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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Currently Playing #20: Mario Kart 8, Shovel Knight

Mario Kart 8 (Wii U)

I don't know if this is the best entry in the long running Mario Kart franchise, but I can say without a shadow of a doubt that this is one masterfully made game. I've been racing across the tracks of Mario Kart 8 for nearly two months now and I cannot stress enough of my amazement of this game. Mario Kart 7 on the 3DS was an incredible game, and was one of the early titles that made that insane $250 price tag a little easier to swallow for those that adopted the 3DS early. I wondered how Nintendo would manage to top themselves after such an outstanding effort. I'm inclined to say that they've done it with Mario Kart 8.

One thing that makes Mario Kart 8 a more enjoyable experience than previous titles is item management, mainly, that blasted Blue Shell. Regrettably, it still exists in the game, but the odds of it being handed out to the stragglers has greatly been reduced. Its actually quite rare that a Blue Shell will cost you a race, so you'll no longer feel like the game is punishing you for your success. The Super Horn, a new item introduced in Mario Kart 8, is perfect for getting rid of an oncoming Blue Shell or almost any other items that threaten to ruin your day. Now if only Lightning was given out at a lesser degree to racers that are behind. In a lot of ways Lightning has replaced the Blue Shell as the most notorious item because. It strikes without warning and the odds of you having a Star activated when someone uses it are slim to none.

I feel I'm being too negative on the items now. Really, the way items work in Mario Kart 8 is the best they've handled in a long time. Outside of Lightning and the Blue Shell, and arguably the Red Shell, you have to be in close proximity to get a lot of the other ones to work. Also, you cannot have more than one item at a time. If you've got a Green Shell and hold it behind your kart for protection, you won't be able to pick up another item until that Green Shell goes bye-bye. This changes the game up drastically and places an even greater emphasis on how you'll use the items given to you. I've found myself being a much more cautious driver as a result of no longer geing able to stock up items and discovered that sometimes I'm better off guarding my back rather than trying to take out the racer that's ahead of me.

This is the first Mario Kart game that I've gone online with and I'm pleased to say that things turn out quite well. The online races are very smooth and I've never had a problem finding others to race with. I usually do good enough to where I can get points added to my overall online racing total and while I don't take first often, it's always elevating when I do. Yesterday, during an 11 person race, I stole first out from the leader at the last minute thanks to Triple Red Shells. I hit the lead racer with one Red Shell and then another not far from the finish line. Even better, I did this racing as my Mii.

Mario Kart TV is a great addition. There's nothing like savoring your best moments and watching them over again, especially in slow motion. I never thought I'd get this much mileage out of Mario Kart TV and Nintendo simply has to include it in future installments.

Shovel Knight (Wii U, 3DS)

I never really kept up to date on this game following up to it's release. I just watched gameplay videos of the demo and I knew I had to have this game. "Coming soon" seemed like a means of torture for me whenever I checked the eShop only to see that the game still didn't have a concrete release date. Well the game has been out for about a month now and I've been playing and loving it both on the Wii U and 3DS.

I've heard some complaining that the game is too short or that once you beat it, some of the fun is diminished due to know how bosses work and where things are. With the length, I think that just makes it more replayable, and I've played Mega Man games more times than I can count and they didn't suddenly become less fun because I found out how bosses work. So, to me, that doesn't seem like a valid criticism.

I know other people have cleared the game in under 9 hours but I'm taking my time and enjoying Shovel Knight. I'm trying to get as many of the achievements as I can, well, the reasonable ones, at least. I still don't have all the armors and I'm missing one of the relics, so I'm probably gonna have to hit YouTube to find it.

I really hate dying in this game because if you perish at a particularly bad spot, getting your lost gold back can be impossible and if you die multiple times, you lose even more gold since the game doesn't keep track of all the gold lost in each spot, just the very last location you died in. Dying over and over again really hurts.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

"It's Over 9000!" When Worldviews Collide

Anyone that's into Dragon Ball Z is well aware of the famous "It's over 9000!" quote. Heck, even those that don't dig anime have more than likely been exposed to this meme at one point or another because, well, the saying has become not only a large part of Dragon Ball lore but pop culture. But for those not in the know, a little background information.

It's over 9000 is a line of dialogue spoken by Vegeta after reading Goku's power level via scouter, a device used to calculate the reading of one's strength. After announcing the reading to his partner, Nappa, Vegeta removes his scouter and crushes it in frustration.

Labels. Categories. Class. You know, it really does suck but the sad fact is, we as human beings are always tossing one another into little boxes, placing limits on what we think people are capable of. What's worse is that we also do this to ourselves sometimes through a lack of confidence or we let the words of others stifle our growth. So what does a Saiyan prince crushing a scouter have to do with us? Well, when examined on a deeper level, everything.

Written by Derek Padula, "It's Over 9000!" When Worldviews Collide takes a look at the famous line through a microscope, dissects it and demonstrates just how much a sliver of dialogue can have a huge impact on our everyday lives, not just by means of being a popular internet meme, but by speaking volumes about our potential to reach higher levels.

I've been a fan of DBZ for over a decade now and I never dreamed that Vegeta's famous line could hold so much depth. Not only that, but the rivalry between Goku and Vegeta, one of the most famous in the history of anime is examined in detail in this book and shows just why the differences these two posses not only makes them the fascinating characters that they are, but ultimately better individuals for it.

DB as a whole is full of cool fight scenes and since Goku is the main character, there are more than a few instances where he shows up to save the heroes from getting their collective cans killed. But one of my all-time favorites has to be when he returns from the dead, races towards the battlefield to aid his friends in battle against Nappa and Vegeta, only to find that out of the six of them, Gohan and Krillin are all that remains. Goku, is understandably, quite angry at this sight and much to Vegeta and Nappa's disbelief, Goku unleashes some chi that's powerful enough to cause the very ground they are standing on to tremble.

All of Goku's friends know that he's insanely strong but since Vegetta and Nappa don't really know Goku the way they do, they are baffled by his new found strength, although this has more to do with their habit of classifying than anything else. See, Goku in their eyes is a "low class" Saiyan, not fit to be on the same battle plane as Vegetta and Nappa, who, conversely, are "elites." It is inconceivable for this low class Saiyan to posses such power. Nappa, who is clearly in denial says that the scouter's number can't be right and charges at Goku, who is quick to show the brute just how futile his "elite" strength is against him. The scenes in question can be viewed below.

Goku delivers some pretty heavy blows to Nappa, but the thing he bruised the most wasn't his body. It was his ego, his pride. Goku's over 8000/9000 power level is a big fat middle finger to everything that both Nappa and Vegeta believe in. There is no way a low level fighter like Goku should be able to match elite fighters like them, at least this is the belief they hold.

Now apply this situation to real life. How many times have you had someone underestimate you, second guess you, look at you through a scouter's lens and believe that they've got you pegged and that there isn't anymore to you than what they can see? This sort of thing has happened on more than one occasion to all of us. There is nothing quite like showing others that you are more than the sum of your parts, that your power level exceeds 9000.

This book also talks about the worldviews that Goku and Vegeta hold. Goku, despite being a fellow Saiyan like Vegetta and Nappa and thus, is an alien like many of the other beings in the DBZ world, was raised as an earthling so naturally, his worldview is vastly different from theirs. Unlike most Saiyans that are brash, cold and non sentimental, Goku is a kind, compassionate person that cares greatly for his family and friends. Growing up on Earth, Goku was also taught that his potential was limitless, a worldview that clashes greatly with what the Saiyans and other aliens seem to believe. The reason Vegeta and Nappa are so shocked at Goku's strength is because he was deemed a weakling and would never progress beyond that. Goku obviously showed them otherwise.

DBZ may be a fictional manga/anime series but if I took anything away from it while reading this book, it's the much needed reminder that it we posses boundless potential for growth and self improvement. If Goku is always pushing himself to be better and surpass himself, why can't we?

I picked this up as an e-book for under $4 and I loved it so much that I ordered the paperback off of Amazon. The book really is that good. If you're a DBZ fan, you really need to check out It's Over 9000! It will make you look at the series in a whole new light.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Art #9: Dragon Ball Gallery

I love me some Dragon Ball and I'm on a huge Dragon Ball kick so enjoy some fan art from one of the biggest franchises of all-time.

By GenghisKwan
By limandao
By AnnouncerGuy
By AnnouncerGuy
By AnnouncerGuy
By toi-chan
By EviLilMonk
By Lilak-rain
By CharlieCasado
By CharlieCasado
By MgnZ
By GrayShuko
By GoddesMechanic2
By superpascoal
Pixiv ID
By Oshou
Pixiv ID
By Makumaku
By Lehuss

Monday, July 14, 2014

Latest Purchases #72

Once again, this haul is something that I picked up a few weeks ago, before my birthday in fact (July 2, in case you wondered). Well it isn't as if I bought this stuff months ago. Still, I really should have had this post up a lot sooner.

I've never played any games in the Yakuza series, but I've heard good things about them, so I told myself I'd give them a whirl if I could ever find a few copies. Sure enough, my local GameStop had Yakuza 3 and Yakuza 4 used and complete at very decent prices. The discs are in great shape to boot.

Speaking of decent prices, I was able to cop a used copy of Grand Theft Auto IV The Complete Edition for under $14 with my discount at GameStop. The disc has a little wear, which worries me a bit, but I want to have faith that those scratches won't cause me any problems when I start playing the game, whenever that may be.

I've been considering getting some sort of cover for my Wii U GamePad but sadly, this cover is only for travel uses, which will come in handy whenever I'm transporting my system to a friends place or something. I thought I could put this cover on the GamePad when it's charging, but this unfortunately is not the case. Oh well.

Outside of work, I've never really been a hat person, but with all the bike riding I've been doing, I thought it might help to start buying some to keep that pesky sun out of my eyes. And what better thing to pimp on one's forehead than the Trirforce logo from The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword? I just wish the bill on this hat were more flexible but the hat does it's job, looks really great, so its hard for me to complain.

I've only seen about two episodes of Avatar: The Last Airbender, but I loved them and I've heard people say this series is amazing. So when I saw all three series books on sale at fye for $12.99 each, I had to have them. I'm currently watching a ton of anime on Netflix so I'll need to set some time aside to watch this whole series. I definitely want to get in more than two or three episodes in a day when I start watching.

The LEGO Movie. I don't think I've mentioned it in this blog, but when I was growing up, LEGO was like, my favorite toy to play with. So the idea of a movie based off of my favorite childhood toy was a no brainer for me. I've only watched it once this far, but I love this movie. The script is gold with so many laugh out loud moments and the message about one's uniqueness and individuality doesn't come across as preachy or forced. The animation is also quite good and I loved seeing the various different LEGO sets and figures that the movie used.

Lastly, I got my hands on a black Nun chuck. These things tend to cost less than Wii Remotes, new or used and I've been meaning to pick up some extras. Now I just need a black Wii Remote, to go with it.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Summer Gaming: 1996

Welcome to a new weekly feature that I'll be doing throughout the summer dubbed Summer Gaming. In this feature I recall a few of the games I played during the summers of years gone by. This week, we're going back to 1996.

Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars (SNES)

Mario has this appeal to him that can make you take interest in anything he stars in. The presents of Mario and company alone in a racing game was a big draw for Super Mario Kart. I wasn't really into RPGs at the time but when news hit that Mario would be taking center stage in one, I knew that I had to take more than a peek.

Simply put, Super Mario RPG is one of the shining examples of why the summer of 1996 was so freaking awesome for me. A few months before my birthday, a friend of mine had gotten the game, came over to my house and we spent hours getting engrossed with this quirky, humorous RPG that was like no other at the time. Super Mario RPG was an RPG for sure, but it still retained elements from the Super Mario series like ? Blocks and plentiful platforming elements. Being able to see enemies in the field and avoid fights meant that it was possible to pick and choose my battles and the familiarity that the Super Mario gameplay characteristics brought to the table kept the game from feeling foreign to me.

When my 15th birthday rolled around, one of the games I asked the folks to get me for my birthday was Super Mario RPG. What better way to spend the summer days than by saving the world from Smithy? Chilling with my friend watching him play his copy was cool and all, but there's nothing quite like having your very own. I even picked up the Nintendo Power Player's Guide for the game, which unearthed a wealth of secrets, so much so, that I think I started my game over from scratch.

Donkey Kong (GB)

My SNES wasn't the only system that I went to for my gaming needs during the summer of '96. Though the game was released in 1994, the year that the big ape made his big come back, I wouldn't make this game my own for another two years, where the game was discounted. For $20, I picked up one the the GB's greatest games. Donkey Kong starts out just like the arcade classic and even plays like it, with one major exception: Mario is far more durable and acrobatic than he was in 1981. Can can do backflips, hand stands and can survive falls as long as the height isn't too great.

The first four levels are straight out of the arcade game and just as it looks like Mario and Pauline are going to live happily ever after once the final stage is completed, DK throws a barrel into their plans by once again kidnapping the lady and dragging her across the world. No longer a four level game, Donkey Kong on the GB transformed into a 96+ level puzzle platformer. Cities, jungles, and glaciers were just of few of the locals Mario pursued DK to rescue Pauline and you had to make make use of Mario's various new jumping abilities to find keys, make bridges and activates switches to finish each stage. Not only did this game bring back Mario's oldest rivalry, but it can be considered the first in the Mario vs. Donkey Kong series. It's available on the 3DS eShop for chump change and I cannot recommended it enough. In fact, I think I'm gonna fire it up and play it this summer.

Illusion of Gaia (SNES)

I picked up this game at Best Buy where it was marked down to $20. The cover intrigued me and being a Nintendo published game, I was already well aware of the company's knack for quality products. Needless to say, I had a strong feeling about this title. I was still getting a feel for RPGs and Illusion of Gaia being an action/RPG meant that I wouldn't have to sit through any turn based combat, which at the time, was a big turn off for me.

Will was an interesting protagonists for a variety of reasons. For starters, rather than a sword that most heroes wield in this type of game, this teen's weapon of choice is a flute. That's right, a flute. I'm guessing that sucker is pretty strong because he swings that wind instrument around as if it were a blade. Will is also an accomplished flute player and a telepath. Flute playing is usually reserved for advancing the pace and Will's telepathy can be used to help you solve puzzles.

Will can also transform using the powers of Gaia. When he becomes Freedan, the knight, he puts his flute away in favor of the knight's traditional weapon. Freedan can take far more punishment than Will as will as dish it. The other form will can take, Shadow, certainly looks cool, but you don't get him until very late in the game so you end up spending most of your time as Will and Freedan.

Not only did Illusion of Gaia have sweet gameplay mechanics, but the areas the game took you to were some very memorable locations, some of which were based off of real world settings. Places like Anchor Watts and the Great Wall of China are recreated rather well to the point of where they aren't just cheap knock-offs of their real life counterparts. Not too shabby for a 16-bit game to get that much attention to detail.

So what games were you playing during the summer of 1996?

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Favorite Tunes #93: Chiptuning it Up

It's always a good time to listen to chiptune music, but the mood always strikes me the hardest during the summer time. I guess it could be due to all that time I spent in front of the NES during the summer as a child. Good times, good times.

La Dance Macabre (Lich Yard) - Shovel Knight (Wii U, 3DS)

If you haven't played Shovel Knight, you're missing out on one of the best indie gaming experiences of all-time. It combines elements from games like Mega Man, Castlevania and DuckTales to make a fantastic action platforming game with tons of replayability. The musical score was handled by Jake Kaufman and Manami Matsume and the duo has served up some chiptunes that are beyond excellent.

Spark Man Stage - Mega Man 3 (NES)

My all-time favorite Mega Man game. When you use the name Bun Bun as an alias, you've already got people wondering what kind of music you'll churn out. Bun Bun wrote the majority of Mega Man 3's music and he ended up giving us some of the Classic series most fondly remembered themes. I personally think Spark Man's music is hands down the best electrical based audio track in the entire history of Mega Man.

Athletic - Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins (GB)

The game that introduced us to Wario, Mario's not-quite-evil counter part. These days, this is largely what Super Mario Land 2 is remembered for, but if you need something else to take away from the game, you can't go wrong with Kazumi Tokaka's music. The man gave us one of the Super Mario series' best Athletic themes that sadly has not gotten the attention it rightly deserves.

Underground Zone - Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (GG, MS)

Most Sonic games usually start you in lush, green zones. Sonic 2 on the Game Gear throws you smack dab in the middle of mine cart madness. More often than not, each mine cart you board will end up sending you towards a lava pit and you'll have to bail at just the right moment to keep the fastest thing alive from getting a nasty case of butt burn.

Quick Man Stage - Mega Man 2 (NES)

The game that most Mega fans classify as their favorite. If you've been reading this far, you know that it isn't mine, but it still has a place in my heart. Not only did fighting Quick Man require you to be a bit speedy yourself, but several sections demanded nothing less than perfection or it was instant death via lasers. Of course if you lacked the necessary reflexes to succeed, you could always use Flash Man's Flash Stopper to make things significantly easier. I've always felt Quick Man's music track gave his level a theme that was akin to a creepy old abandoned factory.

Transylvania - DuckTales (NES) 

This is probably the second theme that gets the most recognition from DuckTales. That isn't much of a surprise because one, you have to revisit Transylvania several times and two, well, it's just such a fine track. Jake Kaufman did a masterful job arranging this baby in DuckTales Remastered.

Favorite Tunes Database

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Game Art #67: Open Gallery

Game Art has been absent from this blog for far too long, three months to be exact. Actually, I've been slacking on blog posts quite a bit as of late, mostly due to work. I'm really going to do my best to remedy that. In the mean time, here's an Open Gallery Game Art post. Enjoy.

By Gashi-gashi
By James White
By Zombi-Raccoon
By Thormeister
By Pehesse
By TEllie
By Kingetsu Mikoto
Pixiv ID
Pixiv ID
By Dion

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Still Gaming at 33

Thirty three years ago today, I was born in a hospital parking lot of Cleveland, Ohio. Yeah, I was so anxious to get out in the world and do my thing that I had no time to wait until until mom and dad could make inside the hospital. 

As we grow up and get older, there are things that we outgrow. There's an old saying that goes something like, there comes a time where a boy must put away his toys and become a man. There are plenty of things that I have outgrown. I now see He-Man for the craptastic cartoon that it is and I don't really play with toys anymore unless it's with my nieces and nephew, although I do collect certain toys for display purposes. One thing that has stayed with me well into adulthood is my love for gaming. 

For my 9th birthday, my dad got
me Super Mario Bros. 3, quite possibly
my all-time favorite Super Mario game.

I may not spend as many hours as I used to playing video games due to the responsibilities that come with being an adult, but I'm just as passionate about gaming now as I was when I was a kid. My adoration for this hobby actually baffles quite a few people and on occasion, I take ridicule for loving gaming as much as I do. I'm actually baffled that they are baffled. Really, my passion for gaming is no different than the movie buff with a wide selection of films or the sports fanatics that rave on about the last game. Yet, to those that still don't get it, one playing video games at my age seems unthinkable, even childish. Gaming, while a different medium, still appeals to people of all ages, just like books, movies and sports. Personally, I don't find it strange at all for anyone, whether they be 6 or 60 to be gaming.

Video games are a great means of escape for me. They always have been especially now, but even as a child, they always provided me an unparalleled sense of excitement and wonder. I liken them to books because they always take my mind someplace else. Sometimes said places are more rooted in reality, other times these digital locals are more fantasy based. When I was a kid, I thought saving the world had to be the coolest thing a person could do. Gaming was the perfect way for me to live that dream and I have since done it more times than I can count. Although sometimes, I don't feel like getting the planet out of jeopardy, waking up the sleeping princess or overthrowing evil overlords. Sometimes, I just wanna floor it down the road at breakneck speeds or see how long my space ship can last against an onslaught of alien invaders. Just as there are various types of books, there are a plethora of different games to suit whatever mood I'm feeling. 

33 years old. I suppose to some people, that age mighty seem ancient. True, I'm not a kid anymore. I haven't been one for quite some time. However, I do have an abundance of life left in me. I have no idea what a 33 year old is supposed to act or feel like so I'm just gonna do what I've always done, just be myself and keep on gaming. I'm very thankful that I've lived this long, not just to play so many great games but to have a family that loves me and to have made so many great friends. As interesting as I find gaming, my life is so much more interesting because of the people I have in it. I don't think any of them will ever know how much I truly value their very existence in my life, even the ones that are miles and miles away. 

Well, I've taken far longer than I should have writing this thing and I've gone into super mushy territory. I'm happy I made it to 33 and I'm eternally grateful for awesome family and friends and for another day. Now if you'll excuse me, my hobby that I love so much is calling me.