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Monday, August 24, 2015

5 Reasons You Should Be Watching We Bare Bears

During the month of July, I noticed some strange ad appearing over and over on Cartoon Network. Now I've seen more than my fair share of bizarre TV spots on the network, many of which are quite welcome, but in all my years of watching, I've never seen a stack of bears walking about. The threesome consisted of a grizzly bear, a panda bear, and a polar bear walking through numerous backgrounds of established Cartoon Network original shows. Like Steven Universe before it premiered, We Bare Bears was being hyped up to it's July 27th air date. Unlike a lot of new shows, however, We Bare Bears was given a solid week to air the first six episodes. Yeah, I'd say Cartoon Network has a lot of faith in this show.

Ice Bear is prepared for intruders.

With Steven Universe once again going on hiatus after a third Steven Bomb, We Bare Bears came along at just the right time. It is now one of my favorite shows on TV and I look forward to new episodes just as much as I do any other show I'm heavily invested in. If you like cartoons, if you like to laugh or you just need something on the tube, you should already be watching We Bare Bears. If, for some strange reason, you aren't tuning in, I've got a few reasons why you should be.

1. The Clean Animation and Art Style

The animation and the art style of We Bare Bears is simple and clean. The colors aren't as vibrant as those in other cartoons, but at the same time, the colors aren't washed out either. Its a very good mix and I love the super round art design of the bears and the human characters. Speaking of the humans, the character designers did an excellent job of giving them some distinguished looks. Be it the background humans or those that show up for one episode, the humans have a great look about them. 

2. Fitting in As a Main Theme

According to show creator Daniel Chong, the main theme of We Bare Bears is fitting in. Lots of shows have a central theme and I think Daniel choose a good one to run with. Trying to find your place in the world is something each and every one of us can identify with. Everyone fits in somewhere but doing so for the bears might be more difficult than others. They really do seem like outcasts as a lot of humans don't know what to think of them. It isn't X-Men levels of shunned, but the bears are often on the outside looking in. Grizz, more than Panda or Ice Bear really wants to make friends and its a bit discouraging to watch some of his attempts fail in "Viral Video." On the human side of things, we have Chloe, a child prodigy that has trouble talking with a lot of college students because she's shy and she's a lot younger than everyone else there. She can really relate to the bears, which might be why she became such fast friends with the trio. 

3. Family That Isn't Related

Gumball and Darwin aren't related by blood but they are still brothers. Steven isn't blood related to the gems but they are very much part of his family Grizz, Panda and Ice Bear may not be born of the same mother, but these three are family in every sense of the word. There's something very heartwarming about three bears giving up a jean jacket that has the power to make everything go their way in order to maintain the bond they have.

4. Laugh Out Loud Funny

"Ice Bear smells like clean babies."

That is but one of the many, stoically delivered lines from Ice Bear. Its almost impossible not to laugh whenever he opens his mouth.

We Bare Bears is loaded with tons of hilarious dialogue and funny scenarios. When the bears try to improve Chloe's report in "Chloe," it's done in a power point video fashion and overloads her laptop, causing it to crash with tons of freeze frame bonuses for careful eyed viewers. Panda's attempts to have a date with Lucy in "Panda's Date" go horribly wrong and end with him in the hospital, and the above gif is what happens when you give bears lots of money in "Food Truck." 

But for all the humor the show provides, it can still tug on you feels strings. Just watch "Burrito" to see what I mean. And bring some tissues.   

5. The Musical Numbers are SO GOOD!

I always consider it a major plus when a show can hook you with the opening tune and We Bare Bears came out guns blazing. That intro song is the stuff catchy beats are made of and the icing on an already delicious cake is that its sung by Estelle, who voices Garnet on Steven Universe. Thankfully, the good stuff doesn't end there. Some episodes have montages complete with awesome vocal music numbers. Much of the show's music is composed by Brad Breeck, who is also behind the music of Gravity Falls. He's even sung quite a number of the show's songs. On the song writing end, Daniel Chong has actually written a few tracks. The genres these tracks range from are all over the place so there's some very nice diversity.   


The first season of We Bare Bears is 52 episodes and Cartoon Network has already renewed the show of a second season of another 52 episodes. Only 9 episodes have aired thus far and this show already has my full, undivided attention. I want to see more of the bears interactions with Chloe and other humans. I want to find out more about the bear's pasts. I want more award worthy musical performances. I want more. We Bare Bears.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Nintendo Should Do More Compilation Releases

I really like Nintendo. Granted, they can be a very strange company. They don't quickly adapt the way the competition does and some of their business decisions are pretty suspect, but Nintendo is still around for a very good reason. In the decades gone by, they've put out some truly spectacular games and they continue to do so to this day. 

In the ever growing ranks that is digital media, compilation releases are thankfully, still a thing. With a catalog as impressive as Nintendo's, you'd think they'd be up for far more compilation releases than what they've done in their 30 plus year gaming history. But despite Nintendo's incredibly rich history, very few compilation releases from the Big N actually exist and some have never even made it outside of Japan.

One of Nintendo's earliest
compilation releases.

The NES is a goldmine of first party releases. For a lot of fans, NES Remix and NES Remix 2 hit the right notes but for others, it rang a bell of disappointment because these games were bits and pieces of full games chopped up into one big mini game collection. As fun as it was to clear the first level of Donkey Kong as Link, it would have been awesome to have the full version of Donkey Kong nestled along side The Legend of Zelda and a plethora of other Nintendo NES greats. Think of it: a Nintendo NES Collection with Super Mario Bros. 1-3, Dr. Mario, Balloon Fight, Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., The Legend of Zelda, Zelda II, Metroid, Punch-Out!!, Excitebike, Kirby's Adventure, NES Open Tournament Golf, and EarthBound Beginnings to name plenty. They could even go the extra mile and give us some of those games that never made it outside of Japan like Devil World, both entries of the Famicom Detective Club series, and Joy Mech Fight. A Nintendo NES Collection would sell like hotcakes as a single Wii U disc game.

Let's not forget about the Game Boy. The little handheld that could, would and did has earned Nintendo so much change and it is longer overdue for some more love. The 3DS handles Game Boy games greatly, even removing that dreaded blur affect from scrolling so its a perfect system for a Nintendo Game Boy Collection. That and the 3DS is, well, a handheld. It would rock to have Super Mario Land, Tetris, Balloon Kid, Super Mario Land 2, Kid Icarus: Of Myths and Monsters, Donkey Kong, Mole Mania, The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening, Mario's Picross, Wario Land 1-3 and all those other sweet first party GB games on a single 3DS cart.

Super Mario All-Stars was a big deal in 1993.
The 2010 re-release, wasn't treated as such.

Nintendo's 16-bit baby, the SNES, arguably the pinnacle of Nintendo's systems. Nintendo has so many stellar first party SNES titles that its almost scary. How incredible would it be to have Super Mario World, F-Zero, Pilotwings, SimCity, Battle Clash, Metal Combat, Yoshi's Island, Star Fox, Super Punch-Out!! EarthBound, Super Metroid, Donkey Kong Country 1-3 and all those other glorious first party SNES games in one sweet, sweet set? 

It really is puzzling that Nintendo hasn't put out more collections than what they have, especially when we know they are capable of doing so. In 1993, Super Mario All-Stars, which collected Super Mario Bros. 1-3 and The Lost Levels with 16-bit graphics and sounds was a platform fan's dream. When it was re-released in 2010 for the Super Mario Bros. series 25th anniversary with minimal in the way of extras fans and critics didn't recieve it as well. True, Nintendo could have and should have included Super Mario World, Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine  on that collection and yeah, the extras were lacking, but it was more of a missed opportunity than a bad compilation. 

Kirby's Dream Collection. A dream collection indeed.

2012's Kirby's Dream Collection was without question one of the best compilation releases Nintendo put out in years. Not only did it contain six of Kirby's platforming adventures, but the extras and presentation was top notch. It was the kind of collection that was so lovingly put together that it made you wish Nintendo would give some of its other franchises that sort of love for an anthology release.

Nintendo seems perfectly content with re-releasing their old games digitally on the eShop, which is fine but a release like Kirby's Dream Collection showed that Nintendo was willing to release a compilation of games that could already be purchased individually since at the time, just about every game in Kirby's Dream Collection could be purchased on the 3DS and the Wii. Its always nice to have as many options as possible to get your retro gaming fix and compilations in the vein of SEGA's Sonic Ultimate Genesis Collection and Rare's Rare Replay from Nintendo would certainly be profitable and welcome. 

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Essential NES Soundtracks Part 4

Here we are with Part 4 of Essential NES Soundtracks. Let's do this.

EarthBound Beginnings

Composers: Keiichi Suzuki & Hirozaku Tanaka

June 14, 2015 will forever be known to EarthBound/MOTHER fans as the day the first entry was finally, officially released outside of Japan. The game was originally released in the land of the rising sun in 1989 so yeah, it sure took its sweet time getting to North American and European shores. Themes like Pollyanna, Bein' Friends, Snowman and the Eight Melodies are jams many an EarthBound fan are familiar with either through the SNES game or the Super Smash Bros. series, but each of those tracks have humble chiptune origins and they sound wounderful in their striped down form. EarthBound Beginnings is loaded with a diverse score of happy-go-lucky, moody and atmospheric themes that will stay with you long after the adventure is over.

Pollyanna (I Believe in You)
Battle with a Dangerous Foe
Bein' Friends
The Paradise Line 
Eight Melodies

Mega Man 3

Composers: Yasuaki Fujita & Harumi Fujita

Its isn't hard to see why so many champion Mega Man 2 as the greatest Mega Man game. The first entry was good, but Mega Man 2 was a vast improvement in every single way possible. And yet, it is not my favorite Mega Man. No, that honor goes to Mega Man 3, which added even more advancements to the series, even if there were slight. Mega Man 3 is the longest game in the classic Mega Man series so its a very good thing that there is never a dull moment in the soundtrack. The Title music with it's slow build up before it erupts into a killer beat, Magnet Man's jovial stage music, Snake Man's insanely catchy tune, Proto Man's mysterious whistle that gets extended for the game's epilogue; its all a text book example of superb NES music.

Magnet Man Stage
Spark Man Stage
Snake Man Stage
Dr. Wily Stage 2


Composers: Masahi Kageyama & Naohisa Morota

The 16-bit SNES and Genesis were all the rage in the early 1990s but you had some developers still proving that the 8-bit NES hardware could impress. In 1993 there was Kirby's Adventure and a year before it, there was Sunsoft's Gimmick! that was sadly, never released in America despite plans to do so. If you're the type that is easily fooled into thinking a game is simple based on cutesy, child-like appearances, Gimmick! will be one nasty wake up call. Sure it may look like a Kirby game but the bright colors and the peppy soundtrack is where the similarities between the two games end. Gimmick! is a thinking man's platformer that demands the player's attention at all times or else much frustration will abound. But leg's go back to that upbeat soundtrack. Most NES games stick to the five channel sound format with a few exceptions and Gimmick! is one of them. Gimmick! uses Sunsoft's FME7SUNSOFT5 memory mapper chip, which adds three more sound channels for glorious additional audio. Sure, most of the music is of the light hearted variety, but the game still knows when its time to get serious and this is evident in themes like Aporia, Identity Believer and Long Tomorrow. Even if you never play Gimmick! at the very least, you should hear the soundtrack. This stuff is chiptune gold.

Happy Birthday (Stage 1)
Slow Illusion (Stage 3, Part 1)
Paradigm (Stage 4)
Aporia (Boss Theme 1)
Identity Believer (Boss Theme 2)
Sophia (Take 2) [Stage 7]
Long Tomorrow [Final Boss, Part 2]


Composer: Hirokazu Tanaka

The first Metroid game, sadly, has not aged well. The lack of an in game map in a game world so massive is a huge downer and having to replenish your energy to max after you die really hurts. This isn't to say Metroid is a bad game, but the GBA remake, Metroid Zero Mission is the way to go if you wish to experience Samus Aran's first steps. Hirokazu Tanaka's soundtrack on Metroid, however, definitely holds up exceptionally well. That Title theme is just the start of many haunting tracks this score offers. Norfair, Tourian, and Ridley's Lair really do an excellent job of capturing the feeling of being on a hostile alien planet. Kraid's Lair is a huge fan favorite track and has been the subject of plenty of rock, metal and piano covers.

Kraid's Lair

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game

Composer: Kozo Nakamura

A port of the 1989 arcade game, the four player aspect is stripped down to two, but it makes it for it with two console exclusive stages and bosses. In some cases, home conversions made arcade music sound better. It worked wonders for the likes of Contra and Double Dragon when they hit the NES. TMNT has outstanding music in the arcade so I can't really say that the NES conversion is superior. I can say is that TMNTII: The Arcade Game is a wonderful companion soundtrack to go along with the arcade tunes. The two exclusive stages use brand new themes and Scene 2-2 also houses a completely new track. The new themes are welcome additions and you'll hear plenty of riffs from the 1987 TMNT opening theme mixed in throughout the soundtrack.

Scene 1: Building on Fire
Scene 2-2: Sewers
Scene 3-1: Winter Wonderland 
Scene 4-2: Industrial District
Boss Battle
Scene 7: Technodrome 

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Latest Purchases #83

Wii Sports Resort is a title I'd seen a few times for various prices on the used market. The original Wii Sports made the Wii fly off the shelves and Wii Sports Resort was just as much, if not more popular than the first game. This has been a Wii game I've always coveted, but I was just unwilling to fork over $40 or more for it. When I was picking up Splatoon and Pikmin 3 a few weeks ago, my local GameStop had a used, complete copy of Wii Sports Resort for $20. I didn't want to spend anymore than I already had so I took a chance and left the store without it, thinking, hoping, that it would still be in the store a few weeks later. Sure enough, it was, so I immediately snatched it up.

My original plan was to leave GameStop with an amiibo or two, one of them being Ness, but with Nintendo and scalpers making it infuriating to buy amiibos that aren't the usual suspects (Mario, Peach, Bowser, etc.) I opted for a trio of plushies instead. Blue Toad, has always been my favorite Toad since blue is my favorite color and he was all kinds of awesome in Super Mario Bros. 2 and Super Mario 3D World. This one is as cute as a button. I've got more Luigi plushies than I do of Mario but I wanted this one to go along with a Mario I've got, who is also of the sit down variety. There are actually a ton of Kirby plushies I've seen online that consist of the little pink puffs numerous copy abilities. GameStop had none of those, but they did have this little guy and I couldn't just leave him there.

Since this year is the 30th anniversary of the Super Mario Bros. series, I decided to invest in some more Retro Game Cases to better show off my Super Mario Bros. collection. These take up more space on a shelf as opposed to displaying the carts lose, but when the cases are this good, the trade off is well worth it. With SNES games, you sometimes get the choice between the American or Japanese box art. I have nothing against Super Mario World's North American box art but I've always liked the extra details that the Super Famicom version uses. I'll probably end up getting the North American version somewhere down the line just to have both.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Favorite Tunes #123: Better, Faster, Stronger

I cannot believe August is already here. Seems like only yesterday we were welcoming 2015 and now, here we are well into summer with the year more than half way over. 

Attract - Ridge Racer (ARC)

Do people still watch demos in gaming or do most just jump right into the action? I'm assuming its the later, but I personally like to see if the game will go off and do its own thing for a bit before returning to the title screen. Ridge Racer does have a demo sequence and with it is a unique track that can only be heard as said demo sequence plays. Kinda of a shame you can't race around the track with this sucker playing but at least you can watch the game look badawesome doing it.

Chrono Trigger is an RPG masterpiece devoid of random encounters, a memorable cast of characters and an engaging plot spanning multiple eras. While Yasunroi Mitsuda took the lion's share of soundtrack compositions, Final Fantasy music big wig Nobuo Uematsu as well as Noriko Matsueda did contribute to the game's marvelous sound work. This is one of Uematsu's tracks.

This is my personal favorite game in the entire Gradius series, spin-offs included. Development duties were handed off to Treasure and they did a spectacular job keeping the feel of Gradius well in tact. Even on the easy setting, Gradius V will beat the player into bloody submission. Hitoshi Sakimoto is mostly known for his work on RPG soundtracks but he's no stranger to writing music for SHMUPs. Having worked on Radiant Silvergun and Magical Chase among others, he was an excellent choice for Gradius V's music. 

Way back in Favorite Tunes #63, I made the first mention of music from Riviera: The Promised Land, but from the GBA version. The PSP version takes advantage of the system's capabilities and pumps out some excellent arrangements. This was already a powerful piece on the GBA and it was greatly enhanced on Sony's handheld. 

The 3DS version of OutRun is arguably the best version of the game to date. You can play at 30 or 60 fps, use multiple screen options, and there are even options for screen tilting to emulating the rocking of the sit down cabinet. There are also two brand new songs using the sound hardware from the 1980s OutRun so they don't feel out of place.  

The arcade version of Street Fighter EX already had a pretty good soundtrack. When it was ported over to the PS, Akira could have left well enough alone but they went the extra mile and arranged all the tunes. The result? The PS version o SFEX+@ soundtrack owns the arcade version for free. The new character themes turned out exceptionally well and I'm a huge fan of Stronger.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Re-Releases You Should Play Part 1

Hello and welcome to the sister series of Much Needed Re-Releases. This series features games that have been fortunate enough to receive a re-release that you should check out.

Mega Man 7 - SNES

Released in 1995 on Nintendo's 16-bit baby, Mega Man 7 became one of those rare SNES carts and as such, you can expect to pay a hefty sum of change for a physical copy. The game's first re-release was for the 2004 Mega Man Anniversary Collection on the PS2 and GCN, but it was not the best way to play the game as it had slowdown, some input lag and Mega Man's slow walk during the end credits was completely removed due to emulation issues. Mega Man 7 has thankfully been re-released on the Wii U's eShop and has none of the hiccups that were present on the Anniversary Collection. While yet another solid entry in the classic Mega Man series, Mega Man 7 has unfortunately received a bad rap because it uses larger sprites than the first 6 NES Mega Man games. Yes, this does alter some of the precise movements with the sprites taking up more space but the game's pros far outweigh the cons. There's lots of secrets to uncover via exploring with Mega Man's numerous weapon power-ups, the game gave us the excellent due of Bass & Treble and it has a sweet selection of tunes.

Available On: Wii U

Monster World IV - GEN

For years, fans had two options if they wanted to play Monster World IV, arguably the best game in the Monster World franchise. Either import the game and pay absurd prices or get the fan translated ROM. In 2012, Monster World IV finally received an official release outside of Japan, fully translated in English. The game is a wonderful action platform affair with RPG elements strewn about. You'll explore numerous dungeons, find treasure, get immersed in the plot all while being treated to some of the finest audio and visuals on the Genesis. Even today, Monster World IV looks and sounds fantastic.

Availalbe On:  Wii, PS3, 360

EarthBound - SNES

Known as MOTHER 2 in Japan, EarthBound released in 1995 in the west to abysmal sales. An RPG with a modern day setting was a wonderful breath of fresh air after years of swords and sorcery. Unfortunately RPGs were still a niche at the time and many could not get over the game's simplistic visuals, which are really a large part of EarthBound's charm. At one point I actually remember seeing the game in Best Buy for $8. Since this game came with a Nintendo Power player's guide, that was quite the bargain. If you jumped on a such a deal back in the day, congrats because now even loose carts of EarthBound are very costly. In 2003, EarthBound was released on a GBA cart along with the prequel as MOTHER 1 + 2. Naturally, this released stayed in Japan. In 2013, fans prayers were finally answered when EarthBound was at long last released on the Wii U's eShop. Beneath EarthBound's simple visuals lies a hefty does of humor with plenty of dark themes. The MOTHER/EarthBound series has a very dedicated fanbase, which not only lead to the release of EarthBound, but the first official release of the EarthBound Beginnings, the first MOTHER game, in both America and Europe.

Available On: Wii U

Sonic CD - SCD

Having played through Sonic CD a few times, I'm baffled as to why so many claim it to be the greatest Sonic game ever made. The overdose of pinball mechanics is very unhealthy, there are too many spikes and the level design can be a mess in lots of place. That being said, I still think Sonic CD is a game worth experiencing. Being able to see past and future versions of each zone is a cool concept and both the Japanese and American soundtracks are incredible. The PS3 and 360 versions are the ideal way to play Sonic CD since it features both region's soundtracks and the option to use Sonic 2's version of the spin dash since Sonic CD's version is pretty wonky.

Availalbe On: PS3. 360

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Favorite Tunes #122: Welcome to Our Town

When you're not slaying monsters to fill your pockets or navigating dungeons, you're walking aroudn the town, buying weapons, armor, talking to NPCs to gather clues about where to go next. That, or you're kicking back to enjoy that nice music that's playing in the background.

Snowman - EarthBound Beginnings (NES)

For years, the only way gamers could play MOTHER aka Earth/Bound Zero was through emulation or the GBA compilation MOTHER 1 + 2 that was only released in Japan. That is, until Nintendo finally released the first MOTHER game as EarthBound Beginnings of this past June. Like its successors, EarthBound Beginnings has a marvelous soundtrack and many of the series iconic tunes were birthed in this game. 

These days, the Mega Man Legends series is more associated with the cancellation of the third game than the quality of the series itself. Like many a Mega Man fan, I was peeved when Mega Man Legends 3 was given the axe, but there just comes a time when you gotta move on. Anyhoo, I've always loved the super catchy, jovial feel that is Apple Market. It isn't some piece of music that you have to pump hours into the game to hear, either. No, you thankfully, get to hear this very, very early in your adventure.

Originally available on Steam and Nintendo consoles digitally, Shovel Knight has since been released on Sony and Microsofts PlayStation 4 and Xbox One platforms. What's more, the game has done well enough to receive a physical release. Come October of this year, you'll be able to hold a copy of Shovel Knight in your very own hands. Huzzah! The game is a wonderful throwback to old-school action platformers with a fantastic chiptune soundtrack from Jake Kaufman. Village theme has a few variations, but the first one gets my vote for the best of the bunch. 

The late 1990s was an interesting time for Square. They were far more willing to experiment and even though it didn't always pay off, it did lead to a few more good titles outside of the Final Fantasy brand, such as the cult classic Xenogears. The music is this game was scored by Yasunori Mitsuda and he knocked it out of the park with the game's very first town theme. 

Some could argue that the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII got way out of hand but shedding some much needed light on Zack, Cloud's friend and mentor, was one of the best things it ever did. This action/RPG is a prequel to Final Fantasy VII is without question, the best of all of the FFVII side games.

A more simplified RPG, this was touted as a game in the genre for the entry level player. As such, it dumbs down quite a few things but it certainly isn't a bad game, as some may lead you to believe. The eradication of random encounters? I don't think anyone complained about that. Something else nobody had a beef with was the music. From rock, atmospheric, and upbeat themes, this game's soundtrack has something for everyone.