Tag Archives: Fighting Games

Divekick and Design by Subtraction

Fumito Ueda is the designer of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus.  One of his philosophies is “design by subtraction.”  This basically means creating a game that’s simple, without too much fluff.  Some games do this by taking great formulas from existing games, then carefully stripping away most of their features except one or two, refining them to the absolute furthest.  You might imagine that games like these are really just ripoffs, but they’re specifically great because they focus so much on doing one thing well that they become unique experiences.  Divekick is an interesting example.

Divekick is exactly what it sounds like: it’s a game about flying divekicks.  The game only uses two buttons: one jumps, and the other does a downward kick while in the air.  This same button will let the player jump backwards when they’re on the ground.  It ignores the decades-old dynasty of fighting games with complex combos and dramatic signature moves in favor of one, single mechanic.

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Kick vs. Kung Pao in Divekick! (PlayStation Europe via Flickr)

The key is that while this game has very little complexity in its mechanics, the characters in the game vary a lot, even with the simplistic gameplay.  All the dive kicks are different for all the different characters.  Some characters’ kicks are slower and more horizontal, others are quick but short-range, and some have kicks that can change direction in mid-air.  In fact, some characters even have specific tools, like the Fencer’s throwable sword.  Quirks like this bring a whole new angle to combat.

Movement is still limited, but the variation from character to character makes each round of Divekick an intense yet ridiculous jumble of mind games and precise timing.  This isn’t surprising, because its developers are all competitive fighting game fans.  The best I can describe it is like intricate swordplay.  Each round is over with one decisive strike, and the two players just have to outdo each other.

Some intense Divekick gameplay
Some intense Divekick gameplay!

Divekick is an experience that I can’t say I’ve had with many other games.  Its sheer self-awareness and weird characters are a fun surface to a game that’s actually pretty intelligent in its design.  Even better, it’s a very accessible game.  I’ve seen people pick it up for the first time and outplay the entire room.  This is one of the strengths of design by subtraction, which is why I think it’s a good philosophy.

I’d actually like to see more multiplayer games that experiment with designing around very specific, very simple mechanics.  They tend to be good examples of how designing games mechanic-first results in a better, more addicting experience.

For those aspiring designers out there looking to experiment with simplistic game design, take this tip from Uncle Sensei: try out Divekick, and see what other kinds of games you can come up with.  It’s available now on Steam, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, and Xbox One!

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.

Why Shovel Knight in Smash Bros. is Still Possible

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Shovel Knight released in 2014 to immediate critical acclaim, and has since been featured on every major current-gen platform.

With Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and 3DS getting its final dedicated broadcast on December 15th, the game’s entire community, including myself, is convinced that it will focus on the Smash Ballot, a poll running through the summer and ending in October that let the fans vote for who they most wanted to see added to the game.  One of the most popular picks for this Ballot, as well as my first choice for a new character, is Shovel Knight, the main character of his eponymous game made by the small indie developer team Yacht Club Games.

Early on in the voting, Shovel Knight’s inclusion was almost a sure thing as he took the ballot by storm, but recently, we’ve been given indications that with the ballot’s close, there have been no movements toward Shovel Knight’s inclusion.  Now, although I fully acknowledge that my opinion may be biased towards hope for my man Shovel Knight, I genuinely feel like he still has a shot at being included.

First of all, people have discounted the possibility based on Yacht Club’s Twitter page, where seemingly every mention of the ballot by eager fans has been met with the tone of a gracious loser, with the company saying that they haven’t been contacted by Nintendo in any capacity.  I think this may have been true for a while, but I feel that at this point, it’s unlikely.  Yacht Club continues to make this same denial over and over, but this can’t be taken as concrete evidence because if indeed they were involved with Smash in any way, they would not make any suggestion of it on social media.  Total denial is the only true way for them to preserve the mystery, so I would not be surprised if Yacht Club ultimately chooses to say “Grass…I lied about the wheels.”

Secondly, Yacht Club would have a definite stake in Shovel Knight’s inclusion in Smash; not only are they constantly developing new downloadable quests for the original Shovel Knight game, they’re also developing the first ever third party amiibo figurine of Shovel Knight to be compatible with the game.  People were, of course, eager to find out if the amiibo had any compatibility with Smash Bros.  It didn’t, but since then, we’ve seen the amiibo delayed again and again – the North American release date has been moved to January 8th according to VineReport, with the excuse being things such as refining the prototype or ensuring ample supply.  I have no doubt that they are indeed developing the amiibo for the original game, and considering the tension over amiibo supply failing to keep up with demand, it’s understandable that they want to nip that issue in the bud.  However, the prototype is no indicator of the figute’s final capabilities – who’s to say they aren’t implementing compatibility with Smash Bros. software?  All things considered, I think this is perfectly likely.

I understand if anyone wants to disagree with me, but after Cloud Strife’s inclusion in the game, it’s about time for us as Smash fans to start singing Who Can Say Where the Road Goes.  There is very little room to draw conclusions about exclusion or inclusion of even the most improbable characters at this point.  Personally, I think an indie rep like Shovel Knight would mean incredible things both for Smash Bros. and for gaming in general, but I don’t know.  I just think it’s still a definite possibility.

Final Dedicated Super Smash Bros. 4 Broadcast Scheduled for December 15th

Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and 3DS, released in 2014.
Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and 3DS, released in 2014. (Photo: Flickr)

In an announcement from Nintendo, the final Nintendo Direct Broadcast dedicated specifically to Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and 3DS has been revealed to be taking place on December 15th.  While this likely doesn’t mean the end of all new content and updates to the game, this will represent the last game-changing set of content added to it.

Reportedly, the major highlight of this broadcast will be more details on Cloud Strife, the main protagonist of Final Fantasy VII, who was recently revealed as the newest third-party addition to the game.  If you’ve seen Cloud’s reveal trailer, however, you can see that he appears mostly complete – every one of his moves was showed off, suggesting that development of the character is done, beyond possible debugging to prevent possible issues with downloads and online play.  Given this, I have zero doubt that we’ll be getting a release date for the character, and I’m betting it will be soon – possibly right after the Direct, if we’re lucky.  I do wonder, though, about the fact that Cloud is seemingly touted as one of the highlights of this Direct when there isn’t a whole lot left to talk about anymore –  it seems as though the two main possibilities are that Mr. Sakurai will take the opportunity to discuss Nintendo’s relationship with Square Enix, creators of Final Fantasy, which is apparently much better than we thought, or that there won’t be as much time spent on Cloud as we’re being led to believe.  Personally, I wouldn’t mind the latter possibility, because this will leave more time for the meat of the Direct – especially the new characters.

What we really can’t guess for sure is how many new characters will be revealed, although we can be sure that there won’t be none revealed.  My expectation is two, since detailed examinations of the game’s code by some talented data miners have shown three available unnamed character slots, one of which was presumably taken up by Cloud, leaving two wild cards.  Yet, plenty of rumors and speculations have gone around predicting everything from one new character to five, which goes to show how little is known for certain.

What we do have is a pool of characters who are most likely to be included – chances are that the top three candidates based on unofficial polling are Shovel Knight, the outbreak indie icon and star of his eponymous game that got its start on Nintendo consoles, Shantae, the half-genie hero of Nintendo handheld fame for the past decade, and King K. Rool, the oldest and most well-loved Donkey Kong villain.  Other names have been tossed around recently like Wolf O’Donnell, Super Smash Bros. Brawl veteran and Star Fox villain, Isaac from the Golden Sun series, Rayman from…well, Rayman, and Banjo-Kazooie from…well, you get the idea.  Whether or not a character is more or less likely to be included considering being from a third party is hard to say – third parties are often highly requested, but Nintendo has already said that popularity doesn’t guarantee inclusion – corporate barriers can still stand in the way of our wildest dreams at the end of the day.  Yet, with Cloud’s inclusion, many preconceptions about a certain addition being “possible” have gone out the window.  For me, I hope Shovel Knight and Shantae are our new stars of the show, but anything can happening, and I’ll be happy to see new faces in the mix.

Apart from these, there may be other major changes incoming – some fans have speculated about the possibility about the addition of an equivalent of the Subspace Emissary singleplayer campaign from Brawl, where characters from the game teamed up and/or butted heads through beautiful CGI cutscenes and a lengthy series of story missions.  Given the magnitude of such an undertaking, though, I wouldn’t expect something like this – if anything, I would expect a few more stages, probably brought in along with whatever fighters are revealed.
Whatever happens, the one thing I know is that I am extremely excited for Tuesday, and I’ll be right there with everyone watching at 5PM EST to see how the landscape of gaming changes that much more, compliments of the great Masahiro Sakurai and his merry band of developers.  To quote the great Desmond Amofah, better known as Etika of EWNetwork, let’s get ready to ride this hype train to the sun!