Wednesday, June 20, 2012

E3 2012: My Thoughts

Last year's E3 was a significant turn for Nintendo's future, what with them initiating the next generation of video games. Perhaps Microsoft and Sony aren't quite ready to make the jump, but the mostly barren schedule of 2011 proved Nintendo had to move on from outdated hardware and go forward with HD, high-tech specs, and a more robust online system. This led to the last year's Wii U, which features a tablet controller (think a playable iPad, and you pretty much have it) that interacts with the screen.

Personally speaking, I enjoyed the Wii U's presentation last year, but I knew it had to utilize a more enticing bait to lure in skeptics and hardened Nintendo fans. As evidenced from the mixed reception last year, the presence of HD graphics and a fancy tablet controller were not enough. Launch systems may not always have the healthiest of game line-ups, but a convincing library would have to be introduces. Other issues regarding Nintendo's limited approach to online play, the number of controllers, and its specs would have to be fully clarified to soothe its harshest critics.

Regardless, I remained convinced Nintendo had aces hidden up its sleeve, and the months leading up to the conference only strengthened my suspicions. Nintendo president Satoru Iwata unveiled further overhauls for its online infrastructure, including downloadable versions of titles also available at retail. Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto let it slip that new entries for New Super Mario Bros. and (finally!) Pikmin would be showcased. Rumors exploded throughout the internet over the upcoming game from Retro Studios (Metroid Prime/Donkey Kong Country Returns), with many pointing in the direction of a new Star Fox.

The effect of that rumor was particularly interesting, as a trusted industry insider had hinted at-wonder of wonders!- a crossover between Star Fox and Metroid. This, along with Iwata's recent admittance in regards to the Wii's unbalanced offerings towards the "core" and "casual" markets, propelled the hype factor for most fans and cemented the idea Nintendo would storm E3 with a stellar line-up for its controversial console.

Ultimately, Nintendo's E3 conference ended up being benign and unsurprising. Game-wise, there weren't many surprises; we already knew Pikmin and Mario were coming, and the revelation of the mini-game filled Nintendo Land sent infuriated ripples throughout the community not unlike 2008's Wii Music. Aside from ZombieU, third-party titles ended up being year-old ports or exclusively for the casual audience. Details for the new online structure were sparse, barring the interactive 'Miiverse' which allows one to see other people's comments in the games at specific points (such as, say, a bottomless pit in Mario everyone's having trouble with). Worst of all, other than the confirmation of two useable Game Pad controllers for any Wii U system, no big surprises were shown for the tablet.

Basically, if you weren't won over last year, nothing presented a viable persuasion to change your mind.

Was I disappointed with the conference? Yes, but my impressions don't quite echo the frenzied cries of "AUUUUGHMAHGAWD NINTENDO SHOWED NO GAMES!!!!1111!" that you'll find on just about any message board. In fact, I'm of the opinion the Wii U features a decent launch line-up. Granted, I'm a little scared by indefinite date for Pikmin 3 and there's ports aplenty for year-old titles, but such is typical for system launches these days. Other than that, I feel there's legitimate concern for how Nintendo will handle the new console (Outside of the inane cries for another Zelda, considering we just got one last fall. Then again, I could just pretend everyone suddenly caught up with me and realized it was shit).

The problem lies not within the quality of the games (excluding the dubious entity that is Freestyle Games' SiNG), but how they fail to present a convincing case for the Wii U's core appeal. Many comparisons have been made with the motion control revelation of the Wii, which had an immediate visual impact on everyone (regardless if they actually play games). For example, the original Wii Sports is by no means the Holy Grail of video games, but the idea of manually controlling a baseball bat or tennis racket held an appealing identity beyond its party-game exterior. This further amplified for previously established franchises, such as the swordplay in Zelda: Twilight Princess and the beam-shootin' action of Metroid Prime 3. The Wii may have been radically underpowered, but its premise of motion controls promised an interactive experience unlike anything before it.

With the Wii U, no such allure is present with the Game Pad. The best that Pikmin 3 and New Super Mario Bros U could muster, respectively, was displaying a map and producing platforms to help players out of a bottomless-pit jam. Third-party games for the console utilized the tablet in ways no different than what the DS offered. I do like what Nintendo wants to accomplish with the Game Pad, but as shown with the Wii, Nintendo cannot rely on the fascination of its new control scheme to win over gamers. In regards to the games themselves, perhaps my biggest discomfort with the Wii stemmed from rather Aside from Super Mario Galaxy titles, Donkey Kong Country Returns, and Kirby's Epic Yarn, nothing in the actual games themselves provided a prominent evolution over their predecessors (much less could only operate with the system's motion controls). Much as I love Smash Bros. Brawl and Punch-Out!!, we've seen those games before, and I'm worried the same process will happen with the Wii U.

Iwata stated several years back that Nintendo would be witholding information on games until they near their release dates to avoid boring patient gamers with the wait and further annoy them with potential delays. That's all fine and dandy, but that's a risk they needed to take with the Wii U. A full-blown triple AAA game may have been impossible to cough up for release, but we needed a beyond the launch window. Don't show all the secrets, but show another future title in development or perhaps what Retro's working on (Seriously, why wasn't that there?). Don't stop at games, either: Show the full details of the online infrastructure and the system's tech specs, both of which were heavily criticized in the Wii's time. Maybe they won't blow everyone away, but it's best to be upfront and honest about it during a place where everyone has their eyes on you rather than some press fact sheet.

Will I be getting the system at launch? Sure am, but we may see droughts similar to that of the Gamecube and Wii launches, and I'm not sure how the Game Pad will gain enough momentum with skeptics and core gamers alike to override it, let alone the expanded market. The Wii may have been a gamble, but the motion controls were an immediately understood concept. With the Wii U, it could go either way, and Nintendo faces an uphill battle no matter which road is paved for them. that all the doom and gloom's aside, how about those games?

Pikmin 3

*Insert manly scream here*

After waiting maybe...four years since it was subtly announced by Miyamoto, the next sequel to my favorite whimsical, plant-nurturing, circle of life strategy series makes a comeback. Without a doubt the best part of the conference; they literally dove right into a video of CGI Pikmin invading Miyamoto's dressing room and attire. And ten minutes spent on the game, no less! Not too short, not too long. If only they followed that example with Nintendo Land.

....memories of my ill-fated dream of Nintendo announcing a Pixar-produced Pikmin film come flooding back. Uaaooooohhhhhh....

So, how's my opinion of the first preview? What we got here was a demo of a stage from Challenge Mode, a feature returning from the previous games. This time, Challenge Mode operated as a mixture of both games, combining aspects such as collecting treasure and gathering as many Pikmin as possible. The latter element has taken on a different approach this time; Pikmin cannot be grown back, so conservation and strategy must be utilized to the fullest. The videos provided display exciting executions of this goal, and I can't wait to see what treacherous landscapes and objectives will be provided.. And that's without getting into the (currently unveiled) Story Mode.

And check out dat HD! Granted, the graphics aren't mindblowing and the location shown isn't one of their most inspired Pikmin locales, but I'm willing to those slide since this was originally a Wii title. And hey, take a gander at some of the new interactions with the landscape! Taking rides on lilypads down the creek? Sliding down vines to lower areas? There's much potential for obstacles and strategy to add depth to these ideas, and there's much enthusiasm on my part to witness more in action.

So what's actually new here? Perhaps the most obvious is that Olimar, the protagonist of the first two Pikmins, is notably absent. Instead, there's an addition of four brand new captains, of who's identities are still unclear at the moment. Believe it or not, I actually did see this coming, so I'm not so vexed at the change. Olimar is a favorite Nintendo character of mine, but I'm willing to accept the change to witness how the new characters interact. Of course, half the fun of Pikmin was mirroring Olimar's fascination with this strange alien world, but the trailer promises some fun gameplay mechanics with the new team.

I'll be frank: I wasn't too impressed with the initial showing of the Rock Pikmin. The little humanoid-shaped bodies are what makes them so adorable, and I wasn't sure how I could think the same for an uncreative lump of rock. The trick is to look at screenshots of them (like the one above) and just look at how they derpy they are. Now I'm a big fan, although I'm hoping they won't render the game broken since my beloved burly Purple Fatties are confirmed to return. The pink-colored flying one at the end also looks promising. Here's to hoping for other surprises in this area.

So, which type of gameplay will this Pikmin end up using: The 30-day time limit of the original, or the more freedom-centric treasure hijinks of the sequel? In recent interviews, Miyamoto stated the reason why the game took so long was due to this very dilemma, but seems to have settled on following the first game's time-based objective. Personally, I love both, but I can't deny the mixed reception the time limit that turned some players off. I also prefer the second Pikmin, but this is attributed to its upgraded production value and abundance of content. My guess is the time limit won't be fully imposed on everything, but will have an impact on several key concepts. Whatever happens, no one can fully judge it since we don't know what's going on. Personally, I'm just glad to have Pikmin back!

also obligatory reference to awesome meme

New Super Mario Bros U

Yet another New Super Mario Bros.! Not too surprised this was coming as a launch title; people are literally begging at this point to include a Mario game alongside system releases, so why not bang out a easy-to-develop sidescroller title?

How delightful that it seems like they're putting effort into it. As sharp as New Super Mario Bros. Wii's level design was, the cheap flash-game aesthetic kinda placed a blemish on the experience. It's not quite a hyper-realistic knock-out here, but the aesthetics look much more lush and are sporting some pretty creative . Most notable are the star-filled snowy wonderlands and the eerie Van Gogh-esque areas, which should give birth to some wonderful concepts. Already I want to play it.

Also lovin' the power-up love we're getting here. Normally, I would gush about my latent dreams of Mario donning a Flying Squirrel suit coming true, but the above piece of artwork is just too amusing to pass up (a friend of mine pointed to it as being representative of his feelings toward the conference). In any case, Baby Yoshis finally return from 1991's Super Mario World, and now wield abilities such as spewing bubbles or inflating themselves into balloons. Will we finally get to drag them to any level we want? Hopefully; I want to become the first nerd in the world to earn the distinction of completing every level with the above Yoshi.

Gotta say though..what's up those mountain formations? I wouldn't mind it so much if this was in a later level or something, but that is not what my endless fantasies (or previous Mario games, for that matter) have established as surrounding Peach's castle. Ah, well.

Nintendo Land

Let's get the obvious out of the way: Yes, this presentation was a failure. No one wanted to see a two-three minute panorama view of a carnival (of which was no doubt the cause of my headache later that day), the Luigi's Mansion segment was quite possibly the most boring, and it produced no sense of immediate compulsion to grab a Wii U.

Now let's get right to the other obvious factor: What Nintendo fan hasn't daydreamed over something like this? Maybe not necessarily in an interactive format, but a Nintendo theme park?!? It's a fantasy I've toyed with since a letter brought up the idea in a Nintendo Power issue, and I guess I'm somewhat tickled at having it actually happen (albeit in video game form). Admittedly, the game's presentation has hampered my interest, but preview impressions from the show floor

Five attractions of the game were shown off, of which include:

The Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest: Four Miis dressed in Link costumes band together to tackle classic Zelda dungeons and monsters. The players with Wii Remotes take up swords while the Game Pad user flings arrow from his bow.

Luigi's Ghost Mansion: A frantic multiplayer scare-fest based on the 2001 Gamecube title. Luigi look-alikes armed with flashlights avoid the Game Pad user's ghost, who hunts them down thanks to his prowess of invincibility. Of course, players can turn the tables on him should the glow of the flashlights reveal his presence.. Chaotic cat and mouse hijinks ensue.

Animal Crossing: Sweet Day: Trouble's going down in the idyllic land of Animal Crossing: Food thievery is afoot! Villagers scramble around the town gathering up fruit as the guard dogs (controlled by the Game Pad) hunt them down. Much like Luigi's Ghost Mansion, teamwork is necessary as increasing amounts of collected food will slow players down.

Donkey Kong's Crash Course: The 1981 arcade hit returns in this single-player puzzle game. Controlled by tilting the Game Pad, one carefully maneuvers a cart of barrels through a gigantic maze of 8-bit girders and ladders. Taking one look at the screenshot above proves this will be no easy task.

Takamaru's Ninja Castle: Based on the Japan-only NES game Nazo no Murasamejo, this single-player offering introduces a simple shuriken-tossing at wooden ninja opponents.

So, how do I feel overall about the games? I like to think there's a healthy mix of single-player and multiplayer attractions outside of the Takamaru game, which feels waaaayyy too simplistic in comparison to the others. Much as I love it when Nintendo pays tribute to the past (especially with the obscure), the spark's not firing up for me here and I hope there's further depth to it come release. Luigi's Ghost Mansion is another one I'm having a hard time getting behind, with the twenty minute presentation on-stage boring everyone out of their skulls. I'm sure there's truth to the ecstasy of written impressions for the game, but I'll have to test it out myself to discover its supposed magic.

The Animal Crossing title amuses me for reasons beyond not making any sense, which I find to be a good thing. I love chasing sequences in multiplayer, and the concept here feels well-executed. But that doesn't matter. What's really interesting is how disturbing the game is when you apply it in the context of the source material. Why are the denizens of Animal Crossing stealing food, and where exactly did the guard dogs nab giant utensils to hunt them down with? I guess you can't exactly take the game's lazy, laidback atmosphere and turn it into Laser Tag, but I guess all the conspiracy theories my friends and I dreamed up about the series ended up coming true. At this rate, I won't be surprised if Animal Crossing 3D gets a Mature rating.

Zelda and Donkey Kong wasted no time in becoming my favorites for obvious reasons, although I'm surprised at the lukewarm reception for the former. Battle Quest will no doubt be the most action-oriented title of the bunch, and I was legitimately surprised to hear it incorporated the puzzle and dungeon elements from the series. This isn't to say it's going to incredibly deep or end up being repetitive, but should it include some variety in the enemy numbers/dungeon design it'll no doubt be the star attraction.

Crash Course doesn't really need any explanation other than this is what the Takamaru game should have been. Maybe not nearly as difficult, but enough to have the player come back to tackle high scores. Everyone who's played this has walked away exclaiming how brutually difficult, and the game's retro appeal of being devious yet charming makes me want to pick up the game just to play it.

Will I end up getting this? It's been strongly implied Nintendo Land will be packaged with the Wii U, and I guess you can't really say "No"to a free game. That, and some of the hinted mini-games yet to be unveiled do sound intriguing (Balloon Fight, Pikmin, and Game & Watch attractions? Zomg!). Should it not be a pack-in, I'm not sure if it would be worth a full purchase. Further impressions and reviews will be needed to make an ultimate decision, but I'd be damned if the concept didn't please my inner child.

With the main Wii U offerings out of the way, what's Nintendo cooking up for the 3DS?

New Super Mario Bros. 2

TWO Mario sidescrollers in the same year? I must be dreaming. It's a shame there's so much negativity being surrounded around the two titles, as quite a few gamers feel we're being (gasp!) fed too many Mario games. I suppose this wouldn't normally be a problem, but New Super Mario Bros, as nostalgically designed as it is, is not exactly a series that lit the entire Mario fanbase on fire.

Much as I've loved the annual Mario offerings these past few years, even I have to admit this particular game is pushing the envelope. Why this and not the Wii U one? Because that one is actually taking steps to evolve in both gameplay and aesthetics. Don't get me wrong, it was obvious Nintendo was going to produce a sequel to the 2006 DS megahit (which still continues to sell), but New Super Mario Bros. 2 does not provide a meaty enough objective to convert the series' detractors.

It all boils down to the game's central concept, which feels too uninspired to function as a complete hook. The shtick is that Mario's latest handheld adventure is filled to the brim with coins to collect; in fact, the Mushroom Kingdom seems to have taken on a gold theme. An increased abundance of coins spill from blocks, gold-plated suits and accessories are waiting for Mario to amplify his fireball abilities, and even the Koopa Troopas seemed to have given their shells a makeover with sparkling gold paint. The player is set to grab as many coins as they can, and the game will keep records of how many are collected.

Does the game look fun to play? Yes, but my excitement is tempered by an internal battle over one question: Is this game a cash-in to fill up a hole in the 3DS release schedule? I'm normally not the kind of gamer to propose this sort of cynical view, but the whole concept just feels...wrong. Gathering coins in a Mario game adds a layer of enticement/risk-taking to a jumpy, pit-filled sidescroller, but centering an entire game around the concept reeks of something you'd expect from a mini-game collection. New entries in a 2D Mario game should focus their evolution around the level design (as opposed to lesser factors like coins), and I'm worried New Super Mario Bros. 2 will come across as being gimmicky.

That said, I am digging the game's retro throwbacks. Raccoon Mario? Neat! Koopalings! Nice! Reznor from Super Mario World? Say wuuuuuhh? But it's going to take more than nostalgia hooks to capture me, and it doesn't help the game is still following the tired world themes from the past two NSMBs. Will I get New Super Mario Bros. 2 at its August release date? Maybe, though I'm not sure if I want to plop down forty bucks for it. Christmas gift, perhaps?

Paper Mario: Sticker Star

As time passes, the parallels between Nintendo's 2004 and 2010 conferences at E3 becomes more easily distinguished. The former is, by far, the most professional, bombastic, drool-inducing hypefest Nintendo has ever achieved (watch this if you don't believe me), and the latter was largely the same deal after the Skyward Sword screw-ups were out of the way. Both highlighted much-anticipated sequels to be released in the same year (Metroid Prime 2/Donkey Kong Country Returns), introduced kickass handheld systems that gradually took the world by storm (DS/3DS), and unveiled a catalog of games so massive that several would take over two years to reach store shelves (Zelda: Twilight Princess/this game).

That last parallel is very interesting to me, as it could be for this reason that I've grown rather tired of waiting for the latest Paper Mario. It's not necessarily the wait that's dulled my excitement, but its rendered the flaw within its three trailers all the more evident: They're all the same thing. We witness Mario walking around in Toad Town, a sudden influx of Toads/Goombas/Bob-ombs spill out of the screen or perform marvelous feats, areas of volcanic and chilly varieties are briefly shown, and an almighty household fan is summoned to perform Mario's bidding, whether it be powering windmills or unleashing a mighty gust on his foes.

Having the unpleasant experience of being burned out on the wait for Skyward Sword due to this very reason, it's quite frustrating to see yet another game go through the same marketing error. My biggest fear with Sticker Star echoes the one I had for last year's Zelda, in which the repetitive nature of the trailers were an attempt to mask the game's lack of scope (sadly, I ended up being right). Admittedly, it's not all bad here: The locations promise appealing interactions and the events I listed in the previous paragraph do look intriguing, but you can only show them so much before they lose impact.

It might also be that I'm still...having trouble grasping how the new battle system is going to work? We're going back to the turn-battle basics after Super Paper Mario's sidescrolling departure, but the menu system has been tossed in the favor of collectible stickers that serve as your battle commands (such as, say, Fire Flower and Hammer stickers). An easy enough concept to understand by itself, but further evaluation yields some disturbing questions. If I run out of stickers, will I be unable to attack? Will partners still be in the game? Why do the amount of stickers on the top screen differ from screenshot to screenshot? Does it mean I can attack consecutively in one turn? If so, does that mean the amount of usable stickers increase as the game progresses? If that's the case, does that mean the supposedly confirmed reports of not being able to gain EXP are total crock?

Perhaps I'm getting ahead of myself, but this may hint at a tedious mechanic in which the player is forced to constantly backtrack and scrutinize each and every area to collect more stickers. I am not in the mood to engage in backtracking shenanigans after Skyward Sword, and I'd hate to see the same happen to Paper Mario. I've always had faith in Sticker Star's use of the 3D effect (last year's downloadable trailer pretty much guarantees this. Yeehaw!) and I have no doubt the localization guys at the NOA Treehouse will continue to work their comedy magic, but the extended wait has done nothing but lead to inconsistent details and a vague understanding of the overall game. Call me skeptical.

Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon

They are making a sequel to Luigi's Mansion. This is a sequel to a game that arrived along the Gamecube's launch back eleven years ago. I was ten years old when it came out. I'm twenty now, and I may or may not be twenty one when its sequel arrives. By god, am I the only one who's mind is blown by this? What's even more amazing is Luigi's Mansion was not exactly the ideal candidate for a sequel back in its time. Animal Crossing, WarioWare, and Metroid Prime? Sure, but Luigi's Mansion's less than stellar reception led to doubts about the idea being taken any further.

As stated on the show floor, the game will feature numerous mansions and focus on more puzzle-ridden challenges. The trailer above features more dazzle than the original ever did: The ghosts offer more comedic, animated interaction with the environments and dynamic events such as giant spiders and malfunctioning elevators litter the hallways. know, I actually don't have much more to tell you than that. The more I try reading up on Dark Moon, the more I find myself flinching at the intricate explanations for its puzzles and action sequences. Upon writing this, I just realized why: I don't want to be spoiled. Nearly every preview I've seen details some puzzle or creative uses of Luigi's vaccum and suddenly I find my eyes averting the computer screen. This isn't a jab at journalists or anything, but as the game's bigger picture becomes more fully realized it's become clear to me this is something I want to be surprised with.

This isn't to say I'm also not excited for it. Far from it. I've worn a stoic face upon watching most Nintendo trailers recently, but every sequence shown in that trailer is just so full of detail and character (the elevator bit never fails to crack a smile). This probably shouldn't be a surprise considering this was also present in 2009's Punch-Out!! (by the very same development team), and I'm delighted to see the same thing happen here.

Was Luigi's Mansion was a bad game? No, but it was probably hampered by time constraints and (then) console limitations. Here, they're crazy to go wild with both the gameplay and the 3D effect, and I think the concept will resonate with gamers more this time around due to those. Of course, I was biased from the start, so I'd like to think it'll mean that much more to me. Behind Pikmin 3, this is my most anticipated title.


Annnd that's about it! Overall, I'd consider it an average conference. Definitely not what you want for a pre-console launch E3, but I guess that's how the cookie crumbles. Better luck next time, Nintendo!

Seeya tomorrow for a brief update on what'll be going on next.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Let's Chat.


It's been a while. Let's sit down and talk for a bit.

Getting straight to the point: within the past year, the handling of Leave Luck to Heaven has become a gradual collapse. Regardless of your opinion and the few works I have successfully penned and published, the blog has been nothing more than broken promises and bouts of several-month absences. The reasons for why this happened last year were due to a mixture of miscalculations, pure laziness, and the gradual, very stressful revelation of the insecurities that had webbed intricately to massive proportions, all of which have unconsciously hampered my life. Reviews were not finished, new features never came to full fruition, and previous ones were abandoned. It was something I set to resolve for 2012, and life had actually been going swell for the first month and a half.

Largely unbeknownst to me, unfortunately, a series of misfortunes were about to rear their ugly heads and transformed the tone of a year that I was hoping to designate as a celebratory reflection to an utterly demoralizing experience that led to heartbreak and disillusionment, leaving me a shivering, sleepless mess at night. Okay, maybe that mental image was a little dramatic, but that actually is an accurate description for a certain period.

To begin with what I did know, my insecurities struck again in a way that attacked the blog's heart: Its uncertain direction and my writing skills. The blog's fragile, wavering sense of shifting course was not lost on me, and often I wondered if I was really handling it properly. Were writing these reviews in ways that exhaust over a week's worth of time really necessary? Was I really going to risk promising a new feature only to never properly follow up on it? I've also realized I've had a bad habit of comparing my writing to various other outlets, and suddenly it made me feel very small. To provide an example, I tried numerous revisions for the first half of my Skyward Sword review only to never find a satisfactory model for me to build upon. Many times I wondered, "Am I really taking it in the right direction? Will people care if I discuss this bit? Does this whole thing really matter?" So there's one reason.

The second reason has to do with my failure to follow up on Ten Years' Reflection, and this was mainly dumbassery on my part. I found out the hard way that I hadn't been taking care of my older games properly, and it was then I remembered that SNES game cartridges being out in the open and the ubiquitous presence of dust don't mix. Thankfully not too many games were affected, but unfortunately two of my favorites (Earthbound and Kirby Super Star) were contaminated. Both still work, and I can still play Earthbound knowing the occasional graphical glitch won't bother me so much, but that's not the case with the latter. It drove a dagger into my heart in numerous ways and it completely ruined what I intended to do for the year. Good news is that I did repurchase the same cleaning kit that fixed my NES games a couple years back (which are also acting up again recently, yikes!), so we'll get that checked up and see if it works.

Finally, and this is by far the most important, I had suffered from personal crises that opened numerous old wounds. I can't exactly discuss these in explicit detail due to their involvement with other people, but two of these were especially poignant in that a) one incident revolved around someone I had looked up to being arrested for a crime he had previously been accused of, which was something I never thought I would have to deal with again and b) what had initially started as a friendship being threatened by a hazy, uncertain tension gradually revealed an episode that imperiled one of the most important people in my life and the question of whether or not that was actually the case left my mental state completely fucked up for over a week until I knew everything was okay.

So, there you have it, then. But what happens now?

The blog's future has been prodding at my brain for the past several months, and I'd be lying if I didn't think "You know, I might as well just end things here." I mean, why not? I was doing well in college, making bigger strides in reaching out to people, getting used to interaction, finding my path to Christianity, and whatnot. Why let a tiny blog get in the way of everything?

It's funny, though. I had all these plans last year to give my life a kickstart and finally become more active, but it all fell apart. Right now, even after this spring left my life in shambles, I somehow feel more confident, and somehow I find it amusing that I needed a tremendous kick in the ass to become inspired. I guess this was all life's way of saying "Shit happens, don't let everything trip you up all at once, and stand your ground"? Whatever the case, for whatever reason it feels right.

I still want to write. Speak to me in public and you'll find I'm a different man. I'm introverted, I don't like speaking up out of fear and rejection, and the times I do speak are littered with half-hearted attempts at interaction and me being unable to control the rate of my speech. On here, however, I can find solace in saying whatever I want. My desire to speak up can be fully realized here, and I can make all the thoughts I can't orally verbalize a reality right here. More than anything, the greatest joy I have writing here is that knowing that my family and friends can see this side of me they don't normally see face-to-face, and that's a benefit I don't want to lose anytime soon.

So here's the deal: The blog will indeed go on, but I'm not going to start where I left off. While I do have its course roughly planned out, I won't make any promises by not announcing anything. I do have my next post in mind, though, and I already picked a day to begin writing it: Tomorrow! (Well, technically later today). I suppose we can further discuss the blog's future after how well that goes.

See you soon.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

My Favorite Games of 2011

Yo, guys! How's the new year treating you?

For me, I'm just glad 2011 is over. It was a year I pegged for a personal transformation of myself, and I guess I got that through the painful process of acknowledgment of self-destructive unconscious habits. Ahem.

That said, I'm quite giddy for 2012. It's going to become quite apparent on here soon that I love ten year anniversaries, and this year is particularly important in that it's been ten years since 2002: the best period of my starry eyed youth. The next couple of entries following this post will be dedicated to proving why it was such a landmark, and I can't wait to get to them.

So, game-wise, how did I feel about 2011? It could've been better, it could've been worse. The real meat was in the fall, and unfortunately the impact was dulled thanks to my numerous electronic failures and some....dissenting opinions. My personal disappointments aside, this was a huge year for gaming and I'd like to write about it by doing a writeup of my favorite games of the year! Totally original, right? But I guess it had to happen sometime.


Marvel vs Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds/Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 (Capcom, Playstation 3)

After eleven long years, the much-anticipated sequel to Marvel vs Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes arrives just in time for the recent revival of the fighting game genre. The worlds of Marvel Comics and Capcom the Video Game Company That Everyone Hated Last Year are once again pitted against each other in chaotic three-on-three combat sessions, producing a supernova of colors in the process. This isn't something I would normally get involved with, but a stray Kotaku article alerted me to the existence of this wonderful character, and I jumped onto the hype train soon after. Looking back, it's a wonder how that happened. Other than Mega Man, I never invested much into Capcom's stock of franchises and American comics don't quite grab me the way Japanese manga does. Plus, fighting games weren't really my thing other than the occasional Dragon Ball game or two (and no, Super Smash Bros. doesn't count). But, by god! Those preview trailers and character reveals emitted such exuberance, flashy fireworks, and just the right amount of nerdy fanservice (with a perfect level of production value to match!) that were enough to win me over.

Spoiler: I actually have no idea how to play this game. Me falling in love with the game's aesthetic had no effect on its rather blunt welcoming method, in which it expects you to perform every fighting manuever in the book the moment you step in. Did this mean the game wasn't incredibly fun? No, I just waltzed in without prior knowledge of fighting game essentials such as "OTG combos" and "canceling" and "frames" and "making a team based off of how well each character works with each other and not just who you like to be successful". I'd be lying if I said this daunting obstacle didn't hamper my enjoyment of Marvel vs Capcom 3 in some form, but I have to give the game designers credit for making everything in this game fun to pull off. Launching into aerial combos is fast and satisfying, hyper combos are exciting and are a feast for the eyes, and there's no denying the thrill of the X-Factor mechanic.

Despite the title's accomplishments, both versions of Marvel vs Capcom 3 are not the perfect revival for the series. The game tries to accommodate to new players via Simple Mode, but is just as horrible as its predecessor in teaching the player how to actually play the game. It doesn't help the game feels rather bare-bones regarding the single-player experience, especially when considering the efforts made by other recent fighting games (not to mention, why isn't there a standard Vs CPUmode?). And I guess this is nitpicking, but I'm not sure if the Ultimate label for the upgrade is adequate. Where are the thrilling Episode trailers from the first game, and why on earth did they abridge the (already disappointing) character endings?

Recently, I've begun utilizing BradyGames' bible (read: guide for the game) to understand the mechanics and see if I can figure this whole thing out. I mean, not only do you have to be 100% precise with your combos, but you have to know exactly what you're doing and build your team around that. In a game as speedy and meticulous as this (and with a mind as Attention Deficit Disorder as mine), it's not an easy thing to do. But the game's still shiny and flashy, and whether I understand the game or not, there's no denying the thrill of spamming Super-Skrull's Tenderizer into Inferno and pounding endlessly with Viewtiful Joe's air combos. I'm not sure if I'll ever be able to scale the game's immense wall of OTG combos, move cancels, mindgames, and space control, but god damn do I love those pretty lights.


Best Moment (Fate of Two Worlds): Tie between button mashing button mashing button mashing button mashing button button mashing button mashing button mashing button mashing button mashing button mashing button mashing and "MAGGIE!"
Worst Moment: "You know, I can't really play this."
Best Song: The two themes for Phoenix Wright. The likes of Captain America, Nova, Arthur, Amaterasu, and Taskmaster come close though. Also, despite the "MEEEEMEEEEEEMEMEMEMEMEMEEEEEHEEOOO" shenanigans for the first minute or so, the ending theme for the original MVC3 is some powerful stuff.
Final Thought: Felicia (Darkstalkers) and I are going steady. Vaztor does not approve.

Super Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition (Capcom, 3DS)

A port of a game that came out in 2010? Sure, but considering the efforts Capcom made to render this brawler newbie-friendly, I believe it deserves a mention. The obvious influence from Marvel vs Capcom 3 sparked a fleeting sense of nostalgia for Street Fighter II, and with the 3DS around the corner it was set to be an obvious purchase.

Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition may be a watered down port graphically, but I'd like to think it trumps its Marvel cousin in terms of accessibility. There's still an intense game in here, but what really makes the 3D Edition stand out is assigning special moves to buttons on the handy dandy touch screen. Can't pull off that one move with Bison or C.Viper? Just plop it on the screen, press the button and watch the sparks fly.

Cheap? Perhaps, but think about it this way: There is not going to be a competitive scene of any sort for a fighting game on a handheld, so what's the rush in actually becoming good? I'm able to pace myself slowly by mashing the buttons mindlessly while simultaneously learning the inner kinks of the game. A languid method, but a strangely compelling one. I have all the time in the world to become skilled, and even then I don't feel the pressure to do so.

So other than my incentive, what else is here? A rich amount of content here that includes fun exclusives for the 3DS version, a charmingly animated assemble of fighters both familiar and new, and a surprisingly effective use of the 3D effect (Check out El Fuerte's Supers!). That said, I'm still looking forward to checking out the original PS3 edition. Here's to hoping the day will come when I can take off my training wheels.

Best Moment: Reacquainting myself with my man Blanka. HURR HURR ELECTRIC SHOCKS
Worst Moment: Realizing they axed the option to use character themes in battle. Like, really? I wanted to rock out to Guile's theme on the go.
Best Song: Well, the stage music isn't half-bad either. In that case, I'll have to hand it to the Solar Eclipse theme.
Final Thought: One of the titles you can unlock is "Cat Lover." I like this title.

Mario Kart 7 (Nintendo/Retro Studios, 3DS)
After spending much time with this last month, I suppose the wide gulf of critic opinions regarding Mario Kart 7 aren't as far-fetched as I initially thought. Picking up what Mario Kart: Double Dash!! had begun, this latest iteration shakes things up by introducing kart customization and attaching a handglider to the vehicles, of which protrudes when you leap off a ramp. Personally speaking, I'm just going to come out and say that the gliding mechanic isn't as groundbreaking as last year's E3 trailer would have you believe. It's a blast to pull off, but it's radically underused and fails to add any significant sense of strategy or importance to the races. It's just kinda...there. There are other mistakes here and there, such as characters being only unlocked in 150cc and the life being stripped out of the returning Wii courses (just look at poor Coconut Mall!).

That said, I'm willing to be lenient due to Retro Studios (Metroid Prime, Donkey Kong Country Returns) collaborating on the title, so perhaps some inexperience is at fault here. The new courses may not be as memorable as other recent Mario Karts, but we have some instant classics here (Neo Bowser City, Piranha Plant Slide, and the new Rainbow Road). The Wii mishaps aside, the selection of Retro stages from past Mario Karts are expertly picked, particularly when it comes to the N64/DS courses. The coins from Super Mario Kart return, and gathering the littered collection on the race track to increase your speed cleverly adds another level of strategy and chaos to the race. Best of all, while the handgliding may not have been wholly pivotal, the fun possibilities of customizing karts lives up to its endless potential. Personally, I go with the Bruiser with Mushroom wheels.

And I suppose the online is the best model Nintendo has used yet? I never really understood the mass shunning of their Wi-Fi service, but I'm glad the Big N and the modern technology of the gaming world kissed and made up. This ambitious entry may not live up to the sheer wealth of Mario Kart DS, but to witness Nintendo gradually conforming to present-day standards only makes Mario Kart 7 a close contender, but promises a bright outlook for their next generation of games.

Best Moment: All the Mario Kart DS courses I wanted are in this game! Yahoo!
Worst Moment: That moment when everyone is voting for stages online and you know Maka Wuhu is going to be picked. Seriously, how did that slip by the developers?
Best Song: Anything that has influences from Mario Kart 64, mainly this and this.
Final Thought: Just between you and me, I love imitating Shyguy's noises in this game. WOOOOWWWWWoooooWOOOOOWoooWOW!

Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (Bethesda, Xbox 360)

I think we can all agree Oblivion was the first great title of this console generation. Yes, the game was glitchy as hell, the character animations were stilted, it had maybe only ten actors for a cast of hundreds, and I guess the combat wasn't all that great. But the sheer amount of stuff to do overrode all that, along with the personality and creativity found in its endless barrage of sidequests. In fact, most fans will tell you some of the game's flaws unintentionally ended up being its strongest positives (most notably the erratic AI for the NPCs, check on Youtube if you want proof).

Five years later, Skyrim finally arrived in a period where we've just about realized the full potential of this console generation. It needs to be said that not much has changed: You are still going to encounter an abundance of glitches (or from my experience, loading screen lockups) and the world map isn't really much bigger than Oblivion's Cyrodil. But the key difference here is that the raw embodiment of the word "epic" has been smeared on nearly everything you do in this game. This is as clear as day from the beginning, in which you are saved from execution by a dragon attack and find yourself escaping through a thrilling underground sequence. Instead of being randomly plastered with the "hero" label like in Oblivion, you find out you are Dragonborn, which means you were born with the soul of a dragon and are able to absorb their powers UPON SLAYING THEM. Dragons randomly hunt you down; in the process of slaying them, the thundering choir of the main theme roars in the background. I'm playing as a Khajit; in other words, I'm on a bipedal cat creature with dreadlocks, and this means I'm equipped with a Claw bonus which can make my hand-to-hand attacks kill wolves in one hit. You can dual wield weapons and magic spells, allowing me to go prancing about with Flamethrower hands while torturing wild elk and innocent townfolk. You can stumble upon the decimated remains of an entire family and hunt down the monstrous spider creatures responsible. I can piss off woolly mammoths. There is a gigantic Dwarven dungeon filled with mechanical spiders and goblin warriors. Giants randomly beat the shit out of bandits. There is a rebellion intent on overthrowing the monarchy, which I'll probably join considering the Imperial Legion are jackasses and tried to kill me at the beginning of the game. Did I mention you can kill dragons? I like to do so with a mace.

Gushing aside, does this surpass Oblivion? Admittedly, I don't think I've even reached the halfway point, but aside from the Sheogorath cameo Skyrim seemingly lacks the colorful banter of the 2006 title (the guards just aren't as fun to antagonize anymore!). Yet, why nitpick when everyone else is improved? The dungeons and ruins all look unique instead of being graphical duplicates of each other, and the system of increasing perk attributes for each ability quickly becomes an addictive process. The balanced difficulty adds a genuine sense of challenge, and I no longer feel the need to constantly adjust its level to suit my needs. Best of all, there's the combat. They could've ended it at adding a thoroughly satisfying crunch to the weapons and I would've been satisfied, but they just had to implement the dual-wielding feature and make magic actually feel relevant. The core concept is still what we played back six years ago, but it's upgraded enough to not feel like a complete retread.


Best Moment: The first time I was able to kill a dragon all by myself. YEAHEAHHHHHH
Worst Moment: Uhhh...that one time I forgot to save? I think? Did that happen?
Final Thought: I haven't beaten the game yet, but apparently a dragon at the end of the main campaign is voiced by Charles Martinet, who does the voice of Mario. Upon knowing this, I wonder if I'll be able to seriously comprehend whatever speech he gives.

Sonic Generations (SEGA, Xbox 360)

Hey guys, guess what?!? SEGA decided to make a good Sonic game again!

And man, does it feel awesome.
Basically, this was accomplished by ditching every trashy gimmick tossed in the series' direction for the past eight years or so (werehogs, guns, human on hedgehog makeouts, justreallyhorribleideasingeneral, etc.) and fusing together two/three dimensional Sonics as they are. So, in summary, you're playing the modern day equivalents of the Genesis Sonic games and the Sonic/Shadow levels in Sonic Adventure 2. There are branching paths in the Classic Sonic levels. There is nothing impeding the thrill of speed and non-stop action in the Modern Sonic levels. The story isn't mind-numbing hogwash and, like 2010's Sonic Colors, feels as if it was ripped straight out of a 90's Saturday morning cartoon. All the recognizable Genesis sound effects are here. Live and Learn is in this.

Some gamers have stated Generations banks too much on its appeal to nostalgia, but what does that matter when I'm actually playing a good Sonic game again? The levels are fantastic, and enforce the Golden Rule for each Sonic. Classic Sonic isn't all about speed; yes, he's fast, but the focus is on the balance between the fun of taking different routes and the lulls of precise platforming. Meanwhile, anything goes for the breakneck, exhilarating sense of speed for Modern Sonic's stages, matching perfectly with his method of Doing Whatever the Hell He Wants, whether it be grinding on wires or coasting down a chemical waste waterslide. The catch? Absolutely nothing.
It goes without saying the Modern Sonic portions stole the show for me, but what's really important here is that both halves in Sonic Generations carry their own weight. Neither side succumbs to the temptation of trying to be different, and just focus on delivering a solid experience. Yes, the game uses too many city/"Green Hill"-esque stages, but their central themes lend each level their own niche (such as the festival atmosphere in Rooftop Run and the plethora of flames in Crisis City). I mean, let's face it, you know you have a success on your hands when you can make levels from Sonic Heroes and Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) play amazingly.I vaguely recall an interview years ago from developer Sonic Team, in which they claimed a straight-up Sonic game with no gimmicks attached wasn't viable in today's gaming world due to the risk of simplicity and short length. Is Generations too simple? Tell that to the bajillion emblems hidden in the levels and the large volume of missions to accomplish. Is it too short? Sure, but who cares when I'm having this much fun? How delightful they went back on their word to make a beloved character relevant again. Welcome back, Sonic. Video gaming hasn't been quite the same without you.
Best Moment: Anything related to Sonic Adventure 2. CITY ESCAPPPEEEEEEE
Worst Moment: The first time I saw Omachao. Can they just kill off this character already? Please?
Best Songs: Chemical Plant Zone for Classic Sonic and City Escape/Planet Wisp for Modern Sonic. Mmmmmhmmmm.
Final Thought: Somewhere out there, people are still bitching about how the physics for Classic Sonic aren't up to par while they simultaneously ostracize Modern Sonic. I will continue to not give a shit.

Top Three Games

Lemme tell ya, it was a close battle between Sonic Generations and the game just below, but I can't deny the amount of time I poured into what was my ultimate choice.


3. Pokemon White (Game Freak, DS)

Believe it or not, I was dead-set on avoiding this game. The three-dimensional city and three-on-three battles shown were exciting upgrades, but I nearly passed out upon viewing the new set of Pokemon introduced. Particular offenders included ice cream Pokemon, some gear-shaped abominations that possessed no rhyme or reason to their evolutions, garbage bags, a bat made out of lint, and Legendary Pokemon that included a singing diva and a unicorn that vaguely resembled a Neopet. They just looked weird for the sake of being weird, and didn't really exude any speck of appeal. I've always treasured forging bonds with the virtual monsters, and I just didn't see how I could do that with ice cream. Even so, I felt an obligation to at least try it due to my status as The Biggest Nintendo Nerd I know (plus I wanted to spend my Amazon credit on something).

Something Pokemon White taught me was that the best way to acquaint yourself with a new game in an established franchise is shove away any preconceptions you have of said franchise and just roll with what you're given. As shown at the end of this post, it doesn't always work, but my first attempt blazed off with flying colors. As I obtained the lovingly-nicknamed Smugleaf and joined my main character's friends into taking the first step into Route 1, a familiar warmth began to erupt within me that I couldn't deny.

I was playing a new Pokemon game, and I was having fun.

Why am I one of the maybe six people in the world who believes 2003's Pokemon Ruby was the best entry in the series? Because it was a complete transformation from what had previously been established. I wasn't just a boy traveling with my band of Pokemon through caves and fields. No, I was dashing through rainforests and a desert and underwater labyrinths and INTO A VOLCANO. I stopped a Legendary Pokemon from destroying the world via a drought. I built secret bases in caves and trees, complete with furniture. I could enter my badass Pokemon in beauty contests and make my bicycle do tricks.

Pokemon White captures this spirit. Count me in as one of those who's jaw dropped upon traversing the humongous Skyarrow Bridge for the first time, which led to the star attraction of Castelia City (shown above). The landscape was just as varied as it was in Ruby, and the monthly seasonal changes ensured they would stay fresh. I dressed up my Pokemon and entered them into hysterical dance contests. I made my Pokemon enter the Dream World via the internet and engaged in silly flash games while capturing new friends and transferring them back to game world. The story was a little silly, but why should I care when I'm infiltrating a humongous, constantly transforming castle and capturing a giant dragon Pokemon in the process? It was epic, varied, and fresh!

I've found the main draw of Pokemon--the battling--has become less and less central to me as time goes on. This isn't to say I don't enjoy it (why would I be playing this series, then?), but I'm really in it for the adventure more than anything else. I travel with my beloved pets over valleys and bridges, and into deserts and legendary ruins. Whether it's saving the world, partaking in minigames, or just taking a walk, we're all in on the ride. We just don't grow stronger together; I get to know them through our journeys and trials.

Why did 2007's Pokemon Diamond disappoint me? Because it said "Here's an online battle mode and the town-field-dungeon setup of the Gameboy games. Enjoy!" Pokemon White is not perfect, but it delivers what I described in the above paragraph by genuinely being an evolution. It doesn't just add the three-on-three battling mechanic and calls it a day; the game's world has grown along with it. I'm finally playing a Pokemon game where a city looks like an actual city, and it looks amazing! The fields and mountains are affected by the monthly changing of seasons. There's an involved Wi-Fi connection with the online Dream World feature. And I guess there's no real point to dressing up my Serperior in a top hat and monocle, but man is it fun to watch.

So what happened to my initial scorn of the new Pokemon designs? Upon playing through the game, most of them really grew on me. There are mistakes made; some Pokemon would've benefitted with evolutions (Durant, Stunfisk, and Heatmor), and I still believe they got a little too goofy with some of 'em (Crustle and Garbodor), but upon a second review there's enough cuteness and badassery to go around. All is forgiven, Game Freak.

Except for the Gears. They will live in my Failbox forever.

Best Moment: " I really going to be walking across that bridge?"
Worst Moment: No, I really, I hate those gears.
Best Song: Dragonspiral Tower. According the actual Youtube title, I guess the real name was censored for localized release. Melancholic song aside, I love all the adventurous tunes in this one!
Final Thought: I should really get around to going back and playing this so I can catch more Pokemon and name them after the kids from my kindergarten internship over a year ago. Maaaannn that was fun.

2. Super Mario 3D Land (Nintendo, 3DS)

This is a no-brainer for anyone who's followed my blog since its inception, but it may surprise you to know I wasn't initially too hot on Mario's latest adventure. I've chalked this up to just being really stressed out with the arduous first year of living away at college, and thus it suppressed my enjoyment of the game. Or everything, really.

That all changed the following Thanksgiving break, when the six-year-old son of some family friends dropped by. It was his first time playing a 3DS.

Super Mario 3D Land captured his imagination. His control of Mario was lumbering and inept, as he tried to make sense of what was going on. He scowled at the Piranha Plants who spewed ink at the screen to obscure his vision, claiming it wasn't nice at all. He watched me avoid Bowser's barrage of fireballs, of which he referred to as "guns". His eyes were wide, spellbound by the 3D effect. It was just how I played Super Mario 64 when I was his age: unable to perform all the necessary maneuvers myself but falling in love with the magical, bouncy atmosphere regardless.

I now saw the game in a whole new light. When he left, I picked the game up and beat it that night. I was smiling the entire time. Did I emulate his newfound discovery? I've learned the hard way you can never go back to those days, but at least now I understood.

In my brief preview for the game after E3, I said the game resembled a more streamlined version of Super Mario Galaxy. I declared it was an effort to reach out to the 2D-Mario hippie crowd who just couldn't seem to grasp his three-dimensional adventures. While there are undeniable nods to the Galaxy series, the strongest affinity is shared with the ones that started it all: The NES Super Mario titles. The tight feeling of momentum is not present, but the levels are just as short and sweet. There is no story present, just pop-out story book-esque images and brief sequences of Mario dashing to save Peach. The music is poppy and dreamy, immediately imprinting the misty scent of nostalgia.

How amusing that, amidst the flood of influences, Super Mario 3D Land manages to carve out its own feel. Many of the game's stages would never have been possible were it not for Nintendo's new love for the 3D, with the focus being on the depth perception. Levels are structured to adapt to this, whether they be Zelda-inspired dungeons that are viewed in a top-down angle or the one where Mario's set on the top of sky and he slowly floats down onto gigantic Super Mario Bros. sprites hundreds of feet below.

It's all not just an immense joy to play, but to watch too. Take the return of the Tanooki Suit, for example. Sure, it's endless waddling makes the game easy, but who cares? There's nothing quite like drifting through the sky when wearing one, particularly the breathtaking view one experiences when he has the opportunity to skip half the level. Green panels, of which unfold like a pack of cards, must be traversed upon as they flop towards the screen. Fake props and eye tricks are not uncommon. Crackles of flame and radiating fireflies pop out of the screen.

You know why I love the Super Mario games of today? It's because they joyously scream "Screw you!" to modern gaming standards, whether they be voiced cutscenes or achievements or online leaderboards or whatever, and go prancing back on their merry way. Yes, earlier I did say I'm glad Mario Kart 7 is Nintendo's way of saying they're conforming to said modern standards, but it's different when it comes to their baby. Granted, each Mario game has their own purpose (this one being showing the effect of 3D on gameplay), but these games are not meant to be anything but ravishing, juicy platform goodness. The series plays by its own rules, undeterred by the customs of the contemporary gaming world.

Aside from the occasional "lol go take a break if you're tired" message, Super Mario 3D Land is unmarred by these inconveniences. Mario takes risks not through modernization, but through how the games actually play. It pays off in spades here, and I guess this is why millions of reviews are screeching about how 3D Land finally reveals what the 3DS wants to be. Personally speaking, I saw it the moment I turned on Pilotwings Resort, but I should be glad the rest of the gaming world is finally joining me. Much like my number one choice for the year, Mario's latest adventure is the raw embodiment of fun.

A kid is listening to this right now. He is in 5th grade, and maybe he feels oppressed, but everything that really matters to him is perfect. Unbeknownst to everyone else he knows, he is a young romantic. There is a hidden link he cherishes, a connection that no one ever picks up on but him. It is the link to the soul of the things he loves. The backgrounds of Nintendo video games come alive and enrapture him in a bliss he can never quite describe. Regardless, this secret euphoria has converted his young mind to that of a wistful adult, appreciating this gift more than anything else in the world.

He unlocks Special World 3 and hears this song. Reveries flood to his heart and mind, including memories of soothing car rides when he was very young, observing the luminous neon lights. And then, there was everything he loved right now: Spongebob Squarepants was the top form of comedy and every one of his friends was readily around the corner and the Smashboards internet forum and the Game in the Basement and his irrational love for cats and Nintendo. The memory of that very moment was stamped into nostalgia, and was remembered from that day forth as being representative of was only a fleeting childhood dream.

That kid is me.

Best Moment: Pretty much everything after That Night and beyond.
Worst Moment: Everything before.
Best Songs: God I love that map theme so much. And I also love this! And this.
Final Thought: Man, I can't wait to unlock that final level. I'll be kinda pissed though if it turns out to be another airship/castle level or something. And I'm saying that because I think I just saw a screenshot of it. Fffffffffff

1. Kirby's Return to Dream Land (HAL Labs, Wii)

When compared to its contemporaries in the 2D side-scrolling family, Kirby games are not the shining paradigm of game design. The titles are best suited for a fledgling gamer, as the levels are constructed so that anyone can get to the goal. Consequently, the games may feel too simple for some and end in a matter of hours. But why are they so fun, then? It's all thanks to Kirby's famous Copy Ability, which mimics the powers of the enemies he swallows. He burns, he slices, he zaps, he freezes, he conjures up beams, he tosses bombs, he sings in a mic, and he even swings a parasol. The gameplay is insanely hyperactive, rarely taking a breather from destroying and eating everything in Kirby's path. Despite the grotesque description, it's adorable thanks to the gorgeous visuals, of which present a fantasy wonderland complete with green countrysides and vivid star constellations, a sickeningly charming cast of characters (both good and evil) and a mixture of soft and exuberant music; of course, it can be epic and orchestrated if it wants to, because it can. It's an sugary, ecstatic experience that isn't found anywhere else, and to this day remains my favorite model for two-dimensional gaming. Yes, even more than Super Mario.

I find it interesting that Kirby's Adventure and Kirby Super Star, two of the puffball's finest moments, complement each other in areas where each one slacks. Adventure is home to the most classic level design in the series, but most of Kirby's powers are limited to one maneuver. Super Star mends this by amplifying said powers to numerous button combinations much akin to that of a fighting game, yet the stages again revert to being backdrops where you can blast your way through (excluding The Great Cave Offensive subgame). Not that there's anything wrong with this, but why can't we have both?

Here's another question: Why did I put Kirby's Return to Dream Land, a game many critics found to be too by-the-numbers when juxtaposed to the imaginative Kirby's Epic Yarn, as my number one choice for Game of the Year? Is it because I'm biased? Am I too dependent on nostalgia? Or is it because, according to Tim Rogers, I'm below average intelligence and also a poser? Perhaps that's all true, but here's another suggestion: This is a perfect marriage of everything I wanted.

Much like Sonic Generations, Return to Dream Land doesn't rely on any gimmick to justify its existence. True, the game takes hints from cousins New Super Mario Bros. Wii (four-player co-op and collectible trinkets) and Super Smash Bros. Brawl (Super Abilities), but this is still a 90's game through and through. The level design is, as usual, designed for making the most out of Kirby's abilities; however, it's not afraid to randomly lash out at the player through sudden tricky situations (especially when collecting the ship pieces). The controls and actions for Kirby and friends are lifted straight from Kirby Super Star, right down to the guard button and that mysterious hop Kirby performs from being near a partner. I've never figured out how to do that, but it's still here. Super Star's flexible powers make a comeback by upgrading already awesome abilities (Fighter and Ice) and doing the same for previously lame ones (Stone, Ninja, and Spike). Abnormal weather patterns continue to dot the skies of Dream Land and its provinces remain luscious with romantic scenery. The Goal Game from Kirby's Adventure is placed at the end of each level. I swear I hear Nightmare in Dream Land sound effects.

This is also a game made in 2011. New members are added to Kirby's family of powers (Whip, Leaf, Water, and Spear), and all blend in without trouble. Super Abilities, whether they be summoning monstrous infernos in the shape of a dragon or transforming into a giant snowball, ravage the landscape and all those who dare to wander into their paths. Items such as a cannon, a constantly expanding bomb and spike-cleat shoes are utilized. Wormholes open up at the end of certain levels, stripping Kirby of his powers and forcing him to endure the trials of a distant dimension. Co-op is no stranger to Kirby, but this time he is joined by a dream team consisting of King Dedede, Meta Knight, and that meek Waddle Dee with the bandana. Like, seriously! That one Waddle Dee of all characters! AND HE USES A SPEAR.

And I am loving every moment of it.

It's obvious this is My Childhood: The Game, but the reason why I hold Kirby's Return to Dream Land so high is precisely why it received average/"good" ratings from nearly all gaming outlets: It doesn't try to be anything. It's by-the-numbers and does not possess any drive to be ambitious, instead going for the same goal as Super Mario 3D Land: To cram in as much fun shit as possible. Everything in this game is ridiculously delightful and satisfying to pull off, whether it be the stretchy Whip power, donning the spiked cleats or the Grand Hammer Super Ability. The co-op doesn't contain the backstabbing treachery or distractions found in New Super Mario Bros. Wii and Donkey Kong Country Returns, instead continuing the Kirby tradition of just rampaging through everything in sight without regard for obstacles. There are mini-games involving shooting giant robots, rooms that allow you beat up a robot dummy to test out Kirby's powers, and incredibly hard challenges that score you on your mastery of his abilities.

Answer me this: How many games have you seen recently that didn't try to be anything? Much as I love Super Mario 3D Land, it's constructed around the 3D effect for a reason. In a year full of crossovers, big-budget RPGs, cinematic action games and eye tricks, we have one small game speak out and say "Hi, I'm a game from 1996!". Donkey Kong Country Returns was wholly different from its Super Nintendo ancestors, and New Super Mario Bros. Wii's development around multiplayer became its star attraction. Kirby's Return to Dream Land features improvements and upgrades to an existing formula, but it doesn't make any effort to be entirely different from its predecessors nor attempt to penetrate into the humongous expanded market.

And that is the reason why this game is my #1.

Over ten years ago, way back in the snowy recesses of December 2001, I played Kirby's Adventure for the very first time. It was during a period when the Gamecube was Nintendo's prominent console and I was engaging in the euphoria that was Super Smash Bros. Melee. It was the same time where I discovered sprite comics, which used character models from old video games, and decided they were greatest pieces of comedy in the world. Inspired by both of these wonderful subjects, through means I'd rather not describe I came across Kirby's Adventure, and I fell in love with it instantly. The way the game was designed fit my age perfectly, and the vintage quality appealed to my newfound nostalgic senses. Best of all, it kickstarted an obsession with a character I would come to recognize as my childhood hero.

Ten years later, in that very same month, I played through Kirby's Adventure again. I also replayed Kirby's Return to Dream Land alongside it. It was spooky in the way they fit together so perfectly, right down to the point where the Wii game is clearly copying entire level sequences from its 18-year-old brother. Things are so different now. I'm in college, he was in fourth grade. He crafted imaginary canon for Kirby's adventures, I just look back with a quick smile and continue playing. The gaming world has changed so much, and yet it has room for this.

Kirby's Return to Dream Land does not conform to modern day standards like Mario Kart 7 did, nor it is not as meticulous or expansive as Pokemon White, and it definitely not reach the production values of Skyrim. But you know what's really amazing about it? The fact we can have something like this in today's game market, when it shouldn't even exist, is mindblowing to me and I'd like to think it's one of the most gracious gifts the Wii has offered me. I'm playing a genuine, home console Kirby game, a game that is essentially a carbon copy of something I first played over ten years ago, and I am loving it.

This was the funnest game I played in 2011.

Best Moment: The first level of Nutty Noon. My heart melted instantly. I also painted pumpkins with my new college friends that day.
Worst Moment: My Wii: "Oh, hi, Anthony! I see you finally got the game of your dreams. Well then I guess this is as good time as any to break down and then freeze every time the game enters a cutscene. BZZZZZZT"
Final Thought: Totally worth the seven years I had to wait for this game. I guess it's not so cool though that it's passed on the Duke Nukem Forever baton to Pikmin 3.


And that's about it!

"But wait, this is a Nintendo blog! Where on is The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword!"

Ah, yes, that's right! The latest Zelda adventure that's being showered with perfect scores and unanimous praise within the fanbase. Well, there's a very good reason as to why that's not here. You see...ahem, um...well...uh...I didn't like it.

Yes, I'm aware I previously said my mind had completely changed on the issue last year, but unfortunately Nintendo decided to promote the game afterwards by repeatedly showing the same exact trailer god knows how times with only minimal changes added to the end ("Oh, there's a Goron at the end of this one!" "Oh, Link's fighting Ghirahim for three seconds!"), so I continued to remain skeptical. The strategy I used for Pokemon White was actually working rather well in the beginning until the game decided to kill its momentum by introducing the lameass dowsing mechanic, which it would repeat until the end of time. It didn't help that the game had an overly linear nature, much of its non-dungeon sections came across as uninspired filler, and presented a storyline that baited the player (as in, didn't even tell what the hell was going on) until maybe 85% of the way in and didn't satisfy in its goals to be an origin story. Also I still couldn't take the artstyle seriously and the motion controls were annoying in that they were phoned in for everything and never felt satisfying to pull off.

I tried really, really, really, really, really hard to like it, but I just wasn't soaking up the magic everyone else is feeling. Was it a bad game? No, just a mediocre one. And we'll discuss as to why I feel that way in a month or two...with my very first negative game review. DUN DUN DUUUUUUNNNNN

See you later this month!