Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Biweekly Music Wednesday! No. 27 ~Main Menu~ (Star Fox 64)

Origin: Star Fox 64
Plays in: Main Menu
Status: Original Composition
Composer: Koji Kondo

You're adrift. You don't quite know how you got here, yet your mind can't muster the strength to ask why. The deep darkness of space threatens to swallow you whole, but being surrounded by thousands of stars instils only calm. You merely float along, devoid of all will, content with wherever the gentle pull of space takes you.

And then, within a moment's passing, you land. Your surroundings materialize via wireframe before taking solid form. It's a forgotten museum isolated within the reaches of space: crafts and mannequins of all sorts are on display, all depicting the heroics of Team Star Fox. Be it wall-embedded videos detailing General Pepper's military accomplishments, a diorama of the Battle for Katina, and even a room dedicated to the inventions of the Toad family (complete with prototype replicas for the Landmaster and the Blue Marine), you roam this museum for what seems like years.

There are no other visitors. There's not even a sign of whoever built this museum hidden away amongst the stars. Your only companion is the above song, which plays endlessly through the speakers. It fits the place like a glove, and compels you to delve further and further into these hallowed halls, to learn all you can about the most legendary merc-for-hire team in the universe.

But you never finish. The moment the song begins to fade, your surroundings begin to revert alongside it. From solid form to wireframes to nothingness, only the stars remain as your consciousness drifts back to reality. And that's quite alright; you'll be immortalized within these hallowed halls one day.

After all, you finally got your own spaceship.

...sans the surprise ending, that's the imagery that always come to mind whenever I start up Star Fox 64. It's amazing how the game can switch between its typical B-movie atmosphere, a hardened space drama, and degree of prestige within a moment's notice. It's all thanks to the tagteam duo of Hajime Wakai and Koji Kondo, although the latter's work is what we're featuring today. Koji Kondo's menu theme for Star Fox 64 remains one of the finest menu themes in Nintendo history, elevating the game to the aforementioned level of prestige while maintaining the chillest calm.

A calm that I often sit back and reflect upon before attempting a high-score. I don't have a choice; it compels to recline and let my mind wander. And that goes for even after I've finished my latest campaign; after all, it does play when you're entering your latest score. If not, I zip right back to the menu to ponder a bit.


And while I'm at it, here's the version found in the 3DS remake. While its rearranged soundtrack had its ups and downs, I rather like the take on this song. I still lack the proper vocabulary to discuss the finer points of music, but the instruments used here grant a different flavor while largely maintaining the same tone. Dunno if that made sense, but given the severity of music misfires in this remake, it's more than enough to earn a thumbs-up for me.

I wonder if Star Fox Zero's menu theme will be as good? Between this and the starry theme for the original Star Fox, it has a lot to live up to. Come to think of it, who's composing that game, anyway? I wonder if Mahito Yokota's arrangement for the Star Wolf/Sector Z themes in Smash is a sign...?

Final Thoughts: I went in a bit of a different direction here today. Did you like it? I'm thinking of ways to differentiate entries so I can flex out my writing, so lemme know.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Regarding Weekly Schedule + Otakon

Hey all! Just wanted to check in on a couple o' things.

First off, I believe we've hit the shortest gap ever between two reviews! Woo! I'd say I hope I can keep this up, but...

I mentioned recently I'd been hoping to maintain a weekly schedule for Nintendo reviews. While I'm earnestly trying to work towards that goal, I'm about to hit my first snag: heading out to Otakon this Friday! I'd rather not rush anything I'm writing, so if I don't make it this week, you can be sure I'll be back soon after Sunday. And hey, I'd be more than willing to share my merch haul from Baltimore, so stay tuned for that possibility!

And just a heads-up: the next couple of reviews will be, within the context of Nintendo games, first non-Kirby reviews in some time! Indeed, you'll be a seeing a whole host of Nintendo franchises this coming fall and maybe even August, so I hope you're excited!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Worldly Weekend: Sonic Adventure DX: Director's Cut (GameCube)

There was a time where, for me, the Sonic Adventure games were Sonic. It was the same era where any 2D platformer that wasn't Kirby was far too hard for me, and Sonic the Hedgehog's Genesis classics were no exception. Sure, I could play Sonic Advance just fine, but hardcore Sonic fans on message boards far and wide kept dismissing them in favor of the old Genesis games.

Being a kid, I didn't really get that, much like how the same crowd held no love for the Sonic Adventure games birthed on the ill-fated Dreamcast (and eventually ported to GameCube, as seen in the cover above). The opening levels of each game had Sonic escaping from a killer whale and running over cars with a snowboard, respectively. I didn't care for rock music, yet Sonic made it cool with the likes of Live and Learn and Open Your Heart. If I was asked to describe the games with one-word answers as a kid, I would probably respond with words like "awesome," "kickass", and "deep". Yes, deep, likely in response to what I perceived as AAA-storytelling in the form of Gerald Robotnik's execution video and, in the case of the game I'm reviewing today, witnessing the poor plight of Tikal, an ancient echidna, attempting to prevent the slaughter and burning of the cuddly Chao creatures.

All wildly out of place in a Sonic game, you understand. And as we all know, it took Sega some time to learn from that. The rise and fall of Sonic the Hedgehog, all thanks to the likes of gun-toting edgy hedgehogs and woman-on-hedgehog smooching and werewolf hedgehogs and sword-wielding hedgehogs, has been widely maligned and joked about for years and years now. And yet the Sonic fanbase, chaotic as it is, can never decide whether or not it all started with Sonic's entry into 3D (or, in some deluded circles, argued to have never happened at all).

And now here we are, well over a decade since the original Sonic Adventure was ported to GameCube in the DX: Director's Cut edition, four years after its initial release in 1999. Coincidentally, that happens to be the last time I played it (2003, that is).

My friends, as those of us who've revisited our childhoods should know, there comes a time where we're forced to accept the bitter reality about what we once loved. That is why I am here today to inform you that Sonic Adventure DX sucks ass.

And I say that with zero malice whatsoever, for Sonic Adventure DX falls squarely into "so bad it's good" territory by taking all the wrong lessons from Super Mario 64 (and late-90's 3D game design in general). The result? A lovable abomination of hodgepodge game design, the worst camera ever devised, and glitches upon glitches upon glitches. Also, butt rock.

To put this all into context, Sonic Adventure DX splits the campaign into six characters: Sonic the Hedgehog, Miles "Tails" Prower, Knuckles the Echidna, Amy Goddamn Rose, E-102 the Boring-Ass Robot, and Big the Fuckin' Cat. They all take place within the same story, so the purpose is to put the pieces together from each perspective. Not that it's even remotely interesting today, mind you, but we'll get to that later. The real issue is that I'm really not kidding when I say that Sega took the opportunity to throw in every concept they could think of, be it speedy platforming, racing, chase sequences, treasure hunting, shooting, bumper cars, casino games, and, yes, fishing.

Now, are any of these actually fun? Maybe, but credit can hardly be granted to Sega and the folks at Sonic Team. See, Sonic Adventure DX makes design mistakes so elementary that it doesn't matter which character you pick, as all of their respective campaigns are riddled with pacing flaws, pointless/confusing decoration, and accompanied by some of the slipperiest controls and cameras known to man. Also, glitches.

Sonic takes most of the story meat and represents just about every level, so it's best to use him as a model. Many Adventure critics point to his campaign as being the only enjoyable one on a functional level; this argument may've held up roughly a decade ago when the game's flaws weren't nearly as apparent today, but that's definitely not the case now. The seams in nearly all the jaw-dropping set pieces (including the famous Emerald Coast whale chase) have long since eroded, and whatever remains entertaining (such as Lost World's tunnels and gravitational wall panels) is surrounded in a sea of mediocrity.

These are all meant to illustrate how fast Sonic is, but the problem is how Sonic's speed is set far too fast. This wasn't so bad in the Genesis titles considering the multi-faceted level design (that, and the speed was far more, well, measured), but the pit-ridden 3D planes of Sonic Adventure DX simply can't handle the inoperable speed of Sonic. Consequently, Sonic tends to either fall off pits, fall through glitch-ridden slopes, or dash across walls and ceilings. The last one's an intentional cool-looking mechanic, mind you, but one that's hardly useful; in fact, you'll often find yourself running into walls instead.

Actually, just about every character runs too fast. While they vary in speed, they're unable to camouflage two fatal flaws within Sonic Adventure DX's design, the first one being level structure that continually betrays player decisions and expectations. This can range from springs that often send players spiraling into an abyss (despite being intended to launch 'em up to platforms, rings, or...nothing) to sudden sequences introduced with zero context. To step away from Sonic for a moment, above is an example from one of the similarly-designed Tails levels, where a rush of air propels him upwards. As seen above, Tails tends to crash into various structures and the like, but he'll also fall back down for no apparent reason. Naturally, the player's response to press a button to get him flying again, but that'll actually accelerate his descent. Bear in mind this is within a race setting!

Problem number two is all about the camera. Put simply, the camera cannot keep up with the characters' speeds and flings about in the most nonsensical perspectives to capture them. Some of its most common habits include freezing in place as a character zooms away, attempting and failing to capture everything relevant to the character's actions/placement, or just freaking the hell out. Above is an example of the second variety: Sonic has just left a room in Casinopolis, but the camera wants to be mindful of his AI partner (Tails), so it awkwardly situates itself behind the room's glass paneling so it can display both characters at once (as opposed to where it should be: around Sonic).

In any other 3D action game, this would compel any player to toss their controller at the wall. But bad 3D Sonic games have this mysterious fascination with clunking up every area imaginable with glitches galore; in the case of Sonic Adventure DX, there's so much what-the-fuckery going on in setting/context, collision detection, and AI movement happening every 20-30 seconds. I don't know what's the nebulous secret behind why Sonic derpin' out is so damn funny , but regardless, I took the liberty of capturing some of my favorite moments.

Yes, that's Sonic showering within the bathrooms of Casinopolis, and he has a visitor! Tails had been hopping about until colliding into the wall and freezing in that walking animation, leading to the hilarious shot above. Truth be told, this actually happened just before the glass paneling camera shot, setting a scenario where Tails watches sadly as his lover moves on. I wonder how much filthy fanfiction I just inspired?

Here's Knuckles climbing the non-existent space beyond one of the Egg Carrier doors! Yes, even the game's three central hubs are hilariously glitch-ridden. Did I mention the hubs are easily the worst of the inspirations borrowed from Mario 64? I'm still not sure if you're supposed to walk on top of the trees of Mystic Ruins' jungle; I mean, me falling through every three seconds should be a clue, but anything goes with Sonic Team. Anyway, it's far preferable than getting lost in that unnavigable maze of a forest, so I don't mind.
Now, I'm told that Sonic Adventure DX brought its own share of glitches and errors during the porting process, allegedly making the game worse than it actually is. However, the idea of the level design, controls and the camera all magically turning to shit when transferred to GameCube is a hard pill to swallow, especially since some of these very complaints existed back upon its Dreamcast release. If anything, I really can't help but appreciate DX's efforts in at least making the game look pretty. Just take a look below.

Sonic Adventure
Sonic Adventure DX

I mean, both are all kinds of terrible, but for vastly different reasons. Sonic Adventure needs no explanation, as I'm certain I wouldn't be to sit through even one cutscene without collapsing in laughter. Meanwhile, Sonic Adventure DX takes the time to freshen the models to an acceptable 2003 standard, polishing 'em off with a shiny sheen. Unfortunately, they neglected to update the mouth animations, so everyone speaks with all the grace of a cow chewing cud. In case you're wondering, that's why Sonic's tongue is sticking out like that (also, why does Sonic have fangs?).

Yes, at the very least, I can't imagine the Dreamcast version excusing the very worst of Sonic Adventure. There's the voicing and scripting, for one. Like, holy shit. I knew revisiting an era where they casted unknowns to voice hackneyed dialogue wasn't going to be pretty, and I knew even as a kid there were some weak lines ("Tails! Watch out! You're going to crash! AhhHHHhH!"), but this is just on another level. You know things are bad when the entire cast of bad 90's dubbing tropes are here: the overacting ninnies (Sonic and Knuckles), the obnoxious body-type casting (E-102 and Big the Fuckin' Cat), "Good Voice, Bad Acting" (Tails' child actor), and The Actors Who Simply Don't Give A Shit (whoever they grabbed around the office to cheer Sonic's name before the final boss).

All are unintentionally hilarious. Granted, the late Deem Bristow brings some deliciously evil cheese to Dr. Eggman (one that he struggles to maintain, unfortunately, but points for effort), but this is all married to the following:

a) the aforementioned horrific attempts at lip-synching.
b) tuned to a boilerplate "ancient evil" script that attempts to be far more serious than it actually is ("THIS IS BEGINNING TO BLOW MY MIND," yells Knuckles after witnessing a mysterious vision).
c) characters constantly speaking over each others' lines.
d) the loud, blaring music constantly drowning out dialogue

Naturally, the results can't be anything but tear-inducing hilarity. You haven't lived until you've heard Tails's speech about the power of friendship.

The scripting even bleeds over to the silent human NPCs, all of who are concerned with burgers, archaeology, train station strikes, and finding love in pizza restauraunts. I'm the type that walks up to every NPC in sight, so naturally the blocky residents of Station Square and their insipid affairs fascinated me to no end. The love story moved me to tears, really.

And then there's Big the Cat. Big the Fuckin' Cat, whose only purpose is to fumble around and fish for his pet frog. This naturally begs the question  "why the hell am I doing this?" as most Sonic games have done in the past decade and a half. Sega's response? "Well, because we already implemented a fishing program for some reason."  Now, I just so happen to have an unhealthy obsession with cats, so I supposed I'd be willing to play ball with whatever the fuck Sega wanted me to do.

And I'm glad I did, because otherwise I never would've discovered the most beautiful level in all of gaming: Big's version of the Ice Cap segment. To clarify, the rest of his levels consist of just a pond to fish in, as they should be. No point in propping up those sections with fluff, right? For reasons I cannot even begin to decipher, the gang at Sonic Team decided to transform the Ice Cap fishing level into a labyrinth of springs, slopes, spike traps, and deep, deep water tunnels. As expected of an ice level, it's all very slippery, and I should also mention Big the Cat is ill-equipped to handle any platforming (he runs fast, but is offset by his poor jumping ability).

I spent roughly half an hour transitioning from mild curiosity to convulsing around the floor in laughter attempting to figure this level out. You're supposed to throw a boulder at one of the frozen ponds to find Froggy, but like me, if you don't bother to immediately seek the advice of Tikal, nothing in this level is immediately apparent. What ensued was a pattern of me briefly scoping out the bottom level, then climbing up down slopes and watching Big the Fuckin' Cat's fat ass falling all the way back down, springing over to completely irrelevant crevices and water pools (barring finding a hidden lure, but hardly worth all this fluff), and watching helplessly as the camera zoomed up at the ceilings of incredibly cramped underwater tunnels. I took the time to craft GIFs of my Ice Cap escapades, for words alone cannot capture the beauty of Ice Cap.

The last one's actually in the Mystic Ruins, but you see how Big just kinda fidgets in place for a bit? That didn't actually happen in-game. If you follow this link, you'll witness the true power of Big's spinning, gravity-defying powers, which no GIF converter could properly emulate.

Case in point, Sonic Adventure DX--nay, Sonic Adventure was the true beginning of a long, long era for Sonic, one often complemented by a never-ending series of "Why?" Why, exactly, am I doing all this? Why has the setting for Sonic suddenly changed to one populated with humans? Why did this game end up being so riddled with glitches? Why does Tails have to suddenly stop and inform me that I'm at the entrance to the Sky Deck, especially since this never happens for any other level? Why does the cutscene of Sonic falling from the sky really just consist of his running animation accompanied by an exaggerated slide whistle? Why am I fishing for frogs?

I won't lie and say Sonic Adventure DX is devoid of any redeeming factors, because it does, but boy do you have to endure a lot of shit to get to those points. Granted, it's all shit that made me laugh hard, and Sonic had yet to fall lower than this, but it's all still shit that made me ask why. I gradually learned to ignore all of it, but you also realize that you can't really escape it.

Even the soundtrack isn't safe -- with the very distinct exception of Sonic Chronicles, if there's one thing to count on in a Bad Sonic Game, it's almost guaranteed to have a damn good soundtrack. Above are two of my favorites: the theme for the Red Mountain level and E-102's theme. Note how both make excellent use of the piano despite being on opposite ends of the Sonic Adventure spectrum.

Then you have to endure butt rock; or in the example I've provided above, butt rap, assuming that is an actual term. Sung entirely from the perspective of Knuckles, his special rap claims that unlike Sonic, he "doesn't chuckle" and is something of a "bloat thrower".

In a different time, I would've argued that Sonic should follow its Saturday Morning Cartoon roots and focus on feel-good songs in the vein of Sonic R and even Tails's own theme for this game (something I've always had a guilty affection for). But in the end, Sonic's bad boy attitude won out.  All still in good fun, mind; why else would I still get nostalgic chills from Live and Learn? But then I listen to that rap and I wonder if it's really worth it.

In a way, I'm still wrestling with my feelings on Sonic Adventure DX. Make no mistake: it's really bad and I thoroughly enjoyed learning why, but in more of a "my soul's been punched" kinda way. Much as I laughed at Big the Fuckin' Cat, that half-hour is not only one I'm never going to get back, but I've spent far more time wondering "why?" and so I can't even visit side stuff like raising Chao and the Mission Mode in fear I'll have the same reaction. Maybe next summer; I need time to heal.

I now fear the worst for Sonic Adventure 2: Battle, which I'll be revisiting very shortly. If you excuse me, I'm going to drown my sorrows in Welch's White Grape Juice. Maybe it'll bring my childhood back, I dunno. Anything to make Sonic cool again.

You may've noticed some of the screenshots varied in quality. If you hadn't guessed, all the stuff with the black borders were from my recordings. I hear there's some programs out there that can take 'em out, so you can expect that for the next game I record (Kirby's Epic Yarn, maybe?).

Friday, July 17, 2015

Announcing a New Column: Worldly Weekend!

Yes, another regular column will be joining the Leave Luck to Heaven family: Worldly Weekend! But what exactly is it?

When I went over the renovation plan for Leave Luck to Heaven a few months ago, I mentioned that reviews will no longer be subject to columns following the end of Ten Years of Kirby. This was decided upon me realizing I kept pushing back review after review in favor of juggling Kirby, and so I chose to instead streamline the process by reviewing games that I either a) replayed during a set schedule or b) new titles that I thoroughly completed and had time to reflect on, which would typically happen after a few months (or after its DLC period has ended).

This practice will still hold true...for reviews of Nintendo games. Readers familiar with the blog's history might remember a little column named Games I've Been Playing, where I provided not so much reviews but vivid impressions of, well, games that crossed my path. It only lasted three entries, but most of them weren't actually Nintendo titles at all! It was a very different experience that kept my writing relevant, and I enjoyed my time with it.

I've had the chance to review non-Nintendo games since then during my time with Gaming Grunts, but a flash of inspiration hit me when I was recently replaying a GameCube game that hadn't aged well in the slightest. I'm not exaggerating when I say I collapsed in tears laughing so hard on two different occasions; in particular, the first time nearly gave me conniptions as I was playing through a level so badly-designed, so full of glitches and lack of direction that I kept wondering to myself "Why aren't I recording this? Why am I not writing about this?".

And then I realized...why shouldn't I be?

If you haven't already guessed, Worldly Weekend will set the focus entirely on non-Nintendo games! Be they series I'm quite familiar with (Katamari Damacy, Metal Gear Solid, Kingdom Hearts) or new and unfamiliar territory (Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest), Worldly Weekend will be the venue to voice my opinions on what lies beyond world of Nintendo.

For the past few months, I've created an intricate schedule of games to play through: new and old, familiar or not, Nintendo and non-Nintendo. It's mostly comprised of Nintendo games for for the purposes of reviews on the blog, and I grew to realize that aside from personal enjoyment, there wouldn't be a point to revisiting these non-Nintendo titles unless I shared my thoughts. I don't want to keep them to myself...I want to get them out there! In this way, I believe Leave Luck to Heaven will prosper even more.

For those wondering, Nintendo games will still be the star of the show here at Leave Luck to Heaven. This is where the "weekend" part of the column name comes in: these reviews will be arrive on an irregular schedule only on the weekend. I plan to write Nintendo-based reviews on a weekly basis, so should that goal be fulfilled, this will ensure reviews set to Worldly Weekend won't get in the way. And again, it's irregular, so it won't be every weekend. Given the short timeframe, I'm thinking these reviews might not be as elaborate as my Nintendo works, so they might only be up to 2000 words or so (see my Kirby: Squeak Squad review for an approximate size). But as this is an irregular column, that's only a might, and rest assured, games close to my heart will receive the detailed analysis they deserve.

...but I do plan for the very first entry to arrive this weekend! And what game will have the honor of being the very first Worldy Weekend post? You guessed it: it's that terribly-aged GameCube game I mentioned! I won't share the name, I'll give a hint: not only did this game debut on a different console, but unlike the protagonist, I don't chuckle.

See you soon!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Ten Years of Kirby ~Reverie 12~ Kirby: Squeak Squad

2006. A new age in gaming was--sweet Mother of Christ, what are those things threatening to collapse upon Kirby's gorgeous eyes? Quick, someone call an ambul-oh, wait, are those furrowed eyebrows? Jeepers, Nintendo of America's marketing division, for a moment you had me worried for Kirby's physical well-being! But no, it's just another laughable attempt to prove Kirby's badassery by safeguarding his locked-away desserts from a gang of adorable anthropomorphic mice. You see now why this practice pisses everyone off?

But I digress. Now, where was I? Right, 2006. The transition into HD had just begun for the rest of the gaming industry, but Nintendo had other plans. Their E3 presentation of the Wii and its motion controls exploded with positive reception; so much, in fact, that it captured the attention of the general masses, even if they'd never so much as picked up a controller. The successful penetration into the casual sphere would spawn a new era in gaming, with developers everywhere scrambling to snag a piece of that motion control pie.

Gamers weren't yet sure what to make of the Wii. Some dismissed it as a fad, others called it Nintendo's final, fatal gamble. But what did capture everyone's attention was that The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess--still in development after that fateful E3 presentation two years earlier--had moved from the GameCube into the motion control realm of the Wii. While in retrospect it was obviously due to how there was no Nintendo-branded killer app for the system's launch (aside from Wii Sports, which proved to be a massive hit with casual audiences and held the title of best-selling video game for several years), but it was enough to wrap up Nintendo fans into fantasies of their beloved franchises adapting motion-based feats of wonder.

And Twilight Princess wasn't alone: the controversial Super Paper Mario and the ill-fated Donkey Kong: Barrel Blast jumped ship from the GameCube as well. As the purple cube's death was imminent, Kirby fans began to wonder if the same would happen with that unnamed title which all but disappeared following E3 2005. Announced shortly beforehand in Famitsu magazine, this new Kirby game would build upon the beloved partner mechanic from Super Star, although this time with up to three friends! Already a contender was being primed to dethrone Super Star...and yet we hadn't seen hide nor hair of it for a year.

Soon enough, "Kirby Wii" would be listed on Wii release charts. With motion control still igniting the imaginations of Nintendo fans everywhere, no one had a clue at how this game would utilize this new-fangled control scheme. But alas, Kirby's Wii affair was listed under TBD, so at the end of the year fans had to settle for a much less ambitious effort for DS, dubbed Kirby: Squeak Squad. Once again developed by Capcom subsidiary Flagship, previews indicated this game hadn't brought much to the table, which begged the question: had Flagship learned of their mistakes from Amazing Mirror? Perhaps going back to the basics would be a good idea, as they'd gain a much greater grasp on developing the series. Maybe they'd just pull it off...

Or not.


If there is one aspect I champion about Kirby, it's that even when the series is at its lowest, the games still manage to provide entertainment. For the disappointment the likes of Amazing Mirror and (to an extent) Kirby's Dream Land 2 bring, the presence of Kirby's copy abilities ensure fun times ahead. The concept of plowing through plushy creatures with Kirby's repertoire of superpowers is just too enjoyable to pass up no matter the context, and I'm not one to turn that down.

In that respect, Kirby: Squeak Squad is just bizarre. When approaching it with absolutely no expectations, it's mostly a harmless little affair that attempts to channel the objective behind Kirby's Dream Land -- a title where even the worst of gamers can reach the ending-- for a new generation. Nothing if not noble, I suppose, but Squeak Squad is plagued with such uneven lapses in quality for everything from level design, music, game mechanics, periphery features and even the goddamn sound effects that it automatically earns the spot of Worst Kirby Game.

And unlike my disappointment with Amazing Mirror, I feel no shame in stating that. Squeak Squad isn't bad by any means, but is instead largely the victim of an ill-equipped development team. The ambition Flagship reserved for Amazing Mirror is now in tatters, as this game is a mess of uninspired concepts that either never go anywhere, or, even worse, never live up to its elusive stroke of potential. When juxtaposed to the occasional good idea Squeak Squad manages to cough up, it's readily clear the game was birthed from just about any ol' idea the development team could toss in.

A disastrous combination, especially in an era where touchscreen control was shoehorned in nearly every DS title. And make no mistake, Squeak Squad is the victim of this practice as well; indeed, while its touch mechanic certainly isn't intrusive, it is most certainly undeveloped. See, the game's levels are populated with bubbles containing goodies as such food, Copy Abilities, extra lives, and what have you. When nabbed, these bubbles move on over into the endless abyss that is Kirby's stomach (as depicted on the DS's bottom screen), where players can mix and match whatever's inside to their liking.

A decent concept; in fact, I actually give Flagship props for granting some context to the often-discussed, but never-seen mystery of Kirby's stomach. Unfortunately, anyone expecting Kirby 64-levels of creativity will walk away greatly disappointed. The Copy Ability combo pool is woefully small, and only culls together base ideas in "elemental" versions of Sword and Bomb (Fire Sword and Thunder Bomb? Lame). Meanwhile, combining food grants...higher quality food.

It goes without saying hardly any thought was put into this. What's worse is that in failing to provide a proper hook, what we have here is a mechanic that simply cannot differentiate Squeak Squad from its predecessors. This might not be so bad if the actual game itself was competently designed, but this is where that infrequent juxtaposition of quality comes in to muck things up.

Just take the Copy Abilities. Squeak Squad more or less operates on the same engine as Amazing Mirror (which in turned was based off of Nightmare in Dream Land), so the powers borrowed from that game still function well. In particular, Magic's pointless debut has been redeemed, as it's now developed in a creative, full-fledged moveset involving pigeons, cards, and even a giant jack-in-the-box sprung from Kirby's magic hat (even cooler is that these attacks can change color according to whatever decorative Spray Paint you've used on Kirby. Rumor has it this actually isn't the only Copy Ability to do this...).

In comparison, the design behind the new abilities feels all over the place. Bubble is quite possibly the worst Copy Ability in Kirby history, its only purpose being to reduce enemies into the aforementioned goodie-filled bubbles. Kirby's stomach can only hold five bubbles at a time, so unless you're in the mood to constantly forge pointless combinations, it quickly renders itself useless. Given the wand attached the Copy Ability, it's a wonder why this wasn't an attack-based transformation. Meanwhile, Metal is just a useless version of Stone; despite being mobile, Kirby's slow movement and inability to fly only serve as hindrances. Yes, it's sensible for him to be that way, but it's not fun in the slightest.

Only Animal proves itself within the whole lot. Donning Kirby in some sort of feral werewolf suit has its appeal, especially with how he scampers about like a rabid raccoon (it's almost scary how wild he looks!) and his "scratching behind the ears" idle animation. It helps that it comes with some cool attacks, too, like mid-air claw spinning. Quite helpful for digging through dirt, you understand. 

Which brings us to where pretty much everything goes wrong with Squeak Squad: level design. The concepts and ideas for progression could make even Kirby's Dream Land 2's first two worlds blush, as Squeak Squad's level design is a hodgepodge of unfocused material. See, the game brings back the collectible treasure concept from Amazing Mirror, but unlike that ambitious effort though, it's really not all that interesting here, for Squeak Squad makes the mistake of babying its audience right out of the gate. The second and fifth levels in the first world alone are nearly criminal, the former serving as just an obnoxious tutorial level that slaughters the initial pacing, while the fifth one spectacularly fails to build up the King Dedede boss fight by...having you just explore one room of his castle.

Anyone familiar with sidescrolling gaming at all should already gauge the game's quality by that point,, so like Dream Land 2, it's something of a miracle it picks up after that; unfortunately, unlike that game, Squeak Squad's almost always settled within the realm of neutrality. When it's not aping tropes we've seen a dozen times before (you could probably make a sandwich by the time you finish lighting your first cannon fuse), levels are generally uninspired and hardly ever make an effort to distinguish themselves. For every rare stroke of mild creativity (such as a forest maze in Nature Notch), there's a flood of apathy and dull familiarity waiting. Levels simply blend into a generic, homogenized state; it's bizarre how inspired one idea can be and then the next level is just a one-room affair.

It tries to spice things up through constant environmental interaction via the Copy Abilities (such as slicing through tall grass with Sword), but who cares? It's hardly ever used to locate treasures and typically only exists for the sake of existing. It really goes to show how boring the new powers are when the game only bothers to design sequences around Animal, which to its credit does involve some cool digging sequences. But aside from that, the only remotely interesting use is for Spark, which can conduct stray lightning currents on metallic surfaces and sport rides on thunder clouds, forming a plasma shield. Anyone who's played the game should note how involved and fun the latter can be, yet the former has no purpose aside from just killing enemies. It's a cool idea, but why not integrate more into the level design? What a waste!

The titular Squeak Squad pops up at the end of nearly every level to steal giant treasure chests, but alas, these new characters stumble in their introduction. Their sequences are designed as timed events get to or past the Squeaks before they return to their base, but what's the point when you just charge in and take back the treasure? Before, the general ease of Kirby bosses was never a problem, but that works against the game here, resulting in a waste of challenge.

Basically, there's just no excuse for all this. Typically I don't hold any strong feelings for games I dub mediocre, but Squeak Squad's mess of a design just infuriates me in regards to a team that's completely missed the point of Kirby. Yes, he's a great model for experimentation, but why bother when you can't pull it all together into a cohesive whole? Even falling back onto the music can't help: HAL's full sound team (Jun Ishikawa, Shogo Sakai, Hirokazu Ando and Tadashi Ikegami) is brought together in what's easily the laziest effort in the entire series. Half the soundtrack is recycled from Nightmare in Dream Land and Amazing Mirror with only minor tampering, further reducing the game into that bland, homogenized feel.

And what a shame it is, too, for some of the original stuff is actually pretty good. The thundering Vocal Volcano is a great example, its percussion-heavy beginning setting the stage for a kickass fire stage...that we never get, of course, and it remains woefully underused. And for all the recycling of familiar tunes, we're treated to this lovely combination of The Legendary Air Machine and the map from Revenge of Meta Knight.

I do wonder about who was responsible for this laziness, but I'm more interested in whoever thought the sound effects for Sword Kirby were okay. See, every time Kirby unleashes his swordplay combos, a nasty "SHING!" erupts at approximately 194 decibels, immediately piercing the eardrums of the unsuspecting player. It's seriously unpleasant, and I was not happy in the least that it was present within a series I've always associated with the softest, nostalgic sound effects. If memory serves, the same was the case for the claw swipes of Animal, too, which may've been why I didn't use it too much.

But I digress. In any case, we have boring new features, messy and incomplete level design, a lazy soundtrack, and one of the worst sound effects known to man. It's the perfect recipe for a bad game, but as hard as I've been on it, I can't quite call it that. As mentioned earlier, if approached as something of an afternoon appetizer, Squeak Squad is still largely functional and playable. Most of the Copy Abilities are still fun to play with, and I can't be too mad at the Kirby that brought back Meta Knight's Halberd, can I?

Unfortunately, disappointment wins out in the end...literally. Squeak Squad saves its best tricks at the end after outstaying its brief welcome, such as a hidden, spooky ability that allows Kirby to possess the enemies that wander around the game's worlds. A fun idea that could very well serve as its own game, but alas, no one wants to go through those boring levels again, so it only serves as a quick diversion. Meanwhile, there's a timed Extra Mode where you race through the game while picking up as many treasures as you can. Another decent venture, but one I decided not to partake in. If I didn't enjoy the game the first time around, why should I do it again?

And therein lies the whole problem with Squeak Squad. In attempting to emulate Dream Land's objective, it wrongly assumes to dumb down the game to the lowest denominator. Short as Dream Land was, its solid foundation proved as a great pick-up-and-play title for all ages, whereas Squeak Squad is a jubilant mess that's designed only to appeal to the youngest of Kirby's audience. All it takes to prove this is by visiting the three touch-operated mini-games, all insipidly simple affairs that won't capture the attention of anyone older than six (if you can figure out how to control Smash Ride, you're a stronger man than I).

While Squeak Squad isn't necessarily bad, it's the flawed, mediocre offering of a company that clearly didn't understand the property it was working with, and it shows in every sloppy decision made. Why do I lose the endgame Triple Star weapon if I die against the final boss? Why is the UFO copy ability awarded in a level full of destructible clouds, despite the fact it can't even though its awesome moveset proves it totally should? Why that goddamn sword sound effect?

Thankfully, this would be Flagship's last shot at Kirby, as the Capcom branch dissolved shortly thereafter, ensuring they'd never touch another Kirby game again, leaving HAL Laboratory to get the series back on track.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Biweekly Music Wednesday! No. 26 ~Balloon Trip~ (Balloon Fight)

Origin: Balloon Fight
Plays In: Title Screen, Balloon Trip mode, Bonus Round
Status: Original Composition
Composer: Hirokazu "Hip" Tanaka

There are those out there who say that we shouldn't mourn Iwata's death through tears, but through the joy we channel from the games he brought to life. Today, I'll be doing just that with this song.

When I revisited Balloon Fight the other night, I was struck by how good it feels all these years later.  As according to the game's balloon motif, the controls are floaty, but feels so naturally light and speedy that they never get in the player's way at all. Like any good Nintendo action game, any error is entirely on the fault of the player. Indeed, the controls are so good that even Super Mario Bros. itself took a lesson or two from it.

All thanks to Iwata's programming mastery, of course. It was also thanks to Iwata that I was even playing it at all that night; after all, if it weren't were his generosity following the 3DS price drop, I wouldn't be playing the ambassador version on my 3DS. I find that the system's ergonomics suit the game quite well, and should a modern sequel ever be made, I thoroughly demand it be on that system.

I think the man even played a practical joke on me that same night. For those who haven't played the game, everyone's worst nightmare revolves around the stray bolts of lightning that sometimes zap out of the occasional storm cloud. I'd knocked down an enemy fighter and was about to pursue, but then got caught from behind from another fighter. The instant I spawned on the ground, one of the lightning bolts zapped my character and I lost yet another life. All the while, the bird-masked fighter I knocked down earlier was chilling nearby. It was as if Iwata was saying "Stop crying! Laugh again!'

But Balloon Fight's greatness can't be solely attributed to Iwata. Indeed, the song you're listening to was composed by none other than Hirokazu "Hip" Tanaka. Balloon Trip is absolutely the goofiest classic on Nintendo's NES catalog of music, perhaps losing only in the "feel-good" category to the Super Mario Bros. theme and the entirety of Kirby's Adventure. But make no mistake: it's just as infectious as the former and will permanently remain an earworm.

Tanaka himself seems quite fond of the song. Above is his spectacular arrangement for the latest Smash Bros. games, designed particularly for the 3DS version's Balloon Fight stage. Easily one of the finest remixes in the new games, Tanaka's chiptune direction fully retains the original's spirit (that climax!) If you listen closely, you can hear traces of the game's other songs mixed subtly within.

And here is a version Tanaka created shortly after Iwata's passing. It's a tad more composed, but the mixture of techno and chiptune let it come alive as a beautiful tribute. It was hard to listen to upon its arrival, but now that the news has sunk in, it's become far more cathartic. I can just feel the nostalgia in the air.

I wonder how high Iwata's flying up there.

Final Thoughts: I demand an orchestral version. We had a great slow-paced version within one of Smashing...Live's medleys, but I'd love a dedicated suite. What a wonderful tribute that would be.

Monday, July 13, 2015

In Loving Memory of Satoru Iwata (Nintendojo)

Nintendojo was kind enough to share the Iwata tribute I wrote last night. It's largely the same barring the flood of pictures and no music.

I said the review would be ready today, but it still doesn't feel real. It could be tomorrow, it could be Thursday. And uh, heh, considering what the game is, it should be no surprise I'd be in no mood to write about it. You'll see what I mean. In any case, this week's Biweekly Music Wednesday! will be dedicated to him.

In the meantime, I'd like to share something I wrote on NeoGAF.
"I just sprung up the courage to read the Iwata Asks for Kirby's Epic Yarn. Is it wrong that I bust out laughing the first time I saw "Iwata: (laughs)"? 
I'll never forget the first time I read this. Kirby means so much to me as a series, and Epic Yarn was the first console Kirby platformer in ten years and I was worried to death it wouldn't live up to my childhood. Yet reading that entire exchange--what with Iwata's teasing over the original character's similarity to Kirby, footage of Hirokazu Ando playing Green Greens on a toy recorder, and how much I just wanted to hug Jun Ishikawa's frown away--had all but melted my fears away.

I happened to start replaying that game very recently and was dreading to revisit it following Iwata's death. It's not a game he personally worked on, but I knew the moment I heard this, I'd be a mess. And I almost was, especially when I got to the part where Kirby attaches himself as a bead to a rising dandelion, swaying back and forth without a care in the world. The face I'd come to associate with innocence channeled Iwata's warmth in that moment, and I almost couldn't bear to let go.

I know he would've wanted us to remember these games with joy, but it's no easy feat. Playing Kirby's Dream Land and Balloon Fight in the wake of all this, however, have provided much comfort, particularly the latter (it's amazing how butter-smooth the game's controls are 30 years later). Best part was when right after I lost a life, I was instantly struck by a bolt of lightning and died again as one of the bird guys just chilled on the ground; it was like Iwata himself saying "stop being sad! Just keep laughing." I was immediately reminded of how much I thoroughly demand a modern sequel. Maybe they should do that as an Iwata tribute."

Leave Luck to Heaven will plug through the rest of Ten Years of Kirby in Iwata's memory.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

In Loving Memory of Satoru Iwata

In 2013, Hiroshi Yamauchi, the former Nintendo president and the driving force behind what made them the video game giant they are today, died of natural causes at the age of 85.

To think two years later we'd lose his successor at the age of 55. I'm choking up as I type this.

Nintendo's CEO, Satoru Iwata, has passed away from complications following a growth in his bile duct.

As of this moment, I'm sitting here listening to Space Junk Road from Super Mario Galaxy -- nearly the first in a long line of melancholic/sad Nintendo music I'll be listening to tonight -- while trying to direct my eyes from the endless stream of shocked NeoGAF comments. Here in my soon-to-be writing office, I'm thinking how on earth I'm going to bear making it through the night without collapsing in tears.

One of the many things Mr. Iwata represented to me was an unbridled, genuine passion that didn't just drive Nintendo, but forged the face of their company. When I say genuine, I mean that in the nicest, heartfelt way possible because that's exactly what the man was. Iwata was the CEO who took it upon himself to relay Nintendo's latest announcements in the beloved Nintendo Direct videos so no misinformation from the press would be possible. He was the CEO who, upon being greeted by a poor fiscal report when the Wii U failed to penetrate the gaming market, took it upon himself to halve his own paycheck instead of throwing his own employees under the bus. He was the CEO who took the time to sit down with his developers and discuss the design philosophy behind their latest creations. These interviews slowed down following his diagnosis, but he kept up with them until the end. I remember how happy the Kirby's Epic Yarn one made me feel.

He was the CEO whose last public statement involved his apology for not meeting fans' expectations at this year's E3.

In short, he was a CEO not after money, but whose number one priority was to make fans happy. In a cynical world where individuals in his position come across as faceless entities, Iwata came across as a real, living person who exuded such gentleness, warmth, and humor in achieving his goal of reaching out to fans. Be it making us laugh by randomly staring at fruit in Nintendo Directs, reporting news on Nintendo's twitter, or, as seen in this touching NeoGAF story, actually taking the time to return StreetPass messages, proves just how much he cared in making people smile.

That he achieved all that is no coincidence, since he started out as a former programmer. He's the legend who programmed Balloon Fight, helped get Kirby and Super Smash Bros. off the ground, was responsible for compacting the data within Pokemon Gold and Silver so the Kanto region could be included, ensured Smash Bros. Melee wouldn't be delayed past the holiday season thanks to his coding magic, and singlehandedly saved my favorite game of all time, EarthBound, from cancellation.

He held such love for both his fans and co-workers; in particular, one of the most touching tidbits that've come up tonight was the trust and camaraderie he held with Mr. Masahiro Sakurai, the creator of Kirby and Smash. His showering of praise for Sakurai--in who he entrusted development of Super Smash Bros. Brawl--is one of the deepest expression of friendships I've ever witnessed, one I'm sure Mr. Sakurai is looking back upon at this very moment.

The always-smiling, banana-loving Iwata. I'm really going to miss him. And now we're in a time where Nintendo is certainly in their darkest hour. In a time where they're still reeling from the Wii U's failure, are already forging plans for its NX successor, and are about to open a branch for mobile game development, the leader who brought such mirth and compassion is suddenly gone. I can't even begin to imagine what it's like there now.

And for the gaming world, it's the end of an era, one that I'm not sure anyone was ready for.

I won't lie and pretend Iwata was the perfect president, because he wasn't. But that didn't matter to me. That Iwata cared so deeply about satisfying his fanbase brought the same warmth I've associated with Nintendo games all these years. The same warmth from whenever Mario would giggle in glee in his latest adventure, or when I left Pallet Town for the very first time with my Charmander, or whenever Kirby flew in the soft starry skies that recalled the sleepy car rides of my earliest youth, or when Ness would return home to taste his mother's home-baked cookies.

Iwata brought the spirit of Nintendo alive, and for that, I will always remember him with the fondest of smiles.

Leave Luck to Heaven, Mr. Iwata. You left us far too soon, but that warmth we cherished so much will undoubtedly fuel Nintendo's direction from here on.


To respect the passing of Mr. Iwata, I'll be posting my next review, which was ready for today, tomorrow sometime in the afternoon. I'll see you then.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Biweekly Music Wednesday! Will Return Next Week + Some Other Stuff

Hey, all. As you've likely noticed, Biweekly Music Wednesday! grew absent over the past month in the face of E3 coverage. While I had the next few entries planned, quite a few time-consuming articles demanded my attention, and so I had to put it on the backburner. The same held true today, but I'm planning its return for next week. It's had a very uneven schedule for the past two years, and I'm hoping to keep it on a rigid two-week schedule like it's supposed to be from now on. Let's hope I succeed!

Oh, and speaking of resolutions...I'd been going over some of my past few posts on here and uh...holy moly, are my proofreading skills terrible or what?!? The E3 Thoughts and final Smash DLC posts alone are chock-full of embarrassing errors, and I scrambled like a madman to get them patched up. Proper proofreading has long since been a weakness of mine, so please don't be afraid to point out any flaws in my writing, big or small. Really, I beg of you!

In any case, I'll be seeing you guys with a review this weekend! I may or may not have a new announcement coming around the same time, so stay tuned!

Sunday, July 5, 2015

My Super Smash Bros. for Wii U/3DS DLC Wishlist Finale: Characters!

And so we round off the column with everyone's favorite part about Smash Bros.: the fighters.

I've more than proven my ravenous love for Smash Bros. on the blog, so it may surprise you to learn that I'm quite conservative when it comes to character wishlists. Smash is, after all, largely a gathering of Nintendo's finest; so for all their charm, the likes of Slippy Toad and Master Belch can't very well join the fray, can they?

Indeed, I often tailor my character wishlists to what I expect. For example, I knew Sakurai would have to change his mind on Animal Crossing's Villager character following his/her absence in Brawl, what with a) Animal Crossing's ever-lasting relevance and popularity and b) how the character's moveset practically invents itself. The Villager was easily my most wanted character prior to Smash 4's reveal, and so I was quite pleased to see him make the cut (he's actually my favorite newcomer to play as!). Little Mac from Punch-Out!! and Palutena from Kid Icarus: Uprising also fit this criteria I set for myself.

Of course, this doesn't mean that a) I end up being wrong and b) I lose myself to hype for unreasonable characters. The best example of the former revolves around the great debate surrounding who'd be the inevitable Fire Emblem: Awakening character: Chrom or the avatar Robin. While there was no denying Robin would provide the more interesting moveset, I figured Chrom would make the cut since he was plastered all over Awakening's promotional material; namely, the game's boxart. He wasn't a character I necessarily wanted, but simply expected. As we've long since known, Robin made it in instead, and honestly, I couldn't have been happier to be wrong.

And in regards to the latter...well, my friends and I joked around the idea of Duck Hunt Dog for years. You can imagine our unbridled joy when he was leaked.

So in short, no, you won't be seeing any Ridleys or Waluigis on this list. No characters that obviously render themselves invalid as per Sakurai's current reasoning, and no characters already featured as Assist Trophies. And speaking of Sakurai, he's recently stated only a couple more characters will get in, so I've decided to only focus on four--well, technically five-- characters.

Just to make things interesting, why don't we start with an unlikely candidate?


Here's an example of a character I don't expect to ever join the Smash roster, yet would love to see anyway. Chibi-Robo is something of an unsung Nintendo character; indeed, his titles are so niche that two of them never left Japan. This isn't a knock against the series' quality (why else would I include him?), but Chibi-Robo!'s lack of financial success is no secret. Poor little robot.
So why pick him over all the other obscure Nntendo heroes? Because regardless of the above, Nintendo and Skip Ltd. still keep making Chibi-Robo! games. But why? The games never sold exceptionally well in any region (anyone else remember when Nintendo randomly made Chibi-Robo!: Park Patrol a Wal-Mart exclusive for America?), and it's niche fanbase was never as vocal as, say, EarthBound.
The answer becomes apparent when analyzing the purpose of the pack-in amiibo coming alongside Chibi-Robo!: Zip Lash. While initially bizarre, it's clear that Nintendo still recognizes mascot potential in the adorable robot, and remain committed to raising Chibi-Robo out of his niche status (hence why Zip Lash and its 2D design was even made in the first place).

Maybe a spot in the Smash roster could be just what Chibi-Robo needs. Like the Villager, his moveset practically makes itself, and guaranteed to be wonderfully charming and creative and all that. If I didn't paint enough doom and gloom for him, though, he unfortunately has a lot in his way. His relative lack of popularity might render him more suited as an Assist Trophy, and then there's the issue of his potential size problem. Granted, there is the case of the similarly-sized Olimar, but the entire purpose of Chibi-Robo's character is to constantly enforce how only he can accomplish what he does thanks to his diminutive size. Even the thought of scaling him to even the smallest of Smash's cast does come across as unnatural...

But if such a risk is possible, I'd be all for it. Who knows how many voted for him in the DLC ballot?


While (wrongly) often accused of being a Fox clone thanks to his Landmaster Final Smash, the way Wolf  was designed in Brawl was nothing less than a miracle. Immediately the character's concept does come across as something of just a scary-looking Fox clone, yet he plays entirely differently thanks to his claw attacks and blade-equipped Blaster. Three Star Fox characters may have been overkill, but Wolf emerged as an incredibly cool character that was easily my favorite Star Fox character to play in the entirety of Smash.

As does pretty much everybody, I peg Wolf firmly in my "want and expected" camp. It was a shame Wolf didn't make the initial cut, but with the advent of Star Fox Zero, the timing's simply perfect for his arrival. With Lucas being virtually identical to his Brawl appearance, it shouldn't be a problem retaining this highly-requested character as is.

Not much else to say, really. It's possible they may bring back his secret convos in the Lylat Cruise stage, although considering the homogenized Palutena's Guidances for DLC characters, I doubt new ones will be created for Orbital Gate Assault (considering the quality of the voices there, thank god). Hearing British Wolf in Smash would be pretty cool, though.

A Donkey Kong Character

Donkey Kong definitely got gypped when it came to representation. The new Jungle Hijinx stage is pretty amazing as are the new arrangements, but the series doesn't have it's own 3DS stage and the abundance of DK Island Swing remixes and rips are rather...yeah. No new character, either. Considering just how amazing Donkey Kong Country Returns was, it definitely feels like an oversight.
Dixie Kong and King K. Rool have all been very popular picks for the ballot, but who to pick between the two? Dixie Kong's appearance in Tropical Freeze renders her far more relevant, and her infamous ponytail should make for a fun moveset. But while Sakurai could work his Wolf magic on her, her similar body shape to Diddy Kong doesn't make her nearly as interesting as K. Rool would be. Many fans have toyed with the idea of the fiendish crocodile unleashing attacks and weapons from all three of his Super Nintendo appearances.

This is a tricky one. Ideally, K. Rool is the one I would want, but Dixie Kong's definitely a character I would expect. And while both are very popular picks for the Ballot (particularly K. Rool), they might not be interesting enough to catch Sakurai's eye. It's anyone's guess as to who'll be culled from the ballot, but at the very least, I imagine Dixie's relevance gives her the advantage.

Not that I care too much over who gets picked in that situation, really. Donkey Kong definitely deserves at least one more character, and either candidate would bring plenty to the Smash table.

And now, for my most wanted character.

The announcement of Solid Snake's appearance in Brawl remains unrivaled in shock. What was already in the running for "best game announcement ever" suddenly shot into the stratosphere with roaring success. Many Smash Bros. fans had already dreamed of potential third party candidates to enter the fray following Melee, but for the first non-Nintendo candidate to be the Soldier of Fortune himself--a character whose home series features bloody violence and adult humor of all sorts-- shook the gaming world.

It's something that should never have worked on any level, and yet it did spectacularly. Metal Gear's self-referential, tongue-in-cheek humor worked hand-in-hand with Smash Bros.'s own brand of the same theme, and so Snake fit in like a charm. No guns or knives were on his person, but his arsenal of explosives and CQC skills added a level of hilarious realism to the fray (there's nothing quite like snapping Pikachu's neck in a chokehold).

For all the love bestowed to Mega Man, Pac-Man and Ryu in Smash 4, Snake's treatment in Brawl remains my favorite out of Smash's third-party characters. The character brought such a hefty air of levelness and maturity that somehow fit so naturally within the realm of Smash. The blend of comedy and heartfelt dialogue from the codecs on the Shadow Moses Island stage is a huge testament to this; witnessing Snake and his team move from taking not-so-subtle jabs at Nintendo/Metal Gear Solid tropes to sharing sincere conversations on the likes of Lucas, Olimar and the Ice Climbers as the Snake Eater theme plays in the background was a thing of beauty. As was hearing the powerful Calling to the Night vocal theme play once in a blue moon (self-imposed thanks to My Music) as King Dedede, Luigi, Snake and Ness duel on Snake's stage, or giggling at the ol' timey-styled arrangement of Theme of Tara played triumphantly during Snake's late appearance in The Subspace Emissary...I could go on.

All within the context of a free-for-all party game, no less. What a shame we probably won't be seeing that again anytime soon.

As if Konami's recent meltdown isn't evidence enough, Snake is not a likely candidate to join Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and 3DS. With Hideo Kojima just about ready to abandon ship, David Hayter out of omission, and the character of Colonel Roy Campbell--who was present in Snake's codecs--retired due to the death of legendary JP voice actor Chikao Otsuka, it's unlikely Konami considers bringing back Snake as a top priority. Furthermore, Snake was a big reason Brawl earned the T rating it did, and I imagine Nintendo and co. aren't interested in raising Smash 4's favorable E10+ rating.

But I can still dream. If just about everyone else in the Smash fanbase can lose themselves to DLC character hype, I suppose I can permit myself to wish for Snake's ill chances at returning to be redeemed. 

Snake...had a hard life, and that's why I voted for him.


And so ends the column that lasted way longer than it should have. Sorry about that! Hoping I can live up to my promise of game review after game review for this month!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Archives are now OPEN!

Hey, everyone. We're kicking off July with a bang, as The Archives are now finally open for your viewing convenience. You can enter it by clicking on the ol' Mario picture to your left.

I've gathered most of the relevant posts on this blog and divided them into separate sections: Reviews, Columns and Features, and Game Journo Articles; not only that, but I've actually gone a step further and divided the first two into their sections. Reviews contain separate listing as per Series, Chronology, and System, whereas Columns and Features is split into two sections: one page will host my present works from 2013 on, while another page will hold my older pieces.

Also, Leave Luck to Heaven now has its own scoring system! It's provided in the review pages, but you can check it out here.

Some of these sections may be a bit bare at the moment (particularly in the case of Game Journo Articles, as Gaming Grunts seems to have shut down), but I plan for the blog to grow exponentially within the year, so don't fret. In the meantime, I've provided a link in The Archives to this post for any critiques you might have of the way I've set things up, so please fire away with your impressions and criticisms (oh, and make sure you browse carefully, for I've buried a hint for a future column...)

In any case, tomorrow will bring the Smash DLC Wishlist column to a close, and then there'll be nothing but game reviews for the rest of the month! See you soon.