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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Virtual Console Review: Super Mario Bros. 2

System: NES
Genre: Platformer 
Developer: Nintendo EAD
Publisher: Nintendo
Virtual Console Release: USA Jul 2, 2007 / EUR May 27, 2007 / AUS May 27, 2007 / JPN Aug 10, 2007
Original Release: USA Oct 9, 1988 / EUR Apr 28, 1989 / AUS May 1989 / JPN Jul 14, 1992
Players: 1
Cost: 500 points
Controllers Supported: All
Rated: E for Everyone

It's almost impossible to discuss this game without talking about the events that transpired to bring about it's release. These days, it's a well known fact that the game we refer to as Super Mario bros. 2 wasn't originally intended to be a Mario game, but there's always a handful of people that may not know that so let's rewind for a bit.

The year is 1986 and many gamers outside of Japan were experiencing Super Mario Bros. for the very first time. In Japan, however, Super Mario Bros. 2 had already been released. It looked and sounded a lot like the original game, so much so that you almost wouldn't be able to tell the two games apart, but the Japanese version of Super Mario Bros. 2 differed from it's predecessor in one key area: challenge. The difficulty of the Japanese version of Super Mario Bros. 2 was cranked up to such absurd levels that the idea to release it in America and Europe was 86'd. Nintendo of American wanted a sequel for American and European markets but there wasn't time to make a whole new game from scratch. A decision was made to modify an existing Japanese Famicom Disk System game called Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic, also developed by Mario creator Shigeru Miyamato. The game's original four protagonists were switched out in favor of Mario, Luigi, Toad and Peach and this game became the Super Mario Bros. 2 that gamers would know outside of the Land of the Rising Sun. The Japanese version of Super Mario Bros. 2 would later make it's way to American and European shores under the subtitle, The Lost Levels. For those that wondered why Super Mario Bros. 2 seemed so different from the rest of the series, well there ya go. Although this is one case where straying from the norm isn't a bad thing.

Select a player? But if I do that, the
catchy music won't play anymore!

Super Mario Bros. 2 marks the first time Mario and friends aren't stomping Goombas in the Mushroom Kingdom. Instead, the game's adventure takes place in the world of Subcon and there's no stomping in this game at all. Jump on an enemies head and he'll be just fine. But you can pick up an enemy and hurl him into his pals, killing two birds with one stone. There's also a nice assortment of vegetables you can pluck from the ground and toss at your foes. It's just as fun and classic as stomping a Koopa Troopa and kicking it's shell at a group of oncoming flunkies in more traditional 2D Mario platformers.

There aren't any underwater stages here, but between grassy plains, frosty climates, cloud tops and caverns, Super Mario Bros. 2 offers a lot of different environments for you to travel through. Much like the first Super Mario Bros., the game begins on an easy note, but about mid way through, the challenge steps up. There are  will be many instances where you'll have to use precise jumps to make it across pits and avoid obstacles. In some situations, you'll even have to stand on top of an enemy's head and use him to cross a hazard. Subcon may be different from the Mushroom Kingdom, but it's no less dangerous.

In Subcon, vegetables kill bad guys. That's
the best excuse I've heard to avoid eating veggies.

One of Super Mario Bros. 2's best features is it's inclusion of multiple characters to play as. Not only can you play as Mario and Luigi, but Toad and Peach are playable characters for the first time in the entire history of Mario games. At the start of each world (or after you've used up all your lives) you can select whomever you want. All four characters play differently from each other. Where as the only difference between Mario and Luigi were their clothes in Super Mario Bros., the changes between the two in this game are more than cosmetic. Mario is the most balanced of the bunch, performing decent in every aspect. Luigi has the best jump out of everyone but said jump is a bit tricky to control. Toad is the fastest runner and picks up enemies and items incredibly fast but has a very weak jump. Last but far from least is Peach, who is actually the weakest of the four characters, but has the ability to float during jumps for several seconds. Depending on what character you choose to tackle a world can make the difference between saving lives and losing them.

Mario and friends run and jump with the greatest of ease thanks to some improved controls. Super Mario Bros.' controls were good but hey felt stiff. Here, you exhibit much greater control over your characters jumps and bringing them to a complete stop is also a lot simpler. But at the cost of the added freedom in movement, the controls feel pretty loose. As Takashi Tezuka put it "Controls have a very free, silly feeling to them". You have to do a lot of vine and chain climbing in this game and it's really easy to fall off and have to make your way back up. It's not a huge deal, but it can get a little irksome. While jumping may feel easier in this game when compared to it's predecessor, you've still got to be careful on some of those landings, especially on smaller platforms.

Pick up a key and Phantos will be all over you
like white on rice on a paper plate in a snow storm.

There's little in the way of new power-ups in Super Mario Bros. 2, but what's here gets the job done. Collecting five cherries will produce a floating Starman, letting you merc anything in your path. Super Mushrooms are hidden away in Subspace which is accessible via Magic Potion. Super Mushrooms have the same affect they did in Super Mario Bros., but they also add an extra bar to your vitality. Yeah, you can actually build up a health meter in this game, something you'll be thankful for in the later worlds. Off five enemies and a floating Heart will appear. Hearts can restore health or turn you Super again if you've been shrunk. Since enemies and cherries are all over the place, farming for a Heart and Starman is child's play. And then you've got the POW Block. Returning from Mario Bros., the POW Block will obliterate all enemies on the screen with a loud thunder upon impact. You better believe those suckers are super effective.

Birdo. He, she, it, whatever. You'll fight
this thing a lot.

The game has a limited number of tracks, but this is still some very catchy, endearing music. What would you expect with Koji Kondo at the helm? Super Mario Bros. 2's Ground theme has a very happy, carefree vibe to it. The Underground theme is far less upbeat and makes great use of bongo drums. Player Select may be even more catchy than the Ground Theme. There's a bit towards the end of the track where you think Koji Kondo just went nuts on the piano. It's awesome. If Player Select doesn't make you grin like The Joker, you're dead inside. Even today, the music to Super Mario Bros. 2 is audio bliss, ranking up there with the original's masterful music. Subcon is also quite the lively, colorful place. The character and enemy sprites are loaded with more detail than those of the Mushroom Kingdom.

They see me floatin', they hatin'...

Upon it's release Super Mario Bros. 2 was met with a warm reception, being one of the top selling Mario platformers. In recent years, some of the gaming press has criticized the game for being too much of a departure from the series roots. Screw Attack even went so far as to call it the 9th worst Mario game of all-time, which is a pretty wild and ridiculous claim. These differences are what make Super Mario Bros. 2 so memorable and like a lot of other Mario titles, it has aged very gracefully. Many elements from this game were incorporated into future Super Mario games. Pokeys, Shy Guys, and Birdo have been making regular appearances in Mario titles for years. Peach's ability to float was one of her defining attributes in the Super Smash Bros. series. This game also marked the first time (in-game, that is) that Luigi wasn't a pallet swap of Mario, sporting a taller, lankier look. The different characters give this one some nice replay value if you want to try to finish the whole game without switching. Of course if you're looking for a much shorter trek you can find Warp Zones to skip worlds. Even in Japan under it's Super Mario USA moniker, the game is recognized as part of the series. In the case of Super Mario Bros. 2, change is most definitely good.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Videos I Like #1: Bluffer's Guide to Loading

Welcome to the start of a new ongoing series here on Gaming Rocks On. Videos I Like will feature videos from YouTube that, well, I like. The featured video may be something you've seen before or maybe something brand new to you. If it's the later, perhaps you may learn a few things or find a new channel to subscribe to you YouTube. Who knows.
Ah, loading. 2012 and we still have to put up with it. I did a post about loading a while ago but GameSpot took a different approach on the matter. The end result is a look at the wonderful methods that developers come up with to keep us entertained while the game loads. It's pretty insightful and funny. There's some a bit of strong language thrown in so make sure the kids aren't around when watching this one.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Thank You

It's been nearly four years since I created Gaming Rocks On, a side blog for my gaming related posts here on Blogger. Months prior, I was doing a lot of work on Reggie Blogged, which was mostly a comics-based blog and years before that, I posted regular blogs over on GameSpot's website. For a time, I was way from blogging at GameSpot because in spite of all the members I knew over there, my blog never saw much in the way of comments. I foolishly thought that I was wasting my time so I started blogging here on Blogger. I don't get a great deal of comments over here, but as my father told me, it's not about comments.

When I made changes to my blog so I could see the hits it was generating, it was a genuine surprise. I had no idea the blog was getting the views that it was. Sure, it isn't anywhere near the likes of Giant Bomb or GameSpot, but for some dude who just likes to blog about video games, I'm pretty impressed with the hits. Over a very short period of time, I've seen Gaming Rocks On go from over 77,000 views to well over 80,000. Just because people aren't commenting, that doesn't mean the blog has no readership and if the blog views are anything to go by, I do indeed have a nice, sizable readership and that makes me very happy.

This blog has come a very long way since I started it. In the beginning, I didn't really have a set plan for this blog. It was just a place for me to talk about games. It still is, but over time, it's evolved. I post reviews here, talk about the toys, game tunes, game art and other special features that I probably wouldn't have thought of when I first started out. Sometimes you just have to make the decision to start before you can really go anywhere.

In the early days of Gaming Rocks On, I would post about whatever game related things came to mind. These days, I have so much to work with, it's almost overwhelming. I've got posts that are planned in advance, massive features that make me wonder if I should do them in a single post or break them up into multiple parts and lots of other things down the pipeline.

I've been inspired to come up with new features for this blog and green light some features I wasn't sure about thanks to other members on Blogger. SuperPhillip runs a fantastic blog over at SuperPhillip Central, Kayleigh Powis has 8-Bit Girl where keeps up on the news, reviews and is overall is a really nice blog. DSTE, creator of Game Over Yeah, on top of having one of the best names for a blog ever, is a really cool guy and his blog is a joy to read.

Inspiration has also come to me outside of Blogger. Retro Gamer helped me to see beyond the focus of just USA gaming and as a result, I now label UK and Japanese release dates on reviews. Retro Gamer is also an amazing magazine, full of wonderful articles and features and is a wellspring of ideas for anyone that loves old-school gaming, or gaming in general.

The YouTube community has also been great. I've been watching tons of video reviews, rant videos and Lets Plays over the last few years. It's been awesome to see the likes of Happy Console Gamer, Super Gaming Bros., Alpha Omega Sin, and many others doing what they love.

Basically, what I'm trying to say to the gamers on Blogger, YouTube, GameSpot, Retro Gamer and anyone who reads this blog is that I greatly appreciate it. For reading, gaming, blogging and doing what you enjoy, and inspiring me, I just want to say from the bottom of my heart...

Game Art #17: Misc Showcase

Seems like it's been a while since the last Misc Showcase on Game Art. It's fun to focus on one particular game/series, but it's also good to find art from all different types of titles out there. See some faces you don't recognize? You have much to learn. Enjoy.

By 1-kilometer
By xanderhurteen
By BistroD
By Themrock
By rongs1234
By dj-lune
By ChetRippo
By iammovan
By MetalHanzo
By EiffelArt
By deadlyflume
By aokera
By louten
By sachsen
By saiko-16
By chibiniko
By spookydoom
By modusprodukt
By rongs1234
By TomPreston
By theoriginalmistajonz
By gsilverfish
By =ron-guyatt
By RobDuenas

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Video Game Characters I Hate

The gaming world is filled with some of my favorite fictional characters. Sonic. Mario. Mega Man. But since the world must have balance, just as there are video game characters I love, there are also characters that I utterly despise. These aren't just characters I cannot stand. These are some characters that I, as Kefka so eloquently put it, HATE! HATE!! HAAAAAAATE!!

Big The Cat (Sonic Series)

This big, dumb feline spends his portion of Sonic Adventure looking for his pet frog. Now I like pets, and I don't mind the plot behind an adventure involving rescuing an amphibian. It was the plot behind Blast Master, for crying out loud! But where as Blast Master was actually fun, playing Big's game in Sonic Adventure was the opposite of fun. The fact that this waste of space showed up as a character in Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing is an unforgivable sin. Sega has a huge catalog of Sonic characters alone. Ray (from SegaSonic the Hedgehog, an obscure arcade game) or anyone from the Chaotix would have been preferable to Big. I guess I could tolerate Amy, but Big? FRICKIN' BIG?! No. Just, no. Big's inclusion is puzzling to me. Even more baffling is how that fatty managed to say on his bike without it falling apart under his massive weight. That two wheeler is way too small for Big's fat buns. 

Bowser Jr. (Mario Series)

I don't have a problem with Mario's prime antagonist having children. The Koopa Kids in Super Mario Bros. 3 were a great addition to the series. But when this brat was introduced in Super Mario Sunshine, this was the one Koopaling that I did not welcome with open arms. While I wasn't a fan of his voice work in that game, even when he isn't being voiced, I loath Bowser Jr. Bowser Jr is like that embarrassing child you're ashamed to have standing anywhere near you when you're out in public. He's that bad. Bowser already had seven likable kids. Why did he need an eighth one? Further insult was added when Bowser Jr. was made the superior to the other seven Koopalings in New Super Mario Bros. Wii. These kids don't need a leader. I mean, they've already got daddy for that. Worse is his name. "Bowser Jr". This chump is really just an inferior version of his old man, unfit to carry the name Bowser and it irks me that he's even associated with the other Koopalings. I don't even wanna think about the unholy union that occurred to spawn this brat. No, scratch that. This kid can't be blood. I'm pretty sure Bowser Jr. was adopted and Bowser just doesn't have the stones to tell him. 

Tom Nook (Animal Crossing Series)

It matters not which Animal Crossing you play, the situation is always the same. When you first move into town, you have no place to call home. Tom Nook, the town's resident store owner and all around supplier of goods will hook you up with a house. In return you'll only have to be his slave. Did you think he was doing it out of the kindness of his heart? Please. Nook is a business man above all else and he intends to bleed your anus dry. You make that first payment on your house, think you're debt free, only to have your hopes dashed when Nook gleefully tells you the cost of paying for a bigger sized house. You really can't say no to this raccoon. And I mean that, you have to get those house upgrades even if you don't want them. Each time you do so, just means you'll be owning Nook more and more money. You'll hate Nook so much that the mere sight of him will make you want to do a Solid Snake on his neck.

Lakitu (Mario Series)

I already dedicated a single post on why I can't stand this member of the Bowser Koopa army so I'll try to be brief here. Lakitu is the primary reason why I HATE flying mooks in video games. For nearly 30 years he's pestered me. He caused me grief in Super Mario Bros. and has since been making my life a living nightmare. Basically, any game in which Lakitu is not holding a flag or behind a camera, you can count on him to be drooping Spinys to get in your way. Lakitu actually came down from flag duties and got behind the wheel on Mario Kart 7. Sucks for him because after all the pain he's caused me over the years, I'm gonna hit him with whatever offensive items I get out of spite. If a way to put a living person into the Mario games is made possible I will go in there and I will get Lakitu. I won't stomp on him. I won't hit him with a fire ball from a Fire Flower. No that's too good for him. I will take one of his own Spiny shells and I will bash his skull with it and I won't stop until he's a bloody smear on the ground of the Mushroom Kingdom.

Edward Gilbert (Final Fantasy IV)

When we meet Edward, the love of his life dies and he goes through some moping. I'm sympathetic, but sympathy only gets you so far. Before and after Edward gets over his depression he still isn't very useful as a party member. What kinda person cowers while your friends put their lives on the line in battle? That's right, while the other members are out fighting the good fight, Edward hides off screen to save his own worthless skin when he gets low on HP. When he's not being a coward, he's healing the party... at the cost of your healing items. The only thing that justifies Edward's existence is the famous line spoken by the deceased Tellah.

These are the only characters I could think off off the top of my head. There will probably be another installment to come in this series. It's a big video game world so I'm sure there will be more characters that make my hate list.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Mega Man in Street Fighter X Tekken. Sorta.

Guess who's gonna be in Street Fighter X Tekken? This guy!

Unfortunately, I'm being dead serious. The Mega Man you see above, based off the horrendous original Mega Man box art is going to be a playable character in the PS3/Vita version of Street Fighter X Tekken. Looks like he really killed it on the donuts, eh? Check out this bit of info straight from the official Street Fighter X Tekken website.

Known as a Digger, a person who digs up relics from the past for research. He is a hot-tempered man, but has a strong sense of justice and is also very polite. His weak point is that he is easily rattled when backed into a corner. He is always running around in a hurry due to the demands of his partner Roll, and this time he's been asked to travel to Antarctica to retrieve a mysterious box.

Hm, so we got an older, fatter Mega Man Volnutt from the Mega Man Legends series. If this is Capcom's way of making amends for the cancellation of Legends 3, I don't think many bitter fans will find it amusing. But according to a tweet from Yoshiro Ono, the game's producer, this incarnation of Mega Man was in the works for some time.

I don't mean to sound like a typical Capcom hater, but why couldn't they include Classic Mega Man or even X? Would that be so hard? Or maybe Capcom is saving those guys for DLC, or better yet, Street Fighter X Tekken Ultimate Super Turbo HD Remix Arcade Hyper Plus Alpha Edition. Yeah, I know that joke is old hat, but for all we know, Capcom may have some update in store.

You can see Bad Box Art Mega Man and the other exclusive characters in action in the video below.

Sources: CapcomJapan, ProtoDude 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Game Art #16: Cave Story Showcase

Keeping with the trend of featuring art from games that are more than the Marios, Sonics, and Mega Mans of the world, here's a gallery of art from Cave Story (Doukutsu Monogatari as it's known in Japan), a game I like to think a wider audience has played by now. Originally an indie game for the PC, Cave Story eventually made it's way to WiiWare, DSi with and it was recently released on the 3DS. I downloaded the game for my 29th birthday on WiiWare and loved it. If you haven't played it, you really should. This art showcase contains a few spoilers so consider yourself warned. Enjoy.

By TheWax
By Bal-Bafu
By raizy
By louten
By moementm
By curtisdraws
By davidn6597
By GoshaDole
By Risocaa
By scrotumnose
By nanokostudio
By CaptainJamesman
By Kojiro-Highwind
By CytosisX
By Bandooo
By matthewart
By nanokostudio
By raizy
By oh8
By Th3w-san
By FargalEX
By StarEspeon
By ktcoope
By oh8
By Mrcrapinson

By TheNork
By rongs1234
By RhexFiremind
By Suguro
By le-mec
By okavango
By fluxmage
By Pembroke, colors by Christopher-Jones
By Ekuneshiel
By blackbookalpha
By Risachantag
By purplekecleon
By glitcher