I’ve been planning to play though a good portion of the Armored Core library for awhile now and now that the seal is broke, I probably won’t stop until I’m done with AC3 (I want to play AC4 and For Answer but lacking a machine that can do PS3 emulation, I’ll need to track down physical copies so… who knows when that’ll happen). But instead of waiting to finish the 3rd Gen of games (which… might be as many games as I’ve played so far), I figured I’d write about AC1 and 2 as they make up the first “universe” of Armored Core.
So right now I’ll be talking about Armored Core, Master of Arena, Armored Core 2, and Another Age, skipping only Project Phantasm (which seemed good but MoA was the more ‘must play’ entry) and about half of AA.
Armored Core (PSX)
Why did I not get this game when I was like 14? Bleak yet fun, clunky in the right ways, and so many options I would have played with if I was 20 years youngers. A game almost every AC fan tells new players to skip and foolishly!
I’m going to try to and avoid turning my journals into reviews ago. You probably know how AC works, and if you don’t check elsewhere. I just want to talk about what stuck out to me…
First, the utter bleakness. The first two missions give you the choice between “Eliminate Squatters” and “Eliminate Strikers”. These aren’t “in universe terms”. These are people squatting in a building and striking workers. With mechs, but whatever. The game immediately has the corrupt corporations that run the Earth to partake in unethical and unnecessarily lethal behavior. While the game is never so on the nose after that, it sets the tone and sets you up read between the lines as Murokumo and Chrome bicker about the other while trying to make themselves look innocent. But you’re a mercenary, you don’t care.
I also liked how the subtle priority you give to missions dictates which corporation wins in the end. While the plot leaves no true winners in the end, it adds a lot to the flavor. As does other things like how bits of the plot is revealed in emails, or the ranking system of Ravens, seeing lists of pilots and ACs that you might encounter in future missions.
The Human Plus event is horridly bleak and a great balancing mechanic. If you go into crippling debt, you sell your boy to medical experiments, losing your name but getting superhuman piloting powers. The game even hints that this is how most “volunteers” end up in the program.
The game is kinda ugly, even by PSX standards, but holds up more clearly than King’s Field (which I also love). But it’s ugly in an APPEALING way I wouldn’t want to see changed.
The game ends with a brutal, tedious, awful, save state demanding mission where you realize the top ranked Raven is none other than a Computer AI that is controlling the world. The computer begs you to stop. “Go back…it is not too late……What is your wish?…Come no closer.“
Once you destroy critically damage it, it accepts it’s fate
“You are to destroy order? Destroy the world? Is that what you want?
We were needed, that is why were born. People cannot live without Order, even if it is a lie.
Go on living, Raven. You or I… which one of us was ultimately right? You have the right and duty to find that out.”
Armored Core: Master of Arena (PSX)
Master of Arena is strange in the original AC continuity. It serves as an alternative retelling of the original Armored Core. The Raven mercenary rank listing has been replaced with an Arena system where you can challenge those above you to reach “Nine Ball/Hustler One” (the AI in the original AC) to get revenge for killing your family.
Despite being a retelling, you can import your save from AC1. This hits into a problem with both AC1 and 2. Once you have what works for you, there isn’t much to tinker with. There could be such a thing as mission specific loadouts, but the game is never clear enough with you what you might want to bring. It also doesn’t help that some bits of equipment seem to just outclass everything. I found myself almost always running Karasawa and Moonlight Blade (Yes, that Moonlight) on a medium mech with only slight tweaks in exact arm and leg models through most of Master of Arena.
Still it was a lot of fun. The missions felt way more diverse. The way the game would suspend your arena license for plot reasons to make you do normal missions worked very well. The game also has an entire second disk of arena matches I Didn’t touch but would have entertained me for hours as a kid. It had arenas operated by weight classes to try and encourage build variety and using every leg type.
The twist (your operator being an AI/Huster One) wasn’t really much of a twist since you assumedly played AC1, but the fight is much much more intense, compared to the almost sad, deflating ending of the original.
The AI’s message to you is a little different, but it drops another line that will be important later.
“Those who wield too much power…those who only bring chaos…they are simply not part of the program.”
Armored Core 2 (PS2)
I loaded up Armored Core 2 thinking ‘wow, finally, I Can use analog sticks’! When that didn’t work, I went googling to find that, to my disbelief, Armored Core didn’t get analog support until deep into AC3!
That said, upon playing the game, the difference in controls were immediately transparent. The camera and aiming reticle just worked nicer and movement felt great. It was still largely the same game. Oddly, it might have actually ended up feeling smaller than AC1. Less big sprawling maps of underground complexes and more almost cramped arenas.
Mechanical changes were a mixed bag. Overboosting could be fun but felt extremely impractical and I absolutely hated the exact implementation of the heat mechanic, which is like some weird Dark Souls esque poison system. But that all didn’t matter compared to how much nicer the game felt to move in.
Karasawa still dominated the game for me. Apparently this was it’s most powerful incarnation. As such my builds were pretty stagnant, but still fun. The missions, while often simpler, were much punchier. It made it easier to go through missions, knowing I wasn’t going to walk into some massive 20 minute mission like I would sometimes in AC1.
Most of the story didn’t stick with me too much. A much more diverse version of the cooperate rivalry in AC1. But the villain Leos Klein, stood out. Klein is implied to be the your character from AC1. The most striking part of this feeds into how his lines echo Nine Ball.
“We all make mistakes. Don’t you think, Raven? We humans need strict supervision. We cannot live on our own. A state dedicated solely to Ravens… I’m a realist, not some fool. All that I’ve wanted to do was to revive the ways of old…”
When the computer asked the Raven in AC1 “which of us was right?”, Klein’s ultimate answer was that it was Nine Ball. That his actions were a mistake. That he has to… crash… Phobos into Mars to… bring back the old ways with Martian technology? I’m not sure how this was supposed to work but the message was clear.
But upon defeating him, he tells you how to stop Phobos. Nine Ball and Leos, as Ravens, both respect strength as the ultimate authority. You were victorious… so as Nine Ball cedes gracefully to Leos, Leos cedes to you. There is a whole lot of little thematic details in the story about the destabilizing effect of personal strength… that people as strong as you are dangerous for the world… and they’re probably right.
Armored Core 2: Another Age
To keep this short, I didn’t finish Another Age. Another Age is exactly the type of product I would have wanted when AC2 came out. Just an ABSURD amount of content, over 100 missions. Easy structure to see progress with. Missions tend to be more repetitive, but it’s more missions to use with your cool mech! I played abouth a 5th of the way through and decided it was time for AC3.
So if you’re replaying Armored Core now, it might merit a skip, but every missions would have been a precious gift to 18 year old me.
All and all, so far I’m having a ton of fun. AC3 is going slowly but well, and I expect to write stuff up again once I finish it and Silent Line.
Before I get started, lemme say that I have a very deep and personal relation with Battletech. From Mechwarrior 2, to painting figures and playing the table-top, to running campaigns over Megamek. Battletech, and it’s awkward, chunky aesthetic and it’s weird neo feudalism will always deeply appeal to me.
I love Battletech and the 2018 Battletech PC game does a lot to remind me why I love it. It also kinda blows.
Maybe Stylish is Good Enough
Battletech is a cool and stylish game. The great art, presenting Ken Burns style documentary cutscenes, mixed with a great soundtrack and overall just great presentation goes a long way. How space travel feels, how jumpships pop in and out of existance with a gently popping, eerily silent fireworks… so many things feel extremely right.
It’s also fun to see a story presenting in the earlier years of the Inner Spear. The Star League is gone, but the Clan’s aren’t hear yet and the Inner Sphere is still sliding into technological ruin. It’s also charming for a story to happen basically in the middle of nowhere, out in the Periphery.
I’m not going to get into the story. It’s not essential, but at the same time it was good enough for me to finish the Campaign. I liked the characters. I liked the tension. I loved how diverse the representation was (which also totally fits the setting). It was sufficient and then some, but without crossing the threshold into being interesting in its own right, but it helped elevate the whole package. I felt like I was taking a part in the Battletech universe, and that in and of itself is worth a lot. But even during my campaign playthrough, even while getting wrapped up in the Arano Restoration, I kept thinking… this game is kinda BS?
Battletech was Never Actually About the Gameplay
Lets be real. Tabletop Advanced Battletech has never particularly great game. Most tabletop war games aren’t. These games exist as whole hobbies. Minis, painting, lore, scenario re-enactment, PnP RPG add-ons for long term campaigns and enough balance to keep it reasonable. The games are not designed for competitive depth, they’re designed to be representative of a fiction in a fun way. By the standards of a lot of Table Top games, Battletech is actually pretty elegant!
But this put the developers of the 2018 Battletech game in a rough spot. How do you take Battletech and make it conducive to a long campaign with lasting consequences, but in a way that fits a modern tastes?
The rules end up like an impression of the classic table top rules and that is probably a good thing. Players like me who hadn’t played in years would have a hard time remembering what was actually different, while allowing them to tailor things for a digital experience. That said, there was only so much they could do without changing the feel of Battletech and some of the decisions they made were questionable.
Battletech has always made it hard to avoid damage. These are big armored tanks that take a lot of damage. Big clusters of missiles are going to slam into you, ignoring LOS and you’re gonna like it, because you’re gonna do it to the other person more! But it gets awkward when you’re trying to play an X-Commy style game of risk management and gets triple fucky when you get to the terrible missions the game has. Every mission has you send in 4 mechs to slug it out with 8-12 enemy mechs. It becomes a game of outcheesing the rather dumb AI, cutting down their firepower as fast as possible. What damage mitigation you do have is powerul (Bulwark gives huge damage reductions) but requires you to basically live in the trees. Mission are designed as if you’re not supposed to kill everyone, but clump enemies so close together and make your escape zone so out of the way that killing everything is usually the safe option.
It honestly feels very immersion breaking for me to just watch waves of mechs crash against me. These valuable, expensive machines that have operated for centuries, just throwing themselves away. In a game that should possibly closer to WW2 fighter pilot kill counts, you have slaughter, and with that slaughter, less changes to play safe. The game asks you to endure, but with no fun ways to endure. And if things go wrong? You can quit the mission at any time, cutting any tension but accepting your loses. It feels hollow. The asymmetry that makes a game like X-Com work is lost here. The only asymmetry is that the AI is dumb, but more numerous, but his equipment, in all its terror, is the same.
Some rule changes make this work. Maps, movement distances and ranges are shorter than in Table Top. This makes things more visibly manageable, but makes making use of terrain harder. Instead of trying to break LoS or use a hill to expose less of you, you’re standing on ‘cover squares’. Instead of scouting and attacking from a distance with long range units, you move in and brawl with your heaviest units. Missions never give you tonnage restrictions or BV value restrictions. You have no reason to take anything lighter than a heavy. Need a fast mobile scout? Use a Grasshopper. Especially in a game where getting hit and critted isn’t a question of if but when.
Repetitive missions with grindy objectives and little room for tactical maneuvering leads to a very dry, monotonous game that is either cruelly hard, or severely easy depending on how cheesy you’re being. I don’t think there is a single thing Battletech does better than any other game in this genre.
… Except for being Battletech.
It’s Kinda Unfair How Cool Battletech is
I should hate this game. I don’t even like Turn Based Strategy games that much. But it’s Battletech and it’s a strong Battletech story, oozing Battletech vibes and I can stomp around in a Marauder, blowing heads off with AC/5s to maximize salvage. Cheesing enemies is fun enough to survive the campaign and it wasn’t until Career where I was finally like “you know what, fuck this game?”
But you know what, that took like 80 hours so you know what? This game is pretty cool I guess, even if I wish the gameplay had just a little bit more going for it.
Battletech as a franchise is just that cool I guess.
I’m going to start labeling these writeups differently. I feel conflicted, usually, like I should be writing more, that I should almost be writing a review or something. So now games I play and write about be will be labeled as part of my Game Journal. While I’ll try and still give a reasonable amount of context, I am going to write (especially for more well-known game) assuming the reader has at least some familiarity with the game.
Aged But Not Outdated
I’d imagine Spec Ops: The Line can be a challenging game for some people to go back to. Almost approaching a decade old, games have matured a lot in both gameplay and narrative. A big budget game trying to have a message is nothing surprising now (even if the execution is often questionable), and from 2021 eyes, something like Spec Ops: The Line could possibly feel too on the nose, too overwrought and even too obvious. But if you can look back with your brain in 2012 mode, Spec Ops feels well ahead of its time, speaking to the audience an Indie Game type punk attitude, audacious instead of overwrought in its earnestness.
The game is also gorgeous. While little minor details can tell you when the game was made (I found myself fixated on one of my partner’s boots, with ‘shoe laces as a texture’) the game has aged remarkably well. Technology may grow old, but artistry survives. Beautiful setpiece shots and vivid colors. Before Mad Max: Fury Road, Spec Ops was the game showing the desert not as shades of brown, but as saturated and vibrant. Even the sand storms and violence cannot surpress the beauty of dubai and the game makes it clear you are in a place that once was and, in a way, still is beautiful.
The game’s almost otherworldly beauty is appropriate when matched up with the hallucinatory and trauma laden nature of the game. Despite constantly descending, you are constantly on top of huge buildings, confronted by scale and depth. It could almost be easy to miss, but the map layout is so unrealistically vertical that it comes off as some kind of mapmaking dutch angle. It’s not accidentally wrong, it’s purposefully uncomfortable. The characters are expressive, and how their bodies and demeanor change throughout the game doesn’t just serve to be immersive, but symbolically representative of the changes they’re feeling.
Third Person and Player Agency
A lot of Spec Ops discourse about the story has been done to death. If you want to know how Spec Ops communicates its distaste for heroic violence, there are many great deep dives you can read. But the thing I kept thinking about was the years of discourse about the game versus how I felt as I experienced the events in the game.
A common complaint is that the game blames you for things it forced upon you. That Spec Ops hates the player. That You Had No Choice. While this is thematically appropriate, my playing of the game didn’t feel so much like the game was forcing me and then rubbing my face into it, but instead like it was subjecting me to dramatic irony. Now don’t get me wrong, I think the game is perfectly excited for the idea that you might buy in in the same way Walker does throughout the game, but it is by no means required. From the first fire fight in the game, the voices in my head echoed ‘this feels wrong’. This wasn’t just an uncomfortable willingness for violence that one would expect from a 3rd Person military shooter. From the very beginning they identify that you are to make contact and then report back. But instead you dig deeper, and respond more violently, killing before asking questions that are clearly obvious to the player.
Do you buy in to Walker’s madness as your avatar or are you watching him, playing him like one would perform a morality play? The 3rd Person nature of the game makes things clear. You are not Walker. You might, for awhile, foolishly share his cause, but you are not him. You are watching his tragedy. How that tragedy reflects on the player is up to them.
As the game progresses and Walker becomes more visibly scarred, as his eyes become emptier, the game forcefully separates him from yourself. His actions grow more violent. Your execution animations, which I avoided for most of the game due to feeling unnecessary, increase in sadism as things progress.. Another fun detail is that ammo is scarce in the game and enemies only drop based on what weapon they have equipped…
… Unless you execute them. This was Doom 2016 years before hand. Execute an enemy and you get ammo for all your equipped weapons. The game doesn’t want to punish you, it wants you to play the part in this tragedy.
The White Phosphorus segment is chilling, harrowing and oddly beautiful. Many complain about the lack of choice, that they are forced to practically commit a war crime. The segment is gamified, throwing back to arcadey, indulgent Call of Duty segments, separating you from the violence. But are you separated? I feel this is a sign of how the game isn’t directly trying to judge the player.
The games tells you everything. It shows you what this stuff does. You know it’s horrible. Your subordinates debate the necessity. Walker makes it an order. You are (hopefully) not dropping blasts from the sky in a gleeful, guilt free haze of fun. You are waiting and cringing, fearful of what you’re going to see when you return to reality. The results are worse and then worse again.
The violence you unleashed is shown with an almost painterly artistry. This artistry is called back upon when the player gazes upon Konrad’s (or, as the Picasso quote goes, your) painting.
What’s interesting is the game gives you decisions. None of them matter, materially. The game doesn’t punish you or reward you. The decisions are either up to you, or up to your interpretation of Walker. Even come the ending, who does Walker blame? Can Walker return to a normal life, or is he consumed by violence, again, playing your part of the morality play. The endings are not a question of what you want to do, but how you contextualize the events you just saw.
I had this game sitting in my Steam library for years. It was gifted to me an eternity ago and I’m glad I finally got around to it. While the game is lacking as far as 3rd person shooters go, it’s gorgeous and the story, while heavy handed at times (with a few plot details that struggle under scrutiny), is chilling and memorable. There are many rich stories in games now, so while I won’t recommend it to everyone, it definitely has a lot to give to people who like to explore older titles.
Long nights were spent in the X2 days, wondering when a TRUE Guilty Gear sequel would come out to move the story forward. Even during it’s time though, Overture looked… not terribly promising. As a Guilty Gear fan I still wanted to play it. For years, I wanted to try and enjoy it, jank and all. So here we are, well over 10 years later and gosh I didn’t miss much. But I’m glad I played it now because it is a game that is more interesting as a relic than as a thing to actually play.
Oddly Ahead and Behind the Times
Guilty Gear 2: Overture is a Online Character Action RTS MOBA released in 2007. That is 2 years before League of Legend, back when MOBAs were that “Weird WC3 Custom Map Thing”. Back beforeMOBA was an acryomn that meant anything.
So before the whole genre was even spreading and spawning clones, Arc System Works was trying to forward a half-born genre about 2 or 3 generations before it even fully came to maturity. All this from a company with all of one 3d game under their belt and whose 3d pipeline was completely unsuited for Overture (Battle Fantasia, for the record, laid a lot of the groundwork for many of the artistic techniques that would be brought to maturity in Guilty Gear Xrd). This is a ridiculous amount of ambition and I will never blame a company for trying to reach for the stars.
Every word in that description matters too. It is a character action game with cancels, combos, and air juggles. It’s a MOBA with towers, lanes, creeps, and hero fights. It’s an RTS. Perhaps not in the Starcraft sense, but in the sense that overture is the bastard child birthed of DOTA, Devil May Cry and fucking Herzog Zwei. You summon units, assign their rally points, pick them up and transfer them, call in backup, summon temporary allies. The systems are rich and intimidatingly dense.
… Sadly I will not be reviewing this part of the game terribly much. As a MOBA hater, the idea of playing this with another human, let alone playing it enough to have real opinions is terrifying. What I know is the online is solid, depth exists, that even people who like it admit it’s a mess but it appeals to a certain, small audience a lot.
Guilty Gear 2: Overture is a Game that is Good at Nothing
Guilty Gear 2: Overture is an ambitious game. It is a clever game. An original game.
But it’s not a good game.
Overture does not look good, even by games of its era. Even by the scope of its gameplay. It’s combat is rough and rude, even compared to its contemporaries. It’s story is incoherent. Even it’s music lags behind games in it’s own series, dragged forward by only by a few exceptionally high points. There is really no single thing about Overture that is good. The assemblage is interesting, but execution only reaches about mediocrity for fleeting seconds.
I have no proof for this, but I feel like the single player campaign for Overture was developed linearly. The game puts it’s worse foot forward and steadily improves. An initial training area that looks like it’s from an old MMO, unclear tutorial instructions detailing mechanics that will take forever to put together. Voice acting that isn’t technically bad, but is so out of tune with the characters and the script as to be painful. I was for real baffled that Sin wasn’t actually supposed to be a pissed off angry man when Xrd came out because until now, I had only been exposed to the Overture dub.
When asked to perform to move by the game, you get to immediately feel how clunky and awkward the game is. Attacks feel soft and unresponsive. Inputs for directional attacks feel alien to anyone used to other character action games. Jump canceling into a weird Guilty Gear style 2d air combo jarring and unreliable… and with all of this, the tutorial feels like it takes twice as long as it needs to, simply because it constantly has to cut back to cutscenes.
It gets worse before it gets better.
I’m not going to recap the story, which is better done by checking here, but it’s thin, made up of grandiose smoke and mirrors, supported jargon and layers of mcguffin. A lot of video game stories do this and using these tools to stitch together a coherent story. Overture lacks this. Things happen for reasons that feel like they will become clear later, but they never do. Why are you fighting with crazy ghost army magic, what the heck is “the cube for” and why does anyone want it? What does Valentine and “mother” actually want to do? WHERE THE HECK DID IZUNA COME FROM LIKE HE JUST COMES IN ON STAGE 2 LIKE YO I GUESS WE’RE WORKING TOGETHER NOW LIKE IT AIN’T NOTHIN’ like this game is a confusing mess.
Like not just the story, the whole game, because as soon as Izuna comes to help you out and pulls out that Ghost/Servant stuff and you’re fighting with armies, you’re just FLOODED with mechanics, items, things to micromanage. It’s potentially interesting but completely overwhelming. Also the game needs to teach you how to drift. Not the Strive “RC Drift” type thing (though as a side note, Roman Cancels in Overture are called “Modern Cancels” which is almost charmingly… confident?). Like you gotta Tokyo Drift. Oh god it feels bad it feels so bad. The mechanic, which allows you to do sharp turns on this crazy mega dash the game lets you do, is TECHICALLY FUNCTIONAL and is something you could definitely get good at to be a skill differentiator in online matches, but it feels so bad, so unresponsive, and a slightly mistimed input either has you do something else completely, or has you smashing into a wall and sitting through a long recovery animation. It’s a mechanic I can imagine people who’ve mastered it liking, but is so miserable feeling early as to be seen as nothing but a failure.
Despite all this, you start to see a lot of the artistic creativity of the game. Valentine’s army of EGL gasmask troops, Sol’s weird mech army, fueled by a giant muscle bound bara man bound to gears, powering two giant lighters. They were clearly trying, and invested in what they were making.
The missions continue to get worse though. As you understand the mechanics more, the game begins to cheat, or change rules on the fly. Oh, you lose when you masterghost is destroyed, but Dr. Paradigm simply getting knocked out ends the missions? You tactically capture ghosts, only for those sensible moves to betray you when random enemies teleport in? Not only does the game not actually teach you how to play it’s multiplayer, it actively makes the experience miserable. Eventually the game realizes this isn’t what the campaign should be and it slowly transforms into a… very small scale and awkward Musou game. Sure, there is pain along the way, like an ill conceived ‘stealth item finding’ mission, but you also just get to simply fuck up a lotta dudes as Ky The plot, while never sensical or clear, leads to fun moments like Valentine’s weird fake ghost troops contemplating their existence and assured death, or finally getting to confront and fight That Man. Sin and Ky even get to have a heart to heart until you go together into a giant brawl where it’s impossible to see who anyone is and kinda sucks. It sucks, but it sucks in a cool way.
The seemingly linear development means by the end of the game, the devs have kinda figured out what they’re doing. It’s clunky, but pretty fun. The last mission opens with ASW finally understanding their 3d presentation. The shots are weird and gorgeous, the writing is delightfully grandiose and nonsensical and the music fucking whips. Is it a good game now? Absolutely not, but at this point, Overture is a fun and stylish bad game. Little about the final fight with Valentine makes sense, but it’s cool and since Guilty Gear is supposed to be cool, this is a win.
Let it be said that after this point, ASW never struggles with 3d presentation ever again. Well, mostly.
So I can’t recommend Overture like I can a lot of weird, quirky games. It’s not as lot of fun and of the whole package, only 4 missions really seem to really click. But I won’t stop you. Honestly, even though I didn’t play it, playing the Multiplayer might be the most interesting thing to try out. Still, despite all it’s failings, it’s fucked up to think ASW tried to do something this nutty and almost succeeded. I respect it.
Let me start off by saying thank you to Natsu, Renko, Floogle, and Renex. This is not my project. I gave my feedback and helped where I could, but these four, plus numerous testers, including speedrunners such as Wolsk and Tesivonius. So with that I’d like to present I Wanna be the Guy: Remastered.
So what’s different?
The team has rebuilt IWBTG from the ground up in game maker, moving the game to Yuuutu fangame physics, remastering all the audio, fixing frame pacing issues, controller support, reasonable sound settings and putting an end to needless crashes. The game also includes other more editorial improvements like enemy death animations, but these can be modified in a series of dipswitches available in the game’s options menu, which contains both accuracy options (We reworded the Zelda sword joke but the option, for the sake of preservation, is there if you want to restore the original dialogue).
So for new players, or players looking to relive past memories, there are almost no drawbacks to this version. All changes will feel either positive or will be invisible. Fangame fans will notice the new physics, but see that only as a plus. Some people like long term speed runners or super-fans of the original game might walk away with a few complaints, but even those players have viewed this version as a massive net positive. As much as possible was copied from original MMF2 source code. The game also includes some added content and secrets, possibly with more coming in the future! All changes come with my very vocal endorsement. No change is anything I wouldn’t have considered in an update of my own.
There are two types of preservation. One is raw preservation. That the games code is available and accessible and playable. That won’t change any time soon and the original version won’t go anywhere. But there is a second type of preservation, involving access and approachability. This version of IWBTG succeeds on those merits. It is as accurate as it can be to tell 99% of the audience what they need to know about IWBTG and its history while being a much smoother experience, user friendly experience. I’m glad IWBTG is at the point where the game design is the only user hostile aspect of it.
Also thank you for the team. Originally this project was intended for the fangame community as an attempt to rehabilitate the game’s image. Sadly, the weird, buggy, janky nature of IWBTG sets it apart from other fangames, leaving it oddly divorced from the genre it inspired. The team did a wonderful job making the game feel like a modern fangame and allowing it’s place in history to be appreciated. It is a rough, crude game, but I feel it is an important one.
So please, play this remake. I endorse it so much that It’s now listed on the IWBTG download page as an “official” version.
My History with Fighting Games, the FGC, and how my First Love, Guilty Gear, helped me get through Corona
For the last few years I’ve been doing a year in summery of every game I’ve played. That’s a bit difficult to do now, since I’ve been writing up about games as I play them. It also is a problem that I haven’t been playing many game. In fact, I’ve been playing mostly just one.
I wanted to review Guilty Gear Xrd Rev 2 earlier in the year but, like is the case with any good fighting game, I have no intention to stop playing it. So as the most important game in my life this year, I figured it would serve as both a great capstone for the year and an excuse to write about my history of fighting games.
This is needlessly long and needlessly detailed. I don’t know why anyone else would read it, but like many of my end of year lists, I’m writing it for me.
A Boy with an SNES
Mortal Kombat was released when I was 9 years old. I was a Cub Scout at the time and at my local mall for the Pinewood Derby. There was time before my car(or, more accurately with the secret traditions of the Pinewood Derby, my father’s car) would be racing, so I asked to go to the arcade. I was told I had about 10 minutes.
Some people remember everything. They can tell you all their friends in middle school, the names of every teacher they ever had, all the drama that happened throughout their youth. I can’t. I don’t reflect back often enough on these things to keep those memories fresh. But what I do remember I often remember vividly.
I remember that arcade. I remember where the Mortal Kombat machine was. I remember me, a socially awkward 9 year old, trying to peer around pubescent teenage boys who felt like towering giants to see a glimpse of the gory carnage that goes going on. Just the way the screen faded dark when a fatality happen made my stomach sink. Even the sounds of the game shook me. I wanted to play this game more than anything, but the line was too long so I watched and watched and watched.
I missed my race, but if I hadn’t, I doubt I would have remembered it as clearly as I remember those moments staring at a Mortal Kombat machine.
Mortal Kombat was the game I always wanted to play. My friends would also play Street Fighter and I’d tolerate it, but it never made sense to me. “Why would people play Street Fighter?” I’d ask. “There isn’t even any blood!” Young me had no appreciation for how gnarly it was for characters to puke in SF2. MK motions also agreed with me more. It was the game I could actually, to some vague extent, play. All fighting games back then made me feel clumsy. I was supremely uncoordinated as a boy, but MK made me feel the least clumsy, while appealing to me on a visceral level. I dabbled in other games sometimes — technically Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighter was my first tournament game during the 1994 Block Buster World Videogame Championship — but I’d always go back to MK.
XBand and the Original Online Warriors
Before people could argue about Wifi vs Ethernet, I was playing Mortal Kombat 2 over copper telephone cables. We were one of the test locations for the 1994 launch of the Xband modem for the SNES and Genesis. It must have been horrible, would I would n’t know any better. I was so excited to play other people. I was “Coolkid1” if I remember right and had an appropriate cool kid avatar to boot. This was my first experience being online, chatting with people, sending email (Xband had real email!). This was also my prototype for interacting with the FGC. Since matches were mostly local (to avoid horrible long distance prices) you could… meet people. We’d exchange phone numbers and chat. Eventually we’d meet up and play laser tag. I was the young dorky kid among a bunch of teenagers and gosh did I suck at Mortal Kombat but it was fun.
Eventually I’d lose interest. A new Mortal Kombat would come out and I’d do all the fatalities (or get my friend with better execution to do them), play a bit and forget it. Occasionally I’d try xband, maybe win one game being super lame, get salty online and quit. It made me feel bad. I realized I didn’t like fighting games. I was a cool boy who liked jRPGs and playing games for the stories, dammit!
MAME, MUGEN, Soul Calibur, and Finally Clicking With Street Fighter
It wasn’t until late into High School that Fighting Games started to enter my interest again. The exact order of these things were muddy but I remember playing Alpha 3 on MAME in highschool. This sounds insane to me to think a MAME had CPS2 decrypted and implemented before Alpha 3 was even out, but that was the pace of emulation back then. A friend in school showed me Alpha 3 on one of the school computers and the game seemed so much more dynamic and interesting than Mortal Kombat. While also having a fresher “anime” aesthetic, fitting my love at the time.
I never seriously played Alpha 3 but it was when I started thinking “Maybe I COULD learn to play fighting games”. I’d go to gamefaqs, find combos, try to do to them and fail over and over again. Eventually this spiraled into me finding MUGEN, exposing me to all sorts of incredible Neo Geo characters (the Last Blade cast sticking out to me quite a bit at the time) and allowing me to play all kinds of ridiculously unfair Dragon Ball characters. It was pressing buttons in a controlled order but I still wasn’t playing people. At the very least, though, I stopped feeling clumsy.
Then my friend Jordan got a Dreamcast with Soul Calibur, which started a multi-year feud. We’d spend hours fighting him and other friends in his basement. Mitsurugi was my first true ‘main’ in a fighting game, battling hi Ivy and Cervantes. I didn’t really understand fighting games but I, in a group of people who knew nothing, was winning and I was winning by… thinking. By recognizing patterns, parrying stuff and doing that… really silly version of okizeme new players do where simply doing a meatie is enough to kill most players. I had a taste of what it felt like to be scary at a game. Not even a large fish in a small pond, but a small fish in a puddle. It was something, though!
We also dabbled in other stuff. It was my first exposer to 3rd Strike, having seen for sale on Dreamcast. Both me and my friend bought had the same thought “Wait, they made a Street Fighter 3?”
3s has never been my game and wasn’t then, but it was my first taste playing a Street Fighter game against another person while having a vague understanding about fighting games. My hands worked. I could PLAY STREET FIGHTER! Then we decided we didn’t like it and went back to Soul Calibur.
Guilty Gear X2
Years pass. Friend groups changed. I’m in college and in contact with almost no one I knew in high school. I’m hanging out with my new college friends and we’re playing Alpha on someone’s old Sega Saturn. My friend John walks in. “THEY MADE A SEQUEL!” he shouts. He’s holding a copy of Guilty Gear X2. My other friend is also excited… Paul. Most people here would know Paul as the voice of The Kid in I Wanna be the Guy. While the kid is cute, Paul is a natural villain. The type of guy who gets voted out in Among Us even when he didn’t do anything. The type of person who revels in this fear. Another one of our friends turns to me and says…
“Paul is really good at Guilty Gear. Nobody has ever beaten his Zato.”
This fucking shook me. EVER BEATEN? Paul wasn’t some bad ass tournament player or anything. We were just going pretty even in Alpha. NO ONE HAS EVER BEATEN HIM WHEN HE PLAYS HIS MAIN? I could get huge win streaks in Soul Calibur but someone would ALWAYS put me down eventually. How could one EVER beat him?
I hated this. I hated this so much. I was good at fighting games now, dammit! I’d pick someone cool and get a win on him! I couldn’t let this stand! All men are mortal!
I got Sawbladed into the fucking dirt.
I went to gamefaqs and did research. I settled on Anji, who at the time seemed to fit me aesthetically and seemed neat enough but I never felt like I was doing enough damage. “Mike, you gotta combo into super”. I look up my super…Half Circle Back, Forward.
Excuse me? I’ve done QCF+Multiple buttons. Double QCF+A Single button. Maybe even Half Circles. But HCB+F… and I have to time this to cancel an attack in a combo? When I know I actually hit? I felt stumped, but I wanted to beat Paul. I couldn’t stand this.
I got desperate. I didn’t have a PS2 so I got a rom of Guilty Gear X Advanced just so I had some way to practice! I got better, I could do things but I was still the weakest. John would fuck me up too. Charge Stun Edge on wakeup followed by Stun Dipper might as well have been unblockable at my skill level.
I kinda gave up for awhile before I started hanging out with another friend, Roger, who also enjoyed the game. He was super casual about playing it and that gave me time to breath. Despite that he was knowledgeable, suggesting characters for me to try and things to do. This is also the introduction of Patito. At the time Patito was too shy to talk, but we’d play Guilty Gear together at Roger’s. He had more fighting game experience than anyone else I’d been playing with but Patito, to this day, has a natural ability to mold to his opponent. Playing against Patito would always feel close no matter what your skill level was. So I learned. I picked up Ky and started beating people. Not Paul, but I could at least play the game. I still felt unsatisfied.
The Turning Point: Guilty Gear X2 #Reload
This went on for a whole year. I’d go back and forth being interested in Guilty Gear. Paul’s Zato was still largely undefeated (someone HAD to have gotten him in that time but he was still fucking people up). I was getting better, but barely.
I don’t know who told me about #Reload or that a PC version was available, but that’s when my life changed. Being able to go into training mode and practice things ON MY COMPUTER felt incredible. I joined Dustloop (actually before that I joined… gosh, what was it, Romancancel dot something??) and started looking up actual combos. At this time I was eyeballing Johnny and Baiken. Ky was a pragmatic choice but Baiken was a character that really appealed to me. Johnny too, but even at a low level I could tell he was too technical for me (Patito kept pushing me to play him anyways). I started engaging with the actual game systems. What was the point of a Roman Cancel? That thing that made me lose all my meter as I mashed buttons? Why would you spend all that meter when you could do a super? What, spending 50% meter to cancel a move animation was more important than doing a super??? Some moves can be “FRC”ed for only 25%???
… Well I started trying to learn two things. Baiken’s j.D frc while learning her corner dustloop. 2d Tatami j.sd air dash j.sd land f.s j.d FRC air dash j.sd
I spent months doing that over and over again. My first “Bread and Butter” combo. I started feeling hungrier. Looked for Dustloop locals. I remember cramming into a New York Zappa player’s basement to play. I probably never won a game playing at Phrekwenci’s place. There are also probably tons of player names I’d recognize if they were told to me now who played over there. But I remember specifically meeting and watching Marlinpie. At that time he wasn’t even 18 and was playing on the official PS2 Guilty Gear stick. He was at a level fair above everyone else in that cramped apartment and we all just tried to absorb whatever it was that he had.. I’d head there, sometimes with my friend Ben (tangentially related to the old Soul Calibur circle) who had also started working up his Slayer. We were hungry. Encouraged by one of the people at Phrek”s gathering, I started trying to play Johnny. His Bread and Butter was a bigger challenge than Baiken’s…
So many parts of this combo haunted me. Simply landing the kick after the mist finer was hard. My timing for the dash in and kick felt like it had to be frame perfect. It was nowhere close, but it felt that way. My sense of timing was still really coarse. The Divine Blade FRC was fast and it wouldn’t do a normal RC if I mistimed it like Baiken’s. I had to be perfect… and the jump install. the “6” the up motion during the kick… that took forever to actually do but I was hungry for I kept trying.
When Paul fell, Paul fell fast. Not for any lack of natural skill. To this day, Paul is a motherfucker who can find the cheapest shit in any game he plays… but because we were hungrier. The tides turned from Paul’s Zato can’t be beat to Paul’s Zato can’t win. The level of play of the whole group was elevating rapidly. I started switching characters to go easier on people, slowly learning the whole cast to some degree. I remember playing Dizzy against him for the first time and him getting ready to hurl a controller. “She’s already your best character!” She wasn’t, but it felt like that.
Eventually he quit. This made me sad… but at the same time I took perverse joy in it. I had gotten good at Guilty Gear out of spite and now it was with me for life. We were hungry.
Guilty Gear X2 Slash, Sticks, and my true entry into the FGC
Slash coming out represented a problem for me. The game didn’t have a PC version. But we all figured out swap magic and sometimes someone would lend me a PS2 to practice.
Back in the day, you couldn’t just pick up a ready to go arcade stick. Custom sticks were the cheap option back then compared to having to import a HRAP and then replace all its buttons. Ben and I got to wood working and soldering and managed to get two lovely sticks. Ben still uses his to this day.
Sometime into Slash I got a message on Dustloop from some guy named “LI Joe”. Slash had come out and he wanted to learn it. Came over with this giant tub of a stick. It was the official one that came with the Anniversary Collection of SF2. Joe, for not knowing Guilty Gear was pretty good! And he was friendly and nice and cool and everyone enjoyed being around him. Afterward he asked “You play anything else?” “Yeah, we’ve been messing with 3rd Strike”.
Long Island Joe’s Urien gave me a beating I have yet to experience again in any other game. I was laughing as he demolished me, throwing out Aegis Reflector combos like it was a combo video. Meeting Joe was super exciting and lead to me, months later, showing up at our locals at “Castle Golf”. I ended up running the Guilty Gear brackets and helping the event host “SweetJohnnyCage” (who eventually went on to host East Coast Throwdown) set up every month. At this point, I was… in the FGC. The little stories and friends I made at this point would be innumerable. I rarely traveled — to this day I’ve never been a major — but I’d still pop up in NY locals or Chinatown Fair all the time. Enough for footage of me to show up as “Melty Blood Aris” on one of Jiyuna’s recent videos (Disclaimer: I was there to play Akatsuki Blitzkampf).
Early Guilty Gear was a game of massive skill and knowledge disparity. While there were good US players, most of us were limited to playing only a hand full of friends and knowing only a few matchups. The #Reload netplay hack was a game changer for me and I was so happy it existed that I ended up modding the irc channel for quite some time. While the game was one (and soon, two) versions old, the experience of being able to play a wide variety of people online and play matches I never got to experience was huge and gave me an edge in local events. This wasn’t much use to the actual good players. They traveled and got quality experience in at majors — but for me, a local monster? It was a god send. Before Hotashi became a terrifying Elphelt in XRD, he was getting bullied for being a scrub on the #ReloadOnline IRC channel.
I started to feel good about how I played. I had a shot against most people I played. I wasn’t consistent enough to win highly contested tournaments, but I could be a threat against most people. At the same time, playing someone like Marlinpie still made me feel like I knew absolutely nothing. And this is the level I kinda stayed at for quite awhile(Heck, this might still be where I’m at now).
Accent Core, Blazblue SF4 and the Dark Period
Slash came and went and Accent Core took the spotlight. I kinda hated it at first (I loved Slash Johnny so much) but it felt like it was going to be the Super Turbo of Guilty Gear so I stuck with it. My friend group (Including the before mentioned Ben and Patito) would play pretty much every week for a few years. We’d jump to stuff — Meltyblood, Blitzkampf, KOF, Hokuto no Ken, Super Turbo, even Arcana Hearts for awhile — but Guilty Gear was always what we went back to. Eventually Blazblue came out and we were universally disappointed in it (It might be fine now but CT kiiiinda blew), but SF4, despite feeling like such a compromised game, struck a balance with everyone. I was never super serious in SF4. At this point I rarely went to locals anymore but I kept current with my friends. I couldn’t keep up the same energy, but as long as my friends could play, I was golden.
… Then, sometime around Ultra, Patito left. Patito, who could play with everyone and be a challenge for anyone, kept the groups interest in fighting games alive. Without Patito to bridge the gap between players, only Ben and I were left and well… the old men got tired. There was a few years there where we barely played anything at all.
+R, Xrd, IWBTG and the Second Dark Age
+R came out and I had no one to play with. Finally Accent Core was back and Johnny was extra cool and I was hungry again. I started going to locals again. LI Joe welcomed me back as if I was never gone. I bullied his Eddie. A good time was had by all. I road this for a year, playing and improving, going to locals again, doing all right for myself. I was pumped for Xrd, but when it came out and I played it, it… didn’t do it for me. It felt like +R but less. What’s worse, I had no main. No Johnny, no Baiken! I tried Sin, and he didn’t agree with me. Millia and I-no almost worked but at a certain point I decided the game wasn’t for me and +R was already dead. The second dark age was on me, but at least it wasn’t completely detached from the FGC.
IWBTG hit big on twitch around that time. Floe’s playthrough and me taunting him during it was magic. The IWBTGG run at EVO is honestly one of the highlights of my life. It felt nice to be attached to the FGC even when I wasn’t playing
Finding Sanity During Lockdown: How Rev2 Filled the Social Hole in my Life
A long time passed without a lot of fighting game fun to be had. Ben and I would play Super Turbo sometimes… sometimes we’d hop on GGPO to play some weird stuff. Basically 5 years of not really seriously playing. I generally hated netplay. I could tolerate it barely during #Reload but as time went on I just hated it. SF4 was miserable online and Guilty Gear seemed like it would be even worse.
But then during lockdown, Patito and a buddy picked up Xrd Rev 2 on sale and were playing it. I already decided I didn’t like Xrd but thinking about it… why not? I don’t know what the game feels like offline anymore. If I got it, I could maybe play and not hate everything. So around May I started going in hard, learning Johnny again. I never played Revelator but didn’t like what I read about how Johnny was handled. I would be excited to play a high tier, but he seemed too straight forward, getting re-coins and knockdowns off of every combo. I put a few months into him. I was having fun and playing online more, but it didn’t feel right.
I don’t have super crisp execution. I can do hard shit, but I’m sketchy. X2 Era Johnny was perfect for me. People would drop his stuff all the time, especially his ‘one hit ensengas’, which were like a trickshot knockdown. Perfect execution with X2 Johnny was aspirational. You went for stuff and if you fucked up, it was okay. Xrd Johnny felt like you had to be perfect. He was good BECAUSE he got everything EVERY TIME. I felt like I was failing the character. I was doing okay but it felt like a bad fit… so who to play?
I always dabbled with Sol. I loved doing dustloops. He was just a fun character to mess with… but I always said I didn’t ACTUALLY know how to play him. I could fool around, but I didn’t understand yet how to actually open people up with Sol… but I was watching DEB vs Marlinpie and the way DEB used Sol and set up frame traps and got huge pay off spoke to me on a deep level. So I started screwing around with him, and the character I skipped playing seriously in Xrd slowly morphed into my main. I’m a glutton who loves when big chunks of the life bar disappear, I can’t help it.
I started streaming again. Random lobbies are cold and kinda miserable. I wanted community. Just having a stream with people in chat saying ‘hey come play’ seemed like a super friendly way to meet new players. We started amassing regulars. Acquaintances started to show up to play who quickly became friends (Hi, Shay!). Then… new players start showing up. Hey, the IWBTG guy is probably nice to play with, right? So I start putting it out there that we have a good place for new players to learn. MORE people show up. Oh shit, we can run a beginner tournament… Oh god we have 100 people in our discord??? It’s amazing to play with close friends again. Patito fills the same role he did years ago. Ben is right back at it, pilebunkering the younger generation.
So somehow I stumbled into making a community. Somehow I stumbled into running online tournaments for new players. Somehow I’ve managed to tolerate delay based netcode because it lets me play people in a game they feel comfortable with. Having weekly streams has helped so much during COVID and creating a space that seems welcoming for not just new players, but queer and marginalized players has felt incredible. Not only am I playing to try and improve, I am playing to entertain and to help out others and am super proud of the little friendly spot I’ve built.
So after all this, how do I feel about Rev2? How do I feel about it, now that I can run off to +R with glorious Rollback Netcode? Well, two revisions did a lot for the game. While not as wild as +R, it feels wild in its own right. More importantly though, despite its annoyances, the RC system and generous buffer lets new players play the game without getting blocked out by FRCs. The game is fun like any other Guilty Gear, looks absolutely gorgeous and contains the players I want to play with. Everything else matters less, because at the heart of it, it’s still Guilty Gear.
Also I tend to play games for a character. +R gives me Johnny, while +R Sol doesn’t appeal to me as much. I get what I want in both games!
SO now it’s January 1st. I’ve run 3 beginner tournaments, a team fight, multiple show match cards and have one of the nicest, most fun Guilty Gear discords in existence. I’ll probably be trying to stick to Rev2 through Strive too. First release ASW games haven’t been kind to me, but at the same year once Strive has some time under it’s belt, maybe I’ll feel about it the same way I feel about Rev2 now.
Thank you everyone who has found themselves part of this community. I could write a whole article just on all of you but all I’ll say here is I’m happy to know all of you.
Happy 2021 everyone, lets get past COVID and play some Guilty Gear. This old man is washed up but isn’t willing to stop yet. Guilty Gear wasn’t my first fighting game, but it was my first love, and I didn’t realize how much I missed it now.
Trynant’s words after I decided I hated Nioh. Trynant had sent me Nioh 1 and 2 for my birthday and, upon saying this, I immediately received a steam alert. He had given me Sekiro. Was this Nioh NTR?
And so I had Sekiro. I had wanted to play Sekiro for awhile but my computer was slightly too weak when it came out and the idea of buying a game for a PS4 that wasn’t even mine felt bad. But I’m patient so I waited, getting to it finally as I always do: Well after the game has actually come out.
I’m going to say outright that I’m going to be making a lot of comparisons to Nioh. That said, I don’t think comparing these two games is, in most circumstances, at all fair. They are different games with different goals that share only a few things in common (Sengoku era Japan and Souls DNA… which… they only barely do??). But for me, playing these games back to back, it’s hard not to compare and contrast them. So while I am going to bring Nioh up a lot, it’s because Nioh is currently a very convenient lens to look at Sekiro through.
There is something uniquely bothersome to me about people recommending a game by saying “It’s like Dark Souls”. I look at whatever game it is and I get this feeling of “… is THIS what Dark Souls is to you?”
It’d be like someone saying “Hey, try this stealth game, it’s like Metal Gear”. I will be the first to defend Kojima games for their gameplay, but is gameplay what makes a Metal Gear game? Or is it multiple puzzle pieces interlocking together in a perfectly strange way? I feel this way about Dark Souls. Do I enjoy Souls combat? Yes. Do I crave it, in any way, without everything else that comes from a From Software game? Not really. I crave the entire “flavor profile” of their games.
So the irony of the whole Nioh/Sekiro comparison is, in the sense that most people speak, Nioh is MUCH MUCH more like Dark Souls. You could argue that, on a mechanical level, Nioh is a beautiful and even superior evolution. Sekiro… isn’t a Soulsborne game at all. It is less a Soulsborne game than Death Stranding is a Metal Gear game. Yet people (often jokingly) try and string together weird words like “Soulsborneiro” or ” “Seksoulsborne ” to describe them all. Why?
They’re From Software games.
I had heard a lot about Sekiro before playing it. Weird things about the posture system, how different and unfair the game was, how much the person hated it… but no matter what they said, they always said “You’ll like it, though”. I was always more skeptical of this then they were but mere minutes into the game I felt it. This was not a Souls game yet was everything I was missing in Nioh.
From Software knows how to capture mood. They know how to have a sense of place. Their worlds seem to not care about you, as if they were not built for you. But every merchant you miss, every side path that you forget, every weird, unclear bit of progression is designed like that because they care. They do it not because they hate you, but because they want to remove artifice from their worlds and draw you in.
By their standards, the world of Sekiro is the most “designed” for the player. The tutorial/reservoir area feels like something out of Metal Gear. The world is filled with grapple points and convenient grass but yet, as you sail over walls, bypass encounters and jump from rooftop to rooftop, the world somehow still manages to feel indifferent to your needs. Unlike recent From games, you are a major player in the plot. Wolf is an important character, but few in the world understand his significance. The majority of the world doesn’t care about you and because of that, you aren’t exploring a world crafted for you, you’re exploring Ashina, as it is and as it has been, in its final moments.
… Or so the illusion goes. From has always been incredible at this sleight of hand and it, as was exposed to me by Nioh, is what makes me endure the hardships of their games. It isn’t the reward of victory in itself — though the reward is great — it is also the promise of things to come.
Nioh confirmed something else I had already knew but hadn’t articulated. From Software games are not about their mechanics, they are about their content. Nioh, ignoring the tedious loot system, is almost in all ways mechanically superior to any From Software game. They build a system and build content to match it. From Software on the other hand builds content, and matches the mechanics to it.
I love From Software’s content.
I was skeptical of Sekiro’s combat. Descriptions of the posture system always made it sound wild and unnecessary. I’d hear stories about people saying it is too harsh and punishing and others saying the basic combat is easy… and in a sense, it is. Sekiro is not a Soulsborne game. You don’t dodge and circle and defend and look for opening. You don’t have an invulnerable roll. Your block will eventually fail you. You can jump. You can jump?? Yes you can jump this isn’t a soulsborne game.
You attack. Your enemy reacts to your attack. You respond to their reaction. Your not a passive force, responding to the whims of an enemy. You control them just as much as they control you and with that, rhythms form in the combat. The combat is simple, but the flow is beautiful, quick and deadly.
You can’t easily fight a group, but relying on stealth kills would take forever. Instead you can hit and run, Separate enemies. You control the engagement with incredible mobility. You figure out what enemies go down the easiest, and which are slowest. You divide and conquer. This is not a soulsborne game, you have tools and abilities, some of them downright oppressive. Taking out groups changes it dynamic once you can swoop in, backstab one and use puppeteering to make him fight his friends.
In many ways the combat is more forgiving than souls game. You can’t be one shot, how neat is that? In fact, you can even use that death sometimes to get a drop on an enemy or even to heal. The balance between health damage and posture damage gets interesting once you deal with bigger enemies and bosses. Getting clean hits pays interest in the future as their posture begins to recover slower.
The combat isn’t particularly deep. Again Nioh, on a mechanics standpoint, would have Sekiro beat. But it’s not about the mechanics it’s about the CONTENT. Sekiro’s enemies make the combat feel incredible. The whole ecosystem of the game is tighter. Sekiro’s whole is greater than the sum of its simple parts.
Bosses take this further. You REALLY need to learn them. Their call and response behavior is probably the peak of complexity for modern From Software games. You analyze them and their attacking habits. You bait them. You force their hand. The timing element of defense elevates the ordeal. You were too slow to dodge, but maybe, just maybe, you won’t panic and will get all the deflections you need to not get posture broken. It’s tense.
What’s also odd is, unlike Dark Souls and most games, you don’t recover your posture/stamina/block gauge by not blocking. You block. This seems counter intuitive at first, but you give up mobility and action to recover. Blocking feels bad. You’re defended, but behind a cardboard shield. You’re a shinobi, movement is life. So when you hold your sword defensively in front of your enemy, you feel vulnerable.
Sekiro is not a Soulsborne game. It has a story. It has characters. Yes those games have those things, but it’s not ABOUT those things. The sullen, bittersweet interactions between all the characters in Sekiro are wonderful. Instead of a game full of offputting, deranged people, we get real performances. I played the game with Japanese voices and am not sure why anyone wouldn’t because the voice work is incredible. The conflict for Kuro’s love and warmth for Sekiro vs the chasm of class between them is so sadly frustrating and sometimes tragic. While we don’t fall into deep monologues and epic stories, the relatively few character interactions drip with texture that implies a deep rich history behind anything. They speak like From Software worlds are built. Simple things like the few spoken lines from Lady Butterfly imply so much about her and Sekiro’s shared history with Owl. The sculptor speaks as tired man, holding on to his humanity. The Divine Child of Rejuvenation speaks as… a little gremlin child who has, through social pressure, been forced to shoulder a lot of responsibility and burden. You bring sake to Isshin Ashina, so you may listen to the drunken stories of an old yet powerful warlord.
And so like the combat, the story is simple, yet somehow, in its brevity, rich.
Sekiro is not without fault. Dragonrot is perhaps one of the worst mechanics implemented in a Fromsoft game. The mechanic, which sickens NPCs and stops their story progression through repeated deaths is the worst of two worlds. It is a mechanic that makes players afraid to engage with the game while at the same time presenting no real consequence. Dragonrot is trivial, the resources to cure it abundant enough that you can cure everyone when need be without worry, but rare enough that you’ll let your buds cough their lungs out until you need to progress something. Not understanding Dragonrot can be crippling, and understanding it can be immersion breaking at worst and boring at best.
Unseen Aid was a mechanic meant to try and mitigate the more punishing effects of death in From Software games, but ends up just being useless and confusing. 30% of the time you won’t lose anything when you die, but as people get dragonrot, that number goes down drastically… but… who is counting on something happening 30% of the time?
Some ending things are gated behind some obtuse requirements, like really specific eavesdropping. It’s not the end of the world and some people enjoy looking up spoilers for NG+. Upgrades and Skillpoints also are a bit annoying to manage and plan out. Some stuff borderline feels like a skillpoint trap, like the entire Monk line.
Also there is a part of me that feels the game is too hard. Not for me, so much. Owl (Father) was the only boss to give me significant difficulties and Sword Saint Isshin went down in 5 or 6 quick attempts. But playing it, I felt like.. am I enjoying this because it’s hard or because it feels good? And if it felt good at a lower difficulty, would it be helpful if the game was slightly easier? Some parts of the game ask a LOT from a players, which is especially frustrating when most of the game does not. A little bit more leeway to respond to attacks or in the health of some bosses would help so many more people push through without I think destroying what most people love about the game. Force the players to learn all the things they already need to learn, but just maybe… require them to maintain perfection for less time.
Sekiro is the first From Software game to make me sympathetic to the idea that these games should have an Easy Mode. While my feelings matter much MUCH less than the people who want these things, when people ask for it in Dark Souls games I always have this feeling that… the difficulty is the glue that holds the game together. That without resistance, you see how flimsy parts of those games are. Which doesn’t mean people can’t want it or don’t deserve to have it, but more that I don’t get it.
Sekiro though… Sekiro feels like a game that needs this. It lacks the difficulty smoothing features of other Fromsoft titles. No co-op, no overleveling. Just uncompromising gameplay. Which is a shame, because I feel like Sekiro has the most to enjoy outside of challenge. The characters, their interactions, the sheer joy of moving and grappling through the world. Moving or heck, even combat in Soulsborne doesn’t feel stellar. It’s the feeling, mixed with the reward that makes it feel good. But Sekiro? Gosh just -doing- shit in that game, even when it’s easy, feels great. An easy mode would feel no different to me than DMC or Bayonetta having an easy mode. You can Git Gud later, if that’s your thing.
… I say this, and mean it but at the end of the day, my convictions can’t be that strong. This game felt tuned for me. I slotted right into place like a jigsaw puzzle. It intoxicated me… though again, I think it still would of it were 10%-20% easier (Whatever that would mean). As maybe the most divisive modern From Software game, I’d gladly like it a little less so others could like it more.
How do I rank this compared to other modern from games? I don’t know. I don’t know if I even can. Tied for second with Bloodborne but two different to truly be compared to everything else?
Anyways, with all that said, Genichiro is little baby. Get fucked, chump.
Recently Sekiro received a large feature update. Most of this is good or at least harmless additions to New Game+. Costumes, the ability to refight bosses, boss gauntlets… all excellent content for people who wish to find new ways to engage with the game after experiencing it how it was first already intended.
One feature isn’t like that. Remnents are a cross between Dark Souls Messages and Bloodstains, pre-recorded bits of gameplay. It is a complete port of Dark Souls-esque features over to Sekiro.
This is not a Soulsborne Game
It’s inclusion is crass and thoughtless, bolted on vestigially, like giving someone an artificial appendix. It matches not the tone, the world, the aesthetic, or the gameplay. I can’t know this for sure, but I can only assume it was forced by Activision, who decided the game was not “Soulsy” enough.
Souls games are not truly solidary experience. Despite their primarily single player nature, they strive to make the world feel alive. You can connected, through the hazy stream of time to others. Ghostly figures wander about, miming actions from eons past. People can drift into your reality to help or harm you. Souls games are lonesome. NPCs act so offputtingly that it is often hard to truly see the ones around you as friends… but other humans live around you and the proof of their existence follows your every step.
Dark Souls pays a visual price for this interconnectedness. Online Souls gameplay is visually busy with the marks over other players marring the landscape, like litter in a beautiful park. But Dark Souls gets a lot in return for this. That feeling of connection ties into the games thematically, artistically and mechanically. The game is designed with the assumption that others will help you. They are balanced around this… and even then, they felt like a distraction in Bloodborne, the most beautiful and sophisticated Souls game up to that point. I played Bloodborne mostly offline because the classic Souls elements felt like cruft.
Sekiro, despite it’s great characters, is truly lonesome game. In fact, it is because of these characters that Sekiro is a beautifully lonesome game. Only by having these people who you can truly care about and love, can you feel truly apart from them. You are a shinobi. When you are fighting there is no one else. Even those Wolf may have cared for at some point may become enemies, both sides accepting the fatalism of their occupation. Contrast between the warmth of being around Kuro and Emma or even the sculptor contrasts with the cold, snowy, lonesome trek through Ashina. Sekiro not only doesn’t need interconnectivity, it actively acts against it’s tone. It’s beautiful world gets marred by the most visually noisy messaging symbol in any Souls game… and for what?
Sekiro is an honest game, where Dark Souls lies. Granted, Dark Souls wants to be caught in its lies and so it builds these community mechanics. Dark Souls forces you into uncomfortable encounters. In Sekiro you choose your encounters. Dark Souls attacks you when you’re not paying attention. In Sekiro, you attack when the enemy isn’t paying attention. In Dark Souls, knowledge of what comes next and what traps await you is paramount to survival. Sekiro doesn’t try to trick you in that way. It reflects in it’s death penalties. True death is too costly to spring on the player as a joke. In Dark Souls, bloodstains offer hints on what is to come next so you may prepare yourself, but are still entering the unknown. You see only the player’s actions unfold…. but do to do the same in Sekiro, where the context can be so varied? What can that specter tell a player that is of any value? How can one show a player how to fight a boss and how can you even find the time to view one? What surprises are these supposed to protect new players from? I can only honestly think of one real “Cheap shot” in Sekiro and it is a glorious and precious moment that should not be ruined.
The system offers nothing because it was not designed for this world, or this play style. It is a cynical add on that does nothing but degrade the quality of the work. It’s a price paid without purpose. A thoughtless, ugly inclusion to add to a game over a year from its release. Can you ignore it? Sure. Is it the end of the world? No. Does it ruin the game? Absolutely not… But does it make the game worse for no gain?
Absolutely, because this is not a Soulsborne Game. You need to design these types of mechanics to match the game you ACTUALLY MADE.
So please, if you play Sekiro after reading this, PLEASE PLAY IN OFFLINE MODE. You will lose absolutely nothing of value and will play a better version of the game.
I’m reluctant to say Nioh and Nioh 2 are bad games. A lot of people enjoy the games and when a lot of people enjoy a game — especially a niche game with no brand recognition — it means the game is succeeding at something. These are also games I would never buy for myself. The pitch of “It’s Dark Souls but with Diablo Loot” sounds like such a downgrade for my particular tastes that I’d never bother. “Soulsborne-like” is already a genre I avoid. Fromsoft makes games I enjoy because of their tastes and sensibilities more than anything else. The idea of those games as a “genre” has little appeal to me. Loot and skill trees? Something that tends to actively make me miserable. In short, It’s just not at all a game that would cross into my interest radar.
Unfortunately, A friend bought me both. Fortunately, I think said friend finds having a negative opinion as interesting as me having a positive opinion.
I tried to write this with an opening summary but I could not. I constantly got caught up thinking about the differences in Nioh and Nioh 2 so it’s easier to talk about my experience.
My first impression of the game was pretty cool. Starting out this feudal Japan game in the tower of London was a strong start. The combat felt snappy and hits felt good? It felt like Dark Souls, but with more loot… but… quickly changed. Even in the first Nioh, the mechanical systems are much more interesting than Dark Souls. A lot of it is unnecessary complexity, but the basic battle of manipulating your and your opponent’s ki (stamina, basically) lead to much more interesting engagements. Yokai had the same feel as those Godhand demon enemies and were interesting to try and take down.
… But something felt off. Especially when fighting game’s bosses. The mechanics and gauges and timings never quite felt like they lined up right. A lot of enemy behavior felt off. It felt… squishy. There was no flow to combat for me. Enemies felt like they would just… do stuff. Combat with small enemies was fast and lethal in a fun way but the more serious an enemy was the more it felt like the game wanted me to play as boringly as possible. With everyone telling me Nioh 2 was much much better and that I could make my own character, after the first region, I decided to move on. I can’t say anything definitive about a game I only scratched the surface of, but for what I played, Nioh 1 felt like a poor game with some strong redeeming qualities for some players. I was not one of those players.
I had other feelings on the game as well but most of them carried on to Nioh 2 so….
I made a big muscly gyaru yokai girl and immediately felt happier.
Immediately the game felt better. Stuff like ki bursts and how they timed with enemy actions and the windows and everything felt -right-. Enemies attacked with a little bit more sense and timing and things just felt tuned better. I could finally engage with the game how it wanted me to engage it with. The flow of combat, switching weapons and stances on the fly and everything felt great. Yokai felt way more approachable while being just as much or even more deadly. I had a blast beating down ki with tonfas to switch on a ki burst to an odachi to finish off my opponent. At it’s best, the combat of Nioh 2 flowed together great. Even the average boss of the game felt pretty good.
But what about the other mechanics? The skill trees? The loot? All of that?
It’s fucking trash. Complete, bloated trash. The loot is miserable busy work that you still want to pick up for parts to use with a blacksmith you probably won’t actually use to NG+. Never once did I get an item like “Oh my god that’s so good!!!”, just a steady upgrade slowly over time that quickly because tedious work to clear out. The skill trees, while containing useful, fun abilities are filled with “4% to human enemies” style crap and -whats worse- is that the fun stuff is front loaded. You don’t have exciting, incredible skills to work toward, you got SPREAD SHEETS. Every weapon seemed to have one skill that’s a game changer, is located weirdly in the middle of the tree, and won’t be unlockable until NG+ for… reasons??
In fact, the amount of things that give you little micro bonuses is obscene. You have your equipment, each piece giving you anywhere between 2 to 6 line items of little bonuses or modifications. You got your skills, which can give you more little points. You got your guardian spirit. You got the yokai abilities you equip to your guardian spirit. Actually now you have three guardian spirits each with 3 yokai abilities and the yokai abilities can be leveled up by fusing them and ALSO you get TITLE points for doing… achievement like… things…?? that give you things like “+0.5% Elemental Resistance”. You have the clan you join. YOU HAVE YOUR TEACUP COLLECTION. Oh yeah and your stats but that’s like the bingo free square.
It’s a -mess- and if you don’t properly engage with these systems at the right point, you can be putting yourself far behind and not know it. You’ll be given multiple options of how to deal with excess soul cores and equipment, but you won’t know what is the right one. You will accrue money and have no idea what to spend it on because of the churn of equipment. It’s convoluted garbage that possibly appears to some spreadsheet lovers out there, but I’m certain even by spreadsheet standards, these numbers and systems could be much better. In fact, I’m not sure if I can trust anyone who loves spreadsheets and character action games. That seems pretty sus to me. I got my eye on y’all.
So for awhile I was digging the game. I was enjoying the gameplay even while I hated the homework. Fast and deadly combat on both sides was just nice and exciting and the environment and Japanese horror/mythology aesthetics were dope. This game just had a ton of cool haunted shit. Occasionally I’d hit a stumbling block, but I’d be enjoying the stages enough that I’d want to push through
Enenra was my first stumbling point and gave me the sensation I hate the most in a hard game. Enenra’s beefy health guage made him a battle of endurance, and many of his attacks seemed rather unfairly sudden (a huge issue in the game in general). A favorite was a him having two “Burst counterable” moves, one of which was rare but seemed unreactable by most people (turns out one of your 3 ‘burst counters’ can’t reasonably burst counter a bunch of moves in the game and the game makes no indication to you that “hey maybe a different guardian spirits burst counter will help!”) and would hit you for a lot. So I ended up in a situation where I felt like I had the boss figured out — I could execute my plan and I KNEW it would eventually work, but I just had to wait for that attack to come up less than in other runs. When I beat Enenra, I felt nothing. I had already stopped growing like 15 attempts ago. It was like your friend finally showing up late — a weird twinge of relief and annoyance.
After that I pressed on. Pretty deep into the game from what people told me. Occasionally a boss would be stupid or have some dumb attacks that were poorly telegraphed but I could muscle through for the things I liked. But then I hit the turning point. The game felt like it was no longer changing. Levels were just fighting the same yokai over and over again. Human enemies were chumps — fun to fight, but nothing new and exciting was going on there…. and the yokai… Most of them didn’t really need to be approached very differently. Most of the skills I could upgrade were boring bonuses and none of my equipment or yokai abilities were game changing. I just did… more of the same. The enemies stayed the same. The environments stayed the same. The bosses were a crap shoot between ‘pretty good’ and ‘bad’ but oh boy did I hit into Shibata Katsuie.
Shibata is a pretty infamous boss with Nioh 2 which was apparently already nerfed several times before I even got to him. Like Enenra, he’s a huge tank with sudden damaging attacks who just seems to -do stuff-. He’d be far from the hardest challenge I’d overcome in a game but I got hit by a feeling that was nagging at me for awhile. I felt like I was giving a lot to this game and getting nothing back. The game asks a lot of skill from me, but doesn’t reward me emotionally. I don’t get to see a cool new area, I don’t get to find cool new weapons, I don’t get to unlock cool new abilities or fight cool new enemies. Maybe I’ll get one new enemy. Maybe. The poor balance of the game didn’t even let me feel the thrill of victory. Victory, when it came on hard bosses always felt like they were overdue. I took a week off from the game, came back, did like 5 attempts, did much better but… just didn’t feel anything. I was waiting for my friend to show up again. I’d have no sense of accomplishment when he was dead and nothing exciting would happen in the next mission. I’d get more of the kinda incomprehensible story that I lacked the historic context to properly appreciate (which I’m sure is awesome for people who know more about japanese history), but… without the context it doesn’t mean much to me.
So at that point, I decided I was done with the game and would write this to seal it. I knew I’d enjoy doing literally anything else. There is, at least for me, a comfort in having done a lot of hard things in games. I never have to doubt myself like “Maybe I just have to get good” because I -know- I can get good. Or go at grind for levels or loot or look up a cheese build and use a book of reincarnation or ANYTHING. The question instead for me is: Does this game make me want to get good?
No, it absolutely did not. Through all it’s improvements from Nioh 1, it could not engage me on that level and that makes me sad. I would not call Nioh 2 “A weak game with redeeming qualities”. It’s a good game with some strong flaws. If the good parts align with your interests and the bad stuff is stuff you tend not to notice, it’s great and I can say that because I know plenty of people who say its great. For me, at lot of things it did that people like if stuff I don’t enjoy (build tweaking and grinding) and the stuff it fucks up is stuff that hits all the wrong nerves. I like the game enough that if it were easier I’d push through it, enjoying a moderate challenge and some good vibes… but none of that is worth overcoming the harder parts of the game for me.
Maybe it’ll get Better
During all this I was constantly cursing Team Ninja. “You guys have been making character action games for like 15 years, how can you fuck up boss design and get shown up by the company that made Kings Field??????”… but that’s not fair. I actually went through the credits and saw what a Ship of Theseus Team Ninja is. Barely anyone in design rolls worked on much else. This is a company trying to rebuild institutional knowledge. Judging from patches, they hear complaints, see where they fucked up, and try and make improvements. If I treat them like a relatively new company making their first IP, the growth from Nioh to Nioh 2 would be inspiring. Even with its flaws, Nioh 2 is a game I almost really liked, which is why all of this is so frustrating to me. So maybe with that in mind, Nioh 3 will be a game I like.
Ninja Taro (or it’s proper name, Sengoku Ninja-kun) is the exact type of game I hope to find when randoming in through old roms. I can’t expect to find some beautiful classic I never heard of (unless it’s on some obscure system I never knew about), but I can sometimes stumbled into flawed, quirky games with a good bit of ambition.
Ninja Taro isn’t a particularly good game. Just going by controls, it’s a bad game. But it fits a genre of game I always am interested in when I bump into them. I love finding an old ass Zelda clone. For all its popularity, bold faced Zelda clones are surprisingly rare. Zelda 1 clones are the most rare (Golden Axe Warrior being the only one that quickly comes ot mind) but most fit this weird in between zone between Zelda 1 and a LTTP.
Ninja Taro is right in this zone, though perhaps leaning more toward Zelda 1. The game is fairly linear but doesn’t restrict you. You can, and sometimes must backtrack. The game wants you to go one place, but the level design tries to keep up the illusion of a larger world. The overall structure of Ninja Taro is excellent, perfect for a Gameboy game. A more guided version of Zelda that never completely veers into restricted linearity.
Ninja Taro’s biggest issue sadly is it simply doesn’t feel good to play. 4 way awkward grid movement makes combat more about standing in the right spot and waiting for enemies to do all the work rather than active combat. Attacking on the move just isn’t a reliable thing, and you have to wait for Taro stop move to the next sub-grid piece before taking an action.
Most of the items you get are utterly useless. The game gives you ninja camo, fire, bombs and probably some other stuff, but no situation merits using anything but unlimited use swords and protectiles. Even bosses fall fast enough to rapid attacks that using any of these items is simply a waste of time
The game contains other gadgets. Ladders, bridges, sacred offerings… but having to go into the menu to equip them, use them, and then back to reequip your favorite sub weapon is needlessly tedious. Almost a punishment for misplaced ambition.
The game still gives a lot to find. You regularly find powerups for your basic weapons. We’re not talking about like a “+8 sword” like I found at least 30 of them for one of my swords and all that damage adds up. With pickups for two swords and 3 different throwing weapons, plus health, there is a lot of rewards for looking around. The weapon variety isn’t great though. You quickly find a sword that hits in all 8 spaces around you and thee is little reason not to use it. I theorize there might be more +1s for the default sword, ultimately leading to it doing more damage, but given how fast bosses die, this would be a weak sacrifice. Short ranged ninja stars seem to have more damage than throwing knives, but there range is so short they seem pointless to use over a sword. I enjoy the variety in the game, but the bloat does take a toll in terms of usability
While bosses are underwhelming, basic enemy design is neat? While your movement sucks, they seem to be designed with that in mind, being varied but predictable, allowing you to plan. Some are just dumb simple tanks, some always turn 90 degrees. some grow in ever growing circles, but regardless they’re all easy to understand.
The game is mostly linear but there seems to be things you can do in different orders and other things like optional bosses. It’s extremely fleshed out in a way you wouldn’t assume from the game in the first 10 minutes. It manages to set up simple stories and reoccurring characters that are extremely basic yet perfect for an early Gameboy game.
The game is simple looking but at moments the art drifts into the grotesque. Walls with eyes, giant fleshy demons. All great stuff mixed in with this otherwise cute game.
Sadly the game drags at the end. The difficulty ramps up exponentially. The game has no lives and forgiving continues. You keep all items and other progress when you die, but simply get sent back to the nearest town you saved at. Sadly by the last areas of the game are large and the travel time to retry grows and grows. The game also gets way into illusionary walls near the end, which adds to the crazed level of trial and error. I could forgive a lot about the game but this dragged it down a lot for me. Fortunately some online maps makes things a little bit more reasonable.
Is Ninja Taro worth playing? Probably not. But if you like weird old quirky games not a lot of people have played, it’s kinda cool? Definitely glad I finished it.
So at this point my blog is used about once a year to act as a year-end roundup for all the important games I’ve played. I realize now that this is stupid. Why try and remember a game I played 12 months ago when I can write about them as it happens?
So, for whatever reason recently (actually it was because of some tweets but that doesn’t matter) I was like “Huh! I’ve never played a Tony Hawk game! I should take care of that!”
I started with no particular destination in mind but I managed to span from THPS1 to THUG2 before moving on to some other skate games… but we’ll get there in a sec.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1
What is the essence of a skateboarding game? What is realism? Can an arcade game speak essential truths about a real world activity? What, at it’s core, is a Tony Hawk game?
The answer is “Mario 64”. At it’s best, Tony Hawk Pro Skater is Mario 64 through the lens of a skateboarder and skateboarding problem solving. Skateboarding, in it’s most punk sense, is an activity where one uses a skateboard as a tool to impose your will on the world. Mario 64 is a game about inflicting your will through what might as well be parkour. The worlds in these games might be designed with you in mind, but they are not designed as tracks to be followed. They are Connect-the-Dots puzzles that give you a gentle guideline that both games encourage you to chaotically scribble over.
Even the metaphor of collecting tapes has much the same feel as collecting stars. The levels are smaller, you’re restricted to a minute time limit, but even then you explore and search for secrets. The games are not brothers, but they are close cousins.
The game looked surprisingly good, the controls, while a bit rough, well exceeded what I expected from a PS1 game and the level design was mostly extremely strong with occasional moments of extreme pain. Also the soundtrack ruled. A soundtrack of mostly stuff I didn’t know felt really appropriate for a skateboarding game. Despite it’s humble origins as the first game, it’s still one of my favorites.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2
This game has some serious “go big or go home” energy. Everything is bigger,
the controls are smoother, the first level along is filled with crazy interactive elements. Customization, unlockable boards, create a character… The game was loaded. Granted, when I saw I could only choose between some basic parts to make my own teenage male dweeb I just went with Rodney Mullen. But hey, it’s a start.
The biggest stealth downgrade in the game is the money system. Not only does it somehow seem to degrade the Mario 64 “stars” feeling of the game, it makes unlocking things and buying stats all the more tedious and menu heavy.
Another downgrade for me was the soundtrack. At the time it would have been an upgrade, but playing it now it’s like… Powerman 5000?? God, remember when they were big? It’s not bad, but it lacks the griminess THPS1’s soundtrack had. Like simply “not having the Dead Kennedys” is a big downgrade already.
The biggest and most important feature is the manual. THPS1’s biggest combo limiter was the grind. If there was no way to jump to a new grind, there was no way to extend a combo. Using a manual to link tricks and act as a bridge between grinds allows the game combo system to completely wild. Now vert is the bastard child of the game — you can’t combo into or out of a vert in a reasonable way but at least you can get some special tricks in.
With this, the tension to perform gets higher but the rewards for skill gets higher too. Still, the game isn’t ‘complete yet’. While a huge upgrade from 1, the games that come after it for me makes THPS2 one of the lesser games in the early series.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3
THPS3 is the big finale for classic Tony Hawk. As the final game to feature the “2 minute round” gameplay, THPS3 is easily the best of the early entries. I moved to the PS2 for this one and the game just felt rock solid compared to earlier entries. Most of the finickiness was gone. The level design for this style of play is at its peak.
Reverts become the final piece of the mechanics puzzle. Reverting into a manual out of a vert landing now makes it so every aspect of the game can be chained together, with the only limiting factor being speed. Grinds are now more magnetic and impart a lot of speed, allowing for even more ridiculous, winding paths through levels.
Despite being great, there is surprisingly little to say about the game. Most of the stuff that applies to 1 and 2 applies here. The game is just great, with all the mechanics firing on all cylinders.
Tony Hawk Pro Skater 4
THPS4 is an important entry in the series that suffers from the fact that it is so quickly obsoleted. It’s big gimmick? Ditching the 2 minute rounds to make exploratory levels. I like this change in concept, but THPS4 hasn’t figured quite how to pull it off. Insread of having Mario 64 style exploration, you just kinda go from quest giver to quest giver, slowly depopulating the levels until you are left with a barren free skating level.
Yeah there are new mechanics. Spine transfers, skitching, probably something else… but it doesn’t matter. The core is there without these mechanics. Also the new mission structure leads to some… funky missions. The whole free open structure was used as an excuse by the devs to make a few stupidly brutal missions. You get to meet some pro skaters too which was probably really cool at the time… but it never quite comes together? The flow just isn’t there, leaving THPS4 as a very forgettable game. It’s not bad, it’s just… not much.
Tony Hawk’s Underground
Underground is easily my favorite Tony Hawk game. You get into and out of missions quickly now, keeping a pace through the game that gets it back to that “Mario 64” energy. The move from “Pro Skating” to “Underground” doesn’t change much. Tony Hawk games always had that scummy, grimey feeling that is accurate to pro skating… but it does lead into the story.
Story?? Tony Hawk? Well, shockingly, it… works? It works SURPRISINGLY WELL? Your quest to become pro with your scummy best friend who betrays you for fame shockingly has emotional weight. Eric Sparrow is a piece of shit and it rules. Your relationship seems genuine, his dumbfuckedness seems genuine and him totally turning full douche has just strikes the right balance.
Sadly, I could write a whole blog post on how the Eric Sparrow story fails to pay off. You finally get to be in a competition with this dickhead who stole your footage and you’re ready to embarrass and crush him and he… gets second place? Eric Sparrow is a great skateboarder. All his success is earned. He’s a piece of shit but he’s a talented one. The story concludes with you chasing him down a huge line, following him move for move to get back your lost footage and you… beat him simply by keeping up with him. You don’t prove he’s a fraud. You don’t best him. You merely match him. THE GAME GOT ME TO HATE THIS SON OF A BITCH BUT COULDN’T GIVE ME THE PAYOFF. UGH.
One funny note on the game is if you play as a girl the game is kinda hilariously and awesomely gay. None of the dialog is rewritten so your character will talk about liking russian girls and will have Rodney Mullen scold her for checking out bikini babes. I can imagine the conversation in neversoft. “But if we allow custom girls we’ll need two scripts.” “Like hell we will, make her gay!”
But more importantly, the levels are fast, breezy and fun. You can get off your board now for better and worse — making it easier to get into position but also leading to ridiculous things like… stealth sections?? There are some other mechanics too but they don’t really mean much. At this point in Tony Hawk, most of the mechanics are filler and the real gift is the formula. It’s hard to articulate how fast you can blow through missions and how much just… punchier it feels than THPS4. THUG1 has its cake and eats it. It has its rough points (besides the story, the last segment in the game is kinda tedious and dumb and weird), but it mostly works, has a fun art style and is charming. It exceeded all my expectations.
Tony Hawk’s Underground 2
This game is…. a lot. And not necessarily in a good way. The style is pretty great. The energy is pretty great. Bam Margera is occasionally even funny in a “this happened so long ago it’s cringe wraps around to ironic” kind of way but… it just kinda doesn’t pull things off. At this point, the missions stop feeling like they’re about skating. You’re basically doing fetch quests with a little bit of skating in between. It’s chaos, with skateboarding as a secondary, almost forgotten feature. You get one high score challenge per level that’s your real change to skate, but most of it plays like a platformer with a skateboard.
Storywise it kinda… goes nowhere. Nothing happens. Nothing develops. You don’t know when the ending is going to come. Like sure sometimes Bob Burnquist gets nuts in the balls with a tennis ball and Eric Sparrow is finally, almost apologetically treated like an absolute loser but it… generally just feels like a bunch of stuff happens and then the game ends. That’d be fine, if the game part was good — that’s been the whole serious up until Underground 1 — but it isn’t. Some of the pro skaters get to show some personality I guess?? That’s kinda cool? I feel like this game has the perfect read on who Tony Hawk actually seems to be: An entity of chaos who is just really good at pretending to be respectable. He’s the guy who you have talk to the cops when they show up. Not that he hates them any less than you, he can just fake it better.
There IS a whole ‘classic mode’ that seems way better than the main story mode. I didn’t play through all of it and it seems a little poorly fit, but I still had the most fun playing that way. The spraypaint tag editor is surprisingly detailed but… serves little purpose? The game does stuff to do stuff. Here, drive vehicles which are more boring than skate boarding. Throw shrimp at people I guess. I don’t know, who cares about the mechanics of the game?? It’s a letdown.
The game also goes from zero lines of tweaked dialog for female characters to 1: Your character gesturing to her breasts to appeal to Bam Margera, asking him how he could chose a kid in a wheelchair over THESE???
The only part of this that bothered me was the idea of coming on to Bam Margera like please have some self respect. At the end of the day the game lost it’s way by trying to be Jackass. Apparently American Wasteland pulls this off better, but at this point I was burnt out on Tony Hawk. End result?
THUG1 > THPS3 > THPS1 > THPS2 > THUG2 = THPS4
WAIT WHAT WE’RE STILL GOING???
Hell yeah! I remembered my friend had a copy of Skate 3 and asked if I could borrow it! I figured after all this arcadey Skating I should try something more on the simulation spectrum.
Skate 3 is weird all the way through. From the intro video to the weird meta lines, to the horrible mission structure to it’s weird blend of ‘this is a more serious and realistic skateboarding game’ and ‘throw yourself out of a bell tower to see how many bones you can break’. Skate 3 is weird.
What differentiates Skate from THPS? Skate controls much harder. Grinds have to be lines up and your inputs much match the grinds you want to do. Flip tricks? Flick around the right analog in a manner that resembles how the trick is actually performed. This, combined with lower ollies and other gameplay factors take Skate away from the endless combo gameplay of THPS. Tony Hawk can be STRESSFUL You’re constantly pushing your luck, at risk of losing it all. Skate 3 just wants you to go and do your best. What’s more… Skate 3 is funner to play around it. Screwing around and freeskating in THPS felt pointless. I could be working toward a real goal! doing anything actually impressive in THPS felt incredibly stressful. Skate 3? you can cruise around a mostly open world, fool around and save and edit clips of the cool things you did. Which is important because the actual game and its missions suck. Boringly right goals or super specific tricks or just super repetitive gameplay in modes designed for multiplayer that I feel like no one actually ever wanted to play
Instead, the funnest thing to do in the game was to cruise. The flick-it style controls leads to an intimate relationship between you and your board. I just found myself doing things for the sake of doing them, something I never did in Tony Hawk. If Tony Hawk is a game about epic lines, Skate 3 is about intimacy with ‘the trick’. Or it would be, if not for another game…
Sadly most of Skate 3 is busted. The servers are down. DLC packs you need to say… upload footage to youtube? Gone. Custom decals and stuff? Gone. bu it’s okay, I was able to use cell phone footage to cut together a video part because I’m lame as hell.
This is the character I’ve been playing in all the other Tony Hawk games. She’s supposed to be Sinlen’s maid, which is inspired obviously by that one artist everyone has to see on twitter all the time. But anyways, Skate 3’s half dead state lead me to get my chill, cruisin’ skate vibes elsewhere, especially since Skate 3 had other issues. The map just felt… almost comedically conducive to skateboarding. When everywhere is a spot, nothing feels like a spot. I found myself avoiding extremely crazy ramps and super obvious tricks because it just felt like it was handed to me on a silver platter.
Skate 3 is not the ‘simulationist side’ of the skateboard spectrum. Maybe it’s simulationist-of-center? But either way, SESSION is the game that truly is the simulationists skateboarding game.
The controls are an obvious progression from Skate, where it clearly draws its influence. Where Tony Hawk had tricks as a binary input, Skate had them as an analog input. Session? 2 analogs. One for each foot. Want to ollie in Skate? you slam the analog down and then up. Session? You hit down with your back foot and up with your front foot. Kickflip? Down with your back foot, to the side with the front foot. And the incredible thing? When you 180 and go switch… the analogs reverse.
The thing with THPS and Skate is… Switch hardly matters. Yeah technically you skate worse switch in both games, but I never noticed the difference. Sure in Skate if you’re switch, a kickflip input becomes a heelflip input, but… from a game perspective, I don’t care if I don a kickflip or a heel flip. At least not until I’m made to care. In THPS I rarely cared what tricks I was doing. Are they fast or slow?? Skate… I’d be concerned about the GENRE of a trick. Shuvits vs kick/heels vs bigger fancy flips and like sometimes I’d want a specific grind but I’d just be happy to hit the rail… Switch? Forget about it? Nollies? An afterhought (or ‘never’ in THPS).
Session though… it makes things so much more tactile that I care. It’s not even necessarily harder. Having two whole analogs make the inputs less tiny and precise! I’m way more consistent in Session than Skate… but in a way that feels authentic? Skating switch matters. Doing something “fakie” makes sense. Switch is frustrating, but in a way it’s SUPPOSED to be because actually skating switch is hard as fuck. The game doesn’t penalize you for what stance your in — your hands do.
You also turn with the shoulders which trips people up, but it kinda feels great? No accidental turning or anything. The game is fun just to cruise in without tricks, especially since you get to explore a legitimate slice of NYC. It’s a big learning curve for osme people but I took to it super fast.
There is also manual catching, where you have to input an analog to actually catch your tricks in the air at the right time. Now what tricks you do matter. The timing to catch a treflip is different from catching a 360 hardflip, even when they ‘feel roughly like the same trick’ when I’m playing Skate. Heel flips are slower than kickflips. Shovits are extremely forgiving but might make you land crooked. Now I EXTREMELY CARE about what move I’m doing. Now everything is intentional and when it isn’t, I feel extremely lucky. The game is just awesome.
The problems? Well, in some ways the two foot metaphor doesn’t work. Like riding regular, down on the right analog followed by up on the left is an ollie. But switch it… feels like that should also work to get a fakie ollie? Instead, fakie ollie is up on the right stick, down on the left. This is kinda a compromise since things would get weird otherwise. Oh yeah, this is also an early access game. In fact, there is no game to speak of. You can get footage, but the clip editor is super buggy (ALWAYS KEEP BACKUPS, ESPECIALLY WHEN ADDING FOV AND SPEED KEYFRAMES). Collisions can be dumb. Grinds can be buggy. Anyone who follows me on twitter has probably seen a ton of funny bugs. Customization is limited unless, like me, you’re willing to mod the game (which isn’t HARD but also requires UE and isn’t easy either. Intermediate modding!).
… But despite it’s flaws, it really kinda rules? If you think this is a game for you, it probably is, and if you have misgivings, they’re probably warrented. Anyways have my Maid’s next video part because I’m the least cool person on earth.
Expect more about Session when it finally matures into a full game.