Yearning For The Past

Nintendo has made a habit of banking on nostalgia. For the past few years, nearly every single one of their games is firmly rooted in the past. Mario has been refining Super Mario Bros 3 since the New series launched on Wii and Super Smash Bros. is basically a celebration of everything old.

Yoshi’s Woolly World is, essentially, a touched up version of the classic Yoshi’s Island on SNES. Instead of falling head over heals, though, I find myself indifferent. Every chance I get to play the game, I end up bored after 8 levels.

That isn’t to say the game is bad; far from it, actually. It’s a well crafted and hyper polished adventure, but it lacks creativity. It lacks soul; there is no passion and the game coasts along at a lethargic pace.

Is that a bad thing? Honestly, I cannot answer that. For some, the deliberate speed of the game is what makes it enjoyable. My sister finds the game very captivating, despite being easy for her. She loves that nothing is thrown at the player that requires dexterity or mastery of the game mechanics.

As for me, I only seem to find entertainment in the graphics. The game is a sight to behold. Nintendo have truly gotten a grasp on HD graphics and I’m curious to see what the NX might bring to the table. That doesn’t dismiss how humdrum Woolly World is.

It sure is nice looking, though.

All of the cool concepts you remember from Island are in this game, minus Baby Mario. While a lot of people would call that a plus, it’s a huge detractor in my book. Baby Mario was annoying, sure, but he served a purpose; it gave you a goal.

You didn’t want Baby Mario crying because it would drive you up the wall. With him not being a factor, you tend to recklessly fly through the game with no concern for death. Yoshi changes from cautious guardian to senseless traveler.

It really doesn’t help that each boss encounter is phoned in. I haven’t seen a collection of enemies so meaningless in some time, but not a single boss battle in Woolly World is even remotely interesting. They all follow the well established 3-hit formula to a tee. Even the bosses with a cool theme (a shy guy frozen in ice) end up being boring slogs.

Mostly, I end up feeling sad. If I don’t like a game, I tend to get angry and a little rash, but Woolly World just makes me depressed. I want to enjoy it’s cute exterior and finely tuned mechanics, but I can’t sustain interest.

Level 5-6, titled “Up Shuttlethread Pass“, is what really brought this full circle. It’s theme song is immediately nostalgic and evocative while being entirely new. It sounds almost like it is being played on an old phonograph player; I basically picture the entire scene in black and white.

It makes me yearn for my youth. I remember powering up Yoshi’s Island for the first time in 1st grade, sitting in front of my 27-inch RCA CRT and being blown away at how different the game was from Super Mario World.

What was with SNES and sports themed enemies?

There once was a time when Nintendo was willing to take risks with their franchises. Nintendo EAD could have easily churned out another average Mario game and called it a day, but they decided to focus on his new sidekick.

In turn, the entire dynamic of the game changed. No longer was everything based on physicality and secrets; Yoshi had the ability to stock ammo and explore his world without a time limit.

Not wanting to entirely ditch power-ups, Nintendo created a whole new way to experience Mario’s various abilities; transformations. Yoshi was able to become a helicopter and a mole and see a completely unique aspect of the levels.

In addition to that, there were also puzzles involving rolling blocks, hidden coins, soft dirt platforms and fuzzy seeds that intoxicated Yoshi (somehow). It was unlike any game ever released at that point. It’s art style was also wonderfully realized and brought to life with imaginative music.

For a child 7 years old, it was fundamentally like looking into a new world. It grabbed me with it’s cartoony style and kept me hooked with it’s innovation. It expanded my mind to different gameplay; I now didn’t expect the same thing from Mario with each iteration.

Sadly, it seems Nintendo never fully realized what made Yoshi’s Island so special. Each new game has tried mixing up the visual style instead of expanding the mechanics. The closest we’ve ever gotten to a truly progressive sequel was Yoshi’s Island DS. That game worked because it kept the original foundation and tinkered with some changes.

The game feels weird on Wii U. I can’t understand the screens side by side.

Every other title, from the disappointing Yoshi’s Story right up to Yoshi’s New Island, have gone backwards in terms of progression. Instead of trying to find a new way for Yoshi to interact with his surroundings, Nintendo has relied on gimmicks. In New Island, Yoshi has giant eggs; in Woolly World, everything is made of yarn, etc.

Maybe the whole problem with the Yoshi series is that our youth keeps reminding us of how great the idea can be. When given something so different and so well done, it’s hard to ever repeat that success.

Mario has maintained popularity over the years for being so boldly different with each game, up until the New series started coming along. Now, Nintendo could only inject new life into the franchise by handing it over to the players (Super Mario Maker is awesome).

Could Yoshi be saved by the same gamble? I don’t believe so. Yoshi’s Island felt handcrafted and thought-out; not a single level repeats a mechanic to the same extent. Each new element may come out of nowhere, but doesn’t appear out of place stacked next to Yoshi’s repertoire of moves. Level design wasn’t the only aspect that made Yoshi’s Island, unlike how a Mario game can function solely from it’s arenas.

Whatever the cause, I just cannot enjoy Yoshi’s Woolly World. I may love my amiibos to death, but the game doesn’t do anything for me. Well, it does make me sad, but that’s not the best thing to say about a game.

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Bankable Nostalgia (Short Blog)

With the recent release of Puzzle and Dragons Z + Super Mario Bros Edition, I’ve come to a few realizations; Nintendo really isn’t afraid to take risks and nostalgia seems to be their entire M.O. As a matter of fact, the media world, in general, seems obsessed with nostalgia.

Mad Max: Fury Road recently came out. While the film is quite good, I can’t help but feel that releasing 25 years later was the plan all along. I know that can’t be 100% true, but it just seems way too convenient for this film to just now get made, especially after being in development hell for a decent chunk of time.

It seems that we’ve come into an era of “bankable nostalgia”:. Hollywood action films are milking our comic heritage for everything its worth; musicians that should have retired 20 years ago are bringing out new material; game developers (be it indie or triple A) are focusing their talents on re-creating the past.

I’m not sure how long this type of cycle can sustain itself. This clearly isn’t a new idea, but will nostalgia ever run out? For people in my age bracket (21-34), nostalgia is basically what keeps us ticking with tired ideas. Aren’t we a bit young to be feeling such longing for our wonder years?

When does that well run dry? Will we get to a point where a brand new, totally original Mario game will garner a collective shrug because Mario is old hat? How about when Captain America 4 comes out and we’ve just given up on the whole idea?

I guess everything is fine if the creations are all quality. It can never hurt to have an abundance of things you enjoy. I just worry that our favorite hobbies will become insufferable after a litany of similar releases come out.

Mario can only put up with Bowser’s nonsense so many times before calling it quits. This is similar to how all the Resident Evil protagonists can be frightened of zombies for a few games before going guns-blazing at everyone.

Eventually, you need to grow as a character. To mirror humanity, stagnation breeds complacency and complacency breeds contempt. Without creative flair, we may be doomed to walking away from this medium and never looking back.

Then again, I know a few people who have never played a video game or watched a film and still manage to find joy in life. To them, there are other avenues of passion that capture their imaginations. There is even a man in Japan whose sole purpose in life is to make sushi.

I may just be noticing this due to the recent surge of past ideas resurfacing, but I just don’t want to see this wonderful medium turn to dust. I’d also really hate for music to become completely absent from my world. I want new things to happen and original voices to be heard.

Hopefully this “bankable nostalgia” is simply a craze that will fade away. 3D Gaming seemed to die down, so I guess we just need to be patient.

Critical Retrospect

Throughout my middle school years, I was known as a bit of a divisive person. My opinions were very binary and I often described things in short terms. This things sucks or that thing is sweet; it was very basic.

I still knew what I liked and what made things work, but I suppose I lacked the vocabulary to do justice to my critiques. As I grew older, I worked tirelessly to amend that, but I still don’t forget the analysis I gave to older games.

I never saw a real desire to go back and play those games. With the internet taking off and a vast array of gamers bringing hidden gems to light, there was hardly a need to look back and re-think my position on previously detested software.

Then recently, I saw ProJared’s video on Sonic Adventure 2. I’ve long held the opinion that the game was the final nail in the coffin for Sonic, but most gamers disagreed. When the title initially launched, I didn’t own a Dreamcast. My first foray into 3D Sonic was with the Gamecube release.

Y u no start sooner?!

While I was beyond excited to finally get to play this lost treasure, even at the young age of 15 I knew something was awry. I could never quite put my finger on what, but I didn’t hesitate to tell my friends that the game was garbage.

This led to my pals saying that I “hated everything.” Nearly every massively popular game that people were clamoring about I disliked. This misconception about what I found good just didn’t make sense to people around my age.

When you’re young, pretty much anything is exceptional. You look at the world with bright eyes and zero expectations. Everything you encounter is brand new and joyous. For me to rain on people’s parades must have been a total shock.

Seeing ProJared bash that game, though, I felt vindicated. With his more mature eye, he was able to explain exactly what I found so troublesome about Sonic’s 3D forays. Pacing issues, sloppy controls and meaningless character fluff were all mentioned.

When I read the name Sonic, I expect a Sonic game. I didn’t want to bother with Tails, Knuckles, Robotnik or Rouge. Shadow I was willing to accept as he stuck to a similar pattern with Sonic, but even he lacked a lot of imagination.

I smolder with generic rage.

The adventure games focused on being so much more than what fans expected that, in hindsight, they are pretty terrible games. Where as Mario made a successful jump to the third dimension by embracing the spirit of Mario’s character, Sonic failed to take notice of why fans enjoyed the Genesis classics.

Everything was now attitude, pure speed, flashy graphics, warped camera angles and exterior characters. The size of the cast in the first Sonic Adventure is insane. Why would I want to play as 4 other characters who are not Sonic?

As a more mature critic, even I will admit that certain areas of Sonic Adventure 2 aren’t that bad. There is a particular reason everyone remembers the intro to that game and it has nothing to do with it being 3D or novel. That level is exceptionally well made.

Then the rest of the levels try to through new ideas with mechanics that don’t change. Sonic is built for speed, whether his character relies on that or not. Sega didn’t think to give Sonic a speed other than balls to the wall fast.

Even the secondary characters blitz around the maps with reckless abandon. This makes otherwise simple arenas take upwards of half an hour to complete. Couple that with the random elements contained in the Knuckles/Rouge sections and you’ve got a recipe for nonsensical padding.

JUST ONE MORE!

I have no qualms with long games (I often enjoy them), but to needlessly extend the life of a Sonic game doesn’t make sense. If everything really loves the speed aspect of Sonic, why should his game take around 12 hours to finish?

This all started with the Dreamcast adventure games. I love that system, but holy cow did Sega lose their mind. In a last ditch effort to save the company’s console market, they took far too many risks with their beloved franchise. Sonic has never recovered.

I couldn’t voice all of that as a youngster. I don’t even think ProJared was capable back then. As we grow older, it becomes far easier to discern why we gravitate towards certain things. Trends become standard and expectations keep rising. You never want anything in your life to become a lifeless husk.

I just wish I could go back in time and use my knowledge to properly show my friends what I meant. I have that ability now, but being able to really explain my mind would have worked wonders for my depression in high school.

Then again, Sonic is still getting made and crappy movies still exist. Maybe people just won’t listen to someone who doesn’t share similar interests. There is always someone, but the masses eventually win.

Even if that realization is bleak, I mostly was concerned with how my mind has changed. It was fascinating to see ProJared come to the realization that Sonic Adventure 2 is a pretty awful game. It made me feel vindicated.

SUCKAS!

It was also quite a trip to think of how I missed so many obvious flaws. Things I take for granted now were lost on me in my youth. I suppose that is all just a darkly beautiful part of life.

Gaming Thoughts: Nostalgia

Nostalgia is a very powerful force. It can completely distort the past unlike any other thing in the world. Recently, “Duke Nukem Forever” saw the light at the end of the release tunnel and gamers were thrilled. The thing is, we all wanted it for the sake of nostalgia.

While I’m not going to detail my utter disdain for that dreadful title, I would like to go over how frustrated my past with Duke 3D got me over the new game. As awkward as this may sound, I actually played Duke 3D back when it launched in 1997.

At the time, I was 9 years old. My parents were very trusting of my understanding of video games and how they differentiated from real life, so they let me embark on any kind of violent/adult/debauched type of games. Being 9, I never noticed the blood or nudity or cursing, I just liked the game.

A few years back I got to replay Duke 3D on Xbox Live Arcade and I was surprised at how ahead of its time the game was. While there certainly were aspect that hasn’t aged well (I’m looking at you water level), the game really created a sense of atmosphere that most modern games can’t even compare to. Even the voice acting was still ridiculously hilarious, regardless of how much wit it lacked.

What else made the game so great were the graphics. While ID was busy trying to take first-person gaming into full 3D with “Quake,” 3D Realms stuck with what worked and made the best damn version of “Doom” that was ever made. Yeah, Duke essentially ripped off the grand-daddy of shooters, but it had a sense of cartoony style and flair that Call of Duty wishes it had.

When I installed Forever on my PC, I expected at least something from the original. The only thing I got was the fucking water level and that caused me to break my phone in rage. I don’t understand what the mentality was over the 14 year development cycle, but I think it’s pretty sad that we got a game that’s about 7 steps backwards from what Duke 3D did.


This is literally the only achievement Forever accomplishes.

My biggest beef, though, has to be the loss of character and art style. Like I described to my best friend/brother, Jim, “The monsters look extremely realistic. It’s like when you’re a kid and you always wondered what it would be like to actually be the character. Then when you finally see how flimsy and stupid it is, you just want the original.”

The worst offender for the character is his psychopathic sense of humor. I understand that during my life time, I’ve made some awful jokes. I’m not trying to debate here that I’m a high and mighty, morally upstanding person (hell, I get drunk on a fairly regular basis), but why would you write rape and abortion jokes into your script? Why does one line in the game consist of the word fuck, shit and bullshit 3 times each?

On the flip side, though, I’ve also been playing through the re-released Ocarina of Time on 3DS and my memories are still intact. In fact, the game is actually a bit better than I remember it some 13 years ago. Nintendo held their title to such a high standard that they even improved lacking aspects.

The wonderful, colorful, vibrant world is left alone, but polygon counts are boosted and the frame rate is smoothed out to create such a different experience that it’s almost worth owning both versions. My only complaint in more recent years was the damn iron boots in the Water Temple and Nintendo fixed it.

Playing through, all I could say to Jim were things like, “Oh shit, it’s time for Jabu-Jabu,” or, “God, these chickens look ridiculous in 3D,” and my personal favorite, “Oh snap! Din’s Fire! Shit just got real!” I got misty eyed when I heard the overworld theme again and I kept reliving memories of my youth when I got to specific moments in the game.

While I wouldn’t say that Ocarina is worth the purchase of a 3DS, if you do own the system, you owe it to yourself to relive this classic. It’s similar to how Duke 3D still outshines a lot of modern shooters; Ocarina is such a feature filled world that it puts a lot of open-world games to shame.


The horse even controls better than Red Dead Redemption! Fuck yeah, Epona!

It’s astounding how the force of nostalgia can create positive and negative emotions all within the same week. Duke fails my childhood while Link escalates it back into my conscious. This brings up a bigger idea, though; Did Gearbox sell us nostalgia for a simple dollar?

I used to hold Gearbox to a high standard. While they weren’t flawless and even their greatest game had a few issues, I always trusted their games to be fun, deep experiences. Duke does a huge disservice to the developers and really hurts their image in my eyes.

And yet Nintendo, who can consistently piss me off with their lack of online support and their asinine ideas for modern consoles, still manages to impress some 23 years into my life. When their titles get as much care and respect placed into their development as gamers hold in their hearts, then there really isn’t anything that they can’t accomplish.

While I wish I didn’t have these past experiences hindering my present being, nostalgia really isn’t all that bad. It just goes to show that developers really need to love what they are doing. If you simply finish something because gamers have been waiting more than half their lives, then you’re setting yourself up for a big failure.

As for the future, I believe nostalgia will still obscure my views. “Sonic Generations” is coming out and it’s poising to finally bring together both generations of Sonic fans. I’ve always preferred the classic style of Sonic, but if Sega can finally and lovingly create a 3D Sonic, maybe I’ll only have positive things to say.

It’s hard to tell with nostalgia, but I do know that it’s not going away anytime soon.

First Impressions – Beatles: Rock Band

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The Beatles can easily be called one of the greatest bands in history. There is no questioning their impact on the music industry and their quality as a group. But will you be able to say the same thing about the newest Rock Band title, Beatles: Rock Band? Well, let’s take a first look.

The first screen the game gives you is a calibration screen. While my friends and I were using a CRT monitor (therefore no lag), the calibration seems to be equal to the system used in Rock Band 2. I can’t image that anything is terribly off with the system, but it’s nothing new and will probably still cause headaches.

On to the actual gameplay side of the equation. Unwilling to try any of the vocal harmonies out (and down about 2 mics anyway), we decided to keep it straight instrument play. We booted up the game to a screen that allows you to sign in 4 gamer profiles (one for each instrument) and pick a save file for your story progress. This was nifty as 1 person may be complete, yet the second player may still need something extra.

After selecting your save file, the game goes to a screen which has each instrument press a button to enter the game. This system is a little strange as to drop out an instrument requires you to go back to the main menu, which is 2 screens past the actual menu for selecting “Story Mode” or “Challenge.” Still, it’s not that awkward and you eventually get used to it.

Once at the games “real” menu, you can pick “Story” or “Challenge.” While my friends and I thought challenge would be similar to what Guitar Hero 5 had done (with cool little requirements), all the challenges consist of is playing the setlist back to back in the different venues. Anything consisting of “Play X Song hammering on notes” is relegated to the achievements, meaning most people will probably never figure them out.

So even though challenge mode is rather worthless, Story is a bit different. Trying to paint the timeline of the Beatles would be a hard task, but Harmonix seems to have gotten most of their story out there (excluding all the drugs and naked bed displays in Amsterdam). Before you can even pick a song in each setlist, you are treated to an animated movie that mostly just uses visuals and a song to paint the story. It really makes no sense, but you can easily skip them by pressing start.

When you finally do get to start playing a song, you come to one simple realization; this is just another damn rhythm game. While Guitar Hero 5 is certainly the same thing as previous entries, it tried to give you something new with the career mode or party play. Beatles: Rock Band takes the easy way out and just repackages Rock Band with flashy colors and different songs.

To its credit, the selection of songs is stellar. But, if you dislike the Beatles, this game is 100% worthless to you. While I can’t say that making a band related game focus on just the band is a bad thing, it does alienate people from wanting to pick this up if they have no interest in The Beatles.

Well, that aside, I love the Beatles, so I enjoyed what was offered. While I wished for more (there is no reason why 80 songs could not have been offered), Harmonix promises to have full albums available for download soon. This is a feature that both Guitar Hero Aerosmith and Metallica lack (albeit Metallica does have 1 album). This could keep you playing the game for a long time if you really have a hankering for Rock Band and The Beatles.

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While it may look amazing here, imagine this on a blurry, fuzzy, SDTV.

The visuals are pretty ridiculous, but we played on a standard def television. In SD, the graphics are too bright, vibrant and distracting. When activating star power in SD, you suddenly lose track of where Yellow or Orange are coming from. Not only that, but any sustained notes (ones you hold) are too soft to be seen, so you kind of just let go and lose out on points.

Even with losing those points, you will easily be able to 5 star everything in this game if you are an expert Rock Band player. Even with my love for The Beatles, I could not help but feel a little cheated by the lack of difficulty. I may have failed 1 song on drums (one of the earlier, more hard rock songs), but even so it only took me another try to pass it. Even the songs that say “Full Difficulty” for Guitar/Bass/Drums are really just like a tier 5 song in regular Rock Band.

So without any kind of challenge other than achievements/trophies, Beatles: Rock Band is entirely for collector’s or people who are just hooked on the rhythm game craze. I hate to say this, too, but Guitar Hero 5 wins in my book. At least you can get some cool competitive modes or challenges to spice up the gameplay. With Beatles: Rock Band, you either play the songs or don’t. It’s really kind of sad.

I may have to sample the vocal harmonies before I can really give a final verdict on this (and I should probably try out some of the achievements as a few looked insanely hard), but I really don’t think this is worth a buy to the casual fan of Rock Band or even someone who has a waning interest in the genre. Skip this.