Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Biweekly Music Wednesday! No. 14 ~Rickety Rails~ (Donkey Kong Country Returns)

OriginDonkey Kong Country/Donkey Kong Country Returns
Plays In: World 5 levels, most notably Rickety Rails
Status: Arrangement (Mine Cart Madness by David Wise)
Arranger: Kenji Yamamoto

For whatever weaknesses Donkey Kong Country Returns had in its original tracks (barring the RocketBarrel Theme and the Tiki Theme), it more than made up for it by its superb takes on David Wise's score for the original Donkey Kong Country. Headed by Kenji Yamamoto (of Super Metroid/Metroid Prime fame), his arrangements can go from either simple renditions of certain classics (such as the DK Island Swing opener) to radically different directions (the tropical take on Aquatic Ambiance). I'd dare say some of these arrangements surpass the already incredible original soundtrack--most notably the catchy Treetop Bop and the rockin' Life in the Mines, both of which came across as a little too subdued in their initial appearance.

While I'm not sure if it's my exact favorite of the bunch, the Rickety Rails arrangement of Mine Cart Madness stands out to me. For one thing, I firmly the believe that Returns' Cave world is by far and away the funnest, most spectacular display of concept inspiration and art direction in the entire game. Predominantly featuring mine cart levels, Returns takes what was a staple trope from the original Country, revises it with outrageous twists and repeatedly lobs them at the player. My jaw wouldn't stop dropping at the danger constantly imposed on Donkey Kong, as the mine cart tracks were endlessly bombed, shattered by crystal formations and even served as a mode of transporation by themselves. The latter has to be seen to be believed.

And more often than not, this arrangement is playing. It's as every bit as dangerous and frantic as Mine Cart Madness, and is obviously a perfect fit for its accompanying levels. These levels are, of course, every bit as tough as their SNES predecessors, and it adds the right amount of tension and fear as the player narrowly dodges one obstacle after another. Me, I'm personally no fan of having to duck under the spikes in the crystal level, as I'm always in constant fear of mistiming my popping out of the cart. Rickety Rails is the embodiment of that fear, that by-the-second precision and excitement that my poor heart endures with every one of these damn mine cart levels.

What I really do adore about Returns'  arrangements is that some of the more faithful renditions briefly take their own spin midway through the song, adding some sort of...I'd like to say mysterious air around the song. It's right there in the Fear Factory arrangement and there's a touch of it here as well when the song loops at 1:42, although I'm more a fan of the post-ride segment at 3:52. In what I swear is something swapped straight out of The Lion King, there's this kick-ass choir that's more in line with the atmospheric tone of the original DKC, of which emphasizes the isolated, dangerous nature of the cavern. Very cool.

I've often noticed complaints of Returns lacking in that aforementioned atmosphere, and I'd like to think it strikes a fine balance between that and cartoony visuals. The way moments like the post-ride segment and the design of the underground mole town mesh together is really a thing of beauty, and I'm always brought back to details like the abandoned tree houses in Donkey Kong Country. Haunting beauty alongside harebrained monkey antics...who'd thought?

Final Thoughts:...and that's not even getting into the musical masterpiece that's Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze! Agh!

Alright, back to work on Kirby!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Pikmin 3 Review (Gaming Grunts)

It's downright surreal that it's been a little over a year since Pikmin 3 finally came out. I waited nine years for this, y'know? Year after year, being baited at every E3 following Miyamoto's "we're making Pikmin" comment, only to be let down each and every time...and it's here. The lack of promotion has performed favors to no one but the aforementioned surreality: I'm still shocked that we never got an Iwata Asks for the game (given their love of discussion for "upending the tea table," I'm sure many interesting tales were begging to be revealed), and I'm saddened that the CGI theater shorts for Japan never came to fruitition. In a way, the game's launch was something akin to the coming and going of an intense fever dream.

Pikmin 2 on the Gamecube remains one of my most cherished Nintendo experiences. The way the series contrasts its starring of bright, inquisitive creatures (the titular Pikmin) with the bleakness of survival and death in an alien environment is nothing sort of extraordinary, and I still think it's at its strongest here. Never mind the sporadic indications that the mysterious planet is likely a post-apocalyptic Earth--for how much flak they got, the central treasure-spelunking cave sequences were by far my favorite aspect. They alone invoked so much imagination and wonder in how their individual floors--each with environments that would be impossible to gel together in reality--layered upon each other via playrooms, mountainous canyons, shower rooms, and grassy gardens. At the very least, when comes to Nintendo's array of artistic inspiration and splendor, the Pikmin series reigns supreme. The whole experience even compelled me to pen and plan an ambitious fanfiction celebrating this aesthetic direction, and much like my "Mario 64 is a parallel universe" theory, it's something that still prods at the back of my mind to this very day.

After nine years of waiting, there was no way Pikmin 3 was going to live up to my own hardened sense of canon and imagination. But why should it, when does such a stellar job of bridging together a perfect middle ground between the first two titles? Maybe it is a little too easy, but the sheer flexibility of how you can tackle the game is just stunning to me. I can forge my own rules each and every time, and it never gets old.

Even if it just barely misses my personal heights of Pikmin 2, it's a game that still wholly captures my whimsy. I love stumbling upon the wall etchings. I love that the "wraith" concept from Pikmin 2 is built upon. I love the creature designs, not the least of which the Dandelion-sprouting Medusal Slurker. I adore the haunting cave music, chimes and all. I will never forget my first foray into the Garden of Hope. The camera feature is nothing less of a godsend, and I dearly hope that if a sequel should ever be made, its addition is a top priority.

The lack of online for the Bingo Battle mode remains the game's only flaw. Even if we were to believe Nintendo's connection concerns regarding the game's AI, that they see it as no consequence is troubling. To this day, I remain amazed at how Nintendo games anyone would automatically assume to have online play--including the likes of Nintendo Land, Star Fox 64 3D, and Hyrule Warriors--don't have it, and yet titles one would never expect to feature it somehow do (Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon, Bayonetta 2, and to an extent Kid Icarus: Uprising). I am, of course, ever grateful for those latter examples, but for Bingo Battle to forever languish within the confines of couch multiplayer is a sad thing indeed.

But I still play Mission Mode every weekend, so that should make up for it, right? Regardless, my full Leave Luck to Heaven-exclusive review of Pikmin 3 is on the way, and I have much to say, so stay tuned.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Kicking into High Gear

MY GOSH I am so for my absence over the past month!! I had to go attend a summer math course that eventually sucked up all my free time once I became painfully aware of how much work it'd take to pass the course. Let it be known that I am absolutely terrible at math and abhor having anything to do it with it (as charming as it was, I had to stop playing Professor Layton and the Curious Village for a reason). Worst part about it? I've likely flunked the class as of the recent final. Ouch!

To make up for my broken promises (gee, like that hasn't happened before!), I'll be kicking things off with my latest Gaming Grunts review tomorrow and heading back to work on the next Kirby Reverie and Biweekly Music Wednesday! I forget if I've mentioned this already, but the next Kirby article will be covering a certain brand of game we have yet to go over, and I'm very excited to publish it here. Look forward to it!