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!

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.