Federation Force – Now Recruiting

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.

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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.

Hello.
Hello.
Defense.
*Japanese*
Sorry.
*French*
*French*
Hello.
I’m playing Offense.
Sorry.
Good Game.
GOOOOOOAAAAAL!
Hello.
Go! Go! Go!
Good Pass.

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.

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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.

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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.

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Thursday Night Splatoon

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.

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Hidden Musical Worlds

[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.

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