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: "Am....am 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!

1 comment:

  1. I really want to play Kirby now...that's what I got from this review. D: