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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Much Needed Re-Releases Part 3

With digital media continuing to make a big splash, the market for retro gaming is ever expanding. And yet there are still numerous titles that have yet to surface for purchase on our digital gaming stores. This is part of 3 of Much Needed Re-Releases where I feature four games I think should get another chance to shine.

U.N. Squadron (SNES, ARC)

Based off of the manga series Area 88, this is one of the licensed games from the 1990s that was actually good. Developed by Capcom for arcades and the ported to the SNES, U.N. Squadron is a solid SHMUP on both platforms in spite of the differences each version has from the other. Each of the three selectable ships has their strengths and weakness and you can always beef up your aircraft with the money you score from missions, although some of that extra artillery can get quite steep. The SNES version gives you some options on a few levels rather than flying from one level to the next as the arcade version has you do. Two things the SNES version doesn't have is co-op play and infinite continues. Since U.N. Squadron is an arcade game and a shooter, well, do the math. The stand up version is tough but the unlimited continues makes seeing that ending a easier pill to swallow. At home, only the most skilled of players could make it through to see the game's finale. Since this is a licensed game, odds of it surfacing as a digital release seem pretty slim.

Chip 'N Dale Rescue Rangers (NES)

Another licensed game and by Capcom, no less. They pretty almost always hit the nail on the head with licensed properties back in the day. DuckTales on the NES is usually the most remebered and talked about game of Capcom's 8-bit Disney outings, but Chip 'N Dale is no slouch. While it is a short romp, it has more levels than Scrooge's glob trotting adventure and supports two player co-op. Playing as either member of the chipmunk duo of your choice, you guide the heroes through trees, factories, casinos and the like but from their point of view. Instead of jumping on enemies, Chip and Dale uses boxes, which seem to be littered throughout every stage. These nifty squares can either be chucked at foes or they can wait for enemies to approach by hiding inside and when they collide with the box, they instantly get knocked off the screen. It's a charming mechanic that never gets old. Capcom has done much to earn them gamer's spite over the years, but the 2013 DuckTales Remastered was unquestionably one of their better moves and WayForward did a fantastic job making that game. Just imagine what they could do with this game.

Castlevania: Bloodlines (GEN)

The first three Castlevania games on the NES and Super Castlevania IV always seem to get so much digital love on Nintendo Platforms. Even Symphony of the Night and Castlevania Chronicles have been re-released for old and new fans to enjoy on the PlayStation Network. Where is the love for Bloodlines, one of the very few SEGA platform made Castlevania titles? The game is a audio, visual treat for the Genesis, pulling off some amazing scrolling and visuals effects. Bloodlines was also the very first Castlevania game that famed series composer Michiru Yamane scored music for and after hearing it, one can see why she was brought in for so many games after. You can play as whip wielding John Morris or spear touting Eric Lucard but unlike Castlevania III, once you're in it for the long haul with whom you choose here. Bloodlines unfortunately uses the same stiff controls from the first three Castlevania games so gone are the mid air controls, which means more precised, planned movement is key. You've got some diversity in the way John and Eric play from one another, which gives the game some replay value. But since this is a Castlevania game, one made before the series went all Metrovania on us, it does use that fiendish difficulty level. The only thing worse than stiff controls and knock back is limited continues to go with the aforementioned. Yes, for whatever reason, Konami thought limiting our chances for success in a tough game was a good call to make. Since Konami seems to be giving the middle finger to console gaming, your only chance to experience this is by finding a cart.

Contra Hard Corps (GEN)

Contra games are by nature, games designed to shatter the sanity of all living beings that posses thumbs. The first game was crazy difficult and Super C somehow managed to crank up the difficulty even further. And then there's Contra Hard Corps. Look at the second word in that title. They may as well have not even bothered adding the "Corps." You get five characters to choose from, including the diminutive robot Brownie, who's small size is a huge asset because everything that isn't you or your buddy wants you dead in this game. You're constantly under fire from mooks, mid bosses are everywhere and the bosses themselves do not go down easy. In Japan, the game actually let you take up to three hits before you died. The American and European versions stay truer to the classic Contra one-hit-and-you're-dead rule and considering how fast you'll die in this game, that was a stupid decision on Konami's part when localizing the game. Like Bloodlines, Hard Corps was hit with the limited continues stick, making a soul crushing game, near unforgivable. Still, the game is loved by fans and it certainly is an interesting entry in the Contra series.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Metroid Fans on Federation Force: We're Mad!

At this year's E3, Nintendo showed us a trailer for Metroid Prime: Federation Force, the first new Metroid since the 2010 Metroid: Other M. The trailer alone sparked such a venomous response from fans. No hands on time with the game from the press or anything, just a trailer and the fandom is furious, calling for the termination of Federation Force. OK, so it goes a bit deeper than that, but I still find the reaction to this game reveal quite silly.

"Kill it! Kill it with fire!" - Overreacting
Metroid Fans

Federation Force from what we've seen doesn't appear to be your father's Metroid game. Being a spin-off, that can be expected, but that still doesn't sit well with series fans. One of the main sticking points is the absence of series protagonist and bounty hunter, Samus Aran. Our leading lady seems to be MIA in Federation Force and in her place are some no name (at this present time), galactic fighters with multicolored face plates on their helmets. Will they have speaking rolls? Will story be a key part of the game? We don't know yet, but the last time Samus did a lot of talking that wasn't purely texted based, fans threw a hissy fit.

The game's very title serves to link it to the Metroid Prime universe, and this is something a lot of fans believe Federation Force does not deserve. The main focus seems to be on co-op multiplayer and that's kind off all we know at this point. But what little we know is enough to have fans trying to get Nintendo to cancel the game via petition. Yes, this is a thing.

As for Samus not being in the game, well, yes, this does surprise me a bit, but this is a spin-off game, but apparently fans saw the "Prime" in the title and forgot to take that into account. People do know what spin-off games are, don't they? These are games that sometimes feature the main characters and sometimes they don't. Since this isn't a game in the main series, I can't find much fault for the lack of Ms. Aran.

I think most F-Zero fans remember the third game in the series, F-Zero Maximum Velocity. It was a GBA launch title that returned the series to its Mode 7 racing roots. You know what it didn't have? Captain Falcon. He wasn't a hidden racer or anything. The good captain just wasn't in the game. At all. Nor was Pico, Dr. Stewart or Captain Falcon's arch rival, Samurai Goroh.  Heck, not even any of the additional 26 racers from F-Zero X were in Maximum Velocity. The racers for the first F-Zero GBA outing were entirely new and it didn't dampen the enjoyment of the racer in the slightest. The Super Smash Bros. games give Captain Falcon more screen time outside of his Blue Falcon race machine than his own series does. I'd argue that most people probably wouldn't even know what Captain Falcon looks like had he not been a character in Smash.

Maximum Velocity was a fantastic racer even
without the presence of Captain Falcon.

Federation Force can still be a competent game without Samus. Although from the way fans are raving like a bunch of lunatics, I don't think including Samus would make them change their tone much, if at all. The SD look of Federation Force in contrast with Metoid Prime's more realistic character designs has also caused a big stir. I don't think anyone batted an eye when Samus was, once upon a time, the same size as Ridely and Kraid in the original Metroid. I guess the fandom unknowingly made up a rule that all Metroid games, even spin-off titles have to use realistic looking character models. The earlier Final Fantasy games had plenty of serious plot points in their stories but your star characters were of the SD variety. Those titles certainly weren't lesser games for it. Meanwhile, the current brand of Final Fantasy outings are all super dark and serious with realistic body types, but continue to be a laughing stock for all the wrong reasons. But that's a topic for another day.

He used to be universally despised. Now?
Everyone loves him.

When Nintendo had demos to show off the graphical power of the GameCube in 2000, we saw, at the time, the most realistic version of Link getting ready to throw down with Gannondorf. Then the summer of 2001 rolled around and we got a Link that looked nothing like the late teens, battle savvy warrior we saw in that tech demo. With his unique cel-shade look, fans dubbed the game that would be titled the Wind Waker, Celda. Response to Toon Link was not unlike the reaction to Federation Force. My, how things changed when the game was released in 2003 and more than a decade later. The Wind Waker is now looked upon as a classic and its visual style being one of the game's best attributes. It received an HD remaster on the Wii U and Toon Link has more personality than any other Link, which is remarkable for a character that pretty much says jack squat. Metroid fans are losing their crap over a game that "doesn't look like Metroid" in the same manner that Wind Waker did not look like a Zelda game.

"Boo, its 3D!"
"It doesn't look like Metroid!"
Yes, we're really doing the same song and dance
for Federal Federation that we did with Metroid Prime, a
game that is now adored by many.

Lastly, does anyone remember the time before Metroid Prime released? Hoo boy, everyone under the sun had no faith in the game. It wasn't going to be a 2D adventure fans were expecting and its development team, Retro Studios was having a devil of a time trying to make the 3D transition of one of Nintendo's iconic franchises. When Metroid Prime was finally released, the game received wide spread critical acclaim, keeping many of the classic Metroid elements despite being a 3D game. What originally "didn't look like a Metroid game" is now viewed as a masterpiece. It really is ironic how Federation Force's reveal is strikingly similar to how people felt before Metroid Prime came out. I wonder how many of the people wanting Federation Force to be crucified can recall how they once felt about their beloved Metroid Prime. You need only scroll down in the comments section on the reveal trailer or any news article talking about the game and see that the level of butt-hurt is strong.

The development team behind Federation Force instills me with confidence. The team is Next Level Games, the same company that brought back Punch-Out!! on the Wii and Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon, a very worthy successor to the original game. Nintendo didn't just throw anyone onto this project and I loved what they've done with the company's properties. It may not look like it belongs in the Metroid Prime universe, but given how Nintendo is always watchful to whom it lets touch it's game licenses, I like to think Metroid Prime: Federation Force won't be the bomb so many are already writing it off to be. 

Monday, June 22, 2015

Favorite Tunes #118: After E3 2015 Edition

So another E3 has come and gone. There's lot of exciting, new games to look forward to this fall and holiday season. But until then, be sure to enjoy what you've already got on your plate. If you're anything like me, you've probably already got a lot and then some.

Opening ~ Bombing Mission - Final Fantasy VII (PS, PC)

Remember those Final Fantasy VII, VIII and IX remakes that never materialized on the PS2 or PS3? Well *in Professor Fonsworth voice*  good news, everyone! At the very least, Final Fantasy VII is getting a gorgeous HD remake on the PS4! This remake only took waaaaay too many years to come about. FFVII's introduction theme music and first mission theme has always been one of my favorites and I'm curious to see who it will be arranged for the remake.

Space Armada - Star Fox (SNES)

In what has been an excrusiatingly long wait, at long last, we're getting a new Star Fox game. Star Fox Zero hits the Wii U this holiday season and it will be the first Star Fox game in well over a decade. Developed by Platinum Games under Nintendo's watchful eyes, Star Fox Zero ought to be a space shooter to remember. Will any themes from the original Star Fox get arranged for Star Fox Zero? If they do, I hope Space Armada gets some love. Yeah, there's the excellent Brawl remix, but I'd love to see this theme get more attention.

Shrouding Dark Cloud - Kingdom Hearts (PS2)

After far too many spin off titles, Square Enix is finally putting a "III" after the words "Kingdom Hearts". I've yet to really dive into the first game and I haven't heard a lot of good about the side games, but the music has always been on point. Yoko Shimomura really does know how to string together some engaging music.

Dr. Wily Stage 2 - Mega Man 4 (NES)

After more than a decade, we're finally getting another classic Mega Man collection in the form of Mega Man Legacy Collection. I'm a bit miffed its only focusing on the first six Mega Man games, but its looking like a lot of care went into this one. Mega Man 4's sound font may sound a bit muffled when compared to all the other NES titles, but there are still some really good compositions here. Dr. Wily's second level theme (which plays on stages 3 and 4 respectively) is quite lively when compared to other Wily stage tunes.

Strike the Earth! (Plains of Passage) - Shovel Knight (Wii U, 3DS, PC, PS4, XBO)

I think its safe to assume that most people that owned a Wii U have probably played Shovel Knight when it was released in June 2014. The game was given a broader release when it hit the PS4 and Xbox One this year, thereby exposing it to a wider audience. The chip-tastic soundtrack is brought to you by Jake "virt" Kaufman and Mega Man 1 song writer Manami Matsumae contributing a few tracks.

Ken's Theme - Super Smash Bros. for Wii U (Wii U)

Ryu's inclusion in Super Smash Bros. 4, like Mega Man and Pac-Man is no small thing. I'd thought we'd seen the end of third party characters making guest appearances but this is one of those times where I don't mind being wrong. The world warrior plays just as he does in the Street Fighter games and you can even use classic SF commands to make his moves do more damage. His stage, Suzaku Castle features music ripped right from the 1991 classic fighting game and some brand new arrangements. Ken may not be in the game, but he's here in spirit with this amazing remix.

Favorite Tunes Database

Monday, June 15, 2015

Favorite Tunes #117: Genesis Does

Ah, SEGA's aggressive marketing campaign. Back in 16-bit era and well into the 32-bit gaming era, SEGA was not the least bit shy about slamming the competition in advertisements, be they on TV or in print. I gave the SNES it's day in the sun with a previous Favorite Tunes, so now I'm giving the Genesis, easily SEGA's best console, a day in the limelight.

Buttville ~ The Descent  - Earthworm Jim (GEN ver.)

Whenever you've got a game on the SNES and the Genesis, you're always going to hear fanboys rage over which version of said game did things better. That mentally is more apparent than ever when it comes to Earthworm Jim. I get a serious kick out of both versions soundtracks, but there's no denying that some tracks are just plain better on the Genesis, like one of my favorite jams. This is also known as Use Your Head, since Jim uses noggin like a helicopter to descend.

The Sinking Old Sanctuary - Castlevania: Bloodlines (GEN)

One of the two Castlevania games to ever get release on a SEGA platform, Bloodlines may not stack up with other more traditional vampire slaying adventures, but its still a competent Castlevania title. You can select between two playable characters with their own unique play styles and the visual and audio treatment does not disappoint. Bloodlines is the first Castlevania game Michiru Yamane wrote music for.

Theme of MUSHA Aleste - M.U.S.H.A. (GEN)

Hope on the Wii's Wii Shop channel and download this sucker now if you haven't already. It's a fantastic shooter by the now deceased Compile, a company that makes some of the best games in the genre. Oh and the title music is fifty different kinds of awesome. So good you may not even press that start button.

Military on the Max-Power - Gunstar Heroes (GEN)

The ultimate run 'n gun shooter, Treasure's Gunstar Heroes is, for me, still the greatest game they've ever made. The game oozes personality with its varied stages, boss fights and an unforgettable soundtrack brought to us by NON. This pounding theme is sadly cut short about midway through the stage. Would it have been too much trouble to let it play again after we aced that second mini boss?

Stage 5: Ellis - Thunder Force III (GEN)

The Genesis was blessed with not one, not two, but three, count 'em three Thunder Force titles. Most usually rule in favor of Thunder Force IV, released as Lightning Force here in the west, but Thunder Force III is still a top notch contender for best shooter on the Genesis. I feel like I'm not doing the game justice by representing this one song here because the entire soundtrack is gold.

Blue Sky Laundry - Battle Mania Daiginjou (GEN)

For those that had a proper understanding of the Genesis sound chip, it actually handled rock music extremely well. The second Battle Mania game is full of heavy Genesis rock, which fits perectly with all the on-screen shooting action this game provides. Pity this game never made it outside of Japan.

Favorite Tunes Database

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Mega Man Legacy Collection: A Missed Opportunity

Some of my editorials regarding Capcom's handling of Mega Man over the last few years might make me come off as some sort of apologist for the company. Don't misunderstand, I'd love to see the parent company treat my favorite blue robot better but even without anything in the way of new games, he's still fared much better than most gaming franchises. Oh and what is that? Is it?! Could it be? Yes, it is! A new Mega Man game! Mega Man is back with the Mega Man Legacy Collection! Oh, so it's a compilation release and not really a new game. Well, that's cool. We're long overdue for another Mega Man classic series collection. Hold up, it only has Mega Man 1-6? Seriously? Come on, Capcom, you had one job!

When I'd first caught wind of the Mega Man Legacy Collection, my heart could have skipped a beat. Could have. Instead, my hot air balloon was quickly deflated  when I learned that of the classic console games, only Mega Man 1-6 would be present. Did Capcom forget that 7-10 even exist? What about the Super Famicom version of Rockman & Forte AKA Mega Man & Bass? Or the Rockman World titles, AKA Mega Man I-V on the Game Boy? What About the Genesis Wily Wars? This was Capcom's chance to release the ultimate classic Mega Man collection but they managed to shortchange us on the games. 

Mega Man 8, one of the many games that will receive no love
on the Mega Man Legacy Collection.

Now it is all fog and negativity. The challenge mode, database and museum are sure to make some nice extras as are those leader boards for the competitive Mega Man player. I love looking at official artwork and sketches and the Mega Man Legacy Collection is going to be loaded with that stuff. However, if you already have Mega Man: The Official Complete works book or it's 2012 updated release, you've seen most of the art this collection has to show you. Still, it will be nice to have it in a digital format.

And speaking of digital, the Mega Man Legacy Collection is going to be a digital release. Not gonna lie, that kinda stings. As much as I love digital games, especially of the old-school kind, I think Mega Man is deserving of having a collection on physical media. Curiously, only the PS4, Xbox One PC and 3DS will be getting the Legacy Collection. Capcom has decided to leave the Wii U out in the cold.

The Mega Man Anniversary Collection was released on the PS2, GCN and XB in 2004. It may not have been perfect but it had Mega Man 1-8 on the disc as well as Mega Man The Power Battle and The Power Fighters, the two arcade games that had awesome remixed music. Legacy Collection could have easily trumped the 2004 release by having all of its games and more but for whatever reason, Capcom choose to only include the NES era. Why? Its not like the current generation of consoles can't handle Mega Man 7 and 8 and we've seen the PS3, Wii and 360 handle Mega Man 9-10 without breaking a sweat. Unless Capcom is planning to do a Legacy Collection 2 (which would be stupid since the later games could have easily been included) there's no reason why this upcoming collection should only include 6 Mega Man games.

Mega Man Legacy Collection reminds me of the Wii's Super Mario All-Stars Limited Edition, a re-release of the SNES game. This game was meant to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Super Mario Bros. series as it had turned a quarter of a century old in 2010. Super Mario Bro.s 1-3 is fine and all (Lost Levels can go screw itself) but they could have taken things further by including more games in the series like Super Mario World and Super Mario 64. 

As much as fans and even Capcom may not want to admit it, Mega Man spans beyond 8-bits and a Mega Man compilation containing only Mega Man 1-6 seems a bit short sighted. While it sounds like this collection will give the first six console Mega Man games some TLC, its still a missed opportunity for what could have been a mega collection.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Favorite Tunes #116: Schools Out

Well, this is the month of June and you know what that means. Graduations and summer time. Time to hit the pool, the beach, go sky diving, spend more time at the arcade or whatever fun activities have you. As they say, schools out for summer.

Credits - Splatoon (Wii U)

If you managed to tear yourself away from Splatoon's highly addictive online multiplayer mode and finish the single play campaign,  you not only picked up some handy tactics to use while you make people dye online, but were also rewarded with this oh-so-chill theme.

Eternal Empire - Suikoden (PS)

They play the same old song at high school graduations. You know the one I'm talking about.  Yes, I understand tradition, but I think it doesn't hurt to mix things up every now and then, which brings us to this theme. This glorious. accomplishment inspired theme. I think if this were played at a graduation, most probably wouldn't even be aware of it's origins.

Slammin' Sea - Mega Bomberman (GEN)

Mega Bomberman is actually a port of the TG-16's Bomberman '94 and is, to my knowledge, the only Bomberman game to have graced the Genesis. Some like to argue that Jun Chikuma's compositions don't translate as well on the Genesis hardware, but I think some of the tunes sound better on SEGA's 16-bit baby.

Pac-Man's Park - Pac-Mania (ARC)

This 1987 arcade release was quite different from the original Pac-Man. The isometric view really shook things up. Mazes were bigger than a single screen. New ghosts were introduced and Pac-Man could jump, giving him more options for evading his super natural pursuers. Musically, this game has some of Pac-Man's best jams with this theme being remixed along with Block Town in Super Smash Bros. 4.

Main Theme - NBA Jam (SNES)

Why was NBA Jam such a big hit in the mid 1990s? Easily accessible, fun arcade gameplay, the NBA license and that crazy announcer with his catch phrases like "BOOMSSHALAKA!" Nothing against sim sports titles but I love just being able to jump into a sports game without having to worry about all the super realistic mojo. The game's Main Theme sounds even better on the SNES sound chip than it does in the arcade.

Koopa Beach - Super Mario Kart (SNES)

You think Mario Kart games cause rage now? Well, back in my day, the cheating AI of Super Mario Kart was the original Blue Shell! In all seriousness, Super Mario Kart is a super fun racer that is not without it's flaws, the main one being the high unbalanced AI. Written by Soyo Oka, who was inspired by Koji Kondo's infectious compositions, its no wonder Super Mario Kart's soundtrack is so memorable. I'd love for her to come back and write some music for future Mario Kart games.

Favorite Tunes Database

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Latest Purchases #81

Did you ever do something stupid like throw away the boxes that your NES, SNES and N64 games came in? Since this was long before companies thought to put games in lasting cases, I'm sure more than a few of you did just that. Thanks to Retro Game Cases, I'm now able to pimp out my retro games in style and keep those cartridges from getting dust in them. These cases are of excellent quality and for some games, you can choose to go with the Japanese box art, as I did for Super Mario 64. When I looked over the back case for Super Mario Bros. 3, I realized how much I missed reading the text on the back of those old NES boxes. Most cases are under $10 and I can't wait to order some more.

I think plushies may be my favorite video game collectible memorabilia. In the four years I've been living in Virginia Beach, I've amassed a ton of these things and now I've got three more to add to the pile. To my knowledge, this is the only Mega Man X plush available and its done in the same style as the Mega Man and Proto Man plushies that I've got. No surprise since X is also from Great Eastern Entertainment. All X needs now is his partner Zero, which I'll get around to ordering in due time.

Wind Waker Zelda has one of my favorite designs of the Zelda character, right next to Skyward Sword Zelda. The art style of Wind Waker lends itself quite well to plushies and now Toon Link won't be so lonely. I love the attention to detail on this thing. I think she's a little bit bigger than both of my Toon Link plushies, though.

I found this Blue Pikmin behind a set of Nintendo and My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic plushies. He was really tucked away back there. I saw something blue in the back and thought "Could it be?!" And it was! The original three color Pikmin are present and accounted for. The Purple and White Pikmin gotta be comin' down the pipe line next.

Anyone remember The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past manga? I'd seen this in the issues of Nintendo Power way back in 1992. Looking at it a again having now read numerous manga, the art style looked very familiar to me. It turns out the story and art was done by none other than Shotaro Ishinomori, the guy that did, among other works, Cyborg 009. Ishinomori's art style is very similar to the famed Osamu Tezuka, who has a very unique, round style to his drawings, giving it a very classic look. I never did get to read this entire Link to the Past manga. I didn't start buying Nintendo Power regulalry until 1993 and by that time, the manga had already run it's course. Naturally, I'm pretty excited to have this baby among my Zelda stuff. Viz published this thing so hopefully they'll do more reprints of Nintendo stuff like the Super Mario Adventures manga that also ran in Nintendo Power or Ishinomori's other projects like Cyorg 009, which really needs to get reprinted. I believe he also had a Rockman manga and I'd really love to see that.

I've seen this Bowser plushie online for a few years now and having finally him in my posession, I can see that he's much, much bigger than I thought he'd be. He might be the biggest plush that I own and he's detailed and stuffed quite well. He's so massive and bulky that's it really is kinda hard to capture him in a photo. That and it's tough to get him to stand up on his own.

Some amiibos are much harder to find than others. That's not exactly breaking news, but its still quite infuriating that scalpers continue to get their way since Nintendo does not understand the concept of supply and demand for their amiibo line. I was really surprised to walk into my local GameStop, which I hadn't visited in months and see a lone Pac-Man amiibo sitting with The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD plushies. I'm guessing someone decided not to pick him up, because that's the only reason I can fathom that he wouldn't be in the amiibo section. I never expected it to be that easy to snag a Pac-Man, but in this case, it really was.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Falling for Gravity Falls


I've been aware of the existence of Gravity Falls for, I wanna say, a few years now. The show often comes up in conversation along with Steven Universe for being one of the greatest shows in western animation. Considering both shows are still on their second season and have such a strong, devoted fanbase, that speaks volume for each show's quality. But where as I've been along for the ride of Steven Universe since the show premiered, I didn't hop on the Gravity Falls train until a few weeks ago.

The first full episode of Gravity Falls that I had seen was Fight Fighters, the 10th episode of the first season. One of my good friends was in town and like old times, we hung out, watching anime and cartoons. He was pretty adamant that I get into Gravity Falls but rather than start at the beginning, he started me off with this episode. It's chalk full of video game references like beat 'em ups, Donkey Kong and especially Street Fighter. It was a laugh riot and was enough to convince me to give Gravity Falls a serious look.

Just another day in the life of mystery twins
Dipper and Mabel Pines. 

Sure, Fight Fighters was an episode you could jump into right away, but having now watched the entire first season and being caught up like most fans are, this is definitely one of those shows that I recommended starting from episode one. Yes, there are loads and loads of laughs to be had in this series but there's also mystery and in great abundance. What's up with those journals? Why are some of the townsfolk so screwy? What gives with those codes at the end of each episode? And why are there so many freaky triangles all over the place? Those are but a few of the mysteries that litter the town known as Gravity Falls.

The mystery aspect of the show is unquestionably it's biggest draw. The intro alone gives one the impression that there is lots to uncover in this series. I really wasn't expecting it to play such a large role in the show, since, prior to sitting down and watching all of the episodes, I hadn't done any research on this series, which, in hindsight, I'm really glad I didn't. It was quite refreshing to find out all of these things first hand. Of course, since so much is shrouded in mystery, there's still much I don't know. Watching clips on YouTube and re-watching episodes, I've noticed things I didn't see upon the first viewing. This huge emphasis on mystery and attention to detail make Gravity Falls so much more than "just another Disney cartoon."

Old Man McGucket may seem like just another
crazy old man, but there is much more to him
than meets the eye.

If I may, I'd like to take a few moments to talk about another one of my favorite animated shows, Steven Universe. The first time fusion was talked about in universe in Steven Universe was Giant Woman, the 12th episode of the first season. Here, we learn that the gems can fuse into a much more powerful warrior. But before this, we were given hints that one of the three Crystal Gems was a fusion. Garnet, the tallest, strongest of the gems has two gems, while Pearl and Amethyst only have a single gem. In the episode Alone Together, Amethyst says fusing is difficult for herself and Pearl, but Garnet says it isn't hard for her to pull off, and this is due to the fact that she herself is a fusion, but she doesn't share this information with Steven. Those are just a few hints that were dropped for viewers to put the pieces together that this super tall, super strong gem has been the combination of two gems this whole time. Rather than keep the audience in the dark about it, clues were sprinkled all throughout the first season, leading up to the big reveal in the season finale Jail Break, that yes, Garnet is a fusion. To drive the point home even further, Steven finds this out after he helps get Garnet's two halves, Ruby and Sapphire, back together. There were fans that already knew Garnet was a fusion since they connected the dots, but there were still plenty out there that watched the show religiously that had no idea she was two gems, making that bombshell reveal that much more powerful.

And what about the Homeworld Gem invasion on Earth? We were given some hints of this in some of the earliest episodes like Serious Steven. The opening location is a strawberry field, littered with weapons because it was once a gem battlefield. Inside the pyramid we see some rather interesting murals on the wall that show Rose Quartz facing, what is more than likely one of the Homeworld Gem invaders. And speaking of the Homeworld Gems, why aren't there more of them on Earth? At the start of the show, we're almost lead to believe Pearl, Garnet and Amethyst are the last of their kind until Mirror Gem/Ocean Gem where we meet Lapis Lazuli and find out there are more gems out there. Not only that, but there is a whole planet full of gems that the Crystal Gems want nothing to do with since their previous invasion on Earth caused much harm to the planet. The Crystal Gems may defend humanity, but the Homeworld Gems certainly don't feel the same way about our species. All of this was stuff the viewer could pick up on upon close observation before the show had the characters state it.

The ever vigilant Bill Cipher is bad news. He
also knows things. LOTS of things. 

OK, so what does Steven Universe's wonderful way of allowing the viewer to piece things together have anything to do with Gravity Falls? The shows are very similar in this respect, that's what. While it is true that many mysteries and questions have yet to be answered in Gravity Falls, this show, much like Steven Universe, allows many watchful eyed viewers to pick up on on-going plot threads. Like Steven Universe, Gravity Falls excels at foreshadowing.

Dipper spends much of the series trying to solve mysteries and unlock the secrets of Gravity Falls much like the Author of the journals did, but unbeknownst to him, there was a huge mystery right under his own roof that he never noticed, his Gruncle Stan. Throughout the first season we get hints that there is much more to Stan Pines than his shady businessman nature would have you believe. I actually thought something wasn't right in the intro the way the S always falls off the "Shack," as if to allude to him being a fraud in some way other than his questionable business practices. I suppose this was just to show that much of the stuff he tries to goad customers into buying is being fake. But then he sneakily goes down a hidden passage behind the vending machine in the Mystery Shack. As funny as his amoral businessman persona is, what he was hiding from Dipper and Mabel make him a far more interesting character.

Ghosts, monsters, paranormal activity are all
great for attracting tourists. In Gravity Falls, however, all
of those things are very real threats.

And man, is Stan hiding things. The mid season two finale, Not What He Seems, turned out to be everything everyone said it was. What fans long suspected from the clues left up until this point, turned out to be true: Stan has a twin brother, who turned out to be the one who made the journals. The episode went much further than though. Stan may not even be Stan and could just be impersonating the real Stanford Pines as a news article found by Dipper and Mabel says that Stan died in a car crash. We still don't know the full specifics on this one but since Stan kept this from the twins and the universal portal that Stan used to bring his brother back from that other dimension could have destroyed the world, you better believe we're in for more mysteries and some strained relationships. On the other hand, the title Not What He Seems could have another meaning. Dipper assumes the worst of Stan since he hid the journals and had so many fake ids. But maybe the the title was alluding to the twins assumptions about Stan being this terrible person being completely wrong. After all, if you had a loved one that was taken from you for thirty years, you'd probably do everything you could to get them back.

Of course you can't have a good show without interesting characters and Gravity Falls has quite the cast. I've already went into some detail about Stan so I'd like to mention some of the other main characters and even the supporting cast. Dipper is a smart, mature for his age preteen that still shows his childish side. He's the brains to Mabel's brawn. Well perhaps brawn isn't the best word to describe Mabel. She's one cute, hyperactive kid that is the queen of adorkable. Her over the top silliness is just so endearing to me that she quickly become my favorite character.

Dipper, Mabel and Stan may be the central cast but the supporting characters get time in the spotlight as well. We find out that Soos looks up to Stan because he gave him a job and he's around way more than his actual father ever was. Pacifica Northwest, who was originally intended to exist in the show just to annoy Mabel was hit with huge character development in the second season where she went form snobby bully girl to a distraught girl that fears she's just like her screwed up family. With some help from Dipper her snoddy persona begins to fade and it kinda looks like she could actually start crushing on him.

So now that I've taken the plunge and seen what the hype is all about I can't wait for new episodes in July. Why was the Author in that other dimension? Why is Bill planning? Will Mabel find true love? Ugh, hurry up and get here, July.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Favorite Tunes #115: That SNES Sound Chip

The SNES is quite possibly my favorite video game console of all-time. It has a phenominal library of games, a smooth, comfortable controller and the sound chip, which was actually designed by Sony (oh the irony) still amazes me to this day. Maybe one day, I'll do a feature showcasing my favorite SNES soundtracks, but until then, enjoy a selection of SNES tracks.

Mission 4 - Super Double Dragon (SNES)

Known as Return of Double Dragon in Japan, like all franchise that jumped onto Nintendo's 16-bit console, Double Dragon was given the Super label. As great it was to hear familiar songs like the Main Theme in the glorious SNES sound chip, the new tracks featured in Super Double Dragon were quite the audio treat. During the game's fourth mission, you fight it out atop moving trucks as this jam plays.

HyperZone - HyperZone (SNES)

One of the earliest games on the SNES. Showing off the power of 16-bits was of the utmost importance and alongside games like F-Zero and Pilotwings, HAL's Hyper Zone really put the system's Mode 7 capabilities to work. You read right, Hyper Zone was developed by HAL of Kirby fame. Even the music is Kirby-ish and that's to be expected since the game's sound composer was none other than Jun Ishikawa.

Athletic - Super Mario World (SNES)

Super Mario Bros. 4: Super Mario World. Woo boy, is that one mouthful of a title, much like the original Japanese anime title episodes. When the game was released in America, Nintendo's American branch decided to cut to the chase and call it Super Mario World. Much of Super Mario World's soundtrack for the level themes use the same theme in different arrangements. The Athletic theme is a quick paced, piano laced tune and like the other level themes, gets a set of bongo drums if you happen to bring Yoshi.

Mission 2 Enemy Airforce/Mission 3 - U.N. Squadron (SNES)

A port of the arcade game, in Japan, this game is known as Area 88, which is based off of a manga series of the same name that has several anime adaptations. Notable differences from the arcade version to the home port include, the option to select your mission after the initial stage, new (expensive planes to buy) and some new tracks, and regrettably, limited continues, making an already difficult game that much harder.

Bar - Front Mission (SNES)

When you think of tactical RPGs, you probably still imagine swords and sorcery coming into play. Front Mission is tactical, but gives the aforementioned mid evil trappings the boot. Instead, you duking it out on the grid in mechs, or as they are called in Front Mission, wanzers, which is German for walking tank, While the third and fourth games were released in the states, the original Front Mission wouldn't be official released until the 2007 DS port. The game's soundtrack  was scored by Yoko Shimomura and Noriko Matsueda, the later being the one responsible for this super smooth jazz theme.

Cast Roll - Mega Man X

Since those maverick stage themes get all the attention, let's shine the spotlight on some of Mega Man X's other splendid tracks, like the slow rocking Cast Roll theme. Not to be confused with the Staff Roll music, the Cast Roll is a tune dedicated to all the stars IN the game like X, Zero, Sigma, etc. Please, Mega Man X fans, I beg you, love this theme more.

Favorite Tunes Database