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November 26, 2014

The Smash Diaries (Day 3)

On his way out one night, a friend of mine jokingly said that PlayStation All-Stars: Battle Royale is pretty much dead to us now.  I don’t want to say that he’s right…but yeah, he’s right.  The only reason to ever touch Sony’s mascot fighter again is if every copy of Smash 4 and every Wii U spontaneously exploded.  And I’m sorry to say it, but I just don’t see that happening.

All right.  So let’s dive right back in, shall we?

Or get sent flying.  That works too, I guess.

--Prior to release, I had one thing in mind: if Smash 4 managed to have a good enough netcode for smooth online play, then it was over for everyone else.  So now that it’s out, what’s the end result?  Well, it seems to vary from person to person and connection to connection, but speaking personally?  It’s not amazing, but it’s more than just playable.  That’s in stark contrast to Brawl, of course; I don’t think there was a single online match where I thought “Yep, I’m enjoying this.”  Then again, I pretty much gave up on it a couple of weeks in.

--I’ve played a couple of bad matches (i.e. matches with framerate issues and/or input lag), and while the online situation can’t compare at all to the responsiveness of local play, it’s a viable option for those who need it -- assuming they can adjust to it.  Still, I’d recommend that if you’re going to go online, do it with a pal beside you.  Not just for the fun factor, but so you can form up good teams and strategies.  Apparently there was a trick in the 3DS version -- pre-patch -- where Game and Watch could get a full charge for his Oil Panic move by absorbing Pikachu’s Thunder.  Likewise, a teammate could make easy setups for Jigglypuff’s lethal Rest move.

--If you’ve been paying attention to the Smash news prior to release, you probably know that there are a ton of modes included in the Wii U version.  Personally, I think that’s a good thing.  My brother’s convinced that -- in his words -- you might as well take a nap instead of playing those modes, but I just don’t agree.  Here’s why: setting aside the fact that there’s more content to indulge in besides multiplayer/online battles, they present an opportunity for you to learn how to play the game.

--Okay, those modes might not necessarily give you an edge against human players and intelligence, but they undoubtedly help you get more comfortable with your character of choice -- and in some cases, comfortable with other characters, and even the mechanics in general.  In the absence of a straight tutorial or in-depth strategies packed in (remember how BlazBlue came with an instructional DVD on how to play your character?), becoming a successful Smasher means learning how to play the game efficiently. 

--Maybe if every Little Mac player tried them out, they wouldn’t side-B off the ledge and kill themselves.  Seriously, my KO record has gotten so inflated because Mac’s such a liability…

--That all said, there’s an important distinction that needs to be made: even if there are lots of modes and features and “things to do”, they need to be compelling.  Otherwise I might as well be playing a Ubisoft game.  And in all honesty, I was skeptical about the long-term appeal and quality of these new modes; were they actually going to offer something worthwhile?  Or would they simply try to overwhelm the player with doodads and baubles to tide them over?  Having spent some time with the modes, I can say that the modes almost uniformly lean toward the former.

--The main draw for me would be the trinity of Classic Mode, Master Orders, and Crazy Orders.  You can go to Classic to unlock some characters and trophies, naturally, but after that I’ve found use in it as a way to earn money.  You use that money to enter Master Orders challenges, wherein you buy tickets for the right to fight matches with unique circumstances -- and winning them will give you a shot at some fabulous prizes.  Well among them…

The SICKEST song!

--Crazy Orders demands a steep price (or a consumable pass you can snag in Classic or Master Orders).  It’s pretty much Smash 4’s version of the standard Survival Mode fighting games -- the twist being that you can determine how long you have to survive at any point between rounds.  Basically there’s a risk/reward system where you have to make a choice: keep fighting matches for a shot at more fabulous prizes, or -- assuming you stay within the time limit -- fight Crazy Hand and cash out.

--It shouldn’t be as captivating as it is, but I find myself coming back to those modes again and again -- and not just to get more comfortable with Palutena (WOW that sounded dirty).  I suppose that I am getting better with the game and my suite of characters, but really, the modes are just a way for me to enjoy the game some more.  Special conditions aside (fight while everyone is heavy and metal!), there’s no filter between you and the meat of the game -- and since the gameplay is so satisfying on its own, then why would I not want to play more?

--Event Mode returns!  This time around, you’ve got a point-filled chart that branches out as you clear those events (and as you unlock more characters, on occasion).  Some of the fights are pretty straightforward, while others have you doing some pretty strange challenges -- planting flowers on every enemy’s head at once, putting the child characters to sleep, keeping parachuting Game and Watches from touching the stage, and even enacting a game of Duck Hunt.  Again, those challenges are there to help teach you how to play the game -- how to effectively accomplish a goal while disguising it as a game.  So basically, it’s a game within a game, but it still acts as a decent teaching tool.

--But man, can some of those matches be balls-to-the-wall.  Get ready to feel the struggle if you try to clear events on Hard.

--It’s worth noting that there’s been a jump in the AI’s difficulty this time around -- in single-player and multiplayer.  Computer players aren’t unbeatable, but they’re a lot stronger than you expect them to be, even if you’re a veteran Smasher.  When playing with my friends in Brawl, the CP was lucky to score one victory per session.  Here, it’s more than capable of walking away with a good half-dozen.  (Then again, I’d bet the aforementioned Little Mac point inflation factors into that…)

This post is starting to get on the long-ish side, so I think I’ll wrap up here.  After all, I haven’t even touched Smash Tour or the character customization, AKA the whole reason for those in-game prizes.  I should probably tend to that, lest I lose my credibility.  Or what remains of it, at least.  How can someone who didn’t like Interstellar POSSIBLY be considered reputable?

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