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.

pins

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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Old Gamers, New e-Sports

This week I’m at Gamescom participating as a finalist in the Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle (MRKB) Grand Championship e-Sports tournament. I thought it would be both appropriate and interesting to discuss my experiences. But I don’t want this post to be about Gamescom as a whole. I plan on doing a post for that after the show has concluded. It will hopefully be published next week or the following week at the latest. What I want this post to be about is specifically my experiences as a participant in this specific e-Sports event for this specific game.

This is my first real foray into competitive e-Sports. I’ve never really been fond of or even that interested in the e-Sports industry as a whole. I’ve said many times that I hate the culture, management, and general style of modern e-Sports. Just a few weeks ago I published a post about how much I dislike the mostly repetitive and limited genres often synonymous with the professional e-Sports community. And as I’ve said before without hesitation, I also find the idea of giving a minor millions of dollars for playing video games a detriment to society for more than one reason. So I sort of entered into this whole endeavor kind of ambivalent.

Gamescom-2018I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the inside of the competitive e-Sports community. I’m still not exactly sure if it’s accurate to even compare competitive MRKB to the rest of the e-Sports community. It’s a much different game that anything else we’ve seen taken seriously in the internet era of e-Sports. I’m still shocked that I was invited to play it competitively at Gamescom on stage. There may not be a $3M prize, but just the fact that it’s being featured at such an important annual event legitimizes it as a part of the ever growing, but rarely evolving, pantheon of e-Sports titles. So while I do consider this tournament a legitimate part of e-Sports and by extension this game, I acknowledge that many people won’t. At least not until some real money is offered for winning events involving this game.

What I like about competitive MRKB is that it functions the way I believe competitive gaming should function on a number of levels. For starters, age. Gaming was supposed to be a mental task. Games were supposed to provoke your mind the way sports provoke your body. As technology has developed, the physical aspects of gaming have evolved but only to increase the fulfillment and challenge of the experience on your mind. When games become all about physical performance rather than mental challenges, I think something has gone wrong. Most younger gamers would probably disagree with this opinion because they were raised in the era of fast paced, reflex driven gameplay experiences. The fact that it’s called e-Sports was a topic of debate for a long time. I always focused on the “e” portion of the name. But today too many people seem to focus on the “Sports”.

mlgThe average professional gamer ranges from 18 – 25 in age. This is because the games commonly played are more about performance speed than tactical thinking and strategic implementation. This is why e-Sports consists more of FPS titles and fighters than tactical ones. These genres are much more about speed of implementation than anything else. Whoever can push the correct buttons fastest or aim the crosshair accurately first tends to be the winner. So of course the youngest, most agile gamers in the population would be the best. But put those same kids up against a 40 year old man whose been playing Chess for 30 years in a turn based tactical game and I’d be shocked if any of those kids win a single round once that man understood the ends and outs of the game being played. That’s the kind of e-Sports I want to see. That’s the kind of e-Sports I want to participate in.

I’ve had opportunities in the past to play games competitively. Never anything as big as my current steps into competitive MRKB, but there have been moments where I could play games like Smash Bros. in a local competitive setting. But I’ve never really been interested. And as a now 30 year old man, I would have little chance of winning at competitive level in most of those games. That’s exactly what makes this MRKB competition so special. In a group of eight finalists, I’m one of the youngest at 30 years old. We are all adults with real responsibilities, burdens, and normal life experiences. We all have real jobs. We’ve all graduated from college already. Some of us have wives, children, and mortgages. Every one of us has been gaming longer than the term e-Sports has existed. In my opinion, we’re the types of people that should be given opportunities to win large sums of money for playing video games. We’re the type of people who best represent the gaming community as a whole. Especially when you consider that the current average age of gamers, as reported by the ESA, is 32 – 34. This is why I think it’s really special that Ubisoft has created and invested in an e-Sports event that caters more to the thinking aspect of gaming rather than the reflexive physical aspects; and even more so the fact that they have given actual gamers with realistic lives the chance to be recognized for the achievement of mastering a game while also having to deal with the burdens of adulthood at the same time.

ESA-Essential-Facts-average gamer ageAlong with my general joy at being given the opportunity to participate in any legitimate e-Sports event at my age for playing games I actually enjoy, I also have really enjoyed this particular group of players, both in the finals and the Summer Games seasonal qualifier. I’ll be honest in saying that I don’t follow e-Sports too closely. I only hear about the big headlines like “16 Year Old Wins $3M Playing Fortnite”. I know some of the teams like Fnatic, but that’s more a byproduct of my job than personal interest. From what I’ve seen, most e-Sports pros aren’t people I’d like to be friends with. Like many popular YouTubers, a number of which I have personally met, again through my job, pro gamers seem disconnected from reality, fairly arrogant, and unapproachable. To be honest, those all seem like qualities that would make you exceptional at games but not at life.

I’m willing to admit that I haven’t actually met any top tier pro gamers personally so it’s quite possible I’m reading them wrong. But if they’re anything like top tier tech YouTubers then I think I have them pegged fairly well. So I wasn’t actually sure what to expect from the competitors in the MRKB Grand Championship. But I’m happy to say I was pleasantly surprised.

Episode - Screenshot 2019-07-30 02-25-22This group of gamers is great. Though they all come from different countries across the world, these are some of the nicest, friendliest people I’ve ever met in the gaming community. They are down to earth, humble, and thankful just to be included. Though they’re all 30 or older, they took to the experience of attending Gamescom and competing on stage with the whimsy and excitement of children. We were all scared, nervous about embarrassing ourselves on stage by playing terribly, and unassuming about our abilities compared to each other. Some of the players didn’t even really care about the tournament and were just excited to be able to meet other people who also enjoy playing the same game they like. It’s the gaming community everyone wishes the gaming community actually was like all the time. While we were all there to compete against each other, we didn’t meet and become adversaries. We became friends. A week before the event we were put into a Discord group and little was said about the competition or the games. The bulk of the conversation was eight guys genuinely interested in learning about each other’s lives. None of this was what I expected.

Like with the seasonal finals, I probably took this Grand Championship more seriously than anyone else. I put in several hours of practice time. I developed strategies for each map. I honed my skills. I have to admit that I was extremely guarded in how I interacted with the other players on the Discord for fear of giving them an edge in some way. I wanted to win more than anything else. But I was the outlier. The rest of the players just wanted to have fun. They hoped to win. But none of them needed to win and really that’s the way gaming should be. The gaming community and the world at large are better with more people like them, who just want to enjoy themselves and make friends, than more people like me, who focused on obtaining victory above obtaining friendship.

gamer friendsI am truly thankful to have been invited to participate in this event. I’m grateful that I was finally able to attend Gamescom after years of not being able to go due to financial limitations. I’m glad that I was finally recognized in some way for the more than 20 years of gaming I’ve put in. But in the grand scheme of life none of that matters as much as having made new friends. And because of Ubisoft and the MRKB Grand Championship I made new friends. If this is what e-Sports is like in general, then I need to get more involved in e-Sports. If this isn’t what e-Sports is usually like and my original thoughts are more accurate, then e-Sports really needs to change.

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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.

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.

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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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Mario Teaches Platforming Stage Plan (Tentative)

Before reading this, please make sure to read the previous post, published at the same time, explaining what the purpose of this project and list of proposed levels/stages is. You can find that post here.

Section 1: Navigation & Mobility

A general crash course on learning the ins and outs of platforming technique. The main focus is on navigating landscapes with a combination of walking, running, and jumping. This section does not include items or enemies except for where movement/progress may be involved/enhanced.

Stage 1: Basic Movement

Straight stage with no enemies or obstacles moving from left to right with a maximum time limit. No jumping  or running required.

Stage 2: Fast Movement

Same layout as stage one but with the minimum amount of time needed to clear the distance of the level with running. No jumping required.

Stage 3: Static Terrain

Straight stage with all the different types of static terrain you can walk over. No items, enemies, obstacles, or dynamic terrain. No jumping required.

Stage 4: Separated Blocks

Stage displaying special movement physics of being able to run over separated blocks.

Stage 5: Separated Blocks 2.0

Same layout as stage three but showing that the separated blocks run mechanic works on all different types of static blocks.

Stage 6: Hills, Valleys, & Drops

Stage with a sequence of natural obstacles that don’t require jumping to pass through.

Stage 7: Basic Jumping

Stage with a series of static block formations that require basic level jumping to pass.

Stage 8: Pitfalls

Stage with various basic jumping scenarios that end in death falls when failed.

Stage 9: Basic Enemies

Stage that introduces basic enemies to the player that must be killed or dodged to pass.

Stage 10: Super Mushroom

Stage introducing Super Mushroom and what it can do.

Stage 11: Timed Jumping

Stage with death fall gaps that have a moving obstacle that must be timed to pass the jump successfully. Some obstacles have to be dodged. Some have to be interacted with directly.

Stage 12: Dynamic Terrain

Stage with terrain that works differently than terrain from stage 3 but doesn’t move.

Stage 13: 3D World Terrain

Stage with special terrain specific to 3D World.

Stage 14: Moving Terrain

Stage that introduces moving terrain such as moving platforms, tracks, and conveyor belts.

Stage 15: Dynamic Jumping

Stage that requires jumping between moving obstacles on moving terrain.

Stage 16: Enemies as Terrain

Stage that requires jumping on enemies to make it through jumps and other obstacles.

Stage 17: Advanced Enemies

Stage that introduces higher level enemies that have features like dynamic movement and projectile weapons.

Stage 18: Specialty Obstacles

Stage that introduces special obstacles such as swinging claws, climbing walls, and other abnormal means of moving through a stage.

Stage 19: Ice Levels

Stage built with winter mechanics such as sliding blocks and icicles.

Stage 20: Lava Levels

Stage built with lava and fire mechanics such as rising lava and fire spinners.

Stage 21: Under Water Levels

Stage that introduces underwater level mechanics. Focus on mobility No enemies included.

Stage 22: Section 1 Proficiency Test

A final stage that brings together all the basic skills learned in the first section of tutorial levels. Should be considered no more difficult than a B- ranked difficulty stage in platforming games. Also introduce Checkpoint Flags.

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Section 2: Combat

A series of enemy encounters including boss fights. These stages will require jumping and general mobility to defeat various enemies and enemy layouts. The main focus here will be to use platforming to defeat enemies and will not include items or costumes in most cases.

Stage 1: Goomba

Stage introducing Goombas in multiple scenarios.

Stage 2: Koopa Troopa

Stage introducing Koopa Troopas in multiple scenarios.

Stage 3: Buzzy Beetle

Stage introducing Buzzy Beetles in multiple scenarios.

Stage 4: Spike Top

Stage introducing Spike Tops in multiple scenarios.

Stage 5: Spiny

Stage introducing Spinies in multiple scenarios.

Stage 6: Blooper

Underwater stage introducing Bloopers in multiple scenarios.

Stage 7: Cheep Cheeps

Underwater stage introducing Cheep Cheeps in multiple scenarios.

Stage 8: Hammer Bros

Stage introducing Hammer Bros in multiple scenarios.

Stage 9: Monty Mole

Stage introducing Monty Mole in multiple scenarios.

Stage 10: Rocky Wrench

Stage introducing Rocky Wrench in multiple scenarios.

Stage 11: Bullet Bill & Banzai Bill

Stage introducing both types of Bills in multiple scenarios. Includes Bull’s Eye versions.

Stage 12: Chain Chomps

Stage introducing Chain Chomps in multiple scenarios.

Stage 13: Thwomp

Stage introducing Thwomps in multiple scenarios both as an obstacle and a tool.

Stage 14: Lakitu

Stage introducing Lakitu in multiple scenarios. Also introduce stealing Lakitu’s cloud.

Stage 15: Piranha Plants & Munchers

Stage introducing Piranha Plants & Munchers in multiple scenarios.

Stage 16: Boom Boom

Single battles against Boom Boom and Pom Pom.

Stage 17: Bowser Jr.

Single battle against Bowser Jr.

Stage 18: Bowser

Single battle against Bowser.

Stage 19: Boot Goombas

Stage introducing Boot Goombas in multiple scenarios. Focus on combat but not the use of the Jump Boot.

Stage 20: Boos

Haunted mansion stage introducing Boo navigation in multiple scenarios.

Stage 21: Bob-ombs

Stage introducing Bob-ombs and some of their practical uses in multiple scenarios.

Stage 22: Wigglers

Stage introducing Wigglers in a number of scenarios.

Stage 23: Magikoopa

Stage introducing Magikoopas in multiple scenarios.

Stage 24: Dry Bones

Stage introducing Dry Bones in multiple scenarios.

Stage 25: Fish Bones

Underwater stage introducing Fish Bones in multiple scenarios.

Stage 26: Ant Trooper

Stage introducing Ant Troopers and Horned Ant Troopers in multiple scenarios.

Stage 27: Squipsqueak

Stage introducing Squipsqueak and Spiny Squipsqueak in multiple scenarios.

Stage 28: Stingby

Stage introducing Stingby in multiple scenarios.

Stage 29: Piranha Creeper

Stage introducing Piranha Creepers in multiple scenarios.

Stage 30: Hop Chops

Stage introducing Hop Chops in multiple scenarios.

Stage 31: Koopa Troopa Car

Stage introducing combat against Koopa Troopa Cars. Focus on combat but not the use of the Car.

Stage 32: Porcupuffer

Stage introducing Porcupuffers in multiple scenarios.

Stage 33: Bully

Stage introducing Bullies in multiple scenarios.

Stage 34: Charvaargh

Stage introducing Charvaargh in a single long chase scenario.

Stage 35: Meowser

Single battle against Meowser.

Stage 36: Rotten Mushroom

Stage introducing Rotten Mushrooms and being chased by them.

Stage 37: Section 2 Proficiency Test

A final stage that brings together all the basic skills learned in the first two sections of tutorial levels. Should be considered no more difficult than a B ranked difficulty stage in platforming games.

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Section 3: Items & Costumes

A series of stages focused on learning how to use the various items and costumes available in the Mario world. These stages will focus on using items and costumes for both navigation and combat purposes.

Stage 1: Coins, Coin Blocks, 1 Up Mushrooms, & Big Mushrooms

Stage introducing coins, and why they’re important, 1 Up Mushrooms, and Big Mushrooms. Focus on how Big Mushrooms can be used for both traversal and combat.

Stage 2: Boot Goombas

Stage introducing Boot Goomba Boots for traversal purposes.

Stage 3: Stars

Stage introducing Stars for combat and progress purposes.

Stage 4: Pink Coins

Stage introducing how Pink Coins work.

Stage 5: Cape Feather

Stage introducing how to use the Cape for both combat and traversal.

Stage 6: Super Leaf

Stage introducing how to use the Flying Squirrel costume for both combat and traversal.

Stage 7: Fire Flower

Stage introducing how to use Fire Flower for combat.

Stage 8: Super Bell

Stage introducing how to use the Flying Squirrel costume for both combat and traversal.

Stage 9: Dry Bones Shell

Stage introducing how to use Dry Bones Shell for traversal.

Stage 10: Koopa Clown Car

Stage introducing how to use Koopa Clown Car for both combat and traversal.

Stage 11: Koopa Troopa Car 2.0

Stage introducing how to use Koopa Car for both combat and traversal.

Stage 12: Canons

Stage introducing canons and how to use canons balls for traversal.

Stage 13: Hidden Blocks

Stage introducing how hidden blocks work and how to look for clues to find them.

Stage 14: Twisters

Stage introducing how Twisters work.

Stage 15: Keys

Stage introducing Keys and how they work.

Stage 16: Warp Pipes, Warp Doors, Vines

Stage introducing transition and traversal objects.

Stage 17: Trampolines

Stage introducing Trampolines in multiple scenarios.

Stage 18: Pow Blocks

Stage introducing how to use Pow Blocks for both combat and traversal.

Stage 19: On/Off Switches

Stage introducing the various uses of On/Off Switches.

Stage 20: P Switches

Stage introducing how P Switches work.

Stage 21: Propeller Mushrooms

Stage introducing how Propeller Mushrooms work.

Stage 22: Yoshi’s Eggs

Stage introducing the many uses of Yoshi.

Stage 23: Warp Box

Stage introducing Warp Boxes as these are only available in 3D World.

Stage 24: Super Hammer

Stage introducing how to use the Flying Squirrel costume for both combat and traversal.

Stage 25: Section 3 Proficiency Test

A final stage that brings together all the basic skills learned in the first three sections of tutorial levels. Should be considered no more difficult than a A- ranked difficulty stage in platforming games.

Episode - Screenshot 2019-07-14 15-15-17

Section 4: Special Environments

A series of stages that place the player in special environmental conditions. These stages will include a range of scenarios such as under water, in the sky, in the ice and snow, and even using special items to navigate specialty environments such as floating on water in a dry shell.

Stage 1: Auto Scrolling

Stage that introduces auto-scrolling levels and forces the player to react quickly.

Stage 2: Angry Sun & Moon

Stage introducing how Angry Sun and Moon work.

Stage 3: Vertical Falling

Stage that introduces vertical level design.

Stage 4: Grinders

Stage introducing Grinders.

Stage 5: Skewers

Stage introducing Skewers.

Stage 6: Lava Lifts

Stage introducing Lava Lifts.

Stage 7: One-Way Walls

Stage introducing One-Way Walls and how certain things interact with them.

Stage 8: Semisolid Platforms

Stage introducing Semi-Solid Platforms.

Stage 9: Clear Pipes

Stage introducing Clear Pipes and how items and enemies can use them too.

Stage 10: Section 4 Proficiency Test

A final stage that brings together all the basic skills learned in the first four sections of tutorial levels. Should be considered no more difficult than an A ranked difficulty stage in platforming games.

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Section 5: Final Exam

A comprehensive collection of 8 stages that get progressively harder with each one. The focus is on platforming and navigation, so while enemies and bosses will sometimes be present, they will not be the main component of what makes these stages difficult. By applying the skills learned and mastered from the previous four sections, players should be able to complete all of these stages in a reasonable amount of time.

Stage 1: Basic Stage (Auto Scrolling)

Stage 2: Under Water Stage

Stage 3: Lava Stage

Stage 4: Aerial Stage

Stage 5: Vehicle Stage

Stage 6: Congratulations Stage

Any feedback and/or suggestions or examples are appreciated.

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Mario Teaches Platforming Post 1 (Super Mario Maker 2)

This week’s bog post is a little different. Recently Super Mario Maker 2 was released. Originally I wasn’t going to buy it because I had the first one and I found the whole concept interesting but really underwhelming for me personally. I don’t like playing games for the sake of playing. I need an end goal to work towards. That’s the reason I prefer single player campaigns over PVP. I want to reach the end of the game. That’s one of my favorite parts of the experience. Feeling like I worked towards something and accomplished a goal. In the same mode of thinking, I’ve never really connected with level creation games before. Because I don’t understand why I’m making a level. I spend all this time making a level hoping people will play it but to what end? Levels are small parts of full games. The ability to make a piece of a game but not an entire game makes me feel depressed rather than accomplished. So I ultimately made less than five levels in Super Mario Maker 1.

The reason I ultimately decided to purchase Super Mario Maker 2 was the inclusion of end goals. One created by Nintendo and one created by me. Unlike the first game, this new installment of the franchise has a story mode. Sure it’s not as epic and thoroughly developed as normal Mario games, but it does have a story and an endpoint with about 100 courses. This alone makes the game worth buying because it’s a full single player experience with a story and end goal to work towards. I’ve already completed 22% of the story mode at the time of writing this. The inclusion of a story mode makes this game worlds better than the first one, for me personally.

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I’m also using the maker mode a lot more in Super Mario Maker 2. This is tied directly to the reason that I ultimately decided to purchase the game: I’m trying to teach my girlfriend how to play platforming games. My girlfriend hates platforming games. She finds the challenge of jumping between platforms, especially moving ones, stressful and irritating. This has been the case for the almost seven years that we’ve been together. I still remember the first platforming experience I introduced her to. I was playing Ratchet & Clank: Full Frontal Assault (2012) and I needed to do a few levels in co-op mode to get the final trophies for the platinum completion. I thought this was a great chance to try to include my girlfriend in my favorite hobby. This was an easy game among platformers, had fairly simple co-op mechanics, and in my opinion didn’t ask too much from players. I thought it would be perfect for her. I was wrong.

The very first platform my girlfriend encountered was a simple horizontal moving platform over a pit of lava in an outdoor setting. I still remember it quite well. It was a simple platforming scenario that I’d done countless times. The lava was there for effect, but shouldn’t have had any real impact on seasoned platforming gamers, which my girlfriend was/is not. It required two simple jumps forward, as in away from the camera. Stationary platform to moving platform to second stationary platform. Though I haven’t tried it, I’m fairly certain that I could get past this set of jumps blindfolded. Anyone who has beaten a single level of any of the Crash Bandicoot games could easily get past those two jumps. My girlfriend could not. No matter how many times she tried, she always ended up in the lava. We spent over an hour just trying to get her past those two jumps and she never actually made it across. Eventually she was so broken by the experience that she quit and swore off platformers for good.

Ratchet and Clank FUll Frontal Assault

My girlfriend plays games. She has beaten a number of them. She loves indie titles like Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, ABZU, and even managed to get through Journey. But she hates platforming. Journey was a struggle for her. The only reason she was able to complete it was because of the very forgiving gliding mechanics. It’s definitely a platformer, but not to the point where completing it prepared her to take on a real one like any of the Super Mario games. I have spent years trying to convince her to try real platforming again. She always says no. She is still traumatized from that first experience with Ratchet & Clank: Full Frontal Assault. But finally after all these years there is newfound hope for her platforming.

When I pitched the concept of her playing levels that were specifically created by me for her to play, with the promise that they would be at her skill level, she said she’d be open to the idea. This brought me hope and inspired me to purchase Super Mario Maker 2. With that I’d like to introduce my new project: Mario Teaches Platforming.

Mario Teaches Platforming

My goal here is to create a full suite of tutorial levels in Super Mario Maker 2 with the intent of helping someone go from zero experience to that of a full-fledged advanced level platforming gamer. These levels will not assume any previous gaming experience. Any person who completes the entire collection of levels in order should be able to start from nothing and ultimately complete all the stages with no outside experience or practice. This tutorial will obviously not be interesting to everyone. The first level, for example, is literally just walking forward (right) in a straight line until reaching the flag. The third level is a series of static blocks to jump over with no enemies or pit falls. It’s meant to be that detailed and that slow of a progression from stage to stage. But by the end, the player will be asked to complete complex stages that will rival the hardest of end game levels.

I want to create a tool that is helpful to my girlfriend and by extension anyone who wants to develop their platforming skills. My 10 year old nephew is another person that I believe would benefit from this project. For me, the emphasis is on moving and jumping mechanics, as that is what my girlfriend struggles with. But I mean to create a collection of levels that account for jumping in every occasion. Enemies, moving platforms, riding platforms with obstacles, timed stages, enemy projectiles, and the list goes on. I plan to account for environmental conditions and hazards such as ice blocks, spikes, lava balls, and so on. But difficulty is not the point or intention. If Mario Teaches Platforming is created successfully, then it will hopefully never feel difficult to the student using it. As they progress from stage to stage and develop their skills, each proceeding level should feel rather easy or at the very least manageable. Because they will simply be applying the skills they learned previously with a new skill to learn being added in with each new stage.

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I want to be able to upload this entire project to the online database for other players to use. If I had an unlimited number of stages I could create, like the story mode, I’d probably try to do upwards of about 100 levels. I like round numbers and I could create something almost perfectly incremental down to the smallest details. Because Super Mario Make 2 only allows users to upload up to 32 levels online, I’d like to keep it down to that. What I’m currently doing is creating a full scale version for my girlfriend that is 100 levels to play offline and then an abridged version to upload for other users that’s only the maximum 32 stages. I also have the ability to make multiple areas in a single stage separated by transitions such as warp pipes, so possibly I can still do 100 levels within 25 stage packs with four levels per a pack separated by transitions. Here’s where you come in.

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Based on the 100 stage model, I need to decide what those 100 stages/sections should look like. I plan on not only evolving the gameplay as stages go on, but also the settings and items available. This means creating a full stage by stage plan with titles and short descriptions. I wish there was some way to add dialog boxes to the stage so I could give the player directions and tips as part of the tutorial. I’ve created a first draft of my planned 100 levels, but I’d love to get some feedback on how this tutorial can be improved/shaped based on the collective experience of as many gamers as possible. Please take a look at my initial plan and let me know what stages you think need to be added, changed, or removed. I’m also curious as to how others might order such a tutorial based on how they see the learning process of mastering platforming games.

I have broken this plan up into five main sections with each containing different focus tenants of mastering platforming games. As far as art styles, I originally wanted  to use a different art style in each of the five main sections going from the original through all five currently available art styles for a total of 100 sections/stages, with 20 sections being done in each art style. But I quickly realized that due to certain limitations with earlier styles there are certain levels that need to occur early on in the tutorial that require later art styles. So currently my plans for art are a bit random. In the next post, which is already published as well, you can a breakdown of all five of the proposed main sections and the 100 combined levels within them along with a hopefully informative title and short description of what that stage should be. I didn’t want to overwhelm readers by including all 100 stages in this already lengthy post, which is why I opted to publish the stage breakdown as a separate blog post.

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I hope that this post and the proceeding list of planned stages gives a clear depiction of what Mario Teaches Platforming is supposed to be but as I said, this is just a first draft and an incomplete one at that. I’m very aware that the plan isn’t perfect yet so I am hoping to get as much feedback as possible. Maybe my five section breakdown isn’t the right way to go. Maybe my levels need to be put in a different order. Any and all feedback and ideas for stage submissions are appreciated. And if you’ve got sample stages you think would work well in any part of the tutorial, feel free to submit screenshots or videos and maybe I’ll implement parts of them into this project. But please remember that the target audience for these stages are people with no previous platforming experience. At the time of writing this I currently have 25 stages “completed”.

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Let’s Talk About Nintendo Switch Lite

Last week Nintendo officially announced the Nintendo Switch Lite. For several months we’ve heard rumors of two supposed new Switch models. In true Nintendo style, the one people were most looking forward too, the beefed up pro version, wasn’t announced or even hinted at. What we got was the official reveal of the budget model, which was also floating around the rumor mill as well. So let’s talk about this new lighter, cheaper, limited function budget model Switch.

Rather than take the time to specifically go over every detail of the differences between the original Switch and the Switch Lite, I’ll just include Nintendo’s convenient comparison tables across the post. The highlights are the Lite is smaller, exactly $100 cheaper, doesn’t have detachable joy-cons, and can’t be hooked to a TV. There are other differences, but these are the ones that are most noteworthy in the discussion of whether or not it’s worth actually buying one. It also comes in three less than ideal colors with the bonus option of getting the Pokémon Sword + Shield edition at surprisingly no additional cost. But the real question is, colors aside, is it worth buying one?

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I love my Nintendo Switch. I’ve had it for about two years and really I have no serious complaints. It’s by no means a perfect console. But other than the lackluster Nintendo Switch Online service, I really couldn’t ask for anything else. There are no region locks or content walls between accounts. Physical cartridges are easy to use, easy to store, and more durable than discs. The ability to instantly transition between TV and handheld play is phenomenal and a feature I use more often than I thought I would. The expandable hard drive space with a microSD card is limited compared to the PS4 and XB1 but quite nice and much easier to swap out than either of the two other consoles. And I can even use controllers from other consoles, including that of competitors, with the help of a fairly affordable adapter. The accessories are way too expensive, but that’s the case for all consoles at this point. In general it’s a great console with an ever expanding library of games, many of which I’m shocked to see available on a Nintendo system in 2019 such as Skyrim and The Witcher 3. And still Nintendo continues to lead the market in both touchscreen and motion controls as it has for the last two or more generations if we’re including handhelds, in terms of both performance and game options. It’s a great console with a high amount of accessibility. It shouldn’t be a surprise that Nintendo wants to expand the Switch’s already respectable market penetration by offering a cheaper option.

There has been a lot of negativity in response to the Nintendo Switch Lite since the announcement. As with all things in 2019, some of the criticisms are legitimate, while most of them are unfounded and show a general lack of understanding about things like target audience and business in general. The Switch Lite is not a debut or flagship product. When judging the Lite there is a correct way to look at it and an incorrect way. First, we need to be brutally honest and acknowledge that this product is not an alternative to the Switch. It’s not replacing it and it’s not circumventing it as a practical budget solution. That’s not what it is and that’s not what it’s meant to be. If you want a Nintendo home console, go out and buy a standard Switch. I suggest a Black Friday bundle if you can wait four months. The Lite is a replacement for the 3DS. And it’s a great replacement at that. And that is how we should be thinking about it. After all these years, Nintendo has finally done what gamers, both console and handheld, have always dreamed of. They closed the gap between home and handheld hardware/software.

Lite Color Options

As a boy I owned a GameBoy and SNES concurrently. I upgraded to an N64 and a GameBoy Color. Then again to a GameCube and a Gameboy Advance. Then I finally said enough is enough. I’m a home console gamer. I’ve owned many handhelds including the Game Gear, PSP, and Vita. But I’ve always preferred gaming at home. When I look back at all the games I’ve played on home consoles over the years, I literally can’t begin to try to settle on a total number of games I’ve beaten, which doesn’t even scratch the surface of all the games I’ve played for at least an hour. I’ve owned consoles since the NES. In fact, to date the only mainline home consoles I haven’t owned since the NES are the Sega Saturn and the XB1, not counting half console iterations like the PS4 Pro, of course. I even own a Panasonic 3DO. Console gaming is in my blood. When I look back at all the handheld games I’ve played over the generations, it’s actually not too long of a list. I can’t recall all of them, but the number of total games is so short that I distinctly remember playing Tennis (GB), Mr. Game & Watch Manhole (GBA e-Reader), Pokémon Red & Blue (GB), Kirby’s Tilt & Tumble (GBC), Dragonball Z: The Legacy of Goku (GBA), and Pokémon Trading Card Game (GBC). These are all different games from different platforms in no particular order. But with the exception of Pokémon Red & Blue and possibly Dragonball Z: The Legacy of Goku, none of them were particularly spectacular or fairly memorable games in the grand history of handheld titles.

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The fact that I remember playing them shows that I really didn’t play all that much on handheld. I can’t even remember specifically playing anything on my NES other than Super Mario Bros. as a kid but I had lots of cartridges so I know I did. The difference is that I’ve played so many home console games over the years that it’s hard to recall many of them after more than 20 contiguous years of gaming. So then I have to ask why I got all those handheld consoles at all if I wasn’t all that into them? I can’t speak for everyone but I know for me and many others it always came down to flagship software. When I was a kid, even if you didn’t particularly want to play handhelds, you had to play Pokémon. There simply wasn’t a scenario where a gamer in my age group wasn’t going to play Red and/or Blue. Many kids got GameBoys specifically to play Pokémon. And that trend has continued over the generations. Sure you may buy other games once you’ve gotten the handheld, because that’s the sensible thing to do. But we usually bought them to play one or two specific games. I had a Game Gear so I could play Sonic the Hedgehog outside of the house. I had a GameBoy Color so I could play Pokémon Gold & Silver. I bought a GameBoy Advance with my own money to play Dragonball Z: The Legacy of Goku, still one of my favorite DBZ games of all time by the way. I finally decided to stop playing handheld Pokémon games at that point, never got Ruby & Sapphire, and never bought another handheld console. My PSP was a gift from my father, which I legitimately never used. It sat unopened for a year until I finally sold it to GameStop for way less than I could have gotten on EBAY considering it was still in the box. To this day, it is the only piece of gaming hardware I’ve ever sold. And if I could go back and not sell I would. But I still never would have opened it. My Vita, which I still have and carry to work every day but never use and haven’t since before I bought a Switch, was a gift from my fiancé long before we were engaged.

Lite Compatibility

The truth is that the only reason most of the people in my generation bought handhelds was because there were games we wanted to play that for some stupid reason we weren’t able to play on the more powerful stationary hardware we had already purchased. Buying the next generation home console always made sense. It wasn’t even a question. Gamers want to play new games and eventually new games only appear on new consoles. So you upgrade to the next generation once you’ve exhausted the practical use of the current console you own. The last PS2 game I played was Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II. This was the game that looked and ran badly enough where I said, it’s finally time to move on to the next generation. The last game I played on PS3 was Dragon Age: Inquisition. Similarly, this was the game that looked and ran badly enough to where I finally said it’s time to move on to the PS4. And I will run my PS4 into the ground, playing every game I can on it until games look and run like absolute trash and then I will get a PS5. This is how console gaming works. Handhelds have spent their history, in my life at least, fleecing me to play a handful of games per a gen. I’ve played more Switch games in the last two years than I think I’ve played on any specific handheld console I’ve ever owned. That’s bad money management on my part but it also shows just how unfair software exclusivity really is. And this is why the Switch Lite is such an important development for the gaming industry as a whole.

Switch Dock Price

As an adult, I’m out of the house all the time compared to when I was a kid. As a person who doesn’t own a vehicle, I’m on public transportation more than I ever was as a kid. So you’d think the prospect of handheld gaming would be more appealing to me now than when I was a kid, and it is. So I play mobile games. As I write this, I’m also causally playing the recently released Dr. Mario World. I do play handhelds more than ever before but I don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars just to play one game every 2 – 4 years. Conversely, if you prefer handheld gaming and your handheld console has the specs to run a home console game, having to buy a home console just to play that one game is ridiculous. Finally we don’t have to go through that anymore. Pokemon Sword & Shield comes out this year. For the first time in the history of the series, whether you want to play on the go or at home on your TV you can. Your Nintendo hardware will no longer dictate when, where, and how you choose to play games. In fact, you’ll even be able to switch play styles as you play through the game, if you buy a regular Switch obviously. This is what we’ve all been waiting for. I will never again have to see Nintendo put out a handheld game that I actually do want to play like Mario vs. Donkey Tipping Stars, Game & Watch Gallery, or Paper Mario: Sticker Star and miss out on them. All games I never got to play because I couldn’t be asked to invest in a 3DS. That won’t happen anymore and I love that. That’s the single most important thing about the Nintendo Switch Lite, assuming of course that Nintendo is fully committed to it as the future of handheld gaming.

Joy-Con Grip

What’s most important to consider is that current Switch owners are not the target audience for the Nintendo Switch Lite. The Lite is $199.99. When I saw the announcement I immediately wanted one and immediately settled on not being willing to pay more than $100 for one. Why? Because the comparative value just isn’t there. I’m a Switch owner that plays predominantly docked or portable in the home. I paid $300, give or take because it was part of a massive bundle, for my Switch and it came with a dock, a Joy-Con grip, removable Joy-Cons, and the various wires it requires. And because it was a holiday season deal it came bundled with a game. A Switch dock standalone will cost you $75 on Amazon right now. A Joy-Con grip will cost you $10. That’s $85/$100 in hardware right there without taking into account the Lite’s lack of removable Joy-Cons, inability to dock with a TV in any official way, and the requirement to purchase additional Joy-Cons if you want to play games that aren’t available in handheld mode. It’s simply not worth it to buy a Lite as an alternative to the regular Switch at a discount of only 33% and Switch owners are painfully aware of that. But like I said, let’s not compare it to the Switch but to the 3DS. The Nintendo 3DS XL MSRP is $199.99, the exact same price as the Nintendo Switch Lite. If you think that’s a coincidence then you’re laughably ignorant or just down right oblivious. Nintendo isn’t trying to sell Switch owners a downgrade. They’re trying to sell 3DS owners an upgrade at the same price they paid for their last gen hardware. And offering them access to the full current gen Nintendo home console library for an additional $70 (the current price of two Joy-Cons on Amazon). You think those built in Joy-Cons aren’t detachable because of hardware cost? Think again. This is how the game is played.

Joy-Cons

The truth is that I don’t need a Nintendo Switch Lite, but I want one. I would actually love to take my Switch with me everywhere, but it’s too big and too valuable for me to want to carry around all the time. I don’t want to take it to other countries or keep it in my work bag for causal use. But a smaller, cheaper unit that would allow me to play all the same games would be ideal because it would be a handheld that allows me to continue my home console gaming while on the go. This was the great selling point of the Vita, but it had too many limitations. It’s the flagship feature of the Switch. It’s just that the hardware is a bit too big for truly casual handheld use. They’ve already said you can have the same account on two Switch devices and download/play that account’s software on both devices (not simultaneously). That’s exactly what I want. A lot of people are complaining about the reduced screen size but really I wish the device was even smaller. If I could play my Switch carts on something that would fit safely in my pocket and let me use a single memory card that I could hot swap between my docked Switch and it seamlessly I’d buy that in a second. Because again, I’m not a handheld gamer. I’m a home console gamer who sometimes has to leave my home. I want my gaming as seamless as possible and my on the go hardware as convenient as possible. I don’t want to have to carry a bag just to play games on the go. That’s the main draw of mobile games. That’s why the GameBoy was so successful. I took IT everywhere because I could just keep it in my pocket. Especially the much sleeker GameBoy Color.

Switch Memory Transfer

As a Switch owner, once you get past the specs and price, there are definitely some other serious issues that need to be taken into account. Saves is probably my biggest concern right now. Currently Switch memory cards cannot be hot swapped between devices. You are limited to one microSD card per a Switch. This means that, unlike in the good old days, I couldn’t buy a Lite and then quickly move my cart and memory card from my home Switch to the Lite when I’m leaving the house. This sucks cost wise, but I don’t personally have a problem with buying a memory card for both devices. What I do have a problem with is that there is no quick and easy process to transfer saves between the two devices. If you want to transfer a save from one Switch to another, or to a Lite in this case, you have two options: physical copy or cloud saves. The physical copy method sucks. It requires a PC with a microSD card reader/slot and time. Both things are not ideal for the home console to handheld quick transition that makes the Switch so great to begin with. Cloud saves are a better option but in the same vain, they’re slow. You have to upload the save(s) to the cloud from one device and then download them to the other device. And once you have finished uploading your saves you still can’t leave because you have to have Wi-Fi to access the cloud saves on the other device. So the process is going to take you almost as long as the physical copy method and cost you the price of a Nintendo Switch Online subscription to make use of the cloud save function. Neither of these methods are an effective use of the convenience that I’d be buying a Lite in addition to my Switch to ultimately get.

What I need to see is some sort of save beaming system. You should be able to link two systems wirelessly and beam saves between consoles fairly quickly when within a certain range. It shouldn’t require the cloud save function because it would all be done locally from device to device. Basically it should work like transferring Pokémon from Pokémon GO in your phone to Pokémon Let’s Go on your Switch. It takes just a few seconds after the initial connection is made. This would be the ideal scenario for owning both a Switch and Switch Lite. I’d be playing a game on my TV, have to leave but not want to pack my full sized Switch, beam the save to my Lite, and be on my way.

Switch Primary Console

The other serious issue with dual wielding a Switch and Lite is the primary console downloadable content limitation. Like with PSN accounts, a single Nintendo account can be accessed on multiple Switch devices. But only one can be the primary console. You can download and play games to other consoles through the same Nintendo account but doing so comes with limitations. The most troublesome of which being that downloaded content can only be accessed with active Wi-Fi. This is trash for on the go players outside of like Tokyo, Apple’s main office, and Wakanda. Everyone does not have constant access to Wi-Fi all the time and yet companies continue to ignore this fact. You can play downloaded content on your non-primary Switch, the Lite in this case, but if connection is lost the software will be instantly paused and not able to restart until a connection to Wi-Fi is reestablished. Meaning in practical terms that your Lite will be limited to physical games if it’s not your primary console. Like with the inability to use a single memory card for both devices, I can live with this, at least while physical games are still readily available, but it’s not ideal. These are the sorts of quality of life issues that Nintendo needs to deal with to sell people who already own a Switch. These issues don’t apply to non-Switch owners and that’s one of the main reasons I’m afraid they won’t get dealt with properly in a timely fashion. But again, Switch owners aren’t the target audience so these problems only kind of matter in the grand scheme of things for Nintendo at this point.

In my opinion, the Nintendo Switch Lite is a great device for a casual user or a handheld gamer looking to move into the next gen of handheld titles. And even as a Switch owner I do want one. But currently it’s just not worth it for Switch owners because of a few glaring quality of life flaws. I think it has the potential to really revolutionize the way we quantify home vs handheld gaming, which in many ways the Switch already has, but Nintendo has to prioritize convenience and practicality in creating a bridge between the two devices for current Switch owners. What are your thoughts on the Nintendo Switch Lite? Do you plan on buying one?

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RAD Closed Beta Review

Last week I had the opportunity to participate in the closed beta for RAD by Double Fine Productions. The first time I heard about this game was when it was teased for the Nintendo Switch in the Nindies Showcase back in March. But this closed beta was actually for PC. I wanted to give my thoughts on this current build of the game for those thinking about buying it.

The first thing I’ll say about RAD is that if I was going to buy it I would certainly choose the Nintendo Switch version, assuming they don’t add an online multiplayer component, which I actually really think they should for this particular game. The game is much more suited to a controller and mobile play than desktop gaming. It’s a roguelike dungeon crawler with perma-death mechanics. It actually reminded me a lot of Let it Die. I tried it with both a Dualshock 4 and a Wii U Pro controller. I have to say that I liked the Wii U Pro a lot better than the Dualshock 4 for this game, but a big part of that was because I couldn’t remap the buttons. The game says you can remap the buttons but the feature wouldn’t work for me with either of the two controllers I tried. While this didn’t make the game unplayable, it certainly was inconvenient. The default button map isn’t necessarily bad. It’s just not ideal for me. Being able to remap the buttons on my controller would improve my gameplay performance considerably, in my opinion. To clarify, I was able to remap my primary mutations between three specified buttons in game, but not remap the entire control scheme like I wanted to.

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The main selling point of RAD’s gameplay is the mutation, or “RAD”, system.  Each time you play the game you start as a normal kid with limited abilities. All you can do is walk around, swing a weapon, the default being a baseball bat, jump, ground pound from the air, and dodge roll. That’s the basic essence of the game. You move through procedurally generated areas that work just like floors in any roguelike swinging a bat until you die. I say procedurally generated because that’s what’s being reported, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t see a lot of repeated areas. Not entire floor layout, but specific sections of maps seemed to be repeats. Maybe it’s procedurally generating a set of fixed islands, as all the levels are made up of disconnected island structures that are reached via bridges and warp points.

Your goal is to survive as long as you can and get past as many floors as possible, with each floor ending with a boss fight of some sort. There is an endpoint that you can reach, but I’m not sure if it’s a fixed or random number of stages that have to be beaten to reach it. I only reached the end once during the beta. It showed me one of multiple endings. You can also find and consume items to refill health or boost performance. Pretty standard roguelike fare. What makes the gameplay interesting is the leveling system. You do not level up in the traditional way where you get more HP and stronger attacks. Instead you gain mutations that grant you special abilities. These can be anything. I don’t for sure know the total number of possible mutations but according to the compendium in the game’s pause screen there are a total of 87.

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Primary mutations are active abilities that you use. Secondary mutations are passive buffs. Both are key to surviving. Your XP bar fills as you kill enemies. Every time it fills, you get another primary mutation. You can have a maximum of three primary mutations at one time. Each primary mutation is linked to a single button press. Once you’ve acquired three primary mutations filling up the XP bar causes them to develop further. The gain additional characteristics that enhance their usefulness. For instance, there’s a mutation that gives you ranged physical attack. When you level it up again the range increases by a considerable amount. Each time you level up after acquiring three primary mutations, a single mutation develops at a time going in order from left to right. Meaning that if your first mutation is at+1 and your second and third are at +0 then your second mutation will develop to +1 the next time you fill the XP bar again.

These mutations can be anything. I was very surprised at the variety of different capabilities players can get, and according to the compendium I’ve barely scratched the surface. Some of the things I gained the ability to do were short term flight, spawn mutant clone babies to fight enemies for me, throw my arm like a boomerang, enslave enemies for short periods of time, and protrude spikes from my body causing a lot of damage. The mutations were interesting, highly different from one another, and for the most part, easy to use. According to the compendium, there appears to be 56 total primary mutations. Though there are quite a few mutations available, I’ve already seen mutations repeated multiple times, having not yet gotten them all. In fact, there was one time where I got two of the same three mutations that I had gotten the round right before. There are also special landmarks in the game that replace one of your primary mutations with a random new one. You do not have to interact with these if you don’t want to and you can’t choose which of your mutations is changed.

20190526094238_1Secondary mutations may actually be more important than primary ones. These are not acquired through filling the XP bar. You get these by finding special mutation landmarks that automatically grant you an additional secondary mutation. The most I got at one time was eight, with all being constantly active for the duration of the round. I don’t know what the maximum number of active secondary mutations is or if there even is one. These buffs are just as varied as the primary mutations. Some of the ones I got were immunity to fire, longer range projectile attacks, an extra shield against toxic attacks, and increased movement speed. If you can find enough secondary mutations and manage to get the right primary mutations, all of which appear to be random, you can get some really strong builds. There appears to be 31 secondary mutations. These I did see repeat between playthroughs and they weren’t always useful or at least not at the time they were acquired. For instance, there’s a secondary mutation for improved range attacks. But often I’d get this when I didn’t have any ranged attack mutations active so it was a useless buff.

What’s very interesting is the fact that some secondary mutations are negative. I got one that made it so you couldn’t see where you’ve already been on the map. While this was annoying in practical terms, I like the fact that you can get negative mutations. Plot wise that makes perfect sense because it’s ridiculous to think that all mutations would be beneficial. While mutations of both types are meant to be considered and used individually, it’s the art of using them together that makes for truly effective play. Without a doubt the best run I’ve had was only possible because I was able to use my mutations as a collective. This includes both primary and secondary mutations. I had one primary mutation that gave me drastically higher and longer jumps, one that gave me a charge attack, and one that extended spike out of my body in mulitple directions for massive damage. By using the charge attack while jumping I was able to jump over groups of enemies. While directly above enemies I would use the spike mutation and damage them as I sailed right past them, inflicting damage and quickly escaping the line of fire. I was able to use this on pretty much ever type of enemy including bosses. When coupled with the various secondary mutations I had such as ground fire immunity, toxic pool immunity, and faster movement, I was able to inflict continuous combos and avoid pretty much all damage in most cases.

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The gameplay is very smooth. While I wanted to remap the controls, they were fairly accessible and easy to understand. It’s really just learning to use the mutations effectively that has any sort of learning curve, and it’s not a big one. While RAD is perma-death for mutations, it does have a few long term unlockable upgrades. Your main weapon can be changed every time you go back to the base, which you can do between levels and at the beginning of every new round. New weapons can be unlocked as a reward for certain achievements. I was only able to unlock two additional weapons so far but both were noticeably stronger than the previous one I was using. You can also unlock quirks. These are permanent buffs that you equip from the character selection screen at the beginning of each round. You can only equip one at a time. The only one I’ve unlocked so far grants a fire shield for one of your hearts. Another important long term mechanic is money. Money can be used to purchase a variety of things each round such as health restoring items, keys, and access to special mutations. These items disappear when you die. But you can bank money between levels so that if you don’t want to spend it at that moment you can bank it and then access it again later at the base. Vendors appear all over the levels but they all sell different things from round to round and don’t appear in the same locations.

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There are quite a few items in this game with many different uses. This is where the luck component of the game comes in. In my best round I just happened to find multiple instant mutation items in the first level. This allowed me to develop a full set of attacks much earlier than you normally can. This increased combat ability so early in the round allowed me to accomplish so much more than I had in previous rounds. Up until that round I’d never beaten one of the main bosses. In that round I easily brought down two before getting tired and saving the game to continue later.

I’d say the gameplay works rather well overall, but I did encounter a number of bugs. While it’s not a genre I tend to favor, I did find RAD enjoyable in small doses. Thankfully you can save and continue games later. Rounds can be long if you can survive, but they can also be short. My longest round so far lasted more than two hours and was the only one where I reached an ending. I encountered two serious bugs that affected gameplay. The first was that I wasn’t able to claim the heart extension reward after the second major boss I defeated. While this wasn’t game breaking, it was very annoying and got me really angry. Like with Zelda games, defeating a boss fight nets you a heart extension. The place where it dropped when I beat the second boss was under his corpse, which never disappeared unlike with previous enemies, including the first boss I defeated. The game would not let me pick it up no matter how hard I tried. The second was that the game completely crashed on me once. I don’t know what caused it, but thankfully the game let me continue on the stage where the game crashed. I assume it’s an autosave feature.

20190526095022_1Visually, RAD is about what I’d expect from a top down roguelike. The camera is above and at a slight angle from the player. It’s about the same view as that in Bastion or Hyper Light Drifter. While it’s certainly not AAA quality graphics, it’s fairly decent looking for a roguelike game. It’s not trying to look realistic and thus uses a very animated style but with a large amount of detail. Lots of little things come together to make something fun and child friendly, but certainly not childish. The game is set in a post-apocalyptic dystopia filled with debris from multiple past civilizations, a number of highly differentiated enemies, and lots of plant fauna. But the real depth is in the small details. The rust on burned out cars. Tufts of grass scattered throughout a sandy wasteland or cracked roads and abandoned construction zones. Wooden planks placed over gaps as makeshift bridges. It’s these little things that set the tone of the world and they do an excellent job.

What I really appreciated most about the graphics was the mutations. As your character mutates, his/her physical form can change drastically in a plethora of ways. This is important for the tone and gameplay. Your physical appearance changes based on the mutations you unlock, ultimately connecting the player with each specific round on a more personal level than in many other roguelikes I’ve played. Enemies too come in mutated forms. You can find more than one version of an enemy as you progress forward. Obvious details like size and color differ between different versions of enemies. But also finer details like spikes can differ between different versions of the same creature. I also think it’s important to note that I never made it past the third level so I actually expect a great deal more in variation between enemies and types of enemies than I was able to access during the beta. But to be fair, the compendium only lists a total of 38 enemies, of which I’ve already found 17, and seven bosses, of which I’ve only faced one so far. So maybe there’s not as much variation as I hope as far as enemies are concerned.

20190526094256_1The HUD is simple, intuitive, and spacious. Across the top of the screen you will find the XP bar with HP, in the form of sectioned hearts, directly under it on the left side of the screen. On the right side of the screen under the XP bar, you will find the current level map and your counts for money and keys. I’m really happy with the map. It’s simple yet effective. It shows the nearby surrounding area and moves around the map as you do. But what works best with this map is how it tracks your past movements. The map is dark gray by default. As you walk in any direction, light gray is added to the map, exemplifying your specific movements. This makes keeping track of how much of the current level, or even just current room, you’ve already explored so much easier to manage and cuts the time to find the next place to go down considerably. The map also shows any items currently waiting to be picked up, since they never disappear, which is a good thing. You can only carry one item at a time as a default and then at least one more as a benefit from a secondary mutation. Currently carried items are shown below the HP meter. The bottom of the screen shows your mutations with primary mutations being in the bottom left and secondary mutations being in the bottom middle. I also really like that the HUD shows you which button to push for each mutation and items at all times without looking cluttered or ugly.

While I’d never say that RAD is worth buying just because of the graphics, they are absolutely not a hindrance. Double Fine has certainly made better looking games in the past, but this project looks exactly the way it should for what it is.

20190526003003_1The audio is solid in this game. It’s clear and quite detailed. Steps make a sound that changes based on the material you’re walking on for example. All effects are laid onto the gameplay perfectly. There’s no lag between the audio and the action. And each action has a matching effect. That includes the abilities gained from mutations. The overall mix of sound is great at default with everything set to 100. But you can control master volume, music volume, sound effects volume, voice volume, and ambient volume all separately and customize their mix levels from 1 to 100. I don’t know if I’ve played another game with five separate audio channels available to the player for mix customization. The one thing I did notice was that sometimes the music stops playing during normal activity. I don’t know if this was a bug or intentional, but I’ve seen it in numerous other games so I don’t assume it wasn’t supposed to happen.

RAD actually does have quite a bit of writing, both plot and dialog wise, as well as a ton of narrative commentary. The beta gives a lot of plot information right from the start. In my experience, roguelikes can go one of two ways when it comes to writing. Sometimes the plot is super important but delivered subtly once you’ve seen the opening sequence. Other times there’s a really flashy opening that makes you think the game is plot heavy but really it’s just for foundational reasons and then basically disappears once the game actually starts. I want to say this is the former, but really it’s a combination of both. This is kind of the issue with roguelikes though. When you can’t continue from where you died but the plot is contingent on getting farther into the game, there’s a good chance the player may never reach the end of the plot. Thankfully I was able to see one of the nine endings, but honestly the only plot given is the opening and the post final boss closing. Everything in between is just lore and world building, which is fine but it’s not necessarily accurate to call this a plot focused game.

20190526151414_1The game starts off by establishing that the world has suffered not one but two apocalypses and that you’re one of the few remaining survivors. As with most post-apocalyptic dungeon crawlers, you’re tasked with journeying into the wastelands for resources to aid your community. That’s the general plot, but it’s not lazily done. The game starts off with an opening cutscene to establish the setting, as well as an additional cutscene to specifically explain how you were chosen and how things work/will work in the game, as well as why. As you make your way through levels, you find artifacts that are accompanied by narrators, both a male and female used randomly, giving more details about the history of the world. In this way you get a lot of story, but not much development of the current plot. The game doesn’t do much in the way of discussing the future other than the initial establishing cutscene and the ending(s). The game’s compendium says eight possible endings are available but when I got one it said 1/9. At this point I can’t say for sure one way or the other. I don’t know how each of the endings compare, but the ending I got was kind of inconclusive. I was able to reach the ending after defeating three major bosses.

RAD has a lot of lore and written info in the compendium. This guidebook expands as you find and unlock more things. It gives you the ability to read about pretty much everything in the game including mutations, enemies, weapons, artifacts, and the endings you’ve seen. It will even replay narrations for you. It’s nice to see this level of documentation provided for interested players in a roguelike of this kind.

20190526094243_1There are also NPCs that talk to you. Many can be found in the base. Some of them say things that actually affect the game, but mostly it’s just décor. Most of them are scattered throughout the levels though. Some of these won’t talk to you, but many will. There are shop keepers, treasure hunters looking after chests, and random communities just hanging out. I found a hidden community of mutants just trying to avoid being ridiculed by normal looking people. I also found a cult waiting for their god to send them message through a projector screen hooked to an antenna. Some of the NPCs will even ask you to do small tasks that net money.

Some of the best writing in the game is the narrative commentary. The male narrator comments on what’s happening in the game sparingly. When you get a new mutation, he says it in a celebratory Halo style “Double Kill” voice. But that’s just one of the moments when commentary occurs. My favorite piece of commentary was when I switched to the stronger weapon I unlocked. The narrator screamed out “Chicken shit!” and it was subtitled on screen. This made me laugh really hard. Overall, the writing I witnessed was fairly good for a roguelike. But I’d have to reach later levels before I can accurately quantify its value and impact on the gameplay experience as a whole.

20190526101228_1As this is a roguelike, it’s inherently built for replay. But there are also a number of features that add legitimate replay value. As mentioned, there are several mutations, all of which have been quite interesting to try out so far. There’s also the fact that the mix of mutations you get is always different from previous plays. There are also a lot of things to unlock. Additional mutations, additional playable characters, and additional weapons are all available to unlock. There seems to be a total of eight playable characters. In the beta I’ve only managed to unlock four so far. I have yet to notice any performance based differences between them. There appears to be six unlockable weapons but I’ve only gotten one of them at this point. There are also 37 achievements for RAD on Steam and eight possible endings. The game also has daily challenges with special completion conditions tied to an online leaderboard. There’s a fair amount of stuff to do and reasons to keep playing the game. And with the procedurally generated levels, it will take quite a while before you get bored with the levels. I don’t know what the release price will be yet but if they manage to keep it to no more than $15 then I think RAD could absolutely be considered worth buying.

As this is a beta review, feedback to the developer is just as important as presenting the project to gamers considering buying the final release version. So let me clearly define what I’d like to see changed/added in the final version of RAD.

20190526161253_11. Continue by Stage

As this is a procedurally generated roguelike dungeon crawler, perma-death is kind of a given for the genre. Personally I’ve never liked that. I understand it, but I think it’s unnecessary. The important difference here though is that when you play a game like Overture, there’s no story. So it doesn’t really matter if you have to start over every time because you’re not really building towards anything. But when a game has a plot, which RAD does, albeit a small one, then being able to finish that story needs to be at least in the realm of possibility for a majority of normal players. Now I only had to clear like six levels to reach an ending. But that’s still six levels that not everyone will be able to beat consecutively. My point is that there needs to be an efficient way for bottom to mid-tier players to reach all the endings without having to take the time to get Dark Souls good. For me, the simplest solution is that you should be able to continue a new round at the farthest stage you’ve reached or at least at milestone stages such as after main bosses.

2. Button Mapping for Controllers

As with all games in 2019, you should be able to customize the button map to suit your needs on any controller you choose to play with. This should be the standard for any game released today. As I said, RAD appears to have this function, but it wasn’t working properly for me in the beta on either a DualShock 4 or a Wii U Pro Controller.

20190526150552_13. Primary Mutations Replay

The game appears to have 56 primary mutations. I’ve unlocked just a small sample of those so far. Some of them I really liked and others not so much. I found all of them to be quite creative though. At some point, the player should be able to gain some control over the mutations they’re getting in a round. Like once you’ve unlocked so many mutations it should give you the ability to start with a certain mutation of your choice or at least prioritize which ones you get. The randomness is part of the game’s shtick and that’s fine but once the player has put in enough hours to unlock all the mutations, they’ll then have a number of them they’ll want to avoid and others they prefer. And since the game requires you to start from scratch every time, getting to the ending will require you to get the right set of mutations to suit your style of play. But at random that won’t happen very often. Granting some level of control to the player would make a huge difference both for progress and enjoyment. This should not be made available to the player early on in the game though.

4. Cooperative Play

It’s very rare that I ask for multiplayer in a game. But RAD just makes sense to have a coop mode. Whether it’s local or online, I think this game would be so much fun to play with other people. In a way it kind of works like ToeJam & Earl, which absolutely doesn’t require other players to enjoy, but is enhanced by the ability to do so. As I was playing it, I was reminded a lot of games like Gauntlet and Metal Slug. The ability to play this cooperatively with friends could be really fun.

20190526153251_15. Lock-On Feature

This is your standard roguelike design where you’re looking at the game from a top down third person view. Enemies can come at you from any direction and you often face many at once. Currently you just attack in a direction by either looking in that direction for close range attacks and/or using the right stick to aim in that direction for ranged attacks. As with any multiple enemy scenario, prioritizing enemies in a specific order is key. But all this has to be done manually in RAD because you can’t lock on to enemies. There should be some way to lock on to a specific enemy to help you keep track of them in group scenarios and make aiming ranged attacks more effective.

6. Full Store in Base

Within the levels there are stores scattered about that carry random items. This system works fine. But the store in the base, which you can potentially visit every time you complete a level, is trash. When you first start the game, it only sells one lousy key which you don’t even really need because you can find them or buy them from most vendors in the levels. The base store should carry all available items in the game. Or at least the ones you’ve already found during play. There are key items that can totally change the outcome, such as an extra life item that I’ve only seen in one store and couldn’t afford at the time. The base store should carry everything, or at least more than just a single, fairly useless key. The game does imply that the store will grow as certain conditions are met but how and to what extent I haven’t figured out yet. By the time I finished playing the beta, two additional items were added to the store. It seems to me that you expand the store by making purchases.

20190526100709_17. Dynamic Item Consumption

You can hold one item at a time as a default and gain the ability to hold an additional item with a secondary mutation. But you can’t control the order in which you use those items. You have to consume the first item you picked up before you can consume the second one. This is super inconvenient and comes up very often because the second item slot mutation comes up a decent amount of the time. Different items do different things, as per usual. The most common difference is the amount of health restored by healing items. Some items restore a full heart while others restore more than that. So if you have an item that restores one heart in your first slot, an item that restores two hearts in your second slot, and you’re missing two hearts from your HP you have to waste the first item to fully restore your health. Because you wouldn’t be able to use the item that restore two hearts until you’ve used the item that only restores one. Now yes you could just wait until you’ve lost that heart again, but there’s a delay to use items when not standing still so if you need to restore health during combat this could be the death of you. You should be able to use whichever item you’re carrying in whatever order you want. Even a rotate slots system would be better than the current system.

 

In general, I was very happy with this beta. I found RAD to be much more enjoyable than I thought I would after seeing the announcement trailer. It’s not the next big thing or Cuphead class indie, but it is a fun little roguelike that actually has some long term goals and reasons to keep playing. There seems to be an actual plot to discover, which matters to players like me. The gameplay is accessible but constantly changing based on the mutations you unlock in a particular round. While it wasn’t a perfect game, this beta build is pretty far along. While I did have a few issues it ran well for the most part. No lagging or other game breaking problems other than the one crash which cost me just a few minutes because I was able to continue the round from the main menu when I reloaded the game. The game has a few bugs, as I mentioned, and can still be improved but it already works quite well and it’s fun to play. I need to see a release price before I can make a final judgement but I could see RAD doing well for what it’s trying to be.

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