Souls and Squirrels

After a fairly long yet unintended hiatus from gaming of any kind, I finally returned to the scene upon the release of Soul Calibur V. I also downloaded Little Acorns for the iPhone. These two games seem to be made to be played together, like synching up Dark Side of the Moon with The Wizard of Oz. The secrets of the universe were revealed to me as my squirrel gathered nuts for his family and Cervantes bitch-slapped Voldo back to his gimp-cage. I have a greater awareness of everything now that I have bopped a spit-balling raccoon while Nightmare made me want to hurl my controller across the room.

Naturally, I’m bullshitting here.

Natsu from Soul Calibur V

Natsu's name means either "summer" or "inferior successor."

Soul Calibur V has become infamous for dumping several of the franchise’s most well-known characters including Taki, Kilik, Xianghua, Sophitia, and Cassandra, only to replace them with “younger” characters that are either their grown-up children or apprentices. Other characters like Talim, Rock, Seong Mi-na, Yun-seong, Setsuka, or Zasalamel were just dumped without even that much consideration. The reasons behind these changes have not been entirely disclosed by the developers, but at least in the busty ninja Taki’s case, they said she was “too old” to still be a ninja. Considering no one in the series looks like they’ve aged a day in the 16 years since the franchise debuted and they even bring Cervantes back to life in SCV, using age as an excuse is ludicrous. It is, of course, entirely possible that some or all of these characters will make it back via DLC, but it’s more likely that fan reaction will cause their return in SCVI.

As for the game itself, it is as gorgeous as ever, Soul Calibur always being one of the prettier 3D fighting games out there. Whether it’s a shady forest, a Roman colosseum, or a Japanese temple, the backgrounds are all beautifully rendered and packed with detail. The fighters are also looking pretty sharp. It’s not a huge leap from SCIV in terms of graphics, but this game seems to do a better job of using filters and effects to soften and “naturalize” the appearance of the characters.

The fighting is largely the same with a couple of notable changes: Guard Impacts are now harder to pull off, while Critical Edges have returned. Critical Edges are big attacks that use up power from the “Soul Gauge,” and are surprisingly inconsistent from character to character. Some only take off a quarter of a health bar while others take half and leave your opponent vulnerable after. Nightmare and Siegfried, historically powerful and slow, seem to have been inexplicably sped up, making AI encounters with them even more frustrating. All the “replacement” characters share the same basic movesets as their predecessors with a few minor differences.

Patroklos and Pyrrha from Soul Calibur V

Hey everyone, it's Larry and Mary Sue!

The story mode is…bleh. It revolves around the children of Sophitia, Patroklos and Pyrrha, fighting against the forces of Soul Calibur and Soul Edge and trying so desperately to “just be together.” All these siblings want to do is spend the rest of their lives together, and if you can ignore the more-than-slight hint of incest, it’s as good a motivation as any. But there are no separate story modes for each character. There aren’t even – so far as I can tell – biographies for the characters. So if we want to know why Cervantes is back from the dead, we have to go to the Soul Calibur website or, better yet, the Soulcalibur Wiki. Oh, and Ezio from Assassin’s Creed is in there, too. Certainly a better fit than Darth Vader and Yoda were, and a little less inexplicable.

The character creation mode has greatly improved. Individual equipment pieces have been divorced from “statistics or abilities,” allowing you to create the look you want without worrying about whether that helmet will help you prevent ring-outs. You can also alter physique with more options, but you are still limited to just a handful of faces with no way of tweaking them.

Also refreshing amid this recent wave of rental and reseller antipathy is the free and unfettered access to the online portions of the game, allowing you to queue up for battles even if you did buy the game used or are just borrowing it from GameFly. No “Online Pass” purchase necessary, which is something some other notable fighting games have gone to.

All in all, SCV is a pretty good entry in the franchise, but the removal of so many long-standing characters is heartbreaking and has very much overshadowed all the positives.

On the flipside of the tale of swords and souls eternally retold is a little story of a family of squirrels just trying to get by, gathering acorns and trying to avoid some seriously pesky critters. Little Acorns was recently released on the App Store for 99 cents and is a fun platformer featuring charmingly quirky graphics, a seriously funky soundtrack, and more nut gathering than a Tea Party Rally.

Screenshot from Little Acorns

If this isn't a metaphor for life, I don't know what is.

The levels are simple at first, grab all the acorns and head out the door. But the difficulty and complexity ramps up nicely as enemies, rope-swinging, and power-ups get thrown into the mix. In the beginning, it’s a simple race against the clock, then it turns into more of a puzzle-platformer with time playing a very distinct role.

The game is divided up into years, which are themselves divided into the four seasons. Each season contains five levels. In Spring through Autumn, the seasons end with a level where, in addition to gathering acorns, you must also wrangle the squirrel children. Winter ends with a “Boss Battle” that is actually just a race against a huge version of one of the game’s many pests. These do add some variety, but are probably some of the weakest levels.

Screenshot from Little Acorns

To me, every bee seems about that big...

And like any good modern game, item collection and character customization is a key component. After gathering the acorns in a level, you have whatever time is left to snatch up the fruit which will not only give you bonus acorns, but a new “costume” piece for your squirrel. It’s a nice enough prize to replay levels, but then I found the perfect outfit for my squirrel very early on and haven’t felt the need to go for all the fruit. I have discovered, however, that you need at least some of these bonus acorns in order to go on to new years and advance in the game, which is also a pretty good incentive.

All in all, it’s a fun and nice-sized diversion for the price you pay, which is all I ask out of a mobile game. It really doesn’t have anything to do with Soul Calibur, however. Unless, of course, there’s some sort of squirrel fighter coming out in the next DLC pack.

But then, that’s more of a Tekken thing, isn’t it?

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