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San Diego Comic-Con 2014 Game Impressions!

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San Diego Comic-Con has come and gone, and thank God / I miss it already [NOTE: This article has been sitting on the shelf for a few weeks. I’ve just decided to publish it under Musings since I’m too lazy to add pictures and it’s perhaps no longer timely.] As everyone knows, the convention has expanded its scope beyond comics for some years now, and video games are always a part of that, making SDCC the first opportunity for regular folks to get hands-on time with some of the games shown at E3 a month prior. It seemed as though the convention center itself did not have much in the way of games on display compared to previous years, and this was no doubt partly due to several companies complementing their booths larger “gaming lounges” in the neighboring hotels, where they were open to the general public in addition to Con attendees. Nintendo have had their own lounge for the last few years, in fact, and this year was no different.

StreetPass Plaza
Any convention of nerds is going to be the single best chance those of us outside of Japan are going to have at seeing anything but plodding progress in Find Mii II and completing a handful of puzzles. This was my first opportunity to bring the 3DS to a place where many others would also be bringing their systems, and it did not disappoint. I gained about 500 StreetPasses all told during the convention, and most of them were from people sitting in the lobby just outside of the ballroom that hosted the Nintendo Lounge, even after the “No Sitting” signs were posted everywhere a couple days in. All pink puzzle pieces are now mine, and I managed to brute force through Find Mii II and get some nice hats. Those hats and completed puzzles should tide me over nicely for another year.

Hyrule Warriors
The first actual game being shown off that I got my hands on. It’s a bit much to take in at first, like many demos, but I soon had a general feel of things. There are numerous gameplay demonstrations and explanations out there from E3, so I won’t get into too many of the finer points here. I did experiment with the light and heavy attack combos a bit, discovering that it was similar to Pocket Fighter, or pretty much any other game that asks you to mix up two attacks for combos. You tap the light attack button a number of times from 1 to about 5 and then finish with a heavy attack, which changes depending on how many attacks you did. The bombs were pretty satisfying to use, once I found them. There’s just something inherently amusing about a press of the button resulting in your character tossing a stream of them when in Zelda games previous it’s usually a one-at-a-time affair. It’s a good tone-setter for how this game differs.

The demo ends with the fight against a King Dodongo. I had trouble figuring out the most effective way to beat on his face after feeding him bombs, but the demo is set on easy mode to give you time enough. Discounting the slight information overload the only thing I really noticed bothering me was the pop-in of fodder bokoblins. It’s a bit jarring that they just show up on the terrain in front of you without any sort of lead-in, no fading or puff of smoke or anything to help disguise or justify things. They hardly matter, but it just screams for a bit more polish. All told it was fun for a demo, and as long as one knows not to expect a typical Zelda game it promises to be a good time.

Super Smash Bros. for 3DS
The only game on display at Nintendo’s actual booth in the convention center, with an emphasis on trying out the new 3DS exclusive Smash Run mode. It was a good bit of fun, basically taking the Adventure mode from Melee and marrying it to the City Ride mode from Kirby’s Air Ride. I picked Mega Man, and it was fun to see how the various robot master moves were incorporated into his moveset. Getting used to Smash controls on the 3DS took some time, particularly for jumping. Anyone who bothered to learn the Classic Controller controls in Brawl will have a leg up in this version.

The 3D was off when I picked up the demo unit and that annoyed me. I cranked it up. Good stuff.

Super Smash Bros. for Wii U
Playing through 3DS Smash Mode at the booth and winning against the CPU opponents earned me a ticket to play the Wii U version for a shot at winning a t-shirt in the Lounge. I picked Little Mac, and lost, but had a lot of fun doing it. Little Mac is very speedy, comparable to Captain Falcon or a slightly less manic Sonic. His side special move was a lot of fun to try and get down, being a large leaping punch with a bit of startup and that hits a great distance away from where you began.

Even if I knew the nuances that make Smash Bros. “good” or “bad” to the dedicated players, I probably couldn’t have gleaned anything useful in that regard from the demo. It’s definitely Smash Bros., though. And it has Mega Man and Little Mac.

The Wii U version was played using platinum Gamecube controllers, which were noticeably light and, I deduced, lacked rumble motors. I have no idea if these were representative of the new Gamecube controllers being released to accompany the game. The logo work in the center was the same as any old Gamecube controller.

Captain Toad Treasure Tracker
The surprise Game of the Show at E3 was set up at one station. I chose to play the minecart rail shooter stage and use the gyro controls to aim. I sucked, but it was no fault of the game, which uses the tried-and-true “Try again and get all the thingies this time!” game design. Choosing one of the puzzle stage would have given a more representative picture, I suppose, but I’d already seen those streaming from E3, and again watching other people play before I got my chance.

1001 Spikes
Thus ended my tour of games not yet already out. I’d heard good things about 1001 Spikes, though, so decided to give it a shot since I had a chance and the Wii U version was on display. The retro aesthetic and Indiana Jones-inspired motif immediately link it to La-Mulana and Spelunky (and further back, Spelunker.) It is of course not quite the same as those games in gameplay, but not entirely unlike them in spirit. The message strongly implied by the common trappings (and traps) is quite clear: You will die a lot, and it’s OK.

The demo level was heavily focused on dodging a series of dart traps, which sometimes worked solely off a timer and other times required the player to be in close proximity as well before firing. The game is all about careful observation and execution, taking things section by section and looking closely to discern how the next section can be safely navigated before you get there. Then you miss something and fail, and quickly restart at the beginning. Lessons come often. One notable quirk of the game that further illuminates its philosophy is the existence of two jump buttons, one of which causes the character to jump one tile high, and the other for a jump of two tiles. What’s usually handled with one button and a matter of duration of a press in other games is divided into two functions here for added precision.

Guacamelee!
I’d been wanting to try this for a while, and I think I actually have it (minus the DLC that’s included in this deluxe version) via Playstations Plus. Left to run around on a save file with a decent amount of progress on it, there was no real way to get my bearings quickly. So I ended up running into a pit of trials / gauntlet, which worked out nicely as it gave an opportunity to get familiar with the combat. It’s a very satisfying system, with a handful of basic attacks combining in unique ways to make various fights feel different. After reaching a point where I got steamrolled and could not figure out how to continue, someone joined me for co-op and we ran around platforming for a bit. A great-looking game, too.

Shovel Knight
Having already downloaded and played through most of this on 3DS (and thus far having failed to review it because I’ve not quite finished), I actually just stood around and watched a couple of other people play it while shooting the shit with Yacht Club Games’ Sean Velasco, who was there with two of the other team members all weekend demoing the game on both Wii U and 3DS. This bit of marketing effort seemed rather typical for YCG, who have been very active on social media communicating with fans and interested gamers and the press since the game’s Kickstarter campaign launched. It exemplifies the tireless dedication and the scrappy enthusiasm of a small team who love what they do and want to keep this opportunity rolling for as long as possible.

Okay, that sounds a bit high-falutin’, maybe. At any rate, it was fun talking with Sean about the game, its development, and a little bit about WayForward. I brought up a boy and his blob on Wii, and he admitted that his design work on that doesn’t hold up all that well in his opinion. I wasn’t really expecting this, but after the split second of surprise I told him I agreed that it was uneven and perhaps a bit long, but still had some great moments. And we both agreed the game was charming and lovely to look at, regardless.

As for Shovel Knight, aside from me delivering my compliments on the attention to detail and the funny bits, we also talked about the 3DS version’s StreetPass Arena. As I mentioned at the top of this review, Comic Con is the first chance I’ve really gotten to go hog wild using any of the StreetPass features in 3DS games. The Arena in Shovel Knight is a little area where you record a ghost of your actions for a few seconds, and again two more times for a total of three rounds. These ghosts are exchanged over StreetPass, and you watch as your ghost battles one on one with each of the ghosts you passed. Landing a blow or collecting more gems than the opponent each round is the goal. The winner of 2 out of 3 rounds gets a couple hundred gold added to their total. I admitted to Sean that I thought this feature was going to be kind of rinkydink, but it turned out to be surprisingly entertaining little addition. He himself was also really excited getting to see it in action in public, as the game was released just after E3, making Comic Con his first real opportunity to see it in action as well.

To finish here, I would like to apologize for not checking out the Phoenix Wright Trilogy for 3DS at Capcom’s booth. I already own those games on DS and wasn’t thinking about getting an opportunity to compare them or anything like that. So if you were looking forward to that, continue to do so, as I can’t definitively crush your hopes and dreams here.