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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Game Over Part 2

Its an old-school affair in this week's Game Over with games ranging from the 8 and 16-bit eras.

Friday the 13th (NES)

Wait, not only did you die but your friends died too? They certainly aren't sugarcoating this one. Friday the 13th is yet another crappy licensed NES game but that game over screen is all kinds of stone cold.

Mega Man (NES)

I honed my Mega Man skills on Mega Man 2 and Mega Man 3. Those games were difficult for me to be sure, but they paled in comparison to the challenge the original Mega Man brought forth. I'm quite adept at Mega Man games now, but I always end up staring at this screen whenever I go back to playing the title that birthed the series. A humble blue screen accompanied by my personal favorite Mega Man Game Over jingle. Novice players will get this screen many a time.

Sonic the Hedgehog (GEN)

What's worse than losing your last life? Losing it at a boss fight, particularly in the original Sonic the Hedgehog. Each boss confrontation is a face off against the game's big bad, Dr. Robotnik and he always has a smug face to show you whenever you fail. It especially stings when he flashes that kisser during a Game Over, complete with a downer version of the game's title theme.

Street Fighter II (Multi)

After receiving a sound thrashing by your opponent and having them taunt you on your lack of skills, you can choose to continue or give up. As the counter ticks down to zero, you see your choosen fighter battered and bruised. Once that zero hits, you hear them let out one final cry of defeat. Its actually a little wince inducing to hear. Since Balrog, Vega, Sagat and M. Bison caused me no end of grief as a child, I don't get too broken up when I see their bloodied faces.

 Awesome Possum (GEN, SNES)

Remember Awesome Possum? Yeah, I didn't think so. He was another one of those mascots with attitude that never took off during the platformer ruled era of the 1990s. When AP bites the big one, I'm assuming his enemies took the liberty of burring what was left of him. I say his enemies because I don't see any friends mourning his loss. Even the game's antagonists didn't view him as a worthy adversary. They buried him, sure, but they laid him to rest in a dump. That rat is just look for his next meal so you know he can't be bothered to care about some D-list platform hero.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Favorite Tunes #109: Spring is Here

As of this writing, we're still in the month of March and as we all know, in March, we leave the winter season behind and enter the spring. With that in mind, here's another appropriately themed Favorite Tunes in honor of the new season.

So in Kirby Super Star, one of the eight games is called Spring Breeze. It's a remake of the original Kirby's Dream Land but it lets Kirby use his Copy ability which he gained in Kirby's Adventure. Kirby Super Star would recieve an enhanced port of the DS under the title Kirby Super Star Deluxe, which contained all five of the original Kirby's Dream Land levels. The SNES version omitted a stage. 

Ah, Ristar, another character in SEGA's enormous catalog that seems to have been forgotten. Given SEGA's current finanical situation, one wonders if Ristar will ever see the light of day again. For those not in the know, Ristar was developed by Sonic Team in their head day and as such, it is a highly quality, if challenging platformer, with vibrant visuals and an outstanding soundtrack. This bouncy theme was one of Tomoko Sasaki's earlier compositions. 

Wallpaper by Link-LeoB

One does not talk about Super Mario 3D World and not mention the game's highly memorable soundtrack. Its filled with some great rock, orchestral and jazz pieces. The game itself also has some of the most fun, imaginative stages from a Super Mario title. 

After 10 years without a Classic Mega Man game, Mega Man 9 was released on consoles digitally for a cool $10. It played more like Mega Man 1-2 since Mega Man's slide and charge shot made with the vanishing act. Sad as I was to see those abilities go, Mega Man 9 still turned out to be a solid game, even if some of its difficulty borders on the cheap side of things.

Releasing one year after the original game, Sonic 2 was a bigger and arguably better game. The were much more zones to explore and they had become even more massive, allowing for even greater exploration. The game also served up some fine Genesis audio thanks to the efforts of Masato Nakamura. Emerald Hill may not be Green Hill, but it's still a fine starter tune. 

The next spin-off of the Mega Man franchise following the Mega Man Zero games, Mega Man ZX brought over the gameplay and visual style of the Zero titles but with a Metrovania flair. ZX certainly would have benefited from a much better map, but it did do everything else right, especially in the music department, something that cannot be said for the game's sequel, ZX Advent. This is the remastered version of the game's first level. It sounds good in it's original format but the remastering really makes it sound so much better.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Essential NES Soundtracks Part 2

Like most kids growing up in the 1980s, the NES was my bread and butter for console gaming. This system cemented my love for Mega Man, Castlevania and Mario. It was also the start of my beautiful and loving relationship with video game music. Compared to today's gaming audio, the NES is obviously primitive. Yet, even with a mere five sound channels to work with, composers gave of some of gaming's most beloved soundtracks. These are the NES soundtracks that I think anyone that loves NES music or video game music should not pass up.

Final Fantasy

Composer: Nobuo Uematsu

Long before Square Enix was the mammoth corporation that it is today, they were two separate companies know as Square and Enix. While Enix had fond tremendous success with it's Dragon Quest series in 1986, Square was a struggling developer on the brink of bowing out of gaming industry. It was decided that the company would pull all of it's resources into one final game and it would be a fantasy title and thus, Final Fantasy was born. Fourteen sequels a plethora of spin-off titles and twenty five years later, Final Fantasy is still going strong today.

Before Final Fantasy, Nobuo Uematsu had already been scoring music for video games. He composed the music for 3D World Runner and Rad Racer, two NES games that were developed by Square. Final Fantasy would mark his sixteenth game for which he would be composing. Uematsu was very instrumental to the success of the Final Fantasy series much in the same way Koji Kondo's music helped shape the Super Mario Bros. and Legend of Zelda franchise. While most of Uematsu's work on the series from the 16-bit era and onward gets the most praise, his original chiptune compositions are still worth going gaga over.

Right when you boot up the game, a the magical Prelude theme plays, a piece of music that has long been associated with the series. What's very interesting about this particular track is that it was a last minute addition to the game, something Uematsu composed in roughly 10 minutes. I find it rather ironic that such an iconic tune for the series was done up rather quickly. The jovial Main Theme sets the tone for adventure and if you're smart enough to go into Corneria rather than wonder around with your unequipped party, you'll be treated to the gentle Town theme that is used for most towns in the game. You gotta love how the decaying world has some pretty peaceful themes. Speaking of which, Corneria Castle sounds like a kingdom that has everything under control, which is pretty nice considering their princess has been kidnapped. Saving her is actually your first order of business before getting to the main meat of the game.

Some wandering around on the overworld map will quickly thrust you into a random battle and it's here that you hear the only piece of battle music throughout the whole game, Battle Scene. Like the Prelude, Battle Scene is another important musical piece. Battle tracks have always played a large role in Final Fantasy games and Battle Scene is memorable track for three reasons. One, the battle theme itself is very intense, even on 8-bit hardware. Two, it was the very first battle theme of the series. Three, the first six seconds of the intro would go on to be used in the next five Final Fantasy games as part of the standard battle themes. Win a battle and you're treated to what is quite possibly the best Victory fanfare in any RPG. This theme is so darned happy and cheerful that just hearing it makes you wanna stand up and wave your arms up and down. This is another theme that was reused dozens of times in future Final Fantasy titles. Conversely, if you fall in battle (a distinct possibility given the NES version's insane difficulty), you'll hear the Dead Music, which has got to be one of the most depressing 8-bit songs I've ever heard.

As I said above, your first task is saving the princess of Corneria who's being held hostage by Garland at the Chaos Temple, which is the first dungeon of the game, complete with one of my favorite dungeon themes in the whole series. The Chaos Temple would also be the final dungeon of the game and in an unexpcted turn of events, would be explored in the past. The theme used for the past version of the Chaos Temple, Underwater Temple is the Chaos Temple theme but in a lower pitch and a few altered notes. Underwater Temple is very fitting for the final area of the game game and a wonderful callback to the start of your adventure. Not many games on the NES used arrangements like this but considering what Uematsu would do in future installments, I guess it isn't too much of a surprise.

Somehow, even on the 8-bit NES, crossing a bridge seems more epic than it has ever been. Maybe it's because it's the first time you actually see the words Final Fantasy grace the game's screen, or it that shadow image of your character's leaving Corneria. Those are all factors, but a lot of it has to do with that awe-sounding Opening Theme that would appear in a plethora of other titles. It's been arranged and there are many orchestrated versions of it, but even in 8-bit form, it still sounds amazing.

Final Fantasy was a brutal game to be sure, but one area that caused players no end of grief was the Marsh Cave, the second dungeon you explore. It's been said that our ears often give us the first warning signs of danger. One only needs to listen to Dungeon, the theme that plays in the Marsh Cave to know that thety'll be in for one very unpleasant trek. Unlike the warm and welcoming Matoya's Cave, Dungeon fills you with fear, a sense of urgency to get what you came for and hightail it out of there.

My favorite version of the first Final Fantasy is the Origins remake on the PS1. I really like the updated graphics, balanced difficulty and that masterfully arranged soundtrack, which Uematsu himself covered. But even so, I'm quite fond of the man's original Final Fantasy 8-bit tracks. If you didn't get into the series until later entries, it may be a bit tough to appreciate some of these tracks, but my first Final Fantasy was VI and I still found much to adore about the first Final Fantasy's music. From the themes that would get arranged numerous times to the ones that wouldn't, Final Fantasy still represents some of the series' best audio.


Composers: Kinuyo Yamashita, Satoe Terashima

Originally released on the Famicom Disk System in Japan in 1986 as Akumajou Dracula, the game was ported to the NES in 1987 and released under the title Castlevania. Since this series is still alive and kicking to this day, it should go without saying that this is one of Konami's most successful franchises.

With only six stages, Castlevania doesn't have the most extensive NES soundtrack. Still, what's available is truly exceptional. That opening with Simon Belmont walking up to the front gate of Dracula's castle has got to be one of the most iconic intros to a video game and that chilling Prologue music really completes the image. Immidately following that is the first stage, complete with one of the finest pieces of first level music in gaming, Vampire Killer. This song, like the original Super Mario Bros. Ground Theme has been remixed to death and it isn't hard to see why, but as great as a lot of the remixes are, the original theme still holds up. I find that it sounds a tad creepy but quite catchy. Now for a full blown creepy piece of 8-bit music, Stalker cannot be beat. This stage has spiked crushers that can kill you instantly and is infamous for introducing gamers to one of the biggest pests in gaming, Medusa Heads. Hard as the second stage can be, it doesn't come close to frustrating me like stage three does with it's bottomless pits, Medusa Heads and those annoying mummy bosses at the end. This was the real difficulty spike in Castlevania for me but Wicked Child helped me pull through. I think the bass line in this track is godly especially at the 17 second mark.

Alright, I know I said Stalker couldn't be beat, but Walking on the Edge truly is the darkest song in the game and it really fits the whole underground cavern setup. The bass makes part of the track sound like the theme from Jaws but it's still very much it's own music, which takes place during one of the most frustrating levels. The whole clock tower thing originated in this game and it went on to become a series staple. Ironically, the theme that plays in the clock tower segment is called Out of Time.

Castlevania makes use of two bosses themes, three depending on how you look at it. Poison Mind, the regular boss tune is highly repetitive but still enjoyable, making some of the bosses seem like genuine threats (Death certainly is if you don't spam Holy Water). On your way up to the final staircase to meet Dracula, Nothing to Lose plays. Since this theme is also heard during the fight with Dracula's first form, it can be considered a battle theme. Should you succeed in defeating Dracula's first form, he turns into a hideous beast for round 2 and he hits like a tank. Black Night is the final battle music and it will have you on edge as you try your hardest to deplete Drac's life bar. It isn't easy but it can be done. When the lord of vampires bites the dust, you see his castle crumble and Voyager kicks in, a short but sweet ending theme to an incredible hard but great game.

Vampire Killer would go on to be one of the most used musical tracks in the franchise' long history, but Castlevania's entire soundtrack ranks right up there with Konami's best sound works. You'll have the music from this game in your head long after you've turned the power off and moved on to other titles.


Composer: Hiroshige Tonomura

Long before there were channels dedicated to running nothing but cartoons all the time, a few hours after school was our only means of getting our animated fix until Saturday arrived. The Disney Afternoon was a two hour block of animated shows featuring already established characters along with fresh faces. DuckTales was a big part of the Disney Afternoon, but the show was large and in charges years before this cartoon block was even formed.

Hitting the TV screen in 1987, DuckTales was about the treasure hunting adventures of Scrooge McDuck who was often in the company of his nephews Huey, Dewey, Louie and Launchpad McQuack. Scrooge's never-ending quest to get richer took him all around. Sounds like a good premise for a video game, don'tcha think? Placing the license in the then-capable hands of Capcom, DuckTales on the NES, unlike Fester's Quest, Total Recall and Back to the Future was solid licensed product and is fondly remembered as an NES classic.

Anyone that's watched an episode of DuckTales no doubt has the catchy theme tune stuck in their head. Even without lyrics, you'll be humming and whistling along to the Title Theme in all it's 8-bit glory. The title music also sets the tone for most of the music in the game, which is of a very upbeat, lighthearted affair. The Amazon, The Himalayas, and The African Mines are all lively, catchy themes.

Not all of DuckTales music is sunshine and flowers, though. The Boss theme gets serious even if all of the boss encounters can be disposed of with ease. Transylvania, being a level set inside a eerie mansion is a haunted theme, lacking the brightness associated with the other tunes. Its still an excellent track, which is a very good thing because Transylvania is a stage you have to revisit several times.

But the theme that made DuckTales legendary among video game music lovers is without a shadow of a doubt The Moon. Often sighted as the best track in the game, The Moon has a light, slow start that perfectly sets up the main course when the drums kick in 12 seconds into the song. It's a cheerful theme to be sure, but it has an otherworldly vibe to it. Fitting since this is the one level in the game that doesn't take place on Earth.

Super Mario Bros. 2

Composer: Koji Kondo

For two decades, Super Mario Bros. 2 was seen as the black sheep of the Super Mario series simply because it was so radically different from the other games. Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels, a sadistically cruel, tough as nails mission pack game was touted as the true Super Mario Bros. 2 and that the version American and European gamers got, a character swapped Doki Doki Panic, was not a real Mario game. All those gamers and journalists that dissed Super Mario Bros. 2 for not being a "true Mario game" were in for a rude awakening when a 2011 interview with Shigeru Miyamoto revealed that such claims were bogus. A prototype version of Super Mario Bros. 2 was in the works in 1986 and it played very much like the version of Super Mario Bros. 2 that was released outside of Japan. Long story short, Super Mario Bros. 2 started out as a Mario game, was turned into a non-Mario game and was then transformed back into a Mario game. Super Mario games would be far less interesting with out this puppy.

Super Mario Bros. 2 is certainly different from the more traditional Super Mario titles, but this turns out to be a big strength rather than a weakness. Subcon is not the Mushroom Kingdom and this is not only reflected in the game's visual presentation, but the music as well. At the same time, composer Koji Kondo was mindful that this is indeed a Mario game and gave it some musical ties to the game that came before it. This is the first game in the series to have a Title theme and it turns out to be an arrangement of the original Super Mario Bros. Underwater music.

The Player Select theme is some giddy, insanely cheery music that is super catchy. I especially love the use of the piano at the 22 second mark. I was delighted to hear this music get arranged in Super Mario 3D World.

Super Mario Bros. 2 Overworld theme is the equivalent to Super Mario Bros. Ground Theme, in that you'll be hearing it a lot. Somehow, Kondo managed to make Overoworld even more lighthearted than Ground Theme. That may seem blasphemous as Super Mario Bros. Ground Theme is the most iconic piece of video game music ever, but strictly speaking in terms of overall moods, I have to give the nod to Super Mario Bros. 2's Overworld music for sounding far more vibrant.

Of course, Underground cannot be overlooked, the music that plays whenever you're in an indoor area. I always got an Egyptian, tomb-like vibe from all of Super Mario Bros. 2 indoor areas, so the I found the bongo drums to be a nice touch.

This was also the first game in the series to have boss themes. The standard Boss theme can get repetitive, but true for form for Kondo's music, it never gets irritating. The Last Boss theme, used for Wart sounds even more sinister and intense than the regular boss tune.

The final piece of music in the game, the Ending theme starts out as a triumphant victory theme before switching gears to a more dreamy song, and I do mean dreamy. That scene with Mario sleeping soundly only to wake up for a brief moment and fall back asleep was probably almost as shocking as finding out that Samus is a girl in the original Metroid.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Favorite Tunes #108: The End is Nigh

While I was working on my The End of the World as We Know It feature, I had a lot of "the end is coming" music on min mind. That brings me to this particular Favorite Tunes. We've got a selection of mostly moody and foreboding music. Enjoy!

Dark Star - Secret of Mana (SNES)

The vibrant, joy-filled Flight into the Known that plays whenever you fly around on the world map gets replaced when the Mana Fortress, the final dungeon in the game takes flight. Dark Star, is a track that paints a very grim situation for the world as the very nature of the Mana Fortress is that of a super weapon. It starts out with a lovely piano riff before it explodes into the main course, which is filled with perfectly timed bell chimes and cymbal clashes. Dark Star may be a musical piece associated with some pretty bad events but it is still a beautiful song, nonetheless.

Last Day - The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask (N64, 3DS)

You've got three days to save the world in Majora's Mask. With the help of the Ocarina of Time, you really do have all the time in the world to do it. But since certain things can only be on on certain days, this means you ultimately have to experience the three day cycle and the pressure is really on when he last day rolls around. For extra added freak out, listen to this track as the Moon is about to come down.

Ruined World - Chrono Trigger (SNES, PS, DS)

The future is bright, right? Well not in Chrono Trigger. The year 1000 AD may not be perfect but it's a utopia compared to 2300 AD. By this time, Lavos has turned the world into a wasteland with the remaining humans using technology to survive but still starving to the lack of food. The hopelessness and despair of this time period is reflected through this dark piece.

Last Duel - Lufia & The Fortress of Doom (SNES)

The end is the beginning. Sound confusing? I certainly was when I first fired up this game years ago. See, when you start out Lufia & The Fortress of Doom, you're actually at the final dungeon of the game, heading into the last battle. Despite the title of this track, this is theme plays during your trip through the Fortress of Doom and not during the battle with the Sinistrals. Pretty interesting way to start the game. Much later in the game you return to the Fortress of Doom with an entirely new party, preparing to smack down the very same Sinistrals that plagued the world 100 years prior, with this very same track playing.

In Search of Light - Final Fantasy V (SFC, PS)

Viewed as more comical compared to other entries, given the series last few releases, I think taking the games less seriously couldn't hurt. The Void serves as the final area of Final Fantasy V. Rather than a bleak, hopeless musical theme, this track is triumphant with pounding drums and cymbals blasting throughout.

Go Forward Under Fire - Contra III: The Alien Wars (SNES)

Also known as No Man's Land or the Alien's Lair, this track plays during the first half of the final level of Contra III. This theme really does have  feel of finality to it. It also greatly contrasts, the follow up music that plays during the second half of the area. This piece feels you with an incredible sense of hope while the later music fills you with a sense of dread and considering all the mini bosses you face and the progressive difficulty they bring, that isn't too surprising.

Favorite Tunes Database

Thursday, March 19, 2015

My, How You've Grown, Steven Universe

Wow. If I had to sum up how far Steven Universe has come since it debuted on Cartoon Network in 2013 in a single word, that word would be "wow." What seemed like it was going to be yet another slapstick comedy cartoon (which I have no problem with) has gone on to become not just my favorite show on Cartoon Network, but my favorite show period. Of all of the shows that I currently watch, this is the one that I look forward to the most. Steven Universe is really that good.

Central protagonist Steven is still a lovable kid goofball, but h'e matured so much. He can now activate and deactivate his bubble at will. He can also summon his shield easily. What's more in The Return, he made the shield large enough to protect himself and the Crystal Gems. It was also nice how the how escape in the followup episode, Jailbreak, was instigated by Steven. The Gems never would have made it back to Earth if Steven hadn't sprung them.

You'd think an ice cream snack song
would be irrelevant to the plot. And you'd be wrong.

Steven Universe is a show that clearly was planned out far in advance. After going back to watch earlier episodes and comparing them with more recent episodes, I can tell that Rebecca Sugar and her crew are not making this up as they go along and I love them for that. There is foreshadowing all over the place, starting all the way back to the very first episode. At first, I assumed Steven's song about Cookie Cat to be nothing but cute, child humor. But taking later episodes of season one into account, it's blatantly obvious that Cookie Cat's origins mirror that of the Gems. Cookie Cat is a refugee from an interstellar war just like the Gems and Cookie Cat left his family, or home planet behind just like the Gems. No way Cookie Cat's story lining up with the Gems is a coincidence.

And then you've got the long speculated theory that Garnet was a fusion. She has two gems instead of one, a ruby and a sapphire. When Alexandrite splits apart in Fusion Cuisine, we can see two unrecognizable Gem figures along with Pearl and Amethyst. Finally,there's Garnet's absolute joy at Steven and Connie's fusion in Alone Together, which makes so much more sense after the events of Jailbreak. Steven Universe is an absolute beast at foreshadowing and it's made me realize that a lot of it isn't all that apparent.

Of all the fights Steven has broken up between
Pearl and Amethyst, this one is the worst.

It's not just the excellent use of foreshadowing and character development that make me adore Steven Universe. The way this show tackles a lot of issues has to be commended. In Lars and the Cool Kids, Lars wishes to get in with the in crowd. Based off of so many movies and TV shows that we've seen from the past that have popular kids, you'd expect "the cool kids" to turn out to be a bunch of jerks and for Lars to realize that he's better off without them. This isn't the case. The cool kids turn out to be pretty cool, down to earth kids and its actually Steven that helps Lars become friends with them just by being himself. In Bubble Buddies, Connie's debut episode, it's implied that the girl suffers from social anxiety disorder. Come Alone Together, we get further hints of this as she didn't go to a school dance because the idea of having everyone look at her on the dance floor made her nervous. While fused with Steven as Steveonnie at a dance, you can tell it's Connie in there that's on the verge of having a panic attack when everyone stops dancing to look at Steveonnie in awe. The visuals used to demonstrate this, where everything around Steveonnie grows to show Connie's increased apprehensiveness, are brilliant. Steveonnie bolts off the dance floor like someone with a need to be anywhere but there.

Pearl is so eager to go to exploring space
that she nearly gets herself and Steven killed.

The way Steven Universe  represents multiple body types is another thing I love about this show. You got fat people, skinny people, muscular people and middle-of-the-road people. Having the main star, Steven, be a heavy set kid immediately paints him differently from a lot of other male leads.  If you want to be all buffed out, that's fine, but that body type isn't for everyone. On the opposite end, not everyone wants to be a toothpick. Even so, there are those of us that will never get the body that others have. I've read fan posts from people that have the same body type as Pearl stating they've learned to appreciate the figure they have. The people with the aforementioned body types I've listed aren't just background characters. This is also the main cast I'm talking about. The people with all kinds of body types are taking center stage. We live in a society that looks down on people that don't conform to what is perceived to be the ideal body type. By having the main cast consist of multiple body types, it sends the message that it's fine to like the figure you've been given. And let's face it, the world would be pretty boring if we all looked the same.

Garnet busts out a killer song while fighting

I was originally watching the show for the humor, character development and adventure aspects. Despite the sick powers the Gems have, I originally thought the show's fighting wasn't one of it's strong suits. However, that's really turned around. We've seen the Gems fight each other in Tiger Millionaire and Pearl's fight with Holo Pearl in Steven the Sword Fighter while paying heavy homage to Revolutionary Girl Utena, was pretty cool. The Gems fight against Lapis Lazuli has some incredible animation. Ditto on the Pearl vs. Amethyst fight in On the Run, even though it was tough to watch given the series strong family-like nature. Garnet's fight against Jasper in Jailbreak is sure to be remembered for Estelle's amazing vocal performance, but the fight itself was a sight to behold.

As of March 13, season two has already began but from what I hear, we won't be getting anymore season two episodes for a while. This just makes the wait for even more episodes that much more difficult to bear. I'm eagerly anticipating DVD/Blu-Ray releases for season one, which will more than likely be split into two parts since the first season racks up 52 episodes. Although, if they released the first season in one set, that would be all kinds of awesome. The show has grown so much from episode one and things got deadly serious midway through the first season and at it's end. I cannot wait to see where Steven Universe goes from here.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Game Over Part 1

Two words that signify that you're a failure at video games and should pick up a hobby where you won't suck so much. Well, that's one way to look at it. But the Game Over screen can also be viewed as a means to spur you on to do better.

Welcome to Game Over, an on-going feature where we take a look at the numerous screens that show you've reached the end of the line. You might find some of these to be humorous while others can be quite unsettling.

Strider Returns (GEN)

When you lose your last life in Strider Returns, you get far more than those two famous words. The man under the big bad shows up and starts talking trash. After sending you to Hell, you then get to see what appears to be Strider's lover, battered and broken, telling Strider to live for her. Pretty sure they don't do too much living down in Hell, so I don't think he's gonna be able to fulfill that request. Strider Returns isn't the best outing of one gaming's greatest ninjas. It wasn't even made by Capcom but that Game Over really, really stings. I don't think failure has even been rubbed in one's face so much. This is really one of those things that has to be seen so you can view it here.

Final Fight (Multi)

In order for arcade cabinets to make a hefty chunk of change, they had to make the games punishing and Final Fight was no exception. The original arcade version can surround the heroes with up to eight Mad Gear flunkies at once, even with a second player on the screen, meaning you'll be seeing much of that Game Over screen. And man, is it a dozy. Something about seeing your character tied up, tying desperately to blow out a stick of dynamite is enough to make you as frantic as they are. These days, having Guy, Cody and Haggar get blown to bits is an easy enough fate to avoid since most emulated versions give you unlimited continues. But if you played a stand up arcade and were out of quarters or your folks were heartless, then having Jessica's would-be saviors die a horrible death probably kept you awake at night.

Alfred Chicken (Multi)

At the continue screen, Alfred takes a nap on, of all things, a bomb. Rather than die in his sleep, he wakes up just before the bomb explodes. At the game over screen, we can see that he's been cooked. What did you think the bad guys were gonna do with him? He is a chicken, after all and even baddies gotta eat.

Donkey Kong Country (SNES)

Often times we see our protagonists die by fire, spikes, getting crushed and countless other means. Seldom do we get to see their crushed spirits after taking a beating. This isn't the case in the original Donkey Kong Country. Donkey and Diddy Kong look like they've been put through the ringer. Diddy has one nasty black eye and Donkey Kong's face palm shows that he's clearly had enough. Never have I seen a pair so completely and utterly defeated.

Ninja Giaden (ARC)

Most people are familiar with the ninja exploits of Ryu Hyabusa through the NES trilogy and his Xbox revival in 2005. But there's actually an arcade version of Ninja Gaiden and it's game over screen is enough to produce nightmare fuel. Ryu is tied down with a buzz saw descending towards his chest, all the while his enemies watch for their entertainment. When the countdown reaches zero? Fade to red as Ryu lets out a scream. Three words: scared for life.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Favorite Tunes #107: Block Droppin' Beats

The puzzle gaming genre may not be the first thing that springs to mind when you think of games with good music. You certainly wouldn't want some sucky tunes playing as those blocks rose or fell, now would you?

Technotris - Super Tetris 3 (SFC)

Super Tetris and three of theme at that? It seems like everywhere I turn there's another version of Tetris I haven't heard of. Technotris was a track first used in Bullet-Proof Software's Famicom version of Tetris and has been arranged in numerous BPS Tetris titles since. Just type in the track title and you'll come across the Famicom original as well as a few remixes. It's a pretty memorable tune. The SNES version has some Russian flair and a sick bass line among other awesomeness. Technotris is a combination of the words techno and tetris. But you probably already knew that.

Exercise Mode - Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine (GEN)

Back in the 1990s there were two drastically different animated versions of Sonic on American TV. The darker and edgier Sonic the Hedgehog, lovingly refered to as Sat AM Sonic, and the slapstick comedic Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog that aired on weekdays. Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine used characters from the weekday morning Sonic cartoon and was a re-skin of the now defunct company Compile's Puyo Puyo franchise. The character's may be different from that of the Puyo Puyo games, but Mean Bean Machine does use the same music, or rather Mean Bean Machine versions of Puyo Puyo music.

Satan's Theme - Puyo Puyo! 15th Anniversary (DS, PS2, PSP, Wii)

Well, speak of the devil. Telling someone that you love Satan's Theme will probably get you some strange looks, but anyone that knows a lot about this series or has played any of 2 player matches in Mean Bean Machine will instantly know what you're talking about. One of Puyo Puyo's most popular pieces of music, the 15th anniversary game gave Satan quite the intense remix. Compile may be no more but the Puyo Puyo franchise continues to live on. Seldom does a Puyo Puyo game release outside of Japan, but at least the Japanese fanbase and import junkies can still get their fix.

Mayan - The New Tetris (N64)

What was new about The New Tetris? Instead of seeing just the next upcoming block, this game showed three, although if you wanted to be surprised, you could turn this off. You could also save one block in store and switch that block with a more desireable block. Being an N64 title, it also supported four player multiplayer. Add in a slick soundtrack and you've got yourself a pretty spiffy Tetris experience.

Hallucid - Tetrisphere (N64)

The standard Tetris formula is usually the way most Tetris players tend to go, but that doesn't mean you should dismiss a Tetris game that mixes things up. Playing Tetris or a rotating sphere changes the Tetris formula quite considerably but it's still a fun, addictive experience. Tetrisphere also boasts a fantastic techno-inspired soundtrack.

The Path You Travel - Meteos (DS)

One of the earliest games for DS, Meteos is still one of the handheld's best titles. Designed by Kirby and Super Smash Bros. creator Masahiro Sakurai, Meteos has you launching, well, Meteos by matching three or more vertically or horizontally before both screens get too cramped and it's game over. This is actually the menu music of all things and it sounds quite uplifting and inspiring, rather than the simple, catchy looping themes you get from most puzzle game menus.

Favorite Tunes Database

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Innovation vs. Fun

Innovation is something that is heavily pushed by game developers and gamers alike. We are currently in the eighth console generation and game creators have more powerful hardware at their fingertips to work with. But all the power in the world doesn't mean a thing if you don't do anything useful with it and like any other medium, in gaming, ideas and concepts have been done to death. Staying relevant, let alone interesting in this industry isn't the easiest thing to do. That isn't to say its impossible to innovate or bring something new to the table.

Super Mario 3D World may not do anything new, but it sure
is loads upon loads of fun.

What was fresh ten or twenty years ago certainly isn't new today. So surviving on glory from the past is something that will frequently cause gamers and critics to point the finger at you. However, if you bring something back that hasn't been done in eons, going the "everything old is new again" route, then you can kinda get away with "been there done that." This is the very reason we ate up the first New Super Mario Bros. game on the DS. It was a welcome return to Mario's 2D platforming roots. The game released in 2006 and by that point, there hadn't been a 2D Super Mario game in over ten years. Mega Man 9 was in the same boat. The last classic series Mega Man game, Mega Man 8, hit the PlayStation and Saturn in 1997. Mega Man 9 was released as a digital title in 2008, a decade after the last entry. Not only that, it was done in the 8 bit style of the first six Mega Man NES games. Everything old is new again and then some.

Were Mega Man 9 and New Super Mario Bros. revolutionary, innovative games? Not by a long shot. Both games tread all too familiar territory but they were so well done and and entertaining that the overwhelming sense of deja vu didn't matter. In fact in the case of these two games that same feeling was like coming across an oasis after walking aimlessly in a desert for hours.

Mega Man X used the same formula as the classic Mega Man series, but you could still make the argument that it was an innovative game at least as far as Mega Man games are concerned at the time of it's release. The tone of Mega Man X was much darker than the classic series. Greater emphasis was placed on the story. X himself can do things his three laws compliant counter part cannot. He can climb walls and when he finds the right equipment, he can dash, charge up his special weapons and lessen the damage he takes. Yes, Mega Man X used the same routine as the classic series but it did enough things differently to set it apart and at the time, being a little different was what Mega Man needed.

SEGA's constant push to innovate with Sonic
is doing the character more harm than good.

If I may be so bold, the industry view of "innovative" is, to be blunt, hypocritical. For all the money some of these companies have, they'd rather pump it into graphic engines and throw it towards supped up trailers to catch the eyes of potential buyers rather than invest that time and money into making a quality product. We can't get another TimeSplitters because everyone and their mother wants to make the their shooter the next Call of Duty and cripes, does everyone that makes FPS wanna be that series. The amount of dark colors showing up in games these days is getting downright depressing because of it. So many companies are doing what money making company X is doing because they printed money with triple A title. If you can do what someone else did better fine, but when it's another "me too" game or an all together sucky product, then congratulations! You unlocked crappy copying skills.

SEGA, a company that has almost as many IPs as Nintendo, is giving their mascot all the time in the spotlight. The last time NiGHTS and other SEGA properties got to come out and play was in Sonic & All-Stars Racing: Transformed. And even Sonic himself keeps getting jerked around. Ironically, SEGA is trying to reinvent Sonic with each new platform release. Rather than be happy with the success that Sonic enjoyed with Sonic Colors and Generations, they took him in a new direction with Sonic Lost World, a game that wasn't trash that some made it out to be, but it did have it's problems. Although those problems paled in comparison to Sonic Boom's enormous hiccups. Yeah, Sonic Boom is a spin-off series and doesn't have the same continuity as the mainline Sonic titles, but it still fell flat on it's face on the way out the door. Its as if SEGA thinks fans won't like Sonic anymore unless he's always changing, which is actually working against their star character.

On the other hand, we have a lot of game companies that don't want to take any risks, being more than content with playing it safe rather than risk a well established IP going down the gutter. The problem with that sort of thinking is that it makes you look like coward and despite all this power and tech we've amassed over the years, the ones making and publishing the games seem to grow more fearful with each passing generation. Look, we get it game companies, you don't want to lose money. But then, why make a game with an over inflated budget and then go crying to mommy when it fails to meet your expectations at retail when said expectations are beyond ridiculous? A game selling close to 4 million copies for some ins't even close to breaking even these days because they spent far too much money making the game.

No other platform series gives you the sheer
amount of creativity and character customization
that LittleBigPlanet does.

Those of us that buy and play the games aren't blameless either. Nintendo's GamePad takes heat for not being a traditional controller. The number of articles and videos I've come across from people saying Nintendo should get rid of the GamePad borders on insanity. Even before the GamePad, the Wii's Wii Remote was under fire for making motion controls a big thing. God forbid gamers actually controls their games a bit differently. How are these people going to react to the next Nintendo console's controller? Years before the either one of those controllers, Nintendo changed the way we played games by inventing the digital pad. If that thing was tested by gamers with today's attitude fearing any alternate play style on a controller, it never would have made it out of the doors of Nintendo.

Oy, this approaching rant territory. I better hop on that "fun" side before I sound like another angry gamer on his soapbox. 

Sony's LittleBigPlanet series has quickly become one of my favorite platformers and this mainly stems from the franchises creator driven, customizable tools. This is not the first game in the world to give you the power to build your own levels or dress up your character. But it may be the first in the genre to go into so much depth on the subject matter. One of the biggest draws for me is dressing up my in game persona, SackBoy. The amount of clothing you can find and outfit SackBoy with is staggering. I can give him a lion's mane with bunny ears, dress him up a tuxedo with a woman's wig and countless other combinations. It may not seem like much but to a customization geek like me, that's a pretty big deal and I never knew how much fun playing dress up with a platform star could be until I actually did it. LittleBigPlanet breathed some much-needed life into my favorite genre. 

Nintendo is a company that is very easy to criticize. Despite the enormous amount of IPs they have, they seem content to rely heavily on Mario and Zelda. Haters and critics are quick to write off the newest game in both of these franchises as being the same old thing with a different coat of paint.
One of the reasons Nintendo can get away with "another Mario/Zelda game" is because these properties for the most part, are usually of topnotch quality. Super Mario 3D World is not an innovative game. However it is a game bursting with varied, brilliantly designed levels and that Nintendo polish. It has fun by the truckloads and a lot of 3D platformers that releases before it and the ones to come after will wish they could have served up as much smiles and fun as 3D World did.

Nintendo still knows how to introduce new game mechanics to their old franchises. The last two Zelda games, Skyward Sword and A Link Between Worlds shook things up considerably. Combat in Skyward Word was handled by the Wii Remote, but since we have so many that can't make sword slashes with a piece of plastic properly, Skyward Sword sucks. The world of A Link Between Worlds was familiar, sure, but the wall-merging mechanic really changed the way you went through dungeons and solved puzzles. Not mind blowing innovations perhaps, but they did alter the way you played the games and were new concepts to the franchise.

Gamers and game developers alike seem to think that you have to re-invite the wheel in order to be innovate. You don't. SEGA keeps trying to do that with Sonic and look at what it's doing to him. You don't need to be innovative on an ultra large scale to do new things with your game. Coming up with new ideas is important, yes, but when you're so caught up in doing so that you forget bout making your game fun, or sacrifice a large portion of it for a fresh concept, then that's were you falter and your game suffers for it. I once read that video games aren't about revolutions, but about fun and while I do believe this to be true, games can be about so much more than the fun factor, although it should never be forgotten about. In this business, the word "innovative" can be quite flexible, something developers should keep in mind when trying so hard to change the gaming world that they forget how to make a game fun.