Get hype for Blade Strangers

It’s a good time to be a fan of fighting games and their relatives. I’m not all that happy about Capcom’s recent forays, but hey, we’ve got options: the recently updated Guilty Gear Xrd REV 2, the gorgeous Tekken 7, the not-so-gorgeous King of Fighters XIV. The Melee scene continues to grow. Skullgirls is still receiving updates. Injustice 2 seems fun if you’re into that. And so on.

To add another title to the pile, Nicalis and Studio Saizensen are working on their take on fighting games with Blade Strangers, to be released on the Switch, PS4, and PC toward the end of this year. The game will feature various characters from the developers’ pasts, including Curly Brace from Cave Story (!!!), Kawase from Umihara Kawase, and an assortment of folks from Code of Princess.

Who exactly is this game for, you ask? I’m not sure. But I am definitely excited about it.

According to developer commentary linked above, the goal with Blade Strangers is to maintain a level of depth to keep this thing competitive while maintaining playability for anybody who wants to pick it up. This means easier inputs (“like Smash”) and a focus on ground interactions as opposed to the high-flying madness of Marvel and Guilty Gear. Right now, it’s hard to say how that’ll shake out in the end, but here’s what I do know so far:

  • Blade Strangers looks great. Despite being a little choppy, the animations convey character personalities and are overall pretty fluid, and some characters have really cool sneakers. Similarly, the stages (which will include Sand Zone from Cave Story) are detailed and easy on the eyes.
  • Matthias Bossi and Jon Evans, the composers from The Binding of Isaac, are handling sounds.
  • There will be Story, Training, and Mission modes.
  • Counter hits seem to cause an inordinate amount of hitstun, so don’t get caught going dumb.
  • Gameplay seems a little on the slow side; hopefully that can change with expertise, and won’t be an inherent part of the way it plays.
  • There will be post-release patches and updates, ranging from optimizations to new content. In the video, they mention that “Unlike Capcom, we don’t charge for characters.” Icy stuff.

Right now, Blade Strangers feels like it’ll be relegated to niche side tournaments rather than being a main event, but I’m still looking to get my hands on it. I’ll be picking it up for the Switch in Q4.

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Who I’m Excited to See Play at Genesis 3

In January I’ll be flying into San Francisco to stay with a friend for a week, and I’ll be spending three of those days holed up in the sweaty San Jose Convention Center watching an incredible number of people play Melee at Genesis 3. I haven’t been to a major since EVO 2011 and I’m really looking forward to it. Here are some of the players I’m most excited to see play at the first major of 2016:


westonWestballz has always been one of my favorite players because of his unparalleled shines per second and being just slightly scary sometimes, and the dude has been on a tear lately. After an already successful 2015, he nabbed 4th place at DreamHack Winter and convincingly took out Mango and Leffen in the process. He seems like he’s finally spending a little less time Phantasming off the stage and a little more time killing it in the neutral–hopefully he keeps it that way in January, and hopefully I keep my cool when I see his outrageous shield pressure in person.


DUCKMaybe it’s a weird Midwest bias thing, but I definitely think Duck has it in him to go far at Genesis 3. Though the Michigan Samus is no stranger to performing impressively, he has really stepped it up this year and done well at almost every tournament he’s attended, especially when compared to his performance in 2014. He’s definitely my favorite Samus to watch, and these recent victories against Leffen and Swedish Delight (set unfortunately cut off just before the end) show off the improved fundamentals he’s been incorporating into his flashy style of play.


zhuIt’s hard to not get excited about a guy whose biggest claims to fame are inexplicably SDing at critical moments (admittedly he’s made great progress in distancing himself from this) and getting Wombo Combo’d (which he will never escape). He may have gone 0-2 at The Smash Summit, but during his set with Mango Zhu played like he had figured some things out and managed to keep the games close. Had he not been Pokemon Stadium’d in the last stock of his awesome set with Axe in Losers, I think he definitely had it in him to go further in the bracket. If he spends some hours in the lab between now and Genesis, I could see him showing everybody what’s what. I’ll certainly have my eye on him, and not just because he’s the best-dressed Smasher (sorry Prog!).

Silent Wolf

Silent Wolf has been one of my favorite players for a long time, and I do everything I can to try and not think about that one match with Axe because he really is one of the crispiest and most technical Fox players out silent wolfthere. His tournament attendance in 2015 has been sparse (somebody sponsor this dude), and so more than anything I’m curious to see how his run in 2016 will look. If his victories over the likes of DruggedFox and Bladewise at Northwest Majors: Drop Zone and various Top 10 players at HTC Throwdown are any indication, he’s got the potential to do well at Genesis. But the lack in data makes it hard to say for sure – he could also go out like a buster.


mangoSpeaking of going out like a buster, what’s been up with this guy this year? Whatever it is, it ain’t good as he’s been losing sets left and right to people he has historically obliterated. I’m hesitant to be wildly reactionary and say The Kid is obsolete, but for the first time in years the tournaments where he brings home the gold feel more like anomalies than business as usual. Given his concise apology tweets and medal toss at EVO this year, he’s obviously pretty torn up about it. Will he continue down this path going into the new year, or will he make the necessary adjustments to get back on top? Regardless, I am sure his performance will be upsetting one way or another.

I realize that this is a pretty spacies-heavy list, but hey, it’s a spacies-heavy game. Of course I am excited to see some of my favorites like s2j and Eddy Mexico hop in the ring, but these are definitely the guys I’m most curious about. Here’s hoping I don’t eat any of my words.



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Thoughts on neurotically collecting cats

cat6Let’s cut to the chase: I don’t like mobile games and the trend towards them frightens me. But here I am, checking on my damn cats several times a day.

Neko Atsume is a cat collecting simulator developed and released by Hit-Point for iOS and Android last October in Japan. The premise is simple: certain cats like certain toys, furniture, and food, and it’s up to you to put those things out to make them come and visit you. They’re transient critters, exiting your humble abode once they’ve had their fill. But as mercurial as they are, they’re definitely not ungrateful. Upon departing, they leave you currency (silver and gold fish) to buy more stuff with. The cycle repeats, and before you know it you’ve got an impressive collection of cats and more toys and furniture than you know what to do with.

The game was recently localized for English speakers (much to the joy of any Westerner with an even slight interest in All Things Japanese) and has been adding even more users to its half billion. It’s an impressive figure, even for mobile games which generally have a much easier time in racking up downloads than full-fledged console games. People frickin’ love this game. 

And hey, despite the fact that I feel like I should be hating it, I’m loving the game cat5as well. There’s undoubtedly a dimension of addiction to this; Neko Atsume wants you to keep playing it and it does a damn good job of accomplishing that. But there’s also a part of me that believes Neko Atsume is a legitimately good video game.

Neko Atsume delivers its rewards at a gradual trickle à la Animal Crossing. There’s a plethora of cats to see, things to buy, and layouts to experiment with. You can optimize your garden all you want, buying the best food and maximizing the amount of space available for visiting cat, but the game still won’t move all that quickly because it won’t make cats come and go any faster.

The only real way to accelerate Neko Atsumepace is to buy in-game currency using real dough and completely buy out the shop. At that point, all that’s left to do is put out the right items and watch the cats come. 

cat3But this sort of ruins the experience. This game can take up a lot of time and I think you should let it (if you want to enjoy it). While the short term instant gratification of total completion is nice, there’s not much to this game if you just spend all your time watching cats come and go. Neko Atsume’s sense of progression, scattered with moments finally being able to afford this or that and finally being able to see a sought-after cat, is what makes it compelling. It’s at least partly the same strategy Bandai employed to turn the Tamagotchi into a gargantuan success, or to use a previous example, how Nintendo keeps managing to sell tons and tons of copies of Animal Crossing. I think that if you want to experience Neko Atsume for all that it has to offer, you’re better off accumulating currency at slower clip and just enjoying the ride.

Of course, there are other lovely things about this game that have held my attention. The art and music are adorable without being nauseating and the soundtrack (a single looping track that somehow doesn’t get old) create an environment oozing with tranquility with that greatly benefits the mobile platform. Checking in on my cats is pretty much always a positive experience.cat1

Can anyone really be surprised that a cat collecting simulator is taking the world by storm? Probably not. Fortunately, while this kind of thing can happen whether or not a game is “good”, I’m happy to say that Hit-Point have done a great job with this one. Once I’ve seen every cat and bought every toy and piece of furniture, Neko Atsume will assuredly lose its grip on me. I’m happy to keep on collecting until then.

(And maybe slightly less happy to be checking in on them forty times a day because I could not help myself if I tried.)

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Bathos: Finding the right key


I am surrounded by keys and none of them do a damn thing.

There’s an endless list of things you can do with 48 hours. For instance, you might finally tackle one of the four hundred games you bought in the Steam Sale or you might rush to finish your taxes. But if you were Johan Peitz, you’d make Bathos, a free browser game that puts you in the shoes of an unnamed man stuck in a dilapidated room with no recollection of how he got there.

Bathos focuses on a singular and simple mechanic like most browser games. After approaching the door for the first time and discovering it’s been locked, a key falls from the sky. But of course, it fails to open the lock. Two more keys appear. You run over, grab them, bring them back to the door, but they too cannot free you. More keys drop from the void. You see where this is going.

It’s tough to talk about the claustrophobic and atmospheric Bathos without spoiling the whole thing, so I’ll say this: Peitz manages to do something clever here. Check it out.

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Crusader of Centy Retrospective

It’s hard to overstate The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past‘s impact on the video game industry. What can you possibly say that hasn’t already been said over the last twenty-four years? With its impeccable design, inventive dungeons, and a mid-game twist that doubled the already plentiful playable space (a notable achievement both creatively a technically), the third Zelda game is often lauded as a classic that revolutionized the action-adventure genre and gave the Super Nintendo a sizable edge against the Sega Genesis.

Of course, the kind of creative magic that Miyamoto and Tezuka managed to tap into to make A Link to the Past was imitated. Ingenuity is always followed by shovelware. Someone creates a game that commands the attention of the entire gaming world, and then before you know it you’re swimming through an ocean of uninspired knockoffs. Sometimes they’re cash grabs, sometimes they’re honest efforts by people who didn’t (or couldn’t) innovate enough. Whatever the case may be, they’re often unimpressive. 

But not always! There’s always a handful of games that take the formula and make something great out of it. Look at the acclaimed Secret of Mana, which although takes many cues from A Link to the Past (an almost unnecessary note, as almost all games do in one way or another), provides an imaginative experience that more than holds up today. But there’s a lesser known action-adventure game that, despite lacking polish, you should still consider playing: Crusader of Centy.

Crusader of Centy Retrospective - Sonic Cameo screenshotWhen Atlus published Centy for the Genesis in 1994, it mostly flew under the radar. Copies now go for almost two-hundred dollars to prove it. Its poor sales aren’t surprising, as it was an action-adventure game released into a market that had flooded with games just like it over the course of three years. And like those other games, 
Centy bears a shameless amount of resemblance to A Link to the Past. You play as Corona, a young boy hacking and slashing his way through the once peaceful world of Soleil which has now been infested with monsters. Along the way, you travel through various biomes and collect medals to obtain ‘the Holy Sword’, the only weapon powerful enough to vanquish the ultimate evil at the end of the game. And, naturally, when all hope is seemingly lost, you gain the ability to travel to a different but identical version of the regular world, and what occurs in this new world directly affects the old one. I could go on, but I’ve made my point: The inspiration is obvious. But in its differences, Centy manages to be a charming, occasionally thought-provoking adventure worth your afternoon.

Perhaps the biggest difference between the two games is the focus on story. A Link to the Past undoubtedly creates an amazing, consistent universe, but it’s difficult to argue that its conventional narrative is one of its finer points; it simply acts as a vehicle for the gameplay. Clear the dungeons and save the princess and the world at large. Centy, on the other hand, tells a less traditional story. After the introductory bits that teach you how to swing your sword and maneuver around Soleil, you encounter a fortune teller who disables your ability to speak with humans, leaving you only able to communicate with animals.

Crusader of Centy Retrospective - Sonic Cameo screenshotThis sets the stage for game’s central question: Are monsters inherently evil? In 1994, most video games answered with a resounding “yes”. Centy challenges this mentality, sometimes giving monsters voices and slightly more than one-dimensional personalities. One of the more poignant scenes occurs when a magician transforms you into a monster. To undo it, you must infiltrate a village exclusively inhabited by other monsters and find someone versed in such magic. Just before you do, you’re confronted by monsters who speak sorrowfully about the idea that the world ain’t big enough for them and humans to coexist. It’s tough to not feel bad for them, and the guilt is made far worse when you’re almost immediately turned back into a human and have to slaughter all of them to get out of the building. It’s simple, if a bit hamfisted in its approach, but the moment of moral pause followed by a return to the familiar manages to be unsettling. I won’t say that Centy  looks carefully after its own narrative and brings it into focus at every turn, but it does so just enough to keep you engaged in what’s happening in the world around Corona. 

Crusader of Centy Retrospective - Sonic Cameo screenshotSoleil’s non-humans also dictate the game’s power-ups. Rather than picking up or buying items like you do in Zelda, you gain abilities through animals that join you along the way. It usually takes some convincing in the form of an item or an action. Their effects are recognizable to anyone that’s touched a game like this. Flash the Cheetah lets you run faster. Chilly the Penguin gives your sword ice damage. Wong the Raccoon acts as a decoy. You can equip two at once to create new, synergic abilities (think Kirby 64). Useless on her own, Moa the Ostrich is devoted to this mechanic, strengthening the ability of the other equipped animal.

The power-ups are hit or miss. A few of them are almost completely useless, and unfortunately many of the animals are met in the the ending hours of the game, making you wonder what could have been had the journey been just a little longer. But Centy gives you the sense that these animals, who have distinct personalities, have been around for Soleil for a long time and would be going about their business even if you weren’t around to see them. Befriending them acts as a nice departure from the standard acquisition of Link’s toolset, and it ties in nicely with the game’s general themes too. 

Crusader of Centy Retrospective - Sonic Cameo screenshotTelltale signs of a crappy knockoff are uninspired art and grating, repetitive melodies that vaguely resemble music. I’m thrilled to report that Centy doesn’t suffer from these. Although it lacks the visual and musical consistency that helped make A Link to the Past a behemoth of an experience, it doesn’t feature anything grievous. Everything is pleasantly vibrant and some of the spritework is actually kind of impressive. The bouncy music fits in nicely with the bounciness of the world. My main complaint is that it’s all a little too cheery when compared to the story whose most interesting elements are pretty serious, but it didn’t make me put the controller down.

Unfortunately, the biggest issue in Crusader of Centy is Crusader of Centy Retrospective - Sonic Cameo screenshotits gameplay. The game was designed for children, and it’s not hard to tell. There isn’t a satisfyingly challenging bone in Centy‘s eight hour body. Beating a couple of the bosses requires a little mental footwork, but none of them require more than a few minutes to defeat. The puzzles are no different, more often than not requiring the same box pushing, sword throwing, and gap jumping the game quickly gets you used to. There are more challenging platforming sections that reward you with extra hearts and money, but there’s no motivation to get them in a game so easy with few opportunities to actually buy things.

Even with all of this in mind, I can’t say that playing through Crusader of Centy wasn’t an enjoyable experience. It unabashedly borrows from the Super Nintendo’s Zelda masterpiece and lacks polish, difficulty, and a good translation, but it’s never boring. Running around Soleil is fun and the game sufficiently encourages you to keep pushing the story forward. Sure, A Link to the Past is a much, much better and more fulfilling game, but that’s not always what I’m looking for. Sometimes I’m itching to just sit on the couch and relax with something easy that I can just pick up and play. It’s the same feeling that makes me pop in Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest instead of Final Fantasy VI. If you ever feel like that and like action-adventure games, Crusader of Centy might be just what you need. It’s a game that deserves your attention.

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