Liking a Character Vs. Liking a Playstyle

Playstyle

There has always been plenty of excitement surrounding the inclusion of fan-favorites as playable characters in video games, be they popular figures in that series or guest characters making a special appearance, and it’s reaching its pinnacle these days.  Mortal Kombat X makes a major selling point out of the fact that film icons Jason Voorhees and the Predator will be DLC characters and there’s massive buzz surrounding the mere suggestion that comic book antihero Spawn may join them down the line.  Nintendo released an open ballot for requests on who should join the cast of Super Smash Bros with almost no restrictions and many people (myself included) jumped at the chance to offer their own picks.  Blizzard will be officially releasing their own MOBA title this June that uses characters and locations from their various existing games, such as Warcraft and Diablo.  One of the first things announced about Batman: Arkham Knight was that preordering would get you a DLC pack where you could play as popular villain Harley Quinn.   It makes sense to want to step into the shoes of your favorite character, but people rarely stop to consider the important question of how much they’ll actually enjoy using that character’s playstyle.

Often times, the enticement of having a character made playable in a game is based on that character’s backstory, personality, aesthetic design, or the simple novelty of it all.  Rarely is much consideration given to how they will actually play and if the people pulling for those characters will truly enjoy using them once given the chance.  Note that I said how they ‘will’ and not how they ‘might’ play as it’s easy to have a vague idea in your head, but the actually execution carried out by the developers can result in something drastically different.  You can’t know exactly how someone will handle until after they’ve been developed and you’ve had a chance to try him or her for yourself.  The only major exception is when fans pull for the return of a character that had previously appeared in the series and they already know that the character suits them well.  Otherwise, it’s a surprising gamble to request or purchase your favorite character based only on his or her appearances outside of that game.

Speaking from personal experience, I’ve always tried to make good use of Donkey Kong in the Smash games.  The Donkey Kong Country games made for some of my fondest childhood memories, so he was an easy choice to get my start with.  Unfortunately, there’s a good reason why DK always places so low on the tier lists.  I do know of one or two pro players that can main him, but I’ve never been able to really make him work for myself.  At least I wasn’t disappointed with Mega Man and Little Mac when they were finally added and I’ve had my fair share of fun with them.  However, I still find myself turning back to one certain character whenever it’s time to get serious.  That character is Mr. Game & Watch, someone I have absolutely no personal attachment to and initially shrugged off as a joke character.  The Game & Watch line of handhelds were before my time and I always thought that his 2D appearance was a one-note gimmick.  What makes him my fighter of choice is that his strong aerial mobility, quick key drop, devastating oil spill, and much more all come together for a character that fits my playstyle almost perfectly.

The greatest disparity I’ve ever had between a character and their playstyle came from Hyrule Warriors.  Many fans were disappointed to see that the massively popular Groose from The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword wasn’t going to be playable even as a DLC add-on, whereas the hated character from the same game, Fi, was included.  I was certainly among them.  I still haven’t even come close to finishing Skyward Sword and I rank Fi’s grating non-personality as one of the main reasons as to why.  I also thought the fact that she basically acted as her own weapon was ridiculous.  If you had given me the chance to cut one character from the playable roster of Hyrule Warriors before it was released, I wouldn’t have needed to think twice before saying Fi.  I’ll give you one guess as to who my most played character by a longshot is.  While I find Fi insufferably annoying as a character, I absolutely love her ability to corral enemies together while simultaneously cutting through them like a living lawnmower before scattering them with a powerful finisher.  I was ready to write her off completely beforehand, but discovered my perfect fit.

The fact of the matter is that you’ll only truly know how much you enjoy playing as a character once you’ve actually played as him or her.  This is why I think that the Premier Towers in Mortal Kombat X that give players a chance to test out DLC characters without having to buy them first is something that should be made standard in every game that releases from this point onward.  It’s why I hated Marvel Heroes as it offered no method of playtesting characters before unlocking them and expected players to purchase them based purely on recognition (note: I only played Marvel Heroes around its launch period in 2013 and I don’t know if this policy has changed at all since).  You can read up on characters until you know them inside-out and it can never compare to having some actual hands-on time with them.

Are there any characters that you initially liked for their personality, etc, but actually disliked playing as or vice versa?  Are there any characters you haven’t given a fair chance because of a bad first impression?  What are your thoughts on guest characters like those in MKX and crossover games like Smash?  Leave a comment below and let us know what you think.

Everyone Should Keep a Free-to-Play Checkbook

Just in case my numerous articles haven’t been enough to tip you off, I am currently obsessed with the free-to-play digital card game Hearthstone.  It’s a great game with a bright future that I’ve already put more time into than I care to count.  To date, I’ve put exactly $40 into the game, which is exactly as much as I would happily spend for an enjoyable budget title like this if it was being sold in retail.  Team Fortress 2 is another free-to-play game that I have lovingly poured hundreds of hours into, but no more than $5 in microtransactions at this point.  Pokemon Shuffle, which I recently reviewed, hasn’t cost me a dime.  Now, I want to ask how much you’ve spent on any given free-to-play game that you’ve enjoyed.  Have you put in $1o, $20, or maybe nothing at all?  Have you spent anywhere from $60 to even $100?  Have you carelessly spent thousands on a title that was supposedly free?  If you can’t give me an exact answer, give or take five to ten, then you have a problem.

I think that free-to-play is one of the greatest innovations that the gaming industry has had in the last generation.  It has undoubtedly been a boon for countless multiplayer games by lowering the barrier of entry and raising the active community.  Given that these types of games live and die entirely based on their player bases, this can save a game that may have otherwise fallen through the cracks and make the big games even bigger.  It’s also a godsend for avid gamers who can’t afford the latest systems and all the AAA releases.  Free-to-play opens up incredible new possibilities that leave everyone better off.  At least, it’s a great model when both sides are using it wisely.

The major downside of free-to-play models is their nasty habit of nickel-and-diming their players with microtransactions.  In some cases, it is the fault of the game developers.  Games like Marvel Heroes put up massive paywalls for getting the heroes you want to play as while never allowing you any inclination as to whether or not you’ll actually enjoy playing as that character outside of simple brand recognition.  Mobile apps like Super Monster Bros have purchase pop-ups for $100 in the diabolical hopes of scamming unsuspecting children.  These kinds of practices are certainly abhorrent, but they’re not the only ones responsible for some of the most outrageous purchases made through microtransactions.

Too often, players will spend frivolously on microtransactions with little regard as to how much they’re actually paying in the grand scheme of things.  With microtransactions being such small purchases, it’s far easier to spend without putting much thought into how much you’re actually getting out of your purchase.  Even when a game has the most generous business model to it, it’s easy to splurge on little things here and there.  Before you know it, you end up spending up to hundreds of dollars on the type of game that you could have just bought outright for only twenty.  With every free-to-play game that you play, you should keep track of every microtransaction you pay for to see the bigger picture of how much your spending.  Compare how much you’re spending on a free-to-play game with the fixed prices of other games and consider how much value you are really getting.  If the free-to-play game is strong-arming you into paying more, then that should be a sign that you should stop playing it.  There’s no shortage of free-to-play games that will treat you better and there are plenty of traditionally priced games that offer plenty of replayablity at a cheap price.

With all of that said, there’s no shame in intentionally spending a little extra on your favorite games.  Free-to-play should be seen as a system where you pay as much as you want for a game.  If you really love what the developers are doing, then by all means show your support with in-game purchases.  Honestly, my only regret with Team Fortress 2 is that I haven’t spent more on it at this point.  Also, it is your money and how much it’s really worth is going to be your choice.  My point is that we should all take responsibility when using these sorts of business models and know how much we’re investing into our hobbies.