Saturday, January 27, 2018

Kirby Battle Royale Review (Hey Poor Player)

As expected, I wounded up enjoying the latest Kirby spin-off more than the critics did. It's Kirby Air Ride all over again!

Anyway, a new feature will debut early next month, the first entry of which will involve Kirby. This won't be a weekly feature or anything, but it's something I've wanted to do for some time now, so keep an eye out!

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Kirby: Planet Robobot

I don't even know what else to say; I'm spent. Admittedly, I do find some enjoyment in the thought of Kirby adopting a "DESTROY THEM ALL!" glee within his shiny new mecha, but a smiling Angry Kirby brings horrid memories of 2011's Mass Attack, and that cover is never a pleasant thing to remember. Besides, why harp on it when Nintendo/HAL have just put the brakes on their terrible plans for homogenization and came to their senses with this joyous cover for Star Allies? Sure, maybe Angry Kirby will be back to his old tricks someday, but his cynical countenance has been repelled, and that is good enough cause for celebration.

And what better way to commend this occasion by talking about how great Kirby: Planet Robobot is? Actually, calling Planet Robobot "great" is doing it a disservice, for I daresay this is one of the finest Kirby adventures hitherto. None of the familiarity found in the otherwise excellent Triple Deluxe or even Return to Dream Land is present, which is all the more shocking considering this is the third consecutive Kirby sharing the same engine. After situating themselves on the 3DS via Triple Deluxe, HAL wisely took the next step by evolving the series in both gameplay and technical craft, resulting in a title just as ambitious as Return to Dream Land.

In other words, Planet Robobot fires on all cylinders from the very beginning, and that's mostly thanks to the Robobot Armor. Leftover mechs from a mechanical fleet's takeover of Popstar, Kirby's new rides imbue Copy Abilities and morph accordingly into radical transformations: Cutter equips massive sawblades, Bomb spawns miniature explosive robots, Mike produces amplified speakers, and Wheel upgrades into Kirby's own personal fortified motorbike.

It goes without saying they're massively fun to unleash, be it plowing through crowds of mechanized Dream Landers or wrecking the massive hazards (giant 8-balls!) that impede Kirby's path, but that's Unlike Return to Dream Land's Super Abilities and Triple Deluxe's Hypernova, the Robobots are constant forces in nearly every level as opposed to being reserved for the climax. No longer are we required to stop and witness the majesty of Kirby's newfound superpowers, either: as Kirby must obviously ride them, his robotic rampages actively engage both the players and the actual levels themselves.

Not that Super Abilities weren't immensely fun, either, but this means the levels continually incorporate Robobots within their actual design: we use them in everything from solving puzzles, engaging in shmup sections, and taking on mini-bosses echoing the grandeur of a Platinum Studios game, and it's never not thrilling. We witnessed Triple Deluxe tackle unique end-of-level mini-bosses as well, but I can't think of anything that was more exciting than the early-game Gigavolt fight, a giant robot flailing its springy arms about as you systemically unscrew its appendages. The Robobots aren't just exciting; they feel natural and organic.

Naturally, this sets the stage for experimentation -- we observe, for instance, the lead-ups to the lab levels involve a dynamic camera we haven't seen since Kirby 64, wrapping about their stairwells to successfully craft tension before reaching the labs' depths. Meanwhile, certain bosses shift the camera about to present pseudo-3D planes, also borrowing from Kirby 64 bosses (albeit pulling more creative tricks -- much as Whispy Woods reinvented his traditional battle there, the two iterations of Clanky Woods awes as much as Triple Deluxe's Flowery Woods in their early-game spectacle). When considering the presence of the Blowout Blast mini-game, it's clear HAL is inching ever-towards the idea of a 3D Kirby. We've been accustomed to Kirby's 2D-only adventures for so long that such an idea seemed like sacrilege, yet HAL's teases are growing ever more enticing...

Meanwhile, collectable stickers -- be they recycled Kirby artwork, crayon-scribbled characters, or even Kanji -- can be adorned upon Robobots. This is yet another evolution from Triple Deluxe, albeit yet in a "wow I never knew I wanted this" kinda way -- yes, chilling to the ever-swaying keychains was a hypnotic endeavor, but did we ever think to take them with us? While sadly the resolution of the 3DS screen obscures their presence a bit, it's still a delightful little touch; personally, I think Kirby would like to draw on the Robobots, so that's why I always went for the scribbles.

Copy Abilities are also largely winners this round. Jet and Mirror return for the first time since Kirby Super Star, and while Mirror more or less feels the same (which is welcome!), there's something about Jet that feels far more intuitive. Easily one of the wonkier abilities in Super Star, its movements feel snappier and more precise, be it the repeatable midair Jet Headbutts or the somersault spectacle of Rocket Dive. While not supplied with all sorts of new tricks in the vein of Stone or Needle, it's always humbling to witness an ancient ability upgraded for more convenient use.

As for new abilities, considering my affinity with EarthBound, it's only natural I jump into ESP first.  As the main combos revolve around teleportation and a PK Flash-inspired projectile, it's something that takes time in getting used to (particularly in gauging your teleportation distance), so it's not the most handy Copy Ability for just plowing through. When you just want to wreak havoc, however, you feel like a God as you zap about with your newfound psychic powers, particularly in dodging and countering with PK Insight's massive energy outburst. Given that it's the only new ability that has a Robobot form, it's clearly meant to be the highlight of the three, and is easily the funnest once you get the hang of it.

As expected, Doctor is adorable with its head mirror and glasses, and its inspired duality of the physical (clipboard attack!) and personalized tactics (Science Lab, which can unleash various effects) made me come back to it again and again.  Meanwhile, Poison is the easiest to use, yet it's disappointing a number of moves are directly lifted from Return to Dream Land's Water, a Copy Ability cut from the 3DS games. Thankfully there's enough moves to differentiate it -- I enjoy the poison puddles that mini-bosses are so susceptible to -- but I wish it stood out more on its own.

But even if the new copy abilities aren't the most impressive bit about Planet Robobot, the Robobot abilities can certainly make that case, which brings me to the endgame: what begins as a mouth-dropping set-piece of fanservice jet-starts what is by far the most gripping, heart-pounding final boss in all of Kirby. I dare not spoil any of its callbacks or cinematics involved, so I can only claim it is everything Kirby and the Amazing Mirror's half-baked finale desired to be: framing the gameplay in a way that not only plays well, but fuels the narrative context in what may very well be the 3DS's finest technical showpiece.

Enjoy that final boss while you can, though: 100% completion is another matter, for I daresay Planet Robobot is only surpassed by Mass Attack in difficulty for that matter. Searching for all the stickers is no small feat, and I actually can't recall if I ever found the elusive HAL rooms containing the exclusive Smash ability. Still, even those are a cakewalk relative to the wrath of The True Arena: in itself, this may very well be the most difficult endeavor in Kirby history, as never before have spacing, dodging, when to attack have been more cutthroat. It is hair-raisingly difficult, right down to the surprise 1-hit KO of the final encounter, unleashing a never-before-seen string of swears from yours truly. So demoralizing was my experience that I had to write a guide to spare others of my fate, and that it actually aided players gives me great joy.

Thankfully, the rest of the modes aren't as burdening, although not without their own trials. Meta Knightmare Returns comes back as the "what if?" take on the main adventure --  a form of nebulous canon I've adored since its Nightmare in Dream Land debut -- and is home to much of the The True Arena's more aggravating bosses. Perhaps most impressive is how HAL took careful care in applying Meta Knight in what's originally a Robobot-focused campaign: puzzles being skipped or activated via a swing of his sword are nothing new, but that bosses are retooled and that he can still unleash similarly satisfying destruction via his Meta Point abilities perhaps renders it his most successful conquest yet.

Meanwhile, Kirby 3D Rumble ditches the 3D experimentation and alright plops Kirby in 3D as he Star-Spits across isometric environments (which perhaps echoes this cancelled version of what would eventually become Return to Dream Land). While not easy to 100%, its emphasis on combos instill an addictive desire to perfectly plow enemies with Blaster Bullets. Its relative brevity is all too bittersweet, but thankfully Kirby's Blowout Blast is a downloadable thing that exists.

It's only Team Kirby Clash, a take on Japan's beloved Monster Hunter, that may not be so difficult at all, and that's okay: whereas 3D Rumble has to prove its miniature worth through dedicated practice, the meatier of the two focuses on empowering the player through level-ups. Dividing Kirbys into four roles (Sword Hero, Hammer Lord, Doctor Healmore, and Beam Mage), it emphasizes progression through mission-taking: more Kirbys join your party upon reaching levels, and earlier missions. can be replayed for EXP. Obtaining Level 10's ultimate level of strength means the replay value is low, but that's the job of 3D Rumble; here, it's reaching the end of the journey (and, well, there's nothing stopping you from making another file to replay it, or you can just purchase Team Kirby Clash Deluxe, which still keeps me busy even today).

And now we come to the soundtrack, which lies within an...interesting predicament. It's not that series Jun Ishikawa or Hirokazu Ando lost their spark or anything, and yet, despite having recently obtained the official soundtrack, I have difficulty recalling too much of it. I suspect in their complementing Planet Robobot's central machine theme via techno and chiptunes and all sorts of "mechanical" sounds, it all kinda blurs together and consequently, it's difficult to mentally sift through individual tracks as standing out. (Canvas Curse took a similar approach as well, but I imagine that game's emphasis on remixes made it easier to remember)

It's a damned shame, too, because what we do have here is nearly just as excellent as Return to Dream Land and Triple Deluxe prior. The subdued adrenaline of the Robobot Armor theme successfully serves as a rousing introduction to its destructive debut (although I'm more fond of the guitar version that plays in the final battle), whereas the various takes on techno and whatnot forge new ground for Kirby: White Office March ominously treads within the inner recesses of Haltmann Company HQ, whereas familiar Kirby themes are retooled for the laboratory levels (the Float Islands remix being by far the best, echoing a desperate pursuit I can't say I've ever encountered in Kirby).

Of course, this is Kirby, so Ando and Ishikawa are careful in channeling Kirby's innocent and playful nature throughout. This is most evident in Lovely Yellow Va-Va-Vrooms, an actively gentle little theme accompanying a city constructed of juice cartons (with sippy straws as their chimpanzees) and Waddle Dees driving about. Meanwhile, the soothing Underwater Quarter accompanies some what's perhaps Planet Robobot's most stunning setpiece in underwater cities and chandeliers resting alongside glass bottle landmarks.

The Haltmann Company Theme -- the in-game main theme for the intergalactic company threatening to take over Pop Star -- is probably Planet Robobot's most well-known song in that it's Kirby's first vocal theme -- although as it's mostly synthesized gibberish, perhaps "sing-along" would be a more fitting take. Regardless, the presence of lyrics such as "Pay and ergonomic seating, give us favors such as these!" give me great joy, and I can't help but wonder if we'll be seeing more such songs for the future.

And that we even ask that is Planet Robobot's greatest strength: any missteps in homogenized music or level pacing don't discourage its identity as not a quick n' dirty title meant to capatalize upon the closing years of 3DS, but one that legitimately pushes Kirby forward in organic level design, technical achievement (seriously, look at the CGI below; Kirby looks like vinyl!), and even world. On top of that, it's the outright funnest title I played in 2016, and as far as Kirby goes, I can't ask for anything more than that.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Case Closed: Vol 65 Review (Hey Poor Player)

My first manga review copy! Yes, VIZ was gracious enough to allow me digital review copies for their volumes, so this is the first of many to come!

Anyway, I've been following Conan's adventures for over thirteen years now, so I guess it's only fitting I start reviewing it! Finally, I'll get to share my love of Case Closed after so long! (FUNimation ceasing the anime dub still stings)

...oh yeah, I'll have to catalog these manga reviews in my Archive pages, don't I? I'll think of something for that. Anyway, expect three manga reviews next month.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Yoshi's Woolly World

In achieving borderline perfection in gameplay, sound design and possibly the most charming, captivating artstyle of the 16-bit generation, Yoshi's Island is easily one of the greatest games ever made, although you'd hardly know it from its successors. When considering Yoshi's Story's dubious quality and "made-for-kids" identity, the forgotten gimmicks of Yoshi Touch & Go, and how the awfully lethargic efforts by Artoon/Arzest are best not spoken about, it was more than a little frustrating Nintendo couldn't figure out how to forge a proper sequel.

Note the past tense: it's been over two years since Yoshi's Woolly World first graced our Wii Us courtesy of Kirby's Epic Yarn developer Good-Feel and I can still scarcely believe its success. Not that I didn't think it wouldn't be a worthy spiritual successor to their Kirby effort, of course, but that it actually achieves throwing distance within Yoshi's Island's glory is a testament to Good-Feel's talent as a developer. Yes, to say Yoshi's Woolly World is superior to Yoshi's Island would be silly, but it is the first Yoshi sequel to understand what it means to take that step: Yoshi's saddle does not need Baby Mario glued 24/7, but it does not need any babyish concessions ala Yoshi's Story to stand out as an individual entry. 

Monday, January 1, 2018

Happy New Year!

For better or for worse, the turbulence of 2017 has paved the way for a very uncertain 2018. Such is the life of a left-wing American, but I suppose my blog isn't suitable for airing such grievances (let's just leave it at climate change and social media's reluctance to tackle discrimination/harassment -- hi, Twitter -- being objectively terrible things).

Anywho, with the year opening with two days off I wanted to wrap up another review, but a December cold decide to infect me again, so now that's uncertain. Regardless, I guess now would be a good time to say pretty much all those minor review updates I mentioned in November have been completed (check out my fear of Sonic the Hedgehog's drowning music!). You'll also notice most of my 2010-2013 reviews feature a disclaimer noting they're obsolete, although having recently filed a review schedule, I wouldn't expectment replacements for all of 'em until maybe next year.

Oh, and expect three Hey Poor Player reviews this month, too: a manga volume and two games. The former may be my first review copy, and one of the two games is an import! Can I successfully juggle all that with the blog? We'll have to find out.