My Top 10 Favorite Super Smash Bros. Characters

I watched a lot of great top 10 videos during my early days on YouTube.  Since I love ranking things, it wasn’t long before I started making them myself.  I thought it might be fun to start putting some on ScreenLooker.  Why not list my my top 10 favorite characters in my favorite crossover/fighting game ever?  That’s right, it’s Super Smash Bros. for Wii U.

So without further ado, here it is, my top 10 Smash…brothers…I guess?

10 – Mewtwo

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One of Nintendo’s greatest decisions in developing this game was bringing Mewtwo back into Smash Bros., ready for round two.  I remember being super-excited because I’ve always thought Mewtwo was cool, but I never really felt like I got to experience the true extent of his power in the actual Pokemon games.

This was my first taste of Mewtwo in Smash, and it did not disappoint.  Although he’s fairly easy to KO, Mewtwo has some great aerial attacks, amazing mobility, and great mix-up options.  You have to remain firmly in control of the battle to play as Mewtwo, and his play style is unique.  He’s joy to play, and a joy to have back in the game.

9 – Mega Man

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I never grew up with the games, but I still love the Mega Man series – it revolutionized the action platformer and is a massive influence on gaming as a whole, not to mention a super-cool universe in its own right.

Needless to say, I was thrilled when Mega Man was brought into Smash, and was one of my early favorite newcomers.  His projectile game is extremely complex but rewarding, and very faithful to the series.  I’m insanely glad that Mega Man has returned to the spotlight for once, and I hope that he stays there for a while.

8 – Ness

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My attachment to Ness started when I got a Ness amiibo as a gift.  Before that, I mostly ignored Ness.  When I actually started committing to learning the character, though, I discovered that the little guy has a lot of strengths and fun complexities.  His moves are incredibly varied, but come together in a beautifully chaotic harmony.  He may take the title for quirkiest character in Smash for me, keeping his fantastic series, Mother, relevant for years, and I don’t think the game would be the same without him.

7 – Zelda

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I have a tendency to root for underdogs a lot of the time.  I’m well-aware that Zelda is considered the least competitively viable character in this game.  That doesn’t stop me from thinking she’s a good character.  She’s fun to play if you like trapping opponents in complex maneuvers.  Mixing up gameplay between her ranged and close-quarters combat is also a lot of fun.  Zelda is better than ever before, and I prefer her to a lot of high tier characters.

6 – Fox

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Straight-up intense speed in a fighting game really appeals to me. When I was first getting into Super Smash Bros., I liked Fox, but recently, I started getting into the competitive Smash scene.  Like many, I started by watching competitive Melee, in which Fox is considered the best character.

I developed a fascination with the character that I carried into my own experience with the game.  It also helps that, in my opinion, Fox in this most recent version of Smash is the best he’s ever been.  Overall, Fox is one of my favorite characters.  His speed and technicality in high-level play embody what I think the series is all about.

Plus, who wouldn’t love playing as a talking space fox?

5 – Cloud

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I never grew up with Final Fantasy games.  I’ve mostly observed the series from afar, but I always thought Cloud Strife from FF7 was a really cool character, the best representative of the series.  He was also one of my most desired Smash newcomers, but because of the complex licensing deals that would be involved, I never expected him to join the roster.

Needless to say, I was just as jaw-droppingly stunned as the rest of the Smash fanbase when Cloud joined Smash.  I remember seeing his reveal trailer late at night before going to bed.  When I woke up the next day, I wasn’t sure if it was actually real.  But as excited as I was about Cloud, he exceeded expectations.

His unique limit break mechanic not only adds a new layer of strategy to his gameplay, but it adds value to the little pauses in-between attacks during each fight to charge the limit meter.  This unique limit mechanic means that Cloud plays like no other character.  I’m incredibly happy about his inclusion and what it means both for Smash and for gaming as a whole.

4 – Lucina

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Lucina has frequently been written off as a pointless character because she has the same moves as Marth, a three-time Smash Bros. veteran.  Personally, though, I feel like Lucina is actually a better version of Marth.  In fact, despite their identical movesets, I think Lucina is a more accessible character.  She’s less floaty, she’s quicker, and she can do damage more consistently due to her lack of a tipper.  ZeRo (AKA Gonzalo Barrios) has expressed this same opinion.

All of her moves do a consistent amount of damage regardless of where her sword hits the opponent.  This is opposed to Marth, whose attacks do more damage when they make contact near the tip of his blade and less damage when they make contact near the hilt.  On the whole, Lucina is better for players like myself, who like diving into the fray more than being precise.

Above and beyond all this, I have a prior attachment to Lucina.  Her original game, Fire Emblem Awakening, was the first Fire Emblem game I ever owned, and it has since become one of my favorite games.  After playing it, I found Lucina to be an interesting character.  I like that she’s fiercely loyal and kind, but awkward and unsociable because of her lonely upbringing.  A lot of people would have preferred other characters over Lucina,  but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

3 – Sonic

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I’m no longer sure of whether I can still call myself a fan of Sonic games due to its lengthy series of ups and downs, I’m definitely a huge fan of the character himself.  I originally got into Sonic with the release of Sonic Generations in 2011, and since then, I’ve gotten pretty good with Sonic in Smash despite the fact that I used to hate him in the game.

His speedy movements and great recovery make him a serious threat, especially because his moves have gotten stronger since the last game.  Although Sonic as a franchise has gotten a bad reputation recently, I sincerely hope this character doesn’t go anywhere — after all, if anyone deserves to be in Smash Bros., it’s Mario’s greatest rival!

2 – Link

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I have a soft spot for Link because I’ve always been a fan of The Legend of Zelda.  When I first got Super Smash Bros. Brawl, the third game in the series, Link quickly became my favorite character.

Although he’s never been particularly viable in advanced, competitive play, Link has always been one of my go-to characters for his nicely weighted movement, decent capacity to do damage, and variety of powerful projectiles.  He has a lot of potential for technical play, particularly on unusually constructed stages. Watching a skilled Link player in action is an amazing experience.  The amount of planning that goes into an effective Link is staggering.  He’s a character who you can play with easily, but takes extreme skill to truly master, and that makes him one of my favorites.

1 – Shulk

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Before the full roster had been revealed, Shulk was my first choice for a Smash Bros. newcomer.  This was mainly because I owned his original game, Xenoblade Chronicles, and to this day it remains my favorite Japanese RPG, a truly underrated gem.

After I played Xenoblade, I knew Shulk would transition beautifully into Smash Bros.  I was even more right than I thought.  The ingenious designers on Masahiro Sakurai’s team turned him into one of the most complex and interesting characters in the series.

I think Shulk’s greatest strengths are his unique Monado Arts and his incredible range.  His Arts, called Jump, Speed, Shield, Buster, and Smash, are based on his unique abilities from Xenoblade Chronicles.  They allow him to greatly enhance particular attributes for a short time at the expense of giving him temporary weaknesses.  For instance, Buster causes Shulk’s attacks to deal more damage, but while using it, he takes more damage himself.  Arts can be switched out at the drop of a hat as the situation requires, making Shulk a force of nature in the proper hands.

These compliment Shulk’s extreme close quarter range — although most of his moves leave him open when they miss, a clever and patient player can do wonders with him.  To this day, he remains my favorite character to play as in Smash Bros. for Wii U.   It was a tough decision, but Shulk’s great design as a character combined with my love of the Xenoblade series make him my absolute favorite character in Smash to date.

And there we have it!  I hope you all enjoyed my long-considered Smash ramble.  To close, I suppose all I can say is, get the game if you haven’t already.  As far as I’m concerned, it’s one of the best games out there.

New Games Leaked: Pokemon Sun and Pokemon Moon!

Some new rumors have surfaced in anticipation of the Pokemon-themed Nintendo Direct on Friday, February 26th – namely that a 7th generation of games entitled Pokemon Sun and Pokemon Moon is to be announced as part of the broadcast.

Although this hasn’t been confirmed (and won’t be until the Direct at 10:00 AM / 7:00 AM PST), the leak is in the form of seemingly legitimate trademark information discovered by Nerdleaks revealing the titles of the game and even showing off highly polished logos.

A seventh Pokemon generation seems to be coming at the right time as Nintendo releases a new wave of Pokemon titles as a jumping off point into their next console generation.  It should also serve as an excellent promotion for the spinoff title Pokken Tournament, coming to Wii U on March 18th.

As for my thoughts on all this, I like the idea of another generation with elemental and maybe even mystical theming.  Some individual Pokemon like Solrock, Lunatone, and the legendary Cresselia are based on the sun and moon, and I think there’s a lot of potential there, stylistically and otherwise.

I likely won’t be getting myself any of the next generation games, unless some irresistible changes to the formula come with them (I already filled up the whole Gen 6 Pokedex, so don’t be judging me), but I do have a theory from the game alone.  I personally wouldn’t be surprised if Sun and Moon types were added to the already extensive list of types in place.

After all, Fairy type was introduced in Pokemon X and Y, much to the joy and/or frustration of many, so this seems like a prime moment for new type additions, especially if new Pokemon are created specifically to be put in these categories.  Even if the hardcore players are forced to tweak their precious metagame all over again.

No matter what happens, I’ll be fairly stoked if a new Pokemon generation is announced, and especially happy if it plans to bring a lot to the table in terms of enriching an already amazing franchise.  I’ll be keeping right on top of this broadcast on the official Nintendo Direct website, so until then, stay frosty!

Portal 2: Best 3D Puzzle Game Ever?

I came to Portal 2 way late.  There have actually been quite a few games that I missed out on at the time of release.  Portal 2 came out in 2011, so it was either that or Skyrim.  I chose Skyrim.  I don’t regret it, but I remember that both Portal games were praised for their brilliance.  Thankfully, I have a friend who absolutely loves Portal and was awesome enough to lend it to me.  So now I feel like I should take the opportunity to talk about this gem.

A brief view of the majesty of Portal 2!
A brief view of the majesty of Portal 2! (Photo: Flickr)
Portal 2 Should Be Impossible to Make

Playing Portal 2 has confirmed for me that there are some games you have to play to really appreciate, both for better and for worse.  The brilliance of Portal is that the player’s greatest asset is one incredible, unique mechanic.  The fact that you can place a portal in one spot, and then another portal in a different spot, and the two lead into each other is…just extraordinary.  I remember seeing it in action for the first time and wondering, “How could they possibly code this?”

And yet, as dumbfounded as I was, using portals felt natural.  It was only a couple minutes before I started using them proficiently to solve puzzles.  The game’s famous slogan is “start thinking with portals,” and that’s literally what the gameplay consists of.  The challenges Portal 2 presents to its players are mostly intellectual.  They don’t require much motor skill apart from jumping and good timing.  This makes it possibly the most accessible 3D puzzle game in years.

The level design is are brilliant and innovative, both in single player and two-player modes.  Each of the many sets of levels features a particular gimmick like tractor beams or energy bridges (none of which came about simply).   These gimmicks are used in a variety of ways to keep them from getting stale.  This also keeps the experience challenging while only requiring the ability to navigate 3D space efficiently.  The ability to think in terms of these set pieces is more important than anything else.  That makes it an excellent puzzle game by itself.

Portal 2 is Charming as Can Be

What really turns this game into the stuff of legends for me is its presentation.  Its narrative.  Its world.  The main personality of the game, GLaDOS (voiced by the spectacular Ellen McLain), is so humanly charming in her inhumanity that she may be my favorite villain in any game.  Although I play a lot of games with my dad, Portal 2 is one of relatively few that I’ve really seen him immediately take to.  Part of what he loved about it was its tongue-in-cheek humor.  Not only was its humor memorable, but the way each test chamber gradually introduces the player to different uses of portals made a vast multitude of possibilities seem manageable, even to someone new to the series.

Portal 2 also makes some brilliant aesthetic and thematic choices that make it stand out from the crowd.  The fact that player characters never talk makes it that much easier for the player to feel like part of the world they’re in.  Even the color palette, with its shades of black and white broken up by the colors of the portals, is brilliantly simplistic.  And while I won’t spoil the story, I will say it’s fantastic.  It’s not only hilarious, it also made me ask questions. I questioned things I knew about games and about life as a whole.

Furthermore, the presentation compliments the genius design of the game – while the game’s introductions to puzzle-solving are fairly quirky and on the nose, they don’t feel rigid, as they’re supported by the thematic tone of the game.  Portal 2’s unique personality, combined with its fantastic commitment to a unique gameplay style, is why I don’t hesitate to say this is my favorite 3D puzzle game ever, and I hope it goes down in history for being remembered as the favorite of many.

Why Minecraft is So Popular

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The classic Minecraft logo! (Photo: Flickr)

Playing Minecraft was a pivotal moment in my gaming life.  I remember when I was 12 and the game was brand new.  Just a quirky little game from a group of indie developers in Sweden.  The player was given no goal but to build and survive.  I watched entire online communities grow around the game.  Channels like the Yogscast and CaptainSparklez gained millions of subscribers with Minecraft as their foundation.  This game is huge among kids aged 10 to 60, and I was part of that crowd myself.  Nowadays I look to see that Minecraft has sold over 70 million copies, one of the best selling games of all time next to Tetris.  Its creator, Markus Persson (AKA Notch), has meanwhile become a millionaire within the space of a few years.

Me being myself, it’s not enough for me to simply say Minecraft is a great game, and leave that as the reason why it’s sold so well.  A game doesn’t sell that well, doesn’t appeal to such a wide array of players, without striking a deep chord with people.  Minecraft is no exception, and I think my suspicion is confirmed by the game’s global popularity.   Minecraft has even made its way to Nintendo consoles, most recently the Switch.  It’s  proven massively profitable for Nintendo because of its appeal to players in Japan, and Its new community on Miiverse has been hopping with amazing in-game art and enthusiastic players.

We can partially credit Minecraft’s success to Mojang’s wise decision of port it to every platform under the sun.  As of now, it’s on PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Wii U, Switch, PS Vita, mobile devices, and of course, PC.  But this only scratches the surface.  A game can get in as many hands as it wants, but it still has to have staying power to become popular.  So, where does its staying power come from?

Minecraft has such a wide appeal because it can be both extremely simple or extremely complex.  The most casual player can have fun making simple stone houses and admiring the beautiful, blocky vistas of their unique worlds.   Meanwhile the most hardcore crowd can sculpt mountains, build castles in midair, make underwater tunnels…whatever tickles their fancy.  Beyond that, it focuses on bringing players together.

People could play together in the same world ever since the game’s inception.  This provides a sort of network for players to experience each other’s in-game creativity firsthand.  In fact, some users like Hypixel are well-known within the community for essentially creating games within the game of Minecraft.  Re-purposing its assets to create new gamemodes has drawn consistently big crowds.  One way or another, it seems like Minecraft has a way of appealing to everyone’s tastes, no matter who they are.  This is how the community has become one of the largest and strongest in the world.  It’s chock full of everything from magnificent builds…

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A town build within the world of Minecraft using a custom texture pack. (Photo: Pixabay)

…to many, MANY parodies of pop songs.

Mechanically speaking, though, Minecraft is also enjoyable because just about everything in the game is intrinsically rewarding.  Mapping out a cave, digging tunnels, gathering resources, building…all of them feel good to do in their own right.  They cater to creative instincts that humans have had for years.  It’s the same rewarding feeling of creating your own homestead without the time, effort, and danger.  This might be how it finds success everywhere.

Most other games consist of smaller goals that the game provides to you in some way.  If there’s a level, you have to make your way to the end and move to the next one.  If there’s a dungeon, you have to puzzle and fight your way through.  The reward is whatever story, treasure, or otherwise that lies at the end.  That’s not to say that this stuff can’t be satisfying, but a game like Minecraft transcends this formula.  It gives you the opportunity to do just about whatever you want, which can’t help but be satisfying because the game is an extension of you.  It can be an escape into a simpler world, a grand adventure, or an artist’s blank canvas.

I foresee that the impact Minecraft is having on the game industry, particularly for younger audiences, will last for years to come.  Hopefully we start to see designers more focused on making their games personal experiences for players, ones that are satisfying in themselves.

Meanwhile, I’m going to go build myself an underground lair with my friends.  Thanks for reading!

Amiibo: Genius, or Gimmicks?

Toys and collectibles were separate from video games for a long time.  But now, since the turn of the century, companies have found ways to overlap these kinds of entertainment.  This is still a relatively niche corner of the industry of course.  But that doesn’t stop adults and kids alike from collecting toys-to-life products.  Specifically, I want to talk about amiibo.

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A collection of amiibo. (Photo: YouTube)

Anybody who knows anything about video game figurines will tell you they hit it big with the advent of Skylanders.  The idea that a plastic figurine in real life could translate to a character in a video game was mind blowing.  And true to form, Activision hasn’t hesitated to capitalize on it (surprise, surprise).  As of today, around 300 million Skylanders figurines have been sold so far.  Disney Infinity, another toys-to-life franchise, has sold millions of figure packs of various Disney properties, from Marvel to Star Wars.  Clearly a market has developed for these things.

Regardless, a lot of people were surprised when Nintendo announced they were getting in on the toys-to-life trend.  Whether their fan base approves or disapproves is still rather undecided.  Amiibo can never seem to win with the public.  Some people love them dearly, some people think they put Nintendo as low down as EA or Activision.  Then again, many are indifferent.  For people who haven’t really followed to amiibo scene, their biggest failing is that Nintendo hilariously underestimated their popularity at launch.

The likely reason is because Nintendo decided to get ambitious in their production goals.  They created figurines for every single one of the over 50 Smash Bros. characters, a line for Mario Party 10, and a few for Splatoon, with more and more coming all the time.  This was a lot to take on, and people were all over these things when they came out, which only made matters worse.

Amiibo ended up with an issue from the very start, stemming from how Nintendo decided to market them.  They started out with a small line of around 10 Smash Bros. characters, but a tier of “rarity” immediately emerged.  Nintendo assumed that more well-known characters like Mario or Link would be in highest demand.  However, people gravitated towards characters who had never gotten any real merchandise before.  As a result, you saw characters like Marth, Villager, and Wii Fit Trainer selling on eBay for hundreds of dollars.  Wii Fit Trainer is still not available in stores anywhere in the U.S., even after more than a year.

For better or worse, a culture has developed around amiibo.  Certain amiibo have become more desirable, and ironically, demand for them has increased because they’re not in stock anywhere.  Twitter accounts like Amiibo Alerts work constantly to put figurines in the hands of fans, gaining almost 40,000 followers in the process.  Now even when figurines are restocked, people think of them as rare. However, logically, no single amiibo should reasonably be harder to get than another.  Tons of videos now exist like this one where people show off extensive collections of amiibo.  Many of them are still impossible to find in stores.

Fans have argued that amiibo are everything from a cash grab, to a waste of time for people who take games seriously.  My argument is that they are something of a cash grab, but that doesn’t make them a bad thing.  Plenty of things in the world are for the sake of making money.  The question of how we receive them comes down to quality.  In the case of something like amiibo, we have to ask what they add to their games.

Functionally speaking, amiibo are a mixed bag.  In my opinion, the two best uses of amiibo so far are the Smash Bros. line and the Shovel Knight amiibo.  Smash amiibo are trainable figurines that serve as sparring partners for players.  The Shovel Knight amiibo unlocks co-op play for the game.  These are because they add to their games without being necessary to enjoy them.

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The worst offender, on the other hand, is Animal Crossing: Amiibo Festival.  It’s built specifically to try to sell amiibo.  It would be more excusable if the game involved some kind of motor skill like Mario Party.  It would be even more excusable if the game itself didn’t sell for a full 60 dollars.  As it stands, though, the game is pretty much just a money pit.

Nintendo is still figuring out how to implement amiibo in a way that makes them worth buying.  Although they’ve had missteps, they’re onto something.  The best figurines don’t act as a paywall.  In fact, a lot of people are concerned about the upcoming release of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD, which is to come with a figurine that unlocks a new dungeon.  The future is uncertain for these things.

After a year of experimentation, many have written off amiibo as a misguided attempt by Nintendo to expand its product lineup.  But to answer my own question, I don’t think they’re a scam.  I personally love the little things.  I think they have value in that they’re not only software compatible, but collectible.  Lots of figurines are characters that don’t otherwise come with merchandise.  Therefore, they’re more interesting than simple collector’s items, without being particularly expensive.  I never thought I’d ever have action figures of characters like Shulk from Xenoblade or Ness from Earthbound, yet here they are.  And the fact that they play a role in actual games is something I think can have lasting appeal if done right.

As long as supply of amiibo in the future can meet the public’s demand for them, I think they have a bright future.  Developers just need to balance them so that they’re important, but not necessary to the experience of a game.  Granted, I don’t plan to buy that many more, but who knows?  I never planned to buy amiibo at first, until the right ones came along.  Now I have, well…a couple…

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OK, maybe more than a couple.