Pokemon Masters Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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What Makes A Male Character? (Cyberpunk 2077)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Gamescom 2019

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

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

 

Gamescom Entrance

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

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

pins

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

Trials of Mana HD Remake (Nintendo Switch)

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

FFVII Remake (PS4)

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

 Marvel’s Avengers (PS4)

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

Monkey King: Hero is Back (PC)

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

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

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

Link’s Awakening HD Remake (Nintendo Switch)

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

Doom Eternal (Google Stadia)

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

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

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

Ghost Recon: Breakpoint (PC)

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

Cyberpunk 2077 (Non-playable Gameplay Presentation)

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

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

The Surge 2 (PC)

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

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

Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot (PC)

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

Medievil (PS4)

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

Concrete Genie (PS4)

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

Dreams (PS4)

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

Biomutant (PC)

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

Luigi’s Mansion 3 (Nintendo Switch)

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

Darksiders Genesis (PC)

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

The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics (PC)

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

Death Stranding (Non-playable Gameplay Presentation)

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

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

Iron Man VR (PSVR)

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

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

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

Pokémon Sword and Shield (Nintendo Switch)

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

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

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Mario Teaches Platforming Post 1 (Super Mario Maker 2)

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

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

Episode - Screenshot 2019-06-30 14-03-47

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

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

Ratchet and Clank FUll Frontal Assault

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

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

Mario Teaches Platforming

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

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

Episode - Screenshot 2019-06-30 14-03-26

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

Episode - Screenshot 2019-06-30 14-04-58

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

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

Episode - Screenshot 2019-07-01 01-22-38

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

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Let’s Talk About Nintendo Switch Lite

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

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

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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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.

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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“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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