The Fall of Nintendo’s Core Gaming

I’ve been a fan of Nintendo for about 15 years now. I’ve seen the way they they’ve changed their games from era to era, console to console. It’s also interesting to see the things that have not changed. The company is still the king of unique first party titles. They deliver bright, colorful, fantastical stories and worlds.  When one thinks of Nintendo they think of mushrooms, princesses, stars and things related. In the distant past they’ve bordered on only having games for core gamers (the ones who go down to Gamestop and invest hours into each game) and also for the whole family such as Mario Party. The company kept a balance, but they didn’t forget that they were a video game company first and foremost in making quality single player (and multiplayer) experiences. What’s the purpose of  a video game? Generally speaking, I believe the purpose is to challenge the player to complete some sort of quest. On another note, there’s also party games, racing games, fighting games and sport games, all of which the major companies have.

But the core thing is to generally challenge the player, young or old, and to throw them in an unknown world. The goal is to complete the adventure, whether it be saving the world, rescuing the princess, or becoming the world champion. Nintendo has delivered these things in different formats very well over the years. Of course as you probably noticed I used the term “distant past” to describe Nintendo’s practices. That’s because I believe the company has truly fallen short these past years.

Recently it was announced that the upcoming STAR FOX ZERO would be including a mode called “Invincibility.” Basically, it will make the Arwing invulnerable, granting players the ability to fast-blast the level. I couldn’t help but laugh and shake my head at this. Let’s think about it for a second: the game is literally giving you a cheat code. It’s telling the player that if this is too hard for you, here, take a pass. You might tell me that just because it’s there doesn’t mean I, or anyone else, have to use it. True. The thing is that it shouldn’t be there at all. A kid playing is given an option to defeat the level without overcoming anything. This defeats the purpose of a challenge to be overcome. The fact that it’s there encourages the easy way out when something seems too hard.

Star Fox Zero Release Date Announced

Let’s say you’re faced with an exam. It’s truly tough and you’re having a hard time completing it. Instead of the student learning to study harder, the teacher decides to give you the answers, guaranteeing a pass. Does this ever happen? Should it happen? Of course not. Things like “Invincible Mode” encourages no hard work. Back in the day you had games like Yoshi’s Island and Mario Sunshine. These games didn’t have invincibility modes. The players, whether they be kid or adult, had to learn to overcome each stage every time they got stuck. There was no “holding the player’s hand.”

If Zero was the only game with this type of mode I wouldn’t have too much of a problem. The thing is that this has been a practice of Nintendo for years now and has become a staple for the company. In New Super Mario Bros. Wii (7 years ago) after losing eight lives the game offers the player a “Super Guide.” Basically if they use it the game shows the player how to beat the obstacle. Instead of the player using their head, the game offers a cheat. Super Mario Galaxy 2, one of the finest platformers ever made, sadly utilizes this concept and takes it a step further. If the player chooses to gain the help of a “Cosmic Spirit,” it will literally possess Mario and propel him to the end on auto-pilot. In Yoshi’s Woolly World the game constantly reminds you that you have “badges” to help make the already easy game, easier. You wouldn’t find this stuff on the Gamecube.

This isn’t only limited to Mario games. In SONIC LOST WORLD for Wii U and 3DS it allows the player to skip segments after losing a number of times. You’ll pretty much never find this on any Playstaion or Xbox game. Of course, the actual Nintendo games are usually of quality despite having that Super Guide option. Even then, those quality games are becoming rarer since the company has put their attention elsewhere. Where did this begin? With the Wii.

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The Wii was revolutionary for introducing motion control to the world of gaming. While on the onset it was a brilliant idea, it would be the start of Nintendo’s downfall. Why? Because with motion control Nintendo started to shift away from core gameplay experiences to things like Wii Fit. Now there’s nothing wrong with having a game like the Fit, (it does have great benefits) but the problem is that starting there is when the company began to be known not by its games, but by its gimmicks. This isn’t the main negative aspect however. The really awful aspect starting with the Wii is that Nintendo had become known for being squarely aimed at non-gamer children. Remember the game Transformers: War for Cybetron? It was ported to the Wii under the title “Cybertron Adventures,” a severely watered-down version. The Wii also featured the largest amount of shovelware and Z rank games to date. You wouldn’t find low budget entries like those on the PS3 or Xbox 360. Things like these alienated gamers from Nintendo. (Why should a Wii owner get a lesser version of the same game?) The company still hasn’t quite recovered from the Wii era.

Nintendo also seems to really dislike the internet and competitive scene. Leaderboards and player rankings have been virtually nonexistent. One would imagine with its latest console, the Wii U and its biggest fighting game to date, Super Smash Bros., they would implement a leaderboard system like how Capcom is doing it with Street Fighter V. But we didn’t get that. (At least Pokken features a ranking system, though not in-depth.) The servers are almost seamless on all PS4 and Xbox One games. The peer-to-peer system of Smash can often be full of lag, making some battles online almost unplayable. What could be worst however is how the company interacts with its fanbase, which is basically nonexistent. Their secretive policies in Mario Maker for example shows that they have no idea how to communicate with their own fans.

Nintendo is so out of the loop with how to market products that many people still don’t know that the Wii U is completely separate from the Wii. I was talking to someone not too long ago and when I inquired about the U he thought it was just another version of the Wii. The U is one of Nintendo’s worst selling consoles to date for this very reason. While it has stepped away from some of the failures of the Wii, it hasn’t reached the greatness of the Gamecube and its predecessors in delivering consistent, quality content. A running joke which is still going is a lack of third party support. Ubisoft have said in the past they wouldn’t release more exclusives until the system sold more units. Sadly, Nintendo has thrown itself into a hole which could take quite awhile to get out of. The sad thing is that they don’t seem to care!

The Wii U has been out for just four years and Nintendo is already prepping release for their next home console. This is their not so subtle way of saying the U was a failure. The company is so set on Miis and Ambiibo gimmicks that they’ve forgotten what gamers want to play. A prime example of this is the upcoming 3DS Metroid game, Federation Force. Instead of giving us the next Samus Aran installment after 6 years, we’re getting  a 4 player co-op where she isn’t even a focus! (The first trailer received over 25,000 dislikes on YouTube day one.) The company doesn’t seem to understand that this is not something a fan wants to invest hours into.

From the NES to the Gamecube, the company was in its prime. Since the Wii the company has moved away from its earlier practices. The Wii alienated many people a couple of years in as it started to focus on other areas than delivering quality gameplay. That’s not to say every game was bad, because the console houses some truly fine additions. There’s more mediocre than positive however. The continuing usage of a “Super Guide” and “Invincibility Mode” shows that Nintendo isn’t in the same mindset as the Yoshi’s Island days. The Wii U doesn’t look to pick up as already the NX is being released in the near future. Nintendo was once a company which delivered consistent, fantastic games which made the player smile and challenge them to overcome obstacles. Now I’m inclined to say their competitors are better at being video game companies. The sales showcase this too, for Nintendo has been in decline since the Wii U has failed to sell as much as the PS4 and Xbox One. (To put this in perspective, it took the U 3 years to sell 10 million units, while the PS4 and Xbox One only 1 year!)

Wii-U-LogoI don’t think Nintendo is going to regain the respect of gamers anytime soon. Maybe the NX will change things. (That’s the hope anyway.) If the company can start delivering quality content consistently from the start and slowly move away from its Mii, family party-centered practices it can happen. Again, there’s definitely nothing wrong with having gimmick or party-like games. Families should be playing together. The company however should put their focus in making challenging installments for the main buyers of a video game console, the gamers.

BEYOND: TWO SOULS Review

BEYOND TWO: SOULS is a peculiar game. There have been very few of what is called “interactive dramas.” HEAVY RAIN is the other major one in recent times, but also there’s been Telltale’s THE WALKING DEAD Seasons. Those games offer many different paths based on the decisions the player makes. For the most part, that isn’t the case with Beyond. The only times when decisions really matter is in the climax. This is my first complaint: it would have been better as a movie. Then there’s many things wrong about the story later on. This is not to say Beyond is a bad experience, because for awhile Jodie’s story is really engaging. By the time the credits roll however the player is left feeling unsatisfied and contemplating why a good chunk of the game was even relevant.

The story follows a girl named Jodie Holmes and an entity which is linked to her named Aiden. One of the most interesting aspects of the plot is that instead of telling it the normal linear way, progression is almost always out of order. We jump for example from Jodie’s CIA days to the time she was a little girl. This system works, because it smartly provides bits and pieces into her life and how they connect. Looking back, it was also a good way to balance out action and the more subdued childhood life. The story is well thought out for most of the game.

Now like I said earlier I feel this game would have been better as an actual movie. Why is that? The game has us do meaningless things multiple times such as Jodie turning left and right on her bed. Later as she prepares for a date she takes a shower. (Thankfully that part is optional.) Truly, I do not understand how this stuff is relevant to the story. In The Walking Dead almost every decision you make has an impact throughout the entire game. In Beyond, often it doesn’t really matter what you pick. For example, way later in the story Nathan asks Jodie for him to talk to his dead wife and daughter again. You’re given the option to accept the request or decline. Even if you decline, Jodie still ends up doing it anyway.

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It is possible for a game to feel like a cinematic experience and have actual gameplay. THE LAST OF US is naturally the perfect example. Its story watches like a 5-star movie and the gameplay is just as fantastic. The few instances in Beyond where there’s stakes in the gameplay is far too little to appreciate. In the chapter The Mission we have Jodie spying, stealthily taking out opponents, and using Aiden’s psychic abilities to progress. The idea of using Aiden in these type of circumstances was really neat, which is why it’s disappointing most of the game doesn’t utilize this concept. Instead, we get a chapter with Jodie being a rebellious teenager. That chapter you can remove and it won’t have any effect on the game at all.

The best chapter was The Condenser. It felt like a horror experience as we see Jodie go into this scientific building turned slaughter house as she battles these malicious spirit monsters. Their dimension, the “Infraworld” becomes the central part of the story in the climax. Nathan’s character goes a 180 here. I understand the idea, but at the same time it felt inconsistent. In The Condenser which is way after Jodie had him talk with his deceased wife and daughter, he tells her to destroy the portal so the monsters can’t escape into our world. Yet by the end he’s completely lost it, as in he’s created a new portal. It’s inconsistent. An even worst negative is also in the climax. Nathan eventually shoots himself, but then a moment later is seen with his wife and daughter. Jodie smiles at that and later tells Ryan that Nathan “found his peace.” So according to this logic, basically committing suicide leads to peace and is a moment to smile at.

Huh?

There’s even more wrong with the climax. The final two decisions comes down to this blue light and this dark light. Well obviously that would mean that blue is good and black is evil, right? Not quite. The blue light would have Jodie go “beyond” and she would turn into wind, stars, and the universe. What kind of lunacy is that? The black one called “life” would have her go back to the land of the living. Why this is colored dark the world may never know. Also, the trope of the military being shady is long overdone. They literally offer Jodie a deal, and then…they abduct her anyway? This entire sequence was painful to watch. The big plot twist with Aiden was done very well, even if the idea was explained rather quickly.

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Instead of getting this we get playing snowball fights with kids

As a whole the story does succeed in showcasing the tough life Jodie has to live as an X-Man a child/teen/adult whom can command power. She is likable, which is especially necessary since she basically has to carry the game. Ellen Page did a great job voicing her. If there’s one thing that’s distracting however, it’s the constant usage of swearing. I really don’t think anyone talks like that in real life. The chapters vary in length; some can just be 10 minutes while some can go up to one hour. Because of this, the game is reasonably paced. The soundtrack is solid. The themes which play during the quick-time events add to the intensity.

Overall, BEYOND: TWO SOULS is an interesting experience. The story mode is well written most of the time. The game however features a lot of meaningless tasks and not enough of the intriguing gameplay mechanics. Going around in CIA mode taking out enemies with a psychic power, battling insidious entities, and driving around in a motorcycle provides the most entertainment, but those are sandwiched in-between a lot of exposition. A lot of the chapters however are very good, such as Homeless. But Jodie delivering a baby there, her playing with Barbie dolls, turning left and right in bed, why would we want to do this stuff? The game ends with a look at the future. The monsters are invading the world and Jodie is in this cool heroine outfit with a sword. That’s the game I would have rather played.

5.5/10

Super Smash Bros. For Wii U – A Retrospective

The latest Super Smash Bros. released a little over a year ago. First of course the 3DS version came out, which was certainly fun. The big one however is the one that could be played on the TV screen, which was the long awaited Wii U version. You can find this game being played at some of the biggest fighting game tournaments on the planet, such as EVO and CEO. The series is endearing mainly because we get to see Mario, Link, Pikachu and thanks to Brawl even Sonic duke it out. Since Sakurai officially stated in the last Smash Nintendo Direct that there would be no more DLC or patches coming, I thought it would be good to take a fresh look at the game after all this time.

First, the Gameplay

The main reason why one buys a fighting game is for its gameplay. This of course can be applied for most games, but mainly fighting ones. (For example on the flip side, one buys Beyond Two Souls not for its gameplay, but for its intriguing story.) Smash has kept the formula identical from the first one on the 64 17 years ago. Even to this day, it’s remarkable how unique and frantic the gameplay is. Usually with 2D fighters the characters are closed in with little space to move. (Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Guilty Gear.) But in Smash the characters are generally portrayed small in comparison to the big environment. This gives the player freedom to move around and plan strategies as opposed to just button mashing. The concept of rolling adds another dimension. Another thing is the way a character wins. In the default mode, a character wins not by draining health, but by sending them out of the stage. (Basically a ring out.) The goal is to keep building up damage until one is able to use a powerful attack to send the opponent away. It’s a unique system, and a fun one.

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The gameplay is so good that over the years copycats or games trying emulate the feel of it have surfaced. Some are okay (TMNT Smashup) but some are just bad. (PlayStation All-Stars.) Even with the okay ones, they’re never as good. So the question is why play an average game like Cartoon Network: Punch Time Explosion when you can play the real deal? Unless one is a big fan of a series, there’s virtually no reason to play any of the emulators.

After playing Smash for Wii U this long, I’m definitely inclined to say that it has just about perfected the formula. After going back to Brawl, Melee, and 64 over the last year, they just feel, for a lack of a better word, dated. I have immense respect for each individual entry and their unique differences. The latest version I feel however combines all the best elements of the entries and removes/alters the worst ones. Brawl for example introduced the concept of tripping. When it first came out it was noticeable, but now after playing Wii U it is supremely noticeable and just bad when going back to it. Interestingly, Brawl also plays slower than Melee. Wii U combines the quickness of Melee and and slowness of Brawl for peak efficiency. One could argue that Melee’s extremely fast gameplay makes it more of a hardcore experience, which could be true. There is no denying however that Wii U is the most easily accessible for newcomers. Characters don’t die as fast, and the addition of  “Max Rage” gives a player down even a hundred damage a shot at making a comeback.

Character balance has always been a key feature in fighting games. Sadly some games feature at least one overpowered character which gives him/her an advantage over others. (Kratos in PlayStation All-Stars.) Smash Bros. has for the most part kept it well balanced. There are however some obvious imperfections. In Melee Pichu’s attacks literally harm the little guy, so there’s no reason why one would want to play as him when Pikachu basically does the same things with no aftereffects. In Brawl Meta Knight had some very overpowered attacks and recovery options which literally made him banned for sometime in competitive play. The new game, while not perfect in this regard, definitely is the best when it comes balance and improvements. For example, I’ve played Mario since 64, and it’s easy to notice the big differences between him in the previous three games and here. Simply put, he plays better. Like I said however, there are some things which aren’t perfect. Mewtwo is so severely light that a counter with Corrin at even under 50% damage is dangerous. (Thankfully, an unexpected balance patch fixed that.) Still, just about each character is on fair ground and brings something unique to the table, which is incredible considering the large amount of characters in the game.

All in all, while maybe not as intense as Melee, I think the gameplay here is certainly the most fun.

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OFFLINE FEATURES

Smash and all other fighting games are made under the premise that you will be battling other people. A game however isn’t a complete package without features one can do by himself/herself. Classic Mode has been a staple in Smash since the very beginning. It’s a fun take on Arcade mode as the player battles through different characters and eventually comes face-to-face with Master Hand. Wii U might have the best one yet, if only because of the twist at the end: Master Core. This fight on higher difficulty settings gives an incredible challenge to even the most seasoned of players. Of course, Classic Mode can become repetitive after awhile, so what else do we have? Like in the previous two games, there’s a lot of fun modes such as Home Run Contest and Multi-Man Mode. Break the Targets also returns in a new form, but is actually far less engaging than previous installments, being basically Angry Birds.

Melee introduced another mode alongside Classic known as Adventure Mode. In the aforementioned game it was fun as it had the players go through dungeons & unique situations such as battling the ReDead in Hyrule, running into the Metal Brothers, and finally battling Giga Bowser. It was a fun sequence of events. Brawl however did something few fighting games have done: provide a cinematic story mode. The Subspace Emissary brought together the characters with incredible cutscenes and an engaging plot. (Which was written by Kazushige Nojima, the Final Fantasy VII writer himself!) This set the bar which few fighting games have raised since. Sadly, Wii U is part of those. Apparently Sakurai didn’t want to do another Subspace-like mode because “Cutscenes can be leaked to YouTube.” That was one of the silliest things I had ever heard. Going by that logic, not many games should have story modes. Instead here we get modes like Crazy Orders, Master Orders, and Smash Tour. The prior two, like Classic, can get repetitive. Smash Tour is only fun with a few others, otherwise alone it greatly drags on. Really, I don’t think anyone would have minded if those three things were replaced by a proper Adventure Mode.

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ONLINE

Playing games online has been a staple for many years now, but it wasn’t until the DS when Nintendo started making use of the technology. Brawl was the first Smash to utilize online features. Sadly if you were looking to play with three others there would almost always be brutal lag. Plus, there wasn’t any kind of trophy or ranking system, which is sad when compared to the online of PlayStation and Xbox. The new game sort of fixes this with the addition of For Glory. For Glory is great in that it provides a fast way to have a one-on-one, doubles, or free-for-for all. Matches literally come usually less than a few seconds. Sadly again there’s virtually no ranking system. We can see our win percentage and our victories/losses, but there’s no way to compare. There’s no sense of leaderboards, which is a true shame. Nintendo really needs to embrace the competitive aspect and let go of the notion that this is a party game.

Later in the game’s life cycle a free update included the addition of Tournament Mode. This was greatly anticipated, because not everyone can make it to in-person tourneys. Sadly, Tournament Mode ended up being a disappointment. The main thing is that the way to win besides KOing the opponent off the stage is to do the most damage. This system has proven broken to the point where you’re not even sure sometimes if you’ve won. It can be fun once in awhile, but it’s just really a wasted opportunity. To add even more disappointment, the tournaments a player can host aren’t even real tournaments. If Nintendo had given more freedom to the players in this mode, the complaints would have quieted down.

The absolute worst aspect however of online is that lag is present. It isn’t there all the time, but you’ll almost certainly run into it on a daily basis, sometimes to the point where even the inputs are delayed. You won’t find this almost at all on Sony or Microsoft fighting games. Nintendo truly deserves a thumbs down for not providing dedicated servers. At the very least, playing online with friends always provides some of the most fun one can have.

CHARACTERS AND STAGES

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The main appeal of crossovers naturally are having characters whom don’t normally interact come together. In the case of Smash, it’s a dream to be able to have Mario duke it out with Sonic. This game features the largest cast yet, and that’s not even counting the DLC fighters. The most impressive aspect as I mentioned earlier is that just about every character brings something unique to the table. From PAC-MAN’s mix-ups with his fruit selection to Mega Man’s onslaught of projectiles, there’s an amazing variety. It’s still not perfect however. The logic in having some of these characters in it is questionable. For example, Marth and Lucina literally have the same exact moveset. At least with Mario and Doctor Mario they’re at different speeds and have a couple of different attacks. That’s not the case here. One of Olimar’s alt costumes is Alph, and Bowser Jr. has seven different alt costume characters, but they don’t take up different slots. There’s no reason why Lucina couldn’t have been an alt to Marth; she’s the definition of wasted space. It’s the same with Pit and Dark Pit. How does Dark Pit get to be in the game and Dark Samus (a character whom has appeared in three games) just an Assist Trophy?

Despite some of these complaints, the cast is still impressive. It’s fun learning the different movesets, and then picking your main. There’s never been a fighting game with characters as diverse as in here. Now, let’s talk a little bit about the DLC characters.

Mewtwo, Lucas, Ryu, Cloud, Bayonetta, and Corrin are the downloadable fighters. Interestingly Nintendo had always been seemingly against the concept of DLC until recently. DLC has definitely worked out for this game. I do not understand why if Lucas and Mewtwo can be brought back, Wolf couldn’t make it. Corrin to me is still questionable, since Fire Emblem already has enough representatives while Metroid still only has one. (Zero Suit doesn’t count as a separate character in my book.) Having Ryu and Cloud definitely makes up for that. It’s intriguing how Smash has managed to acquire so many third party characters. At this rate, we’ll have Master Chief interacting with Crash Bandicoot in the next one.

How can I forget the Mii Fighters? We have Mii Brawler, Mii Swordfighter, and Mii Gunner. They’re fun little additions but I don’t think anyone would have minded if we got 1 real character over them.

On the outside the stage selection looks impressive. When you look at them individually however you can see that at least half of them are old. Hyrule Temple and Castle Siege are must-haves of course, but do we really need two Mario circuits? And Earthbound’s only stage is an old one? This aspect of the game appears more on the lazy side. This is not to deny the fact that there are some impressive new additions. Orbital Gate Assault always provides an intense amount of fun, and Palutena’s Temple surpasses Hyrule Temple for Smash’s biggest stage! (Not to mention the unique Great Cave Offensive.)

DLC also added a few new additions. 64 got an especially amount of love, bringing back Peach Castle, Temple, and Dreamland. While each stage we got was unique and fun, it seems like there could have been a lot more put there since the “extra” section looks like it can hold a bunch.

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CUSTOMS

Customs might be the most controversial aspect of the game. On the outside the concept is fun: we get to see different versions of the attacks for the characters. (Mario can shoot a giant, slow fireball or a tiny quick one for example.) These are fun with friends, but the question ever since the backlash at last year’s EVO is should they be allowed in competitive play? I’m inclined to say no, because it’s virtually impossible to train against custom movesets. (They aren’t allowed on For Glory for example.) So while customs is definitely a fun thing, I don’t think anyone will really miss it too much if the next game didn’t have it.

COMPETITIVE SCENE

I’ve been a gamer for over 15 years, yet I’ve almost never been in actual competitive play, until this game. (I did however participate and win a local Brawl tournament back in the day.) So it’s been quite interesting to be part of tournaments such as KTAR, and soon APEX. It’s a shame Nintendo, or at least Sakurai, seemingly wants the game to not be in competitive play. There are tournaments all over, which shows just how much of a cultural impact the series has. I attend a bi-weekly tourney at a Friendly’s restaurant some minutes away, and it’s always great to test my ability against others. Even if you’re a casual player, I think it would be good to attend at least one tournament. It’s always a worthwhile experience.

Like all fan-bases, nothing is perfect. Almost at every tournament scene you will find people whom get “salty” and make it an annoyance  to play against. Instead of helping out other players and giving advice, sometimes the very experienced and winners can have a superiority attitude, which is unfortunately found a lot on the Smash Ladder website. Despite these things, the community is still great to be a part of. What beats talking Smash?

Everything Else!

Brawl introduced the idea of creating your own levels to fight on in the form of Stage Builder. It was really neat, and Wii U took it another step since we can actually draw the stage out. This has led to incredible creations such as pixel art and remakes of older stages, such as Corneria. While I do miss the ability to add ice platforms, moving platforms, and ladders, the possibilities for drawing make up for it. The music selection is, as always, fantastic. We have a healthy mix of originals and remixes. The items are some of the best yet. We have for example Master Balls in addition to the normal Pokemon ones. (Seeing Goldeen pop out of a Master always brings quality laughter.) The most monumental item however must be the S-Flag, which completely changes the game every time it appears.

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Super Smash Bros. is one of the few games a people can go hours and hours playing without the fun level dropping. As a whole package it lacks in a few areas, but at its core the gameplay is some of the best, if not the very best in the genre. Almost every day I play online with my cousins and the fun never for a moment ceases. A little over a year later and the game has only grown. If you haven’t picked it up yet, it’s definitely one of the biggest highlights on the console.

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