Smashing-Good Holidays: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for December 2018

Ogiue Maniax just celebrated its 11th anniversary, and it feels like quite the milestone. However, as much as that has been on my mind, my head space is currently occupied 80% by Smash Bros. Ultimate. 4 days to go!!!

I’m always grateful for my supporters on Patreon and ko-fi. Many thanks to the following!

General:

Johnny Trovato

Ko Ransom

Diogo Prado

Sue Hopkins fans:

Serxeid

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

Here are also my favorite posts from November:

Geek Reference Culture vs. Rap Reference Culture: A Personal and Meandering Comparison

An exploration of how heavy reference usage differs between geek entertainment and rap.

How Hugtto! Precure Tackles Childbirth and C-Section Controversy in Japan

The current Precure series likes to go places.

“Hi-New York”: Anime NYC 2018

My overview of Anime NYC 2018.

Hashikko Ensemble

Chapter 10 feels like the end of one story and the beginning of another.

Patreon-Sponsored

An Amateur Look at the Atelier Games

How mellow can an RPG series get?

Closing

I promise that not every post I make for the next 6 months will just be about Smash Bros. That said, I get the feeling there will be plenty to go around.

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The Final Smash Ultimate Direct and the Cost of Following Leaks

For the past month or so, much of the online Smash Community was consumed by the so-called “Grinch Leak,” whose promises of revealing new characters dominated conversation. Then the November 1 Smash Bros Nintendo Direct revealed the last tidbits of information before launch (new playable characters, DLC on the way, a story mode, etc.), dashing the hopes of many of the leak’s believers. Given the sadness and rage expressed by those who trusted the leak, it makes me wonder about why people continue to set themselves up for disappointment through following Smash leaks, and the only answer I can think of is that they consider it worthwhile. In a way, researching leaks and getting invested in them is almost a form of emotional gambling.

I understand that people are different when it comes to spoilers—some even readily welcome them. But the Grinch Leak interacted with the Smash community in an odd way that goes beyond just knowing something in advance. First, it came at a time when some fans felt starved for information, despite Isabelle from Animal Crossing being announced less than two months ago. It was as if people were so desperate for news that they’d glom onto anything convincing, and to spice it up, the Grinch Leak dropped a bunch of “reveals” for characters with very vocal and loyal fanbases. It’s not just that people thought the leak to be believable—many clearly wanted to believe.

And then the Direct hit, and the characters shown were not what Grinch supporters were expecting. In came the comments. “How could the final Smash Direct be this anticlimactic? Ken? Incineroar?! PIRANHA PLANT??!!” The Smash community has always had problems with getting excessively overhyped, and this was no exception. But I also wonder about the way fans seem to actively trying to to hit these dramatic emotional highs at the possible risk of plummeting into equally drastic lows. After all, one doesn’t necessarily need to pay attention to these leaks, and one can simply hope for their favorite character to be added to the roster without the additional backup of some “inside scoop.” That’s what makes it feel akin to gambling, albeit a much safer, cost-free form. There’s a risk and a payoff for wanting to believe.

It also reminds me of how popular conspiracy theories can be. “Some employee leaked information about a game that’s not out yet” is nowhere close to “the United States government faked the moon landing,” but there is a similar idea at play here: there’s inside information they don’t want you to know about, and by having the real info, you have the edge over the others. And much like conspiracy theories, the fact that some leaks actually turn out to be true only adds fuel to the fire.

In a certain sense, following leaks and getting into arguments over them is another form of community interaction, and it’s largely harmless fun. Even so, because of how they monopolized the Smash community’s general consciousness, I do have to wonder if there might be a better use of people’s time and emotional energy.

Akira Yuki (Virtua Fighter) for Super Smash Bros.

The day that Ryu from Street Fighter was announced for Super Smash Bros. for 3DS & Wii U was a milestone: the first time a traditional fighting game character would appear in Nintendo’s iconic crossover series. But if Ryu is undoubtedly the most appropriate representative of the 2D fighter, then Akira Yuki from Virtua Fighter would be my pick for 3D fighter’s poster boy. After all, Virtua Fighter was the series that introduced 3D fighting games to the world.

Akira represents a unique challenge in terms of translating his character to the world of Smash. While he has many surface similarities with Ryu—both are short-haired, Japanese, bandana-wearing martial artists focused heavily on their craft—they have almost the exact opposite functions in their respective games. Whereas Ryu is generally considered an ideal beginner’s character who’s easy to learn but whose mastery teaches the fundamental aspects of Street Fighter, Akira is meant for experts alone. The Virtua Fighter character is notoriously unforgiving to use, as it is absolutely necessary to master his extremely tight execution requirements to do any combos or damage. In fact, novices don’t even have the benefit of button mashing and hoping for the best, because his design actively prevents button mashing from being effective.

Capturing this “advanced players only” quality in Akira, as well as the general gameplay and feel of his fighting style in Virtua Fighter, is what I would prioritize when making him into a Smash character. Virtua Fighter itself is considered a game with fairly simple controls (3 buttons, 1 joystick) but whose competitive depth makes it feel like you’re outwitting your opponent first and foremost, even when characters like Akira have such high execution requirements. That’s also why this entry is so much longer than previous Smash character concepts—it’s necessary to show how Akira would embody Virtua Fighter.

Fighting as Akira should feel like you’ve out-thought your opponents, and your reward is a highly refined punish game consisting of short and sweet combos that nevertheless do scary amounts of damage. Fighting against him should make you feel bad for getting called out over and over for your predictability. At the same time, execution shouldn’t be too difficult, as it goes against the spirit of Smash Bros., but should be tricky enough that you can’t just buffer and mash and succeed. In terms of general stats, Akira would be heavier and slower than Ryu, and would of course lack a projectile move. He would be below mediocre in the air, given that Virtua Fighter characters are typically not known for their leaping prowess, and would be vulnerable to edgeguarding. On the ground, however, Akira would be a menace in a way Little Mac isn’t. He would have fast attacks with poor recovery time, rewarding intelligent exploitation of rock-paper-scissor scenarios but punishing Akira for bad decision-making and guesses.

Specials and Other Attacks

The special moves depicted above are meant to show that Akira has multiple options open as one attack flows into the next, but there’s usually a choice that’s 1) more powerful, 2) more difficult to execute, and/or 3) comes at a higher price. Take Akira’s side special, for example. If you tilt the stick, you get Hontei Goko Hazankou, a multi-part attack similar to Marth’s Dancing Blade. It does decent damage, and the initial kick can actually negate the intangibility on rolls and directional air dodges (but not side steps or neutral air dodges). The third part of the attack is Akira’s signature Tetsuzankou body check (and Bayonetta’s forward throw!), which does decent damage and can KO at very high percents. However, if you do a smash side-B, it becomes a raw Tetsuzankou, and like in Virtua Fighter, it is much, much more powerful.

In particular, there is an initial Tetsuzankou hitbox very close to Akira’s body that does massive damage (something like 30%) and can KO at early to middle percents. Even the late hitbox as Akira moves forward can do around 20%, but it’s highly punishable on dodge or shield. Another variant is that if you smash side-B back (as in the opposite direction that Akira is facing), he performs a back-turned Tetsuzankou, which is just as strong as the forward-facing one, only a few frames faster. In other words, roll past him at your own peril.

Perhaps Akira’s most famous technique is the “Houken Youshi Senrin Soushou” combination, known to English-speaking fans as the “Stun Palm of Doom.” In the Virtua Fighter games, this move is notorious for being difficult to execute, requiring precision and timing that could make even some Melee fans recoil. To reflect this challenging element of the move, hitting neutral-B alone would not do the full move. Instead, you need to hit neutral-B, down-forward-B, then back-B in that exact order at a very specific timing for each part. And unlike with Akira’s Tetsuzankou, you want to perform this whole thing successfully every single time, though stopping at Youshi Senrin (the second part) can open up certain options that can potentially lead to more damage. Also, the move is extremely unsafe on block, so you can’t just spam it and hope the opponent will get hit. You need to be confident that the Houken is going to land, because you pretty much need to execute the rest before the first part has even landed.

Ironically, his Final Smash, Toryu Tenshin Hazankai actually does less damage overall compared to Houken Youshi Senrin Soushou.

As for Akira’s other moves, Utankyaku is pretty bad as a straight-up recovery move (but it has its merits on offense) and Tsuutenhou is a unique “counter” move of sorts. Hitting up-b once makes Akira do a leaping kick called Utankyaku. Hitting the b button again results in a second kick, turning the move into Akira’s Renkantai. Both parts are capable of KOing, and the question as to whether it’s going to be one kick or two can mix up opponents. As for the down-B Tsuutenhou, it’s an upward strike that can knock opponents off balance if it’s used to interrupt an attack, and can lead to devastating follow-ups, but it’s sort of a backwards counter as it’s more effective against quick attacks than slow ones. If Akira can’t do a powerful punish in time, he can hit down-B again and default to Moukou Kouhazan, a simple palm strike. Akira also has a crouching dash like in the Virtua Fighter games, though in this case it’s performed by just smashing down-forward or down-back.

Akira actually has one other “hidden” special move that’s an Easter egg of sorts for Virtua Fighter fans. By hitting B and shield and letting go of shield after exactly 1 frame, Akira can perform Teishitsu Dantai, a quick knee strike that pops the opponent up and makes them vulnerable to combos. And for the sake of keeping this already long description from being more unbearably wordy, I’ll briefly say that most of his most iconic moves will be found in his normals. His smash attacks, for example, would be Byakko Soushouda, Chouzan Housui (negates side steps and neutral air dodges and does heavy shield damage if charged), and Youshi Saiken. Certain attacks (such as Tetsuzankou) would be able to power through projectiles uninterrupted, making playing keep-away fairly effective against Akira but not a guaranteed success by any means.

Overall

The resulting character is one that would really rewards players who love challenging execution and challenging mind games alike. If there are heart, body, and brain players each representing different tendencies in approaching fighting games, Akira Yuki would reward the body player who can also master the intuition of the heart and the disciplined research of the brain.

Turrican for Super Smash Bros.

Ever since Smash Bros. Ultimate was announced, I’ve been inspired to draw and design character movesets for iconic figures from video game history. Last time, I did Tatanga, final boss of Super Mario Land. This time, it’s going to be a somewhat more obscure character: Turrican, from the game of the same name by German game designer Manfred Trenz.

While Turrican might be somewhat familiar to SNES/Super Famicom owners, the real meat and significance of Turrican is that it’s one of the most famous games for the Commodore 64 and Commodore Amiga. As Smash Bros. slowly expands from a celebration of Nintendo to a celebration of gaming, I’ve entertained the notion of computer gaming getting its due with characters like Turrican and Thrall from the Warcraft franchise.

The Turrican games are sprawling platformers/shooters in the same vein as Metroid, and even the Turrican character himself bears a lot of resemblance to Samus Aran—ranged weaponry, armor, and even a rolling form. Ideally, a moveset would emphasize their differences rather than their similarities. To that extent, there are a few unique qualities about Turrican. Unlike Samus, who has a gun arm, Turrican holds his gun with at least one hand at all times. This means a lot of his normals are knees, elbows, etc. Also, his ranged weaponry serves different functions. He can’t charge his Laser or his Snaking Beam to be high-powered KO moves, though the Laser can eventually KO at very high percents, and it goes through obstacles.

Snaking Beam is somewhat akin to Bowser or Charizard’s flame attacks, except that its range is much, much greater and it can be swung to cover nearly 360 degrees around Turrican’s body. However, the drawback is that it eventually stops flinching if held for too long, so it can’t keep opponents out forever, and it has a long recovery time. But it’s great for tacking on damage in edgeguarding situations and makes running away nearly impossible.

Turrican’s Wheel attack is closer to a Sonic Spin Dash or a Yoshi Egg Roll, but more potent in certain respects. It’s invincible on startup and has strong KO power at the very beginning, meaning it can reliably get Turrican out of uncomfortable situations or lead to a kill. That said, the move can only be used sparingly, with a long cool-down that keeps it from being abusable—missing means having it off the table for a good chunk of time. Also, it’s good at killing or evading, but trying to do both is difficult. As for the Jet Pack, it’s a fairly conventional no-damage recovery move that doesn’t induce a helpless state, and the “Power Lines” Final Smash hits left and right at the same time.

In summary, the way I picture Turrican is as a somewhat low-mobility character who relies on his ranged weaponry to whittle down opponents as they get close. When they close in, he pushes them off with close-range normals and repeats the process. He doesn’t exactly have the speed to run away, but he’s also an anti-keep-away character at the same time due to the reach and coverage of his special attacks.

Is there anyone you’d like to see me draw as a Smash character? I can’t make any guarantees, but feel free to make your voice heard!

Previous Characters:

King K. Rool (Donkey Kong Country)

Princess Daisy (Super Mario Land)

Geno (Super Mario RPG)

Great Puma (NES Pro Wrestling)

Pitfall Harry (Pitfall)

Zoma (Dragon Quest III)

NiGHTS (NiGHTS into dreams…)

Thrall (Warcraft)

Tatanga (Super Mario Land)

Tatanga (Super Mario Land) for Super Smash Bros.

It’s been a few years since I dedicated serious time and effort to imagining new characters for Super Smash Bros. But with the announcement of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and the increasing excitement that comes with every nugget (or avalanche) of news, I felt compelled to go back to making more character moveset what-ifs. So here I am again.

For my first “Ultimate Era” character, I’ve drawn Tatanga from Super Mario Land. The final boss of Mario’s first Game Boy adventure, Tatanga is an alien who pilots a battle mecha called Pagosu, which Mario fights shoot-’em-up style. He makes another appearance in Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins in a different spacecraft.

Broadly, Tatanga is a super-heavyweight character who specializes in mid to long-distance combat. His close-range attacks are fairly slow and unreliable, but with multiple jumps and his special “hover” ability, he can create a wall of projectiles that’s difficult to get past. Hover is similar to Princess Peach’s “float” mechanic, but while floating allows Peach to move back and forth horizontally with ease while airborne, Tatanga’s hover lets him control his vertical height in the air with similar precision. It’s bad for spacing, but good for preventing juggles and mixing up projectile attack patterns.

For Tatanga’s special moves I’ve taken cues from both games in coming up with his special attacks. Spread Shot is a large projectile that splits into three smaller ones mid-flight, with the larger form being a KO move. Crescent Moon is a piercing move that can go through opponents and other projectiles, giving him the ability to stand toe to toe in any ranged battle. Space Bombard drops down, moves forward, then shoots up. The points at which the attack changes direction depend on the height Tatanga himself is at—great for using while hovering. G-Sweep is a standard stage recovery attack that swoops down then up. Pagosu Barrage shoots two massive beams that combine elements of all three of Pagosu’s projectiles.

While Tatanga’s ships in SML1 and SML2 are not quite humanoid, I’ve re-designed Pagosu to include retractable legs. I think it allows for a bit of extra animation flair for a model that would be fairly static otherwise. Combined with Tatanga’s expressions changing within the cockpit, it lets the character show more personality.

Previous Characters:

King K. Rool (Donkey Kong Country)

Princess Daisy (Super Mario Land)

Geno (Super Mario RPG)

Great Puma (NES Pro Wrestling)

Pitfall Harry (Pitfall)

Zoma (Dragon Quest III)

NiGHTS (NiGHTS into dreams…)

Thrall (Warcraft)

 

How Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’s Gameplay Decisions Support Both Casual and Competitive Players

E3 2018’s come and gone, leaving in our wake the juiciest details about the new Super Smash Bros. Ultimate for the Nintendo Switch. The goal is clear: to make this the most complete Smash game ever, most evident in the fact that every playable character across the franchise’s almost 20-year history is back, along with newcomers Daisy and Ridley. I have a million thoughts about the new game, in no small part due to the sheer amount of information coming our way. Not only were there 25 minutes devoted to Ultimate in the Nintendo Direct, and plenty of Nintendo Treehouse play sessions at E3, but there are also official introductory video clips for every characters, filled with tidbits if you look carefully.

My major takeaway from following all of this news is that Ultimate is embracing the idea that a game can truly be capable of excelling in both competitive and casual environments, instead of having one compromise the other. Many decisions made for the current build benefit players of all stripes.

New Dodge Decay Mechanic

One brand-new change in Ultimate is that rolls and dodges get less effective if you overuse them. While I personally believe that their power in Smash Bros. for Wii U is quite manageable for the most part, there is an environment where rolls are the bane of everyone’s existence: wi-fi play. Thanks to the inherent lag in online play combined with the fact that players had no control over who they connected to, rolling became much, much more powerful. For Glory mode became infamous early on for being filled with players who roll over and over, relying heavily on the inconsistency of variable online connections.

But while highly skilled players, especially the pros, have mastered punishing bad rolls, it’s not as if they fail to benefit from having dodge maneuvers being limited by decay. Playing at the higher levels means having a thorough mastery of all aspects of the game, and now rolls and dodges have an added wrinkle to them that encourages players to use their other fundamental tools, like walking and running. Moreover, these evasive techniques are now a resource to be managed. Do you use more rolls now to guarantee getting out of a sticky situation if it makes you more vulnerable later?

Tournament players now have another skill they can improve, and newer players online can avoid frustration dealing with lag. It’s win-win.

The Hybrid Air Dodge is Gentle Yet Harsh

In the history of Smash Bros., there have been two different types of air dodges. The first is the directional air dodge, originally from Super Smash Bros. Melee, which allows players to become invincible for a brief period and move a short distance more in any direction they choose. The penalty is that you become unable to do anything but plummet down afterwards, leaving you vulnerable. The second type is the unlimited air dodge from Super Smash Bros. Brawl, which lets players use repeated air dodges but prevents them being able to do a quick juke like the Melee directional air dodge does.

Air dodging in Ultimate is a hybrid version between Melee and Brawl. Players can choose to shift their direction during an air dodge or fall naturally, but there’s a period during which follow-up actions are impossible. It doesn’t put you in a helpless state as it would in Melee, but only one air dodge is possible before landing.

The air dodge in Brawl was changed in the first place likely so that it would be easier to use and understand for newer players—especially Nintendo Wii owners who were playing video games for the first time. It even introduced the concept of dodging in the air and counterattacking, something that wasn’t possible in Melee. Certain characters, namely Mewtwo in Smash for Wii U, even excelled at this strategy. However, fans who love Melee competitively often dislike this air dodge because it means juggles and combos were easier to escape. In their eyes, being able to air dodge repeatedly took away from one of them franchise’s best features.

Ultimate‘s air dodges leave a player vulnerable but not overly so. Using it eats up an option and makes one more susceptible to getting juggled, but the player can still attack out of it. Reports say the stationary air dodge allows faster recovery, which means the Mewtwos of the world can still do their thing. Directional air dodging vs. stationary air dodging also provides an added layer of decision-making, and gives characters like Yoshi and Little Mac who traditionally have suffered from limited recovery options to do a bit more.

Simpler, Freer Movement Benefits All Levels

One of the other new features of Ultimate is the ability to do pretty much anything immediately out of an initial dash. Past games restricted your options, but now everything from smash attacks to tilts to specials and more can happen out of a dash.

The probable reason this was previously not possible was because it made dashing into more of a commitment, and players ideally worked around it. In practice, newer players tend to just charge headfirst into things and then complain when their predicable option gets called out.

Melee is something of an exception to the rule of restrictive dashes because of the existence of wavedashing, an advanced technique that allows characters to slide while standing still, granting greater access to their arsenals while advancing or retreating. The lack of wavedashing in other games is a huge sticking point for many Melee fans, and is part of why they prefer those other games less. However, the execution of a wavedash requires a good amount of timing and dexterity. While most Melee players will claim it’s simple and easy, for many people it’s not, and failing to learn it actually significantly impacts your ability to succeed in that game.

By having these “dash cancels” (or whatever they’ll be called) come out of a more natural tendency to run ahead, it potentially makes less experienced players feel like they have more control. At the same time, it also fulfills at least some of the functions of wavedashing while being a more simplified command. Just dash, pause briefly, and attack.

Buffs Across the Board

Balance for a test version is of course not finalized, but from all reports so far it’s clear thay they’ve aimed for competitive improvements to nearly every character. Zelda suffered from being unable to act out of her Din’s Fire and Farore’s Wind special moves in past games, but now they no longer hold her back. Ryu always faces his opponents 1v1 (just like in Street Fighter) and can now back dash to improve his footsies. Little Mac can use both of his recovery moves, allowing him a little more leeway getting back on stage. Ganondorf’s attacks are surprisingly quick. The only exceptions seem to be Fox, Cloud, and Bayonetta, who are more limited in what they can do. Notably, Bayonetta’s infamous combo game and Witch Time ability have been made less effective, and Cloud’s Limit, which granted him improved specs as well as access to souped up specials, now only lasts 15 seconds instead of being potentially infinite.

Characters are getting quality-of-life changes and things specifically targeting their crippling flaws in previous games while also making them easier to use. There’s a clear desire to bring everyone up. However, what’s also important is that it shows on some level an acknowledgement of the skill found among stronger Smash players. Likely the reason Zelda’s Din’s Fire caused a helpless state when performed in the air was a fear that using it offstage, especially against weaker players, would be too powerful. No more—now, the game acknowledges that it might be really strong in those scenarios, but so what? “You can handle it,” says Ultimate.

A Game Already Loved

Despite being a mere test build, praise for the gameplay has thus far been near-universal—something that didn’t happen with Smash Bros. for Wii U when it was revealed in 2014. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate appears to be on track to giving almost all players what they want, and it’s thanks to mechanics that seem to reward skill without making the learning process daunting for less strong players. Unless something goes terribly wrong between now and the December 7 release date, it might become the most successful Smash game ever, both financially and competitively.

For more details, as well as some of the sources I used to get info for this post, check out the following.

Abadango’s thoughts on the new Smash (Japanese)

Full Breakdown of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’s Gameplay Mechanics

VGBootcamp VODs

Report: Retro Doujin Event Game Legend 28

On a recent trip to Japan, I attended a doujin event dedicated to retro games. It was an opportunity on my part to not only attend my first ever Japanese event dedicated solely to video games, but to see just what “retro” meant for a Japanese audience.

Held in the city of Kawaguchi, “Game Legend 28” saw a fairly packed attendance. I’m awful at estimating crowd sizes, but I’d say there was close to 200 people in attendance. The vendors there offered a diverse range of goods, even more than events I’d attended in the past, and it was primarily due to the subject matter. While the standard comics and essays were there in droves, one could also find CDs of video game music covered by amateur bands, entire archives of instruction manuals, people’s personally developed games, and even super-miniaturized (and playable!) versions of arcade and console titles. The last item seemed to be a trend, as more than one table offered them.

When it comes to trends one might not see at a US convention, I noticed that there was a great amount of love given to the PC-Engine (released in the US as the Turbo Grafx 16), and that certain popular Japanese meme characters such as Spelunker still held strong. I also met a woman who wore a Segata Sanshiro t-shirt and sold a photo journal of her time attending a Sonic fan event in Korea. Another dedicated herself to F-Zero, showing not only doujinshi but tiny F-Zero machine replicas as well.

It’s common to presume that doujinshi means “porn,” but I actually saw very few tables dedicated to 18+ material. Even then, one was selling a comic featuring a popular heroine from Tokimeki Memorial. In other words, even the smut was frequently retro.

Ultimately, I enjoyed Game Legend 28, and even bought a few things, including a Sega Smash Bros. parody doujinshi starring Alex Kidd. But the event also inadvertently curried favor with me when a small live brass band played a song from one of my favorite video game soundtracks ever. Following performances of the boss theme from R-Type and the ending theme to Chrono Trigger, they went straight into “Back to the Fire,” the Hydra stage music from Thunder Force III.

At that point, Game Legend 28 could do no wrong in my mind.