Thursday, November 12, 2015

Bit by Bit: October 2015

Sometimes, you can't think of anything interesting to write as a lead for an article. This is one of those times.

I've been trying to put together this edition of Bit by Bit for a couple weeks now, but I blank every time I sit down to write an introduction. A lot happened during October; sadly I can't seem to find a way to put it into a cohesive thought. Maybe that's how the working life goes: everything just blurs together.

Well, enough of my introspective look at introductions. Let's get to what you read Bit by Bit for: the video games!

Game of the Month
If a game's quality was solely based on its graphics, Yoshi's Woolly World would easily be one of the best titles of 2015. Good thing it plays just as well as it looks. Yoshi's Woolly World is the closest Mario's dinosaur companion has come to reaching the quality of its first solo outing in Super Mario World 2.

Although Yoshi games have never been known for their challenging gameplay, Woolly World challenges the player in different way. Each level has tons of collectibles for you to find and the process of tracking down everything in one run can be very difficult. The great thing about the collectibles are the rewards. Collecting all the wonder wool in a level gives you a brand new Yoshi to play with. Also collecting all the flowers in a world opens up a secret level, which are easily the most difficult levels in the game.

Speaking of Woolly World's levels, the level design in the game is superb. From directing a Monty Mole through a maze of traps to transforming into various vehicles, each level in Woolly World has a different hook to keep you engaged. It also helps that the controls feel spot-on. They are easy enough to learn for beginners, but offer enough depth and nuance that seasoned players can pull off some great feats of platforming.

In all honesty, Yoshi's Woolly World is one of the best platformers of the year and yet another great title for the Wii U. Don't let the cute exterior fool you, Woolly World isn't a game just for children. It offers entertainment and challenge for all ages.

Most Anticipated Movie of the Month
I may be the only person on the planet that isn't excited for any of the huge AAA titles coming out this holiday season. I will admit that Fallout 4 and Star Wars Battlefront look phenomenal, but I don't need to pick them up for myself right away. That's what siblings are for, right?

But when it comes to movies, I am stuck on the Star Wars Episode VII hype train with no way of getting off. Everything Disney and Lucasfilm has shown for The Force Awakens looks absolutely incredible without giving away too many plot details. I haven't been this excited for a movie in a long time.

Just watch the final trailer! It was worth enduring a few painful minutes of Monday Night Football to see live.

Video of the Month
Kids born in the '90s may remember the slew of cartoon shows based on your favourite video game characters. Mario, Sonic, Earthworm Jim and Mega Man are just a few of the video game cartoons that people may have watched during the '90s. One cartoon I remember was Donkey Kong Country, a CG-animated show based off of Nintendo's tie-wearing gorilla, which aired on Teletoon here in Canada. All I can remember about the show is its catchy theme song, but a show with a catchy theme must be good. Right? Right?!

No, Donkey Kong Country is, for lack of a better term, bat-shit crazy and not in a good way. While I may not be able to remember the finer details of the show's insanity, ProJared's newest video does a great job of capturing Donkey Kong Country in all its glory. Watch the video to see DK at his worst.

Monday, November 2, 2015

First Byte: Yo-Kai Watch

Back in 1998, a small portable called Pokemon hit the gaming scene and ignited a phenomenon. Who knew catching, trading, and fighting adorable pocket monsters would become and stay popular among children and young adults for over 15 years? Many titles have tried their hand at usurping Pokemon off of its throne, but most have failed. Well, until recently.

Yo-Kai Watch, a multimedia franchise similar to Pokemon just replace monsters with ghosts, has blown up in Japan. Created by the well-respected Japanese game developer Level-5, Yo-Kai Watch has gone on the spawn games, toys, manga, anime, other forms of merchandise. Considering Yo-Kai Watch is such a hit in their home country of Japan, Nintendo and Level-5 are looking to recreate that success here in North America with the simultaneous launch of the toys, anime, and game.

To entice gamers to pick up the Yo-Kai Watch game upon release, Nintendo has a demo up on the eShop for all to enjoy. Funny enough, it had the adverse effect on me.

The demo gives the player one quest to complete: defeat three mischievous yo-kai and report back to the quest giver. Spoiler alert: turns out the quest giver is a yo-kai as well, and it's up to you to beat it or fight until the demo ending cutscene triggers. Outside of the quest, you are given a small section of Springdale to explore where you can talk to NPCs, find and fight wild yo-kai, and pick up random items (even though the demo doesn't allow you to use them).

Coming out of Fan Expo, I had a few reservations with Yo-Kai Watch, but was mostly pleased with the 10 minutes I played. The game has some unique systems in place when it comes to tracking down and fighting wild yo-kai that differentiate it from Pokemon, although not enough to stop comparisons from being made. After playing through the demo twice now, Yo-Kai Watch feels too shallow for my liking. While it may be easy to get into the game, there isn't anything beyond the surface. Simply, it lacks depth.

My problems with Yo-Kai Watch's lack of depth stems from its combat. Fights take place in real time, which means you have no direct control over what your party does. You only have control over switching your party mid-battle, who they target, and whether to unleash a special move or cure an afflicted party member. Using special moves and curing party members triggers one of three touch screen minigames: tapping the screen, rubbing the screen, or tracing lines. Thanks to the touch controls and minigames, I spent the majority of fights staring bottom screen. There were times I wouldn't even notice that a battle ended until I was booted back to the overworld.

This lack of agency during battles soured my impression of Yo-Kai Watch as a whole. I'm not going to spend 20 to 40 hours with a game, especially a RPG, if it's combat is this shallow. I might be wrong and Yo-Kai Watch adds plenty of depth the farther you get in the game, but I'm not spending 50 dollars just to find that out.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Game Avalache 2015: Guide to the Fall Game Rush

In a few short weeks, we enter the craziest time of the year—the avalanche known as the fall game releases. The sheer amount of games releasing in the period of one month is unbelievable. Most of them of huge AAA titles, like Halo 5, Black Ops III, Fallout 4, and Star Wars Battlefront, that will easily make a big dent in your wallet. With all these great games permeating store shelves the world over, the temptation of buying them all is definitely there. Unless you have a whole lot of disposable money, you sadly can't afford buying every game outright. For those money conscientious people out there, I'm here with some tips and tricks to help you through this trying time.

Pick and Choose
With new games selling for 70 to 80 dollars a piece, it's just too expensive to be buying every major release nowadays. Add in the nearly 20 hour plus campaigns and/or extensive multiplayer suites of modern titles, there is no way one person can beat each game in time for the next big release. There is too much coming out and not enough time or money to play them all right now. With all that in mind, best to stick with one or two new titles this holiday season and get the most out of them rather than trying to cram them all in.

Use Alternative Funding
Money can be an issue, especially for students and those dealing with debt. While it is important to budget your money in order to afford the necessities of life, the urge to get the latest and greatest game can be hard to overcome. If you need to pick up a game at launch with limited funds, it might be best to look at your backlog and see if there are any games you are willing to part with. Since most retailers nowadays accept games and other pieces of media for trade-in credit, trading in older titles is a viable solution for funding new game purchases.

Forewarning: don't go in expecting to get more than five dollars a game. Video game prices are in constant flux, so a title's trade-in value can change weekly based on factors such as rarity, popularity, or age. Unless a game's rarity or popularity trumps its age, the older the title is, the lower its resell value will be. Also the resell price of yearly releases, especially sports games, plummets once the newest entry hits store shelves. So it's best to trade those titles in before the new game comes out. Plus, keep an eye out for trade promotions because they will get you more money for the games you're looking to trade.

Play the Waiting Game
Good things come for those who wait. This adage is especially true when it comes to video game shopping during the holiday season. If you don't feel like buying a game within the first week of release, it's better to just wait. Sales happen regularly over the course of the last two months of the year. You might just find the game you're thinking of buying for 10 to 20 dollars off (sometimes more on Black Friday or Boxing Day) or somebody may give it to you for Christmas. Holding off your money spending urges might lead to the best rewards during this expensive season.

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.