Probably the quintessential example of a cult classic in the video game industry, at least here in the United States, the Super Nintendo RPG EarthBound had an underwhelming debut when Nintendo released it June 5, 1995. The SNES was reaching the end of its commercial lifecycle, and RPGs on the system had matured to include ever more complex gameplay systems and grandiose visuals. Heck, the Sega Saturn had released a month prior, Sony’s PlayStation was on the horizon, and Nintendo was already discussing the next generation Ultra 64 publicly, so it seemed 2D graphics were on their way out. Yet here comes this simplistic looking game based in a reality not unlike our own instead of an imaginative fantasy or sci-fi backdrop. Similarly, the plain combat system could’ve been considered a throwback, even then. But, there was an audience for the game, and in the years since its debut, that audience has grown into a thriving fandom. Now that I’ve experienced firsthand the charming, unique adventure that EarthBound offers, a fandom so vibrant is well deserved, I’d say. Continue reading EarthBound [Super Nintendo] – Review→
So, remember earlier this year when I began my Xenoblade Chronicles review talking about how I no longer had the time for lengthy RPGs? Well… apparently I do. Three months and 125 hours later, I’m finally done playing that game’s sequel, Xenoblade Chronicles X. Originally published in Japan by Nintendo on April 29, 2015, Monolith Soft’s Wii U follow-up arrived in the west half a year later, on December 4, 2015. Featuring no narrative continuity with its predecessor, this entry recounted humanity’s survival on an alien planet following the destruction of Earth. In nearly every way, the developer’s improved upon and expanded the systems they introduced in the previous game, making for an incredibly deep, and fulfilling experience. Continue reading Xenoblade Chronicles X [Wii U] – Review→
A spin-off of 2013’s Super Mario 3D World, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker released the following year and expanded upon a series of one-off stages featured in that game. Designed around Captain Toad’s inability to jump and thereby defeat enemies in a traditional Mario way, each stage allowed the designers behind the Mario games to flex their creative muscles within strict gameplay confines. Impressively, they managed to do so across nearly 80 distinct stages, rarely reusing puzzle conceits. Consistently refreshing and stimulating, it was a joy to play. Continue reading Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker [Wii U] – Review→
When you have a video game collection like mine, it can be hard to play all of the games. This is especially true when additions are made on an almost weekly basis. Still, I appreciate nearly every game I’ve accumulated for this reason or that. In the hopes of improving my writing through continuous effort and promoting ongoing learning of these games, I’m going to compose brief, descriptive articles.
Shortly after getting a Wii U this summer, Target ran a promotion on Wii U games – buy 2, get 1 free. At the behest of my friend, I chose this game in one of the transactions. What a smart choice! After taking a hiatus from the series since the first game, I was wowed by the improvements that had been made to the core mechanics. We sat down with this game for extended sessions, and while the progression was much improved from the first game, so too were the creation options. Our sessions devolved into creating random combinations of items/creatures and watching the world react to them. We have yet to actually complete the game, but the enjoyment we’ve eked out of it is hard to top.
Scribblenauts: Unlimited was developed by 5th Cell and is the product of Jeremiah Slaczka, one of the studio’s cofounders and its CEO and creative director. It was published by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment. It was released on the Wii U and 3DS in North America on November 13, 2012, and came out on the PC a week later – November 19, 2012. Curiously, this game was published by Nintendo in Europe, excluding the PC version.
Bayonetta 2 was released for the Wii U a few weeks ago and it follows up 2010’s Bayonettain spectacular fashion. Platinum Games refined the formula of the original and managed to top it in every way imaginable. During the course of my playthrough, it was apparent that I was enjoying my time with it considerably more than I did with the original. For a while it was hard for me to determine how much of that was attributable to the knowledge of the gameplay systems I carried over from my recent playthrough of the original. It was definitely a factor, but this game had enough chutzpah to keep me entertained for its duration. Continue reading Bayonetta 2 [Wii U] – Review→
Bayonetta 2 looks nuts. I’m dying to play it, especially after reading Kotaku’s month-long coverage of it in the period between its Japanese and North American launches. Before jumping into it though, I had to familiarize myself with its predecessor. Thankfully Nintendo, Sega, and Platinum Games thought ahead and bundled the 2010 original with the sequel. I’m woeful to admit that I didn’t play Bayonetta when it originally released. Or even years later, when I’d see copies at GameStop for less than ten dollars. That’s not to say I wasn’t a fan of it from the moment it was announced. It was developed by Platinum Games after all.
The studio has been one of my favorite game developers since their 2006 inception. I feel this way because the studio’s spiritual predecessor (Clover Studio) was also on that list. Together they’ve created so many stellar games, including, Vanquish– easily one of my favorite action games of all time. It’s easy to laud the work the studio and its creators have architected. Well, maybe The Legend of Korra excluded, but that’s a budget licensed title… So, of course I was ready to play Bayonetta when I purchased it two Fridays ago, and the game was quick to set the hook.
Opening in a graveyard, the camera weaves around tombstones engraved with the introductory credits. Eventually, director Hideki Kamiya’s is reached, and it’s unfortunately being urinated on by Bayonetta’s stubby Joe Pesci-like partner, Enzo. She’s performing burial rites for a colleague, in the process summoning a group of atrocious angels. As they descend to Earth, her tough man acquaintance Rodin is resurrected and she begins wailing on the monsters while an extremely candy-coated, techno-infused version of a 1950s jazz standard plays in the background. In the process, Enzo flails around and Rodin tosses her ludicrous amounts of handguns which she burns through in a comical sequence.
I knew to expect this type of zaniness and there was a lot of it, but the game didn’t maintain this spirit 24/7. There was a long stretch where I wasn’t fully compelled to continue on. I was partially turned off by lackluster rising action and a dearth of interesting set pieces. For what seemed like hours after the mind-boggling introduction, there was little narrative development. As she suffered from amnesia, the game was mostly about Bayonetta searching for who she was. Three more characters were introduced during this middle period (Jeanna, Luka, and Cereza), but the storytelling focus turned heavily towards textbooks that illustrated the background history on the setting and characters. This wasn’t always pertinent information to her quest.
On top of that, I was struggling with the combat system. I wasn’t to the point where I was going to rage quit, but I definitely had the rage. There were many reasons for this. Firstly, dodging just before being attacked triggered Witch Time. This slowed down the enemies and was absolutely crucial. When I battled groups of enemies, my focus couldn’t remain on a single enemy and as a result, I couldn’t activate Witch Time consistently. I’d get a beating for being unable to do so. Secondly, I couldn’t jell with the combo system. I played this game for hours and relied almost entirely on mashing the punch button. In this regard, I damned myself by not experimenting more, but the game seemed so harsh, as if it was punishing me for doing so. I went so far as to purchase a Wii U Pro Controller, thinking it may alleviate some of my issues.
Eventually though, I began to figure it out. That process began by learning to use healing items. My perception of the game’s difficulty was lessened because of this. It proved to be a huge boon too, as dying over and over had become incredibly demoralizing and rage inducing. Likewise, I saved up enough money to buy a few accessories from Rodin. Two in particular were very helpful. The first activated Witch Time whenever Bayonetta was struck, allowing me the opportunity to retaliate in a big way. The second was a great defensive item. If I pushed the analog stick in the direction of an enemy as it attacked Bayonetta, she would counter. This helped prevent enemies from breaking combos and allowed me to set the pace of fights – not the enemies.
At the same time, the characters were developing more and the narrative was coming together. Luka, and Cereza’s contributions to Bayonetta’s story had become clearer and they became more than just a quick cutscene distraction here and there. She had also regained full understanding of who she was and how she interfaced with her doppelganger, Jeanne. The boss fights were stacked towards the end too. Boss fights were always enormous set piece affairs, one of the game’s highlights, but they were fairly infrequent during the meat of the game. With the characters and narrative coming together and having finally figured out how to enjoy the game, I did.
Bayonetta had a stringent three act format in my experience. Not just in the narrative. I’m able to easily look back and chart my enjoyment into three sections. In the beginning, I was awestruck and intrigued. Well into Bayonetta’s quest for self, my interest had waned as the story was failing to captivate me entirely and the combat was growing frustrating. However, everything turned around as I began to take advantage of all that was available to me and as the story components were falling into place. My time wasn’t entirely enjoyable, but honestly, I made the game harder than it should’ve been. At this point though, I’ve familiarized myself with the concepts and implementations and will be able to take that knowledge with me as I begin Bayonetta 2. I think I’ve died enough to play it.
It’d be easy to begin this article lamenting the fact that I’m a video game fan living in the Midwest. The truth is though, there are plenty of homespun conventions in the area, a lot of locally owned game stores, and many, many fans to socialize with. Still, whenever an event is announced near our area, my friend and I make a point to attend. When my friend learned that Sega’s annual Sonic the Hedgehog fan event, Sonic Boom, was to be held in St. Louis, Missouri, it was a no-brainer for us. From Tulsa, Oklahoma it’s a six-hour drive and we had traveled to St. Louis a few years earlier and always wanted an excuse to return.
Sonic Boom 2013 was held at The Pageant, located in a hip area of St. Louis full of boutique eateries and hookah bars. The doors opened at 5pm and the event began at 6pm. We arrived about 5:45 and grabbed our goodie bags promptly. We received a gray t-shirt with the St. Louis skyline behind the Sonic Boom 2013 logo, an event-specific Chao bobble head, and a lanyard plastered with Sonic Lost World imagery. Upon full entrance to the venue, we were bombarded with hundreds of fans decked out in Sonic-affiliated clothing and costumes. Demo kiosks for the Wii U and 3DS versions of Sonic Lost World lined the east and west walls alongside buffets containing various foods.
Before the event began in earnest (and during parts of it), my friend and I spent a considerable amount of time StreetPassing with dozens of other 3DS owners. We initially waited in a line for the Wii U version of Sonic Lost World but turned our attention to the stage when Jun Senoue began shredding on his custom Sonic-themed guitar. After fifteen minutes flying solo, Johnny Gioeli entered the act and completed the group known as Crush 40. Together they’ve composed many songs for the series, especially Sonic Adventure forwards. Jun’s work is reminiscent of American hard rock circa the 1980s while Johnny’s lyrics are happy-go-lucky and kind of don’t fit but totally do in a Mighty Morphin Power Rangers sort of way.
During the latter half of their hour-long performance, my friend and I tried out the Wii U version of Sonic Lost World. With no lines, it was no sweat getting a chance. The game was vibrant, colorful, and controlled well. Sonic zoomed around the stages as I propelled him forward, jumping about avoiding and defeating enemies and collecting rings. I was satisfied after playing the three of four stages included in the demo but wasn’t sold. It honestly had more to do with my lack of experience with the Wii U controller than the game itself, which seemed pretty good.
The 3DS version on the other hand, that was a solid game. Both my friend and I concluded that we’d probably get that when it releases in October. It’s being developed by Dimps rather than Sonic Team although the games both look and play identically. Again, I was impressed with the visual quality, especially since the action was shrunk down to a smaller screen. I had more fun with this version, but that’s probably due to my comfortableness with the system.
After Crush 40’s performance, there was an hour-long Q&A session with Takashi Iizuka and Kazuyuki Hoshino. The former is the current head of Sonic Team while the latter is a primary artist for the developer. Both have been with Sega and Sonic Team for twenty-plus years and spoke through a translator. This section was comical thanks to their funny insights on the minutiae of series. They did answer meaningful questions as well. Hoshino-san in particular received many questions regarding his two most popular characters: Metal Sonic and Amy Rose.
Moving ahead swiftly was a costume contest that saw about two-dozen fans’ participation. Each had time to show off their craft during a brief Q&A session with the host. There were a handful of individuals who put a lot of work into their costumes as can be seen in the attached pictures. Of the many highlights, my favorite was probably a kid who when asked how old he was responded s-s-s-s-s-s-eight. This garnered a chorus of laughs from the audience. Following this portion was a trivia contest that pitted two teams of three against each other. The questions ranged from novice trivia that most video game fans would know to obscure knowledge that only the hardest of the hardcore Sonic fans would know.
The event was concluded with a bit of news in the form of the English-language release of a cutscene from Sonic Lost World. My friend and I hung around a bit, thanking members of Sega for bringing the event to the Midwest. He lucked out and received Jun Senoue’s autograph while I shook Johnny Gioeli’s hand. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention meeting a swell guy named Heath Aldrich. We had a lengthy conversation about many things video games as well as podcasting and running blogs. You can find his (and his cohorts’) at firstworldpodcast.blogspot.com. They’re forty episodes deep into their podcast and I know I’ll begin listening soon.
Sonic Boom 2013 was a blast. Seeing so many euphoric fans enjoying themselves makes me want to revisit the series and fall in love the series. Kids, teenagers, and adults were all enjoying themselves and oftentimes, going nuts with joy. Personally, I’m going to go back and play hordes of Sonic games to reacquaint myself with the series. In fact, my friend and I completed Sonic R recently after many fan questions pertaining to the Tails doll’s debut in the Saturn racer/platformer. I hope they’ll return to a nearby area so we can attend again!