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Thursday, December 31, 2015

Favorite Tunes #131: Farewell, 2015

2015 has come and just about gone. Hard to believe that in one day, 2016 will be upon us. Since 2015 is coming to an end, it only feels right to have this set of Favorite Tunes be represented in finality. So enjoy a round of credit themes.

Credits (Super Smash Bros.) - Super Smash Bros. Brawl (Wii)

Often refereed to by fans as Smash 64, the original Super Smash Bros. was one of my most played N64 titles. I always did enjoy the main theme of the first Smash. It was remixed in Brawl and was one of the many returning tracks for the Wii U edition of Smash.

Cosmic Eternity - Sonic CD (SCD)

If you missed out on Sonic CD on its initial 1993 release (like most did due to it being released on a system most didn't own), you ought to download it for your PC, PS3 or 360. You'll be getting the definitive version of the game featuring both soundtracks and Tails as a playable character among other tweaks. Cosmic Eternity is the Japanese/European ending theme. Sadly, the digital version of Sonic CD lacks lyrics.

Staff Roll (CPS-1) - Street Fighter II: The World Warrior (ARC)

The stage themes tend to be remembered most when discussion of Street Fighter II music becomes the topic of conversation. Perfectly understandable since the stages themes are some of the most varied, iconic tunes in gaming, doing a marvelous job of representing the numerous locals across the globe. However, the staff roll theme should not go unnoticed. During the course of Street Fighter II's updated releases, the music went from CPS-1 to CPS-2 with the music sounding quite different between the two. I lean toward the CPS-1 version when it comes to the game's staff roll.

Staff Roll - Kirby and the Rainbow Curse (Wii U)

A sequel of sorts to 2005's Kirby Canvas Curse on the DS, Kirby and the Rainbow Curse doesn't use the pink blob's signature Copy ability but it is still a solid Kirby game with a breathtaking claymation visual style. The soundtrack has a few classic Kirby arrangements but most of it is new material. The Staff Roll is a medley of a few of the game's new themes.

Staff Roll - Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze (Wii U)

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze's soundtrack is easily some of the best video game music I've heard. It has jungle beats, rock, metal, ambient tracks and even some jazz. Speaking of, the staff roll theme mixes Jungle Hijinx with Stickerbrush Symphony for an earth-soothing tune.

Favorite Tunes Database

Monday, December 28, 2015

How I Learned to Love the GamePad

December 31st marks two years since I've picked up two consoles that I've gotten much enjoyment from, the PlayStation 3 and the Wii U. The PS3 is a great machine, but I've spent far more time on the Wii U and I have no problems coming out and saying its one of my favorite consoles. The GamePad is quite the comfy controller, though my initial reactions to it made for a rocky start.

The GamePad is certainly one of the biggest standard controllers to come with a game console. I think only the Virtual Boy controller comes close to rivaling the GamePad in size, at least when it comes to Nintendo controllers. It wasn't that I found the button placement or control sticks odd. No, that stuff was perfectly fine. The GamePad's screen for whatever reason caused, me some nasty eye strain. It was so bad that I couldn't endure looking at it for more than a few minutes before I had to put it down and look away. Even booting up the system with it was too much for me.

The eye strain that the GamePad gave me made me quite thankful that the Wii U worked with Wii controllers. Even better, most Wii U games could be fully playable with the Wii Remote alone. For a long time, this was my controller of choice when I played Super Mario 3D World. Running around in 3D didn't feel awkward at all on the small Wii Remote control pad, but I suppose that's a testament for Nintendo's excellence with controls in gaming. Analog sticks had been the required method of movement in 3D Mario titles since Super Mario 64 so it was a bit strange that Super Mario 3D World allowed us to use the Wii Remote control pad for movement. It was a very welcome option, nonetheless, one I fully embraced. Then I noticed Captain Toad's levels could only be played using the GamePad, which was Nintendo's way of making sure players not sold on their new device would have to spend some time with it. At first I avoided these but the game made sure I was quick to realize that collecting those green stars was a big deal and each of Captain Toad's puzzle style levels contained no less than five green stars. Reluctantly, I picked up the GamePad and took on the unwanted eye strain to get those first few worlds worth of green stars that only Captain Toad could pick up. I had to use the GamePad,

Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker will only work with the
GamePadand I cannot imagine playing the game without it.

It bummed me out for a while that the GamePad had the effect on me that it did. While it wasn't as bad as the 3DS' 3D effects, it was enough to hinder what should have initially been fun experiences. I never have gotten over the strain the 3DS causes me when the slider is on even slightly and I feared the strain from the GamePad would be something that continued for a long time to come. Fortunately, this was not the case.

The more time I spent with Super Mario 3D World, the eye strain began to lessen. I noticed that I was looking down at the GamePad as I played the Captain Toad levels and soon enough, I'd abaondoned the Wii Remote altogether when playing Super Mario 3D World in favor of the hulking GamePad. This also became my go-to controller for Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze since I wouldn't have to bother with shaking the Wii Remote for certain moves. I was actually disappointed to find out that I couldn't use the GamePad as a controller in New Super Mario Bros. U when playing alone.

Super Mario Maker is easily one of the best games to
put the GamePad to great use.

I never did like using the Wii Remote in Mario Kart Wii so the GamePad was a perfect fit for me when I picked up Mario Kart 8. Regulating the map to the GamePad was a very nice touch as it meant there was something less to clutter the screen. making the first HD Mario Kart even more enjoyable.

Developers may not be using the GamePad to its full potential but Nintendo has made some great use out of it. Kirby and the Rainbow Curse was made with the GamePad in mind. Drawing those brush strokes wouldn't feel right with the Wii Remote or a Nun Chuck. On the downside, anyone playing as Kirby has to look at the GamePad and not partake in the game's superb HD clay graphics.

Super Mario Maker is another one of those games that makes the GamePad an absolute joy to use. Any game that involves level editing has to have a good user interface and not only is Super Mario Maker's so simple, anyone can use it, but the GamePad makes placing the desired objects to creating your levels headache free. The typical act of dragging and dropping tools in level editor could not be easier and is so incredibly satisfying. Its the kind of game that makes me happy that Nintendo went with such an unorthodox control scheme for the Wii U because there are some games that just wouldn't work, or wouldn't work nearly as well without the GamePad.

I've really been enjoying the off screen functionality of that the GamePad offers. most Wii U games support this feature and that's great for when one of my favorite shows is on but I still want to keep my game running or someone wants to watch something on my TV. I can tinker with levels on Super Mario Maker, play NES games while laying comfortably on my bed or the sofa, or watch some Netflix or Hulu in the palm of my hands.

All this and the GamePad is a great controller, too. Yes, it is bigger than most controllers out there and because of that, it has some weight to it. Despite this, it feels really comfortable. How did I ever game without this thing? I love you, GamePad and I'm sorry we fought in the early days.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Why Can't We All Just Be Gamers?

Much as I love the video game industry, it is rife with imperfections. I could talk video game politics all day, but that's an editorial for another time. One of the biggest problems with gaming lies within the very community itself. In a perfect world, all that play video games would be called "gamers" but sadly, the world we live in is not such a place and thus things mare not so cut and dry.

In order to set gamers apart from one another, we've been divided into sub classes. While I could expand the number further, I've decided to stick with three to keep it simple. There's the casual gamer, the one that likes to play for a few hours and then move on to other things. Girl gamers, girls that game, pretty self explanatory, that one. And then there's the hardcore gamer, the gamer that eats, drinks, sleeps and breathes video games. All of us are bound together by the common interest that we share, yet the wedge between the gamer classes grows ever wider. So why can't we all just get along? Because the hardcore gamers are not having it, that's why. The hardcore take issues with any class of gamer that does not side with them.

Yeah, because stinking up the place
is the true mark of a girl gamer. 

To the hardcore, casuals are what's wrong with gaming. Casuals aren't as dedicated to the hobby as the hardcore and they ruin the industry by not showing the same level of enthusiasm that their hardcore brethren do. See, gaming is super serious business and not being as invested in the cause is a serious crime. The po-po is already on their way to your place to shoot, pistol whip, beat and arrest you, not necessarily in that order. I'd call the hardcore crowd the vocal minority, but in the internet age everyone and their mother has a megaphone and like it or not, their raging voices will be heard. 

The industry has created this false image of what a girl gamer is supposed to be. If the girl is drop dead gorgeous with some big boobs, then she's obviously faking it because real girl gamers don't look like that. Tara Babcock is an extremely attractive woman who loves video games. She works in the gaming industry and is also a model. But according to some hardcore gamers, she's just a slut fishing for views on her YouTube videos because she's showing her big booby cleavage. I know it may be hard to believe but girls that dig gaming and look like Tara are out there. Why is Tara not allowed to be interested in the same things we are because she has the looks of a porn star/super model?

She's obviously a fake girl gamer. I mean, what
girl gamer is that hot with boobs that huge? 

Even the hardcore are not exempt from slandering one another. All sorts of bile and vitriolic comments are mucking up Facebook, Twitter, forums and YouTube comment sections because someone happens to still like Nintendo games or because they don't. Gamer A isn't playing the same games as Gamers B-Z so that undoubtedly makes Gamer A a loser for not having the same taste and he/she should kill themselves.  

I despise the fact that we've had to dived gamers into types. Hardcore, girl, casual. You know what I think a gamer is? Someone that plays video games. It doesn't matter if you're really into them, somewhat into them or happen to be female. If you like video games, you're a gamer. I love the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I don't have a huge collection of figures or the comic books but that doesn't mean I'm insulting the rest of the Turtle fanbase by not having all of the aforementioned. Rather than being satisfied that this amazing hobby is being enjoyed by so many others, you've got a seemingly large number of people taking shots at others for not being like them. 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Favorite Tunes #130: Happy Birthday, Mega Man

Today is December 17th. This is the day that Mega Man was released for the Famicom in Japan in 1987, 28 years ago. No one knows the exact date Mega Man made it stateside, but it did release on the NES in the same month and year. My favorite blue robo hero is taking center stage for Favorite Tunes so kick back and enjoy a selection of music from one of gaming's greatest.

Bomb Man Stage - Mega Man (NES)

Mega Man's first outing has six Robot Masters instead of the standard eight. It features the least amount of stages in any Classic console entry. It's also one of the toughest Mega Man game's out there. The formula may have been refined in later games but much of Mega Man's standard practices originated in this first game, including a stellar soundtrack.

Opening Stage - Mega Man X2 (SNES)

What is it about the X series and awesome opening stage music? Even terrible games like Mega Man X6-X7 have solid intro stage themes and all around good soundtracks. X2's sound kit is a bit different from the first Mega Man X and the soundtrack isn't as memorable, but there are still some good tunes throughout. This track is up there with the opening stage music for X1 and X's opening level for X4.

Needle Man Stage - Mega Man 3 (NES)

Mega Man 3, my personal favorite Mega Man game has an outstanding soundtrack but if any tune makes me want to get on the dance floor, it would have to be Needle Man's level theme. I mean, just listen to it! How can anyone sit still with such a lively beat playing?

Mega Man 2 Medley - Super Smash Bros. for 3DS/Wii U (3DS, Wii U)

When Mega Man was revealed as a playable character for the 3DS and Wii U versions of Super Smash Bros. he was met with thunderous applause from gamers around the world. He isn't perfect and he definitely requires work to use, but he continues to be one of my favorite fighters in Smash. I tend to think Mega Man 2 music is overplayed but even I cannot deny that the Mega Man 2 remixes for Smash are awesome.

Dr. Wily Stage 1 - Mega Man: Dr. Wily's Revenge (GB)

The first Mega Man game in the GB line, this title took Robot Masters from Mega Man and Mega Man 2 and gave us the first Mega Man killer Enker, a robot who used  a spear to absorb energy from Mega Man's attacks and fire it back. Enker could be fought in Mega Man 10 as DLC where this under appreciated gem of a track got much needed remix love.

Dr. Wily Stage 3 - Mega Man 7 (SNES)

Being a game released late in the SNES life and in limited quantities, Mega Man 7 commands a high price point on the second hand market. If you don't mind a digital copy, you can pay far less on the Wii U eShop. Even with larger sprites docking some of the precision platforming of the 8-bit games, Mega Man 7 is still one of my favorites.

Favorite Tunes Database

Monday, December 14, 2015

Memories #18: Mega Man X

Mega Man 2 is the game that made me a Mega Man fan and whenever the Blue Bomber had a new entry, be it on the Game Boy or NES, I was at the table to eat it up. By 1993, however, something was amiss. For two years the SNES had been on the market and I, much like plenty of others was asking the million dollar question: Where is our SNES Mega Man game? Castlevania, Super Mario, Contra, franchises that thrived on the NES had been given the 16-bit treatment but Mega Man was still grounded to the NES and GB hardware. A 16-bit Mega Man game was indeed in the works at Capcom. It just wasn't the Mega Man game I was expecting.

One of the summer issues of 1993's Nintendo Power (R.I.P.) had a preview of the upcoming SNES Mega Man game tentatively titled Super Mega Man. It wasn't an in-depth preview and there were only a handful of screen shots but it was more than enough to wet my appetite. I can remember just staring in awe at that one page, marveling at the 16-bit visuals, wondering what Mega Man's first SNES adventure would play like.

Japanese gamers got their lucky hands on the SNES Mega Man, now called Mega Man X, in December of 1993. Us not so fortunate gamers in America had to wait until January of 1994 to see Mega Man in 16-bits of glory. The official title caused quite a bit of confusion for me. The GB Mega Man games used roman numerals instead for numbering in contrast to the NES games. So in my mind, the X in Mega Man X meant 10, making me wonder where were the other three Mega Man games and why would Capcom jump ahead of themselves. Of course the X in the title referred to the title character X, who was a completely new and different Mega Man but this wasn't something I could wrap my head around when I was a child. At the time, I thought X was an upgraded version of the original Mega Man. From what I gather, I wasn't the only one that believed this but this was long before the age of the internet where things could be clarified quickly.

Nintendo Power, Volume 54.

To help somewhat ease the pain of waiting for Mega Man X's stateside release, I picked up the January 1994 issue of Nintendo Power, which had a blowout feature on the game. It even made the cover of the magazine. I knew names of all of the Mavericks, the X series version of Robot Masters and thanks to those oh-so-helpful maps, the stage layout of the initial eight levels. I would spend so much time flipping through the pages, awestruck by the Maverick designs and just taking in how different X looked from Mega Man.

After Sunday school in January, my family and I went to Blockbuster Video to rent some movies and games. I was looking over the SNES selection and there it was, Mega Man X for rental. I couldn't believe it but I was quick to snatch it up. In a case of extreme rarity, the instruction manual was included. The instruction manual to Mega Man X lighter than some SNES books but it did contain a very fascinating read, the journal entries of Dr. Cain. These notes compiled the events that lead up to the story of Mega Man X, including the unearthing of Dr. Light's Lab which contained X, the warning on the capsule that he was sealed in and the Maverick uprising. I actually sat down and read each entry before turning on the game. I was that enthralled in the game's story and Mega Man X was definitely more story-driven than that of the Classic series.

Having boned up on some of the plot via the manual, I popped the cart into my SNES with excitement and was greeted by an interesting, yet unusual opening. There was some techno babble text on the screen, very little of which I understood but within seconds, the star of the show, X appeared. I'd seen pictures of what X looked like from reading Nintendo Power, but they didn't do justice to having him on my TV screen. Some more techno text filled the screen but some of that was the kind I could actually understand. The screen rattled off the technical specifications of X and it was made quite clear that X was considerably more powerful than the original Blue Bomber. It wasn't just stronger horse power X was packing under the hood. X was far more advanced in artificial intelligence as well, something that that warning, which was glossed over in Dr. Cain's journal entries explained in more detail here. The AI that X possess is so far above the curve of the previous generation of robots that its on a human level. Meaning he can think and feel as if he were human, but apparently this new AI could be dangerous as it means X no longer has to abide by the tree laws of robotics and since X is extremely powerful, that could be disastrous for the human race. So in order to confirm X's reliability a lengthy series of tests were run on the capsule that he was sealed in, a process that would take 30 years to complete. Sadly. Dr. Light was already getting on in years and he wouldn't be around for another thirty more, hence keeping X sealed up from the world inside the capsule. When Dr. Cain found X, we were way beyond the thirty year testing period. I was actually a bit saddened when I finished reading the capsule warning flashing on the screen because it really hit home that Dr. Light and by extension, the whole cast from the Classic Mega Man games were gone.

X is a serious step up from his predecessor
in more ways than one.

With that opening finally complete, I was finally greeted with the title screen and I thought the way the logo appeared was so cool. The words "Mega Man" take a few seconds to come down and then the letter "X" comes down with a well timed "ching" sound effect. Certainly one of the coolest titles to grave a screen.

Ready to go on a Maverick hunt, the game was quick to slam the breaks on how I thought this new Mega Man adventure would start out. You see, having dozens of Classic Mega Man games under my belt, I was expecting to go to a stage select screen. But after pressing start, the word "Ready" appeared and X shortly after teleported down to a green, ruined highway with the background imagery looking no better. It was... unexpected to say the least. An opening level? This would become a staple for the X series but it was a first for any Mega Man game and as I was quick to find out, Mega Man X may have used the same formula from the Classic Mega Man series but it still looked and felt like a different beast and well, that's because it was.

X, destroyer of insect helicopters!

The opening highway stage served two purposes, one for fleshing out some story elements, and two, for teaching me about X's super helpful ability of clinging to walls. The first mini boss in the game was a fight against a huge helicopter in the shape of a bee and upon blowing it up, it takes out the very bridge that we were fighting on, sending X and it crashing down. Now stuck in a pit, for a moment, I was puzzled as to how I'd escape. I'd seen the screens of X sticking to a wall in issues of Nintendo Power, but I wasn't sure how the wall clinging ability worked. I'd assumed it would be more complex but in reality, it was as simple as jumping on the wall, pressing in the direction of the wall and X clings to it. All that was required to ascend was jumping repeatedly. This new ability helped saved me shortly after I learned how to use. A bit further ahead, the highway was unstable and parts of it began to crumble away. One piece fell and I fell along with but I was able to cling to a another piece of unstable road and leap off of it back to safety.

Not so tough with one arm, are you?

Things were going well for me on the opening stage and I was feeling confident in X's new powers. Maybe too confident. The smile on my face as I shot assaulting cars quickly vanished as an airship flew down, a robot in Ride Armor dropped on the highway. This of course turns out to be Vile and he proceeded to whoop X's metallic hide. I fired off dozens of lemons and fully charged X-Buster shots at him but to no avail. No matter how many times I hit him Vile just wouldn't go down. As my small life bar begin to drain down with each blow he dealt me, I grew worrisome. Eventually he started shooting out out energy balls and one of them paralyzed me. Maddeningly I pressed the buttons on the SNES controller but I couldn't break free. He taunted me for my inability to defeat him and I was sure he was going to end me. Then, off screen, I could hear a familiar charging sound, the same one emitted from X's X-Buster. A shot flew onto the screen, taking out the armor on the armor that held X captive! I saw my rescuer and he was none other than Zero! Zero charged up for another blast but Vile's bravado left as quickly as he did when he hightailed it on his aircraft and fled. The battle with Vile was one I couldn't win, no matter how hard I tried. I didn't know that at first but Vile didn't just beat X, he made him feel weak, helpless and despite the fact that X didn't say much beyond the first stage, I really sympathized with him.

Mega Man X has no shortage of mini bosses.

After a pep talk from Zero, I was finally taken to the stage select screen. My issue of Nintendo Power listed Chill Penguin as the stage one should go to first since the dash ability was quite the essential upgrade because unlike titles after this first installment, dashing wasn't a default ability. X's ability to cling to walls become a great asset during boss confrontations. Any boss fight that had walls meant, you'd be using as a save haven, so long as the boss didn't have attacks that could reach you up there. You still had to be on ground level when attacking most bosses, which meant you couldn't spend all of your time hugging walls, but I came to realize that wall climbing in Mega Man X was just as important as shooting and it felt just as satisfying as landing a well timed shot.

Another thing I really liked about Mega Man X is that not all boss fights were confined to square rooms. Storm Eagle was fought in a wide open arena and you needed that extra space to avoid is swoop down assaults. This battle ground also left no walls to cling to it was very well possible to get knocked off the stage. Flame Mammoth was so massive that he had to be fought on a larger playing field and he shook the ground when he landed from jumps, knocking X off his feet if he happened to be grounded. Sting Chameleon could blend in with the leaves that covered his background lair and used his tongue to attack, Launch Octopus could grab on to X and drain his life to restore his own. Not only did their animal motifs differentiate them fro the Classic Mega Man series, their various methods of attacking did as well.

Holograms are all that remain of Dr. Light.

Mega Man X introduced something that would crop up in the Classic series until Mega Man 8: slopes. These worked well with X's dash ability and they greatly benefited from one of my favorite stages in the game, Armored Armadillo. Full of mine cart thrill rides, the cart would speed to the right, instantly killing enemies that it ran into and if you jumped at the right moment, you could propel X forward. Its such a super fun, fast paced level that's great for refilling your Sub-Tanks.

When I finally made it to the Sigman stages I honestly did not expect to meet Vile again and when he appeared midway through the first Sigma stage, I actually tensed up. That beat down he handed me in the opening stage still stung. Zero stepped in for X but he was quickly overpowered and taken prisoner. With more energy, and armor upgrades, I thought for sure I would best Vile, but nope. Once again X was pinned down, with only two pieces of life energy remaining. This is when Zero sprung free from his prison (shoulda did that before Vile beat X like he owned him money), took out Vile's ride armor, leveling the playing field. Vile was prepared to finished the weakened X off, but for unexplained reasons (maybe it was Zero), X recovered his lost energy and at long last, Vile was given a life bar and I knew that this time, the fight was for real. I wanted to take down Vile not just for the two defeats he handed me but for Zero. Vile was not only quick but he was tough to boot. If  I recall, I used two Sub-Tanks on him. My victory over Vile was much more satisfying than taking down a mini boss or any of the eight Mavericks. The fight with Vile was personal and this huge weight was lifted off my shoulders when the score was finally settled. Sadly, the price for winning came with a hefty price tag. Zero had sacrificed himself in an attempt to destroy Vile  but in the end, he only succeeded in destroying Vile's Ride Armor. It helped immensely as Vile's skill with that machinery were incredible but X lost his best friend in the process. This of course, was all before Zero would have a ton of resurrections but at the time, his loss weighed on my heart. But there was still a war to be won so I had to soldier on. His final parting gift to me was his Buster, which was a sweet upgrade because it was something I hadn't picked up in Flame Mammoth's stage.

Mine cart madness has never been this much fun.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect from the fight against Sigma. Again, this was before the internet age so I couldn't just look him up and see what he'd do. Besides, I actually liked the fact that we could be more surprised back then. He actually sent his dog after me before dealing with me himself. I suppose I should have felt a little insulted but I actually had a hard time with the mutt. Of course, the canine was nothing compared to Sigma himself. Wielding a Saber, Sigma was quicker than anything I'd seen in the game thus far. I wasn't even saw on the walls as he could quickly zig-zag after me. He also did a lot of damage so it took me a few tries to beat his first and second forms. I think I found this second form easier to handle because his attacks were easier to evade.

Flame Mammoth is so huge, the normal sized
boss room doesn't do him justice. 

In the summer of 1994 I took a trip to Toronto Canada with my uncle and cousin for my birthday. He gave each of us $250 to spend and Mega Man X was one of the games I purchased. It still carried a hefty price tag of $75 in Canada but when I arrived back in Ohio, it saw a price drop down to $45. I was a little miffed about that, but I quickly got over it as the money I had was Canadian so it all worked out in the end.

Mega Man X became one of those games where I found it really fun to challenge myself. It is highly recommended that you do Chill Penguin first so you can get the dash power-up, but I've actually beaten the likes of Storm Eagle, Armored Armadillo and a few of the other Mavericks without being able to dash. Without the dash power, Storm Eagle can blow you off the stage with ease. If you don't have that extra speedy mobility, dodging Armored Armadillo's rolling attacks is far less easy. Still, you can get a few of the Heart and Sub Tanks without the dash, but most of them require the ability. I really liked that the fact that you only really needed one armor upgrade made Mega Man X great for self imposed challenges.

Suffice it to say, Mega Man's first 16-bit game did not disappoint. It was the much needed shot in the arm that Mega Man needed. It may not have been the Mega Man I was initially expecting but I'm glad X was a different Blue Bomber. Mega Man X is my second favorite Mega Man game, right behind Mega Man 3. Every time I play through it, it never fails to impress me. Mega Man X is available on both the Wii and Wii U's Virtual Console. Some time has passed since I've looked at Mega Man X and I think I'm due for another run through this magnificent game.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Favorite Tunes #129: Chinese Takeout

Despite the title, this Favorite Tunes has no particular theme. We've got music from the one of my favorite PS2 launch titles, TimeSplitters, Kirby Triple Deluxe and Final Fantasy IV to list a few.

Chinese - TimeSplitters (PS2)

You remember the Multi-Tap? It was a device for the PS and PS2 that was used for four player controller support because Sony was stuck in the past and didn't think including four controller ports on the console was a smart idea. When I finally scored a PS2, TimeSplitters was one of the main reasons I invested in the addition controller ports. One of my favorite multiplayer stages in the game was the Chinese restaurant. Not only was it a spectacularly designed level but it had this theme playing as you gunned down your friends. Ah, good times.

There's just something truly delightful about Kirby music. No matter whether its on a console or a handheld, its hard not to play a Kirby game and have a huge smile on your face due to the jovial tunes. While I think Kirby's Return to Dream Land has the better soundtrack (and is a better game), Triple Deluxe still delivers plenty of good music for Kirby fans. You gotta love the added dose of chiptune in Toy Rhythm. 

For me, Contra III is the peak of the series. This isn't to say I haven't enjoyed Contra titles past this one, but for the best Contra experience, this is definitely where its at. The game has an apocalyptic soundtrack but there are still some more encouraging music pieces. This theme perfectly matches the tone of the stage. From a motorcycle battle with hordes of alien soldiers, a fight on a helicopter with a alien ninja, to a jumping section on flying missiles to the boss, Contra III's 4th level is a none stop thrill ride.

MadWorld has a gritty, over the top comic book feel to it. The black and white visuals really make the blood pop out whenever Jack mercilessly slaughters someone. Even if you're not a huge fan of rap, MadWorld's soundtrack is tough to turn a deaf ear to. It has some solid vocal performances ending with the staff roll theme, Soul. 

After three NES Final Fantasy titles, the series made the jump to the 16-bit SNES and as expected, there was a noticeable step up in the quality of music. Nobuo's SNES Final Fantasy music debut is nothing short of extraordinary. Final Fantasy IV has its share of baddies but the four fiends in particular, alongside Golbez, truly stand out. The Dreadful Fight is a themed reserved for smack-downs with Golbez fiercest warriors. 

Originally released on the Sharp X68000 computer in Japan in 1993 as Akumajo Dracula, the game made its away to America under the name Castlevania Chronicles, bringing some new additions such as arranged music and adjustable difficulty. The game saw a limited release on the PS in 2001 but it can be purchased digitally on the PSN. Its old-school Castlevania goodness. 

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Fantastic First Level Themes Vol. 4

They say you never forget your first. First kiss. First car. First level of a video game. We're here to focus on that last one. The first level of a video game can say a lot about the rest of the game. It can be a great way to grab the player for invested play time. For a lot of us, not only do we remember the first level because it is the start of a game, but because the music with that beginning level really stayed with us.

Scene 1 Stage 1 - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (ARC ver.)

Most would agree Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles games were at their peak when Konami had the license in the late 80s and early 90s. The first beat 'em up is widely considered one of the best in the genre and probably the second best TMNT game. The first level has you charging in to save April from an out of control fire. The music which use cues from the main 1987 TMNT cartoon show (something you find a lot of in this game's soundtrack) fills you with the overwhelming urge to kick the crap out of anything in your way. Good thing there's a near endless wave of Foot Soldiers to slay, eh? For the record, the NES version of this theme is also pretty boss.

Billy and Jimmy's Theme - Double Dragon (NES ver.)

I've said it before and I'll say it again. I really don't care for the arcade score for Double Dragon. I've nothing against arcade beats, but Double Dragon's arcade music sounds like horrid, twangy synth. Double Dragon's NES tunes are a vast improvement to it's arcade cousin and really do this opening level theme the justice it deserves.

Good Egg Galaxy - Super Mario Galaxy (Wii)

Super Mario Galaxy was the first game in the Super Mario series to use a full on orchestra. Not every track is orchestrated but when they do bring out the big guns, you'll know it. A nice touch to Good Egg Galaxy is that the music actually doesn't begin playing until Mario touches down in the first official course. When the music starts, you know you're in store for something truly special.

The Shinobi - The Revenge of Shinobi (GEN)

Ninjas are freaking cool. That's not an opinion, that's a freaking fact of life. Revenge of Shinobi was one of the earliest games available for SEGA's 16-bit console and it turned out to be one the best looking and sounding games to boot. Scored by the legendary Yuzo Koshiro, the first level theme to the game isn't a guns blazing or in this case, sword swinging adrenaline filled piece one might expect, but rather a silent but deadly sounding tune. Quite fitting for a shinobi.

Theme of Simon Belmont - Super Castlevania IV (SNES)

The first Castlevania began with Vampire Killer. Castlevania II started with Blood Tears. Castlevania III opened with The Beginning. All splendid starter themes. How do you follow tough acts like those? By giving Simon Belmont his own empowering theme. Its perfectly fit for storming castles and dishing out justice the only way a Belmont can. You know you've made an impression in the gaming world when your own theme has your name in it and it sounds this awesome.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Favorite Tunes #128: Underground Jazz

Super Mario Maker has been blessed with check points, Cloud Strife is coming to Super Smash Bros., Splatoon got a new stage with 3 more on the way and the first generation of Pokemon games are at long last getting a digital release. Can you guess how all of that fits in with the 128th edition of Favorite Tunes?

SMB Underground (Edit Mode) - Super Mario Maker (Wii U)

Half the joy of Super Mario Maker comes from playing other people's creations. The other half comes from constructing your own courses. When making your own levels, the game gives you an arrangement of the background theme's tile set. Super Mario Bros. Underground edit music is video game jazz at its finest.

Electric de Chocobo - Final Fantasy VII (PS, PC)

Unless you've been living under a rock, you've no doubt heard that Final Fantasy VII star Cloud Strife is going to be a playable character in Super Smash Bros. for the 3DS and Wii U, complete with Midgar as a stage, No doubt we'll be getting a hefty does of FFVII music for Cloud's stage along with several remixes. FFVII doesn't have my favorite FF score but the music is still quite good. The game does have what is arguably the best Chocobo theme.

Opening - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (NES)

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were a huge part of my childhood. I watched the 1987 cartoon show, I had a ton of the action figures and of course, there were the games. the first NES TMNT game is often given much flak for its insane difficulty but the game isn't the disaster so many make it out to be. It has some slick visuals and the soundtrack serves up some of the best rock on the NES. That killer opening theme still amazes me to this day.

Friend List - Splatoon (Wii U)

Who did you go with during the Pirates vs. Ninjas Splatfest? I went with Ninjas and while it was the popular choice by a super wide margin, Pirates came out on top. Oh well. That's just the way it goes sometimes. Anyhoo, Splatoon might just have my favorite video game soundtrack this year. So many standout tracks in both the single and online multiplayer mode. Friend List is my second favorite multiplayer theme right behind Ink or Sink.

Battle! Wild Pokemon - Pokemon Red/Blue/Yellow (GB)

The first generation of Pokemon is at long last making its way to the 3DS eShop in 2016, complete with virtual link cable capabilities for local battling. The original Pokemon games are home to some of the finest chiptune GB music. For many a Pokemon fan, this battle theme is one of their favorites, not just because it was one of the firsts but because this piece of music is just that good.

Staff Credits - The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (GCN, Wii)

I've never really played much of Twilight Princess despite owning a copy on the Wii. With an HD remake heading for the Wii U, I intend to give that version my attention and see just why this game gets the adoration that it does. While I haven't played it, I have sampled some of its music. The staff roll music as a beautiful arrangement of the game's main theme and my favorite staff roll music of all Zelda games.

Favorite Tunes Database

Monday, November 23, 2015

Cloud Brings the Strife to Super Smash Bros.

On November 12th, Nintendo had their first Nintendo Direct since the passing of former Nintendo president Satoru Iwata back in July of this past year. Many wondered if the Big N would even continue with the directs with Mr. Iwata no longer being with us. Nintendo Directs have become a Nintendo staple and since they were originally the idea of the late Mr. Iwata, I'm pleased that Nintendo has decided to continue on with them. Nintendo came out swing with news including a release date for the delayed Star Fox Zero, the next wave if amiibos, a female version of link for Hyrule Warriors, capping it all off with a bombshell announcement that central protagonist Cloud Strife will be duking it out with the rest of the crew in Super Smash Bros. for 3DS and Wii U. Man, I still cannot believe I just typed that.

They said it couldn't happen. They said it was impossible. We'd have a better chance of seeing world peace than a Final Fantasy character joining the Super Smash Bros. family. The final minutes of last week's Nintendo Direct showed the naysayers just how wrong they were when Cloud stormed in and started slicing video game icons up with his Buster Sword. Mario, Pac-Man, Sonic, Mega Man, Ryu and Cloud Strife are going to be in one mindblowingly awesome game. I'm sure it has been said a zillion times since the blonde spikey one's reveal, but it truly is a great, great time to be a video game fan.

Of all the characters that could be chosen to represent the Final Fantasy series, some gamers are no doubt thinking "Cloud? Freaking Cloud?! Really?!"to put it mildly. To that I counter, why not Cloud? I mean, of all the characters from the ever extending franchise of Final Fantasy, Cloud was the obvious choice. Much as I love the cast of Final Fantasy VI, my personal favorite Final Fantasy, the decision to go with Cloud is crystal clear. When  Square Enix was selecting characters for the first ten Final Fantasy games for Dissidia, they went with the central protagonist and antagonist from each respective game, If Strago had been chosen over Terra to represent the hero side from Final Fantasy VI, that definitely would not have felt right. Of course Dissidia had reps from individual games. For Super Smash Bros., a character had to be selected to represent the entire series as a whole. Thanks to Final Fantasy VII's immense popularity, pretty much everyone on the planet is aware of who Cloud Strife is.

Midgar looks to be an amazing battle ground.

I realize Cloud isn't the easiest guy to like. This is due in equal parts to his personality and the game he comes from. Despite Cloud's somewhat bland personality, he's never been a character that I've ever disliked and besides for a game like Smash, persona isn't really an issue. The game Cloud originates from, however, is definitely going to be a sticking point for some.

Final Fantasy VII is an easy game to despise, While it did open the floodgates for RPGs to become mainstream in popularity outside of Japan, it carries an "FFVII is god-tier"status for that very reason, making it an easy hate target. I played FFVII when it came out and I've played through the game several times since then. I think FFVII is a good game, but in no way is it the pinnacle of what the genre has to offer. But Cloud being a character in Smash is something I can rally behind 100%. It doesn't matter that the latest Super Smash Bros. already has an abundance of sword users. This particular blade wielder is coming from one of the biggest game franchises in history so his inclusion is certainly something to get excited about. Cloud being in Smash is a big deal in every since of the word.

Some are speculating that Cloud being in Super Smash Bros. could mean that the Final Fantasy VII remake could also be headed to the Nintendo NX. "But the FFVII remake is a Sony exclusive!" I don't recall Square Enix ever saying that. main Final Fantasy titles have been multiplatform for a while now and the trailer for the FFVII remake said "Play it first on PlayStation 4," the key word being "first" as in, the remake is more the likely going to be on other gaming consoles. Square Enix has given Nintendo side Final Fantasy games and spin-off titles but a Nintendo platform hasn't had a main series Final Fantasy that wasn't a port since Final Fantasy VI on the SNES. If the FFVII remake does wind up on the Nintendo NX, then things would come full circle since FFVII was originally going to be on a Nintendo system but jumped ship for the PS since discs were a better fit for the game over cartridges.

But even if the FFVII remake doesn't come to a Nintendo system, I'm still stoked for Cloud's arrival in Super Smash Bros. The Midgar stages looks killer and I cannot wait to battle it out. How much music will we be getting from FFVII? What about the remixed music? Will we get music from other Square Enix games besides Final Fantasy? The release date for Cloud in Smash cannot get here soon enough.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

How Hype Can Ruin a Game For You

Hype is no small thing. When your get bombarded with ads or word of mouth about a game, it can be easy to buy into the hype. But hype is also a double edged sword. Just as it can sway you to buy into a came, too much of it can turn you off from a game. The funny thing about hype is that this applies to games new and old and for my examples below, I'm going to be focusing on the former.

For many a Super Smash Bros. fan, Super Smash Bros. Melee is regarded as the finest game in the franchise. While Smash has always been a fantastic party game, Melee did wonders for the tournament scene and it boasts the fastest speed of any Smash. I never got into competitive Smash but Melee has always been my favorite GameCube game. Even before I was even made aware that Melee had a tournament scene, Melee was one of my most played games for years. When I did find out just how big Melee was, and saw all of the hate Super Smash Bros. Brawl was getting, it struck me as being quite odd. Brawl had new modes, a larger cast of characters and even more stages than Melee. Not that those things guarantee a sequel being better than its predecessor, but all the negativity on Brawl was lost on me. This was due to my lack of knowledge on competitive Smash. Wave dashing and L canceling, two of Melee's more advanced moves were nowhere to be found in Brawl. Brawl was also slower than Melee and felt floaty. I could go on, but these are a few of the reasons that Brawl is seen as a misstep when compared to Melee and hardcore Melee fans are rather quick to jump down anyone's throat for not seeing Melee as the best Smash ever.

Masahiro Sakurai wanted to make Brawl a different game from Melee and I commend him and his team for doing that. Sure, tripping sucked and the game wasn't the hyper speed of Melee, but that didn't stop me from pouring tons of hours into it.

The argument of "Why Brawl  and every other Smash after Melee sucks" can be summed up in a single sentence: These games aren't Melee. It really is that simple. It isn't as if Melee can't still be played, but you've got die-hards getting upset that Melee's thunder is being stolen by the new kid in town, Super Smash Bros. Wii U. Rather than adapt to the way Smash Wii U plays, these people want to throw a hissy fit because the game doesn't play like an HD version of Melee with more characters.

The best Smash, like no Smash ever was! All
other games are inferior! *End Sarcasm*

I may not play Smash on a competitive level, but I do enjoy watching competitive matches and sadly, the bulk of competitive Melee matches come down to a sliver of the cast, usually consisting of Fox, Falco, Marth and Shiek. A cast of 25 fighters and only a handful of them are used by the competitive Melee community at large. If only a small token of the crew is seeing any screen time in what people claim as the best Smash ever in competitive matches, then I must say, that really is pathetic. I've grown so tired of all this talk about how Melee is the greatest game ever made, of how its "the perfect game," of fanatical fan's knee jerk reaction to vehemently defend Melee that I no longer like the game the way I once did.

The constant fawning over Mega Man 2 really makes me roll my eyes sometimes. Yes, the game is a superb sequel and its one of my favorite Mega Man games but it isn't perfect. One particular boss requires a full supply of Crash Bombs and leaves zero room for error. You lose all of your Energy Tanks when you get a game over, which is really problematic since the final boss has no power-ups whatsoever. Speaking of the last boss, if you run out of his weakness, you're pretty much screwed, because once again, the last stage gives you no power-ups. Even the first Mega Man game didn't screw that up but then it had a final boss that could be beaten with Mega Man's default weapon.

"Mega Man 2 has the best set of weapons!" What, you mean the Metal Blade that makes just about everything else pretty much useless? Go ahead and try to make an argument that any other power in the game trumps the Metal Blade. Yeah, it doesn't work on everything but it works on the majority of threats you encounter. The funny thing about the brokeness of the Metal Blade is that while so many MM2 lover's adore it, the Charge Shot introduced in Mega Man 4 is bemoaned for being too powerful. The hypocrisy makes me hang my head.

The only Mega Man game that matters! *End sarcasm mode. Again*

Former Mega Man head honcho Keiji Inafunae has only added fuel to MM2's fire. He's made it no secret that MM2 is his favorite and its the primary reason Mega Man 9 plays the way it does. I was as happy as the next gamer when the news let out that MM9 was in development but when I finally played the game I was a bit disappointed. Don't get me wrong, MM9 is a fine game, but and it felt like it was trying to be another MM2, right down to reusing MM2's jingles. Removing the Slide also rubbed me the wrong way as did the removal of the Charge Shot. But these abilities were passed on to Proto Man, who was DLC, which made me wonder why the abilities were for Mega Man were axed in the first place if they were just going to be given to another character. I actually prefer MM10 to MM9 because it feels like its trying to be its own game rather than Mega Man 2 2.5. It would be nice if the gaming community would stop treating MM2 it like its the only Mega Man game worth your time.

Call of Duty is hated by lots of hardcore games because the game is everywhere and people won't shut up about it. That along with the yearly sequels are why a good chunk of people are opposed to playing the games. I liken it to listening to a song over and over again. Even if the song is really good, overexposure can make you dislike it. While I don't hate Super Smash Bros. Melee and Mega Man 2, I am more than a little tired of the hype they keep getting, especially when better games have been released since then.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Fantastic First Level Themes Vol. 3

They say you never forget your first. First kiss. First car. First level of a video game. We're here to focus on that last one. The first level of a video game can say a lot about the rest of the game. It can be a great way to grab the player for invested play time. For a lot of us, not only do we remember the first level because it is the start of a game, but because the music with that beginning level really stayed with us.

Opening Stage (X) - Mega Man X4 (PS, SAT)

Mega Man X3 allowed players to play s Zero for the first time but the experience was extremely limited. Mega Man X4, the series first 32-bit outing truly let you step into the shoes of the Red Ripper. X and Zero play vastly different from each other. X is a long range fighter with his X-Buster while Zero prefers to get up close and personal with his Z-Saber. The duo also have their own distinct opening stage themes for X4. Zero's theme is fine and all but nothing gets me ready to take down robots like X's action filled theme.

Ground Theme - Super Mario Bros. 2 (NES)

One of my personal favorite Super Mario games plays vastly differently from the other games in cloth. This is of course, due to the fact that Super Mario Bros. 2 was cut from a different piece of fabric. Even so, much from Super Mario Bros. 2 ended up becoming series staples and the franchise is all the better for it. The early Super Mario entries often reuse the same music for stages but when you've got Koji Kondo writing the score, repeat material isn't a bad thing. Super Mario Bros. 2's Ground Theme is super catchy and upbeat and I can't imagine throwing veggies at Shy Guys on outside levels without it.

Tropical Resort Act 1 - Sonic Colors (Wii)

What's this? No opening story cut scene before playing the first stage? Nope. Sonic Color throws you into the action right off the bat. Contrary to popular belief, good Sonic titles have come out since 2006's abomination known as Sonic the Hedgehog and Sonic Colors is one such game. A mix of 2D and 3D gameplay, Colors is widely regarded in the Sonic fandom as one of the blue blur's crowning achievements. Sonic games have always had outstanding musical scores and Colors is no exception, bringing back remixed versions of each zone's opening act. And on the note of opening act, Colors has a pumping one with Tropical Resort Act 1. It truly captures the feeling of a lively theme park.

Paternal Horn - NiGHTS into dreams... (SAT)

Back when SEGA was willing to be more innovative and take risks, we got games such as NiGHTS. Despite being an on-rails style of game, NiGHTS features some of the best use of flight in video games. Elliot and Claris each have their own levels, complete with their own music themes for those levels. Paternal Horn plays in Spring Valley, which is Claris' first stage and is a wonderful opener for the great NiGHTS music to come. If you missed NiGHTS on the Saturn, the HD remake is up for grabs on PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade.

Caught Red Handed - Mighty Switch Force! (3DS, Wii U)

There's been a prison break and the only one capable of catching the blonde Hooligan sisters is none other than brunette Patrica Wagon. I always get goose bumps whenever I find out Jake Kaufman is attached to a game. The man has a phenomenal gift for composing soundtracks from chiptunes to modern melodies. The first Mighty Switch Force! is home to some pretty jovial, dance-inspired music and its all kicked off with the very first level, or incident, as the game likes to call them.