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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Favorite Tunes #127: Transform and Rock Out

As a gamer, I'm seldom bored. No matter what, I've always got something to play. Be it an old favorite or something new. The same goes for video game music. There is always some music for my ears to hear. And on the note of old and new faves...

Fight Theme 5 - Transformers Devastation (PS3, PS4, XBO, 360)

Who hates giant robots? Yeah, I didn't think so. Despite Michael Bay's live action adaptations of the franchise, the Transformers series continues to endure. The series latest game entry may very well be the best Transformers game to date. Developed by PlatinumGames, Transformers Devastation serves up a smorgasbord of robot on robot action (not in that way) and an amazing soundtrack. Autobots, prepare to rock out!

Ink Me Up - Splatoon (Wii U)

Nintendo may not release new IPs very often but when they do, they sure know how to turn heads. Splatoon is the Big N's take on the shooter genre and its messy but in a very good, refreshing way. From time to time, there are events known as Splatfests where you pick a side and battle it out in Turf Wars. During Splatfest, everyone is partying in the plaza and all the battles take place at night The usual battle themes are replaced with this super cool, upbeat theme. This coming Splatfest is Pirates vs. Ninjas.

Redial - Bomberman Hero (N64)

Releasing one year after Bomberman 64, Bomberman Hero was met with two major criticisms. The game's difficulty was almost non existent and there was no multiplayer mode, the later of which is downright criminal for a Bomberman title. Chun Chikuma's music, however, did not disappoint.

Windy Valley 1 - Sonic Adventure (DC, GCN)

Sonic may have had some pretty rocky steps in 3D, but not every Sonic game to come out after the Genesis era is the train wreck that critics and digruntled fans make them out to be. Sonic Adventure certainly isn't perfect (nor are the early 1990s Sonic titles) but its still one of my favorite Sonic games. Sonic has had consistently great soundtracks with each platform entry and while the music from Sonic Generations and Colors really wowed me, Sonic Adventure just might have my all-time favorite music in a 3D Sonic. There's a lot of rock, but those calm, soothing tracks are thrown in for good measure.

Battle Theme - Tales of Phantasia (SFC)

There are so many games in the Tales franchise that it can be quite difficult to keep track of them all. But then again, I suppose that is to be expect of a 20 year old series. The first game, Tales of Pahntasia hit the Japanese SNES, the Super Famicom in 1995 but the Tales series wouldn't make it stateside until 1998's Tales of Destiny on the PlayStation. Tales games are known for their exceptional music, a standard that was set with the first entry.

Special Course - Yoshi's Wooly World (Wii U)

A spiritual successor to 2010's hit Kirby's Epic Yarn, Yoshi's Wooly World is my shaping up to be my second favorite Yoshi game, right behind the classic Yoshi's Island. If you thought Epic Yarn was too easy, Wooly World throws plenty of obstacles and challenges your way in Classic mode. If you manage to collect all of the flowers in a world's 8 stages, you unlock a special course, where the difficulty ramps up even more significantly. S courses really test your mettle and features zero checkpoints. The cheery music may be the only thing keeping you going after an umpteenth attempt.

Favorite Tunes Database

Monday, October 26, 2015

Currently Playing #26: Splatoon

I haven't been seriously enamored with a shooter in a very long time. In the late 1990s and the early 2000s, I was really into FPSs with GoldenEye 007, Perfect Dark and TimeSplitters but when the HD generation of gaming came in, shooters really, really blew up. But even before the high definition visuals became a thing for video games, I had already fallen out of touch with shooters. The flood of them in the new HD era of video games really didn't do much entice me to come back into the fold. Shooters were in your face whether you wanted them to be or not but at the same time, my first video game genre love was booming just as well as it did in the 16-bit era. I am of course talking about platformers. Shooters continued to dominate the market but the wellspring of solid platforming games had my undivided attention.

I've always wanted to get back into shooters at some point. I just wasn't sure where to start. Call of Duty has become the biggest name in shooters with it's yearly sequels and while I have nothing against the game or those who play it, I've never really been interested in it. I was more inclined to check out the Boarderlands and Bioshock titles, but I never did get around to those. I had no idea that the game that would bring me back into shooters would look and play nothing like anything else in the genre.

When I saw footage of the Splatoon reveal back in 2014, I was surprised for two reasons. One, this was a shooter from Nintendo. The 3D Metroid titles are more akin to adventure and exploration so they hardly count. Two, this shooter had kids running round shooting brightly colored ink. Most shooters are dark and gritty to give a better sense of realism. Splatoon's vibrant visuals paint it as the exact opposite. These things were enough to make me take interest.

I missed the Splatoon global test fire before the game's release and I also missed out on purchasing the game on launch day. Instead, Splatoon was a slightly late, self-bought birthday gift. And it stayed in the shrink wrap until August. I tend to be a bit nervous when it comes to going online. A few weeks passed before I jumped into the chaotic fray of Mario Kart 8 online racing and it was the same thing with Splatoon. I decided to get my squid kid tentacles wet with the single player experience. And wouldn't you know it, my old foe, motion sickness came back with a vengeance. The moving of the camera along with the motion controls was too much for me to take and I could only finish one mission.

Splatoon sat unplayed for about a week or more. I didn't play the game again until the first one of the Splatfest events was going and it happened to be Autobots vs. Decepticons. Seeing the plaza area lit up and everyone partying it up was enough for me to take part in my first few rounds of Turf War. Naturally, I went with the Autobots. We lost in the end, but playing online helped me wave bye-bye to my motion sickness. I got splatted a lot and it was rare that I got splatted anyone since I was new and still learning but I was able to play Splatoon without feeling nauseous.

With my motion sickness sent packing, I dived into Splatoon in earnest. I've completed the single player mode and brought back the Great Zapfish. Solo mode was short but it took me longer to complete than I image it did other players. I played Splatoon while balancing Super Mario Maker, Tomodachi Life and Super Smash Bros. What I really dig about solo Splatoon is that the levels, while they all have the same objective of snag the Zapfish at the end, is that they teach you tactics that you'll use in the online multiplayer modes. Like Super Jumping, using your ink to scale walls and dealing with enemy specials like the Ink Strike and Killer Whale. Even confrontations with other players are replicated through the Octolings, the most aggressive member of the Octerian amry, possessing all of the abilities of the Inklings.

The levels in single player are neat, too. Some levels have you using zip lines but instead of hooking into them, you transform into a squid and travel through them. Using your ink, you cover surfaces to reach areas you otherwise would have no access to. The multiplayer levels are used for single player levels but the original levels tend to stand out more since more often then not, reaching the Zapfish is trickier in these stages. One level has invisible platforms that can't be seen until you shoot them with ink.

Since my first Splatfest, Turf War is where I've gotten the most enjoyment out of Splatoon. There's nothing like fighting alongside a bunch of strangers to cover turf and splat other strangers. I'm more cautious when I play Turf War. Covering ground is the main objective of this mode and while kills do feel good and can be beneficial, it's important not to get caught up in merely splatting the opposition. Granted, I've come across some players that are really good at taking out opponents. I ran into one player that kept splatting out entire team and we were on the losing end. Time was short, there was no way we were going to win and I was fed up with this guy splatting us all. So in  the little time that was left, I engaged him and took him down with me. In the end, he had 20 kills and one splat on his record. If nothing else, I took some pride in the fact that I ruined what would have been a perfect splat streak for him. It can be pretty easy to just start splatting squids when time is almost up and sometimes, that small victory is all you'll get.

I love all the clothing you and deck the Inklings out in. The abilities these things grant you like damage up and invisible landing points from Super Jumps is nice but the look of all the clothing, shoes and head pieces really make each Inkling you'll encounter look different. I'm more of a fan of the tees and gym shoe look myself but they got a great selection of boots, sweat shirts and a ton of other gear. I was able to score both the Inkling Boy and Girl amiibos and I completed both outfits for doing the challenges they grant you. I haven't found the Squid amiibo yet as it seems to be the hardest one to find. It bites that these extra pieces of gear are locked behind a paywall. That's the one thing I don't like about what Nintendo's doing with amiibos.

After much reluctance, I tried out Ranked mode. What kept me from playing this mode was my love for Turf War, which is by far, still my favorite mode in Splatoon and the things I've heard about Ranked. In Ranked you start out with the lowest possible ranking of C-. The goal is to win and earn enough points to raise your rank, going to C, C+, B- and so on. The kicker is that losing docks you points. So if you rank up to B+ and go on a continuous losing streak, your rank will go down. Its very well possible to end up right back where you started. Simply put, Ranked is serious business and losing in Ranked really sucks.

Of the three modes in Ranked Splat Zones is my favorite. Keeping the splat zone covered with your ink for 100 seconds is very intense. The the battles here are more fierce than in Turf Wars, at least for me. I find myself being way more aggressive in Ranked Splat Zones that Turf War. Maybe because I have something to lose if I don't win, but I find myself moving around in ways I don't when I play Turf war. The best weapon for me in Ranked Splat Zone has been the Splattershot. It has a good fire rate, decent damage and the Burst Bomb sup is great for added offense. They don't cause a huge amount of damage but a barrage of them can make the hits added up. The Special lets me unleash a slew of them and I've gotten a surprising amount of kills with the Burst Bombs. I'd like to be able to transfer some of my more aggressive play from Ranked Splat Zone into Turf Wars.

Even if I don't pick up another shooter anytime soon, Splatoon is so much fun that I could be just fine sticking with it for a very long time. Its a fresh take on the genre in both look and feel and with the Splatfests and free updates, I don't see Splatoon getting stale anytime soon. It feels nice to shoot again. I guess that's splatting in this case.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Songs I'd Like to see as DLC in Smash Vol. 2

So the Super Mario Maker stage recently hit Super Smash Bros. for the Wii U and 3DS as downloadable content. the Wii U version gives you a whopping 27 songs to choose as background music as you battle. That's a lot of songs for one stage but sadly, most of them are used for other Super Mario stages in past Smash games. But the fact that one stage got so many songs is more than a little surprising and I don't see why more music can't be added to existing stages. Even if DLC music bundles in Smash 4 Wii U doesn't become a thing, I can always dream.

For Pac-Land

Everyone's favorite cherry chasing dot muncher has a wide assortment of tunes for Pac-Land. A lot of theme are medleys of classic Namco games and that's fine and dandy but I couldn't help but notice a server lack of Ridge Racer love. There's also music that could be used from Cyber Sled, one of Bandai Namco's more obscure titles. How about that Klonoa guy? His games have some really good music. There's an awesome remix of Pac-Man's Park and Block Town from Pac-Mania but sadly, neither of the original songs are in Smash 4.

Ridge Racer (Ridge Racer)
Rare Hero (Ridge Racer)
Over the Highway (Ridge Racer Revolution)
Maximum Zone (Ridge Racer Revolution)
Rage Racer (Rage Racer)
Mech Monster (Rage Racer)
Revlimit Funk (R4: Ridge Racer Type 4)
SAMURAi ROCKET (Ridge Racer V)
MotorPacCity5 (Ridge Racer V)
Be warped time (Cyber Sled)
The Windmill Song (Klonoa: Door to Phantomile)
Block Town (Pac-Mania)
Pac-Man's Park (Pac-Mania)

For Windy Hill

Pac-Man was happy to give the spotlight to other Bandai Namco series when it came to music for his stage so I don't see why Sonic can't do the same. Of course since it is his stage and his games have tons of awesome tracks, I've got no qualms about hearing more sweet Sonic jams while smashing fools.

Shooting Star (Ristar)
Splashdown!! (Ristar)
Magical Sound Shower (OutRun)
Passing Breeze (OutRun)
Paternal Horn (NiGHTS into dreams...)
The Dragon Gave a Loud Scream (NiGHTS into dreams...)
Storm (Super Monkey Ball)
Outride a Crisis (Super Hang-On)
Boss: Big Arm (Sonic Generations)
Radical Highway Act 1 (Sonic Generations)
Emerald Coast (Sonic Adventure)
Speed Highway (Sonic Adventure)
CHAOS ver. 6 (Sonic Adventure) 

For Kirby Stages

There are three Kirby stages to brawl on in Smash Wii U and all of them have a diverse selection of music. Having said that, I was disappointed that more themes didn't make it into any of those stages. Machine Passage is perfect smashing material as is Miracle Matter. I'm really surprised Return to Dream Land's final boss theme wasn't included.

Meta Knight's Theme (Kirby Super Star)
Rock Star (Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards)
Miracle Matter (Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards)
Machine Passage (Kirby Air Ride)
Sky Sands (Kirby Air Ride)
Techno Factory (Kirby's Return to Dream Land)
Vs. Magalor (Kirby's Return to Dream Land)
C-R-O-W-N-E-D (Kirby's Return to Dream Land)
Galacta Knight (Kirby's Return to Dream Land)

Music from Splatoon

Splatoon has an amazing soundtrack. If you think all the good beats are in the online multiplayer mode, you really should give the solo game a spin. Having recently finished the single player mode, I can say that I've finally heard the final boss music and it along with numerous other Splatoon beats would be wonderful additions to the Smash soundtrack.

Gusher Gauntlet 
Octoling Battle
Multiplayer Theme 1
Multiplayer Theme 2
Multiplayer Theme 7
Splatfest VS Theme
DJ Octavio 
Squid Sisters

For Pokemon Stages

Some solid battle themes remixes made it into Smash. Unfortunately, a plethora of other excellent ones did not.

Champion Rival Battle (Pokenon Fire Red/Leaf Green)
Battle! Successor Korrina (Pokemon X/Y)
Battle! Lysandre (Pokemon X/Y)
Battle! Xerneas/Yveltal (Pokenib X/Y)
Battle! Team Aqua/Magma Leader (Pokemon Omega Buy/ Alpha Sapphire)

Monday, October 12, 2015

Powerful Mario: Favorite Super Mario Power-Ups

Mario is quite a guy. He's perfectly willing to go to great lengths, however insane they may be to rescue a princess that rewards him with nothing but a kiss or some cake. Mario's jumping skills are unrivaled (OK, that's untrue, Luigi has the superior jump game) but he's never been able to save the day without some kind of assistance. Fortunately, Mario and company have some of the most useful, diverse power-ups in gaming and I present to you, my favorite of the lot.

Fire Flower / Fire Mario

Before Tanooki Suits, Hammer Suits and Cape Feathers, this was the original OP Super Mario power-up. Mario gains the ability to chuck balls of fire at his enemies and for the most part, this hand tossed heat is super effective. The fire balls bounce on the ground and don't disappear until hitting an enemy or a solid object, so this baby gave Mario long range combat abilities on top of a pallet change. If Lakitu is around, having this power is a huge plus since the Spinys he likes to rain down on you cannot be stomped out. As good as the Fire Flower isn't even it has limitations. It can't do anything against foes with super hard shells and enhanced durability but the majority of Bowser's minions can't stand the heat and this also applies to the Koopa King himself in most games.

Super Star

Whenever you hit a ? Block and a Super Star comes out, you know good times are ahead. While the powers the Super Star give you are temporary, they usually last long enough for you to wreck a good chunk of the baddies in your way. The Super Star is a god mode of sorts for Mario. While in use, enemies can't touch him. Really, they can't touch him because if they do, they are granted the sweet release of death as Mario changes colors again and again. Taste the rainbow, indeed. The Super Star is so dang awesome that it has its very own them for you to jam out to while mowing down Bowser's army.

Super Leaf / Raccoon Mario

Super Mario Bros. 3 introduced a slew of new power-ups, chief among them was the Super Leaf, which, in addition to giving our hero a sweet set of ears and a tail, granted him the power of flight. By running to build the P meter and using the Raccoon Tail, Mario can soar to new heights. The tail could also be used to slower Mario's decent during falls and this really came in handy during the game's numerous sections of precision platforming. The next power-up was a superior version of this one and I love it a lot, but there's just something about seeing Mario and Luigi with ears and tails that isn't a full blown suit.

Tanooki Suit / Tanooki Mario

All the powers of the Super Leaf with the super awesome bonus of being able to turn into a statue, where you can stomp out most unkillable enemies or buy you some time to bypass them. Mario also looks cute as a button. In Super Mario Bros. 3, the Tanooki Suit wasn't near as common as the Super Leaf, so I would try to hold on to as many as them as I could. In Super Mario 3D Land, where it made a long overdue return, the Tanooki Suit was everywhere but lacking the power of flight.

Hammer Suit / Hammer Mario

If you want to attain godhood in Super Mario Bros. 3, look no further than the Hammer Suit. For the unaware, you may be thinking, "It lets you throw hammers, right? What's so great about that?" You get to throw hammers, yes, but those hammers are so freaking powerful that they wreck everything in the game. Thwomps? Dead. Boos? Deader than dead. Even Bowser's hide can't stand up to those mighty hammers! It isn't just super strong offense that the Hammer Suit grants you. The Shell is fire proof and since you see a lot of Piranha Plants that shoot fire late in the game, that helps a lot. You lose the ability to slide down slopes while wearing a Hammer Suit and its an extremely rare power, so losing it is one of the worst feelings in the world. The Hammer Suit is one of the most broken power-ups in Super Mario history, ranking right up there with my next entry.

Cape Feather / Cape Mario

Super Mario World didn't offer much in the way of new power-ups. But the sole new item it did bring (not including Yoshi) is widely considered one of if not the greatest power-up in Mario's extensive catalog. The Cape Feather is allows Mario to perform a wide range of maneuvers. You can us it to spin to defeat nearby foes and protect Mario from most projectiles. You can use it to slow Mario's plummet. It has flight capabilities and in the hands of a skilled player, the gliding can be used to keep Mario air born for the duration of an entire horizontal level and there in lies the Cape Feather's brokenness. No wonder the Cape Feather didn't make a comeback until Super Mario Maker.

Carrot / Bunny Mario 

Mario's jump in Super Mario Land 2 already felt float but for even more hang time, you've got to try out Bunny Mario. Touch a Carrot and Mario sprouts bunny ears and while they don't let him fly, they do allow for the best slow descent of any Super Mario power up. One could argue that the Carrot makes Super Mario Land 2 even easier than what it already is. That certainly doesn't make it any less of a cool item to have.

Metal Cap / Metal Mario

Super Mario 64's power ups don't function the way they did in previous Super Mario games. Rather than being extensions of Mario's abilities, the power ups in Mario's first 3D outing are situational and while that may be bummer for some, they are fun to play with when the game gives you the chance to do so. The Metal Cap turns Mario into a shinny, heavier version of himself that's impervious to harm. With Mario's extra weight, he can sink to the bottom of the ocean and reach places that swimming wouldn't allow. Like the Super Star, the Metal Cap is a temporary power up. With each step Mario takes, clanging can be heard as can a killer remix of the Super Star theme.

Mega Mushroom / Mega Mario

Talk about being on a power trip! If the Super Mushroom turns Mario into Super Mario, the Mega Mushroom turns him into Mega Mario, a tower figure capable of dishing out wanton destruction on Goombas, Koopas, bricks, pipes and pretty much anything that isn't the ground. There's nothing quite like barreling through everything in your path. First introduced in Super Mario 64 DS and later used in New Super Mario Bros., the power-up made a much needed return in Super Mario 3D World where four players could wreck havoc on Bowser's mooks that have invaded Sprixie Kingdom.

Propeller Mushroom / Propeller Mario

One of the new power-ups added to New Super Mario Bros. Wii, the series first four player game, the Propeller Mushroom decks Mario and company out in what looks to be sweat suits with cute helmets that allow them to take to the air and come back down slowly. It isn't exactly flight based like the Super Leaf or Cape feather, rather you shoot straight up into the air. You do of course still have control of where you land upon coming down. This really comes in handy for those levels with plenty of bottomless pits or for those not too confident in the platforming skills. As shown in the image above, a player that lacks the Propeller Mushroom can hitch a ride from someone who does.

Cloud Mushroom / Cloud Mario

It looks like Mario's wearing a ton of marshmallows on his head, but that's just the hat change Mario gets when using the Cloud Mushroom. Appearing in Super Mario Galaxy 2, a game where most power ups are situational, Cloud Mario adds to something the plumber was already insanely good at: jumping.  Cloud Mario can create up to four cloud platforms before another Cloud Mushroom needs to be found to continue using it. The neat thing about Cloud Mario is that it can be used with all of Mario's jumps, meaning you can get more mileage out of it with long jumps.

Super Bell / Cat Mario

Mario's been a raccoon dog, a frog, a penguin, and a flying squirrel. With all the other critters Nintendo could have gone with, a cat was the last thing I was expecting. But when I saw Mario and the gang running around in their cute little cat suits, I knew it was clearly meant to be. The Super Bell allows Mario, Luigi, Peach, Toad and Rosalina (spoilers, she's playable) to walk on all fours run even faster than than normal, climb walls or trees and do this cool downward strike that tends to get most players killed. This power up is so cool that even Bowser gets in on the action at the climax of Super Mario 3D World.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Game Art #74: Splatoon Gallery

Nintendo's latest IP is a unique, colorful take on the shooter genre. The art style of Splatoon lends itself to some wonderful fan art so consider this a small sliver of it. As you've probably guessed, the Inkling Girl is extremely popular among fans as are Callie and Marie.

By Tam2

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Fantastic First Level Themes Vol. 2

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

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

It can be easy to dismiss Shovel Knight as a game trying to cash in on nostalgia with its retro fitted visuals and soundtracks. But if you did, you'd be missing out on one of the best games of this generation. Yes, Shovel Knight has old school gaming roots but it still feels like modern game and its so well crafted. The soundtrack was done by Jake Kaufman and Manami Matsumae with Jake doing the lion's share of the audio. Plains of Passage does an excellent job of pumping you up for your journey.

Green Greens - Kirby's Dream Land (GB)

The game that brought the cutest pink blob of all time into our lives. Kirby's Dream Land was a game designed with entry level game players in mind. It's very easy and short but experienced players were kept in mind so the game can be made more challenging after completing the first romp or by entering a code on the title screen. Jun Ishikawa is responsible for giving Kirby one of his most iconic, catchy themes.

Level 1 - Super Bomberman (SNES)

Playing a Bomberman game without this theme being heard in some form or another is like a Super Mario game without the classic Ground Theme. It just feels unnatural. This isn't the series first rendition of this theme, but it is the one I prefer the most. That bass and piano are used in this theme perfectly.

Neo Tokyo - Pulseman (GEN)

I feel like a broken record for saying it, but Game Freak has made games besides Pokemon. One of their mid 1990s titles was Pulseman, an audio and visually stunning action platformer that had you using electricity to defeat foes and travel through wires. SEGA Channel was originally the only way gamers in American could experience this gem but it was later released on the Wii's Virtual Console service. If you're looking for some of the best beats the Genesis has to offer, Pulseman has you covered, starting with this superb opening stage jam.

Main Theme - Super Mario 64 (N64, DS)

When you first enter Peach's castle and take a look around, you'll find that there aren't many places you can go but there is one room you can enter, which houses a painting of Bob-ombs. Bob-omb Battlefield is Super Mario 64's first course and while it doesn't throw anything really difficult at you, its still an extremely fun course to run through. This is also where you hear Super Mario 64's Main Theme, which is for all intents and purposes, the game's version of a Ground Theme. This jovial, upbeat music gets arranged for other sections of the game like races and the winter themed courses.