Wednesday, December 28, 2011

2011: The Year of Disappointment. 2012: The Year of Redemption?

2011 was a very disappointing year for videogames; for me, at least. The main reason being not just my disappointment in the quality of the games released, but what the games showed me about the game industry. To put it simply, in my opinion, videogames are in a rut. Nothing is really changing. Skyward Sword showed no initiative or unique style, Uncharted 3 didn't try to bring more to the series at all, Batman: Arkham City was just more Assassin's Creed, and Kirby was just more Kirby. It's not that these games are bad, but there is just a complete lack of initiative and drive to create new things in these games; furthermore, this is something this entire generation has shown (with some notable exceptions, of course). And if people wonder what I'm comparing my criticisms to; just think back to every other previous console generation and the creativity and drive of the games of those generations.

I won't delve much on this subject, but I will say that it is becoming more clear to me that if videogames remain in this rut, my increasing dissatisfaction with games will only grow. This is why I'm hoping 2012 revitalizes my love for videogames by proving that games can be creative and unique in their execution. I want to go back to the aura of the SNES/Genesis era where gamers didn't really know what was going to come next. I'm hoping for games like Asura's Wrath, Dragon's Crown, Final Fantasy XIII-2, and, most of all, Final Fantasy Versus XIII to do this.

With all of that said, I do want to say that one developer who has been very creative in their development processes throughout their existence still remains in great form, even if they don't develop as many games as they used to: Square-Enix. The games from Square have been risk-takers and, imo, have benefited from it. The Kingdom Hearts games continue to evolve the action-RPG genre, Dissidia brought a new execution to the 3D-space fighter, and FFXIII evolved the turn-based RPG to a new level; and all of these games display some of the highest quality and production values one got in games this gen. I'm hoping for all of this to come to a powerful climax with the release of Final Fantasy Versus XIII, which looks to be Tetsuya Nomura and Square-Enix Production Team 1's ultimate vision for a videogame.

I'm trying my best not to lower my standards when it comes to what I expect from videogames, but this generation is making it hard. Satisfying games like Bayonetta, Dissidia, and Vanquish keep me happy, and risk-takers like FFXIII and Metroid: Other M keep me optimistic that creativity isn't dead. Still, I want more from my games; much, much more, especially after the disappointing 2011 year. Hopefully, 2012 will deliver.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Rethinking the Fighting Genre

Last month I bought KOFXIII, and while it is a great game, I couldn't help but be a bit disappointed with the game. Initially I thought it was simply because I've been watching match videos for the game for over a year, or that the game didn't add that much to the arcade version of KOFXIII despite being in development for over a year. But after thinking back on the fighting games I've played this console generation; I think it may be that I'm beginning to get tired of the "classic" style of fighting games.

A few months ago, new head of Team Ninja, Yosuke Hayashi, said that, at their foundation, all fighters are the same, and that formula is starting to show its age. After giving it some thought, I have to agree with him. Ever since Street Fighter II, the basic foundation of the fighting game has remained the same; from the way combos are executed to button lay-outs; things really haven't changed.

So, is this a bad thing? Not really. After all, there are many videogame formulas that don't need changing because they work. Perhaps its an over-saturation of the market recently, but even then, I'd probably pick up the fighting games that did get released simply because of the lack of fighters out.

Now, there are fighters that do try to switch things up, such as Blazblue having the "Special" button added to common bread-n-butter combos, or fighters that put a lot of work into having characters that play very differently, the soon-to-be-released Skullgirls and aforementioned Blazblue being examples. I think this style works, as it feels like they're trying to differentiate themselves from the Street Fighter II or Vs. Capcom style where there are only 4 or 5 gameplay styles that simply mask themselves as multiple characters. I can see the approach that BB and SG are taking to produce some great fighters in the future that could bring back the refeshing aura once brought by the SFIII series, Garou: Mark of the Wolves, and The Last Blade series.

The core foundation of the fighter doesn't have to change, but some new ideas in gameplay mechanics and presentation really need to come about; at least for me, because after thinking it over, I am beginning to grow bored with the "classic" fighter, as shown by my disappointment with KOFXIII, a game I was hyping up for over a year.

Another part of my lacking interest with the core fighter is due to two very different styled fighter that released this generation: the Dissidia: Final Fantasy games and the Naruto Ultimate Ninja Storm games. These games took a while to grow on me, but I'm now beginning to see the great potential in their gameplay style, especially that found in the Dissidia: Final Fantasy series. Not only does the Dissidia series focus on creating very unique, individual characters, but the core mechanics of the game are well executed and very unique. The Brave and Health damage mechanic is excellent, as it creates a whole other layer to the battle strategy beyond the classic "attack opponent until their health depletes to zero", and the focus on special moves rather than bread-n-butter combos. Furthermore, elements such as dodging, countering, dashing, and environment interaction are on a level beyond that seen in other fighters, 2D or 3D. And on top of all of this is the customization elements of an RPG. It all comes together in a fighter that at first seems simple, but actually has a lot of depth, just in a different way than the "classic" 2D/3D fighters. The Naruto Ultimate Ninja series uses a similar style to Dissidia, but in a much more simple execution.

The Dissidia series, specifically 012 duocedim,has really opened my eyes to the potential that fighting games have, and that leaves me disappointed by the fighters that stick to the "classic" formula. I suppose that there will always be a place for "classic" fighters, but I think that a new type of fighting game needs to come into the fray. Fighting games really need to push forward, and this new foundation established by Square's Dissidia series and continued with the Naruto Storm series is a great way to begin, imo.

As far as 3D fighters go, Tekken will always remain the "classic" series, while the Soulcalibur series utilizes a system that grew past the "classic" formula back in 1999, so there's not much for the SC to go, as it hasn't grown stale as of yet. It's 2D fighters that I want to see evolve. Where that will come from is still unknown to me, but I hope it comes soon. The Dissidia and NUNS series have no set genre as of yet, but I hope their style grows and evolves into a style that stands beside the 2D and 3D fighting genres.

As for where the future of fighting games resides, I'm looking at Team Ninja's Dead or Alive 5, which has been stated to try something new for the genre, the next Naruto Storm game, which CyberConnect2 is attempting to give deeper gameplay, and for Square to continue the Dissidia series and bring more elements to it, preferably on the PS3 console so not to limit the game's capabilities.

It's strange how much playing Dissidia 012 has changed my outlook on the fighting genre, but its impact has been made clear for me. In my eyes, Dissidia shows the potential that the fighting genre has, and I'm afraid I may never see that potential realized unless Square decides to continue the series, for taking risks and innovating is perhaps the biggest risk in the gaming industry today, especially in a genre owned by Capcom, who has seen nothing but success in developing fighters in the "classic" style.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Brainstorming the Execution of Satisfaction

Investigating the art of the moment with Viewtiful Joe has me thinking about how it fits into the execution of satisfaction. After all, satisfaction is composed of many factors, and how intense the satisfaction that results is a matter of the quality and execution of those factors. Factors like visual execution, aural execution, story elements, challenge, and gameplay execution. If one of these factors is weak, it doesn't ruin the satisfaction, but it still keeps the satisfaction from being its best, or what I call "true satisfaction". Of course, satisfaction is in the eye of the beholder, so this investigation is all from my point of view.

Despite there being many factors that go into satisfaction, there are many different ways to execute a satisfying gameplay experience, as games like Metroid: Other M and Final Fantasy IX have proven to me.

Speaking of Final Fantasy IX, why is it that RPGs can be so satisfying? After all, all most RPGs consist of is exploration, battles utilizing menus, and story elements; there's none of the white-knuckle button-mashing that action games or shooters have, so why is it that many of my favorite and most satisfying games are RPGs? This is where my investigation of the "art of the moment" with Viewtiful Joe got me brainstorming. "The Moment"; I've come to understand that this is a critical piece of the enigma that is satisfaction. After all, unless one is playing a high-octane arcade game like Metal Slug or After Burner, a game can't be immensely satisfying at every moment. This is where "the moment" and the process that goes into creating it come into play.

In the genres of RPGs and action games, the crowning moments are often the boss battles. The final battle with Jeanne is, currently, the most satisfying moment I've had in my time playing videogames; this is because the visuals, music, gameplay, and diversity there-of throughout the entire fight was absolutely spot-on and enthralling. So why is it that the final battle with Lavos in Chrono Trigger can be just as satisfying when all the gameplay has me doing is scrolling through menus? The answer is the power of the moment.

The power of the moment is truly a defining factor in the execution of satisfaction, one that I truly haven't been giving enough credit. The art of building a game up to "the moment" and having the player actually play it out, no matter what the gameplay execution is, is truly the core element of satisfaction. If the moment plays out well, then the player is satisfied, but if it doesn't, then the moment, which may have been set up well, falls apart due to poor gameplay. The moment may be a critical factor in the execution of satisfaction, but gameplay is something that can never be ignored, for it will always be the foundation of the execution of satisfaction.

One example of poor gameplay ruining an otherwise superb moment is the final boss battle of Super Mario Galaxy 2; the setting is epic, the music is of a scale beyond anything else a Mario game has done since Yoshi's Island, and the immortal rival battle between Mario and Bowser is set; unfortunately, the boss battle is so simple and easy in terms of gameplay that the player barely has any time to savor the moment given to them. A truly unsatisfying ending, and a perfect example of a ruined moment.

Now, an example of a superb execution of a moment, is the final battle of Yoshi's Island; like SMG2's final battle, the battle is a surprise, so the set-up is sudden, the music is intense and epic, the setting is ominous and scary, and baby bowser couldn't look more terrifying. The set up is a truly incredible example of how to create a "moment". Then the gameplay kicks in, and only makes every other factor in the battle better. The gameplay is executed in a style unlike anything else played in the game before-hand, so the player is left to learn as they play, this truly adds to the intensity and anxiety of the fight, because for every missed hit the player makes, Baby Bowser gets closer and closer. And after a few hits to Baby Bowser, the player gets less footing, which makes the fight twice as hard. And while this is all happening, the music just gets more and more intense. This rare, superbly executed moment is so satifying because of how the moment isn't forged simply through the use of amazing visuals, music, and gameplay, but how they all come together in this condense package we call a "boss battle".

A boss battle is what most think of when we think of great gaming "moments", but there can be many others, including just straight-up gameplay. But, what can make just normal pieces of gameplay into great "moments"? Well, this all depends upon the genre. For example, Chrono Trigger is a game made up of great moment after great moment, all thanks to its great story, superb pacing of events and gameplay, and varied settings. Chrono Trigger is an RPG that keeps the player on his/her toes, and that's what makes it so enthralling. Other RPGs can have different execution methods, such as FFVII and FFIX, which took their stories and gameplay processes (leveling up, gaining weapons, etc.) pretty slow, but as a result we get to know the characters better, the story was allowed to be more complex, and the player could become in-tune with the gameplay systems better thus allowing the game to be harder in the game's second half. This is how RPGs create their moments, by utilizing a pace unique to its genre; its a slow, yet endearing process that provides many, many moments that are more tied to story and setting rather than gameplay. Of course, the quality of the game has a lot to do with how satisfying the game may be; after all, a poor story, poor characters, and poor gameplay can ruin pieces of the game that the developers may have considered moments, but probably weren't conceived as such by the players because of poor quality.

Action games create moments through many methods, but I'll use Bayonetta as an example. Bayonetta has a unique story built around a great mythology, a mythology that the player sees throughout the game's levels; as a result, each level feels like a critical piece of the puzzle of Bayonetta's story, and yet we are there, interacting within the levels. Interaction in a place of supreme importance to a game's story is often reserved for a game's final level with the levels beforehand being just fodder, at least in the action genre of games. Not so with Bayonetta. Furthermore, the player doesn't go long in Bayonetta without fighting a new enemy type or fighting a boss; this further creates a sense of importance in the game's levels and pacing there-of, as it shows that what's happening in Bayonetta's world is important, she can't just walk around as she pleases; or to put it simply: in the story of Bayonetta, shit is real. All of this comes together well in the boss battles of Bayonetta, which are definitely the best "moments" of the game, for not only was there great build-up to the boss battles through the excellent settings and pacing from one to the other, but the boss battles are always executed with intensity and finesse. Gamplay may be a bit simplified in boss battles in comparison to the normal battles of the normal stages, but the intensity is something that cannot be ignored. The build-up to, pacing, setting, and intensity of the final boss fight in particular is especially impressive.

So what does this brainstorming all lead to? It has made me realize that the quality of satisfaction is by no means something one genre has more potential for than others. A great moment in an action game can dwarf in comparison to a great moment in an RPG. After all, I never would have thought a stealth game could provide the moments of satisfaction a 3D action game could, but just look at the final boss battle of Metal Gear Solid 4. It's incredible.

Also, I've come to the conclusion that the satisfaction of a game more than often always comes from these condensed "moments" of satisfaction. For an entire game to be truly satisfaction from beginning to end, where just traveling across a field, obtaining items, and interacting with NPCs is a satisfying experience, is a truly rare thing. I find Okami, Chrono Trigger, and Metroid: Other M to be such satisfying experiences, but to expect this from every game is overdoing it. (Though that doesn;t mean I won't continue to have high expectations). What it comes down to is: a game's satisfaction is often built around these moments of satisfaction, and that's all well and good, but one should still come to expect more from other areas of the game and not just play them for the "moments". Viewtiful Joe showed that an action game can be comprised of condensed moment of satisfaction after moment of satisfaction while still having superb gameplay and depth; it's a possible process.

The process of having a game comprised of "moment" after "moment" is not new; after all, that was the foundation of arcade games in the past, but those games lacked strong gameplay depth and were often short and quickly paced. More games like Viewtiful Joe, Vanquish, and Bayonetta need to come along where that foundation of creating great moment right after another coincides with gameplay depth and fidelity. This creates an enriching experience that one can dive into but still have the intense satisfaction of arcade games and yet still savor it for it for what its worth, because it won't be over in 20 minutes.

However, that statement was just for action games. As far as other genres go, it's all a matter of the creativity of the developer. Same goes for the action genre too; after all, I'm sure there are many, many more ideas to be utilized for the execution of satisfaction and the process of making "moments" that I just haven't seen yet.

At the moment, I'm hoping for some new types of experiences to come out of Asura's Wrath and Final Fantasy Versus XIII.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Vanquish and the Art of Momentum

Because it may not be clear, the point of these "art of" blog posts is to go past what the videogames in question do well at face value (things like graphics, music, gameplay, etc.), and investigate their unique qualities and styles of satisfaction.


Racing is a satisfying sport; it pushes a person to reach their limit and go past it. One's skill at racing comes down to how well they can maintain their momentum after the racing has begun. I find that Vanquish has a similar execution and satisfaction to that of an intense race made through the "art of momentum".

The beginning of a race can be the most intense part of the whole thing, and like a race, right from the beginning, Vanquish throws the player into the fray with some intense combat. There's very little breathing room and no hand-holding, the player is simply let loose into the fray. This type of execution is a superb way of showing the player that momentum will be a hard thing to keep up in this game, but with skill it can be done.

There's nothing unfair about Vanquish, the player is given all of the abilities they could possibly need right at the beginning; its simply up to the player to properly utilize the tool-set given to them and progress forward.

The "art of momentum" comes into play specifically because of the gameplay design of Vanquish. Hiding behind cover is discouraged, because not much can be accomplished behind cover; furthermore, enemies are vicious and attack the player without restraint. The result is that the best option for the player is to attack the enemies just as viciously as they attack him/her. But it isn't that easy; the player has to move alot using the dash and dodge mechanics. The end result is gameplay where the player is constantly moving and attacking, thus keeping up momentum throughout the combat. These are the tools for crafting the "art of momentum".

The satisfaction that arises from the "art of momentum" is the rush of combat that never lets up. It keeps pushing the player to move forward; and because of Vanquish's superb and varied level design, the "race" never becomes boring and the momentum is something the player wants to retain in order to move forward and see what lies ahead.

The "art of momentum" is something that's been in videogames since the days of arcade shooters/beat-em-ups. Before Vanquish, the best portrayer of this art was the Metal Slug series, specifically Metal Slug 3. But Vanquish really took the art style to a new level with its complex mechanics, multiple weapons, and varied level design that went past just moving to the right.

It takes true skill to craft a game that keeps the player moving constantly without becoming monotonous in any way, but PlatinumGames pulled it off in spades. By taking the intense experience of arcade shooters and adding the complexity of 3D action games, Vanquish brings the "art of momentum" into a genre that one would not think could even handle it, and the result is truly satisfying.

Viewtiful Joe and the Art of the Moment

The time has come. Everything comes down to what you do know. Every action you make will have crucial consequences. One mistake and it could be over. This intensity, this excitement, this thrill ..... this is the "art of the moment".

Viewtiful Joe is a game with many, many unique elements, one of which is its level structure. Each level of VJ is separated by many "moments": areas of the stage where the player goes into battle with many enemies, a puzzle, an over-the-top platforming section, or a boss. It is these moments that make up the heart and soul of Viewtiful Joe. These moments aren't simply sections of gameplay, they are all superbly executed to create the essence of the moment. The best examples being how each moment begins and ends with style. Each "moment" begins with Silvia, your ultimate goal in the game, saying "Just go for it!", thus creating a situation where it feels like someone is really rooting you on, and it fills the player with confidence to enter the moment with fire in his/her heart. Then, each "moment" ends with a crowd applauding your performance, and the intensity of their applause depends upon how well you performed in the moment. Furthermore, during each "moment", the crowd responds to your actions with applause if you rack up a combo high enough; really get that combo up there and you'll not only get a rousing and thundering applause from the audience, but you'll also hear Sivia say "My Hero!". All of these factors are, in essence, simply stylish presentation elements to go along with the movie theme of the game that is Viewtiful Joe, but these presentation elements go a long way in crafting the "art of the moment".

It is the passion and superb execution behind the presentation elements of Viewtiful Joe coinciding with its unique level structure that create this new art style that goes beyond the simple aspect "levels" and "stages" that past 2D action games were composed of, to a unique type of execution that focuses on creating unique moments of action, platforming, and puzzle solving that all feel so satisfying to finish because of the tension and excitement created by these "moments". VJ has an incredible presentation, a great soundtrack, and fantastic gameplay, but instead of spreading out the the quality of these separate aspects of gameplay through long stages, Clover Studios opted to give us quality gaming in small and condensed "moments". This unique execution allows the player to savor the essence that is Viewtiful Joe many, many times throughout a stage. Instead getting applause at the end of the stage, you get applause for every "moment" of action that is thrown at you. The result is a rare satisfaction, where the satisfaction of the gameplay and presentation isn't something to appreciate at the end of a level or the end of the game, but rather many, many times throughout a single stage; all thanks to these little "moments" of varied gameplay. Why eat a meal in one bite when you can savor it over the course of many smaller bites? Viewtiful Joe is a game to be savored.

The "art of the moment" is not something found in many games; in fact, Viewtiful Joe's sequels and Bayonetta are the only other games I can think of that executed this particular art style. In Bayonetta, the style was well executed for the purpose of the scoring system, but I feel it pales in comparison to VJ's execution of the "art of the moment". The reason is due to presentation. VJ is presented as a movie, therefore its aesthetics work very well for it in its execution of "moments", but in Bayonetta, there is no applause and no 4th wall to be broken, only Bayonetta's comment on the player's grade. It just felt empty in comparison to VJ's execution. I can't help but think some other type of execution would have been better for Bayonetta.

Devil May Cry and the Art of Combat

I believe games are art. The game is your canvas, the controller is your paintbrush, and your actions within the game's world (whether it be running, jumping, fighting, etc.) act as the paint upon the canvas. When the game is over, your painting is complete, and while its beauty is in the eye of the beholder (the player), art has been crafted regardless, because you, as the player, were challenged to paint upon the canvas, and, overcoming that challenge, you crafted your art.

Of course, videogames aren't an artform that gives you too much freedom outside of some open-world RPGs and MMOs; rather, most games only provide the player with limited "color palletes" and force the player to paint in a particular style or "genre". In this sense, the art that a player can create is limited to what the developer's desires. However, this does not mean the finished painting will be any less beautiful; after all, not all of us are artists. In fact, many of us know very little of what it means to craft a beautiful piece of art; therefore, we require the guiding hand of the developer to help create our masterpiece. It is up for debate, but I argue that these paintings that require the guiding hand of a developer end up being the most beautiful of masterpieces, for within the unique styles of the developers, we can end up with a much more unique piece of art than what we would end up with if every developer provided us a blank canvas and allowed us absolute freedom in creating our painting. This is why our paintings formed from playing a Grasshopper Manufacturer game will end up looking very different from one playing a Bioware game; their beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but there is no mistaking that they are very different paintings in the end.

As stated above, the art of a game comes in many different shapes and forms. I'm going to try something, and write blog entries detailing some of the particular "art styles" shown by specific games. To note, however, just because I detail a particular art style to one game does not mean that it is the only game that displays the particular style, it is simply that I find the particular game I write about to be one of, if not the, best practitioner of the particular art style.


With Resident Evil, Shinji Mikami and his team forged a gameplay experience where combat was something to be feared. Prior to the survival-horror genre, combat was often something the player looked forward to, or was basically all a game was about, but in RE, it was something to be feared, .... and conquered. RE's approach to conquering the challenge of combat was item management and precise thinking. It was a different type of "action" game, a different type of "art style" than what was previously used in crafting the painting that is a videogame, an "art of survival". This art style would serve as a precursor to a new art style in Team Little Devil's "Devil May Cry", the "art of combat".

In Devil May Cry, the atmosphere was scary and intense. It was a foreboding atmosphere similar to that seen in the RE series; however, the execution of the gameplay, the execution of the way the player painted his/her painting was very different. Combat in DMC was challenging, for enemies were often a force to be feared; they attacked in groups, made powerful strikes that matched the players own, and were relentless in their assaults. This situation, combined with the fact that the control scheme of DMC was an entirely new button set-up for players (thus forcing the player to use new tools to paint with than used in previous games), created the challenge the player was given. The execution of the combat probably matched that of the RE series at first; after all, combat was hard, and restorative items were few and far between. However, as the player grew more knowledgable of the combat system and realized just how different DMC's style was, they realized that the painting of DMC was meant to be forged in a different art style; this is where the "art of combat" arises.

Combat is hard, but Dante doesn't just face it head-on, he flies above it, slashes it into the air and shoots it up, and walks out of the room completely unscathed. This is the "art of combat" created by Team Little Devils. Where the player is put into a situation where they are challenged to the hilt, but given the abilities to make it through the challenge without a scratch if they have enough skill. In action games of the past, challenges were something to simply get through in order to reach the goal, and that was enough; these were situations that couldn't truly be called combat. Combat needs a form, it needs finesse, and DMC provided that; thanks in no small part to it's sword/gun combo system and use of the 3rd dimension. DMC rose above the simple concepts of the past to create this new style, a new execution; one that would become known as "stylish combat" due to how the player looked when playing at the best of their abilities. Before, combat was a task, a process to simply make it to the end, and while it may have been satisfying, it was never executed in a way like DMC: an act of taking on a challenge with strategy and finesse. A process that created a different type of painting as a result of using a different art style: the art of combat.

After DMC, the art of combat would be a valuable style tool in many videogames, currently culminating in Bayonetta being, arguably, the most beautiful execution yet of the art style. I chose the original DMC to explain the art of combat because as the series would go on it would lose a lot of the essence that made gameplay exemplify the process of combat; later DMCs and action games either grew more "campy" and fun in their execution, or went back to the old-school styles of back-and-forth fighting. I find DMC executed the "art of combat" in its purest form, thanks in part to its survival-horror foundation.

I'm a big fan of the art of combat, and look forward to seeing where it goes in the future, perhaps leading to an entirely new art style.

Is there a goal for videogames to reach?

In these modern times, there are a plethora of different tools videogame developers can use; from motion controls to voice control, and everything in between. Graphics have practically reached their peak in terms of how much detail they can display, music can be orchestrated and each fine sound can be heard, and gamers can play each other from across the planet. In the past, the development of consoles focused on making them more powerful on a technical level and getting the controller to be perfect for ease-of-use alongside providing options for play, and yet it seems we've reached all that we can do with the advent of motion control, as shown by the big companies all resorting to copying one another. At this point, due to the strength of consoles reaching their near peak, the gaming industry has become a more business-driven market trying to latch onto gimmicks and trends in order to get big sales numbers. However, underneath all of the ads, imitation, and big explosions, I believe a process is still slowly going through its motions, albeit not nearly as obvious as in previous generations: the goal of making videogames reach their peak.

While more obvious in the past, videogame developers are continuing to work hard in making videogames the best they can be, and I mean this in terms of quality and experience. Sure, it's always fun to sit back and enjoy a nice straight-forward fun title like Mario Kart, but as an entertainment medium, videogames need to fine-tune themselves and become stronger so to be a stronger experience for the audience. This is a process we have seen in the past with games like Final Fantasy VI, Soulcalibur, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, and Kingdom Hearts. Games that really strived to push their respective genres to the next level of entertainment and experience by showing new levels of quality and execution. However, the question lies: are the game developers of these game trying to reach a goal, or are they simply creating what they can with the technology of their respective console generation and yet remaining short of their desired goal? Is there truly a finish-line to be found in the art of videogame development?

Looking at other art mediums, one would probably say "no", for mediums such as art (painting, drawing, etc.), music, dance, and theater, have lasted for centuries, and I doubt anyone would say any of them have reached their "goal". Afterall, reaching this "goal" would insinuate that the respective medium would stop any more practice of the medium, for it has reached its goal. However, as an argument against that, one can see how many art mediums go through many eras, each of them ending and bringing about a new era.

So how does all of this link back into videogames? Well, videogames are a very young genre; only seeing its true beginnings in the 1980s. Therefore its hard to see if videogames will be like other artforms and go through different eras, or if videogames are its own era within a larger medium of interactive entertainment. With the videogame industry unsure of how it will develop, or basically unsure of what the future holds for it (motion control, Kinect, 3D?), it would appear that this "era" may be ready to collapse and bring about a new era; perhaps one where controllers aren't even used.

But all of this speaking of the end of eras is implying that videogames do not not have a goal, and is simple an ever-changing entity at the hands of time just like other art mediums. Let us say videogames do indeed have a goal, what then is that goal? Is it reaching the ultimate state of satisfaction from playing a game? Is it reaching the peak of what technology can provide in the expression of the graphics, music, and gameplay; or, simply put, squeezing everything you can out of a gaming system? Such claims may seem to be too far-fetched, but in the industry today, we can see examples of games that may represent this "goal" of videogames. Look at the the Super Mario Galaxy games, there are virtually no other 3D platformers being made outside of Nintendo's 3D Mario games; are we to imply that Super Mario has reached this "goal", and because of that no other game developer bothers to try and make a 3D platformer; or is it simply about business, and nobody wants to compete with Super Mario? Another Nintendo series has a similar position in the action-adventure genre: The Legend of Zelda. However, Zelda did recieve a competitor in its genre: Okami. A game I truly believe to be superior to the Zelda series, for Okami increased the quality of each central aspect of a Zelda game to a level not seen in Zelda games. As a result, we can see that Zelda had not, in fact, reached the goal of the action-adventure genre, it simply took a developer to challenge what many believed to be the "finish-line" and run past it; our own PlatinumGames (formerly Clover Studios).

So, where am I going with all of this? Is there a goal for videogames to reach? In my opinion, there is indeed a "goal"? However, it is in the minds of the game developers. Videogames, like novels, art, and music, have so many options available to them, that what they can accomplish is practically infinite. Unfortunately, like novels, art, and music, videogames can fall into a rut; a time when the people behind these art mediums simply are not sure of what path to take and are too caught up in the wants of others that they've forgotten their own personal goals. As a result, I find this generation to have the least amount of games striving to reach the "goal" of videogames. Last generation brought the public so many masterpieces that strived to be something so much more than the rest; games like Kingdom Hearts I and II, ICO, Shadow of the Colossus, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, Odin Sphere, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, Okami, Viewtfiul Joe, and Resident Evil 4. Whether these games were great is in the eye of the beholder, but its hard to doubt that these games strived to be more than their brothers and sisters, and I believe it was the dream of reaching this "goal" that fueled the development of these amazing games. The "goal" may not be real, but the fruits it bears are; we play them afterall.

This generation, however, disappoints in the number of games that push past the finish-line set by the previous generation. Sure, there are gems like Bioshock, Dead Space, Metroid: Other M (I know what you're thinking, but remember this is my opinion), and Vanquish. But, it seems the necessity for reaching the goal has changed. In previous generations, it was about creativity, story execution, and gameplay that linked everything together; nowadays, it feels like developers think all they need is the best graphics and tech (motion control, 3D displays, etc) to reach the goal. Tech is all fina and good, but you can't forge an experience just on nice tech (see El Shaddai). It's like comparing a human's creative mind to the processing power of a computer. Watson may have won at Jeopardy, but he'll never write a beautiful work like Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.

I am just a simple guy from a simple place; I don't know how game developers think, I don't know how hard it is for them, or the intricacies that go into each factor of game development. All I have to go by are the products they make for me to purchase and experience. And as a result of playing many games, I can tell that there are many passionate game developers out there who truly have a "goal" that they want to achieve. Whether they achieve it or not is all simply in their mind, just as whether their work is appreciated or not is all in our minds. I simply hope that as time goes on, game developers do not try and understand the public's mind-set in order to make a game tailored for the public. Yes, I know, that is the cornerstone of business, and, yes, I know videogames are a business now more than ever (thanks a lot Call of Duty), but I hope game developers understand that what the public views as the "goal" for videogames can be far from what they themselves view as the "goal". I ask that game developers simply remember that they are the artists, and we, the public, are simply the dreamers of dreams.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Investigating the execution of Bayonetta and Action Adaptation

There are four action games that I hold in the highest regard: Muramasa: The Demon Blade, Bayonetta, Vanquish, and Viewtiful Joe. Out of all of these games, I always find myself contemplating which I enjoy the most; one would think I'd easily pick Bayonetta, but the one that usually comes out on top is Muramasa, and the reason for this comes down to one factor: execution.

What makes the best action games so enjoyable and timeless is how they test the player. Unlike other genres where challenge comes from simply figuring out strategies, level grinding, or doing one thing in a very certain way; action games challenge the player to learn and adapt to certain situations in order to overcome them. This flow of being challenged, learning, and adapting is what gives action games their unique level of satisfaction that few other genres replicate, and if they do, it's rarely in such a challenging fashion. It's this specific process, that I'll simply call action adaptation, and the execution there-of that makes the four action games mentioned above so endearing to me; there are other factors, of course, but every strong action game needs this factor of action adaptation to be truly satisfying, in my opinion. The process of action adaptation goes all the way back to action games like MegaMan and Castlevania on the NES.

So, what does this have to do with Bayonetta? Well, as many know, I love Bayonetta. It really heralded a new age of satisfaction for me; however, as time went on, and I put many more hours into Bayonetta, I noticed that it lacked something its fellow action elite had: a great execution of action adaptation. In Muramasa, for example, the flow of the game has random battles occurring as you travel throughout the game world. At first, the game may be a little overwhelming, for the player has many options open to them right at the beginning, including dodge rolls, air dashes, air combos, both types of swords, and special moves; plus enemies attack fast with swords and projectiles right from the start. Normally, modern action games start you off with only a few abilities, and then give you more as time goes on, but like the classic action games of old where Muramasa draws inspiration, you have everything from the start. But, back to action adaptation. In the first few battles of Muramasa, the player may not do so well; they will probably just button mash their way through a few battles without really understanding what they were doing, and that may be fine for a while. But then battles get more difficult with a larger number of enemies being encountered at once and new enemy types showing up that require different tactics. This is where action adaptation comes in; the player is forced to play better as they progress. Now, this is akin to many other genres in videogames, but what action games have that most other genres don't is a very rapid pace. Action games rarely give the player much time to breath before they have to fight again, nor do they the player many options to progress without understanding the bread-and-butter of combat; thus the player is forced to adapt and get better. But this is OK, because Muramasa gives the player many chances to learn and understand the combat thanks to its quick pace and random battles which pop up quite often, but are never too long. It's this brisk pace that gives the player his/her lessons in a healthy fashion. Muramasa, Vanquish, and Viewtiful Joe all execute the process of action adaptation very well, and, as a result, are games where you begin as an inexperienced player who button-mashes through a few fights to one who understands the games systems and is pulling off all types of cool combos to take down enemies you once thought were impossible to beat in a flash. It's this aspect of growing throughout the game, not just in-game with items and abilities, but as a player who has gained the skill to use those items and abilities to their fullest that creates the great sense of satisfaction that action games provide. Unfortunately, Bayonetta doesn't execute the process of action adaptation nearly as well as the other three games.

In Bayonetta, the set-up of the stages is similar to Viewtiful Joe, where the player progresses forward while doing battles that are set up at specific areas and performs short platforming sequences between the battles; though platforming is less complex in Bayonetta. The difference between the two, however, is the content of the battles, specifically, the enemies fought in battle. In Viewtiful Joe, there weren't too many enemy types. The player would fight the normal enemies often, and thus learn how to fight against them to apply later, and whenever a new enemy appeared, they were usually alone, thus allowing the player to learn how to fight them so they could be fought more efficiently later when appearing in groups. This is the process that many of the best action games take; unfortunately, Bayonetta doesn't really take this route. The content and execution of Bayonetta's battles, called Phases, are more akin to those of an RPG than an action game. There is only only truly reoccurring enemy in Bayonetta, the Affinity, and the action adaptation process works well with them, but with the other battles, there is often some type of enemy, often a new one, that is thrown at the player. This would be a normal part of the process of action adaptation, if the new enemy the player just fought started appearing as a normal enemy. In Bayonetta, there are a lot of enemy types, which would normally be great if they appeared consistently. This is where the RPG trend comes into Bayonetta's execution. It's as if Bayonetta's levels are a mix of battles with Affinities and a bunch of mid-bosses. In RPGs, it is common to fight enemies that are stronger than normal ones that you'll most likely never see again, or very rarely. The same process occurs in Bayonetta. It is this factor that hurts Bayonetta's execution of action adaptation, because I'm fighting these new enemies, and while I didn't do too good the first time around, I think to myself "That's OK. I'll just do better next time!" Unfortunately, "next time" may not be for another couple of stages, or maybe not at all. As a result, by the next time I fight the enemy again, I don't really remember how to adapt what I learned because I've done so much since then. Action adaptation is a process that builds off of its foundation found at the beginning of the game and grows as the game progresses; Bayonetta ignores this process and instead throws a lot of random tough battles at the player. Yes, a player can utilize what they've learned by replaying the level itself, but that just ruins the flow of the game and story; a game should never HAVE to be replayed in order to truly enjoy it.

Bayonetta's weak execution of action adaptation occurs in it's boss fights as well, with the exception of the battles against Jeanne. For the boss battles in Bayonetta play very little like the normal battles found in the normal stages. This results in the same flawed process of having to learn how to defeat an enemy in the fight that will be my last time with it. This breaks the natural-feeling process of action adaptation even further, as it is very hard to adapt what the player has learned by fighting normal enemies to a boss battle. Pile this factor on top of the fact that many fights against new enemies, as mentioned before, occur in the stages as well, and the whole process of action adaptation nearly falls apart. The motorcycle and flying stages are great to have, as they are something of a break from normalcy; many action games have such things (the point being that the motorcycle and flying sequences don't break action adaptation).

It's all of these factors that come together and make playing Bayonetta feel like a bit of a jumbled mess of ideas. Now, this isn't entirely a bad thing, as it does keep things feeling fresh throughout the game, and makes each level feel very unique. However, the problem arises when looking at Bayonetta's combat system. Despite simply being an evolved version of the Devil May Cry combat system, Bayonetta's combat system is the best you'll find in a 3D action game. There is simply so much to experiment with and utilize in battle; unfortunately, it is very hard to expand the battle system because of the huge variety of situations given to the player through the use of many different enemy types, many of which are fought very rarely. If I feel that a battle against a certain enemy would've went better had I used a different weapon, I can't learn and adapt my strategy because I won't see that enemy again for a long time, and I just get sucked back into my strategies for other enemies. It's this stagnant process of throwing many different enemy types at us that I find hinders the battle system from growing past anything that simply bread-and-butter combos that work on every type of enemy. The battle system can't grow because the game simply won't allow me to learn. This process of throwing something new at the player works well in other genres such as shooters and platformers, because they are built upon a foundation of basics that don't really grow in complexity, but simply challenge the player to use the same basics in different ways. Action games begin with basics, but need to evolve into the realm of complexity and advanced techniques, and it is when these advanced techniques are utilized to their fullest by the player that he/she feels true satisfaction. It is the process of action adaptation that makes the basics grow into advanced techniques. I feel Bayonetta keeps the player from obtaining these advanced techniques, and thus true satisfaction, by poorly executing the process of action adaptation.

Now, don't get me wrong, I love Bayonetta. And I do replay the stages many times in order to learn and adapt what I've learned in order to try and obtain advanced techniques and some true satisfaction. However, replaying the same levels over and over again is not a truly satisfying way to learn and adapt, especially for an action game. It is for this reason, that it has taken me some time to fully comprehend, that I find Bayonetta to be the weakest of my favorite action games. Bayonetta is still an amazing game with fantastic graphics, an amazing art direction, great music, and an epic scale; but a truly great action game is one that the player should feel the urge to master and then actually adapt what they learn through playing the game to achieve that mastery. Bayonetta gives me the urge to master it more than any other action game I've ever played with its amazing weapons, items, skills, and rewards for showing true skill, but, unfortunately, that mastery comes at the price of tediously playing through the game's levels many, many times, and even then, true mastery always seems out of reach because of the amount of enemies which are encountered rarely and require very different tactics to combat efficiently. This poor execution of action adaptation is what keeps Bayonetta from being a truly satisfying action game, for while a great visual and aural experience with great gameplay does make for a great game, an action game is one that needs to be mastered, and the process of action adaptation is what brings about that mastery.

The fact that Bayonetta poorly executes the process of action adaptation shows me both its flaws and its potential, for if the same great visual, aural, and gameplay quality are put into a sequel that perfectly executes action adaptation, then it truly will be the greatest action game ever made.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The King of Fighters XIII Review

Gameplay (9/10): KOFXIII's gameplay is superb, as it is a natural evolution of past KOF games. The game still has the same foundation as the past KOFs with its focus on aggressive fighting and diverse fighting styles, but it evolves the formula by being faster, allowing for higher combo possibilities, and implementing EX moves and Cancel abilities. All of these factors come together to form an aggressive fighting engine that runs smoothly and allows for a lot of player freedom and possibility. Also, surprisingly, the game is quite balanced despite having all of these new gameplay systems; no character is vastly over-powered, nor are there any game-breaking bugs to exploit. It's all just good old-fashioned fighting; something the genre has needed for a long time with the advent of revenge techniques and infinite combos. The only thing holding back KOFXIII's gameplay from being perfect is its roster, which, while truly excellent and not nearly the worst the series has had, isn't as diverse in playing styles as past KOF games were.

The character roster itself is a great amount, but the fact that the DLC characters are already on the disc is rather disappointing.

Graphics (8.5/10): This is sprite-based graphics at their best, save for one factor: the sprite filter. KOFXIII puts a filter over the character sprites to make them look less "pixel-y" and stick out of the backgrounds better; unfortunately, this also makes them look pretty blurry, which really takes away from their beauty. It's a shame SNK didn't include a sprite filter option like in KOFXII to remove it completely and see the sprites in all their glory. Regardless, the sprites still animate superbly and are extremely detailed. The backgrounds are also just as impressive with a ton of movement and detail in them; making them just as impressive as the characters themselves. To note, the backgrounds in KOFXIII are some of the best in the series history, and there are well over a dozen of them. Other than the sprite filter, the only thing holding back the graphics is that the detail isn't as high as past KOF games; little things like Joe smiling occassionaly in his idle pose are not present, nor are there any intro animations, and characters, save for a few, only have one winning animation. It's nothing too major, but the personality that SNK put so much into their past games isn't as strong in KOFXIII.

Music (7.5/10): Alongside the original soundtrack for KOFXIII, the console version of KOFXIII has remixes of old themes for each team, which is a nice bonus. The original soundtrack for KOFXIII is quite good, but not nearly as impressive as past KOF soundtracks, especially those found in the games of the Orochi Saga. Still, the OST isn't as bad as the soundtracks found during the games of the NESTS saga. Also, the story mode for the game doesn't have voice-acting. While this is kind-of understandable considering SNK is a small group, it does make the execution of the story mode feel dated.

Story (6/10): KOF games have an impressive trait they have had pretty good stories to tell, even if it was never too detailed. With that said, the story of KOFXIII itself is pretty overly-complicated, and even by the end, it's still rather confusing what truly happened. Regardless, the game puts a nice end to the Ash Crimson saga (with a rather nice ending sequence too). What KOFXIII adds to the arcade and story modes, is the addition of character conversations in between matches. These are really nice, as they add lots of character to the roster, and its always interesting to hear what one character will say to another, even if they aren't completely related in terms of story. The character conversations and story play out without giving the player any prior knowledge to the story; so beginners beware.

Replay Value/Online (8/10): The core mechanics of KOFXIII can get pretty deep, so there's a lot to dig into with KOFXIII. There are trial, time attack, and survival modes alongside the the classic arcade, story, and versus modes. The online portion of KOFXIII runs very well with a connection of 3 bars or more, 2 bars is manageable, but 1 bar is practically unplayable. A patch is coming soon, so it may improve. The computer AI in versus mode is decent, but nothing too difficult to beat when you have all of the basic down; however, time attack and survival mode provide a great challenge. Overall, there's a lot to enjoy in KOFXIII; even so, let's hope it doesn't take too long to for KOFXIV to be developed.

Satisfaction (7.5/10): KOFXIII is the best 2D fighter around; although, due to a few problems I have with it, I wouldn't put it too high above Arcana Heart 3. Regardless, despite the graphics being better in XII, KOFXIII is a step above its predeccessor. It may not have the bursting personality of KOF '98, but it's gameplay is so thrilling and the roster so expansive that its hard to really dislike the game in any way when actually playing it. There's still a lot more room to grow from a graphic perspective, but KOFXIII is still the best you'll get from a good old-fashioned 2D fighter.


The score I should and want to give it - (8.5/10): KOFXIII may not have the production values of the Blazblue series, but its still a quality fighting game in all the places that matter. The gameplay is the best of any 2D fighter out there, as it is both accessible and deep while always remaining fun and exciting. While the pixel art is truly amazing for both the characters and backgrounds, there is still room for the series to grow to match the quality of the past titles, and the soundtrack has been better; but from a gameplay perspective, KOF has never been better.

Sonic Generations Review

Gameplay (6/10): Sonic Generations (SG) has a good foundation with some decent controls and a game design that moves away from the gimmick-fueled Sonic games of the past few years. However, SG suffers on a few fronts. For one, despite using the foundation of past Sonic games in its design, SG does nothing to improve the flaws found in the designs of the older games. For example, the random falls found in many of the 3D Sonic games can still be found in the 3D Sonic levels of SG, and the floaty jumps of the Genesis Sonic games can still be found in the 2D Sonic levels of SG. But the biggest problem in SG's game is the level design. The first 4 stages for both classic and modern Sonics are fantastic in design and execution, but after those stages, the level design begins to fall apart. Random falls, levels that overstay their welcome, or sections that are more frustrating than fun are spread throughout the latter 4 worlds. This isn't to say that the latter levels have nothing to enjoy, as they're still decent in design and entirely playable, it's just that the player has to take the frustration with the fun, which is something not necessary in the first four worlds, which are nothing but fun.

A surprising problem with SG is its lack of content. As there are only 8 worlds with two levels each; the game does offer 5-6 missions in each world, some of which are very different from the main stages, but they are no substitute for the thrill of main stages.

Overall, the gameplay of SG has a solid foundation and its refreshing to have a Sonic game without gimmicks, but the less-than-stellar level design of the majority of the stages, flaws in game design that shou;d've been dealt with long ago, and a lack in overall content makes the gameplay experience of SG feel unsatisfying.

Also, the final boss fight is very poor in execution, and load times, while not too lengthy, are very frequent.

Graphics (7/10): The two Sonic's look great, as do all of the stages, and everything runs nice and smooth; however, due to the fact that there's no true original content in the game, its not easy to be really impressed by it all. The animation of the characters in cutscenes aren't up to the levels of past Sonics, and their detail in cutscenes is disappointing in comparison to Sonic Unleashed's cutscenes. Overall, the graphics are great where it matters, in the stages, but the honest truth is that we've seen all of it before, but not in such detail.

Music/Sound (7.5/10): Like the graphics, none of the music in Sonic Generations is truly original, save for the final boss theme, which is nothing to praise. However, like the graphics, what we get is very nice. All of the classic themes of the stages have been remixed very well by the sound team, and the burst of nostalgia given by them is very impactful. Many of the remixes surpass the originals. The game also provides many classic tunes as unlockables to play during any of the stages, which is a nice touch. The soundtrack of SG may be the most impressive aspect of the game; if only for the nostalgia factor.

Story (3/10): Unlike most other platformers, Sonic games have had stories ever since Sonic 3, many of which have been pretty good. Which is why SG's story disappoints so much, as it is simply a cop-out to bring the two Sonics together. The worst part is how SG generally tries to create an aura of mystery about the story, but ultimately it isn't interesting or even taken seriously by the game's end. Furthermore, the execution of the story is poorly executed, with poor quality cutscenes, and little dialogue from the other characters. Overall, the story and its execution simply feel like an after thought by the dev. team, and if this were any other platformer, I'd probably take it, but with Sonic, whose told many great stories, it can't be tolerated.

Replay Value (5/10): The first four worlds of SG have the same feeling as the classic Genesis games, in that they are fun no matter how many times you play them; however, the latter levels are a mixed bag: they have their fun parts, but they can be more frustrating than fun overall, making replaying them questionable. There are the missions to come back to, but most of them feel more like chores than something fun.

Satisfaction (5/10): Overall, I found SG more frustrating than fun. The latter four stages weren't very enjoyable, the boss battles weren't great, and the lack of content is really noticeable. Regardless, SG had its fun moments with the first four stages, which pulled off what SG was set to do in the beginning: provide nostalgia and a pure gimmick-free Sonic game design. It is refreshing to have a gimmick-free Sonic game, but those gimmicks were what made those games long. SEGA needs to return to the design of the Genesis and Dreamcast Sonic games where the game was a good length because it had a strong amount of content, not because some gimmick slowed down the progress. The lack of a good story was disappointing, as I found past Sonic stories pretty interesting, especially the Adventure games. SG is not a new step forward for Sonic like many have said, it's simply a copy-and-paste of older game design; Sonic Team needs to show that they are open to fresh ideas and good game design execution; something they showed plenty of when making the first Sonic Adventure. Sonic needs to take another step forward like then.


The score I should and want to give it - (5.5/10): Sonic Generations is a solid game at heart, but it's flaws are too apparent. The lack of content, the poorly executed story and cutscenes, and some disappointing level design keep SG from being a truly note-worthy Sonic title. The game's purpose was for nostalgia purposes, and it accomplished this, but it doesn't make itself truly worthy as a stand-alone title. Hopefully, Sonic Team will learn from what they did here and develop the next Sonic game with higher quality and a more competent mind-set.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Kirby's Return to Dreamland Review

Gameplay (7/10): The gameplay in Return to Dreamland (RtD) is a return to the gameplay style of Kirby Super Star on the SNES, where there are many abilities available to Kirby, and each has many different moves to execute, though some have more than others. The level design is more akin to a 2D action game, but with platforming elements. Like Kirby 64, RtD has collectibles in each stage, which unlock extra challenge rooms for the player to go through. These challenge rooms aren't necessary to get the classic "true ending", however. The multiplayer compoenent works well thanks to the slow pace of the stages; so it's rare for the other players to be a hindrace; actually they more helpful than harmful. The super abilities only happen in key areas of certain stages, so they aren't really an addition to the gameplay as they are something flashy for fanservice. Level design in RtD is good, but its been better in past Kirby games like Super Star and Dreamland 3. And in typical Kirby fashion, the game can be completed in 6-8 hours. Overall, there's no real surprises here, but that isn't truly a bad thing for a Kirby game.

Graphics (6.5/10): RtD's graphics get the job done, but we've seen better looking games on the Wii, specifically Nintendo's own Super Mario Galaxy games. However, thanks to Kirby's cheery and colorful art style, the lack of polygons doesn't really stand out.

Music/Sound (7.5/10): Kirby games tend to have very good soundtracks, but it's been a while since a flagship Kirby game had a wholly original soundtrack, as most Kirby games as of late have opted to simply remixing tracks from Super Star and the Dreamland games. RtD is a mix of both, as there are some original tracks and some remixes of tracks from Kirby's Adventure. The remixed tracks are really good despite being simple remixes, but, unfortunately, most of the original tracks don't measure up to the high standards of some of Kirby's past OSTs. The new tracks are great for what they are, but in comparison to the superb OSTs of Super Star, Dreamland 3, and Crystal Shards, RtD's soundtrack disappoints a little. However, RtD's two final boss tracks are superb and are the highlight of the OST.

Story (7/10): Unlike most other platformers, Kirby games tend to have stories, albeit rather simple ones that never really get interesting until the game's end. RtD is no exception to this rule and has a great climax and final boss battle. The climax also pulls off a decent emotional factor as well.

Replay Value (6/10): RtD is a fun game to play over and over thanks to the mutlitude of powers and stages. An extra mode opens up after the initial run-through that gives the players less health and makes boss battles harder. Plus, there is an Arena and two mini-games in the Super Star fashion. It isn't as much replay content as Super Star Ultra, but it's still more fun to be had, especially with multiplayer.

Satisfaction (7.5/10): RtD was a really fun experience, and the best Kirby game since Super Star; though I wouldn't place it as high in quality as Super Star. The game doesn't reach a nice difficulty until around the 5th world, which is also where the game's art style and level design really start to shine. If the quality shown in the latter half of RtD was apparent throughout the game, I would've been more satisfied with it. Regardless, RtD has many great moments, especially it's final boss fight which ranks among the series best.


The score I should and want to give it - (7.5/10): It's refreshing to have Kirby return to form in a flagship console title a la Super Star, Dreamland 3, and Crystal Shards. And while the quality of RtD may not be as high as some of the past titles, RtD still manages to shine as a great gaming experience to have, even if it doesn't evolve the series in any particular way.

Batman: Arkham City Review

Gameplay (6/10): Arkham City's (AC) gameplay comes in two flavors: exploration and combat. The exploration component of AC is good, for the environment of the game gives the player a good amount of area to explore, and travelling through it all is rarely frustrating thanks to tight traversing controls a la Assassin's Creed. However, despite the environment being a decent size, there isn't a great deal to do in the city other than main missions, beat-up thugs, side-missions, and completing Riddler puzzles. Now, what is given to the player is quite a lot, but the environment is not a truly open world, for very few buildings can actually be entered, and there isn't much interaction with the environment and its objects other than fighting and climbing them. Regardless, what is given to the player is a lot of fun to be had outside of the main missions, and rarely does it become frustrating.

Combat is the other factor of AC's gameplay, and it is here where AC disappoints. The free-flow combat system of the original Arkham Asylum remains in place, and while more options are given to the player through the addition of new weapons/gadgets, the battle system is still comes down to very simple tactics in order to defeat the enemies. Because the enemies attack relentlessly, there are few openings for the player to utilize the many gadgets and combos to their fullest, and, as a result, battles just come down to mashing the dodge, attack, and counter buttons with some occasional use of stun methods on enemies with guns. The battle system never truly expands for the player, rather, the game simply throws a few new types of enemies in the fray sometimes, or, more often, simply has battles that have double or triple the normal amount of enemies to fight. These high occupancy battles are AC's way of having harder battles that have the same function as boss fights would in other action/adventure games. These high occupancy battles can be very frustrating however, for even though the same old tactics are used in these battles, they last much longer than normal battles; as a result, it gives the enemies many more chances to deplete the players health, often resulting in deaths that are caused not because the difficulty is particularly high, but simply because the battle was simply very, very long. These high occupancy battles are more-often-than-not very frustrating. The end result of the battle system is that it has potential to expand with the use of gadgets, but it doesn't allow the player to utilize its potential, nor does it truly need the player to utilize said potential because of the simple enemy AI and battle situations, which are all arena battles with enemies that take turns hitting the player. It really doesn't matter how many gadgets they add to the battle system, because, at its strongest foundation, it is simply a button-mashing brawl only slightly more complex that something found in the 3D beat-em-ups found in games like X-Men Legends, only with less RPG elements. Futhermore, boss battles are nothing to praise either, for they are more-or-less executed in the same fashion as normal battles.

Furthermore, there are very few stealth sections in AC, which feels off considering Batman is known more for evoking fear and using stealth than punching people to death.

Overall, the gameplay gets the job done, but it's nothing to truly praise, especially when Assassin's Creed executed the same system prior to both Batman Arkham games, albeit a bit simpler.

Graphics (7/10): The biggest praises for AC's graphics go to the city area itself, which is brimming with detail and substance; furthermore, no parts of the city look like they were copy-and-pasted to other parts, so it really feels complex and interesting no matter where you are in the city. Also, Joker's character model is very well rendered; much better than all of the others. Other than those highlights, everything else is typical of what one would see in a game made using the Unreal Engine. The details are nice, but animation is very rigid, if even there at all. When characters have conversations, there is very little movement; only small body and arm moves, and the lips move to the words, though not in perfect sync. The game is very dark, as typical of Unreal Engine games, but there is some color to be found. The graphics also have the typical flaws of the Unreal Engine: texture pop-ins, blurry textures up close, lack of smooth animation, some ugly textures, etc. Regardless, the detail and architecture of the city is what the player sees the most in the game, and it does impress.

Music/Sound (7.5/10): AC actually has a few standout music tracks in the game, though its nothing truly memorable outside of context; furthermore, the soundtrack isn't very large considering most of the time, music isn't even playing. The voice acting is, once again, superb; thanks to getting most of the same voice actors from the animated series. Mark Hamill once again steals the show as the Joker.

Story (5/10): There is a lot of fanservice in the character interaction in this game, particularly within the game's side-quests; however, the main story of the game isn't very compelling or interesting, as it more-or-less acts as a way of moving the player from one area of the city to the next. The presence of the actual villains of the game also feel a bit scatterbrained, as if Rocksteady was mainly focused on fanservice when choosing the villains, rather than considering how they could all fit in a compelling story. The most interesting moments actually come from eavesdropping on the random thugs spread throughout the city, as their conversations help spread out the story even more than the confrontations with the main villains they're talking about.

Replay Value (7/10): An extra difficulty opens up after the inital run-through of the game, and the player is also free to explore the city right before the final boss fight in order to accomplish all of the side-quests and get the Riddler trophies. The enjoyment here depends upon how much the player enjoys side-quests, but regardless, there are a lot of them.

Satisfaction (5/10): Exploring the city is fun thanks to tight controls and cool gadgets, but other than that, AC wasn't very fun and quickly forgettable. The story was very dull, and lacked impact; and the battle system was more of a chore than fun, and was occasionally quite frustrating. There's really not much here to be engaged in, even for a big Batman fan like myself.


The score I should give it - (6/10): A lot of hardwork went into making the city of AC detailed and fun to explore; however, a poor story, dated-looking character models and animation, and a repetitive battle system hold back AC from being anything exceptional. The formula for AC works, but an evolution of the battle system and execution of missions needs to be revamped to feel more like "Batman".

The score I want to give it - (5/10): Batman: Arkham City was a decent game while it lasted. It's gameplay formula was changed very little from Arkham Asylum, but I didn't expect it to be. There were still some fun moments exploring the city and pouncing on bad guys, but overall, everything about the game is forgettable because nothing in the game really jumps out at you other than a few fantastic vocal performances.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Rayman Origins Review

Gameplay (7/10): Origins is a truly solid 2D platformer; the controls are tight, the level design is very good, and the mutliplayer works well without annoying your fellow players. As with any 2D platformer, the level design is the key to its gameplay design, and Origins succeeds in having great level design, but with a catch. The level design in Origins is very linear, as a result, once you've played through it once, you've seen all it has to offer. Other notable platformers also have this design, such as the Donkey Kong Country, but the difference is how Origins is a platformer designed for speed, as a result there is one true route through each level. As a result, unlike games like Donkey Kong Country Returns where levels are filled to the brim with platforms and obstacles, Origins levels are rather open and have fewer obstacles. The problem that arises from this is that replaying levels holds little satisfaction, as you've seen most of it. And while there are collectibles to find in each level, they are usually never too difficult to find. Time trials are available, but can often be frustrating due to the requirement to restart them if you die, which brings up Origins other gameplay flaw: difficulty. While Origins does provide the player with unlimited lives, death is a common occurance due to one-hit kills and a high difficulty. This factor, however, never becomes too frustrating except for areas where the checkpoint may be far back (which is not frequent). Overall, the gameplay is solid and provides a lot of fun the first time through, but afterwards, its all familiar and the fun is cut in half.

Graphics (6/10): Origins graphics have a lot of color to them, which is aided by the fact that it's in 2D. However, there are problems. For instance, the camera for the game is zoomed out quite a bit, which was done in order to help 4 players play simultaneously without anyone getting lost, but as a result, the graphics lose a lot of their detail. Also, the art direction of the game is quite impressive, however, there isn't too much content to the graphics, as shown by the around a dozen different enemy types, and only 6 different types of areas with not much variation in each. The biggest problem with the graphics is how the sprites animate: poorly. Origins looks like a very pretty flash game, or to put it bluntly: Origins looks cheap. All the sprites animate as if on hinges, and there are not many animation frames for any particular sprite, not even for the playable characters. The overall result is that the art direction and color works well for the game, but the animation for the sprites aren't particularly impressive, especially with much more impressive looking 2D games availible, particularly those made by Vanillaware. The lack of quality in the sprites is disappointing particularly because Ubisoft is a huge company with a lot of money, so I see no excuse why their game doesn't have the same quality as Vanillaware's games, a company with only 21 employees.

Music (6.5/10): Origins has some unorthodox and catchy tunes played throughout the game; the only problem is that there aren't very many of them.

Story (n/a): There is basically no story to Origins other than a beginning cutscene that sets up the action. However, this counts against the game because Ubisoft said in multiple interviews that there would be some type of over-arching story to the game; they also hyped it up quite a bit. So for the game to have no story at all was quite disappointing.

Replay Value (5/10): As stated before, the levels aren't much fun after the initial run and getting the medals, especially if they are particularly difficult levels. Also, the experience factor of the game isn't very strong, unlike DKC levels, so really all Origins has going for it is its gameplay which, as previously, stated gets old after a while. The multiplayer factor helps the replay value though.

Satisfaction (5.5/10): On its initial run-through, there's a lot to enjoy in Origins. Getting all of the medals, doing time-trials, and unlocking the secret world is a lot of fun, but doing all of this actually doesn't take up a lot of time, and when its all over, it really doesn't feel like there's anything left to do. The levels are fun because of their challenge, but when there's nothing to work for, the game just feels finished; which was quite disappointing. Level design isn't as good as Donkey Kong Country Returns, but it was still nice while it lasted.


The score I should give it - (7/10): Rayman Origins is a fine 2D platformer with very good level design, nice graphics, and music; it simply doesn't feel like it deserves its $60 price tag with its small amount of content (only in comparison to other 2D platformers though) and less-than-stellar graphics.

The score I want to give it - (6/10): Rayman Origins was a nice and challenging good time, but when it was over, I had no more desire to play it. And the game was over rather quickly, which simply made me regret paying $60 for it. I would have been much more satisfied with the game if it was cheaper, as it lacks enough content to really measure up to the DKC platformers. Also, as a lover of 2D graphics, I was disappointed by Origins' graphics, as they really lacked animation and looked just a small level above the flash games one finds on the internet. Overall, a fine game, but over too quickly, and not in a good way.

Uncharted 3 Review

Gameplay (5.5/10): If you've played past Uncharted games or any 3rd-person shooters (TPS) that aren't Vanquish, you know what you're getting. Covering, shooting, and climbing. It's a formula that's really starting to show its age, especially when Naughty Dog doesn't seem willing to take any risks with it. However, even though the formula is tired, it still works. The reason U3's gameplay suffers behind U2's is because of frustration. In the first two Uncharted games, there were fire-fights that just felt unfair and required more than a little luck to get past; in U3, almost every fire-fight is like this. Death is a frequent occurence in U3; more-so than in the previous games. Luckily, there aren't as many fire-fights in U3; perhaps that is what makes them so frustrating, since they aren't very fun and are not something to look forward to. As far as platforming is concerned, it's the same basic stuff here, but the vistas aren't as impressive or complex as U2's platforming. The new melee combat is satisfactory, but nothing to praise, especially since the process doesn't happen much. The highlight of U3's gameplay comes from something new: chase scenes. These sequences are pretty fun and have a surprising lack of frustration despite there being no real indication of where you're supposed to run. Too bad there are only a few of these scenes. What probably hurt the most was the level design and execution; U3 really just felt like a mesh of ideas just randomly thrown together by the developers who just wanted to throw as many "cool" scenarios together as they could. That may work for a wild action game like Vanquish, but not in Uncharted, especially when the story takes itself so seriously. Overall, the gameplay is more of the same; no radical new ideas nor large variations, just the same old stuff that we've done to get through the story.

Graphics (7/10): U3 deserves credit where it is due, and U3 has a great graphic engine on stuff that matters. Cutscenes use great mo-cap for the characters, and big action occurs on-screen without causing any hiccups in the frame-rate, and load-times are basically non-existent. Art direction, while not as strong as U2, is still great, and the graphics do a great job of creating these areas and creating a sense of place. Where the graphics fall are in two areas: 1) there isn't nearly as much to appreciate graphically in U3 as there was in U2; there's just a lack of content there, and 2) the little things look pretty bad; for example, like the past Uncharted games, there are only 4 or 5 different types of enemies, all sharing the same animations and character models; and outside of cutscenes, animation aren't that great on anyone. Overall, the graphics are great where they need to be, but the little things need attention too.

Music/Sound (7.5/10): U3 probably has the best soundtrack in the series. While the music was more in the background in the first two games, in U3 it takes center stage right alongside the graphics, and what we are given is aesthetic and enriching. It's nothing too memorable or something one may listen to in their free time, but it's still well done within the game. Voice acting is as impressive as ever, though there seems to be considerably less this time around.

Story (4/10): U3 starts out pretty strong in the story department, but after the first 3 or 4 chapters, it's as if Naughty Dog just stopped trying. The historical aspect of the quest this time around seemed to fight the story of Drake himself for the spot-light, and after the dust settles, nobody wins. The story, like the level structure, just felt like a mesh of ideas just randomly put together all leading to a pretty unsatisfying and unoriginal ending. What disappoints the most is how scatterbrained the story is; it feels as if certain chapters were cut out of the game and thus causing the player to lose story content, but worst of all, the villain of U2, Marlowe, is absolutely terrible in her execution, mainly due to the fact that she's barely in the game at all and, as a result, doesn't really carve herself as a villain in any way. Overall, the story just felt like it was written in a day, with the exclusion of the historical aspect which obviously was the result of a lot of research. The story just tried to be character-driven and emotional, but it fell way short, which is rather surprising considering U2 pulled it off rather well.

Replay Value (6/10): The campaign isn't really something worth playing again in whole; rather, only certain areas are worth replaying simply for the thrill factor involved. Luckily, U3 has a fun multiplayer component, including both competitive and co-op modes which even allow for split-screen play. The multiplayer itself is fun, but the amount of content isn't that huge; though I'm sure it will expand with DLC.

Satisfaction (4/10): Uncharted 3 was not worth playing. The gameplay was nothing new other than chase scenes; the thrills were there, but they were mostly something to watch rather than something to play; and most of all, the story was just uninteresting. Uncharted 2 was an adventure worth taking because of the combination of good story, characters, settings, and pacing. The gameplay of the whole Uncharted series is nothing really to write home about, as it's pretty simple and not very compelling, especially after Vanquish blew the doors off of the TPS genre. Overall, U3 is a good game at its core, but its jumbled mess of a storyline and poor level execution mixed with frustrating combat and forgetful platforming makes it a game that is quickly forgettable on all fronts.


The score I should give it - (6/10): Uncharted 3 is a game composed of gameplay elements that are over a decade old, and the gameplay shows this; however, the quality that Naughty Dog has put into the presentation is very comendable, even if the story is unsatisfying and the level design lacks cohesiveness. Overall, a good game, but one that pales in comparison to its predecessor.

The score I want to give it - (4.5/10): There really isn't anything satisfying about Uncharted 3 except for one chapter early in the game, as it combines elements of story, gameplay, graphics, and animation very well. Unfortunately, this quality is lost quickly when the game seems to just be all about trying to "wow" the player. Too bad we've seen all the best moments in trailer already. In terms of gameplay, there are some gameplay styles that stand the test of time, such as the Zelda and Metroid formulas, but the TPS style of Uncharted just feels old, and, unfortunately, it doesn't seem to be going anywhere because of how grounded in reality the series' stories are. Vanquish set the bar very high for the TPS genre, and Uncharted 3 just looks sad next to it, even with its added element of platforming.

My Complaints about Skyward Sword (Spoilers)

OK, it's time to be casual for this entry. In my review, I tried to stay as professional as I could be (which isn't that professional, I know), but in this blog entry, I'm just going to list all of the complaints I had with the game (many of which I couldn't fit into my review because it would be too long).

Keep in mind, I am a HUGE Zelda fan, and I'm not one of those people who takes pride in "hating". I'm doing this entry simply because of how annoyed I am about the quality of Skyward Sword, and I need to relieve some stress, heh.

So, here we go (remember, I'm gonna be casual with this):

- Skyward Sword (SS) has easily the most boring and stretched out introduction/tutorial sequence of any Zelda.

- As far as the interaction between Link and Zelda in the beginning is concerned, it's like Nintendo just bought the first volume of the most popular Shoujo manga and used that as a reference of how childhood friends interact. As a result, the interaction just felt forced and weak; which is surprising since Spirit Tracks and Wind Waker had excellent interaction between Link and Zelda. Remember Tetra? Of course you do, because she was a badass. Are you gonna remember this Zelda? Tch, probably only if you place your name in the game instead of "Link" and you've always fantasized about dating Zelda.

- Why do the graphics in this game suck so much? Environment and characters have practically no textures. Just go to Skyloft and look at the ground; it looks like it's from the N64 era. The part where I noticed the poor graphics the most is when Fletch (you know, the wimp who does push-ups at night but's too cheap to buy his own freakin' stamina potions) drinks the stamina potion you give him; the animation is right out of Ocarina of Time. In Wind Waker Link actually put the bottle to his mouth and actually pushed out his cheeks when he let a breath out; that was quality stuff. Where is that quality in SS? I thought this was Nintedo's most expensive game to date? Sure doesn't look like it.

- This is the first Zelda to have a really poor and uninspired art direction. Remember Majora's Mask's amazing atmosphere, character/monster designs, and cutscene direction (Link riding Epona through the mist in the beginning is forever burned in my memory)? Well, none of that is in Skyward Sword. SS's environments and landscapes are so lacking in detail (save for a couple dungeons) that it looks like the artists were forced to used crayons to draw the concept art. There is also a huge lack of variation; the desert just looks like one big beige-colored carpet; same can be said for the volcano and forest areas, except replace beige with red and green, respectively. I will give some of the dungeons credit though; some were nicely detailed; nowhere near the level of Wind Waker or Ocarina of Time's dungeons, but still satisfactory.

- Perhaps the biggest disappointment I had with the game was the boss fight on the ship in the desert. It started off like it was going to be pretty epic. You run through the ship, dodging barrels and cutting tentacles, and then you get to the top of the ship and you see destruction and rain everywhere. The set up was really great and made me feel like I may get a Majora's Mask-level boss fight; but then the boss emerged out of the water. What I saw was probably the stupidest looking thing I've seen in a Nintendo game. The design of the boss was just awful, and I couldn't help but lose my excitement right there. And then I fought the boss ..... just awful. Of course you have to use the skyward strike in order to cut the bosses tentacles, and of course the skyward strike is hard as crap to pull of efficiently because the game is so freakin' strict about how you have to hold the Wiimote directly up; doing that crap while dodging all the tentacles was just not fun at all. And then the boss battle has the balls to be freakin' long. Ugh, I thought that fight might redeem the game a little, but it turned out to be one of the weakest moments.

- Swordplay would've probably been a lot more bearable if enemies didn't block your moves as soon as you move your sword. It's so freakin hard to get a hit in when directly facing an enemy. Some may call this a need for strategy; I'm not one of them. Combat isn't about reading the enemy or judging attacks, or any type of authenticity aside from strike direction. Hell, you get more authentic sword fighting tactics in SNK's Samurai Showdown games. No, combat in SS comes down to either waiting for an opening (sneaking behind an enemy, or knocking them down for a kill strike), or just making one with parrying. Parrying basically makes swordplay pointless, as it's an easy tactic to use, and it works on every enemy that can attack you, including the final boss. IMO, combat was much more satisfying in past Zelda games where you had to use multiple items to take enemies down; the variety in combat was much better then. Enemy variety was better with the old combat style too; I mean, how many different enemy types are there in SS, 8? 10? Tch. Wind Waker still has the best combat in the series, it had lots of enemy types, lots of different items were useful on enemies, and it had the awesome counter system. You just can't touch WW.

- There are only three areas in this game. THREE! And none of them has towns of Gorons, side-quests, or any mysteries or areas to explore; just more puzzles and fights. I said it in my review, but really, Nintendo should have just made the game have a chapter structure; since there's no exploration aspects to travelling from dungeon to dungeon. It's just non-stop fetch-quests from start to finish. And that's no exaggeration; SS is NOTHING but fetch-quests! Oh man, you want to save Zelda? Well, you're going to have to hunt down these flames to make you're sword stronger. But wait, it's not that easy, you have to hunt down these little tears in order to get to the place where the flame is. You made the Master Sword? Awesome. Now just play the final song so you can get the Triforce. Oh wait, it turns out that the song is split into 5 pieces, you gotta go back the the same areas you been too three times already to find some stupid-looking dragons and listen to their awful singing. If you really look back at SS, it may have taken 30 hours to beat the game, but there is very little content in this game, it's just that you explore the same content over and over again with a slight variation each time. This just feels really lazy on Nintendo's part.

- btw, how stupid-looking were those dragons. Ugh, the art direction in this game. And not just them, aside from a few of the girls, the people of Skyloft all look awful. Have you looked at the potion shop owners husband (you know the one with the baby), he looks like he has less polygons on him than an N64 character; and that baby ... Nintendo didn't even try there.

- How come by the end of the game, Groose is the best character?

- Girahim was a pretty poor villain by Zelda standards, but at least he had some personality (though he was still pretty boring, and I'd barely consider him evil since he didn't actually do anything). But then, he is totally shafted in the end of the game. He never gets a last word or anything. Plus, you only see the guy three times in the whole game. Nintendo hyped him up for nothing.

- Fi, why are you so boring?!? I get it, she's supposed to be some type of robot, but that's boring, especially when there is no real explanation of her origin other than she was made by Hylia. Coming after the awesomeness that was Midna, this is what Nintendo gives us? A boring sword spirit that acts more like an omnipresent tutorial than actual character. At least her character design was good.

- As a personal gripe, I hate how Fi constantly calls the player "Master". This makes her feel even less like an independent character and more like a robot. Plus, it makes the women in this game feel even less important and more like characters in the background. Which is a shame considering that recently Zelda games have had some strong female characters (Tetra, Midna, TP Zelda, ST Zelda).

- I'm very disappointed in Nintendo for reusing a Link character design. SS Link the same design as TP Link but with less detail and more color; that's it. So lazy.

- SS's only memorable music piece is it's main theme, which is very weak in comparison to other Zelda main themes. Why is the soundtrack so poor? What happened? Spirit Tracks had a superb soundtrack with memorable themes coming out of everywhere! What happened? And with the Zelda Symphony music being composed right alongside this game's development, why didn't Nintendo notice the quality of the music of past Zelda games say " Oh man! The music in Skyward Sword is crap compared to older games, we have to try harder!". The soundtrack was probably my biggest disappointment with the game, for if it were better, I think it would've helped the atmosphere a lot and make me forget about the crap graphics.

- Talk about some of the most boring items in the series. Now don't get me wrong, the Beetle is freakin' awesome and needs to be a staple itemin every Zelda game from now on alongside the bow and whip, but the rest were either staple items we've seen before, or just boring. The gust bellows have been done before, but much better. Remember Minish Cap? Tch, of course you don't. Well, the gust bellows in that sucked up certain material and then spit it back out, making for many interesting puzzles. All the gust bellows in SS do is blow wind ... why you so lazy Nintendo?

- Hey, Nintendo was that last boss fight supposed to be epic? Because it wasn't. You'd think after having so many epic final bosses, you'd make one that wasn't just unoriginal, but very unimpressive visually. You basically took the final boss of Wind Waker, took out any emotional story connection, took out the awesome visual atmosphere, and added motion controls to it. Oh, motion controls make everything better you say? No, no they do not.

- The Imprisoned is one of the stupidest and laziest monster designs I've ever seen.

- Nintendo and many critics have hyped up SS as the most cinematic Zelda game to date. To that I say: what the hell are you playing? If anything, SS is the least cinematic Zelda game. The scene where Impa and Zelda are being chased out of Hyrule Castle by Ganondorf in OoT is more cinematic than any cutscene in SS. SS if full of cutscenes of characters barely moving, stiff animations, and long-winded conversations. Tch, what you all are calling cinematic, I call lazy. You want cinematic, watch the scene in Majora's Mask where the four giants come to Clock Town to hold up the moon, or the cutscene right before the final battle in Wind Waker. Those are cinematic!

- As a huge Zelda fan, I am pretty knowledgeable of the consistent Zelda storyline and timeline. And, since this game was supposed to show the origins of the Master Sword and the legend itself, I was excited for the story. Zelda's origins were quite good, and I don't really have any complaints there. My complaint goes to the origins of Ganondorf. So, just because Demises hate is so intense, he will be reborn in order to claim the Triforce for his own and rule the world. Also, did I dention Demise looks exactly like Ganondorf (you know, just in case we're too stupid to realize that's who he'll be reborn as)...

IMO, this just wrecks the Ganondorf we've come to know in OoT, WW, and TP, and reduces him back to the angry pig monster of past Zelda games. What happened to Ganondorf's rage being the cause of his coveting of the paradise of the Hylains, what happened to him using pawns and having plans? Now he's just: "I hate the goddess sooooo much! I will have the Triforce!" There's no reason behind it, that's just how it is ... so lazy Nintendo.

- Now, going off of that, while Zelda's origins were good; how they ended were pretty bad. Basically, according to the story of SS, Zelda is destined to always be behind Link, never helping, and watch him do all the work. Of course, since the other Zelda game come after SS, we know this to turn out to be bull-crap since many Zelda's have aided Link in his battles (Tetra! ST Zelda!). But, it's as if Nintendo was really trying to make Zelda look weak in SS, which is really crappy considering her personality is rather strong (at least in the beginning). I just hope that the role Zelda played in SS in no indication of how she will act in future Zelda games. For in SS, she's basically Princess Peach, and we all know how much she sucks (except in Smash Bros.; she's awesome in those).

- I covered the whole lack of atmosphere complaint in my review, so I won't dwell on it, but it really is a gripe I have with the game. Just weak. I mean, the sky isn't big at all, it's full of these beige clouds (barely any blue sky), and the surface is almost just as boring. Basically, it seems all Nintendo focused on with SS was the motion-controlled swordplay and puzzles. There is just no magic in SS.

- The Link in SS is awful. Sure, Link hasn't had too much personality in the past, but at least in past Zelda games he felt more like a person. In OoT, he was the one Kokiri without a fairy, he was teased and felt alone, sure he had his best friend Saria, but that caused even more problems; his quest was one not just of saving the world, but finding his purpose in a place that he just didn't seem to belong in. In WW, Link was care-free kid with a sweet sister and loving grand-mother; life was simple and great until his sister is kidnapped and he embarks on a mission to save her. TP Link had a job, he had a close lady friend, and he was adored by the younger children who looked up to him, especially Colin who admired Link more than anyone else; Link was already a hero to these kids, he had nothing to prove, that's why it was so tragic when this life was ripped apart by the Twilight.

Now let's look at SS Link: a lazy schoolboy who is childhood friends with Zelda, and when she's kidnapped, he goes looking for her to find she is safe, but then it turns out he is the hero chosen by fate and must now embark on a quest. That's it. Pretty boring backstory which also leads to my final complaint ...

- FATE. This word is probably said more times throughout the game than any other word (well, maybe other than "Master", ugh). The entire story is driven by fate. Link is constantly fated to do this and that. It's Link's fate that he must seal The Imprisoned, it's Link's fate that he must save Zelda, it's Link's fate that he must forge the Master Sword; this is Link's fate as the chosen hero of the goddess. Well, let me ask you this: why the hell is Link the chosen hero? What the hell makes him soooo special? He's just a lazy schoolboy and can't get his ass up in the mornings. There are only two explanations I can think of: 1) because he's Zelda's friend, or 2) because he's the main playable character. By the end of the game, Groose has more qualities of a hero than Link. Just because Link solves these puzzles and beats these monsters, that's what makes him a chosen hero of the goddess? That's just poor story execution. At least the other Link's suffered (put to sleep for 7 years, got their butt kicked by Ganondorf, lost a dear friend (Bryne T_T)), or went through personal trials to become a hero of legend. Fate has never played a role in any other Link's journey. Each Link had to earn their place as a hero of legend, SS Link was chosen right at the beginning for no good reason! At least no really good reason, as I'm sure Nintendo would just say: "Link was the goddesses' chosen hero because Zelda is the goddess and they're best friends." And to that I say ...

Nintendo has stated many times that their goal with SS was to challenge the conventions of past Zelda games. This they did, but with very poor execution. It is possible to change a game in a long-running series quite a bit, while still retaining the spirit of the series (see Metroid: Other M). But, with SS, Nintendo just couldn't pull it off. Other than the fact that it has dungeons, and characters named Link, Zelda, and Impa; nothing else about the game screams "Zelda". The "feeling" that Zelda games have, even the multiplayer Four Swords games, just isn't in SS. Furthermore, Zelda games, while absent of voice acting, usually always showed the best Nintendo could offer in terms of graphics, music, and quality; SS does not do this at all.