Cats love a bit of platforming. Whether it’s climbing a tree, jumping on the couch, over rooftops, or climbing up your leg at dinner time, they are always up for a challenge. Now imagine the platforming possibilities when a monkey steals your cat’s favourite gem, and you have to go through 7 worlds to get it back.
This campaign takes place 500 years before the events of Xenoblade Chronicles 2 on an ancient titan, Torna. It’s a land threatened by war but largely indifferent to the idea of fighting. A lot was happening across Alrest, but Torna was focused on its own spiritual growth. Everyone got along with each other as builders, artists and chefs all shared their works out in the open and tried to enjoy their day. Times were simpler, gacha systems hadn’t been invented, and Drivers and Blades met in person.
It is a smaller game than Xenoblade Chronicles 2 but a more personal one. Let me put into context what “small” means though, in this case. It’s a “small” version of one of the biggest JRPGs ever made. Torna’s story takes place on two gigantic titans with several fields and horizons beyond horizons. It’s only small compared to the scope of XC2 which takes place on five titans and has several population’s worth of stories intertwining. This is solely from the perspective of Torna at an important time in history. The scale of the events is just as big, and the feeling of purpose remains high.
I’ve wasted far too much time. Ever since I slayed my first cockroach as a kid, I knew I wanted to hunt monsters. The thrill of approaching something dangerous, the strategy and preparation, the intense skill of combat, they all made me feel alive. I was tired of my safe life in the forest eating tree bark. With nothing to do, I strolled into the nearest town and caught wind of a place called Bhernha Village on the notice board. They were looking for hunters to help with their research, and it felt like this was my calling.
What is Picross? This is your life on a 10×10 grid. You are going to fill this grid with your experiences and one step at a time, you’ll get where you want to be and find your true inner self.
In Super Metroid there is a trick that allows you to somersault across a room with great speed. When you take damage from the environment, the game’s natural reaction is to “eject” you from the situation before you lose all your HP. This can throw you awkwardly around the room and lead to more problems. However, you can also benefit from this mechanic if you learn how to control it. If you hold the jump button and a direction, you’ll go flying backwards in the direction you’re NOT facing. This means tapping left to face away, holding jump at the right time, then holding right to fly. It’s hard to pull off but when you get it right during a speedrun, it feels amazing. It’s faster than normal movement and allows you to reach some places normal jumps can’t.
A Damage Boost could be the most effective way to get out of a bad situation. For example, losing a job or ending a bad relationship might take away some of your health, but you can use the momentum of the ejection to find yourself in a better place you could not reach before, with better people. It’s just not worth struggling in those flower traps when you can take a quick spike to the head.
After bouncing across a room of spikes, you need to look for resources to restore this health immediately. Your eyes change and you start to see more of the world, with different layers revealing themselves. A big room of enemies is suddenly a farm. You become better at making choices, and you see opportunities you normally wouldn’t need. Health management is not immediately evident to casual speedrunners, viewers, or people without problems, but it is an essential part of going fast. Super Metroid is a difficult game even without tricks, with unforgiving boss fights and death traps, but with every bit of pain you learn something. You get used to those sleepless nights and know exactly how much coffee you need the next day.
You could consider “upgrades” as the safe, logical way to progress, but not everybody has the perfect script to their life. We can play a videogame perfectly but we can’t play life perfectly, and that is why I think the concept of Damage Boosting is applicable to every day life as a way of keeping your head up. Not in a violent sense, but an opportunistic one. Life has its own way of ejecting you out of situations and you may as well use that speed to fly in the right direction.
Damage Boosting is very hard to do, and the difficulty and impracticality means most people will overlook it. Who’s gonna take damage on purpose, right? Well, people who have to. People who made a few bad choices. People without all the upgrades. People who just want to go fast. You can spend 5 years getting the grapple beam, or learn how to do a quick shine spark. I’ve spent hours practicing Damage Boosts in Super Metroid and still can’t do them consistently. It feels great when it works though, soaring over your troubles. As I sit here jumping into spikes in Super Metroid, I realise I’ve been doing this my whole life. I’ve spent my whole life practicing Damage Boosting, just by working jobs I didn’t like, festering bad habits, and ending up nowhere. That’s not failure though, it’s practice. I might be a screw-up but I feel like I’ve become very good at fucking things up, and pretty soon I’ll be able to land wherever I want.
I really like being an Oddish. You’d think my little legs would be all puffed out with people trying to catch me, but I’m doing a lot less running these days. Trainers finally have a device to spot me without having to dig up the ground, and as a result I’ve had tons of energy to run around outside in the sun.
I’ve picked up a bad reputation as a “weed” over the years, because people like their gardens to look clean and plain. I understand that, but it has left me with very few places to live. Even in public parks I’ve been dragged out of my soil bed and thrown into bins before I can even say “Oddish Odd!“. I can’t get out of most bins if the lid is closed, because I’m not strong enough. With no sunlight coming through I have no access to my Solar Beam, which is probably my only attack strong enough to open the lid. Cut does nothing on this strange unnatural surface and makes me dizzy. With no effective moves to use inside a bin, I just have to use Rest until somebody dumps me outside again. There’s not much to look forward to. A new, unfamiliar place is just as scary as the prospect of a slow death. I’m lucky to still be alive though. I’m lucky to be an Oddish.
I’ve always put on a brave face but the last two decades have been hard. Living with a constant fear of being plucked from the ground, even those nights I do get sleep are not so great. I have to spend a lot of time with my body in the soil because it just feels really comfy, and it’s also where I sleep. If I don’t get enough sleep I start oozing poison powder, and I don’t really like that move. It just annoys everybody and makes it hard to make friends. As a grass and poison type Pokemon, I’m stuck with a lot of unpleasant abilities, but as long as I get enough rest my little legs can get me around to use which ever moves I please.
My life changed in the past month as trainers started approaching me differently. The Pokedex must have got an upgrade, because now people approach me with a smile instead of disgust. I really can’t explain it. I have to admit, I still have this primal urge to run away from people and protect myself. That’s why when you see me, it’s really important that you smile. I am finally feeling comfortable as an Oddish knowing that people want to be my friend. I’ve even made friends with other Oddish, and discovered there are a lot more in my area that have been hiding. We all feel a bit safer now that people like us.
There has never been a better time to be an Oddish. If anyone wants a leafy friend I hope you come out and play with me. I’m a lot of fun, and can evolve into Gloom, Vileplume and Bellossom. Personally though, I would prefer to stay an Oddish. When you get to know me, hopefully you feel the same. There’s nothing else I’d rather be.
The Olympic Games in Rio are off to a shaky start. With rampant crime and poor infrastructure, athletes are pulling out as buildings fall apart from the inside. It seems the city just isn’t ready. Amidst all this mediocrity, it’s only fitting for Sonic the Hedgehog to make an appearance. Despite not being part of a nation, having no fans, and no currently-active coach, Sonic has shown up to lower the standards for everyone and make the Olympic mascots themselves look well-designed. The failed furry has threatened the games with their biggest downgrade yet, but Mario is not happy about this. As an avid sports fan, Mario and his crew have also come to Rio to make sure things go well. In the interest of safety, I had to check out the demo for Mario & Sonic on the Wii U eShop and gather some impressions.
The demo is quite meaty, with a playable sample of Rugby, Soccer, Volleyball and Swimming. Immediately upon starting the game, the high production values become evident. The menus are very sharp and snazzy and the graphics are outstanding, with a very high quality to the character models on the level of something actually good like Super Mario 3D World. The animations are also really well done, and the crowd feels really alive and excited in the background of each game. Volleyball in particular is an absolute party, with Toads, Koopas and Shy Guys going crazy and dancers on the sidelines having a great time. The gameplay in Volleyball is very simple however and I also found it stupidly easy to score. Using Donkey Kong might have given me an unfair advantage. Every time I got the ball I pressed A to hit the ball up for a spike, then B for an instant win. You can pick up items and fire them across the net too which is hilariously effective. If you can spray a fire flower it’s basically an instant win on the next point. It’s really funny to see an item just go through the net, like you’re cheating.
Not much to say about Swimming, it’s a button masher with a stamina meter. It’s the kind of game that pretty much requires multiplayer to be fun, but the controls work consistently. The graphics were incredible too. Rugby is a game I was really excited to play, but it didn’t turn out that good either. The “scrum” could have been an interesting gameplay mechanic, but all you do is mash the A button to get the ball on your side. Aside from that you just kick and pass the ball, with no real way to aim. Very, very basic.
Soccer is where I had the most fun, I’d describe it as a more simplistic, fun version of Fifa. Press B to pass, A to shoot, and L to cycle through players. Usual rules apply and it’s a 4 on 4, which works surprisingly well. It basically cuts out all the bullshit back-and-forth passing in serious soccer and allows you to take more shots. There’s no real way to aim the ball just like Rugby, you have to hold the button in a good spot and hope. This game mechanic has somehow been the basis of 25 years worth of Fifa games. I don’t know how they got away with that, but at least it’s not broken. Games only last a few minutes but I played this mode for an hour because it was just relaxing and comfy, and reminded me of when I used to play the Fifa demo over and over as a kid.
My biggest tip for Soccer is do not score with Sonic. I picked him for my Soccer team and I was immediately flooded with regret when he scored a goal. His YEEAAAHAHH GOOOOAAALL sound effect is one of the worst things I’ve heard in my life. It is way too high-pitched for the voice actor who had to force that out. It sounds like someone is holding their throat as their voice tries to escape but can’t. Maybe this was the moment Sonic realised what he had done with his life. Decades of shitty games flashed before his eyes as the ball hit the net.
As it turns out, the Rio games themselves are quite fun and Mario & Sonic have delivered a decent package for sports fans. I probably won’t buy this but I think any casual gamer picking this up would get their money’s worth from Soccer alone. Of course there’s a ton of sports not in the demo that could potentially be good. Good controls, graphics and presentation are consistent in every Mario & Sonic game I’ve played so there’s no reason to doubt this package.
It’s not known whether Mario & Sonic are sharing the same hotel, but everyone seems to be having fun. Donkey Kong was spotted doing a roll jump off a diving board, and onlookers report that music started playing as he hit the water.
“It was surreal, an aquatic ambience covered the whole stadium. I’ve never heard that kind of quality from Sonic before.” remarked a stunned Amy by the pool. Donkey Kong shot out of the water, arms first, then hit the ground with pixel-perfect precision, and roll jumped out the window.
With the Rio games now on track, Mario is currently the favourite to win every gold. When interviewed, Sonic called Mario a “tryhard” and criticised his consistent quality. Mario was too busy winning another gold to respond, and Donkey Kong is currently missing. Tune in for more shenanigans in the full version of Mario & Sonic at Rio 2016 Olympic Games on Wii U.
Just as I was heading to bed, I received an urgent distress call. Nintendo tweeted that METROID PRIME BLAST BALL (actual HOME menu name, all in caps) was now on the 3DS eShop, with a free early version of the game available immediately. I had been hyped for this game ever since it debuted at the Nintendo World Championships in 2015, and giddy at the thought of having a Metroid game on 3DS. After a pretty quick download, my 3DS was ready.
Go! Go! Go! Blast Ball is intense from the word Go, and even more intense by the third Go. After a brief controls tutorial I jumped straight online and started spamming gestures. Despite the game launching 10 minutes ago, I found an eager group of players straight away. It was like we all saw the same tweet, and we were having a great time before the match had even begun.
I’m playing Offense.
Go! Go! Go!
After such a deep level of discourse I felt like I’d known these people my whole life. I’m loving this trend in Nintendo games lately. The emotes in Tri Force Heroes are hilariously expressive to the point where they defined my experience with that game (although I’ve still only played the demo). Even Splatoon with its minimal 2 options creates a strong feeling of empathy or encouragement when someone says “Nice!” to your awesome shot, or reveals a great place to Super Jump with “To Me!”. Federation Force takes it even further with 16 different messages. You can assign 4 of them to the dpad, while the others can still be pressed in-game by opening the speech box. I have a feeling I’m going to be using the “Sorry” button a lot, I’ve always wanted that in Splatoon for those unfortunate Super Jumps. There are also 6 languages available for the voice, as well as a Miitomo-style pitch slider. Oh yeah, this game has gameplay too.
The atmosphere in the Blast Ball arena is tangible. The music has an epic “eSports in 2078” feel to it, and the graphics are WAY more impressive than any video I have seen before. The sky outside has a very rich atmosphere to it, with tons of stars and two mysterious planets. The G.F.S Aegis looms above the arena reminding everyone that Metroid Prime 3 happened. I don’t know anything about this new ship, but MP3 had ships. Not a spoiler.
Charged shots are very effective on the ball but everyone was just shooting like mad. The Metroid Prime side-strafe is back, so you can tap B to travel sideways a bit faster with a dash jump. This is really useful for positioning yourself at the right angle to the ball quickly. The first match I scored a goal almost instantly with a charge shot that seemed to take the other team by surprise. I guess I just got lucky and they didn’t do any shots themselves for some reason. After that it wasn’t so easy, with some very tight back-and-forth matches and a 50% win-rate for the night.
As well as being introduced to Blast Ball, there’s a playable sneak peek at Federation Force’s campaign. Metroid Prime 3 controls are miraculously back, with free aiming, and the ability to move the cursor even while locked-on as I’m doing above. I was skeptical that this could work without the Wii remote but it feels completely fine. There are two control options, one with free roaming on the circle pad, and the other requires you to hold R to activate the free aiming. I don’t mind holding R since I’m used to it and you can use the circle pad for movement without thinking too much, which is especially important in Blast Ball. Even with 3D on I’m having no problem moving the 3DS. I think there could be some amazing boss fights in Federation Force with this control scheme, you can put a weak point anywhere on a moving boss and have it be actually hitable. Imagine 4 players doing this and there’s some crazy possibilities. Boss battles are one thing Prime 3 did better than 1 and 2 in my opinion, and I’m really looking forward to discovering how this interaction is used in a co-op game with different players targeting different spots.
One final thing, in case one Metroid fan is shaking their fist at the screen right now. I’m just guessing this is the year 2078 with my eSports joke above, since that is when Metroid Prime 3 took place, and this seems to be just after it. Not sure if that’s right, but it’s something. There’s a hint of mystery to Federation Force that is really drawing me to the game. As an ENORMOUS fan of Metroid Prime Trilogy, I can’t wait to find out about the lore in this game. The scope of Metroid Prime’s universe is absolutely gigantic, to the point where even the little things in this game are going to be cool to discover.
Played quite a bit of Splatoon today. Got into one of those moods where I just needed to escape and have a bit of fun. Not a bad mood, just had way too much on my mind. When the world gets boring and stressful I dig even deeper into my games to stay grounded. Splatoon is such a great game to play to snap out of any mood so I embraced it. The movement is snappy, the Inklings are smug, and it’s extremely colourful. I just love feeling like a confident squid kid.
I had some mixed results with the Berry Splattershot Pro. There’s just a weird feeling to it where the shots FEEL like they don’t have much power, but there’s always enough to splat someone. Compared to the close range weapons I normally use, it just shoots slower. It’s almost impossible to actually see the rate of fire, but I can just feel it after so much experience with the game. Rather than the actual stats being the reason I struggle, I think the lack of confidence in the feel is the reason. Of course the advantage of the Pro is its range. Thinking back on my session, most of my awkward moments were close-up where I was perhaps disadvantaged, and almost all my kills were long range, when I actually used the strength of the weapon. All those kills felt “lucky” when in fact that’s what I should be doing more often. My play style is strongly biased towards close-range weapons because I just can’t help but dive in and take risks. To balance that weakness, I’ve been trying to use longer range weapons just to make myself less predictable and see the stage with a better eye. It’s definitely working, and I’ve even had some great games with the Pro between the lines of frustration.
I was fired up now and feeling pretty good, so I switched to the Heavy Splatling Deco. I love using this weapon because it’s on the extreme end of the scale in terms of range, and also packs a huge punch up close. The difficulty comes from timing and positioning, and forcing this weapon charge up restriction is another way to improve your squid senses, because you have to think 3 seconds ahead. 3 seconds in squid movement is a huge chunk of the stage, so this weapon requires a pretty big eye. Close combat can be difficult but if you have a shot charged up as you walk around a corner, you’re unstoppable. Assuming you don’t walk into a Splash Wall of course.
I took a break from harshly judging myself in battle after a fun exchange with an Inkbrush user. A level 8 squid boy from Japan was doing a surprisingly good job, only averaging 0-2 kills but painting over 1000p of Turf with some good awareness. Unfortunately we ended up cornered in our base when a teammate disconnected, but that’s when we became friends. I threw a Sprinkler and started squid dancing because we may as well have some fun while getting destroyed. The Inkbrush user said “Nice!” and joined in. We had a great time squidding up and down a grate, near the spawn point of Urchin Underpass. Quite risky to squid wiggle up there without falling through, but it made our squid dancing look hilariously unnatural and we said “Nice!” again.
For the first half of the game, I was trying hard to win. A 3 vs 4 match is not inevitable doom, and I normally relish these opportunities to create a story out of an epic win. I’ve had a large handful over my Splatoon career and it feels great to overcome the odds. However this match was just not happening and I didn’t care enough about the result, so the squid party raged on.
The third player on our team, a level 50 Japanese charger player, joined in after noticing what we were doing with about 20 seconds to go. They had their own Sprinkler, and now we were squid dancing under two Sprinklers, laid on the wall next to each other. It looked like two crying eyes above the flat expression of the grate. Our bonding turned the Sprinkler’s sorrowful tears into joyous ones. We had a lot of fun in that game, but the charger left. From then on I played properly with the Inkbrush user, with the occasional squid dance, greeting or jump to acknowledge our inner squid kids. We won a lot of games, almost all of them. Despite feeling average all day, I went to bed feeling hopeful and chuffed because I played a videogame.
[The following is an article I wrote for a local music magazine in my suburb]
Ever heard of Koji Kondo? Nobuo Uematsu? Motoi Sakuraba? Akira Yamaoka? Probably not, but that’s OK. They don’t exactly shout their names from the rooftops and you wont see them trending on Twitter; these guys are part of something bigger. Final Fantasy, Silent Hill, The Legend of Zelda, Super Mario Bros, anything sound familiar yet?
These unsung heroes are just a small sample of the talent and depth of videogame musicians, but they are some of the most creative musicians alive today. While some people sway in their rocking chairs and lament the death of classical compositions and jazzy tunes, these guys are creating brand new music that sets the atmosphere of an entire industry and stimulates the minds of millions around the world.
The unintrusive nature of videogame music is what makes it so special. It doesn’t try to send a message; it wont provide arguments for climate change or threaten to call you maybe. Instead it’s there to connect you to places and compliment your actions. You’re stuck in a cave full of monsters, and you’ve finally found the exit. Sunlight peers through the rocky hole as you climb out, and a vast field of plants and wildlife greets you. The bass line kicks in, violins and guitar attack the heights of the musical scale, and the triumphant melody takes over. You’ve just discovered something awesome and you know it. The music here gives you no choice, you’re going on an adventure and it’s going to be amazing.
Can you imagine Super Mario Bros without the classic theme song? Throw that song away and replace it with an edgy horror tune from Silent Hill, and suddenly you slow down. Is something going to happen? The level design hasn’t changed… or has it? I don’t trust these Goomba’s anymore, better step over them just in case. We’ve got all the time in the world to finish this level now, let’s be careful!
Instead, the theme song is catchy and bouncy and makes you want to run and jump. As you soar through the level you carry the momentum of the song and you know you’re doing the right thing. Just like when you hear “PUMP DAT DANCEFLOOR” at the club while you’re dancing and spilling beer everywhere.
Anyone who’s learned Super Mario Bros music on guitar can confirm it wasn’t made by accident, it’s quite a challenge. The depth of the timing and melody is astonishing. Multiple layers scatter the guitars neck and threaten to break your fingers off, while the rhythm relentlessly bounces on without a care in the world. You could make a full album of Katy Perry songs out of the bridge alone. Why put so much effort into a simple song about running and jumping? Koji Kondo has been making music like this for 30 years.
A videogame may have 15-20 different songs, but some epic adventure games can amass over 100. That’s 100 completely original compositions made for a unique world that is too varied and extreme to actually exist. Not all the songs are memorable, but that’s not their purpose. They are carefully constructed to keep you interested in what’s happening and inspire a sense of wonder, curiousity and immersion.
Next time you play Zelda or Xenoblade, or even that crappy flash game someone linked you on Facebook; take a moment to appreciate the music and where it came from. A place of complete freedom, a place where expression takes a backseat and the only goal of the music is to make you feel as awesome as possible.