Sportsball

I don’t like review scores. To me, they don’t effectively tell the full story of a game’s quality. It would be like reading Moby-Dick, turning to the first page and discovering that the entirety of the text is “Call me Ishmael. So um, like, whales and stuff. Man against nature. Revenge is silly and fruitless. The end!” That would leave something to be desired, don’t you think? Even if you had a sort of idea of the point the author intended to make, maybe the deeper understanding of why they were making that point is lost.

Plus, numbers can lie. Take a game like Grand Theft Auto 4. If forced at gunpoint to give it scores, I would give it high marks in every category, but then the ultimate, final score would be on the low side. At least for me, because I found GTA 4 to be pretty boring. There’s a lot of games that could fit the “marvelously produced, technically impressive but boring for inexplicable reasons” bill. Once you reach that point, aren’t review scores kind of irrelevant? Who cares if the game gets a 10 out of 10 in graphics if the game is no fun? Isn’t the entertainment value of a game the only thing that matters?

Look at Sportsball by TOO DX. Here’s a game that I have almost nothing positive to say about it. It’s ugly. It (might) control awful. The characters are horribly imbalanced. The arenas lack variety. It used the bathroom and didn’t wash its hands. It is a terribly made game. I’m about to say a lot of terrible things about it.

But I’ll be damned if it’s not one of the most fun party games on Wii U, indie or otherwise. So, before you go any further, please note that Sportsball is really a lot of fun and probably worth your money. Is that clear? Good. Because the rest of this review could get ugly. The last time something this good got beaten this badly, it came back from the dead three days later.

Nope, none of this will make sense. You have to see it in motion to get it.

Nope, none of this will make sense. You have to see it in motion to get it.

Sportsball is essentially the classic Williams game Joust (right down to guys riding giant birds), only you’re trying to kill each-other. When you do (called a tackle here because it sounds sporty, I guess), the victim drops a ball that bounces around. You have to bonk the ball around until you get it into a goal. If someone on a different team touches it, it becomes their color and scores a point for them if it goes into the net. There’s no limit to the amount of balls that can be loose and bouncing around at any time. It’s a nice idea that could be exceptionally fun. And it is! But it does so many things wrong. It reminds me of an awkward teenager asking his girlfriend how much he could get away with and still have her love him. “Would you love me even if I was blind?” “Yes!” “If I lost both arms and both legs?” “Yes!” “If I was caught at the back of the school bus smoking crack and having sex with a dog?” “You know, that one I’m going to have to think about. What kind of dog?”

First off, I want to offer congratulations to TOO DX for giving their game the most uninspired name in gaming history. You have guys riding giant birds, trying to kill each-other in order to turn them into glowing egg-ball-things that you then have to smack into a goal. Some pretty wild imagery there, and SPORTSBALL is the best they could come up with? I mean, I guess there’s a ball and it’s a sport-like thing, so Sportsball is technically accurate. But really? Let me ask TOO DX this: how far do you think Nintendo would have made it if they had named Super Mario Bros. “Platform Jump”? How far would Square had made it if they had named Final Fantasy “RPG Select Attack from Menu”? There is not a single soul on this planet who is going to be inspired to check out what this game is about when they see “Sportsball” in the eShop. Not even sports fans. It’s a generic, thoughtless name that seemingly screams “BORING!” into your ear with bullhorn. So lazy and worthless that I feel some sort of celebratory gesture is in order, like dunking your heads in a toilet and giving you a swirly.

By the way, TOO DX is hardly alone in being guilty of this. You need to treat the names of your work like the first line of advertising. If a name fails to catch a player’s attention, holding their interest long enough to find out if it’s a good game or not becomes tougher.

As for the gameplay, well, it’s fun. Really fun, in fact. This is Joust, if Joust had a versus mode. The controls looseness depends on the character you select, but ultimately everything handles like Joust or Balloon Fight. If you detest those games (and many people do), Sportsball is probably not for you. There’s a single-player training mode that I didn’t bother to play. Sportsball is designed with 2 to 4 players in mind, and that’s what I focused on. Playing with guests aged 8 to 65, we first noticed that we couldn’t see the game’s floor. I checked a trailer of the game to see if they had even bothered drawing a floor. They did. We tried to go to the menu to adjust the screen, but that wasn’t an option. Awesome. So, depending on your screen, part of the action might be cut off. “So you can’t see your character’s feet. No biggie, right?” Yea, actually, it is a problem. The floor might have holes in it, where if you or the ball fall through it, they pop out from the top of the screen. This could have been useful for forming strategy, but since we couldn’t see it, we couldn’t use it. Yes, we could go to the Wii U menu to adjust it, but we shouldn’t have to. Other games offer it as an option, usually upon booting it up. Adjustable viewing area is essential for modern console gaming and its omission here, especially when the edges of the screen contain important gameplay mechanics, is inexcusable.

Sportsball 2

In space, nobody can hear you flap.

Also, there’s something in the options menu that says “Flap Mode” but no explanation is given at all as to what that is. A little pop up explaining what you’re about to turn on or off would have been nice. This is an example of developers forgetting that not everyone has spent the last X amount of months with their lives centered around their game. I’m sure to them “Flap Mode” needed no explanation. This is another common annoying problem with gaming in general, and not just indies. Menu options of game-specific features should have clarity as to what they adjust. When they dont, it’s annoying.

The biggest problem with Sportsball is character balance. There’s four teams, each with four selectable characters. Each character is rated on a 1 to 5 scale in four stats: Attacking, flying, control, and speed. That’s fine, but there’s a couple of characters who have an overwhelming stat advantage over others. This led to everyone trying to claim dibs on using a character from the pink team called Rhea. She had a 4 in attack, flying, and control, plus a 3 in speed. Only one other character had nothing below 3, Rooster on the red team, who had one point less than Rhea in control. We ended up unanimously voting to ban Rhea, and then Rooster after that. Both were just too overpowered with no tradeoff unless you’re one of those guys who thinks you’ll catch the gay from using a pink character. Meanwhile, I once accidentally picked a large green team character called Gigantoraptor. This character is so worthless that I wonder if it’s the bi-product of a drunken dare. It has a 1 out of 5 in flying, which is essentially like painting a gigantic bullseye on it. This is a game where you can only kill people by getting above them and dropping down on them. Really, ALL characters should have had the same ability to fly and maneuver, with only their speed and attack-dive speed/distance for stats, or how hard a ball bounces off them when they bump into it. The low flyers give up too much and there’s never really a reason why you would want to. If this game was any more imbalanced, Nintendo would reskin it with their characters and call it a Smash Bros title.

Sportsball isn’t a pretty game to look at. The graphics look flash-based. Old, bland, boring, hand-drawn in a bad way. There’s several different locations for matches, but in total there’s only three backdrops, none of which are exciting. The whole experience playing and reviewing this has been one of the most bizarre I’ve experienced since starting this blog. Not since Random the Dungeon have I liked a game so much that seemingly does nothing right. Sportsball is a bad game. But it’s fun. Everyone who came over to play it wants to play it the next time they come over. It’s not even ironically fun, like watching a bad movie. The fun is completely genuine. It made me wonder, what if? What if more care had been put into it? What if the characters were more balanced?

What’s even more odd is that, you would think the more chaotic Sportsball gets, the more fun it would be. After all, who has time to notice all the broken aspects when the action is utterly insane? But that’s not the case, either. Including myself, we had seven people rotating in and out of the matches. For the first hour, we focused on four-player matches and had a pretty good time. We were laughing, and high-fiving each-other, and cheering, and screaming. Nobody was bored, not even those watching. Until we got to a mode where each “tackle” results in five balls at once spawning. This leads to a lot of chaos, and actually wasn’t fun at all. All focus and strategy went out the window in favor of a glorified garbage cleanup. Then I said that I had to test the one on one mode where the first player to score five goals wins. As it turns out, this was the highlight of the entire day. We spent the next couple hours playing this, winner-stays-on style. It’s unusual for an indie built around four-player action to excel when less than the envisioned amount of players are involved, but it doesn’t surprise me that Sportsball does. Nothing about it has been conventional.

I’m really happy that Sportsball exists. Now when people ask “why don’t you have review scores?” I have a perfect example of a game that would be unfairly blistered if review scores were used. Sportsball can’t stand on its gameplay merits. It doesn’t have any. It’s fun despite itself, in a way that review scores could never fully explain. And although I’ve just essentially boiled its creators in oil with one complaint after another, fun doesn’t usually happen accidentally in gaming. TOO DX is solely responsible for the hours of fun me and friends and family had with it. Although we fought over who got to be which character, whined about the lack of variety in stages or the absurdity of the locations (why does South Africa’s stage take place on the International Space Station? The hell?), or made fun of the name (even the eight-year-old made fun of the name!), there wasn’t one frown in the house. Everyone walked away happy. Everyone wanted to know when we’re playing again. That counts for a lot in my book. Sportsball needs a lot of work. A lot. I’m guessing not too much time was spent play testing and balancing it. But if what’s here is a proof-of-concept and a tease of its potential, what it could end up being is something transcendent. Sporstball is a bad game. But it’s a fun game, and fun is all that should matter when it comes to gaming.

SportsballSportsball was developed by TOO DX
Point of Sale: Nintendo eShop

IGC_Approved$9.99 said a German Shepard in the making of this review.

Sportsball is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

 

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NES Remix

No, it’s not an indie.  But, I’m not exactly known as someone with a particular fondness for NES “classics” that grew stale before I was even born.  When Nintendo surprised everyone Wednesday by debuting NES Remix and announcing it was out right now, it was bizarre.  Almost as if they had no confidence in it.  But, it looked vaguely like the 9-Volt stages in Wario Ware, which is pretty much my favorite game ever.  And my Wii U was starting to get dusty again after I finished Super Mario 3D World.  So, $15 later, I was going to see what this game Nintendo was so nervous about hyping for more than a few minutes was all about.

NES Remix is made up of micro-sections of sixteen early first-party NES games, most of which are no fucking good today and probably wouldn’t have been all that fun even back in the day.  Look, I appreciate the historical significance of the original Donkey Kong, Super Mario, and Legend of Zelda.  But the same franchises have been done better so many times since the 80s.  To pretend otherwise seems kind of crazy.  Meanwhile, the majority of the games in NES Remix really just aren’t any good at all.  Baseball, Pinball, Tennis, Urban Champion, and Golf should be locked in a box and thrown in the middle of the ocean.  And Ice Climber?  I swear to God, I think it might legitimately be the worst game Nintendo ever made.  Not only does it control like it was designed by someone who hates video games, but it also has a tendency to have players fall through the platforms because you’re “too close to the edge.”  Even though you’re more than a full character-length on the platform.  If there’s a worst first-party game Nintendo has ever put out, I haven’t played it.

Funny enough, it's actually easier to do the bouncy-turtles shell-lives trick in Super Mario 3D World.

Funny enough, it’s actually easier to do the bouncy-turtles shell-lives trick in Super Mario 3D World.

So, a collection of sixteen games that I either hate or am totally indifferent too?  Games which have not been blessed with the gift of graceful aging?  Games which I would never pay the price for off Nintendo’s Virtual Console if they were sold alone?  Obviously, we’re talking a real game of the year contender, right?

Well, actually.. yeah.

NES Remix utterly owned me.  I got it Wednesday morning, and I played it so much that I ran out the battery on my Wii U pad three times in a single day.  Never mind how pitiful it is that a console could have the battery run out that much in a single day.  I also will try not to focus too much on how there is absolutely no reason why NES Remix has to be exclusive to the Wii U, or that Nintendo unquestionably lost out in millions in revenue this week alone by not having a 3DS version launch alongside it.  Okay, so that’s a lie.  It’s kind of the elephant in the room and it requires scrutiny.  Nintendo fanboys are saying it’s because Wii U needs exclusive software to justify owning it.  That’s a fucking cop-out excuse if I’ve ever heard one.  NES Remix is the perfect portable game.  Pick-up-and-play mechanics, small goals, a large variety of gameplay styles, and no consequences if you think you have time to kill, turn on your device, then suddenly become busy and have to turn it off.  Tethering this diamond to the Wii U would be like hiring Michael Jordan to be on your golf team.  I’m sure he’s a damn fine golfer, probably better than your average schmo, but wouldn’t he better suited on your basketball team?  And NES Remix would be better suited on the 3DS.  It just would be.

But, the decision was made, and NES Remix is slumming it on the wrong console.  Fine.  It doesn’t change the quality of the game at all.  NES Remix is, as of this moment, the best digital-exclusive Nintendo has ever produced.  Like Wario Ware, Nintendo has taken gameplay, stripped out most of the bullshit, then weaponized what was left into the most potently addictive micro-gaming chunks seen since, well, the original Wario Ware.  This is gaming in its purest form.  Scoring and/or speed based, no frills, white-knuckle gaming.  And I love it.

Sorry to disappoint white supremacists , but the game is called "Clu-Clu Land". With a "C". Just go back to playing Uncharted.

Sorry to disappoint white supremacists , but the game is called “Clu-Clu Land”. With a “C”. Just go back to playing Uncharted.

The NES games are divided into sections by game, which have anywhere between seven to over twenty levels per game, though I don’t believe every game has its own unique stage selection.  Baseball, Tennis, Urban Champion, and Donkey Kong 3 seem to have drawn the short straw and don’t have their own sections, and that’s just fine with me.  There’s also fifty “remix” stages that do something wacky with the gameplay or graphics, plus twenty-five “bonus stages” that seem more like deleted scenes, cut from the game for a reason.  Each stage is scored on a scale from one-star to three-stars, plus if you do really good, a meaningless rainbow star thing appears that doesn’t seem to unlock anything.

The remix stages are treated like the meat of the game, but really, I enjoyed all the non-psychedelic challenges presented here.  Stuff like trying to catch 1-up mushrooms in Super Mario, or fighting bosses in Legend of Zelda, one ten-second stage at a time, was hugely satisfying.  It even managed to make games like Golf and Balloon Fight more than enjoyable, something I never imagined was possible.  I knocked out most of those before I ever started on the Remix stages, which were often pretty cool too.  You might have to play a full stage in Super Mario where the game auto-runs for you.  As it turns out, Super Mario makes a great auto-runner.  Who would have thunk it?  Other challenges might be related to the presentation, like having the camera pull back, showing multiple, progressively smaller screens.  When I played these stages, I would then look away from the Wii U pad, where my room now seemed to be pulling back and shrinking.  It was trippy.  And awesome.

Not all the remix stages were well conceived.  A couple of them involve you playing Donkey Kong using Link.  No, you can’t use your sword for some fucking stupid reason.  Also, you can’t jump.  Ever tried to beat the first stage in Donkey Kong without jumping?  It’s way tougher than it sounds.  You’re basically left up to the whims of fate, hoping against hope that the barrels don’t go down the ladders you’re about to cross, since you have no way of defending yourself or otherwise avoiding them.  My gut instinct tells me they originally planned to let you use the sword for these sections (since it makes no fucking sense to have Link in Donkey Kong and not be able to swing your sword) but they couldn’t do it right (it’s really just a ROM hack, with Link painted over Mario), so they just left it the way it was.  Of course, the whole ROM hack theory doesn’t explain why you can’t jump.  Other ill-thought-out stages include Pinball (a crap game on its own, like most of the games in this collection) where the flippers are invisible, an Ice Climber stage where the only hook is the graphics become Game Boy-like (and this one screws up sometimes by having the mono-Gameboy sound be present during the NES part, and vice versa), or fighting “imposters” in Balloon fight that are the exact same enemies you already take on, re-skinned to look like you.  Really, some of them are just plain lazy.  But this is the same company that has put out roughly fifty-billion ports of the 75% complete NES version of Donkey Kong.  I’m almost convinced that Nintendo is the Japanese word for half-assed.

The biggest problem with NES Remix is these are the exact same games that they’ve always been, only broken down into microscopic chunks.  Although this makes some of the games more palatable, all their original control flaws are still present.  I mentioned Ice Climber above, which is probably Nintendo’s most broken controlling game.  But actually, the original Mario Bros. is nearly as crippled.  The jumping physics are horrible, requiring you to build up momentum to make a jump.  Only sometimes this doesn’t seem to work.  Plus, landing on a platform above you requires you to land perfectly flush on it.  If a micro-pixel isn’t on, you fall through the platform.  In games scored entirely around timing, shit like this is fucking maddening.  Additionally, Baseball, Tennis, and especially Clu Clu Land (my buddy Cyril’s choice for Nintendo’s worst first-party game) control the same as they always have: like shit.

One of the Zelda stages (not the one pictured) required me to use the candle to burn a tree down and reveal a hidden staircase. As God as my witness, I burned every God damned tree on the screen at least three times each and the staircase never appeared. I restarted the stage and the next time the very first tree I torched revealed the staircase. I'm not sure if it was a glitch or not. I never bothered to replay it after that. I had already ripped out enough of my hair by that point that my scalp was bleeding.

One of the Zelda stages (not the one pictured) required me to use the candle to burn a tree down and reveal a hidden staircase. As God as my witness, I burned every God damned tree on the screen at least three times each and the staircase never appeared. I restarted the stage and the next time the very first tree I torched revealed the staircase. I’m not sure if it was a glitch or not. I never bothered to replay it after that. I had already ripped out enough of my hair by that point that my scalp was bleeding.

Another issue, which is kind of minor, is that the difficulty of each challenge, in terms of what will give you a three-star rating and what won’t, varies wildly.  In one of the Super Mario levels that is divided into three sub-stages, the object is to enter a warp pipe.  The target time for three stars was 30 seconds.  Getting this required near-perfect runs.  I twice finished at 30.1 seconds because I had trouble lining up in the under-water pipe or something.  Eventually, I did get the three-star rating I had coveted, clocking in at 29.6.  No rainbow stars though, and I’ll be damned if I can guess where I could possibly make up the time for it.  Edit: Oh my God, I am such a fucking idiot.  I thought I had attempted to enter all the pipes in the second stage. It turns out there was a much, much closer pipe I could have entered than the one I was going into.  I just finished in 24 seconds and rainbowed.  I suck But then I would play multiple other stages where I could die three or four times and still score three-stars with rainbows even though my performance could best be summed up as “pitiful.”  There was no consistency from one stage to the next, and it takes the oomph out of the sense of accomplishment I sometimes felt.

Despite those issues, NES Remix is honest-to-God my new favorite Wii U game.  Certainly Nintendo’s best digital-exclusive in their history.  I was utterly hooked for three solid days on it.  It even did the impossible and made Urban Champion fun for like five seconds, which by my count, is three seconds longer than Wario Ware accomplished.  Although I have no fucking clu-clu why this is exclusive to Wii U, this is a must own.  At least, I think it is.  Opinions are hugely divided here.  One trend I’ve noticed: older gamers that played the originals to death in the 80s seem to like this a lot less than myself and younger gamers have.  I’m guessing if you’ve played the original Super Mario Bros. once a week for the last thirty years, you probably would be bored by some of the “challenges” here, like playing level 3-3 with all the platforms invisible.  See though, I don’t have every nuisance of these games committed to memory, and probably for that reason, this could very well end up being my Game of the Year.  So a word of advice to the younger Nintendo fanboys out there: don’t schedule a monthly play-through of New Super Mario Bros. or Pikmin 3, or else when Wii U Remix comes out in 2043 for the Nintendo Wii UeuPrince logo.svgmI3, you’ll be sorry.

NES Remix LogoNES Remix was developed by Nintendo

Seal of Approval Large$14.99 said “the game just fucking came out, so stop talking about sequels already you annoying fucking fanboys” in the making of this review.

NES Remix is Chick-Approved, but not remotely Leaderboard eligible (non-Indie)

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