Monday, July 31, 2017

Splatoon


I feel as if I've been confessing my inexperience with certain genres a little too much recently, but regardless, I can't say I particularly care for shooters. It's not because I'm squeamish or don't even find them fun, but they feel, more than anything, absolutely tired. The assembly-line identity of Call of Duty and its ilk certainly contribute to that, but that's not even getting how many frame themselves within wars, zombies or alien invasions. The claim that they're creatively bankrupt feels a little unfair when considering recent hits like Overwatch, but it cannot be stressed enough that a) I am really goddamn sick of zombies and b) I wish that maybe shooters would step out of their comfort zone a little.

Perhaps this is why for the past two years I have been absolutely taken with Nintendo's own attempt in Splatoon, which as the game itself would say is absolutely "fresh" in every way that matters. That I'm "taken" with it probably won't last much longer, seeing as how Splatoon 2 came out just the other day, but it's not hard to see how it made such a splash: while turf war and paintball games and the like have been around for some time, none reach the inspired heights of Splatoon's "kids who turn into squids" concept, married to a 90's-inspired dwelling in downtown Shibuya where the kids ("Inklings") splatter each other with Nickelodeon-esque ink, follow idols and dress themselves in "fresh" clothing.


It's a concept as fascinating to watch as it is to play: a game of Splatoon's imagination must put imagery to work, and you have Inklings utilizing not merely toy guns and rifles but paint rollers, brushes and buckets to spreading their color-coded ink around, all the while swimming through said ink as a squid. Through repeated experimentation of each and every weapon, you'll eventually find your own niche in best serving your team, be it full-frontal assault (Splattershot), vantage points (Chargers) or clean-up duty (Rollers).

Let it be reminded that this is not a game about killing the other player: yes, Inklings can be "splatted" through weapons and whatnot, but this is first and foremost a game focusing on inking as much territory as possible. You ink walls to climb up via squid form, you'll scrub over as much enemy ink as possible to lessen their territorial foothold and you'll definitely find yourself cleaning up the home base your team forgot to ink at the start.

This isn't to dismiss splatting as an afterthought: it's an inevitable consequence in every match, and the thrill of surprise attacks are not to be forgotten. But it's this emphasis on turf control that grant Splatoon some advantages; image-wise, ink renders Splatoon the least cynical shooting game on the market. Not that a game about kids and squids who look as if they popped right of a Nicktoon would feature the same grittiness as Halo, but for a world so conceptually different, it's automatically relatable in its context: adolescents engaging in their favorite past-time.

From a gameplay standpoint, it's the best possible hook Splatoon could ask for. Toss any controller at the player new to Call of Duty, and it's all too likely they'll fumble with the HUD, controls and aiming before they get a hang of it. Give them a GamePad for Splatoon, and the premise is immediately understood: drench everything in sight with ink and you'll help your team win. It's a concept as approachable to the weathered octogenarian as it is to the fledgling preschooler.



Really, it's amazing how fun it is just to ink things. Being the point of the game, of course, you're compelled to ink every dry surface and opposing ink in sight, even if it places you at a tactical advantage, and you often find yourself asking such questions like, "do I go after that crowd of uncovered patches to bolster our lead, or clean up the messy warfare going on at the center?" Perhaps this is why Rollers are my weapon of choice: they're designed not for battle (fun as it is to squish enemy Inklings from behind!), but to clean-up whatever territory our team missed, and so Rollers are often left to their own devices.

It helps the stage list is generally quite solid. While there are some obviously better than others--the likes of Walleye Warehouse and Arowana Mall have never thrilled me too much--I've grown to recognize it's difficult to forge a top five list considering how many I enjoy. I could elaborate on a number of favorites, but Saltspray Rig is an obvious highlight, with its king-of-the-hill set-up prime for Sprinkler weapons and heated splatting. Meanwhile, Moray Towers displays the variety in arena design, with both towering, vertical home bases opposing the other in a defensive showdown.

That Splatoon is Nintendo's first primarily-online game makes it all the more a wonder it works as well as it does. As we'll discuss momentarily, the absence of voice chat was a misstep, and yet I can't find myself getting too mad at that: again, Splatoon's visual intuition is key here, as all it takes is one look at your map to see where your services are best needed: either back up your teammates in a heated turf war, or go scrub up some empty turf.


Going off-track for a moment, said map is what helps make Splatoon a winner; after three years of trying to figure out what do with the damn GamePad, Splatoon finally makes Nintendo's first--albeit far too late--case of a game designed around the screen-equipped controller. While a traditionally-controlled Splatoon available if you want it --the option of turning off gyro controls is present--I can't possibly imagine going without without said gyro controls, which are super precise and undoubtedly faster in their aiming. In a game designed around marking turf, such innate movement and accuracy is vital to whipping about in the fastest manner possible, rendering the gyro essential for anyone desiring to play the game at a competitive level. While it wouldn't be until Super Mario Maker that the screen itself would prove essential, the conveniences found in Splatoon make us what wonder what Wii U could've been like had Nintendo actually focused on the GamePad concept in the system's earlier years.

Of course, Nintendo and online being what they are, basic fundamental mistakes are made that no one else would make; for starters, what's up with not being able to switch weapons between matches? What should be a common-sense feature is absent, and needless to say, it's quite frustrating having to leave a room just to switch Rollers. The absence of voice chat at least got something of an explanation, and while Nintendo's desire to create a family-friendly environment for young players is understandable, that it's the player's choice renders it irrelevant; that, too, is simply far too viable in a team shooter like this. And the less said about matchmaking with friends, the happier I'll be.

At the same time, the way Nintendo emphasized the game's online community is to be commended. The Miiverse posts hovering above the Inklings wandering about Inkopolis were naturally prime for memes, and I can't help but imagine it mirrors the contextual interests of the Inklings themselves. The Splatfests, themed contests in which players choose between two sides like Pokémon Red vs Pokémon Blue, were also immensely interesting in how each region (America/Japan/Europe) had exclusive contests specifically tailored towards each country's native interests, going as far to license  from non-gaming properties  (to provide an American example, having once been the world's biggest Spongebob Squarepants fan, it made me immensely happy they not only hosted a "Spongebob vs Patrick" contest to capitalize upon the game's nautical theme, but the localization team made the effort to include the show's best quote, as seen below.)



While I'm at it, Splatoon possesses one of my favorite Treehouse localizations in recent memory. Naturally it's filled to the brim with squid puns and the like, but while the design of Splatoon's characters alone would capture our attention--the shy anemone-adorned hat shop owner bossed around by a demand clownfish host being the highlight-- the dialogue is what instantly renders them memorable, be it the stone-cold sass of Marie or how the final boss--a DJ octopus--literally screams "I'mma remix your face!" Much as that one is cited as the best, however, my personal vote goes to "Please to understand,"uttered grammatically-confused jellyfish owner of Jelly Fresh in a reference to the late Satoru Iwata's favorite phrase. 

Let us not forget the ingenuity found in the game's clothing: hats, shirts and shoes all provide bonuses unlocked through gradually playing battles and earning points, so players are encouraged to purchase all sorts of clothing and mix 'em up to suit their Turf War preferences. We could harp on about endless styles of eye-catching fashion, but what's undeniably the coolest thing abut it is how Nintendo invented all these brands behind every single article of clothing, all of with their own emphasis on a different bonus; Inkline's assembly of outdoor gear, for instance, focuses on Defense Up buffs

A similar route is taking with the "bands" behind the game's music, although those are elaborated upon within the official soundtrack and whatnot. Nay, what's more important is so much of Splatoon's character is expressed in sound, courtesy of Toru Minegishi and Shiho Fujii in what is absolutely the highlight of the former's long career at Nintendo. Guitars, chiptunes, synth and fictional vocals all come together to perfectly encapsulate the competitive drive of youth, complemented by a dash of tropical reggae.


It can't be emphasized enough how earwormy Splatoon's music is: much of this is thanks to the aforementioned made-up vocals, composed of the Inklings' nebulous language. Just compare and contrast the two following battle themes -- Splattack! (the game's main theme) and Kraken Up -- and note how they immediately become ingrained in memory. Both take different approaches in their guitar/vocal qualities: you have the former, which takes a steady, yet not too languid, method in complementing the turf war, never being too overt in its rhythm but keeping it afloat to linger; the latter, which takes an immediate "gung-ho!" plunge in its vocal opening, in turn casting an instant drive to go out here and splat about. 

Those two represent perhaps the best of the guitar/vocal mixes, although the chiptune songs must also be praised: aside from deliberate homages in Super Mario Maker and Super Smash Bros. for Wii U (which, coincidentally, all hail from the same release period), I can't begin to recall such active use of chiptune in modern Nintendo history, and it works wonderfully; I'm particularly fond of Shellfie, the most frantic of the bunch that draws synth and vocals. But let us also not forget Now or Never!, the one-minute frenzy that concludes each and every match with an adrenaline-pumping beat, one that either draws one last stand in the face of overwhelming odds or confidence in maintaining a crushing lead.

I could continue to harp on about my love of the score -- I also dig the mesmerizing minalism of Inkopolis Square -- but really, my point is that everything surrounding Splatoon's core gameplay and much of its presentation is generally pretty perfect, and that's why I continue to wish the rest of the game was up to snuff.  There is a single-player campaign, for instance, involving an underground war against the dastardly Octolings. It's tongue-in-cheek and fun and all that, and yet I could never shake the impression it was little more than a tutorial for the main game, with hardly any of it being recalled to memory. Others feel differently, most commonly referring to the final boss fight as a masterpiece; myself, other than the show-stopping vocal finale theme, I thought it was just fine. (Instead, I would point to the main attraction as the collectible Sunken Scrolls, which detail the origins and lore of Splatoon's world; being a cat lover, it goes without saying the origin of Judd, the corpulent kitty referee, made me unironically well up).


Meanwhile, I would describe Splatoon's presentation as, in a word, snappy, but I use that term with some hesitation. Let us not downplay how Inkopolis is just compact enough for player convenience and to remain interesting in itself, or the quick-jump interface with the touch screen, but there are other things that are not so "convenient". Case in point: the Squid Sisters' obligatory stage announcements that arrive every time the game boots up, and have remained unskippable in the two years since launch. Truth be told, while I have not only grown accustomed to these messages but even look forward to them much as one would for a pre-game show, I cannot help but sympathize with those who'd instead choose to skip it and discover the stage list for themselves. Splatoon is convenient, yes, but only within the confines of the rules it sets for itself, even if they are against the interests of the player.

The most unfortunate detail is that, alas, Splatoon has an expiration date: as it's primarily online, it'll go down one day, and its core appeal as a product will cease. Even more than that, with Miiverse likely to shut down soon, it seems those delightful user posts will be going away too, and soon Splatoon will rendered a silenced online experience 'till the day of its death. There is an offline multiplayer mode, but the whole balloon thing is hardly in the same league as the main online game; needless to say, preservation of the game seems unlikely, and I'll certainly mourn its passing.

But until that day arrives, and even afterwards, let us bask in how Nintendo has reinvented the wheel with the world's most popular gaming genre with Splatoon. This is, by all accounts, not merely the most addictive game on Wii U (only Super Smash Bros. for Wii U provides a close tie), but the most fascinating concept to arrive from Nintendo since the GameCube era, and that such an uncynical idea continues to successfully penetrate the gaming sphere is nothing less than remarkable. It is, quite simply, ink-redible.


Saturday, July 22, 2017

Kirby Concert Available For Streaming on NicoNico (Limited Time!) (Hey Poor Player)


It's been two days and I still can't get over it: I watched a Kirby concert!! I may not have been there, but thanks to the benevolence of NicoNico, I got see an incredible livestream I keep watching again and again.

In particular, that part with Kirby on-stage, the entire hall singing Happy Birthday to him, him begging for cake ("ke-ki!") is just...just too cute for words! Ah, for that alone, I demand a DVD release! A CD would be just fine, too; it's not that I don't expect one, but this moment must be immortalized for all time.

If I had to pick three of the best suites, they would be ones for Kirby's Adventure, Air Ride and Triple Deluxe. While I was sad Rainbow Resort didn't make the cut for the Kirby's Adventure medley, Grape Garden took its place as the gentle lullaby quite wonderfully, and the whole suite was just as sugary sweet and nostalgic as the original game! Meanwhile, Air Ride and Triple Deluxe were delightfully bombastic, and it was delightful to witness Shogo Sakai conducting the former! (By the way, I bungled my Japanese when I reached out to him on Twitter afterwards, ahaha. Thankfully, he was quite polite about it!)

Needless to say, you must watch this! Immediately! Now! If you can't, then join me and the rest of the NicoNico commentators on hoping for a CD!

Friday, July 14, 2017

Super Mario 64


Dear reader, should you be the gaming type--and I'm assuming you are, considering you're reading a video game blog-- let me ask you this: if you could, would you take on the impossible task of playing a game forever? Personally, there would be far too many earthly pleasures to give up for such a venture: while the luxuries of drinking Welch's White Grape Juice and stroking cats could simply be delivered to me, the simple pleasures of taking afternoon walks, watching cat videos and reading weathered One Piece and Eyeshield 21 volumes would simply be too much to give up.

And yet, a number of games pop readily to mind. I remain endlessly entertained by Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and 3DS, for example, and I've yet to grow bored of Splatoon even on the eve of its sequel. I've never tired of the cathartic seas found in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, and my fascination with Bubble Bobble on my beloved NES Classic Mini hasn't ceased. I've lost count of how many times I've completed Star Fox 64 and Tales of Symphonia; in fact, I'm at the tailend of a playthrough for the latter right now.


All fine choices, but I wonder how they'd stack up to Super Mario 64, a game that is second nature to me. It is a game that invites me in the moment I see Mario's big goofy face pop up, ready to be stretched by the glove cursor. The moment I hear Koji Kondo's woodwind composition for the file select, I'm instantly drowning in nostalgia. When Peach's courtyard opens up to me, I'm already lost in a whirlwind of jumping, worlds locked away by magic paintings, and soaring across the sky with my Wing Cap.

Needless to say, I love Super Mario 64, the game not just responsible for bringing Mario to 3D but reinventing the gaming landscape as we knew it. It is not the first to do everything it does, but it is the first to do everything it does well: Mario's sense of control is pitch-perfect and yields endless experimentation, all complemented by how most of its environments subscribe to a wondrous sandbox philosophy. Even the oft-criticized camera was something of a marvel: for all the hyperbole critics spout in "fighting the camera" (which I must confess has never happened to me), there was nothing quite like panning the camera around Mario to soak in the world around you.

However, let us admit what perhaps the more nostalgic players won't: Super Mario 64 is a flawed masterpiece. A masterpiece that will continue to inspire video games for generations to come, but one that carries wear and tear by virtue of its own status. As admitted by even its own developers, Super Mario 64 is very much an experimental title in which Nintendo was still figuring out 3D design, and that's why more than a decent portion comes across as rudimentary, be it the easy-peasy boss design or some of its elementary objectives ("stomp on the Chain Chomp's post three times!")

When considering that, it's all the more a miracle it ended up being as amazing as it did. Mario 64's success lies in its new identity as a "sandbox" platformer: whereas Mario's previous 2D efforts involved timed jumping exercises and acrobactics, here we explore as according to the whims of our objectives and curiosities. Older fans of 2D Mario take issue with this direction in that it strays too far from their strict platforming philosophy, instead taking on an exploratory approach. While true, I cannot disagree more in it being a problem: the leap to 3D must require a different--if not still familiar-- avenue of play to stand out, and what better way to complement Mario's superb jumping skills than big, wide environments to hop around in?


And what better place to emphasize this than the very beginning? Yes, the courtyard of Princess Peach's Castle is something discussed in every Mario 64 review, but it simply must be analyzed. Everything when starting a new game changes the world of Mario henceforth: The princess introduces a letter via voiceover, her signature as "Peach" subtly bidding farewell to her North American name hitherto ("Toadstool"). A Lakitu holding a camera--our fourth-wall proxy as the game's own "camera"--soars around the castle's courtyard in glorious 3D. Finally, Mario emerges from his Warp Pipe, and is left to his own devices.

There's no time limit urging you forward, no enemies to squash. After a brief text box introducing the controls, you're left to soak in your surroundings. Experimentation is inevitable: you can jump, double jump, triple jump anywhere. You can climb those trees. You can swim in the moat. You examine the gated cannon, confused at its purpose. If you're particularly ambitious, maybe you'll try to jump and reach the top of the castle. By today's standards, it may seem dry and featureless, but the range and natural flexibility of Mario's moveset begs you to test everything in sight. What seems like a waste of time is somehow rendered a most imperative, fulfilling prologue.

Note the transition into the awe-inducing scope of Bob-omb Battlefield. The mountain in the distance beckons you; as it should, considering it's home to the Big Bob-omb boss. This is where every Mario 64 adventure begins: the game's progression system, which gates the doors of Peach's Castle behind a numbered Power Star limit, rewards said stars by tackling each world's set of missions, be it defeating bosses or collecting coins. They can be grabbed in any order, but only after the Big Bob-omb.

It is a bold shift from the previous Mario rule of play; barring the secret exits of Super Mario World, much of Mario's platforming antics urged towards the goal in one direction. Here, while the mountain does beckon you, the world's immense scope captivates just as the courtyard did minutes ago. Ask yourself: the first time you went here, did you stay on the path to the mountain, with its giant Chain-Chomp and tilting bridges and all, or did you walk off so you could punch that Goomba? I'll bet it's the latter, and Mario 64 continues to come to life via experimentation. For example, did you ever figure out how jump-kicking a Bob-omb from behind makes it explode? Ever try throwing a Bob-omb at the Chain Chomp to see what happens? What happens when you run around those wood pillars?


Nearly every world adheres to this philosophy: Shifting Sand Land, with its big pyramid, scalable pillars and fascinating enemies (perhaps tools?) in the form of Fly Guys, Crazed Crates and Tox Boxes (a favorite of Miyamoto's); Cool, Cool Mountain, decorated with slides, hidden teleportation and red herrings in the form of baby penguins; Hazy Maze Cave, home to intertwined passages and a playful sea monster; Wet-Dry World, constructed with water level-changing switches and an eerie Playskool-esque town, and Tick-Tock Clock, which employs a genius time-related gimmick to adjusting the difficulty for any one player's needs.

Needless to say, their uniquely distinct takes on the sandbox all fascinate, although not all are successes: Lethal Lava World always felt a tad haphazard to me, and the straightforward design of Dire, Dire Docks simply doesn't adhere to the type of game Mario 64 is. Only two misses in fifteen worlds is a mighty fine feat, however, and I'll defend every other one to the death. Rainbow Ride, for example, is another commonly-cited "bad" level due to the length of its carpet rides, but I ask its critics this: did you ever stop to turn around at the beginning? Like me, I bet you'll have your mind blown.

It's impossible for me to elaborate on more than one level without making this essay impossibly long, so let's go back to Bob-omb Battlefield for my next point: as you progress through the game, more each and every world becomes populated with new toys. Some of these serve obvious purposes: cannons, for example, gradually become available and must be shot out of to reach certain Stars. Others are more nebulous in their purpose, but are immediately understood upon function: maybe you'll find jumping on a Koopa will lodge it from its shell, and jumping on that reveals that, yes, you can ride it up that slope or all the up the mountain.


And then there's the Wing Cap, one of three available power-ups induced via cap. Introduced in a stunning special stage where Mario flies around the sky for Red Coins, its appearance in Bob-omb Battlefield leads to unparalleled highs: jumping three times to initiate flight doesn't score much air, but when combined from a cannon launch, we're sky-bound, zipping and soaring across the world. There's no time limit crippling our flight, no urgent objective forcing us to do it this way or that way: we're just having a good time.

It's here the true genius of Mario 64 unveils itself: you don't have to do the primary objective to have fun. Cynical critics dismiss these activities as pointless, but it was Shigeru Miyamoto's own wish for us to bask in this pointlessness: it compels us to keep trying different things, to strive us to do better in how we play the game. It asks us how far we could carry Big Bob-omb down the mountain, or grab all the coins in every level, or even if we can jump to the floating island with the Koopa shell. The open-ended design leads not just to intentional wonders like stumbling upon stars by accident; the game takes on new lives unforeseen by its own developer (as proof, here's a whole website dedicated just to the coin thing!).

So much of this has to do with how amazing Mario feels; by far Mario 64's greatest achievement are its physics, which render Mario a kinetic virtual action figure operable via triple jumps, wall jumps, long jumps, side jumps, dive jumps, and somersaults. As mentioned in the above developer interview, the physics don't necessarily follow our own laws, but the parameters within follow its own complex, yet accessible, rules that they feel real; in that, I'd perhaps argue I've never felt a game as precise in control as this one.


The "sandbox" direction of the game comes to life here: the physics and movesets provided are what develop our addiction in how are snappy and responsive they are, for it is they that convince us anything is possible to achieve. To the developers' own admission, they included more moves than necessary: you don't really need the slide kicks and sweepkicks, but they're so fun to pull you can't help but experiment.

Being the first successfully-crafted 3D game of its kind, however, predictably led to many unforeseen glitches, but these hardly negatively impact the game; in fact, they have only prolonged its longevity. You have the sequence-breaking trickery of the Backwards Long Jump, for one, and how it rockets across stairways to plow through locked doors. Meanwhile, the crafty player who carefully inspects the level design may recognize certain walls and ceilings possess fragile seams to slip through, and it is there they discover they can swim underneath Whomp's Fortress or Cool, Cool Mountain, or the shortcut in jumping through the stairwell of Peach's Castle.

(Actually, through the use of a GameShark device, I found one of my own: you know the spooky merry-go-round in Big Boo's Haunt? I discovered an unused steel paneling underneath it! Not that I discovered the way to get there without a cheat device, but hey, I don't know anyone else who bragged about finding it before 2004).

How impressive it is the pioneer of 3D gaming can grant such invention to the player! Yes, some of may be owed to programming oversights, but that they only serve the game's purpose renders it a sign of how strong the game's design and physics systems are. A poorly-designed 3D game initiates the frustrating tedium of falling through walls; the masterwork that is Super Mario 64 uses its missteps to let us bend the game's reality. Perhaps you could say I love these physics so much that you could plant Mario and these physics in any game --or really, any sort of 3D environment-- and I could spend the entire day just experimenting on what I can do (And if you really to delve into the love people have for the physics, check out this mind-bending TAS-evaluation of Mario 64 and its utilization of parallel universes).

But let us not forget the traps Mario 64 falls into within its own design philosophies. I mentioned before how rudimentary Mario 64 can sometimes come across in its gameplay elements, and the most obvious example is what I like to call "oddjob Stars," which typically don't involve much platforming or exploration at all but instead have Mario performing brief, menial tasks, be it riding itty-bitty lifts and elevators or solving some trivial, five-second puzzle (not that there aren't good puzzles, but there's a big difference in quality between Tiny-Huge Island's ambiguous "five secrets" and Big Boo's Haunt's "punch the five library books!".) Actually. this is actually a big reason why I've never been crazy about Lethal Lava Land: barring the volcano adventures, much of its stars can be earned in maybe thirty seconds, with two being nearly identical in knocking the horned Bullies into lava.


It's a good thing, then, that Mario 64 is so open; you don't even have to get these stars if you don't want to. Remember that you can grab any star in any order, and with only 70 stars necessary to complete the game, these oddjob stars are easily skipped. "But what about completionists," you may ask, and even then Mario 64's flexibility offers other solutions; just grab them alongside the 100 Coin Star, since those won't boot you out of the level. For every flaw presented, Mario 64 is flexible enough to provide a comeback, and that's how it seems so endless.

And if this is an endless game, then it's only fitting it'll pleasure our ears. Let us not forget this is the first officially-published Nintendo product to provide Mario's voice courtesy of Charles Martinet. The gruffness of Bob Hoskins or Captain Lou Albano he ain't, Mario is is now a jolly, affable fellow whose cries of "Mammia mia!" immediately grow on you. In a move wisely upheld over twenty years later, Mario hardly speaks in full sentences, instead relying on grunts and quick catchphrases, letting our own fun echo through his ecstatic yells (A shame the same can't be said for Leslie Swan's bookending role as Peach: while her introductory letter is fine, her actual, on-screen presence at the ending sorta proves the notion you shouldn't just grab people around the office to do voiceover).

Naturally, series composer Koji Kondo must be at the top of his game for his N64 debut. Whereas his later efforts in Star Fox 64 and Zelda: Ocarina of Time may've suffered from low-quality samples here and there, there's not a speck of that to be found here; look no further than the infectiously bouncy Main Theme that plays for Bob-omb Battlefield and other field-esque areas (Believe it or not, I never noticed it was the game's leitmotif--as in, it echoes through the winter and slide themes--until maybe eight years ago!)

Meanwhile, even if the water levels aren't among the game's strongest, the music may certainly grant the illusion that they are. Dire, Dire Docks is one of the great underwater Nintendo themes, recognizing that an exploratory game requires a slow, meditative accompaniment. It's little wonder this beautiful composition is often cited as players' association with nostalgia, although the aforementioned File Select theme may be a serious contender: both do have a knack for absorbing us into sweet, sweet childhood reverie.

Of course, we do hear reprises here and there: the infamous Starman theme from the first Super Mario Bros. is rearranged much the same way it was in Yoshi's Island the year prior, granting a soaring motif that wonderfully expresses flight. Meanwhile, the famous Underground Theme remixed for Hazy-Maze Cave/Wet-Dry World is perhaps my favorite iteration of all, if only for the eerie, aural segue that plays as you delve deeper into their respective areas: it channels a level of unsettling loneliness and mystery never before--and hereafter-- expressed in Mario, one I remain fascinated by in its expression of dismal hopelessness.

This same bleakness is echoed within Bowser's Road which perhaps rivals Super Mario World's Castle Theme as the best of the evil king's lair themes. By far the darkest these themes have ever gone, its disheartening percussion conveys the linear natures of the level, shuffling Mario ahead to his inevitable confrontation with Bowser. Given how the game's spooky, hypnotizing skyboxes are at their most prominent here, the song alone feels massive enough to swallow the poor plumber whole.

The aforementioned flaws of Super Mario 64 still exist: the localization feels more than a little unnatural ("Oh, Bowser is so wicked!" cries Princess Peach in a written message), the emptiness of Peach's Castle does require some suspension of disbelief, and the usage of the Vanish Cap fits squarely into the rudimentary oddjob Stars I mentioned earlier. I imagine there are other things that slip my mind.

But none of these matter: the realization that Mario 64 becomes a blank slate we can wash off again and again, to keep trying more and more to mine whatever else we can of something so ancient is a glorious testament to Nintendo's design ethic. Future open-ended endeavors in Pikmin 3, Star Fox 64 and Zelda: Breath of the Wild may have surpassed what Mario 64 began, but I can hardly think of any other Nintendo game that breaks free of its own objective and takes on a new life in juggling sandbox play, glitches and speedruns; in a way, Mario 64 become a way of life, a state of being that continually evolves through time.


Even now, I still can't stop stretching Mario's 3D face into abominable proportions at the game's opening screen; to tell the truth, I only found out the other year you can freeze the animations, thus heightening the absurdity. Revelations like this make me keep asking: how far can this game go? Does this mean Luigi will ever be found in the game? Probably not, but I still can't help but try until the end of time.


Unless, of course, my phobia for the eel in Jolly Roger Bay sparks up again. Zoinks!

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Biweekly Music Wednesday! No. 51 ~Main Theme~ (Star Fox)




Origin: Star Fox
Plays In: Credits
Status: Original Composition
Composed By: Hajime Hirasawa

The SNES Classic Edition -- it's been two weeks since its announcement, and it's all I've been able to think about. It's the first time Star Fox and Yoshi's Island will be officially available via emulated form. I've been checking the listings on Amazon and Best Buy every day in scant hopes I'll be able to pre-order. Thoughts and prayers are sent out to the universe every day that we'll see these games unfiltered, just like the glorious NES Classic Mini before it. (My kingdom to have a bright, unglitched Kirby Super Star!) An equal amount of thoughts and prayers sent out in hopes I'll secure one.

Most of all, I think about how we will witness the very first release, to my memory of a cancelled game in Nintendo history: Star Fox 2.


Needless to say, I'm psyched. I mentioned this in the above article, but while prototype ROMs have leaked online since way back, it's been confirmed by Dylan Cuthbert himself that it's not the final game. Finally, after twenty-two years, the completed vision he, Katsuya Eguchi, Takaya Imamura and the rest of the staff will be shared with the world, be it the never-before-seen planet Eladard or the first real appearance of Star Wolf and the Arwing Walker mech.

What's most exciting about this is that Star Fox 2 is a Super Nintendo game. Think about that: we're going to see an unseen, completed title from Nintendo's Golden Era all these years later! What better era for a game lost to time to hail from! Too cool.

Some may say the original Star Fox hasn't aged well, but I personally can't disagree more. Sure, I agree Star Fox 64's score-attack design lends to more depth, but look past the original's dated look and you'll discover an incredibly competent shoot-'em-up; in fact, maybe you'll realize the basic polygonal design lends it a unique immersion all on its own.

And that's not even getting into the soundtrack, which is basically my main point for this article: Hajime Hirasawa created one of the SNES's greatest soundtracks in Star Fox, with the likes of Corneria, Sector Y and the Main Theme --the song featured in this installment-- impeccably blending rock and orchestral together into aural gold. Sadly, however, he didn't return for Star Fox 2, and instead Kozue Imakawa (The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening) and Yumiko Kanki (F-Zero) picked up where he left off.

Thanks to the leaked ROM, songs have been uploaded on YouTube and such, and taking a quick look reveals they're solid efforts. However, I can't help but shake the feeling they won't surpass Hirasawa's efforts. Such is the power of nostalgia, you may see, but to my mind Star Fox hosts one of the very best SNES soundtracks, and on a console as amazing as Super Nintendo, that's already a very hard distinction to make.

Therefore, the only logical answer to is to approach Star Fox 2 on its own merits; naturally, we'll all end up deciding which game is better, but there's surely strengths to it that the original cannot measure to. In the end, not only will Star Fox 2 likely bring some quality to what's an infamously imbalanced franchise, but it is confirmation Nintendo is still interested in continuing the series. I'm looking forward to it!

Final Thoughts: By the way, I really do wonder if Faye and Miyu, the two lost female characters, will make their way into future Star Fox entries now that Star Fox 2 is coming? I'd rather see them than Krystal, that's for sure.