Starting Screen is the USgamer staff's weekly column. Check back every Monday as we share our thoughts on the news as well as our favorite obscure RPGs, game music, and racing games.
I hopped into Splatoon 2's global testfire over the weekend mostly out of obligation, figuring that it was best to stay up on the latest releases. There I discovered something that a lot of people are already aware of: Splatoon is actually a lot of fun.
I know, I know, this shouldn't be any great revelation. Lots of people loved Splatoon when it came out on the Wii U a couple years ago (we gave it a solid review). But despite owning a Wii U, I wound up missing out on Splatoon in part to my poor first impression from the E3 demo, which was interesting and experimental but also... awkward. I'll just say that I wasn't a huge fan of the motion controls.
Anyway, I'm pleased to say my opinion has turned since then. Splatoon 2 might be more of the same, but it's just as bright and cheery as the original, and I really like that kills are secondary to painting as much of the ground as humanly possible. Splatoon also has a novel way of handling movement and ammo, its core mechanic being the ability to transform into a squid and swim through ink, which quickly refills your weapon of choice.
Splatoon is also fast-paced even compared to Overwatch and Call of Duty, its tiny arena pushing everyone together and forcing them into close combat. The secret, of course, is the paint, which serves as a kind of frontline as well as a visual indicator of how well the battle is going. It also makes for a formidable obstacle, effectively robbing you of your ability to flee and recharge as a squid. Add in multiple weapons and super moves, and you have a suprisingly deep and interesting shooter. No wonder it's received eSports buzz in Japan.
Personally, though, my favorite thing about it might be how fast the matches go. Most Splatoon 2 matches last barely more than a few minutes, with matchmaking being pleasingly quick and easy. The Switch adds an extra dimension to this element. I kept it on my desk on Friday, periodically picking it up for a round or two over the course of the brief testfires. Like most Switch games, Splatoon 2 works rather well on the handheld screen, and the fact that it's so easy to jump into a game makes it natural to just pick up and play. In that light, I'm actually kind of afraid that Splatoon 2 is about to become a new addiction.
Of course, little of this is exactly new—the Splatoon veterans on staff tell me that the sequel is quite similar to the original—but that doesn't necessarily mean it's stale. Indeed, despite being one of the Wii U's bestselling games, racking up some 4 million in sales, Splatoon still somehow feels underappreciated. That might be because of the Wii U's relatively tiny install base, which is limited in part to Nintendo diehards. It's also a new IP, so it's still building up its mainstream recognition.
For those who never purchased a Wii U, as well as for people like me who missed out the first time, Splatoon 2 is a chance to make amends. The Switch has found a place in the public eye that the Wii U never quite managed, and Splatoon 2 is the platform's next major release, which ought to bring with it a whole new audience. It's exciting! It's always fun to see Nintendo introduce new characters, especially when it's done as successfully as Splatoon. The testfire may have actually sold me a copy regardless of whether I end up reviewing it.
I'm not really one to advocate for remakes and retreads, but the Switch seems like a great way for a new audience to engage with the Wii U's underappreciated library. Splatoon 2 strikes me as a pretty good start.
Kat's Obscure RPG of the Week
This week's (comparatively) obscure RPG is Live a Live, another Square RPG that never received a western release for varying reasons. Like Chrono Trigger, Live a Live takes place across multiple time periods (including the obligatory sci-fi and prehistoric eras), though you don't follow one party. Instead, you choose from one of a handful of scenarios, making it a sort of anthology series that culminates in a final battle featuring any character you choose. Bonus: You can totally annihilate the universe.
Live a Live isn't super well-known over here, obviously, but it does have a small but dedicated fanbase, and it has received a couple English fan translations. Its unique structure is what makes it notable, though it also features an interesting hybrid of turn-based and tactical elements. In any case, if you haven't heard of it, it's definitely worth checking out as one of Square's lesser-known releases. It has a pretty good soundtrack, too!
Nadia's Note Block Beat Box: Final Fantasy VII's You Can Hear the Cry of the Planet
Final Fantasy VII makes incredible use of mood music, and I can't think of a better example than the dark, warbling tune that hits you when you follow Aeris into the Forgotten Capital.
Aeris drifts towards the Capital--the former home base of her ancestors, the Cetra--to pray for the means to counter Sephiroth's summoning of Meteor. When Cloud and his pals finally track her down and enter the ghost-town themselves, "You Can Hear the Cry of the Planet" fires up immediately to wordlessly tell you, "Well! Nothing good is going to happen in this spooky place!"
Sure enough, the Capital is where Aeris meets her bloody demise. It's also where Cloud's frayed identity really starts unravelling, a complex process that Jeremy Parish outlines in part five of Dissecting Final Fantasy VII. Disc One of Final Fantasy VII wraps up with some wonderful dramatics. It's almost enough to make me wish we still changed out CD's for that authentic "theatre" feeling.
But then I remember how I somehow wound up with two disc ones of Chrono Cross and no disc twos. Ugh. I'm too old to take proper tally of jewel cases and multiple discs. Just give me that little card to plug into my Switch. I promise I won't lick it. Once was plenty.
Mike's Media Minute
Power Rangers came out last Friday! While the big-budget version of Saban's Super Sentai adaptation couldn't dethrone the might of Disney's Beauty and the Beast, the movie did outperform expectations. Analysts expected around $30 million for the first weekend, but the final total came in at $40.5 million.
Having seen it, I can say that Power Rangers largely works and ends up being better than it has any right to be. The first two-thirds of the film are its strongest part, functioning as sort of a Breakfast Club/Chronicle hybrid. It really makes you care about the team and they all play off each other rather well. Then there's the last third, which is the "Power Rangers" side of things. The action is here is decent, but it could've been done better.
The film's biggest issue is the transition between these two parts. It's like they crafted a more grounded film and then realized they had to get all the Power Rangers stuff in there. It creates an odd tonal clash, but one I think the average movie-goer won't care about. That said, if you've ever jammed with Power Rangers, it's probably worth a watch.
It remains to be seen whether Power Rangers will get a sequel. It doesn't open until April in some major territories, including Japan. The film's budget was $100 million, so it probably needs to clear double that to make a solid profit. Depending on its North American legs and further international take, Power Rangers may just make that. We'll see.
Caty’s AltGame Corner
You Have 293 Keys is a game about having 293 keys. There’s an obtrusive padlock in your way, and only one key is fit to open it. The problem: all the keys look exactly the same, and you’re left literally trying every golden key at your disposal to free yourself from your special, isolated hell. Developed by within 24-hours and based off a mock-up from PIXELATEDCROWN, the game bids that it is “speedrunner friendly,” provided, you happen to have inherent Spider Senses to know which key will set you free. You Have 293 Keys is available on itch.io for free on PC, Mac, and Linux.
Racing With Jaz
Is there a game that despite having a few quirks and flaws, you you still play it anyway because there's just something about it that really works for you? That's me and Ride 2.
When I reviewed it a month or so ago, I noted that its graphics and sound were decent, but not outstanding, and that it also had rather long loading times and a quite steep learning curve. However, despite those flaws, I've continued to put time into the game, and I must say that the more I've played it, the more I've enjoyed its action.
What I find particularly enjoyable is the way the game's racing is broken down into specific classes with requisite power limitations. This results in progression being quite structured: You buy a bike for a specific set of races, and then use it to earn money so that you can then purchase another one for the next round of competitions. There's a really broad choice of contests to enter, so the game doesn't feel restricting in any way - but what the game does do that I really like is make bike purchases feel meaningful. The game economy is quite tightly managed, so that you don't have a huge amount of cash. Every bike you buy needs to pay for itself, and that means you have to really think through each purchase - making acquiring a new bike feel like a bit of an event.
It's a well balanced piece of design that's a nice contrast from many racing games, which tend to shower you with vehicles and money. As a result, my collection of bikes in Ride 2 feels deeply personal, and I've really enjoyed racing them all.
- We've known about Destiny 2 for months now (or really, since the release of the original Destiny), but now Bungie has really, truly, officially announced the sequel to 2012's popular MMO shooter. And by "announced," they put out a logo, which was still enough to throw Twitter into a frenzy. So here we go, I guess.
- More exciting (for me at least) is word that StarCraft is getting an HD remaster. It might not seem like such a huge deal given the relatively modest visual upgrade, but the graphics are less important than the fact that it will finally include modern matchmaking. The original StarCraft, much as I like it, still relies on an ancient lobby system, making it difficult to impossible to find a good game with someone at roughly your skill level. Even back when StarCraft was still popular, most of the rooms advertised Big Game Hunters—a map with virtually unlimited resources that invariably became a boring war of attrition. As someone who grew tired of StarCraft II after Wings of Liberty, I've been waiting for Blizzard to shift back to the original StarCraft and finally introduce some proper matchmaking. I can't wait to dust off some of my old Heavy Metal Terran builds.
- In the meantime, we're about to get buried in DLC. Battefield 1's first expansion is out for everyone tomorrow, as is Final Fantasy XV's Episode Gladio and Dark Souls 3's The Ringed City. It's a crazy ending to a crazy month, as if you needed anything else to play right now.
- Speaking of Final Fantasy XV, Jeremy Parish has this illuminating interview on Final Fantasy XV's journey from Versus XIII to global launch, with a bunch of nuggets about Stella, Prompto, and more. I spent most of the weekend arguing with Twitter, as well as the USgamer staff, over Final Fantasy XV's relative merits, and I maintain that its excellent core loop makes it good. I'm planning to return to this topic later this week, actually. This is a subject that bears a lot more discussion.
- Caty with a very important question: Why are there pigeons in Splatoon 2?
- There's still plenty to discuss about Mass Effect: Andromeda, but it's really remarkable how quickly it's left my mind. Like, in a few years, I might actually forget that I even reviewed it. That to me is more damning than any animation problem. In the meantime, though, Rowan Kaiser and I had a pretty good discussion about it on the most recent episode of the RPG podcast.
- It's been a month, and I still kind of love my Switch, especially its portability. How about you?
- And as always, we're keen to hear what you're playing. Are you moving over to this week's DLC? How about MLB The Show? Let us know in the comments!