Monday, May 29, 2017

ARMS Global Testpunch Impressions

I got to try out Nintendo’s new fighting game, ARMS, this weekend during their Global Testpunch. Since Splatoon does Testfires, ARMS does Testpunches. It was basically an online stress test, but also served as a demo for everyone to be able to try the game out. I got on for 4 out of the 6 scheduled Testpunches, so I played for about 4 hours.

You might think that a Nintendo game called ARMS would be all about motion controls, and the game definitely steers you in that direction, but I thought the game played much better with a Pro Controller. I tried the motion controls at first and they work fine, but moving your ARMS around is never going to be as fast as simply pressing a button. Using motion controls felt like a handicap when compared to using the Pro Controller. The motion controls don’t do anything the buttons can’t anyway, this isn’t Wii Sports. Besides the split Joy-Cons and Pro Controller, you can also play with a sideways Joy-Con, Joy-Con Grip, and in handheld mode. You could not remap the buttons in the Testfire, so some buttons were in some awkward places. Guard, for example, was on the L3 or pressing down on the Left Stick, so it was kind of hard to use.

At a glance, ARMS might look like some kind of fleshed out Wii Sports Boxing game or maybe like a reskinned multiplayer Punch-Out!!, but it is neither of those. ARMS is a fighting game. It’s a very unique fighting game. It’s a very simple and easy to get into fighting game, but at its core, it’s a fighting game.

If I were to compare it to another game in the genre, I’d say it plays similarly to the “Field” phase in Pokken Tournament. It’s also kind of like targetting something in a 3D Zelda game. You can’t freely run around the 3D arena, like in other 3D arena fighting games, but you can slowly walk around, sidestep, jump, dash forwards and backwards, and dash while in the air. All while locked onto your opponent. You actually can't face away from your opponent, you're always locked on.

ARMS is all about pokes, zoning, and punishing. There are no combos, besides your one-two punch. Your punches can take a while to get to your opponent, so you have to time them right or you’ll be left open to attacks. Everyone is kind of like Dhalsim. Matches consist of a lot of dodging, dashing, and poking until you find an opportunity to get in a throw or a Rush to do the big damage. It’s a fighting game that’s all about the fundamentals.

You have 3 kinds of attacks. You of course have your left and right punches. You can curve your punches in 2 different ways, one before you throw the punch and one after throwing the punch. For example, you can throw a left hand punch that goes left at the start and then curves in to the right. The Testpunch had 3 different kinds of gloves for each character. Each glove has a different power and you can wear them in any combination and even double up on them if you want. There’s a glove that looks like a dragon and shoots a laser out of its mouth, one that throws a boomerang, one that shoots a bunch of tiny rockets at your opponent, and more traditional looking gloves that just hit your opponent, but might have an extra attribute, like electricity. You can can also charge up each punch by holding the dash and jump buttons. When your gloves are charged, they do more powerful versions of their regular attacks. You can even counter punches with your own. This is where each character’s stats come into play. You can counter your opponent’s punch with your punch, if your glove’s weight is equal or more than your opponent’s.

You can also grab and throw your opponents. When using a Pro Controller, you can press both punch buttons at the same time and your character will extend both ARMS out and try to grab your opponent. This move leaves you wide open to punches and throws, so you have time it right. Throws can also be countered with punches.

And finally, there’s Rush. Rush is basically your typical fighting game super move. You fill up your meter by throwing punches and when it fills up, you can use your Rush. Rush allows you to throw fully charged punches at a very fast rate. If you get caught in one of these, you’re going to lose a ton of health. Rush punches can’t be countered with a punch, but you can be punched out of a Rush by an opponent. You can also block and dodge Rush attacks.

The Testpunch was all online and the only mode available was “Party Match”. In Party Match, you’re thrown into a lobby with up to 8 players and play random types of matches with up to 4 players. I played 1 v 1, 2 v 2, and 3 way and 4 way free-for-all matches. I thought the best mode was definitely 1 v 1. This is just the mode with the least shenanigans. 2 v 2 has you tethered to your partner with a rubber band-like rope and doesn’t let you move around freely. If someone sends your partner flying, you get pulled back with him. It’s very annoying. You can also hit your partner if they get in the way of your attacks. This mode was the messiest and most confusing mode of them all. Four way free-for-alls weren’t too bad. They’re pretty much just like 1 v 1, but with 4 players. You can change targets by pressing up on the D-Pad. Three way free-for-alls were pretty pad, though. It always ended up with someone getting double teamed or someone waiting for the other 2 to finish fighting and then making quick work of the low health leftover fighter. Three way dances only work in Pro Wrestling.

There was also a volleyball game we were sometimes put in. In this mode, you punch a beach ball over a net. The gimmick here is that ball explodes when it hits the ground and it is also on a timer, so if the ball is on your side when the time runs out, it explodes and your opponent gets the point. You can use all your regular punches in this mode and you can set the ball up by doing your throw move and then you can spike it by punching it. I didn’t like this mode at all. Even though the ball is very floaty, your ARMS take so long to finish their attack animation, I often missed the ball and couldn't punch it again before it fell.

I tried all the characters, but my favorite by far was Min Min. She has yellow hair, wears orange clothes, and loves ramen, so she reminds me of Naruto. Her hair and ARMS are actually made of ramen. She is known as the Ramen Bomber and according to the ARMS website, it looks like her last name is Mintendo. She’s also pretty quick and has some fun gloves, so she’s fun to play as. The rest of the characters are just as creative, but I kept coming back to Min Min.

I didn’t notice any lag and only had a couple of disconnects, but matchmaking seemed slow. Sometimes there would be a group of people floating around the lobby and a match would not be made. The game doesn’t match you up with the same player twice in a row and the lobbies only hold 8 players, so if you come out of a match and there’s no one else free, you’re going to have to wait for another group to finish their match. You can go into a warm up mode with some target dummies while you wait, but this is kind of boring after a while. Maybe they could increase the number of player in a lobby or something. Hopefully 1 v 1 modes have faster matchmaking.

I had a lot of fun with ARMS this weekend and can’t wait to have another go at it next weekend. I’m definitely keeping an eye on this one. We’ll be hearing a lot more about the game in the coming weeks leading up to its release on June 16 and I’m sure it’ll be all over Nintendo’s E3 stuff.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Puyo Puyo Tetris Review

Puyo Puyo Tetris is Puyo Puyo and Tetris. It’s Puyo Puyo VS Tetris. It’s really more like a Puyo Puyo game with Tetris in it. It’s a crossover between 2 of the most popular and longest running falling block/blob games in gaming history. Now that we’ve had Marvel VS Capcom, Professor Layton VS Ace Attorney, Street Fighter X Tekken, Battletoads & Double Dragon, and Puyo Puyo Tetris, what dream crossover is left? Final Fantasy X Dragon Quest? Pokemon X Monster Hunter? Nintendo VS Capcom? Mario and Sonic… oh, right.

Puyo Puyo Tetris was developed by Sonic Team and published by Sega. It was originally released in Japan in February 2014 on 3DS, Wii U, PS3, and PS Vita and then later on XBO and PS4 in December 2014. It was later released on Nintendo Switch on the Japanese launch of the system in March 2017. It was finally localized and released in the West in April 2017 for PS4 and Nintendo Switch. So, we’ve been waiting a long time for this. I actually gave up hope of ever seeing this game released here long ago.

Puyo Puyo Tetris has just about everything you could want out of a Tetris or Puyo Puyo game, in one package. I mean like real Tetris, not Tetris Attack, Tetris 2, Hatris, or Tetrisphere. There’s some crazy modes in here too, though. Your normal endless Tetris is here, if that’s what you’re looking for, but the game’s focus is really the VS modes, which is what Puyo Puyo is all about. How do I know this? The basic modes for each game are front and center on the start screen, separate from the rest of the modes. On the start screen you have; a quick start Puyo Puyo VS match, endless score attack Tetris, and a quick start game of Fusion, which is a mode with both Puyos and Tetriminos on the same board.

Under the “Main Menu” you have the real meat of the game. Here you have; Adventure, Solo Arcade, Multiplayer Arcade, Online, Options & Data, and Lessons.

Adventure is the story mode. It’s very reminiscent of the story mode you find in Puyo Puyo games. This mode tells a totally bonkers, off the wall story that crosses over the Puyo Puyo and Tetris universes. Wait, there’s a Tetris universe? There is now! They’ve made a whole cast of whimsical anime characters for a new Tetris universe. Characters and crazy stories are nothing new to Puyo Puyo, but it’s kind of weird adding characters to a Tetris game. A lot of falling block puzzle games have characters like this if you think about it, though. Super Puzzle Fighter II comes to mind. Some of the Puyo Puyo characters here first appeared in an MSX dungeon crawler series called Madou Monogatari. You’re welcome to go further down the Puyo Puyo lore rabbit hole on your own.

Adventure mode also works as a way to introduce you to all of the game’s modes and variations of Puyo Puyo and Tetris. As you progress through the stages, different characters from each universe will interact with each other and find some silly reason for some kind of Puyo Puyo Tetris match. This mode will throw every kind of game variation at you, so you’ll need to know how to play both Puyo Puyo and Tetris to beat it. Thankfully, there’s a code to unlock everything, so you don’t have to beat Adventure mode to unlock everything if you can’t get through it or just don’t want to.

Under Solo Arcade you’ll find all the single player modes, except Adventure. Here you can have Versus, Fusion, Swap, Party, and Big Bang matches with up to 4 opponents, against the AI.

Versus is where you can have custom Puyo Puyo, Tetris, and Puyo Puyo VS Tetris battles. This is the go to mode for battles against the AI. You can pick all the characters, stages, music, win conditions, handicaps, etc. This is my favorite single player mode in the game. It has nearly endless replay value. It reminds me of the VS CPU mode I played so much in Street Fighter IV and missed so much at the launch of Street Fighter V.

Fusion is a game variant in which both Puyos and Tetriminos fall onto the playing board. You can’t clear lines with Puyos or pop Puyos with Tetriminos, though. It’s more like you’re playing both games on the same board. If you drop a Tetrimino on top of Puyos, the Tetrimino will fall through the Puyos and push the Puyos to the top, so Tetriminos always go to the bottom. I’m not a fan of this mode. I think it’s confusing and kind of takes the fun out of both games at once.

Swap has you playing both a Puyo Puyo and a Tetris game on different boards and you Swap between the 2 games at set intervals. The default time between swaps is 25 seconds. I think this is the better Puyo Puyo and Tetris game. It doesn’t mix both games into the same board, it just has you swapping between the 2 in the same match.

In Party you can have VS games of Puyo Puyo, Tetris, or Puyo Puyo VS Tetris with items. The items have different status effects designed to mess with your opponent’s game. There’s an item that makes pieces drop super fast, one that doesn’t let you turn pieces, and one that reflects garbage drops, among others. This mode is crazy, but fun.

Big Bang is a Puyo Puyo, Tetris, or Puyo Puyo VS Tetris battle that has you clearing preset patterns off a board. If you’re playing a Tetris game, you’re trying to clear a board with 1 or 2 repeating pieces. In a Puyo Puyo game, you try to clear the board with a single chain of Puyo pops. At the end of the round, you throw all your garbage at you opponent and chip away at a health bar. It kind of looks like doing a super move in a fighting game. Maybe it’s just me, but playing Tetris in this mode seems much easier than playing Puyo Puyo.

Also under the Solo Arcade is Challenge. Challenge has a whole new set of modes. It has 3 Puyo Puyo modes and 3 Tetris modes. The Puyo Puyo modes are; Endless Fever, Endless Puyo, and Tiny Puyo. Endless Fever has you trying to clear preset Puyo chains within a time limit. It’s not actually endless. Endless Puyo is a Puyo Puyo score attack mode and it is actually endless. Tiny Puyo is an endless Puyo game with 3 and 4 Puyo pieces. The Tetris challenge modes are Sprint, Marathon, and Ultra. Sprint has you clearing 40 lines as fast as possible. Marathon has you trying to clear 150 lines with the highest score possible. Ultra has you going for the highest score you can get within 3 minutes. These modes are fun if you’re into chasing high scores.

Multiplayer Arcade has local multiplayer versions of all the Solo Arcade modes, except for Challenge, for up to 4 players. You can play this mode in split-screen and in local wireless.

In Online you can play ranked matches and set up rooms for any mode you want. As far as the online experience goes, I thought it worked great. I didn’t notice any lag, even on wi-fi and I didn’t get any disconnects. Creating a room and finding friends is easy and you can filter out the modes you don’t want to play ranked. I haven’t had any trouble finding ranked opponents, but there aren’t many people making rooms, at least on Switch. The game is cross-region and I’ve only seen maybe 1 or 2 rooms up at once. All on Versus too. There’s nobody playing the other modes.

Puzzle League is the ranked mode. This is the only online mode with random matchmaking. You can play 1 on 1 Versus, Fusion, Swap, Party, and Big Bang here. You can toggle what modes you play ranked under Options & Data, so you can set it to where you only play ranked Versus if you want. I thought it was weird that these toggles are under the Options & Data menu and not here.

Free Play allows you to play all the multiplayer modes unranked, with up to 4 players. This mode does not have random matchmaking. You have to create or join a room to play here. You can create a room for any mode, with any options, locked (for friends) or public. You can only create a room for one mode at a time, though. You can’t make a room for Versus and Party mode or random modes or anything like that. The Join Friend menu option, which is a separate option outside this mode, is a filter that will show only the rooms created by your friends. I think the Join Friend menu should have just been under the Free Play menu. I don’t understand why it’s separate.

Watch Replays lets you browse and watch replays uploaded by other players and upload your own. Your saved replays are kept under the Theatre option under the Options & Data menu, which I find weird. What is it with this game and putting important parts of these modes under separate menus?

Lessons are tutorials that go over a few beginner, advanced, and expert techniques for the main games; Puyo Puyo, Puyo Tetris Fusion, and Tetris. They’re just text tutorials you follow along with, there’s nothing playable here. They give you a good idea of how to play, but maybe they could have been better if they were interactive.

In the Options & Data menu, you’ll find Stats, Theatre, Options, and Shop. Stats has trophies you've earned and your best records for all the modes. In Theatre, you can listen to all the music, sound effects, and voices, watch all the cutscenes from Adventure mode, and watch all of your replays. You can also customize your profile, controls, favorite stage, music, and Puyo and Tetrimino style. You can also toggle which modes you want to play ranked online in Puzzle League here. Shop lets you buy new styles for your Puyos and Tetriminos and alternate voices for all the characters, with credits you earn in the game.

I think the game has pretty nice presentation and graphics. Everything looks like stills from an animated series based on the old Puyo Puyo game graphics. I know this looks nothing like the old Russian themed Tetris games and not everyone is going to be into the chibi anime art style, but at the end of the day, this is basically a Puyo Puyo game with Tetris thrown in and it is faithful to that style.

I’ve seen a lot of people make a big deal out of the English voices, but I don’t think they’re bad at all. I think most of them are pretty much in line with the Japanese voices. There are a couple of really bad ones, but it’s not enough for me to go and buy the Japanese version instead. I’ll take English menus over Japanese voices.

Overall, I think this is a great package. I’ve been playing Tetris since the Game Boy game, but I have not played a lot of the Puyo Puyo series. I played Puyo Pop on GBA and a little bit of Kirby’s Avalanche on SNES and that’s about it. I’ve had fun learning to play it again, though, and I think I’ve improved quite a bit. I love having both of these great games together. Even if some of the modes are hit or miss or even if you only like Puyo Puyo or Tetris, there’s bound to be something here for you.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Mario Kart 8: Deluxe Review

Mario Kart is kind of like driving through a Super Mario level. It’s a racing game, but the tracks are full of big jumps and Mario themed obstacles. There are tracks that resemble real race tracks, but even those are way crazier than any real-life race track. Most courses are more like backwoods dirt bike trails. If there were dirt bike trails in the woods behind Peach’s castle.

Mario Kart 8: Deluxe is an enhanced port of the Wii U game, Mario Kart 8. The big new thing in the Switch version is the Battle mode. The Wii U game’s Battle mode was kind of half-baked. It didn’t have traditional Mario Kart battle arenas. Instead, it had players running around the same courses as in the GP, while battling. It was the major flaw in an otherwise great game.

Mario Kart 8: Deluxe has a completely redone Battle mode with 8 courses and 6 modes. There are 5 new battle courses and 3 classic courses from previous games. No Block Fort, though. There are 5 returning modes and 1 new mode. The modes included are; Balloon Battle, Bob-Omb Blast, Coin Runners, Shine Thief, and Renegade Roundup. Renegade Roundup is the new mode in which one team tries to catch the other team and throw them all in a cell before they can be set free by one of their teammates. Balloon Battle is the classic MK battle mode, Bob-omb Blast is Balloon Battle with Bob-ombs only, Coin Runners is won by the person with the most coins, and Shine Thief is a game of keep away, with a Shine from Super Mario Sunshine. Shine get!

The rules for Battle mode are completely customizable. You can set the computer difficulty or turn off computer players, choose item sets, vehicle types, courses, time limits, and the number of battles before a winner is declared. You can basically customize everything except individual items, like in Super Smash Bros.

Battle mode is playable in single player, local multiplayer, and online. You lose control of all the options when playing with random people online, though. When using random matchmaking, you only get to pick your character and vehicle and a course to throw into the list of courses to be selected roulette wheel style. The game will randomly pick between all the battle styles and the rest of the settings will always be the same. You don’t have to play this random mode if you want to play online (and have no Switch friends), though, thanks to Tournaments.

The Communities feature from previous Mario Kart games is back for MK8:D, but this time it has been renamed “Tournaments”. It works pretty much the same as it did in other games. You make a tournament by creating a race or battle game with custom rules and then you get a code you can give to other people for them to join or you can get a code and enter it to join someone else's game. You can also search for tournaments and there’s even recommended tournaments section. Tournaments allow you to play whatever mode you want, with any rules you want, with whoever you want.

Of course all the racing goodness is still here. There’s Grand Prix in 50cc, 100cc, 150cc, Mirror, and 200cc, with 12 Cups, and a total of 48 courses. Time Trials can now be done in both 150cc and 200cc. And there’s VS Race, which is a way to play fully customizable cups. VS Race allows you to play in any speed class, on any course, with custom item sets, teams, CPU or no CPU on 3 difficulties, and from 4 up to 48 rounds. You can also play with courses in their regular GP order, randomly, or pick your own. All of these racing modes are also playable in local multiplayer, and online, except for Time Trials. Time Trials does have online ghosts you can play against, though, and you can upload your ghost data for others to play against too.

MK8:D introduces 5 new characters to MK8; King Boo, Inkling Boy, Inkling Girl, Bowser Jr., and Dry Bones. There's also a new skin for Metal Mario, Gold Mario. He’s the same as Metal Mario, but in gold. You can unlock Gold Mario by getting gold trophies on all 200cc cups in the Grand Prix mode. The rest of the characters are unlocked from the start. You had to unlock a lot of them in the Wii U version.

There’s still a ton of stuff to unlock, though. You can unlock new vehicles, sets of tires, and gliders every 50 coins you collect, up to 5,000 coins. All coins collected in every mode count towards unlockables, so you’re not forced to play any one mode. You can collect all coins in online races and Battle mode if you want.

MK8:D has all the modes from the Wii U version and a couple of new multiplayer ones. One of the new modes is the Wireless Play mode, which lets you play all multiplayer race and battle modes with custom rules and up to 12 players. That’s a max of 2 players per system and a max of 8 systems linked together, so you’ll need at least 6 Switches to have a 12 player game. The 8 system limitation is just a limit of the wireless technology used to link Switch systems together.

There is also a hidden LAN mode which replaces Wireless Play when multiple Switches are connected to a router. This is a docked Switch mode only, since it requires a LAN adapter and a wired connection to a router. You can hook up to 12 systems in a LAN with up to 2 players per system. This of course, also requires 6 to 12 TVs. Most people will probably never use this mode, but it should be great for competitive gaming communities and tournaments.

There have also been some gameplay changes to the game. Mario Kart 8: Deluxe introduces a second item slot. In most previous Mario Kart games, you only had 1 item slot, but you could hold 2 items if you dragged one behind you, like a shell or banana peel. In Mario Kart 8, that was changed so that you could only hold 1 item, even if you dragged one behind you. In Mario Kart 8: Deluxe, you can hold 2 items even if you’re not dragging one behind you, thanks to the second item slot. Just run over an item box and the item will be held in the second item slot. There’s even double item boxes on the tracks now.

Two classic items from previous games return in MK8:D, the Feather and the Boo. The Feather is exclusive to Battle mode and it allows you to jump over obstacles. It can also be used to steal balloons in Balloon Battle if you hit someone with your jump. The Boo is available in race and Battle modes and can be used to steal opponent’s items and gives you temporary invulnerability to banana peels and shells.

There’s also a few new or tweaked driving techniques. The U turn has changed from, release A during a drift while holding ZR, to hold B while driving and steer left or right. This technique is exclusive to Battle mode. It comes in handy when you want to quickly turn around and hit someone. A new tier of mini-turbo has been added and they call it Ultra Mini-Turbo. This boost works the same way as the other drift boosts, you just have to hold your drift longer to activate it. You’ll know it’s ready when your sparks turn from blue to purple. And finally, the new Drift Brake allows you to brake while drifting, which you could not do in the Wii U game. This helps counter some of the sliding that happens when drifting and helps you stay on the track. This technique is most useful in 200cc, especially when using vehicles with low traction.

Mario Kart TV has also been changed around a bit. The YouTube component is completely gone. You can save up to 6 favorite replays and the game automatically keeps your last 12 replays, but there is no uploading or sharing at all. There is supposed to be a system update which will give the Switch video recording and sharing capabilities, so that’s probably the reason for the changes. Having video sharing in both the game and the system software would be kind of redundant.

As far as the graphics go, the game’s resolution has been bumped up from 720p to 1080p. You can even play splitscreen with 2 players at 1080p and 60 frames per second. The Wii U version’s 59 FPS bug has also been fixed and it runs at a true 60 FPS now. The Wii U version did 59 frames and then repeated one frame. I don’t know why that happened, but they never bothered to fix it in a patch. Everything else looks the same. MK8 was one of the best looking Wii U games and it looks even better now. I’d say Mario Kart 8: Deluxe is the best looking rendition of the Mario universe besides Super Mario 3D Land.

I think this game is totally worth it, even if you’ve already played the hell out of the Wii U version. The new Battle mode is a lot of fun, even if you can’t control the settings while playing random people online. I actually have a lot of fun just playing the computer on hard difficulty. You don’t even need online! And of course the racing part of the game is still amazing. This was already my favorite Mario Kart with just the racing part on Wii U and now it’s even better!