All posts for the month November, 2010
Posted by WildcatJF on November 30, 2010
The Advantage is the band that introduced me into the world of video game covers – not a bad induction, if I may say so. I love these guys, and wish that they had more of an online presence. Alas, their backlist is not all over Youtube, so you’ll have to fend for scraps. Luckily, these scraps are pretty meaty! Enjoy their takes of Batman and Legend of Zelda’s music.
Posted by WildcatJF on November 30, 2010
With the launch of the Nintendo 64, Nintendo once again turned to their superstar to launch the system. However, Nintendo had a console that was designed for 3D graphics and gameplay, so Mario’s 2D adventures would not be a sufficient way of showcasing the power of the hardware. Something new would need to be created to compete with Sega’s Saturn and Sony’s Playstation, consoles that had beaten Nintendo to the punch with their own 3D games. Luckily, Nintendo’s experiment paid off, in the form of the marvelous Super Mario 64.
The game opened up with Mario’s face, which players could manipulate if they grabbed parts of it. This clever minigame served as a nice way of introducing Mario’s new look alongside showing off a bit of foresight into allowing gamers to fiddle with these newfound polygons that would revolutionize gaming forever. Once the game started, a traditional Mario plot ensued – Bowser kidnaps Peach, and Mario has to save her. Nintendo decided to run with the secret aspect that has always been in the background for Mario’s latest quest by utilizing Power Stars as its primary collectible. As Mario explored Peach’s castle, he would uncover paintings that led to gigantic worlds packed full of Power Stars – 7 in each world, to be exact. Six would be given short hints as to how to find them, while the seventh required 100 coins to make appear. The castle itself held 15 Secret Stars that would require extra effort from the player to track down without guidance. These Stars were needed to make further progress into the castle.
The worlds themselves took on common platforming tropes, like two ice worlds, two water worlds, a desert world, a lava world, etc. It was the excellent execution of these stereotypes, though, that made them so memorable. The first water world, Jolly Roger Bay, was a fog-filled cave. As Mario poked around, he discovered a vast underwater canyon, with a sunken ship at the very bottom. As players sunk deeper into the depths, a large head could be seen inhibiting a window. With some careful prodding, the head would reveal itself to be a giant eel, and would swim around in the canyon. Players who went into the eel’s former lair would find a platforming challenge to get at a Star. The ship will rise up following the Star’s removal, and additional challenges would revolve around the ship and the eel. And that’s half of the stars here. Three others lurk in the bay, alongside the 100-coin star. Further exploration would uncover a cave in the canyon, where another star could be found. Another required finding a Pink Bom-Omb to enable a cannon, which Mario could enter and try to snag a Star perched on a spire. The last would require a new power-up in order to snag – the Metal Cap (I’ll get to that momentarily). There’s all six Stars for one of the 15 worlds.
Mario lost all of his earlier powerups for Mario 64 – only the 1UP mushroom would make a return. In their place, Mario was granted a wide plethora of moves, gaining the ability to punch, kick, long jump, wall jump, triple jump (with greater height with each jump), backflip, sideflip, dive, slide, do a ground pound in midair, sneak, pull off handstands, and pick up new items to gain additional talents – Caps. To use them, you’d have to enable them. This worked like the !-Block Power Switches in Mario World: you had to find their hidden activation room, clear the obstacles, and stomp the switch. Suddenly, the power-up boxes would appear in their respective stages, and Mario could swap hats and take on new traits. There were three in total – the Wing Cap, Metal Cap and Vanish Cap. The Wing Cap is probably the most fun, as it allowed Mario to soar in the skies. It worked a bit like Mario’s Cape powerup in Mario World, dive to gain speed and then lift Mario back up to gain extra air. The Metal Cap had a ripping musical theme and was the closest to a Starman in Mario 64, as it granted Mario invincibility alongside its extra weight and nifty sheen. The Vanish Cap allowed Mario to become invisible, slipping through special walls he normally wouldn’t be able to. All three had their uses, and were great additions to the Mario universe.
Many of Mario’s enemies would make the leap into 3D – Goombas, Koopa Troopas (who were rare, but coughed up the awesome ability to surf on their shells!), Lakitu (who served as both a foe and as the camera operator), Spinies, Chain Chomp, Pokeys, Shyguys (Fly Guys to be exact), Wiggler, Thwomps, Boos, Bom-Ombs, Piranha Plants, Bullet Bills, Snifits (apparently renamed Snufits for American audiences, but I’m ignoring that), Swoopers, Monty Moles, and of course, Bowser himself. Three notable omissions are Bloopers (who would return in Mario Sunshine) and Cheep Cheeps (who would replace the Bub enemies here in SM64 DS) and Buzzy Beetles (who would pop up in Paper Mario games, returning to the main series with New Super Mario Bros.).
As I mention here, I think Mario 64 is the pinnacle of the series. I won’t repeat myself again here (I’ve already blabbed enough, I think :p ), but I really do adore this game.
With the launch of the DS, Nintendo remade Super Mario 64 for its launch. The big selling point was that the game was no longer a Mario-only affair, as Luigi (whose absence from Mario 64 was quite noticeable), Yoshi (becoming much more than an end-game cameo) and Wario (entering his first major Mario platformer as a protagonist…which, so far, has been his only excursion into this realm) joined the familiar plumber as playable characters. The graphics saw a massive overhaul, becoming much more attractive than the N64′s. A bunch of new content and extra Stars were also added in. Unfortunately, this remake sullied a lot of what made Mario 64 so charming. First off, the DS has no analog stick. To try to make up for this, Nintendo allowed gamers to use the stylus, which was not a suitable replacement for me. It may be that my left-handedness doomed me, but I hated using the stylus to control the game. The digital pad tried, but it too failed at recapturing Mario’s smoothness from the N64 original. The lack of refined control made simple tasks become more difficult, and I found it more frustrating than fun. Secondly, the game suffered from a Donkey Kong 64-style of character switching. Mario, Luigi, Wario and Yoshi all had unique talents, and each could use a bonus ability, now powered by a Power Flower. Mario could inflate a la Super Mario World’s P-Balloon, Luigi would gain the Vanish Cap, Wario the Metal Cap, and Yoshi would gain his Dragon Breath from Mario World. Mario was the only one who could grab a Feather, which would allow him to gain access to the Wing Cap. Unlike DK64, which had swap barrels in their levels, you had to track down caps floating around the level in order to become other characters, which became a bit of a bother. It also overcomplicated the game’s mechanics. Why not allow all four to use the same powers? In my opinion, this isn’t worth the time to play…unless they remake it again for the 3DS, which does have an analog nub…
Posted by WildcatJF on November 30, 2010
I’ve put up art for the last two weeks for this series – how about I talk about it some today?
I started my fascination with FLCL in an unusual way – I bought the final disc first. And I watched it before I got the others. This is not the greatest way to begin a show for most! Luckily for me, FLCL excelled at capturing my attention with its climax, and I became quite enamored with the kooky world of FLCL’s Japan, and was curious to discover why these characters were doing the things that they were. As quickly as I could, I picked up the first two discs, and it cemented itself as one of my absolute favorite animes.
But why, do you ask? It’s…hard to explain. :p
For one, FLCL is very unconventional. It runs on its own track, more than willing to poke fun at anything along its way, and rolls on a chaotic course. It’s frantic, fast and unafraid of being foolish. However, it’s also incredibly smart, stylish and smooth. It is gloriously animated by the wizards at Production I.G., utilizing computer animation to render its insanity into awesome reality. The excellent character designs of Yoshiyuki Sadamoto are some of my favorites – I proudly own the Groundwork book for this. The hiring of Japanese J-Rock band The Pillows to lend several of their tracks to the background was a fantastic stroke of cool, as their tunes perfectly back the madcap action. Broccoli’s English dub maintains the distinction of being one of the best I’ve ever heard.
Ultimately, though, I like FLCL because it’s just weird.
The series, through its six episodes, covers a lot of ground in little time. Its plot plows forward at a maddening pace, and it’s a show you need to focus on in order to gleam anything from it. The story revolves around Naota, a Japanese boy who’s life is in a constant state of boredom. He has an older brother, Tasuku, who is a major part of his livelihood, despite his absence (he plays baseball in America). Idolizing him, Naota plays the sport, carries a bat, and is often at the side of Tasuku’s girlfriend, Mamimi, a high schooler with issues. These two form two parts of the triangle, with Haruko, a mysterious woman who rides a Vespa and swings a mean bass guitar, serving as the third point. Haruko’s appearance spices up Naota’s life, rendering it anything but boring. The remaining episodes revolve around Naota’s coping with his feelings for Mamimi and Haruko, and discovering who he is, and becoming an individual.
Sounds fairly serious (minus the bass guitar swinging) from my deliberately-avoiding-spoilers plot synopsis, but it’s far from that. FLCL covers a wide spectrum of emotion throughout its hectic duration, and I feel that it’s a show that must be seen to be truly appreciated.
It’s got some of the wackiest moments ever put into animation, as well as some of the most thought-provoking. It can switch gears between calm and crazy in seconds. It’s unafraid of pulling punches. It has some disturbing imagery alongside some adorable bits later. It’s really difficult to express it without ruining why exactly it’s so great. Which puts me in a terrible spot with this article. :p
I’ve been hearing you ask me throughout this article, what makes it so weird? I haven’t really expressed that aspect in this piece, but part of the magic of FLCL is discovering that trait yourself. Just know that FLCL is not conventional – it works under its own rules, and breaks those, too. With that knowledge in mind, you may begin to understand why I refrained from sharing my feelings about its oddness with you as you witness it yourself, and will hopefully gain a greater enjoyment from it than if I had spoiled the whole thing for you here.
I highly, highly endorse a viewing of FLCL. It’s one show that will likely take multiple views to fully appreciate, but it’s one that opens up something new and incredible for me with each rewatch, and I loved it to begin with. It’s unique, it’s bold, it’s funny and it’s poignant. It’s definitely a mainstay in my life, and it has influenced me as much as any other anime I’ve watched (including Ghibli films!). Outside of Rurouni Kenshin and several Ghibli films, this may be my favorite anime of all time. Well worth some time to indulge in.
Posted by WildcatJF on November 28, 2010
Enjoy our last day of celebrating my favorite Whose Line? episodes! We’re going crazy today, with 4 games!
Posted by WildcatJF on November 28, 2010
Good – Kirby’s Epic Yarn (Wii, Nintendo)
I adore this new design for Kirby’s world, and this box art makes the title’s arts and craft approach pop. It’s also lacking aggro Kirby, which is a rather pleasant sight to see on an American box. A job well done.
Bad – Fatal Frame (PS2, Tecmo)
This one is quite special. It is on point with the game’s central mechanic – using a camera to capture the wandering souls of the dead. However, that’s about the only compliment I can give it. A terrible logo that takes up too much space on the box, the drab background behind the film is uninspiring, the foreground with the creepy heads of spiritual captors is almost comical, and then there’s Mr. Blue Eyes, there, whose attempts of escaping the film cell looks not at all appealing. If he could attempt a face a little more frightening, then maybe it could slide. As is, he looks like some boy band/Twilight reject…which may be terrifying to some people! Perhaps the ugliness of it all kept customers away…which may give it some credence as a survival horror title, but you’re supposed to attract buyers to play your game to be scared, not keep them away from buying it!
Here’s the somewhat S&M Japanese box art for comparison. I’m sure Tecmo USA saw this poor girl being tied down and looking like a potential date rape victim and went, “we have got to change this!”, but they did a horrible job at that goal in the end. I see that Tecmo Japan loved this image so much to slap a copyright tag on it, just to make sure you know that this disturbing creation is indeed theirs. Considering these folks release Dead or Alive games, color me unsurprised that they were all too eager to make a promotional pic with a apparent drugged-up teenager in a schoolgirl uniform strapped to the floor with a camera next to her…and then say that yes, we at Tecmo did this render! *facepalm*
Posted by WildcatJF on November 26, 2010
Sega’s Christmas NiGHTS was basically a demo version of the popular Saturn game NiGHTS into Dreams…, and featured seasonal changes in the graphics based on the console’s internal clock. As such, it inspired Dale North to mix the game’s theme song “Dream Bells” with the holiday standard “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”. The result is this charming Overclocked ReMix that’s great for getting into the mood of the holiday season.
Composers: Naofumi Hataya, Tomoko Sasaki, Hugh Martin, Ralph Blaine
Arranger: Dale North
Posted by Nester on November 26, 2010
Happy Thanksgiving! I’ve got some great football-related Whose Line? skits to share on Turkey Day!
Plus, as an added bonus, enjoy this great Let’s Make a Date skit that magically ties into Thanksgiving!
We’ll have more this Sunday, too!
Posted by WildcatJF on November 25, 2010
Posted by WildcatJF on November 24, 2010