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Sunday, July 23, 2017

Favorite Tunes #190: Sunday Jams

What's this? Favorite Tunes on a Sunday? Usually, this a feature that is reserved for Saturday but I was a bit behind so I moved it to Sunday. Enjoy!

Side-Crawler's Dance - Wonder Boy III: The Dragon's Trap (SMS)

For a cool $20, you can own one of the best remakes of 2017 and just in general, Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap. The game boasts a jaw dropping art style and an outstanding musical score. If those things aren't to your liking, with a few button presses, you can instantly revert the game back to it's original 1989 look and sound. The arranged audio is of super high quality but if you haven't listened to the original Sega Master System tracks, I highly recommend you check them out.

Messij - WipEout (Multi)

I picked up WipEout Omega Collection as a self bought birthday present and I've really been digging it. Though I was never the best WipEout player, I haven't played a game in the series in over a decade so I've had to reacquire what little skills I did have. Still, I've been having a ton of fun with this game and it made me recall the early 2000s when I picked up all three WipEout titlts on the original PS. Though the first  WipEout was outclassed by the superior WipEout XL, it had a phenomenal soundtrack thanks in part to guys CoLD SToRAGE.

Stage Select - Mega Man 9 (Wii, PS3, 360)

When Mega Man 9 was revealed by Capcom in 2008, fans and critics alike went wild. It was the return of classic Mega Man after a near decade long absence (not counting the GBA port of Mega Man & Bass in 2003 and Mega Man Anniversary Collection in 2004). Despite my issues with the game (it feels like its trying to imitate Mega Man 2 far too much), Mega Man 9 was still an outstanding entry in the series and I'm looking forward to the physical release in Mega Man Legacy Collection 2 in early August.

Turtle Woods - Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy (PS4)

I realize that the previous Favorite Tunes was full of nothing but music from Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy. Normally, I'd give a game or series that took up all of Favorite Tunes a break, but I really, really like the redone music in N. Sane Trilogy. Currently, I'm going through Crash 2 and I cannot get enough of this Turtle Woods theme.

Cosmic Air way - Darius (ARC)

You've heard the GB version of this theme back in Favorite Tunes #186. Well, how you can hear the arcade version. As someone who was exposed to other games in the series and wouldn't hear the music more than 20 years after it's initial release, I'm surprised at how much I enjoy the music from the first Darius. It may sound a bit primitive compared to the later entries, but I love it. I especially like how much of it is peppy and upbeat.

Ribbon Girl's Theme - ARMS (NS)

Nintendo has been killing it with the Switch. All they've got to do is fix that atrocious Nintendo Switch Online app and make the dang Switch a lot easier for consumers to get their hands on, and we'll be golden. I'm truly amazed by how catchy some of the music in ARMS is. When the music is this freaking good, you can get away with lyrics that are nothing but "Ohhhs" and "Nas."

Favorite Tunes Database

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Nintendo, Nintendo Switch Online is Bad and You Should Feel Bad

Oh, Nintendo. Nintendo, Nintendo, Nintendo. You really do amaze me. You put out some of the best games. When a plethora of pundits were calling you dead and irrelevant, you launched a console/handheld hybrid that managed to sell nearly 3 million units in only a few months. Fans and critics alike that have not been interested in Nintendo's offerings in years are foaming at the mouth for the Switch. So why would you go and make online communication features for the Switch, the system that no one can shut up about, a steaming pile of horse manure?

When Nintendo first announced that online game interactions with others would be handled on our phones through an app, red flags immediately went up in our heads. Some ideas sound great on paper but are terrible in execution. This, however, was an idea that sounded horrendous from the get go. Knowing something is going to be terrible is one thing. Experiencing just how terrible something is, well, that is so much worse.

Nintendo Switch Online, Nintendo's app that functions (using that word very loosely) as the means for players to communicate with fellow players as of right now, is a absolute garbage. The app can't even do something so basic like work with the screen off, meaning you've got to constantly fiddle with your phone to keep the app up. Any kind of text message or notification will shut the app down and you'll have to start it up again. This means you cannot have anything else going on in the background while NSO is running. There's no match making and while you can do room chat, there isn't any way to do voice chat, proving once again that Nintendo is still living in the stone age.

Nintendo has always had a reputation for being a family friendly company, the Disney of video games. This hasn't stopped them from allowing M rated games on their consoles and in some of the more recent games, they've had alcohol along with some pretty eyebrow raising humor aplenty. Nevertheless, Nintendo's family friendly status is something they are never going to shake and perhaps the company doesn't wish to. This is probably why Nintendo chose to go with such a cumbersome way to interact with other players for the online service. Nintendo wants to protect the children, but the thing is, that is not Nintendo's job. On the back of any game that features online play under the ESRB ratings label, it reads "Online interactions not rated by the ESRB." This means that when little Timmy goes online and hears words his parents don't want him to hear, said parents can't hold the game companies responsible. Instead of not having any voice chat at all, Nintendo could have an option to have to have it disabled in parental controls, which is a feature that is actually built in the system itself.

It seems like Nintendo is so focused on all of the negative that can come from voice chat. I can understand the company's concerns. Gaming tends to bring out a lot of people's competitive nature and things can get pretty heated. We've all heard the stories of how people can and do get harassed during online sessions. There's usually a way to report these deplorable people and get them banned.

Having said all of that, I think Nintendo should also look at the good that could come from having a much better, non prehistoric online service that does have voice chat. It can be a great way to make friends. Anyone you come across online while playing Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, ARMS or Splatoon 2 are more than likely Nintendo fans, so that's already some common ground right there. Nintendo's got a great thing going with the Switch. Nintendo Switch Online, however, is a hot mess. Playing Switch games online is currently free, but come 2018, we'll have to pay for it. As it stands, paying $60 a year to play PS4 games online is a much better alternative than forking over $20 a year for a service that not even the most die hard Nintendo fans would deem passable.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap Original Soundtrack

Back in April, Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap was released for the PS4, XBO and Switch with a PC release following in June. The game is a  1 to 1 remake of the 1989 Sega Master System title, Wonder Boy III: The Dragon's Trap with two big changes: a gorgeous, hand drawn art style and a completely reworked soundtrack, the later which is what we're hear to gush over today.

The Dragon's Trap score was originally written by Shinichi Sakamoto, who also wrote the bulk of music for the Wonder Boy/Monster World series. Music on the Master System may sound a lot softer when compared to the NES and he might not be as well known among video game music fans as Yoko Shimomura or Koji Kondo, but Sakamoto is still a fantastic music writer and his compositions for Wonder Boy III, even on the Master System hardware, were nothing short of extraordinary.

Any fears that Sakamoto's music was somehow going to be butchered with this remake are immediately laid to rest with the what could arguably be considered the best track of the game, Last Dungeon (actually the very first area you play through). Last Dungeon is a Wonder Boy staple theme of sorts as it has been used in numerous Wonder Boy titles. This arrangement evokes a sense of excitement but also dread, as if it were foreshadowing the curse that is soon to befall Wonder Boy/Wonder Girl. Monster-Town, the central hub world of the game is a bright, jubilant piece. Endless War is just freaking beautiful.

Not only does the remastered soundtrack of The Dragon's Trap do justice to the original source, it improves upon it. In the original game, the Shop theme was also used as the hospital theme. It retains the jovial tone of the original while playing radio static in the background, which is fitting since the Smoking Pig has a radio in his shop. The Hospital music is a lovely club jazz arrangement of the Shop theme. Each of the dragon's now have their own arrangement of the base Monster's Lair theme. The Daimyo Temple sounds very ancient Japan while The Monster's Lair - Palace rings of finality.

Of the 32 in-game tracks present on this soundtrack, there really isn't a bad one of the lot. They've even tossed in the 48 second Reveal Trailer music. But the bonuses don't stop there. Along with the 33 album tracks that amount to a little over an hour's worth of listening, there are 56 bonus tracks that were never used. Want to hear a ukulele version of Mind of a Hero? A hard rock version of Desert Zone over the original Master System version? Monster Town on the accordion? Have it it.

The soundtrack won't cost you much cash at only 5.00 Euros ($5.73). You can also get the soundtrack as additional DLC for $4.99 on Steam or you can grab the game and the soundtrack for a cool $23.73. The music to Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap is chump change compared to a lot of other game soundtracks you have to pay for and not only is the music beyond outstanding, those unused tracks are a sweet, sweet bonus.

The only real snag in this album is that it doesn't contain the original Master System tracks, which is a shame since you had the option in the game to instantly switch between the remastered and retro audio. Regardless of that, Michael Geyre has done an amazing job arranging Sakamoto's works. The Dragon's Trap may be short, but you'll be humming these tracks long after your quest is over.

Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap Original Soundtrack

Friday, July 14, 2017

Going in Blind

I take it many of you Spidey fans out there have already seen Spider-Man: Homecoming. As a big fan of the web-slinger, I'm really looking forward to seeing the movie myself, though I'll be waiting for the home release (I get motion sickness in move theaters.) As per usual, before the movie hit theaters, there were previews and each preview brought new footage. Usually, I don't mind more previews but I found myself avoiding them because I was beginning to feel that by the time I do see the movie, I'll have already seen so many snippets of it through previews that some of it won't feel fresh to me. Lately, I've found myself feeling this way about upcoming games.

We are very much living in the spoiler generation. Books, movies, TV shows, it matters not the medium, in the age of the internet and quick access, spoilers are never hard to find, whether you're seeking them out or not. Being taken by surprise almost seems so rare these days especially if you're keeping up to date with a game you're really looking forward to. YouTubers regularly play the latest releases and most of the soundtrack to these games is already on the site before the game's launch date. Earlier this year, I really didn't mind having too many things spoiled for me. The months I've spent playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild really made me rethink my Who-cares-about-spoilers mindset.

Studiopolis looks and sounds incredible.
Before Breath of the Wild released, I had seen very little of the game. I never made a point to keep tabs on it and the most footage of the game I had seen prior to the game's release was the trailer that Nintendo had showed off during the Switch presentation back in January. Outside of a few Let's Play videos on YouTube before I bought the game a few days after launch, I still didn't have much of the game shown off before I got my hands on it. This meant that bulk of my experiences in BOTW were blind. My first encounter with a Lynel, where I went through so much food just to keep myself alive as he trashed me around the landscape, was my own. I could have watched a video on YouTube to see how to dodge a Lynel's attacks and such, but I am ever so thankful that I didn't resort to that. Much of what I needed to know to fight a Lynel, I learned on my own. When to block with a shield, what shields will actually hold out against certain attacks, when it is wise to attack and when to put some distance between myself and the Lynel. None of this was spoiled for me and I'd forgotten how good it feels to approach a game without completely knowing what's in store for you.

Super Mario Odyssey is a game I am very, very excited to play. That E3 trailer had me wishing it was already late October. I'm already aware that Mario can ride a moped, use Cappy to posses pretty much anything, Bowser is forcing Peach to marry him, Mario's wardrobe is expansive and that Pauline is the mayor of New Donk City with an amazing singing voice. Beyond that, there isn't anything else I know, and I want to keep it that way. I don't want to know every single corner of New Donk City before I can play the game for myself. I'm dying to find out what Mario can do as a T-rex, but I want that to be my own discovery.

If the music in Studiopolis from Sonic Mania is any indication, that game is going to have an outstanding soundtrack. To this day, that is the only song from the game that I've heard as I'm waiting until I sit down with Sonic Mania to hear the rest of the score through gameplay.

I'm not saying I want every single game I go in to to be a totally blind experience. However, going into a game without knowing every single thing about it is highly rewarding on a personal level. As someone that used to regularly flip through his comic books before reading, having genuine shock as I read is pretty dang nice.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Favorite Tunes #189: Crashback

In the past I've dedicated Favorite Tunes to a single character such as Mario or Sonic the Hedgehog. With Crash Bandicoot making his return and myself along with many others being knee deep in the Crash Bandicoot: N. Sane Trilogy, this is the perfect time to give the orange spin doctor his due.

Main Theme (N. Sanity Beach) - Crash Bandicoot: N. Sane Trilogy (PS4)

Everyone and their grandma was grinning like they got hit with Joker Gas when they heard this theme in N. Sane Trilogy. Not only is it play during the main menu and for the first level of Crash Bandicoot, it also serves as the music for the overworld. Such a jaunty music piece that thankfully, is not limited to a single area of the game.

Hog Wild - Crash Bandicoot: N. Sane Trilogy (PS4)

The original Hog Wild tune will always hold a special place in my heart but I LOVE the arrangement of it in the N. Sane Trilogy. That harmonica at the beginning, the guitar and so many cartoon sound effects come together to a groovy, wacky jam.

Road to Nowhere - Crash Bandicoot: N. Sane Trilogy (PS4)

Depth perception. It is by far one of the biggest things that will mess with you when playing the Crash games. What better way to make things worse than by designing a level that places over a rickety bridge with slippery planks and, planks that fall away shortly after you step on and broken planks that can't even be stepped on? The level wouldn't be so bad if it were a 2D stage, but Road to Nowhere and the High Road are 3D stages. At least you've got some calming music to listen to while you're screaming.

Toxic Waste - Crash Bandicoot: N. Sane Trilogy (PS4)

Some of the levels leading up to this one are the kind that make you wanna crack your controller in two, so Toxic Waste is a nice, fun breather. The level them is as metal as it gets and you're assaulted by a big guy throwing barrels at you throughout. Huh. I'm getting a serious Donkey Kong vibe here.

Crash Dash - Crash Bandicoot: N. Sane Trilogy (PS4)

This is one of the arrangements where I have to say I like the original better. However, I still find this version to be really freaking good. It keeps the bells but it feels like the rock is more emphasized, which I'm perfectly fine with, though I do miss the primal feel that the original had.

Toad Village - Crash Bandicoot: N. Sane Trilogy (PS4)

From the game that is a lot of people's favorite of the trilogy, Crash Bandicoot: Warped has Crash and Coco traveling through time. One of the earliest levels in the game is full of knights and frogs and death by the later leads to one of the best death animations. Naturally, the music matches the time period you're in. This theme sounds very triumphant and adventurous.

Favorite Tunes Database

Thursday, July 6, 2017

The Bandicoot Came Back Tough, Just Like He Always Was

Like many of my fellow Crash heads, I was eager to get down with the Bandicoot in Crash Bandicoot: N. Sane Trilogy after being away from him for so long. It has been 9 years since the last Crash game and many have followed since he left the care of Naughty Dog, and they've been of varying quality. However, if any games in his history were worth giving a fresh coat of paint, it would have to be the platforming Naughty Dog trilogy. While many of us were becoming children (or in some cases, teens) all over again, a copious amount of players were voicing their frustrations and struggles with N. Sane Trilogy, more specifically towards the remake of the first Crash Bandicoot.

Upon doing some comparisons, fans discovered that the jump/landing mechanics aren't exactly the same as they were in the original PS games. When you are remaking a game from scratch, there are always going to be changes. The front cover of the N. Sane Trilogy says "remastered" but in truth, all three games on this collection were rebuilt from the ground up because the original source code is very old. (Heck, the first Crash Bandicoot is over 20 years old.) Fans are quick to cite the different jump/landing mechanics of N. Sane Trilogy as the source of the difficulty, which to me, comes across as a pretty big stretch. Lots of gamers playing Crash Bandicoot via N. Sane Trilogy haven't played the game in a very long time so they've more than likely forgotten a pretty dang huge aspect of the game and that is, surprise, surprise, the original Crash Bandicoot was always a ball bustingly hard game.

Whether you're jumping over flames in the Native Fortress, sweating bullets as you cross those awful bridges in the Road to Nowhere and the High Road, the first Crash game had a difficulty that was extremely punishing, even with the original jump physics that fans remember. It's actually quite strange that so many are focusing on the different jump physics rather than how freaking difficult the first Crash was. The PS Crash Bandicoot was much, much harder than this remake. Saving in that version sucked because you had to collect Tawna Tokens or use those stupidly long passwords. Getting 100% completion was a nightmare because dying once in a stage rest any boxes you had broken, meaning you had to complete any stage that had a gem without fail. Imagine doing this for some of the game's most fiendish levels. The whole lot of us would be sporting Ripper Roo's look and outfit.

Even when you weren't going for 100%, just trying to finish the game was a brutal because of the insanely precise platforming skills that the game demanded out of the player, especially late in game. By comparison, the remake, while still being pretty darn challenging, trims out a few of the things that made Crash 1 so hard. The game saves after every level. You don't have to complete every single level without dying to get a gem, except when it comes to color gems. Boxes found in Bonus stages count towards a level's total box count, making those gems a bit easier.

I'm not saying PS Crash Bandicoot is a bad game for having a difficulty that would make most players leave controller imprints in their walls, nor would I throw it in with the likes of Ghosts 'N Goblins, but the game is still pretty effing difficult, nonetheless. Whereas Super Mario 64 was more free roaming, non liner, Crash Bandicoot's design was much more liner and straightforward. I think that was a large part of Crash's appeal. At it's core, Crash is a simple game: go from point A to point B while busting open boxes along the way. About midway through the game, though getting to point B is easier said than done.

If I could offer some advice to make your time with Crash 1 in the N. Sane Trilogy a bit less stressful, I'll tell you to stock up on lives. The Lost City is a great place to farm them as you can keep spinning the bats that fly by throughout the level for infinite Wumpa Fruit. Lost City is also plentiful with regular 1-ups. You don't even have to finish a level you've beaten to carry out the extra lives. Just grab what you need, exit the stage and you're good. In an age where games heap extra lives at you so easily when you really don't need them, in Crash 1, you're going to need lives like you need air to breathe. Going into a level like The High Road with a mere handful of lives is just unwise.

As for the different jump/landing/hit box mechanics that some are claiming mess the game up, they really aren't that intrusive. N. Sane Trilogy just came out so in time, it could be patched. Whether they get patched or not, I'm fine either way. However, even if there is a patch, you can bet your booty that gamers will still talk about the difficulty because different physics or not, Crash (Crash 1, anyway) was always tough.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Favorite Tunes #188: Summer Time Calls for Summer Jams

So far, summer has been treating us pretty well here in Virginia Beach. Yeah, there are some pretty hot days, but it has been surprisingly cool as well and we've had some breeze to boot. Let the obligatory summer, beach inspired video game music commence.

Sandy Beach - Wave Race 64 (N64)

Man, forget about your stinking Metroid games, can we get Wave Race back up in here? In all seriousness, the franchise has been dead for more 16 years now and while it isn't as highly coveted as F-ZERO, I'd love to ride the waves again. If you're listening to this theme and thinking "Hey, that's not Sandy Beach!" well, you're not right and you're not wrong. This is the Japanese version of the tune.

Bloo Bay Beach - Paper Mario: Color Splash (Wii U)

Color Splash was hated before it was even released. Fans saw that it looked similar to Sticker Star and already labeled it as a bad game. Then the game came out and turned out to be pretty good. If you haven't played Color Splash because you still feel the sting of Sticker Star, you're doing yourself a great disservice. I can see the water crashing onto the shore whenever I hear this.

Turtle Woods - Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back (PS)

The Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy just dropped and I've no doubt many of you are playing and loving it. It is currently in my list of currently playing games as well as I have not played these games in years. It has been quite the fun trip down memory lane.

Secret Island/Boom Boatyard - Kirby's Epic Yarn (Wii)

One frequent complaint of Kirby's Epic Yarn is that you cannot die. The game is quite easy but if you want to give yourself more of a challenge, you should go for collecting everything in every level and getting a gold medal. One of the most difficult levels to do this for is Boom Boatyard. You're constantly under fire from bombs and to make matters worse, the level is on auto scroll. That super happy music is there to keep you from snapping you Wii Remote in half.

Mermaid Falls - Shantae: Half Genie Gero (PS4, Wii U, PC)

Half-Genie Hero was the first Shantae game I invested serious amount of time into. While it may be very easy and not represent the best of the series, I still had a lot of fun with this. Jake Kaufman delivered another fantastic soundtrack with lots of head bopping tunes.

Back 2 Back (Blazy Mix) - Sonic Rush (DS)

In a series filled with tons of characters that often make fans groan, Blaze the Cat was very well received among the Sonic community. Her debut game was Sonic Rush and all of her Zone tracks were remixed versions of the original Zone BGM. Sonic Rush is one of the (many) games critics overlook when they love to claim that Sonic games haven't been good since the Genesis days.

Favorite Tunes Database