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Monday, July 27, 2015

Currently Playing #25: EarthBound Beginnings

The RPG genre is one I've been wanting to leap back into for some time now. I got into RPGs back in the mid 1990s and fell in love with the genre thanks to games like Super Mario RPG, Illusion of Gaia, and Final Fantasy VI. To an extent, even EarthBound played a role in helping me to appreciate RPGs. When I say EarthBound, I'm of course talking about the SNES EarthBound, also known as MOTHER 2, which was the first game in the series to be released outside of Japan. Most of my interest in the first EarthBound stems from watching my friend play it. True, I played a very small portion of the game myself, but most of my time spent with the game was from watching him hold the SNES controller. Still, that alone was enough to spark some interest in the game and the modern day setting of EarthBound really did set it apart from other RPGs that were released in the west at the time.

Over the past few years, I've had a falling out of sorts with RPGs. I can't even remember the last one that I've completed. I thought I'd get back on track with Xenoblade Chronicles when I picked it up in 2012, but alas, it still sits on the shelf, unplayed. So I guess it's fitting that the RPG that gets me back into the game is not only a JRPG, but an old-school JRPG at that. When I saw that the original MOTHER game, was finally going to get an official release outside of Japan under the name EarthBound Beginnings, I thought I'd show my support and fork over the $6.99 for a digital copy on the eShop.



A few weeks after purchasing the game, I decided to fire it up. I didn't come into the game unaware of what I was getting myself into.  I know that EarthBound Beginnings is one tough cookie. With this in mind, I've decided to use maps to help me through the game as well as Chuggaconroy's Let's Play. EarthBound Beinnings does not hold your hand and like a lot of old NES games, there are some things you just have to know, otherwise, you'll remain stuck. I'm no stranger to level grinding and without dying, I quickly caught on that the enemies outside of Ninten's front door could put him to sleep if I did not take the time to beef him up before heading to my next destination. I'd almost forgotten what it was like to sweat bullets because running away isn't working, you have low HP and the enemy keeps dodging your attacks. Its the kinds stuff old RPGs love to do, 

Right now, I've invested more time into EarthBound Beginnings than any other EarthBoung game. I've played through the first chapter of MOTHER 3 and put a few hours into EarthBound, but last week, I sent the better part of my day off putting in work on EarthBound Beginnings. I suppose I have to admit to liking that old-school flavor of RPG since I love retro games, but I'm also playing this one for story purposes. Just what happened to George and Maria when they vanished? How come only George came back and why did he become a recluse? What happened to Maria? All that stuff happened nearly 100 years ago and yet, it holds relevance to what's happening throughout the world in the game. Given the EarthBound series' history with aliens and the fact that I've already fought a Starman Jr. at the zoo, its a safe bet that they were the ones behind George and Maria's disappearance. George is most likely the one who wrote the diary that Ninten found in his basement, so that would make Maria and George his great grand parents. Still doesn't explain why they were abducted and why Maria never returned. It may not seem like much, but its more than enough to drive my curiosity. It really says something when a game can hook a player with just a few opening paragraphs.



Ninten may seem like a pretty flat protagonist even taking into account that he has physic powers (you're not an EarthBound central character without that, right?) but giving him asthma makes him a bit more human and relatable. I actually didn't know Ninten had asthma at first until I talked to one of the NPCs in Podunk and she mentioned that truck exhaust causes her own asthma to flair up. Why do I get the feeling trucks will be part of the random encounters later on? I already had Ninten's asthma get outta hand during a random encounter on Magicant. It almost lead to a game over.

Speaking of Magicant, the place has to be one of my favorite locations in EarthBound Beginnings. I was a little familiar with the place thanks to Super Smash Bros. 3DS, which has Magicant as a selectable stage along with a beautiful remix of the Magicant theme, but to actually go through the area that inspired the Smash stage is pretty amazing. Even before I spoke to Queen Mary and deduced that my gathering of the Eight Melodies was partially for her sake, I knew that Magicant would play a significant role in the game. The spiraling sea shells and color palettes give the place a unique look to be sure and there's the fact that you have to warp to Magicant, suggesting that it exists in some other dimension, but even without taking those things into account, Magicant is clearly no ordinary place.



Its nice to see that much of the humor the MOTHER series is known for is present and accounted for in EarthBound Beginnings. When I caught a cold from a girl in Merrsyville, I went to see the doctor and when I didn't want to pay the insane amount of cash he was charging to be cure of a common aliment, he said "Fine, go die all on your own. I'll phone a mortician." OK, so that one may be leaning more towards black comedy but after I did pay, he told me to hurry up and get hurt so I can pay him another visit.  Why isn't he one of those characters I can crack over the head with my aluminum bat in a random battle?

Unbalanced as it can be, I really do enjoy EarthBound Beginnings. I'm happy that we have two out of the three MOTHER games and hopefully, MOTHER 3 will be released somewhere down the line. It feels good to be playing an RPG again. Well, I gotta be off. That kid that was hiding in the trash isn't gonna level himself up. 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Favorite Tunes #121: Cute Witches and Adorable Frogs

I've decided to forgo a particular theme with this installment. This time there's music from PC Engine platform, my favorite console ever, the SNES and I even threw in some arcade beats for good measure.

Ripples Theme (Raku Raku Mode Ending )- Magical Chase (TG16)



Famed Final Fantasy Tactics composers Hitoshi Sakimoto and Masahru Iwata are more known for their more serious, atmospheric game soundtracks. So its nice to see that they wrote some more light hearted music and for the Turbo Grafx 16, no less! Magical Chase is one of those lesser known PC Engine titles while it did receive  western release, its one of the rarer games so don't expect to find it for chump change.

The Prince's Adventure - For the Frog the Bell Tolls (GB)



You may be looking at the cover of this game and might be thinking that the character on the front looks awfully familiar. If you've played Smash 4, no doubt you've cracked open an Assist trophy and seen this little guy turn into a frog or snake and then proceed to beat the crap out of your opponent in comical, cartoon style. Or you've had your opponent do it to you. This happens to be Prince Sable, the main character of Kaeru no Tame ni Kane wa Naru, which translates to For the Frog the Bell Tolls, a 1992 Japan only Game Boy game. This upbeat theme was composed by Kazmui Totaka and it gets a short arrangement in 1993's The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening.

Uncontrollable - Xenoblade Chronicles X (Wii U)



The game may not be available to western audiences just yet, but the soundtrack was released some time ago so we've been able to give it a listen. The tone of the music is noticeably different from the first Xenoblade Chronicles. Yoko Shimomura, ACE+, Yasunori Mitsuda and Manami Kiyota are nowhere to be found writing music for this game. Instead Hiroyuki Sawano has taken on the task of writing the music of Xenoblade Chronicles X. More known for his work in the anime field, fans are a bit divided on the music in Chronicles X. Me, I actually the music for the most part. This is one of my favorites among the vocal numbers.

Hyper Space - Phalanx (SNES)



Phalanx is not the greatest SNES shooter. The power-up system is decent at best and the levels can drag on for quite a while. Having said that, you can certainly do a lot worse and I've always liked the game's soundtrack. If only the above cover was used for the American release.

Wolverine Stage - X-Men: Children of the Atom (ARC)



Because Snkit Bub needs more attention.  In all seriousness, Capcom had so many arcade classics in the 1990s. Their fighters and beat 'em ups were some of the best and the soundtracks to those games were legendary.  Between the numerous Capcom games he's stared in, it's almost hard to pick my favorite Wolverine theme but this is a serious contender for the top spot.

Perplexing Pool - Pikmin 2 (GCN, Wii)



Until a few years ago, Nintendo didn't release new IPs very often. Among those rare new franchises in the early 2000s was Pikmin an interesting take on the RTS genre. The sequel, Pikmin 2 became one of the more costly GCN titles until it was re-released in 2009 on the Wii. Pikmin 2's soundtrack is much larger than the first game with lots of variations on most musical themes.

Favorite Tunes Database

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Latest Purchases #82

People continue to make the bogus claim that the Wii U has no games, yet I play it more than any other console. Between Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Bros, I've got Hyrule Warriors on the back burner and I just resumed playing Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze again along with Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker. Its getting to be a bit overwhelming to have so many Wii U games to play and here I am with more to add to the pile.



I wanted to pick up Bayonetta 2 on the day it released, but it just wasn't in the cards. Fortunately, waiting has once again paid off for yours truly since I was able to snag it brand new at GameStop for $44.99. But before I dig into Bayonetta 2, I'll be tackling the first Bayonetta since I never did play it when it was released years ago. To this day, I think the inclusion of the first Bayonetta along with Bayonetta 2 was a ridiculously smart move.

Splatoon is another game I wanted to buy on launch day but I just didn't have the $60 to fork over at the time. I've been sour on the FPS and TPS for some time and this is largely due to the market being overrun with games in this genre. Since splatoon takes a remarkably different approach to what is arguably a worn out genre, ditching the dark and moody aspects usually associated with it, I'm naturally intrigued. I'm a little nervous about going online with this one since tons of experienced players area already out there but I'm sure I'll learn the ropes and what it means to be both a kid and a squid.

When I was picking up Splatoon, I had no idea I'd find a complete, used copy of Pikmin 3. If you were not aware, Pikmin 3 has unfortunately become one of those rarer Wii U titles. New physical copies are going for more than the $60 asking price online and unless you're willing to pay $80 or more, the digital method is currently the cheapest way to experience the third Pikmin entry. So I consider myself rather fortunate that I was in GameStop at the time that I was.



The last amiibo I purchased was everyone's favorite cheery-chasing dot munch. That's Pac-Man for the three of you that have never seen Wreck It Ralph. Sonic makes the guess star Super Smash Bros. amiibo line complete. Or, at least it would have until Sakurai added Ryu to the line up. GameStop had two Sonics left and I wasn't about to chance someone grabbing them and have to pay a bit extra from buying him online.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

In Defense of Pearl



The fandom of Steven Universe is very passionate about the characters. And that's perfectly understandable. Steven Universe has a cast of well rounded, fleshed out, developed characters that, despite the fact that the main stars are aliens and one half alien, are very relatable. Even though the have extra terrestrial origins, they still seem very human and the reason for that is because they have what makes all of us human: we have flaws.

A running theme of Steven Universe is embracing imperfection. No matter how perfect some people may appear, there will always be those chinks in their armor. This is probably more than apparent with Pearl. Early in the first season, it seemed like Steven was the one always messing things up, but more often than not, he was the one to correct his own mistakes. Midway through the first season, we began to see that Pearl, in spite of her smarts and perfectionist nature, could very well be the most flawed of the Crystal Gems. In "Space Race", she was so eager to get back into Space that she almost got herself and Steven Killed. In "Rose's Scabbard", She breaks down and lashes out at everyone when she finds out that Rose didn't confide in her with all of her secrets. In "Sworn to the Sword", she tries to instill within Connie the dangerously self destructive mentality of sacrificing herself for Steven as Pearl did for Rose. The thing about that is, Pearl can regenerate from server injuries. Connie wouldn't be so lucky.

Square mom is VERY upset with bird mom.

If there was any doubt to how Pearl felt about Rose, all of it was removed in "We Need to Talk." As Pearl and Greg sing their duet, Pearl is standing off to the side, brewing more salt than the biggest salt factory. Out of pure jealousy, she Fuses with Rose and has eyes of smugness staring at Greg the whole time. That isn't the end of it, though. She straight up tells Greg that the only reason Rose sees anything in him is because she's human and that Rose will eventually grow tired of him. This right here is what set a lot of the fandom off. You had fans saying that they hated her and that she was awful. Awful for what? For feeling a human a emotion that all of us have felt numerous times in our life? Pearl may not have the highest opinion of humanity, but she's much more like the species than she may ever admit. Not only did Pearl feel jealous, she acted on it. Again, something we've all done. Yes, she's came off incredibly salty in doing so but the way she was feeling was perfectly natural. I think a lot of the venom she got from fans was pretty unwarranted.

Steven Bomb 3 has been a roller coaster ride for many a Steven Universe fan. If we've learned anything from the last two Steven Bombs, its that they always start off with a Pearl episode and this one was no different. We finally get to see the fusion of Pearl and Garnet and as some fans guessed before the Comic Con 2015 reveal, they do indeed form Sardonyx. Pearl is so thrilled to fuse with Garnet that she sets up an event that causes the biggest rift between the Crystal Gems to date. When I heard this Steven Bomb was going to be dubbed Week of Sardonyx, I wasn't sure how the Crewneverse were going to go about it, but after watching "Cry For Help," that has been made abundantly clear.

Ruby and Sapphire may appear to have
the perfect relationship in the form of Garnet, but
even these two love birds still fight as an couple would.


Sardonyx may have only appeared in one episode but the actions Pearl took have lasting affects for the entire week. Repairing a communications hub that Peridot used to contact Yellow Diamond not only puts the Earth in grave danger but the only way the hub could be destroyed was by fusing and Pearl kept repairing the hub because it gave her a reason to fuse with Garnet. Given Garnet's views of fusion, its quite understandable that she's furious at Pearl for basically using her for her own ends.

Pearl's manipulation has made for some excellent drama this week. Since Pearl and Garnet aren't on good terns it spread like wildfire and has affected every member of the Crystal Gems. And since Garnet is made of two gems, of course Ruby and Sapphire are taking it hard as well. In contrast to their behavior in Jail Break where they really couldn't stand being separated, their argument has them spending hours apart. This was good for two reasons. One, we get to see Ruby and Sapphire again. Two, it shows that while they may appear to be the perfect couple, they fight just like every other couple under the sun. I know I'm starting to sound like a broken record here, but it bears repeating. No body is perfect, not even our favorite red and blue moms.

After Cry For Help, the fandom has once again raised their pitch forks at Pearl. Its getting to be a knee jerk reaction to despise a character that does some extreme wrong in this show. Even Amethyst caught hate when she transformed into Rose in front of Greg during an argument in "Maximum Capacity." Yes, if was a very line-crossing thing to do. Good people or people with good intentions make mistakes. Pearl royally screwed up this week. No ifs ands or buts about it. How many friends do you have that have did you wrong? Now I realize that depending on the severity of the mistake and a person's capacity for forgiveness all factors in to whether they can move past whatever bad blood went down between those people.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said " I've decided to stick with Love. Hate is too great a burden to bear." Pearl has made some pretty notable goofs of the course of the series thus far. But nothing she's done has made me hate her. Not even her actions in Cry For Help. Maybe its a bit scary that I've become so invested in the fictional characters of this show that I adore them almost on the same level that I do my family and friends. People screw up. You, me, everyone. Sometimes we screw up big time like Pearl did this week. I'm not saying what she did was right because it was wrong on every single level, but  I honestly don't believe she should be hated for it. Pearl has some serious issues that she really needs to work out and I cannot wait to see the day where she's a better gem for it, but until then, I really think the fandom needs to stop hating her every single time she messes up.

Favorite Tunes #120: Dedicated to Satoru Iwata

We lost one of the greatest over the weekend. The passing of Satoru Iwata has left many with a heavy heart. This Favorite Tunes is in memory of Mr. Iwata, featuring music from a selection of games he was involved in.

Balloon Trip - Balloon Fight (NES)



The main mode of Balloon Fight, which could be played alone or with a friend was pretty entertaining but the ultimate test of skill came from Balloon Trip, a mode where the screen auto scrolls to the left and you have to collect balloons while avoiding sparks. It can get quite tricky and this mode also features the game's longest music piece.

Big Forest - Kirby's Dream Land 2 (GB)



Kirby's Dream Land 2 is the first game in the traditional Kirby series not to have any involvement of series creator Masahiro Sakurai. The game introduced Rick, Coo and Kine and was a bit tougher than the original Kirby's Dream Land. This one has two endings and to see the good one, you have to 100% this game, which is no easy task.

Bonus Game - Super Smash Bros. (N64)



Ah, breaking targets and boarding platforms. In the original Super Smash Bros, these were a welcome diversion and tough you how to rely on your character's moves and unique jumps. These two mini games were mysteriously absent in the fourth Super Smash Bros. game. Shame, really.

Butter Building - Kirby's Adventure (NES)



The second game in the long running Kirby series, this entry is where the pink puff got his famous copy ability. 2002's Kirby: Nightmare in Dream Land for the GBA is a remake of this game. In a lot of ways I prefer the original, including the chiptunes.

Kanto Trainer Battle - Pokémon  Gold/Silver (GBC)



Game Freak didn't think they'd be able to fit both the Johto and the Kanto regions onto a single Game Boy cart. Iwata, ever the awesome game programmer found a way to make what they thought to be an impossible feat entirely possible. For the six people that don't play this series, this is a remix of the original trainer battle them from the first generation Pokémon titles.

Smiles and Tears - EarthBound (SNES)



The first game in the Mother series to be released outside of Japan, EarthBound flopped so hard it killed any possible interest to translate future games for audiences outside of the land of the rising sun. Things have changed, considerably, however since the original EarthBound was released on the Wii U's eShop on June 14 of this year. If you've heard the remix of Smiles and Tears in Smash 4 but haven't hear the original, well, here ya go.

Favorite Tunes Database

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Thank You, Mr. Iwata



Life is not fair. This is something we've all been told numerous times throughout our existence. For all of the good things that there is to experience in life, there are many hardships. As human beings we can be strong but unfortunately, we are not invincible and this is something we are reminded of all too often in numerous ways. We get sick, we get hurt and unfortunately we can die. I like to think most of us would leave this world due to old age, but not all of us get to say our farewells to life that way. Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata, died at the age of 55 due to a bile duct. 55 may not be very young but that's not what I'd call over the hill either.

I was checking Instagram on Sunday after a rough night of work, and I see my feed flooded with pictures and tributes to the Nintendo legend and a read of the comments below the images fills me on the tragic news. Despite the fact that I didn't know the man personally, like many of you, I was still stunned by the news of his death. I don't think I need to say it but I will anyway: Just because you don't directly know someone, that doesn't mean they can't have an impact on your life or affect you in some way. Satoru Iwata managed to touch a lot of people even the throngs of those he never met.



What separated Iwata from so many suits in the business is that he was not just a man in snazzy wears. The man was a gamer. A gamer with an impressive background in developing games. Long before he took the role of President of Nintendo, he was a game developer. When Game Freak said they couldn't fit the Kanto region into Pokemon Gold/Silver, Iwata found a way to compress it so it could fit on the Game Boy cartridge. Shigesato Ito said that the whole development team of EarthBound (SNES) "relied' on Iwata due to his vast knowledge and experience. Iwata even helped Masahiro Sakurai co-develop the original Super Smash Bros. in their off time. As much credit as Sakurai gets for the Smash series, we probably wouldn't even have one of gaming's biggest crossover series if not for Iwata's help with the original game.

Balloon Fight has been one of my favorite NES games since I discovered it in the original GCN Animal Crossing way back in 2002. I loved that game so much that when I saw a physical copy for $3.99, I picked it up without hesitation. It wasn't until after Iwata's death that I found out that he was the man that programmed Balloon Fight. The way the Balloon Fighter moves, the waving of his arms, that scary fish that can eat you whole, that was all Iwata.

It wasn't just Iwata's background in game design that made him so renowned. Iwata was genuinely a warm, welcoming, friendly person. That isn't something one would expect from a person in his position. The Nintendo Directs were his way of reaching out directly to the gamers. He wasn't afraid to be a goofball and more often than not, you saw him smiling. That isn't to say every decision Iwata made was perfect. I'm not even gonna try to make you think that I know all of the ins and outs of corporate decision making because I certainly don't. There are many out there that disagreed with his actions, but even those that did wished him no ill will. Iwata was such an upstanding human being that it made him difficult to hate. You can't say that for too many other gaming personalities.

Yes, it is sad to see Satoru Iwata go, but thanks to his many wonderful contributions to gaming, the man will always live on. Honor his memory by playing a game he had a hand in. I know I'll always think of him now that I know he was a key player in Balloon Fight. Thank you, Mr. Iwata. You're definitely going to be missed.


Friday, July 10, 2015

4 Reasons I'm Stoked for Super Mario Maker



In 2010, the Super Mario Bros. franchise turned 25 years old. To celebrate, Nintendo released the Super Mario All-Stars Limited Edition for the Wii, a straight port of Super Mario All-Stars on the SNES. While that is a fine compilation, Nintendo could have done a lot better for the series big 25th bash. 

So here we are in 2015 and Super Mario Bros. is turning 30 years old! Nintendo's way of handling the plumber's 30th anniversary is much, much better than what they gave us five years ago. On September 11, Super Mario Maker will be releasing in the USA, Europe, in Japan on September 10 and on September 12 in Australia. And as the name says, this game allows players to make their own levels. As a fan of platformers and Super Mario games, I am beyond excited for this game and I have four reasons why that is.

1. Making Your Own Levels

You're making the calls so, Bowser can
show up at any point and time in a level.

In the immortal words of M. Bison "OF COURSE!" This is pretty much the big appeal of Super Mario Maker. You don't just get to make your own levels, but your own Super Mario levels! After decades of playing through stages designed by Nintendo, we are at long last given the tolls to crafty Mario stages how we see fit. Since you get to be the one who runs the show, you can design some brilliant stages with thoughtful layouts or let your inner sadist run wild by building stages that make those of Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels look like child's play. I have a hunch a lot of Super Mario Maker designers are going to be doing the later. You decided where power ups go, where enemy placement is, or how many enemies are in a particular spot. If you can think it, you can build it. 

2. Playing Other Gamer's Levels

After you put all that time and effort into designing your dream stage, you can share it with the rest of the world and they can experience the masterpiece (or nightmare) that you've created. No doubt players are going to construct some pretty difficult stages and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't curious about those, but I'm also looking forward to the levels that are creative without relying on making us want to break something. Either way, I can't wait to see you gamers come up with. We're talking unlimited replay value here.

You think this looks tough? Someone is going
to come up with levels ten times more brutal.


3. The Different Visual Styles



When the game was revealed in 2014 under the name Mario Maker, we had two graphical styles to choose from, that of the original 1985 Super Mario Bros. and 2012's New Super Mario Bros. U. Since then, the game supports two more graphical styles, Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World. Being able to select from four different visual styles is a very nice touch and is another great customzation option Super Mario Maker gives the player. The sprite fanatic in me is going nuts over this feature. I'm a bit miffed that Super Mario Bros. 2 gets no visual style representation because I love the sprites in that game. Hmm, some DLC in the future, perhaps? 

4. 100 Pre-Made Levels

Yes, the creator aspect of Super Mario Maker is the bee's knee, but the game also comes with 100 already made levels for you to play through. Right when you boot up the game, you've got levels at your disposal to romp through. No word on if that blonde princess has been captured again, but its nice that players will have something to do from the get go if those creative juices aren't flowing or their internet connection sucks. 

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Super Mario Maker is shaping up to be one incredible Super Mario game. This, Nintendo, this is how you do a 30th anniversary right. The community for this game is going to unfathomably huge and the wait for this game is killing me.