Archive for October, 2013

From the moment I did my previous post on gaming music, I knew I’d make another one. I have a notoriously bad memory and was sure I’d left some out. And, as expected, I did.

Blaster Master

I’m cheating a bit here by using the theme from Blaster Master: Overdrive, published via WiiWare, instead of the NES Blaster Master. This is a remix of the original music, so I think it’s fair. When I first downloaded and started up Overdrive, I wasn’t even thinking about the theme, but as soon as the screen with Sophia in the tunnel appeared, it instantly came back to me, and my excitement was peaked. To me, when a game’s theme immediately pumps you up for the game, it’s something special. This music also has the task of keeping you entertained while looping, much like Bubble Bobble.

Mega Man X

Along with living up to the gameplay of it’s preceding series, X also had to match the outstanding soundtracks of the NES Mega Man games. The driving techno themes were right at home in the stages of Mega Man X. My brother and I would actually go to the soundtest screen and listen to the themes back before the days of Youtube or torrent sites.

F-Zero

I’ve used tracks exclusively from F-Zero X here, but as the entire series likes to remix music, you can truly pick a game and find great music. It speaks well of the composing that I can easily associate each piece of music with its respective track. As an aside, I’ve always thought the music of F-Zero X specifically bore a strong resemblance to the soundtrack of Mega Man X. A couple of composers for F-Zero & F-Zero X did go on to work on the soundtrack for Mega Man X2 & X4, but that doesn’t explain the similarities I hear to the music in the original Mega Man X, especially Big Blue above.

Resident Evil

This one requires some explanation as it seems like I’m reaching. I’m not adding this piece because I think the music is fantastic, although it isn’t bad at all, but because of the emotions it evokes. The Resident Evil series (up through and including 4) kept you on edge. You never had a reason to feel safe in any room unless you entered a room with a typewriter, which allowed you to save your game. As soon as you heard the theme music start up you knew you could relax in that room. It was okay to let your guard down. While there’s nothing particularly special to this theme, it is so tied to an emotion that I had to include it.

Secret of Evermore

The Hall of Collosia is a dilapidated Greek-ish ruin that you must explore in Secret of Evermore. It’s dark and in shambles and holds a few mysteries. The theme that plays behind that conveys a heavy air of mystery and loneliness, in my opinion. It’s yet another piece that I would listen to independent of the game itself, though it will always make me think of that area.

Metroid Prime

The Metroid franchise has always had pretty good gaming music. Fitting to your surroundings and conveying a mood that goes well with the game. Of all the tracks though, the two that play in the Phendrana section of Metroid Prime stand out to me. The first plays as you explore the drifts of the Phendrana area, full of snow and ice. There’s a strong sense of loneliness flowing in the music. Once you get into the pirate base in this area, the second track kicks in and has a more techno oriented beat, similar to something Enigma would have done (preview the Voyageur album for a good comparison). In this case, whenever I think about the Phendrana area, these two tracks are both embedded in my mind along with the area, which, to me, is a sign of well placed and well written music.

Metroid

The Metroid Franchise has been idle since the release of Metroid: Other M in late 2010. Now, three years isn’t that long of a lapse, but up through Other M, Metroid had been on a three years per game run (console releases), going back to Metroid Prime on the Gamecube and spanning seven games over that time period, including both console and handheld games. Since the release of Other M, not only has there been no new game, there has also been no mention or word of development on the next game in the series. In this post, I want to speculate where the next game could take Samus Aran, in both gameplay and story.

Where are we now:
The timeline for the Metroid series is as follows:

– Metroid/Zero Mission
– Metroid Prime
– Metroid Prime 2: Echoes
– Metroid Prime 3: Corruption
– Metroid 2: Return of Samus
– Super Metroid
– Metroid: Other M
– Metroid Fusion

At the conclusion of Fusion, Samus Aran breaks the orders of the Galactic Federation and blows up the space station to destroy the Metroids being bred there by said Federation as biological weapons. As far as we know, this means that the Metroids, excepting any further biological engineering, are an extinct species. We’re also left to wonder, after the most recent game, if Samus will seek therapy after the completion of Fusion because she’s a woman and can’t deal with not having children (I kid!).

The Story:
Given that she destroyed an entire space station, disobeying direct orders to do so, it would seem most likely that Samus would now be a fugitive and that the Galactic Federation would be working to apprehend her. I would suspect that any story for a new game would treat this as a bit of a side story to a bigger mission for Samus. Throughout her mission, she would occasionally encounter Federation troops, either subduing or evading them (I can’t believe that she would kill them). As there has been heavier focus on the story in the most recent entries, especially Other M (no comment), I have to believe the developers would give great attention to where Fusion left her. It could also be that her next mission is done for the Federation, whereas a bigger threat causes an alliance between the two, and said mission will clear her record with the Federation.

One aspect that I think needs to be addressed is the title character of the franchise. As stated above, the Metroids have apparently been decimated. Yes, she could find them on another planet, but that’s been done a few times now. Part of me wonders if the franchise shouldn’t shift to a focus solely on Samus Aran, perhaps titled something like The Samus Aran Chronicles: [subtitle]. She’s a bounty hunter, so let us take control as she pursues a bounty. Obviously, there would be a problem with a brand shift here (imagine the Zelda franchise suddenly dropping the Zelda name), but I do wonder how much longer they can find ways to work Metroids into the story. The easiest cover for this is to claim that she is now part Metroid after the Metroid vaccine she received in Fusion (thanks to the baby!). I don’t think the title change will ever happen, but I would like to play a game in which she is searching for someone or something unrelated to the Metroids.

What will the next Metroid Samus faces look like?

What will the next Metroid Samus faces look like?

The Gameplay:
To date, the Metroid series has used three different play styles: side-scrolling, first person, and third person. Of those, both side-scrolling and first person have been used to great success. Third person has been used but one time, in Other M, and received mixed reactions, though I do wonder if some of the negativity hasn’t bled over from criticism of the story aspects of that game. Given Nintendo’s revival in recent years of the side-scroller, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see Metroid take that route as well. It seems that most people regard Super Metroid as the pinnacle of the series, and one of the best games ever developed, so a return to that style would be a safe and, most likely, highly applauded move, especially if it were brought to the WiiU. It would be the first side-scroller in the series since 2004’s Metroid: Zero Mission and, if developed for the WiiU, the first console side-scroller in the franchise since Super Metroid in 1994. Of course, developing such a title and releasing it on both the 3DS and WiiU would be an interesting move, though I doubt that would ever happen.

The wildcard here is the gameplay of Other M. I’m not even remotely a fan of the story from that game, but the gameplay wasn’t bad. The main problem I had with it was the choice to go with a Wii Remote as opposed to a Wii Remote and Nunchuck. Moving a character in a 3-D space using only the D-pad just wasn’t comfortable for me. I also didn’t like how missiles and aiming were treated (shifting to first person, but being unable to move), but I suspect that this was a result of the control input rather than a true creative decision. I would be very interested to see this attempted again, but with controls more suited to moving in such a space. In the end, I strongly suspect a call back to the side-scrolling roots of the franchise is the most likely direction, though another first person outing equal to the quality of the Prime games would give the WiiU a strong, graphically powerful game that could be paired with Monolith Soft’s X to truly show off some serious sci-fi based gameplay on the system.

Samus Ship

Of course, this is all speculation and it could be some time before Nintendo revisits this series, especially after the relatively poor outing Other M experienced. When it is revisited, it could also be another entry that takes place in the current timeline, or a remake of the GameBoy outing, Metroid 2: Return of Samus, similar to Zero Mission. My biggest fear is that the Metroid franchise could be pushed into the same closet that currently holds Starfox and F-Zero hostage. I don’t truly believe this to be the case as Metroid has been a bigger name for Nintendo than those two franchises, but it is still a concern. Of their main franchises, Metroid has generally sat right behind Mario and Zelda as a top tier entry, the lack of a showing on the Nintendo 64 notwithstanding. My hope is that something will be spoken of on this at E3. Other M was a major surprise when it was unveiled at the conclusion of their conference in 2009. Perhaps we could be in for another such surprise in 2014. I will hardly be holding my breath though.

I posed this question on Twitter recently. I was thinking about Blaster Master: Overdrive and how I consider it to be an underrated game, but then I read that it received a mostly positive reception (reviews). If ratings were high, how could it possibly be underrated? I’m coming to think that when we say underrated, we are actually saying something else, but what is that? And is there a way to quantify something being underrated or is it all very personal?

Joke or not, this was a pretty honest answer, and, I suspect, the truth when it comes to statements of something being underrated. When we say a game is underrated, aren’t we really saying that we really loved it but the masses, on average, didn’t? I love the game NIER. It’s one of my personal favorites from the most recent generation, but reviews, both professional and from regular gamers (via ratings on Amazon, GameFAQs, etc…), were generally lukewarm. I’ve spent quite a chunk of time defending this game because of my love for it. I feel like those that dismiss it or disparage it are missing something integral to the game somehow, but I have to realize that just as I have my strong positive opinion about NIER, others are just as valid in their mediocre or negative opinions.

That said, I do still believe that NIER is underrated, but it’s because I think many gamers avoided it due to the middling scores from the so-called professional reviewers. This seems to run counter to my main point, but my personal point of contention with the reviews is that many reviewers couldn’t figure out a very basic fishing mechanic that the game insists you master before moving on. I had no trouble with this part of the game, finishing it in literally under a minute, but some high profile reviewers simply couldn’t do this, so their review of the game suffered because they didn’t understand the play mechanic. A potential buyer reading a review that made a game sound almost unplayable is probably going to avoid that game. Had I waited for reviews, I may have done so myself, and missed what I consider to be a unique gem.

In this case, I do think saying a game is underrated is very fair. When the reviewers tasked with putting a number beside a game’s title fail to be able to play the game and punish it for their own ineptitude, that’s a major problem, and one only noticed by those people that play the game and see that for themselves.

Hard to argue with this as well. I’ve already pointed out the misunderstood problem with NIER, but what about being overshadowed. Metroid Prime 3: Corruption was a well reviewed game for the Nintendo Wii that sold pretty well (1.3 million copies). However, it was released at the same time as Halo 3 for the Xbox 360. The Metroid series is my favorite gaming franchise, but I’d be delusional if I tried to argue it was more popular than the Halo franchise. It also didn’t help that it was released on a console that was fighting the stigma of being considered a “casual” system. As a result, Halo 3 sold 11.5 million copies and received all the attention come launch time, which was understandable. I’m not at all saying that it didn’t deserve this attention and actually, by all accounts, Halo 3 was a very well made game. For Prime 3 though, it was a loosing battle with a juggernaut being released on a “serious” gamers machine. So, can we call Prime 3 underrated? It would be a hard argument if we take the term literally, but if we expand it to mean overshadowed, then I think you can reasonably make that argument.

I think this response best sums up the arguments I’ve laid out above. Especially a game being under appreciated and/or unsung. At the end of the day, all thoughts on games are going to be subject to our tastes and preferences. Calling a game underrated uses the subjective opinions of reviewers in conjunction with your own. But arguing that it’s under appreciated or unsung uses your own thoughts independent of others’ opinions. You can frame your arguments based on your personal opinions about the game and your experience. My argument for NIER is that despite less than groundbreaking gameplay, it needs to be experienced because it has an amazing soundtrack coupled with one of the most striking stories I’ve ever seen in a game. That argument is very personal to me and requires the person playing the game to place a lot of emphasis on a game’s story. I do, some people don’t.

At the end of the day, all the opinions we throw out are personal. We can argue why a game should be played, but we also have to accept that there is no game that everyone is going to like, and sometimes we’re just going to disagree. So, when we say underrated, it may be wrong in the literal sense of the word, but when expanded to include your personal opinion of the appreciation or popularity it has achieved, it is very accurate.

As an aside, if you came here via Twitter and aren’t already following the three accounts listed above, I would highly recommend all of them. Very engaging group of guys up there.

SNESApologies to: Donkey Kong Country, Secret of Mana, Actraiser, EVO: The Search for Eden, R-Type III, Yoshi’s Island: Super Mario World 2, Mortal Kombat 2, Killer Instinct

Demon's Crest8. Demon’s Crest
I suspect that this title is probably the least-known of all the games on my list, and probably my strangest selection. This game follows the red demon Firebrand, originally from Ghosts’n Goblins before starring in two titles of his own, Gargoyle’s Quest (GB) and Gargoyle’s Quest 2 (NES). As Firebrand, you are tasked with finding an array of crests that will allow Firebrand to rule the demon realm. Each crest that is found allows you to shift Firebrand into a new form at will, allowing him to use new powers and access new areas. The game features an overhead map with areas you can visit in any order you choose, but you’ll find yourself revisiting each area numerous times as you unlock more of Firebrand’s powers allowing you to access areas you could see before, but not yet enter, similar to a game such as Super Metroid.

Evermore7. Secret of Evermore
First of all, let’s dispel the myth that this game caused Sieken Densetsu 3 (Secret of Mana 2) not to be localized to the west. This game was developed strictly for western audiences and shares many similarities to it’s step-brother, Secret of Mana. It is an action RPG featuring leveling, magic spells (alchemy), and an array of weapons and armor to equip. Speaking of the magic system, I’ve always felt it was very creative. Each spell requires two ingredients which you either buy or find in your travels (your dog can sniff them out). It was an interesting twist on the MP system we normally see in such games. As for the gameplay/story, you control a young boy warped to the land of Evermore, where you’ll travel through the land searching for a way to get you and your dog home. Oddly enough, I prefer this game to Mana. I find that it is a tighter experience with a better story and improved gameplay.

Castlevania IV6. Super Castlevania IV
With three successful outings on the NES, it was obvious that Konami would bring Castlevania to the Super NES. Serving as a remake or sequel (I’ve never been sure which is official), SCIV finds Simon Belmont once again taking on the forces of Dracula. In addition to sharper graphics, this entry featured the ability to whip in multiple directions and allowed you to change directions while jumping, no small thing for those of us that experienced the unforgiving jumping of the NES trio. It also has some excellent platforming levels, including two that offer interesting twists (rotating rooms and the spinning tower level). This entry also sports one of the best soundtracks on the Super NES, including my personal favorite version of bloody tears.

Mega Man X5. Mega Man X
I didn’t have a Super NES right away and, without the internet, wasn’t very aware of new games coming out. It wasn’t until a friend pointed this title out to me in a magazine at school that I even knew it existed. Being an avid Mega Man fan, I knew I had to have it. When I did finally play it, I was not disappointed. While it’s the standard Mega Man set-up, this game gives you wall jumping and dashing abilities, along with a Mega Buster that allows you to charge up special weapons along with your Buster and other enhancements found by locating the four Dr. Light capsules. Featuring fantastic platforming, a futuristic story connected to the original Mega Man series, and an amazing soundtrack, Mega Man X belongs on any top Super NES games list.

SMW4. Super Mario World
As the game that launched with the Super NES, Super Mario World carried much on its shoulders, and I feel it fully delivered. Introducing series mainstay Yoshi, Super Mario World took what Super Mario Brothers 3 had done on the NES and ran with it. Aside from the new power-up (the feather), SMW also introduced secret exits, some devilishly hard to find, along with the Special World that, upon completion, alters the appearance of many in-game enemies as well as the world map. I can’t let any mention of SMW go without acknowledging the level Tubular. Of all the games and levels I’ve played, this is without a doubt the hardest level I’ve ever played and was able to finish. It is brutal.

FFVI3. Final Fantasy VI
This was the first Final Fantasy I ever played, but I don’t think that is what makes me adore it so much. This game still stands up today against newer RPG’s and holds its own easily. It is truly hard for me to find a negative for this game. The story is as in-depth and involved as any game I’ve come across. The soundtrack is great, and includes the classic Final Fantasy victory theme. Also, for a game that features around 16 playable characters, they rotate in and out enough that being underleveled never seems to be a problem. Even on the occasions that you must grind a bit, there is a bonus to doing so on the Veldt where one character can leave with the enemies and come back having learned new special attacks from them. Finally, no mention of this game is complete without acknowledging that Kefka is one of (possibly number one here) the most devious and malevolent video game villains ever created. Oh, and he actually succeeds in his plans. That doesn’t happen often.

ALttP2. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
It’s Zelda. What else can I possibly say at this point? This is my personal favorite Zelda. At the time, there was no formula for Zelda games, so everything was very new. It has all the staples we’ve now come to expect of a Zelda title: solid gameplay, tough puzzles, and new, helpful items found in dungeons. I will say that the surprise I received upon being transported to the Dark World and finding that I had seven more dungeons to visit was one of the best surprises I’ve ever gotten in a game. I fully believed that I was nearing the end (though I didn’t understand why I had so many empty slots in my inventory) and was ecstatic upon seeing that I was only about one third of the way there.

Super Metroid1. Super Metroid
Not only is this my favorite Super NES game, it is also my favorite game, period. In my opinion, this game is perfection. The design is perfect, the music is fitting for each section of Zebes you explore, the atmosphere is amazing, and though there is little direct story given to you as the player, there are many visual cues that let you know exactly what is happening or what has happened (I’m still intrigued about the story of the space marine outside Kraid’s room). Also, few games reward you for sequence breaking the way Super Metroid does. It even includes special abilities not spoken of in the booklet that allow you to do so if mastered (wall-jump, bomb jumping, etc…). Combine all of this with one of the most exciting boss climaxes you can find, and you have a game that is simply amazing.

SMW

I’m a confessed Nintendo fanboy. I’m not the annoying, trolling type (at least, I hope I’m not), but as I’ve explained before, I root for them the way I would root for a sports team. I’ve assumed for some time that I did so because my childhood is so tied to the company. Some kids were Sega kids, I was a Nintendo kid. The more I think about it though, the more I think that it isn’t all about that.

Now, make no mistake, there is quite a bit of appeal in having history with a game or a system. I think this goes deeper than that though. A shared history wouldn’t make me enjoy current games.

With the incoming next-gen consoles, I’ve been reading a lot about the launch and launch window games. I’m not going to lie here, if I had the funds to do so, I’d be tempted to get a PS4. It’s new and exciting. But, when that temptation hits and I look at the lineup of games, I can’t figure out why I would do so. I can’t find anything off hand coming out for the PS4 that excites me. They’re all very pretty and such, but are also very serious. As a gamer, I’ve learned that I don’t like serious. Life is serious. I already have life. I want fantasy and fun. I want escape, not gray and sepia toned worlds that are generally grim and joyless.

Just look at those colors!

They’re about to break into dance, I just know it.

Okay, okay. I’m being way too general, but I have to speak very broadly on such issues. And keep in mind that this is all my opinion. I’m not trying to shape anyone else’s thoughts, just explain my own. I’m also not saying that serious games can’t be fun. Call of Duty sells millions of games with each installment. Someone is enjoying those, it just happens to not be me.

Okay, maybe not so realistic

Okay, maybe not so realistic

This brings me back to Nintendo. Outside of the memories I have of Nintendo, I’m drawn to their games because I simply find them fun. Nintendo doesn’t make “serious” games, at least not in the sense that some other developers make them. Super Mario Galaxy is a “serious” game in it’s design and execution, but in the story and gameplay, it abandons seriousness for a heck of a lot of fun. The same is true for Donkey Kong Country and Kirby and Pikmin. Even with their franchises that could be considered darker like Starfox or Metroid, the games are fun and involved and absorbing. Ultimately, that’s what draws me to Nintendo.

And note that I can also find this escape in a game like Dead Space or Resident Evil 4. Those are dark and gritty and serious, but for they also cast me in situations that, God willing, I could never conceivably find myself in.

Obviously, there are many other games that I would put into this same escape/fun/fantasy category aside from the mostly whimsical ones I’ve mentioned above. Castlevania, Ratchet & Clank, Dead Space, Resident Evil 4, Final Fantasy, etc… It just so happens that more games that appeal to me land on Nintendo consoles than any other. It doesn’t help that so much focus is going towards FPS and war games. Personally, those don’t appeal to me. Again, I don’t care for the realistic nature of war and crime and such. That’s just me. I’ll take Stockholm Syndrome in the Mushroom Kingdom any day of the week.

PS4

Very recently I wrote about why I no longer trust Microsoft. Today, I’m going to analyze the flip side of this coin. Why I now trust Sony.

Now, let’s be clear, I didn’t really trust Sony very much during the PS3 era, which is kind of a trend for console developers. As you can see in the Tweet above, it was pointed out to me that console makers seem to have a third console curse. Basically, once a company develops their third console, they make some kind of boneheaded mistake with it. Sega had the Saturn debacle with a high price point and a surprise launch date. So surprising, in fact, that developers and retailers weren’t even ready to sell the console. Nintendo decided to stick with cartridges when they launched the Nintendo 64. As a result, they lost the support of quite a few developers to the Playstation, which used optical discs, the biggest sting being the loss of the Final Fantasy franchise. Anyone remember FFVII? Yeah… Just an aside, but beginning to wonder if Nintendo is suffering from the third console curse, part 2, but anyway… Microsoft has pulled the screw up card themselves so far with the Xbox One, though the jury is still out on that one.

This brings us to Sony and the PS3. And yes, they screwed up. I like to think that they were suffering from a bit of a God complex after the massive success of the PS2. They felt that they had a dedicated fan base that would follow them loyally. Unfortunately for them, as Nintendo and Sega have learned, game players can be fickle with their systems. They’ll generally go to the system with the best games, despite the maker (this is a very generalized statement, I realize that). Sony’s troubles started at E3 when they announced the price of the PS3. Suffice it to say, most gamers weren’t all that anxious to shell out $499/$599 for the PS3 when they could have an Xbox 360 for $299/$399 or a Wii at $250. Sony didn’t stop there, however. They appeared to most of the world as rip-off artists once they unveiled that the new PS3 controller would have some motion control technology, similar to the technology that was giving Nintendo’s Wii quite a bit of buzz. Topping all of this off was an E3 presentation that gave us numerous quotes and memes.

Historical accuracy at its finest

So, what does this have to do with me trusting Sony now? Basically, I think a good slap-down really shakes a company up. After the N64, Nintendo moved to Discs and made a pretty powerful little system. No, it wasn’t a return to their glory days, but it did show that they realized they no longer dictated how the console industry worked. Sega gave us the Dreamcast, which has a major following to this day, even though it was their last. Again, though, it showed a more careful approach after the Saturn disaster. Now, Sony is giving us the PS4. Firstly, the price point places it below the price of the Xbox One (and the launch price of the PS3, for the record). More importantly to me, however, is what they did at E3. All of those negative things the Xbox One was going to have? Sony didn’t just not follow suit, they explicitly addressed each one at their E3 conference this year in what was one of the most glorious pieces of company trolling I have ever witnessed.

Now, all of this could be smoke and mirrors. Maybe the PS4 was going to follow suit but witnessed what happened with Microsoft and altered their path. For the time being, however, I’m going to choose to believe they have learned from previous mistakes. Assuming Microsoft produces a fourth console at some point in the future, I’ll happily analyze it and give them a clean slate as well. Each new console is a time for possible redemption, if needed, and a fresh start for a new generation of games.

If you’re interested in my thoughts on Microsoft from a previous post, you can find it here: https://justanothervideogameblogblog.wordpress.com/2013/10/14/i-dont-trust-microsoft/

http://titlescreenblog.wordpress.com/2013/10/15/top-5-tuesday-game-music-to-write-to/

I was inspired by the blog linked above to list my own favorite pieces of video game music. This isn’t a ranked list at all, just a few pieces that came to my mind after reading the related post.

Mega Man 2/3

The Mega Man games are widely known for great soundtracks, and I think the series hit its peak with these two games. The Mega Man 2 piece has a sense of urgency about it, which is very appropriate at it’s the first stage of Wily’s castle. What I love about the Mega Man 3 theme is how it starts off slowly, then ramps up.

Xenoblade Chronicles

This is a very well done piece of music and has a quality that’s required of music you’ll be listening to for a while (the Bionis Leg section is rather large), it doesn’t get old. I could easily put this on a loop and be entertained by it for hours. Speaking of such music:

Bubble Bobble

It’s Bubble Bobble. Over 100 levels, one piece of music, and it works wonderfully. This game had to have perfect music. Had it been tedious at all, it could have ruined the gameplay.

Castlevania

Of course Bloody Tears has to be on here. Few game franchises are so tied to one piece of music. I chose the Super Castlevania IV version as it has always been my favorite. The Castlevania II piece may confuse some people, but it has always been a piece that appealed to me.

Ys

I chose a piece from The Ark of Napishtim for the PS2/PSP, but you would be hard pressed to go wrong with any Ys music. It is extremely well composed and never fails to enhance the game.

The Legend of Zelda

Once again I show my love for Zelda 2 on the NES. I would hope that even though it’s considered the black sheep, everyone can get behind the great theme that plays when you’re in the game’s Palaces. This piece was revisited for a stage in Super Smash Brothers Melee. The second piece is one I actually prefer to the main Zelda theme, the piece that plays when Link is in the Dark World in A Link to the Past. I’ve always loved the moment when he is transported there and arrives on top of the pyramid. Once the music kicks in and you realize there is an entirely new world to explore? Amazing moment.

NIER

I started this post by saying these wouldn’t be ranked, and while that is true, I have to say that NIER has my favorite OST of any game I’ve ever played. Not only is the music extremely well composed, but the vocals of Emi Evans are amazing. According to interviews, she was asked to compose her own lyrics to the written music in a futuristic language. She was given a style, then asked to invent words in said style (Gaelic, Spanish, Italian, etc…). Even if this is a game you’ve no desire to play, you owe it to yourself to listen to a bit of the OST. I am completely unable to put in words how amazing and moving it is.

I Don’t Trust Microsoft

Posted: October 14, 2013 in Current Gaming
Tags: , , , , ,

Xbox One

It’s no secret that the announcement of the Xbox One was less than ideal for Microsoft. From the start, the primary focus seemed to be on the media aspects of the new console over gameplay. When gameplay was shown at the reveal, it was mainly focused on some EA Sports titles. Popular games, to be sure, but also games that present a miniscule portion of the larger gaming spectrum. The presentation at E3 alleviated some of this concern, but the larger issue plaguing Microsoft was their decisions regarding how the console would function in regards to privacy and game ownership.

As I’m sure those of you reading this know, Microsoft wanted to combat the used gaming market. Therefore, they announced that, essentially, a game would be tied to a console. If that game was given to a friend, they would need to pay a fee to be able to play it on their console. Oh, and that fee was going to be somewhere in the neighborhood of the MSRP of the game. The implication of this is simple. If you purchased a used game at Gamestop, not only would you pay Gamestop, you would then have to repay to play the game on your console. In essence, this would completely destroy the used game market for the Xbox One, which is what I believe Microsoft wanted. Why buy a used game and pay a fee when it would be cheaper to just buy the game new?

Microsoft also announced that their new console would need to connect to a central server, a check in I suppose, every 24 hours via an internet connection. Offhand, this doesn’t seem all that bad until you realize that there really are many places that don’t have reliable internet. No internet means you have a very expensive system that you can’t fully use. Fortunately, Microsoft handled this very tactfully.

Pictured: Tact

Pictured: Tact

There were a few other issues (Kinect is watching you!), but these were the big two that had potential customers up in arms. After some very negative press, and a complete smack down by Sony at E3 in regards to these policies, Microsoft reversed these decisions and announced that they would be rescinded, by a patch, if I’m not terribly mistaken (I’m probably terribly mistaken).

So, all’s well that ends well, right? No, I don’t think so. Even though these decisions have been reversed, it took months of negative feedback for that decision to be made. At the end of the day, I still think that those people that made these decisions still believe that they were the correct ones to make. The philosophy behind the console hasn’t changed, only the face that is being put on it. I wouldn’t be even slightly surprised if some form of these restrictions were put in place further down the road, once a few million consoles are sold. Frankly, I would be scared to buy an Xbox One early on in its life span. I just don’t trust Microsoft to not revisit these ideas at some point further down the road, and the fact that these were already in place means that the console comes ready made to have them reinstated. That’s a risk I’m very unwilling to take at this point in time.

It’s worth noting that I’ve painted in very broad strokes here. I realize that I’ve glossed over the details of the things I’ve written above, but I went with the driving narrative that was in place earlier this year. Rightly or wrongly, these were the perceptions that Microsoft created during the reveal of the Xbox One as well as its presentation at E3 and, even after their reversal, still plague the console a bit today.

SMB (NES)SMW (SNES)SM64

I still remember it very clearly. It was during the Gamecube/PS2/Xbox era of gaming. Rumblings had really just started about the next generation. I was discovering the glory that was Resident Evil 4. I was having a rare discussion about video games with my wife and I posed the question: At what point are graphics good enough?

See, I’ve always felt that gaming moved into 3-D worlds a generation too soon. There were great games on the Nintendo 64, Dreamcast, and Playstation, but many of them are difficult to revisit now because, honestly, they are ugly. Even classics such as Super Mario 64 and Ocarina of Time suffer from a bad case of the uglies upon a revisit today. It doesn’t mean they aren’t good games, it just means the presentation is extremely dated. I’ve never noticed the same about Super NES and Sega Genesis games, but I feel it’s because they work on a 2-D plane, meaning that sprites were much simpler, but also seemed more detailed b/c they were viewed from only one angle. Donkey Kong Country is still a beautiful game. Super Metroid is still striking when I play through it. This all changed, for the most part, upon the release of the Nintendo 64, PlayStation, and Dreamcast. We were thrust into a new world. At the time, it was gorgeous, but that hasn’t lasted.

Back to my main point. I posed this graphical question to my wife for a good reason. Up to that point, a new generation was simply about power and graphical prowess, such as the move into 3-D I outlined above. Sure, there was some innovation with controllers or the medium (cartridges versus discs) but not too much beyond that. The Xbox really pulled in online gaming, and the PS2 dabbled in it. But those systems, along with the GCN, were beginning to age and everyone was anticipating E3 because we knew the new systems would be on display. At what point are graphics good enough?

I'd have been happy with this level of graphics, honestly.

I’d have been happy with this level of graphics, honestly.

I was quite happy with the graphical power of my GCN and PS2. Sure, they could be sharper, but that wasn’t reason enough for me to spend a decent chunk of money on a new system. There had to be more. To their credit, Microsoft and Sony innovated by marketing their gaming machines as media hubs. Both could play movies, stream music, play Netflix, etc… Online play was standard and extremely easy. These were no longer ‘just’ gaming machines. They were now media machines, and that’s not a bad thing.

The surprise of the three was Nintendo. Nintendo took a massive risk with the Revolution (and I still prefer that name to Wii). They were coming off a third place finish in the console wars with the GCN. What could they do to shake up the race? They gave us the Wii.

The buzz from E3 was almost immediate once Nintendo fully unveiled the machine and the motion controls. It was unlike anything else being presented. Power and HD capabilities had been sacrificed for pricing purposes (so they say). The buzz, though, was all about the input. No other console could do the games the same way the Wii could do them (six-axis controller doesn’t count). Upon it’s release, it was an immediate hit and was virtually impossible to find. I pre-ordered one, having shifted from my “why would I want to upgrade for graphical purposes” attitude.

Again, I still find this impressive, but I also grew up with 8 bits.

Again, I still find this impressive, but I also grew up with 8 bits.

You know the story from there. It sold amazingly well, but never achieved much of the promise many of us thought it had. The controller was eventually refined further with WiiMotion Plus, but only very late in the Wii’s life and not even required for most games. The Wii’s success eventually gave us Kinect and Move, the former being the more successful of the two (and now required for the Xbox One). Imitation truly is the sincerest form of flattery.

Microsoft is now banking on the media center aspect of their next console, the Xbox One. The PS4 is pushing the same. The WiiU is more powerful than the 360 and PS3, but will probably be behind these new behemoths yet again, power wise. The thing I’ve noticed though, is that neither of these put a huge emphasis on graphics. As a matter of fact, it took Microsoft 30 minutes to ever touch on video games. It’s also worth remembering that both Microsoft and Sony say they’ll support their current systems for at least a few more years.

Maybe I’m old fashioned. I’m currently 31 years old, but I do try to stay “up” on my technology. Still, I’ve no desire for my gaming machine to be my media center. At the end of the day, I just want to play games, and I’m wondering if that isn’t being somewhat overlooked now. By Microsoft and Sony in their efforts to make their machines more than just gaming machines, and to some degree by Nintendo in their efforts to catch lightening in a bottle again with unique interfacing and controls. All three are searching to some degree for an advantage that games alone can’t give them. They can’t trumpet just power anymore, because I think we’ve finally gotten to the point where they have realized that graphics are good enough.

NESEventually, I intend to do a post like this for all the systems I’ve played (I’ve already warned you that I love lists). I do realize that a “Top 8” is an odd number for a list, but I wanted more than five, less than ten, and GamesRadar has already claimed lists with seven entries.

Honorable Mentions: Ninja Gaiden 2, Robowarrior, Final Fantasy, Crystalis, Faxanadu, Mega Man 1/2/4/5/6, Ducktales, Castlevania 2, Blaster Master, Startropics

8. AdvenAdv Island 3ture Island 3
The Adventure Island series is a bit funky. It started as the Wonder Boy series, then became Adventure Island on the NES (licensing issues, I believe). I never cared much for the original, but really loved the second one. I feel that this entry took everything Adventure Island 2 did and made it better. New items, new dinosaurs to ride, and the return of the item storage/inventory system. Throw in some great level design and a ton of secrets, and you have a recipe for a very memorable game.

Guardian Legend7. The Guardian Legend
Part Legend of Zelda, part schmup. The Guardian Legend is a game that tasks you with exploring a planet’s innards to defuse a bomb while occasionally flying over the planet’s exterior to take on bosses (exploring and flying are done in two differing forms). Blending genres in a game is all too often a recipe for mediocrity, but not only does it work in this game, it works extremely well.

Castlevania 3 6. Castlevania 3: Dracula’s Curse
As much as I love the oddball Castlevania 2, I still believe this entry to be the best (on the NES). It followed the formula of the original Castlevania, but with many improvements and tweaks. The levels were more intricate and featured branching paths, the graphics were improved, and three secondary characters with varying skill sets were added. This added a strategy unseen in previous entries as Trevor could only have one companion at a time. Which one you decided on (when you encountered them) would make a difference in later stages, greatly simplifying a few of them if you had the proper teammate.

Kirby's Adventure5. Kirby’s Adventure
This was my first exposure to Kirby, and it still stands out in my mind. Kirby is sort of like a Mega Man game with a few more powers and the ability to fly. Unlike his first game on the GB, Kirby’s Adventure allowed Kirby to inhale enemies and absorb their power as opposed to just shooting them back out as star projectiles. This new ability allowed for numerous clever puzzles and secrets that were accessible only with the proper power equipped, possibly one you had to keep throughout the stage (made harder by your power being knocked loose upon getting hit).

Metroid4. Metroid
Metroid’s mechanics flew in the face of traditional gaming fare. There were no proper levels in the game. Instead, the entire world was there for your exploration…provided you had the proper power-ups. Backtracking and careful exploration were key to this game. You could easily explore the same area three or four times as the game went on and find something new each time as your arsenal and abilities grew. As a final kick to standard conventions of the time, it turns out that Samus Aran was a woman. Not a big deal now, obviously, but pretty mind-blowing at the time. Bonus points to this game for eventually leading us to the sublime Super Metroid.

Mega Man 33. Mega Man 3
Popular opinion usually puts Mega Man 2 as the best of the series, but I’ve always felt 3 was the better game. It introduced a few new conventions that became staples: Mega Man’s ability to slide and the inclusion of his faithful companion Rush. This game was also our first exposure to Proto Man, Mega Man’s brother who has also become a popular character in the franchise. While adding some new tricks, Mega Man 3 also stayed true to the previous entries, while adding much more content. For instance, after defeating the initial 8 robot masters, you must reenter four of their levels and take on 8 more boss battles with a robot mimicking each of the robot masters from Mega Man 2. All of this is in addition to some of the best level design you will ever see in a video game.

Zelda 22. Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link
Bucking convention again with this pick. Zelda 2 is usually derided for being too different and for having a high level of difficulty. The criticisms are fair as this game is quite different from the original and can be very unforgiving. The overhead navigation is still present, but cave/town/temple exploration and all combat takes place on a 2-D plane. Unlike many people, I’ve always enjoyed the change-up from the first game and learned to deal with the difficulty curve years ago. What I like most about this game though, is that it has always felt like a true adventure to me. Hyrule is quite large in this game and contains multiple towns to visit and temples to conquer. There are also numerous caves containing story related items and health/magic increases to be found. Zelda 2 took away battle items such as the boomerang and bomb and replaced them with new items that affected what you could do and where you could go on the overhead map. It also introduced experience, limited leveling abilities, and surprisingly useful magic spells, all a first for the series. I maintain to this day that this game is underrated and is superior to the original Legend of Zelda.

Mario 31. Super Mario Brothers 3
In the end, there is only one choice here. I love this game. It is very nearly platforming perfection. Super Mario Brothers 3 wrung everything it could out of the NES and is a game that still stands up beside today’s games. The graphics are top notch for the NES, as is the music. The Koopalings (who I vastly prefer over Bowser, Jr.) had very similar patterns, but their air ships were varied and offered a unique challenge each time you took one on. The map screen offered some choice in level progression as well as an inventory system filled with items obtained via Toad Houses, Hammer Brothers encounters, and a card matching game. Topping off the new offerings were an array of power-ups, headed up by the beloved Leaf. Taking Mario to the skies for the first time is something I will never forget experiencing. For all these reasons, and many more that I’m not even listing, Super Mario Brothers 3 is my #1 NES game.