Thursday, October 20, 2016

Introducing the Nintendo Switch! (Hey Poor Player)

The Nintendo Switch has been officially revealed!!! It's been a few hours, so how's everyone taking the announcement? 

Personally, I'm quite excited they got the message across this time. This time, it seems they've ditched building upon the screen--a concept far too nebulous even for Nintendo--but they still feel it's vital for the future of gaming, so why not just have it switch for player preference? 

Very catchy name, by the way. Say it with me: Nintendooooo Switch!

Will it catch on this time? The software presented was impressive, but as much as I'm excited for Mario Kart (and the long-rumored Smash), we'll need more than Wii U ports to succeed. Super Mario is off to a good start, but will it push the series forward? Time will tell, but that developer line-up is promising!

By the way, what do you all make of the Skyrim PR fiasco? Some say it's to encourage sales of the remaster coming out shortly, but it's a little late for me; I was going to replay Skyrim, soon, but now I've decided to wait for the Switch version!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Ethics and Logic Behind NES Classic Mini's Emulation (Hey Poor Player)

My first feature article on Hey Poor Player! Huzzah!

Nintendo's dismal quality of their Virtual Console releases is a subject I've been rather passionate for some time, so I was rather ecstatic at the lack of darkened screens for the NES Classic Mini. For me, the proper preservation of Nintendo's history is infinitely more important than any of the localization/"censorship" nonsense over the past year, and is up there with the likes of region-locking and cross-buy as some of the bigger issues plaguing Nintendo today. 

That said, I really do mean it when I say I feel rather selfish--and perhaps even a little guilty--for choosing legacy over epileptic concerns. I know there are epileptics that play games, and I'm certain many could shed some light on the subject. If there's any article I'd like to some opposition on, it would be this one.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Ten Years of Kirby ~Reverie 16~ Kirby's Return to Dream Land

I can't. I just can't. Look at the Japanese box art for this game. Look at that glorious Nippon representation of Kirby, and then look upwards for we got for America. I've never felt more insulted by Angry Kirby, and yet I can't go on anymore. Is there any further point in discussing the fallacy of presenting your adorable pink marshmallow as a super bad-ass despite his being an adorable pink marshmallow instantly rendering him, uh, adorable? And that's not even mentioning how much time he spends in the game either smiling or using blank expressions, as he does roughly 70% of the time in nearly every one of his appearances. It's not fair, but I can't go on. I'm spent. Way to go, NOA.

Anyway, like the rest of the industry in Fall 2011, Nintendo was draining the wallets of hapless gamers with a populated release schedule. From the first semi-new Star Fox game in five years in Star Fox 64 3D to the still-popular Mario Kart 7, it was Nintendo's busiest holiday season in over half a decade...and their most acclaimed, at that.

Let us set aside any "real 3D Mario" arguments and my own dismissal of Zelda: Skyward Sword: every member of their holiday 2011 output was a million-seller, captivating the Nintendo gaming public at large, with Star Fox 64 3D paving the way for a series reboot, Mario Kart 7 set to emulate its DS predecessor's sales records, and Super Mario 3D Land and Skyward Sword sweeping perfect/near-perfect scores across the critical board.

Relative to its peers' praise, Kirby's Return to Dream Land sticks out like a sore thumb. As seen on its Metacritic page, the game was in no shortage of criticism directed its way. This came at the surprise of no one: deviations like Canvas Curse and Epic Yarn have always caught the attention of media and gamers alike, while traditional entries tend to be dismissed as safe, far-too-easy affairs regardless of whether or not they've succeeded in maintaining Masahiro Sakurai's original goal for the series: easy to play, hard to master.

In retrospect, it's a miracle Kirby's Return to Dream Land succeeded at this as well as it did; after all, it'd been in development for roughly seven-to-eleven years. Indeed, Return to Dream Land was, more or less, the fabled Kirby GCN game that up and mysteriously disappeared back in 2005, having been relegated to development hell and renovated no less than three different times before HAL Laboratory doubled-down on the final product.

Whatever the reasons were for the games' cancellations (Kirby GCN was vaguely dismissed with an imbalance between solo/multiplayer play), the eleven-year wait for a true-to-form Kirby console game was well worth it, for Kirby's Return to Dream Land was arguably Nintendo's finest 2011 entry.
Such a claim appears heresy in the face of ambitious efforts like Zelda: Skyward Sword, Super Mario 3D Land or even the competition's Elder Scrolls VI: Skyrim, particularly since the game lacks any ambitions of its own.

But that's because it didn't need any, instead staying true to its name by returning to 1996.


Let us bask in that title for a moment: Kirby's Return to Dream Land. Doesn't that feel so good? And it's not because it bears any context on the game's narrative; after all, that's just the name exclusive to American audiences. No, it's what it stands for the game itself that matters. For all the ups and downs Kirby had over the past decade, he's given the chance to properly return to his roots. Here, there are no more half-baked gimmicks and level design devaluing the brand, no--however successful--ambitious deviations from the tried-and-true formula, and no retreads on beloved adventures of days past.

In other words, it's a return to the Dream Land created so long ago by Mr. Sakurai. He may've not laid a finger on the game's design, but the philosophies from Kirby's Adventure and Kirby Super Star blossom from every design choice: plush aesthetics framed within dreamy fantasy, a plethora of multi-fledged copy abilities, numerous avenues for multiplayer play and content upon content upon content.

If you're paying attention, you'll recognize several of the aforementioned features were exclusive to either Adventure or Super Star. The beauty of Return to Dream Land is that it's not satisfied with just blending them together; it wants to surpass where Sakurai left off back in 1996. For all its new ideas and embracing of series history, at its core Return to Dream Land feels lifted right from the 90's.

In an era where New Super Mario Bros. Wii sought to bring audiences together and Donkey Kong Country Returns awed players with its level design, this could result as disappointingly safe, and yet it's something of a miracle Return to Dream Land is not that. It strikes a wondrous balance with the old and the new, all the while borrowing the ideas of its sidescrolling peers to translate the Kirby brand for Wii.

This isn't a dig against Kirby's Epic Yarn, by the way; if pressed between the two, I'd pick Good Feel's effort as being the stronger title. And yet, there's just no denying the gradual ascension of excitement that opens Return to Dream Land: we spot this firsthand when we're given control, when game starts out in a Kirby's Adventure-styled hub where players new and experienced can feel out the controls.

But by the first level's end, we're blown away by a whirlwind of new mechanics and design. By shaking the Wii Remote, Kirby's gusty inhale becomes a ferocious cyclone that swallows multiple enemies at once. The Super Abilities, amplified versions of certain Copy Abilities obtained through glowing enemies, rampage through levels in a ferocity never seen before in Kirby. At the end of Kirby's killing spree, we uncover dimensional warpholes that thrust our hero into a mad escape from an ominous anti-matter scrolling screen.

The momentum successfully carries throughout the rest of Cookie Country. For the first time since Kirby's Dream Land, items appear to aid Kirby and co. on their quest. Crackers shoot bombs while the Stomper Boots provide some addictive timing via bouncy acupuncture footwear. Entertaining as they are on their own, all are expertly designed around puzzles to nab the game's collectibles (Energy Spheres).

As opposed to an overhaul of the mechanics ala Epic Yarn, Return for Dream Land opts for building upon the core mechanics. That the showstopping likes of Super Abilities and Dimensional Holes compose the game's organics render it not a Squeak Squad misfire, but allow it to sit comfortably alongside the evolutionary achievements of Adventure and Super Star. Granted, that the game arrives after years of mixed efforts and remakes leaves a stronger impact, but that it's this good is what makes it go above and beyond.

In particular, the evolution of Copy Abilities are on a level not seen since Super Star. The new powers--Water, Leaf, Spear and Whip--all echo that game in their flexibility, be it the delightful excess of Spear/Whip maneuvers or going a step beyond with environmental effects (Water automatically surfs on, well, water). We've seen occasional winners in the years since Super Star-- notably Smash, Missile and Squeak Squad's version of Magic--yet hardly any scratch the depth and personality found here.

Meanwhile, one-trick ponies like Stone or limited efforts like Ninja always stood out in Super Star's plethora of powers, but you'd hardly recognize their transformations here. Stone, Needle, Hi-Jump and Tornado are now fully-fledged behemoths, whereas Ninja is complete with all sorts of ninja tropes. The lengths of HAL's polish know no bounds, for even 1-hit wonders like Mike and Crash or the adorably useless Sleep are supplied with new tricks (Mike being a animation standout solely for the visual of a headbanging Kirby--all the while sporting a 90's mohawk).

With such care given to the Copy Abilities, it's no surprise they don't forget to design the levels around Super Abilities. As fun as it is to scorch landscapes with Monster Flame and slice the opposition with Ultra Sword, the Wii Remote-shaking thrill of Grand Hammer and Snow Bowl render them the most involved, and therefore, the most exciting. The latter in particular recalls the best of the Giant Snowball from Kirby 64 in how it not only absorbs everyone in your path (the hapless Dream Landers!), but with the added bonuses of demolishing giant sandcastles and bowling pins.

This emphasis on environmental destruction breeds new territory for Kirby, one that would be expanded upon in Return to Dream Land's successors. On a thematic level, it places a humorous spotlight on the senseless devastation often sugarcoated by Kirby's dreamy sweetness; on a gameplay level, there's nothing funner, and the way it makes room for even the little things is impressive. The Star Spit, once Kirby's only attack, can be upgraded relative to the number of enemies that fall victim to the Super Inhale. The potential result is a massive star cluster that plows through baddies, blocks and bosses alike; in that sense, I guess they're not little things after all.

I mentioned earlier about Return to Dream Land being a blend of Super Star/Adventure design philosophies, which is best described as the game possessing Super Star gameplay with Adventure level design. While Super Star's gameplay dominates over Adventure, the latter's emphasis on a sole campaign allowed for a consistent level progression aimed for beginner/expert audiences (not that Super Star didn't appeal to the same audience, but the sub-games aren't exactly sequels to one another).

Return to Dream Land takes this design philosophy to heart, even so much as lifting sequences straight from the NES classic, all the while tuning it to the multiplayer experience. Super Star was the first Kirby game to feature multiplayer, but this takes more pages from GBA games, where different-colored Kirbys could join in on the fun. More parallels still can be drawn from its Nintendo Wii contemporaries, where players can hitch a ride via stacking, perhaps screw each other over via Super Inhale, and control unique characters in the form of King Dedede, Meta Knight, and Bandanna Waddle Dee (all of whom had me frothing at the mouth following E3 2011).

Kirby isn't as physics-bound as Super Mario, so it's something that cannot fully mimic the innate hijinks of New Super Mario Bros. Wii; however, that plays into its strengths. Kirby doesn't emphasize platforming perils ala NSMBWii and Donkey Kong Country Returns, so anyone can keep up with the action (and in rare case you can't, you can always count on stacking onto a good player). In addition, the presence of items can either emphasize teamwork or brew chaos depending on their properties.

It's certainly one of the finer examples of Wii's later emphasis on co-op play--the convenience of simply jumping in via Wii Remote puts it a step above most--and yet it doesn't reach the perfection of Super Star's two-player. The one oversight lies in what's carefully crafted for single-player play: Super Abilities. Their function requires one person doing all the work, while the others sit around reduced to trailing behind whoever's a superhero. I imagine mileage on this has varied; it never ruined my couch multiplayer sessions, yet I could feel my companions growing a tad listless as I razed hill after hill.

This isn't a problem with every power--Snow Bowl saves the day by also scooping up players--and Dedede, Meta Knight, and Waddle Dee at least alleviate the problem somewhat in how they perform certain moves that Kirby cannot with their respective weapons (Hammer, Sword, and Spear). So while every not player is treated as an equal, it still remains a great co-op romp; actually some may raise credible arugments that the importance placed upon player one--such as he or she burdening the team's lives--may be beneficial for newer players as well as further emphasizing teamwork to protect that player. To HAL's credit, they were also very open on their struggles with the multiplayer design.

Do the accompanying aesthetics and sound make any missteps of their own? At the very least, I cannot even begin imagining criticizing the former: Dream Land is as plush and delectable as it was in the 90's, with squat, expressive roly-polys hopping about in environments bursting with such delicious, mouth-watering color. Once again, I can safely say I would like to nibble on the world of Kirby.

But it's not all about eye candy. Backgrounds like the enigmatic ice ruins of White Wafers make us want to know more, while Nutty Noon's soaring ribbons and overhead views may be just as cathartic and calming as the best of Sakurai's Kirby. It's perhaps the last of Nintendo's Wii games that maintains not just a consistently vivid look, but builds a compelling world to house it all in.

Which is all the better that Return to Dream Land embraces series lore. It's not that Kirby hasn't ever relied on plot and the like, but this is the first time Dream Land has been granted this level of a "lived-in" world, let alone a canon (this is present in Epic Yarn, but much of it surrounds Patch Land). Be it the pause screen descriptions of bosses or cryptic conversations with the mysterious wayfarer Magolor, it functions not on the level of Zelda world-building, but on a Mario level of "Oh, that's how that works"(or, in the case of the latter, "they're referencing THAT?").

It answers questions, but leaves enough to the imagination for our minds to answer, right down to discovering Meta Knight's favorite past-time: appreciating literature on a fine sunny day. The obvious question is what he's reading, but I personally wonder about the logistics of a Dream Land printing press. Gosh, I sure hope minimum-wage labor is fair to all Waddle Dees, and that's assuming it even exists at all.

Naturally, a return to Dream Land requires the musical presence of Jun Ishikawa and Hirokazu Ando, the original composers who introduced the music of Kirby's dreams to the world. Putting aside their large rate of success here, even if Return to Dream Land wasn't actually designed as Kirby's return, I can't help but feel that theme's reflected through the soundtrack.

I mean, it can't be coincidence it's there right when the game starts, right? This joyous song immediately greets us at the title screen (and later as the hub theme for Cookie Country), while seguing to a parade of trumpets and chimes in The Adventure Begins. It all signals a grand return to the world of Kirby, and as I always take the time to observe game title screens, that this pulled me in straight away was a great sign (and if you don't laugh at Dedede making faces at Kirby...well, there's just no hope for you).

The aforementioned ascension of that first level is effective primarily because of the Super Ability theme: Bring On The Super Ability. An orchestral theme of passionate valor, the way it accompanies Kirby's wrath injects such intense invigoration that it's impossible not to smile when in control. Truly, it operates on a level of incitement never before seen in Kirby.

Which is vaguely echoed by Looming Darkness, which plays during our peek into the realm of the Sphere Doomers. It signals that of desperate survival, urging the player desperately onward with its otherworldly instruments and sounds. It's the perfect complement to the grayscale dimension, full of passing solar systems and constellations.

But let us not forget that Kirby is home to the wistful and the melancholy, and Return to Dream Land turns to those themes in its later stretches. Aurora Area concludes the chilly recesses of White Wafers, bringing a touch of mystery and awe at the ruins. While it may be populated with the likes of Galbos and Chillys, the cold, windy howls of its accompanying theme instill an ever-present lonely ambiance.

However, such melancholy does not hold a candle to the pure joy of my favorite song: Sky Waltz. A mix of recorders and violins greet Nutty Noon as players fly over Dream Land and witness a wondrous view of the landscape below. Borrowing a page from Epic Yarn, it purposely elicits a sense of nostalgia that easily meshes with our wonder, rendering its accompanying level the very best in the entire game (which, when considering it has no Super Abilities or dimensional rifts of any sort, is no small feat).

Really, there's so many strong songs that I feel guilty about not sharing, be it all the rousing boss themes or an especially dreamy take on a Kirby's Adventure song. The entirety of the game's soundtrack successfully hits all the best of what makes Kirby,well, Kirby: orchestral triumphs, techno rhythms and sweet, soft nostalgia.

...which renders it all the more bizarre whenever it misses the mark. There's a number of real average tracks that either border on the overt childishness that Kirby's supposed to avoid (Walking in the Sea, as well as, disappointingly, the level-ending version of the *Kirby Dance theme) or serve to undermine their scenic set-pieces (the Caving song above). These misfires aren't enough to knock the game down from the upper echelons of Kirby soundtracks--let alone diminish its incredible highs--but its lack of consistency makes it miss the very top.

If I must continue harping on flaws--much as it pains me to do so--the lack of Dedede, Meta Knight and Bandanna Waddle Dee in single-player may also be a missed opportunity. While I understand the levels are designed around Kirby, only having them playable in The Arena feels like a waste. I can't help but imagine it could've made for some fun 100% goal completion (a 2D precursor to Super Mario 3D World, perhaps?)

But my hopes for Return to Dream Land weren't about whether or not it could succeed Adventure or Super Star; it all hinged on whether or not it successfully revitalized and built upon the Sakurai-era Kirby games for a modern age. This review should speak to its achievements at doing so, but I cannot speak highly enough at what it does surpass: the multiplayer mini-games, most notably in how Scope Shot far surpasses most console Kirby efforts even on a solo level; the Extra Mode, absolutely the series' most complete, fulfilling and even unpredictable since Kirby's Dream Land; the balance of difficulty for players new and old, as I still haven't obtained all the Platinum Medals for the addictive, hair-raising Challenge Rooms.

As a whole, its cohesion isn't glued as tightly as two of the 90's finest sidescrollers, but its highs in emulating, building upon and sometimes even surpassing what came before deliver a title that, against all odds, mingled successfully in an era of HD-developed products and AAA names. It being a densely-packaged adventure certainly helped, but it proves that time-tested gameplay can continue winning over audiences so long as they stick to not merely to the conventions of a brand, but by daring to improve the design philosophies behind it.

Fellow Kirby megafan Jim Sterling once said "video games simply do not get any more pure" than Kirby's Return to Dream Land. How delightful that in a sea of open-worlds and motion-control, HAL Laboratory found it necessary to give us a title that stood up and declared "I am from the 16-bit era." That it has since initiated and set the example for the current Golden Age of Kirby is of the highest honor.

*On the flipside, I should mention the boss version of the Kirby Dance theme more than makes up for the regular one if only because it's clearly based on the GBA games. Ah, the warm scent of 2002's holiday season!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Biweekly Music Wednesday! No. 41 ~Rainbow Road~ (Mario Kart 64)

OriginMario Kart 64
Plays In: Rainbow Road
Status: Original Composition
Composed by: Kenta Nagata

In the past, I've used the following imagery to describe early nostalgia:

"I remember the starry luminous skies of the Rainbow Resort in Kirby's Adventure eliciting memories of when I was very young, strapped in the car's backseat as I stared in silent wonder at the luminous neon lights passing by."

While used to describe the ending levels in Kirby's Adventure, the imagery of cars and neon lights just as easily bring to mind Rainbow Road from any one Mario Kart. When it comes to my own nostalgia for that series, there's no other choice but  Mario Kart 64, the very first game I ever asked for at the age of 6. 
And I'm certainly not alone in my fond memories of the game; in particular, Mario Kart 64's Rainbow Road iteration elicits similar sentimentality to that aforementioned imagery: neon imagery of the game's roster up in the night sky, an endless guardrail of stars, that soothing music....

But can nostalgia speak for a game's actual quality? Diving deeper into Mario Kart 64 discussions will uncover many who feel that particular Rainbow Road far too long and boring; in fact, it often goes hand-in-hand with criticism of the game not aging too well. Even today, I wonder if that's true: whenever I'd briefly return to my first Mario Kart, it'd always feel so clunky and unfamiliar relative to the newer titles.

That should be decided through a Leave Luck to Heaven review, you may say, but there's another point I'd like to discuss for today: haven't you ever wanted to replay your favorite old games with the same exact sense of wonder you felt as a child?  It's tough to admit, but there's certainly been many times I've prepped my game sessions like that, and they were often abandoned in misery; for example, for the longest time I had difficulty replaying Super Mario 64 because I would never relive that wonderful sense of discovery.

Knowing that I would never relive my childhood years was one of the most difficult realizations I've ever had to endure. In itself, that is not wrong: you have to grow up to recognize and tackle the trials and tribulations around not just yourself, but of the world. But do we recognize that burden when we're just entering our teenage years, when our bodies undergo changes and we grow fickle over every little thing? Perhaps, but that only validates our fears and declining perspective of the world.

"That's how nostalgia gets to you. You're reminded of a familiar fragrance or feeling that perfectly mirrors how you felt during a certain period of your youth, and you desperately try in vain to contain it. You attempt to revel in it to make the feeling last a lifetime, and you think of everything that happened to you to contain it, whether it was your favorite cartoon or video game and all the friends you had. It's a several month, perhaps year-long experience all packed in a few seconds, and then it's gone."

Like it or not, cynicism takes over us as we grow older. It's why we grow so excited when A Link to the Past sequel is being made for 3DS, or grow misty-eyed at video game orchestras or when Super Smash Bros. arranges beloved EarthBound and Mega Man tunes, or simply stare in awe when Mario Kart 8 reimagines a fan-favorite course with an explosion of color. To us, it's as if developers are saying "we remember how you feel, too," and hold our halcyon-day memories to the highest regard.

In turn, their nostalgia introduced to a new generation, and the cycle continues.

Mario Kart 64 is the furthest form of nostalgia as it the most mysterious. 
It was a time where I thought the N64 controller was loosely based off of Mario's gloves, where the 3D models on the character select screen felt larger than life and that half-finished wall painting of Mario down in the basement, which my mother never finished. How much of that can be replicated? Not much, unless I want to stare at unfinished paintings in the filthy, dirty backside of the basement.

Point is, we can never replicate exactly how we felt when first playing a game, as they'd require outside influences to be replicated again and again (that, and do I really want my mother to make incomplete paintings of Mario?) Maybe Mario Kart 64 isn't all that hot now, but having replayed Super Mario 64 over three times in the past three years, it's stunning to me how that game holds up today despite its rudimentary nature. 

Take the old in with the new, and forge on. Criticize the new and the new, and accept their quality as they are. As a writer, it is my duty to record such experiences.

Final Thoughts: No, really, how does Mario Kart 64 hold up? Hmm...maybe it's time for a Mario Kart retrospective.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Introducing My Latest Game Journalism Job: Hey Poor Player!

Hey, all! If you haven't following my Twitter, than you may be surprised to learn I'm a bit late in sharing this piece of news. Guess what site I'm working for now? An up-and-coming site by the name of Hey Poor Player!

Making a living off my writing has always been a dream of mine, and while that may not fully come true for some time, Hey Poor Player represents my first step into that dream. After a careful analysis of several sites, Hey Poor Player appealed to me the most as an up-and-coming site with a solid direction and a great look.

While I had the opportunity to pursue a similar financial venture at GameSkinny, certain factors and careful consideration compelled me to move on. But don't fret: I learned many great things about game journalism and the like while under the Journalist Training Program, and I aim to utilize all my teachings to not just further my career, but to contribute properly to Hey Poor Player

I've already written some news pieces for the site, but I plan to pen some opinion articles starting next week, so look forward to those!

Oh, and once again, I'll still be writing for Nintendojo, so please don't worry.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Wordly Weekend: Mega Man (NES)

I'm sorry, I know the hilarious travesty of Mega Man's American box art is probably the most infamous example of packaging in video game history, but Leave Luck to Heaven represents games with NA covers whenever possible, right down to the "Angry Kirby" nonsense. Even so, just look at the contemptible thing: the indistinguishable geography, the structural disaster that is the building on the left (what's with the stairs? The random stone well?), and last but certainly not least, the mess of proportions, colors and physicality that is Mega Man himself. It's the prime example of 80's game boxarts attempting to make their respective games look way more badass than they actually were, and with how Mega Man underperformed in sales, it backfired miserably here. For shame, Capcom!

Not that Japan wasn't guilty of the same practice, you understand, but its respective cover for Mega Man--I'm sorry, Rock Man--was far more in-line with the game's aesthetic: the plush, wide-eyed animation style commonly found in 80's anime. It's clear from the very moment one lays eyes on the select screen line-up of Robot Masters that this isn't a game meant to channel any sort of realism, but the more light-hearted antics of Super Mario Bros. and Pac-Man.

Could it also be said that Mega Man matches the quality of those classics? Capcom's Mega Man games are only challenged by Konami's Castlevania in how they are the most celebrated NES action titles not associated with the Nintendo name, and that's being fairly generous considering Mega Man himself is a more recognizable 8-bit icon than Simon Belmont, what with his blinking doe eyes and squat one-inch stature. Yes, they are classics, although to what extent is debatable considering how much Capcom unabashedly milked the games (of the original series' ten entries, six are on NES).

Many agree the first three are the cream of the NES crop, and I'm included in their ranks. It's funny how all six games are homogenized around the same gameplay and aesthetics, yet it's those first three games that stick in everyone's memory. In this sense, the original we're reviewing today is a curious delight -- to my mind, it doesn't reach the heights of Mega Man 2 (the series masterpiece) or Mega Man 3 (the runner-up), yet it's such a genuinely strong first effort that I consider it a near-crime the former overshadowed its place in gaming history.

Forging the design that would soldier on in countless sequels and spin-offs, Mega Man revolves around six levels that culminate into their respective "Robot Master" bosses. Each is defined by a singular trait (Fire Man, for example, wielding the power of, well, fire) that also houses a weakness. as defeating any one Robot Master absorbs their power into Mega Man's own (which lets player experiment with Robot Master weaknesses). Each Robot Master can be tackled in any order, and once all are defeated, you head to the castle of dastardly Dr. Wily to halt his evil schemes.

Needless to say, it's a non-linear action take on rock-paper-scissors. As opposed to the physics-bound goofiness of Super Mario Bros., Mega Man relies on a level of strategy and planning not commonly found in action platformers. While thankfully this doesn't seep into the actual gameplay, it allows for nearly every run as divergent as you want it to be; for instance, do you proceed in the order of Robot Master weaknesses, or just go about any which route you wish?

As mentioned earlier, this level progression system hardly renders the original unique in retrospect, but its superiority lies in that very same retrospection. Yes, it lacks the fanciful features including Rush the robot dog and the Mega Buster and the like, but that it's forged only around three mechanics --Mega Man's arm cannon, the Robot Master abilities and good ol' fashioned jumping--ensures it's not bloated with unnecessarily flashy features, instead relying on pure grit to overcome its trials.

Which means that as fun as it is shoot things, it's also undeniably difficult. Like any other 8-bit action game, Mega Man is actively punishing in its damage-sponge robots, leaps of faith, touch of death hazards (watch out for spikes!) and grueling boss patterns. The Robot Masters in particular give Super Mario Bros. games a run for their money in that their toughness matches the rest of the level, and even memorizing their attack patterns and weaknesses won't ensure you'll make it out alive (as seen with the countless close shaves endured with Ice Man).

Could it perhaps be too difficult? Some Robot Master weaknesses aren't very apparent, so the game has to rely on certain context clues within the levels; for example, Cut Man is weak to Guts Man's Super Arm, used to pick up heavy blocks littered across the former's stage and boss room. There is some decent balance across the board, my favorite example being how anyone can memorize Ice Man's disappearing rock platforms with some careful observation.

It falls apart in other places; the game's non-linearity comes to a halt with Elec Man, who hides the vital Magnet Beam necessary for Wily's Castle. This tool can only be uncovered with the aforementioned Super Arm, and this only becomes apparent more than halfway through the level. Mega Man simply isn't the game for this kind of foreshadowing, and with the Magnet Beam being the only way to fully circumvent certain obstacles (such as Ice Man's flying Foot Holders, which by themselves are a tad too random in their placement and tend to frustrate with their mid-air laser blasting), it's a problem.

By and large though, there's hardly any missteps in foe placement and the like; in fact, the game takes steps for the player to navigate around the stage's intricacies. Take the spiky Gabyoalls (try saying that three times fast!), which patrol about on platforms and attempt to shove off Mega Man when he intrudes upon their territory. They rank among the game's most annoying enemies, but they're momentarily paralyzed by a single shot, so they're easily neutralized.

And if you have the Rolling Cutter, all the better: they're destroyed immediately. The fun of Mega Man lies in its replayability and figuring out how the game works. While the Elec Man/Magnet Beam thing limits the potential for experimentation, it's impressive how many quirks and enemy weaknesses can be perceived and utilized through the Robot Master powers. This is further perfected in Mega Man 2 and 3, but that the first title can be this experimental in spite of its flaws is worth noting.

All the better that it's so pleasing to look at. As mentioned previously, the graphics are overtly clean with a bright aesthetic. It's as much of a sci-fi adventure as it is the home of a Saturday Morning Cartoon; not too goofy, but with enough light-heartedness to win anyone over with the likes of doe-eyed blue robots and flying robot penguins.

Hammering this balance down is the wondrous music by Manami Matsumae, which is the perfect complement for such a world. Level themes dip into either motif in accordance to not merely the Robot Masters involved, but the overall motif for their respective stages. With the Cut Man Stage often being the first stage players tackle, it's only natural its theme would thrust us into action. Like the majority of the soundtrack, it's 8-bit catchiness at its finest.

On the other side of the spectrum lies the Elec Man Stage music. Apparently designed with electricity in mind, it's another song that accompanies not the character, but of the level itself. The stage is constructed vertically, with tricky ladders, vigilant Gabyoalls and electric currents seeking to knock you down. The ensuing frustration is only natural, so an upbeat theme is necessary for encouragement.

None of which we find in Wily's Castle. For the record, this is not the beloved action masterpiece found in Mega Man 2, and yet I consider this a distinctive runner-up. Ominous and foreboding, it compels us further down Wily's lair and overcome his traps one by one. Only the Guts Man Stage rivals this theme in their apprehension, which are executed not with darkness but a building degree of menace.

Any and all praising of Mega Man's sound design typically revolves around the music--and deservedly so!--but there is one sound effect I must elaborate upon. Every time Mega Man lands after a jump, a distinguished "plink!" noise always greets his impact. It is absolutely, unabashedly sci-fi; the one detail that defines Mega Man's character as a robot. That we, as the players, are the ones initiating the sound further links us into the game, and furthermore its world. Being a recurring theme throughout the series, I can't help but imagine it as the primary source of Mega Man nostalgia.

Mega Man is not a clumsy, forgotten progenitor, but is instead the treasured 8-bit example of how to initiate a long-running series. It stumbles into traps common of the era, but they're never anything fatal; not anything to the extent of  Capcom dragged the series into tedium, anyway. It's an overtly-solid action game that entertains with its creative non-linearity and thrills with its engaging Wily Castle set pieces/big boss sequences, all foreshadowing what was to come with its famous sequel.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Review: Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney — Spirit of Justice (3DS)

Wow, my first review for Nintendojo! About time, you may say, but this represents another milestone for me; you see, this was my very first review provided by a review copy! Or should I say review code? Again, wow!

To clarify, I've had plenty of chances to nab review codes via Nintendojo, but most of them were for indie games that never caught my eye. However, being a big fan of Phoenix Wright and the gang, I couldn't help but leap at the opportunity to nab the latest Ace Attorney.

What was interesting about reviewing this game was how it let me peek into the journalism review process: for example, I'm the type of gamer that wants to leave no stone unturned, but with a deadline hanging over me, that wasn't a possibility. Ace Attorney games aren't the most content-filled games out there, but they're quite wordy, so I questioned and pressed characters only when necessary, and I had to rely on the hint system numerous times (once I tried my best to figure things out, naturally!). And as cool as it was to play the game before it came out in NA, playing it so much fooled myself into thinking numerous times it was already out!

Combined with my temporary bookseller position at the local college, and I had an exhaustive week and a half playing Spirit of Justice. Those who've read my Gaming Grunts reviews should notice they were quite smaller than my output here, and the same applies here; there were numerous subjects I did want to go in-depth on, but obviously the overall landscape for published game reviews discourages that.

My point being, the process hammers in why I stick to opinion articles and the like on Nintendojo and GameSkinny: there's far too much time soaked up by it, and it doesn't allow me to elaborate as much as I want to. I think a split balance is the most fair in this situation, yes? And hey, I'm already gearing up to get reviews going this week, so look forward to it!

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Where 3DS Can Go From Here (Nintendojo)

My first Nintendojo article in some time! I'd been meaning to juggle my output for the site alongside my GameSkinny coverage, but outside of some news reports it never came to be...

Regardless, the recent 3DS Direct did have me wondering on how much longer the handheld would hold out for, and that's where this article came from. I really do mean it at the end when I say I don't want it to go favorite handheld system of all time!

(Speaking of the 3DS Direct, it turns out I made a prophetic prediction on Pikmin for Nintendo 3DS just over a month earlier! See the comments for more info.)

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Biweekly Music Wednesday! No. 40 ~Have a Nice Talk~ (Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story)

OriginMario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story
Plays In: Various scenes
Status: Original Composition
Composed by: Yoko Shimomura

One of the joys of the Mario & Luigi games--and while I'm at it, Super Mario RPG--is affirming how much Yoko Shimomura gets the Mario universe. Her use of xylophones and the like don't just perfectly complement their respective games' playful, comedic nature: they bear the as Koji Kondo's original source material.

Bowser's Inside Story remains the pinnacle of the series, so it's no surprise its soundtrack remains Mario & Luigi's finest. Above is what's perhaps my favorite selection from the franchise: Have a Nice Talk, which is one of many names it's gone through no other apparent source but YouTube (aside from the fact that it's my personal favorite, we'll stick with that one for convenience). Often reserved for Bowser's overworld portions of the game, the Koopa overlord encounters  a number of curious characters to this tune, not the least of which is Broque Monsieur and his horde of Blitties.

While short in length, this is probably my favorite Mario and Luigi song for more personal reasons. Back when Bowser's Inside Story landed in my hands during Christmas 2009, my life was in the dumps. My senior high school year was a bust in both social interaction and IEP management, my inability to speak up with my feelings set the course for a rather nasty online fallout, and the truth behind my disappearing video games would unravel an unspeakable betrayal...

My only solace, my one escape from the cruel world around me, was latest Mario & Luigi game and its antics.The return of Fawful meant NOA Treehouse's script-writing was at its finest, and the presence of Bowser --always the bratty showstopper in nearly every Mario RPG--was the icing on the cake. To this day, it still remains one of my favorite Nintendo localizations.

But it was Yoko Shimomura's score that captivated me most. From the treacherous winds of Cavi Cape to the funky Bowser's Insides rendition of Plack Beach, the music never failed to lift my spirits in the worst of times, even if it was only momentarily. Have a Nice Talk in particular was the most earwormy of the lot, and I was always turned to its respective YouTube uploads whenever I was sour. It was if  it was saying "we know things with your brother are tough again, but Mario, Luigi and Bowser are still here to make you laugh, so please don't feel lonely."

To be fair, it took me a long time to believe that; overall, it took three different files in all to play through the game in its entirety, and it was soon only after my brother's death that I found the courage to complete it. It wasn't necessarily done in his memory, but rather as a means to once again escape from the pain (that fall's revisit of Mario Kart DS was far more relevant in regards to Michael). To my surprise, there was a finality to it all; for instance, I found the music's quality and message to be completely unfiltered, and not once were they ebbed away by imminent sadness.

It's undeniable that game music forges a strong, emotional people with gamers, but it never ceases to amaze me that even the tiniest of jingles resonate such evocative nostalgia. Much as people praise the final boss theme, the simple NPC conversation theme still remains my favorite. Not simply because it helped me through a dark time, but because now even now, I still have a future. Because even now, even when my social life is still in the gutter...

I'm still laughing.

Final Thoughts: Man, I can't wait to replay this next year!!

Friday, August 26, 2016

A Lesson in Patience

Wh..what is that?

It couldn't possibly be..!

It is! My very own Famicom. Wow.

Easily my most expensive purchase at Otakon (about $99, plus tax), obtaining the Japanese NES has been a goal of mine for a while. As an aspiring Nintendo archivist, it's a dream of mine to obtain every piece of Nintendo hardware and software out there, and what better place to start than the original home console that started it all? Having studied Japanese over the past year, I was also eager to put my studies to the test.

Alas, but I've already hit a snag. While the Otakon vendor was kind enough to include the required power adapter/AV cable, I'd forgotten the Famicom requires certain channel frequencies to display the game on American televisions...all of which aren't available on the only CRT in the house! Agh!

To make matters worse...well, take a look below.

What? Is that a crack?!? And is the red casing loose? Was I sold a faulty Famicom?!? Bring me the one responsible, now!

...actually, I'm pretty sure it was an accident on my part. While carrying it around in a bag at the convention, the console's weight was too much and it ripped through, slamming onto the floor with a loud CLACK! Naturally, I was scared, but a quick inspection showed nothing I shoved it in my backpack.

"Well, why didn't you put it in your backpack in the first place," you may ask. Well, a while back I learned that filling backpacks with game cases isn't a swell idea, as they get punctured with holes and the like, so I guess that fear spread to any and all valuable game merch. Anyway, it wasn't until I got home that I noticed the crack, and the casing was actually a lot looser; in fact, you actually see the wires inside. Thankfully, I shifted it around the above plug's casing insert, and it's currently as you see it now.

The question is...does it work? In my inspection and testing, I've noticed the Famicom has two flaws in comparison to the NES, bhe first one being there is no LED light to signal whether it's off or on. I was frequently shifting through channels to see whether or not it'd come on, but due to the lack of an LED, I had no idea whether or not it was actually, well, on.

The other flaw? Well, both of the console's controllers are hooked to the console, meaning you can't replace them. When considering my bad luck, take a closer look at my two controllers and guess which one is Player One.

Why, the scratched-up one with the rough surface, of course! Boy, am I screwed.

Scuffs, scratches and cracks are the shame of any collector, and it seems I'm inexorably drawn to such blemishes. My game cases keep getting punctures, my Nendoroid stands break with little to no hope of replacement, my cats like knocking down my One Piece I'm clumsy by nature, it weighs heavily on me, and I beat myself up for it constantly.

In regards to the actual games, it's an even tougher subject. It's not like they're making anymore Famicoms, y'know? Forget the possibility of wasted money: a broken Famicom would mean one less functioning legend in the world that someone else could've enjoyed...and yet, don't all physical products break down eventually? Just ask my SNES and N64 cartrdiges: in a phenomenon that, to my surprise, has yet to be cataloged over the internet, they're riddled with graphical glitches from meshed-together 3D polygons to a morphing white square in the corner of Kirby Super Star. If it sounds confusing, I'm honestly just as much at a loss as you are. Regardless, it's a very cynical outlook, especially when considering Nintendo's Virtual Console filters.

It extends outside my hobbies, too. I frequently miss cues to do chores around the house,, I speak too fast when I don't mean's something I can't escape. Just another trait of being an Aspie, I suppose.

I do wonder if it's a sign not to rush into things too fast? Maybe my Japanese just isn't ready yet, and I lack a steady job, so I need to discipline myself and save money. Furthermore, my computer is quite outdated, and I'm starting to lack space for display and archive purposes: as I'm branching out to study books for future writing endeavors, I lack a proper bookcase to store them all in, as well as a table and containers for future statues, Nendoroids. and the like. Should I hold off on that all until I move out into my dream home?

Probably, but I wonder how long I'll be able to hold out. The Otakon vendor I purchased the Famicom from happens to be based in New York City, and I just so happen to be heading down down there this November for my birthday, so maybe they can help me with my Famicom (and provide some more info on hooking it up).

Regardless, what's most important is that I further work on pushing myself forward with my writing and Leave Luck to Heaven's future. If it takes broken products and a lesson in patience to express that, so be it.

Oh, and on a semi-related note: the Detective Conan figure I also purchased got a weird scuff on his hat, too.

why does this keep happening to meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee