Super Mario Maker Review: Make Mine Mario

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Super Mario Maker Review: Make Mine Mario

When you place a block down in Mario Maker, the music sings "block" to the tune of the level music. When you use an Amiibo costume, the death noises change to match the game the character is from. Sometimes, when you hit a mushroom, Mario turns into a terrifying, lanky monstrosity officially named "Weird Mario". Mario Maker is, at its heart, a tool for making Mario levels. But beyond that, it's a wonderful tribute to the weirdness and creativity that's always been inherent to the series. Maybe it doesn't feel big enough to be the 30th anniversary celebration game, but in a way, that in itself feels oddly appropriate.  

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The Primer: Full of Play

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The Primer: Full of Play

Play is a really weird verb. It implies an interactivity sure, taking part in something, but it also has an element of something not being fully in the players' control. The concept of "play" as it stands, is a state of being half audience, half author. That's why we play games, not watch them, or read them. The games that leverage that co-authorship concept are what we're focusing on this month, and here are a few we think are particularly notable.

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Direct to You: A Farewell to Satoru Iwata

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Direct to You: A Farewell to Satoru Iwata

I found myself a lot more affected by Satoru Iwata's death than I thought I'd be.

Earlier that night, before I heard the news, a friend of mine joked that people I'd met but didn't have any personal affection for might as well have died, and I'd feel nothing, because I didn't consider them part of my life. He wasn't wrong. Just a few hours later, after hearing about Iwata's death, I was told about a few deaths of people related to people I knew. Not that any of them were close to me, but beyond the general pang of sadness you feel when you hear about loss, it didn't really affect me. Iwata's death affected me. Honestly, it fucked me up a little.

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Op-Ed: Arkham Knight Has the Best Bad Camera

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Op-Ed: Arkham Knight Has the Best Bad Camera

For the most part, Batman Arkham Knight is a game that lacks confidence. It can't quite commit to a representation of Batman that feels unique, and its Gotham is drawn from so many sources that it feels more referential than essential in and of itself. But there is one place that Arkham Knight feels not only confident, but genuinely innovative and interesting. Arkham Knight has some of the most interesting camera work I've ever seen in a game, but at every step it leaves me cold....

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Playing the Part-The Evolution of Actors in Games

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Playing the Part-The Evolution of Actors in Games

For decades, video games have sought legitimacy. A standard foundation upon which an entire artistic medium can be built. A basis for serious thought, criticism and consideration that many people within the industry often feel is lacking, no matter how much posturing they do. Going by the history of video game acting, It's the kind of legitimacy that only a SAG minimum and a down-on-their-luck Thespian can truly provide.

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Devil Survivor 2 Record Breaker Review- The Anime Connection

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Devil Survivor 2 Record Breaker Review- The Anime Connection

Devil Survivor 2: Season 2 is probably the best way to think of Record Breaker, in fact. The second campaign has more taxing, complex battles, but also more of the cast hanging out between fights, chatting and slowly learning to trust each other as the world falls apart all around them. No one character is particularly exciting or spectacularly written, but they're solid executions on the traditional anime cliches that the SMT series trades in, and the added wrinkle of only having a limited amount of time per in-game day to spend with them means you start thinking about budgeting your friendships. 

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The Film Makers- The Works of Hideo Kojima and David Cage

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The Film Makers- The Works of Hideo Kojima and David Cage

Hideo Kojima's earliest games starred Hollywood actors. 1987's Metal Gear for the MSX2 featured character portraits drawn to resemble popular actors, like Sean Connery, Mel Gibson, and uh...Albert Einstein. Scientists aside, it was a pretty clear mission statement on Kojima's part. He was a man who decided to go into video games, but he came primarily from a film background. Not academically mind you— Kojima studied economics— but he spent much of his childhood making films on an 8mm camera, and watching movies with his parents. He references games like Yuji Hori's 1983 adventure game, The Portopia Serial Murder Case, as the games that inspired him to get into the industry. He was an aspiring short story writer and artist and film maker, and here he was, making games. Games that were inspired almost entirely by movies.

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The Primer: Like a Movie You Can Play

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The Primer: Like a Movie You Can Play

Video games have a story problem. They've had it pretty much since their very inception, and they'll probably never STOP having them. It's really damn hard to tell a good story while a player is mucking around in the game world. Generally speaking, they won't care, and even when they do, it's hard to draw their attention to certain things without wresting control of the narrative away from them. So, instead, most games turned to cutscenes, cutaway mini-movies that tell stories in between gameplay, and thus began games' everlasting obession with becoming movies. Here are just a few games that can help you track the evolution of cinematic storytelling in games, and help keep you on track for our theme month on the intersection of games and cinema.

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Mario Galaxy and the Mechanization of Space

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Mario Galaxy and the Mechanization of Space

Super Mario Galaxy is the spaciest space game of all time.

To be fair, it doesn’t seem that way at first glance. Mario is a plumber from Brooklyn by way of the Mushroom Kingdom, which isn’t the kind of CV you need to get into NASA. The planets have nonsensical and inconsistent gravity, the stars have big cartoon eyes and goofy singsong dialogue, and all of outer space is ruled over by an amazonian princess with a magic wand. But, beyond all the parts of Mario Galaxy’s space that put it squarely in the Disney afternoon sector of the universe, its mechanics are not only what make it unique among platformers, but the only game I can think of that’s both about space, and actually feels like it earns it.

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PAX East Day 2: Previews

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PAX East Day 2: Previews


In the ever-frozen land south of here, but north of other places, there is a town called Boston. And in this town, once at the beginning of the growing season, they sacrifice a fresh-born video game to the eldest god, in order to ensure a quick end to the winter season, and a bountiful harvest.

But before that sacrifice can be made, the city of Boston comes together at the Penny Arcade Expo East in order to determine which is the best video game that can be offered to Grayth'rll , emperor of kings. Here are just a few of the games at this year's culling, and our thoughts on their standings in the running.

Enter the Gungeon:

We are getting to a point where I am sick and tired of roguelikes, and I swear if you told me five years ago that I'd be saying that, I would have laughed in your face. Somehow, over the last couple of years, every indie game switched from a side-scrolling puzzle platformer (the Braid-like, if you will) to a top-down rougelike. Enter the Gungeon circa-2010 would have been a pretty standard twin-stick shooter. Now, it's some sort of crazy hybrid between Borderlands, the Legend of Zelda, and, of course, Rogue. 

Gungeon isn't shy about its influences either. Levels are composed of "handcrafted" rooms, stitched together at relative random by an algorithim, much like Binding of Isaac. Combat is twin stick shooting with dodge rolls and crazy weapon drops, much like in Borderlands, and plenty of enemies are ripped straight out of the D&D monster manual and given a coat of paint that'd make the NRA proud. For example, one of the game's booses is the Beholster, a traditional Beholder, but with guns on each tentacle instead of eyes. 

The game isn't much deeper than that. Shoot or be shot, manage your resources, and hope for good gun drops. It's neat, but low-impact, though there are some interesting design decisions in there. Guns drop far more often than ammo, meaning you'll have to carefully conserve shots while dodging the bullet-hell-esque patterns the game throws at you. Gungeon also has an interesting story concept, centred on a gun that can shoot time, with the player characters slowly revealing the past they want erased over the course of multiplay playthroughs. Overall, Gungeon seems well-crafted, I just wish it tried to diverge from the road most travelled a little more.

Titan Souls:

On the complete OTHER end of the spectrum from Gungeon, there's Titan Souls, a game that wears its influences on a very similar place on its sleeve, but draws from them very differently. 

Titan Souls is a cross between Dark Souls and Shadow of the Colossus. It's a game of only bosses, fast deaths, and one hit-KOs. It's tense, it's sharp, and most of all, it's very deliberately crafted. Each boss is very different from the others, with their own unique trick and weakness, making each fight as much about your own skills and controlling your character as it is about quick thinking and high-speed puzzle solving. It's designed to feel like the last minutes of a boss fight, when everything can end with one hit from either side, and the tension is deafening. 

What's interesting is that there aren't a lot of games inspired directly by Dark Souls' play rythym, fewer are inspired by Shadow of the Colossus's actual mechanics. Usually it gows the other way around. Games love to ape Shadow's atmosphere, while others take the harsh penalties and high difficult from Dark Souls. For a game that owes its existence (and it's name) to two other games, it's crazy how refreshing Titan Souls feels. It's a game all its own, and that's a really cool thing these days.

Va11-Hall-A:

I wish I could tell you what Va11halla is. It's a bartending simulator, yeah. It's also a visual novel, with heavy inspiration from the PC-88 and Phoenix Wright. It's set in some sort of crazy cyborg post-apocalypse, and according to the game's PR, there are racist corgis hanging around. 

Also according to the game's PR, the developers intend it to be about the current political situation in Venezuela, and that's where they lose me. It's not that the game can't be about that, it's just that it's hard to get it from just the first of 20 in-game days. What I can see about the game right now, is that it replaces genre-standard conversation options with prompts to mix drinks, and depending on how you fulfill orders (right drink, wrong drink, right drink made poorly, etcetera), characters react to you differently. It doesn't necessarily actually offer any more choice than usual, but it creates a powerful illusion of agency over this world. Hopefully, the game finds some interesting ways to incorporate that as it explains what the heck it is, because right now, it doesn't look like much beyond a great concept, and a cool narrative trick.

Ladykiller in a Bind:

It's a weird day for games coming in twos, but Ladykiller in a Bind (or: My brother forced me to crossdress as him and now I have to deal with a geeky stalker and a domme beauty who want me in a bind) is another visual novel we played today, and also happens to be doing interesting things with the way narrative options are presented in that genre's framework.

Ladykiller's dialogue sections allow you to interject with conversation options as the conversation continues. As you advance the dialogue, options disappear, and sometimes new ones take their place. Effectively, you're being given a more active role in conversations. Each dialogue option also carries the risk of arousing suspicion that you aren't actually the person you're pretending to be, but sometimes, not talking at all during a conversation could rack up the suspicion just as much. Plus, not talking at all means you'll never get to date-slash-sleep with the dozens of animes wandering this cruise ship you're all stuck on, and why would you ever choose to ignore that option. 

Ladykiller is confident. It's sexy, it's clever, and most of all, it's one of the few non-passive visual novels I've ever played, which is probably fitting, considering its kink-heavy demo. It's really great to see a game take big steps forward in a genre that has been so stagnant for so long, and I really can't wait to see where else Ladykiller goes.


Loud on Planet X:

Loud on Planet X isn't a super crazy concept. It's a tower defense rythym game. Aleins attack your band and you have to tap them to the beat of the song in order to drive them back. It's a pretty simple combination of very popular genres, but the mechanics of the game aren't what's so great about it.

Planet X features bands like Fucked Up and Teegan and Sara, indie stuff that never really made its way to Rock Band DLC. The game has you play as the actual band when you play their song, and enemies appear according to the beat, making the whole thing feel lke this careful, hand-made experience. It's curated and carefully designed, much like the Long Winter event series in Toronto it came out of. It's a simple, fun game, with a ton of heart and some great design, and it might be one of the most fun games I played at PAX.

Lovely Planet:

I can't figure out how to explain Lovely Planet. I'm pretty sure it's a shooter,  but aesthetically, it's about the farthest thing from an FPS you could possibly be. It's heavily inspired by Japanese minimalism and surrealism, with specific influences from Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, a Japanese pop singer, and Katamari Damacy, a game about pleasing your god-dad by rolling humans into a ball. Meanwhile, Lovely Planet features a flower gun that shoots menacing red blocks while a chipper pop theme song loops in the background forever.

It's weird.

Lovely Planet is part of a trend I've been calling the "Super-Meat-Boy-ification" of games. Dying instantly sends you back to the start of a level, without any other penalty. Thus, levels are designed to be short, hard, and full of gotcha moments that come off as funny because you can get back into the level so quickly. It's a fun design concept, and almost works better for an FPS than it did for a platformer. The only issue is that in Meat Boy, every death was your own fault because the controls were tight and perfectly crafted. Meanwhile, Lovely Planet's controls are pretty loose and floaty.  It's a little more frustrating than it needs to be, though I have to wonder if better controls would make the game easier. It's hard to say, but for now, it's a twitch shooter with great aesthetics, though maybe not the best feel.

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PAX East Day 1: Previews

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PAX East Day 1: Previews

In the ever-frozen land south of here, but north of other places, there is a town called Boston. And in this town, once at the beginning of the growing season, they sacrifice a fresh-born video game to the eldest god, in order to ensure a quick end to the winter season, and a bountiful harvest.

But before that sacrifice can be made, the city of Boston comes together at the Penny Arcade Expo East in order to determine which is the best video game that can be offered to Grayth'rll , emperor of kings. Here are just a few of the games at this year's culling, and our thoughts on their standings in the running.

Severed:

Severed is Punch out meets early iOS games, which is approximately ten times less annyong that it sounds. You play as a girl missing an arm who's been gifted a iving sword by a mysteryious looking cloaked fella. You use this sword to freeze time and chop all the limbs of the monsters that presumably severed your own arm. 

Playing it, it comes off a lot like Infinity Blade of Punch Out, in that you're mostly watching enemies for tells, countering their attacks, and striking back with your own. There's a bit of a progression system, in that you can trade the disembodied parts of monsters for upgrades to your health, damage, or time freezing ability.  What's interesting though is that it often throws enemies with not only specific defenses against your blows (one enemy can only be struck on the crack in its armor before being opened up, one enemy switches what angle you can slash at) but also mutliple enemies at once. Each enemy appears at a different angle, meaning you have to turn away from the others to fight them, and are forced to remember their timing and patterns so you can turn around and counter them before they kill you.

It's a small, but pretty signficant leap on that Punch Out/Infinity Blade combat style, and though I'm not really sure where else it has left to evolve, i'm interested to see where Drinkbox wants to take it.

12 Minutes:

I'm really not sure if 12 Minutes is a game that'll ever be playable by the public, but it really really should be. You play as a man who sits down to have a nice dinner with his wife when all of a sudden, a "cop" busts down the door, accuses your wife of murder, arrests both of you, and kicks your head in. Then you wake up back before dinner.

It's sort of like Groundhog Day, or Majora's Mask. You're stuck in a loop, until you find a way to break free of it. Or maybe you don't, we didn't actually finish it, we mostly tried to do things like call 911 and say it was a wrong number, or hide in the closet and try to go to sleep instead of opening the door for the cop. It feels a lot like classic adventure games, in that you're presented with a lot of options, and beacuse the space available to you is so limited, they all have small impacts on the story. You'll need the butter knife to cut through the zip tie the cop handcuffs you with, but that'll just make him punch you in the stomach as you try to run. You can call 911, but only after you've stolen your wife's phone and are told she might be a murderer.  You can hide in the closet, and while it doesn't seem to be terribly effective, it makes for some hilarious reactions from your wife. 12 Minutes is short, sweet, and a really clever adventure puzzle game in the vein of the escape the room games that are so popular these days, and I'd love to see more of it.

We Happy Few:

We Happy Few is early. Like, I-got-trapped-jumping-infinitely-on-a-corner-of-a-bed early. The new game from Montreal-based Compulsion Games is a self-described mix of Don't Starve and Day-Z, though it honestly feels a lot more like a cross between Shiren the Wanderer and the movie Brazil. The randomly-generated world is full of people who are addicted to a drug called Joy, which makes them very happy, and also very psychotic, enough to make them want to force anyone not on the drug to get some in their system ASAP. Taking Joy makes you less suspicious to NPCs, letting you go around your business freely, but after it wears off, you go through withdrawal, and your hunger and thirst levels bottom out, slowly draning your health until you get some food in you. 

Survival games aren't really my thing, but the mechanic of managing your Joy levels to be able to explore the world more freely, so long as you have the resources on hand to make sure the high doesn't kill you, is a really interesting mechanic, though the randomly generated world worries me a bit. The game has a strong narrative concept, and the world has a lot of character, including an omnipresent live-action British man who sings creepy songs on TVs all around the city, but the fact that everything is randomly generated make it feel like I'm not really uncovering anything about the world story-wise, unless I manage to keep a little progress every time I reset. 

Obviously, the game is till very early, so it's hard to be super critical of design choices that might not be around in a week, but I feel like randomly-generated worlds may not be the best option for the kind of game We Happy Few wants to be. That live action guy is goddamn terrifying though, so good job on that.

Mahou Shojo:

Taking a break from video games, Mahou Shoujou is a card game where you and your opponent play as two teams of magical girils vying for sugoi supremacy. The kawaii kombat starts with playing regular girl cards called alter-egos, who can transform into magical girls cards during a transofmration phase of your turn, so long as you have a magical girl in your hand. Attacks drain a girl's magic points, which don't recharge, and when a girl's magic is drained, the tansformation ends and the magical girl is discraded. 

If you manage to send your opponent's girl to the shadow realm before they run out of magic, you gain their soul gem, and three gems wins you the game. There are also animal familliar cards and spells you can cast for extra magic, but the real star of the show is each character's flavour text. Every magical girl has a chatchphrase you HAVE to yell before being allowed to attack. It's wonderful, and really sells the concept much better than the gameplay does. The game needs a little more complexity in terms of card choice, maybe some way of stocking up on energy so it isn't as hard to kill characters before they run out of magic, or a weapon to force a little bit more agression with higher damage. We also played with pre-contrcuted theme decks, and I'm not sure if you'll be allowed to mix-and-match character cards in the final version, but there are already some interesting combinations I can see if I take some cards from the two decks were presented and put them together. 

You can find Mahou Shoujou on kickstarter. It's got great art, great personality, but maybe needs just a little bit more game to it.

Xenoblade Chronicles 3D

Let's keep this short: Xenoblade Chronicles 3D is the Xenoblade you probably didn't play on Wii, but on a handheld.

Seriously, it's basically the exact same game. The new features that the Nintendo rep on the show floor touted to me were a character model gallery, and a music selection mode. Other htan, the only difference is the control scheme, which suffers a bit from being moved to a smaller console. In-battle, abilities can now be selected using the d-pad, which would be more conventient if the d-pad weren't right below the movement stick on the 3DS, thus making it so you can't position yourself properly for an attack while also selecting that attack. It's not the worst thing inthe world, but it'll slow down your reactions in battles singficiantly, and I'm not sure if the game has been rebalanced for that.

Otherwise, it's Xenoblade. It's great. It's not $100.

Ronin:

I don't like calling games rip offs. It implies a level of laziness that I hate ascribing to games, because making them is a process that's really hard to describe as "lazy". Ronin is a game that's probably best known right now for looking exactly like Gunpoint, and sharing much of its mechanics. It's not a Gunpoint rip-off though. It adds a core mechanic completely unlike anything in the game that inspired it, and tries to progress the 2d stealth-jump genre.

It's too bad that mechanic is kind of lame though.

Ronin has promise. It's a side-scrolling stealth jump-em-up, much like Gunpoint, but while that game has you maniuplating circuitry to get the jump on your enemies and sneak by them unnoticed, Ronin wants you to get right up in their faces and kill them as stylishly as possible. To do this, it stops time in combat enoucnters, and seperates each action into a seperate turn. It's not a bad idea, and it paints a picture of approaching combat with a strategy in mind and executing it effectively. Unfortunately,  it effectively renders combat meaningless. It's not easy to take out every enemy perfectly, but since you can see exactly what moves they make, you can just dodge them forever until you see an opening. It's not a strategy so much as it is taking advantaghe of the fact that you have so much more mobility than they do. Gunpoint balanced that by having everything react in real time, and part of the fun of that game was the chaos it could inspire. Ronin feels sterile in comparison. It's stylish, and the concept is super interesting on paper, it just doesn't work out as well as I wanted it to.

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The Wacky World of Nintendo's Shared Space Universe

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The Wacky World of Nintendo's Shared Space Universe

Years ago, Nintendo used to hold a show called Space World. It was a sort of Nintendo-only counterpart to Tokyo Game Show, which they didn't (and still don't) attend, where they'd announce new games and consoles, and put them out for the public to play. It had very little to do with space as a concept, but its makes for a very convenient segue into the fact that Nintendo has a crazy shared universe you never knew about, and it all takes place in space. Also, it's all perfectly reasonable and requires no insane leaps in fan fiction logic.

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The Primer- Lost in Space

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The Primer- Lost in Space

For any number of reasons, games set in space form the backbone of our medium. For the most part, they feature the kinds of narratives you'd find in a YA book with a cool space dragon on the cover, but sometimes, they strive to be a little more. Some games take that concept of space, which most people have never really interacted with, and finding the ways it intersects with a primarily interactive medium. Which is to say, sometimes games are about big, empty voids, and sometimes, they like to contemplate infinity, and maybe even mechanize it.

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