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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Memories #4: Lemmings

The first time I ever heard of a lemming was in the form of a cartoon, DuckTales to be precise. I believe the episode in particular was called "Scrooge's Pet." As great as that episode of DuckTales was, when I think of Lemming, a brown rodent with a locket around it's neck isn't what I think of. When lemmings come to mind, I picture little critters wearing blue, topped with green hair and sporting adorably high pitched voices.

Lemmings was originally developed for the Amiga, the successor to the Commodore 64. Naturally, since I didn't own an Amiga, I wasn't able to play Lemmings on the system that it originated. Thankfully, much like Street Fighter II, Lemmings was ported to nearly every home console that existed, including the SNES, which was the version I played.

In the summer of 1992, my family and I took one of our routine trips to Blockbuster Video. Looking through the selection of SNES games to rent, we saw Lemmings staring right back at us. The funny cartoonish designs appealed to me so we took it home. Like most games that were rented back in the day, some fool(s) that rented it before we did lost the instruction booklet so we didn't know what was what. See we were used to platformers and fighting games. Up until this point, we hadn't touched a strategy title so to us, trying to play Lemmings was like being in a foreign country and not understanding a word the residents are saying. For a time we couldn't even get past the first stage and I was very distraught. I felt like I picked a sucky rental because we had no idea what we were doing. $4.26 down the drain. But after fiddling around, we accessed the Digger, who promptly dug a hole to the exit, taking all of the other Lemmings with him. With the first stage complete, everything made sense. The goal of this game wasn't to save the princess or pound the crap out of some evil dictator. In each stage, the overall goal was the same: get the lemmings to the exit. The method of reaching the goal, however, was different in each stage. Simply knowing how to play a new type of game filled us with excitement and I was no longer disappointed in myself for choosing Lemmings as our rental game for the weekend.

You haven't lived until you've heard "Oh no!" and "Poppoppoppop!"
The next few stages were passed with ease. We used floaters to slow the lemmings descent to prevent them from dying. Builders to make steps to reach higher planes and Blockers to keep the a whole mess of lemmings from committing suicide. One thing we noticed about using the Blockers is that once a lemming was set to a Blocker, he stayed that way. Since each stage was timed, we wondered what we'd do to get the Blocker outta there. And that's when we found one of our favorite commands: the Nuke. While all other skills displayed icons of the lemmings acting out the assigned job, the Nuke was simply shown as an unmistakable dropped bomb. So with a click of the Nuke button, a count down was placed over the head of the Blocker. When it reached zero, the little rodent banged his head with both hands, shouted "Oh no!" and went out with a literally pop, into tiny pieces. It's still one of the funniest things I've ever seen in a video game. As fun as it was to succeed and keep the lemmings alive, it was just as much fun, maybe more so, to kill them.

The first dozen levels weren't really that hard but around level 20 or so, the game got hard. I mean really hard. It got to a point where I thought there was no way some of these stages could be passed. That maybe Sunsoft sent the game out incomplete. Did the the designers make a mistake? Turns out they didn't. These were just some truly brain teasing stages.

Another thing that made Lemmings so much fun was the music. A good chunk of the songs heard in Lemmings were renditions of classical music. The very first level I played featured "The Cancan". Another level featured "Long Bridge is Falling Down" and another played "She'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain." The original music was also quite nice. I especially loved Stage Theme 3, Stage Theme 4, and Stage Theme 13. I feel bad pointing out select songs, because the entire soundtrack to Lemmings is pure awesome.

When I bought the game in my mid teens I still wasn't able to pass the later stages and this was just on the easiest difficulty. If I couldn't pass a harder stage, I'd just dump all the lemmings out at once, hit the Nuke button, hear the chorus of "Oh No!" and watch them blow up, reshaping the very land that they stood on. A good friend and I stayed up for hours one night playing this game and when it got too challenging, we'd just kill the lemmings again and again. Man, those were some good times. Even though I couldn't pass the later levels, Lemmings is still a game I would return to without hesitation.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Review: Kirby's Return to Dream Land

System: Wii
Genre: Platformer
Developer: Hal Laboratory, Inc.
Publisher: Nintendo
Players: 1-4
Release: Oct 24, 2011 USA / Nov 25, 2011 EUR / Oct 27 2011 JPN
Rated: E 10+ for Everyone 10 and Up
Controllers Supported: Wii Remote

It really has been an awesome time to be a Kirby fan. 2010 saw the release of the excellent Kirby's Epic Yarn and this year, the pink cream puff stars in two fantastic games, Kirby Mass Attack on the DS, another non-traditional Kirby game and Kirby's Return to Dream Land on the Wii. Unlike Epic Yarn and Mass Attack, Return to Dream Land returms Kirby to his classic gameplay style of floating, inhaling foes and copying abilities.

On the planet Pop Star, Kirby, King Dedede, Waddle Dee and Meta Knight are enjoying a carefree day when a massive starship, the Starcutter, crash-lands. Kirby and the gang take a look inside the ship. The lone crew member, Magolor is unharmed but five vital pieces of the ship have been scattered across Pop Star along with 120 energy spheres. Without these five parts, the Starcutter is earthbound and Magolor is stranded. Rather than leave Magolor in a pinch, Kirby and company set off to find the missing ship componets because otherwise, they'd have stuck to chasing after cake and reading books and that would have made for a pretty dull game.
In less than 2 seconds, these mooks will be very, very dead.
The return to more familiar territory in Kirby's Return to Dream Land is surprisingly refreshing when one has been away from it for so long. Kirby floats, slides and inhales enemies to copy their powers just as he's done in games like Kirby's Adventure and Kirby Super Star. However, you don't have to run across Pop Star alone if you don't feel like. At any time up to three friends selecting from the likes of King Dedede, Meta Knight and a bandanna-wearing, spear touting Waddle Dee can jump to Kirby's aid. If those chaps aren't your cup of tea, you can also play as multi-colored Kirbys. While Kirby may be the most all around character since he can use the Copy skill, Meta Knight, Waddle Dee and King Dedede have weapons on them at all times. King Dedede swings that huge mallet like nobody's business. Anyone that's played a Kirby game knows how good Meta Knight is with a sword. Waddle Dee is the best Waddle Dee ever, demonstrating some ever-useful moves with his spear. It's a game that works well playing alone or with pals.
You can't see it in this screen, but an entire group
of players can be hop on top of each other's head and
travel via piggyback.
The game's multiplayer set-up is similar to that of New Super Mario Bros. Wii, but with some differences. Less-skilled players can ride atop the head of a more adept player, but each player does not have his or her own set of lives. It actually deducts from Kirby's life counter whenever someone else joins in, something to keep in mind if not-so-adequate players are on your team because you could find yourself burning through lives. While other players can still join even if you're down to your last life, whenever pink Kirby bites it, everyone suffers. Just like Kirby Super Star's multiplayer, the main Kirby must be kept alive at all times. Another key difference is that the camera stays locked on to the central pink Kirby. So if someone is straggling behind while pink Kirby is advancing, they'll automatically shoot to his side as a star, so long as they aren't in the middle of being killed by some cute baddie or squished by a wall.
Anyone carrying an item loses the ability to float, something to
keep in mind when making jumps over bottomless pits.
Kirby's ability to Copy the powers from inhaled enemies has been a series staple since 1993's Kirby's Adventure and it's back in full force with Return to Dream Land. There are up to twenty different powers that Kirby can Copy from old favorites like the Sword, Fire, Ice, Beam, the Cutter along with new ones like the Whip, Water and Spear. Play around with each power and you'll discover that they have multiple attacks, making them an absolute riot to use. The weapon usage doesn't end there, though. From time to time, you'll gain access to Super Abilities, amped up Copy abilities. The Ultra Sword gives Kirby a massive blade strong enough to clear out any enemies in the path of it's strike along with bits of the environment. The Flare Beam is a large ball of energy that can be moved around the screen with the control pad. There aren't as many Super Abilities as there are regular powers and their usage is temporary, but whenever you come across them, mass destruction is sure to follow.

Collecting enough Energy Spheres and you can unlock two mini-games, Ninja Dojo, a game that has you tossing throwing stars at targets, and Scope Shot, a game that has you point the Wii Remote at the screen and fire away. However, the real reason you should hunt down all the Energy Spheres (aside from 100% completion) is to unlock all seven Copy Room Challenges. These rooms test your profiency with a select Copy Ability and require absolute mastery of the selected power. Even highly skilled players will have to make numerous attempts to get the best medal. It makes for some splendid bonus material in what is an already fine game.
Black & white dimensions mean two things: an advancing wall of doom
and guarded Energy Spheres. Failure means doing the whole
section all over again.
One could argue that Kirby and friends have never looked cuter in Return to Dream Land. It may not have the same standout visuals of Kirby's Epic Yarn, but this is still an amazing-looking Wii game. Being a Kirby game, you can expect bright, colorful, (mostly) cheery graphics, but the Wii makes it one of the most eye-catching Kirby games in the series. The bulk of the music in Return to Dream Land is new material with very few remixes and arranged tunes of classic Kirby melodies. Don't fret, though, because the new songs are fine additions to nearly twenty years worth of Kirby music. With Kirby returning to his old stomping grounds, it's only natural that veteran Kirby composers Hirokazu Ando and Jun Ishikawa were brought on board to write the game's score. There's plenty of upbeat music with a few more sinister tracks to go along with some epic boss battles.
Return to Dream Land's four player mode avoids the
chaos found in New Super Mario Bros. Wii multiplayer.
It may have been a long time coming (this game was originally in development for more than 10 years) but Kirby's Return to Dream Land was worth waiting for. The main quest is a blast alone or with friends and the Copy Room Challenges offer very welcome replay value. And if that wasn't enough, the EX mode, a tougher version of the main adventure can be unlocked upon finishing the game once. Don't pass on this one just because The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is getting all the hype. Kirby's Return to Dream Land is hands down one of the best Kirby games that's ever been crafted and one of the best titles you can own for the Wii. Welcome back, traditional, classic Kirby. You were greatly missed.

Saturday, November 26, 2011


Still trucking through The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword and listening to that magnificent 25th Anniversary Symphony CD that came with it? Or maybe you're replaying some older Zelda games. Perhaps you're discovering some of Link's adventures for the first time. However you choose to celebrate the milestone anniversary of everyone's favorite gaming hero in green, take some time out to listen to 25YEARLEGEND: A Legend of Zelda Indie Game Composer Tribute Album (Yeah, that's a mouthful).

This digital soundtrack features arranged music from the Wind Waker, Adventure of Link, Link's Awakening, Ocarina of Time, the recently released Skyward Sword, and six other Zelda games. From the trailer I've seen, it looks like this album was done from the heart of Zelda fans and music lovers and after giving it a listen, I can tell you that it sounds awesome. Being an OverClocked Remix album, the music is of course, free. No matter which Zelda game has your favorite music (really, what Zelda game actually has bad tunes?) this soundtrack has something for everyone.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Downloads #8

Today, I picked up my first DSiWare game on the eShop and I didn't pay a dime for it! Yes, it's the Legend of Zelda Four Swords Anniversary Edition.

I believe this is the third version of this particular Zelda game. It was originally a multiplayer bonus game on the Game Boy Advance version of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, going by the name Four Swords. It was later released as an updated stand alone title for the GameCube called The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures. I've never played either of the previous two versions of Four Swords. Playing the GameCube version required too much (four GBAs and four link cables) and I never had any pals to owned the GBA version of a Link to the Past.

Four Swords Anniversary Edition, like the previous two, was made with multiplayer in mind, but there's also a  single player mode for those that don't have any pals handy. I'm just glade I'm finally able to play this game without the hassle of much-needed extra equipment. I've heard a lots of good things about this one and it's a nice freebie for Nintnendo to give away for the series 25th anniversary. Well, free until Feb 20, 2012, that is.

**"Virtual Console Purchases" has been changed to "Downloads" since I'll be covering more than just Nintendo's Virtual Console service. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Latest Game Purchases #16

While everyone else has been basking in the greatness of the latest Wii Zelda, I've had to wait for a few days. I pre-ordered my copy of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword back in early September. I would have picked mine up on Sunday at GameStop with the midnight launch, but I didn't get paid until Tuesday. Truth be told, I didn't mind waiting much. The 7.5 score that GameSpot gave it didn't deter me in the slightest and who knows, I may even agree with some of those points made in that review, but I'm really looking forward to playing through it. I just have a lot of other stuff I need to play or finish. That backlog isn't getting any smaller and I don't think it ever will. Still, I was stoked to pick up Skyward Sword and it's nice to have another high profile Wii game. Also looking forward to listening to that Legend of Zelda 25th Anniversary Symphony CD that comes with all initial copies of the game. Soundtrack CD releases of any kind are rare in the USA, so it's a very nice bonus.

Skyward Sword isn't the only Zelda goodness I took home today. After putting it off for months, I finally bought Twilight Princess. I wanted to get the GameCube version and passed on it several times due to the price, which was a mistake as that version is getting more difficult to track down. So I settled on the Wii version. If I come across the GameCube version, I'll still pick it up. It's not often I buy two Zelda titles in one day. I think the last time I did that was with the Game Boy Color Zelda Oracle of Seasons/Ages titles. Which I still haven't opened. I kid you not.

Monday, November 21, 2011

PETA Slams Tanooki Mario. They Were Just Joking. No, Really.

I'm late hearing about this but I just had to make a post when I head.

You've no doubt heard of PETA. Short for People for Ethical Treatment of Animals. Well in another pathetic "notice me" attempt they went after the recently released Super Mario 3D Land on the 3DS. The game sees the return of the much loved Tanooki Suit, introduced in Super Mario Bros. 3. A Tanooki Suit allows Mario to fly, turn into a statue and on top of those nifty features, he looks cute as a button. But PETA saw things differently. Straight from the horse's mouth:

When on a mission to rescue the princess, Mario has been known to use any means necessary to defeat his enemy — even wearing the skin of a raccoon dog to give him special powers.
Tanooki may be just a "suit" in Mario games, but in real life, tanuki are raccoon dogs who are skinned alive for their fur. By wearing Tanooki, Mario is sending the message that it's OK to wear fur.

Say what? Mario doesn't even kill to get his Tanooki Suits! In Super Mario 3D Land, he gets them from touching a leaf. No killing or skinning involved. We haven't heard jack from them about all the Koopa Troopas, Bloopers, Cheep-Cheeps and tons of another animal life Mario has been disposing of for almost 30 years now. And besides that, it's a game, an innocent game for people of all ages.

Along with the above, stupid claim was a flash game titled Mario Kills Tanooki. It pretty much strips away all the good stuff about the Super Mario series and turns it into mindless, blood-filled carnage. The reaction to said game turned out about as well as you would expect. When the enourmous back lash hit, here's what PETA had to say.

Mario fans: Relax! PETA's game was meant to be tongue-in-cheek, a fun way to call attention to a serious issue, that raccoon dogs are skinned alive for their fur. We wish real-life tanukis could fly or swat enemies away with their tails and escape from those who profit from their skins. You can help them by never buying real fur.

Seriously, PETA, just stop talking.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Review: Kirby's Epic Yarn

System: Wii
Genre: Platformer
Developer: Good Feel/Hal Laboratory, Inc.
Publisher: Nintendo
Players: 1-2
Release: USA Oct 17, 2010 / EUR Feb 25, 2011 / JPN Oct 14, 2010 / AUS Feb 24, 2011
Controllers Supported: Wii Remote
Rated: E for Everyone

Arguably the cutest video game character ever created, Kirby has appeared in numerous titles since his Game Boy debut in 1992. He's been in puzzle games, pinball games, and racing games. While Kirby has been making the platform rounds on the DS over the years, it's been a little over a decade since the little pink blob has shown his face on a Nintendo console in a platformer. Kirby's Epic Yarn may deviate from the traditional Kirby platform style that fans are used to, but you'll more than likely be having so much fun that you won't care.

Kirby's out hunting for food when his path crosses Yin-Yarn, an evil sorcerer. Yin-Yarn sends Kirby to his home world, Patch Land, a world made up entirely of yarn. After getting a feel for the ground, Kirby quickly realizes that he's no longer in Dream Land. Not only is his body now composed of yarn like the rest of Patch Land's citizens, he can no longer fly or inhale enemies. After meeting up with Prince Fluff, Kirby finds out that Patch Land has been split into six parts due to Yin-Yarn's meddling. To sew the land back together, Kirby and Prince Fluff will have to adventure across six different areas to retrieve the magic yarn to make Patch Land whole once more.

Patches, strings, and buttons compose the game's
entire world and it looks fantastic.
Kirby may not be able to fly, inhale foes, or copy powers, but he's still far from helpless. His primary means of defense is the Yarn Whip. For being a piece of string with a star attached at the end, the Yarn Whip has many different uses. It can literally take enemies apart, turn them into yarn balls to used as ammo, remove zippers, and swing on buttons to get across gaps. No disrespect to the Belmont clan and their friends, but even their whips weren't this much fun to play with. Kirby can also transform himself into a weight to smash adversaries or a parachute to slow his descent to make reaching far off platformers easier.

The ablities mentioned above are just things that Kirby has access to all the time. By touching a Metamortex, Kirby can turn into a variety of different vehicles. The ultra powerful Tankbot lets Kirby hover, shoot missiles and punch. As a Saucer Kirby can fly in any direction and use a tractor beam to pull in enemies, which can be used to power up a devesating attack that nukes every enemy on screen in addition to clearing away road blocks. He may not obtain powers in the manner that fans are accustomed to, but there's still plenty of skills at Kirby's disposal.

If there's a cuter fire truck, I haven't seen it.
Strange as it may sound, Kirby has no lives in this game because he can't die. If he falls into a pit, he's carried right back up to the nearest platform. The biggest penalty that can be dealt to you if you get hit by an enemy or fall off screen is that you'll lose some beads. Beads are scattered all throughout each level and act as a score counter. The more beads you collect, the higher your score.  Collect enough beads and you'll earn a gold medal. It's a good incentive to try to hang onto as many beads as you can and it encourages you to score golds on all the levels as it can get pretty addicting. Most beads are in plain sight, but there will be plenty of times where you'll have to go out of your way to grab a set. Each level also houses three items, two peices of furniture and a disc, containing a piece of music. So if you want to fully complete a level, you'll have to find everything.

The biggest draw to Kirby's Epic Yarn are it's unique visuals. Nearly the whole game's graphics are made of up yarn, patches, zippers, buttons and stitches and it's all a visual splendor. However, the graphics aren't just there to wow you, impressive as they are. Kirby's yarn graphics are highly interactive. You'll use the Yarn Whip to latch onto buttons to pull platforms closer to you, unzip parts of the background to unlock hidden paths and some of your platforming is even done in the foreground. There's been lots of talk behind this game's visual design, but there's plenty of substance to match the stylish graphics in Kirby's Epic Yarn.

No kill like overkill.
Like New Super Mario Bros. Wii, Kirby's Epic Yarn supports drop in and out cooperative play. The second player controls Prince Fluff who can do everything Kirby can do. Having a second player along can make getting out-of-reach beads easier. Just pick them up with the Yarn Whip and toss them in the desired direction. Don't have a yarn ball to throw at an enemy and don't feel like making them come undone with the Yarn Whip? Just pick up your pal and toss them at the flunkie. This same tactic can be used for breaking blocks. If one player is more adept than the other, he or she can carry their partner through some of the tricker sections. Even the special abilities granted by the Metamortex take two players into account with co-op controls. When opperating the Tankbot, one person tilts the Wii Remote and jumps while the other is in control of firing the missiles. Genius.

A Kirby game wouldn't feel right without catchy, quirky tunes that are pleasing to the ears and Kirby's Epic Yarn is another winner in that regard. Most games these days are hitting players with rock and orchestra scores. Epic Yarn's soundtrack stands out just as much as it's clothes-like appearance. You'll hear a lot of instruments in the game's score, but none more prominant than the piano. Not every track in the game has the piano at the center of the audio, but the tracks that do really take center stage. There's a wonderful rendition of the classic Kirby theme, Green Greens, the Halberd and an asortment of other Kirby favorites. As great as the new takes on the classic Kirby songs are, there are plenty of new tunes that are every bit as good as the tracks fans are familiar with. Rainbow Falls is easily a song you could whistle while you work. Cool Cave houses one of the most relaxing video game songs you could hear, which is a stark contrast to the level's challenging platform segments. You'll be hunting out those songs in each level just so you can listen to the music when you're not playing.

One of the many ways the yarn graphics affect the gameplay.
Kirby's Epic Yarn may not be a traditional Kirby game, but what it does, it does extremely well, so well that it really doesn't matter that the little puff ball can't suck up enemies or fly. It plays well if you're going solo or if you want to have a friend join in. It probably won't take you long to finish, but it will be some of the best hours you've sent in front of the TV with a Wii Remote held sideways in your hands and you'll more than likely want go for 100%. The only reason you shouldn't buy Kirby's Epic Yarn is if you're vehemently against having a good time. And if that's the case, well, why are you even playing games to begin with?

Humble Beginnings
If playing Kirby's Epic Yarn and not being able to fly seems odd then playing Kirby's Dream Land (Game Boy), the game that introduced the world to Kirby may be even more jarring. In Kirby's first outing, his staple copying ability wasn't even born yet. All Kirby could do to defend himself was inhale foes and shoot them back at oncoming opposition as stars.
Consisting of only five levels, this brief, but fun adventure is now available on the 3DS Virtual Console for chump change. It also gave as the undeniably catchy Kirby theme song, Green Greens, which still sounds excellent even on the archaic Game Boy hardware.

Yarn Tales

Like most games, the American TV ad for Kirby's Adventure, Kirby's second game was much different than that of it's Japanese counter part. That's not to say that the American commercial for Kirby's Adventure is bad. Far from it. But one look at the Japanese version and one may get to thinking that the idea behind Kirby's Epic Yarn wasn't all that original after all. See for yourself. 

Monday, November 14, 2011

Latest Game Purchases #15

The Wii gets even more love, though I could probably hold off on some of the Wii purchases. I've already got Super Paper Mario to play along with Bit.Trip Complete. And then there's  other Wii games I haven't even started yet. But I digress. I've had a good Kirby vibe going since completing Kirby's Epic Yarn. I wanted to pick up Kirby Mass Attack on the DS as well, but I didn't have the cash for two Kirby titles, so I went with Kirby's Return to Dream Land.

My two nieces have been looking forward to this game even more than I have. I told them about it while they were playing through Kirby's Epic Yarn. I showed them some screenshots and explained to them that it would be a four player game similar to New Super Mario Bros. Wii. they were also excited to learn that they can play as Waddle Dee, King Dedede and Meta Knight. So yeah, they were pretty stoked.

After playing through Return to Dream Land, I can honestly say that it's one of my favorite Kirby games. The levels are a joy to run through, the abilities from inhaled foes are awesome to mess around with, and the super abilities are just icing on the cake. As a longtime Kirby fan, I enjoyed all the callbacks to numerous games in he series like the goal game at the end of each level from Kirby's Adventure. The game is great whether playing solo or with partners. I dare say it's one of my favorite Wii titles, and one of the best games of 2011.

I loved Sonic Colors on the Wii and I've been wanting to try out the DS version for a while now. From what I've heard, it's more or less the third game in the Sonic Rush series and I was a huge fan of the original sonic Rush (still need to pick up Sonic Rush Adventure). Being on the DS, Sonic Rush is pretty much all 2D, save for some boss fights. It's been a while since I've played a Sonic game on a handheld so I'm having a bit of a time readjusting to the Sonic style of play on a portable system. So far, I don't think it's bad, but I'm still digging the console version of Sonic Colors a lot more.

I happened to pick up my first Zelda plush toy when I bought Kirby's Return to Dream Land. Phantom Hourglass Toon Link is as cute as a button, easily one of the most adorable plush toys I've ever seen. He's also one of the cheapest as I picked him up for $7.99 at GameStop.

Toon Link is actually my favorite version of Link. I love the art style of Wind Waker and Link's whole character in that game. He was different from many Links that came before him and not just because he looked liked he belonged in a cartoon. Maybe it was because his sister was kidnapped that he had a personal stake in things, but this Link was rash, often not thinking things all the way through. In other words, he may have been wearing clothes similar to other Links, but he still had a lot to learn. This Link was more along the lines of "Heroes are made, not born." He wasn't out to save the world because it was his destiny. His sister was in trouble and even after she was safe, he could have easily said "Screw this, I'm done," and turned his back on Zelda, but he kept on going because it was the right thing to do. Despite his childish appearance, Toon Link will always be a hero in my eyes.