January 25, 2013

Wii U Virtual Console Updates

Interesting proposal, Nintendo.

Nintendo's recent bombardment of announcements (most of which were extremely exciting) included one that stated that certain Virtual Console titles would be discounted to just 30 cents for a limited time. 30 cents! The odd number selection is to celebrate the Famicom's 30th anniversary.

30 Years
30 Cents
30 Days

Obviously you have to pick up whatever title is discounted in that month, otherwise you'll have to spend the regular amount of however many dollars on it. And this isn't just a trial or anything like that. It's the full damn game. List is as follows:

January:     Balloon Fight (NES)
February:   F-Zero (SNES)
March:       Punch-Out!! (NES)
April:         Kirby's Adventure (NES)
May:          Super Metroid (SNES)
June:          Yoshi (NES)
July:           Donkey Kong (NES)

The games will also be fully compatible and playable on your Wii U GamePad, which is a refreshing bit of news. I am super excited to play Super Metroid on that thing. Iwata also stated that the Wii U Virtual Console will gradually fill in the rest of the titles already available on the Wii Virtual Console (starting in late Spring), and they will also have full GamePad compatibility. The ability to integrate with Miiverse and have save states will also be included. However, you will not be able to transfer/download purchases you already made to the Wii U directly, you'll have to re-purchase them. This sucks. Even with a super discount of $1 for NES games you already bought and $1.50 for SNES games you already bought, it sucks. It will probably be similar for Genesis and other consoles once they start being moved over.

Sure, people are mad because they already bought the game, why should they pay again, blah blah blah. But really, what we're paying for is more for convenience than anything else. It's not like you can't play those games anymore at all. You just can't play on the GamePad, and you have to shift into the Wii menu first. Iwata also stated they're working on updates to make that process more streamlined as well, which may mean your Wii VC titles will be right on your Wii U menu, you just won't be able to use your GamePad to play. If people are sour over that, then they can just not pay at all and still enjoy the game like they have been. The entitlement discussion gets old really fast. If people think it's worth it, then they'll do it. If not, then they won't. Hooray.

Wish I could be playing Virtual Console EarthBound though. Japan gets to. That's no fair.

Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed

Should have been called "SEGA All-Stars Racing Transformed."

So I picked up a Wii U a couple of months ago, and had a list of the games I planned to buy. Rest assured, there were no Sonic titles on that list. The most recent good Sonic game was Sonic Generations, and before that? Let's just say it's been a while. Sonic recently celebrated his 20th Anniversary. But does it really count if there are multiple years where there was nothing but half-assed, poorly planned crap?

Anyway, I kept reading more and more good things about Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed. Naturally I was skeptical, but most everyone had good things to say about it. I took the risk and picked it up. Turns out those people were right on the money.

Biggest pet peeve? The fact that the word SONIC is the first thing in the title, and he's on the cover five times. A little behind him is Dr. Eggman, and wayyyyyyy off in the distance is a tiny Aiai. This cover is a terrible representation for what the game actually is.

Simply stated, it is a showcase for SEGA's history in the form of an excellent racing game. There are a ton of characters and stages selected from past SEGA titles. They pulled a page right out of Nintendo's book. Someone looked back and said, "Hey, we've been around a long time, right? Why don't we make a potpourri out of what we've got and put it in one game?"

Characters include selections from Golden Axe, Skies of Arcadia, Samba de Amigo, Super Monkey Ball, Jet Set Radio, Crazy Taxi, Shinobi, Space Channel 5, NiGHTS Into Dreams..., Alex Kidd in Miracle World, and Sonic 1/2/3/CD/Adventure. When you look at it like that, SEGA did pretty damn well in creating original ideas, they just faltered at other steps in the process of getting a finished game out to consumers (many times, I might add). And in newer versions of the game (PC), they keep throwing in more characters. I would be having a blast looking through the SEGA history books and trying to decide who I wanted to include.

Stages also pull from all around SEGA's past. Aside from titles listed above, they also include After Burner, Panzer Dragoon, Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg, House of the Dead, Burning Rangers, OutRun, and Sonic Heroes. Just seeing things like Burning Rangers pop up makes me laugh, as I still remember playing the hell out of it on my Saturn. SEGA did a nice job.

The tracks themselves are very well designed, and there are a ton of shortcuts to be found, and locating them all (and being able to navigate them effectively) isn't a walk in the park. Most of the courses also change every lap in some way. For example, in the Golden Axe stage, fire rains down and shatters the road during the third lap, causing you to stay as a plane for a part you were previously a car. Or in the House of the Dead stage, monsters break out of their holding containers to wreak havoc, all while the level of slime rises every lap. Or in Burning Rangers, destruction is rampant during every lap, causing pieces of the building to fall around you and flood waters to rush in. It definitely keeps you on your toes, as most laps will not be the same as the one before it.

Another aspect that really sets this game apart is its single player World Tour mode. You have to complete events to earn stars, which in turn unlocks characters. Higher difficulties yield more stars. But it's not just racing. There's Traffic Attack, where you have to make it to a certain number of checkpoints on a track with a crap-ton of neon cars all over the place, and running into them makes you lose all your speed. Another is Drift Challenge, where you have a very limited amount of time to complete a race, and the only way to gain seconds on the clock is to drift on a marked path in specified zones. Or Boost Challenge, where you have five seconds to complete a race, but while you're boosting, the clock doesn't count down, meaning you pretty much have to continually find ways to boost through the entire race. There's quite a few modes, and most of them are on every track, so if you really want later unlockables, you're going to just have to get good at the game.

There are a thousand and one ways to get speed boosts, and you'll need to learn and utilize them if you're going to beat other players or computers on higher difficulty levels. Boosting from the starting line (small, medium, or large), boosting after drifts (small, medium, or large), boosting after doing tricks on jumps (of which there are billions), boosting after evading offensive items, boosting while transforming (car, boat, plane), etc. There is so much more skill involved than in Mario Kart games.

The game is definitely not a poor man's Mario Kart. Far from it. Mario Kart has an easy control scheme that anybody can really pick up and play, which is part of the Nintendo charm. Racing Transformed is not that kind of racing game. There are similarities, like items you can use offensively and defensively, but most of them require strategic planning and placement. The entire game has a much more sensitive feel compared to Mario Kart's more chunky, forgiving, slower-paced gameplay. The mods for characters (each mod affects Speed, Acceleration, Handling, Boost, and All-Star Mode) actually affect the racer quite a bit, whereas in Mario Kart it's pretty much, "Choose your favorite Nintendo character!"

I don't regret buying this game. On the contrary, I'm really glad I picked it up. It's a lot of fun, and presents a good level of challenge for the completist. It has replaced the multiplayer fallback that is Mario Kart when people come over and just want to play something. But I admit it was a difficult sell just to get them to try it. Once we got into it, though, it was smooth sailing.

Sure, there are a couple of bugs/glitches here and there, but it's SEGA, and honestly I was surprised there weren't more. I only wish they didn't shove Sonic and only Sonic in the title and on the cover. The game really celebrates SEGA's colossal history. If the game is good and worth playing, then SEGA shouldn't be worried about anything. Their compulsion to slap Sonic all over the place just to make sure a game sells to somebody has been a lame practice for years, and it needs to stop. Hell, Sonic is the last character I plan on playing as in this game. When you've got a VMU that rides around in a Dreamcast controller, what else can you ask for?

January 20, 2013

Donkey Kong '94

One of the reasons you had a Game Boy.

Donkey Kong. Arcade phenomenon, made DK and his nemesis the talk of the town. And for good reason. So many good things happened for Nintendo with that one game. It also made them so much money it would make your head spin. Needless to say, Nintendo was going to stick with these characters for quite some time.

Jump to 1994. It's been over ten years since the arcade debut, is it time to finally say goodbye to this archaic piece of machinery? Nope, we're talking about Nintendo, and Nintendo likes to dig into its toy chest of the past. Most of the time it turns out rather well, since it's more than just, "Release the same damn game without changing anything." Some companies have a rich history, but think that slapping a sticker of a popular past character on the surface qualifies it to be a best seller. No dice. Nintendo is smart. That's why they are where they are.

This game is absolutely brilliant. You start with the iconic four stages of the arcade (25m, 50m, 75m, and 100m). You go through Barrels, Pie Factory, Elevators and Rivets. Hooray, there's Pauline.

But what's this? DK is still active, jumps up, shatters the beam you're standing on, grabs Pauline again, and rushes off. Damn. Going through a small cutscene, you run into the Big City, where there are eight brand new stages. This trend continues through nine worlds which hold a whopping 101 stages.

But these aren't just "get to the top" stages. Nope. The way to complete each stage is to find and carry a giant key above your head to a locked door, which is usually in a hard to reach place (and sometimes among fake doors as well). Did I mention that if you drop the key and don't pick it up in about ten seconds, it reverts back to its original location? And these stages aren't flat either. You've got to pick up that key, toss it on conveyor belts, up ladders, across gaps, through enemies, across moving glaciers, you name it. This is also while you're trying to hit switches, avoid enemies/traps, jump onto moving platforms, and climb ladders (which you can't do while holding the key), among other things.

Slight upgrade in level design.

There's a decent amount of enemies. Over 35 different ones, and none of them from the Super Mario Bros. series. Some that just walk, some that charge you down, some that drop things from above, some that swim, some you can grab ahold of to reach new places, some that can be picked up, some that fly, some that shoot things at you, some that like to hide, some you have to ride, some that push you out of the way, some that can bury underground, some that suck your blood, and some that just plain have to be avoided. The game is a paragon of strategic handheld platforming.

The stages are very well designed (these were Nintendo's golden years, after all). They're not small either. The ones that all fit onto the screen all at once are the exception. You've got fire, water, spikes, electricity, monsters, melting ice, pits, conveyors, dissolving platforms, elevators, cannons, strong winds, ropes, ladders, the whole package. The nine worlds are of a good variety too. Big City, Forest, Pirate Ship, Jungle, Desert, Airplane, Iceberg, Rocky Valley, and the Tower. You must also battle Donkey Kong (and sometimes Junior as well) every four stages, and try and reach Pauline while avoiding whatever traps DK has set up for you.

Inside the red is what you can see at once.

There are a myriad of items to help you as well. Special blocks allow you to create ladders for a short period of time. Others allow you to create horizontal beams you must race across. Others allow you to create springs you can bounce on. There are switches that turn pathways on and off, as well as make doors open and close. The Hammer makes a reappearance, and is accompanied by the Super Hammer, which can destroy brick walls and floors.

Create a series of timed beams, ladders, and springs to get the key to the door? No problem.

Pauline's parasol, hat and bag are also scattered throughout each stage, and while you don't have to get them, together they provide a bonus stage. There are two different ones: A slot machine and a wheel of fortune type game. Both can yield extra lives.

Mario's move set in this game was reused in Super Mario 64, as crazy as that sounds. The flips, handstands, backflips, and triple jump were all used here first (and feel just as fluid and responsive). Picking up and throwing objects is very similar to Super Mario Bros. 2/USA. There are also horizontal and diagonal ropes Mario can swing around rapidly and release from to launch across the stage.

The mechanics and physics of the game are very tight and responsive. Some of the later stages require very good timing and skill. It also makes clearing the first four arcade levels pretty easy.

4 Seconds?

The visual style is clean and crisp. There are a lot of animations for Mario, as well as the enemies. Mario can die by being crushed from above, crushed from the side, falling too far, running into an enemy, hitting spikes, fire, electricity, being run over, or running into (and being thrown) by Donkey Kong himself. Each of these deaths has a different (and often comical) animation.

The combination, style, and detail of foregrounds/backgrounds, good lighting/shadows, and just top-notch level design really makes the stages look good, full, and balanced while at the same time not too in your face. It's blatantly obvious how much effort went into this game at every turn.

The sound is outstanding. There are over 40 different music tracks composed, all by Taisuke Araki (who unfortunately hasn't done much more in terms of game music). While the tracks aren't very long, the moods are matched perfectly in terms of intensity and location (e.g. Pirate Ship, Desert), and are rather catchy to boot. The sound effects are also excellent and fit with what's going on exactly. With the limited capabilities of the Game Boy, the sound really stands out as being insanely well done.

There are also tiny features that are a nice touch, and sometimes necessary to complete a level. An examples is being able to throw up the Hammer, climb a ladder, and catch it before it falls past you. Another is while carrying an object, if an enemy runs into you, you drop the object and only become momentarily stunned. In addition, falling from a rather low distance causes you to roll a little bit. Falling from a bit higher makes you crouch in pain for a second. Finally, falling from a great distance is instant death. A nice change from the arcade where if you fell from more than three inches you died.

The massive amount of effort put into this game is obvious. So many little things. If you sit on the title screen for a minute, it changes to a move set demo. Mario raises from a platform below, bows to an audience, and demonstrates his moves on a stage set up just for the occasion. After completing all routines, he bows a final time and is lowered back down below the stage. For just having four directions and a jump button, Mario can do a crap-ton of moves.

Having three save files is nice. Being able to go back to any previously completed set of levels as a starting point is even better. You can look at your best times and scores for any previously beaten level too, in case you want to try and beat your best time. As a bonus, if you complete a level with a certain amount of time left, you get a little bonus animation. Mario dashes through the door as normal, but then comes back and shuts it behind him. Necessary? No. Cool? Yes.

Cutscenes link every four sets of stages, and are a lot of fun to watch. They also serve as tutorials for when there's a new element in the coming stages. The game does an excellent job of informing you what must be done without boring you with tedious explanations (or text, for that matter).

Junior shows up in certain stages and hits switches/levers himself, blocking or allowing you through certain pathways. Homages to the arcade Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr. are plentiful as well.

And the last battle! After seemingly beating Donkey Kong once and for all, you watch him fall from his tower, but there are a bunch of mushrooms falling too...

Yes! You must battle a gigantic Donkey Kong. You have to avoid being smashed in his clapping hands, crushed by his smashing fists, and dodge objects he causes to fall. You must climb onto his face, jump up his moving hands and get to a semi-safe platform and chuck barrels his rampage is causing to fall into his giant mug. It really is a perfect last battle for everything that came before it. This game is the kind of reason I point out as to why I like Nintendo the best.


I also had the enjoyment of playing this on my Super Game Boy, which was the add-on to the SNES that let you play Game Boy games with an SNES controller on your TV in color. It also allowed you to change the color scheme to whatever you wanted, or even to draw over the screen with a marker (Wii U GamePad, anyone?). Donkey Kong '94 was special in that the cartridge had special Super Game Boy features, such as an arcade style border around the gameplay screen, and specific color schemes for each areas. The game was also the Super Game Boy's flagship title, but unfortunately was one of the few Game Boy games that really took advantage of the Super Game Boy's capabilities. The effort put into fully utilizing the Super Game Boy is staggering, both visually and technically speaking.

And that's just the title screen.

I can't even count how many times I played this game as a kid. If I had my Game Boy readily available, I would play it again, and I bet that the cartridge is still in it and ready to go. The replay value of this game is through the roof, and it really pushed the Game Boy to its limits. The series was continued in spirit by the Mario vs. Donkey Kong series, but they aren't nearly as innovative (or good, for that matter). Even as an adult, Donkey Kong '94 is challenging, engaging, and a lot of fun. The game was and is a must-have for any Game Boy connoisseur, or anyone who just wants to know just how good the original Game Boy could be.

January 19, 2013

DC Silver Age Heroes

You are hilarious.

I have attended a few comic conventions in the recent past, and have enjoyed myself quite a bit. I stare in awe at the classic Silver Age and super-rare Golden Age comics on the shelves of dealers. I also stare in awe at those price tags. Even if I had the money, I don't know if I would spend it on that. I like reading comics. I like the stories, artwork, and all that.

Unfortunately for me, as I was growing up, the comics on the shelves of most places that sold them were from the 1990s. At the time, I was a child and thought that's how all comics were. Lots of blood, grim combat with little dialogue spoken aloud, lots of pouches and enormous guns. I watched Batman: The Animated Series and the other DC animated stuff at the time religiously. I also watched some Marvel cartoons (i.e. X-Men, Spider-Man) and enjoyed them very much.

I knew as a child that comics had been around for a long time, but I never really thought about the stories or where characters came from. They were always there, right? In reading Spider-Man, I didn't actually know who Gwen Stacy was, but I had a comic where the Green Goblin talked about her dying. Whatever, it didn't really matter to me. I never asked myself, "Who is Gwen Stacy?" I will add that I was an idiot for not asking questions like these.

The Green Goblin is the Green Goblin, how can there be more than one? Bruce Wayne was always Batman, no one else was ever Batman. How could they be when Bruce Wayne is Batman? Robin died!? No way, he's right here! That must be a lie.

Jump to the present. Obviously I know a bit more, but comics have such a rich history. It's an extremely long process to catch up. And often huge characters and events are cast aside through the course. It's a never-ending process, but I am loving it. The internet also makes it easier to discover and research things. And I'm still just talking mainstream DC and Marvel right now. There's so much I don't even know about still.

So at these conventions, aside from all the crazy-expensive comics, figures, posters, etc., I see these huge boxes filled with "DC SHOWCASE PRESENTS" books. They each have a mainstream DC character on them, multiple volumes for some characters. I find out they're mostly Silver Age stories. The only prior reason stopping me from checking out older stories (as much as I wanted to) was that there was no way to find them other than getting actual issues ($$$) or just reading summaries online, which is not the same. But here come these magnificent volumes, and since it's a convention, everybody has them, and they're trying to get rid of them. Brand new for $5 each. Damn. So I pick up a lot. And I have been reading them ever since.

It doesn't bother me that they're in black and white. And to be honest, there were periods where coloring practices actually detracted from the line work. The stories, for the most part, are engaging, hilarious, and overall pretty awesome. And since they're books, I don't have to worry about them falling apart or anything like that. There's about twenty issues in each volume (in chronological order, to boot). Fifty books? You've got 1,000 issues right there.

The stories. Man, the stories. There are ridiculous villains, heroes, events, situations, the whole package. The dialogue is laugh-out-loud funny. I'm not saying it's funny because they're bad. They're really damn good. It's just such a different time. If stuff like this came out now, I don't know how long it would survive. But at the time, that was the norm for hero stuff, and the humor in them has circled around to being what we consider funny again. I can't recommend checking them out enough. Heroes I never even knew anything about other than names and basic ability (e.g. The Elongated Man, The Atom, Martian Manhunter, etc.) have such a good history. I am mad at myself for not looking for these sooner.

Marvel also has their "MARVEL ESSENTIALS" line, which is exactly the same thing, except there's a lot lot lot more of them, and they go all the way into the 1990s, whereas the DC ones tend to stop near the mid to late-1970s with the later volumes.

Namco History

The pioneer's pioneer.

Namco has been around for quite some time. But they are more than just "the Pac-Man company." Here's a list of some of their achievements:

King & Balloon (1980) - First game with synthesized speech

Rally X (1980) - First game to feature a bonus round

Bosconian (1981) - First game to have a 'Continue' feature

Pole Position (1982) - First 3D racing game with driving controls

Xevious (1982) - One of the first vertically scrolling space shooters

Pac-Land (1984) - First complex side-scrolling platformer

Dragon Buster (1984) - One of the first games to feature a life bar

Motos (1985) - First game to calculate damage based on weight

So many of these things we take for granted. But you walk into any place that has one or more old arcade cabinets (which is such a historic thing now), that game might not have a continue option, or a bonus round, because at that time they didn't exist. Somebody had to say, "Hey, what if you could put in more money and continue from where you died?" And they had to find a way to make that work with the limited programming space available. It just seems so absurd that someone had to say that.

Before the point of gaming handouts, if you were good, you didn't die. Period. Many gamers today (especially younger ones) have little to no patience, and expect to be handed infinite continues, an ability to save wherever and whenever they damn well please, and a difficulty level that isn't difficult at all. When you present games from the 1980's (e.g. Pac-Man, Galaga, Donkey Kong), and play those games with them, it's comical to see how quickly they die three or four times and ask, "Where's my guy?" And upon finding out that that's it, the game is over, they look incredulous. Who's playing the joke? Is the game broken? Why didn't I win? How do you beat that guy? Is it even possible to win?

Then comes the big difference, the fork in the road. Some say (and they're the people I want to play games with), "Let me try it again." They have a penchant for challenges, enjoy getting replay value out of a game, and building up their skill level. They will keep trying (and improving) because they're thinking about it while they're doing it, not just blindly mashing buttons and slamming joysticks. They start to understand better how the controls work, what their timing has to be. Sure, frustration is a part of it, but when they die and yell, "ARGH!" they're smiling and laughing at the same time. It is such a good feeling to watch a kid play Ms. Pac-Man with that intense look of focus and determination on their face, totally oblivious to the world around them, because they're gonna eat all those dots if it's the last thing they do, dammit.

Then there's the other people. After they lose the first time and find out the game is over, that's it, they look at the game like it's a piece of junk.

"Do you have any games that are good?"

Because they are not instantly brilliant at a game, it must be crap. These are the people, kids up to adults, that are used to everything being handed to them in games. They are used to putting in codes before the game even starts for infinite lives, unlimited ammo, invincibility, etc., often before they've even played the game without these things first. These are the people who buy the player's guide in the same purchase as the game itself. Because thinking is hard, am I right? When they try a game out (even modern ones), if it requires more than a little effort, "It's stupid." When you watch these people play these older games, they have that vacant look on their faces, like they'd rather be anywhere else in the world. Watching them play, you'd swear their hands aren't connected to their brains whatsoever, because they seem to be moving in erratic, uncontrolled, uncaring spasms. Where are the explosions? The instant respawns? I can only move in two directions at only one speed. What kind of crap is this?

I'm not saying everyone has to like Xevious, but if one calls themselves a 'full-fledged gamer', they should at least be aware that games have existed for quite some time before Call of Duty. And with the beauty of the internet, it is so easy to immediately try them out on your computer or console, and it's usually free. If not, it's cheaper than a map pack DLC. I have (and still try) to try out as many different games in as many different genres as I can, just to be able to know what is happening. Even if I don't like some of them that much, it's still part of what is happening. I find gaming history fascinating, and respect companies like Namco immensely for their contributions and innovations to the industry. Companies like that have managed to survive all the pitfalls that strike other companies at some point (multiple times, even), and have adapted to survive and thrive even today. The fact that they're still around and making quality games (on and off) is impressive in itself.


New Smash Bros. Game Thoughts

Characters? Assist Trophies? Combos? Stages?

The new Smash Bros. game doesn't have a set release date yet, but what has been revealed is that Sora Ltd. (one of the main developers of Brawl) with work with Namco Bandai on this new installment. I am excited.

Namco Bandai's recent fighting feats include Soul Calibur V and Tekken Tag Tournament 2, which were pretty damn good in my opinion. You can't argue that both of those franchises have a large amount of success, otherwise there probably wouldn't be five or more of each.

I think that with Namco Bandai near the head of this game, it could take a step more towards the Melee side of the series, where things are fast-paced, skill is more rewarded, and there is less of, "Hey! You just happened to hit that glowing thing by chance and now I'm dead!" Don't get me wrong, I like Brawl a lot, I just like the pacing of Melee's combat better. It seemed less clunky control-wise. They tried to put Brawl in with the other 'family friendly let's-play-all-together' games, but I never played any Smash game with my family, nor did I have an urge to. I played with people who were around my skill level who enjoyed the series for what it was.

So, are we talking a mainstream Namco character in this one? As obvious as the decision may seem, Pac-Man could actually be the perfect choice. I could see a Final Smash where he eats a power pellet and all other characters turn blue-ish, and Pac can just run into them, consume them, and their eyes go zigzagging off the screen. He has gloves, he can punch, he can have that wakka-wakka sound while he's moving, akin to Mr. Game & Watch's ticking steps.

And since the game is Nintendo, and Nintendo is all about delving into its past, they can pick and choose attacks from all those old Pac-Man games. Even though they might not be great (or even good), they still have unique things about them. I'm talking Professor Pac-Man, the Pac-Man World series, Super Pac-Man, and the like.

Who says he can't use that slingshot from Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures? Or don his Professor Pac-Man hat, glasses, and smack you with that stick? Or have the fairy from Pac-Land help you attack? Why not have the magic boots from Pac-Land as an item, which would give you many more jumps than normal? Or the fruit from mazes included in the other food percentage-reducing items? Or make any of the Pac-Man World maps a stage in itself? Or chuck that key from the maze right into somebody's face? As long as they don't ruin any new characters like they did Sonic. For such a push to have him, most of his moves are the same. Spin. Spin. Another spin. Nobody I know plays as Sonic. He could have been a cool character to use, too. Shame.

What about Assist Trophies? Holy crap, there are a million and one awesome things they could do. What's that? The Galaxians showed up and are all zooming and shooting down the screen? Dig Dug is running around the stage trying to pump up/explode other characters? The Pac-Man ghosts are zigzagging around the stage following players' paths? Why not make a stage with all Namco arcade classics cycling through, kind of like the WarioWare, Inc. stage from Brawl? Speculation is so much fun.

In the 1980's alone, Namco released over sixty games. Sixty. I'm sure not all of them were games to write home about, but there were definitely some treasures in there. Namco is one of the companies with a history of landmarks as big as Nintendo's, sometimes even bigger. And since the Smash Bros. series has a history of showcasing little-known gems (e.g. Ice Climbers, Pit, Captain Falcon, Ness etc.) by those who are younger or never go outside mainstream games, it seems like a perfect fit that many of those Namco games could find a resurgence in being known and appreciated. I know that everybody knows who Ness is now, but back when the N64 Smash Bros. came out? I can't tell you how many times I heard, "Oh, they made him just for this game. He's an original character." Or for Samus, "I think it's pronounced sa-moose." Or for Falcon, "I have no idea where he's from."

What if the Smash Bros. series got combos? If the developers could make it work well, it would be a huge addition to the series, and throw a completely new strategic element into the mix. Between N64 and Melee, there was a huge change. Between Melee and Brawl, not as big. They really need to pull out something new that will make a big impact for this one. For me, having connectivity between your Wii U and 3DS isn't enough.

I'm looking forward to you, new Smash Bros. game.

Tekken Tag Tournament 2

Nostalgia city.

It has been a long time since I've picked up a fighting game and had the urge to really delve into it, and build up some skill that isn't, "Look how fast I can mash these buttons." I would say the most recent is SSB Brawl, which in itself isn't really a traditional fighting game. But Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is really pushing for a fighting game I really want to delve into. The last Tekken I played hardcore was Tekken 3 (on an upright cabinet, no less). I loved it. The ridiculousness of characters, the cool grabs and combos available, the homages to icons (e.g. Bruce Lee), the additional modes (PlayStation version), just the whole package. I dabbled in the later installments, mostly to check out new characters, backstories, endings, etc., but none of them really had that hook for me that 3 did.

That was over fifteen years ago(!). Then I picked up TTT2. It pretty much solved the problem of, "Man, I wish I could play as so-and-so, but I'd have to find Tekken 3/4/5/6." Most everybody is in this one, and the controls and response feel as crisp as they did all those years ago. The music is excellent, and tiny features like being able to select what music plays in what stage is a nice touch. Visually, the game is very appealing. The character roster is as bright and colorful as ever, and the stages don't leave much to be desired, especially with the breakable floors, walls, balconies, no walls, and variety of sizes.

I have the Wii U version, which means I get Tekken Ball! A strangely addictive fighting/pseudo-volleyball mini-game that my brother and I have a blast playing. I also get all the DLC right off the bat, which I appreciate very much.

The amount of customization that can be made on characters is pretty cool (clothing, accessories, etc.), and there are a lot of items that go hand in hand with the humor that permeates the Tekken franchise. I also enjoy the Fight Lab mode, which is a way to learn the mechanics of the game while at the same time customizing your character (Combot, a super fighting robot). It forces you to actually learn aspects of the game instead of just mashing buttons. For example, one of the stages has opponents that only take damage by Tag Assaults, so you must learn to use them effectively in order to advance.

There are some downsides though, naturally. The menu system is extremely labyrinthine and tedious at times. For example, at the character selection screen, I select "Tag", which means I want to use two characters for the next battle, I choose Lei for my first. But oh! I see Kuma, I want Kuma as my first character instead. So I hit the back button, and the game informs me that I will return to the main menu. Not the character menu, the main menu of the entire game. There's a lot of, "Why would they do that?" menu paths throughout the game. It's just poor planning. And as fun as the game is, there are certain balance issues between characters, with some having moves that don't take long at all to execute, but take out an extreme amount of damage. This is especially frustrating while playing online, where you have built up legitimate skill with a character, but someone plays as a single character (making them stronger than normal since they don't have a tag partner) and manages to repeatedly use that one cheap move to wipe you out in no time.

All in all though, I am enjoying the game very much. It is hard to believe that Namco has developed both the Tekken and Soul Calibur franchises, since both are so successful, and so incredibly different. And the fact that each one has over five main games in the series that have all done quite well is an achievement in itself. It also bodes well for the next game in the Smash Bros. series, since Namco Bandai is co-developing the game with Sora Ltd.

Wii U Virtual Console

Waiting for the (hopeful) eruption.

Wii U owners (myself included) have been disappointed with the amount of content available on the Virtual Console. The 3DS has a veritable flood of content that is updated almost every week, yet the Wii U has seemingly been left out in the cold. But as always, rumors circulate.

What I am hoping for is a process similar to the Wii to Wii U save data transfer (which I enjoyed watching immensely), where all of your Virtual Console purchases are taken over in a matter of minutes. I would also like an option to purchase VC titles directly onto the Wii U. The backwards-compatible inclusion of the Wii menu is great, but ideally I would only use it for playing Wii games, not having to go to it every time I wanted to do something else the Wii could do. Plus, playing VC titles on the GamePad would be fantastic.

And since GameCube is two consoles ago, I think it is safe to say that it is Virtual Console-worthy. Think about it. Eternal Darkness? Skies of Arcadia? Wind Waker? Paper Mario: TTYD? Battalion Wars? SSB Melee? All available for around $10? Sign me the hell up. Sure, certain titles have been re-released on the Wii (e.g. Pikmin 1/2, Resident Evil, etc.) and I guess can be played on your Wii U, but they're not $10. And while the GamePad control scheme isn't a GameCube controller, it's a hell of a lot closer than the Wii Remote. I am looking forward to turning on my console and saying, "Oh, there are suddenly hundreds of games on the Virtual Console available to me, including GameCube titles."

Playing NES/SNES/Genesis/etc. games on the GamePad would also be a nice feature. I think for most N64/GameCube titles, the GamePad screen might just be a little too small for some details to be noticed, plus the internal speakers on that thing don't really make the cut for me.

I love Nintendo through and through, but it would have been much better had these features been available before the console sat in my house for almost three months (and as of now, it is still just speculation). For Nintendo, it seemed like a very scattered, lackluster, and poorly planned launch. But they have a tendency to make up for mistakes and turn things around. We shall see.