Pokemon Masters Review

A few weeks ago, the mobile game Pokemon Masters released. I have been playing the Android version since the day the game launched. As I actually have been playing it a decent amount, I thought it would be informative for others if I took the time to write a review of it. I rarely if ever review mobile games but I play them quite frequently so I feel that I’m experienced enough to judge the game fairly, and hopefully accurately considering the many hidden features the game has.

The first thing that needs to be said about Pokemon Masters is that it’s not a full Pokemon game. Pokemon, as in the original/core series, is an RPG that’s constructed based on two major aspects of play: capturing and battling. The core experience is entertaining because it challenges players to locate and ultimately capture Pokemon to then be trained and used for battle. It’s only by mastering both skills that one can truly master the games. Since the two mechanics are directly linked and both are required to beat the games, the gameplay never really gets old within each individual game. You can jump between exploring to capture and battling to train/improve your Pokemon to your heart’s content. This formula works and has for 20 years across like 10 generations of Pokemon games plus remakes, with a new one coming in just a couple months (Pokemon: Sword & Shield). That’s why the basic mechanics of Pokemon games haven’t really changed that much in all this time.

trainersThe problem with mobile Pokemon games is that they never get both parts right. Pokemon GO, which I’m still playing, gets the capturing portion almost perfectly. But the battles are garbage. They aren’t turn based and have almost no RPG elements to them in practical terms. Pokemon Masters, on the other hand, gets battling down fairly well, with a streamlined but working RPG system to boot, but the capturing aspect is pretty much non-existent. I believe this is intentional on both counts. Because while Nintendo does want you to play their free to play mobile games, they want you to buy their consoles and console games more. So no true Pokemon experience ever gets produced on mobile and I doubt one ever will.

Pokemon Masters is set on the man-made island of Pasio. On this island they hold a special tournament called the Pokemon Masters League (PML). The PML is not a traditional battle of two trainers and up to 12 Pokemon. Instead you battle with Pokemon & Trainer pairs, referred to as “Sync Pairs”, in three on three battles. As such, you do not capture Pokemon. Instead you meet and recruit other trainers and when they join you one of their Pokemon becomes available for you to use in battle as part of that Sync Pair. Trainers from all over the world have come to Pasio to form these Sync Pairs and teams or Sync Pairs in order to win the PML. Your character’s partner Pokemon is a Pikachu. This is the backdrop of the entire game.

pokemon-mastersThe main gameplay works at its core aspects. You battle three on three Pokemon battles with a great many exceptions where your opponents are allowed to have more than three members on their team. In this situation, only three Pokemon appear on the front line of battles and then they’re quickly replaced once you defeat the Pokemon at the front of the line. You are always shown how many Sync Pairs are on the opposing team at the start of a battle. Placement plays a role in this for opponents but not really for you because so far you can only take a maximum of three Pokemon into battle. You can choose their placement order on the field, as in left, right, or middle, but you aren’t able to control the order in which they’re attacked because all three are on the field at the same time. Your opponent can attack whichever of your three they want to at any time. And they often do attacks that hurt all three simultaneously.

Battles are not turn based. Instead they’re real time action point based like in Final Fantasy XIII. You have an AP bar constantly filling at the bottom of the screen based on time. It’s broken into sections. Each attack costs the entire team a certain number of those sections. In this way you must manage your three Pokemon and use their moves effectively in order to knock out all the opposing team’s Pokemon before yours are all knocked out. Battles have no time limit. Each Pokemon & Trainer pair can learn up to four techniques. From what I’ve seen so far, this is always two attacks and two status altering techniques. Status techniques can do different things such as heal, increase attack power, increase speed, refill AP bars, and so on. They can also be used to induce negative effects on opponents such as poison or confusion. Attacks and status techniques for each Pokemon are all predetermined and cannot be changed, to the best of my current knowledge playing the game.

pokemon-masters-battleDuring battle, each team has a sync move counter. Sync moves are special high damage attacks that are specific to each Sync Pair. You initiate them by running the sync move counter down to zero from nine. After using a sync move, the counter refills to nine. Certain Sync pairs seem to be able to affect the sync pair counter’s number and speed, but I have only witnessed this from enemy teams and haven’t been able to create these affects for my own team yet. Both attacks and status techniques run down the counter, but status techniques don’t require any AP to use. This affects strategy because you have to account for both damage and trying to get the sync counter to zero as quickly as possible. Matches are often lost because the enemy team got their sync move out first. Status techniques may not take AP but they still take time to cast so you are delaying your next attack by using them. Both teams have the sync counter showing so it’s important to watch the other team’s counter in order to prepare yourself for an upcoming sync move. Sync moves can be used an unlimited number of times during battle but so far I’ve never used them more than twice in any one battle.

When battling, you must consider time, attack points, and the opposing team’s weaknesses. Attacks must be targeted at a specific Pokemon by a specific Pokemon. You can easily change both attacker and target by pressing the new Pokemon you want to attack with or target. The opposing team will not attack based on who you’re currently using to attack. They will just attack based on the AI’s strategy, which is often quite effective and not just at random. The enemy AI will take into account weaknesses, status techniques, and sync moves as well. So it’s in your best interest to attack with the right Pokemon against the right target as quickly as possible while accounting for status techniques and sync moves during the process. The most common mistake I make in battle is using a sync move on the wrong Pokemon because I forget to change my target based on weakness to the Pokemon type using the sync move. There’s also an auto function where the game will battle for you with the team you selected, but as with most games the AI will not battle intelligently when being used from your side. It’s extremely annoying.

sync pairsWhile battle teams can only include three Sync Pairs and thus Pokemon at a time, your total team can include an unlimited number of Sync Pairs. The way to excel in battle is to pick the right set of three Sync Pairs to construct a team that will best take advantage of the weaknesses of the opposing team. The game always tells you what the most effective Pokemon types are for the upcoming battle based on the type weaknesses of the opposing team. You do not have to include your character, and his/her Pikachu, in your battle team. This is extremely important because electric types are not always the best choice for battle.

Trainers can be added to your team in two ways. They can be acquired as part of the story or unlocked in the store. The plot based trainers cannot be skipped. They are added as you progress through the story and meet them. Store bought trainers are from loot boxes that you can buy with gems. There are two types of gems: paid and non-paid. You can get non-paid gems from completing tasks, battles, and missions. Tasks are basically just story progression moments that require you to talk to people to progress the story forward. This is all on rails and can be easily clicked through if you aren’t interested in the story. Missions are constantly added goals that can be completed at any time. They can be anything from win a certain number of battles to spend a certain amount of coins in the store. The non-paid gems can only be used to purchase certain types of loot boxes. Paid loot boxes on average net better trainers. You can get the same trainer from loot boxes more than once. Each time you get a repeat, it strengthens that trainer’s sync move up to five. I don’t know what happens when you get a repeat trainer a sixth time, or even if you can.

pokemon-masters-screenTrainers/Sync Pairs are given a star rating. I’m not exactly sure what the rating denotes because some higher ranked trainers have worse Pokemon than trainers with lower star ranks. 5 stars is currently the top rank a trainer can have. Trainers can also be upgraded with special items that have to be collected by playing the game or bought in the store with coins. Sync Pairs have a level, like how Pokemon do in the core games. As you battle and use XP items, you can increase the level of your participating trainers and ultimately the stats of their Pokemon in battle. But each trainer has a level cap based on their star rating. The cap for three star trainers, the most common I’ve seen, is only 30, which is really disappointing. But you can use items to increase the level caps. The item cost isn’t terrible for this process. But the cost to increase a Sync Pairs star rating is ridiculous by comparison. You can quickly max out characters to the starting level 30 cap by using the very abundant minimum XP boost items. But once you get to the higher level caps, maxing out Sync Pairs requires way more XP which means lots of spending or lots of grinding. Trainers with a higher star rating can level up higher to start. You must also use items to unlock additional moves for Sync pairs. All of them start out with one attack and one status technique and have to have the other two moves unlocked. The first additional move is really easy to unlock but the second requires way more rare items. I have yet to unlock the final attack/technique for a single Sync Pair.

Pokemon in the game come from all over the world, as do the trainers that partner with them. All regions and types are represented. Some trainers have basic Pokemon and others you recruit will already have them evolved. Pokemon also differ in rarity. The story mode quickly netted me Starmie (Misty), Torkoal (Flannery), and Lucario (Korrina) with Misty (Starmie) and Brock (Onix) being the first two trainers I recruited.

rock training eventSome Pokemon can be evolved. But the process and cost of evolving is very high and will take a very long time for free players. You have to max out a Trainer with a Pokemon capable of evolving. Then you have to unlock the evolve mission for that Pokemon. You do this as soon as you win a battle with the maxed out Sync Pair. Then you have to purchase five evolve shards from the store. These require spending coins, the basic currency in the game. So you need to be smart when choosing which Pokemon to evolve because it will take you a while as a free player. Thankfully, most of the Pokemon currently available in the game are not able to evolve.

Along with the story mode there are also special timed events. These are basically just additional story chapters that don’t affect the main story but net additional items and xp. They can also be great a deal harder than the normal story mode levels. Currently only two of these events has been made available in the game so far; one focused on training and the other story. The story based on has a fairly lengthy completion time limit/window so pretty much everyone will be able to finish it if they started in the opening weeks of the game.

pokemon-masters-teamsVisually speaking, Pokemon Masters is very solid for a mobile game. The art style looks a lot like the anime, which all the main characters come from. It’s 2D but mimics 3D in certain elements. The colors are vibrant and clear and the UI is fairly manageable. The menus are a bit cluttered and lack more detailed descriptions that would be quite helpful, but in general it’s a manageable design. What’s nice is how fluid the battles look. Attacks look like the actual elemental attacks they should be. And you can tell how effective attacks were with visual and written cues on the life bars floating above each Pokemon. I would say the Pokemon models look better in Pokemon GO, but Pokemon Masters has a lot more detail overall. Especially in the people and settings.

The writing is actually a very complete story, thus far. I’m only on the 10th introductory chapter as I write this and I’ve already met quite a few characters and learned a lot about them and the island of Pasio. The motivation for the characters is all to win the PML but their personal reasons are each specific and developed. Each trainer also has their own optional side missions to help develop them as a character. There are villains, rivals, bullies, and impressive trainers for the characters to look up to. It seems like a full-fledged Pokemon story. At the same time though, there is quite a lot of dialog that I simply don’t care about. Because much of it is character development that within this context doesn’t really matter. I care about the island, the villains and their motivations, and what I have to do to find and battle the best trainers. I don’t care about the fact that some random trainer with a Pokemon I don’t want because I already have better ones is fighting to make their grandfather proud but is also learning to not let other people’s expectations define them. The game is written much like the show. Except it’s a game on your phone presented with text based dialog. So it gets rather boring, takes a long time to read, and since it is a mobile game I’m often playing it passively while doing something else.

special eventI think the developers were aware of this writing conundrum for players because the structure of the game is well defined and very convenient. The game is broken up into chapters. Each chapter is broken up into sections. Each section can be entered specifically and intentionally. They can also all be replayed. Sections clearly state what aspect of gameplay they are. Some are labeled story. These are just dialog. Some are labeled battle and tell you how many battles will occur within that section. HP and status techniques reset at the end of each section but not between battles within a single section. So it’s important to manage things like your limited number of heals when playing a section with multiple battles. Some sections are labeled boss. These are single battle sections with a very strong opponent, usually at the end of a chapter. This organization system works because it allows the player to rush through story moments if they don’t care without having to redo them if they lose a battle.

The game also features a training area but it’s not very clear about what it’s supposed to be used for. There are lots of different types of training sections but only the ones marked XP seem to have any value. The other ones don’t improve your trainers in any way that I’ve been able to recognize. They just help you practice different battle scenarios. Or at least that’s how it seems. This is another example of how the game needs clearer text descriptions in the menus. One of the major problems with training battles is that they, like with the main story missions, are Pokemon type specific. Meaning you either have to use the same Pokemon over and over again or be strong enough to win without taking advantage of types and weaknesses. This gets way more difficult to accomplish in the higher difficulty training levels.

 

Pokemon-Masters-Increase-PotentialOne thing I really don’t like in general about Pokemon Masters is all the hidden features. There are things that are required to progress through the game effectively that simply aren’t explained clearly. Level caps is a good example of this. I had no idea that you could raise level caps until I had already reached the initial cap for several Sync Pairs. There are also other hidden features that can be used to make your Sync Pairs stronger, but they’re often hidden. Some can’t even be unlocked until later in the game.

I’m not far enough in yet to be able to speak on the game’s replay value. I can say that I’ve yet to replay anything that I had already beaten except the XP training sections. The game also is already running special additional timed story events so at this point it seems like any other mobile game where the idea is to keep playing and experiencing additional content rather than replay old things you’ve already completed.

Pokemon-Masters-League-BadgeUltimately the battle system is quite good and the main reason I’ve continued playing the game. I enjoy the challenge of the battles and like the fact that I don’t always win but can usually identify what mistakes I made that caused me to lose. But while the battle system is good, the game does have a number of problems. The low starting level cap is terrible when coupled with the fact that the game doesn’t clearly tell you how to raise your level cap. I played several hours thinking I was stuck at level 30 until I finally got pushed up against a difficulty wall and had to Google it to confirm that the caps could be raised and how to do it. I also really hate that there’s a divide between free and paid gems. It should work like most mobile games where the in game currency is standardized and can be used to buy anything but you can get more of it quicker by spending real money, if you want to. They also need to make evolving Pokemon and Sync Pair star levels much less costly and inconvenient.

As I said early in this review, Pokemon Masters really feels like only half the experience of an authentic core Pokemon game. It has the battles and some of the training, but none of the discovering and catching random wild Pokemon. It definitely works as a stepping stone to keep me focused on Pokemon while I wait for Sword and Shield. And there’s still some aspects of the game I haven’t fully tapped into yet, or at least that’s how it seems. If you’re looking for a mobile game that keeps you coming back but doesn’t require the inconvenience of Pokemon GO, where you have to move around to play the game, this isn’t a bad option.

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Finally Dealt with the Devil (Cuphead Completed)

I’ve had a long and colorful relationship with the game Cuphead. I remember when it was first announced at E3 as an XB1 exclusive back in 2014. I was actually the person who started the wiki on IGN for Cuphead when I worked on their E3 wiki creation strike team. I knew from the first announcement that I wanted to play this game but I also feared that I never would because I was absolutely not going to buy an XB1, and I still haven’t. But thankfully Microsoft decided to port all their games to PC. That’s also how I finally got a copy of Sunset Overdrive, which I still need to play.

Before Cuphead was released on PC, people were already talking about it on XB1, and they were not happy. While the game was praised for both the art and gameplay, so many people took issue with both. The art angered people because of the racist history behind the style. And the gameplay angered people because it was considered too hard for many (noobs). Now I don’t actually agree with the idea that people shouldn’t be able to use this art style for non-race related projects, so I won’t get into that. But the gameplay thing was a real worry for me.

Cuphead Screenshot 2018.11.23 - 21.24.56.12I have never shied away from a game because it was too hard, provided it still felt balanced, but it can be quite intimidating to purposely walk into a game that everyone else is calling impossible. I still remember how much everyone was talking about Demon’s Souls when it first released. Even a GameStop clerk told me it was so hard that he had given up playing it. By the time I finally sat down to play it, I was horrified. Soulslike is now one of my favorite game genres. So I still wanted to play Cuphead, but I was really worried that I’d get stuck and not be able to finish it. The game happens to be in one of my worst performing genres, which worried me even more. People found the game so challenging that they petitioned for an easy mode to be added and the developers actually delivered one. It doesn’t allow you to finish the entire game, but it does let you reach the penultimate boss. To me, this entire thing was ludicrous, but it also made me want to play the game even more. The demand for an easy mode always motivates me to take an interest in a game. Not because I want to play on easy mode but because I want to prove that I don’t need to.

After several months of actively waiting for a price drop, having already waited years for the game release and then finally the PC port, I finally bought Cuphead. This was before the Switch version was announced or else I probably would have gotten it on that. When I first started the game, I was using a DualShock 4 controller. That and a Wii U Pro controller were my only viable options for playing on PC. I was not going to use a keyboard to play this type of game and at that point did not own an XB1 controller. So I went with the DS4 because it’s the controller I had the most experience with between the two options I had.

Cuphead Screenshot 2018.11.23 - 21.35.13.51I struggled so much to beat The Root Pack. This was the first boss I faced when I started Cuphead. It took me literal hours to finally beat that boss. I was shocked at how hard the game was for me. To get stuck on the first encounter in a game was an experience I’d never had before in more than 20 years of gaming.  I felt depressed. Maybe this game really was too hard for me and I actually needed to use the easy mode? But I refused. I would quit the game altogether before I would belittle myself to playing on easy mode.

After many hours of frustration, I finally defeated The Root Pack and went on to fight Ribby & Croaks. I could not beat them. I struggled and struggled for hours but I absolutely could not beat them. Ultimately I stopped playing the game altogether because I simply couldn’t move forward and refused to play the easy mode. I promised myself I would return to the game at some point but honestly I didn’t see the point when it was just too hard for me. I think I probably should have faced Goopy Le Grande instead of Ribby & Croaks second but that’s not what happened. I put the game in my start menu to remind me that I still needed to go back and beat it but I never actually attempted to because I knew I’d not be able to beat Ribby & Croaks.

Cuphead Screenshot 2019.09.05 - 18.49.56.44

It wasn’t until several months later that I finally returned to Cuphead. I had wanted an XB1 controller for PC gaming for some time, because it’s the only controller that consistently works properly with just about every PC game. But I didn’t technically need one because I had the ability to use any of my controllers on PC with an adapter I had purchased more than a year earlier. I just happened to luck into a free one that was being thrown out at my office. Ironically I had to spend more than the cost of a controller to buy a Bluetooth adapter and battery pack but I now had an XB1 controller for PC gaming. I decided to test it out with Cuphead since it’s one of the only games in my PC I could start without logging into Steam or another launcher and I was already familiar with the game so there wouldn’t be any delays to starting the test. I went right back into the Ribby & Croaks fight.

I did not defeat Ribby & Croaks immediately when trying the XB1 controller, but I did immediately realize that I was performing well enough to where beating them would be possible. After a few more tries and shaking the rust off, I defeated Ribby & Croaks and then went on to quickly defeat Goopy Le Grande, Cagney Carnation, and Hilda Berg. Suddenly I wasn’t just OK at Cuphead. I was good at it. I realized that the whole time it wasn’t my lack of skill that had made the game so hard. It was my lack of proper hardware. The game was literally made to be played on an XB1 controller and as soon as I corrected this issue I was zooming through the bosses. That’s not to imply that the game has to be played on an XB1 controller. My friend beat the whole thing with a keyboard, which I still think is ridiculous. But now I too was progressing through Cuphead at an appropriate rate, without using the easy mode.

Cuphead Screenshot 2019.09.03 - 08.51.31.50Though there were some bosses that were tough for a short while, in general I flew through the rest of the game. I played it sparingly over the course of several weeks, but basically no regular boss took me more than two hours to beat and most of them I cleared in under 30 minutes. I even managed to defeat Baroness Von Bon Bon on the first try. I got held up a bit at Carla Maria, which I think might be the hardest boss in the game other than maybe King Dice, but ultimately I reached the Devil.

It took me about three hours to defeat the Devil. He wasn’t hard to figure out. Just hard to fight without taking stray hits. But eventually I defeated him. It was so satisfying to finally beat Cuphead. And it made me feel great to not have had to use the easy mode. It almost feels like a chapter of my life has closed. I’ve spent five years wanting to beat that game.

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Cuphead was fun. It was challenging, but not in a stupid way. Really the boss fights were just as much about thought as they were reflexes. Each one was a bit of a puzzle. Choosing the correct approach with the right weapons, special ability, and charm made the difference between winning and losing. Yes you did have to be able to jump and move dynamically and quickly, but this was only a part of the boss fights as a whole.  And of course, the art was beautiful. I would absolutely play a sequel. Now that I’ve completed Cuphead, I’ve removed it from my start menu. The delight in not being reminded that I might be a noob in disguise is a great feeling. Now to find a new game to casually torture myself over. I’m thinking Dead Cells next.

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As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.

What Makes A Male Character? (Cyberpunk 2077)

Last week it was announced that CD Projekt RED’s next game, Cyberpunk 2077, was doing away with gender options in its character creator. To no one’s surprise, the gaming community spent a preposterous amount of time arguing about it. Half the internet was happy about it and the other half was angry. The same tired, usually illogical, and almost always irrelevant and nonsensical arguments were made by both sides. You already know what they are so I don’t need to take the time to go into them. Suffice it to say that many people still seem to care what other people do in the privacy of their own homes when playing single player games.

Now I actually don’t like character creators in story driven games. Not because I have any issue with people designing their own characters in games. And not because I particularly care what types of characters people design. My issue with character creators is that they almost always lead to hollow, sub-par writing devoid of real impact and personality for the character being created. It’s very hard to write a story that carries the same amount of context, realism, believability, and personality for an ambiguous character as that of a narrowly defined one. For instance, Lara Croft is a young, British, heterosexual female that comes from a wealthy Caucasian family. Her experiences are specific and meaningful in her development as a character. The way she would realistically respond to things would be completely different from the way an older, American, homosexual male that comes from a poor African-American family would. And this is true for many if not most situations. There would for sure be some overlap in their responses to things, depending on the situation and setting. But when it came to character building and interactions with other characters they would have completely different responses in most cases.

tomb raider 2013 victimLet’s take a scene from Tomb Raider (2013) as a specific example. There’s a moment in the game where it’s implied that Lara may be sexually assaulted by one of her much older male captors. Now for starters, that wouldn’t even happen to the other character I described in most cases. Not all, but most. And if it did happen, the character wouldn’t even necessarily have the same reaction, or even possibly aversion, to the situation as Lara Croft does in the game. And that is not to imply that older gay men are OK with being raped by other older gay men. It’s just to state the very true point that a young inexperienced rich girl and an older, presumably much more experienced man simply wouldn’t respond to the situation the same way. That’s exactly why specified characters and the context of those characters matter. But when you can create your own character in a game, many of the scenarios that specified characters can experience simply don’t happen and shouldn’t happen because they just wouldn’t make sense in many if not most cases.

Say I created a character in a game that was intentionally unattractive, horrifyingly strong, and gigantic in stature. That character simply isn’t going to be sexually assaulted. It’s not going to happen in any realistic scenario. And if it did happen in a game, any person would rightfully think “that doesn’t make any sense”. So game writers, knowing that, wouldn’t include a scene in the game that includes a possible sexual assault because there’s no way to guarantee that it would make sense to all player created characters at all times.

fallout 4 ugly characterThe closest way to making a character creator make sense without watering down the content is to write multiple story lines that mostly overlap but have some key differing plot points based on certain parameters entered into the character creator, such as gender. You might force the player to choose male or female and then depending on the gender they chose the game would decide whether or not the assault scene would be included. You could take this a step further by adding sexuality to the character creator. This wouldn’t address the intentionally ugly problem, but you’d get closer to the plot making sense for all players regardless of the character they built. At the same time though, this would require multiple story lines to be created which would mean more development time translating to higher development costs. So it makes more sense just to water down the story and not include anything specific to a certain type of character, which is my entire point about character creator games leading to watered down plots.

Some games over the years have managed to do a pretty decent job at storytelling even with the presence of a character creator. The Mass Effect trilogy comes to mind. Yet I played the games with the default male character and so did many other players. That’s why even though the game allowed for character creation, Commander Shepard’s face is so iconic. In your head right now you’re thinking of a white man in his 30’s with short hair, light stubble, and blue eyes. Even though the game had a default female version, and many people played the game as a female, most people don’t picture the female Commander Shepard when they think about Mass Effect. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a single Mass Effect meme featuring the female version of Commander Shepard save for maybe a meme that showed both default gender options. So it’s very possible that while I think the game was written extremely well for a game with a character creator, maybe it wasn’t. Maybe if I had played it as a character that was a homosexual female of Latino origin I wouldn’t have felt like the character driven aspects of the game were that well written. I can’t say for sure. But I can say that a lot of games, including those that are praised highly, actually aren’t that great as far as developing the player’s created character. Dark Souls is a great example of this.

commander_shepardYou can create anyone you want in the Dark Souls games. You can make a person with blue skin, orange hair, and enough wrinkles to make Emperor Palpatine look youthful. But the games won’t give two shits about the way your character looks. The NPC’s won’t comment on it. The enemies won’t react differently to it. Your appearance and identity mean absolutely nothing in those games. And that doesn’t make them bad games. But I wouldn’t call the Dark Souls franchise an example of good character driven writing. The difference is that Cyberpunk 2077 seems to be selling itself as a character driven game where you can create any character you want. That’s a tall order and we’ve not seen CD Projekt RED even deliver a character creator game before. We know they can write because The Witcher series is one of the most compelling, best written franchises ever made. But they’re all focused on one heterosexual white guy who’s a social outcast and the closest thing to a hermit you can be without actually living alone in a cave. Meaning the character and thus the character driven writing has a defined and consistent context. And that’s exactly why it’s good writing.

All this is not to say that I have any problem with the fact that Cyberpunk 2077 has a character creator, or that gender options have been pulled from the character creator. All this is to say that I don’t believe that Cyberpunk 2077 will be even close to as well written from a character development standpoint as The Witcher 3. But let’s actually talk about the character creator nontroversy in the upcoming Cyberpunk 2077.

dragon's dogma-creationIf you’re not writing a character driven plot focused game, your character doesn’t really matter. Especially if you’re not applying conventional human norms to your character(s) to begin with, which would be the case in a Cyberpunk themed game most of the time. To be honest there’s almost no reason a character creator even needs gender in it unless, like in my previous examples, the story is actually affected by the gender of the character. Dragon’s Dogma is a perfect example of this. It’s a game with a story, but calling it a character driven story game is wildly inaccurate. You can create anyone in that game and it will change nothing about the gameplay experience. The only reason the character creator even has gender options in it is simply to speed up the character creation process. And that’s the case for most games with character creators if we’re honest.

It’s just much faster to ask people if their character is male or female so the limited number of default character models can be separated between having pronounced breasts and not having pronounced breasts. That’s pretty much the only thing of value the character creator in Dragon’s Dogma, among many other games, does. It just limits certain physical options based on a set of conventional appearance standards without having any actual effect on the gameplay. Body types, hairstyles, face renders, and voices are separated into two groups in order to speed up the character creation process. But really there’s no actual reason why a player shouldn’t be able to create a character that looks like Dwayne Johnson with pigtails and the voice of a Japanese schoolgirl while wearing a metal bikini. It would be uncomfortable to see for some spectators, but there’s no actual reason why anyone shouldn’t be able to create that character in a game where your appearance doesn’t actually matter. And thus removing gender limitations from a game with a story neutral character creator is and should be considered absolutely fine. Especially when you get into some of the more nuanced ways that people can actually look, act, and sound.

Saints_Row_the_Third_character creatorI once had a friend who was a five foot tall white female with long brown hair, a perfectly tight gym body, and the voice of a 30 year male smoker. That’s how she looked and that’s how she sounded, even though she was only 18 when I met her. Presumably, up until Cyberpunk 2077 it would have been extremely difficult for her to find a game where she could actually create herself in the game. She would have had little problem creating herself physically. And as she was a heterosexual, it would have been very easy to mirror her interactions with NPCs, where possible, fairly accurately. But getting her voice right would have been pretty much impossible. Now that’s not really fair. She wasn’t trans. She wasn’t homosexual. She wasn’t a smoker. She just had that preposterously deep and scratchy voice. In no way was that her fault, her choice, or a repercussion of any of her past decisions. Yet she was arguably a victim of game creator discrimination for all these years. Whereas I as a tall, heterosexual, African-American male with a stereotypically deep voice have pretty much never had a problem creating a character that looks and sounds close enough to myself, if that’s what I wanted to do, in a Western game.

Destiny-2-Character-Customization-1024x582I will admit that a lot of Asian produced games haven’t given me the ability to create myself, but I’m not their target audience to begin with so I don’t blame them for not taking the time to design assets for the handful of players that look like me that both will play their games and actually care about the fact that they can’t place themselves into the game. But for a Western developer that would be a huge problem if African-American men couldn’t create characters that resembled themselves in character creator games. And the truth is that many homosexual African-American male gamers can’t create themselves as far as voice and clothing options are concerned in Western developed games, and obviously Asian developed games but for an entirely different reason I’ve already gone over. So removing the gender limitations in a game’s character creator options isn’t a bad thing at all. And honestly, other than possibly making the process of creating your character take longer due to a lack of easily defined sorting practices, it doesn’t affect anyone’s gameplay experience in a negative way. It simply makes the experience for some players more positive by giving them the option to make characters they identify with on a more personal level. Again, if we’re not talking about a game where the context of the character’s experiences is driven by their gender, sexuality, or appearance, then it doesn’t really matter what limitations are or are not placed on the character creation tools from a gameplay standpoint. And for the bulk of games with character creators, it won’t. So I find it extremely ridiculous and illogical to be against this decision by CD Projekt RED. What I am against is the fact that they announced this development decision in the way they did.

Cyberpunk 2077 Mix It UpI have no issue with games being more inclusive. I have no problem with the gaming industry both on the screen and in the studios being more diverse. I still want character driven stories that are specific while making sense and having a clearly defined context, but in general diversity in games isn’t a bad thing to me. What is a bad thing, and I have written about this may times before, is using diversity as a selling point in order to pander to a specific audience. Especially when we consider the size of that audience within the gaming market. The way the removal of gender options from Cyberpunk 2077’s character creator was announced was via an interview. You can read an excerpt from the interview on this specific topic here. It’s very clear that this decision was made in response to the backlash of that supposed trans ad debacle. This character creation option is being used as an olive branch to the trans/entire LGBQT+ community so that people will stop calling CD Projekt RED transphobic and a “problematic developer”. That’s not diversity in game design. That’s not authentically trying to make things more inclusive for the LGBTQ+ community. That’s pandering for profits.

I get that game development is a business. I get that every decision, big and small, is profit driven. And most of the time I’m fine with all that. But I hate hypocrisy. I’m not one of those “keep politics out of games” people. I’m a writer. I play story driven games almost exclusively. I know games, and really all story driven entertainment, is political by nature. And anyone who thinks it isn’t is an idiot. Metal Gear Solid is political. Final Fantasy is political. Bayonetta is political. It’s all political. But I take issue with companies pretending their politics come from a place of support, love, and authentic concern. Because if it was authentic they wouldn’t have mentioned it at all. They would have just released the game with no gender options in the character creator and then people would have either noticed it and talked about it on their own or not talked about it at all. And LGBTQ+ players would have just played the game, thought it was cool that they could make the characters they wanted, and moved on with their lives. That would be authentic, non-pandering diversity in game design. If a company is doing something for recognition, it’s not authentic. And if they’re not being authentic then I don’t want them to pretend to be authentic.

mgs 3 patriotIf they had to say anything, I would rather have had a representative from CD Projekt RED just come out and say “Hey LGBTQ+ people, here’s a bone. We only did this to make you stop complaining about us. You never buy our games anyway, but hopefully now you’ll consider it.” That would be some real shit. I would respect them more for just coming out and saying it. Because right now they look like the good guys to one team and like they folded to the SJWs to the other team. But they know they can get away with it because all those people saying “I’m now not going to buy this game over this gender character creator thing” are clearly lying. There’s not a single actual gamer out there who was planning on buying Cyberpunk 2077 and now isn’t going to because the game won’t outright let them enter into the character creator that they’re a male. Not a single one. And CD Projekt RED knows that. So they can play both sides with impunity. And that is dishonest. Not to mention it strong arms LGBTQ+ gamers into buying the game. Because now that they’ve done this and got it reported all over the place, the only way to get other game studios to do it is to support the game and show that it has an actual effect on sales and popularity. It’s the female protagonist conundrum all over again.

remember meFemale gamers say “we want more female protagonists in games”, a company makes a game with a female protagonist, and it doesn’t sell. Then all the other companies get to say “well female protagonists don’t sell and we’re in the business of making money not political movements”. So every time a shitty game with a female protagonist gets released, women have to buy it or risk losing any chance of another AAA game with a female protagonist being made for a long time. The LGBTQ+ community is in the same boat. If they don’t support every game that offers LGBTQ+ options in it, they risk destroying any chance of another game with such options being made for literally years in the current market. I am 100% in support of CD Projekt RED’s decision to remove gender from their character creator, but I’m also 100% disgusted with the fact that they announced it this way. Don’t keep politics out of my games. Keep political posturing out of my games marketing.

I will be playing Cyberpunk 2077 and I will almost certainly be playing as a conventional looking, heterosexual, African-American male. I am 100% unaffected by the studio’s choice to remove gender from the character creator, but so many people aren’t. And instead of just letting them choose whether or not they want to buy the game based on the actual merits of the game, they’ve forced an entire group of people to give into their bullshit pandering tactics for the good of their group’s future representation in the video games industry by making a big thing out a fairly easily development change. It’s selfish, disgusting, and wrong. And the worst part is that because of how things work, people are and will continue to champion the studio for this PR move because it’s more than most studios deliver most of the time.

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Gamescom 2019

This year was my first time ever attending Gamescom. I would like to thank Ubisoft for inviting me to attend the event as a contestant in the Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle Grand Championship. While I was extremely depressed to have lost in the first round, and even more so to have lost because of a single error in an otherwise flawlessly executed match, I am still happy to have been given the opportunity to participate and attending Gamescom was amazing. I also want to acknowledge that the main reason my experience at Gamescom was so good was that Ubisoft was gracious enough to provide me with an exhibitor’s ticket. This allowed me special access and privileges that normal attendees just didn’t have, which in turn allowed me to try out way more games than probably anyone else.

Over the course of the show I was able to try/experience 22 different unreleased games that are mainstream and some additional indies which I won’t take the time to talk about in this post for the sake of time. I truly believe that other than press I played more mainstream games at Gamescom than anyone else. An exhibitor ticket gave me early access every day which meant I could skip at least one to two lines a day. For example, the lines for FFVII Remake and Marvel’s Avengers were right next to each other in the Square Enix booth. Both consistently had lines of at least 2.5 hours every day of the show. But I was able to enter the show floor an hour early every day. So one of those days I talked one of the Square Enix team members into letting me try Marvel’s Avengers before the official opening time. This allowed me to then be one of the first in line for FFVII Remake right after, allowing me to try two of the biggest games being demoed at Gamescom this year in under 30 minutes of actual show time. That was literally record breaking. And because there was no line at the Square Enix demo for Trials of Mana remake, because everyone was trying it at the Nintendo booth, I was able to try that game right after FFVII Remake. So I managed to try three mainstream titles within the first official hour of one of the days at Gamescom. I used similar tactics throughout the week in order to try literally every game at the show I wanted to try. The only two games of note that I didn’t try were Borderlands 3 and Control. I honestly didn’t want to try either, but after having read the reviews for Control, I do wish I had tried that game and could have if I had wanted to take the time during the show.

 

Gamescom Entrance

This was my first time visiting Germany and I really enjoyed it. Cologne is a great city and I could definitely live there. It’s a beautiful and large but still kind of quaint place with culture and character. And German people are so nice. That being said, German gamers suck. I’m sorry, and I know that’s a wide brush to paint with, but I have to say that of all the gaming and tech related events I’ve been to in three different regions (Asia, NA, EU) of the world, the Gamescom attendees, most of which were native Germans, were the worst, most selfish, and unprofessional people I’ve ever interacted with in a setting like this. And that’s saying a lot. I’m not talking about the staff. Save for a few exceptions, they were great. I’m talking about the people attending the event. So many selfish assholes. They can’t wait in lines like adults. They have little to no concept of what’s appropriate in a crowded public setting. And worst of all they defend each other’s bad behavior even when they aren’t actually guilty of said behavior themselves. I won’t go into specific details of the various ridiculous occurrences I experienced and witnessed, but for such a large event with literally thousands of visitors, I expected better from the attendees. The behavior I saw at Gamescom does not happen at Taipei Game Show. It does not happen at CES. I haven’t been to every gaming event in the world so I can’t say for sure if this was an isolated occurrence or not, but in my experience, German gamers need to grow up. And I’m speaking as a 30 year old man who waited four hours to try Iron Man VR.

This was a gaming event so of course we need to talk about swag. You know me. I’m all about that free stuff at events. I have to say that for quantity, Gamescom was not the best swag event I’ve been to. I make much better hauls at Computex each year. But I’ll also say that with so many more people and much longer lines in a way it’s possible that I just wasn’t able to access as much swag as there actually was. I’ll also say that the giveaways at Gamescom were top notch, but giveaways don’t really count as swag because not everyone can get them just from waiting in line. For example, I got four shirts (Watch Dogs Legion, Ghost Recon: Breakpoint, Everspace 2, and Biomutant). But of those four only one of them was given out for waiting in line to try a game (Biomutant). The other three were special privilege acquisitions. The Everspace 2 one I got for work related reasons and the two Ubisoft ones I happened to catch when they were thrown out into the crowd during presentations. That means really only one shirt was available as actual swag in my whole haul. I got 11 pins, which is awesome because I actually collect them. But two of them I paid for and one was another instance of a work related acquisition. So really I got only eight pins as swag, three of which were from Nintendo (Link’s Awakening, Luigi’s Mansion 3, and Pokémon: Sword & Shield). The three Nintendo ones weren’t even available until later in the week so if you tried those games earlier then you couldn’t get those pins. In my case I went back to the Link’s Awakening booth, because I tried that on the first day, and begged them for a pin later in the week. I managed to get two hats and a visor as actual swag. But the visor was a disappointment because it was for Cyberpunk 2077 and I really just expected better swag from CD Projekt Red for that game. I wanted a Cyberpunk 2077 shirt so badly. So all in all the swag was average at best for both quantity and quality.

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Now I want to take the time to give single paragraph reviews of each of the noteworthy games I tried at Gamescom. So pretty much the rest of this post will be games coverage. It is a lot to read, but like I said, I played a lot of games. I have listed the titles in bold so you can skip over the ones you aren’t interested in. Games are not listed in any particular order.

Trials of Mana HD Remake (Nintendo Switch)

This was awesome. I never played the original Mana series but I was considering buying Collection of Mana for Nintendo Switch. Now I’m definitely going to wait for them to remake the other two games in this style and then just buy a collection of the remade versions. Trials of Mana looks beautiful and plays so smoothly. For a remake of a classic game, it does not feel super retro. It’s nearly a normal action RPG. The combat was good, the real time party system worked well, and the boss fight at the end of the demo was exciting, challenging, and yet still well balanced. Highly recommend picking it up if you’re interested in this classic series and I hope we see the whole collection soon.

FFVII Remake (PS4)

My gosh this game plays well. I have been avidly opposed to this remake ever since they announced that they were changing the gameplay and making it episodic. But I will give credit where credit is due and admit that this gameplay is otherworldly. It is so revolutionary for the franchise and extremely well made. Even playing it in German felt great. I hate that I’m going to buy this game, but I am going to buy this game. The gameplay alone made sure of that. It’s a real time action RPG with the ATB system from FFXIII being used to implement the turn based feel from the original FFVII without slowing the gameplay down to the point of breaking your groove. It’s hard to even explain because I’ve never seen anything like it before. And the graphics are just phenomenal but that should surprise no one at this point. One thing I will say though is that the gameplay shown was used for multiple characters (Cloud and Barret), which leads me even more to ask what the point of episodes is because the original sell was that the episodes would essentially be different games telling one coherent story. That’s not what I was getting from this gameplay. This system can and will almost certainly be used across all characters so there’s really no justification to break this into episodes because the story aspect can easily shift between cutscenes. Changing your walking avatar from Cloud to another character is not a justification to sell a separate game if they’re going to be part of the same party anyway. In any case, based on what I played this is a must play.

 Marvel’s Avengers (PS4)

This game got a lot of flak after the E3 announcement and I really don’t know why. Visually, the demo I played did have some issues. It was mostly hair that I had problems with. Everything else was fine for an alpha build. It played smoothly, the controls didn’t lag, and I didn’t get any dropped frames. It’s a pretty standard brawler done in the spirit of the Arkham games. But each of the playable characters has a slightly different move set and feel. Personally I liked Hulk and Thor the most because they felt the most appropriate for the gameplay with Captain America in a close third. Black Widow was only featured in a boss fight so while she did work appropriately, I can’t speak to how she wields in normal combat scenarios. The demo was very linear with each character merging into the next one to tell a whole story, but I don’t have a problem with linear games. If the gameplay is good and the story is coherent while having enough length to justify $60+, I’m absolutely fine with a linear story. But the attendant informed me that the final product will be way less linear than the demo I played. I liked it and I’ll definitely pick it up.

Monkey King: Hero is Back (PC)

This game is trash. Which really depressed me because I love the Monkey King character and stories and was super excited to try this game. I didn’t even know about it until I saw the banner at Gamescom. I had high hopes because the character and settling are great for a game, but this was executed poorly. The gameplay isn’t necessarily stiff, but it definitely isn’t smooth either. The graphics are tolerable for the sake of the animated film it’s based on, but they aren’t good. The thing that angered me most was ladder transitions. To climb from one floor to another, even when it’s all part of the same interactive area, you have to wait for an animation clip rather than just climb the damn ladders. This is not acceptable in 2019. Especially not from the company that helped produce games like The Wonderful 101 and Final Fantasy XV. This demo was just unacceptably bad and I’m really, really depressed about it.

Asterix & Obelix XXL 3 – The Crystal Menhir (PC)

I actually only just found out about XXL 3 about two weeks before Gamescom. And honestly I only found out about XXL 2 a couple months before that. I used to watch this cartoon as a kid and play some of the games so I was really happy that they’re still making them and that I could try the newest one at Gamescom. This is by no means a AAA title, but it’s quite fun. I played it solo but you can play it with two player co-op. It’s a well-made top down brawler. A bit repetitive but not bad. Some of the puzzles, if they can be called that, are more annoying jump challenges than actual puzzles but nothing game breaking. It’s really more something you play because you’re a fan of the franchise than because it’s a great game. But if you liked the previous games then this one definitely won’t disappoint.

Link’s Awakening HD Remake (Nintendo Switch)

This was phenomenal. I waited three hours to play it and I don’t regret it. It’s beautiful, the gameplay is smooth, and it’s fun. I never finished the original Link’s Awakening but I will definitely be buying and beating this. Even playing it in German, which I don’t read, in no way turned me off the game. It’s just good. It’s not worth $60. That I will say. For $30, this would be a no brainer purchase. But at full AAA price, I’m gonna wait for a Black Friday deal. But it’s definitely a must play for me.

Doom Eternal (Google Stadia)

There are two main reasons that I wanted to play Doom Eternal on Stadia. The first was that I didn’t want to wait three hours to try Doom Eternal and the second was that I really wanted to try Stadia but the only other game they had available to try was Mortal Kombat 11, which I’ve already played on PS4, so it seemed like a waste of time to try that one. I will admit however that playing a game I had already played and comparing it to Stadia probably would have given me a more legitimate ability to judge the platform in a single 15 minute demo.

Stadia runs fine. What I mean by that is I was able to play Doom Eternal comfortably with no lag, frame rate drops, or any legitimate gameplay issues. The game ran adequately. Now I’m not 100% sure on the setup they actually had because they had a controller and other cables running into a table and then a laptop with nothing on the screen except the Stadia logo sitting next to a monitor, which the game was running on. So the implication was that you were dual monitoring a laptop and running Doom Eternal via Stadia on the monitor while playing with a wired controller, but I have no actual proof of that because they didn’t present the setup to me. They just sat me down, handed me a controller and declared it was Doom Eternal on Stadia. So I believe that’s what I was experiencing, but take this with a grain of salt because there’s no evidence to suggest that this was actually the case. The one negative I will say about Stadia is that the graphics don’t hold up. Playing Doom on my regular PS4 looks better than Doom Eternal on Stadia. The game looked acceptable but not beautiful. If you’re used to high spec PC gaming with a 1080 or more card, which I am, Stadia doesn’t hold up. It runs fine, but it’s not the perfectly crisp HD picture hard core PC Master Race gamers are used to. It’s more like playing games on a PS3. Looks and runs fine, but doesn’t hold up to current high graphics standards. So if you are a minimum spec gamer, it’s probably fine for you. But if you are a 120 FPS, 2080ti, 4K gamer, then you will absolutely not be able to play games on Stadia in its current form.

Doom Eternal was great. And that should surprise no one. It’s the same formula as Doom, and that’s a good thing, because the formula works. Even on the lacking graphics of Stadia, I was having a blast playing it. If you liked Doom, you’re going to like Doom Eternal. Enough said.

Ghost Recon: Breakpoint (PC)

I don’t think I’ve played a game since Destiny that required team work as much as Ghost Recon: Breakpoint. This was a demo where you were forced to play on a squad of four and it was tough. Granted the other players were native German speakers and I speak maybe four words of German, but we were all experienced gamers and we struggled. We failed (all four dead at once) multiple times. The game is hard but fair. We had to learn how to work together and be more conservative, but once we did that, we got through it. A big part of the game is fighting drones and robot type enemies. This is where the game gets really difficult because they don’t go down like people. But they mow you down easy. The game works well and looks great. My only real complaint about the gameplay is that you still can’t button to cover like in The Division. Like with Ghost Recon: Wildlands, you just sort of naturally flow in and out of cover as you move. I think intentional cover would improve the gameplay but many would probably argue that it would make it too easy. But in my opinion if being able to cover in a shooter makes the game too easy or less enjoyable, then it’s probably not a good game to begin with. I think Breakpoint would play just fine with button press cover and cover to cover movement. But in general it’s a great game that I’ll definitely be playing, so I can take on the Punisher.

Cyberpunk 2077 (Non-playable Gameplay Presentation)

Sadly I did not get to play Cyberpunk 2077, but the experience of seeing a narrated presentation was extremely informative and valuable. This presentation featured a person playing the game live while a presenter narrated the action. The focus of this presentation was to show how the character development system affects gameplay with what they refer to as a “fluid class system”. Essentially you don’t have classes. You just have skills which you level up with points gained through xp. The two builds they showed were one focused on hacking and the other focused on strength. The way they presented this was very effective because they showed the same mission twice done with these two different builds. The hacker build was much more about stealth and using your skills to clear obstacles and take out enemies strategically, with little direct combat. The strength build just ran in and destroyed everything directly. The best example of comparison between these two builds was during a fight sequence with several enemies and a turret near the middle of the room. The hacker hacked the turret and let it do the work for him, while the strength build used a human shield to get close to the turret and then ripped it out of its stand and used it as a mini-gun. Both approaches were amazing and I’m honestly not sure which one I would prefer to play. They said you could build however you wanted and potentially have features from both builds but they did not answer how much available xp there was in the game in order to reach both these builds simultaneously.

While I still would prefer the game in third person, watching this presentation convinced me that I could probably enjoy playing it in first person as well. The driving did go to third person though so I really hope a patch or mod is coming.

The Surge 2 (PC)

I was really excited to play this. I have The Surge but haven’t actually finished it yet. I do plan on getting it done though. I really like this IP because it plays like a stripped down Dark Souls set in the future instead of the past. I was really depressed that I didn’t get into The Surge 2 closed beta but finding out I could try it at Gamescom made me really happy. Now let me say that the Deep Silver booth sucked. The line for The Surge 2 was never long, but took forever. I waited 45 minutes and didn’t move an inch. I asked multiple employees why it was taking so long and no one could give me an answer other than “I don’t know.” I finally stepped out of line and was considering giving up on getting to try it at all. The only reason I got to play it was that a friend found a fast pass and gave it to me because he didn’t know the studio. While the booth was badly managed, the game is awesome. It plays really well. I especially liked that at the start of this game you don’t have a rig so you have to work your way through learning the combat without power and then once you’ve started to really get it you find a rig and get a real boost of power. It’s a great storytelling mechanic. That being said, it’s kind of a turn off if you don’t will your way through that opening phase of the game. Before you get your rig, you can’t even dodge. And you feel those limitations. But once you get a hang of the combat and then get a rig, it’s so gratifying. I also liked that you start off the game with a sort of boxing gloves type weapon. You get these metal fist covers that allow you to fight against opponents in rigs. I actually hope that in the later game you get supped up fist weapons and can fight boxing style because it works really well. But if you’re not getting weapons grade damage, it’s just not worth it once you get a rig. In general, the game plays great and looks decent enough. There’s also a more human focused story with real conversations and dialog options. The first game put you in a world of mostly robots. This game seems to put you in a world of mostly people after the robots revolted and were finally beaten back. I can’t wait to play the final version.

As a bonus, there was a boss in the demo and for defeating it during the 20 minute trial period, I was given a steel-book case for The Surge. This was an awesome surprise that I absolutely was not expecting. And since I own the physical version of the first game that makes it even better.

Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot (PC)

Sadly I did not like this demo. The controls were a bit overwhelming to learn in a 15 minute session. There’s actually a lot going on. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing because it means there’s depth to the game. It’s an open world with a battle mode which is initialized when you make contact with enemies that are seen on the map. This is all fine. The boss battles are slightly different from regular battles but not by too much. This is also fine. There’s a lot going on in this world. Lots of NPCs to interact with. Sidequests all over the place. Other characters that team up with you and travel the map with you depending on what part of the story you’re in. This is all good stuff. What isn’t good is how much crap is on the screen at one time. There’s so much going on and it’s all on screen at once. Beacons for objectives, a large HUD, NPC dialog boxes in the distance, floating collectibles, and just lots of general clutter. It’s so hard to focus on playing the game with so much on screen information pulling you out of the experience. Like imagine if in Assassin’s Creed the gameplay looked like the map. If all those objectives, side events, mini-games, challenges, treasure chests, and other map icons were all on the screen constantly while trying to play the game. Now imagine that on a screen of less than 27 inches. It would be a nightmare to play. That’s how this game plays. I hope you can turn a lot of that stuff off in menus because if you can’t it’s just too much junk on screen at one time.

Medievil (PS4)

Great remake. Absolutely buying this. It plays well. It looks good. It sounds good. I never played this as a kid, but I was aware of it and I’m so glad they made a good remake. For the most part, it’s challenging yet fair. The controls are accessible and run smoothly. It’s just a really well made remake. My only complaint, which I assume was present in the original game as well, was the resource management mechanics. Like you start off with a sword that I don’t believe can break. But you can pick up other weapons. But when you do you lose your sword. Yet those other weapons can break. So ultimately I got to the boss in the demo and my weapon broke and I was expected to fight the boss with no actual weapon other than my useless bone arm, which also removes the ability to use your shield. Even when I died, I respawned with no weapon. I found this to be a very annoying and unbalanced mechanic. But otherwise it’s a great game that I’ll definitely buy.

Concrete Genie (PS4)

I hate to say it, but this game is not good. The controls are trash. The painting mechanics are not intuitive at all. Making creatures isn’t nearly as accessible or effective as you want it to be. It just does not play well. And I didn’t even get to any of the evil monster sequences. The demo was extremely boring in that all you had to do was find light bulbs hidden around the town and paint them to turn them on. But even this simple task was so tedious with the broken controls. The graphics are OK but not as good as the ads made them seem like they would be. I was originally excited with the initial reveal but now it’s a hard pass for me.

Dreams (PS4)

I’m actually very interested in this. Writing about it is difficult because they didn’t demo the creator mode. What they showed were creations that were already active for you to play. And they were all so different. There was shmup flyer, a puzzle platformer, a soccer type game, a 3D point and click, and other genres. So many different types of games seem to be possible in Dreams. But because I didn’t see the creator mode I don’t know how hard it is to do any of that. If I’m honest, I’m not super interested in playing other people’s creations. I’m interested in creating my own games. The marketing makes it seem like this is totally easy to do. But that sounds improbable. It’s hard enough to make a good level in Super Mario Maker 2 and that’s built on a grid with pre-made assets. I’ll keep an eye out for this but I can’t really say if it’s good or bad at this time. All I can say is that it seems possible for people to create entire games. Now the question becomes will they be compensated for their hard work in the event that someone creates something actually worth talking about. Because the stuff I saw easily bested many indies you can find on Steam.

Biomutant (PC)

I was really excited for this when I first heard about it, and then it got delayed for like over a year. So I was happy to wait in line for about 90 minutes to try it. And it was worth it. The graphics are kind of weird. It’s like an adult cartoon. Not bad, but also not particularly good. Because the level of violence isn’t super cartoony, so it could have been more graphic. But the animal characters also make sense in a less gory tone. So it’s kind of in limbo visually. But the gameplay is superb. It’s fluid, well balanced, easy to pick up, and just really fun. I genuinely enjoyed every fight in the demo from start to finish. It also has different types of physical weapons. I started off with a saw blade, which was great, and then got a rocket punch glove, which was also great. It’s a must play for me.

Luigi’s Mansion 3 (Nintendo Switch)

I haven’t actually played any of the previous games, but I was very interested in this one after the E3 reveal. The gameplay was much harder than I imagined it would be. But not hard in the sense that the gameplay is hard. More in that the controls are very unruly. Even a friend who had played the previous games said it didn’t feel the same as the older ones. The mechanic for weakening ghosts so you can slam them wasn’t clear to me but I sort of figured it out through playing. The bigger issue though was the rotation. You can’t just turn in the direction you push the stick like in a normal Mario game. You have to actually spin around in a circle going in either direction. So if an enemy appears behind you, you can’t just instantly point towards them and attack them. You have to take the time to spin all the way around and then line up your attack. And aim matters in this game a lot. You can and do miss often. Especially in the boss fight included in the demo where you’re facing a ghost riding a horse. The graphics were great. And the concepts of the gameplay were quite good. But the controls just were not good for me. I’m still interested but I want normal Nintendo platformer directional movement. I do acknowledge though that this isn’t a platformer, but the rotating does not work well.

Darksiders Genesis (PC)

I was not happy about this game going into the demo at all. I like this franchise. I like the 3D action hack-n-slash Darksiders games. So when they announced a top down dungeon crawler in the style of Gauntlet: Dark Legacy instead of a sequel starring the fourth horseman, I was not happy. I only took the time to try the demo because I felt like it was something my readers would care about. While I still am not happy that this is the next game in the franchise, I must admit that Genesis is extremely well made. It plays so well for that genre. Maybe the best in the genre I’ve played. I genuinely enjoyed playing it. I wasn’t super enthusiastic about the text based story, but the gameplay is excellent. It’s smooth. You can swap between horsemen easily when playing in single player. The attacks work effectively and fluidly. It’s fairly well balanced. Even the boss fight in the demo was great. I’m not saying I’m going to buy this, but if some friends wanted to play it, I’d be totally in for it.

The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics (PC)

I’m an OG The Dark Crystal fan. I watched that movie on VHS so many times I’m surprised the tape didn’t break. So all they really had to say to me was The Dark Crystal game and I was interested. I played an alpha build and I got what they were doing. It was very similar to like a Fire Emblem or Banner Saga type game. But it was buggy. Again, alpha build, so that’s fine. I got the gist of what they were trying to do and I guess it works. I don’t love the graphics, but it is based on a Jim Henson puppet movie, so I don’t necessarily think the graphics are inappropriate. But at the same time, I don’t necessarily need graphics to be era appropriate to adapt a show/movie to a game. Like I get why Stranger Things: The Game looks the way it does but I don’t want it to look the way it does. I would have been much happier with just a higher visual quality game, 80’s themed or otherwise. The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics certainly looks better than Stranger Things: The Game though. It’s a game I’ll continue to look into but at this point I’m not sold on the gameplay or the graphics. It does appear to be very story intensive though, which I consider a good thing.

Death Stranding (Non-playable Gameplay Presentation)

*This video is more useful than the waste of time that was the Death Stranding “presentation” I attended at the Gamescom booth.

Screw Kojima. Screw Death Stranding. And screw that garbage presentation. The line was nonsensical and the presentation was trash. I’m not even going to discuss what was presented, because you’ve already seen it. They literally made us wait in a line to sit in a dark room on shitty box stools to watch four trailers that had already been made available online at the start of Gamescom. I could have taken that time to try another game such as Control or Borderlands 3 and would have if I had known this presentation wasn’t going to actually be a presentation. I thought it was going to be like the Cyberpunk 2077 presentation where a person who worked on the game was going to show gameplay or at least footage and talk about it. Maybe even answer some questions. No one was even in the room during the presentation other than viewers. They just marched us in there, pressed play, left, and then kicked us out after the four trailers had finished rolling. Absolutely ridiculous waste of my time.

Iron Man VR (PSVR)

I waited four hours to play this which was much too long. But I do consider this demo proof of concept. It was hard to control and the graphics weren’t as clear as I wanted. But I do think that may have just been the way the headset was put on me because even Astro Bot Rescue Mission was way clearer when I tried that earlier this year. I could barely hear the sound. Again, I consider this a setup issue rather than a software issue. But the gameplay worked, even though it was hard to control. I felt like Iron Man. Like it felt real. The demo started with me flying over water and I genuinely thought I was going to fall into the water at one point at the start of the demo when I was still learning the controls. It’s not so good that I’m going to rush out and buy PSVR. But with some tuning to the flying and combat controls that game could be one of the most satisfying VR games made to date. If you have PSVR, definitely keep an eye on this one.

Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 (Nintendo Switch)

I have Mario & Sonic at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games (Wii U) and haven’t gotten any of the other games in this series. I honestly only got it because it came with a Wiimote for less than the price of buying a Wiimote on its own. This latest installment looks really good, but it’s really hard to play. I’ll admit that the directions being in German were a big factor here, but the point is that a number of the events aren’t intuitive. Some games were. I particularly liked the archery game. But the surfing game was impossibly hard to figure out how to do tricks. I was only able to try a limited number of events in the game, but it was a fair amount of them. What I really liked conceptually was that you could also play Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 1964. This was a mode where the graphics were all retro and the gameplay was made to simulate old school NES limitations. It’s a fun idea, but a lot of those events are even harder than the 2020 games. This game isn’t really my cup of tea, but if you liked the previous ones then this one seems like it won’t under deliver the same sort of experience.

Pokémon Sword and Shield (Nintendo Switch)

The line for this game was consistently ridiculous every single day of Gamescom. The only reason I got to play it was that on the last day of Gamescom, using my exhibitor ticket access, I went there at 8:20 AM and was first in line. I waited 40 minutes to be the first person to play the game that day. And it was worth it. Now honestly this was a garbage demo. I wanted to explore the world and catch Pokémon. The demo took place solely in a single gym, had me battle a few trainers, solve a puzzle, and almost complete the gym leader battle. I say almost because it cut out before I could deal the killing blow. But it felt so good. It made me feel like a kid again playing Red and Blue. It plays like any other Pokémon game. The formula works and need not change. But I’ll definitely be buying both Sword and Shield. I did get to try out the Dynamax mechanic. It was fun but not nearly as effective as I’d like because ultimately when used against another Dynamax Pokémon it just becomes a normal battle. The one thing about the demo that I both liked and disliked at the same time was that it gave me all three starters in my team. That’s not going to happen in the real game. Because it never does. I loved being able to try them all out and I did. I purposely changed Pokémon unnecessarily just to try all six that were available in the demo. And I want them all. But we all know the only way I’m actually going to get them all is to get both games and borrow a second Switch to trade Pokémon with myself. For sure going to buy both games though.

So that ends my Gamescom 2019 coverage. I know this was a long post, but like I said, I played more games than anyone else at the show outside of press. And I didn’t even include any of the smaller indie titles I tried. If you have any additional questions about Gamescom, the tournament, or specific games I tried, please let me know in the comments.

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From Milan to Gamescom!

Last week, I was granted the privilege of attending the Mario + Rabidds: Kingdom Battle (MRKB) Summer Games Community Competition finals tournament. This event pitted four finalists against each other in the MRKB Vs. Mode live and in person at the Ubisoft Milan studio in Italy. Ubisoft paid to fly me to Italy from my home in Taiwan and paid for everything while I was there. This was an amazing opportunity and really my first legitimate entry into the world of competitive e-Sports.

This was a great experience. While at the studio I was able to try a prototype for a currently unannounced project from Ubisoft, which I can’t go into details about now for legal reasons. I also got to meet a number of different members of the MRKB development team and pitch my own ideas and feedback about what I’d like to see for the future of the franchise. It was especially informative and inspiring to meet the narrative director of MRKB. He gave me newfound hope that it’s not too late to achieve my goal of writing for a AAA studio. I also got to experience Italian food straight from the source as an added bonus.

Episode - Screenshot 2019-08-12 19-35-20

While I can’t say much about the things I saw during my visit to the studio, I can talk about the tournament. As I said previously, four finalists, including myself, were invited to compete in a Vs. Mode tournament. It’s important to note that the qualifying challenges were in single player mode and up until I was informed that the finals were a PVP Vs. Mode tournament, I had never played a single round of the Vs. Mode. Luckily for me this was true for the other three finalists as well. At the time I was informed about the tournament, I had played 65+ hours of the single player mode and zero minutes of the Vs. Mode. By the day of the tournament, I had practiced the Vs. Mode for about 20 hours.

Training for/in Vs. Mode was very difficult because it’s a local only PVP mode and I had no one to practice with. This meant playing 30 hours of PVP matches against myself. But thanks to my dedication I was able to use this time productively. I learned all the maps, mastered all the items, and developed a number of strategies for different scenarios. I also came up with what I consider to be the best possible three man squad in the game. According to what the other competitors reported going into the event, I put in more training hours than the three of them combined. And my hard work payed off.

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The tournament consisted of six preliminary rounds. Each competitor went up against each other competitor in a single match. Each victory scored you a single point plus they kept track of how many remaining characters you had in case of a tie. The top two scores would go up against each other one more time in the final round for one more single match. Of the four competitors, I was the only one to win all my preliminary rounds, of course taking me to the final round. The second place combatant that I had to battle again was the only one of the three to almost beat me. And if I’m honest he should have beaten me in our first match. I won by a single move. All the preliminary rounds were viewed by a limited number of team members from Ubisoft Milan but for the final round they had the entire staff watch. This added to the pressure considerably. I went on to win the final round and was declared champion of the Summer Games tournament.

Upon winning this tournament, I was informed that I was now invited to Gamescom, all expenses paid, to compete in the Grand Championship. Going into this tournament, I did not know such a prize was even on the line. I was shocked to find out that I would be taking another trip to Europe less than a month later to compete on a stage in front of hundreds to thousands of people for the grand prize. I still don’t actually know what the grand prize is, but going to Gamescom has always been a dream of mine so that’s a prize in and of itself.

Gamescom-2018

This final tournament to decide the MRKB Grand Champion will consist of the first and second place winner from each of the three Community Championship seasons and two community leaders with a new set of match parameters, which have not yet been disclosed to me. To the best of my knowledge, they have not released the match footage of any of the seasonal tournaments so I have no way of knowing how good the competition is going into the tournament other than the second place winner from my season. All I can do is continue training alone for this tournament and hope for the best. I really want to win this. If winning a tournament at Gamescom on stage doesn’t make you a legitimate e-Sports champion then I don’t know what does. So next week I’m off to Germany to compete in this tournament as well as experience everything Gamescom has to offer.

Important Note: Not only am I traveling to Germany to attend Gamescom next week, but I am also getting married exactly one month from the day this post was published. As you can imagine, I am extremely busy both at work and in my personal life. Between all the traveling, planning, and time away from home, I’m barely able to handle all my usual content creation endeavors. I’ve streamed less than five times in the last two weeks and it’s a miracle I haven’t missed any blog posts. That being said, I cannot say if I’ll be able to keep up with everything for the next couple months between Gamescom, my wedding, my honeymoon, and all the work I have to make up from traveling for these tournaments. So while I will do my best to continue posting weekly, as my record has gone untarnished for years, I ask you to please bear with me during this very busy time in my life in the event that I miss a few posts. As always, thank you for your understanding and support.

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UbE-Sports (I’m Going to Milan!)

I’ve never been that fond of e-Sports. I do have a number of issues with the way they’re generally run and some ethical concerns about leading kids to believe that rather than focusing on school they should be playing Fortnite because maybe they can win $3M, but those aren’t the actual reasons I tend to dislike the concept/industry as a whole. Really my biggest complaint is that it’s the most repetitive, bland assortment of games, most of which I never had an interest in even before the term e-Sports existed. 9/10 times an e-Sports event/competition will feature an FPS, usually COD, CSGO, or Overwatch, a Battle Royale, usually Fortnite or PUBG, a 2D fighter, usually Steet Fighter, Smash Bros, or some junk title like BlazBlue (yeah I said it), some MOBA like LoL, or sports games, specifically Madden or FIFA. Of the literal thousands of games in existence and the countless types of multiplayer scenarios, 90% of e-Sports can be summed up with a handful of games in four genres. I find this appalling and disappointing.

E-Sports could and should be much more diverse and creative. There are lots of PVP scenarios that would be great in professional competitive spaces but the industry is chained to a lackluster list of mostly mediocre games in a few overplayed genres. I have very little experience in e-Sports for the simple fact that they rarely feature a game I even want to play enough to get good at. The last legitimate live gaming competition I participated in was a Smash Bros. Melee tournament in college. Not because there haven’t been other events since then. Just that there haven’t been any I was interested in. But it’s not that there are no competitive games I enjoy playing. I consider myself a single player gamer at heart, but there are lots of PVP games from over the years that I very much enjoyed and would have attempted to compete in at professional level. And I am not alone. The fact that events like Tetris 99 online cups and Splatoon 2 Splatfests are so popular prove this statement.

Tetris 99 cup

There’s also this modern conception that e-Sports means PVP. I don’t know why that is. When I was a kid we competed for high score. The Nintendo World Championships used to focus on single player games like Tetris and Super Mario Bros. That’s the entire premise of the movie The Wizard (1989). This was always my preferred form of gaming competition. Be the best at the game. Not the luckiest in a given randomized PVP scenario. In my opinion, there is a huge void in the big budget e-Sports industry as far as games included and types of competition.

One company that I respect immensely for their constant innovation in the PVP space is Ubisoft. More than any other large publisher, Ubisoft creates PVP and potential e-Sports scenarios that stray so far from the beaten path that they usually don’t even get the proper chances they deserve in the e-Sports industry. The best example of this is Assassin’s Creed multiplayer PVP. To this day I still would say that the PVP in Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood through III is the most innovative, original, and creative PVP gameplay I have ever experienced in more than 20 years of gaming. And it was so fun. Brotherhood was my favorite iteration of this system, and I took it seriously. I was so good at it by the time I stopped playing because I devoted so many hours to mastering it. Not because I wanted to get famous playing competitive video games, but because I actually enjoyed playing the game.

AC MP

While I would say Nintendo built the foundation of off the beaten path competitive multiplayer gaming, in the modern era Ubisoft is at the forefront of innovation on this matter. All the most creative and original PVP scenarios seem to be coming from Ubisoft these days. The recently announced Roller Champions is a great example of this. It should have been obvious to make a roller derby game in the style of Rocket League and yet no one developed a properly working one until 2019? And it’s really good too. I only played like 10 hours of it during the E3 demo but I was sold fairly quickly. It’s free to play and has great e-Sports potential. But honestly I don’t see it taking off and that’s because it’s not the standard aforementioned overdone crap so common to the e-Sports industry. Which is a real shame. It’s pretty depressing that the only way a new type of e-Sports concept can make any headway is if the company funds such events themselves. Rocket League is the exception not the rule. That makes it really difficult for indie projects that aren’t copy and paste FPS games to take off in e-Sports. Which not surprisingly is why you see so many clones.

Thankfully though, Ubisoft is quite flush with cash and they do fund many of their own e-Sports endeavors, big and small. This includes games like Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle (MRKB). I have written in the past about MRKB and how much I enjoy the game. One of the things I really respect about Ubisoft and the way they’ve handled this game is their dedication to community focused events. Recently they completed the third and sadly final season of community challenges.

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle Summer Games 2019 Cover

The community challenges were online events where the community was given specific tasks to complete by following defined in game parameters within a time limit. This was actually really fun and added a lot to my enjoyment of the game after I completed the campaign. The most impressive part was that at the end of each season winners were selected from those who completed the online challenges to fly to Ubisoft’s studio to compete in a tournament and meet the developers.

There are a few aspects of this that are really important and that the rest of the gaming and e-Sports industry really should take note of. First, MRKB is not a super popular game. It’s highly acclaimed but it’s ultimately a niche Nintendo Switch exclusive. The fact that Ubisoft continued to support this game and invest into the community with competitive events and impressive prizes for the winners is spectacular. Second, the community events were for the single player mode. Ubisoft took a single player game and used it to create competition between players in an e-Sports like manner. That needs to happen more often like in the days of the high score. Single player games should not be ignored by the e-Sports industry and community simply because they don’t include direct conflict between players. Bowling, golf, and darts are just a few of many examples of actual sports that have professional levels of competition, are televised, and don’t include direct PVP style competition. Single player games can and should have a place in e-Sports. Finally MRKB is not fast paced. It’s a turn based tactical RPG. Because of years of programming, people who watch e-Sports have been misled into believing that only fast paced games have a place in e-Sports. This is sad and shouldn’t be true. People watch chess and poker. Neither of those are fast paced games.

ark pvpThe current e-Sports landscape is for the most part built on a foundation of lies instituted by companies like Activision and EA because they needed to convince people that there was inherent value in copy and paste annual releases. By tying them to e-Sports they were able to solidify this type of thinking into the very core of the industry. Ubisoft is one the few influential companies actually working towards some form of change, with the money and power to really accomplish something.

The thing that led to me writing this post is that I was actually chosen as one of the winners for the final season of the MRKB community challenge event. I’ve been invited to Milan to meet the developers of the game and participate in a VS Mode tournament. I can’t believe I was chosen for this. It’s truly a privilege to be able to participate in a competitive e-Sports event organized/hosted by a legitimate company. This may not be a $3M Fortnite tournament but it is an honor just to be able to participate in an exclusive gaming related event that almost no people in the world will ever get to based on my in game performance. Obviously I hope I win the tournament but just being able to participate is something I didn’t think would ever happen to me. I will definitely write a post about the experience once the event has concluded and I’ve returned home.

 

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Choose Your Weapon

This is kind of a weird post. It’s honestly more stream of consciousness than me making any particular point or argument. But I’ve been thinking about it a lot recently so I wanted to write about it.

There are so many types of controllers for games these days. When I was a kid, there were very few options for controlling your games. You were pretty much stuck with the controller based on the platform you were playing on. Or a keyboard/mouse when playing on PC. There were a few specialty options like joysticks for flight simulators and racing wheels. And there were some third party controller redesigns, but really these didn’t change the controllers. Just the size and grips on them. For the most part you used a certain controller for a certain type of game or in the case of certain games like fighters, you could play them at home with a controller or at an arcade with the traditional stick and buttons layout. In general though, pretty much everyone moved Mario the same way at any given time.

crash n sane

Today controllers are no longer platform or even generation specific. Between adapters, third party full redesigns, first party specialty designs, and custom made control mechanisms, people can play games with whatever they want now. And by whatever they want I mean there are people who literally play games with bananas. I remember the first time I used an emulator on my PC. I played a Nintendo game on a PC with a PlayStation controller. The whole thing seemed like blasphemy. Now I can play Crash Bandicoot on the Nintendo Switch with a DualShock 4 designed to look like an XBOX 360 controller, completely blending if not all out destroying the lines between platform, generation, and originally intended gameplay design. It’s a beautiful thing. Yet I can’t help but wonder if this level of customization isn’t ruining the experience of at least some games.

When Cuphead was first announced, I really wanted to play it but it was an XB1 exclusive so I was fairly certain that I was never going to get to play it. Then later they ported it to PC. Now you can even get it on Switch. I got it on PC, but I probably would have gone for the Switch version if I had known that was going to be a thing. As a person who doesn’t own an XB1, I opted to try out Cuphead with a PS4 DS4 controller. This was easy for me to do because I have an adapter that allows me to connect my DS4 or Wii U Pro controller to my PC or Switch to use with any game I want. I don’t have any particular rationale for why I chose the DS4 over the Wii U Pro Controller for Cuphead. It was just the controller that was hooked up when I started the game. And I was absolutely not going to play a fast paced run and gun platformer with a keyboard and mouse. Some people can do that. Sadly I am not one of those people.

Cuphead

I connected with Cuphead fairly quickly. It’s a beautiful game with fairly accessible mechanics and difficult but seemingly balanced challenges. I easily cleared the tutorial and even managed to do the jump dash on the first try. I liked it and wanted to beat it. But I struggled so much while playing it. I started with The Root Pack as my first boss. This was very difficult for me. More difficult than a first boss in a game should be. But one of the most widely talked about aspects of the game was its difficulty. So I, like any seasoned Dark Souls player who can’t find any summoning symbols, decided that it was my lacking skills and that I just had to get gud. It took me several tries but I did finally manage to defeat The Root Pack. Then I faced Ribby and Croaks. I couldn’t beat them. I tried and I tried and I tried but I could not bring them down. I continued to blame my own lacking skills, but as an experienced gamer I eventually felt like maybe it just wasn’t balanced properly. Sadly my pride got the best of me and I stopped playing rather than allowing myself to play on easy mode. I said I’d return to the game eventually but never really did.

Recently I received a free XB1 controller. I had wanted one for PC gaming for a long time, because many games on Steam, and PC in general, are optimized for XB1 controllers rather than PS4 or Nintendo ones. But seeing as how I had multiple controllers that I could use with PC games, it seemed like a waste of money to go buy an XB1 controller I didn’t actually need. Ironically I ended up having to spend $40 to get a charge pack and wireless dongle to properly use the XB1 controller the way I wanted to, so really I didn’t save any money. But that’s beside the point. In order to test my new controller, I started up Cuphead. This wasn’t because I had a desire to return to the game, but really just because it’s one of the only games on my PC that doesn’t require me to login to a launcher to use, since I bought it from the Microsoft Store and keep it saved in my start menu to motivate me to play it.

Current Gen

I loaded up the game and challenged Ribby and Croaks again. I lost a few rounds but I quickly became aware of how close I was to defeating them. Was it this new controller or had my skills improved with no practice over the last several months? Ultimately I defeated them and went on to quickly defeat a number of other levels before getting stuck again. But now I knew for certain that I was good enough to play Cuphead. Why had my skills improved so much so unexpectedly? It had to be the controller. But why would/should that be the case?

I love the DS4 controller. I prefer it to the XB1 controller any day of the week. I like symmetrical joysticks. I like symbols instead of letters on the main buttons. And though I almost never use it for the games I play, I appreciate having the touchpad. I also liked the DS3 over the XBOX 360 controller. I don’t think it’s a better controller. I just think it feels better to me. I also really like the Wii U Pro controller. It’s the main reason I bought my adapter in the first place. So I can use it on my Switch instead of paying $70 for a Switch Pro controller.

8bitdo

My preference for the DS4 and Wii U Pro is why I invested in adapters instead of just buying an XB1 controller originally. I knew the XB1 controller would be easier from a technology standpoint to use for PC gaming. But I don’t prefer the controller. Yet I have to admit that based on my limited amount of data, I’m noticeably better at Cuphead with an XB1 controller over a DS4. I’ve had similar experiences before. Last year I got The Crew 2 for PC. I first tried to play it with a Wii U Pro controller and it was absolute garbage. Absolutely horrendous experience even though that same controller is great for Mario Kart. Then I tried it with a DS4 and it was great. I also remember trying Hyper Light Drifter for the first time with a keyboard and mouse. It was so bad that I quit the game before even reaching the first boss and never wanted to play it again. This was before I had my adapter for PC. Later I got the game for PS4 through PS Plus and decided to try it again, now with a DS4. That game is amazing with a DS4.

It’s odd to me that the controller matters so much for some games. Especially in 2019 where there are so many varying controller options. You can even get a PS4 controller that’s built to the shape of an XB1 controller. So the fact that games seem to feel wrong when using certain controllers should be considered problematic within the current trend of customized controller options for literally any game. There are definitely some limiting factors to consider. Latency caused by adapters can be an issue. It’s not something I often feel like I’m experiencing but there are definitely times where I do. Button customization is also still not widespread enough within software itself. I often still find games that either don’t have button customization, or the PC version of the game’s button customization isn’t functioning properly with a controller. It could also be the adapter causing the game to not to properly allow the button customization to work I guess. But in my experience, the controller you play a game with can make a huge difference in how that game feels and plays.

Onyx Hori

If the specific controller used matters when playing a game is it intentional or just a coincidence? I now genuinely believe that Cuphead was made to be played with an XB1 controller. And this makes sense because it was originally released as an XB1 exclusive. But now you can play it on PC or Switch. Is this OK? Is it acceptable for developers to create games to be played with a specific controller and then release those games to other platforms where that controller isn’t a viable option? Of course it’s legal. And obviously publishers will do it because it’s more profitable than a single platform release. But if a studio makes a game to be played with a specific controller, are we not as gamers lowering the caliber of our gameplay experience by using the “incorrect” controller?

Like I said, I don’t really have a conclusive final thought or argument with this post. Just some ideas I was thinking about controllers and the controller ecosystem we have today. I know that I will almost exclusively use my XB1 controller for PC gaming, when not using a keyboard/mouse, from here on out. But at the same time I still favor the DS4 and will continue to do the bulk of my gaming on PS4. What are your thoughts on controllers? Have you had an experience where you tried out two different controllers for the same game and noticed that one seemed superior for that particular game?

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