Wednesday, May 13, 2015

First Byte: Splatoon

I can't seem to escape Nintendo's gravitational pull.  For the past month, they have released a handful of great content for me to dissect and discuss here on Silver Bit like the Super Smash Bros. and Mario Kart 8 DLC.  Now, Nintendo goes ahead and drops a public beta for Splatoon.  Considering my excitement for the game, I dived headfirst into the free Splatoon Global Testfire this past weekend.

Open to everyone who downloaded the free demo from the Nintendo eShop, the Splatoon Global Testfire gave Wii U owners three hour-long chances to play the game's multiplayer.  Each hour-long opportunity was the same experience: pick your inkling, play the tutorial, pick your weapon set and jump right into multiplayer.  The Splatoon Global Testfire offered four weapon sets to use, two maps to fight on and one mode to play.  In between matches, you could play a retro-stylized Doddle Jump clone called Squid Jump.

After spending close to three hours with Splatoon, I found Splatoon's take on the multiplayer shooter to be a very enjoyable experience.  Despite more developers focusing on team-based and asymmetrical skirmishes recently, the most popular entries in this genre try to make the player feel like a one-man army.  On the opposite side of the fence, Splatoon's multiplayer only consists of four vs. four team battles, which focus on covering the battlefield with ink instead of blood.  Focusing on teamwork and toned down violence makes Splatoon a more age-appropriate mutliplayer game than the military shooters like Call of Duty and Battlefield that kids find ways to play.  This focus also shows that multiplayer shooters don't need to be extremely violent in nature to be fun.

The first thing you will definitely notice upon loading up Splatoon are the controls.  The controls are very similar to other shooters with the left analog stick to move, the right analog stick to look left and right, and the triggers for weapons.  The difference comes with how you control looking up and down.  Instead of mapping it to the right analog stick like most shooters, you control looking up and down by tilting the Wii U Gamepad in either direction.  This control scheme can be jarring at first, but was easy to grasp after a few rounds.  While I did get use to these unique controls, they don't work for every weapon in the game.

The controls fell apart when using the Splat Charger, a weapon that works much like a sniper rifle.  Accuracy and precision are key when using this weapon, which makes aiming incredibly frustrating when the motion controls pick up every slight movement.  I found out from friends and other sources that you can customize the controls, but the option was never made clear during the beta or through Nintendo's vast amount of promotion material.

Aside from the inconvenience, Splatoon plays great.  The weapons have their unique strengths and weaknesses.  Sub-weapons and special moves offer tactical options for changing the tide of battle.  The instantaneous jump into the heat of battle activated by tapping the Gamepad eliminates the downtime of travelling.  Plus, transforming into a squid to hide from foes or escape from danger is exhilarating.

The Splatoon Global Testfire offered two maps to play: Walleye Warehouse and Saltspray Rig.  Both maps are symmetrical, but different in their design.  Walleye Warehouse is built for close-combat with tight alleyways and few open areas, while Saltspray Rig is an open arena with multiple elevations and central platforms to battle over.  Compared to other shooters, the maps are small and compact.  The smaller maps increases the tension as your opponents is always close by.  The tension is heightened by the lack of communication outside of a few preset phrases.  While it creates a tense atmosphere, the lack of voice chat between teammate is a missed opportunity on Nintendo's part.

Apart from a few failures to initially connect to a game or connection errors, I had little to no problems with the Splatoon Global Testfire.  The game's multiplayer looks to be shaping up nicely and I look forward to spending more time with it in the near future.  With this successful test into public betas, hopefully Nintendo will use this method of testing for future projects.  Maybe even give Wii U owners a few more chances to play Splatoon before launch.  Wink wink, nudge nudge.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Bit by Bit: April 2015

School is done for another year, but things haven't slowed down that much.  My jobs, both paid and volunteer, keep me busy throughout the year especially in the summer.  Speaking of work, you can check out my first published piece for Imprint, the University of Waterloo's student run newspaper.  It is a review of Avengers: Age of Ultron.  I hope you enjoy and share it with others.

On top of work, I have lots of things going on in the coming months.  I have movies to watch (and possibly review), live wrestling shows to see, games to play, friends to visit and a vacation to take.  It is going to a busy yet fun summer.

Don't worry though.  Silver Bit won't be taking a backseat; in fact, it will be front and centre especially when it comes to E3 next month.  I have a lot of things cooking regarding regular content for Silver Bit this summer so stay tuned.

Show of the Month
April has been a month to try new things for yours truly.  I got a chance to feel the pain, frustration and ironic fun of From Software's Bloodbourne, determine for myself if Game of Thrones lives up to the hype and rabid praise (it's getting there), and got back into watching anime.  My renewed interest in anime came all thanks to IGN's Anime Club podcast.  I use to watch anime regularly when I was a teenager, but grew out of it due to my exhaustion with drawn-out plots and my preference for reading manga.  Now, I am scouring used video stores and the Funimation app for shows both old and new in order to expand my horizons.

In expanding my horizons, I took a risk and spent 20 dollars on the Cowboy Bebop complete series DVD set.  While I am still working my way through the series, I do not regret my purchase.  In fact, I am loving it.  Cowboy Bebop is unlike anything I have ever laid my eyes on.  The innovation and stylishness of this anime makes it stand out above all the others.

Cowboy Bebop blends beautiful animations, always on-point humour and fully fleshed out characters.  At first, the show may seem a little off-putting due to how different it is from most anime.  Bebop never holds your hand; it just drops you in its world and lets you experience all its imperfections and quirks for yourself.  Also Bebop's use of music is unbelievable as each episode has its own unique soundtrack that fits its story and tone.  Plus, the opening for the show is thing of beauty.

Out of the 15 episodes I have watched so far, Cowboy Bebop is a really good show slowly becoming a great show.  It does take a few episodes before it gets going and about a good dozen before it starts firing on all cylinders.  Once it starts firing on all cylinders, Bebop is almost untouchable.  Bebop is an incredible show that you should watch, anime fan or not.

Most Anticipated Game of the Month
My love for the The Witcher III: Wild Hunt has been well documented in the annals of Silver Bit.  The game looks absolutely incredible.  I have been looking forward to Witcher III ever since it graced the cover of Game Informer just over two years ago and we are less than a month away until its release.

Just recently, CD Projekt RED announced the expansion pass for the game.  Before you get up in arms over another DLC pass like everybody did with the Arkham Knight season pass, Witcher's expansion pass is unlike other passes on the market.  While most DLC for games nowadays adds a few hours of extra content, this expansion pass will add around 30 hours of content to the already expansive Witcher III.  At 25 dollars, you are getting well over five times more content than the typical season pass.  Plus, CD Projekt RED is offering 16 free pieces of DLC in the year following the game's release.

It may be a lot of money to drop on one game, but I trust the guys and gals at CD Projekt Red to deliver.  I feel it is a worthwhile investment to get the most out of the grandest fantasy RPG ever created and help support these incredible developers create more great RPGs in the future.

Video of the Month
I have a problem.  I just can't stop watching Honest Trailers, be it for video games or movies.  They are just too funny.  I devoured the older ones throughout late March and early April.  Now, I impatiently wait for new ones to be posted.

To show you how great this YouTube series is (and maybe get you addicted as well), enjoy the newest Honest Game Trailer for Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

On the Download: Mario Kart 8 DLC Impressions

Last Thursday, the second pack of DLC for Mario Kart 8 became available for download on the Nintendo eShop for eight dollars.  If you didn't pick up the previous DLC pack, both packs are available in a bundle at the discounted price of 12 dollars.  Each DLC pack offers three characters, eight tracks and four vehicles, which pulls some of its content from franchises outside of the Mario series including The Legend of Zelda, Animal Crossing, Excitebike and F-Zero.

While DLC and how game companies approach pricing and releasing it has become a hot topic in recent years, Nintendo has received a great amount of praise for their approach to these DLC packs.  The reason behind the praise comes from the critical reception for Mario Kart 8 on its own and the timing of the DLC announcement.

First, Mario Kart 8 received universal praise from fans and critics alike.  Both thought the game was packed with great amount of content to begin with and many were craving for more content for the game.  Instead of feeling like Nintendo was adding content that should have already been in Mario Kart 8, the announcement of the DLC felt like a natural extension of the game and an evolutionary step for the whole franchise.

Second, most DLC announcements come well before a game hits store shelves.  This practice can alienate consumers as it can be interpreted as game companies holding back content in order to extort money out of their loyal customers at a later date.  Nintendo waited a good three months after the release of Mario Kart 8 to announce DLC for the game.  Although Nintendo may have been working on the content at the same time as the game, the timing of the announcement, coupled with the affordable price, makes consumers feel that they are getting more bang for their buck and that the DLC content is in addition to the content already in the game.

Aside from dissecting the wide acceptance of the Mario Kart 8 DLC, the content provided in these packs are superb.  Playing through each pack gave me a greater appreciation for Mario Kart 8 as a whole.  Certain aspects that I overlooked upon my initial playthrough, such as graphics, audio and track design, are brought to the forefront in unique ways.

Seeing the rain-soaked neon landscape of Neo Bowser City hits home how wonderful it is to see Nintendo properties in full HD glory.  Hearing the unique audio cues from Animal Crossing and Legend of Zelda on their respective tracks along with the electric fences and healing pads in the F-Zero tracks shows Mario Kart 8's incredible attention to detail and the reverence Nintendo has to their properties.  Pulling together old and new Mario Kart tracks, in addition to re-imagining tracks from both F-Zero and Excitebike, spruces up the tried-and-true formula of cups having all new tracks or all old tracks and injects a ton of variety into the track designs.  Speaking of the track designs, the changing seasons of the Animal Crossing track, the randomized layout of mud spots and ramps on the Excitebike and even slightly tilting Baby Park on its side for the track to be raced entirely in anti-gravity are wonderful tweaks that make the tracks a lot more engaging and exciting to play.

Although the inclusion of Link, Villager and Isabelle open Mario Kart up to the possibility of becoming Nintendo Kart, the three other "new" characters are nothing more than new costumes for existing characters.  They don't bring anything new to the game other than a cosmetic change.  Nintendo could of easily added these new costumes by having the a separate menu pop-up when selecting either Mario, Peach or Bowser much like they did with the boy and girl Villager and the colour variants for Yoshi and Shy Guy.  Adding these unnecessary characters brings more attention to Mario Kart 8's overinflated roster problem.  Also including these variants on existing characters over brand new characters from either the Mario universe or Nintendo as a whole feels like a missed opportunity in my opinion.

At 12 dollars for both of packs, the DLC for Mario Kart 8 is must own.  The amount of content packed into it is astonishing.  You are literally getting another half-game of content for the price of movie admission.  Hopefully, the success of these DLC packs leads for more content for Mario Kart 8 in the years to come.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

On the Download: Super Smash Bros. Mewtwo Impressions

In recent years, Nintendo has gotten more comfortable with creating and selling downloadable content for their games.  From weekly DLC packs to haggling NPCs to buy new content for a cheaper price, Nintendo has tested multiple approaches to tackling DLC in an effort to determine what model their fan base finds acceptable.  Tests found in games like Fire Emblem Awakening, Pikmin 3 and Rusty's Real Deal Baseball have all led Nintendo to adopting the best practices for their major franchises, in particular, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and 3DS, and Mario Kart 8.  Since there isn't enough room to cover impressions for both games in this one articles, the Super Smash Bros. DLC will be covered in this article with impressions of the Mario Kart 8 DLC coming next week.
The most anticipated aspect of any Super Smash Bros. is the final roster.  Everybody wildly speculates what iconic Nintendo characters will return for the next entry, what new characters will join the ranks and what third-party characters will interrupt the proceedings.  Out of all the characters people were craving to see in the newest Smash Bros., a large group of vocal fans got behind the return of one psychic Pokemon—Mewtwo.  While Mewtwo did not make it into the initial release of Super Smash Bros for Wii U and 3DS, Nintendo heard the fan outcry and you can add him to the popular fighting game on Tuesday, April 28th at the price of four dollars for one version or five dollars for both.

Fortunately, those who registered both versions of Super Smash Bros. on Club Nintendo received Mewtwo for free last Wednesday.  That includes yours truly.  As it has been a long time since I last played Melee, I can't delve into the minute differences between Mewtwo's Melee move set and the updated move set.  The only noticeable difference is Mewtwo's Final Smash, the Psystrike, which sees him mega evolve into Mega Mewtwo Y to blow opponents away with a huge ball of psychic energy.  After playing through multiple matches (on and offline), Classic and All Star modes with Mewtwo, I found this psychic powerhouse to play similar to his Melee iteration.  Due to his floaty movement and weak standard attacks, Mewtwo is meant for seasoned Smash Bros. players that are attuned with charging Smash attacks and playing on the defensive.  In particular, Mewtwo's side and down B moves are only useful for deflecting projectiles or setting opponents up for Mewtwo's smash attacks as they don't have any real offensive use.  Once I got accustomed to Mewtwo's strengths and weaknesses, I found him to be a great new addition to the roster.

For the Super Smash Bros.'s DLC fighters, it comes down to how you personally enjoy the characters available.  Unless you want to get the full roster, it is easy to pick and choose which fighters you want to buy.  At four to five dollars a piece, the DLC offers a great amount of value for the asking price especially when compared the Mii Fighter costume DLC also available.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Bit by Bit: March 2015

Let's address the elephant in the room.  I know I promised to have things back to normal by the end of March and it's now three weeks into April.  I am sorry for the delays, but school consumed my entire life until last Wednesday.  Between writing close to 20 pages for final essays and studying non-stop for exams that involved copious amounts of writing, I wasn't in much of a mood to write anything else at that point in time.

Although I originally wanted this edition of Bit by Bit to be the first post back from the hiatus, I am very happy that I got the Launch Station for Xenoblade Chronicles 3D up in time for its release this past Friday, especially considering my reverence for the Wii original.  Since school is winding down for the year (only one exam left!), I will be able to once again post to Silver Bit on a regular basis.  With all that being said, let us rewind the clock to last month and look back at the best and worst of March 2015.

Shame of the Month
Typically, I highlight the best game I played in the past month, but I think the game I am talking about today deserves an exception.  While I critique games, I don't usually review games I find middling or bad because I don't spend enough time with them to justify a review.  Personally, I like to experience everything the game has to offer before writing a review, including playing through the single-player portion and spending a good amount of time with the multiplayer.  It is a time-consuming commitment that I don't usually make for a game that I despise playing.  Now, I want to start playing a greater variety of games, in both genre and quality, to widen what I talk about on Silver Bit.  Although too much time has passed for me to give a full review justice, I will still honour this game as the very first Shame of the Month.

In the middle of all the craziness that was March, I decided to download a little free-to-play game that was popular among everybody I met through StreetPass—Pokemon Shuffle.  At the core of Pokemon Shuffle, there is an okay match-three puzzle game.  Sadly, that core is wrapped in frustrating gameplay mechanics that are only in the game to make players shell out their hard-earned cash.

Unless you have a gripping need to spend real money to play Shuffle for hours on end, it is best to play for the short amount of time offered through the five regenerating hearts.  You will see everything Pokemon Shuffle has to offer in the first 30 to 40 stages, leaving you over 100 stages of recycling the same challenges with increasing difficulty.  What makes the game even worse are the mechanics, such as the catchability meter and enemy disruptions, that are tweaked in such a way that it forces players to pay money in order to advance in the game.  Yes, there are ways around these frustrations by hording jewels until absolutely necessary, but the game continually tempts the player to use them for five more turns or 20 more seconds to catch their desired Pokemon.  These deceitful freemium practices just put a bad taste in your mouth.

Hopefully with Nintendo producing games for mobile platforms, these cash-sucking titles will be exclusive for those markets instead of infecting the 3DS and Wii U eShops.  Pokemon Shuffle is pretty much the exact same game as last year's Pokemon Battle Trozei with new Mega Evolution screen-clearing combos and tons of devious ways to steal your money.  Pokemon Shuffle may not be that fun, but it is perfect start to Silver Bit's Shame of the Month.

Most Anticipated Game of the Month
This past March, Nintendo pulled the curtain back on Splatoon and does it ever look good.  About midway through the month, Nintendo brought video game journalists from media outlets like IGN and Gamespot and Youtube personalities like ProJared and The Completionist to play the game at their American headquarters.  The onslaught of videos and articles that came from this event highlight Splatoon's various single and multiplayer modes.

Back when the game debuted at E3 2014, I initially thought Splatoon wasn't anything special as it looked like a neat little downloadable title.  I can say now that I was totally wrong and I am glad to be wrong in this case.  Splatoon looks to be a very comprehensive game with a Mario Galaxy style Octo Valley single-player campaign and fully-fledged suite of online multiplayer modes like Turf Wars and Ranked Battles.  I am especially looking forward to spending lots of time in Octo Valley launching from floating island to floating island, using ink in unique ways to battle enemies and finding interesting ways to traverse platforms with some cool ink-squid combinations.

If you would've asked me about Splatoon at the beginning of the year, I would've shrugged the game off as Nintendo giving the third-person shooter genre the good ol' college try.  Now, all I want to do is play it.  I know I overuse this saying, but I seriously can't wait until May 29th to play Splatoon.  I am that damn excited.

Video of the Month
In 1987, Hironobu Sakaguchi was a young video designer for Squaresoft that just wanted to finish the final game in his contract to pursue the greener pastures of hip hop.  Unbeknownst to Sakaguchi, his "final fantasy" spiraled into the long-running franchise many gamers know and love and a seemingly never-ending extension to his contract.  How did the success and popularity of Final Fantasy affect the legendary game designer?  Watch Mega64's totally real behind-the scenes look at the making of Final Fantasy to find out.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Launch Station: Xenoblade Chronicles 3D

Just over three years ago this week, Xenoblade Chronicles for the Wii landed on North American shores.  Xenoblade's release was extremely limited as it was only available through Gamestop and EB Games.  Due to its rarity, Xenoblade Chronicles' resale value jumped well over 100 dollars very soon after its release and has been that way for the last few years.  Unless you were willing to part with upwards of 100 dollars, many were unable experience to the best Japanese RPG of last generation.  With Xenoblade Chronicles being represented by protagonist Shulk and the Gaur Plain stage in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and 3DS and Xenoblade Chronicles X coming out later this year, what a better time for Nintendo to re-release Monolith Soft's RPG epic for the New Nintendo 3DS.

Yes, you read that right.  Xenoblade Chronicles 3D is coming to the New Nintendo 3DS, not any of the previous models.  Due to the game's enormous scope, Xenoblade Chronicles 3D needs the power that only the New 3DS can muster.  It is an impressive feat to see Monster Games fit everything contained in Xenoblade Chronicles from the massive world to the thousands of side-quests into a nice handheld package.  Xenoblade Chronicles 3D is a straight-forward port of the original Wii release with a few new extras.  These extras are unlocked by spending tokens, earned through StreetPass or placing the Shulk amiibo on the New 3DS' touch screen, on music tracks for the Jukebox or 3D models for the Model Viewer.  Outside of these extras, Xenoblade Chronicles is now able to be played in glass-less 3D.  For a more in-depth preview on the story and mechanics of Xenoblade Chronicles, check out the original Launch Station for the game.

In the annals of Silver Bit, I have spoken volumes about Monolith Soft's JRPG masterpiece.  Despite the Wii's lack of sheer horsepower, Xenoblade Chronicles easily stands among the best games of last generation in terms of both graphics and gameplay.  Standing on the edge of a cliff overlooking Gaur Plain and looking out at the horizon to see mountains, green pastures and a continent-sized titan in the distance is a breathtaking experience.  The MMO-style combat and exploration is just as enthralling.  I cannot praise Xenoblade Chronicles enough.  No matter if you play it on a television screen or in the palm of your hand, Xenoblade Chronicles is a must-have.  If you own a New 3DS, do not hesitate in picking up a copy because they will be gone before you know it.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

March Hiatus Notice

I haven't been that good at announcing the times when I need to step away from Silver Bit to dedicate time and energy to other areas of life.  When things become too overwhelming, I just stop writing with no explanation whatsoever.  Starting with this notice, I hope to change my poor practices.

Like mentioned in the latest Bit by Bit, school is getting really insane with midterms and projects.  With everything on my plate for March, I can't give the attention that is needed to write posts on a weekly basis.  If I rush the writing process just to fill content for the month, I am not writing to the best of my ability.  It is unfair of me to put out a sub par product for everybody who takes the time to read Silver Bit.  So for the month of March, Silver Bit is going on hiatus.  Things will return to normal by the end of the month with a new edition of Bit by Bit.  Until we reach that point in time, I wish you all a great month of gaming.