Friday, September 9, 2016

Was Halo 4 really that bad? (shortened version)




So, a bit of background first. I actually never owned the original Xbox and didn’t play Halo CE or 2 until many years past their relevance. Back then I was too sheltered to be allowed to play most M rated games anyway, but starting with 3, I was an avid player of the Halo series. To this day I still consider 3 my favorite in the series and played it semi-regularly for over two years after it released. When Wars and ODST came out, I played the shit out of those games too and loved them.

Overall I’ve always felt saddened that after H3’s relevance faded, Halo as a whole fell out of the mainstream scene and is now somewhat niche in the gaming world. When you think about it, Halo is to CoD what MySpace was to Facebook. However, one game that’s always been a point of contention with me was Reach. I’ll expand on this in a bit, but the point I wanted to bring up here was my confusion with the fanbase’s opinion on Reach and Halo 4.

Why does everyone and their mother worship Reach as the second coming of Jesus and call Halo 4 the worst thing they’ve ever played? I am genuinely curious about this and so far my attempts to get a straight, detailed answer have been fruitless. I get the same responses every time. Generic stuff like “It sucks”, “it was horrible”, or something about it being made by 343i instead of Bungie. 

Now, don’t get it twisted – I by no means consider Reach a bad game, but I do consider it the worst main series Halo game (I have never played Halo 5, as I cannot afford an X1). Although it was the only game in the series I never played “seriously” (as in, I used to screw around and troll in matchmaking back in the day), I still had hours of fun in it. Big Team battle was a blast when I had a full party and I was addicted to the online co-op firefight modes like you wouldn’t believe. It’s just that out of all the main Halo games, this is the one I have the largest list of complaints for.

Let’s begin with the campaign mode, something I think Halo delivers better on than most multiplayer shooters. By the time this game came out, I was no stranger to the Reach conflict. All the way back in 2007, I actually met someone on Halo 3 who had read most of the Halo novels and basically gave me a huge exposition dump on all the stuff that happened to the Chief outside of the games. For me, the picture painted from the Reach conflict was massive, large-scale battles, desperate struggles, and fighting the inevitable.
What the actual Reach game felt like for me was instead a collection of laughably small-scale battles, glorified recon missions, and generally unengaging combat. I didn’t feel much for the new characters either, they died too soon after being introduced for me to form much of an attachment, and I felt like most of their deaths were too convenient and only happened to shock the player and move the plot forward. I know console limitations are a thing, but most of the battles just felt too tiny even compared to missions like The Covenant from Halo 3.

One thing I will agree with is that Halo 4’s actual story is very questionable. The Cortana romance subplot gets close to cringe territory and there are a lot of other unfitting elements thrown in for no real reason. The only thing I liked better about it was that they had the MC talk more than usual – silent protags got old for me after Pok√©mon. That being said, I did find the gameplay more fun and varied. The space mission, while being a complete ripoff of the death star run, was infinitely more fun than the Saber segment in Reach where I had to repeatedly take on the imposing task of shooting down 8 ships. The general scale of the campaign felt like it dwarfed Reach.

As for the firefight mode, like I said, I thought it was awesome. I especially liked the new Score Attack mode where you could compete with your friends for the high score on each map; it gave it that authentic old school arcade feel. Don’t even get me started on the custom firefight, a paradise for masochists like me to make every wave consist of the most powerful units on Legendary. As someone who adored this mode in ODST, I was happy to see it built upon further. If I had to make one very small complaint, I didn’t like how there were infinite ammo crates in the maps. Part of what made it so challenging in ODST was having to either conserve ammo or relegate yourself to the half-empty covenant weapons until the new ones spawned. In Reach, unless I was on Legendary, I’d just use the pistol the entire time and keep refilling it. If there’s anything I could heavily dislike about 4, it was the removal of this mode in favor of the Spartan Ops that never even got finished.
When it comes to multiplayer, I liked it for the most part. Up until Gears of War 3 came out, Reach was my favorite game to play online. Some of my most fond memories of Xbox live were the many summer nights in 2011 I spent playing Big Team Battle or Firefight with my regular group of friends. At the same time though, Reach’s multiplayer felt the most gimmicky of the bunch. Being this game’s “big new thing”, armor abilities felt a little too prevalent. Combat felt like it was too centered around them. Of course, the one everyone brings up is Armor Lock, and I’m no exception. Choosing it prompted more collective groans than picking Meta Knight in SSBB, and it was little more than a crutch for unskilled players. I love that Arby n the Chief made fun of it in later episodes.

I feel like Reach also had the highest volume of “cheap tactics” that could be employed, especially compared to 3. In addition to the obvious Armor Lock, the DMR felt like a BR on training wheels and I couldn’t help but laugh at the 12 year olds who thought they were some kind of pro every time they got a kill with it (seriously, it got to the point where I’d get shit on for using the AR). It was also laughably easy to spawn trap; this was also the case in the early days of Halo 4, but at least they patched it out in that game.
All that being said, there was one aspect of Reach’s MP that made my blood boil just thinking about it. Something that to this day I refuse to forgive the game for: The fact that every map is a direct copy/paste from the campaign. It absolutely baffles me that no one else is bothered by this. I’ll admit I’m somewhat of an aesthetics whore which is part of why I hated seeing the same things I just finished playing on after clearing the campaign, but most of these maps also aren’t particularly fun to play on. For me, they ranged from boring as sin (Sword Base, Zealot) to painfully mediocre (Boardwalk, and Powerhouse which felt like a watered-down High Ground). Other than Spire, the only good maps are either Forge World variants (to an extent, looking at that same environment gets old) and the original designs locked away in the overpriced DLC. Even without all the other shortcomings, this alone would make me consider Reach the worst main series Halo.

If there’s one thing I do think Reach did better than any other Halo, it was the ranking system. Disagree with me all you want, I still say Halo 3’s ranking system was busted. I understand how it was supposed to work, but for me, I could win five or six matches in a row and not gain a rank, but lose a single round and lose a rank. To make matters worse, matching up with bad teammates could easily cost you a rank or two
So what, by comparison, was so bad about Halo 4’s MP? Killcams and hitmarkers? Oh, cry me a river. Most of the maps were original concepts (and infinitely more fun to play on except Complex, screw everyone who voted for that awful map in matchmaking), and hell, two of them were remakes of beloved Halo 3 maps. Not all of them were great; I definitely had preferences here and there. Spending 90% of my time in BTB made me partial to Vortex and Exile, but my favorite was Vertigo. In general, the DLCs felt way more worth the money than Reach’s, although I bear some resentment toward the first pack, which randomly deleted itself from my hard drive and now acts like it needs to be re-bought. Anyways, armor abilities are still there, but aren’t nearly as prevalent and strategy no longer revolves around their use. 

The new loadout system also feels more intuitive, I love being able to start with any of the non-power weapons within reason and it catered to a larger variety of playstyles. Of particular note is the ability to start with Plasma Grenades. H4 nerfed frag grenades to joke weapon status, so it was nice to have an alternative, but most importantly vehicles no longer dominated the larger maps. Coming from someone who spent a good amount of time behind the wheel in the Halo series, I welcomed this balance. 

H4’s multiplayer was by no means perfect, but after the watered-down taste Reach left in my mouth, this felt like the closest thing to a return to form. This could partially be attributed to each game’s presentation, but before I get to that, I wanted to talk about Forge mode. This was something that made Halo stand out even further than it usually does against most modern shooters. I spent countless hours in this mode back in Halo 3, and Reach’s new forge was something that was heavily promoted in the game’s prerelease days. It built upon Halo 3’s DLC maps with blocks of many shapes and sizes that could be phased together to create maps entirely from scratch. 

This was all shown off on Reach’s premier forging map, aptly named Forge World. A map tailor-made for forging was no doubt an innovative idea, but I couldn’t help but be very disappointed upon learning that this was the only map you could forge on. When I saw the new forge system, I saw it as an opportunity to make the copy-pasted campaign multiplayer maps less boring, but the “structure” menu isn’t available on these maps, meaning the best you could do is tiny changes to weapon placement, spawns, and the like, so you could barely make them different.

Again, Forge World was fun, but the novelty wore out after a while. The same generic Green Hill Zone terrain. The same gray metal blocks and buildings. You see where I’m going with this. Sure, there was a ton of diversity in what you could make, but it all had the same aesthetic and looking at the same thing every time got old quick. The size of Forge World was also very exaggerated in the prerelease material, unsurprisingly. The default maps made from it were somewhat interesting, although Hemorrhage has to be the most hollow, uninspired “remake” of Blood Gulch I’ve ever seen.

To me, this felt like a step back from Halo 3. Even most of the game’s default maps could be dynamically changed, and when the DLC maps came out, almost all of them included the new blocks to use. Even though you couldn’t phase them together (without a glitch anyways), at least you had different canvases to work with. I think a few of Reach’s DLC packs had forge-able maps to be fair and I probably would’ve purchased them if they weren’t released so close together.

4 on the other hand came packaged with a grand total of three Forge World-esque maps each with their own aesthetic and layout, plus a fourth one offered as free DLC. Even though by the time of Halo 4, people had more or less ditched custom games entirely in favor of their obsession with ranking and K/D, I spent way more time in this game’s iteration of Forge. If they still let you zoom in with the monitor, this mode would’ve been perfect thanks to the magnet system and lighting improvements.

When it comes to presentation, I definitely think both games have something to bring to the table. Reach’s customization was undeniably awesome. I could’ve lived without the shorter, stockier look for the Spartans (although from my understanding of canon this is how Spartan IIIs were), but the new selection of armor was great. As if the new designs themselves weren’t already very creative (Pilot was my favorite by far), there were also different sub-variants that added accessories and such, and even things like a med kit you could add on for extra realism. Combinations were endless, and I still think it was incredibly stupid how 90% of players exclusively wore the bulkiest armor possible.

On the other hand, the game overall looked a bit too realistic for my tastes. One thing Halo has always done to set itself apart from other popular shooters is keeping a colorful, vibrant aesthetic. Reach felt like it tried to completely avert this with its gritty, washed-out look. Donut’s remark about the armor in Red Vs Blue couldn’t be truer. Although you could still customize your colors, the color itself got swallowed by blacks and grays on most armor sets, and most of them hid your emblem too. This felt all too similar to what Super Smash Bros tried to do in the transition from Melee to Brawl. Even the maps looked a bit too desaturated at times.

When I first played Halo 4, one of the first things to give me a sigh of relief was the return to the vibrant look that Halo was known for. I won’t argue that some of the new armor perms are weird or ugly, but when I did find one I liked, I liked it a lot. Rogue is probably my favorite armor perm in the whole franchise. Overall, the game just felt much easier on the eyes. I do miss playable elites, however, even if most of the variants in Reach looked kinda stupid. The new weapon skins were also rather pretty. Pre-order bonuses are definitely something I have a disdain for, but I’d rather have them be for looks than something you almost need to be able to play the game properly (looking at you, No Man’s Sky).

Like all the other Halos, Reach and 4 both had nice soundtracks, but I don’t think either of them trump anything from the original trilogy. The menu theme in Reach’s beta was awesome (it’s still on YouTube somewhere, I think) and I couldn’t be more salty that it got removed in the final game. The one they ended up using felt kind of generic and phoned-in, and honestly grated on me after a while if I had to spend a long time waiting in the menus. 4’s menu theme was infinitely better, but I didn’t find a lot of the music from the campaign very memorable.

I guess that’s all I have to talk about here. Like I said, Reach wasn’t a bad game, I just don’t get why everyone but me thinks it’s the best one in the series and thinks 4 is the worst. I am by no means saying that Halo 4 even comes close to trumping Halo 3, but it felt like an improvement over Reach in almost every feasible way. Coming to 4 as a die-hard fan of 3 was nothing short of a breath of fresh air. No one I’ve asked has been able to elaborate on what was so bad about it, which says something about the fans. I think the community favoring Reach so heavily is more than a little biased – I’m willing to bet that a lot of said bias comes from the fact that Reach has “Bungie” slapped on the case instead of “343i” and if the situation was reversed, people would be singing a different tune.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Super Smash Bros. 4 (3DS/Wii U, 2014)

Finally getting around to this, I guess.

Let me start by saying that I'm glad I waited to review this game, because my opinion on it changed drastically since its release. This article will cover both the Wii U and 3DS versions.

I still remember the day I was playing Dead Frontier online and my long-time friend Jack pulled me into a Skype call to watch the Nintendo Direct that announced this game. Were we hyped? You're damn right. Just seeing Mega Man in an actual game that mattered was enough to bring up my hopes for the long-awaited next Smash installment. After all, as I mentioned in the other reviews, this isn't a series that often gets a new entry. The biggest surprise came with the news that this game would release on both the 3DS and Wii U systems, with both games being identical in terms of base gameplay and characters.

I know a few tidbits about this game's dev cycle, but listing them here would be redundant as I honestly don't find them very interesting and don't think you'd like reading about them.

Anyways, that hype I felt from the initial trailer unfortunately didn't last, and for a few key reasons. The first being that Nintendo, to put it bluntly, blew their load too early. Now, before you say anything, I know; the internet is a powerful machine. Leaks were bound to happen at some point. But even if one doesn't count leaks, just about every new aspect of the game that was remotely interesting got revealed months before the game came out. Every newcomer that might've been surprising was shown off in full, and that really drained SSB4's prerelease era of the "magic" that Brawl's had. By the time the game was streamed early by Japanese players, every character unlocked was someone we already knew about. We were all in hopes that a few characters remained secret, but in the end, there was nothing left to discover. This date (which coincidentally was 9/11 of that year) went down in infamy within the Smash community.

Still, the game was shaping up to be a huge improvement over Brawl. Gameplay footage revealed that the overall movement was much faster and more grounded than Brawl, allowing one to get away with offensive approaches despite how the old techs were obviously not returning. In addition, the infamous tripping feature was gone, and the aesthetic was incredibly vibrant, foregoing Brawl's ill-conceived attempt to make the game look realistic.

Well, the game's been out for a good while now. What do I think?

Let's start with the core gameplay. Smash 4's speed and physics were a result of trying to reach a compromise between casual and competitive Smash fans. Although an admirable endeavor, this idea unfortunately tripped and fell on its face as soon as it got out the door. One reason for this is that many Smashers, especially those who had familiarized themselves with Brawl, couldn't move past that game's campy, defensive playstyle. Due to this, Smash 4 players quickly adopted that style and molded the metagame into, wouldn't you know it, the same campy, safe strategies. Yeah, you heard me right. I'm (partially) blaming the players this time. Eat your hearts out, you know it's true. Not to say the new style of gameplay was completely free of fault, but Smash 4 could've eked out a more neutral-offensive metagame if they had just let it rise out of Brawl's infamy.

At its core, Smash 4's gameplay is still fairly watered down and lacks anything that would draw in a "serious" competitive crowd. One glaring example is that every last advanced technique that was present in either Melee or Brawl is long gone. There were a few discovered early in the game's life cycle, but they were quickly patched out. This isn't completely a bad thing in my eyes, however, as many matches can now be decided entirely on the base skill of the player and their ability to read and master mindgames. On the other hand, this creates an extremely low skill ceiling. As long as you choose a top tier character, mastering them at a tournament level should not take you longer than a month or two. Contrast with Melee's Fox, who takes months if not years of dedicated practice and tournament attendance to effectively use.

The base combat does feel improved to a degree, with almost every attack feeling stronger and having more force behind it. This is offset by the fact that, as much as Smash 4 fans don't want to admit it, the game lacks any combo potential. To elaborate, Smash 4 retains Brawl's infinite air-dodge. It is somewhat balanced from Brawl's in that if performed too close to the ground, the player suffers long ending lag, but it can still be "spammed" with barely any delay in between dodges. In the Smash series, 95% of combos happen in the air. Are you starting to make the connection yet? Any time a Smash 4 player claims they performed a "combo", they are either lying, or the opponent forgot to air dodge. Unless you can keep your opponent fully grounded, don't focus on trying to string hits together.

Many of the new stages in both versions were gimmicky for the sake of trying to have an identity, making them impossible to play on competitively. Nintendo attempted to mitigate this with the inclusion of "Omega" stages, which was a feature that turned every stage into a single, flat platform a la Final Destination. This sounds good on paper, but any competitive player worth their salt will tell you how flawed this is. Final Destination, and therefore the Omega stages, cater mostly to fast, projectile heavy characters. This lead to early tier lists being completely inaccurate, until it was discovered how much better non-ranged characters performed on stages with platforms. Speaking of stages, edge-guarding is long gone as well, making matches last considerably longer than Melee, especially combined with the lack of moves with reliable kill power.

Let's talk about the main thing every Smash fan clamors over, the characters. The character roster itself is the largest in the series, which only makes sense considering every game eclipses the last in that regard. While this does add a lot of variety, I have to say that Smash 4's roster WAS the worst in the entire series upon launch. 90% of the returning cast were characters I never gave a shit about and never mained, or had playstyles that transferred poorly over to Smash 4's engine, like Marth. But by far the largest disappointment I had with Smash 4 was the choice of newcomers. I thought this when the game came out, and I still believe it now. All of my mains were either cut or, like I mentioned with Marth, transitioned horribly from previous titles. "But LoveGame", you may ask, "with all the awesome and innovative choices for new characters, how could you possibly not like it?!" Let's break that down, shall we?

I always hated Rosalina in her main series and no amount of rabid fanboys are going to make me like her. Doesn't help that her playstyle feels suited for one's little sister so they could play on a similar level to people who actually knew what they were doing. Sorry, Planebro. I couldn't give less fucks about Koopa Clown Car Bowser Jr/Koopalings either, tbh.

I don't give a shit about "retro" characters. I didn't grow up with them, I don't care. Therefore entries like Pac-Man, Duck Hunt, Little Mac, and the returning R.O.B. (and to a lesser extent, Mega Man, although I like his series his playstyle ended up being a bit bland for my tastes) do absolutely nothing for me.

Greninja is an overrated Pokemon based on a ninja, the single most overrated character archetype. Sorry Michael. Also insert generic "Mewtwo tears" joke because I'm 12.

Never played Xenoblade Chronicles = zero interest in Shulk. Moooving on.

Then you have this last few characters I like to group together for what they have in common. The "quirky/random" characters. Wii Fit Trainer, Villager, and the Miis. Duck Hunt could fit here too. I could imagine whoever added these characters to be thinking "l0l wat if we added these guis u kno like as JOKE XDDDDDDD SO RANDUMB XD LOL like ppl wud make meems about it", etc. These guys feel included solely for the sake of being quirky and "different". People who main these characters are likely the equivalent of those YouTubers who make videos of themselves fighting bosses in Dark Souls with no armor and pink hair or something.

This leaves the Fire Emblem characters, Robin and Lucina. You guessed it, these were the only two newcomers besides (debatably) Palutena that I was remotely excited for. Although I've come to despise Lucina as a character thanks to her favoritism in the FE community, she admittedly does look cool and although she's only a slightly modified Marth clone, she's a fun twist on my old Melee main even though I've long since dropped her as a main. Robin on the other hand is a very fun combo of swords and magic unlike anything Smash has ever seen. Unfortunately he/she is held back by poor programming and braindead top tiers, dooming him/her to being entirely useless in a competitive environment. Oh well.

That being said, let's look at some of the positives. Every newcomer and even a few veterans got their very own reveal trailers, complete with awesome-looking cutscenes and humorous character interactions. Most famously, each one got a special splash screen announcing their arrival (Ex. "Lucina wakes her blade?!", "Palutena alights!"). I can only imagine the hype felt by the people who had a more positive reception to the newcomers. You guys got something out of it, and I'm no one to take that away from you.

With that knowledge, you might ask, "Well, then what newcomers would've satisfied you?" Simple, I just wanted some fucking villains. Just about every newcomer is a typical cheerful heroic type, which would be fine if most of the roster wasn't already this. With the loss of Wolf, we're once again back to Bowser and Ganon for our choices. Yes, I was one of the Ridley supporters who just wanted him scaled down, but not even just him. King K. Rool, Shadow the Hedgehog, or Hades are just some of the characters I had hoped would make it in. And not even all of those, just one of that bunch would've sufficed. Or, y'know, not cutting Wolf.

...but then, as if my complaints of a lackluster roster rang to the heavens, a hero arrived in the form of DLC. Historically, DLC has been a point of contention within the gaming community, but I'll be damned if Smash isn't a game that benefits from it. Remember how I said Smash 4's roster "was" the worst? To elaborate, Nintendo held a special "50 Facts" presentation talking about all the new features specific to the Wii U version of the game, and the last fact had to do with the much-speculated inclusion of downloadable characters. To my utter delight, the first character to be given this treatment was none other than Mewtwo himself. He came with his Melee moveset largely intact, save for some obvious tweaks. Now, if this were a few months ago I would harp on how they made him one of, if not the worst characters in the game, but patching is a beautiful thing. Recent patches have considerably improved his competitive viability. As of writing this, a Mewtwo player even won a high-level Smash 4 tournament recently! Way to address a problem, Nintendo.

Following the return of my top main were returning veterans Roy and Lucas, both very welcome additions due to their high demand. Like Mewtwo, Roy got some new moves and buffs that made him considerably improved from his status as one of the worst Melee characters. Additionally, several DLC characters were newcomers. There was Street Fighter's Ryu, who I was rather indifferent toward overall (like I am toward most SF characters that aren't Necro), Final Fantasy's Cloud, who I honestly didn't give a shit about due to my lack of interest in his home game and not growing up with PS1, but I was happy for his inclusion nonetheless just because many people gave up on him getting in after a while. Another Fire Emblem character showed up in the form of Fates' protag Corrin. A lot of people were whining about the game having too many FE characters at this point, but as a huge fan of the series I was very satisfied.

The final character came as a result of a poll held by Nintendo. It's as simple as it sounds; fans would vote in their favorite character and it would all get tallied up later on. Coming out on top was the ever-popular action heroine witch, Bayonetta. Now, I can't exactly call the woman my "waifu", but this was another inclusion I was very pleased with. Playstyle-wise, she was quickly deemed cheap and "too good" for a variety of reasons, but my theory behind this is that most Smash 4 players were so accustomed to a defensive, campy metagame that they didn't know how to properly counter an offensive-based character who, to the surprise of many, actually had combos. She's been patched now, FYI, but not to the point of unviability.

Regardless of your stance on DLC as a whole, you must admit that DLC is just what the doctor ordered here. It appeared that Nintendo initially went out of their way to avoid adding the long-requested characters in an attempt to be shocking and different, and while that sounds innovative, the DLC characters were a far more efficient method of pleasing the fans. Sure, we never got Ridley, K Rool, or Wolf, but now there really is a main for everyone.

Shit, I haven't even gotten into the game modes yet, have I?

Sigh... I guess it's time to shift back into a negative tone. And after all that praise I gave the DLC...

Smash 4's singleplayer content is the most hollow and barebones in the series. The only returning modes are Classic, All Star, and Events. Classic is mostly what it used to be, but my god does it feel gimped. You now always know who you'll be facing, removing the random element Melee and Brawl had. But here's the real kicker. Remember that option to toggle stocks in Classic mode? You know, the option that was in EVERY OTHER SMASH GAME? Yeah, say goodbye to that. Now, no matter what difficulty you're on, you're locked into a measly two stocks. This gives you absolutely no room to fuck up. You either play frame-perfect, or you're done. Oh, and continues? Nope. You get one try. Let me explain. Smash 4 got rid of the old difficulty setting of Easy to Intense in favor of a difficulty setting directly copy-pasted from Kid Icarus Uprising. It operates on a 1 to 9 scale with you "betting" your smash coins based on your choice. If you mess up once, you can't retry on the same difficulty. This creates several problems. For instance, many, many unlocks require you to beat a given mode on 9 intensity. While a seasoned player might not have too much trouble with this, one must remember that Classic plays with "default" rules, so to speak. Items on, all stages. Oh, were you one stage away from Master and Crazy Hand? Doing really good? Here's an exploding capsule that'll spawn on top of you, collide with the lingering hitbox of your up-smash, and KO you instantly. Now be a good little boy and quit to the main menu so you can grind coins to try again.

And for the love of fuck, do EVERYTHING in your power to avoid landing on the Magicant stage. The CPU always seems to get the Flying Man before you, and if they do, it's basically over. You've already lost one stock, if not both as soon as they touch him. I'm all for a new difficulty system, but either let me toggle the fucking stocks, or give me the option to turn items off. If I wanted my victory to decide on a dice roll, I'd play an ASCII dungeon crawler. Anyways, the Wii U version will also occasionally throw you into extremely gimmicky fights, like an 8-player Smash free for all. Oh yeah, did I mention there was 8-player Smash? That was actually a pretty cool addition. Not a fan of how it's restricted to local play, though. I've tried it, and having 8 people huddled around a TV isn't exactly comfy. That would be like if Halo's "Big Team Battle" mode was system-link only. Either way, the mode is fun with other players, but it really wears out its welcome during a needlessly hectic CPU battle, especially when collecting trophies. All star is also in a set order. What can I say? It's there.

Event mode is back too, and honestly it's much better than Brawl's. I like the different "branching paths" you can unlock by completing certain events, and there are a lot of them. It's not something you can have fun with for hours on end, but it's great in small doses.

There were actually a few new single player modes introduced. 3DS had Smash Run, which had the player running around killing various Nintendo enemies and collecting powerups for a final battle at the end of it all, between other CPUs. This mode was fun for all of 5 minutes, which coincidentally is the time limit given to collect powerups. Smash Run tried to recreate the magic of The Subspace Emissary and the "City Trial" mode of Kirby Air Ride, but failed in both prospects. It's just too short to enjoy. You're way to focused on scrambling to collect powerups and not lose them to be able to take in the experience. The challenge you take on when the time limit is up is always random, and the game doesn't tell you much about it. I lost several of these because I'd often have no idea what I was doing and start scoring KOs on the other characters thinking I was winning. There are even a few minigames that pop up, which last about as long as one of Warioware's Microgames. This mode felt like a waste of a good idea, honestly.

Wii U, on the other hand, has Smash Tour. Was Smash 4's base gameplay just not casual enough for you? Then gather 'round the TV to play a lengthy board game where you're given random characters and... do stuff and fight occasionally. I don't really get it, I didn't touch this mode at all if I'm being honest. No one liked it. Let's move on.

Wii U also introduced Master Orders and Crazy Orders, where you can choose various fights to win and earn coins, trophies, music, and other unlocks. Master Hand has you playing it safe and straightforward, but Crazy Hand amps it up a bit, having you gamble your coins. At any point in Crazy Orders, you can "take the money and run" or keep it going for higher stakes, all ending with a fight against the Hand himself. This is a very cool idea and by far the best new single player mode introduced, but I just don't "get" it. This is a great way to quickly unlock things and in the case of Crazy Orders, challenge yourself. But that's it. Where's the fun? Let's see, you want me to fight... a horde of Lucinas on Wuhu Island. O...kay, I guess. The battles here have no rhyme or reason behind them and again, get pretty boring after a while. I wish they had more of a theme.

Stadium mode is back... kinda. Homerun Contest is the same. Multi-Man Smash is too, aside from Miis replacing the generic fighters. But where the hell is Target Test? The answer: gone. Yet another long-standing tradition got removed here. Its replacement still has you breaking targets, I guess. You launch a bomb into an array of platforms and targets and try to get them to fall on each other. Yup, it's an Angry Birds clone. I'll pass.

You know what the most infuriating thing is, though? The game completely lacks a single-player campaign mode in the vein of Subspace Emissary. As someone who often had to play alone, this is what I miss the most. It's a real kick to the balls to know that there was going to be a mode like this at some point in development. Wanna know why it never came to fruition? Come on, guess. Oh, you thought it was for time constraints or something? Hahaha no. Nintendo's reasoning behind axing this mode was, and I'm not lying at all here, that they were afraid that people would leak the cutscenes onto YouTube, and people would just watch them and not buy the game. ...I'm sorry...WHAT? This is the single most farfetched logic I've ever heard. In that case, why doesn't every story-driven game remove its story mode altogether? Wouldn't want those pesky leakers hurting the sales of your AAA title! As we all know, watching cutscenes is an experience that is 1:1 to playing the game! This completely blows. I was so excited to see all the new characters interact, even the ones I didn't like. SSE was my go-to game mode every time I wanted an enriching solo experience, not to mention a great way to unlock every character. Sure, it had its flaws, but what better way to address them than make a better version?

Before you say anything, I know; Smash has always been a multiplayer centered game since its inception. In development, that takes priority and I see no reason why it shouldn't. This doesn't excuse the emaciated shell of a singleplayer mode we got for Smash 4. The fact of the matter is, not everyone has constant access to a local Smash scene or friends to regularly play with, and I was one of those people. Though my state's scene has grown since Brawl, I can't always organize a time to play with others. Yes, I know there's an online mode, and it's slightly better than Brawl's but still fairly laggy. Face it, online just isn't for everyone. This goes double for fighting games, where even the player with the world's fastest internet would perform better locally. You can only spend so much time dying to items in Classic mode, dabbling in the other singleplayer options, grinding for coins and trophies, and beating up level 9 CPUs before realizing that the game is not-so-subtly funneling you into jumping straight into the online mode. The game now tracks your win/loss ratio, leading to many people either bragging about how good theirs was, or lamenting that it could be higher, even though online doesn't mean shit in the FGC. My girlfriend calls this game "Super Smash Bros Arcade", and she couldn't be more accurate.

The multiplayer itself, to its credit, did have some pretty cool additions. Aside from the maximum players going from 4 to 8, you could now enter a larger name for your Smash tag. A minor addition, but one I can appreciate as my Smash tag, "LoveGame", was hard to abbreviate without looking weird. Team Battles no longer lock the player into a certain color. Instead, an "aura" now surrounds them to represent their team. Speaking of colors, every character has a whopping 8 costumes now, and they look awesome. I'm partial to Mewtwo's cyan alt. Just about any controller can be used as well, including the optimal fan-favorite, the Gamecube controller. Unfortunately the adapters needed to use one were produced in limited numbers and quickly bought out by rich gamers. Even now, they can be somewhat of a challenge to come by. Another very cool feature that could be used in both single- and multiplayer was custom moves. Each character could unlock two alternate moves to replace their four standard B moves. The only complaint I have with these is that they were ball-bustingly hard and very tedious to unlock. This is one situation where I'm going to not only endorse cheating, but encourage it over the "legit" method. By the time DLC characters started releasing, Nintendo kinda stopped caring and didn't give them any. It is partly for this reason that they're banned in many competitive environments, but it's still a creative idea to make some low-tiers a bit more viable. Though I don't use them personally, the new final smashes were much more imaginative than Brawl's.

Another thing I have to get on Smash 4's case for is the production value. 64, Melee, and Brawl all had their own identities, so to speak. 4, on the other hand, has many things copy-pasted directly from Brawl. The menu's looks, the character voices, the sound effects, and other things, are all ripped out of the previous entry. I can't help but think this makes the game feel cheaply made in some aspects. They only recorded new voice lines when it was absolutely necessary. I don't know, maybe I'm looking too far into it. The character silhouettes in the menus do look beautiful and vibrant, for the record. While some of the music is taken from the other three games, there are plenty of new songs added in, several of which were performed by the same orchestra that did Brawl's famous soundtrack. The DLC stages brought in even more new tracks. I actually own the CD that was given out for free for owners of both versions of Smash 4, and it was a nice little treat to go along with the free Mewtwo.

Other than that, there isn't a whole lot else to talk about. There's one other new mode called Trophy Rush where you break boxes to obtain trophies and custom moves. This is one of the only modes in the game I find addictive, but it burns through your coins too quickly, so be prepared for some long grinding sessions. There's also pieces of "equipment" you can collect to give various buffs in single player mode. It's hilarious how easy it is to make a character broken with this, and it's the only way to beat Classic on level 9. Usually though, I get pretty frustrated when I end up earning one of these over a custom move.

I guess I could mention the Amiibos. These are basically trophies in real life. Little figurines of characters on bronze circular stands. Their quality varies, with some looking amazing, but the more realistic human characters look horribly off model, as if the plastic melted in production or something. These aren't just for show, however. You can connect them to your game via your 3DS or Wii U gamepad and train them by feeding them items and battling. This is admittedly a mildly entertaining feature, as a fully trained Amiibo makes level 9 CPUs look like a joke. The problem is that the Amiibos face the same problem as the Gamecube controller adapters. They were produced in hilariously low numbers, making it easy for rich gamers around the world to buy out all the stock. Expect to pay at least 40 dollars for all but the most common figures, whose retail price is about $12. I bought one, Mewtwo (the best looking one), just so I could say I had one. He is unopened and displayed on my wall under a Lady Gaga poster. I wanted Mr. Game & Watch too, but he was only sold in a three-pack with the other retro characters, which even at retail price was something I couldn't dream of affording. RIP.

That just leaves the competitive scene. Being a relatively new game, Smash 4's scene is still pretty big, and not quite the disaster Brawl was, but it's no Melee. Make no mistake, I wanted this game to have competitive merit. I knew it wouldn't completely eclipse Melee and I didn't want it to, but I was excited to get into a "new" game where everyone was just starting out, versus showing up to the Melee scene about 10 years late and fearing being unable to catch up to the meta. The results were... varied. Like I mentioned before, players who apparently hate skill and fun equally had to go and adopt a campy, defensive playstyle fresh out of Brawl, and the game mechanics didn't help much. The problem with Meta Knight in Brawl was tripled with the top tier characters this time around. The top three ended up being Sheik, Rosalina, and Zero Suit Samus. All three of these characters were insanely broken and took very little skill to play at a high level and to be brutally honest, they all look the same no matter who's controlling them. Let's be real here, defensive play doesn't take one-tenth of the level of skill that offensive approaches do. Like Brawl, this is one of the few fighting games where the objectively better player can lose. Being used to Melee's high-energy clashes, this tends to put me to sleep. As I mentioned before, it is hardly a challenge to practice one of these characters for a month or two and find yourself placing very high in local and regional tournaments. Speaking of which, those three characters are also ones that I despise in their home series. Why is it that the characters I already hate end up being the best, and the few that I like are horribly programmed? My friend and fellow Smasher, 72cm, often attends Smash 4 tournaments despite the fact that he doesn't own, play, or practice at all. He has defeated many players who regularly practice Smash 4, and I find that hilarious. Despite having over double the amount of characters, Smash 4 somehow managed to have even less tournament diversity.

Even with two stocks as the standard rule versus Melee's 4, matches often drag on to a grueling length. This is due to all the things I mentioned before; the over-reliance on a defensive strategy, the lack of edge guarding and good KO moves, and generally low knockback. This was so much of a problem that during the first major tournament to feature Smash 4, Melee got delayed due to 4 going on longer than expected. When the Smash 4 bracket was over, fans and players alike cheered and rejoiced, not for the winner, but because they could finally move onto a different game. I could talk about the famous top players, but in Smash 4's scene, only one player really matters and his name is Zero. He's a Chilean smasher who had actually been in the scene for a while and was, to his credit, a decent Brawl and Project M player who also dabbled in Melee. When it comes to Smash 4 though, he wins every tournament he attends. Now, I'm not going to go on insulting a guy I don't even know for no reason, but he could definitely be criticized compared to other top players. Many people accuse Zero of being a "Tier whore". This does not refer to his decision to play top tier characters, as this is what most competitive players do. It is more so the fact that he is "carried" by his characters more so than his own skill. Where most top players must do everything to bring out their mains' full potential, Zero simply picks the easiest characters to play, and in Smash 4, these characters have little to no bad matchups. He closely follows the game's constantly updating tier list and patches, and will quickly drop his old main for a new one if someone else takes the top spot. Shiek for example, can essentially play on autopilot. One only needs to utilize her projectiles, a few tilt moves, and her forward air move. Therefore it was unsurprising that Sheik was his main for a very long time. Even in Melee, where Sheik was considered the easiest competitive character to play, you could not perform well at a high level by simply spamming these moves. He does seem to have a mostly chill and agreeable personality, with the only real bad quality being his "stuck in high school" mentality he sometimes exhibits outside of Smash. It definitely says something when Melee has five "god" players with consistent victories as well as droves of players that could easily cause an upset, where 4 only has a single Smasher, with even the second best player not defeating him consistently enough to be worth mentioning. I dunno, I don't really follow 4 as much anymore so maybe this will change with time. This is all made worse by the favoritism toward him in the community, where he retains something of a "John Cena" principle and everyone constantly roots for him as if he was an underdog.

One other issue is that Smash 4 is heavily pushed as the "big competitive game" by Nintendo. While the other three games were ignored in this aspect, Smash 4 tournaments were heavily endorsed and sponsored by Nintendo themselves. This unfortunately creates an illusion to new players that 4 is the game to play if you want to prove your mettle in the big league tournaments despite having far less competitive merit than past games. This was a rather low blow for Melee fans, who for years had to finance advertise, and organize tournaments out-of-pocket, leading to prize pools being almost nothing compared to big-name MOBAs like League, that get sponsored by everything from the game company itself to just about every gaming PC and accessory manufacturer. Oh, for the record, I can't stand MOBAs. I'd rather even have Smash 4 have more prevalence.

Overall though, I don't mind the game all that much and now that Mewtwo is supposedly good, would probably play it if I owned a Wii U. Post-buffs, his high-risk high-reward playstyle is admittedly just so much fun and different from how he is in other entries. After all, my Smash goal is to become the best Mewtwo in every game, and that means every game. It would make a nice secondary game due to its vast difference from Melee and is a good tool to learn reads from, although I will always swear by PM as my secondary game. Oh yeah, by the way, since writing the old review, PM has ceased development due to threats of a lawsuit, and is no longer featured at major tournaments. Most big-name streamers have stopped streaming it and most videos are removed. It's sad when a mod is better than an official release. Lol.

As for my closing thoughts, like Brawl, I don't consider Smash 4 a completely terrible game without any redeeming qualities. I admit that I probably sounded like a Melee elitist throughout this review, but it's the game I've consistently gotten the most enjoyment out of, so I should be allowed to like it just as those who prefer 4 should be able to like 4. It simply feels like Sakurai didn't take any of the Brawl backlash from 2008 into account here. In fact, he has stated on multiple occasions that 4 shouldn't really be seen as competitive and that people looking for that kind of experience should just go play other fighting games. No one wanted the game to cater exclusively to the hardcore competitive crowd, but it's just as unfair to go out of the way to alienate that crowd entirely. Competitive Smash 4 can be fun at times, but it feels like a Fisher-Price toy compared to Melee and PM. It's a watered down experience that feels like it's constantly on training wheels. Though DLC and patching have remedied a lot of its initial flaws, Smash 4 is a game strictly for those who focus on online play and grinding. Find a local scene, and your experience with this game will see a considerable rise in quality.

Speaking of local scenes, it's partially this game's fault that my city's scene more or less died off. Those who were dedicated Smash 4 players would be very vocal about their complaints every time we featured Melee alongside 4 or devoted more streaming time to Melee. This lead to my good friend Aldo, our main tournament organizer, leaving the scene due to the Smash 4 players repeatedly criticizing him for not running tournaments "the right way". The Waco scene, which was lively and bustling at the time of my last review, has been all but dead since then. I yearn for the good times at Lansharx before all that pointless drama. You didn't see me whining when 4 was featured.

As for the future of Smash itself, DLC has officially come to a close for better or for worse. I was hoping this would be our chance to get a campaign mode, but whatevs. Patching continues to happen, and each one does do a decent job of balancing the game a little bit more. The days of the top three being unstoppable seem to be on their way out, and good riddance. Sakurai has stated that Smash 4 will be his last Smash game, although he said this about Melee and Brawl too. The most likely scenario is him handing off the IP to someone else. This is an interesting venture, as it could open the franchise up to all sorts of things that Sakurai might not have approved of. Like Brawl, a team of modders is already working on making a Project M-styled Smash 4, and I'm excited to see where, if anywhere, that goes. No matter what the future holds, Smash is a fantastic series that holds tons of memories for me and everyone else who picked up a copy at some point. Each game has its flaws and its advantages, and those who's focus lies in ventures other than competitive play could easily have a totally different viewpoint than my own. ~