Thursday, April 19, 2018

My Hero Academia Vol. 12 Review (Hey Poor Player)

                                                                         Article Here

Whoops, I forgot to put this one up here too, ahahaha.

Both of the My Hero Academia reviews thus far have been really tough to write. We already had the series apex last time, but the ensuing cooldown here, while hardly bad, didn't inspire too much to talk about. Thankfully, things pick up again the next volume, but I wonder if that'll be just as difficult for other reasons...?

Saturday, April 14, 2018

The Promised Neverland Vol. 3 Review (Hey Poor Player)

I am a lazy, forgetful bastard, and the proof lies in taking nearly a week to share this here. In any case, read the damn series if you haven't already!

Anyway, expect My Hero Academia to pop up later today, too.

Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest

With Donkey Kong Country and its pre-rendered 3D taking the world by storm during 1994's holiday season, it was only natural developer Rare would get to work on a sequel, this time starring Donkey Kong's breakout sidekick: Diddy Kong. Fittingly, the game was dubbed Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest, a notorious pun that slipped by young gamers and resulted in shock and awe upon sudden realization years later. Having been one of these unfortunate children, it's never ceased in irking the hell out of me, so perhaps we should not call attention to it at all? Yes, that's what we'll do.

Anyway, Donkey Kong Country 2 is often lauded as the apex of not just the Donkey Kong name but of 16-bit platforming and the Super Nintendo console, cited alongside the likes of Super Mario World and Sonic 3 & Knuckles as being the very finest the genre and/or console has to offer. This claim is not without merit: the level design is no longer basic and constructs itself around depth rather than just cheap thrills, the setting breaks free of ordinary tropes and plunges headfirst into full-on creativity, and David Wise's music is as delicious as ever, if not more so. No longer was Rare's re-imagining of Nintendo's first true gaming star a freshman effort, but a full-fledged video game that vindicated the British game developer's rise into stardom.

As may be implied, however, I'm not so quick to subscribe to most of these accolades. Indeed, it was undoubtedly Rare's finest accomplishment hitherto for Nintendo, but as far as games underneath the actual banner's SNES games go, I struggle in ranking it alongside Super Mario World, Yoshi's Island, and Kirby Super Star. There are certainly elements that match or even surpass certain facets of them, but to say it possesses the same level of engagement and quality oversells its value, I feel. (Heck, I can't even quite agree when it's hailed as the crowning achievement of Rare's overall output -- not when Conker's Bad Fur Day and Banjo-Kazooie exist, anyway)

However, let us not turn this into a "Donkey Kong Country 2 is overrated" essay, for this is nothing of the sort -- after all, I speak as someone who enjoyed it enough to achieve 102% completion last year. If anything, that it only falls just short of such perfection deserves praise: after all, that meant Rare learned so much within only a year's time, and such lessons were quickly applied to the original's most pressing weaknesses. I may hesitate to call it a masterpiece, but why does that matter when it still achieves a stellar balance of captivating our eyes, ears and attention?

What ultimately makes Donkey Kong Country 2 is its successful attempt in avoid tired sequelization; in other words, its using the same engine meant little when our entire surroundings and cast have changed. There's the setting, for one -- Crocodile Isle, a pirate-infested base filled with ships, volcanoes and carnivals -- but in a retrospectively-shocking move within the context of his big revival, Donkey Kong himself is hardly present. As evident by the title, his second banana Diddy Kong takes the reigns to rescue his big buddy, and brings his girlfriend Dixie Kong along for the ride. While this gradual distancing from DK would lead to head-scratching consequences, this move made sense here: Diddy had already become something of a breakout character following his debut -- perhaps his youthful 90's look made him a more relatable avatar? -- so it's only sensible he'd take center stage. (And hey, the game's sub-plot is about proving his worth as a video game all-star.)

Neither are there any objections to Dixie, who's thankfully not remotely as grotesque as Candy Kong from the previous game. That aside, her Helicopter Spin alone provides a more interesting distinction than "one Kong is heavier than the other," as her ponytail hijinks appeal to all levels of difficulty; for one thing, beginners will likely be inclined to use her as the duo's lead, as the floaty gyration allows for safer, more calculated landings than Diddy's full-on sprints. In a fast-paced game such as this, such handicaps are vital for the novice's progress (although the variance in level design ensures this mechanic can't be cheesed). Meanwhile, experts hunting for the elusive DK Coins recognize the necessity of her airy prowess, and comb the skies and pits for any goodies hidden away. Successfully designed for both audiences, it's no wonder Dixie also became a popular character in her own right.

But I was just getting to the setting! Donkey Kong Country 2's levels may echo biomes, mechanics and scenarios found within the original, but their respective renovations are enough to feel fresh:  the famous mine cart rides, for instance, are now amusement park rides and deadly escapes from crocodile phantasms. Animal buddies new and old return, some of them even center-stage through transformation or as vehicles (as a latecomer, I recognize here the former was the genesis for a similar gimmick in Donkey Kong 64). Mines are now vertical, treacherous climbs, and much of the greenery is found within swamps and bramble bushes rather than jungles. True, we may visit the tropics every now and then, but where the game opens -- a pirate ship -- signals we have landed in new territory: even as we dock into Crocodile Isle, the Kremlings' newfound identity as buccaneers impedes us no matter where we go, and it is never not a delight to witness.

Let us admit that, yes, 90's CGI being what it is, there's enough "that's so 90's" awkwardness to sift through: there's a little too much acidic green for my tastes -- the primary culprit on why we can't get a contextual bead on what's going on in the otherwise entertaining Rattle Battle level --  and every now and then you'll come across an unpleasant character design (thankfully nothing on the level of Manky Kong from the original, but good lord, what is this unpleasant Sonic knock-off?). Thankfully, the best of Donkey Kong Country 2's imagination is often complemented by timeless visuals -- perhaps the carnivals' warm Christmas light fireworks are all the more precious to long-time fans, having been a setting never repeated in the two decades since.

Of course, with the graphical engine being more or less the same, the game must impress on its own terms now that we've grown accustomed to pre-rendered 3D. To claim Donkey Kong Country 2 is especially deep would be a mistake: at the very least, there's nothing matching the intricate duality of Super Mario World nor the sheer wonder of Yoshi's Island, and even its building upon the calculated rocket-run design of Donkey Kong Country stumbles with certain enemies (the "jump then throw" design for the Click-Clack beetles kills the momentum, and being spun about by the Cat O' Nine Tails feels unintuitive and uncertain). The key, then, is taking care in crafting a well-constructed balance of gimmicks; yes, perhaps the roller coasters and haunted houses aren't necessarily complex, but that doesn't mean their respective takes on targets, races, and countdown chase-scenes don't captivate in engagement and difficulty. That they're appropriately interspersed alongside classic platforming means they don't overstep their boundaries, a blessing of variety entertaining us in challenge and ideas. (While we're at it, Rattly the Rattlesnake is perhaps the best animal buddy if only for how fun it is to bop about on enemies, and his rockety Superjump is never not thrilling)

When compounded upon by serviceable collectables, said engagement grows tenfold. The first game had the KONG letters and bonus rooms, yes, but those merely being trinkets for multiplying lives rendered them, at best, completionist bragging rights as opposed to any sort of depth; here, the presence of Kremkoins and DK Coins provide more convincing enticements for exploring levels, especially owing to the former's paving the way to discovering the Lost World. Not everything is perfect -- saving's requirement of Banana Coins compels the tedious process of combing completed levels for the darn things -- but the relevant gameplay displays Rare's gradual understanding in furthering our commitment. I must also add the bosses and bonus rooms are, by and large, much more varied in design and ingenuity than the original falling back on repeats and banana-collecting, respectively.

Once again, though, we must pay heed to the true star of Donkey Kong Country: David "God" Wise. While his own work doesn't outstrip the core content nearly as much as the original, that's still a mighty impressive feat considering he's raised the bar in his solo return. From the Opening Fanfare echoing movie-production values to the glistening brilliance of the title screen (K. Rool Returns), Donkey Kong Country 2 immediately arrests not our eyes but our ears, projecting our giddy excitement in finally unlocking our much-awaited treasure. The world map theme in Welcome to Crocodile Isle completes our immersion: a swashbuckling theme of triumph and danger that switches gears from the light-heartedness of DK Island Swing not in a "wow, look at how much darker this is!" way, but approaching us by saying, "Welcome to Donkey Kong Country 2, and it is going to kick ass."

And kick ass the music does indeed; off the top my of head, this is the only game I can recall where every level variety possesses not merely their respective game over themes, but completion themes depending on who you completed it with and how expertly you bopped the level-clearing checkpoint. What drove Wise to do this remains unknown, but if he had not already revealed Donkey Kong Country 2 to be his proudest work, his passion would certainly speak for itself. It is unbelievably crisp, Jib Jig being the best early example: before diving into a delightfully wistful pirate shanty, we're treated to wind and rain that's perhaps the SNES sound chip's most genuine depiction of the elements. Other songs possess similarly-stunning range in their sound fonts, be it the aquatic urgency of Lockjaw Saga and the scream-laced bass of Disco Train, but I can hardly recall any other song sounding so authentic.

Similar technological achievements are made in the more atmospheric tunes, but as we get to them, it's time I make a confession: I don't think Stickerbush Symphony is the game's best song. While you're busy lobbing tomatoes at me, I'm also one of the heathens who believes Super Smash Bros. Brawl's remix is superior. This is not to undermine the original song's beauty or success in its purpose -- a meditative hypnosis lulling us into a level absolutely demanding concentration -- but such meditation means little next to the soul-binding euphoric transcendence provided by Forest Interlude and In A Snowbound Land. To date, it remains impossible deciding which is better; I may slightly prefer Forest Interlude if only considering my inclination towards forest settings, but even comparing both slices of heaven -- let alone the task of describing them -- is something perhaps best left out of the hands of mortals. (Hmm, I sense an article coming on: is David Wise truly a deified entity, or simply an enlightened moral channeling the heavenly realm in aural form?)

In short, Donkey Kong Country 2 is best described as a bigger and better sequel, one setting out to realize Rare's full ambitions for their Super Nintendo showstopper. Does the gameplay system take it as far as it go, or is Rare's inexperience showing again? Perhaps, but again, let us not get caught up in such squabbles, nor be too quick to lament the Kong Family's ensuing decline: it was great enough to not only immortalize little Diddy Kong into Nintendo's pantheon of heroes, but was certainly the apex of anything bearing the name Donkey Kong for quite some time (up until Retro Studios' revival in Donkey Kong Country Returns, at least; only Donkey Kong Jungle Beat comes to mind as a probable contender). And that's good enough for me.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Worldly Weekend: Kingdom Hearts: Re:Chain of Memories (PS2/PS3)

And so begins Kingdom Hearts's foray into befuddling names. Admittedly, Re:Chain of Memories is hardly as ridiculous and pretentious as the goofy titles we'll become acquainted with down the road; if anything, I'll grant the "Re:" here actually makes sense -- the involved prefix meaning it's another attempt at a previous title -- but its sudden intrusion before the subtitle has always irked me. Still, it's of little consequence.

Really, what I find more fascinating is the brisk turnover between the original Game Boy Advance game and this remake for PlayStation 2: for those not aware of the dates involved, the original Chain of Memories launched at the very end of 2004, while this 3D remake -- a bonus game packaged alongside the Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix re-release in Japan -- released in Spring of 2007 (it received a standalone American release at 2008's end). I struggle to think of any game redone in such a short span of time, and I am never not impressed by this probable record and at Square-Enix's brilliant marketing strategy (what, KH2 with additional features isn't enough for you? Okay, then here's a GODDAMN 3D REMAKE OF A GAME BOY GAME)

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga

In retrospect, it's hard to believe we've gone fifteen years without a single new take on the Mario RPG formula. Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga, developed by Super Mario RPG alumni at AlphaDream and the game we are reviewing today, was the last new concept introduced and that was way back in 2003's GameCube/Game Boy Advance era. Since then, Mario & Luigi has ballooned with five consecutive sequels (including Superstar Saga's 3DS remake just last fall), Paper Mario only had one more RPG (2004's The Thousand-Year Door) before bumbling into a hitherto unfinished run of tone-deaf platforming/action hybrids, and despite what dubious rumors may tell you, Nintendo, Square-Enix and AlphaDream's aforementioned alumni remain uninterested in a Super Mario RPG sequel.

In other words, for maybe the past decade we've been offered Mario RPGs/non-RPGs people are either sick of or don't want, and whereas Nintendo may strangely be complacent with this state, I can only imagine a reboot of some sort would ease our depressed fatigue. My current adoration of Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser's Minions aside, Mario & Luigi's over-saturation is mostly imposed by the series' mixed quality: Superstar Saga and DS's Bowser's Inside Story are generally regarded as the best, with the rest either considered mediocre (Partners in Time), well-meaning but tutorial/content-bloated (Dream Team) or just wasted potential (Paper Jam). When the series works, its offerings are among the most delightful Mario spin-offs around; when it doesn't, it feels draining and monotonous.

Monday, March 26, 2018

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess Vol. 3 Review (Hey Poor Player)

I liked what Himekawa's previous Zelda adaptions were trying to do, but they were simply far too brief to be of any true worth. Now that they have all the freedom in the world, their potential bursts open in a work I may even prefer to the source material!

Anyway, this month's been pretty slow for this blog's reviews -- crazy month here-- but I've been steadily working on one or two pieces that may arrive by the 31st. Catch you then.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Kirby Star Allies Review (Hey Poor Player)

I'm not sure what's more shocking: my final score or that I didn't have time to discuss the music. And yes, writing that last line did kill me.

Anyway, you'll be seeing Kirby Star Allies listed in the Tier List within either the Good/Great category soon enough.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Kaguya-Sama: Love is War Vol. 1 Review (Hey Poor Player)

Alright, I confess: I read rom-coms! Don't judge me! Unfortunately, I don't think we'll be following this series, but to broaden my scope I decided to cover another genre, and what better choice than a series I was already reading? You can think of this review as a taste test of sorts.

Anyway, I've begun adding jump breaks to my reviews, and while it's a meticulous process, hopefully the front page at least is much easier to sift through!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Astra Lost in Space Vol. 2 Review

This one was really tough to write, but at least it's done.

Anyway, I've been a bit behind this month, so with the extra time this week I'll be arranging my game journalism section to include manga and whatnot. I'm also finally looking into ways to add jumps toposts, so navigating the blog won't be nearly as much of a hassle. I'll let y'all know when that happens, but in the meantime, expect another review or two this week.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Worldly Weekend: Kingdom Hearts II

Note: minor spoilers within this review. There's nothing too major, but I simply had to talk about how much the story bothered me here.

My dear readers, I ask you to journey with me to a different time: 2005, where Japan's Weekly Famitsu magazine was hyping up Kingdom Hearts II as if it were the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. This is not an exaggeration -- every week, Japanese readers (and Western fans dependent on online scans and translations) were subject to adrenaline-inducing eye candy, with the game's revamped engine providing flashy Reaction Commands and Drive Form acrobatics for protagonist Sora. Clamored Disney films such as Mulan and The Lion King were joining the world lineup, as groundbreaking inclusions like Pirates of the Caribbean, Steamboat Willie and TRON continually surprised fans the world over. A Keyblade-wielding Mickey Mouse was jumping around like Yoda, as the Final Fantasy cameos ramped up with Final Fantasy X's Auron as a party member, Advent Children outfits for the FF7 cast, and even including folks not designed by series director Tetsuya Nomura (Vivi and Setzer, to be precise). Even once-maligned efforts like the Gummi Ship and The Little Mermaid's Atlantica were completely reworked, operating respectively in the vein of Disneyland rides and theater musicals.

In other words, whereas the first game was a good-natured but rough-around-the-edges freshman project, Kingdom Hearts II was set to finally realize the original's dream: a masterful celebration of Disney and wistful nostalgia blended with brooding Final Fantasy influences, all framed within a gameplay engine that could do it justice. Naturally, I myself awaited it as a supernatural revelation, but what did I ultimately think of it when came out?