Author Archives: themancalledscott

About themancalledscott

Born of cold and winter air and mountain rain combining, the man called Scott is an ancient sorcerer from a long-forgotten realm. He’s more machine now than man, twisted and evil. Or, you know, he could just be some guy who loves video games, animations and cinema who just wanted to write about such things.

Kirby’s Adventure Review

While Mario, Zelda and Metroid are usually seen as the ‘main events’ of any Nintendo console, it’s Kirby who has traditionally performed the curtain-call. Whenever Nintendo’s ‘big three’ are preparing for the next console in line, it’s Kirby who is holding down the established fort to give it one last hoorah. This tradition goes all the way back to the NES, when Kirby’s Adventure closed the book on Nintendo’s trailblazing home console.

The year was 1993, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System and the Sega Genesis were well established by this point. With everyone invested in sixteen bit consoles, Hal Laboratory made the bold decision to release the second entry in their Kirby franchise on the nearly decade-old NES. It’s a gamble that ultimately paid off, however, as Kirby’s Adventure proved to be a fitting swan-song for the NES, one which could hold its own amidst the sixteen bit giants of the time.

Despite being Kirby’s second outing, Kirby’s Adventure feels more like the true beginning of the series. It was here in Adventure where Kirby could gain the abilities from the foes he inhaled. It also introduced the majority of Kirby’s classic rogue’s gallery (including the first appearance of Meta-Knight), as well as establishing King Dedede as a more comical, secondary antagonist, with a greater cosmic threat working behind the scenes (which has since become common place for the series). Dream Land may have been the original template, but Kirby’s Adventure is where Nintendo’s pink hero found his identity.

“Whispy Woods: The perennial first boss.”

Being released at the tail-end of the NES’s lifespan, Kirby’s Adventure brought out the very best in the system’s capabilities.It wouldn’t be a stretch to say it was the most graphically impressive game on the console, with large, lively sprites, colorful environments, and even some special effects you wouldn’t think the NES was capable of (including rotating objects that would look more at home on the sixteen bit consoles of the time). Kirby’s graphical fidelity is matched by one of the NES’s best soundtracks, which includes the origins of many of the series’ most iconic tracks.

It is of course in gameplay where Kirby shines brightest. His newfound copy abilities – of which there were 24 in their debut showing – made the gameplay substantially deeper and more varied than Dream Land. Hal implemented these abilities wisely, making Kirby’s Adventure a platformer that emphasized combat over actual platforming (seeing as Kirby can just fly over obstacles anyway). While later entries in the series would expand upon Kirby’s arsenal (the abilities here are one move apiece), Kirby’s Adventure used what it had to its fullest, even providing some rooms in between stages that simply gave Kirby access to some powers, that he might take one and unleash it upon the stages at his leisure.

The overall adventure is admittedly a bit brief, but pretty deep for an NES title. It will only take a few hours from starting Kirby off on his journey to his final confrontation with the Nightmare that threatens Dream Land. An additional difficulty setting, boss rush and sound test can be unlocked – foreshadowing the series’ eventual love with additional content – but you may wish there were more secrets to uncover in the main story mode other than a few different mini-game segments (Mini-games which, admittedly, might be the weak point of the game).

Kirby’s Adventure may have since been bettered by some of Kirby’s later, well, adventures (with Kirby repeating his ‘late to the party’ excellence on the SNES, N64 and Wii to great effect). But Kirby’s NES outing remains a definitive entry in the series. It’s Kirby in his purest form; blast through stages as the overpowered puffball, steal enemy abilities, and wreak havoc upon Kirby’s foes by giving them a taste of their own medicine. The formula may have been bettered with subsequent entries, but Kirby’s Adventure has aged gracefully, perhaps more so than any NES title that doesn’t have the names ‘Mario’ or ‘Mega Man’ attached.

The NES was a console that introduced the world of gaming to many of its biggest names. Kirby played a bit of role-reversal, however. Kirby began life on the Game Boy, but with his second outing, he gave the NES a new breath of life.

 

8.5

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Kirby’s Dream Land 2 Review

By 1995, Kirby had quickly established himself as one of Nintendo’s premiere franchises. Kirby’s Dreamland, though simplistic, found an audience due to the popularity of the Game Boy. It was with the 1993 NES sequel Kirby’s Adventure where the series really found its stride. Adventure gave Kirby his synonymous copy abilities, which in turn gave the series a stronger sense of depth in gameplay. Kirby had shown up in a few spinoff titles after his NES outing, but after three years it was time for the original Kirby’s Dream Land to get a proper follow-up. Kirby’s Dream Land 2 arrived on the Game Boy in 1995, and although it is a fittingly small game due to its hardware, its overall quality has held up almost shockingly well over the years.

Kirby’s Dream Land 2 adopted Adventure’s copy abilities, solidifying the mechanic as Kirby’s staple. Of course, the Game Boy had more limited capabilities than a home console, so the number of copy abilities were lowered to seven: burning, cutter, spike, ice, spark, stone and parasol. To compensate for the reduced number of powers, Kirby was given three animal friends for Kirby to ride (a la Mario and Yoshi), with each animal friend altering the copy abilities.

Rick the hamster, Coo the owl, and Kine the fish all join Kirby on his second Game Boy adventure. Rick travels faster on land than Kirby does on his own, while Coo takes to the air and Kine makes swimming sections a breeze. Best of all is that the game makes good and varied use of every animal friend. If you want you can stick with your preferred animal friend for most of the game, but certain secret areas will need the use of particular animals and/or powers to access. While most such areas provide hidden 1-Ups and similar items, certain levels contain an extra secret ‘Rainbow Drop,’ which are required to face the secret final boss.

Dream Land 2 is a much bigger game than the original. While the first Dream Land simply featured five short stages, Dream Land 2 contains seven worlds, each with multiple stages of their own. It still will only take players a couple of hours to finish, but things feel a lot more like a complete adventure this time around.

One stage in each world hides a Rainbow Drop, with the later drops being particularly difficult to find (often requiring you to have a particular animal friend and power just to find a clue, let alone the drop itself). If you find them all and defeat King Dedede, the true final showdown against Dark Matter takes place.

Some may wish that there were more hidden trinkets than simply one per world, but when you consider the limitations of the Game Boy, it’s actually quite impressive how much Kirby’s Dream Land 2 managed to pull off. Even Kirby’s Adventure had you go directly from Dedede to its big bad by default, so the fact that Dream Land 2 had you uncover secrets in order to obtain that final challenge was novel at the time.

Of course, being released on the original Game Boy, Kirby’s Dream Land 2 is not a particularly pretty game to look at. On the plus side, it was released late enough in the Game Boy’s life to take full advantage of the Super Game Boy (an SNES attachment that allowed you to play Game Boy titles on the console, with added color). This means that the added colors could later be found when playing the game on a Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance, or in one of its later re-releases. It may not match the visual charm of Kirby’s Adventure, or the outright timeless graphics of the later Kirby Super Star or Dream Land 3 on the SNES. But if you manage to play Kirby’s Dream Land 2 on the proper hardware, it’s one of the few original Game Boy games that isn’t a total eyesore.

What Dream Land 2 lacks in visual fidelity, it makes up for in one of the Game Boy’s best soundtracks, with that distinct Kirby charm permeating through every tune. Each animal friend even gets their own theme (with Coo’s being the best).

Kirby’s Dream Land 2 may not match the “fire on all cylinders” feeling of Kirby’s Adventure, and it goes without saying that later entries topped it. But the core gameplay is fun and deep enough to make Kirby’s Dream Land 2 one of the few titles for the original Game Boy that has held up incredibly well. It’s still a lot of fun.

 

7.5

Kirby’s Dream Land Review

The Nintendo Game Boy became a video game phenomenon. Taking video games on the go was a revelation, and Nintendo took full advantage of it by giving their established series handheld iterations on the Game Boy. But the accessibility of the Game Boy also opened the door for Nintendo to create new franchises on the console, an opportunity that would lead to the creation of Pokemon and Wario. Among Nintendo’s franchises that began life on the Game Boy was Kirby, who has remained one of Nintendo’s most reliable names ever since. It all began with Kirby’s Dream Land in 1992. Though the original Dream Land may be incredibly simple when compared to later entries in the series, it still succeeds in what it initially set out to do: be an introduction to video games.

It’s true, while Kirby has become one of Nintendo’s most enduring series, it’s original title was created for the purpose of being a kid’s first video game. If young audiences found the later levels of Super Mario World too difficult, they could instead play Kirby’s Dream Land to get a better understanding of how games work. In this sense, Kirby’s Dream Land remains a roaring success. On the downside, that also means that Dream Land is an incredibly simple game that lacks depth, which is only more apparent today seeing as modern Kirby titles throw in as much extra content as possible.

Yes, Kirby’s original game is only five stages total in length. And more notably, while Kirby could still inhale enemies in his debut outing, he could not yet steal their abilities by doing so (that would be an innovation of the more substantial Kirby’s Adventure, released one year later on the NES). Kirby’s Dream Land can be completed in well under an hour, with an ever-so-slightly more challenging mode being unlocked upon completion.

It wouldn’t be inaccurate to say that Kirby’s Dream Land is as bare-bones as it gets. But at the same time, it still controls pretty well for a game originally released on the Game Boy. Perhaps more importantly, not only would it serve as a great introduction for young children to the world of video games, but if you’re interested in game design itself, Kirby’s Dream Land may also serve as a nice first-step in that regard as well. What Dream Land lacks in depth, it makes up for in its sense of education to how games work.

The layout of the stages and enemies serve as a study to the game’s mechanics (and by extension, the mechanics of platformers as a whole). And each subsequent stage introduces some new gameplay elements (including a space shooter segment, food that give Kirby new abilities, and a boss rush final stage). Yeah, it is a little cheap that Kirby can pretty much avoid any non-boss obstacle in the game by flying (later entries would provide enemies and hazards to prevent such an exploit of Kirby’s powers), but again, this was a title designed to introduce young children to the medium.

Kirby’s Dream Land may not be the most timeless of Kirby titles. If anything, it’s utter simplicity compared to its sequels and spinoffs may retroactively make it the weakest entry in the series. But it’s hard to be too critical on a game that’s simply trying to open the door for children to get into gaming, and the soundtrack holds up nicely (King Dedede has the longest-standing theme music of any video game character for good reason. His theme is awesome!). Kirby’s first adventure may not be a classic, yet it still has its charms.

 

6.0

Wrestlemania 34 Review

Hey, look at that! I’m talking about wrestling again!

Yeah, I don’t talk about wrestling much on this site, so who knows if I’m alienating those who do read my writings. But it’s hard to be a wrestling fan and not write about Wrestlemania. Maybe I’ll even start writing more on the intriguing world that is pro-wrestling.

Wrestlemania, the biggest event on WWE’s (and indeed, all of pro-wrestling’s) calendar has come and gone. Overall, the event could be argued as one of the best Wrestlemanias ever in terms of consistency (there was no truly awful match). But it did have it’s share of questionable booking decisions. I’m going to try and give a run down of every match, but because it was an exhausting seven hours long, I’m going to try to keep each match description/my opinions brief.

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Undertale (PS4) Review

It’s hard to think of a better game with more humble origins than Undertale. The brainchild of Toby Fox was a passion project in the medium if ever there were one, with Toby Fox almost singlehandedly creating the entire game; from its premise to graphics to gameplay, to its sublime soundtrack, with only some of the artwork being provided by others. Taking inspiration from Nintendo RPGs EarthBound, Mario & Luigi, and Super Mario RPG, Undertale not only did a fantastic job at living up to its inspirations, but also in creating an identity very much its own. By providing an engaging battle system, a unique sense of humor and charm, and a narrative that could only work in the video game medium, Undertale subverted many RPG traditions and became a video game masterpiece.

In Undertale, players take control of a human child, who has fallen into the dreaded Mt. Ebot, whose underground has served as the world of monsters ever since they were banished there by humans long ago. A magic barrier prevents the monsters from leaving the underground, and only the power of human souls can break it. Because of this, many monsters want the human dead, as their king is but one soul short of destroying the barrier. But these monsters are far from mindless killing machines, in fact, most would rather tell you a joke or show off their hat than do you harm.

In their quest to leave the underground, players will confront many monsters. During such encounters, the player can go the usual RPG route and slay the monsters, gaining experience points and leveling up along the way, or they can find non-violent ways to end the encounter. By selecting the “Act” command during battles, the player can interact with monsters in a myriad of ways, with each individual monster having their own distinct personality that the player must figure out in order to find the best solution to the encounter. If you can figure out the right action (whether it be dancing, flirting, or even giving a monster personal space), you can then simply spare the monster, which won’t net you any experience points, but will still provide gold.

Interactivity is added to these turn-based battles when the player is on the defensive. Every enemy has their own unique attacks, with the defensive segments modeled after bullet hell games. During a monster’s attack, the player takes control of their soul (represented by a heart), which the player must then navigate to avoid oncoming projectiles. White enemy attacks are the standard, and are simply to be avoided. Blue attacks won’t harm you so long as you hold still, while orange attacks will require you to move through them to avoid damage. Meanwhile, the occasional green attack will actually heal the player’s health, leaving you to attempt to grab them amid the bombardment of other bullets.

The battle system is an utter delight. The ability to fight or act is already a terrific innovation, but by combining it with the only interactive turn-based battle system that rivals Mario’s finest RPGs, Undertale’s battle system becomes an all-time great for the genre.

That isn’t where Undertale’s innovation ends, however. Arguably its most notable element is how detailed its narrative is, and how it brings out the best in the video game medium.

There are many games that give players different moral options with tackling different scenarios, but none that really showcase the consequences of their actions in any meaningful way. Usually, choosing good or evil in a video game simply dictates whether your character is surrounded by a heavenly aura, or if they have burning red eyes while wearing edgy, black clothing. But every choice the player makes in Undertale leaves a lasting impact one way or another.

The benefits of gaining experience points and leveling up are obvious, as you’ll gain more health and strength the more you advance. But when you kill a monster in Undertale, you may come across another who grieves for their fallen friend, or wonders why they don’t hear from their old buddy anymore. This of course means that going the route of a pacifist may be more challenging – as your stats remain as they are at the start of the game, outside of armor – but doing the right thing becomes its own reward.

I will refrain from going into greater detail, as Undertale’s narrative is one that’s full of surprises. But the way in which it tells its story – with every moral action having its consequence – is entirely original, and may now serve as the benchmark for how to tell a deep, meaningful story in a way only a video game can.

Even with the emotional weight, Undertale is also an incredibly funny game. As stated, each monster has their own unique personality, with the boss monsters easily becoming one of the most charming cast of characters in a video game. Much of the dialogue is laugh-out-loud hilarious, and the sheer absurdity of many of the characters is sure to leave a goofy grin beaming across your face.

Visually speaking, the game may not exactly look ‘pretty’ – being reminiscent of a later NES title – but it does look timeless. The fact that Toby Fox could capture as much personality in the game visually as he did with his writing is an impressive feat unto itself. Undertale’s greatest aesthetic pleasure, however, has to be its soundtrack.

Undertale’s score – composed, of course, by Toby Fox – is one of the all-time great video game soundtracks. It marries the infectiousness of retro video game music with an impeccable sense of personality. The overworld tunes are often hauntingly beautiful, while the battle themes are catchy, and each boss is given a track that’s nothing short of unforgettable. Undertale’s soundtrack is perhaps rivaled solely by Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze for the best of this decade. And as far as I’m concerned, it joins the likes of Donkey Kong Country 2 and Super Mario RPG as one of my favorite gaming soundtracks of all time.

Some may nitpick at the fact that Undertale is a pretty short game, especially for an RPG. But that seems like a moot point when one considers that Undertale is one of the few games that feels like a fully-realized artistic vision by its creator. Everything that is present in Undertale is nothing short of delightful. It’s unique, charming, funny, touching, and a whole lot of fun.

When Toby Fox created Undertale, he molded his game after some all-time greats in the RPG genre. Little did he know that his “little” game would end up sitting right alongside them.

 

10

RIP Isao Takahata

Isao Takahata, one of the world’s premiere animation filmmakers, has passed away at the age of 82.

Together with his protegé Hayao Miyazaki, Isao Takahata served as co-founder of Studio Ghibli, which quickly became one of the world’s leading forces in animated cinema, inspiring other filmmakers across the world. Takahata personally directed five features for the studio, starting with Grave of the Fireflies, widely regarded as a masterpiece in the medium, and well known for being one of the most emotional impactful films ever made. From there, Takahata would direct Only Yesterday, a romantic drama that continued Ghibli’s trend of proving animated films can tell stories for any audience, not just children.

Takahata would later direct the ecological fairy tale Pom Poko, followed by the family comedy My Neighbors the Yamadas in 1999. After Yamadas, Takahata would enter something of an unofficial retirement, which he would come out of for one final feature with 2013’s The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (which earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Feature, which it really, really should have won).

Isao Takahata’s career didn’t start with Ghibli, however, as he had been making animated features and directing TV episodes since the 1960s, including Chie the Brat and Panda! Go Panda!. Once he and Miyazaki founded Studio Ghibli, Takahata personal produced Miyazaki’s earlier features.

Takahata’s films are well known for their emotional strengths, as well as for how distinct as each individual film is from the others. Like Miyazaki, Isao Takahata boasted a unique versatility in his handling of different materials, giving each one of his films an identity all their own. His films were (relatively) more “slice-of-life” than Miyazaki’s fantasies, but were no less magical. Isao Takahata’s films had a unique way of speaking to the child (and adult) in all of us.

The worlds of animation and cinema will never be the same without Isao Takahata, and already the world seems less magical. Rest in peace, Isao Takahata.

Ready Player One Review

In this day and age, pop culture has become self-aware. With the generation that grew up in the 1980s – the decade in which pop culture became culture – now shaping entertainment, it’s really no surprise that movies, video games, and even books are often blatant homages to the 1980s works that inspired them. It should really come as no surprise then, that one of the most popular books of this decade is Ernest Cline’s 2011 novel Ready Player One, which largely takes place in a virtual reality universe where pop culture can conveniently be referenced at any and every turn. It seems like a match made in heaven then, that Ready Player One’s cinematic adaptation would be directed by Steven Spielberg, the man who arguably had the single biggest impact on popular culture during its golden age. And while Ready Player One may be the kind of movie you can poke a million holes into, when all is said and done, it does manage to capture that “feel good” Spielberg vibe.

The story takes place in a not-too-distant, somewhat dystopian future. In a time where “people simply want to escape their problems instead of fixing them,” the world takes refuge in a virtual world known as “The Oasis,” where people can live a second life as whatever they like, whether it be their own creation or replicating a figure from popular culture.

The Oasis began life as a video game by game designer James Halliday (Mark Rylance), but over time, became something of its own parallel universe, where its players live quite literal second lives within the game, without the limitations of reality holding them back. As the real world around everyone went to pot (it’s never explicitly mentioned how the world got in the state it’s in during the events of the film), people thrived within the Oasis, finding success, fame, fortune or simply living out their dreams within the game world. The Oasis seemingly took over all media, with movies, video games and all other forms of entertainment being found within the game (where such works can be experienced as they would be in our world via movie theater or home console, or they can be lived through by those playing within the Oasis).

Because of the Oasis’ influence on the world, Halliday’s company became the most lucrative in the world, and Halliday himself became something of a deity in the eyes of many. After Halliday passed away, his in-game Oasis avatar, Anorak the All-Knowing, revealed a new quest within the Oasis. If players can discover three secret keys by accomplishing secret tasks, they can find an “Easter egg” that will give them control over the Oasis and his company. The first such challenge is a seemingly unbeatable death race. Five years have gone by since Halliday’s passing, and no one has found a means to beat the race and achieve the first key, let alone the clues to the other challenges.

There are, of course, evildoers at work in the form of the IOI company (the second largest in the world), run by the conniving Nolan Serrento (Ben Mendelsohn). IOI run questionable operations within the Oasis in order to force others into their debt, effectively making them slaves to the company. Of course, IOI seeks to find Anorak’s Easter egg so that they can gain full control of the Oasis, expanding their empire exponentially.

The hero of the story is Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), a young adult from the slums of Ohio, and whose Oasis alter ego is the silver-haired Parzival. Watts wishes to find the Easter egg, as to improve his life beyond his wildest dreams. His quest for the egg is joined by Samantha Cook (Olivia Cooke), a rebel determined to stop IOI from gaining control of the Oasis. There’s also Watt’s in-game best friend Aech (Lena Waithe), who repairs weapons and vehicles in the Oasis; as well as Daito and Sho (Win Morisaki and Philip Zhao), who often help Aech get out of jams.

“You can be anything you want in the Oasis, and this is what you went with? Okay.”

It’s not exactly one of Spielberg’s smarter movies, but it does fit in nicely with his nearly unparalleled catalog of adventure-based, popcorn blockbusters. Simply put, Ready Player One is a fun movie. Its premise, while maybe a bit silly on paper, makes for exciting set-pieces, dazzling visual effects (though some of the CG characters may take some time to get used to), and a myriad of pop culture references both visual and verbal.

Now, there are some obvious flaws with the film. Namely, Ready Player One is the kind of movie whose internal logic you can nitpick for hours. For example, in searching for hints of the Easter egg, Parzival regularly visits the Halliday Library, a literal museum of Halliday’s life and memory, where people can actually watch moments of Halliday’s life play out. Despite seeming like the obvious place to look for clues in Halliday’s egg hunt, Parzival is the only person who ever seems to go there (it’s explained that with no one finding the first key after five years, people looked elsewhere for clues after the library failed to provide results. But am I really to expect that no one else is willing to look into a visual recreation of Halliday’s brain for clues?). Similarly, many of the results to these clues turn out to be things that don’t seem particularly difficult to figure out, and it’s hard to imagine so many years would go by with no one finding them when pretty much everyone in the world is playing the Oasis. And as any self-respecting gamer knows, an Easter egg is a hidden object or moment in a game that doesn’t actually provide any practical use. So the fact that Halliday’s Easter egg gives its finder the very practical use of control of his company doesn’t so much make it an Easter egg so much as a secret. But I digress.

In all seriousness, I hate to point out logical stretches in a movie like this. I feel too often these days people let trivial inconsistencies prevent them from enjoying movies, and I certainly don’t want to jump in that boat. The ‘fun factor’ of Ready Player One certainly isn’t damaged by a few “but wait” elements, but it does boast enough of them that even I have to stop and point them out.

Less forgivable, however, is the lack of attention given to the supporting characters. Aech gets a decent amount of screen time, but poor Sho and Daito feel largely forgotten for long stretches of the movie, to the point where you may wonder why there needed to be five heroes in the first place.

As strange as this may sound, the story may have benefitted if the stakes were a bit lower. Having an evil corporation seeking to enslave people, and having a rebellion (yes, they use the word ‘rebellion’) standing against them seems too contrived in a story like this. One scene in the movie sees Sorrento discussing all the advertisements IOI hopes to add to the Oasis when they find the egg. I almost feel like simply playing off that aspect of the bad guys would have benefitted the story. Just have them trying to gain control of the Oasis to turn a beloved game into a commercial. The hero could remain a poor kid trying to get a better life, but does this story really need the dystopian element?

Perhaps I’m just getting sidetracked to what I would have liked the story to be. The truth is the story that is here is still a lot of fun. The movie even expands on the book by widening its inclusion of pop culture to not only be limited by 1980s movie and video game nostalgia, but sees other decades and media (such as anime) sprinkled throughout as well. Yeah, we get to hear some awesome 80s tunes, but we also get to see Tracer from Overwatch heading into war alongside the Battletoads, and an entire planet dedicated to Minecraft.

“What? No Mei or Rainbow Mika?”

Okay, so Ready Player One may teeter on pandering with some of the references, but in a movie like this, that’s only aiming to be pure fun, is it really such a bad thing to simply want to see some of your favorite movie and game characters on the big screen? And in a bit of humility, Spielberg actively avoided from referencing his own works, even though he easily could have, given his influence on the 1980s (though somewhat touchingly, Spielberg pays plenty of homage to his protegé Robert Zemeckis, particularly Back to the Future). So maybe these references and cameos are a trap for people like me, but they’re fun and lack vanity, so I’m not really going to complain about falling for them hook, line and sinker.

Ready Player One is a flawed movie: the supporting cast is often forgotten, there are a bit too many sci-fi tropes at play with the bad guys, and the narrative has its rough edges. But the movie is a whole lot of fun, with some terrific action scenes and visual effects, and it only gets better as it plays out. By the end of it, I was happy I’d seen Ready Player One. I mean, you get to see The Iron Giant and a Gundam smackdown against Mecha-Godzilla! Doesn’t that just say it all?

 

7.5