Jetpack Joust Video Review: Hypership Out of Control PC

Hypership: Out of Control is one of our favorite games on XBLIG, so we were pumped when we found out it was finally coming to PC! Does it hold up to the transition? We certainly think so!

You can find “Hypership: Out of Control” here (for just 2 bucks!):
http://www.desura.com/games/hypership-out-of-control

Roleplaying’s Big Night: The ENnie Awards

GenCon is the world’s largest tabletop gaming convention; a haven for those who toss dice, play cards, paint miniatures and create characters. But its founder Gary Gygax started the event in 1968 to celebrate the growing hobby of wargaming – and eventually his own invention: the roleplaying game. As such, RPGs have always had a special place at the conference. While Spiel and Origin focus heavily on self-contained experiences like board and card games, GenCon is the site of roleplaying’s most prestigious ceremony.

The ENnies is an award’s show that commemorates the year in gaming and looks forward to the bright future of the industry. Trends are set, smaller products are brought into the light, and fun is had all around. Most importantly, however, the ENnies are voted on by the community and are thus reflective of the majority of the gaming public. 2014 was a phenomenal year for RPGs and this year’s winners are proof that the hobby is just as healthy and innovative as it always has been.

The following products received Golden ENnies:

Best Adventure: Trail of Cthulu: Eternal Lies (Pelgrane Press)

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A critically acclaimed adventure by the award winning Pelgrane Press, Eternal Lies is a wonderful journey into the horrifying Lovecraftian universe of Trail of Cthulu. Long enough for a sustained campaign, this text is great for any fan of horror.

Best Aid/Accessory: Numenera Creature Deck (Monte Cook Games, LLC)

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One hundred cards that allow Game Master’s to randomize their encounters in Numenera; the Creature Deck takes some of the best monstrosities from the Corebook and the Bestiary.

Best Art, Interior: Pathfinder Campaing Setting: Inner Sea Gods (Paizo Publishing)

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Perfect for Pathfinder players who are looking to go celestial, Inner Sea Gods delves into the most powerful beings in the universe and includes details on over 300 deities. The book also includes brand new prestige classes, feats, magic weapons, spells and weapons.

Best Art, Cover: Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: Mythic Adventures (Paizo Publishing)

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Mythic Adventures allows players to become legendary figures, who set out on trials that will open up pathways to some of the game’s most impressive powers. These are brand new rules that function on top of the previously established class system.

Best Blog: Gnome Stew

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Gnome Stew is one of the most viewed Game Mastering blogs on the internet; and for good reason! Filled with inspiration and fuel for your campaign, it is required reading for anyone with a serious passion for roleplaying.

Best Cartography: Pathfinder Campaign Setting: Wrath of the Righteous Post Map Folio (Paizo Publishing)

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When a horde of demons begin to surge from beneath a sabotaged wardstone; it is up to the players to save the world from being swallowed by an ancient threat. This map folio contains everything you need to perfectly visualize Paizo’s amazing adventure path.

Best Electronic Book: Player’s Guide to Emerald City (Green Ronin Publishing)

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Emerald City is a bustling new metropolis for players of Mutants & Masterminds to explore with their super-powered heroes.

Best Family Game: Fate Accelerated Edition (Evil Hat Productions)

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Simplified and streamlined, Fate Accelerated is perfect for first time roleplayers or for a group that prefers a light rules set. Fate’s brilliance is in its flexibility: any world can be rendered whole by creative gamers; Accelerated merely speeds up the process.

Best Free Product: Pathfinder Module: We Be Goblins Too (Paizo Publishing)

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For those with slighter ambition and a penchant for chaotic antics, We Be Goblins Too brings the action to a group of goblin players. This adventure is short, entertaining, and has a potent sense of humor.

Best Game Fate Core System (Evil Hat Productions)

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We’ve already addressed Fate Core’s amazing flexibility, but the core game offers a bit more complexity and strategy with your storytelling. Fate’s popularity is growing and it seems like a new supplement pops up on Kickstarter every week. If only for its cultural relevance, this game deserves this prestigious award.

Best Miniatures Product: Pathfinder Battles: Wrath of the Righteous (WizKids)

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Apparently, Wrath of the Righteous is great at inciting secondary lines of products, as WizKids’ Pathfinder Battles takes directly from the adventure path for its best-selling miniatures. These models will add a gloriously demonic presence to your battle maps.

Best Monster/Adversary: Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: Bestiary 4 (Paizo Publishing)

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Everyone loves more vicious, creepy-crawly beasties to contribute to their campaigns and the Bestiary 4 contains more than 300 new monstrosities! The book’s focus on classic horror literature is particularly notable as massive Kaiju and Elder Things are statted out for use in your Pathfinder world.

Best Podcast: Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff

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A wide variety of topics are addressed on Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff – history, occultism, film, art, storytelling – but roleplaying and tabletop gaming is in the forefront. You can learn a lot from this team of killer game designers.

Best Production Values: Numenera Corebook (Monte Cook Games, LLC)

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Numenera is our personal favorite RPG system of the year. With narratively driven rules, an ambitious and imaginative setting, and the most unique collection of monsters in any game we’ve ever played, we can’t stop raving about this product. There’s a reason you’ll see it pop up quite a few more times on this list: Numenera is an essential part of any roleplaying collection.

Best RPG Related Product: Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Rise of the Runelords Base Set (Paizo Publishing)

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The Pathfinder Adventure Card Game is Paizo’s attempt to conquer yet another segment of the tabletop industry. The game presents a bold new way to roleplay, using cards to cooperatively narrate the award-winning Rise of the Runelords adventure.

Best Rules: Fate Core Systems (Evil Hat Productions)

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Best Setting: Numenera Corebook (Monte Cook Game, LLC)

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The Ninth World is filled with intrigue, wonder and awe. Set one billion year into our own future, Earth is practically unrecognizable. It has been terraformed over-and-over and civilization thrives on powerful technology from previous ages. Rarely have I been so compelled by a system purely because of its setting. Numenera is a master class in world-building.

Best Supplement: Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: Ultimate Campaign (Paizo Publishing)

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Paizo continues to dominate the Fantasy RPG market with unprecedented success and popularity. Ultimate Campaign is the perfect supplement for Dungeon Masters who are looking to expand the scope of their narratives. With rules for downtime, character backstories, retraining, kingdom building and mass combat, this book fills in huge chunks of content that are not covered by the Core Rulebook. Even if you don’t play Pathfinder, there are ideas contained within that will enliven your own roleplaying sessions.

Best Software: Roll20 (The Orr Group)

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Thousands of gamers use Roll20 to play with groups from around the world. It’s an invaluable – if occasionally wonky – tool in our interconnected society. There’s no longer an excuse to not play a game: Roll20 makes it easy to find fellow roleplayers-in-arms.

Best Writing: Numenera Corebook (Monte Cook Games, LLC)

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Best Website: RPG Geek

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While we aren’t the biggest fan of the layout and user interface of RPG Geek and its Board Game Geek cousin, we do understand that it’s an invaluable tool for the community.

Product of the Year: Numenera Cookbook (Monte Cook Games, LLC)

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TABLETOP NEWS: Join the Fleet in Star Wars: Armada (Plus Other GenCon Announcements)

Fantasy Flight’s Star Wars license has been a boon for the already beloved company, introducing a brand new audience to tabletop gaming while garnering heaps of critical praise. Edge of the Empire has managed to re-envision the RPG, completely removing modifiers and number crunching in favor of narrative dice. Star Wars: The Card Game has opened up the LCG to lore that’s a bit more familiar that Android: Netrunner, becoming a much needed entry point for the genre.But X-Wing: The Miniatures Game is the true crown jewel of the franchise: a blazingly fun emulation of the frantic dogfights from the original trilogy. The exquisitely designed models are addictive to collect and the game is surprisingly nimble and easy to learn. It’s an eye-catcher that has seduced thousands of first-time wargamers and won over veterans with its customizability and complexity.

However, Star Wars fans are quick to note that the series is known for more than ship-to-ship combat. Just as memorable is the quick-strike attack on the first Death Star or the clash of massive fleets at the Battle of Endor; epic battles that are deeply engrained in the saga. The problem is that X-Wing’s attention to scale and detail makes it impossible to scratch that itch. The few large ships that have been released (the Rebel Transport and the Blockade Runner) are some of the smallest capital ships, but still take up an enormous amount of space on the table. To attempt a Star Destroyer or a Mon Calamari Cruiser would be wholly implausible.

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The answer for this quandary is Star Wars: Armada, a brand new game that will attempt to simulate the grander scale of the Galactic Civil War. Rather than individual pilots, players will take on the role of a Fleet Admiral for the Rebel Alliance or the Empire, using deep strategy to destroy the enemy’s cruisers while squadrons of fighters buzz about the battlefield.

The planned core set is scheduled to include an Imperial Star Destroyer, a Rebel Blockade Runner, a Nebulon-B Frigate, five X-Wing squadrons, five TIE Fighter Squadrons, and a load of tokens, cards, dice and command dials. That’s a ton of content and will inevitable draw the eye of gamers and collectors alike. As with X-Wing, the miniatures in this game are like tiny pieces of art and could stand alone without even getting into the gameplay. Inevitably, however, we’ll see even more options, as Fantasy Flight drops their usual waves of clever expansions.

Armada has a few more moving parts than X-Wing because of the sheer force required to use these mammoth spacecraft in combat. Gunners target the enemy with a range of different weaponry, engineers work frantically to maintain shields, and pilots do their best to maneuver the sluggish ships.

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Movement is still kind of mysterious as the game uses an entirely new tool to measure velocity and inertia. The long, segmented stick has a notch for each move that can be shifted depending on the ship’s size and turn radius. For example, a Blockade Runner is capable of tighter turns and can accelerate faster than a bulky Star Destroyer that is known more for its overwhelming firepower. Even then, squadrons of fighters remain far more agile than the capital ships they launch from. Movement always takes place after an attack, so it’s important to think ahead about where you’d like your craft to be in the following turn to optimize your strategic choices.

In fact, forward thinking is a huge part of the Armada experience. The speed of X-Wing allows players to make quick decisions and to react to current circumstances, but that is more difficult when you have a crew of thousands operating your vessel. In Armada, players use a Command Stack that distributes a new instruction each round, which is then replaced by a secret new order at the bottom of the stack. The amount of commands contained in the stack at any given time is determined by a score on the ship’s card. For instance, a Nebulon-B Frigate can have two orders in waiting at any given time and once one has been removed, a new order can be queued for a future round. As such, the larger your command score, the longer your tactical foresight has to be. Once you’ve delivered your instructions, you can attack twice using weapons on two different hull sections; rolling dice that are similar to those included with X-Wing.

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Victory in Armada isn’t as cut and dry as its predecessor either. Each session uses a randomized objective card that includes specific goals that have to be completed before either side can claim the win. Each objective has a unique method of scoring, meaning that every game could potentially feel very different from last. Players could be forced to defend an outpost, target a specific ship, or attempt a rescue; contributing even more Star Wars flair into the mix.

However, there are still many unanswered questions regarding Armada and details will surely become more available as we get closer to its Q1 2015 release date. Star Wars has become a major element of Fantasy Flight’s platform and given their handling of previous products, we can’t wait to see what they’ll do with a larger scale wargame experience.

Additionally, news is starting to leak from GenCon of even further games to be launched in that famous galaxy far, far away.

Imperial Assault is a self-contained board game similar in tone to FFG’s Descent: a ground-based dungeon crawl pitting Rebel forces on Yavin IV against an invading brigade of stormtroopers and walkers. Taking place directly after the first Death Star Battle, the game links together a series of thirty missions to create a cooperative narrative for up to five players. A secondary skirmish mode is also available for those who would rather build up competing strike teams to duke it out against each other. Gorgeous miniatures, interlocking tiles and extreme customization make Imperial Assault look like a perfect addition to Fantasy Flight’s roster.

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On the X-Wing front, a new faction was announced that will be the first thirty-party to enter the fray: Scum & Villiany. Made up of bounty hunters, pirates and other brigands, this wave will add some much needed diversity to the line-up and finally allow players to escape the employ of the Rebels and the Empire. This announcement is still incredibly fresh and FFG hasn’t even officially put out a press release (as of the writing of this piece), but according to the conference the expansion will include: a Star Viper, a M3-A Interceptor, the IG-2000 and a kit that will convert the Slave I and the HWK to this new faction. It’s also likely that we’ll see a third “Aces” set that will include two Headhunters and a Y-Wing.

Finally, the beta text for Force & Destiny will make its way into the hands of those whom wish to playtest the third sourcebook for the Star Wars roleplaying system. After quite a long wait, players will be able to become an official Jedi. The text will include rules for the use of force powers as well as additional race, class, equipment, and vehicle options. It’s likely that the complete version will release some time next year, but the beta should serve as a suitable preview.

It’s a damn good time to be a Star Wars fan, especially one who happens to game on the side. Fantasy Flight has done a terrific job of embracing this license, providing high quality products that are gloriously fun and beautiful to look at. From board games and card games to roleplaying games and wargames, there is literally something for everyone.

I don’t have a bad feeling about this at all. With the Star Wars brand on its side and thrilling announcements like the X-Com board game last week, the Force is truly with Fantasy Flight.

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Robin Williams: The King Geek

The whole world is trying to collectively process the death of one of our most beloved creative minds: Robin Williams was truly one-of-a-kind. Everyone seems to be walking around in a haze, still in shock, still hoping that someone got their reporting wrong. But this is real and the man who put smiles on so many faces has gone to the great beyond; where he is no doubt enjoying a fine cup of tea with George Carlin, Richard Pryor, John Belushi, and Jonathan Winters. All we can do is try to deal with the sadness on our own time and remember that Robin would’ve wanted us to keep laughing. He gave us plenty of material to help with that task.

But something feels different about this loss. I’ve seen many celebrities die in my time, but this is deeply personal; like losing a close friend or even a family member. Robin Williams was puckish and charming, like a wacky uncle who would come to holiday dinners with the best gifts and a knack for inciting chaos. There was tangibility to his presence on screen, as if he was performing just for you. For this reason, he single-handedly raised the 90’s generation with family friendly flicks like Hook, Aladdin, Jumanji, and Mrs. Doubtfire. Robin Williams was a constant, a faraway friend, a kind smile at the end of a hard day.

As we grew, we discovered the mature edges of his talent: Dead Poets Society, The Fisher King, Good Will Hunting, Life According to Garp. And we were even more enthralled. He was more than a clown. He was a philosopher. He could teach us life lessons; especially how to retain our child-like wonder as an adult. Robin Williams always looked as if he was consuming all the world could offer him. His “spark of madness” never seemed threatening; it was bright and shining, a beacon in the darkness, the embodiment of our collective imagination.

But as I work out my thoughts, spilling my guts amidst articles about Rogue Legacy and Rampage, you’re probably wondering, “Why here?”

The fact is that I admired Robin Williams the person far more than I admired Robin Williams the actor and comic. Perhaps it was his generous dedication to charity work or his humble and welcoming fan interactions. Perhaps it was his unbounded energy and ceaselessly curious mind. Perhaps as a sufferer of manic-depression, I viewed him as a survivor and a role model, as someone who had turned his demons into opportunities. It’s only in the last few days that our shared disorder took his life. I can only hope that it will bring attention to the needs of those who are burdened by the stigma of mental health.

But a man is more than his mind. Robin Williams was one of us;and I don’t just mean an everyman. He was a geek. He was a nerd. He made his living by being entertainingly strange, by having a unique perspective on the world. There was a time before the pop culture awakening towards everything nerdy, when being passionate about science fiction and fantasy meant you would be alienated from much of society. Robin Williams proved the opposite. He was a noted lover of Super Mario Bros and Legend of Zelda (from which his only daughter takes her name). He collected custom Warhammer 40k miniatures and brought his Neon Genesis Evangelion action figures to the set of One Hour Photo. World of Warcraft players would often be stunned to discover that they were running a raid with Robin. In fact, he was so beloved by the community that they’ve requested that Blizzard place a permanent monument to the man within the game itself. There are even legendary stories of Mr. Williams bursting into game stores to purchase a D&D sourcebook and a new set of dice; sometimes with Billy Crystal in tow.

As a kid, it was inspiring to know that there was an adult, a famously successful adult,who liked this stuff as much as I did. Robin Williams made it comfortable to walk off the beaten path and to remain interested in things that would’ve been considered traditionally “childish”. In fact, his playfulness and enthusiasm may have taught my generation how to retain these essential qualities, leading to the propagation and celebration of geek culture that we see today.

This loss is about more than a great actor. Robin Williams was a great human being, a personification of goodness in a hectic and sometimes scary world. And whether or not he knew it, he was the king of the weird and disenfranchised: the nerds, the geeks, the gamers, the roleplayers. We loved him and we accepted the imperfect parts of his personality, because they were often our own faults and fallacies. Mr. Williams represented all the wonderful things that we could accomplish and he did so while making us laugh to the point of tears. It’s a gift that can never be repaid.

My sincerest condolences go out to his family. It can not be easy hearing his name every day on the news, but most of the attention is due to our adoration of a man who made the world a better place; especially for the weirdos.

We’ll miss you, Robin Williams. Bang-a-rang.

Hit the Table: Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set Review

Dungeons & Dragons is set to make it’s big return and in our first official review, we take a look at the brand new Starter Set! This product has everything you need to explore your own fantasy world: five character sheets, a rulebook, an adventure, and a set of dice.

Find the Basic Rules PDF here:
http://media.wizards.com/downloads/dnd/DnDBasicRules.pdf

Our Defense of Fourth Edition:
http://www.jetpackjoust.com/the-end-of-an-edition-in-defense-of-4e/

Our Review of the 5E Basic Rules:
http://www.jetpackjoust.com/early-impressions-dungeons-dragons-5th-edition/

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TABLETOP NEWS: X-Com Board Game Announced!

X-Com: Enemy Unknown is a brutally difficult, refreshingly original take on the tactical strategy genre that is as tense and suspenseful as it is brilliantly entertaining. It’s a delicious combination of addictive squad-based combat, customizable teams of soldiers, and a global military simulation; urging players to tell their own personal stories of a repelled alien invasion. However, one complaint that could be levied against this modern classic is that its multiplayer is not as dynamic and complex as its single-player experience. Groups can compete in on-the-ground skirmishes, but can’t recreate the epic international intrigue that makes the game so unique.

Finally, you’ll be able to play X-Com with your friends, albeit in a slightly different format. This week, Fantasy Flight Games announced X-Com: The Board Game;a tabletop adaptation of the increasingly popular franchise. Not every video game is suitable for this kind of translation, but I suspect that this one will be particularly successful. With its grid-based battle system and multi-faceted tactics, X-Com is perfect for this kind of treatment.

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Gameplay begins with a companion app designed to coordinate the alien invasion, randomizing attacks on different countries and responding to the player’s actions in real time. This is sophisticated artificial intelligence for a board game, effectively creating an opponent that is reactive. It’s as if the diseases in Pandemic are able to think for themselves. The app also serves as a means to teach the game, provides important satellite information, and keeps track of an ever-changing turn order. While other tabletop experiences have incorporated digital enhancements, X-Com implements its app as a core aspect of its mechanics; an interesting choice that could make or break the game.

Players work cooperatively as leaders of a shadowy organization tasked with defending the Earth against the alien invaders:

-The Commander is responsible for budgeting and decision-making, controlling the severely limited fleet of aerial interceptors. These planes act as the front-line, potentially destroying UFOs before they land with ground forces.

-The Chief Scientist reverse engineers the enemy’s technology, upgrading X-Com’s arsenal with new and powerful machines. However, only a few scientists are capable of this kind of work, so progression is important to manage.

-The Central Officer communicates between the organization and the outside world, alerting colleagues to potential threats and relaying information from the in-game app. It’s an important position that drastically effects the way the other players react to the ticking clock.

-The Squad Leader acts as the commander of ground forces, assigning troops to inter-continental battles and to defend the headquarters. Finding a balance between offense and defense can be the fine line that determines victory or destruction.

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It’s essential that the team work together, because X-Com: The Board Game will not curtail the difficulty the series is known for. Fantasy Flight has promised all of the “fear, desperation and heroism that lies at the heart of the popular and acclaimed…computer games.” Whether or not X-Com lives up to its marketing is a question for another time, but Fantasy Flight has done well with most of its licensed products. As such, I can barely contain my enthusiasm for this game. I can’t wait to take the fight to the green bastards invading our skies.

Details are still relatively scarce, but X-Com is set to make its demo debut at GenCon this weekend. Expect more information to come from that event. You’ll find the game in retailers by Q4 of 2014.

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Reunited: How Nintendo Won Me Back

Nintendo is the grand old institution of video gaming. It’s a beloved, ever-present, sometimes omniscient organization that has managed to transcend the industry and become a fixed piece of pop culture. Across the world, characters like Mario and Link are synonymous with the form and Nintendo’s knack for sleek, intuitive gameplay has inspired joy amidst players of all experience levels. With a long history of quality and success, the company has been a constant positive force in the lives of most gamers.

However, Nintendo is also notoriously impenetrable. It walks its own path, ignoring larger industry trends and often making strange business decisions. After a series of these confounding choices, the company has found itself in rather dire financial straights; with sales down 8% over last year and a quarterly loss of $97.3 million. Alas, it has been easy to lose faith in the House of Mario as broken promises, stunted innovation, repetitive output and a seeming refusal to change have piled up to create the perfect storm of doubt. For the first time in my lifetime, many gamers view Nintendo as out of touch, a relic of the past – even more so than during the much maligned Gamecube Era. It devastates me to think of a time when Nintendo could fade into obscurity; it’s a brand and identity that has always been there and should always be there.

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…and yet, despite the rampant cynicism surrounding the company, I was compelled (impulsively) to purchase a Wii U. Mario Kart has proceeded to dominate my free time, along with occasional excursions into Wind Waker and New Super Mario Bros. I’ve found myself falling back in love with the corporation that taught me how to love video games in the first place. There’s still a lot of magic left to be squeezed out of these winning formulas.

But this left me pondering some important questions. Where was the disconnect between my perception of Nintendo and the reality of what it’s doing with the Wii U? How is this misconception affecting the gaming community and why have so many been willing to write the console off as inferior? Sometimes it feels as though Nintendo isn’t even in the running against Sony and Microsoft; it’s an afterthought.

My reunion began during PAX East 2014 when the Jetpack Joust crew stumbled into the console free-play area looking for some local multiplayer action. Having read the gloriously positive reviews for Super Mario 3D Land, we huddled amidst dozens of groups of gamers to play what we thought would be a relatively common platforming experience. We had a fucking blast. Sure, there were waves of comforting nostalgia, but it felt like more than that. 3D Land was a reawakening of a part of our gaming awareness that had gone dormant. It was a reminder that Nintendo, regardless of its faults, almost always has the pleasure of its audience in mind. We saw a lot of wonderful things at the convention, but our brief time with the Wii U became a favorite memory of everyone involved. This seemed to be in direct contrast with the cultural narrative.

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Word of mouth, however, really clinched my decision to dive back in. Super Mario 3D Land had exceeded and overcome my expectations, but I needed more than one superior title to convince me to invest in a new console. When friends started to discuss the energetic chaos of Mario Kart 8, my attention peaked. I had always been a fan of the series, but something about the way they’d light up when talking about the latest incarnation made me need the game; a magnetic appeal I hadn’t felt towards a Nintendo product since Ocarina of Time.

 Mario Kart 8 might be the single most graphically beautiful game Nintendo has ever produced. The bright colors, dynamic lighting, effortless design and catchy soundtrack come together to create the pinnacle of what we expect from the company. The gameplay is as fresh, intuitive, and kinetic as ever; made even stronger by one of the smoothest online experiences I’ve ever had. It’s hypnotizing in its ability to light up the pleasure sensors of the brain, a quality shared by most of Nintendo’s first-party software. They are
intimately familiar with the emotional buttons that control entertainment and delight, manipulating the player to have the best time possible.

Somewhere inside the twists and turns of Rainbow Road, I had a revelation: this was the most fun I’d had with a video game in months. I firmly believe that games can offer more than amusement, but that doesn’t mean that escapism isn’t valid. So many of the indies that I’ve played this year have attempted to prod at my heart and my mind, to make me cry, to make me think, to challenge my notion of the form. Nintendo just wants to make me smile…and that’s refreshing because many of its competitors are so concerned with darkness and realism that they ignore this core need. It’s comforting that Mario will always defeat Bowser and that Link will always be the Hero of Time. Nintendo is eternally consistent.

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For that reason, it’s become an institution that could be most aptly compared to Disney. They’re both brands that instill confidence in a variety of products. They have a defined and familiar vision that fans embrace and celebrate. Nintendo and Disney are slow to innovate, but when they introduce something new; it transforms the landscape of their respective industries. Most of all, however, these two companies are known for their “family friendly” approach to entertainment; a label that can be restrictive, but has also helped them to flourish as inclusive and welcoming to all audiences. It’s important to remember that dark is not the same as mature, that action is not the same as fun. Just because Mario is “family friendly” doesn’t mean that it won’t give you hours of platforming bliss.

However, the common perception is still that Nintendo relies too heavily on its classic franchises and that the repetitive nature of its business plan has driven many gamers to other machines. This is somewhat true: Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Kirby, Smash Bros, Pokemon and Mario Kart remain key pillars of the company’s success. These franchises have also seen a myriad of changes over the years and even though many of the ideas seem stagnant at first, Nintendo experiments in far more ways than it gets credit for. Pokemon X & Y brought a long awaited third dimension to the monster collecting mayhem. Hyrule Warriors is a new action-packed approach to the Zelda universe, pitting Link and friends against massive armies. Nintendo doesn’t make many giant leaps; instead choosing to takes its time and perfect each experience a bit more with every outing. I’d still love to see the company take a few more risks with new IPs, but that doesn’t diminish what they’ve been able to accomplish with their existing brands.

The fact is that Nintendo is at its best when it’s up against the wall. The company’s traditional reaction to these kinds of circumstances has been to flood the market with crowd-pleasers and classics. The gamers always win. Mario Kart 8 won back my heart, but Captain Toad Treasure Tracker, Mario Maker, Splatoon, Yoshi’s Wooly World, Kirby and the Rainbow Curse, and Citizens of Earth have got my gaze on the future. There is a ton of exclusive content coming to the Wii U and the 3DS; games that I expect will capture the same whimsy and passion that I’ve happily rediscovered in the last few weeks.

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This doesn’t mean that Nintendo is free from criticism. It will continue to make strange decisions: online services will persist in their clunkiness, the second screen will be under utilized, and 3rd parties will still have a hard time finding a home on their consoles. But overall, I’m impressed with the direction of the company. The future is looking bright.

If you’ve abandoned Nintendo, you need to take a second look. They’re doing some wonderful things right now and anyone who’s been effected by their work in the past will appreciate the strides they’ve made. For me, it was a glorious homecoming. Nintendo might have to work to repair its reputation, but that won’t stop them. They’ve always been here and they always will be.

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SPOILING: The Wolf Among Us (Ep. 5 – “Cry Wolf”)

***ATTENTION: As the title of this article implies, we will be delving into SPOILER territory with “In Sheep’s Clothing”: the new episode of Telltale Games’ The Wolf Among Us. We urge you to play the game before you read this article. We promise it’s good and if you need proof you can check out our spoiler-free review of Episode One, “Faith”. You have been warned.***

The Wolf Among Us has been a thrilling neon-soaked journey into Bill Willingham’s Fables universe. It’s proven that Telltale Games’ has a winning formula; one that can be improved and innovated over time. Despite the frequent delays between episodes, it feels like just yesterday when Bigby Wolf’s sordid investigation began and I, for one, am sad to see it come to an end. The game has had its rocky moments, but there is no escaping its electric visual style, charismatically compelling characters, and darkly woven narrative.

The final episode, “Cry Wolf”, is an adrenaline pumping conclusion that brilliantly closes Bigby’s character arc and brings a degree of justice to the denizens of Fabletown. It isn’t perfect, but it soundly wraps up the loose threads that have been dangling throughout the series, while relishing in breakneck action scenes that leave the player breathless and longing for just a little more.

It should be noted – before we get into spoiler territory – that because this is the last installment of the series, “Cry Wolf” probably has the most variation in terms of story output. Therefore, my version of Wolf Among Us could be very different from yours.

Stuck in a pocket dimension with just about everyone who’s kicked his ass over the last few days, Bigby starts this installment in a heap of trouble. He finally gains an audience with the Crooked Man, a surprisingly docile and dapper gentleman who carries a hidden fury behind his eyes. At last, we have a chance to get to know the mastermind behind all the mayhem. He isn’t overtly a monster. In fact, he makes some decent arguments for his enterprise: not every Fable can afford the expensive glamours from the 13th Floor. But the Crooked Man’s greatest advantage is the loyalty of his subjects and victims. In one way or another, they are all codependent.

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This is particularly evident when The Crooked Man announces that it was Georgie who committed the heinous decapitations. Quickly, his followers turn on the glorified pimp; practically throwing him into the arms of the sheriff in order to protect themselves. In this brief moment, the despicable Georgie is almost sympathetic as he fights for his life (with only Vivian to back him up). He may have committed the act, but it’s clear that it wasn’t of his own volition.

The Crooked Man uses the chaos of the argument to his advantage, summoning Bloody Mary through a mirror. Mary immediately attacks the oblivious Bigby and violence erupts amongst the rest of the henchmen. It’s a frantic and brutal scene as the Jersey Devil and the Tweedles join in on the beating, allowing the Crooked Man and Bloody Mary to escape through a hidden portal. Georgie and Vivian follow quickly behind, hoping to cover their tracks and keep the sheriff off their tail; but ostensibly abandoning their employer to his fate.

Again, Bigby resorts to his bestial form – a trick that has started to feel all too typical. We’ve seen his rage get the best of him over and over again and the shock of the transformation has worn thin. It would almost be more surprising if he attempted to contain the beast and use his formidable mind to defeat his opponents instead. I understand that a major theme of The Wolf Among Us is Bigby’s struggle with his past identity, but in this critical moment, it would’ve been interesting to have the choice to subdue his base instincts. Regardless, the ensuing battle is energetic and tense, ranking amongst the best of the series. It’s truly satisfying to see all of Fabletown’s biggest scumbags in a heap on the floor.

Once the goons have been dispatched, Bigby leaps through the rapidly closing portal and spots the escape vehicles for both the Crooked Man and Georgie Porgie. He can choose whether or not to chase the puppet-master or the true murderer. The sheriff dashes through the streets of New York in his most hulking form; jumping from rooftop to rooftop, bounding between cars, and tossing himself from the edge of bridges. The whole sequence is a testament to everything that Telltale has learned while working on this game. The suspense is palpable, the decisions have significant weight, and the twitchy quick-time mechanics are deliciously fun.

Tracking Georgie back to the Pudding & Pie, Bigby finds Vivian mending her friend’s wounds. She defends Georgie’s actions, claiming that he had been working under the direct orders of The Crooked Man. When Faith and Lily had announced their intentions to leave the organization, Georgie was instructed to kill them to insight fear amongst anyone who would engage in similar behavior. The ribbons around their neck had been The Crooked Man’s means of control, promising silence and obedience from the girls; but most importantly, it’s revealed they had been made by Vivian – the original Girl with the Ribbon. I had always suspected that this little known fairy tale heroine would be revealed as the source of these sinister accessories. Her tragic tale is a perfect fit for the seedy underbelly of this world. She’s absolutely believable as a forgotten member of the community.

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But Vivian’s misfortune is not purely in the past. Devastated by the guilt from her own part in the murders – as well as her contribution to the Crooked Man’s cause – she decides to end the curse on her friends once and for all. Georgie pleads with her to reconsider and the genuine affection between these two misfits is becomes achingly poignant. One of the game’s most despicable figures becomes it’s most pitiful. Vivian pulls the tie of the ribbon and her head falls from her shoulders. It’s as heartrending an image as it is disturbing and I found myself choking up over this ultimate sacrifice. The bloodied and beaten Georgie begs for death as a result of his loss, but I couldn’t bring myself to add another body to the count. Murder is a line I wouldn’t allow my Bigby to cross. In his final moments, Georgie reveals that The Crooked Man’s headquarters is an abandoned steel plant on the edge of town.

Sheppard Metalworks is quiet and unassuming when Bigby first arrives. The dark hallways, winding corridors and feeble catwalks feel like the perfect place for a final confrontation with Fabletown’s worst scum. Words of hostility begin to echo through the high ceilings as Bigby explores: Bloody Mary’s attempts to intimidate. The sheriff cautiously continues his investigation, discovering a collection of photographs that include Snow White, Nerissa, Faith and himself. The Crooked Man had been stalking them all along, keeping efficient tabs on any enemy that could bring down his empire. But when Bigby stumbles upon a room dedicated to crafting silver bullets, it becomes even more personal. It’s as if they had planned to take him down like a rabid dog. He’s vulnerable. One more sliver of silver near his heart and he’d be a dead man.

Mary attacks swiftly, drawing the sheriff out into the open so she can reveal her true form: a brutish and disturbing specter covered in shards of glass with blood trickling from every wound. This is the kind of reveal I had hoped for with The Crooked Man; an innovative visual take on a classic character from children’s nightmares. Bloody Mary is truly horrific and her arcane abilities make her seem unstoppable. She replicates herself, severely outnumbering the singular detective. Bigby rears his claws in defense, but is quickly overwhelmed and pinned to the ground; cuts and bruises covering his body. For the first time in The Wolf Among Us, he seems weakened and out of control. Our hero is inching closer to defeat at the hands of a bloodthirsty madwoman.

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As mentioned above, we’ve seen Bigby don his wolf form many times before – perhaps too many times. It almost feels like an innate reflex to stress at this point. But the game has one more surprise up its sleeve. It turns out that we’ve only seen shades of the creature the sheriff once was. Bloody Mary’s assault brings out the real deal: The Big. Bad. Wolf. Bigby grows five times his size, his eyes glow with white hot fury and his jaw tears at Mary’s clones like scissors through paper. It’s an impressive, surprising moment where the depth of Bigby’s power finally comes into focus. If there’s one iconic moment in the entirety of The Wolf Among Us, this stunning transformation is probably it. This is why everyone is so afraid him: he’s a god-like representation of the terrible supremacy of nature. Using a huff-and-puff of wind, Bigby blows apart most of his foes and shatters the final incarnation of Mary between his massive teeth. She is one sadistic Fable that world is much better without.  

Shrinking back to normal size, Bigby darts after the Crooked Man who cowers in his office with a loaded gun. Six silver bullets fill the revolver, but with no one left to protect him; Crooked is willing to turn himself in if he can face a jury of his peers. He’s smart enough to know that even with Bigby dead, his chances of escaping justice are slim. His quick wits and charismatic appeal, however, might be enough to sway public opinion in his favor. But despite his atrocious crimes, I wasn’t able to kill The Crooked Man. Like Georgie, he was too pitiful to sentence to a hasty execution. I wanted him to answer for the murders of Faith and Lily and to face those who had loved them.

The citizens of Fabletown cry out for punishment. Surrounding the Witching Well, everyone from Beauty to Grendel to Aunty Greenleaf has shown up to witness the trial of the infamous Crooked Man; each of them having been impacted by his dastardly attempts at control. Still, he wields his charm like a pointed sword, reminding everyone that he provided a necessary service: glamours and monetary support for the downtrodden. He also suggests that the corruption of the Business Office under Snow White and Ichabod Crane was potentially more dangerous than his own operation. After all, The Crooked Man wasn’t responsible for killing the prostitutes – it was Georgie Porgie. In that case, shouldn’t Snow White be held responsible for Bigby’s actions? With no evidence to suggest he ordered the murders – save for the words of a dead woman – there is little to connect Crooked to the crime.

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Even for the player, his arguments are mildly convincing. It’s not a typical trial by any means, but you can understand why so many of his victims remained under his thumb for so long. This penultimate sequence ramps up the anxiety by throwing the responsibility on Snow and Bigby. For a moment, it feels like there could be a mutiny. The Crooked Man could go free and the authority figures could be sent falling to their death. After an episode fueled by action and violence, this dialogue driven debate is a wonderful change of pace that doesn’t dial down the suspense.

But luckily, Nerissa bursts in with newfound courage, having been freed from the curse of the ribbon around her neck. She reveals that she was in the room when The Crooked Man ordered the decapitations and that Georgie, despite his history, was simply a tool for the destruction. Convinced of the Crooked Man’s guilt, the crowd urges Bigby to toss him into the Witching Well, to cure this plague on the community for good. Again, I took the high road. More death wouldn’t quell the problems of Fabletown’s stratified society; it would only make the Business Office seem more tyrannical in the eyes of its opponents. Aunty Greenleaf promises that she can use her magic to imprison the Crooked Man and silence his wicked tongue. That seems like a suitable enough punishment.

A few days later, a truck is leaving for the Farm and Bigby loads up a birdcage with a crow on the inside. It’s clear that this is the Crooked Man’s deserved fate: to be a bird who will never be allowed to fly. Mr. Toad and TJ are also in the truck, having been unable to acquire the glamours necessary to maintain their human forms. Toad is reasonably upset with Bigby, but the sheriff has promised to start applying the law to everyone evenly. Bigby promises TJ that the Farm will give him the opportunity to run and play in open fields without having to hide from the outside world. It’s a small consolation, but it calms the child’s nerves and sooths Mr. Toad’s temper. Unfortunately, the Farm as a concept is still a bit too abstract and off-screen and so these moments that should be emotionally impactful don’t feel particularly significant. Still, it’s a nice send off for some of the game’s more colorful characters.

The truck pulls away and Bigby spots Nerissa across the street, smoking a cigarette and looking remarkably like Faith. Bigby notices that she is still wearing the ribbon around her neck, a reminder of all the things she’s been through and all the things she’s lost. Nerissa admits that she had been the one to plant the heads on the doorstep of the Woodlands, hoping to bring Bigby’s attention to the Crooked Man’s dangerous organization. However, she had also lied about being in the room when the call was made to kill Lily and Faith. Nerissa simply wanted to bring justice to her friends. This is a slight moral conundrum at the end of the game that implies some doubt; but with the Crooked Man imprisoned and Georgie dead, both of the likely culprits are off the streets. As she walks off, Nerissa utters a familiar line, “You’re not as bad as everyone thinks you are.”

The Wolf Among Us was never really about solving the mystery of Faith’s death. That was simply a narrative tool to explore Bigby Wolf’s relationship with his new home. Ultimately, it’s up to the player to decide if the sheriff is as bad as everyone thinks he is. And that’s the strength of this game: ethics are not predefined. You can easily play a horribly corrupt, overtly violent, emotionally charged Bigby that gets worse as the situation gets worse. However, I was more interested in trying to better the Fabletown community and to rid it of its seedier elements. My Bigby wasn’t perfect, but he did what he thought was right for everyone else.

“Cry Wolf” was a fitting conclusion to Telltale’s Fables saga. It satisfied the player’s need to bring The Crooked Man to justice and brought with it some signature moments that will not soon be forgotten. Not every emotional beat hit as well as it was intended, but blockbuster set-pieces and glorious character moments wrapped up this ambitious fantasy-noir with flourish and flair. If the past is any indication, we haven’t seen the last of The Wolf Among Us and with any luck, we’ll soon be able to join the Big Bad Wolf on his next case.

Score: 8/10