the PlayStation version, but from what I can tell, the Saturn version is superior, many have even speculated that it’s the closest to Capcom’s original concept. The PlayStation version has improved graphics – displaying the animated cutscenes in their native MPEG format and capable of displaying true transparency effects, while the Saturn version utilized dithering. In pretty much every other aspect, the Saturn version is superior. The Saturn version utilized PCM audio for its music, while players on PlayStation had to settle with its onboard MIDI synthesizer. One odd change is that both versions have different music for Tenguman’s stage – I’ve never seen any information as to why. It also includes a bonus sound test, allowing players to listen to both the game’s music and sound clips at their leisure. The best enhancement the Saturn version has to offer are two exclusive hidden boss fights: MM1’s Cutman and MM2’s Woodman, which are hidden in the intermission level and Searchman’s stage respectively. They even receive MM8-flavored remixes of their classic stage themes for their respective boss fights. Defeating each of these special opponents nabs MegaMan a bolt –in the PlayStation version, they just lie out in the open. Alas, due to the difficulty of emulating the Saturn’s hardware, this version will likely remain impossible to re-release in any legitimate form for years to come, if ever, but it is interesting to discuss.

MM8-06

What, were you expecting Frostman’s stage? How cliché.

 

MegaMan 8’s graphics are probably the best in the entire franchise, for obvious reasons: the 32-bit era consoles were the strongest hardware to depict a MegaMan games with 2D sprites without trying to emulate an older style. The character sprites are vibrant and detailed. More importantly, unlike MegaMan 7 and the Game Boy games, they take up a reasonable portion of the screen – stressing visibility over clarity, but not really sacrificing the latter in the process. There’s much more animation in the game as well: MegaMan even takes on a new stance when he’s low on health, cradling his arm while breathing heavily – effectively simulating being hurt like a person would. It’s a nice visual cue that’s appreciated. The backgrounds are the real stars though, with environments ranging from a frozen city, a virtual reality maze, an amusement park and a thick jungle, the details of the various stages have never been made so clear. The user interface has also undergone a bit of an overhaul as well. The energy meters are no longer signified with individual units, but rather displayed as one solid bar. To compensate, there are additional icons on screen, signifying the amount of extra lives remaining and how many uses the special weapon currently equipped has left. The presentation’s real star would have to be the game’s full motion video cutscenes, animated by anime company Xebec. To this day, watching the opening cutscene still gives me chills. Having said that, the presentation all meshes together so well that nothing really looks out of place – I distinctly remember one review from when MegaMan 8 originally came out that praised its artstyle as resembling “a Saturday Morning cartoon you could play” and despite the relatively low resolutions compared to what can be displayed on modern consoles and computers, I’d say the comparison still holds up.

In most of these retrospectives, I’ve kind of glossed over the sound design, choosing instead to focus on the game’s famous musical compositions. After all, there’s only so much that can be said about the minute differences between the beeps and boops that the Nintendo Entertainment System’s sound chip were capable of, and the Super NES was hardly any more advanced. MegaMan 8 is a rare case where there’s actually a fair amount to say about the sound effects. After all, both the PlayStation and the Saturn were capable of playing back actual audio recordings at a reasonable quality and that ability had an effect on how the game sounded. As such, the game’s sound effects are, to put it simply, more realistic. Unfortunately, this isn’t always a positive: for example, whenever MegaMan lands, he makes this squeaking noise. I guess I just never thought of what MegaMan should sound like, but I certainly never thought he was made of dog toys. I suppose the credit for that interesting choice should go to the man behind the sound effects, Shinji Amagishi.

Even more important would be the game’s use of voice acting: MegaMan 8 was the first game in the Classic series to have voice acting and the only mainline game to make use of them. Now, the voice acting’s poor reputation is generally associated with the abysmal performance of Dr. Light, who sounded more like Elmer Fudd than a kindly roboticist rocking a Santa beard. Aside from that anomaly, I’d say that the voice acting is actually pretty good considering the time of the game’s release. Personally, I wish more people paid attention to the Robot Masters’ voiceovers. They really add a lot of personality to them and frankly, I think they hold up even to this day. From Astroman’s paranoid whining and Aquaman’s bizarre flamboyance to Clownman’s snarky jester persona and the big popsicle-loving lug known as Frostman, the voices really help flesh out the bosses in this game in a way that nothing else could. It makes me wish that more games in the series could’ve gotten this treatment.

MM8-04

Honestly, I wish I could’ve just posted an audio recording here instead of a screenshot.

MegaMan 8’s soundtrack is also affected by the new technology available to Capcom. The fifth generation marked a decided shift away from chiptune-style music, with most compositions leaning more towards actual instrumentation, thanks in part to the new platforms’ ability to utilize both CD audio and far more advanced synthesizers than the sound chips found in previous generations. MM8 scaled back to having a single composer: Shusaku Uchiyama, generally associated with the Resident Evil games. As the game’s music was handled by the onboard synthesizers, rather than the CD audio, Tomoyuki “T.K, NY” Kawakami acts as the sound programmer. The Japanese version had songs for the opening cutscene and the game’s credit performed by J-Pop group GANASIA. The international releases replaced these songs with original instrumental pieces: both are good, though I prefer the upbeat tones of “ELECTRICAL COMMUNICATION” over the piece made for the Western version’s intro. MegaMan 8’s soundtrack appears to go for a more electronica-inspired sound. Considering that’s one of my favorite musical genres, I may be a little biased but I think the music in MM8 lives up to the series’ pedigree. My favorite tracks in the game are the stage select, the tracks from Clownman, Frostman, Searchman and Aquaman’s stages, the standard boss battle music (not to mention the catchy tune that plays when the bosses introduce themselves), the Got Weapon jingle and the second, third and fourth Wily Tower stage themes. Honorable mentions go to the Grenademan and Astroman stage themes and the remix of Bass’s theme – they’re definitely good tracks, but declaring them among “my favorites” feels like overkill.

Looking back at MegaMan 8 is an exercise in melancholy. Despite all of the changes that were made compared to the earlier games in the series, Capcom managed to stumble upon a style that was able to stay true to the roots of the Classic MegaMan series, while streamlining a few aspects for modern audiences, succeeding in many ways where MegaMan 7 had failed. In fact, much like MM7, I wished that Capcom had done a touch-up on MM8: just add the Saturn-exclusive content back into the game and tighten up some of the more blatant issues. Likewise, there’s another fan-made remake in progress that reimagines it as an NES game.  MegaMan 8 certainly wasn’t a perfect game by any means, but the potential was clearly there. Future sequels could’ve smoothed out the odd idiosyncrasies that didn’t quite work.  But that was it. At least in the West, Classic MegaMan wouldn’t receive a new title for roughly six years after the eighth game in the franchise – and even then, the new game had been released in Asia years prior. Whether you blame it on the fact that video games were moving more towards 3D – something I still don’t think the 2D MegaMan platformers could easily translate to – or the fact that by the end of the PlayStation era, the franchise had 3 separate brands associated with it, the point is that the original Blue Bomber would be relegated to cameo appearances in other games for many years. Of course, in the Land of the Rising Sun, the Classic series still had one game left up its sleeve…

MegaMan & Bass

Rockman & Forte – or MegaMan & Bass, as it was called in its delayed Western release – is an interesting title with an interesting history. Developed soon after the eighth MegaMan game, it was the last game to be released in the Classic series for several years. Odder still, it was developed on the Super Famicom, well after the PlayStation had been released. At the same time, Westerners would generally refer to it as “MegaMan 9”. While many people have dismissed MM&B as nothing more than a glorified spinoff, personally I’ve always considered it a mainline entry in the series. Considering the fact that Capcom actually referenced it in the actual MM9, I think they feel the same way. While perhaps even more experimental than its predecessor, MegaMan & Bass managed to refine many of the problems faced by the last attempt at creating a Classic game for the Super Nintendo.

MM&B-02

Demoted to the introduction stage. How humiliating.

According to Keiji Inafune, MegaMan & Bass was intended for younger fans who still owned a Super Famicom and didn’t have one of the newer systems. The design team consisted of several new employees, as well as several staff members from previous MegaMan games and Inafune required them to make a game that was “as hardcore as possible”, lending to MM&B’s infamous difficulty. The staff claimed that they were attempting to create a game that avoided the tried and true formula of the series, trying to avoid stagnation. That fact, coupled with the fact that the stages were clearly designed with Bass in mind – to the extent where the only advantages MegaMan has over him that some collectables are only reachable by MM’s slide and the fact that his default Buster shots can pass through walls – has led many to speculate that the game was originally envisioned as a spinoff with MegaMan’s rival as the sole character. I couldn’t find any evidence confirming or denying this theory, but it is fun to speculate on it. One interesting find regarding the game is that the header data refers to the game as “ROCK8.5”, implying that the game was always considered a spinoff rather than a ninth Classic game. The Japanese release didn’t even have the usual subtitle associated with Japanese releases.

The game was originally only released in Japan, as the Super Nintendo Entertainment System was essentially dead when the game came out in 1998. However, when Capcom ported MM&B to the Game Boy Advance in 2002, it was finally officially released in the West the following year. Given the disadvantages that the GBA version had – a smaller screen resolution and less buttons than the SNES controller – as well as a poor-quality translation, I’d generally recommend the original Super Famicom version. There was even a fan-made English translation patch for the original version. It’s admittedly more literal than the official one, leading to some interesting dialogue choices that may seem a bit out of place for a “MegaMan” game, but it’s still far more coherent than the official version released by Capcom.

MM&B-03

The Treble Boost: the most broken power-up since the original Rush Jet.

While two of the bosses – Tenguman and Astroman – were recycled from MegaMan 8, the other six were created by three manga artists, all of whom worked on various MegaMan mangas: Yoshihiro Iwamoto (Rockman X-X4) designed Magicman and Groundman; Coldman and Pirateman were created by Koji Izuki (Rockman 8, Rockman & Forte) and Hitoshi Ariga (Rockman MegaMix/GigaMix) created Burnerman and Dynamoman. In fact, some of the Robot Masters were renamed during the game’s development: Burnerman was “Blastman”, Coldman was “Freezerman” and Dynamoman was “Coilman” – while Groundman was originally designated as “Drillman”, despite there already being one back in MegaMan 4. An interesting shift from the standard Boss Design contests that had been held since the second game in the series, but considering the fact that this was a spinoff game and the previous game had two Capcom-designed Robot Masters, I guess it wasn’t that much of a stretch that Capcom would commissioned professional artists to design bosses.

It’s been roughly one year since the events of MegaMan 8 and the devious Dr. Wily is still missing, leaving the world in relative peace. But as the malevolent mechanist was preparing a new assault on the world, a new robot going by the name King appears. Declaring his plans to conquer the Earth, King asserted that robots were superior to humanity and therefore should rule the Earth, rather than acting as servants. King deposed Wily from his new castle and stole data from six new Robot Masters, as well as using two of Wily’s older creations to begin building his army. His next target: the Robot Museum, which contains the data of many of the world’s most powerful robots. Dr. Light sends MegaMan to stop this new threat, but surprisingly, Bass – MegaMan’s rival and Dr. Wily’s greatest creation – also arrives on the scene, seeking to prove his superiority. After King fells Protoman and escapes from the museum, the two decide to form an uneasy alliance to stop this new automated autocrat.

MM&B-04

Meanwhile, Rock gets the Rush Search again. Totally fair trade-off.

The most obvious difference from previous games in the Classic series is the fact that players are allowed to choose between two characters, rather than simply playing as the Blue Bomber. Upon starting a new game, players are asked to choose between MegaMan and Bass in a similar fashion to the way that they chose between X and Zero in MegaMan X4. This decision is permanent – players can’t switch between characters at any point during that playthrough. MegaMan is essentially unchanged from MegaMan 7 & 8: he still retains his slide and charge shot. Of course, Bass is the game’s real star attraction. He has a MMX-style dash and a double jump. His most unique difference would have to be the Bass Buster: it acts as a rapid fire gun that Bass can aim in 7 directions – everything but straight down. This comes at the cost of his mobility: Bass can only jump while firing, he’s unable to walk or dash. Also, unlike MegaMan’s shots, the Bass Buster can’t shoot through walls by default. The best comparison I can think of would be the Fixed Shot from Gunstar Heroes. Still, he’s definitely the better choice for this game due to his unique abilities. Few stages are really centered around MegaMan’s moveset, which puts him at a bit of a disadvantage, but that’s honestly part of the fun. Having a game where using the series’ traditional character is essentially the game’s “hard mode” is a pretty unique concept that I’d love to see more games in general tackle.

Like I mentioned earlier, MegaMan & Bass deviates from most of the mainline MegaMan games in some pretty extreme ways. Perhaps the most evident change comes from the stage select menu. Instead of being allowed to select from all eight Robot Masters from the beginning or from four bosses at a time, MM&B handled things in a unique way. After clearing the game’s introductory stage, players are allowed to select from one of three Robot Masters: Coldman, Groundman and Astroman. Clearing each of these bosses open up paths to additional bosses. Defeating Coldman unlocks Burnerman and Pirateman, Groundman opens the way to Tenguman and Magicman, while a showdown with Dynamoman is the reward for toppling Astroman. The only real downsides to this method is that it ends up making most of the boss weaknesses even more obvious than usual and that it limits the order the bosses can be fought in. At the end of each “path”, is the entrance to King’s Castle, which is locked off by eight seals, each accessible by a teleporter pad. Each seal can only be unlocked by using one of the Special Weapons obtained from each boss and destroying a seal nets the player a significant amount of bolts (or screws, as they were renamed) – more on those later. After all eight seals are destroyed, players are then allowed to enter King’s Fortress, containing 3 stages in total. The fact that the Fortress in MegaMan & Bass only has three levels may sound short, but believe me, that is not the case. The second and third stages have several boss fights – the third level even forces players to undergo a gauntlet of all 8 Robot Masters similar to the first MegaMan game before the final showdown with Wily – of course he was behind it, what were you expecting?

MM&B-01

The ability to aim shots makes the weaker damage totally worth it.

Throughout the game, there are 100 CDs hidden throughout the various stages. These contain data profiles on various characters from the MegaMan games, particularly the Robot Masters, but also some human characters like Dr. Light. The way they’re arranged, some can only be collected by MegaMan and others can only be collected by Bass, generally relying on some of their unique abilities. Fortunately, many CDs can be collected by either character, though some are very well-hidden. The game also makes use of save files as opposed to passwords, using a battery back-up save on the game cartridge. There are four save files available in total, though the CDs that are collected are retained across saves. Fortunately, for those who want to find them all over again, there is a special code that erases the CD collection data.

The shop system from the previous two games returns in MegaMan & Bass as well. The collectable screws that are used for currency take on the same mechanics as those in MM7: there are an infinite amount of screws to find throughout stages, allowing completionists to buy every item in the shop. The shop itself effectively better resembles that of MegaMan 8 in terms of its offerings. Aside from extra lives, everything that can be bought from Auto’s Shop is a power-up. Some are temporary, like the shock Guard which prevents death when touching spikes once, the Item Present, which causes a random item to drop at some point during the next stage (kind of like Eddie in MM4 and 5). There are also plenty of permanent items, like the Exit Unit, Energy Balancer, an Energy Saver that reduces the energy cost for Special Weapons, Cost Energy which doubles attack power when the character is near-death and Super Recover, which increases the amount of energy recovered by power-ups. There’s even a Com System that allows the player to ask hints from Roll, which can be further upgraded with other items like the CD Counter or the Enemy Analyzer, that allow her to count the remaining CDs and strategies to take out bosses respectively.

Each character also has their own unique power-ups as well. For MegaMan, the Rush Search returns from MM7; Eddie who drops a few power-ups before leaving; Beat who gives off a shield that renders MegaMan invincible temporarily; Auto Charge, which sets the Mega Buster to charge automatically; Auto Recover, which allows MegaMan to recover his health one unit at a time by standing still and the High-Speed Buster, which speeds up the charge time for the Mega Buster. Bass, on the other hand, gets the Treble Boost, which acts sort of like the Rush Super Adapter from MM7, allowing Bass to fly for a limited amount of time; High-Speed Dash, which increases his dash’s speed; the Step Booster, which speeds up his ability to climb ladders; the Hyper Blast, which allows the Bass Buster’s shots to travel through walls; and my personal favorite, the Super Blast, which doubles the Bass Buster’s attack strength.

Of course, as far as MegaMan & Bass strayed from the basic MegaMan formula, it still retained the ability to obtain Special Weapons from defeating each of the game’s eight Robot Masters. The interesting thing about them is that while the weapons retain the same functionality for both characters, their appearances – particularly the colors MegaMan and Bass take on while using them – are wildly different. As per usual, I’ve decided to rank MM&B’s weapons from best to worst, though to be honest, the weapons in this game are more interesting than useful overall. My favorite weapon in MM&B would probably be Pirateman’s Remote Mine –  a mine which can be manipulated until it attached to the first object it collides with. Hit the fire button a second time, at any point, and it detonates with a decent blast radius. Number 2 would be the Ice Wall from Coldman. It generates a literal wall of ice, that can be used as a platform or a shield. Better still, walk up against it and it can be pushed, allowing MegaMan or Bass to ride across obstacles like spike pits. It’s probably one of the best utility Special Weapons in the entire MegaMan series. Tenguman’s Tengu Blade is easily my third favorite. It’s essentially two weapons in one: dashing or sliding allows it to work like an improved version of the Charge Kick from MM5, firing it normally shoots off a swirling slash that vaguely resembles a Sonic Boom and can bounce off walls. Next up would have to be the Spread Drill, obtained after defeating Groundman. It starts out as a giant drill that moves slowly and quickly loses altitude when left to its own devices. Press the fire button again and it splits into two smaller drills that move slightly faster, pressing it a third time and they split again into four tiny but quick drills. Then there’s Magicman’s Magic Card: a boomerang-style weapon that can be aimed either straight forward or straight up. Not really that useful in terms of attack power, but the fact that it can grab power-up items and recover them is a pretty nice bonus. The fact that it allows MegaMan to aim straight up is a plus, as well. The sixth best weapon would probably be the Lightning Bolt, taken from Dynamoman. Effectively an Astro Crush knockoff themed around a lightning storm, the energy cost is slightly lower, allowing for more uses, which gives it a slight edge over its predecessor. Number 7 is Burnerman’s Wave Burner. Effectively a complete ripoff of the Flame Mammoth’s Fire Wave from the original MegaMan X, it sprays a constant wave of flames for a short distance, while rendering the character motionless. It’s not particularly useful, but it does decent damage all things considered. Finally, there’s the Copy Vision, taken from Astroman – effectively one of the worst weapons in the entire series. It generates a holographic duplicate of the player character that fires off a slow but steady cascade of standard shots at a rate slower than Bass’s standard rapid fire. I’ve never encountered a situation where it’s not easier to just use the standard Buster.

MM&B-05

Oh yeah, that’s way better than dropping a literal meteor shower.

MegaMan & Bass’s graphics were standard for the end of the SNES’s lifespan, effectively experimenting with techniques in order to get the best graphics possible from the dying system. In this game’s case, Capcom effectively used the artstyle from MegaMan 8, recycling some existing graphics and creating new ones in the same style. Of course, it doesn’t turn out quite as well as it did on the 32-bit platforms – SNES had some severe limitations – but compared to other late-era Capcom games (Street Fighter Alpha 2 comes to mind), it turns out much better with very little in the way of outright compression. I’d almost liken it to the use of pre-rendered graphics in the Donkey Kong Country games: nothing particularly amazing by today’s standards, but the fact that they were able to so closely resemble graphics found on the PlayStation with very little compromise is impressive. The game’s presentation is also quite unique in many ways: the stage select takes on a more map-like appearance, with a mug shot of the enemy appearing in the bottom-left corner, as well as a preview of the stage in the bottom-right. The demos that play after selecting a stage also deviate from the previous games, going for a more ornate look. Instead of just showcasing each Robot Master’s entrance from the beginning of each boss fight, MM&B also includes a more-detailed profile shot of each boss. Most interesting of all would have to be the “map screen” for King’s Castle: instead of doing the traditional simple map that the series has been using since MegaMan 2, there are three rows of graphics, each giving a preview of what to expect from each fortress stage.

If there’s one area where MegaMan & Bass definitely doesn’t stray from the series’ roots, it would have to be the music. Toshihiko “Kirikiri-chan” Horiyama returns as one of MM&B’s composers, alongside Naoshi Mizuta – who composed music for the original Street Fighter Alpha and Vampire Savior – as well as Akari Kaida, who worked on the original Resident Evil, Night Warriors, Cyberbots and would go onto working on Breath of Fire III among others. The Game Boy Advance port would also credit Chiriro “T.Arisaka” Arisaka for reprogramming the sound on Nintendo’s handheld, as she would on many other ports of older Capcom games. All the same, MM&B made far better use of the SNES’s sound capabilities than MM7, going for a much cleaner sound. Maybe it’s because the game’s staff was far smaller or simply because they had more experience working with the Super Nintendo’s hardware at this point, but the music just sounds more cohesive this time around. As with most SNES-to-GBA ports, the music suffers a bit in the portable release due to the weaker sound hardware, but is still left mostly intact. Compared to the previous two games, MegaMan & Bass’s music sounds like a more modernized version of the 8-bit MegaMan music. It’s honestly hard to choose favorites this time around. The Robot Museum theme is generally considered a classic, I love Tenguman’s theme – I’d say it’s the best of the three he’s had by far – as well as the songs from Coldman, Groundman, Pirateman and Magicman’s levels. The music from the first two stages of King’s Fortress is also great, along with the standard boss battle theme, the Got Weapon jingle and the song plays in Auto’s Shop.

MM&B-06

Seriously, it’s like they made Bass way cooler on purpose or something.

For a brief period, I would’ve said that MegaMan & Bass was my favorite of the three post 8-bit MegaMan Classic games, but I’d say that MM8 has regained its dominance since then. All the same, I’d call MM&B the best Classic MegaMan on the Super Nintendo. While it suffers from the same zoomed-in graphics as its predecessor – to the extent where the character sprites take up more of the screen than those of MM7 – the control manages to feel more fluid and responsive. I’ve seen quite a few people who consider MM&B to be the worst of the Classic series, which I’ve never understood. Sure, MegaMan’s inclusion is generally considered to be an afterthought and the game is definitely among the most difficult in the entire franchise, but I’d consider the latter the plus and the choice of including two different characters with totally different abilities allowed the stage designs to really branch out and experiment. I was sad to hear that this game was left off the second MegaMan Legacy Collection that came out earlier this year, but some have speculated that we may be receiving a third compilation down the line. Saving a traditional console MegaMan platformer to include with whatever else Capcom picks from their archives is definitely a smart idea and MM&B would definitely add some value to a proposed MMLC3, especially if it means getting a new and improved English translation of the original Super Famicom version in the process.

“The Best of” Mega Man (Game Gear)

Remember how I said North America got its own exclusive MegaMan game on a Sega console way back in part 1? This is it, and trust me, we Americans definitely got the raw end of the deal on this one. Originally advertised under the name “The Best of Mega Man” – a title I can only imagine was meant to be seeping with sarcasm and irony – I remember wanting this game as a child. You have to remember, when I was a kid, I was a Sega fanboy and the Game Gear was my first system. Considering that the game came out in 1995, I would’ve been around 7 years old at the time. Now imagine you told a six-year-old boy that one of his favorite video game series of all time was coming to the first video game system he had ever owned. That’d be one excited six-year-old. I missed out on the game at the time and as it would turn out, that was honestly for the best. I’d happen upon the game years later and I was absolutely horrified with what I’d found. It’s a good thing they decided not to go with “The Best of Mega Man” as the title, it would’ve been the most open-and-shut case of false advertising in American history.

This is another licensed game, published by British company U.S. Gold – don’t ask, I don’t understand it either. That’s right, the same company that brought MegaMan to the Game Gear also brought us such “classics” as Strider Returns and OutRun Europa. As per usual, U.S. Gold farmed out development to an English company, Freestyle Software Limited. Their only other credits involved a few other ports – including an Amiga port of Super Street Fighter II – as well as various sports trivia and card games. Exactly the kind of people you want in charge of a port of one of the most beloved Japanese platformers of all-time, right?

MMGG-01

Believe it or not, there’s a pit of spikes just out of frame.

The game has really little in terms of backstory. MegaMan is fighting Dr. Wily – who is using robots from MegaMan 4 and 5 once again. There’s really very little else to say here: it’s kind of funny that the game’s manual says that Dr. Wily has been MegaMan’s arch enemy since 1985. The difficulty setting from the Western release of MegaMan 2 on the NES returns, but it’s somewhat different from the previous game. The game starts off with the choice of four Robot Masters: Stoneman, Napalmman and Starman from MM5, alongside Brightman from MM4. After that, it’s on to Dr. Wily’s Fortress – which is Dr. Cossack’s Citadel for reasons I don’t entirely understand – where the first stage involves a fight with Waveman from MM5. While those playing on the Difficult setting make a brief stopover against Toadman, both players end up finishing off the game with two levels before a final encounter with Dr. Wily.

Considering the fact that this game literally came out a year after the spectacular MegaMan V on the Game Boy, expectations were pretty high for this one. The Classic MegaMan formula had been perfected across two platforms by this point and expectations were high, considering Sega had scored one of Nintendo’s third-party jewels. This was the first portable MegaMan game in full color! Unfortunately, the game failed to live up to even the most meager of expectations, delivering an experience that made MegaMan II look like MegaMan 2 – I know what I said. The controls are particularly sluggish and the physics are a bit off: the most noticeable differences are that MegaMan can only have two shots onscreen at the same time and bosses have the same amount of hit-invincibility as the Blue Bomber himself. The most detrimental change was a deliberate change on the part of the developers. Deciding to keep the graphics the same size as the NES version on the Game Gear’s smaller screen forced the game’s field of vision to shrink significantly, making even the most obvious obstacles from the original games into leaps of faith, where only perfect muscle memory can guarantee success. To make up for that, the game added vertical scrolling locked to MegaMan’s movement, essentially making the game disorienting to even look at. The devs did put in the option to manipulate the vertical scroll manually – but it required moving the camera with the D-Pad while holding down the jump button. Another terrible change to the game is that there are absolutely no continues. That’s right, Game Over is taken quite literally in this game. Better keep those passwords handy, though they’ll only get you about halfway through the game as best.

MMGG-02

By the way, this is as far as any password will take you. Have fun!

While many people mistakenly assumed that the Game Boy MegaMan games simply recycled the levels from the NES game, the Game Gear more or less delivers on that lazy promise. Each of the six Robot Masters inhabit their stages from their respective NES games, with a few minor tweaks – for example, Eddie no longer appears in the game, so he’s often replaced some form of an energy power-up. The weapons also return unaltered – aside from being rechristened with such imaginative names as “Bomb Weapon” and “Stone Weapon” – alongside MegaMan 5’s take on the Rush Coil. The Wily stages fare even more bizarrely: the first is literally just Quickman’s stage from MM2 with no boss fight at the end, while the second and final stage is a corridor leading to a teleporter that sends MegaMan directly to the final fight with Wily: nothing more than a simple fight with the now-traditional Wily Capsule.

MMGG-03

No, seriously.

The graphic style is somewhat evocative of The Wily Wars, focusing on sprites that are essentially the same as the NES games with expanded color palettes. Unfortunately, they were handled far worse in this game – some of the game’s graphics just end up looking weird, either due to the different aspect ratio of the smaller screen or just through poor redrawing in general. One example that can’t help but stand out to me is MegaMan himself: for some reason, his helmet looks too small and it looks like he’s got an off-center cyan mohawk on top. The backgrounds end up looking pretty good, like enhanced versions of the NES originals, but as I said before, the entire game is hampered by the zoomed-in camera, which just makes everything look worse.

The game’s music is a cacophony. While MegaMan II on the Game Boy had original compositions and a sound programmer unfamiliar with the system’s hardware, MegaMan for Game Gear doesn’t have quite as many excuses. The game’s music was rearranged by one “Dr. Mike Ash, PhD”: a composer that worked on various other British video games. One such game that I managed to find the soundtrack for was the Game Gear version of Marko’s Magic Football – same system, same composer. I listened to it for comparison’s sake and found that it had much better composition than Mega Man and even came out the year before, so there’s really no excuse for the game’s horrid instrumentation. Perhaps the weirdest part of the game’s composition is how some of the music is used. Most of the stage themes are pretty much what you’d expect – though Waveman was given Gravityman’s theme for reasons I don’t entirely understand – the boss music and the final Wily stage are taken from MM4, while the stage select is taken from 5. The other music is also taken from older games, but used in unusual contexts. For starters, the opening cutscene is MM5’s password and the title screen is MM5’s introduction with the title screen theme tacked onto the end. The jingles for both the stage selected and got weapon screens are two different rearrangements of the map theme from Dr. Cossack’s Citadel from MM4, the game’s ending is one of the Dr. Cossack fortress level themes and perhaps most interesting of all, the Game Over tune is Waveman’s theme… in its entirety. I don’t understand these choices, but they fall in line with many of the other baffling decisions that caused this game to take shape, so it’s hard to argue them.

MMGG-04

It’s weird seeing Toadman put up this much of a fight.

I actually think that the Game Gear’s Mega Man may be my least favorite game in the entire series, even more than the supposedly inferior PC duology from Hi-Tech Expressions and Rozner Labs. The thing about the DOS games is that while they are substantially worse at recreating Capcom’s games – in appearance, sound and even gameplay – they attempted to create their own unique scenarios, no matter how misguided. Likewise, the games themselves honestly looked more like amateurish fan works, something that most people would take one look at the screenshots on the back of the box and immediately realize that they’d been ripped off. U.S. Gold’s take on the franchise just comes across as far more insidious: lifting entire levels from the NES games, but breaking them with minor but game-breaking modifications to the game’s engine. Worse yet, they also showcase graphics that, at first glance, appear to be superior to the originals, but lead to even greater concessions in terms of presentation. The Game Gear game feels lazy at best and is an outright scam at worst. So yes, while the Game Gear Mega Man may have emulated the actual games more closely than the PC games, they offer absolutely nothing of worth – at least the Hi-Tech games had some original (albeit half-baked) concepts. Just ignore the Game Gear game with extreme prejudice, even MegaMan II on the Game Boy would be better.

MegaMan: The Power Battle & MegaMan 2: The Power Fighters

MegaMan: The Power Battle and its direct sequel, MegaMan 2: The Power Fighters were interesting games based on an obvious concept. The MegaMan series was among the first of Capcom’s success stories within the console market, but what had really made them a household name was their arcade fighting games. With Street Fighter II propelling them into the spotlight, much of Capcom’s focus during the 90s was on 2D fighting games, coming up with other franchises such as Darkstalkers, their licensed games with Marvel and the crossover games pitting their characters against other companies, both within and without the video game industry. Combining the two seemed like a natural fit, taking the MegaMan franchise’s trademark boss fights and streamlining them into a fighting game, so in 1995 and 1996, both games were released in Arcades.

While the Japanese versions are generally the most common, there were also rarer English releases released in North America. In fact, when I was a child, I managed to encounter Power Battle during a family trip on the Big Red Boat cruise line. I became obsessed with the game for my short stay, attempting to beat the game any time and any way I could. Come to think of it, this was the first time I remember being introduced to Bass – who I’d always choose when I could. In fact, tying back to MegaMan & Bass, I remember being irritated with Bass’s new attack style: in Power Battle (and by extension, its sequel), Bass had a charge shot just like MegaMan and ProtoMan. It ticked me off when I was a kid, but these days the aimable rapid fire is definitely my preference.

MM-TPB

It’s weird just how much content was taken directly from MegaMan 7.

While both games have their own unique characteristics, the base gameplay mechanics remain the same. Players are asked to choose between MegaMan, ProtoMan and Bass – with Duo acting as a fourth playable character in Power Fighters – before choosing their “course”. Both games have three courses apiece, each with six Robot Masters to fight. After defeating them, it’s off to Wily’s Fortress for two boss fights, the latter against the mad doctor himself, capped off with a Wily Capsule bonus round. As with most fighting games, there’s the option for one or two players to play, but this time around, it’s cooperative play. Likewise, it’s impossible for both players to pick the same character: after all, with the MegaMan series’ emphasis on palette swapping in general, alternate colors would be a nightmare to manage. As this is an arcade game, there are also some unique quirks: for example, health is maintained between fights and each credit only grants a player a single life. The game’s controls consist of a joystick for movement, as well as three buttons: fire, jump and change weapon, which cycles through the weapons in a continuous loop. Likewise, when a Special Weapon is out of ammo, it defaults back to the standard attack.

Despite being released only a year apart, there are actually several differences between Battle and Fighters. Perhaps the most obvious is Duo. While both games include MegaMan, ProtoMan and Bass as playable characters, Power Fighters added Duo as a stealth advertisement for the then-upcoming MegaMan 8. While the other three characters are interchangeable for the most part, Duo is far more reliant on short-range attacks, stretching out his larger arm as his primary attack, but can also deal damage with his dash attack. His charge shot allows for greater distance, but also moves far more slowly than the other three. Of course, like the others, he can still use the Special Weapons, which brings me to the next major difference. In The Power Battle, defeating Robot Masters earns both characters each Special Weapon. Power Fighters, on the other hand, has each Robot Master drop an orb containing their weapon – along with health and score power-ups. Whoever picks up the orb gets the weapon. This also applies to a single-player run: no orb, no weapon. It definitely adds more of a competitive aspect to the game which makes the game more interesting when playing it in two-player: some could split the weapon amicably in order to allow for decent load-outs between both players, while other could simply race to see who gets each weapon first.

MM2-TPF

Of course, it makes perfect sense to fight Stoneman in the Egypt-themed area, especially with the giant Sphinx in the background with Pharoahman’s face on it.

Both games offer a choice of three “courses”, each with their own sets of bosses. Both games handle their courses differently. PB separates its Robot Masters by game – resulting in MegaMan 1-2, MegaMan 3-6 and MegaMan 7, which was the newest release at that point in time. PF, on the other hand, separates them into “missions”: “Search for Wily!” has players looking for Wily’s new base, “Rescue Roll!” has a Wily robot kidnap MegaMan’s sister, while “Recover parts!” has one stealing parts for an experimental device. These goals are generally associated with one of the six Robot Masters – chosen at random – and clearing it boosts the character’s abilities. Even the stage select works differently in both games: while Power Fighters allowed players to choose the stage manually, Power Battle went for a weird roulette system where it would cycle between remaining areas and stops on a button press. Both games also have different rosters of bosses: while many are shared between games, The Power Battle had a significant focus on MM7, while Fighters has a more balanced roster. The Power Fighters also adds Eddie as a random encounter during fights, dropping a limited time power-up that varies depending on which character picks it up: MegaMan and Bass get back-up from Rush and Treble respectively – who charge at enemies when charge shots are fired – while ProtoMan and Duo get a shield from Beat that renders them invincible. These power-ups render the player unable to use the Special Weapons until they wear off,

While all of the Robot Masters in both games were essentially recycled from the first seven games in the mainline series, that doesn’t mean that all of the weapons are ripped directly from them. For starters, there are cases where existing weapons have been modified – sometimes to the extent where they almost act like entirely new weapons. For example, the Super Arm now allows MegaMan et al to fire boulders at enemies at will, as opposed to grabbing giant blocks and throwing them. The Crash Bomb now attaches to the ground and fires off multiple small explosions, while the Atomic Fire becomes an arc shot that results in a pillar of flames. Airman’s Air Shooter now only fires off a single tornado while increasing its speed. Some bosses end up giving out different Special Weapons. For example, while Stone Man’s Power Stone has the same name as his original weapon from MM5, it acts completely different: causing a giant stone hand to sail across the bottom of the screen. It’s way better than the original. Likewise, Pharoahman and Centaurman get entirely new weapons: the Pharoah Wave and Centaur Arrow. The Pharoah Wave fires off two energy waves, one in front of MegaMan, the other behind. The Centaur Arrow fires off an arrow-shaped energy burst either straight forward or up-forward diagonally. While the Centaur Arrow is a slight improvement over the Centaur Flash, the Pharoah Wave only appears to have been modified because the Pharoah Shot was little more than a slightly improved Mega Buster.

The games share an artstyle that is clearly inspired by that of MegaMan 7. In fact, it looks like MegaMan, ProtoMan, Bass and the MM7 Robot Masters were all at least based on their sprites from the SNES game, albeit with some weird ratio alterations that just make them look wider, causing them to suffer a bit upon close inspection. The sprites drawn specifically for Power Battle look stupendous: I’ve mentioned that I’ve always had a bit of a preference for MegaMan 7’s spritework and this game is definitely a major factor in my love for the artstyle. You can get a sense for the size of each Robot Master in a way that most games – especially those in the 8-bit style – just simply can’t match. The added budget from being an arcade game also improved the animation budget: the Yellow Devil and its liquid body are a prime highlight of what the spriting artisans of Capcom were capable of back in the mid-90s. The new sprites made for The Power Fighters are a bit less consistent. While most of them actually look even better than those from the previous game – Stoneman, Pharoahman and Airman are great examples – others, like Elecman and Duo, just come across as cheaply-made and not at all consistent with the rest of the game’s spritework. Still, that’s just a small criticism overall – after all, PF upped the ante by adding special animations when bosses are hit with their weaknesses.

The music and sound receive a similar upgrade: Capcom’s CPS-2 arcade hardware typically used QSound to achieve its unique instrumentation. Regardless, Capcom’s arcade games were renowned for their audio clarity and the MegaMan arcade duology was no exception. Sound effects in general sounded akin to a fighting game and quite unlike any MegaMan game that came before (or after) it. Likewise, the games made use of Japanese voice acting. While some of it was removed from the international releases of The Power Battle, it was left completely intact for Fighters. The games’ music was mostly recycled from earlier games in the MegaMan series and rearranged by Setsuo Yamamoto and Hideki Okugawa. The Power Battle actually had less compositions in general – forcing the bosses in the MegaMan 1-2 and MegaMan 3-6 courses to share music, while the MM7 bosses all had their own unique songs, Shademan’s Ghouls ‘n Ghosts Easter Egg even returns. The Power Fighters, on the other hand, took great care to make sure that every boss had their own unique themes, even the Fortress sub-bosses. Unfortunately, even with all that love and care put into the games’ soundtracks, there are still some odd quirks. For example, Turboman has the theme from MM7’s introduction stage in Power Battle, while Plantman, Quickman and Centaurman have Crashman’s theme, the MM2 boss music and Junkman’s themes respectively in Power Fighters. Aside from that, there’s little to complain about when it comes to the soundtrack – there was even an original song used in Power Battle for the first Fortress boss that returned in Power Fighters as the Yellow Devil’s unique boss theme. Considering the fact that much of the music was actually reused in the Rockman Complete Works’ arranged soundtracks, it’s clear that Capcom also recognized its quality.

rm-b&f

I seriously wish Capcom had actually pursued this art style on their own.

It wasn’t remotely uncommon for Capcom’s arcade games to receive home ports, especially if they were based around Capcom’s own intellectual properties rather than a license. The MegaMan arcade games were no exception, though their first trip home was unique to say the least. Rather than coming home on the PlayStation or even the Saturn, the first home release of Power Battle and Power Fighters was a Japanese-only release in 2000 for the Neo Geo Pocket Color, a portable system designed by rival company SNK to compete with Nintendo’s Game Boy Color. Dubbed “Rockman Battle & Fighters”, the release was by no means arcade-perfect, but it was fascinating. While the game had to make sacrifices with regards to its graphics and especially its sound, the gameplay was left intact, more or less. The game’s soundtrack was diminished to roughly 3 Robot Master themes period, but they end up sounding pretty good on the NGPC’s sound chip. Perhaps the most interesting change came to the graphics. Essentially bridging the gap between the arcade games’ unique 16-bit style and the original NES games, Battle & Fighters had a unique look that I wish more games had emulated. It didn’t always work, but when it did, it looked gorgeous, given the NGPC’s limited capabilities. The best example would be the Blue Bomber himself: the juxtaposition of his classic 8-bit face with the posture and stance he had in  MM7 made for a unique look I wish more games had tried. B&F also had an information database, with profiles on all of the game’s Robot Masters, as well as the playable characters, Roll, Dr. Wily and Dr. Light. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who wants to have the definitive experience with these two games, but it is definitely a fascinating curiosity.

That’s not to say that there weren’t more traditional re-releases as well. In fact, one of the main selling points for the MegaMan Anniversary Collection was the inclusion of the two arcade games as unlockable bonus content. As such, Western gamers had access to them whether they owned a PS2, GameCube or even the Xbox. Japan, on the other hand, saw a completely different release, referred to as Rockman Power Battle Fighters. A PS2-exclusive, the release only contained the two arcade games in a collection that resembled most of the fighting game rerelease compilations on the Japanese PS2 at the time. It was pretty much arcade-perfect, but added a competitive Versus mode to both games, where two players could fight each other with each respective game’s full arsenal at their disposal. Definitely a nice bonus and I’d hope that if Capcom decides to re-release the arcade games again, they use this version for that new feature alone.

versus-mode

It’s broken, it’s stupid, but it’s pure fun.

As a whole, both MegaMan: The Power Battle and MegaMan 2: The Power Fighters are little more than a fun little diversion. They were designed as arcade fighting games, so expecting anything more would be insane. They’re probably either best played by people unfamiliar with the franchise or fans of the series in the mood for a quick play session with little time to spare. These aren’t really meant to be criticisms of the games, just statements that they’re probably not the best way to experience the Classic MegaMan series as a whole. While the boss fights are definitely one of the most memorable aspects of any MegaMan game, the stages that precede them are equally important to the franchise’s core identity. Still, it is impressive just how well MegaMan was able to transition into a fighting game without losing the key elements that make the series so unique in the first place. Best of all, it’s an all too rare example of a cooperative fighting game and that alone makes these games worth at least one playthrough.

Rockman & Forte: Mirai Kara no Chousensha

Rockman & Forte: Mirai Kara no Chousensha – which roughly translates to “MegaMan & Bass: Challenge from the Future” and commonly referred to by fans as either “Rockman & Forte WonderSwan” or “Rockman & Forte 2” – is most likely the best officially-licensed MegaMan game in existence. This sentence, while true, is also a prime example of a “back-handed compliment”. That’s not meant to be a dig at the game itself, but given the other games Capcom licensed from other companies, it’s also not really that big of an achievement either. Released in 1999, it is one of the most well-known games for Bandai’s Japan-exclusive handheld, the WonderSwan, and honestly, in terms of quality, I’d say that while it’s still a step down from even MegaMan II on the Game Boy – which it actually references in its storyline – it’s still probably the best MegaMan game Capcom didn’t personally oversee. Of course, there are conflicting reports regarding whether Rockman & Forte WS was actually published by Capcom themselves, speculation that was probably fueled by the game’s quality.

Taking place in the year 200X – though I’m sure they meant 20XX, considering Forte didn’t exist at that point – a mysterious group of robots from “the future” known simply as the Dimensions attacked Symphony City, a place where people and robots lived in harmony. It was said that this new gang of robots was led by a mysterious and powerful robot that resembled Rockman himself. Referring to himself as Rockman Shadow, the robot resembled Quint and claimed that he wouldn’t forgive anyone who wouldn’t obey him. Rockman and Forte decide to put their differences aside to face this new threat. Not the most involved story, but it’s on par with most of the stories in the Game Boy games.

Forte

Seriously, isn’t that the butterfly robot from Sonic & Knuckles?

Challenger from the Future’s gameplay is pretty much a low-rent version of its SNES predecessor. Players are able to choose between Rockman and Forte, each with their own separate abilities – though now Forte’s dash allows him to duck under obstacles, like Rockman’s slide. The game starts with an introduction stage, capped off with a boss fight against the Grey Devil. After that, players are allowed to choose between 4 of the Dimensions: Danganman, Konroman, Airconman and Komusoman – four Robot Masters based on a bullet, a Japanese Stove, an air conditioner and a Japanese monk respectively. After they’ve been defeated, it leads to fights with the Clockmen – essentially a pair of robots with clocks in their torsos that fight as one – followed by Compassman, the one member of the Dimensions that doesn’t give up a Special Weapon upon its defeat. After that, there’s only the final showdown with Rockman Shadow himself. The stage designs are somewhat generic, but do follow MegaMan’s formula. The most interesting part of the stages would probably be the enemy selection: there’s the iconic Mettools and Battons, some old favorites like the Hammer Joes from MM3 and completely original enemies, most of them insectoid in form – there’s even a robotic butterfly that looks eerily close to the one in Sonic & Knuckles.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the game comes into play with Airconman’s stage, which utilizes one of the WonderSwan’s unique gimmicks. The WonderSwan had two sets of buttons – the standard that allows the system to be played from a horizontal orientation and an alternate set of controls for playing the system vertically – and Airconman’s stage utilized the latter. Most of the game’s stages also have a mid-boss fight and Airconman’s is probably the most unique because of the gimmick associated with it. There’s a giant squid suspended at the top of the screen, too high for Rockman to shoot. To make matters worse, there are also platforms that shield it from attacks. While Forte can aim straight up to attack it, Rockman has to rely on one of the game’s more unique physics in order to damage it. There are Mettools on both sides of the room and in this game, when their hardhats deflect buster shots, they maintain their ability to damage enemies. Therefore, Rockman has to aim and time his shots in such a way that they collide with the squid in order to damage it. Another interesting quirk about Rockman & Forte WS is that the bosses have obscenely long health bars in this game – even managing to dwarf those from some of the later MegaMan X games. The upside is that they don’t have hit-invincibility this time around, meaning that players can just lay into them. Finally, the game also retains the save slots from the SNES and GBA versions, though there are 3 instead of 4.

Rock1

Probably the coolest part of the game. (No pun intended. Well, maybe a little.)

The shop system also returns in Rockman & Forte WS. Screws can still be found throughout stages, either as item pickups or by defeating enemies. Many of the items from the other versions return in this game, such as the Spare Body, the “Exit Parts” and the Energy Balancer. Rockman and Forte also have their own unique items, but there are some exclusive to the WonderSwan version. Rockman’s shop items are the Rush Coil, which is exactly what it sounds like; Beat, which is similar to the SNES version; Eddie, which calls Eddie to drop a random power-up and most interestingly, Tango returns from MegaMan V. Forte retains the Gospel Boost, Super Buster and Hyper Buster from the console version, but also gains Reggae, who drops a random item just like Eddie.

Of course, perhaps the most unique thing about this game is that Rockman and Forte actually have different weapons in the game. Sometimes it’s just the same weapon with a different name attached, but some Robot Masters give out completely different weapons based on which character defeats them. With that in mind, I’ll be ranking Rockman and Forte’s weapons separately. First, we’ll go with Rockman.  Defeating Komusoman grants him the Doppel Crash, an attack where that renders Rockman invincible as he charges at enemies, brandishing a blade at the end of his Rock Buster. The Flame Shower is Konroman’s weapon effectively a short-ranged flamethrower that emits from the Rock Buster for as long as the attack button is held. Once released, the flames shoot upward, still capable of damaging any enemies it touches. Danganman’s Rockn Vulcan is a bullet that splits into three – each moving in a separate direction, creating a spread shot pattern. Barrier Wind is obtained by defeating Airconman. It’s a gust of wind that can destroy multiple enemies, as well as specific walls. Finally, there’s the Clockmen’s Time Switch, which freezes time for four seconds and renders Rockman completely invulnerable to enemies and their attacks, at the cost of his ability to attack.

Forte2

Surprisingly, this is also an original boss fight.

That leaves us with Forte. The Doppler Attack (not to be confused with the weather radar or the doctor from X3) is Forte’s reward for defeating Komusoman and it splits him into four tiny duplicates of himself that are able to fly around the stage at will. Did I mention that they’re also invincible? Konroman’s Flame Mixer is a unique take on the traditional shield weapon: four flames surround Forte for as long as the attack button is held. Once released, they launch straight up. Forte Vulcan is taken from Danganman, and it’s a bullet that homes in on the nearest enemy, sort of like a better version of the Dive Missile. Meanwhile the Forte Cyclone and Time Bomb – taken from Airconman and Clockmen respectively – are identical to the weapons given to Rockman. Some pretty interesting weapons for both characters and some of them are even better than the real ones. Who wouldn’t rather have the Doppler Attack or the Doppel Crash instead of Copy Vision?

The game’s graphics are, in a word, weird. While later revisions of the WonderSwan would add color displays, the original was restricted to black-and-white monochromatic graphics, much like the original Game Boy. Despite this handicap, everything in the game is completely visible – put simply, the graphics are functional. It’s just that everything’s got weird body proportions. The spritework in general actually just ends up looking like one of those original Chinese bootleg NES games that were hitting store shelves in the 2000s. Worse still, most of the game’s graphics don’t look like they came from the same game – there really isn’t any cohesion to any of the designs. To make matters worse, Rockman and Forte – the player characters – are actually hit the hardest by both of these two problems. It’s almost as if their designs from Rockman & Forte WS were meant to bridge the gap between realistic proportions and super-deformed “chibi” style artwork, but they just ended up right in the middle of both artstyles, leading to an almost “uncanny valley” effect. Worse still, it’s not even limited to the in-game graphics: even in the game’s cutscenes they retain these weird proportions. There is one thing I really liked about the game’s artwork: after defeating a boss, their portrait changes from a serious mugshot to a comedic little picture of them having been defeated. It’s cute and honestly, I wouldn’t have minded if actual mainline MegaMan games had adopted something like that.

The game’s music is essentially taken from the SNES version of the game. Not every song is used, but most of it is reused in similar contexts. The six Dimensions use various Robot Master stage themes that fit with some of their own gimmicks – for example, Airconman uses Coldman’s theme and Tenguman’s music plays during Komusoman’s level – Burnerman’s theme is used for a cutscene, leaving Magicman as the sole holdout. Rockman Shadow’s stage uses the theme from King’s Fortress, while the game’s ending uses the CD Database theme for a more somber feel than the upbeat song in the SNES version. WonderSwan’s sound chip had something of an 8-bit sound to it, and while most of the song arrangements in Rockman & Forte WS aren’t perfect, they get the job done. The sound effects are quirky – it’s odd hearing 8-bit sound effects in a MegaMan game that don’t try to emulate the ones from the NES games – but nothing really sounds out of place. Overall, Challenger from the Future’s sound design is serviceable, nothing more, nothing less.

In the end, Challenger from the Future almost feels like a companion piece to the DOS games – almost like their Japanese counterpart. They make use of their own unique characters, both clearly feel off when compared to the “legitimate” MegaMan games from Capcom (to different extents) and there’s even a weird fascination with them in their respective regions. In fact, the Dimensions have even made some random appearances in Capcom-sanctioned material. Elements from the games managed to make some minor appearances in Archie’s MegaMan comic, while Konroman actually made a cameo in a comic book in MegaMan ZX Advent. With that in mind, it’s hard to tell if Capcom actually owns the rights to the characters original to any of the licensed games. I wouldn’t mind seeing the Dimensions or even the Robot Masters from the PC games make some kind of a cameo appearance in future titles and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

Rock2

Seriously, you’re fighting a walking stove. This game is all sorts of wacky.

Thus, we come to the conclusion of the third part of this retrospective. While this era of the Classic MegaMan games was fairly experimental, it just simply couldn’t last. After a hiatus that began due to an oversaturation of the games in general, we’d see the sheer amount of sub-franchises under the MegaMan umbrella more than double – resulting in a total of 7 unique takes on the Blue Bomber. Indeed, Classic MegaMan would go into a state of suspended animation, living on in a compilation or two, until the end of the 2000s, when he would make his grand return in familiar form.