Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Biweekly Music Wednesday! No. 20 ~Double Cherry Pass~ (Super Mario 3D World)

Origin: Super Mario 3D World
Plays In: Various stages, but debuts in the stage of the same name
Status: Original Composition
Composer: Mahito Yokota (not sure if it's exactly him, but it gives me the same vibes ala Gusty Garden Galaxy, so there!)

Jubilation. Cheer. Dance. Merriment. Joy. These are the words that spring to mind when describing Super Mario 3D World's best song. The moment I heard Double Cherry Pass's brief appearance in a behind-the-scenes video featuring the game's live performances, I said to myself "this is going to be a classic." A year later, it hasn't quite earned the esteemed reputation of other modern Mario classics such as Gusty Garden Galaxy, and I guess that's a bit of a shame.

"I guess" might sound apathetic, but I've only recently come to terms with my feelings regarding Super Mario 3D World--something I wrestled with for about a year now--and no matter how many adorable cat suits and wonderful big band music it throws at me, I can't siphon the same joy from it that most everyone else did. Bummer.

But just because I don't think a Mario game's a masterpiece doesn't mean I didn't enjoy it. It's still as charming as a fresh-born kitten, and I can't say I don't crack a grin every time I hear its wonderful soundtrack. Much like Yoshi's Island's AthleticDouble Cherry Hill is bouncy joviality distilled into aural form, incapable of inducing anything but of the brightest smiles. That it also accompanies to some of the game's best levels should be no coincidence--I've played the level of the same name countless times just to fool around with the cloning Double Cherry (dancing in sync with five Cat Marios is something special).

The best Mario songs strike that ever-elusive cord of animated zen. Be it the original Super Mario Bros. theme or Gusty Garden Galaxy, these songs represent the one secret wish hidden deep down within us: the desire to achieve and maintain happiness. To the cynical mind, Mario's just an avatar for us to overcome challenging level design. But to those who still carry the torch of childhood dreams, he's a hero who greets every pitfall and villain with smiles and laughter.

Super Mario 3D World may not be my favorite Mario game, but I know I'm not perfect either. When recognizing my own flaws, Double Cherry Pass allows me to tap into that jovial reverie I continue to seek and learn from. I'm come to recognize that 2014 was a new beginning in many ways for me, and I'm looking forward to realizing that throughout the new year.

Final Thoughts: Y'know, I asked for the Japanese Super Mario 3D World soundtrack for Christmas, but it still hasn't come yet! Whhhhhhhyyyyyyy


See you all in the New Year! I'll be striving to provide constant updates for January, so stay tuned.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Biweekly Music Wednesday! No. 19 ~Lilycove City~ (Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire)

Origin: Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire
Plays In: Lilycove City
Status: Original Composition
Composers: Junichi Masuda

One of the greatest joys in playing through the Pokemon: Omega Ruby remake is being treated with fantastic rearrangements of the soundtrack. As expected from anyone who's read my Kirby: Nightmare in Dream Land review, my listening experience is something of a constant tug-of-war: as much as I'm enjoying the songs, the original songs still pull at my memory, asserting their superiority. Currently, it's about 50/50, but I suppose my full thoughts would be better suited for a review.

As I've only earned five gym badges at this point, there's quite a chunk of arrangements left for me to discover, such as the above Lilycove City. It's always been one of my favorite Ruby/Sapphire tracks in it's parallel: Hoenn emphasizes adventure in nearly route, and this is reflected in their appropriately grand/majestic tunes, yet the towns are so homely and soft in comparison. While this is nothing new for town themes, the boisterous adventure found outside their confines renders a warm, refreshing welcome to our ears after a tough day of monster grinding.

Being a prelude to the vast underwater trenches of Hoenn, the first new notes of Lilycove City perfectly capture the ocean air. It's something of a lovely waltz, and I can't help but think of the wonderful elders in my life whenever I hear it. It's fun to mentally prod around within the context of Pokémon too: an old man--a retired Pokémon Trainer, perhaps--out on another day with his wife, gazing at a flock of Wingulls circling above the sea as he quietly sips at his coffee.

I'm quite the reserved individual. I mean, sure, I'm a total goofball in social situations and within the anonymous expanses of internet message boards (Hi, NeoGAF), but I've come to recognize the former's only meant as a mask to cover my awkwardness; in truth, I'm much like an old man. I prefer silence, sit around a lot, and calmly reflect on the days of old. I'll likely be doing the same inactive routines ten years from now, and I'm quite content with that.

But as someone wishing to enter the game journalism industry, I don't think that's the image people have of those participating in it. I wonder if that'll be a problem?
Personal issues aside, I've yet to hear Omega Ruby's take on the song. Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire's arrangements aren't quite as laced with nostalgia in the same sense of Soul Silver/Heart Gold, but I'm looking forward to see if the song continues to make me feel old. Not that that's a bad thing.

Final Thoughts: maaannnn what they did with the mt. chimney theme was pretty lame though

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Hyrule Warriors Review ~Gaming Grunts~

Review Here

I love me some crossover Dynasty Warriors spin-offs. Oh, sure, they carry the torch of repetition, but Hyrule Warriors was so laced with love that I couldn't help but be charmed by it. I knew I was captivated the moment I nearly shed tears laying the beatdown on my favorite Zelda race: the jolly, plump Gorons of Death Mountain.

If anything, I was more bothered by two significant issues, the most important being the lack of online co-op. Yes, I know Nintendo didn't publish the game in Japan, but I wouldn't be surprised if their agenda on restricting multiplayer to the living room reached Tecmo Koei. Despite my current obsession that is Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, I'd probably still be up for a few rounds were it compatible with Nintendo's servers.

...and then there's Fi. Why in the hell is the worst character ever created by Nintendo playable in this game? Granted, I knew there had to be some Skyward Sword representation whether I liked it or not, and I figured its incarnation of Impa as well and villain Ghirahim would be acceptable compromises. But Fi? Screw that noise. I kid you not, there was a mission in the game's Adventure Mode where it forced me to use the character while combatting three Imprisoned bosses; in other words, Skyward Sword's worst character against duplicates of Skyward Sword's worst boss. It was torture, lemme tell you.

Other than those oversights, Hyrule Warriors is a competent piece of turn-your-brain-off action and fanservice that I continue to go back to. Looking quite forward to its DLC!


And so ends my time with Gaming Grunts! With my college internship course at an end, Hyrule Warriors serves as my final review for the website. While Gaming Grunts had been on a rocky road for the past half-year, I very much enjoyed my time with the site and am grateful for it serving as my first step into the world of gaming journalism.

So where do I go forward from here? The good news is that I've already begun to look at other pages to work at, and I'll hopefully land myself in one of them within the next few months. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Super Smash Bros. for 3DS Review (Gaming Grunts)

Review Here

Hard to believe it's been nearly two weeks since I lasted played this. I've been captivated by the Wii U version's charms, you see.

The first Smash Bros. in six years--and on a handheld, no less--similarly charmed me. Any stumbles in control or stage representation were quickly disregarded in my eyes, as I was too busy engaging in the euphoria of playing a brand new Smash Bros. And it didn't disappoint: the new characters are all wildly creative and are a blast to play with (Villager!), the soundtrack is absolutely gorgeous and earwormy, and I'm not kidding when I claim how good the 3D effect is. Seriously, turn it on. You'll be surprised.

It's the Smash Run mode that captivated me the most, however. Being inspired by Kirby Air Ride's City Trial mode, the gradual empowerment achieved by the player feels as accomplished as ever, and it's just plain satisfying becoming a stats-ripped monster and beating down on familiar Nintendo baddies. It helps that the map is fun to explore and possess some downright beautiful aesthetics (I love the ruins-inspired design), and I dig how you can assign music for the BGM. Despite the limitations via lack of customization and no online, it's a shame the Wii U version didn't attempt a similar avenue (Smash Tour is okay, but it doesn't expand on the core gameplay). Honestly, I can't imagine why people dislike the mode, but I guess I've grown to accept that my own views on Smash have largely deviated from the rest of the fanbase.

I had the most magical moment with this game after the midnight launch. I set out to the hillside slope outside of my dorm hall and just held the 3DS up to the starry night sky. I unlocked the Magicant stage from Earthbound and tears trickled from my eyes as I heard the Magicant theme/Smiles and Tears arrangements for the first time. It's moments like these that are why I play Smash Bros.: it's long since evolved from being just a fighting/party game into something more nebulous, something more of a glorified celebration of worlds I've fiercely clutched to my heart for over sixteen years. And I'll continue to do so.


Sorry for the absence of Biweekly Music Wedesday! It's Finals week, and those are always brutal. Expect it back next week.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Tales of Xillia 2 Review (Gaming Grunts)

Review Here

Was I too harsh? Maybe so, but boy am I growing sick of Tales.

There was a time when Tales was set to become one of my favorite series. Tales of Symphonia was something of a calling: I'd dismissed the game due to the awkward beginning and for what I perceived as button-mashing nonsense, yet one day I suddenly required its presence in my life. That was right before one of the worst summers of my life, and Tales of Symphonia was my sole refuge. The game is something of a flawed masterpiece, but everything from its beautiful, charming fusion of fantasy and sci-fi tropes to its tongue-in-cheek skit dialogues  compels me to replay it again and again, and it is my favorite non-Nintendo developed game ever made. Tales of the Abyss similarly charmed me, and I couldn't wait to dive into the rest of Tales...

...but alas, I've yet to play any further entries matching their quality. Vesperia was the closest with a superb blend of gameplay, sound and a gorgeous cel-shaded aesthetic, but the constant baiting of the plot irritated me far more than it should have. Graces was as bland as they come despite its advances via combat and the addictive title system, and the less said about Symphonia's garbage "spin-off" sequel in the Wii's Dawn of the New World, the happier I'll be.

The original Xillia's rushed development is something of a tragedy in my eyes: the beautiful character designs--imbued with fun base personalities--are squandered in the face of phoned-in laziness, be it a supremely dull overworld, endlessly reused assets, and a forgettable musical score (seriously, Motoi Sakuraba is capable of far more than this). As the review entails, Xillia 2 does not right its wrongs. There's more content, sure, but why exactly am I paying off a debt in a fantasy RPG? Why is the main character silent? Those two screw-ups were already major warning signs when looking up the game beforehand, but that it does absolutely nothing with its woefully stagnant cast and battle system is just beyond frustrating at this point.

At this point, Tales games are nothing more than JRPG junk food to me. Of course, like the Symphonia-addict I am, I'll keep plowing through them in search of that potential, but I'll likely end up dreaming of what they could be. Step up your game, Namco.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Ten Years of Kirby ~Reverie 9~ Kirby Air Ride

Since the passing of 2002, the already-troublesome situation for the Nintendo Gamecube had not improved. While Metroid Prime received universal acclaim and Animal Crossing was an unexpected success in the West, other long-awaited sequels weren't so lucky. Super Mario Sunshine's unorthodox F.L.U.D.D. mechanic and brutal difficulty turned off many longtime fans, while the ground-focused combat of Star Fox Adventures--not to mention the surreal, tonally unfitting shift of setting for the series--initiated a stigma that haunted the series ever since. With the aforementioned Game Boy Advance "port breeding ground" initiating cries of laziness, things weren't looking up for the Big N.

2003 wasn't promising. The already-controversial The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker launched that spring to American audiences and continued to split the community, with the most negatively-cited examples including its easy difficulty, padding, and obvious evidence of rushed development. Fans were still scratching their heads at the announcement of the bongo-equipped Donkey Konga, and wondered if Nintendo had any idea of what to do with the Kong family following the recent sale of Rare. As sequels to Mario Kart, Pikmin and Paper Mario were still taking their sweet time, Nintendo began throwing whatever gimmicks they could at their consoles --be they the Game Boy Advance/Gamecube Link Cable, the card-swiping E-Reader, and the Game Boy Player peripheral for the GameCube. None of them caught the public eye, and so it was all the more embarrassing when the GBA/GC cable was front and center at Nintendo's E3 conference accompanying a yawn-inducing reveal: a multiplayer version of the original Pac-Man.

In the midst of it all was an unexpected announcement: the revival of the cancelled Nintendo 64 project, Kirby Air Ride, only this time retooled for the Gamecube. The game's troubled development still remains a mystery: we still don't quite know why the original version--originally named Kirby Bowl 64--was cancelled, much less why it was risen from the grave (our only insight into the game's development rests in a 2003 Nintendo Power interview with the game's producers, which didn't yield any answers). Air Ride's unintuitive control scheme confused journalists attending trade shows, and so the game failed to drum up hype in the face of the highly-anticipated Mario Kart: Double Dash!!. Could the fact that Kirby creator Masahiro Sakurai was at the game's helm as director turn public perception around? Having been behind the mega-hit Super Smash Bros. Melee, it seemed the young developer had nowhere to go up but up within the Nintendo echelon...

...unfortunately, it wasn't meant to be. Shortly after Kirby Air Ride's summer Japanese launch, Sakurai resigned from HAL Laboratories, dealing yet another huge blow to Nintendo. Rumors persisted he not only wasn't satisfied with Kirby Air Ride's development but of structural changes at the company, and his confirmation of being exhausted with sequels in a post-resignation interview is the only shred of evidence for those claims.

Is Wikipedia's uncited claim of his being disappointed with Air Ride development woes correct? Despite the evident use of Kirby Super Star graphical assets in the cancelled version's screenshots, it remains unknown if Sakurai was involved with the N64 game at all. if he truly held a grudge against the game, it's unlikely he would've included overt references to it in Smash Bros. games from Brawl onward. Yet if we disregard its troubled gestation, perhaps the real clue to Air Ride's sloppy, unfocused development lied within the gaming press.

In what remains the most inconsistent review amalgamation I have ever witnessed for a single title, Kirby Air Ride's scores ranged from praise to claims of boredom and dismissal. GameNow and GamePro magazines found themselves surprised at how fun the game's multiplayer turned out, but only after digesting the game's "quirks." Meanwhile, reputable sites including IGN and Gamespot led the charge with shocking 5.0 scores (out of ten), bemoaning the game's emphasis on simplicity and unintuitive controls. Electronic Gaming Monthly even took jabs at the dubious grammatical status of the title, and so Kirby Air Ride appeared destined for the forgotten halls of Nintendo mediocrity...

But that didn't happen. What rendered this inconsistency all the more divisive was the consumer reaction, which consisted of nearly unanimous praise. Despite the infamous control scheme, players found themselves endlessly amused with the flight mechanics and the gorgeous soundtrack. The City Trial mode was a particular anomaly; Nintendo World Report may have found it a missed opportunity, yet it was by far and away the most popular mode of the entire game, some say to the extent where it constituted the entirety of some players' playtime with the game.

In retrospect, I'm not that surprised at this division. Certain Sakurai titles--specifically, Kirby Air Ride and Super Smash Bros. Brawl--are blasted to hell and back for their attempts at deeper mechanics, yet most still sink countless hours into them on a surface level. The basic functions of Sakurai titles click with enough people, and I imagine the supplemented evidence of passion (be it art direction, sound quality or just plain charm) help override any perceived flaws. I also find it rather suspect that several outlets' complaints could've been solved with a quick trip to the options menu.

But what exactly divided critics and players alike on Kirby Air Ride in the first place, and furthermore, is it a good game? Perhaps a conversation with the current CEO of Nintendo can enlighten us...


In the Iwata Asks column for Kid Icarus: Uprising, Sakurai elaborated to Satoru Iwata on his peculiar game philosophy: disassembly and reassembly. He takes what he perceives to be the "fun" core of a genre, disassembles anything unnecessary, and then rebuilds it from the ground up. For example, beating up someone in a fighting game is fun, right? Yet are the elongated combo maneuvers necessary? Furthermore, what if we could extend that beat-em 'up fun to something of a four-player party game? The end result:  Super Smash Bros.

As Kirby Air Ride's a racing game, let's say Sakurai took a look at fellow racer Mario Kart, for example. You maneuver and steer via a control pad/stick, hold down the A button to accelerate, and use the shoulder buttons to drift and break. There are several other buttons dedicated to series mechanics (such as the staple weaponry), but for all intents and purposes, it's intuitive, accurate to driving an actual car, and--most importantly--it works. It's not the world's most popular racing series for nothing.

Kirby Air Ride is...well, saying it's a tad different would be a vast understatement. See, the floating vehicles operated by Kirby and his color-coded doppelgangers--dubbed "stars"--accelerate all on their own without any input from the player. This is entirely due to the game's simplified control scheme: you use the control stick to steer and the A button for everything else. In other words, Kirby Air Ride is a one-button racer where breaking, boosting, swallowing, and utilizing Copy Abilities are shared via the same input.

It goes without saying this is not intuitive in the least, and though I probably couldn't have provided the definition of "acceleration" back at age eleven, it was obvious something was still completely off. My first memory of the game is vital: my friends and I went straight to the City Trial mode for an initial dry run only to be met with confusion. We were thrown into the middle of a city with absolutely zero context (least of all as to why there was a volcano right down the street), fumbling with the controls as we were crashing through trees, pelted by giant meteors, and discovering random underground mazes. We picked up various power-ups and weapons, yet had absolutely no clue how to use them. Then after five minutes, a bell rang, and we're suddenly in a race! One of my friends wins, and suddenly a checklist pops up saying we unlocked a vehicle or something.

Now, we could have just watched the handy tutorial videos, but you know how kids are. In any case, despite the "simplified" controls it's clear how downright relentless Kirby Air Ride is in playing by its rules. But these are rules we've never quite seen before, and I figure most everyone who's played the game went through a similar bout of confusion to the point where Air Ride was dismissed as broken, throwaway nonsense. With game critics having places to be and gamers being a fickle lot, it's little wonder Air Ride was subject to such divisive reception.

...and yet, call it Stockholm Syndrome, but much like the rising damage counter of Smash Bros. or Kid Icarus: Uprising's globe-spinning camera, I have unabashed love for Kirby Air Ride's unorthodox control scheme and cannot imagine it being played any other way. Make no mistake: it is by far the most unintuitive of Sakurai's titles, and to not label it as one of the weirdest Nintendo games ever developed would be doing it a disservice. Yet that it actually works despite its few flub-ups regarding execution deserves genuine praise, for Kirby Air Ride is very much an organic experience.

And what a coincidence: the namesake Air Ride mode is perfect in describing how this quirky racer works. The core racing mode of the game, Air Ride features nine courses and fourteen selectable stars for each Kirby to ride (King Dedede and Meta Knight also attend as unlockables, and respectively race via a Wheelie and wing-powered flight). No matter what vehicle or course you pick, Air Ride's emphasis on charging and boosting--a process Sakurai defines as "Push"--is key. Steering via control stick can only provide so much maneuvering, and so every time your Kirby avatar makes a turn, a well-executed boost is necessary for consistent movement and staying ahead of the competition.

As stated before, opinions will differ on this. Anyone can quickly pick up on Mario Kart's turns and handling, but Air Ride players must consistently depend on muscle memory and on-the-ball thinking in judging when to execute a well-timed turn via charging and boosting. Compounding on this are Air Ride's take on Copy Abilities: familiar enemies litter the courses and possess their typical powers for Kirby to utilize (Fire, Freeze, Bomb, Needle, Wheel, Wing, Tornado, Plasma, Mike, and, of course, Sleep), but their being tied to the brake/boost button can be extraordinarily awkward to adjust to. Say you're charging the Plasma ability via twirling the control stick, but have to make a turn. Regardless of how much plasma you've stocked, you have to release it in order to move on, even if you're not in a prime position to attack. A few others are inputted via spinning (Tornado) or activate automatically in the presence of rivals or enemies (Sword), but most do not, and to repeatedly brake for attacking tends to kill momentum.

It's awkward, it's unintuitive for the sake of being unintuitive, and yet through the same black magic that undoubtedly contributed to Sakurai's eternal youth, Kirby Air Ride's sense of drifting is top-notch. Despite the Copy Ability issue, drifting and boosting on their own works because the Stars are constantly sliding even as you're turning corners. There's no manual acceleration, yet there's a perpetual sense of tight control since navigating the courses requires utmost precision.

Boosting in particular grants a satisfaction unlike any other racing game; of course, the amount of boost power vary from star to star. The Rocket Star sacrifices speed over explosive, while the Swerve Star--my personal favorite--ditches handling for high top speed and precise brakes (that, and the "advanced ancient ruin" design is rad as all hell). I particularly enjoy the boost meter's presentation: it gurgles and replenishes with all the fervor of chugging down your favorite drink, the tasty fluids supercharging your energy. One could be correct in saying that playing Kirby Air Ride is much like ingesting the modern-day ambrosia known as Welch's White Grape Juice.

Beyond boosting, Kirby Air Ride emphasizes, well, the air. Much like recent Mario Karts, the game focuses on gliding rather than full-on flying. The course design reflects this via ramps and cannons and such, and while the design quality might not match Mario Kart's best, but a variety of fun gimmicks render racing a blast. Magical rail grinds and branching paths pepper each course (sometimes even being combined!), and I've always found great joy in the latter by the game encouraging me to repeatedly slam my vehicle into fragile walls.

Obstacle destruction aside, it all melds together to form a racer imbued with fantasy-stylized spectacles within gorgeous locales--and by the way, detailing Kirby Air Ride as "gorgeous" is really underselling its inspired art direction. The full-blown imagination of Kirby Air Ride's aesthetics deserve an in-depth article of their own, but their impact on gameplay is palpable. Storms of aerial grinds into active volcanoes and shortcuts in the form of airborne ferris wheels instill a laid-back catharsis of sorts into the player, and it's why the unlockable course--Nebula Belt--remains the weakest due to reverting to a more standardized, flat course. We can guess this was to emphasize the climatic "skills only" trope found in certain Sakurai titles (ala Super Smash Bros.'s Final Destination stage), but it's a real shame considering its sound (that theme!) and the potential from setting.

The genre-standard Time Trials are available, but of peculiar note are the Free Runs. Instead of being confined to a solitary three-lap for practice, this mode allows you to stick around as long as you please. If I either choose to aim for a best time or lose myself in grind rail surfing, I'm free to do so, but I find myself drifting towards the latter (in a mistake carried on from Smash Bros. Melee, the timer keeps ticking whenever you pause). Regardless, the fact remains that Kirby Air Ride is a satisfying solo racer like no other.

Emphasis on the word "solo". Multiplayer in this mode can provide some entertainment, but it possesses fatal flaws. As a racer first and foremost, Air Ride succeeds in introducing a variety of interesting vehicles for the player to operate, but "interesting" doesn't always translate into "being actually viable." Air Ride becomes so fascinated with emphasizing the gimmicky nature of certain Stars it neglects to properly balance them amid the natural, more well-rounded rounded Stars (such as Warp Star, Wing Star, and Shadow Star).

Take the Rocket Star, for instance. Its function primarily depends on charging for a good while, then unleashing a massive boost. There is an unbridled joy in mastering this vehicle for solo time trials, but it's simply too slow for a genuine race. The Slick Star is too caught up in loose turning, the Turbo Star inexplicably takes forever to charge up at the beginning of race, and the less said about the mess that is the Bulk Star, the happier I'll be.

I obviously don't mean to dismiss the Air Ride mode entirely. As stated before, mastering the world's most unconventional racer via Time Trial and Free Run provides a special--if not depressingly isolated--sort of satisfaction, but the actual races can come across as, well, unfocused, and there's no denying the Copy Abilities can feel at odds with the control scheme. These can be overlooked, but the sad truth remains that only about half--if even that--of the stars are reasonable choices for an actual race.

What is usable can be immensely enjoyable and fulfilling, even taking that in regard and for all my gushing within such confines, it all hinges on whether or not it clicks. For game journalists and a good chunk of the gaming public, it did not. I'm something of a lenient Sakurai fan--I frequently enjoy walk-offs and scrolling stages in Smash Bros. despite their infamous reputation (the former of which continues to confound me) and have no issue with Kid Icarus: Uprising's stylus controls, but even I struggle in defending what's supposed to be designed as the game's core appeal. In that respect, Kirby Air Ride's brand of mediocrity destines it to Nintendo's hallowed abyss of the forgotten...

And therein lies the true genius of Kirby Air Ride's organic constitution.

At first glance, City Trial is something entirely alien to the Kirby realm. It's the closest the series has ever teetered towards such a human-exclusive setting, and yet its entire presentation is fully immersed in surreal abstraction: a city square surrounded by biomes and man-made constructs of all sorts--a forest, a construction yard, a pair of volcanos, beaches, underground mazes, and even a miniature golf course. Absolutely zero context is given to its presentation: we don't know why a bizarrely condensed biosphere has developed on some island in the middle of a valley, let alone why Kirby and his band of doppelgangers flock to it despite the never-ending barrage of natural disasters.

It could be said that its sheer introduction is even more unintuitive than the core Air Mode, and that's why it continues to astound me it's the breakout--and just simply the best--feature of the entire game. What's even more of a miracle is that City Trial is Kirby Air Ride's ticket into the realm of legitimacy--not only in being something incredible, but actually legitimizing it's mistakes.

The mode functions as something of a time-limited massive playground. Players zoom around the city for five minutes (or up to seven, if you fiddle around in the settings), scavenging for randomly spawning Stars of their choice and busting open boxes. These boxes contain your typical multiplayer offerings in weapons and power-ups, but the main goal of gathering "Patches" take priority. By upgrading vehicles through emblems that increase top speed, boost power, offense capabilities and such on, players take their new and improved rides to compete in a random stadium event (or, if adjusted in the options, to a mini-game of the players' choice).

What makes City Trial so successful is that it's a mode that doesn't just emphasize competition; it encourages empowerment. Remember the Rocket Star? When considering its default status, it's not so hot, but now you can improve it to levels beyond viable status. By the end of your duration in City Trial, it's zipping along in the sky, crashing through trees and rock formations at top speed, and charges up into massive, prolonged boosts in no time at all. In other words, City Trial legitimizes what are, quite frankly, terrible stars in the game's core racing mode.

I cannot, for the life of me, think of another game that does this--a game that encourages me to take something fundamentally useless in its starring mode and beef it up. It's now possible for the Rocket Star to win actual races, and not only does it feel wonderful, but it feels earned. I'm not just slapping on a new part in some shoddy customization menu; I'm meticulously scavenging across the city, gradually revamping the vehicle to my liking. 

And it's not alone: no longer is the Slick Star impossible to control, nor does Turbo Star have to deal with inane charging times. As much as I typically go for the Swerve and Shadow Stars, sometimes I lead myself astray into that special joy of upgrading those two stars into legitimate status. Oh, sure, it's a challenge taking hold of the reigns, but it's a fun challenge. Even the Bulk Star...well, nothing can save the Bulk Star, but I guess they can't all be winners.

Even outside of this game-changing revelation, City Trial is a wonderful enigma in itself. The concept of gradually empowerment through smashing the shit out of boxes lends itself a fulfilling multiplayer addiction (and one that clearly held merit, as Sakurai revisited the idea in Super Smash Bros. for 3DS), but the process is so inspired, begs every ounce of the player's curiosity that their acting on it is rewarded in spades. It's all thanks to the aforementioned bizarre setting, which demands immediate attention in exploring every nook and cranny. Underground mazes and shortcut grind rails permeate the entire city, numerous ramps serving as springboards for gliding and as entryways into aforementioned mazes, and plenty of stuff--trees, giant coral, and junkyard structures--to wreck and crash into. Don't feel too bad about that; in fact, the game encourages and rewards you for clearing the forest and bullying Whispy Woods.

Implemented within the context of multiplayer, it's amazing how City Trial emphasizes isolation from other players and still succeeds as a shared interactive experience. Granted, the mode provides more than enough deadly toys to ruin someone's upgraded star (my personal favorite being the hilariously massive Gordos), but it's not uncommon for players to just disperse across the city and be left to their own devices. In that sense, it could be said City Trial's main appeal is akin the quote "the adventure being the reward", yet I still find joy in proving my vehicle's worth in the Stadium Events ...and occasionally switching gears by beaning someone with a Gordo.

My gosh, I can't stop gushing about this city. Did I mention the events? The events of which involve giant meteors plowing into the city and Dynablade wrecking shit? The easter eggs and pointless interactions just for the sake of easter eggs and pointless interactions (how many pink flowers can you find?). That it's the first and only time Kirby is running around in a full 3D environment? It's nothing more than a necessary novelty (to switch between vehicles, Kirby has to hop off), but did the gravity of that trip anyone else up? HAL Laboratory remains content dwelling within the confines of 2D space, yet for the sole purpose of a two second process, the world's expanses are suddenly open to the pink puffball. Even if he's just limited to a neutered float jump (ala Smash Bros.), many an hour was spent in the mode's Free Run exploring the city sans vehicle.

I wonder if that'd hold the same appeal as an adult.

Ah, forgive me, I haven't even discussed the game's music yet! And what perfect timing: City Trial's score is just as lopsided as the game itself. Not necessarily in song execution, mind you, but rather it's method of selection.

This is not to dismiss the mode's main theme, mind. The perfect combination of inspired mystery and urgency, it correctly functions as a grand panorama for this offbeat city (whatever instrument's playing at 1:02 always takes my breath away). But it and the alternate Backside track are unique, for there's something else at work for the mode's Events and Stadium Matches.

Ah, just listen to how the radio show-inspired beginning transitions into a Disney-esque expression of flight. But...wait a minute, this wasn't composed by the game's sound team! In fact, most of the tracks for City Trial aren't. Indeed, the mode's songs are ripped straight from from the Japanese Kirby of the Stars anime adaption. Composed by one Akira Miyagawa, a total of at least fourteen tracks play not just throughout the mode, but occasionally pop up in other facets of Air Ride as well.

This begs the question: do these serve as a loving nod to the show's incoming conclusion, or just come across as phoned-in laziness? Well, that might depend on where you live. Us foreign players are placed in a peculiar situation with these songs, as 4Kids Entertainment's English dub of the show happened to erase the original Japanese score in favor for in-house works.

Now, I could elaborate on the particular fuck-ups behind that decision, but that's not important. What is important is that holy crap, these songs fit like a glove. I'm serious, just listen to the above selection for the Falling Meteor event and tell me that doesn't perfectly convey tongue-in-cheek pandemonium. Much like the Gordos, the flaming meteors themselves are inflated to the point of absurdity, yet this theme is what truly drives the hilarity levels home. It's truly something that has to be witnessed.

Here's a example better suited for written context, in which the above Castle Lololo arrangement plays for whenever Dyna Blade flies in to wreak havoc. The song's always held an antagonistic tone, but it's cranked up to the max here as the sky turns blood red for the arrival of the rainbow-colored beast. It works quite well (and clearly HAL liked it too, as it was used once more for the actual Dynablade fight in Kirby Super Star's DS remake).

Hell, it even works within the chaos of City Trial's lack of context. There's one event where nightfall hits the city, signalling the activation of the wharf's lighthouse. What it doesn't tell you is that its mysterious light heals any injured Stars, and while that can be quickly discovered when investigating the area, one really does wonder why the alert just jubilantly exclaims "the city's lighthouse has turned on!" all the while the charmingly idyllic tones of Cappy Town's morning-time antics flutter about without a care in the world. Note also the song's title, of which I've always pronounced in the form of a grim movie trailer VO ("The City Lighthouse....Burns").

But wait, did I just describe the one flaw of City Trial? Indeed, there are a couple of events that don't survive the mode's absence of context, including the aforementioned lighthouse scenario and a mysterious fleet of Stars that float majestically in the city skies every now and then. While they possess purpose, their non-consequential effects elicit the most awkward of shrugs. We can be excited or driven away by fear from meteor strikes, fog, and rail station fires, but a lighthouse is a lighthouse no matter how amazing its accompanying score is.

However, a mode that excels this well despite a stumbled introduction deserves nothing but the utmost of praise. It's a wonderful piece of enigmatic game design that continues to captivate me to this very day, and in that I confidently state City Trial is not just one of the greatest multiplayer experiences on the Gamecube, but may very well be up there with Nintendo's best in history.

With its success being so great--to the extent of it rendering the mistakes of the main racing moot---Kirby Air Ride is granted another chance, another fresh outlook.  But what ultimately sells the rest of the game to the player? The answer lies in the birth of a new Sakurai trope: checklists. Yes, checklists. Complementing the game's three modes are 360 different objectives, with 120 for each one. Be it time trials, mastering specific vehicles, or just breaking the shit out of stuff in City Trial, Kirby Air Ride rewards the player with green-flavored bragging rights or red-tinted goodies.

What renders this so successful is that it permeates the entire game. It's thoroughly organic, as just fooling around in any mode can yield from anything to the simplest of achievements to unlocking Kirby color alts, music tracks, and even a hidden character or vehicle or the like. With just how unintuitive the game is in general, Sakurai and co. no doubt realized there needed to be a compelling incentive for the player to devote their full investment, and seeing as how it's featured in nearly every game of his since, it obviously worked.

Just take the RC-inspired Top Ride, for instance. Its top-down perspective quirkiness--complete with awkward inverted handling--would normally have been tossed aside in favor of Air Ride's more eye-catching modes. But now with the prize-dangling checklist in hand, we have no choice but to engage in the mode, and we discover that the mode is actually wonderfully chaotic. You know how Baby Park in Mario Kart: Double Dash!! was the most exciting course in that game despite its simplistic, oval appearance? It's the same deal here, only instead expanded upon via constant sharp turns, interactive hazards, and a never-ending barrage of dizzying weaponry.

Even setting the checklist aside, I'm still sucked into how Top Ride fulfills the Smash-esque "just one more" cravings. These compact, bite-sized races call for close-quarters battering through explosions, fire, and gyration, all immensely satisfying and requiring the sharpest quick-on-the-draw senses players can muster. With how best courses (Sky and Metal) taking interactive advantage of Air Ride's one-button control scheme (be it the former's buttons and ramps or the latter's course-shifting machinery), I'm always coming back for more. In that sense, I suppose the mode functions as a bridge between the other two--need a break from City Trial? Settle for some quickfire Top Ride chaos.

And the checklist magic even works on the Air Ride mode. The main racing component is still a bust, but it's that checklist-inspired hook that compels me to better myself in solo. The unlockable gorgeous song arrangements and hidden characters are temporarily forgotten as I'm shaving off record after record in Time Trials, shifting between Star after Star as I strive to improve myself, gliding and grinding and soaring.

But most of all, what's more gratifying than the checklist accomplishments and time trials and Top Ride chaos is the game's possession of something truly precious. The obvious cue would be pointing out the game's stellar soundtrack, yet I've come to realize just how little praise has greeted the game's aesthetics. It's a damn shame Kirby Air Ride's erratic reception has no doubt muffled this, and that no doubt renders my opinion all the more shocking: Kirby Air Ride features one of the most striking, wondrous, downright best art styles featured in any Nintendo game.

Up to this point, Kirby aesthetics have generally drifted between nostalgia echoing baby's blanket prints and glistening fantasy found only in one's dreams, but Air Ride bursts with such imagination that it's hard to peg it down to a specific style. The fantasy tropes are still present, yet Kirby Air Ride thrives on galvanized juxtaposition-- it lifts and blends from everything to light-hearted and medieval fantasy, touches of sci-fi, and some of the most breathtaking examples of surrealism. It shifts and mixes on a dime on such an inspired level that I daresay, on an artistic level, it's Kirby at its most ambitious.

The first two Air Ride courses--Fantasy Meadows and Celestial Valley--represent the purest of outdoors high fantasy. The former provides a gorgeous backdrop complete with physically-manifested wind currents and looming planetoid, but it doesn't forget to segue its imagination into the actual track, as the players race up to an entirely flora-constructed windmill, of which leads into an illuminated underground passage. And the nightfall expanses of Celestial Valley beg to be explored, what with signs of excavation and fossil-embedded walls as pairs of hungry eyes watch racers from cracked eggshells. Just look at these.

And the music! They're accompanied by such sweeping orchestral scores, particularly in the case of Fantasy Meadows, which perfectly represents the beginning of a grand fantasy: small beginnings, with inklings of a grand adventure just waiting to unfold. Meanwhile, the melancholic windy whistles of Celestial Valley are offset by a rushing chase that no doubt echo the course's water rapids. These two songs compel me to thoroughly demand similar usage of their ilk outside of a racing environment, and I continue to be stunned at how they were practically made for an adventure.

And as the ice course, Frozen Hillside isn't satisfied with being a winter wonderland (although its wonderful song presented above might convince you otherwise). It's aerial setting--complete with rails, wind-propelling arches, and rattling bridges--presents a panoramic view of the area, featuring a white-green colored landscape and fantasy-esque constructs we never learn the context of, leaving our minds to fill in the blanks. Our only hint lies in the appearance of one majestic flying whale, the product of the game artist's desire to combine unorthodox elements (in this case, a fantasy wintry tundra and a floating marine lifeform). The end result lets our imaginations soar.

I could just sit here and rave about how aesthetic and music work together in Kirby Air Ride to create a living, breathing fantasy world just outside our reach--just barely outside the realm of context--and it's excruciating, yet downright delicious bait that prods at me every time I race within their worlds. The lava and stone dragons that dwell within the downright-frightening hellfire of Magma Flows (as shown above, note how it combines cinematic fantasy and xylophones complete with a brief cameo from Kirby Super Star's Gourmet Race theme), the flora-carnival heights of Beanstalk Park as its accompanying track gradually builds into aerial splendor, the backwards alien world just outside Machine Passage's dark halls of fast-paced techno and chorus...

Even Top Ride prods at the mind! True to their source of inspiration, the Top Ride courses are veritable top-down recreations of RC car tracks, although adapted to designs of sheer fantasy akin to Fantasy Meadows and Celestial Valley. Much as I adore Grass's country setting and Water's valley waterfalls, Sky is the clear winner. Kirby Air Ride is, after all, a racer emphasizing the air, and I can't help but be charmed by this course's ancient cubic structures and quaint, chess-inspired racing grounds. As expected from its compact origins, it's a far softer aesthetic than the ambitions of the main Air Ride mode, but one that captures my imagination with help from its carousel-esque song track. I'd love to see what lies within the landmasses below.

Again, Kirby has always been enveloped within fantasy, but the games have always stuck to one cohesive theme. And even then they'd never so much as dreamt as plunging so deep into the realms of fantasy, having been so content with sugary-sweet, heart-swelling nostalgia. Of course, not that there's anything wrong with that, but I'm just so taken with this direction into the fusion of artistic motifs.  It forces me to dream, compels me to theorize on what lies beyond the race tracks, and I thoroughly demand to see it explored outside the confines of a racing title.

As stated earlier, it's a subject that demands an article of its own, but until that day arrives, I'll conclude with Air Ride's greatest success in the aesthetic department: the masterpiece of juxtaposition that is Checker Knights. Similar to Top Ride's Sky, it emphasizes floating geometric/cubic landmasses and constructs, only this time in the middle of a lake. It's fantasy, but not outright Fantasy Meadows/Celestial Valley fantasy. The backgrounds hint at something of a middle ground behind that and the typical Kirby aesthetic: it's bouncier and more familiar, but is more inspired via abstraction (ala City Trial). From here, the course's theme is apparently set...

Then you railgrind into the lake depths.

Underneath the lake hosting a cubic racing course lies an underwater city. It's not the ancient city of Atlantis, nor a coral-filled city housing merfolk. The complete details are too far to fully make out, but the abundance of neon lights prove that it's not only not the outright abstraction City Trial is, but that it's a living, breathing modern city.

By itself, such a city would have no place within Kirby's realm. The faint traces of smog and the night-time noire would be repulsive enough, and yet I am downright stunned in its symmetry with what lies above the city's waters. We could just chalk it up to the oversized jellybean-esque bubble floating about, but just its mere presence hidden under the surface of a jovial world elicits the most intense curiosity and wonder. I can't think of anything like it, and yet Kirby Air Ride pulls it off as if it's as easy as breathing.

I mentioned earlier how Kirby Air Ride's aesthetic induces a sort of catharsis into the player, of which is no small part due to the game's aerial nature. Every time I play, I'm not just enjoying the game: I'm dreaming. I wonder what's staring at me from Celestial Valley's eggs, I ponder what goes down on the surface of Sky, and most of all, what the aquatic denizens of Checker Knight's underwater city are up to these days. I could just be speaking as the most desperate of Air Ride apologists, but I find the game's dual-layer of chaos and dreams to be no joke.

Indeed, Kirby Air Ride is not a masterpiece, but I imagine it could be one had the core racing been further polished. As it stands, it's a quirky, quirky game born from the most unintuitive of premises--premises that shouldn't by any means actually work, and yet for the most part, actually do. That it not only actually succeeds in doing so, but in that it reaches peripheral ambitions so high within a genre so centered around competition renders it one of my dearest Nintendo treasures.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Biweekly Music Wednesday! No. 18 ~ Trophy~ (Super Smash Bros. Melee)

Origin: Super Smash Bros. Melee
Plays In: Trophy Lottery/Mini-game/Trophy Event Matches
Status: Original Composition
Composers: Hirokazu Ando, Shogo Sakai, Tadashi Ikagami

Hey, what can I say? I've been in Smash euphoria all month.

So why this song? Turns out, it's one of the selectable menu themes in the My Music feature for Super Smash Bros. for Wii U! Much of my Smash Bros. Brawl playtime was actually spent tinkering with the music ratio in My Music, and from the two examples we've witnessed in the recent Direct (Battlefield and the Menu...there's also Skyloft, but my anti-Skyward Sword bias refuses to acknowledge it), I'm already planning the high-low ratios for both selections.

I'm not quite sure where to place this song, though. Describing my meticulous arrangement with My Music could take quite some time, so here's a general idea: a stage's "main" theme will typically rank the highest while the most dynamic or dissonant tracks are set quite low, and the rest of the songs are balanced from there. As an example, take Distant Planet from Pikmin: the ripped Main Theme from that game is set alongside the Forest of Hope and World Map among the highest, while the quirky Environmental Noises only has a silver of a chance at playing. While I've picked the first three as the representative songs for Distant Planet, this sets the shock for the rare occasion Environmental Noises--a calming menagerie of the sounds of nature--decides to present itself.

For the Wii U game's menu, it's less clear-cut. The main menu theme will be the highest, no doubt, but what about the rest? We have the stellar Menu 2 from Melee, as well as the menu themes from that game and Brawl. As the menu theme pervades the entire title, I believe the game will be at its freshest with that song at the forefront, but I think turning those three songs on could serve as fun nostalgic throwbacks. Menu 2 will likely be set to halfway, while the Melee/Brawl themes will serve as occasional cameos.

And then there's this song. By far one of my favorite tracks from Melee, it's a stellar representation of Nintendo memory lane. I can see it now: me combing through the game's trophy descriptions for hours on end, browsing the fan sites of old (Nintendo Land and Nintendo Database ring any bells?), learning about the fabled legacy of my favorite's a long-gone era, but the Trophy theme brings just a twinge of tumbling through the internet's recesses again.

Having not played Super Smash Bros. Melee in quite some time, it's rather heartwarming knowing I'll be getting acquainted with this song again! It's an oddball choice for the menu that I'm sure will raise eyebrows from my college hallmates, but I dearly look forward to it's return.

...even if I haven't figured out it's play frequency. I'll work it out, I promise!

Final Thoughts: Oh, by the way, I'm quite fond of the orchestral arrangement found in the Original Medley's midpoint from the Smashing...Live! concert. Have a listen!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Tomodachi Life Review (Gaming Grunts)

Review Here

Now here's something new. As one of those charmed by the silly Nintendo Direct for the game ("THIS. IS. TOMO. DACHI. LIFE."), I knew Tomodachi Life would be right up my alley...and I was right! I was hooked for at least a month and a half, and I ain't done yet. Just like Animal Crossing: New Leaf, I'm still checking in on the hijinks of my island residents.

It's a shame we never did get the original title, yet I can't help but wonder how limited in scope and features it is compared to this iteration...? I suppose I'll find out one day, but for now, I'm plenty satisfied with watching my Mii idly scratching his butt.


Sorry guys, no Biweekly Music Wednesday! today; too much college work. Check back next week!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Pokemon Symphonic Evolutions Review (Gaming Grunts)

Review Here

What a night this was.

I never did end up writing a Symphony of the Goddesses review due to personal drama on my end, so writing one for Symphonic Evolutions was a real treat.

I don't want to spoil too much of my impressions, but if you've followed the blog long enough, I'm sure you know which suite was my favorite. All I'll say is that they could not have chosen a better song to express the mystery and adventure of a certain region, and I still get goosebumps from the Youtube recordings.

For those behind the Nintendo-approved Symphonies and Nintendo itself....please consider a Smash Bros. Symphony! Please!

One Piece Unlimited World Red Review (Gaming Grunts)

Review Here

Around the blog's inception, I cited the manga One Piece as something I'd potentially discuss whenever I felt the need to go off-topic. I guess that time is now.

In my nine or ten or so years of reading manga, I cannot think of one I have loved and been more loyal to more than One Piece. I've had falling-outs with Dragon Ball and I've long since relinquished my fan-status for Bleach and Naruto, yet One Piece continues to capture my heart week after week, month after month, year after year. It's the best sort of fantasy adventure story, where the ambitious setting provides the perfect "the sky's the limit" levels of imagination and comedy, with a pitch-perfect blend of profound themes involving tragic heartbreak and the limitless, inspiring potential of people's dreams. For seven years, I've laughed, I've cried, I've cheered, and I'll continue to do so until the end of its run.

I've dabbled into the video games as well, and I suppose they were pretty good. The Pirate Warriors games were some fun timewasters--if not uninspired and more than a little deranged in their story execution--and I found some joy in Unlimited Adventure for the Wii. Yes, it's undeniably low-budget and tends to be repetitive for the sake of being repetitive, but golly, I was just adventuring in a One Piece game! And the score sounds just like the anime! And it's the dub cast from the Funimation dub! And the combat actually felt great! The flaws stuck out like a sore thumb every time I played, but I didn't care because it was frickin' One Piece.

If only I held the same enthusiasm for Unlimited World Red on the PlayStation 3. It's funny how I can readily admit Unlimited Adventure wasn't that great and I've never played the (apparently superior) Unlimited Cruise sequels, yet the sharp decline in quality was still evident. I still can't get over the enforced linearity, which cranks the repetition up to maximum bear in mind, I don't have a problem with linearity in itself, but that was one of the few great features of the previous iterations! Why downplay on it?!? Agh!

I could elaborate on my other disappointments, be they the reduced usefulness of unique character abilities or the boring music score, but then there'd be no point in linking to the review. Give it a read if you haven't, why don't you?  

Friday, October 10, 2014

WarioWare Inc., Mega MicroGame$! Review (Gaming Grunts)

Review Here

Random choice, you say? Thankfully, Gaming Grunts allows games new and old for review, and so I figured why not a title I've been revisiting lately?

WarioWare, Inc., Mega MicroGame$! is still, to date, one of the addictive and funniest games I've ever played. For the former, it all has to do with its ingenious concept of relentlessly chucking five-second "microgames" at the player. The more you clear, the faster and sillier they become to the point where microgames last only 1/3 of a second while the music and sound effects becomes ridiculously sped-up.

But my identification with its humor is why I cherished it so much. Absurdist, off-the-wall humor was my brand of comedy as a child--not exactly common among my peers, you understand--and I was astounded at how this game was proof the geniuses at Nintendo possessed the same exact humor as I did. Everything from the face-sprouting potatos to "YAAAAAaaaaaAAAAA!!!" of a falling nail and to how one microgame literally just has you picking some guy's nail never ceased to induce smiles and laughter.

Heck, I'm still laughing as I play it today. The contrast between the no-nonsense Haru-Natsu-Aki-Fuyu song--Japanese lyrics and all--and the absurd nature-themed microgames of Kat and Ana is absolutely hilarious, and I'll never get tired of how the final boss of the game is just a square with eyes. It's a game I'm dying to write about on here, and I'd like to think it'll be a special review.

If there's any series I miss from my youth, it's this. Bring back WarioWare to its roots, Nintendo!


I actually totally forgot to mention my Gaming Grunts reviews on here! College life does something to ya, heh. Thankfully, I only have two more articles left so I'll be introducing them tomorrow.

The Wonderful 101 Review (Gaming Grunts)



Poor The Wonderful 101. Despite the highly-acclaimed resume behind director Hideki Kamiya (Viewtiful Joe, Bayonetta, Okami), his Nintendo-funded debut title on the Wii U never stood a chance with both retail and public perception alike. While the former was no surprise given the relative obscurity of developer Platinum Games (not to mention Nintendo's horrendous marketing), the game's overt complexity blindsided potential buyers and fans alike, and the gaming world at large still doesn't know what to make of it...or worse, has already forgotten it.

As a fan of the game, I can readily admit Wonderful 101's flaw lies in its inability to explain what the hell is going on. I still can't wrap my head around how vital defensive maneuvers are left unlocked in the game's the shop, and it's further compounded with frustrating, inexplicable gameplay flub-ups like how your Wonderful One leaders can randomly switch or why your whole group isn't piling together into a designated spot (did any of that make sense? haha). It's a real shame the game is so daunting, particularly when you consider how the aforementioned Bayonetta/Viewtiful Joe had quick, interactive tutorials and the same wasn't applied here. The forced gimmicky interludes involving shmups and the like also do it no favors (granted, I do like a couple of 'em, but they tend to mess with the overall pacing).

And yet, I still love it. How could I not? The game's so obviously made with love, going the extra mile with the super-fun "Saturday morning cartoon" being propelled by its Platinum-brand of epicness. Kamiya was correct in the Iwata Asks column for the game in how the first playthrough is much like the tutorial, and now I'm able to play through normal difficulty without much issue (excluding some of the latter enemies, yowch!). I'm still not the best at stringing together combos, but I can still manage to earn a Platinum trophy (as opposed to my former collection of consolation prizes and bronze statues).

Maybe this is a little selfish, but I take obscurity as something of a special treasure. While it was undeniably frustrating how Nintendo marketed The Wonderful 101, it's safe to assume it never would've done that well. But in the end, we got what was most important: an amazing game to play. I can still laugh at the hilarious script, get pumped-up from the heart-pumping soundtrack, and further improve myself in the satisfyingly deep combo system. With the sheer amount of unlockable characters and lore peppered across the levels, I don't think I'll be done anytime soon.

As Kamiya said on Twitter: stop worrying about scores and sales and play the damn game!

By the way, I used to play this and Pikmin 3 every weekend, yet have recently taken a break...I should get back into that groove.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Biweekly Music Wednesday! No. 17 ~ Menu~ (Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and 3DS)

Origin: Super Smash Bros. for 3DS and Wii U
Plays In: The Menu and Smash Run.
Status: Arrangement (the main theme for the games)
Arranger: Junichi Nakatsuru

A new Super Smash Bros. game is being held in my hands.

It's unbelievable. I remember once fully believing--at a time where I was undoubtedly too naive--that Brawl was the finale for our beloved Nintendo crossover, and here we are with two versions coming out in the same season. Isn't that crazy? The 3DS version has been released for nearly a week (and, provided you had access to the Japanese release, almost a month), and the Wii U sibling will release first on our shores this November. My dreams of Animal Crossing's Villager, Punch-Out's Little Mac, and Mega Man joining the battle have all come true alongside Sakurai-esque surprises in the form of the freaking dog from Duck Hunt and the entire Koopaling family all stuck into one swiss army-equipped Junior Clown Car. Amazing.

And that theme. Why must every Smash theme be so godly? Truth be told, I wasn't so convinced by it at its E3 2013 debut; granted, that particular version isn't present in the final version (or in the 3DS version, at least), but the instrumentation was so weak and just that it was hard to get excited by it. The closet sense of excitement I could derive from it was listening to this fan-made piano arrangement--which elicited a classic Melee-esque vibe--and I found that more than a little...well, sad. After the stunning glory that was the Brawl orchestra, could this dingy little tune really have what it took to set the pregame atmosphere for the upcoming Smash?

I guess I knew it was only just for the initial trailer, so I held out hope. And it delivered: not only did the arrangements found in this April's Nintendo Direct manage to hype me, but the final version blasting from the E3 footage successfully won me over. Unlike Melee's classicism and Brawl's orchestras, Smash for 3DS and Wii U goes for pregame Monday Night Football, right down to the revving guitar. Every time I hear it, I'm just so pumped to try out everyone in this glorious cast of all-stars.

And just like Brawl, the theme's peppered throughout the game via numerous arrangements. Many fans aren't so happy with this direction, but I don't really mind since this new theme is so goddamn good. Yes, it does mean we miss out on unique themes like Melee's Menu 2 and Trophy theme, yet at the same time every arrangement is such a fresh--even occasionally downright beautiful--take on the song that they lend the game even more character. Katsuro Tajima's Trophy Rush is a wonderful cacophony of fast-paced action, Yoshinori Hirai's Gallery/Hoard is a prestigious little blend of march and techno, Torine's piano rendition of the Classic: Final Results screen is both gorgeous and reflective, and let's not forget Taku Inoue's chiptune StreetSmash!

I'm just so happy, you know? Six years ago, when the toxicity pervaded the fanbase following Brawl's release, I never dreamed another Smash would arrive to placate my sadness...and yet here we are, ready to relish in another era of Smash Bros. The fun's only just begun with the 3DS version, and I know that when the Wii U version launches, this song will be there with me when I'm ready to jump into the floating temples and mountain crags of Battlefield and beyond.

Let's settle it in Smash!


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Biweekly Music Wednesday! No. 16 ~Float Islands~ (Kirby's Dream Land)


Origin: Kirby's Dream Land
Plays In: Float Islands/Kaboola Room in Dedede's Castle
Status: Original Composition
Composers: Jun Ishikawa

Well, I suppose it makes sense go over a Kirby song in the middle of my Kirby-themed feature! To initiate my first Kirby-related Biweekly Music Wednesday!, I figured I'd start out with an oddball: Float Islands.

When I say "oddball," I mean that Float Islands is typically overshadowed by the rest of the glorious music found in Kirby games. It's one of the first songs you hear in Kirby Super Star, yet that game's general orchestra boom steals the show. A secret arrangement is found in Kirby Air Ride, but everyone was too busy playing City Trial and its anime-ripped OST accompaniment. We even witness an interesting techno remix in Kirby Canvas Curse, but alas, I was too absorbed in the Rainbow Resort one to notice.

And yet despite all that, Float Islands is perhaps tied with Green Greens as my favorite song in the title that started it all: Kirby's Dream Land. Whereas Green Greens embodies heartwarming nostalgia, Float Islands is a distant reflection. You're sitting down in the kitchen chair staring out the window one early summer morning, and just like that, memories from what was a lifetime ago gradually slink back. The fragmented memories of a forgotten puppet-based television show. That one road trip from when you were seven. The time you clutched your favorite Sesame Street blanket as your mom rocked you to sleep.


I once described the Ripple Field theme from Kirby's Dream Land 3 conjures the visual of a resolute chase. You're running down a beach that holds the key to your past, eyes scanning the area for familiar landmarks or structures to satisfy your quench for knowledge. Float Islands is the antithesis--there is no mad dash, for that individual is already content with life. He or she's slowly pacing across the ocean, eying the eternal blue as the wind tickles their cheeks.

I wonder which person I am? I've definitely dabbled into both; at the moment, I'd like to think I'm the latter. I've got great family, a wonderfully supportive English department at school, a great internship, and am constantly challenging myself through writing. Yet there was definitely a time I'd have done anything to get my past back, and if you told me I had to run down a beach to do so, I wouldn't have hesitated.

I don't miss being a teenager, that's for sure.

What about you? If that's a bit too personal of a question, then here's an interesting piece of trivia that blew my mind a couple years back. Doesn't the part at 0:22 sound familiar? That's right, it happens to be the inspiration for this famously chill Kirby song!

...or it might be more famously chill to Smash fans. You decide!


Even those we deem to be most ordinary hide the most profound secrets, don't they?

Final Thoughts: So apparently all the songs from Kirby's Dream Land are in Super Smash Bros. for 3DS via the sound test and Smash Run. Beating up Bulborbs and Starmen to this is gonna be surreal. And chill, yeah.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Ten Years of Kirby ~Reverie 8~ Kirby: Nightmare in Dream Land

2002. The Nintendo Gamecube had launched in Asian/American territories within the past fall and would eventually reach European/Australian shores later that spring. Accompanied by the new Game Boy Advance handheld system, the purple duo arrived in a harsh climate for Nintendo. While the GBA had no problems flying off store shelves, the Gamecube shriveled up in an post-launch drought much like the Nintendo 64. The bitter mentality of Nintendo being "for kids" was at its strongest, and the "purple lunchbox" design turned off older audiences. Regardless of any mended relations with third-parties (most notably Sega and Squaresoft), short-sighted marketing decisions and bad press constantly impeded Nintendo's little console. Even the successful Game Boy Advance was not exempt from criticism, as fans vocalized disappointment at upcoming Mario and Zelda titles being just handheld ports of decade-old Super Nintendo titles. While Golden Sun and the introduction of the Advance Wars/Fire Emblem franchises in the West constantly provided new experiences, Nintendo was not the least bit subtle in turning their latest handheld into a breeding ground for ports and remakes.

Having just completed the labor-intensive development of Super Smash Bros. Melee, Kirby creator Masahiro Sakurai was well aware of these complaints. He elaborated on this issue in an interview following his soon-to-be departure from HAL Laboratory, citing not-so-discreet examples of tired sequelization and desperation from his parent companies.

"That's why you see places trying to stay alive by putting out tons of budget titles and re-releases. Every game company, no matter who they are, is desperate right now. So one possibility is that people will say 'I can't live off this anymore' and leave the game industry in droves. You see a lot of people use terms like 'console wars' and compare the whole thing to a fight for territory. You [the interviewer] and lots of other people in the game industry get termed 'Nintendo people' or 'Some other console's people' by someone you've never even met. But this is no time for that, I don't think."

Regardless of any likely festering doubts over the company he'd worked at for so long, Sakurai's idealism was no match for corporate. In an ironic twist, the man found himself the chief director of a Kirby remake: to be precise, a Game Boy Advance reimagining of the NES classic Kirby's Adventure.

If he bared any ill-will towards the project--however unlikely that may have been--it was surely left confined within the walls of HAL Laboratory. And why shouldn't it, when his pink puffball was set to become a marketing blockbuster? Japan began airing the anime adaption Kirby of the Stars the previous September, and the show was set to be repackaged as Kirby: Right Back at Ya! for North American audiences under the handling of licensing company 4Kids Entertainment (who were also responsible for dubbing the mega-hit Pokémon cartoon). Numerous marketing teams worked around the clock with a 10 million dollar budget to turn Kirby into a media sensation following the cartoon's American debut, with his visage to be pasted onto everything from fast-food licensing deals to merchandise of all sorts. Over six weeks were spent designing the following logo, which has since been associated with nearly all localized Kirby games to this day.

It is one of the few Kirby trademarks left from that time. In yet another misstep from Nintendo's string of marketing failures in that era, the plans to turn Kirby into another Pokémon-esque hit fizzled out. While the anime was a moderate success among young audiences tuning in to Fox's Saturday morning cartoon block, it never came close to matching Pokémon rating numbers and the promises of toy lines, pajamas and backpacks mysteriously fell through--as opposed to the troves of plush merchandise commonly imported from Japan and available for purchase at conventions and even the official Nintendo World Store. Meanwhile, longtime Kirby fans found themselves disinterested in the show's original cast and setting...if they weren't already turned off by the questionable voices attached to their favorite characters (most notably in the cases of King Dedede, Meta Knight and Rick the Hamster, who were given wildly inappropriate accents). While the show's dubbing treatment wouldn't reach the level of atrocities inflicted on Japan's famous One Piece property a couple years later (or most other 4Kids-licensed works, for that matter), the voice miscasting and the replacement of the game-inspired score render it not only inferior to the original Japanese airing, but simply as product.

If anything, Nintendo of America's localization of Kirby from 2002-2006 became something of a, well, joke. While the cartoon didn't set America on fire, any of its mistakes were a drop in the bucket compared to another hare-brained marketing blunder that would curse the series for years to come: the inception of "Angry Kirby". In what I can only imagine was a laughable attempt to quell the "Nintendo is kiddy" stereotype, nearly all Kirby titles beginning with and following Nightmare in Dream Land would have their front covers plastered with frowns and slanted eyebrows. Nightmare in Dream Land was branded with a particularly nasty localized box art, depicting Kirby performing a Copy Ability that's not in the game (Fighter) and implying that series anti-hero Meta Knight was the game's main villain.

Common sense should indicate that if you're trying to groom your pink puffball into the next Pikachu, you shouldn't decorate him with furrowed eyebrows. In any case, the terror of Angry Kirby wouldn't be fully known until soon after, as Nightmare in Dream Land was saddled with yet another marketing error. I mentioned Nintendo's trend of filling up the Game Boy Advance game calendar with ports and remakes, and seeing as how that was when Nintendo began to love appealing to nostalgia, it rendered the introduction of this title all the more...well, awkward. Believe it or not, Nightmare in Dream Land was the only Game Boy Advance remake to not be officially advertised as a remake. Not in press releases, not in trailers, not even the commercial. Only eagle-eyed fans who sifted through screenshots or purchased the early Japanese release found out the truth before its American launch.

In retrospect, aside from few, isolated GameFAQs board cries I'm actually amazed there was no major controversy over this. As far as I know, Japan had no issue since the remake beared the same name as the original (just with a "deluxe" added at the end), but Nintendo of America marketed it as an actual new game and just about no one noticed! I imagine Kirby's sleeper hit status contributed to this; can you imagine if the same thing happened with, say, Super Mario Bros. 3 or something? Somehow I doubt the initial batch of screenshots would've slipped by so easily.

But what's more important than anything else is that regardless of any possible misgivings Sakurai had over the project, no matter how many failed business deals or horrid Spanish accents impeded the pink's ball path, Kirby was given justice in the most important area of all: a great game. Nightmare in Dream Land is not the perfect remake; at the very least, I would not place it in the same league as Pokémon Soul Silver/Heart Gold or the later Kirby Super Star Ultra, but it remains one I constantly go back and forth on. What is better than the original? What does the original do better? Every time I play, I ask myself these questions, and I love nearly every moment.


At last, we have arrived at my first review of a Nintendo remake. It's one of my favorite subjects within the company's legacy, and I never tire of comparing the shiny upgraded versions in contrast to their classic source material. I suppose it's necessary to get this warning out of the way: when it comes to their remakes, I am nitpicky as all hell. As fascinating as it is to study changes between versions, the slightest blunder or inefficiency in a new background or character animation or music track or what have you has the tendency to dock off major points from me.

It was my disappointment with Super Mario 64 DS that sparked this habit. Having discovered the masterpiece quality of the original only a year before its announcement, twelve-year-old me was hyped as all hell for its release. While it ended up being a decent remake, there were more than a few...shall we say, baffling decisions in its re-imagining..I did not care for how the hat powers were split between the four characters, and I did not like that Snowman's Land's awesome 3D ice maze was changed into, uh, some ice blocks for Yoshi to melt, and I certainly did not care for how they decided to throw in the original King Bob-omb battle for nostalgic shits and giggles despite already developing a perfectly upgraded replacement for the first visit into Bob-omb Battlefield. Ever since that day on, I've held Nintendo's remakes under the glass of a microscope: nitpicking, comparing, watching...

In retrospect, it's pretty funny how easily satisfied I was with Nightmare in Dream Land only two years earlier when considering the number of changes. Certain enemies and mini-bosses have been swapped in favor of new designs, the backgrounds and foregrounds have taken an entirely new art direction instead of simply upgrading the original sprites, and even the presence of certain disappointing level compromises to avert the NES's niftier uses of parallax scrolling. Yet even with whatever flaws I can identify today, I don't mind so much: Nightmare in Dream Land is something of a constant mental battle for me, one where it's likely waging a losing battle against Kirby's Adventure for superiority, but damn me if it doesn't put up one hell of a fight. The instant I spot something Adventure did better, something else quickly sprouts up in another point for NIDL.

So how to go about evaluating this remake? It's a difficult process: some Nintendo remakes have noticeable differences in their gameplay, while others may as well have replicated the original engine. How much were the graphics overhauled? The sound? Do the new properly complement the game, or does the game feel stripped down in comparison?

For this particular article, I will be evaluating Nightmare in Dream Land from an aesthetic and sound perspective, as well as the former's impact on gameplay immersion. Regardless of whatever minor changes the remake applies to the levels, for all intents and purposes Nightmare in Dream Land is practically identical to the original in terms of gameplay. The controls are virtually the same, the Copy Abilities function precisely as they had a decade before (excluding Backdrop, which has Kirby fully hands-on with his suplex moves), and there are no distinct differences regarding sense of control, speed, and gravity.

I do not intend to completely overshadow gameplay: there are some overhauls regarding the mini-games, for instance, as well as some exciting new features. But what I'm most interested in is how exactly do the "upgraded" visuals provide for the actual feel the game? Do they render the formally 8-bit world of Kirby's Adventure more immersive, or do they detract from the experience? Is the soundtrack faithfully reproduced, or do the chiptune sounds of yesteryear emerge triumphant? Does the remake capture even the slightest of the original's idiosyncrasies, or does it forge its own identity?

In short: does the remake do the original justice, let alone stand by itself?

Let's start with the games' respective opening sequences and title screens.

In comparing the two title screens, we can tell the general UI is far less colorful (to be specific, less pinker) than the original. Any fears of a grittier Kirby should be quickly quelled: despite the background overhaul (more on that later) the actual game provides enough color and flash to compensate; plus, the game comes with its own brand of charm and humor. While unfortunately the beloved "Draw a Circle" intro sequence was axed, we're instead treated to a barrage of Kirbys flooding the screen to give way to the title screen. Showcasing the GBA's graphical power, perhaps? I've always gotten a smile out of it, regardless.

But I think the story narration demo provides a better comparison. Take a look:

Despite the obvious changes in narration text (no doubt to compliment the smaller GBA screen), take a gander at the NIDL artwork. Kirby sports a seriously thick outline, a motif that will be carried out by just about every character sprite in the game. While the artwork pieces for this particular intro bear a watercolor/"painted" theme of sorts, the in-game application of outlines grants the sprites an animated look and feel. Nothing Disney-tier, of course, but it's such an interesting aesthetic that it warrants further investigation.

But before that, let's dive into the first major change: the menus. Refresh your memory with Adventure's for a moment, why don't you?

Being attached to the title screen, Kirby's Adventure's green menu doesn't need to overly embellish itself. Each save file displays a compact collection of both the main game and unlockables, such as mini-games, Extra Mode, and the boss rush. It gets the job done, although the sound test has a bizarre presentation (with an out-of-order soundtrack and not number-labeling the songs past tens. The latter may have been due to NES limitations, but the former makes for a rather unorthodox listening).

Nearly ten years later, Nightmare in Dream Land wisely chooses to include a full-fledged UI menu.  Sakurai fans should instantly recognize the style, having debuted in Super Smash Bros. Melee and designed by his future wife Michiko Takahashi. While it hasn't quite evolved to the point of visual aids as introduced in Kirby Air Ride and Super Smash Bros. Brawl, the resemblance is still clear; particularly in the below screen shot with its long, sexy buttons. The above shot is still notable for a certain visual gimmick: whenever you turn off the game, a visual pops next to the percentage bar depicting artwork of whatever world you left off in (in this particular instance, it's the sunset of Orange Ocean). Nice touch!

 But enough about menus! What does the actual game look like? Let's first take a step back in time.

Here's the starting point of Kirby's Adventure. Take aside the 8-bit graphics and the leftwards bar thingamajig (what are those things called, anyway?) and focus on the overall composition. Having been designed for home TV use, Kirby's Adventure comes equipped with a big ol' HUD display, which I imagine was necessary to highlight the particular Copy Abilities that Kirby could possess. Kirby's Adventure also boasts some pretty imaginative backgrounds for an NES game, albeit with a limited sense of scope. And of course, Kirby's Adventure is all about the bright colors.

Here's the respective location of Nightmare in Dream Land. The screen-size reduction brings about some major overhauls; for one thing, we no longer have a dedicated HUD display. Lives, health bar, and the score are all display over the bottom of the foreground, and the Copy Ability display/artwork only pops up when Kirby has one in his possession. The smaller screen also cuts down movement area somewhat, but that's to be expected for a complete GBA remake.

But mother of god, look at that background scope! This particular example is an excellent showcase of when the game successfully captures the look and feel of Dream Land. The wide verdant green, peculiar mountain shapes and even the the trademark "checkered" aesthetic--this time reimagined into dirt roads--immediately capture the eye and set the imagination soaring. Typically, Nightmare in Dream Land only utilizes the base background trope from the original (in the above case, a field and a lake) and then shoots off into its own direction, but here we can see it paying tribute via the foreground: the yellow landmarks of Adventure sticking out with a new gray look next to an adorable little fence.

And I'm really not kidding when Nightmare in Dream Land takes off with its background art direction. Look at its take on the forest level above and tell me that's not absolutely gorgeous. It's bursting with imagination, complete with neon weather patterns decorating the forest air and powered by cherry-like energy rods. The foreground's pretty rad too; granted, I'm pretty sure the red leaves are odds with the green trees, but whatever, it's pretty!

These are the best artistic moments of Nightmare in Dream Land: not for when it trumps Adventure, but when it leaps into the realm of absurdist fantasy of its own accord. The above scenery is the perfect example: what was once an ordinary desert is transformed into a wasteland populated by floating jellybeans. Such dreary scenery is instantly made fun by this simple, yet wild leap into fantasy.

Of course, Rainbow Resort is again the aesthetic star of the show. The Kirby vs King Dedede scenario in particular has been completely revamped, clearly inspired by the Fountain of Dreams stage in Super Smash Bros. Melee. The way the spring water melds with the rainbow-colored background is just sublime, and the battle is treated to a new Rainbow Resort weather pattern: strokes of suspended azure.While the dreamy theme park aesthetic has been shelved, this dazzling dreaminess is a fine substitute.

There are certainly locations where there's no contest in Nightmare in Dream Land's superiority. This mini-boss room had its background supplied by a wall, yet here we're treated to a panoramic shot of Dream Land. I could just float away.

Or take the above Grape Garden level, the original version of which I've always been rather confounded by. The hub artwork hints Kirby's about to enter another valley-themed stage, yet somehow he inexplicably finds himself inside an airship that suddenly segues into a forest. Huzzhwuh?

This sort of inexplicable transition can't really fly in 16-bit gaming--least of all in 2002--so thankfully, Nightmare in Dream Land comes up with a really neat alternative. It dumps the original airship interior concept outright and instead jumps straight into the forest, but not before crafting an entirely original section. On top of that, it's designed for players to figure out how to use the complicated Ball ability, and it gets that job done rather well with the tight spaces. Cool!

But for every graphical improvement Nightmare in Dream Land conjures up, there's always a misstep waiting just around the corner. I say this realizing the general inevitabilty of remakes: no matter how much they get right or unique spins they create on their own, they'll always flub up in ways that'll benefit no one. The good news is that while none of Nightmare in Dream Land's mistakes via aesthetics are game-ruining, there are some definite jarring moments even without the context of the original game.

Here's a particular area Nightmare in Dream Land struggles in: retaining platform density, as evidenced by the above opening sequence to Ice Cream Island. Adventure attaches platforms to a small island hill for the purpose of adding character, yet its remake strips the hill away and just leaves us with random shingling platforms. But why? These platforms aren't built for progression, and isolating them from the background renders them pointless and out of place. Ick.

...and then the game soon makes up for it by adding in a kickass mangrove. Agh!

In any case, this is exclusively a problem with floating platforms. While cutting background intersections with the foreground (such as the aforementioned island and the above cloud structure) could be acceptable compromises in transitioning to a new style, the problem is that many platforms come across as half-baked since they have nothing to offer on their own. While the above NIDL shot may be artistically representative of your typical Kirby game, the platforms don't bear enough solidity.

There are time where it's easier to overlook, such as the above take on Ice Cream Island's sky level. We can still witness traces of the original ruins littered about, but the tropical theme of the world shines through in a beautifully-rendered background. As the earlier example with the world's beginning was the most extreme example of the problem, this flaw can perhaps be forgiven.

...but man, I really do mean it when my mind can be changed on a dime here. Take the gorgeous shot above, where an aquatic section is provided by an absolutely stunning galactic setting...

...only for it to trip up later when Adventure's transition into an igloo is just reduced to a door. Argh!

And as much as I boasted about the game's art direction earlier, it trips up sometimes there as well. Butter Building is, alas, the most unfortunate casualty of this direction. Nightmare in Dream Land can get so wrapped up in its artistry that it forgets not to get too deep into realism, and so the once joyous, yellow tower finds itself in shambling ruins plopped into the middle of a dreary mountainscape. I also find it rather suspect the new pink motif doesn't quite gel with the name of Butter Building.

By far the most egregious offender is through its feeble handling of Adventure's most famous graphical showcase: the pseudo-3D parallax scrolling sections. While it's understandable the Game Boy Advance apparently couldn't pull that off, there's just no excuse for its replacement: you're forced to sit still in a stagnant room until the fog clears up and the Star Door opens. Considering they already replaced other rooms from the original with brand new ones, it's just a baffling design choice. Even poor Kirby is expressing disappointment!

Meanwhile, the interior goes for a dilapidated aesthetic that doesn't quite gel with the typical Kirby visuals. While the series is no stranger to dreary scenery, it's always done so with the proper shift in tone (sound choices, for example) and it just doesn't work here with the cheery Butter Building theme playing in the background. Take a look at the above visuals, depicting the first time Kirby squares off against the mini-boss Bugzzy: the Adventure version has the fight taking place in a sort of indoors garden, in which I always thought was something of a home to the nasty beetle. In Nightmare in Dream Land, it's just the ol' crumbled ruins background. The relative impact to the player's imagination is rather dismal.

But that's peanuts compared to one background redesign so foul, so undeniably rancid that it boggles the mind as to how this was approved for a Kirby game. Observe the following Adventure shot.

This is the beginning of a Yogurt Yard stage, throwing Kirby inside a mountain interior until he pops out and travels into a forest. The jaggy, puzzle-pieceish background, while nothing special, is one of the few depicted for cavern interiors and the like. It works, gets the job done, falls right in line with Kirby, etc. etc.

Now here's Nightmare in Dream Land's take on the level.

What the hell is this?

What's with the dark lighting? Why is there smoke? Erupting volcanoes? Good god, is that a lake of blood I'm looking at? Someone tell me it's magma. Actually, don't; I'm too scared to know. As if it's not bad enough, it sticks around for the entire duration of the level all the while one of the happiest, bounciest songs of the game delightfully flutters about as if there's not a wrong in the world.

Words fail me. I mean, I guess I can gloss over the mistakes made with Butter Building, but this shit is can't look away. The alarming incongruity between this clusterfuck of a backdrop and the innocent jolliness of Kirby platforming can't be described through mere words. Just look at that picture. Just look at it.

People--and when I say "people" I mean embittered Smash Bros. fans--associate many negative nouns and adjectives with Sakurai. They'll tell you Sakurai was an idiot for including tripping in Smash Bros. Brawl or that he's some sort of evil conspiring marketer who intentionally made that game bad on purpose to spite people or w/e, but they're directing their anger at the wrong game. Just what exactly went through the mind of Sakurai when he approved this backdrop? Did he actually look at this and felt this was an adequate upgrade of the original game, or was he too busy stroking the heads of his cats, not knowing he had inadvertently approved Yogurt Yard's transformation into an apocalyptic wasteland?

I guess we can chalk that up to a careless failure on his part, as I have no recollection of this...colorful choice of art as a kid. Which lucky stars to thank, I wonder?

In any case, that's all there is in regards to the level aesthetics. Some other notes of interest include the following:

 -One should get used to seeing the above Kirby sprite for quite some time, as it becomes the norm for the next six years of traditional Kirby games. Not that I have a problem with that, as he's quite the charmer here. Just look at those adorable sparkling irises!

I mentioned earlier how the super thick outlines grant the characters an "animated" look. Obviosusly I'm not talking levels of, say, Rayman Legends or Wario Land: Shake It!, but under Sakurai's helm we witness characters reverting back to expressive countenances of joyous mannerisms and their horrific last moments before being swallowed/mauled by Kirby. This series' dark side is something else.

 -After a prolonged absence during the Shinichi Shimomura era, Kirby hats make their triumphant return! And they've never looked better, either; they're far more expressive and animated than their Super Star counterparts. In particular, the way the flames of Fire Kirby lash about during his every move are quite beautiful. Never fear, Kirby fans, for the hats are here to stay from now on.

Of course, some new outfits are thrown into the mix as well. If I'm not mistaken, the above one for Freeze reminds me of a certain duo contestant in Smash Bros...may they rest in peace.

-Nightmare in Dream Land has an interesting habit of introducing a wide palette of colors for the enemy characters. Adventure dabbled into this as well, but definitely not to the extent of its remake. Personally, I love the idea of a remake carrying on from where the original left off, and this peculiar execution is so bright and colorful that it renders the world of Dream Land all the more eye-popping.

By the way, I find these Coners' red shells rather delicious-looking.


-While Nightmare in Dream Land forges its own artistry for the levels, Adventure fans will enjoy some nice fanservice in the hub world designs. As shown by the above screen captures, the nostalgic NES designs are faithfully replicated for the GBA. How dazzling is Rainbow Resort?

-Most of the enemies return from Adventure except for the star-chuckin' Bounders and the above mini-boss, Rolling Turtle. Bounders are replaced by, uh, these chubby pig things with wings (Gips), while Rolling Turtle is swapped out for an elephant-themed character named Phan Phan. It's a 50/50 thing for me: the Gips are pretty ugly and don't have the wall-clinging charm of the Bounders, but I find Phan-Phan a lot cuter than Rolling Turtle. The exact reason for these changes are unknown, but here we are.

By the way, compare the sizes of the two mini-bosses. Notice how much bigger Phan-Phan is? We could simply chalk this up to the smaller GBA screen, but I'd wager it was Nintendo's philosophy of dumbing the difficulty in their ports/remakes at the time. Just about every boss is doubled in size and easier to hit, and so Nightmare in Dream Land is much more of a cakewalk than Adventure was. Kirby games are, of course, easier in general, which renders it all the more interesting to see Nintendo's hand-holding reach extend all the way here.

-We can also spot this doctrine in the dark rooms, which must be lit up by the Light ability. While said ability is still required to locate the hidden doors, the bottom NIDL shot proves you may as well not need it at all if you just want to clear the level. Sadly, NIDL couldn't come up with an appropriate visual complement to Adventure's awesome neon look.

-A neat character touch in Adventure is when every time you come across an Invincibility Candy, it's always thrown to you by a hidden Meta Knight, hinting the masked anti-hero has ulterior motives in continually testing Kirby. This is sadly removed in NIDL, where the lollipops simply fall from the heavens or are just lying in plain sight. In hindsight, given that Meta Knight's "good guy" status in the cartoon would eventually bleed over into the games, it's a rather bizarre change. Regardless, NIDL's version doesn't look that awkward, so I suppose I can let this one slide (plus, it's not as if Kirby established a continuity where Meta Knight spends his time plopping lollipops all over Dream Land, as funny as that would be).

That about wraps up the visuals. They're the classic definition of a mixed bag: some design choices work, others don't. And yet, I don't mind it so much. Yes, Butter Building and that one Yogurt Yard level are travesties and I wish more attention was paid to beefing up the platforms, but the sheer beauty of everything else far outweighs those major slip-ups. The moment I spot something I abhor, another favorable aesthetic suddenly steals me away to vertigo. I always have my breath taken away by Vegetable Valley or whenever I'm in the romantic clutches of Rainbow Resort, and I refuse to let even the most heinous of Butter Building's mistakes stop me from reveling in them.

But why am I being so forgiving in this regard? The great news is that regardless of any graphical missteps, Nightmare in Dream Land excels in just about everywhere else, both in its own accord and in staying true to Adventure.

The three mini-games from Adventure--Crane Fever, Egg Catcher, and Quick Draw--are all cut in favor of new ones. Whereas Adventure's mini-games were something akin to quick-time bonus segues, the ones in Nightmare in Dream Land's come across as more full-fledged and are better suited for your go-to addiction bursts.

Bomb Rally is something of a spiritual successor to Egg Catcher, although it's more in vein of a twisted Hot Potato involving frying pans and bombs. The four colored Kirbys smack the bombs around with their pans in hopes of blasting each other off, as evident in when they increase the tempo. My heart's always pumping at this.

And for this one, too! Samurai Kirby returns from Kirby Super Star, and much like Quick Draw, it's all in the player's skill with timing; precise timing, might I add. The moment swords, paper fans and hammers are drawn, you'd better have that thumb at the A button ready. Expect frustration and numerous attempts (top-knot Meta Knight is such a prick).

And then we have Air Grind, of which is in the running for my favorite Kirby mini-game. No doubt intended as a sort of dry run for the upcoming Kirby Air Ride, Air Grind has four different Kirbys engaging in some serious aerial racing, where the curvy twists and turns are navigated with the simple aid of the A button. Black-tainted rails pop up occasionally to spoil the fun, but so long as you remember to let go and press again at their tail-ends for a well-earned boost, you'll come through just fine. The satisfaction with said boost can't be stated enough.

The beloved co-op mode from Kirby Super Star also returns in a big way: for the first time in series history, four players can join the fun via link cable! Yours truly only ever played with one other gamer long ago, so unfortunately I never received the full experience. I wonder how well the levels would hold up with four players rampaging across at tiny screen? Should the opportunity ever arise, I'll update this post with further impressions.

The Extra Mode and the Boss Endurance both return with no major differences, aside from the inclusion of local multiplayer. Any relevant changes found in the main adventure and boss battles are still present, and so there remains little to be discussed. They still, however, provide suitable challenge for veteran players.

But why bother talking about those two modes when there's this slice of nirvana?

Yes, there's a mode where you play as Meta Knight. Meta Knight is playable for the first time, and as expected from that badass description (the denizens are Dream Land are cruelly subject to anything, it would seem), it's as amazing as one would expect. It's constructed as a time-attack mode so you can't save, but it's a worthy price to pay.

While Meta Knight is limited to his sword, he's given a wider variety of swordplay than his pink counterpart. Aside from a cooler dash and flying with his bat-inspired wings, he can unleash aerial attacks and is skilled in the art of anti-aerial pokes. To build upon the staple difficulty of Time Attack, Meta Knight has less vitality than Kirby, so the mode offers an appealing brand of toughness alongside its core novelty. Meta Knight's so cool that he doesn't even bother to play the mini-games, but I don't think anyone's in a rush to see him participate in a round of Bomb Rally.

So Nightmare in Dream Land might even surpass Adventures in features, but there's one last thing that ventures into the most divided realm of subjectivity: the sound.

This is perhaps the most difficult point to review yet. Speaking on a personal level, my nostalgia of Kirby's Adventure is so palpable that even hearing the sound effects can melt my heart into a gooey mess, so Nightmare in Dream Land would have a lot to live up to...if I hadn't grown up with both games within the same timeframe.

Much like the graphics, NIDL's sound is something I continually wrestle with. In regards to the sound effects, I use the term "mixed bag" with some hesitancy: take the Kirby-related sounds, for example. The high-volume vacuum screech of his whirlwind swallowing is instantly memorable, as are the always colorful Copy Ability jingles and Warp Stars. Yet while the Copy Ability noises are perfectly adequate, the charming 8-bit sounds of Adventure's respective powers are so distinctive that they pale in comparison. Is that fair? For the record, I also find it criminal the UFO enemies don't produce sound.

Then there's the music.

Sweet lord, the music.

I cannot speak highly enough of Hirokazu Ando and Jun Ishikawa's return to their source material, as just listening to the title screen theme alone screams of their excitement in returning to their first duo work. As limited as the GBA sound speakers were, every song's just laced with the scent of nostalgia and are as soft as your childhood pillow.

Listening to the updated take on Vegetable Valley really drives this point home. Even if the overall song is not as hyper as the 8-bit version of old, I've always perceived the new flute section at 0:27 as the game's way of saying, "Welcome Home." It adds so much more to the song despite just being a repeated melody, and I always look forward to it.

Adventure's enrapturing, dreamy songs are again the star of the show, with Rainbow Resort once more holding the title of the game's most beautiful piece. What was once a 8-bit lullaby is now fleshed out with chimes and an actual choir. No, really, listen up to 0:36 and revel in what is a slice of euphoria that rolls up the chill-inducing inspiration of auroras, fireworks, foggy childhood memories and the starry night sky all in a compact eight seconds. It stole my breath away as a child and I'm still dazzled by it.

New themes do pop up here and there, such as this peppy menu theme. Much like how the simple repetition of the Super Mario World map theme fits me in the shoes of my toddler days, I'm always transported back to the wintry excitement of 2002 whenever I hear it.

Recurring series songs appear as well, none the least of which is the "Fountain of Dreams" version of the Gourmet Race theme. Another inspiration from Melee, this replaces the standard boss battle theme in the King Dedede boss fight to stellar effect. The song's orchestral origins render this arrangement all the more amazing; just listen to how well it transitioned into the tinny GBA speakers!

I could rave on and on about the soundtrack--about how the Forest Theme still induces spontaneous headboppin' and how the gentle waves of the Orange Ocean Map theme woo me into the reverie of a sunset beach, but I wonder if I'll get too carried away. The point here is even when the soundtrack initiates orchestral cues or falls back into the familiar energy of music such as the Invincibility Candy theme, there's such a warm, pliable softness in every song that never fails rendering me into a syrupy, mushy mess.

And maybe that's why Nightmare in Dream Land, for me, succeeds.

Despite how cutthroat the ultimate battle between Nightmare in Dream Land and Kirby's Adventure may be, it falls short of being the masterpiece the latter is: for all its achievements in new features,  the ambitious aesthetics lack consistency and not every facet of the original game is treated fairly via upgrades and replacements. Of course, not every graphical quirk needs to be retained, but blemishes such as the Butter Building waiting rooms are indefensible. Even with NIDL's gift of new stage sections, Adventure's pacing flows better as a cohesive gameplay experience.
And yet even with its missteps, I can't help but admire its direction. No matter how bad that one Yogurt Yard level is, the common blend of fantasy and realism is so captivating that I always slack into its embrace. And even if certain segments aren't an exact good fit for the series, I find myself mentally scrubbing it over like a bad stain.

I credit this habit to the remake's greatest triumph: the score. I never stop to think about which version has the superior soundtrack--maybe I'm just scared of how difficult the comparison process would be, but I can't help but feel Ando and Ishikawa didn't set out to one-up the NES score. Much like Shota Kageyama and Junichi Masuda's approach to Pokemon Heart Gold and Soul Silver, the rearranged music is so obviously designed around embarking players into a heartfelt nostalgia trip and it works. Listening to it alone is soothing enough, but the context of actually playing the game alongside such dreamy sound seduces me into Dream Land.

How beautiful is it that a game centered on produce nostalgia provides nostalgia in itself? I still remember witnessing the above screenshot--my memory says May of 2002, but IGN claims it was August--and gaping upon realization what I was looking at. It was a remake; they were remaking Kirby's Adventure!!  I immediately confirmed my findings to the forums. No one believed me, but that was fine. Just like the reveries that Kirby Super Star's backgrounds instilled into me, it would be my own little secret.

I still remember, you know? Animal Crossing became the hot new Nintendo property overnight. I still played Super Smash Bros. Melee religiously. The fall/winter seasons of video games had everyone on and Smashboards in a frenzy. I was told the American broadcast of Dragon Ball Z was a sham, yet I continued watching anyway. Flash movies and sprite comics were common internet entertainment, and I even had a Geocities website.

And I remember being swamped in Kirby. The anime finally arrived in America with much fanfare on my part. I role-played with the character in Melee. I'd only first played Adventure a year before Nightmare in Dream Land's release, yet I greeted the remake's arrival not unlike that of an old friend. I clutched the Game Boy Advance to my chest as the galactic chorus of Rainbow Resort washed over my heart, letting myself slip away. When the ending narration informed me to fluff up my pillow, I did so. I even remember how I only ever saw that catchy commercial twice and instead had to sit through that stupid Zelda: A Link to the Past port one with the subway (I still <3 alttp="" you="">

Kirby's Adventure's heartbeat still trumpets in its core--a beginner's title with mechanics anyone can have fun with--but it's also Nightmare in Dream Land, a game that melts my worries away and lets me dream. At odds with its title, I know, but I get two sides of a valuable coin, and for that I'm quite thankful for Mr. Sakurai's final Kirby platformer.