Thursday, June 28, 2018

Mega Man 7 Review

There was a time after Mega Man X and X2 when we weren’t really sure if the original Mega Man series would continue. But sandwiched in between Mega Man X2 and X3, Capcom released the long awaited sequel to MM6 on the Super NES. Well, it was the second longest gap in between sequels, at least. Mega Man 7 is a refinement of what the series had done on NES and Game Boy, combined with some of what Capcom had done with Mega Man X. It laid down the blueprint for what a Mega Man game would be like going forward in terms of both presentation and features. It's as much of a turning point in the series as Mega Man 3 was.

Mega Man 7’s story picks up 6 months after Mega Man 6’s ending, in which Mega Man arrested Dr. Wily. Knowing that this was a likely scenario, Dr. Wily laid out a fail-safe plan in which 4 Robot Masters would wake up and go looking for him if they did not receive any communications for 6 months. When the Robot Masters woke up, they attacked the city and broke Dr. Wily out of jail. Now, Mega Man sets off to stop Wily once again.

This game was also the first appearance of Bass, a mysterious robot who’s a bit like both Protoman and Zero in some ways. He shows up a few times throughout the game and you’re never sure if he’s friend or foe. It’s not made clear why Bass can't decide if he's a heel or a babyface, but it is revealed that he and his dog, Treble, were created by Dr. Wily.

I loved the cutscenes and attention to detail in MM7. Yeah, the story is a lot like the story in previous Mega Man games, but the improved graphics and all the little Mega Man universe references really bring the presentation up to a new level. Stuff like Eddie and Auto’s shop, the story taking MM6’s ending into account, old Robot Masters in the museum, and Cutman in the newspaper made this game feel like the best realized Mega Man world up to this point.

Mega Man 7’s graphics were technically surpassed by Mega Man 8, but stylistically, MM7 is my favorite looking game in the series. This game looks closer to the original series artwork than any of the other 2D games ever did. The character designs in particular look closer to the Mega Man we saw on Famicom game covers than both the 8-bit games and MM8 did. The backgrounds look as good as anything the MMX series did on the SNES, and I played the game on both MMLC2, but the framerate on the SNES version is much better than in any of the SNES MMX games, too.

Mega Man 7 feels like a game that’s trying to bring the best parts of all the previous games together. It didn’t really do a lot of new stuff, but it refined and fixed things that had sort of gone off the rails with the NES games. One of them being the return of Rush. MM6 replaced the Rush Jet and Rush Coil with the Rush Adaptors, and while Rush armor is cool in its own way, it's great to see Rush as a separate character again. MM7 also brought in the MMX style exploration and hidden items. The last couple of NES Mega Man games had some of that, but MM7 went all the way with the branching paths and Robot Master weapons that could be used to discover secrets and open up new paths. MM7 also brought a new version of the shop from MMIV and V on Game Boy to the main series.

Game progression in Mega Man 7 is pretty different from the NES games. You still fight 8 Robot Masters and use their weapons against each other, but in a very Mega Man X kind of move, we got an intro stage for the first time in the main series. This game only lets you choose from 4 levels at the beginning, too, because that was the original premise of the story. Dr. Wily activates the other 4 Robot Masters halfway through the game, after you fight a boss in a separate unselectable stage. Another first for the series. MM7 also lets you go back to the stage select screen after beating each section of Wily’s castle, just like Mega Man X. This comes in handy if you want to go get hidden items you might have missed.

It’s not a big deal, but it’s worth mentioning that the difficulty in the game feels a bit unbalanced. Most of the game is pretty easy by Mega Man standards, but the hard parts are usually way harder than anything else. The final battle against Dr. Wily in particular felt much harder than it should have been. Luckily, being able to go back out to the stage select screen means that you can stock up on E cans and 1ups at Auto’s shop before the final fight.

The soundtrack has some good tunes that go very well with their stage, like Junk Man’s stage theme, and a lot of great tracks that evoke the music of the NES games, like the Museum theme. I especially like Shade Man’s stage themes, one of which is a remix of the music from the first level of Ghosts ‘n Goblins, since his stage is a tribute to GnG. There are some songs that sound a little too wacky for my tastes, like Spring Man’s stage theme, but overall, it's a pretty good soundtrack.

Mega Man 7 is not the most innovative game in the series, but it's definitely not a bad game. Having just played through MM1-MM6, I’d say MM7 ranks pretty high among the rest of the original series. I liked that it brought Rush back and how it found a spot for most of the supporting cast. (Where's Tango, though?) Bass was a cool new character, the presentation and story were the best in the series at the time, and its art style is still my favorite in the series.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Splatoon 2: Octo Expansion Review

Splatoon 2 has received a lot of content since it launched. New stages, weapons, clothing, hairstyles, and even new multiplayer modes. Octo Expansion is the first paid DLC for the game, though. It features an all-new single player campaign and finally adds playable Octolings to the game. It’s available now on the Switch eShop for $19.99.

Like the name suggests, Octo Expansion is all about Octolings. Aren’t they the enemy? Well, they’re not all bad! See Marina, for example. In Octo Expansion’s campaign, you play as Agent 8, an Octoling that lost their memory after being defeated by Agent 3, the playable character in Splatoon 1’s campaign. After being woken up by Cap’n Cuttlefish, you start making your way out of the Deepsea Metro and to the “Promised Land” by passing a series of “Tests” for a talking blue sea cucumber. I guess the Promised Land is just Inkopolis. Once you reach Inkopolis, you’ll be able to plays as an Octoling in multiplayer.

The main story of the expansion is told through a series of cutscenes, but there is also a lot of story details revealed through an in-game chatroom. Agent 8 carries a device called the CQ-80, which has a Discord-like app you can use to read “♪Marina’s Chat★Room♪”. In there, you’ll see Pearl, Marina, and Cap’n Cuttlefish chat about what you’re doing in the game and talk candidly about themselves and each other. There’s a lot of interesting details about Pearl and Marina revealed in there, and you get to see them act a little more casually than they do while “on camera”.

Once you beat the campaign and unlock them, Octolings are simply another look for your Splatoon 2 character. You can switch between Inkling and Octoling whenever you want, just like you can change your hair, gender, and skin color. All your ranks, item customizations, money, and game progress stay the same. You can even put Agent 8’s clothes on your Inkling if you want.

Octo Expansion’s campaign adds 80 new single player levels. That's more than double the amount of levels in the original campaign (32). Don't worry, you don't have to beat all of them to play as an Octoling. If you’ve never played a Splatoon single player campaign, they’re collections of puzzle platforming obstacle courses that require clever use of the ink mechanics (and a lot of shooting) to clear. It's a lot like Portal with maybe a little Super Monkey Ball thrown in. Octo Expansion’s levels build upon the foundation of the original campaign’s by adding a variety of new level styles, like limited ink levels, no damage levels, and levels in which you guide a ball to the goal by shooting it with ink. Most of these are completely different from what you do in multiplayer, but there are a also a few multiplayer-like scenarios, like some in which you play Rainmaker against the AI, or defend something from Octolings.

Unlike in the original campaign, you can only play each level with preset weapons. Some levels let you choose between a few different weapons, and give you more CQ (the Deepsea Metro’s currency) for beating them with harder weapons. After beating each level, you'll also be rewarded with a Mem Cake. Collecting all the Mem Cakes in a set of levels gets you a special piece of gear from an NPC on the train. I was able to get the 3 pieces of the Octoling uniform before I made it to Inkopolis.

The progression in Octo Expansion’s campaign is very different from the original’s. Each level has a CQ entry fee, which can range from 100 to a few thousand CQ. Harder levels have higher entry fees. Each time you lose all your lives, you can continue from a checkpoint, for a (usually reduced) price, or restart from the beginning and pay the full fee to retry. If you run out of CQ, Marina will hack some out of Kamabo Co’s bank account for you, but that will put you in debt. I still have not seen a real penalty for being debt. Being short on CQ just locks you out of the harder levels.

You don’t have to play through the first campaign to play the Octo Expansion campaign, but you probably should. Octo Expansion’s campaign starts off hard and ramps up in difficulty very quickly. It’s almost like jumping in at the difficulty that the first campaign ended at. I’ve played Splatoon 2 multiplayer off and on since it came out, but I had not touched the single player since launch, so jumping into Octo Expansion was pretty rough going. The only options you have if you come across a level that you just can’t beat, are to either ignore it, or pay a CQ fee to skip it. If you just want to play as an Octoling, maybe you won’t care about skipping levels, but if you bought this expansion just to play the new campaign, you might get pretty frustrated with it. I never skipped any levels, but I also didn’t beat all of them. You only need to beat about half of them to make it to the Promised Land.

Octo Expansion is a lot of fun. I think the campaign could have used more easy levels to get people back in the groove, but there’s a lot of creative levels in there. They really push the game’s mechanics to their limits and definitely are not afraid to give people vertigo with some of them. If you’re a fan of previous Splatoon campaigns or games like Portal, I think you’ll really like Octo Expansion. Just be prepared for a challenge.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection Review

Thirty years of Street Fighter. Wait a minute, 30 years of Street Fighter? It says in this game that Street Fighter I came out in 1987. This collection is a year late! Regardless, Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection is a compilation of most arcade versions of Street Fighter from SFI to SFIII 3rd Strike. I say most, because Street Fighter Alpha 3 Upper is sadly missing. This collection only has the CPS games and SFI. SFA3 Upper was a Sega NAOMI game, which was basically Dreamcast arcade hardware, so its absence is understandable. Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection is available on Switch, XBO, PS4, and PC for $40.

Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection includes the 6 button version of the original Street Fighter (which still sucks), Street Fighter II, SFII Champion Edition, SFII Hyper Fighting, Super SFII, SSFII Turbo, Street Fighter Alpha 1-3, SFIII, SFIII 2nd Impact, and SFIII 3rd Strike. All of them are the original ROMs as they were in the arcades and don’t include a lot of the features you might be used to in the console versions, but they at least give you access to all of the arcade DIP switches. You have full control over the difficulty, game speed, timer speed, damage levels, auto-block in SFA 1 and 2, and you can even use SFIII 2nd Impact’s widescreen mode, which is a real widescreen mode and not a stretched display mode, like the one you can turn on in the in-game settings.

The in-game settings allow you to use save states, look at your character’s special moves list, and remap most buttons. The game doesn’t allow you to remap the in-game options off of the Start (+) button. There’s no 3 Kick or 3 Punch buttons either. The only 2 buttons available besides the 6 normal attack buttons are the real Start button and the button to replay your saved training dummy actions, which is there in all modes for some reason. Not having the 3 Punch and 3 Kick buttons isn’t a huge issue if you’re using an arcade stick, but it is if you’re using a normal controller, since some of these games require you to press all 3 punch or kick buttons to use a max meter super.

You’ll also find options for 3 display modes in the in-game settings; Original, Full, and Wide. Original displays the game evenly scaled to 4 times the original size, Full fills the screen from top to bottom while preserving the 4:3 aspect ratio, and Wide stretches the image to fill a 16:9 screen. There are also filter options for TV scanlines, an arcade monitor filter, and the option for no filters at all. There are borders, but there's only 1 border per series available. There’s only 1 border for all 3 SFA games, for example. Considering all the art available for these games, that's pretty lame.

Offline also has Training modes for Hyper Fighting, Super Turbo, SFA3, and 3rd Strike, as well as VS modes for all games, including SFI, even though you can only play as Ryu vs Ken on just 2 stages. Training mode has your usual options, like input and damage displays, dummy recordings and playback, and gauge settings, but no CPU AI aside from blocking. VS allows you to pick a stage and characters, but you can’t choose a different stage after a match without quitting out of the game and restarting. It doesn’t have a VS CPU option either. Both of these modes look like they’re made with clever save state manipulation and hacks, and are not quite like what you might expect to see in a console version.

Online modes include your usual ranked and casual matches, lobbies, and leaderboards, along with an online arcade mode, which simulates the arcade experience by letting you play arcade mode against the CPU while waiting for a new challenger. It’s a lot like turning match requests on in SFIV and V. Only Hyper Fighting, Super Turbo, Alpha 3, and 3rd Strike have online play, which just so happen to be the only games with training modes, too. I would have liked to have Alpha 2 online as well, since it is pretty different from Alpha 3. I have had some perfectly fine matches online, but most of them have been very laggy. It’s like playing in slow motion sometimes. I am playing on Switch, so it could be that a lot of people are playing on McDonalds Wi-Fi, or maybe the online just sucks.

The Switch version has an exclusive “Local” mode, which allows you make lobbies for ad-hoc play, and to connect 4 systems together for 8 player tournaments. Tournament mode requires 4 systems, 8 controllers, and 8 players, so I did not play this mode and probably never will, but it sounds like a huge mess to set up and play, since people have to get up and move to another system after matches.

Much like Mega Man Legacy Collection, SF30thAC has a Museum mode with tons of art and music. Every song from all these games is available in the music player, even the QSound logo chime. The best song in the game is the Sakura’s Theme remix in the Museum’s main menu, though. Unlike in MMLC, this music player does have autoplay and even shuffle and repeat features.

The Museum also has character bios, concept art, design documents, and animation cels. I’m not going to count all of it, but there’s probably over 1,000 pieces of art in here. I especially like the History section, which chronologically maps out the entire series from 1987 to 2018. There’s some really cool stuff in here, like entire SF art books, fun SF facts, all those old black and white manga style drawings they used in EGM back in the day, and the only known screenshot of a cancelled 8-bit (probably NES) version of SFI.

I think this game is worth owning just to have easy access to all these games for local multiplayer and the arcade modes. Long-time Street Fighter fans, like me, will also appreciate the massive amount of Street Fighter goodness in the Museum mode. If you’re looking for a good online mode, though, you’re going to have to look elsewhere, unless they fix it with a patch. It’s just too laggy to be enjoyable most of the time.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Mega Man Legacy Collection 1 + 2 Review

Finally, Rockman has come back to Nintendo consoles! You'd think a collection with 7 out of the 10 games in it being NES and SNES games would be a shoe in for a Nintendo system, but both of these collections skipped the Wii U and only the first one came out on 3DS. Switch was out when MMLC2 launched on other systems, but a Switch version wasn't in Capcom’s plans. Capcom is fully on board with putting collections of old games on Switch now, though! Mega Man Legacy Collection 1 + 2 are available as a bundle for $40 with Collection 1 on a cart and a download code for Collection 2, and separately on the eShop for $15 for MMLC1 and $20 for MMLC2.

Mega Man Legacy Collection 1 was developed by Digital Eclipse, and was first released in 2015 on PS4, XBO, and PC, and then in 2016 on 3DS. It features the first 6 Mega Man games, including both the English and Japanese “Rockman” versions, remade on Digital Eclipse’s custom Eclipse Engine. They have been faithfully recreated with the same 8-bit graphics, slowdown, glitches, and bugs. The main benefit of recreating the games, rather than just emulating them, is that the games are actually in HD, so they are correctly scaled and look great on modern TVs.

Besides being in HD, these versions include modern emulator features, like button mapping, 3 display modes, borders, save states, and filters. All of which can be accessed at any time during the game with the press of a button. Each game has a unique border with some nice original art, which can be turned on or off if you prefer black bars. The filters include CRT monitor scanlines, some ugly TV ghosting option for those who grew up with a busted TV, and the option to turn them off completely.

The 3 display modes are; Original, Full, and Wide. Full is the game in 4:3, covering the screen from top to bottom, with borders on the left and right to preserve the aspect ratio. This is pretty close to how most people saw the game on their tube TVs in the NES days. Original mode displays the game in a smaller box in the middle of the screen. I don’t see the point in Original, since Full is correctly scaled, is in the same aspect ratio, and covers more of the screen. Wide stretches the image to fill a 16:9 screen. I don’t know why anyone would want to do that, especially since there are borders available if you must fill the sides of the screen with something. Sadly, there is no “pixel perfect” 8:7 mode, like on the NES Classic. I get that 4:3 looks right to people who used to play these games on a tube TV, but I can’t unsee the stretched circles and squares.

This new Switch version also includes a CPU Speed option and a Rewind feature. The Rewind feature allows you to cheat your way to victory by turning back time, like a VCR. You get about 2 minutes of rewind time, too. Turning the CPU Speed option to “Turbo” gets rid of some of the slowdown, which these games had a lot of, but not all of it. There is still some sluggishness here and there with Turbo on.

Mega Man Legacy Collection 1 is about more than just the games, though. This package is full of extras, like music, character bios, and a ton of art. Every piece of music found in all of these games can be found in the Music Player. Everything is neatly organized by game, and there’s some original artwork to go along with each game's OST. The only thing missing is an autoplay feature. The songs just stop after they’re done and you have to manually go to the next one. Every game also has a Museum and a Database full of enemy and characters bios. You can even fight the game’s Robot Masters directly from this Database by selecting their artwork and pressing the A button. The Museum is full of artwork from each game, including manuals, ads, boxes, and concept art.

In addition to the 6 games, MMLC1 includes 65 Challenges. These are remixed scenarios that have you completing different objectives, like boss rushes, or clearing a bunch of sections from different levels in a set amount of time. Functions like save states and rewind are not available during these challenges, because that would be cheating. There are 54 original challenges and 11 more unlocked by scanning the Mega Man amiibo. There are also online leaderboards for all of them.

Mega Man Legacy Collection 1 is a great package full of Mega Man goodness, but it has issues. There is the lack of 8:7 I already mentioned, the audio lags behind about half a second, and the game also has lot of input lag. It’s not just TV or wireless controller lag. There is a noticeable delay in between button presses and in-game actions with the CPU Speed on Original and on Turbo, and in both docked and undocked modes, which is not there in the VC versions or in MMLC2. I wouldn’t say that the games are unplayable, but playing them here is not a pleasant experience. These games feel sluggish and unresponsive, and are far from the definitive versions they were meant to be. I hope this is fixed with some sort of patch, because it would be a real shame to be stuck with such a beautiful collection in this state.

Mega Man Legacy Collection 2 was developed by Capcom and originally released in August 2017 on PS4, XBO, and PC. It features Mega Man 7-10, including all the MM9 and 10 Proto Man and Bass DLC unlockable by beating the games or with a code. MMLC2 only has 4 games, even though there's plenty of original series games they could have thrown in here. They really should have put Mega Man & Bass in this. To this day, it has only been released in English on the GBA. It would have been nice to have the Power Battle/Fighters games in here at least. Or how about Mega Man Battle & Chase or Mega Man Soccer? Nevermind, you can keep those in the vault. MMLC2 does have 23 more challenges than MMLC1, for a total of 88, but that doesn't make up for the lack of Mega Man & Bass.

Aside from a few UI differences, MMLC2 is a lot like the first collection. The Database section with all the bios is gone, but the Museum is still there, with a bunch of artwork from all 4 games. It doesn't have all the box art, manuals, and pictures of the carts, like Collection 1 did, though. It feels like a little less love went into this one, but it's still a really nice package. The Music Player is also back and it still doesn't have autoplay, but it does infinitely loop the songs. I don't know if that's necessarily a good thing, but I guess it's better than silence. There's also an extra armor option hidden away in the options menu which halves damage in all 4 games.

Unlike Collection 1, all the games here are displayed in their correct aspect ratios. There's still Original and a Wide options, for whoever likes them, too. I guess you could put it on Wide and set your TV to 4:3 to get that old-school TV stretch for MM7 and 9, if that's your thing. There is a single CRT monitor scanline filter option, but no busted TV filter. Each game also has 4 unique borders, instead of only 1, along with the option to turn them off. The anime cutscenes in Mega Man 8 have also gotten a considerable upgrade. They’re not quite Crunchyroll quality, but they look much better than they did on PS1.

Mega Man Legacy Collection 2 does not have a Rewind or Save State feature, but it does let you save at checkpoints in each level and after beating bosses. You can also manually save at a checkpoint and later restart at that checkpoint with the same amount of lives, health, and ammo. It's kind of like a save state, but it will only save up to a checkpoint. There's no CPU Speed option here either, but these games don't have the framerate problems some of the originals did. Framerate issues in MM7 and 8 are pretty much gone. Another thing Collection 2 doesn't have is the input lag Collection 1 does. MMLC2 feels very responsive and snappy compared to MMLC1.

I can't recommend MMLC1 for actually playing the games, but MMLC2 is pretty awesome, even though it doesn't have Mega Man & Bass. It's missing all the awesome bios and box art that Collection 1 has, but the games look right and feel good to play, and that matters much more than pictures of NES carts. This does feel like the best and most convenient way to play MM7-10 on a modern system.