Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Biweekly Music Wednesday! No. 13 ~Celestial Tower~ (Pokemon Black and White)

Origin: Pokémon Black and White
Plays In: Celestial Tower, Dragonspiral Tower, Giant Chasm
Status: Composition
Composer/s: Shota Kageyama

More Pokémon music? More Pokémon music.

Believe it or not, I actually still play Pokémon White! I'm the sort of the gamer who likes to set up my gaming schedule, see, and every Wednesday I switch between it and Pokemon X while I'm munching on popcorn and watching subbed Dragon Ball Z straight from my precious, precious Dragon Boxes (and believe me, with the Goku vs. Freeza fight being as long as it is, you better believe I'm taking advantage of it). I've been taking my sweet time collecting every last one of those Pokémon to fill up my Pokedex, and I'm still blown away by just how incredible the land of Unova is to explore. I'd like to think Unova doesn't hold a candle to Hoenn's sheer sense of adventure, but boy does it come close.

Of course, said exploring wouldn't be nearly as fun without some great tunes. I could dive into stuff like Pinwheel Forest and Route 10, but tonight I'd like to discuss what I feel is the top song for the game: Celestial Tower. As most Pokémon songs are named after the locations they play in, it may come as a surprise to know it was originally titled Tower of Heaven in the Japanese release. While censored for the American release to avoid religious reference, it's a surprisingly poignant name given the area's purpose: a resting ground for deceased Pokémon.

Whenever I listen to this song, I'm reminded of how heartwarming the storytelling in Pokémon White was. I knew I was in for something special when I took my first step with Bianca and Cheren into Route 1. We meet the brainwashed, yet innocent child leader of an organization set on "freeing" Pokémon from their trainers, learn of the deeper meaning behind Bianca's father's desire to prevent her from travelling, and hear the tragic loss of the Champion's beloved partner Pokémon. For whatever clumsy moments it had, it's an adventure I look back upon with great fondness.

The other week, I was actually climbing up the Celestial Tower to comb for hidden items and came across the champion, Alder, mourning at the top. Paying respects for the soul of his deceased Pokémon. He reveals that he once held the narrow-minded beliefs of Cheren, searching only for power until his partner passed away. His travels enlightened him to meeting many fellow trainers, and he encouraged my player avatar to do the same.

As he bid farewell, I went over to the tower's bell and gave it a rang.

In my younger days, this song would have sent me further into my despair. I'd keep running and running, chasing the regret and loss it baits. As the stairs would continue to circle, I'd claw desperately at the ghosts of the broken, childhood dreams shattered by growing up. The reveries I cherished in my youth. The secret dreams I clutched so hard to myself were shattered, never to return, never to resonate with anyone else.

I'd chase the loved ones I lost. Friends who left me over the years. My cat Dexter. My former best friend. All the results of societal pressure, illnesses born from negligence, and toxic ignorance. Their ghostly forms evade my reach, and our respective gaps on the stairs grow ever wider. I keep running, and I see him.

I chase him, screaming all the while, "Why did you do it?" He doesn't answer, just like how he'll never say anything about my college graduation and his cousin's son and my future career. He closes his eyes and vanishes. I keep running.

But my future is not about running. I continue to mold myself for the bright future waiting for me, and it's enlightening beyond belief.

Final Thoughts: Some game music fans have pointed out similarities between this and Chrono Trigger's Secret of the Forest. I can kinda hear it, but Celestial Tower's faster pace throws me off.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Mario Kart 8 Review (Gaming Grunts)

Not too shabby for my first review as a game journalist/critic, eh?

With Gaming Grunts placing such an emphasis on honesty, I figured it'd be a perfect outlet to quickly get my criticisms out on Mario Kart 8. As I say in the review, it's still a fantastic, very fun game that I continue to play, but it's not without its share of problems. Regardless, it's sure rewarding to have my name and article plastered on there.

Of course, this won't mean Mario Kart 8--or any other game I review on Gaming Grunts or wherever else--won't get its own review here. You can generally expect me to get my thoughts out on new games at Gaming Grunts first before I pen my extended thoughts here. Please be patient for a few more months!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Biweekly Music Wednesday! No. 12 ~Athletic~ (Yoshi's Island)

Origin: Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island
Plays In: Numerous stages, typically ones that have you jumping around for dear life.
Status: Composition
Composer: Koji Kondo

Try to resist not dancing to this. I dare you. It's impossible.
Since Super Mario Bros. 3,, a number of Mario games possess not just main themes but Athletic themes that often accompany the wilder levels; in particular, they're often associated with scrolling stages. Super Mario Bros. 3 had a piano-inspired piece, Super Mario World had its banjo, and last year's Super Mario 3D World has some real amazing jazz.
Regardless of whether or not we can explicitly classify Yoshi's Island as a Mario game, the fact remains it comes with the greatest Athletic of them all: a slaphappy ragtime piece that's immediately infectious and will not leave your head. Or will not leave without inspiring your body to break out into mad dancing rhythm.

In the context of the game, it plays up to the greatest of the Athletic series' strength in that its happy-go-lucky nature is taunting the player during some nerve-wracking platforming. Take its first appearance in Hop! Hop! Donut Lifts, where Yoshi has to outmaneuver a scrolling screen via hopping on a series of collapsing donut-shaped lifts. As you're carefully aiming your jumps, Athletic cheerfully drills its way into your skull and driving you further into madness every time you make a misstep and fall to your doom.

While I struggled with that level in my youth, I could never unleash my anger out on the song itself, though. If anything, I'm glad it took such a morbid approach into making my acquaintance. My repeated deaths meant I could hear it again and again, in all of its glory, before I would finally triumph over the donut lift pitfalls and move on to the next level. Mind you, Yoshi's Island had such a wonderfully sincere, bouncy soundtrack that I was in aural heaven regardless of where I was, but this song was in a league of its own. It captivated me even at the cost of precious, precious lives. I had to keep listening to it

It's more than what could be said about the present state of Yoshi music these days, with Yoshi's Island DS taking a lethargic piss on our eardrums and Yoshi's New Island...well, I'm sure this explains enough by itself. Thankfully, what I heard from Yoshi's Woolly World at E3 sounded mighty fine, though its Kirby's Epic Yarn inspired direction makes one wonder if there'll be anything to match its level of lively playfulness. Of course, it shouldn't have to--Epic Yarn's soundtrack being absolutely wonderful and all--but I reckon a new Yoshi song surpassing the likes of Athletic would immediately capture the attention of the Nintendo music fandom.

In any case, with Athletic being a Nintendo fan-favorite, the song has appeared here and there since its inception. Soon after Yoshi's Island's release, the song was featured in Japan's formally annual Orchestral Gaming Concert with an equally bouncy arrangement. Hard to believe I first found this recording a decade ago. Hey, come to think of it, I think I'm lying down in the very same spot right now.

Athletic was also selected to be a part of Super Smash Bros. Brawl's elite soundtrack, and it received a fantastic arrangement from Shota Kageyama (Pokémon Black and White). It's notable for not just including the final boss music from the source material, but for also being accompanied by an alternate version that plays when the seasons change to fall and winter on the Yoshi's Island stage. In their never-ending crusade against the game, the leagues of Brawl bashers and the Youtube comment hivemind will tell you this is a terrible remix, most likely for the reason that it's association with Brawl means that it's terrible by default. Do not listen to the people.
Final Thoughts: I don't mean to end two articles in a row with comments railing against people with different opinions of Smash Bros. Really! It just turned out that way. Cross my heart.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

E3 2014: My Thoughts

My FIFTH E3 article! Can you believe it? Time sure flies.

We'll be undergoing a major structural shift this time. See, there won't be a need to split games into "mixed" or "hated" categories, as Nintendo completely it out of the park this year. Yes, after the Nintendo Direct disaster from last year, I am just as shocked as you are. No more we were shackled to a faulty half-hour stream, as the Nintendo Treehouse live event proved to be continually engaging throughout the event and was full of exciting surprises. This was how things should've been last year, and the Nintendo fanboy in me is very pleased. Oh yes.

So since there wasn't a single game I was displeased with, I'll just be listing nearly every major game showed off independently without their own section. Keep in mind I will be cutting out several games for convenience of length (Hyrule Warriors, Mario Maker, EFFING STAR FOX), but rest assured: I am just as excited as you are for those titles. Let's get started!

New Zelda

Open-world Zelda? Open-world Zelda.

With fans begging for the evolution of the tired "Zelda formula," Nintendo's set to finally fulfill their wish after experimenting with Skyword Sword and A Link Between Worlds. Seeing as how Aonuma revealed his dedication to cut the hand-holding garbage from Skyward Sword and stick closer to the free-choice nature of ALBW, that promise looks to soon be fully realized. However, this time we'll be enjoying that experience on a much grander, HD scale.

While not much was shown, we know enough to get excited. For starters, you see all that game footage in the above trailer? That's not pre-rendered; it's all real-time, in-game footage. Granted, I dunno if all that crazy camera movement and slow-mo shots will be possible in the final product, but just...holy shit, does it look good. The crazy razor-bladed laser arrow gizmo alone looks more exciting and dynamic than anything within Link's weaponry in at least a decade, and that's just one weapon. I can't wait to see and utilize the rest!

Also, did anyone else catch the obvious Skyrim influences? Aonuma's made no secret of his admiration for the game, and with him echoing Bethesda's promotion from years before ("You can reach those mountains in the distance"), I can't wait to see how they'll spin Zelda into a similar format. This is the breath of fresh air the series needs.

Captain Toad Treasure Tracker

Did I ever mention how much I loved the Toad Brigade music from Super Mario Galaxy? Never did I imagine it would be the main theme for a Toad spin-off!

Based off of the periphery Captain Toad bonus levels in Super Mario 3D World, the titular adventurous fungus is back for more treasure plundering; to be specific, he's hunting down coins and stars We're not quite sure why he frequents floating isometric landscapes for riches, but you can't deny the adorability, so there!

Despite whatever issues I had with Super Mario 3D World (blasphemy, I know, but I'll get to that in a later review), the brief Captain Toad adventures showed enough promise and charm to form a full-fledged game on their own, and so here we are. Gameplay footage from the Treehouse Stream proved that even Captain Toad's more basic locales contain enough visual trickery and traps to impress (completionists in particular should have a blast, as evident by the hidden collectible jewelry. Anyone who's played the point-and-click adventure Zack and Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure for the Wii should also instantly feel at home with the dragon boss battle, and I'm excited to see what the game has to offer in that area. Quest on, Captain Toad! 

Kirby and the Rainbow Curse

2005's Kirby Canvas Curse for the DS was an innovative Kirby experience that was begging to be expanded upon, and that shall soon be realized ten years later as a home console sequel. The star attraction of Kirby and the Rainbow Curse is undeniably the gorgeous claymation aesthetic, which are so lovingly, immaculately detailed that one could swear that they were handmade. Coming off from 2010's heart-melting Kirby's Epic Yarn, it's thrilling to see Kirby continue to immerse itself into experimental graphical styles with the purpose of soothing the player's psyche. I know I'll be melting into my chair.

Gameplay seems to have largely unchanged from Canvas Curse. While Copy Abilities are yet to be seen, just about everything else from the paint meter to collectible stars and even the green poles that halt Kirby's movement. In the place of Copy Abilities, however, are cues taken from Epic Yarn: temporary, situational transformations that mold Kirby into missile-spewing submarines and rapid-fire tanks. As wonderful as they seem, I hope this means we won't see the last of the Copy Ability time trials from the previous game. But when considering how much the game seems to be embracing the beloved Green Greens theme, I suppose that's not a big deal.

More Kirby is always a good thing, but this is the sort of game I want to see on the Wii U: a title that takes full advantage of the Wii U GamePad as opposed to treating it a side product. Come to think of it, will Zelda U utilize it in ways beyond the inventory screen? I suppose time will tell.


Here's something new. Nintendo's take on shooters instantly won the hearts of many when this developer comment was presented during the game's reveal:

"One day, Sakaguchi and I were having lunch and he said 'hey, what if you're to switch between a squid and a person?'"

And thus Splatoon was born. As opposed to just gunning down opponents, Splatoon is designed around splattering the battlefield with color-coded ink so as to expand team territory. In doing so, the players can traverse through their team-colored goo via squid form to quickly move about as needed. Don't think of the ink or paintball guns as just simply conforming to Nintendo's family-friendly nature--being so visually distinct, the ink can also serve as defense (players move sluggishly in opponent's splattered colors) and their rapid-fire nature can serve as a warning that an enemy may be lurking around.

Admittedly, the concept and aesthetic some time to grow on me, but I've since warmed up to its creative nature. Splatoon is precisely what not just the Wii U but what Nintendo themselves need: a GamePad utilizing software (the controller utilizes the gyroscope to aim along with a map detailin how much it's covered in goo) that expands Nintendo's repertoire of new IPs and builds upon their philosophy of easy to learn, hard to master (the strategies described in both the director video and Treehouse Stream--such as walljumping as squids--are incredibly deep). Personally speaking? The game appeals just fine to my OCD complex.

Best of all, though, is that the game has blessed us with this lovely GIF from Nintendo's development of the game. If there's any evidence of Nintendo appealing to the kid inside of us, it's this.

Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire

While very little of these Pokémon remakes have been shown to the point where detailed discussion and impression can be shared, I'd like to take the opportunity to grant kudos for the trailer above.

Pokemon Ruby still remains my favorite Pokemon experience of all time just because of how much it awakened my inner sense of adventure as a child. Say whatever you wish about whatever downgrades it had from Silver, but there's no denying just how expansive and varied the world of Hoenn was. Never before did Pokemon explore the interiors of jungles, dive into ancient underwater caverns, or climb volcanoes. Secret bases were carved into trees and caves, and Pokedex descriptions elaborated wit detail straight out of a National Geographic issue.

From before the subject matter of this trailer was made known, I knew what it was previewing. The impossible heat of the summer-coated rainforest immediately rushed back to me as I watched the young explorer park his bike right in the wilderness. Having watched how Nintendo perfectly encapsulated my childhood experience, this is a remake I am awaiting with open arms.

Yoshi's Woolly World

When Yoshi's Woolly World was initially unveiled as Yarn Yoshi last year, I found myself skeptical. There was no denying the game looked appealing, but as much as I loved Kirby's Epic Yarn (both games are made by the same developer, Good Feel), I felt this new title came across as a little redundant. While still visually charming, that Good Feel was going with yet another yarn-inspired title centered around collecting beads rendered its introduction as something of little more than a palette swap. Granted, Kirby and Yoshi are two entirely different types of action-platformers, but their happy-go-lucky aesthetic can render them rather samey.

Of course, much like how Canvas Curse had already laid the groundwork for a sequel, I suppose the handcrafted yarn aesthetic was also raring for a second go. To its credit, the game has improved since its first showing to the point where one can safely say it can successfully avoid the mediocrity that's plagued Yoshi for the past decade. While the Yoshi gameplay is intact, the Epic Yarn inspiration is still strong from sound effects to gameplay mechanics, albeit perhaps improved in certain areas. In particular, the two-player mode seems more robust and involved than its predecessor, with Yoshi being able to toss his red counterpart at foes and obstacles.

Yoshi's Woolly World is soft, cuddly, fun, charming, everything it should be, and I will enjoy it. Yet I am of the opinion that certain Wii U sequels (Super Mario 3D World and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze) grew a tad rote with a strange "been there, done that" impression. It's all still good fun, but I sure hope it can stand tall as a separate entity from Epic Yarn.
Bayonetta 2

Hard to believe my interest in Bayonetta started when the worldwide bitching began over the revived sequel being snapped up for the Wii U.

To tell the truth, aside from trailers I largely avoided coverage of Bayonetta 2 for two reasons: one, stream footage for this game always ends being really grainy and pixellated for me, and two, I've found the incredible adrenaline-fueled action of Platinum Games are better left as surprises. This isn't to say I'm not hyped up, though: the original Bayonetta was one of my favorite non-Nintendo experiences last generation--nonsense story and gaudy sexiness and all--and from what I've seen this is set to surpass the original in every way.

And speaking of the original Bayonetta, it's being packaged with this one! Complete with Nintendo character costumes for our leading lady. I'd actually just finished replaying it earlier this spring, and yet I'm already excited to burn through it again. Anyone else shocked that Nintendo told Platinum to reveal even more skin with the costumes?

Oh, and I can't believe Bayonetta 2 is going to include online co-op. Take notes, Nintendo; I'm getting a little sick of your multiplayer offerings not including this.

Xenoblade Chronicles: X

Isn't it refreshing to see Nintendo of America embrace this title so readily? Quite the turnaround from how they initially spurned the original Xenoblade.
The lack of motion controls aside, Xenoblade Chronicles was easily the most original title on the Wii thanks to its scope and ambition through character and setting, and its successor seems set to build upon that...albeit with piloting mechs and custom-created protagonists this time around.

Aside from this trailer and some of the Treehouse Footage, I also didn't explore too much of its coverage at E3. Xenoblade Chronicles was also an immensely enjoyable surprise thanks to the aforementioned original setting (colonies that live on the bodies of two deceased gods? holy shit), and much like Bayonetta 2, this spiritual successor seems set to surpass it.

My only gripe? Some of the faces on these characters are the stuff of nightmares. Blech.

Super Smash Bros. For Wii U and 3DS

Smash Bros. is here.

With three new characters entering the fold (Mii Fighters, Kid Icarus's Palutena, and Namco guest Pac-Man), collectible near-field communication figures set to interact with the game, and highly-publicized competitive tournament hosted by Nintendo of America itself, the hype for the latest Smash games has already surged through the roof.

What I'm personally most excited for is the potential of endless replay value. Of course, such is the norm with Sakurai games, yet these two games come across as rather ambitious even for him, what with the inclusion of character customization, interchangeable Mii Fighters, and Amiibo support. I know I'll be tooling around with the customized moves for quite some time, and just like Sakurai, I plan to purchase every last one of the Amiibos.

And guess what? I just so happened to play both versions at Best Buy's Smash Fest! While pictures and video weren't allowed at the event, I still stuck around for about five good hours.For my playtime with both versions, I decided to dabble into both my favorite veterans (Olimar, Kirby, Toon Link) while playing with my most anticipated newcomers (Villager, Mega Man, Little Mac, and Greninja).

My experiences with Olimar, Villager, and Mega Man were by far the most interesting. As an Olimar main, getting used to commanding only three Pikmin was challenging enough, but perhaps even worse was that *gasp* they nerfed the length of his up-smash! That move was wonderful in Brawl for hitting through platforms (especially with Yellow Pikmin, mmm), and I'm sad to see its effectiveness diminished. I'll just have to have trust Sakurai's words on balancing him with new strengths and weaknesses! It is a new game, after all.

And yet for someone who got the hang of him--a difficult character to learn--rather easily, I fumbled quite a bit with Villager and Mega Man. Villager in particular threw me for a loop: his down-smash, where he digs two Pitfalls, doesn't deal any damage (from my memory, anyway) and his forward smash is just him dropping a bowling ball. While he was tricky, my confusion did not stop me from having a blast! I can't wait to get a hold of him and Mega Man in the final products.

Can you believe we're getting two separate Smash Bros. in the same year? Melee die-hards and tourney skeptics can doubt them all they want, but I know I'll be enjoying these two games for years to come. Bring it on, Sakurai.


Annnd that's a wrap. Personally, I found my mixed impressions from my earlier models as more interesting to write, but I guess I can't complain if everything looks so good.

See you later with Biweekly Music Wednesday!