Monthly Archives: April 2013

Super Smash Step-Brothers: Knuckles

Welcome to Super Smash Step-Brothers, where I crush hopes and shatter memories of gaming fans everywhere.  Today we will be discussing a character that is not talked about as much as a potential entrant to the Universe of Smash, but is nonetheless, an option and so we shall discuss it.  Sonic’s friendly rival: Knuckles.

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Knuckles is an echidna that hails from the floating island, first introduced in Sonic the Hedgehog 3.  He is the guardian and protector of the island and it’s greatest treasure, the Master Emerald.  In Sonic 3, Knuckles is tricked by Eggman (also known as Dr. Robotnik) to keep Sonic away from the emerald.  Knuckles uses his cunning and knowledge of the island to impede Sonic’s progress all along the way.  Sonic 3 leaves this plot thread hanging, leaving it to be wrapped up in Sonic & Knuckles, where Knuckles eventually realizes he has been tricked.  Learning of this, he helps Sonic in his campaign against Eggman in order to retrieve the Master Emerald from his greedy clutches.

While stories of villains turned heroes are commonplace in gaming today (and in the Sonic franchise especially), Knuckles was one of the first occurrences of this in a video game — certainly in one as prolific as the Sonic series.  It was a break through in game storytelling, since Knuckles’ animosity and change of heart is shown without a word of dialog.  This made Knuckles more relatable; he made mistakes, and tried to even the score.  Knuckles showed real humanity in a video game character, and thus became more popular than other characters in the series for a time.

The other reason Knuckles became so popular was the fact that he simply had more abilities than Sonic.  His portrayal in Sonic 3 made it blatantly clear that, no matter how fast Sonic was, Knuckles was still better.  Every stage Knuckles showed up, he was still just a little faster and a little smarter than Sonic, ready to thwart him at every turn.  While Eggman’s tricks and traps had become predictable at this point already, Knuckles was something new, and a stronger obstacle to overcome.  Even once he became a playable character, he could glide, climb walls, and knock down rocks leading to areas Sonic and even Tails may never see in the games.  The Sonic games were all about speed, but with Knuckles, players could really explore the stages.  In the late 90’s there was no question who would win a fight between Knuckles and Sonic, because Knuckles seemed to have every advantage.

His popularity led to him having his own spin-off game on the 32X titled Knuckles’ Chaotix, co-starring a number of other characters that would be forgotten for several years.  While the game allowed Knuckles to take center stage, it didn’t exactly leave a strong impression on the gaming community.  Add to that the fact that the 32X would eventually be eclipsed by the Sega Saturn, Knuckles’ only game was left in want of more spotlight.

While Knuckles has started to fade into the background due to overcrowding in the Sonic series, he still remains a staple of the franchise.  In the Sonic Adventure games and in Sonic Heroes, he is usually the ice to Sonic’s fire — being careful and restrained when Sonic is ready to rush on ahead.  Despite not opposing Sonic in these titles, they still serve as foils to each other, making their relationship when working together all the more interesting.  It’s complex dynamic, and one that could be explored in Smash Brother’s story mode, if only a little.

That being said, Knuckles would be a good, if unusual, addition to the Smash cast.  In more recent games, Knuckles is portrayed as less speedy, and more of brute — being able to use his giant spiked hands to punch out enemies and knock down walls.  He’s still fast though, so he could easily out-pace most of the Smash Brothers cast.  He has used a variety of skills over the past several decades, including the ability to glide, cling and climb walls, burrow through the ground, and even use Sonic’s trademark spin dash.  The Sonic Adventure series allows him to initiate a diving drill-like attack while in the air to catch enemies below him unaware, and his powerful punches can send even the strongest eggbot flying.  Knuckles has just enough elbow-room in his repertoire that making a sizable moveset for him for Smash Brothers is not an issue.

There are still plenty of other issues with him trying to get into Smash Brothers, however.  Unlike other possible options, Knuckles’ inclusion relies on positive answers to the following questions:  will Sega allow Sonic to return, and will they be able to support more than one Sonic character?

While I’ve already discussed some of my thoughts on Sonic’s inclusion here when Sega’s future was looking bleak, I will still say that there is yet to be a guarantee that Sonic will make the cut this time.  If Sonic does triumph, it certainly adds to Knuckles’ chances of getting into Smash Brothers; however, if there is no Sonic there is definitely no chance of seeing Knuckles, since he himself does not constitute a Sega representative on his own.

The second question, whether or not the game will support a second Sonic character, and that one character being Knuckles is a big one.  Other Sega titles, such as Knights into Dreams, Madworld/Anarchy Reigns, and Bayonetta are viable alternatives for inclusion if they wanted to add another Sega character.  Even within the Sonic franchise, there are other options to go with.  Tails has been Sonic’s faithful companion since before Knuckles was even conceived   Eggman has been the villain in almost every Sonic title.  Shadow presents a more modern edgy alternative (though better suited for an alternate outfit).  Even Blaze would be a better option since she appeared in all the Sonic Rush titles on the Nintendo DS.  Knuckles is still better equipped than most other competitors for a fighting game, however.  So, while his chances are not terrible, there are still a handful of characters that would likely come ahead of him.

It’s also worth mentioning, that the Knuckles of today isn’t exactly the Knuckles of yesteryear.  Starting around the release of Sonic Riders, Sonic Team started making Knuckles more like his appearance in the Sonic X television show — loud, rash, and somewhat obnoxious.  This is very contrary to the Knuckles many of us gamers used to know — the Knuckles that was resourceful, level-headed, and intelligent.  His portrayal in a new Smash Brothers would likely be looking toward the modern interpretation as it’s inspiration, which may turn off some old school fans.  While it doesn’t change how he would likely be used in the game, it might be something die-hard Knuckles supporters may want to consider.

Probability Forecast: “Mostly Unreasonable”

My forecast for Knuckles’ chance of being in the next Smash Brothers as a playable character is “mostly unreasonable.”  If Knuckles somehow showed up as a playable Smash Brother, I would purchase a 3DS and proceed to eat the box.  The only concession I give Knuckles is the 3DS instead of the WiiU, as the 3DS will be less cardboard to eat in the rare chance I’m wrong.

Agree or disagree?  Have a concern I missed, or evidence to the contrary?  Have other suggestions that need to be addressed in this series?  Let me know in the comments below.

Announcement: The next installment of Super Smash Step-Brothers will be a viewer requested submission, so start putting your ideas below.  One of those suggested will be reviewed in the next installment just before E3.

Videos used in this article: frostedfroslass Sonic and Knuckles Sky Santuary,  coolme08 Knuckles Chaotix Techno Tower Level 1, Boundless09 Knuckles’s Anger Problem (Part 1).

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Quick Impressions: Injustice: Gods Among Us (console)

Since I’ve been talking about this topic for the past couple of weeks, Quick Impressions seemed less appropriate this go around. While I still have had nowhere near the experience with it I feel necessary to give a full review, this is likely be the most in depth I have covered a game so far.

For those who haven’t been paying attention this past week, Injustice: Gods Among Us is a fighting game featuring DC Comics heroes and villains, and comes from Netherrealm Studios, the same team responsible for the recent Mortal Kombat reboot. A demo was released a few weeks ago, which I picked up for both PS3 and XBox for a look, which you can find here. Also, Netherealms developed an iOS version of the games, you can also find here. But now the full game is out, so it’s time to see if we have a final verdict on Injustice.

Most of what I said regarding the demo in terms of the fighting engine is the same. The system will feel slightly off to both Mortal Kombat veterans and Street Fighter fans, and will take some adjustment. Thankfully, however, the game provides a number of ways to alleviate that. The frame data on the move list in the demo is still present, so number crunching veterans can acclimate to what to use and how. The game also allows you to change up the button layout freely, making this perfect for someone using a fightstick, or a newbie with a sticky trigger finger. Additionally, you can change to an alternate control method, which changes the special attack motions from traditional Mortal Kombat style, to half-circle and quarter circle motions similar to Capcom fighters. I’ve found this helps if the player is restricted to a 360 stick for motions, though your mileage may vary (much like Max’s does here). The game will allow you to save up to 5 different presets, which is a nice feature to have.

Another feature worth mentioning is the variety of single player modes in the game. While it still has the ladder battles, similar to the one in the demo, it also includes ‘S.T.A.R. Labs’. ‘S.T.A.R. Labs’ is a quintessential mission mode which will teach some basics with the character, while also providing unique and varied objective-based matches as well. In some cases forgoing straight up fighting for quick-time based missions. Playing this mode grants stars, which will allow access to further missions as you go along.

The most important, however, is the story-mode. The story takes place primarily between two timelines — one in which the Joker nuked Metropolis and drugged Superman so he would kill his wife, and one in which this is somehow prevented. Superman of the first timeline kills his timeline’s Joker and creates a military state ruled by him and the heroes and villains that side with him. His opposition is Batman among others. Elsewhile, in the second timeline, a handful of heroes and the Joker are sucked out of their timeline into the Regime’s timeline. The player follows the characters as they learn of this world’s past, fight for it’s future, and try to find a way back home in the process.

The story is a little cooky, but that’s not out of place for comic books or fighting games. However, it offers some interesting twists and turns, and some very creative scenarios. The plot is surprising detailed as well; for instance, the whole reason someone like the Joker can get blasted by bullets from Deathstroke’s rifle and shrug it off is thanks to a pill Superman developed for his goons to prevent them from physical harm.

The major flaw in the story so far is the pacing. The story is told in chapters highlighting certain characters, and for the most part it works well. However, parts of the story tend to drag where others fly by far faster than they should. The best example is Cyborg’s chapter, where he has to team-up with an alternate timeline Deathstroke. The dialog tries to convey Cyborg’s contempt for Deathstroke, but they simply don’t have enough time in their few scenes together to really savor the tension between them. Later, however, a scene where Cyborg is counter-hacking his else-world self tends to drag as you await the inevitable fight match between the two selves. It’s also worth mentioning that Lex Luthor’s chapter is basically a plot U-turn, retelling parts of the story that already happened to catch him up so the story can continue.

Bear in mind, I only made it halfway through the story so far, so I can’t be the best judge of this yet. Overall though, while flawed, it is still enjoyable.

“Flawed, but enjoyable” remains true for other aspects of the game unfortunately. As I stated in my impressions of the demo, character models are passable for the most part, except for some glaring issues — such as Wonder Woman’s collar bone jutting out unnaturally in her default skin. Batman’s magic grappling hook returns again from the demo; I have also found that Shazam’s lighting bolts go through Luthor’s head harmlessly if he crouches down. There are some more game effecting issues out there (such as this one), but these seem to be rare and the ones I found are really just odd graphical quirks.

The last major issue I found was one that I did not really think about until I saw Maxmilian dood’s review. The game doesn’t really have much in terms of background music. The effects sound good, and the voices are top notch, but there is so little music there may as well not be any. This isn’t really a game breaker per say, after all I didn’t even notice it until I saw Max’s review, but it’s worth noting in any case.

The biggest question for a fighting game though, is multiplayer, and particularly online multiplayer. While Mortal Kombat 9 had some issues in this regard, most of these have been ironed out for Injustice. While I have yet to play anyone outside of my region, the matches I did participate in felt smooth for the most part, with only the occasional issue with lag. Online multiplayer also offers a variety of play modes — traditional ranked and unranked matches, as well as King of the Hill and Survivor modes. Survivor mode is the most enjoyable, as it’s a basic King of the Hill type mode, but the winner retaining only the health from the previous match — this means that ‘the King’ tends not to stay on the throne for very long and mixes up the fight ticket more often.

Offline multiplayer is strictly one-on-one as you would expect, but it’s worth keeping your eyes pealed on the loading screens, as they occasionally offer challenges to earn more xp at the end of the match, putting an interesting spin on the standard versus modes. It’s worth noting as well, that the xp earned here, and in other modes stays on your record and effects your ranking in online multiplayer as well.

At the end of the day, Injustice is a love letter to fighting fans of every breed. The vast assortment of single player modes and the lower bar for execution is clearly made for more casual fighting fans and new players; meanwhile, there are plenty of modes, tools, and depth that fighting veterans can enjoy it as well. When you put it together with the iOS version, the game is a much more involved and engrossing experience than anything in the genre to date. Despite it’s few flaws, the grandeur of this game behooves any true fighting game fan to at least give it a try. And for anyone not already into fighting games or comic books, this title may just change your mind on both counts.

Injustice: Gods Among Us is available from Netherrealm Studios and WB Interactive, and characters and games are property of such. Impressions were taken from 2 hours of online multiplayer, 7 hours of single player, and 5 hours of offline multiplayer on the XBox 360 version. Also, the following articles were used for reference for this review:

http://o.canada.com/2013/04/16/interview-ed-boon-discusses-mortal-kombats-inspiration-and-injustice-gods-among-us/

http://nureviewsnetwork.com/2013/04/17/injustice-glitches-among-us

http://o.canada.com/2013/04/18/review-injustice-gods-among-us-simplifies-the-fighting-game-genre/

Miles923’s Injustice review, and Tutorial

4 Games for Earth Day!

So another holiday nearly passed me by, mostly because asking people who typically spend their days in a dark room in front of a computer screen to remember an outdoorsy holiday like Earth Day is almost a lost cause.

Hoping to buck the trend, I decided to look at the top 4 classic games that carry an environmentalist message.  These are games that either subtly, or not so subtly attack the pollution and devastation we ourselves bring upon the world.  So without further ado…

4)  Donkey Kong Country

Now one could argue that the Kremlings are just as environmentally unconscious as the Kongs for most of the game.  Seeing how, the Kongs build houses, shops, various barrels, and even planes out of forest material.  However, this becomes moot once you hit the final world.  The last world before facing K. Rool himself is a heavily industrialized area, with poisoned ponds and factory smoke blocking out the sun.  This jaunt into K. Rool’s doorstep is a real eye-opener when it comes to the measures the Kremlings have gone to, and how much damage they are doing to the poor island.

Game Theory, however, brings up that this all likely points to other possible references.  Also, it becomes difficult to square this message with the rest of the series, so it only manages the bottom of this list.

3) Sonic the Hedgehog

This might seem a bit odd, but consider the premise for a moment.  A hedgehog chasing down a fat human who turns animals literally into robots.  What’s more, of the original stages, only Green Hill Zone represents what appears to be a natural environment.  Even then, those loop-de-loops, twisting bridges, and underground tunnels were not likely produced naturally either.  In the first game anyway, Robotnik’s chief and sole sin is slowly killing Sonic’s planet with his technology.

This idea gets harder and harder to square up to the series as it progressed, especially once you hit the Dreamcast and it’s focus on beach front property.  Regardless, however, the subtly of this message is admirable, especially in our day an age when such a message would be far less so.

2) Vectorman

Not knowing the story of the game, you might be confused by Vectorman’s inclusion.  Vectorman, afterall, is pretty much the Megaman of the Sega Genesis, blasting giant robots with a variety of weaponry.  However, his origin makes the difference here.

Vectorman is the clean-up crew sent to by the humans to clean up the mess they left behind on Earth.  Yes, Vectorman is Wall-E with a hand-cannon.  Humanity ruined the planet to the point that they can’t even stay there anymore; therefore, they send robots to try and fix it.  The robots, called orbots, basically caught wind of this scheme and decide to revolt, leaving the place a mess.  While the robot rebelion is on the forefront more than the environmental themes, it does bring a new light to the dystopia you have to traverse in the game, as well as it’s sequel.

1) Final Fantasy 7

Some might call this cheating, since this was on the original Playstation, but the themes in Final Fantasy 7 make it the strongest contender in this contest.  From the heroes fighting the evil corporation trying to drain the planet of it’s Materia, to the Earth itself coming to save it’s inhabitants from the Meteor that would otherwise destroy all life on it’s surface.  Final Fantasy 7 drills the point in they player’s head that the planet isn’t just a resource, it’s alive.  To kill it as Shinra does throughout the game is both morally wrong and against their own self-interest when Meteor comes into the picture.

I will admit that I am beside myself on Final Fatasy’s environmental message for two reasons.  For one, the environmental message is about as subtle as a two-by-four to the face at first.  However, it doesn’t portray the men of Shinra as evil for the sake of being evil, just greedy and ignorant of the problems they are creating.  Even though they start as the main villain, it’s Sephiroth and the Meteor that are the ultimate antagonists of the game.  The other issue is the idea that the Earth is alive.  To paint the planet as a living breathing creature, possible of having mercy on it’s inhabitants is a little trite and in no way realistic.  However, personifying it in such a way emphasizes why the practices of real-world Shinra’s are not to be ignored.  Nevertheless, the game is full of other interesting and compelling themes as well — the environmental message simply scratches the surface.

So there you have it, 4 games with environmental themes for Earth Day.  Now go out there and plant a tree, then you can play these until one grows!

Happy Earth Day!

references:

finalfantasiajustin‘s Final Fantasy 7 edning (with music)

MatthewPatrick13‘s Donkey Kong Country: Banana Wars

Feeble Defense of ‘Always Online’

By now everyone’s heard the rumors and scuttlebutt about the XBox 720 and it’s always online internet connection and how Michael Orth told the XBox community to “deal with it,” and his inevitable firing/resignation. However, the whole thing still stings doesn’t it? I’m pretty sure anyone with a current generation XBox can’t stand the thought that Microsoft is possibly abandoning it’s player base.

Strangely enough, this whole “always online” devices is nothing new in the business world, and I actually worked for one that made money off this whole concept. That puts me in a unique position, maybe not to defend the ‘awlays online’ requirement, as it’s pretty much a lost cause, but to understand the thinking that might be going into it.

So, then now that I’m wearing my flame shield, allow me to elaborate…

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The Brain-trust

Like it or not, someone labeled ‘Creative Director,’ such as Adam Orth, is probably representative of most of the brain-trust that went into the planning phases of the Next XBox. These people are big business types, who have long important sounding job titles to go with their important jobs and long paychecks. They likely live in an urban environment, have more than one mobile device, and do most of the internet surfing at work, saving other entertainment options for their off time.

This colors their character and the ideas they might generate significantly — I know, I worked for some of these types of people. Because their business internet is always connected at work, because their smartphones and other mobile devices can always get a signal, because they rarely, if ever have issues with internet at home, they think the Internet simply exists and cannot imagine a world where they weren’t connected. This means that these types back the ‘always online’ idea because they live it day in and day out.

To a degree, this isn’t entirely uncommon in the United States. Even people living in major cities in the mid-west, such as Chicago, Austin, Nashville, or St. Louis can likely connect to some kind of Internet connection somewhere, even if it’s the coffee house up the road. People who live in these places would not have much of an issue with an ‘always on’ requirement.

Obviously however, this is simply an illusion, as once one starts getting further and further from heavily civilized areas, Internet connection at all becomes more of a luxury. So, there have to be other reasons why someone would get on-board with this idea.

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The Cell Phone

The whole, broadband internet not available everywhere issue would likely be brought up in a board meeting at some point, one would hope at least. However, what device do we use when there’s no direct connection to the internet? Of course, our smart phones.

This is something I have yet to hear being discussed yet, but I suspect if this ‘always on’ technology is at the crux of the Next XBox, it has to have connecting to a wireless service provider in mind for those that can’t jack their cable internet in the back. This may be quite a bit of conjecture I’m throwing out here, but if Microsoft truly is moving into challenge Apple in terms of total service packages, I would not rule this out.

Again though, this has it’s problems too since there are still places where cell phone signals simply don’t reach or can’t connect. Also the signal could still be terrible depending on which wireless service company you have to go with for the device.

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The Not-so Average Consumers

Chances are good, however, that the Next XBox is not being made for the average modern-day consumer — as in, not average, not modern, and not a consumer. I will explain.

First, people are claiming Microsoft will make this into a multimedia machine not just a gaming console, and that’s accurate. It’s not being designed for some cave dwelling troglodyte that most people think of when saying “gamer.” It’s being designed for people to use to bring their family, friends, and loved ones together, and enjoy. When they can’t play games together, they are instantly connected with each other via the Internet and social media functions so they can remain connected to each other.

Second, this will not be a machine for today’s market and infrastructure. The Wii took off and was a resounding success early in this passing generation because it provided a new experience at a reasonable price. It failed to hold it’s lead toward the end of this cycle because the technology had become not just outdated but practically obsolete. The XBox and PS3 felt it too as they had to adopt motion controls similar to the Wii just to push this generation on another few years. Microsoft is not building the Next XBox for the now, it’s building it for the future. It’s being built for a time, in their mind, when the Internet really is ‘always on.’

Lastly, with this ‘always on’ idea, they are clearly not just looking at controlling living rooms with this technology. The company I worked for managed to get away with the idea of their devices being always online because they were selling to businesses. Unlike Joe Consumer, business have to always be online to do business. Particularly in our day and age, 3 minutes of downtime can crush a business. If businesses already need this anyway, a media center style device that requires it always be connected isn’t that much of an issue. What ramifications that could have is anyone’s guess, but I suspect this is the biggest piece of the puzzle with “Project Durango.”

Don’t get me wrong, however, I still think the ‘always online’ requirement is misguided. The gaming community is still the primary audience for XBox presuming it still goes by that name, as such, they still need to attract gamers. However, gamers generally are not interested in a media center device; if they need one, they’d rather piece together a media center out of systems and devices they like. The problems with broadband infrastructure and wireless broadband connection may go away in the next decade, but it will take the majority of it to do so, and thus to make ‘always on’ viable maybe near the tail end of the system’s life span. Lastly, unless businesses want their employees to wave, wiggle, and waggle like buffoons or want their own private arcade, this would be a much harder sell to the boardroom than the living room.

Nonetheless, I suspect what I have outlined here are the guiding principles of the Next XBox, and the thought processes that could have carried this misguided notion as high as it went.

I do not, have not, and likely will not work for Microsoft, the ideas presented here are my own conjecture, or based on rumors that may or may not be substantiated in May.

Super Smash Step-Brothers: Geno

Welcome to a new series I like to call Super Smash Step-Brothers. I don’t know about anyone else, but I get kind of tired of looking up information on the next Smash Brothers, only to get someone’s list of hopefuls, or get pages and pages of forum entries parading or berating others for their Smash Brothers wish lists. My goal is to clear the air on some of the popular choices for Smash Brothers entrants. I will provide information to help others understand why people would want these characters in the game, as well as provide as rational and objective reasons as I can for their exclusion.

Since turnabout is fair play, I am starting with one of my favorite video game characters of all time: Geno.

genocolor

Geno is the name of a popular child’s toy in Mario’s world; or rather, it was at the time that Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars takes place. The toy is referred to as a doll in the game, but evidence suggests that this is something of mistranslation, or at best poorly chosen wording. Geno comes with a wide array of accessories, most of which are replacement arms, which are available all over Mario’s World, even in civilizations in the clouds. This suggests that the Geno “doll” is more of a Geno “action-figure,” with accessories and interchangeable parts.

In any case, after Smithy crashes through the Star Road and into Bowser’s Keep, a lone star spirit is tasked with retrieving the broken pieces of Star Road that fell to Earth. In order to do this, the spirit picks the Geno figure as his avatar, and sets off to save the world. After an encounter with one of Smithy’s minions Bowyer, the spirit is aided by and eventually teams up with Mario and Mallow — asking them to refer to him as Geno, since his name is unpronounceable in their tongue. Together they set forth to recover the pieces of Star Road and return the power to grant wishes to the Star Road.

With the exception of the toy possession, the story of the star spirit (who will simply be referred to as Geno from here on) doesn’t sound terribly original; however, it was definitely breaking new ground for a Mario game. Both Geno and Mallow are characters designed by Squaresoft, so they had a very different feel than other Mario heroes.

Geno in particular was the game’s equivalent to a black mage from Final Fantasy. Geno toted a powerful beam attack, an energy disc notable for dealing 9999 damage, the ability to rain energy from the sky to strike his foes, and even the ability to transform into a cannon to fire a small sun at enemies. Unlike a traditional black mage, however, he also had a number of strong physical attacks, courtesy of his action figure accessories. He can fire bullets from his fingers, cannon balls from his elbow, and even launch his own fists at enemies in a pinch. His arms can also transform into small wand-like barrels with which to fire his Geno Beam or star shots out of. Also, unlike a black mage, Geno is incredibly fast, and is the fastest of Mario’s party members in the game (speed reducing or increasing items and effects not withstanding).

Personality-wise, Geno is pretty one note, dolling out exposition when Mario and company run into something they aren’t familiar with. Otherwise, he is quiet and reserved, only speaking when something needs to be said — though still more chatty than the game’s main protagonist Mario. In many ways, he is like Obi-Wan Kenobi from Star Wars: A New Hope — a guiding force, but not afraid to mix it up when needed.

All these make Geno an oddity in the world of Mario, but he is most likely not remembered fondly just for his stats and powerful attacks or his mentor status, but his sacrifice. (Spoilers) At the end of the game when Smithy is defeated, the star spirit must shed it’s mortal coil to return to Star Road and repair it. This involves a pretty powerful scene where Mario and company must say goodbye, probably forever, to their guiding force throughout their adventure. The ending manages to carry the bittersweet feeling that victory with loss should. It’s probably the strongest emotion a Mario game has ever managed to stir within me, and I suspect many others as well.

Thus we get into why Geno is requested for Smash Brothers, and why his cult following is, if not large, incredibly vocal. He is the first, and probably only Mario character to be so selfless toward the purpose of others as to give up a mortal existence. He’s the only Mario character who leaves in full knowledge and intention of never returning. His moment of glory was inspiring enough to make fans want him back, not just in Smash Brothers, but anything.

As far as him fitting into the Smash Brothers scene, Geno is a mixed bag. Geno clearly has an arsenal large enough and varied enough that he should be incredibly feasible. However, many of his attacks, such as Geno Flash and Geno Blast (area of effect attacks I mentioned earlier) would make impressive Super Smash attacks, but not regularly accessible specials. His Geno Beam, while an early attack for Geno, is still a beam, which could be too powerful if interpreted wrong.  Even his Geno Whirl, which is the most benign of his attacks can deal 9999 damage if timed correctly in Mario RPG. Translating his magic attacks into a form that’s not too powerful, but still reminiscent of his original appearance is difficult. On the other had, only using attacks from his action figure accessories seems to betray the true intent of the character as well. An interpretation of Geno that works in Smash is a delicate balance.

Much of the argument against Geno, however, comes not from his worth or his adaptation, but the politics that surround him. As I stated earlier, Geno was created by Squaresoft (now known as Square Enix) for Super Mario RPG as they were the developers on the game. This appears to be true of all the original characters from the game as well, since none, save for Geno, have appeared in other titles. Geno does appear in Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga in a mini-game, but the end credits credit Square for his appearance in that game — supporting the idea that Geno is property of Square, or Square Enix.

This means that Geno is in a red-tape mambo with Square Enix and Nintendo, leading many to believe that Geno would inevitably take up a third party slot in the game’s roster. This is also why battles against Geno fans are usually very heated. Since Geno would supposedly be representing Square Enix, it means characters from Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hearts, or other Square Enix franchises would lose out if he were included. Also, since third party slots are presumably rare in Smash Brothers, Geno’s inclusion could mean the loss of any other third party contender as well — thus, turning fans of Capcom, Namco, and other companies against him also.

While I’m not going to argue against the red-tape around Geno as issue for his inclusion, it’s not insurmountable, and I suspect that if Nintendo wanted Geno in their arsenal, they could have him easily.  This leads me to the one argument that typically isn’t addressed in great detail that unfortunately spells doom for Geno.

Firstly, I would recommend reading this entire article, but if not, at least the page the second page found here: http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/issues/issue_123/2623-Mario-is-Unmarketable.2. This article colored my understanding of the Mario series as well as Geno’s role in it when I first read it. Namely, I realized that the Mario games are not heavy on continuity, if and when they have any continuity at all. This is intentional.  Nintendo’s goal is that Mario remains pure and untainted, and therefore cannot devolve into a mess of confusion and misunderstanding every time a new Mario game comes out (unlike a certain Hedgehog has done in the past). Sure Legend of Zelda and Metroid have their own story arcs to them, but Metroid games have fewer recurring characters, and Legend of Zelda has far more leeway since each installment takes place many years apart from the others. Returning Geno to Mario’s world would present continuity to the series, spanning at least several years, resulting in confusion as to what games and events are canonical to Mario.

But that’s just Mario, what does that have to do with Smash Brothers? Well, if Geno is incorporated into Smash Brothers, he is liable to get a groundswell of interest around him, forcing Nintendo/ Square Enix to look into reviving him in the Mario series or his own series somehow. This would be difficult for Square Enix to pull off on their own, and dangerous to Nintendo and their intent for the Mario series to remain unchained.  Now, the chances of this groundswell occurring is not extremely likely, as Lucas’s presence in Brawl did little for making a Mother 3 port to other countries. However, the interest in Marth and Roy spawning new Fire Emblem games for the West, and Pit’s appearance resulting in a new entry in the Kid Icarus series proves that it’s still a possibility.

What’s more, I don’t feel that Geno’s return would and should be met with such fanfare anyway. Geno is the first character in a Mario game to make such a meaningful sacrifice that having him return I think would belittle that sacrifice. I turn to Nintendo’s old rival Sega for an example.

At the end of Sonic Adventure 2, Shadow realizes Maria’s wish that he would help save humanity, and so teams up with Sonic to stop the ARK and the creature latched onto it from crashing into and damaging the Earth. At the end of the fight, Shadow plummets to the Earth after his super form has run out. He is presumed dead, and Sonic and friends all mourn his sacrifice. Then, Shadow shows up in Sonic Heroes with amnesia and no memory of the trials he endured in the last game. The reappearance of Shadow, and effective rebooting of his character is such an insult it turned me off of the series for good. If Geno was handled with similar or worse care, I’d much rather they leave him alone.

And so my conclusion is that, while I think Geno would make a great addition to the game, his inclusion would be too involved, and too counter to Nintendo’s goals, making it very unlikely. In addtion, his history and the meaning he holds to his fans should be reason enough not to want his inclusion so badly.

Probability Forecast:  Fair to Slightly Unreasonable

My assessment of Geno’s chances as a playable character in the upcoming Smash Brothers game is “fair to slightly unreasonable.”  If Geno turns out to be in the next Smash Brothers game as a playable character, I will not only preorder the game and buy a Wii U, but give up my promising career as an amateur blogger to become the first professional Geno Smash Brothers player.

Agree?  Disagree?  Have an argument I missed, or just want to tell me how wrong I am?  Post a response in the comments below.  If you have any suggestions for more characters to include in this series, feel free to let me know — just be sure it’s no one already on my list, found here, and here.

Videos used for this article: dsguy411 Super Mario RPG Part 16: Geno Awakens!, LukeHarris Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars – Ending Video, Christopher Niosi Super Mario RPG: Waltz of the Forest, cheezepirate Ending to Sonic Adventure 2 Battle.

Quick Impressions: Injustice: Gods Among Us (iOS)

As a nice surprise last week, NetherRealms Studios released the Injustice iOS game two weeks before the console release (April 16th).  Is this just another blatant cash grab on the iOS?  Well, that’s a bit obvious isn’t it?  I suppose the question is then, does the game have any particular merit of it’s own?

Injustice: Gods Among Us for the iOS shares some traits of the regular console release — it’s a fighting game and it features DC Comics heroes and villains fighting each other.  Other than featuring character models and animations from the game, the similarities pretty much end there however.

The game is part fighting game, part collectible card game, with other elements thrown in.  The fights are one- on-one, but you create a team of three from the character cards you have available.  Tapping and sliding your finger performs combos on your opponent, and each version of each character has 3 special attacks they can use with the various levels of their super meter.  You can block by “holding two fingers” on the screen, though you will still take chip damage.  I found blocking the most peculiar of the controls; it won’t detect it unless the two fingers are spread, making your thumbs the best option here.  Characters will level up as they participate in fights, which increases their stats and opens up new special attacks to perform.

The first big elephant in the room is that this game is free-to-play, but has the option to purchase things as most free-to-play models do.  The game thankfully limits you to purchasing coins, the game’s in-game currency, which can also be obtained from battles.  You can also purchase the starter pack for $4.99, which gets you three uncommon character cards.  This is a very generous boost, but you can only purchase the starter pack once.

The shop also lets you use your coins to purchase booster packs, in common, uncommon, and rare varieties, as well as individual cards.  Buying booster packs is the better deal, since you get a character and two upgrade cards per pack, but they are randomized.  Individual character cards can cost as much, and most times more than the booster packs they can come in, but the trade is you get a character you want.  Coins are also spent on support cards, as well as upgrading your cards with stronger or more powerful abilities, and recharging energy when/if you run out of free recharges.

After level 10 or so, as enemies become more and more powerful, and can easily kill a character with limited or no upgrades with a single special attack, even if they block. This makes upgrades a must, so coins are important.  The player can earn coins through completing or replaying missions.  If playing without spending money is the goal, replaying the same missions over and over is the easiest, if not drollest option.

The alternative is to be incredibly clever with your team, and earn more coins by completing the newest available mission without copious amounts of grinding.  Different characters have particular strengths and weaknesses, and many difficult match-ups can be solved with a little quick thinking.  For instance, Lex Luthor has the ability to drain part of an enemy’s super gauge with only one bar of his own super gauge.  This can prevent a brute like Bane from ripping through his armor in one massive blow if he keeps ahead of him on meter.  However, this won’t work forever, as while Bane is on the field, his team on the sidelines is building meter as well, so you still have to watch for the inevitable tag out.  This is pretty tricky to keep ahead of, and so grinding or paying for coins is almost inevitable.

The other big elephant in the room is the cross-promotion with the console version.  Setting up a WB id will allow you to unlock content on the console version from the iOS version, and vice-versa.  Honestly, this is why I was interested in it in the first place, and I’m sure plenty of others were as well.  Most of the rewards are just icons and backgrounds for your multiplayer tile in the console version.  The only major exceptions being Batman’s Batman Beyond skin, Harlequinn’s Arkham City skin, and Bane’s Knightfall skin.  The creators were very crafty, however, as you can only purchase coins in $3, $5, $10, $20, $50, and $100 increments.  $10 is enough to buy the cheapest Joker card to unlock Harlequinn’s skin, and maybe a few other cheaper cards.  $20 is enough to buy Batman’s cheapest card, but not enough to buy the Joker too.  Bane’s requires obtaining 30 different character cards as well, making just buying the skins incredibly expensive.  This also sets up the biggest conundrum in the game, which is what to spend coins on.  Save up to buy the Joker, or take a chance on getting him or Batman in the cheaper booster pack?

That describes the conundrum of the game itself really?  Is it worth picking up, and if so worth spending money on?  Despite the issues with blocking controls, it controls pretty well, and I would recommend the iPad version for anyone with large thumbs though, for this very reason.  It can get redundant and repetitive at times though.  Also, unless the developers plan on updating the cross-promotion rewards as they go, I don’t think many will stick around after they’ve unlocked everything they set out to get.  Otherwise, if you need a fix before Injustice comes out next week, this will definitely keep you occupied. Since it’s free-to-play so there’s no real reason not to try it out if you’re interested.

Review based on iPhone and iPad version of the game, which was played for 7 hours in several separate play sessions.

Quick Impressions: Injustice: Gods Among Us (Demo)

Ironically, I had more issues with the style than the substance of Netherrealms last venture, Mortal Kombat.  Coming from a Capcom fighter background for the most part, I didn’t particularly care for the character models or how they moved.  The hyper-violence wasn’t a turn off per say  though that drove it from the house when the youngling was on the way.  Overall, I just didn’t care for the look or feel of the game very much.

In spite of that, I still respect it.  It had a large variety of characters and modes, integrated online play, and easily the best Story mode in a fighting if not ever, than in a very long time.  I would highly recommend it to any fighting game fan, it just didn’t fit my particular sensibilities.

So the question for me then, is Netherrealms’ newest game ‘Injustice’ going to assuage any of those concerns?

If the demo was any indication, maybe.

The game will be focusing on pitting the greatest DC Comics heroes and villains against each other.  This means the violence has been toned down to make a palatable Teen rating.  There will also be a story mode depicting why the heroes all are fighting, but that wasn’t available in the demo — I’ll reserve comment on that for later.

The demo only features Batman, Wonder Woman, and Lex Luthor as playable characters, and Doomsday as a single player boss.  The ‘Battles’ mode has you fight through the available characters in the Gotham City stage.  It doesn’t allow for much variety to be sure, but it was enough to give a decent impression of what to expect.

Right away it seems this game is catering to the growing fighting game community.  The move list on the pause menu lists not only every attack the character can perform, but also the damage the attacks do, as well as their various frame data.  This feature will serve to ease newer gamers into these concepts, while old-school gamers will have less number crunching to do on their own, and be able to determine ‘safe’ or ‘meaty’ attacks for each character that much faster.

The game takes a different approach than other fighters though by not sticking to the standard 4 or 6 button layout.  Instead, there are 3 main attack buttons, and a special button that activates and/or uses your character’s special ability (such as switching between whip and sword for Wonder Woman, or activating Lex Luthor’s energy shield).  The buttons on top of the standard controller (RB, LB, RT, LT, or L1, R1, L2, R2) are used to grab enemies, interact with the environment, or power up attacks, i.e. EX moves.  You can also perform these with some combinations of face buttons as well, though the triggers will likely be easier for those using a regular controller.

The characters themselves don’t look bad, and I dare say are an improvement over Mortal Kombat’s designs.  There are still some issues, however minor.  Battle damage does occur to the characters and some of it, particularly on Wonder Woman, looks a little cheap and tacked on.  There are some quirks as well with Lex Luthor’s head just looking too doll like when focused on (particularly during his super), and Doomsday’s braided ponytail always hanging over his shoulder, regardless of how is head is turned.  Another bit of strangeness is when Batman’s grappling hook magically moves upwards to grab a jumping opponent in the chest when he clearly would have hit them in the foot.

This is mostly water under the bridge however, as the gameplay is still exciting and engaging.  The AI on Medium and Hard difficulty really kept me on my toes in single player, while never feeling as though it was cheating.  The AI actually taught me a couple of combos and mechanics for Lex Luthor, which would have taken me a long time to discern on my own.

While I still withhold final judgement for how the rest of the game turns out, the appetizer presented to us this week keeps me optimistic about this game’s full release on the 16th.

Injustice: Gods Among Us is property of Warner Brothers.  Impressions based on two hours of single player on the PS3 demo.