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Thursday, November 20, 2014

Mario Kart 8 DLC is the Bee's Knee

I think it's a pretty safe assumption that the Mario Kart franchise is the best spin-off series in the plumber's long history. You know you're doing something right when not only your main series is still going strong, but your chaotic cart racing series is going full speed ahead right long with it.

Martio Kart 8, the latest in Mario's famous racing series has been selling like hot cakes. The game was already jam packed with content right out of the packaging. 15 returning tracks from previous entries with fresh takes on them along with 15 brand spanking new courses, which have quickly become some of my most loved digital roads to race on. Then you've got all the car parts and customization that was returned from Mario Kart 7. On top of that, Mario Kart 8 brought in characters that had never been in a Mario Kart previously like the Koopalings. Even items have been balanced out the Blue Shell showing up less frequently and a way to destroy the accursed item with the Super Horn. All this and some pretty smooth online racing.

Mario used all those coins he collected from
New Super Mario Bros. 2 to buy everyone a stylish set of wheels.

Not long after Mario Kart 8's release, Nintendo dropped one word, three letters: DLC. DLC is nothing new these days. It became common place in the console gaming platforms during the Wii/PSX/360 era with the later two systems brimming with the stuff. It's no surprise that those three letters can make most gamers groan, especially how so many companies like to screw gamers over with DLC, with locking it on the disc and holding back content to release at a later time even when the game is still being worked on. Nintendo, for all of their faults, releases DLC properly, having a better handling on DLC than lots of other companies. 

The first DLC content came in the form of three Mercedes Benz automobiles. That's right, the Big N was gonna let us drive Mario and the gang around in stupidly expensive licensed cars. I originally thought these cars would just be a cosmetic thing but it turns out each Benz has it's own set of stats like all of the other carts in the game. It may be a little strange to see Mario and company in Benz cars in unrealistic environments, but Mario games have hardly ever been normal. The best thing about the Benz DLC? It came at the cost of zip, zero, nothing. We didn't have to pay a dime to see Luigi drive around Cloudtop Cruise in a 1934 W 25 Silver Arrow. 

Yet, there were fans that still wanted new characters and new courses out of Mario Kart 8 DLC. During one of their Nintendo Directs, the company revealed that they had much more DLC to give us. But unlike the Benz, we'd have to drop some cash for this stuff. When they showed us what they had in store, Nintendo already had our money. Cat Peach, Tanooki Mario, Link?! The Blue Falcon from F-Zero?! New tracks?! Sign me up!

Yoshi circuit from Mario Kart: Double Dash!!
was a track I was not expecting among the DLC
since I didn't stay up to date on things. 

If I may, I'd like to talk about Link for a bit. His and the upcoming inclusion of Animal Crossing characters to the Mario Kart series is kind of a big thing. Until now, only Donkey Kong and Diddy have been the only outside characters in the world of Nintendo to be able to drive along with Mario and company, at least as far as the consoles go (the Mario Kart Arcade GP games star Pac-Man) I've heard a few people actually complain that adding Link is just sad and spells the death of the series, which is just eye rolling on so many levels. If you want to get people stoked about some new characters in Mario Kart, dipping outside the Mario universe and choosing someone like Link is a pretty good way to go about it. How adding everyone's favorite pointed eared hero is killing Mario Kart is far beyond my comprehension.

Excitebike Arena is sorta like Baby Park. Except all
the hills which allow you to trick like a maniac. 

We had to wait until November to get the first Mario Kart 8 DLC pack, which contained three new characters, three new carts and eight tracks. After gawking at the screens, I was as excited as anyone but I was a bit miffed that we'd have to wait. I didn't watch the trailer for this DLC over and over again, nor did I really keep up with the screens that Nintendo released. Sure, I knew some good DLC was on the way in the first pack, but since I didn't really make it a thing to stay up to date on things, I didn't know just how good the DLC was gonna be until November 13 rolled around.

As November 13th drew closer, I started paying more attention to the upcoming DLC. A track based of off Excitebike? Cool! Wait, what's this? Mute City?! We haven't had an F-Zero game in 10 years so I welcome any homage to that series I want to see return someday. And a track based off of Hyrule? Come on, November 13, get here already!

Again, while I payed some mind to a bit more details of the DLC, I didn't look into all of it. Much of the pack 1 DLC was a surprise to me after I downloaded it. The B Dasher returning was a welcome surprise as was the new Tanooki Kart.

They say seeing is believing. Well, when it comes to gaming, there's a difference between seeing something and experiencing it. When I finally got my hands on the first DLC pack, I could not stop grinning it up.

I decided to roll with the Egg Cup first and like many of you, the first new character I chose was Link. And to have the Captain with me in spirit, I used the Blue Falcon. I really wasn't expecting Yoshi Circuit from Mario Kart: Double Dash!! to be reborn in glorious HD. I was never too fond of the track due to the abundance of curves, but playing it once more has taught me how to handle it, to the point that I don't mind it's inclusion at all. Dragon Driftway also took me by surprise. The concept of racing inside a huge dragon is cool in and of itself, but Nintendo somehow managed to blend rock with ancient style Chinese music. Freaking awesome!

The love I have for this track cannot be put into words.

As a long time fan of F-Zero, I wish for the series to be revived as much as the next guy and while a single track node doesn't make up for it's absence, the appreciation shown in Mario Kart 8's version of Mute City is just too good not to acknowledge. The entire course is anti-gravity since F-Zero is an anti-gravity racer. Meaning, you can bump other racers around you for a boost. And the pink strips used for refilling energy are also there, and they give you coins since the track has no visible coins on it. Every time you complete a lap, you get a free boost, like the original F-Zero gave you a boost to use for completing a lap. And then you have boost pads everywhere! Yeah, there are some sections of courses in Mario Kart 8 that have boost pads like the final stretch of Mount Wario but not quite like Mute City. There is a definite emphasis on speed here and that wonderful, sexy, jazz-rock arrangement of the Mute City them is crazy awesome. You better believe I'm gonna be mentioning that baby in Favorite Tunes sooner on later.

I've heard some gamers cite the inclusion of SNES Rainbow Road as a bad choice. It's always been one of my favorite courses and I used to be so awful at it all those years ago. I don't know if much has changed from the Mario Kart 7 version of it, outside of the lovely HD look and the fact that it now rests of Donut Plains III, a retro course in Mario Kart 8 that was also in Super Mario Kart. Nice touch, Nintendo.

Hyrule is about to encounter a whole new kind of
terror. The one known as road rage.

Iceice Outpost looks like it takes place on a crossing bobsled track and I really like how all the different paths intersect. And then you've got all those shortcuts, some of which I'm still finding out about. No doubt I'll find even more shortcuts here when I see racers speeding past me when I play online. Still, I fear this course may be overshadowed by Mount Wario if it ever comes up along with it in course selections. Players love them some Mount Wario.

Mario Kart 8 has been a title I've regularly been playing since I picked it up back in early June. Between breaking time trial records, beating my own times, trying to get three star rankings and online play, the game has so much to offer. Mario Kart 8 seems to be the game that keeps on giving. It kinda reminds me of those Special Words in Super Mario 3D World. That brutal post game content really did extend the length of an already fantastic platfomer. Likewise, this DLC breathes even more live into a game that is already teeming with it. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Favorite Tunes #101: Nintendo Train Hype Edition

Say what you will about Nintendo not doing things the way the competition does. They have been killing it as of late! 2014 has been one awesome year for the company with so many good titles being released on the 3DS and Wii U. Mario Kart 8 is still being popped into my Wii U, I've clocked almost 75 hours into the 3DS version of Super Smash Bros. and I still gotta find the cash to snatch up Hyrule Warriors and Bayonetta 2. I'm pretty sure you already know where I'm going with this so, enjoy the music.

ST01 Roll Out, Wonderful 100! Battle In The Blossom City Burbs - The Wonderful 101 (Wii U)

If you haven't picked up The Wonderful 101, I recommend doing so. At $30 brand new, it's one of the cheapest games you can pick up on the system and while it is by no means perfect, I think this is a game every Wii U owner should have in their library. I honestly was not expecting this the kind of musical score I'd heard when I fired this game up. This is one heroic, triumphant piece of music, the kind you'd expect to hear in a major motion picture. Those blaring trumpets heard throughout the course are as you defend a city under siege are the icing on the cake.

Captain Falcon's Twister Race: Mute City - Nintendo Land (Wii U)

For many of us, Nintendo Land was the closet we've gotten to an F-Zero revival. A decade has passed since an F-Zero title was released. So while the franchise may be gone, it is comforting to know that Nintendo has not forgotten about it, giving it a huge acknowledgement with it's own theme park section in Nintendo Land. This game has a catchy, charming soundtrack, with lots of chiptune takes on old classics. For good measure, Mute City is still sporting heavy traces of rock to go along with the 8-bit goodness.

Full Steam Ahead (Spirit Tracks) - Super Smash Bros. for 3DS (3DS)

Nintendo has already let the word out that the Wii U version of Super Smash Bros. is going to have even more music, including a plethora of tracks from the 3DS release. This is excellent news because the 3DS version has all kinds of sweet tunes. The Spirit Train has become one of my favorite stages to duke it out on, not just for the chaotic railroad nature, but for the music, accompanying it, in particular, Full Steam Ahead. This track has a very western vibe to it and considering the arranger of this track was Michiko Naruke, composer of the Wild Arms games, I guess that's to be expected.

GBA Mario Circuit - Mario Kart 8 (Wii U)

Wallpaper by MaxiGamer

Can't have a Nintendo-centric Favorite Tunes without dropping a track from one of Mr. Video Game's own titles, now can we? Originally the staring track in the Mushroom Cup in Mario Kart: Super Circuit on the GBA, this mode 7 track was given a gorgeous HD makeover with new boost panels added along with anti-gravity racing sections. Naturally, the music was updated, which now sounds like a lovely combination of jazz and funk.

Theme of Bayonetta 2: Tomorrow is Mine - Bayonetta 2 (Wii U) 

When Sony and Microsoft passed on Bayonetta 2, Nintendo stepped in and made the game a console exclusive. And there was much crying and death threats from fans that didn't have a Wii U or just hated The Big N. Bayonetta 2 on the Wii U even includes the original game to bring you up to speed in case you missed out on the first title. That's a pretty sweet deal. Also sweet is the music with some sick battle themes some feel good vocal performances. That main theme, tho!

Eclipse of the Moon (Guitar Version) - Hyrule Warriors (Wii U)

If Mario can have a dozen spin-off titles, why can't Link get in on the action? Enter Hyrule Warriors, which is what happens when the Legend of Zelda meets Dynasty Warriors. Having never played a single game in the later series myself, tossing in some Zelda characters makes Hyrule Warriors a good jumping on point for anyone curious about Koei's hack and slash series. The music in Hyrule Warriors is very expansive, featuring numerous versions of a single theme. The default version of Eclipse of the Moon is outstanding all by itself. Throw in some rock and increase the speed and your feels won't know what to do with themselves.

Favorite Tunes Database

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Favorite Tunes #100: Mega Man Rocks, Man

Mega Man music has always been very special to me. There has rarely been a Mega Man game with awful music with notable exceptions being the Game Gear version of Mega Man, and I highly doubt most people have even played that atrocity. Previous editions of Favorite Tunes that featured Mega Man music have been from a game. Today, I'm focusing on arrangements from the Blue Bomber's numerous album releases.

SKULLMAN ~Soldier of the Underworld~ - ROCKMAN Arrange Version Special CD

This guy has always fascinated me for a number of reasons. He's got a cool design, a sweet level that is not surprisingly made of bones and he's got one of the best Robot Master stage themes in the entire Classic series history. I have not heard a great deal of Skull Man arrangements, but this is without question, my favorite one. It has some of sick guitar solos in the middle and ending of the course. This thing really should have been included in Super Smash Bros. 4.

Dr. Wily Stage1 from ROCKMAN2 - 25th Anniversary Rockman Rock Arrange Ver.

I know what you're thinking. "(Insert expletive here), another Wily 1 Mega Man 2 remix?!" Even die hard fans are sick of this tune. But Kenji Ito put a fantastic rock spin on this tune for the little robot's 25th anniversary and it has become for me, the definitive arrangement of the overplayed song. There's even a nice break in the middle with a piano solo before firing up the guitars again to take us on home.

Darkman Stage from ROCKMAN5 - 25th Anniversary Rockman Rock Arrange Ver.

The Dr. Wily Stage theme from Mega Man 5 certainly is a good track to give some remix love to. But that was already done for the 20th Anniversary Rock Arrange album, so I'm glad Dark Man Stage got a chance to shine. The original tune has always been a stand out tune and this slow rock version is hands down the best arrangement I've heard. That bit form the choir is a very nice touch.

Kaze Yo Tsutaete (Buster Core Meltdown mix) - Chiptuned Rockman

Mega Man began his life on old 8-bit hardware so it was a bit surprising, yet fitting to release an album of arrangements that are of the chiptune variety. Chiptuned Rockman was an audio love letter to Rock's musical origins. It also covered a wide variety of titles, from the well knowns to the lesser played games like Mega Man: The Wily Wars and Mega Man: Battle and Chase, the later title being the source material of this particular track. This would eventually become Roll's theme music in subsequent spin off games where she was a playable character.


Selecting your level. You know, I'm not sure how many actually stop and listen to the music that goes along with these segments of the game. Since one may not spend nearly as much time there as they would actually playing a stage, it would be easy to string together, a generic, forgettable tune. Thankfully, Mega Man composers have never gone that route. The ROCK-MEN (is that a cool band name or what) cracked out one spectacular arrangement of the classic, short looping theme.


Since there's more than one Mega Man in this series, it's high time we shined the spot light on another and in this case, it's a spotlight stealer, Zero. After years of being a secondary character, Zero was given his own series with the Mega Man Zero titles on the GBA. They play very similar to the X games, only the difficulty is cranked up to eleven. The team at Inti Creates wrapped up the Zero series with the fourth installment, giving the hero an unforgettable sendoff. All four games received remastered albums of exceptional quality. Eperanto already sounded good even on the GBA hardware but it exploded as a remastered track. Is it any wonder this one is fan favorite?

Dr. Cossack Stage 2~Dr. Wily Stage 2 Medley from ROCKMAN4 - 25th Anniversary Rockman Rock Arrange Ver.

Mega Man 4 introduced a few new supporting characters to the series, Dr. Cossack and his daughter, Kalinka, both hailing from Russia. This was the first game in the series where Dr. Wily would attempt to lay blame on someone else for his crimes. He could have gotten away with it, too, if it weren't for that meddling Proto Man. Dr. Cossack Stage 2 and Dr. Wily Stage 2 were always some of the finest tracks from Mega Man 4's music. I was more than pleased with how the arrangement turned out here.


Unlike the first Mega Man X title where there were multiple composers, X2 was handled by an individual, Yuki Iwai. X2's score isn't anywhere near as lauded as the first game, with some even taking issues with the choice of instruments that were used, but I can still appreciate the game's soundtrack. The ROCK-MEN are at it again, this time rocking out to the opening level theme of X2, quite possibly my favorite jam from that game.

Stage Select Medley from ROCKMAN1-10 - 25th Anniversary Rockman Techno Arrange Ver.

The sister album to the 25th Anniversary Rock Arrange Ver., this one is all about techno. The techno albums don't seem to quite get as much love as the rock versions but I've always favored techno just as much as rock. This stage select medley actually begins with the original Mega Man and then goes to 10, 9 and finally back to 1.

Opening Stage1 & Frostman from ROCKMAN8 - 25th Anniversary Rockman Techno Arrange Ver. 

Once again, we touch on one of the lesser appreciated Mega Man games. 8 has always been one of my top picks in spite of not being 8 bit like most of the classic series. Likewise, I greatly enjoyed much of the music, especially Frost Man's theme. The opening music, however, has never quite been my cup of tea. It isn't awful or anything, but I prefer this techno arrangement over it. The fact that it's thrown together with a Frost Man arrangement is even better. Best track on this album if you ask me.

Favorite Tunes Database

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Distressed Damsels

The age old excuse plot of video games, one that's nearly as old as time itself. It's a super simple story method to use as a driving force to get the hero from point A to Z. Girls gets kidnapped. Boy rushes off to save her. But what of the pearls the boy faces to save said girl? What of the girl in question? Those are the things I'd like to touch upon in this special feature as we talk about five damsels that have at one point or another been in distress.

Princess Peach - Numerous Mario Games

Let's start this thing off with the poster woman for video game kidnappings. Making her debut in Super Mario Bros. in 1985, Peach was the entire reason that Mario and Luigi were off on a quest. Bowser abducted her and the Mushroom Kingdom most likely could not have been run properly in her absence, but considering how many times she's been taken from her castle sine then, I'd say the citizens have found some way to manage. Peach practically invented the whole "save the princess trope" that still exists in the Super Mario series and video games today. See the image from Super Mario 3D Land up at the very top? That's this little lady doing business as usual, as Bowser's hostage.

If she's in a game that doesn't involve multiplayer brawling or tricked out go carts, you can lay a good $10 on the table that she's going to be facing abduction. At, least this is usually the case. On a few occasions she isn't the one that needs saving. In Super Mario Bros. 2, gamers were given their first chance to step into her pink heels and play as royalty. And this girl was rocking some sick floating physics. Other than Luigi, if you wanted some serious air time, this princess was the way to go. She was also playable in Super Mario 3D World, where she retained her awesome floating powers. In Super Princess Peach, Bowser made one of the smartest moves in his villainous career by kidnapping the girl's rescuers, Mario and Luigi, forcing Peach to take on the role of a savior. Perhaps she got a taste of everything she puts her man and his brother through whenever she gets snatched up.

So, you may be wondering, "If she can hold her own in a brawl and has mad float game in the few Super Mario titles she's playable, how is it possible that she keeps getting captured?!" I think that's a fair question, but at the same time, it's been heavily speculated that the Mario games are all played out as if they were on an acting stage. Super Mario Bros. 3 opens with the rising of a curtain and closes with the curtain's decent. This would explain why Mario can duke it out with Donkey Kong in the Mario vs. Donkey series and then invite him to the numerous cart racing sessions that are held. Likewise, Peach can be tossed around from being a hero to a damsel that is incapable of saving herself. You could argue that the later role makes her seem weak and that would be a hard argument to counter since she's had to be saved far more times than she's been placed in the player's hands.

I admit that the journey to save Peach has almost always been a labor of love with all the sights and wonders to behold, but over the years, there's been this growing, nagging thought in my head that could be summed up in one word. "Again?!" Everything you're going through is ultimately to save a woman that will unquestionably be whisked away by a dragon-turtle thing that has a thing for human girls. Granted most characters in the Mario series are flat with little personality to speak of, it's a little bit disheartening to have Mario's love interest more often than not simply exist so Mario can have someone to save. Needless to say, her presence is video games is far more tolerable when  she's playable. That isn't to say that I hate Peach or anything. But if I had to pick one female from the Mario universe that I liked best, Peach probably wouldn't even get an honorable mention.

Amy Rose - Sonic the Hedgehog Series

Those Sonic fans that came into the games before Sonic CD may be wondering why Amy Rose is even here. After all, she's only been in distress two times, which is a freaking compliment compared to the gal we just got finished talking about. Still, Amy and Peach do have one thing in common: they were both kidnapped in the game that introduced them.

I think it's save to say Metal Sonic probably already grabbed most gamers attention from the get-go. He was on the game's cover and he was just dripping with that evil cool look. He got even more awesome points from me when he kidnapped Amy in the first act of Collision Chaos. Up until this point in the game, all Amy has done is chase after Sonic and cling to him like a lovesick, obsessed fan. So when Metal Sonic swooped in like a boss and took her away, I couldn't help but feel a huge sigh of relief. Maybe I'm the only one who feels this way, but I've found contact with Amy Rose to be like a noose around one's neck.

I honestly think Sonic would have been better off if he never saved Amy in Sonic CD. Seriously, what did Sonic get from rescuing this damsel? A stalker girlfriend that chases him down to the ends of the earth. Is it any wonder Sonic never stays in any place for too long? When he saved Amy, he dug his own grave. I personally wouldn't not have minded one bit if Amy retained her role as a distressed damsel.

Princess Prin Prin - Ghosts 'n Goblins Series

As much as Peach gets captured, annoying as the mere thought of having to save her, knowing she'll be a victim of imprisonment again sounds, as much crap as she puts you through, it is nothing and I mean NOTHING compared to what Arthur has to deal with to save his woman, Princess Prin Prin.

The first time Princess Prin Prin is taken away from Arthur, the one who is sent off to do the lady snatching is none other than Satan, who works for Astaroth, the big bad of the original Ghosts 'n Goblins. You know you're in the stew when the devil himself is answering to someone even more sinister.

Simply put, you have to endure far too much crap to save Prin Prin. Ghosts, demons, zombies, ogres, just about every monster and supernatural evil entity you can think of has been sent out after Arthur in droves. These are some durable, evasive creatures to boot. Sure, the Hammer Brothers can be pretty aggravating and Lakitu has been a thorn in my side since the late 1980s, but they don't have anything on Astaroth's army outside of high ranking, iconic status. I've lost more lives and gotten game overs just trying to make it past these mooks than I have to the game's bosses and time limit.

If the map is to be believed, it looks like you're making your descent into hell. You start above the surface and as your adventure progresses, you get deeper underground to what looks to be a sort of spruced up version of hell. And let's be real here, do you honestly think villains like Satan and Astaroth are gonna be chilling out in caves? Marching down to hell to save your girl. What could be harder than that? Having to do it twice. Your first trip through these games is usually all an illusion and in order to truly save Prin Prin, you have to beat the two times. I would LOVE to capture the look on a first time player's face that had no knowledge of this after they went through all that trouble. It's easily one of the sickest, most twisted things you can do to a dedicated player.

Just what does Arthur see in Prin Prin? Is she a wonderful cook, because that's always a big plus. Is it the blue hair? Blue has always been my favorite color so props to her for not being another blonde in mid-evil times (I love blondes, by the way), even if that isn't her natural hair color. Perhaps he loves her so much that he's willing to go to hell twice over to win her back. While that is ever so touching, that is still far too many complications for any relationship. If Arthur knew what lied ahead of him and if he had any sliver of sanity, he would have ran off to the left side of the screen instead of the right after Prin Prin was taken. But hey, they say love makes you crazy.

Princess Elise - Sonic the Hedgehog (2006)

Released as a 15th anniversary game for the titular character, the hedgehog's HD debut has gone on to be one of the worst video games in the history of the medium, having the dubious honor of sitting side by side with filth like ET for the Atari 2600. The game is infamous for a number of reasons, chief among them being the awful story and the bugs and glitches that just scream rushed-to-market title. Then you've got the "romance" between Sonic and the human female lead of the game, Princess Elise, which, may not have been reason enough to earn the game the reputation that is has received, but it certainly was one more strike against it.

If I'm not mistaken, Princess Elise holds the records for being captured the most times in a single video game. Most women that get taken away in this medium only have it done once per game. Elise? If the number you guessed was higher than three, give yourself a cookie. Even Peach isn't that bad.

I don't have much to say on the inter species romance side of things. That's a debate I don't even want to dip my foot into so I won't even go there. The real head scratcher for me is that Elise managed to be taken prisoner so many times in one game. That right there is unspeakable levels of pathetic. That goes far beyond being incompetent and having useless guards. You think she would have conjured up some way to defender herself. Or at the very least, take off those heels and attempt to feel her would be captors. Elise is the definition of useless.

Marian Kelly - Double Dragon Series

Punched in the gut and then thrown over the shoulder of some thug trying to prove something and then hauled off. That's how one of the most popular beat 'em ups of all-time started. Brothers Billy and Jimmy Lee fight through wave after wave of brawlers to save Marian and after they take down the final boss, what happens? They start fighting over her affections. Wait, what?

Brothers. Family. These two went through so much in life and banded together to save this girl, only to turn on each other and fight to see who gets her? The eff? Worse, she just stands there watching, eager to see who wins like she's proud to be some prize. There's a word for this kind of woman. I believe the one I'm looking for rhymes with twitch. None of the other woman listed here deserve that tile more than this one. If Billy and Jimmy were thinking clearly, they would have shoulder tossed Marian in a dumpster and went out for some cold ones. Not a single tear was shed by me when she was gunned down at the start of Double Dragon II.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

5 Batman Movies to Watch for Halloween

Halloween is just a few short nights away. When one thinks of this particular holiday, two figures spring to mind, Jason and Freddy, one buffed up freak in a hockey mask, the other with a thing for striped shirts, claws and fedoras. And hey, those are two fine killers to cuddle up to on this spooky night. Me, I prefer some bats in my belfry. There have been a plethora of Batman films over the past twenty plus years, both live action and animated. Here are five that get my highest recommendation.

Batman (1989)

Let's kick this sucker off with Tim Burton's version of the dark knight. Hot off the heels of the Dark Knight Returns, and the Killing Joke comic stories that greatly help revitalize the character, this Batman flick was under heavy scrutiny before it even hit the silver screen. This was largely due to the casting of the title character role of Batman/Bruce Wayne to Michael Keaton, a man more well known for his comedic roles. Keaton proved that you can be a funny man, yet still portray a dark, mysterious character and for my money, he's still the best live action Bat. That opening scene where he sends a mugger to the hospital and makes the non-believer need a change of shorts? The Bat-backhand? That stealth hi-bye he gives Jack before he becomes the Joker? Some of the best stuff Keaton has ever done.

As great a performance as Keaton handed in, you could make the argument that he gets upstaged by Jack Nicholson's Joker. The man commits horrible acts that will make you cringe, but will still manage to make you laugh out loud all the while keeping that big, creepy grin on his face. I'm open to numerous incarnations of the Joker and Nicholson gave us one of the best in Batman's 75 year history.

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns

Based off the graphic novel of the same name, the Dark Knight Returns was written and illustrated by famed comic book writer Frank Miller. The story centers around an aged Bruce Wayne coming out of retirement to battle the corruption that Gotham City has since fallen into in his ten year absence.

One thing you'll immediately notice about Miller's Batman is that he's big. I don't just mean big in muscle mass. This Batman is one towering figure. Miller's art style helped make this grim tale truly unique and that same artistic touch has been translated quite well into animation. This Batman also on occasion uses a gun. We all know how Bats feels about firearms, but he never uses them to kill, but I can still see where this would rub some fans the wrong way. He's also far more aggressive, cutting thugs with his Baterangs as well as dishing out some truly vicious beatings.

The action is top notch and it's great to see such classic scenes from the comic really spring to live in animated form. Batman's first and second fight with the Mutant Leader is every bit as good as it was in the comic. The final confrontation between Batman and his arch nemesis the Joker makes for a fine finish for one of comic's greatest rivalries. This is the story that first painted Batman and Superman with an antagonistic friendship, which is now a big deal in comics and animation so it's no shortage of awesome to see their final showdown in animated glory.

Originally an animated feature broken up into two separate films, it was later released in a Deluxe Edition, containing both movies, which for me, is the definitive way to experience this movie. There are a few liberties taken but for the most part, this puppy sticks very close to the original comic.

Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker

Taking Batman into the future was quite a risk. Even riskier still was placing someone else inside the Batman costume. How could things be anymore shaken up? How about putting a teenager in those tights? And yet, the show creators of Batman Beyond managed to make it work. It helped that it was handled by the same folks Behind Batman: The Animated Series and that Beyond was a continuation of said series.

When Batman Beyond first aired tons of questions were raised. Among those inquiries, where what happened to the Bat Family and of course, what became of comic's greatest villain, the Joker. We found out that Barbra Gordon was the commissioner of Gotham and mentions of past Robins here and there. There was a gang calling themselves the Jokerz in honor of Gotham's greatest terror and his face appeared on an old wanted poster in Shriek's debut episode but other than that, there was not a trace of the clown's laughter in the entire 52 episode series run of Batman Beyond. That's where Return of the Joker comes in.

This movie tells all. How the Joker survived to throw Gotham into chaos decades after his demise, what drove the Bat Faimly apart and the last battle between Batman and the Joker, which as you can guess, was not pretty. Here, the Joker pushes Batman's buttons like he never has before in the DCAU. I don't want to spoil anything for anyone that hasn't seen it, but what the Joker does in this film is just sick, one of the worst things he's ever done in the animation, comics or any other medium. Return of the Joker is yet another reason why he has and always will be a complete monster.

As much screen time as the Joker gets, the new Batman, Terry McGinnis really comes into his own with this film. As he tells Bruce at one point in the film, he's a completely different Batman and man, does he ever prove it with how he tackles the Joker. We also learn why he chooses to carry on as Batman. This movie packs some excellent character development for Terry.

There are two versions of this movie. One edited and one uncut. The edited version is still pretty creepy, but the uncut version is the way to go.

Batman: Under the Red Hood

There have been numerous Robins throughout the years. The first Robin, Dick Grayson was relieved of duty because Batman fired him. The second Robin, Jason Todd, got his Robin rights tossed because, well, the Joker kidnapped him, beat him with a crow bar and then left him to die in an exploding warehouse. Yeah, Jason really did get the crappy end of the stick.

Five years after Jason's death, a mysterious vigilante known as the Red Hood appears with the training of Batman, but without the same moral code. This hoody has no qualms about killing criminals. Spoiler alter, yes, the Red Hood is Batman's former Robin Jason Todd and he's out to clean up the city and get revenge on the Joker for offing him. It doesn't take long to unravel the mystery in this one, but the way it's told, the tale of revenge, a ward going down the wrong path is all handled extremely well here. I haven't read the comic this film as adapted from, but I dug this one so much I watched it over and over again when it originally came out.

The voice work in all of the DC Animated films has always been stellar for the most part. The Joker is voiced by John DiMaggio (Futurama, Adventure Time) and he delivers quite the chilling Joker laugh. His voice is deep and a bit gruff, but when I saw the trailer for this film years ago, I had no problems with him voicing the clown prince of crime. Nightwing is voiced by Neil Patrick Harris, and he provides some great comedic lines to Batman's serious demeanor, who is played excellently by Bruce Greenwood.

Batman: Assault on Arkham

The only flick on this list to be released in 2014. Batman is present but this one really centers around the villains. Amanda Waller recruits Harley Quinn, Deadshot, Killer Frost, Captain Boomberang, King Shark and Black Spider to form the Suicide Squad. The reason? To break into Arkham Assylum and kill the Riddler.

It isn't easy to get people with differences to work together, and that becomes even more difficult when said people are all hardened criminals, a few of them even psychotic. Naturally the friction between the group gets the better of them now and again and instead of fighting against their mutual enemy, they end up turning on each other. Deadshot and Boomerang butt heads on more than one occasion and since Deadshot has a thing with Harley Quinn, this puts him in the Joker's cross hairs. Of course it isn't all conflict. There's some romance between Killer Frost and King Shark and Deadshot, more than anything just wants to be with his daughter.

Being a DC animated feature, the animation is superb with some stunning action scenes. Andrea Romano always pulls together a stellar voice cast and Assault on Arkham is no exception. It's great to have Kevin Conroy voice Batman once again and while Mark Hamill isn't the Joker this time, Troy Baker hands in a magnificent performance.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Favorite Tunes #99: Darkness, Clubs and Shovels?

Woo! Favorite Tunes has sure come a long way. This is the first series of posts that I've attachted a number to that has a 99 on it. Considering my love for video game music, I guess that should come as no surprise. I've got a little something special planned for the 100th edition of Favorite Tunes so check back next week for that. Until then, enjoy some music from Driveclub, DuckTales Remastered and Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS to name three outta six.

Be Here Now - Driveclub (PS4)

Well now, what have we here? Some music from a PlayStation 4 game? Driveclub has the honor of being the first PS4 game to get music featured in Favorite Tunes. I haven't played the game as I don't yet have a PS4 so if you're looking for opinions on how it plays from me, you're outta luck. I can, however, comment on the game's soundtrack, since it was released on iTunes last week. The game's audio was handled by Hybrid, a band that specializes in, among other things, trance and electronic music, which is what you can expect from Driveclub's music. I know this style of music isn't for everyone, but I personally love to work, write and exercise to this stuff, so you'll get no complaints from me.

Dark Lord - Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS (3DS)

Did you ever play Find Mii? You know, that game that was built in with the 3DS system where your own Mii was captured and you had to recruit other Miis to find you? Leave it to Masahiro Sakurai and his team to remind you of something that you'd long forgotten. The Smash series has always been good with that. At the end of Find Mii, you'll find yourself held captive by the Dark Lord, the game's final test, with an incredible music piece bursting from the 3DS speakers as you fight him. The theme received an excellent remix for Smash 4 3DS.

The Moon - DuckTales Remastered (Wii U, PS3, 360)

Such TLC went into the 2013 DuckTales remake. All of the surviving cast members were called in to reprise their roles, the visuals were given an incredibly sexy HD make over and the music was handled by one of my favorite composers, Jake "virt" Kaufman, who adores the original NES 8-bit DuckTales soundtrack. When I found out his name was attached to this project, I knew we were in for the good stuff.

Space Dojo 2 (Billy and the Breakers - Firebird) - Double Dragon Neon (PS3, 360)

We've got a good virt vibe going so let's keep rolling on. In 2012, the 1980s made a big splash all over again in the form of Double Dragon Neon, a digital release for the PS3 and 360. While there are plenty of nods to numerous Double Dragon games before this one, Neon is still very much it's own game with lots of tongue in check humor. That 80s feel is in full effect with the musical score, featuring arranged themes from previous titles as well as brand new music.

Theme of Tara - Metal Gear (MSX2)

The original platform that Metal Gear was developed for was known for not being able handle scrolling. Taking into account the MSX2's limitations, Metal Gear was design with this in mind, Rather than all out action game like Contra, Metal Gear emphasized stealth. When that word comes to mind, one obviously thinks of sneaking about, a feeling echoed all throughout Theme of Tara, one of the franchises most popular themes.

High Above the Land (The Flying Machine) - Shovel Knight (Wii U, 3DS)

I sure am giving virt a of love, huh? Let's keep the chiptune groove going. As the title suggests, this background theme is accompanied to a huge flying airship with lots of bottomless pits, and no shortage of wind gusts. Cripes, I reminded of Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels. The Flying Machine is without question one of the most challenging levels in the game before you reach the final stages. After you suffer a few deaths and lose some gold, stop and listen to this theme. Some of that rage will cool off a bit and you'll be ready to give it another go.

Favorite Tunes Database

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Banjo-Kazooie: Everything and the Kitchen Sink!

Anyone that had an N64 should remember Banjo-Kazooie. The bright, colorful title from Rare was one of the system's outstanding games, one of the few that could actually rub elbows with titles like Super Mario 64, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and F-Zero X. Not only did it serve up some up terrific platforming, the soundtrack was among the console's best offerings. Some would argue that the music to Banjo-Kazooie is Grant Kirkhope's finest work.

There have been a few soundtrack releases to the game here and there over the years. The first was given through the now defunct Nintendo Power (RIP) and  in 2013, Grant himself released a digital version of the soundtrack on his Bandcamp page at a name your price cost. The only problem with these soundtracks, as good as they were was evident to anyone that played a hefty amount of Banjo-Kazooie: they didn't even come close to scratch the surface with all of the game's music. Seventeen tracks spanning over an hour's worth of music is all well and good, but what about those oh-so lovely variations? That's where Banjo-Kazooie: Everything and the Kitchen Sink! comes in.

I don't think there has ever been a more appropriate name for a soundtrack. This album contains every single track from Banjo-Kazooie. You want each variation of Treasure Trove Cove? You got got it. Boggy's Race Win/Lose Fanfares? Present and accounted for. Every track, every jingle, every victory fanfare is all collected for your listening pleasure. That's adds up to 164 tracks and nearly 400 minutes worth of bird and bear music. Everything and the Kitchen Sink! is definitely one of the best soundtrack releases. Like the previous Banjo-Kazooie digital music offering, Everything and the Kitchen Sink! has a name your price tag download. So you can cop this baby for free if you like.

Releasing on October 3, the same day as Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS, it wouldn't surprise me if lots of game music lovers were unaware of this one. Grant Kirkhope also wrote the music for Banjo-Tooie and Donkey Kong 64, both of which also received digital soundtrack releases last year. Here's hoping those games soundtracks get the same excellent treatment Banjo-Kazooie has.

Banjo-Kazooie: Everything and the Kitchen Sink!