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    An Open Letter to Ellie and Joel

    By Softballchic10

    There are certain games that come along from time to time that really get your attention. It could be for the action, the graphics or game play. However, it is a rare occasion that a game grabs you for all of these, plus the amazing experience of becoming emotionally attached and involved in the actions of characters. It is to this that I write this open letter to Ellie and Joel. I met them in the “The Last of Us.” *(Please note that I've tried to write this to contain no spoilers. Personality of the characters is mentioned as well as reference to generic type actions that happen in game.) Dear Ellie and Joel, I want to thank you for letting me join you on one of the most amazing adventures of my life. I know the journey was long and brutal. There is never a reason a death should be simple or a casual thing. But a person has every right to fight for their own right to live. It is to that I acknowledge and understand why at times death followed in your footsteps. Know that I don't blame you, nor do I condemn you for it. Joel, you said yourself along the way “It was him or me.” Simply stated, but true to fact. We all wish that we could walk again in relative harmony the way we once did. That time may come again, but not now. Not now. Joel, at times you were a hard man for me to like, but you had your own personal reasons, your own demons that you fought every day. But even when I disagreed with your words, your actions always spoke louder and with greater heart. There were moments when you were an enigma to me. You could be harsh and bitter one moment, protective and wise at another. As I think on it, I believe it is because the man that knew a world before everything went to hell is still there inside you, wrestling the man you have had to become to survive. Ellie, you are an amazing young woman. I refuse to acknowledge you as a girl as most people do. Yes, there are times when you were goofy, silly and playful. But those are wonderful traits to carry on, even as you get older. It was refreshing to watch as you, for the first time, saw the world as it used to be, even if it was only in shattered pieces. Your wonder was childlike, not childish, and full of amazement and wonder. I smile now thinking about some of those moments. But that is only part of who you are. You are also fierce, tough, loyal and caring. These traits to me and your actions when times were tough are what shaped you into the young woman I have come to know. You have such strength of character. It didn't matter if it was Hunters, the army or Infected, you always were there, looking out and helping out. You never ran away from danger when you could have given up. Your determination to see every situation though, no matter for good or bad, it is inspiring. We adults could learn so much from you, if we only would accept the fact that sometimes the best of what we are lies in the hearts of people like you, not warped and changed by a world gone sideways. A final thought before I close this letter to both of you. Joel, I know the world as it is now has forced you to build up walls around you. It would be almost impossible to survive as long as you have without such things happening to the best of us. I hope that you find, however, that letting a little light in, be it found in people or in something else that makes you happy, there is still good in the world and the good man that you’ve buried inside you deserves to see and enjoy it. Ellie, I firmly believe that you will never give up. The world may be violent and brutal but its people like you who give us hope that we can be better then what we've become. Whatever happens though, don't ever lose that since of amazement that you get from seeing things for the first time. I hope you always have a joke and a ready smile. Oh, and one more thing. Don't trust people that do acupuncture, they're back stabbers. I know you'll understand. Once again, thank you for letting me come along on your adventure. It wasn't easy and I hate some of the things we had to do. But since we had no choice, I'm glad we went through it together. Godspeed to both of you.
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Legends of the Force: Episode 8 – The Thrawn Trilogy

This time we begin the Legends Expanded Universe as we know it, with the Thrawn Trilogy – Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising, and The Last Command – by Timothy Zahn Opening Credits: Star Wars Theme from Super Star Wars on the SNES.
Closing Credits: Chiptune Cantina Band from Chiptune Inc. – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCvJtiGFudFlvYMfjiU1NKJg Please support my Patreon at http://www.patreon.com/countzeroor
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Filed under: Star Wars, videos Tagged: Legends of the Force, Star Wars, Star Wars Expanded Universe, Videos

Count_Zero

Count_Zero

 

Video Game Review: Dragon Quest IV: Chapters of the Chosen (DS)

A while back, in the Nintendo Power Retrospectives, I covered Dragon Quest IV for the NES. Prior to that, I had picked up the DS version of the game and had been playing it off and on. Having now beaten the game, I wanted to give my quick thoughts. Dragon Quest IV, as far as the series goes, comes closest to what we associate with some of the middle Final Fantasy titles (like IV) – a massive party, multiple vehicles that you get access to over the course of the game, each allowing access to different areas of the map, and a much bigger save-the-world plot than the first few titles. On the NES, it was an incredibly ambitious game, both in terms of the scope of the game and the size of the narrative. For those unfamiliar with the game, the story goes through 5 different chapters, each focusing on an individual character or small party, telling their story and building up the larger narrative, before in the sixth chapter the characters go to form a larger party and go on to take on the main final boss and save the world. The game itself has some quality of life improvements from the NES game. In addition to a quicksave option, your attacks are retargeted when the enemy you originally intended to attack is slain. The game also has more animated sprites for your opponents – with more expression and detail to their movements than even with the Super Famicom Dragon Quest titles. That said, there are a few quality of life improvements from later titles that this game could have used, and would have also provided more opportunities to develop the character of your party members. In particular, later games give the opportunity to talk to your party members to get a reminder of where you need to go to proceed in the quest. Otherwise, the game is a solid Dragon Quest title, and a really good place to come in on the series. Dragon Quest IV is available for the DS from Amazon.com.
Filed under: Video games Tagged: Dragon Quest, JRPGs, Nintendo DS, Video games

Count_Zero

Count_Zero

 

Wrestling Review: NXT Takeover – Orlando

So, with some of my reviews, I’ve been adapting them to videos on my YouTube channel. This won’t be one of them, for a large part because wrestling videos tend to get Content ID strikes, and I don’t want to get any more of those. Anyway, NXT, the WWE’s developmental promotion, has been doing a series of major events in conjunction with the WWE’s big Pay-Per-Views of the year – the Royal Rumble, Wrestlemania, Summerslam, and occasionally Survivor Series. In conjunction with this year’s Wrestlemania in Orlando, we got a NXT supercard to go with it. Spoilers below. Rather than going hold-for-hold in my review, I’m going to give the Highs and Lows for each match. Eight-Person Mixed Tag: SAnitY (Eric Young, Alexander Wolfe, Killian Dain, and Nikki Cross) defeated Tye Dillinger, Kassius Ohno, Ruby Riot and Roderick Strong The Backstory: Coming into the event, the new stable of SAnitY had been running rampant over NXT, and Tye Dillinger and Ruby Riot put together a group of wrestlers to take them on. The team had originally contained wrestler No Way Jose, but after he was assaulted by SAnitY over Wrestlemania weekend, the faces brought in Kassius Ohno (aka Chris Hero, making his WWE/NXT return). The High Points: Sanity really looked incredibly strong in this match. Part of that was certainly the booking, but they also were really impressive. Eric Young looks, both in terms of style and performance, night and day from the Eric Young we saw in TNA/Impact wrestling. Also, this match is somewhat hampered by the fact that Tye Dillinger was (as we know now) being brought up to the main roster, so it wouldn’t exactly be good for anyone for him to come out on top. The Low Points: Ruby Riot and Nikki really don’t show off what they can do. With the exception of a missile dropkick by Ruby off the apron, most of what they do in this match is basically a few decent strikes and rolling around on the mat. Not even chain wrestling. Considering that one of NXT’s high points is their women’s division, and considering that both women are Shimmer alumni, this was particularly disappointing. Rating: 4/5 Aleister Black defeated Andrade Almas The Backstory: None. The High Points: I think Aleister Black is the satanic wrestler I’ve seen who is a Face, while not being overtly supernatural in gimmick. Yeah, there’s the Undertaker, but ‘Taker has the weight of history on his side. The Low Points: I didn’t feel much in terms of stakes from this match. Black didn’t quite come across as feeling like he was there to make a statement or prove something, or vice-versa, Almas didn’t come across like he was there to put down an upstart. Instead, it felt like there was an open spot on the card, and they needed to fill and decided to take this opportunity to put over a newcomer to the roster. Now, this is fine and all, but you only do four of these events a year, so you might as well take the opportunity to build up the match leading up to this. Rating: 3/5 Triple Threat Elimination Match for the NXT Tag Team Championship: The Authors of Pain (Akam and Rezar) (c) (with Paul Ellering) defeated #DIY (Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa) and The Revival (Scott Dawson and Dash Wilder) The Backstory: #DIY defeated the Revival, the first two-time NXT Tag Team champions, and in turn #DIY was beaten by the Authors of Pain. Both former champions want their belt back, but the Revival in particular also want to beat #DIY. The High Points: This is a match that definitely tells a story. Between the beef between #DIY and Revival, and between #DIY and their desire to get back the belts, the match really got across the motivations and how they conflicted with each other. Making the match an Elimination match as opposed to a single-fall match helps with this, because the wrestlers have logical reasons to co-operate, but have plenty of motivation not to. I knew going in that The Revival was getting called up to the main roster (so they certainly wouldn’t be getting the straps), but there was still the possibility that #DIY might get out with the title, but when they didn’t, the match as it played out made it clear that it made sense for them to have gotten beaten. They basically beat themselves by failing to co-operate with The Revival (and vice versa). The match itself is great, with the three teams putting on a strong show, enough to get one of the two “Fight Forever” chants of the night. Also, “Fight Forever” is probably one of my new favorite wrestling chants – as like “This is Awesome”, it highlights the work that the wrestlers are doing in the ring, and adds the sentiment that the wrestlers work incredibly well together and have strong in-ring chemistry. It’s a chant that, in two words, sends strong positive feedback, and that’s always a good thing to send. Also, the new NXT Tag Team Championship belt looks really nice. Low Points: This match, however, this match doesn’t particularly showcase the Authors of Pain very well. They have a very distinctive entrance, basically as the urban-tactical version of the Pitbulls, and having Paul Ellering as their manager definitely draws connections with the Road Warriors. However, considering that they strongly present the image of powerful, barely restrained instruments of violence – having them spend so much of the match on the outside undermines that aspect of them somewhat. It makes logical sense for Ellering to have them hold back and let #DIY and The Revival beat the crap out of each other, but it would also make sense for Akam or Rezar to break discipline, come into the ring, massacre one member of either team, forcing their opponents to co-operate to drive the AoP back to the outside, before their own issues override their combined opponent and they return to fighting each other. Rating: 4/5 NXT Women’s Championship Match: Asuka (c) defeated Ember Moon Backstory: Asuka has not lost a match since she won the title. Not through pinfall, submission, countout, or disqualification. Ember Moon has set her sites on the NXT Women’s title, and she’s going to go through Asuka to get it. High Points: Again, as with the tag title match, this is one which told a strong story. Asuka had become somewhat complacent with her reign, and wasn’t particularly taking Ember Moon seriously. Over the course of the match, Asuka basically ended up being forced to realize that Ember was an opponent to be reckoned with, and she’d have to cut loose against her. Low Points: I’m not a fan of the new NXT Women’s title. The old one had a level of bling on it comparable to the main roster’s two main event titles. It really got across that the NXT Women’s title was just as important as the WWE Men’s Main Event titles. The new does have some of that with the shape of the belt (which is shares an outline to some of the old WWE and WCW main event titles), and loses some of the gendered color coding (the pink stones). However, considering the stones on the WWE Championship and the Universal Championship belts, it feels like a step down. Rating: 4/5 NXT Championship Match: Bobby Roode (c) defeated Shinsuke Nakamura The Backstory: At the last NXT Takeover event, Roode beat Nakamura for the title, in part by Roode kayfabe injuring Nakamura’s knee, which Nakamura aggravated through his own actions. During that time, Roode has been boasting about making NXT corporate, while Tron fights for the Users Nakamura fights for the fans. The High Points: Again, great story in this match. Nakamura is coming off of a (kayfabe) injury, and one in his legs which could hamper his most powerful weapon – his kicks (as King of Strong Style) – and Roode could take advantage of that. Thus, Nakamura had to keep Roode off balance and away from the recovering injury. This match got the other “Fight Forever” chant of the night. One of the problems with Puroresu is the selling, or rather lack thereof, and Nakamura is a wrestler who doesn’t have that problem. He sold the hell out of that knee in this match – from favoring the knee in his movements, to switching his strikes to the uninjured leg. Also, the new NXT Championship belt looks great – again, borrowing some visual concepts from the Big Gold Belt, while still featuring the NXT iconography. The Low Points: I… um… don’t have any. Rating: 5/5 and my match of the night.
Filed under: Recap, Wrestling Tagged: NXT, Wrestling, wrestling review, WWE

Count_Zero

Count_Zero

 

Random Raw Thoughts for Raw of 5/8/2017

So, storyline wise, I wonder what’s going on with Miz and Bray Wyatt? The two times he’s come out to interfere was to protect The Miz, plus taking on Ambrose at Miz’ behest. Wyatt didn’t come for the save against Balor again, though, and when Miz went down in the ring to beat down Ambrose some more, he seemed very wary of Bray, attempting to actively give him a wide berth. It doesn’t feel like they’re planning to have Miz join the Wyatt family. Considering Bray’s promo he cut before Payback and after the Shakeup, had him talking about his plan for Raw, having Bray be Miz’s enforcer would be an unfortunate step down from that. Also, considering how Miz is making a big thing in his promos about the style of an Intercontinental Champion, having Miz go with the grungy swamp Cthulhu cultist as his gun-for-hire seems like a poor fit (which, admittedly, is nothing new for the WWE). Other than that, I like the feud they’re building with Sheamus and Cesaro vs. the Hardys, and the promo with Golden Truth (which I read about from Scott Keith as it was cut from the Hulu Replay), hopefully will lead to another storyline with the Tag Division outside of the title hunt.
Filed under: Wrestling, WWF Tagged: Wrestling, WWE, WWE Raw

Count_Zero

Count_Zero

 

Movie Vlog Review: Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2

This past weekend the latest installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has come out, and I’m giving my thoughts on the film. Please support my Patreon at http://www.patreon.com/countzeroor
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Filed under: film Tagged: film, Film Review, Marvel Cinematic Universe, science fiction

Count_Zero

Count_Zero

 

Book Review: Storm Front

Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden series kicked off something of a new renaissance of Urban Fantasy. The genre had existed before – authors such as Emma Bull and Mercedes Lackey had written works in the genre, but what made Harry Dresden distinctive is how well it combined the Urban Fantasy genre with the hard-boiled detective novel. I had previously read Storm Front, and several of the later books, but hadn’t read any further books in a while. So, I figured now was as good a time as any to revisit the series beginning. For those who are unfamiliar with the plot of the first book, it has Harry Dresden, professional wizard, faced with two seemingly unrelated cases, one laid before him by the police department in his role as an consultant where he has to solve a series of brutal murders, and one related to his job as a wizard and private investigator where he has to find a missing husband. If after hearing the description of those two cases, your first thought is that they’re probably related, then you’ve clearly read hard-boiled detective novels before. What’s particularly striking, coming back to this book, is how seamlessly Butcher is able to merge the necessary world building that comes with urban fantasy, with the narrative conceits of detective fiction. Butcher takes the reasonable step of combining the criminal and supernatural underworlds, and then runs with it. Female vampires normally depicted as beings of mystery and seduction? Have one running a high-class escort service. That sort of thing. While I don’t know if Butcher had a bunch of books already plotted out by the time he published Storm Front, the book definitely does and interesting job laying some groundwork for future books, often with quick throwaway lines of dialog – Dresden’s previous master (and their fate), the mention of his “Fairy Godmother” and so on. As far as faults go, the book runs into some problems with how Murphy is handled. Morgan refusing to listen to Harry makes sense – he’s single minded, and it’s clearly meant to be implied that his understanding of the mundane world isn’t great. However, when Harry withholds information on his client from Murphy because of client privilege, Murphy should understand that. Harry is a licensed private investigator, that’s his job. Yes, it’s an old detective novel trope, but so was having the police take someone in the back room and beat the crap out of them until they talk, and Murphy’s not doing that. All in all, this is a good self-contained novel, and a good start to the series as a whole. If you haven’t re-read Storm Front in a while, it’s definitely worth checking out. It is currently available in print, in a Kindle edition, and as an audiobook from Amazon.com
Filed under: Books Tagged: book review, Books, Dresden Files, Urban fantasy

Count_Zero

Count_Zero

 

Anime Review: Soul Eater

Shounen fight anime and manga, in the past few decades, has developed a very definite style from Dragonball (and Dragonball Z) on – no matter the tone, the series tend to have a bright color palette for both characters and for the overall visual style of the series. Things might get dark and stormy in bits with narrative and tonal weight, but the colors for the characters themselves will maintain that color. You’re never going to see Naruto, for example, putting on an all black traditional ninja outfit for a really serious or dramatic mission. This gives Soul Eater a visual edge that really makes it stand out from the pack. The series is based around the Death Weapon-Meister Academy (DWMA), in Death City, run by, well, Death. The students in the academy are made of of “Weapons” – people who can transformed into magical weapons when teamed up with a Meister who their soul can resonate with; and Meisters, who handle the direct combat, and who have their own distinctive special abilities independent of the powers of the Weapons they team with. Teams of Weapons and Meisters are sent on missions to obtain the souls of people who have been corrupted by evil and Madness, and in particular Witches – people who use magical power to spread madness and corruption throughout the world. Obtaining 100 souls and the soul of one Witch will allow a Weapon to graduate and become a Death Scythe – one of the most powerful Weapons out there, and one worthy of being wielded by Lord Death himself. The show also changes itself up by being a shounen series with a female protagonist. The lead of the show is Maka Albarn, a Meister at the Academy who works hard both in her studying and training. Her Weapon, Soul Eater, is a scythe, who has a more laidback, cool attitude. He also really likes Jazz. Her team-mates couldn’t be bigger polar opposites. There’s Black*Star, whose personality is functionally identical to that of Naruto from the early seasons of his series (and early volumes of his manga). Black*Star is loud, brash, and incredibly enthusiastic and hyperactive. Continuing with the theme of Weapons being the opposite of their Meisters, Tsubaki is much more restrained, and she tries to keep Black*Star from rushing in to situations that he’s not prepared for. Additionally, Tsubaki is distinct from the other weapons in that she has multiple distinct forms, generally focusing on ninja weapons (Kusarigama, ninjatō, etc.) – which change based on the kind of attack that Black*Star needs to perform, rather than changing form strictly based on the strength of the attack. Then there is Death the Kid – the son of Death. He is impeccably dressed in a suit and tie, and generally tries to maintain a serious demeanor, which is somewhat undermined by two points. First, he prefers to get around by a skateboard which can turn into a rocket-hover-board. Second, he has an extreme case of Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Order, with a particular focus on symmetry. This leads into his Weapons – the Thompson Sisters, Liz and Patty. Their weapon form is a pair of handguns, which can transform into larger cannons depending on the power of the attacks, and which Kid fires upside down (squeezing the triggers with his pinkies). Not only do the Sisters have very distinctive personalities from Kid, but they also have distinctive personalities from each other. The taller sister, Liz is incredibly laid back, almost to the point of slacking, but is also a major scaredy-cat. Patty, on the (literal) other hand, has a personality much like a little kid – going on nonsensical non-sequiturs, having an tremendous amount of enthusiasm (almost on par with Black*Star’s, but not as directed), and is more easily distracted. Patty is also the shorter of the sisters. This right away leads into the very distinctive style of the anime – it has a very dark, gothic, and macabre look. Even daytime scenes have a very angular, expressionist edge to them. The sun and moon themselves aren’t immune from this – both are anthropomorphized, not with cutesy, cheerful faces, but with faces which are creepy and which leer at the world below. Character designs involve a lot of dark colors and greys, with some bright colors being limited to the second closing credits sequence. It visually separates the show from every other shonen series (even contemporaries like Fullmetal Alchemist, which are serious and somber, but have a more grounded visual design esthetic). Also, the series never really gets into the fanservice of other Shounen anime, with Maka in particular never becoming the sort of fanservice figure that, for example, Erza Scarlet in Fairy Tale, or the various female members of the cast in One Piece become over the course of that series as time passes (and bust sizes increase). There is a sum total of one character who really engages in fanservice. Specifically, that is Blair – the Cat who can turn into a human that looks like a witch, who lives with Maka and Soul. She occasionally wanders around the house in a towel, and who occasionally shoves Soul’s head into her cleavage. She appears sporadically in early portions of the show, before she basically drops out of the series in the show’s second half. The writing of the series in generally is very solid. According to my research, part way through the show’s conclusion, it starts to run out of manga and chooses to write it’s own ending instead of padding the series until the manga finishes or going with a “Read the Manga” ending. Considering how the ending is the executed – without spoiling things – I can roll with that. The ending we get isn’t perfect by any means, and it’s just wanting enough to make me want to read the manga. Still, part of the appeal of shounen anime is seeing the action of the anime in motion, and the anime pulls that off really well, and in particular seeing this world constructed in color is great and I look forward to reading the story on the printed page. Soul Eater is available on a Blu-Ray/DVD Combo pack from Amazon.com & from RightStuf.
Filed under: Anime Tagged: Anime, anime review, shonen

Count_Zero

Count_Zero

 

New Patreon Support Levels!

I’m making some updates to the Patreon campaign! If the new support levels sound appealing to you, please check out my patreon campaign at https://www.patreon.com/CountZeroOr Member of The Console Xplosion Network: http://www.theconsolexplosion.com/
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Filed under: News, videos Tagged: Patreon, site news

Count_Zero

Count_Zero

 

Book Review: Aetna Adrift

Disclosure: I received this book for free from the author for purposes of review. When I received Aetna Adrift from the author, Erik Wecks, at OryCon last year, I saw that the book was a prequel to another series of books that he’d put out – his Pax Imperium series. Before I accepted the book, I asked if he considered the book to be a decent jumping point to this series. He said it was. I was a little unsure, but I accepted the book anyway. The good news is that the book is. It starts on a rough foot, but once it really gets going, it makes for an enjoyable read. The book is set at a somewhat unspecified point in the future. Humanity has traveled to the stars and has splintered into a series of various governments. One of these is the Unity Corporation – a totalitarian corporate state, with internal politics that can best be described as literally cut-throat. Out in the ass end of the Unity is the planet Aetna, an ice planet (similar somewhat to Europa) that is home to a hydrogen mining operation. On that planet is Jack Halloway, who is doing his damndest to stay under the radar, out of the way, and in the process retain a degree of personal independence. In this case he does it by running a small smuggling operation bringing luxury goods into the colony. However, when a Unity executive by the name of Timothy Randall shows up on Aetna with his entourage, and ropes Jack into his plans on pain of death, things start going very bad, very fast, and it takes all of Jack’s craftiness and a lot of luck to get through this alive. So, Jack Halloway is our viewpoint character, and our lens through which we view society in the Unity. The problem is that life in the Unity is pretty rough and dystopian, some elements of which Jack recognizes as bad, but others he accepts as normal, but I, the reader, see as negative, since I’m an outsider. This is especially the case for women in Unity society, and it clearly comes across that way in the book. However, for most of the book Jack doesn’t notice it, because it’s either not a problem for him, or he’s in a position to benefit from it – and by the time that changes in the book, there’s enough other stuff going on that other matters are pressing concerns, until the very end of the book. Getting into the positives, Wecks creates an interesting cyberpunk-adjacent world here, a setting that gets into some of the elements of cyberpunk, but with the addition of interstellar travel. Where this gets interesting in particular is that most works of Cyberpunk don’t get much into what life in a corporate state is really like. Wecks gets into that. It’s all the worst parts of real world corporate politics, with a side of Robocop’s corporate politics as well. Aetna Adrift did get me more interested in checking out some of the rest of the original Pax Imperium series, to see how well those books present the larger universe. Aetna Adrift is available from Amazon.com in Paperback and Kindle editions.
Filed under: Books Tagged: book review, Books, science fiction

Count_Zero

Count_Zero

 

Puzzle Quest Rundown!

Puzzle Quest for the DS, PSP, and Consoles was a game that changed how the match-three puzzle game worked considerably by making it competitive – leading to a variety of clones that took that framework and attached various licenses to it, and released the games on Steam, Mobile, or both as free-to-play titles. I’ve had an opportunity to play two of the licensed Puzzle Quest games, and one clone, so here’s an opportunity to give my thoughts on Marvel Puzzle Quest, Magic Puzzle Quest, and WWE Champions. Marvel Puzzle Quest Marvel Puzzle Quest is almost the closest to the classic Puzzle Quest style. The game tasks the player with assembling a party of heroes to take on either PVE matches against various opponents, or taking on other teams in multi-player. Each hero has a selection of three powers, each tied to specific color gems, and each character deals a different amount of damage based on what gems are matched. When a player matches gems, the game makes the lead character the one who would do the most damage with that color. The flip side of this is when the opposing team has a turn, whoever is active at that point is the one who is a target for damage from their characters – be they heroes or villains. However, the player can select which of the opposing team of heroes that they fight. Also, when a player pulls off a combo, whatever character would be activated by the first match is the one who is active at the end of the combo, even if other members of the party also get matches as part of this combo. So, combat becomes prioritizing what member of the opposing team is the biggest threat, and managing the active characters in their party so they do the most damage, while also keeping the more squishy members of the party protected. PVE combat can take the form of two different kinds of matches. Character vs. Character matches play similarly to PVP and classic Puzzle Quest combat, with the two opposing teams taking turns matching tiles. Character vs. Mook combat has the player taking on a variety of unnamed “Mook” opponents, who do not match tiles. Instead their power gages for different colors of energy charge up over multiple turns, and once they have enough power to trigger their abilities, they’ll activate them. Those abilities can be very powerful, but operate on a count-down timer, where they create a tile on the board with a countdown before the ability takes effect. This gives the player an opportunity to avoid the attack. These matches serve as something of a form of training, giving the player an opportunity to learn how to set up teams for PVP, as well as learning how to set up combos. PVP combat is asynchronous. The player puts together their teams for PVP events, and takes on teams put together by other players. They control their team in fights they select, but when opposing players do their fights, their opponents are controlled by the AI. Thus, party selection for PVP requires the player to not only put together the optimal party to take on the opposing team, but also putting together a team that the AI can use effectively. After completing a match, you get a “drop”, either of ISO-9, or boosts for particular gems, or of new cover draws, selected at random from a list. For PVE story fights, getting a draw strikes that item of a list of possible draws, so if you play that fight again, you won’t necessarily get the same draw (unless there are multiple possible results of the same type for that fight). For PVP fights, since you’re generally never initiating a fight with the same person twice, there isn’t the same opportunity to chawk an item off the list. Instead, based on their performance in the PVP event, you get ranking points to move up in the rankings, which in turn determines what rewards you get at the end of the event. This leads to the problems with the game’s AI – once the AI has enough power to trigger an ability, it uses that ability, even if it’s not the optimal ability for that situation. This means that while in PVE events you can double-up on different colored powers, doing so in PVP events can lead to disaster. On how the game handles free play, the game’s “free-to-pay” curve is what I’d describe as a bell curve. You can spend money on additional XP or “ISO-9” crystals, on general cash-shop currency to spend on random-draws for various heroes (described as “covers” – due to featuring covers of various Marvel Comics that show that hero) and to get more slots for heroes, and to re-stock on medpacks. However, the game does a pretty good job of giving you a bunch of those for free. I never really had much of a problem getting Iso-9 by playing through the game on its own. On the medpac front, the game gives you a very good regular stock of medpacs (10), and those replenish regularly, with one medpac per hour – and events generally give covers as rewards, either based on ranking in the event or based on completion of the event. Where you’ll want to start spending money for cash shop currency is getting additional slots for covers. When you start the game, you have a limited number of covers, and progress through the game will get you some additional cash shop currency that will get you further slots. However, the more slots you buy, the more expensive the next slot gets, to the point that currency won’t come in fast enough and if you want to get each new character that becomes available to you, you’ll actually have to spend money. Where the bell curve comes in is related to the fact that some covers are more common than others, and getting duplicates of characters allows you to boost that character’s abilities, and with it their level cap. Once those characters (of two-star level or more) hit max level, you can spend a bunch of Iso-9 to make them become “Champions”, where each new cover just levels up the character further, and provides new perks like additional cover draws, more Iso-9, or other benefits. Once you hit this point, you’re going to end up needing to buy additional slots less often, as you’re either feeding your duplicate covers to other cards or selling them for more Iso-9. There is a Console version of Marvel Puzzle Quest, which is not a pay-to-play game, and generally doesn’t quite play as well. The fundamental mechanics are the same as the mobile and PC versions, but how you get covers is changed considerably. Reaching certain points in the game and beating certain opponents gets additional covers. Further, in the Free-to-play version, you have a pool of Iso-9, which you can spend on whatever characters you feel like leveling up. In the console version, character are leveled up based on use. This makes the game considerably more grindy. Also, new characters have been introduced to the console version much more slowly. Marvel Puzzle Quest is available on Steam, Android, and iOS platforms – along with Playstation Network, and I believe Xbox Network. Magic: Puzzle Quest Magic Puzzle Quest is based on Magic: The Gathering, if it wasn’t clear from the name. You put together a deck of 10 cards, based on a variety of planeswalkers, each with different elemental affinities, and a selection of special abilities. Each card has a mana cost, and how much mana you get from matching different colors of gems is based on your planeswalker’s elemental affinity and level. There is a sixth type of gem in addition to the gems for the five colors of mana in Magic, which doesn’t generate mana but does charge up a planeswalker’s abilities. You deal damage not by matching gems, but by summoning creatures to attack your opponent and, if they have defender (or similar attributes) to defend you. Some planeswalker can also activate abilities to directly deal damage to their opponent. The focus of strategy here is, as in the actual card game, building the best deck with the cards you have available, and which fits with the strengths of your planeswalker. The problem here is that some of the cards in Magic just don’t adapt well to this format – I’ve encountered cards on multiple occasions that were just broken. There is one card in particular which heals the caster for 20 health (which can be a fifth of a planeswalker’s health), and generate 30 mana, which potentially could allow the player to cast that card again. Part of it is due to how deck construction works in Magic compared to how it works in this game. In Magic, you have a 60 card deck, with no more than three duplicates of any one card (that is not land) in the deck. When your deck is exhausted, that’s it – you’re done. You lose. Indeed, “milling” your opponent – forcing them to constantly draw or discard cards from their deck until they run out of cards – is a completely valid strategy in magic, and has been since the beginning. In Magic; Puzzle Quest, on the other hand, you just cycle through your deck at random endlessly, with the player potentially getting a hand completely full of one kind of card. The game tries to manage this some by having multiple creatures stack on top of each other, increasing the power and toughness of that creature, and multiple “Support” cards (which work like Enchantments), extending the number of matches a support can withstand before being cleared from the board. However, this doesn’t fix some of the real balance issues in the game. At the end of a PVE event, depending on whether you complete certain goals, such as only casting a limited number of spells, or not killing any enemy creatures, you can get certain rewards, either of Mana Stones or Mana Crystals (the cash-shop currency). This encourages you to replay matches using different tactics or different decks to complete those goals. In PVP events, there are similar goals which can boost the number of ranking points you can earn. However, you don’t know them in advance of the match, and you can’t necessarily replay the fight to get all the goals. At the end of the event, depending on your ranking you can get a reward of Mana Stone or Crystals, or additional booster packs. The good news is that you really don’t need to spend any money on this game. Daily pickups frequently provide Mana Stones (XP), and some cash-shop currency, and you get one basic (3 card) booster pack draw per week. Playing 21 days over the course of a month will often also get you a “fat pack” – 3 booster packs of a particular expansion, with each pack getting you 5 cards each. Further, duplicate cards can be sold back for more Mana Stones. While you have a cap of 5 health refills, leveling up your character will automatically refill their health, giving you another play. Further, you get additional Mana Stones even if you lose a game, so you still feel like you’re making some progress. Still, the balance issues in the game cause enough frustration to make parts of the game rather obnoxious. WWE Champions Finally, there is WWE’s take on the Puzzle Quest game. Unlike the other two titles, this game does not bear the Puzzle Quest name, and is not put out by that game’s developers, though the gameplay is very similar. You select a WWE wrestler, each with a variety of affinities to different color coded “styles”, and put them up against other wrestlers. As with Marvel Puzzle Quest, each character has three special moves, which are color coded, and matching gems of those colors will charge up those moves. Also as with Marvel Puzzle Quest, matching gems deals damage, with gems that are the same color as the ones that are connected to the special moves dealing more damage. Where things get changed up is with the momentum meter at the bottom of the screen. As characters deal damage to each other, the more the momentum meter will shift back and forth. When one player is able to push the meter all the way to the opponent’s side of the screen, their wrestler will attempt pin their opponent. The opponent then has three turns to match enough gems to score points equal to however much damage lead to the pin attempt. If they fail to do that, then they are pinned and lose. If they are pinned when they are at zero health, then they are immediately pinned. After the end of the fight, the fight is given a rating on a three star grade based on how quickly you won the match, and how much damage you took. Unfortunately, aside from unlocking advanced difficulties, star ratings don’t really do anything. As with Marvel Puzzle Quest, there are possible item draws you can get at the end of the bout by matching Item Chests. For each bout there are three item thresholds you can meet – 3, 6, and 13. Hitting each threshold gets you a draw from a better pool. Depending on how many health segments you have at the end of the match certain stones will be randomly converted to item chests, which can increase the amount of item chests you match. However, unlike in Marvel Puzzle Quest, getting a draw from a particular pool does not eliminate that item from that pool. Additionally, because the conversion of stones to chests is at random, you can still do incredibly well in a match, and not get any further chests. This is incredibly frustrating, particularly since sometimes getting just one move at the end of the bout could net you a bunch of chests, taking a bout from no draws to two or three. Additionally, the rate of gain of new Superstars for your roster is rather slow. Some events will give superstars as rewards, but the cases (blind boxes are done as Money-In-The-Bank style suitcases) that provide Superstars are generally limited to the higher tier cases, which normally cost Bucks (cash-shop currency), or Superstar Tokens (which are awarded through PVE events). Also, in bouts, if you are pinned or submit, you continue at full health (while your opponent retains however much health they had before) with the cost of just a few Bucks. Often, this means that you are in a position where you can easily turn a match from a defeat into a three-star match instantly. This also creates the situation where the game can literally become pay-to-win, at least in PVE. I have not, as of this writing, played enough PVP to make a reasonable judgement over how that works. You level up your characters through three different routes. You spend Coins to level up your characters, boosting their stats. You level up their moves by spending “posters” for move classes (technical, aerial, powerhouse, and so on, all mapped to the different types of character and gem colors) along with duplicate versions of the character. When a character reaches the cap for their character rank (one star bronze, one star silver, and so on up), you can spend a selection of item types (connected to the character type) to rank the character up. This ups the level cap by 10, and usually the maneuver level cap by one. You then start the cycle over. Visually, what the game has going for it are 3D animated versions of your wrestlers who will duke it out as you go through the course of a bout. The more damage you do with a match or a combination of matches, the more impressive the attack animation is. Special moves and Finishers have a specific animation attached to them, and performing a successful pinning attack on an opponent who has no HP will move directly into the animation for a character’s finisher. WWE Superstars could be really good, with some refinement. Letting the player move one gem at the end of a bout in order to potentially match some item boxes would help mitigate some of the grinding. As an alternative, tying the item thresholds you get to the number of stars in your match would have a similar effect. Further, the game does not give Cases or Superstar Tokens as PVP event rewards, only upgrade Items. While this is still useful, it makes taking part in PVP less valuable as a way to increase your pool of wrestlers you have to play with – meaning that if you want to get more wrestlers, you have to spend Bucks – one way or another.
Filed under: Video games Tagged: free-to-play games, Magic Puzzle Quest, Marvel Puzzle Quest, match-three games, mobile games, rundowns, Video games, WWE Champions

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