Yeah, it’s been a while, but Shadow Fox and I are back. In this episode, we discuss Brawl, upcoming games, the state of the PS3 and the Xbox, EA’s bid for Take Two and more. Shadow Fox has done an excellent job mixing the podcast together this time and I think it sounds better than ever although there were a few tricks we wanted to use that didn’t work out. We’ll try them next time which should be soon now that we’ve both settled down.
Le Chevalier d’Eon is one of the hallmark anime releases of 2007 here in North America, garnering critical praise and fairly decent sales and publicity. Any decent review will note the complex plot machinations, the clever weaving of fiction with history and the fairly good art and artwork. All of which is true, and yet as I mull over the series having recently finished the last episode, I find myself strangely unmoved. I’ll try to explain why under the fold.
A long time ago, I posted an explainer of what had happened with Minnesota’s videogame violence law and why it was struck down by the courts. Apparently, Minnesota lawmakers couldn’t let well enough alone, so they appealed the decision. And GamePolitics reports that they’ve lost the appeal. This comes as a surprise to precisely no one. It was a little worrisome for a while because the panel of three judges asked some rather pointed questions of the games industry lawyers, and one of them hinted that declaring games to have free speech protection under the 1st Amendment went against her intuition. But in the end, the state couldn’t produce incontrovertible proof that games are harmful to children, so down the law went.
There’s no place to go from here except the U.S. Supreme Court, if the Minnesota legislature even wants to go through the expense of yet another appeal. I really doubt they do, and even if they try, I doubt the Supreme Court will agree to hear the case. They’ve got more important cases on the docket.
I also have to relay the very sad news that missing marine Eric Hall, who I wrote about here, has been found dead. Eric Hall had recently returned from Iraq where he was probably suffering from post traumatic stress disorder after seeing his best friend decapitated in an explosion, and there is a suggestion that playing Call of Duty 4 may have caused him to snap and go running away. That hasn’t been confirmed for sure, and it may be that the only people who end up learning the full story will be Mr. Hall’s close friends and family. I doubt that much of the news media is going to pay much more attention to this story. All the same, I repeat again that this is one case in which a videogame may have led to someone’s death, but even so, that’s no reason for anyone to get worked up. It’s an extreme case, and there are too many unknowns still in the air. There are no political lessons to draw from this. It’s just a very sad story.
You already know about Brawl from lots of sources besides me. Chances are you know how Melee played, and Brawl isn’t too terribly different in that regard. But there are a couple of gameplay tweaks that I’ll point out here, and if you have anything to add, do feel free to comment.
- There are a lot more unconventional angles in the game now. What I mean is that attacks used to be fairly predictably directional. A side smash hits to the side. A down smash hits to both sides. An up special acts as the third jump. Except in Brawl, that’s not always true any more. Zero Suit Samus’ third jump is actually her down special. Snake’s down smash is to lay a mine, not to kick to both sides (in fact, he has no attack hitting both sides at all). And Olimar…well, he’s just weird.
- Even returning characters have had lots of little but noticeable tweaks. My favorite character has always been Zelda/Sheik, and I’ve noticed quite a few changes with her already. Zelda now has a three hit combo, her up attack seems to hit a wider area and Din’s Fire seems to have a larger area of effect. Sheik’s up attack is a vertical axe kick just like before, but it now comes out in two stages going first up and then down instead of quickly swinging around as it used to. Stuff like that makes the character much more balanced and potentially more powerful to play. Unfortunately, it seems that Link has somewhat less range and has gotten even slower. And I’m not really a fan of Mario’s FLUDD attack. I just haven’t seen it used at all.
- There’s so much stuff to unlock that it will probably take me the rest of the year to do it. And that’s ok by me. I just wish some of the trophies and songs were tied to online playing, but I guess Nintendo didn’t want to exclude those of us who don’t have broadband.
- Speaking of online, it has been working ok for me, but I haven’t played any games yet which are quite as responsive as playing offline at home with friends. Even in the fastest games, there is a tiny but noticeable lag between when I input my commands and when they actually come out. Sometimes it’s small enough that I can ignore it more or less, but it’s still there.
- It seems like every new iteration of Smash Bros features an even faster character. This time we have Sonic whose foot speed, naturally, blows everyone else away. I was afraid that this would cause him to run off the edges of platforms a lot, but it’s actually not that hard to keep him on ground. His rolling attacks do send him out of control, but they have a slight stickiness at the edges of platforms that prevent him from flying off into the abyss.
- While we’re talking about new characters, I never got into Ness, and it’s not looking like Lucas will be one of my favorites either. I understand why some people use the Earthbound characters, but they just don’t work for me. Lucario is interesting because he gets stronger the more damage he takes, and despite being Mewtwo’s replacement, he really plays nothing like Mewtwo. I’ve already mentioned Zero Suit Samus’ unusual jumping, but her whip attacks are also very nice. She may end up giving Sheik a run for her money in the agility department. Oddly enough, I find Snake to be most comparable to Zelda. His gameplay is all about properly setting up your opponent and then getting yourself into the right place to deliver a big explosive hit. Ike is probably going to end up being a favorite for many players because he has such huge reach and power which makes what they did to Link all the more annoying. Link may be faster, but he just can’t take more than two or three big smacks from Ike.
- There were hints from Sakurai that he wanted to improve the heavy characters so that people wouldn’t ignore them all the time in favor of Fox, Sheik and Marth. Admittedly, I haven’t had enough time to test them out yet, but my sense is that although Bowser and Donkey Kong are a bit better, they still don’t hold a candle to the faster characters. What I’m seeing in Brawl, though, is the emergence of a powerful group of characters that you might call medium sized power hitters. These are characters who aren’t very big but who punch considerably above their weight. Characters I would put into this class are Zelda, Snake, Ike, Ganondorf and Ivysaur. They all walk a little slowly, but still not as slowly as Bowser. Moreover, their roll dodges can get them around quickly enough to be where they need to be. And the majority of their attacks have large knockback so that they don’t have to hit you with a charged up smash to send you flying. A regular directional attack might do the trick. To counter this, we now have several new characters such as Pit, Meta Knight and Dedede who now join the ranks of Kirby, Peach and Jigglypuff in their ability to recover from almost anything.
- In fact, I’m consistently impressed by how well balanced all the characters are. Every tactic I can think of has a counter tactic, and even the Final Smashes can be avoided if you’re really good. Although I regret certain characters not being included in the game (Mega Man and Lyn, for starters), I can see how much work it would have taken to put even just one more character in. That said, the Space Animal Clones are pretty lame.
- I was prepared to hate Subspace Emissaries, but it actually wasn’t that bad. The final segment with a maze was annoying, but otherwise it was fun to go through. And the CGI cutscenes were often hilarious (there’s one involving a cup of tea that left me grinning). As long as you didn’t attempt any difficult platforming with Bowser, things would work out all right. Tabuu, however, is one of the cheapest bosses ever created. He made me wish for Master Hand again.
- My favorite control scheme is actually the Wiimote and Nunchuk. I mapped jump to down on the control pad which is more or less where the Y button on the GameCube controller is. Everything else works just fine. I’ve found that after all this time, I’ve grown very used to playing games with my hands resting two feet apart. Clutching a controller just feels cramped now.
- This post is getting way too long, but I’ll just end by saying that the soundtrack is awesome. I won’t call it the best original score ever because, well, it’s not really an original score. It may be the best ever official compilation of videogame tunes, though, and it certainly highlights just how much good music Nintendo has produced over the years.
Now why haven’t you added me to your Friend Codes list yet?
I’ll have a post with my thoughts on Smash Bros later (plus Shadow Fox and I will be talking about it on our podcast). For now, here’s my Friend Code. Post yours in the replies.
I’ve long wondered at the inanity of videogame release dates. For the past several years, it seemed like publishers only cared about three months at the end of the year when they would release all their high profile games. Of course, this is a sensible thing to do if you expect high sales from the holiday season, but when everybody releases their big games at the same time, something invariably gets overlooked. Remember what happened to Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time? Or Beyond Good & Evil? Moreover, this practice of piling releases at the end of the year leaves us with heavy droughts at the beginning of the year and in summer.
This past year, though, things seemed to play out a little differently. There were still lots of high profile releases. When Halo 3, Super Mario Galaxy, Bioshock, Mass Effect, Call of Duty 4, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune and The Orange Box are all released within a few months, you have a very dense schedule by any standard. And yet, there seemed to be enough room to go around. All of the aforementioned games have sold very respectable numbers. We still had a drought in January, but things are picking up now. Ubi Soft apparently learned their lesson because although they originally planned to release No More Heroes around the same time Smash Bros. Brawl is launching, they instead bumped up the release date significantly so that the game could have a weekend all to its own. From most accounts, No More Heroes still hasn’t sold all that well, but it’s probably doing better than it would have been.
By the same token, we now have news that Okami for the Wii, originally scheduled to be released in the same week as Brawl, will instead be released in April. Hopefully, this will lead to good sales for Okami and a strong message that there is a demand for this kind of quality gameplay on the Wii.
Meanwhile, we already know that the summer is not going to be totally barren because Metal Gear Solid 4 is coming in June. Whatever you may think of the series (and I’m certainly not its biggest fan), it’s sure to generate lots of interest.
We’ll have to wait and see what publishers have in store for us this holiday season. I don’t know if 2007 was a fluke or if publishers have finally realized that mashing so many blockbusters together is a sure recipe for mutually assured destruction. I certainly hope it’s the latter. If the videogame industry can develop a summer season similar to how it’s done in the movies, our favorite hobby could get much healthier.