Archive for April, 2014

Easter Egg

Well…this is pretty straight forward. Being the week after Easter, I felt this would be the perfect time to list my Top 8 Easter Eggs from gaming. There was a huge amount to choose from, so I’m sure some of your favorites have been left out, for which I do apologize. I could have done a Top 50 for this.

8. Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien – Slenderman is watching you.

Runner 2

With the way this game flows, it’s hard to spot, but many times, if you can spare a glance, you will see the infamous Slenderman lurking in the background. There appears to be no reason for his presence, which actually makes this creepier. While I’ve pointed out Slenderman, he’s only one of many bizarre critters to show up in the background of this game.

7. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze – Samus Aran’s crash landing

Tropical Freeze

Another tough one to spot, but if you look closely in Busted Bayou, you can spot Samus’s ship wedged in the trees. This is both a shout to another Nintendo franchise, as well as a reference to the games that put Retro Studios on the map. Here’s hoping it’s also a hint as to what Retro will be working on next.

6. Mega Man X – Street Fighting Man

MMX Hadouken

Included here is a reference to Capcom’s Street Fighter franchise. If you complete Armored Armadillo’s stage 4 times, finishing each time with full health, you’ll find a Dr. Light capsule where the good doctor will give you the Hadouken. Other than the final boss, this move will kill any enemy in one hit.

5. Super Mario RPG – Princess Toadstool’s ???

Super Mario RPG

I’m quite fond of this just because of how unexpected it is. This is Nintendo’s flagship franchise, so stumbling across a very adult reference was very surprising, which only helped to make it that more entertaining and humorous to find.

4. Dead Space – Chapter Title spoiler alert

Dead Space

Throughout Dead Space, you constantly interact with Nicole, the fiance of main character Isaac Clarke. At the end of the game, you discover that Nicole was actually killed before you ever arrived on the Ishimura, meaning you were experiencing hallucinations the entire time. Of course, if you take the first letter of each chapter title, you would have figured this out far sooner as they spell out: NICOLE IS DEAD.

3. Bioshock 2 – Jack’s Arrival

Bioshock 2

As a Big Daddy, you are free to roam the ocean floor outside of Rapture, something you couldn’t do as Jack in the original. In one such sequence, if you look around, you can spot the wreckage of a plane on the ocean floor. There’s no guarantee that this is the plane that Jack was on in the original, but I think it’s a safe bet to assume it is.

2. Metal Gear Solid – Psycho Mantis knows your gaming library

MGS Psycho Mantis

I’m still debating whether or not this qualifies as an Easter Egg, but it has shown up on other lists I’ve read, so I’m including it here. I played the Gamecube release of this title, but both it and the PS original include this sequence. Psycho Mantis is challenging because he can read your mind, something he proves by reading your memory card and commenting on the saved games you have. He also moves your controller via a rumble feature. I have to mention the fight here too, as changing controller inputs to attack him is simply genius.

1. Batman: Arkham Asylum – The Warden’s Office

Arkham City Map

No game is ever guaranteed a sequel, but Rocksteady must have known what they had when designing Arkham Asylum. Hidden extremely well is a destructible wall. If you blow it up, you will enter the warden’s office. On the wall in the office are the blueprints for Arkham City. If you found this secret early on (virtually no one did, from what I’ve read), it would just seem like a throwaway section, but with the announcement of Arkham City as the sequel, the meaning of this room became perfectly clear.

 

Tropical Freeze

I’ll admit to being disappointed when it was announced that Retro Studios’ WiiU game was a follow up to the brilliant Donkey Kong Country Returns on the Wii. Not because I didn’t like Returns (I just called it brilliant), but because I favor their work on the Metroid Prime Trilogy and was hoping for something more in that vein. Still, as the release date grew closer, I found myself caught up in the excitement and purchased it on Day 1. Was it worth the wait?

The Set-up:
You are Donkey Kong. Much like the first game, you find yourself roaming varying lands collecting bananas, puzzle pieces, and KONG letters. In addition to traditional left to right platforming, you’ll also find yourself on the always treacherous minecart rails as well as steering rocket barrels through a multitude of dangers. Along for the ride this time is Diddy Kong, operating much like in DKC Returns, as well as Dixie Kong, complete with a floating ponytail twirl, and Cranky Kong, doing his best Scrooge McDuck pogo stick impersonation.

The Story:
While celebrating Donkey Kong’s birthday, the Kong clan is ambushed by a group of snowy, viking like animals. Upon summoning a large Ice Dragon, Donkey Kong Island is frozen over while Donkey Kong and family, Diddy, Dixie, and Cranky, are blown far away, landing on a distant island. They immediately set out to fight their way through the invaders to ultimately reclaim Donkey Kong Island. This journey includes varying landscapes and mechanics, as well as underwater levels, which were not seen in DKC Returns. Truthfully, there isn’t much story beyond that, but then I can’t imagine anyone picks this kind of game up for the deep narrative.

This about sums it up.

This about sums it up.

The Gameplay:
If you’ve played DKC Returns, then you’ll fall right back into the play style of Tropical Freeze. The moves and gameplay are almost virtually unchanged. The biggest change to DK’s move-set is the loss of the blowing move, which really didn’t add all that much anyway. However, that all changes once you pick up a helper. Diddy Kong operates much like he did in the first title, giving you some floating time with his jetpack. Dixie and Cranky though, change things up. Dixie Kong uses her ponytail to give you a bit of a vertical lift. Cranky Kong might as well have been lifted straight from the Ducktales NES game. Using his cane as a pogo stick, Cranky can bounce on virtually any surface or enemy. Along with the bounce comes a much higher jump that can boost you to some hard to reach areas.

Retro made great use of the new characters. The game can be beaten with just DK, but to get all the puzzle pieces and KONG letters, you will need to utilize the varying powers of your cohorts. For example, one puzzle piece can only be gotten by collecting a group of rotating bananas over a thorny vine. The only way to gather them all without being injured is by using Cranky’s pogo move. Another level had a KONG letter sitting beneath a platform over a pit. In this situation, you had to roll into the pit (or jump) and then use Dixie’s ponytail twirl to rise up onto the platform, collecting the letter in the process. Fortunately, in these cases, you can buy specific character barrels from Funky Kong, allowing you to bring the needed partner into the level with you. While that part may be easy, in many cases, you must also get to the end of the level without losing said partner. It is obvious that Retro specifically made that design choice because getting them to the end is not always an easy task. Hearts will be scarce, if present at all, and enemies are placed in worst places possible, in order to throw you (think the birds in Ninja Gaiden on NES).

Really?

Really?

Also new in this entry was the presence of secret exits, leading, of course, to secret levels. Generally, the world map gives you a good idea of what level(s) has a secret exit on each island, but knowing that doesn’t mean that they are easy to find. I spent quite a bit of time hunting each one of these down. Each island has two secret levels, in some cases, the first secret level leads directly to the second, whereas in others, you must find a couple of secret exits in order to access both levels. The secret levels also come with the standard collectibles, being KONG letters and puzzle pieces.

Speaking of, just like in the first game, collecting all of the KONG letters in each level unlocks a special level in each world. These levels are no easy task by any stretch, offering the toughest challenge the game has to offer. Each level has it’s own gimmick, be it utilizing a bouncing off of enemies technique, or having to jump on platforms on a fixed track that only extend at certain points. These levels also lack checkpoints, meaning any misstep will have you repeating the level from the beginning. This can be aggravating, but these levels also operate on a trial and error basis, meaning that I typically found myself getting a bit further with every life, before finally besting the level. Upon beating the level, you will be rewarded with a marked stone. Collecting all seven (you also get one from the final boss) will open up a new world made up of three levels that are at least as difficult as the levels you must complete to open it up.

I got to know these levels very, very well.  :|

I got to know these levels very, very well.

While the two new Kongs, underwater levels, and secret exits shake things up a bit, it is the boss battles that truly set Tropical Freeze apart. Each boss battle has phases. After a set number of hits, the boss will change things up in some manner, be it a stage effect or in how they are attacking. The bosses can be difficult, but never feel unfair, instead being an enormous amount of fun to battle. While I can understand some of the criticism about the length of the battles, I would much rather take part in a battle that is constantly switching up your strategy than simply repeating the same pattern on a boss until it’s dead. I think the good far outweighs the bad in this situation. All that said, I must point out the most frustrating moment of the game here. I mentioned underwater levels earlier, and while they are interesting, they suffer from, what I felt, were extremely poor controls. All too often, the Kongs just wouldn’t do what I was trying to get them to do. So, of course, the final boss of the underwater themed island takes place underwater. It was truly the only time in the game that I simply stopped playing and felt frustrated. I actually stopped playing for a few days because I had no desire to attempt the boss again. There was just no joy in it. Even now, I feel that I just lucked out in beating the boss. For a game that I generally enjoyed, that segment just felt like an incredible misstep, and is not a battle I ever intend to revisit.

>:(

😡

Conclusions:
I enjoyed Tropical Freeze, but I have to say that nothing about it really stands out in my mind. It just seems like an extension of DKC Returns, instead of feeling like its own game. There are some new tricks, but none that feel like they couldn’t have been done in Returns. Once you get past the newness of Cranky and Dixie being included, you might as well just be playing Returns. Now, I must say that I consider DKC Returns to be one of the best platformers I’ve ever played, so calling a game an extension of that is hardly an insult. Tropical Freeze is a great game, but you have to understand right away that there is nothing groundbreaking in it. It’s very high quality and brilliantly designed, but it’s also more of the same. It’s what Super Luigi U was to New Super Mario Brothers U, only with longer levels and a higher price point.

I wrote at the beginning of this post about the disappointment I felt when this title was announced and why. After completing Tropical Freeze, I must say that I am still let down that Retro Studios when with this title over something else. I will never question the ability of Retro to make a great game. They’ve proven themselves in five games now, all of them games that I would recommend to anyone, but I feel like they’ve limited themselves by going with this game on the WiiU. I adore side-scrollers, but I just feel that Retro could have done so much more in a game with a more open world, be it a new Metroid game or something else. In a way, Tropical Freeze is a victim of Retro’s past successes, and how phenomenal those successes turned out to be.

Now, that doesn’t mean that Tropical Freeze isn’t a great game. It truly is, and I would tell any WiiU owner to pick it up. It is a game that is overflowing with joy and fun. It may not do very much that’s new or fresh, but at the same time it doesn’t letdown its namesake. It has amazing design that challenges, but rarely frustrates (outside of that damn fish boss). This may not have been the game I would have chosen for Retro to work on, but that aside, Retro shows again with this game why Nintendo trusts them so much with some of their most treasured franchises.

Boss Kick

Smash Brothers

Right off, I have to admit to only being a passive, casual fan of the Smash Brothers series of games. I admire what Nintendo has done and the work they put into the games, but I just have a hard time getting interested in any kind of fighting game. It’s totally on me. I don’t have the patience to learn and master the move sets and strategy that fighting games employ. So, you can understand why, unlike most gamers, I don’t see these games as “must buy” games.

Still, even acknowledging my own disinterest, what is it about the Smash Brothers games that creates such hype? It’s more than just the fact that it’s a fighting game, which is a genre that is usually fairly popular. I think that it’s tapped into something that Marvel also realized with their Marvel movie universe. Smash Brothers is the video game equivalent of The Avengers. I won’t get very literal here, but it’s worth mentioning that you can almost match the characters up: Captain America = Mario, Hulk = Donkey Kong, Iron Man = Samus Aran, Thor = Link or Lucas (I’m reaching on this one), Hawkeye = Pit or Link, Black Widow = Sheik, etc… Yeah, these may be a stretch, but I’d already thought it out and it’s going to show up in this post.

Thor? Eh, close enough.

Thor? Eh, close enough.

With The Avengers universe, you have a collection of characters with varying powers and abilities. Each have their own life and background and stories to tell, and we get to see each of those. Every now and then, a character will bleed over from one franchise to another, just as a reminder that these guys all exist in the same universe. Once every few years though, these characters come together to battle a common enemy that threatens the world as a whole, and is something that they can’t individually defeat on their own.

Now, take Smash Brothers. You have a group of characters, each with their own life and background and stories to tell and each with varying powers and abilities. Every now and then, you will see an easter egg of one game turn up in another. Every few years though, these characters come together in their own game. It could even be argued that with the Subspace Emissary story mode, they came together to battle a nemesis that threatened all of their existences, requiring a teaming up of characters that wouldn’t normally interact. I realize that we’re dealing with two different mediums here, but I think each one taps into something in us that wants to see these characters that are, at first glance, very different, but who use those differences to complement one another.

If there's no complement, we can just enjoy how bizarre it is to see them work together.

If there’s no complement, we can just enjoy how bizarre it is to see them work together.

The popularity of Smash Brothers goes beyond its genre and tight design and taps into the very heart of a video game fan. The series creates an excitement that can only be generated with this one game. Comic fans have the Character A versus Character B arguments. Smash Brothers allows video game fans to actually answer that question to some extent (no disrespect to comic books at all, The Avengers came long before Smash Brothers and I do realize that crossovers have long existed for the comic book arguments as well). There’s just something enthralling about pitting Mario against Bowser or Link against Samus in a physical one on one match. That just doesn’t happen anywhere else. There’s also the appeal of the physicality of the matches for characters that normally aren’t allowed to battle in such a manner. It takes what’s familiar and gives us a different side and perspective, and for Nintendo to be able to do that with characters as familiar as Mario, Link, Samus, etc… is really amazing.

All of that being said, and acknowledging that I’m in the minority here, seeing these characters appear in a fighting themed game only serves to make me want a Smash Brothers game that has a more fleshed out story mode to experience. I appreciate the Subspace Emissary, and it’s quite fun to play through, but it was obvious that it was tacked on and was never meant to be the focus of the game. Nintendo has since publicly stated that the next entry for the WiiU and 3DS would have no such story mode, or not one of the scope of the Subspace Emissary. I understand their point of view on this, even if I don’t agree with it. People buy the game to fight with the characters. Nintendo is going to focus on them first and foremost, and are smart to do so. Still, I can’t help but pine for a game that sees each character pulled into a larger conflict, with a deeper story and a more menacing nemesis. One that would allow us to see Mario in Hyrule, Fox McCloud exploring Bowser’s castle, or Donkey Kong using brute force to get through a space station from Metroid. It appears though, that I’m not going to get that, or even something close to it. It makes great business sense, and like I said, I can’t fault Nintendo for making this decision, but it would be cool to experience. For the time being, however, I suppose I’m just going to have to wait for Age of Ultron.

Is it really over a year away???

Is it really over a year away???

 

Smash Brothers

We’ve seen so many of these lists, but why should all the other bloggers get the glory? I’ll admit to only being a casual Smash Brothers fan, but as new characters get introduced, much like many others, I can’t help but think about the fighters I would love to see included on the roster. I’ve cast a very wide net and only excluded those characters owned by either Sony or Microsoft. To the best of my knowledge, all of the characters I’ve chosen have shown up on a Nintendo console at some point.

Bubble Bobble8. Bub/Bob (Bubble Bobble)
I don’t mean together or anything, just one at a time. Bub and Bob seem like a strange choice at first, but along with traditional physical attacks, they could also encase competitors in bubbles, then burst the bubbles to send them flying. Special attacks could also revolve around the special types of bubbles from the games, such as lightning or the fire drops that create a line of flames on the floor. Size would seem to be an issue, but I see them as the same size as Kirby, so that could work.
Final Smash: Calling upon Baron Von Blubba to take out the other fighters

Ys (Napishtim)7. Adol Christin (Ys Series)
I’ve discussed Adol before, but then I’m quite a fan of him. While his move set from the earlier games wouldn’t translate well, his moves from later games such as Ark of Napishtim would be perfect. He could do traditional sword moves, but also spice those up with elemental effects (as seen in Ark of Napishtim). Adol also has had a double jump and, if I remember correctly, an uppercut sword attack that would work well as a recovery move. With his sword work and speed, I could see him as a hybrid of Metaknight and Ike, a nice combo indeed. Adol’s inclusion would also be a nice shout out to what is generally considered a niche series.
Final Smash: Goes old school, running right into the enemies to knock them back

Vectorman6. Vectorman (Vectorman)
Just an aside, but why in the world has Vectorman been dormant for so long? Vectorman could translate to Smash Brothers easily, with his hand employed ball gun being perfect for distance attacks while normal kicks and punches could work for anything up close. Apart from those, he could employ various transformations from his two games (only two games is a shame) as special moves against the other fighters, such as jumping above a foe, then landing on them with the drill transformation. As a bonus, his inclusion could get us a third game in the series, perhaps a side-scrolling adventure via online distribution.
Final Smash: Level destroying bomb transformation

Shulk (Xenoblade)5. Shulk (Xenoblade Chronicles)
My love of Xenoblade Chronicles is well documented, but like the other characters I’ve noted, I just see Shulk as being a great addition to the Smash Brothers roster. Along with using sword moves courtesy of the Monado, Shulk could also employ an array of Arts, ranging from the buster, which creates a long, far-reaching blade, to cyclone which does just what it sounds like, to healing himself (lowering his percentage in Smash Brothers). Like I’ve pointed out for some other entries, Shulk’s inclusion would also shine some light on Monolith Soft and their work for Nintendo.
Final Smash: Time freezes temporarily while Shulk activates his arts to thwart future attacks from the other competitors

Amaterasu (Okami)4. Amaterasu (Okami)
Many people have thrown out Wolf Link (and Midna) to be included in Smash Brothers, but why not avoid drawing from Hyrule yet again and instead bring in the Wolf Goddess Amaterasu from the wonderful Okami. Ammy is no pushover and could be a powerhouse with her varying physical attacks that could be even more varied by including her weapons and subweapons (the Reflector, Glaive, and Rosaries, for example). Ammy’s quickness would also be a great asset, as would her agility. While Wolf Link would be fine, I can’t help but believe that Ammy would be the better choice.
Final Smash: Celestial brush

TMNT3. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)
I couldn’t pick just one (well, I could, but not everyone loves Donatello like I do), so I’ve included all four of them here. The Turtles are made for fighting and all already come with weapons. It also helps that they’ve already starred in the disappointing Smash Brothers clone, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Smash-up. Their moves from that game could slide over to a Smash Brothers game with only minor adjustments, while weapons like throwing stars could be employed as special moves. This really needs to happen.
Final Smash: Fully weaponized Turtle Blimp

Ryu Hayabusa2. Ryu Hayabusa (Ninja Gaiden)
I didn’t mean to get on a Ninja theme here, but Ryu would be a great addition to this roster. As the more recent Ninja Gaiden games have shown, Ryu is no one trick pony in the fighting department. He could string together moves to keep the other characters off balance and on defense while he cuts into them with his sword techniques. In addition to that, Ryu could call upon his Ninja Arts to further attack his foes. The Shuriken, Flame Wheel, Fire Dragon Balls, and the Jump’n Slash are just a few of the Arts that could be included in the game for Ryu to employ.
Final Smash: A screen full of boomeranging windmill throwing stars

Simon Belmont1. Simon Belmont (Castlevania)
While the 8-bit Simon Belmont may be a stretch for this series, bringing that character into the present with attacks such as those showcased in Castlevania Judgment (a game that I will always defend) would make him perfect for the Smash Brothers roster. Simon would also be a very unique character by employing a chain whip as his primary method of attack, but that also opens up an array of new moves that have never been seen in Smash Brothers before. Complement the whip with his subweapons from Castlevania, such as the Holy Water and Cross, and the move set almost creates itself. Also, like Ruy and Bub & Bob, Simon’s inclusion would be a further celebration of Nintendo and their past, which, in my opinion, is what the heart of Smash Brothers is all about.
Final Smash: Richter Belmont’s Grand Cross

Winter Soldier Poster

This is the first time that I’ve drifted from video games on this blog, but given my love of movies as well as games, I see no reason not to touch on them. I’ll do my best to avoid spoilers here, but it’s impossible to discuss most films without a few minor spoilers. I should be able to avoid the biggest ones though.

The Winter Soldier finds a Captain America that is still searching for his place in the world. You get the idea that he is regularly employed by Nick Fury and SHIELD to carry out the most dangerous of missions. Early on, it becomes evident that Cap isn’t comfortable with the level of power those tasked with protecting us wield, leading him to question whether or not he even wants to continue with SHIELD. This theme of power and corruption is the primary driving theme in the movie, and leads to Cap forging a friendship with Sam Wilson, a vet that comic readers will recognize as The Falcon, a persona he adopts in The Winter Soldier (and whose wings look like they’d be extremely fun to take for a spin).

Even with my acrophobia.

Even with my acrophobia.

It isn’t long in the film before the aforementioned Winter Soldier shows up. An assassin that has been active for over 50 years, the Winter Soldier is regarded as a legend by most, but is all too real, proving himself the equal of Cap in their first fight. Fans of the comics know that the Winter Soldier is none other than Bucky Barnes, childhood and adult friend of Steve Rogers, brainwashed and enhanced after his plummet into a canyon in the first Captain America movie. As if this revelation isn’t enough for Rogers, the bulk of the film finds Captain America on the run as a fugitive of SHIELD along with the Black Widow, due to his refusal to tell anyone exactly what Nick Fury told him after showing up in his (Cap’s) apartment prior to being shot by the Winter Soldier, leading to his (Fury’s) apparent death. This is about as much of the plot that I can give without ruining the film, but suffice it to say that, much to my own surprise, this movie ties right back into the first Captain America film, despite the original taking place during World War II. This movie also sees the return of a few faces from previous films, such as Agent Stillwell, most recently seen on Agents of SHIELD, and Garry Shandling, who returns as the Congressman nemesis of Tony Stark from Iron Man 2.

It might pay to remember this guy from the first Cap film.

It might pay to remember this guy from the first Cap film.

I would call The Winter Soldier a Political Action Thriller, and an extremely good one at that. While a comic action film at its heart, the plot is surprisingly deep and topical with many revelations that left me quite surprised, and will reshape the landscape of the Marvel universe, from Age of Ultron down to the Agents of SHIELD television show. See, while this is a great movie on its own, it is elevated when viewed in light of the larger universe it belongs too. Mentions of Tony Stark and glimpses of past characters from other Marvel films are great in jokes. As an aside, my personal favorite “larger universe” moment was a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it name drop of Stephen Strange (surely a Dr. Strange movie can’t be too far away based on that). Beyond the little moments that tie this film into the others, are the much larger ramifications that this film creates. Being the last film prior to Age of Ultron in the Marvel Universe (I can’t see Guardians of the Galaxy tying into this storyline just yet, though I could be wrong), The Winter Soldier creates more questions for where we go from here than it attempts to answer. Understand, I’m not saying that the plot isn’t resolved, it very much is, and if you’ve only seen the Captain America movies, you’ll leave feeling that all is basically tied up, but again, if you’re a fan of the overall universe, you can’t help but wonder where the storyline is headed.

On both levels, The Winter Soldier is an extremely good movie. It stands strong on its own two feet without needing to be supported by its spiritual siblings. In the end, those moments, as I stated above, are simply gravy to what is already a strong film. With his backstory out of the way, we’re able to enjoy the already established character of Captain America. I truly can’t wait to see how this film sets up the Age of Ultron Avengers sequel and what will follow that. By the way, it may be worth sitting through some credits to get a glimpse of two very special twins that may or may not be joining said sequel.

Just saying...

Just saying…