Sep 25, 2017

Happy 10th Anniversary, Halo 3

Today is the 10th Anniversary of Halo 3, one of the most revered titles in console gaming. Halo is probably one of the most important gaming franchises in the world to me, even though for a lot of people it has fallen off the radar ever since Bungie handed the keys to the car to 343 Industries. This is not because Halo is a great franchise with addictive gameplay, but because it helped my two brothers and I become closer than ever. All of this is attributed to one game in the franchise: Halo 3.

Halo 3 came out in 2007, during my first year away from home after high school. My younger brother Brett was living away from home chasing construction jobs. My youngest brother Craig was finishing up high school, still stuck at home. It was the first time we had all been scattered to the winds, and we had honestly grown apart thanks to our newfound individual freedoms. It was more detrimental to our relationships than any of us could have imagined. And then, in the middle of a lonely and chaotic September, we all found ourselves purchasing Halo 3.
That night, through the power of Xbox Live, we plowed through the co-op campaign together. We were all excited to jump back into the universe we all loved for different reasons, but slowly found ourselves not talking about the game at all. Instead of calling out flanks and power weapons, we started connecting again about where our lives were at now that we were all separated by distance. Craig was having girl issues, Brett was overworked and I was in my first serious relationship. It took three nights in a row for the three of us to clear through the campaign mode (on Heroic), but it felt like it was months. We were all of a sudden thrust into each others' lives again.

But then we went back to our own lives. The ride was over, and I personally felt a hole in my life that I didn't realize was being filled by contact my brothers. I was playing Halo 3 here and there with my roommate and college buddies, but it honestly wasn't the same. After a frustrating online loss, I picked up my old Nokia phone and T9'd an invite to my brother to play some Halo the next night. Both my brothers said they would love to, so the next night we started a weekly ritual that lasted for months.

The three of us, plus usually a family friend, would jump into Team Skirmish or Team Slayer. On Thursday nights, the Holt Brothers took Xbox Live by storm. We laughed, made crazy clips of each other, got frustrated, and pulled off unlikely wins together. It was familial bliss.
After about a month of reconnecting, and getting really good at playing together as a team — something we had never managed before — there was a flyer that went up in one of the dorm halls on campus: Halo 3 Slayer Tournament, $10 entry, Full Teams Only. The tournament was three weeks away, and the following Thursday I pitched the tournament to my brothers. The next three weeks were a blur; we practiced every night, sometimes with only two of us because our life schedules were getting in the way.

This tournament would be the first time we would all see each other since I left for college and Brett left home, but that was just an afterthought for us. We were out for blood, and wanted to win.

As the day of the tournament approached, I was not expecting the waves of emotion at seeing my brothers in the flesh. I didn't realize how much I had missed them, and the tournament just felt like an afterthought once we all met in the parking lot of the gaming center hosting the tournament. We ended up taking 2nd place, after a blistering 2-point Slayer match on Narrows. It was fine, though; we won $70, and we immediately spent it all at the pizza joint across the street. We had so much fun together, my brothers ended up extending their weekend, crashing on my couches in my tiny first apartment.

Halo is more to me than a badass in cyber armor stomping through Grunts and Elites. It isn't heated FFA Sniper matches on Narrows. It is my brothers and I coming together, on our own without our mother or father telling us to call one another. It reminded us all what it meant to be family, and now, it means nearly everything to me. Bungie crafted a world that brought all three of us together, after our family naturally fractured. Halo will always be important to us as a family, but Halo 3 forged us into brothers.

This post originally appeared on RoguesPortal.com.

Metroid: Samus Returns - Review

When you look back at the history of the Metroid franchise, most gamers view at Metroid II as one of the black sheep in the franchise. It was originally released for the Game Boy, and while it was a complete NES-like experience on the go, it left a lot to be desired. After the release of legendary and near perfect Super Metroid, Metroid II was all but forgotten.

When Nintendo announced that it was going to remake Metroid II for the Nintendo 3DS as Metroid: Samus Returns, it signaled a hopeful return to form for many fans. Not only is Metroid: Samus Returns the first Metroid game following a seven year hiatus following Metroid Other M, it is the first 2D Metroid game since 2004's Metroid: Zero Mission.

The story is pretty simple. Metroids are terrorizing the surface of SR-388. Samus is familiar with the creatures thanks to her adventures on Zebes and Tallon IV, so the Galactic Federation dispatches her to destroy them all. This leads to a more open-ended approach to the level design; once you get to an area, you are tasked with hunting down the Metroids in the immediate vicinity. Unfortunately, this open-ended nature works against the flow of the game, as upgrades like Super Missiles, the Varia Suit and Grapple Beam are available a bit too easily. You might not be able to reach all of the Metroids you are hunting without these items.

Adding to that frustration, once you get power ups, you find that you can't use them where you want them. Early on in the game you gain the Spider Ball ability, allowing you to stick to walls in Morph Ball form to navigate along ceilings and the like. But if there is sap on the wall, you fall off instantly. While I understand the need to keep players within the bounds of the level and trying to control their actions, this feels like a slap in the face. If you give me the Spider Ball, let me use the Spider Ball! This turns what should be a liberating and possibility changing power up into a situational navigational tool.

Metroid is where sequence breaking was born. While I am sure you can sequence break Samus Returns to high hell, having these hard blocks in the way of even casual players is frustrating.

As far as the new stuff goes, Samus now has new Aeion Powers, which add some fun newness to the standard Metroid arsenal. There is the ability to do a quick Area-of-Effect scan for destructible and items in your immediate area. There are also other new powers that offer more than handholding. The lightning armor makes you take less damage and walk through areas that are covered in poisonous underbrush with no concern. The mid-game addition of a slow time effect helps some puzzles become easier, but is absolutely required for other puzzles down the line. Some of the hidden upgrades require perfect execution of multiple skills, and that was a welcome change to the Metroid formula.

Samus also gains a melee counter, which sounds a little odd considering Samus has a giant arm canon to fight with, but it brings a little more involvement in the combat beyond 'shoot X enemy with their weakness'. If you perform a perfect counter, it allows you to lay into the stunned enemy with all the missiles you want. As a cool bonus, when you counter a boss, these stuns reward you with a quick little interactive cut scene that breaks up the action from the standard 2D view.

Speaking of bosses, they are tough as nails, with most requiring multiple attempts to clear successfully. The final boss took me around five attempts to complete because if you make it to the final phase of the boss fight and die, you get to repeat the fight over from the start. Luckily, after you see a boss intro cutscene once, you can press start to skip right to the action.

As a remake, Samus Returns follows the story only. There are too many additions to Samus' power set compared to what was offered on the original Game Boy, not to mention it isn't limited by a simple palette of four colors. There are great backgrounds the make SR-388 feel alive and help contribute to the atmosphere of a lone bounty hunter on a hostile planet that frankly weren't present in the flat black backgrounds of the Game Boy version. If anything, Samus Returns is more of a love letter to Metroid II than a full remake.

Metroid: Samus Returns is a great return to form for the Metroid franchise, and is one of the best looking games on the 3DS. While it won't be winning any 'Best of' awards compared to its older siblings Super Metroid and Metroid Fusion, it is a solid jaunt through 2D memory lane.

This review originally appeared on RoguesPortal.com.

Sep 22, 2017

Marvel VS Capcom Infinte: Video + Review

Marvel VS Capcom is a franchise that fighting game fans love, for various reasons. Be it the huge cast, the blistering fast gameplay, the crazy combos, or, of course, because it's MAHVEL BABY. Marvel VS Capcom Infinite (MvCI), is the first main iteration of the series released since The Avengers hit theaters. The MCU's presence is felt even in the gaming world. Earlier games were dominated by characters like Sentinel, Storm, Dr. Doom and Magneto, yet none of these staples are even referenced in MvCI. While this might turn off some lapsed Marvel fans, the gameplay in Marvel VS Capcom Infinite is the best in the series.
The biggest change is the shift from a three hero team down to a two hero team. Controls changed from the simple Light, Medium, Heavy, and Launcher attacks into the more Street Fighter-like Light Punch, Heavy Punch, Light Kick, Heavy Kick layout. This means that while a lot of the roster comes over from Ultimate Marvel VS Capcom 3, every character has new tricks. Iron Man is faster than his previous counterpart; Ryu plays more like he does in Street Fighter; Hulk packs some new punches. While moving to 2v2 might seem like a downgrade, the addition of the Infinity Stones from Marvel lore mean there is a lot of meat to salvage from the thin roster.
After picking your two characters, you get to pick an Infinity Stone for added strength. Each one comes with a lesser power, and a screen filling greater power.  Right off the bat, some of these seem more situational than others, but all of them bring interesting mechanics to the Marvel VS Capcom Infinite gameplay. For example, a team of Zero and Gamora using the Space Stone will have different priorities and advantages than Zero and Gamora with the Time Stone. This additional option will definitely make the pro-scene and meta of Marvel VS Capcom interesting to watch, as some of these stones seem to counter each other, while others provide a crutch for players to fall back on.

There are two other mechanics added to the actual fighting part of the game to help new players tackle what seems like a daunting and complex fighter. By pressing light punch six to eight times in succession, characters will start what is known as an Auto Combo. This is usually a quick 10-15 hit combo that launches your opponent into the air and back down again, without all of the complication of memorizing and executing a complex string of moves. The second addition is that of Easy Hypers, which lets players perform a hyper combo by simply hitting both heavy attack buttons at once. I did end up testing this system with a friend who is not very into fighting games, and we found an enjoyable time for both of us. Neither one of us came out on top more than the other.
Unfortunately, the game is riddled with technical issues. After picking a stage, your two characters, and your Infinity Stone, you are often greeted with a 15-30 second load screen, stopping all of the fun of a fighting game dead in its tracks. These load screens are non-existent if you opt for a rematch after each round, but part of the fun of a fighting game with such a fun cast of characters is switching out and finding that golden combination of characters that works for you. A marathon session of 40 matches against friends lasted almost 3 hours, which is quite a long time considering each match is often less than 99 seconds.

On the single player side of things, Marvel VS Capcom Infinite has another first for the series: story mode. It is as goofy and thin as you would imagine, with characters like Rocket and X exchanging one-liners instead of actually focusing on character development, but there is a lot of ground to cover in the 3 hours or so that the story unfolds. It is nowhere near the quality of Injustice 2, which had a fantastic story mode, but it isn't a huge waste of time. If anything it is a good way to get out of your comfort zone and play characters you normally don't gravitate towards, and it is over before it overstays its welcome.

There are some weird characterization choices, especially on the Marvel side of things, but most of these moments are over before you really have a chance to digest that it is Captain America opting to free Thanos, not Iron Man. Two DLC characters, Black Panther and Monster Hunter, are even featured in story mode cutscenes for... some reason?

Unless you are a super fan, wait for all of the DLC to be released before buying Marvel VS Capcom Infinite. The roster as it stands is fine, but there are only 5 new characters as of now. The 2017 DLC list has been revealed, so hopefully that means there will be 2018 DLC in the future too. That will only expand the roster further. As it stands, Marvel VS Capcom Infinite is a great time, but it still feels incomplete because of its thin roster and glaring technical issues.

This review originally appeared on RoguesPortal.com.

Sep 16, 2017

Not Enough Resources: Episode 16 - Metroid: Samus Returns, Super Mario Odyssey, eSports and gaming in Africa

It’s that time again. Prep your build orders, hold on to your hype and get ready for the latest episode of the Rogues Portal Gaming Podcast: Not Enough Resources!

 

Now Playing
Dylan is trying to narrow down his class in Dungeon Runners, but is glad the Hearthstone Meta is starting to even itself out after the latest expansion. Meanwhile, Ryan is excited to be playing a new Metroid game, Samus Returns, even if there are some odd design choices. Expect his full review mid-next week.


News
Nintendo reveals that Mario is not as Italian as we all thought in the latest Super Mario Odyssey Trailer, showing that the supposed Italian Plumber definitely man-scapes. All joking aside, it is great that Nintendo is focusing on the whimsy fun that only gaming can bring. Other Switch goodies include the fact that both Doom and Wolfenstein II are coming to Nintendo’s platform. This is good news for anyone looking for a strong presence of AAA third party games on the Switch.


Competitive Corner
The big discussion this week has to do with Africa. Both Waypoint and Kotaku posted some great looks at how the infrastructure of the continent is holding back gaming from the masses throughout Africa.


Dylan is excited to see some fresh faces in League of Legends now that the NALCS has finished up their Summer Split.

Follow us on Twitter @NERPodcast! You can subscribe to Not Enough Resources on iTunes or Google Play.

Sep 12, 2017

J.J. Abrams to Write and Direct Star Wars Episode IX

J.J. Abrams has finalized a deal to write and direct the as of yet untitled Star Wars Episode IX. It will supposedly be the final film in the third Skywalker trilogy. The new release date for Episode IX is December 20th, 2019. It will follow this year’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which is due out December 15th. (See the trailer for Episode VIII below.)


I think this is a great move by Lucasfilm and Disney, as it will help ensure a consistent visual style between episodes VII and IX. While Episode VIII was written and directed by Rian Johnson (Brick, Looper), Abrams is an executive producer on The Last Jedi. Abrams also wrote Episode VII, so if anyone knows where the adventures of Finn, Poe and Rey should go, it is him.

To his credit, Abrams already has two really good franchise films under his belt. The Force Awakens opened to rave reviews and was incredibly successful, holding the records for highest grossing domestic film and highest domestic opening weekend at the time.

While the 2009 Star Trek is a Star Trek movie, it has the pacing, whit and action of the Star Wars universe, just with a different coat of paint. Both ’09 Trek and the less favorable Into Darkness practically served as J.J. Abrams’ audition tape for Episode VII. Episode VII was also long anticipated, thanks to an interview on the set of Empire Strikes Back in which George Lucas stated he wanted to do three trilogies.

From StarWars.com:

While Empire was originally part of a 12-film plan, by the time it was released, the number had clearly been reduced to nine. “The prequel stories exist — where Darth Vader came from, the whole story about Darth and Ben Kenobi — and it all takes place before Luke was born,” Lucas explained at the time. “The other one — what happens to Luke afterward — is much more ethereal. I have a tiny notebook full of notes on that. If I’m really ambitious, I could proceed to figure out what would have happened to Luke.”

While Lucas won’t be the man behind the camera for Episode IX, we will finally get to see an ending to the third trilogy in the Star Wars saga. J.J. Abrams, we’re counting on you.

This post originally appeared on RoguesPortal.com.