Thursday, October 8, 2015

Bit by Bit: September 2015

September was an eventful month. I went to Fan Expo, spent three days powering through Mario Maker for a review, started classes for another year, and ended my post-secondary career in the span of 30 days. The last one might seem drastic and surprising, but it has been surprisingly refreshing. A great weight lifted off my shoulders when I handed in the withdrawal form. School took up every facet of life for the past five years, so to finally be done is surreal. Now, I got more time to play games!

Enough about me, we got games to talk about especially with the fall game rush in full effect. For the uninitiated, the fall game rush is the incredible amount of games that release from September to November each year. And I bet if you're a self-respecting gamer, you picking up at least one brand new title in the next few months. I know I'm buying quite a few.

Game of the Month
Super Mario Maker would be the easy choice for Game of the Month with its robust level editor and insane amount of user-created content, but I haven't spent as much time with the game that I originally thought I would. Mario Maker is one of the best games on the Wii U; it just hasn't grabbed me in the way I wanted it to. Outside of the first weekend owning the game, I've only picked it up a handful of times over the last few weeks. Let's just say seeing little reaction to your uploaded levels can be disheartening.

While Mario Maker didn't grab all my free time, Yacht Club Games' free expansion for Shovel Knight sure did.

In Plague of Shadows, you take control of Plague Knight as he collects the essence of his fellow knights in order to create the ultimate potion. Instead of relying on a shovel to bounce off enemies like a pogo stick, Plague Knight must use bombs, spells and his charge launch ability to reach the chambers of his former comrades. Although you play through the same levels that are in the main campaign, using Plague Knight's unique abilities makes each level play in a whole new way. Plus as an added bonus, each level has special area that only Plague Knight can get through. Plague Knight may be tricky to control at first, but you will definitely get the hang of his arsenal after the first few levels. In addition to the brand new campaign, Plague of Shadows adds a challenge mode with over 40 challenges to complete as Shovel or Plague Knight.

As an expansion, Plague of Shadows offers more content than most game expansions or DLC. Plus, it's all free for anybody who buys or already owns Shovel Knight! If the other planned expansions for the game are just as good as Plague of Shadows, Shovel Knight may be one of the top games for years to come.

Most Anticipated Games of the Month
I can't nail down my most anticipated game of September since I have three big game purchases during the first three weeks of October. Very similar to those picking up all the big AAA releases in November, October is my big rush of games. Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash drops Friday, October 9th followed by Yoshi's Wooly World a week after that and The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes just a week later. With all those games, I'm going to have quite a bit to talk about this upcoming month. No promises, but maybe I will get around to posting some reviews for them in the near future.

In all seriousness, I am really looking forward to playing all these new Nintendo games. Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash is going to be to closet thing to a new Castlevania until Bloodstained comes out in 2017, Yoshi's Wooly World might just be the best Yoshi solo outing in decades, and The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes takes the fun of multiplayer Zelda and melds it with the expert dungeon design of traditional 2D Zeldas. Also two out of the three games come with adorable amiibos, which is always a plus in my books.

Video of the Month
Words will not do this video justice. Just sit back and enjoy the spectacle that is the Japanese launch trailer for Tearaway Unfolded. I promise you, it's one hell of an acid trip.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

First Byte: Fan Expo 2015 Gauntlet

Early September, I went to Fan Expo Canada for a day. Aside from exploring the massive show floor and buying a few cool items on sale, I spent the majority of my time playing upcoming games. Actually, it was more like standing in line to play said games. Much like last year. there were well over 30 games at Fan Expo for all to play from big AAA titles such as Assassin's Creed: Syndicate to smaller titles like Cuphead. I always go in dreaming to play every game on the show floor, but I can only get in a quarter at best. This year, I played 10 games in total.

This time around I'm changing up the structure of the Fan Expo Gauntlet. Instead of taking two parts to outline every game I played, I'm going to highlight three titles. These are the titles that I got more time to play and can dissect for your pleasure. With how poorly some demos were managed by volunteers, I just couldn't extract enough from them to fill a paragraph. For example, I played Transformers: Devastation for only enough time to say the combat is exactly the same as Bayonetta just with some third-person gunplay thrown in the mix.
Yo-Kai Watch
To my surprise, Nintendo had a lot more games at their booth than the three games advertised (Splatoon, Super Mario Maker and Yoshi's Wooly World). One of the titles available to play on 3DS was the newest sensation out of Japan, Yo-Kai Watch. The demo I played gave me a good impression on the game's combat system, which is pretty different from most JRPGs on the market.

There are no random encounters in Yo-Kai Watch, you literally chase down wild yo-kai by keeping your cursor over them. Once the yo-kai are caught, you engage in combat. Combat consists of spinning a wheel on the touch screen to alternate between the six yo-kai on your team and activating special touch screen specific activities in order to unleash special attacks. Outside of lining up the correct elements to maximize damage and special attacks, normal attacks automatically occur at regular intervals.

For the 15 to 20 minute demo, I found the combat really fun and engaging alternative to the traditional RPG combat systems, but I can see it getting tedious over the course of a 40 hour playthrough if this is all Yo-Kai Watch offers.
Star Wars: Battlefront
Ever since EA and DICE released the first slew of information on the new Star Wars: Battlefront at Star Wars Celebration Anaheim, people have been tirelessly debating over the game's content or lack thereof and its similarities to Battlefield. The gameplay footage revealed at E3 did quite a bit to fan the flames, but there were still some doubters. I will say this: you will have no doubts when you get your hands on the game. My friends and I walked away from the demo at Fan Expo astounded at how amazing it was.

The only mode available to play was Survival. It is Battlefront's version of Horde mode as you and a teammate are tasked with battling through waves upon waves of Imperial forces on Tatooine. The first few waves consist of just Stormtroopers, but as the waves go on, the difficulty goes up at a gradual yet challenging pace by throwing AT-ATs and shocktroopers your way. For somebody who can't hold their own in contemporary shooters, Battlefront made me feel like an all-star. The controls felt perfectly tuned to deal with everything that was being thrown my way. There were a couple waves where I was the last man standing and the tight controls were the only thing that allowed me to pull through.

Although the demo consisted of only one mode, the superb controls and the game's ability to accurately emulate the world of Star Wars has me highly anticipating playing Battlefront later this year.
Star Fox Zero
Most games I played at Fan Expo left me feeling optimistic about their final release. Sadly, I can't say the same for Star Fox Zero. While I will still buy this game early next year, I have a bad feeling that the game is going to alienate a lot of people because of its unique control scheme, much like Kid Icarus: Uprising before it.

Star Fox Zero has you using the analog sticks to control the Arwing and the motion controls in the Wii U gamepad to aim your weapons. This control set-up works during the on-rail segments. but completely falls apart when you enter all-range mode. The reason for this occurrence comes from the all-range mode's reliance on pinpoint accuracy to dispatch enemies. If you played Splatoon, you would already know that this control scheme is no where near accurate and Star Fox's focus on it feels counter-productive. Transforming into the walker did alleviate some of the targeting problems with particular enemies, but the walker's controls felt rough around the edges as will.

After playing Star Fox Zero, I am happy that Nintendo delayed the game until early 2016 because it gives Nintendo more time to refine the controls for the game. While Star Fox Zero has the potential to breathe new life into this struggling franchise, a polarizing control scheme might just ground the Star Fox team for good.

Friday, September 11, 2015

First Byte: Pokemon GO

Ever since someone picked up a Game Boy to play Pokemon Red and Blue, or watched Ash Ketchum's quest to become a Pokemon Master in the anime, the dream of interacting with these adorable pocket monsters in reality has been present. You could buy the merchandise, toys, or games as a way to satisfy those desires, but they could never truly replicate actually hunting through tall grass to find a wild Pikachu.

Over a year ago, the pranksters at Google tricked the world into believing they made the ultimate Pokemon experience, only to have it be an April Fool's Day joke. While the video was too good to be true, deep in everyone's heart they wanted it to be real. Well, the folks at Nintendo, the Pokemon Company, Game Freak and Niantic have joined forces to turn this dream into a reality with Pokemon GO.

Revealed early September 10, Pokemon GO is the brainchild of Ishihara Tsunekazu and the late Satoru Iwata. It is a free-to-play mobile title for iOS and Android that uses location data to actively catch, trade, and battle Pokemon on your smartphone. Releasing in 2016, GO forces players out of the house and into the world around them in order to become a Pokemon Master. In addition to the free download, players can purchase a peripheral called Pokemon GO Plus. The Pokemon GO Plus cuts out the need for players to continually stare at their smartphone by using vibration and a blinking LED to notify them about certain events happening in the game such as the appearance of a wild Pokemon. It also serves as a controller for the game by helping catch Pokemon and perform other simple actions.

After watching the trailer and conference for Pokemon GO, I am conflicted. The concept is great, but there are so many questions left unanswered that I can't help but be cautious. The conference did nothing more than introduce the idea and everybody working on the project, while the trailer is completely misleading. The trailer makes you believe Pokemon GO is an augmented reality Pokemon simulator when in actuality it is nowhere near that level of detail and involvement. From the screenshots and how the developers described the game, Pokemon GO is very similar to the Pokemon RPGs everybody knows and loves, just interchange running around Kanto or Johto as your avatar with running around locations in real life.

The problem with Pokemon GO right now is there isn't enough tangible information on the final product. There are too many what ifs, especially concerning the gameplay and pricing of both microtransactions and the Pokemon GO Plus peripheral, that it's impossible to get a true feel for what the game will be upon release. As a seasoned Pokemon fan, going off of the Pokemon name alone is not a wish decision. Just ask anybody whose played the thousand of Pokemon spinoffs not named Snap, Puzzle League, or Conquest.

In all honesty, I want Pokemon GO to fulfill the dream of interacting with Pokemon in real life. With names like Shigeru Miyamoto, Junichi Masuda and the late Satoru Iwata, I want to get behind this game and champion it as Nintendo's first major push into the mobile market, but I can't. I need to see and hear more about Pokemon GO's gameplay and pricing to form a genuine opinion about the game. As it stands, I fear the initial trailer combined with the promise of an innovative Pokemon experience will leave a lot of people disappointed.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Bit by Bit: August 2015

It's sad to say, but summer is coming to an end. As hard as it may be to get excited to go back to school, fall brings with it an avalanche of new game releases. With the current generation finally running on all cylinders, there will be enough games to keep every gamer satisfied for the next four months. Just counting all the Nintendo games I'm going to pick up on Wii U and 3DS in the next four months is a little shocking. Good thing I have brothers that plan on picking up the multiplatform titles I'm holding out on, such as Fallout 4 and Star Wars Battlefront, so I can play them without dropping nearly 100 dollars on each one. You know, I need to save that money to buy amiibos.

Before we get started with this edition of Bit by Bit, I would like to announce that I'm going to Fan Expo again this year. I will be there Friday with a few friends from school to hang out, buy stuff, play games, and explore the show floor. Just like I did last year, there will be a full rundown of everything yours truly did at the show along with the return of the Fan Expo Gauntlet. So stay tuned for all your Fan Expo goodness from Silver Bit in the coming weeks.

Game of the Month
In recent years, I have grown fond of the Shin Megami Tensei franchise and its challenging yet engrossing take on the JRPG genre. Funny enough, the Shin Megami spin-off series Persona that's responsible for the series popularity in the West is one I barely touched. While I own both Persona 3 and 4 on PS3, I never took on the task of playing one until I got Persona 4 Golden for Vita. Now I can't stop!

RPGs are perfect for portable play. You can pick them up to finish some sidequests or grind a few levels in small bursts, or dive into the story and dungeons as a way to spend an afternoon. It may take some time to wrap your head around all of Persona 4's mechanics and everything they entail. Once you get past the learning curve, managing social links, jobs, boosting stats, and preparing for the dungeons is a blast. I have already lost many hours just delving into all the activities you can do outside of the main dungeons.

The combat is no slouch either. It has a similar turn-based structure as most JRPGs, but adds a few new systems to make the combat more engaging. Determining which elements shadows are strong/weak against is the key to success. Couple that with powerful pile-on attacks and shuffle time bonuses, and you have the ingredients for an incredible battle system that will keep you on your toes.

I am only brushing the surface of what Persona 4 Golden has to offer. I strongly urge everybody to pick up a Vita or PlayStation TV to play this phenomenal RPG, or at the very least download the PS2 original off of PSN. I may only be 25 hours into the game, but I fully understand why it's considered one of the best RPGs of the last decade. Persona 4 Golden is that damn good, period!

Most Anticipated Toy of the Month
Rumours about a Shovel Knight amiibo were floating around the interwebs for a couple weeks now, but nothing was ever confirmed. That was until a UK retailer announced its existence ahead of Nintendo and Yacht Club Games' official unveiling at Nintendo's Nindies @ Night event in Seattle.

The Shovel Knight amiibo is being produced entirely by Yacht Club Games, and it unlocks exclusive modes and features for the Wii U and 3DS versions of Shovel Knight. The amiibo's biggest addition to the game is the Wii U exclusive co-op, which allows you to play the entire game with a friend. It will also add special challenge stages, new relics and character stat customization to both versions of Shovel Knight.

As happy as I am to see Shovel Knight get the amiibo treatment, I am even more ecstatic to see what comes from the introduction of official third-party figures into the amiibo line. This partnership truly marks an exciting new direction for the amiibo brand as a whole. Expanding the brand to outside properties may be the olive branch Nintendo needs to attract third-parties back to their systems. Plus, it offers a wonderful platform for indie developers like Yacht Club Games to get exposure on a scale they could of only dreamed of.

I have my fingers crossed for Bit.Trip, Shantae and Mighty No. 9 amiibos.

Video of the Month
It won't be too much longer before Super Mario Maker will be released to the general public. For those people like myself that cannot wait any longer, IGN has put together a series of videos called the IGN Super Mario Maker Editors Challenge to show off all the wonderful levels you can make in the game. These five to ten minute videos release every Monday, Wednesday and Friday leading up to Super Mario Maker's release and they offer great inspiration for those looking forward to creating their own Mario deathtraps. Plus, it's hilarious to watch the Mario insanity people think of and the priceless reactions from those playing.

I've included the first video in the series below, but I highly recommend watching them all. I hope to see many great levels online when Super Mario Maker launches on 11th of September.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The PlayStation Vita: Revisted

Upon its release, the PlayStation Vita was a big talking point around the industry. Sadly, it focused on the system's woes when it came to its lack of commercial success and a consistent lineup of games. This unfortunate turn of events has gone to plague the Vita for its entire life. It is remarkable that the Vita is only three years old and the system is already considered dead. Apart from niche Japanese games published by Atlus, NIS America or Aksys Games, and cross-buy indie titles, Sony and third-parties abandoned the handheld by the end of 2014 at the latest.

The Vita's life has been tragic to say the least, but I am not here to rub salt in wound. Since I recently picked it up for myself, I am here to give an honest opinion to those that may be seriously considering buying the system in the near or distant future.

First and foremost, the PlayStation Vita is a well-designed handheld, which is impressive since it is Sony's second stab at a handheld. Originally, I thought the button placement was too close together. After an extensive amount of time with the Vita over the past month, everything feels responsive and fits well in my hands. I only had a problem with the system's d-pad, which is incredibly flimsy due to Sony's decision to meld it to one plastic plate rather than making them separate buttons.

With front and rear touch screens, cameras, and motion controls on top of the traditional button layout, the Vita is filled to the brim with technology. Maybe a little too much technology. Although I fall under the belief Sony packed far too many things into the Vita, it comes down to how the software uses said technology that determines if it's all warranted. Considering Tearaway is the only Vita game out of the 14 I own that properly uses everything in the system, the touch and motion controls mostly come off as gimmicks instead of essential features.

While the Vita may not have be as powerful as the PS3 in the graphics department, the system's OLED screen, found in all original units but not in the Slim redesign, is wonderful to look at. The high screen resolution makes hand-drawn 2D art pop off the screen. It's like watching a painting in motion. Games that lean towards realism in their graphics, such as Uncharted and Killzone, don't fair as well since the Vita can't pump out realistic polygons and textures like its console brethren.

Apart from the Vita's well-documented lacking library, the system suffers from a major problem when it comes to storage. In order to save or download games, you need a memory card for the Vita. Rather than use a universal memory card like a micro SD, Sony decided to force Vita owners to buy their own proprietary cards for outrageous prices. You can find four or eight gigabyte cards for something more reasonable, but you'll run out of room quick if you start downloading PSP and PS1 games to your system. Due to Sony intentionally shortchanging consumers on memory, you might have to fork over another 50 to 100 dollars on top of the price of the Vita to get enough memory to be comfortable with.

For the 100 dollars I spent on a used PlayStation Vita, it was well worth it. I now own 14 great titles I cannot get on any other system, can experience all the PSP games that I missed out on like Valkyria Chronicles II and Patapon, and have a chance to play all my PS1 classics and cross-buy games on the go. For those that are unable to get the Vita for the same price, I suggest you do some research and determine if there enough games, features and applications to warrant spending 200 dollars or more to buy one for yourself.

Overall, the Vita is a great portable system that is superior all other handhelds on the market when it comes to power and beauty. Unless you're a hardcore gamer or own the consoles needed to unlock the system's full potential, the Vita doesn't have the library or the features to be worth spending upwards of 200 dollars on.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Silver Bit & Imprint

Over the past few months, I have posted a few links for articles which I have written for a publication that isn't Silver Bit. That publication is Imprint, the University of Waterloo's student-run newspaper. I have been volunteering there for just over a year now as a proofreader and now am slowly expanding to take on a greater role as a writer.

With another commitment on the table, I sadly can't dedicate my time equally among everything I do. Before you think it is an excuse not to write on Silver Bit, I am just letting everybody know that there is another place to read articles from yours truly. You can check them out on my archives page. There isn't much there now, but I promise there's a lot more coming.

At the moment, I am Imprint's friendly neighbourhood movie reviewer, but have also dabbled in writing blogs. If you are on UW's campus for whatever reason this coming frosh week, I have a fun little article that I am looking forward to see people's reaction to. Hint: it is unlike anything I have ever written. Hope that's enough of a teaser to get you to pick up a copy.

I've loved every moment I have spent volunteering at Imprint this past year and hope for many more great years to come. Since I am getting more involved, I want to share my published work, along with the wonderful content created by the whole Imprint team, with all you that read Silver Bit.

So take some time to read through a few articles, make comments, share the ones you like with others and maybe make your imprint by getting involved yourself.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Bit by Bit: July 2015

I did promise back in March to be better at announcing hiatuses for Silver Bit, but I honestly didn't plan this at all.  After the craziness that was E3 2015, I didn't have much drive to write Best Games of E3 article because of the lack of playable demos on the show floor this year.  On top of E3 fatigue, I tried to write an article on collector's editions, but it didn't pan out.

Although a lot of July didn't work out as planned, I am hoping to update Silver Bit on a regular basis in August.  Fingers crossed.

Game of the Month
Two games took up most of my time this past month. The first is Radiant Historia, a turned-based RPG that has you bouncing between two parallel timelines in order to save the world from desertification.  I bought the game two years ago and spent a few hours with it before putting it down until recently.  I always enjoyed the gameplay and premise of Radiant Historia, but it's story and timeline-weaving quests are what will keep you gripping your DS or 3DS for hours on end.  In all seriousness, I play Radiant Historia a good hour or two at a time.  Sadly, I hit a grind wall around chapter four that has caused me to put the game down for the time being.

The second game and July's Game of the Month is Tearaway for the PlayStation Vita.  While I planned on waiting until Tearaway Unfolded for PS4 to dive into Media Molecule's critical darling, my curiosity got the best of me especially considering I found the game for 10 dollars new.  As cool as it would be to experience the beautiful paper craft visuals on a big HDTV, I am so happy that I experienced Tearaway on its system of origin.

Out of all the games on the Vita, Tearaway is the system's killer app.  Unlike other titles, such as Uncharted: Golden Abyss or Killzone: Mercenary, where the use of motion and touch controls feels tacked on, Tearaway uses every feature built into the Vita in an intuitive way.  Seeing your fingers pop out of the back touch screen to dispatch enemies or watching your face play a role as the ever-present sun are just magical.  My descriptions don't do Tearaway justice; it is a game that you have to experience for yourself in order to understand how special it is.

Video of the Month
On July 12th, 2015, the video game industry lost a visionary in Satoru Iwata.  Since the tragic news broke, many lovely tributes for Iwata-san have been made.  All these tributes are amazing, but I can't showcase them all here.  I choose to highlight Screwattack's tribute video because it does a wonderful job at blending Iwata's greatest quotes and the video clips that highlight his quirky personality.

Thank you, Satoru Iwata.  You will be deeply missed.