Thursday, October 1, 2015

Adventures in Game Chasing

OK, well the title is a bit misleading. The only place Michelle and I went was a single Goodwill Store, and with very small hopes as it was. Although we didn't really find any pieces of gaming history, I did happen upon a game that I never knew existed from my favorite gaming franchise of all-time...

"Sonic's Schoolhouse" for the PC. Released in 1996, this educational game helped teach kids between Grades K-4 about basic math, reading, and more. I never knew this game existed and while I'm unable to boot this Windows 95/Windows 3.1 relic up, I do hope to one day get my hands on an old computer so that I can experience this piece of Sonic history for myself.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Farewell, Mr. Iwata

Last night, we all learned that Nintendo President, Satoru Iwata, passed away due to a bile duct growth. The greater portion of my morning has been spent reading articles about the man and looking at fan art honoring his memory. I won't lie, I shed quite a number of tears looking at this out-pour of emotion. It got me thinking and made me realize what an impact Mr. Iwata has had on my own life.

In a gaming era filled with repetitive, hardly improved cash grabs and re-skins, Satoru Iwata refused to allow his company compromise quality. Each and every first party Nintendo title under his tenure was not only fun, but a unique experience. He didn't allow his systems to fall into a power-battle trap akin to the Bit-Wars of the 90's. Instead he chose to strive for innovation and presenting different and unique gaming experiences. This is apparent through the DS, 3DS, Wii, and Wii U.

It is thanks entirely to this mentality that my interest in Video Games was recaptured in the early 2010's. His unique mind-set not only kept up with the spirit that was the Nintendo of yesteryear, but also showed me that just because I grew up, didn't mean that I had to relegate myself to mindless, gory shooters for my gaming experience.

Thanks to this enjoyment of the modern Nintendo systems, I have not only enjoyed today's Nintendo, but gotten to also enjoy classic Nintendo titles via the Virtual Console that I missed out on growing up as a Sega kid. Enjoying games again, especially of Nintendo's colorful and light-hearted nature has helped serve not only as a hobby for both my wife and I, but also as a fun and happy world for us to delve into together when the real world just plain sucks.

It's amazing to think that a man I never truly knew and who never knew me could have such an impact on my life. I genuinely mourn the loss of this great man and fellow gamer.

Thank you so much and farewell, Mr. Iwata.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

EarthBound Defies All Logic

Although I can't claim to be an EarthBound fanatic and expert like my Podcasting co-hort, I have none the less been intrigued by the massive cult community surrounding this franchise ever since I downloaded the game on the Wii U back in 2013. That community has once again impressed me by doing what seems impossible. Coming just days off the heels of EarthBound fans managing to crash GameStop servers by rushing to pre-order the Ness amiibo, the EarthBound faithful have surpassed even that...

Stay with me on this...Club Nintendo ran out of DIGITAL copies of EarthBound. Now, "EarthBound Central" administrator, Clyde Mandelin, theorized that Nintendo probably set aside a certain number of download codes to use as prizes over on the website and those likely ran out. But even though that is the likely explanation, seeing how fans have rushed to claim the game they love even to the point of surpassing Nintendo's expectations really makes you wonder how Nintendo of America can still claim that there's not enough of a market to release Mother 3.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Nowhere Island Report: Chapters 4-6

Coming off of Chapter 3's interlinking of the stories and clear setup for the rest of the game, I was excited to dive right into Chapter 4. Now taking the role of Flint's son, Lucas, three full years after the events of Chapters 1-3, we are now in a Tazmily Village that is running more like a city, or at the very least, a modern town. Fassad has introduced money, trains, modern technology, and other various things to the once small village in such a short span of time. Nearly every home in Tazmily have something called a "Happy Box." It is unclear at the moment whether the people are being controlled by these boxes, or are simply intrigued way too much by them. But there are still some people who refuse to have a Happy Box on their home (Lucas being one of them) and some people who complain that the Village has lost its warmth and charm over the past 3 years. Fassad even has the elderly captured and placed in a run down "Retirement Home." This entire setup is introduced before you really even begin any missions as Lucas and it does a great job of making you feel the emotions that Lucas is likely feeling himself.

Throughout Chapter 4, you visit a number of different locales that all have their own unique flare. In my experiences, games that do this so quickly typically have a tough time linking everything together so that it melds well as part of the same coherent story. But Mother 3 has absolutely no trouble doing this. Perhaps it is because, as I've noted before, the game does not take itself too seriously. Maybe the already sporadic nature of the game makes quick setting and tone changes just seem like par for the course.

As I began my journey to investigate a potential sighting of Duster, (Who has been missing for the past 3 years) I was treated to a number of fun new villains as I made my way through the railway. But the real fun began when I got to live the dream of every young boy...A PART TIME JOB AT A FACTORY THAT MAKES CLAY MONSTERS!!! OK, despite that sarcasm in that last statement, it was actually quite a deal of fun. In order to gain access to the Night Club that Duster was supposedly seen in, Lucas has to work a part-time job. What was interesting about this was the unique nature of my task. Rather than a turn-based battle or a simple scavenger hunt, I had to not only find and return 3 broken down clay monsters, but also push them to where they needed to go. Sounds easy enough, but given the design of the factory, it was easy to get the clay monsters accidentally stuck in corners and crevices. It was really an entertaining little break after coming off a large number of consecutive battles.

Once access to the Night Club is gained, the player is treated to a reunion with Kumatora. At first I was very off-put to see the once tomboy Kumatora sporting a very feminine look. Luckily it's revealed later that it was merely a disguise. But what was probably the highlight for most longtime fans of the franchise was the clear reference to the Runaway Five from Mother 2.

During this Chapter's Boss Battle, I was very happy to see the return of a fun and charming boss. Fighting a living musical instrument and his fellow instrument cohorts proved a lot more fun than the tank from Chapter 3. After that, we are reunited with Duster, only to find out that he has lost his memory. I wasn't a big fan of this because there wasn't much of an explanation given as to what happened to him. Additionally, the "bond" between Duster and his fellow band members felt very forced. Hopefully the lack of clarification regarding Duster will be cleared up in the end as he still is suffering from memory loss at the end of this Chapter.

As one final thought towards Chapter 4, I can't help but sense a hidden message regarding the entire Happy Box thing. To me, the entire concept of the Happy Box isn't just a mind control element like it appears to be. I feel Itoi was also attempting to place a metaphor in the game. Perhaps that progress just for the sake of progress isn't always a good thing. Or maybe it could even be an anti-technology metaphor. Although the latter would be fairly ironic coming from a video game.

Moving on to Chapter 5, you disguise yourselves as the "Chief" and a few pig soldier in order to infiltrate the Tower that Fassad and the Pigmen are running. Much of this Chapter is a lot of running through the motions and some quirky humor as few of the Pigmen seem to realize that a child is parading around pretending to be their Chief. It was all very cute and funny, but it did grow tiresome as the Chapter progressed.

Things picked up again once you fight the Boss Battle in Mr. Generator. This was the most difficult Boss Battle thus far in the game as it took me numerous tries to figure out the best strategy to defeat him. It's rather ironic that a boss that looks like a broken down bucket of bolts would present the toughest challenge in the game to that point. But the real shock is when you and Fassad finally come face to face. Despite the foreshadowing that he might be behind the houses in Tazmily Village getting struck by lightning, to learn that he's been using this tower to actually do that deed and then have him fall to his apparent death was a bit much to swallow...

Why was Fassad striking those homes with lightning? What are the Happy Boxes? What is/was Fassad's ultimate goal? There are too many unanswered questions to believe that Fassad is truly dead. Maybe I'm jumping to conclusions, but I feel like we haven't seen the last of Fassad. It's just too anticlimactic to have the mastermind die with so many unanswered questions.

Finally, "Chapter" 6...I really fail to see the point in calling this a "Chapter" when all it is is an incredibly dragged out narrative where you simply run to the side for a good number of minutes chasing the ghost of Lucas' mother. The entire bit turned out to be what appears to be a dream that Lucas has while falling off the exploded tower...Or was it? It turns out that Lucas' grandfather had a dream of his deceased daughter telling him to place hay right where Lucas and Boney would fall. Although this was a cute little bit that brought the questions of afterlife into the game, I feel that it would have been better served as a pure cut-scene or a much shorter event.

Overall, through Chapters 4, 5, and 6, I am thoroughly enjoying the game as I push closer towards the finale. More and more I continue to want to know what the ultimate goal of Fassad and the Pigmen are. But only time will tell...

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Nowhere Island Report: Chapter 3

In the beginning of Chapter 3, I was confused as to not only what the creators of this game intended the audience to feel, but also as to what I actually felt. Watching the opening story where Fassad is capturing Salsa's (A monkey) girlfriend and threatening to never let him see her again if he does not obey him was both sad and comical at the same time. On one hand we have a couple being torn apart and an animal being forced into slavery. But on the other hand, the facial expressions are comical and the entire process of Fassad showing Salsa how he wants him to dance for him is hilarious.

This set up prepared me for what I thought was going to be a dramatic plot regarding Salsa and I was a little let down that this was not really the case. A good portion of the Chapter was spent running through the desert and collecting "dung" while listening to some mildly irritating music. I was very relieved when Salsa and Fassad arrived in Tazmily Village as this is where the Chapter began to get interesting. Watching as Fassad slowly started to manipulate the villagers was intriguing enough, but what really caught my attention was when it was revealed that Fassad is the leader of the men in the Pig Masks. To know that the events of the game up to this point were all being orchestrated by this character really started to give me a sense of continuity within the game and has begun to rope me into the larger picture.

The highlight of the Chapter for me is what many people will likely feel is a very odd choice and I'd have to agree with them. After Fassad gets a room at the Yado Inn and proceeds to sneak out in the middle of the night, Salsa follows him. It is at this moment that I am controlling Salsa and there is absolutely no background music playing, no NPCs are around, and there are even very little sound effects. This was quite possibly one of the most unintentionally eerie video game moments that I have ever encountered. The game up to this point has been full of life, primarily bright colors, and memorable music. Having all of that ripped away in an instance really had thinking that something crazy was going to happen with every step that I took.

However, with every ying, there is a yang. Unfortunately for Chapter 3, the yang was the boss battle. I thought the whole setup of Kumatora and Wess rescuing Salsa and taking him in was a nice development. I also felt that their run through the forest was exciting. However, once I approached the actual boss, I was let down to see that it was only a tank. Coming off of a Mecha Drago and Mr. Passion, throwing punches and magic at an armored tank just doesn't have the same boom to it.

Overall, Chapter 3 was a step down from the prior two. But the interlinking of the stories and intrigue of wondering what Fassad's true goal is really set up for a great future in the game. Plus, the quick glimpse of Tazmily Village that I got at the beginning of Chapter 4 really reinforces that thought.