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?

Switch vs Lite Specs.png

 

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.

Switch vs Lite Price.png

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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Spider-Man: Far From Home Review – 7.5/10

What I like about the MCU Spider-Man is that both Marvel and the character himself are aware of his actual position on the superhero totem pole. In general, I like Spider-Man. I have been a fan since I was a kid. I’ve played many of his games, watched multiple cartoon series, and seen three different actors portray Peter Parker, my favorite Spider person, across 10 different live action films. But I do not love Spider-Man. He is a great character. This is fact. But he is not as great as everyone seems to give him credit for. He’s relatable, sort of, and I think that’s why he’s such a fan favorite. But in the grand scheme of the Marvel universe he’s not nearly as powerful, intelligent, or important as he’s often given credit for. If anything, I’d say a great many of his greatest moments happened more as a response to fandom than as organic character developments that warranted the fandom. But there’s no way to prove that one way or the other so I guess it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that Tom Holland’s Peter Parker is fully aware that he’s not nearly as great, qualified, or important as everyone else seems to think he is. And this is true both for the viewers and within the MCU itself. That’s probably the main takeaway I got from Spider-Man: Far From Home, and I liked that aspect a lot.

What I loved about Spider-Man: Homecoming was the human aspect. But more specifically, the youth aspect. This version of Peter Parker is a 16 year old kid who genuinely thinks like a 16 year old kid. He wants to hang out with his friends. He wants to have a girlfriend. He wants to protect his Aunt and make sure she’s safe, both from monsters and from interested men. The hero aspect of his life isn’t the most important part of the character. It’s not even who he really wants to be. It’s a responsibility that’s forced onto him, which is a great way to paint the character. Because “with great power comes great responsibility”. That’s the point of the character. He doesn’t want to foil alien tech heists, fight aliens, or stop petty criminals. He has to. It’s his responsibility as a person with super powers. But he just wants to be a 16 year old kid. That’s who Peter Parker is. And while Tom Holland is not my favorite Peter Parker, this version of the character is my favorite version because of how well and realistically written it is. It is the most human Spider-Man I’ve ever seen depicted in live action and Far From Home does a great job of continuing this character’s story.

Tom Holland (Finalized)

I was worried about how Far From Home was going to follow Avengers: Endgame. Just about every movie in the MCU tries to top its direct predecessor film. That’s always been the idea. Bigger, better, and more impressive from one film to the next. With the exception of the Ant-Man films, pretty much every MCU movie actively tried to top the last one and usually did. At least in terms of stakes if nothing else. But we spent 10 years building to Avengers: Endgame. There was absolutely no way a solo film about a 16 year old kid was going to top that. Especially not one with Mysterio headlining as a not villain in the ads. So I had a lot of concerns going into this movie. Thankfully Marvel was not only aware of my concerns but used them to their advantage.

Far From Home followed Endgame perfectly because it actively goes out of its way to reference Endgame and let you know that we’re no longer playing at Thanos level stakes. It’s comedic. It’s personal. The scales and stakes are small. It’s simply not a story about an Infinity War class threat. It’s about healing from the many losses incurred during the Infinity War. And laughter is the best medicine after all.

SPIDER-MAN: ™ FAR FROM HOME

The movie does a lot of bits that are just there to make you laugh. They talk about what happened when everyone came back from the snap and it’s hilarious. They talk about how half the world didn’t age for five years so now everyone’s age is off. There’s an entire subplot about Ned’s romance life that is just hysterical. This is the stuff that a 16 year old kid would be thinking about, superhero or not. Really the actual stakes of the film aren’t even that big to begin with, similar to with Vulture in Homecoming. Yes the bad guy getting away with it would have been terrible. Yes the possible long term repercussions if Spider-Man didn’t do his job would have been a net negative. But the world wasn’t/isn’t going to end. In fact, I’d argue that Far From Home ending with the bad guy getting his way might actually have been better for the planet’s overall defenses in the long term. In any case, the stakes are pretty small. Not Ant-Man small, but small. And that’s a good thing in the case of these Spider-Man films.

Story wise, Far From Home was as good palate cleanser. It rebooted the audience back to the Iron Man one days where people were just kind of doing their own things and dealing with personal villain problems with no big picture to worry about. Yet at the same time, this movie does acknowledge that the good old days can never truly return. I’d say this movie had probably the most plot significant post credits scene of any MCU film to date. It literally affects the way you view every single MCU film except for The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 3, and maybe Captain America: Civil War. It also possibly teases the focal point of the next phase of MCU plots.

mysterio

 

Not only was Far From Home well written, but it was also well acted. Jake Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio was great. The character was different from the comics in a number of ways but extremely realistic and relatable. Not only did I believe that character but I sympathized with him quite a bit. As with Homecoming, the students, none of which are actually minors in real life, are extremely believable. Watching Far From Home reminded me a lot of what it was like to be a kid. The crushes, the romantic plans, the conflicts with other boys, the jealousy, and a general lack of assurance that anything you decide to do is actually the correct decision. These are the types of characters that make sense in the world of a 16 year old Spider-Man.

Visually speaking, this movie was great. The effects were top notch while also being very self-aware about the fact that they’re all fictional. The movie has many moments referencing the PS4 game, Marvel’s Spider-Man (2018), by Insomniac Games. It all comes together rather nicely to let the viewer know that not everything has to be so serious. Some things can just be fun and imaginative for the sake of being entertaining in a world constantly plagued by politics, misinformation, and greed. In my opinion, this is the entire point of the movie. It’s referencing the current issues of our reality by portraying those same problems in a post Thanos snap world.

spider-man aunt may

Spider-Man: Far From Home is not the next Avengers: Endgame. It’s not trying to be and that’s a good thing. It’s just a nice movie about a 16 year old kid who just happens to be a superhero. It’s one of if not the most relatable film in the MCU because it’s simply about the struggle of balancing your life with your work and learning how to accept that responsibility without losing your personal life in the process. If you’re looking for the next epic MCU adventure, this isn’t it. But if you’re looking for a respite from all the doom and gloom from the last several movies while still having some overall plot relevance, this is the perfect film to follow Avengers: Endgame.

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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.

“We” Keep Biting the Hand

It seems more and more I’ve been forced to write posts defending corporations against “consumers” in recent months. This is really distressing for me. My mantra has always been “I fight for the user.” But I’ve never been one to blindly support gamers when they say/do/ask/demand stupid things. And I will absolutely never defend people trying to affect gaming, as either an industry or community, who aren’t actually gamers but want to change them for some sort of political agenda. In light of this, I find myself faced with not one, not two, but three glaring nontroversies that the gaming community, and so called “gaming journalists” have turned into the focal point of gaming discussion right now, while simultaneously ignoring much bigger issues. So today I write a post that I’m sad I even had to take the time to write.

I’ve long been a champion of transparency in the gaming industry. I hate when companies like EA feed us crap like “based on our research” and then proceed to make a statement that goes completely against consumer demand/desire without actually showing any documentation to confirm the results of this supposed research. It’s this continued lack of transparency that I think has caused many of the issues EA faces today. I’m not saying the research is false. I’m just saying that because they’ve never actually made any of it public that it’s hard to take their decisions seriously. Of course the counter argument to this transparency is that other companies will steal that research data. To me that’s a cop out answer. Because other companies having the data wouldn’t magically make EA unable to create competitive games in the market. They own multiple studios that people continue to buy from simply because of the names of those studios/franchises. But if they showed that research data, they could then justify things like paid DLC, loot boxes, and so on. Assuming of course that the data they have actually shows that these are things people legitimately want (Spoiler: It won’t.).

Honesty

I truly believe that if all companies were more honest and transparent about their decisions, costs, and research that many people would accept their decisions peacefully even if they didn’t necessarily agree with them. Like I was really angry with the announcement that Final Fantasy VII Remake will be in multiple parts for most likely a premium price. But if Square Enix followed that announcement with pages of data and analysis showing that the company would literally lose money based on projected sales figures for doing the game as a singular $60 release then I wouldn’t complain. I wouldn’t necessarily be happy about having to buy multiple parts for a single story, but I would understand why it was happening and I’d have no justification for being angry about it. It’s because of this that I have more than once written about the need for companies to be more honest and transparent about games, their development process, and the costs of bringing them to market.

While I still think more transparency from the industry could be a good thing, recently I’ve been led to believe that maybe we, as in the gaming community as a whole, don’t deserve such honesty. Maybe we don’t deserve early announcements, developer interviews, and pre-release footage. Because it seems that all we ever do with that information is bite the hands that feed us at all the wrong moments, for all the wrong reasons. There are legitimate reasons for consumers to be angry with developers and publishers. Star Wars: Battlefront II’s ridiculous loot box system at release/right before release was unacceptable. It was not only good that we organized, protested, and made our demands met. It was just. It was the right thing to do as a collective of consumers. And I can name several other similarly righteous examples. But I can think of many more bad examples of the public attacking developers for showing us things in advance of release that people had no business getting angry about. At least not to the point of creating viral controversies. I just want to discuss three of the most recent ones I’ve seen, but there are countless more I could bring up as well.

Cyberpunk 2077 Mix It UpThat Cyberpunk 2077 In-Game Ad

Cyberpunk 2077 is arguably the most anticipated game set for a 2020 release. I’m still not personally sold on it, but CD Projekt RED (CDPR) has never failed me before and it has Keanu Reeves in it. Chances are this game will be amazing in every sense of the word. I won’t say that it will be better than The Witcher 3, but it will almost certainly live up to that standard. And CDPR, as well as Cyberpunk The Roleplaying Game of the Dark Future creator Mike Pondsmith, have been very open and seemingly honest about the game. They’ve showed more than an hour of gameplay, done several interviews, and have already given quite a few plot details. They’ve even announced that, like with The Witcher 3, there will be a lot of content in expansions. They’ve done more than most companies do to try to explain their game to the public almost a year in advance of its release. How did the public respond to this openness? By accusing Cyberpunk 2077 of being transphobic, willfully ignorant of the cyberpunk genre, and not meeting the original creative expectations set out by the original creator, Mike Pondsmith.

Cyberpunk 2077 is set in a dystopian future called Night City where technology, immoral behavior, and capitalism have all run amok. People no longer have value. In fact, it’s arguable that many aren’t even people anymore. In some of the released footage there’s a poster advertising some fictional canned beverage. The poster has a woman on it. The woman’s clothing and stature, to some, look like that of a trans woman. That is to say, some people think the woman in the ad has a penis. I can’t confirm if that’s true or not, but what I can confirm is that people apparently thought that this was grounds for boycotting the game almost a year before it even released. This is ridiculous. No context given. No confirmation from the company about whether or not the woman in the ad was trans. No interview with Mike Pondsmith to confirm if the game was truly meeting his vision. Just up in arms assault on the game and the company’s image based on a background decorative in-game poster. The worst part of all is that when Mike Pondsmith finally did speak about it and stated that he not only didn’t feel the poster was transphobic, but that he was very happy with the overall game and how CDPR really had captured his vision, people called him an Uncle Tom and a sellout rather than accept that his vision had actually been met.

Mike pondsmith

This should never have occurred. This is a non-issue. And no I’m not saying trans rights are a non-issue. I’m saying this poster, that again isn’t confirmed to be of a trans woman, set in a corporate dystopia in the future where a majority of people have robotic parts and little to no actual value is a non-issue. To have attacked CDPR in this way in response to them giving the public so much information and content so far in advance of the game’s release is unacceptable on our part. I’m not saying everyone was involved in this, because that’s not the case. But the fact that this became a viral controversy that several gaming journalism sites covered, not favorably for CDPR I might add, is egregious. If I was CDPR, I wouldn’t say one more damn thing about the game until it releases. It’s already guaranteed to make a killing and clearly the public isn’t grateful for the openness anyway.

Marvel’s Avengers isn’t the MCU  

A teaser was released for the upcoming Marvel’s Avengers game from Square Enix like two years ago. We didn’t know anything else about it until this E3 where they announced a shit ton of information. Now please note that I’m not advocating for the game one way or another. There are still many questions I need answered and I’d like to see, or ideally try the gameplay. But out of the gate they showed/announced a single player offline campaign with five playable characters, four player online coop, and free DLC expansions including additional missions, additional maps, additional Avengers characters, and supposedly no microtransactions.

Marvel's Avengers

This announcement presentation should have been received with a ton of positivity from the community. Instead “we” responded by complaining that the characters don’t look like the actors from the Marvel movies. Again biting the hand that feeds us. Not only that, but I am shocked at the number of plebs that willingly outed themselves as faux Marvel fans. If you saw that trailer and thought to yourself that the characters were wrong because they didn’t look like Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr. Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, and Chris Hemsworth then you’re not a real Marvel fan. You’re an MCU fan. All of these characters have existed for decades. The movie versions are barely a blip on the collective canon of the characters. Look at the original appearance/debut dates for these characters.

Captain America (1941)

Iron Man (1963)

Hulk (1962)

Black Widow (1964)

Thor (1962)

Captain Suits

Every one of these characters is more than 50 years old. In that time all of them have had multiple costume and appearance changes. Even Black Widow, with one of the most straight forward looks in the entire Marvel universe, has had multiple costumes and physical appearances. And let us not forget that even in the movies the costumes change all the time. That is the entire nature of comic books. The game isn’t set in the MCU. It’s not the same timeline as the MCU. Like Marvel’s Spider-man from Insomniac Games, it has literally nothing to do with the MCU. So it’s absolutely preposterous to complain that the characters, whether their physical appearances or costumes, don’t match those of the MCU. They’re not supposed to. The community could have and should have focused more on discussing the actual game announcements but of course “we” didn’t. Instead the social medias were flooded with memes and comments about how people wanted the characters to look like a bunch of actors not at all related to the project. Which is also a big “screw you” to the talented cast of voice actors being used in the game. It’s ridiculous that such a large percentage of people got up in arms to complain about something they clearly weren’t familiar with to begin with. Now unlike with Cyberpunk 2077, we haven’t seen all that much of Marvel’s Avengers and we don’t have enough confidence in either Square Enix or Crystal Dynamics for them to be able to decide to go dark with this game and hope to make a profit. But really “we” don’t deserve any more information until the game is ready to release because clearly people can’t seem to act right.

Avengers-Characters

Tifa’s Boobs . . .

When I was in college, a professor assigned me (the whole class) to read an article from The Onion. Now at this point in my life I didn’t know what The Onion was. So I read it as a work of non-fiction reporting. When I voiced my opinions on the article in class, I was notified that it was satire. This article, which was very realistic because it was written back in the days when The Onion would do full on articles rather than just funny blurbs, reported that up until that point the reason female characters in games had such large boobs was because of limitations of graphics engines. The article went on to say that finally developers had pushed past this limitation and could now reduce the size of boobs in games to look more realistic. Oh how scary a world we live in where satire becomes reality and then gets blown out of proportion, pun not intended.

Tifa comparison

Because every English language gaming journalist can’t seem to properly translate Japanese. And because Japanese developers don’t practice the restraint that American developers do when talking about their games, boobs tend to come up a lot. Again, pun not intended. During a recent interview about the upcoming Final Fantasy VII Remake, one of the developers at Square Enix explained that Tifa, a well-liked female character from the game, would have a sports bra added to her costume to make her movements look more realistic. In laymen’s terms that means her still large breasts would now be restrained by a sports bra so that she could actually fulfill her role as a hand to hand brawler without her tits flopping around wildly. You know like real female athletes wear. But because Japanese developers don’t speak English as a first language and the translators that report this stuff almost always seem to suck, the story stated that Tifa’s breasts had been reduced in size. Once again, that’s not what the guy said. He said that their appearance would seem reduced because of the presence of a sports bra holding them in place and restraining them, as sports bras are made to do. But who cares about the actual facts?

Cloud ps1
This is a male character . . .

The internet was and still is livid by the idea of Tifa having smaller breasts. Genuine rage and anger happened. And gaming sites kept reporting the story incorrectly and then following that by reporting on the outrage. Because it’s all about the clicks. Now first of all, the original model of Tifa is from 1997 on the PS1. The character models look(ed) atrocious. I don’t care what anyone says. By today’s standards the original FFVII looks horrendous. There are much better looking Final Fantasy games even on the PS1. Final Fantasy VIII, which I’m not arguing is a better overall game, looks way better. Tifa had ridiculously large breasts in that game for the same reason Lara Croft did in those days. Limited polygon counts. The only way to make sure you knew she was a female was to give her large breasts because they were unable to define chest structure subtly. It was either flat, which was used for male characters, or bulging unrealistically, which was used for female characters. There are also multiple looks for her in the original game, destroying any hope of consistency between how people view the character. Is the map mode Tifa the real Tifa? Is the cutscene Tifa the real Tifa? Or is the battle mode Tifa the real Tifa? They all look different. Tifa most likely wasn’t meant to have large breasts at all. They just didn’t have a choice. And even so, this is a remake. Square Enix can do whatever the hell they want with their characters. But internet gonna internet.

Tifa Battle

People have been asking for a Final Fantasy VII remake for more than a decade. It’s been called the most requested remake of all time for years. Square Enix refused to do it for the longest time and then finally gave in, because money, and how does everyone react? They complain about the supposed breast reduction of a non-main character. Yes Tifa is in the party and she definitely matters. But she’s no Aeris. She’s no Cloud. She’s no Sephiroth. It shouldn’t even matter that much. And yet here I am writing this article. Now honestly Square Enix doesn’t have to and didn’t have to say shit about this game. They could have kept it completely secret until the day it released and it still would probably end up being the best-selling game of its release year (2020). But Square Enix did announce it and has shown more and more information about it because they want to make fans happy. Do the fans deserve that kind of treatment? Clearly not. Again gamers bite the hand that feeds them for completely ridiculous and immature reasons.

The thing that makes me most angry is that not only are people always complaining about pointless bullshit in games today, when they should be thankful for the transparency, but that they’re putting their attention and outrage on things that don’t matter while serious issues abound and are ignored. Just last week the UK Parliament conducted a panel with reps from EA and Epic Games to discuss loot boxes and other gambling type mechanics in games. If you aren’t well versed in the details of this interview, you should definitely take the time to read about it, because it’s important. Here’s a short summary from Eurogamer as a jumping off point. Basically EA and Epic Games showed that they don’t care about consumers at all and that they will say anything to try to continue robbing gamers blind for useless skins. This is what gamers should be talking about. This is what should be trending and memeing and being covered by all gaming sites and causing uproar. People should be burning their EA game cases in the streets. YouTube should be covered in videos of people calling out EA for saying bullshit like “we don’t call them loot boxes – we call them surprise mechanics.” But that is not happening.

uk loot box

Yes some people are certainly talking about the UK Parliament interview. And some sites have reported on it a little bit. But it hasn’t been the main focus of the gaming community. My Twitter timeline hasn’t been covered in #SurpriseMechanics memes. But I’m still hearing about Tifa’s “small” tits. At this point, I don’t know why developers tell us anything in advance. The community continues to act childish, focus on the wrong things, and attack companies and individuals for not doing anything wrong while simultaneously letting the real criminals slide. It’s a shit show and it’s unacceptable. There’s really no other way to say it.

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E3 2019, A Post

Usually I make a post about E3 where I take some time to talk about the games shown and spend the rest of the post ranting about how the entire concept is outdated, biased towards undeserving members of the gaming community, and how it needs to be more accessible to the public or just die already. This year I’m not going to do that. Instead I’m going to just write my thoughts on a number of moments/topics addressed at E3 as completely disconnected mini-blog posts. There are some larger topics that I want to discuss in more detail and will in later blog posts, but this year for my E3 post I wanted to change it up ever so slightly. There will still be a fair amount of ranting though.

1. Who Won E3?

Usually you end with this but I wanted to start with it because it’s not actually the most important topic of E3 I want to discuss. So to cut right to the point, Nintendo won E3 this year. For me, winning E3 means garnering the most future sales . . . of games, not hardware. Now since I’m only speaking for myself, that means the winner of E3 is always the company that shows the most games that I leave the presentation at least 70% sure that I’m going to end up buying, preferably before the next E3. This was without a doubt Nintendo.

Nintendo Direct E3 2019

Now chances are I won’t buy all these games in the long run. But if I had an unlimited amount of time and money, these are all the games shown at E3 this year that I am not on the fence about wanting to buy. Meaning if they went on sale tomorrow and money was no issue, I would absolutely buy these games with no additional information. Note that I’m also not counting any games that I was already sold on before E3 because of previous announcements/presentations.

Microsoft

  • Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order
  • Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot

Bethesda

  • Doom Eternal

Ubisoft

  • Watch Dogs Legions
  • Gods and Monsters
  • Roller Champions (Technically free to play but I’m counting it here anyway)

Square Enix

  • Marvel’s Avengers

Devolver Digital

  • Fall Guys Ultimate Knockout

Nintendo

  • Contra Collection
  • Luigi’s mansion 3
  • The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild 2
  • Animal Crossing: New Horizons
  • Cadence of Hyrule
  • Collection of Mana
  • Panzer Dragoon Remake
  • Ni No Kuni Remake
  • Astral Chain

New Ganon

The number of games I’m fairly likely to buy shown by Nintendo, again that I wasn’t already planning on buying going into E3, is more games than I’ll buy from all the other companies combined. Even if you remove the Breath of the Wild sequel because that was just a tease, it’s still overwhelmingly Nintendo with the victory. Nintendo won E3.

2. Screw Leaks & the People Who Leak Them

Every E3, as with every big gaming/tech event, there are usually some leaks. This was of course true for E3 this year as well. What I noticed this year, which may have happened in past years as well but went unnoticed by me, is that leakers were getting caught by developers/publishers and then people were coming to their defense. For instance, there’s this leaker on Twitter that was apparently contacted by Nintendo with a cease and desist order before the Nintendo Direct was shown. Because of this, they didn’t leak information about Nintendo’s presentation but did about basically all the other presentations. After they tweeted about Nintendo’s threats people came out of the woodwork to defend the leaker and get angry at Nintendo. This was of course not the only leaker but just one example. Even Jason Schreier tweeted in defense of leakers, which was shocking to me considering how much work he’s put into defending and supporting better treatment for developers.

 

Personally I hate leaks. When I was young and uniformed, I used to think leaks were so cool. Now that I have a job in the tech industry, I think they’re the worst thing ever. And I get really angry when people defend leakers with arguments like “the billion dollar corporation won’t be affected that much” because it shows a complete disregard for people like me, the marketers. It is true that in the grand scheme of corporate profits, leaks have very little effect. But profits have nothing to do with why leaks are bad. Corporations, of all sizes, have employees, sometimes full teams of them, that are responsible for creating and executing marketing plans for new products. It doesn’t matter what kind of product it is. It can be hardware, which is what I do marketing for, or it can be software, such as new games. All companies, especially the ones that show up at events like E3, have marketing employees. These marketing plans take a lot of work. They’re planned sometimes months in advance. They take a lot of time and effort and often cost a lot of money. What most people don’t realize is that when leaks happen, those plans often have to change on the fly or get cancelled altogether. Imagine if months of your work was instantly destroyed because some asshat found out some privileged information by taking advantage and betraying the trust of a friend or business acquaintance and posted it to the internet for some clout. That’s what leaks are. And it doesn’t just end there. Companies have to adjust marketing plans based on the fallout from leaks. This is essentially emergency crunch time but for marketers. And it doesn’t matter when and what the situation is. You can be at home about to eat dinner with your family and suddenly get a call that a leak happened and an entire marketing plan has to be changed in the next day in time for an event. Then you also have to deal with the fallout of the leak internally. Some companies take this very seriously and will do an internal investigation to find the source. People can get fired. Entire teams can get fired if the damage is large enough and they can’t discover the culprit.

 

No I’m not speaking in hyperbole. I’m speaking from personal experience. Last month was Computex. My company had a booth there. I was part of the team responsible for the show’s online and offline marketing plan. I personally wrote more than one of the press releases for the show. I also had to help setup the booth for the show the day before it started. Somehow we had a leak happen for one of our products the day before the show started. I was literally on site setting up the booth when a coworker rushed over to me with the news and handed me a laptop saying a press release had to be rewritten to adjust based on internet response to the leaked information. Now this was a low level leak. It wasn’t a flagship product, there wasn’t a huge marketing plan created for it at that point, and rewriting a press release in the middle of a soft construction site, though rushed and inconvenient, was not the end of the world. But that’s when a leak scenario is not that bad. Imagine if it was the night before E3 and you’re in a bar drinking celebrating the fact that your multi-million dollar marketing plan that took a team of more than 50 people months to plan and put into motion was finally finshed when suddenly you get a call from your boss saying the game has been leaked and the entire plan has to be shifted or even scrapped. That’s the reality of leaks for marketers. As much as people seem to care about developers, they never seem to care about all the other people involved in launching a game or product. Leaks have little effect on developers, especially in the short run. But they play havoc on the lives of marketers and marketers are not rich douchebags in suits drinking scotch laughing at the underlings. Marketers are the underlings. We’re struggling laborers just like any other employee at any other company. We’re not famous. People don’t praise and buy products because we’re creating the marketing assets for them. It’s thankless work that no one thinks about and it’s usually underpaid work, especially for the writers. So I hope the next time you hear about a leak you ignore it and remember that someone’s day is probably gonna be ruined because of it and that someone works hard for less than they deserve, just like you probably do.

3. Subscriptions, Subscriptions, & More Subscriptions

UPLAY + Stadia

It seems my fears are coming to fruition. The age of subscription services will be in full force within the next year. So many companies announced new subscription services. XBOX updated the Games Pass to a premium version, of course for a higher price. But they also announced a PC only version which I do think is a nice surprise. But they also announced a new cloud service. Ubisoft will have a subscription service. Square Enix implied they plan on launching a subscription service. And then there’s Stadia, which I already hate the sound of. The worst part is that Ubisoft’s subscription service will connect to Stadia. Meaning you have to buy a subscription service to play games inside a subscription service you’re also buying. It’s a recursive cost that will probably multiply exponentially overtime.   I fear a future where companies do away with buying single games altogether and they force you to do annual subscriptions that require subscription based platforms subletting on other subscription based platforms. Imagine if one day to play a PC game you need to use Microsoft Windows as a subscription service because you can’t purchase one off licenses anymore. But then you also need to subscribe to Stadia to run games on your lower range hardware. But of course you’re also paying an internet service fee to stream Stadia which will charge you a premium for bandwidth. Then you have to pay for the PlayStation cloud service subscription because you want to use your PSN account for your friend’s list and trophies. But you’re trying to play a Ubisoft game like Ghost Recon: Breakpoint so you have to subscribe to Ubisoft’s subscription service. Suddenly what used to cost $60 plus your extant hardware now costs like $19.99 to the power of 5 monthly. It’s a depressing dystopia for the gamers of tomorrow. I fear the day that GOG and Steam jump onto the subscription bandwagon.

4. Devolver Digital Made Light of My Fears

Devolver-Digital-E3-2019

I’ve actually never watched the Devolver Digital E3 presentation before. To me they’ve always been kind of an odd duck. They make/publish indie class games that I rarely ever play. I’m not saying they make bad games by any means. I actually own nine of their titles and I’ll almost certainly buy Fall Guys Ultimate Knockout. I also really liked Luftrausers and The Talos Principle, which I never actually finished sadly. But to me they’re also kind of an enigma. I almost never realize a game is published by Devolver Digital even if I’m very aware of the game. So I wasn’t even planning on watching their presentation this year. The only reason I did was because a friend told me I’d really enjoy it and that they made fun of a lot of things I talk about often. So I watched it and it was excellent, but it was also scary. They ironically discussed a number of issues and trends in the gaming industry that I’ve been talking about for years. It reminded me of when Ajit Pai did that skit about being a paid shill for ISPs. In the age of games as service models, loot boxes, unfinished games supplemented with paid DLC, and other such bullshit, I found it equally refreshing and horrifying to see a publisher talk honestly about these issues while simultaneously making fun of them in the pursuit of profit. It’s a weird time to be alive.

5. Star Power, Star Pricing?

kingdom-hearts-3When I was a kid, Hailey Joel Osment was a famous child actor because of his ability to see dead people (that’s a The Sixth Sense (1999) reference). When it was announced that he would be voicing the main character for the English version of Kingdom Hearts, it was a special moment. While I don’t assume he was the first legitimate movie actor to voice a video game character, he was the first that I could remember being fairly famous for acting in movies at the time of doing the game. It was common with TV actors, such as TC Carson as Kratos, but they never had as much value demand as movie actors and still don’t in most cases. The fact that Hailey Joel Osment stayed with the Kingdom Hearts franchise all these years and returned to voice Sora in Kingdom Hearts III is actually really cool. But what’s important here is that Hailey Joel Osment was never really an A-list star and more importantly he got into video game voice acting in a time where even A-list stars weren’t as meaningful to the public or as expensive as they are now. The other really important detail is that Hailey Joel Osment’s likeness wasn’t actually featured in the games he was voice acting in. The first truly epic actor I recall playing a character in a AAA video game and showing their full likeness was Kevin Spacey in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare (2014). I’m not saying that this was the first instance of this happening. I’m just saying it’s the first one that I can remember. Also note I’m not counting movie tie in games because that’s a different animal. Now we’re starting to see the use of top tier actors in games as actual characters in the games become more commonplace.

cyberpunk-2077-keanu-reevesAt E3 this year both Keanu Reeves and John Bernthal presented games because they are featured characters in those games. This is cool. It’s also expensive. My fear here is that publishers will try to leverage this practice to ultimately raise the price of games. They’ve been trying to increase that $60 MSRP for like two generations of consoles. Every time a new gen is announced, a company, usually EA, mentions the prospect of game prices increasing, the internet goes into an uproar, and then it doesn’t happen. But what if instead of tying the price increase to hardware or development costs, like they usually do, they tie it to star power? Who could actually dispute the argument that John Wick costs more to include than normal video game actors? Does it not make perfect sense that having the Punisher play the villain in a game would cost considerably more for development than say Troy Baker? Not that I’m knocking Troy Baker’s talent by any means. But it’s ridiculous to think that he costs as much to put in a game as Keanu Reeves. Suddenly we’re seeing fairly successful and notable stars pop up in games way more often.  Norman Reedus, Mads Mikkelsen, and Guillermo Del Toro will all be in Death Stranding. And people are eating the star power up. Keanu Reeves’ presenting Cyberpunk 2077 at E3 is being called the best moment at E3 by a wide margin. Do you think all these actors are working because of their love of video games? Not likely. Now hopefully I’m wrong. Hopefully prices won’t increase and rightfully they shouldn’t with loots boxes, paid DLC, season passes, microtransactions, and so on. But if you start hearing companies say things like “games have moved past AAA” then those should be warning signs that price hikes are on the way.

ghost recon breakpoint6. CDPR Reinforces Bad Behavior

It seems every year there’s some diehard fan and/or paid shill that just yells too loudly and too often during these E3 presentations. I work in the tech hardware industry so presentations like this are usually attended by introvert tech nerds, some highly analytical, usually older media, and other industry members who can no longer be asked to get too excited about an increase in processor speed or the inclusion of additional RAM slots on a motherboard. So yelling during a press conference basically doesn’t happen in my neck of the woods. But gaming events are attended by gamers. Not only that, but they’re “press” events which in 2019 means streamers, YouTubers, and other people who make a living by being obnoxious, self-absorbed, and lacking in basic human behavioral standards. Not to mention a lot of them are too young and inexperienced to actually understand the concept of professionalism. So I get why yelling occurs. But as we saw at the Bethesda conference this year, yelling during the presentations other than at specific scripted/expected times can be burdensome to both presenters and the audience. It’s a problem that can’t really be solved in any intentional way, other than not letting those damn internet personalities in of course. What can be done though is that companies shouldn’t encourage it. Sadly CDPR did the opposite this year.

In a rather sincere moment during the Cyberpunk 2077 presentation, Keanu Reeves was sort of struggling to talk to the crowd because honestly talking to a live audience of gamers isn’t in his normal wheelhouse as an actor who says little in most of his parts to begin with. But he was genuine and sincere and people appreciated that, rightly so. A YouTuber screamed out “you’re breathtaking” to Keanu Reeves and he shouted it back. It was a nice moment. It was a cute moment. It was a moment where members of the audience once again showed their lack of professionalism. I think it’s funny that no one is talking about the fact that literally right after this exchange Keanu Reeves flat out says “I gotta finish this” because so many people were yelling and interrupting and not just letting him talk. Now that’s fine. It’s fine for people to get excited. It’s fine for people to yell during the presentations. Like I said, it’s unprofessional but it can’t really be helped. But it shouldn’t be encouraged. CDPR encouraged this behavior this year by promising the “you’re breathtaking” guy a free collector’s edition of Cyberpunk 2077. Sorry but I don’t agree with that decision. A person is privileged enough to attend E3. They’re lucky enough to have a direct exchange with Keanu Reeves. They’re essentially handed an infinite amount of internet clout and articles written about them that will surely increase their YouTube presence, among other things. As I write this, he seems to have gained at least 1000 new subscribers since the event happened. They get all this for acting unprofessionally and then they’re rewarded with a $250 collector’s edition of possibly the most highly anticipated game of 2020. This is just setting up E3 2020 to be an absolute shit show. Every YouTuber, streamer, and other internet personality will be actively trying to have their moment during the press conferences next year. If anything, CDPR should have rewarded someone who wasn’t at E3 but was streaming or live tweeting about the presentation as a show of solidarity for those not fortunate enough to make it to the event. This was a great PR move but it sets a terrible precedent.

7. Roller Champions Alpha Demo

Out of nowhere, Ubisoft released an alpha demo for an upcoming free to play game called Roller Champions. It’s like Rocket League mixed with Jet Set Radio minus the graffiti. It’s surprisingly fun and I’ve already played it enough to win consistently. The demo will not be available by the time this post is published but you can check out the gameplay from when I streamed it here. If you like quick round PVP sports games then you’ll definitely want to check this game out when it drops. I just hope it’s rewarding enough because free to play PVP games tend to get stale rather quickly.

Well that’s my round up for E3 this year. Not a terrible showing, but there’s certainly been better years. I do think it will be a good year of gaming, at least on Nintendo with a few heavy hitters set to release on other platforms before the next E3. As I said at the beginning, there are a couple specific topics from this year’s E3, not included in this post, that I want to talk about in more detail. Those will be published as individual blog posts over the next few weeks. What did you think of E3 this year?

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John Wick the Game?

Last week, I finally saw John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum. The movie was excellent, as are all the films in the franchise, but this is not a review. Honestly there’s no sensible reason for me to review John Wick 3 because if you haven’t seen the first two, then you absolutely shouldn’t watch the third one. And if you have seen the first two then you’re absolutely going to watch the third one if you haven’t already regardless of any review written by anyone, good or bad. So writing a review for this movie would be an exercise in futility. What I want to talk about is the concept of a John Wick game.

I have been thinking a lot about what a John Wick game could/should be like. As with all movie games, the experience should emulate that of the movie. Specifically it should try to simulate the feelings the player got while watching the movie. In the case of John Wick that means adrenaline, rage, exhaustion, and a tinge of paranoia induced fear. Those are the feelings I get when watching John Wick movies. Those are the feelings I imagine the character gets over the course of the movies. So in my opinion, a proper John Wick game should induce these same feelings in the player.

john wick 3If I had to narrow down the John Wick experience to a single core idea, it would be extremely visceral, perfectly executed, fast paced violence. Three concepts fused into one. The violence isn’t just acts of killing. It’s brutal acts of killing to a point that I couldn’t even imagine on my own. In the first 15 minutes of John Wick 3, he kills a man with a book. And it’s so brutal that I considered giving up literacy for an extended period of time. The violence is not just brutal but perfectly executed. My friend described John Wick 3 as like “watching someone complete a perfect run of a video game.” This is a fairly accurate description that can be seen in all three of the films. John Wick isn’t just good at killing. He’s consistently good at killing enemy after enemy with very few breaks in between foes. He kills with a rhythm that’s almost poetic in how flawless it is. It’s like watching Bobby Fisher play a game of chess. Finally, the action is fast paced. The movie isn’t built on monotonous build ups and slow paced duels between two knights on opposite sides of a war as they talk things out between clashes. It’s nothing so ceremonious. It’s just kill after kill after kill in rapid succession. Those three ideas together make up the John Wick experience for me.

John Wick at gunpoint.jpgA John Wick game has to have all three of these concepts blended together. Any singular one on its own doesn’t equate to the John Wick experience. Even delivering two of them perfectly would still be an ultimately hollow attempt. A game could be extremely violent and fast paced, but if it’s too forgiving and doesn’t require the player to perform at near perfect levels then it’s not really a John Wick game. If a game made the player have to execute every move flawlessly and delivered Mortal Kombat 11 levels of violence but had no component of time tied to the gameplay then it still wouldn’t be an authentic John Wick gameplay experience. The game would have to deliver all three concepts well to be deemed a proper John Wick game.

John Wick Hex, the soon to be released John Wick game by Bithell Games, may take on the name of John Wick, but it really doesn’t look like it will deliver the full John Wick experience. The violence may be there, but due to the graphics, it doesn’t seem like it will be all that impressive visually. The perfect execution looks like it will definitely be there. In fact, that seems to be the core concept of the gameplay. But the pacing doesn’t look to be there at all, based on what little of the game I’ve seen so far. John Wick Hex looks like they took the concept of chess, not speed chess, and applied it to a game about killing waves of people. While this can and hopefully will be an entertaining gameplay experience, I don’t believe it will be a true John Wick game.

John Wick Hex 1I’m left with two questions. Are there any games that already exist that deliver a full-fledged John Wick style gameplay experience? Would such a game actually appeal to players? Especially in 2019. I’ve been trying to think of games that might be worthy of being called John Wick-esque. One example I keep coming back to is Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. It’s violent, fast-paced, and requires nearly perfect execution. Obviously it’s not a gun game, as one might expect a John Wick game to be, but it does, for all intents and purposes, meet the three criteria of visceral, fast-paced, and requiring pretty much perfect execution. Based on those core concepts, Sekiro is just Samurai John Wick. But do people like it?

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is a game muddied by controversy. Most people agree that it’s really hard. Like even harder than Dark Souls. But people don’t agree on whether or not the game should be made easier. Arguably, a true John Wick game would need to be at least as hard as Sekiro. But would people like such a game? They’d probably like watching it be played by someone really good. Yet when it came to playing it, many people would probably just complain that it was too hard. But to make it easy just wouldn’t be the John Wick experience. It would at best be the illusion of the John Wick experience, which admittedly many people would like.

sekiro__shadows_die_twice_gxA proper John Wick game would probably be really annoying. I imagine it would play similarly to Superhot but the levels/engagements would be quite a bit longer. You’d also be able to take at least some hits, as the character gets quite roughed up in the movies at various points. One way to do it might be a constant stream of timed QTEs in the style of TellTale Games titles like The Wolf Among Us. It might play like a very polished version of the Dragon’s Lair games but obviously more violent and realistic. But a lot of people don’t like QTEs. So even if that method did get closer to the movie experience, that doesn’t mean gamers would like it.

the-wolf-among-us-qte

The more I think about it, the more difficult the question seems to answer. I think this might be one of the reasons John Wick Hex was made the way it seems to have been. They went for the perfect execution aspect and some of the violence but appear to have left out the speed aspect as a sacrifice to the modern audience of lazy noobs. Better to appease the majority than make the most authentic experience possible. Especially when you don’t have the reputation of From Software to fall back on for justification.

I think a proper John Wick game is possible, but it’s certainly no easy feat to pull off. Either as a developer or as a gamer. I’m glad John Wick Hex exists because it means at least someone made an attempt. But I want to see a proper AAA John Wick game produced, successful or not. In any case, definitely watch all the movies if you haven’t. You surely won’t regret it.

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Kingdom Hearts – Halfway There

I first became a fan of Kingdom Hearts in 2002 when the original game released on PS2. I still remember the commercial, back when commercials were the main way we learned about new video games. I was already a Disney fan and a Final Fantasy fan, having just played FFX for the first time less than a year before. The idea of playing a game that mixed the two things with real time combat blew my mind. I don’t think I ever could have even imagined such a game on my own. I preordered that game. Been in love with the franchise ever since. Two years later they released a spin off title, Chain of Memories, on the Game Boy Advance. I actually had a GBA at the time but I refused to buy the game. I refused to play into the predatory practice of releasing soft sequels and spinoffs on handheld platforms. So I skipped over Chain of Memories.

A year after Chain of Memories released, Kingdom Hearts II finally released. I of course preordered it even though I hadn’t played Chain of Memories. I assumed that, like most spin off titles of the time, it didn’t matter much. I was wrong. Two years after Kingdom Hearts II released, they ported Chain of Memories to the PS2. Because it was now available on home console and I could get it for $20, I bought, played, and hated Re: Chain of Memories. I should clarify that the gameplay is specifically what I hated about the game. Story wise, it’s really important to the franchise. The stuff that gets explained in that game ends up being key to Kingdom Hearts II.

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While I was angry about the fact that Square Enix had released a spinoff title with key plot information, I had hoped that like with Kingdom Hearts II, I could skip them and still kind of get the gist of what was going on by playing Kingdom Hearts III. In the time since I played Chain of Memories for the first time, it took Square Enix 12 years, four spinoffs, two plot relevant app games, and countless ports to finally release Kingdom Hearts III. And please note that Kingdom Hearts III was originally announced to be a PS3 title. In fact, it’s the main reason I ultimately wanted a PS3. I didn’t play a single Kingdom Hearts game after Re: Chain of Memories until I finally got a hard release date for Kingdom Hearts III.

As if by an act of divine intervention, Square Enix released the Kingdom Hearts All-In-One collection. Basically this is every Kingdom Hearts game ported to PS4 as a single purchase. That’s exactly what I had been asking for since they release 2.5 Remix. So I bought the collection and decided to start back at the beginning and play all the Kingdom Hearts games in order and finally get to play Kingdom Hearts III, and hopefully get a real conclusion to the story. I’m less than 20 hours into Birth by Sleep, meaning I’m about halfway through the series. Plus I’m caught up on Kingdom Hearts Union Cross, the app game which also affects the plot. It’s actually heavily tied to Birth by Sleep. So what I want to do today is not so much summarize the plot of Kingdom Hearts up to this point but rather the experience of playing them all back to back. I’m now somewhere between 130 and 150ish hours into the franchise and I still have a long ways to go. But for some reason I felt like I had kind of reached a milestone point because I’m now playing content that is completely new to me, so I wanted to write a post about it.

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I think it’s fair to say that of all the game franchises I’ve played, Kingdom Hearts is the most convoluted, confusing, and tied together. Many franchises spin far off from their previous games. Assassin’s Creed is one of the best examples of this. Many franchises assume you’ve played previous games. Metal Gear Solid does this in ways that I found excruciatingly annoying even though I played them all in order going back to the MSX titles. But really no other franchise I’ve played is as unplayable as Kingdom Hearts is when you haven’t played all the previous titles. There are so many important details scattered throughout these games that later matter a lot. Like if you play Kingdom Hearts II without having played both Chain of Memories and 358/2 Days, like I did the first time I played it, you go in missing extremely important plot details which make the first several hours of that game quite confusing. Mostly because the game starts you off by playing as a character that didn’t even exist during the events of the first game. You also spend more than three quarters of the game thinking the main villain from the first game has returned only to discover that not only has he not returned but that the person you thought was him was actually the main character’s best friend in disguise.

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Now if you play those two spin off titles first, you know all of this stuff. It all comes together fairly consistently, even though it is still kind of confusing to understand exactly what’s going on. Then when you finish Kingdom Hearts II and log back into the game to do the extras a special boss is introduced. A similar thing was done with Kingdom Hearts I. This special boss leads into the next game. But what you don’t realize if you skip the spin off titles is that the special boss leads into the next spin off title, not core game. So this special boss shows up coupled with an epic ending movie, if you have Final Mix and did everything to unlock it, and shows you a bunch of crazy shit that you cannot begin to guess the meaning of, even if you have played Kingdom Hearts Union Cross, which is directly tied to the next game, Birth by Sleep. I sometimes see people online saying they skipped some of the game or just jumped directly into Kingdom Hearts III and I genuinely feel bad for them. Because I assume trying to piece together that story from a vague opening movie and a bunch of random characters from Final Fantasy, Disney, and original Kingdom Hearts characters is probably more difficult than trying to understand the Arrowverse by starting with Legends of Tomorrow season 3.

If you do somehow stick with it and make it to Birth by Sleep, you get thrown for a loop in ways that I can’t even think of another example to compare it to. Like imagine if you watched the first five seasons of Game of Thrones and then the first episode of the sixth season was the first episode of House of Cards. That is what it’s like to start Birth by Sleep as someone who actually played all the previous games in order.

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Birth by Sleep starts with an epic opening movie, as all the Kingdom Hearts games do, but the music is the song used in Kingdom Hearts I and Chain of Memories. This is odd because there’s a different theme song for Kingdom Hearts II. The opening movie features three characters, two male and one female, which is reminiscent of the three main non-Disney characters from the previous game and the first game. But none of these three characters look like those original three characters. But one of them does look like a character from the second spin off and main game that’s sort of a spirit doppelganger of the main character so you think it’s him and that the other two characters are spirit doppelgangers of the other two main characters, which would have kind of made sense at that point in the franchise. Ignoring the fact that the female character already had a spirit doppelganger introduced. But that was an artificial one so it doesn’t count . . .

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So you think you’re about to start a game about the three main characters’ spirit doppelgangers until they start dropping names and you realize you have no idea who any of these characters are. You’ve never heard their names before. You don’t know any of the characters they’re talking to. You’ve never seen the world they live in. The one reference you get early on to the past game(s) is a name drop tied to a character that looks nothing like anyone you’ve seen before. Which is fine because they’ve already introduced the idea of spirit doppelgangers except they also said spirit doppelgangers look similar to their original forms. This guy doesn’t look anything like the previous version(s) of the character with the same name. Then when they finally introduce the enemies, you’ve never heard of them previously. By this point in the franchise, they’ve already introduced two “races” of monsters. Now you’re introduced to a third one. The first four games you’ve played by this point have nothing to do with this game other than the presence of key shaped weapons. Once you get about six hours in you start to realize that this is actually a prequel to Kingdom Hearts I. The main clues to this are you meet the original form of a guy you previously met the spirit doppelganger of and you meet a young Hercules. In Kingdom Hearts I, Hercules is already a grown man. In Birth by Sleep, he’s still a teenager.

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Basically I don’t actually know what’s going on anymore. I have ideas because of the app game and few clues that have allowed me to form theories, but I genuinely can’t say why I’m playing this current game, which has three playable characters with their own storylines, as far as the plot is concerned. I do expect it to all connect by the end of Birth by Sleep, but this is a spin off title so there’s a good chance that won’t happen. And it’s not a fun experience playing Birth by Sleep after Kingdom Hearts II. The other games, including Chain of Memories, centered on the main characters traveling with friends and working together to fight enemies and save the worlds. Birth by Sleep has you play alone. You don’t have a squad. You don’t get healing support. You just fly solo. It’s not impossibly hard but it is a lonely gameplay experience after getting so used to traveling with Donald and Goofy.

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The totally unrelated story isn’t the only problem I have with Birth by Sleep. The gameplay is a noticeable step backwards from Kingdom Hearts II. Which isn’t a surprise considering it’s a spin off title originally released for the PSP. All the spin off titles have garbage gameplay compared to the core games. The leveling and technique development system is better though because it allows the player to develop faster and in ways that suit their own play style and interests.

I hope I haven’t turned off anyone considering playing the Kingdom Hearts franchise, because that honestly wasn’t my intention here. The core titles are great games that truly revolutionized action RPGs in their time. And they really have aged fairly well. But it is definitely a demanding collection of games that many will get bored with or utterly confused by without being diligent. I will continue my journey to Kingdom Hearts III. I have waited more than a decade to play this game and I’m finally getting towards the finish line.

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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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