Tag Archive: Bandai Namco


I’ve reviewed a lot of games over the years, but I realized recently that I had never taken pen-to-paper (so to say) when it comes to JRPGs. Sure, I had written about them as a “secondary” reviewer when EGM print went back to old-school multi-person reviews a few years ago, but I had never been the primary reviewer. And, admittedly, the genre is a bit hit-or-miss for me. While I’m not a big Final Fantasy person, I do love the Tales series, and I also really enjoyed Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch a few years ago. So, in order to fill in that blank spot on my reviewing career—and also get my hands on the much anticipated sequel early—I was more than happy to take a crack at Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom. And, I can attest that it did not disappoint.

Players take charge of an elder statesman named Roland who is mysteriously teleported to a new world when a cataclysmic event befalls his. Roland is shocked to find his youth restored, and that he now sits in the royal bedroom of a newly-crowned king in a medieval world. Roland’s timing could not be more fortuitous for this would-be king named Evan, as a coup by Evan’s chancellor has just begun. Bewildering situation put aside, the two resolve to escape the castle, and thus begin an adventure that will leave both their worlds feeling the ramifications for generations.

It should be said right off the bat that you could jump right into Ni No Kuni II without having played the first one, as there is almost no connection between them given each is a stand-alone story. The only similarities between the two games is the fact that they each share a significant artifact called the Mornstar—similar to how the Sorcerer’s Ring can be found in many of publisher Bandai Namco’s Tales games—and the kingdom of Ding Dong Dell returns. It could make you wonder if this game takes place in the far-flung future of the first game, but there are few other similarities present except one: that people in one world sometimes have a doppelganger in the other with which they are inextricably linked. This point is far more muted here, though, as unlike the first Ni No Kuni—where main character Oliver would bounce back and forth between the two realms—we remain in Evan’s world for the entirety of this game, with only passing references by Roland to his previous life.

No matter whether you played the first game or not, it’s easy to appreciate the stellar storytelling present in Ni No Kuni II. Evan soon composes himself after his escape, and steels himself for the trials ahead. He doesn’t just wish to regain his kingdom, but also create an entirely new one called Evermore than shall unite the world under a single banner to the betterment of all peoples. It’s the kind of wish that a child would make, but the fact that Evan doggedly sets off to do so continues the storybook theme the game takes on from its very beginning, as it empowers a child to do amazing things for both his world and himself.

Evan’s undying optimism and youthful exuberance gives this adventure a tone that gamers of all age groups can enjoy, as he is a refreshing change of pace when it comes to most protagonists in modern games. Continuing the enjoyable-for-all-age-groups aspect is that—as much as I didn’t want it to end as I absolutely adored exploring the world—Ni No Kuni II should clock in for most gamers around the 50-hour mark, a far cry from the norm in the JRPG genre. But, there’s an efficiency and natural fluidity to the storytelling here that games in this genre typically lack, and this, too, was refreshing. Sure, there are a few fetch quests, but none of them felt like they were forcibly bloating the game, instead continuing to serve Evan, Roland, and the rest of the party in their character development.

Another aspect of Ni No Kuni II that gives it a fantastical feel is its art style and music. Although Studio Ghibli did not collaborate with developer Level-5 on this game like they did on the first Ni No Kuni, character designer Yoshiyuki Momose does return in the same role here. His art style clearly permeated every character in the game, giving them all a distinct feel, but also a familiarity to those in tune with his work. Composer Joe Hisaishi also returned for Ni No Kuni II after his work on the first game, and whether it was trumpets triumphantly announcing another success for Evan or the individual themes of each new kingdom I visited—feeding into the character of each of these worlds within the world—the music breathed a special kind of life into Ni No Kuni II that kept a smile plastered on my face.

As much as the style has stayed the same between Ni No Kuni games, the substance—or in this case the gameplay—has seen some major overhauls. The first and possibly biggest change is the removal of Familiars. These friendly sidekicks would fight alongside Oliver and his crew in the first game, where leveling them up was a critical element to finding yourself victorious in battle. However, many labeled the idea a knock-off Pokémon-esque mechanic that required you to keep catching more of those Familiars as the game went on. In Ni No Kuni II, they’ve been replaced by sprite-like beings called Higgledies. These cute critters aren’t nearly as prevalent in the world as Familiars were; you can only take four into battle at once, and although they may offer some nice buffs, a little extra AI controlled offense, or even some elemental firepower, they take a huge backseat in combat, as they’re very much a “set ‘em and forget ‘em” element that simplifies combat tremendously.

There are other changes to the combat besides the removal of Familiars, however. The real-time combat system where players control a single character (out of the three you can set to your party at a time), hacking away with that character’s weapon of choice or magic, does remain reminiscent of the first game. One extra little nuance, though, is that you can carry a projectile weapon into these mini-arenas to fire at enemies who get out of range, or switch between three different melee weapons on the fly. This allows you to carry weapons with different element abilities or buffs into battle in order to keep your strategies fluent, as you rotate them at a moment’s notice with a tap of one of the shoulder buttons. There’s also a charge system which you build through consecutive attacks. You can perform more powerful magic if your melee weapons have a one-hundred-percent charge, meaning swapping between weapons of different charges is another strategy to be mindful of. It may sound complicated here, but after only a battle or two, it became second nature to rotate Roland’s three swords, and helped keep the hack ‘n’ slash aspects of combat from becoming monotonous.

There are also a few changes to how Evan and company are represented in the world. When in dungeons or villages, you’ll see either Evan or your chosen party member (depending on the scenario) from a third-person behind-the-back view. When you go into the overworld when traveling between all these places, however, your party takes on a chibi-fied look, almost like little Pop! Vinyl figures of themselves moving around. When you come across enemies in dungeons, a circle surrounding the conflict will appear, and you’ll brawl right there; alternatively, when in the overworld, you’ll be transported to an impromptu arena to do combat. It’s a curious way of doing things, having these two distinctly different ways to represent your characters, and it kind of reminded me of The Legend of Zelda II: Adventure of Link in how that game’s camera and representation would change based on where you were. It was a bit jarring at first, but I realized later on why there is this distinction between how the characters are portrayed on a micro versus macro level.

And that leads to possibly the most intriguing gameplay element of Ni No Kuni II. In order for Evan to build his own kingdom—a major crux of the story laid out to us—the game introduces real-time strategy mechanics such as collecting resources, building your kingdom up, assigning villagers to different tasks, and even waging war against bandits, thieves, or even other nations. You can watch as your chibi-fied people mill about on the world stage as they work in lumber yards, research new magic, build armor and weapons, or just relax at your inn (after you build all these things, of course).

This element of Ni No Kuni II was both one of my most- and least-favorite elements to the game. When this weird RTS aspect was introduced, I loved working towards growing my population by doing the bevy of side quests that were introduced. Sometimes I’d have to bring someone an item, kill a monster, or just build my kingdom’s renown enough to have those people join my burgeoning population as I tried to become a world power on Ni No Kuni II’s stage. As Evan grew into the role of a king and I got more resources and followers, my kingdom grew along with it, opening up even more potential side activities. And the more I did for my kingdom, the more my subjects could in turn do for me in combat and travel.

Of course, trying to bring the world together leads to inevitable conflict, and it was here—especially as a way to introduce some of the game’s more important chapters or as a precursor to some major conflicts—that Evan would have to lead his armies against other armies. I could pick up to four different unit types and then have to meet a series of objectives to overcome the opposing armies, and it was at this point that this RTS experiment fell apart.

You see, combat in a typical RTS requires precision and knowing exactly what your units will do and when. In Ni No Kuni II, this element felt far too haphazard to be fun. Evan’s units would never attack at a consistent pace, and they would never leave the commander’s side on the field. I’d be stuck moving Evan around the world with these four mini-commanders basically attached to his hip like I was driving around in Mario Kart with a trio of green turtle shells around me, running into enemy forces and hoping they would hold out longer than the AI does—because if they don’t, Evan is awfully vulnerable all by his lonesome.

My units could level up, but one of the other few problems with Ni No Kuni II in general is just that the game doesn’t do a very good job of letting you know exactly when this would happen. Sure, both your armies and your party on the micro level have numbers for attack, defense, magic, and so on. But the armies themselves don’t have any sort of indicator as to when they would level up (leading to some late-game grinding, let me tell you), and my party only had a vague XP bar next to their names, which would’ve been far better served with some actual numbers to let me know how many more wyverns or whatever I need to bash to hit the next level. In the grand scheme of things it’s a minor annoyance, but a little more clarity could’ve gone a long way here.

Ni No Kuni II may not have many direct links to its predecessor, but it is indeed an improvement in many ways. There is a ton of side content that feeds into the main story in a natural and engaging way, while the world, characters, music, and the journey the story takes you on are all beautiful. Combat has also seen some sharp improvements, both via addition and subtraction. The only thing holding it back were a few questionable decisions with those RTS elements, but thankfully those skirmishes are few and far between and they do not mar what is otherwise a stellar Japanese RPG.

Publisher: Bandai Namco • Developer: Level-5 • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 03.23.18

8.5

Ni No Kuni II is full of some tremendously creative decisions that make this unlike many other Japanese RPGs, as well as a clear step above an already good game in the original Ni No Kuni. However, some additions like the RTS elements left me scratching my head. Despite this, Ni No Kuni II tells a beautiful story that’s set in an even more beautiful world, and should be enjoyed by most JRPG fans.

The Good

Beautiful world, music, and story that all other JRPGs should aspire to.

The Bad

RTS-like combat scenarios to mimic large-scale nation-vs-nation battles that sounds great on paper but were poorly executed.

The Ugly

The obsession that developed over making sure each citizen of Evermore had their happily ever after.
Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom is available on PS4 and PC. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Review code was provided by Bandai Namco for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.
Advertisements

There have been a lot of Dragon Ball Z inspired fighting games over the years. Usually, the visual style has always relied on cel shading over 3D models to convey a sense of style similar to the cartoon. This would provide a facsimile that was good, and definitely worked for video games, but always fell short of the high bar set by the anime.

Looking to try something new with the DBZ license, Bandai Namco tapped Guilty Gear fighting game developer Arc System Works to see what the studio could come up with. Known for its gorgeous characters models that emulate sprites that look like they were ripped straight from an anime, Arc System Works analyzed DBZ and pushed even its own art style to a new level with a visual motif it’s referring to as “extreme animation” for the upcoming Dragon Ball FighterZ. Just like their other games, Arc System Works has created character models in its signature style, six of which we saw at E3: Gohan, Goku, Vegeta, Maijin Buu, Cell, and Frieza. Like no other game before it, Dragon Ball FighterZ is able to capture the look and feel of the show.

Part of what makes the characters pop off the screen isn’t just the anime-esque designs of each individual fighter, but that the backgrounds are more muted, making your eye focus on the fighting that’s taking place in the foreground. Sure, the two arenas we saw were taken straight from the anime, but this purposeful choice to not color them in the same style as the fighters only helps differentiate FighterZ even more from other fighting games currently on the market.

The other major aspect of the extreme animation is the speed at which the characters can fight. Characters can blink in and out of existence, moving faster than the eye can see. Flurries of punches and blocks can be thrown in seconds. And juggling your opponents higher and higher into the air can lead to 100-plus hit combos almost effortlessly and seamlessly. What makes it all the more beautiful is the animation doesn’t lag for a second and if your reflexes are fast enough, its almost like you’re choreographing or storyboarding a fight straight out of the anime.

If you’ve ever wanted a game that could recreate the feelings you would get while watching Dragon Ball Z, then Dragon Ball Fighter Z is a game to keep an eye on. It’s character design and animation is the most beautiful recreation of the characters that we’ve seen and would make even Akira Toriyama proud.

Dragon Ball Fighter Z is coming sometime in 2018 for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC.

I’ve gushed over puzzle-platformers enough times at this point that it should come as no surprise that when I see a new one on the horizon, my interest is immediately piqued. So, when I saw the trailer for Little Nightmares, the same feeling of wonder and curiosity that usually comes over me again returned. Once I actually played Little Nightmares, however, any good will this game had garnered by crafting itself around one of my favorite genres was quickly lost, never to recover.

Little Nightmares follows the plight of a small girl named Six who is trapped in an underwater ship called The Maw. Six must try to escape this prison before she becomes the next snack for one of the Maw’s many hungry residents, and she will have to use all her ingenuity to outsmart her captors and earn her freedom.

I will say one thing that Little Nightmares does well—and which is evident almost from the very beginning—is the mood and atmosphere it established. The chilling music and sheer emptiness of the world that Six starts her adventure in immediately lets you know the odds are stacked against you. Her bright yellow tunic serves as a stark contrast against the mechanical, muted tones of each of the game’s five levels, providing a beacon that constantly pulls your eyes to it, similar to how Six’s singular tool—a small lighter—lights her way through some of the game’s more cramped corridors or ventilation shafts.

The cantankerous creatures that roam these oversized areas only punctuate the vastness of the Maw. Gluttonous, disgusting humanoids intended to elicit the most negative of reactions from all who glimpse their bloated forms will chase Six at the slightest hint of her presence for much of the game. Outsmarting them and, more commonly, outmaneuvering them is the only way to survive.

Unfortunately, these “people” also serve as the only form of real challenge in an overly simple game, and they are a paltry one at that. Almost no thought is required in order to overcome many of the obstacles of the Maw, with usually only a couple of well-timed jumps getting the job done, or Six sneaking by an unsuspecting denizen guarding the path. It feels like someone confused a running simulator with an actual puzzle-platformer.

The only small semblance of difficulty comes from the camera and controls, and their technical limitations. The camera feels like it’s constantly swaying, as if it’s attached to the hull of the Maw’s ship and sliding along as Six works her way up and out of its different levels. This swaying, however, is not conducive to the platforming that often needs to be carried out to get by the pits that provide Six’s most common obstacle. It also feels at times like the camera is lagging behind her, catching Six at an odd angle instead of seeing her perfectly perpendicular from the side. This causes the controls to slightly shift depending on where the camera is positioned, and walking across thin beams can become a nuisance as forward is no longer perfectly to the right or left on your joystick, and you slightly start to veer off course through no fault of your own. There’s nothing more frustrating than slipping off the edge of a small platform that you thought you were walking straight on, or making a jump that you had the distance for, but find Six hitting the edge and falling because the depth made the next platform look like it was on a different jumping line.

Well, there might be one more frustrating thing. Six has very limited abilities in the game and therefore, in order to try to fill up buttons on the PS4 controller, simple traversal abilities that are often assigned to only one button in more complex games are divided up amongst the other buttons. If you’re an Assassin’s Creed fan, you’re likely familiar with the “claw grip” of the early games, where your hands are basically locked onto the X and R2 buttons (A and RT on Xbox controllers) in order to parkour through the world. Similarly, you must hold Square and R2 with Six in order to not only climb, but also grab ledges when you make jumps across pits. If you’re not holding both, Six will hit the ledge at her waist, and instead of latching on, fall to her death. This is made all the more complicated by X being the jump button, forcing three simultaneous button presses to be made to traverse most obstacles—and I just don’t understand why run and grab are on two different inputs. It felt like it was a desperate attempt to make the simplest game controls more complex in an attempt to cover up the game’s actual lack of challenge.

Some of this could potentially be forgiven if the mystery of the Maw and Six’s plight could pull you in, but sadly it failed to do so for me. I wonder if it’s because I never felt truly in danger traversing the environment, my only failures ever coming due to the shortcomings of the controls and camera. What’s worse is when the game finally starts to feel like it’s ramping up its stakes, Six’s plight, and the game’s underlying messages, it pulls the plug. I finished the game in just under three hours; while there are plenty of experiences of comparable length more than worthy of your time out there, like last year’s Inside for example, Little Nightmares felt like it was just scratching the surface of what it wanted to be when it runs out of steam.

I believe the most obvious message the game tries to convey is the evils of modern consumerism, portrayed by the gluttony of the Maw’s patrons, and Six’s own poignant near-starvation that crops up near the end of each level. Little Nightmares could’ve gone so much further than a buffet table and a kitchen, however; gambling, alcohol, sex, and other vices could’ve all had their chances to shine on the Maw, and would’ve lent length and weight to a game that feels incomplete as is. Even the weird lord of the Maw’s seeming obsession with beauty and physical perfection is barely touched upon with more than a few symbols.

Little Nightmares tries to surround itself in symbolism and mystery, and succeeds in painting a bleak and moody atmosphere at least. At the same time, it failed to find a way to make me care about the main character’s plight. What’s worse is that its poor controls and camera, and utter lack of challenge, had lost me by the time it started to feel like it was finally going somewhere. My only relief came when the end credits began to roll on this poor attempt at a puzzle-platformer.

Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment • Developer: Tarsier Studios • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 04.28.17
4.0
A stellar atmosphere is not enough to save such a puzzle-platformer that completely lacks any sort of challenge. While the story of Six is a sad one, it’s not for the fact that her adventure begins in a cage—but that the developer failed to find a way to make me care about it at all.
The Good Beautifully crafted, atmospheric world.
The Bad Controls poorly and the overall game lacks any sort of challenge.
The Ugly Is being eaten a really scary thing for European children? I don’t get it. That was never a thing for me as a kid.
Little Nightmares  is available on PS4, Xbox One, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Review code was provided by Bandai Namco for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

EGM‘s Ray Carsillo had a chance at PSX 2016 to go hands-on with the upcoming old-school, side-scrolling, beat ’em up that is Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers Mega Battle. Playing co-op with another journalist, Ray chose Billy the Blue Ranger and took the fight to Rita Repulsa’s Putties, before facing off against King Sphinx. You can see the first level in its entirety in the video below.

Based on the original Power Rangers TV series, Mega Battle is dripping with nostalgia, even if a bit on the simple side when compared with most other games of the modern era. Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers Mega Battle is being published by Bandai Namco and will release for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One sometime in January 2017.

WiiU_PokkenTournamentHeader

Gotta fight’em all

Whenever Nintendo develops a smash-hit franchise, it’s only a matter of time before spin-offs happen—and Pokémon is no exception to this rule. Whether it’s the Rouge-like Mystery Dungeon series, the safari-driven Pokémon Snap, or the arcade-inspired Pokémon Pinball, Pokémon has been a great resource for when it comes time to break away from its turn-based RPG roots. I think even those of us who have been playing Pokémon over the past 20 years were a little perplexed, though, when we heard of its latest mash-up: Pokkén Tournament, a mixing of Bandai Namco’s Tekken gameplay and Pokémon.

Set in the newest continent added to the Pokémon universe, Ferrum, players will choose from a roster of 14 Pokémon to fight by their side as they attempt to conquer the region’s different leagues and be crowned the Grand Master. Along the way, they’ll learn the history of the region, and come to understand why an old enemy has re-emerged and is threatening the sanctity of Ferrum’s battle tournaments.

What’s interesting about Pokkén Tournament is that it didn’t try to just throw a bunch of elements from both Tekken and Pokémon together, instead working to find the right aspects of each one to merge in hopeful harmony. And when that harmony was achieved, the basis for one of the more interesting fighters we’ve seen in some time was born.

Before the battles begin, you start by customizing your own personal trainer, choosing their gender and a handful of visual options such as shirts, hats, and more. As you fight, you’ll earn PokéGold, which can then be used to buy more lavish items including background lens flares, feather boas, or even a pirate costume. To personalize things further, you can unlock fight titles like in other games of the genre—my favorite of which is “Living Legend”, perfect for when I take on other players (or even the CPU) locally and online with my mighty Machamp. You can also earn up to five bonus items a day by placing Amiibo on the Wii U gamepad; they had to work the figurines in somehow, I suppose.

Those personal touches are always nice in any game, but the real mixing of elements comes in the core fighting gameplay of Pokkén Tournament. Taking a page out of the Pokémon games, the more you fight with a particular Pokémon, the more they level up. So even though you can switch between Pokémon on the starting roster between fights, sticking with a single character rewards you more, and makes it easier to progress through the game, as they’ll have higher stats that can then be carried over into battle. For example, by the time I finished the single player story, my Machamp was a level 95, with points distributed relatively evenly amongst four categories: attack, defense, synergy (the speed at which your synergy meter fills up; think an ultra meter in other fighting games), and strategy (the strength of your support Pokémon).

Charizard640

Those just-mentioned support Pokémon are an idea that adds an extra wrinkle of planning to every battle, similar to the Assist characters from Marvel vs. Capcom. There are 15 pairs of Support Pokémon, but while you’ll choose a pair before each battle, you can actually only use one of the duo each round. Each support Pokémon has a different effect: some do offensive damage, while others buff you or debuff your opponent, similar to the powers these Pokemon would have in the mainline games. This flurry of decisions can be difficult (especially with only a 10-second timer) but could mean the difference between victory and defeat. Personally, I prefer Quagsire and Magneton, mostly because Quagsire’s Mud Bomb has a nice area of effect and can do massive damage.

Besides Support Pokémon, players also get a cheerleader—the girl who introduces you to the Ferrum region. Between each round, she’ll give you advice (akin to real-life trainers in boxing or MMA), and while said advice is never really helpful, it can give you boosts to different meters depending on how you want her to coach you pre-fight. To be honest, I ended up finding her kind of annoying after only a few fights—another casualty of atrocious voice acting across the board in Pokkén Tournament—but I won’t argue with a fully-charged ultra meter to start round two, and it’s another surprising layer of choice to how you approach each fight.

The most impressive part of Pokkén Tournament’s gameplay, though, is the actual fights themselves. This doesn’t feel like some cheap re-skin of Tekken, nor is it some poorly-balanced clone. While I don’t agree with every move made, the heart of this fighter is strong. If you play other fighting games like myself, there is a bit of a learning curve, especially with the limited button re-assignment options. Like Mortal Kombat, you have to press a button to block instead of holding backward, but more unnatural was another button-instead-of-dpad-direction decision: jumping with the B button rather than up.

Once I finally got my brain retrained, I found that Pokkén Tournament might actually be a great introductory game for players new to the fighting genre. Its controls are super-simple, with no special move requiring more than a combination of a single direction and button press. Throws, counters, and ultras, meanwhile, all only require two buttons. While the move inputs may be simple, the core of gameplay is the rock-paper-scissors system not only found in many fighting games—throws beat counters, counters beat normal attacks, normal attacks beat throws—but also the Pokémon RPGs themselves. Of course, here everything is themed to the series, with moves such as Rock Throw, Ice Punch, and Seismic Toss.

When you combine all of that with the speed of the action (courtesy of devices that give players psychic links to their Pokémon according to the story), this is the first time in video game form we actually get battles close to what we see in the cartoon. In the back of every Pokémon fan’s mind, mine included, we’ve always appreciated the strategy and RPG aspects of the games, but have longed for a more visceral experience like we see on the TV show. Pokémon Stadium got us closer to that than the handheld entries, but it still never reached that fever-pitch that most competition brings because of a lack of speed and intuitiveness. Pokémon is extremely enjoyable, but you can take your time with it, often requiring dozens of hours per playthrough. Pokkén Tournament requires faster thinking and action and lasts 80 seconds, and that leads to a special kind of frantic fun that fans of Pokémon have been waiting for whether they realized it or not, and I couldn’t get enough of it, particularly when playing with my friends.

With that said, not everything in Pokkén Tournament is in perfect harmony. One major flaw I found was the “Phase” system, which dictates how battles play out and from what perspective. Each match starts in Field Phase, which sees players fight in a 3D space like the Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm series. When you perform certain attacks on your opponents, however, everything shifts to a more traditional 2D plane called Duel Phase. The primary problem with this system, besides the jarring movement of the camera, is the moves of your Pokémon change along with the shift. It’s almost like you have to learn two different characters and be ready to alternate between them on the fly. While I’m sure the best players will be able to transition seamlessly between Phases in due time and string out massive combos, the rest of us would probably prefer learning a single set of moves and mastering those. It feels like that while trying to keep the controls simple—to perhaps draw in that Pokémon crowd that may not necessarily be fighting game fans—the developers still wanted a large moveset that could appeal to fighting game veterans. This shifting phases was the result of that odd compromise and in the end I don’t think either camp will be completely happy.

Machamp640

Now, most people will likely jump into single player when they start up Pokkén Tournament for the first time, but to say that mode is a grind would be like saying Charizard likes to burn things. To finish off the loose story woven through each of the game’s five leagues, I battled my way through about 150 fights (with only a handful of losses) before I could be declared Grand Master. And with a glaring lack of personality from everyone you fight (including the league leaders), the story feels horribly shallow and devoid of any character whatsoever. Only by continuously winning can you quickly shoot up the leaderboards in each single player league, filled with an ever-increasing number of dozens of combatants. You don’t have to fight through each person, but considering you only move up 10-20 spots every five battles before taking part in an eight-person tournament and then getting to fight the league leader, you can see where the grind starts to creep in.

Pokkén Tournament also features online and local versus. I played several matches online, and found no issues whatsoever with the servers. Mind you, there were probably never more than a few hundred people online at any given time during my pre-release time with the game, so hopefully the servers will hold up come release.

Local versus is another matter, though. While there were no technical issues, I found one aspect particularly irritating—and it goes back to the camera I mentioned while speaking about Phases. Because the 3D arena camera has been positioned behind each Pokemon, each player ends up needing their own personal view of the action. To accommodate this, Pokkén Tournament forces player one to use the gamepad’s screen as their main display, while player two must use whatever TV the system is connected to. It is a means to try to simulate the fight feel you have with the Pokémon RPGs, hiding what main and support Pokémon each player is selecting. One person playing on a six-inch screen, and another on a 46-inch screen always feels like the player with the better screen has a slight edge, though, and when dealing with competitive fighting games, anything that tips the balance in another player’s favor that isn’t skill-based is just asking for trouble.

My final gripe with Pokkén Tournament might’ve been my most disappointing. There are over 720 Pokémon now, yet only 14 are playable in the game (16 if you count the two special unlocks) with another 30 appearing as Support. There are 20 pure-fighting types alone in Pokémon, and Machamp is the only one on the roster. No Primeape. No Hitmonlee, Hitmonchan, or Hitmontop. No Throh, Sawk, or Hariyama. And that’s not even including Pokémon with secondary fighting characteristics, of which there are only two others on the roster—Lucario and Blaziken—out of another 24. Not to mention all the other Pokémon who could’ve easily been worked into this game, like Greninja.

One saving grace that comes with such a small roster is that at least all the Pokémon are extremely well-balanced. Clearly some time was invested to make sure that no Pokémon, no matter its natural-type advantages in the RPGs, would be so outclassed here that it became frustrating to play with any of them. Whether it’s a power-type like Machamp who specializes in up close and personal melee attacks, a speed-type like Sceptile that can pummel you with a variety of high-counting combos in no time flat, a technical-type like Gengar that relies on its specials, or a standard-type like Lucario that is even across the board, all the Pokémon work nicely in combat and it shouldn’t be long before you find a main Pokémon to specialize in, again harking back to the relatively easy to learn controls.

When I started reviewing Pokkén Tournament, I had no idea how the gameplay of Tekken and the world of Pokémon were going to find a way to reconcile, yet amazingly, they did. In fact, when elements of both fit together, it arguably produced gameplay greater than the sum of its parts. But when those elements didn’t mesh, the train wreck it created was doubly worse, and the small roster is disappointing. There were enough successes amongst the failures in this odd marriage though, and because of that, Pokkén Tournament has created a solid core to build on for potential future continuations of this spin-off series—even if this game is not quite ready to be declared a champion quite yet.

PikachuLibre640

Developer: Bandai Namco Games • Publisher: Nintendo, Bandai Namco • ESRB: E10+ – Everyone 10 and up • Release Date: 03.18.16
7.0
Pokkén Tournament was a brave experiment, and it succeeds in many areas. However, it fails in some others—whether from lack of depth or outright poor design—that keeps it from reaching that upper-tier of the fighting game genre’s elite entries.
The Good Solid balancing of all the characters leads to fun and frantic fighting game action.
The Bad Small roster. Switching between phases. Single player is a grind. Having player one forced to play off the Wii U gamepad in local battles.
The Ugly “Luchachu” would’ve sounded so much better to me than “Pikachu Libre”.
Pokkén Tournament is a Wii U exclusive. Review code was provided by Nintendo for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

You can now have the first new Star Wars arcade game in years in your home if you can pony up the cash.

Bandai Namco has announced that the new Star Wars Battle Pod arcade game is available for private purchase in Japan, Europe, and the US, with the US version costing $35,000. And for those who truly have more money than they know what to do with, there’s also a premium version of the Battle Pod going for $100,000.

The premium version of the enclosed cabinet is inspired by the Rebel Alliance and Darth Vader (your choice of either or) and will come with a special numbered and engraved plaque with your name on it, a bound instruction manual for the game, and even your name placed in the credits of your personal pod. The inside of the pod will also feature carpeting and a leather chair.

I was able to go hands-on with the Battle Pod at Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim this year and while it was fun playing through some classic Star Wars space battles, I could think of a lot of other things I’d rather spend $35k on.

If, like me, you’d rather just try the game out for a dollar or two, you can try finding one at a local arcade that might house it, but with America’s dying arcade culture, that might be harder than it sounds since the game is currently only found in 33 of the 50 states. To see if you’re one of the lucky ones with a nearby pod waiting to be played, check out the Star Wars Battle Pod website.

In today’s Super Smash Bros. oriented Nintendo Direct, game director Masahiro Sakurai announced two separate release windows for the 3DS and Wii U versions of Nintendo’s flagship fighter.

The 3DS version of Smash Bros. will see a summer 2014 release, but in a shocking turn, the Wii U version won’t hit store shelves until Winter 2014.

While this could potentially promote consumers to buy both versions of the game and help keep Nintendo from directly competing with itself, it also looks bad for the Wii U, which desperately needs a potential system selling game like this to hit sooner rather later.

Aside from the release dates, specific game modes and new characters were also detailed during the 39-minute video presentation.

A not-so-Super Saiyan

I was never really big into anime, but like most every other guy back in my day, there was about a two-to-three year period where Dragon Ball Z was near the top of my list of must-see TV shows. Unlike some other obsessions in my life, my Dragon Ball Z love affair was short-lived,  mostly because there really hasn’t been anything new with the series since those days.

Even the DBZ videogames that have been released over the years simply rehashed the same story over and over again. It’s gotten to a point where it’s hard for me to get excited anymore because I know that nothing content-wise has changed. All we’ll see is maybe better graphics or some new gameplay mechanics as we take on Frieza, Cell, and Majin Buu for the billionth time.

But Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z was supposed to be different. It was coming after last year’s release of Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods, a film that Battle of Z was supposed to incorporate elements from, and the first new DBZ movie in years. Battle of Z also channels the look and gameplay of Dragon Ball: Zenkai Battle Royale, a DBZ arcade game, so this could surely breathe some freshness in the series for those who only play on consoles.

I’m afraid, however, that my high hopes didn’t pan out. As is normally the case, not enough has changed, and some of the new mechanics do more harm than good.

The new customization features are a perfect example. Not only can you change the color of your favorite DBZ characters’ outfits, but as you beat missions in the story mode, you earn points and special boost cards. These cards can increase your melee strength, HP, Ki blast power, speed, and more. The points can also be spent to also buy more cards if needed.

It starts off as an intriguing way to see whether you can truly make Goku “over 9,000” in terms of power level as you see the direct benefits of what a “+35 melee” card or the like, but by the time you get halfway through the Cell Saga, you’re trying to grind for new cards or points to buy better ones than what you’re given to overcome some really brutal battles.

The worst part about the card system, though, is that it’s random. You may want a melee boost, but you might only collect Speed and HP boosts. Plus, each character can only equip so many cards at a time, so you could have a flood of cards you don’t need as you slowly try to collect the point to buy the card you want or hope you get lucky. It’s an interesting take on leveling up characters and implementing new RPG-like elements into a fighter, but the randomness becomes a grind that gives little to no reward.

Besides this abominable leveling system, the game also fails to deliver enough content revolving around Battle of Gods. The first new movie in over a decade for DBZ gets a single mission in the game. With 60 missions in the single-player mode overall, that’s a pathetically small offering, especially when you make players grind through multiple missions based around the same handful of storylines we’ve been playing through for decades now. At the very least, beating it does unlock Goku’s Saiyan God form as well as two new characters from the movie, Whis and Beerus. But it’s not enough.

Not everything is a disaster, though. From a gameplay perspective, Battle of Z does a fine job of representing its arcade brethren—and the anime itself—on consoles with over a dozen huge arenas and battles that usually are massive in scope. You can also take up to three AI allies into every battle, even if they’re clones of the player character. This leads to some epic re-creations, since the Z Fighters (Goku and his friends) can take on the entire Ginyu Force in one mission. It also opens up some interesting “What If?”-style missions in the single-player mode, like having a bunch of Super Saiyans taking on all four forms of Frieza at the same time. The friendly AI could use some work, and the camera can go a bit wonky when the action gets particularly hectic, but otherwise, the combat’s definitely not the weakest part of this fighter.

When you boil everything down, this still isn’t the Dragon Ball Z game fans want. The single-player mode offers almost nothing we haven’t seen before, and it can’t even be bothered to give us any cutscenes from the anime to tie all the missions—or at least the Sagas—together. A few interesting co-op and team-battle modes on top of the story can make for some online havoc, but it’s still not enough to warrant a Battle of Z purchase by anyone but the most obsessive of DBZ fans.

Developer: Artdink • Publisher: Namco Bandai • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 01.28.14
6.0
Battle of Z had a lot of potential, but like so many DBZ games before it, it fails to capture the opportunity. The unnecessary amount of grinding required to progress through a story we’ve seen a dozen times before overshadows the decent combat.
The Good First DBZ game outside Japan with Goku’s God form, Beerus, and Whis.
The Bad Horrendous camera; customization system makes grinding more bothersome than normal.
The Ugly Remembering why I stopped caring about Dragon Ball Z in the first place.
Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z is available on Xbox 360, PS3, and PS Vita. Primary version reviewed was a retail copy provided by Namco Bandai for the Xbox 360. .