EVO 2013, Paris Hotel, Las Vegas

26 07 2013

This year was my second outing to Las Vegas for the annual EVO world championships. Although the venue has changed, the energy and excitement has compounded from consecutive years. With over 6,000 attendees, this year boasted a record-breaking attendance. Seeing and feeling the electric energy of the packed grand ballroom, especially on finals day, is proof of the power of a long-standing international community that has made the pilgrimage and rallied to witness the clash of competitors that represent the pinnacle of skill and expertise over the course of 3 days of insanity. Additionally, this same community pooled their resources and goodwill to raise over $225,000 towards breast cancer research as a fundraiser towards the inclusion of community-requested games in the main tournament schedule, such as Super Smash Bros. Melee.

Tournament schedule aside, there were other attractions to be seen around the viewing halls and show floor. Double Helix’s Killer Instinct reboot had playable kiosks as well as the debut of a returning series stable character Glacius in his new incarnation. Glacius’ look has taken an extraterrestrial bent and his focus is on distancing himself from the opponent and trapping them inside his effective zone with long-ranged normals and keep out tools. Even the indie-produced Dive Kick had a show presence and I was able to get some hands on time with the game, which manages to be simplistic and elegant despite being rooted in satire. A release of August 20th was announced for Dive Kick with a set price of $10. Funds have already been set aside on my part.

EVO is also a time when fighting game developers will often reveal new announcements, perhaps even more so than E3 considering that they have in that moment the interest and attention of their entire dedicated demographic. Among the most notable and groundbreaking announcements was the inclusion of Black Canary and Martian Manhunter as additional DLC characters for Injustice, but also yet another iteration of Street Fighter IV: “Ultra Street Fighter IV.” This upcoming version will feature even more refinement and rebalancing based on community feedback as well as the inclusion of a few new characters, namely the 4 warriors from Street Fighter X Tekken (Hugo, Elena, Rolento, Poison) as well as a yet-unrevealed 5th warrior who is said to have never appeared in a main-line Street Fighter game before. The game will be available both as a full retail disc and as a reduced price digital upgrade.

If ever there was a day to make an appearance at EVO, it would have to be the tournament finals on Sunday. Within these 24 hours the absolute best on earth compete in an all-out showdown to determine the world champions in their respective arenas. The immense tension, excitement, and HYPE within that crowded main hall has to be experienced firsthand.

The first game of the finals was KOF XIII, and while I know precious little about the game watching battles at the absolute highest level of play was enthralling. In the end Reynald took 1st place as the 1st ever American player to be the grand champion of the game.

Super Smash Bros. Melee was undoubtedly a huge draw for the crowd and likely contributed to the record-breaking attendance. Some of the competitors came from as far across the globe as Sweden for the sole purpose of going head-to-head with the very best in their game of expertise. While the expected top-class picks Falco, Fox, Marth, and Sheik were certainly present, there were some unexpected entrants that captured the attention of the crowd, namely an Ice Climbers player “Wobbles” who took 2nd place.

The Injustice finals were interesting to watch but took an unexpected turn; Superman has become so universally reviled as an overpowered character in this game that the crowd unanimously booed whenever he won a match (even in the very last match of the grand finals). Something is probably wrong when the community reacts with such “anti-hype” towards witnessing the highest levels of play in a given game.

The end of the evening was reserved for the most hotly anticipated games, the first of which was Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3. UMvC3 is widely regarded as being the most frenetic and insane game to watch during finals where anything can happen. Although he didn’t take 1st, the hero of the top 8 was undoubtedly Justin Wong, an long standing veteran and celebrity in the fighting game community who has been making a marked comeback of late, fighting his way through the bracket and knocking out several dangerous and reviled players through savvy, intelligent, unorthodox play. Justin managed to take 2nd but he really won the heart of the crowd. Another crowd-pleaser was the player Angelic whose inclusion of Shuma-Gorath was highly unusual and instantly won the approval of the crowd for his amazing utilization of an obscure character.

Finally to conclude the procession was the finals for Super Street Fighter IV: AE 2012. Some of the most respected players had ended up in the top 8 and every single match was a guaranteed clash of titans. There was not a single match that was uneventful but for me the highlight was Infiltration’s Hakan counterpick against PR Balrog. Infiltration’s usage and win using this extremely underplayed character is a testament to his skill and adaptability as a player, exploiting PR Balrog’s unfamiliarity with the match-up and pulling out a seemingly unlikely win. Other memorable moments include the birth of a meme within the packed main hall of the finals during Infiltration and Tokido’s match. Both players are known for playing Akuma, and the repeated launching of aerial fireballs caused the crowd to imitate the grunting noise of Akuma’s signature attack amidst uproarious laughter. It was a special moment that broke the tension of this intense match because it really solidified the idea of an entire community that had a shared sense of the humor of the situation. But perhaps the most significant takeaway from the finals was the winner overall; the player Xian with his dominant performance using the somewhat-obscure character Gen and his decisive victories are proof that expectations can be shattered and anything is possible in EVO finals.

Overall this EVO has been one of the most successful yet, and I hope to return next year, as will the many thousands of players that congregate yearly for the love of the game and the thrill of the battles that unfold within.





Review: DmC: Devil May Cry

7 04 2013

Ever since the debut of Dante the Demon Hunter on the Playstation 2, the Devil May Cry series became the new standard for what an action game ought to be. Although the series is still fairly young, it has produced more grand slams than strike outs and has gathered a strong following due to the consistent quality and polish of the games, and DMC became one of Capcom’s most successful and hot properties. When the announcement of the latest game bearing the DMC name went live, sporting both word of a new studio at the helm and a much punkier, “emo” look for a younger Dante, there was a backlash of revulsion and doubt. Series fans had their doubts in such a drastic change both in the aesthetics and development for this newly minted image for Devil May Cry, and doubly so since it appeared to be a reboot bearing no numbering or subtitle; an implied end of the “devil we know.” Can the new developer Ninja Theory uphold the pedigree of the series, or will this experiment be a sin against it?

dmcbanner

DmC’s plot takes place at the earliest point yet in the timeline of the Devil May Cry series, preceding DMC3. In DmC, players take control of the youngest iteration of Dante yet and delve a little deeper into the origin story of the Sons of Sparda. Dante’s character is a little rougher around the edges with a “fuck you” attitude, but still exudes the swagger and smarmy charm that we’ve come to expect; more crass than cool and a joker without being (too) juvenile. The overall tone of the game is much ruder and raunchier with a more grungy, urban beat.

Visually the game is quite captivating and this is where it makes the best use of its stylistic divergence. Throughout Dante’s quest he will be repeatedly thrown into the world of “Limbo,” which is a twisted alternate reality dimension where the landscape itself springs to life as a malevolent entity intent on killing Dante any way it can. You’ll be treated to some awesome spectacles as the environment lurches and folds back onto itself like a huge stone serpent, or inverts gravity to change the layout of the level. It’s a world with no rules except the ones that are stacked against you.

The developer Ninja Theory cut their teeth on the PS3 exclusive Heavenly Sword, and their experience carries over into this highly combat-centric game. The general flow of combat will feel familiar to series veterans, chaining together combinations of sword slashes, aerial juggles, and endless streams of bullets to tear apart wave upon wave of demonic spawn. The new addition is a modification of the controls that closely mimics that of Heavenly Sword, in which the L2 and R2 buttons can be held down to modify attacks, instantly morphing Dante’s signature Rebellion sword into “angel arms” or “devil arms” to expand his moveset and adapt to different situations. Additionally, Dante is able to utilize the Ophion chain to snare enemies and either pull himself towards the target or yank the victim towards him, enabling him to execute some very extensive and creative combos. Unfortunately the interesting angel/devil arms system sometimes becomes cumbersome when it is forced upon the player. The various enemies that arbitrarily force the player to use certain weapons eventually end up being obnoxious rather than interesting, and when some of them show up at the same time in a battle, it sometimes begins to feel like a to-do list. Several enemies swing closer to a “bitch” than a “challenge” to fight, when your options for dealing with them feel constrained. The problem could have been mitigated if those enemies made the other attacks less effective rather than completely ineffectual. The most fun to be had is experimenting with crazy attack strings to devastate your opponents and the foes that inhibit that don’t much contribute to the fun.

The Ophion chain is also heavily utilized in navigation and platforming, which is mostly how your time is spent when not in combat. Using the chain to fling Dante around the environment doesn’t quite give the sensation of freedom and exploration; it mostly ends up boiling down to a sequence of button presses that must be made to get from point A to point B, but it does encourage a sharp eye to look for hidden areas where Dante can find hidden items. At its best it emulates the sensation of movement of the PS2 era Prince of Persia games as Dante catapults and bounds about the twisting cityscape of Limbo, but at its worst it can be a miserable crapshoot on gauging distances with poor perspective and visually confusing ques that can be a quick way to drain your health bar for no reason at all (you are penalized whenever you fall from one of these acrobatic sequences). Spotty targeting, camera issues, and the propensity for platforms and ledges in the level design makes for repeated eye-rolling missteps during both the combat and platforming sections of the game.

Devil Arms are still intact for a fair amount of variety, but none sport the originality or gimmicky appeal of previous offerings, but are fairly effective and still satisfying to use. A nice addition is the ability to reassign your unlock points to the various moves available in the devil arms in case you change your mind later or acquire a weapon that really suits you. A large variety of launcher and air-launcher moves coupled with the Ophion chain means that Dante tends to spend a lot of time juggling opponents in the air, and finding creative combinations of moves with the various weapons to create intricate and lengthy air combos is when the game is at its best.

DmC manages to retain the soul of the series throughout, but there are some things that series veterans will find off-putting. In particular the “new” (old?) Vergil will throw off perceptions previously held about this character and will clash with the image that he has held up until this point. There are various winks and nods thrown in to dedicated fans, primarily in trophy/achievement names or in passing by some of Dante’s numerous quips and one-liners. The notorious difficulty of series is maintained, particularly on Nephilim difficulty which is where old hands should go to get the authentic “Devil May Cry” experience.

In the end DmC is somewhat of a misfit, but it has legs to stand on its own. It won’t please every series fan, and it is unlikely to win many new ones, but is still a solid contender that does more things right than wrong. I would recommend DmC to dedicated fans of Devil May Cry that want to see a fresh take on the series as Dante settles in to his demon hunting legs.





Review: Street Fighter x Tekken

9 03 2012

As previously mentioned, this looks to be a very populous year in terms of fighting games, but the premier offering thus far has to be Capcom’s new crossover title, Street Fighter x Tekken which pits two of the world’s most enduring fighting franchises against each other in a once-in-a-lifetime dream battle.

SFxT represents the first of a pair of games which is the result of a collaborative effort between the two companies, and this game represents Capcom’s interpretation, and thus much more closely resembles traditional Street Fighter gameplay than Tekken’s 3D environment. That said, the Tekken characters have all made an impressively faithful transition to the 6-button 2D style and an entire 50% of the game’s cast of about 38 characters are all “new” to the 2D battlefield. On the whole they have done a great job porting the Tekken cast to the Street Fighter system while still retaining many of their signature moves and overall style of each of the characters, and several modifications to the Tekken warriors’ arsenal have been granted to allow them to integrate well and be competent and powerful in the new environment. The cast of characters on both sides are well represented, but mostly defaults to the flagship cast over truly unusual inclusions, but I suppose that should be expected for the first meeting of these two historical franchises.

I was instantly attracted to the Tekken characters because they represented effectively new blood to the Street Fighter format and had incredible depth to explore. However, beginning players may be frustrated using the Tekken characters at first because most players lack knowledge of those characters’ “game plan” to be effective in the 2D arena. Losing repeatedly to Hadoken, Shoryuken, and j.FK will be very discouraging but learning the individual tools to counter and dismantle the older-than-time strategies of the Shotokan and other SF veterans is one of the game’s internal Everests; a difficult climb but a satisfying challenge to master.

In terms of general gameplay, I feel that it is best described as a hybrid/middle-ground between SFIV and MvC3. Basics like footsies and positioning are still integral to play, but lengthy and damaging combos increase the lethality of openings and opportunities. This helps to reinforce the marriage of the two different game styles, with the fundamentals of Street Fighter and the “dead in 2 combos” high stakes of Tekken. Seasoned players of Street Fighter will comfortably adjust to the game, yet it is different enough to warrant new approaches and perspectives and also has an incredible depth of new mechanics to explore and master. There are several aspects of play that warrant some of the game’s nuanced aspects, like utilizing switch mechanics effectively, but these too will quickly become second nature to perceptive and dedicated players. I find this middle-ground gameplay refreshing and compelling; it features both strong fundamentals to reward tactical, disciplined play as well as the flashiness to entertain and freedom to experiment.

SFxT’s included modes may be among the most robust offerings yet from Capcom. The ability to play with 4 players simultaneously in tag-team format is a great inclusion and is natural to the game’s basic play rather than a forced addition, and also is a blast. The online modes also seem to be servicable, and even includes features such as saving replays.

Sadly, it appears that the 360 version of the game is notably inferior in several areas, first of which being the exclusion of 5 console specific characters on the PS3, second being the inability to do team-play locally on Xbox Live.

Overall, SFxT is shaping up for me to be one of the most enjoyable releases of the past many years, cherry picking some of the great aspects from recent and historical releases into a new format that scratches the right spot. It is a game that deserved to be decent and it definitely “crossed the line.”

As for the DLC debacle…that is an article for another day.





“Fan”-ning the Flames: “Mega Man” in Street Fighter x Tekken

27 01 2012

I do enjoy a good troll once in a while and the particularly epic series of trolling from Capcom over the still-recent Megaman hullabaloo has been good for several chuckles and shakes of the head. However the latest development in this series of trolling has perhaps gouged a little too deep, even for the amused observer, and unearthed a lot of interesting questions about how companies should handle their own intellectual property.

For those who have not been following the Megaman fallout closely, I will give you a brief, abridged timeline of the key events that lead up to the current debacle:

1987-2009: Megaman, a.k.a. Rockman, is one of the most well known and beloved franchises in the history of video games, selling around 29 million copies over the life of the franchise worldwide. The iconic “blue bomber” has starred in a long running series of games, side series, spinoff games, and even his own animated series. Fans eagerly await the upcoming Megaman Legends 3, the anticipated new entry in a highly popular spinoff series.

2010: Keiji Inafune, lead producer of the Megaman series for over 22 years, announces his departure from Capcom due to what is speculated to be “creative differences.”

2011: Trolling begins. Development on Megaman Legends 3 is suspended indefinitely. The long awaited Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is released, with the iconic Megaman being conspicuously absent from the cast, although his partner Zero is included, as well as Tron Bonne from the Legends line of games.

Late 2011: Despite huge volume of fan requests, Megaman is still absent from the follow up Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, which introduced 12 new characters to the roster. DLC costumes for various characters are teasing acknowledgements and “tributes” to Megaman.

2012: 25th anniversary of the franchise. Proclaiming that “this is my destiny!”, “Mega Man” is announced for the upcoming crossover fighting game Street Fighter x Tekken and he looks like this:

This is my destiny!

At this point I think it is apparent to anyone what Capcom is up to. Petty revenge certainly comes to mind as a way of getting back at Inafune for bailing on the company by way of mistreating his beloved creation. But it is also a pretty flagrant F U to the fans, who have been clamoring for the inclusion of the classic character in some of the more significant releases by the company which are meant to showcase their “mascot” characters. What is baffling is how a company can blatantly snub one of its most enduring fanbases in such a backhanded way. It makes one wonder who calls the shots in the higher tiers at Capcom and what exactly is going through their mind when they sign off on such things.
The interesting question that ultimately emerges is this: How much respect does a company owe to their own intellectual property? Some companies will often make a mockery of their less successful or unpopular experiments as a way of sweeping them under the rug or “apologizing,” but that is clearly not the case in this instance; Megaman is one of the flagship franchises that put Capcom where it is today, even before the heyday of Street Fighter and the like. What they are doing is effectively holding their own character hostage and further alienating a disenchanted fanbase that represents a sizable amount of their support over the years. Is it permissible? Is it ethical? Is it business smart? We see that you know what you are doing Capcom, but with what end in mind? What will become of the Blue Bomber?

Big questions: If you create a something successful that millions of people love, how beholden are you to the IP and to your fans?