Gallery Update 03/31/14

Happy Monday, everyone. Just a quick sketch of Sonic as Link in honor of the new Sonic Lost World DLC (the DLC is pretty cool, by the way). I felt like giving my new Wacom tablet a spin, and this… was the result. I need more practice! Check it out in the gallery along with all my other art.

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Back to School

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After way too long away, I’m finally going back to school to finish my degree. I’m both nervous and excited, reluctant and enthusiastic; essentially, my typical self amplified by a hundred. Of course, that doesn’t mean a thing to any of you, but I think you all might care about any impact it’ll have on my duties here at Retro(spective). I imagine that between homework and Nintendojo, I’m probably going to cut my production here a bit. Who knows, there might not be any difference, but I figure it’s best to be fair with all of you and not just disappear off the map. Regardless, look forward to my usual brand of video game goodness, and thanks so much for the continued support!

REVIEW-Tappingo

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Tappingo | 3DS eShop

According to my 3DS’s Activity Log, I spent about six hours playing Tappingo from start to finish. Don’t let what sounds like a short playtime deceive you, as that’s actually six hours of feverish, enthusiastic engagement. Someone taking their time will likely get through Tappingo over a longer period of play, as its 104 puzzles are challenging and take some thought to get through. This is the sort of puzzle game that is worth playing; fun in spurts or long sessions, cerebral, and balanced.

Tappingo is reminiscent of Picross, as a series of square tiles must be arranged to form pixelated images of a variety of objects and creatures. Like Nintendo’s puzzler, Tappingo‘s numbered squares indicate how many tiles need to be placed in a given row, but there’s a catch; the player extends the line of tiles manually, but the line won’t stop until it hits another tile. Thus, tiles marked with a two, for example, are only supposed to shoot forward two spaces, but unless another line is jutting out to halt its progression, it won’t end where it should. Players spend their time in Tappingo extending lines so that each intersects with another to hit the right length and finish the picture.

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Unlike Picross, the flow of lines is forgiving, with no penalties for backtracking to rearrange tiles properly. This lets the player be less conservative while solving puzzles, but to avoid being completely non-aggressive, the game tracks completion times to keep things competitive. Speed freaks will get a thrill out of shaving seconds off their best times, which also adds some replay value to Tappingo. The music was pleasing but not particularly memorable; I would have liked a couple of different tracks just to keep things more interesting, While the game also isn’t a tour de force of 3DS’s graphical muscles, I found the pixel art charming and well-done. Some of the later images were particularly intricate and impressive. There are also some nice 3D effects when the final image is revealed at the end of a puzzle.

The touch controls were handled well; very responsive, which is important because some puzzles run to the very edge of the touch screen. My one gripe with the interface was that an errant tap of a single tile can sometimes send an entire line shooting back, which disrupts multiple other sections of a puzzle and ruins all your hard work. A simple reset button would have been welcome, as opposed to going back and manually readjusting everything all over again just to right one, little mistake. On the other hand, the puzzles are timed, so it’s possible the developers were trying to emphasize accuracy, but with tiles so small, it felt a bit unreasonable.

For a paltry $2.99, 3DS owners can snag this wonderful puzzle game. The concept is fresh and innovative, and with a perfect difficulty curve and forgiving gameplay, players will want to make their way to the final puzzle. While it can be brutal having to redo sections, the satisfaction of weaving all the different lines together is very rewarding. Go download Tappingo today!

Score: 8.5/10

+ Fun gameplay with a unique gimmick; pleasant pixel art; a lot of puzzles; balanced difficulty curve; decent replay value for speedsters.

– Backtracking to redo sections can become monotonous; not enough music variety.

Titanfall Shouldn’t Go Annual

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Call of Duty, love or hate it, is king of sales in the FPS market. Every year, fans lineup outside of GameStops and Walmarts across the country to get hold of the latest installment of the series. While the campaigns remain fairly engrossing from title to title, the real draw of CoD is its immersive online multiplayer. In the wake of CoD’s juggernaut momentum, many developers and publishers have done their best to enter the fray with a game to counter Activision’s darling. There have been a handful of games that can claim to compare, most notably EA’s Battlefield series, but overall CoD is in a league of its own. At least, it was, until Titanfall came out.

Another EA property, Titanfall is, for all intents and purposes, CoD with mechs. It’s a crude analogy, and recent converts are quick to point out the myriad of differences that separate the two games, but it’s the simplest way of summing up what makes Titanfall unique. Reaction to the game has been overwhelmingly positive, and there’s already quite a bit of rumbling about a sequel. I have no problem with seeing another Titanfall game make its way to the world, but if the title is truly primed to be a CoD contender, I don’t think it needs to follow the same sales model.

This is the first year that I haven’t gotten into the latest installment of a CoD game. Ghosts felt like a genuine step backwards compared to Black Ops II, so I’ve been sticking with the older game, instead. If Activision were still releasing map packs for the title, I’d be downloading them, but under CoD’s current structuring, each installment only gets a year’s worth of support, then it’s on to the next. I think Titanfall might benefit from adopting a sales plan different from CoD. People are having a lot of fun with this first installment of the series, and it also doesn’t have a single-player component, so I say put the next sequel out two years from now and in the interim support the current game with DLC.

I honestly think that fans would have no problem with CoD not being annual and just paying for new maps. I’m certainly tired of paying a minimum of $60 for the game followed by another $60 for map packs over a year. The value just isn’t there, at that price. Titanfall, though, is already luring people with its epic gameplay, so it would seem smart to ensnare them a little further with the proposition of not having to invest $120 a year just to play. Frankly, it would be refreshing to know that the $60 buy-in for the game will allow a player to stay current without as much expense over a two year period. It’s not like it doesn’t cost money to create a yearly installment of any game, either; this model would allow the devs to stretch their resources further.

It’s unlikely EA can resist the temptation of going toe-to-toe with CoD on a yearly basis, but it would be nice to see something different come from the industry. Titanfall is bringing something new to the FPS genre with its gameplay, so I don’t see why the same can’t be said for how its sold. I think there’s a great deal of discontent amongst CoD fans over having to adapt to a new multiplayer experience every single year at $60 a pop; Titanfall can be the change we’ve all been looking for.

 

The Video Game Comics You Need to Read

I finally told my local comic shop to cut Ultimate Spider-Man from my pull list. Ultimate Spider-Man, for you staunch gamers not in the know, is an alternate universe take on Spider-Man that has evolved over the years since its inception to now feature a half Puerto Rican, half black young man named Miles Morales under the webs. Miles is freaking awesome, and I’ve been with the book through thick and thin for years now, but the latest impending relaunch, along with some other nauseating changes to the line, have finally prompted me to cut ties. As a result, I started reevaluating everything on my pull list of comics, and came to realize that some of my favorite comics on the stands today are Archie Comics’ three video game-based series, Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic Universe, and Mega Man.

Yes, for those of you in the know, I’m still picking up must-haves like Batman (and I’m digging Superior Spider-Man, naysayers!), but in all honesty, the most fun and freshness are coming from these three series. As I’ve been going through my back log of comics as of late, it got me thinking about the various video game comics that have come out or are still being published that really deserve more love. Here are the top five video game-based comics you should track down and read!

5) The Legend of Zelda Manga

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Publisher: VIZ Media

Nintendo might be reluctant to return to TV and movies when it comes to its core franchises, but one area that the company has been more outgoing with is comics. The line of Zelda manga translated and published here in the US by VIZ Media (under its VizKids imprint) feature very fun, energetic retellings/reinterpretations of the stories from the games. What makes them special is the combination of intricate, beautiful artwork and little story details not present in the games. Some might be pickier about pulling the stories straight from the source material, but I’ve always found some of the small alterations to be welcome injections of personality that only serve to expand and enrich the Zelda mythology. There are ten volumes in total, with a very handsome collector’s edition out there that bundles them all together. Easily worth a read for fans of the series.

4) Kingdom Hearts Manga

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Publisher: Yen Press

Originally published by Tokyopop, the Kingdom Hearts manga are very handsome recreations of Sora’s epic games. Fans will be blown away by the stunning artwork, and the story is just as engaging/maddening on the page as it is on a TV screen. To date, there are volumes based on KH, KH II, KH: Chain of Memories, and KH: 358/2 Days available to read. Keep in mind, Tokyopop lost the rights to publish the manga and it went away for years before Yen Press came along, so it’d be best to add this to your collection sooner, rather than later!

3) Street Fighter Comics/Manga

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Publisher: Udon Entertainment

The fine folks at Udon are responsible for some of the most robust and comprehensive video game art books to ever be published here in the West, so it’s only fitting that they’d put out some excellent comics, too. The publisher has translated some of the more beloved Japanese manga stories and also produced some of its own, original comics, too. The quality for both is very high, and are offered in a number of formats, including massive coffee table editions! Keep your eyes peeled for other Udon published comics, including Darkstalkers.

2) Mega Man Comics

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Publisher: Archie Comics

Mega Man might be in limbo in the world of video games, but he’s alive and well in comics. Archie’s been producing the series for over two years now, and the quality has yet to dip. From issue one to now, the writing and art have been consistently high, establishing a unique take on the character’s world, friends, and enemies. Aside from Udon, Archie is one of the few publishers to make video game comics that aren’t just translations of material from other territories, and the time and effort the company puts into Mega Man is readily apparent on every page. I also have to point out, Udon has translated some excellent Mega Man manga, as well, so be sure to give those a look, too!

1) Sonic the Hedgehog Comics

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Publisher: Archie Comics

Like I said, I’ve dropped Ultimate Spidey and a few other titles in recent months, but Sonic’s wonderful adventures from Archie are some of the best stuff I’m reading from month to month. Both Sonic the Hedgehog and Sonic Universe exist in a world unique to the comics and different from the video games, but what Archie has crafted is so nuanced and entertaining, it’s no surprise why Sega has maintained as long a relationship with the publisher as it has. From the art to the writing, I’ve fallen head over heels for the Blue Blur and his pals, and you should, too.

Well, folks, I hope you can find the time to peruse the interwebs (or better yet, get to a comic shop) to pick any/all of these titles. Each one is worth your money and time, and it’s important to keep quality titles like these on the stands. Forget picking up the next #1 relaunch of the month; support comics and creators who put quality over gimmicks!

E3 Anticipation

It’s only March, but I can’t help but think about E3 2014 and how very close it is. Soon, Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft will be promoting their newest games (and maybe hardware!) for the world to see, but half the fun is guessing what those reveals might be! Here are five things I’m looking forward to seeing at E3 2014!

5) Halo 5

Last year’s demo built hype, certainly, but it seems likely that we’ll finally get a true glimpse at Halo 5 this E3. Or Halo something-or-other, because Microsoft has been coy about committing to the traditional numbering from the Xbox and Xbox 360 days. Taking a cue from the comic book companies and trying to ditch “intimidating” high numbers on its boxes might be Microsoft’s goal (which sucks), but no matter what Halo 5 is ultimately called won’t mean a thing if the game can’t maintain the high quality the series is known for. Given how embraced Halo 4 was, I think it’s a safe bet that Halo 5 will be just fine. That being said… what comes next for Master Chief?! I’m torn whether I want to see something radically different or more of the same, awesome Halo gameplay we all know and love.

4) New Vita IP

I don’t care what anyone says, Tearaway was an amazing game that played to Vita’s strengths. It was as charming as LittleBigPlanet and a breath of fresh air regardless of platform. I’d love to see a sequel make its way to Vita (or even PS4), but I’d also like to see some more, original IPs head to the handheld, preferably straight from Sony itself. PSP brought the world the wonderful Patapon and Loco Roco series (which need Vita sequels, like, NOW), and I’m curious what other sorts of unique, fun handheld games Sony has up its sleeve.

3) Mega Man

It’s just sad that fans have been waiting years now for a true, new Mega Man game from Capcom, but that’s the world we live in, folks. With all the attention that Mighty No.9 has been (justly) receiving, it would be foolish of Capcom not to capitalize on the Blue Bomber. There’s room for both series in the world, and maybe now would be a good time to unveil a Mega Man title to create some friendly competition between Comcept and Capcom. Fans would be the winners, in the end, no matter what! Just to geek out a bit, here, but after the Worlds Collide crossover between the Mega Man and Sonic the Hedgehog comics by the folks at Archie, I’d love to play a video game with the two characters. The comic was fun and introduced some weapons concepts that would be awesome to see in action!

2) New Nintendo Hardware

I’m thinking that Nintendo will either reveal a new variation of the Wii U hardware or a redesigned 3DS. As far as Wii U goes, I don’t foresee a full-blown redesign, but I can picture Nintendo either doing something to make the system differentiate itself more from the original Wii, or offer models with way more memory or a slimmer GamePad. A redesigned 3DS is probably the safer bet here. The base model 3DS remains the weak link of the three versions of the handheld, with low battery life and some clunky design choices (I’m looking at you, Home/Pause/Select buttons!). As it stands now, the 3DS is the middle child and not all that appealing. I’d be pretty happy to see Nintendo put out a new model that’s reminiscent of the XL’s design, with rounded edges, better buttons, slightly bigger screens, and longer battery life. Make it ultra thin, and it would be pretty dang cool.

1) New Zelda

This is a foregone conclusion, as Nintendo has already confirmed we’ll be seeing the first glimpse of the next installment of Zelda, but no one knows what it’s going to be like. Realistic graphics? Toony? A middle ground like Skyward? Will the waggle be back? Where in the timeline is it going to fall? So many questions! Just talking about it gets me excited, and with the incredibly fun and gorgeous games that Wii U has already graced us with, I know that the next Zelda is going to be amazing. I just want to know more about it!

A handful of predictions/guesses, but here’s hoping that some of them come true! Until then, I should probably get to actually finishing a bit of the mountainous backlog of games I have piling up. Till next time!

Building a Better Animal Crossing Game

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Almost eight million copies of Animal Crossing: New Leaf have been sold to date. It’s also outpacing, of all games, Sony’s exceptional The Last of Us. Believe me when I say that it’s not a fluke either, as the Animal Crossing series continues to grow and innovate with each and every installment. New Leaf, which is the latest Animal Crossing game, is the pinnacle of the series, which is a big part of the reason so many players have embraced it. There are still a few areas, though, where Animal Crossing could stand to see some tweaks and improvements made. Let’s break down what Nintendo can do to make the next installment of the series sell even better!

Put Mii in the Game

One of the things that disappoints me with each subsequent Animal Crossing release is that there’s no way of truly customizing the Villager to be more like, well, me. Or you. Or anyone else who’s playing. Now, for all intents and purposes, the fact that Nintendo has kept him (and the girl Villager) looking largely the same between installments does imply that we’re supposed to interpret him as a character and not necessarily a true avatar of ourselves. That would be easier to accept if the game didn’t make personalization such a huge part of the experience.

There is some customization, but it’s limited. Players are able to influence subtle changes to the Villagers’ faces and hairstyles when the game starts, and once the hairdresser Harriet arrives, they can even throw the face of a Mii on, instead. Still, there’s something cold and impersonal about it all. My Mii face’s skin doesn’t quite mesh with the pale skin of the Villager, but for someone a darker shade of brown or black, it really looks off and pulls you out of the game. For a series that pushes individuality, the most important thing, the main character, is very restrictive. I think the next Animal Crossing would benefit greatly from much more robust and inclusive character creation, or true, full Mii integration. If Tomodachi Collection can do it, Animal Crossing can, too!

Bring Back the Video Games

I enjoyed how the GameCube installment of Animal Crossing had a ton of classic NES games available to play. It was in the days before the Virtual Console, so Nintendo was more inclined to give the titles away as freebies (essentially), which is part of the reason I suspect they’ve been absent ever since. There could be a happy compromise for players, though, if classic consoles could be bought in-game and then act as conduits to/emulators of whatever VC games the player has saved on the console. So, if I have Metroid on my Wii U’s VC, for example, and buy an NES in-game (with Bells, not real cash!), I can access Metroid through the NES I just bought. It could also draw more people to the service if the console leads to the eShop to buy more games.

More Interactive Items

This sort of goes along with bringing the video games back, but it would be wonderful if the next Animal Crossing made the items more than just lifeless props. I realize that not every item would be able to do something, but there’s real possibility to interject more activities into the game via the items themselves. The karaoke machine, for instance, could be tapped to prompt a simple rhythm game; if you have someone visiting, maybe it could turn two player! Have the pinball machine bring up an actual, simple pinball game. The possibilities are endless and wouldn’t require all that much effort to put in. I know sandbox games like Grand Theft Auto do it all the time, so there’s no reason Animal Crossing can’t.

Permanent Neighbors

There are some neighbors who move in that just stink, but others are so cute and adorable that I never want them to leave. New Leaf‘s StreetPass feature allowed players to select the model homes they wanted to stick around forever, so I say do something similar with the neighbors in town. A checkbox or menu option that allows the player to say they want neighbors x, y, and z to never move would free people from the needless fear of missing a day in the game only to find their favorite friend is gone forever. I do enjoy seeing new people come through town (which in turn opens the possibility of making new friends), but when I get a group of characters who make it a joy to turn on my 3DS every day, I don’t want to see them go. Animal Crossing is the ultimate escape, so it should also let me leave behind the impermanence of real life if choose. If Tex moves, I’ll be depressed for days, dang it!

More Freedom With Public Works Projects

It was a brilliant move to allow players to put items like benches, light poles, and even entire structures onto the landscape of their towns. What wasn’t brilliant was capping how many and being so restrictive about where they went. I can see not being able to build twelve coffee shops, but there’s no reason to limit more innocuous things like lights. In the future, players should be able to place items where they want on a simple grid, not be limited as to how many of an item exist within town, and offer more customization of those items. Basically, I should be able to make a mini park with multiple benches of the color of my choosing! I’d also appreciate options like laying roads or sidewalks without having to put down a thousand custom patterns, instead.

Small changes, certainly, but I believe the enjoyability of Animal Crossing would skyrocket because of them. The series continues to evolve and address players’ needs, but these are issues I’d prefer not to wait much longer for. Here’s hoping the next Animal Crossing is as enchanting and fun as New Leaf!