Saturday, April 30, 2016

Friday Night Rentals: Super Star Wars

A long, long Friday night ago....

What do you get when you combine an iconic franchise, a kid hoping to play as the hero of a galaxy far, far away; and murderously hard gameplay?  Super Star Wars for the Super Nintendo of course! A not too long time ago, in home far, far away (California to be exact) I rented the Super Star Wars game hoping for shot at Jedi glory. What I found was endlessly impossible mazes inside of sand crawlers, womp rats that could rip you to pieces, and a farm boy so hopelessly inept at handling a lightsaber it was a wonder he hadn't impaled himself on the thing yet.  The NES days were over at this point, but "Nintendo Hard" levels of difficulty were still very much alive.  So what was it like to play the game a long long time ago, and how was it today?


I was impressed back then. This wasn't some choppy nonsense and uncontrollable land-speeders on dull brown backgrounds, this was lightsabers, as bright and vibrant as you could want!  There were countless settings both from the movie and new ones invented just for the game. I never once felt like I was anywhere other than in the Star Wars universe.  In fact, playing this game years later, I still feel like I'm immersed in the Star Wars universe when I play it, more so than when I played a certain "Podracer" game.  It really holds up in terms of selling you the locations, the parallax scrolling ads depth that doesn't just feel gimmicky or slapped on. In light of the prequels, I guess at this point they cared about the quality of the game.


From digitized voices to the typical bass-y sounds of the SNES, it really felt like I was listening to the actual Star Wars music back when I was a kid. Now that I'm all grown up and more discerning it still really holds up! Okay, not so much....Yeah, compared to the full orchestras and CD quality tracks of the more recent Battlefront and Star Wars online, it may sound as if I'm embellishing a bit ...Maybe I am a little, but the soundtrack certainly takes me back to when I was a kid.  Listening now, it sounds sickly and as tinny as any SNES track, but at the time it was gold.

SNES Star Wars Main Theme

These days it sounds like a slightly out of tune kids instrument, like those recorders or xylophones we had.   The instrument is not horrible, and you know it's capable of producing music--it just does so off key.  If you had your choice between this and the real deal--and these days you do--you'll likely have the original soundtrack on your ipod, and so would I.  The music accomplishes what it needs to though, and through the tinny trumpets and overly bass-y drums, you get John Williams famous compositions on your SNES.

Where the audio really shines is in the sound design.  Lightsabers sound like lightsabers, the guns have the same quick "pew" sound they do in the movies, and Luke really screams like a pansy when something hurts him or he dies--It's just like in the movies!

Gameplay and Memories:

Remember earlier when I said the game was murderously hard? Well, you may think I was exaggerating, and you'd be wrong. In fact, I was probably selling it a bit short. The game automatically starts you at the medium or "Brave" setting, if you don't want to die within a few seconds, best set it to easy.  No wonder uncle Owen didn't want Luke to leave home! If the Tatooine of the movie was like in the game, Luke wouldn't have made it past the first moister collector, let alone to the Mos Eisley cantina. When I was a kid, this was one of those games that frustrated the utter daylights out of me! With hard platforming, insanely difficult villains that weren't even boss battles, and little help in the way of continues and health; it should have been one of those games that I played only on Friday, then ignored for the rest of the weekend while I played something else. But it was Star Wars!!! How could I possibly turn my back on what was once the greatest set of movies of all time. (Remember, this was pre-prequel days...) Funny how even now I feel like this holds true.

To be fair, it's not that Luke controls poorly, or at least not too poorly. It's pretty obvious though that wherever Luke goes, the sands of Tatooine are always with him as he slips off platforms or slides from narrow ledges leading either to endless backtracking, or certain doom. Back then I never noticed how some levels take on an almost Hanna Barbara cartoon type quality as you see the same background over and over. Guess I was too busy enjoying being Luke to notice how much it felt like covering the same territory. Also, why does everyone have to stop to shoot? Why can't I run while shooting? I know it's not a run and gun, but still, it feels weird to come to a complete halt to fire at everything from womp rats to stormtroopers. It's feels like I'm tempting fate holding still for a stormtrooper, despite their legendary inaccuracy. I can't help wondering even now if Luke's inability to hit as much as I'd like comes from me not doing well or if it's actually Luke's fault for not having better control of his Jedi powers. This game was only set in the first movie, so I'm pretty sure it's his non-Jedi-ish-ness that does it.

Final Thoughts

I gave this game chance after chance when I was a kid. To the point that it was one of those games that I actually went out and got for the SNES.  So here we are, years later and I still feel like I'm facing insurmountable odds, incredible difficulty, and the feeling that five continues just isn't nearly enough.  It may still have that old Star Wars feel, but I can see why look was tempted by the Dark Side. No where's my game genie?

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Midweek Music Box: Katamari Damacy Main Theme

Na Naaaa Na Na Na Na Na Na

I want to start this Midweek Music Box by say Nah Nah Nah Nah Nah Nah Nah Nah Naaaaaaaaah! Does it count as a Prince reference seeing as you play as the little Prince? No, well, it's the best I got.

Katamari Damacy has a simple, pleasant tune that comes on as soon as you load up game ...and dang it if it doesn't just catch your ears in an instant without ever letting go. I think it ranks up there in my top five tunes that get stuck in my head after hearing only a few notes. Seriously, this thing has Ducktales theme song type quality to it......

Okay, now that you're done singing the Ducktales theme to yourself and done thinking of how life is like a hurricane, here in, Duckberg; get the ol' ear canal ready for more tunes it won't be able to shake:

Did I mention Nah Nah Nah Nah Nah....

Who would ever have thought a game with simple polygon graphics, bright colors, and easy-going gameplay would carry within it one of the most memorable and catchy game tunes of the last 20 years? I know that may seem like a bold statement, but for me it that simple, almost intro is as catchy as the Mario Theme.  

It gets you in the groove, relaxes the mood, and generally sells the overall lax-attitude gameplay that's in store for the player. It doesn't get you hyped-up or  over-excited, but it does interested you as soon as you hear it. What game would dare to not have a bold and bombastic tune at its intro? Who would have thought rolling a giant ball around and trying to gather everything from push pins, to people, to continents would provide hours and hours of joy? Certainly not me. In fact when a couple of friends of mine introduced me to the game, I was skeptical when they explained the concept. Why should I pay any attention to the little green man with the funny shaped head? Well, as soon as the first few "Nah Nah Nah's" started, I couldn't help but both smile, and get the tune forever stuck in my head. 

Sometimes soundtracks try too hard, you know what I mean? Like they bring out the biggest of kettle drums, and the most brooding of tunes to convey mood, but it ends up sounding like every other "edgy" soundtrack out there. We get it, you're the soundtrack for a gritty, dark and mysterious FPS that's a "Totally unique experience," now off to the corner with all the others. But the main tune, and in fact all the tunes of Katamari Damacy, are crushingly pleasant and happy-go-lucky. They fit the goofy tone and actions of the "King of the Universe" and his son's mission to roll things up to recreate the galaxy so well, that anything other than the aggressive cheerfulness would do a disservice to the gameplay.  Take Cherry Blossom Color Season (Cherry Tree Times) for example:

Cherry Tree Times

Sooooo cute sounding. So peppy!  So much happiness. Soooo what are they saying? I don't know and don't care, it's cute and pretty and just so cheerful and chibi you can practically taste the quirkiness. 

And how about that pepped up version of the Nah Nah Nah song?

Okay, enough of that.  I'll finish up this review by sharing the lyrics from the song, beyond the Na Na Na'ing:

Katamari on the Rocks

Gaaaaaaah!!! What about the rhythm and pepped-up drum make this so irrepressibly cute? Why can't I help but smile?  Well, I have no idea what they're saying here either, but I am filled with much smiles while doing the rolling. I'll leave off with a copy of the lyrics for this final song so you can sing-a-long...should you so wish....

Na na na...

Don't worry, do your best
Picnic kibun, feel so good
Suteki na afternoon
Furachi na midnight yeah

Katamete korogasu I love you, itsudemo smile for you
Kimi dake ni love moon hey so! Ganbaranakucha
Compression, compression

Osoroi no t-shirts
Teami no muffler nado
Heart-warming mejiro oshi
Hitare etsu! Say goodbye (bye-bye)

Minna katamete shimaimashou, funpatsu shichaimasu
Konna hi wa utte odorou, shuuyaku wa boku da kedo
It's my way, it's my way

*Na na na na na na na na na katamari damashi
Na na na na na na na na na katamari damashi
Na na na na na na na na na katamari damashi
Na na na na na na na na na katamari damashi

Peace na kibun, yoishirete
Kagayaki heaven akogarete
Sutekisa sono atama
Mou omatsuri sawagisa

Sou suru koto ga marude biku bang, anata iro ni somemasu
Nani ka to riyuu o mitsukete wa, party ga shi ta no desu
Katamatte katamatte

* repeat x 2

Friday, April 22, 2016

Friday Night Rentals: Star Fox Adventures Rememberances

Not your typical Star Fox game...

Star Fox on SNES was--no--IS an incredible game, even to do this day. I remember playing and replaying for hours on end, trying different paths, attempting higher and higher scores. The polygons looked so 3-D (for the time) and the music really drew you in and amped up your excitement level for the action unfolding on screen. But it wasn't just another on-rails shooter, it was the start of an incredible new Nintendo franchise. Following this came Star Fox 64, what a great game it was--no IS--too! Better graphics, voice acting, and a new feature--All Range Mode!  The series was getting better with each new console. So you can imagine when I arrived at my local Blockbuster and saw Star Fox Adventures sitting on the shelf, all nice and ready for me to rent, I was fairly excited. Here it was! The latest in the space adventures of Fox McCloud.  It was all mine for the renting and no other shmuck was going to get his hands on the game.  Finnaly, it was THIS shmuck's turn to play!  I couldn't wait to get home, pop the latest Star Fox into my Gamecube and take off in an Arwing, loaded with missiles and ready for action.  

So, can you imagine my reaction when I popped in the game and saw this:

"Land Before Fun"

What's going? Where's the Star Fox crew now?  Who's the furry? Wait, there are dinosaurs now? Okay I guess but...wait!  What the heck is Fox doing outside of the Arwing? What's up with all the running around? Fox! Fox! Can you hear me Fox? You're having an identity crisis! You think you're Link or something. Snap out of it Fox! Put down the stick, get back in the space ship, and blast the heck outta there! 

Despite my pleas, Fox McCloud didn't listen, and instead of flying around blasting enemy ships, I found myself meandering around, trying to solve puzzles, interacting with various furry creatures and intelligent dinosaurs; and doing far too little flying. In fact the Arwing's appearance in this Star Fox game constitutes more of a cameo then actual action sequence. Or sure, those flying sections are in there, but knowing that they are only a brief reprieve from all the running around kept me from getting fully engaged in the game.

And then there's the music. In the other Star Fox games it was a great blend of semi-cheesy, bombastic and adventurous romp-type music. Well, it started out that way at first with the intro music, but after that it turned into atmospheric stuff that truthfully I probably couldn't pick out in a crowd.  Not that it's terrible or anything, just that when I was picking through various tracks I just wasn't finding myself remembering any of them all that well. The tunes were just a little ordinary for my tastes I guess. What do you think of them?:

"Star Fox Adventures Full Soundtrack"

Well, with a different format and music that didn't grab my attention, I quickly gave up on this game and ended up renting something else. I didn't hate it or resent it, I just wasn't interested in playing as Fox McCloud if I wasn't wooshing through space, dodging enemy fire, and blasting baddies.  I recently pick the game up and am ready to give it a second chance. I've heard there's a lot too it that makes it feel like a Zelda game if you give it time to grow on you. Now that I don't have to worry about returning this game to the video store, perhaps I will give it a chance to grow on me and I'll come to appreciate it in a whole new light.

For now though, it's time to fire up the Wii U, grab the gamepad, and take Andross down in Star Fox Zero.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Midweek Music Box: Borderlands Intro "(No Rest for the Wicked)

Through the exhaustion and the exertion, between longing for games and pulling long hours--one game and one song kept coming to mind for this week's Midweek Music Box: "Ain't No Rest for the Wicked" from the intro of Borderlands:

Gad! The hard smack of that critter as the music comes full volume and the game cuts to the assortment of rogues and mercenaries riding for treasure and loot just grabs you, don't it?  What's Pandora about anyway?  Are we going to see more carnage? Was it okay for that weird beast to die?According to the opening song, the likelihood of what is to unfold being anything other than a romp with some rogues is small.  But as you play the game more and more, it's hard not to forever associate Cage the Elephant's song with the world of Pandora.

Like I said in my review for the music intro of Borderlands 2; generally, I prefer it when a game has an original score composed with care and finessed into something that makes every inch of the game memorable. However, if a game company picks a song, and gets licensing for said song because they think it fits the tone of the game and the world within--then I say go for it.  

Not all games need you to play as a pure hero or dastardly villain; sometimes it's nice just to play as a mercenary who's willing to play fast and loose with conventional rules and accepted behaviors of decent society.  Sometimes you want to play a game where you aren't a vile gangster blithely engaging in killing sprees, and sometimes you just aren't in the mood to save Hyrule or the Mushroom Kingdom. Sometimes you need to go somewhere where you don't try to tirelessly save the princess, but rather tirelessly try for treasure and self gain and self preservation while helping people if it helps you.  

"Ain't No Rest for the Wicked" captures the tone of Pandora and it's collection of ner-do-wells so well because the song talks about people who do nasty things, but do them because they either like to indulge in their darker side, or just feel like they have to get a little dirty in order to get what they want from life.

Characters in search of coin and carnage just happens in games and sometimes life. In the world of Borderlands, it's just a fact of life encapsulated well in a popular tune.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Friday Night Rentals: Legendary Wings

I get the impression they were reeeeeeally trying to be Superman-ish...

I was never that good at the shoot'em up genre of games. While I love the likes of Gradius, Life Force, and others; I never quite got the hang of them or as into them as my friends. More often than not, when it came to Shoot'em Ups, I would rent them on a Friday and be feel like I was done with them that same night. Not because any good at them, but because I would reach a frustration point with the game so quickly that I'd wished I had rented Castlevania 2 again.  So, when I rented Capcom's Legendary Wings, was my experience the same as with other shooters?  Well, before I get too far down memory lane lets get something clear:

Shoot'em Up, got it? Not shmup!  


Excellent! Now that we've got that out of the way, let's talk some Legendary Wings.


You fly around and blow up bad guys with weapons trying to defeat the evil boss of something or other in a noble quest too blah, blah, blah.  Okay, okay, so I'm not massively familiar with the supposed plot of the game other than you're some winged super-hero guy trying to beat the evil bosses at the end of various stages.  I don't think shoot'em ups are exactly known for having in depth plots and heavy characterization.  I will say though that the game still stands out to me this day as being on of the few times in a shoot'em up where you played as something other than a plane or ship of some kind.

Flying the pink-booted angel mutant is both easy and enjoyable with the tight controls and quick response to button pushes. Some shoot'em ups give you a hit box that seems to fill half the screen while the other half fills with bullets. Legendary Wings doesn't overload you with bullets, so maneuvering around the sky and around enemy fire doesn't get overwhelming.

Another feature I liked from the game when I was a kid, and like even now, was how the game offered a mix or shooter styles such a side-scrolling, overhead scrolling, and my personal favorite, slow-as-molasses scrolling. Yes, "Wings"  suffers from slow down from time to time, as do many such games on the NES. Even back then I had a sense that the NES was doing its best to make the game happen, but even so the flickering a slow-down could really hinder gameplay at times. If you're the type who can't get enough slow down try playing the awesome two player co-op version. That's right! Up to two people could love and enjoy the lovely, near bullet-hell, that was continually unfolding.


As was the case with many games put out by the bigger companies of the time, Capcom tended to recycle many of their sound effects.  If you're like me, you'll probably get a kick out of hearing the same gun noises and hit effects as you would in almost any given Mega Man game no draw backs here.  I will say however that the music was a bit of a let down. I thought me not remembering the tunes in Legendary Wings was my own fault and something easily chalk-up-able to the fact I only rented the game once.  Whelp, I was wrong, it wasn't me this time, it was just Capcom putting out some truly spectacularly average music.  Here's the only track I ever got to hear as a kid, and it's apparently the only I'll get to hear as an adult too:

Not that it was a bad, atonal mess, just that it lacked the same punch of the Mega Man series. Do you think I'm asking a bit much by constantly referencing how well they did the music for Mega Man? Well, you're wrong. Clearly they had it in them to produce fantastic, original and memorable soundtracks. How many of us have heard jazzed up or full heavy metal versions of the Elec-Man stage or the intro to Mega Man 2?  C'mon Capcom! Surely you can hop in a nearby time travel machine and give us great set of tunes from Legendary Wings!  You even have a few touches in this first soundtrack that make it sound like the song wants to reach an epic conclusion but can never quite get there.

 Remember how a few sentences ago I mentioned the familiarity with the Mega Man sounds? Well, I thought I'd point out how many of the backgrounds and textures seem to be re-used Mega Man fare. Again, not that this constitutes a problem, just that companies like Capcom had no compunction about reusing assets on hand, and oh boy do they seem to be on hand. From rocky textures that seem like imports from Gutsman's stage to color choices seemingly influenced from other games; Capcom was smart to use things on hand and not shell out more moolah for development.

Remembering After the Rental

When I was a kid, I had no idea that this game was actually a port of an arcade original, so I guess in hindsight it's partially nice to know that some of the difficultly was due to it having lived as a quarter muncher in a previous life. But oh, how I wish I could drop in a couple of quarters to the NES port. The game should have been called "Legendary Difficulty" as you have no continues and the only way to get said continues was to hunt down certain hidden objects throughout the level. I never found the continues when I was a kid, and when I played the game for the blog, I didn't find them either. I guess if I wanted to make up for having wasted a rental back in the day, I should look and see if I can finally, finally find a way to continue the game and possibly see and hear stuff past level 2.  Or, I could try to speed run Contra again....

Friday, April 1, 2016

Friday Night Rentals: Bubsy is the Best!!!

Best Game of All time

Failed mascot?  More like FANTASTIC mascot!  Am I right? It's Friday night, you're looking to have some fun this weekend, so what better game to get than than good ol' Bubsy!  Yes, it's time to dive into the depths of one of the most beloved games of all time. What could possibly go wrong?


Remember, if you miss those narrow ledges and die, it's your fault and yours alone. Don't go blaming slippery controls or anything other than your inability to play well like a true retro gamer.  Oh, and don't go knocking the plotline of aliens stealing yarn balls as absurd! Clearly the developers at Accolade had contact with a higher intelligence and know what invaders from another planet are truly after.

Music and Sound:

Title Screen Music

What a happy, peppy time Bubsy offers, doesn't it? And it's made all the better by the upbeat, boppin music. I would gladly download any and all of the soundtrack to my ipod and share it every where I go. Truly, the composer was experiencing life on a higher plane than the rest of us.

And for sound design?  My goodness!  Who can imagine games before the digitization of "What can possibly go wrong?"  All other sound bytes before and since pale in comparison. I truly don't understand why the gaming industry hires voice actors any more when we've already reached peak perfection.

Thoughts when returning the rental:

I can't believe I don't have a mint CiB sealed copy on my shelf, I bet I'm the only collector who doesn't.  Oh well. I think if I did own a sealed copy though I'd bust it open and play it every chance I got just to see if I could actually beat the game.  Well, maybe not every waking moment, but....

Well, let me be honest and put the April-ness aside for a minute. I actually do like Bubsy, warts and all. Yes the controls are slippery and the digitized voices are annoying. Yes, Bubsy was full of cheap deaths and frustrating platforming--but I actually did rent the heck out of this game as a kid. It was one of those ones that my mom and I would take turns playing through and see how far we could get. Nope, we never got that far at all.  Did I know it was a piece of garbage game?  Did I know that it would be one of the most hated games out there thanks to its difficulty? Nope. And I didn't care, because I was having fun, and that was all that mattered in the end.