Tag Archives: Fighting Games

Rivals Of Aether Review

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Super Smash Bros. It’s arguably one of the most popular Nintendo franchises. Some may even say the most popular Nintendo franchise. From the original Nintendo 64 game all the way up to the Wii U iteration, it’s an iconic game. But fans will constantly debate what version is best. A passionate group of Smash fans would tell you it is the Gamecube version. And whether you agree with that or not, you have to admire that level of dedication. Not only have they gotten it recognition in the fighting game community as a competitive game, they’ve gotten it featured in tournaments.

So of course it was only a matter of time before companies would try to make their own platformer fighting game hybrids. Some of them terrible, some of them just okay, and some of them pretty damn good.

PROS: Super Smash Bros. Melee pacing. Unique features. Great character designs.

CONS: Relatively small roster compared to other fighters. Not a lot of single-player stuff.

WHAT?: Is what you’ll ask confusedly upon seeing some opponents’ recoveries online.

It would be easy to dismiss Rivals Of Aether as another Smash pretender. It has a similar 4-player party fighter feel. It has the same general goal; knock everyone off of the stage, and be the last one standing. It has a cast of characters with nowhere near the recognition of Nintendo’s major IP. Some of you may even ask “Why bother playing this over any of the Super Smash Bros. games?” But before you sigh, click on a different site, and prepare to see if Mr. Game & Watch has finally made it to S-Tier thanks to a professional player’s new discovery hold on.

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Because Rivals Of Aether is actually quite good. The game may not have the high production values, marketable Nintendo mascots, and blockbuster score. But it’s probably the best of any attempt to compete with Nintendo’s formula yet. Yes. Better than Sony’s attempt. And better than Papaya’s Cartoon Network themed clone. Both of which were solid efforts.

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Right from the get go, this game makes no qualms about who it targets. If you’re one of the die-hard Super Smash Bros. Melee fans out there, Rivals Of Aether is hoping you’re going to pick it up. Assuming you haven’t already. But if you’re not, and you enjoy the Smash games, you may just enjoy this as well. This game embraces the competitive end of the Smash fandom. You’ll find no items, or power ups. Not even for simple fun. What you will find, are some really cool looking stages, and characters. All of the characters make a great first impression here. They’re fairly unique (Except for maybe Wrastor who is clearly a Falco Lombardi stand in.), and have designs that stand out.

Upon getting into a match, you’ll find it plays very much like Smash. You’ll want to be the last one standing, as I mentioned earlier. It has similar play mechanics under the hood. Directional Influence is a major part of defensive play, affecting the angle of knock back when you’re sent flying. There are tilts, specials, and meteor attacks to boot. Enthusiasts will feel right at home here.

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But it isn’t a carbon copy of Super Smash Bros. either. Rivals Of Aether makes some enhancements that make it feel different enough to justify looking into it. It adds a second set of regular attacks it calls Strong Attacks. Where the Smash games have a button for regular moves, a button for special moves, and then different attacks based upon whether or not the stick was moved simultaneously with a button press this one adds a third button. It’s a small thing, but it also means another few moves per character.

The game also has a bigger emphasis on parrying. If you can time the block button perfectly, it grants you a brief moment of reprieve by putting an opponent in stun for a second. It also brings in advanced tech techniques by timing movement just before hitting surfaces. Rivals, also puts in a wall jump technique which can be really helpful when recovering from a strong knock back.

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One thing everyone will love is the sprite work on display. The pixel art is really, really nice stuff that hearkens back to the 16-bit console era. This game oozes Super NES, and Sega Genesis in terms of motif. The chip tunes aren’t half bad either.  Every stage has its own thumping songs that fit its visual flair. Interestingly, some stages will favor certain characters. To balance this out, at least in multiplayer, players can vote on what stages to disallow for a conflict. So if you see your opponent has chosen Orcane, you can put a giant red X on his stage so he can’t make easy saves by swimming.

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The game also has a pretty robust tutorial in it. Honestly it gives the level of care, and attention some of the better Street Fighter, and Tekken tutorials have had in recent outings. If you’re a newcomer it’s honestly worth checking out, and if you’re a Super Smash veteran you should at least look at it, as it can go over some of the differences nicely for you. It covers the absolute basics, but then covers combos, cancels, and the advanced wall jumping mechanics as well.

 

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Rivals has both offline, and online matches where you can play against random players, or friends. It’s, pretty fun. It doesn’t usually lag that badly unless the opposing player is on the other side of the country or world. And even then I’ve still had some matches that were playable. Not great by any stretch, but at least I could move without having to expect to wait 30 seconds to see Zetterburn take a step. Be that as it may, I still don’t recommend veering too far outside the realm of low ping opponents.There are also tag battle modes which can be fun to play, though I suspect most will play the Free For All mode the most. I was also impressed with the character creation tools. Like the ones found in King Of Fighters XIII, and Capcom Vs. SNK 2 you can change the color palette of the characters to use as a custom appearance for yourself. So if you want to make Wrastor green, you can do so.

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Where the game falters a bit is when it comes to one player modes. Aside from the excellent tutorial, the only real thing it has is the Story mode. Here, you take each of the characters, and play through their part of the game’s lore. Like most fighting games this is told by picking a character, playing through computer opponents in a 1v1 match, until you reach the final boss. After defeating the boss, you’ll get a bit more backstory, and credits. Once you beat the game with every character though, there isn’t much left for you to do. You can take the points you earn for playing, to unlock the secret characters. But beyond that there really isn’t much else. When considering the small roster, it doesn’t translate into much single-player time. Sure, one could point to the Abyss mode where you try to exceed goals the game sets with enemies, and items to beat. But for a game that wants to tear you away from Smash, that isn’t much.

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Don’t misunderstand me though, Dan Fornace, and his small team have done a terrific job in making a Smash-like fighter. If you don’t presently have a Nintendo console, and played a lot of Super Smash Bros. in the past, Rivals of Aether is a no brainer. If you do have a Gamecube, Wii, or Wii U, and love Super Smash Bros., you still may want to give this game a shot. Because it’s going to be more of what you love. As long as what you love is playing against other people in person, or online. This game has the competitive end set. But if your favorite parts of Smash have been breaking targets, Adventure modes, and Subspace Emissaries, Rivals may feel a little bit anemic. That said, if you’re a big fan of fighting games put this one on your radar.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

King Of Fighters XIII Steam Edition Review

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Many people don’t realize this, but fighting games have made their way to computers for years. From Karate Champ, to Street Fighter, tournament fighters have been around on computers almost as long as consoles. There have even been some exclusives, like Body Blows, One Must Fall, and FX Fighter. Some of these were wonderful games, while others were pretty bad. In terms of arcade ports, there were highs, and lows. There was a period of course where the genre almost completely disappeared from personal computers.

That changed when Capcom’s Street Fighter IV made its way to computers. Not only was it an excellent version that took advantage of beefy hardware, it opened the floodgates bringing the genre back to a level on PCs unseen since the late 1990’s. SNK has been one of the major fighting game developers to follow Capcom’s lead. In some ways the Steam Edition of King Of Fighters XIII goes above, and beyond.

PROS: Everything from the console editions of the game. Performance options.

CONS: Buying it now means there isn’t a lot of online competition for you.

RUGAL: Is reduced to a cameo. But the game’s final boss also has SNK Boss Syndrome.

KOF 13 was in arcades back in 2010, and was ported to the Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3 a year later. The series goes all the way back to 1994, when SNK combined several of its fighting game franchises including Fatal Fury, and Art Of Fighting. Over the years it has added other SNK characters from a multitude of games spanning genres. Even the Ikari Warriors have found their way onto the roster.

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As is the case with Capcom’s Street Fighter, and Warner Bros’ Mortal Kombat the KOF games have a storyline. In most of them, there is an annual tournament in which the world’s greatest fighters come together to fight for supremacy. Usually as this is going on, there is an evil plot of sorts set in motion by a boss character. In the earlier games Rugal Bernstein was that boss character. In recent games he’s been replaced. Rugal was a character who was notoriously brutal. Players could easily spend ten dollars in quarters in arcade versions trying to beat him. On home editions over the years they could spend hours. Rugal’s insane difficulty led to the phrase “SNK Boss Syndrome”. To this day it’s parroted around whenever a boss in a game seems impossible to defeat.

Anyway, in this game a character named Ash takes Rugal’s spot, and continues the trend of SNK Boss Syndrome. But before you get to Ash you’ll go through several battles through either a traditional arcade ladder, or a story driven mode. Either one will have similar dialogue bubbles between fights, and cut scenes. The difference is that story mode ends the moment you lose a fight. So you’ll find yourself going back through the list of movies, finding the last one you watched, and restarting at that point. Arcade mode lets you continue on the spot. Story mode also opens up different paths through the short films depending on your character selection, and generated choices.

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What sets KOF apart from other fighting games is that you aren’t only choosing one character or a tag team. You choose a three member team. In Arcade mode you can choose any three people on the roster. In Story mode you’ll choose a predetermined team based on one of SNK’s many games. Most of them have a pretty healthy mix of styles, though some go more for grappling, ranged attacks, or speed. Instead of going 2 out of 3 rounds every fight you pick the order you will use your team mates. You go until either you defeat all of the opposing team, or until all of your characters are knocked out.  KOF XIII has a pretty deep fighting system as well. There are ways to have 1v1 fights too if so inclined, but really 3v3 is the standard in King Of Fighters.

You can set up all kinds of links, and combos in the game, and even use EX moves. This works similarly to Street Fighter, where you can do more powerful versions of special moves with your gauge. But beyond that is a robust cancel system, where advanced players can easily stop out of one move to combo into another, also at the cost of a meter. There is a Hyper Drive mode of this that has unlimited cancelling. Ironically within a time limit. Besides all of that, KOF XIII has finishers called Neo Max desperation moves. You can pull these off when you’ve completely maxed out your meters. Much like Street Fighter’s Supers, these will display quite the spectacle if you knock out all of an opponent’s energy when using one. The game also takes a page from Street Fighter III, and has a blocking meter. If you block too much, eventually it will deplete, and cause you to become stunned.

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KOF XIII also gives players a lot of content for their money. Besides the arcade mode, and its story mode variant you can play online or offline Vs. mode. Playing online gives you some nice filters. You can choose ranked or player matches. In the player matches you can choose regions, and preferred experience of opponents. You can also set up games with your friends, or allow people to challenge you in the middle of playing one of the single player modes. Ranked play lets you select a region for the game to pool opponents from. You can also choose quick matches where it will just pair you with the first available player.

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The game generally feels lag free online, and fairly smooth. At this point though, you might find it takes a while to find an opponent. That’s because the game is a couple of years old, and didn’t put up the numbers more popular fighting games had. That said, it isn’t a completely barren wasteland either, as a considerable number of people are still playing it. Most of them are going to be very formidable, since the bulk of the players are going to be made up of the core audience. Still, if you have a few friends with a copy you can enjoy the low latency in private matches.

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Obviously offline play will give you the best performance. KOF XIII supports multiple controllers, and is pretty accepting of most of the mainline ones. Fight sticks, 360 pads, and the Steam Controller all seem to work without a hitch. The game has a decent options menu where you can rebind keys, and choose a resolution. But it still doesn’t give you the performance options PC gamers expect. You can’t really tweak the level of AA, or texture quality, or sharpness of the sprites. You’re getting the minimum in those terms. Which is a bit disappointing considering how good the underlying gameplay is.

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But there are still plenty of things the game does right. You get the typical art galleries, where you can look at concept art, game assets, and movies. But beyond that you’ll get a pretty nice color customization option. Much like the one in Capcom Vs. SNK 2, you can change the palettes, and colors of every character in the game to make your own custom look. This is pretty cool because if you main a certain character, you can add a flair of personality to them. It would have been nice to see a full blown creator like the ones in pro wrestling games. But considering the large roster of hand drawn sprite characters, this is still pretty good.

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SNK also gets credit here for a pretty nice tutorial mode. One that almost forces you to learn the different nuances of the cancels, combos, and EX moves. It will keep re testing you until you get it right. Even during the main game it will throw little challenges at you. “Roll dodge three times” “Cancel a move” “Land a three hit combo using normal moves.” KOF XIII feels like it wants you to be good. Even if it does sometimes also feel like you should pick up the complexity fairly quickly. You’ll need to be at least competent to complete the arcade ladder or story mode, even on easy. You don’t have to be a tournament level player. But you’ll need to be competent at the basics. Because the final boss once again brings the SNK Boss Syndrome as I mentioned before. Knowing some of the advanced tactics helps a lot in this battle, because the game throws everything at you. Seemingly instantly.

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If you have trouble even after the tutorial, you are given a nice practice mode. In it you can select behaviors for the A.I. practice dummy, and spend time trying to make sure you’ve mastered a special move. Or experiment with trying to discover new combos. Or trying to practice how to perform many of the game’s cancels, and other advanced maneuvers. Beyond that, if you really want more practice you can try your hand at Mission mode. This mode lets you either take on the roster with one character until you beat them all or lose. You can play it timed, or not timed. Aside from that, you can also take a single character through a number of challenge lessons. Some of them are for learning certain combos. Others are different feats. Mastering some of them will be pretty frustrating for beginners since they’re very dependent on exact timing. But if you have the patience, you’ll find that learning a lot of the stuff here can be handy when playing with other people.

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Getting back to the boss fight a moment, you can’t really mash your way to victory during it. Because you can’t jump in, and mount an offense. Even if you are pretty good at the game, this fight is going to give you a lot of trouble. But whether you can win on your 3rd attempt or 475th attempt beating the boss will feel like an accomplishment. If you find yourself invested in the characters, and lore, you’ll want to at least play enough to see the different character paths, and scenes. Of which there are many. KOF XIII has 36 characters in it when all is said, and done. Some of these you’ll have to unlock, while the others are DLC characters that are hidden behind others. You select the DLC characters by pressing Select when choosing Iori, Kyo, or Takuma.

Most importantly though the game manages to be engaging enough for both the devoted series’ veterans, and the casual player who may only break it out when friends come over. Even if some of the advanced stuff may be intimidating to a newcomer. Plus the game gives you more content than a lot of other fighting games. Some late comers may even want to pick it up now to practice up for the upcoming KOF XIV, though there will undoubtedly be changes to the fighting system. This special Steam edition not only gives you everything from the console releases, but incorporates Steam cards as well. Not something that screams “BUY ME” but they are there for the Steam card fans out there.

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Overall, KOF XIII is a great game to pick up if you want a really good fighter you may have missed. If you already have it on a console, I don’t know that you need to double dip for this re-release. But if you’re new to the series, lapsed, or never got around to it on your game system of choice, picking up the definitive version on your computer is a great way to go. Especially with its low system requirements. One final caveat is that despite the similarity with some of Street Fighter’s features over the years, you should not try to play it like Street Fighter. King Of Fighters is a different beast altogether. Which is why it is a series that has endured for nearly as long. Some of its biggest fans may not rate it as high as some of the earlier games in the series. But it’s also one of the nicer fighting games you can play on your personal computer in recent years.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Clay Fighter 63 1/3 Review

Last week I talked about one of the best parody games around. Clay Fighter eventually found its way onto the Sega Genesis after a run on the Super NES. Then it was beefed up for an upgrade release on the Super NES. The game I covered the last week. After that game came Clay Fighter 2: Judgment Clay, which not only lampooned fighting games, but the Terminator sequel. Unfortunately I won’t be talking about it any time soon as I don’t have a copy. But I do have one of the final versions of Clay Fighter. (Until the recently announced reboot sees daylight.) Which is what we’ll cover today.

PROS: Increased goofiness. Claytalities. A host of top name voice talent.

CONS: Poor graphics. New fighting system.

REALLY?: One character is a very bad stereotype. Oh yeah. Really.

Clay Fighter 63 1/3 makes some big changes to the Clay Fighter formula. Some are alright. Others not so much. One of the most noteworthy changes is the move from a Street Fighter inspired fighting system to a Killer Instinct fighting system. Oh sure, you still have your weak, medium, fierce button layouts, but the organic play is changed. As in Killer Instinct, later Mortal Kombat games, and a host of other fighters you’ll have a host of Dial-a-Combos. But where Killer Instinct merged these predetermined combos with some level of self-reliance, this game doesn’t. At least it doesn’t succeed in its attempt. The problem is that the movement speed of the characters doesn’t entirely meld with the timing needed. So while there is a little bit more depth here than in something like War Gods, you still have many moments where things feel clunky. Chaining moves with these Dial-a-Combos doesn’t feel as smooth as it does in Killer Instinct.

The game also implements the Street Fighter Combo meter. You can fill up to three bars, choose to either use them one at a time, or use all three when filled. Be that as it may, this Clay Fighter entry still does a few things right. This is one of the earliest fighting games to give us transitioning backgrounds. All of the stages are tied together in some way. Every stage has a secret entrance to another stage. As you fight, if you pull off a hard enough attack near one of these segments you can knock your opponent into another stage. Things continue to borrow from Killer Instinct as you play. Backgrounds rotate during your battles. Each player has two life bars. There are even Fatalities in this entry. They’re called Claytalities, and most of them are pretty funny the first few times you see them. The game even introduces a couple of secret characters. This brings the total number of characters to 12. Many of the characters from earlier games return here. Bad Mr. Frosty, Bonker, Taffy, and Ickybod Clay are here. Earthworm Jim is also here as a cameo along with Boogerman, a character from one of Interplay’s platformers.

A lot of the best voice actors around are here. Dan Castanella known for his role as Homer Simpson is here. Jim Cummings of Darkwing Duck fame is here. Even Rob Paulsen of Pinky, and The Brain had a hand in the game’s voice over. All of whom put in some great work here. It would have been easy to phone in a few lines of dialogue, but they treated it like any of their other projects. But there is one character in particular who was, and is very divisive. Kung Pow. Kung Pow is every bad Chinese stereotype rolled into one character. Many will be upset, a few might laugh, but no one will argue it is in poor taste. He speaks in broken English, all of his moves are named after Chinese restaurant meals, and have animations to match.They even designed him with the stereotypical over bite, and bowl hair cut. Even during release people were asking “Really?”.

On top of the blight that is a character made for pure shock value, the game doesn’t have the memorable look of the original game. While characters are, once again sprites made from stop motion animation, backgrounds are another story. Everything has a dim, muddy look to it. Geometry. Textures. Everything looks bland, dull, and lifeless. Gone are the hilarious, and fun backgrounds from the Super NES. Even though there are a number of stage transitions they all suffer the same boring feel. Boring  is not the vibe you want from your parody game. Sadly, that’s what the game becomes. The comedy that is here does wane pretty quickly. The change in the fighting system does little to keep you playing. Clay Fighter 63 1/3 doesn’t have much in the way of multiplayer either. You have the standard 2 player Vs. mode, and that’s… about it.

Aside from the secret characters, the game does have a handful of hidden things in it. There is a secret menu you can pull up, that will let you turn off the Claytality timer, scale the size of the characters, and other minor changes. There is also an option for someone to control the game’s camera with a controller in port 4. Beyond that, there’s a cheat code to enable well.. cheats. Ultimately, Clay Fighter 63 1/3 isn’t as fun, funny or as memorable as the original Clay Fighter. In spite of having a lot of great voice talent, and improved models, it still falls short on all of those fronts. The most interesting thing about the game is that like Clay Fighter Tournament Edition, it does have an upgrade.

One many will probably never see. And in the unlikely event that you do see it in person, it will be fairly expensive to take home. Clay Fighter Sculptor’s Cut came out a short time after 63 1/3 failed to make an impact. It fixes some (not all) of the sluggish problems in the fighting engine. It adds one of the characters who was cut from 63 1/3, and a couple of new characters. Presumably because of the lower than expected sales of the base game, Sculptor’s Cut became an exclusive rental. Blockbuster Video was the only vendor to get copies, and it was rarely sold until they began to scuttle their retail locations. The few copies in the wild fetch a high price due to their rarity. If you’re especially lucky enough to find a copy with a manual, and box hang onto it very tightly.

As for the game itself, it is only slightly better than the base game. If you’re a fan of the general concept, and characters Clay Fighter introduced to fighting games Clay Fighter 63 1/3 might be worth owning. If only because of the historical aspect behind it. It isn’t a horrible game, but it isn’t particularly great either. The controversial Kung Pow character also doesn’t help its case. It is an interesting game in the sense of analyzing a misfire. But it isn’t something that will keep you busy for years. It never hits the un-functional levels of Dark Rift, but it isn’t going to give you the replay value the original did either. It’s average. Boring, and painfully at times. It’s been revealed there are plans for a new entry in the long dormant series. Hopefully that game will take its cues from the Super NES cult favorite. Not this swing, and a miss sequel.

Final Score: 5 out of 10

Clay Fighter Tournament Edition Review

Ah, 1991. Capcom had given us the glorious Street Fighter II. A sequel to a ho-hum, tournament fighting game. It created a host of clones, while reinvigorating both fighting games, and arcades. Nearly every fighting game that has followed owes at least something to Street Fighter II. But with every popular idea, there is usually a parody waiting.

PROS: Nice graphics. Decent animation. Good play control. Funny!

CONS: Some of the humor dates itself. Not as fun as Street Fighter II Turbo.

THEME SONG: As iconic as Street Fighter II’s introduction music.

Clay Fighter Tournament Edition isn’t the first Clay Fighter. It’s technically an upgrade of the first game. It works in the vein of a Street Fighter II Turbo. Expanding the content, along with some tweaks. But just like the original vanilla version, it’s a parody of Street Fighter II. It also has a few jabs at Mortal Kombat, although there aren’t any fatalities to speak of. Actually, as you’ll see it mocks the entire fighting game genre.

Clay Fighter TE has its own storyline. It’s silly, and preposterous but gives you a reason as to why these characters exist. As well as why they’re beating up each other. One day a meteor falls from the sky, and completely levels a carnival. When this happens, all of the various performers are mutated into stop motion behemoths. Each of them are stand ins for the archetypes you see in other fighting games.

Bad Mr. Frosty is Clay Fighter’s Ryu. He is a snow man who spreads pain rather than joy. He is the flagship character of the series, appearing in every iteration. There are a host of other favorites like Helga, the opera singer. Taffy, who is made of, well, taffy. Bonker is a psychotic clown character. Because you can’t have a carnival or circus theme without one. But he’s honestly a pretty fun character here. There’s Ickybod Clay, a reference to Sleepy Hollow. There’s Elvis Presley impersonator Blue Suede Goo.  There’s Tiny, who of course is not tiny at all. He’s the game’s Zangief. Rounding it out you have The Blob. Who is quite literally a blob of clay.

The art, and general look of Clay Fighter is awesome. Each character has gone through a painstaking creation process. They were modeled in clay, then animated in stop motion, and then the animated frames were scanned into the game. The finished product looks somewhere between Street Fighter’s airbrushed look, and Mortal Kombat’s digitized actors. It would have been easy for Visual Concepts (Yes. That Visual Concepts) to have slapped some clones together or digitize their own actors. But the extra effort goes a long way here.

Stage backgrounds are also really cool. As with the characters themselves, the stages are mostly clay models that were photographed, and placed in the game. You can tell which parts were drawn in to go along with the photos, which can be a little jarring. But for all intents, and purposes these are some well crafted backgrounds. Moreover, the fighting system in Clay Fighter TE is pretty good. It’s clear the designers knew eventually the jokes would stop being funny. So they had to keep you playing. Rather than do it with more gimmicks, they built a solid game underneath it all. There is definitely enough here to make you fire it up every now, and again.

The fighting system does borrow a lot from Street Fighter II. Most of the characters moves are performed with similar quarter circle movements, or back, and forward charges. As for the regular moves it also borrows Capcom’s 6 button layout. There are weak, medium, and strong attacks for both kicks, and punches. Tournament Edition also takes a page from SFII Turbo by implementing a speed feature. So if you’re used to zany speeds in your fighters there’s something here for you. With that said, the game’s mechanics aren’t quite up to the level of Street Fighter II. The hit boxes around characters are a little bit more forgiving, and some characters have special moves with very similar inputs. Sometimes you might want to have Bad Mr. Frosty throw a snowball fist, only to perform his ice breath instead.

While that is certainly bad news, it isn’t so bad that it takes away from the fun. The moves do work, but you’ll have to learn the specific  differences in their commands. This way you’re consistently doing the special moves you want, instead of accidentally doing the ones you don’t. The game also does let you get in a number of combos, and two in one attacks. While you wouldn’t think a parody game could be competitive, Clay Fighter Tournament Edition actually can be. Even if it isn’t likely to be in a high-profile tournament these days. Those who simply love the fighting game genre should still find some fun in it.

Clay Fighter Tournament Edition has your basic modes. There is the standard arcade mode where you have to beat the roster, then a boss. Strangely, the game will have you re match three characters once you beat the roster. Once you’ve done that, then you can go up against the final boss. The game’s boss is a little bit underwhelming though. It is just a bunch of clay balls animated to make out a face. It can use all of the characters’ various projectile moves. On higher difficulties the boss, and the game in general is a challenge. Often times things veer into cheap territory. But if you want the game’s best endings you’ll want to play the game through on its harder settings.

Beyond the arcade ladder is the standard 1 on 1 Vs. mode. Each player picks a character, the number of rounds needed to win, and their handicap. Aside from that there is also the Tournament ladder. Here you can have up to 8 people play through a bracket to get to the top spot. Handy for the odd time you have a number of people over.

Overall, Clay Fighter TE holds up pretty well. It has a goofy charm to its silliness. The fighting system is pretty good, and it is still fun to play. It might not be able to captivate you very long in today’s crowded crop of excellent fighters. But it is a fun diversion. Plus its still miles ahead of the mediocre fighters we’ve seen over the last 20 years. If you find a copy in your area pick it up. If you have a Wii, the original is also on the Shop Channel.

Final Score: 7 out of 10

 

Cartoon Network Punch Time Explosion XL Review

Say that title five times fast!

Anyway, as we all know, knockoffs are nothing new. We see them in everything. Everyday household items. Appliances, and of course creative media. Including obviously, video games. Over the last thirty or more years we’ve seen Pac-Man clones. Space Invaders clones. Super Mario Brothers clones. Street Fighter clones. Doom clones. Basically, one could spend a lifetime talking about the concept alone before even getting to the examples. Some of which I’ve already reviewed. Many knockoffs aren’t worth a second thought. But as Mortal Kombat, Saints Row, and others have taught us, sometimes they are. Taking a proven formula, and putting their own spin on it.

PROS: Nice graphics. Decent mechanics. Controls well.

CONS: Saves can’t be brought to another system. Unbalanced.

CAPTAIN PLANET: He’s our hero! Going to take pollution, down to zero!

Cartoon Network Punch Time Explosion XL does just that. This time the target is Super Smash Bros. The SSB series looks like it can easily be copied at face value. The core concept of keeping combatants off of your hill or out of your ring seems simple. You have a cast of characters who are unique, yet share a simplified movement set.

Moving beyond that, Smash has also employed campaigns in past games. Such as Melee’s Adventure Mode, or Brawl’s Subspace Emissary Mode. Smash has a ton of different items you could add in for random fun. Or assist trophies, that enable NPCs to help you win. Nintendo’s series even has a lot of individual mini game challenges throughout the series from target smashing, to sandbag beating. All with mechanics that hyper-competitive players find quite deep. Today, the series has hardcore fans, and countless tournaments where the best players win enough cash to live on. It’s one of the most watched series on Twitch. Its reputation has reached the heights of games like Street Fighter, and Tekken.

To say that CNPTEXL has some lofty goals is an understatement. Does it get anywhere near the pedigree of Nintendo’s mascot party fighter? No. But is it a bad game? Shockingly, the answer is also no. This game takes Nintendo’s approach to mascots, and applies it to Time Warner’s Cartoon Network. The game was published  a bit before the channel’s power houses Adventure Time, and Regular Show. So you won’t be playing as Benson or throwing down with Finn. However the game’s roster does go pretty far back to the channels early days. Dexter’s Lab, The Power Puff Girls, Samurai Jack, and Johnny Bravo all make appearances with many of their characters. Some of the later hits like Ben 10 & The Grim Adventures of Billy, and Mandy are here. And even some of the lesser known shows are represented.

The game has a campaign mode in the vein of Super Smash Bros. Brawl’s Subspace Emissary mode. The story is told by a narrator (Voiced by Space Ghost’s George Lowe), which follows the convergence of all of Cartoon Network’s shows. This follows a formula similar to Brawl’s. You will go through side scrolling platformer stages with brawler elements. Depending on the stage, you can use a certain number of characters. When you get to the end of the campaign it is revealed that the narrator’s TV remote has gone rogue, and is responsible for the merging of the realities. Of course, this remote is the final boss.

Along the way you’ll also unlock characters for you to use in the other mode. Again, much like the Subspace Emissary. The difference is that you use currency to do it. CNPTEXL has a Store option where you will find not only the bonus characters, but stages, alternate costumes, and clips from the various Cartoon Network shows. Clearing the game or playing enough in the other modes will give you points that can be used to unlock them. Once unlocked, the characters, and stages can be used in the Story mode or the Battle mode. There is a vault where the unlocked clips can be viewed, along with the character models. It works kind of like a cut down version of Smash’s trophy room. You can get info on the characters, what shows they belong to, and their original appearances. It isn’t nearly as deep as what you will find in Nintendo’s games, but it still gives you something to look forward to if you are a fan of the CN shows. The clips are DVD quality, and most of the clips are from some of the better shows’ moments.

 

The meat of the game is in its multiplayer. Battle mode is up to four players, and also allows you to use a variety of controllers. If you’re playing the Wii version you can use the Wiimote, and Nunchuck. Or you can opt for either a Classic Controller or a Gamecube Controller. As I’ve mentioned before, the core concept of CNPTEXL is the same as the Nintendo franchise it cribs from. Each of the game’s 26 stages will see players trying to keep each other off of the arena. You do this by attacking one another, to build up damage. The more damage you take, the farther you are knocked back with each successful hit. Each stage has a knockout zone around it. Going beyond it, or being unable to otherwise make it back to the arena results in a death.

The object of course is to be the last one with any lives left. The game plays as one would expect. There is a primary attack button, a special move button, a shield button, and a button for your finishers. Each of the main three buttons can be combined with directions. So as in Smash, you can get different moves based upon what direction is used with each. It also has smash attacks of its own. So pressing a direction with the attack button at the same time will dish out more knock back. The shield also allows you to roll out-of-the-way, and perform parries as in Smash. Many of the tactics employed in Smash like edge guarding can also work here. Even holding the shield for too long will break it, leaving you open to punishment. The finisher button is novel too in that you don’t have to chase down a smash ball. The one thing this game does to carve itself out a niche is  the use of a gem system. Beating up on your opponent will cause them to drop gems. Collect enough of them, and you can use your finisher. Most of the finishers are pretty cool, and have anime inspired animations leading up to the attack.

In addition to the primary battle mode, there are a handful of variants. Choosing a custom match is similar to the way custom matches in Smash games work. You can turn assist trophies on or off, set the frequency of items, and set the time limit or number of lives. It does not let you go over each individual item however.  Beyond the custom mode, there is a mode called Drones where the game will throw a bunch of NPC enemies into the match. Instead of scoring you on stock or knockouts, it instead scores you on whoever defeated the most computer controlled combatants.

There is also a variant called PTE mode, where you collect energy orbs. Think of it like the coin mode in the Smash series. Finally, there’s the arcade mode. This plays like the arcade mode in Smash. The game puts you in a ladder, against other combatants, and you’ll get a different ending for each character you beat the mode with.

As far as the look, and sound of the game go, the visuals are pretty nice, while the sound isn’t. All of the characters models look pretty good considering Papaya’s probable budget constraints. Backgrounds aren’t very detailed. Muddy textures cover most of the background objects, and small details are lost in the shuffle. Although one has to be impressed with some of the destruction, and transition that goes on in certain stages. Again, the finishing moves are actually pretty impressive. Especially if you’re a fan of some of these old shows. Audio is lackluster however. Aside from the voice samples, and quality during the unlockable clips, there isn’t much to recommend. Music isn’t all that memorable, and none of the effects will really wow you.

Despite all of the similarities with Nintendo’s games it still doesn’t hold a candle to Super Smash Bros. That’s the biggest trouble with Cartoon Network Punch Time Explosion XL. The roster isn’t as large, and as great as many of these shows were, it simply isn’t as fun to pick up Johnny Bravo, as it is to pick up Donkey Kong. What’s worse is that the roster you do get isn’t really all that balanced. There are a handful of characters you’ll stick with if you do decide to play this with friends even remotely regularly. While every fighting game ends up with one or two characters that have more versatility, the best fighters still make everyone viable. This game really doesn’t. It was clearly made to be a Smash clone for people on a budget. Or at least for Cartoon Network fans who couldn’t get enough Smash-like experiences. Unfortunately while it does succeed on those merits, it won’t succeed in keeping you away from Nintendo’s franchise for very long. The fact you can’t unlock everything on your own, and bring it to a friend’s is disheartening too. Especially since, at least on the Wii, you can back up your save file to an SD card.

Still, if you do like some of these classic cartoons, you might want to check the game out anyway. It is by no means a terrible game, and it is a fun ride as far as licensed games go. But you aren’t going to drop Super Smash Bros. for this. Nor are you going to fool yourself into thinking you’re playing Super Smash Bros. if you pick it up on the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3.  It’s average. But sometimes that’s enough.

Final Score: 6 out of 10

 

Tournament Of Legends Review

It wasn’t supposed to be this way!

PROS: Some ambitious design ideas

CONS: Small roster, unbalanced, fails to meet its goals

I’M CONFUSED: Why is there a Steampunk Robot in this thing?

Originally, titled Gladiator A.D., Tournament Of Legends was to be a gritty, cross between Soul Calibur, and Mortal Kombat. A game that would have featured all sorts of Greek, and Roman mythology inspired combatants. But in deadly, epic one on one sword battles in the vein of the old Commodore 64 classic, Barbarian. High Voltage Software had already shown the world that a competent, fun First Person Shooter could be done on the Wii with The Conduit. Which, along with its sequel, really drove home the fact that IR controls could best analog controls if done properly. Gladiator A.D. seemed like it might be HVS’s chance to do the same for fighters.

Eventually however, it was revealed that Sega wanted the game to be a little brighter, and a bit more fantastical. So characters were mildly altered, and early previews showed some colorful arenas. Then later on, word came out that they were going to try to make a game that could be both easy to learn, and difficult to master. What we received was Tournament Of Legends.

To be fair, after having been out for a while now, (and after hours of my own play time) I can tell you Tournament Of Legends is not quite as bad as many people would have you believe. There are indeed, a number of interesting, and different things Tournament Of Legends has to offer. The bad news is that these things don’t elevate the game to a level that would make anybody excited about playing it.

Tournament Of Legends has a fairly nice look to it, although it’s uneven at times. Some stages really shine, showing off what the Quantum 3 engine is capable of. Other stages are decidedly drab, and look reminiscent of early PS2 titles. Character models look a lot better, showing off a lot of little details. But they are also uninspired. Nothing really stands out here except maybe Volcanus, a Steampunk meets Gladiator character who is actually controlled by a gnome driving a cart in the stage background.

Voice acting is pretty bad. All of the delivery is hokey, and the voices simply do not meld with the characters being displayed on the screen. But all of these things are trivial. What you’ll want to know is how functional the fighting mechanics are.

Tournament Of Legends borrows mechanics from Soul Calibur 2, Street Fighter IV, Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!, and Fight Night. To say it’s different from the norm is an understatement to say the least. The game separates rounds into what it calls acts. The object of the gameplay is to knock an opponent down 3 times to score essentially a technical knockout. If for some reason your opponent can’t get up you’ll score a KO. Like Fight Night, and Punch-Out!!, you’ll control both arms for attacks. Swinging the nunchuck will move the left arm, while moving the wiimote controls the right arm. The control stick on the nunchuck moves your character around the play field. Here’s where the other borrowed conventions begin to come in. Like SC2, you can do overhead attacks, or side attacks. This is done by swinging either controller up & down, or left & right. There is also a dodge button (B) you can hold to sidestep, or do double taps while holding it to dash. You can also swing while holding dodge to do a dodge attack which can actually turn the tide for you in battle.

Like Street Fighter IV, there are special & super meters. They build throughout the match as you attack, and take damage. Pressing projectile (C by default) will drain the special bars, but allow you to throw projectiles at the opponent. The game also implements a little bit of RPG into the mix by allowing you to use spells called Enchantments. These basically act as your supers. When you press the minus button it will drain the Super meter as the Enchantment does its magic. Enchantments can do anything from give your attacks more power, to giving you your health back, to freezing your enemy in his tracks.

Going back to SC2, as you play through the game you’ll unlock different weapons to pick from, as well as various enchantments. The combatants on the play field will have a foreground/background stance, as opposed to most games where one is on the left, the other on the right. Or other games where it’s dynamic based on how players move through the 3D space. Players in the foreground have a slight advantage, and so doing aforementioned dodge attacks while in the background will cause the disadvantaged to switch places. Characters have their own colored line on the floor in front of them as well. The closer they get to each other the wider the lines become, which increases the odds their attacks will land.

Finally there is a block button. Pressing Z will enable players to block regular, and some special attacks. Dodge attacks, specials, and supers can get through blocks, although timing your block will start what the game calls a Critical block. Again cribbing from SC2, these temporarily stun opponents allowing for a chance at a combo.

To mix things up a bit, Tournament Of Legends also has a few mid round mini games that can help players, or harm them. For one, there are Quick Time Event based Stage dangers. Sometimes a creature, or cataclysm will arrive, and pulling off the QTE will allow players to escape. After being knocked down a player will also enter a QTE. During this they have to shake their controllers to not only get up, but this will restore more health. While this happens, separate QTE’s occur allowing the standing player to recover armor.

Speaking of armor, all players have some armor. Surrounding the mug shots under the life bars are armor bars. When the player takes enough damage armor falls off, these bars disappear, and further attacks do even more damage. The good news is that if you survive an act without 3 knockdowns occurring to you there is a mini game where shaking the wiimote restores some health, and spinning the control stick in a frenzy rebuilds some of your armor.

I should also note that like The Conduit Series, HVS gave players the option to remap all functions to whatever buttons they wish. They even allow players to use the Classic Controller.

Now, that I’ve explained all of those intricate little details I am going to blow your mind. Because all of this does indeed ON PAPER make for a wonderfully deep fighter. “Wow!” You might be telling yourself. “What strategy! I can go for broke mixing up specials, and swings. Conversely, I could master dodge attacks, and use my supers to make for a crazy upset! Tournament Of Legends sounds AWESOME!”

None of that matters. None of it. All of the depth, and creative play style will go out the window once you realize that any round can be won by shaking the controllers as if you were going into a seizure. There really isn’t much to elaborate on this point for. After learning all of these intricacies, you will go up against friends to find they school you faster than you ever beat them in Tekken 2 mashing buttons with Baek.

Moreover, there really isn’t much in the way of balance here. While there are only a handful of characters to choose from (2 of which need to be unlocked) Some of them are so overpowered it limits the selection even further. Flailing to win with these characters exacerbates the situation.

There are a few other things about the game I should go over out of formality, as other fighters have them, and so Tournament Of Legends’ should be mentioned.

First off is the story. You really won’t care. It’s been done in countless other games. The basic gist of it is various legends throughout the time period battle one another to achieve immortality. Some wish to do good things with endless life. Some wish to do evil. Even the manual completely ignores it merely mentioning the synopsis, and the fact that there is a story. When you start the story mode, and beat it for each character, you are treated to some respectable artwork you may find some passing interest in. But again, you probably won’t stay interested in the game long enough to bother.

Secondly, and lastly are the extras. The game has 2 unlockable characters. You can unlock the final boss to play with, and a super secret character. Both of these look awesome, but looking awesome alone, good characters do not make.

Tournament Of Legends is another one of those games where it pains you say it isn’t very good because you can tell a lot of hard work went into its creation. Had the underlying gameplay not been cancelled out by flailfesting, and some balancing gone into the characters Tournament Of Legends could have really turned out to be a sleeper hit. An alternative to traditional fighters with the underground fanfare relegated to titles like Guilty Gear, Blazblue, and SNK fighters genre lovers hold so dear. Instead, it will end up like other forgotten games that never realized their full potential, joining the ranks of Bio F.R.E.A.K.S, WarGods, Dark Rift, Dual Heroes, and Vs..

In many ways Tournament Of Legends is much better than those failed fighting experiments of yesteryear, but not better enough to warrant a recommendation.

Final Score: 5/10

Ultra Street Fighter IV Review

(Edit: “Final” was changed to “Latest”. Why? Well as the Otaku Judge pointed out in the comments, it isn’t a guarantee that this is the last version of SFIV. It was an oversight on my part, and I’m sorry. So it’s been corrected.)

The latest revision to Capcom’s flagship fighter hit consoles earlier this year. It recently landed on Steam. So is Ultra Street Fighter IV a worthy upgrade? It depends.

PROS: Additions to the fighting system. More refinements.

CONS: Most of the new content is recycled from Street Fighter X Tekken.

DEVO: Apparently Hugo is a spudboy.

It’s hard to believe, but Street Fighter IV is already almost six years old. It came out back near the end of 2008 on Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and Windows. It was a smash hit receiving critical acclaim. Older fans loved it because it brought back the feel of Street Fighter II. Newer fans liked it for taking chances with newer characters with new play styles. It even officially brought in Gouken. Ryu, and Ken’s master. Before SFIV, he was little more than an April Fool’s joke by the editors of Electronic Gaming Monthly.

Street Fighter IV was then followed up with Super Street Fighter IV which added a lot of beloved characters from Street Fighter III, and Street Fighter Alpha. This updated version wasn’t released on Windows, but it did start the trend of expansion packs in Street Fighter. Previous buyers could buy the added content at a much lower price than repurchasing an entire game.

Super Street Fighter IV was followed up with Super Street Fighter IV Arcade Edition. This release did come out on Windows in addition to the console versions. SSFIVAE once again took community feedback to heart. By rebalancing the characters’ attacks, defensive moves, and frame data. On top of that, it gave fans Evil Ryu, Oni, Yun, and Yang.

So now we come to Ultra Street Fighter IV. This is supposed to be the final version of the game. Street Fighter games have always seemed to follow this trend of updated versions. Most notably Street Fighter II, which is probably the most popular fighting game ever made. SFII gave us SFII Championship Edition (which made bosses playable), SFII Turbo (Gave us faster gameplay, refined characters with buffs, and nerfs), and Super Street Fighter II: The New Challengers (added Cammy, Dee Jay, Feilong, and T. Hawk). Then it all culminated with Super Street Fighter II Turbo. A game that did some more balancing, and added the desperation super combos we love to the series.

Ultra Street Fighter IV feels a lot like Super Street Fighter II Turbo. Not in the game play. This is still decidedly Street Fighter IV. But in terms of the new content it is pretty light. USFIV is not a bad game by any stretch. The refinements to the characters are definitely thought out well. If you’ve played all of the various versions of SFIV before hand you will notice some combos have different timings. Or changes to the amount of damage a lot of moves do. The really in-depth players who enter tournaments will definitely be happy with these changes, as most of them do make all of the characters a little bit more viable.

Lapsed players, or folks who only pop it in when their buddies come over may not notice the under the hood stuff. For them, the newer additions, and content are going to be more interesting. On the plus side, There has been a new type of Focus Attack added in, as well as a new Ultra Combo finisher option. The Focus Attack addition is actually quite nice. In order to use it you must have at least two of the combo meter segments full.  It allows you to absorb much more damage during an attack. It also fills the revenge meter for your Ultra Combos faster. It adds a little bit more strategy in doing so.

You’ll be debating whether you should hang on to your combo meter for an Ultra combo, or use some of it on an EX attack, or if you should use the enhanced Focus Attack. Players can also use the enhanced Focus Attack as a cancel. During an EX attack, players can use the enhanced Focus Attack to cancel the move. It can also be used to delay the wakeup time when getting up from being knocked down. The newest Ultra Combos (marked with a “W”) are an option that allow you to use either one of your standard Ultra Combos. This is handy in the sense that you may find your opponent can easily get around your favorite one. So you can surprise them by using the second one instead. Or vice versa. The drawback is that this option does less damage than sticking with one of the two Ultra Combos.

Other new features were added as well. One of them being an online training mode. This is actually a really cool feature, as you can have higher level players teach you things, rather than fighting an NPC aimlessly. Or having the game bark inputs at you, and then giving a pass or fail. In the past, if you wanted to learn online it meant rematch after rematch as there was either a time limit, or a life bar running out.

Online fighting retains everything from SSFIVAE. You can still save replays. In fact, you can now upload your matches to your YouTube account. You can still opt for a quick match, or a ranked match. Ranked matches again involve Battle Points. Depending on who you defeat or lose to, you will win or lose Battle Points. Wins will also go a long way to updating your report card. Going against other people online you will run into D’s C’s,B’s, and A’s. you can choose to fight people in your report card rank, or people with a higher rank. Beating someone with a higher rank will certainly help you more than beating someone with the same or lower rank.

Net code has been refined as well. Overall things seem smoother, and matches usually go swimmingly. Though on the PC version there are still the occasional lag filled matches. Even when the indicator reports a solid connection. This may be due to the recent change over from Microsoft’s Games For Windows client to Valve’s Steam Client.  It doesn’t happen enough to make the game unplayable, but it can be annoying when it gets in a funk. During these times, you may attempt to get into a match 3 or 4 times before it finally decides to let you connect.

One thing players of the Windows version will appreciate is that Capcom’s benchmarking utility is still included, along with many options. The PC settings allow for resolution changes, lighting effects, rendering effects, and added texture effects for the characters once again. The game also still supports keyboards, game pads, and arcade sticks. So there are options for everyone. For offline multiplayer, you can now choose versions of each character. So if you want to pit the super Sagat from the original SFIV against the current Ryu, you can. This feature has been used in previous Street Fighter Collections, and so now it shows its head here.

The rest of the content is pretty thin though. The new characters, and backgrounds have almost all been regurgitated from Street Fighter X Tekken. And while playing with some of these characters is welcome, none of them will feel new. Almost every die-hard Street Fighter fan has at least tried SFxT. They’ve seen the Jurassic Park knock off stage. They’ve seen the Cosmic Elevator. They’ve played as Elena, Hugo, Poison, and Rolento. All of the move sets from these characters are pretty much the same. But they have been readjusted for the different speed of SFIV. The only stand out character of the new additions is Decapre. Decapre is still a little bit disappointing though as she is a re-skinned model of Cammy. To be fair, none of her moves are shared with Cammy, and instead of quarter circle style special moves, she has charge attack style special moves.

In the end, buying this is going to come down to how deep into Street Fighter you are. Dyed in the wool fans who want to play with the latest balances, and who study frame data will want this. Average fans who want a complete roster might want to buy the upgrade if they happen to own Super Street Fighter IV Arcade Edition. As a standalone game it isn’t going to be recommended unless you haven’t played a Street Fighter title in a very long time. If you have a previous Street Fighter IV title, and only play it a few times a year, you can skip this one. It isn’t going to make you a Street Fighter fiend.

Final Score: 6 out of 10

Reposted Review: BODY BLOWS

gxn6

 

(Originally posted on the defunct Blistered Thumbs community blog.)

All of the Hadokens with none of the Ryu.

Every so often a game developer realizes a platform is lacking titles in certain genres. Then decides to do something about it. The year was 1993. The developer was Team 17.

PROS: Huge cast. Decent visuals. Nice chiptunes.

CONS: Nearly everything cribbed from other fighting games. Asinine 90′s DRM.

WTF?: The final boss is a T-1000

Body Blows was both a reviled clone, and timeless classic at the same time. Originally released on the Commodore Amiga, then ported to MS-DOS shortly thereafter, the game filled a need for fighters on home computer platforms. Up until Body Blows, computer gamers had the odd port of Street Fighter, Street Fighter II (Which were both poorly coded, and terrible), and Acclaim’s port of Mortal Kombat. (One of the first good ports of an arcade fighting game to the PC.). Outside of those one had to go farther back to 8-bit computer platforms to find stuff like World Karate Championship. Another game Body Blows oddly enough cribs from.

Only a paragraph in, and it already seems like I’m harping on just how much BB lifts from other games but it’s true. Many of the characters have the styles, and moves you’ve seen in countless fighters. Street Fighter II is probably the biggest one. But  you will also see elements of Fatal Fury, World Heroes, Mortal Kombat,  and a few others under the hood. The story is pretty much non-existent, as you play through nobody really gets dialogue or much in the way of exposition. It’s your typical tournament fighter, with typical short bios during the intro, and little else in the way of narrative.

Characters in Body Blows are hugely influenced by Capcom, and SNK, and it shows.

Dan is a streetwise Ken Masters.

Nik is the game’s Ryu in clothes that remind players of Terry Bogard..

Kossack is this game’s Zangief.

Maria is our Chun-Li stand in. (Though to be fair is surprisingly different)

Ninja is a strange cross between Blanka, and Mortal Kombat II’s Reptile.

Dug is a power character who is an awful lot like certain Final Fight enemies.

Mike is a suit who turns into a whirlwind. (Okay, one more different character)

Junior is Boxer  powered with E. Honda’s Hundred Hand Slap.

Lo Ray is a Monk character who does cartwheels, and mind projectiles. (Another original.)

Yit-U is a Ryu clone with Mortal Kombat teleport moves, and specials.

Max is the final boss, playable via a cheat code. He also turns into a Terminator.

Out of eleven characters over half are derivative of those from much more widely known games. The fighting system is also mostly taken from World Karate Championship. This is largely due to the fact, that at the time most PCs had one button joysticks, assuming players had a controller at all. That said, it actually does work in the game’s favor.

Moving the joystick (Or movement keys if you mapped them to your keyboard) will move your character about the screen. Holding the fire button when you do will perform your regular moves, blocks, and specials. You can perform Shoryukens, and Hadokens with ease. The game also does allow for players to get a few two in one combos, and even a cross up or two. Considering the time period that is actually a pretty good thing. Body Blows isn’t the most balanced game either. Some characters simply cannot compete against the rest of the cast when playing in capable hands. Compounding this are the supers everyone has by simply holding down the fire button.

Visually, the sprite work is actually really nice. Especially the backgrounds. The environments in this game can hang with many of the fighter games of the time period. From the invading submarine on the Kossak stage, to Maria’s town, to a construction site, to an office. Body Blows  is a pretty game.

Sounds are mostly pretty good, from the midi soundtrack, to the sound effects. They don’t set the world on fire with iconic music but Team 17 gets it’s job done. If I had any major problems besides the general sameness to it all, it would have to be the DRM built into the game. This was just before the time of CD-Key protection, and so like many other games of the time they went with manual protection. Manual protection  requires players to have the actual game manual on hand to type in information to log in. Body Blows WOULD have been one of the nicer manual protections as it doesn’t make you go through insane hoops like finding word one in sentence four, paragraph 4 on page 45. Instead, the game simply tells you to punch in a three digit code out of a chart in the back of the booklet that goes on around six pages. This would be much easier except that like a thesis in a comic book by the Ultimate Warrior, it prints the grid in a yellow color on an all white page. While it isn’t impossible in a dimly lit room, it’s difficult to read in a few situations, and you may find yourself crashing to the DOS prompt several times before finally getting it right.

Despite all of the cloning within it, Body Blows does succeed in being a fun fighting game.

I remember originally finding it in a game bundle at a KB Toys shortly after our family had gotten our first Windows 95 box. While it certainly didn’t stop me from playing my SNES ports, it did manage to keep me enthralled enough to finish it. In the context of it’s heyday, players who only had an Amiga or MS-DOS computer were really getting something special as GOOD Street Fighter ports didn’t happen until Super Street Fighter II would see a proper release on computers. So for anyone who didn’t have a Super NES or a Genesis, Body Blows made for a nice ad hoc fighter. In fact, the Amiga would see two sequels, Body Blows Ultimate, and  Body Blows Galactic.

To go back to it now is really an act of either nostalgia or collector curiosity. It’s still certainly not a bad game, but there’s no way you’re going to want to play it instead of the games it stole from, or the games that have vastly leaped it since. I’d still recommend checking it out at least once should you ever get the chance. The MS-DOS version runs under DOSBOX with little to no trouble, and it’s just one of those things you have to see to believe. Especially when you realize the guys behind the successfully long running WORMS series can do a fighting game when they feel like it. For it’s time, Body Blows proved  that tournament fighters could, and should exist for computer platforms. It won all sorts of praise from the Amiga gaming community when it came out, and even managed to give DOS users a decent fighter.

It also sent the message to other publishers to put some effort into their porting duties.

Final Score 6.5 out of 10 (Not bad, but not great either.)

Divekick Review

What started out as a joke became quite the compelling fighter.

PROS: Hilarious characters. Funny jokes. Surprisingly deep gameplay.

CONS: Subpar artwork in spots. Hard to navigate menus.

MISSED IT IF YOU BLINKED: Was recently nominated for an award on Spike TV’s VGA show.

Divekick is quite possibly one of the most  backfired joke games you will ever play. What do I mean by this? It’s preposterous setup would make one think of the game as one thinks of certain bad films. So bad, that it becomes so unintentionally comedic it’s a must see. At first glance it’s exactly what many thought.

The game’s gimmick or hook is it’s two button scheme. There are no buttons other than literally a jump button, and a kick button. While on the ground, pressing kick moves you backwards, and in the air it does a “Dive Kick”.  There are a couple of very minor additions beyond that, but they’re practically non-essential.  These buttons are even the only way to navigate menus, as one button goes left, the other goes right, and pressing both make selections.

Once you understand all of that, and then see it in action you will laugh. It is pretty hilarious to see these goofy characters limited to two button control schemes trying to duke it out. But once you actually begin to play Divekick you will slowly change your tune. The reason for this is because in it’s absolute dumbed down to the core simplicity, the game breaks down into why one plays tournament fighters to begin with. To out think, and out maneuver one’s opponent.

One cannot button mash their way to victory here. Unlike actually bad fighters riddled with dial-a-combos, and bad hit detection Divekick is well crafted. One hit is all it takes to win a round. That’s it. ONE HIT. This makes every round a sudden death round. So the lack of quarter circle projectiles, charge attacks, EX super meters, Fatalities, Chains, Combos, and so on suddenly doesn’t matter. The game almost hearkens back to the golden age of fighting games, long before Street Fighter. Games like Karate Champ. Except with Flash Animation.

The game does try to make things slightly more interesting with it’s parody of Street Fighter X Tekken’s Gem system. Some gems may give you one extra pixel of hit detection, others may give the opposing player a huge round win advantage by making you have to beat them 8 times whereas they only have to beat you once.  But these things do very little to greatly lengthen or deepen the main concept.

Divekick brings a couple of modes along. It has a campaign mode where one can play each character through a gauntlet of other characters to get an ending cinematic much like Street Fighter, or Mortal Kombat or any other fighter at this point. It also has both an online, and offline versus mode. The online mode has the same  online net code system that Skull Girls used, so it’s actually a really fun experience online. So long as you can find someone to play with. Because of the “Laugh, and move on” vibe the game gives off, many seem to have done just that. It’s too bad because the game really does deserve to be more popular. But as it is, don’t come into it looking to play online against strangers, as much as friends. If you do get online you’ll have no major complaints. Lag is minimal, and performance is pretty good.

The meat of this game is going to be offline competition. Like most fighting games the real fun is going to be playing against friends who come over, or in a public tournament in your area. Despite the zany characters, fighting community jokes, and lack of everything fighters are known for, you’ll be biting your nails. Because everything comes down to that one moment. That’s the entire game, a constant flood of that welcomed, competitive, stress. You’ll laugh at first, but after that subsides you’ll keep coming back for more.

Divekick is a game you really need to play. It unfortunately wears it’s joke veneer a little too well for it’s own good. But don’t let that stop you. Pick your Steam, XBL, or PSN poison, and have at it. You’ll be glad you did.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Skull Girls Review

Released on consoles, and recently on Steam. Skull Girls is one of the latest titles to show off the power of crowdfunding. Designed by hardcore fighting game enthusiasts, can it hang with the AAA budgeted series’ that inspired it?

PROS: Fantastic animation. Great character design. Deep fighting system.

CONS: High skill gap may turn off newcomers. Small roster.

GARBAGE DAY: Skull Girls references a lot of internet humor, and memes.

In a word, yes. Skull Girls is definitely a game that fighting game fans should look into. Especially those who love combo centric, flashy fighters like Capcom’s Vs. Series, or Arc System Works’ many Guilty Gear, or Blazblue titles. It employs Street Fighter II’s classic six button layout so long time fighting game fans will probably be able to whip out a few combos, or special moves out the gate. It does ensure that anyone who picks it up will be able to play it with friends who come over. But outside of Light, Medium, Fierce punches, and kicks it veers far outside the scope of Street Fighter.

The speed of this game is very fast. You’ve no doubt stumbled upon a Youtube or Twitch clip of high level players doing unimaginable things in Ultimate Marvel Vs. Capcom 3. These kinds of players will feel right at home in Skull Girls. It features a lot of the same things you’ve seen in fighters of it’s ilk. Combos, and links (At this point a very basic fighting game staple) are a given. But you will also see: Launchers (Moves that knock your opponent helplessly in the air to start an air combo), Wall bounces (Rebounding your opponent off of the sides of the 2D level to continue a combo), Cancelling (Stopping a move to do a different one, or when you realize you’re making a mistake), and much, much, more. It even borrows one other thing from more recent Street Fighter titles, and that’s a super meter. Filling up your meters to different levels will allow you to unleash some really impressive super moves.

Skull Girls does also have something a little different up it’s sleeve to keep high level matches from being one sided, and that’s it’s anti infinite system. Every combo in the game has at least one part that can be interrupted by a skilled enough player. This greatly reduces the odds of two evenly matched players from being able to exploit frame data (The painstaking research to find out which animation frames hurt you, don’t hurt you, or do nothing) to keep players in an endless combination of moves resulting in guaranteed wins. It’s actually a pretty good system here for both novices as well as those who consider themselves professional video game players. It reduces a great deal of squash matches at high levels of play. Another great thing is the lack of Dial-A-Combos. Simply inputting moves fast will not break out the desired results. The moves all have a timing element. Players have to really grasp the inputs, and at what time to follow one with the next.

This is where Skull Girls faces it’s greatest two problems though. The first is that there is a vast skill gap. While this is true of many fighting games out there today, Skull Girls has a community of the most die hard fighting game fans around. Folks who have mastered classics like Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat or Tekken, as well as more modern popular fighters. As such, people who stumble upon it, think it looks neat, and buy it will have a bigger uphill battle than in those other games. If you’re a newcomer who goes online with this expect a winless record for awhile.

Fortunately, the game does have a robust training mode in it. It will teach you basic, elementary things like the six button layout, blocking efficiently, and special moves, right on up to the really difficult stuff like combination moves, chaining, linking, and cancelling as well as tag team attacks. Of course players will have to realize completing the training alone isn’t going to win matches, but it will increase their chances.

The second problem with the game is the small number of characters. If one buys the game early enough, it will include future character bundles for free (Although you still have to pay for the color schemes.). After that, they will be accessible behind a DLC paywall. Naturally players will want the extra characters because the base game has a scant 8 characters. While that might have passed in 1992 with The World Warrior, it doesn’t pass now.  In it’s defense most of the characters are really cool, from Peacock (A mechanized girl in the style of 1940’s Warner Bros. Cartoons) to Valentine (The classic 1940’s Naughty Nurse) to Double (A shape-shifting blob that disguises itself as a Nun.). The game has a low cost of $15 but if the DLC proves too costly it could potentially turn new players away as well.

Which would be a shame because everything else about the game is quite honestly top notch. Animation runs briskly, with hundreds of cells of animation. The main story, while lacking (Like most fighter stories) does tell itself through some impressively drawn cinema screens. Stages look amazing. Taking a cue from Tatsunoko Vs. Capcom, it goes for an impressive 2.5D look using 3D cel shaded backgrounds as a backdrop for characters, although Skull Girls uses sprites for it’s fighters. Beautifully drawn sprites.

The music is probably one of the best parts of the game. Everything goes with the 1940’s aesthetic, and upon beating the single player story mode you’re treated to a really well orchestrated Jazzy Big Band tune.

Skull Girls is truly awesome. Anyone who likes fighting games should definitely check into it. Just remember like other high level fighters, novices may want to stick to couch or computer desk matches for awhile before taking their chances online. That said, it’s one of the best new fighting games to come out over the last 8 years. Certainly no easy feat.

Final Score: 8 out of 10