Friday, January 29, 2016

Friday Night Rentals: Rygar, Man of the Deadly Super Yo-Yo

Perhaps it was my mom's love of Red Sonja that led her to play Tecmo's Rygar with me back in the day. Normally when I picked something up from the video store with the intent of playing with my mom it was a head-to-head puzzle game like Yoshi's Cookie or Dr. Mario.  Maybe my mom could just see how excited I was to try it out, and since my mom loves her kids and loves playing video games; she was up for an action game and the notion of trading off between stages and Game Overs.

So Rygar it was on Friday night; a game that seemed to boast a Conan the Barbarian buff-guy meat-head ala' Arnie Schwarzenegger on a quest to defeat an evil, world-endangering beast and some  and his foul hench-beasts.  That was then, this is now. So how does it stack up under slightly less rose colored glasses?

Despite the action-packed game art; most of the animation seems a little stiff when you play, with Rygar making large lunges as he runs and some of the critters look like they're running at you on tippy-toe or only need a single wing flap to sustain flight. I think I laugh almost every time when Rygar dies because he immediately pancakes on the ground as if gravity itself finally decided he's had enough of Rygar and his big, dumb yo-yo hurling butt.

You'll wander into rooms where gigantic gods offer useless "hints" or lame advice, guess they figure Rygar's such a hopeless meat head  they need to spell out basic directions for him. Occasionally these mega-gods actually give you useful tools to complete the games such as a pulley for zip lines (Which work both ways!) and a grappling hook.

A slightly open world concept makes Rygar both fun and frustrating. Just like when I rented the game as a kid; no manual came with the game when I bought it, so it took me a fair amount of time (meaning a number of deaths and an hour of aimless wandering) for me to figure out that I had to go to certain areas before others in order to advance in the game. I thought Metroid was the only game to have this kind of game play, and to think of something else employing a "go here then waaaaaaaaaaaaay over there to get farther in the game" concept of exploration was a new idea to me. Not that I dislike it, just that it was weird to see it in somewhere that didn't involve giant leeches from outer space.

When it comes to the music, forget the fact that one of the soundtracks sounds like a verbatim rip of a tune from Karnov; I swear the stage two theme  sounds like "Go to sleep, go to sleep" or some-such-lullaby.  Aside from that the music has a decent blend of action-feeling tunes and energetically paced rhythms.  The track for stage one has pleasant digital keyboard undertone and what I imagine would have been trumpets had the NES held the capability of supporting such sounds:

In general, it helps set the tone well and keep the action on screen fun while not overwhelming you eardrums.

Upon further reflection...

Man, I have no idea how we beat this back in the day, but I clearly remember my mom and I beat it over the course of a weekend. In fact, I'm guessing that's the reason we never ended up buying it. The norm was to beat a game if possible and then you didn't have to pay for it full retail. I remember the ending of the game, the animation--what there was of it--was okay, but other than a couple minor animations, there was just an on screen text scroll. I'm not sure what I was expecting though. Maybe I was spoiled in my game endings.

By the time I got around to renting this, there were other games that had so much more to offer in terms of game endings. By this point, I'd beaten the first two Mega Mans, Ninja Gaiden, Super Mario 2...and a slew of others. I know the system had limitations, but many of the games I'd beaten previously had great endings full of what I thought was top-notch game animation. Not that I'm bitter about it to this day. It's just...after having played it all those games with movie-like ends, a basic text scroll would have been a let down....would have been.

But it wasn't. I had a great time playing back and forth with my mom, it was kinda cool to have beaten the game together, and the epic end music more than made up for any text scroll:
"End Theme"

It was a great game then and remains so today. I know whenever I pop it in, I'll remember it as the first "co-op" gaming experience I had.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Midweek Music Box: Super Metroid Music from the beginning

Masterful execution of gaming and music keeps the utterly brilliant Super Metroid in many people's top ten lists. From Nofair to Maridia, it's hard to not love every note of the soundtrack. Today though I want to focus on those first few tracks of the game. First up, the Title Theme music: 

"Title Theme"

Low humming bass meets minimal keyboard notes and a dash of well placed sound effects. If this track doesn't send a tingle up your spine, you've likely lost it playing too much Mortal Kombat. This track spooked me as a kid and still gives me chills to this day. Now when I play it late at night I still feel unsettled, and I like it that way. It makes me feel like I'm about to enter a world far more deadly than any xenomorph inhabited universe Ripley lives in.  You get everything needed set the tone of death, mystery, and suspense. As soon as you hit that start button, you know a deadly adventure awaits, but there's no less suspense in the Prologue music:


Ethereal chanting, low strumming, then a trumpet-fanfare kicks off this track, and it has plenty of moments that sound inspiring and grip you--but it doesn't leave you feeling like what will follow will in any way look like a "romp." Although the music crescendos into what you might think will lead to an even more triumphant sound, it leads to more low drum beat build up and ethereal sounds. It's easy to say that's because the sound loops, but part of what makes the soundtrack so awesome comes from the pay off that never arrives. Your ear desires a satisfying, uplifting conclusion--but it doesn't happen. Instead, more darkness unfolds, more suspense, and possibly...terror. It doesn't end there though, When you're done experience the opening cinematic and play for a bit, you come to a brief boss battle with a villain as memorable as the Metroids themselves, Ridley. Though the battle does not last long, and you get a high-tension escape theme, that theme doesn't grip you until the final battle as. As you pursue Ridley to the planet Zebes you are greeted by the Zebes Planetfall:

"Zebes Planetfall w/effects"

I love this version of the track as it includes the ambient noises of thunder and rainfall. It's a dingy and uninviting place, Zebes. Here's the version without crackling thunder and constant fall of rain: 

"Zebes Planetfall (music only)"

The moment you land on Zebes you ARE Samus Aran, and the game really comes into it's own when the "Zebes Planetfall" music starts. You land on an all too familiar planet and search the ruins of Mother Brain's lair, no living thing in the area but you and the occasional scavenging critter. You search for signs of life, and things seem vacant. Ridley lurks here somewhere, he couldn't have gone far with the last Metroid. As you explore a still powered elevator, you enter a chamber that sends prickles at the back of your neck. You know what to do. You seek out the morph ball, you pick it up, an alarm triggers! ...But there's no sudden rush of space pirates. As soon as you leave its visual range, the alarm shuts off; perhaps it was just a remnant? Nothing more than an artifact following old programming, reporting to no one and doing nothing more that shooting a faint light and squealing an alarm to long dead occupants.  

This particular track last such a brief time, but I like how you don't start out exploring to something upbeat or even inviting. The music doesn't get overly bombastic or too energetic to start. It gives you that sense of unease, it makes you feel that you are unwelcome in this place. All the music cues are just right, just enough to make you want to explore more of this seemingly abandoned facility despite the danger, and dreading what might come of never know who--or what--might have their eyes on you.

Kenji Yamamoto and Minako Hamano have lent their talents to the Metroid franchise over the years, with each track having a richness and emotional depth on par with great movie soundtracks. One wouldn't expect any less from a game that offers not just what some might call a cinematic experience via gameplay, but music as well. 

There are so many great tracks in the Metroid-verse, and and I've gushed about them before, but it's hard not gush when music fits so perfectly, knows what to do for the game and how to trigger the right kind of emotions from the audience. 

Yes, I love this track and the others I mentioned. They are sheer perfection not just for a game, but for music in general. Why do I give them such praise? Because there are games that claim to offer immersive experiences thanks to open world concepts. We're told of games produced for the Oculus Rift which will offer immersion on an unparalleled level. What will they do musically though? For me, sometimes I feel like unless those game have music soundtracks that are at least on par with those found in the beginning of Super Metroid, they have failed at making me feel like I'm truly "in" that world.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Race the Sun for Wii U Review

Ah, what a glorious day to race against your inevitable doom. Yes, there's a pervasive undercurrent of doom and death in indie developer FlippFly's unique "runner"/endless flight game, Race the Sun, but it's both funny and welcome.

Funded through a Kickstarter and seeming to continually working on interesting and engaging updates, Race the Sun evokes memories of both Bit.Trip and Star Fox in a unique blend.  Originally available on the PC and other consoles, the game made it's Wii U debut not too long ago. So how did the game port? Should you get yourself ready to Race the Sun? Time's a'wastin', let's get to reviewin'!

Gameplay and Control

In Race the Sun, you navigate an endlessly obstacle filled landscape in your solar powered craft, merrily on your way to no where in particular at all. As the sun sets, your craft runs out of speed and power, and charges towards the inevitable crashing explosion filled doom that awaits.  There are various power ups you can collect, some will increase your multiplier leading to higher scores, others will give you a one time jump option. Perhaps the most useful power up though comes in the form of the "sun-extender" icon, which briefly pauses the setting sun, and even rolls it back a few seconds.  Obviously, the best "sun races" you can hope to have will involve grabbing the sun extender power-up as many times as possible, but be sure to pick up the score multiplier icons if you are looking to pump that score as high as possible before you and your craft explode into dust and debris.

Of course, the whole game would fall apart if the control was anything other than tight, and I'm pleased to say that it has the responsiveness and fluidity needed to make a fast flight game like this work. Anything less and you'd find yourself tossing the controller down in frustration after only a few attempts.  However, thanks to the tight controls I found myself trying again and again to get as far as I could. There are no real endings per-se in Race the Sun, but there are plenty of goals and unlockable content for you to find such as number of barrel rolls done before crashing or obstacles hit along the way without dying.

Graphics and Style

As I mentioned before, the game evokes feelings of Star Fox, but I should say that it encompasses bot the feel of the original SNES game and the 64 version. The polygons really make me think of the SNES version, but the speed at which things zoom by makes me feel like I'm playing a more souped up version.  That said, the landscape offers little in the way of what might be called "eye-popping" effects, instead relying on a simpler style to help set the tone.

I should bring special attention to the overall color scheme of the game, which, from what you can see in the image above, mostly consists of shades of grey and white. Certainly they could have infused the game with more color, but somehow I don't think it would fit with the game and the designers knew that. This way you really appreciate the splashes of color when they do appear, and it makes the setting sun effect all the more stark and powerful.

Music and Sound

There are pleasant chimes that sound any time you pick up an item like a jump icon or light extender, other than that the only sound you can expect to hear is the thunderous explosion as your ship explodes when you hit something. Kinda left wishing there were more to it, but other than plane swooshes I'm not sure what. I guess I wish there was a bit more here.

When it comes to the music for Race the Sun, it features a nice blend of soothing tunes and fast rhythm; it definitely captures the spirit of the game.  Maybe I would play it in the background while editing something or working on a writing project--much like I am doing now!  Not all the tracks were my cup of tea though, but the first level in particular does a fantastic job of pulling you into the world of the game and makes the prospect of playing over and over again a pleasant one.  Here's a sampling of some of the music you get to hear in the game:

"Race the Sun Soundtrack"

Final Thoughts

I can't wrap this review without taking a moment to mention an interesting feature of Race the Sun: the game world does not stay consistent from day to day.  Each actual, real time day, the game world gets rearranged. Kinda a nifty little trick and I'm still debating if I like this as a feature or not. Part of me wants to get to learn a course, have a chance to anticipate what's coming and plan.  I guess that's possible if I dive in and commit to a couple of hours each time I were to play this game. However, while I appreciate what Flippfly was doing, I find myself wanting a little more permanence.

Lastly I wish the sound and graphic design were a little bit more polished. For the graphics, not that I expect high-level graphics all the time or necessarily need them, just there were times when the polygon charm wore off and I wished the ship looked like Gamecube quality instead of early N64. As far as sound goes, I wish I could hear the woosh of the solar sailor as I pass by objects or some other object on screen making noise. Not that I have to have a world of noise to live in for a game to work--just the sounds felt a little too sparse at times.

Overall, it wasn't a bad little buy from the eShop, and if you're into points based gaming and trying for top spots on leaderboards, it's probably right up your alley.  It may not have a whole heckuva lot going on graphically, but with ever resetting worlds, a decent set of unlockable features, and soundtrack that makes the time fly by--so to speak--I'd recommend snagging this game and prepare to spend hours chasing the sun.

Final Scores:

Graphics: 7/10
Style: 8/10
Music: 7/10
Sound: 6/10
Control: 10/10
Gameplay 8/10

Overall Score: 7/10

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Midweek Music Box: The Great Fairy's Fountain

Wouldn't it be wonderful if listening to the sweet strains of harp while lying by a poolside were all it took to not only "cleanse" the body of impurities, but restore every aspect of your being from heart to health?

While my insides must have caught the notes of some sort of twisted fusion of accordion and bagpipes because I just spent several days in the hospital thanks to the stomach flu deciding to take my digestive tract for a spin. Between doctor's and nurses with their constant pokes, prods, and requests for fluids--I found myself just wishing for a bit of peace and rest. Kinda like what you never seem to get from the wrong side of a hospital bed. Although there were a bevy of movies to watch on the TV, and several books at my disposal; I found myself wishing for a bit of calming music, somehow feeling like the right tune would help me as much as anything administered via my IV. Of course when it comes to relaxing melodies that could sooth the soul and heal the body, one song immediately comes to mind:  The Great Fairy's Fountain Theme from Legend of Zelda.

"The Great Fairy's Fountain Theme"

First introduced in 1991 via Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, this Legend of Zelda song has, through its various iterations, featured the gentle and sweet, simple sound of a harp with a occasional ethereal sounds for accompaniment. Although  "Zelda's Lullaby" would have had a calming effect as well, I guess composer Koji Kondo did his job right, because when I want a song that both relaxes and soothes in a way that no syringe full of anti-nausea medicine can, I reach for this track on my playlist. 

Now, I'd be embellishing the healing properties of this song more than just a little bit if I were to credit it with helping me get out of my recent "incarceration" in a local hospital.  However, I can't emphasize enough how nice it was to get back home and have an opportunity to put this song on and just unwind. For me there's always been something inherently pleasing about the strains of harp. Each plucked note beckons you to take a moment, take just a few precious moments to both enjoy the music and receive a nurturing goodness from it. Perhaps it's because we often times associate harp music with angels that listening to a tune like this long enough can make you just want to drift away on fluffy cloud.

Okay, maybe that sounds a tad silly, but after a few days in a hospital bed I really would have preferred a fluffy white cloud to the adjustable brick that I was lying on.

Anwho--Several variants of this song have appeared over the years, but I wanted to share the version from the recent 25th Anniversary Symphony of the Goddess tour. Although full credit goes to Kondo for creating such beautiful music that still holds up when you listen to it on a game system; it was nice to hear a fully orchestrated--fully realized version of this song. It gives it a full breadth and depth that makes you appreciate the music all the more.

In case you're worried it won't have quite the calming effect promise, no need to for anxiety--I promise the Great Fairy won't so much as screech out a giggle.

tee hee...

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Midweek Music Box: Guitar Hero (Ziggy Stardust)

Did he play guitar?

You step before the audience, guitar in hand, ready to rock. You're Axel Steel, you're Judy Nails, or maybe to fit the glam rock mood you pick Izzy Sparks.  The drummer starts a familiar beat, your fingers are in position, and suddenly you are no longer merely playing glorified style of the classic memory game Simon--you are a rock god! Or rather, a "Guitar Hero....

cue the music...

Okay, so maybe it's sometimes a little hard to get into that sort of mood every time you play the original Guitar Hero for Playstation 2--but that doesn't mean you don't feel extra cool if you manage to pull off a song on expert. For me, one of the first songs I was able to accomplish on the most difficult settings was David Bowie's "Ziggy Stardust."  This isn't really a brag as it was less about "how well I played" as it was about the song being something you just could lose yourself in.
 Speaking of songs, here is, "Ziggy Stardust":

Yeah, it's not the version from the game, but when talking about one of the most iconic songs from one as accomplished as the late, great David Bowie, nothing but the original will do.  It's funny, when picking songs for the Midweek Music Box, I tend to prefer songs and music that were composed as original soundtracks for the game itself; unless of course the music fits exceptionally well with the game.  So yeah, part of me picked this because of David Bowie's passing, but I think I would have picked this song on down the line without the music world's loss--no that's not right--with the world's loss of this legend.

There are plenty of fantastic tunes on Guitar Hero that you can experience and play-along-to from Motorhead's "Ace of Spades" to Black Sabbath's "Iron Man." I love playing along to those while trying to to get the timing just right in an attempt to achieve the best score possible.  It is a game after all.  But there's just something magical about getting to jam along to "Ziggy Stardust." And you are jamming along not just losing yourself in the gameplay, but losing yourself in the music. At least I tend to lose myself in it.  Something about that song in particular makes me feel that much closer to actually being able to play guitar. It becomes less about getting a high score than it does about doing the song justice. 

Yes, in the end I'm no more close to playing guitar than the game Simon is to beeping and booping out a classical tune or a chart-topping hit.  Something about a Bowie tune though, playing it, hearing it, being a part of it...I think that "Ziggy Stardust"provides the feel the team at Harmonix was looking for when they first developed the game.  That feeling of you not just goofing around with an odd controller, but really getting to be in the shoes of legendary bands--or an artist like Bowie.

I wish I had some really awesome way of wrapping up this Midweek Music Box. Some great analogy, or a good quote with some verisimilitude on the life of David Bowie. Truthfully though, I just can't think of the right thing to say, and it would likely come across as either cheap or forced. It's hard losing a legend like David Bowie. We always joke about "rock gods" or the "immortal artist" and the like...but man this just plain hurts. Surprisingly more than expected. You kinda figured David Bowie would just keep going and going. It's hard to believe he was just as mortal as the rest of us. I guess though he gains immortality through his music. Best to just close with a collection of my favorite Bowie songs and remember that Ziggy did indeed play guitar.

"Down in the Underground"


"Space Oddity"

"Under Pressure"


"The Man Who Sold the World"


May you rest in peace Mr. Bowie. Thanks for the music. Thanks for the artistry. Thanks most of all for giving so much of yourself into your craft right up to the end and leaving us as any good artist does...just wanting a little more.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Oculus Rip-off? Why the High Price of VR Shouldn't Shock Us But Does

So what was your first reaction upon hearing the $599 price point of the forthcoming Oculus Rift? Surprise? Frustration? Bloating? Nausea and vomiting?

Chances are if you experienced the preceding symptoms you either felt priced out of the latest and greatest in VR tech--or should see your doctor and ask about changing your diet.  In any case, public reaction to the announced price of Oculus Rift has been decidedly lukewarm to say the least.  Many potential consumers see it as unnecessarily high, an example of price gouging, and a game company getting too greedy. Why do they want so much? Did the Virtual Boy cost this much when it came out? I don't think so!

The Once and Future VR King

Well, I say poppycock to all of it! The guys making those Oculus Rift devices want as many people buying them as possible, ripping people off doesn't exactly get you repeat customers, now does it? So if they aren't trying to blindside us with overpricing, why do we feel that they are?

We are all a little more than shell-shocked because for a while now next gen consoles have played around the the outer margins of affordability, but few have actually "dared go there" so-to-speak.  Let me give you a brief example: When the Playstation originally launched at $499 and $599 there was a bit of a backlash then too.  "What was Sony thinking," everyone wondered.  "How could they dare ask so much for this system?"  Well, the price did eventually come down on the PS3, it came with the passage of time. Now, slightly less than 10 years later, for about $200 you can pick up a used PS3 and a decent library of games both old and new.  Thankfully, there were enough people with disposable income who plunked down the money for those first consoles though, as it made it so Sony had a reason to invest in producing ever better, more efficient technology that would provide the same experience, or a better one, but at a lower cost so as to increase their consumer base.  Now we are on to the PS4 and it usually retails in the neighborhood of $350 to $400. High priced, but not too high priced in our minds.  Xbox One also retails around this much, and people don't seem to bat an eye at the price of those systems either. We couldn't have gotten to the point of a better system though if the prior generation wasn't a bit higher priced and a little harder to make. New gaming tech doesn't just magically happen overnight, or even in the course of a year or two. 

Of course Oculus Rift is pricey now!  It boasts an experience unlike any other, much like the PS3 did when it first debuted.  My thought is that we are shocked at the initially high price because we seem to block out the memory of how much a now common device cost when it was first introduced. While it's true that technology advances and internal components of our tech gets cheaper as we discover more efficient ways to get the same result; this does not mean we get to start out there.There's always that process we have to go through, those initial birth stages of a new tech which are always painful--particularly on the wallet.

That's how it is though and truthfully, part of me wouldn't trust it if Oculus Rift started out cheap, would you?  Do I wish it were something I could more easily afford? Of course I do!  But if someone promised a device that gets us that much closer to the fabled Star Trek holodecks and said it cost only a hundred bucks wouldn't you and I be a bit suspicious of them using cheap parts, the device having a high breakage factor, and the likelihood of polygon graphics masquerading as "futuristic VR?"

"Of course we guarantee you a great VR experience!
no refunds..."

I remember several years ago when I worked at a movie theater/arcade/entertainment complex, we sold tickets to several attractions that involved strapped on helmets and boasted "full immersion graphics and sound."  It sounded like a cool experience. Finally, VR gaming was here, and it was so cheap you couldn't afford not to try it out! Frankly though, the technology employed in those games was cheap, the machines constantly needed repair, and they had graphics barely on par with Donkey Kong Country or even the original Star Fox.  Ticket prices for these "games" were cheap, and people generally latched on to that, excited at the prospect of a quick and inexpensive VR "experience." However, they were disappointed that the graphics weren't what they claimed to be. They got to discover first hand there are (usually) no cheap routes to awesome technology, at least not at first. Great technology, and consequently great gaming, takes time to get where it is commonplace.  Personally, I don't think we should really care about the high price at this point in the Oculus Rift's life.

There's an excellent article by Wired magazine about how the real problem of Oculus Rift isn't the high price, but rather  how good are the graphics? That's a discussion worth having in my book, but complaining about price? No one needs VR tech when you get down to it. Yes, I realize this seems like an easy fallback point to make, but really, when you have systems like the ones we have now, while quibble about how VR isn't readily affordable yet?  The future doesn't happen overnight, unless you live in the Back to the Future universe.  Sorry that those Hoverboards didn't work out either by the way.

It's funny that we still have the capacity for "sticker shock" when something new comes down the pike in electronics. It's like we have a loop we are stuck in with our shock that anyone could afford such luxury. (Two televisions? You must be rich!)  It was only ten years ago when CRT televisions were commonplace and those newfangled LCD and Plasma TVs weren't up to snuff, and were obviously overpriced to boot.

We are at a point where ever increasingly fantastic things are  possible thanks to computer graphics and ever advancing technology. Even without a VR helmet we can lose ourselves for hours in the world of Pandora, the war-torn wastes of Fallout, and the even the wacky adventures of a mushroom munching plumber.  I'm not sure what's next for the video game industry, but I'm sure people will be just as surprised at the high price of whatever we get then as they are now over the Oculus Rift price. By the time that happens, which might be sooner than we think, the VR gaming experience may not only be more affordable, but more commonplace than we can possibly imagine.

It will take time to get there, but be patient. It will happen eventually.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Friday Night Rentals: The Adventures of Bayou Billy

Ready for a little interactive exercise? Okay! Cup your hand over your mouth and repeat the following phrase, "The Adventures of Bayou Billy!" Congraturations! You just did a spot on impression of the opening audio sample from one of the hardest-and possibly worst--games that the NES had to offer.

As I've said before, most of the time, back in the glory days of the NES, you could count on good ol' Konami (before they went bat-poop crazy) to churn out fun games with great sound, decent graphics, and of course, fantastic gameplay.

But let's get honest here, Konami was just as capable back then as they are now of making bad games and bad decisions before the whole, "Let's treat our top programming guys like a festering pile of dog innards," thing.  After all, bad decisions gave us the game that was The Adventures of Bayou Billy.  I rented this game at least three different times, trying to convince myself that I just wasn't trying hard enough to beat the game. That somehow I was the one who was lacking, not the game itself.  Heck I even remember getting all pumped up to play it again after I watched the Bayou Billy episode of "Captain N: The Gamemaster," somehow convinced that the goofy story held game secrets I had missed.

"Ya see Captain, the only way to beat'em is skip leg day. Always."

Well, the only secret it held was that I'm sure there's a life lesson I could pull from this today: the writing was at times terrible and I was too young to understand that there weren't warp zones in every game out there.  Mario pipes weren't suddenly going to connect to Metroid. So there's probably something about not trying to live up to unrealistic expectations or perseverance and hard work might have paid off if only I worked harder at trying to play the game rather than looking at every available source for hints.  So, since there weren't warp pipes in Bayou Billy, what kind of game is it?

The game itself is pretty straightforward. You are Bayou Billy, and the evil King Bowser--I mean Godfather Gordon--has kidnapped your sweet-heart princess...I mean Annabelle--and it's up to you to rescue her. Along the way you'll punch your way through crocs, bad guys, and super-human mutants who seem impervious to damage, despite your obvious buffed up chest and ability to wear only leather vests to draw attention to the chest. On the plus side, the game changes things from a standard beat-em up formula by incorporating driving stages and even has levesls that use the light gun! ...and that's about where the excitement begins and ends.

Godfather Gordon's stooges seem to have way more stamina than Bayou Billy. Whatever fakery that bearded shmuck was trying to pull off with the stubble and ripped bod, falls apart the instant you start fighting bad guys. Billy has no where near the toughness needed for the fight! Even now as an  adult I find myself pummeled like an 80's Revenge of the Nerds, nerd rather than dealing out the pummeling via the Crocodile Dundee rip-off Billy was meant to be.

The sound design is about what you'd expect from Konami, with many familiar audio bits gracing the game.  I think the soundtrack was okay with plenty of beats and a nice little rhythm here and there. Occasionally there are drum hits that almost have a tropical feel, which I guess given the limitations of the system were the composer's best attempt at a bayou/swamp feel.  Other than those occasional beats, nothing really stands out about the music to me.  Here's a sample of the music from stage one, just listen and you'll hear what I mean about those odd "tropical" sounding drum beats:

Again, it's an okay soundtrack, and a fairly solid bit of music; however, to me at least, it doesn't feel like Konami's best effort.  I know I could pick this out of a "line up" so to speak, but I don't see the music ever making it on to my iPod.

Overall, it was a so-so game back then, and still is today.  Naturally, I really like this game.
"Say what?" you may exclaim. Yeah, it's true, Despite the flaws, the undue punishment the bad guys dish out, the sometimes sluggish moves of Billy--I like this game. Yes, it will always rank in my top games I think of when I think of "Nintendo Hard" games--but in a way, that's its appeal to me now. With so many games both in my collection and specifically, ones that I beat as a kid over the course of a weekend; it's fun to go back and see how I fair against a game that kicked my butt all over the Bayou.  After all, I was just a kid back then. Likely my impatience was working against me and the game was never really that hard at all. Well....some things never change...

I never beat The Adventures of Bayou Billy in the day, and a part of me never expects to do so even as an adult.  I guess that's one way I get to relive my childhood, but not quite the way I expected.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Midweek Music Box Borderlands 2 (Short Change Hero)

New Year. New songs to hear. And a new system for me to pull songs from!  Yup, this Jester has an Xbox 360 and finally will have a chance to play some of the games he's been missing out on!  Of course there are a bountiful bevy of games to choose from on this system, and at first I wasn't sure where to start.  Yeah, I was somewhat limited because I only received a handful of games with the system when I got it for Christmas, there's  just so much catching up to do, it seemed like a near impossible task to choose what song to start with.

Well, when a game integrates grooving modern day music into its universe this well, it's a natural choice regardless of whether or not I have the game or system it plays on.

I want to kick things off with this year's first Midweek Music Box with a tune from a game I've heard gobs and gobs about when it comes to story line and gameplay.  The graphic style peaked my interest immediately when it first debuted a few years ago.  However, I hadn't heard much about the game in terms of music.

Except, I had heard music from it, or rather, I heard the particular track used in the game itself.
Yeah, yeah, it was in the Arkham City gameplay trailer. Somehow though, the groovy rhythms and soulful humming just never worked for me as commercial fodder for a Batman game. It fits so much more naturally with this game.

Here's the opening cinematic for the cartoonish, pop-up book-like mayhem that is Borderlands 2:

The music itself doesn't kick off until a little after the two and half minute mark, but when it does, not only does the song "Short Change Hero" get used to great effect, but it irrevocably takes this song by The Heavy and makes it it's own.  An opening cut scene with a Mad Max-type vehicle and its occupants get tossed like rags dolls as they are side-swiped by a futuristic train as a music cue? Yeah, that opening rhythm "hits" at just the right moment and captures your attention in a way that cannot be ignored.  Thanks to the music intro choice, you can't help but get sucked into the bizarre universe of Claptrap the robot, maniac Psychos, and the nefarious Handsome Jack.

Are most games better served by their own unique music?  Most of the time I would say yes.  However, here within the Borderlands universe, "Short Change Hero" from The Heavy's album The House That Dirt Built, works beautifully. It captures the heart of the game because as you grow familiar with the game, as you traverse Pandora's wastes blasting your way through mutations; you have to accept one simple fact: There are no good guys on Pandora, not even you. You are not a hero, and Pandora "ain't no place for a hero."

You are in it for the money, for the vault, for the glorious riches that await. You have not a care who gets crushed or let down in the process, because that payday ain't gonna come on its own.  

Granted the concept of an anti-hero protagonist is nothing new to games, nor is the use of modern songs.  Other games with anti-heroes, such as the GTA series, make use of modern pop songs with catchy beats and hum-able tunes to help establish the setting or give you an idea of the game's general tone.  However, I would say that you feel the setting of Pandora within "Short Change Hero." It's odd, but inviting. It shucks and jives to its own beat, but invites to dance and play in its universe.  I would be remiss if I didn't include a link to the full song: 

Funny, you listen to the build up of the song, you hear the melancholy, funeral-like humming, the slow thump of the drum; all of it feels like it goes with Borderlands 2.  Time to hit up the Box and show why Pandora ain't for heroes.