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.