Mario Tennis Ultra Smash Preview (Wii U)

At E3 2015, I spent a couple of hours playing Mario Tennis Ultra Smash for Wii U. I’m a longtime fan of the series and have spent hundreds of hours playing Mario Tennis games on numerous platforms (N64, GBC, GBA, and GameCube). The earlier games did a brilliant job of imposing everything that’s adorable about the Mario universe on a solid tennis game; they’re addictive, fun to look at, and play well. Last week, I played a near-final version of Mario Tennis Ultra Smash. I was already sold on the game at E3 2015, but after playing it with more characters, I can’t wait for its release.

Unlike Mario Power Tennis for Wii, Mario Tennis Ultra Smash does not use motion controls. Instead, it offers a standard gamepad experience. While fans of flailing their arms about will be disappointed, as a longtime player of games in this series, I like the traditional controls much better.

In the E3 2015 build, there were only two playable characters — Mario and Bowser. Last week, I played a doubles match that pitted Waluigi and Peach against Donkey Kong and Rosalina. The characters have distinct movements and shots. For example, Rosalina floats around the court instead of running. I was told that Yoshi takes adorably small steps, since his legs are so short. My character, Waluigi, was lanky and focused on defense. Like the previous games, I really appreciate how the different characters have noticeably different levels of speed, power, and spin.

Confirmed playable characters include Mario, Luigi, Toad, Peach, Daisy, Rosalina, Wario, Waluigi, Bowser, Yoshi, Boo, and Donkey Kong. In addition to the characters available from the get-go, Mario Tennis Ultra Smash will have some unlockable characters. Known unlockables include Bowser, Jr., Toadette, Dry Bowser, and Sprixie Princess. I’m looking forward to seeing what other players there are to discover and hoping there will be some nifty crossovers.

There will be a number of different courts and surfaces in Mario Tennis Ultra Smash. The real-world surfaces include clay, grass, and hard courts. Clay is the slowest and has a higher bounce. Grass is the fastest and has a lower bounce. Hard courts play fast and have a level bounce. There will also be mushroom- and water-themed courts

What makes Mario Tennis Ultra Smash different from its predecessors is its generous use of power-ups. Players can pick up mega mushrooms and grow to a ridiculous size. Naturally, this gives the powered player a ridiculous amount of power that’s difficult to handle; counter-shots have to be times more precisely when dealing with a powered-up player. Visually, players that consumer a mega mushroom temporarily grow to take up a large chunk of the television screen. While the in-game effect is fierce, the visual effect is bold and hilarious.

If you want to have a more traditional tennis experience (you know, one where players aren’t taller than buildings) then you can opt for a mode that eschews power-ups. In this mode, Mario Tennis Ultra Smash plays more like its predecessors. The exception is the new “jump shot” technique, which can be used in all modes.

Mario Tennis Ultra Smash looks like a fine addition to the Mario Tennis series. From the limited time I’ve had with the game, it looks and plays great. Like the previous installments, the developers have done a superior job at making the players and courts feel distinct. The power-ups add a new layer of fun, especially in party-game situations. Mario Tennis Ultra Smash appears to have everything I loved about its predecessors, with a new wrinkle. I can’t wait to storm the courts as Waluigi when the game hits in late November!

Guitar Hero Live Preview

Once one of the biggest franchises in videogames, Activision’s Guitar Hero series has been dormant since 2010. That’s going to change on October 20, 2015 with the release of Guitar Hero Live. With a reimagined guitar controller, a revamped visual style, and an all-new GHTV mode, Activision hopes that Guitar Hero Live will appeal to a new generation of gamers and longtime fans of the series.

The biggest and most obvious change to Guitar Hero Live is the controller. Instead of a single row of five buttons, the new controller features two rows of three buttons. In normal and harder difficulties, the new button arrangement is pleasantly challenging; you’ll often have to hit multiple buttons in multiple rows. For newcomers and those that enjoy music games but aren’t very good, the easier modes allow for single-row play.

It took me several songs to get used to the new controller and even then I didn’t have enough time with it. I enjoyed being challenged by the different permutations of button presses. The dual-row “chords” make the game more interesting and difficult (in a good way). While some claim that Guitar Hero Live approximates power chords, I disagree. The game is certainly more fun with the new controller, but still a far cry from playing an actual guitar. I don’t see that as a fault at all (go play Rocksmith for that) — just disagreeing with some game writers.

The first three Guitar Hero Live songs I played were a mess due to a combination of the new controller and songs I was completely unfamiliar with. I recall butchering a song by The Black Keys, murdering a Fallout Boy song, and demolishing two songs by two bands I never heard of (I fail at modern music, fyi). After getting accustomed to the new controller and switching to a different kiosk that had songs I knew, the game was easier. Part of it was simply spending time with the controller, while part of it was my deep love of Warrant and Faith No More.

Guitar Hero Live adds some significant visual changes too. Instead of cartoon-like graphics, the game uses live concert footage from the perspective of the guitar player. You’ll see your bandmates and the crowd as you play. The visuals change depending on your performance. I’ve never paid too much attention to the graphics in previous Guitar Hero games and the new graphics were mostly lost on me in the bit of Guitar Hero Live I played. I’m so focused on the notes that I block out most of the visuals. That said, it was cool to watch other people play and there are plenty of gamers that watch the whole screen while they play music games.

In addition to the main “Live” mode, Guitar Hero Live features GHTV mode. This mode features different channels of music, allowing constant access to a variety of new songs and different genres. Songs in GHTV mode feature music videos from the associated acts, as opposed to concert footage in Live mode. While you can play along with a GHTV song as it’s streaming, replays require a microtransaction purchase. It’s an interesting approach compared to traditional scheduled downloads, but I’m not sold on it just yet. I need to experience GHTV when it’s full functional and accessible to millions of players before making any judgements.

If you’re interested in the developer of Guitar Hero Live (and I hope you’re interested in all creators of the games you play) then check out FreeStyleGames. Acquired by Activision in 2008, the company has experience with music games, including B-Boy, DJ Hero, and Sing Party.

For the most part, I enjoyed the brief time I spent playing Guitar Hero Live and am excited to play more. Part of it is that I haven’t touched a music game in years and part of it is because the new controller is lots of fun. I’m confident that fans of the old Guitar Hero games will enjoy Guitar Hero Live and curious to see if it will appeal to younger games (i.e. those pesky Snapchat kids).

Guitar Hero Live will be available on October 20, 2015 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Wii U, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360.

Coffee Talk #656: Random Thoughts on E3 2015

Another E3 Expo is in the books! Since we’re a few years removed from console launches, E3 2015 was gloriously software heavy. That said, virtual reality hardware was huge at this year’s show and generated lots of excitement. There were tons of great games on the show floor and behind closed doors. Special thanks to old friends and new friends that let me cut lines and sneak into demos that I didn’t have appointments for. Now here are some random thoughts on E3 2015.

Console Press Conferences: Sony crushed it. The company had lots of great original content and showed off juicy timed exclusives. The Shenmue 3 and Final Fantasy VII announcements won the hearts of millions of old-school gamers. Sony has come a long way with presentation too (remember those old Kaz Hirai PowerPoint slides?), largely because Microsoft raised the bar for E3 press conference theatricality. Microsoft put on a good show, but I found Sony’s press conference far more exciting. As for Nintendo’s latest direct-to-video presentation, the company had lots of games that I’m excited for…but the Nintendo executive muppets will haunt my dreams for the next few months (the Satoru Iwata muppet is terrifying).

Nintendo Muppets E3 2015

Publisher Press Conferences: I’m probably in the minority here, but I was more impressed with Square Enix’s presser than EA’s or Ubisoft’s. While Square Enix’s presentation was flat and the company didn’t have the celebrity star power its competitors flaunted, the games were excellent. Square Enix simply had more games that I wanted to play. While many of my friends loved Ubisoft’s lineup, it didn’t do much for me, save for South Park: The Fractured But Whole. Ubisoft gets bonus points for Aisha Tyler hosting and for Angela Bassett’s appearance. As for EA, it had frickin’ Pele — one of the coolest and most legendary single-name celebrities ever. EA’s Star Wars Battlefront, Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2, and Mirror’s Edge Catalyst had me amped, but not as much Kingdom Hearts 3, World of Final Fantasy, Life is Strange, Rise of the Tomb Raider, and Final Fantasy VII (more on that in a bit).

Virtual Reality: I played a bunch of VR games/demos and totally understand why so many people are excited about this type of gaming. It feels fresh and exciting. When VR works, it’s amazing and makes you feel like you’re playing a game from the future. When the frame rates are clunky, VR games give you a headache. What I’m unsure about is the business model. From what several people told me, making a VR game is very expensive. Gamers will need expensive hardware for the best VR experience. From the (admittedly limited) information I gathered, Valve has the best plans for making VR accessible for developers and consumers. I’m curious to see what the other VR companies will do to help make VR affordable for creators and gamers alike.

Wattam: Going into the show, I was certain that I’d be charmed by Funomena’s Wattam. The creation of Keita Takahashi (Katamari Damacy) and Robin Hunicke (Journey), Wattam is wonderfully creative — a game that’s simple, but with complexity that makes it difficult to describe. Some people are calling it a puzzle game, while others feel it’s adventure, and some are calling it a platformer. Check out the trailer below and see for yourself. Whatever category you think Wattam fits in, there’s no denying that the graphics are cute, the gameplay is creative, and the sound design is adorable. I love that Sony publishes atypically delightful games like Wattam.

Final Fantasy VII: Some gamers feel that FFVII is the best game in the series. Others feel that it’s the most overrated. Either way, it’s a huge deal that the game is being remade and coming to PlayStation 4 (initially). While I enjoyed the original game, it’s not in my top five for the Final Fantasy series. Having said that, I’m a big fan of FFVII world, since Crisis Core and Advent Children helped make sense of everything. I’m going to dedicate a full topic to this column next week. No matter how good or bad the FFVII remake ends up being, I’m excited to watch the process and listen to the debates. I expect full fanboy fury over FFVII and gamers better not disappoint me.

Mario Tennis: I “accidentally” spent more than hour playing Mario Tennis Ultra Smash at Nintendo’s booth. I’m a longtime fan of the Mario Tennis games, both on home and handheld consoles. Even though the game is early and there were only two playable characters, I had a blast with Mario Tennis Ultra Smash. The core gameplay is tight, while the addition of power-ups gives it a wackier feel that make sense in the context of the Mario universe. I’ll give this one a full preview in a bit.

Sword Coast Legends: As a huge fan of the Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale games, I was really looking forward to learning more about Sword Coast Legends. After getting a demo and playing the game, my expectations were exceeded. It will surely satisfy fans of the isometric PC RPGs that I mentioned, but should also satisfy fans of pen-and-paper RPGs. The dungeon master features look awesome, powerful, and fun. While most of the game will have professional voice acting, I was delighted to learn that there will be opportunities for live action role-playing. I vow to make a character based on Azrael Abyss from Saturday Night Live and annoy the hell out of anyone foolish enough to let me be a dungeon master. I’ll be giving Sword Coast Legends a full preview too.

Your Take: Naturally, I didn’t get to play or see everything I wanted to. This is where you come in! I’d love to get your take on E3 2015. How did it play from home? What games are you excited for? Who do you think “won” the press conferences? Kindly share your thoughts in the comments section.

Balotelli Says Mario Jumps Like a Black Man and Grabs Coins Like a Jew

Ah, Twitter…the social media service that gives a voice to millions of people that should be muted and gives athletes a chance to expose their idiocy. One of the latest instances of athlete Twitter fail centers on Liverpool striker Mario Balotelli. One of the most gifted footballers in the world, Mario Balotelli also has a reputation as an extraordinary bonehead. Urging people not to be racist on his Twitter account, Balotelli asked people to be more like Mario from the Super Mario Bros. series. His description of the Nintendo plumber was amazing. Check it out:

Be like Mario, he’s an Italian plumber, created by Japanese people, who speaks English and looks like a Mexican. He jumps like a black man and grabs coins like a Jew.

Mario Balotelli has deleted his arguably racist “Don’t Be Racist” post and issued an apology.

Personally, I don’t think he was trying to offend anyone and believe that he thought his original post was a positive thing. I don’t believe there was anything malicious behind his original post. All of this is, of course, conjecture.

Having said that, it was idiotic of him to make that post. Being an idiot is something that Mario Balotelli has been accused of thousands of times. Famous people that are in the public eye shouldn’t post stupid things that could be construed as racist. It’s just dumb and leads to more trouble than a 140-character post is worth. Hell, people that aren’t the least bit famous have gotten in trouble for posting stupid things on social media. If normals can get in trouble for misguided social media rants then it should abundantly obvious that celebrities need to be extra-careful with what they say on social media.

What do you think of Mario Balotelli’s Twitter adventures? Does he need to hire a social media editor to censor the dumb ideas he wants to share with the world? Or is he getting too much heat for his comments? Share your thoughts in the comments section (please!).

Coffee Talk #629: Random Thoughts on E3 2014

Now that we’ve all had a few days to absorb the multimedia assault that was E3 2014, let’s talk about the show! I was working for two outlets during E3 2014, so my schedule was all over the place. I did see a lot of great games, but it’s likely that you guys and gals were exposed to more from reading various articles and watching different videos. The thing that surprised me the most about E3 2014 was that there were a lot of mainstream games that excited me. For the last couple of years, independent games like Journey, Sound Shapes, and The Unfinished Swan were my big favorites. While I certainly enjoyed several indie games at E3 2014, there were a lot of mainstream games I had a blast with too. Here are some random thoughts on the show…continued

Welcome to Coffee Talk! Let’s start off the day by discussing whatever is on your (nerd chic) mind. Every morning I’ll kick off a discussion and I’m counting on you to participate in it. If you’re not feelin’ my topic, feel free to start a chat with your fellow readers and see where it takes you. Whether you’re talking about videogames, the start of the 2014 World Cup, getting into a car accident on the way to The Vape Summit, or said accident crushing your coverage plans, Coffee Talk is the place to do it.

Now that we’ve all had a few days to absorb the multimedia assault that was E3 2014, let’s talk about the show! I was working for two outlets during E3 2014, so my schedule was all over the place. I did see a lot of great games, but it’s likely that you guys and gals were exposed to more from reading various articles and watching different videos. The thing that surprised me the most about E3 2014 was that there were a lot of mainstream games that excited me. For the last couple of years, independent games like Journey, Sound Shapes, and The Unfinished Swan were my big favorites. While I certainly enjoyed several indie games at E3 2014, there were a lot of mainstream games I had a blast with too. Here are some random thoughts on the show.

Yoshi's Wooly World E3 2014

Nintendo Ruled — The Nintendo booth is usually the happiest place at any E3, but this year it was my happy place. I absolutely loved Yoshi’s Wooly World, Kirby and the Rainbow Curse, and Super Smash Bros. 4. Although I kept calling it Zelda Samurai Warriors, I had more fun than I expected to with Hyrule Warriors. Kicking ass with Zelda was extremely satisfying. I knew nothing about Splatoon going into E3 2014, but it was great fun as well. At the end of the day, Yoshi’s Wooly World was my favorite game of E3 2014.

Nintendo’s E3 2014 lineup was so well received that many people said things to me like, “I’m totally getting a Wii U now!” and, “Sweet! I’m really looking forward to dusting off my Wii U!”

On a side note, I pitched a high-ranking Nintendo of America exec on using Cat Stevens’ “Wild World” to market Yoshi’s Wooly World. Can’t you hear the commercial?!? “Oh baby baby, it’s a Wooly World.” That totally works…in my head, anyway.

Because I’m Batman: Rocksteady Studios’ first couple of Arkham games took Batman (and really, all superhero games) to new heights. I have a strong feeling that Batman: Arkham Knight will be the best yet. The demo had several elements from the previous games that I loved, plus some all-new Batmobile gameplay. The Batmobile stuff was so much fun that I can see myself enjoying that aspect of the game for hours and being completely satisfied. While I was disappointed that Batman: Arkham Knight got pushed to 2015, the E3 2014 demo showed a game that’s absolutely worth waiting for.

Batman Arkham Knight Batmobile E3 2014

Indie Love: Naturally, there were several indie games that I ended up loving. Some pals from Sony instructed me to play Hohokum and I’m so glad that they did. This exploration/puzzle game is so aurally and visually pleasing that it’s easy to forget about the game’s goals while you’re soaking up the lovely sights and sounds. The game’s soundtrack is by Ghostly International and features several tracks by Tycho. Hohokum just made me happy every time I played it and the same thing happened to everyone that I dragged over to spend time with the game. This was probably my second-favorite game of E3 2014, so thanks Nate and Zach for making me check it out!

Meanwhile, at the Microsoft booth, my buddy Charla instructed me to check out Lifeless Planet at the ID@Xbox area. Another exploration/puzzle game, I was really struck by the sights and sounds of this one too, but in a very different way from Hohokum. While Hohokum is all about making you feel happy, Lifeless Planet is all about creating a sense of isolation as you explore a desolate world. The game’s graphics and sounds do a fantastic job at creating a sense of foreboding solitude. I definitely want to see more of this one…but in a brightly lit living room so as not to wig out.

Lifeless Planet E3 2014

Lastly, Galak-Z is an old-school sci-fi shooter that blends elements of classic anime and shooting games. It’s fun to play and watch other people play. If you’re into masochistic shooters that delight you with difficulty then you’ll definitely want to check out Galak-Z. I fully expect this game to be a darling among videogame journalists.

Les Unite: Several of you feel that Assassin’s Creed 2 was the pinnacle of the series and the games have been going (slightly) downhill ever since. I’m totally with you on that, so I was cautiously optimistic after being delighted by the Assassin’s Creed Unity trailer. After seeing the demo, half of me feels that Unity will be the Assassin’s Creed game that many AC2 fans are crying for. The other, more cynical half of me fears that Ubisoft whipped up an outstanding trailer and demo. Still, let’s be optimistic here and (cautiously) hope that Assassin’s Creed Unity ends up being the game that many longtime AC fans want.

Assassin's Creed Unity E3 2014

Your Turn: Naturally, I want to hear how E3 2014 played in your head. What did you love? What did you hate? Any games surprise you? Any games disappoint you? As excited as I was to be at the show, I’m more excited to hear your thoughts on E3 2014, so fire away in the comments section (please)!

PETA Still Hates Nintendo: Pokemon Red, White, & Blue

The morons at PETA have released another Pokemon parody to take advantage of the hype surrounding Pokemon X and Pokemon Y. The latest misguided attempt to raise awareness to the organization’s cause is Pokemon Red, White, & Blue. This time around, the group is challenging people to evolve (get it?!?) by urging them to become vegetarian or vegan. Here’s an excerpt from the campaign:

For generations, humans have loved Pokémon, but if Pokémon came to our world and saw how we treated animals, would they love us back? Be a hero for real-life animals by pledging to try vegan.

With the huge selection of delicious vegan meats and alternatives to dairy foods and eggs available, there’s no excuse not to give a vegan diet a try. We’ll send you delicious recipes and tips for living cruelty-free to help you along the way.

Some of you will recall that PETA has a history of picking on wholesome and harmless Nintendo games. In the past, it went after Super Mario Bros. 3D Land with Super Tanooki Skin 2D and attacked Pokemon with Pokemon Black & Blue.

While there are certainly several great reasons to become vegan or vegetarian — both for personal health and the good of the environment — it’s hard to take PETA seriously given its history with Nintendo. When you see mainstream media go after Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty, you can see how a violent videogame can be taken out of context to blame social disorders and further an agenda. Exploiting a Super Mario Bros. game or a Pokemon game is just dumb. At worse, those games aren’t the least bit offensive. At best, they’re quite positive. Twisting them in a negative way in order to push your message is pathetic.

Personally, I would love to be vegan or vegetarian. After thinking about PETA’s use of Pokemon to push a meat-free agenda, I want to devour a Smith & Wollensky ribeye.

Anyway, what do you think of PETA’s latest use of Nintendo characters to promote its agenda? Do you agree that it’s a bad way to push a good message? Would any of you like to join me for some all-you-can-eat Korean BBQ in PETA’s honor?

Source

Sonic Lost World Video Interview

Here’s a video interview and screenshot gallery of Sonic Lost World for Wii U. Sega of America associate brand manager Aaron Webber chatted with me about Sonic’s new enemies (The Deadly Six), new gameplay elements, mixing classic Sonic gameplay with those new elements, cooperative play, tie-ins with the Nintendo 3DS version of Sonic Lost World, and more. Some of the more interesting features include the parkour system (Sonic will no longer come to a dead stop!) and power-ups influenced by the excellent Sonic Colors.

As someone that grew up with old-school Sonic games, I’m always apprehensive about new twists to the old formula. However, Sonic Lost World looks like it has enough classic elements to satisfy longtime Sonic fans and several new features that will appeal to modern gamers.

After you’ve watched the video, please be sure to check out PaulSemel.com’s excellent preview of the game.

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