Monday, May 9, 2011

Games I've Been Playing #3: Streetfighting on the 3D!


I originally announced that I would be writing this piece as a twin review that would cover both of the 3DS games I picked up at its launch. Individually, they wouldn't be too long, but they would roughly cover the size of my particular reviews.

However, I decided it would be best to do it in this format, and mainly for two reasons: For one thing it'd leave me more time to get this damn research paper off my back; two, I haven't even done this section in a few months (Expect a surge of these in the summer!), and I felt it'd be a better fit for it, anyway.



I cannot put down my 3DS. Well, okay, I've been working like crazy on getting my school work out of the way (College ends on Monday!), but I've always found time to sneak in sessions of...well, just about every feature on the platform. I tell you, that Play Coin meter is a damn good motivator to get you to run around! Not that I don't like taking walks, but hey, I love me some Street Pass.

In any case, before I had purchased my 3DS I had decided to purchase two games at launch. Originally, I was content with just owning Super Street Fighter VI, but I soon realized how strange it would be to buy a new Nintendo console and not purchase a Nintendo-published title. It just wasn't right! My three choices were as follows: Nintendogs + Cats, a sequel to the famous puppy simulator on the original DS; Steel Diver, a submarine combat game; and Pilotwings Resort, the long-awaited sequel to the classic Pilotwings franchise. It was hard to choose, both in terms of personal taste and reviews from gaming outlets. Many had written off Nintendo's offerings for the launch, as they deemed them to be mere tech demos that would only provide brief entertainment for a day or two,

The Nintendo fanboy in me refused to give in to their crazed ramblings, however, and I had to choose. Steel Diver was an interesting concept, but not enough to warrant a purchase. Despite my intense love for cats, it wasn't enough of a motivation to buy the latest iteration of Nintendogs, which was something I knew wouldn't last me long. That left Pilotwings, a game that was focused on relaxing airflight and soaring the skies.

I'd take it.

While I am aware of their presence, I never got to experience the previous Pilotwings games on Super Nintendo and Nintendo 64. Both were launch titles for their respective platforms, but remain a mystery to me as they languished in the shadows of Super Mario World and Super Mario 64, respectively. As such, I didn't exactly know what I would be getting into with my new copy of Pilotwings Resort. Obviously, I would be in control of various forms of aircraft, but how would the game play? Would this type of game appeal to me? From the little praise I had read of the series, it had a knack for relaxing the player. Whatever the case, I was dabbling into an established Nintendo series for the first time, which was something that hadn't happened since Punch-Out!! in 2009. At the very least, even if the game was sub-par, I would be able to witness how Nintendo used the three dimensional effect for one of their own titles.

So I decided to take the dive. After a full month's flight, I walked out satisfied with my new corner in the Nintendo universe.

Pilotwings Resort borrows the unique flight mechanics of its predecessors, but has rooted itself within Nintendo's contemporary casual aesthetic for this particular romp. Resort's setting of choice is the fun-filled Wuhu Island of Wii Sports Resort, complete with playable Miis. Fans of that title might remember the Air Sports section, in which you flew a plane around the island while sightseeing its famous landmarks. Make no mistake; Pilotwings Resort is essentially a glorified makeover of that minigame, much to chagrin of Pilotwings fans. Thankfully, the game wields enough nuance and charm to stand on its own.

A common complaint found in reviews for Pilotwings Resort is it does not provide enough content. In fact, many reviewers have gone on to say that Nintendo's first offerings for the 3DS offer a bare minimum of content that will last for only a few hours. While this could be considered true for Pilotwings Resort, the truth of the matter is the game can be as deep as the player wants it to be.

Case in point: The Mission Mode. The game offers three choices of flight; a Plane, which offers easy maneuverability and can boost to high speeds; a Hand Glider, which lets the player softly soar around the island; and the Jetpack, which is just as amazing it sounds. The mission mode lets players perform a number of tasks, with each vehicle receiving their own section. You'll fly through rings, land on target boards, launch through boost gates, traverse through caves, and even gather a pack of UFOs at night.

If you're the type of gamer that's only concerned with beating the game, then you'll blaze through Pilotwings Resort's missions within a couple of hours. What makes these missions so fun, however, is how surprisingly intricate they are. Once you complete a task, the game grades you on various categories, such as how fast you completed the mission, how well you landed, how many floating tokens you collected, and even how much fuel you managed to conserve. This all culminates into a three-star rating, and as you progress through the range of missions, you'll find that obtaining three stars gradually evolves into a delicate, thorough procedure.

In my opinion, this is the main source of replay value Pilotwings Resort has to offer. I'm the kind of gamer who loves perfecting his scores and not leaving one stone unturned, and the consistent challenge that Pilotwings offers satisfies me on this front. For missions that give you trouble, you'll have to perfect your flight route and make sure you're always at the right level of speed, which aids in a number of factors (such as grabbing all of the point-lending balloons and not crashing into anything). It's an addictive element and I couldn't believe how much time I spent trying to nab three stars for every task.

For example, Pilotwings is very particular in how it wants to you to land. At the end of every mission, depending on what you're using you have to either dock at a landing station or land on a target. My problem? I couldn't do it! I would clumsily land my plane, trembling with fear as its momentum slid slooowwwlllly outside of the strip, or simply just crash into the water. Meanwhile, I would land perfectly on the target while on the hang glider, but get points deducted for landing too hard. It was something I always anticipated with dread, and I was never able to find the "sweet spot" for landing on either one. In fact, my landing and accuracy scores would always be the culprit for dragging my score down! Thankfully, my expertise in every other area made up for it, and I still received a good score.

If the Mission Mode becomes too stressful, one can fall back on the Free Flight as a good release of tension. While under a time limit, the player is free to select any vehicle they want and simply explore the island. The parallels to Wii Sports Resort shine brightest here, particularly with the "i-rings" that detail landmarks on the island.

Despite my gushing, the brevity provided within both of these modes can make Pilotwings Resort feel like a meager package, as you can exhaust everything the game has to offer in less than a week (and perhaps even hours). As such, one may wonder if aerial dynamics can justify a forty dollar price tag.

That's where the 3D comes in.

I'll make it clear right now: Pilotwings does not excel at popping the 3D right out of the screen. While the game does provide the occasional surprise in doing so (watch out for those scattering leaves!), it's true strength lies in depth perception. Wuhu Island comes to life as the vibrancy of the 3D setting makes it stand out to the player, particularly with the Mii avatar, and that's really where the true strength of the game lies.

People can cry about the 3D gimmick all they want, but the more I've grown imbued with Pilotwings Resort, the more I realize it's become a vital component of the experience. Personally speaking, the 3D really does excel at sucking the me in, as I focus so intently on the effects provided and the animation of the Mii that sometimes I feel as if I'm really there! Even the soundscape aids in the feeling, as the soothing winds and hums of the airplane make me feel as if I'm really soaring the skies of a tropical resort. As a result, it feels like a crime to turn the 3D slider off.

By itself, Pilotwings Resort is not a special game. As the hype of the 3DS launch has settled down, so has my excitement for the game. But I guarantee you that if it were not for the 3D effect, I would've put the game down in less than a week, and that's really how the 3D works by transforming what would've been a forgettable experience into a memorable one. I entered the resort unsure of my purchase, but I have walked out it knowing I've entered a new era of gaming. know what really pissed me off, though? All the reviews that listed the lack of online multiplayer and leaderboards as a detriment for the game. Jesus Christ, what were they expecting? How exactly would multiplayer work in this game, and what on earth would be the point of a leaderboard? "Welp, gonna try and get the best score for that one Handgliding mission!" I swear, the gaming community these days...


While Pilotwings Resort may be out of the way, I'm still playing another game to get my 3DS fix. That's's SUPER STREET FIGHTER IV!

Super Street Fighter II was one of the few games we had owned for the Super Nintendo when I was a wee lad, and it was a title that garnered quite a bit of playtime. Despite not comprehending the concept of linking combos and performing special moves, there was something appealing about beating people up on the small screen. While I preferred the platforming antics of Mario and Donkey Kong, Street Fighter was an entertaining diversion from those two titles. The game was eventually dropped as the N64 years wore on, but it remained a distant memory that popped up every now and then at the back of my mind.

Flash forward to many years later. I was unable to pen a post about this, but I was able to acquire a Playstation 3 along with the much-anticipated Marvel vs Capcom 3 several months back. As one who was vastly inexperienced when it came to fighting titles, the game's festival atmosphere overwhelmed me along with its complicated button maps for every character. The more I grew accustomed to its idiosyncrasies, however, the more I grew to love the game and develop strategies for my favorite characters. It became quite the obsession, and I'm still playing it today (get dat PSN back up, Sony!).

It was in the midst of my MVC3 fever that I remembered Super Street Fighter IV, which had just been released a year ago for the PS3 and 360, would be receiving a port on the 3DS. Perhaps it was time to reunite with Ryu, Ken, Chun-Li, Blanka, and the rest of the gang.

Part of me was worried in that it would be immensely difficult to memorize two fighting games at once, but I realized I needed something to fall back on if Pilotwings Resort wasn't up my alley, so I took the dive. A month and a half in, I've fallen in love with Street Fighter all over again.

This iteration of Street Fighter operates much like the SNES classic, with a set of two characters duking it out on a two-dimensional plane. Players new to the ring will quickly discover that the key to winning lies not in the manner of button mashing. Street Fighter is a fight for control, as flaming projectiles and aerial attacks quickly scatter across the screen. Fighters slowly approach each other, guarding all the while as they secretly plan their next maneuver. Suddenly, the first strike is initiated, and it's anyone's guess as to whether the opponent's guard is let down or it ends with the attacker being the victim of a carefully orchestrated combo. And it can happen in seconds.

Of course, even beating the crap out of someone without planning is still satisfying. Each of the characters have their own attributes, whether for better or for worse, and it's been a blast playing through them all. You'll slowly chaff your way through the roster of fighters, finding out who works for you and who doesn't. You'll spend hours in the training room and versus mode figuring out their controls and stare in awe at the cinematic Ultra combos, grinning with pleasure as the opponent's health bar empties in half.

Now, here's the thing you need to know about me and fighting games: I can't figure out all of these button combinations. For those not in the know, in Street Fighter (as well as just about every other fighting game out there) you need to input a button command in order to execute attack. Usually, you'll just have to flick the control stick in a specific direction and press a certain button in order to make it work, but sometimes these commands get crazy (such as flicking the control stick back and forth, or in a Z motion). So crazy, in fact, that I can't pull them off on the fly. While it's more lenient in Marvel vs Capcom 3, it's quite difficult here, especially since I'm playing on a handheld.
That's where the Lite Mode comes in. If you look at the screenshot above, you'll notice a set of four buttons placed onto the bottom screen. When using this mode, the player has the ability to map any ability to any button, and when pressed, the move is automatically initiated! Having trouble with executing DeeJay's Sobat Festival? So am I, but a simple press of a button will take that frustration away. In fact, utilizing this mode is just as seamless (if not more so) than triggering the inputs on the fly.

Many have cried foul over the decision to include this mode, feeling that newbies such as myself will have an unfair advantage over even the pros since they will have the ability to spam any move they want. While developer Capcom has taken some excellent measures against countering this fear, I definitely feel that this mode was pivotal to include for this port. Not everyone is going to immediately learn the nuances of fighting game controls on a handheld, if perhaps at all, and what's really special about Lite Mode is that it's a great way for beginners to jump on board without feeling limited. One can still build strategies outside of the buttons they've assigned to the touch screen while still managing to utilize them with proper timing, and speaking from personal experience it's a great feeling.

Plus, Capcom has made sure that both worlds can still enjoy the game without leading to conflict. Not only can you turn the mode off, but you can adjust Online Mode to the extent where you won't run into anyone using the mode, so you can put your fears of Sonic Booming spamming Guiles to rest. Well, then again, you'll probably see that with the traditional controls anyway, but at least it won't be automatic. In any case, I really am glad that Capcom took us newbies into consideration, as I'm not sure I would still function in the game without the use of these buttons.

This port also includes a nifty new mode that takes advantage of the 3D effect, which is aptly named 3D mode. Ever noticed how the screenshots for an upcoming game makes the camera look more dynamic than it probably will be? It's exactly like that. The camera will shift from the standard view to one behind your character's shoulder, and you'll witness the effects become up close and personal as the combatants battle right against the screen. Despite it being very cool to look at, it's a little hard to take seriously as you can't properly distance yourself from your opponent thanks to the new view. It still serves as an amusing distraction from the main game, though.

So what about everything else? Well, Arcade Mode is back and kicking, and just as before every character has their own reason to engage in the new World Tournament. What really makes this come to life is the supplementary animated cutscenes that provide the backstory, ranging from deadly serious (T. Hawk) to the hysterical (Rufus and El Fuerte!). Gameplay wise, it works just as before, with sequences of car wrecking and barrel smashing peppering the intermissions. While the animated sequences don't use the 3D (they missed an opportunity here!), it's these minigames that make the strongest use of the effect, as barrel shards and pieces of broken cars will fly out of the screen.

..It's funny, you know? I never really thought that fighting games would have depth when it came to story telling, but I found myself growing attached to the wildly diverse cast that Super Street Fighter IV provides. Here's the one thing: None of these guys are going to win any award in terms of character development, but it's just as I said in my Super Mario anniversary post. Despite the brief pieces of storyline, these characters are so fun to watch and control during gameplay that you can't help but root for them. It's clear that even from watching their model animations that a lot of care and love went into perfecting them.

And I feel that's the big reason for Street Fighter's success. Street Fighter II presented such a wide mixture of characters, ranging from karate masters to sumo wrestlers to yoga practitioners to buff Indians and even claw-wielding assassins, all of which no doubt stroked the action-packed imaginations of young boys. This new Street Fighter introduces a veritable collection of wacky fighters, including a greasy oil wrestler, a morbidly obese martial artist, and a taser-wielding CIA agent. My favorites of the new cast? Probably the incredibly badass Abel and the cooking, running wonder that is El Fuerte. The latter is by far the funnest new character to control, what with his habits of randomly piledriving his opponents and jumping off the walls. Also, props to whoever wrote the post-battle dialogue for Cody (To Dhalsim: "If your God is real, couldn't he just make it rain on your village?").

Of course, my heart lies with the original cast, and the position of favorite character still goes to Blanka. As a five year old, I was just astounded at playing as a character that was not only a wild green mutant, but could ELECTROCUTE HIS FOES by repeatedly pressing a button. The guy has still stolen my heart in this new iteration, and remains the character I kick the most ass with. Surprisingly, I'm quite effective with him.

The only downside to the whole experience? They took out the character themes for the port! No, really! They keep them for the rival matches in Arcade Mode, but you can't switch them on! This is kind of a huge blow for me since I was prepping up for the release by listening to the AWESOME remixes on Youtube, and they freaking took them out! How could you release the return of a major Street Fighter on a Nintendo console and NOT have these songs? And I was looking so forward to jamming out to the Guile and Blanka themes on my 3DS...siiiiiighhh...

Aside from that, overall it's been a blast returning to the world of Street Fighter, and it's one I'm planning on continuing to invest in for quite some time. I can see myself playing this for the rest of the year, or perhaps even for the rest of the 3DS' lifespan. My ultimate goal is become confident enough so that I can try out the Playstation 3 version of the title..and by doing so, take off the training wheels!



Expect a steady flow of Pikmin posts starting next week!

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