Wednesday, May 28, 2014

BMW Delay/Important Announcement!!

Hey guys! Unfortunately, Biweekly Music Wednesday won't be around again this week due to personal hiccups, but I do have some exciting news in its place! Remember how I got to play Super Mario 3D World/Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze last year at Best Buy? Well, guess what I'll be driving down to Whitehall, PA to play?

That's right, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U! Alongside my annual E3 impressions, I'll be writing up a separate post describing both my experience at the event and my time game itself! I'll try to stick around for as long as it lasts (noon to five PM), so it'll be a meaty write-up. I can't wait to play as the new characters (and to check out my man Olimar...supposing he's in the demo!) and meet fellow Smashers, so even if the event's not in a city near you, hopefully I'll be able to channel enough excitement to get you hyped regardless!

In any case, I'm working hard to get the next Kirby Reverie by the end of the week. Look forward to it!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Ode to Nintendo Wi-Fi

Okay, it's not actually an ode, but I liked the sound of the title, so sue me!

Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection launched alongside Mario Kart DS on November 14th, 2005, and I can't think of a more perfect time for it to enter my life. I had only just turned fourteen, and like every other young teenager, I was a na├»ve little man bearing a toxic, skewed perspective. My childhood dreams of becoming a fiction writer were destroyed in the face of Kingdom Hearts fanfiction and obsessing over my treasured Dragon Ball manga volumes, of which I treated as holier than the Bible itself. My brother's fatal drug addiction was revealed only the month before, and I took it as another sign of the world as I knew it heading to ruin. November 14th was also, if I recall correctly, the very night where I thought I first fell in love.

In a context most beneficial to the blog, however, it was the very first online gaming experience on a Nintendo console (in this case, the DS). Nintendo Wi-Fi's grand opening was painfully barebones and antiquated even for 2005 standards: you had to input sixteen-digit "Friend Codes" to register your buddies, it lacked voice chat and various matchmaking options, and it often neglected starring features of certain games (in the case of Mario Kart DS, there was no Battle Mode, it was limited to half the courses, and only four players could participate in each group). It was complete ass, but I didn't really take note of that: I was still blinded by my Nintendo fanboyism, however subdued it was in a time of depression, and craved anything as an escape. 

I still remember those late nights, huddled on the back of the bed as I delved into the latest avenue of Nintendo. I delved endlessly into the matchmaking realm of Mario Kart DS, almost constantly losing but still persistent in finding opponents. When I wasn't challenging a player who'd likely kicked my ass, I'd sit there and listen to this while looking out into the starry night from my window. It's the theme of the game's Wi-Fi Menu, and it remains the chillest piece ever composed for Nintendo's online. Maybe I'll talk more about it some time.

My friends and I regularly visited each other's towns in Animal Crossing: Wild World.  We'd laugh at Dizzy the elephant's karate outfit all the while communicating with in-game keyboards, a now-nostalgic ring indicating the arrival of every new message. We laughed at each other's house interiors, initiate "Owl Time," and talk about girls of our dreams. We were just teenage fools in love, hanging out with the likes of baby bears and cats while pouring on each other with our silver water cans.

When everyone was busy lambasting Super Smash Bros. Brawl's online, we ignored the complaints and hopped for six years straight. The lack of a built-in voice chat was no deterrent; we merely took Sakurai's advice and made use of Skype. Throughout that period we found new secrets and crafted new in-jokes almost every time: the way King Dedede comically opened his mouth as he slowly cradled the Cracker Launcher, the near-seductive swimming position of R.O.B., and the graceful beauty that was Running Ivysaur. We'd fall into hysterical laughter as browsed through endless troves of nonsensical Brawl/Sakurai criticism ("Sakurai is a poor marketer!"), character lists (Ice Hockey team!) and all the people with grudge/stalker problems  the wonder people we'd come across on GameFAQS.. Sometimes we'd play this lovely video over our mics, too. And this one. And this one. And definitely this one.

I played Star Fox Command online, with its awfully homogenized Fox-only online mode. I played Diddy Kong Racing DS online, regularly dueling on the Fire Mountain stage. I struggled to reach the top ranks of Mario Kart Wii. I even endured the online shitfest that was The Conduit. You thought Brawl's online was bad? Daily hackers and the immortal glitch known as "Spinning Gun" constantly hampered that game's multiplayer, and I don't know even if me and my friends intentionally hogging the ASE Ball made up for that (yes, we were such monsters, I know).


But I can still look back on it and laugh.

I guess the point of this post is just to say man, I'm just glad Nintendo Wi-Fi was there. Call me an apologist, but for all the raging at Friend Codes and whatnot, I still got what I wanted in the end: playing with my distant friends anytime I wanted. I could Brawl with my friends nearly every weekend, and I'd hardly have to endure any of the infamous lag (seriously, it was far worse in Jump Ultimate Stars). I'd only have to punch in sixteen digits with someone just to play Mario Kart or Animal Crossing or whatever, and I'd be set and ready for battle/racing/screwing around. That's all I ever wanted.

Now that it's gone, what do I have left? The 3DS is doing fine with the Nintendo Network, but can you believe that it's been around a year and a half since the Wii U launched and there hasn't been a single Nintendo-published retail game that has online play? I could literally just sit here and elaborate at length for hours as to how badly they fucked up that console, but that's just in a league of its own. I'm getting old, you know? I won't be in college forever, and it's not like I can just invite my childhood friends over whenever I want to now. Everyone's busy, moving on with their jobs and falling in love for real. Me? I think the life of a hermit sounds mighty fine, but I still enjoy my friends.

So why the fuck can't I play Nintendo Land online? Can I really believe Miyamoto when he says Pikmin 3 and New Super Mario Bros. U can't be played over the network? Even the 3DS isn't exempt from this: you're telling me Star Fox Command could make do with a barebones online, yet you guys can't be bothered to do the same for a fully reconstructed multiplayer mode in the Star Fox 64 remake? It's the same excuse from Nintendo over and over: "We want to emphasize couch multiplayer with the Wii U." "We want to embrace togetherness with the GamePad." But do I and everyone else have to wait nearly two years because of their bumbling incompetence? This perspective as self-centered and short-sighted as the directive of the GamePad itself, and I've grown rather tired having to "please understand." Sorry, Mr. Iwata.

Options, Nintendo. That's how things work. I'll continue to play ball with Mario Kart and Smash Bros., but it just isn't the same anymore.

See you on the flipside, Wi-Fi.


No Biweekly Music Wednesday! tonight; it'll be back next week.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Biweekly Music Wednesday! No. 9 ~Sector Y~ (Star Fox)

Origin: Star Fox
Composer: Hajime Hirasawa
Plays In: Sector Y
Status: Original Composition

I haven't talked about the Star Fox series too much on this blog, have I? Not to my memory, no. I suppose it'd only make sense to initiate its Leave Luck to Heaven introduction via the first game.
The debate of Star Fox vs Star Fox 64 will surely last until the end of time, but the former is unanimously favored in one area: its soundtrack. Hajime Hirasawa's SNES score is wonderfully suited for a space-shooting 3D thriller, entertaining mixes of the rock and orchestral variety. The latter in particular is a highlighted standout, what with it contrasting the endless grandeur of space with a cast of anthropomorphic space fighters. Despite this, I've always relished in the powerful emotions it instills into me as the player, such as the heart-pounding tension of narrowly dodging the crossfire of an galactic armada and the hard-won victory following a difficult boss battle, soaring off into the distance with my trusted wingmates.

Sector Y is particularly notable for refusing to align with the battle-ready/victory fanfares of its orchestral brethren, instead opting for a soothing space waltz. An odd choice for an action-heavy game, but it succeeds with flying colors. For starters, it's a beautiful complement to the stage's vague ocean theme, with lead Fox McCloud shooting up space-bound amoebas, eels, whales and the like. It recalls similar themes used for other games' underwater levels (Hello, Super Mario Bros.!), and with the level's black expanse of space stretching out for what seems like forever, it may as well just be another underwater level.

But gosh, it's just such a gorgeous song regardless! What astounds me most about the song is how it masterfully touches upon areas not explored anywhere else in the rail-shooting realm of Star Fox. It's as soft as a lullaby, yet grand as an orchestral hall. This does not delve into the philosophical (why is the leader of Star Fox shooting down whales?), but the dreamy hypnosis it induces on the player is so palpable, so distinct that it can't be merely shrugged off. Take me, for instance: the high-score driven gameplay gradually but surely slips away as I'm whisked away into a fantastical wormhole, its brilliant colors morphing together into gentle vibrational shapes not unlike that of the Windows Media Player visualizer.

Sector Y is optimal for that moment of Zen we so desperately seek from the daily turmoil of our working lives, and I suppose that's why I often turn to it for an escape. Donkey Kong Country's Aquatic Ambience is also a stellar choice, but there's denying that it can instill some serious gloominess; in the case of Sector Y, the song is more on the netural side, so I can count on it for not letting me slide down the slippery slope of depression (nor being uplifted by the false promises of more uplifting songs; it merely refocuses me). The compounding stress of schoolwork and working on my personal projects such as this lovely blog are no match for this zoned-out waltz, and for that I'm grateful to it.

It's a shame Mr. Hirasawa never worked on any future Nintendo projects following Star Fox, as I would've loved to see his fantastic sense of genre into more classic video games. However, I suppose that is why this particular soundtrack is so unique and treasured, for there truly is nothing quite like it.

Final Thoughts: Man, I should write about Star Fox one of these days. It'd be fun to rip apart Star Fox Adventures.

Hmm...three Biweekly Music Wednesdays in a row. I think I hear Kirby calling me.