Friday, October 20, 2017

Game EXP: Layers of Fear (PC)

I started Layers of Fear, a year and-a-half old first person perspective exploring psychological horror game back in August and I was apparently so frightening upon finishing it and the Inheritance DLC, that I apparently decided to take a month to mentally recover.

Now since it has been 612 days since Layers of Fear was first released, let us jump straight ahead to my approach to the game.

Being a fan of first person exploration games that do no rely on combat like Dear Esther, SOMA, and The Stanley Parable, I feel like Layers of Fear is a perfect fit for what I want in this type of game.  I do not even recall if there was a run option, but I am willing to bet that there was not, so unlike SOMA, and Outlast, there was frequently nothing to run away from, although I do recall having to hide a few times in Inheritance.  Perhaps it was this lack of physical adversaries that allowed the rest of my brain to be freaked out 90% of the time I was playing.  The other 10% was probably spent just being excited that the game was giving me this type of reaction.

Like the painting in the background, the visuals are very painting like. Then horribleness started to happen.

The thing for me that made LoF so frightening, was the smoothness of how the game operated when it wanted to scare you.  One non-spoiler example would be that you would walk down a hall towards a closed door.  You try to open the door but the door is locked.  You turn around to find that there is no longer a hallway behind you but a wall with no door.  Confused, you back up, turn around to the try the locked door again, but the door is no longer there.  You are now in a room with no exits.  Only after looking to your right, do you see a door that wasn't previously there.  You try that door and it opens into a large sitting room.  You pass through the door and as you enter the room, the door slams behind you.  You check out the door and it is indeed locked.  When you turn back around, a painting flies off of the wall and crashes to the ground in front of you, followed by a scream off in the distance.

That's not what a normal doorway should look like right?
What makes the mostly spoiler free scene above work so well, is that there is no indication, with the exception of the door slamming, that the game is doing anything to mess with you.  There is no lag when events happen, and there are often no sound effects to hint that the hallway you just walked down is now just a wall five feet behind you.  It is amazingly seamless.  During the entire game I was hoping that I would be able to see something happening, but the game never allowed this to happen.  You could stare at a wall that you are convinced is going to change into a door, but it will never happen unless you look away.  Or maybe it always was a door, but your brain won't allow a door to mysteriously change from a wall before your eyes because that just doesn't happen.

I feel like if you stripped the Lovecraftian elements away from Eternal Darkness, then you would have something similar to Layers of Fear.

Now, as someone who may frequent our site might have gathered by this point, my laptop is not a robust gaming computer, but it is able to handle a fair amount of games that have been released as recently as last year.  Most of the time, the game ran at around 24+ fps which, despite nearly everything you may read online, is not unplayable.  One of the few times my game acted up was in the beginning when I noticed some tearing and after some tinkering in the in-game settings, which I do not think hampered the visuals of the game, fixed the issue.  The other issues was that the game froze or crashed, but that happened less than five times during nine hours of game play.  And because the game auto saves every time you pass through a door that automatically closes (I think that is when it happens anyway), you do not have to really worry about losing progress.

And speaking of progress, there were only two instances in the whole game where I became lost and was unsure what to do.  Especially in an area where rooms started repeating, I was at first convinced that this is what was supposed to be happening, until I spent too much time re-entering the same room over and over and knew that I was missing something, or expecting something to happen that was not designed to happen.  I was a little annoyed at this wall I was hitting, but that frustration was short lived and I was able to get back to being frightened all over again.

That is really all I want to say about this game.  I had been a long time since I dreaded the anticipation of walking down a long hallway, but I kept playing because I was intrigued by the story that kept unfolding.  I am sure I could have done a speed run, but then you would lose most of what the game has to offer.  At the moment, I am seriously considering picking this up when it is released on the Switch (probably next year), to play it again, but also to show that there is interest in this kind of game for Nintendo's new console.

I Feel the Fear Takes Hold

P.S.  I ended up not taking as many pictures as I was hoping to, knowing that I was going to write about my experience, I was just too frightened to move my hands away from the mouse/keyboard.

P.P.S.  Then there is Observer, which was released back in August.  Here's to hoping that it sees a Switch release too.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

MIDI Week Singles: "Goodbye" - The Walking Dead (Everything)

"Goodbye" from The Walking Dead on Nearly Every Platform Out There (2012)*
Album: No Official Album Release (Sort Of)
Developer: Telltale Games

First off, as mentioned above in the "(Sort Of)" this music is not from the official The Walking Dead Original Game Score, which was released in certain editions of the Game of the Year edition back in 2013.  What "Goodbye" appears to be is a ripped from the game music, or at least pulled from the audio files as I could not find this particular track on the official soundtrack.  But because I am attached to this song, I decided that I would continue to use it in today's (semi-late-ish) article.  I have also decided to stick with the "Goodbye" title, if only for consistency out there in the Intertubalwebs, which is where this was plucked from.

Now that that is out of the way.

To hell with this song.  To hell with the feels this song decides that it want me to go ahead and relive all over again because recalling certain events in my mind just isn't enough, but now here is a musical cue to crap all over my heart strings!  I am not the one crying, although I appear to have just washed my face with a quart of freshly shredded onion pulp.

A bit melodramatic sure, but holy hell does this song just exude melancholy.  Although there is the ever slightest glimmer of hope from 1:06 - 1:11, but then it goes back into the bleakness of loss.  I am also greatly amused by how the song fades out around 1:54, but then comes back one last time a few seconds later.  Is it a death knell, a final grasp at life?

But seriously, I highly recommend this game/series because there are few games in the last five years that have given me as much of an emotional impact as this story telling, and while it may not be perfect, it is very effective.


*I mean, it's been released on Android, iOS, Kindle Fire HDX, OSX, Linux, Windows, Ouya, PS3, PS4, Vita, 360, and Xbox One.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Game EXP: Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia (3DS)

Two weeks ago, I finished Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia on the 3DS.  Being my first official foray into the Fire Emblem universe (after playing a lot of the mobile game Fire Emblem Heroes), I was very excited to play another tactics game that I hopped would not have a near perfect copy of That One Fight in Final Fantasy Tactics; it didn't.  I honestly cannot say why it took me this long to play a Fire Emblem game either.  Maybe it was the fact that there were so many FE games already out there and I did not know where to start so I just didn't?  Either way, I feel like I am fully in its grip now and seriously considering shelling out $40 for the four year old Fire Emblem Awakening rather than a combined $80ish for the entire Fire Emblem Fates series.  Then there is the attempt at braving the online auction house for a legitimate copy of Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon because as  you all know by now, I love starting series at their beginning, even if it is a remake of that beginning.  But there is always hope for the hopefully happening Switch Virtual Console.

But Fire  Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia is why we are all here today.

Now, I played this, mostly completely blind, in that I did not look up playthroughs, FAQs, or guides for how to beat dungeons or bosses.  There were some things I did look up while trying to make my way through Duma Tower such as if mid-stage bosses regenerated after leaving the Tower, or where to find Dragon Scales to craft the Dragon Scale Shield.  I also did not look up the best build for Alm's starting characters, who are all classed as Villagers and can take on any job once they have reached a particular level.  I tried to pick the path that I felt that the characters would choose based on the story up to that point.  So Gray became a mercenary, Tobin became an archer, Kliff became a mage, Faye became a cavalier, and in the case of Celica's storyline, I had Atlas become a mercenary because he seemed more like a sword wielding bloke; otherwise I would have made him a tank via the knight route.

And because this is a Game EXP article and not a Full Review or even a Game Review article, I am going to skip all the paragraphs dedicated to how this game operates in terms of Mila's Turnwheel and just say that I used it very frequently.  There were a number of times in Duma Tower that I ended up heading back out of the tower all together as I had used up more than half of my usages of the Turnwheel before reaching the mini-boss of the third floor.  Eventually I just switched party members and focused on finishing the damned thing instead of leveling characters.  But the Turnwheel.  Because it is a game mechanic, I did not see the purpose of overusing it, like when a character died, or as petty as when one of my heavy hitters missed.

Speaking of death, let us talk about that dead elephant in the room.  I played the game on the Normal difficulty and the Classic perma-death setting.  I decided on this before I knew much about the game aside from the fact that it was a tactics game and I was still in a Final Fantasy Tactics mindset.  It was a few hours in that I probably could have chosen to play it on casual setting since if any of my characters died (before I acquired the Turnwheel), I just turned the game off and restarted from my last save.  So why play it on classic then?  Because I had thought that, as is the case with FFT, that you could hire new mercenaries/soldiers as the story progressed, but that is not the case as every character you acquire is a named character, although not as important as either Alm or Celica.  This created a very real possibility of having too many characters die throughout the game to the point that it might be impossible (especially against those bastards who summon witches, dread fighter, and necrodragons; bastards).  So without the possibility of rebuilding up your fallen ranks, I decided that I would rather exit out of a dire situation rather than be frustrated in the late game.

Continuing with characters dying, I felt a little odd with Alm and Celica in battles since if they die, then there is no option to use the Turnwheel, your game just straight up ends.  And in some battles which required well over an hour of your time (at least the way I played because I am certainly going to use my archers to their fullest), the last thing I want to happen (which did happen a few times) was to have Alm or Celica die and then have to restart from before the battle started.  It was just mentally exhausting to play upwards of 45 minutes in a single battle only to have a few enemies spam attack Alm or Celica with critical hits and your game is over because you want your protagonists to be proactive and not lead from behind.  So there ended up being a number of battles where both Alm and Celica just hung out in the back until I knew that there was no way any one was going to die.  Cheap, but that's the way you have it.

In the end though, I did end up sacrificing three characters during the last battle (which I had my own issues with when it happened in that you were unable to pick who you wanted from Celica's party to join in, but whomever you had when you finished Duma Tower; annoyed partly because they were at a lower level than the rest of Alm's party) because they managed to draw attacks away from Alm or other characters who were more important during that battle.  It was pretty sad to see Valbar, Lukas, and Palla die, more so when during the credits you are told what happens to them after the events of the game.  Really I was the saddest, and at the same time happiest in a sad sort of way, when Valbar died.  I'm going to miss that lovable lug.

Which now brings me to the end of the game.  As I said, after you complete the game, you are told what happens to the characters later in their lives.  Then, you are able to play a post-game series of battles that. . .continue their story?  What is kind of annoying (in the petty sort of way), is that you are told what happens to everyone who survived the last battle (like two characters getting married and having lots of kids), but what if one of those characters then dies during the post game missions?  I guess it negates the epilogue, which is the easiest answer.

One aspect of the game that I really liked, although I felt it could have added implementations was being able to pause the short fight scenes between characters, which then rotated the camera around the paused action.  Coupled with the well done 3D effects made battles fun to watch as well.  What would have made this better, is if you had been able to take pictures, otherwise you have an event that you just look at for a few seconds before continuing on with the rest of the battle. 

My biggest criticism of the game is something that confuses even me a bit.  I felt that the story ended too quickly, despite it taking me 73 hours to beat.  Everything just seemed too straight forward for the most part.  You need to stop Rigel's invasion of Zofia, so you do that.  Celica needs to find out what happened to Mila and later rescue her at Duma Tower.  I think what I was expecting was a deeper story along the lines of Final Fantasy Tactics or A Song of Ice & Fire, and what I got instead was The Legend of Zelda or The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.  And there is nothing wrong with either of those stories.  It is just that both have obvious bad guys and good guys, and clear goals that are set out at nearly the beginning of the story.  But even that explanation is overly simplified and does not come across as how I want it to be.  I guess the short of it is that I was a bit underwhelmed that there was not as much character growth as I was hoping.

But damn that was a fun game, for the most part.  I mean, I find it rare that any game is 100% fun, although I did come away from Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia with a such a favorable view of the Fire Emblem series that I am just a little upset.  Except Fire Emblem Warriors on the Switch, cannot say I have a lot of interest in that, but maybe I will just rent it then.


P.S.  And for those of you wanting to know, I decided to have Sonya on my team instead of Deen, mainly because I felt like I could use another mage on my team as opposed to another fighter.  At the time I did not know that that when you had the decision to attack one over the other, I at first decided to attack (and kill) Sonya as I thought that you would have to go up against the other later in the game and a stronger mage would be more difficult than a stronger fighter.  When I found out that the one you did not attack joins your party, I restarted from a previous save so that I could get Sonya.

P.P.S.  And yes, I am starting the end-game quests because why not?  They are there and I do not have another tactics game (except I really do, but not on the 3DS) in my queue.

P.P.P.S.  And yes, I did buy one DLC map pack, the "Rise of the Deliverance" which seemed the most appealing at the time, which I played first before even starting the main game as it said that it took place "shortly before Alm's tale," and y'all know me and chronology.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Movie Review: Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

You know, I do not think I have seen "The Final Cut" of Blade Runner.  I bought "The Director's Cut" close to 17 years ago and that is the only version that I have in my mind when I think of the movie.  I know that the theatrical version has the voice over and a happy ending, but I can't think of what that is, and all that is coming to mind when I think of studio imposed happy endings is Brazil.  With that in mind, I am positive that there is a lot of imagery and meaning that went over my head in The Director's Cut and likewise, enough from Blade Runner 2049 that I missed.  Nevertheless, I am here to talk/ramble on about Blade Runner 2049, or at least attempt to talk about all 164 minutes of Denis Villeneuve's vision of Ridley Scott's vision of characters from Philip K. Dick's "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?"  Basically, I do not find myself competent enough to write a coherent and cohesive commentary on everything that the Blade Runner series has to say about our current and future world.

But moving on.

In short, I very much enjoyed the movie, even though my bladder decided that it had something to say about an hour and-a-half way through (I think, I didn't look at a clock or my phone to confirm the amount of time), to which I proceeded to ignore it until after getting back home.  Yes, BR2049 is a long movie, but only if you are not a fan of long movies to begin with.  It is shorter than The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, and Gettysburg, but 48 minutes longer than the first Blade Runner.  So buckle up.

But um. . .yeah.  I thought Blade Runner 2049 was a pretty damn good movie, considering the legacy it had to live up to, and from my own partially educated mind, I think that Denis Villeneuve and company were able to pull off a sequel 35 years after the original was made.  The cinematography had a very similar feel and sense to remain consistent with the established world.  The music from both Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch at times seemed to be mixed almost too loud and oppressive (which might have been the point the whole time), but still sounded enough like Vangelis' score, but not so much that there was no originality to it.  The characters acted in ways that made sense, taking both films into account.

One sour note on the film, is something that Conklederp brought up a completely valid point with one of the characters, Joi, played by Ana de Armas.  That with Joi, a female character, her only purpose was to highlight the loneliness of K.  Joi's role in the film comes across as very 1940's film noir and that might have been perfectly fine in that era, but one would think that we would have progressed further in roles written for women by 2016.  Although given the recent state of how leading statesmen and heads of entertainment have treated women, it really is not surprising.

No, Blade Runner 2049 was not a perfect movie (what is these days?), but it was a very good science fiction film that was perfectly paced, mostly well written, and one that I will undoubtedly add next to my copy of Blade Runner: The Director's Cut when it is released, probably in early 2018.


P.S.  Only semi-sorry for the hack-job that this article turned out to be, but hey, that's why they pay me the big bucks.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

MIDI Week Singles: "Mansion Room" - Uninvited (NES)

"Mansion Room" from Uninvited on the Nintendo Entertainment System (1991)
Composer: Hiroyuki Masuno
Album: No Official Release

First off, a few points.

First, because there was no official release of a soundtrack for Uninvited, I have decided to stick with the community "Mansion Room" for the title of this song.  Secondly, from what I have read online, there was no soundtrack in 1986 Mac or the 1987 MSDOS versions of the game, before it was ported to the Famicom in 1989 and finally to the NES in 1991.

What better music to choose from a horror video game than one from a game that takes place in a haunted house!?  And despite this being a game that takes place in a haunted house, a lot of the music that Hiroyuki Masuno composed for the game (the same composer for Shadowgate on the NES as well) is rather upbeat.  Perhaps because this song also sounds so much like a lot of the music in Shadowgate is the reason that I am drawn to it, and honestly, I probably could not tell you that this was from Uninvited if you were to stick it in with the rest of the Shadowgate soundtrack.  And for that matter, I do not remember the last time I played Uninvited, which was probably back in the late 1990's.

So while this may not be the most haunting music to ever come out of a haunted house game on the NES, it is the most appropriate that I was drawn to from Uninvited.  And since the music changes frequently enough while wandering/searching between rooms in the mansion, it does serve its purpose pretty well in that vain.  Plus, it is a pretty damn catchy song.


Friday, October 6, 2017

Movie Review: XX

Conklederp and I enjoy short stories to the point that that is our go to form of story telling if we are not watching movies.  Stories by H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe, Algernon Blackwood, Clark Ashton Smith, and Arthur Machen have been what I read at night for close to six years now before going to sleep.  We are also both big fans of the Lore podcast which is essentially a non-fiction short story about something creepy that has happened somewhere in the world.  Every so often we will put on an episode of The Twilight Zone that we may have not already seen and had we not already finished Alfred Hitchcock Presents, we would be watching that series as well; wait, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour!?

This still does not do the movie any favors, but that is really beyond the point.  
The point is, horror short stories is a medium that we both love to consume.  So the other night while perusing the new releases on Netflix, we came across a movie I had recently added to our list.  The description of XX on Netflix says that it is a ". . . four-part anthology of short horror films featur[ing] stories that include some traditional themes but all are shown from a female point of view."  The poster for the film has the tagline, "Four deadly tales by four killer women."  And if you were to read a majority of the reviews over at IMDb, you might think that this movie would constitute a pass, if only because of how the film was advertised as being female-centric.  Or because each short felt more like a pitch that was not good enough to be made into a feature length film and instead was turned into a short.  Or because a director ruined your favorite Jack Ketchum story.  For Conklederp and myself, XX was a pretty great collection of four horror shorts that surprised us in that the thumbnail up on Netflix was not very promising; see above.

Now, I could easily make this post about four times as long as it is going to be since each short film has its own writer(s), director, composer, actor, and in the case of "The Box," different production companies.  Listing each short would be too time consuming for me and this article would be in limbo for a long time as I tried to do a better job of explaining the characters, story elements, and other various aspects that I have no right to critique beyond someone who enjoys movies.

One criticism that amused me was in regards to the second short, "The Birthday Party." This person was upset that "The Birthday Party" was no so much a horror story as it was a dark comedy, which was St. Vincent's intent as she apparently is not a fan of traditional horror movies.  I thought that "The Birthday Party" worked very well on its own though,  not enough meat for an entire movie perhaps, but that is not the point of shorts.  Could these stories been better?  Maybe.  Could these shorts been better had they been directed by men as apparently a portion of the IMDb reviewers are a few words away from directly stating?  I am not even going to answer that one, silly bastards.

In short (eh!?), if watching horror stories the likes of Tales from the Dark Side, Tales from the Crypt, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Twilight Zone, or even Goosebumps is your thing, then there is a pretty good chance that there will be at least one of the stories in XX that will entertain you.  And if not, they are short and then you are able to move on to the next one.


P.S.  The film has an 'in memory of' to Antonia Bird, the director of Ravenous.  I was sad to learn that she had passed away four years ago as I would have loved to have seen another horror movie from her.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

MIDI Week Singles: "Bats" - Conker: Live & Reloaded (XB)

"Bats" from Conker: Live & Reloaded on the Xbox (2005)
Composer: Robin Beanland
Developer: Rare

This, being the first MIDI Week Singles article for October, I wanted to go the similar route as in previous years and try to pull songs either from horror games, or songs that evoked some sense of horror or general scariness.  Having only played Conker's Bad Fur Day on the N64 back in 2001, I will say that the event that this music is from is neither scary, nor would I classify it as horror either.  It is mainly a parody of Bram Stoker's Dracula to some extent, and an anthropomorphized squirrel who has been turned into a bad who must collect other anthropomorphized squirrel villagers and drop them into a giant meat grinder which ends up over feeding Squirrel Dracula (a la Count Batula).  

So does this fit my self-imposed criteria?  It might, but the point is, "Bats" is one of my favorite cues that Robin Beanland wrote for Conker's Bad Fur Day and was brilliantly improved upon in the 2005 Xbox release of Conker: Live & Reloaded, which I admittedly have never played.  When C:L&R was released in 2005, I was quick to pick up the soundtrack as I missed picking it up when it was released/offered when CBFD was originally released.  And like in-game, of which I replayed that stage a few times just to listen to the music, "Bats" is one of my favorite tracks from that album.  


Monday, October 2, 2017

Monthly Update: October 2017

Now that September is over, the rest of the year is going to fly by faster than the Super Nintendo Classic off of store shelves.  Or maybe not because it definitely seems that, while still a very hot commodity, at least Nintendo learned from the NES Classic fiasco and supplied retailers with a larger stock than last year.  Still not enough, especially for normal people who either have school-aged children or work early in the mornings.  But the word/rumor is that restocks are going to be happening throughout the rest of the year, so my advice would be to talk to store staff (Target, Best Buy, Gamestop,. . . and Shmall-Schmart too I guess), find out when shipments might be arriving and frequent those stores as opposed to looking online, which was my downfall with the NES Classic.  I also acknowledge my hypocritical approach since I'm not one to talk to store staff if I can help it.

In other gaming news, I am, against harsh judgement from a large cross-section of the Internet, excited for the Switch port of both Doom and Wolfenstein II from Bethesda and ID Software.  And even The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim too.  Odin knows my laptop cannot handle high settings for Skyrim: Enhanced Edition, or even the lowest settings for Doom, and I would like to support 3rd party publishers on the Switch.

On the 3DS, I just finished Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia, which will most likely have its own Game EXP or Game Review article within the next week.  In short, I feel that I could now be a Fire Emblem fan for life, but only if we are talking about tactics games as opposed to the "Warriors" style of mass infantry combat games; I have not played one, but from what I have seen, they do not seem like my kind of jam.  I also finished Chicken Wiggle, which I have previously talked about.  I was also briefly wondering which 3DS game to start and then I remembered that I hadn't finished the DS port of Chrono Trigger, so it looks like I'm going back to save the world.  Again.

And speaking of great mid-90's JRPGs, I unintentionally started Final Fantasy III on the Super NES Classic over the weekend and have already put in just over six hours.  For those of you at home who want to know, I am building up Gau's skills on the Veldt after playing through Locke and Terra's stories.  Also contextually, Sabin does not yet have Fire Dance and I am 8 EXP away from 15, but you know, the Veldt.  Sigh.  But as for the 20 other games, I have dabbled a bit with each one except Earthbound and Secret of Mana as I think I can really only deal with one massive RPG at a time. . . except I am wandering through the city of Baldur's Gate in Baldur's Gate right now/still on the PC, so there is that.  And I guess I did restart Diablo II, and am still ocassionally playing The Elder Scrolls Online, Path of Exile, and I still have to finish The Shimmering Isles expansion in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. . .I don't have a problem, you have a problem!!

Dungeons & Dragons continues to elude our PNW contingent, although that is mainly my own fault of failing to organize the group, but as I already talked about this last month, I shan't continue further.

In the realm of movies, we saw The Dark Tower, and IT in September, but as for October, I cannot think of anything off the top of my mind that is coming out.  Whoops, I lied.  Blade Runner 2049 is coming out on Friday!  And I may have to see The Mountain Between Us alone as it involves a plane.  And I would still very much like to see Mother!, if only because I really enjoy Darren Aronofsky.  And The Snowman comes out in the end of the month and I do like me some Michael Fassbender.

Maybe because it is Monday, or the beginning of a new month, or some other brainial-bit that continues to elude me, but I feel like there was something else that was worth mentioning that I have failed to bring up.  Ah well, when it hits me, I will be sure to tuck it away and promptly forget about it for November's Monthly Update.

Purge the Mind

Friday, September 29, 2017

Super Nintendo Entertainment System Classic Edition

Believe it or not, I had another article lined up for today, but as I count myself lucky enough to have arrived at a Target this morning (at 5:15 AM, later than some, but people were arriving as late as 6:58 AM) that had more Super Nintendo Classics than people in line (about 70+ people and the word was that there were 140 units in stock), I cannot really do anything else than gush about this tiny little box.

But you know what, there have been dozens of reviews of the system that include written articles and review videos so I do not see the need to jump into that ever deepening pool.  Since I arrived back home at about 7:20 AM, I have tooled around a bit with system and overall I am just as excited as I was when the system was announced.

I might be in the minority in saying that I actually prefer the North American SNES over the PAL Super Famicom version, mainly because this was the version of the console that I grew up with.  And isn't one of the main points of the SNES Classic is to feed that nostalgia bug?  I know some people find the shape of the original SNES to be rather ugly and not as aesthetically pleasing as the Super Famicom.  Grey and purple, how is that attractive?  I personally think it looks just fine and was super giddy when I found out that the power and reset slider switches had the same function as the original SNES.  A little sad that the eject button didn't depress at all, but that does not really bother me.

As far as the software goes, I love that you have the option for display styles, being an old CRT filter that brings back the visual aesthetic of the 1990's.  I do kind of wish that there was a way to switch the filters between the CRT, 4:3 ratio, or the pixel perfect filter on a whim (use for the eject button!).  I also found out that in order to play Star Fox 2, you have to play and beat the first stage in Star Fox.  Finding this out almost made me want the system to have games locked behind being able to complete something else, similar to how games were unlocked in Ultimate NES Remix, but I fully understand the reason why this decision was not made.

Looking over the 21 titles that are included, I have played 13 and owned eight.  Out of all of the games, the only genre that I would have liked to have seen was a puzzler such as Tetris Attack, or Tetris & Dr. Mario.  Had either of those games been included I most definitely would have found a way to buy two units and given one to my Mom who can school most people at either of the two aforementioned games.  But Panel de Pon, the original game that acquired a Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's World skin and Tetris name was included in the PAL edition.  The only other game in the PAL version that I would have wished had been included in the NA edition is Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem.  And I know that a lot of people have lamented the exclusion of Chrono Trigger, which I can understand and I would have preferred that to Kirby's Dream Course.  But all-in-all, I am still very happy with the selection of games (although I do agree with 80% of Polygon's article for games they wished had been included).

The only other aspect of this little plastic gem I feel compelled to write about is the controller, which I was a little concerned about.  From what I can tell, the controller is just about the same size and feel of the original SNES controller.  The buttons are responsive, the directional button is not clicky.  The only thing that does not seem 100% right, is the texture of the plastic used, but if that is my only critique then I do not really see a problem.

All in all, and so far, I have no regrets about having spent the MSRP for this unit.  Now Conklederp and I have to wait until 2018 when the NES Classic goes back into production.

But in the meantime, I am going to go enjoy some Final Fantasy III, because Odin knows I haven't beaten that game enough already.

Now the Victory is Sweet

P.S.  And yes, I will still hold reset while I turn the power off.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

MIDI Week Singles: "Spark Mandrill Stage" - Mega Max X (SNES)

"Spark Mandrill Stage" from  Mega Man X on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (1993)
Composer: Setsuo Yamamoto
Developer: Capcom

With the upcoming release of the Super NES Classic (as in two days from today), I thought pulling a song from one of the 21 featured games would go over well.  This song in particular also mentally popped up when someone over on teh reddits mentioned the music from Mega Man X and the music from Spark Mandrill's stage was the first song that popped into my head.  Admittedly though, it is not as ingrained as most of the music from Mega Man 2, but that music is just hard to beat.

To me, next to "Opening Stage" which plays during the prologue, "Spark Mandrill Stage" sounds not only like a quintessential melody from a Mega Man game, but music that was created on Nintendo's new 8 channel ADPCM audio chip.  To me it just sounds like what a Super Nintendo should sound like just by looking at the console and game box.


P.S.  That drum break though.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

MIDI Week Singles: "End of the Night" - Darkwood (PC)

"End of the Night" from  Darkwood on the PC (2017)
Composer: Artur Kordas
Album: Darkwood
Developer: Acid Wizard Studio

I fully recognize that this is not so much a song as it is a chord that is held out for nearly a minute, but in Darkwood, I am able to breath a massive sigh of relief whenever this contextual track comes up.

Darkwood kinda plays like a stereotypical horror movie, think Evil Dead, in that during daylight, you are protected from being attacked by anything besides potentially broken people and coyotes (at least those are the options for me where I am currently at in the game).  The house I call home is safe when the sun is up.  When the sun goes down, I have witnessed doors opening on their own, people appearing on the bed and weeping about their losses, deranged humanoids climbing through windows to attack after lighting flares outside the window, and even non-corporeal apparitions flying through boarded up windows.  As the night ends, the first sign of dawn is not the red light of the sun, but the rising tones of "End of the Night," and it is at this point that I am able to finally relax.  At least for a few seconds before I have to go back out into the woods to explore, and wait for it to happen all over again when the sun begins to set.


Friday, September 15, 2017

Game EXP: Chicken Wiggle (3DS)

Disclosure:  I reached out to Jools Watsham at Atooi on Monday September 11th, 2017 when he offered free download codes for his recent Nintendo 3DS game, Chicken Wiggle, to reviewers on non-specific gaming sites.  That same morning, I received a download code, free of charge with no caveats about how the game would be reviewed, nor was a positive review of Chicken Wiggle promised or inferred in exchange for the provided code.  After receiving the code, I did write that I would post an article reviewing Chicken Wiggle in a given time frame, but that was of my own volition.

I also wanted to add that all of the screen shots I used in today's article were taken from the "Chicken Wiggle: Stage 1-6" and the "Chicken Wiggle: Play Create Share" videos up on Jools Watsham's YouTube channel because I wanted to use pictures that were not taken with the crappy camera on my phone.

On with the show!

Chicken Wiggle, the most recent game from Jools Watsham over at Atooi, a 16 bit styled puzzle platformer from the same mind that created Mutand Mudds, (and Mutant Mudds Super Challenge), Bomb Monkey, Xeodrifter, Totes the Goat, and the soon to be released Treasurenauts.  If you have played any of these games on any one of the platforms they have been released on, you will immediately recognize the visual aesthetic.  If you are unfamiliar with Jools Watsham, Atooi, or any of the aforementioned games, I suggest checking out one of the trailers on YouTube.

All of that being said, I have currently made my way through the first three worlds (called Towers as there is a fair amount of vertical climbing), have tooled around with the Mario Maker styled level designer, have shared two levels online, and have played/downloaded a couple of custom levels.  There is a lot to do here!

First off though, one of the things that I love about this game, is that there is no emphasis on high score, or fastest time.  There is no timer that ticks down, or additional points for killing more enemies.  All of the stages I have played have consisted of getting to the end to free one of your captured friends, and you are welcome to take as long as you want.  There are diamonds to collect that are scattered throughout the stage although they are typically arranged to function like a path to follow.  There are also the letters F, U, and N that are usually hidden to some degree, often with very little if any clue as to where there is an invisible wall ahead, which I do appreciate.  And the reward for finding all 100 diamonds and spelling FUN?  You get a star, and extra gold shine on the stage button after you finish.  The completionist in me is having a blast, and somewhat thankful that I do not have to do it all within a certain time or with enough points to earn those often coveted three stars; looking at you Angry Birds!

The meat of Chicken Wiggle, and where I have spent most of my time has been playing through the pre-created stages.  What I have loved so far, is how tight and precise the game-play and controls are, similar to Super Meat Boy, but without the aggravating precision that is often required.  In Chicken Wiggle, you have two forms of attacking, the first using your worm friend (Wiggle?) as a whip which can stun enemies and stretches up to four "squares" across the screen, and the second being your (Chicken?) peck attack, which reaches only 2-3 pixels beyond your chicken sprite's little beak.  And in classic Mega Man fashion, a lot of the stages are filled with spikes.  Spikes that will kill you without a second glance if just one of your fluffy yellow pixels comes in contact with their spikiness.

I could probably use the rest of the article to talk about various aspects of the stages that have been a lot of fun.  Everything from the challenge of the stages, to the enemies and their locked-in patterns, and the bonus outfits that you equip which give you different skills for that one stage.  But since there is more to Chicken Wiggle than just the story mode experience, moving on is a necessity.

The second part of the game is the aforementioned Mario Maker type creation kit that allows you to create your own stages.  When you start out, every single item and enemy in the game is available to you and I was at first a little disappointed that there was not anything to unlock, as well as a little overwhelmed by all of my options right off the bat.  When I started, I had already completed the first tower area so I recognized a number of the items, monsters and blocks, but there were still things that I was confused by, and this is where I feel that the game made a great choice.  While you are able to use any item you want, knowing how to use them well really comes with experience in the game.  I have managed to create two levels that I uploaded to the online server (see the third and final section below) titled "Follow Me!" which is a traditional yet easy Chicken Wiggle type level, and "Sort Of 1-1" where I tried to create an homage to World 1-1 in Super Mario Bros.  Something that I really like about how this creator studio works, is that in order to post your stage for others to play, you have to complete the stage.  Every diamond you put down, every F, U, and N you place, you have to pick up.  If your stage requires you to kill all the monsters, you have to do that too before your creation can be uploaded.  

The final aspect of the game is the sharing of said stages, which is directly related to the creator studio from the previous section.  My biggest fear with attempting to play creations from other players is the same as playing stages from people in Mario Maker.  There are going to be, and there are, plenty of stages that are just downright difficult, or have a great concept (the Pac-Man stage started out fun), but they lack the polish of someone who has created something to be fun.  For instance, in a lot of the main story stages, there is a checkpoint right at the point where you feel that if you died, you would be upset and annoyed if you had to start all over.  Knowing that distance between creating a fun challenge and deciding that your stage is only going to be about challenge comes with experience and, I would assume, having to deal with people who actually pay money for your product and the desire to please your customers.  

The music is something that I initially wrote off, especially during the first area Cloud Tower.  It was a little bland and uninteresting for my taste, or maybe I was expecting something as catchy as "World 1-1" from Mutant Mudds.  But by Treetop Tower, I felt like the music had hit its stride and was a better fit for the action on the screen.  Even the background music during the creation stage is entertaining and fitting for having to make minuscule yet necessary touches to fine tune your own level.  I may end up covering one of these in an upcoming MIDI Week Singles article.

At this point you might be thinking that the receiving of the game has clouded my judgement of Chicken Wiggle.  Like, "where are all the bad things about the game?"  Honestly, for what the game promises, it really delivers.  I do not feel that there is a whole lot of innovation if as you play the main game as a puzzle platformer.  As a level designer, there is not a lot here that was not already seen in some aspect in Mario Maker.  But these two combined create a great gaming experience.  After only playing for a few hours last Monday, I was questioning if my niece Flan had a 3DS so that I could buy her a copy as the difficulty level would be perfect for an 11 year old.  It may not be the easiest experience, but hey, I was beating Super Mario Bros. 1 and 2 by the time I was 9.  

Now that I think about it, I guess the one negative thing I have to say is that there is not a lot of replay value once you have completed a stage if you already have found all 100 diamonds and spelled out FUN.  But because there are official developer created stages and a mound of community created stages to sift through, as long as Atooi's online servers are active, Chicken Wiggle may never run out of content.

Playing With Our Lives

P.S.  Once again, super uber thank you to Jools Watsham and Atooi for the complimentary copy of Chicken Wiggle, which allowed me to play and review the game for our site much earlier than I would have been able to do.

P.P.S.  It should be noted that from yesterday (September 14th) through next Thursday (September 21), Chicken Wiggle is 33% off it's regular price.  I wasn't prompted to mention this because of the free game, I just really like the games that Jools / Atooi develop so why not mention it?

P.P.P.S.  In all of the interviews that I have watched/read in recent weeks, I did not come across anything that mentioned Banjo-Kazooie.  For me, this was the first thing I thought of when I saw game play videos of Chicken Wiggle.  Both games have a protagonist who carries a friend around in a backpack while on the trail of an evil witch.  To me the those similarities are very obvious, but they come across more of an homage, be it intentional or not, than an attempt to capitalize on the nostalgia of 1998.  Had Rare made a 16 bit side scrolling Banjo-Kazooie entry, it very well could have looked and felt a lot like Chicken Wiggle.

P.P.P.P.S.  In case anyone was wondering, the download size for Chicken Wiggle is 280 Blocks, which translates to 35 MB in real world memory size.