Tag Archive: fighting


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.

The original Injustice was an epic comparable to any major comic book event, movie release, or series of TV crossovers. It had everything from multiple universes to the kind of fights fanboys spend way too much time on the internet arguing about. Couple this with tight gameplay all around, and it is no wonder the game was such a hit. Topping all this in its inevitable sequel would be no easy feat—and although I enjoyed the first game of the series a tad more, Injustice 2 is still great enough that Batman would offer it a seat at the Justice League table.

Injustice 2 takes place shortly after the events of the first game. The heroes from our universe have mostly returned home (Green Arrow decided to stay and help out) and those in the Injustice-verse must aid the rebuilding efforts now that Superman’s Regime has been overthrown. In its place, however, new threats have arisen. Gorilla Grodd has brought together various villains to form a group called The Society, determined to rule in the Regime’s place. Meanwhile, an interstellar threat from the stars—the world collector Brainiac—has set his sights on Earth after finding out not one, but two surviving Kryptonians reside there. The heroes of this Injustice-verse must again band together, and even forge some uneasy alliances, if they are going to survive this new conflict.

It is now official: it seems the writers of Injustice have a better grasp of how to make a compelling DC Comics universe more than anyone currently behind most of the comics and all of the movies. The overarching story of Injustice 2 is a logical continuation of the first game’s narrative, told in NetherRealm’s now signature chapter-based sequences that follow individual fighters in the universe. It continues to flesh out this Injustice-verse and find, for the most part, natural ways to integrate new and interesting characters. There’s even some chapters that you can replay with different characters, and multiple endings depending on a choice you’re forced to make—although one feels much more like it will stand as canon beyond the other.

The story isn’t without flaws, however. While many characters made sense here in Injustice 2, several seemed to be shoehorned in just to expand the roster number. Firestorm’s ability to create any element was nothing more than a plot device, and the Joker—who appears as a Harley hallucination—was completely unnecessary beyond needing to continue to push that awful Jared Leto-esque Suicide Squad design onto us yet again. The worst, though, might’ve been Green Arrow, Black Canary, and Atrocitus. They all had small—yet interesting—side stories started, but they never came to a logical and satisfying conclusion, leaving us holding onto unfinished B-story threads. That said, I’d still rather have a dozen Injustice stories for every piece of garbage that DC Comics now prints or sends to our theaters.

Where Injustice 2 really stands out from the crowd is in its gameplay. The fighting mechanics are deeper than ever, with an extended specials meter that allows for more special moves to be buffed up, new escapes from combos, or the always-entertaining supermoves that cue a cinematic should they hit. Whether it’s Batman blasting you with the Batwing, Green Lantern obliterating you with a mechsuit construct, or even the Flash literally punching you through time, they never get old to watch—except maybe if you’re always the one being hit with them instead of doing the hitting.

As well, each of the game’s arenas once again feature a plethora of objects you can interact with. From throwing alligators in Slaughter Swamp to knocking opponents into the marquee of the Empire Theater, being aware of your surroundings can be just as important as memorizing combos. The only downside I found in the arena design was that one major feature from Injustice was surprisingly watered down here in Injustice 2: the stage transitions. Whereas we used to be able to knock opponents into one or two other stages on almost every level, many levels in Injustice 2 are self-contained, or only feature one transition. I’m not sure the reason for this, but the transition threat on both sides of a stage is something I sorely missed from the first game, and—considering the roster size—made the lack of overall arenas all the more telling.

A few new characters and a continuing story are expected in a fighting game sequel, though. The biggest change that Injustice 2 introduces is the new gear system. Similar to an action-RPG, leveling up your profile, leveling up a character, or completing certain objectives across all the game’s different modes will reward you with loot, gear, or Motherboxes, which—depending on rarity—rewards two to six more pieces of gear. You can then take the items you’ve earned and equip them into one of five different gear slots on each fighter. It not only changes the cosmetics of each fighter, but also boosts their ability, attack, defense, or health. You can even find new moves for your characters that you can equip, such as a teleport for Scarecrow, or a ground pound for Superman.

The system is one of the deepest rewards systems I’ve ever tried, and saying I became hooked by it would be an understatement. After every fight, I had to compare and contrast what my fighters were wearing, and it kept me playing far longer than I might have otherwise. It basically means that mirror matches are far less predictable, and even if you don’t like the idea of gear changing your stats, you can turn off the effects before every battle if you so choose. As characters level up, new gear becomes available to them until you hit the level 20 cap per character, and even if you should find a piece of epic gear at a lower level, you can earn regeneration coins that allow you to recast those items at your current level.

Sure, there are microtransactions that can speed up this entire process—including leveling up all your characters to max if you so choose. Honestly, though, I am having way too much fun fighting for every piece to make me potentially more powerful. I’ve never felt this direct connection between my hard work and the loot I earn so strongly before, even if the numbers are all randomly generated. My only complaint would be how I wish there was an easier way to earn epic loot for characters you don’t play with in the story. For beating a respective character’s story chapter, you’re rewarded with a piece of level 20 epic loot; it then made me really sad that half the roster was one piece of loot behind everyone else, even though there’s still the process of getting everyone to level 20.

Still, you can earn gear in every mode. Whether you’re trying to climb the online leaderboards (which are all operating smoothly at last check now a week after the game’s launch) or watching your characters duke it out in the new AI mode (where you pick three of your custom fighters to fight other custom teams and let the computer decide the winners as you watch), the gear and loot is always coming. My personal favorite way to get new gear, especially of the epic variety, is the new Multiverse mode.

The next step in MKX’s Living Towers system, these time-based events are portrayed as Batman keeping an eye on all the different worlds he learned about after the first game. Picking a planet affords players the opportunity to tackle special challenges against the AI; should you complete all the objectives on each one of these Elseworlds, you’ll be rewarded with some of the best gear in the game. Each planet, though, has a variety of stipulations. Some might help you, like having characters from the last game—such as Ares or Raven—offer their assistance as an AI ally that you can call on with a button press. Others will hinder you, as maybe you take damage every time you do a special move, or your opponent will have armor on, allowing them to absorb a certain number of hits before you can actually chip away at their lifebars. Either way, these challenges are constantly cycling in and out every few hours, and will keep you on your toes while keeping your coffers stuffed with loot and gear. The only one not set to a schedule is the “Multiverse Battle Simulator,” which is the well-hidden equivalent to Injustice 2’s arcade mode.

Injustice 2 is everything fans of DC Comics would want from a game like this, and then some. The gear system is surprisingly balanced and delightfully addictive in a way that will keep you coming back to this game long after you’ve seen every arcade ending and both endings in story mode. The story itself is very good, and even with a few holes and cheap gimmick characters thrown in for the sake of expanding the roster, is easily the best writing any DC property has seen since the first Injustice came out. And, most importantly, the gameplay remains top-notch, and is deeper than ever with new escapes, meter burns, and those fantastic supermoves. Even in a year that seems to be full of fighting games, you’ll be hard-pressed to find one better than Injustice 2.

Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment • Developer: NetherRealm Studios • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 05.16.17
9.0
Injustice 2 is one of the most complete fighting games you’ll ever play. From the story to the Multiverse Mode, there is something for everyone here to enjoy. And with how addictive the gear system is, you’ll be hard-pressed to put it down.
The Good The gear system is as addictive as advertised, and the Multiverse concept only feeds into this.
The Bad Story tries too hard to shoehorn some characters in. Less stage transitions than previous game.
The Ugly The new Joker design. Stop trying to push the Suicide Squad movie on us Warner Bros.!
Injustice 2 is available on PS4 and Xbox One. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Review code was provided by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

Sometimes, when time is tight, or the event is a bit larger than life, you can’t always get that important one-on-one time you need with a developer to really take a deep dive into their game. Under these circumstances, journalists are bunched together, and several of us at a time have to machine gun fire questions. That happened this past weekend at San Diego ComicCon, when just a couple hours before Friday’s Injustice 2 panel, a couple dozen other journalists and I met with some of the voice cast and NetherRealm Studios’ creative director Ed Boon to chat about the game. Here are the choicest things each person had to say.

Superman1160

George, can you tell us a little bit about Superman in Injustice 2?

George Newbern, voice of Superman
Well, the first game ended with him in that [red light prison]. In terms of where Superman is in this story, there’s a lot more shades of gray going on this time around. Superman’s not in charge, and it’s not as simple as Superman is good and Batman is bad or vice versa. Depending on what is going on, you’ll side with one or the other and there’s a lot more gray this time, I think.

Laura, you’re playing Supergirl in Injustice 2, but you’re also Catwoman in Telltale’s Batman. What’s it like to hop between these two DC characters in these two very different games?

Laura Bailey, voice of Supergirl
They are such completely different characters. Supergirl is pure. She’s young and impressionable, and when she comes into this story, she’s learning about everything that is happening and has happened. Selina is old hat—she’s been doing this for years. She’s playing everyone, and is always in charge of the situation she’s in. So yeah, the [vocal] range might be similar, but the approach to all the dialogue is very different.

Aquaman1160

Phil, Aquaman has for a long time never been taken very seriously in the DC Universe, but the first Injustice game and your portrayal helped the character turn a corner, lending him some credibility. How was it to be part of that, and what was your inspiration?

Phil LaMarr, voice of Aquaman
For me, it’s about the writing. [NetherRealm] has come up with a really cool take on the character—that’s the thing. For so many years, you had this character that is ostensibly one of the most powerful heroes, but who just wasn’t cool. And they finally figured it out. He’s the ocean personified, but he is also a man. And also, I think, for me, the hook is the kingliness. He is a ruler. He has power, but he also has responsibility, and for him it’s always about that. Either personal responsibility, or to the people of Atlantis, and I think the battle stuff of Injustice is what really put him over the top. Because you had the character conception, but then you have the trident, and the power of Poseidon, and the baddest kill move ever. And if you have great writing, it almost acts itself really. I just have to make sure I get all the words right.

Ed, what was the inspiration for the armor system in Injustice 2 and how will that change gameplay?

Ed Boon, creative director of NetherRealm Studios
If you look back at Mortal Kombat X, we had three variations of every character, and that’s for players to choose what’s their favorite version of Raiden, their favorite version of Scorpion. It’s a little more personalization in it for each player, and we wanted to take that even further. So, in Injustice 2, here are a bunch of different costume pieces. You arrange them as you want, and they power up your characters in different ways. Some might increase offense, or defense, or special abilities, the damage they do with interactive objects, etc. And you piece together a costume to make your custom version of Batman, Superman, Aquaman, whoever. And you’re in a constant process of rearranging those pieces, finding better boots that increase your damage even more for example. So that continued customization and personalization of characters really kind of separates this one from our previous games.

Atrocitus1160

George, Superman is traditionally the All-American Boy Scout and we only see deviation from that in these Elseworld-like takes. Do you enjoy these alternate Superman roles a bit more because they allow for more nuances?

George Newbern, voice of Superman
Yeah, I think so, and I love that. I’m working on a TV show right now called Scandel on ABC where I play an assassin. Just a normal guy doing these terrible things, and you don’t suspect it. In the same way, Superman is most fun when you get to go a little bit outside of the cut, square corners. It’s more fun.

Laura, you’re also in Gears of War 4 this fall, and mentioned during that panel how you and the cast recorded together for some scenes, which is more of an animation style. You also recorded with the cast for Telltale’s Batman. However, you recorded solo for Injustice 2. Do you think video games will start moving more towards that animation style or that it just depends on the project?

Laura Bailey, voice of Supergirl
It’ll depend on the project. Video games by nature are very different from animation because of the option of dialogue there. So, the recording process can be strange, and even harder with other people because for so long it revolves around what one player is doing. So, it would probably be a waste of money for companies to bring in multiple people for a session. So, it’s never completely inclusive. Even for Gears of War 4, when I did my battle dialogue that was a solo session because Liam [McIntyre] or Eugene [Byrd] didn’t need to sit there while I screamed for a couple hours at a time. But definitely for the cinematics, I think a lot of games will start doing groups, and so many projects I’m doing now have motion capture and I feel like more and more projects will start going towards that because what you can do with that is so epic.

Supergirl1160

Phil, how hard is it to jump into the middle of a fight, but not have anyone actually there to play off of?

Phil LaMarr, voice of Aquaman
It helps to be a video game player, because you understand, for example, when your line might be right before you attack, to give it that oomph. But yeah, it’s tough sometimes, because you don’t know exactly what the context is. The other side of it is, though, if you do enough different lines, enough different versions of it, then they can fix it in editing. I’ll give you everything I got, and you put it in the right place…so we don’t end up with Resident Evil 2.

Ed, how will the armor and customization affect balancing for competitive play and tournaments in the game?

Ed Boon, creative director of NetherRealm Studios
Well, it makes our balancing task way bigger. Also, there’s the possibility of a player who has been leveling up a character since day one, and then another who picks the game up three months later, and how does the newcomer compete with the day one purchaser? So, our matchmaking is also going to be critical to make sure people who are in the same range are matched. And then, just our job of balancing is going to be a huge challenge. But the experience of constantly changing and molding your personal character, the novelty of playing with your character will always make it feel new as opposed to playing with the same character over and over again eight months after buying the game.

No matter if you are a casual NHL 16 player or a full out member of EA Sports EASHL, we’ve all come across the stereotypical players from around the world. Whether it be the guy who pauses the game every five seconds or the rage quit troll – all of these types of gamers are unforgettable.

Not a Flawless Victory

Growing up, whenever the subject of fighting games arose among my group of friends, everyone found themselves in one of two camps: Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat. I readily admit I was in the MK camp (kamp?). The franchise seemed to put a larger emphasis on the story, which appealed to me, and of course, there was the blood and gore—and the controversy over that element would eventually lead to the formation of the ESRB.

Now, with the 10th main game in the series upon us—and as someone who’s been playing the series fanatically since the early days—it’s interesting to see that Mortal Kombat X is, in many ways, attempting to get back to basics when it comes to what the franchise has always been about.

The first aspect of this is MKX’s Story mode, which takes place primarily 25 years after the events of the previous game. Shao Khan is dead, and Outworld has been thrown into turmoil courtesy of a civil war between two of his lieutenants who’ve made claims to the throne—the ramifications of which are starting to spill over into Earthrealm. Meanwhile, minions of an old enemy, the fallen Elder God Shinnok, are moving in the shadows in an attempt to bring their imprisoned master back.

Whenever NetherRealm discussed MKX, the plotline was one of the key points of emphasis. We were told it would be an epic tale that brought kombatants old and new together against an unforeseen threat. But considering that it was a point of focus for the team and that MK9 provided a strong foundation to build on, I can’t help but see MKX’s Story mode as anything short of disappointing. Part of my frustration comes from the fact that NetherRealm touted a nonlinear story here, but MKX plays out the same way Injustice:Gods Among Us and MK9 did. It’s nothing new.

The nonlinear aspects simply come from flashbacks seen far too frequently that are meant to drive the main storyline forward in a singular fashion. They’re there to fill in the blanks, add missing backstory, and make desperate attempts at character development—necessitated by the drastic leap forward in time between games. If you lose a fight, whether in the past or the present, you still need to beat it if you want to move forward and see the next cutscene (or use a cheap “skip fight” token that can be earned in the Krypt, MK’s interactive way of unlocking extra in-game content via ‘Koins’ earned by playing the game).

The saddest part of MKX’s Story mode, though, might be the glimmers of greatness the game tantalizingly teases. Plenty of interesting subplots are hinted at throughout—like how character relationships between old fighters and new have evolved in 25 years, especially those with familial ties. There’s also Outworld’s civil war, which could’ve been more deeply explored and fleshed out, given how central a role it was supposed to play. Instead, it feels like Story mode tries to cram in too many ancillary tales that, while interesting, are never properly explored. And considering that MKX is 25 percent shorter in terms of chapters than MK9, I was left wanting more in the worst way.

On the flip side of that, admittedly, you can also get too much of a good thing. The game ships with 24 fighters, only a couple less than MK9, but each one has three variations that offer different abilities. For example, Kenshi’s three variations are essentially the moves he debuted with in Deadly Alliance, those he used in MK9, and a brand-new set for MKX that allows him to manifest the spirits that possess his enchanted blade and use them offensively. Personally, I found it too much trouble to learn all the variations for each fighter. Once I found one I liked, I’d simply ignore the other two.

The entire process of experimenting with the variations is frustrating in and of itself—I think people who are into fighting games want to figure out who their “main” is as quickly as possible, so giving them 72 options just feels like overkill. I’d rather have 10 more playable characters and none of the variations than to have all these degrees of gradation.

At the very least, the fighters who do show up—16 of which we’ve seen in previous MK games, along with eight new faces—all feel truly distinct, even if their own internal variations don’t. While a few elements seem lifted from Injustice, such as Ferra/Torr’s Bane-like charge attacks or Kung Jin somewhat resembling like Green Arrow, the returning characters feel like I expected (in a good way), while the debuting fighters all bring something new to the table.

The combination of Ferra/Torr, which sees the diminutive Ferra riding atop the hulking brute Torr’s shoulders as part of an odd symbiotic relationship, has amazing range when Torr swings Ferra around like a club. I also loved playing as Cassie Cage, because she’s such a smooth blend of her parents, MK icons Sonya Blade and Johnny Cage. She quickly became one of my favorites—not just for her fighting, but also her one-liners.

Takeda feels the most distinct of all the new characters in terms of gameplay with his whip attacks and arsenal of different weapons. Both Erron Black and Kung Jin took some getting used to, but they’ve got some absolutely punishing combos once you begin to master them. Kotal Kahn is your typical slow, powerful brawler, but his sun beam that heals him but hurts opponents makes for interesting zoning strategy in battle. Jacqui didn’t really move my needle either way, since she felt like just a faster Jax, and the insect-like D’Vorah was a fighter I just couldn’t get a handle on no matter how hard I tried.

When I finally figured out what variations worked best for me, what characters I wanted to stick with, and who I’d be comfortable competing with online, I found that perhaps the most important part of a fighting game—the actual fighting—was better than ever. The combos flow smoothly, and no character feels too overpowered. Some moves are tweaked from previous versions, like slowing down Sub-Zero’s ice ball and Scorpion’s spear, but only in the interest of preventing spamming. I was surprised at how quickly I was able to adapt to the changes, which makes me think they’re all for the better.

For as good as the combat is, though, the post-fight action might be even better. Fatalities are easier than ever to pull off—and, at this point, it’s almost comical how gory they’ve gotten. Of course, it’s still immensely satisfying to make someone’s head explode with Raiden, rip apart someone’s spine with Sub-Zero, or absolutely eviscerate them with new characters like Ferra/Torr.

What surprised me more, however, was how great it feels to pull off the returning Brutalities. While they’re not as bloody, Brutalities are sometimes more difficult because they need to be executed as the last move of the final round—and some of the conditions are as brutal as the punishment one could end up delivering with the moves. So, suffocating someone with Reptile, kneecapping them with Erron Black, or punching them in the face until their neck breaks with Kung Lao is sometimes even cooler. The game even includes stage-oriented Brutalities.

But that’s not all that will make you want to keep fighting until the wee hours of the morning. A new feature in the form of the Living Towers and an old one in the Krypt provide a tremendous amount of additional content. The Living Towers are three ladders that provide fresh battles with new stipulations every hour, day, and week, constantly pushing you to test your skills in different ways.

The Krypt, meanwhile, has been transformed from a glorified gallery into almost an adventure game within itself as you explore a graveyard, caves, a mausoleum, and more from a first-person perspective, with more of the world unlocking as you find iconic Mortal Kombat weapons—Scorpion’s spear or Kung Lao’s hat, for instance. There’s even random quicktime events that have you wrestling with threats that can pop out of nowhere now and that reward you with more Koins if you succeed. In the Krypt, you’ll find concept art, Test Your Luck modifiers, and more Fatalities and Brutalities for each character, but after unlocking nearly 100 tombs in the Krypt, I do wish there were a few more interesting things to find.

Mortal Kombat X feels, in many ways, like one step forward and two steps back. I can’t get over the lack of depth when it came to Story mode, and the fighter variations aren’t as interesting as I’d hoped. However, once I finally found my favorites, the actual fighting still felt great. And with the Living Towers promising to keep the game perpetually fresh, I found there’s still plenty here to keep me coming back for more in the future.

Developer: NetherRealm Studios • Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 04.14.15
7.5
When it comes to the gameplay, Mortal Kombat X is a solid fighting game, but a small roster and shoddy story hold it back from being a complete experience.
The Good The combat feels smoother than ever, and the Living Towers keep the game fresh long after Story mode is over.
The Bad The narrative has a ton of interesting subplots—but not enough time for any of them to breathe or properly come to fruition.
The Ugly You fight against three fan-favorite characters in Story mode, but they’re not a playable part of the roster. I smell a second “Kombat Pack” already around the corner.
Mortal Kombat X is available on PS4, Xbox One, and PC, with versions for Xbox 360 and PS3 coming later. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Review code was provided by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment for the benefit of this review.

Back when the game was first announced, if you told me that “family” was going to be one of the key themes of Mortal Kombat X, I’d have looked at you like you had two heads. This was the franchise that 7-year-old me lied to his parents about the level of violence in order to get the game for home consoles. This was a series built on the decapitated heads and severed limbs brought about by countless arcade players with nimble-enough fingers to pull off some impossible Fatalities. I never thought something as wholesome as “family” could fit into Mortal Kombat.

But leave it to the developers at NetherRealm Studios to turn even this concept on its head. At GDC 2015, I learned that Johnny Cage would return as a playable character in Mortal Kombat X, and I briefly got to go hands-on with him in the first chapter of the game’s story mode.

I’ve always enjoyed playing as Johnny Cage, but part of his charm as a character has always come from his interactions with his beloved Sonya Blade, since she acts as a grounding force for Johnny’s over-the-top bravado. To my delight, she was present throughout many of his cutscenes, too. It’s always nice to see one of gaming’s earliest power couples reunited (and doesn’t CageBlade sound infinitely more badass than Brangelina?). Throw daughter Cassie into the mix, and you’ve got the whole Cage bloodline present and accounted for here.

As the story begins, Shinnok, the fallen Elder God and master of the Netherrealm, tries to invade Earthrealm. Among Shinnok’s army of winged, fire-breathing demons are the reanimated, undead bodies of Sindel, Kabal, Stryker, Jax, and others controlled by Shinnok’s necromancer disciple, Quan Chi. As the world goes to hell around them, Johnny, Sonya, and Kenshi take a helicopter toward Raiden’s temple (where Shinnok is focusing his attack) in the hopes of possibly ending this war at the source—but, as you can imagine, things don’t go according to plan.

Mortal Kombat X’s story mode plays out similarly to Injustice: Gods Among Us. You’ll control a character for several fights that clump together as a chapter; that moves the story forward, and you’ll then take over as another character on the roster. This way, players can become familiar with multiple fighters if they’re new to the series, as well as experience the story from multiple points of view.

In Johnny’s case, his chapter consisted of four fights before I switched characters—or I would have, but the demo ended before I found out who would pilot Chapter Two. Johnny’s signature moves like the Shadow Kick and Green Flame were present and accounted for, and I even got to try out some environmental hazards, such as jumping off a wrecked car to close the distance on a far-away Scorpion and deliver a jump kick.

The game looked like one of the best new-gen titles yet, with each level providing an exquisite amount of detail. Whether it was Raiden’s temple or a destroyed city street surrounded by crumbling buildings, Mortal Kombat X looks nothing short of gorgeous. How it plays might be another story, however.

For example, I was a little taken aback that Johnny Cage felt slower than I remembered. I adapted by the end of the demo and delivered some solid combos by the time the chapter was over, but I don’t know if Johnny’s just gotten slower due to his age or whether the game as a whole is a half-step off, since I only got to play as him in the demo. Of course, it’s also difficult to judge based on only four fights.

Aside from this, it felt really good bashing people’s faces in, and I couldn’t help but get more amped up for the final game, where I can mess around with some Fatalities and Brutalities. Since we had only a limited amount of time, however, I only pulled off an X-ray maneuver.

In regards to the little bit I saw of the actual story, I’m also curious to see where all that goes. Kenshi and Jax were confirmed as appearing in-game during my playtime (Kenshi in cutscenes, Jax as one of Johnny’s opponents), and their kids are playable characters, too. There’s also Kung Lin being related to Kung Lao somehow, and even Scorpion has a fatherly relationship with Kenshi’s son, since he trained him. From what I saw, there seems to be a stronger emphasis on character relationships in the story here than in any previous Mortal Kombat game.

I imagine I’ll get some sort of payoff once I get to play the entire story mode come review time, but for now, this theme of “family” in Mortal Kombat X’s story is an intriguing one. It could serve as a welcome continued evolution of the series, or it might end up as an overplayed premise that makes the experience more cheesy than cool. As someone who’s been a fan since that very first chapter back in 1992, though, I think giving these longstanding characters more depth can only be a good thing.

Tighter than a Kimura lock

Mixed martial arts has long been one of the world’s fastest-growing sports, spearheaded by the UFC’s founding just over two decades ago. Combatants hail from around the globe, and the sport often packs up its eight-sided cage and travels to international locations such as Brazil and England to accommodate its ever-expanding popularity. So, it only made sense that when THQ went bankrupt a couple of years ago, EA Sports would swoop in and grab the rights. While the games from the THQ days were decent and diehard fans of the sport who simply couldn’t get enough ground and pound were served well, no one could’ve imagined what EA Canada’s Fight Night team would do when they put a chokehold on the property.

EA Sports UFC changes everything we know about MMA games, and you’ll never be able to look at those other titles the same again. Sure, we’ve all heard how great the characters look—and, yes, they do look phenomenal. The real-time deformation and discoloration of fighters is impressive, but I expect that to a degree with new-gen hardware. What really blew me away here were the control schemes.

I’ve played all of those other UFC titles. Often, they’d devolve into slugfests with little to no ground game due to complex, unintuitive controls. While EA Sports UFC’s controls aren’t of the pick-up-and-play variety, the game does a much better job of teaching you how to balance your attack, from standing up to working in the clinch to finally putting your opponent on the ground.

The game begins with a mandatory tutorial,  then offers specific control challenges like “training” in career mode to earn extra points to level up your character. All this means that you’ll come to grasp the schemes far more effectively than ever before. By the time you work through the career mode once, you’ll be a master who’s more than ready to jump online.

You’ll also learn very quickly that if, like in those old games, you try to just stand and bang most of the time, you’ll end up knocked out on the canvas more often than not. The emphasis on the ground game is critical here, but with everything assigned to two simple motions modified by the specific button you press, the barrier for entry is far lower than it once was when it comes to the control scheme.

I went from not knowing how to apply a submission—never mind locking one in—to being a submissions specialist in EA Sports UFC, making 75 percent of my opponents tap over a 38-4 career. I won The Ultimate Fighter tournament to get my UFC contract, had two stints as the UFC Light Heavyweight champ, and I mastered a variety of locks: inverted triangles, armbars, Kimuras, and more. The game offers fewer satisfying feelings than knowing your opponent tapped out. Mind you, it’s much harder on a human opponent, but it’s not impossible—again only amping up that feeling of accomplishment.

My only issue with the career mode is that the training segments, while comprehensive, also became repetitive later on in your career. Some variety here could’ve really helped that section of the game keep its legs, but at least there’s an option to skip the training, which is especially nice once you max out your character near retirement.

I didn’t just grapple with AI-controlled opponents during my time with EA Sports UFC, though—I also took my skills online. While I never won fights online before in older UFC games, I was 3-2 here in an obviously limited stint, making one opponent tap and knocking the other two out (including one sick finish as Jon Jones with a Superman punch off the cage wall). And, yeah, I lost two matches, but they were really close: One went to a decision, and the other? I admit, I got my butt knocked out as B.J. Penn.

Not everything here is as flawless as Rondy Rousey’s 9-0 career start, however. In terms of technical shortcomings, the game has some framerate drops, both offline and online. It seemed to pop up most frequently with sudden camera shifts, like when starting the submission minigame. It’s not enough to ruin matches, but it’s enough to be noticeable and a bit bothersome at times.

I also feel like there could’ve been some improvement on the presentation side of things. While the real-time videos of Dana White, Mike Dolce, and a bevy of real-world fighters rooting me on and offering advice were nice, I was horribly disappointed by the lack of pomp and circumstance when I won a belt, made significant strides with my career, and finally was inducted into the hall of fame.

And speaking of looks, character customization could’ve been a bit deeper. To start with, the game offers fewer options than in THQ’s glory days in regards to the characters themselves. What’s more, when I unlocked new gear and sponsors, since there were no rewards associated with them besides making my character look more like an authentic UFC fighter walking to the Octagon instead of a bum off the street, there was no reason to even bother messing with them. Let “Bam Bam” Carsillo look like a hobo. I don’t care; I’ll still kick your butt. Actually, I wonder if I can make my next created fighter’s nickname be “The Bum.”

When my time with EA Sports UFC was done, despite the presence of a little lag and a few customization shortcomings, I really couldn’t get enough of the game. In terms of how everything plays out once you step foot in the Octagon, there’s never been a more accurate or enjoyable representation of the UFC brand. The controls are intuitive and easy to learn, and no MMA game has looked more realistic. Fighting fans and MMA fans alike will want to jump into this one.

Developer: EA Canada • Publisher: EA Sports • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 06.17.14
9.0
The best representation of the action that happens inside the Octagon yet. While it’s not simple, the control scheme is still easy enough to learn that it takes the experience to an entirely new level as you break your opponents down standing up, in the clinch, or on the mat. With outstanding next-gen visuals, EA Sports UFC is good enough to carry around a championship belt.
The Good A dynamic fighting system that makes it feel like you’re actually in the Octagon.
The Bad Training system could use some variety; some lag during matches.
The Ugly How sad I was after having to hang up “Bam Bam” Carsillo’s gloves.
EA Sports UFC is available on Xbox One and PS4. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by EA Sports for the benefit of this review.

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.

Sweep the leg? I can’t, Sensei. I’m using Kinect.

When I look at the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 hardware, there’s not the largely noticeable jump that defined previous generational transitions. One piece of tech that was supposed to help embody the little bit of change we did receive, however, was the new Kinect sensor. Whereas the original Kinect needed all your playing conditions to be just right in order to work (and even then, it failed at times), the next-gen model was supposed to alleviate many of these problems.

Space and lighting issues would be a thing of the past, and the sensor would pick up the slightest movements—right down to your tiniest finger twitch. While the voice-command recognition can be tested via the Xbox One’s menus, we wouldn’t be able to see the most needed improvements until we actually got a game specifically designed for the peripheral. Unfortunately, if Fighter Within was supposed to show off how far Microsoft’s Kinect technology has come, then new-gen motion controls might be in trouble.

Issues to which first-generation Kinect users have become accustomed—such as inaccurate motion tracking and input lag—are prevalent in Fighter Within. You can’t even navigate the game’s menus effectively, because the recognition is so piss poor. I’d often have to use my controller to move through the wretchedly clunky user interface, since my body movements and voice commands were completely ignored outside of fights.

Once you manage to get past the menus, you’ll find the game has two modes. The first of these is your standard arcade-type option. You pick one of the game’s 12 fighters and move up a ladder comprised of eight of the other fighters (there are no mirror matches).

The other is a story mode called Initiation that follows a street urchin named Matt through 21 fights that are supposed to tie his tale together. I wish I could tell you something more about Matt and his journey, but there aren’t any cutscenes until the very end, and the between-bout dialogue is so devoid of personality that I quickly stopped caring. Oh, Matt’s father was a drunk boxer! And his opponent’s mother a disgraced Olympian! I wasn’t sure if I should use the Kinect to help determine a winner in brutal one-on-one combat or ask my Xbox One to find them a good therapist.

Then, finally, you get into actual combat, and it’s here that any fleeting hopes for Fighter Within at least being a fun tech demo are thrown out the window. The game does offer an interesting variety of moves for a motion-control game: standard punches and kicks, picking up sticks to whack your opponent in the face, jumping off scenery in the level, and even special powers—and you’ll need to go through Initiation mode just to be slowly introduced to everything your fighter can do. Of course, even with the added tutorials, it can be a bit much to take it all in, and you’ll find yourself falling in love with just a handful of moves that are more than enough to work your way through the ranks.

Still, this is all contingent on the Kinect sensor actually picking up your movements. Straight punches and kicks aren’t a problem, but the more complex the maneuver, the less likely the game will accurately translate it onscreen. Often, my grab and throw attempts turned into straight punches, kicks turned into wasted special moves, and raising my arms above my head for one special turned into nothing but a high block. And if you move too quickly, the delay between your actions and what happens onscreen becomes more prevalent. There’s nothing more frustrating in Fighter Within than watching your character throw extra punches into a blocking opponent after you’ve stopped—and then being helpless as the computer takes advantage.

It might not be entirely fair to condemn the new Kinect, because after playing this game for several hours, I think Fighter Within just may be one of the most poorly designed motion-control games we’ve seen yet. Simply put, it’s a complete mess. It almost feels like this was a game meant for the motion-tracking technology of the original Kinect, but because nothing was in the pipeline for the Xbox One’s launch window to show off what its new sensor can do beyond dancing and workout games, the project was shuffled from one platform to the other. That’s still no excuse, however, for this being one of the worst launch games I’ve ever had to play, and it should be avoided at all costs.

Developer: Daoka • Publisher: Ubisoft • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 11.22.13
2.5
Fighter Within was buried under the rest of the Xbox One launch lineup for a reason. This one-on-one fighter is a throwback to the problems of the first Kinect—and does nothing but sow seeds of doubt that the next-gen Kinect sensor is any different from its predecessor.
The Good Interesting array of moves, including arena interaction. 
The Bad Input lag can be pretty terrible; lack of overall movement recognition, navigating the menus.
The Ugly How winded I was after some of the fights.
Fighter Within is a Xbox One exclusive. 

Back from the Grave

Fans of the hit Spike TV show Deadliest Warrior are more than familiar with its concept. A pair of history’s greatest factions or individual warriors are pitted against each other in a computer simulated battle after using real-life statistical input by modern experts on their techniques and practices. Using this data, not only does Spike TV put on an entertaining hour long show with three seasons (and hopefully more soon) under its belt, but they’ve put out a pair of games based on some of their most epic match-ups that are meant to relive the highest highs of the show.  And conveniently now, they have compiled both of those downloadable games into one disc, including all the DLC, a bonus arena, and six episodes from Season Three of the show for the price of $29.99.

So, on paper, this is worth it because if you didn’t get these games the first time around, you’re basically getting everything you could’ve bought online via XBLA or PSN, plus half a season of Season Three of the show. But compared to a lot of the other fighting games out there, unfortunately, these games really have trouble stacking up. Although definitely different, fighting fans that aren’t familiar with the show will have a lot of trouble getting into these games, especially with the lack of a life-bar in Legends and the one-hit kills in both games. And since technically Legends is better as a lot of the collision issues from the first game were fixed, the fighting game veterans whose curiosity get the better of them might even pass over the first game altogether.

What really holds these games back though is the depth and replay value because there just aren’t a lot of fighting fans that have stuck with these games so there is little online community to be found to fight against. And the CPU, even with varying difficulty levels, can only offer so much resistance. And if you really were a fan of the series and bought these games the first time around, there is no reason to buy these games again as the only real difference is the TV episodes and a single arena.

So, when all is said and done, Deadliest Warrior: Ancient Combat is a great bang for your buck if you’re a fan of the franchise, can look past the technical shortcomings, and didn’t get these games online already, but if you’re just a diehard fighting fan or already have these on XBLA or PSN, there is no need to bother with buying this all over again.

SUMMARY: Fans of the SpikeTV show will enjoy having a chance to relive some of the battles they’ve seen on TV and the bonus DVD is nice, but when compared to other entries in the fighting genre, the Deadliest Warrior franchise comes up a little short and won’t satisfy people looking for a deeper fighting experience.

  • THE GOOD: Strong bang for your buck
  • THE BAD: Lacks the polish of other fighters
  • THE UGLY: Post-death twitching corpses

SCORE: 5.0

Deadliest Warrior: Ancient Combat is available on Xbox 360 (XBLA) and PS3 (PSN). Primary version reviewed was on Xbox 360.