Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Overview and Review: US Injustice: Gods Among Us: Battle Edition (Fight Stick Edition) (Gamestop Exclusive)

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Note: This review is for the US Collector’s Edition of Tomb Raider and NOT the game itself. 

            As with Warner Interactive’s previous offering from Netherealm (Mortal Kombat 9), Injustice: Gods Among Us has been given two different non-standard editions. Likewise, the game, regardless of edition, has been graced with rather excellent retailer-specific DLC. This review is only going to focus on the Gamestop exclusive Battle Edition of the game. The need to purchase from Gamestop means that the pre-order DLC mentioned in this review will be the “Red Son” content offered by the aforementioned retailer.
            Before I start the review, I would like to note that even though I will always pick a fight stick edition over a collector’s edition (as I did with MK9), the terrible design for the Collector’s Edition’s statues probably would have swayed me towards the Battle Edition regardless of my preference for fight sticks.
This goes for both the UK and US statues. As far as the UK edition is concerned, I can’t see myself really wanting a statue of Batman with his fingers wrapped around Wonder Woman’s throat. I realize that Batman does not have the hand-strength required to actually choke Wonder Woman, but the image is still one that I find a bit difficult to want on my shelf. The prospect of having to explain to the non-comic book inclined why Batman’s choking a girl out is not something that I would look forward to.
The US edition is a mess for completely different reasons. The first problem is that the two battle-engaged characters aren’t even facing each other. That’s a terrible design choice. How did they expect the statue to effectively convey the tenseness of the battle when the two combatants aren’t even eye to eye. Sure, Wonder Woman is heavily engaged in the battle, but Batman seems to just want to escape. The other major problem with the statue is that a fair amount of the sculpt relies on the use of a generic sci-fi spacecraft. Considering that Wonder Woman actually owns her own jet, it would have made more sense to have some fun trying to include an invisible plane into this sculpt. It’s a missed opportunity and it’s been replaced with an object that has no obvious reason for being there. With that said, let’s see what we get with the Battle Edition.

The US Injustice: God Among Us: Battle Edition Includes:
1) Injustice Game
2) Injustice Fight Stick
3) New 52 DLC Skins for Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman
4) Red Son DLC (only if pre-ordered at Gamestop)


The Packaging:

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            The Battle Edition’s packaging is nothing special. Unlike the ornate packaging that we usually get with special editions, the box for Injustice is a clear case of function over form. There is a slipcover, with an image of Batman and Superman fighting, that covers a plain black box. Along with the aforementioned image, the slipcover has a wide version of the game’s standard cover on one side and a description of the edition and game on the other side. There is nothing printed on the bottom.

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            Inside the box, we find a USB cable, the game (with DLC card inside), and the fight stick. The fight stick is surrounded by a form-fitting mold made out of an egg carton type material. Between the mold and the fight stick is a thin sheet of that Styrofoam paper stuff. It’s nothing fancy, but it protects the stick.

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            Injustice’s conservative packaging is none too exciting, but considering what it’s for, that’s not too bad of a thing. It doesn’t take up more space than it needs to and it protects the stick.

DLC (Photos of Skins at End of Review):

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            The New 52 DLC skins are acquired via a download code printed on a card inside the game’s box. The DLC is less than a Megabyte in size and, therefore, is clearly a piece of disc locked content. The same is true for the more substantial Red Son DLC. Like most other DLC inclusions, this is yet another situation where I feel that the Battle Edition isn’t made better by the DLC so much as the regular edition is made worse.
            For what it’s worth, the New 52 Skins look nice enough and the Red Son DLC promises a fairly large amount of content. The Red Son comes with Skins for Wonder Woman, Superman, and Grundy. They, in keeping with the Red Son story, follow a communist Russia theme. Along with the skins, the Red Son DLC also includes about 20 missions for the game’s Star Labs section. These missions vary a good deal to mix up the fun. For example, the first mission isn’t even a fight. Instead, it’s a mini-game where you have to input commands to help baby Superman’s rocket get to earth (Oddly enough, this rocket is the one included in the US Collector’s Edition’s statue… which makes no sense).
            Though the Red Son DLC is a clear winner, I wouldn’t recommend that people who missed out on the pre-order bonus try and pick it up through a secondary market like ebay. Like Mortal Kombat 9, I have no doubt that Injustice’s DLC will make it to the PSN and Xbox Live in a fairly short amount of time. There’s really no reason to pay a potentially inflated price for the content when patience is all that is required.

The Fight Stick:

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            Before I review the stick, I’d like to thank the people over at Shoryuken’s Tech TalkForum. They have been a great help over the past few weeks. On top of that, special thanks to user KaiHong for being the first person to open the stick up and see what makes it tick.
            The fight stick’s review will be broken up into parts to make it easier to digest.

The Shell:

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            The Injustice Stick’s shell is incredibly light. It may even be too light. The stick does not feel terribly substantial. This probably has a lot to do with the fact that the shell doesn’t contain any metal or wood. The whole thing is plastic. There isn’t even a metal plate to hold the buttons and joystick into place. I wouldn’t be surprised if this stick’s weight is a direct response to how incredibly heavy PDP’s Mortal Kombat sticks were.

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            Thankfully, the all-plastic construction doesn’t make the stick feel cheap. Quite the contrary, the stick feels very well made. The top of the stick has a nice thick piece of removable plexiglass to protect the artwork. The rest of the stick is almost entirely covered in a thin soft layer of rubber. It’s very much like what one finds on Razer’s mice. This helps the stick feel like a premium item. With any luck, the rubber layer is durable enough to withstand a decent amount of wear and tear.
            The bottom of the stick has a very thin layer of foam. It is put there to help keep the stick from moving around on whatever surface it’s resting on. It’s a nice idea that doesn’t really work. The foam is much too slick to really prevent the stick from sliding around.

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            The shell has a very unique kind of shape to it. It’s very close to being a direct copy of Madcatz’s TE sticks. The major difference between the two sticks is that the Injustice stick is covered with a series of futuristic lines. It looks like something out of Star Tours. It may not appeal to everyone, but, for my money, it looks wicked sweet.

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            On the back of the shell are the controls for the stick’s light, a lock-out switch and the USB jack. The USB jack is very odd. It’s recessed into the shell and is surrounded by walls that allow for only the thinnest of cables to fit. In fact, the USB jack is so oddly placed, that the included USB was probably designed specifically for this stick. It is very thin and has a small joint to allow for movement. Considering how special the cable is, it’s unfortunate that, like many other sticks, this one does not come with a cable compartment.

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The Electrical:

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            If this stick is to have any future claim to fame, it’ll be because of the included LED lighting. The stick comes with blue LED lights for the buttons and the stick. The lighting isn’t as exciting as I originally thought it would be because the buttons have a solid black core inside of the clear plunger. This makes it so only the borders of the buttons light up. The stick is much the same. Because the stick has a solid shaft and top, only the clear shaft cover and dust washer light up. It may sound like I’m down on the lighting, but I’m not. The lighting is actually very cool and effective. It’s just very different from what I was expecting.

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            The lights have 3 available settings. The first is, “off.” It’s useful for when you want to not use the awesome LED lights. I don’t know why one would want to do that, but the option’s there if you want it. The next setting is, “on.” It makes it so that the lights are permanently on. This is the setting that most people will end up using. The last setting is, “pulse.” When pulse is activated, the LED’s turn on whenever the stick receives a signal to rumble. It’s a fairly cool effect, but the title of the setting is kind of a misnomer as the lights flicker more than they pulse. As cool as the effect is, there are a few downsides to the pulse setting. The first is that pulse will only work on games that come with a rumble option. The second is that most fighting games only rumble when you’ve been hit and not when you are doing the hitting. So, the LED’s end up acting like damage indicators; as if an enemy vessel has just shot your starship and your shields are taking damage. On second thought, that’s much cooler than having the LED’s light up when you hit your opponent.
            The stick also comes with a lockout feature. When it’s active, there is a red indicator light on the stick to warn you of its use. This is nice because when you find that the start and select and home buttons no longer work, you won’t have to try too hard to figure out why. The lockout switch locks out only those buttons. Every other button will continue to function.
            The last thing I’d like to mention about the electrical components is that the joystick is only mapped to what would be the Playstation pad’s digital d-pad. This makes sense, but it does cause problems with titles that only function when an analog stick is present. For example, Double Dragon Neon wouldn’t even recognize the joystick or the buttons. Because most fighting games (if not all) will not lock out support due to a missing analog stick, this small inconvenience shouldn’t pose much of a problem for the fighting game enthusiast. 

The Joystick and Buttons:

            Might as well get this out of the way, this stick does NOT use authentic arcade parts. The joystick and the buttons are Sanwa clones made by Qanba. It’s strange that PDP didn’t just make the parts themselves. Most of the time, companies only outsource the parts when they want to include authentic arcade ones. This is what PDP did with the Mortal Kombat stick when they used Happs. More likely than not, outsourcing the parts was done to keep costs down, but it’s still very odd that PDP outsourced to get clones.

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            Given that the parts are clones, one should not expect the same kind of quality found in a Madcatz TE or comparable stick. To start with, the joystick is terrible. There is a too large deadzone and you can feel the fight stick’s pivot rubbing against the stick’s casing when you move it. It feels cheap. On the plus side, the stick is accurate. I had no trouble pulling off my moves on Super Street Fighter IV AE. If you can get past the feeling of plastic rubbing against plastic (or if you never notice it), then you may very well like the Qanba Sanwa clone.

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            The buttons fair much better than the stick. The buttons do not feel like Sanwas. Thankfully, though, they’re still pretty good. Compared to the Sanwas, the buttons are a bit clunky. Compared to something like stock Hori buttons, however, the Qanbas are miles ahead. The buttons have a certain snappiness to them that makes them satisfying to use so long as they are not being compared to the much better Sanwa buttons. Like Sanwa buttons, the switches inside the buttons do not click when they engage. Instead, they engage softly. On the whole, the buttons were are surprisingly good considering what they are.

The Artwork:

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            The artwork for the stick is pretty bad. It’s also a good fit for the game’s art direction. Thankfully, it will be very easy to replace. Speaking of replacements, the next section will be about modifying the Injustice Fight Stick. If you are not the kind of person who cares for such information, feel free to skip it.

The Inevitable Modifications (you may not understand some of these terms and that’s okay):

            Shoryuken member Kaihong (previously was mentioned) suggested using the following modifications. He suggested replacing much of the joystick with the parts from a Sanwa JLF. He said the most important thing was to switch out the Qanba’s terrible pivot. That was the reason for most of the plastic on plastic rubbing sensations. Everything else was not really necessary to switch, but still a good idea. For anyone curious, the only reason that a full JLF drop in isn’t possible is that the Sanwa body doesn’t have enough space to accommodate the PCB for the joystick’s LED’s.
            He also suggested switching out the Qanba buttons’ switches for Sanwa switches. I have already done this with two of the buttons and can safely say that the results are positive. The modded buttons don’t magically feel as good as Sanwas, but they are a definite improvement. If it weren’t for the extremely difficult process involved with swapping the switches, I would recommend that everyone do it.
            Due to the way that the buttons hold the LED PCB’s, it is very difficult to remove the PCB without damaging it. This is a huge problem because the switch we want to trade out is held underneath the difficult to remove PCB.
            If you are brave and have done this kind of thing before, here are the steps I used. Keep in mind, I am NOT saying that this method will work for you and I make no guarantees  Any damage you cause to your buttons is YOUR OWN FAULT! USE EXTREME CAUTION when working with fragile PCB’s. These LED boards will be very very difficult to replace, as they are specialty parts that are not currently available outside of this stick.
          YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

Step 1:

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Open up the bottom of the stick. There is no reason to do this through the top of the stick. The bottom offers more secure access.

Step 2:

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Pull off the quick disconnects connecting the button to the board. Also pull of the cable connecting the LED to the board. The LED cable may need some gentle wiggling. DON’T force it. I decided to do the buttons one at a time so I wouldn’t have to remember which cable went where.

Step 3:

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Using a flathead screwdriver, depress the clips holding the button in place. You may have to do this for both sides. Pop the button out.

Step 4:

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Using a flathead screwdriver, push the tabs in to remove the plunger from the housing.

Step 5:

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Here’s where it gets tricky. If you look closely, the PCB has current going through the tiny edges on the side of the plastic clips. This means that that thin piece of PCB CAN NOT BREAK! The tough part is going to be pressing in the plastic clips while lifting the board. In order to do this, I first started by using a flathead screwdriver to help carefully push the microswitch upwards into the housing. The aim is to have the switch resting directly under the PCB. By doing this, you’ll later be able to push the switch up to lift the PCB out when you depress the clips. This will be much easier than pulling the PCB out.

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If you want, you can even bend the contacts out so that you can rest the button on a table when you do this.

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As with all else, be extremely careful. Don’t force anything.

Step 6:

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This is the toughest part. While pushing the switch up (or pressing the button down against your flat surface), use your flathead to push the tab on one side in. Do this carefully. If your hand slips, you could damage the board. If your hand has to slip, slip up and away. Not, down onto the board. Don’t rush this process. Alternate between both sides until the PCB is free.

Step 7:

With the PCB out, take out the old switch and replace it with the new one. It’s a simple drop in procedure.

Step 8:

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Another tough part. Put the PCB back into the housing. Take notice of the plug for the LED as it needs to line up with the hole for it. To push it in, use your thumb to GENTLY push the PCB into place while using your flathead to GENTLY press in the plastic tabs FROM THE BOTTOM of the tab. This will eventually click into place.

Step 9:

Gently place the button back in and try not to tear the artwork (it’s okay, the factory wasn’t even able to do this well). Reconnect the wires.

Step 10:

Repeat 7 more times. And that’s it for the button mod. If you want more info on how to mod the joystick, feel free to check out the tech talkforum at Shoryuken. I won’t describe the joystick mod here because it’s a fairly easy mod to do and offers almost zero possibility of ruining your fight stick.

Overall:

            So, now that we’re at the end of the review, how does the Injustice: Gods Among Us: Battle Edition rate? Well, it’s okay. The Edition is really just a way to deliver a new stick to the masses and the stick happens to be, well, okay. The build quality is in between the Madcatz TE’s and the Madcatz SE’s. The joystick is in desperate need of replacing. The buttons are surprisingly snappy and satisfying. The LED’s are bright enough to be appealing but not so bright that they make you look like a jerk. Everything mixes together to offer only a slightly above average experience.
            Which brings us to the pricing. Is a clone stick worth 90 dollars (that’s the markup)? In order to bring the stick up to more competitive expectations, the modifications would cost at least 40 dollars (after shipping and tax). With the added cost, one could easily just go and buy a discounted Madcatz TE. So, knowing how superior the Madcatz stick is, what is the benefit to getting the Injustice stick instead? Well, it lights up. And it’s a decent stick.
            For a beginner who hasn’t used other sticks, the fact that this one pales in comparison to one with Sanwa parts doesn’t much matter. This stick will be good enough for a newcomer. For someone who can readily tell that this fight stick is not great, this stick will be fun to use once to joystick has been switched out.
Y’see, even though this stick is not really great for anyone, it’s also not really terrible for anyone either. That's because the stick is simply not terrible. The lights really are a very unique addition to this stick. Currently, the Injustice stick is the only available stick that comes with stock lights. Right now, the only other way to get a lighted arcade stick would be to modify another stick or start a new one from scratch. That light mod or new build would be much harder to do than the fairly simple (but frustrating) mods needed to get this stick up to code.
            So, is this stick worth the 90 dollars? Maybe I’m just in a good mood or excited about playing some fighting games with a tricked out lighted up joystick, but I’m going to go ahead and say that, yes, the Injustice Battle Edition is worth the 90 dollar markup. . . But just barely.  


DLC skins...

New 52 Batman

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New 52 Wonder Woman

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New 52 Superman

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Red Son Grundy

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Red Son Wonder Woman

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Red Son Superman

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