Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Case for Smash NX (Nintendojo)



My apologies for the delay! I had it finished by the due date, but a sudden influx of Star Wars-related articles/reviews had it pushed to this week.
At any rate...I have to confess: the more I wrote this, the more wrong it felt. Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and 3DS are such incredible accomplishments in themselves, and yet suddenly everyone's expecting more in the form of an NX port. I mean, there's certainly valid reasons for the idea, but I suspect folks support through the projection of their complaints--be it unsatisfactory Donkey Kong representation or the lack of Ice Climbers-- in the hopes a port will magically fix all their problems.

Whatever happens, I know I will be playing the two latest iterations of Smash for years to come. Thank you, Mr. Sakurai, for your three years of hard work! I wish I possessed your sense of work ethic.
...speaking of Star Wars, I got bit by the media frenzy swarming it. Perhaps that could inspire some future Worldly Weekend columns...?

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Final Smash 4 Presentation!!

It's been over six hours since the Final Smash Presentation by Mr. Sakurai, and we're only just now coming down from the high! What a show. Not everyone's dreams came true, but that's Smash Bros. for you!

So, what went down in this special video? Just newcomer reveals and Mii Costumes. Many expected to see at least one veteran (Wolf, in particular), a returning stage or two, or even a new mode. Considering that we already had three veterans return, a variety of old stages and the downsizing of Sakurai's team, there's a variety of reasons as to why those didn't come to be (not the least of which is poor Snake!).

Of course, any slight disappointments regarding the absence of those factors immediately melted in the face of the first newcomer, who's already stirred quite the controversy!


Why, it's Corrin, the avatar protagonist of Fire Emblem: Fates! The moment I saw the opposing kingdoms of Hoshido and Nohr, I knew trouble would be brewing. After all, not only has Sakurai made it no secret of his love for Fire Emblem, but we already have five different Fire Emblem characters in Smash 4's cast! Isn't six characters pushing it...?

Well, perhaps, but just look at how the character plays! He's just as versatile and inventive as his fellow Fire Emblem newcomer Robin, what with the Manakete-boosted abilities (or, for those unfamiliar with Fire Emblem terminology, him temporarily turning into a dragon). Just look at his reach! I forsee his Dragon Lunge attack, which turns his arm into a massive lance and nails it into the ground, leading to many hilarious scenarios aside from those seen in the video.

Truth be told, this is a character that's crossed my mind before, but I figured the presence of two Awakening characters would render his chances as DLC nil (moreover, there's also Sakurai's recent comment from the Fire Emblem 25th Anniversary book to consider: "it’s not as if we have a stipulation that says “we have to include the protagonist of the next Fire Emblem game.”). As with the last character, it only goes to show you can't make up any rules for roster inclusions. Think of it this way: if Corrin won't be a possibility by the time the next Smash rolls around, why not add him now?

In fact, I think the character looks so fun that I could care less he's yet another Fire Emblem entry. Now more than ever, I'm quite excited to play Fates this coming February. Maybe I'll finally get around to finishing my fifth Awakening playthrough by then.

Next up, Cloud. We already saw him in action last month, but Mr. Sakurai went over his moveset in far greater detail this time, alongside the workings of the Midgar stage.

Cloud was made available soon after the video ended; naturally, I picked him up for both versions. While I've only had the chance to play him on Wii U, it was a beauty to witness to another famous foreign character who brings another dimension unfamiliar to Smash. I'm in an interesting predicament with Cloud in how I'm not completely unfamiliar with him (thanks to his boss cameos in Kingdom Hearts), yet I've played very little of the game he originated from: Final Fantasy VII. I'll be soon rectifying that by jumping into the series next year, but I can only imagine the glee others now feel at seeing Final Fantasy's most popular character join the fray.

By the way, Midgar is incredibly fun! I know many (lame) people tend to complain about stage hazards, but fighting for the super-cool Materia summons is just as joyful as doing the same for a Smash Ball. Your loss if you can't handle the fair, telegraphed d summon attacks, I suppose. If anything, that there's only two music rips from Final Fantasy VII available is the only real disappointment (alongside the lack of non-Cloud trophies), but I'm not too surprised given how strict Square-Enix can be regarding the foreign use of their visuals/audio (anyone who's seen the Final Fantasy VII suite in Video Games Live should know what I'm talking about). A shame, since I was looking forward to the possibility of Nobuo Uematsu returning to Smash for an arrangement. Maybe next time!

 Oh, but speaking of Square-Enix, look who's back! Yes, that's Geno, the sentient puppet from Super Mario RPG! He may be just a Mii costume, but to see Super Mario RPG finally be referenced in Smash after all this time (barring perhaps Peach's frying pan) just...just brings a tear to your eye. Even if he was impossible, the fact remains that Geno was a very popular character suggestion for Brawl, and to see that come full-circle in the next best possible way is an amazing nod. I know I'll be using it.

AND THE LAST CHARACTER IIIIIIIIIIIIISSSSSSSSS

 BAYONETTA?!? AIIIIEEE!!!!

My goodness, a character most had written off due to her being practically synonymous with guns and flaunting her sexuality 24/7 is actually in Smash?!? Incredible! That she hails from two action-game masterpieces ain't half-bad, either! She was the winner of the Smash Ballot, too. I guess that really did come down to popularity.

Just like Ryu, I'm at amazed at how the Smash team got Bayonetta down within the confines of the game's controls. Just like in Bayonetta, you can suddenly shift into bullet-riddled Gun Arts just by holding the attack button, no matter what move you're using. The awe-inspiring Wicked Weaves retain their devastative impact through Smash Attacks. The time-slowing Witch Time is activated as a counter, which I typically stink at pulling off. If you look closely on the Wii U, you might realize Madam Butterfly is closer than you think. Both her Bayonetta and Bayonetta 2 outfits are included. And, best of all, stunning dance moves for taunts.

It's all too much to take in; I know I had to watch her presentation three times over to fully digest that all. Not to mention, her accompanying stage is one of the greatest opening sequences in video game history: the falling Umbra Clock Tower. And it comes with a plethora of amazing tracks too, not the least of which are two arrangements of both games' battle themes. A shame You May Call Me Father and The Greatest Jubilee didn't make the cut, but at least they nailed One of a Kind.

And you know what else is too much to take in? This glorious poster.



Just admire this beautiful piece of work for a moment, won't you? Be sure to find the hidden Smash logo.

But the eye candy doesn't end there, for I'm certain all us Kirby fans are dying to know: what does Bayonetta Kirby look like?



JUST LOOK AT HIM USING HIS BIG POOFY FEET FOR HEEL GUN ARTS AWWWWWWW

At any rate, just look at all the magic DLC's brought us. We've had beloved veterans return, stunning third-party newcomers, classic stages for new and old characters to brawl upon...Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and 3DS is truly a gift, and all the post-launch content is courtesy of one man's vision: a love letter not just for Nintendo's history, but for video games as a whole.

Yet while the hype train may be stopping for Wii U and 3DS, many are still speculating over the possibility of an NX port. After all, it's not like we can expect Sakurai and the gang at Namco to get cracking at yet another Smash game for the nearing console. But should such an amazing title be left to languish on a dying console and a handheld within its twilight period...?

This Thursday on Nintendojo, I shall be reviewing such a case. Please join me then!





Friday, December 11, 2015

PSA: You Should Get These Kirby LINE Phone Backgrounds

Okay, I think said I was going to shy away from these sorts of news updates, but these are just too cute not to share. I highly recommend on 'em to soak yourself in their goodness.

Over the past month, Nintendo has been sharing Kirby phone backgrounds on their LINE account. Now, I don't quite know what that is, but holy moly, anyone calling themselves a Kirby fan can't resist how heart-meltingly adorable these backgrounds are. As seen below, there's four in all. Click on 'em all to soak in their goodness.


Ahh! Look at how soft everything is! Look at that sleeping Kirby! Every time I see this on my lock screen, I'm reminding of why he's Nintendo's cutest character for a reason. So soothing~


Look, he's drawing his friends and foes with a Star Rod pencil! I can't take it. his will definitely be in my background rotation.

His interpretion of Dedede is my personal favorite. Oh, and I'm not the only one who mistook his house as the Halberd's Combo Cannon, am I...?
 

Mmm, delicious. When I get around to baking Pilsbury cookies this weekend, I'll pretend I'm eating these.


Saving the best for last: my phone background! In this gorgeous, eye-candy scenario, here we see Kirby and a gang of Waddle Dees frolicking around Whispy Woods. Even Waddle Doo is enjoying this wonderful day-off, sinking into a star-filled cloud as he skygazes. Maybe he and the rest of his ilk aren't such bullies after all.

You may be wondering why the Waddle Dees are wearing those precious animal outfits. They're actually from the promotional artwork for a recent Japan-only collaboration between Nintendo and the Japanese toy store Kiddy Land, which sold a veritable treasure trove of Kirby merchandise earlier this fall. See the goodness for yourself, which actually consists of some exclusive goodies. I already picked up my fair share of Kirby merchandise at the Nintendo World Store last month, but I can't say no to a life-sized Kirby doll based off his appearance in Kirby's Adventure (including a Star Rod!).

Speaking of Kirby, I gotta go, uh, work on something. Hopefully I'll see you before Tuesday!


Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Smash Presentation Coming Next Tuesday + Regarding Biweekly Music Wednesday!

Hey, all. The Final Video Presentation for Smash 4 has been dated for next Tuesday, and I wanted to assure you all I'll be there for an extensive report covering the details! Who else will we see alongside Cloud? What other possible content will be revealed? Will Sakurai confirm, shoot down, or ignore the possibility of an NX port? We'll find out...in six days.

At any rate, we haven't had Biweekly Music Wednesday! in some time. As you may've already guessed,The depression I only recently emerged from was the culprit behind that, and while I'd love to return to that starting today, I'd rather focus my efforts on getting regular review schedule going. before that. Rest assured we'll be diving back into the realm of Nintendo music sometime soon. 

I'm hoping to have my next review ready this weekend, so stay tuned!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Reporting in for December

Hey, all. Just wanted to checking to say I'm feeling a lot better and raring to close out 2015 with some great content! As we're (finally!) nearing the tailend of Ten Years of Kirby and paving the road for further reviews, I'm quite excited to start out 2016 with a bang.

Speaking of which, I've been speaking with my editor at Nintendojo and, should the pieces fall into place, I'll have some INCREDIBLE news to share within the coming months. All I'll say that it's a dream come true, so stay tuned!

Friday, November 20, 2015

Regarding Drug Abuse Awareness/My Current Condition

This is not a subject I'd not normally touch upon on the blog, but certain circumstances compel me to inform that Pennsylvania, my home state, leads the United States with the highest death rates for young adult men from drug overdoses. If you take a look at this news story, you'll see why I'm sharing this with you all: the story of my brother, Michael, was featured in the article.

I mentioned it was my birthday last week. It's been something of an emotional landmark, as I reached 24. I'm older than my older brother now. The inevitability of this moment has been haunting me the entire year and I'd be lying if I said I hadn't been suffering from minor depression in that time. That I'm also struggling with social connections and the acceptance of having Asperger's paves an even tougher road for me.

Before I move on to the expected Drug PSA, I'd like to assure you all that I am okay. I've begun taking new prescriptions and after coming forward to my mother last night regarding my loneliness, we've begun looking for programs that assist with social anxiety. It also seems an assistant teaching job may be in my future (did I mention I'm great with kids?) and I'm working as hard as ever applying for game journalist positions.

Naturally, this may take time away from Leave Luck to Heaven, but we're looking at all this as a way to get me more motivated and outgoing so I can produce even stronger content. For those of you who've been waiting so patiently for new reviews and the like, I'd like to apologize for the inconvenience. It's still my dream to have a 4-6 reviews-per-month model, and I desire to gain the confidence in myself to make that a reality.

But even more importantly, take it from me: you are loved. Even if you lack friends and your family has turned its back on you, you are still loved. Achievement and true pleasure is earned by one's own effort, not through drugs. If you're ever offered a needle on the street, for the sake of those who love you, don't take it. Please don't take it.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Nintendo's Adventures in Co-Op (Nintendojo)

This article was delayed thanks to the Nintendo Direct megatons, but I'm quite proud of it regardless. I went into it thinking "what're the most notable co-op games in Nintendo's history?" and went from there. Tell me: did I make the right choices? At the very least, I'd like to think Zelda: The Wind Waker was a nice curveball.

And yes, I know that's not exactly the correct screenshot for Kirby Super Star, but that was the editor. The DS version is just as good, anyway.

Yes, I hear you all saying "who cares, get back to working on that review, already!" It's a toughie, I'll leave it at that.

My Nintendo World Store Visit/Haul!

Edit (4/19/2017): Yikes, apparently all the images went down here! For the sake of preserving my blog's history, we'll get this fixed up soon.

Hey, all! Things are as busy as ever behind the scenes, so to quell the wait, I figure I'd share pictures of not only my visit to the Nintendo World Store, but of the merchandise I picked up. There's TONS of cool stuff that even shocked me, and I'm something of a collector.



First thing I noticed was that they actually moved all the Pokémon stuff upstairs; in their place was a plethora of Mario-themed plushies and goodies. Some were familiar to me (like the Luigi Nendoroid), but I was absolutely not familiar with most of the plushies they had. I had quite a bit of spending money on me, but it took all my willpower not to grab everything off the shelves.

By the way, note how hard they're pushing Yo-Kai Watch. I have no idea if that'll take off here, but I like the cool cat they got back there. Did any of you try the demo? I was surprised at how polished it was.



Here're some awesome Chibi-Robo: Zip-Lash! and Yoshi's Woolly World displays. The latter actually utilized unique wool assets as opposed to just the Yarn Yoshi amiibos. If you're not into Yoshi games but loved the heck out of Kirby's Epic Yarn like I did, I highly recommend it!




Since Leave Luck to Heaven is prepping to finally push through the rest of Ten Years of Kirby, here's the store's Kirby corner. Unfortunately, most of the shirts didn't fit me (I really wanted the top middle one...), but luckily the bottom left one fit me...yeah, yeah, I know. Angry Kirby. Woe is me! Anyway, noot pictured is another rack that had plushies of miscellaneous Kirby characters (Meta Knight, Dedede, Kawasaki, etc.), one of who I managed to grab. Details later.



And speaking of small shirts, here's a cool Beatles-themed Pikmin one that also eluded me. I gotta slim down.


For those who've never visited, what make the store even cooler is that they actually play music from Nintendo games over the speakers. I heard familiar tunes from Super Mario 64, Kirby: Triple Deluxe, and Zelda: Four Swords Adventures during this visit, but I was shocked to hear them pull from more obscure stuff like The Wonderful 101. In the above shot, I'm sitting down while listening to my favorite EarthBound tune. Too cool.

Believe it or not, they actually played a song from Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies, too! Hearing that game's variation of the Cornered theme while waiting in line to purchase was too fitting.

Anyway, let's go over my haul. Before I go on, did you notice that huge plushie in the Kirby pics? Well...

It's sitting on my basement couch right now. And it's BIG! I own about a dozen or so Kirby plushies, and the previous biggest ones are maybe half its size. The Wii Remote serves as a quick size comparison. As you'd imagine, it's lovely to touch and lie back upon. And that smile's just too cute.


All Kirby's Avalanche fans, say it with me: Waddle DOO. Would you believe me if I said the current president of Retro Studios was one of the two announcer voices in that game? My kingdom for a Squishy plushie...*sigh*.


Here's Cat Mario and Cat Toad just chillin'. Hey, just because I'm not the world's biggest 3D World fan doesn't mean I can't bask in the glory of the Cat Suit.


By the way, it seems Cat Toad found a friend in a certain stalker from Animal Crossing. Scary pair, if you ask me.


They made a Fuzzie plushie?!? To mark the occasion, I just had to nab one. As expected, it's compellingly squishy.


Apparently, these Mario-themed ornaments glow. I can't wait to hang them on my Christmas tree!


My new Lemmy and Roy Koopa plushies conspire with Iggy and Morton. Just between you and me, my friends and I theorize Morton's the neglected Koopaling. He seems to be taking it okay.


A Yellow Pikmin figurine! This is part of the World of Nintendo line. I wonder if they'll ever make one for the Purple Fattie.


Speaking of which, here's a Fattie you can hang up. But where does one hang a Fattie from? That's no easy task, but regardless, that makes three Fattie plushies I own.


Aww, look at 'im! They actually had sleeping variations for Eevee and its evolutions, but I went with the most recognizable Poke.



They had various sizes for the Substitute Doll, but I went with the smallest to complement my massive Kirby.


No, your eyes are not deceiving you: that's a Spinie plushie suspending from a Lakitu plushie that can be suspended wherever you deem fit. Also not an easy task.

I also bought some amiibo that I'd love to share, but I have a long overdue announcement to make: within the next month, I'd like to show off my basement...in other words, my gaming headquarters! Over the past few months, my parents and I have been redecorating the house, and there's been massive restructuring going on. In particular, my gaming area is a sight to behold, not the least of which are all the amiibo I've collected. Should everything go well, I'd like to share not only that, but my game storages, rare merchandise and my rehauled bedroom. It'll be a whopper of a post, so stay tuned!

See ya soon!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Nintendo Direct (11/12)

Huh?

What's that?


Final Fantasy's Cloud in Smash Bros.?


HUUUUUUUUUUUUH?????????

I gotta say, I haven't been this floored by a third-party Smash character since Snake! As incredible as the rest of the third-party cast is, they're far more hands-on with Nintendo than Cloud. Like Snake, the broody swordsman kickstarted his popularity off of Sony PlayStation, but even then that's where the similarities end: while Snake's starred in a couple of games on Nintendo consoles, Cloud's only made periphery appearances in a scant few Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts spin-offs.

It's an inclusion straight out of the GameFAQs wishlist netherworld, and yet...it's the most natural, beautiful thing in the world. Only in Smash Bros. can we see famous icons like Mario, Pac-Man, Sonic, Link, Mega Man, Ryu, Pikachu, and Cloud join together, and it remains as special and euphoric as ever. Oh, if only Snake was here!

I forgot if I mentioned this before, but when I announced Worldly Weekend, I stated I'd use the column as a means to introduce myself to new games outside of Nintendo's sphere. I may or may not have cited Final Fantasy as an example, but just in case I didn't, I was already planning on that from the column's conception. In fact, I actually purchased the NES cartridge for the first game when I was at Otakon this year! That's right: alongside Dragon Quest, I aim to play through both series chronologically.

...although that means it'll be a while before I reach VII, which stars Cloud. I was going to start next January, but perhaps I'll start just a bit earlier...? Regardless, congratulations, Mr. Strife! The nostalgic explosion of celebration that is Smash welcomes you with open arms!

Anyway, what else happened this Direct? Zelda: Twilight Princess HD, for one. We don't know too much about it, and the game might not look too different, but take look at this comparison video. The HUD's far less cluttered, for one, and the absence of blurry jaggies give way to some great detail (take a look at the Zant close-up to see what I mean). It's definitely far less of a graphical endeavor than the other three Zelda remasters, but that shouldn't be the focus. Twilight Princess had far too much padding and bloat for its own good, and how this version will handle all that should be the focus.

Splatoon updates? Good, now I'll continue to worship that game at a snail's pace. Star Fox Zero launches in April? Enough time for me to play through and review the first two games. Pokémon Red, Blue, and Yellow are launching on 3DS Virtual Console? Wait, what? Really?


So they are! And what's more, Japan's getting some retail boxed copies. I'd say not fair, but hey, they're finally coming out EVERYWHERE digitally! Many had long suspected the games'...uh, "complicated" coding would prevent such a thing, and here we are. I wonder if my old, treasured copy of Red still works properly...

By the way, I didn't know about what I'm about to show you below until just a few hours ago. How cool is this?!?


Apparently, this not only happened on Yellow when played on GBC, but for Red/Blue on the Super Game Boy! Sadly, Game Boy games on the VC don't display in their GBC/SGB versions, so the same effect probably won't be replicated...but I imagine it'll still be quite the nostalgia for many!

Anyway, that's all the time I have. Off to party in New York for a couple days, and then I'll get right back to work on my next review! See ya.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

A Nintendo Direct This Thursday?!? But That Means...!

C-could it be?


Yeeeeehaw! The first Nintendo Direct in roughly half a year! Our cries have been answered...but to what extent?

2015 has been a rough year for Nintendo: following the tragic death of Iwata, news has only slowly dripped out via Twitter feeds, sudden YouTube video announcements, and disappointing delays. All in the midst of Nintendo's restructuring, you understand, not the least of which includes Mr. Kimishima filling in Iwata's massive shoes. We knew a Direct would be coming this fall, but with Nintendo picking up the pieces, what exactly would we witness?

So far, we know the upcoming NX as well as Nintendo's mobile ventures won't be present on Thursday. Mr. Shibata, Nintendo's European goofball, will also be present for the European version of the Direct. Not to mention, um...it happens to fall on a very important date. What day would that be, you ask? Why, November 12th...which just so happens to be MY BIRTHDAY!

Wow! I'll not only be 24, but I'll be getting the best birthday present since Super Mario Galaxy! What are the odds?

Goodness, what WILL be in this Direct? Will Kimishima finally present himself to us rabid Nintendo fans? Not only that, but will he either ape Iwata's antics, be thorough and straight-laced, or present his own unique brand of eccentricity? Will Pikmin 4 be revealed, its succulent, glorious aesthetics once again compelling me to bathe myself in White Grape Juice? Will Star Fox Zero be shown again, this time to unanimous applause? What Smash DLC characters will we see? Will Mother 3 finally be localized?!?

Okay, maybe I'm stretching with that last one (or not...?), but regardless, you can bet I'll be here Thursday to discuss all the goodness yet to be revealed. Not only that, but my next Nintendojo article should be up around then, too!


Oh, and that other review I promised. Maybe some of you have guessed what the next one is. It's been a couple months coming, and I'm working like a madman to get it done ALSO ON THURSDAY before I leave for New York this Friday. And speaking of which, I should probably get back to that. Starting...NOW!

See you in two days!


Sunday, November 1, 2015

Worldly Weekend: Ico (PS2/PS3)


When Ico begins, we're treated to a long cinematic of tribesmen escorting a peculiar young boy with horns protruding from his head. Emerging from a forest, they approach an ancient castle first on horseback, then enter its watery underside with a small boat. Stairs are climbed, elevators are ridden and magic swords cast aside door-blocking golems until they reach their destination: a hall of sarcophaguses. As if sentient, one of the stone coffins has already foreseen their arrival, brimming to life with an ominous blue light. It opens its maw, ready to participate in the ritual.

"Do not be angry with us," says one of the guardsmen to the horned boy in a foreign tongue, "this is for the good of the village."

The boy's lack of resistance implies he's already resigned to his fate, but when a mysterious quake shakes the castle, inspiration strikes. He tugs at his restraints just as the stone flooring beneath him crumbles, breaking the sarcophagus and tumbling him out. He rises to his feet and absorbs his surroundings.

Then the player assumes control, and that's it. No control tutorial, no HUD, no signs blaring "THIS IS THE WAY OUT!". We're simply left to figure out what to do with this horned boy in the enigmatic castle.

Having first played Ico's spiritual successor (the masterpiece Shadow of the Colossus) many years before, this came as something of a shock. For all the similarities in tone and visuals, Shadow of the Colossus gives you a purpose, a destination and a couple weapons by the end of the first cinematic. In Ico, we have nothing, and so we are left as confused and aimless as the horned boy we control.

All in part to designer Fumito Ueda, perhaps gaming's most humble auteur. In subscribing to "subtracted game design", Ueda's sense of granting immersion remains unchallenged in this industry. The elements of story, color and sound are tantalizingly minimized, beating just beneath the surface of a deceptively simple game. The world of Ico is outwardly defined by simple puzzles and a simple story, yet it's how the game is constructed around that captivates us.

Take what happens after the aforementioned beginning, when Ico, the horned boy, rescues another child in captivity: an older girl with otherworldly snow-white skin wearing wispy clothes. The girl, Yorda, also speaks a foreign language, but as shown by subtitles, it's one entirely different from Ico's. It's only by linking hands do they recognize a mutual goal: to escape.

So sets the contextual stage for Ico. In navigating the castle, Ico and Yorda are in consistent physical contact, as they cannot escape without the other despite their respective weaknesses. Note how this very fact allows Ico to subvert typical gaming tropes; for instance, take how the game handles combat. There's no elaborate combo system or leveling-up, for despite having horns, Ico is no different from any other boy. The only means he has in fending off the shadow men that chase the pair around is picking up the nearest torch or sword and swinging away. What would be shallow and repetitive in any other game complements the world Ico builds.

But the game's vision never obstructs the actual gameplay, as seen in the case of Yorda. As only she can magically open the idol gates strewn about the castle, her frailty doesn't override her importance. But she's still left vulnerable most times, and as escort missions are often frowned upon in games (typically in their being slow and how often your partners get lost), it can be easy to dismiss Ico as being basically just one big fat embodiment of that unpopular trope. Yet Yorda never feels like a burden: the essential call button pans the camera over to her in times of progression or in frantic attempts to spot her when the shadow men attack. But as she's still too weak to swim and climb ropes, you can't rely on that button forever.

Guided by meticulous design, such subtle clues beg the player further into Ico's embrace. Growing so accustomed to its spare color palette--gray, black, white, and brown--we gasp when we see the first traces of green grass. The foreboding nightmare that is the shadow men theme makes us shiver at how subdued it is. We wonder if we've seen Yorda's powers somewhere before.


It goes without saying that Ico is an acquired taste. We could say the game gives as much as the player wants, but wouldn't the game's presentation be more active if that were the case? It's because Ico is so sparse in detail that we're given no choice but to analyze everything going on around the pair. If Shadow of the Colossus balanced thrill, immersion and pathos, then Ico juggles only the last two while honing in on something resembling critical thinking.

Shadow of the Colossus evokes such thoughts too, mind, but consider how that game largely consists of tragedy while Ico follows all the beats of a fairy tale. There's an evil queen, acts of love and companionship that save the day, and a nebulous happy ending. What's amazing about Ico is the density packed into these wafer-thin concepts; the queen's plot, for instance, isn't so uncommon in the realm of fiction. Instead, it's how this ill-fated goal is nearly achieved that reveals such a poignant darkness. It's something not explicitly told, but instead shown in a chilling pre-final battle sequence. All I'll say is that a second playthrough will require much pity unto the shadow "men".

But can a game like this have replay value? Seeing as how much extensive analysis has been performed onto the game, I can only conclude that what I've discovered in Ico will continue to branch off and grow in ways I never imagined. Much as it saddened me at times, such a thought excites me to return to the castle at some point and further scrutinize.


And to listen, too. The use of music in Ico is sparse too, but shown above is the game's single point of solace: Heal, which plays whenever Ico and Yorda rest upon the save benches. True to its purpose, it is the faintest of lullabies, free from the darkness and utter isolation the rest of the game's chilling soundtrack provides.

I bring the subject of replay up considering I get the feeling my opinion on Ico is not wholly complete. At the moment, I don't think it's quite the masterpiece Shadow of the Colossus is. That Ico compels me to dig beneath its simple surface is a wonderful feat of game design, yet its successor is such a leap in not just gameplay and sound, but in areas Ico never dared to cross (exploration, for one thing). Yet that I'm compelled to dig even further begs the question if that leap is so big after all.

Ico
remains one of the most celebrated examples of art in gaming for a reason, one that I'm glad to have enjoyed on its PS3 remaster (as opposed to allowing the dreary NA PS2 boxart to grace my household, which just...well, just look at the contemptible thing). In an age where gritty games have already lost their luster, how amazing it is that Ueda's vision still strikes home fourteen years later. Here's to hoping The Last Guardian finally comes out next year.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Checking In/Updates

Konbonwa! Genki desuka? Anata mo neko desuka?

As briefly mentioned in a review last month, I'm taking Japanese courses! I've been attending for nearly two months now, and what an experience it's been! I'm not sure if I've discussed this before, but my acquaintance with the language has roots from over a decade ago, back when I was in 7th grade. Given my love for Nintendo and anime, it was only natural I'd want to take a Japanese course even then, but alas, it wasn't meant to be. Roughly half the students who took the course weren't so much interested in learning another language as much as they saw another opportunity to constantly goof around and interrupt class, and the sensei was ill-equipped to handle classroom control.

Combined with the immense pressure of learning a notoriously-difficult language, it was a recipe for disaster. I gave it another shot in my freshman year, but depression and self-destructive anxiety on my part rendered it impossible to continue.

But I never gave up on the dream, and my patience has now finally borne fruit. How, you ask? By salvaging what I did memorize from those ill-fated classroom ventures: the hiragana/katakana vowels and tables! My exact memorization of the latter alphabet is a bit rusty, but it helps that they share the same sounds as hiragana (and typically involve pronouncing English words!). Not only that, but a decade's worth of watching subtitled anime has gradually etched the flow and quirks of the Japanese language into my brain. Of course, many anime fans have picked up on Japanese phrases through that medium, but as I watched the entirety of Dragon Ball Z in Japanese last year, I grew to recognize I'd subconsciously accumulated various quirks of the language, including words and placement of grammar. As you'd expect, it's been a tremendous help in my class.

So why am I telling you all this? Because I plan on further studying the language, there's the very real possibility I'll be able to review Japan-only games! Y'know, ones that probably don't have any translation patches. Wowza. Of course, such a prospect probably won't happen for some time, not to mention my review schedule for the next half-year or so is already lined up. But hey, so far I've been able to translate one full panel of a Japanese Kirby manga volume I picked up some eight years ago, so it can't be too far, right? I'm also incredibly interested in playing Japanese versions of text-heavy Nintendo games so as properly gauge the untouched, Japan-native vision of the developers (like the recently-reviewed Paper Mario), so maybe some comparison articles could be in the future...?

All bragging aside, if you haven't already guessed, my new obsession with the Japanese language has been why October's been a bit sparse for the blog. Sorry about that! We've also been job-hunting lately; much as Nintendojo's a dream to work with, it's a volunteer position, so it doesn't pay the bills. As you may recall, Daily Gamer was set for that role, but unfortunately it fell through before it even began, so I'm searching high and low for another gaming outlet. I tell ya, if there's one thing worse than never hearing back from a prospective employer, it's sifting through all the terrible, eye-burning site layouts. With how web-design's slowly been homogenized into blogging formats over the past decade, it's not pretty.

Anyway, to make up for my lack of October presence, how about I whip up not one, but two reviews within the next week! We'll finally return to Ten Years of Kirby and get acquainted with another Worldly Weekend. While this means we won't have Biweekly Music Wednesday this week, we'll instead be able to jumpstart things back up on here. Look forward to them!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Biweekly Music Wednesday! ~No. 30~ Fallin' Love (Mother/EarthBound Beginnings)



Origin: EarthBound Beginnings (Mother)
Plays In: Mt. Itoi Cabin
Status: Original Composition
Composed by: Hirokazu "Hip" Tanaka/Keiichi Suzuki

Over the past several years, I've gradually decided that I want to be a hermit. I'd live in the mountain country home I've always dreamed of, surrounded by trees, fields and mountains that stimulate my inner nostalgia. Walks within forests and alongside mountain roads will be my zen, blue skies and dew-adorned flowers providing endless wonder. It would be a paradise all to my own (barring the company of some cats, naturally).

But why isolate myself? Have my social anxieties and insecurities reached their limit? Is it because I have Asperger's? Sensory issues? Indeed, they're all very likely answers, but I wonder if the more suspicious might believe I'm running away from something; safeguarding myself from a potential trauma, if you will.

In that case, is it because I'm afraid to be hurt by love?

Maybe it's because I realize my dream of young love will never come true.

I have never once dated in my life. After my court jester persona simultaneously ruined my reputation and forced me into seclusion during my grade school years, I never once entertained the idea of dating any of the individuals that helped ruin my social life. Opportunities never sprang in college, either, as I was much too focused in achieving my goals.

Deep down, though, I think I was still wishing for my dream to come true. It was one I secretly cherished for ten years, one centered around an individual I believed understood me more than anyone else. She was the epitome of young love: laughter abound, a never-ending plethora of inside jokes and memories reminisced in warmth, the golden scent of hair, and in possession of the the world's most headspinning smile.

It was an impossible dream, for she never felt the same way. I was just "the friend." But I never stopped dreaming. When I was sailing the high seas of Zelda: The Wind Waker, she and I built a life together on a tropical island. When I was an awkward teenager and endlessly reading video game fanfiction, I'd insert ourselves as the romantic leads. She was my Kairi, my Tetra, my Colette Brunel. Even when I thought I didn't love her, dreams of my mountain abode had her waiting for me at the doorstep.

As they say, however, love is cruel. The dream shattered in a million pieces as we reached twenty, when she began prizing drama and attention above all else. People found themselves being cut out of her life...repeatedly. Being "the friend," I was always the first to get the boot, watching helplessly as the breadth between us grew wider and wider. My own thoughts and feelings become inconsequential, a decade of memories and friendship rendered irrelevant as I soon found myself with nothing but a broken heart and tarnished memories.



It's so easy to say, "I will never fall in love again." It's a mantra I've repeated over the past year and a half, one that has only induced confusion and disbelief from those who've heard it. I do not wish to love because it's so scary to me. For every fairy tale romance that I personally witness, I can cite five more involving closed Facebook accounts, dramatic runaways and abusive relationships. The prospect of investing years into someone else only to end with heartbreak is pointless and far too risky for me.

It's wrong to stereotype, I know, especially after having dealt with the most selfish drama queen on the planet (who was clearly influenced by unaddressed mental health issues, to boot). But when you've invested ten years of unrequited love only to be betrayed not as a romantic partner but as a best friend, it does something to your ego. Any and all conceptions of romance are ruined for you  I do not see the point in any of it. I do not understand why people constantly shut out their friends over ill-fated romantic pursuits, and I do not understand why age-gap relationships are a thing, and I do not understand why some establish cruel hierarchies of power and control to foster distorted notions of love.

It's all incredibly judgmental of me to say, as even the question of "why do people stay in abusive relationships?" often crosses my mind. If my decision to become a hermit hadn't already shown it, such statements prove that even I, too, am selfish. They're born from fear that I'll repeat my mistakes, and anger that things didn't go my way. The maelstrom of insecurities born from Asperger's, sensory issues and previous social encounters gone wrong seem to only cement the deal...

But, say, if I were ever to move on from all that, and I were to love again, who would it be with? Deep down, I already know the answer. It would be with someone who respects me, someone who does not judge me based on my background, but instead understands it and always supports me. Our thoughts and feelings are, respectively, of the utmost importance to each other. 

Such a love would prove that the boons from young love are not exclusive. It'll flutter and waltz with grace and passion, just as when Ana asked Ninten to dance with her. It will not be something I will purposely seek out, but it's a path I'm gradually beginning to accept and possibly open. Maybe sooner than I think.

Final Thoughts: ...is the first time I've ever elaborated on this subject at length on here? It's why experimenting with this column is so fun.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Retro Scope: EarthBound Beginnings (Nintendojo)

I never get the chance to speak about my favorite Nintendo franchise on here, do I? What a shame. An even bigger shame is that I never actually played the first game all the way through until the Wii U release, yikes!

Anyway, I wrote a tribute to it via Nintendojo. As for the blog's version of the review...hmm, let's say December?

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Paper Mario


To the prudent eye, the name Paper Mario isn't completely accurate to the game's theme. Yes, all the characters and various portions of the world are rendered in flat 2D sprites, but all that hardly recalls paper. While the name rolls off the American tongue easier than its Japanese name, Mario Story, the watercolor backgrounds and cutesy character designs would rather evoke the bedtime storybooks of youth.

And that's exactly what this game is: a living children's storybook. It's bigger than most, it having eight chapters and all, but every one of those tales are so charming, so delightful in how they reimagine the world of Mario within not just a "My First RPG" framework but one of such self-parody and humor that it's impossible not to fall in love with it. Be it the 80's Nintendo veteran familiar with all the references or the eight-year-old that's likely as big a fan of Mario as the Goombario character, there's something for everyone no matter how old you are.

I mentioned reimagining Mario, which is funny considering Paper Mario's origins. The game started as something of a sequel to Super Mario RPG, which, as the very first Mario RPG, presented the dangerous risk of transitioning the series over to the RPG format. What ensued was something far more outlandish than Paper Mario: being developed by RPG legend SquareSoft, the game was stuffed with Final Fantasy-inspired tropes of all sorts. As a result, it was a Mushroom Kingdom the likes of which we'd never seen before; for instance, platforming was distilled into an isometric framework. Mario was still the silent protagonist, but now Toads and Koopas alike spoke on behalf of a cheeky script. There was an actual plot, one populated by dozens upon dozens of bizarre new characters that we'd never see again. And despite what the prologue might imply, Princess Peach does not remain the damsel in distress by the tale's end, nor does Bowser remain the antagonist; in fact, they both join Mario's party!



While Super Mario RPG was a masterpiece in it's own right, Paper Mario chose to dial back on the craziness. It eventually settled on being something of a spiritual successor, borrowing the most pivotal elements for a beginner's RPG format (the "timed" attack system) and for a Mario game (the aforementioned self-parody and humor). The result: a much more familiar Mushroom Kingdom -- there are new characters, yes, but here we witness settlements of not just Toads, but Goombas, Koopas, and Boos alike, some of  who even join Mario on his adventure. Bowser starts as the villain and ends as the villain. The plot revolves around magical stars again, but they now possess countenance and even speech.

Whether or not this is actually better is up to preference, but the end result is so undeniably sweet-natured, so fun and bursting with life. Toads of every sort roam the streets of Toad Town, be it the guy screaming about current events, the little old lady who'll cook you treats, or the dude raising money-grubbing piglets. When visiting home, Mario receives letters from all sorts, right down to the Ninja Turtle-ripoffs he trounced in Chapter 1 (and in return, you can deliver lost letters courtesy of Parakarry). And no matter who they are, your friend Goombario has the deets on every single NPC.

Because the game hews closer to home, we delight in witnessing the every day routines of supporting Mario characters. We smile at how Shy Guys, for instance, invade Toad Town with all the giddiness of prankster children (a prelude, you understand, to the bit where you have to infiltrate their lair: a Shy Guy Toybox). We shake our heads at how we're forced to explore a volcano with a zealous Koopa treasure hunter. We giggle when we discover Luigi's diary, chock-full of all his latent desires. And while Peach may be a prisoner in her own castle, her post-chapter escapades with an aspiring star child ensure not just her relevance, but an adorable tale of friendship.



I admit this Paper Mario doesn't have me rolling in hysterics like it's later sequels (The Thousand Year Door and Super); rather, I'm more prone to innocuous giggle fits. And that's really where Paper Mario's humor lies: whereas those two sequels delight in exploring the darker underbelly of the Mario universe, there's not a single cynical bone within their predecessor. It frames a good deal of its conflicts within light-hearted mischief, which is why the game's "darkest" scenario--Mario being the prime suspect of a penguin murder mystery--is also its most ridiculous.


Hence why the game's depiction of Bowser is Paper Mario's funnest character. The big softie in Super Mario RPG may be echoed in the cuddly design, but the Bowser here is a big bully who adores his title and revels in his newfound powers. He's also kind of an idiot, as we witness in one of the game's best scenes where he interrogates Peach on Mario's weaknesses. Here the aforementioned mischief theme comes into play: we could lie and say that Mario hates Mushrooms for a free snack, but it's far funner to pick, say, wimpy enemies and watch them cower in the face of Mario (my favorite being the shell-shocked Goomba: "feel my, uh...wrath, I guess!").


Which reminds me: let us not forget the efforts of NOA's localization. Indeed, it was Paper Mario that shifted the course for Treehouse translations. No more dry scripts or awkward translations of Japanese nouns (as seen in Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Zelda: A Link to the Past, respectively), for this was to be a fun localization! Lively characters everywhere! Liberties to be taken with the dialogue!

But what sparked this new direction? Were they attempting to emulate Ted Woosley's Super Mario RPG localization? Could it be how it was the very first localization project for now-famed Treehouse member Nate Bihldorff? Was it simply times and standards changing? All are viable guesses--indeed, that the previous fall's Majora's Mask was a significant improvement over OOT in this regard already proved changes were coming to Nintendo's localization practices, and boy do they deliver.


Note, for instance, how slang starts seeping into the English-speaking Mushroom Kingdom. Of course, the American localization team was already on this way back in the days of Super Mario World (via the special world stages; "Tubular", anyone?), but there was nothing as radical as, say, Kammy Koopa--Bowser's elderly Magikoopa assistant--referring to her king as "your Gnarliness". It's a word obviously not present in the Japanese version, but as she frequently varies her evil-themed appellations, even today I am amused at the thought that she meditates day and night coming up with new titles to address her king. So thank you for that imagery, Mr. Bihldorff.


  And let us dispel the concern Paper Mario wasn't inherently funny in it's native Japanese language; after all, that would dismiss any of the aforementioned scenarios (particularly the Koopa Bros., undoubtedly birthed from Japan's fascination with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles). That's not even mentioning how the game pokes fun at RPG tropes, such as how Merlon's family elaborates on pretentious, useless backstories of their youth. You don't need the world's best game localization team to see the humor in that, although it certainly helps!

I mentioned earlier that Paper Mario is best described as a children's storybook. Obviously, that's not to say the games are only for kids, but I remain amazed at how in regards to actual play, it strikes a perfect balance for any audience to master. This is mainly regarding the battle system; at first glance, that attacks rarely venture into the realm of double-digit damage seems like a significant downgrade, but Paper Mario expands upon what made Super Mario RPG so fun to play: the "timed" hits. Note how every one of Mario's companions possess unique button commands -- we're encouraged to aim with the control stick, flick it back and forth, and even holding the A button for brief, intermittent periods. Through this process, we learn that they're not just immensely satisfying to pull off; when we slip up on a timed press, we're legitimately disappointed and strive to do better.

And that's not even bringing up the equippable badges, flexible to any player's tastes and needs as according to a limited point system. For instance, do I spend huge badge points on boosting Mario's HP and FP, or do I balance all three point upgrades for the level-up rewards? Do I stick with just one set of attack and defense-based badges for the entire adventure, or switch 'em around as I go? Be it solely for use of battle or even for convenience within battles or the overworld, there's an unlimited amount of combination for players to choose from.

            

Of course, the true star of Paper Mario's battles is the impossibly fun battle theme. Fire Emblem veteran Yuka Tsujiyoko, a master of the xylophone, draws out every ounce of that instrument to craft a lively cacophony I always look forward to. RPG battle themes have the reputation of growing old, but I daresay this song ranks alongside Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga's as being the very best within Mario RPG canon.

                   

Indeed, so much of Paper Mario's innocuous adorableness hails from its soundtrack. As seen above, it's no surprise Toad Town is the game at it's most idyllic (except for Chapter 4, anyway). Its accompanying song varies from location to location, but the core melody always establishes a warm sense of familiarity and home. Being the central hub of the game, it's undeniable this is the song that sparks nostalgia for longtime Paper Mario fans.

                   

Speaking of which, as a children's storybook, Paper Mario never forgets that wistful scent of dreamy nostalgia. It pops up in spades near the game's climax, with its best example displayed above. Snow Road encapsulates so much of those misty, snowy December nights you might've spent gazing out the window as a child. It's the perfect segue into the village of the Star Children, who I imagine frolic about within those very same nights.

With all this lavish praise, would it be easy to deem Paper Mario the best Mario RPG? Perhaps, but the highs and lows in relation to it's GameCube successor, Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door, grant me pause. In particular, the perfect cast of TTYD really shines a light on how bland most of the original's party members are even by themselves. Fun as they are in battle, there's a stark contrast regarding who's actually well-written and who's not. There's a world of difference between, say, Lady Bow and Bombette, as the former is a driving force for the plot whereas Bombette is, well, Bombette.

But let us not linger on any such imperfections. Paper Mario may not reach the highest of highs found in TTYD and even Super Mario RPG, but that it possesses hardly any lows is a sign of fine craftsmanship. It's a warm, feel-good adventure, one that embraces any audience and certainly one I know I'll revisit whenever I'm down in the dumps as a full-grown adult with very real responsibilities. Lord knows I need to project my troubles into Jr. Troopa, another bully who decides his life mission is to stalk Mario and lay the beatdown on him. What a prick.


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This is probably my shortest review yet! As I'm aiming for a five-to-seven day waiting period between reviews, more condensed pieces like this will be inevitable. At the very least, I hope I struck that balance of "less is more" with this one! Please let me know what you think.

Anyway, see you guys tomorrow with another Retro Scope courtesy of Nintendojo!