QOTW: What’s Your Favorite Anime Opening?

It’s Wednesday and that means it’s time for another Question of The Week! Now if you don’t know already, I thoroughly enjoy anime. From the zany antics of a slice of life comedy to the unbearable sorrow of a heart wrenching drama, I will watch it all. However, nothing gets me more pumped up for a show then a good opening song. (I’ve even been known to keep watching an objectively terrible show because the opening theme is too good.) Here are a few of my favorite openings:

“Obsession” – .hack/Sign

The first theme song that I can recall leaving a lasting impression in my head was “Obsession” by See-Saw for the show .hack//Sign. The shrill noise in the first two seconds gets my heart beating at full throttle every time.

“Forever We Can Make It” – To Love Ru

When it comes to bad shows, I think it’s pretty difficult to top something like To Love Ru, but damned if it doesn’t have a banging opening song. With its catchy lyrics and heavy hitting pop punk attitude “Forever We Can Make It” by Thyme is hard to ignore.

“Sawakaze”Kimi Ni Todoke

It would be an egregious act if I didn’t introduce more people to one of the greatest romance anime of all time, Kimi Ni Todoke. While I can admit the opening of the first season didn’t quite hook me, the second season’s opening really hits me where it hurts. If any show could be perfectly defined by its theme song, Kimi Ni Todoke is encapsulated exquisitely by “Sawakaze” by Tomofumi Tanizawa. With no embarrassment, I can state this song makes me cry with each listen.

Those are some of my favorite anime openings. What are some of yours? Please let us know in the comments!

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Kamen Rider: Japan’s Legacy Superhero

In my senior year of high school, I was getting into Mecha anime and frequented a certain imageboard. Through this community I managed to discover some older anime from the 80s and 90s I had never heard of, but I also discovered something else this small community talked about: Tokusatsu.

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Tokusatsu, in Japan, is a live action television show or movie that uses extensive of special effects. A western example would probably be Doctor Who, which in Japan was marketed as Britain’s longest running tokusatsu show. When it comes to fandom though, the term tokusatsu in the western fandom tends to exclusively include Asian productions. In Japan, the medium includes Godzilla, Ultraman, Super Sentai and my personal favorite, Kamen Rider.

Kamen Rider is one of the most prevalent tokusatsu franchises, and is one of the oldest. The original Kamen Rider was created by manga god Shotaro Ishinomori. The franchise started in 1971 and continues to run today. It’s a live-action superhero show, with a lot of fun over-the-top action and toy-selling gimmicks.

The original Kamen Rider Ichigo series ran throughout 1973 but an important precedent was placed when the next series starred a new Kamen Rider entirely. The structure of the franchise is every year, a new Kamen Rider with a new story stars in their own 50-ish episode show and 2-ish movies. After that series is done, the show is rebooted to fit a new story and a new Kamen Rider. There’s still an underlying continuity, with older Riders teaming up with newer Riders in special episodes, straight-to-video content, and movies.

When I started to get into the franchise, what got me interested was the special effects, the Japanese-ness of the material, and the overall optimism and enthusiasm that a lot of the better Kamen Rider series deal in. In the early 2010s, the overall grittiness of Western superhero media (especially the New 52 stuff) kind of left me in the dust. The goofy optimism of Kamen Rider was what I desperately needed at the time, and my first series was a part of a new generation of Kamen Riders.

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I’m completely biased about this, but Kamen Rider W (Pronounced Double) is one of the best places to start watching this franchise. What makes Double special is it’s great fight scenes, it’s fun characters, and it’s overall execution.

In the windy city of Futo, the powerful Sonozaki Family sell USB-shaped devices called Gaia Memories to anyone who will take them. These Gaia Memories turn their users into powerful monsters called Dopants, but also contain a toxin that drives them insane and may eventually kill them. After his boss dies, the half-boiled detective Shotaro Hidari works with a mysterious man named Phillip to form Kamen Rider W to save Futo’s residents from Dopants, as well as save the people behind the Dopants.

What makes this series special is the great cast of characters: Shotaro and Phillip have a great dynamic and the Boss’s daughter, Akiko, tends to bounce between annoying, cute and funny. There’s also the too-serious Kamen Rider Accel Ryu Terui, who shows up about halfway throughout the series to shake the show’s dynamic up. That’s not to mention the half-dozen recurring characters, all of which get the time to shine.

If this show is up your alley, I’d highly recommend Fourze, OOOs, Faiz, and Kabuto. There are tons of options in the twenty-seven series that exist thus far, but this is my biggest recommendation, and there are a ton of recommendation guides if you wanted something different.

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There’s been a couple times it’s been adapted in the US, but always to critical or commercial failure. Haim Saban’s 1995 adaption Masked Rider is a complete mess to a point of laughter from the fandom, whereas 2008’s Kamen Rider Dragon Knight was a pretty decent adaption until they suddenly decided to just add aliens to the plot for no reason.

There hasn’t been an adaption since Dragon Knight and personally, I feel if the right series was marketed and adapted correctly it could be fairly popular. Considering it’s sister series, Super Sentai, has had a lot of success here it’s a damn shame that Kamen Rider never hit the big time in the west.

It’s crazy to come from the US where almost no one knows about the franchise to go to Japan where it’s a big popular thing you can find anywhere. You can’t even find officially subtitled versions, despite the fact that shows like Ultraman and Super Sentai have made progress on that end in the past few years.

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I love Kamen Rider, so I wrote this to share my love of this franchise, even if it’s just to a few people. It’s no doubt a kid’s show, sure, but there’s a lot of great work put into every series. If you’re willing to seek it out, Kamen Rider is a distinctly Japanese superhero franchise worth the watch.

Completely Biased: Dark Witch Music Episode: Rudymical

Rhythm games can be wonderful. Out of all the genres in gaming, they’re usually the one to surprise me the most. They almost feel like they can be paired with any other genre for a creative mashing like nothing else. Just take a look at Crypt Of The Necrodancer, a fantastic RPG rhythm game which has all the elements of a traditional RPG, but then sets it to music and you time your moves to the music. It’s honestly just a great combination of two of my favorite types of games. Then we get Dark Witch Music Episode: Rudymical or as everyone will soon call it, DWMER. It’s a rhythm game that’s paired up with boss battles where you chop your way through enemy projectiles which in turn lowers the enemy’s health. It’s a cool concept, but it gets messy pretty quickly.

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DWMER comes to you from the creators of The Legend of Dark Witch and all the other titles associated with said series. Now given that I haven’t played any of the games in the primary franchise, I can’t tell you how well this connects to or upholds the integrity of those games, but if this game is any indication of their quality, the franchise must have promise and some solid entertainment value. I’m not saying that you should expect anything grand, but for the price you pay, you’ll certainly be well entertained.

If I’m being completely honest, I bought this game out of frustration. I’ve been frustrated with the lack of games on the Nintendo Switch and when I saw this game, and its price, I decided that was more than enough to convince me. For the $7.99 price tag you get two playable characters right from the start, a handful of bosses/songs to choose from and a multiplayer mode. That’s not bad.

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The way the game handles song selection is fairly unique. Each boss has their own song, but the unfortunate thing is that you can’t hear what the song will sound like until you start playing. It would have been nice if they included a preview to make it a little bit more like a traditional rhythm game. The battles are fun and pretty short and most the time the attacks line up with the rhythm of the songs well enough for you to get in some good combos. I did struggle a bit with the player character’s annoying yelping, but the developers thankfully took that into account and added a way to disable it from the settings in the main menu.

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All in all it’s a fairly fun game. It’s got plenty of unlockables such players and bosses/songs and it’s got that two player mode as well. I wouldn’t tell anyone to rush out and buy this game, but if you’re just looking for something a little fun to kill some time in between sessions of Breath of The Wild then look no further.

Verdict: If you like to rhythmically hit balls, this game is for you.

 

 

QOTW: What’s Your Worst Gaming Experience?

We’ve all been there. We’ve either purchased a game we’ve waited years for only to be sorely disappointed or we tried playing a multiplayer game with an overly aggressive and angry individual that destroyed any essence of fun. Whatever the case or cases may be, we’ve had unfortunate times in our gaming history, but which one was the worst?

Now, I know this is a subjective question. By gaming experience, I quite literally mean any experience involving gaming. You don’t even have to be the one playing the game. Maybe you saw a friend throw his controller through his TV because he was struggling to get that final high score in Peggle. Maybe your worst gaming experience was having to watch your friend play Peggle. Who knows? All that matters is that it qualifies by being a video game experience. No board games this time around.

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Seriously. Look what they did to the fucking unicorn.

For me, it’s too hard to call. It’s not that there’s so many for me to choose from, it’s just that they are all about equal levels of shitty. I’ve had games spoiled for me, I’ve had people act like jackasses when I was trying to play seriously in co-op and I’ve even had times where things nearly got violent. I find it hard to pick just one. I’ve reached this point that unless someone repeatedly punches me in the face while I’m playing a game I’ve waited 10 years for while telling me in painful detail how the main character dies in the last level, I probably won’t be too phased by anything.

So what about you? What was your worst gaming experience?

Before the Attack On Titan Anthology…

In October of 2016, Kodansha Comics released the Attack On Titan Anthology, a book based upon the extremely popular manga franchise. The anthology was made specifically for the large following the original manga had gained in North America. The Anthology’s stories were made exclusively by Western comic creators, and it was a big deal because of its western origins and the diverse stable of creators that worked on it. While there hasn’t been any word about how well the Attack On Titan anthology has done, a mark of its success is the similar Ghost In The Shell Anthology coming next year from the same publisher.

While the Attack On Titan Anthology was a big push toward the crossover between western comics and manga, it was hardly the first. Western comic creators working with anime and manga intellectual properties for over fifty years.

In 1965 Gold Key Comics, a publisher largely known for their work on licensed TV and cartoon comics, gained the license for Astro Boy from NBC. My source, this article from Manga Bookshelf, only claims that one issue was created but from what I’ve found, it’s the earliest Western comic adaption of anime. This wasn’t the last time Astro Boy was adapted to American comics, either.

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Astroboy #1, 1965, Gold Key Comics
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Brian Thomas and Marc Hansen, The Original Astro Boy, March 1989, NOW! Comics
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E.J Su, Astro Boy: The Movie, January 2009, IDW Comics

Astro Boy was adapted again by NOW! Comics as The Original Astro Boy and ran from 1987 to 1989. In 2009, IDW Comics put out two miniseries to coincide with the animated movie’s release: a prequel and an adaption.

However, I’m getting way ahead of myself. The single-issue Astro Boy comic was a huge outlier: the first few adaptions from anime and manga to comic started in the 1980. A lot of manga in the 80s and 90s was released in single-issue floppies, not unlike the weekly releases from Marvel and DC. In fact, it was Marvel’s imprint Epic Comics that initially colorized and released Akira in that floppy format with a run lasting from 1989 to 1995.

Early translated manga was far more niche than anything you’d see today: initially, these floppy-style translated manga were only sold in comic shops and were generally obscure. These comic-style manga existed until the early 2000s, when the “graphic novel” or tankōbon format prevailed, and the manga section in your local Barnes and Noble became commonplace. Yet, despite manga’s obscurity, this early environment was when multiple western comics based upon anime/manga began their run.

In the late 70s and early 80s, Marvel found that licensed comics based upon toy properties were extremely lucrative. In fact, one of the licenses that they obtained was Shogun Warriors, a line of toys based upon imported super robot properties that most people in the United States had little access to. The comic Shogun Warriors only focused on three mecha and their pilots: Combatra which was based upon Combattler V, Raydeen which was based upon Brave Raideen, and Danguard Ace which was based upon Planetary Robot Danguard Ace.

The Shogun Warriors comics have a degree of separation due to this being an adaption of the toy line rather than the anime and manga themselves. It’s extremely notable due to its age: the first issue came out in 1979 and the series lasted until 1980.

The Jack Kirby Museum website indicates that the King himself was tapped to work on a Gigantor comic around the same time the Shogun Warriors comics were released. The article notes that plans feel through, and I couldn’t find any other sources than this on a Gigantor comic from Marvel.

Similarly to Astro Boy, in 1987 Speed Racer, another classic anime, was adapted into a comic by Now! Comics. The book ran from 1987 to 1990 and even outlasted the Astro Boy book, with an Astro Boy back-up story being featured in Speed Racer #17 after it’s cancellation.

The longest running comic series I could find based upon an anime is the Toren Smith and Adam Warren-written Dirty Pair comics, published initially by Eclipse Comics and then by Dark Horse Comics. While a fairly short run in terms of issue count (24), the way that the Dirty Pair Comics worked was that it wasn’t really an ongoing comic. Dirty Pair began as multiple miniseries, but later were just published straight to graphic novel format.

While Toren Smith left early, he and Adam Warren were some of the earliest manga-influenced artists found in Western comics. Toren Smith at the time was known for Ninja High School, whereas Adam Warren is a little more relevant today due to his Empowered superhero comic. Adam Warren also worked on Bubblegum Crisis: Grand Mal for Dark Horse in 1995. Dirty Pair led to a long run, from 1988 to 2002: fourteen years of Adam Warren art evolution and original English manga.

While most of what I’ve found is exhausted, there’s one last oddity I’d like to talk about. In 2013, BOOM! Comics imprint Archaia released a graphic novel based upon Cyborg 009. The book was written by F.J. DeSanto and Bradley Cramp and drawn by Marcus To and Ian Herring. Some of these Western adaptions are really interesting for their place in history: the Dirty Pair book, for example, shows that the Dirty Pair anime was popular enough in certain circles for it to be adapted into a western comic with a fourteen year run. Personally, when I came upon this book I was extremely curious why a Cyborg 009 Graphic Novel by a western team was published in 2014, when the original series doesn’t have much of a fandom in the West. According to this interview with F. J. DeSanto, the book was part of a push to make Shotaro Ishinomori’s work more well-known in the US.

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By Ian Fleming and Marcus To, Cyborg 009, 2013, Archaia Comics

While there isn’t a ton of Western comics adapting these Japanese properties, I’d like to think that the crossover between East and West when it comes to comics is a part of the future. There are other things I likely overlooked, but if you have any Western comics about anime and manga you’d like to share with me, leave a comment below! I may write a follow-up on this, possibly from the other end: anime and manga about American comics and properties. Until next time, thank you.

QOTW: What’s Your Favorite Mario Kart Entry?

Since the launch of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe last Friday, my Switch has been getting a bunch of attention. Waiting for the game to drop on the eShop at midnight was one of the most exciting releases for me in recent memory apart from Persona 5 for obvious reasons. I adored Mario Kart 8 for the Wii U, it was one of my favorite games on that console and then when they added the Animal Crossing and Legend of Zelda DLC I became even more enamored. How could a company know exactly what I want? And how could they pull it off exactly how I wanted? That’s part of the greatness of Nintendo. They give us such wonderful and finely detailed products that leave us wanting more. So that got me to thinking: even with how great I think Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is, can I really call it my favorite? Is there another entry in the series that I love even more?

Almost all the people I know around my age got introduced to Mario Kart on the N64. It was a welcomed change of pace from the hectic onslaught that was Super Smash Bros and the intense space battles of Star Fox 64. It was something much more casual like Mario Party, but still had enough of an edge to it to make it competitive. It was a great fit for the console and the accompanying library of games.

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But the game that really sold me on the series was Mario Kart: Double Dash for the GameCube. Talk about a beast of a game. With the cast of characters more than doubled from the previous entry and the addition of back seat drivers, special items, stats and dual items, the game added so much more complexity and engagement to the franchise that I was hooked.

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Look at those choices.

But sadly, after that entry, none of the future games ever seemed to grab my interest. The Wii version was painfully forgettable and the ones for the handhelds never had the party nature of the game that I cherished so much.

Even with the incredible additions they put into Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Mario Kart: Double Dash remains to be my favorite in the series to this day.

So, what about you? What’s your favorite entry in the franchise?

 

Written by G. S. Martin

Caleb Gillen’s Five Most Influential Video Games

Ah, video games: by the time I was in college, I began to truly appreciate the way that video games have helped to mold my life into what it is right now. I started with Sonic the Hedgehog when I was 3 or 4 and now, it’s been a lifelong hobby. So, to celebrate the 20+ years I’ve spent playing video games, as well as my introduction into Truly Abrasive, I’m going to talk to you about the games that have had the largest influence on me over time.

These are in no particular order.

Super Smash Bros (N64)

So, the Nintendo 64 was my first console, ever. I had a Game Boy Color first for my fifth birthday but the Nintendo 64 was the iconic system of my early childhood, not unlike a ton of nineties kids. One of the first games that came with the system was Super Smash Bros, and there’s a good reason why I’m not putting any of its much-improved sequels on here.smash.png

Afternoons with my uncle were spent desperately trying to beat his Captain Falcon. For characters other than Mario, Kirby, Link, and Pikachu this was really my first interaction with every other Nintendo character. I mean, I’m not sure if I would have ever played any of the Metroid series, Star Fox series, or Earthbound without playing this game first.

Another big thing that made this game extremely influential was its longevity. I rarely played Melee outside of other friends’ houses, even if Melee was objectively better. My family gathered to watch or play Smash 64 at almost every gathering. From ages 7 to 13, even if I rarely touched my N64, Smash was always a family mainstay. For a younger me, this was competitive gaming.

Kirby: Nightmare in Dreamland (GBA)

Let me just tell you, the ad to this thing was the most addictive thing in the universe as a child. You’ve got this fake sounding James Bond theme for Kirby, that was nonetheless catchy as heck. This game was released in what I call THE ERA OF KIRBY, the period of time when the anime ran, and both Nightmare in Dreamland and Kirby Air Ride were released. While I wasn’t able to enjoy Air Ride until around high school, Kirby: Nightmare in Dreamland was a mainstay for awhile.

The biggest complaint you can make about this game, or any Kirby game is that it’s too easy, but ten year old me had no issues with that. The big reason why this game was so influential isn’t due to the fact that it was my first Kirby game, (In fact, that was Kirby’s Dreamland, the original Game Boy game) but that it was another family experience.

My sister is not a gamer at all, but this was this was a game experience that both my sister and I shared and  we both love to this day. This game also taught me the value of short games like Kirby: there are no real long Kirby games that I can remember, but each one is slam dunk because of its lack of bloat.

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3) Jet Set Radio Future (Xbox)

Jet Set Radio Future, for a while, was my white whale. The first convention I ever went to, Anime Boston 2006, had a place on the gaming floor for JSRF and I was absolutely blown away. I just kept on playing it and playing it and didn’t really know what the game was. It took until I got an Xbox 360 to get a copy of it and let me tell you: this is a franchise that desperately needs a sequel.

While the original Jet Set Radio didn’t age super well mechanically, it’s sequel is still sound in that regard. Jet Set Radio Future is an experiment that was born from an era of Tony Hawk games with realistic graphics, basically no story (besides the THUG games), and an American rock/rap playlist. The Jet Set Radio franchise is  Japan’s answer to those games, with outlandish graffiti graphics, a downright zany story, and an original Japanese soundtrack.

When I got Jet Set Radio Future, it taught me the value of art direction over graphics in an era where all my friends were talking about the graphics of sports games and Call of Duty. Aesthetics and art direction is king in the Jet Set Radio games, and it sure as hell aged a lot better than the realistic games of 2002.

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4) Persona 4 (PS2)

Garrett beat me to this, but unlike him, I’m talking about my experience with the originalpersona4 Persona 4. This game, honestly, is hard to talk about because a lot of people have said a lot of things about it. For me, at this point, I had grown up with a ton of JRPGs, from Chrono Trigger to Final Fantasy 7 to Pokemon: the reason why they aren’t on this list is because Persona 4, at least before Persona 5 came out, was the apex of the JRPG for me.

I had played a bit of Persona 3 FES when I was in high school, but for a while I wasn’t as into video games as I was before, and was focusing on a ton of other stuff, particularly my anime fandom. I had heard a lot about Persona 4 before I started playing and despite it’s slow start, I was hooked.

Persona 4, in a lot of ways, showed me where turn-based RPGs had to go and where Japanese games in general were going. It, like Jet Set Radio Future, has amazing aesthetics but it’s gameplay and writing are incredibly strong. People are still talking about these characters, and their charm has led to at least a half a dozen spin-off games, and by god does this game deserve it.

5) The World Ends With You (iPhone/Android)

Ever play a game, read a book, or watch a movie that feels like it was made specifically for you? For me, that game was The World Ends With You. When I purchased TWEWY, I came from a background watching and playing stuff like Yu-Gi-Oh!, Mega Man Battle Network and Kingdom Hearts. The World Ends With You is basically the combination of all those elements I loved growing up in the most perfect way.

For me, the Pin-based, deck building gameplay was something I never knew I always wanted. For a while, I grew up thinking I hated the over complicated designs of Tetsuya Nomura, but The World Ends With You franchise proved me wrong, and let a more refined design shine through. The music, again like Jet Set Radio, is extremely distinct J-pop and J-rap and it’s a story has an extremely fleshed out setting and experience. The music and the fashion and trend mechanics only enhance the city of Shibuya Neku is trapped in.

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The phone port was the first way I managed to experience the game in the early 2010s, and Neku’s story is in a great contrast to a lot of other Square Enix teenagers and protagonists. Neku starts off moody, his emotional arc throughout the story starts him at moody teenager who thinks he doesn’t needing anything, and ends him at accepting his feelings and learning that he can’t avoid his emotions. In a lot of ways, it’s about going from teenager to adult, and as I was in my first year of college when I started playing this, it was something I also needed to learn.

Written by Caleb Gillen

Completely Biased: Deformers (PS4)

Maybe the developers behind the game should change their name to Somewhat Ready At Dawn, am I right? Anyway, Deformers, from the minds behind The Order 1886 and those two PSP God of War games, seems like a step in a radically different direction for the studio and honestly, it shows. The game plays a lot like a concept that never evolved. It’s creative, cute, colorful and fun, but the fun certainly came last in the development of this $30-dollar game.

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Look at all the cute squishy things.

Gameplay is only one aspect of fun in a video game. The whole experience with the game can’t feel like it’s a chore. Unfortunately for Deformers, they didn’t seem to understand that concept because everything, and I mean everything, was a chore. The game consists of these little creatures who are all nice and squishy and they generally just go around ramming each other until one explodes and one is victorious. The idea behind that seems so stupidly simple and enjoyable that you think the rest of the game would be too.

Let’s start with problem number one, the game must be connected to the internet. I don’t hate always online games like Destiny or anything like that because it makes sense for those types of games, but when you can’t even edit your characters in the workshop or play locally because the game can’t connect to the internet, you have made some very poor design choices. And let’s talk about the customization for a second. With the price of all the accessories and various items and how much money you earn via their level up system, it’s clear that Ready At Dawn is pushing to have you buy their in game currency through the PlayStation store, Xbox Marketplace, etc. I ranked up quite a bit in the game before trading it into GameStop and all I could afford was a blue hat. A little blue hat to put on my squishy friend. What kind of reward system is that?

The second big problem that needs to be address are the servers. They are terrible. I found myself lucky not just be in a full game, but a game period. It didn’t matter what mode I was playing, it would always struggle to connect and then when it did, I never got booted, but I always seemed to see a bunch of players just leaving left and right. It was very unfortunate because I loved ramming into my enemies and making them go splat, but that fun started to diminish when there was only one chump running away from me and my posse.

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They see me rollin’. They hatin’.

The third and final problem are the modes. They are incredibly bland. While the character choices are different enough to make a real impact, you really only have two modes because team deathmatch and deathmatch don’t do much to change things up so you’re basically left with some type of deathmatch and what they call Form Ball. If you want to play a soccer based game where you can charge into people and have them explode, you might as well just play Rocket League. I was very disappointed that their soccer mode was unpolished and uneventful. They didn’t have cool extra powers to help you out or something. It was just boring and after about five games of it I was done.

Deformers is a good idea, but a missed opportunity. Maybe next time, Ready At Dawn. Maybe next time. (Isn’t that what everyone said after The Order 1886?)

 

Verdict: Save your money. Buy Rocket League.

 

Written by G. S. Martin

G. S. Martin’s Most Influential Games

I believe there’s a distinctive difference between what games you view to be the best and what games are the most influential to you. Sure, there might be some overlap like with my list here, but a lot of these games I put on here are on this list because of how they defined me not just as a gamer, a writer and as someone who works in the industry, but as a person as well.

These games are in no specific order.

Super Mario RPG: Legend Of The Seven Stars (SNES)

Super Mario RPG: Legend Of The Seven Stars was the first time I really felt connected to characters in a video game. It also happened to be my first time with an RPG. Growing up playing other games in the Mario franchise such as Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World, I just couldn’t get enough. They were addicting and masterpieces in my eyes, so when I heard there was a new Mario game coming out, I ran right out to my local Toys “R” Us and nabbed it.

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And then came the unsettling realization, this was not a Mario game. At least not in the traditional sense. It wasn’t a part of my comfort zone. What were with all these different button choices? Why was everything 3D and isometric? WHY WASN’T I JUMPING ON THINGS?! Naturally, I didn’t handle this change very well and begged to be brought back to the store so I could return it. Now this was way before video game trade-ins or proper return policies and so as I soon found out, I was stuck with it. This weird mutated Mario adventure. But I had nothing else to play for the system, so I gave it a second chance. I’m glad I did because I became enamored. It’s not an understatement to say that for the first time in my life I became emotionally invested in a video game and its characters. Everything in the game was designed to drag out some sort of emotional response.

My first time fighting Belome and watching one of my characters get licked and swallowed up by this strange bloated dog-like creature game me more than enough reason to be a little uncomfortable. The music in Booster’s castle, with its off-kilter and often uncomfortable nature, made for a perfect place to explore the depths of an insane man. Then there were the characters. To this day, I truly believe this is the most accurate depiction of Mario. A mute who pantomimes everything and comes off as heroic, dorky and sincere. Since then, I really just think that he’s become an ass. Geno, the fan favorite, was the cool character we all wanted to be. This mysterious force from the stars who could take over a doll’s body and turn it into a brutal fighting machine equipped with his own gun hidden in his arm that shoots stars at his enemies. He was, quite simply, the coolest video game character around.

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“I can turn you into a scarecrow too, you know.”

But the game was so much more than just coolness. It was about depth and emotion, the destruction of people’s wishes and dreams. The realization that some people look up to you and want to be you even though you might not even realize it. The game excelled at creating a universe that felt both uniquely different from Mario and completely similar to early Mario entries and I think that’s no easy feat.

City Of Heroes (PC MMORPG)

Who hasn’t dreamed of being a super hero as a child? The notion of being able to run through a city taking down bad guys and saving the world. It’s a thrilling thought. And even though City Of Heroes gave me that outlet, it ended up giving me a lot more than I could have expected. The two things that always drew me back to the game were system’s the character creation mode feature and the fabulous social atmosphere the game had cultivated. Being able to create any sort of hero, such as an average Joe who used a sword and a shield to cut through the baddies to a flying werewolf who controlled plants and minds, and then forming your own Justice League-esque super group was enthralling.

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City Of Heroes gave me my social life when I was uncomfortable and weird at school and reclusive at home. Being able to form bonds between strangers from all over the globe while destroying bases of crazy cyborg creatures together was just what I needed at the time. I remember signing in for the last day of the game, hours before the servers were shut down. Everyone was emotional. People were telling their favorite stories of old adventures and weeping on each other’s virtual shoulders. This game was a home and an escape for so many people. A haven that no one will ever get to experience again, but one I will never forget.

Black (PS2)

Black was a shooter that did storytelling and, most importantly, shooting right. It didn’t focus on any multiplayer, it didn’t unnecessarily put you through tutorials on how to use each gun; it just threw you right into the water and hoped you would sometime be able to make your way to the shoreline. One of the most memorable aspects of this game for me was the use of live action video in its cut scenes. It was the first time I’d ever seen it done and even since then it has been the only time I’ve even seen it done well. At the time, it added this sense of realism to the game. It let me believe that I was actually reliving a failed mission and uncovering the pieces to my character’s past, not just simply being told what had happened. When you take that kind of storytelling and then add the number of destructible environments they had included in the game, it was a shooter unlike any other at the time.

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When I look back and think hard about what makes the game hold up by today’s standards, I’d have to say the level design. Each level felt special. They weren’t just reworked and reskinned levels that they knew had succeeded in similar games. They had personality to them. The opening level remains to be one of my favorite levels in any video game. The moment you find the RPG and take down some of the buildings, it’s magical. The shooting mechanics and AI were pretty solid as well. Unlike some shooters over the past five to ten years where they can’t decide how many bullets an enemy should be able to take or whether the player is smart enough to challenge an AI with a shotgun, everything in Black felt smooth and polished. I knew that I had to be careful sometimes and other times I knew I had the upper hand. Every few years I pull Black out just to remind me what really got me into shooters and for the hopes of a true sequel. Not some “spiritual successor” bullshit like Bodycount. But that’s a different story.

Hotel Dusk: Room 215 (DS)

Visual novels are a little sweet spot for me. They tend to give me just enough of a challenge and creativity in gameplay while producing a juicy enough story to keep me motivated and entertained all the way throughout the experience. Hotel Dusk: Room 215 was the first visual novel that I played that really changed this up for me. I had played a few before on PC or DS, but this one oozed with style and gripped my mind with its simplistic, yet deep and richly woven story. The first thing you might notice while playing the game is that you hold the DS or the 3DS as if you were holding a book. You don’t use the buttons at all. It’s simply you, the screens and the stylus. You solve all your puzzles and make all your movements by simple actions on the touch screen and watch the story’s protagonist and his reactions on the left.

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The art style is gorgeous too.

In a story about an ex-cop who chases things that wish not to be found, you get the opportunity to uncover a plethora of selfish and malice filled secrets. It wasn’t the secrets themselves that grasped my attention, it was the execution. The little puzzles, the witty banter between the characters, the tension that rises when people suspect you’re more than just a regular hotel patron. It was just a game full of charm. And I games like that will always stay with me.

 

Persona 4: Golden (Vita)

If you’ve ever wanted to expertly experience the highs and of a high school youth in a world bound to the magical and mysterious, Persona 4: Golden is what you are looking for. Persona 4: Golden might just be the closest game to perfection in my eyes. I have a rule where I won’t ever call a game, anime or movie perfect because I don’t think anything can be perfect, but my God, does this game come close.

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You get the chance to make friends that feel as deep and true as anyone you might run into in real life. You must balance your school life, your part time jobs, your romances, and your friendships all while trying to solve a case about a rash of murders in a small town in the countryside of Japan. And how do you go about solving those murders? By going into a mysterious world that can only be accessed by climbing through the TV exactly at midnight while it’s raining of course! And on top of that, in this TV world, you have these insanely powerful creatures called Personas that manifest themselves from accepting different aspects of yourself. Could anything be more Japanese? But more importantly, could anything be any cooler? Who wouldn’t want to go on dates during the day and slaughter shadow creatures at night?

When I first heard about Persona 4, I was skeptical. It sounded so bizarre. It sounded like something that could never appeal to someone like me. It seemed like it was too far-fetched and jumbled together. I’m glad that I was proven wrong. I don’t think I could imagine what my gaming life would be like without knowing there are characters like Chie, Naoto and Kanji.

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In fact, I don’t think I would have played a lot of other JRPGs if I never gave this game a shot. I would have missed out on a whole genre filled with brilliant entries. I’m very grateful that Atlus decided to be weird, that they decided to be bold, but most importantly, decided to be dedicated to their vision because they gave me a once in a game so intrinsically beautiful, I don’t think I’ll ever experience something like it again.

Written by G. S. Martin

Initial Take: Love Tyrant

Heart. Absurdity. Chaos. These are the words I would choose to describe the brand-new comedy anime Love Tyrant. While most shows spend their first episode slathering everything with so much forced exposition it can feel like you’re drowning slowly in molasses, Love Tyrant bucks the trend by simply not caring. Each piece of information about the characters or answers to questions are absolutely ridiculous. It makes for a very entertaining watch on top of an already interesting premise: what happens when a girl comes to your door and tells you that if you don’t kiss death will come? How does one react to such an absurd statement? Hilariously apparently. Unfortunately, the premise itself spoils a lot of good jokes so I won’t go too far into some areas, I’ll just dance around most of the subjects.

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What makes this show so hysterical is not just the bizarre and unrealistic situations the characters get themselves into, but the characters themselves. Everyone except for the main character is insane. Aino Seiji, is an ordinary high school student who goes against a lot of the tropes you see with main characters in harem type shows. He’s handsome, smart, he’s kind, he acts on his impulses instead of just mulling them over until it’s too late and most importantly, he’s the sound of reason. He’s just an all-around good guy, not too weird, not too bland. His partner in crime however, the mysterious girl Guri who shows up at his doorstep, is another story. She suffers from a lack of a filter, lack of self-control and honestly, in some areas, just a general lack of intelligence and maturity. She’s like a baby sister that never was disciplined by her siblings or parents. She does what she wants and gets what she wants with no consequence. Thankfully, this works in the show’s favor as it plays very well with the crazy situations that unfold and the aspects of the other characters such as Akane Hiyama, Seiji’s crush who excels at everything she does, even when those things are less than savory or kind.

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Love Tyrant is a hard anime to describe without spoiling. With each moment being filled with jokes, twists and romance, I can safely confirm after watching the first two episodes that this will be the comedy of the season.

Verdict: Beyond Expectations And Highly Optimistic

Love Tyrant can be watched on Crunchyroll.

 

Written by G. S. Martin