Monday, June 29, 2015

Electrifying Tale of Wistfullness and Woe: Teslagrad Review

Electro Metroidvania

One dark and stormy night, a child flees from his home in the nick of time.  Pursued by army men and the bearded general Oleg, the boy makes his way to the mysterious tower known as Teslagrad.  Why do the king and his men fear a small boy?  What dark history lies behind this despot king and his iron-fist rule?  Can you, a small orphaned child unlock the mystery of Teslagrad's past and topple the despot?  It's time to play Teslagrad on the Wii U and become a master of electricity and magnetism.


As far as platformers go, the controls are pretty spot on.  It seems like for every dozen platform-based games that come out, at least half of them either make the control too slippery or too rigid.  I'm happy to say that Teslagrad does not fall under that category.  Using the various power-ups that you gather in Metroidvania fashion never feels cumbersome or unwieldy, which can sometimes happen on the Wii U pad.  Item use placement feels great, and when you die (and you will do that quite a bit) you know it's because your reflexes were not yet up to the challenge.  More on that later though...

Graphics and Style

It was a dark and stormy game setting...

Cartoon-like characters run along in a world that sometimes has backgrounds with a oil-painting like feel.  Overall though, the look of the characters suits the storybook look well.  The animations for the various machines within Teslagrad move in a manner that sometimes reminds me of a pop-up book, and other times like I'm watching a cartoon.  However, this cartoon does not feature a plethora of overly bright colors.  Although a neon red or blue glow surrounds the items using your magnetism powers and you see instances where something bright does occur (such as the puppet-theater backstory shows) these stand in stark contrast to the rest of the game.  When such colors do occur, they really pop out at you.

It feels as if this game were set in an alternate-universe version of Russia.  From the propaganda posters seen in the very beginning of the game which depict crowds cheering the king and denouncing the "Wizards" of magnetism; to the heavy red coats and shapkas of the army; to statues of the king balanced by the dead wizards--the game sells its unique atmosphere well.  There are little background touches throughout the game which help build this world into a tangible place.  It has moving cogs and sparks of electricity, giving it an electro-steam-punk mash feel, but it's a good mash up.  As an aspiring writer, it's nice to see these touches.  Other games that I've played on systems which boasted more "mature" themes for grown ups forget to add details like this.  I don't give a wit about your post-Apocalypse-other-world-cover-based-shooter-#352 and how "grown up" it looks.  Teslagrad tells a story that I want to know more about.

Music and Sound

Main Theme From Teslagrad

The tone of the music is just so perfect. The melancholy style of the violins further sell the "almost-but-not-quite" Russia world.  Also there's the use of bells, violins, and bass in syncopation.  The use of this technique makes for a clockwork feel that also blends with the visual style of the game.  Even the henchman Oleg gets his own theme. I would find a rip or download of this soundtrack in a second because you can't help but think of Teslagrad when you hear the soundtrack.  One of the tracks features what appears to be a song sung in Norwegian:

So well synced is the music to the boss battles that it takes on an air that most movies wish they could achieve.



Alas, though I feel like the controls are solid and the music superb, the gameplay lacks a little.  However, this might just be my own annoyance at what I think of as "quick-death" games.  There are sections in Teslagrad as you progress where you die over and over and over and over again before you learn the right timing of what item and what order to use them in.  I think I've complained about this before with other games, and I honestly don't know if this is just me.

Games that you die and restart fairly quickly in are both fine and frustrating.  A near bottomless well of retries and regret.  Although I feel relief and satisfaction when I finally overcome the obstacle.  I sometimes feel more relief than joy at having beaten a puzzle.  Again, it just might be I'm not patient enough for the sometimes absurd difficulty that can occur.  But Teslagrad has a high ratio of frustrating quick-death sections.  I don't see it as an unnecessary gameplay extender, it's just part of the game.

Overall  though, I like the game, despite the quick-death thing.  I just wish that it didn't seem to rely so much on this odd trial and error formula.

Final Analysis

Atmosphere and story plays a heavy roll in this puzzle platformer.  So much so that if the game lacked the atmosphere and story that it has, I don't think I'd enjoy it as much as I have.  (I'm still playing, and still dying....)  As I noted before, as the game progresses you'll find yourself dying and restarting ad nauseum.  That said....

Did I mention how much I like the music and style of this game?  Did I delve into detail about the fantastic marionette "cut-scenes" that help to unfold the tale of Teslagrad?  I have a little?  Trust me when I say this game plays like one of the best children's stories you will ever read.  Think back to that first time you read an adventure book as a kid, when you first imagined what it would be like to be in character's shoes slaying a dragon, fighting the bad guy, or saving the world.   I might be annoyed at the quick deaths, but the story saved the day--so to speak.

Graphics/Visual Style:  10/10
Music/Sound: 10/10
Control and Gameplay: 7/10

Overall Rating:  8.5/10

Friday, June 26, 2015

Friday Night Rentals: Spy Hunter

Authentic Arcade Frustration! 

Are insane drivers coming at you with razor blade hubcaps?  Did your car get death-rammed from behind?  Have you started firing an endless wave of bullets from your car in order to clear the road?  Is there a stream of smoke and oil pouring out of your car? Well, either you're driving the L.A. Freeway or you are playing Spy Hunter for the NES! 

I confess I was never a big fan of this game either at the arcade or at home where I didn't have to put more quarters in just to hear a few more notes of the Peter Gunn theme.  Even in the days before iPod, 25 cents for less than a minute of the Peter Gunn Theme was a bit pricey.  So when it was available to rent at the store, it wasn't my first choice, or even second for that matter.  I thought about renting it from time to time, but usually found something else to get that interested me more.

But sometimes that ol' weekend would roll around and come hell or high water, there was going to be a rented game to play!  One weekend it was Spy Hunter for the NES.  So how was Spy Hunter?  Was it a wasted rental or a decent weekend?  Is it worth looking back at now, years later?  


You move forward to accelerate, or not, just sit there, causing a traffic jam until a fellow motorist runs you off the road for being a nuisance.  Should you choose to push forward, you can zip along, or end up slamming into another car.  Navigating the car isn't too hard, but it definitely takes concentration and practice to make sure you don't end up end up losing over and over in the first few seconds.  If you manage to negotiate your way on to the back of a weapons truck, you'll have a cool James Bond-like car gadget such as smoke screen or oil slick with which to prevent the drivers behind you from causing future problems.  Speeding up and slowing down, even using the weapons aren't really an issue.  The issue comes in the gameplay...

Gameplay and Graphics
Yup. Just a typical drive on the 405 freeway.

You zoom down the road in your super rad spy sports car  mercilessly shooting down enemy and innocent motorist alike in a bid to get as far down the road as possible.  So basically it's cos-playing as your average L.A. driver and---What?  Enough with the L.A. jokes?  I lived near there man, I seen things!!!!

Anywho the gameplay is fairly basic.  You drive until you die.  Hey, there's a metaphor in there I think...Any way, you try to rack up as high a score as possible while dodging enemies and obstacle alike.  Its a style of play that very much dates it is a mid-80's arcade game meant to keep you playing so you can see just how high of a score you can get and how far you can drive.  One neat feature is that the season on the various backgrounds change as you drive along.  If you are good enough to get any distance in the game that is.  I never could seem to get past the initial "spring" look.  I'm not sure how much of it is me and my lack of patience to learn the timing of the game and how much of it is the game's inherent difficulty.  I wish there were lives or a continue or a difficulty select.  I guess the lack of those things makes it that much better of a port.

Music and Sound

Just pretend that it loops.

The Peter Gunn Theme plays at the beginning for a few seconds, then stops.  If board an item truck it plays a few bars again, but then stops again.  You also get the ending notes of the song after you die with no reset time left.  Unlike the arcade though, the NES version has a distinctly tinny sound, and not the deep bass you've come to expect from the Peter Gunn theme.  I always felt something wasn't quite right at a basic level, and when I asked my wife about it, she confirmed that the timing is a bit off on the NES version as well.  Aside from the semi-lackluster port of the Peter Gunn Theme, there is not much to talk about.  The firing gun, enemy blade wheels, and various car weapons and explosions are about it in terms of sound.  While this was a port of an arcade game, it seemed like Sunsoft cut corners in ways that didn't make sense to me.  They had plenty of experience creating bass sounds on the NES from previous titles, so why was this lacking?  

Final Thoughts/Overall Impression

Truthfully, I never had a great time playing this game in the arcade under the Midway license, and I think this game falls firmly under the, "I rented it just so I would have a game to play on the weekend" category.   It was never a real quarter muncher for me the way that other games in the arcade were.  Heck, I would plow through half a roll of quarters on Smash T.V. in a matter of minutes and still be ready to pump even more in, but with Spy Hunter I'd try it once, enjoy the theme, and then be done with it.  

I really wanted to hear the Peter Gunn theme throughout the driving time on the NES, but it doesn't do it and without that familiar theme throughout, the game feels flat and can get old rather quickly.  Now that the game has a permanent place in my personal library I might play it every now and again just for kicks.  Even with Spy Hunter being a halfway decent driving game, it doesn't quite compare to another driving experience that Sunsoft gave, which was phenomenally better in every way possible....tune in next week to find out what that experience was.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Midweek Music Box: Bit Trip Beat

Credit to for this slice of awesomeness.

When last we left our hero he had journeyed hither and yon in search of the nefarious ner-do-well Timbletot.  Running rapidly and narrated by Charles Martinet, Commander video dashes along to a bevy of beautiful chip tunes that are delightful, peppy and perfect slices of sound.  Yet let us yonder to years of yesterday when Commander Video was on a flight of fancy and bopping to a beat. 

Yes!  It's time to talk about the beautiful beats from none other than  Bit.Trip.Beat!  The first in the "sound-sational" series of popular, innovative rhythm games by Gaijin Games.  Alliteration aside, it's  time for a Transition to more tame talk.



While it is fun to mimic the style of the more recent adventure of Commander Video, let's go back a few years to when the first of these games was released.  I have to admit, I was a bit on the fence when I first saw the game.  It looked interesting and all, and the tunes in the trailer were catchy enough, but part of me hesitated a the the notion of downloading what looked like an over-glorified pong clone.  I'm glad I got over that hesitation because within minutes of playing the game I was hooked.  Sure it was difficult.  And yes, there's a bit of an endurance factor that comes into it.  Upwards of 15 minutes of gameplay with no breaks, and pausing could throw you off and make it so you immediately lose when coming back to game.  So what kept me coming back?  What should make you want to pick up the music or just search it out on Youtube?  EVERYTHING.

"Information Chase"

 The rhythms in this game not only offer a "bit" of the feel from the 8-bit era of games, but each tune has careful crafting and original orchestrations lacking in many modern games.  Whoops!  Alliterating a bit again, hard not to do that lately when thinking of Bit.Trip.Beat of late.  Some of the tunes start out simple and build to tune that has a note of building triumph.  Another tune starts with a darker tone, but eventually builds in a way that leads you to feel an undercurrent of determination.  Obviously the music works wonderfully for the game on screen, with the overall pattern of the tune helping you get the feel of where you are in the stage.  

I've used the soundtrack from Bit.Trip.Beat many a time when working out and writing.  Sure it's chiptunes, but there's so much emotion, so much energy and excitement from bleeps and bloops.  Yeah, other games with full orchestras can do this in a much more efficient way, but considering that Gaijin is trying to mimic an older style, but bringing it up to modern times, the fact that it can evoke so much feeling should serve as reminder that you don't need to rely on a full orchestra in order to make a player feel connected to the game or desire to hear the music from your game outside of sitting behind a controller.

The Midweek Music Box delves more into the musical side of things, but so much could be said about the gameplay, control, and just general fun that you can have with these games.  If you don't already own them, just go out and grab them for the music alone.  Or at least visit iTunes and grab the tracks available their for download.  You won't be sorry.

Now, it time to travel once more my dear reader into the land of long sentences and alliteration overload!  

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Satisfying or Shovelware? Volume 1: Ice Cream Surfer, JOASAB, Edge

Time to do some digging...

From E.T. the game to That's So Raven: The Game to Darts; Shovelware has a long and not-so-proud history when it comes to gaming.  These games are usually the dregs we choose to ignore when it comes to our favorite past time.  Often they feel every inch the slapdash scrap that they look like.

Yet sometimes...sometimes something that has the look and feel of shovelware turns out to have some merit as a game.  It may not have much in terms of depth, but the gameplay, control, and music all mix together to create something oddly satisfying and worth the time and even the few bucks asked of us to download them.

Here's my quick and dirty definition of Shovelware:

Shovelware:  Cheaply made, mass produced; these games are the lowest of the low when it comes to gaming. Whether they are a broken shooter, solitaire "in space," or movie and T.V. show tie-ins--they are just plain terrible.  If you've ever seen a discount bin full of games you've never heard of or looked at an online shop for your console and seen a slew of games for around two to three bucks, chances are most of them were garbage.

I'd like to highlight some games from time to time that fall under the cheap to buy category that may or may not be shovelware.  Let's kick off this edition with three games that you may have overlooked in the Nintendo Wii U Eshop, a few of them with good reason.

Eat my whipped cream veggie scum!!

You and your special band of ice cream inspired friends must do battle and stop an evil broccoli over-lord from destroying dessert forever and filling the world with vegetables!  You surf along on an ice cream cone as you shoot down villainous vegetable of every variety.  Does this sound like something a 5 year-old wrote?  Well, you aren't too far off the mark, or at least it sure feels like it in Ice Cream Surfer, a side-scrolling shoot'em up from Dolores Entertainment SL.  Right away you'll notice that the game lacks a rapid fire option.  Meaning every bullet you fire, you get the pleasure of shooting One. At. A. Time.  Within seconds you feel frustrated from this, but that's only the beginning.  Although the game offers much in the way of bright colors and odd-ball enemies (I swear the enemy vegetables are some of the most bizarre things I've seen in a game); the screen can get full quickly with brightly colored dots, gems, bullets, and background material.  The confusion of what's happening on screen can lead to many fast deaths and an expanding sense of annoyance.  You'll also notice that if too many of these sprites appear on screen, you'll start to experience slow-down.  In modern gaming such old-school artifacts just feel weird and more the result of bad programming rather than some bizarre attempt to invoke a bit of nostalgia.  The music and sound was serviceable, but nothing memorable. The game only has a few levels, and does not offer much in terms of extra content.  As far as side scrolling shooters go, you could do far better.  However, if you look at it as a "my first side scrolling shooter" for your kids---forget that!  You can do better, and should.  Download Gradius or pick up something else for your kid.  You know, something fun.

Closing Thoughts:

When playing this game I had to pause here and there to take care of my 2 year old.  She's fully engaged anytime I play Splatoon or Mario Kart 8, but with this game she hopped off my lap within a few minutes and started playing with her blocks.  While I'm happy she was engaged with something which will develop her motor skills and has more lasting value than Ice Cream Surfer, it doesn't say much about a game that features a neapolitan kaleidoscope of colors.  Furthermore, when I came back to the game, it was acting buggy and broken from having been paused.  I had to die and restart the level to fix it.  Maybe I should have gotten down and played with blocks too...

Verdict:  Shovelware

Notice that "Fun" isn't an option on this screen...


You live in a magical realm where you and your other balloon brethren rely on a special, magical rainbow imbued form of helium that helps you float forever.  However, an evil villain has broken up the magical rainbow that helps to fuel the magical helium that helps you and other balloons to float forever.  I'd like to take this opportunity to applaud Journey of a Special Average Balloon (or JOASAB for short.)  I don't think I've ever heard of a flimsier excuse for a story that supposedly holds the game together.  Not that I'm trying to be an insensitive jerk here, I figure the writer and programmers had enough on their plate trying to turn a game about a floating balloon into something fun.  I'm also sorry to say that they did not succeed.  This single screen game just boils down to a repetitive cycle of  navigating your one touch/one hit balloon around stationary obstacles and a variety of flying objects.  You collect three coins to make a rainbow piece appear; then you grab the piece, and you're off to the next thrilling level.  In all fairness, the controls work well enough, even if the balloon feels like it floats along sluggishly at times.  The colors are bright and each screen looks like something from a pop up book.  The music has the blandness you would expect from a game like this, and the sound effects are minimal but do the job.  There's a co-op and multiplayer mode if you want to try the challenge together, and you can grab special treasure chests along the way to change the style and color of your balloon.  Yes, the content is light, but that's how you'd likely define the gameplay as well.  

Closing Thoughts:


Huh, what?  Oh, yes, the game.  Well, I would say there's not much more to say.  It was fairly dull stuff.  Although the background looked cool in spots, such as a level with a volcano complete with flowing lava a flaming rocks raining down; the object of the levels just are monotonous.  Perhaps it changed up later, perhaps there was more to the game if only I had played more.  I don't think I'll really every know though.  I might slip into a coma if I play this game again and I don't feel like taking that risk.

Verdict:  Shovelware

Get it?  Because it has edges!  And...did I mention the fact it's a cube?


Can you handle a game that takes you to...the Edge?!  Hahahahaha...ha...ha...okay....

In the puzzle platformer "Edge" you control a cube and navigate it around a variety of cleverly designed maps collecting crystals while attempting to reach the goal in as short a time and with as few deaths as possible.  At the end of each level you are graded by the time it took and number of crystals picked up along the way.  You can shave time off your final time by engaging in "hang time" with the cube, and as the game progress, this skill transitions from merely a way to get a better score to a needed skill.  The controls work wonderfully and learning to maneuver shouldn't be too hard to master, but you'll need to train yourself to remember the limitations a real-life cube would face if it were clacking along a grid to move.  The music has a steady techno style and a satisfying 8-bit-ish feel.  The overall gameplay is just fantastic, and with over 100 levels, various challenges, and in-game unlockables, it was worth the price of admission.

Final Thoughts:  For such a seemingly simple concept, Two Tribes Publishing has squeezed a great deal of fun.  I love puzzle games like this where you need to keep on your toes and while solving the problem.  It keeps the game snappy and engaging. Too often the problem with games that are cheaper and of the shovelware variety is that they can get boring rather quickly.  At $2.00 on either the Wii U or the 3DS, this game represents a great deal and a great buy.  I have it on the Wii U and played a bit more to familiarize myself with the game again before the review, and ended up playing through a few more levels than I had intended.  It's addicting fun and will have you perpetually wanting to play "just one more round."

Final Verdict:  Highly Satisfying 

I hope you have enjoyed this brief look into some of the cheaper games available for download.  Sometimes you get shovelware, sometimes you get something satisfying.  Remember though, there are a few gems out there.  You just have to dig through a whole lot of coal sometimes to get to them.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Friday Night Rentals: Batman

    "What are you?!!"
    "Nintendo Hard"
Everything you have ever heard about the difficulty of this game absolutely rings true.  It's relentless.  It's death spikes and tricky wall jumps.  It's everything that comes to mind when you hear the phrase "Nintendo Hard."  Just you and a handful of batarangs to take on the Joker and his minions.  Sure, you can get other weapons along the way, but they aren't the batarang and that's what you'll want to use because of who you are.  Who are you?


So anyway, I remember renting this game multiple times, it was frustrating as all get out, but I kept coming back for more.  Why?  Because it was Batman!



Sorry, as I was saying.  I rented this because it was Batman, and more importantly, this was Sunsoft's Batman and the terror that flaps in the night known as LJN hadn't gotten their grubby paws on the license for the game.  I kept thinking I'd be able to beat, just one more weekend rental and I'd have it!  I'd be the true defender of Gotham and bringer of dark knight justice I was always meant to be.  Well...that sadly never happened.  Even though I never saw the end of the game as a kid, I still loved every inch of that game and never considered it a ruined weekend when I left the rental store.  So how does Batman hold up after all these years?


Curse your solid playability and smooth movement Batman!  I can't blame anyone but myself when I fail to dodge a bullet, don't make a jump, or don't throw a punch fast enough.  Sunsoft was usually reliable when it came to control, and I'm happy to say I remembered rightly that this was no exception.  You punch, duck, throw weapons, and wall jump using a smooth, responsive system. That said, those wall jumps are still darned difficult to do and even average enemies will give you a workout trying to dodge their attacks as you hop from beam to beam.  I guess if it was too easy to do criminals wouldn't fear The Batman as they do. 

Gameplay and Graphics

Here comes the Bat!
You grind your way through five levels of the game from the Axis Chemical Factory to the final showdown with the Joker atop a bell tower; this game did all it could to make you feel like you were in the movie.  It's nice to see that unlike LJN, Sunsoft knew people wanted to play a game that reminded them of the actual movie, rather than some random mad dash through the streets of Hill Valley chucking bowling balls--but I digress.  Yes, the game has punishing difficulty, and yes, you will find yourself feeling thankful for the endless continues.  That said, it was still fun because you were playing a Batman!  I know it may sound like hyperbole, but sometimes I feel like after this game there weren't any truly solid Batman games until 2009's  Arkham Asylum.

Just like the movie!  Well, pretty much.
As far as graphics go they are everything you want from a Batman game.  The backgrounds are dark, but not to the point of invisibility.  The animations are smooth and when you throw a punch its nice to see the Dark Knight doesn't wimp out.  They are nice solid jabs.  If you look closely you can see even Batman's cape does a slight flutter as he moves along.  The cutscenes feature actual images from the movie which are done fairly well for the 8-bit era.  I know some might complain about the fact Batman wears blue, but he still wears the bat-suit and it has all we have come to expect from the Batman, pointed ears and all.

Music and Sound

This music could easily go on you iPod as great workout music. And why not?  You could call it the "Bat-workout" and feel that much cooler.  There are some nice brooding tunes for the cut scenes, and the overall tone of each level's music has a nice dramatic feel.  It clips at a pace without ever descending into accidental peppy, happiness.  No happiness here, this is BATMAN!!!!  Where even when you die you get dramatic, brooding music:

Yeah.  You'll be hearing this tune many, many times...

There isn't too much I can say about the sound other than it's what you come to expect from Sunsoft.  They don't rely on the usual, or at least not totally.  The punches, explosions, and the general enemy sounds are well done and have a deeper sound, which to me fits well with the game.  Why do deeper, darker sounds fit so well?  

Because it's BATMAN!

Overall Impression

This was such an awesome game, and as I said before, I never regretted renting it despite the sometimes frustrating difficulty and my inability to complete it over the course of a weekend.  When I first started building up my NES collection as an adult, this was one of the games I sought out first.  The wall jumps were just like remembered, the odd little floor cleaning robots took just as many hits as I remembered.  Even the death music (which I heard just as many times as an adult as a kid) was a welcome sound to hear once least it was the first 50 times I heard it.  So have I beaten it yet?  Have I wall-jumped my way to success and proven myself worthy of the mantle of the Bat?


But I don't mind one bit.  You know why? 

Because it's Batmaaaaaaan!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Midweek Music Box: Mega Man Boss Select Theme

To advance to Dr. Wily, just beat this roster.

Just a few simple notes, and you know what you are facing. 

You are in fact facing a robot master and the long journey to his inner lair.  Yes, each boss stage has its own theme, and yes, you even have battle music as you face the robot master at the end.  Before you get there though, you have to choose your battle, you have to select a stage.  When you select that stage, the tune may be short, but it lets you know it's time to get serious.  There's a battle a comin'!

The "Boss Select Theme" for the Mega Man series has undergone numerous variations over the years, but the basic tune and tone remains the same.  Check out the video below.  Each segment only lasts 7 to 8 seconds, but just listening to it should put you in the mood to face up against Cut Man, Elec Man, Dive Man, Top Man, or any one of the literally dozens of other robot masters within the Mega Man franchise.

Prepare to fight!

Short and sweet, this little ditty has has let us know for nearly 30 years that a robot master knows we're coming and he's ready to try and take us down.  You can't help but think of a Mega Man robot master showing off his moves against a starry back drop when you hear certain variations of the tune. 

Booyah! My own weapon hurts me a ton!
Wait, what?

I remember when playing this game, regardless of what robot I faced off against, I knew I'd get to hear this theme, and it absolutely rocked.  I was pumped and ready to hunt down the robot master and take his powers.  Yes, the track amounts to less time than an average session of knuckle cracking, but it's hard to imagine getting down to business without those few seconds of music to get you in the mood for battle.  

Sometimes short and sweet (or rocking) says everything you need about what's going to happen.  After all, don't sports enthusiasts everywhere love the simple, yet powerful thundering *boom* *boom* *clap* of  Queen's iconic song, "We Will Rock You?" Now, I'm not saying the boss select is on par with that slice of awesomeness, but it just goes to show you don't need a long, blustering song to get you ready for a good game, or in this case, a good video game.  It gets the job done in a short but memorable way, and sometimes that's all you need.

 Speaking of which...

The selecting is done.  

The Robot Master awaits!

Try not to die along the way this time, okay?

Monday, June 15, 2015

Robotron Remembrances: Ultratron Review

Time to Kick Some Can!

Are you still human?  Are you merely a machine with a bit of human brain attached?  What are the ramifications and overarching significance of your existence?  Such existential questions don't matter.  What does matter?  Taking revenge for the human race!

In Ultratron by Puppy Games you control an assault robot that could give the Terminator a run for its money as it fires an endless barrage of laser blasts at a seemingly unending supply of robots programmed to destroy you.  But that's just fine by you, bring'em on, because your trying to bring to them what they brought to humanity--total annihilation.


Single screen rapid fire action abounds here with enemies spawning on screen almost as fast as you destroy them.  The dual stick controls (used on Wii U) owe much (okay all) of what works well for them to their spiritual successors, Robotron: 2084 and Smash TV.  Every movement on screen has a fluidity that gives you the control you need and desire when a game has this much action going on.  The integration of a screen clearing bomb drop via side button does feel clunky, nor does it slow you down to reach it.  Nor will you find yourself accidentally using it via-itchy trigger finger, as can too often be the case with a Shoot'em Up.

Graphics and Style:

All eyes (and weapon fire) are on you and you alone...

If you go back to Robotron: 2084, those weren't exactly tame colors flashing on the screen.  Those were epilepsy inducers, and that's just fine by me!  What's gaming without a bit of adventure?  Could this game send me to the hospital?  GREAT!  When does the sequel come out?  Ultratron's neon blues, purples, reds, and yellows evoke not only Robotron, but just plain ol' Tron as well, and that's just dandy.  There's so much going screen from text scrolling at the bottom to enemies materializing everywhere, to gun fire and bombs--it can seem overwhelming, but unlike other games in this genre, I don't lose track of what projectiles are coming my way thanks to having to squint at the screen.  If I lose track of them because there's so many of them...well, that's another matter entirely, but at least I don't feel cheated out of my life by glowing neon.

The graphical style tries in places to look a little bit like a throwback to previous gaming eras, but not to the point you would ever mistake this as something pretending to have a "retro" look.  Your 'bot may look squarish, but you would never place him any where but modern times.  It doesn't seem like a hedged bet like the guys at Puppy Games couldn't decide between making it look old school or not, but rather a lovely fusion of styles both old and new.

Music and Sound:

Like an old friend, the heavy thumping bass has returned.  Along with it, that music genre known as techno.  But really, what else would you have with a dual-stick, rapid-fire, Shoot'em up?  Not that I'm trying to make excuses here.  Sometimes I think that the use of techno just becomes a fall back for neon colored shooters.  In some cases it feels like the easy way out.  Here, the genre fits, the tunes increase in speed and style with each area, and the music helps keep you in the action without getting annoyed.  If you can find it to download, I would recommend the soundtrack as good exercise or even writing music.

As far as sound goes, the sound of your gun firing, the bleeps and bloops of the enemy, and even the occasional synthesized robotic voice declaring all humans must die add both atmosphere and personality to the game.  The shooting sound has an almost retro-like reverb quality to it, but it suits the game well and just makes it a real joy to fire the weapon.  And since enemies generally fill every spare corner of the screen, there's never a reason not to be firing away and hearing those awesome sounds.


Ultratron, much like Robotron demands you rapidly blast enemies that come at you from all angles throughout the course of a round.  In between stages you can buy power ups for your bot, such as shields or weapon boosts, or little helper bots using the money you pick up from defeating enemies.  You play ten rounds per stage, and at the end of those rounds you face off against that levels boss.  If you defeat the boss, you can continue the game from the start of the next stage.  However, if you die along the way or die at the end boss, you have to start the entire stage over again.  While this might seem ripe for some good ol' controller-flinging anger, thanks to the rapid pace of the gameplay though you'll want to dive right back in and try again once you die.

Game Features of Note:

Sometimes I get really annoyed when a game tries to burn out my retinas with bright neon.  Guess I'm a bit of a grump that way.  I feel like some Shoot 'em ups (Never shmups, never NEVER Shmup!) try to compensate sometimes for what they lack in style with eye-searing pain.  Ultratron has a nifty game setting feature that helps you turn down that brightness and allows you to play the game without the loss of those eyeball thingies you need to play.  Thanks Puppy Games!  I owe you one!

Final Analysis:

Imported from the UK, you can't help but feel the development team really knocks it out of the park in imitating the style of an old school Atari game.  Ultratron has, until recently, only seen availability as a download from the developers site or via Steam.  Not that this presents a problem really, just if you download this for the Wii U, and you should by the way, it will be hard to imagine playing it any other way than with the dual analog sticks of the Wii U game pad.  This shoot 'em up has definitely made it's way into my regular cycle of games, and it should for you too.

Graphics/Visual Style:  10/10
Music/Sound: 10/10
Control: 10/10

Overall Rating:  10/10

Friday, June 12, 2015

Friday Night Rentals: Gremlins 2: The New Batch

You know, for kids!

So much rain, so much water this month.  Why has the sun gone soft on us?  Wait!  Sun?  Soft?  Sunsoft games!  I'll do a batch of Sunsoft games for the rest of June!  And what better way to start off this batch than with a new batch--of gremlins that is!  Ho yah!  How's that for a transition!   Anywho, let me tell you a bit about my memory from renting this game, and a lesson I learned long before I ever watched a single episode of the Angry Video Game Nerd. 

LJN made terrible games.  Awful games!  I think the reason the AVGN strikes such a personal chord with me is I lost so much weekend time to those things they called "games."  Their games were so terrible in fact that not only did I learn to shy away from their games in general when I saw their mark of the beast rainbow, but they almost forever effected my view of movie based video games.  I just assumed movie based games were all garbage.  And with previous rental experiences that included Back to the Future, The Karate Kid, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit just for starters, I was more than a little jaded when it came to crossovers.  Then Gremlins 2 happened...  

When I rented Gremlins 2: The New Batch one weekend, I picked it up thanks in large part to the name Sunsoft on the label but maybe more so thanks to my love of the Gremlins.  I had borrowed the awesome Blaster Master (which will likely end up in this review cycle) from my cousin recently and Fester's Quest I got as Christmas present the previous year.   I learned that Sunsoft put out quality material, I liked their unique sound effects and loved their music; not to mention the visuals were usually pretty solid.  So how did my experience with this movie tie in go?

It convinced me to pick up the game in later life and relive those memories of renting the game.  Even the really, really frustrating ones.  Let's dive in, shall we?


I can get you diseases, you'd like that, wouldn't you?.  Your jumps will morph into little hops sending you into pits...
If only I could shoot at an angle without dying!
The control seems fairly fluid and responsive.  In fact, at times it was a little too fluid, downright slippery even.  Most of the time you can compensate for this and it just adds to the pace of the game.  However, there are some parts in the game, such as the one pictured above, where you need to jump on the diagonal and dodge gremlin attacks.  Other times you need to jump over a hazard like an electrical wire, not jump too far so you don't fall into a pit, all while avoiding enemies trying to attack you.  Sections like this add to the game's difficulty in ways that bring us back to the old saying "Nintendo Hard."  Yes, it's doable and I have done it but...Why not just a little slack guys?  Like maybe, just maybe another platform or less attacking?  Or maybe a longer jump for Gizmo?  I know the little guy has stubby legs, but can't we cut him a little slack and have him do a power jump or something?  A balloon is all I get, and only one, and only if if I fall into a pit first?

Fine.  I'll grow, I'll adapt.  But criminy.

Gameplay and Graphics

Sunsoft always seemed to have it together when it came to gameplay, and Gremlins 2 is no exception.  The levels aren't overly long, the music in the background helps you keep an even pace as you explore and look for the level exit or end boss depending on stage.  You have 3 hearts, and 1 life to start, and infinite continues.  Should you need to leave the game for a while, there's a helpful password system in place.  And believe me, you will need to leave this game from time to time.  Not just out of frustration, but because there are sections that feel very trial and error and you could get weary of it quickly.  There's a certain genre of games that I've noticed on the Wii U where a selling point seems to be the fact that even though you are likely to die quickly, you get to restart right away.  Well, Gremlins 2 beat those games to the punch by over 20 years.  Yes restarts are easily done, and yes, you have plenty of opportunity to beat the game; but don't have disillusions of mastering the game first go, or even 20th go.  It will take time to learn the right pattern of jumps and methods of attack.

On graphics...well..cripes!
This still gives me the heebie jeebies...

There are some solidly animated graphics, cut-scenes, and boss fights in the game.  Most of the time you will fight an assortment of rats, bats, spiders, and giant, bouncing tomatoes (yes tomatoes.)  When the gremlins do appear though, they look great.  Whether patterned after the cigar chomping gremlin, the bat-gremlin, electro-gremlin, or even the spider gremlin; they will remind you of the movie.  Gizmo is cute and adorable as always, Billy Peltzer makes an appearance in cut-scenes, and even Mr. Wing appears to help sell you power ups in your quest to stop the gremlin invasion of Clamp Tower.  You'd think gremlin invasion would be enough to prompt Mr. Wing to give you the stuff for free, but then I guess it's best not to question the motives of a man who appears via magical door.  (Yes, a magic door.)

Hurry!  You must save everyone...if you can afford to pay up that is.

Music and Sound

It's Sunsoft.  That should be all you need to know.

Okay, a quick word on it.  I remember the first time I realized a game company had sounds recycled from other games was with Konami, but I'll get more into them when I talk about Contra.  That said.  Gremlins 2 has what you come to expect in terms of sound quality and music.  I think that they did a few 8-bit riffs from the soundtrack and for the most part they reminded me of the film.  When they weren't doing interpretations of the soundtrack, they really captured the feel of the film with quirky beats and a decent rhythm.

I find it funny how you can recognize classic Sunsoft sounds like that of your character taking a hit, delivering a hit, jumping, enemy death explosions, and more.  Not that I knock them for reusing assets, in fact, I feel like hearing familiar sounds from a company makes me want to play the game more.  Sort of like a comforting blanket of sound...Even if the difficulty is frustrating at times... 

Overall Impression

My love of the Gremlins movies drew me to try this game, and I was happily surprised at how well it played.  Yes, at times it was frustrating and teeth-grindingly difficult, but at no point did I feel it was outright impossible.  It was just a matter of me getting better at the game and learning the trick on how to get further.  Unlike LJN games, I felt like I was playing the movie.  It was fun navigating Gizmo around air ducts, ventilation shafts, and office cubicles.  (Side note, I had no idea office jobs were so dangerous.  What kind of boss just strew spikes everywhere from vents to office floors? )
Last quarter's numbers were down, so were installing more pits and deathtraps in the men's room as a motivator.

I still think the graphics hold up, and the energy of the soundtrack keeps you engaged in the action.  If you don't already own this, I would say pick it up at a Flea Market or on Ebay before the prices jump beyond the average $10 it is right now.

*As a side note, one of my favorite character actors Sir Christopher Lee passed away recently, and it's hard not to think of this game and the film without his self-lampooning in the movie.  From carrying around a giant pod-person pod in his lab, to casting a look that says "why does that feel so familiar?" at a gremlin transforming into a bat-like creature while sinister-vampire music plays; the man was fantastic in this part.  Or for that matter, any role he played.  Please enjoy the clip below:

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Midweek Music Box: Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 and Punk Rock Memories

Yeah, let's see you do in your late 30's what Tony Hawk does now in his 40's?
Silence? That's what I thought.
*Language Warning on the Music ahead.  But what do expect? It's a soundtrack with Bad Religion and Rage Against the Machine!

For others, the game must also have acted as their gateway to punk rock, metal, and pop rock.  How else can you explain the fact that I typed "Tony Hawk" into Google's search bar and it auto-filled to Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2?  

Okay, before I go any further, I know this might seem like a bit of a cheat to use this game for Midweek Music Box, but this game would have been so much less of the game it is were it not for the kick-butt soundtrack.  It really helps sell the feeling of skating around, grinding on rails, doing manuals in ridiculous places, or doing absurdly high kickflips that would be bone-breaking if landed wrong to name just a few things.  It sells it not just because it gets your blood pumping as you try to make the most points or try to complete the most goals you can in 2 minutes, but for me at least, it sells it because it captures the time I was skateboarding in real life.    I think I'd probably still be on the board now if I was in better shape and hadn't tweaked a nerve in my leg skateboarding years ago.

But I digress.

Anywho.  When I was skating around, I hadn't really gotten into listening to punk rock or heavy metal while doing so.  I was still mainly listening to Beach Boys and Beatles and various movie soundtracks (I still enjoy both bands BTW) if I listened to anything.  Then I started playing this game.  Whoa, just freaking whoa....

The real trick is not getting caught.

Not only did it bring back memories of hopping the fence of local grade school to do tricks off their stuff  (um, not that I would EVER have done something like that.  Nope!  Just clean-cut living for me...) but it helped me to realize why people were bringing boom boxes to skate parks (or places that were used as skateparks).  I know for some people it's one band or one song that got them into a genre of music.  Maybe they heard something from Mozart and realized how fantastic classical music can be.  Or maybe they heard the soundtrack from Jurassic Park and recognized just how awesome a well composed soundtrack can be.  For me, I credit Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 with getting me into punk rock and metal music.  True, something else might have eventually come along and gotten me into those genres, but I guess this is why I'm a gamer.  It takes a video game to do it before I start to learn to love it.

Thanks to the cycling nature of the soundtrack, there's no one particular soundtrack that I attribute with any particular area.  Nor do I automatically hear something on my iPod and recognize it as something from Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2.  Well, I might kinda remember "Guerilla Radio" as the music that played over the game intro.  That said, here's a link to the complete soundtrack.  As I mentioned before, this is ever-so-much NSFW in many, many spots, so listen at your own discretion.  As for me.  I kinda wish I had my old board and a set of Vans right about now.



Monday, June 8, 2015

Machine Memory Mystery: "The Fall" Review


You are ARID; a specialized military  artificial intelligence housed within a space suit.  Why you've crashed into a robot recycling planet and how this came to be are unimportant.  To you the only thing of importance, the only thing the drives your every action comes to one simple fact: helping your unconscious, possibly critically wounded human pilot contained within the suit.  With only a flashlight, a gun (eventually), and you wits, you traverse an eerie, dank world.  Can you keep your pilot alive long enough to find a medical treatment?  What are the motives of the mysterious caretaker droid that watches your every move?  Can even you, the suit AI be trusted?  This adventure puzzle game from Over the Moon Games has elements of classic point and click adventure, horror, and puzzle genres set against the creepy backdrop of a run down robot recycling facility.  So let's break it down, shall we?


The basic way you move around and inspect things operates in a simple enough fashion.  Left analog stick controls movement; right analog aims the flashlight/gun.  Now, the item selection seems a bit clunky, and there are times when you might accidentally unselect the item screen, but I don't really see this as too much of a design flaw as the game was ported from a PC download on steam.   All in all, you have the tools you need (or rather you find them along the way, so to speak.) to get the job done.

Graphics and Style

I always hesitate to use the word "atmospheric" because it can sometimes act as a cop out to describing in detail what you are seeing.  With The Fall, the style and graphics are all about atmosphere.  The lack of light and the imposed necessity of leaving most areas dark while you scan around with the flashlight really help set the tone.  Then when you light things up, it doesn't make it any easier to deal with.  From the occasional decomposing dead body, to crucified robots dotting the foreground and background everywhere; it never stops feeling messed up and wrong on so many levels.

I liked that this was a side scrolling game and not a first person perspective as it not only works well with the overall setting, but also provides opportunities for things to move in the background that you seem to notice out of the corner of your eye.  I think in first person games with a horror element, you come to expect that "what just moved in the shadows" moment to happen a few times.  Here though, with it being a side scroller, I think you would tend to do even more of a double take.  Did that thing just move, or was that just a bit of parallax scrolling?  I would say the only hiccup, and it is fairly minor, is the animation for the way the suit moves does not feel natural.  I don't know if this is supposed to be because you are told that the human within has lost consciousness so ARID controls the suit, or if the animation just doesn't quite work.  Either way, I would say this is a fairly minor flaw in game that does a great job overall with both background and foreground graphics alike.

Music and Sound

Sometimes games that are meant to seem thrilling oversell themselves trying to seem scarier than they are.  Not so here.  The Fall has a nice mix of background sound which keeps you feeling uneasy, even though you know you are not alone.  The odd echoes as doors slide open and close help fill you with a sense of unease.  Dripping water and blinking lights from piles of recycled robots aren't done in an over the top way that makes it feel like a child's pop-up book of scary things, but rather are there to help further your unease.  You know there's terrible things all around you, and the creaks and metallic shudders are not less disturbing when you know where they come from.  The occasional voice over from ARID and other bots she meets along the way also don't relieve the tension.  They help you wonder who's trusty worthy and who is lying.  Again, no lack of tension here.

And as for the music, this is fairly well done,  it's not over the top creepy, but rather muted and set in the background, less of musical theme as it is soundtrack.  There are particular plot points in the game where the music pops in and lets you know the gravity of what's happening on screen.  These music cues are pulled off so well, it gives a cinematic feel to the whole gameplay experience.  If you really appreciate the soundtrack, you can even go on Steam and purchase a copy of the soundtrack, which you might want to do if you like not just good video game soundtracks, but a well orchestrated bit of movie music.

Game Features of Note:

Something I want to highlight is the submenu you can access with the start button.  The submenu is not really being about learning about your abilities or managing inventory.  Rather, it serves as a clue giver as to what may happen later in the story and it helps to unfold the plot in a unique way.  Funny enough, itt works here because you know the reason behind it.  The menu is useless save to let you know the direction the story is headed.  Something like this DOES NOT work in a game like Metroid: Other M because you are a thinking human being who should know better than to wait for orders to turn on your heat-resistant suit in the middle of a lava field.----but I digress

Final Analysis

I would say grab this game if you haven't already.   Now, as a forewarning, although you can download it for the Wii U as I did, there are some bugs that occur with the audio from time to time in terms of synced dialogue and rapid scrolling of text.  They've updated it on Steam, but I don't think that an update or bug patch has been released as of yet for Wii U.  Overall though, this was well worth getting within the Humble Bundle, and it would have been worth it on it's own.  You could probably complete the game in a couple of hours, and with such an engaging story and chilling atmosphere, you'll probably want to do so.   If you've ever gone to a movie and were disappointed that the thrills it promised weren't there, consider grabbing the fall instead.  I always like it when a game makes me feel like I've just played through a movie, and Over The Moon's The Fall has thrills that would make many a modern movie envious.

Graphics/Visual Style:  9/10
Music/Sound: 9/10
Control: 9/10

Overall Rating:  9/10

Friday, June 5, 2015

Friday Night Rentals: Joe and Mac

Fightin' in the Fig Leaves

Cut to a few days ago
"Hey mom, remember the old Super Nintendo game Joe and Mac," I asked her while paying a visit.  There was a long pause.  Not of uncertainty of what I was asking, but of a suddenly recalled memory that was likely not an overly fond one.

"Yes, I remember it," she said flatly.

"Am I remembering this right?  Did we end up having to buy that game because we discovered it under the couch weeks after it was supposed to have been returned?"

"Yes.  It was cheaper to pay a replacement fee than all the rental costs.  Your dad was not happy at all."

So much for casually trying to see if you memory of an event was what you thought.

ANYWHO--- while not exactly what you would call "happy" memory of getting a game that was fun to play, I do have the game Joe and Mac for Super Nintendo, and while it is fun, it was also a total fluke that I ended up with this game in the first place.

I remember this was one of the go-to games my family would rent on weekends from time to time because it was a pretty solid platformer.  One time, about a two or three weeks after we had rented it and presumably returned it, it was found under the couch.  Wow!  There was a bit of trouble because of that.  Rentals were not cheap when NES games came out and they only went up when the SNES came out and I believe there was trouble because of this and it may have resulted in a temporary ban on game rentals since we had to get our money's worth out of this  I guess it's time to talk about this awesome little port of the arcade game Cave Man Ninja.


As I mentioned before, I think part of the reason that we ended up renting this on a regular basis was because of how easy it was to pick.  Generally I was the one playing games in the house at this point in the Console Wars cycle and I was the one who had bought the SNES.  But there were some games that my mom, my dad, and siblings enjoyed playing.  The only issue with the control was it would occasionally feel as if you should have nailed a jump or been able to collect a power up, but the character is just shy.  It has a mid-level on what I would call the "I swear I hit the jump button on time" factor.  Despite that, it still feels fairly solid.  You get hit, you know it was your own darn fault.

Better move outta my way hero!

Gameplay and Graphics 

You race along battling small dinosaurs and loin cloth wearing cavemen using your standard issue club and various projectile weapons like bones, boomerangs, and stone wheels in effort to save cavewomen who were kidnapped by Bowser--I mean, rival tribes.  So yeah, your standard "rescue the princess" fare, but by golly it was a formula that worked back then and it was good enough for whatever setting you wanted to use.  It has a nice two player co-op mode and it's fun to see who can rack up the most points and beat the most enemies.  It has an interesting map system between levels so you can sort of pick the path you will take to beat the game, it reminds me a lot of Super Mario Bros. 3 in terms of layout.  However, the direction you take is pretty straightforward, and there isn't much in terms of alternate routes

The graphics are pretty standard for an average game of the time, and they do mimic those found in the arcade version fairly well.  You get a little bit of parallax scrolling here and there as you do the typical moving from left to right thing that heroes find themselves doing in these rescue the princess platformers. There are some nice background and foreground animations that help add a little something to the game, but again, not too much.  The colors are nice and bright and help keep the tone light and this suits the overall cartoonishness style of the game.  The goofy expressions that the enemy cavemen make when hit are particularly funny and will keep you smiling as you play.  That said, there's not much in terms of fluid movement.  In fact, compared to the stuff that you do in Super Mario World, some of the sprite animation can seem a little on choppy side and parts of it remind me of those anime cartoons that average between 7-10 frames a minute (or at least that's what it feels like.  Lookin' at you Pokemon!)

Music and Sound

More drums I said!  This is a jungle dang it!

Why do you always get a tribal sounding drum in these games?  Again, not that this is a complaint really; it's just I kinda wish that composers would have thought outside the box a little.  If you see an island, it's almost a given you'll hear those drums.

 It's like there were meetings about this, "Oh hey guys, you have the music for the game written yet?"
""Sure do boss!  Those drums are in the background, just like you asked for."

"Good, don't want gamers forgetting that they're playing as tribal type people."

Not complaining.  I actually think the jungle-beat rhythyms work fairly well here and actually do add the right tone to the music.  Also, I like the little jungle-style funeral march that plays after you loose a life and turn all angel-ee.  Most of the music plays well, and doesn't get old, but like many games, it doesn't stick with you long after the game ends.

As far as the sound effects go, they can be absolutely hilarious at times.  The goofy hiccup noise made by dinos as you hit them is worth a chuckle, the "a-WOK" sound made by evil cavemen will illicit a chuckle, and I admit the high-pitched "Owww" you make as you get hit can get me laughing.  The charming sound design probably plays a huge factor in why I still like the game to this day.

Overall Impression

Great! You have done it!  Now dinosaurs are extinct jackass!

From the silly sounds to the cartoonish world, I still have to say Joe and Mac ranks up in my top twenty Super Nintendo games.  Even if the animation gets a little clunky, it still looks like you are playing the best the system can do in terms of rendering a cartoon in real time.  The power-ups are interesting, the boss battles while not hard are fun, and sometime you just need to rescue a princess that isn't Peach. 

If you come across Joe and Mac in your game hunting or at game store and don't already have it, it's worth snagging for some quick fun.  The whole game can be beaten in less time than it takes to get a pizza delivered, but it's a fun diversion and you could have a blast just trying to speed run the thing.

I would not recommend borrowing this and immediately losing it under the couch though.  

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Midweek Music Box: Forest Maze Music (Super Mario RPG)

Time to get the lead out...or rather, then metal.

Now where to?

Getting lost in story comes with the territory when your a writer for a living, so it's no surprise that one of my all time favorite soundtracks comes in the form of the Forest Maze Music from Super Mario RPG.  There's so much great music in this game, maybe later I'll talk about some of the other fantastic tunes (like the game intro music, so upbeat and adventurous sounding).  For now though, it's time to get a little lost in the woods.  Here's one of my favorite loops, which clocks in around 15 minutes:

Trust me, it goes by fast.

I remember when I played the game this was by far one of the catchier tunes and it kept me humming for days afterwards.  Nowadays, I use it as one of the many songs in my writing repertoire.  Now of course since I use this music to do everything from regular writing to creative writing, there are some things for me that this evokes other than just the Forest Maze. It really breaks down in three different ways.  

Some sections make me think of a troupe of people like something out of carnival.  At times I can just as much imagine a person juggling balls, a strong man lifting weights, or even magic tricks being performed as much as I can picture Mario meandering the the Forest Maze.  This happy, whimsical tune also reminds me of the section in Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker where you "sample" different flavors of music from Russian to Chinese to Arabian.  Lastly, I guess I'm also reminded of that section in Disney's Fantasia where the little mushrooms are dancing around.  Imagine that, a Super Mario Bros song that reminds me of mushrooms. (Go figure, right?)

One final note, this music is what it is and it has a mysterious quality to it meant to help heighten the sense of searching for the magical puppet Geno.  Ultimately, it works really well for the game and for me personally as I tune that I never tire of.  If you need to help pass the time in a plodding, but pleasant way, a loop of the Forest Maze Music could be useful.  You hardly notice when it loops because you'll likely find yourself just going along as well, much like Mario searching the woods for something that's he not quite sure what it is, but knows he needs to find.


Monday, June 1, 2015

Crazy Calamari Combat: Splatoon Review

Squid-kid hybrids, gobs of globs of vibrantly colored ink, and an eclectic array of paint guns?  Sounds like Splatoon has hit finally hit the shelves.  For almost a year now Nintendo has shared info, images, and even a truncated demo version of their upcoming franchise "Splatoon."  Millions logged in for the "Online Testfire" a few weeks ago, and millions were ready to board the hype train and head off for whatever destination Nintendo was ready to take them to.  So, now that we've pulled into the station, was it worth the long wait?  Did the seemingly overpowered paint roller get powered down and make the game a bit more even?  Should you rush our and grab this game?

Oh heck yeah, download it or buy it now!

Wait, wait, wait...why should you do that and not just assume that your old pal Jester has also taken a ride on the hype train.  Let's break down the basics and you'll see why it's time to join in the Splatoon-mania.


I'm still not a fan of the odd use of motion of controls to control the way you are looking, but then again, how else would you do it?  That said the controls do feel natural and are easy to pick up on the go.  Maneuvering with the left analog stick works well enough and swimming through the ink is enjoyable and . Even if you don't poke your way through the initial tutorial you should have no problem getting into the swing of things.  I will say though that traveling through grates as you swim through ink can get a bit tricky at times.  I thought it was just me at first, but there were several times I saw other Splatooneers getting stuck for moment or two trying to do this.  Which, in a game that's as fast paced as Splatoon, a few moments is all it will take to get splatted.


But can you hum it?

Catchy pop rock tunes and jamming guitar riffs comprise the bulk of the music.  Most of the melodies are appropriately peppy and fast paced, but I never really caught myself humming or whistling any of them once I turned off the Wii U.  The main theme which I've linked to above does have a little bit of "hum-ability" factor, which I like, but I admit I feel a little disappointed that there aren't more memorable tunes in this budding franchise.  Nintendo has done great work with the Mario and Zelda series, but it might be that doing pop-rock riffs were just a little outside the comfort zone.  I like them well enough, but they just aren't as engaging as I'd like. (Still, they might find their way on to my ipod as background exercise music some day.)


Big, beautiful, bold colors dominate the landscape--or at least they will when the opposing teams finish with the playing field.  Whether florescent purple, vibrant blue, orangesicle-ish, or one of several others colors randomly used for your team to paint with; Splatoon delivers in terms of not only giving the ink a "wet" quality but also does fair job mimicking the viscosity.  The character animations of the flapping "hair tentacles" and ink-swimming are just as fun to watch as they are to play.  They have a cartoony style that feels reminiscent of Wind Waker and the facial expressions are animated in way that really sells the idea that these are kids playing around.  The little touches on the equipment and weapons you can buy make each weapon feel unique, and personally, I can't wait to crack open the Amiibos I managed to get for this game and see what other cool little add ons and costumes you can get for the squid-kids.

Overall Thoughts/Gameplay

Okay, now here is where I get a bit "gushy."  I was apprehensive at first when I played the "Global Testfire."  The paint roller felt overpowered the weapons options seemed limited.  Of course, I should've realized it was just a small sample of what was to come.  With a number of weapons I still haven't leveled up enough to get, costume/clothing pieces that act as upgrades for certain abilities, and new maps still being loaded on to the Splatoon server; this game has a lot going for it.  "Splatting" other opponents and sending them back to the respawn point is every bit as satisfying as inking the heck out of everything in sight.  There seems to be no perfect strategy for winning, though I suspect in the following weeks that will change.  It has a bit of child-like whimsy and humor as the points/area covered are tallied at the end of a round and you see the other team are the "bad guys" and you are always the "good guys."

It's been noted that there is no in game chat feature so you can talk to teammates.  While this does seem like an odd choice, especially given the natural party aspect here; it makes it all the more satisfying when you do win.  Its fun to think that I'm playing along with some one halfway across the country and others from across the globe, but some how we all get it.  We all click and fall into place and work to make the team win.  There's a sort of awesomeness that comes with knowing I may not speak Japanese, but the lady playing on my team stopped inking an area to help me Splat some one before I got splatted.

As you might suspect, yes, this does make it all the more frustrating when the team doesn't gel and everyone goes in it for themselves.  Not to mention, if one of your teammates happens to drop out mid-game, you could be screwed.  I mean, there's just no way to really combat the loss of a fellow player when you are divided into teams of four.

Last Thoughts:

I will be interested to see how gameplay changes over the coming weeks what new strategies people will use and the like.  Not to mention the game seems ripe for DLC from costumes, to weapons, to arenas.  Nintendo has just started to delve into that area itself with the Mario Kart 8 and Smash Bros., but those have been pretty awesome in my opinion, so I look forward to the possibility.  If you don't already own Splatoon, download it or go grab a physical copy now and join the fray!

Graphics: 10/10
Music: 8/10
Control: 8/10

Overall Rating: 9/10